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Blood & Bourbon

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Genevieve & Sterling I, Chapter II

“You make a good Conscience, Gen."
The Man With The Silver Smile

February—March 2013

Sterling: He gives her what she wants.

And gives, and gives, and gives.

Maybe she asks for more ridiculous things, more absurd privileges. The yacht? Easy. He wins it in a craps game with a capo. A pony? He’ll make sure to buy her a range to ride around. That rocket ship? It’ll be hard, but he knows a Kindred with ties to NASA. It’ll take a few years to get him in his pocket, naturally, but if she’s willing to wait…

Vacations, even. When she asks about what would happen if she ran away, he laughs.

And she never does. Not when she’s across the world with enough money to make a go of things, not when she’s out of his reach entirely, not when he all but gives her permission to abandon him.

Why doesn’t she leave?

Genevieve: That first time she’d boarded the plane she’d still thought it was a joke. That he’d somehow be waiting for her on the other side of the world, that he’d sent a tail, that her very body was lit up with some sort of tracking device that would call her back at any moment. She’d expected to be dragged back, kicking and screaming, and thrown into a dank basement somewhere.

But that didn’t happen. She’d had a marvelous vacation. Her thoughts were still with him, of course, even while she laid out on the beach, even while she ate chocolate croissants, even while she saw plays she didn’t understand the words to because they were in foreign languages. She found herself calling him from the phone he’d given her on day three, checking in to make sure that everything was okay. Two days later she was on a flight back, and he’d sent a car to pick her up from the Louis Armstrong International Airport. He’d asked how it went when she got home.

She told him the truth. That she’d missed him. She worried about him. She thought about what had happened to her before, the stories she had heard the other ghouls tell each other, and she’d realized that she had it good. There was no world in which her normal, boring, human life let her enjoy the comforts like this, with the amenities she asked for, the yacht, the parties, the money, the vacations. He never touched her, not like that, never bit off her finger and spat it at her, never gave her to his new packmates to practice reigning in the Beast. Really, he doesn’t ask for much.

She tells herself that if she leaves she’ll always be in hiding. She’ll be on the run, afraid, never sure of who she can trust, where she can sleep. She tells herself she stays to fix him, because she can make him a good person, show him what he’s doing is wrong.

She lies to herself.

Some deep part of her knows the truth: she enjoys it. The privilege. The admiration. She likes being looked at without disgust.

Sterling: The longer the leash, the more eagerly she comes back to her owner.

He’s endlessly amused by her attempts to fix him. Her tight, curt condemnations when they’re alone. He doesn’t punish her for them.

Occasionally, he even seems to listen.

There’s a lot to fix, too, as she comes to learn. He’s a mobster, or so tightly entwined with them as to make it hard to tell the difference. She accompanies him on his hunts a few times. It turns out he stalks gambling addicts at their support groups, isolates them, gives them lucky numbers—and when he gives somebody lucky numbers, they work. He says its about punishing hubris, about teaching them to be thankful for what they have. The few times they don’t give in to temptation, he leaves them be.

But that’s very, very rare.

He’s a moneylender, too. No, that’s the wrong word. A loan shark, more like. People come to him in his seedy gambling den, and they ask in quavering tones for ridiculous sums. They call him the Wizard, Mr. Oz, Mr. Goldilocks, because he always has a fix, always knows the numbers that are just right.

The other mobsters, the real ones high up, call him Smiles.

She sees him turn down pleading men desperate to start a business. When asked why, he’ll say their ideas were boring. The same night he’ll give a thug seed money for a drug buy, in return for points on the package, as long as he expands his territory somewhere interesting.

He runs a numbers racket. It’s his steadiest source of income, next to his frequent high-stakes gambling. He milks desperate people for their petty cash and brings in ten times what he pays out. Hope is a powerful drug, he says.

When people can’t pay him back, he does things to them. Rarely does he maim them. That’s too easy. Instead, he makes them sell their homes, their businesses. He entraps them further in a web of obligations. Occasionally, he adds them to his herd. Or he ghouls them. He goes through most of those ghouls quickly. He offers them as stakes in games with other vampires. Occasionally, he kills one himself.

He’s a monster, like he told her. But he likes that she tells him what she thinks of him, when they’re alone.

“You make a good Conscience, Gen,” he tells her. “I suppose I’ll have to start calling you Connie.”

And that is that.

He makes her responsible for his soul.

Genevieve: On the list of “terrible things my domitor has done,” calling her Connie doesn’t even make top fifty.

Still, she hates it. She’s pretty sure he only does it because he knows she hates it, too, and enjoys the way she flinches, purses her lips, or otherwise makes some tiny annoyed sign with her face. It’s usually all the reaction people get out of her these days, especially when she’s around anyone but him. With him the mask comes down. Sometimes she even smiles.

She’s not smiling the day he killed the man. She’d been there. Watching. Told him not to, even, not that he had listened. She doesn’t even remember why he did that first time. Something about defaulting on a loan, no collateral, not even fun to ruin. Does it matter? She’d watched. It was… awful.

Like being back with the wild bunch of mongrels all over again. She’d told him that, too, when they were alone. That he’s no better than the dogs in the Sabbat if that’s what he’s going to do.

It hadn’t landed well.

Sterling: No. Normally he laughs, or affects a wounded stare at her criticisms. But when she compares him to his cousin, to her old tormentor, she sees it for a moment, in his eyes.

The hurt.

Genevieve: There’s a moment where she thinks she should back down. Where she should apologize, tell him that isn’t what she meant, of course he’s not that bad, she’s sorry.

But she doesn’t. She hears the screams in her head and she knows that she’s right. He’s a monster. She tells him so.

Sterling: It’s a few nights before he calls upon her again, his expression blank. Since she’s so over him, he says, he’s loaning her to a friend of his. If she likes him better, maybe he’ll let him have her.

His friend is one of the ugly ones. The really ugly ones. His mouth looks like he has some kind of cancerous, industrial-strength herpes. His eyes are a sickly green that glitter with cruel amusements. She’s seen him before. He’s in Sterling’s coterie. Normally, he wears a different face. But not tonight. Not for a mere, freakish ghoul. He’s noticed her, too.

He plays with her, that night.

He makes her do things. Crawl through things. The smells alone make her want to cry.

He makes her do things, with… with…

Sterling’s waiting at her apartment, when she’s finally allowed back to it. Dripping with filth and reeking of her punishments.

“So,” he says. “What have we learned?”

Genevieve: The ugly one told her that he was going to fix her. He didn’t understand why she was crying, why she kept screaming. He told her it was annoying.

So he took her tongue.

When she wouldn’t smile for him he carved one into her face. It’s almost as wide as Sterling’s. It’s like the guy in the movie, the one with the clown makeup.

There was worse, but that’s what’s visible on her face when she comes back to Sterling. The thin scar spreading outward from the corners of her mouth. He’d broken her, but he’d put her back together too, and then he’d handed her back to her domitor as if he hadn’t scarred the rest of her more than he had her face.

She doesn’t look at Sterling when she gets back to the apartment. She can’t. She makes to move past him, but his words stop her.

Eyes on the ground, she tells him that she’s sorry, that she didn’t mean it. Her voice is thick, choked with tears.

Sterling: “Oh, Connie,” she hears him say, in his real voice, his cigarette-burned drawl, “I’m sorry, too.”

He feeds her well that night, more than she needs to heal, and stays with her in the hour or so before the sun rises. Soothes her, hugs her. She drinks straight from his veins. Her bond tightens, though there’s still some room left for it to tighten further. A noose half-tied.

He even offers to take some of the memories, if she likes.

He knows she’ll remember the lesson.

Genevieve: There’s no more pretending she’s something other than she is. She is scum. Less than. Nothing. It was drilled into her with the ugly one, and now he does it again: she’s only comfortable because he lets her be.

She doesn’t want the memories, she tells him. She doesn’t want to know what was done to her. What she had to do. The things—

She tucks her face against him. It’s the only time she’s touched him when she wasn’t being fed.

“Please take them.”

But if he takes them, how will she avoid it in the future?

Sterling: He explains, stroking her face, that she’ll remember this. How she felt, when she apologized. How resolved she was.

How much he loves his little Conscience, and never, ever wants to let another monster hold her again.

She does remember that, when she wakes up. She remembers going to the club, too. The horror, he can’t take. The disgust. The trauma. The mental scars are still there.

But when the sun rises that morning, she’s able to forget the wounds that left them.

The lesson remains.

In more ways than one.

He doesn’t kill people for neglecting their debts, anymore.

Genevieve: She doesn’t do it again. She never does it again. She’ll be better.

That’s what she tells herself.

She’s the lucky one.

And maybe his debtors are, too, when he stops killing them. But she doesn’t like the way his coterie looks at her anymore, and sometimes, when the one draws near, she’s pretty sure he’s leering at her. She starts begging off rather than be around him. When that doesn’t work she plasters herself to his side instead. No one can touch her when she’s right next to him.

Maybe that was the lesson, too. Only he can keep her safe.

Sterling: He does keep her safe.

She’s his Conscience, after all. Where would he be without her?

He lets her take a long vacation, after that. He even has somebody deliver a puppy to her front door when she gets back. It’s entirely white, from head to tail.

Just like her.

Genevieve: Its eyes match hers, too. A blue so light they’re almost white. “Glass eyes,” someone at the pet shop told her when she went to get it a collar. Blue, to match its eyes. They asked if she was getting it fixed.

“He’s not broken,” is her response. She lets herself love it.

Maybe she’s happy, for a time. Maybe she stops dreaming about a man lying on a table and a knife in her hand. Maybe she stops sleeping with a nightlight.

Maybe she’s still afraid of Sterling, because her puppy growls at him when he’s around.

Sterling: He takes it all in stride. He feeds the pup a drop of his vitae and it’s content to be around him.

But it’s different now. Her old bond has long faded, and now she dreams of Sterling sometimes. Finds her thoughts dwelling on him, constantly. How she can get him to notice her. Anxiety, over if he’ll find another Conscience.

And gratitude. Of course, the gratitude.

Genevieve: She asks him, one night, what’ll happen to her if he does. If he’ll trade her in a card game to another one of his friends, or if he’ll just… ignore her. Forever.

Somehow, that sounds worse.

She isn’t whole when she’s alone. She’s part of him. His Conscience. Without her, he’d be the monster she thinks he is. She can’t let him get to that point. She makes herself invaluable. Learns how to play the games he plays. Learns the numbers, the percentages, the loans. Trips over herself to find a reason to stay with him.

Maybe it’s enough. She doesn’t have the advantage of being able to read his mind, though.

Sterling: He simply smiles at her and takes her chin in his hand, and whispers in her ear from a foot away without moving his lips at all:

“I could never ignore my Conscience completely, Gen.” It’s been a long time since he’s called her by her real name.

There’s a lot of games. A lot to learn. He says it’s very sweet of her to want to learn. He’s happy to help. He plays with her a lot, too. He always wants a game to play. He often tells her about his night, asks what she thinks of his choices. Is he too cruel? What should he do, to be kinder?

Sometimes he listens. Sometimes he doesn’t. But he rather likes playing with her. Sometimes she even wins, though maybe only because he lets her.

Genevieve: Sometimes, she thinks, it’s embarrassing how easily he can read her thoughts. She doesn’t want him to know how often he is the center of them. Or how hearing her name—her real name, not the nickname he’s given her—sends a thrill through her.

She’s determined to find a game that she can win at. Something new. Something novel. She goes through all the classics with him, chess and checkers, poker, blackjack, and he shows her that the house always wins. She finds novel games to play, too, things from other countries, from joke shops, word games and dice games and card games. The key, she thinks, is to find something where the action is too quick for him to read her mind, or something where his ability to get inside her head won’t matter.

A game of chance. Something that is one hundred percent luck. She’s the luckiest girl in New Orleans, surely she’s got the luck to beat him in a game.

But that’s not very satisfying, is it?

She learns to cheat instead.

Sterling: The first time he catches her, he laughs delightedly, and tells her to cheat better.

The second time, he tsks and tsks, and makes her perform a forfeit. He knows she hates to be looked at. So he makes her take off her clothes. She plays the rest of the night naked, until she can win her clothes back.

His eyes dare her to try and cheat for a third time.

Genevieve: Even with her legs crossed and her shoulders hunched, arms stretched across her torso to cover herself, she can feel his eyes. She doesn’t like it. She doesn’t try to play with him for a while after that. But she finds marks for him, people who do try to cheat, people who need more than they have. Maybe that makes up for trying to deceive him.

Maybe it’ll make up for the third time she tries to cheat him, weeks later, after the humiliation from the second has faded from her mind. She palms a card. It’s smooth. She’s been practicing.

Sterling: “Good,” he says, “very good. I don’t know whether you need a punishment or a reward.”

“Hmm. Maybe a little of both?”

Genevieve: She doesn’t like the sound of that.

“How can something be both?”

Sterling: He just smiles.

He feeds her that night by spilling his vitae along the floor. There’s a lot of it, but she has to crawl and lick it up.

After that, she’s suddenly in his lap. Just like the first night.

“No sex,” he whispers in her ear. “But how long has it been since you’ve been touched?”

His hand wanders slowly up her thigh.

Genevieve: Oh.

She’s very, very still. Her heart might have stopped. In fact, she’s sure that it did, or that it’s about to, because she can’t tell him the answer to that question.

Years. She doesn’t have to tell him. She thinks it and he knows, and her cheeks flare red at the thought, bright spots of color on her otherwise alabaster face.

Sterling: “Too long,” he croons. “Poor, lonely Gen. Faithful Gen. Even a conscience needs to be caressed, every once in a while.”

“You’re beautiful, you know. I wouldn’t have noticed you otherwise. Wouldn’t have rescued you.”

His hand crawls under her skirt, brushes the obstacles his fingers find out of the way easily. Her underwear he pulls and slides down her legs, and he bounces her so that those spread.

He doesn’t touch her though. Not yet.

“Would you like me to help you, Genevieve? Would you like to be touched?”

His other hand crawls up her stomach. Fiddles with her brassiere and cups what he finds underneath.

“Tell me, Gen. You’re so good at speaking your mind.”

Genevieve: Her body arches beneath his touch. She’s pliant, moving as he needs her to, thighs spreading open beneath her skirt. Her back rests easily against his chest, her own rising and falling in short little breaths that do nothing to slow the thrum of her heart.

She should tell him no. That’s the safe play. But she wouldn’t be here if she played it safe. She nods instead, a tiny jerk of her head up and down. Always so vocal, now she’s at a loss for words.

Sterling: “Say it.”

Genevieve: She can’t. She bites her lip, eyes closed, and shakes her head.

Sterling: “Gen,” he says, disappointed. “Say. It.”

Genevieve: “Pleasetouchme.”

Sterling: He does.

He plays her like a violin, like some kind of fine instrument. It helps that he moves so fast, but there’s care and intention there, too.

He winds her tighter and tighter.

He’s feeding on her as he does, and she can feel the pleasure melting her like so much sun on an ice cube.

And then, just when she’s about to shatter, like he said—his fingers stop.

Genevieve: She’s quiet. Restrained. She doesn’t know how to cut loose, even when his fingers dance across her, even when he drinks from her. It’s hard to tell when she’s close. Her breathing is irregular, but the shuddering gasp might be his only clue.

Still, he knows. He stops. And that’s the first sound she really makes, the whimper. It’s torn from her as soon as he ceases.

“No.” Her hips shift, pressing against his hand where she wants it. “Please?”

Sterling: “Ah, ah,” he chastises in that garrulous, higher voice. His hands slide teasingly away, the one below her waist pinching her rear before disappearing from her dress. “Unfair, isn’t it?”

He turns her head to stare into her eyes. “If you cum tonight,” he says, “you won’t see me again.”

And just like that, she knows in her bones that he’s telling the truth.

He taps a finger, still slick, against her face. “Cheating isn’t very satisfying. But you still did a good job of it.”

Genevieve: It’s not fair. It’s downright humiliating when she thinks about it later, after he leaves. Even the cold shower hadn’t done anything to cool her off, and she stares at the ceiling in her bedroom, fingers digging into the blankets beneath her hands.

He wouldn’t know. That’s what she tells herself, the lie she wants to make herself believe, that he wouldn’t know. Except he would. And she’d never see him again. And she wants to see him again. Maybe. Probably. Once she gets over the fact that he—that she was… she can’t even think it. Even alone her cheeks are hot, and she flips over onto her side, body curling beneath the blankets of her bed. She pulls them over her head for good measure. No one can see your shame when you’re under the covers.

But she doesn’t risk it. She doesn’t touch herself, doesn’t dip her fingers beneath the waistline of her panties, doesn’t slide them inside or against or—

“Agh.” She can’t stop thinking about it. Maybe if she’d been more vocal. Maybe if she was prettier. Maybe if she had more chest to grab.

Alone, dissatisfied, she finally falls asleep, and a man with silver in his smile dances through her dreams, laughing at her from behind his hand.

It isn’t fair.

March 2013

Sterling: He doesn’t mention it, if that helps. But there’s a knowing gleam in his eye now. Or maybe it was there before. Or maybe she’s just imagining it.

He seems pleased with her, though. He likes having her by his side. Likes hearing her opinions.

He seems proud of her.

Genevieve: She wouldn’t know about the gleam. She doesn’t make eye contact with him anymore. She avoids looking at him, really, because every time she does she thinks about being spread open on his lap, and she gets a little flustered, and that’s… well, that’s humiliating. She’s gone right back to avoiding touch, too, as if that will do anything, and she dreads the next time he’s hungry and wants to bite into her.

She’s always a step behind, now. Pants instead of skirts. Bras that close at the side instead of the front or back. Shirts that don’t do anything for whatever figure she’s hiding beneath it. She doesn’t think it’ll help if he really wants to mess with her, but it makes her feel better. For a time.

She doesn’t talk much when he’s around, either. It’s the sort of humiliation a person doesn’t really bounce back from. But she does what he asks, otherwise. Runs the number. Finds new gambling addicts for him. Stands behind him rather than beside him, like she used to.

She downloads a dating app on her phone, too. Maybe that’ll take her mind off it.

Three terrible first dates later, she has decided it will not.

Sterling: He doesn’t say anything at first, but she starts to detect a faint frustration in his interactions with her.

Finally, he shows up at her apartment one night with a deck of cards.

“Enough of this,” he says, and waves his hand at her. “You feel despoiled, hmm? Perhaps, violated?”

His can thumps against the floor and punctuates his exclamations. “Perhaps you wish to forget your punishment?”

Her pup—did she ever bother to name it?—sniffs at his shoe. He picks it up by the scruff of its neck and tosses it onto the couch, where it sniffles and cowers.

Genevieve: Of course she named it. His name is Ash, which he would know if he ever bothered to ask her about it, but he doesn’t because he’s too busy finding new ways to punish her for perceived slights. She scowls at Sterling and scoops the terrified pup into her arms, scratching his ears.

“I’m fine. Everything’s fine.” She doesn’t have to look at him when she’s holding the puppy.

Sterling: “Fine,” he squeaks in a falsetto that sounds like it ought to shatter glass.

“Fine,” he says in a simpering whine, but his lips don’t move, and the voice comes from behind her.

“FINE,” snarls a deep, cruel voice from somewhere above.

He advances on her, cane gesticulating wildly. “You would lie to me even now, Gen? My own conscience, afraid to speak her mind?”

The voices around her howl in discordant rage.

Ash squirms and buries his little snout into her neck.

Genevieve: Oh. Oh no.

She clutches the puppy to her chest as if he’s going to save her from this wrath coming her way, one hand on his back, the other beneath his soft belly. She takes a step backward for every step that Sterling takes toward her, shaking her head.

No, no, no.

“Stop it, stop. You’re scaring—” me “—him.”

Sterling: He stops, sniffs her fear. “You still think I’m him,” he says, and he doesn’t bother to disguise his voice, or the sadness in it. “You still think nothing more of me than a monster. You who I rescued. You who I saved.”

The silence that follows his words is pierced only by Ash’s soft whines.

Genevieve: "You used me. You humiliated me. You did—did that, and then you just—you stopped, and you walked away, and you… "

She can’t even get the words out. So unlike her with her cool head, normally so eloquent, without trailing sentences. Now she trips over her words.

“Did you have any idea what that would do to me? What it would—God, it had nothing to do with him, it was everything before him, when I was just a—a freak. Something to laugh at.”

Sterling: “Used you? I punished you, exactly as I promised I would if I caught you cheating again. Are you bitter over a little loneliness?” He tilts his head, eyes narrowed. “Tell me, little conscience Gen, how I might kiss it better? Would you like me to bend you over my knee and diddle you more thoroughly? If you’re so tired of me, tell me, did you finish the job that night? Or did you choose to see me again?”

Genevieve: Something flares inside of her at the offer. She looks away from him.

“N-no. Don’t. Don’t touch me, don’t, just don’t.” She clutches the dog closer to her, his whines drowning out the hammering of her heart.

Sterling: “Answer the question.”

Genevieve: “Of course I didn’t.”

Sterling: “Ah, how flattering. So you do prize my company more than a little burst of your ovaries.”

He doesn’t touch her. But he stands close.

Genevieve: She says nothing. She barely breathes. Her fingers are only still because they’re buried in the fur of the dog.

Sterling: “You think you’re a freak, is that it? That my neglect of you was somehow influenced by repulsion, instead of principle?”

Genevieve: Of course. Of course that’s what it was. She nods.

Sterling: “Then why,” he sighs, “am I so proud of you?”

Genevieve: She has no idea what he’s talking about.

“I don’t know.”

Sterling: “Gen, I called you beautiful. I played a game with you and was so impressed with your attempt to cheat that the punishment was pleasure. I could not have asked for a better conscience. I all but said as much. The only person in this room who seems to think less of you for that night is you.”

Genevieve: “It ended in rejection.”

Like it always did.

Sterling: “It ended in denial, my sweet little conscience. A tease to make you regret your own overeager fingers. If I thought you repulsive, would I keep you by my side? Would I pamper you so? Did you need to finish to understand that you are mine?”

Genevieve: "You made me beg for it. And you saw me. You touched me, you… "

She shakes her head. She can’t explain. He won’t get it. He doesn’t get it now. He explains and she thinks it makes sense, until she pictures herself on his lap like that with his fingers… no. The dog whines again and Gen loosens her grip.

Sterling: “Yes, I touched you,” he says. “You are mine to touch. Mine to expose, mine to display, mine to do with as I wish. Ah, but I see. You feel shame, that I treated you so. Feel mocked, perhaps. Do you think I found it funny, sweet Gen?”

Genevieve: “I wouldn’t know,” she snaps, “I don’t posses the same affinity for trawling through brains that you do. Did you find it funny? Did you enjoy laughing at me afterward with your friends? That Connie was panting like a bitch in heat.” Her voice is a close approximation of his.

Sterling: “Should I have? I thought it was a rather sweet moment between the two of us.”

Genevieve: His answer flusters her all over again.

Sterling: “Oh, Gen,” he says. “So shy. So unsure of yourself. Perhaps I should make you dance nude in Jackson Square. You might see your own beauty in the gasps of your admirers.”

It’s an idle threat, but he likes her when she’s flustered.

“Or perhaps you can tell me how to make it better. My sweet, sweet conscience. Little voice of reason.”

Genevieve: “That’s not—that’s not funny.”

He wouldn’t make her do that. Would he make her do that? He can’t make her do that.

Sterling: Except he can. He might have already, and made her forget it.

Genevieve: Oh. That’s… oh. She’s only realizing that now. Does he see the blood drain from her face, or is she already so white that he can’t tell the difference?

She turns away from him. Ash whines. She shushes him.

“I have to take the dog out.” Anything to get away.

Sterling: He laughs, softly. “Would you be rid of me, then? All your gratitude, your loyalty, gone for a little shame?”

Genevieve: No. No, and that’s the worst part, isn’t it? Not that she feels shame, but that she wanted it, that she couldn’t even finish herself off later because that meant giving up him, too. It’s not shame she’s feeling, it’s rejection. He knows she wants him, and that’s… that’s too much for her. She doesn’t even want him to take away the sting because it means giving up the good part, too.

Sterling: “What would you like, Gen? What treat? What salve? I have no use for a conscience too shamed to speak.”

Genevieve: "I don’t know. I don’t know what will make it better. I… "

She trails off, shaking her head. Takes a breath to compose herself. When she speaks again it’s in the cool, detached tone he’s used to.

“Conflict of interest, I can’t advise you on myself.”

Sterling: “Hmm. I suppose you can’t.”

He pauses.

“Ah, but if there’s no moral way… what was the name of the girl you despised in school? Brittney something or other?”

Genevieve: She considers lying. Instead she tells him yes. “Brittney Mitchell.”

Sterling: “Mitchell, yes. All right. Give me a week. Perhaps then you’ll be… cooler.”

He walks away from her, his conscience.

Perhaps he leaves feeling lighter.

Genevieve & Sterling I, Chapter I
Gilded Cages

“I’m going to make you the luckiest ghoul in New Orleans. If you’ll let me.”
The Man With The Silver Smile

Wednesday, 13 February 2013, AM

Sterling: It’s a nice place.

It’s nicer, than anywhere her last owner could have stayed. Would have stayed? Doesn’t matter. That monster liked to squat, didn’t see much use for finer things.

This monster has finer things to give away. The apartment in Marigny doesn’t look heavily lived in. It has all the trappings of modern life, all the nice things an apartment is supposed to have; a big, expensive-looking television, what looks like a painting on the far side, sleek hardwood floors, stairs leading to an upstairs loft in the corner, and even one of those sculptures in the corner; the ones that exist contorted into an untenable, unending state.

Just like her.

“Welcome to your new home,” the monster says after giving her a moment to take it in.

“I just bought it. Don’t recall how much it cost. Actually, I don’t think I asked. People make such a fuss about the price, but I saw it and had a feeling I would have a use for it soon. So I said, ‘I want it.’ And then I saw your face, and I knew why. You can decorate it however you like, of course. You’ll be the one staying her, most of the time. And it’s right near my other place, or one of them, so we’ll never be too far.”

He strolls in, brandishing the silver-headed cane he carries about the place. He talks with his hands, vividly, almost ceaselessly, his movements flowing like molten steel that’s been poured into the checker-patterned suit he wears, a contiguous, ceaseless ripple of motion that might spill at any moment and scald. Every once in a while, the foot of his cane strikes the hardwood floors softly, a dull thump that punctuates his more emotive exclamations.

When he reaches the center of the room, he pivots to face her, and smiles the smile that she wasn’t sure she had seen right the first time. It’s a smile too crooked to stay on a face, a smile that glints with cursed silver but hides the teeth she knows his kind keep in their mouths.

The smile is all she knows of him. The man with the silver smile has not given her a name yet, but he knows hers. He asked her owner.

“What do you think, Genevieve? Will it suit you?”

Genevieve: She is more akin to the statue in the corner than she will ever be to this… thing, all smiles and grand motions, incessant movement, ceaseless chatter. She is still. Her movements are minimal. She does not gawk at this new place, all wide eyed and craning necks, but looks instead with a flicker of her eyes.

They’re the only thing that give her away, those eyes, the only color in a field of white. Blue, gray, who can tell. Something soft or stormy. They dart around the room, taking it in, categorizing things into little columns to keep them straight. Her brain does it all without her noticing.

Its attention, though, is on the monster in the middle of the room. The tap, tap, tapping of his cane. Trouble, it says. Danger. Every alarm bell inside her head goes off at that smile.

It’s survival strategy, that stillness, brought on by years of experience. Not just with their kind but the ordinary people as well, the people with color in their skin and hair, the people who point, laugh, stare. It keeps her safe, lets her size them up, figure them out. Who can be mad at a marble carving?

A home. He’s giving her a home. A nicer apartment than she could have afforded before, even with two salaries. This has to be a trick. A joke. Any moment now he’ll laugh at her for thinking this is real.

“Yes.” Sir? Master? Lord on High? What sort of obsequious title does this creature demand?

It’s a yes that tells him to get it over with, to finish laughing, to ask how she could be so foolish as to think she deserved anything so nice as her own abode. Perhaps he’ll put her in a closet somewhere. Or throw a pillow over the softest spot of the hardwood floor.

Sterling: He clucks. “Good, good. If you decide it isn’t, we can always get you another.”

He is very quickly close to her—not blurring like quicksilver but simply too quick to step away from gracefully. Up close, she can look him in the eyes, eyes the color of dollar bills and snakeskins. He doesn’t look so cold as her last. His skin might be greyish, but he breathes in rushed little puffs, and blinks regularly.

He snaps his fingers in front of her eyes, breaking-glass loud and heart-attack quick.

Genevieve: She doesn’t do anything so mundane as stumble. She is too nimble for that, though not so immune to their—his—tricks that she does not react. She flinches. The heels of her feet leave the floor, weight shifting forward. Her shoulders lift a fraction of an inch, though her hands remain at her sides.

She tells herself she was just blinking, but her heart hammers away at her ribcage. Thump-thump. He can see the spot on her neck bounce, racing. It gives her away.

Sterling: “Oh, lovely,” he says simply, that smile returning. He’s positively giddy. “Brilliant. You’re strong. I suppose you must be, if you’ve survived a brute like him for so long.”

He whirls about and before she can regain her breath he’s reclining on the couch, fingers laced behind his head and the cane leaning against his leg.

“Hope it’s okay if I sit,” he says jovially. “You can, of course, join me. It’s your place, after all.”

Genevieve: If it’s her place, can she ask him to leave?

There’s a moment where she considers running. The door is right there. The thought is dismissed as soon as it occurs. She hesitates, eyeing the couch, considering his placement. Sit too close and it’s an open invitation, too far away and it’s a snub. Maybe the couch itself is a test and he’ll want to know what scum like her thinks she’s doing sitting on the furniture. It’s a game.

She hates games. The rules haven’t been explained; she’s off balance and she doesn’t like it.

Five short steps take her across the room to the couch and she sinks onto it as if she hadn’t just been debating the merits of where to place herself. Her feet stay flat on the ground, hands on her knees, back straight. She doesn’t want to look at him so her eyes stare straight ahead instead. She can’t help but think about the changes she would make if this were her place. Swap out the art. Find the support beams to add a hook, then a bar or rings. Pad the floor beneath it…

Dreaming is dangerous. She stops.

She should, she reflects, ask what he wants. What to call him. She opens her mouth to do so.

Sterling: “You could run,” the man with the silver smile says as she opens her mouth. “It would force me to do things I don’t want to do, and which you would enjoy even less. Please don’t. And I think padding the floor is a great idea. And maybe a rug, too. If you need encouragement.”

His voice is different. Before it was garrulous and gay, the voice of a socialite. Now it’s dryer, raspier, the voice of a smoker who started young and kept on smoking as he got older. There’s warmth in that voice, but also amusement.

Genevieve: He’s in her head.

The realization slams into her. She shouldn’t be surprised. He had done it too. Watched her dreams. Found out what would make her break, who he could threaten—her thoughts spin away from her before she can think his name or picture his face.

Her pulse jumps up. She swallows, the sound audible in the otherwise silent room.

“I wasn’t going to run.” She moves on, drowning out the lie with a question. “What do you want with me?”

Sterling: “There’s nothing to be embarrassed about,” he says in that same wizened voice. “I’d think about running, too, if I were you. But then, I’ve always had an appetite for risk.” Those money-colored eyes twinkle. “As for you—I daresay I’ve already done what I want to you. I’ve rescued you.”

Genevieve: Rescued. As if he hadn’t just stuck her into another cage.

“A gilded cage is still a cage. ‘Rescued’ implies freedom.” She looks pointedly at the door.

Sterling: The giggle that greets her words is several octaves too high, and it ricochets about her ears impossibly. The man raises an eyebrow. “And what do you think freedom means for you now, in this city? Tell me, doesn’t a part of you long to seek out your abuser, even now? Long to be fed, even if that feeding is followed by a beating? I can smell sin, Gen—shall I call you Gen? I think I shall— and pain, and you have the reek of an addict. I could no more set you free than I could save a dope fiend from themselves.There is no such thing as freedom for a ghoul in New Orleans, or anywhere else my kind hunt. Not really.”

The dry, scraped voice turns somber. “Your boldness does you credit, though. You really were a prize worth winning.”

Genevieve: A prize. A rescue. That’s what she is now. Something to be won, bartered, traded. Bought and sold to the highest bidder, and she has no say in it.

Slave. That’s all the word ghoul means. A pretty way to say slave, another term for punching bag.

Fetch my meal. Carve it up. There’s a sweetheart.

She wants to deny his addict accusation, but his words ring true. How often had she debased herself for a drop of it? Even now she’s thinking about it. Running back to him. His eyes float in front of her, mocking.

She turns her head to finally look directly at this new one, sizing him up. He’s fast, but is he strong? Cane implies weakness. Assisted walking. Had he used it to walk, or is it just a prop?

“That’s what rehab is for.”

Sterling: He didn’t seem to be leaning on it, earlier. “Do you think you can find a rehab for the wayward slaves of vampires? Besides, I am a monster myself, and I have duties to my kind, tedious as I might find them. My old man would have a fit if he learned I had turned a renfield loose so cavalierly. No, Gen, I would much rather employ you generously myself. I think if you really took the time to think about it, you’d prefer that too.”

Genevieve: Her lips curl. “Employ?”

“Is that what you’re calling it these days?”

Sterling: “Such moxie,” the vampire sighs. “Such honesty. Yes, I am another domitor. But I am a gentler and more generous one. Cruelty for cruelty’s sake bores me terribly. I would much rather pamper you and reward you for loyal, faithful service. And though I am a beast, I am also a man. Better a servant rescued from a cruel master than one enslaved for no good but my own whims, hmm? It wears rather lighter on my conscience, inasmuch as I bother to carry one.”

Genevieve: He’d rescued her to feel good about himself. Her nose twitches in withheld amusement. She stays silent, considering. Then, “you meant it about this being my place. That wasn’t a game?” How far does generous go? Actual meals? Days off? Familial—no.

Sterling: “Oh, it’s all a game,” he croons. "But it’s one you’re meant to have fun in. This is your home, now, for as long as you serve me or grow tired of it. And how far generous goes… " he smiles slightly. “If you ask, many things might be given. I’ll tell you what. If you come sit on my lap, I’ll pretend to be Santa and we’ll call it Christmas. I like saying yes. It’s rather a thrill.”

“Or you could stay where you are. There’s no game without choice, after all.”

Genevieve: Any warmth in her eyes dies at the thought of touching him. She turns her face away, chin jerking toward the door.

“If it’s my home, I’d like you to leave.”

Say yes to that, deadman.

Sterling: He laughs. “Cute. So cute. How about we play a game, instead?”

There’s a blur of checkers, and then there’s a glass in his hand. A glass filled with red, syrupy, coppery sweetness. The smell is intoxicating.

The man who is no mere man smiles knowingly at her as he daintily licks his wrist clean. "I bet that you can’t walk me to the door without trying to take a sip. If you win, I’ll go. If you lose… " he tilts his head. “Well. If you lose, let’s just say there’s more where that came from, hmm?”

Genevieve: She’s not listening. Her eyes are on the glass in his hand. Her mouth is dry, so dry, and that will quench it. That will make everything better. That will fix the dull ache inside her chest, the one that started when she’d been told she belonged to someone else now.

If he goes, will he leave the glass? The door can’t be that far. She tears her eyes away from him to find it. When had the room gotten so big? It’s zooming away from her, like something out of a horror movie.

She thinks he moved, too. Gotten closer. Because she can smell it, can almost taste it. That’s not fair. That’s not fair, he cheated—but, no, it’s just her who’s leaning forward, reaching.

She rights herself. Shakes her head. If she’s on his lap she can pin him down. Drink until she’s full. Is the gamble worth it? Is touching him worth it?

She stands.

“Door,” she says tightly, pointing.

Sterling: He smiles, silver teeth flashing, and rises too, proffering his arm—the same arm that holds the glass. “If you’ll walk me.”

Genevieve: She can touch his arm. Arms are fine. Arms aren’t laps. Right? She takes his arm in her hands. So close to the cup, to that sweet red. A sip wouldn’t hurt. Just a taste. He’s quick, though. Is he going to snatch it away? No, he wants her to reach for it.

She tells her feet to move but they won’t. They’re stuck. Heavy. Her eyes close and that makes it worse, because now she’s picturing it, can see herself lifting the glass to her lips. It’s heavy in her hand, warmed by the blood. It will slide so smoothly down her throat…

She doesn’t know when she moved, when her hands closed around the glass, but now she isn’t imagining it in her hands, now her fingers are curling around it and she’s tugging to get it away from him.

Sterling: He lets her take it. A part of him feels bad for her, but better she find out this way than another.

She cannot be free from herself.

The taste is phenomenal, and distinct from her usual “drinks.” His blood makes her hear dice rolling, tastes like all the icons in a slot machine aligning. It tastes like victory, like a kiss from lady luck, like everything is going to be alright.

She lost the bet. But she feels like a winner.

He regards her patiently when the last sip is gone, her lips streaked with his vitae. “Well, now. It seems I’ll be staying a while longer.”

He takes her hands in his and leads her to the couch.

“I’m going to make you the luckiest ghoul in New Orleans,” he clucks softly. “If you’ll let me.”

Genevieve: It’s like that first sip of water after being lost in a desert for months. Divine. It doesn’t linger long on her lips once the glass is empty; she licks them clean, following along with him to the couch. She hadn’t gotten far. One step? Two? She doesn’t pull away, sits when and where he tells her to.

“You said more,” she reminds him.

Sterling: “More?” he asks teasingly, pulling her over his lap, bouncing his knee under her. He taps a finger against her nose, like he might a beloved dog. “What more? Is Gen suddenly thirsty, even in her gilded cage?”

His voice grows deeper, warmer, more rumbling.

Like a belly full of jelly.

“What would you like for Christmas, little Gen?” asks Santa’s voice.

Genevieve: It’s not fair. She wants more. Will her teeth break his skin?

“401k, paid vacation, no holidays, dental and vision included?” Her tone is dry. She arches one white-blonde eyebrow at him. “Should I ask for a pony instead?”

Maybe she can try it. Just bite down. She’s already on his lap. She leans in.

Sterling: He laughs.


He bounces her closer as she leans in, so that she’s right next to his cold neck. She can even feel an uneven, but definite pulse there. “Hard to give a 401k to an immortal, little Gen. And that’s what you’ll be. Paid vacation, sure. Pony, what breed? Ask me for something real, Gen. Something precious.”

He runs his fingers through her hair fondly.

Genevieve: “Diamonds, gold, a yacht. A rocket ship.” Nothing she wants. Just a distraction, something to keep him busy. His neck is right there. Isn’t that the place to bite? Her flat teeth touch down on his cold flesh. Only she doesn’t have anything to break the skin. She doesn’t have fangs. She’s just a ghoul on the lap of a vampire who can read her mind.

Her mouth closes.

She wants to forget the past few years ever happened. She wants to be happy and healthy. She wants her husband, and she wants him to be left alone. She wants the child she had promised him seven years ago. She wants a lock on her bedroom door that this one can’t get through.

She doesn’t say any of that. She doesn’t know how.

She nips at his neck instead.

Sterling: She nips. She can feel his laughter, a low rumble, but it fades quickly. His fingers don’t stop, but they start to caress her cheeks, her forehead. “You want to see your husband? Want him provided for and safe?”

He slips a finger to her lips, almost hushing her. “The neck has tougher flesh than a finger, you know.”

Genevieve: She’s brought back to that time, months ago, it was her finger against his lips. She’d had a dream he didn’t like. He’d heard her crying, hadn’t liked it. He’d—

She yanks away. There’s nothing graceful about it.

Sterling: He lets her, regards her sadly. “Oh, Gen. I’m not going to hurt you.”

Genevieve: Her laugh is nothing more than a disbelieving rasp. “You will. Of course you will. That’s what I’m here for. That’s all I am.” She backpedals. The ground is hard beneath her. Her shoulder hits the coffee table and she winces, rising, edging around it. The door is close. She can get outside. Scream. He was fond of telling her she had a nice set of lungs.

Sterling: “Oh, bother.” He’s past her quickly, between her and the door. “Remain still and silent,” He tells her, and she finds that she does.

“Bother, bother,” the man hums. “Don’t overexert yourself. You’ve had enough for one night, and I have other places to be anyways. I won’t chase you from your new home.”

He carries her. He’s a bit of a scrawny man—more than a bit, a stiff wind ought to bruise him—but he isn’t weak, and he carries her up the stairs to a nicer bedroom than she’s been in in years. He tucks her in, saying soothing things, and then he leans over her. She feels the bite, two pinpricks on her neck, and then the pleasure of his steady, soft pulling from her veins.

When he stops, she’s exhausted, and her eyes are fighting to remain open. “The command will desist with the sun,” she heats him say from a great distance. “I’ll be back tomorrow night, and we’ll play something innocent. I’ll give you time. You’ll adjust. I promise.”

He bends over her again, his lips brushing her forehead. “Try to sleep, Genevieve. And here’s a little apology.”

She can’t see what he does, but when he presses his wrist to her lips, she can drink of the same heady brew he shared earlier.

But this time, when it’s over, his smile swims before her eyes, and it seems rather more charming, marginally less sinister.

“Sleep, little pet. Little Gen. There are a great many clouds in your life, I know.” His voice retreats to the far side of the room. “But I hope in time, you’ll see me as what I am; the silver lining.”

The door shuts behind him. She’s left alone, in the dark, with a comfortable bed.

She’s left alone, in the gilded cage.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013, PM

Genevieve: She’s waiting for him the next evening.

She’s seated on the couch, her eyes on the door, waiting. It’s locked, but there’s no part of it that doesn’t think that he doesn’t have a key or another way in. So she sits, and she waits, and she doesn’t dread his arrival.

She has changed since last night. Her hair is still wet from her shower, her skin still pink from the heat of it. That’s the excuse she’ll use for her red eyes, too, if he asks, though she doesn’t think that he will. The clothes are the right size for her; she’d found them upstairs in the closet, and she wondered how he knew. They’re comfortable. Let her put her bare feet on the couch. The TV is black, but music plays from the radio in the corner, nothing she’s familiar with. She keeps hearing songs she doesn’t recognize.

There’s a piece of paper and a pen in front of her, words scribbled across the page in handwriting that can only be described as “rough.” It’s the list he asked for yesterday, the things she wants. She doesn’t know if the offer is still on the table.

Maybe he’ll know that she tried to run. Maybe he’ll look into her mind and see Michael with the other woman, the beautiful woman, with her tan skin and her dark hair and her eyes that aren’t too far apart, her shoulders that aren’t too broad. Maybe he’ll see the child they share, the one she couldn’t give him.

Maybe she won’t have to explain her broken heart.

Sterling: She’s right that he has a key. He blinks when he walks in.

“And here I was expecting you’d have run. Glad I checked.”

He strolls in, but doesn’t make himself comfortable. He regards her, maybe reading her mind or maybe just watching.

“You seem calmer,” he says finally. “How have you found this place? Will it suit you?”

Genevieve: She gestures vaguely toward the couch. He might as well have a seat; it’s silly to pretend that he doesn’t own this place, that he couldn’t just take it back from her on a whim. She knows what she is.

“I had a home in the city once. It wasn’t this nice.” Her eyes dart toward the statue, the art on the walls. None of it is to her taste. “Is redecorating still on the table?”

Sterling: “Of course.” He rummages in a pocket and suddenly holds a sleek, silver card between his fingers, which he offers to her. “I took the liberty of setting you up with an expenses account. I expect two hundred ought to do for the year, but let me know if you need more.”

Genevieve: Two hundred might replace her wardrobe. If she’s thrifty. There’s a secondhand store down the street she can visit. She takes the card from him, setting it on the table next to her list. A second later she crosses spending money off her list.

“Do I have a job to do? Fetching dinner?”

Sterling: He snorts. “What, hunting? Only if I’m particularly lazy. No, I see you in more of an… assistant capacity. You’ll manage some of the things I’m too bored to, help clean up when things get messy, and perhaps carry the occasional message. More than that… what are your skills? Talents?” He waves a hand that glitters with rings. “I could delve through your mind, of course, but I rather prefer to have a conversation.”

He comes closer and eyes the list. “Why’d you cross that off? Does two hundred grand go a shorter way than it used to?”

Genevieve: “…you said two hundred.”

Sterling: He looks offended. “What am I, a coal miner?”

Genevieve: “You’re giving me a card. With a limit of two hundred thousand?”

He’s insane.

Sterling: "Like I said, if you need more… " He shrugs. “Like I was saying last night, you people get so worked up about price. It all comes around, in the end. That’s just a week or two’s winnings, honestly. Besides, you’ll probably be in charge of managing my finances soon enough if you’re adept at that sort of thing. I’d rather pay you the money than encourage you to embezzle it.”

Genevieve: He has to be kidding. This is a joke. There’s no way that he’s just handing over that much money, that much responsibility. He doesn’t even know her. She could clear out the account, buy a plane ticket, be halfway around the country before he even knows.

“Winnings.” He’d won her, too. “You gamble?”

Sterling: He smiles at her roguishly. There’s some charm in it, now that she’s tasted him. “I play, yes. And I’ve made quite a career out of it.”

The man takes a seat next to her, leaning forward on his cane. “I don’t need to poke my fingers in your mind to know what you’re thinking. But money itself means next to nothing to me. And besides, if you were going to run, you would have already. I’m confident that you’ll stick around long enough to appreciate your new situation.”

Genevieve: Her eyes close. She takes a breath. It’s deep, in through the nose, out through the mouth. She has to tell him. Be honest. Otherwise he’ll find out, then it’ll be worse. She opens her eyes again but doesn’t look at him. She’s staring down at her list. How silly it seems now.

“I did run.”

Sterling: “Oh? Where to?”

Genevieve: “I can’t tell you.”

Sterling: He rolls his eyes. “Won’t, you mean.”

Genevieve: Her lips press together. She nods.

Sterling: “Look, Gen, I don’t know how much you know about my kind. Especially living among the Sabbat. But I’m sure I don’t have to point out that I’ve been exceedingly genteel with you. Yes?”

Genevieve: “Yes.” Her voice is tight. Her muscles are already tensing in anticipation.

Sterling: “And there you go. There’s no other shoe that you haven’t seen waiting to drop. No chopper coming to chop off your head. You might think I rescued you from my less cultured cousin for my own moral vanity, and you’d be right. I’m a monster, and I’m not pretending not to be. But what you don’t seem to appreciate is how I have absolutely no desire to threaten you into obedience. There are a thousand and one ways I could have done so already. Tell me, if you think I was interested in tormenting you, there is anything at all you could reasonably do to stop me?”

Genevieve: “No.” That’s the truth. He’s a vampire. She’s a human. Ghoul. Slave, whatever. He’s in charge. Stronger, faster, smarter. Immortal. She’s breakable, frail. He can read her mind. She can… do a back bend. She bets he can’t do a back bend. But that isn’t the purpose of this.

