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Blood & Bourbon

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Celia IV, Chapter VII
Hidden Hearts

“I really love you…”
Roderick Durant

Friday night, 11 March 2016, AM

GM: Alana’s traded in Celia’s car, per her domitor’s instructions. It’s a short drive in her new ride back to her secondary haven. Roderick meets Celia there. He greets her with a kiss.

“How was your night?”

Celia: She’s relieved to see him. All in once piece, too. She spends a little bit longer than she needs to eyeing him up and down, as if waiting to see him crack under the knowledge that he had to kill and dismember his first person. People. Multiple.

She lets him in and hands him the spare key. He hadn’t personally given it back those years ago after he’d smashed her face, but the sudden appearance of it one night where she’d been sure to see it had been a clear message. She’d stopped waiting for him after that.

“I missed you,” she tells him, “so it was awful. But it’s better now.”

The apartment is still a mess. She hadn’t had a moment to shop for anything new, and the destroyed furniture sits where they left it. So much for making out on the couch, anyway.

“How was yours?”

GM: He looks together. Enough. Her question, though, brings a grim look to his face.

“Honestly, it was… awful.”

“Your being here makes it less awful.”

Celia: “I’m sorry. I should have been the one to clean it up. That shouldn’t have been on you.”

GM: “I killed two of them. With my own hands. It might as well have been me.”

He sits down with a tired expression.

“I guess I was going to do that sooner or later. Kill someone. Dispose of the body.”

Celia: Celia curls up beside him. She runs a hand up and down his back, lets her head rest on his shoulder.

“You did it because you had to. It wasn’t a choice, it wasn’t because you were hungry, you didn’t kill a vessel. You defended yourself and protected what’s yours.”

GM: He leans into her, running a hand of his own along her back.

“I know. Defended you, too. But doing what I did… that midnight boat trip, dropping bags of body parts overboard, weighted down with rocks…”

He doesn’t sigh. He just stares ahead at the floor for a moment. His face is very still.

“I felt like a mobster.”

Celia: “You’re not. You know that, right? That you’re not. What they do… what they do is awful. For money. For power. For drugs, or whatever else they’re after. That’s not you. That’s not you at all.”

“You’re not some heartless thug.”

GM: “That’s what I tried to tell myself. But all I could think of. All I could think of, was what my dad would say. What my grandpa would say.”

“If they could have seen me there.”

His eyes start to rim red.

Celia: “You know the night you went missing your dad brought a gun when we went looking for you. He handed one to me and he had one for himself. Do you think he’d have done that if he didn’t intend to use it, should he have found that something happened to you, that someone had you?”

“If someone hurt you, he’d have put them down. If someone hurt me, you’d put them down. That’s what love is, Roderick. You’re not a mindless killer. You don’t go around looking for people to kill. That’s not you. I know that. You know that. They would know that.”

“Do you think I’m a monster? Because I told you last night that I had to kill two people earlier this week. And you said that I did what I had to do. Because they’d have killed me, if not.”

“So what’s the difference here? Do you think I’m some battle-hardened, dreadful criminal who slaughters people and is completely inured to it?”

“I don’t feel bad for defending myself. I don’t feel bad for putting down someone else before they could put me down. I don’t feel bad for killing someone who wanted to hurt you.” She pulls back so that she can look him in the eyes. “Because I promise you this. I promise you. That if someone were to come after you, if someone were to hurt you, I would find them and I would end them. And I will not feel bad about it.”

“So don’t,” she continues, voice hard, “don’t. Do not beat yourself up about doing the same exact thing. Do not feel bad because you didn’t allow yourself to be staked and beheaded or lit on fire or ripped apart for science projects. I would have watched them kill you. You would have made me… made me watch them kill you.”

“And that is bullshit.”

“I lost you twice already.”

“Don’t make it a third. Don’t put me in that position, that I have to watch you die. That I have to lose you again.”

GM: He dabs at his eyes. Celia can feel her fangs lengthening in her mouth.

“You’re right. I don’t… I don’t regret killing them, when they were trying to kill you. When they might have been like those last hunters who raped you. I talked with Coco, and she said there was no way those hunters were going to make it out alive, even if I’d captured them all. ‘Walking Masquerade breaches,’ was what she called them.”

“I don’t think you’re a monster. I just wish… this whole thing hadn’t happened.”

“I don’t like how killing people makes me feel.”

Celia: Of course he talked to Coco.

What’s it like, she wonders, to have a sire that gives a fuck?

“It doesn’t need to happen again. Do you have another place picked out?”

GM: “Yeah. A house in Mid-City. It’ll take a little to set everything up, but I can crash with my krewemates, Coco, and hopefully you until then.”

“Although… even that depends, how the stuff with Dani shakes out.”

Celia: “You can stay here. You don’t need to couch surf. There’s no reason for it.”

GM: “More just that it’s an increasing risk to be coming here every night.”

“But I talked with Ayame, earlier. I don’t remember if I told you, between everything that’s been going on.”

“She said she’ll get in touch with her friends in Houston. I’m going to reach out to her again tomorrow, if I don’t hear from her first.”

Celia: “And you’ll take Dani out of the city?”

GM: “Yeah. I’ll go with her.”

Celia: “…wait, for… for good?”

He can’t leave.

GM: He shakes his head.

“I’m needed here. But I’ll go with her, probably spend a few nights in Houston, just to be completely sure Ayame’s friends are on the up and up. And to help Dani settle in.”

Celia: “Oh.” That makes sense. She inhales, then nods. “What about after?”

GM: “I’ll stay in touch with her.”

Celia: “I meant with you.”

GM: “I don’t know,” he admits. “That’ll be something to think about on the trip back. Right now I’ve just been so focused on Dani and those hunters.”

Celia: “Oh,” she says again. Quietly this time. She doesn’t quite meet his eye anymore.

GM: “Oh, what?” he frowns. “Did you think I meant us?”

He takes her hand in his. “Look, whatever comes… I want you in my Requiem.”

“You don’t need to worry about that. At all.”

Celia: She starts to protest. To tell him that isn’t what she means. But his words halt her in her tracks, and she can’t help the way her lips part. Her eyes shine.

There’s a conversation she should be having. Something she’s supposed to convince him of. But factions, princes, politics—what is all of that compared to matters of the heart?

So she doesn’t say anything. She just leans in. Her fangs are already long and sharp in her mouth. She drags them across his cheek, his throat. She doesn’t break the skin, not yet. She pushes him back, though. Moves so that she’s on his lap. Pins his arms above his head—as if he couldn’t shake her free.

“Not what I meant,” she finally says, once she’s got him where she wants him.

GM: He starts to kiss her as she traces his skin with her fangs. When she pushes him down onto the sofa, he grins and lays back. She can see how long his own fangs are in his mouth.

“Oh yeah, what did you mean?”

Celia: “Politics,” she says absently, “but you distracted me when you told me how much you like me.”

GM: “I like you a lot more than politics, too.”

Celia: “How much more?”

GM: “So much more. Lake Pontchartrain next to your bathtub more.”

Celia: “That’s almost romantic.”

GM: “It’s romantic if I talk about how much I like you, politics be damned.”

Celia: “Then be with me.”

GM: He smiles down from under her, arms still pinned under hers.

“I’m right here.”

Celia: It’s not what she means. He knows that. She knows he knows that.

GM: “Or, what, you mean… politically?”

Celia: He saves her the trouble of bringing it up, at least.

“How do you think this is going to end if not?”

GM: “We could make it work. Keep things on the down and low.”

Celia: “What, you didn’t already tell Coco you’re seeing me again?”

GM: “Give me some credit.”

Celia: “And the Golds? They just thought you killed three hunters on your own in the middle of the day?”

GM: “That’s what I told them. They seemed to buy it.” He smirks. “What can I say? I’m a badass.”

“Okay,” he adds after a moment, “it wasn’t. I told them my renfields arrived in the nick of time. Just so it sounded extra plausible.”

Celia: Celia pulls at the collar of her shirt. “Take me now, badass.”

GM: “That almost sounds sarcastic. I should punish you.”

His hands shoot up from their pinned position, grabbing hers. Her throws her to the side, against the back of the couch, then grabs her by the shoulders and flips her around, pushing her chest-first against the (torn) cushions as he clambers on top of her. He twists her hands and pins them against the small of her back as he leans in, fangs piercing the back of her neck. His other hand reaches along her groin and starts to play with her clit.

Celia: It was sarcastic. She doesn’t have the opportunity to tell him that, though, because before she can do more than think the words he has her flipped and pinned. Celia yelps at the sudden movement, thrashing against him, but the position favors him and he’s always been stronger than her. She whimpers when his fangs pierce her skin, the sound swallowed by what’s left of the padding in the cushion. Her hips press down against the hand he’s worked inside her clothing. She rubs against him, helps him find the right spot.

It’s hardly punishment, but she won’t be the one to tell him he’s doing it wrong if he’s suddenly decided to play at being aggressive.

GM: Play seems to be mostly what he’s interested in. For good or I’ll, he isn’t her sire. Or her father.

He does screw her, though. He pulls off her top and nips, rips, and bites all over her neck and back. He’s careful to lick the blood up after it’s had time to cool. He pleasures her between her legs with his fingers, and eventually with his mouth when he flips her over so that she can bite and suck from him too. He nips and licks her stiffened nipples, pleasing the Beast and the Man at once (or at least the vampire and the woman). He even gets hard, near the end, and gives her an “old-fashioned” fucking as they drink from one another’s necks. The motions of intercourse help distract from that torturously long wait for their blood to cool.

The two Kindred know pleasure in one another’s arms. The couch is heady with the scents of their blood and Celia’s love juices when they finish, naked and spent as dawn rises over the city. Roderick spoons with her, wrapping his arms around her belly as he nuzzles his face against her neck.

“I really love you…”

Celia: Licks don’t get tired anymore. Not really. So it isn’t exhaustion that she feels when they’re done licking and fucking and drinking from each other. Sated, maybe. Content. Pleased, if her smile is anything to go by, not that he can see it when she’s turned away from him as she is. She slides her arms around his, nestling further against him, and turns her head to plant a lazy kiss on the corner of his mouth. All lips, no fangs. She doesn’t need to pretend to be someone she isn’t around him. He doesn’t call her perverted for the human way she still shows affection.

His words wash over her. She closes her eyes, lets them sink in. Her heart swells.

He loves her.

It’s like no time passed at all. Like there was never any distance between them. Like she never fucked up to the point that he had to leave her. A pang in her chest reminds her that she did—that she’s been denied this for the past seven years because of her own actions—and she shoves it back down. She won’t look back. Only forward. Years of this, of him, ahead of her.

“I love you too.”

Friday night, 11 March 2016, PM

GM: Daysleep claims them instantly and recedes just as instantly. It’s a poor substitute for the sleep of the living. It never feels like they’ve actually slept, or like any time has passed. Perhaps there is a reason the elders long for torpor.

Roderick strokes her cheek.

“This is somewhat less romantic, but getting hard for you isn’t even that bad.”

Celia: She can’t help but laugh.

“You know if I were less confident that would be the worst thing to say to me.”

GM: “Hey, if you were less confident I’d remind you how we normally don’t do that.” He frowns a little. “Veronica must give you a pretty hard time, for still liking it the breather way.”

Celia: “Veronica’s idea of a good time is putting a spiked heel inside of someone’s ass, so.”

GM: “Pietro can’t seriously be into that.”

Celia: “You know when I was still a breather I saw them fuck, it was… intense. They ripped skin off of each other.”

GM: “That must’ve been really scary, if you had no idea what it all meant.”

Celia observes her surroundings look different. The apartment has been cleaned up. The salvageable furniture and sundry have been moved back into place, the trashed ones moved into a corner. The fluid stains on the cushions, and their bodies, have been cleaned up. They’ve both got clothes on. Celia’s got on a dark minidress that looks similar to the one they met in, though the cut is more modest than Alana’s usual choices.

“By the way,” he smirks, “you’re a total sleepyhead.”

Celia: “Ah, see, I was only pretending to sleep so you’d move things around for me. It worked.”

GM: “Nah, you were totally out of it. I could’ve put you in overalls, clown shoes, and drawn a mustache under your nose, and you’d have still been a total mannequin.”

Celia: Her eyes narrow at him.

“You wouldn’t dare.”

GM: “I know how serious you take looking good,” he answers somberly.

Then he grins. “So only if there’d been a floor-length mirror I could’ve moved for you to wake up to…”

Celia: Celia rolls away from him, crossing her arms over her chest. She sticks her nose in the air—at least as much as she can considering she’s still in bed—and huffs.

“You’re fired. Go away. You’re never getting laid again.”

GM: He laughs and pulls her against his chest.

“Not haute culture enough? Maybe also shaved you bald…”

Celia: “Couture.”

“I will murder you in your sleep if you shave my head.”

GM: “But whenever I’m asleep, you’ll be asleep, so I’ll always get away with it.”

Celia: “I’ll set an alarm.”

“And wake up just to smack you.”

“Then go back to bed.”

GM: “And you’ll still be bald.”

Celia: “I’ll tell all your friends you got beat up by a girl.”

GM: “But unlike your dad, I’m not insecure enough to let that bruise my ego. Coco or Opal could kick my ass anytime. Caroline also sounds like she could give me a run from what you’ve described.”

“Men of quality do not fear equality.”

Celia: Celia huffs again.

“It’s against the constitution to shave my head. Cruel and unusual punishment. You’ll go to jail.”

GM: “Mmm, but that particular piece of it only applies to the federal and state governments. Your legal defense is in tatters, counselor.”

Celia: “I’m a national treasure. You can’t deface me.”

GM: “Not even in the Constitution…”

He smiles and hugs her close.

“But you’re right. You are a treasure. A UNESCO world heritage treasure. Every country in the UN would go to war, if ours allowed such a crime against humanity to take place.”

Celia: She positively preens at the praise.

“I forgive you for thinking such heinous thoughts, then.”

GM: “It was fun to dress you, anyway. Like I said. Total mannequin.”

Celia: “You know most people would find that creepy instead of cute.”

“Ah yes my boyfriend watches me sleep and puts me in clothing.”

GM: “Hey, I was already cleaning up everything, and figured you’d appreciate it. Keeping you naked would also have been incredibly distracting.”

Celia: “Did you bathe me? I seem to recall more bloodstains than this.”

GM: “Yeah, actually. I was going to do a sponge bath, but then I figured, you’d probably want me to be thorough.”

Celia: “I wasn’t even awake to enjoy it,” she sighs. “Now we have to recreate the scene. Rose petals, champagne flutes of blood, LED candles…”

GM: “And it was a way to pass the time. Didn’t even use superspeed to make it faster. I didn’t want to leave you alone, in case… more hunters.”

Celia: “Oh. Right.”

She twists in his arms so that she can see him.

“Thank you.”

GM: “Unlikely at night, granted. But no lick should sleep completely alone.”

“And you’re welcome.”

Celia: “Have you ever heard the word ‘glinko’ before?”

GM: He thinks. “Nope. Context?”

Celia: “That was it. Just the one word. Something I came across while cracking the phones. I thought it might be a name. It’s… not a word. Not in English. Bulgarian, though, it means ‘clay.’ And there’s a ‘glinko’ mask that a cosmetic company has, it’s a clay mask people use to draw out impurities from their skin, so that makes sense, just…” She trails off, shaking her head.

GM: He raises his eyebrows. “I’m impressed you managed to get into those.”

Celia: “Yeah, well, despite what Maxen says, I’m not stupid.”

GM: “It’s not a question of intelligence, just training. I don’t know how to hack a phone.”

Celia: “Mostly you press the buttons and hope they don’t have a lockout timer.”

GM: “Oh, that actually works well with superspeed,” he says thoughtfully. “I might have been able to brute force a phone like that too.”

Celia: “I’ve seen you brute force a phone, Rod, there’s a lot of broken glass involved.”

GM: “Ha ha. The other kind of brute force.”

Celia: “I know, I know, I’m just teasing.”

GM: “I’ll have to keep that in mind for security with the new place, though. Lockout delays.”

“Oh, when I was cleaning, I saw food in the fridge. I thought you didn’t share this place with your renfields?”

Celia: God damnit.

“Uh. I don’t.”

She can’t even think of a way to spin it.

She changes the subject instead.

“How would you improve security here, anyway?”

GM: “I’ve looked it over. There’s a couple ways. Why do you have a bunch of salad and casserole, though?”

Celia: “Oh. That. My mom. I forgot it was in there.”

“She made me eat with them last night. You know how she is about leftovers.”

GM: “Oh. That must be awkward.”

Celia: “It wasn’t pleasant. There was cake, too.”

GM: “I saw. And you can’t say no without being rude.”

Celia: “I could only come up with so many diet excuses. Emily finally called me on the bullshit.”

“So now I have to make sure I’m, uh, really full before I go over in case they decide they want to eat.”

GM: “Well, count yourself lucky. I’d love to still come over for dinner with my dad.”

Celia: Her face falls.

“I know. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to complain. I’m lucky to have them.”

GM: “It’s okay. I still doubt it’s much fun, if it tastes as bad as they all say.”

Celia: “It’s worse on the way up.”

“If you really want to try it you can help yourself, though.”

“Hell, if we make this work you can come over for dinner.”

GM: “You don’t think your mom would mind, if I’m just going to throw it up?”

Celia: “She wouldn’t know. It’s not like I tell her what I do. She’d accuse me of bulimia or something. Then Emily would tell me how it rots my teeth and the stomach acid destroys my esophagus. Then she’d say something like, ‘if you destroy your gag reflex you’ll never be able to suck another dick,’ and then my mom will make a face at us. It’s a whole thing.”

GM: He smiles. “They sound like a great family.”

Celia: She arches her brows at him.

“That is not the response I expected.”

“But they are. I’ll hook you up with some prosthetics and you can come over.”

GM: “Prosthetics?”

Celia: “Like facial things. Inserts. Special effects makeup.”

GM: “Ah. That made me think of artificial limbs.”

“That would be nice, though. I spent a while wondering if Lucy was my daughter or not, so I feel… at least a little close to her, if that doesn’t sound weird.”

Celia: “It doesn’t. Makes me wonder sometimes, you know. What if you’d have approached me after your Embrace, before our release. How that would have gone. Finding out about each other like that, rather than… how we did.”

“I think you’ll like her, though.”

GM: “Who knows there. But she seemed like a pretty happy little toddler, last I looked in.”

“I wouldn’t mind getting to see your mom again, either. She was always so nice to me. Just a total 180 from your dad.”

“I had this fantasy a few times, you know, that if we’d gotten married, we could’ve set up our parents together.”

Celia: “…wouldn’t that make us stepsiblings, though.”

“Well, wait a minute. Hold on. Is your dad still available? Because Mom wants to get back with Maxen and I’m just… not about to let that happen.”

GM: Roderick frowns in thought.

“Well, my dad never remarried. He’s always been so busy with work. I think how bitter the divorce with my mom was just burned him out to the idea of marriage. Made him not want to put that effort into another one when it could go into his career.”

“I asked him about it, once, and he said he wasn’t really thinking of dating until Dani and I were out of the house. And maybe college.”

Celia: “So now’s the time.”

GM: Roderick looks thoughtful.

“He’s going to die alone, if Dani disappears and he doesn’t find someone else. I’ve thought about that.”

“How he’s going to think both his kids are dead.”

Celia: “Dani doesn’t need to disappear. She can stay here. In the Quarter.”

“And… there’s a rumor, you know, that… that Lucy is yours. I was with you and the timeline meshes, and maybe… I mean… a grandchild isn’t a replacement for a child, but maybe if he thought that, too…”

GM: Roderick seems to pause in further thought.

“Coco asked me, once, which I thought was more important. Truth or beauty.”

“I said truth. I know my dad would too.”

Celia: Celia had also asked him that. Right before he’d smashed her face in. But it doesn’t matter since she’s not Coco.

GM: “That’s a sweet thought, to give him a grandchild. But he’d rather have truth.”

“And your mom knows the truth. She knows he’s not the grandfather.”

Celia: “I know. Just…” she doesn’t sigh, but she looks like she wants to. “I just… feel terrible.”

GM: He strokes her cheek.

“I know there’s a lot. What about?”

Celia: “You. Becoming what you are. You dying. Your dad. Your sister, even. I know… I know Coco said I was overstating my own importance, but… I still feel responsible.”

GM: “You aren’t. Coco made the offer, and I said yes, because I saw a way to destroy the Mafia.”

Celia: “I want to help.”

GM: “I’d welcome that help. It’s funny how I just haven’t gotten around to it. Like you and your dad, I guess.”

“Right now, though, I think I want to keep my family safe and happy first. The Mafia will still be around after they’re gone.”

“I think my dad could really use someone. He took my death… he’s moved on, but it’s cast this eternal shadow over him.”

“I don’t know what losing Dani might do.”

Celia: “Then don’t make her leave, Roderick. Don’t do that to him. Let her stay here. If she’s a thin-blood… I mean, you know the rumors, that they don’t rage. It’s safer. And isn’t it better if she’s here, with someone who loves her?”

GM: The Brujah looks torn. He really does.

“But Savoy knows who she is. What she is. She’ll always be leverage over me.”

“If I thought he didn’t know, then no question, I’d want her to stay.”

Celia: Celia shakes her head.

“He’s known who my family is this whole time and he’s never done anything to them. He’s not like that.”

GM: “He’s an elder.”

Celia: “So is Coco.”

GM: “Celia, I get to listen to a roomful of them when they let down their hair. I’ve gotten to listen for years.”

“Dani is leverage to him. That’s just how their minds work. You would not believe how ruthless, cynical, and utterly without conscience they can be.”

Celia: She would, actually, but she doesn’t tell him that.

GM: “Henry Kissinger could take tips.”

Celia: He’s going to know she told. He’s going to know she told Roderick the truth about his family, and he’s going to… to be done with her. That’s it. Second chance. Gone. It’s like she can see her family dying in front of her eyes. Lucy, Emily, Diana. The only people she cares about anymore. Heads rolling. Worse.

She doesn’t say anything. She doesn’t know what to say.

GM: “Coco cares about me. And she’s decent, for an elder. But when push comes to shove she can be ruthless too.”

“I told you all about those thin-bloods…”

He shakes his head.

Celia: “Then why would you side with the people who made that happen?”

“Yeah, Roderick, he’s an elder. He’s probably as ruthless as the rest of them. He wants what he wants. But he doesn’t butcher people because of an accident of Embrace. He doesn’t round people up and sell them out.”

“And if that Asian bitch hadn’t dragged Max out like you said, you think the Sanctified would have stopped at murdering the thin-bloods? No. They’d have taken down the rest of you because that’s the kind of rule Vidal has.”

GM: “I think there are a lot of ways that could’ve gone south for them. Sanctified casualties, Anarch survivors running to Savoy. They didn’t want a fight with us, even if they’d have won. Too much mess.”

Celia: “But they would have done it. They would have come after all of you. And that’s the difference.”

“You told me. You said he counted back from ten. Anyone inside would die with the rest of them. They don’t care. Vidal doesn’t care. You’re all expendable. And your own sire sold them out. She knew what she was doing. That she sent her people to die. That the other Anarchs who believed in her could die if they did what they normally do.”

GM: “I think it may have been a bluff. We outnumbered them. I don’t think we’d have won, but I think that’d have been an ugly enough fight they’d have tried to avoid it. You can’t try to butcher dozens of true-blooded Kindred without a really big mess that benefits Savoy. Again, Sanctified casualties, Anarch survivors all fleeing to Savoy, not to mention Coco and Opal for the sheriff trying to destroy their covenant.”

“What it ultimately comes down to is practicality, not morals. That’s why Coco and Opal were complicit. The Camarilla says the pogrom is over, Vidal is just a hardliner who refuses to get the message, and pushed my sire to go along. She cares about the thin-bloods as much as Savoy does. It will always be a question of expediency to them.”

Celia: “Do you hear yourself? You’re literally defending them.”

GM: “I’m not! What Coco did was wrong! But you’re kidding yourself too if you think Savoy will be a good faith actor, or that Dani won’t be a hostage he’ll use to control me with.”

Celia: “What do you think is going to happen when Vidal konks out?”

GM: “I don’t know what’ll happen. Maybe Vidal will try to take Savoy and the Baron our before he does.”

Celia: “And it’ll be my head if he doesn’t get to.”

GM: “You’re not one of Savoy’s inner circle. If there’s war, you can hide out, and I’ll do everything to keep you safe in the aftermath. They can’t execute every single Savoy partisan. You’ll probably lose your domain, but you could survive this.”

Celia: “I’m not talking about a war. I’m talking about the fact that I’m the only person who knows what and who Dani is. I’m talking about the fact that I was seen leaving the Quarter yesterday in a car that belongs to you. It doesn’t take a genius to put that together.”

GM: “I doubt Savoy keeps a database with my car make that his people have memorized. His people probably wouldn’t even give it a glance with you behind the wheel.”

Celia: “All it takes is a quick online search, or a whisper in the right ear. But it’s fine. I get it.”

Who cares about the girl you claim to love when your sister is in danger, right?

GM: “But you are right, it’s still a needless risk to keep using my car when we could just use another.”

“Look, tonight’s Elysium Primo. All of Savoy’s important people will be there. Maybe see what you can find out. If they know about you driving my car.”

Celia: “He knows I know, Roderick. He knows I know, and he knows what you are to me. He’s not stupid.”

GM: “He isn’t omniscient either.”

Celia: “Yeah, well, you can deliver the news to my mom if he puts me down for the betrayal.”

GM: “It isn’t a betrayal. You just failed to convince me to sign on. I doubt he’ll be happy with you, but I’d say that’s better than Dani being a hostage he could kill anytime I make him unhappy, wouldn’t you?”

Celia: “I don’t think he’s going to give me a third chance,” she says quietly. “I might as well just cut my losses and run.”

GM: “So because you’re not useful enough… he kills you? That really sounds more like Vidal.”

“But, look. If you’re really scared… you could come over with me. To the Anarchs.”

Celia: Celia turns away. She presses a hand against her face, wiping at her eyes. The scent of blood is unmistakable.

“It’s fine,” she says again. Her voice exudes a cheerfulness she clearly doesn’t feel. “It’s fine.”

GM: He wipes her eyes too.

“It’s not fine. You’re crying.”

Celia: “It doesn’t matter. Your mind is clearly made up. You’d rather support the butcher on the throne than take a chance and work for change. It’s easier that way, right? Just go with it. Let yourself get distracted playing Kindred politics, forget about what matters.” The Mafia. Cleaning up the city. The reason he’d agreed to Coco’s offer. Generations of Garrisons all fighting for the same thing, and him the only one left in any position to do something about it. The dream will die with his father.

“Any of those elders you regularly listen to will feel the same way, but fuck it, let’s get them in when Vidal kicks it.”

GM: “Vidal isn’t going to be around much longer. Whoever succeeds him won’t be able to govern the same way. And to hear the primogen talk about it, Savoy’s no better than any of them.”

Celia: She wonders if he even hears himself.

“Savoy wouldn’t throw out his own for the scourge and sheriff and hunters to exterminate. He wouldn’t sacrifice childer because it’s easier than trying to deal with an external threat. He wouldn’t make an example of thin-bloods by sending his lapdogs to slaughter them.”

GM: “I think he’d do all of those things if it was convenient. That’s how all the primogen talk about him.”

Celia: “You don’t even know him.”

GM: “I hear how other elders talk about him. He’s one of them. They all think so.”

“Hell, they want him on the primogen. Him and the Baron.”

Celia: “So you’re just going to take Dani out of the city because it’s a little bit dangerous. Send her to another place where she doesn’t know anyone, where she has no one to rely on if things get tough, where you can’t look after her. Where I can’t look after her.”

GM: “Do you hear yourself? It’s way more than a little dangerous. Savoy will kill her as soon as I step out of line.”

“Houston is a bad option, but at least there she won’t be an elder’s hostage. There are no good options here, just bad and worse.”

Celia: “Why,” she asks, “would he kill her? She’s not worth anything if she’s dead. If you were a ruthless elder, would you kill her?”

GM: “If I had no more use for Roderick anymore? Yeah, I might.”

Celia: “I wouldn’t. Death is very final. Life is full of possibilities. People are always useful, even if it isn’t readily apparent.”

GM: “Except to elders there’ll always be more people. Life is cheap. More always comes along. But loose ends can always pop back up to make trouble.”

Celia: “Sure. Your sire could find someone else. I mean, she let Micheal go, what’s another one, right?”

GM: “Don’t even start on Mike. He went out of his way to alienate her. And me. She did everything to be a good sire to him and he just threw it back in her face.”

“I think he never got over his stupid complex. He never went to school. He never read books. He’s everything that gives our clan a bad name as a bunch of angry thugs and punks instead of scholars and philosopher-kings.”

“Coco tried to teach him to be more. He has no idea what an incredible opportunity that was. She’s collected countless degrees from the city’s universities. She’s seen hundreds of years of history. She has a tested IQ over 150. And she was willing to be his personal tutor, for years. But he just pissed that opportunity completely away.”

“I don’t accept that not everyone can improve themselves, either. Coco used to be even less educated than Mike. She was illiterate until she was around 20 years old, did you know that? She hadn’t read a book or gone to school a day in her life, until my grandsire taught her. He’s at least as smart and well-read as she is, but she didn’t let her ego get in the way of bettering herself. She wanted to give Mike the same gift William gave her. She tried and tried and tried. And he just threw it back in her face. I don’t blame her for washing her hands of him, any more than I blame you for not wanting your dad back in your family’s lives. Some people—actually, probably most people—just do not ever fucking change.”

“Your dad was also half-right. You aren’t stupid, and you’re way smarter than he ever gave you credit for, but some people are stupid. Some people have no desire to better themselves, even if they get the opportunity. Unpopular opinion here, but one that a lot of well-read people secretly hold: we’re better than them. Mike realizes that, deep down, but he’s too lazy and egotistical to admit he could improve himself. So he chooses to be small and petty and stupid for eternity.”

“Coco didn’t let Mike go. She tried and tried and tried with him, and he cut her out. I don’t blame her one bit for that.”

Celia: Saying she’s smarter than her dad gave her credit for isn’t much of a compliment considering what her dad thought of her, but she doesn’t bother to point it out to him. He wouldn’t understand. After all, he’d almost said it to her—about her—last night. As if it means nothing. As if it didn’t take years to finally put it behind her.

She wonders if he’d feel the same way about Micheal if he knew what Veronica is doing to him. How she treats him. Night after night after night. But hey, Mike is stupid, right? He deserves it.

Her lips thin.

“I used to be jealous of you, you know. That Coco is your sire. That she keeps you busy with everything. Got you a spot as the scribe, protected when the sheriff comes calling, talks to you about history. Embraced you so you could realize your dream of taking down the Mafia.”

When he’s done playing lapdog to her, anyway.

But he’s a well-read, smart sort of guy. Better than other people, isn’t he? She doesn’t need to say it.

GM: He grasps her arms as it seems to click on his face.

“I didn’t mean it like that. I’m not better than you.”

“I’m sorry. That was the wrong thing to say. I know that must be sensitive after how much your dad insulted and belittled you.”

Celia: “That and everything else,” she mutters.

All that book learning and he’s still ass at reading people.

“We have some time to kill before we need to leave. Why don’t we go upstairs and you can show me how to throw a punch without breaking my hand.”

Really knock her around since he’s so good at that.

GM: He glances at the time. It’s around 10 PM.

She really has been sleeping late.

“Tonight’s Elysium Primo is at midnight. You don’t have anything else on the docket until then?”

Celia: “Why, trying to go meet up with your other lovers? ‘Cause listen, I’ll fight them.” She holds up a fist. Or rather a poor interpretation of a fist: her thumb is tucked inside her fingers, popping out the knuckles on her first three digits.

It’s quite possibly the worst form anyone has ever seen. Easy way to break her thumb, her knuckles, even her wrist.

GM: Roderick smirks.

“If you know how to fight, like you said you did, you know what’s wrong with that. Or else it’s a good thing you didn’t use your fists against those hunters.”

“But okay, we can get in some practice,” he says, pulling off his nice Elysium clothes for a t-shirt and sweats. “We’ll try not to fuck each other’s brains out until the end, this time.”

Celia: There are too many things to say back to that: a reminder that she doesn’t need to fight because she’s so pretty no one would even think to swing on her so of course her form is wrong. An accusation of actually having other lovers since he hadn’t denied it (and when had that changed?). A scowl and reminder that she’s able to control herself and doesn’t need to fuck him, thank you very much.

The words die before they ever reach her lips, though, when he starts peeling off his clothes. Her eyes follow the movement of his shirt as he pulls it up over his head, revealing the unblemished, flat stomach, the muscles that play beneath the skin. So much more buff now than he was when they were together as mortals, and she gets to enjoy it. Forever. Now, even, all she has to do is reach out, and…

Celia blinks a few times and turns her face away, then finally gets up and moves across the room to distract herself so she doesn’t pounce on him while he’s half-naked. She opens the refrigerator in want of something else to do. His earlier question made her wary.

GM: Celia smells the coppery tang as soon as she opens the fridge. The grisly “food” is where she left it in the lower produce compartment: leakage is easier to clean up there. There isn’t much blood left at all in the plastic-wrapped body parts. Celia was very thorough. A human probably wouldn’t smell anything. But she isn’t human.

Celia: She shuts the door just as quickly.

How had he missed it? Or does he just not care that she’s got a fridge full of body parts?

That’s what love must be: finding a body in your girlfriend’s apartment and not asking questions.

GM: She finds Roderick on his phone wherever they’ve decided to practice. He sets it down and tosses her the best workout clothes he could find in her closet.

It’s not like they ever sweat. Or need to work out.

Celia: It took her all of two seconds to open and close the door, but she supposes that’s the problem with millennials. Can’t pry them away from their devices.

“Are you telling your other girlfriend you’re going to be late?” she asks as she strips and changes into the offered clothing. Yoga pants. T-shirt. It’s not like she only owns ball gowns.

GM: He watches her appreciatively at first, his fangs lengthening in his mouth, then turns away.

“What gave you the idea I had another girlfriend?” he asks with amusement.

Celia: “Cute guy like you?”

GM: “I’ve been with other girls. But not in a while. Plenty else to keep busy with.”

Celia: “I’d ask who, but then I’d have to beat them up, and apparently I don’t even know how to make a fist.” Celia sighs at him, hands on her hips.

GM: “I can see why. I already want to do you over the bed.”

“The way you move, the way you dress, the way you look… you make everything hot.”

Celia: Celia beams at him. She tosses her head, hair flipping over her shoulder.

“Maybe if you win I’ll even let you.” She watches him for a minute, then asks, “you’re not gonna lose it on me if we’re not really fighting but I hit you or something, are you? Because, just… I don’t know if I could actually take you like that…”

GM: “God, and your smile,” he smiles back. “I really just want to flip you over right n…”

He trails off at her question, but shakes his head. “Maybe if you were fighting with your claws out. Bare-handed shouldn’t be enough to seriously hurt me, though.”

Celia: “That’s why we never got anything done last time,” Celia reminds him, but she’s still grinning. She finds a tie for her hair and pulls it up so it’s out of her face, bouncing lightly on the balls of her feet.

“This one of those things where I have to call you sensei? Teacher? Mister Roderick? I think I’ve got a plaid skirt somewhere…” she trails off, wiggling her brows at him.

GM: “It’s in the way you move, how you just make every little thing so sexy… you’re irresistible…” he murmurs, pulling her close. His hands start to explore her body as he nuzzles her neck.

Her next words only seem to make him more excited.

“Mmm, why don’t I help you change out of these clothes, first…”

Celia: She starts to tell him that they’re supposed to be doing something—she doesn’t get dressed like this for no reason—but it flies out of her mind the moment he pulls her in. Her resolve falters; why put in the effort of learning how to fight when the lick in front of her is so much sweeter?

They’d made it further than usual, at least. All the way into sweats.

GM: Before those come off.

Friday night, 11 March 2016, PM

GM: The lovers lie naked and spent in one another’s blood-streaked arms. Roderick chuckles.


“You’re never going to learn to fight at this rate.”

Celia: “Probably not,” she agrees. She doesn’t look too put out about it though. “If someone comes after me I’ll just blind them with my dazzling smile.”

GM: “Could you make yourself look, maybe… uglier?”

He laughs again.

Celia: She gives him a flat look.

GM: “You’re really too sexy for your own good. It’s very distracting.”

Celia: “I could get a bag, maybe. Poke some eyeholes in it. Would that work for you?”

GM: He looks thoughtful.

Celia: “Oh my god. I was kidding.”

GM: He smirks and squeezes her against his chest. “I’m just worried it wouldn’t make you un-sexy enough.”

Celia: “You’re ridiculous,” she mutters. She leans into him all the same, a satisfied smile pulling at her lips. “I have a weird question for you.”

GM: “Can’t be weirder than my thinking you should wear a bag over your head,” he smiles back.

Celia: “I wonder if we can say it’s a new trend and convince the rats to try it.”

“But I was wondering… you don’t get off the same way I do. But you said earlier that you don’t mind it. So I’m just kind of curious what it feels like.”

GM: “It’s… it’s really not that bad, actually. It’s kind of like the first time I got off, where I felt so close, and didn’t have any idea when I would finally come. Part of me wanted to stop, but also keep going…”

If Celia didn’t know any better, she’d say he was enjoying himself.

Celia: “Hm.” She can’t relate. The first time she’d gotten off had been with him, and she hadn’t had much choice in the matter; it had kind of just snuck up on her all of a sudden without her doing much of anything. He’d taken care of all of that, the first time. “But you don’t mind it? Or you… like it?” She looks up at him.

GM: He seems to think for a moment.

“Uh… maybe?”

Celia: “I was just going to say if you’re not into it we don’t have to do it every time, is all.”

GM: “No, no, I think…”

He trails off, then smiles.

“Would you like to play with my dick? As an ‘experiment?’”

Celia: Celia doesn’t need further encouragement than that. She’s happy to lend a hand. Then her mouth. The rest of her, too, even if he doesn’t take her up on it yet, so she sticks to her mouth, with her fingers wrapped around the base. Just as she used to do for him, the way he showed her he liked all those years ago.

GM: He swiftly grows hard under her touch. Celia keeps going for a while. He breathes and pants (both needlessly, but perhaps a psychophysiological reflex). Towards what feels like the end, he tenses and breathes harder, but Celia doesn’t feel anything come out of his shaft.


“That felt… good.”

Celia: She looks up at him from where she’s kneeling between his legs.

“Yeah? Like you, ah, got there good?” She’d almost thought there’d be blood. “Or like it was mildly enjoyable good?”

GM: “I’m pretty sure I got there…”

He smiles and puts his hands around her, just under her armpits, and lifts her into the air. He sets her down on the couch and pulls her against him. His arms encircle her belly.

“You make everything around you better. You know that? Everything you touch comes out with a coat of gold. The makeup is part of it. Making people look like their best selves. But that’s only part of what you do.”

“The way you gave Emily a family. The way you turned your mom’s life around. The way you brought, bring, so much happiness into mine. You’re like a fire. A sun. The closer someone gets to you, the more the more warmth and joy you bring into their life.”

Celia: Nestled against him, snug within the circle of his arms, she can almost believe him. That she makes things better. That she’s capable of being good.

But that’s not true, isn’t it? None of the planets closer to the sun than theirs can sustain life, and a fire eats up all the oxygen in the room. It’s like her. It just destroys. The pretty little flames melt the skin off anyone stupid enough to get too close.

Would he still think the same if he knew the truth? If he knew how monstrous her sire is, the terrible things that she has done, still does, plans to do? The lives—and unlives—she’ll destroy to claw her way to the top? Could he still care for her then?

Celia tucks her cheek against him. She’d asked herself two nights ago if she could be better for him. She can. She can try, at least. He’s worth that much, deserves that much from her.

“That was really beautiful, you know. You give me hope for the future. That it can be beautiful, even with this thing inside of us. That we can be good, do good things, be better than the rest of them, than what they think we have to be. You make me think it’s all possible.”

GM: His hand traces along her flank.

“That’s what Carthage was, you know. Maybe not literally. But as a story. An ideal. That a whole city of licks, just like us, could all decide to be better than what everyone thinks we have to be. To use their powers and immortality as a force for good. To live in harmony with mortals, to no longer need any lies between us, with both races using their abilities to build something together that they never could apart.”

“That’s what I see, too, when I look at you. A citizen of Carthage. The promise of something better.”

He hugs her close.

“I love you, Celia. I love you so much.”

“I don’t know how I was able to spend so much of my Requiem without you, or how I could’ve been so stupid as to throw you away, but I’m not ever going to make that mistake again.”

Celia: His words fill her with warmth. She’s safe here in his arms, pressed against his chest. Cheek on his shoulder, she breathes him in and closes her eyes, letting his love wash over her.

She’ll never tell him. Never tell him that she’s not what he thinks. Never give him a reason to look at her like she’s some sort of monster. She can protect him from that, from the worst of their kind. Maybe she’s not a fighter, but she can still be a shield of sorts.

“I love you too, Roderick. I missed you. Every night we weren’t together I missed you. So much.” She twists in his arms, turning to face him. She touches a hand to his cheek, trails kisses across the other side: brow, cheek, jaw, lips. “People say they have all the time in the world, you know, when they talk about the future. But it’s true for us in a way it isn’t for others. We have forever. Eternity. Together. We don’t need to be apart again. We never have to be apart again.”

It doesn’t feel like enough, not next to what he said to her. But it’s what she has, what she can give him.

GM: He kisses her forehead. Traces a hand along her hair as he stares up into her eyes.

“God, I don’t even want to go to Elysium tonight. Having to pretend as if we’re total strangers in public.”

GM: “Part of me wants to just spend more time with you. Actually get started teaching you to fight.”

Celia: She gives him a wistful smile.

“I wish. I’d love to tell those blowhards where to shove it. Tonight, though. Afterwards. I have a few things to take care of immediately after, but spend the day again. I feel safer when you’re here. And we can amuse ourselves until dawn however you want.”

She glances at the clock.

GM: There’s enough time to get ready and go to Elysium without rushing, but probably not an extended martial arts lesson.

“Okay,” he relents. “Are you going to talk to Dani tonight?”

Celia: She’s more concerned about the ghoul’s body she needs to put back together than the boxing.

“If I can find her.”

GM: He looks worried. “You can do that, can’t you? Or else how do we get her out?”

Celia: “Yes, Roderick. I’ll find her. Of course I can find her.”

She hesitates a beat. What if she can’t find her? What if she’s overly optimistic about this whole plan? She tries not to let him see it, the uncertainty. But she’s never been able to hide her emotions from him, has she? It’s there in her eyes, all he has to do is look into them. Belatedly, she averts her gaze.

GM: “Oh my god! Celia, we can’t just have her running around loose with no idea where she is!” he exclaims.

Celia: “And I can’t make contact and tip our hand until we’re ready to move her. It has to be one smooth operation, otherwise it’s going to get messy. Is that what you want?”

GM: “I want you to at least know where she is! How the hell are we going to move her without that?”

Celia: “I’ll find her,” Celia says again. “I just don’t think I should approach her yet.”

GM: “Okay, just… find her. We need to be ready to go, as soon as Ayame comes through.”

Celia: “Roderick… what if she doesn’t?”

GM: “We’ll deal with that then.”

Celia: She makes a noise that might be assent. She doesn’t say anything. Not for a long minute. She’s not particularly hopeful that everything will go off without a hitch.

She finally changes the subject.

“What do you know about Carolla? If we’re going to take down the Mafia we can start there.”

GM: “Brujah, like me. He’s showed up to the rants. I’ve slugged it out with him a few times.”

“Can’t say I didn’t enjoy it. Decent in a fight, though.”

“There was a stupid rumor going he’s Coco’s childe.”

Celia: “…oh?”

GM: Roderick actually looks a little angry at that.

“It’s pure bullshit. You’ve probably heard how coy he plays over his sire.”

Celia: Is it, though? She’s kept Roderick too busy to pick him off, anyway.


GM: “My guess would be it’s a nobody and this is how he builds up his rep.”

Celia: “Thought Brujah didn’t care about who their sires were, just their own merit.”

“Anyway, isn’t he First Estate? Kind of lame for a Brujah.”

GM: “We don’t, that’s the thing. He makes it a mystery and that gets people curious, anyway.”

Celia: “Ah. The game of rumors.”

GM: “Also, we might not, but the other clans do.”

“Sheriff spared me because of who my sire was, at the massacre. I’m not blind to that.”

“Or how being able to say I’m Roderick Durant, childe of Coco Duquette, childe of William Starkweather, childe of Eleanor de Valois, childe of Adana de Sforza, childe of Losario, childe of Troile, opens more doors with elders.”

Celia: “Do you think it matters, though? Who someone’s sire is?”

She doesn’t bother pointing out that the sheriff spared him because Coco set up the massacre. He has to know.

GM: “100% not. I’m not my sire. Or grandsire. Or so on and so on down the line. If you mean ‘matter’ in the sense of ‘should it entitle them to preferential treatment in Kindred society,’ at least. For good or ill, it definitely has consequences.”

Celia: “What about those people who have super fucked up sires. Like real monsters. You think they come out like that? Like how people turn into their parents?”

GM: “I’d say they can, but they don’t have to. Wright had a horrific sire and he’s turned out… mostly okay. But not everyone is that lucky or resilient, and I doubt things are perfect with him either. A horrible sire can fuck your Requiem up in all sorts of ways, just like a horrible breather parent can.”

“In a perfect world, either of those scenarios wouldn’t be a barrier to your future opportunities, but we don’t live in a perfect world.”

“I’m very lucky with who my sire was. Both that she descends from a fairly prestigious line, which opens more opportunities to me, and also because she treated me decently. Which also opens more opportunities, in other ways.”

Celia: “People think I’m a slut. Because of Veronica. And how she sleeps with everyone. They assume that I’m the same way. I’ve heard rumors…” Celia trails off, shaking her head. “The things they say about me are just… ugly. And I wonder, y’know, what it’d be like if she weren’t my sire. If it were even someone like Pietro, or if my grandsire had gotten to me instead. Same line, different reputation.”

“Anyway, sorry, we were talking about you. And beating up Carolla.”

GM: “You probably would have a different reputation,” Roderick says thoughtfully. “For good or ill, our sire colors everything about our Requiem. Some licks think that’s unfair and some think it’s right and proper, but there’s no avoiding it.”

Celia: “It’s the same as anything, really. Like you said. Being born to a different breather family would have made my life different, too.”

GM: “And even among the Brujah, we aren’t completely indifferent to it. Elders tend to put more stock in lineage than neonates. And if your sire was someone like Jeremy MacNeil… we might not think you’re better than another lick, but you’ll have people wondering what you did to impress such a badass sire.”

Celia: “I mean, aside from him just being an accident. But you think he’s making it up.”

GM: “I think he does it to get licks talking, which is exactly what we’re doing.”

Celia: “Maybe. I asked about him, you just brought up his sire,” Celia points out.

GM: “It’s the only noteworthy thing about him.”

Celia: “Because you’re mad that Coco might have Embraced him. Doesn’t his dad run the Mafia?”

GM: Roderick gives her a flat look. “Coco didn’t Embrace him.”

Celia: “I could find out. If you really want to know.”

GM: He looks angrier. “I just said she didn’t Embrace him!”

Celia: Celia holds up her hands, placating. “Sorry. I was kidding.”

GM: “I’ve seen no evidence. Absolutely none.”

Celia: “You mentioned him a while back. I remember because I made fun of his name. And you said there was something weird about him?”

“But then we got distracted.”

With sex, probably.

GM: “Sorry, don’t remember. That was a while ago.”

Celia: “You are dead to me,” Celia says with a sigh.

GM: “Oh, too bad. I was going to suggest we take a shower together before Elysium.”

“But since I’m dead…”

Celia: Celia considers him.

“I’m actually a necromancer, so… I guess I can bring you back.”

She presses the palm of her hand against his forehead.

“You’re healed.”

GM: He smirks, gets off the couch, and picks her up, positioning his arms under her knees as she holds onto his shoulders.

“Let’s see how healed…”

Friday night, 11 March 2016, PM

Celia: Their shower turned into another bout of sex, more enjoyable beneath the spray of the water as members of the undead than it had ever been while they were alive. She’d made him wash the blood off of her after that, scrubbing her back while she was awake to enjoy it, and she’d returned the favor once he was done with her.

It’s a feeling she can get used to, more showers with Roderick. Waking up with him. Spending her evenings with him. Already she’s looking forward to the end of Elysium so she can hit up the Evergreen, fix the ghoul, and jet back here to spend more time with him. Eternity, right? Somehow it doesn’t seem long enough.

He’d laughed at her when she had dithered over what to wear. He has it easy, she tells him, all he has to do is slap on a suit and tie and he looks presentable. Plus he’s an Anarch, it’s not like anyone is really judging him for what he wears. She walks a finer line. Not quite welcome in this domain because of who she serves, childe of a harpy, grandchilde and great-grandchilde of two primogen, hangs with the bitches who titter all night over a faux pas… it’s a lot to handle.

She’d changed twice before settling on the green gown. Seafoam or mint or shamrock or emerald, some such variant that means green without being so gauche as to actually say the word, because god-forbid licks like her stoop to such plebian descriptors. Mermaid cut, gauzy, with a tiny train and cutouts along the midriff and thighs that offer a peek at the delectable Kindred wrapped inside the ruched tulle.

Jewels glitter at ear and throat, though her neck is left bare, and, as always, she wears her fire opal ring on the middle finger of her left hand. A pair of black heels complete the look. None so tall as her sire glides around in—she’d be a fool to try to mimic Veronica’s footwear—but strappy all the same, with a delicate strap around her ankle.

She even finds an overcoat in case it rains, pulls her hair into an effortless up-do that leaves a few strands free to curl around her face, and swipes on a fresh coat of lipstick. She almost can’t pry her eyes from the mirror once she’s done, and she’s glad that she and Roderick had fucked themselves silly because she looks bangin’.

Celia winks at her reflection before she leaves.

GM: Roderick agrees. He runs his hands along her shoulders in shoulders in massage-like motions as she finishes up in the mirror.

“Keep that on,” he murmurs into her ear. “I’m going to fuck you in it later.”

Celia: Do they really need to go to Elysium?

She doesn’t think it’s possible for her stomach to flutter anymore. She’s dead. But it does anyway. A thrill runs through her at the words. She’s already wondering what part of her evening she can shift to tomorrow so she can get back here more quickly.

GM: Roderick’s hands move down from her shoulders. They squeeze her breasts and rub up and down the hips her gown’s mermaid cut makes so deliciously plain.

“Wrapped and dolled up just like a present…”

Celia: Celia only lets him touch her for a minute, only leans back against him and closes her eyes while he tells her the words she loves to hear for long enough to think that maybe they could just skip it…

No, no, no.

“Shhh,” Celia says, pulling his hands away, “if you don’t hush I’m going to jump you again, and then we’ll definitely never make it.”

GM: “Would that really be so bad?” he smiles. “I know you’re thinking it.”

Celia: “I am thinking it, that’s the worst part, that I just want to lock the two of us in here and let you ravish me.”