“I spent years with them. Everything I did was wrong. Every word was wrong, every action was wrong, every apology was wrong. I was—am—dirt. Less than. A literal punching bag. You bring me here. Expect me to accept that you’re not going to think of a new, creative way to break me.”

Sterling: “Oh, darling Gen. Why should I break you? You’ve been broken.”

Genevieve: “And you’re the superglue to his hammer?”

Sterling: “So much more fun to put you back together, isn’t it? I enjoy a challenge.”

Genevieve: “And what about when you get bored of that? Dissemble again? I’m not real to you people.”

Sterling: “Oh, who knows what the future holds? Well, some licks, probably, but I’m not one. I rather enjoy not knowing. Yes, there is a chance I will, for reasons inexplicable to myself now, decide to shatter you like an old toy. But now you are new, and shiny, and oh-so-fascinating. Live in the present, Gen. That’s all you have when you live forever.”

Genevieve: She doesn’t appreciate his cavalier attitude about shattering her. But that’s rule number one, then. Don’t let him get bored.

“I don’t live forever,” she points out. She’d seen enough of her kind come and go to know there is a very, very brief life expectancy.

Sterling: “You can,” he replies.

“If you don’t die, of course. But I’m rather invested in ensuring that you don’t.”

Genevieve: “I was married. Before this. I went to see him.”

“He moved on.”

“That’s where I went.”

Sterling: He stares into the middle distance for a moment.

“I’m sorry,” he says, in his real voice, the smoker’s rasp. “Sometimes our loved ones forget us. It hurts. I know.”

Genevieve: “I kept thinking if I got out he’d be waiting. We could go somewhere.” Her face doesn’t change, her voice doesn’t crack. There’s nothing to give away what she’s feeling inside. “But it doesn’t matter. He’s not.”

“I don’t want to run. I don’t have anywhere to go. It won’t happen again.”

Sterling: “I’m glad,” he says. “We’ll have more fun without you trying to make a break for it, anyways.”

Genevieve: “Who did you lose?” It’s none of her business. She asks anyway.

Sterling: “My wife. She didn’t handle what happened to me very well.”

“She’s in an institution, now.”

Genevieve: “Oh.” She hadn’t expected that. “I thought you weren’t supposed to tell people.”

Sterling: “We’re not,” he says quietly.

He grips his cane. “How much do you know of the Camarilla?”

Genevieve: “Stuck up. Better than everyone. Rules, rules, rules. Prince Yahoo and the Endless Titles.”

Sterling: “That is the big picture, yes,” he agrees. “I’ll take some time over the next few nights to teach you some of the finer points. If you embarrass me in public, I’m afraid I’ll have to punish you. So don’t.”

Genevieve: Rule number two, then. Her chin jerks downward in a nod.

“I don’t know your name.”

Sterling: The ghost of a smile haunts his face. “I have many, many names.”

“Among those I trust more than not, I go by Sterling.”

Genevieve: “Sterling.” She taps a finger against her lips. There’s no metal in her mouth, but she’d seen his. “Mister Sterling?”

Sterling: “If you like. Now, then. Tell me about that list of yours.”

Celia III, Chapter XV
Eternity of Nights

“You’re the best thing in my life. You’ve always been.”
Roderick Durant

Thursday night, 10 March 2016, AM

GM: It’s a short enough trip upstairs. The boy’s corpse lies where her sire left it, the expression frozen in simultaneous agony and terror.

Celia’s mother lies in an almost equally motionless heap on the deck. The rain has since washed away her sire’s blood. She’s soaked to the bone and cool to the touch.

Celia: She hadn’t been looking for her sire’s blood. Not really.

That’s the lie she tells herself. That she would have not lapped it eagerly from her mother’s face had she found it. The shame of her misunderstanding, even after that kiss, lingers in her mind. She could have had him this evening. She could have had him but she was blinded by fear, by terror, for the mortal woman before her.

Her mother.

Not some kine. Not some breather. Not some ignorant mortal.

The woman who fought for her. The woman who puts her daughter’s needs above her own. A pang of something like guilt shoots through her. She will need to leave the city. Emily, Lucy, Momma—all of them. They’re not safe here, not if he can reach them so easily.

Celia crouches beside her mother, leaning over to lift the woman into her arms so that she can bring her downstairs.

GM: A limp human body isn’t as weightless as Roderick and Donovan make it look. It’s heavy, even though Celia’s mom is far from a big woman. The Toreador doesn’t feel any hurt or soreness in her arms, though. It just takes longer to get back downstairs. Her mom’s head lolls to the side.

Celia: Celia struggles down the stairs with her mother’s weight in her arms. Each step is another knife in her side, a reminder of her foolishness this evening. May hunger be your wages indeed; she needs to feed. Needs to hunt. The body upstairs, the one her sire had dropped off and killed, is calling her name. Cool by now, but she can sink in when she gets there, and it’s better than nothing. Better than drinking from her mother.

Opening the door with her arms around her mother proves difficult. But soon she’s inside, dragging her mother into the apartment and depositing her gently on the rug she kicks out from under the couch with her feet. Not a bed. Not the couch; right onto the floor. She does not know if Donovan’s “bed” order is Diana’s bed or any bed, and she does not want her mother waking up early. She needs to get her home.

She finds a blanket to cover her in, dragging it over from her bed to wrap around her mother’s slight form. Then it’s back up the stairs to repeat the process with the second body. This one, at least, she can drain of some blood before she drags it down the steps to dispose of.

Though, perhaps, that is not the best idea, feeding out in the open.

She discards it as soon as it occurs to her. She will drag him down the steps first.

He, at least, will be easier to carry. She does not need to treat him gently. Her hands slide under his arms and she hauls him down the stairs, uncaring if he bumps and scrapes himself along the way. More material for the spa. A loose end tied up before it could cause more trouble. She can store him in the fridge for the day, she thinks, if she cuts him into small enough pieces.

So much to do before 5 AM.

GM: Celia’s mother shivers as her daughter swaddles the swiftly-moist blanket around her wet clothes. The boy’s blood tastes awful. It’s cold. It seeps down her throat like paint. It doesn’t leave feeling alive and full of fire, feeling like she has taken another person’s life into herself. It just leaves her cold. Leaves everything feeling like shit. Makes her feel snappish and irritable. It’s the O’Tolley’s playground after being promised Disneyland. A frustrated solitary wank after your date said they couldn’t make it.

Celia: She’s had worse.


That’s what she tells herself. That she’s had worse. That it doesn’t matter because if she doesn’t drink this she’s going to rip into her mom, and that’s unthinkable. She can’t do that to her mom. She’d already crossed a line earlier this evening when she’d hit her with her charm power; she won’t do this one. Never. Not her mom. Not Lucy. Not Emily. None of them.

She forces it down. Forces herself to swallow. Forces the blood past the tastebuds on her tongue that threaten to rebel, that want to throw it all back up. It’s sludge. Foul, runny sludge. Not like the first time she had tasted him, that night in her spa. There’s nothing satisfying about sucking the dead blood from the dead man.

She wishes, again, for her sire. She wishes that it was his blood that nourished her, his blood that fixed her wounds, that soothed her hurts. But he is gone, his mess—her mess—behind him.

She gets it down, though. That’s what matters. That it does slake her hunger. That her Beast stops scratching against her insides so she can focus on what she needs to do next: dismember the fucker.

GM: There’ll be some extra blood in there, if she’s thorough. More paint-like sludge to choke down.

The warm vessel wrapped in a bundle on her floor gives a faint whimper.

Celia: That’s the thought that spurs her on. That she can get to more. Can feed the perpetually starving thing inside of her. Even if it’s foul, it’s still sustenance. How many kine survive on cardboard-like protein bars? She can handle—

The sounds of her mother pull her from her thoughts. She pauses what she’s doing, claws extended, digging into the flesh of the boy to cut apart muscle and bone so that she can dispose of him, and turns her eyes towards her mother.

She’s not hungry. It should be… safe.

Even if she’s covered in blood. Even if she hasn’t mended her side yet, afraid to lose control with the woman’s body lying on the ground.

Celia takes a halting step toward her. Is she cold or trapped in the throes of a nightmare?

GM: Celia wonders what anyone else stumbling in on this scene would think. The savaged, blood-spattered monster slowly advancing from the partly-dismembered corpse towards the prone woman, her claws coated with still-fresh blood.

Her mom shivers and hugs the blanket tightly about herself. She looks cold. Wet, too.

But the look on her face all-too fearful. Even with her eyes closed, it’s not a dissimilar expression from the one Celia glimpsed through the computer’s camera seven years ago.

This was a nightmare. You recall your husband’s face in place of mine.

Celia: Nightmare, indeed. The words from earlier flood back into her mind. Maxen taking Lucy from her. Nightmares for weeks following her ordeal. How long has Donovan been inside her mother’s mind? What else has he stolen from her? What else has he done?

She cannot dwell. She will not dwell.

Celia crouches beside her mother. She should warm her. A hot bath, maybe. The woman is sleeping… but she’ll never know, will she? Celia had seen her drip from between her legs when she was with Lucy, had watched her expel the squalling child into a water bath some years ago. Seeing her mother naked, in a tub, is nothing compared to that.

She stalks into the bathroom to start the water. Warm her up, then she will take her home. She will not be the reason that Diana catches a cold.

Once the tub is full Celia unrolls her mother from the blanket. It’s quick work to strip her from the nightgown and bring her to the bathroom to deposit her in the warm water. She will be contained, at least, until Celia can take her home.

GM: Celia’s mother stirs as Celia picks her up. Her lips move slurredly.

“H… no… no… Max… sto, sto… Lu… don… take… Lu…!”

“Pl… Ma… I’ll be… goo… wife… Lu… Lu…”

Celia: Celia is careful with her mother. She shushes her gently, whispers that it is all okay, that she loves her, that Lucy is safe, that Maxen cannot hurt her.

GM: Celia’s mom settles some as her daughter sets her down in the warm bath. Her face twitches a bit, but she stops talking.

Childbirth wasn’t the only time Celia saw her mother naked, though. There was also nine months before then. Her breasts sag more than they did through the computer screen. Her skin’s just a bit more lined. She’s still a good-looking woman for her age, and a far cry from the “unbelievably hideous” and “used-up old whore” that her husband spat she was. Seven years of routine spa treatments under Celia’s attentive hand have seen to that. But time’s own hand is undeniable.

Celia: She could fix it.

It’s tempting.

So tempting.

To just… turn back the clock a little.

Who would know, right?

No one is around to see.

Another few years of her mother in her life (unlife), who could blame her? Better than giving her blood. Better than turning her into a slave.

GM: It’s her face that looks the worst. Celia knows better than anyone how fake those ‘I woke up like this’ Instagram pictures are, and plenty of people know those are fake. Fast asleep, rain-soaked, and red- and puffy-eyed from crying in the middle of the night with wet bed hair is not a good look on Diana. It’s not a good look on anyone. The dark bags under her eyes and the lines around her mouth look deeper. Some of the latter may be from smiles around her family. But Celia knows how many are from stress, too.

Your face is uglier too. A grotesque face to go with your empty head. I can’t think of any man who would ever want a used-up old whore like you. You’re a dog walking on its hind legs.

Celia: It isn’t fair. Diana is a good woman. She has a good family. Just because she’s made choices in her life—-they’ve all made poor choices. Diana shouldn’t be suffering for it.

Her mom had given her permission, hadn’t she? Told her that she was “putty in your hands, sweetie.” That’s a blanket permission. Celia hasn’t been able to do such deep work on her before, but she can now. Can… twist her skin a little bit, smooth her all out, fix the sagging breasts, reduce the scar tissue on her leg.

Perfecting timing, really. She won’t wake until she’s back in bed. Celia won’t need to use a needle to dull her nerves.

She reaches out, almost hesitantly, to touch the tips of her fingers to her mother’s face where the deepest of her wrinkles reside.

She’d been thinking that she needs to get Diana out of the city. So Caroline can’t use her family against her. So Donovan can’t use her family against her. What if she just…?


She can’t do that.

Just minor, cosmetic changes. Tiny changes. Things she won’t even notice when she wakes up. She’ll just think it was always like that.

The old blood burns through her. Almost as if she didn’t feed. But it’s worth it. For her mother, it’s worth it. She can mend her own wounds later, will fix herself in her sleep.

Just like she’s doing here.

She starts at the face. Finds the deepest of the lines, the ones that look like crags in a rock. She touches the tips of her fingers to either side of the line and gives a slight tug, then runs another finger against the skin. Tiny changes, she reminds herself as the wrinkles begin to smooth. So small. Two, three, four, maybe half a dozen of them. Just smooths them out so that when Diana wakes up tomorrow morning she’ll think it’s that new face cream her daughter gave her.

Is it crossing a line to work her body itself?

Celia’s own body is tight. Firm. A perfect handful everywhere she needs it. And it’s not like… it’s not like she’s hurting Diana, she’s doing it to help. Just a lift. A gentle tucking of breast tissue, smoothing it out, giving her breasts a little more buoyancy. It’s her mother, yes, but once her hands are on a body that’s all she sees, all she feels: just another body. There’s nothing weird or uncomfortable about it. She’s shaped plenty of breasts in her work. People think Jade’s a surgeon, after all. She’s seen all kinds of things.

The change isn’t dramatic. That collagen she’d waxed poetic about—she can blame that. Say that’s what was in the leg cream, that’s what’s in the shots of antioxidants she has her mother take when she comes in. It’s even true. Not that the orange drink really does much for her; it’s just another bit of commission for her employees, but her mom is always happy to try new things.

She’s not giving her the tits of a twenty-year-old. They still look natural by the time she’s done with them. A little firmer, a little higher, less give. She’d fed six children with those breasts; she doesn’t need to look like a porn star.

Maybe Pete will be interested now. Or his friend, since he has told her, decisively, that he will not date her mother.

Pity, that. He seems like a good bloke. Celia might even be interested if he’d stop giving her those looks like she’s broken his heart every time she makes a mildly gray decision. She’s pretty sure he sees right through her.

She doesn’t linger long on the chest. A few touch ups, then the leg. Minor changes. Scar tissue here; it’s different than the face, different than the breasts. Tougher. She’s used to it, all that work she does on the Asian broad, this is no different. Even kine therapists can help get rid of scar tissue. Cross-fiber friction. But Celia isn’t kine; she doesn’t need to resort to that. She touches the tips of her fingers to her mother’s leg and presses down, feeling for the edge of the wound. All the way to her femur, hadn’t she said? It’s deep. Ugly. All the way down through the quads, the adductors, the long band of the sartorius… there, the edge of the laceration.


As if that’s an adequate word for what he did with his hacksaw.

Celia takes a breath she doesn’t need. Tries not to think about her father. Focuses on the woman in front of her, the woman who has shown more love in one night than her father has her entire life. She starts deep, working out the damaged fibers.

It’s like unrolling a piece of yarn. If yarn were… stringy, firm, sort of stiff. She presses down and works her fingers back and forth, back and forth. Scar tissue—also collagen. Tonight has been an evening of collagen. It’s great stuff, really. Maybe she can look into developing something for the breathers. They use it in wound healing, all sorts of grafts. Some sort of medical aid she can create to clot wounds, heal things immediately?


Maybe it’s too close to giving away the truth of her nature, though, and look how that worked out last time.

It doesn’t take long. Celia doesn’t do much. Minor changes. Very minor.

Ten minutes? Fifteen?

She doesn’t know. But she sits back when it’s done, looks at her work. None of it is blatant enough to even suggest a change, but Celia’s sharp eyes can pick out what she’s done.

Damn, she’s good.

GM: “Putty in your hands” was one way Celia’s mother phrased it. “Play-doh in your hands” was another. She’s said both, a million times. She doesn’t ask for specific treatments when she comes in. Celia is hard-pressed to remember the last time her mother asked for a specific treatment. She just lies down and lets her daughter do what she wants. If that isn’t blanket consent Celia is hard-pressed to say what is.

Diana looks better when she’s done. Anyone would look bad under these circumstances, but Celia’s mother looks better now. Fainter lines. Firmer, bouncier breasts. Fainter stretch marks, around those: six kids hadn’t done that any favors before Celia corrected it. And then there’s the leg scarring. It was ugly at first. It was less ugly after Celia’s first treatment. It’s really not so bad as Diana insists it is now, even if there’s still more to excise.

The woman looks better. Like Celia’s turned back the clock a few years. Someone’s probably more likely to guess late 30s, maybe mid-30s if she really dolls herself up, than early 40s.

And if Jon comes back. If he can show fix wear and tear deeper than mere skin. How to fix it. That’d truly turn back the clock. Celia can only imagine the look on her mother’s face to learn she was 30 again, there. Roderick said some beauty comes from within and shines out for all to see.

Celia: It’s not odd for women in their 40s to look younger, especially if they have a daughter who does what Celia does. The esthetics stuff, not the fleshcraft stuff. There are a few actors she can think of who she’s pretty sure are licks or time travelers or both; decades later and they look exactly the same. That’s the advantage of money though, right? Money, lack of stress, healthy eating habits, personal trainers.

Diana shouldn’t have to stress anymore. Not about Celia, not about Lucy, not about Maxen coming for her. Jade will get her out of the city. Send her with Andi and Tyrell next time they go on tour, or maybe to Houston. Close enough she can visit, not so close that her sire will zip off in the middle of the night to collect her. End of the school year is coming up soon; now’s the perfect time for it, really.

Celia gives her mother’s body a final smile, checks the temperature of the water to make sure it’s not too cold, and returns to the green-haired would-be rapist so she can finish cutting him into pieces.

GM: That grisly work requires far less care. Jade’s claws slice cleanly through the cold flesh. Getting through the bones takes more effort, even at the joints. She should probably get a saw.

That’s what all the kine come down to, in the end. Dead stacks of meat.

Celia’s pushed back the clock a few years, for one of them. But the clock will tick forward again. Has already started to. One day, Diana will look like she did in that bathtub again. Celia’s only postponed it. One day, Diana will look even worse. She’ll get old. Then she’ll die. She will never lie down on a spa and call herself play-doh in her daughter’s hands, blush over Christmas gifts of dildo or lingerie, or call Celia “sweetie” as they hug. She’ll just be a memory in Celia’s head while her corpse rots in a mausoleum. That’ll happen to Emily and Lucy too, in enough years. Eternity is patient.

Maybe if she’s lucky, she won’t fuck things up with Roderick. And he’ll be the last person on earth to really love her.

Maybe her sire. If she’s useful enough.

But maybe she won’t be lucky. Maybe that’ll be it, when her family dies. Lights out, no “one door closes, another opens.” Just a minus. A loss. A void that will never be filled. You can replace a mom, like Emily did, but you only get one. And once she’s dead, that’s it. That love is gone forever.

It’s the ghost of eternity. Celia can almost see it over her shoulder. Waiting to consume her mother. Waiting to consume everyone else she loves.

It’s patient.

It has forever.

Celia: So does she.

That’s what they say, isn’t it? That Kindred have forever.

Emily replaced her mom. Sure, Diana will eventually die—but the memories? Those last forever. Like her.

And if Emily did it… well, Celia can do it too. Find another woman she can look up to. Another light in the darkness.

Fuck the ghost of eternity.

She’s got another thirty years before she even needs to think about it. And maybe more. It’s not like her skills with the body are going to go away; she can just keep turning back the clock a few seconds at a time and no one will ever know.

GM: That’ll change is her looks. Her face. People will tell her how young she looks.

But Father Time won’t be fooled. He’ll come whenever he feels like it.

Celia: Father Time sounds like a miserable old coot. Jade will scare him off, too. Bare her fangs. Some claws. Show him what he’s really messing with. If she’s not going to let her sire take her mom, she sure as hell won’t let some concept of a thing.

There has to be something that will slow the aging process. A cell in the body. Some part of their DNA. Jade will find it.

She’s got nothing but time on her hands.

Thursday night, 10 March 2016, AM

GM: Well, time… and blood. This guy’s blood and muscle fibers, the stringy bits of tendons and ligaments, the fascia that holds it all together. It looks like a murder scene, really. Maybe because it is. Or at least the roof was. This is just the cleanup.

Thank God she doesn’t have carpet.

She should check his pockets when she’s done ripping him apart. See if there’s anything useful in his coat.

There’s a rumor about Jade that populates Elysium. A rumor about a wetroom in the back of her haven where she dismembers the people who get on her bad side. A rumor that is, in part, true; though she has no dedicated space in this haven, she does have all the tools she needs, and before she tears apart the boy’s body any further she sees to it that everything is set as needed. Tarp on the ground. Tools sharpened. Clothing removed.

Part of this she had done earlier, as is her norm. It’s a simple process to dismember a human body, and she’s done it enough times that she doesn’t even need to think about the next step as she goes through the motions:

Remove the clothes and other ornamentation.

Lay the body on a hard, non-porous surface. In the salon she uses the suite she’d had designed for herself with the hydraulic table, but here she simply lays him out on the floor.

Drain the blood. Easier when he’s strung up, and her earlier feeding had done an adequate job of removing some of the blood, but there’s more to be had. Her Beast is a greedy thing. Wants it all. Jade will simply need to be a little more hands on in her draining. Blood pressure in humans is higher the closer you get to the heart, and the heart itself is simply a pump for the rest of the body. Jade makes a cut into the man’s neck over the carotid, a deep bowl positioned beneath him. Those earlier pots and pans have come in handy, at least. Her claws dig into his chest, fingers wrapping around the cardiac muscle hidden behind his rib cage. She manually pumps his heart for him. Similar to chest compressions with CPR, it keeps the blood moving. Flowing. Soon a steady red drip has begun to empty into the bowl.

Easier, she thinks to cut the subclavian to drain him quicker. Its position right next to the heart makes it prime for draining, but the clavicles themselves—hence the name, subclavian—protect it from most of the world. Not from Jade, certainly, but she is not in the right space to go digging into the man’s chest. If she had a lift, or an extra pair of hands, then she could do it. The carotid will work just as well.

The ticking of the clock keeps her company while she works, a far cry from the pop music she had danced to earlier. There’s a certain rhythm to dismemberment once she is done with the blood, though. She sets the bowl aside and gets to work on the rest of him.

First, the cuts around his ankles and wrists. Then a line from sternum to groin, peeling back his skin to have a look inside at the body’s organs. She cuts them free, tilts him to the side, and they spill out on the plastic-lined floor. She will save them for Sparky, she thinks—and then her lips twist into the smile at the name she had given her newest pet (a pet in truth, not like Alana), and she thinks she might need to rename him. Who ever heard of a pig named Sparky?

The skin is the next organ she removes, peeling it back a little at a time, using her nails to clean away the subcutaneous tissue, the adipose tissue, everything that holds it firm to the body. Some sections, like the chest where she’d reached through to touch his heart and the neck where Donovan’s booted foot had come down upon him, come away with more damage than others. She sets the skin aside to deal with later, already considering how she is going to use it.

Then the muscles. These, too, she can use as building blocks. She makes what cuts she needs into the tendons that keep them connected to the bone, tossing the lot of it into an empty garbage back for future projects. Even the connective tissue goes into another container; most of it is collagen, after all, and she has already gone on about the various uses she can find for that. The tendons, ligaments, cartilage, blood vessels—all of it can be repurposed.

It makes disassembling the skeleton itself that much easier, really. Ligaments are what bind bone to bone, and once Jade is done cutting the tough, rope-like strands of fibrous tissue free from their points of insertion the bones are easy to simply pull apart. Like a strand of fake, beaded pearls, cutting the thing that holds it all together makes the rest of it simply scatter.

Daddy needed a hacksaw to do this type of work, and he’d botched even that. Perhaps Celia will show him one day how much more effective Jade is.

GM: Her sire even promised. He did.

It’s a rote enough process to butcher another human being into so much meat by now. To pack the individual pieces inside the fridge. In plastic wrap if she cares about keeping it clean.

More materials for the spa. More food for Sparky.

Alana said she liked the name, but that’s the problem with ghouls, Savoy had once said. You can’t really trust them to give completely objective advice.

“You’d be surprised at the ways that can come back to bite you,” he’d chuckled.

Celia: Good thing Roderick hadn’t tried to put his jacket into the fridge with a desiccated body already inside; that would have been all sorts of awkward. She can imagine his shock. His wild accusations. How would she have spun that? Doubtless she’d have thought of something in the moment.

It’s a relief to be done with it. To put the blood into the microwave and heat it to an acceptable temperature as if that will make it more palatable. She begins the process of cleaning the rest of the apartment while she waits for the telltale ding. Lemon scented polish for the floor to cover the unmistakably coppery tang of fresh blood. A mop to soak up the puddles of water from her dress, from Donovan’s coat. The wooden box slides back beneath the bed, empty for now. Rolling the tarp for rinsing and disposal.

There’s a lot to do to cover her tracks, and Jade doesn’t waste time, conscious of the clock ticking down to daylight.

GM: Jade thinks she can still smell the faintest whiff that telltale coppery tang. Doubtless any breathers wouldn’t pick up anything, but her kind are drawn to blood like sharks.

Then again, that might also be the still-open tear wounds she’s sporting. Her dead heart doesn’t pump any blood out through arteries, but she can smell it.

The once paint-like cold sludge tastes better when she holds the bowl to her mouth and drinks. A lot better, actually. It’s not as good as fresh from a live vessel’s veins, but it’s warm and hasn’t been filled with all those flavor-diluting preservatives hospitals put into bagged blood.

Celia: She can almost pretend it’s a cup of hot tea on a cold night if she wants to. But she doesn’t want to; nothing compares to the taste of the red stuff. Every favorite meal she’d ever had as a breather is a pale imitation of what she prefers to swallow now.

At least he had delivered a meal to her during their exchange. She can’t help but laugh at the thought of him in a pizza delivery hat, and is glad that no one is around to break into her mind to see it. The act of laughing pulls at the tear in her side, though. She should fix herself.

Her eyes slide to the clock on the wall.

GM: There isn’t much time to get her mother home before 5 AM. She’ll have to be quick.

Celia: Too bad her car is in the Garden District, isn’t it?

She could call another Ryde. Or ask Roderick for a ride. Awkward to explain either situation though, isn’t it.

GM: The Ventrue’s powers have their advantages. Caroline could just tell the driver to take her somewhere and forget her face.

Celia: Drawbacks too, though. Like eye contact.

…which she had made with her sire earlier. Had he done something to her while he had caught her gaze with his? Had her do something and made her forget? Had she confessed to more than what she’d already done? Trespassing at Tulane?

No, he’d have… he’d have done something to her for that, surely. Wouldn’t he have? He took her blood, though. Pete said if they have your blood they can do a lot with it. Find out a lot. Dip into your mind and you’ll never know. What had he seen? What does he know that she doesn’t know he knows?

No, no, no. He couldn’t have. Why would he have? She’d told him everything.

Well, that’s not true.

Not everything.

Not even most things.

Celia presses a hand to her lips where his fangs had punctured her skin. She should have just bitten him back. They could have had a roll around the floor together, biting and clawing and scratching. Maybe that’s why he kissed her. Why he used her name. Because she’s been terrible at hiding the fact that she wants him, wants him to want her.

Christ, it’s a mess.

Like her. She lets her eyes sweep over her form. She needs to change. Needs to get rid of her mom. Needs to put Jade’s face back or Roderick will know something is up. That’s first order of business, then. Easier to explain to him that Celia’s mom had been caught in the middle of something than the fact that she can just change her appearance at will.

Let him play hero. Boys like that.

Quick steps take her into the bathroom where her mother lies face-up in the tub. She’ll need to take her out and dress her in something before he arrives; she doesn’t need him to see her naked.

Now, though, Celia has her own face to fix.

Thursday night, 10 March 2016, AM

GM: Celia does her face and waits. Her hair is shorter unless she wants to sculpt on some of the boy’s (and get rid of that green color). She eventually hears a knock against her door.

Celia: Face? Check.

Covered in blood? Check.

Torn open from apparent fight? Check.

The last touch is removing her mother from the tub and wrapping her in one of Celia’s robes, then tucking the blankets around her again to keep her warm. She kicks off her heels for good measure and moves to open the door.

GM: It’s Roderick. He looks like he could blink as he sees her.

“What happened?”

Celia: Celia steps aside to let him in. She doesn’t say anything until the door is closed and locked behind him. Each movement is a little more painful than the last, and she doesn’t try to hide it. But she shakes her head at his question.


The lie is… well. The sight of her speaks for itself.

GM: “That doesn’t look like nothing.”

Celia: No, it looks like Celia’s been torn into with a bowie knife, doesn’t it? Looks like she got the shit kicked out of her. Looks like she’s dead on her feet—and not in a literal way, since they all are, just more like a stiff wind would knock her over. But she shakes her head again, more insistently this time, her shortened hair falling into her face.

“Later,” she tells him. “Just—give me a minute, I need to…” She trails off. Gestures toward herself.

GM: “Clean up,” he says. He’s staring at her wounds with visible fangs in his mouth. “Sure.”

“Just don’t take too long. Coco says to always leave yourself extra time to get home before sunup.”

Celia: Coco says.

Of course she says. Has Roderick had his own thoughts since his Embrace, or is everything that comes out of his mouth just regurgitated from his sire?

She doesn’t know where the unkind thought comes from. Maybe she’d hoped for more concern from him. Stupid, isn’t it, to think he cares. And she’d been dancing to thoughts of him earlier.

What a mess. What a mess indeed.

Celia doesn’t take long. She needs his help getting her mother home. She packs a bag, wipes off the worst of the blood, pulls on a pair of yoga pants and a long sleeved shirt. She’ll shower tomorrow, fix her side once her mother is safely back in bed.

“Time to drop my mom off?”

GM: He frowns. “What’s your mom doing here?”

Celia: “My car is in the Garden District and I’ve been ordered not to return. Ergo, my mother.”

GM: “Okay. So what’s she doing here?”

“You look like something tore you apart. And your hair’s shorter. Seriously, what the hell happened?”

Celia: “Exactly what you said would happen! They found out I was in his territory. They found out who Celia is. And then they tried to use her—” Celia jabs a finger at her mother, wincing as the motion pulls against her torn muscles “—against me and if I had been just a little less on the ball she’d have died and I might have died and then it would just be Emily and Lucy all alone!”

“Or they’d kill them too! You know how thorough our kind are.”

GM: “What?!” Roderick grabs Celia and pulls her close. “They hurt you? Which of them did it!?”

Celia: She stumbles over her own feet when he grabs her; the movement makes her clench her teeth together, hissing out the complaint at his treatment as her open wounds are jostled once more.

“Who do you think, Roderick? Seven years. I go seven years with no problems, with no one finding out, and then I meet her and it all—I ruined everything.”

GM: “So it was Caroline who tore you up and tried to kill you and your mom? That’s who? Or did she tattle to the sheriff?” the Brujah asks, his face angry.

Celia: “D-don’t,” she shakes her head again, the unevenly shorn hair flying wildly with the urgency of her motions, “don’t get mad, I can’t—I can’t fight you off right now, my mom is here, please, we have to go—”

GM: “I’m not mad at you, I’m mad at who did this to you!” Roderick exclaims. “Who was it? Caroline? One of the hounds?”

Celia: “No! I’m not—I’m not just going to tell you so you can run off and do something heroic and die, no. We have to go, it’s already 5, I’ll tell you, later, when I’m not torn up, when she’s not lying there—” She hadn’t let herself cry earlier. Not in front of him. But now her eyes run red, thin streams of it leaking down her cheeks.

GM: Roderick looks at Celia’s mom, then bites his wrist and holds it out to her.

“Here. You can mend up if you’re low.”

Celia: It’s right in front of her face. Blood. His blood. An offering of… something, at least, that he cares enough about her to offer it, that he’s not dripping it onto the floor or her mother’s face and making her lap it up like a dog as her sire apparently wanted her to do.

Her fingers close around his forearm. Her fangs are long in her mouth—not that she needs them. The blood is waiting for her, ready for her to just drink it up. She can use it to mend. Not risk hurting her mom if it takes more out of her than she thinks it will.

The flesh on her side begins to knit itself together. Just a bit, not all the way; she won’t take that much from him. Just a hit, just a—

“Later,” she says through gritted teeth, dropping his arm, turning her face away so that he can’t see the longing. “Can we take her home? Please?” Her eyes dart toward the clock. As much as she doesn’t want to admit it, Coco is right. They need to make sure they get to safety on time.

GM: “All right,” he relents. “If you’re sure.”

The tang of his vitae recedes.

“Maybe it’s better if you take her back, though.” She hears the frown in his voice. “I’m supposed to be dead. She can’t see my face.”

Celia: Of course she’s not sure. Of course she wants it. Just not now. Not here. Not like this.

“She’s been put to sleep until she’s back in bed. She won’t see your face. But—” She huffs, shoulders slumping. “Just… just go, Roderick, I’ll figure something out, I’ll call a Ryde or… you don’t need to get tangled up with this.”

Should have called a Ryde earlier. She could have found a way to make it work instead of playing twenty questions with him.

GM: He shakes his head. “It’s okay. I’ll drive. What’s her address?”

Celia: “On Burgundy. 1110. Can you…?” she gestures towards her mom. “She’s not heavy, but I’m not… I don’t want to drop her.”

She almost had earlier, coming down the stairs. Near miss. Faster if he does it, she can follow him out.

GM: Roderick’s face falls a bit.

“That’s pretty deep in the Quarter.”

Celia: Ah… she hadn’t even considered that.

“You’re with me, though.”

GM: “Anyone who sees me will probably be thinking I’m with Coco before thinking I’m with you. And it’ll raise questions what I was doing here. From your club and mine.”

“We… we can risk it, though. It’s like shoplifting. Do it once, decent odds you’ll get away with it.”

Celia: Celia doesn’t say a word. She just stalks toward her closet, opens the door, rummages around inside, and pulls out the Tulane hoodie she’d stolen from her brother a few nights ago. She holds it out with her brows raised.

“I have a scarf, if you’d prefer.”

GM: He pulls of his coat and jacket, then slips the hoodie on. Does up the hood.

“Little big on me. You must’ve been swimming in this.”

Celia: She smiles at him.

“I was.”

GM: “Cute,” he smiles back.

He walks over to the bed, makes sure the blanket is secure around Celia’s mother, and then carefully picks her up between his arms. She doesn’t look as if she weighs him down at all. His expression is wistful.

“It’s been a while since I’ve seen your family. She looks good.”

Celia: A long while. Seven years, maybe, since he’d actually interacted with them; less if he’d been stalking her as Coco had implied.

“She comes in once a week to see me. I try to make sure I take care of her. Helped get the business off the ground. And she’s my mom.”

Celia picks up the small bag she’d packed for the overnight trip, his coat and jacket as well, then moves toward the door to unlock and open it for him.

GM: “I’m glad. And I can tell you have. She looks really good for her age.”

He heads out the door with Celia as he adds,

“Oh, remote’s in my right pocket.”

Celia: “Oh, keys!” Celia darts back inside to pick up the keys she had “forgotten” on the kitchen counter, dropping down to snatch up the papers he’d dropped earlier as well. It’s a quick movement to tuck them into her bra before she’s out the door, locking it behind the pair of them and reaching into his pocket for his keys.

GM: It’s a remote rather than keys which she pulls out, but she clicks it and unlocks the car door with a beep. Roderick gently sets down Celia’s mom in the back and fastens the seatbelt around her.

“Maybe best if you drive and I sit in the back, too. Less chance of my face being seen.”

Celia: “Smart. I could lock you in the trunk if you want.” She winks at him as she slides into the driver’s seat. She sets her things down in the empty seat next to her and starts the car, waiting until he’s all set to put it into gear and get going.

GM: Roderick seems to seriously consider that.

Celia: “…do you want me to?”

GM: “It’s the best way to hide me. I don’t mind a bumpy ride.”

“You also can’t lock people in trunks, technically. Or at least a lot of trunks. There’s a mandatory release button in every car manufactured after 2001. Happened because of some kidnapping cases.”

Celia: “Kidnap a lot of girls, Roderick?”

GM: “Girls and guys. I’m an equal opportunist.”

A mandatory release button. Diana’s hands might’ve been tied, but she might’ve been able to hit that, if she’d known about it.

Celia: Celia is going to make sure that Diana, Lucy, and Emily all know about it now. She’d seen a movie once where a girl had kicked out the light, but it definitely seems easier to just press a button. Though she’s not sure if car trunks can actually open if they’re in drive, at least from the outside. She’d complained to Randy often enough about forgetting to put the car in park so she could open the trunk. Maybe the inside button works differently. Regardless, it’s a good thing to know.

She smirks at Roderick as she gets back out to load him into the trunk (mostly she just stands there while he climbs in, really), and tells him she’ll take Diana inside once they get to her house if he doesn’t want to risk it and they can swap places in Mid-City.

GM: “That’s probably safest,” he agrees as he gets in.

Celia: Just talking to him and she feels like she and her family are safer.

Thursday night, 10 March 2016, AM

GM: It’s a brief enough drive from Jade’s haven to Diana’s house. Celia has a key: her mom always said she was welcome at any time.

Carrying the limp woman inside is slow work. Jade knows how heavy a completely limp human body is. Still, her dead muscles don’t get sore or tired. It just takes longer.

The family’s two cats arch their backs and hiss furiously when they see Jade, their tails as thick as beavers’, before darting off.

Not everyone is fooled by her pretty exterior.

Celia: Stupid cats.

Celia moves through the house with her mother in her arms, careful not to accidentally whack her head on anything. It looks easier when Roderick does it; maybe she’ll craft some extra muscles onto herself, too. All those spare parts she can use now, no reason not to. Except that everyone will notice. Though she knows plenty of wiry-looking people who are just as strong as the dudes who look like they pump iron seven days a week. She can make it lean muscle. Always more time to experiment, anyway.

Once Celia reaches her mother’s bedroom she gingerly sets her mother down on the bed. Conscious of the orders Donovan had given her, she quickly retreats from the room.

GM: She hears a low groan, then the unmistakable sound of someone throwing up.

Celia: Not her problem, not her problem, not her problem. Not with it as late as it is. She cannot be trapped here. Her mom can handle an upset stomach.

Celia will make it up to her.

Thursday night, 10 March 2016, AM

Celia: She flees the house, shutting and locking the door quietly behind her, and heads back to the car to begin the trip to Mid-City.

GM: “Do you want to switch with me in the trunk, once we’re clear of the Quarter? Your face probably won’t be too welcome in the CBD,” comes Roderick’s muffled voice.

Celia: Christ, getting around the city anymore is like being a black man at a Klan meeting. Who thought this was a good idea to divide up turf and determine where people could go? Hello yes you are dead and immortal now, stay inside the lines.

Celia scowls at the road as she drives.

“Yeah,” she calls back, “that’s fine.”

GM: Well, it’s all a matter of who you’re friends with, Mélissaire had explained during Jade’s early nights. But Savoy had the misfortune for his territory to be directly bordered by his two archrivals.

“It’s interesting to think how things would look if the Anarchs or Invictus occupied territory between any of the Big Three’s,” the ghoul had remarked idly. “Or if Sundown did. Buffer states can do a lot to reduce tensions between hostile neighbors. But that’s just not the way things shook out.”

Jade knows, too, that the three elders have agents regularly patrol the borders between their territories. ‘Patrol duty’ is a common task for regents in any parish to assign their vassals. Savoy takes it a step further and offers rewards to the Caitiff, thin-bloods, and other dregs crowded into the hunting-poor neighborhoods that border Treme (and to a lesser but far from nonexistent extent, the CBD). If they bring word of an intruder he later apprehends, they can hunt somewhere better, for a little while. If they bring him a captured intruder, they can hunt somewhere better for a longer while. So the riffraff keep their eyes sharp.

Roderick said entering domains you’re not welcome is like shoplifting. Do it once, you can probably get away with it. Do it twice, still probably. But the more times you roll those dice, the lower your odds of a clean in-and-out.

And Jade has been testing her luck. Those excursions to Riverbend. The Garden District. Her secret rendezvouses with Roderick.

Her luck can’t hold out forever. Bad luck is always just around the corner.

Or approaching in Jade’s rearview mirror.

She looks nice, to be out when she is. Where she is. Curly long red hair. Estee Lauder brown pencil liner on her eyes. Mascara-coated lashes. Blusher-colored cheeks. Handsome face with a jaw that’s a little too wide to be “delicate,” but she wears it well and her eyes make up for any supposed defect. The backs of her arms had gone a little fleshy by the time she was Embraced, suggesting a life of indulgence, but otherwise she’s rather trim. She holds an umbrella and wears a raincoat over a flare-hemmed dress that looks retro enough Celia could picture her own mom wearing it.

She’s run into this Caitiff a few times. The clanless vampire has to be pretty desperate to be out looking for intruders at this hour.

But how many clanless aren’t desperate?

Celia: Jade knows her luck can’t hold out forever. That’s why she doesn’t take chances when she’s got precious cargo in the back of the car. There are very few people that she gives enough of a fuck about anymore, but her mother is one of them, and Roderick another. She’s not going to play games with their welfare. She’s conscious of the eyes that guard the border. Conscious of the fact that she needs to avoid being seen with Roderick if anything is to ever happen between them. Conscious, too, of the fact that she wasn’t the only one trespassing this evening; the sheriff had made his own foray into the Quarter, and maybe that’s what put them on high alert.

So Jade uses that tightly coiled thing inside of her to her advantage. Now that her mother isn’t here, she loosens the reins. Lets it taste freedom, so long as it works for her rather than against her. She sharpens her sight, her hearing, her smell—fuck, she sharpens every damn taste bud on her tongue so that she can taste the rifraff that Savoy has patrolling the Quarter.

There’s no reason to stop her. She’s Jade fucking Kalani, not some intruder. How many times have they seen her on Savoy’s lap, whispering in his ear, his hand on her thigh? That’s right, fuckwads, you don’t stop a car in the Quarter with Jade inside of it, that’s just asking for trouble from the very lord who grants your territory. You think he’s going to take kindly to an interruption when you drag a loyal, legal vassal before him? Of course not.

Guess it doesn’t stop them, though, not if Edith-fucking-homewrecker-Flannagan is tailing her.

“Trouble,” she says to Roderick, but it’s trouble she can probably handle if it comes to that. She tells him that too. To stay quiet in case things get bumpy.

GM: He doesn’t respond. Probably better if no one can hear his voice.

And maybe Edith wouldn’t pay Jade a second glance, if she were in her usual gray Hyundai Genesis, and wasn’t driving into the CBD. But she is driving there, and she’s driving Roderick’s car, a dark blue Acura IXL. Maybe a Ryde or some other solution would have been better.

The CBD’s skyscrapers draw closer. Closer.

Then just like that, the Caitiff stops tailing her.

How many of them actually remember what car Jade Kalani drives?

Celia: She doesn’t breathe a sigh of relief once Edith is gone, though she thinks about it. She recognizes the necessity of the Caitiff, but tonight… tonight she just wants to crawl into bed and be left alone for a week.

“Gone,” she says aloud.

Thursday night, 10 March 2016, AM

Celia: Once they are safely away, she finds a place to pull over. Before she pops the trunk she fishes the stolen papers from her bra and slides them into the inside pocket of his jacket. Then she’s out of the car to switch places with her ex, offering him a rueful smile when she climbs into the trunk in his stead.

GM: “Here, you can have the sweatshirt for some cushioning,” Roderick says, shrugging it off.

He puts his jacket back on.

Celia: He was right earlier: she swims in the hoodie.

The sleeves come down way past her hands. The hood obscures her face completely when she flips it up. Even the hem is halfway down her thighs.

Easy to imagine what she’d look like in his clothing. Stealing his tops, like she used to when she spent the night back in college. Just a shirt, legs bare, nothing underneath.

GM: Roderick smiles at the sight, and perhaps the memory, but hurries her into the trunk and closes it behind her. Celia can see the little release button. It even glows in the dark.

One push of that, and her mom would’ve been out. Lucy wouldn’t exist. Isabel wouldn’t have been raped, Embraced, and killed by her sister. And Celia would belong to Veronica. Maybe.

One little push of a button.

Would that have been a positive or a negative?

Celia: Celia would have never belonged to Veronica. Not unless she was stolen. She’s been Donovan’s since she was eight years old and eavesdropping on the conversation he had with her father, staring from the doorway with wide eyes while the cold corpse shook his hand and stole his soul.

Diana would have gotten out, certainly, and Celia would have never made the deal with Veronica. Celia would have given her other gathered evidence to Pete, and maybe she’d have ended up as Savoy’s childe. Another illicit Embrace, but this one she’d be really hunted for, both for being his childe and for the fact that she might have ruined her father. Donovan might have killed Celia rather than Embraced Jade when he came for her. Maybe not. Maybe she wouldn’t have been Embraced at all. Maybe Pietro would have come back for her at some point to finish her off. Maybe Celia and Stephen would have eloped. Maybe she’d have gone back to Paul’s house to ruin him, too, and found Jade’s sire waiting for her. Maybe Celia would have asked her dad to protect her from his friends.

That’s the problem with the word “if.” Two letters and it can mean a whole hell of a lot of things. Silly to think about, isn’t it? One mistake, one decision, one word can change the course of history.

She doesn’t regret where she’s ended up. That’s what counts. Can’t keep looking in the review mirror and expect to get somewhere; at some point your eyes have to focus on the road ahead of you, the scenery around you.

Her mother is happy now. Emily is happy now. Lucy is happy now. Everyone she cares about—they’re happy.

Mistakes? Certainly. She’s made plenty. But even with all the powers of their kind, changing the past isn’t possible. You can only alter the course you’re on now.

She’d heard once that life doesn’t give you more than you can handle, that growth happens outside the comfort zone. Maybe she’d read it. She’d been content for 19 years to let her dad rule hers for her, and only once she’d stepped outside of that and into the world itself had she really started to grow, to become the person she’s meant to be. She’s not sure that she believes in fate, and maybe it’s true that when you die you meet the person you could have been and that’s what hell is.

Not much she can do about it now.

So dwelling? Nah. Celia doesn’t want to dwell.

GM: So she doesn’t. She lies there in the big sweatshirt.

It’s a bumpy ride.

But one free of regrets.

Celia: She likes big sweatshirts. Maybe she’ll nick a few of his while she’s over there.

Stolen things feel better.

Thursday night, 10 March 2016, AM

GM: “Your mom looks really good for her age,” Roderick says aloud after a while. His voice comes out partly muffled. “Credit where credit’s due to the esthetician, there. She barely looked older than I remember. Is it just run of the mill beauty treatments you do on her, or something extra?”

Celia: “I didn’t ghoul her, if that’s what you’re asking,” she calls back.

GM: “I wasn’t. I know you wouldn’t do that.”

Celia: “She pretty much just tells me to do what I want, so I like to try new things with her. All the experimental stuff.”

“But like I said, she’s in once a week. And she’s good at keeping up with her routine at home.”

GM: “I guess that’ll do it.”