GM: “Sex with clothes on is messy. But we don’t even sweat…” he murmurs. His hands move back to her hips, then start appreciatively tracing her rump. “We could make it fast… I could do you right here on your vanity, arms around my neck, sexy dress on the whole time…”

Celia: “And show up smelling like sex and blood so everyone knows that we just fucked each other?” Celia gives him a look. It’s an appraising look, because she very, very much wants to do as he says. To hop up onto her vanity and let him slide the dress up her legs, to let him part her thighs with his hands or body and slip inside. To fuck. He doesn’t have to make it messy, she doesn’t have to make it messy, he’d said before that he just likes to drink blood, none of the kinky shit…

She shivers in his arms, clearly torn. She wants him. Wants him now, wants him later, wants him forever. He’s hers. His blood calls to her, and it’s so close, right beneath the surface, all she has to do is lean in and… bite.

Unless he means fuck like breathers.

Then there really is no mess. Nothing to clean up because he doesn’t actually…

She stops her thoughts from traveling further down that line. They don’t have time. It’s the blood, she knows, the collar they share, their prior history, his adoring words. It’s just like last time, when they’d never actually gotten to any of the rants because they’d been too busy bumping into cars and fucking on the roof to get anything done.

She’d never imagined there’d come a time when she wanted to turn down sex. Not with him. But she has things to do tonight. People to talk to.

Finally, she shakes her head, turning in his arms to press a kiss against the underside of his jaw.

“Later,” she whispers in his ear, “after you’ve been thinking about me all night, about the things we’re going to do together, after you’re so riled up and turned on that you can’t even think straight. Then…” she trails a hand down his chest, “then you can unwrap your present.”

GM: “Oh, I want to fuck my present with the wrapping still on, when she looks this delicious…” Roderick grins, his hands longingly kneading and squeezing her ass.

He relents after a moment, though, with a wistfully effected sigh.

“But I guess you’re right. Licks to see. Things to do, besides each other. And it does feel like a waste for you to get so dressed up without going out.”

He hefts her up, moving one arm under her legs and the other around her back.

“Carry you to your car, at least?” he smiles.

Celia: He spoils her, truly. It’s the sort of treatment she can get used to, the kind of thing she deserves, beautiful creature that she is. She shouldn’t have to walk, not when there’s a dashing Brujah here to do it for her, not when she fits so snugly against him. Cradled in his arms, head against his chest, her thoughts run as wild as the hands that roam his body. Teasing, gentle caresses, nipping at his neck, his ear, his lips. He reminds her to lock the door and she does it in a haze, back to him before she’s even finished putting the key back into her purse.

He fills her world. He is her world. Sire who? No one else matters, not when she has Roderick. Soul mates. There it is, the beautiful word that ties them together. Have to be, don’t they, because she can’t think of another place she’d rather be than right here nestled against him.

Her feet find the ground again, but Celia pays it no mind. He says something, his lips moving, but she doesn’t hear the words because she’s busy pulling him in, pressing her lips against his, her body against his, her arms around his neck, holding him close. A flash of fangs against his skin, not enough to cut, but to give it to him two ways, lick and human both.

She could drown in his love. She is drowning, spiraling down, further and further, and she doesn’t need the air to breathe so she doesn’t care, they can find the bottom of the abyss together, see how deep the trench goes.

But something else pulls at her too. Commitments. Things she said she’d do, people she needs to see. She claws her way back to the surface, fighting against the shackle that has her by the ankles, the anchor that wants to sink her. She fights against it, kicking and screaming to pull herself up, up, out. Her head breaks the surface and she can breathe again, but the waves keep rolling over her, crashing again and again, and she clings to him, her little place of safety in the turmoil.

She’ll see him again. Soon. That’s what makes her finally pull back, touch a hand to his cheek, look up into his eyes. Soon. Thirty minutes. He’ll be there, and they’ll pretend they don’t know each other, that they mean nothing to each other, but it’s just another game. Another game to keep them safe. Another game in a city of lies.

But tonight. Later. Errands, then him. All night, all day, the next night and day. Him.

“Temporary goodbyes shouldn’t hurt so much,” she whispers.

GM: Perhaps she notices how long it takes him to carry her to her car. More likely she doesn’t. It’s a nice feeling to not need to think about anything in the world, even walking, except the lover with his arms under her.

Her teasing touch when he finally (and so reluctantly) sets her down clear electrifies him. He pulls her close, her breasts pressing against his chest, his hands squeezing her rear, as he plants hungry kisses against her lips. His tongue explores her mouth, tracing against her fangs. She can feel how long and sharp his are, too. He runs his hands through her hair. He wraps his arms around her back and hugs her against him like he wants nothing more than to hold her in place there forever.

Some of it has to be the bond, this sheer intoxication with one another. But it’s real, too. She knows it is. It’s a rose planted in already fertile soil.

“It almost feels like a crime to set you down,” he whispers ruefully into her ear. “Those dainty little feet of yours shouldn’t ever have to touch the ground. You should have admirers to carry you everywhere.”

Celia: Her eyes all but shine as she looks up at him, cheeks flush with blood. She doesn’t care that it’s a conscious act to send it there, she wants him to see what he does to her, the effect that he has on her.

It’s real. It is. His sire has said it is rare, and their kind maybe don’t believe in it, but she knows the truth. They’re both capable of love, and they’ve found it in each other.

“How would they ever get close to me if you’re around to beat them off with a stick, hm?” Celia slides her hands up his chest, then around the back of his head to slide through his hair. “I don’t need any admirers but you.”

GM: “God…” he murmurs, his hands continuing to appreciatively trace up and down her backside.

“You’re too good for them, for Elysium. It’ll only seem fair if they declare you’re the exhibit. The center of the evening, for everyone else to gush about and admire.”

“They should put you on a throne. And all the other licks should have to beg just for a turn of getting to help carry it.”

Celia: “Everyone already knows that,” Celia tells him, smirking. It’s true, though. Jade’s face was designed to be the prettiest lick in the city, and anyone who says otherwise is simply lying to themselves. She’s not so gauche as to brag about it, though. She’s never even said as much out loud.

“A throne, hm? I’ve a crown somewhere, maybe I’ll put it on tonight and make you worship me.”

GM: He just presses her close. “Oh, I already worship you. When Elysium’s all over, and we’re back here, I’m going to carry you inside. I’m going to set you down over the sink, and hand-wash the bottoms of your shoes, so we don’t ever have to be reminded they touched the earth. Then I’m going to carry you to bed, and unwrap my present, just a little, when I crawl up between your legs, with your sexy dress still on. Then I’ll really worship you, to pay you back for that blowjob.”

Celia: “Now that,” she murmurs, pulling him down to press her lips against his once more, “sounds like a perfect end to the evening.” Her body responds to his words, nipples stiffening and moisture pooling between her thighs at the thought of him kneeling before her. Oh, yes, a wonderful evening indeed.

It’s difficult after that to extricate herself from him, but a glance at his watch tells her that if they don’t get going they’re both going to be late, and that will set all sorts of tongues wagging. Not in the good way, either. Not like he promises to do later.

“Four?” She turns it into a question. Four am. Enough time for her to complete her tasks and get back here so he can ravish her, provided Elysium doesn’t run long.

GM: “Four,” he repeats longingly. He opens her car door, then picks her up and sets her down in the driver’s seat, as if solely to enjoy having her in his arms again. He pulls up the hem of her dress, pulls down her panties, and runs his fingers along and inside her womanhood, getting as much of her dampness all over them he can.

“Have to keep you dry so your dress doesn’t stain,” he smiles.

It doesn’t help that she probably just gets wetter.

Celia: It doesn’t help at all. She almost yanks him into the car with her so that he can finish the job. She makes a noise, clearly discontent when he pulls away, her lips pulled back from her teeth to growl at him.


GM: “Turnabout is fair play,” he smirks, though his eyes turn concerned after a moment. “I can grab you a towel from inside, though. You don’t want to have even a hair out of place around the harpies.”

“Maybe some new underwear too, if yours got wet. They might be able to smell it.”

Celia: Celia pats the purse, then makes a vague gesture to her glove compartment as well.

“I have wipes,” she tells him, “and I’ll simply remove my panties. Now you have to think about that while they drone on tonight.”

GM: “Oh, are you sure? You don’t want me rifling through your underwear drawer and picking out a sexy pair?”

Celia: “Oh, no, I’ll let you dress me for tomorrow, so that when I go to this tedious dinner function you’ll know I’m thinking about you.”

GM: “That does sound incredibly tedious without me there. But okay, if you’re not wearing panties tonight…”

Celia doesn’t see the lightning-fast Brujah do it, but she feels her suddenly close-together legs shoot up into the air. The she sees the panties dangling from his hand. He rubs his wet fingers against them to towel off.

“I think I’ll keep these inside my jacket as a good luck charm.”

Celia: “Then you’re going to smell like sex,” Celia points out, but she’s too busy giggling at the sight to put any heat into her words.

GM: He smiles back, ruefully. “You’re right. I suppose I’ll just have to keep them in my car, until I can get them framed or mounted to a plaque in my new haven.”

“Or maybe I should donate them to an art museum as a priceless piece of cultural heritage.”

Celia: “You could auction them off online. I think my panties might sell for a pretty penny, especially worn.”

GM: “But there’d be no one with enough money to buy them. It’d be like with the Cullinan, where all they could do was give it to the British monarchy.”

Celia: “I guess they’re yours forever then.” She tilts her head, considering. “I kind of like the idea of you carrying around a little piece of me.”

GM: “I like it a lot too.” He leans in to kiss her.

“All right. I love you. Make sure you get everything with the wipes.”

Celia: “I will. I love you too. I’ll see you soon. Or rather, I’ll studiously avoid looking at you soon and sneer at the mention of your name.”

GM: “You and me both,” he says with another rueful look. He closes the car door, waves, and heads off to his own car.

It feels like it’s going to be a very long Elysium.

Celia IV, Chapter VI
Warlock's Counsel

“There’s a lot of dark things out there going bump in the night.”
Peter Lebeaux

Friday night, 11 March 2016, AM

GM: At 5 AM, Celia’s back in Pete’s office at the Evergreen. He gives a nodded, “Celia,” after she knocks and steps inside.

Celia: Celia smooths her skirt down after she shuts the door. She takes the seat across from him and can’t help but think that every time she’s in this office she feels like she’s in trouble. She’s glad that her hands can’t get clammy.

“Hello again, Pete. How was the rest of your evening?”

GM: “A gutter punk threw up on my shoes.”

Celia: “Was he aiming for your shoes? Or was it just a crime of opportunity?”

She’s decidedly not smiling.

GM: “She. I’m undecided whether it was deliberate, but inclined to think it wasn’t premeditated.”

Celia: “Lesser sentence, there. Good counsel, she could be out in five.”

GM: “Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending how you look at it, good counsel is rare for their ilk. We have one of the most overworked public defender systems in the country.”

Celia: “She’ll think twice before she barfs on another innocent pair of shoes.”

GM: “How was your evening?”

Celia: There’s a loaded question.

She’d lied to her brother about not hearing back from Isabel. Technically she’d phrased it as not a lie, I messaged her a few days ago but haven’t heard back, which is… true. She hadn’t heard back because Isabel is dead, though, which she left out. Celia is still debating what she can do with her identity. She had retrieved the phone from its hiding place, though, and brought it with her.

She’d also told Alana to be nicer to Emily and her mom since she’s going to have to pretend to be Celia for the next few days while they figure out this hunter stuff. And so she can trade in the old car. She’d been very, very thorough in her explanation about not saying anything sensitive in the car because it might be compromised and had given her explicit instructions on what kind of vehicle she is looking for. Told her to take Randy, too.

Then a back-and-forth with Roderick over whether or not he should come as far into the Quarter as Jade’s haven is, and they’d decided to go back to the same one from the night before since no one else knows about it. Except the sheriff, which she hadn’t told him, and considering he’s never come by twice in a row she figures it’s a safe bet.

No call from Veronica, either, which is less surprising than annoying.

She finally fixes Pete with a bemused smile.

“All right. Mom force-fed me dinner and talked about wanting a man in her life.”

“D’you still enjoy food, Pete? She sent me home with leftovers.”

GM: Logan hadn’t responded.

Alana was contrite.

Roderick was amenable.

Veronica was typical.

“Pawn it off to your renfields,” he says. “Someone might as well eat it.”

“Or Tantal, when you fix his face. He loves food.”

Celia: “I will. Might make him feel better after… well, the pain.” He knows how unpleasant it is. Celia does what she can to lessen what they feel, but there will always be a price to pay for the way she sculpts the flesh.

“Hey Pete, can I ask you a question before we get started?”

GM: “Go ahead.”

Celia: “Do you know of anything that eats souls?”

GM: He frowns.


Celia: “Yeah, like… human souls.”

“Or ghosts.”

GM: “Depending on who you talk to, those things are either closely related or only superficially so. Some insist ghosts are real people, just missing their bodies. Others think they’re just cheap copies and knock-offs going through the motions.”

Celia: “But there’s something that eats them?”

GM: “Well, we certainly don’t. We take enough from people as it is. But we stop at their bodies.”

“The concept of soul eaters exists in a few mythologies. Choctaw and African-American, to cite the most local ones. I can’t claim to have heard of a specific entity that eats souls, although the existence of one wouldn’t surprise me either. Souls are a form of energy and everything needs energy to sustain itself, even dead things like us.”

“I suppose it also wouldn’t surprise me for a creature like that to exist in this city. Ghosts are common as fruit flies here, especially in the Quarter.”

Celia: Celia nods. She doesn’t have much to go on. Em hadn’t been very specific, and the dream… she doesn’t remember a lot of the dream, really, just impressions. But the fact that something is eating ghosts, that she needs to kill things for him… she remembers that.

“Oh. I heard something about it, and I figured… well, maybe you would know.”

GM: “If Grunewald were still around I’d have recommended you talk with him. He was our ghost expert.”

“But in lieu of him, there’s Rosa Bale.”

Celia: “Yeah. I can give it a go. More interested in the what than the ghosts, really.” She lifts her shoulders, shrugging. “Plus I figured since you and I are best friends you’d be the lick to talk to.” She beams at him. It’s a pretty smile, even if the words are facetious. She’d meant what she said earlier: that she trusts him.

GM: “That’s us, staying up every morning to do each other’s hair and nails,” the Tremere deadpans.

“But as far as licks. There was a bloodline, once, that devoured souls as well as blood. Stole them right out of people’s bodies. Licks and breathers. Worshiped demons too, if that all wasn’t enough. My clan wiped out most of them a long time ago, but sometimes a survivor pops up. Does that sound anything like what you’ve heard of?”

Celia: She almost huffs at him. Best friends don’t have to do each other’s hair and nails. Life—unlife—isn’t a teen movie. She’ll get him a bracelet, though, for next time. “BFFs” or something similar. Braided rope, plastic beads. Maybe one with a heart on it. He’ll love it.

She keeps her mouth shut, though, as he speaks. Does it sound like what she’s heard of? She doesn’t think so, and she’s almost positive she knows what he’s talking about. The same thing she’d warned Jon about a month ago. Does he know she knows? Does he know Savoy has evidence of their presence in the city? Hadn’t Savoy said he tells Pete and Preston everything?

No lick tells someone everything. That’s just bad politics. Why not tell Pete about it, though, if he’d trusted her to tell the archon?

Unless Abélia is a soul thief. Does she eat licks, too? She could ask Em, next time he visits… if he visits… she supposes she has something for him. Four bodies. Her meeting with Ron. She’s looking forward to seeing him again in her dreams.

Finally, she shakes her head.

“I don’t think so. I got the impression she ate them mostly after they were dead.”

Souls for power, though. That makes sense. That’s a demonic thing, isn’t it? Classic demon worship. And licks are dead.

GM: Pete raises his eyebrows.

“She, you say?”

Celia: …whoops. Alarm flashes across her face for half a second before she can smooth it out.

Celia nods, though. Glances over her shoulder at the locked door. Lifts her brows back at him, as if to ask if he’s got some sort of privacy magic he can do.

GM: “There’s no such thing as a perfectly secure room, but this one is as secure as I can make it, short of you leaving your phone outside the door,” answers Pete.

Celia: She responds by pulling the battery out of her phone and setting it aside.

GM: “Smart,” says the Tremere. “It actually is possible to eavesdrop through phones that are just turned off. It’s less convenient, but it is possible.”

Celia: “Oh. Well. Better… to make it less convenient then.”

She’s quiet for a moment, chewing over the words. What to tell him. How to start. Her finger taps against the desk. Nerves. She pulls her hands back onto her lap, sits on them to keep from fidgeting.

GM: “It’s a trick with the gyroscope. The tiny vibrating chip that tells your phone whether it’s in horizontal or vertical position. It’s sensitive enough to still pick up soundwaves, so software can turn it into a crude microphone.”

Celia: “Oh,” she says again. Good to know.

GM: “It only picks up a fraction of words spoken nearby, and if someone wanted to use it to overhear a credit card number, there’s probably only a 50/50 chance they’d get the full thing.”

“But it’s something rather than nothing.”

Celia: Well, she did what she could anyway.

“I spoke to a ghost the other day. Who told me that there’s a… thing. She eats ghosts. And maybe people.”

GM: “But not a lick?”

Celia: “I don’t… think so. The ghost knew what I was, so I think if she was the same it’d have said that.”

GM: “If you’ve got a haunting problem, they can’t cross an unbroken line of salt. Hurts them. Getting salt over their bodies by any means hurts them.”

Celia: “No, that’s not the point. I mean, that’s good to know, but it’s not bothering me.”

She leans forward in her chair.

GM: “This sounds like something you might be better off leaving alone. There’s a lot of dark things out there going bump in the night. More than just us.”

Celia: “Right, well, I would. Only my mom goes over the house a lot.”

GM: He actually blinks.

Celia: “And her daughter is a lick.”

GM: “Uh, your mom should stop.”

Celia: No shit.


GM: “Ghosts aren’t unstoppable menaces, but they can be trouble. Something that’s adapted to prey on them sounds like something that could prey on licks pretty well too.”

“It’s like lions and tigers eating herbivores rather than each other. If you want a consistent diet, you prey on something that’s weaker than you.”

“And devouring souls is the blackest sort of magic. Can you think of anything worse, than destroying someone’s chance at an afterlife? That one piece of them which is truly immortal?”

Celia: Celia shakes her head.

“No. I thought we didn’t get an afterlife, though. Doesn’t the Embrace kind of kill all that, too?”

GM: Pete laughs.

“Sorry. Flattered you’re asking, but even Tremere don’t have all the answers.”

“That really comes down to what you believe. To faith.”

“I believe we get an afterlife, though. That we all face justice for our actions in life, and the Requiem. Hauled before the ultimate cop high up in the sky.”

Celia: Straight to Hell for her, then.

“Right.” There’s a brief pause. “So… your suggestion is to just leave the scary thing alone.”

GM: “You have any particular reason not to?”

“You sound like you don’t know a whole about this thing. There’s a lot of cops who are former military, and I’ve heard plenty say that bad intelligence is one of the most surefire ways to get somebody killed.”

Celia: “That’s why I asked you. Obviously I don’t want to poke it with a stick.”

GM: “Your mom seems to have a habit of doing that.”

Celia: “My mom wants to get back with Maxen.”

GM: “Longinus in fucking lingerie,” Pete spits.

Celia: “That’s what I said.”

“She started going on about how she misses him. How he took care of her. How it was so long ago. How Jesus wants people to forgive.”

GM: “Jesus forgave a lot of people. Know where that got Him?”

Celia: “Dead.”

GM: “Yep. Hands and ankles nailed to a cross, dying a slow and torturous death from exposure.”

“But He got to die for our sins, because God was His old man. Is God your mom’s old man?”

Celia: I fuckin’ hope not. Apple fell pretty far from the tree if my mom is Jesus.


“To be fair, he died before I was born, so it’s entirely possible I’m wrong.”

GM: “I recommend she leave the forgiving rapist abuser scumbags to Him, either way.”

Celia: “Should have just put him down that night.”

GM: “What-ifs are useless.”

Celia: She sighs, rubbing a hand across her face. “I know, Pete.”

GM: “I also haven’t been able to reach my former partner. Find her another man.”

Celia: “Gettis?”

GM: “Gettis was never my partner.”

“Also not someone I’d have recommended to a delicate flower like your mother.”

Celia: Her hands drop back to her lap. She peers across the desk at him.

GM: “I am still not interested,” he says flatly.

Celia: “You are, that’s what bothers you. You just don’t want to risk it.”

GM: “Find an actual living breathing man, Celia.”

Celia: “I didn’t even say anything, Pete. I just looked at you.”

GM: “Uh huh.”

Celia: She just smiles at him.

GM: “Women all do that.”

Celia: “Look at you?”

GM: “Say things with looks and glances, instead of out loud, so they can play the doe-eyed innocent when it’s convenient.”

Celia: “That’s kind of sexist.”

“Further, like it’s been drilled into me, I’m not a woman anymore.”

GM: “Doesn’t make it wrong.”

“And you’re not. But old habits die hard.”

Celia: “Effective habits.”

“Got you thinkin’ about it, anyway.”

“Your surgeon friend didn’t know what to make of it either, though.”

GM: “Don’t tell me you tried to set up him,” Pete groans.

Celia: “No, actually.” Not really, anyway. She’d have slept with him, but she’s not going to tell Pete that. “Why, is he celibate?”

GM: “By our very natures, none of us are.”

Celia: “You know what I mean.”

GM: “Unfortunately so. Keep your mother away from the monsters. Mortal and otherwise.”

Celia: So much for finding out if North ever talked about her. Aren’t Tremere supposed to be tight?

Pete is the worst best friend.

“What, me too?”

“I’m trying to convince her to leave the city, to be honest, but I don’t even know if she’d be better off somewhere else. At least I can run interference here.”

“She just has a way of bumbling into danger.”

GM: “I don’t know how much luck you’ll have getting her, or anyone, to leave willingly if you can’t explain your reasons.”

“As far as that though, I’d say it depends. Are you good for each other? Have you ever lost control around her?”

Celia: “No. Never. I wouldn’t put them at risk by being around them like that.”

GM: “You’d be surprised how many licks do, through ignorance or carelessness. Or just flat-out feeding on their families.”

Celia: “I would never feed on them. I make sure I’m not hungry when I go over.”

GM: “Then I’d say you’re more considerate than those licks, and otherwise a good influence in one another’s lives.”

Celia: “They’re one of the only good things I’ve got going for me. Why would I mess that up?”

GM: “People do stupid and senseless things all the time. But I’m glad you’re not.”

Celia: “I’ll keep her around for you, no worries.”

GM: “Like arguing with a brick wall…” Pete mutters.

Celia: “I’m your favorite,” Celia tells him with a grin.

GM: “Right.” Pete glances at the time. “Don’t think you’ll have time to give Tantal his makeover tonight.”

He pulls out a cup from his desk. “Bleed into this if you still want to go ahead.”

Celia: “…is it going to hurt, Pete?”

GM: “It shouldn’t, beyond the initial prick.”

Celia: “I mean whatever you’re about to do.”

“What are you going to do?”

GM: “Magic.”

“Pull answers from nowhere, for all intents and purposes to a layman.”

Celia: “That’s it? Just answers?”

GM: “That’s all. You’ll see the blood go poof.”

“What do you most want to find out about these guys?”

Celia: Celia doesn’t need to cut herself again. She reaches into her purse and pulls out a small vial of red liquid.

“I took a sample earlier. I didn’t know if I’d burn through it trying to blend in at my mom’s.” She flashes a smile, then upends the vial into the offered cup.

GM: His eyes silently follow the sanguine trail.

He waits, though, to hear what she’s looking for.

Celia: Celia stares down into the cup. What she wants to know. Something to find out who is behind this all, mostly, but she doesn’t know if the blood can tell her that. And she might already have the answer. She looks back up at him and asks anyway.

“Who is behind all of this. What they want. How they’re finding us.” Her hand clenches into a fist. “How to stop them. Something to just ruin their whole operation.”

GM: “The bigger or broader your question, the vaguer your answer.”

Celia: Right. Even magic doesn’t make things easy.

“Is this like a twenty questions thing?”

She could ask if her own identity is shot. But she’s always been willing to sacrifice for the people she cares about, hasn’t she. It’s less important than finding out if someone sold him out or if he just got sloppy.

“Is who they’re working for too vague? I don’t even know if they’d know. How they found us, I guess.” She eyes him across the desk. “It’s not going to spit out something about GPS, is it? I mean how they found him to get to him. His place.”

“Because he said it was hidden behind a handful of pseudonyms. So it’s possible he just got tagged while he was out and followed home, and it’s all just a happy accident.”

And it’s possible these are the people the elders are working with and Roderick is just the first round of sacrificial lambs. Even if they’re “not religious.” How many groups of hunters are really in the city, though? But that doesn’t make sense if Coco is one of the people throwing names in, since she arranged for him to be protected before. Why throw him in the ring now? To make herself look innocent? Because she knew he could take them? Because she knew Celia would be there? Had Roderick told her even after they’d discussed not doing so? Maybe that’s why she sent them today (yesterday?), so that he’d have backup. Or it’s someone else working against the Anarchs. Someone with a rivalry, maybe. Savoy? But he’d sent her to collect Roderick, why move against him? He’s the in with the Calbido. Because he knew she’d be there—no, she’s overplaying her own importance. There are plenty of ways for him to get rid of her if he wants to.

It’s also possible that they followed her even though Pete already said that’s unlikely.

And maybe they’re not connected to licks at all and she’s searching for threads when there aren’t any.

Fuck, maybe it’s ghost boy, jealous that she’s back together with her ex when she said they could… what had she said? Dream together? Does sex with a ghost count as sex if it happens in a dream?

On that note, maybe it’s even Don—no. Better not even think that.

He’d been at the apartment, though. Had seen the mess left behind. Hadn’t asked about it, but he’d been in her head; who knows what sort of things he had pulled out of her.

She doubts he cares that much.

Cared enough to drop off a loose end, though.

And promptly throw her mom off a building the minute she’d admitted to a mistake. Maybe he thinks Roderick is a mistake. Maybe he doesn’t want her distracted. Maybe he doesn’t want Savoy to have an in.

And people with no regard to human life, sure sounds like him, doesn’t it? Pete said that wasn’t the point he was getting at, but…

She nods.

“Yeah. How they found him. If he was sold out. By whom, if so.” She lifts her brows at him. “If that’s not too much.”

GM: “I guess we’ll see.”

Pete gestures sharply and barks several harsh-sounding phrases in a tongue that mostly feels like Latin to Celia, but something about the accent is… off. The blood in the cup writhes in place, splashing against against the rim like a giant spider that’s been stabbed through its abdomen by a knife. Helplessly flailing its eight many-jointed legs. Low hissing noises that sound like screams to Celia, yet no louder than a whisper, waft up from the blood’s angrily bubbling surface as an unseen force seems to burn it from within. The hissing liquid rises above the cup in a cloud of scarlet vapor.

Celia makes out crude figures in the mist. The three hunters, talking to two men. Dark and tall figures with metallic voices, droning words she can only partly make out. Address… where you’ll find him… last assignment… deliver staked… glinko…

Celia: Celia looks past the vaporous, bloody figures to Pete. None of this is new. Of course the hunters were given the address. Of course they wanted him staked.

Her brows lift.

She waits.

There has to be more.

GM: The coppery-smelling fumes shift. Celia sees the hazy outline of a large and foreboding-looking building with monolithic architecture, the kind that makes everyone around it feel small and puny. It seems like something the prince would approve of. Heavy rhythmic thumps, like the disciplined march of an army, distantly echo.

Celia: It reminds her of every shitty cop show she’s ever seen, trying to put together the pieces of a crime scene or camera feed with only half the information or grainy images. Where’s the enhance button when you need it. She leans forward in her chair to see if she can make further sense of the vision.

If glinko is some sort of organization (the church? Does that mean Pete was wrong earlier when he said they weren’t religious, or just that they no longer need to be because no one is actually religious anymore so what does it matter?), who is the man on the ground? Who sold out Roderick? Who passed his information along to these two? How did they find out about him? Maybe she can’t go after an entire organization by herself, but she can find the rest of the puppets and cut their strings.

GM: Celia can’t make out anything more through the dissolving red plumes.

But she can hear something. A sibilant whisper against her ears.

Lee Andrin

There’s another faint, almost scream-like hiss in Celia’s ear as a coppery smell wafts across Celia’s nostrils, and then it’s gone. Pete’s cup sits empty.

Celia: It’s not a name she recognizes, but the prevalence of social media sites means she has a direction to go, at least. Maybe this “Lee” can provide her with more information. She’ll have to pay him (her?) a visit.

Tomorrow, though. Tonight she has more pressing matters to attend to, not the least of which is the rapidly approaching sunrise.

Her eyes find Pete.

GM: “You want to follow up on this?” he asks.

Celia: “Does that word mean anything to you? Glinko?”

GM: “Can’t say it does.”

Celia: “Church though, wasn’t it?”

GM: “Didn’t look especially church-like to me. No cross or stained glass.”

Celia: “Churches are usually distinct,” she agrees, “maybe more of a concept… organized religion. Catholicism. Army.” She turns the idea over in her head. Maybe she’s wrong.

“Throw childer to Inq. pyres,” she says quietly. She watches his face, to see if the words mean anything to him.

GM: He raises his eyebrows.

Celia: “The attack on Vienna.”

GM: Pete shrugs. “We squashed that. Anyone who’d make a run against our oldest elders on their home turf has a death wish.”

“Some of those Tremere were old when feudalism was new.”

Celia: “Glad to hear it. But it’s spreading. The people behind it.”

GM: The Tremere smiles humorlessly. “It’d chill your blood to learn just how far our elders go to get revenge, and how many ways they know to cause pain.”

“If any of the idiots behind that run on Vienna are still alive, they’re assuredly wishing they weren’t.”

Celia: Celia taps a finger against her thigh. She considers him, then finally just nods. She’d been hoping he could get her a quicker meeting with Savoy, but she thinks that she’s going to need to spill everything to him to get that, and she doesn’t have the time.

“I’m glad we’re friends then, Pete.”

GM: “Me too. Good luck with Roderick. Your grandsire will be very happy to flip him to our side.”

Celia: The smile she gives him doesn’t quite reach her eyes. It’s even a little bit sad, just one corner of her mouth ticking upward. Resigned, maybe.

“I hope so.

Celia doesn’t need to cut herself again. She reaches into her purse and pulls out a small vial of red liquid.

“I took a sample earlier. I didn’t know if I’d burn through it trying to blend in at my mom’s.” She flashes an apologetic smile, then upends the vial into the offered cup.

GM: “What do you want to find out most?” he asks.

Celia: “Do you have time to do one more, or do you think the sun will catch me on my way back home if we try it?”

GM: Pete glances at the time.

“Shouldn’t take long, so long as we don’t spend a while flapping our gums.”

Celia: Celia gives a brief nod. “I’d like to speak further with you about what we just saw, when we both have time. I believe it’s related to the information I have for Lord Savoy. Tomorrow?”

GM: “Elysium Primo’s tomorrow evening. I’m also on police duty, starting midnight. Saturday is better.”

Celia: She gives another brief nod. “I will make myself available. I’ll be around to fix Tantal tomorrow, anyway, if he’s here. Just have him text me.”

GM: “He’s here. He isn’t leaving until his face is his again.”

Celia: “I’ll do it first thing. Sorry I got caught up with talking to you earlier. I should have come by to fix him first.”

GM: “He doesn’t mind spending some off time here.”

“If your grandsire’s good at one thing, it’s keeping people entertained.”

Celia: She’ll have to ask the ghoul what he gets up to tomorrow when she works on him. Maybe he’s enjoying the girls Mel rents out.

“Don’t want to leave you without the help, though.”

GM: “He isn’t a cop. I don’t have him with me then anyway.”

Celia: “Well pardon me for worrying about you.”

GM: “It’s a grave sin, but I suppose I can if you’re contrite.”

Celia: “I’m not, really. Told Mom I’d look out for you.”

GM: “She should forget about me. In any case, what do you want to find out from this second sample?”

“As before, the more narrow your question, the more specific your answer.”

Celia: “So something like, ’what’s the worst thing this person has ever done’ or ‘what secret would they kill to protect’ might not fly?”

GM: “Almost anything flies, but you’ll get a vaguer and more cryptic answer if those sins and secrets aren’t recent ones.”

“There’s a saying among diviners. ‘Ask small questions, get big answers. Ask big questions, get small answers.’”

Celia: She doesn’t know what else to ask, though. She can look into Caroline’s public life herself. Roderick had told her how she’d been messing with the Anarchs, which is all mostly known by the rest of the licks. None of that really serves her purpose. He’d tasked her with bringing her to heel. That involves… dark things. She’s already planning on how to spin something else to blame the blonde if she moves against her…

Celia finally forces a sigh.

“I doubt anyone will take my word for it if I say I did it with a blood ritual anyway. Might as well see what it turns up that I can dig further into.”

GM: “So what do you want to shoot for?”

The detective adds dryly, “I also wouldn’t mind knowing whose blood this is.”

Celia: “She’s an enemy of Lord Savoy and stands directly in the way of what he wants. And she messed with my mom.” Quiet, but bitter beneath the tightly controlled words when she mentions her mother. “She’s the one with the mom who eats souls.” A look at him at that revelation, brows raised; after what he said about that sort of act she can’t imagine that he wouldn’t want to know what’s in this sample.

“Worst thing she’s ever done, then.” Maybe her ghost friend can help her uncover some secrets.

GM: Pete’s eyebrows raise too, but it’s not enough to eclipse the angry look his eye gets after Celia mentions Diana.

“She did, did she?”

“Tell me how.”

Celia: There’s a tale.

Celia keeps it brief.

“My mom teaches dance, as you know.” Does he know? She thinks, based on his reaction, that he pays more attention to Diana than Celia had realized. “Private lessons sometimes. She had a session with the lick’s kid sister at their house and she got emotional, and she was hit by some charm and some mind-fu—uh, mind twisting, memory stuff. And then she started crying outside and talking about Maxen taking her daughter away, and she got sick early the next morning and Maxen showed up. And Emily told me that she threw out her pain medication for her leg because she thought it made her say weird things and I think it was just a lingering result of the mind-twisting, and she’s refusing to take her meds now and she’s in pain and now I’m like well I better go see what Xola wants to fix her leg because otherwise she’s going to not be able to walk or something.”

Clearly exasperated, Celia looks like she wants to start pacing or throw her hands up in disgust. She does neither, but her fingers twist together on her lap.

“She’s delicate. She can’t take that sort of mind-bendy garbage and just… just bounce back like nothing happened.”

“And I don’t know maybe it’s all just a big coincidence but it sure doesn’t feel like one.”

GM: Pete gives a low growl.

“Keep your mom out of that damn house, you hear?”

Celia: “I’m trying. She doesn’t want to listen to me and it’s not like I can tell her the real reason.”

GM: “So lie about something. I know you’re pretty good at that. Or take some damn executive action, and put your foot down that she’s not going, you’ve decided she isn’t allowed anymore.”

Celia: “Yeah,” she says quietly. “I’ll figure it out.”

“…d’you think Xola would…? Your friend said he might teach me, but he’s gone now, and if she’s not on her meds anymore…”

It’s such a human problem that she feels ridiculous bringing it up to him, but she searches his face for an answer all the same. There’s no disguising the hope, desperation, and apprehension in her eyes. As if waiting for him to tell her to make it worth his time to even talk about it.

She’s asking, she realizes, if he’ll go with her again. As much as the back alley doctor hadn’t really phased her the first time she’d met him, Roderick’s warning rings in her mind.

GM: “Jesus Christ, kid,” Pete sighs.

“Leaving aside all the ways that’s a bad idea—and there are a lot of them—how the hell are you going to explain to your mom why you’re taking her to see a ghetto back alley doctor like Xola? Who can somehow work miracles a proper doctor can’t?”

Celia: It’s been a long time since she’s heard his voice in her head. But there it goes, whispering that word she hates so much.


She doesn’t say anything. Just nods her head, trying to control the desperation that makes her look for any answer to keep her family safe.

GM: “Put your foot down. Tell her she’s taking her meds. For good or ill, she’s used to someone telling her what to do.”

Celia: She nods again. She doesn’t trust herself to speak.

Celia: He has to be thinking it. That’s she’s stupid. Incompetent. He’d almost said as much two nights ago with his thinly veiled comments about the time she spends online. Do they regret fishing her out of the water?

She’s not. She’s not stupid. She’s useful, she can be useful.

Prove it.

“Vidal’s kid,” she says finally. “The blood. You asked who. That’s… that’s who. He has a childe. A new one.”

Less eloquent than normal. She must be rattled.

GM: Pete actually blinks.


Celia: “He has a childe. A fledgling. Months old.”

GM: “Yeah, and I’m actually Hardestadt’s.”

Celia: Celia blinks at him this time. Her brows furrow, but no crease dares to mar her perfect skin.

“Why would I lie about that?”

GM: “So just what is it that makes you think so?”

Celia: “I met her. Last night. She was in the Garden District, bold as brass, like she had every right to be there. And we shared blood, and she was… I mean, it was potent. Hers, and the stuff inside of her too. It’s not like I go around chomping on elders but… Pete, I’ve never tasted anything like it. And you know that trick with the speed, how you can share it? She did that. Months old.”

And her sire confirmed it, but she doesn’t think she should tell him that.

GM: “There’s other ways of pulling that off. And getting strong blood.” Pete gives an ominous look. “Some pretty nasty.”

“I’d be more inclined to suspect those.”

Celia: “Maybe,” Celia says. “Considering whatever her mom is, sure, I could see that. And maybe she’s just a natural with the speed. It makes more sense than the alternative. And I’d probably believe that if she hadn’t sicced the sheriff on me and he hadn’t threatened me for interfering with the prince’s business.” She tries to make her voice sound like his: cold, imperious. She doesn’t quite manage. Why else would Donovan have used her mother as an example?

GM: “That all sounds pretty anecdotal to me. Vidal’s had hundreds of years to Embrace. He hasn’t. Pretty unlikely he’s about to start again.”

Celia: Celia looks like she wants to sigh at him. And maybe at herself for even bothering to bring it up. She should just take the bitch out and be done with it.

“Pete,” she says quietly, “he told me. He said it, that she’s the prince’s childe.”

GM: Pete looks at her strangely.

“Have you been spending time with Malkavians?”

Celia: “Just Preston.”

GM: “Okay, I’ll play along. Why would your sire randomly decide to tell you that she’s Vidal’s childe?”

Celia: “I don’t know. I don’t pretend to know what goes on inside his head. Why did he Embrace me? Why did he abandon me? It’s not like we sit down and chat over a pint of blood like Roderick gets to do with Coco because she’s so fascinating and knows so much and she’s just so smart and amazing and pretty but let’s ignore the fact that—”

Celia cuts herself off. She stares down at her lap, where her claws have sprung free from their fleshy prison. She swallows the hurt and bitterness and jealousy, watching them sink back into her flesh as if they had never been.

“Sorry,” she mutters. “I don’t know. I didn’t ask why he told me. He just said that she’s the prince’s childe and to stay out of the Garden District and then he threw my mom off the roof to prove his point.”

GM: “I find it extremely improbable that Vidal would have taken another childe, or that Donovan would have felt any particular reason to share that with you. Maybe he’s feeding you lies to further some scheme.”

Celia: “Maybe,” she allows. “Could ask the blood. I thought… I dunno, maybe there’d be… better questions for it, or something, and I was trying to… to not be emotional, not waste it on my own petty revenge…” Questions, she says, but she really means uses. She thinks it might be rude to blatantly say as much, though.

GM: Pete shrugs. “It’s either confirm something that’d be a real game-changer, or get something on a neonate of no particular importance.”

Celia: Celia smiles at him. Her lashes flutter, just a little, as if to say, See, this is why I let you guys do the heavy thinking.

“Okay,” she says. “Should we… do that now, or… should we get Lord Savoy, in case he wants to know..?”

GM: “He’ll take my word if the results are positive, and we’ll have wasted his time if they’re not.”

Celia: His word. But not Celia’s.

That’s not a bitter pill at all.

She just nods.

“Makes sense.”

GM: Pete repeats his ritual. Pours in the blood. Mouths the incantations. Caroline’s face forms from the scarlet plumes.

They shift into another a face Celia can only recall seeing a bare handful of times, at a bare handful of Elysia. Most recently Matheson’s trial.

[[File:117971 | class=media-item-align-center | Augusto_Vidal.jpg]]
Celia: She doesn’t say told you so. But she definitely thinks it.

GM:Longinus in fucking lingerie,” Pete exclaims.

The plumes shift again, into two more faces.

The cup stands empty.

“Why the fuck is she running around saying she’s René’s childe?” Pete speculates aloud.

Celia: Celia shrugs.

“Same reason we say I’m Veronica’s childe, maybe. Maybe they thought it would be less of a target on her back. Roderick told me that she was causing all sorts of issues with the Anarchs. Like trying to make deals and just being kind of…” cunty “… not very friendly. Like how she couldn’t stand the thought of being this sireless nobody after, y’know, who her parents are. Maybe she’s… a plant? Or like, trying to spy? Or she was an accident?” She’s doing a terrible job at it, if that’s the case.

“I didn’t tell him,” she adds, as if expecting the question. “I didn’t tell anyone.”

GM: “Spy or accident both seem very unlikely,” Pete says, shaking his head. “Any other lick could serve as a spy. And Vidal making that kind of rookie mistake, for an accident? I don’t see it.”

“But there’s obviously a lot here that I don’t see.”

“The results don’t lie. Lord Savoy will hear about this. He’ll know what to make of it.”

Celia: Pete knows more about their prince than Celia does. She’s inclined to trust him in this matter. If he says she’s not an accident or a spy then she isn’t an accident or a spy.

Not an accident.

It shouldn’t make her think of her sire, but it does. That he’s also not the type of lick to make a rookie mistake. That he did mean to Embrace her, that he chose her.

She pushes the thought aside. It doesn’t matter. She already thinks she knows why, and it has no bearing on this conversation about Vidal and his childe.

She nods at his statement.

“I’m supposed to see him on Saturday. I was trying to get an earlier meeting to tell him about it, but…” she lifts her shoulders in a gesture that might be a shrug. “You know how it is, when they’re busy. Better this way, I think. To confirm it.”

Celia: “Hey Pete,” she says after a minute, “that was Sumerian, right? The thing at the end? You went through their whole line?”

GM: “I did. It looked Middle Eastern. Why?”

Celia: “Well. ‘Cause the other night, with Roxanne, she mentioned something about Vidal being the childe of Longinus. Sounded like she was convinced of it. She was… real fanatical about it, kind of like he’d, I dunno, collared her a few times. It reminded me of how ‘Lana gets about me. And it didn’t make much sense.”

She repeats part of the conversation for him. How she’d said Vidal is not Kindred, not Ventrue, but touched by God.

GM: “Your sister was cracked in the head,” says Pete. “You said it yourself. Crazy even before she died.”

“Pretty common for Vidal to collar licks who get on his bad side, though. Can’t imagine that helped.”

Celia: “You think she was on his bad side?”

GM: “The Storyvilles had their lips pressed to his ass, by all accounts. I doubt she wanted to be. But it’s possible she did something stupid and wound up on it anyway.”

Celia: “Oh. ’Cause I have her ghoul. The MILF. I thought maybe she might… know more, or something.”

GM: “Might be she does. I suspect your sister’s particular basket of crazy was exactly that, but renfields can pick up some interesting things.”

Celia: “I’ll see if I can get it out of her, then.”

“The blood thing you do. Is that something you can detect with it? Collars, or memories, or…?” She trails off.

GM: “There isn’t much my clan elders can’t do with a blood sample,” Pete answers with a humorless smile. “But that isn’t something I can.”

Celia: Celia nods, as if she’d expected that answer. She’d been asking about Roxanne, but some nagging thing inside of her thinks that Roderick might be triple bound to his sire, and she’d been thinking about stealing a little bit of it to find out.

Probably better that she not betray his trust like that, anyway.

“Thanks. Just figured I’d ask. Any chance you want to teach me that phone finger wavey-thing you do so I don’t have to ask you to get into them all the time for me?” She flashes a hopeful grin his way.

GM: “Might take a pretty long while. It’s not a parlor trick.”

Celia: “I can be patient.”

“I bet you’d be a good teacher, too. Very patient. Like my mom.”

“You guys have a lot in common.”

She beams at him.

GM: Pete groans.

“It isn’t ever going to sink in, is it, no matter what I say?”

Celia: “She’s a good-looking lady. Has to beat them off with sticks these days.”

“Anyway, you’re the nicest person I know. That means you’re meant to be together.” There’s sincerity in her words despite her tone. She really does appreciate him.

It’s why she teases him so much.

GM: “I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it every time. Find her a real man. Should be pretty easy with you keeping her so good-looking.”

Celia: “Mr. Landrenau said the same thing earlier this evening. Asked if she was single, then said that maybe he’d have to start going to the spa if my work was that good.”

“I don’t want to step on my grandsire’s toes, though.”

Not that she thinks Diana will do anything with Ron. He’s… not her type. And she’d already found Mel and had picked out two of her girls to send over as an apology for interrupting his evening. They’ll meet with him tomorrow and he’ll forget all about Diana.

No, now she’s just baiting the Tremere.

GM: They’re probably more his type than Diana is, too.

Celia: She’s pretty sure Diana could give those girls a run for their money in flexibility, though.

GM: She’s pretty sure the former ballerina would beat them. Emily says their mom still does lots of stretching exercises around her and Lucy. “I swear that her joints are slinkys.”

Celia: She’ll make some man real happy one of these days.

GM: “Doesn’t hurt to be considerate,” says Pete. “Plenty fish in the sea and all that.”

“I’ll get this to your grandsire. He should hear fast.”

Celia: “Thanks. He should.” She glances at the clock. “I should get going, anyway. Meeting Roderick.”

This close to dawn, the implication is clear: they’re definitely sleeping together.

“Convenient that his haven was compromised.” Idle words, but she watches his face, wondering if Savoy had pulled some strings to give her a better chance at flipping him.

GM: “Sounds like it,” says Pete. Celia doesn’t spot anything on the Tremere’s face.

He sees her to the door. “Good luck.”

Celia: It was worth a shot, anyway.

“Have a good night, Pete. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Celia IV, Chapter V
Hurting Hearts

“I told you, when you first showed up. There’s real poison in our blood.”
Ron Landreneau

Thursday night, 10 March 2016, PM

Celia: After her first meeting with Ron, Celia hadn’t let him slip out of her life. She had told him that she doesn’t need him to be her dad, and he wasn’t interested in it anyway, but she’d also told him she wasn’t some money-grubbing child claimant who’d only hit him up for a check when she’d needed it. They’d made plans to see each other on her birthday, get dinner again, and that had been that.

Only Celia had died before she’d made it to her next birthday. So it had been a little difficult to explain to him why she couldn’t meet him until really late at night, when most restaurants are closed. Rather than go out she’d asked if they could stay in and she’d bring something over. He’d accused her of not wanting to be seen with him—laughing, of course, always laughing—and Celia had made it up to him with a fancy bottle of bourbon, steak, and the biggest damn lobster she’d been able to find. Plus a rich key lime cheesecake for dessert. She’d sworn she’d never eat again, but he’d been mollified.

Her grandsire hadn’t been, though. He hadn’t spoken to her directly about it, but Lebeaux had taken her aside to tell her that it isn’t proper behavior to speak to someone like that without permission from who they belong to, which, admittedly, Mel had covered with her, but she hadn’t known that individual people could belong to licks too. She’d been more than a little flustered when the warden was done dressing her down for her behavior, and she’d told him that of course she hadn’t meant anything by it.

After that she’d had to apologize to Lord Savoy. Formally. Explain what she wants with the movie producer. That she hadn’t mean to step on his toes or approach his subject or encroach on his territory.

Now each time she wants to see him she asks if she’s allowed, and since nothing bad has ever come of it he’s never said no. She tells him the when and the where, he either has Mel tell her it’s fine or, if she’s meeting him directly about something else, waves a lazy hand and tells her to enjoy it.

She’d never directly told him that Ron is her dad, but she thinks he might know. That or he thinks she’s sleeping with the producer, and she’s not really sure what would be worse for her. She had explained this time, at least, that she might see if he’s still game to offer her a part in a movie.

It’s in a decidedly not whoring outfit that she shows up at Ron’s place when she’s done with her mother and Emily. A little late for dinner, but still not late enough that she thinks he’ll be asleep. He seems like one of those sleep all day, party all night kind of guys.

She just hopes he isn’t with one of his ladies of the week.

Celia lifts a hand to press the buzzer at his door.

GM: It’s been Mel that does, after the first few times. Vampires don’t like to share, but they can, at least, still let their guards down.

“Yeah?” grogs the now-older man’s voice from the box. He’s past 60.

That’s what all the kine do. Get old.

Celia: “Hey, Ron.” Ron. Not dad or Mr. Landrenau, just Ron. They’d both agreed to that. “It’s Celia.”

GM: “It’s late, Celia,” he grogs. “But whatever, I guess. Come up.”

The Toreador makes her way up to his floor. She doesn’t need to knock. The door’s already open. A girl dressed in suggestive attire is giggling and trading a kiss with the man on the other side. She looks as young as Celia did during her first meeting with her biological father.

Maybe a little younger.

Celia: Not much of a surprise. Diana had been 17. She’d heard he likes them young.

Celia doesn’t apologize for disturbing him at this hour like she might usually have. She’s got some cookies that Mom foisted off on her before she could get out the door, and she nods to Ron as she sweeps past the pair to deposit them in the kitchen for him. He’ll find them later. She rejoins them after a moment.

Maybe the girl is gone.

GM: Perhaps she wonders what Mom would think of that. Giving the snickerdoodles she baked to this man.

Celia: Mom will never know.

Better than throwing them in the trash, anyway.

GM: The girl isn’t gone. She’s dragging things out as she hugs and fondles him. She shoots Celia a jealous look over the older man’s shoulder that clearly says ‘stay away.’

Celia: Celia purses her lips and flutters her lashes at the girl. She unbuttons the top of her shirt. Just one. She’s older than the girl, but she doesn’t look it.

GM: The girl glares at Celia, then makes a kissy face and gets to her knees in front of Ron. He makes half-hearted sounds of protest.

Celia: “Charming,” Celia says dryly.

To remind him that she’s there. His daughter.

GM: “Ah. Shit. Not right here.” He pulls the now-protesting girl up. “Later, all right, babycakes?”

“How much later?” the girl presses, still glaring at Celia.

Celia: “Probably past your bedtime.”

GM: The girl glares harder, as if trying to think of something to say, then just exclaims, “You look like such a slut.”

“Fuckin’ Christ. Out,” grouses Ron.

“She’s just here t-”

Celia: Celia’s lips quirk upward in amusement. She glances down at her blouse and pants. Slut indeed.

She gives the girl a little finger wave as Ron shows her the door.

GM: “Yeah, and you ain’t? She’s my kid, dumbass. Out,” Ron repeats.

The girl looks a bit thrown off by that, then just glares at Celia again and makes her way out in a huff.

Ron closes the door behind her.

“I swear they get dumber every year.”

Celia: “Should have let her think you were fucking me,” Celia says after the door closes. “She’d have doubled down to win you back.”

GM: “Whatever, I guess. Always more.”

Ron’s dressed in a different-colored bathrobe, but still a bathrobe. Seven years later, his diminished hair is whiter, his belly’s larger, and his pudgier, blearier-looking face has more wrinkles. He does not look as if he’s aged gracefully.

He shuffles off to the kitchen. “Drink?”

Celia: “Might try even harder thinking she insulted your kid,” Celia says thoughtfully. She trails after him. “Whatever you’re having.” Same line, every time.