Celia: “Reitnol promotes cell turnover, then you’ve got the AHAs, BHAs, benzoyl peroxide, high frequency lasers, dermaplaning…”

GM: “I’d wondered if it was some extra Toreador mojo.”

Celia: “Oh. Ha. I wish.”

“Sunscreen. Seriously. There’s this video they made us watch in school about a truck driver, half of his face is all jacked up because that’s the side in the sun. Other side is fine. I’m like 100% positive that’s why we don’t age.”

But he can hear her giggle.

GM: He chuckles back. “Guess that’s it. No sun ever.”

“I’ve heard some people say you—well, you as in breathers—should wear sunscreen all the time, even in winter and autumn. Is there anything to that?”

“Their bodies need Vitamin D.”

Celia: “Sure, but you can still get the D without the sun.” He can’t see her grin, but it’s there. “Some people take supplements. Regardless, it’s the UV rays you don’t want. In autumn and winter the angle of the sun changes because of the rotation of the earth. Plus in the northern climates they’ve got the snow it reflects from.”

GM: “I don’t know why I’m even asking about this. It’s like a girl watching a ‘how to tuck for drag’ MeVid.”

Celia: “Because you’re secretly interested in being prettier.”

“Anyway, everyone has skin. It’s not a male/female thing. It’s an everyone thing. Largest organ in the body.”

GM: “You’d just watch a drag video for that, though. How to tuck is completely inapplicable.”

Celia: “Is it? I don’t have a penis, sometimes I’m curious what it feels like.”

“Like, for example right. I’ve got boobs. And they hang, ‘cause they’re boobs. But I have a bra to keep them from flopping around. But like dudes don’t wear dick-holsters.”

That’s not entirely true: nothing on her hangs or flops unless it is meant to, both from the youth of her Embrace and her own carefully sculpted body. But the point stands.

“Also just because something isn’t applicable to me doesn’t mean I don’t want to know about it. Plus now you can impress your next girlfriend.”

GM: What a loaded remark that is.

“Maybe you should start a dick holster clothing line, o Instragramer. Maybe the only reason we don’t wear them is is because there aren’t any phallus holsters available for purchase.”

“You could call them ‘cock bras.’”

Celia: “I feel like it needs a catchier name than that.”

“But. I am working on some fashion stuff that I’m actually kind of excited about.”

GM: “Hey, cock bra is great name.”

Celia: “Cock bra is a terrible name.”

GM: “It’s so terrible that it’s great. You’re dying to check out what one even is.”

Celia: “It’s a bra shaped like a cock. Or a bra stuffed with cocks.”

GM: “But that’s cool, what kind of fashion stuff?”

Celia: “I think ‘dick holster’ is where it’s at.”

“Ah, a clothing line actually. Sort of. It’s not like… commercial or anything. Mostly bespoke things. I’ve been messing around with it for a while.”

GM: “Makes perfect sense with the spa. Make people pretty from face to toe. Or hem, if you’re not doing shoes.”

Celia: “Pretty all-inclusive. Shipped out an order today, actually.”

Sort of.

GM: “Oh really, who to?”

Celia: “You know, I was trying to make it sound cooler than it was, it was really just to my sire.”

GM: “Hey, that makes perfect sense to start with someone you know before branching out to strangers.”

“Though your family might be more… considerate than your sire.”

Celia: “She’s got interesting taste. It’s fun to play around with. D’you remember when we were released on the anniversary and she came as a hurricane? And those spider shoes she has?”

“First time I met her she was in this little slinky club dress, then she pulls stuff like that. It’s crazy.”

GM: “Older licks can have weird fashion. Anything goes in Elysium.”

Celia: “I’ve been working on a piece for myself but I have no idea where I’d wear it. Maybe a party.”

GM: “I mean, is it any weirder than your great-grandsire showing up in Medieval or Antebellum garb?”

“I’ve actually seen her, at least once, wearing one of those pointed, cone-shaped hats. What are they called.”

Celia: “Cone-hats. Traffic cones. Witch hats?”

Celia snickers.

GM: “Ha. It’s not a witch hat, though. It has this veil attached to it.”

Celia: “I know. Hennin.”

GM: “Ah, no surprise the Toreador would know.”

Celia: “I study history.”

GM: “I do too. Just not historical fashion.”

Celia: “Fashion informs you of the culture. Culture is part of history. Culture tells you everything about a place. What they believed. How they lived.”

GM: “Absolutely. Just isn’t an area I’ve focused as much on.”

Celia: “I’ll fill in the gaps of your knowledge, don’t worry.”

“Y’know. Fashion-wise.”

“Speaking of nerds, though, Emily’s boyfriend does this historical medieval fighting thing.”


Celia: “Yeah.”

GM: “Coco has a ghoul who’s active in HEMA circles, actually. Or at least was. I’m not sure if he still is.”

“She says it’s a good pool of people to recruit from. They’re typically well-educated and also know how to fight. With swords, at that. More useful than guns.”

Celia: “Makes sense. Robby seems pretty smart.”

GM: “They’re history nerds one and all.”

Celia: “Plus he’s like eight feet tall. Talk about reach, right? Don’t need to worry about getting hit if they can’t get to you.”

“I’m doomed forever if I want to learn how to use a sword. Too small.”

GM: “Fencing might actually be a good thing for you to learn, depending on how good you want to get at fighting. It’s definitely useful to know how to throw a punch, because you can’t take a sword everywhere, but bare hands only do so much against other licks without super-strength backing it up. There’s a reason so many of us still use bladed weapons.”

“I’ve had some training with them, though not as much as I have in unarmed fighting. Punching works better for me.”

Celia: “Thought you said you were faster than you were strong.”

Years ago, though. Maybe it changed.

GM: “I am. I’m still strong enough where it counts, though.”

Celia: She smirks in the darkness of the trunk.

GM: “Ha. Yeah. In both senses of the word,” he smirks. “But there’s not a lot a sword can do my hands can’t.”

“You might be pretty good at fencing, though, with the background you have in dance.”

Celia: “Maybe.” Worth looking into, anyway, if things are going to get as bad as he suggests. Maybe Robby really can show her some new moves.

GM: “I think ballet actually grew out of fencing. Though your mom could probably tell you a lot more than me there.”

Celia: “Pretty sure I’ve heard her say that before.”

GM: “Well, there you go.”

A beat. “I’m sorry I wasn’t able to say hi. I really liked your family.”

“Well, correction. I fucking detested your dad.”

Celia: “I can’t think of anyone who actually likes him. So you’re in good company.”

GM: “Maybe some of his colleagues in the legislature. Or Congress, if he runs for higher office. Hate to say it, but he’s probably not even the worst of them.”

Celia: “No? Hard to look past the years I spent with him.”

GM: “I might be talking out of my ass. Obviously, I didn’t spend any time with him beyond the most awful dinner of my entire life. I’ve just heard that monsters like him aren’t anything rare in D.C. That it takes the worst of the worst to hold the levers of power in our world.”

Celia: “That wouldn’t surprise me.”

“Kind of sad, though. I can imagine that others are just as bad, even more awful. All the time I spent there… I mean… it could have been worse.”

GM: “There’s things to be not sad about. Your family has good people too. Your mom, your grandma.”

Celia: Dinner might not have been so awful if she’d paid more attention in those cooking classes he’d made her take. Funny how she’d gone from not being able to touch raw steaks to butchering bodies on her floor.

“I’m not sad for me. I’m sad for other people who have to deal with it. I’m sad for the people in the stories you were about to tell me before I cut you off.”

GM: Diana cooked him a (probably) good steak the last time they were together. How did that work out for her?

Celia: She’d always said it was different with a wife.

GM: “Sorry, before you cut me off?”

Celia: “Ah, yeah, you sounded like you were about to tell me about things you’ve heard and then I started thinking about my dad and just blurted out words.”

GM: “Oh. No, my personal stories there are pretty limited. My family isn’t in national politics. I’m your guy if you want Mafia stories, lawyer stories, or JFK assassination stories.”

Celia: “I always want to hear your stories.”

GM: “Well, this one doesn’t have anything to do with the Mafia, but… when I was a breather, I wanted to clerk for your grandma. Seemed pretty cool to do that for someone in my girlfriend’s family.”

Celia: “Is that why you had Emily introduce us?” Teasing, though.

GM: “Oh, I mean after we were together. I actually clerked for Carson Malveaux.”

Celia: “Oh?”

GM: “Yeah. Relative of Caroline’s. There were more prestigious clerkships, but I wanted to see how criminal law worked up close.”

“I liked him. He was stern but fair.”

Celia: “Small world, I guess.”

GM: “Some legal community, at least. It’s not that big in most cities.”

“Lots of Malveauxes, too, and at least several of them are lawyers.”

“I clerked under Carson for a little while, then did a stint at the Eastern District Court.”

Celia: “I’d have set you up with my grandmother, you know. If you’d have told me you were interested.”

GM: “My dad talked me out of it. Said I’d already done a stint at a lower court and it wouldn’t look as good on my resume to go back.”

Celia: “Oh. Yeah, that makes sense.”

GM: “But still. I’d have picked her over Carson. She was there for your family when they needed her. And… Carson had to have known about the circumstances of your dad’s arrest.”

Celia: “Wouldn’t surprise me. Get the whole family in on the cover-up. Caroline was my age and she had a hand in it.”

GM: “God.”

“I’d still like to see your dad convicted in a court of law and sent to prison. Felony count of domestic violence and placement on a sex offender registry pretty much destroys your life forever.”

Celia: “He’d get off. He’d find a way. Or someone would let him off. Rich white guy? Pfft.”

GM: “They’ve gone down in the courts. It can be fucking hard, but they do. Al Capone.”

Celia: “Doesn’t need to go down in court to lose an election. Then what, he goes back to real estate?”

GM: “Well, forget real estate if he goes down in court. Maybe flipping burgers at O’Tolley’s.”

Celia: “Wouldn’t be the first in his family to leave office in disgrace.”

GM: “Oh, who else?”

Celia: “His dad.”

GM: “Didn’t know that. I guess most politics is dynastic, though.”

“Power tends to remain in the same hands.”

Celia: Isn’t that the truth.

Thursday night, 10 March 2016, AM

GM: The rest of the drive doesn’t take long. Roderick eventually says, “All right, we’re here. Just to be double safe though, maybe you should also turn into a cat again.”

Celia: “Great minds,” she says. She’d been planning the same. The change is quick, the trunk suddenly much more roomy now that there’s a cat inside rather than a lick. Her clothes shift with her this time, tail flicking behind her as she waits for him to let her out.

GM: It’s a little while longer until Roderick’s car parks. He opens the trunk and scoops her into his arms. They’re in a parking garage.

“Hey, puss,” he coos, scratching a finger along her chin.

Celia: The cat’s entire body vibrates when she purrs, rubbing the side of her face against his outstretched finger and hand. Her eyes close to mere slits, content to be petted and adored even in this form, especially by him. The rest of her curls in his arms.

If things ever get really bad maybe she can give up society and spend the rest of her unlife as his cat.

GM: He sets her down for a moment to close and lock the car, then picks her back up and scratches behind her arms.

“You need a name,” he remarks thoughtfully as he carries her to an elevator.

They’re seemingly alone at this hour. They take it up. He walks down a hall with her, unlocks the keyless lock to the door they stop at, and lets them in. The apartment is a clean and well-maintained space with a modern and relatively minimalist aesthetic. Grays, whites, and beiges predominate. Much of the wall space used for art seems to have gone to bookshelves instead. There’s a baseball pennant for the New Orleans Pelicans, showing two red pelicans sitting on a tilted bat, and a John F. Kennedy election poster. There’s also some framed degrees (Tulane University, Tulane Law) and family photos. One shows Roderick and his dad wearing suits outside a court building, the smiling older man’s hand resting on his son’s shoulder. Another photo shows Roderick, his dad, and his sister out on a long beach that might be Grand Isle. A third photo shows a much younger-looking Henry Garrison with a toddler-age boy, an elderly-looking man Celia doesn’t recognize, and a brown-haired woman with some resemblance to Roderick. They’re seated around a picnic in a park.

From the inside, the door also looks pretty heavy. Roderick sets Celia down and picks up an even heavier-looking steel bar without any mechanical or electronic components that he slides into place against the door with a dull clunk. It looks like it takes some effort for even him to pick up. A nearby wall monitor shows a view of the apartment’s immediate exterior, and several other points throughout the hallway. There’s a separate home alarm system panel further in.

Celia: The top of her head butts up against Roderick’s chin as he carries her into the elevator, shamelessly taking advantage of the ruse to lavish him with physical affection while she can. Anyone would just think they were a man with his new, extra cuddly cat. Even once they’re inside and her ears flick this way and that while her head spins to take it all in she stays contentedly curled in his arms.

He can’t have brought many people over if he publicly displays the photos of his family; she can’t imagine that he’d risk their safety and his cover if he regularly hosts.

It suits him though, this place. She doesn’t know what she had expected, but somehow this place both meets and exceeds her imaginings. It’s very… Roderick.

She winds herself around and between his legs once he sets her down, only darting away to watch him set the door. Then she’s back at it, batting at his shoes with her paws.

GM: “Someone’s committed to staying in character,” Roderick smirks, scratching her ears some more. “This is it, anyway. Haven sweet haven.”

Celia: She gives a final purr, though she knows she can’t stay in this form all night. Just long enough to enjoy the attention, then she’s off as quickly as her furry little feet can take her, ducking away from him to give herself room to reclaim her bipedal form. Back to swimming in that hoodie.

“Tight security,” she says, nodding toward the door and then the monitor. “I might have to copy you.” She’s been relying on multiple locations and staying off grid, but there’s no such thing as too cautious.

GM: “If someone’s really determined, the most this will do is delay them. But that’s true of all security. If it delays them long enough for the alarms to wake me up, and for my renfields to arrive in time, that’s what counts.”

“Best defense by far is no one knowing where to find you. But I’ve taken precautions there too.”

Celia: “Doesn’t look like you have many people over.” She looks at the photos again. She doesn’t have any up in Celia’s house, none in Jade’s private haven. “What about when you’re gone? Mobile alerts?”

GM: “There’s other places I can entertain if I want to. This is… my space.”

“And yeah, you guessed it.”

Then again, she still gets to see her family. Less need for other reminders.

He follows Celia’s gaze to the photos. His face falls a bit.

Celia: “People can tap into feeds like that. I mean. Pros and cons of having it. I’ve just seen it done, so… be careful.”

There’s a beat.

“Thank you for bringing me here.”

It means a lot. More than she can put into words.

GM: “I know. The lock system isn’t connected to my phone, at least, so if someone were to hack the alarm it wouldn’t help them get in.”

“Like you say. Pros and cons to all security systems.”

“And you’re welcome.”

Celia: “Smart, though. Bases covered.”

GM: “Yeah. It’s less convenient to deal with multiple systems, but it’s not putting all your eggs in one basket.”

Celia: “And it’s nice to just have your own place, I bet. Where you can be you. Not whatever role you play for everyone else.”

That’s why she hadn’t told anyone about her haven. It’s hers.

GM: He nods and sits down on the couch, having already hung up his coat and removed his shoes. “There’s always other places I can entertain. This is where I can just be me.”

“I’d normally offer a drink or some food at this point. But, you know.”

Celia: Celia follows his lead and removes her shoes before joining him on the couch, though she leaves the hoodie on. She curls her feet underneath her and turns to face him.

“Awkward, isn’t it, when you have guests? Would you like a spot of blood?” she asks in a very, very terrible posh English accent.

She’s not looking at his wrist. Really.

GM: He smiles, then looks at her questioningly.

“Well, actually, if you’re thirsty from healing…”

Celia: Celia shakes her head.

“I can probably manage the rest of the way without it. Just didn’t want to risk anything with my mom right there. I don’t think I could forgive myself if I hurt her.”

“Plus I feel like you’ve already done enough for me tonight. Don’t need to be greedy.”

GM: “I’ve got juice to spare. You’re sure?”

Celia: Celia is quiet for a moment while her attention shifts to the bloody, gaping claw marks in her side. This far into her Requiem she’s become proficient at moving her blood around as she needs to, and she feels it respond to her will to pull everything back together. Within moments her body is healed, but the Beast… hungry. It took more out of her than she’s used to. Maybe it was the cold blood she’d forced down earlier, the rejection of her sire’s blood, the rejection of Roderick’s blood. Maybe it’s just simply emotional upheaval from everything that has happened this evening and last.

She looks back to his face. Bites her lip.

“If you’re offering,” she finally says. She’d rather not be in for a nasty surprise tomorrow evening when she wakes. Even now she’s wary, used to keeping her hunger at bay with frequent feedings. She could kick herself for rejecting him earlier. A shameful reminder of another way she’d messed up.

“Hungry,” she adds in warning. At least he’ll be prepared in case she loses it on him. “Maybe you should tie me down or something, so I don’t find a way to ruin this too.” Her voice is bitter.

GM: “We all ruin things, if we’re hungry enough,” Roderick says softly. “It’s not just you.”

Celia: Feels like it is, though. Like no matter what she does it’s the wrong thing, like everyone would just be happier if she hadn’t been born.

“Hard to imagine you ruining anything.”

GM: “I ruined your haven pretty bad.”

“Your face, the… last time.”

“And… again before that.”

Celia: That’s what she’s afraid of this time. That she’ll lose it on him, he’ll lose it on her, and this will be another night that ends in him beating her into unconsciousness.

“Maybe I deserved it for what I did.”

GM: Roderick shakes his head adamantly. “One definition of justice is for everyone to receive their due. It’s true that you did a bad thing. But you didn’t deserve to get beaten almost to death for it.”

“The sentence was disproportionate to the crime, if we want to think about it in judicial terms. And disproportionate sentences are crimes of their own.”

“Also, if you asked your dad what he thought of a woman getting beaten into the ICU for cheating, he’d probably say that was a good thing. So that should be all the evidence you need that it’s a bad thing.”

Celia: Celia is quiet for a moment. They’ve had this conversation before. Earlier this evening. Prior to that, even. Every time they get together it comes back around to her cheating on him, him beating her. Every time her thoughts spin toward him they’re accompanied by the image of him rearing back to strike her before she loses consciousness, the way her face looked the next time she saw it in the mirror. She still wants to fall all over herself with apologies. Still wants to hear him say that he forgives her. But isn’t this, here… isn’t this forgiveness? He could have left her alone this evening. He could let her go hungry. He’s offered his haven, his blood… safety. He’s offered her safety.

“You can’t change the past,” she finally says. “I try to remember that when it threatens to drag me down and cause me to spiral. That I can’t change it. I regret things—that, specifically, more than anything—but I can’t take back what I did, and you can’t take back what you did, and it’s… it’s in the past. All we can do is learn from it and not let it hold us back. It matters, of course it matters, but it doesn’t need to define who we are.”

GM: “It doesn’t,” he agrees.

There’s a beat.

“I’m still sorry for hurting you. For beating you and for dumping you. You told me the truth then, and you told me about Dani and Savoy’s scheme now, when you didn’t have to.”

Celia: She opens her mouth, perhaps to make a flippant remark (“you dumped me? I thought we were together this whole time”), then closes it again. Her nails pull at a loose thread in the hoodie she wears. She doesn’t want to tell him that it’s okay, because it isn’t. Beating her after he’d asked her to be honest… that’s not okay. But she can give him something else, something that isn’t an empty platitude.

“I forgive you.”

GM: He opens his mouth. Looks like he might be thinking about what to say for a moment.

Then he scoots over to her side of the couch and hugs her. Her Beast growls at the contact. Celia can already catch herself sniffing out weak spots, thinking of the best way to sink her fangs into him so as to minimize his struggles.

But his arms are tight around her, and she can smell his shampoo and aftershave (though with his smooth cheeks, it’s more like never-shave), still the same brands his esthetician girlfriend recommended to him all those years ago.

Celia: The girl and the Beast struggle. It’s hungry. It wants out. It wants the blood that he promised earlier, the blood that she denied. But she wants him. Has wanted him for years. The arms tight around her keep her from pouncing on him to rip his throat open, giving her the time she needs to shove the Beast back down.

The girl wins.

It takes her a moment to respond to his touch the way she’s used to. Her shoulders are stiff… until they’re not. Until she melts into him, the tension leaving her body, clinging to him in a fierce, quiet desperation that speaks of how long she’s wanted him. She inhales his scent. Sandalwood, bitter orange, honey… green and metallic, but warm and spicy. Woody. It’s a scent that takes her right back to their earlier days together: watching him get ready for a date, shaving off a few day’s worth of stubble, lathering on aftershave to soothe his skin, smiling in the mirror at her while she dabs concealer beneath her eyes with the tip of her finger, both of them disheveled from another bout of lovemaking. She sees it so clearly that it hurts. Remembers what it was like when they were happy together, before she started trying to play games, before she thought to take on her dad. Before she cheated and lied.

She’s sorry, too. She’s sorry but she doesn’t think he can forgive her so she doesn’t say, because she’d tried to tell him earlier and he’d been mad about it instead and she doesn’t think she can hear him say that again, and even if he says that he forgives her it follows in the wake of her own forgiveness—doesn’t that mean it’s not real?

GM: His embrace isn’t stiff at first, so much as hesitant. But as Celia melts into him, that reticence melts away too. He can’t have seriously doubted how she might feel about him after the rest of this evening.

He doesn’t kiss her. Maybe that would be a bad idea with her Beast as close to the surface as it is, or maybe now just isn’t the moment. He just holds her. Lies against her. Sinks into her. Buries his face against her neck and the huge sweater it’s enveloped in.

“There’s no one else,” he says after a moment, his voice quiet.

“You’re the best thing in my life. You’ve always been. I don’t know what to do about Coco. About Dani. I don’t know who to trust. Except… except you.”

“I trust you.”

Celia: He shouldn’t.

He shouldn’t trust her.

She’ll get him into trouble. Ruin his unlife. Drag him down with her own selfish actions. It’s all she’s been thinking about, that she’s a wild, destructive force, that everyone around her is in danger, that one day they will all pay for every mistake she has ever made. What if they had gone onto the roof earlier and the sheriff had interrupted? What if he’d been caught because she’d asked him to drop her mom off, been dragged before the warden, word of his presence had gotten out? They’re on opposite sides of this war.

She doesn’t think it’s possible for her arms to tighten around him anymore than they have. She squeezes him with everything that she has. Her fingers run through his hair, down his neck, down his back. She knows exactly what she’d have done, who she’d have chosen in that situation.

There’s no one else.

You’re the best thing in my life.

His weight is heavy on her. Calming. It centers her, makes her focus on the here and now, not what might be. Her lips brush against his brow, his temple, feather-light. The words that come to mind fall flat; how can she capture everything inside of her, how can she express herself when everything she wants to say has been said a thousand times before? You complete me. I could stare down eternity if only you were there. At last she tries, voice made thick by withheld emotion.

“You are the greatest thing that ever happened to me. I’m never letting go again.”

GM: Maybe he shouldn’t trust her.

But she isn’t telling him so.

“And here I’d been about to offer you my wrist.”

He pulls back, just enough, to bare his neck.

Celia: His neck. He wants her to sink into his neck. He knows she’s hungry; why ask for trouble? Her fangs are long in her mouth, itching to bite down…

“Hold,” she tells him, moving her hands around to the front of him so she can slip her wrists into his grip. It isn’t fool-proof, but it’s something.

Celia waits until he has a firm grasp on her arms before she leans in again. Her lips press against the strong line of his jaw. Then slide lower, right above where she knows all that blood is waiting for her, calling her name. It’s a gentle series of kisses she gives him before the two points of her fangs sink into his exposed neck. She pulls back. Waits until the blood wells, cools, drips. Then feeds.

GM: The taste makes her want to cry, next to the swill she had earlier. It’s Brujah blood. Hot blood. Fiery blood. She can feel it lighting her up all the way to fingertips. It stokes a furnace in her. Fills her with their passion, their righteous anger, makes her want to tear off some asshole’s fucking head—or drink her lover dry. She can all but hear her Beast slavering in her ear. To drain every last drop of that hot, so-precious blood. To consume him. To take him into her completely. So they might never be parted.

But just like that, she squashes the impulse. Shoves the howling animal back in its cage. Rattles the bars.

She ruins enough things without its help.

Roderick stares down at her, his hands still pinning her wrists against the couch. The scent of his still-dripping blood hangs heavy in the air. There’s strange melange of affection and hunger in his eyes. His voice comes out thick.

“God, you’re so fucking adorable, under me in that giant hoodie…”

He bites his fangs down against his lip, drawing two points of blood, and presses his lips to hers.

Celia: Fire in her core. Arousal. It thrums through her, a need that she can’t put into words. Human, lick, a combination of both; fight, fuck, feed, that’s all it is for them. Wrong to ask him to fuck her, isn’t it? He doesn’t get off on that anymore. But she does, and there’s something so titillating about him pinning her down like the breathers they once were. She’d always liked it when he’d gotten a little rough.

He moves before she has the chance to demand it of him.

Fangs slice into her tongue, spilling her blood into her mouth, then into his when their lips meet.

GM: His lips meet hers hungrily. Tongues, fangs, and blood freely mingle. He withdraws his hands from her wrists, just briefly enough, to start hurriedly tugging off her clothes.

Celia: He doesn’t need to. She shreds them.

GM: His clothes come off almost as swiftly. He growls, pushes her off the couch, and throws himself on top of her. His hands pin her wrists far apart. His fangs dig into her left breast, then trace along its surface, leaving matching trails of blood. He bites and sucks around her nipples, which she can already feel stiffening, not like her purported sire’s eternally still ones.

Pervert, the older Toreador had said, and she’d not meant it as a compliment.

Celia: A stitch of cloth still clings to her back when she hits the floor with a hiss. She shoves up against him, straining to toss him off of her so that she can roll him over, but his teeth find her flesh instead and what little air remains in her lungs leaves her with a sigh, body stilling beneath him. She can smell her own arousal, molten liquid pooling between her thighs. Her head snaps forward to sink her fangs into whatever part of him she can reach.

Pervert, she agrees, and what delicious pleasure that brings her.

GM: Her fangs sink into his neck. She sucks rapturously. He gives a snarl, wraps an arm around her, and rolls to his side, hugging her close against his chest as they lie on their flank. His fangs pierce her neck. She drinks from him. He drinks from her. Their lives feel inextricably entwined as they take and give in equal measure, two existences becoming as one.

She’s almost lost in the sensation until she feels a new firm one filling the wet space between her thighs. He growls and thrusts, burying his cock deeper.

Celia: Words exist for this, but they do not come to mind. Bliss. Euphoria. Unity, if she were the poetic sort. She loses herself to him, blood and soul and… there, body, buried inside of her. A growl passes her lips, then a more human sound: a moan. Her nails dig into his back as he fills her to pull him closer, deeper; fangs flash, sinking into his shoulder, then disappear when the blood hits her tongue. She draws it forth. She presses against him, shifting to get him to the right spot. Beast and girl become one, taking their fill.

GM: Fill her they do. Time seems to disappear as the lovers know passion and perhaps even happiness in one another’s arms—until pain sears through Celia’s back and the unmistakable stench of burning flesh wafts up her nostrils. In an instant, the Beast bursts its chains. Another instant later, she’s huddled on the ground with her back against the wall. Early dawn sun, still tinged with twilight, bathes the floor where she lay.

Another second later, and it’s gone as Roderick draws the extra-thick curtains closed. Thin plumes of smoke waft from some unsightly-looking burns across his back.

“Fuck. Sorry. I’d meant to close those.”

“You were a little distracting.”

Celia: It’s the worst way to come down. Abrupt agony across her back, then nothing until she finds herself curled against the wall. Her eyes dart toward him, then the curtains, then back to him. The tight pull of freshly burned skin against her muscles makes her bare her teeth.

“Fuck, why are they even open?”

She hadn’t even realized how late—early?—it had gotten.

GM: “I like to look outside. We can see in the dark.”

“Amateur mistake though. Should’ve had them closed.” He looks her over, frowning in concern. “Are you okay?”

Celia: “I’ve been worse.”

Been better, too, like a moment ago when they were mid-coitus. She rises slowly, straining to look over her shoulder at her own back to assess the damage. It’s a futile effort.

“You’re hit,” she says instead, making a vague motion to his back.

GM: “I’ve been worse too. I think this is our cue to go to bed, though. We can mend up there.”

Celia: Her jaw clenches at the idea of him being in a worse state than this. Not so much damage that he can’t come back from it, but the very gall that someone would have to hurt that which belongs to her. She reaches for him, her grip iron around his wrist, pulls him toward her so that the raw flesh of her back is pressed against the wall. It burns at the pressure. She doesn’t so much as hiss as she stares up into his eyes, into the face that should have been hers this whole time, that is hers now.


She’ll kill anyone who thinks differently. Anyone who thinks to take him away.

Her arms snake around him, pulling his face down to meet hers, to press her lips against his. It’s brief but hard, less of a kiss than it is an assault against his mouth.


Even her Beast roars its approval at this claiming, territorial, possessive thing that it is. Somewhere inside her mind the Beauty is laughing with eyes that smolder as green as her stolen name.

They have so much to discuss. She had not meant to spend it all with her fangs buried in his neck. But dawn calls to her, drawing her toward the sweet oblivion of daysleep.

Thoughts turn in her head. Ways forward. Plans, theories, more plans. Fallbacks. Moves and countermoves. And goals, always goals. Her family’s health and happiness. His safety. His approval.

She keeps one hand in his. The other she lifts to touch his cheek, the pads of her fingers soft and warm against his skin. She has never been as cold as the rest of their kind. Not outwardly.

“An eternity of nights with you will never be enough.”

“We must speak tomorrow before I depart. Wake me, please, if you rise before me so that we can discuss our plans. But now I’m exhausted. Take me to bed.”

Celia leans into him, resting her head against his chest. It’s comforting, being able to stand with him like this again. Peaceful. All of the rest of her problems might melt away if only she could stand here long enough.

“And… if I took too much juice from you and you wake up hungry and take it back or something happens to me… please don’t take me to your sire. She’s thrown a collar around my neck twice now, and I’d…”

She trails off. Takes a breath she doesn’t need to steel herself, though it has long since ceased doing that as well. She lifts her head to look up at him, and when she continues it’s almost shyly.

“I’d like to be able to do that with you, once… once everything is settled.”

Her eyes dart away, then back to his face. She is sure that, were she human, her cheeks would burn. “So just… call Lebeaux or Randy or something, they’ll figure it out.”

GM: Roderick chuckles at Celia’s initial words. “You sounded a bit like an elder there. Very well, my beloved, let us retire to daysleep’s cold slumber ere Sol’s eye rises over the heavens,” he replies in an exaggerated voice as he hefts her up in his arms, one around her back and the other under her knees.

Celia: “I was practicing,” Celia declares airily, waving a hand and lifting her nose into the air, “for when I’m an elder and can tell the silly neonates that they must wait at least five ye—eee!”

The effect is somewhat lost when her words cut off into a squeal as he lifts her. She throws her arms around him, nuzzling his neck as he carries her through his haven to the bed.

GM: He chuckles at her squeal. But there’s affection in his eyes, too. He looks like he finds it the most adorable sound in the world.

“I’d like to do that too. Save the next night of… ‘unsafe sex’ for sometime special.”

“And I won’t let anything happen to you while you’re here with me. Promise,” he declares somberly, planting a kiss on her forehead.

“But you can text me Randy’s number if it’d make you feel safer.”

Celia: “We should just elope,” she says with an affected sigh, “fuck this city and run away. But I will. Randy’s number, I mean.” She makes him stop so she can retrieve her phone and does just that, then motions for him to continue the ride to the bedroom.

GM: He has her pick up his phone as well. He looks down at the drying red stains they’ve left over his couch and heaves a sigh.

“This is so much messier than breather sex. But at least it wasn’t over the carpet.”

Celia: “Blot, don’t scrub,” Celia says with a firm nod.

GM: “I’ll toss the cushions in the laundry. Tomorrow, though. Can’t interrupt your ride,” he smiles as he carries her across the apartment.

It isn’t a huge space. The living/dining room is one combined area, with the kitchen separated by an island. He carries her up to the bedroom and lets her open the door.

Celia: “Also…”

“Thanks, by the way. I know you’re not, um, into the… breather thing anymore. But that was… really something else.”

GM: “You’re welcome. It… actually didn’t feel as bad as I thought.”

Celia: “It’s because I’m so cute,” Celia tells him, smirking.

GM: “Ha. Yeah. You can still… make it up t’ me with a m’sage. Like ol’ times…”

Roderick’s words are starting to slur a bit. His grip under her feels a little unsteady. Walking herself, though, seems like the worst idea on earth. Her eyelids are so heavy.

Celia: The fatigue hits her all at once. She lets them close, gesturing vaguely toward the bed. He knows where it is. His place, after all. Still, it’s so far—five feet away—and he’s so comfortable… she nestles herself further against him, tucking her face into the crook between neck and shoulder.

“Sleep time,” she murmurs. “Lo’ you.”

GM: He waits for Celia get the door, which feels like a lot of work. So does closing it after they’re inside. Celia doesn’t really notice what the room looks like, beyond that no sun gets inside. Roderick tosses her onto the bed, which is at least a fun way to land, then hits the surface himself with a soft thump. He spoons himself behind her, wrapping his arms around her belly and pressing his face against the back of her head. Celia can still smell the partly-dried blood coating their naked skin.

“You’re so hot…” he murmurs, nuzzling her hair.

“Lo’ you too.”

Celia: She’s aware enough to giggle at his words, but she doesn’t expend the effort to make herself flush as she usually might. She just presses back against him, content to lie still in his arms.

“Ver’ cute,” she agrees, making a movement with her head that might be a nod.

Sleep claims her quickly after that.

Celia III, Chapter XIV

“I am yours. Yours. Forever.”
Celia Flores

Thursday night, 10 March 2016, AM

GM: Roderick leaves Celia some money and tells her to send him a bill for the rest. Jade drives to the Evergreen. The sound of classic Louis Armstrong jazz fills the posh club’s air, though there’s few people in the lounge at this late hour. Actually, it’s all but empty. She’s still greeted by Fabian. The ever-smiling butler tells her she’s looking “Flawless as always, ma’am,” and inquires what he may do for her.

Celia: Jade doesn’t head immediately to the Evergreen. She has a few things to do first: change, for one (she’ll look relatively silly in front of Roderick, but not Savoy) and make a copy of the notes that Roderick had left behind. The latter she stuffs into the purse she carries with her, striding into the Evergreen with the ease of someone who has long been at home in the place. She smiles at Fabian.

“Is Lord Savoy free, perchance? I had wanted to follow up with our conversation from last night. I’d have called but, well, phone trouble.” Her smile turns wry. “I don’t have an appointment,” she admits after a second.

GM: “I am afraid he is not, madam, nor is he presently at the Evergreen. I can attempt to fit you in to his schedule later, or pass on a message if it is a matter of some urgency.”

Jade has never heard of elders being available for drop-ins. She supposes it was a long shot.

Celia: She doesn’t sigh, but her lips do pull down at the corners. She’s pretty certain that elders do this to vex them. Do they not want results? Did he think she’d take weeks to deliver Roderick to him?

“It’s not urgent.” Not really, anyway. “Can you set me up with something, sooner rather than later?”

GM: “His next opening is in three nights, madam. Is that amenable to your schedule?”

Celia: “It will do. Is the warden upstairs?”

GM: “I am afraid he is not, madam. I can pass on a message to him as well, if that would be most convenient for you.”

Celia: She should have stood on the roof and waited for her sire in the rain for all the good this trip did her. Do they not want fucking information or what? She’s doubly pissed now that Roderick destroyed her phone so that she can’t just call the detective to meet up somewhere else.

This time she does sigh, forcing the air from her lungs long enough to convey her mild irritation.

“No,” she says after a moment, “I’ll just call tomorrow.”

She supposes it gives her time to pack an overnight bag to spend the day with Roderick, at any rate. Clean the apartment, get rid of all the broken bits. Not how she wanted to spend her evening, really, but… well, whatever.

She can’t wait until she’s an elder and gets to dick people around.

Thursday night, 10 March 2016, AM

Celia: It isn’t that she forgot about the extra phones Alana had purchased for her. Three, she had said, and the ghoul had delivered them. Two for her, one not for her, but with the phone smashed as it is she might delay the delivery of the third to the party she had intended it for. No, it isn’t that she forgot; it’s that she had thought, perhaps naively, that both Lord Savoy and Warden Lebeaux would want to see her, might even be expecting her. What had Roderick said? Only if you’re their childe can you expect them to let you hang around? Grandchilder count for nothing, it would seem, if Savoy can’t bother to see her for another three days.

It’s a less-than-charitable thought she has about her grandsire. A less-than-charitable thought she has of her sire. Selling hot air, Roderick had passed down from Coco; is that how they see her? That she has done nothing for them? She died for him. She died to get them that information. She has killed for him. Multiple times. Any time he’s needed anything she has jumped to do it. Murdered her own sister. Her own—

She can’t let her thoughts unravel further. She reels them in. She is conflicted, that is it. Conflicted over this meeting with Roderick, the things they had discussed, the plan she has moving forward. Even he had made her wait a night. The thought is a bitter one. Had he done it intentionally, to let her know that she thinks himself above her, or had he simply been busy? I don’t trust you not to be like any other lick, he’d said, but there he goes playing stupid games with her, too.

Jade gives herself a moment to let the irritation fade. She can only imagine that, should she not go calling after Lebeaux to change his ghoul back, she will be blamed for it if the sheriff picks him up as a hunter. As if he’d even listened to the thoughts she’d sent him in the first place.

Still, better not to risk it.

She pulls out her phone to dial Lebeaux.

GM: He picks up after a couple rings.


Celia: “Good evening, Pete. Are you and your friend available? I promised him a follow-up and thought tonight might work for him.” Vague enough, she thinks.

GM: “It’s a little late tonight. How’s early tomorrow?”

Celia: “Of course. Will you please remind him that if I’m to try the high-frequency ray he shouldn’t use any exfoliants or go tanning, and that he needs to avoid salicylic and benzoyl peroxide based products?” She supposes Lebeaux will have his ghoul do what he wants, but far be it from her to at least not warn the man.

GM: “I’ll listen to the expert. We’ll see you later.”

Celia: She bids him good evening and hangs up.

Her next call is to her “sire,” Veronica.

GM: The phone rings to voicemail.

“Make it good,” sounds the harpy’s voice.


Celia: Typical. She’d expected this one, at least. The harpy is always busy, or at least pretends to be.

“Hello, gorgeous. I had the most delicious thought this evening and wanted to share. Give me a ring when it’s convenient, yeah?”

She hangs up.

GM: That’s probably ‘good,’ at least.

Celia: Of course it’s good. Jade knows her sire. It’s got a compliment, a secret, and a request at her leisure. What else can the harpy ask for?

Her thoughts turn to the girl who always picks up her calls. After this night, she needs it. She rings Alana.

GM: For once, it rings to voicemail.

Flawless’ day manager does need to sleep at some point.

Celia: Jesus. Fucking. Christ.

“Hey babe. Give me a call if you get this before your morning run.”

She hangs up.

She’s just going to go back home and twiddle her damn thumbs until 5 AM, apparently.

Thursday night, 10 March 2016, AM

GM: The trip back to her half-wrecked haven is uneventful. She could get started on cleaning it up herself.

Or wait and let one of her renfields do it.

Celia: It’s a brief trip back to her haven on the edge of the Quarter. She lets herself in and once more locks the door behind her, gaze sweeping the destruction that the Brujah had left behind. He hadn’t given her nearly enough to cover the expense of replacing her furniture again, but he’d said to bill her for the rest of it, so perhaps… well, her tastes are marginally more expensive than others, perhaps he won’t be surprised when she hands him a large bill. And she does, indeed, intend to hand him that bill. His fault.

She does not need Alana or Randy to clean up this mess. They have not been told of this location and she will not do it now simply to save herself the headache of cleaning. She has arms and legs; she can do it herself.

She finds an empty garbage bag, a broom and dustbin shoved into the corner of a hall closet, and gets to work sweeping up the worst of it.

Quicker, perhaps, to use her speed to her advantage here. She knows that is one of its primary uses, cleaning up messes like this. And she could. But then she would not be able to listen to the music she has connected to her speakers, the songs that make her want to dance like she hasn’t done in years. Happy, upbeat songs; the kind of top 40s stuff she pretends she doesn’t listen to around other licks, but she and Alana belt in the car while Randy looks on, torn between amusement at her antics and disgust at her choice in music.

There’s a spring in her step as she sweeps. She’s spending the day with Roderick. He said he wants to trust her. He’d held her. All these years later and he still makes her giddy. Not being able to get ahold of Savoy, Veronica, Alana—what is that compared to him? A sleepover. Finally seeing his place. She wonders if it is the same as when they were in college together, if his work will be spread across multiple desks and tables. If his ghouls live with him. She’s never met them, never even thought that he had any. But of course he does. Every lick has their servants; why would he be any different? He probably doesn’t sleep with his, at least. Is that jealousy purring in her chest?


Celia laughs at the thought. Of course not. That would be silly. She spins around the broom as if it were a partner in a ballroom, her skirt twirling up around her legs.

GM: The mix of pop hits belts out, one after another. It’s too bad she can’t tell anyone, “Me and Stephen are getting back together!” She can picture Emily responding, “Well good for you guys,” and immediately pressing for details. She can picture her mom gasping with delight before doing the same. There’s Alana, but would she be jealous? Randy would probably feel even more inadequate.

Then again, she and Roderick had floated that “get married as breathers” idea. Maybe it’s on the table again.

Celia: She hopes he didn’t see that thing in the closet. That would be awkward.

GM: Pick out dresses and venues. Send out invitations for guests. Since her dad’s an asshole, have her mom give her away. Have Lucy as the flower girl. Emily as the maid of honor?

Celia: Who would she even invite to this? Would she have to change Roderick’s face? Or has it been long enough that no one would notice? She won’t pretend she hasn’t thought about it, even after what he did to her. What it would be like to actually get a wedding. Whether or not there would be any other Kindred guests in attendance. Probably not—it seems a silly thing, doesn’t it, to marry as a mortal.

Does ‘til death do us part’ even count if they’re both already dead?

GM: Roderick can’t invite anyone. He’d said he’d prefer a smaller wedding, last they talked about the idea.

Celia: Pity. Celia had always wanted a big party. She enjoys being the center of attention. Being adored. Still, she understands the logic behind it, and of course she will give him what he wants.

They should have had something brilliant, though. Something beautiful. Maybe now he can invite his sister, at least. There’s an upside.

She tries to picture Savoy at an event like this. Wonders if he’d show. Not that she could invite him, anyway; Roderick would probably be opposed to his presence, even if she had a good way to explain why she wanted him there.

Would he be jealous? The cold, dark one?

She thinks such human emotions are beneath him. But maybe.

Her mind runs away with her—her sire showing up. Demanding a duel for her hand. Telling her that of course he cares about her and has all this time.

She is glad there is no one around to see the silly smile on her lips.

GM: The mix of pop hits belts out one song after another. The lyrics are bright, bubbly, and upbeat. The haven feels warm and cozy against the pouring rain as Celia tidies, dances, and sings along. She can picture Roderick. coming back. Picking her up again. Swinging her around in his arms to the pound of Victoria Ash’s Unique Technique.

It’s then that Celia suddenly feels it: an icy hand locked in death grip around her heart. Squeezing. Pulling. Forcing her legs to move while she watches like a spectator. Yanking her towards the source. Yanking her towards the source.

Her sire is calling.

Celia: Up.

The strings pull her towards him; were there no ceiling above her head she thinks, perhaps, that she might simply float away. Already wrapped in the fantasy—his icy chill touching her heart does not do so much to dampen it as he might wish—she can clearly picture their reunion this evening. His arms around her. His lips on hers. Cold. So cold. A shiver runs down her spine at the thought, from exhilaration or anticipation or some combination of them both.

She starts toward the door. Two steps and then she halts, catching sight of herself in the floor-length mirror in the hall, the silly outfit she had donned when she thought only Roderick would see her. She strips quickly, abandoning the skirt, leggings, and distressed shirt, and finds something more fitting in which to see her sire. Burgundy, long, tight through the bodice and hips before it flares out around her legs.

But her face… he knows. She knows that he knows, and yet something inside of her demands the change all the same, that she meet him as her. The real her. The speed she had denied earlier serves its purpose now. She sits herself in front of the mirror to twist and sculpt her features back into Celia’s face. The same Celia she had been when he had come to her that night in 2009, when he had carried her body above the clouds, when his fangs had pierced her flesh to steal the life from her body. Celia Flores, 19 years old. A perfect, flawless version of her, to be sure, but still a younger visage than she has worn in many years. Innocent, wide eyes, long before she had given into Jade’s corruption and rot.

It is painful, as ever. But it is an old, familiar pain, and the hand that touches her heart—that soothes her. A balm to her hurts. Her sire has come to see her.

She is out the door a moment later, taking the steps that will lead her up, the winding spiral staircase that leads to the roof, an umbrella in her hand.

It’s why she took this place, those steps. That easy roof access. Roderick had wanted to jump out the window earlier, and she would have let him, if only to see him in action. But Celia does not need to jump out of windows. She had made sure that, should her sire come calling, she has a quick way to get to him that does not require the scaling of buildings.

The tugging on her heart does not let up. Each step she takes tells her that she is moving in the right direction, though as the staircase winds it becomes more insistent the further away from him she gets, each turn of the stair that takes her in the opposite direction. Up, ever upwards, but for those few steps when she faces away from him she almost cannot stand it. Like that old “hot and cold” game her mother used to play with them when she hid their Easter baskets, only the prize this time is not an assortment of chocolate and other candies. It is her sire. And that, she thinks, is worth more than all the rest.

She does not run up the steps, but she does keep her gait quick, hand on the rail as she ascends. Even the rain beating down upon the city, the thought of runny makeup (as if hers would dare) and sodden hair, is not enough to deter her. She opens the door at the top of the staircase and steps out into the storm.

GM: Celia’s speed serves her well. No one is there when she reaches the top. A second later, there is. The dark blur descends like so much more rain—and a concurrent crash as a man’s form smashes into the floor.

It’s the punk Jade met at the club. He looks delirious with terror. Like he’s aged ten years. There couldn’t have been white in his hair or such heavy bags under his eyes. They’re bloodshot, feverish, and enormous. He’s barely able to raise his hands and gasp “Pl-” before a boot stomps down on his throat, gorily crushing it in with a loud crunch-snap. Blood seeps across the rain-spattered deck.

Celia’s sire does not glance down at the corpse. He’s dressed in a dark, double-breasted trench coat, its style vaguely reminiscent of a World War II German military officer. On someone else, it might look offensive. On him it feels like the Third Reich is back—and pounding on your door in the dead of night, each sharp bang promising you’re next. He bothers with no umbrella. The rain weeps against his waxen, corpse-like face, and perhaps seems to trickle down its frozen contours more slowly than rain should. He does not blink as the moisture runs down his eyes, nor move his mouth as it beads on his lips. He looks like a statue. Chiseled stone indifferent to its state in the gloomy weather.