GM: He pours some glasses of what Celia knows by now is whiskey. He plops down heavily on the couch and takes a pull. The bright lights cast longer shadows over is face against the night. Celia supposes she hasn’t been giving him the same skincare regimen as her mom, and he might be 20 years older, but he has not aged as well.

“Little late,” he repeats. “So what is it?”

Celia: She’d offered, though. She still gives him products for holidays, but she doesn’t think he uses them. Shame, really. She imagines he’d be a good-looking guy if she could work her magic on him. Maybe if her grandsire decides to keep him around… feign a heart attack, say it made him more wary about his health, make a few changes… easy.

She imagines the whiskey tastes about as good as the first time. She can almost pretend that the ash is just the result of being filtered through charcoal if she were so inclined. She pretends to sip. Makes a face, as if she’d swallowed.

“You’re right. It’s late. I’m sorry for barging in on you like this. I tried to get in to see you at the office but my assistant has been a little scatter brained lately.” She flashes a rueful smile. He knows what that’s like, she’s sure. How many assistants has he hired for their brains versus their willingness to get on their knees under his desk?

GM: “Scattered brains should be easy to find when there aren’t many to scatter,” he grouses.

“But you’re right, who the fuck hires them for their brains.”

Celia: Celia lifts her glass in a ‘cheers’ motion.

“I’ve been thinking about the offer you made me a while ago.” He’d told her when she gets tired of playing online to hit him up and he’d “catapult her into stardom.” His words.

GM: “And you had to come tell me that right when I was getting laid,” he grouses again.

Celia: “Mmm, well, like I said, she’s going to try even harder with you now. Maybe let you do her the back way, you know how girls play shy about that.”

“You can probably convince her to bring a friend or two. Really, I did you a favor.”

GM: “Kid, I don’t care about all those bullshit games at this point. I want more girls, I can buy more girls.”

Celia: “I’ll buy you a girl, then.”

GM: “Lunch is when you normally say these kindsa things, you know. ‘Hey I’m interested in movies.’”

Celia: “I know. I also work through lunch most days, as you know. Business is going well. You should come by sometime.” She tells him that every time, too.

There’s a brief pause. Celia glances down at her drink. She swirls the ice around.

“I had a… nightmare, I guess. That I’d wasted my life online. You told me once that the kid thing doesn’t do it for you, that the legacy you want to leave behind is the movies. Something that breaks records. That’s turned into a classic. That, fifty years from now, people point at and say, now that’s art. People like stories, you said.” She leans forward. “Let’s give them one.”

GM: “I also told you art doesn’t sell. Art makes me you think. People don’t like that. They hate that.”

“But whatever. You want to be on the screen, that’s doable. Another pretty face is an easy fit into Vieux Carre.

Celia: Celia shakes her head.

“How much does an episode of that cost to produce compared to what it brings in?”

GM: “Uh, you bet it brings in more than it costs, or we’d drop it like a hot potato.”

Celia: “Obviously.”

GM: “Average episode costs about a million, anyways. Individual episodes also aren’t what we make money from, beyond selling them to networks for the cost it takes to make them.”

Celia: “Sure, but the demand for this kind of content, and thus the profit, has gone down, hasn’t it? I looked into it a little. Last year there was a garbage movie that brought in a billion dollars at the box office in seventeen days. Seventeen. That’s a record.”

GM: “Sure. It’s gonna get canceled eventually, like all shows. ‘Til then, we’ll milk the cash cow for all it’s worth.”

Celia: “Of course. I wouldn’t dream of telling you to put it down. But while you’ve got that guaranteed source of revenue, why not expand a little?”

GM: “And what do you think I should expand to?”

Celia:RED just released their new Dragon Vista a few months back. There are some studios out there who don’t even have the Epic Dragon, and you’ve still got people who think Arri can keep up.” Celia shares a look with Ron. “Those are the same kinds of places using day-for-night, too. Put Zodiac in front again. Grab a DV, put together a night film. First foray into this, maybe make it low budget. Bunch of nobody actors, keeps cost down on salaries. Horror, maybe, those tend to work well like that. Push it out under a sister company even. Real unknown. But you’ve got the talent here with your DP and FX guys, I’ve seen it. Knock it out of the park. Market the fuck out of it. You’ll see a bunch of copycats, but Zodiac got there first. Stick to the Quarter, even. Amount of ghost stories around here?”

Celia shakes her head.

“You could make something new for each one if you wanted and it goes well, even.”

It hits all the right beats: lets him play up the “local director” angle, uses the newest gadgets on the market, draws on the experience of his guys while still doing something new. Low budget, low risk, potential for a big reward both in profits and in sequels. Worst case scenario he buys a new camera.

And horror movies notoriously get a good turnaround on profits.

She’s not married to that idea, though.

GM: “Right, let’s establish a few things, ‘cause this ain’t the first time I’ve talked to someone, or even a relative, with big ideas who wanted to get into movies,” says Ron. “What are you after? Do you just want your face on the screen? Or do you want to make this specific movie?”

Celia: Celia doesn’t quite deflate, but she nods her head in agreement.

“You’re right. You’re the movie guy. I just got excited.” The smile she gives him is sheepish. She swirls her drink, sending the blood through her body to give herself a flush. It reddens her cheeks, makes her eyes a little shiny. Blame the whiskey and excitement, right?

GM: “Do you want make more movies, have a career in the industry? Do you want to be an actor, a producer, a director, or what? Or just build your brand on top of the MeVid and Instagram stuff? Like, what the fuck are you after here?”

Celia: Celia considers the question. She’d thought, initially, she wanted to be an actress. They make the big bucks, don’t they? But they’re the subject of constant gossip, their every move scrutinized… and they have to do what other people tell them to. Plus they have to be on set early, during the day. She’d have to rely on doubles to take her spot. Producers have more longevity, don’t they? Pick their own projects. Make a pile of money, too. Easy to hand it off to someone else that’s actually her once “Celia Flores” runs out of time.

“Eventually, I think I’d like to produce. Like you do. And I’ll admit that the idea of being on screen while I’m young and pretty enough to do it is appealing as well.”

GM: “I produce and direct. Sometimes write, though not so much now.”

“So what you want is to be on screen, and build that into producing later? Lot of stars who’ve done that.”

Celia: Celia nods.

That sounds about right.

“Do people take them less seriously as producers or directors because they used to act?”

GM: “Used to be actors were just actors—you don’t hear of Gary Golden or Ginger Swan producing movies. But even then you had exceptions. Think Orson Welles. It’s gotten more and more common with time. Actors taking on production responsibilities has changed the nature of filmmaking for the better. The more actors who also direct and produce means bigger creative investment and better conditions for cast and crew. Because working actors understand what’s needed to get the best performances. Think Clint Eastwood. Actor with a rep as an outstanding director and producer.”

“So no, not really.”

Celia: She was thinking more like the female actors who turn into directors and everyone thinks their movies are shit because they’ve got a vagina.

But she nods again.

She can be Clint Eastwood.

GM: “But okay. You just want to get your face on screen, forget a new movie for now. Big hassle to make a movie. Also damn hard to raise money for if you’re brand new and want a high production value. Easier to fit you in to someone else’s project, build your reputation, make your own movies from there.”

Celia: “So you think the show to start, or I should get… like a small part on a movie?”

GM: “Show,” says Ron. “Easier to slip you in. Ongoing thing you can do for potentially a while.”

“Average shooting day is 10-12 hours, by the way. Make plenty time.”

Celia: That’s a problem.

That’s a big problem.

GM: “We usually get 8-24 minutes of usable footage from that.”

Celia: “Why so little?”

GM: “When the fuck doesn’t shit take longer than you think?”

Celia: “It just… seems unproductive, is all.”

“But I guess if you’re shooting 50-60 minute episodes… one episode for every two to three days…”

Celia shrugs.

GM: “The full cast ain’t on set, or even on property, that full time. There’s a lot of moving parts that go into making a movie. Just how it is. That rate’s stayed pretty much the same since I started out, way before you were born.”

Celia: “Okay. So. How does this all work, then?”

GM: “I’ll get you an audition. You don’t do terrible, you’ll get a part.”

Celia: If only she weren’t his daughter, she could sleep with him for a part like every other actress.


“And you recommend that instead of just… following what you do?”

GM: “What do you mean, following what I do?”

Celia: “I meant like you recommend going from acting to producing / directing instead of just going into the latter?”

GM: “Unless you’re independently wealthy enough to bankroll it all yourself, you will not be fuckin’ producer or director out of the box. That doesn’t happen anymore.”

“And even if you are, everything’ll be ten times harder without industry experience and connections.”

Celia: Celia nods. She gets it.

GM: “Like, I want to open a spa, right now, what the fuck would you tell me? I got money, right, and appreciate chicks who look good?”

Celia: “Hire a good manager.”

Celia grins at him.

GM: “Ha. I bet.”

Celia: “No, right, you’d want to make sure you know what you’re doing. That your techs know what they’re doing. That everything is priced right, that you’re following state board rules, that the marketing is on point, everyone has a license…” Celia trails off.

GM: “And a lot more shit you haven’t listed, ‘cuz you ain’t done this before.”

Celia: “So, really, hire someone who knows what they’re doing so you can learn.”

GM: “By the way though, if you’re serious about starting a movie career, you’re in a good place.”

Celia: “Yeah? Why’s that?”

GM: “Because there’s main two things that get you in, these days.”

“Family connections and money. Talent’s optional.”

“You don’t need talent to make it big.”

Celia: It’s not quite a ringing endorsement to what he’d once said about her being a good actress, but she smiles politely all the same.

GM: “Like, if I hadn’t cum inside your mom, you’d need all sorts of bullshit like acting classes and volunteer experience and a resume and an agent and there’d be a million other bitches and sonsofbitches who want the parts you want.”

“But here I am saying okay, you have an audition, just like that.”

Celia: She doesn’t point out that she’s prettier than the rest of his cast, either.

“I appreciate my luck.”

GM: “I didn’t have family connections or money. I busted my balls to make it in Hollywood. And the industry’s changed since then. Gotten way more competitive, like everything. Busting your balls isn’t enough no more.”

Celia: “And look what you’ve made with it.” Celia gestures around them, to the apartment, then beyond that to the city at large, the company he’s built. “You made everything yourself. You’re not coasting by on a name or looks or money or because you bent over for some guy. And that’s admirable.”

GM: “Yeah, I just sold my soul and make shitty movies. Lot to admire.”

Celia: “Ron… you’ve said that a few times. Shitty movies. Do you want to do more?”

“Has anyone ever asked you that? What you want?”

GM: “Doesn’t matter. ‘More’ doesn’t sell.”

Celia: “Would it make you proud, though?”

GM: “Audiences don’t want ‘more.’”

He gestures around the condo.

“I’d also rather have this than pride.”

Celia: “What if money wasn’t an object? If you could just… make what you wanted to? If you could have that and your condo and the girls?”

GM: “What if unicorns were real? Yeah, I’d clamber on one for a ride.”

Celia: “But I mean think about it, Ron. You’ve spent your lifetime building a company, and you don’t sound happy. And I’m your kid so I’m not going to lecture you because you don’t need it from me. But if you want to be happy, to be proud of the legacy you leave behind… maybe just think about it, you know?”

GM: Ron takes a pull of his drink. “I have this romantic idea, sometimes. When I’m really drunk and my girl’s nodding along to everything I say. Of making the last movie I make a real movie. Being sole producer, spending every cent I have, so no one else gets to sink their claws into it. Writing the screenplay. Directing it. Making do on the lower budget. Using every trick I ever learned, to make something real and beautiful and thoughtful and profound, to say everything I ever wanted to say, that touches people in their hearts and leaves them thinkin’ about it years after they’ve seen it. It wouldn’t make a lot of money. Box office flop. Critics would say it was weird, too different, too nonconventional. Wouldn’t matter, because I’d die in my director’s chair the day of the final shot, or maybe the premiere. But it’d be a cult classic, and a few decades later, it’d show up on all those ‘Top X’ lists and critics would all be gushing over what a work of art it was, and how unappreciated for its time, and how it changed things in movies forever.”

Ron takes another drink.

“And then I see my girl noddin’ and gigglin’, and I come back to fuckin’ reality.”

“And I think, hey. Maybe that would be a catchy movie. Movie about a director who wants to make a not-shitty movie, except the movie actually is just another shitty movie.”

Celia: Celia sets her glass down on the coffee table between them. She doesn’t quite lean forward in her chair, but she does fix him with a look.

“Do I look like I’m giggling and laughing and nodding along? If that’s what you want to do… do it. Start writing it. You’ve got this life here, sure, and you’ve got these movies and the shows you’ll leave behind, and a bunch of kids that will fight over what you leave when you die. Or you could actually do it, be the cult classic, be a name that people remember forever.”

GM: “Leaving aside all the other reasons that’s a better story, and movie, than it is a reality, I’m not about to kick the bucket. I can’t make it before I’m about to die, remember, since it’ll take every penny I have.”

“Though I guess I could kill myself when it’s done. Maybe even make that into a scene in the movie, ha ha. A real fuckin’ suicide. That’s almost beautiful.”

Celia: Celia is pretty sure that’s illegal, but she doesn’t tell him so. He’d know better than her, anyway.

“Could always write it now. Direct it under a different name, push it out under a different studio. Subsidiary, that kind of thing.”

GM: “Were you listening to a damn word I said? Use whatever fuckin’ name or studio you want, those kinds of movies don’t get made, unless you’ve got the money to take total fuckin’ control of production.”

Celia: Celia gives him a flat look.

GM: “Hollywood is an abortion clinic. Good ideas are the babies.”

Celia: “Then change it. Be different. You’re top dog in New Orleans, aren’t you? Do something with it.”

GM: “You are not listening to a damn thing I said! I make a movie that way, it’ll take every last cent I have, bye-bye all this.” He gestures at the condo. “Bye-bye to your inheritance, too.”

Celia: Celia considers him for a long moment.

“I am listening to you. I’m hearing you say that it’s a money problem. That you’d have to spend everything you have to be in charge. But it’s your name on the side of the building, isn’t it? You’re already in control. I know that’s not always how it works when people start throwing money at projects, they all want a hand in it. So… what if I throw money at it? I don’t know if I could bankroll the whole thing, but I could help. If that’s what you want to do.”

GM: “Soon as you take somebody else’s money, kid, they’re also in charge,” Ron says wearily.

He looks at her dubiously.

“The movie’d be a box office flop. Might even never be appreciated, years later. You’d probably just be lighting cash on fire.”

Celia: “I’ll make more money,” Celia says with a shrug. “If it’s what you want to do and I can help, I want to help.”

GM: “Why?”

Celia: “Because even if I don’t call you ‘dad’ you’re my dad. Because when I approached you years ago you were nice to me, and you could have just blown me off. Because you’re not… fake. You don’t smile and then stab someone in the back, you just say it like it is. ‘Celia, that’s not a good idea, this is what’s wrong with your plan,’ and you do it in a way that doesn’t make me feel less-than. Because I told you years ago I didn’t contact you for your money and you did something nice for me anyway, and now it’s my turn.”

GM: Ron doesn’t say anything for a while.

“What was it you said about who your mom was, way back? Sweetest lady in the world or some shit?”

“There’s a lot more of her in you than me.”

“Lot more.”

Celia: Plenty enough of him in her too, though. With a dash of Maxen on her darkest days.

She leans forward to touch his hand.

“You’re my family, Ron. This is what we do for each other.”

GM: “All right, enougha that mushy shit,” Em’s uncle says to Celia in a gruff but faintly choked-sounding voice. He takes a swig of his nearby drink.

“Someone’ll call you about the details. Audition times and shit.”

Celia: Celia pulls back from him with a smile, folding her hands on her lap.

“I’m looking forward to it. Thank you for setting it up.”

GM: “If you’re really serious about movies, by the way… I can talk to Rick. Rick Towers. We’re friends. He could take you with him to Hollywood. He won’t break his back to start your career, but he can open doors. Help you land some gigs.”

“I might be top dog in Louisiana, but this place is the kids’ table next to Hollywood.”

Celia: That’s certainly tempting. Or would be, if she weren’t predisposed to that certain type of sun allergy that involves bursting into flames at the slightest touch. She nods, though, because she thinks he expects it of her, and because there’s some part of her that wonders if she could make it work.

“I’d have to consider that. I have a business here, would need to sell. We don’t even know if I’m any good at this yet,” she says ruefully. “But… yeah, that sounds really great.”

There’s a pause, then, “do they really sleep with all the girls out there like you say?”

GM: She’s heard about L.A. from Roderick in passing. Anarch city. Anarch capital of the world, really. Vampires involved in Hollywood.

“Yep,” says Ron.

Celia: Not that Celia is opposed to sleeping with people to get what she wants.

GM: “Lot more shit I don’t say too.”

Celia: “Oh?”

GM: “Isn’t shit you’d see goin’ with Rick,” he waves off. “That’s for the really desperate girls.”

“Spreading your legs isn’t shit you’d need to do, either. That happens most with the actresses starting out, who don’t have money or connections. But it’d still help you get places with a body like yours.”

Celia: She should feel a certain way about her dad judging her body, she’s sure. Disgusted, maybe. But she’s dead, and she’s heard worse, and he’d never been much of a dad to her. She’s kind of flattered. She does have a bangin’ bod, she’d made it herself.

“That the kind of thing that’s gonna come back and bite me in the ass later?”

GM: “Sleeping with somebody to get ahead?”

“Pffft. Bite half the asses in Hollywood.”

“Can happen though if you’re careless and the paparazzi are hungry.”

“Then again, all publicity’s good publicity.”

Celia: “Ah. Like people who get work done, right? When it’s bad it’s obvious, when it’s good you can’t even tell. Show some discretion, that sort of thing.”

Is he really suggesting his daughter fuck her way to success?

GM: “Well, like I said. Sex sells. Worked for Paris Fucking Hilton, didn’t it?”

Celia: Christ, speaking of work done, she’d make a fortune in Hollywood.

“I’d actually point to the Kardashians before I do Hilton. She didn’t do much since then. Whole Kardashian clan has ridden that sex tape to success.”

GM: “Guess it goes to say sex sells, but doesn’t have to be your sex.”

“We call people who do that pimps.”

Celia: “There’s a joke in there somewhere about pimping out your own family, I think.”

GM: “You don’t have to sleep with nobody. Just telling you how it works.”

Celia: “No, no, I know, I appreciate how upfront you are about things.”

GM: “But like I said, you got a great body. It’d help you get ahead.”

“If you weren’t my kid I’d have definitely wanted to fuck you.”

Celia: Celia lifts her glass to that.

“Now there’s a compliment.” She doesn’t even sound sarcastic.

GM: Ron lifts his and takes a swig.

“All right. This old man needs to get to bed.”

Celia: “Of course. Thanks for seeing me tonight. And for the talk. I’m really looking forward to this. I’ll send a girl by to make up for the one I chased away.” She rises, holding out her hand. “I can set that in the dishwasher if you’d like. Mom sent cookies, they’re on the counter.”

GM: “Remind me who the fuck she is?”

Celia: They have this conversation every time.

“Diana. The ballerina.”

“Real bendy.”

GM: “Huh. Feel like I’d remember that.”

“Worked with dancers for some movies. You’re right they can be bendy as all fuck.”

Celia: “She didn’t go out for a movie. She said you met at a party.” Celia shrugs.

GM: “Thanks for the cookies, anyway. And the girl.”

Celia: “Anytime, Ron. I’ll talk to you soon.”

GM: Ron sees her out with a hug.

Em watches his uncle walk back to the kitchen and sample one of the foul-smelling, mold-laced cookies. Celia heads for the elevator.

Celia: Celia doesn’t quite head for the elevator. She spends a minute searching her pockets for something, and a moment later there’s a knock on Ron’s door when she comes up empty.

GM: He answers it. She sees he’s munching on one of the snickerdoodles.


Celia: “Hey, sorry, I forgot my keys.”

“How’re the cookies?”

GM: “They’re really good. Your mom’s some baker,” he says. He gestures towards the living room. “Take a look.”

Celia: “She is. Taught me everything she knows.” Celia slips past him, moving toward the living room. She checks the table, then the floor, and finally lifts the cushion she’d been on. There they are. “You really don’t remember her?”

GM: Ron shakes his head. “Pretty long while ago, obviously.”

Celia: She pulls her phone from her pocket, taps in the PIN, and scrolls through her gallery. A moment later she has a photo pulled up: she and her mom with Lucy sprawled across the both of them in a tutu and tiara. They all look like they can hardly catch their breath from laughing.

“That’s her.”

GM: Emily took the picture. Ron smiles as he looks at it, but part of him looks reflective too.

Celia: “Her last name was Underwood,” Celia presses. “She was… young. Seventeen when she had me.”

GM: It’s a curious-feeling moment, when Celia looks at the picture too. Someone who did something bad to Celia’s family, but who’s why it exists, and who’s looking at it now so appreciatively.

It’s not even the sole instance of that feeling. Lucy was conceived the same way. In an even worse way. Celia could fairly describe that night as the blackest, most awful night of her life (as well as the last), and for her mom it’s probably the second-most terrible. She remembers talking with Emily about the rape baby her mother shouldn’t have to bear to term. Maybe even slipping an emergency contraceptive. How could anything good come from a night so evil.

But there the result is. She looks so happy. So stitches-in-their-sides happy. She and both her moms. Even Emily, who’d privately agreed with Celia over abortion, said after nine months, “I just can’t believe something like her came from something so bad. Or how Mom… had so much faith that something would. I don’t know were she got it from.”

Celia and Lucy are both rape babies. Sisters by conception as well as blood.

But Roderick said they’re both probably her mom’s favorite kids, because parents do have preferences, especially ones with so many kids.

Ron just looks at the picture thoughtfully.

“So I’d have been… you’re 27… 34.”

“Your mom looks good for her age. I thought I might’ve been a pedophile for a moment,” he says with a faint smile.

“Usually don’t get girls’ last names at parties. Underwood doesn’t ring a bell.”

“Shit, though… you all look happy. Real damn happy. What were you laughing over?”

Celia: “She comes to the spa a lot,” Celia tells him. “Keeps up with skincare. I could do the same for you, if you want.”

She glances back down at the photo.

“Yeah. We were. Are. They’re a good family. My friend Emily took it. Mom kind of adopted her when it turned out she didn’t have a family of her own. She was my roommate in college, and after that first year she came to live with us.”

GM: “Huh. So if she was 17 then she’d be… 44 now?”

“Damn. You’ve kept her looking really good for her age.”

Celia: “I’m good at what I do.”

GM: “I might take you up if that’s the end result.”

“That’s sweet of your mom to do with her. I guess you did say she was really nice.”

“Hot and sweet. She looks like a keeper.”

Celia: “She is.” If only the men in her life weren’t such scumbags.

“I’d be happy to get some work done on you, anyway. We can set something up for next week if you want.”

GM: “Yeah, sure. Call my secretary.” Ron looks back at the picture. “Don’t see any guys.”

“Are Emily and your mom fucking?”

Celia: Celia smirks.

“We had dinner earlier this week and I asked them the same thing. But no.”

GM: Ron laughs.

“But no guys in there? Feels incomplete.”

Celia: “Her ex is trying to win her back.”

“I’ve been trying to set her up with anyone else.”

GM: “Huh. I prefer them younger, but I’d be down to… see where things go.”

Celia: “What, exclusively?”

GM: “Christ, kid. I said see where things go, not jump off a fuckin’ cliff.”

Celia: Celia laughs. “I’ll put in a good word for you.”

GM: “I wouldn’t mind seeing my granddaughter sometime, either.”

“She’s really fuckin’ cute.”

Celia: “Yeah, she gets it from me.”

GM: “She sure does. You got any other pictures on here?”

Celia: “Of Lucy or my mom?” Celia swipes through her phone. Like any twenty-something woman, she has a lot of selfies. But there are quite a few photos of her family as well, and she goes through them with him, pointing out Emily when she gets to a photo of her and Celia arm in arm at the spa. They’re both in gray hooded shirts with pink lettering that says “Flawless League” on them. Celia tells him that her mom found them while she was shopping one day and thought they were too cute to pass up. There are some of Lucy in her dance outfit, a few of Diana after Celia had done her face up for a “girl’s night in,” which is almost like a night out only it’s the three of them after they put Lucy to bed all huddled on Diana’s couch. Sometimes they play with makeup, sometimes they watch movies in pajamas, sometimes they just lounge around making jokes that get more and more lewd while Diana blushes.

GM: The only thing missing from those evenings is alcohol. Diana doesn’t touch the stuff, and since dying, it doesn’t do a lot for Celia either, unless she’s able to feed on a drunk vessel. Emily doesn’t like being the only one in a group drinking (or, since college, drinking alone either), so that stopped happening. Diana (silently) approved that it made the nights in more wholesome. Celia and Emily did their best to undermine that. But Celia supposes they still are, for all the raunchiness of the jokes.

“Lucy,” says Ron, but he still looks over the other pictures.

“Oh huh, that Emily girl’s got a nice bod too. Wouldn’t look bad on camera,” he remarks appreciatively when she comes up. He squints at a few of the pictures.

“What is she though… Hispanic? Indian? The other Indian? Viewers don’t like being confused.”

Celia: “Little white, little Hispanic, then whatever her dad is. Not sure if it’s Native or South Asian or Middle Eastern or all of the above,” Celia tells him, “but she’s in her last year of med school. Not sure she’s looking to switch into film after finally powering through all those headaches.”

“My dad called her a mongrel mutt,” she says cheerfully.

Or was it half-breed? Something rude, anyway.

GM: “Case in point,” says Ron. “You get some multiracial actors, Keeanu Reeves and all, but it’s a strike against. I don’t like to cast them.”

Celia: “But half black and half white is okay?”

GM: “So long as you don’t look it.”

“Or if you do and market it right.”

Celia: Celia glances down at herself. There’s no part of her that looks black. Maybe her butt.

GM: Her mom always called her hair “feisty.” But she can control that now.

Celia: She’d asked her mom once how come she has hair when Daddy doesn’t, and after that Maxen had shaved off the rest of what was clinging to his head.

GM: “He probably would’ve done it anyway, sweetie,” Diana had replied consolingly. “And it is a good look on him, I think!”

Celia: Celia, Isabel, and David had gone in together that Christmas on shoe polish so he could keep it shiny. They hadn’t understood why he’d gotten mad.

Celia: “Lucy passes for white pretty well,” Celia says after a moment, looking down at a photo her mother had sent her of the girl with both cats cuddling on her lap. “She’s… what, half on my side… half on her dad’s? Quarter on her dad’s? He never looked it either, though.”

GM: Shadow and Victor. The calico and black cat have their eyes closed as they contently purr.

It’s something to see them looking so peaceful. All they ever do when they see Celia is hiss, growl, and flee.

“Huh. Lucky her,” says Ron. “Remind me who that apparently handsome motherfucker was?”

Celia: There’s an awkward beat of silence. Then,


GM: Ron gives a flat look.

“Well, what the fuck, I guess. Who’m I to judge.”

Celia: “I, ah, I didn’t know who he was at the time. It wasn’t until after we’d…”

GM: “Legal in California, I’m pretty sure.”

Celia: She’d looked up the laws, after. Apparently in Louisiana she couldn’t marry the guy, but sexual relations were allowed. Weird rules, but then so is fucking your cousin.

“I haven’t told anyone that, since… well. She never met him. And he’s…” Celia trails off, voice dropping, “gone now, anyway.”

GM: “Yeah,” Ron says hollowly. “Drug-related shit. Bunch of people dead.”

“Can’t say I didn’t see it coming. Something like it.”

“I told you, when you first showed up. There’s real poison in our blood.”

Celia: “I’m sorry,” Celia says quietly. “I didn’t mean to bring it up. Are you okay? After… everything?”

GM: “I’m here. I’m breathin’.”

“Poison burns through me slower than him, I guess.”

Celia: “I don’t think that’s true, you know. About poison in the blood. He was… I mean, when I knew him, he helped me out of a bad spot. And you did too.”

GM: “He also killed my son,” Ron says flatly.

“I bet he meant well, with you. Hell. Maybe he didn’t mean for things to spiral out of control, the way they did.”

“But they always do. Always fuckin’ do.”

“And my son’s still dead, whatever the fuck he meant to do.”

“We’re fuckin’ hurricanes. Calamity wherever we go. We don’t mean it, we really don’t, just a natural fuckin’ phenomenon, right? Still calamity. Bodies. Lives destroyed. Everything we touch, turns to shit.”

“I’d say the whole thing’s a sad fuckin’ waste. I’d say he coulda made movies. But maybe he’d have just… turned out like me.”

Ron sighs wearily.

“Maybe better the poison burned through fast.”

Celia: Celia takes a step toward him. He’d said “no more mushy shit,” but when someone needs a hug, well… Diana had taught her to give ’em out like candy. She does so now.

GM: It’s not a tight hug. It’s not a limp hug. It’s just a heavy one. It lasts a while. Ron feels old and tired. He doesn’t move his arms.

Finally he pulls back.

“All right. Bed’s calling my name.”

Celia: “Right. Sorry for…”

Making him sad? reminding him of his dead son? bringing up Em?

“…lingering. Everything. I’m glad you’re in my life, Ron. I just want you to know that. But get to bed. We’ll talk later.”

Thursday night, 10 March 2016, PM

GM: Ron and Celia see each other off after the former declares “enough mushy shit,” but says he “ain’t sorry” she came by either. Em watches his uncle go take a piss in the bathroom. Celia heads for the elevator.

Celia: Celia heads back home. It’s a short drive from Ron’s place to her place in the Quarter, and she pulls her car into the drive behind a ruby-red… something. Randy had told her a handful of times what it is and she’d always forgotten. Too many numbers and letters in the name for her.

The house itself is brick, three stories, with two entrances. Celia goes around back to find the second entrance, passing through a security gate when she punches in the numbers, then a thick door with a series of deadbolts, and finally another PIN code. She takes a moment to lock up behind her before she ascends to her haven.

It’s a nice place, really: wooden floors, exposed brick walls, open floor plan. The furnishings are very Celia: tasteful, elegant, probably expensive. A lot of wood. A pink velvet couch, too. The only non-Celia thing in the place is the pool table that sits in the center of the floor, currently in use by a man and a woman. A spiral staircase leads upward off to the other side, and there’s a door off the kitchen that probably leads to the bathroom.

GM: It would be a nice place, at least, in the real world.

Celia: Celia spends some time with Randy and Alana, asking the girl about a series of text messages, then letting her know to expect a call from Ron’s people about an audition. The three get together on the couch to watch a movie together after a while, some action flick with lots of explosions and a British bad guy.

GM: Alana lies down with her head on Celia’s lap, sometimes nuzzling back and forth against the Toreador’s thigh.

She looks a little sleepy, and the boy too, but they try to stay awake.

Celia: Celia runs her fingers through the girl’s hair while the movie plays. She tells them after a while, when it’s clear they no longer care if the hero can save the hostages, that they can head on up to bed and she’ll see them tomorrow evening.

GM: “I’d rather spend time with you, mistress…” the girl murmurs, rubbing her head against Celia’s belly. “I could eat you out, if you’ve had enough of the movie…”

“Babe, I’m always happy to watch anything with you. Or about you,” says the boy, with a brief eye towards the girl. His voice is a little jealous.

Celia: “And what will poor Randy do, hm?”

GM: “I guess he’ll just watch, like always.” The girl starts contently rubbing her face against Celia’s crotch.

Celia: “Mhm,” Celia muses, “but what about the fact that you broke the rules today, hm? You know better than to do what you did.”

GM: The girl looks up and hangs her head. “I’m sorry, mistress. I just wanted to be completely clear with you. I know how much you value your family.”

Celia: “You can’t call me mistress over the phone. You know that we’re already under scrutiny. If the wrong people see it…” Celia forces a sigh.

GM: The girl nods her head. “I won’t do it again, mistress. You can just spank me, once, for every time I don’t address you properly, when you see me again.”

Celia: “I value you your discretion more than I value you calling me mistress. What would I do if I lost you, pet? If someone picked you up for questioning?”

“Don’t you know how sad I’d be?”

GM: “You fucked up is what you did,” the boy helpfully chimes. “Like, don’t blab about stuff over the phone. That’s pretty basic.”

Celia: “You know better.”

GM: “You’d be very, very sad, mistress,” the girl replies mournfully, with a brief dirty look towards the boy. “I should know better. I’m so sorry. It won’t ever happen again.”

She crawls off the couch, prostrates herself on the floor, and starts to kiss Celia’s feet.

“You’re a goddess, mistress. You’re so much smarter, so much prettier, so much more everything than I am.”

“It’s so hard for any of us to match your example. But I’ll always do my best, do better than my best, for whatever you ask…”

Celia: Celia leans forward, touching her chin to lift her face. She strokes her fingers down the girl’s cheek.

“I appreciate hearing that. But you still messed up, and you need to face the consequences. So here’s your choice: no sex for a week… or you can watch Randy and I.”

GM: Randy’s face lights up.

“What kind of sex, mistress?” the girl asks slowly.

“Between you and Randy.”

Celia: “Well, I suppose considering I’ve made him wait this long, I should show him a good time.”

GM: Randy looks like he could cry ‘hallelujah.’

The girl shoots him a hateful look.

Celia: The girl knows how good the sex is, too. She knows exactly what Celia will make her watch. How much satisfaction she’ll give Randy.

GM: “I’ll take… no sex, mistress,” she says slowly. Spitefully. “He isn’t good enough for you. He’d… deface you. He isn’t good enough for you. He doesn’t deserve you and he never will.

“I’ll suffer, and go without, so you don’t have to suffer.”

Celia: “How noble,” Celia says dryly.

GM: Randy’s face seems to almost… freeze, as his breath catches.


Celia: “Go on up to bed, pet. I won’t make you watch now.”

GM: And just like that, unadulterated joy shines through on Randy’s face.

“You mean…?”

Celia: She does not mean. Celia has no intention of fucking Randy tonight: he hasn’t earned it. Plus she’s in a possibly monogamous relationship with an old partner who’d been hung up on her cheating last time and she isn’t going to ruin it one night in by fucking a ghoul.

Besides, he’d turned her down the other night. He doesn’t get to fuck her now.

GM: Alana throws herself at Celia’s feet, weeping openly as she clutches the Toreador’s leg like a lifeline. “Mistress, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry I’m so stupid, I’m sorry I’m not good enough, I’m trying, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, please, mistress, please, I’ll do anything, anything, I’m your pet, I’m your toy, I’m your property, I’m nothing, do anything to me, please, please…”

Celia: “I meant the movie,” she says shortly, looking back to the screen. “She looks tired and I’m still mad at you for drinking sewer water.”

GM: And just like that, the look of joy instantly vanishes.

Celia: Ghouls are a fucking headache.

She disentangles herself from Alana’s clutching arms. She wants to lash out, to berate her and tell her that she deserves it, but it’s like kicking a puppy. It’s just pathetic. And she’s not Veronica, no matter how much sex she has; she doesn’t get off on causing other people pain, even emotional pain. They’re just so… whiny when they’re like this. Is it what she has to look forward to if she and Roderick take that third drink? Christ. No thanks.

GM: Alana grovels on the floor and kisses the ground where Celia’s feet rested. Tears run down her face even as she gulps out between an ear-to-ear smile,

“Thank, thank you, mistress, thank you, thank you, I’ll be good, I’ll be worthy, I’ll do everything you want, everything right, I’m worthless, I’m yours…”

Celia: Is this how her sire sees her?

The thought fills her with revulsion.

GM: “You’re so fucking pathetic, Alana,” Randy says flatly.

So flatly.

An elephant could balance on his voice.

She could swear his balls have already shriveled in.

“There’s nothing sexy about it. Even remotely.”

Celia: “Shut it,” Celia snarls at him. “She isn’t yours to berate. Alana, get up, stop blubbering, and if you call yourself stupid again I’ll have your tongue.”

GM: Randy shuts up.

Alana rises to her knees, head bowed so she still isn’t Celia’s height. “Ye-yes, mistress,” she sniffs. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Just tell me what to do. Please. I want to do, whatever you want me to.”

Celia: “Fix this bullshit between you. Your squabbling is over. We are a team. There are enough people in this city to tear us down without you two doing it to each other.”

GM: “Uh, okay… how you want us to, babe…?” asks Randy.

Celia: “Find common ground. Fix a problem. Go fuck it out of your systems if you need to, I don’t care.”

“I don’t need you to be best friends. You don’t even need to like each other. But you will stop sabotaging and bad-mouthing each other, you will stop making each other feel bad, you will stop trying to get the other one in trouble. Neither one of you is better than the other. You both have your different areas of expertise, and you’re both with me for a reason.”

GM: “…all right. Sure, babe. We won’t fight about shit,” says Randy.

“Okay, mistress,” sniffs Alana. She remains kneeling. “What else do you want me to do?”

Celia: It isn’t this easy. She imagines they’ll have this same conversation next week as well. Maybe she should just lock them in a room with each other. Hit them with some feelings of lust so they can work it out. That always works for her.

“You’ll need a new identity soon, Randy. Your time as Celia’s boyfriend might be coming to a close. Start thinking about what that will look like. And you…” Celia wipes the tears from Alana’s cheeks. “You need more fire inside, pet, if you’re going to be a movie star.”

GM: “Oh. Uh, okay,” Randy says, a little lamely.

Alana basks under Celia’s touch, smiling up at her adoringly.

“A… movie star, mistress?”

Celia: “Mmhmm. I spoke with a producer this evening. We might be making a trip to LA.”

Celia taps Randy’s legs until he turns sideways and moves them so she can sit between them, then pulls Alana up onto the couch between her own. She takes one of Randy’s hands and puts it around herself, wordless permission granted, then tugs Alana until her pet’s back rests against her chest. It’s a Celia sandwich, a ghoul on either side of her. She nuzzles Alana’s neck.

“We’ll figure out the logistics. Press play, Randy, let’s finish this movie.”

GM: “Oh, L.A. sounds wonderful, mistress! Let the whole world see how beautiful you are!” Alana croons, grinding her ass against Celia’s crotch.

Eventually, the movie ends. Randy and Alana go to bed. Doubtless, with sex off the table, they’re both going to masturbate.

No one can get Celia Flores out of their head.

Celia IV, Chapter IV
Family Deliberations

“People rarely get the things they wish for.”
Payton Underwood

Thursday night, 10 March 2016, PM

GM: It’s closer to 9 than 8 by the time Celia pulls in at her mother’s house. (She finds her car parked by her haven.) Emily and Diana are both in the living room, the former reading over her medical textbooks while the latter scrolls through a tablet. When Celia lets herself in, Emily does what looks like her best impression of Pete’s glowers.

Diana beams. She looks wonderful. Celia couldn’t appreciate the full extent of her work with the woman stolen from her bed in the middle of the night, mad with fear, and soaked under rain. Anyone would look terrible under those circumstances. But a day later, bathed and dressed and with her hair and face tastefully done up, Celia can appreciate the fruits of her labors. Her mother already looked good for her age, thanks no doubt in part to weekly Flawless visits. The added buoyancy to her perkier breasts and the wrinkles smoothed away from her face make her looks even better. She could pass for halfway in between Celia’s age and her true 42 years. The ear-to-ear smile on her face provides the finishing touch to her daughter’s ever-flawless work.

“Hi, sweetie! Oh, I’m so happy you could make it!” she exclaims, getting up to hug Celia.

“Right on time, too,” says Emily, a little dryly.

Celia: Emily’s glowers, quite frankly, need a little bit of work. She’s got nothing on the Tremere detective.

She doesn’t tell her this, though, just gives her mom a hug and a sheepish smile, apologizes for being late.

“I’m sorry I’m late. I was caught in a meeting that ran later than expected.”

GM: “I’m just glad she’s here,” repeats Diana, giving Celia another squeeze. “I saved plenty of food for you, and I only had a little bit myself, so we can still have dinner, don’t you worry!”

“Oh, it’s more than okay, sweetie, we both want your business to do well!”

Celia: Celia just smiles in response.

“Lucy in bed already? What did you make, Momma? And how are you feeling?”

GM: Diana nods. “We read her Goodnight Moon. She’s said her prayers and is fast asleep now. And let me show you!” she says, making her way to the kitchen.

“I’m feeling so much better now, thanks. Logan came by to take care of me, and I’ve spent half the day in bed, so I’m…”

“She knows Maxen did too,” Emily says shortly. “I already told you I told her all of it.”

Their mother gives a fretful look. “Let’s talk about that after dinner, why don’t we?”

Celia: “Or during. Or now.”

Celia shrugs as if it doesn’t matter. The smile never leaves her face.

GM: “I already ate with Lucy. You’re the one who insisted on going hungry until Celia showed up, even when she couldn’t be bothered to say she’d be late.”

Celia: “I told you I’d be late. I literally texted you to start without me. I even said that I couldn’t give you an exact time because I had a meeting and I didn’t know how long it would go when we made plans earlier.”

GM: “After I texted you,” says Emily. “You could’ve at a reasonable-”

Diana clasps her hands. “Let’s please not fight, you two! Emily, would you like some seconds, maybe? Or another helping of dessert?”

“Damn it, Mom, will you never stand up for yourself?!”

Celia: Celia gives Emily her own glower.

“I was talking to a detective about the fact that my business was broken into the other night.”

GM: Diana gasps and pauses in mid-stride. “Oh, no! Is everything okay, sweetie?”

Emily looks a little humbled.

Celia: “It’s fine. Nothing was damaged.”

GM: “Was anything stolen?” Diana asks worriedly. “What does he think they were after?”

“Detectives can be ’she’s’ too, Mom.”

“Right, yes.”

Celia: “He, actually. But no, everything is fine. I actually… kind of used it as an excuse to bring up what happened today with him.”

Celia eyes Emily, lifting her brows slightly, as if to ask if Mom knows. About the stabbing. She makes a stabby motion when Diana isn’t looking.

GM: Emily slowly shakes her head.

“Uh, sorry I got snappish. Glad the business is fine.”

Celia: “Me too. We still on with Robby tonight?”

GM: “It’s getting pretty late, honestly. He has work tomorrow.”

“But we could reschedule. He said he’d be happy to teach you to play WoS.”

Celia: “Looking forward to it.”

GM: “That isn’t that Satanic game, is it?” Diana asks worriedly.

Celia: “It is, actually. We summon a demon in the living room. But if you feed it snacks it goes away.”

GM: “Oh. That’s… that’s not too bad a demon, I suppose,” her mom says with a mildly forced chuckle.

Emily snickers.

Celia: “It likes cookies,” Celia says helpfully.

GM: “Oh, that’s good. That’s… that’s very good. Sounds more like the cookie monster than a demon,” Celia’s mom says with another chuckle as she twists the oven knob, re-heating whatever dinner must be inside, and sits down at the dining room table. There’s already places and water set out.

“You don’t actually try to summon demons, though, do you?” she asks, more concernedly.

Celia: “Just ghosts,” Celia assures her, taking a seat at the table. “Seances. Candles. Stiff as a board, light as a feather, all that.”

She lets that linger for a moment, then finally laughs and shakes her head.

“No, Mom, from what I understand it’s just a bunch of nerds that roll dice.”

GM: “Emi, sweetie, do you really-” their mom starts, then laughs along with her. “Okay, that sounds pretty harmless. Had me worried!”

Celia: “The internet said it’s basically just collaborative storytelling.”

GM: “Yeah, that’s basically it. Pretty harmless and nerdy,” says Emily. She gets up and sits down at the table with them, laying out her medical textbook over her place. She gives Celia a look as if to ask, ‘do you want to bring it up?’

Celia: Celia inclines her head.

GM: “Uh, okay. Mom, I stabbed Maxen. With a carving knife.”

Diana gasps.

Celia: “He’s okay.”

GM: “What!?”

Celia: “I spoke to him.”

“He also said he’s not reporting it. No charges. Nothing like that.”

GM: Diana holds her hands to her mouth as she looks between her daughters.

“He’s fine,” repeats Emily. “I mean, God knows half of me wishes he wasn’t, but it sounds like he is.”

Celia: “He said it was just a scratch. That he cleaned it out and put a bandage on it and went to work.”

GM: “We’d better call him, tell him how sorry-”

Celia: “I already did, Mom.”

GM: “Fuck telling him sorry,” says Emily flatly. “Maybe when he apologizes for trying to saw off your leg. And the years of beatings. And the rapes.”

Celia: Celia snorts.

That will never happen.

GM: Diana holds her hands to her ears.

“It happened, Mom!” says Emily.

“Sweetie, language, please-”

“Fine. Screw telling him sorry.”

Celia: “She has a point, Mom. He abused you for years. He ruined your career. He raped you. One day of being a decent human being doesn’t make up for all of that. And, frankly, I’m concerned about his motivations.”

GM: “You have to start somewhere,” Diana starts quietly. “I just… you really had to have seen-”

“See this.” Emily yanks up the hem of her mother’s dress.

Diana startles in alarm and tries to re-cover her leg. Her bad leg.

“Emily!? What are you-!”

“Do you still not want to look at that, Mom? Because if you don’t, there is nowhere to start!”

Emily’s brow furrows. “Actually, that looks really g-”

Celia: “Emily,” Celia says tightly.

GM: “Stop it! Please, stop it!” their mom begs, her cheeks reddening as she averts her gaze.

Emily sighs and lets go.

“Sorry. I’ll stop when you ask me. Those are two things he will never do.”

Celia: It’s a solid point, really.

GM: Diana smooths the hem of her dress back down as long as she can.

Celia: “The point, Momma, Emily, is that he’s fine. He’s all right.”

GM: “You’re sure?” her mom asks worriedly. “He really is? He can push himself too hard, sometimes, wanting to look tough…”

“And Emily, she’s not in trouble? You’re really sure?”

Celia: “He’d have to report it to the police for her to be in trouble. He also violated the restraining order by being here.”

GM: “Huh,” says Emily slowly. “You’re right. I hadn’t thought about that.”

Celia: “There’s also a stand your ground law, which means anything Emily does if she thinks her life, or your life, is in danger is fine.”

Sort of.

GM: “Oh. That’s right. I’d better get that… lifted,” says Diana.

Celia: “No.”

GM:MOM!” glowers Emily.

Celia: “Are you planning on going back to him, Mom? So he can smack you around some more? Maybe abuse Lucy, too?”

GM: Her mom’s plaintive expression turns more guarded at Lucy’s name.

“He isn’t going to abuse Lucy.”

“He will if he’s in her life,” says Emily.

Celia: “I am, frankly, concerned that being alone with her means he took a hair or something for a DNA test.”

GM: “Oh, shit,” breathes Emily.

Diana’s face just goes stiller.

“Look, Mom, what do you want from him? Do you want go to back to him?” asks Emily.

“I… I just want to see where things might go,” says Diana. “Just talk, at this point.”

She gives a weak chuckle. “When I’m not sick as a dog, anyway.”

Celia: “Long term, Mom. What do you want?”

GM: “I just want to talk, sweetie. Take things one step at a time. I’ll have a better idea then, I think.”

“Maybe… if it goes well… just simple things. Easy things. Like dinner. I’m not in any rush.”

Emily just heaves a sigh and shakes her head.

Celia: Celia makes a noise that might be a sigh.

“I’m going to tell you something. And neither one of you are going to say anything about it.”

She looks pointedly at Emily.

GM: “I’ll do anything for the good of this family,” says Emily. “Including, yes. Keeping my mouth shut.”

“Of course, sweetie. We’ll be quiet as mice,” Diana nods.

Celia: “Maxen and I are having dinner on Saturday. I am going to find out what he wants, and why.”

GM: Emily frowns. “Okay. You tell us where you’re going and when. Maybe turn on an app on your phone that lets us track you. Just in case something happ-”

“Don’t be silly, sweetie, nothing’s going to happen!” says Diana. “I think that’s a great idea, for you and your dad to have dinner,” she smiles.

“He’s not actually her dad,” says Emily.

Celia: Ah, right, maybe she should confess she’s got a meeting with her mom’s other rapist tonight.

She doesn’t.

GM: “Well… I didn’t give birth to you, either,” their mom points out. “Family’s all about who you make a part of your life.”

“Maxen isn’t part of our lives,” Emily says flatly.

Celia: “Regardless, I’m having dinner with him. We’ll discuss what he wants by suddenly showing back up. Which is why, Mom, I need to know what you want.”

GM: “Yes. You say you want to talk, take things one step at a time. Okay. Why do you want that?” asks Emily. “What’s in it for you?”

Diana looks between her daughters for a moment. It’s hard for Celia to say exactly what that look is. Bittersweet. Sad.

No. Longing.

“I miss him.”

Celia: Celia holds up a hand to forestall Emily from jumping in.

“Do you miss him, or do you miss being married?”

GM: Emily starts to open her mouth, then closes it and looks at her mom.

“I think… both,” Diana says slowly.

She closes her eyes for a moment.

“I need a… Celia, Emi. You both heard those messages I left. Read those texts. How I was screamin’ like it was the end of the world.”

Celia: “You want someone to take care of you,” Celia says softly. “Someone to be there for you.”

GM: Diana opens her mouth again, looks at Celia, then just nods.

“I miss…. having a man.”

“Someone… someone who I can wake up to, at 5 AM, with his arms around me… and know I’m not alone.”

Celia: “Okay.” She considers, nodding. “Okay. I understand wanting someone to share your life with. I do. I get it. But does it need to be… Maxen?”

GM: ""Look, Mom, we can b…" Emily starts, but Diana just holds up a finger to her lips, as if to say ‘sshh.’


“You’re both wonderful girls. Women. Brave and kind and smart and strong women and so much more than I am, in so many ways.” She gives a little smile that seems partly sad but mostly proud. “I couldn’t have asked God for better daughters. He answered all my prayers.”

She gives a rueful chuckle. “But I can’t take you to bed with me. You have your own lives. You can’t be there every time for your old mom when she wakes up with a stomach bug, or over her bad leg… and you shouldn’t have to be, either.”

“The family we’ve built for Lucy, for ourselves, is a thing of warmth and love and beauty. It truly is. But there are some things only a man can do. Only a man should have to change the sheets for me at 5 AM when I’m throwin’ up over them. You know?”

“I miss that. I miss having a man with his arms around me. Who I can feel… safe with. Who can make me feel like everything is gonna be all right.”

Celia: “And I get that, Mom. I do. But, again, does it need to be Maxen? There are plenty of men in the world.”

GM: “And Lucy could use a… male role model. A father. To show her how the men in her life should behave.”

“Mom… do you hear yourself?” Emily whispers. “He is not an example of how men should behave.”

Celia: “Then we can find you one. But it doesn’t need to be him. He abused all of us, Mom. All of us.”

GM: “I don’t want… I don’t want just anyone, sweetie, picky as that might sound.” Her mom gives a self-effacing look. “I know you give me all those… erm, gifts to impress a man, for Christmas. But I don’t want to date or drink or go out to bars and parties, not really. I want to build a life with someone. I want to cook him dinner and snuggle in bed and… enjoy all those happy parts, of married life. I want to raise Lucy with him.”

“And I want him to love her, as much as he does me. I don’t want her to be just a stepchild, a +1 he has to accept if he wants to be with me. I want him to love her like she’s his own. I want her to grow her up surrounded with nothing but love.”

Celia: “I’m not telling you to go out and drink and party. But there are so many other people in the world, in the city, that you could be with.”

“Why would you go back to someone you know wants to hurt you? Why would you go back to someone who doesn’t care about you? Who just wants to use you for… for whatever purpose he has in mind?”

GM: “Sweetie, I woke up in his arms,” her mom says softly.

She closes her eyes again.

“He was gentle. He was so gentle. He was there, right when I needed him. When I was scared and sick and lonely and… he was there. He took care of everything. Me, the vomit on the bedsheets, gettin’ a substitute for work, breakfast for Lucy, her ride to school…”

“Just all of it. He was right there.”

“And he’s a very busy man, you know! He’s got to be up at the crack of dawn, for that commute up to the capitol. There are so many things he’s responsible for, so many people whose lives are basically in his hands.”

“But he was there. For me. For Lucy. I felt safe. I felt loved.”

Celia: She hates it.

Hates that she knows how her mom feels. Hates that she understands it, that she’s in the same position, that she wants someone to whom she means absolutely nothing, to whom she will never mean anything. A means to an end, maybe. Less than that. A happy little accident.

Celia holds her tongue. She can’t tell her mom that she gets it. She wants more for the woman who raised her, who kept her sane during the years of insanity living with her father.

GM: “Can you understand that, you two?” she asks, looking between Celia and Emily. “Just how… how whole that made me feel?”

“I know he’s… he’s hurt me, in the past…”

“But if that’s in the past… that’s where I’d like to leave it.”

Celia: “I’ll have dinner with him,” Celia says again, “and find out what he wants.”

GM: “Okay,” says her mom. “I think that’s a good idea—oh! Dinner!”

She quickly gets up and turns off the oven.

Celia: Celia takes the opportunity to glance at her phone.

GM: It’s past 9. There’s texts from some other people, including Roderick and Alana.

There’s a screek as Diana pulls open the oven and slips on some mitts.

“Okay! It was in there a little long, but not too burned!”

Celia: She scrolls through the texts while her mother pulls the (apparently burned) dinner out of the oven.

Not that she can taste it anyway.

GM: Celia’s mom sets down a large dish of creamy, cheesy, comforting-looking casserole. “So this has got white tuna, thin green beans, leeks, and mushrooms, and whole wheat ziti for the base,” she explains. “The cream is heavy cream, veggie broth, flour, white chedar, parmesan, and the topping is potato chips with panko breadcrumbs,” she explains as she serves up a very large helping for Celia. “Casserole’s got a lot of cream, so at least it’s hard to burn!”

Celia: Even when she was alive Celia had never much liked mushrooms (“they taste like dirt,” she’d used to complain), but she supposes now that it doesn’t matter. Everything is going to taste like dirt. Like ash. She nods along at her mother’s explanation anyway, plastering a smile on her face.

Her family will never understand the things she does for them.

“Looks delicious, Momma. Gonna let it cool for a second so I don’t burn my mouth.”

Randy had burned his mouth once. He’d complained for a few days that he couldn’t taste anything, and Celia had been glad that blood is pretty much always the perfect temperature.

GM: Except when it’s not. The cold stuff is awful.

Celia’s mom smiles and nods as she serves herself a plate. “And for the side we’ve got a garden salad. Homemade dressing! I know you can eat casserole as the whole meal, since it’s got meats and grains and veggies, but I always like to have a good side,” she says as gets up to remove a bowl from the fridge. “Something that’s a different temperature and texture, for some contrast.”

The salad looks like it has lettuce, cherry tomatoes, onion, carrot, radish, and cucumber, with croutons, shredded cheddar, and ranch dressing.

“Emily, are you still hungry? I know you ate earlier with Lucy, but you have to eat your greens if you want more dessert,” Diana teases.

“Okay, maybe a little salad,” Emily says as she scoops some onto a plate.

Celia: Celia remembers her own homemade dressing and the most awful dinner experience of her life, when Maxen had made her throw it out while insulting her in front of her boyfriend.

She preps her Beast for the experience by telling it to kindly shut the fuck up when it begins to pace inside her chest, already concerned at the toxic sludge the girl is about to imbibe. She serves herself a bit of salad and picks up her fork. She had just complained to Randy about missing the feel of food, she supposes; maybe it won’t be that bad.

Celia spears a tomato on the tines of her fork and raises it to her mouth. It’s red. Like blood. She can power through it if she thinks about that.

She bites.

GM: It tastes like weeks-old garden compost.

Celia: And the texture is just… eugh.

Mushy insides. The skin of the tomato is… yuck.

GM: It’s completely wrong. It’s as wrong as eating hair.

Celia: It gets everywhere, too.

Fills her mouth with the rancid, foul taste.

GM: All over her throat. Down her tract. It’s as meant to go down the vampire’s throat as a big wad of matted hair soaked in castor oil is meant to go down a human’s.

Celia: She doesn’t gag. She’s been expecting this since her earlier call with Emily. But man, she wants to.

GM: Celia’s mother beams as she eats. She looks positively radiant. The very image of the happy homemaker.

Celia: It’s worth it, Celia tells herself, if it makes her mom happy.

She takes another bite of salad.

GM: “So you said the spa got broken into? What do you think they were after?” asks Emily, frowning.

“I mean, we normally take home our cash tips at the end of the day. There isn’t a whole lot to steal besides… lots of beauty products.”

Celia: Celia seizes the opportunity to put the damn fork down.

“I’m not sure, honestly. We don’t keep much in the register at the end of the night. Natalie counts it down and puts the rest in the safe.”

“I know the makeup is expensive,” Celia laughs, “but certainly not worth a break-in.”

GM: “If you want to steal makeup you lift it from the store, too.”

Celia: “What, you don’t want my half-used products? Worried about cooties, Em?”

GM: “Insanely worried. Catch enough girl cooties and you might turn into a girl.”

“That is so strange!” their mom frowns. “Did the alarm go off, is that how you knew?”

Celia: “There’s been some trolling on Insta lately, starting to wonder if it’s someone who took things a little too far.” Celia shrugs.

No, Mom, I was kidnapped and raped.

GM: “Huh, I could see that,” says Emily thoughtfully. “Haters gonna hate. Sometimes it crosses over to real life.”

Celia: “Little excessive, though. Maybe a brick through the window or something.”

GM: “People do some pretty crazy shit because of the internet. Swatting is a thing.”

Celia: “But the guy I spoke to said he’d look into it for me, and probably not to worry too much about it.”

GM: “Swatting?” asks their mom.

“When you call 911 and say there’s a hostage situation, gunfire, or whatever, so cops sic a SWAT team on someone. It can get them killed.”

“Oh, that’s awful,” Diana murmurs in between bites of casserole. “But at least things are okay at the spa, it sounds.”

“I don’t want people messing up your business,” she frowns. “You have put a lot of work into that place!”

Celia: “I think I’ll be okay. Like Emily said, all the cash tips are gone at the end of the night, and nothing was missing. The detective kind of shrugged at me when I told him that, said maybe someone forgot to lock up.”

Celia spears a noodle and a piece of tuna on the end of her fork.

“Might have just been a drunk tourist, who knows.”

GM: “Maybe. I guess they can wander off Bourbon Street…” Diana wonders. “Or maybe those gutter punks! Those people make me so nervous!”

Celia: “Maybe. I guess if I were homeless I’d rather be somewhere warm than up north. I’d probably hit up a beach somewhere, though.”

GM: “They’ve got to get food somewhere, though,” says Emily. “There’s a lot in the Quarter to draw them. Lot of food, booze, and crime.”

“I know.” Diana shakes her head. “That’s really what I like about the Garden District, it’s just such a pretty area and there’s no crime!”

“You still wish we’d gotten a house there?” asks Emily.

“A little, yes,” her mom admits. “It’d be so cute to walk to work every day with Lucy. To get to do that a whole 14 years with her.”

Celia: “I still prefer the Quarter. More to do.”

GM: “For you, I’m sure, you wild young thing,” her mom teases.

Celia: “Plus, the value here is only going up as the city rebuilds. If you ever want to sell you’ll get way more for your property.”

GM: “The city’s pretty much rebuilt at this point, honestly, except in the 9th Ward,” says Emily. “And I don’t think that’s ever going to happen.”

Celia: “Yeah, but people don’t come here to visit the Garden District. So if you ever do move in with someone you could rent out your house to vacationers.”

GM: “I’d say a lot more come for the Quarter, definitely,” Diana agrees, “but you can see tourists in the Garden District too. There’s a lot around Magazine Street or just taking pictures of all the pretty buildings. It really is so pretty there… just a picture-perfect little neighborhood,” she sighs wistfully. “But at least Lucy and I still get to see it every day.”

“That’s a good idea as far as the renting,” says Emily. “It’s in the Quarter, plenty people who come here for that, as you say.”

“And I think it’s a good idea to hold onto it. To have a place that’s always yours.”

Celia: “Now we just need to find you a man.” Celia wiggles her eyebrows at her mother.

GM: Her mom smiles back. “Like I said, sweetie, we’ll see how things go with your father…”

Emily silently eats her salad.

Celia: Celia gives her mother a vague smile and takes a bite of casserole.

GM: “So about the 9th Ward, didn’t a bunch of Hollywood stars all start a foundation to rebuild homes for the people there?” she asks. “I remember that from years ago, but not what happened to it.”

“Yeah, that’s basically you and most of the city,” says Emily. “The homes were substandard. They’ve all been falling apart. It was all basically a fundraising and PR exercise for said movie stars and local politicos.”

Celia: “Bit of a publicity stunt in the wake of a disaster.”

GM: “Yeah.”

Celia: Celia favors Emily with a smile.

GM: “But no one cares anymore, since Katrina was 10+ years ago. It’s not making headlines. The movie stars built their substandard houses and got out.”

“That is so sad,” their mom frowns. “Havin’ a home is definitely something to be thankful for. I really am so grateful we have this place, own it in full without any mortgage, and don’t have to worry about money anymore.”

She chuckles. “I guess ballet really paid off, in a way. I definitely wouldn’t have made that much money just by puttin’ on a tutu for another ten years.”

Celia: Celia makes a motion that might be a nod. She wouldn’t have as much money, maybe, but she’d have full use of her leg. Though if her plans work out she’ll regain that soon enough.

She makes a vague noise as she chews her latest morsel. It, like all the others, is absolutely foul.

GM: “Say, sweetie… about that experimental treatment you mentioned…?” her mom asks. “Have you been able to look into it any more…?”

Celia: “Not quite yet. I’ll let you know as soon as I find out anything, though.”

GM: “Okay. I know you will,” Diana nods.

“I wouldn’t get your hopes up too much though, Mom,” says Emily. “I’ve definitely looked into things too, and…”

“I know,” their mom murmurs. “I’m okay if it doesn’t pan out. I think that God might’ve meant for things to happen this way.”

Celia: “It’s experimental,” Celia says, looking toward Emily, “so I’m not sure if it would even work, but I’m also not surprised that it hasn’t come up. I’ve been reaching… well, far outside the city for a solution.”

GM: “That’s probably a good idea,” says Emily. “Tulane’s great, but for years the city didn’t even have a Level I trauma center. You have to go outside for the really advanced… well, everything.”

“You’ve looked into some residency programs in Houston, haven’t you, where that giant medical center is?” asks Diana.

“Yeah. Biggest in the world. But I’m trying to stay here with you guys.”

Celia: “Maybe we could all go. See something new, you know?”

GM: “Oh, don’t be silly,” her mom chuckles. “This is home!”

Celia: She didn’t think it would be that easy.

GM: “I kinda went over all the different reasons with you yesterday, remember?” Emily asks pointedly. “Mom, if we moved, can you explain what would that mean for your job and school with Lucy?”

“To Houston, you mean?”


Celia: “It’s fine,” Celia says flatly, giving Emily a look. “I get it. We don’t need to rehash.”


“Considering I was mostly concerned about you stabbing Maxen, and that’s been swept under the rug.”

She smiles.

GM: Diana looks between them. “Oh. You think… to be safe…?”

Celia: “I do.”

GM: “If he’s going to the police, going across state lines won’t make me safer,” Emily sighs. “But, you know, I probably should talk with an attorney. Maybe Viv.”

Celia: Celia catches Emily’s eye, then flicks her gaze toward their mom.

“I agree. If he tries anything we could also push back about the restraining order.”

GM: Emily frowns in thought.

Diana nods adamantly. “Good idea, sweetie! I’ll give her a call, make really clear this is an emergency!”

Celia: “Maybe Grandma, too.”

Wednesday night, 2 September 2015, PM

GM: Celia’s heard it on the news. Everyone’s heard it on the news. Veteran cop shoots two wrongfully arrested socialites almost dead and then shoots his way out of the 8th District police station. Everyone’s talking about it—Kindred and kine alike. Wagging tongues in Elysium all suspect a move in the Jyhad, though none of those tongues have come to a consensus regarding who benefited from Gettis’ actions. Whose interests, indeed, benefit from two dead teenage heiresses? Celia hasn’t even heard of any Kindred who own the families. It’s a victimless crime, if one leaves out the kine girls.

“…besides, there’s how many other Devillers? It’s not as if they lack for heirs to spare,” Marguerite Defallier had quipped to most of her fellow harpies’ titters.

Celia: Jade had allowed herself a smirk at the joke despite its rather on-the-nose, low-hanging status. But Jade doesn’t know the Devillers. Jade doesn’t have kine connections, doesn’t care about them as anything more than her next meal.

Celia does, and Celia doesn’t think having a family member shot by a cop is especially hilarious, even if there are children to spare. Cécilia had already told her about it, personally. She wasn’t the girl’s first call, she has no doubt, but they’ve been friends for years. Of course she knows, had heard the whole grisly tale from her blonde-haired, blue-eyed friend. Again from Diana after she’d finished visiting the injured girl in the hospital.

Such a tragedy, Diana had said sadly to Celia and Emily after they’d put Lucy to bed, that poor family.

Poor cop, too. Celia had heard about the manhunt for him as well. Mad, to shoot two young girls in a police station. Has to be. The name is familiar, though, and she recalls the voice she’d heard on the other end of the line years ago when she’d reported her father’s assault, and her grandmother’s words about him: not a friendly man, but he isn’t afraid of anything. Afraid enough of something if he’d gunned down two victims. Or he’d just finally snapped. She’s heard that being a cop is a rough, thankless sort of job, especially in a city like this.

She makes it a point to visit her grandmother shortly after that. She brings Lucy with her; the old woman always enjoys seeing her (great-)grandchild.

GM: Girls, at least, Diana had amended sadly. But poor Sarah still hadn’t come out of her induced coma. There’s no telling if she’ll be a vegetable or what. Doctors think the former is more likely than a full recovery.

Celia’s grandmother lives within the Lower Garden District. Pearl Chastain’s domain. The Toreador can request entrance, which her elder clanmate (or just as often, Accou) usually grants to “the right sort” of Kindred after they explain what their business in the area is. The alternative is sneaking in.

Celia: The problem, of course, is that Underwood is Celia’s grandmother, not Jade’s. It’s a sticky situation, and she’s at a loss for how to explain it to her “grandsire.” She can hardly go to him to ask for permission for her “pawn” to enter the territory (why would she need it?) and if she goes herself, as Jade, people will wonder what she’s doing at the judge’s house. Not to mention the fact that Underwood won’t recognize her.

It’s a good thing she’s gotten so handy at passing as a breather, isn’t it?

She borrows her mother’s car, citing the fact that she doesn’t want to have to move Lucy’s car seat to her own (honestly, she doesn’t understand why the almost seven-year-old is still in a car seat, but her mother had said something about weight restrictions and the Goose still being too little to sit on her own), and makes sure that she isn’t wearing anything that Jade would be seen in: no sun ring, no star sapphires, no sky-high heels or risque gowns.

She dresses down, in a pleated skirt, sheer tights, and the sort of blouse she wears to work, then sets off to meet with her grandmother.

GM: Lucy yawns as Celia straps her into the booster seat. She supposes it’s fortunate Gettis picked the summer months to shoot a couple teenagers: 8 PM is rather late for Lucy to be going on car rides, in Diana’s view, but she was happy for Celia to spend some “private time” with her daughter. Sister. Whichever.

She didn’t comment on Celia taking Lucy to Payton’s house. But she didn’t say no to it. Or at least didn’t want to fight.

Celia: It’s hardly the first time Celia has brought her daughter to see her grandmother.

GM: Celia’s grandmother lives in a two-story Greek Revival house with that style’s trademark Corinthian supports, a wrought-iron fence around the property, and several palm trees and a neatly-maintained flower garden in the front yard. She greets the drowsy-looking six-year-old with a hug and serves an after-dinner snack of spinach cheese balls and milk and cookies. Lucy wakes up a little at the prospect of cookies and eats two before her (great-)grandmother instructs her to have at least as many spinach balls.

“Popeye is strong to the finish because he ate his spinach. You want to be as strong as Popeye, don’t you?”

“Who’s Popeye?” asks Lucy.

Celia: Celia sides with her grandmother on this one, telling Lucy that she needs to make sure she eats her greens if she’s going to stuff her face with sugar.

She gives her grandmother a rueful smile.

“He was a little guy, like you, Goose. But every time he needed to be strong he cracked open a can of spinach and swallowed it down. And his arms got real big.”

Celia flexes for the little girl. Her own arms are nowhere near as large as the cartoon’s. She pushes up her bicep with her other hand to exaggerate the muscle.

“And then he could take on all the bad guys.”

GM: “Could he take on Gaston?” Lucy asks.

Celia: “From Beauty and the Beast? I bet he could. Gaston ate raw eggs every day.” Celia wrinkles her nose at her daughter. “I think spinach might be better for you.”

GM: “Yeah! He ate five thousand eggs every morning, so he’s… roughly the size of… a barge!” Lucy says, half-singing the answer.

“You have a very good memory to recall a number that large, Lucy,” replies Payton. “What happens to Gaston in the end?”

“Uh… he falls off a cliff, when he’s fighting Beast.”

“Popeye never falls off a cliff. Your mother is right. Spinach was better for him than eggs.”

Celia: “And,” Celia adds, “Popeye does it to save his little lady friend, so he gets love in the end. Gaston gets nothing.”

GM: “So spinach makes people love you? Or like, little lady friends?”

Celia: “Spinach makes you strong, heart and body. And strength makes you love yourself, which makes people love you.”

GM: Payton slides the bowl of spinach balls closer.

“There’s egg in these too. So you can be a little like Gaston. But there’s more spinach.”

Lucy picks one up and takes a bite.

“What do you think?” her (great-)grandmother asks.

“Um, I like cookies more. But these are good.”

“I’m glad you like them, Lucy. Eat lots of spinach and you’ll be as strong as Popeye one day.”

Celia: “And,” Celia whispers in her daughter’s ear, “it’ll turn your tongue green, and you can make Emmy guess what you ate when we get home.”

GM: “Oooh! I know something she doesn’t know!”

Celia: “How many guesses do you think it will take her?”

“Two? Two hundred? A thousand?”

GM: Lucy nods along. “I bet it’ll take her a thousand! Cuz, like… what’d make your tongue green?”

“Definitely nothing that little girls like to eat on their own,” Payton answers wryly as she takes a bite of spinach ball.

“She may wonder forever. She may have no idea after even a million guesses.”

Lucy giggles and takes another bite of her own.

Celia: “If she never guesses right we’ll never tell her, then we can have all the spinach and cheese balls for ourselves.”

GM: “You should make your tongue green too! She’ll be really really confused!”

Celia: “I don’t know, Lucy-Goose, I might eat all those cookies instead.” Celia makes munching noises.

GM: “That’s not fair! Great-Gramma says I hafta eat spinach too!” Lucy protests.

“Then I’m saying it for Celia too,” answers Payton. “You’re right that it’s important to be fair. Celia, you must also eat at least as many spinach balls as cookies.”

Celia: “Maybe I’ll just eat… Goose!” She pulls the child onto her lap to press kisses against her cheek, then tickles her side.

GM: The six-year-old shrieks with laughter and flaps her arms as Celia pulls her over.

“You’re eating spinach! ‘Cuz I ate spinach! An’ you’re eating me!”

Celia: “Oh no! Now I’m gonna be super strong! Gramma, quick, run for your life before I turn into the incredible hulk!”

GM: “Or… I could just eat all the spinach balls myself to become even stronger,” Payton suggests, finishing off the one between her fingers.

“No! No! I’m gonna be strong!” Lucy grabs another ball and stuffs the whole thing into her mouth.

Celia: Celia laughs, ceasing her tickling so that Lucy can eat the spinach balls in peace. She reminds her daughter to chew, please.

GM: Lucy slows down. A bit. But she’s adamant that most of the balls are ‘hers.’

Celia: “Maybe if you ask nicely your great-gramma will give you the recipe, then you and Grammi can make them.”

“I bet,” she stage whispers, “that you can trade her a hug for it.”

GM: Lucy hops off Celia’s lap and approaches her great-grandmother’s chair, who picks the girl up onto her lap. Lucy hugs her.

“Can I have the recipe? Pleeeeease?”

Payton smiles and hugs her back. “Only because you’ve asked so nicely. I’ll give your mother a copy when she’s ready to leave with you.”

Celia: Celia smiles at the pair. It’s an adorable sight. She asks if they wouldn’t mind posing for a photo so she can share with her mother later, and just so that Lucy can have one with her (great-)grandmother.

She doesn’t say anything about Payton’s age—the woman is still young enough that Celia isn’t worried about her keeling over at any moment—but in the back of her head she knows that time will eventually get away from her, and she’d like the mementos when she can snag them.

GM: The pair don’t mind at all. Payton adjusts the child on her lap and says, “Say cheese, Lucy.”

“Cheeeese!” repeats the first grader as Celia’s phone gives its click.

“You should take another one of Lucy showing us how strong she is,” Celia’s grandmother suggests.

Lucy flexes her tiny arms as Payton pinches the muscle with an impressed expression.

Time waits for no one. Celia remembers her grandmother saying: I will also be 80 years old by the time Lucy is 18, assuming I am still alive then, so it would behoove you to find a second and younger co-trustee.

But they have a while yet.

Celia: Celia spends a few moments telling Lucy to do more and more absurd things for the camera, sharing a laugh with her daughter and grandmother.

It’s moments like these that she hates him for taking her from her family.

Still, she’s luckier than most; she can see them, at least, and will be able to long into her own “twilight years” if she has anything to say about it. Mel had commented once that she could keep up the charade so long as she was willing to look like a shriveled old prune, and though Celia had balked at the time—“I would never!”—she’s starting to come around to the idea.

These people are what keep her going.

It’s only after most of the spinach balls (and cookies) are gone and Lucy is somewhere between a sugar coma and sleep that Celia finally fixes her grandmother with a soft look.

“How are you doing, Gramma?”

GM: Payton sighs at that question, then turns on some cartoons for the half-asleep girl to watch. She moves over to the next sofa.

“You’ve read the headlines. This has been a nightmare for so many people. But I haven’t been hospitalized, killed, or had my husband’s death reduced to a journalistic footnote.”

Celia: “That doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect you,” Celia says gently. “The whole city is up in arms over it. I imagine, as a judge, you might eventually have to preside over the case, if it comes to that.”

“There’s also…”

Celia glances at her daughter, then her grandmother.

GM: “I have preemptively recused myself,” Payton answers. “My personal relationship with Detective Gettis prejudices my impartiality, and Carson wishes to preside over the case himself in any event.”

She looks at the child, then back to Celia.

“What of her?”

Celia: Celia shakes her head.

“Not her. Just making sure she’s absorbed.” The child doesn’t appear to be listening to them; indeed, it looks as if she’s half-asleep. “I just remember that his was the number you gave me during our chat, and he was the one I called when Maxen laid hands on me.”

“It sounded as if you were close.”

GM: “I knew him for some years,” her grandmother answers heavily. “I would hesitate to describe him as a good man, but he was a needed man. He was one of their best detectives and one of the few whose convictions could not be bought. The department is lessened for the loss of his service and the example he set.”

“There was a reason I asked him to handle your father’s arrest.”

Celia: “I recall being… astounded, truly, when I found out that he had already taken my father into custody.”

GM: “There are few other police officers whom I believe would have had the courage or the integrity to make such an arrest.”

Celia: “I’m glad that you sent me to him. I only wish it had been enough.”

GM: “Gettis, like any police officer, could only enforce the law and the decisions of our courts.”

Celia: “This whole thing with those girls…” Celia shakes her head, forces the air from her lungs in a sigh. “They’re going to smear his name. I never met him, you know. He sent someone else to take my statement. But I guess I was just always glad there was someone out there who isn’t afraid to do the right thing, even when it’s difficult.”

GM: “His victims’ families will be right to smear his name. His actions were unconscionable. But the loss of the man he was, and had been for decades, is tragic.”

Celia: “I don’t know what happened between then and now. I can’t imagine it’s easy being a police officer. The stress of the job… that has to weigh on someone, watching people you know deserve to be behind bars get off because of their status or their money.” Her voice is bitter; probably thinking of her father. “I try to wrap my head around it and I just can’t.”

GM: “The job is extraordinarily hard. Police officers have higher rates of suicide, divorce, alcohol abuse, and innumerable other negative health indicators than the general public.”

“You may nevertheless be able to do so better than most.”

Celia: Celia adjusts a pillow beneath Lucy’s face, taking a moment to smile fondly at her sleeping child. She brushes the hair back from her cheek with a light, practiced touch.

Her eyes return to her grandmother, brows lifting.

GM: Payton follows Celia’s gaze, her expression momentarily softening before she turns back to her granddaughter.

“Because you have personally witnessed a miscarriage of justice and experienced its effects.”

Celia: “Ah.” Her smile turns brittle.

GM: Payton looks back towards Lucy. “I hope she does not, but one cannot shelter children forever.”

Celia: “That’s the trouble, isn’t it? We want to protect our children from the horror of the world so that their lives turn out better than our own, so that they can find happiness and peace, but we can hardly hold their hand all throughout it. It is no better to bury our—and thus their—heads in the sand than it is to expose them needlessly by throwing them into the den of a lion.”

Celia smooths her hands down her skirt, tucking it around her thighs.

“I suppose the advantage of being exposed as I was made me more self-reliant than someone who did not go through the same. Strength, and all that.”

GM: “It is a fine line to tread between adversity that builds character and adversity that does not worsen an individual’s quality of life. Circumstance, however, rarely allows us to choose what adversity our children face.”

Celia: “Still,” she says quietly, “I often wonder if I’m making the right choices with her, or if something that I decide to do or not do will cause her undue strife later on. I love my mother, but I will not deny that some of her choices had questionable effects on all her children. We follow the example set by our parents.”

GM: “Perhaps that is a matter you should speak with your mother over, given she is Lucy’s primary caretaker.”

Celia: She thinks to tell her grandmother about that night. The attack. The gun.

But it doesn’t really matter, does it?

“How did you meet him? Gettis, I mean.”

GM: “I met Gettis many years ago at court. I meet many police officers in my line of work.”

Celia: Celia gives her grandmother a wry smile.

“Of course. That makes sense. I dated a boy once who wanted to get into criminal law; I imagine he would have met a lot of officers as well. For what it’s worth, I’m glad you did. He was there when our family needed him, for all that he… well.” She lifts her arms in what is almost a shrug, as if to say ‘what can you do, right?’

GM: “Rarely enough,” her grandmother answers that unspoken question. “I remember that boy. Henry Garrison’s son. His passing was also a tragedy.”

Celia: She can’t help the spasm of pain that crosses her face, or the way her eyes dart toward Lucy.

“It was.”

GM: “He was also there for our family during their time of need. There is no truer measure of a friend.”

Celia: “Best friend I could have asked for. He was… well, I guess it doesn’t matter now.”

“I don’t imagine I’d be the same person I am today if I hadn’t met him.”

GM: “He would have made a fine husband for you.”

Celia: “I loved him,” Celia says quietly. She brushes a hand against her eyes. “I haven’t found anyone since who I can imagine the rest of my life with. Silly, perhaps, to cling to what I once had when there are others who can step into the role.”

GM: “You are still young. Other good men will come.”

Celia: “And for you? Will you spend your twilight years alone?” She looks around at the large, empty house. A gentle smile softens her words.

GM: “I gave my heart to your grandfather. Though God saw fit to take him from me early, we enjoyed many happy years together. It is enough for me to spend my remaining years with my children, grandchildren, and great-granddaughter.”

Celia: “Your daughter says the same. And yet I wonder if she is truly happy.”

Or you, that look says.

GM: “We require love to be happy. My husband loved me. Your mother’s husband did not love her.”

Celia: “Not even when I was little, you think? It seemed like they were happier then.”

GM: Her grandmother’s lips purse. “Perhaps he did, in his way. But that love did not last.”

Celia: “She kept saying the stress of the election got to him.” Celia forces out a sigh. She looks like she wants to bring her feet up onto the couch to wrap her arms around them, but thinks better of the motion.

“I wish he’d never ran.”

GM: “Stress does not ‘get to’ someone. Only get them to show who they are.”

Celia: “His complete and utter turnaround from someone who let his eight year old daughter put makeup and a dress on him to have a tea party with stuffed animals into the person that he became suggests more than it simply hiding inside of him.”

GM: “Perhaps you simply did not know your father as well as you believed. Politics can be a dirty business, but I can think of no political events that would cause a change as total as you describe.”

Celia: “Maybe it wasn’t a political event. His parents died right around then.” She lifts her shoulders in a shrug. “We didn’t see much of his family after that.”

GM: “Perhaps. In any event, it changes little. Your father did what he did and is who he now is.”

Celia: “Following that line of logic, do you think he was always like that underneath, that the stress of the job just uncovered what was already there? Your friend, I mean.”

GM: “Gettis’ motivations are difficult to know. I do know he has no wife, children, or family to speak of. Homicide is one of the most stressful units for a police officer to work in, and he lacked any sort of stabilizing influence in his life. He was known to frequently sleep at his desk. He had nothing except his job.”

Celia: “So, what, he just… cracked?”

GM: “He may have. Socially deviant personality traits among police officers is a topic of some academic research. This has also been, to my view, insufficient research. It is still uncertain to what extent deviant behavior is learned or innate among police. Psychological screening of potential officers is imperfect, police subculture provides a multitude of opportunities for cruel and corrupt behavior on the job, and many officers develop cynical ‘police personalities’ due to the nature of their work.”

Celia: “I read a study once about the type of people who go into law enforcement. How it draws a certain kind of person because of the nature of the job. But that’s the age-old question, isn’t it? Are you who you are since birth, or do external environmental factors turn you into someone? But we can look at that in any regard, honestly, not just the career someone chooses.”

GM: “Yes. But whether Gettis was born this way, or made this way, I do not believe that things had to be this way. He should have retired when he became eligible to receive a pension and attempted to find purpose beyond police work.”

Celia: “Do something long enough and it becomes what you live for, though. Like Mom with her dancing.”

“I mean, could you imagine a job outside of being a judge?”

GM: “I am required to imagine that as part of my job. The Louisiana Constitution includes a mandatory retirement age of 70 for judges, with the exclusion of ones who turn 70 while serving their final terms.”

“I will likely do part-time private practice after I quit the bench. Work gives us a necessary sense of purpose.”

“As to your mother, dancing was a waste of her potential. I do not believe her temperament was suited to become a judge, but she could have followed in your grandfather’s footsteps to pursue a more socially contributive and personally and financially rewarding career as a doctor. Perhaps a pediatrician, given her fondness for children.”

Celia: “I can’t imagine Momma as a judge,” Celia says with a wry smile.

“But you’re right. Work, family, it’s what keeps us going.”

Her eyes slide once more toward her daughter, and she smiles again—a fond smile—at the sight of the girl passed out after her sugar rush.

GM: Her grandmother’s eyes follow hers. The smile is fainter, but it is there.

“She always took more after Timothy than me. He wanted to help people.”

“It was a mistake to introduce her to ballet, but what is done is long done.”

Celia: “I wish I had been able to know him. Grandfather, I mean.”

GM: “He was very doting to your mother, aunt, and uncle. Spoiled them rotten. Brought back lollipops from work and carried them on shoulder rides throughout the house.”

Celia: Celia can’t help her grin.

“He sounds lovely.”

GM: “He was. He was a gentle soul. His death was very hard on our children, especially the girls.”

Celia: “Grandma, can I ask you something… personal?”

GM: “Ask.”

Celia: “What happened with you and Mom?”

GM: “We were never as close. Your grandfather left being the disciplinarian to me. Your mother’s relationship with me grew increasingly strained following his death and the inherent rebelliousness of teenage years. I attempted to encourage your mother to explore career paths besides ballet, which she responded poorly to, and assorted other domestic squabbles I won’t bore you with. After I required her to abort you if she were to continue living with me, your father offered her another home, and that was the end of our relationship.”

Celia: “Oh.” Celia thinks that over for a long moment. “I guess I just… don’t understand. I’m the one that was supposed to be aborted and I harbor no ill will toward you. It just always felt like I was missing part of the picture. Didn’t have all the pieces, as it were.”

GM: “I think she may have also been jealous of her brother and sister, and felt unloved and unwanted next to them.”

Celia: “Ah…”

Sibling rivalry. She can relate.

“Lucy doesn’t have a father. Or a grandfather. She has Mom, and she has you, and I just… wish sometimes that we could all be together.”

GM: "I think your mother may have also felt she could never measure up to them. They both went on to respectable careers. Your uncle was also the one to tell me about her pregnancy, which he had overheard your mother telling Prudence in confidence. "

“All of them were stupidly upset over that. It’s hardly as if I wouldn’t have noticed her belly getting larger when we lived together.”

“I agree with you, in any case, that it is so much the worse for Lucy. She would benefit from additional family in her life. And especially male role models.”

Celia: “What do you suggest, in regards to my mother? I’ve brought up mending this bridge multiple times and I’m just…” Celia leans back against the couch. “I’m tired. I’m tired of the fighting. I love you both. Lucy loves you both.”

GM: “What has your mother said, when you have spoken to her?”

Celia: “If I can be frank, that she wants you to apologize. That she could forgive you if you were to say that you were sorry. That she’s angry you didn’t come to see her as the Sugar Plum Fairy, that she’s angry you told her, when her husband put her in the hospital, that it was a good thing, that she could ‘have a real career now.’”

GM: Celia’s grandmother sighs.

“I told your mother no such thing. I did not attend her performances when she made plain I was unwelcome.”

Celia: Celia’s lips flatten into a thin line.

“Can you tell me what happened, then?”

GM: “There is little to tell. She called for me. I came. I told her she could stay at my home and that I would help her find a new career so she could be financially self-sufficient.”

Celia: “Mmm,” Celia says, “it just feels like there’s more to the story that neither one of you will ever speak of.”

“And I guess if you don’t have or can’t trust family, what does that really leave you with?”

“And, frankly, Mom is a bit of a pushover. She gives in on everything… except this.”

GM: “Perhaps it is her sole remaining point of self-worth. Her husband dominated and abused her. Her job does not require her to be adversarial. I am the sole villain in her life she may stand up to. Perhaps she does not like being weak and this is a way she may feel strong.”

“I have been frank with you, in any case, that I believe your mother should have aborted you. I have been frank with your mother that I believe a career in ballet was a waste of her potential. I am also willing to have a relationship with my daughter despite the past conflicts between us. If there is more to the story, I suspect it may lie with your aunt or uncle. They, at least, maintained functional relationships with your mother until she left home.”

Celia: Celia doesn’t quite sigh. She makes a noise, though, that clearly conveys her discontent.

“You’re right, Grandma, and I appreciate your frankness and always have. I just… don’t understand, sometimes, why people do things. Mom with you. Your friend and those girls.” She shakes her head. “My family is fractured enough as it is. I wish Lucy’s didn’t need to be.”

GM: “You can take it from a judge, Celia, that people rarely get the things they wish for.”

Her grandmother glances back towards Lucy. “But I am thankful she has what family she does, and that you were able to bring her into the world without compromising your own career aspirations.”

Celia: “Me too, Grandma. Me too.”

Thursday night, 10 March 2016, PM

GM: At the mention of her mother, Diana’s lips purse.

“I’d rather not involve her in… things with your father and I.”

Celia: Celia waits, expectant.

GM: “It just really isn’t any of her business.”

Celia: “She’s your mother.”

“You’re involved in my boy business.”

GM: “Well, you want me to be involved in your business, though. You’re here having dinner with us.”

Celia: “Should I invite Grandma next time?”

GM: Her mom glares.

The look reminds Celia of those pictures she’s seen of kittens posing next to lions. Trying to look like the big cats.

‘Trying’ probably sums it up better than ‘glares’ too.

Celia: She’s not so rude as to laugh.

She grins, though.

And hides it with a ducking of her head.

She wonders idly if this is how the elders feel.

GM: So does Emily. “You’re, uh. You might try that in the mirror a couple times, first.”

Celia: She snickers.

GM: Their mom gives a half-sigh, half-huff.

“Well, anyway,” says Emily. “Grandma would probably have to recuse herself, if this ever went to court, but I don’t see it hurting things by getting another legal opinion. You don’t want me to get in trouble for this, right, or kicked out of med school?”

“Oh, no. Of course not, sweetie, absolutely not…” says Diana.

Celia: Damn, girl. Pride thrums through her at Emily’s words.

GM: Their mom gives another sigh. “Okay, bring it up with her. But I do not want to hear any judgments or ‘told you so’s from her, all right? Please keep those to yourselves.”

Celia: “Why do you think so little of her? I’ve never heard her say anything like that toward you.”

GM: “Oh I’m sure you have,” Diana huffs. “Saying ballet was stupid, all a giant waste…”

Celia: “She didn’t, though. She said she wanted more for you, but when you were accepted into school… she was happy for you, Mom. If you were going to do it she wanted you to do it.”

GM: “She had a funny way of showing it. She didn’t congratulate me, didn’t even smile.”

Celia: “She doesn’t smile at me, either. She’s just… gruff, Mom.”

GM: “Well, I don’t like gruffness. You should be sweet to people. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”

“That actually isn’t scientifically true,” says Emily.

Celia: “She’s almost 70 years old, she’s hardly going to change now.”

“Have you seriously been fighting with her for almost thirty years because she doesn’t smile enough?”

GM: “Oh, I dunno,” says Emily. “If you believe Maxen can change from a wife-beating piece of shit into the gentle loving husband you’ve always wanted, it should be a pretty small order for Grandma to be nicer to you too, shouldn’t it?”

Celia: “Right? Like, that’s what I don’t get. You’ll give a second chance to the man who literally tried to saw your leg off, but you won’t give a second chance to your mom?”

GM: Diana opens her mouth, then closes her eyes and holds up her hands to her ears.

“Mom!” Emily exclaims angrily.

Celia: “Did you forget that he’s the reason you don’t have a career? That he’s the reason your daughter landed in the hospital? And your other daughter was raped?”

GM: Diana doesn’t say anything for a few moments.

“Can we please not fight. Can we please just have dinner,” she pleads. “There’s chocolate cake, if y’all are finished…”

Celia: “I’m tired, Mom. I’m tired of fighting about Maxen and grandma. Neither one of you will be honest about what happened. And I’m tired of trying to fix something that you apparently want to stay broken.”

GM: Several more moments pass.

“Ask her about your grandfather.”

Her mother’s voice is quiet. Her eyes look moist.

“Ask her about your grandfather. If you are so determined. To… please, sweetie. I hate fighting you. Please stop fighting every time you’re here. I just want to have a nice dinner with you. Please.”

She sniffs and massages her leg.

Celia: Celia doesn’t quite sigh.

It’s something to go on, at least. A direction to take things if she wants answers.

She’s not sure she does, though. She’s already thinking the worst.

Celia rises from her chair to move around the table, bringing her mother in for a hug. She doesn’t say anything, just holds her mom and rubs a hand down her back.

GM: Her mom squeezes her firmly back, seemingly all-too glad for the hug. Emily gets up after a moment to hug them both. Diana rubs her back too, wrapping one arm around her and Celia.

“How about some cake for my girls?” she smiles after a moment with a last sniff.

Celia: She might have been able to get out of cake if she hadn’t started a fight, but now… well, now that doesn’t look like an option. Unless she storms off in a huff, and it’s already a little late for that. Instead she braces herself for more garbage, smiles politely, and slides back into her seat.

GM: “Sure, I’d love some,” Emily says. She starts clearing away the dishes as Diana replies, “Comin’ right up!” and gets out a baking pan from the fridge, then slices off squares for everyone onto dessert plates. It looks like chocolate mayo cake, judging by the spongy crumb and lighter frosting.

“I think I really like to serve this kind of cake in 13×9 pans, since it’s easy to cut off itty bitty pieces for everyone, but without being cupcakes,” she says. “Plus, the whole cake is shorter, so extra frosting per serving.” She gives a conspiratorial wink.

“I’ve also got some squares frozen in the freezer, if you’d like to try those… it’s the weirdest idea of Lucy’s, but she was dead set on it.”

Celia: “Frozen cake? Is she going to blend it with milk?”

GM: Frozen or room temperature, it’ll taste like shit either way.

“Huh. I should suggest that,” Diana says thoughtfully. “She just really liked the idea of eating it frozen.”

Celia: “I used to eat frozen peanut butter, must be a Flores thing.”

GM: “Huh. Makes me want to try that,” says Emily. “Maybe it is.”

“Mmm. Great cake, Mom,” she says after the first bite. “Just the right amount of crumb to keep the sugar from completely taking over.”

Celia: There’s no way around it now. Celia looks down at the cake on her plate. She digs in.

GM: It tastes like shit.

Almost literal shit. Right down to the color.

Celia: She chews. Swallows. Takes another bite.

Literally shoveling shit into her mouth.

GM: It’s even brownish.

Celia: It’s as bad as the sewer water.

GM: Her mom beams as the two of them eat. “Oh I’m so glad you think so, Emi. I was a little worried, baking this in a pan with more frosting.”

Celia: “It’s got a great texture, Mom.”

That’s all she can honestly say about it. That it has texture.

GM: Solid or moist. There’s only one texture she’s set up to enjoy.

Celia: “Did you put coffee in this? I’ve heard it brings out the cocoa flavor.”

GM: Her mom smiles widely at the compliment before musing, “Oh, that’s an interesting thought. There isn’t, but I did add cinnamon, that also might be doing it.”

Celia: “Mmm,” Celia nods her head, “I was watching a cooking show once and the girl added cinnamon to lemon to enhance the flavor.”

Randy had been watching, anyway.

“And, um… almond.”

GM: “You can add cinnamon to just so many things. It’s healthy. Almond, though, I might try that! Maybe nutmeg.”

Celia: “She got real weird about how cinnamon we use here isn’t real cinnamon and you need to get a special kind. Vietnamese cinnamon, maybe. Very rant-y. Something about the part of the plant it’s from.”

GM: “Saigon cinnamon. It is healthy, but the coumarin means you shouldn’t be eating it by the spoonful either,” says Emily. “Like anything, it’s the dose that makes the poison.”

“I’ve heard of that,” says their mom. “I think it’s much stronger in flavor, but that also means you have to be careful. Too much cinnamon can taste bitter.”

Celia: Celia nods as if she has any idea what they’re talking about. She hasn’t cooked in seven years.

GM: It’s a shame, really.

Food tasted good.

Her mom’s cooking tasted good.

Celia: Just another reason to hate her sire, isn’t it?

GM: As if she would ever hate him.

Celia: It’s a very complicated relationship.

GM: She wants him in her unlife no matter what he does.

Just like Mom.

Celia: That’s hardly entirely true. If he’d hurt her mother she’d have gone after him. Luckily, she’s fast.

Fast enough, this time.

GM: “If you want more variety, so far as texture, I’ve got graham crackers,” says her mom. “With extra frosting, that you can spread along the inside. Lucy really liked that.” She gives a smirk. “So that frosting’s definitely gonna go fast!”

Celia: “Oh, ha, I can hardly finish this little bit, I think I’ll save them for Lucy.”

GM: “Oh, you sure? Like I said… that stuff is not gonna last, with a six-year-old in the house!”

Celia: “I will never be the one who denies a six-year-old her frosting.”

GM: “I’ll deny her just a little,” says Emily. “One cannot say no to more frosting.”

Celia: Celia shakes her head. “I’m telling her you stole some frosting, Em. She’s gonna come after you for that. Sleep with one eye open, that kind of thing.”

GM: “Pfffft, I’ll tell her she should learn to share. She isn’t growing up with a million brothers and sisters like you.”

Celia: “Should I not spoil her rotten? I can return the convertible.”

GM: “Do you think we spoil her?” Diana asks, thoughtfully. She’s finally started on her own cake slice. “I mean, we have set aside money to buy her a car, plus a trust…”

Celia: “Do you give in to her every demand? Is she a screaming banshee when she doesn’t get what she wants? Does she throw tantrums at the store?”

GM: Celia’s mom firmly shakes her head. “Oh, no, of course not! She’s very well-behaved. I mean, she cried a lot when she scraped her knee a little while ago, but all kids do that.”

Celia: “Then no.”

GM: “Though I suppose I do give her what she wants pretty often… I want her to have a happy life, the best I can give her.”

Celia: Celia has nothing nice to say to that, so she says nothing at all. She shoves another piece of cake in her mouth.

Actually eating food has that much going for it, at least. She can use the excuse of chewing to cover awkward silences when she’d otherwise say something snide or pointed or offensive.

Her Beast still doesn’t like it. It’s only moments later that Celia rises to excuse herself to the restroom. She turns the faucet on to cover the sound of her body expelling the contents of its stomach. Her stomach heaves, clenching, forcing the masticated pile of cake, casserole, and salad back up the way it came. It’s like sludge in her throat. She might not be able to taste food or appreciate textures on her tongue anymore, but she can certainly feel the grain against the lining of her esophagus, the back of her throat, her tongue, and finally her lips as it passes from her mouth.

It is, if anything, even worse coming up.

She doesn’t need Emily or her mother concerned about bulimia, either, so she flushes the toilet as soon as she makes the first gagging noise, depositing the regurgitated glop into the whirling water to be whisked away by the house’s plumbing.

She also finally takes a moment to check her phone.

GM: The room’s two other occupants, a printed unicorn and ballerina on the shower curtain, gaze serenely down on Celia as she heaves and vomits out the mushed-up semi-solid shit from a quavering, almost disgustingly alive-feeling stomach that can no longer abide the poison Celia forced down her esophagus. She looks up from the toilet rim, her mouth still tasting as if someone laced it with rat poison, to the caption ‘Believe in your dreams.’

Celia: The worst part is that she can’t even rinse her mouth out because that’ll just make it worse. She cuts her own lip with her fangs, though, and runs her tongue across it because maybe that might make things taste a little bit better, or at least tide her over until she can bite someone else.

Her eyes scan the shower curtain as she wipes off her mouth with a tissue, also tossed into the toilet to be flushed away. It’s… disgustingly, obscenely cute.

And also completely irrational and impractical. The only dream she has will never come true, so really what’s the point. Her lips curl back to expose her fangs, teeth bared in a silent snarl at the ballerina and unicorn as if it’s their fault.

She glances, again, at her phone.

GM: The disgustingly cute pinkish figures only continue to gaze down at her serenely.

There’s texts from a number of people. One is from Roderick, covertly referencing his sister and asking where and when she’d like to meet up again. As well as whether she feels like going back to her place to sleep.

Celia: She sends a coded message back to let him know she’s still working on it, she should be free soon but might stop for pizza and beer, and he’s definitely invited over for a sleepover.

GM: Usual place? Somewhere else?

Celia: She doesn’t respond immediately, moving on to the message from Alana.

GM: There’s a number, from recently and earlier. Some are updates on Celia’s family that she’s already found out by speaking with them. Another mentions how they didn’t need to pay the car towing fee (the Devillers called it). Several wantful-sounding ones ask when to expect her back at Flawless.

A text from Cécilia (also dated earlier, buried among the many others) says her family paid the car towing free, and that Celia only needed to ask if she needed a hand getting her car home earlier. It’s the least they could do after Celia made up the girls’ faces so beautifully.

Most of the earlier missed texts are between Emily, Logan, David, and her mom. There’s nothing new in those, though David says he’s going to stop by later, as does Logan. Diana says Lucy will be happy to see her uncles and invites them over for dinner. There’s vague plans for scheduling a family meal with all of the Flores siblings (who aren’t in Africa or Virginia) if they can fit that into everyone’s busy lives.

Celia has her own private text from Logan:

Hey long shot but Isabel hasn’t texted me in a while have u heard from her?

Celia: Celia is distinctly positive that she did text Cécilia about leaving her car there to pick up later. In fact, she’s sure that Diana did too. She scowls at her phone, typing a quick reply.

So sry! Thx for the assist. Got caught up with family drama. Mom got sick. Tell you later.

It’s even true. Still, now she’s positive she’s going to have to get rid of the car instead of just mostly certain. She’ll take care of it tonight, drop it off to Shep. Send Alana or Randy to get a new one. Or just trade it in, maybe. Newer model.

Maybe Daddy will pay for a new car, she thinks with a smirk. Doubtful. But maybe.

She sends a final message to Roderick, asking him to call her in ten minutes so she has an excuse to leave. The rest of it can wait.

Celia washes her hands in the sink, makes sure nothing is out of place, and moves to rejoin her family.

GM: The hand towel is printed with clusters of roses and dancing little ballerinas.

Celia: She likes the roses, at least.

It’s tough not not feel like even more of a monster surrounded by all this cute stuff, though.

How many people has she killed this week?

And another whose death she saw to, even if hers wasn’t the boot that crushed his throat. She dismembered him, though. Marked him for death.

Her family is the only thing letting her cling to any semblance of humanity and she knows, deep down, she shouldn’t be around them. She’ll just bring misery in the long run.

Can Kindred hearts get heavy? If so, hers does on her way out the door. “Celia’s” death might need to come sooner than she’d originally planned for. Too many loose ends. Too many questions on whether or not the whole persona is shot. Too many people to rely on either assisting or keeping their mouths shut if she introduces “Celia” to the All-Night Society.

It’d just been wishful thinking, anyway. No reason for her sire to actually claim her when she’d covered up her illicit Embrace for him.

She moves through the house to the kitchen, doing what she can to help Diana and Emily clean up from dinner.

GM: Celia walks out to the sight of Emily massaging their mother’s leg.

“…you know those pain meds don’t actually make you say different things.”

Diana winces a bit as Emily steadily kneads her thigh muscle.

“I really feel like they do. Medication’s as much an art as science, after all, isn’t it?”

“Sure, but you can still expect a range of consistency from them. Like you said yourself, Celia and I can’t be around 24/7 to give you massages. That’s what the meds are for.”

“You’re here now. Oh, that really does feel better, sweetie. You and Celia are so good with your hands.”

Celia: Celia scrapes the rest of the cake from her plate into the garbage and runs the water over the plate in the sink. She turns to watch Emily and her mother.

“They can make you drowsy, sometimes, or more relaxed, but they’re not going to change you on a fundamental level. That’s not what medication does.” Not pain meds, anyway. “I think you should call your doctor and get your refill, though.”

GM: “Compost’s under the sink,” Emily helpfully corrects.

Celia: “You compost cake?”

GM: “Sure. It’s biodegradable organic matter.”

Celia: “Huh. I thought you could only do plant matter. What if you guys have, like, pork or something?”

GM: Emily frowns. “Hm, Mom, you want to look that up?”

Diana taps into her phone and frowns. “Oh, it looks like Celia might be right, I’m getting some results that you can’t. Bread products are a no, too. And meat.” She looks curious. “I thought you could just throw anything in, that’s edible…?”

Celia: “It’s why you can’t use omnivore or carnivore manure for fertilizer. Something about pathogens, that kind of thing.”

GM: “It says it attracts pests.”

Celia: “Like that movie that came out last year about the guy on Mars, how he used human waste to grow his potatoes? There’s all sorts of problems that would cause.”