Equally chill thoughts fill Celia’s mind.

:: Dispose of this. ::

More materials for the spa.

Celia: The sight before her—the punk with his green hair, now tinged in white—is nothing short of shocking. The boot that ends his life is grotesque, the squelch of his lash breath, the blood leaving his body, the snap of his neck… Celia cannot look away. Does not look away, will not allow it. Not from her sire. Not from what he has done. A loose end. She had not forgotten about the punk from the club, the man that tried to roofie her, but she had not yet moved against him. Had thought he might not be involved.

Her sire had. Had tracked him down. Questioned him, she can assume from his haggard appearance. Because she had reached out to him? His had not been among the faces she had sent him. But he found the man. Found him. Ended him. Ended a threat to her. To all of them, yes, but to her. Her insides flutter.

The umbrella in her hand is abandoned against the door as she moves across the roof toward her sire. Her dress is soaked through in seconds, heavy around her legs, but she pays it no mind. Her heels click against the roof with each step that she takes. Stay, her heart whispers, please stay, just for a moment. She doesn’t dare let herself think it.

She stands before him in an instant, the dead body to her side. Her head dips in acquiescence.

:: Yes, sire. ::

A brief pause. She lifts her eyes to his face.

:: Thank you, sire. ::

GM: The dead-looking face remains motionless.

The rain pours down, plastering her hair against her scalp.

:: Inform me what intelligence you have obtained since our last meeting. ::

Celia: He had heard her. Had heard, had listened, had hunted for her. He cares. He has to care. That’s what this has to mean, doesn’t it? He hadn’t come swooping in to rescue her, but this… this has to mean something. She doesn’t dwell.

Intelligence. Hard facts. Her theories as well? She doesn’t ask. She will give them at the end. She takes a second to organize her thoughts so he does not need to sift through them. It reminds her all too much of the meeting with the archon, the steel trap around her mind.

:: Attack on Vienna, other cities. Catastrophe in Vienna. Hunters. Calbido will sit on it. Uptick in hunter activity within the city. Quarter. Mid-City. Prague conclave—they will send someone to discuss their options. The seneschal has said you are unavailable to go, that they cannot spare you. ::

Perhaps he picks up on her concern for him, the undercurrent of emotion behind the words, the relief that he will not be leaving.

:: The Nosferatu primogen pushes for Savoy and the Baron to join the Calbido. In contact with Vitel, Black, and Houston. Plan to host Black. Elders prepping for civil war. Savoy has found a way to manipulate an ear in Calbido. I am handling. Have ideas—later. ::

She has not confirmed that Savoy was the one to turn Dani, or have her turned, but she suspects. She will add it to the things she tells him that are not hard, cold facts.

:: Fledgling in the Garden District this evening, among her mortal family. Trespassing, possibly. Have ideas—later. ::

Another theory.

:: Soul-thieves in the city. ::

A pause.

:: Have possible answers to old questions. ::

Arms around her. Someone shoving a gun into her hand. Her mother’s earlier words this evening.

:: Information on Maxen Flores. ::


GM: The rain continues to pour, soaking Celia’s already wet dress against her skin. Her sire neither questions nor interrupts until she is finished.

:: Expound. ::

Celia: Her eyes search his face. If she seeks an answer to question she does not find it in the marble that he has been cut from.

:: Maxen fathered a child with his daughter. Savoy knows. Possibly plans to use it against him. ::

She knows what she has done. That she has given him the card she could use against her father. The expression on her face does not change; she does not betray her inner turmoil. She has already sold out her family for him once—what’s it matter if she does so again? Perhaps she feels a twinge of regret that she cannot take him down, but he will not be useful to her sire forever; when he is old and gray, that is when Donovan will let her have him. Patience. She can be patient. For him.

:: Hunters have friends in the city, believe to be “Inq.” Will have more information tomorrow. Infiltrated meeting, need to collect. Audio device planted. ::

Pride at that. It was her doing.

:: Identity possibly compromised. By hunters. By fledgling. ::

An image of Caroline swims in front of her. She sends that along the mental path as well, the golden-haired Ventrue.

:: Theories, sire? Plans? ::

She’s asking if she should share the things she doesn’t know, just strongly suspects. Her own plans for the information she has obtained. How she will spin it to her advantage, but more than that, to his advantage.

:: Old information, as well. Perhaps not relevant. Can share regardless. Maxen-related. Just a theory, unconfirmed. Think it’s true. ::

GM: Just like that, another dagger against her father is laid before her sire’s impassive eyes.

Once again, he offers no response over the pouring rain until Celia is finished.

:: Proceed. ::

Celia: :: 2003. Believe Savoy moved against Diana to make her confess something to Maxen that would cause him to harm her. Discredit him, lose seat. Not confirmed. Mentioned ‘woman at the party.’ Can look into further, if desired. Fragile mind, need delicate approach. 2009… after Maxen’s arrest I returned to the house. Man waiting. Thought it was you. ::

She’d wanted it to be him. Had thought about what it would mean if it were him. Choosing her over her father. How many times has she replayed that scene in the hallway, the one where he took the gun from her, tucked her into bed? She tries not to dwell. Desire courses through her all the same. He’s just in front of her. Close enough to touch. She wants to touch. Wants him to touch her.

:: Not you. Savoy said not him. Gave me a gun, told me to shoot Maxen… believe him to be Gettis. Unconfirmed, strong suspicion. Knew I would be there. Possibly dead, not sure how relevant. Apologies if this is old news. ::

There’s a pause while she considers her next thoughts. The rain has destroyed her gown, but she does not seem to notice. It is not important, not next to him.

:: Fledgling. Caroline Malveaux-Devillers. Presumed to be childe of the renegade hound… But, sire, she has speed almost at your level. Months old? Not possible, is it? Think her to be the childe of someone else. Someone older. Potent blood. ::

Another pause. Her theory might be wrong, but she offers it all the same. It’s what makes sense to her given what she tasted, the offhand comment made earlier in the evening.

:: Prince? Seneschal? ::

There’s more. Always more. But she waits.

GM: Celia’s sire offers no response to her apologies. Nor any yet to her other news.

The ran continues to fall. Much of the blood pooling from the punk’s corpse is now a watery pink, but Celia can still feel her fangs elongated in her mouth. Perhaps it is her present company. Perhaps it is simply the residual so-heady coppery smell. Perhaps both.

:: Inform me of the circumstances under which you were proximate to Malveaux-Devillers. ::

Celia: Apprehension creeps into her at the question. Roderick’s earlier exclamation at her location this evening has come back to haunt her. Her eyes dim. She doesn’t dare move, doesn’t dare draw useless breath, doesn’t fidget or drop her gaze or let him know how he makes her want to squirm. A thousand lies pop into her mind, a thousand pleas for him not to hurt her, a thousand ways for him to ignore those pleas. She voices none of them. Squashes them down inside of her where they cannot betray her, where she will not be tempted. This dark man has no sympathy.

:: In the Garden District. ::

Invited, but it doesn’t matter.

If it were possible to whisper in her mind that’s what she would do. Will he drag her before the prince? Make an example of her? She has heard that now they call him judge, jury, and executioner; will she see his justice now, tonight?

:: Not poaching. Never that. Preserving my own Masquerade. ::

It doesn’t matter.

He’s going to kill her.

He’s going to kill her here, now, tonight, on top of this roof.

No one will know. They’ll just think she vanished.

More to do for him, more to tell him, but she will die for the sin of trespassing, no matter that the usual punishment is a drink.

She stands rooted to the spot.

GM: Just like that, he’s gone.

The rain falls and falls.

Celia: But… but she had more. More to tell him. More to inform.

She could have lied. Should have lied.

No, she reflects, never that. Not to him. Truth comes out.

He’s gone, but the burning ache in her chest is not. The knot in her stomach twists. Let him down. All that and she still let him down.

She presses her hands against her mouth to contain the sounds she wants to make, wants to scream. Any pride, any satisfaction she’d had in telling him everything—it vanishes in the wake of his departure.


GM: Suddenly, he’s back.

So Celia’s mother. She’s on her knees at his feet, dressed in a long, floral-printed nightgown already soaked through in the rain. One of his so-pale hands is locked around her arm. Her eyes are enormous and mad with terror, like the punk’s were. When she sees Celia, her mouth starts to falteringly work. No sound comes out, as though she’s trying to speak—or scream—through a gag.

Celia: No.

They’re supposed to be safe. She’s supposed to be safe. French Quarter, it’s supposed to be safe.

But she’d learned long ago that safety is only an illusion, hadn’t she?

Horror has her in its grasp. She takes a step forward—and halts, faltering, looking between the two of them, eyes wide, hands reaching, stretching towards her mother, as if she can make this all go away, as if the thing that has her in its grasp is anything that can be reasoned with.

GM: :: It requires but one careless misstep to destroy that which takes decades to cultivate. ::

Celia’s sire flings her mother into the sky as though the woman weighs as much as a baseball. Diana’s flailing, silently screaming form recedes into the rain, becoming no more than a hazy white and pink smudge.

Then she’s gone.

A heart-arrestingly long moment passes.

Then, the white and pink smudge reappears.

Gets bigger.


Gets some spots of blonde and fleshy pink.

Gets a face.

Gets a mouth. A wide open, screaming mouth.

She’s falling.

God knows how many feet.

:: Catch. ::

Celia: No. No, no, no, no, no.

Anything. She would have given him anything.

“She’ll die—please!” She sees it as clear as she sees him in front of her. Her mother’s body hitting the roof. The screaming woman laid out and broken. Silent. Every organ inside of her rupturing. Every bone disintegrating into dust. Bodily fluids leaking out of every orifice. She’ll watch her mother draw her last breath, smell the blood as it spills from her body. Even catching her… the roof is hard, stone beneath her feet, Celia’s arms as stiff as any other corpse. A snapped spine if she lands wrong. Paralyzed. Her dreams will die, another funeral for the already-passed ballerina.

Her mom comes closer. Fast. So impossibly fast.

One shot.

She can’t miss.

Everything has to be perfect. Flawless.

This wasn’t how her night was supposed to go. It’s her last coherent thought. Absurd, chiding, that it wasn’t how she was supposed to see him again. She does not, cannot, spare a look at him. She does not waste her breath screaming. She stuffs her hatred of him down so deep inside herself that it will never again see the open sky. She makes herself as cold as him.

Celia had fallen once. It would have been enough to kill her, too, had he not already done it.

She may not be able to jump as high as a Brujah, but she is no helpless doe. A timely gift from the beautiful fledgling who had caused this problem thrums through her veins. Tonight she is fast.

I’m fast, she’d told the detective.

Not fast enough, he’d said.

Not fast enough to save herself, not from her sire. But she had not needed to save herself. She had needed to save her mother. Then. And now. She’d been fast enough for that then. She will be fast enough now. Fast enough to take a running leap, to catch her mother in the air, to descend with her in her arms and land on her feet like the cat that she is.

It will hurt. It will break things. It might break everything. But for her mother? For her mother she’ll pay the price. For her mother she’ll break everything five times over. She’d given her life for the woman once; what’s a little pain now?

She watches her mother come closer. She waits until the right moment. The perfect moment. One chance. That’s all she gets. That’s all her mother gets. Just one.

She burns through the blood, rousing her vitae to flood her body with the boost she needs.

I’m fast, she’ll tell him.

Fast enough, he’ll agree.

The moment arrives. She runs. She leaps.

GM: Celia summons everything she has. Caroline’s so-timely gift. The vitae coursing through her own veins, nine steps removed from Caine’s own. Everything to push her willingly broken and shredded undead body to its utmost limits.

The Toreador streaks into the air like a bloody missile, moving so fast one might almost think she possessed her sire’s gift of flight. She collides against her mother, swerving her head to avoid bonking it against the so-frail mortal’s. Their chests still hit, possibly hard enough to drive the air from Diana’s lungs, but Celia can’t see the woman’s face. She wraps her arms around her mother’s back, the soaked nightgown doing nothing against her equally soaked dress. Rain screams down over their faces as her Beast howls in her ears.

They fall.

They fall.

Then with a heavy thump, they stop falling. Celia rolls over. Diana is covered in blood. For a heart-stopping moment, Celia thinks it’s her mother’s. But it can’t be, not with the woman cradled in her arms as she was. Then she feels it: the Beast tearing her apart from the inside, yowling its rage to the sky for the blood that Celia burned through to save this chattel. The heavy impact of her heeled feet hitting the rooftop with the weight of another person in her arms, the reverberating shock traveling up through her body. The organs she’d removed from herself left a gaping hole behind, one that her very bones try to fill when they’re knocked loose by the high-speed collision. Several of them splinter through her skin, covering the pair of them in blood.

Her mom’s mouth tries to move. Sound still doesn’t come out. She looks over the blood on Celia, then tries to pull up her daughter’s dress around the reddest spots. Starts to tear off strips of her nightgown to bind the wounds. Maybe she’s crying. It’s so hard to tell, past the rain, but it looks like she is. She tries to mouth something, over and over. ‘Stay with me, Celia. Stay with me, Celia.’


Celia: Blood. Blood everywhere. Blood on her mom. She’d failed. Failed her sire, failed her mom—but no, that can’t be right. It’s her blood spilled across the front of her torn gown, across her mother’s hands as, even now, even after all of that, she sees to her daughter’s wounds first. Stolen from her bed in the middle of the night. Carried across the Quarter. Thrown into the air. And still—still her concern is for her daughter.

That’s love.

That’s love that he will never know.

That’s love that no one who has become a monster will ever understand.

Her body aches. Muscles hang heavy from her frame. Her side is split almost in two by the ribs that punctured her skin upon crashing onto the roof. Her mother’s hands do nothing to mend her dead flesh; her own blood sees to that, or will once the threat has passed.

She rises. Agony. But the night isn’t over yet. Her sire isn’t done with her yet. She pulls her mother close, tells her that it’s okay, it’s all okay, even though it isn’t.

:: Yes, sire. Thank you, sire. I will not forget. ::

GM: Diana looks even more distraught as her daughter rises. She tries to get Celia to lie back down. Tries to say something else.

Then Donovan’s cold hand takes her by the chin. He stares into her eyes.

“This was a nightmare. You recall your husband’s face in place of mine. Sleep. Do not awaken until you are returned to your bed.”

Celia’s mother slumps forward like an expired wind-up toy, collapsing face-first into the rain.

Celia: It’s all she can do to catch her mother’s body before she hits the ground. Celia staggers, her knees threatening to buckle after the beating she has already taken, and lowers her mother gently down. Her eyes look up toward her sire.

GM: Donovan makes no move to catch Celia’s mother as his stare falls upon his childe.

:: You will stay out of the Garden District. You will ensure that Malveaux-Devillers, to whom you were sufficiently proximate to risk everything, causes us no problems. ::

Celia: She rises.

:: Understood. It shall be done. ::

GM: Celia’s mother lies motionless on the mat, rain pouring over her still face.

:: Obtain further information on Malveaux-Devillers that is of use to me and you shall be rewarded. ::

:: Slay her without revealing my hand, or find a means to suborn her to my will completely, and you shall have Maxen Flores to do with as you please. ::

:: Risk the cover I have orchestrated for us again, and I shall risk the life of Maxen’s wife again. ::

Celia: Rewarded. Maxen Flores. The offers send a thrill through her.

:: Yes, sire. It shall be as you say. Thank you. ::

GM: :: If you have remaining business between us, speak it now. ::

Celia: Celia nods. She centers herself. Recalls where she left off in the report that she had been giving him, how much she had revealed.

:: Yes, sire. Three things. Further information. A theory. Blasphemous, but not without merit. Possibly worth looking into. Dangerous, though, and I am uncertain of its validity. I would not voice it except that it is ruinous. A question, sire, if you’ll permit it. ::

She pauses. Her mind travels to the apartment below her. The box inside of it, waiting for him.

:: One more thing, to wrap up. Something for you. ::

GM: :: Proceed. ::

Celia: :: I believe that Prince Vidal is using neonates as blood dolls. ::

GM: :: On what basis? ::

Celia: :: One of the Storyvilles was in captivity at the Evergreen. While being questioned the neonate likened the prince to a god, implied that he was the childe of Longinus or that the childe of Longinus walks among us. The scripture chosen is telling: “…lays his hand upon my heart and I know the last gift I am to give.” It felt very cult-like. ::

:: Ordinarily I would assume a full collar, but then I began to wonder if that’s all it is. The harpy’s childe who was fed upon revered Matheson the same way. Meadows took out the entire krewe. She has always been loyal to the prince, but rumor says now she is loyal to the Testament, perhaps sees the death of the krewe as a way to rein in his headhunting. Proclaimed Matheson innocent to set precedent for his own actions and possible trial. The krewe member questioned was adamant about rebuilding the group and would have gone so far as to Embrace without permission so that he could receive his sustenance. ::

:: And… this is a leap, sire, but if I am correct about the earlier mentioned Ventrue then she had extremely potent blood in her system—not her own, someone else’s—more so than Savoy, and while I am sure there is another to whom it could belong… if it is his, it suggests that perhaps the kine no longer do it for him. The rumor is that he nears his long sleep; it is possible he uses thicker vitae to keep him from sliding down that slope. ::

GM: :: Such a rumor concerning Prince Vidal’s predilections is to our benefit. Its truth is irrelevant. Assist its dissemination. ::

Celia: :: Yes, sire, I shall. ::

She does not bite her lip, though she wants to. Wants to fidget as well, though she does not beneath his gaze.

:: The question, sire? If you permit. ::

GM: :: Proceed. ::

Celia: She hesitates. She had long thought the answer to this question was evident in Veronica’s approval to sire a childe. But Roderick’s words this evening ring in her ear: they usually do not say who they wish to sire, only that they wish to do so. She’d thought to ask the harpy, but who knows when Veronica will make time for her. It is a delicate thing, she thinks, but she does not want to dance around the subject or waste her sire’s time. She asks him, bluntly.

:: Was my Embrace sanctioned? ::

GM: Donovan raises his wrist to his mouth. There’s a flash of fangs, and then red wells from his wrist. He holds it over Diana and lets the blood run over her face.

Celia: No.

She’d just been through this.

Had just saved her mother.

Celia does not stand idly by this time. She steps forward, between her mother and her sire. Her jaw works as she watches the blood drip from his wrist… and she acts, bending, taking a knee, bringing it into herself instead of her mother, letting the red hit her tongue rather than the sweet, innocent woman beneath her. She will take this offering, understanding what it means, what it will do to her. Already he has twisted her mind, and now she will let him do it further, will take that final step and all it means.

She sends him wordless apologies across the tether in her mind. She’s sorry. So sorry. She shouldn’t have asked. Please, not her mom, not like this. She has given him everything else. Everything. Will still give him everything, just not this. Not this one thing, this one woman.

She won’t question him again. Never. She will serve. It is her place. It is why she’s here. For him. To serve. To deliver the city. To weaken Vidal. She understands. Nothing else is important. Just him. Getting him what he wants. She understands.

His point is made. He doesn’t need to do anything further. Not her mom. Please, not her mom.

GM: Her sire unceremoniously pushes her aside. The blood freely runs over her mother’s sleeping face.

:: I have no use for this broken kine, foolish childe. She must swallow it to be made my slave. ::

Celia: A moment passes. His words sink in, past the blood that calls to her. Past the sleeping woman on whose face it rests. Past the frayed nerves, the emotional upheaval of the evening, her mother almost dying and then being put in danger again just by her proximity. Her sire is not a lick from whom she expects benevolence; a trick, she thought, a way to remind her of her place. But the trick was in her own mind, her own dour expectations, and she realizes what he means to do.

Her imagination had run wild without her permission, twisted his offering into something malicious. Sick. Turning her mother into a slave. Giving her his blood and then slaying her, leaving Celia to pick up the broken pieces of her family. Some other ritual or rite or depraved act that she can’t let herself dwell on, doesn’t even have proof that he knows. Rumors and hearsay, none of them good. He is not known for his kindness.

It clicks into place, perhaps worse than she had even thought. Blood on her mother’s face so she can feed. So she can lick it off of her and mend her wounds.

Like a dog.

Like the panting bitch in heat that she has always been around him.

The collar chafes at her. She wants it. His blood. His body. His gift. Her mind twists in ways to make it palatable, playing over his past words to her. You will have a place in my new order. Where? She had wondered even then and now she knows: on her knees. He would keep her on her knees without even the dignity of an answer to her question. Ignored, as she so often is by him. Rejected. Never good enough. He could let the blood cool on his body and chooses instead to let it drip onto the ground.

The face of his ghoul flashes before her eyes, the threat he’d made when she was nineteen years old and had tried to end things with him. Turning her into a dog.

This, then, is where he gets it.

Revulsion roils through her, gut churning in disgust at the thought.

:: No. ::

GM: :: I had thought to reward you for the information you had brought me. If you would reject what gifts flow from my hand, so be it. ::

The sheriff withdraws his wrist. The blood’s heavy aroma tantalizingly wafts from Diana’s red-streaked face.

:: May hunger be the wages of your impertinence and stupidity. ::

Celia: She misses it as soon as it is gone. The noose around her neck tightens to a stranglehold, but she’s lying to herself if she thinks that is the only thing that makes her want him. Even now, after all of this, she knows the truth she had just denied: if the choice is between her knees and nothing she will let him push her down every time.

It is not pride that swells within her for not sniveling, bowing, and scraping. It is not gratitude for his offer. It is shame, hot and heavy, her cheeks smarting as if he had struck her rather than just call her stupid. An old trigger. And trigger it does.

Stupid, to risk their plans. Stupid, to question him. Stupid, to not accept his reward.

She doesn’t tell him that she understands, bites her tongue rather than ask for a re-do. She bows her head and lets the rain wash the hair into her face. Maybe it will take her along with it and they can swirl down the drain together, flush it away as she flushes away any esteem she might have gained this evening.

:: I have something for you. ::

A gift, but she doesn’t know why she bothers. It will not be good enough. She will not be good enough. He will always see her like this.

GM: :: Proceed, :: sounds her sire’s impassive voice.

Celia: Celia rises, the motion stiff. She does not wince, does not betray her body’s injured condition; she could have fixed herself had she not snubbed her sire’s reward. Perhaps if she leaps from the edge of the roof the ground will welcome her warmly into its arms, hold her in sleep until dawn, and the sun will burn her worries away. Then she cannot make a fool of herself, or of him.

The thought is fleeting.

The gift is downstairs, but if she leaves to retrieve it she fears that he will find reason to punish her for taking too long, and her mother’s body is right there, exposed and vulnerable to his mercy. Worse, she fears that she will come back to an empty roof. But they have never been inside together. She does not think there is a room on this Earth that can contain him. He simply fills the space he is in, and to ask him to submit to the offense of walls…

:: Will you come inside for a moment? ::

GM: He’s there. She’s there. Then they’re not. They’re inside her haven, water dripping from their damp clothes.

Yet it feels less that he submits to walls than those same walls have become a prison. Filled by him, with suffocatingly little room for her. Nowhere to hide. Nowhere to run. Nowhere to breathe. Nowhere to escape the weight of his roiling stormy eyes, and hope he will not decide she is wasting his time. What little forgiveness he may have seems close to spent.

Celia’s mother isn’t with them. Donovan must have left her lying face-down in the rain, clad in that blood- and water-soaked nightgown.

Celia: She hadn’t even seen him move. A blur, like she’d said to Roderick. How do you fight a blur? How do you keep it from destroying you? Because he has destroyed her. Every bit of her. Every time he touches her, every time he speaks, he takes a little bit more of her with him. Soon she will have nothing left of herself.

He had touched her, though. Brought her down here. Carried her, in his arms, though it was done and over with before she could so much as enjoy it. Not a kindness, she knows, not a way to prevent the discomfort of walking down steps when she is plagued by injury, when her muscles are sore and she hurts to her very bones, when each step, each movement, sends a throb through her core. Simple logistics. He moves faster than her.

Music still plays inside her home. She had not turned it off when she went up to the roof, and there it goes, the singer’s voice belting out his lyrics from the Bluetooth speaker Celia had set it up to earlier.

Every time I get no further
How long has it been?
Come on in now
Wipe your feet on my dreams

Her dress drips onto the hardwood floor, pink-tinged water settling into the grooves that she had gouged by her own nails twice over. She had cleaned the worst of it, the broken glass from smashed knickknacks and mirrors, the stuffing the Brujah had pulled from the couch in his frenzy, the splintered wood from destroyed kitchen stools. But the damage remains. Stupid, to sing and dance in her home when she had cleaning to do. His first time in—what must he think of her? Does he look around the destruction and wonder at the disorder, wonder if she had been attacked? She has been inside his haven, long before she knew it was his. The austere walls. The pristine condition. Her evening had been marked by violence, but she does not think he cares.

His presence suffocates her. Smothers her in its proximity. Outside there is room to maneuver; here, inside her home, she is trapped with a beast more deadly than she has ever known. Lion, tiger, bear, wolverine—worse than all of that, she is trapped with her sire. Ice incarnate. A freeze so cold it burns.

I’ve done this before
And I will do it again

Rituals, Savoy had said, keep the worst of it away. Rituals, she thinks now, when inside of her something tells her to play hostess. Ask him if he’d like to sit. But there is nowhere for him to sit. Everything had been destroyed except the large, four-poster bed in the corner with its carnation and charcoal sheets. Her stomach lurches at the thought of Donovan in her bed. On her bed. Whichever way she cuts it, the thought is the same, and inside her mouth her fangs lengthen. Frayed nerves, she blames. The recent smell of the blood she had not been able to taste, she blames. Not the thoughts of him in her bed, not that, not the images she sees, the memories she has of him—arms around her, give Daddy a kiss, you’re my special little girl, his fangs in her neck. Can you share what we share? No. Never. Never with anyone else. His. Forever.

She hopes—prays—that he is not looking into her head, that he has not seen what she wants, what she would give anything for. Something that would make every trial and tribulation worth it.

Come on and kill me, baby
While you smile like a friend
Oh, and I’ll come running
Just to do it again

Celia crosses the floor to where her phone rests on the kitchen counter next to the small black speaker.

You are that last drink I never should—

The music fades with the press of a button. Silence in the room. Silence in her haven. Silence but for the fluttering of wings inside of her. Can he hear them?

GM: It’s hard not to wonder what else he might have done, or still be waiting to do, if he’s looking into her head. If her mother would not ‘merely’ be lying in a cold and wet but still very much alive heap upstairs.

But, no. You can tell when someone’s in your head, can’t you? That’s what Pete had said. Some part of them in inside of you. It leaves a trace.

Unless some part of you is already inside of them. If they have your blood. The blood is power. The Blood is everything. If they have that, they can do anything to you.

How easily might he claim hers? She was so ready to accept his. It doesn’t even seem that bad. Maybe he would feel something more for her. Believe her more loyal. Trust her with more. Trust is so scarce, in their world. It’s scarce even to Roderick. How much more must it be to one such as him?

He does not survey the room, like Stephen did, or take in the decor and furnishings like her one-time paramour seemed to. His renfield’s house was as close to empty as it could be. Roxanne said the emptier her room got, the crazier it made her. What manner of soul makes their abode in an empty place?

His frigid gaze settles heavily upon hers. The music feels like it died long before she turned it off.

:: My time and patience are short. ::

Celia: Her heels tap against the floor with every step she takes. No faltering, not here; she does not play the games with him that she had played with the primogen’s childe. The gown hangs heavy from her frame. She is glad for it. Glad that it weighs her down, heart and mind. Glad that its color hides the worst of her wounds. Glad for the gift inside her veins that steadies her steps as she nears her sire once more. In the kitchen, she could breathe freely—should she need to. Here, approaching him, she cannot. His presence sucks the air from the room. Suffocates her, a firm hand on her throat. Every step closer to him is another piece of ice against her skin.

It will never be enough to turn her away from him. It will never be enough to not make her come when he calls. Does he know that? Is that why he does not pretend with her, because he knows that no matter how much he hurts her she will always return to his side?

Her mother showed her love on the roof. Love for her daughter many times over: even when she was in danger, even then, she saw to her daughter first. Against her sire. Against her father.

Is it love she feels for him? Some twisted version of it, brought on by the collar around her neck and his hand in her life? Twenty years, she has belonged to him. He is the answer to every question she has ever asked. Is that what he wants from her, love and adoration? Does he even recognize those emotions? No, she thinks not. He simply wants her to serve. To be useful. He will never care for her like she cares for him. Perhaps he doesn’t want her to care. The “place” she has in “his new order” is on her knees. He had shown her the truth of it on the roof.

She takes a knee now. Beside the bed, reaching under it to pull out a box. Wooden, a little over a foot long, half as wide. It slides across the carpet at her insistent pull. She lifts it, rising once again, the box in her hands. She’d thought about a bow. Wrapping paper. Had wondered for a long time if anyone has ever given him a gift. If he’d pulled apart presents on Christmas day, on birthdays, on anniversaries. If he has ever wished for anything.

Perhaps it is why she cannot have him. Or rather, why she does have him, just not the way she wants. Had he heard her wish that day she turned eight? A pony. She had gotten it—and him. Like a djinn, he twists her desires.

Still, she wishes for him. Wishes with every part of her. Every yearning, broken part of her, all the lying parts that had ever told anyone else she would be theirs. This, here, her true master.

This is not how she wants to present it. Not to an angry, disappointed, impatient sire. She had wanted to give it to him on a date that meant something special, three weeks from now on the anniversary of her death, when he had spared her life by taking it into him, when he had shown her what he is. The true him, the one inside his mind, that even years later she has not shared with a single soul. Will not share. His secret. Their secret.

She’d thought it meant they were made for each other.

Concern for his future is what moves her to offer it now rather than waiting. Concern and uncertainty—she never knows when next she will see him.

No fanfare planned, not even then. Perhaps a celebration, of a sort. More information. More dead enemies. More blows against the regime he seeks to overthrow. Not this. Wet. Cold. Her mother’s fragile body so close, too close. Celia’s beautiful corpse torn apart by her own hands. His insults heavy on her soul.

Maybe, even had it gone as planned, she wouldn’t have earned anything for it. No smile. No pat on the head. No offer to let her drink.

Still, she longs for that evening instead. She knows what she would say. How she would present it. Everything is different now, though.

She sets the box atop her bed so that he can open it.

GM: He doesn’t draw it out. He doesn’t ask or guess what the contents might be. He doesn’t smile, remark how thoughtful she is, or inquire as to the occasion.

He simply takes off the lid.

A bow and wrapping paper seem like they’d have only been regarded as inconveniences.

Celia: Nestled inside the box are a pair of leather bracers as dark as the night sky above them. Pure obsidian; indeed, they seem to drink the very light from the room, soak it up like the black hole that she has often compared him to inside her mind, the thing that pulls and twists and rends her, that she knows she cannot escape.

That she does not want to escape.

They are slim. Designed to be discrete, to fit beneath the long-sleeved garments that she has always seen him in. She has never seen his arms, only his hands. These will not draw attention, not like the saber he carries at his side. It is the saber that made her think of these, that spawned the idea and thus the craft she has spent long hours pouring over to get just right. She does not imagine that he can take his blade everywhere. But these? Oh, these he can take anywhere and no one will ever know.

Celia keeps her explanation brief.

:: The underside contains a blade. As long as your forearm. It slides free at a touch, and can be pulled further to be held by the hilt should you need a longer reach. :: It is designed to be a companion to his saber, not to replace it. The edge of the blade itself was inspired by the diamond-tipped tools she uses at her salon. Long have people used glass knifes, obsidian knives; they are finer than any scalpel, will keep their edge as they sharpen with each release. He will cut through everything in his path with ease.

:: The other contains three blades. They are folded inside, long and thin, can be expelled outward. When pressure is applied to the tip—upon impact—they will expand. Like an arrowhead. They hook. :: A Brujah had once shown her how he could throw anything and make it come back to him. Thus she had the inspiration for the second bracer: Donovan will no longer need to chase people down. He can simply fling the smaller blades at them and yank them back to him. Perfect for multiple enemies. Doubtless he will find other purposes for it.

:: The outsides are cured leather, but inside it is layered. Anything that impacts it will be sent reverberating among the layers to distribute the force. Were someone lesser to wear these they might bruise, but you should not bear a mark. It will turn aside projectiles, blades. ::

She had thought to put Kevlar inside. It had been her first idea, to steal from the kine police forces. But Kevlar works because it is curved; things hit it and ricochet off. Bullets may not do much to them, but she would still not want to be struck by one. The “layered” idea had come from the ancient Chinese. They used to layer paper in their armor. Paper. And it kept them safe for years. But paper disintegrates when wet and can only take so many blows. Her sire is made of firmer stuff.

So, too, are the bracers.

:: Inside, carbon fiber. ::

Steel is strong, but it is not flexible. Aluminum is flexible, but it corrodes, and not as strong as steel. Celia had wanted something that mimics the body itself. Humans are fascinating, truly; they heal from things most animals do not. Their bodies are made for shock absorption—how many drunk drivers had killed others but themselves gotten off without a scratch because they had not tensed? How many have been hit or mauled or burned by things that should have ended them and did not thanks to their own flesh and blood?

Since she began learning how to sculpt and craft the flesh she has poured over medical research, digging through thousands of pages and conducting her own trials. How the body works. How each piece fits together. Collagen is a major structural protein. It strengthens tendons and ligaments, provides support for their internal organs so their insides aren’t simply free to hang around.

Each fiber contains thousands of individual molecules to keep it strong, and its structure—the triple helix—provides additional strength and stability, allowing it to withstand most mechanical stress. The collagen in the dermis gives the skin its elasticity. Even the kine use it: cosmetic surgery, bone grafts, skin grafts, wound healing.

She had looked into multiple materials to find what she sought, natural and synthetic, but carbon fiber had jumped out at her. Lightweight. Stronger than steel. The strands are as thin as human hair. Woven together like yarn, like the collagen inside the body, it becomes even more durable. It is already used in military and aerospace applications; easy to find a design and turn it into what she needs.

The bracers are thin. Compact. Unobtrusive. He will be able to wear them without problem, strike people with surprise when they think he is unarmed. And black has long been his color.

She does not think to fight his battles for him. He does not need her help there. She has seen, has heard, the things that he can do. It is not a ring like she offered Savoy; he does not need ornaments, jewelry, anything to distract him. So she has gifted him something that serves a purpose. Something functional. Utilitarian and lethal—like him. Still, she does not expect the kind words she had received from her grandsire.

She only knows that there isn’t anything she wouldn’t give if it meant keeping him around. There is no world without him in it.

Celia does not put that thought into words. She does not send it along the mental link between them. She barely lets herself feel it. Tightly coiled constraint keeps her still.


GM: Celia does not wait overlong.

Donovan rolls up his coat and shirt sleeve to the elbow. His forearm is is like the rest of him: waxen, corpse-pale, and hairless. It’s well-muscled and proportioned, too, without an inch of excess fat. He looks buffer than Roderick does, in fact. He fastens on the first bracer, then rolls up his other sleeve to fasten on the second bracer.

He extends the blades. Longer from the first bracer, shorter from the second.

Then he turns and slashes them straight at Celia’s face.

Celia: She doesn’t so much as flinch. Some part of her had thought this might happen. Who is she to deny her sire his target?

GM: There’s a soft, almost tickling sensation along her shoulders and back. The Toreador’s hair falls to the ground in ugly-looking clumps, aged years in an instant.

:: Satisfactory. ::

The blades retract.

Celia: Pleasure thrums through her at the words. She is careful to keep it inside where he cannot see. She simply nods.

:: Thank you, sire. ::

She does not comment on the shorn hair. The attack against her person. The attack against her mother.

GM: Her sire lowers his sleeves back over the bracers. He cups Celia’s chin in his hand, tilting her face as though stare into his eyes. But before she can sink into its achromatic depths, sink and drown in their hellish bottom like last time, he sweeps out her legs from under her. She falls. Her shortened hair stops just short of the floor before his cold hand seizes the back of her skull, exposing her throat to the air.

Then he kisses her.

It isn’t a rough kiss, like a common brute’s. But it is forceful, heedless, and direct, like an avalanche colliding against her lips. One that perhaps makes her want to be buried. She can feel his fangs stabbing against her lips and taste a faint trickle of blood against her tongue.

Celia: She cannot help but stare at the exposed flesh. She does not mean to. But she has never seen her sire without the long sleeves; she had thought about what it would feel like to lace the bracers onto him herself, the slow rolling back of his shirt sleeves, pulling them on—

Her thoughts are disrupted by the foot he kicks her way, her body beginning its descent—then halted, abruptly, by the hand that catches her.

Always catching her.

If there’s a heart left to melt it does so, but she has no time to dwell on it. Her lips part beneath his mouth; she can taste herself when his fangs tear her open, her own elongated to snap back. But only if he lets her. Only if he pushes her further, letting her sink her teeth in like she’s wanted to since he landed earlier on the roof of this building. Her hands snake around his shoulders, clasping behind his neck. Her dress is already destroyed; what does it matter if he tears it off? And she wants him to. Wants him to tear it off of her. Wants him to take her like he has before.

GM: There’s suddenly air under Celia’s feet. They’re rising. Floating. Higher. Higher. His pallid hands shift. Celia’s suddenly falling again, legs flailing through the air, and then stopping short. He’s holding her aloft by just her head. His palms are pressed crushingly hard against her temples. She can’t see in her peripheral vision past his hands. There’s no looking away. His frigid gaze bores all-too close and all-too intense, as though seeking to draw her bodily inside. It feels like her head is the only part left of her, and her body so much dross. There’s no world but her face and his. Just them. His colorless eyes flicker like tongues of lightning through a storm.

:: The prince’s torpor approaches. The hour I have long anticipated is at hand. A childe of Vidal’s blood threatens to undo everything I have worked to achieve. ::

:: I am relying upon you, Celia. I am depending upon you. ::

:: Destroy Malveaux-Devillers or place her wholly under my power, and you shall be everything I could have desired from a childe. ::

Celia: Falling.

Always falling.

For him, with him, it doesn’t matter; her body drops, her legs flail, but he’s there to catch her. Always. Her stomach spins; she clings to him, like she had that first night, that last night, but it does nothing to abate the pressure in her neck. A flick of his wrist will send the blade into her brain. A tensing of muscles will crush her skull.

And yet… her name. From him. For the first time. He does know. She could cry at that realization, that he knows who she is, that he trusts her, that her Embrace wasn’t some advantageous byproduct, that he chose her.

She is not some nameless somebody. She is Celia Flores, childe of Donovan. Jade Kalani, grandchilde of Antione Savoy. Groomed for this. Chosen for this.

She can’t nod. She doesn’t try. Her eyes stare into the depths of hell, recall the images she had seen inside of him that night he took her life into his body, let her fall to the Gulf below, let her shatter. So that he could rebuild her. So that they could rebuild her. Fire in her gut. Fire in her eyes. Fire, not ice, not like him, but molded from him, by him, for him.

:: I am yours, sire. ::

GM: Then just like that, he’s gone. Celia is lying on the floor. Rain weeps through the open window.

Celia: It is not the only thing that weeps this evening. She does not let it flow, not outwardly, but inside sounds a keening wail now that he is gone. The room is empty without him in it.

Dazed, she lays on the floor for a long moment. She can hardly think straight after this evening. A whirlwind of emotion pours through her, a whirlwind that she cannot get a grasp on, that she needs to get a grasp on. Her mother, upstairs, needs to be taken home. A body needs to be disposed of. And a fledgling… a fledgling needs to be dealt with.

Childe of Vidal. So she had been right.

Celia rises slowly to her feet, agony with every movement, her eyes on the open window. Out there, somewhere, her sire is plotting his next move. She breathes in the night air, inhaling deeply to bring the scent of rain and darkness into her lungs. It clears her head, though does nothing for the pain in her side, does nothing for the ache inside of her chest.

An outstretched hand shuts the window, closes the heavy drapes, and touches fingertips to her lips.

She will not let him down.

Ayame I, Chapter III
Passage Out

“Easy to think of what might have been, what could have been, how we could have changed things.”
Ayame Seong-Jin

Thursday night, 10 March 2016, AM

GM: Ayame’s phone rings. The caller ID isn’t familiar to her.

Ayame: Ayame jumps at the noise. She has been deeply involved in the outlining and planning of her next novel, and the chime of her phone has pulled her from the pages upon pages spread out in from of her, ink-stained fingers clutching a black ball-point pen.

She doesn’t often give her number out, and for a moment she looks in suspicion at her phone. Her mother had once said “no good news comes at night,” and even now, despite her undead status, she hasn’t been able to shake the thought.

She doesn’t have the number saved, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. She doesn’t save most numbers. Safer that way. Still, she’s wary as she answers.


GM: “Hi, Ayame. This is Roderick,” sounds a male voice.

“I had some business I wanted to discuss with you. When would be a good time for us to talk in person?”

When are other licks good news?

Might be her mom was righter than she knew.

Ayame: “Hello, Roderick.” Now there’s a surprise.

Her eyes slide toward the clock on the wall. It’s late, but not so late that she can’t squeeze him in if she wants to. Does she want to, though? He’s been cool to her since that night five years ago when she’d pulled Max from the circle.

“I am in the middle of a project at the moment…” She glances down at the leather notebook open in front of her, her slanted, cramped writing scrawled across the page. A reference journal or completed manuscript of some sort, as no longer does it contain blank space in which to write. A slew of highlighters in various colors sit perpendicular to the edge of her desk.

“But I can be free in an hour or so, if it is urgent.”

Always make them wait, that was another rule from Mom.

GM: “Okay. How’s our club’s usual meet spot?”

Cypress Grove. The Anarchs didn’t stop using it.

Ayame: “Certainly. I will see you there.”

Must be urgent, then. Or he simply enjoys the privileged position of primogen’s childe and is used to getting his way immediately. She doesn’t let her attitude color her voice, though, simply wishes him a good evening and hangs up. She’ll need a moment to get dressed, she supposes, and with a sigh sets aside her notebook. Her outline can wait.

GM: An hour later, she’s there at the cemetery. The rows and rows of mausoleums stretch on for as far as the eye can see. It feels like an appropriate enough place for a massacre to have occurred. Or at least like it’s been despoiled less.

Roderick’s there in an overcoat, with an umbrella in one hand to ward off the steadily pattering rain.

Ayame: An hour later, to the minute, Ayame strolls into the cemetery. She’s dressed for the weather, with black boots that rise to her knees and a raincoat on over a dark hoodie and jeans. She, too, has brought an umbrella with her, and it keeps off the worst of the almost-spring rain as she traverses the ground towards where Roderick waits for her.

Apprehension gnaws at her. Not only for the lick waiting, but for the chosen location as well. She had never said anything to any of the Anarchs about how she feels for this place, but she wonders if he can guess. If he knows about the shame that she has carried with her since that night in 2011 when she all but bowed before the sheriff and his retinue of executioners. If that is why he chose such a location for their impromptu meeting.

She says none of this as she approaches the dark figure in his suit, stopping some feet away to look him over. She cannot help the glance she makes past him with stormy-gray eyes, as if searching for his co-conspirators.

GM: None are immediately apparent to the novelist’s sight.

But the thick rain and fog hides what the darkness alone can’t.

The seemingly lone Brujah nods as he sees her.

“Glad you could make it.”

Ayame: “You implied it was urgent.”

GM: “I did.” He looks around at the walled structures where there’d normally be gravestones. “I feel bad for my part in what happened here.”

“I’d been one of the licks to suggest Cypress Grove instead of Delgado, for where to meet.”

“Dunno how much of a difference it would’ve made in the end, but it might’ve been harder for the Sanctified to surround us there.”

Ayame: “Perhaps,” she says neutrally. “Though perhaps they would have simply brought more with them. It did not seem as if they happened upon us by chance; I have no doubt that they would have adapted to the locale.” She pauses briefly, considering her words.

“For what it is worth, I do not think that anyone blames you for what happened.”

Not like they do her.

Her mouth twists, bitterness hardening her features.

GM: “You’re probably right, on both those counts. But it’s natural to think about what we could’ve done differently, and to blame ourselves.”

“For what it’s worth, I don’t think as many licks might blame you as you think, either.”

Ayame: She doesn’t know what to say to that. Of course they blame her.

“I folded. I was the first. It would have been different had I not been concerned about the threat posed by the sheriff, the scourge, and that… harpy.”

GM: “Veronica and Pietro had made up their minds to stake Max and Jonah. They were heading behind Sanctified lines whether you folded or not. They already had.”

“And once they did, with all the ringleaders staked, everyone else would’ve folded too.”

Ayame: “I should have removed the stake. I made a mistake, thinking that to pull Maxzille to safety was the right call. I did not wish to see her perish for a technicality.”

“But I thank you, regardless.”

GM: “I think if you hadn’t, there might’ve been bloodshed. A lot of Anarchs might have died.”

“Or at least Max might’ve.”

Ayame: He would have been safe, dragged behind enemy lines as he was. His Blood protects him, unlike the rest of them. But she doesn’t say this. She inclines her head, acknowledging the acknowledgement.

“Perhaps,” she allows. “If it came to an all-out brawl, I have no doubt many would have perished. On both sides. It would not have been a decisive victory for the Sanctified.”

She has spent many a long night thinking about it. She cannot help but sweep her gaze past him once more, toward the spot where it happened. Their kind do not leave physical remains behind, but she will always remember the screams of those who died.

“All the same, I regret my part in it. I have no wish to see our duskborn cousins slaughtered.”

“I think, sometimes, what would have happened had I been quicker to shove you aside when he came for you as well, and how that might have ended for us all.”

GM: “The sheriff?” Roderick gives a wan smile. “I don’t know if you could’ve stopped him. I’d definitely lose in a one-on-one.”

Ayame: “Stop him?” She shakes her head. “No. But should he have missed his mark, taken down the wrong lick?” Her shoulders lift, hands spreading wide.

“As you say, easy to think of what might have been, what could have been, how we could have changed things. The butterfly effect, as it were.”

GM: “True. Just denying him a quick win and the psychological impact there might’ve been enough.”

“But there’s other licks who could’ve tried to do something and didn’t. Pietro’s pretty damn fast, too.”

Ayame: “I believe, as you said, they made up their mind already as to which side they were on. Even when they spoke they said nothing of merit.”

GM: “And they barely spoke at all.”

“Veronica could’ve ran that rant, if she’d wanted to. She sure was able to whip a bunch of Anarchs into doing something when she decided Savoy was the horse to back.”

Ayame: “She does what she believes is best for her. As do most of them.” The corners of her lips lift in a wry, sad smile. “Though given the allegations leveled against the one she thought to harm her childe… well, they were simply heinous. It is no wonder she could not support someone who denied such accusations. Would yours have done the same, do you think?”

GM: “That’s a hard question, in some ways.” Roderick smiles faintly. “If I say yes, it’s admitting Veronica was right to do what she did, and the only thing that makes the situation different is who rather than what.”