GM: “Oh, lord, that must!” Celia’s mom exclaims.

“Dung’s a pretty traditional fertilizer base,” says Emily. “I think I’ve heard of China using human waste. Also some Amish. They’ve had problems, though.”

Celia: “Viruses, bacteria, all sorts of issues. It can be done, sure, but only if it’s properly treated, and at that point… I mean, we have plumbing.”

GM: “Essentially, they weren’t getting treat… yeah. China’s ‘night soil’ a hundred years ago was notoriously untreated. Eating raw produce was a good way to get yourself sick.”

“Bleh,” says Diana. “Animal dung is one thing, but using human waste just rubs me the wrong way.”

“Using human biological products squicks a lot of people out,” remarks Emily. “I think it reminds them that humans are just another species of animal.”

“I’m not sure I’d describe us quite that way, sweetie. We are made in God’s image.”

Celia: She’d known it was coming.

She turns away to set the dishes in the dishwasher, hiding an amused smirk.

GM: “Well, we’re animals in all the ways that materially count. You know that you can buy cheese made from human breastmilk?”

“Oh my lord, you’re pullin’ my leg!” Diana exclaims.

Celia: She makes a gagging sound.

“I thought that was just a joke in that one show.”

GM: “It’s a real thing. It’s supposed to have a very rich taste. Human breastmilk has lots of nutrients. Everything a baby needs.”

Celia: “I mean, there are all sorts of reason why women should breastfeed, but it doesn’t mean I want to buy someone else’s milk.”

GM: “Would you buy it if the cheese tasted good?”

Celia: Nothing tastes good anymore.

“Probably not. It’s kind of the same reason I’m not into, uh… what’s it called, tripe? The idea is a bit… squick-y.”

GM: Her mom nods emphatically. “Cheese. I just cannot believe that.”

“There’s butter, too,” says Emily. “And I even heard of something called… lactation cookies.”

Celia: “How do you even get that much milk for cheese? There’s a whole process.” She’s picturing women lined up like cattle.

GM: It’s what her kind call them already.

Women and men.

Celia: It’s different for licks to do it.

She can’t imagine someone like her being behind breastmilk butter.

GM: “That’s why it’s pretty expensive,” says Emily. “Obviously, only so much to go around.”

“Cookies! You can’t be serious,” says Diana.

Celia: “Don’t some companies force cows to like get constantly pregnant so they produce enough milk?” Is that what they do with the human women, too?


GM: “I might not be. I think it was just a cookie recipe with a risque name.”

Celia: “Hold on, though. Listen.”

“Do you think they can make whipped cream from it? Or ice cream?”

GM: “I think they could make any dairy product. It’s just a question of supply and demand.”

“Where do they even get that breastmilk,” Diana mutters.

Celia: “Well, Mom, when a man and woman love each other very much…”

GM: Emily laughs.

“From women who’ve recently given birth, I presume.”

Celia: “Not everyone breastfeeds. It makes sense if they could sell the extra.”

GM: “Har har har, you two.”

Celia: “We’re hilarious.”

GM: “Breastmilk pizza,” Emily speculates aloud. “Made from breastmilk cheese. Real artisanal shit.”

“Bleugh!” exclaims Diana.

Celia: “Do you think people with dairy allergies are also allergic to human breastmilk? Also, does it count as cruelty-free or organic if they’re willing to provide it? Just slap a bunch of buzzword labels on it and drive up the price.”

“Listen, Em, I know you wanna be a doctor, but I think we should just open a restaurant.”

GM: “You’re right. Mom can supply our milk.”

“In your dreams, you two!”

Celia: “I think we’d need more than just Mom, to be honest. But she’s a start.”

GM: “Plus, we could use that in the advertising campaign. Don’t you think that gives the place a wholesome vibe?”

“‘From our own mother’s breasts to your table.’”

Celia: “Ooh, you know how other companies do it with the cow face or whatever on the milk bottle? Or the ‘packaged by’ sticker? We’ll put the woman’s face on ours. Get a little bio in there.”

GM: “Bleurgh, blerugh, bleurgh!” exclaims Diana. “I don’t know where you girls get these thoughts!”

Celia: “Mom, you’d be famous. Think of all the hungry children you’d feed. We’ll call it Mother Diana’s.

GM: “And by hungry children we mean, like, a bunch of overpaid tech bros who go gaga for overpriced organic shit.”

Celia: “They’re somebody’s children.”

GM: “Exactly. And they’re hungry. We gotta feed them, Mom.”

Celia: “Plus we can do a behind-the-scenes tour, pay extra if they want to go right to the source.” Celia wiggles her brows at her mom.

GM: “Lord in heaven, where do you two get these thoughts!” she exclaims again. “They couldn’t have been from me, do you get them online?”

Celia: “Mostly. Lotta weirdos online, you know.”

GM: “Yes, like… well, rather like you!”

“Ooh, someone’s hitting back,” Emily grins.

Celia: “Excuse me, Mother, I only post pretty photos of myself online. That’s hardly weird.”

GM: “You know, I wonder what your audience would say if you posted some of those… strange ideas you were just spouting.”

“Good question,” says Emily. “Probably a lot of likes, and some people calling you sick?”

Celia: “They’d probably think I’m crazy. That’s why I have to filter my ideas through you two first.”

“Unless I was selling my breastmilk. Bet I could get a good price for it.”

GM: “Oh, sweetie, I would pay you not to sell your breastmilk!”

Celia: “Cha-ching.”

GM: “Bidding war?” speculates Emily.

Celia: “How much, Mom? I gotta let my followers know.”

GM: “Hmph. Get a goin’ rate from your prospective buyers, at least, so I can match it.”

“Cha-ching,” repeats Emily.

Celia: “Might as well close the spa and milk this cash cow.”

“Cash woman?”

GM: “Cash mammary?”

Celia: “We’ve got time, we’ll figure out what to call it.”

GM: “I still cannot believe there are people who actually commodify this,” says Diana. “What kind of mother sells her milk…”

“Actually, more than you might think,” answers Emily. “It isn’t just ones who want to make cheese. Some hospitals will buy breastmilk.”

“Oh, really? Why do they do that?”

Celia: “Not all women produce an adequate amount.”

GM: “Believe me, sweetie, I know that, but there is formula.”

Celia: “Also probably in cases of adoption, when the mother’s body doesn’t produce any. Formula has come a long way, but a lot of people still think breastmilk is better.”

Celia shrugs.

GM: “Human milk is vital for pre-term babies, too,” says Emily. “Preemies who are not fed human milk have a much higher incidence of illness and death. Like from necrotizing enterocolitis. NEC. 50% of the babies who get NEC die. They drink real milk, they’re less likely to get it.”

Celia: “See, Mom, it’s not all weird.”

GM: “Some hospitals pay as much as $15,000 for a one-month supply of milk per baby in the NICU. So a lot of hospitals don’t have any choice but to restrict access to donor milk to only the smallest, weakest babies.”

Diana’s face falls. “Oh, no. That’s horrible. Those poor babies.”

“That really makes me wish I’d donated, I always produced plenty…”

Celia: “Can’t be upset about it if you didn’t know, Mom.”

GM: “I suppose not… maybe I could start again, if there’s really so little to go around?”

Celia: “Start… what, getting pregnant?”

GM: “Oh, lord no, sweetie, I’ve had all the kids I could want. Just lacating. I’ve heard some women can start again?” She looks thoughtful. “I like to think I know a fair bit about breastfeeding, after six babies, but I’m not sure about doing it without any.”

Celia: “I think you’ve got plenty of other things you can do to help, Mom. Didn’t you tell me you visit the hospital all the time to visit sick and injured people?”

“I mean, far be it from me to tell you what to do with your own body, though.”

“Not to change the subject, but Em—did Alana stop by with a key earlier?”

GM: Emily’s expression sours a little. “Oh, yeah, she did. Can’t say I was thrilled to see her.”

“She can be kind of a cunt about you.”

Celia: Funny, she says the same thing about you.

Celia gives her a vague smile. “Yeah, she’s pretty intense sometimes. I think she was irritated I asked her to drop it off. It’s her friend’s place, so she was doing me a pretty big favor. I just told her I’d get the key back.”

GM: Emily retrieves the key after a moment.

“Well, there she goes.”

“I always feel like she’s a little… cold around me, too,” Celia’s mom says uncomfortably. “I’ve tried to bring her food, a few times when I’ve come to the spa, and she just says to give it to Natalie or Piper or Landen because she’s watching her figure. Always with this very… there’s just something to her eyes when she looks at me. Is there something either of us could do to get on her good side, you think?”

Celia: Celia sighs. She pinches the bridge of her nose between thumb and forefinger.

“I didn’t know she was being weird around you. Her intensity is good for the business, less good if she’s alienating people. I’ll talk to her. As far as the food… she, uh, she used to be really overweight, Mom. I think she’s just obsessive about counting calories or something.”

Which is dumb since if she does gain weight Celia will just siphon it back off of her again if she needs to. She doesn’t want Alana to be fat any more than Alana wants to be fat.

GM: Celia’s ghouls are always a convenient place to get rid of her mom’s food. Or at least one of them is. Alana doesn’t touch the stuff, even if getting fat is no longer a risk for her.

Randy makes up for it, though. He’s always happy to chow down whatever Celia brings him. His mom doesn’t really like to cook.

“Ah, I guess that makes sense. I could try cooking her something with fewer calories.”

“Or maybe she just doesn’t like you, Mom. You can’t please everyone.”

Celia: “I’ll tell her to be less of a bitch.”

GM: “Okay. Just be gentle with her, sweetie. I don’t want her to feel like she’s getting in trouble because of us.”

Celia: “Of course, Momma.”

GM: “All right. Well, the hour’s getting a lil’ late, unless you want to spend the night. So how about I pack you up some food,” she smiles.

Celia: “I’d like that.” Celia smiles back at her mom. No reason to hurt her feelings now about not eating the food. She’s sure she can find someone to pawn it off on.

GM: Celia’s mom gets up. She limps a bit as she makes her way up to the fridge, but soon fills up numerous tupperware containers with food and stacks them inside a grocery bag.

“The dressing’s in a separate container from the salad, now, so that won’t get too soggy,” she says as she hands the bag off to Celia. “I’ve also given you just a little frosting to go with some graham crackers.” There’s a wink. “Emi is right that Lucy should learn to share. We can always make more frosting together.”

Celia: Celia takes the offered bag and pulls her mom in for a hug.

“Thanks, Mom. I appreciate it. Thanks for making dinner for me, and having me over. I love you.”

GM: “I love you too, sweetie,” her mother smiles as she hugs Celia back. “And I’m always, always happy to do both those things. I’ll see you later, at the spa.”

“Or sooner, depending how things with Maxen go,” Emily adds more grimly.

She gives Celia a second hug. “Love you too. Text me when you and your guy want to hang out with Robby.”

“Guy…?” asks Diana.

“I’ll tell you about it, Mom. What little I know,” smiles Emily.

Celia: “Love you too, Emi. And will do.”

She leaves the pair of them with a final smile and a wave over her shoulder as she heads toward the door, food in hand. She doesn’t know what game Maxen is playing, but she’ll be damned if she lets him take this little slice of happiness away from her.

Celia IV, Chapter III
One Pass

“No Kindred is safe.”
Peter Lebeaux

Thursday evening, 10 March 2016

GM: Celia falls asleep. One second later, it’s hours later. She’s starting to forget what that transition between wakefulness and sleep even felt like. She’s in bed by herself. Roderick’s left a note, along with some folded clothes.

Guess I’m an earlier riser than you. Text me when you’re up.

Celia: He was supposed to wake her. She’d told him that last night before they’d gone to bed to begin with. “Wake me so we can talk,” she had said, and he’d agreed.


Better this way, though. Maybe he’s done with the bodies already.

Celia glances at the time on her phone as she unlocks it to send him a text. She checks her messages while she unfolds the clothes he’d left for her, then glances at the door. Did he take his people with him? Is she alone in the house now? Did he leave the phones for her to try or did he back out of that and take them with him?

GM: Celia looks alone in the bedroom. She may or may not be alone in the rest of the house.

Roderick’s left behind three phones on the bedside table. This time, however, Celia does not appear so lucky. All three ask for a PIN.

She also has numerous texts. The first that catches her eye is from Logan:

Ugh Emily can be such a bitch. You try to do something nice

Celia: He’d left them. All of them. All three phones, waiting and ready for her. All she has to do is slide into the clothes, call a Ryde, and take them to Lebeaux like she’d planned. She’s meeting with him anyway to fix Tantal and find out what happened with the other hunters.

Only… she doesn’t know if she wants to take them to Lebeaux. He’d hidden things from her before—for your own good, kid—even when she had been the one to get the objects for him to test in the first place. She almost expects him to tell her the same thing about this meeting that she’d made possible by killing the hunters and by getting into the phone and by changing the ghoul’s face and by giving him the idea to bug the stake, which gives them more future information. She’s sure he’ll pat her head for it, then make some comment about it being need to know or above your pay grade or whatever other cliché bullshit he’ll use as an excuse not to tell her because he thinks she’s a stupid Toreador slut like everyone else does.

Just like she planned, right? Except somehow, when he says it, she’s still offended. He’s supposed to know her better than that.

Better this way, though. He’ll think she hasn’t put it all together yet.

Opening Logan’s text gives her a new idea, though. She quickly types in a response.

Think she was just surprised. You can do something nice for me, though. Got any nerdy tech-y friends?

She could try to get into the phones on her own. More difficult than just waving her hand at it like the warlock can do, and the fact that they’re all locked with a PIN makes it… unlikely. Ten thousand potential combinations, if her math is right. Possible lockout timer, which delays her from just punching in a bunch of numbers. The tech is out there to wipe the phone after too many tries, but she’d had a friend once who worked for a carrier and told her that most people don’t bother to do that. They’ll eventually be prompted for the PUK, her friend had said, which they get just by calling their provider and verifying the information on the account. Usually last name, phone number, address. Sometimes the last four of the social, or a birthday, or the PIN as well. Only problem is she doesn’t have that information, and she thinks Roderick might be over there disposing of the bodies right now, and unless the hunters brought their wallets and ID with them…

Lotta ifs.

He’s smart enough to keep the IDs, though, if there are any.

Damnit, she should have gone with him. Even if she doesn’t want to simply hand the phones over to Lebeaux he could have done his witchy magic finger waving thing if she’d brought a blood sample. Could have found more ghouls to take on their identities. Infiltrate. Get rid of the threat before it gets any bigger.

She sends another quick text to Roderick: ETA?

Then her gaze lands on the provided clothes. Slacks, a blouse. Professional enough for her meeting with Lebeaux, she supposes, and she dresses quickly. She can change afterward. Bess’ clothing? Has to be. Unless Roderick has a harem of female renfields, and she doesn’t see why not. She tells herself the idea doesn’t bother her. That he’s probably not fucking all of them. That they’re probably not as horny as Alana is.

Feet bare, she pads toward the bedroom door. The place belongs to a human, he’d said. Stands to reason the kitchen is stocked. Garbage bags. Sandwich bags. Plastic bags. Tupperware. Her mom has piles of it in her house. Hell, even Celia’s haven has it. Ghouls gotta eat, after all. She opens the door and steps out to find something suitable.

GM: Lol I’m not friends with nerds, Logan texts back. But there’s a couple comp sci people I have classes with

Roderick replies after a moment: Pretty soon. Finished cleaning up my apartment. Want to go boating

Celia: To Roderick: Is that an invite?

To Logan: “Friend” is just a nice way of asking if you know any nerds lol

After a second, she sends another text to Logan. They around now or nah?

GM: The clothes are slightly large on Celia, but they fit well enough. The rest of the apartment looks like an older bachelor’s pad. It’s not as messy as a 20something’s, but her mother would probably find a lot of things to clean up from the pile of dirty dishes in the sink to the clutter left strewn over the the furniture. Most of the food looks like takeout, frozen, or canned, but she finds trash bags and plastic bags without issue. There’s even some tupperware, just not a Diana-level amount.

Roderick texts back, Was going to go with some friends, but could cancel for just us

Logan: I can try to hit them up, you need something?

Celia: She slips the phone into her pocket to search for the plastic bag in the kitchen. Gotta be around here somewhere, right? At last, in a drawer where they definitely don’t belong, she finds what she’s looking for. She pulls one free, shakes her head at the mess, and wonders what Diana would say if she could see this now.

Then it’s back to the bedroom to put the three phones into the bag. She makes sure they’re silenced—super awkward if they start ringing inside of her, right?—before she closes it. After half a second of consideration claws grow from the tips of her fingers, and she cuts into her own flesh, hissing as the skin splits beneath the nails. It’s fixable, of course, but it’s not pleasant to slice into herself like this. She needs to find a better way to smuggle things.

Maybe all those times Paul had taken advantage of her were—

No, she’s not going to let her brain go there.

She stuffs the phones inside and pinches shut her flesh.

Her attention returns to her own phone.

She texts Roderick back: nah it’s cool Idk where my bikini is anyway, call me after tho ;)

Then to Logan: Employee locked up salon phone, think they can help?

GM: She’s seen worse apartments, at least. Like Em’s. At least there’s canned vegetables instead of endless jugs of Nutella.

She remembers that. Ramen, booze, and Kraft mac and cheese. Cocaine in white plastic baggies next to the Nutella. That half-eaten white bread Nutella and butter sandwich. Stacks of Hot Pockets, bags of candy, Red Bull, and sugary soft drinks.

This man (it has to be a man) isn’t ever going to win a “best homemaker” award, but he isn’t living a 10-year-old’s dream diet either.

Celia: Celia is definitely going to tell her mom to bake this man some meals. Canned vegetables are not food.

She doesn’t wait for a response from either Logan or Roderick. She has a meeting to get to.

Thursday evening, 10 March 2016

Celia: Celia crosses the kitchen to the window and unlatches it, pulling down the screen. A moment of concentration and she’s not Celia anymore. The world around her shifts and changes as surely as her own form blurs. Things get bigger. Her bones hollow out. Feathers sprout in place of hair. The window that was within reach is suddenly feet above her head, and she’s left hopping across the floor on feet that don’t much like the smooth tile. Her arms—wings, now—spread to steady herself. She hops again, beating her wings against the still air in the kitchen, and after only a moment she has achieved flight. She soars toward the window, flits through the opening she’d made in the screen, and is free.

Paranoia makes her keep a sharp eye on the world around her as she soars through the sky, and she draws that predatory aura of hers inward just in case anyone happens to be looking. She’s nothing but a common nightjar now. Just another nocturnal bird going about its bird business.

The nightjar, or more commonly the nighthawk, is both nocturnal and native to New Orleans. So while it isn’t particularly pretty to look at—it’s actually rather dull, which serves them well in the wild when they sleep during the day—it’s the perfect thing she needs to get around the city unseen.

GM: Celia’s enormous new black eyes facilitate that sharp eye. The nightjar doesn’t have the best color discrimination, but it can see in the dark as well as any vampire. Her tapetum lucidum, that distinctive eye shine which night-blind humans lack, takes it all in.

But even her kind would still kill to have eyes like these, with each one positioned on different sides of her head. Her 300 degree vision sees in front her and across from her at the same time. Her peripheral vision is anything but peripheral, and the next-best thing to eyes in the back of her head. Sneaking up on a bird with with this vision is damn hard.

But none of that compares with flight.

Air rushes past her as she climbs the skies. She flaps her wings until she finds a thermal current, then just glides. Endless horizon stretches before her. Endless sky stretches above her. She flies.

Emily had gone skydiving once and been disappointed Celia couldn’t come with her: she said the experience was as exhilarating as it was terrifying, that it made you feel alive like nothing else and longing to be in the air again, once your pumping heart had calmed down. Perhaps this is like skydiving. She’s gone skydiving too, in a manner of speaking. But instead of falling like when her sire dropped, her dead frozen with terror as she fell and fell and fell, she’s in control. Her dead wings don’t get tired from flapping like a bird’s. If she soars high enough, the city becomes a speck in her vision, and all of its troubles and intrigues so small before her. She’s above it all. She has the freedom to go anywhere. To just fly away.

Celia: Nothing compares to flight.

No arms around her, no one holding her aloft. No thoughts of falling to the city far below. No wintry presence that steals the warmth from her, that steals her very life. No thoughts invading her mind. No terror. No hoping that someone doesn’t drop her.

She cannot fall, not like this.

She is in control now. She directs her body which way to go, which currents of air to ride. Wings outstretched, she rides the waves. There is little flapping in the flight of a nightjar; her wings are longer than they are wide, perfect for gliding through the air. And glide she does. More graceful in the sky as she is on two feet, the nightjar soars toward the French Quarter. A cry of jubilation leaves her recently narrowed throat, a bird-like trill rather than the exclamation of a girl.

This is what freedom tastes like.

GM: The Evergreen approaches soon. Much too soon.

But there has to be time for another few laps. She can go back. She can go anywhere. She can come back or leave forever.

Birds don’t know the freedom they have.

But maybe that’s because they don’t build cages.

Celia: Maybe she should leave forever. She’s thought about it plenty of times. Leaving the city behind. Living as an animal. A cat, to be adored, to be given the physical affection she so desperately craves. A bird, and she’ll never let her feet touch the ground again. Another step and she can be anything she wants. All she has to do is learn how.

All the time in the world up here for the bird, but the lick inside knows that’s not true. She has responsibilities to see to. A family to take care of. Up here, the problems seem so far away. Still, no matter how fast she flies, how far she goes, she’s always back by morning.

Jade casts her gaze toward the roof of the Evergreen, searching for the lord who holds his court there.

Better not to risk landing, even if it’s empty. She has no doubt that she will be delivered, staked, to her grandsire should she try it. She lands nearby instead, finds what cover she can, and shifts back. Once more humanoid feet touch upon the ground. The sudden mass of her body weighs heavily on her, as if it has thrown shackles around her heart and soul.

A prison, truly, this form of hers.

She does not dwell. She sees herself inside to find Lebeaux.

GM: The Evergreen’s rooftop garden sits empty to the nightjar’s sight. There’s the hot tub, the iron table, the cushioned chairs. It looks all-too easy to swoop down onto one of the many fruit trees. She could conceal herself amongst the thick canopy and the other birds and butterflies and beautiful things, and wait for her grandsire to show up. She could listen to whatever conversations the French Quarter lord might have in the heart of his court.

It looks so invitingly easy.

Celia: Her grandsire cages the other things. The songbirds in gilded cages, to be sure, but cages all the same. She is not a bird, and in this form not beautiful besides. She has no place atop this roof tonight.

GM: The same Louis Armstrong jazz merrily sounds throughout the Evergreen as Jade enters, though the main lounge has been cleaned up from the revels of earlier. Ordinary mortals talk, eat, and listen to music. Fabian greets Jade with the same smile as ever and directs her up the stairs to Lebeaux’s office when she asks whether the warden is present. She finds him typing into the computer at his desk.

Celia: She knocks on the frame of the door before she steps into his office.

“Good evening, Pete.”

GM: “Evening, Celia.” He looks her over. “I wouldn’t say you’re dressed down, but definitely sideways.”

Celia: “Careful Pete, I might think you’re paying attention to me.”

She slides into the seat across from him and crosses one leg over the other. The once-over she gives the detective is far less subtle than the one he’d given her. When she finally meets his eye again she winks at him.

GM: “I thought you were saving me for your mother,” he remarks dryly.

Celia: “Ah, see, I know you broke your own heart the other night when you told me it would never happen. I’m here to pick up the pieces.”

GM: “Of course. Offering me comfort in my time of loneliness and need.”

Celia: “What are friends for, right?”

“Should I close the door, Warden?”

GM: “Always, please, though I’m afraid my reasons will always disappoint a Toreador.”

Celia: She heaves a sigh, forcing air through her body to make the sound long and drawn out as she rises again to close the door before resuming her seat. She mutters something that sounds suspiciously like “tease” as she re-crosses her legs, just loud enough for him to hear.

GM: “Both renfields made the drop-off,” he says without preamble. “They’re back and in one piece.”

Celia: Thank God for that.

“Glad to hear it. I’ll see to yours tonight before I head out, get him back to his normal face. How’d it go?”

GM: “So far so good. They met with a couple other breathers who paid them cash for ‘your’ body. Provided them with an address in Mid-City for their next target.”

“Said there’d be good things in their futures if they continued to deliver results.”

Celia: “I hope I was worth a pretty penny.”

“Easy way to take out some enemies.” It’s not quite a question, but there’s a lilt to the end of the statement, a lift of her brows.

GM: “It is a time-honored tactic, yes. But my gut tells me to be cautious here.”

Celia: “Inq?”

GM: “I suppose it’s possible, but neither of those two’s handlers said anything to indicate they were especially religious.”

“They had more to say around the bugged stake. They seemed to hold those two in contempt. Had another target for them in the Quarter, if they pulled off the job in the Mid-City.”

“Three missions for them to get in with the real team.”

Celia: “Well, considering I talked them into letting me kill them, I would also hold them in contempt. What’s your gut telling you is wrong? Sneak in, find out who they are, take them all out. In theory, anyway.”

“Someone give them my name or did they find me by accident?”

GM: Pete slowly shakes his head.

“Those two’s lives, whether they succeeded or failed in killing more licks to join the team, meant nothing to them. I could hear it in their voices. Absolutely nothing. They might as well have been talking about how long a set of batteries would last.”

“Hunters normally want to work together, if they can get past their mutual distrust. This apparent lack of practical and not merely moral regard for potential allies’ lives is very strange.”

Celia: “I assume the meeting location isn’t set up to be a long term thing. Renfields get any weird vibe from them? Met in the outlands, all sorts of scary shit out there. Could explain their lack of regard for human life.”

“Heard plenty of our kind talk like that before. Like humans mean nothing to them. Could be working for someone like that, even. Said it’s par for the course to go after enemies with hunters.”

“We get an image of them at all?”

GM: “You’re mishearing me. Ruthlessness by itself isn’t an uncommon trait in this life. Or even among humans.”

Celia: “Then what do you think it is, if my theories are off?”

GM: “Again, I don’t find anything especially noteworthy about their lack of regard for human life. I’m concerned by their lack of apparent regard for additional assets and allies when hunters normally need all the help they can get.”

Celia: Oh. She nods, already working out the possibilities.

“Just gonna think out loud here for a second. Every cop movie where the hero doesn’t call for backup is because he thinks he’s got it on his own. Could suggest they have more help than we realize, so these ‘casuals’ are just kept busy on small targets. Like when you tell a kid to go hide and you never seek. Or like how the FBI never wants to work with local city cops. Could be their plan isn’t to actually kill anyone, like a fake group, while they do other stuff. Pursue some other goal. Could be they’re looking for someone specific.”

GM: “Could all be. I’m going to recommend to Lord Savoy that we listen and wait until we have a clearer picture of what we’re dealing with.”

“Tantal and Pierre have descriptions, though no images. They weren’t snapping pictures.”

“It also sounded to me as if you were a target of opportunity. They said, essentially, that those two finding a leech on their own was the prerequisite to receive specific assignments.”

Celia: “Oh. Good. I was concerned I’d gotten sloppy.” Or that someone had sent them after her. “We know if they shared my identity, or is ‘Celia’ still safe?”

GM: “No Kindred is safe.”

Celia: “Bleak.”

“Speaking of, though. It doesn’t really have anything to do with that.”

GM: “Then what were you wanting to speak with me about, as far as Celia?”

Celia: “That was unrelated.”

“I have more that might clear up the hunter thing, though.” Claws again, pretty claws for the pretty Toreador, though there’s nothing attractive about the way she lifts her shirt to sink them into her body, or how she peels back her own skin to stuff her hand inside and grab the edge of the plastic baggie with the phones inside. She sets the grisly package on his desk.

“I need the phones back. But I was hoping we could go through them real quick.”

GM: Pete raises an eyebrow. There’s the faintest hint of fang at the coppery smell.

“Charming delivery. Where are these from?”

Celia: “Sorry. I didn’t want to lose them.” She pulls her shirt back down. “If you know of anyone who can teach me that prison pocket trick I’m all ears.”

“Got jumped by some hunters. They’re dead now.”

She shrugs.

“Seemed more professional than the last two.”

GM: The Tremere frowns. “How would you say?”

Celia: “Maybe I’m wrong. But they got into a pretty secure place. Found the hiding spot. Very thorough searching. The other ones at the spa, they left Roxanne behind. Not even sure if they searched the place after grabbing me. Masks. Etc.”

“Plus I tried to hit them with some charm and they shrugged it off.”

“And I am very charming, Pete.” She grins at him. “Cutest person I know. Even you said I’m gorgeous.” She doesn’t wiggle her brows at him, but she definitely thinks about it.

GM: The Tremere frowns even more deeply. “That isn’t good. That can’t be a coincidence for you to get hit by a more experienced team the day after you killed another one.”

“You have their bodies? Blood samples?”

Celia: “No. I mean. I have their blood inside of me, but that doesn’t do us any good. And if I call the person disposing of them and say ‘hey I need some samples,’ they’re going to know I came to you, which I definitely implied I wasn’t going to do. Which is, incidentally, why I need the phones back.”

There’s a brief pause, then, “I do remember kind of, um, laying in a pool of blood for a minute, so I could disrobe if you can take some dry samples.”

“Chances are good they were drained before disposal, so I can get it, just not until later this evening.”

GM: “I could take a sample from you, actually. Depending how much you drank.”

“We are what we eat.”

Celia: “I was pretty empty when I filled up. On only two of them, though.”

Her fingers dance across her forearm. Nerves, maybe, at the thought of giving her blood to a Tremere.

“Can you do it here? Like now?”

GM: “I can do a basic divination that might not tell me any more than the phones can. I’d need some time to set up a more advanced spell.”

A text buzzes from Celia’s phone. The sender is Emily. The time is past 8.

Hey we’re getting hungry are you still coming for dinner?

Celia: “Can you set it up and I can come back? I have, ah, something else for you to test if you’re offering as well.”

She sends a quick text back: start without me, stuck in meeting sry

GM: Mom spent half the day cooking and getting excited she could ‘feed her baby.’ How much longer?

Celia: Celia silences her phone.

GM: “I’m old enough to remember when that wasn’t considered rude, because it never happened,” Pete says dryly.

“I’m not going to be here all night, but if you leave me something I can get you the results when I next see you.”

Celia: Her gaze drops.

“My apologies, Warden. I’m trying to handle a few things at once. There’s not enough of me to go around.”

GM: Pete grunts, opens the plastic bag, picks up a phone, and drags his finger across the screen. He taps into the old-fashioned keypad and frowns after a few more moments.

“Doesn’t seem to be a whole lot on this one.”

He sets it down, picks up the second phone, and repeats the process.

“This one’s got a search for an address in Mid-City. You have any backup havens there?”

Celia: “No.”

GM: Pete looks through it for a few more minutes.

“Looks like your Anarch pal was the primary target, then.”

Celia: She nods. That makes her feel better, at least, about not dragging him into danger.

GM: He sets down the phone and picks up the third, repeating the process.

“Only real thing on these is calls made out to each other and a single number.”

“Guess what, though.”

“It’s the same one your other hunter pals were in contact with.”

Celia: “And the sample will tell you more?”

GM: “It potentially could.”

Celia: “What else are you going to do with it?”

GM: Pete raises his eyebrows.

Celia: Celia doesn’t say anything. She waits.

GM: “If you’re asking that you’ve already decided not to trust a Tremere. You can watch me do it if that’d make you more comfortable.”

Celia: “Pete,” her voice and eyes both soften, “I can’t think of anyone on the city that I trust more than you. I don’t think you’d go out of your way to hurt me, or even that you’d do it intentionally. So I’m happy to help if that’s what you need from me, but I don’t have time this very minute to do it. I can come back, if you can find time in your schedule for me.”

GM: “5 AM tonight. I’d say to tell your family I said hi, if that was them, but that’s probably a bad idea.”

Pete doesn’t actually look that much older than Celia, biologically.

But he looks worn. Tired.

Maybe even guilty.

Celia: “Actually… it might be a good idea. Maxen stopped by today, which is… why I was so rude earlier with my phone.”

GM: Pete looks up sharply.


“Fucking restraining orders,” he growls. “More useless than toilet paper.”

Celia: “My brother brought him over. Mom was sick, and I… it was day, so I couldn’t…” she trails off. She looks every bit the 19-year-old she died as, suddenly unsure of her footing.

“Emily stabbed him.”

GM: “Tell me everything.” The detective’s voice is deadly serious.

Celia: So she does.

Or at least she tells him most things.

She starts with the prior night, how Diana had confessed she was having nightmares about Maxen taking Lucy away. She doesn’t say where they were, doesn’t confess to trespassing in the Garden District. The summoning from her sire and the body he’d dropped at her feet. A loose end. How he’d thought to “teach her a lesson” by playing catch with her mother, though she doesn’t say why or anything else they discussed. The command he’d given her to remember it as a nightmare. Taking her mom back to her place, then the texts about being sick. Emily’s explanation on the phone, everything she had said about Maxen coming over, taking Lucy to school, Diana throwing out her meds, going at him with a knife. Celia calling Maxen, and him saying he “wouldn’t press charges.” She doesn’t mention their dinner plans, either.

GM: Pete listens intently the entire time, occasionally pausing to ask a clarifying question. His eyes harden and his knuckles tighten at the mention of Donovan’s ‘lesson.’ Finally, he says, “Okay.”

“Emily stabbing your father is bad. But I can’t think of anyone else who wouldn’t respond the same way, in her shoes, and it’s spilled milk anyway.”

Celia: “I set up a thing tonight so I could be with her in case the sheriff… in case he comes.”

As if she will be more than a mild inconvenience.

“I tried to get her to leave. To just… go away for the weekend, take Mom and Lucy, and they won’t listen to me.”

GM: “They don’t know the danger they’re in.”

Celia: “And what can I say? That the world is full of monsters and Maxen belongs to one? And he was weird about it, when I talked to him, he was all nice and smiling and it was… it was just off.”

GM: “I don’t know that you can say anything. They’ve set up their lives here and they hate the thought of running from your dad.”

Celia: “And I don’t know if that means that Donovan brainwashed him and it wore off or it’s a way to make me know my family isn’t safe or what.”

“But they have to. They have to go.”

“If they don’t leave then they all die because I don’t know what he wants, I don’t know what Maxen wants, or why he’s being weird, and I don’t know if it’s about Lucy or Diana or what he’s going to do to Emily now.”

“And he’s just going to kill them. They’re finally happy and they don’t know there’s a sword hanging over their heads, ready to drop.”

GM: Pete rubs his head.

“I’m thinking, Celia. But I don’t see a neat and clean solution to this.”

“Your father needs to go. Easiest way would be neutering his usefulness to your sire.”

Celia: “You think it’s him and not my sire pushing him into this?”

GM: “What does your sire possibly gain from Maxen playing nice guy to his ex-wife?”

Celia: “He knows that it’s the only thing that can hurt me. A long-range… manipulation or something.”

“I don’t know. But it’s more likely that than Maxen suddenly had a change of heart.”

GM: “You only use manipulation when you want to keep your hands clean, because you want to avoid the consequences of getting them dirty, or because you can’t win a direct fight.”

“Your sire threw your mom off a building. In front of you. He clearly does not feel the need to bother with manipulation.”

“I do find it very strange he would do that, though, while also being so kind as to deliver a loose end that threatened you onto your doorstep.”

Celia: “I have ideas for how to move against Maxen. I’ve been working on them. That’s part of why I needed to talk to Lord Savoy. I put a few things in motion already, and I have more in the works, and… I don’t know, maybe he doesn’t care, there’s other stuff too, I wouldn’t just bother him with my family drama…” she trails off, wringing her hands on her lap.

GM: Pete glowers at Celia. “Or maybe he remembers how that went down the last time you and him made a move against Maxen.”

Celia: “That, too,” she says quietly.

GM: “Don’t bother asking for his help.”

Celia: She doesn’t flinch, but only because she expected it.

“I wasn’t going to.”

GM: “Then why in the love of God would you want to talk to Lord Savoy about him?”

Celia: Celia leans forward, elbows on the desk. She cradles her face with her hands and shakes her head back and forth.

GM: Pete just effects a sigh.

“All of this has me thinking, though. Perhaps it’s time to take out the sheriff. Have to do it sooner or later. It’d be a near-knockout blow to Vidal at this point.”

“That idea’s above my pay grade, though. Savoy will have to give it the go-ahead. But it’d wrap up all your family’s troubles with a neat little bow.”

Celia: “And me?” she asks quietly. “What about me, when Savoy decides that keeping his childe’s childe around isn’t useful anymore because there’s no childe to use me against? What’s he going to do to me, when I’m just… just another loose end who messed up his plans once?”

GM: Pete glowers at her again. “I talked with Savoy about that. You got one pass.”

“Because no one was hurt.”

“Because his interests weren’t harmed.”

“Because I said your father broke you like he broke your mother, and you couldn’t bear to ruin your dear daddy.”

“Because Savoy believes in second chances and nurturing potential, and isn’t a bloody-handed tyrant who executes subordinates for their failures like our good prince.”

“If you think he’ll throw you out when the sheriff is gone, you’ve misread him completely.”

Celia: She’d never realized that it was Pete who had spoken to Savoy about what happened. She’d thought… something else completely. Something else that, if she’d gone on thinking it, would have gotten her killed in the end.

All this time she’d believed a dangerous lie. Had thought she was so clever for putting it together.

Maybe she is just as stupid as they all say.

Her eyes find the ground again, the carpet where her feet rest. She’s quiet for a long moment. There’s a faint whiff of something coppery in the air, but she blinks it back before it can do more than accumulate in the corners of her eyes. When she finally lifts her face to look back to him there’s nothing to suggest that she was ever upset.

“Thank you.”

GM: “You’re welcome,” Pete grunts. “I need to think a lot of things over.”

“It’s getting late. You might as well go see your family before they go to bed.”

Celia: “If you see him…” she takes a breath she doesn’t need, lets it out slowly. “If you see him, can you tell him that I have something for him?”

Something useful for once, but she doesn’t think she needs to say that.

GM: “I may not tonight. But sure.”

Celia: “I’ll be back at five.”

Celia rises to her feet, reaching for the phones. She slides them into the various pockets of her ensemble—she should change before she visits her family, she thinks—and turns toward the door.

As always, the meeting with Lebeaux is both better and worse than she expected.

Celia IV, Chapter II
Diana's White Knight

“People do not fucking change!”
Emily Rosure

Thursday afternoon, 10 March 2016

GM: Celia comes to. Pain in her flank. Her Beast roars to life. It howls and roars and thrashes. All she sees is red. All she feels is hurt.

Finally the scarlet haze clears.

“You calm?” comes Roderick’s voice.

She’s lying on her side in a cramped dark space, her hands bound behind her. Steel digs into her wrists.

There’s a thick wad of cloth in her mouth, too.

Celia: Her body thrashes against the cuffs until she realizes where she is, until she hears his voice. The panic and rage subside. She peers up at him, blinks a few times, and finally nods her head. Her fangs tuck themselves away, leaving just the gag.

She can’t speak around the cloth, but she nods again.

GM: Roderick pulls out the gag and then unfastens the cuffs. Her belly hurts, like she’s been stabbed or shot, but there’s no blood in the air.

“Sorry. You weren’t waking up any other way.”

There’s movement from under them. The ceiling is so low he’s lying next to her. Looking around, she sees a small glow-in-the-dark button.

Celia: “S’okay. I’d’ve done the same.” She glances around, for all the good that does her. “Where are we? Who is driving?” They’re in a car. Have to be. Movement, the button. Day out. Someone kidnapped them?

GM: “My renfields,” Roderick answers. “I’m having them take us somewhere else. My haven’s obviously been compromised. I don’t know if more hunters are going to show up, but we’re not going to risk it.”

Celia: She nods again. Relief shudders through her. She’d assumed the worst—that more of them had already shown up, forced their way inside while she was snacking.

“Smart. The bodies?”

GM: His face doesn’t wince, but it looks heavy. He doesn’t say anything for a moment.

“I didn’t want to risk dragging three bodies into the parking garage in the middle of the day. Couldn’t fit them all in the trunk anyway.”

“I left them in the safe room. Only people who’ll know that’s there besides us are more hunters.”

“I’ll find a way to take care of them tonight.”

Celia: She should have found a better way to ask. The trunk is cramped, but she manages to finagle her arms around to the front of her so she can touch his face, his hands, offering what comfort she can.

“I’m sorry, Roderick. I know you… I know it’s hard. It was them or us, there was no other way.”

GM: He closes his eyes for a moment at her touch.

“You said if there was any lick who could go through the Requiem without killing, it was me.”

“So much for that.”

Celia: “You didn’t have a choice. They would have killed you. Would have killed me. Even breathers would excuse it.”

GM: “I could’ve taken them alive. It didn’t have to go this way. I let my monster get out, and I… I killed them!”

He punches the floor.

“They were people. They had names, lives, families…”

Celia: “They were hunters. They would have kidnapped us, taken us to some secret site, pulled us apart, ripped out our fangs, stabbed us with things, burned us, raped us. D’you… d’you know they made me watch, they had me, and they made me watch them cut off Alana’s ear. They’re not good people, Roderick, they’re not. It’s hard. It’s so hard, to take a life, I know that. It makes us the monsters people think we are. But if they’re going to kill us… if it comes down to protecting you, to protecting myself, I’m going to pick us. Every time.”

“We didn’t ask to be turned into this. I didn’t. It was this or death. They sign up for this. They know what they’re getting into. The risk they’re taking. They came after you and they don’t see you as any better than any other lick. They don’t care that you’re a good person, that you fight to put criminals away. They just see a monster. It’s like hating someone for being black.”

GM: “I asked for it,” he answers quietly. “And black people don’t have a demon inside them that makes them commit murder.”

Celia: “Coco offered you a choice. You chose to stick around instead of being put down, like she’d have had to do if you said no. That’s not asking for it.”

GM: “We don’t know they were rapists and sadists.”

Celia: “I have a name and a life and a family too, Roderick. Do you think it would serve Lucy, Emily, or my mom to not have any idea why I disappeared?”

“They won’t let you go once they get you. Being taken is a death sentence.”

“And then if you’d been taken I’d have had to go to Coco and tell her that I lost you. That I hid while her childe got taken by hunters. She’d rage and take my head off and then Dani would be left with nobody to look out for her, and she needs somebody to look out for her.”

GM: “No. I don’t think… self-defense is always justified,” he asserts, asking his head. “But we don’t know they were going to be as horrible as the ones who got you. We don’t know they wanted to do anything but kill another Xola or Donovan. They could’ve been acting on bad intelligence and thought I was a monster just as bad. They don’t know everything about us. They could’ve been trying to do a good thing. We don’t know. We can’t know. Because I killed them.

He clenches his eyes shut again. Celia can smell the faintest trace of blood.

Celia: “We saw their faces. Even if they weren’t bad people, even if they didn’t torture us, we couldn’t live after that. We’d tell someone.”

“How do you think they found you?”

GM: “I… I don’t know yet. I’ll find out, tonight.”

Celia: “What are you going to do?”

“Did you bring their phones? I can try to get into them, see if that tells us anything. And mine.”

GM: “I did. Yeah. We haven’t tried to get in yet. Just, hide the bodies and get out of there.”

Celia: “I’m sorry I konked out. I was trying to get back to you and I just… couldn’t keep my eyes open.”

“I should have been awake to help.”

GM: “It’s fine. We didn’t need an extra set of arms.”

He looks like he could take a breath.

“I guess you’re right. It was them or… them or us. But I wish it didn’t have to be this way.”

“And I didn’t… I didn’t even choose to kill them. I let my monster get out. It didn’t care what they did. It just kills, anything.”

“I can’t control it. I’m a danger.”

Celia: Celia scoots closer, sliding her arms around him. She rubs a hand up and down his back, nestling against his chest.

“I know. I know, it hurts. But you will get through this. I promise you. You will get through this, because I will be there for you every step of the way. We’re in this together. I’ve got you.”

“You saved me, Roderick. That has to count for something.”

GM: He’s slower to return her affections, at first, but wraps his arms around her and cradles her head against his chest.

“It… it does. God knows it does.”

“All I could think at that moment when I was playing dead was, are they going to rape you too, before they kill you. If I don’t stop them. And I just completely lost it, wondering that.”

Celia: “And you didn’t let them. They would have… tied me down, like the other ones did, and just… just…” She shudders, shaking her head. Her lips press against his throat, whisper-soft. “I don’t know what I would have done without you there to protect me.”

GM: “I’m just sorry I didn’t protect you better. You came to me to be safe. Not to get jumped by more hunters.”

Celia: “I am safe. I’m safe with you. I’ve always been safe with you.”

GM: He doesn’t say anything for a moment, just holds her against his chest.

Celia: “You can’t blame yourself for that.”

GM: “They didn’t find this place by accident. I’m coming back tonight, with my renfields and my krewe, to pack up everything and… take care of the bodies. New haven after this.”

“I’d been meaning to get a new one for a while, anyways. This just moves up the timetable.”

Celia: “I still don’t understand how they would have found you. Nothing is in your name, right?”

GM: He shakes his head. “It’s a pseudonym behind a pseudonym.”

“I thought about having everything in Roderick Durant’s name, at first, but Coco said it was better to keep the Kindred and kine stuff separate. She was probably right.”

Celia: “…what if… what if they followed me, Roderick? What if they found my mom, and found me, and were waiting for me, and I… oh god, what if I lead them right to you?” Her fingers clench into fists. Is this her fault, too?

GM: “No,” he says, “they couldn’t ha…” He trails off.

“Wait. Didn’t you say your family was calling you?”

Celia: Her hysteria is stymied by his question.

“Yes. Repeatedly.”

GM: He presses her phone into her hands.

Celia: Celia unlocks it to check her texts and voicemail.

GM: “I’m sorry. With everything else, I forgot.”

Celia: “Could be nothing,” she says with a shake of her head, scrolling through.

Alana was supposed to find out.

She’d told her to.

She hadn’t even checked the line of texts from her mother or Emily, but she opens them now.

And looks, too, for the message from her new “friend.”

GM: There’s a panoply of texts and voicemails. The first one is from Diana, dated shortly after Celia dropped her mom off at home:

“Sweetie, help,” croaks Diana’s voice. “I’m really sick. Please come over.”

It ends there.

Celia: Shit. But it’s just a cold, right? A cold from being out and about at night. Leg pain from being in the rain. Rain hurts old wounds, everyone knows that, all those old people complaining about their knees when the clouds start to appear. That’s all it is. All it has to be. Please let it be just that.

GM: There’s another voicemail after that one:

“Sweetie, please pick up.” Her throat sounds really dry. “I’m sick. My leg really hurts. I can’t… Emi’s with Robby…”

There’s a third message after that one. Celia’s mom sounds like she’s crying:

“Sweetie, please. I can’t… get out of bed… there’s vomit… I had this… nightmare… I really need you…”

Celia: Her stomach clenches as the voicemails get worse, as her mother’s voice begins to tear up.

She should have stayed. Checked on her mom. Made sure she was okay instead of running away.

GM: There’s a text message, too. The recipients include Celia, Emily, David, Logan, and a number Celia doesn’t recognize:

Someone please COME OVER!!! Im rly sick Lucy needs breakfast a ride hasnt take the bus before Im missing work the school needs to get a sub someone please get this BEFORE SHE WAKES UP!!!!!!! DOnt wanT HER TO SEE!!!!!!!!

Celia: Celia ceases her search. She calls her mother instead, holding up a finger to Roderick to tell him to be quiet.

GM: It rings until it goes to voicemail.

“Hi there, you’ve reached Diana Flores! Please leave your name and number, and I’ll get back to you first thing. Thanks!”


Celia: It’s a recurring nightmare. The same thing that happened years and years ago. No one picks up their phone.

“Hey, Momma. It’s Celia. I just got your messages. Please call me.”

She hangs up.

Dials Emily.

GM: She picks up after the first ring.

WHAT THE FUCK!?” she yells in Celia’s ear.

Celia: “What’s going on, Emi?”

GM: “What’s goi—did you read those fucking texts!?”

Celia: “They all just came through at once. I saw Mom is sick, so I stopped reading to call her and got her voicemail. Then I called you. Are you going to tell me, or should I hang up to read them?”

GM: “Maybe you sh-”

She pauses. Takes a breath.

“Okay. Here’s what happened.”

“Logan got Mom’s text. He wakes up before me. ROTC.”

Celia: Celia tucks the phone against her shoulder, sliding her wrists into Roderick’s hands so he can get a grip on her in case she loses it.

She has a feeling. A really bad feeling.

“He took her to Maxen,” she breathes.

“Did he take her to Maxen?!”

GM: “It’s a school day. Lucy’s at McGehee. I know that, because I ditched med school to fucking check her classroom myself.”

“Logan came over. Made Lucy breakfast. Got her to school. Got Mom some ibuprofen. Carried her over to my vomit-less bed and did the laundry.”

“Except, oops. Guess who he brought.”

“Guess who he brought.”

Celia: “Who, Emily?” Her voice is tight, already imagining the worst case scenario.

GM: MAXEN!!!!!” screams Emily’s voice.

“Who the FUCK else!? Mom woke up in his ARMS! HE gave her ibuprofen! HE rinsed her mouth! HE carried her to my bed! HE did the laundry! HE made Lucy breakfast! HE drove Lucy to fucking school!”


Celia: Why. The. Fuck.

Why the fuck.

Why the absolute fuck would Logan bring Maxen over to her mother’s house.

He doesn’t know. That’s the only logical explanation, that he doesn’t know what a piece of shit Maxen is, that he doesn’t believe Celia when she says that he’s bad news, that they think she’s lying about what she lived through.

“Where is she.”

It’s not a question. It’s a demand for answers.

GM: “She’s home. Sleeping. Maxen’s gone.”

“I cut him.”

Celia: “You cut him?”

GM: “I saw her in his arms, I took a carving knife, and I stabbed him.”

Celia: Way to go, Emily.

Celia glances at the time on her phone.

GM: “I didn’t know. Logan didn’t say he was there. I came home, to check on Mom, I saw him there, with Mom, and I stabbed him.”

It’s early afternoon.

Celia: “Get out of the city. Pick up Lucy from school. Take Mom. And go. Just drive. Get out, because you sure as fuck know he isn’t going to take that lying down.”

She can already picture it. Emily thrown in jail for attacking Maxen—that would be the least of her worries. The sheriff coming after Emily for harming his toy.

“Mom still has a restraining order against him, but I guaran-fucking-tee it’s going to do jack shit.”

“…is he dead?”

GM: “He’s fine. Better than fine.”

“He said I should tell Mom what I did. He said he’s not going to press charges.”

Celia: “Why?”

GM: “Because she loves me.”

Celia: She doesn’t buy it for a minute.

GM: “His exact fucking words.”

Celia: “You don’t believe that.”

“You can’t believe that.”

GM: “Of course I don’t! I drove you to the hospital with a bloody ass and broken arm, remember!? People do not fucking change! They don’t! Not complete 180s like that!”

Celia: “Why is he doing this? What is he hoping to get? I can’t… I can’t even think of what purpose this serves. Getting Mom back? Getting Lucy?”

GM: “I don’t know! Maybe? Who the hell knows how a mind that sick actually works?”

Celia: “I’ll handle it.”

“Emi, get out. I’m serious. Get out of the city. Now. Take Robby if you need to. Just… go on vacation for a few days or something, let me take care of this, find out what he’s after.”