Ayame: The corners of her eyes crinkle, and though the motion does not reach her lips it is, possibly, the closest anyone has seen her threaten to smile in some time.

“Your profession keeps your words neutral. Not so easily trapped, I see.”

GM: The Brujah still smiles back.

“My profession and my bloodline. But maybe the trap here isn’t so dangerous. You stuck with us instead of jumping ship to Savoy.”

Ayame: “Was it your bloodline that made you do the same?”

GM: He shakes his head. “I’m my own man, or at least Kindred. But I’ll grant that a lot of people with my advantages say similar things.”

Ayame: “Privilege. It is a catchy term among the kine these days. They speak of white or male… but you have that and more.” Her head tilts to one side beneath the cowl of her hood, eyeing him sharply.

“How easy it must make things on both sides of the fence. We say we do not care about such things, and yet look at those who run the First Estate. A drop of black or yellow in your white and you are ruined.”

GM: “I remember a couple Anarchs yelling at you for being Chinese. Sorry. It probably feels isolating to be the only Asian face in a crowd.”

Ayame: “I am Korean.”

GM: “Sorry again. I guess I shouldn’t have expected them to have any idea what they were talking about.”

Ayame: “At least,” she muses, “you did not ask me if I am from the ‘good’ Korea or the ‘bad’ Korea.”

GM: “I’d be pretty surprised to meet anyone from the latter.”

“Though I wouldn’t say it’s bad so much as its government is.”

Ayame: “Too often individuals are confused for their governments or rulers.” Another shrug. “I have long since stopped being surprised at the things that come out of the mouths of other people.”

GM: “Not a bad attitude to have in unlife.” A pause. “Do you know if it’s true what they say about our kind in North Korea?”

Ayame: “The Kuei-jin?”

GM: He shakes his head.

“I read about it over SchreckNet. Actually saved the post, because it was pretty interesting.”

He digs out his phone and scrolls through it before reading,

‘Listen, boss, you don’t actually want to know about North Korea. You think you do because you are certain we’re the top of the food chain. You think that if you go there, you’ll find out it’s all under the command of some secret cabal of Brujah zealots or Ventrue dictators. Is it Sabbat territory or maybe the Kuei-jin (or Wan Kuei—whatever). After all, it’s a place under the absolute oppression of a tyrannical minority and that means someone must be pulling the strings, right? You don’t want to go to North Korea because you’ll be the only supernatural there.’

‘Now, this is a bit of hyperbole. There’s probably a few there. A Nosferatu or two in the sewers picking off random citizens, a werething or two living in the woods, or maybe a scavenger or two around the gulags. However, there is a much nastier creature than us ruling over the people in this nation: humans.’

‘From the Korean War to the present, the vampires of the country had their followers purged and their herds removed. The mages were crushed under the weight of a system that did its utmost to destroy their dreams. If I believed in fairies, I imagine they all died out too. Lupines don’t seem to be anywhere, even though the place should be paradise for them—rural countryside that’s pitch dark when you view it from space. The Kuei-jin, who the fuck knows why they aren’t there, maybe it has shitty feng shui. It is one of the most spiritually dead places on the planet and barely hanging on for a thousand little things that make it an uncomfortable place for just about all of us.’

‘Mind you, this doesn’t mean they don’t believe, boss. The North Korean military did have some people in the know long ago and they have all the books, names, and faces. They already think all enemies are horrible monsters so no harm in burning down an entire building to get just one of us when they see it. Not much even an elder can do when the response to one rousing an army of starving peasants is to just bomb it to the ground. Hehe, I bet that’s what happened to the Lupines too. The North Koreans have accomplished what the rest of the world only dreams and wiped out all supernaturals—yay humanity. This is what it looks like without us.’

Ayame: Ayame listens as he reads the text from his phone, though after a moment she draws near enough to stand beside him so she can see the text over his shoulder as he scrolls. She shakes her head when he finishes.

“I cannot say. I have not visited back home since my Embrace, and the family that I still have in the area is not apprised of my undead status here. While I admit to curiosity, I can hardly call them and ask. Further, they live in South Korea. It is not a simple border hop to get into such a place.”

She pauses, rereading a line or two. “If travel were not so dangerous I might even wish to see for myself, though I have no doubt it would be a foolhardy and perilous undertaking.”

GM: “President Benson called the DMZ the scariest place he’d ever been. It’d be easier to get in through China, but I’m not in any hurry to do that either.”

“I don’t know if any of that post is even true. But it feels like it could be true.”

“Humans can be monsters just as awful as any of us.”

Ayame: “We are created from them. As much as we would like to blame the Beast inside of all of us for all of our less than ideal ways, as much as we seek to shed the lives we left behind, it stands to reason that some of it crosses over when we do. And should they be among those who are not turned, well, monsters have a way of manifesting. Even prey will eventually snap when cornered.”

“Perhaps their scales are smaller, their existences briefer, but their cruelty can be just as heinous as any of ours.”

GM: “Someone should write about that,” the Brujah remarks.

Ayame: Her brows lift.

“Have you read my books?”

GM: He shakes his head. “I’m more of a non-fiction guy. But I’ve heard about them.”

Ayame: “Good things?”

GM: “Yeah. I tend to agree with Stephen King that if you’ve been paid for your words and the check didn’t bounce, you have talent.”

Ayame: It’s not a ringing endorsement, but a smile finally cracks the Toreador’s face. It transforms the usually austere lick’s visage into something striking, much warmer than the cool exterior she often presents to her kind. The expression is brief, disappearing as quickly as it came.

“Should you ever find a spare moment to indulge, I hope you will let me know what you think. Or perhaps, if time permits, you will allow me to pick your brain as to the monsters you have seen. I find the best fiction has some element of truth to it.”

GM: Roderick smiles back when he sees Ayame do so. The expression looks like it comes easier for him, but it’s no less warm.

“You should smile more often. It looks good on you.”

“But as far as monsters, feel free. I’m a lawyer. You can see some pretty horrible and desperate people in that industry.”

Ayame: Ayame wonders if he realizes the inherent sexism in the comment of being told to smile more. If anyone ever asks him to smile more. Perhaps he does not realize it. Or perhaps he offering the sort of back-handed compliment that is so intrinsic to their kind. Golden boy like him, though, she thinks it might just be simple ignorance. Maybe smiling does look good on her. She tucks it away for further consideration.

“I have heard family law sees the worst of it, people at their most desperate and petty, though I imagine criminal law has its fair share of monsters.”

“I have a relative who is a nurse. She could not give the details of the cases, but she was called in to consult on multiple trials where they needed a medical perspective. Negligence, some of them, and others… others more willful action.”

“There was a woman who came into her emergency department almost every month. Broken bones. Black eyes. Broken fingers. My relative—she took good documentation. Wrote it all down. Made sure to keep her records. Some call her a pack rat, but those records were needed when the woman was arrested for manslaughter. Apparently her husband came at her and she tried to fend him off. She happened to be cooking dinner, had a paring knife in her hand. When she stabbed him, she struck his heart, and so he died. The officers put her in cuffs, but all of the nurses, all of the doctors that she had seen, they testified that she underwent years of abuse at his hands, that she was a victim.”

GM: Roderick shakes his head.

“I’ve seen some really ugly cases of domestic abuse. Knife to the heart was probably a lot cleaner than that asshole deserved. He had to have died pretty fast, not like years of living in pain and terror. Visiting the hospital in and out like a grocery store.”

Ayame: “As I said, their scale as breathers may be smaller, but their crimes are no less than our own. When we kill it is often quick and effective, and sometimes—sometimes they do not even know that death comes for them. But those who abuse their spouses, their children, their renfields… that shadows them for their entire lives, however long they are. It spreads, like a cancer, infecting everyone around them.”

GM: “I knew a family, once, whose father was just a demon. He physically and emotionally abused his wife and daughters for years. They only finally split when he tried to amputate his wife’s leg with a saw.”

“It just poisoned their entire family.”

Ayame: “That sounds… awful. Awful for them, for his wife, for his daughters. I hope they have found peace.”

“And that his children did not go on to become abusers themselves.”

GM: “That’s a… complicated answer. I guess I’d say they found varying levels of peace. Some more than others. Some as much as you could realistically hope for. But they all had scars.”

“It could’ve ended a lot worse than it did, though.”

Ayame: “The Sanctified would say it is our job to remove such a demon and see to it that his family is taken care of. We are not Sanctified, but sometimes… sometimes it is nice to see the bad people pay.”

GM: “The Sanctified buy into a lot of dogma that makes fundamentalists look reasonable, but they get things right too. Some of the covenant’s more liberal creeds have a lot of ideas that Anarchs here could probably get on board with.”

Ayame: “You sound as if you were close to the family. I hope it was not your own, that it is not your own scars you speak of.”

GM: He shakes his head. “I was involved in some legal work for them. You get to see a lot of the ugly details of people’s lives as a lawyer.”

“It got to me pretty hard, though I suppose not as much as what that asshole did to his family. He never faced any real consequence for it.”

“Sometimes the bad guys win. But I guess that’s the tagline of the Requiem.”

Ayame: “Against the kine?” She gives him a puzzled look. “Perhaps. There is often more that we can do now, though your status as lawyer possibly keeps you neutral.”

“Not,” she adds, “that I am suggesting we simply slaughter those with whom we do not agree.”

GM: “Less agreeing, maybe, than passing judgment over. But he’s not the only scumbag I can name from my breather days. I’d frankly be up to my knees in blood if I wanted to kill them all. And at that point I’m a serial killer vigilante, not a lawyer.”

“The family members he’d abused most got away from him. That’s a happier ending than a lot of people get, even if it isn’t perfect.”

Ayame: “Is there a difference? I thought lawyers were all cutthroats.” She doesn’t smile, though her lips twitch to suggest amusement, then flatten again at his words.

“Ah. Well. Good that they got away, at least.”

“And good on you for assisting with their legal battle. I am sure it meant a lot to them, to have someone of your caliber represent their interests.”

GM: “Thanks. I was pretty upset at the time that I couldn’t do more, but like I said. Happier ending than a lot of people get.”

“Good on your relative, too, documenting all that abuse. Keeping thorough records never hurts and sometimes really helps.”

Ayame: “Sometimes I think I chose the wrong profession.” A rueful twist of her lips accompanies the words. “Admirable, to be out there in the field, be it legal or medical.”

GM: “I think you might’ve chosen the right one, actually. Harder to be a lawyer or nurse as a lick, but I imagine it’s not too difficult as a writer.”

Ayame: “Nothing but time to pen my novels.”

“Though I suppose,” she says at length, “you did not invite me here this evening to speak of professions and monsters.”

“Or scars,” she adds, and perhaps he sees the way her fingers curl inside the gloves she wears, her grip on the umbrella’s handle tightening. The other, at her side, forms a fist before it relaxes.

GM: “You’re right that I didn’t. But I also did.”

Ayame: “Oh?”

GM: “We haven’t really talked a lot, and I wasn’t sure how you felt over the massacre here.”

“There’s a duskborn I know who needs transport out of the city. I was thinking Houston would be a good stop. No prince enforcing a pogrom. Big city with room for duskborn and nightborn.”

Ayame: Ayame is silent for a long moment, considering him. This is why he brought her here, then. This place. The sight of the massacre. To guilt her? Trick her? Avoided her for years because he thought she, what, sold out the thin-bloods? When she speaks at last her voice is cooler than it was moments ago.

“Next to yours, you know, my voice was one of the strongest pushing for their rights.”

GM: “You’re right, it was. But you never know. Some licks were spreading a rumor that I’d tipped off the Sanctified in advance about the duskborn coming to the meeting.”

“In hindsight, it was probably Veronica. Who tipped them off and started the rumor.”

Ayame: “You were put down by the sheriff and immediately taken behind their lines to safety, of course she thought you were an apt target. For whatever it means now, neither she nor her cousin seemed much surprised to see them show up.”

GM: “That’s just how it is, anyway. It’s so hard to trust anyone.”

Ayame: Easy to point out the favor he’s asking of her will require trust, as well, but if this is an olive branch… well, she could stand to make a few more friends among her peers.

“Happy to pass your test, then.” A pause. “I can contact my friends in Houston.”

GM: “I’ll owe you one, of course. What licks do you know there?”

Ayame: “A fair few. I was part of their organization for a number of years.” She fires off a handful of Hispanic-sounding names. “Is it just the one to transport?”

GM: “I might also come along. Coco has some business with the Anarchs there and now would be a convenient time to do it. I won’t be staying, obviously.”

Ayame: “Both of you, or just you?”

GM: “Who won’t be staying? I’m coming back. She’ll stay. I don’t need to say this is a bad city for duskborn.”

Ayame: “Oh, I meant if Coco is coming along, and I wondered why you would need me to transport a primogen, but I assume that is not the case.”

“I will need some time to contact my friends.”

“A few evenings, perhaps. You know what it is like when they pretend to be busy.” She waves a hand. “Or perhaps not,” she adds, eying him. Primogen’s childe, status among the Anarchs, Calbido scribe; how long does he really wait?

GM: He shakes his head at Ayame’s initial statement. “She’s staying in the city. This is more routine stuff I’m handling for her.”

“It’s not that different from among breathers, to be honest. You want to meet with a mayor or city councilperson, you usually have to contact their staff and let them fit you into the boss’ schedule. But a fair number of licks from less privileged backgrounds never had to go through that, and get surprised when they can’t just talk to elders whenever they want.”

“I do usually wait less time than licks with less prominent sires, so there is that.”

Ayame: “Lucky you.”

“The advantage of being a nobody is that I do not often have business with elders.” Amusement crinkles the corners of her eyes. “I will reach out to my contacts within Houston.”

GM: “All swords are double-edged,” he agrees. Partly seriously. “Thanks. I’ll be bringing a couple renfields with me too. Greater safety in numbers and all.”

Ayame: “Ah. Yes. A good idea.” There’s an awkward pause, perhaps where she should offer to do the same, and at last she says, “I do not keep slaves. I cannot contribute that way.”

GM: “Oh?” he asks. “Is it an ethical objection?”

Ayame: “Have you been a slave, Roderick? Bound to someone for whom you would do anything? Told to do vile things for their amusement, and you jump at the chance?”

GM: He shakes his head. “I was a renfield to Coco, for a little while before my Embrace, though she didn’t collar me.”

“It sounds like you were.”

Ayame: “Then you are lucky. I spent years as a slave to a domitor who thought it would be funny to find my point of limit and push me past it. Repeatedly. Who, for a small slight, would have me beaten and humiliated.”

“You do not strike me as the type of person to kill or torture for pleasure. And yet there are those who do. Those who think it funny to find a person’s limits and push them beyond that. To spread the corruption inside of them to everyone around them. To twist and rend innocence until it is an ugly, wretched thing. And so he did with me.”

GM: “I’m sorry you had to go through that. Some licks are pointlessly, stupidly sadistic and cruel, and it’s usually their renfields who experience the worst of it.”

Ayame: “My sire killed him for it. In the instant before the collar snapped I thought to throw myself in front of his blade, to keep him from harming the lick I had served for years. My own life for his, I would have paid that. She did not collar you, so maybe you do not understand that sort of obsession.”

GM: “I probably don’t. I’ve heard the accounts, but it has to be something else to experience them firsthand.”

Ayame: “I told myself I would never do that to another person. Our blood—it is good for a great many things. But the collar? No. Never again.”

GM: “I think it’s possible to be decent to your renfields. But I respect anyone who’s willing to put their principles before convenience.”

Ayame: “Would yours say that you are decent to them?”

GM: “I hope so. I try to be.”

Ayame: “And yet you took them from their lives and families. Keep them addicted to a substance worse than heroin. There is no retirement for a renfield; they serve until their life ends. The most that they can hope for is a quick death, perhaps Embrace.”

“I understand why we do it. But I will not. They are the first to pay should their master make a mistake.”

“So yes, to answer your question, I believe that falls under ethical or moral objection.”

GM: “I think you can make similar arguments about Embracing childer. At least a renfield’s addiction doesn’t directly risk killing anyone.”

Ayame: “I have heard of those who died on an overdose.”

“But you are correct. There are many who have moral objections to siring a childe as well. I do not know that I will ever be moved to do so.”

“We are are still young. We have eternity, as they say.”

GM: “I’ve heard of renfields who OD too. I don’t know any domitor that generous with their juice, though. I think it only really happens with rogues who drain a staked lick completely dry.”

“But you wouldn’t be the only Kindred happy to go childe-free.”

Ayame: “The kine do it as well. DINK, they call themselves. Double income no kids. Enjoy their vacations and early retirements.” The flash of a smile. Hadn’t he told her to smile more? “No retirement for us, though.”

GM: He smiles back. “I’ve heard of that. Maybe it’s right for them. I always wanted kids, though. Whole gaggle of them.”

Ayame: A beat of silence. Ayame inclines her head, almost a short bow that sends her hair swinging in front of her face.

“It is unfortunate that you are no longer in the position to do so. Sometimes, as former women, we think that we are the only ones who want such things, never observing that we are only half of what makes a child.”

“I am sorry that it is no longer an option to you.”

GM: He nods. “Thanks. There’s not a lot to be done about that, but I’ve enjoyed getting to know you tonight, Ayame.”

Ayame: “You as well, Roderick. I will let you know when I hear back from my contacts in Houston.”

GM: “You mentioned you were Korean, by the way? ‘Ayame’ sounds Japanese, though I’m no expert.”

Ayame: Ayame laughs, covering her mouth with one gloved hand. It’s a light, delicate sound, and it gives her face the allure that she should have had all along. If only she were to smile more, right?

“I am Korean, and it is Japanese. I am surprised you know the difference; most people assume that one Asian language or heritage is much the same as another. Perhaps I should take back my words about white privilege.” After laughing, her mouth more easily curls into a wry smile.

“But yes, I was named for my grandmother, after a sort. It is not common in Korea for families to name their children after relatives as they do here; they believe that each name should be unique to the child. My father was very taken with American society when he moved here and wanted to name me after his mother, Ailiseu, but my mother desired a more traditional naming convention. They compromised and took a word from another language that had the same meaning. Thus, Ayame.”

“When I still drew breath I dated a man of Japanese heritage, who asked me the same question. He used to tease me that I grew up with the wrong culture because of my name, or that I had been stolen from a nice Japanese family as a child. My parents were distraught that I was interested in him; they had hoped that I would settle down with a nice Korean boy, or a nice American boy.”

She gestures down to herself, fangs flashing in her mouth as she looks to him.

“As you see, it does not much matter in the end.”

“I suppose, though, it is better than what my brother did.”

GM: “It may have mattered, at least so far as your name. Ayame sounds nicer than Ailiseu to my white boy ears.” He smiles. “What did your brother do?”

Ayame: “Gave himself an American name because he did not like what my parents gave him. ‘Brock.’ A bastardized version of what his name means.” She doesn’t point out that his white boy tongue butchered her grandmother’s name.

“He wants nothing to do with the culture.”

“It is… or, well, it was, at least, a point of contention between them.”

“But I believe the fate of middle children is to be a nuisance to their parents.”

GM: “Better to have them in ones, twos, or four-pluses. That’s too bad for him though. We can all use something to belong to.”

“Anyway, we both probably need to get going. You have my number once you hear from your friends.”

Ayame: “Of course. I will be in touch, Roderick. Enjoy the rest of your evening.”

Celia III, Chapter XIII
Sweet Reunions

“God, I want to trust someone! I need to trust someone!"
Roderick Durant

Thursday night, 10 March 2016, AM

GM: “-they all fucking died,” finishes Roderick.

“All of them who were left. Every last fucking one. 23 people.”

“I know exactly how many, because I couldn’t do shit with a stake in my chest except lie on the ground and watch. And count.”

“I can’t even describe what that was like. Some of them tried to go out swinging. Tried.”

“They didn’t last long against the prince’s team of professional murderers. Donovan lopping off heads left and right. Meadows just… just literally ripping them apart. With McGinn, I could see the pure joy on his face as he swung his sword. I actually wondered, for a second, if the Sanctified had to offer those Invictus ‘auxiliaries’ anything in return for their help. I bet they didn’t. I bet McGinn was perfectly happy to murder duskborn for free.”

“Some of them just cowered and begged. Screamed they had families. Kids.”

“Probably wasn’t even a lie. Lot of them still do that.”

“Some of them tried to run, for all the good it did. Surrounded in a walled cemetery. Ghouls with riot police shields. Malveaux and Doriocourt using magic to hedge them in. The whole thing couldn’t have been more planned. It was planned, systemic slaughter. All they could do was die.”

“And the Anarchs. They all just stood there. They all just…” Roderick’s voice finally cracks, “they all just fucking watched.

Celia: Celia is quiet for a long moment as Roderick finishes his story. It’s the second time she’s heard it, but she doesn’t tell him that. The horror in this telling is fresh. Her own ghosts scream in some distant part of her mind.

Set up. The word echoes in her head. She’d thought it the first time she’d heard the tale and now, knowing what she does, having read that paper, she knows it’s true. Coco and Opal set them up. They knew the slaughter was coming and they’d stood aside and let it.

And now they’re planning to do it again.

She runs her hands up and down his back. None of her own thoughts here matter. Everything she thinks to say is platitudes. Empty. Lies. This is what her Requiem has come to. She can’t even tell him that she knows there are incoming raids without revealing she’d seen the paper.

“It’s awful. What they do to them. For an accident of Embrace. The wrong sire and you’re… you’re just fucked.”

GM: Roderick gives a bitter laugh.

“Danielle. She’s fucked.”

“It’s funny. They all say we Anarchs have a thin-blood problem. That there’s tons of them all holed up in Mid-City.”

“Well, there’s some. Almost every thin-blood present for that mass execution got mass executed, so who do the new ones hear about the Cypress Grove Massacre of 2011 from? Because you can bet we don’t tell them about it. We don’t like to talk about that night.”

“Only four of us had any balls. Four. Me. Max. Jonah. And Hez, who was half-crazy. His stunt got him exiled from the city. But I suppose half-crazy meant twice the balls.”

“Everyone else… some of them are ashamed. Say there’s nothing they could’ve done. Some of them say there was, and they regret not doing anything. And some of them clearly don’t give a fuck about thin-bloods if it means their asses on the line.”

“Sheriff still goes on sweeps through Mid-City, sometimes. We all know he means business. What thin-bloods we have, they don’t show up to rants. To votes. Oh no. They hide. We tell them they should do at least that much.”

Celia: “If you’re in contact with them, couldn’t you do a proxy vote? It’s not the same as being safe or accepted, but…”

GM: Roderick gives her a flat look.

“And how did thin-blood representation work out last time?”

“Someone tipped off the sheriff. I sure hadn’t planned on inviting him.”

“So public proxy votes for thin-bloods. How do you think that would go?”

Celia: He’s too smart to not realize it, right?

Is he being willfully ignorant?

Does he really have no idea?

“Whose idea was it to get them all together?”

GM: “I don’t remember. Lot of us had been talking about thin-bloods during recent rants.”

Celia: “To include them? I mean, I assume yes, but when it was brought up what was the general consensus? It sounds like some of the licks that evening weren’t happy.”

“It’s… a shame that Coco and Miss Opal weren’t there. Maybe they could have talked the sheriff down.”

GM: “Doubt it. He has a pretty long leash these nights, but for a slaughter on that scale, the order had to have come down from Vidal.”

“Though I guess it’s moot. ‘Thin-blood massacre’ seems like something Vidal or Donovan would both be happy with.”

Celia: “Their voices might have helped, though.”

GM: “What would the sheriff have done? Stood down and looked like a bitch to everyone?”

“Though who knows how it would’ve gone. Two elders might’ve really turned things around.”

Celia: They’re both just lying to each other now. He knows. He has to know. There’s no possible way that he doesn’t know. She’d made the connection in seconds; how has he missed it? Did his sire collar him tightly enough that he can’t even think ill of her? Do they wipe his mind after the meetings?

He calls her a liar, but here he is just spouting bullshit.

She nods, though, like he’s right.

“Danielle might be safer in the Quarter if the sheriff is running raids in Mid-City.”

GM: Roderick seems to sag under those words, running a hand through his hair.

“Fuck. I…. oh, fuck. I can’t believe she’s a fucking abortion!”

“The a-word. I’m a horrible ally. Oh well. Like any of them stood up to the Sanctified Gestapo.”

“She’s fucked. She’s fucked if she stays in Mid-City. Matter of time.”

Celia: “I can look out for her. Keep her contained here, so she doesn’t… wander somewhere she shouldn’t.”

GM: Roderick plants his face against his hands.

“Oh my go…. oh my god.”

“This. This is where it is. I have to go to him. He’s got me over a barrel.”

He gives another bitter laugh.

Celia: “What are you talking about? Who?”

GM: “Who the hell would I be talking about? Savoy!”

Celia: Ah. Well. He’s right. She doesn’t deny it. Savoy does have him over a barrel. Better than the alternative though, isn’t it? Dead sister.

She knows what that’s like.

Celia pulls back from him. Draws her knees into her chest, wraps her arms around her legs. She looks past his shoulder, as if the answer is written on her wall and all she has to do is search hard enough for it.

GM: Her wall remains tellingly blank.

Roderick runs a hand through his hair as red starting to brim around his eyes.

“Oh… my god, Celia, I… I can’t…”

He throws his arms around her and buries his face against her neck.

Celia: Oh. Well that’s… she’d be lying if she says she doesn’t want it. Doesn’t want him, here, like this, seeking comfort from her. Her body moves to support him, her arms around his broad shoulders, her mouth forming soothing, crooning noises. One hand runs through his hair, like her mom used to do when she was a child.

“Let it out,” she says quietly, “just let it out, sweetheart. I’ve got you.”

GM: “Oh, Celia, it’s…” he sobs, “it’s fucked… everything’s fucked… everything’s shit… no one’s who they say they are, you can’t, you can’t trust anyone…”

She feels her fangs lengthening in her mouth again at the smell of his leaking blood.

Because only vampires get boners over hurt people.

Celia: She didn’t want this for him.

She never wanted this life—unlife, whatever—for him. He doesn’t deserve it. He deserves so much more. Her heart—is that thing still working? It breaks for him. Again and again and again. Every word. Every bloody tear. Every halting space between syllables.

“I know. I know. It is. It’s fucked. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry that you’re going through this.”

I’m sorry I broke us. I’m sorry you can’t trust me.

GM: He squeezes her in his arms. Crushingly hard. If she were alive, she might yell that he was hurting her, that she couldn’t breathe. But she’s not alive.

“I’ve done… been complicit in things,” he sobs. “Heard things. Known… known what’s really… I keep saying, I keep saying it’s worth it, it’s the least awful way forward, the only way, doing what I can, but I don’t… I don’t know… there’s no good guys…”

“Just… bad guys and worse guys…”

Celia: She doesn’t do so much as squirm in his arms. He can squeeze if he needs to. If it helps. She can give him that much. She keeps her grip tight around him, nails on his scalp, the back of his neck, his back. Up and down, long, slow strokes. Soothing.

She’s quiet while he works it out, while he spills his pain. Sometimes people need an ear more than they need someone telling them they understand.

GM: He keeps squeezing as he rubs his head against her neck.

“I just wanted to be the good guy! I just wanted to put the bad guys away! I wanted to do the right thing, and this… they… they’ve ruined my whole fucking family…!”

Celia: “We can do the right thing,” she murmurs. “I’ll help you get there. Anything you need.”

GM: There’s another choked laugh.

“There is no right thing! Savoy’s a con artist, used car salesman, and Coco’s a… I want her to be right, so fucking bad, but she’s… she’s not! There isn’t a right thing!”

“And Dani’s, she’s a monster too, an abortion half-monster that’s not even a real vampire!”

“My dad’s gonna die, alone, thinking both his kids are dead, and that’s the sanitized version!”

Celia: The Garrison line dies with him. There’s no more kids to have more children. No more lawyers in the family to continue to try to take down the Mafia. It’s over. Bad guys won. Three generations of Garrisons… and this is how it ends.

He’s squeezing so tightly that she can barely draw the breath she needs to form words.

“We have time. A whole bunch of time ahead of us. We can turn it around. Just because they’re not right doesn’t mean we can’t be. You’re a good person, Roderick. The best person that I know. If anyone can find a way to be a lick and still be humane, it’s you.”

GM: “How? How can I be a good person when, when nobody else is? When the only option is to go along with the sheriff, or die for nothing, or get staked and get special treatment and have everyone say you’re an elder’s pet?”

“Why do you even think that about me, that I’m good?”

Celia: “Because you stand up for what’s right even in the face of adversity. Because you were the first person who opened your mouth to the sheriff when he showed up. Because if you hadn’t been staked you’d have gone down swinging. Because prior to all that you were the one who had the backs of the thin-bloods that no one wanted anything to do with. Because when we met you didn’t make me feel stupid, you didn’t look down on me, you didn’t talk down to me, you never let my dad scare you, you went out of your way to help my family. Because even when you were mad at me you didn’t just leave me, and you could have. Because every time I’m in a moral dilemma I ask myself, ‘what would Stephen do?’ and I have my answer on what is right and what’s wrong.”

“You are not other people. You can’t judge yourself based on what the people around you do. You can only be you. The best you that you know how to be.”

“And it’s hard and it sucks and people suck and licks suck and everything is fucked, and despite all that you still have an existence to be part of, so you do your damndest to be the source.”

GM: He holds onto her for a while without saying anything. Stops squeezing.

“Celia, I want to trust you…”

Celia: She stills. Doesn’t even draw breath. Trusting her has nothing to do with anything she’d just said.

“But you don’t,” she says for him after a brief silence. She sounds… resigned.

GM: “No! I want to! I’m just… scared it could turn out like the last time…”

“God, I want to trust someone! I need to trust someone! We all do!”

Celia: Something flutters inside of her at his words. She squashes it before it can do more than that.

He shouldn’t trust her. She’s a self-serving, manipulative cunt. She knows it. One day her unlife will come crashing down around her and anything standing in the blast radius will be destroyed. She can’t even tell him the worst of it. The things she’s done.

She’ll just hurt him. Again.

“We do,” she tells him. “We do need someone. We’re all isolated, afraid to confide, and it just… it’s just the Beast with us then, our only companion, no wonder it draws us all down a dark path.”

Maybe he’s not squeezing her now but she’s squeezing him, clinging to him because she’s afraid that once this moment ends reality will set back in and everything will turn to shit again.

GM: “God, you’re right… just the Beast… I can feel it in me, pacing around, waiting… I swear, it gets stronger every year…”

“I’m still a virgin, but I have no idea… no idea how long I can keep that up…”

Celia: “As long as you want to. Indefinitely. I believe that about you.”

GM: “Coco says that’s admirable but I should expect to kill at some point, if only by accident. Our Beasts are too strong to resist forever.”

“It’s a matter of statistics. Forever, and all you need is to lose control at least once. Gets likelier with every year. Every night.”

Celia: “We talked once. About how you couldn’t stay in your family’s life because you lose control more easily. I’ve been worried about it, with my mom, Lucy, Emily. I’d never forgive myself if something happened to them. But I make sure that, when I see them, I’m not hungry. I keep my emotions under control as best I can. I have a business, I see people all the time… it’s… it’s difficult, you know, when I started it was like they all looked like snacks and I just wanted to rip into them. And yes, the Beast gets stronger with every year. But so does my control.”

“And so can yours.”

“And maybe… maybe Coco is right, that you should expect it to happen. And that’s awful. But it hasn’t happened yet. You can’t live in fear of it.”

“Be prepared, sure, but don’t… give yourself a panic attack over it or something.”

GM: “I guess you can’t. I guess all you can do is try to minimize the damage. That’s a really good policy, not ever see your family when you’re hungry.”

“Are you still a virgin?”

Celia: “Of course not. Don’t you remember that date? Batman?”

GM: “Ha ha. Other kind of virgin.”

Celia: “…no.”

GM: “How’d it happen?”

Celia: “It was ugly. And messy. And I lost control.”

She still remembers the shirt she’d been wearing. Green. Low cut. Clingy. The blood had spilled across the front of it and she’d looked like some sort of garish Christmas monster.

“He… I was on my own. One of the first times. He looked like my dad, and I just… Lucy had just been born, and… I just… I kept thinking, I have to keep her safe.”

GM: “Was he like your dad? A real monster?”

“Or did he just look like him?”

Celia: She’s quiet. Her weight shifts, the movement betraying her discomfort. She lifts her shoulders as much as she can with their arms still wrapped around each other, as if to shrug, and thinks better of it. She settles again.

“I don’t know,” she finally says. “I told myself he was. But I don’t… I don’t know, honestly, and it’s…” She hasn’t thought about it in a long time. She hadn’t felt anything after she’d ripped his throat out. She remembers that: staring down at this man who is vaguely Maxen-shaped with his warm blood splattered across her face and chest and feeling absolutely nothing.

“Probably not,” she says quietly.

GM: “Have you wanted to do anything about it?”

Celia: “We don’t normally dream, but I… I dreamed about that for a long time. That he was just… that he just looked like him, and I happened to be there, and it… wrong place, wrong time, and he’s dead now, and I’m not supposed to care, I’m supposed to… to just not… I told Veronica, after, I thought maybe she’d say something helpful, but she just sneered at me like she does.”

“So I just pushed it down. And tried not to think about it.”

GM: Roderick pulls away enough to look her in the eyes, but still holds on.

“You should care. What if that guy had a family he loved as much as you love yours?”

Celia: She can’t look at him. Her lids drop down over her eyes to shield herself from his judgment. She blinks back the same coppery-scented moisture that leaked earlier from Roderick’s eyes.

“He probably did. He probably did and I ruined it, and they never knew why he didn’t come home.”

“There’s no—there’s no guidebook, there’s no rules on what to do when you kill someone, it’s not like you just send flowers.”

GM: “I agree, there isn’t. I mean, there’s nothing you can do that’ll bring him back. But you can make things less painful for any survivors.”

Celia: “How?”

GM: “Funerals can be really stressful, not to mention expensive. Helping with those, directly or indirectly. Making sure his family has money. Helping them out, if they’re disadvantaged, or just to pursue their goals and dreams if they’re not. Finding anything else in their lives that needs fixing.”

Celia: “You don’t think that draws attention? A random person showing up and helping with bills and other stuff?”

GM: “Well, you have to be subtle about it. But there’s ways to do that.”

Celia: Celia wipes her cheek on her shoulder, as if the motion is at all a subtle way to wipe away the moisture trickling down from her eye.

“Yeah? What would you do?”

GM: Roderick thinks. “There’s a fair amount of things you can do legally. For instance, you could contrive an inheritance from a fictional deceased relative who lived far away, with a lawyer you know serving as executor of the estate. That’d seem like an uncanny coincidence if it happened right when he died, but if that was six years ago I don’t see anyone getting suspicious.”

Celia: The word inheritance reminds her of the other bomb that was dropped on her earlier in the evening.

“The sheriff killed my grandparents.”

GM: “Oh my god. Why?”

Celia: “All the money went to my dad. So he could run for… whatever, or move to Audubon, or… whatever.”

GM: “I’m so sorry. Were you close to them?”

Celia: “Before they died, yeah. They were always around. Then they just… weren’t.”

“I wasn’t allowed to tell my siblings why she left. He came into my room the morning after it happened and told me it was our secret, and… and I don’t even know if he really remembers what he did to her, or if it’s just part of his blooper reel. He used to… get weird, sometimes, and I guess… I guess there’s this part of me who just wanted my dad back, so I used to think that maybe Donovan had replaced him with someone else, or had mind controlled him into being like this, and…” she trails off.

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to get into… but just, why would he take my dad’s memories and not mine?”

A moment passes. She doesn’t really expect an answer from him on the subject of her family. She’s not even sure she wants to talk about it. Skates too close to the truth.

“Tell me about the inheritance thing. I might have a friend who’s a lawyer.”

GM: “Your dad’s memories of what happened to your mom? I thought he did remember all that,” says Roderick.

“But inheritance-wise, the idea is basically as I said. You have your lawyer friend show up, claiming to be the executor for the will of a deceased relative you invent a story and identity for. Then you hand over the money that’s part of the ‘inheritance.’”

Celia: She looks like she might have more to say on the subject of her family, but she doesn’t press it once they move to different topics.

“And you don’t get caught?”

GM: “Sure, that’s what you have a real lawyer do it for so that everything seems legit. But people probably aren’t going to look too closely at free money with no strings attached.”

Celia: “I’ll look into that. Thanks, Roderick.”

He is her implied lawyer friend, but she isn’t sure he got it. Or he’s pretending not to get it.

“What’s next for you? What do you want to do?”

GM: “Ugh. I was just starting to get in a better mood.”

“I know what’s next, but I’d honestly rather put it off.”

“Just… give me some good news. How’s your family doing?”

Celia: Good news? There is no good news. Not about her family. She’d just murdered her sister. But she doesn’t tell him that.

“I had dinner with them the other night. Emily brought Robby by. He’s… got some really nerdy hobbies, I don’t think I realized that when we first met. He’s sweet, though. Mom and I are already picking out wedding dresses for her. She discovered Pin-It and she sent me the board she’s been working on, it’s honestly kind of ridiculous how much time she’s already put into it. I’m happy for them, though. Might have finally convinced Mom to start dating again, sort of. Mostly it’s that I’m just going to surprise her with a date and see how that goes. She also, uh, tried to give me dating advice, which was… kind of funny.”

And awkward.

But mostly funny.

GM: “I guess there’s only so much useful advice you can give when you haven’t dated in ten-plus years.”

Celia: “It was a lot of just be honest and write down how you feel and give it to him in a letter.”

GM: Roderick frowns in puzzlement. “A letter?”

Celia: “She’s pretty old school. I imagine she was picturing floral stationary sprayed with perfume.”

GM: “Well, Flores, floral stationary. I guess you could do worse.”

Celia: “Clever.”

Celia rolls her eyes at him. She’s smiling, though, and she makes a noise that’s half a laugh.

“You’re as nerdy as Robby.”

She does not mention that her private notebook has roses all over the front of it.

GM: He smirks back. “Hey, you need to have some nerd in you to be a lawyer.”

Celia: “Anyway, don’t tell me that you never wrote a girl a love letter. Cute guy like you? Probably had all the babes.”

GM: “I wrote a letter, once, to a girl when I was in middle school. She’d moved away and I think she had a big crush on me, so she sent a letter.”

Celia: “Did you become pen pals?”

GM: “We sent a couple more, over the summer. I think she found a new guy to distract herself with when school started up.”

Celia: “Ouch. You ever do that thing where you slide a note into a girl’s locker?”

“Dear Girl, I like you. Please find attached contract to become my girlfriend. Sincerely, Future Lawyer Boy.” She mimics what she thinks his middle school voice would sound like. It ends up rather pompous.

GM: Roderick laughs. “Future Lawyer Boy is a pretty cruddy lawyer not to ask her to sign it in person. Less likely to read the fine print.”

Celia: “No, see, that’s how you get her. You put a bunch of crazy things there that she reads and gets indignant about, then she comes over all angry and you turn the argument around on her, then she falls for your way with words. Like a meet-cute. Kind of. Not really. Whatever, you get it.”

GM: “Sorry, meet-cute?”

Celia: “It’s a thing in romance books and movies. When the leading couple meets. And it’s… cute. Often they get off on the wrong foot. But like in a silly, charming kind of way.”

“It’s, uh, it’s in a lot of rom-coms.”

GM: “Yeah, not to sound like your dad, but that’s such a chick thing,” he smirks. “Guess I’m not surprised I didn’t know what it was.”

Celia: “Hey man, sometimes I let Randy pick on movie night, it’s not my fault he’s a closet romantic.”

GM: “You watch movies with your renfields?”

Celia: “Yes. Why, should I be more like my sire and torture them?”

GM: “No, it’s cute. Just honestly wasn’t something that occurred to me.”

Celia: “Oh. Yeah. We just kind of make a night of it. They get snacks and we pick a movie and it’s… Honestly it’s kind of nice, to just hang out like that. Randy picks a lot of rom coms or action flicks and Alana picks a lot of horror movies so she can pretend to be scared, but when she’s actually invested she has pretty good taste.”

GM: “That is cute. I might ask one of mine to do that.”

Celia: “You could come over with us sometime. If you want.”

GM: “I guess that’ll be easier if I’m in the Quarter more.”

There’s a bitter taste to the words.

Celia: “You don’t have to come to the Quarter. I’ll… deal with Savoy.”

GM: “He’s not going to let me keep Danielle there for free. I should at least have the balls to look him in the eye.”

Celia: “I doubt he’d ask you to relocate.”

GM: “Of course he wouldn’t. I’m not any use to him if I’m on the outs with Coco.”

Celia: Well at least she hadn’t had to tell him what Savoy wants.

“I think he might value discretion over the balls of looking him in the eye. I can pass along a missive. If I meet with him it’s normal. If you do people might talk.”

GM: Roderick shakes his head. “He won’t settle for that. I wouldn’t if I was in his position. Some things you have to do in person.”

“I’ll bet he’s great at setting up secret meetings with licks who aren’t supposed to be seeing him, anyway.”

“Why are you even on his team?” the Brujah asks. “It’s been two election cycles for your dad, since you were turned, and he’s still in power. Savoy obviously isn’t helping you get rid of him.”

Celia: She can’t tell him the truth. Not the real truth. And she’s so, so tired of lying to him. They all need someone to trust, like he said. But she doesn’t know if she trusts him. The secret isn’t hers to spill, and he’s already told Coco information about her that he should have kept to himself. If she opens her mouth here it’ll be around the rest of their society in no time, and then what? Then she’s got more trouble than the war between sire and grandsire that she’s already caught in the middle of. More trouble than a beautiful fledgling with extremely potent vitae in the middle of the Garden District. More trouble than ‘Celia’ being found out as undead.

“Roderick, please don’t meet with Savoy. I can tell you exactly what he’d offer you and Dani. You don’t need to get your hands dirty by meeting with him or being goaded into getting aggressive, then he does own you. Let me help you. I can do that much for you.”

“I’m used to dealing with him. I speak his language.”

GM: “Celia, are you even listening to me? There’s no way I’d agree to that if I was in Savoy’s position. And with Dani in the Quarter, I wouldn’t have to do. He holds the fucking cards!”

Celia: “I am listening to you. I get it. And I am telling you that he is a master manipulator. He will know exactly how much you want to keep her safe, exactly what buttons to push, and you will end up bent over even more than you think you are right now.”

GM: “Probably,” Roderick says bleakly.

Celia: “Then why would you give him that power?”

GM: “Because he’s not going to settle for less! He’ll want information on the Cabildo. The things they’re talking about. That’s not as useful to him secondhand through a messenger, and he knows it!”

Celia: “Why would I lie to him? If I were being charged with giving the information to him, why would I change it?”

GM: “Celia, you’re being… ugh. That’s not as useful, even if you were 100% honest, because he’d want to actually ask questions about the information, and that’s way more tedious if he has to do it through a messenger. Not to mention, he’s an elder, so I doubt he believes anyone is 100% honest to him.”

Celia: “I’m being what?” Her voice is sharp.

GM: He effects a sigh. “Sorry. I was being angry. Forget it.”

“I know you’re trying to help. I appreciate it.”

Celia: “You were going to call me stupid.”

GM: “You’re not stupid. I just lost my temper. This whole situation is completely fucked and there’s no way to make it better.”

Celia: “You want the truth, Roderick? The truth is that I’m going to lie to him about you. About us, and how I delivered this. The truth is that I’m going to spin this to keep your hands clean. The truth,” she spits the word like it’s a curse, “is that I’m going to let him think that I manipulated you into thinking he doesn’t know, instead of lying to you like he wanted me to do, so he can continue to be the magnanimous elder and I’m the lying, manipulative bitch, and at some point in the future when I really, really displease him he’s going to use it against me because, like Coco said, the truth comes out eventually, and I’ll be fucking damned thrice over if I’m going to let it drive another god-damned wedge between us.”

“I’m supposed to tell you that he doesn’t know she’s your sister. That it was all my idea. And if you go to him he’ll know that I told you. And I’m not because I’m tired of fucking lying to everyone and you deserve to know.”

GM: “What? He knows?” Roderick asks sharply.

“That’s why you called me, because Savoy told you to use Dani to bring me over?”

Celia: “No. I called you because I found out what happened to her and I was worried about both of you. I wouldn’t keep that from you.”

GM: “So how does he know about Dani? Did you tell him, or did he tell you?”

Celia: “His steward told me. I assume she told him.”

GM: Roderick frowns. “He couldn’t be assed to himself, for something as big as this? So, what, this was Preston’s idea to use Dani to bring me over?”

Celia: Celia makes a noise that might have once been a sigh.

“She gave me the photo. I imagine they talked about it. I’ve long thought she only speaks what he thinks, to be perfectly honest, so yes, I can safely say Savoy knows and that it was probably his idea.”

GM: “Maybe, but for Savoy not to even talk to you about any of this? That’s really fucking weird.”

Celia: “And I can also tell you that you meeting with him is not in your best interest, and I’m… I’m laying my heart open to you. That I am choosing you over an extremely powerful elder. That I am… am giving you this information, knowing it could get back to him, knowing that I will be the one to pay the price for it, and asking you to please—please—trust me.”

GM: “Wait. Wait.” Roderick holds up his hand. “Savoy isn’t like Vidal. He meets random licks off the street all the time. If he didn’t even talk to you about this, himself… there’s a big piece we’re missing. But I’m not sure what it means.”

“Is Preston trying to make some kind of play?”

Celia: “I doubt it. I told you, she only says what he already thinks.”

“Of course Savoy is behind this.”

GM: “I don’t know, she’s a Malkavian. There’s some part of her that’s 100% completely fucking nuts, you can’t ever forget.”

Celia: “She’s pretty sane for a member of her clan.”

GM: “Or she just looks that way.”

Celia: “Maybe.”

GM: “There’s no such thing as a sane Malkavian. Any more than there is a handsome Nosferatu or a Brujah without anger issues.”

Celia: “Yeah…” Her eyes dip once more toward the destroyed couch. She doesn’t physically move away from him. But it’s in her eyes: wariness. Ready to bolt at the first sign of trouble.

GM: He effects another sigh. “I’m not about to lose it. I’m just trying to piece out what the full picture is. It’s just really fucking weird Savoy wouldn’t even talk to you about me and Dani himself.”

“Some part of Preston is crazy, and I think that’s a mistake to assume everything which comes out of her mouth is something Savoy would say. She’s pretty new to the city, in relative terms. She was her own Kindred for 50 years before ever coming here.”

Celia: “Probably because he doesn’t trust me not to fuck it up, and I’m playing right into his hands, and it’s all a large game.”

GM: “But that doesn’t explain why he wouldn’t even see you. Has he… was this recent? Has he been out in public, since Preston told you about Dani?”

Celia: “He had a party last night.”

GM: “Okay, so I guess that rules out him being out of town. Or something crazy like torpor.” Roderick frowns. “There has to be something here! Why wouldn’t he talk to you abut this?”

Celia: “He wants to help you take down Corolla and Agnello.”

GM: “Preston said that too?”

Celia: “No, Savoy said that.”

GM: “What do you mean, he said that? thought you heard this all through Preston.”

Celia: “I heard about Dani from Preston, and about that from Savoy. Preston gave me the photo.”

GM: “At different times?”

Celia: “Stop. Stop giving me the third degree. I’m telling you what I know. I’m telling you that Savoy wants to help with those two and that Preston gave me the photo and the information on Dani. And I contacted you as soon as I knew about her. And yes, they probably fucking planned it, Roderick.”

GM: “Well I’m sorry if it seems like I’m grilling you, but given how completely and utterly fucked Dani and I might be-” he calms his voice, “I’m just trying to get as complete a handle on things as I can.”

Celia: “I’m trying to help you. I’m not… I don’t want to be your enemy here.”

GM: “I know. I’m just looking for any kind of handhold here, that Dani and I could still use.”

Celia: “I don’t want anything bad to happen to her, or you, or your dad, or anyone you care about. I’m not a… I’m not a monster. I’ll find a way to keep her safe.”

GM: “Okay.” He takes a needless breath. “I guess good thing I’d already assumed the worst. I had some kind of half-cocked idea to get Dani out of the city, but that’s even more of a crap shot if he already knows.”

Celia: “We still can. He’ll just… know that I told you. If you want to run…” she trails off for a moment, looking at her hands, at the wall, at anything but him. Finally she breathes in, sets her mouth in a grim line. “I can try to cover for you.”

GM: “Like I said, it’s probably a crap shot. I don’t know any licks outside the city that well. None I’d trust with Dani.”

Celia: “That Asian girl. With the fucked hands. She’s from Texas, isn’t she?”

GM: He thinks. “Yeah. I don’t really know her. She helped the thin-bloods all get butchered.”

Celia: “She what now? I thought she pulled Max to safety?”

GM: “Yeah. Instead of pulling the stake out. She was the first to cross over, behind Sanctified lines. After she did with Max, and Veronica and Pietro followed with Jonah, it was over. Everyone else deserted the thin-bloods.”

“If we’d stood our ground that would’ve been a fight even the sheriff wouldn’t have wanted. He wanted to scare us into just surrendering them up, without resistance.”

“And we did. Two dozen thin-bloods, all just… slaughtered. Just like that.”

“I’ll admit that’s one of the things Savoy has going for him, he doesn’t support a policy of active genocide.”

Celia: Celia sighs.

“She came to me about it, you know. Not like… that specifically, and I’m only telling you this because I’m trusting you not to let it out. She sees me for her hands. They’re fucked, like I said. Have you seen her without gloves? Not pretty. We’re working on reducing the scar tissue, but it’s slow going.”

“Sometimes people talk to me when I’m working on them. And she told me about that night after it happened.”

“That she’s… she’s really messed up over it, that she thought she was doing the right thing. Her sire, he’s… he’s a piece of work. She didn’t want to see the people she’d thrown in with, the Anarchs, all slaughtered, like he’s done. I don’t think she was thinking of it as abandoning the thin-bloods, just getting Max out after Veronica made her play. Anyone in the circle, right?”

“And then everyone else folded, because she made that choice. And I think she’s more messed up about it than she’s ever let on to anyone. And it’s why she doesn’t run with a krewe, because she’s ashamed.”

GM: “Well, I’m sorry for her. But I’m sorrier for the thin-bloods. Someone with a track record of folding under pressure isn’t someone I feel safe about leaving Dani with.”

“Though I guess… I mean, unless she’s leaving the city, it’s passing Dani along to any friends she has in Texas.”

Celia: “I just can’t imagine what kind of pain she’s in to unload to me when she doesn’t even know me.” Celia shakes her head. “We’re all so isolated in this existence, it’s… heartbreaking.”

GM: “Yeah. It is.” He gives a long look. Runs a hand through his hair.

“Look. I’ll… I’ll talk to her.”

“How long do you think I have, with Savoy?”

“Before he starts asking you how things went?”

Celia: “I…” Celia looks uncomfortable. “I didn’t tell him I was meeting with you tonight or anything, but I’m staying there now because Lebeaux told me to avoid ‘Celia’ places, and I’m honestly… kind of afraid of staying somewhere alone, so even though no one knows about this place…”

“I can try to put him off.”

GM: “You could stay with me today, if you wanted. I have a decent place.”

Celia: “With, ah, with Coco?”

GM: He effects a snort. “No. I’m not that much an elder’s pet.”

Celia: “D’you live with the others? Hez and Chris and them?”

GM: “I live by myself. Prefer the privacy.”

Celia: She nods. “Same. I mean, Andi and Tyrell are never in town anyway, but… still.”

“But yeah. I mean. If that’s okay with you.”

GM: “Oh?” He looks thoughtful. “I wonder if they could… no, maybe too risky with them in Savoy’s camp.”

Celia: “Roderick.” She takes his hand in hers. “Please, please, please. Don’t tell anyone. He’ll know I told you.”

GM: “Jesus Christ, of course I won’t! It’s Dani’s life, unlife, I’d be risking too. I’m not telling anyone more than they absolutely need to know. All Ayame does, if we even get that far, is that there’s someone I want to get to Houston. I’ll make up the reasons why.”

Celia: “Sorry. I wasn’t implying that you would, I just…” She’s scared, he can see it in her eyes.

GM: “I know.” He squeezes her hand back.

“I also want… to talk to Dani, before going forward with anything.”

Celia: “I’ll get in touch with her.”

GM: “Savoy’s watching her, isn’t he? That’s what I’d do.”

Celia: “Yes. To prevent a breach of the Masquerade, but…”

GM: “Yeah. Okay, so the moment that happens, we’re basically out of time, and he’s going to expect results from you.”

Roderick thinks. “Maybe it’s… better if I don’t talk with her. At least in the city.”

Celia: “Would she have a reason to distrust ‘Celia?’”

GM: “I don’t think so. You two seemed to get along okay, back when… before we got turned.”

Celia: “I just meant, like… after we, um, broke up. If you said anything negative that would make her not want to talk to me.”

GM: “Uh. Well…”

“You could tell her I’m not actually dead. That probably earns a lot of forgiveness.”

“Well, dead dead.”

Celia: “That bad, eh?”

She shouldn’t be surprised.

She isn’t, really.

GM: “I wasn’t trying to badmouth you. I was just… she saw how horrible I felt. What a total mess I was. And she obviously doesn’t know the full story.”

Celia: “It’s okay. Maybe she’ll follow me out of anger and I can get her alone.”

GM: “We just need to do this carefully. Depending how this goes… you’re going to look incompetent to Savoy at best, or traitorous if we mishandle everything.”

“I don’t know. Maybe that’s a long shot. I haven’t even talked to Ayame, maybe Texas isn’t an option.”

Roderick slaps his head.

“Oh, wait. I’m such an idiot.”

“Coco knows licks outside the city, too. I might be able to go to for help with this. Hell, she knows licks in Texas too.”

Celia: “For a thin-blood?”

GM: Roderick’s face sinks again. “That’d be…”

“Honestly, if Ayame can’t do anything either, I think it’d be… a gamble.”

“Look. Elders, they basically all hate thin-bloods. I mean, Savoy doesn’t pursue active genocide, but he treats them like shit. Relegates them to the worst parts of the Quarter. Crams them in like sardines.”


“She doesn’t say anything hateful about them, I think because they’re so arm in arm with the Anarchs now. I mean, if you talk to her, you might even walk away thinking she’s all for duskborn equality.”

“But she’s just… I’m around her a lot. She’s cooler about them. Definitely cooler. In this really understated way you might not notice, if you didn’t know her as well as me. It’s the same way she gets when…

“Look, there’s this passage from A Tale of Two Cities, about this aristocrat whose carriage runs over a little boy and kills him. The father runs up, screaming and crying as he’s cradling the body, ‘You killed my boy! You killed my boy!’”

“The aristocrat doesn’t even care. He’s just annoyed his carriage got stopped and he’s been delayed from getting to where he’s going. The Third Estate, the common people, were like bugs to him.”

“I’ve talked about that passage with Coco. She says Dickens was better at writing about London than Paris. But she said he got that part completely, 100% right. Just the sheer contempt the nobles held for the common people, the utter disregard for their lives and dignity.”

“And she says the Revolution wasn’t the country going ‘crazy’ or violent revolutions being somehow specifically endemic to France. She says the amount of violence and terror and bloodshed during the Revolution was simply the natural human response to people being suffocated under such unbearable tyranny for so long and wanting payback.”

“She says that how it played out wasn’t perfect, but that it was superior to the Ancien Régime. That anything would’ve been superior to the Ancien Régime.”

“I’m getting a little off-track. She’s fascinating to listen to about this stuff. I mean, she saw all this history unfold during her lifetime.”

“But, my point was, when we were talking about that noble whose carriage ran over the little boy… she got this cool look in her eyes. It was really hitting home for her.”

“And… it’s the same look she sometimes gets, when thin-bloods come up.”

“This coolness. This faint, but almost instinctive disgust.”

Celia: “People revolt when they taste something better and are then forced to go back to what they knew before. If they never know any different, they don’t think to ask for something more. Like a battered woman who thinks she’s getting what she deserves. But a whole people who get that taste of something else, who for a moment it is better? That’s the boiling point. That’s what causes revolt. Historically speaking.”

“But… yeah, I mean, I can’t imagine that any elder is a fan of them, but if she doesn’t get out… the Quarter is safe, at least, and we can minimize the amount of people who know who she is, and get her some decent place to feed so she’s not struggling to just survive.”

GM: “I guess that battered woman example hits a little close to home.”

“Coco says it was a combination of financial crisis, famine, France having helped the American Revolution, and times simply changing while the Ancien Régime kept trying to live like it was still the Middle Ages. I’m sure she could list even more factors. Events that big don’t ever have simple causes.”

Celia: “She’s probably right about those first reasons. I’d need to brush up on my French history. I wasn’t there, of course, or in any of the other places where they revolt.”

GM: “I don’t know why she’d feel that way about thin-bloods, anyway. I don’t know what thin-bloods have done to her. I don’t know what they even could’ve done to her. I think they only really started popping up in the ’90s.”

Celia: “One of the first presidents said something to the effect of Americans needing to have a revolution every 8 or 12 years to make sure the government doesn’t become corrupt.”

GM: “Different age now, but I don’t know that he’s completely wrong.”

Celia: “Have you talked to her about why she dislikes them so much? Or why they all seem to?”

GM: “I sure have. Didn’t get anywhere.”

Celia: “Oh.”

“I could try with Savoy, maybe. See if it sheds some light on them. Maybe he’d be willing to talk to me about it. Or Lebeaux, he knows a lot about random stuff.”

GM: “Well, unless he likes you more than Coco likes me, I dunno how much you’re gonna get out of him. But I guess it couldn’t hurt.”

Celia: “Worst case scenario he tells me nothing and we’re back to where we are now.”

GM: “True. I mean, if I thought Coco wanted to help Dani, things could look a lot different.”

Celia: “Want me to call up the sheriff? See if he wants to explain? ‘Hey buddy so I heard you don’t like thin-bloods.’”

GM: “Ha ha. Maybe we should call up your dad and ask him why he beats women, too.”

Celia: “Oh, I found his stash of paraplegic porn actually.”

GM: “Wow, morbid.”

Celia: Celia thinks she’s funny.

GM: She once heard a ghoul somewhere say you should let other people tell you you’re funny.

Wise ghoul.

“But who the hell knows, maybe it even is a partly sexual thing.”

Celia: That ghoul sounds like she has a stick up her ass.

“Oh. So there’s this girl. Who is like… a hacker or something. And she thinks that all the politicians in the city are involved in a city-wide sex ring. And she told me my mom was a sex slave. And I was like… what?”

GM: “That’s pretty crazy-sounding, but so’s a lot of the Requiem.”

Celia: “I thought she was pretty crazy at the time.”

GM: “You think there is a sex ring?”

Celia: “Oh, I dunno, she also told me that wearing makeup makes me a sex addict and that Pangloss is putting chemicals in their products. It was real weird.”

GM: “Well, you probably know better than me about makeup, but I’ve heard some pretty disturbing stuff about those companies.”

Celia: “Like what?”

GM: “That they perform torturous experiments on animals as part of product development. There was another story I heard about a Pangloss plant spilling toxic chemicals in the local town’s water supply.”

“But, really, I guess that’s all par for course in corporate America.”

Celia: “A lot of companies test on animals. They say it’s safer than testing on humans, but they do some shady things. And even if a company doesn’t, there’s a chance their parent company does. Like in cosmetics, in order to sell in China, you have to do product testing on animals.”

“So all these companies say they’re ‘vegan’ or ‘cruelty-free’ but they sell in China so you know they’re full of shit.”

GM: “Geez. There’s a lot wrong in the U.S., but China can really be something else. They’re definitely the greater evil.”

Celia: “I mean it’s a huge market, but people just… lie about it, or use general ignorance. I mean most people don’t know that thing about China, but then you can say the same thing about anything, really.”

GM: “Yeah. The deeper you dig into anything, the more rot and corruption you find.”

“Just ask me about all the places the Mafia has its tentacles wrapped around. Or don’t, if you’d rather not think about the ways humans can be monsters just as awful as us.”

Celia: “I already know firsthand that humans can be monsters,” she says quietly, “but I’m happy to listen to you tell me about it.”

GM: “I know you know. I said spend time thinking about it.”

“Don’t you want to take down your dad, by the way? Like I said, he’s had two election cycles since you were turned.”

Celia: “He wants to see me. My dad. Logan told me.”

She blurts the words out in a rush, like she can’t contain them inside herself.

“Said that he’s ‘proud of me’ for what I did with my business.”

GM: Roderick gives that a look.

Celia: “I know.”

GM: “Your dad’s a despicable human being. He’s a worse monster than a lot of vampires. Sheriff’s the only one who immediately jumps to mind as worse.”

Celia: “He is. I know he is. I know. I hate him. Like. Just. So much. I hate him.”

“But when he said that… God, I just… I just want a dad sometimes. And it’s so stupid. And I know that. And I’m just trying to figure out how to leverage this.”

GM: “Count your blessings,” Roderick says quietly. “I’ve got a mom and dad, but… well. You’re lucky to have the family you do with Emily, Lucy, and your mom. Plus all those brothers and sisters, even if you aren’t as close to them.”

Celia: She winces. “Sorry. I… you’re right. Of course you’re right.”

GM: “Well, my mom also didn’t try to saw off my dad’s leg and regularly beat him bloody, so you have that going against you.”

Celia: “And yeah, Roderick, I do want to take him down, I’m just…”

She doesn’t want to go up against her sire. She doesn’t want him to have a reason to come after her. I won’t show leniency again, he’d said. If killing her is leniency, what isn’t?

GM: “Just what? Because of the sheriff?”

Celia: She nods.

GM: “I don’t have a good answer there. But I know Savoy hasn’t seemed to help.”

Celia: “I brought that up to him recently.”

GM: “I’d like to see how he took that.”

Celia: “Preston said something like of course he wants to take down his rival’s pawns, and he just kind of waved it off because it didn’t go well last time. And I just feel like I’m supposed to come up with and execute a plan on my own. Or something.”

GM: “At least with the Mafia, Coco’s said she’ll help me, but she won’t do it for me.”

Celia: “That’s what I meant, yeah. I haven’t pushed for it as hard as I could have, I guess that’s on me.”

GM: “Well, if you come up with a plan, I’d love to help too. Your dad’s as awful as any mob boss.”

Celia: “What do you plan with the Mafia? Can I help?”

GM: Roderick rubs his head. “It’s embarrassing to admit this, but I got… distracted.”

“That sounds so stupid, I know. But it’s just such a big endeavor and there’s always more Kindred things demanding attention.”

Celia: “No, I get it. That’s kind of… I mean, like you said, I haven’t moved against Maxen either.”

“Maybe we can make a plan together.”

GM: “I’d like that. Help each other destroy our respective monsters.”

Celia: Her thumb traces circles across the back of his hand.

“I think we’ll give them something to finally worry about.”

GM: He wraps an arm around her shoulder.


Celia: It’s natural to let her head fall onto his shoulder. To scoot closer to him so he doesn’t need to lean to put his arm around her. She should have had this. All this time, she should have had this. They should have had this. She won’t mess it up again. Even if they don’t do anything more than this—even if they never get together—she can be his friend, at least, or ally, or something.

Maybe that can be enough. Make up for all the wrongs she’s ever done. Help him take down his demons.

“I missed you,” she finally says. The words are halting, like she doesn’t trust him not to throw them back in her face, but she says them anyway. “So much.”

GM: They’re not the first time she’s said them.

He doesn’t answer, immediately, but holds her close. She can feel his heart beating. There’s warmth to his skin. It’s not real, she knows. It’s from the vitae circulating through his system. But it’s so easy to think of it as real, in the moment. She thought her kind were good at surviving without warmth.

Maybe they’re not any good at it. Maybe they just don’t have any choice, and that’s why everything has to be horrible.

It feels good, just to lean against her man, head on his shoulder, and feel his warm skin against hers.

Or whatever he now is.

“I’m sorry I got mad at you for telling the truth,” he says.

Outside, it’s starting to rain. Celia can hear the steady patter-patter against the windows.

Celia: She almost tells him that it’s fine.

She swallows the words instead. It isn’t fine. But it’s over, and they’re here now, and that’s what counts. That’s what has to count. Not years-old aches and pains.

“I shouldn’t have lied. It was wrong of me. Everything I did… it was wrong. I’m sorry.”

GM: “Coco said to me, once, that it’s unfair to say Kindred are creatures of the past.”

“Maybe we are, on some level.”

“But we’re also creatures of unlimited potential. Because we have forever. We don’t run out of time, at least naturally. We can always reinvent ourselves.”

“We can always be something else, something better, tomorrow.”

Celia: “That night, she and I talked. And I asked her if it was ridiculous to think that love exists between Kindred. If I’m searching for something, chasing something, that will never happen.”

GM: “What’d she say?”

Overhead, the rain falls and plunks.

Celia: “That it’s hard. Rare. The exception rather than the rule.”

“But that it can happen.”

GM: “That’s better than never. That’s hope.”

Celia: It’s not what she wants to hear. She nods, though, because she isn’t ready to push him, and he isn’t ready to be pushed.

GM: He looks up at the ceiling. Holds her close.

“Celia, I…”

He seems to waver for a moment, then says, “She was complicit. I’ve been complicit.”

“In what happened. That massacre.”

The words seem to leave him smaller. Hollow.

Celia: She nestles against him. She doesn’t breathe, doesn’t blink, doesn’t let the forced beat of her heart betray her. She just listens. Waits. When he pauses, she gives him a gentle prompting, voice hardly louder than the rain outside the window.


GM: “She… god, Celia. I shouldn’t be talking about this. My dad said to me, when you tell secrets that aren’t yours, you’re telling anyone who hears them that you can’t be trusted.”

“But I can’t, I can’t keep this to myself. I can’t not… not confess.”

“So I’m an accomplice if I say nothing, and I’m untrustworthy if I do. Lose-lose either way.”

Celia: She lifts her head enough to touch a hand to his cheek, to meet his eyes. “I don’t think you’re untrustworthy because you unburden your conscience.”

GM: “But what about revealing things I’ve been trusted with, in confidence?”

“It’s the cornerstone of attorney-client privilege. What lets everyone get fair counsel and representation under the law.”

Celia: “I trust you. I trusted you back then, and I trust you now. If you hear something… if it’s better to talk about it than hold it in… even if it hurts, isn’t it better to let it go? You told me that, once. You’d rather know the truth. You don’t want the beautiful lies.”

She puts it into her voice. The pain she’d felt at betraying him all those years ago. The ache she’s carried since. Losing him. Telling him she’d trusted him all those years ago only for him to turn on her in a moment of rage. Telling her that he could forgive her and then beating her into a bloody, messy pulp instead. The fear she’d felt when she’d opened the door this evening—had to be fear, didn’t it? Asking—begging—him not to hit her. All those steps she’d taken to keep her home from getting ruined and he’d done it anyway, forcing her to hide from him. But here she is, on the couch with him, wrapped in his arms, close enough that a simple squeeze could immobilize her. Offering herself to him anyway, despite the things that he has done, despite what he could do.

It’s an old tactic. The old manipulation: to hit him where it hurts. To find his shame and play it up. And she knows what shames him. She leans into it. They’ve come this far. Gotten this much. Every word, every action this evening has been to wrap him further around her fingers, to bring him to this confession. The mask she wears for Roderick: trusting, naive, helpless. The Beauty to her Beast. And how well she plays that card, how well that mask covers up the lie within.

Trust, she tells him.

GM: He stares up at the ceiling. Listens to the rain. Maybe tries to listen to his conscience. Or just look for his conscience.

But Celia’s there to say:

That’s me.

“She knew it was coming.”

His voice is quiet.

“She and Opal.”

“That Vidal wanted to butcher as many thin-bloods in one place as he could. Because that’s how it works, with him. Change the system from within.”

“Well, you don’t get to do that without being part of the system. You want him to do something for you, you have to do something for him. Way of the world.”

Celia: She keeps her voice clear of judgment. Neutral. Like the face that she puts on for him—though she is tucked against him and he cannot see it anyway, her mask is on. No anger. No sadness. Nothing but compassion for the position that he’s in. Difficult, to stand by and watch them be slaughtered.

“Did you know?” she asks him.

GM: “Before it happened… no. God, no. I don’t know if I could’ve… if I could’ve just done nothing.”

“And she told me that. Why she didn’t tell me. That my spirit was admirable, that I was a good person, why she Embraced me, and all that.”

“But that I still had a lot to learn about how the world worked. About the way things really are, the invisible axis the world turns on.”

“She said it was horrible. Acknowledged it. Though I don’t know if she really meant that, or was just saying it for me. I’ve seen that look in her eyes, that they give her.”

“She said it was horrible, but that it was the only way forward for the Anarchs. That it would’ve happened with her or without her. That Vidal could’ve found someone else to turn coat, even if she hadn’t slipped him all the details of the meeting. That he probably already had found someone else to turn coat, just to be sure she was being honest with him. Hell, she said that’s what she’d have done if she were Vidal. To be totally sure that both her Anarch informants were being honest. Get verification from multiple sources.”

“She said Vidal would’ve sent the sheriff, scourge, and all the others to go wipe out the thin-bloods anyway. And even if there wasn’t a meeting, he’d have just done sweep after sweep through Mid-City to get as many as he could.”

“And I told her I didn’t accept that, that you can always do something. If the Nazis demand Jews, do you just turn them over? How does history judge the collaborators over the people who fought back and sacrificed their lives? How can anyone say they’d rather not be one of those heroes than a collaborator? Saying ‘it would’ve happened anyway’ is making excuses.”

Celia: “You weren’t complicit.” Her words are quiet but certain. “You weren’t complicit if you didn’t know. You stood up against them all. You’re not a collaborator.”

GM: “I… I’ll get to that.”

“She told me the comparison was bullshit, essentially. She said thin-bloods weren’t innocent Jews, they were vampires, they had blood on their hands just like us. She said the Camarilla weren’t the Nazis. That its existence and the vampiric population control it enforces and the Masquerade are wins for humanity. She said that the problems with the Camarilla and its leadership were eternal, not like a breather Hitler who’d just get old and die someday.”

“And she said the good we do can also be eternal, and that older Kindred who could effect real change couldn’t throw away their unlives irresponsibly. That they had to judge where they could do the most good where they could, otherwise they’d do no good at all.”

“There was… there was more to it. More reasons. More rationales. Maybe you can think of some of them. She’s convincing. Really convincing. There’s a reason the Anarchs all look up to her as a leader.”

“And I think she really does care about them, about the Anarch cause, not like some other elder who’s completely selfish. She really does want to make the world a better place and Kindred society more egalitarian.”

“I mean, how do you argue with that? With someone who’s really and truly convinced they’re doing the right thing?”

“But I guess that’s stupid, because who actually thinks they’re doing the wrong thing and does it anyway. Even Vidal probably thinks he’s doing the right thing.”

Celia: “Some people know. They know and don’t care because it’s easy or convenient.”

GM: “I think they’re a minority. I hope they’re a minority. Even mob bosses can think what they’re doing is right in their own twisted way. People’s capacity to rationalize and make excuses is pretty much unlimited.”

Celia: The people who know and don’t do anything differently aren’t usually the ones in charge. They’re the ones following orders. Like Roderick.

But she doesn’t say it. She just runs a hand down his back, squeezes the other. I’m here, that touch says.

GM: “She just said this is how it works, if you want to work with Vidal. It’s all in or all out with him. You can’t get something for nothing.”

“She says a bunch of neonates try that with elders. They flatter them and offer to be their ‘ear to the ground’ or some other bullshit. To make noise about supporting them but not really do anything more than hang around and expect patronage and support. She calls it ‘selling hot air.’”

“But that doesn’t work with Vidal, or any elder. You want something from them, you have to fucking pay your way.”

“So, she helped. For all those reasons and a whole bunch more. Skipped town when it happened. Would’ve eroded her and Opal’s authority with the Anarchs, wouldn’t it, if all they did was stand by and watch during the sheriff’s bloodbath?”

“Hell, the whole thing even enhanced their authority. Any Anarch can point to it and say, ‘look what happens when the big mama and big sister aren’t here to stick up for us!’”

“God, I just think how it would’ve played out. If she and Opal were there and didn’t just let the sheriff do what they did. They could’ve rallied everyone. Morale is such a huge determinant in how battles go, and Vidal didn’t fucking want a battle. He wanted to neuter us through fear. We already outnumbered the Sanctified, and to have two serious heavy hitters on our side…”

“I just think how it could’ve gone. I’ve poured over it. So many things that could’ve gone differently.”

“And… and you should’ve heard what it was like, at the next Cabildo meeting. The elders were fucking celebrating. All talking about how pleased they were with the sheriff, how neat and clean the whole slaughter was, how the Anarchs were all nice and cowed and reminded of their place. You should have just heard all the things they were saying. It was unbelievable.”

Celia: She’d been right. Opal and Coco, she’d been right. The paper confirmed it, and now her childe as well. She doesn’t pull away. He needs strength now, not gloating, not sneering. Gentle understanding to get him through the worst of it. Are there adequate words? She can’t think of any. She just looks at him, long and solemn, hurt in her eyes. For him. For carrying this burden for so long.

“You did everything you could. They would have killed you, too.”

GM: He closes his eyes for a moment.

“But I’ve kept quiet about it. I haven’t said, done, anything. I’m there for every meeting, taking notes, listening to them.”

“I don’t think Coco and Opal said aloud they helped it happen, because what does that gain them. But the other elders aren’t stupid. All of them are smart, duplicitous, cynical. I think they all know. Except maybe Hurst, but he’s not a real elder.”

“And they’re all 100% behind the continued sweeps and purges. That’s one of the big reasons they don’t do anything about Caitlin Meadows. Because sure, she’s a mad dog off her leash, but she still goes after as many thin-bloods as she can, and they’re all happy with that. Happy with how many she kills.”

“All of that’s going on. And they help. They volunteer intelligence, strategies, recommendations. They pass it on to Maldonato to pass down to the sheriff. It’s still going on.”

“And I’m complicit.”

Celia: It smolders in her mind. Satisfaction. That she’d been right. This whole time. People think she’s stupid—he, apparently, thinks she’s stupid—but she’s right. Always. When it comes to other people, she’s always right. She’s made mistakes, and those weigh heavily on her, but she’s not some dumb air-head, she’s not just an image-obsessed Toreador and social media influencer. Even mistakes have been spun into victories.

She’d been right about the Cabildo the first time around, too. When she’d said that he was keeping secrets that the city deserves to know. That night in the car—she’d been right, and he had tried to lie to her, but she had known. Had let him win the battle. He hadn’t trusted her then, and she wonders at this sudden trust he shows now, if he is more coy than he seems. A lawyer presenting a poisoned gift. Misinformation. She doesn’t think so. His concern for his sister is real. His surprise that night had been real. That night the horror had been too fresh, perhaps.

Already she thinks of how to spin this. How to protect her own assets—protect him, because even after all this time she aches for him—her own end game, while furthering those of whom she serves.

She doesn’t let it distract her from the boy in her arms. She draws him in, lets him lay his head upon her breast, presses her lips to his temple. Her fingers are feather-light, sliding through his hair, down his neck, his back. Long, slow, stroking movements. They are the same that she ends her tablework with, they calm the body and bring everything to a nice close. Kindred might not have that same physiological response, but Roderick surely has memories that this sort of touch evokes: skinned knees as a child, comfort after losing his grandfather, the months of practice she had gotten in on him before her Embrace. The body holds memories and she summons them now with her fingers and hands, taking him back to a better time. A more innocent time.

She is quiet for a moment. Lets her touch work on him. Lets him take comfort from it, if he does, or stew in his emotions. His guilt and shame and grief over his own action—or there lack of. It is not a judgmental, uncomfortable silence. It is a contemplative silence. I hear you, that silence says, I’m here for you, I’ll help you.

A beat. Two. Three. Long enough that he knows she thought about her next words, that she considered what he said and her own response rather than blurting out the first thing to come to mind, that she does not offer an empty platitude.

“I understand your pain, Roderick. I understand how you feel, and why you feel. But knowing about the sword… that does not mean you swung it. You cannot blame yourself for the actions of other people. Those who died at that first massacre, that is not on you. The order came down from Vidal. From the Camarilla at large. His minions carried it out. Others stood aside, or made a stand, or did what they thought was right even if it wasn’t.”

“You tried. You stood up. You were the vocal minority. Your Blood saved you, yes, and think of… think of how good that is now. What you can do, how you can change things. You said to me once how we need to learn from the past. That it informs our future, our present. So we take this, and we go forward. We can’t get anywhere in our unlives if we stare in the rear-view mirror, but it is there for a reason.”

Unless there’s more. Her voice does not betray her, but the question is there all the same. Unless there’s more you haven’t gotten to yet, unless you are an active participant and not a bystander.

The rain lashes against the windows. How well the night reflects her own moods, she thinks, that the heavens cry when she cannot, that they weep for her and the boy in her arms. Boy, because he was innocent once, though their kind no longer subscribes to such things. Lick, then. Kindred. Rain sent to echo her own sentiments. Rain to wash away the stains of their souls, perhaps. Or a darker omen yet. Had it rained the night of her Embrace? Within the arms of her sire nothing touched her, nothing but his lips at her throat, her mind inside of his. Safe, despite the horror she found lurking. Safe, despite her death at his hands. Their souls touched that night. More of her innocence drained away. She shed her mortal coils.

Is this evening, too, a turning stone for him? A dark, spiraling stair that will lead him down a path from which he can never return? She is the sire, then, sent to guide him down. Savoy compared her once to Aphrodite, but perhaps she is Charon, and this his river Styx.

GM: Roderick can’t sigh under her touch, at least not without forcing it. Some parts of the flesh stay dead after they die. But he looks relaxed. Content to close his eyes and lie there against her, perhaps remembering those same earlier times as Celia’s practiced fingers works her magic. Evening study sessions at his place with junk food, some with actual studying, and head for massages. It was a good trade.

For a while they just lie there as rainfall beats against the windows in dull, tearful plunks. Solitary rowers along their River Styx.

There’s worse analogies for the already dead.

“So, say we get out Danielle. Then… what? I just stay with Coco? Keep taking notes every meeting at the Cabildo nothing’s happening? Should I even be this worked up about duskborn when they’re still vampires?”

“There’s so much about Coco I respect, that I look up to. She’s done so much for me. I know I’ve wound up with as good a sire as any lick could ask for, in so many different ways.”

“I believe in her vision. I want to help it succeed.”

“But as much as I hate to admit it… Vidal is a greater evil than Savoy. He just is, in so many ways.”

“And I wonder if Coco made a huge mistake a hundred years ago, and the real reason she’s still with Vidal is that it’s too late to reverse course without destroying everything she’s built.”

“So if get out Dani… then what? What’s the right thing to do next?”

Celia: “I was going to ask you,” Celia says quietly, “why she stayed with him. After the massacre. After the trial. What keeps her there when… I know he’s not the ideal ruler, but to displace the prince… She has that sway, I think.”

GM: “What, overthrow the prince?”

Celia: “Or defect. Switch sides. I just… from everything you’ve told me, I don’t understand.”

GM: “She can’t overthrow Vidal. He’s too strong. And she doesn’t believe violent Kindred revolutions ultimately lead anywhere good, even if they succeed.”

“Savoy’s been trying to woo her for a long time, anyway. She says she doesn’t trust him. That with Vidal, you’re at least dealing with a known evil. A predictable evil. Because he’s guided by an actual ideology and follows it even when it’s politically inconvenient.”

Celia: “Do you think that’s all it is?”

GM: “She says if you really make an effort understand the Sanctified, don’t just dismiss their dogma as a bunch of fundamentalist bullshit, you can understand Vidal. And that in the long run, having a prince you can predict and plan around is the important thing. It’s what’s let her establish everything we have in Mid-City, and that really is a lot. Vidal used to just kill or exile Anarchs wherever he found them.”

“But with Savoy, she says he’s not motivated by anything besides political convenience. That he doesn’t give a shit about ideology or anything else, except what’s best for Savoy. And that’s always going to shift, depending on the current landscape.”

“I guess that makes sense enough, though it’s not impossible there could be more. She doesn’t tell me everything.”

“But right now, even if she were to defect, I think it might be too late. Because Veronica did first.”

“And no offense to your sire, but… I don’t think she has the Anarchs’ best interests at heart. Or really anyone’s besides her own.” A pause. “She raped you.”

Celia: Celia forces air through her nose. It might be a huff. Or a laugh.

“She looks out for herself,” she agrees. “But that doesn’t mean Coco can’t also switch.”

GM: “Yeah, and say she does, what kind of welcome do you think she’s going to get from Veronica, from Savoy, from the Anarchs who already have?”

Celia: “Veronica sneers at everyone. That’s nothing new. But if Savoy has been pursuing Coco… could be there’s something there to look into at least.”

Not that Coco is simply going to defect because of a sales pitch.

GM: “Yeah? Think about it some more. Veronica’s #1 among the Anarchs on Savoy’s side. Coco shows up, but she’s used to being #1 with Opal. Can you guess where that might go?”

“And then there’s Savoy. Coco will have less leverage over him. Less clout. She’s late to the party. Missed the chance to get in on the ground floor.”

Celia: “I know. Maybe you’re right. I just… it was just wishful thinking, I guess. That you and I…”

GM: “It’s just… big-shot Kindred like her, you can’t convert with just a sales pitch. Something needs to actually happen to shift the landscape for them.”

“Like Matheson using your sister as his, I guess sex slave. That’s what moved Veronica.”

Celia: Her mouth flattens into a line.

“Yeah,” she says coldly.

GM: He frowns. “Sorry, did I say something wrong?”

Celia: “No. That whole thing. That he got off. It’s bullshit.”

GM: “100%. He was guilty as fuck. Vidal just didn’t want to admit another blue blood did anything wrong.”

Celia: “He fucked with her, and then he… He fucked with her mind.”

GM: “Were you and Ryllie that close? I know you were on opposite sides.”

“I mean, I know Veronica’s cut her completely out.”

Celia: “We got along. Veronica made sure of it. Didn’t want her childer fighting or showing anything less than a unified front. Bad reflection on her, she said. And… yeah, I mean, I liked her. I would have been right there with you guys if things hadn’t… you know.”

“Even if we hadn’t been. No one deserves that.”

GM: Roderick looks surprised. “Huh. Didn’t expect that when she has such a shitty relationship with her sire and grandsire.”

“But… yeah. I’m sorry, too. But I don’t know if you could’ve done anything.”

Celia: “I’m not my sire, though. Not my father. Not my mother. She’s isolated a lot of people with her venom, but I try to not let that affect my relationships with them. It’s just burning bridges for no reason.”

“Honestly, I wonder if the prince let him off because he does the same thing.”

GM: “Of course he did. They all do. Donovan would’ve ashed me if it weren’t for my sire.”

Celia: “What?”

GM: “Don’t tell me you’re surprised. I mean, he said so.”

Celia: “That all of them…” She thinks they might be talking about different things.

GM: “All of them what?”

Celia: “I thought you meant all the elders use neonates like that. I was just kind of being catty and then you were like ‘they all do.’ But that isn’t what you meant.”

Is it?

Oh fuck. Is it?

GM: He might blink, if he were alive. “Oh. No, I didn’t mean that. I thought you meant just judge every neonate on who their sire is.”

“They couldn’t all do that, what Matheson did. Just… no way.”

Celia: “But… but him? The prince?” She’s afraid to say his name. Afraid to speak too loudly, even here, about something this blasphemous. Her snide, off-hand remark… it can’t possibly be… She swallows.

“You say ‘all’ like you think there are others.”

GM: “Somewhere, out there, absolutely. Of course there’s more. In New Orleans… I dunno.”

“I hope not.”

“If there are any, they’re better at hiding it than Matheson.”

Celia: “I kept thinking about doing something ridiculous. Like going to him and letting him do it to me so I could show them what he does, that it’s all true, that they’re covering for him.”

GM: “That’s way too dangerous,” Roderick says sharply. “Matheson knows Vidal can’t bail him out twice. He’d be on guard, he’d kill you if he thought for a moment, for a moment-”

Celia: “I know that.” His concern is touching, though.

GM: “Okay. I just don’t want that to happen to you. I see how fucked up Ryllie still is.”

Celia: Celia’s gaze softens. “Does she talk about it at all?”

GM: “Sure, for a while. She wouldn’t shut up about it. How great Matheson is, how completely innocent, how she wants to see him again so bad.”

Celia: “And now?”

GM: “I started going apeshit over it. That finally made her stop.”

Celia: “Oh.”

“Sometimes I think we need lick therapists or something. Go through shit like that.”

GM: “I hear there’s some who are Malks. Sounds safer just to go crazy by yourself.”

Celia: “Sometimes my clients treat me like a therapist. They just, like, unload. Divorce, fertility problems, nightmares, how much they hate their neighbors or mothers or bosses.” She shakes her head, smiles ruefully. “I should start charging them more.”

GM: “I remember. You told me all about how that’s a thing. I’m still a little amazed they say so much.”

“But I guess, what else do you do when you’re lying on a chair for hours around someone you never see anywhere else.”

“Do your family do that at all, when you’re working on them, or does it only really happen with people who are pure clients?”

Celia: “Both. Mom talks a lot when I work on her, Emily usually falls asleep. She needs it, though. Final year of med school and all. A lot of times it’s clients, but I see them so often it’s almost like we’re friends sometimes. Like I could tell you what they’re in school for and who is dating who and what their kids are up to, and I’ve been invited to a fair few events, and some of them get me birthday or Christmas presents.”

“If Piper and I trade she just talks my ear off the whole time. Really just depends on the person, I guess, if they’re more inclined to open up or not.” A brief pause. “We used to talk. Before you fell asleep. And drooled.” She sticks her tongue out at him.

Even that time he’d thought she was a stranger he’d talked.

“I think I still have my old table in the closet. If you want to relax and just take your mind off things for a bit.”

GM: “That’s sweet, with your clients. You can get to know people pretty intimately as a lawyer, but usually not in that same way.”

“And I did not drool!”

Celia: “Dude. You 100% did.”

GM: “Pics or it didn’t happen.”

Celia: “You snored, too.” Celia makes a chainsaw sound with her mouth, snorting in air.

GM: “I did not snore. I’m civilized.”

Celia: She laughs.

“All right. You’re right, actually.”

GM: “See? Law school was good for something,” he smirks.

“But as far as your table… that sounds great, but we also got side-tracked.” His face grows stiller as he pulls Celia closer. The rain’s steady patter fills the silence.

“Assuming everything with Dani goes off without a hitch… what do you think the right thing is for me to do, with Coco?”

“I didn’t want to… well, betray her, but I can’t accept or condone Vidal’s regime. It’s been getting worse and worse.”

Celia: It’s a sobering question. The laughter in her eyes dies, and her mouth pulls down at the corners. She tucks herself against him, head on his shoulder, arms around his neck, taking and offering what comfort she can from the closeness of their bodies. It’s not the same to some—a lot of licks don’t like being touched—but to her it’s as natural as anything else, and their history together… she hopes it’s helping him, too.

“It has been getting worse.” Even shielded from the worst of it, she knows how bad it’s getting. “If you want to make a change… it’s not betrayal, Roderick, not if she’s not doing the right thing. You can help so many people. Everyone in this city. All the thin-bloods. The Caitiff. Anyone who has ever been hunted down by Donovan or Meadows.”

“No one deserves to die because of an accident of Embrace. That’s like saying someone should be put down because they’re black. Or half black. Or Jewish.”

GM: Maybe it’s not a question of being touched or not. Just by who.

He shifts, running one arm along her neck and shoulders, hooks the other around her back.

“But it’s being a traitor. A Quisling. Stabbing her in the back, when she’s counting on me. Been so much to me.”

Celia: “It’s not. It’s doing the right thing in the face of adversity. It’s not like you’re going to literally stab her in the back, it’s not like she’s going to suffer or be overthrown or taken down from power.”

“Once things change… once things change we just, we adapt.”

GM: “Is it? I mean, Vidal’s going to konk out, soon. That’s going to change everything.” His brow furrows. “I think you have a really… a really rosy view of what the city’s going to look like, if you don’t think any licks are going to die. Or that Coco’s going to be immune, if she backs the losing side.”

“There are lots of organisms that die if they can’t adapt. We tend to forget that part of natural selection.”

Celia: “I don’t think no one’s going to die. I just… I think you’re being overly pessimistic about it, and you’re conflicted because you care about Coco, and you don’t want to hurt her. And that’s admirable. It really is. But just… you said yourself she made a mistake. And she’s helping them exterminate people. People like us. People like your sister.”

“If you’re worried about it getting back to her…” She lifts her hand momentarily, shoving it through the curls that crowd her face. “I told you that I will always, always have your back. That if you’re in trouble I’ll be there for you. And if you need a fall guy… fuck, Roderick, if you need a fall guy, what am I doing with my Requiem anyway?”

GM: “Look, I appreciate that, but… Celia, seriously, picture it!” Roderick exclaims. “We take the Traditions and Vidal’s peace for granted, but cities fall into civil war. It happens. There is no police force to keep all vampires playing nice with each other. The archons and justicars are too few to be everywhere at once. A lot of cities are on their own. It happened in Baton Rouge. Meeks didn’t just drive out Marcel, he killed a bunch of the old prince’s supporters too. It happened in Houston, when the Anarchs overthrew the Invictus and killed a bunch of them.”

“Coco says when that happens, even uninvolved licks take advantage of the violence to kill off rivals, settle old scores, or just get caught up in the bloodlust and lash out because it’s what everyone else is doing. A ‘Mardi Gras’ effect, where the whole city just goes crazy. And the winners usually don’t offer much quarter to the losers. They kill them to nip any future threats to their power in the bud. Or just to open up more domains and influence for themselves, because licks don’t ever get old and retire. There are a ton of licks who’ll have every reason to make a run at Coco. Your sire honestly being one of them.”

“Coco’s seen it happen, in Paris, where the bloodshed lasted for years. She was even there for it in Houston during Katrina. The fact we had that archon, North, show up last month should tell you how seriously licks are taking this.”

“I really don’t think you understand just how bad things could get.”

Celia: Maybe. Maybe she doesn’t. Maybe her position as Savoy’s favorite grandchilde (she assumes) has kept her from the worst of it. Has left her free to pursue her various interests rather than getting into the thick and heavy of it. She struggled as a mortal, but here? No. She woke up on the lap of luxury here. She’s been privileged.

“Twenty-three people slaughtered in one night. Countless more dead at the sheriff’s hands, at Meadows’ hands, at Vidal’s hands, with all their sweeps and raids.”

She doesn’t need to say it. It’s the old conductor on a track problem: does he change course to the one he knows, or does he let hundreds be slaughtered in her stead?

GM: “Look, forget that right now! Celia, I need to hear you’re taking this seriously. That you have a plan in case things get that bad.”

“Because the primogen take it seriously. Especially recently, since the trial. They’ve talked about what they might do if things get to the point of open war.”

“And they say some of the heaviest fighting is likely to be in the Quarter. Because Savoy doesn’t actually hold a lot of physical territory, even if the Quarter is valuable real estate, and has crammed so many licks into the neighborhoods he does have.”

Celia: “…are you asking if I have a plan for me?”

GM: “Yes! If you know what you’re going to do if the worst happens, if the Quarter turns into a giant bloodbath!”

Celia: Oh.


Somehow, she thought he wouldn’t give a fuck. That he doesn’t care.

She’s silent.

She doesn’t know what to say.

“I don’t have a detailed plan,” she finally admits.

GM: “Okay, well, you don’t need to feel bad about that. A lot of licks don’t. They just get swept up in the violence, or told to go fight by their elders. They’re also the ones who usually die.”

“So, with you, I don’t know how likely Savoy is to press-gang you into a war coterie. Because, well, I never got around to teaching you how to fight, and he might not think you can.”

“I should still do that. And you maybe shouldn’t tell him you know how, after I do.”

Celia: Would Savoy send her to die? Would he?

She doesn’t want to think it, but… it might be true. That they’d just send her off to fight as if she knows how. Neither one of them had cared that she’d almost died two days ago. She hasn’t even heard from her sire, and it was him she reached out to.

Is this why Savoy lets the thin-bloods and Caitiff into the Quarter? Because he’s planning for open war?

And she’s… as ignorant as her daddy used to say.

“Oh,” she says finally. Quietly. “Okay. I can… you’ll show me?”

GM: “Yes. I will. Obviously, it’s better if you don’t have to fight at all, but it could happen. Even if you’re doing your utmost to stay out.”

Celia: She doesn’t want to think about it. Doesn’t want to think about a horde of licks coming after her because of who she chose to back. Being torn apart in the streets. Staked and left for the sun. Heart ripped out. Soul cleaved from her body.

“I’m good at hiding,” she suggests, but even to her own ears the words sound… lame.

GM: “Okay, so if you want to hide out, that’s probably a good idea. There’s almost guaranteed to be fighting at the Evergreen.”

“Coco and most of the elders have secure bolt holes, around the city. Emergency havens no one else knows about, with provisions like blood, weapons, burner phones, survival gear. Plus food and toiletries for renfields. Places they can hide out if things turn ugly and their main hangouts get compromised. I don’t know where Coco’s is—better that way.”

“Some elders, I think, don’t have bolt holes, and just focus on making their main havens as secret, fortified, and well-stocked as possible.”

Celia: She cannot help but look around the room. This was supposed to be her secret haven. But Roderick knows. And her sire knows. And if they know—it’s possible to keep a secret, but only if the other two are dead.

She hadn’t thought about it. What it would mean if Vidal fell. Somehow, she’d thought she would be safe. It’s an error that could have cost her everything. Safe place. Supplies. She can start on that, at least. Perhaps more muscle to add to her retinue should, God forbid, Randy fall.