GM: “What about Mom? Lucy?”

Celia: “Take them.”

“Tomorrow is Friday anyway. Take a long weekend.”

GM: “I don’t know if Mom is gonna want to. She was… Celia, it was sick. You should have listened to her.”

Celia: “Tell me what she said.”

GM: “That she missed him. That she missed having a man in her life. That she missed having someone who was always there for her, to take care of her.”

Celia: “He beat her. Why does she not remember this? She just told me yesterday she had nightmares about him! He tried to take her fucking leg off!”

GM: “I don’t even know what goes through her head sometimes, Celia. I don’t even know.”

“There’s more, but it makes my tongue feel dirty.”

Celia: “Tell me.”

GM: “That it was so long ago. That she did a lot to upset him. That she held him back from his dreams. That it would be wrong, now, to repay his kindness with cruelty. That Jesus says to forgive. That gentleness and forgiveness is real strength.”

Celia: “Wow.”

“Of course she blames herself.”

GM: “I guess that’s what happens when you don’t get laid for a decade.”

Celia: She tries to hold it back, but she can’t help the snort of laughter.

GM: “The only thing that seemed to snap her back to reality for a second was Lucy.”

Celia: “He can’t get his hands on her, Em. She’s the only kid in the family that isn’t fucked up. Take her and go, if Mom won’t leave.”

GM: “They ate breakfast together. He drove her to school. He also gave her… I don’t even remember what it was. Some bullshit present. She says Grandpa is really nice.”

Celia: “Yeah, well, she’s never seeing him again.”

GM: “Do you think that’s… that could be kidnapping. Technically.”

Celia: “She and Mom can go with you when you do your residency.”

GM: “If Mom doesn’t want me to take her.”

“God, I wish Stephen was here.”

Celia: “She’s my daughter,” Celia says flatly. Celia’s name is on her birth certificate.

“You think it’s kidnapping to take my daughter with my permission?” She lifts her brows at Roderick.

“That my mom could fight you on that?”

GM: Roderick, silently listening to the whole exchange with a grave expression, asks, “Who has legal custody of her?”

“Because who’s on the birth certificate doesn’t matter next to that.”

Celia: Celia presses the mute button on her phone so Emily can’t hear her.

“Diana is her legal guardian. I’m still her mom. We thought it would cause fewer problems if… well, if I were suddenly not around, anyway, not that I told her that.”

GM: “Okay. Family law isn’t my specialty, but if you want to do this legally, you need to petition the court to revoke your mom’s guardianship,” Roderick answers. “You can do that at any time.”

“I don’t need to say this sort of thing can tear families apart over the bitter feelings.”

Celia: “Emily stabbed Maxen,” Celia says flatly. “Do you think that’s going to go over well tonight when the sheriff wakes up and finds out his pawn has been attacked by someone connected to me?”

GM: “I know. I’m just bringing up all the facts.”

Celia: “I need to call him.”

GM: “Your dad?”

Celia: “Yes.”

GM: “You still there?” comes Emily’s voice.

Celia: Celia unmutes her phone.

“Yeah, just thinking. I can revoke guardianship but it’ll probably cause some bitter feelings and Mom might push back. I can call Grandma, see if she can push it through, but…”

GM: “I don’t know what Mom might do if she thinks we’re stealing Lucy from her.”

“Like I said. She seemed to… come down to reality, a bit, when I brought up Lucy.”

Celia: “You need to go, Em. Even if they don’t.”

GM: “I don’t want to leave you guys.”

Celia: “Then tell her what will happen if he gets his hands on Lucy. And how he’ll ruin her life.”

GM: “You think I didn’t?”

Celia: “I’m sure you did.”

GM: “She said she wasn’t sure how she felt about Max and Lucy.”

“I pressed her. She said she’d rather ‘be cautious.’”

Celia: “Then she can’t see Maxen because she might let something slip.”

“Listen. I’ll call him, I’ll find out what he wants. But you seriously need to get out. He’ll come after you. Have you arrested.”

GM: “Yeah. That’s also…”

“Oh. Shit.”

Celia: “What?”

GM: “If you revoke her guardianship. She could reveal she’s Lucy’s real mom.”

Celia: “Yeah.”

“I didn’t want to say that over the phone, but yeah.”

GM: “Ah. Sorry. Doubt the NSA is recording this, though.”

Celia: It’s not the NSA she’s worried about.

She forces a laugh.


GM: “I don’t know if she’d do that or not, anyway. I really don’t know what’s going through her head right now.”

Celia: “Do you have somewhere you can lay low until we figure this out?”

GM: “Besides with Robby? I… think so, actually.”

Celia: “Where?”

GM: “I’ve mentioned Dr. Crawford to you, haven’t I? My clinical supervisor.”

Celia: The name rings a bell. She’s almost positive that’s the woman who called her about Diana after the ‘accident.’


GM: “I trust her.”

Celia: Celia lifts her brows at Roderick. Maybe he knows if ‘Crawford’ is a name they can trust.

GM: ’Don’t know her,’ he mouths.

Celia: ‘C-B-D,’ she mouths back.

GM: “Sorry?” he whispers.

Celia: “Uh, like at her house?”

GM: “I think she’d say yes,” says Emily. “If I said it was serious. We’ve… shared a lot.”

Celia: “Do you know what part of town she lives in?”

GM: “What does that matter?”

Celia: “I’m just trying to figure out the logistics.”

GM: “I’m not sure where, sorry. Robby’s in the CBD.”

Celia: “Where are you now?”

GM: “I’m at home. I didn’t want to leave Mom alone. In case he comes back.”

Celia: “Maybe a hotel…”

GM: “I don’t know if Mom’ll go along.”

Celia: “We don’t know what he wants and Lucy is in danger. So are you.”

GM: “Yeah, well, so’s Mom. I am not letting him get his hands on her again.”

“His literal hands. He was touching her.”

Celia: “You stabbed him. I’m honestly surprised you’re not sitting in jail right now.”

“Let me… let me call him, Em, and I’ll call you back.”

GM: “Shit. You’ll…”

A pause.

“Well, what the fuck can it hurt, I guess.”

“Okay. Call me back.”

Celia: “I’ll talk to you in a bit. But pack a bag. Go sit at a coffee house or something.”

GM: “I will. Good luck.”

She hangs up.

Roderick lets out a low whistle.

Celia: Celia rubs a hand against her temple.

“Why would he not press charges? He hates Emily.”

GM: “So, you’re not technically pressing charges,” Roderick answers. “You, or he, would report what happened to the police, they might make an arrest, and the DA’s office decides whether or not to press charges from there. Obviously, there are a lot of factors at any of those stages that can influence how the process plays out.”

“I do have some pull at the DA’s office, though, if it comes to that and you need it. Your grandma could help too, as she’s a criminal judge. But it really depends what your dad does and how big a fuss he makes. Obviously it’s best if Emily never gets arrested at all, and there are reasons your dad might not go that route. But if he calls the cops while he’s still bleeding, pretty hard not to see an arrest happening.”

Celia: “Rod. I don’t care if your renfields have to stab me repeatedly. Stake me, cuff me, whatever, I need to be awake today to handle this.”

“Honestly please cuff me, I don’t want to lose control. When we get out. Okay?”

GM: “Absolutely. I’ll stake you, cuff you, whatever you need.”

Celia: “I just don’t know what he wants. Why now. Why not call the police immediately.”

“It doesn’t make sense.”

GM: “Bad political optics could be one. Undermines his tough guy public image for his ex-wife’s adoptive daughter to stab him, and for him to run to the police over it.”

“But I don’t know either. Like Emily said, I don’t know how a mind as sick as his works.”

Celia: “I’m… I’m gonna call the house phone, see if he’s there. I always wondered… I wondered, you know, if the sheriff… if he did something to my dad once he took him, if he fucked with his head, because the change… it was so sudden, Roderick, so sudden. What if my dad is still in there?”

GM: He frowns. “What do you mean, still there?”

Celia: “He looked at me once… I had just graduated, we were having dinner, he looked at me like he had no idea who I was.”

“I don’t know, I don’t fuck with heads like that, what if it’s some weird Pavlovian conditioning or something.”

“Like a sleeper agent. Gave him a new personality.”

GM: “That’s a pretty scary thought. I’m not an expert, though, on that kind of mindfucking.”

Celia: “Where’s a stiff when you need one.”

GM: “I don’t know if you’d want to involve her, but… Coco’s always given me good advice, when I’ve needed it.”

Celia: “I don’t think she should know we’re talking.”

GM: “I know. Especially right now, with…”

He doesn’t quite sigh.

“Yeah. Some things in the air. Just laying out all cards on the table.”

Celia: …what if Coco sent the hunters after Roderick? Throw childer to the pyres and all that.

Her jaw tightens. She wouldn’t do that. Right? Her own childe?

“Right,” she says after a minute. “I’ll see if I can get an answer from him, and… maybe talk to someone who knows more about it tonight if not.”

GM: “Okay,” he says.

“Pinch me a few times. I don’t want to nod off.”

Celia: She takes a breath she doesn’t need. Maybe one year she’ll remember that they don’t do anything for her, that they don’t calm her nerves, that they don’t center her at all.

“Tell your people first. About waking us. Can you text them?”

“…I’m just, uh, picturing one of us losing it in the trunk.”

GM: “That’s what the cuffs are for. But sure.”

He pulls out his phone and taps away.

Celia: “Now is the worst time to say this, but…”

“It’s a little hot waking up to cuffs, y’know.”

“Just, uh, just saying.”

GM: There’s a half-rueful smile.

“I’ll surprise you sometime, then.”

Celia: She’d giggle, but she’s busy thinking about her dad. Calling her dad. Talking to her dad for the first time in… since that night.

The night she died, when she made him rape his daughter.

She punches the number into her phone.

GM: The phone rings.

Each one feels like an eternity.

Then, a too-familiar voice.

The one that read her bedtime stories.

The one that called her stupid.

The one that said he loved her.

The one whose last words to her she doesn’t remember. Words he said to the daughter she made him rape. Before she never saw him again.

“Maxen Flores speaking.”

Celia: Seven years since she’s heard his voice.

Seven years since she’d lived under the same roof as him, when he belittled her, abused her, told her how worthless and stupid she is. She’d internalized it. Hears him, sometimes, when she does something particularly dumb. It’s a word she avoids saying whenever she can; she calls things ‘silly’ or ‘inane’ instead of stupid now.

She’d spent so long hating him. Had worked to bring him down. And then thrown it all away when her sire came calling.

She’d almost thought it would go to voicemail. Had maybe hoped it would go to voicemail.

His voice brings it all back.

“Hi, Daddy. It’s Celia.”

GM: “Hello, Celia. It’s very nice to hear from you again.”

She hears the man’s smile.

You can always hear a smile over the phone.

Celia: She shouldn’t feel anything.

She tells herself she doesn’t feel anything.

She’s always been good at lying.

“How are you?”

GM: “I’m doing very well, thank you. There’s a lot of work at Baton Rouge to keep me busy since Nathan went to D.C. It’s hard work. I enjoy the challenge.”

“And how about my little girl? I hear you’re running a business.”

Celia: “I am. A few years now. A spa. It’s going well. Same thing, really, keeps me busy managing the day-to-day.”

“I saw Logan the other day. He said… he said you…”

He said you were proud of me, Dad.

Celia clears her throat. “He said you might want to talk.”

GM: “Of course. A dad always wants to talk with his children. Logan mentioned your business was a spa and showed me its website. It looked very professional. He said a bunch of girls in his classes all know your name and won’t stop talking about you.” Another smile. “You sound like you’ve been very successful.”

“I’m very proud. Celia Flores, award-winning business owner at 27.”

Celia: Celia turns her face away from Roderick, though he can probably still smell the effect the words have on her.

“Thanks, Dad. I’ve worked pretty hard on it to get it to where it is now. Looking into a second location and everything.”

“I heard you took Lucy to school today.”

GM: “You are? That’s wonderful, sweetie. I’m glad you’re not resting on your laurels, either.”

“And yes, I did. Your mother wasn’t feeling well. I hope that was all right.”

Celia: “I wanted to say thanks. I couldn’t be there for her this morning. I’m… glad her grandpa could step in.”

GM: “You’re welcome, Celia. I was happy to meet her. She’s a very sweet child. She says her grandmother is already teaching her ballet.”

“And that her mother is why she’s pretty.”

Celia: Celia can’t help but smile.

“She’s gotten pretty good at it. Very graceful. She’s decided she’s going to be a ballerina in space, actually. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that she’d just be kind of free-floating up there.”

GM: Maxen chuckles. “A space ballerina. Well, she’s six. She has time to dream.”

“And who knows? Maybe she will be an astronaut who also knows ballet. She can be anything she wants to be.”

Celia: He’d told her something similar once. That she could have anything she wanted. Anything she dreamed about, all he’d had to do was sell his soul to get it.

“Emily mentioned that she ran into you today at the house.”

With a knife.

GM: “She did, yes. I’m sure she told you the details.”

“I’m sure she’s very worried. She doesn’t need to be.”

Celia: “We’re both a little concerned, Dad.”

GM: “I’m glad to hear that you are, Celia. The cut wasn’t serious. I still do martial arts and your old man can take a hit. I disinfected the area, slapped on a bandage, and went in to work.”

“I told Emily that I didn’t see any need to involve the police. She’s obviously very dear to you and your mother.”

Celia: “That’s very magnanimous of you, Dad. She’s been there for me a lot. Mom and I. And Lucy, too. We’d all be upset if something were to happen to her because she reacted poorly when startled. Shall I tell her she’s forgiven, then? No hard feelings?”

GM: “Please do. I’d also appreciate if you could tell her that I apologize for startling her, and for any disruption today’s events might’ve caused to her studies. Med school is enough stress on its own and I’m sure she doesn’t need any more.”

“Lucy said that she’s going to be a doctor soon.”

Celia: “She is, yes. She graduates soon and will be starting her residency. She probably could have looked at the cut for you if she had been thinking clearly. I’ll let her know, though. Glad we could talk about it without involving others.”

GM: “Me too. I’m at work now and have to get going, but I’ve enjoyed talking with you, Celia. Give me a call if you’d like to again.”

Celia: “Would you like to get dinner sometime?”

GM: “I’d love to,” he smiles. “How about we take your mother along, for a family meal? We could go somewhere special.”

Celia: “I was hoping it could just be the two of us.” There’s a brief pause. “I miss you, Daddy.”

GM: “I’ve missed you too, sweetie. Just us, then. Where would you like to go? August, Galatoires, The Grill Room?”

“Oh, never mind, actually. The Grill Room closed with the rest of the Windsor Court.”

Celia: “Galatoires, maybe. Or there’s a seafood place near there… something Fins, I’ve been meaning to try. I hear their swordfish is the best in the state.”

GM: “GW Fins. All right, it’s a date. Can you do this Saturday at 7?”

Celia: “I have a standing client at 6, but if you can push it to 7:30 I’ll be right on time.”

GM: “7:30 it is. I have to go now, Celia. I love you.”

Celia: “I love you too, Daddy.”

GM: Click.

Thursday afternoon, 10 March 2016

Celia: Celia glances over her shoulder at Roderick.

GM: He looks like a motionless corpse, in the clutches of daysleep.

Celia: She dials Emily.

GM: “How’d it go?”

Celia: “He’s being weird. Something’s up. Get out of the city until I can figure it out.”

“He wants something, I just don’t know what it is yet.”

GM: “I’m not leaving Mom.”

Celia: “Then take her with you.”

GM: “I also have med school. If he goes to the cops, you can’t run from the law.”

Celia: “I’m not worried about him going to the cops, I’m worried about him sending some Blackwatch thug after you.”

GM: “Well that’s stupid, that’s illegal. If I were going to go after me, I’d go to the cops.”

“What do you mean, though, that he’s being weird? What’d he say?”

Celia: “He told me he loves me.”

GM: “Uh-huh.”

Celia: “Em, please trust me. Something is going on and I don’t want to have to say ‘I told you so’ if he breaks your legs.”

“And I will. I’ll look right at you and tell you that I told you so. And then you’ll get mad at me. It’ll be a whole thing.”

GM: “Fine. I won’t get mad at you for being right and telling me so.”

Celia: “Take tomorrow off from school, tell your professors there’s a family emergency, and just… go to Houston or Atlanta or something.”

“You’ll be back on Monday.”

GM: “Okay, I’ll stay with Robby. He does HEMA, he’s a tough guy despite the glasses. If your dad sends a Blackwatch thug, great! That could get him in a lot of trouble!”

Celia: “Why don’t you just ask him to move up game night, and Randy and I can come over tonight to hang out. Just in case.”

“We’ll play your… World of Shadow thing.”

GM: “It’s a lot of fun. But okay. I’ll ask him if he can run a one-shot.”

“We have a regular group he GMs an ongoing campaign for.”

Celia: “I’m looking forward to it. I’ll bring snacks. And… I have a friend who might be into it, too, if you think he can run for four?”

GM: “Oh, sure. Four is the normal size group. Who’s the friend?”

Celia: “Just a guy,” Celia says vaguely.

“I think you’ll like him, though. If he’s free. I dunno. He might not be into it. I’ll let you know for sure so Robby doesn’t prep something for too many people.”

GM: “Thanks. Advance notice is helpful.”

Celia: There’s a brief pause. Then, “I kind of like him, Em. With everything going on with Randy lately it’s been… I dunno.”

GM: “Mom told me about the talk you two had.”

“What’d Randy say, by the way, when you talked with him?”

Celia: “I just don’t think he’s ever going to like me the way I like him.”

“And that hurts, you know, to spend all this time pining after him. And I’m just tired of it.”

“I’m young, I’m cute, I’m successful. Why doesn’t he like me?”

GM: “Yeah. You sure you want to bring him still? Are you guys done?”

“And he should! You’ve been together for years, Mom is right. He needs to shit or get off the pot.”

Celia: “He didn’t say much. I think he’s still thinking things over. We got into it that night after dinner. It’s been kind of strained.”

“Maybe I won’t bring him. That’d probably be awkward.”

GM: “It kinda is without knowing if you’re gonna stay with him, yeah. And it sounding more like a no.”

“Oh, uh. Something else. Mom threw out her pain meds.”

Celia: “She… what? Why?”

GM: “She said they were making her say crazy things.”

Celia: Shit.

“She needs those.”

GM: “That’s what I told her.”

Celia: “I’m looking into a specialist for her leg. Maybe she won’t in the future, but there’s been some research lately… I’ve been working with someone in Texas who’s been doing some innovative stuff and I thought maybe I could bring Mom out sometime, but until then… she needs her meds.”

GM: “I asked some more, and she said she told you some really crazy things yesterday.”

Celia: “She said that she’s been having nightmares. About Lucy.”

GM: “She did. Yeah. This was a full-blown night terror, whatever it was.”

“I don’t know there’s a lot to do for her leg, though. Believe me, I’ve thought about it. Researched about it.”

Celia: “Maybe some trazodone to help her sleep at night. I know it’s got weird dreams as a side effect, but it’s an anti-depressant and I’ve wondered for a while if she is.”

GM: “Depressed? I don’t… think so. She’s generally pretty happy.”

Celia: “Her whole life is wrapped up in her kids, Em. That’s… depressing.”

“I still think she needs to get laid.”

GM: A beat.

“It is, yeah. And she… agreed. About the kids.”

“Enter Maxen.”

Celia: “I’m handling it. Just gotta keep her away from him until then.”

“I think, honestly, getting out of the city would be the best thing for her. I don’t know what residency programs you’re looking into, but something out of state… take them with you, you know?”

GM: “Uh… that’s kinda problematic.”

“I’m trying to finagle things to stay in the city. Robby’s here, Mom and Lucy are here, you’re here.”

Celia: “Ah.”

“Obviously I want you here. I’m just worried about all of this.”

GM: “I know. I don’t think moving is an option, though. Mom and Lucy have their whole lives set up here. Mom’s got seniority at a job she really likes and McGehee’s a really good school. It’ll open a lot of doors for Lucy. Tuition’s normally 20k a year, but since Mom’s a teacher there, we pay basically nothing.”

“She always says that’s one of the job’s big perks. Makes her 40k salary effectively 60k, for as long as Lucy’s enrolled.”

Celia: “I know, I know. I guess I’m just… I saw how bad it got before, you know, and I’m ready to just cut and run when you or Lucy or Mom are in danger.”

GM: “I don’t want to cut and run. I’d rather stand and fight.”

Celia: “And I can’t help but think that’s what this is with Maxen.”

GM: “I know. I wish I hadn’t stabbed him.”

“I just saw him there, his arms around her, without any warning, and just freaked out.”

Celia: “He said something about being able to take a hit and slapping a bandage on it. He sounded okay. For whatever that’s worth.”

“But yeah. I’d have done the same.”

GM: “That makes me feel a little better.”

“I don’t know if him being okay does or not.”

“Fuck Logan, by the way. Stupid cockbag meathead.”

Celia: “I honestly have no idea why he thought that was a good idea.”

“He was pushing for Maxen and I to reconnect but I don’t know why he would do that.”

GM: “He still thinks it was a good idea. He says he’s tired of our family not speaking to each other.”

“Sorry, your family.”

Celia: “Ugh. I’ll talk to him, too. Knock some sense into him.”

“And you’re part of the fam, Em. Our crazy is your crazy. You’re welcome.”

GM: “I don’t know that he thinks so.”

“But hey, he’s not why I joined.”

Celia: “It’s because you think I’m cute, isn’t it.”

“Oh, yo, speaking of lesbian jokes. So Mom freaked out yesterday when she thought she saw the one girl at Lucy’s class kissing another girl. I’ll tell you more about it tonight, though.”

GM: “Wait… first graders? It couldn’t have even been actually gay. At that age.”

Celia: “No, no, the older one.”

GM: “Oh, her dance class? Aren’t they still pretty young?”

Celia: “No, the sisters were all there. The lawyer one. Caroline.”

GM: “Oh, that dance class. That other one. Yeah, Mom told me about it. But not about any girls kissing.” A frown. “Caroline’s a lesbian?”

Celia: “Apparently.”

GM: “Well, I guess if a Republican vice president’s daughter is too, why not a Malveaux.”

Celia: “Soon it’ll be the it thing to do.”

GM: “We’d better get ahead of the curve. You can dump Randy and be my lesbian lover.”

Celia: “I asked you this days ago, darling.”

GM: “Hey, I don’t do cheaters. That was before you decided Randy was out.”

Celia: “My bad, babe. I’ll get you a ring and everything now that we’re official.”

GM: “We’ll have to keep it secret to stop Mom from freaking. Forbidden love.”

Celia: “Very sexy. I’ll write you long poems about how beautiful you are.”

GM: “That’s an objective fact with where you work. That $50 shampoo you started me on is like a crack habit. I can’t stop using it.”

Celia: “One of the ingredients is actually a derivative of heroin that absorbs through the skin. If you stop using it you’ll get the shakes.”

GM: “Robby doesn’t even notice it. I’m like, ’don’t you like my hair?’ and he’s just, ‘yeah, your hair’s great.’”

“But whatever, I make it pretty for me first.”

Celia: “Boys never notice the things we do to make ourselves look good. But the minute we stop they say something’s different. Skip a full face of makeup one day and it’s, ‘you look tired.’”

“Did I tell you. Hold on. Did I tell you.”

GM: “Did you tell me what?”

Celia: “This one time I bought this new red lipstick, real vibrant, and this idiot boy, he was like, ‘boys don’t like red lipstick.’ And I was like what? Like, excuse me, do you think I dress myself and do my face for your viewing pleasure?”

“Furthermore, you are one boy, please fuck off with your opinion that you think speaks for everyone with a penis.”

GM: “I know. I had to correct Robby about that once, too. ‘Excuse me, I’m the one who spends 24/7 with my face, I make it look good for me.’”

Celia: “Want me to beat him up for you?”

GM: “Ha ha. You can spare him this time. He’s sweet, just was a giant nerd growing up and didn’t learn this stuff until later.”

Celia: “I think a lot of men don’t realize that women dress for themselves… and other women. Not them.”

“But what do I know, I’ve only had a vagina for 27 years.”

GM: “Wellll, there are some people with vaginas who are pretty clueless about vaginas.”


Celia: “Hahahaha.”

GM: “‘Good girls don’t have orgasms.’”

Celia: “There’s no biological reason for it, apparently.” She rolls her eyes.

GM: “I had to explain that to David once, how female orgasms actually have an evolutionary purpose. And aren’t just extraneous like tonsils.”

Celia: “Yeah, well, guess where he heard that.”

GM: “I don’t think Maxen would even say the word ‘orgasm.’”

Celia: “Tell you what, though, that first time… when it happened with Stephen, you know,” Celia drops her voice, as if Roderick can hear her, “I was like… whoa. Literal stars. No one prepared me for that.”

GM: “Had you ever masturbated before then?”

Celia: “No. I saw some photos once.”

GM: “Huh. Well, I’ve heard about a couple people who had sex before they learned to masturbate.”

“My first orgasm when I masturbated felt amazing. Still remember it. Yours must’ve felt even better coming from a guy.”

Celia: “Yeah it was… like awkward, you know, I mean I knew what the pieces were, but not what it felt like, so he was like… kneeling between my legs, with his mouth, and I swear my face was like beet red, and then it just… happened. And then we had actual sex afterward and it happened again and…”

There’s a giddy smile on her face that she can’t help. She’s glad Roderick is asleep and not listening to her gush about their first time together. “Sorry if that’s TMI.”

GM: “Ha ha, no, it’s fine. That’s really sweet he gave you oral first, though. You must’ve been pretty intimidated to have a dick inside you, growing up in Maxen’s house and not even getting off to porn first.”

“Good way to loosen you up.”

Celia: “It was. I kept thinking, ‘I don’t know if that’s going to fit.’ I almost cried, honestly, and he just… he like just knew that I was freaking out even though I was pretending not to, but he knew it was my first time and… it was really sweet. Magical, and all that. He was… he was pretty much the best, really.”

GM: “Yeah…” Emily says, more than a little sadly.

“You and him were great.”

Celia: “I wish I’d been a better girlfriend to him.”

GM: “Blame your dad. Shitty home life drags down everything.”

Celia: “I could blame a lot of things. I made some bad choices, too. Can’t just pawn it all off on my dad.”

GM: “Fair. I did too.”

“I’d rate you a pretty good human being overall, though.”

“10/10, would drive across town with a bleeding ass again.”

Celia: Abrupt laughter cuts off her heartfelt reply. “Thanks, Emi. I’ll be sure to call you if it ever happens again.”

GM: “Let’s hope not.”

“Ugh. I can’t believe he’s back.”

Celia: “He’s not. We’ll handle it.”

GM: “I stabbed him. Mom’s gushing about him. Lucy likes him.”

Celia: “Yeah, well, tell Mom if he can get her off she can date him again.”

“Since that won’t happen, it’s a moot point.”

GM: “Okay, never having an orgasm is better than getting an orgasm from Maxen.”

Celia: “I’ve still got that guy to set her up with. I’ll see if I can arrange it sooner rather than later.”

“I’m kind of, uh, squicked out thinking about my dad and orgasms, to be honest.”

GM: “Spoiler alert, your parents have had sex.”

Celia: “Noooooo!”

GM: “And your dad came. Your dad had an orgasm inside your mom.

Celia: “How many times do you think they tried for all of us?”

“I bet that they banged a lot for Logan. Everyone else was two years apart. Straggler.”

GM: “I still can’t believe she never had an orgasm when there’s walking proof he had at least six.”

Celia: Seven.

But hey, who’s counting.

“Maybe they actually just, like, pulled it out of him with a syringe. And turkey basted her.”

GM: “Doesn’t the Bible say turkey basters are a sin somewhere?”

Celia: “The Bible says everything is a sin. Can’t even look at someone sideways without being sent to Hell.”

“Also, no, since it was written before that modern miracle.”

GM: “Was it? I could swear it was written only yesterday, from how people like Maxen talk about it.”

“You also might as well do all the sins once you’ve done one, because what are they going to do, send you to Hell twice?”

Celia: “See, that’s where they get you. It’s like a little loyalty program where you punch your card, right, but once you make that first punch your chances are shot, so you might as well go balls deep.”

GM: “At least Dante’s Inferno ranks the sins.”

Celia: “Pretty sure he ripped off Virgil.”

“But he ripped off Homer, so whatever I guess.”

GM: “Speaking of balls deep, I hope your new guy is tall.”

“Robby is tall and that makes things fun.”

Celia: “Does he bend you like a pretzel, Em?”

GM: “And all that HEMA practice gives him a reaaally tight ass…”

Celia: “I’ll make sure to check it out tonight. Don’t mind my wandering eyes.”

GM: “It’s okay if other girls look at the menu, so long as they don’t order.”

Celia: “Not even a sampler?”

GM: “You wish. Go find a new guy who’ll do all the things Randy won’t.”

“How is the sex with him, by the way? Has that gotten worse?”

Celia: “He’s very eager to please.”

“Just… not sure it’s a long-term thing anymore.”

GM: “It’s clearly a long-term thing. It just isn’t going anywhere.”

“I’d like to get engaged to Robby, once med school’s over. Good benchmark.”

“And maybe get married when I’m a real doctor, if we’re still together. Real real doctor, that is.”

Celia: “I think you two are cute together.”

“Mom also might already be planning your wedding, don’t tell her I told you.”

GM: A laugh. “Yeah, and water is wet. Of course she’s planning my wedding.”

Celia: “That’s what moms are for. That and inviting the 50 cousins you haven’t seen in years.”

GM: “Ha. Riiiight. I’m maybe glad we’re skipping those.”

“Though who knows, maybe I have a billion cousins out there.”

Celia: “Think of all that money they’d bring. Which wouldn’t pay for their plates. And their kids would puke on your dress. And they’d be offended that you sat them next to so-and-so.”

GM: “I’m also pretty sure they’d just ask for money if they were anything like my birth mom.”

Celia: “I’ve heard of those gift boxes for cards getting stolen at weddings, actually.”

“Also that sounds shitty. Sorry both our families are not the best.”

“Hook her up with Maxen. He has money.”

GM: “Our family’s the best. It just has some ugly branches that need pruning.”

“I wish I could do that though. Match made in hell.”

Celia: “Oh, is that what you were trying to do today? You missed.”

GM: “I’m sorry. Truly. Should’ve gone for the throat.”

Celia: “Next time.”

GM: A sigh. “I just want him out of our lives. We’d been getting along fine without him.”

Celia: “I know. I’ll find out what he wants and it’ll be over soon.”

GM: “So what’d he say, when you talked with him?”

Celia: “Not a lot. That Lucy seems like a great kid, that there’s no hard feelings and no need to involve the police, that he’s happy my business is going well, he’s busy with work, that kind of thing.”

GM: “That’s just so fucking surreal.”

Celia: “That’s why I don’t trust it.”

GM: “I wouldn’t trust it, whatever it was.”

“He lost his family privileges a long time ago.”

Celia: “Logan told me the other day that he thinks Mom and I leaving ‘left a hole in his heart.’ Since he never remarried or dated.”

GM: “Yeah right. He’s probably had a mistress or two stashed away. All the family values politicians do.”

Celia: “Wouldn’t surprise me.”

What had Donovan said? That he’d supply Maxen with ‘other amusements.’ Christ, what a thought.

GM: “He divorced your mom in, what… 2000?”

Celia: “2003.”

GM: “Yeah. Guys don’t go without sex for that long.”

“But women like Mom do because they’re conditioned to be ashamed of it.”

Celia: “Pretty sure all women are conditioned to be ashamed of sex.”

“Which is why you get those girls who are like, ‘I own my sexuality,’ and use it as an excuse to sleep around and they just hate themselves as much as anyone else. Like they’re trying to prove a point.”

“There’s not even a word for boys who sleep around but we’ve got whore and slut and harlot and etc.”

GM: “Can’t there just be well-adjusted girls who like sex and don’t feel bad about it or are trying to prove anything with it? Can’t I be one of those girls?”

Celia: “Sorry, Em, you’re secretly repressed.”

GM: “Damn, oh well. That’s clearly why I joined your family. Birds of a feather.”

Celia: “I guess I just feel bad for any future partners of Logan and David.”

GM: “Oh, actually, there is one word which I think is funny. Boywhore.”

Celia: “Yeah but that just takes the girl word and slaps ‘boy’ in front of it.”

GM: “Still pretty gendered, but funny.”

“But yeah, I hope Logan doesn’t hit any more girls he goes out with.”

“Stupid meathead.”

Celia: “I told him I’d help him find a better outlet for his aggression.”

GM: “Tell him to beat up his dad, that sounds like a great outlet.”

Celia: “I’d almost like to see that to find out who’d win.”

“Dad told me he still does martial arts.”

GM: “Of course he did.”

“Dunno. Logan’s younger, Maxen’s experienced. Logan’s a meathead but I suppose I’d root for him.”

“It’s sort of like how I’ll plug my nose to vote for the crooked corporate shill, if she wins the primary, over the fascist xenophobe. I can’t believe Mom’s only reason she didn’t vote for him in the Repub primary is ‘he is not a gentleman.’”

Celia: “Yeah, well, Mom is… a little backwards sometimes.”

GM: “Mom came to 2016 in a time capsule from the 1950s, sometimes.”

Celia: “Maybe she’s a time traveler. Her purpose was to bring us together so we could… do something fabulous.”

GM: “Ha. What have we done that’s fabulous enough to be worthy of this chronological dimensional convergence, you think?”

Celia: “Um, excuse me, have you looked in a mirror lately? Darling, we’re gorgeous.”

“We spread our fabulousness by merely existing.”

“People should bow before us. They are blessed to be in our presence.”

GM: “Oh, of course. You know that it’s just so easy to take for granted when no other mortals compare.”

Celia: “We are truly divine.”

“Anyway, Em, I’m gonna let you go. Lay low until tonight and we’ll hang out and make our boys worship us and whatnot. Maybe carve some marble statues. Write some epic poems. However the Greeks did it.”

She pauses.

“Actually, I have a place you can stay at today. I’ll have Alana drop off the key and the address. It’s in the Quarter, so we’ll be close to Mom tonight. You can invite Robby over when he gets off work. Tell him to bring his nerd gear. Are there foam swords? ’Cause I can get down with some foam swords.”

She has two texts to send before she passes out again. Rod—ugh, he needs a better nickname—said his ghouls would wake her, but… well, she’d prefer not to be stabbed repeatedly if she can help it. It heals, sure, but that doesn’t make it enjoyable.

GM: “I’m pretty sure they did it by killing their dads and marrying their moms. Or getting torn apart by crazed maenads. Or doing it up the rears of young boys. The Greeks were weird.”

Celia: “That’s depressing, thanks.”

GM: “Okay though, that sounds good. I’d rather stay close.”

“Oh, one other thing.”

“Well, two other things.”

Celia: “Hm?”

GM: “Come over. Lunch, dinner, whatever. You really should check in on Mom yourself.”

Celia: “Yeah. I’ll be by.”

GM: “And when you do, let her see you eating something. Mom’s really torn up about how you won’t eat her cooking. She’s from the ‘50s, so it’s a big deal to her. And she’s really hopeful that you finally will if she makes something keto.”

Celia: “I just remember… back in college, she was so poor I had to get groceries with my allowance and bring them over, and she used to foist things off on me, and I always felt bad because she didn’t have anything. And I know it’s better now, I know, but sometimes when I see her… I can’t help but think about it.”

GM: “Mom is not at all short for money these days. She isn’t Maxen, but she could lose her job and we’d still be okay for a while.”

Celia: “I know, Em. That’s why I never said anything to her. I guess I just feel like the whole thing is my fault sometimes, so why should I let her take care of me when I couldn’t take care of her.”

GM: “I get that, and that is nice of you. But this is how you take care of her. By making her feel valued through feeding her kids, because she’s from the ’50s.”

“It really gives her genuine pleasure to see me and Lucy eating her food.”

Celia: “All right, all right.”

GM: “Also, about keto. You’d be amazed how much they don’t teach us about nutrition in med school, considering the health impacts it has. But I try to do my research.”

“I’m obviously not your doctor, or anyone’s doctor. But unless a health professional has prescribed you a keto diet, you don’t need to eat keto. It’s like the gluten-free craze. Only a pretty small subset of people actually benefit from it. For everyone else it’s just the latest fad diet.”

Celia: “Oh. I didn’t know that. I thought there was a whole fat loss through ketosis thing.”

“It sounded too good to be true.”

GM: “Most diets are. The secret to weight loss is more exercise, more fruits and vegetables, and maintaining a caloric deficit.”

“You also don’t need to lose weight. You’re perfectly thin.”

Celia: “I thought maybe Randy thought I was fat. And that’s why he was being weird.”

GM: “Fuck him for that too, then.”

Celia: “He didn’t say that, I just… you know. Whatever.”

“I’m going to be 30 soon. Not getting any younger.” Celia forces a sigh.

“Someone told me once that when a woman hits 21 it’s basically all over.”

GM: “And with men they get better as they age, like fine wines. It’s a sexist double standard.”

“But seriously, you’ve already gone through so much to get over the stupid views on sex your dad drilled into you. Don’t fall for female body-shaming too.”

“You look great and you don’t need to diet.”

Celia: “Thanks, Em. I’ll keep that in mind. You’re right.”

“I got caught up in the whole Instagram perfect body thing.”

GM: “You’re welcome. Can I tell Mom she doesn’t need to make all your meals keto now? Because it actually is less healthy than a normal balanced diet.”

Celia: “Yeah. Just don’t tell her why, please. I don’t want her to know I worry about her.”

GM: “I won’t. I’ll just tell her I talked you out of the latest woo diet.”

“At least you weren’t into paleo. That drives me even crazier.”

“Like, have you looked at pictures of actual paleolithic fruits and vegetables? They’re almost completely different species. We’ve been genetically engineering the plants we eat for thousands of years. It is literally impossible to eat the same diet as a caveman.”

Celia: “I’ve heard that they’re actually completely different, uh, species now.”

“Is species the right word? For a plant?”

“Anyway yeah all the modification. Bananas aren’t bananas, tomatoes aren’t tomatoes, nachos aren’t nachos…”

GM: “Species is. And yeah, they really aren’t. Bananas used to have giant hard seeds throughout them. Peaches were about 60 times smaller and sour rather than sweet. Corn was literally 1,000 times smaller and dry like potato. Idiots who say they eat paleo diets don’t even know what a paleo diet is.”

“And there’s a reason our ancestors dropped the ‘paleo diet.’ Plants tasted worse and weren’t as nourishing.”

Celia: “Yeah well, throw some buzzwords in front of anything and you can get people into it.”

“A few celebrity sponsors and you’ve enchanted the masses.”

GM: “We think ubiquitous technology will make more people believe in science, but sometimes all it does is spread disinformation. Dr. Crawford and I like to bitch about that together.”

“But anyway, how’s 6 for you to come by today?”

Celia: “Can’t do six. Meeting with… uh, well, the guy whose friend might take Mom out. But after I can.”

GM: “I dunno Mom’s interested in other guys right now with Maxen in her head. That was already a hard sell when he wasn’t.”

Celia: “I do talk to him about more than Mom, you know.”

“Anyway, this will pass.”

GM: “Oh, who is he?”

Celia: “He’s a cop, actually.”

“Long story, I’ll tell you tonight.”

GM: “Okay, see you then. Love you.”

Celia: “Love you too, Em.”

Celia hangs up. She opens her messages once more and begins to type a text to Alana, but before she can say more than Hey—she slips back into the sweet oblivion of daysleep.

Thursday afternoon, 10 March 2016

GM: Pain stabs through Celia. She sees red. She screams and howls and thrashes. She calms down.

“It’s a crappy way to wake up, isn’t it?”

She’s handcuffed in spread-eagle position on a bed in a bedroom somewhere. The window shades are tightly drawn and there’s a blanket duct-taped over them. Roderick’s sitting next to her.

He undoes the cuffs after he sees she’s calm.

Celia: Handcuffed. Bed. Spread eagle. It’s familiar. Too familiar. She thrashes, rages, snarls—

And eventually her Beast wears itself out. Her body collapses back onto the bed, and only once she’s released, when his voice washes over her, does she let herself look around.

“Can’t beat the view, really.”

Her eyes land firmly on him. She winks.

GM: He smiles.

“We’re at one of my renfields’ places. It wasn’t designed to host licks,” he glances at the duct-taped blanket, “but we should be safe here.”

Celia: “Thanks. For bringing me. Waking me.” She sits up, edging away from the window as if she expects the blanket to tear itself off the wall at any moment.


Then, a second later, “Phone?”

“What are you doing tonight?”

GM: He nods at her first question.

He hands her the phone.

“Like I said. Going back to my old haven with my krewe and my renfields. Moving everything. Disposing of the bodies.”

He effects a sigh.

“I’m not looking forward to that.”

“The walls were soundproofed—habit how I was whispering—so I don’t think anyone heard the violence, but we can’t leave three corpses there forever.”

Celia: Celia unlocks the phone and sends a text to Alana.

Need car towed. Garden District, 1415 Third Street. Take it to spa. Do not go yourself. TOW. Go to mom’s house. Give Emily key to my place. J. Give address. Make sure it’s clean pls.

Her attention returns to Roderick.

“Do you know how?”

GM: “Body disposal?” He grimaces. “Yeah. Coco went over it. Cut them into pieces. Smuggle them out. Weigh them down and dump them in the Mississippi.”

“The water’s incredibly dirty and the current is fast-flowing. Pretty unlikely to get spotted before they’re carried out to the Gulf of Mexico.”

“Or just take a boat out to the Gulf, actually, and dump them there.”

Celia: “I, uh… I’d offer to help, but if your krewe will be there it might look… not good.”

GM: “Yeah. We could go back ourselves with our renfields if you’re dying to help take apart corpses, though.”

Celia: “I mean. I’d like to be there for you. To help you through it. Because I know how you feel, and I was part of the problem. But I… I don’t think it’s a good idea for me to be around your krewe because of everything, and I’m worried that if we go back we might get jumped again by more, or I’ll fall asleep in the middle of it, or something stupid will happen and we’ll be in a worse situation.”

She wants their blood, too. Faces. Phones. Needs to find out who they are.

GM: “We could go back with just us and our renfields. Obviously, at night.”

“If I were a hunter I’d try to jump us during the day, like those guys.”

Celia: “I know. I agree. I just… have to take care of a few things before I do. I had someone looking into the people who jumped me and he wants to see me tonight, and with the whole Emily stabbing Maxen thing I’m trying to keep her safe so I invited her to Jade’s place under the guise of a game night.”

“I was going to invite you, actually. If you’re interested. It’s, uh, it’s kind of a nerdy thing.”

She glances at her phone, to see if her new ‘friend’ has made any more contact attempts, or if the number has ceased scrambling. If so, she texts a winky face back.

GM: Her ‘friend’ has sent none.

Celia: Well her friend gets a winky face.

GM: He looks faintly amused. “Game night? Like, board games?”

“Emily knows my face though. I’m supposed to be dead.”

Celia: “World of Shadow.”

“You forgot that your girlfriend is a master magician with makeup.”

GM: “I’ve heard of it. There were a couple lawsuits against the parent company, Black Dog Games, over the deaths of some people who were players.”

Celia: “…why?” She tries not to look too uncomfortable about calling herself his girlfriend.

GM: “Why there were lawsuits? Alleged behaviors on the parts of the game developers that contributed to the deaths. In 2004 some people locked themselves in the company offices and got… well, it doesn’t matter. I’d be down for game night. I trust my girlfriend to magic my face into looking different.”

He smirks faintly at the emphasis he places on those two words.

Celia: Her smile lights up her face.

“That’s pretty crazy about the game thing. Tell me more later, when the sun stops screaming in my ear about going back to bed. I can… I can meet you after, if that’s okay. I’m really, really concerned about Maxen’s friend coming after Emily if I’m not there. Even if I am there.”

Fuck, what is she going to do, stand up to the sheriff on her own? She’s banking on the fact that he doesn’t know where ‘Jade’ keeps her haven, but she wouldn’t put it past him to have taken that information from her at some point and mind-fucked her into forgetting.

“But. If you guys grabbed the phones from them, I got a guy who can get into them easy.”

GM: “We did. I also know some people who can get into the phones. Lot of sewer rat Anarchs, remember?” he smirks.

Celia: “Fuck the rats.”

GM: “They just don’t like torries because you’re all so pretty.”

Celia: “What did they make you do for them when you had to do the favor?”

GM: “Which favor?”

Celia: “For hacking to make Roderick real.”

“They told me I could owe them a favor and I just want to know what I’m getting into.”

GM: “Information. That’s what it always comes down to with them.”

Celia: “Might as well just give that to them now, then.”

GM: “I’m already giving them info by letting them hack the phones. They can screw off if they want more, but they probably won’t.”

Celia: “Not what I meant.”

“But… I dunno, I had a bad-run in with them. And I just don’t want to give them anything. And I trust my guy.”

GM: “Ah, well, they hate Toreador. How it is.”

Celia: “So I’ve noticed.”

GM: “I trust them enough though. They’re Anarchs. Coco and Opal are pretty tight.”

“Who’s your guy?”

Celia: “Same guy who helped me with the Maxen leak. He’s good with tech.”

GM: “And he’s…?”

“Because my guess is Lebeaux. And thanks, but no thanks to that.”

Celia: “Sometimes, Roderick, I don’t know what he is. But I think he’s looking out for me.”

GM: “I’m glad for you there, but I’d rather not involve Savoy’s people if I don’t have to.”

Celia: “I’m one of Savoy’s people,” she says quietly.

“And just because I say I know a guy doesn’t mean it’s someone who owes their loyalty to Savoy. I’m capable of making my own friends.”

“And you even said that Coco—” She cuts herself off with an abrupt shake of her head.

GM: “Yeah, but I’m not sleeping with any of Savoy’s other people.”

“And I said that Coco what?”

Celia: Celia casts a glance over her shoulder as if to make sure that the room is clear. She hesitates for only a second, then moves across the bed to deposit herself on his lap, leaning in close.

“You said she’s wrong,” she whispers.

GM: Roderick heaves an effected sigh.

“Look. That’s its own can of worms.”

“I’ll deal with that. I’ll deal with Dani. We’ll see what happens.”

“But I’m not jumping into bed with Savoy over some hunters’ phones.”

Celia: “I wasn’t going to give it to Savoy. Lebeaux treats me like I’m an idiot. Last time I brought him something he just—he told me that he wasn’t going to tell me, and I’m the one who got jumped for it, so why would I go running to him? And I don’t—I don’t want to involve the Nosferatu, they made me… they…” She turns her face away as red begins to leak from the corners of her eyes.

GM: He wraps an arm around her shoulder. “They made you what?”

Celia: “That-that stupid monkey—” She wipes at her eyes, but it only smears the blood across her face.

GM: “Malo.” He frowns. Retrieves a tissue from the bedside table for her. “Did Gerald sic him on you?”

Celia can see his fangs protruding as he talks. Must be the smell.

Celia: Celia presses her hands against her face and shakes her head. Her body curls in on itself, shoulders hunching. When she speaks again her voice is small.

“I c-can’t tell you.”

GM: He holds her in both his arms, cradling her head against his chest.

“You can tell me anything.”

Celia: “Th-they… they surrounded me, and Abellard called me a slut, and he made his monkey… he made him…” A fresh wave of sanguine tears streak down her cheeks. She shakes her head again and again, as if that will make the memory stop.

GM: He still holds her. But he’s starting to look angry too.

“Made him what?”

Celia: He can’t get angry. He can’t. She’s already fought him off tonight, him and the hunters, she can’t do it again. Wounded, in the middle of the day? She’ll lose.

Celia presses herself against him. Touches her lips to his neck. Lets him feel the way her muscles tremble beneath her skin. Fear or apprehension or simply ready to bolt away if he loses control like he’s done so many times before.

“Don’t get mad.” On his lap. She’s on his lap, this Brujah that’s about to frenzy. There’s nowhere to go if he does. “Please don’t get mad. I’m fine. I’m fine. They didn’t hurt me, I’m here, I’m fine—”

Only they did hurt her. They hurt her. Caroline hurt her. Donovan hurt her. The hunters hurt her.

“I’m fine,” she says again. Quietly. Desperately. “It’s fine, he j-just… he just… humping, and b-beating when I fought back, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said anything, they said they’d tell everyone, they know things about me, who I am, don’t do anything, please—”

She needs him. Needs him to keep her safe, like he’d said he would. Needs him to protect her.

She tells him that. That she needs him. That she loves him. While she holds onto him with everything she has, refusing to back away from him even on the cusp of his oncoming rage, she stays. She trusts him. She’d told him that. Years ago. Last night. Trusts him not to hurt her. Not to let other people hurt her. So naked, vulnerable, wounded, she stays, murmuring that it’s okay, that she’s okay, that everything is okay. Over and over again she says it, walking him back from the brink.

GM: Roderick lets out a needless breath and runs a hand along her back.

“Relax. I’m not going to lose it. Okay? You’re safe. I’m in control. You don’t have to get scared every time I get mad over something.”

Veronica always said Brujah and anger went together like matches and gasoline.

But that would be nice to believe.

There’s a beat. He looks calm. Enough. He eyes her for a moment, as if to check whether she’s all there, then pulls her close against his chest again.

“Look. It still makes me pretty mad to think of anyone doing that to you. I won’t deny I wouldn’t mind getting you some payback. But you don’t need to be scared I’ll lose it. I know that’s par for course with them, and that they pull the same horrible shit on everyone. They’ve done it to Chris, Ryllie, even me when I was still pretty green. They’re basically all trolls. A whole clan of spiteful incel internet trolls who hate other people for not being hideous like them, or worse, being pretty. And it’s their loss. They look at you and see just another vain and shallow Toreador, instead of the inner light that I see. They’d like to defile you and they don’t even realize they can’t, because that part of you will always be beyond their reach.”

Celia: She’d like to believe that she doesn’t need to be afraid when he starts to get angry, but he’s tried to attack her twice in the past 12 hours alone, and twice more before that he had gotten ahold of her. But she nods to show him that she understands, that she believes him, and some of the stiffness leaves her limbs. She holds her tongue while he talks about them, how it’s normal for the rats to just be awful for no reason. She hadn’t even done anything to them, that’s what galls her the most.

“They certainly tried,” she huffs, but her voice has lost some of its petulance. Maybe it’s the explanation. Maybe it’s the “inner light” comment, the insinuation that she’s above them.

“Thanks,” she says when he’s done, the single word as heartfelt and genuine as she can make it. She does feel better about that situation, at least.

“I still don’t… I don’t want to involve them.”

“There’s a guy I know. He used to tutor me, actually. Back at your place… I think he’s the one who woke me up, who made you realize something bad was going on. He can hack like nobody’s business. He sent me a text…” Celia glances at the phone in her hand. The chill she’d gotten from it rushes through her again, makes her shiver.

“We made a deal once, and… I just think he’s looking out for me somehow. I can contact him, or… his people, maybe. And if not him there’s a girl I know who can do the same thing. Kind of a conspiracy nut, but relatively harmless.”

“Or… I could always try, I’ve done it before.”

GM: Roderick looks dubious. “Are either of them blooded? It’s probably not a good idea to have normal breathers looking at hunter stuff. I have no idea what they might find on those phones.”

Celia: “He woke me up to fend off hunters, Roderick, I’m pretty sure he is.”

“And I doubt they’re that blasé about what they keep on their phones, anyway. It’s probably all code.”

“Look, just… I’ll try tonight, before I head out. And if not… I don’t see many other options.”

GM: Roderick frowns. “You mean that alarm I got on my phone? The non-standard one?”

Celia: She shrugs.

“I don’t know. Maybe. It’s just a theory. I haven’t spoken to him in a long time. Last I heard he was in the hos…”

Is he dead?

GM: “…hospitality industry?” Roderick jokes.

Celia: “…hospital.”

But why would Emil want her to kill people? That’s what the text had said: kill them for me. It doesn’t make sense. But he’s the only person she knows with that level of skill, to just get into her phone like that…

“I… I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong.”

“I can look at them, like I said, when the sun stops doing its thing.”

GM: “All right, why don’t you take a look at them first. Didn’t know hacking was among your talents.” A smirk. “Even many as those are.”

Celia: “Are you mocking me? Because I will withhold sex for, like, seventy years.” Her words lack heat, though, and the fact that she is (still) naked on his lap give lie to them.

“You’re gonna be all, ‘hey babe,’ and try to touch me and I’m just gonna smack your hands away—” There’s a whole fantasy here, where he grabs her by the wrists anyway, and she tells him about it.

She’s in the middle of describing what, exactly, she’d like him to do to her when sleep crooks a finger her way once more. She doesn’t yawn, not really, but she cuts herself off mid-sentence, curls against him as if they hadn’t spent the past five years apart from each other, and is out in seconds.

Celia IV, Chapter I
Daytime Dangers

“I love you. Don’t die.”
Celia Flores

Thursday morning, 10 March 2016


Celia’s eyes snap open. It’s day. She can feel the sun weighing her down like a leaden cloak. Roderick’s phone is screaming its alarm off.

Celia: Day. Again.


It’s her first thought. The thought that makes her bolt upright in bed. That makes her shake Roderick by the shoulders until he, too, wakes up.

Mid-City. They’d been targeting Mid-City. Lebeaux had told her it was their plan and she’d come here anyway.

No time to think about it. No time for regrets.

“Get up, get up, get up!”

GM: He sleeps like the dead man he is.

Celia: What the fuck is the point of the alarm on his phone if it doesn’t even wake him.

GM: It woke her.

Celia: Lucky him she was here to fuck him last night.

His ghouls are on the way, at least. That’s the point of this system. Alerts him. Alerts them. How far away, though? She doesn’t know.

Licks wake up when their bodies get hurt.

She doesn’t remember who told her. Mel, maybe. Or Lebeaux. Someone who was supposed to look out for her, inform her of that kind of shit. Until recently she hadn’t had a reason to test it though; she’s not much of a day riser. She recalls the knife in her side from the hunters, how quickly she’d come to then.

Recalls, too, how swift her Beast is to rise to the surface at such an attack. And the Brujah? Twice as bad. How many times has he smashed her face in because he couldn’t control himself? Anything beyond “zero” is too many. The idea of just whacking him across the face to get him out of bed comes with its own set of problems.

Maybe something else, though. Blood brings people out of torpor. What’s a little daysleep compared to that?

She hopes he can forgive her.

Her fangs sink into her wrist. She presses it against his mouth.

There’s one good thing, at least, from her forcing him into that third drink: his sire might feel it. Even during the day. Maybe it’ll wake her. Maybe she’ll know something is up. Who collars someone during the day, right? Send her own goons to check it out.

Admittedly, Celia doesn’t know if that really is such a good thing. She’d just watched Veronica abuse the fuck out of Coco’s other childe; if the Brujah primogen gets her hands on Celia can she really expect better treatment? Roderick had said once that they weren’t close, but what sort of sire just hands over their childe with no retaliation?

Does it matter, if it saves Roderick’s life?

She’d been willing to sacrifice herself for her mom once. This isn’t any different. There’s a short list of people she’d throw everything away for and he’s one of them.

Maybe it doesn’t even count. Three nights, that’s what it’s supposed to be. Today is day. Not night. They’d just done it hours ago.

Maybe his collar had snapped completely last time and he’s not even at that point.

Maybe it’s a fucking pizza delivery guy at the wrong door.

Desperation makes her take the same calculated risk. If it goes south, if they both get knocked out, if Roderick wakes up raging and takes it out on her, she can’t chance being taken to someone else and being forced into a bond. She can’t have someone else wake her, collar her, claim her.

Maybe it’ll get him out of bed. Like waking up a dude with your mouth.

Fangs sink into his flesh, too. She draws right from the source.

She shoves at him with her free hand. The alarm blares nonstop nearby. Four ways to wake him up. Four things vying for his attention, drawing him forth from his deep slumber.

GM: Her lover abruptly jolts awake. A growl sounds from his throat as his arms lock tight around Celia. Fangs stab into her neck as he drinks deep.

Celia: Who knew that all you need to wake a vampire is the same sort of trick that works on any human male: offer them sex.

Celia’s relief is short-lived. She licks closed the wound on his neck and shoves the phone at him instead.

GM: Celia finds it hard to do both with his arms around hers. The snarling Brujah rolls over, pinning her beneath him as he drinks his fill.

Celia: It should be hot. It should be the exact way she wants to wake up every evening, with Roderick’s arms around her and his lips on her neck.

Now, though, it isn’t hot. It isn’t sexy. It isn’t enjoyable.

It’s terrifying.

Someone is trying to get into his haven and he’s too busy trying to fuck her to notice. They’ll be in any minute and he won’t even notice when the stake slams into him from behind, then his weight will pin her to the bed and she’ll be helpless and they’ll both die.

Their kind are used to the mindless, wanton writhing of vessels. But she doesn’t give him that. She shrieks instead, pleading with him to stop, that they’re here, that there’s danger. Anything to bring his attention to the moment.

GM: Celia’s screams don’t take long to get through to him. He pulls back, concern writ across his face even as her blood stains his lips.

“What’s wrong? Am I hurting you?”

INTRUDER ALERT! INTRUDER ALERT! WOLVES WEARING COVERALLS!” screams Roderick’s phone. The voice is staticky but distinctly clear, like a newsman from the ’50s.

Celia: The phone chimes in before she can. She shoves it at him once more.

GM: “What the fuck!?” he frowns.

He taps in the code to unlock it.

“Shit! Three guys out there!”

He springs off the bed. “Fuck! The middle of the fucking day!”

He pulls her outside the bedroom, grabs the bookshelf against a nearby wall, and pulls it across the carpet. Celia sees a door in the space where it used to be.

“Get in, hurry!”

Celia: Three. She’d taken two on her own. Maybe they can take three. And his backup has to be coming, right?

She’s already thinking of how they can best ambush the men when he moves the bookshelf. She doesn’t stop to consider it, just nods, snatches her phone, grabs his hand, and hauls him in with her.

He’s delusional if he thinks she’s going to let him close her in some secret hiding place and leave him behind.

GM: He shakes his head. “I’ll hold them off. Even if they get me, they won’t think to look for a second lick behind the wall.”

Celia: “I’m not leaving you,” she hisses at him, “get in or we’re both fighting.”

GM: “No time to argue.”

He pulls open the door, grabs her, and tries to shove her in.

Celia: He tries. He fails.

Celia is quicker than she looks. Whatever she’d said to him about not focusing on speed years ago has clearly changed. All that time in a dance studio finally pays off when she executes a quick spin around him, just out of reach of his grasping hands.

“You’re not the only one who knows how to fight. Close it. We can jump them. They only expect one.”

GM: “Goddamnit!” he yells, making another grab at her as the Toreador all-too literally dances away. “I’m not letting more hunters rape you!”

Celia: “Roderick, please, you’re wasting time—they’re going to be in here any minute, we can easily dispatch three of them between us. Close it. Close it or get in with me. I’m not losing you because of some misplaced sense of chivalry.”

GM: He makes a frustrated snarl, and then he’s gone in a blur. Celia’s suddenly shoved through the door. A baseball bat, phone, and family pictures fall over the floor or against her bare chest as Roderick pulls the bookshelf closed behind them.

He closes the door against the shelf. Locks it.

“Okay. Fine. We’ll hope they don’t find this place.”

Celia: “Silence your phone,” Celia whispers to him. “Turn off your alarm.” She’s already done the same.

GM: Celia looks around. There’s a bed on the other side, along with a laptop, phone, some guns, handcuffs, a mini-fridge and microwave, and assorted other survival supplies.

Roderick frowns as he does exactly that.

“It shouldn’t have said that,” he whispers.

“The alarm is just a beeping noise.”

Celia: “Tampering?”

GM: He thinks for a moment, then tugs it between his hands, and finally snaps it.

He walks up to the wall and taps a monitor. “We can still see what’s going on.”

Indeed, Celia sees three men dressed like plumbers or repairmen working on Roderick’s keyless front door.

Celia: “You said it alerts your people? How long?”

She really needs to step up her haven game.

GM: “Depends where they are. But they’re on their way.”

He shakes his head.

“I need to get better at this.”

Celia: “At… what? You, uh, seem prepared.”

GM: “All of this,” he says with the faintest hint of scorn. “They’d have caught me with my pants down if you hadn’t been here. Just lying in bed, all by myself, waiting for them to drive the stake in.”

Celia: “Could call building manager, tell them you’re away from home and see someone trying to get in. Unless you think they’ve been compromised.”

GM: He thinks. “Good idea. I might as well call the cops, too.”

Celia: “No cops.”

GM: He bends and picks up an old-fashioned flip phone from among the supplies and taps into the keypad.

“Why not? They’re in the prince’s pocket.”

“I’d rather capture some hunters ourselves, but better to have them locked up than out on the streets.”

Celia: “Prince isn’t the only one with people in the department,” she says, thinking of Lebeaux. “Not worth the risk.”

GM: “Sure, there’s Lebeaux, but he only gets away with it as long as he hides in the Quarter. Mid-City cops belong to Vidal.”

“Bess is just going to call 911 herself anyway, if I call her.”

Celia: Celia shakes her head. She pulls out her phone and unlocks it to dial Mel.

GM: He shakes his own again. “God, I’ve been so sloppy. Coco’d be right to chew me out.”

Celia: “First time. You didn’t get picked up, that’s what matters. We’ll get through this.”

GM: “I’ll kill them, if they try to do that to you again,” he says grimly.

Celia: “Or… we let them, and you pick them off while they’re trying to fuck me.”

GM: “You either know just who you’ve reached, or you’ve dialed a very lucky wrong number,” purrs the ghoul’s voice. “Leave a message, and I’ll give you a ring back first thing.”


“Absolutely not,” Roderick says flatly.

Meanwhile, on the screen, the hunters have gotten through. They can’t be anything else, because they have stakes, guns, and knives out. They close the door behind them after slipping under the barrier, then fan out to search the apartment.

They’ve pulled masks over their faces, for all the good it does them now.

Celia: Celia leaves a quick message, sends an SOS to Randy that includes a series of emojis and a pin with the location, and assesses this new room for any spot they can use to make a stand.

GM: Celia’s phone buzzes with a text. It comes from a number that glitches and changes and whose presence on the phone makes the air chiller.




Celia: What. The. Fuck.

GM: There’s also, she notices, a panoply of missed calls and text messages whose senders are marked Mom and Emily.

Another one pops up from Emily:


Celia: A problem for later, once her life isn’t in danger.

GM: Roderick snarls at the screen.

“That’s why I took the family pictures, by the way.”

Celia: “Smart,” she tells him.

“Listen to me,” she whispers, “I’m going to hit them with star mode, and we’re going to take them out.”

GM: “I’m pretty confident I could take three breathers with surprise.”

“Know why I’m not?”

He looks at her.

“I stand a hell of a lot more to lose than to gain from that fight.”

Celia: He also thought he could take Caroline, so she’s not sure she trusts his judgment. But the words warm her, and she takes his hand in hers.

They’ll get through this.

They have to.

GM: He squeezes her hand back.

Looks down at their naked bodies. Chuckles.

“This would almost be sexy.”

Celia: “Hush, you, we’ve already got a track record for fucking at inopportune times.”

GM: “Pretty sure ‘while hunters commit a home invasion’ would be a new record even for us.”

He glances across the room. “I’ve got weapons in here, do you want one?”

Celia: “Claws.”

GM: “Yeah. Why I asked.”

“I’ve got guns.”

Celia: “I can’t shoot,” she admits. She never learned.

GM: “I really have to teach you. Hunters take a bullet like any other breather.”

Celia: She’d asked him to four years ago, but she doesn’t bring it up now. Just nods.

GM: He looks at his phone.

“I’ve texted my renfields. One rents the unit next to mine. They’ll be here soon.”

Celia: “Don’t hesitate. If they get in. If they see us. Trust me to take care of me. Just take them out.”

GM: Roderick frowns at the monitor.

“What are they doing…?”

They’re looking into the mirror in the kitchen. Shining a light over it.

Celia: “What’s in there?”

GM: “Nothing. It’s a totally ordinary mirror.”

Celia: “You don’t keep secret documents in there?”

GM: “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”

“Though if you’re curious as to its history, it used to belong to my grandma and she kept it in the kitchen, so that’s why I have it there.”

Celia: “Was your grandma a witch?”

GM: “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar,” he repeats.

The hunters are still looking it over.

“What the fuck is with them…?”

They finally turn away.

Celia: “We need to kill them.”

GM: He shakes his head. “Rather not risk you.”

Celia: “The closer they get to the door the less opportunity we have to ambush them.”

GM: “And rather take them alive, if we have to fight.”

Celia: She’ll kill them on her own if need be.

She doesn’t say it.

Just nods.

GM: “Even beyond the morals, I want to know how the hell they found me here. What other hunters they may know. Which other licks may be in danger.”

Celia: Celia would rather have a friend.

GM: Roderick takes up the bat and positions himself to the left of the door, though keeps his eyes on the monitor.

“Fewer surprises in a fight, the better. What do you want to do if they get in?”

Celia: “My strength is charming them. Not fighting. Make them underestimate me, get close. Star mode. You come in from behind. Bite them and they usually stop resisting.”

GM: “I’d do that if it was one, but there’s three. First one through gets a bat to the skull.”

Celia: Makes sense. She nods.

“I can hide then. Surprise attack.”

“You got any stone skin?”

GM: He shakes his head. “Classic Brujah, sorry. Star mode, super-speed, super-strength.”

“Okay. First one comes in and goes down. You’re a hunter following from behind, what do you do?”

Celia: “Pull back. Fire from afar. Or duck, assume they’ll swing again, face level. Fire though.”

GM: “Let’s assume they know guns are useless.”

Celia: “Literal fire, maybe. Grenade?”

“Would they risk that? They expected to find you sleeping. Guns are probably for your renfields.”

GM: Roderick shakes his head. “Grenades are a whole ‘nother league of messy than gunshots, in several senses of the word. Legal sale of explosives is limited to pretty much the construction business. Large booms are the sort of thing that can bring the ATF or FBI running and get flagged as domestic terrorism. If I were a hunter I’d probably consider grenades more trouble than they’re worth, in a populated building like this.”

“And yeah. The guns are probably for my renfields. God, they’re better-prepared than I am.”

Celia: “Now you know how to fix it. It’s fine. We’ve got this. I took on two on my own after they cuffed me. It’s fine.”

“I’m not afraid. You’re here.”

GM: He smiles and squeezes her shoulder.

“Hmm. What if, to get them all in the room, I lie ‘asleep’ on the bed? You turn into a cat. They try to stake me, I get one with the bat, you transform back and get your fangs in another. I take out the third, same way.”

Celia: She looks around to see if there’s anywhere he can hide.

GM: There’s the mini-fridge, though not much vision there. She could also move around the various survival supplies and the cases they come in.

Celia’s phone gets a text.

Celia: Celia gives a nod. There’s not much he can hide behind; her getting smaller is their best bet, even if she thinks she’d be better bait. She leans in, touches a hand to his cheek. She doesn’t have time to tell him everything she’s feeling, but…

“I love you,” she whispers to him. “Don’t die.”

GM: He pulls her close and kisses her head, closing his eyes for a moment as he runs a hand through her hair.

“I love you too. Don’t either.”

In the monitor, the hunters are carefully inspecting the apartment’s bookshelves.

Celia: It’s enough to make her dead heart skip. All it took is a handful of near-death experiences.

GM: Roderick pulls away and hefts up the bat. His expression turns grim as he looks at the monitor.

“The shelf might not fool them.”

Another text buzzes up from Emily. There’s one from Alana, too.

Mistress, your family’s trying to find you!

Celia: Little busy, she sends back to Alana. Stall them.

“It probably won’t. We can always ambush them out there.”

GM: I’m telling them you’re taking an off day.

Then Alana gets the text.

Mistress, you’re awake?!

Celia: She should know better than that.

Celia scowls.

Ran into an old friend.

GM: “Here’s pretty much the same setup as the bedroom,” Roderick shrugs. “If we run into the common area, harder to surprise them.”

Emily is going crazy, mistress. She was yelling and screaming and being very unreasonable. I don’t know why you put up with her.

Celia: What’s wrong?

GM: Just breather things. It was very hard not to tell her how presumptuous she was actually being. I’d never dare talk to you like she was.

Celia: Watch how you talk about my family. That’s about as clear as she can make it. Tell me.

GM: I’m sorry, mistress. There was just so much yelling and screaming I couldn’t make sense of it. You don’t deserve that kind of treatment in your life.

“Who’re you texting? Renfields?” Roderick asks.

Celia: She’s got a bad feeling. A really bad feeling.

“Something is up with my family.”

Find out.

GM: Of course, mistress. I’ll text her right now.

“Shit, right now?” says Roderick. “How bad?”

The hunters approach the bookshelf in front of the safe room.

Celia: Celia shakes her head. Her life is in danger. One crisis at a time. She motions toward the bed.

GM: They methodically sweep the bedroom, too. They check the closet and under the bed. They come back out and carefully go over the bookshelf.

Roderick lies down on the bed back-first, bat nearby, and closes his eyes.

Celia: She locks her phone. Her form blurs, shifts. The world grows around her and a moment later a cat is slinking into position.

GM: Time passes.

But not that much time.

Celia hears a heavy object shifting across the carpet.

Clicking noises against the lock. Those go on for a little while.

The doorknob slowly turns.

The door swings open.

Three man creep in. They’re big men. Grim men. Masked men. Their stakes are already out.

They look at Roderick’s sleeping form.

One nods.

Celia: Ventrue always think that their powers of command are somehow the best. But there’s an inherent flaw in those powers they do possess: they need eye contact and they need their vocal cords. Celia has already learned that the ability to shift people’s emotions doesn’t usually need either.

Which means, as she crouches low to the ground and waits for the right moment, she can hit them with what she wants to as soon as she wants to do it.

If Celia or Roderick make a mistake, they lose everything.

It’s a subtle thing, the power that she wields. The combination of attention and invisibility. Smoke and mirrors, she calls it: making someone focus on something that isn’t her. Like throwing one’s voice, maybe.

She taps into that now. Sends it toward Roderick. He’s just a silly sleeping vampire, secure in the fact that he’s gone through all this trouble with his secret room. Look at him, passed out there on the bed. Useless. Like a lump. They’ve heard some licks are stupid, aren’t they? This is probably one of them. All this time they’ve been in his home and he hasn’t even stirred. Hell, they could probably take him one on one.

Silly, silly vampire.

GM: Maybe they could.

But the cat draws their gazes.

She can’t see any looks on their masked faces.

Just the way they all silently turn to look at her.


Celia: She stares back at them.

She’s just a cat, after all. Even licks have pets.

GM: One of the men looks at the other two.

He doesn’t speak.

Wouldn’t want to wake the sleeping lick.

At last, he shakes his head.

The others look at the cat for another moment.

Then they turn away.

They approach the bed.

They ready the stake over Roderick’s chest.

He doesn’t once move. Doesn’t once breathe or blink. He sleeps like the dead.

The man positions a mallet over the stake.

Then, suddenly.

One freezes.

Three hissed words escape his lips:

“No food bowl-!”

That’s when Roderick strikes.

The baseball bat streaks through the air, smashing into the man’s skull with a grisly, bone-shattering crack. The man doesn’t scream. He just hits the floor in a heap and doesn’t get up. Blood pools across the carpet.

Celia: Celia strikes from behind.

Powerful hind quarters propel her through the air to launch herself at one of the men, her form blurring and shifting as she dives. Her claws are the only part of her that do not change, that do not sink back into her body. She is not some housecat whose belly they can rub when she flops over for them, not some pet they will collar with a little bell that goes ding-a-ling with each step.

She is a monster. A predator.

A Beast.

Her Beast comes howling to the surface. She doesn’t fight it, not this time. She lets it out. Lets it have its way with these men who thought to take her lover from her, these men who would drag the both of them into some dank basement to pull apart, these men who scamper through someone else’s apartment, tear through someone’s life, like the rats that they are.

It was an animal that left the ground, but a Beast that lands on his back with fangs and claws and murder in her eyes.

GM: Propelled by her once-feline haunches, Celia’s weight smashes into the startled hunter like a cannonball. He goes down in a heap. She goes for the throat. The larger, stronger man grunts flips her halfway off, rolling under her as he drives the stake towards her chest. It goes wide and stabs her collarbone as her fangs pierce his neck. Too slow. Celia drinks ravenously as she straddles him. His blood is sour with his fear and salty with his hate. A delicious change from her usual sweet fare. There’s nothing fake about the emotions in his blood. But there is no ecstasy for him in the Toreador’s embrace. Only terror. And pain. He weakly tries to fling her off, but Celia shreds his triceps with her claws. She grinds against his crotch with hers, tries to guide his cock up her cunt. Too bad he’s not hard. Her Beast still wants to mate, even if that’s not how it reproduces.

Celia: Fight, fuck, feed. That’s all the Beast wants. All the girl wants, too. Kill, rip, shred. Drink. Drink, drink, drink. She drinks it down, mouthful after mouthful of the salty, sour combination of his blood. Drinks until her Beast is sated, until she can’t take any more into her body, until his heartbeat ceases in his chest. All the while she grinds against him, desperately seeking the release that the rest of her wants.

It isn’t enough. Even naked, writhing against him, legs spread around his hips to press herself against the fabric of his jeans, she can’t get to the area she wants. She needs to be filled. Some distant part of her mind registers that he’ll be hard eventually—rigor mortis affects muscles and there aren’t any in the dick, but sometimes during death blood rushes to the genitals—but not soon enough. Not soon enough for the girl or the Beast, who both want to celebrate this victory over their enemies with a good, hard fuck.

There were three, though. And a lick besides.

She sends it out from her in a wave. A powerful, cresting crescendo, a combination of potent charm that would make anyone drop to their knees to worship the dazzling, exquisite, marvelous creature that she has become in death.

Fight, fuck, feed. She’ll do all three.

GM: Maybe the hunter screams. Maybe he doesn’t. She just shreds his pants with her claws (does she slash his penis too?) and soon there’s a firm cock filling her slit. She rides it up and down as she drinks. She drinks until that overpowering salty sourness feels like the only flavor that’s ever existed in her mouth. She drinks and feels each beat of his heart pumping more of that rapturously genuine taste down her throat. Every beat of his heart exists for her pleasure. His life exists for her pleasure. She drinks until the only part of him still pumping is his cock. She moans wantfully as the flow of blood down her throat ceases. More. She needs more. She rides the corpse like a stallion, burying the dead man’s still-erect penis up her cunny as deep as she can. So close…

Roderick smashes into her, tackling her off the corpse. He’s coated with blood, an irresistible aphrodisiac on his naked body. The Brujah’s furious eyes are as lost to the Beast as Celia’s own. The roar he gives is equal parts rage and bloodlust as his fangs savage her skin, as his red-smeared fist gorily crunches in her nose, as he tries to pin her beneath his weight. He might be trying to kill her. He might be trying to fuck her.

Neither Beast much cares.

Celia: The girl wouldn’t mind being pinned. Not by him. Not like this.

But the girl isn’t the only thing in her head right now. The Beast stares out from behind her eyes, and the Beast knows what the other one is after: blood. Not in a fun way, not in the way it wants; he wants to hurt, to maim, to kill.

She doesn’t want any part in it. Neither of them do. Beaten twice into a bloody smear on the ground, watching him take out two hunters in a matter of seconds… No. No thanks.

She scrambles to her feet and flees.

GM: Roderick blurs after her, his preternaturally fast footfalls slamming against the carpeted floor in an almost constant thud-thud-thud, like a heavy rain. Objects and sundry crash aside in his wake. Celia blurs ahead of him. He catches up. He’s faster. But she’s nimbler. A cat can go all sorts of places a human can’t go. She dives under chairs, under the couch, up inside cabinets. Roderick mindlessly rampages through the house, smashing apart possessions and furniture. There goes his grandmother’s mirror with a shatter. There goes his JD. There goes a lot of things. The cat hides under the sofa.

Eventually, the sounds of destruction cease. She hears a choked sound like someone sobbing. But the thirst in her gut is overpowering. It burns her up from inside. Like another cat inside her stomach clawing to get out.

All she can think about is the three bodies in the secret room.

Celia: If he’s crying it means he’s not feeding. And if he’s not feeding it means she can feed. Three bodies. All hers. She literally licks her chops at the thought of the feast that is waiting for her. Wants it. Needs it. Hers, all hers, every single bit of it while he’s distracted by emotions.

Her tiny gray form blurs out from under the couch and back into the bedroom, through the still open doorway to where the men lie dead. The first man to die was hit by the bat, his head almost exploding from the force of the Brujah’s swing. Bits of brain matter and bone fragments sprayed out behind him when he fell. But she’s not concerned about that. No, her focus is on the pool of blood seeping from the open wound.

She doesn’t even change forms. She just darts toward it, licking up the spilled blood as if she were a cat with a dish of cream.

GM: But a cat can drink less at once.

Celia: She realizes this. Her form shifts abruptly, and it’s Celia on her knees with her mouth on the floor, scooping the pool of blood towards her with her hands.

Literally licking the floor.

It doesn’t last long. Head wounds bleed a lot, but she knows there’s more left inside him. She sinks her teeth into the flesh of the dead man to get the rest of it.

GM: The blood is already starting to cool, but that delectable salty-sour flavor so rich with adrenaline is still strong. Celia can drink as much as she wants. Three. Whole. Bodies. She drinks and drinks until her Beast is fat and gorged and purring quiescently, until she can almost feel the blood oozing through her pores. It’s so rare that her kind gets to overeat.

More buzzes go up from her phone on the ground.

Celia: Only when she has fully slaked her hunger does Celia begin to pay attention to her surroundings. Three bodies to clean up. Roderick crying in the other room. His first kill; she’d told him just last night that is sure if anyone could make it through their Requiem without killing someone it would be him. She should go to him, offer what comfort she can. Her phone, too, buzzing with news from her family. Something is wrong. She needs to fix it. Her mind spins towards her daughter, her mother’s dreams, Donovan’s chilling words at their last meeting: You will remember this as a nightmare, with your husband’s face in place of mine.



She has to help them both. She reaches for her phone so she can bring it into the other room… and never makes it.

Her Beast purrs in delight at the meal, the killing, the fucking; it’s tired now, it wants a nap. It drags her into unconsciousness. Her body slumps over on the floor.

Another corpse to add to the pile.

Genevieve & Sterling I, Chapter V
The Silver Dollar

The Man With The Silver Smile

Thursday night, 6 June 2013, PM

Genevieve: This time of night a line wraps around the side of the building, eager club-goers waiting for a chance to test their luck against the players at the Silver Dollar. Some of them just came for the atmosphere, one of the few places left in the Quarter that doesn’t cater to the tourist crowd. Hardly a literal hole in the wall, just lesser-known than the prime stomping ground of Bourbon or even Royal Street. The kind of place where anyone can get their rocks off, either through the openly flowing booze, the easy access to drugs, or the girls who shake everything they’ve got in the face of everyone they see. Slinky dresses, sky-high heels, the smell of their last cigarette on their breath. Extra pairs of panties in their purses for those times someone decides they want to pay the fee for a little extra and take them out into the alley, the bathroom, or just a dark corner to cop more than a feel.

It always rubbed Gen the wrong way.

She wouldn’t be here if her domitor hadn’t expressly summoned her this evening, told her to meet him at 11 PM sharp. Something about someone that needs to be fired. He’d gotten misty-voiced over the phone, told her he didn’t want to do it himself, that it needed a delicate touch. A woman’s touch. Something like that; she’d stopped listening the moment he told her that he needed her. That had been enough. She’s pretty sure the rest of it was a lie, anyway.

Haymaker is at the door to let her in, the “employee” entrance that actually is a literal hole in the wall, a small opening tucked tight between two buildings that leads to the steel door where Sterling’s people come and go, and where, she knows, other licks like him often show up to get their jollies off. No waiting at this door, you just knock and someone lets you in, though if they ain’t ever seen you before there’s bound to be some questions. It’s the worst kept secret in the city; Gen even thinks that Sterling was the one to start the spread of it so that those who walk the night like him don’t need to wait. She’s sure he’s got other secret entrances too—why wouldn’t he?—but this one is the one he has his people use, so that’s the one she goes to.

She spares a look for Haymaker as he shuts the door behind her. The black man just shrugs.


Without a word she strides down the hall that will take her to where she assumes her domitor waits for her, the office at the top of the stairs that overlooks the whole place.

Sterling: The office is nice without being exquisite. Everything in here, from the glossy pinups to the vintage jukebox to the gassy, greasy lighting screams wealth without taste, power without restraint.

The men in here are like that, too. There’s always a few guys in here; it’s less Sterling’s office than it is his clubhouse. There’s Caprese, fat and sweating and always ready to break somebody’s nose, fiddling poorly with the Jukebox and muttering under his breath. There’s Mouse, named for his big ears but not his size, which is considerable. Heckle, the manager, who looks like he still doesn’t know how he got this job. All wear cheap suits that look like it and do nothing for their gout. The rest of Sterling’s goons are probably working the floor.

And of course, there’s the monster himself, dressed like a supervillain and looking innocent as a priest behind his desk. He gives her a sad smile.

And then there’s the woman. Girl, really. She can’t be more than 20, in a cocktail dress and mascara that’s running down her cheeks with tears.

Gen’s usually the only woman in here. The other girl doesn’t seem to notice her coming in.

“I-I’ll do better next week, Mister Oz. I promise. I just—I need my paycheck now. I really can’t wait until Monday-“

“We’ve heard you already, you slow bitch,” mutters Caprese as he thuds the jukebox. “More whining won’t make the big man care more.”

“I’m afraid he’s right, Candice,” Sterling says apologetically. “Me, I like bending the rules. But I made Heckle the manager precisely because he’s a stickler for these kinds of things. I’m afraid you’ll have go put in extra hours if you want fast cash—in the high rollers lounge.”

Candice flushes, looks to the ground. “I’m not—I’m just a waitress.”

Heckle guffaws. “Didn’t stop you showing some tit to get the job. Whores always get prideful once they get paid.”

“I’m not—“ but the rest of her words are lost to her sobs.

Sterling regards her placidly, then looks to his Conscience. Green eyes glitter with something neither good nor evil, and certainly not human. She recognizes the look.

He wants to play a game.

Genevieve: It’s a look she recognizes, but not one that she likes. The door closes behind her, cutting off the girl’s cries before they can carry down the stairs. Her eyes sweep the room, taking it all in. Sterling might be the only one to notice the way her jaw works as her stare lands on Caprese, on his fist striking the jukebox. Graceful movements take her across the room, the sort of coiled energy found in the predators like him, the gift of speed he’s given her flitting through her veins to make every motion precise. She’s got the sort of easy languidness that comes from years of throwing her body across a gym.

Gen bends at the knee, reaching behind the jukebox to lift the plug. She doesn’t say anything to the fat man as she hands it over; her look does enough of that for her.


“Accounting trouble?” she asks Sterling.

Sterling: “Something like that,” he agrees cheerfully. “Heckle, what’s our policy on advance pay?”

“We don’t,” the manager grunts. “But we always need volunteers for the lounge, if they’re willing to put some skin on the line—“

“-and in other places,” guffaws Caprese. He leers cheerfully at her. It’s the closest she’ll get to a thanks.

“And yet, Candice here seems to value her dignity more highly than her… what was it? Dental bills, right? Never had to deal with them, myself. Perks of being an absent parent.”

Candice is still crying. “I don’t—I don’t value—I’ll do anything, but isn’t there another way?”

Sterling shrugs. “I can’t think of one. Can you, Conscience?”

Genevieve: Gen doesn’t so much as grind her teeth together. Another way, indeed. The leers of the fat would-be mobster will be the least of her worries if she steps in.

“She could ask her dentist for a payment plan,” she says carefully. She knows it isn’t what he wants, but he’s fooling himself if he thinks she’s going to put her own skin on the line without exploring other options. “Credit cards. Payday loans. The interest will eat her alive.” So will the boys in the high roller room.

Sterling: “I already did,” sniffles the unfortunate waitress. “I’m already broke. I wouldn’t be asking if I wasn’t tapped out.”

“You could always play our tables after your shift,” Sterling says breezily. “You might get lucky.”

She cries harder.

Sterling conjures a handkerchief from nowhere and flicks it at her daintily. Always the gentleman.

Genevieve: Of course she wouldn’t be asking if she weren’t tapped out. No one asks Sterling unless they’re desperate. Or foolish. He always finds a way for the house to win.

He’s not that bad. That’s the blood talking, though, she’s sure of it.

“Give her the advance, Mister Oz. To cover the bills and whatever other creditors she sold her soul to. Send her home.”

She meets his eye. Gives him a long look, then finally a nod.

“If it’s a body the lounge needs, Nicoise is enough to go around.”

Sterling: She’s seen some of the high rollers lounge, but never been made to linger. Anything can happen there, if somebody wants to pay for it. And the clients always can.

Caprese scowls at her jibe, but the other men chortle.

“Nobody’ll pay to see his fat ass on all fours,” Heckle says dismissively. “Boss, let’s just kick her out. Going back and forth on this. Candy, do you want cash or do you want to pretend you aren’t for sale?”

Candice doesn’t look pretty, when she’s crying. Just broken. “I—okay, okay, I can—I’ll do it, if I can get the money tonight.”

Heckle whistles lewdly and starts counting out bills from his wallet. “And you can keep whatever you make inside, obviously.”

Candice shudders.

Sterling shrugs and leans back, but he looks coolly amused.

She’s going to have to say it, in front of the goons and everybody. To volunteer. She can spare an innocent, if she wants to. Can help Sterling do the right thing.

The righter thing, anyways.

Genevieve: Her lips flatten into a thin line.


“Go home, Candice. I’ll work the lounge.”

Sterling: The waitress blinks and stares at her as if seeing for the first time. “W-what? No. No, I need the money.”

Behind her, Caprese chortles. “The freak’s a little strapped for cash, huh?”

Sterling holds up a finger. “Conscience, do you need the money? Or would you like to work so Candice doesn’t have to?”

Genevieve: “Her makeup is smeared,” Gen says, voice cold. As if that is the only reason. “She won’t earn a dime like that, and the lounge will be known as a place where broken girls work, which will cut into future profits. Send her home. Give her my take.”

He knows she doesn’t need the money. Caprese should know that too, though she can’t imagine how he rubs two thoughts together let alone retains what he does manage to think.

Sterling: He’s smarter than he looks. Probably he just thinks she’s a whore.

Genevieve: He couldn’t pay her enough, even if she were.

Sterling: “Are you—really?” The girl says, still in shock. “You mean it?”

Genevieve: She’d need a pair of tweezers to find the limp excuse of flesh he calls a dick.

Gen just looks at the girl. Then jerks her head toward the door.

Sterling: Heckle gives her the money, shaking his head. She can’t get out fast enough, still murmuring her disbelieving thanks as she goes.

“You’re too soft, sweetheart,” he tells her. “Shift starts in fifteen. Hit the dressing room. There’s always a few extra ‘tards in there. I hope you’re not on your period, either, because you don’t get to wear anything else. No pads or tampons or whatever the fuck. Nobody wants to see that.”

Caprese laughs again. “Maybe I’ll visit you on my break, pasty.”

He’s white, too, of course. But not like her.

Not like a freak.

Sterling goes back to a game of solitaire. Maybe she’ll see him later. Or maybe not. Maybe he just wanted to see if she would actually submit herself for the sake of some random girl.

Maybe he was testing her. Did she pass?

Genevieve: “I hope you do, Caprese. Bring a map and I’ll show you where everything goes, even.”

Her eyes slide toward her domitor. She thought he’d say something, at least. Acknowledge what he’s making her do, what he knew she would do if pressed. She won’t have that conversation in front of the others, though. She won’t let them see how much it takes out of her to do this thing for the girl, for him.

She has half a mind to tell the boys to get out so she can have a word with him. But if he wanted a word he’d have made it happen, wouldn’t have turned immediately to the game of cards. Maybe he doesn’t see the look of wounded betrayal on her face when she turns to go. Muddying his Conscience again.

Sterling: She slinks off. The waiting room is full of other girls, waitresses and “entertainers” with less modesty. Somebody tosses a leotard at her when she asks. It’s silver, form-hugging, and leaves her back mostly bare. It doesn’t cover so much as it clings. There’s other girls in leotards, too. The other volunteers trying to make money, except they actually need it. None of them look happy, or comfortable in the outfit.

People stare at her as she changes. That’s the same as ever. She’s a freak, after all. Everybody wonders what an albino looks like naked.

Genevieve: White. She looks white. She looks the same as them, the same bits and pieces, only hers are white on white on white. Pale pink nipples, pale pink lips. Darker now that she’s flushing, that the other girls are looking—staring. She turns her back to the room as if that will help, as if that makes any of this better.

She hates him.

How can he make her do this?

No, that’s the problem, isn’t it. He didn’t make her. He didn’t say anything. He just expected her to do the right thing, to submit herself to humiliation rather than let some poor girl do it in her stead. He knew exactly what she would do but let her make the choice.

She looks in the mirror when she’s done. The silver hugs her like a second skin. Her body shivers at the chill— she’s sure that he keeps it cool so that his patrons can see the outline of her nipples beneath the thin fabric. As requested, she’d stripped completely to put it on. No bra, no panties, not even pasties. Someone passes her a tube of lipstick that she swipes across her mouth, the same pale pink shade as the rest of her. She has a face that’s made to be stared at, meant to be different; she won’t hide behind the powders the other girls use. A pair of heels complete the look, lengthen her legs, lift her already firm ass.

She hates him.

She really does.

That’s all she can think about as she walks through the door of the dressing room to make her way to the lounge.

Sterling: And yet, and yet, the bond whispers to her. The way he held her before a mirror and called her beautiful. The small kindnesses he’s shown her.

The ways he seems to delight in humiliating her, in particular.

“You look marvelous, Connie.”

His voice is a whisper in her ear as she walks past patrons on the floor in step with the other volunteers, naked without the dignity of being naked. Mobsters leer. So do the gamblers, drunks and carousers who ogle her, the whitest girl in New Orleans. Worst might be the woman she passes, who smirk at her, secure in their obvious superiority. They get to wear real clothes. She’s just a piece of the scenery.

She looks up and sees him across the room, regarding the floor from his elevated mezzanine. He can whisper to her without deigning to acknowledge her in public. It probably wouldn’t be proper for him to mingle with the entertainment.

And yet—he says she looks marvelous.

“You didn’t have to do what you did. You still don’t. You can quit at any time. You’ll just have to give the money back. Or, well. Candice will. The choice is yours.”

Choice. His cruelest gift to her.

Genevieve: It isn’t fair.

It isn’t fair that he can whisper in her ear like that from across the room. It isn’t fair that the sound of his voice sends shivers down her spine, that his comments make her flush, that he can watch her from above and pull every thought from her mind.

She looks towards the windows she knows he’s peering out of. The expression on her face doesn’t change, but she shakes her head. No. She won’t go running. If this is how he wants her to serve—if this is how he wants to see his conscience, spread open for the rest of the world’s viewing pleasure—then who is she to deny it?

She turns her face away, then her whole body. She will not give him the satisfaction of watching her sweat. Her eyes dart toward the other girls, watching to see how they do it so she can best play along.

Sterling: They aren’t any more experienced, for the most part. Most of the girls who volunteer for this don’t do it a second time. It pays well.

That’s the only reason anybody would do it at all.

There’s five of them in their leotards, all at least a little attractive but none so uniquely freakish as her. One of the bouncers leads them to the lounge entrance, but he doesn’t follow them in, only holds the door open.

They aren’t supposed to be protected inside.

The lounge is busy tonight, which means a dozen or so patrons. Mostly men, but a few bored-looking women too. The lighting is dark and purplish with patches of neon glare. The silver leotards practically seem to glow under the lights. There are games tables, a bar tended by another silver-leotarded bartender, a jacuzzi, what looks like a mud pit, lots of private booths with curtains for isolation.

A place to sin in peace.

There’s a DJ, too, who calls over spinning tracks and thudding bass:

“The dolls are here, ladies and gents. Here are the rules: they say no, they leave without pay. You offer them money, even a penny, they say yes. Every single one of them agreed to be here, and every single one is yours to play with for whatever you pay them. They listen to whoever pays them the most. And that. Is. It.”

The cheers and lewd laughter are audible even over the music. Some of the younger faces seem agog with the possibilities.

The other ‘dolls’ do their best to force smiles. But it’s okay that they don’t look happy. That’s not the priority of this particular game.

“Look at that one,” one of the women says. Twentysomething, fat. Pointing at Gen. “Is that a fucking albino?”

“Looks like it.”

“Poor thing probably couldn’t make any money at the circus.”

Her friends laugh.

One of them’s waving her over. People are pulling out their wallets.

Genevieve: Even a penny.

Sterling, you bastard. If he’d wanted to see her naked there are easier ways.

Gen doesn’t pretend to smile. She won’t put on a show for these people, not like that. It’s almost a relief to be called over immediately, to have the choice of her actions taken from her for the evening. The humiliation can begin immediately. At least it isn’t like a normal club where she’d need to approach them, debase herself before them, and hope they find her alluring enough to shove a dollar in her thong.

Gen cuts smoothly through the crowd, the first of the girls to be given work. She’d be proud if her stomach weren’t twisting. Her brows lift once she reaches the fat woman’s side.

Are there rules against talking? Bartering? No one had told her. That must mean there aren’t.


Sterling: “Not even polite,” the fat lady snorts.

“She’s uncultured,” the man next to her says. He looks like her, but he must be anorexic, or have some other kind of eating disorder, because he’s bone-thin. “Probably never had an etiquette lesson in her life, poor little freak.”

“Let’s teach her some manners,” says the lady. She digs out a purse, rifles through it. There’s a lot of green in there. “What’s your name, honey, when you aren’t prancing around commando for petty cash?”

She draws out a penny, looking faintly surprised she found it. “Let’s start as cheap as you, hmm? Apologize for being rude, ugly, and indecent. Oh, and a mutant.”

“I don’t think she’s ugly,” the man opines.

“That’s because you’re a skeleton, Tristan,” the woman says exasperated.

Genevieve: She’s already thinking of ways to get him back for this.

“My sincerest apologies, madam, for offending you with my very nature. Uncouth beasts should not be allowed to parade in public. Shall I call the zoo?”

Sterling: Tristan giggles. It’s an ugly sound. “She’s funny.”

The lady sneers. “I didn’t hear you say anything about being ugly. Or indecent. Or a mutant. I want to hear you say you’re sorry for being such a hideous albino mutant whore. Or no penny for you.”

So this is how people act, when they don’t have to pretend to be nice.

Genevieve: Gen spares a look for Tristan. She favors him with a wink.

“I will allow you to give me a dollar per apology, if that appeases you. But it is my mother you must make apologize, truly, for it is from her I sprung to be the mutant you see before you. And perhaps my father is to blame as well, for teaching me moderation. How very alien that concept must be.”

Her eyes cut down the woman’s “figure.”

Sterling: “You can take the penny, you arrogant little whore, or you can refuse and leave.”

Her eyes are dangerous now. “And then you won’t make a red cent. And you’ll be just as much of a freak, but without any circus money.”

Those are the rules. They aren’t meant to support her needling the clientele.

Genevieve: Gen looses a breath. If she is kicked out for her attitude then all of this was for nothing, and the girl she sought to “save” from this fate will only be worse off. She bows her head. Lets the woman feel powerful.

“Yes ma’am, I thought only to provide entertainment to your friend, free of charge. I misspoke. I apologize.”

She pauses, but only briefly. Long enough to swallow her pride.

“I’m sorry that I am a mutant freak. I wish it were not so. I admit to being ugly, indecent, and arrogant.”

The words are stated flatly, to the woman’s shoes.

Sterling: “Good girl,” the lady purrs. “I saw you wink at my brother. Do you have a little crush, circus freak?”

“Marge, please,” Tristan mutters.

“We can make things interesting. I’ll give you… fifty dollars if you sit on his lap. He’s bony, but I think he’ll manage.”

Tristan sighs. He does not, however, argue.

Genevieve: “Yes, ma’am, the circus freak has a crush.”

Easier that way, to refer to herself as the freak. Shedding her dignity is less painful if she can pretend she’s talking about someone else.

Gen slides in front of Tristan, lowering herself onto his lap. It’s an odd pairing, the skeleton and the albino. She holds herself stiffly, keeping herself as distant from him as she can for all that she is perched on his lap.

Please don’t touch me.

Expectant eyes turn to Marge.

Sterling: But he does touch her. One hand on her thigh, the other on her ass. A faint squeeze. She could fry something in the grease from Tristan’s smile.

“Circus freak,” the fat lady says, “you dirty little girl. Do you like your outfit, or should I pay you to take it off? That way everybody would see what a freak you are even more clearly.”

She reaches out and traces a finger across the leotard’s chest. Her chest.

“Or are you going to ask us nicely to let you keep your whorish little leotard on?”

Marge pinches her nipple through the fabric, suddenly and sharply.

Genevieve: Her cheeks heat at the words and Tristan’s touch. Surely she can’t be made to strip; there must be rules, things they can’t make her do, guidelines, anything. She clings to that hope… then, with a lurch of her stomach, recalls the sorts of horrors she has seen here, the games with the guns and bullets and spray of blood across the walls.

No limits. Why would they come if there were limits?

Her mouth is half open to answer the question when the woman strikes. Instinct makes her pull back, as if to escape the pinching fingers, but Tristan’s bony form is behind her and she only ends up sprawled more thoroughly across his lap. Nowhere to go. She cries out in shock and pain, shaking her head back and forth as her fingers twist.

Ask nicely, she’d said. Gen grabs onto that, working the words out around the lump that has settled firmly in her throat.

“Please let me keep my whore outfit.”

Sterling: Marge stares at her. Looks her in the eye, one woman to another.

And then she lets out the laughter. Bright, cruel peals of it, every bit as sharp and evil as any high school girl’s.

“Oh, sweetie. You actually—” She laughs harder. “I’m sorry, your face, your voice—oh, I’m sorry.” Her tone says she isn’t. “I love this place. Let the poor girl up, Tristan. She’s in for a hard night.”

Another squeeze, and she’s thrust upwards, discarded. Tristan’s laughing, too.

“Oh, and here’s your money. Circus freak.”

She feels her leotard’s rear pulled away, stretched like a swimsuit, and before she can even process the violation she feels a bill slipped between her exposed buttocks and the outfit as it’s allowed to snap back against her flesh, the numeral fifty protruding from the garment’s rear. Like an obscene, sideways tail. The dismissal is as clear as it is brutish.

They’re done with her. For now.

Genevieve: Gen doesn’t know if—or even how—she should respond. The flush spreads from her cheeks to her neck and chest, turning her red beneath the lights of the lounge. She thanks the woman for her time less she think that Gen is ungrateful for the money, slapped even as it is so rudely against her ass.

Fifty dollars. And a penny, but maybe the woman forgot, and she isn’t going to go back for a penny. How much does the girl need? How much is dental work? How long until the night is over? How long before she can slink out without even her pride intact? Her eyes search the wall for a clock, though she knows she will find none. No clocks in casinos, even underground ones, nothing to remind people that there is life outside of these walls.

Gen slinks away, eyes on the floor. Perhaps if she does not see them wave at her she can safely ignore them.

Sterling: But they see her. She’s quickly called over, made to fetch drinks, to prep tables, ordered this way and that by men whose only purpose is to keep her running. She’s pulled into more laps. Called more names. “Slut” is popular, but so is “Casper.”

It’s not long before somebody gets bored and tells her to bare her breasts.

“And bounce around a little. Squeeze ’em together,” the drunk fiftysomething man says, brandishing several hundred dollar bills. His friends laugh indulgently, all eyes settled on the albino.

Some of the other girls have already been made to get naked. One is getting fucked on a table across the room. Another is merely being passed around a gaggle of men that grab at her with impunity.

But not the circus freak. They just want her to show some tit and shake.

GM: The grabbing is only the prelude.

At one table, a woman lies back-down over the surface while a man shits in her mouth. The stench is awful. The revulsion on her face is even worse. His friends hold her down as they chant, “Swallow! Swallow! Swallow!” She’ll get extra money if she swallows. The second man who’s burying his cock up her cunt seems almost an afterthought.

Another girl, also lying back-down over a table, is also tied down and getting fed water through a funnel in her mouth. That looks harmless enough, until Gen sees how much water. The nearby men have at least a dozen milk jugs. There is no possible way that much fluid can fit in her stomach, but it looks as if the men are doing their damndest to find out how much can. They say she’ll earn a thousand dollars for every jug she swallows. The ones who aren’t force-feeding her are also taking turns fucking her. They smack her grotesquely swollen belly like a drum as they thrust back and forth. Genny can hear the water sloshing around inside.

At another table, the men are preparing to waterboard another tied-down girl, except with booze instead of water. They laugh about how this is actually “boozeboarding.” They say how CIA agents break after only 14 seconds, so she’ll get a thousand dollars a second. Ready? Go.

The next table over, the patrons are playing Russian roulette. There’s some kind of betting pool going on. Gen isn’t sure exactly what, only that one of the girls is taking turns firing the revolver at every patron, in clockwise order around the table. Click. Empty. Click. Empty. Click. Empty. Click. Boom. A wide-eyed corpse slumps forward as the bullet takes him right in the forehead. The girl screams as blood gets everywhere. The men roar with laughter and pull off the newly-dead corpse’s pants. Its cock is still hard. They make the girl fuck it.

At still another table, every man has a switchblade and girl on their lap who they’re offering money in return for “pounds of flesh.” The more pieces of themselves the girls let the men cut off, the latter explain, the more the girls get paid. There’s also a pool going. Whichever girl gets cut up worst not only gets the money from that, she also gets all of the other girls’ money. So no matter how deeply the knife bites, they get nothing, if it doesn’t bite them deepest of all. It’s a race to the bottom. A race to hurt themselves worst. Gen watches the pale-faced and eventually red-spattered girls start with nicks along their wrists, then work their way up to teeth and nails and arm stabbings, then severed ears and fingertips and facial scarring, and then one deliriously crying and beeding girl begs her man to stab out her left eye when he promises her a jaw-dropping sum, because oh god she needs the money. The men laugh that unless someone else wants to lose both her eyes, they have a winner. Everything has its price.

The lounge is everything Sterling said.

Anything goes.

Genevieve: She doesn’t disappoint with the drinks, with the tables, with the side work that they make her do before the patrons snatch her up again. She’s quick. Smart. Everything gets to where it needs to go, nothing is spilled, someone even tips her for the trouble. She can almost pretend that she’s just a waitress.

Until they start to fondle her again. Until they pinch and pull and—

No. She’s not going to uncover herself, she isn’t.

But the threat is there. Do it or walk away with nothing.