“You have a plan, right? For you?”

GM: “I guess you could say. I’ll be in one of those war coteries.”

Celia: Is her mouth always this dry?

“You can’t.”

GM: He shakes his head.

“Someone has to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty. Licks fight other licks. They can’t all sit out.”

“Wouldn’t be much of a war if everyone holed up in their havens.”

Celia: “You can’t.” She says it again, as if it will change his mind, as if her insistence has any bearing here. Her arms tighten around him. He can’t. He’ll die. She can’t lose him. Not again. Not after last time. She’d barely survived it then, and here he is talking about marching off to war. Maybe she says it out loud, that she can’t lose him, maybe she gets the words out around the ache in her jaw that makes it so hard to talk, the pressure in the corners of her eyes, the searing agony in the middle of her chest that makes it hard to even bring the air into her lungs so she can form the words.

GM: Roderick holds her close, but only shakes his head.

“This is how it is, Celia. My sire’s done a lot for me. I’ve enjoyed what a lot of licks would call significant privilege. But that isn’t free. My sire helps me out, so I have to help her out. And if things get to the point of open war, that’s when she’ll need me most.”

“And it’s not just her. If I jumped ship to Savoy, you can bet he’d expect me to fight his enemies, because I know how to fight.”

“And it’s not like I’m being press-ganged. If I acquit myself well, I’ll get rewarded. Coco says there’s usually lots of spoils to go around after a war. Just like if I turn tail and run, my name’ll be mud.”

“But for what it’s worth, if, things get to the point of open fighting, Coco said she won’t be sending me out to die in her name. She’ll fight beside me the whole time.”

“She fights her own battles, not like Vidal and Savoy. They’ll probably just hole up in Perdido House or the Evergreen and let the city’s neonates die for them.”

Celia: “If. If you do. If you win. If you don’t die. If someone doesn’t take your head off.”

She’s seen him move. A blur. A fucking blur. How do you fight a blur? You don’t. You can’t. It’s just there and then it’s not. And he’s not the only monster out there, not the only one that Roderick would be going up against.

She was that fast once, and even she was no match.

GM: “If all that happens…?”

Celua: “You said it. If. If is a… it’s a terrible word, Roderick, it’s a terrible, terrible word. Two letters but it changes everything.”

“What if you do. Sure. But what if you don’t? What if you don’t acquit yourself well because you’re dead? Because someone got to you? And I’m just supposed to—supposed to be okay with that?”

GM: He gives her a squeeze. “Well, I hope you’d be pretty sad for me, at first. But I also hope you’d learn to be okay and move on. What’s the alternative?”

Celia: Hunt down the person who killed him and make them pay. Rip them apart. With hand and claw and fang.

GM: “Now, look. All of what I’m describing might not happen,” he says assuringly. “It isn’t guaranteed. None of the elders want there to be war, for a whole bunch of reasons. It could cost them everything and elders hate taking risks that big. War is the worst case scenario.”

“But it is a possible scenario. That might be why the archon showed up, and why the elders are all preparing for it, just in case. And why I want you to prepare for it too.”

Celia: “What do you use to fight? Do you have a weapon?”

GM: “Don’t need one. I’m better at super-speed than super-strength, all that baseball practice I guess, but these things are as lethal as any stabbing instrument close up.” He holds up one of his hands. “I’ve done a lot of training, with Coco and other Anarchs.”

“I’m also a decent shot. Guns without serious stopping power are mostly useless against licks, but you never know. Still good for picking off renfields. So I’ve got a few firearms too.”

Celia: Celia shakes her head. She holds up her own hand, her skin soft and supple, her nails painted in whorls of white and gold and pink, crystals dotted across them. She shows him her hand… and then the change happens. Her cuticles split. The keratin of her nails hardens. Lengthens. Becomes as sharp as any scalpel. Thick claws spring from the tips of her fingers, like a cat who has decided to finally attack the hand that rubs it. Beautiful claws, an ombre of black to red, with pointed tips that can sink into anything.

She holds it out so he can see. So he can touch. Test the sharpness for himself, if he wants.

“I can show you how.”

“Maybe they’re not good for every situation. But if it gives you an edge…”

GM: “Whoa, neat trick. I didn’t know you’d picked up morphing.”

He runs his fingers along the claws, holds them up experimentally, then smirks.

“They’re even pretty.”

Celia: “Everything I do is pretty.”

GM: “It sure is. Looks like I can show you how to fight and you can show me how to sprout claws.”

He thinks.

“They’re something I could keep in reserve. Useful if I’m pinned or on the ground and can’t leverage my full strength. Or just pop out when I’m really close to someone. Or surprise someone with them in the middle of a fight, if I suddenly change modes of attack.”

“Coco says all warfare is based on deception, like the book says, and that’s just as true in hand-to-hand fights as anywhere else.”

Celia: She waits until he’s done with them to let them sink back into her flesh. They disappear as if they had never been there, and once more her neatly manicured nails are in place.

“They have all sorts of uses. No one expects them, not really. It’s an easy trick, but an advantageous one. Like you said, deception.”

GM: “I think they expect them if you’re a Gangrel. But who does from a Brujah or Toreador?”

Celia: “Exactly.” She pauses a moment. Her hands are on his arm suddenly, pulling it from around her shoulder to across her lap. She unfastens the cuffs of his button-down shirt and slides the fabric to his elbow. Her hands splay across his forearm, the tip of her pink at his wrist, thumb extended as far as it can go. Her other hand completes the line, thumb touching to thumb, and only once the second hand is set in position does she move the first, lining it up with the crook of his elbow. She mouths a number.

Too tall. Not by much, but by too much for her to do anything with right now. She shakes her head. She’ll make another. More money. She’ll have to give the Nosferatu something besides money, then. Or borrow from Savoy. It won’t come cheaply. Maybe Pietro…? She’ll talk to him.

GM: Roderick looks puzzled, but lets her work. “What’s this for?”

Celia: “Protection.”

GM: “Okay.”

“Speaking of. How you turned into a cat earlier, you should take advantage of that if you get a safehouse. There’s all sorts of hard to find and hard to reach places a cat can get that a human can’t.”

“It’s a good form to sleep in during the day, too. Harder to stake a cat.”

Celia: “Easier to rip their heads off, though.”

She’d thought about that when he’d come charging at her earlier. How easy it would be for him to rip her apart.

“But yes. It’s useful for getting away from things and getting into things.”

GM: “It’s always better to avoid fights you don’t need. Cat form helps there.”

Celia: “I can’t sleep like that,” she admits. “I have to turn back eventually.”

“I could learn, maybe. I’ve heard it’s possible. That there are some Gangrel out there who spend more time as animals.”

She already knows how to cloak her Beast, too. She’d be just another house cat.

GM: “There’s a lot that is. If nothing else though, you could set up a a sleeping area somewhere that’s impossible to get into as a human, but easier as a cat.”

Celia: It’s something she’s been thinking about for a while, anyway.

“Yes,” she agrees, “I’m going to look into that.”

GM: “If you get an emergency haven, try not to have your real name attached to it. Well, names. Celia or Jade.”

Celia: Celia gives him a wry smile.

“This place has no name attached to it. I had a tutor once. Taught me a lot about the internet. How easy it is to track things like that. He could do some pretty scary things from a smartphone or a laptop. I try to remember what he taught me when it comes to safety.”

GM: “Okay, good. I was thinking more from a legal angle.” He thinks. “Does anyone else know about this place?”

Celia: “Oh. Explain.”

GM: “I just mean that’s what I’d do, if I were looking for someone. Try to run down as many things legally attached to their name as I could. There’s a ton of stuff you can find out about people through public records that lawyers know to look through, but a lot of people don’t.”

Celia: “That’s pretty creepy, to be honest. But also smart.”

“People think tech and records and everything are great, that we’re not giving away privacy, and sure sometimes it’s just to sell to advertisers. But then you’ve got people who really know how to look. How to dig. And it’s… it’s scary, sometimes, what someone can find out about you.”

GM: “It’s not as creepy as technology, honestly. Lot of those records have been around for a pretty long time. They’re not even that Orwellian. It is necessary to keep track of, say, what buildings are owned by what people.”

Celia: “Maybe I’ll hire you to do some digging once this whole thing blows over. There’s some land I want to develop that I keep putting off.”

GM: “There’s a fair amount of overlap between legal work and investigative work. Law firms hire PIs for things all the time. I know a bunch of them.”

“What land is that?”

Celia: “It’s in the Quarter. Savoy gave me the domain and I haven’t done much with it. I keep thinking it could be… better.”

“I mean. If I still have it after this.”

GM: “Well, it’s impossible to say for sure when a war is going to happen, or if one is even going to happen at all. So I’d keep living your unlife.”

Celia: “I know that shmuck owns a lot of land but I never did any digging into what I have.”

“That chicken guy. T-shirt guy. You know who I mean.”

GM: “The T-Shirt Czar. Pavaghi.”

Celia: “Yeah.”

GM: “Yeah, my dad doesn’t like him. I don’t like him.”

Celia: “Randy knows one of the kids. Said he’s a ‘total fucking scumbag douche with more money than brains’ and also a pig fucker.” Celia shrugs.

GM: “Also a decent bet someone that powerful has a lick behind them. No idea who it might be for Pavaghi, though.”

Celia: “Ah. Right. Well, I’m not looking to make enemies. Just develop some land.”

GM: “So you want to find out who owns it? You could actually probably do that yourself with some time on Qeeqle.”

Celia: “But then I don’t get to spend time with you.”

GM: “Ah, true. Guess the lawyer better handle it.”

Celia: She smiles at him. It’s a pretty smile, like the rest of her, and when she looks at him like that—with her face open and earnest—it’s easy to see the genuine emotion behind her eyes. Their kind are cool. Their bodies, their attitudes. But Celia has always been the exception to that rule. She’s warm where others are cold. Fire to their ice. She lets him see it: the affection. The yearning. Everything that has come up over the course of their conversation, every emotion that bubbled and gurgled, that she thought was long gone, dead and buried. She shows him.

GM: He runs a hand along her face and smiles. It looks like he needs it. Their kind may not get wrinkles, but Celia can see the weight and worry and internal struggle hanging heavy under his eyes. It’s an older sort of worry than a 31-year-old should have, and all the more out of place on his boyish college student features.

But the corners of his eyes do lift up, as he smiles at her smile.

“God, you can be so cute. In this earnest, direct, ‘yes I am cute’ way. It’s sweet and wholesome and good, and something worth protecting, and even being Kindred doesn’t take it away.”

“I think you get it from your mom. She’s really sweet, too. There’s just absolutely none of your dad in your face when you smile like that. I wouldn’t even think you were related to him.”

Celia: Her undead nature prevents her from blushing at his words. Her cheeks no longer burn like they used to, not without her consciously sending the blood there. But her lashes flutter and she leans into his hand, parting her lips to say—

Something. Something that’s cut off when he says what he does, cut off by a laugh.

“I’d hope not. ‘Jade’ shouldn’t look like either one of them.”

GM: “Your face might be different, but it’s like Coco says. Truth comes out.”

Celia: “Well I’m glad you think I’m still cute, at least. Even if you went on to compare me to my dad. Which is, decidedly, not sexy.”

“I knew a girl in grade school who people used to say looked like her dad, but then she’d come back with ‘I don’t have a mustache!’”

GM: “Ha. I wasn’t trying to be sexy, though. Beauty’s more than that.”

“Anyone can be sexy. But that smile, that kind of sweetness and inner beauty you can see shining out of someone’s face, that takes more.”

“You can’t fake that. Even though everyone wants to, wants to bottle it up and sell it and market it, but they can’t. It’s genuine.”

“I guess I’m ‘clansplaining,’ though.” He chuckles. “You’re the beauty experts.”

Celia: He thinks she’s sweet? That her beauty is inside and not just on the surface? Maybe it’s because he doesn’t know what she’s done. The terrible, terrible—

No. She’s not going to go down that line of thought. She’s not going to ruin this moment.

“Sometimes,” she says after a moment, “people tell me I’m pretty, and I just kind of… I mean, you know, like it’s just something people say, mindless flattery. But when you say it…” she touches a hand to her chest. “I feel it. And it just… makes me feel like I could fly, or something.”

GM: “Well, that’s what words should do. Lift people up. Help them soar.”

“But they can only lift up something that’s already there, that could already fly.”

Celia: She can’t go further down this line of conversation. Not without making a fool of herself. Neither one of them are ready to take that leap yet, she thinks.

Her eyes dart toward the window, though. She nods toward it.

“Should we test it?”

GM: Roderick laughs. “I’m fast, but I can’t actually fly like some licks can. Just jump really far.”

Celia: “I heard there was a lick that jumped to the moon, once.” She raises her eyebrows at him.

“Can you jump that far?”

GM: “Only if I’m carrying your heart.”

A beat.

“Okay, that sounded smoother in my head. Not, like, literally.”

Celia: “I was, uh…” She starts laughing. She can’t help it. Not at him, though. With him. There’s a difference. “I was a little alarmed,” she manages.

GM: “But, seriously. I might not be able to hit the moon, but I could get pretty far, for you.”

Celia: Uncertainty flashes across her face. Just for a moment before it’s gone again, smoothed out in the wake of such a declaration. Her insides threaten to spill outward, like a can of soft drink that someone shook too hard. It bubbles and fizzes. Her hand touches his cheek.

She wants him.

But she’ll hurt him.

She knows it. It’s a certainty inside of her. He’ll get too close and he’ll get burned. She can’t be honest with him. Hasn’t been honest with him. Minuscule, tiny lies, but they tear at her. Her father. Her sire. Threaten to eat her from the inside out.

He’s too good for her. Even standing idly by while the Calbido makes their plans to slaughter thin-bloods and hide the existence of hunters—what is that compared to the decisive action she has taken?

Maybe he’s not too good for her. He can bring her back from the brink. Unbury the part of her she thought long dead. They can be there for each other. Isn’t that what matters?

But it’s so soon. So sudden. Unless he’s just been stuffing his feelings this whole time… has he been with no one else? Alone, all alone, in this vile city of sin and debauchery and corruption? He should not be half to weary as he is. And she can help. She can make it better. Can’t she? Without burning him?

It shouldn’t hurt this much. She doesn’t have to pretend around the other. He knows exactly who she is. She’d bared her soul to him, let him see the monster.

Celia tucks a strand of hair behind her ear. All these years she’s been holding out for someone who doesn’t want her. But he’s here for her now. He wants her. Doesn’t he? Isn’t that what he means? And her sire… he’ll never want her, not the way she wants him. She could be happy with Roderick. So happy. Even the thought of losing him makes her want to dissolve into a puddle of tears.

There’s uncertainty in her eyes when she looks to him. Hesitation. Longing.

She can be good. She can be better. If it means him, she can do better, can’t she? For him?

Yes, she thinks.

“Show me,” she says.

GM: “Oh, well, not right here,” he answers a little lamely. “There’s people around. Masquerade.”

Celia: Poor choice of words, Celia reflects. She hadn’t meant for him to show her that. Just the other thing, the implication behind his statements. It’s entirely possible she’s reading too much into it, though, and only hearing what she wants to hear. Her thumb runs across his cheek bone, as if she hadn’t thought about pouncing on him just now, as if she’s capable of keeping it in her pants. It’s not even that, though. She knows it, deep down. With other people it’s just sex, human or lick, just fucking. With him it’s… it’s more than that, she doesn’t even want to fuck him, not tonight, not like the licks do. She wants intimacy.

But if he wants to show off for her, who is she to stop him? Maybe he’ll even show her how to do it.

“It’s raining,” she points out. “We could sneak off somewhere. Probably not a lot of people out.” She wonders if Savoy has found a way to waterproof his rooftop garden, if his birds and butterflies stay dry. If he’s up there now, plotting, watching over the city. If the sheriff is out there on top of that skyscraper thinking the same thing. If he’s thinking about her. He’d have felt it if she died. Wouldn’t he? Savoy had felt her Embrace, it stands to reason they’d feel her death. Maybe he knows she can take care of herself. Knows she got out. That she’s safe.

Or maybe he doesn’t care.

She shouldn’t be thinking about it, though. It doesn’t matter. Their twisted romance is a one-way street, no matter how many times she’s played those scenes over in her mind. The hallway. Her Embrace. The roof.

“The roof.” She says this last bit aloud to him. “It’s higher than most of the buildings around here. Raining, dark, no lights up there. I mean, unless someone has some night-vision binoculars or something, knows where to look.”

Do they? Do those hunters’ friends—the bad ones—do they know? Do they do that? She can only assume they do, if even the Calbido is worried.

“Maybe we shouldn’t risk it, though.”

GM: “You’re right. Maybe we wouldn’t get spotted,” he grants. “It’s just the responsible adult thing not to. Or responsible elder thing.”

But he seems to be gauging her response.

Celia: “We’re hardly elders, though. I dunno about you but I was frozen forever at 19, which is barely an adult. They only say that 18 is an adult because way back when the people paying child support didn’t want to do it past then. And technically our brains continue developing until like 25. So really, Roddy, we’re both just children and we should act accordingly. Which includes dancing on the roof in the rain, even if we don’t get up to anything fancy like pretending to be Spiderman or The Flash.”

GM: “Yeah, well, Coco says adolescence is also a modern construct. Back in the old days, you were either a man or a child. Inheriting noble titles, going to war, or having kids at 15 was perfectly normal. Life was harder. People had to grow up faster.”

He smirks and scoops up Celia in his arms, hefting one under her knees and the other around her back. He carries her up to the rain-spattered window.

“But what does she know, right?”

Celia: She thinks, for a moment, that he’s going to turn her down and is prepared to pout at him. Then she’s in his arms, her own around his neck, a giggle pulled from her lips as he carries her across the room. She reaches out to tug back the drapes, thick and heavy to prevent them from moving in the middle of the day, and slides the window open. It’s an awkward movement with just the one hand, but she manages.

“Are we jumping? And by we I mean you.”

GM: “We sure are.” He looks out the open window. Some rain is already pattering against the windowsill. “Though actually, if we’re going to be on the roof, do you want to get some shoes?”

Celia: She forces her body to sigh, long and heavy, then points towards the closet.

GM: “Oh, of course. Can’t interrupt your ride.”

He carries her over to the door.

Celia: “You’re stuck with me forever, to be honest.” But she wiggles free of his grasp so she can open the door the smallest amount, just enough to let her slip inside the walk in closet. She seems to be trying to contain whatever it is inside from spilling out—probably a literal ton of dresses, skirts, and other assorted garments—but maybe he catches sight of something white inside before she yanks the door shut. There’s some rustling from within, then she’s back in a pair of heels that look like they’re made for dancing. She even pulled a long skirt on over her leggings that swishes when she walks. It’s a silly look, with her distressed band tee, but she pulls it off.

Celia holds her arms out to him.


GM: “Cute look. Makes me feel way overdressed.”

Roderick pulls off his jacket, seems to think for a moment, then folds it up and sticks it inside the fridge.

“Probably being paranoid,” he says. “But there’s some stuff in there I don’t want anyone to get, and who’d think to look in the fridge first.”

Celia: Celia lifts her brows at him.

“You smuggling drugs and porn?”

Fridge is a decent hiding place though, she has to admit. She’s heard of people putting cash and credit cards in their freezers for the same reason.

GM: “Like that’d bother any of us. ‘Just’ some sensitive papers.”

Celia: “I was just gonna say if you need a naked girl to look at. Y’know.” There’s a pause. “Internet.”

She smirks.

GM: “Also the one in front of me,” he smirks back. “Who even uses porn magazines anymore, though?”

Celia: “Nobody. I was making an old man joke.”

“Randy told me that he once found porn on his brother’s laptop. Downloaded. And he was like, ‘I can’t believe I’m related to someone who doesn’t know how to stream.’”

“Also,” her gaze sweeps the apartment, “this place is pretty wrecked. If anyone broke in I bet they’d be like, we’re too late, boys.”

GM: “Hey, might not be that dumb. Some porn gets taken down. Some of it is taken from sites with a paid subscription uploaded to free sites. Or it just disappears for some other reason.”

Celia: “Spoken like a man who’s used to using his hand. The kine way still do it for you?”

GM: “You kidding? I haven’t looked at porn since before I was turned.”

Celia: “Mhm, mhm. I won’t tell.”

“Wait. Did you watch porn when we were together?”

GM: “Sometimes,” he answers a little defensively. “When you couldn’t come over and I was horny.”

Celia: “Oh. I’m not mad. I’m just curious.” Her grin is salacious. “What kind?”

GM: “Oh, uh, mostly pretty tame stuff, honestly. Lot of lesbian porn.”

Celia: “They seem more into it in lesbian porn.”

GM: “You think they do? I didn’t notice.”

Celia: “Did we ever… I mean, was there ever anything you wanted us to do that we didn’t?”

GM: “I don’t think so. My tastes were pretty vanilla.”

Celia: “Were?”

GM: “I suppose they still are. Like, I’m happy just to drink someone’s blood. I don’t need them to do any of the really kinky shit you hear some licks are into.”

“Or the really sadistic shit. Like, your sire’s idea of a good time.”

Celia: She wonders whose blood he’s been drinking and decides it’s better not to ask.

“Ah, yeah, she’s… yeah.”

GM: “Yeah. Do you still… get off to it, the breather way?”

Celia: “Um.”

GM: “You told me earlier, remember? That just seems… so weird.”

Celia: Celia shrugs. She glances away from him. It is weird. She knows that. All of the rest of them don’t, but she’s still… something. Human enough, maybe, even though she hates that term. She is human. She’s just also a vampire. Becoming one doesn’t mean the other is null and void; it’s like a square is a rectangle and all that. She breathes, she has a heartbeat, she’s warm.

She’s a fucking weirdo.

“Yeah, I guess.”

GM: “Sorry. Didn’t mean to shame you for it. I mean, compared to the other shit licks can get up to, it’s harmless.”

Celia: Her eyes find her toes, visible despite the heels. Pink polish. One of her arms crosses her stomach to rub the other.

“That… that hunter…”

GM: “He… did he rape you?”

Celia: She doesn’t look at him. She lifts her shoulders in a motion that might be a shrug, though it’s a weak thing, barely a movement at all. Her hair falls in front of her face and she doesn’t make a move to shove it back.

GM: He hugs her. Holds her against his chest, runs a hand along her hair.

“I’m sorry. That’s so fucked up.”

Celia: “He just… I was tied down, and he… he like, he was choking me, which doesn’t… like it doesn’t do anything, but then he just kept… he just kept calling me his little vampire whore, and that he’d fuck me forever, and it was…”

GM: She feels the Brujah’s hands tighten.

“What happened to him, if you got out?”

Celia: “I… I killed him.”

The words are a whisper against his chest. Her head shakes back and forth, as if to deny that it happened, as if to say there was no other way. She didn’t have a choice. Her or them.

GM: He continues to hold her tight, running his hand up and down. “It was self-defense. Against a rapist who also probably wanted to kill you. Even under breather laws, that’s perfectly legal. If you’d emptied a gun into your dad’s head during any of the twisted things he did, I sure wouldn’t have blamed you.”

“God, and they say we’re the monsters. That’s just… so fucked up. It never even occurred to me a hunter might do something like that.”

Celia: “He kept saying that they were the nice hunters, while they… did all that. And they were going to give me to someone else.”

GM: Roderick looks curious. “Really? Who? I wonder if…”

Celia: “If what?”

GM: “There’s just been a lot of… talk about hunters lately.”

Celia: She pulls back enough to look up at him. The question is plain on her face.

GM: “There was a major attack on Vienna, a few months back. By hunters. There’s been reports from other cities, too.”

Celia: Is that why the archon had disappeared? She’d never gotten to show him how far she’d come with the face he’d told her to practice. Had he been killed?

“Why does nobody know? Why is this… why is this the first I’m hearing from someone about it?”

GM: “I guess it depends who you’re talking to. But so far it hasn’t really seemed to be a problem in New Orleans. Ocean away, right?”

“The Tremere seem to be trying to cover it up. Acting like everything is fine.”

Celia: "Why? What does that net them? Hunters are an everyone problem. “Not a faction problem, not a clan problem.”

GM: “My guess would be they don’t want to seem weak. I’m really not sure of the details.”

Celia: “That’s ridiculous!”

GM: “Well, that’s Kindred politics. The Tremere primogen, Steinhäuser…” He pauses. “Ah, I shouldn’t talk about it.”

“If you know any grayfaces, ask them about it. Seems like a way to really freak them out.”

Celia: “If you’re not going to tell me I doubt they will,” she huffs, pulling back to cross her arms. “Politics. Letting people die because they don’t know because of politics.”

GM: “Look, anything I know about hunters, I’d tell you. It was just about Steinhäuser herself, nothing to do with hunters.”

Celia: The words seem to deflate her.

“Okay,” she says quietly. The levity from moments ago is gone; she wishes she’d kept her mouth shut about the stupid hunter.

GM: He rubs her back.

“So what did that hunter say, about who he wanted to hand you off to? Any details?”

Celia: “No. I tried to press them for information and the girl kept saying that I shouldn’t hear it and he kept saying that it didn’t matter. And that they’re not ‘enemies,’ but she ‘doubts they’ll help.’”

GM: “Hm. That’s too bad. I was going to ask, if you thought this sounded serious enough, if you wanted to present what you have to the primogen.”

Celia: “To the… to Coco?”

GM: “To the Cabildo as a whole. But, might be moot. They don’t like having guest speakers unless it’s for something they think is really serious.”

Celia: Her almost dying isn’t even serious enough for her sire. She doubts the Calbido will give a fuck.


GM: “I’m just wondering if this might tie into the increased hunter activity in other cities.”

Celia: Of course it does.

She just still needs to work the angle to figure what she can get out of it.

GM: “But they might’ve also just meant some other group of nastier hunters. Hunter attacks have always been a thing.”

“I’ll tell Coco about this, though.”

Celia: “I wish you wouldn’t. I don’t need people knowing I messed up enough to get picked up.”

GM: “Isn’t that what you were just criticizing the Tremere for, not sharing information because it makes them look bad?”

Celia: “The hunters that picked me up are dead. Both of them.”

GM: “Sure, you just said there were other hunters they seemed to be in contact with, and wanted to hand you over to.”

“Why even do that? Why not just ash you? Or if they were going to interrogate you, do that themselves?”

Celia: “And then what if she tells other people, and then it gets out that ‘Celia’ is a lick, and then they find my family?”

“They tried.” She snorts. “They failed. I hit them with star mode.”

GM: “Coco hasn’t told anyone you’re Celia. She calls you Jade.”

Celia: “Oh. Well that’s… I appreciate that.”

GM: “I’ve told her that your mom and Emily are good people, that I don’t want to see them hurt. And also that they were raising Lucy, who for two years I thought might have been my kid.”

“She doesn’t have any reason to go around blathering you’re Celia. All that does is endanger them.”

Celia: She’s quiet for a moment, taking that in. Thinking about what might have been. Finally, she says, “Thank you.”

Even if he hadn’t done it for her, she can appreciate what he’d done for her.

“I don’t even know what I’d do if they…” She shakes her head. “I don’t want to even think about something happening to them because of me.”

GM: “Do you have a plan for them, if that happens? How many other licks know you’re Celia?”

Celia: “Ah… not a lot. Savoy, Preston, Lebeaux. You and Coco. Veronica. Pietro. And… there’s a fledgling… I, um. Remember how I said, earlier, about trespassing?”

“I think the seneschal might,” she says after a moment, “since Veronica had to get permission and all.”

More people than she realized, and she hasn’t even named the sheriff yet.

GM: “That’s, uh, a fair few.”

“You might ask Veronica if the seneschal knows. I mean, usually, you don’t tell the prince what specific kine you want to Embrace, just that you want to take a childe.”

Celia: Except that Veronica probably did have to name her, since they’d needed to find out if she was spoken for by Donovan. Otherwise how do they even know that Celia is illegal?

GM: “Who’s the fledgling?”

Celia: Unless she isn’t. And Donovan did have permission, and Veronica was vague, and then… no, but she’d been presented as Veronica’s childe… but maybe Donovan just said he changed his mind.

It’s a whole new problem she hadn’t even considered. That maybe she’s not an accident.

“Uh, Caroline. We went to college together. Sort of. Malveaux-Devillers.”

GM: Roderick frowns. “Her? How does she know?”

Celia: “She… so my mom, right, she teaches dance, and I guess the Devillers hired her to teach their youngest at home. And she’s been real finicky since the shooting in August, one of her sisters was shot, Cécilia told me about it. So my mom was telling me and I thought I’d put together like a little gift basket for her of spa stuff, but then they invited me over, and I’m… pretty good at passing as a breather, you know, I can mask my Beast, so I figure why not, but then Caroline was there, and of course now I’m like why wouldn’t she be there if that’s her family, but I guess I thought since it was in the Garden District, like, why would she be, you know?”

GM: “Wait, you went to the Garden District? That’s Vidal’s personal territory!”

Celia: “Yeah, well, I was in Tulane a few nights ago too.”

“…wait, don’t tell anyone that. I wasn’t poaching. I swear.”

GM: “Jesus! Celia, poaching, trespassing, whatever, it’s like shoplifting. Do it once, you can probably get away with it, but the odds go up every time you do. Eventually they bust you.”

Celia: “Yeah, so, that’s how Caroline knows.”

GM: “Well, you think she was fooled, if you’re pretty good at passing?”

Celia: “Uhh… no.”

GM: “Maybe… you aren’t so good at passing.”

Celia: “Uh… well, so like, I thought she was going to mindscrew me so I… so I kind of… revealed myself so she didn’t.”

GM: “That’s… why would she be mindscrewing you, if you’re just a breather there for spa stuff?”

He shakes his head. “Okay, I guess it doesn’t matter. Ventrue being Ventrue.”

Celia: Celia nods.

GM: He thinks. “Maybe you should get some dirt on her, to make sure she can’t use this against you.”

“Like, was she also in the Garden District without permission? Because Vidal wouldn’t give a rat’s ass if she just wanted to visit her family. It’s being a bad Sanctified, too. They aren’t supposed to have breather families.”

Celia: “I don’t know. I didn’t really ask. But… you’re right, maybe. I mean, my mom wanted to move there and I had to talk her out of it because Lebeaux told me I’d never get to see her if so.”

GM: “Uh, yeah, your mom living there would be a fucking horrible idea.”

Celia: “She told me… she told me that her family helped cover up the scandal with the tape. With my dad. That she helped.”

GM: “I wish I could say I was surprised. Your dad was her dad’s #2 man. I bet he would try to bury that.”

Celia: “I know. I guess I was just surprised she told me. Like she was confessing. Or something.”

GM: “Guilty conscience, maybe.”

Celia: “Maybe,” she says. “I’m supposed to do all the makeup and stuff for her sister’s wedding so I’m just trying to figure out how to swing that, or if I’m going to have to cancel. And I’m worried about my mom going into the Garden District so much, even though no one really has a reason to bother her. It just makes me wary.”

GM: “I’d just cancel. Why get any more involved?”

“And, yeah. That’s a problem when she works there. Though at least it’s during the day. I dunno what to do there unless you think you can get her to take another job somewhere else.”

Celia: “She’s still at McGehee. She just does this on the side.”

GM: “I figured she was. Imagine she wouldn’t want to quit, either.”

Celia: “Sometimes I wonder how I managed to make it to 19, being so ignorant about everything that really goes on. Trying to keep them all safe, it’s like… it’s like a juggling act, sometimes, and I’m just waiting to drop one of them.”

GM: “You’ve kept it up for seven years.”

By this time they’ve sat back down on the re-righted couch.

Celia: “I don’t have a plan for them, to answer your earlier question. I have no idea what to do with them.”

GM: “Well, ideally, let them live their lives. I mean in case other licks try to use them against you. Like, say, Caroline.”

“Actually, she’s probably your biggest danger there.”

Celia: “More than Donovan, you think?”

GM: “Wait, Donovan how?”

Celia: “I told you he owns my dad. What if he just… I dunno, goes after her. Finds out about… you know.”


GM: “He doesn’t have any reason to go after your mom. She hasn’t done anything to him. Lucy even less.”

“Though maybe if things hit the news. So keep them out, and don’t let your dad find out Lucy’s his. So long as the sheriff doesn’t know Celia’s a vampire, you’re probably safe.”

“It’s Caroline I’d be worried about. Because I think she’s desperate. She comes from two extremely privileged families and is used to being on top of the world, right?”

“But her sire’s a renegade hound executed for crimes against the prince, so she’s a sireless nobody. At the bottom of the heap. That has to grate anyone’s ego. She’s gotten in trouble with the Anarchs a couple times.”

Celia: “Oh?”

GM: “A while back, she poached in Mid-City. There was a bunch of drama over that with the Eight-Nine-Six krewe. You had to have heard all that with Veronica, though, I won’t go over it. Personally, I think they were a bunch of meatheads who’d have probably jumped into bed with Savoy over the trial. There’s a reason Coco hasn’t really retaliated for her role in their deaths.”

“She’s also been an ass to Max and Jonah. That’s been talked about. She showed up to their bar this one time, sort of… apologizing without actually apologizing, for everything with Eight-Nine-Six earlier, and trying to sell them on some kind of business deal or get them to work for her or something.”

Celia: “…what?”

She can’t help the incredulous laughter.

GM: Roderick laughs with her. “Ventrue, right?”

Celia: “Honestly, I mostly can’t stand them. They think they own everything. And that they’re better than everyone.”

GM: “I can stand Chris, except when I can’t.”

Celia: “He seems like an ass.”

GM: “At least he’s our ass. But I’m not done.”

Cela: “Oh, go on.”

GM: “So, she shows up to Max’s and Jonah’s bar again. And, it’s over that whole thing with David Hansen. Who I hear you torries are always making fun of.”

Celia: “We are, indeed, a hive mind.” She rolls her eyes at him, then makes a motion for him to continue.

GM: “He’d gotten in some trouble and needed Max to come bail him out, but you’ve probably heard that whole story too already. Max did say Caroline tipped her off about David. So, credit where credit’s due there.”

“But she was an enormous bitch about it. Like, as soon as she had something Max wanted… she was just waltzing into the bar, talking down to Max like a fledgling, and said she wouldn’t even finish the conversation in the bar, because it was beneath her, and that Max needed to come schedule an audience at her haven, if she wanted to hear the rest.”

Celia: “…wow.”

GM: Roderick laughs.


Celia: Even now, Celia doesn’t pull that kind of bullshit.

“That’s… wow. I can’t even find words.”

GM: “She’s lucky Max didn’t just beat her senseless and throw her out on the curb.”

Celia: “She didn’t actually meet with her afterward, did she?”

GM: “Good god, no. She wasn’t going to take that shit.”

“Seriously, now that Veronica, Shep, and Pietro are in bed with Savoy, it’s Max, Jonah and Parker who are basically the #2s under Coco and Opal. They’re old hands. They’ve done a lot for the Movement, for decades.”

“If Coco and Opal got taken out, we’d look to them for leadership, and Max probably more than Jonah. Jonah’s a great guy, he just isn’t as much of a speaker and rabble-rouser as she is. Prefers to let her do the talking.”

“It says a lot, anyway, that even a months-old Ventrue would treat some of our senior people like dirty-faced greenfangs.”

Celia: “What about you?” Celia asks him. “I mean, not like… not now, but eventually.”

GM: “Oh, eventually, I hope so. I try to do a lot for the Movement, too. But I’ll freely admit I haven’t done as much as they have.”

Celia: “No, I know, I was just curious, I guess, about your future plans.”

GM: Some of the levity on his face seems to die. “Ah. Well. I guess that’ll depend on…”


“Okay, I’d kind of prefer to just shit-talk a Ventrue for the time we have left,” he says, a little sourly.

Celia: “Does that mean we’re not going dancing? Because I can take your mind off things if you want to let me spin you around.”

GM: “I have to get ahold of Ayame. Just like you have to get ahold of Dani, and check on things with Savoy, and… everything else that’s going on in our unlives.”

Celia: “Tonight?”

GM: “Absolutely. You don’t have forever before Savoy asks if you’ve been working me.”

“But, Caroline. Last thing about her, because she’s actually relevant to you.”

“Like I’ve said, she’s from a background that’s as privileged as you can get in this city, and she’s basically lost it all with her Embrace. Had to start over from the bottom. That has to grate anyone’s ego.”

“And we see it with the Anarchs. She’s trying to… I guess make friends, but just can’t do it in a non-Ventrue way, because she sees us all as beneath her.”

“Credit to her, she did also solve a lot of Desirae Wells’ whole mystery. You probably heard about that too. And a little while back, she also found this abandoned Brujah fledgling she brought to Coco. I was there for that. Credit again. She wasn’t as big a bitch to Coco, I think, because primogen.”

“But she’s either done or tried to do a fair amount of stuff with the Anarchs. So, why?”

“I think her ego can’t handle being at the bottom of the Sanctified or the Invictus. She’d rather reign in hell than serve in heaven. That also might be why she’s wanted to do Anarchs favors and get us to owe her, rather than joining up with the Movement. We’re not as bad as the First or Second Estate, when it comes to how we treat newbies, but she’d still be the new kid. She couldn’t handle being that when she sees us as beneath her.”

“Oh yeah, actually, Isa Suarez went over to her haven once. I think Caroline wanted to do something for her too. Like I said, wants to do everyone favors.”

“But I think she’s desperate. There was that whole fight she got into with Caitlin Meadows. Any sane lick as young as her would’ve just ran. Isa’s renfield, who survived, said she attacked Meadows with a whole mob of other renfields. So, I guess kudos to her, if she’s tough enough not to just get torn apart. But that’s nuts. Why would she even get into a fight with Meadows like that? She couldn’t have thought she’d actually win.”

“Here’s what I think. I think she’s going crazy, going from so high to so low. That she’ll do absolutely anything to be on top again, whatever it costs her.”

“And… I think she might try to use your family against you. Because she’s hungry to seize absolutely any edge she can.”

Celia: Well, fuck.

GM: “But, I’ll admit I’ve never really talked with her, either. What was your take?”

Celia: “Needy. She made noise about seeing me again. Invited me to her haven, like she did all the others. But she seemed… I don’t know, I grew up with her, sort of, our dads and everything. One of the last nights I was alive she offered to teach me how to shoot, there was this whole thing with a gun on campus.”

She waves her hand. “Said she’s been stressed, really, that there’s always something new vying for her attention. Seemed to really care for her sisters, though. You should have seen it, I like… I went to touch the youngest one to do the makeup stuff and she was just… hovering. It was kind of weird, honestly.”

GM: “Huh. Maybe they’re what’s keeping her sane.”

“Scratch that. They have to be what’s keeping her sane.”

Roderick’s face isn’t without bitterness.

“I’d have given a lot, just to be able to hang out with Dani. And maybe I’d have gotten pretty protective too, especially with another lick around.”

Celia: “She didn’t know, at that point. But yeah.”

GM: “Yeah.”

Celia: “Emily mentioned going to her party. A few months back. I was… it was not a good night for me. But I couldn’t talk her out of it.”

GM: “Oh? How’d that go?”

Celia: “Seemed fine. I checked her over after. She laughed at me and pushed me off and told me I was being silly. I just remember… college, you know, when she used to come home tired, or disappear for nights, and I just… it made me crazy, when I found out what was going on, what was actually going on, and how close I was to it, and it could have been me. And it’s not even that, like yeah that would have sucked, but it was happening to you and her and I just… I couldn’t do anything because I didn’t know.”

GM: “Ventrue are picky eaters. Maybe Emily doesn’t do it for her.”

Celia: “I just don’t want her around it at all. Ever.”

GM: Roderick nods. “Better safe than sorry.”

Celia: “I don’t want to think about someone losing control.”

GM: “What do you want to do about Caroline, though, if she tries to use your mom or Lucy against you?”

Celia: Kill her, obviously.

“I don’t know. I’m trying to think how she’d do it.”

GM: “I’m not sure how she would either, especially if she knows nothing about you. Celia is invisible to the city’s licks.”

“Actually, that’s probably the first thing I’d try to do, if I was her. Gather more information about you.”

Celia: “Too many people know. Fuck, Roderick. What am I going to do? She can find out, connect me back to Jade. I mean the identity I built is good but it’s not that good.”

GM: “The truth can always come out with enough digging. There isn’t a foolproof cover-up.”

He thinks.

“Okay, there’s maybe a couple things you can do.”

“If things get really bad, maybe a plan to get your family out of the city. Uproots their lives, but beats losing their lives.”

“I could also get closer to Caroline for you, if you think that’d help. She seems pretty eager to make friends with Anarchs.”

Celia: “What, like, seduce her?”

GM: “Uh, hadn’t been my first thought. Just to keep a better eye on her. Let her feel like she’s making inroads somewhere, and distract her from trying to do anything with you.”

Celia: “Maybe. I guess I just… if this is my mess, I don’t want you to get in the line of fire or anything. If something happened to you because you were doing something for me…” she squeezes his hand. Her grip isn’t nearly as strong enough as his, but right now she feels like she could crush a brick. “There’s just something off about her, and it worries me.”

GM: Roderick squeezes her hand back. “Relax. She and her renfields went up against Meadows, so I’m not going to say she’s a pushover, but I still like my odds against her one-on-one.”

Celia: “I’m, ah… she’s fast.”

GM: “So am I.”

Celia: “Faster than any fledgling has a right to be.”

GM: “Oh?”

Celia: “Yeah. It’s… remember how you said the sheriff was a blur? Like, ah, like that.”

GM: “Well, any lick with superspeed can seem like a blur around breathers. It does give them bad munchies, though, if they’re not as fast as the sheriff.”

Celia: “She’s fast enough to share it.”

GM: Roderick frowns. “You mean, make other people faster?”

Celia: “Yeah.”

GM: “Huh. I’m… close to that, but I’ll admit I’m not that fast.”

“That’s a fairly advanced trick.”

Celia: “That’s what I mean. It’s just off.”

GM: Roderick’s frown deepens.

“So, I can think of two answers.”

“One, she’s just a natural at it. Sometimes licks really are that good at a discipline. Prodigies from a young age. Might even be giving her an ego trip.”

Celia: “And the second?”

GM: “Two, her sire’s actually someone like Maldonato or the prince.”

Roderick grins at his joke.

Celia: “…the… you think? With the Garden District?”

GM: “What? No, I was kidding.”

Celia: “What if it’s true, though?”

GM: Roderick shakes his head. “She wouldn’t be trying to make friends with a bunch of Anarchs if she had a sire like mine. She’d have a cushy spot in their club.”

Celia: “Maybe.”

Celia has a cushy spot because of her grandsire, but she doesn’t point that out.

GM: “It might also be some other… I don’t know, supernatural thing. It’s a dark and scary world out there and I don’t understand everything about it. I don’t think any of us do.”

“But I’ll ask Coco about Caroline. Maybe she’ll have an idea.”

Celia: “I don’t want it to get back to her that I’m sniffing around. I’m not trying to make enemies.”

“But if you think Coco can help… I mean, I can talk to Savoy, see if he has an idea.”

GM: “It won’t get back to her. Coco isn’t a blabbermouth.”

“I don’t think Savoy would be willing to entertain random questions from you, even if he’s pretty approachable.”

“Just how it is with elders. You only get to hang out if you’re another elder or one of their kids.”

Celia: “Yeah.” She sighs. “I’ll handle it. I just… I’d prefer to keep this on the down low, I guess. I mean. What if she is someone important’s childe, then I’m boned.”

GM: “Yeah, but she’s not. She wouldn’t be out on the streets like she’s been.”

Celia: He’s not the one who tasted that super, super potent blood in her system, though.

“Okay, but what if she is? Like hypothetically.”

GM: “Well, if she is, she’s not out on the streets with other plebs.”

“But okay, you’re saying what if someone like Becky Lynne found out about your family.”

Celia: “Sure.”

GM: “That’s trickier. I’d make plans to get them out.”

Celia: “I don’t even know where I’d send them that’s safe. There’s licks everywhere. They’d need new identities, new jobs, new everything.”

GM: “Sure, but in another city they’re useless as leverage to licks who aren’t involved with New Orleans politics. They’re less attractive targets. That doesn’t make them 100% safe, but there’s no such thing as perfectly safe. Just more safe.”

Celia: “And now I’m like, ‘what if the rats know?’ Because someone told me once that they know everything, and then that’s even more people.”

GM: “That’s… usually a good assumption to make. They know a lot. They have ears everywhere. They’ve probably spied on your salon before.”

Celia: The thought fills her with disgust.

GM: “But as far as your family… Lucy doesn’t need a job, but I know doctors can move around a lot. Emily might have to move for her residency, anyway.”

She had brought that up.

“Dunno about your mom, though. I don’t know anything about the job market for dance teachers.”

Celia: “Probably not thriving.”

GM: Roderick pulls out his phone and taps into it.

“‘Overall employment of dancers and choreographers is projected to grow 6 percent from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all occupations,’” he reads. “Hm, that’s not teachers, though.”

“Losing her seniority at McGehee would be a hit. Too bad she still can’t actually dance, I imagine dancers move around a lot.”

Celia: “Even if she could, young woman’s game.”

She’s thought about it. Making her mom younger. Giving her eternal youth.

But that’s all it will ever be: a thought.

“I’ll figure it out. Maybe just send them with Emily when she moves.”

GM: “Getting them away from your dad couldn’t hurt, either.”

Roderick glances back at his phone.

“Whoa. I’ve loved… reconnecting, but the night doesn’t wait for anyone.”

Celia: So much for spending the day at his place.

She nods, though, because she gets it.

GM: “I can pick you up if you still want to stay at my haven today, but I have to run.”

Celia: “Yeah, that’s fine. I get it.” Celia might even manage to keep the disappointment out of her voice. “I should get back to the Evergreen anyway.”

GM: “Okay, is that a yes, or you feel safe staying somewhere else?”

Celia: Is it needy to tell him she’d like to stay with him? Probably. But he’d invited her.

“Yeah, if you don’t mind me staying with you tomorrow.”

GM: “All right. I’ll pick you up at 5 AM.”

Celia: “Perfect.” She smiles at him. “Roderick… be safe out there, yeah?”

GM: He pulls out his jacket from the fridge and slips it on, then his overcoat.

He gives her a hug. “I’ll do my best. And you, too.”

Celia: “Well, I mean, with luck it’s only going to be a few hours.” She doesn’t mean to cling to him, but maybe she does for a moment longer than she needs to, cheek pressed against his chest. “I’ll see you in a bit, then.”

She pulls back far enough to touch a hand to his cheek. Her heart swells. She can’t keep the smile from her face as she gazes up at him.

Too soon. Too soon to tell him that he’d awoken everything inside of her that had once been there, everything she thought was dead.

Soon, though.

They have forever, after all.