She’s on his lap, made to straddle him only moments ago. If she does it here at least no one can see, right? No one but the drunk man. And his friends. And anyone looking at her. She almost shakes her head. Almost gets up, walks to the door.

Gen lifts a hand to slide the strap of her “outfit” down one shoulder, then the other. The movements are slow, hesitant. The material clings to her chest rather than fall of its own volition. Too much to ask for it to do her that courtesy; she can’t just pretend it fell. It takes conscious effort for her to slide it down her chest, face smarting in humiliation.

Pale. White. Alabaster. Exactly the ghostly color for which they call her.

The blood that Sterling gives to her keeps her young. No matter her real age, she has the tight, lean body of a woman in her twenties. So when she moves, they bounce, nipples stiff in the cool air of the lounge. She covers them when he tells her to press them together, as if that will preserve whatever is left of her modesty.

Her face turns away.

Sterling: Cheers and guffaws meet her display. Her hands are teased away from their position, and the drunkard leans forwards and actually runs his tongue across one breast, to the delight of his friends.

“Bet you taste like white chocolate,” one of them slurs at her as she’s assaulted. Then he tosses some money at her, for compensation.

The man who’s lap she straddles slides a hand up her leotard, tracing between her legs.

“Say you like it,” he says between tonguefuls of her breasts. “Scream it for us.”

Genevieve: The taunting comes from all around her. She has no safe place to rest her eyes, no friendly face that she can look upon in the crowd. Just this leering, drunk, desperate man. Her whole form is stiff; she presses her thighs together as if to stop his wandering hands, but his fingers find her anyway. She finally just closes her eyes. With her eyes closed they can’t hurt her, they can’t touch her, she can pretend that he is someone else.

Ever fiber of her being rebels against the idea of telling them she likes it. Even if she did, she isn’t that sort vocal creature.

She shakes her head back and forth.

Sterling: “You need to offer her money,” one of his friends says. Her assaulter traces her mons, bounces her like a child on his leg.

“A thousand bucks, you beautiful white cunt. Say you like it. C’mon. Say it. Nice and loud.”

His fingers poke at her entrance, but don’t penetrate. His tongue lashes against her nipples, stiffening them mercilessly.

“Say you like it, you silly little whore. Shout it. Or I’ll make you dance for us.”

They know she doesn’t want to. That’s what makes it so fun for them.

“And open your eyes, or I’ll make you say it again.”

“Say it.”

A flash. Somebody’s taken a picture of her.

Genevieve: Gen squirms on his lap. She starts to shake her head again, to deny him, but the offer of money holds her fast. She has to. A thousand dollars—that’s a lot of fucking dental work. Her nipples are so hard they ache under his continued assault. The threat of his fingers sliding into her, the threat of being forced to dance for them, the flash of the camera—it’s too much.

She wishes the floor would open up and swallow her whole.

“I like it,” she whispers. Her lips barely move, eyes still squeezed tightly shut. They open a second later.

Sterling: “Louder, sweetie,” he says. He bites, this time, gnawing at her nipples. “Shout what a slut you are.”

His fingers find her lips. They start to pull them apart.

Now or never.

Genevieve: Her head drops back when his teeth sink into her flesh, mouth opening in a wordless cry. Words fail her. She doesn’t know what to say, how to say it, what they want to hear.

“I’m a slut,” she manages, barely louder than before. Her eyes find the ceiling. “I’m—I like it, I do, I’m just a freak whore, a dirty slut.” She doesn’t even know what she’s saying. None of it sounds right; it’s the awkward confession of a girl who has never done this before. She presses her hands against her face to hide her shame.

Sterling: She feels his fingers on her lips. Holding her open.

Then they retreat.

“Good whore,” he says, and spits in her face.

They’re guffawing as she’s pushed off of his lap, the joke over, her leotard half-off.

Genevieve: She lands hard on the ground. No one steps in to help her up, no one offers a hand. Her eyes stay down as she rises, spit dripping down her face. She turns away with her ill-gotten cash and tugs the straps back into their rightful place to cover herself once more. She doesn’t thank him for the privilege.

Sterling: A hand on her shoulder. An arm around her waist. Somebody’s dabbing at the spit on her face with a handkerchief.

“Ah, Conscience. You can quit at any time.”

It’s him. Him, come to watch her degradation. Maybe even to participate.

Did he hear her say she liked it, a moment ago?

Genevieve: Gen jerks away from him, anger in her eyes.

“My name,” she hisses at him, “is Genevieve.”

She stalks off.

Sterling: He’s with her, keeping pace easily. “So indignant! Would you prefer I treat you cruelly, or lie? Your strength of spirit makes you beautiful, Gen. I want to share that beauty. To celebrate it.”

He presses a money clip into her hands.

“Now, are you mine or not? Will you endure these humiliations, or leave?”

Genevieve: Gen halts once the money touches her hand. She looks down at it, then up at him. She plasters on a smile, sickly sweet; she’s never smiled for him, not like this.

“Shall I simper for you, sir? Is there a dog in a corner somewhere you’d like me to fuck?”

Sterling: “No. I just want you to take off your leotard and follow me to the stage.”

He says it so easily. So smoothly.

“Or you can leave here, and abandon your foolish quest to do the right thing.”

Genevieve: Naked. On stage. All eyes on her. Even if they’re not inclined to look he’ll make them look, make them watch, make them see.

He can’t. He can’t do that to her.

Her stomach has fallen to her feet. She is not sure if it will ever right itself. The false smile disappears as quickly as it came, and the eyes that look to him now are full of apprehension.

“Don’t,” she whispers, shaking her head, “don’t make me. Not that.” She presses the money back toward him, as if that will make this all disappear.

Sterling: “I’ll be with you,” he says. “Holding you. Protecting you. But I won’t make you do anything.”

He doesn’t take the money back.

“You can stop anytime, Gen. If you only silence your conscience.”

“I’ll even take your memories, if you like.”

Genevieve: That’s what he wants, isn’t it? For her to be as heartless and misguided as him.

She won’t. She won’t be like him. She will never be like him.

She strips. The silver leotard comes off in one fluid motion, dropping down her body, down her legs, to pool around her heels. The look she gives him could melt steel.

Sterling: He beams.

He takes her hand.

He leads her through the lounge, as people whistle and catcall—but they do not presume to approach. Not with him by her side.

He leads her, naked and white, onto the stage, his arm around her bare waist.

“Brave, bare Gen,” he whispers without moving his lips. “Beautiful.”

Genevieve: I hate you, she thinks back, and she hopes that he can hear it.

Sterling: Her heels make her naked body taller. Tall enough that he has to stretch slightly to kiss her on the forehead. She can feel the tenderness in the motion. His twisted, bizarre love.

Eyes pivot as they take the stage, the man with the silver smile and his naked, stark-white Conscience.

And then he’s twirling her, and they’re dancing.

He’s dancing with her, in public, like she’s his queen. Like he does with his paramour, sometimes.

Except she’s naked.

But nobody laughs as they dance.

Nobody jeers.

Genevieve: Their gazes are heavy, all the same. She cannot forget they are there.

That they can see.

Her. All of her. Exposed.

Sterling: He twirls her for them. Bares her front, her back. Pivots and bends her backwards.

But he isn’t just exposing her. He’s… displaying her. Like he would a piece of art. A prized possession.

He strokes between her legs, and his hands move with impossible speed over her body. Tweaking. Teasing.


She can see Caprese in the crowd. Heckle, too. Faces she knows. That know her.

They look awestruck.

Genevieve: It can’t be her they’re looking at. It has to be him. His speed, his grace; the fact that he twirls so effortlessly across the stage with the help.

She doesn’t look. Can’t look. Can’t bear the sight of the crowd, knowing that they’re looking at her, that there will be not a single pair of eyes in this city who doesn’t see her next and wonder at what she looks like in the lounge, on her knees, spread open, poked and prodded and pulled until she finally snaps.

She does not dare close her eyes. She keeps them on him, as if there is no world except for him, as if they are not on a stage. Her body quivers at his touch, bending, arching, spinning; she is just an extension of his will.

Sterling: But she keeps pace with him. Complements him so effortlessly.

He’s kissing her, suddenly, full on the lips, kissing her and his Blood inside her is screaming, as his hands roam her body and start to play.

“Beautiful,” he whispers, as he pushes her buttons and makes her come undone, onstage.

Next to him.

Genevieve: He can’t be.

It’s against the rules.

There’s no kissing in the masked city.

She’s a slave, she’s beneath him, she’s—

But he is. He is kissing her. In front of everyone. They can all see his hands on her. Hear the breath leave her body as he touches, strokes, displays. Smell the molten liquid that makes her slick to his touch. Her tightly coiled control rips itself apart; her seams split, exposing the truth, her truth, and leaves her a quivering, heaving mess of a woman with nothing to lose, whose cries split the air when he sends her over the edge. She comes apart in his arms. The rest of the world doesn’t matter. Not now.

Not ever.

Genevieve & Sterling I, Chapter IV
Remaining Games

“Games are all that’s left of me.”
The Man With The Silver Smile

Wednesday night, 15 May 2013, PM

Sterling: The weeks pass. Sometimes he needs her frequently; by his side at the Silver Dollar as his moll, or to pass the early hours with a game, or to walk the streets with her and talk about nothing. Other times he does not call her for days, or occasionally in excess of a week, when his only excuse is that the sight of his conscience should surely make him ill.

Tonight, though, he wants to take her out to dinner. Dinner, and maybe a movie. He likes movies where he can bet on the endings.

He seems tired. His kind don’t seem tired often.

He tells her to take Ash. If she asks about the theaters not allowing the dog, he simply laughs.

Sterling: It’s a long walk. He wears an unusually subdued suit; it’s only grey, unlike his more garish usual patterns. He has the cane with him, but seems almost to lean on it.

“I had cancer,” he says apropos of nothing. “Before I died, I mean. I guess I still do, but it’s not bothering me.”

Genevieve: Ash walks well on a leash. She’d had to train him into the habit, but now he walks next to her as easily as she walks next to Sterling. He stops to sniff occasionally, so the two of them pause while he does so, and Gen keeps her attention on her domitor.

“I’d heard the change sends things like that into remission.” There’s a pause as she surveys him. “Your real voice, the smoker’s voice?”

He changes it often enough that she isn’t sure.

Sterling: “Yes,” he says, in that smoke-scarred rasp. “Once upon a time. I guess it’s my first voice, really.”

“Now,” he says in the almost feminine, supercilious voice he favors for social settings and witticism, “I suppose it’s just another.” He winks, like a magician explaining a trick.

“I was dying. I had a son, but I was going to be dead before he was grown anyways. I had a wife, but she would have wanted me to get help. And I didn’t want help. I wanted to keep my hair, my mind. My body.”

“Had family, too. And I loved them. But I didn’t want to tell them, either.”

Genevieve: “You told your wife about the Embrace but not your cancer?”

Sterling: He smiles briefly, and his silver teeth seem to grate against their bone neighbors. “It’s a long story. Suffice it to say there wasn’t a tremendous amount of rationality applied to either revelation.”

He points at the street. “You know this used to be called the Rue de Craps? They changed it because of all the churches. Bible-thumpers.”

He likes to change the subject when he’s uncomfortable. Even when he’s the one who started it.

Genevieve: Gen knows that he brought it up for a reason, though. She presses on. She can’t be afraid of him or she’d be a bad conscience.

“You miss them?”

Sterling: “Hmm. Not as much as I should. I should miss them more. My life should be woefully incomplete without them, my lady love and my baby boy. And maybe it is. But I’m too wretched of a bastard to notice.”

His voice turns real, for that last sentence.

Genevieve: “You notice. That’s why you bring it up.”

“That’s why you mentioned it to me, before.”

“And why you buy him things.”

“You’re wondering if you’re doing enough.”

Sterling: He is silent, for a while. They pass street performers, gay bars, nightclubs. Drunkards and tourists and the politer society of vagrants that police haven’t banished. It’s still early enough that the night feels safe, promising, rather than something with teeth that hides monsters in its shadows.

But monsters still walk. He still walks, leaning on a cane she’s pretty sure he doesn’t need. She notices the grey at the corners of his hair, the bags under his eyes that must have been there the night he died.

“Enough, like what? I wasn’t built for child-rearing, even before I became what I am. The kindest thing my kind can do is stay away. You know that better than anyone, I expect.”

Genevieve: “Then doesn’t that answer your question? That you’re doing enough. You’re staying away. Doing what you can for them from afar.”

She looks at him out of the corner of her eye. She had dressed for dinner and a movie as if this were a normal date, and her heels click along the ground. She takes his arm in her hand, leaning on him like she would any mortal.

“How long as it been since you have seen them?”

Sterling: He accepts her arm, accepts her proximity. She knows how she must smell to him. Intoxicating. Willing.

They get to the restaurant. It’s a nice place. French. The maitre d’ is very confused, but oddly non-argumentative, when Sterling tells him dogs are, in fact, allowed. He orders a drink he sips intermittently. She should get whatever she likes.

Genevieve: She doesn’t press him. She orders what’s on special, Coq a vin, and a drink as well. Chocolate soufflé for dessert, though they haven’t reached that yet. A glass of wine. Maybe two. Actually, she says to the waiter, a third. Keep them coming. She likes the taste. It makes her head as bubbly as the liquid in the glass.

Ash gets a meal as well, some sort of duck. Gen doesn’t press for details about it, just makes sure there’s no garlic or onions that can mess up his tiny tummy. Though she thinks Sterling could fix it, if the dog were to get sick. Still, she enjoys feeding him pieces of charred duck beneath the table. It’s greasy. Clings to her fingers. Other people stare, but she pays them no mind.

She only has eyes for her domitor. She waits, silently, for him to speak. He’d had a point.

Sterling: “Her, it’s not so hard to visit,” he says. “She hates me. She looks forward to my visits, I think, and we play chinese checkers. But she hates me. I can live with that. I see her a few times a year.”

Genevieve: “And him?” Gen prompts.

Sterling: “Him, I visit. Birthdays. Summers. Sometimes. When I trust myself.”

Genevieve: “Then why do I feel like you’re beating yourself up, Sterling?”

Sterling: “You’re my conscience. You’re supposed to beat me up. I try not to do your work for you.”

Genevieve: “Then I sense something is bothering you, but I can’t fulfill my duties unless you tell me what it is.”

She sips at the wine. It’s good. Expensive, but that’s not why she likes it. A dry white. Like her.

“…are you getting rid of me?”

Sterling: He blinks, actually surprised. “Why would you think that?”

“I won’t be rid of you for as long as I can help it. You’re too vexing, and therefore too exciting.”

“And fun to fluster, of course. Maybe I’ll play with you during the movie, just to see if you can keep quiet.”

It takes her a moment to realize he’s kidding.

Unless he isn’t.

Genevieve: She squirms in her seat. Her chest is tight; she drops her eyes to the plates in front of her. Her fault for wearing a dress, easy access and all that.

He’s kidding though. He has to be. The alternative is… she won’t think about it.

“I found some names for you,” she says abruptly, changing the subject. “If you still wanted me to… pursue that in with any of them.”

Sterling: He chuckles delightedly at her reaction. “Tell me why you thought I might be done with you. And what names? Regale me.”

It doesn’t escape her notice that he’s manipulated her into changing the subject.


Genevieve: “You brought me out, you brought the dog out, you were talking about death in a roundabout way. One last good night before you cut me loose, in… whatever way that means to you.”

She doesn’t give him the names yet. She watches him instead, waiting.

He’ll tell her. Eventually.

Sterling: His eyes twinkle. “No, no, Gen. This is just a quiet night with my Conscience. A last good night with you will be far grander than this.”

He spears a piece of food on his unused fork and offers it to her like she does to Ash.

“The year I died,” he says finally, after she bites, chews, “I lived like it. At least for those last few months. I was sober. Hadn’t been inside a casino for… four years. Maybe five. I had beat it. But then they told me I was gonna die. And all I could think about was how little time I had left to play.”

Genevieve: “Instead of telling them,” she says after she swallows the offered food, “you disappeared. Back to the casinos. Smoked more. Gambled more. Left the both of them to their own things.”

It’s a guess, but she thinks it’s a good one. She takes a drink of the wine.

“Left your wife at home with a newborn.”

Sterling: “Hmm,” he says. “I visited. But yes.”

“I was going to die. At the time, I thought, better they remember me as a bastard. Or some such reasoning. It wasn’t going to be my problem, in a few months.”

Genevieve: “And then you became… this.”

She sweeps over him with her eyes. Dead, but still around.

Sterling: “I died,” he agrees, “but not the way I’d expected. And suddenly I couldn’t make things right, but I couldn’t put off caring about it, either.”

He looks morose. “Do you think they’d be happier if I just died, instead of finding a way to survive?”

Genevieve: “I think,” she says slowly, “that death is very final. That if you want to fix things, it isn’t too late. That, more than yachts and Ferraris, your son wants a father, your wife a husband.”

Sterling: “The man who might have been either died last century,” he says. “How would I play father, now?”

Genevieve: “He’s young yet. You start by apologizing for the wasted time. By showing him what he needs to know to survive in this world. With your distance and his mother in a hospital, he needs someone steady. It’ll take patience. But if that’s the man you want to be… then that’s who you become.”

Sterling: “You make it sound so simple.”

Genevieve: “Isn’t it?”

“Put the games down with him.”

Sterling: “Games are all that’s left of me.”

Genevieve: “That’s a lie you tell yourself. A mask you hide behind to avoid anything real.”

Sterling: He giggles. “You haven’t met my old man yet, or you would know the importance of masks.”

Genevieve: “You’re deflecting.”

Sterling: “Of course. Change is tiresome. It’s work. I’ve always disliked work.”

Genevieve: Gen looses a sigh. She sits back in her seat, pushing food around on her plate with her fork. The other hand drops to rub the top of Ash’s head.

“Why ask, then?”

Sterling: “So you can nag me, obviously, and so I can articulate to myself the many reasons not to change until you find one that stymies me. I’m very, very good at being bad, Gen.”

Genevieve: “You want a reason to change?” She leans forward. “If you aren’t there for your son he’ll turn into you.”

Sterling: His face goes flat.

Genevieve: Maybe that was too far. She leans back again. Looks anywhere but at him.

Sterling: “Good conscience,” he says finally, in his real voice. “Good, good conscience. You bitch.”

He finishes a drink that must taste of ashes.

“I can always count on you, Gen.”

Genevieve: It doesn’t feel like praise. She downs the glass of wine.

Better her mind be cloudy for whatever happens next.

Wednesday night, 15 May 2013, PM

Sterling: They finish, and pay. Ash takes a piss on the street outside. Some of it gets on Sterling’s shoes. He doesn’t seem to notice.

He walks her, arm around her waist, occasionally on her stomach, to the theater.

Again, a red-shirted attendant tells them they can’t have dogs in here. This time Sterling simply shoves several pictures of Ben Franklin into his pocket and walks past him as he stammers.

“You choose the movie,” he whispers in her ear, the way he sometimes will without moving his lips or bending to her.

Genevieve: Every time he does that she thinks she is used to it, but it still sends a shiver down her spine. So does his arm around her waist. He’s not as cool as the others of his kind, but she still recognizes what he is, what she is to him.

There’s a moment, looking at the board, when she thinks to pick something cute and funny. Something animated. But his threat lingers in her mind, and she doesn’t think it appropriate to be fondled in a kids movie. She picks at random instead, the one with the short haired girl on the poster in a white jumpsuit.

This late, there aren’t many others around. They have their pick of seats. Gen leads him up the stairs to the last row.

She keeps the dog on her lap once they’re seated, as if that will protect her from Sterling’s wandering hands.

Sterling: They watch the trailers and make fun of them together. Or at least, Sterling does. He likes guessing things about the trailers.

His hands don’t wander. When the theater darkens and the curtains press in, though, he leans over, looks her in the eyes, and says, “This is a true story.”

Then he sits back and enjoys the… is it a documentary?

Genevieve: Gen giggles when he makes the comments about the trailers. It’s the first time she’s done so around him; it’s a sweet sound, so different than her dry laugh. Makes her ordinarily stern face seem pretty. Striking instead of alien. Young, even. Like she hadn’t spent years being abused by Sabbat packs.

Then he leans in and tells her the horror she’s about to witness is real.

He couldn’t have picked a better movie for it. It’s already shot in documentary style, with the events of the movie punctuated by interviews. Lower thirds are in all the right places.

She’s silent as she watches the events play out, watches the doctors run tests on an unsuspecting girl, watches the military come in to seize control of the facility, watches them electrocute the poor woman with the demon inside of her. It’s set in a mental institution.

Like the one he took her to. To play pretend. Even the props are real. Her body had jerked like that too. They don’t show the girl wetting herself from prolonged exposure to electrical shock, though. Must have edited it out.

Her eyes are wide. At some point Ash whines when she squeezes him too tightly. After that she buries her face in his fur.

It’s too real.

Sterling: He glances over at some point, sees her buried face. Maybe he reads her mind. Maybe that explains the tone of voice. “Shit. Shit, shit.”

He’s pulling her up. “Come on, we’re leaving. Shush, Ash.”

They’re outside. He sits her on a bench some way from the theater.

“Shh, Gen. Shh. It wasn’t real. I’m sorry. It wasn’t real.”

He doesn’t change his voice. It’s burned and cracked.

Genevieve: It is real, though. Even if the movie wasn’t, what’s inside of her head is very, very real.

She moves along with him, subservient as always, and keeps her eyes on the ground. She nods at her toes, as if they can see. She’d painted them a pretty shade of red for this evening. Red looks good on her, he used to say. She hates him, but he’s right. She’d even felt pretty after they were painted.

“Okay,” she says, voice small.

Sterling: “I didn’t mean to hurt you. It was supposed to be a joke. A bad joke, maybe, but a joke. Not a punishment. I can make you forget. Let me make you forget.”

Genevieve: She doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

“You can’t make me forget what he did.”

Sterling: He’s silent, for a moment.

“I didn’t know.”

Genevieve: “It’s okay.”

She’s shaken. It’s easy to see with how quickly she forgives him. The remnants of her former slave driver, perhaps: submit or be punished. She clutches the dog to her chest. His warm body feels nice.

Sterling: “It isn’t,” he says simply. “I can make you forget what you saw. Would you like that?”

Genevieve: “How big is my blooper reel?”

She’d heard someone say that once, about the memories they took away.

Sterling: “Short. For now. This will grow it.”

Genevieve: “It’s okay,” she says again.

She isn’t sure that she believes him. He could make her do anything over the course of a night and then take it all away. Or implant fake memories. Were her vacations fake, too?

Sterling: “I won’t, then. And no, they weren’t.”

He takes a moment to realize what he’s just said, and he says again, “Sorry.”

He hails a cab and soon they’re back at her apartment, him walking her through the door and holding Ash’s lead in the other hand.

“Take a seat. Do you have those, whatchamacallits, the TV libraries everybody has now?”

Genevieve: “…Webflix?”

She does, though. She hands him the remote.

Sterling: “Yes! That.”

He takes it and after a few moments navigates it to the ‘KIDS’ section.

They’re watching a movie with talking animals, now, and bright colors. He tosses a blanket over her, and goes to pour her something. A drink, if she has anything decent. Water, if she doesn’t. He turns out the lights so the high-definition TV illuminates the dark apartment. Then he joins her on the couch, scoops her onto him. She’s never noticed how scrawny he is, before. How thin.

He strokes her hair and makes soothing noises without changing his voice.

Genevieve: She’s dead weight in his arms. She doesn’t touch the drink he poured—wine, she has nice wine, she’d brought back a bottle from Paris (if that was even real, she thinks)—though it isn’t for lack of want. Her head rests on his shoulder, eyes focused on nothing. For all the times he’d ‘diddled her’—his words—she’d never actually been comfortable on his lap. She’d wanted this for a long time, though. It’s easy to relax against him. To let him soothe her with his touch and voice, to let the musical numbers from the show wash over her and make her, if not forget, then ignore.

It’s almost nice.

Sterling: It is, isn’t it?

When it’s over, he whispers in her ear. “I’m sorry. I made a mistake, tonight.”

Genevieve: “Don’t go,” she says to him. She tucks her face against his neck, breathing him in. She’s not so stiff as she was before. Relaxed, almost.

Sterling: His stubble tickles her forehead.


He stays with her, warming her. “I don’t like hurting you, Gen. Not like that. I’ll be smarter next time.”

He runs a hand under her blouse, over her bare back. “You’ll be better tended. Like a good conscience is.”

“Such a good conscience.”

“Nearly always right.”

Genevieve: “Nearly?” she asks. “When did I get it wrong? I’ll do better.”

Sterling: He chuckles. “Shush, sweet. What would you like me to do to you, tonight?”

Genevieve: She just wants to stay like this. On his lap. His arms around her. She’d never liked being touched before, not by his kind. It made her skin crawl.

This, though, she can enjoy. She can forget that he was the one who turned her into this quivering mess of nerves this evening, that he triggered the memories that had nearly broken her.

“We could play a game,” she offers. He likes games.

Sterling: “Hmm? A game? And you won’t cheat?”

Genevieve: “I might cheat.”

Sterling: His arm flickers around her, traces a breast with a finger.

“My, my. Daring.”

“I’ll have to watch you carefully.”

Genevieve: His touch sends shivers down her spine. Her nipples stiffen beneath her clothing.

“You already do.”

Sterling: “You’re a pleasure to see. I like beautiful women, and lucky things. And you’re the luckiest ghoul in New Orleans, if I have anything to say about it.”

“What game shall we play? Something with cards, or a board? Something with fingers?”

Genevieve: “Fingers?”

Sterling: “Fingers,” he repeats. He takes one of her hands in his and waggles them.


Genevieve: “…do you have to cut them off to play?”

Sterling: “Not at all.” He adjusts her fingers, shows her his.

“Like this.”

“What shall we play for?”

Genevieve: She can think of a number of things. Secrets, stories, clothing, favors. None of it seems right though. He always wins, too, so it has to be something she doesn’t mind giving up.

She lifts one shoulder in a shrugging movement.

Sterling: “So uncertain?” he chides.

“Why don’t we play for a kiss? If I win, you have to kiss me. And if I lose, I have to kiss you. That seems fair, doesn’t it?”

His fingers move. Glide over her arms, her stomach.

“Of course, I could cheat too. You’re very vulnerable, Genevieve. A very tender conscience.”

Genevieve: “You’re very distracting,” she points out. Her skin pebbles in the wake of his fingertips. Her breath is a little shaky, too. She presses her lips together, as if that will control it.

Sterling: “Distracting? How? Surely my statue doesn’t mind me running my hands along her?”

His hands are up her skirt, then, pinching her bottom before sliding down her thighs, then wrapping around her waist, pulling her against him.

“Hmm. You should find yourself a boyfriend, Gen. Then I won’t have to give you so many… treats. Are we playing, or are you too distracted?”

Genevieve: Her attention lingers on the word boyfriend. She lets her mind wander down that road. That dangerous, dangerous road. What would it be like to date again? To be taken out by someone who won’t mess with her head, or at least not in a supernatural way? Maybe, if things got ugly, Sterling could take that from her too.

“You want me to date?”

How clumsy would their touch be compared to his? What would it even feel like to be with someone again, to do more than just… fingers?

Her cheeks heat. She’s picturing Sterling beneath her, not some faceless guy.

Can he see that?

Oh no.

Sterling: He chuckles. “Is that what you’d like, Gen? Maybe if you win, I’ll let myself be yours for a night.”

His hands stop teasing and adjusting her. They float in front of hers.

“Maybe if you lose, I’ll choose your boyfriend for you. A man should look after his conscience. Or maybe I’ll just play with you for a night, and you won’t be able to tell me how wicked I’m being. I’ll be considerate, in any case. I still feel bad, you know.”

Genevieve: “I thought your kind couldn’t have sex.”

She touches a finger to the back of his hand, then looks back at him.

“If you choose my boyfriend for me, are you going to find someone who doesn’t make you jealous?”

There’s a small smile pulling at the corners of her lips. Maybe she has forgiven him.

Sterling: “Who would make me jealous?”

His hand moves. She feels herself bared from the waist down, her skirt and underthings on her one second, the next draped over the television.

“Is there somebody else you would pick I would disapprove of?” he ponders. “Somebody who could make you their conscience, instead of mine?”

“And believe me,” he says, his rough voice amused. “We can perform, if properly motivated.”

One hand awaits hers to play. The other traces her ass from her belly-button.

Genevieve: “Someone you—”

The rest of the words go unsaid. She covers herself with both hands, thighs pressing together around her arms. As if that will stop him.

“D-don’t tease, Sterling, that’s not. Not nice.”

Sterling: He laughs. “So earnest. Finish your sentence before you tell me about teasing.”

He pinches her again, his irregular breaths tickling her neck.

Genevieve: “Someone younger.”

She jumps when he pinches her, swatting at his hand. Then she realizes she is no longer covering herself and does so again. She scowls at him.

Sterling: He bites her, drinks for a moment. When he licks her wound clean, he’s practically purring.

“I like how you taste when you’re a little wound up. A little indignant. You need both hands to play, you know.”

“Someone younger? Do you think I’m an old man?”

Genevieve: “Yes.”

But she’s grinning, either from the teasing or the way he’d just drawn from her. She has to take a breath before she moves her hands away from herself, holding them out to play. One finger extended from one hand, she thinks that’s how he said to start.

Sterling: “Well, you know what they say about playing old men.”

They play.

He wins, like he so often does. But she has him for a moment. More than a moment, even. Maybe because he’s enjoying the expression on her face too much.

“You’re good, when you don’t worry about silly things. If I’m to pick a boyfriend for you, you’ll have to get over this shyness. But I hope you don’t. It’s very charming.” He spanks her, lightly. “What makes you think I’m old? Is it my touch?”

Genevieve: Silly things, like being half naked on his lap. She’s going to tell him, one day, that he should play naked. She doesn’t think it will bother him though.

Still, when he wins she can’t help but pout, then yelp as his hand connects to her. She shoots him a wounded look, though it’s all for show.

“No. You called it a TV library.”

She almost giggles again. He can see it start, but it’s not the same as it was in the theater.

“Are you? Going to pick someone for me, I mean.”

“I went… um. I went on a few dates.”

“There’s an app for that.”

Sterling: “I heard,” he says wryly. “And I died at the turn of the century. It was a time of cable. Were they good dates? Were they good enough for you? I suppose you aren’t so pliant for them as you are for me.”

“I’d almost think you like me, Genevieve. Wouldn’t you like a boyfriend? To distract you?”

His hand wanders. Feels the shape of her.

Genevieve: I do like you, she almost tells him.

Almost. It’s there, on the tip of her tongue, there in her thoughts. The thoughts that he so carelessly reads. The mind that he breaks into on a whim.

The body he touches without a care for how it makes her feel.

He’d never hurt her. Not like that. And though she could not stand the touch of these things, though she had once said she would rather cut her wrists than ever be subject to that torture, she doesn’t pull away. She leans in instead. Her thighs part. She’s his. She wants him. And it’s a shameful thing, that wanting. It makes her feel… wanton.

“No,” she tells him, finally, “they were terrible.”

Sterling: “And what was so terrible about them? Were they handsy?”

He plays with her, as if to demonstrate.

Wanton, maybe. But so happy, too.

Genevieve: She shakes her head at him, though it’s a brief movement lest he think it due to his hands.

“No.” Her voice is breathy, panting. “They were just awful people. One of them asked if I’m white all over. Before drinks even arrived.”

Sterling: “Oh, how crass. And what did you tell him?”

Genevieve: “I smiled coyly and waited until the drink arrived so I could pour it on him.”

Sterling: Sterling laughs, a real laugh. “You make me proud.”

His fingers speed up, pass like lightning over her, as if to emphasize his point.

“So much more fun to pamper than to punish, my little Conscience.”

“I’ll find you a good lover. One who treats you right.”

Genevieve: It could be him. But he has a paramour, she knows, and for all his talk of being able to perform with the right motivation she doesn’t think he actually enjoys the act of sex itself. So she’ll take his fingers, his mouth, whatever else he wants to share with her, and she’ll be grateful for it, and she’ll show him how grateful she is with the noises that she makes, the way her back arches, the way her eyes close as she comes apart in his arms, on his lap, her head thrown back to expose the long, pale line of her throat.

Sterling: "Good Genevieve. Very good… "

Genevieve & Sterling I, Chapter III
A Dish Served Hot

“Say you’re sorry, Brittney."
Genevieve Ellison

Wednesday, 17 April 2013, PM

Sterling: It is a week later, to the minute. The Man with the Silver Smile has many flaws, but unpunctuality is not one of them.

There are three short knocks at her door.

Genevieve: Gen has to move Ash out of the way with her foot before she can open it. The puppy huffs at her and sits on his haunches, and she reaches for the door, unsure of what to expect on the other side.

Sterling: It’s Sterling. And he’s brought… her. Glassy-eyed and oblivious behind him.

“Ah, Madam Genevieve,” he says, bowing and flourishing the cane that she knows by now holds a sword. “May we enter?”

Genevieve: Gen steps backwards, away from the door. A vague gesture of her arm welcomes the two them into her home.

Brittney. Fucking. Mitchell.

She looks the same, if that’s possible. How is that possible, even? Gen hasn’t seen her in years. She had stopped aging, though. Brittney just looks… plastic. Her pencil straight black hair is going gray at the roots, which means she’s due for a touch up soon, but the rest of her looks like it has seen the sharp side of a surgeon’s knife. Short, sculpted, pretty in a vacant sort of way. Though that might just be the look in her eyes, Gen notes.

Not that it’s any different than it was in high school.

Her tan is real. She’s got that going for her.

“What?” Gen looks at Sterling.

Sterling: “Up to you,” he says happily, and closes the door.

“Brittney, go sit on the couch.”

She does so with slow, plodding steps.

“Remind me what it was she did to you again? All the things she did to you?”

Genevieve: “You ever see those movies about girls in high school? You know the kind. New girl, befriended by mean girl, mean girl turns out to be mean girl, fake surprise twist.” Gen’s voice is calm, even.

“It wasn’t like that. She was my friend. Yeah, she sat next to me on a dare, but then we were… friends.”

Something twists inside of her.

“Until we weren’t. Third through eighth grade we were inseparable. Did everything together. I was in gymnastics, so she wanted to be in gymnastics. She was good. I was better,” Gen’s eyes flick toward Sterling, “but she was good. That wasn’t good enough for her, though. She didn’t like coming in second. There was another girl, Brittany. They thought they were so cute together with their matching names. They had it out for me. But this one,” Gen jerks her chin at Brittney, “she was the little ringleader. Started telling people all about me. Adopted. Unloved. Alien. White pussy. Told people my mom slept with the coach and that’s how we afforded lessons. That I slept with the coach so that’s how we afforded lessons. That I was so good on the beam because I was used to thick things between my legs.”

Her smile lacks humor. She’s never been this cold before.

“None of that really bothered me, you know. People always talked. Albino. Freak. Alien.” She shrugs. “What bothered me was the pranks. Itching powder in the chalk. Cutting up my leotards so they split during vault. Embarrassing things, really. Until they weren’t.”

She levels her gaze at Sterling.

“Did I tell you what prevented me from going to the Olympics? Because I should have, you know. I was good. Very good. People think I just didn’t make the cut. But that wasn’t the case, was it, Brit? I did make the cut. Right here.” She holds out her hand. There’s a very faint, thin scar that starts at her wrist and extends halfway down her forearm. “Palmaris longus. There’s not a lot of them on this side, so when you cut one it hurts. It hurts real bad.”
Genevieve: “There’s not a lot you do for wrist injuries. Ice. Rest. But who has time to rest with the Olympics coming, right? And all of our events include wrist mobility: vault, floor, uneven bars, beam. There’s no getting away from it. But when you can’t hyperextend your hand?”

There’s another slow shake of her head.

“That was it. Years of work. Ruined. She didn’t even compete, either, because she didn’t make the team. ‘Lacks imagination.’ ’Doesn’t stick her landings.’”

Sterling: “Sounds like you have some thoughts,” Sterling says mildly.

Genevieve: “I mean, really, maybe I should thank her. Wouldn’t have gone to UCLA without her. Wouldn’t have met Michael. Wouldn’t be here, now. Right?” She makes a sound. It might be a laugh.

Sterling: He looks to Brittney, and crosses to her in a few quick strides. He crouches and looks into the woman’s vacant eyes.

”Obey all commands beginning with your name. Wake up.”

The woman’s eyes open. She blinks. “What the fuck?”

Sterling: Sterling looks back at Genevieve. “Your ball, my conscience.”

Genevieve: She fantasized about this day for a long time. Every time she had to squeeze that stupid ball in the doctor’s office she imagined it was Brittney’s throat. Every hour she spent doing mobility and wrist exercises instead of practicing at the gym it dug a little deeper. For years she carried around that rage and hatred. The entire year of ’92, and then again in ’96, she dreaded listening to and watching the coverage.

“Isn’t that supposed to be you?” people would say when the gymnastic events began.

That knife had dug deep. Both of them, the one in her wrist and the one that twisted in her gut every time she had to hear something about the girls who had gone on. In the gym there was no escaping it. At school there was no escaping it. And there was Brittney. Always. Taunting. At school, at the gym, everywhere.

Like here, now, in the home that’s supposed to be hers. That’s supposed to be safe from things like this, from memories like these. The anger she thought she’d feel is… missing. Flat.

“As your conscience,” Gen says slowly, “I must advise you that this feels distinctly vengeful.”

Sterling: “It is,” he agrees cheerily. “Distinctly. Vengeance gets a bad rap, you know. It’s rather thirst-quenching.” He blinks. “Although, to be fair, that might only be when you’re drinking them.”

“What the fuck?” Brittney asks, louder. “Who—“ her eyes meet Gen’s. “G-genny?”

Genevieve: “Oh good, you remember me.” Gen smiles a little broken smile at the woman. Then she jerks the sleeve of her shirt back, thrusting her arm with its scar beneath her nose. “Do you remember this?”

Brittney’s eyes are wide. She shakes her head back and forth, lifts her hands as if to ward off the two of them.

“It was a joke, it was just supposed to be a joke, you weren’t supposed to get hurt—”

“You twisted the knife! What sort of joke is that? You had him hold me down and you dug it in there—”

She’s cut off by the sound of Brittney’s laughter.

“So what? So what? Did you think you had a chance at anything? That anyone saw you as more than a freak? You think the United States wanted your pasty ass representing them? You’re nothing. You’re an embarrassment. You’re—”

Gen’s fist takes her in the face. Brittney topples backwards and Gen is on her in an instant, furniture knocked aside as the two women roll around on the floor. The bitch is no match for the ghoul, though. She’s bigger and stronger besides. Soon Brittney is flat on her back while Gen unleashes on her from above. Both of them are screaming.

There’s nothing pretty about it.

Sterling: Maybe he should step in.


He scoops up Ash before the pooch can scurry away from him and tickles the canine’s belly. “Shh. Sorry I was in a bad mood last week.”

Meanwhile, Brittney’s spitting blood. “What the fuck! What is this! You freaky albino bitch, I’ll get you arrested for this, my brother-in-law’s a cop, you stupid cun—“

Genevieve: Gen knows how to throw a punch to make it hurt. Brittney’s nose flattens with a crunch before she can finish the word, and anything after that is lost in a nasal whine. Teeth fly out of her mouth on the next blow. Gen’s knuckles are bloody by the time she rolls off of her and to her feet.

“Get up.” The girl just groans. She doesn’t move. There’s still some fire in her eyes, though, and Gen has a cure for that. “Brittney, get up.”

Sterling: Brittney gets up, eyes full of hatred.

And fear.

Genevieve: Convenient trick. Gen is going to have to ask Sterling to teach it to her.

But she isn’t interested in the slow shuffle of a woman following commands. Her hands fist through that long, black hair and she drags the bitch into the kitchen. Tells her to stand in front of the stove. Gen leans forward and flips one of the knobs to the side. The igniter clicks three times before the gas lights, blue fire wooshing to life.

“Say you’re sorry, Brittney.”

There’s no supernatural command there.

Sterling: “Wha’ da FUCK?!” Brittney squeals.

“Ooh, that didn’t sound like sorry,” chimes in Sterling. Ash is happily nibbling on his wrist and slurping at the stuff coming out.

Sterling: “Ah’m sorry! Ah’m SORRY!”

Genevieve: “Doesn’t really sound like you mean it, Brit. Tell you what. Why don’t you pick one? Your hands or your face.”

Sterling: Sterling whistles. The choice. She really has been paying attention.

“Wha—wha, ‘oo bitch! ‘Oo BITCH!”

Genevieve: “I can pick for you. Brittney, hold your hands over the fire. Just until you feel the heat. Then you’re gonna move it down every time I tell you to, how’s that?” Gen smiles. It’s a pretty smile. Shows all her teeth, something Brittney lacks now.

“What did you do after high school, Brit? Go off to college? Stick with gymnastics? You didn’t. You know how I know you didn’t? Because I looked you up. You only ever did it because I did it, isn’t that right? We did everything together. Brittney, put your hands closer to the fire. You feel that heat? Did you know,” she says slowly, “that it takes seven seconds for human skin to catch on fire? One hundred and forty degrees for fat to start melting. How much work did you have done, Brit? I think you’ve missed a spot. I could take care of that for you.”

Genevieve: “So I guess,” Gen continues conversationally while the woman squirms, “I guess I kind of want to know why you thought it was okay to mess up me when it wasn’t even something you went after anyway. Because that just seems like a waste. That seem like a waste to you, Brit?”

The only answer is a shriek.

“Huh. No. That doesn’t sound right.”

Genevieve: “Brittney, tell me, does that seem like a waste?”

Sterling: “How do you think she learned all that, Ash?” Sterling coos. “She’s very smart. And you’re a very thirsty dog. Yes, you are. Yes you are.”

“Puh-PLEASE!” Brittney screams. “Ah’m sorry! Ah’m SORRY!”

But she puts her hands closer to the fire. When the heat gets more intense, she tries to move them away. But it’s easy to hold her there.

Genevieve: “Huh. Doesn’t sound right. Brittney, put your hands a little closer. Why don’t you just touch the grate, actually. Dip your hand in, we’ll see if that seven seconds thing is really true. Touch it and you’re free, Brit.”

“If you don’t, Brit, I’m going to hold your face over the fire. Eyelid skin is the thinnest skin. That’ll melt. Your eyeballs will turn to goo, then just drip out of your head. I guess it won’t matter what the rest of your face looks like since you won’t be able to see it. But hey, if we walk down the street together maybe they’ll stare at you for a change. What do you think, Brittney? Think they’ll call you freak?”

That smile has turned manic. She grips Brittney by the hair, turns her face around so she can look into her eyes.

“Think of what a waste that would be.”

There’s a final act of defiance. A final curse slung at her from Brittney. Good thing it’s a single syllable, because that’s all the girl has time for. Gen lets go of her hair. She grabs the wrist instead and forces it down into the fire. Skin sizzles, blisters, and melts. Brittney screams. She struggles backwards and Gen lets her go, watching the girl cry on the ground. Her right hand is a twisted mass of crackled, red skin. The smell is the worst of it. Acrid. Pungent.

Gen’s hand is burned too, red and raw and glistening. She reaches out with the other one to turn off the stove to hide the grimace. She takes a breath to gather herself, then turns to find Sterling.

“Get her out of my house.”

Sterling: He does, but it takes a while. He shoos Ash away and talks to Brittney for a while. He explains how she was walking home from work, when she was assaulted by a homeless man in an alley. He had a lighter and a jar of gasoline and he held her down while she screamed. His teeth were yellowed and cracked. But nobody came. Her hand burnt. She must have run to the hospital in shock, when it was all over.

”Go there now,” he says, and she goes, her ruined hand hanging limp and loose.

It takes a while. He’s very thorough with the details.

When she’s gone, though, the smell still lingers.

He turns those dollar-green eyes to Gen.

“So you did learn something, in the years he kept you.”

Genevieve: She does not listen to him in the other room. She does not hear what he says, does not think about what she just did to the woman who, so long ago, ruined her life.

Maybe she thought he would fix it before he sent her on her way. Maybe she thought she would have time to run her hand beneath the lukewarm water—not cold, she had learned that lesson—before he returned.

Now her hand is burning at her side, and it is with every bit of concentration and focus that she does not look at it, that she meets his eyes instead. Is that judgement in his voice? She lifts her chin, defiant.

“I would be a poor student if I had not.”

Sterling: “And you are anything but that, Gen,” he says. “I’m impressed, further. Morality costs nothing from people who do not know the taste of sin. That you’re such a good conscience speaks to your strength of character. Or perhaps your flexibility.”

Genevieve: “The world isn’t black and white, as much as some wish it were so.”

Her hand throbs. She looks down at it.

“It had a price.”

Sterling: “It always does,” Sterling says. “Except in a wager, if course.”

“Are you going to tell me what a wicked thing I’ve done, tonight? Tempting my own conscience so?”

Genevieve: “It was,” she tells him, “it was a wicked thing to do. To bring her into my home. To tell me to let go, to do what I wanted.” Someone else might be shaken by these events. But Gen just looks at him, expression cool.

“Thank you. For the satisfaction.”

She holds out her hand. Her mangled, burned fingers. They had caught the edge of the flame. Nowhere near as bad as Brittney’s, but still red, raw, weeping. It hurts. Her fingers tremble. Her whole arm shakes.

“Have I earned a drink?”

Sterling: “You tell me, O Captain of my Soul.”

Genevieve: “Do you want that third step?” She regards him with head slightly tilted. “Do you want me to be bound to you? Obsessed? Unable to get you out of my mind? Do you think I am, perhaps, not already there?”

It scares her, that thought. Being completely beholden to him. She’s been there before. He’d seen here there before. A puddle of uselessness while they waited for it to fade from him, the other, the one whose name she doesn’t even think now.

“I don’t think you do,” she answers for him. “I think you like that I have my own will, to be honest. If I’m tied so tightly around you, how will you know if what I say is the truth or if it’s just what you want to hear?”

Sterling: He inclines his head. “I want my conscience honest, and grateful, and safe from poachers,” he says. “The bond would supply two, but not all three. And yet, I wonder if you want me as your domitor enough to only be half-bound. Rather a risk, I suppose.”

Genevieve: “You mean you can’t see the answer inside my head?”

Sterling: “I don’t read your mind all the time, Gen. The same reason I let you wear clothes most of the time.”

“Even though you look delicious without them.”

Genevieve: Some of that heat moves from her hand to her face.

“Then you’re not in there now? You don’t see what I’m thinking?”

What she’s remembering. His hand up her skirt. His lips on her neck. The delicate shudder that runs down her body at the memory.

Sterling: “Mmm,” he purrs. “Well, you know what they say about inviting my kind in. Would you like an encore, tonight? One that doesn’t end in cheating?”

Genevieve: “I can hardly cheat with fingers melted together.”

Sterling: “Then let’s fix that.” He tears open his wrist with his fangs, lets the vitae spill out over his shoes, the floor. “You don’t mind getting on your knees for me, do you?”

Genevieve: Her eyes shut for a brief moment. There are glasses in the kitchen. But this is hardly the first time he has done this to her, and she swallows whatever pride she has left. She drops to her knees in front of him, then lower, onto her stomach, to lick the vitae from the floor. As soon as it touches her tongue she forgets what it was she was so upset about in the first place. There’s not a drop that goes to waste, not a single platelet that she doesn’t lap up from the floor… and then his shoes. Her lips and tongue suck and slurp and lick until they’re clean, until it’s gone, and when she looks up at him again her mouth is bereft of any trace of it.

Her hand is fixed, healthy and whole, but Gen remains on her knees. This is where he put her.

Sterling: “Good conscience,” Sterling coos. “Sweet conscience. I don’t want to humiliate you, you know. You’re just so pretty down there.”

He pets her head, like she might Ash.

“Now, I think you’ve earned a treat. Would you like me to finish what I started, Gen? Or would that be immoral? To play with you the way I’d like to, even if you’d like it too?”

Genevieve: There’s something soothing in the way he speaks to her, even when it’s like a dog. Any shame she might have felt at being on her knees is gone. He didn’t have to beat it out of her; he just had to show her that she likes it down here.

“Is it?” she asks. “What you want? Or would it be a pity thing?”

Sterling: “Am I a monster moved by pity, Gen? You know me well enough by now. I am sentimental, but I appreciate beautiful things. And you are a beautiful thing.” He touches his fingers to her chin. “Follow me. I’ll show you.”

There’s a mirror in her apartment. Maybe it doesn’t see much use, but even a freak like her wants to check her appearance every once in a while. Sterling leads her there. She knows his kind don’t normally appear normally in mirrors, but this time he does. She can see his eyes twinkling at the top of the mirror, his chin resting on her head.

Before she can do much more than see that, she feels the buttons on her pants coming undone, her blouse being cleared from her shoulders.

He undresses her quickly, gently, perfunctorily, tapping her feet when he wants her to step out of things. Like he might a living doll.

She stares at herself in the mirror, naked, held by the monster.

Genevieve: It’s an effort to keep her eyes on the mirror. She doesn’t want to look at herself. She doesn’t want to see herself bared, especially knowing that he is looking, too. But he has her in such a way that it’s impossible for her to cover herself with hand and arm, and so she keeps her eyes averted instead, ignoring the way her heart flutters, ignoring the skin that prickles beneath his cool touch.

She doesn’t look, so she doesn’t see what he does. There is no beauty there. Just hard lines, awkward angles, not enough padding. She turns her eyes away.

Sterling: “Look, and see what I see,” he purrs, and touches her chin, gently forcing her to see.

“Beauty. Like a statue. But no statue ever tasted so good.”

He runs his fingers, cool but not cold as other monsters’, over her. All of her.

“So precious. So shy, even for so much beauty. Did your husband not tell you you were beautiful, Gen?”

Genevieve: She changed her mind. If this is what it means to be bound to him she doesn’t want it. She shakes her head. With her chin in his grip it’s a tiny movement, and it ends abruptly when he trails them down.

She almost tells him to stop. The words are in her mouth, ready to be set free if only she were to open it, but she doesn’t. Not until he asks.

“No,” she tells him.

She can’t remember a time when her husband had said that to her. Their wedding day, maybe, when she’d been dolled up. He’d never done this.

Sterling: “No? Then he did not know what he had.”

He drinks from her, and starts playing. He plays with everything, this man with a silver smile.

But this time, he finishes. She finishes.

“Beauty,” he whispers in her ear, as she’s made to watch.

Genevieve: There’s a moment where maybe she believes him. When his teeth sink into her and she comes apart in his arms, when every tightly wound bit of her unravels and it’s because of him, she believes him. That he thinks she’s beautiful. That she is beautiful.

Beautiful, and his.

There’s a certainty with which she knows that now as the sounds leave her body. She was made for him. For this moment. To be in his arms, bared to the world, with his hands on her and his eyes on her and his mouth on her. She doesn’t think anything will ever come close to this bliss.

Except that third step. And when it’s over and she’s trembling in his arms, her knees weak, her eyes on him in the mirror, she asks him for it.

Sterling: “Ah, my sweet,” he says, and he’s carrying her, carrying her naked body, to her bed. "Inevitably, I will. Of course I will. But now, rest. Be happy. And be my conscience. The nights ahead are dark, and I will need one… "

He tucks her in, strokes her fondly. Even kisses her forehead.

“Beauty,” he says again. “Now become a sleeping beauty. Sleep.”

Genevieve: The darkness claims her quickly. She is out, and in her dreams she sees herself as he does.