Ayame I, Chapter II
The Cypress Grove Massacre

“Here to their bosom mother earth, take back in peace what thou has given, and, all that is of heavenly birth, God in peace recall to heaven.”
Cypress Grove Cemetery motto

Sunday night, 4 December 2011, AM

GM: “Here to their bosom mother earth, take back in peace what thou has given, and, all that is of heavenly birth, God in peace recall to heaven.”

So reads the motto crowning the entrance to Cypress Grove Cemetery. The cemetery, laid out with a 28-foot-wide central avenue flanked by narrower aisles, has a monumental entrance gate in the Egyptian Revival style, suggesting a triumphal passage from one world to the next. Although Mid-City’s cemeteries are not as well-known as some of the city’s other ones, most tourists are still impressed. Rows and rows of above-ground mausoleums stretch on for as far as the eye can see. Graves here could actually be sunk six feet without reaching water, Ayame heard somewhere, but the preference for above-ground tombs persisted. Old habits die hard.

Tombs are arranged in a grid formation with a broad, paved walkway, called Live Oak Avenue, forming a long, central, north-south axis from Canal Street to Banks Street. The walkway is flanked by narrower parallel and intersecting paths named after locally favored plants and trees, including myrtle and rose. Two live oaks stand on the eastern perimeter of the cemetery, their moss hanging low and grazing the tops of the graves below. Elaborate marble, granite, and cast-iron tombs populate the cemetery and serve as examples of memorial architecture. The cemetery’s irregularly shaped lot cuts diagonally across a city block, and is separated from St. Patrick Cemetery No. 1 to its east by a wall of “fours,” or stacked burial spaces.

At the dead of night, it stands silent and abandoned. Everyone from the city, and any tourist who’s done their research, knows the cemeteries are not safe places to linger after dark.

Perhaps they think it’s because of gangs and criminals.

Oftentimes it even is.

But sometimes the gangs and criminals know to stay away, too.

Some of them know there are things in the city, that emerge after dark, with which you do not fuck.

There’s at least a dozen of them, silently stealing into the cemetery. Some bound over the walls in mighty leaps. Some climb up with a swiftness and sureness no mortal hand could match. Some descend on literal dark wings. Some stride through the front entrance as if they own the place, invisible to mortal sight. Pale-faced and cool-eyed predators, most of them young among their own kind, but all of them secure in their place as apex hunters among a world of prey.

Ayame: Criminals, vagabonds, ruffians… that’s what the kine call ‘em, but Ayame knows them for what they are: Anarchs. A whole lot of them, too. Gathered together in the cemetery precisely because the rumors say it isn’t safe. Less chance of an unsuspecting breather walking in on them like this.

That thing that goes bump in the night over in Cypress Grove? High chance it’s a lick. Maybe a few of them. Playing games, tearing each other’s throats out, pumping other people full of lead. Those’re the kind of games the Anarchs play. Nothing pretty.

Nothing sweet, not like the face she’s got: heart-shaped, pale skin, big eyes. Hazel. Somewhere between green and blue and gray. Mostly they’re gray. Stormy, like the fog at sea. It’s an enchanting face… or would be, if it ever moved. White marble, hardly any inflection. A mouth that’s made for long, solemn glances. Ayame doesn’t smile. Not with her mouth, not with her eyes. She makes other people smile though. Red smiles, right across their throat.

She doesn’t walk so much as slink, long strides in leather leggings made longer yet by the thigh-high boots. Rail-thin, all hard edges and angles, the kind of predator you don’t want to run into in a dark alley. Or maybe you do, until her lips part and you see those long, sharp, glinting fangs.

Maybe she chose the clothes because they’re black on black on black. They blend so nicely with the night, don’t they, some sort of urban camouflage that lets her slip in and out of the silver moonlight that breaks through the clouds. The sweater’s hood is pulled up over her hair, its form loose on her slight frame. Black gloves—biker gloves—complete the look.

Near-silent footfalls see her through the rows of gravestones, the mausoleums, the little blocks of marble on the ground with their names and dates and whatever bullshit saying someone carved onto it because people think that it means something.

It doesn’t.

She’s killed enough people to know it doesn’t. They all die screaming.

Ayame is nothing more than a shadow that steals through the darkness as she takes the place she has carved out amongst her kind.

GM: It is not overlong before their gathered faces become plain to her:

Many of the shadowy figures dressed in leathers and studs, wifebeaters, and gang trappings. Some might say these licks play at being gangsters, but it might be more apt to say that gangsters play at being licks. Who’s better at sucking the lifeblood from a community?

Other attendees, though, are incongruently well-dressed for their present surroundings: Prada, Armani, other high-end fashion brands. Looks might not be able to kill, by themselves, but they can advertise. It’s the rare lick with money not stained by someone’s blood.

A few of the present vampires look downright pedestrian. Ordinary jeans and sweatshirts. Ordinary Johns and Janes, just out past their bedtimes. It’s getting to be an increasingly popular look as the 21st century rolls into its second decade. The wolf doesn’t want the sheep to know it’s there.

Veronica Alsten-Pirrie shows up with Pietro Silvestri, sneering and looking gorgeous doing it. The now krewe-less pair used to run in a coterie with some other Anarchs, Ayame’s heard, who didn’t survive Katrina. Now it’s just them. Immortality gets lonelier with every decade.

Two still beats one, though. Micheal Kelly’s krewe was also decimated down to just two licks, but his former krewemate Shep went off to found his own coterie. Had to have been some kind of dispute, though, because Coco’s older childe now stands alone.

Ed Zuric and Jack McCandles make up another duo. Two-fifths of the Armstrong Five who liked the Anarchs enough to join up.

The Kindred Liberation Front seems enormous next to those duos and solitary licks. The city’s oldest surviving Anarch krewe includes half a dozen Kindred: Jonah Freeman, Maxzille Babineaux, Dr. Petrowski, Laura Ravenwood, Eris D., Simon Jones. They lost people, too. Everyone did. Some clearly lost fewer.

Risen from Katrina’s ashes are the Night Axles. Isa Suarez, Marcio de la Cuz, and Bliss Jackson all follow the hulking Shep Jennings’ lead, though Ayame hears Bliss has been making noise about wanting to start her own krewe. The Brujah are not too good at being followers, sometimes.

The newest de facto krewe hasn’t even decided on a name yet. Roderick Durant, Christopher Guilbeau, Hezekiah Santana. Ironic to see the three golden sons, the first licks Embraced in the city post-Katrina, all go Anarch. Says a lot, if you ask the Anarchs. But so does Veronica’s childe Jade not doing the same.

The Twenty-Twenties are another new one. Gerald Abellard, Arzilla Boudon, Andy Philips. Two sewer rats and a Gangrel ugly enough to pass for one. Misery must love company there.

The Lost Angels, the last krewe, have gotten thoroughly lost after Katrina. They can’t show their faces in Mid-City after what went down during the storm, though Ayame hasn’t heard exactly what. Oh well. There’s few enough angels here anyway.

All told, the gathering comes out to around two dozen licks. Two dozen blood-drinkers standing around in a cemetery. Even if it feels like there’s still a lot of empty places, God help the tourist hapless enough to wander into this midnight lions’ den.

Ayame: Ayame stands apart, close to the krewe of “golden sons” but not so close that a casual observer would think she were one of their numbers. All three of them young yet, like her, but already shining above the trash and rats. She spares a nod toward Christopher. Ayame has carved herself a place here among these Anarchs, but she has made no overtures to claim membership within one of the assembled krewes. Apart, but not alone; though no one watches her back these nights neither have any painted a target upon it, and these are the people among whom she has made her home. Her cool gaze descends upon the others assembled, unflinching in the wake of their appraisal while her own mind does the mental calculations. A group of predators who jostle and claw their way to the top, and she as a dark ghost among them.

How quickly they would descend upon an intruder, though; she has seen it happen, a handful of licks around an unsuspecting mortal who was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, torn to pieces before he could even wonder at the error.

She waits, as they do, a stone statue amidst the graves. Dead men meeting in the cemetery—now there’s a funny thought.

GM: But dead men are missing something without living people to visit them.

Ayame thought bringing lots of renfields to the rants was a no-no. But they slowly trickle in, as she stands so still. Men and women who don’t smell dead, who don’t sound dead, with hearts still audibly beating in their chests. They don’t invade the cemetery like the others do, scaling or leaping over the walls like they’re no more than bothersome speed bumps, or not even that. These less-dead people simply walk in through the front gates, fully visible to Ayame’s ears and eyes.

They don’t walk the same, either. They don’t stride in like they own the place, jungle cats among a jungle of prey. Their strides are slower and less certain. Many of them are dressed worse, too, in threadbare thrift store clothes. A few look like they’ve dressed up in their Sunday bests—not dressing to kill, like the sleek urban predators in their luxury brands, but dressing to look nice. But far more of them sport the ‘dressed like an ordinary breather’ look. Plain jeans, sweatshirts, jackets. Unremarkable and unthreatening.

Some of the Anarchs give low hisses at the first ones to arrive. Eye them like mountain lions around housecats. Sure, same diet. Same fur, same tails. But not the same league.

First there’s just a few. Alone among the mass of bigger, badder predators, and all-too vulnerable-feeling.

But then there’s a few more, and there’s half as many eyes on the initial ones.

And then a few more.

And then a few more.

And then a few more.

And eventually, there’s maybe as many ‘people’ with beating hearts as there are ones with still hearts.

Some of the predators are starting to look nervous.

Sure. You might be a match for one of them.

Two of them.

But this many?

Some whispers are audible around Ayame.


“I didn’t think there were this many.”

“Where’d they come from?”

“Who the fuck is actually siring all these abortions?”

There’s some glares among the new arrivals and hisses of, “Duskborn.”

Children of the dusk. Of neither the day nor the night. Caught between two worlds. Crushed under both.

Or perhaps until now.

Try to crush this many, and you just might get crushed too.

Ayame: Ayame isn’t one of those who overtly hisses or bares hateful fangs at the half-breed mongrels. The others echo her own sentiments well enough. Bad enough that Caitiff are running around, but these? They deserve whatever knife they get. Her weight shifts from foot to foot until she is closer to those neonates she’d eyed—the golden ones—than further apart. For all their differences they, at least, are legitimate childer.

Not this mess of nobodies.

GM: “You too good to stand next to us, fat-blood?” one of them growls at Ayame. She’s a dark-skinned woman with only a single visible fang when she opens her mouth. Her other canine is just as flat as the rest of her teeth.

There’s three others of her kind standing right next to her. All looking at Ayame too.

Ayame: “Making room,” Ayame shoots back at her.

GM: “Thoughtful,” answers the guy next to her. He’s a thin and gangly-looking man with two fangs, but they’re small and dull-looking things. Ayame has to wonder how easily they can draw blood. “You can try to shut us out. But there’ll always be more of us.”

Ayame: Maybe they all carry knives. She would, if she were made of the same garbage that these people—not licks, not Kindred, just people, and that’s pretty fucking generous—were.

She makes a gesture towards the space between her and the next krewe. The shining suns—sorry, golden sons—is a welcome presence at her back. Maybe they’ll prove that they were worth it if it comes to that.

They, at least, aren’t walking accidents.

GM: “It looks like there will,” answers one of the ‘golds.’ Roderick Durant. Coco’s childe. He’s one of the Kindred who’s dressed up in a professional-looking suit under his coat.

“But that’s why we’re all here tonight. We can either keep butting heads—nonproductively when there will, as you say, always be more of you—or find some way to coexist.”

Ayame: She’d heard that he was Ventrue, like the lick next to him. Must be the suit.

Ayame doesn’t smile. Her mouth isn’t made for it; she’s got the sort of lips that are made for pouting, and maybe kissing when she still drew breath. Now, though, she dips her chin as if she agrees with his words, her eyes still on the would-bes. Appraising.

“As he says, I am sure we will find common ground.”

They’re almost licks, anyway.

GM: “We’ll see,” answers the woman.

There’s a sharp whistle from another space in the roughly ring-shaped gathering that’s formed.

“All right, y’all, thanks fah comin’ ’ere tonight,” calls out Maxzille. She’s a caucasian woman in seemingly her early 20s with long blonde hair. She’s dressed in a camo-patterned jacket, blue jeans, a brown cowboy hat, and matching boots. A necklace with a silver peace sign and an ankh dangles from her neck.

“Big mama an’ big sistah ain’ here tonight, so looks like us kids are hostin’ all y’all first-timers.”

“And why aren’t they here?” calls one of the thin-bloods.

“They too good to share a cemetery with us?” asks another.

Rumblings go up from the crowd.

“Dey ain’ here ‘cuz dere’s a conclave up noahth in Atlanta,” answers Max. “One das’ aimed at addressin’ y’all Duskborn’s issues, ‘mong other things. Dey thought it was important for da Big Easy ta have a voice when a justicar’s makin’ noise ‘bout y’all, an’ Ah agree with ’em.”

“We do things heah in Mid-City by majority vote, fer those of y’all who ain’ familiar. One lick, one vote. Ah like havin’ two moah voices ta listen to much as da rest o’ y’all do, but missin’ two voices ain’ gonna slow us down too much.”

She looks around at the thin-bloods.

“And by mah count, we got a lot more dan two new voices ‘ere ta make up fer da missin’ ones.”

There’s some murmurings from the crowd.

“Order o’ business a lot o’ us want ta bring up tonaht’s pretty simple, Ah think. How we all gonna get along.”

“For dose of y’all who ain’ heard yet, dere’s word ferm on high, at da Venice conclave this year. Buncha princes, justicars, an’ assorted Camarilla bigwigs all say, time fer nightborn licks ta stop comin’ down so hard on da duskborn ones.”

“Is that what they said?” calls a thin-blood from the crowd. “I heard they told the princes ‘good job’ and gave them a slap on the back for ten years of genocide.”

“That wasn’t genocide-” scoffs another voice.

“The deliberate and systematic extermination of an entire group of people,” cuts in the thin-blood next to Ayame. “The institution of a political office in Camarilla cities solely responsible for carrying out duskborn killings. That sounds plenty like genocide to me.”

“It was genocide,” Roderick answers. Heads turn towards him. “Some licks here might deny it, but I won’t, and that’s why I’m here. Because the Camarilla’s period of sanctioned genocide is over and I want to help figure out what the future between nightborn and duskborn Kindred is going to look like.”

“And you’re right,” he says as someone else starts to interject, “the Camarilla didn’t say the genocide was over, or call it genocide, or apologize for it. They said the threat posed by duskborn Kindred was contained and called on princes to ‘direct their energies to the 21st century’s other challenges.’”

“It’s the same tactic as when they said ‘mission accomplished’ over the Red Question,” speaks up Jonah Freeman. He’s a thick-bearded black man in jeans and a leather jacket. A necklace with a tiny quartz heart pierced by a fingerbone dangles over his chest. “They realized the quote-unquote ‘problem’ was too big for them to deal with. That they couldn’t destroy every single text asking ‘why do you obey?’ that every single Anarch had. So rather than acknowledge they’d lost, they just said they won. That they were taking their toys and going home. When they say ‘this threat’s contained,’ they’re saying ’it’s too big for us to contain.’”

“Remember that?” guffaws Andy Philips. “Vidal said we’d be in soooo much trouble if we had any of the Red Question’s stuff! Well who here does?”

Ayame: “The difference,” Ayame cuts in with barely a look towards the rat-faced Philips, “is that the duskborn did not ask to be created this way, just as you did not ask to be black, you did not ask to be white, and I did not ask to be Asian. So if the genocide is over then let it be over. We can hem and haw all we want over definitions and unrelated instances of ‘justice,’ or we can learn from it, better ourselves, and find a way to coexist. Which I believe,” she glances at Max, “is the purpose of this evening.”

GM: “Is he black? I can’t tell past all the hair,” shoots Bliss Jackson.

There’s some snickers.

Ayame: No wonder they never get anything done.

GM: “Is she not a slut? I can’t tell past all the cleavage,” leers Gerald Abellard.

There’s some more laughs. Hardest from Andy.

“I’ll beat your fuckin’ ass, sewer rat!” Bliss shouts back, taking a step forward.

Ayame: Ayame hopes she does. The rats are hardly a step up from the abortions in their midst.

“Easy,” she says instead. They don’t need infighting with all these unknowns.

GM: Shep and her krewemates clamp hands over her shoulders.

Andy Philips flips his middle fingers.

Abellard mimes a handjob with his mouth open.

“Cut dat shit, y’all!” Max interjects with a pointed glare between the three. “Dis how we gonna conduct ahselves when da big mama an’ big sistah ah away? Sure proves dem eldahs righ’, don’ it, dat da Anarchs are just a buncha unruly kids good fah nothin’ but fightin’ an’ fuckin’? Too immature ta make deir own decisions, better leave dat ta da older an’ wiser heads?”

Bliss just glares.

“This sure fills me with a whole lot of faith,” comes one thin-blood’s voice.

“We’re all less than perfect,” answers Jonah Freeman. “Just like the Camarilla is a hell of a lot less than perfect. That’s the world. We’ve got a common oppressor and we can learn to coexist, like Ayame says, or else… what? What’s the alternative?”

Ayame: “Tear each other apart,” Ayame finishes for him, “like the others think we eventually will. Prove them right that we need a firm hand.” She lifts her shoulders in a shrug. “I do not know about the lot of you, but I am not interested in my Requiem being scripted for me by the ‘powers that be.’”

GM: “I think it’s problematic to phrase things like that,” interjects Laura Ravenwood, a gothic-looking and wavy-haired young woman in black and red silk. “We share a common oppressor, but the duskborn have it so much worse than we do. The Camarilla tried t-”

“-we can speak for ourselves, thanks,” interrupts the one-fanged thin-blood next to Ayame. “And we’ll thank any nightborn here not to speak for us about how bad we have it.”

“I’m not trying to speak for you. I’m Caitiff, I understand what it’s like to be-” replies Laura.

“-you don’t understand,” interrupts another thin-blood, an overweight black man in a navy sweatshirt.

“This isn’t productive,” speaks up Dr. Petrowski, a bookish-looking older man in glasses and a tweed jacket. “Can we simply acknowledge that-”

“Did you obtain tenure?” asks the thin-blood by Ayame.

Petrowski’s brow furrows. “What in the world does-”

“You were a professor at Tulane. Did you or did you not obtain tenure?”

“Yes, I obtained tenure. How di-”

“Because I remember your face from Tulane, though I’m sure you don’t remember mine. I was also a professor there. But I was an adjunct. I worked my ass off for years to be treated like barely more than a slave. I told a nightborn she shouldn’t speak for duskborn, because she hasn’t experienced our some level of oppression, and you’re telling everyone it’s nonproductive for me to correct her. It presumes a position of superiority to judge what is and is not productive, and makes talk of equality between us seem like a lie.”

Petrowski’s brow remains furrowed. “Miss, what in the world does my tenure have to do to with those points of contention?”

“Because you’re talking down to me from twice the position of privilege, and that pisses me off!” the thin-blood yells angrily.

There’s angry murmurs of agreement from the others.

Ayame: Annoyance shoots through her.

“We all have unique experiences and trials. There is no reason to turn this into a pissing contest about who has it worse and how the other side either does or does not understand. Trying to make other people see eye-to-eye with you is a futile waste of time, and while we say it is unlimited for us now, I can think of plenty of other things I would rather do than sit around and compare dick lengths.”

“We do not have to be friends. We do not have to even like each other. We only have to exist in the same space without resorting to squabbling.”

GM: “And what about when nightborn presume to tell us what is and isn’t productive for us to talk about?” asks another thin-blood, a black man with dreadlocks in a cotton zip jacket. “We ask to be treated as equals, nothing more or less. Is that a pipe dream?”

Veronica rolls her eyes as Pietro smirks.

Ayame: “I literally just agreed with you. Are you looking for an argument?”

GM: “You said we should stop comparing dick lengths about who has it worse,” answers the man. “Okay. I agree with that. Do you agree it was wrong for glasses guy over there to judge what is and isn’t productive for us to talk about, because it presumes nightborn are better than duskborn?”

Ayame: “I think this whole conversation is unproductive,” Ayame says flatly, “and we are all just looking to claw our way to the top and somehow be above someone else for whatever reasons we think we should be. We can all find a reason to hate each other and think we know best. But are all here for the same purpose, are we not? Survival, certainly, but beyond that we seek to thrive. So let us thrive.”

GM: “We are better than you,” says Christopher Guilbeau. “I’ll say the quiet part out loud.”

Shouts of outrage erupt from the thin-bloods.

Ayame: God damnit.

GM: The Ventrue’s voice booms over the yelling throngs like he’s speaking into a megaphone.

“We’re. Better. Than. You. Let that sink in. But guess what? Just because we’re better doesn’t mean you don’t have a place here. I think you’d all make great Anarchs. We’ll give you a better deal than the Camarilla ever will. I won’t lie to you about what that means, though. Anyone who says you’re equals is just telling you what you want to hear.”

Roderick slaps his palm over his forehead.

The shouts of outrage continue unabated. Some of them are coming from true-blooded Kindred.

“Stop! Talking!”

“That is such a Ventrue thing to say!”

“Take him down!”

“Fuck you!”

“Fuck you! He’s right! We are better!”

“Go back to China, you stupid chink!” someone yells at Ayame.

Ayame: “I’m from fucking Texas, you shit-for-brains.” She doesn’t even know who she’s talking to at this point. The voices of outrage are too many to keep up with. Her gaze cuts towards Max and Jonah, then Veronica and Pietro, as if one of them is going to step in and fucking do something in lieu of Opal and Coco.

It’s not even worth it to point out that she’s Korean, besides.


GM: “No you’re not! You’re fucking Chinese, rice-for-brains!” shouts back Bliss Jackson.

“Ching chong chinagirl, go do math!” yells a white male thin-blood.

It looks like they’ve found something to agree on.

Ayame: Bully for them.

GM: Veronica and Pietro sneer and laugh to themselves at the uproar. It doesn’t look as if much action is going to come from either.

“Everyone, JUST BE QUIET!” Roderick shouts over the noise, or at least tries. When it doesn’t stop, Maxzille sticks two fingers in her mouth and gives a shrill, ear-piercingly loud whistle.

“All right, Y’ALL JUST COOL IT!”

“Chris here maht think he’s better’n some licks, an’ das’ his right ta buhlieve whatevuh da fuck he wants ta believe, but it sure ain’t what Ah believe. Who else ‘ere don’ buhlieve what Chris buhlieves?”

“I don’t believe what he believes,” says Jonah. “We’re all Bondye’s children.”

“I sure don’t,” says Roderick. “Believing nightborn are better than duskborn is the logical extension of the Camarilla’s belief system. It’s to buy in to elders’ rhetoric that someone’s generation counts for more than character. It’s to accept that someone’s worth as an individual is determined by an accident of death: by what sire happened to slit a wrist over their mouth, rather than how by how they’ve actually lived their Requiem. I thought we all agreed that was bullshit.”

Ayame: Smaller words, Durant, you’ve lost half of them.

Ayame crosses her arms. She gives a curt nod of assent.

“They keep us divided to keep us small. If we let it work, they win.”

GM: “There are no rules anywhere,” giggles Eris D, a green-haired girl in a leather jacket. “The goddess prevails. Curb your dogma. The enlightened take things lightly. Reality is the original Rorschach.”

“Fucking Malks,” someone ‘mutters.’

Most the true-blooded Anarchs take turns voicing similar sentiments. Some are more enthusiastic than others. Some give speeches. Others just nod. Christopher walks back on his words, a little, in a way that sounds like it’s being apologetic without actually apologizing. Veronica and Pietro make caustic remarks about their grandsire without saying a word on thin-bloods. Perhaps little surprise, when they’re the closest vampires to Caine out of any here.

Ayame: Her eyes follow the speakers, and once the Anarchs are done they settle on the single-fanged thin-blood next to her, and the dulled bite beside that one.

She is distinctly unsurprised when the exiled prince’s childe minces his words as hard as he does, or that the two older Toreador make vague noises while getting in a dig at Chastain. Their exemplary packages contain nothing but rot.

GM: “Okay, you’re all willing to pay at least lip service to equality. I’m not going to say that’s everything, but it’s a hell of a lot better than we’ve been getting from the Camarilla. It’s a start and it leaves me hopeful for the future. Maybe we all can get along,” answers the single-fanged thin-blood.

Murmurs of assent go up from the two or so dozen others.

“That brings us to the point of this meeting,” says the dull-fanged man next to her. “The Camarilla says its policy of genocide towards us is over. Okay. I’ll take that, even if they aren’t saying it openly. What do we want to do from here? Should we have a place among the Anarchs? If so, what would that look like?”

“To start off with, I’d say that should look the same as any nightborn’s place,” says Roderick. “Equal voting rights in all decisions that affect Mid-City. The same privilege we all enjoy. One Anarch, one vote.”

“Do we want to vote on that now?” asks Laura.

Support: “Hold up,” says the tattooed man in a minister’s garb. “I’m not sold that most of us actually want to do the right thing by our weaker cousins. If we were saints, most of us wouldn’t be here.”

He looks to the Duskborn professor who called out Petrowski. “May I know your name, ma’am?”

GM: “Patricia Stratton,” answers the single-fanged vampire.

Support: He inclines his head to the dead educator. His voice rises in volume as he talks, his tone firm and unapologetic but also devoid of cruelty, of spite.

“I don’t hate you, Patricia. I don’t think most Kindred hate the Duskborn, even if it is our nature to disdain them. That’s really what Christopher was saying, even if he said it like a blue blood. We’re stronger than you, and that’s why any resolution to treat you the same is just that, a promise that’s on us to keep. And if things were different, I would be honored to fight for you. But things aren’t different. We are rapists and killers. Thieves and adulterers. Whores and liars. Monsters, not men and women and children. Some of us recognize that, and others deny it. But we know it is true when we hide from the sun. You are not a proud woman fighting for the right to life. You are a proud monster fighting for the right to talk to other monsters, and even if you get it most of them will not treat you as equals except in these meetings. What would you use your power here for? What do you want, besides to see the next night? That is what will draw my vote or lose it. Everything else is just talk, and most of us don’t really come here for that.” Fangs flash. “I don’t.”

GM: Murmurs sound throughout the crowd of Anarchs. Some angry, especially from the thin-bloods. But some also agreeing.

“So you would judge our right to political representation on the basis of our moral worth as individuals,” Patricia answers. She gives a shrug. “That’s a fairer shake than the Camarilla gives us. Than many Anarchs give us.”

“To that I’ll say that we duskborn are better people than nightborn are. Or worse monsters, depending on how you look at it.”

“On average, at least.”

“Our Beasts are silent. We don’t lose control.”

Support: Hez raises an eyebrow. He hasn’t heard that.

The Brujah seems almost wistful, for a moment.

GM: “When we kill, it is always premeditated, and when we are sound of mind. We can continue to live among our friends and loved ones without recklessly endangering them.”

“I’ve never killed. I don’t ever plan to, except in self-defense. How many other nightborn here can say that? How can you judge my moral worth next to licks who’ve left behind trails of bodies, and find mine anything but superior?”

Shouted opinions go up from both sides.

“That’s bullshit! You duskborn go apeshit just like we do!”

“Who the fuck are you to say you’re better than us!?”

“I haven’t gone apeshit, not even once!”

“I’ve never killed!”

“I’m a virgin too!”

“Yeah, you and half the city, right?”

“I knew a duskborn who went apeshit! Saw it with my own eyes!”

“Yeah, it’s just harder for them!”

“They’re telling the truth! I’ve never seen one lose it, not like we do!”

“Bullshit bullshit bullshit!”

Ayame: “Anecdotes are not evidence. Further, why judge on morality at all? We don’t sneer at the lion who slaughters the lamb.”

Support: Hez smiles faintly at her. “We are monsters of conscience. I believe in a God, and I believe that if we have the capacity to feel guilt for our crimes, it is for a reason. But I only give sermons on Sundays.” His laugh is a battle-scarred, violently merry thing. “I know how I’m voting.”

GM: “Only because the lion lacks sufficient intelligence to judge the morality and consequences of its actions,” Patricia answers Ayame before turning to Hez. “If our political representation is decided on the basis of our demonstrated moral worth, I’d say you should get more votes than her, at least.”

“Say we do vote ta gave y’all equal votin’ rahts ta us nahtborn,” says Maxzille. “Dat it? Dere ain’ anythin’ else y’all think we oughta suss out?”

“Hunting territory,” says the overweight black man in the sweatshirt. “I don’t wanna starve. I’m sick of going hungry.”

“Yeah, you look like you’d hate going hungry!” jeers Andy Philips.

“You look like shit scraped off my shoe, sewer rat!” the thin-blood yells back.

“What, you make a habit of stepping in shit? Even we don’t do that…” leers Gerald Abellard.

“Can we please just stop taunting each other like middle schoolers?” Roderick glowers. “Feeding territory. That’s a legitimate issue to discuss.”

“One block per duskborn krewe,” declares Shep Jennings. “You don’t need as much as we do. You don’t get as much as we do.”

“One block’s ridiculous!” counters the dreadlocked thin-blood in the cotton jacket. “Who are any of you to presume how much juice we do and don’t use?”

“Yeah, nightborn are always coming after us! We have to mend up all the time!” shouts a thin-blood who looks barely old enough to be in high school.

Ayame: Ayame might say something here, but every time she opens her fucking mouth she gets shot down by both sides, so she doesn’t. She wonders if they realize how hypocritical the preacher sounds. How he’d called them all monsters—rapists and murderers and whores and liars—and then backtracked when she’d said maybe they shouldn’t judge each other for it.

Far be it from her to bring rhetoric to a former professor. No wonder she was an adjunct.

She simmers. She doesn’t speak. She lets the others have it out, another instance of devolving into a bullshit argument that is unproductive, but God forbid she fucking say that because, apparently, they all care about each other’s feelings now.

She waits for a minute. Silent. Until no one else points out what she thinks is fairly obvious.

“If you are throwing in with us, does it not stand to reason you should add that to the discussion? No random attacks between the nightborn and duskborn from either direction?”

There, bitch. Take your fucking morality and shove it up your asshole.

“The goal is to coexist with minimal conflict, is it not?”

GM: “Absolutely,” says Roderick. “Violence between Anarchs isn’t tolerated. That should fully extend towards duskborn.”

“I’m not naive enough to think there won’t be continued violence,” says Patricia. “Between duskborn. Between duskborn and Anarch nightborn. Between non-Anarch nightborn and Anarchs born during any time of day.”

“So yes, we’ll need to spend juice to heal injuries we sustain, the same as the rest of you do.”

“That’s one reason we should receive equal hunting territory.”

Ayame: “No one should go hungry. Perhaps territory by krewe size?”

GM: There’s grumblings from some of the true-blooded Kindred, but the thin-bloods vocally agree—“Same size as a nightborn krewe would get!”

Ayame: “I suppose it is another thing to vote on.”

GM: “Feel free not to vote if you don’t like doing it,” calls one thin-blood.

Ayame: Why, she wonders, is it always an argument when she is literally on their side? Her comment was only to the effect of, “add it to the ballot.”

These fucking people will get offended over a sideways look. Thin-blood? Try thin-skin.

She’d roll her eyes but she’s made the motion so many times this evening that she’s pretty sure she’s got muscle strain. Correcting them is a waste of breath, too.

GM: “So equal rep’sentation an’ equal territorah,” says Max. “What else y’all dink we oughta suss out?”

Ayame: Ayame’s shoulders lift in a shrug as her gaze sweeps the assembled licks. She’s got nothin’. Nothin’ that needs to be brought to light tonight.

Maybe whether or not any of this conversation matters if they’re missing the two regents, but she supposes that this is a test of their democracy.

GM: “There’s our future,” says another thin-blood, an older-looking black man who’s actually walking with a cane. “Supposin’ we join the Anarchs. Y’all give us equal representation and feeding territory. Okay. That’s a good deal. What happens after?”

“What do you mean, what happens after?” asks another thin-blood, a short white man with acne-splotched skin.

“What I mean, young man, is we’re still second-class citizens. Or I suppose third-class, next to the Caitiff. Mid-City ain’t the whole city, isn’t it? Prince still gonna treat us bad. So what are we gonna do about that?”

“The prince treats all Anarchs bad, grandpa,” leers Arzilla. “Welcome to the club.”

“Prince Vidal has shown he can be negotiated with and evolve with the times,” says Roderick. “We take the democratic rule we have over Mid-City for granted, but my sire, Miss Opal, and earlier Anarchs like Annie Pope had to fight tooth and nail to make those gains possible. Ditto for their Cabilo seats.”

“Yes, he’s an overbearing hardass, but he can be budged and positive change can be effected. I think that’s a worthwhile line of-”

“-yeah, with respect, stuff it,” interjects Christopher.

“You want to know how our Ventrue prince thinks? Well look further than yours truly, since like I bet you all remember, I’m a Ventrue too. And he’s not going to do shit for duskborn, Anarchs, or anyone besides the Sanctified, unless someone makes him.”

“Sure. He gave us Mid-City. Well, we Ventrue study our history, and it was close to worthless land when he did. Go ask the big mama and the big sister about that, sometime. Vidal only did that as a bribe to keep the Anarchs from falling in with Savoy.”

“He doesn’t give a shit about the Anarchs. He’d lop off all our heads if he thought it was more convenient.”

There’s angry murmurs of agreement from the crowd. Thin-blooded and true-blooded.

“So to our new duskborn pals, I say prepare to get shat on forever by the prince. The end.”

Ayame: Someone should start a slow clap for Chris. Not her, but someone. She waits a beat, then says,

“Perhaps it is time we all work toward a better future, then, unless we are content with our position. Push for more.”

GM: The crowd looks angrier at Chris’ words. But there is no slow clap. Most of them look like they agree with his conclusion.

“So how do you suggest we push for more? What’s the best way when he holds all the power?” asks Patricia.

Ayame: “If I am not mistaken,” Ayame’s eyes slide toward the primogen’s childe, “your sire does not believe in violence. She wants to work within the system, yes? So we work within the system. They expect us to be angry, violent. We can be angry. But violent? No. We show them a better way. Our numbers have doubled,” she gestures toward the thin-bloods that have joined them, “but our space remains the same. It is logical, is it not, for a territory that has expanded in numbers to expand in size? Else we risk a breach of the Masquerade simply by existing, simply by slaking our hunger.”

GM: “An apt assessment,” rings a low and powerful voice.

The crowd’s collective eyes turn towards its source.

Donovan strides into the cemetery, garbed in black with a sheathed blade at his hip. He’s flanked by Camilla Doriocourt and Father Malveaux, both pale-faced and pitiless, and several ghouls.

A heavy thump sounds as Alexander Wright vaults over the wall and lands on the grass, titanium bat in hand. Several more ghouls land after him.

One moment there’s empty air. The next, Caitlin Meadows’ snarling visage is visible. The nearest Anarchs flinch back.

A hawk soars over the other wall. It lands and shifts into a grim-faced Charlie Harrison.

More ghouls clamber after their master. Duke Elmhearst hits the ground with another thump and cocky smirk. A satisfied-looking Roxanne Gerlette, not wearing a skirt or dress for the first time Ayame can recall, brings up the rear with several more renfields.

All are armed.

Predatory hisses go up from the gathered Anarchs. Some draw weapons or sprout claws. Other look towards the nearest exits.

The thin-bloods, most of all, look terrified. But just as many of their faces set in anger.

Ayame: Her gaze snaps towards the sheriff and his assembled squad. Two tiny steps take her backwards, falling in beside Roderick, Christopher, and Hez. A primogen’s childe, a hound’s childe, and the childe of an exiled prince. Perhaps here, at least, there will be less attention, less ire, from those who have come. She is glad that she stilled her tongue before suggesting anything more.

GM: Two more birds land, shifting into the forms of Rocco Agnello and Joshua Pacuad. More ghouls file in through the cemetery’s front entrance.

Pierpont McGinn is the last to swagger in, along with Joseph Doyle and a larger contingent of ghouls than anyone’s except Donovan’s.

About a dozen Kindred. Two or three times as many ghouls.

Ayame: Hadn’t she just been thinking earlier about the man who’d been ripped apart by licks because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time? Now she’s him. Wrong place. Wrong time. Her eyes search for a weak spot in the line of those assembled, desperately looking for any escape. The absence of Opal and Coco makes so much more sense. This is nothing short of an execution squad.

GM: Maxzille is the first of the Anarchs to speak. Her tone is faux-casual.

“Can’t say we were expectin’ guests. Y’all fellas-”

Donovan interrupts. The words are cool and emotionless, but roll over her voice like thunder.

“True-blooded Kindred who do not interfere will not be harmed.”

Ayame: They’re going to make us watch.

They’re going to make us watch them slaughter the thin-bloods.

They can’t win. There’s no chance. This isn’t a fight. It’s…

A message. To the thin-bloods. To the Anarchs who would treat with them. Ayame blinks back the horror. Brilliant. Despicable, but brilliant.

What nightborn would lay down their life for their lesser-bred cousins? None. None of them. Her nails dig into the leather covering her thighs. Don’t get involved. Don’t get involved and she’ll be fine. Don’t scream, don’t run, don’t speak, don’t even think too loudly. She doesn’t dare draw breath less they think that she, too, is one of them. A target to be annihilated.

GM: “They’re trying to divide us!” shouts Roderick. “Look at this! We’re the ones who outnumber them. We’ve got two dozen nightborn, two dozen duskborn, against a dozen nightborn and two dozen ren-”

Coco’s childe topples over as a stake plunges through his chest.

There’s a black blur, almost invisible against the night, and then his corpse is lying at Donovan’s feet.

“For his sire’s Blood, he shall be spared,” the sheriff impassively intones.

“I promise no such mercy to Kindred of lowlier stock.”

There’s a few angry looks at Roderick’s ‘privilege.’

But there’s a lot more scared ones.

Ayame: Her elbow is halfway towards Roderick when his form crumples. A warning, too late, to shut his mouth. She thinks to reach for him but he is gone before she can begin the motion, halfway across the cemetery in a pile at the feet of that cold, merciless thing.

She is still. Her eyes do not meet the sheriff’s, but stay on the form at his feet. A message indeed: Durant was the most vocal of those who stood with the duskborn. Without him, there is no hope of rallying together, no hope of unity. Without him, the wall that she had built around herself of important childer is down to two, and she is left exposed. An unimportant lick, no important name to drop to save her should she make the wrong move.

Not my fight, she thinks, over and over again, to prevent herself from doing something stupid.

They don’t stand a chance. Outnumbered or not, they don’t stand a chance. The sheriff or the scourge themselves could take out all two dozen duskborn without so much as a scratch.

GM: The execution squad marches closer, forming a wide circle around the smaller circle of Anarchs.

“Any Kindred who would be spared have ten seconds to relocate behind Sanctified lines,” Donovan continues coolly.


“Y’all can do as y’all like, but Ah ain’t goin’ along with this,” declares Maxzille, crossing her arms.

Ayame: Ayame might not be the first to move. But perhaps she is the first to move towards Max. She doesn’t touch the other lick, but she stops to speak with her.

“Do not test him, Max,” she whispers, though she has no doubt the others can hear. She cannot say more. Cannot say what she is thinking: that this entire evening is a set-up. “There is more yet that you can do if you get out.”

GM: “Nine,” sounds the sheriff’s voice.

Ayame: Sanctioned, she mouths at the Toreador. She has to know. Has to suspect. There is nothing they can do. They will throw away their own eternity—and for what? To prove a point? There is no point to be proved. They are at Vidal’s mercy within this city. If he sends his hounds to do his bidding, they will do it, and gladly. Max will be just another slaughtered Anarch who died for nothing.

GM: The Toreador gives Ayame a sad, rueful look, seemingly between them.

“Dey don’t got da balls ta slaughter all o’ us!” Maxzille answers loudly. “Oh, no! Dey-”

“Eight,” sounds the sheriff.

“-know dat’ll drive all Anarchs, ever, right ta Savoy, make him a bonafide hero!”

Jonah stands next to his krewemate, arms wordlessly crossed.

“Seven,” sounds the sheriff.

The crowd is sweating. Many of the Anarchs’ eyes are cutting between Ayame, Max, the sheriff, and the thin-bloods. Some with fear. Some with guilt. Some who just don’t look like they want to be labeled the ‘first deserter.’ The thin-bloods are howling and drawing what paltry weapons they have.

“Think, y’all—dis ain’t cost-effective!” Max bellows. “Less y’all pussy out! Grow-”

“Six,” sounds the sheriff.

“-some balls, see if da prince really willin’ ta go dat far! Watcha bet Rod gonna be da sole Anarch not ta get ashed, huh!?”

Ayame sees it. Perhaps the only one to see it. Veronica starting towards Max from behind, violence in her smoldering eyes.

Ayame: She’s seen that look before. Of all of them, only Veronica and Pietro weren’t surprised at this reveal. Is she looking to make a move, then? Up her status by taking out the competition?

Ayame cuts in front of the green-eyed, gorgeous lick. Steps right up to her, not so much blocking her path as simply slowing her down.

“You can be a hero.” The words are barely a breath, an almost-silent plea from Ayame to Veronica. There doesn’t need to be more violence. They don’t all need to die. Veronica can drag the girl out and the others will follow. She has that much clout, at least, and the Anarchs will owe her for saving them all. She doesn’t need to say that; certainly Veronica realizes it.

GM: The Toreador smirks.

“Five,” sounds the sheriff.

Veronica’s gone, then she’s thrusting the stake into the air where Max was standing. The younger Toreador backflips away cat-quick, her sprouted claws slashing wet red lines across Veronica’s perfect face. The harpy snarls as another stake plunges into Max’s chest from behind. Pietro, smirking, stands over the fallen Anarch—and doesn’t seem to see it coming as Jonah barrels towards him like a speeding freight train.

Ayame: Ohfuck. Ayame is quick to dart out of the way of both claw and stake as Veronica, Max, and Pietro duke it out. She backpedals away from Jonah’s charging form. Her wrists flick and the steel inserts inside of her leather gloves are released, springing forward to become cat-like claws on her fingers.

She drops into a crouch over Max’s form as Jonah flies past her. She’s not going to let the bitch die on a technicality. She slides her fingers under Max’s arms and starts to drag her out of the circle.

GM: Ayame has ample distraction. Pietro goes down hard under Jonah, whose blurring fists smash his face bloody. Veronica blurs away from Max and plunges her stake through the Brujah’s heart.

“Four,” sounds the sheriff.

Support: Hez doesn’t try to stand up to the sheriff. Doing so is foolish and probably pointless.

He does, however, derive some satisfaction from hooking a hand under Stratton’s arm while attention is occupied on the nightborn, and throwing her to an undisclosed location.

He locks eyes with his sire and coughs, looking abashed.


GM: Stratton might start to say something. Yell something.

Then she’s barely audible as her thrown form hurls through the night sky.

Wright glowers.

When Ayame is the first Anarch to cross the Sanctified line with the Movement’s staked leader, a fatal crack seems to run through everyone else’s resolve. Christopher is the next Anarch to make a jog towards the Sanctified.

Veronica hefts Jonah’s corpse over her shoulder and blurs ahead of him, her slashed face already hale again.

“Don’t say I never did anything for you,” she calls back. She doesn’t look back.

Pietro is next.

After him, Andy—“I’m not dying for a bunch of abortions!”

“Fuck that!”

“Me neither!”

And just like that, the Movement deserts its thinner-blooded ‘comrades.’

Support: Hez stays where he is.

GM: All but one, at least.

Support: “Never should have Embraced a man with a conscience, Alex,” Hez murmurs.

GM: “Three,” sounds the sheriff.

Ayame: She had to. They would have slaughtered everyone. Everyone. She’s heard what sort of “mercy” the sheriff has: none.

Ayame drops Max as soon as she passes the line. Her eyes turn toward the sole remaining lick inside.


Support: He shrugs, sad but resigned.

“Somebody needs to.”

GM: “Two,” sounds the sheriff.

“Get the fuck outta there, you dumb motherfucker!” yells his sire.

Support: Hez seizes two more and launches them in opposite directions. Let the sheriff work for his slaughter.

He looks his sire in the eye. “You knew what you were getting into, Al. I wish you saw what you looked like now.”

He steps in front of another Duskborn, and folds his arms.

“One,” he finishes.

GM: The first (or, at rather, second) thrown duskborn, the man with dreadlocks, doesn’t make it past Caitlin Meadows. The scourge soars into the air with a stupendous leap. There’s a manic scream that abruptly cuts off, and when the Gangrel lands, her face and claws are caked with blood. Shredded gore half-wrapped in clothing hits the grass after her with soft thumps.

The next duskborn, the elderly man, hurls through the sky with a startled yell that just as abruptly cuts off. Camilla Doriocourt fires a bolt of crackling lightning after the thin-blood, but all it hits is his metal cane. It thuds against the grass with a low sizzle.

Support: “Kinda like skeet shooting, I think,” Hez says helpfully. “Not everybody’s cut out for it.”

He never liked that bitch.

GM: The enraged and terrified thin-bloods, even as this all transpires, fall upon their treacherous ‘comrades.’ Or at least try to. Some of the pitiful half-vampires tackle a few of the true-bloods, only for their nightborn fellows to kick and shove them off as they scramble towards the Sanctified lines. A few thin-bloods with guns try to fire them, then look puzzled when bullets don’t come out.

But all that stops with Hez’s actions.

They swarm around him like moths to a flame, pushing and shoving and screaming to get as close as they can. They clamor about the Brujah like he is the messiah, weeping watery red fluid that resembles neither blood nor tears, but some wretched thing in between.

“Me! Me! Throw me!” “Please! Me! I have a daughter!” “Please, me! me!” “I have a son!” “A baby girl!” “Please! Please!” “I can pay you back!” “My grandma has no one-” “My family needs me-” “My wife’s pregnant-” “I have-”

Support: He saves as many as he can. He knows it will not be enough.

But it will be everything for them.

GM: He’s also forestalled by the stake that plunges into his heart from the dark-clad blur that speeds back behind Sanctified lines just as Donovan utters, “Zero.”

“It’s Wright, you stupid motherfucker,” the hound glares down at him, then picks back up his titanium bat.

The sheriff thrusts his sword forward.

As one, the prince’s executioners charge the encircled thin-bloods.

As one, two dozen raw and terrified screams go up from the huddled mass of half-vampires as the prince’s blades raise over them.

Then as one:

The blades fall.

Celia III, Chapter XII
Bad Shoes, Bad News

“How bad are things?”
Roderick Durant

Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, PM

GM: Celia runs into one of her mother’s cats on her way out. The calico loudly hisses at the vampire, her tail going puffed like a beaver’s, before she flees deeper into the house over Diana’s futile (and after seven years, largely half-hearted) efforts to calm her down.

“I just don’t understand why Shadow and Victor don’t like you! They’re so sweet to everyone else!” Celia’s mom exclaims, shaking her head.

The two exchange a last hug before her Ryde arrives and drops her off at the border of the French Quarter.

The little-used haven looks much as it did the last time Celia was there. She has several hours. She could spend them doing productive things, or she could just sit there and fret.

Finally, at midnight, there’s a knock against the door.

Celia: Celia spends her time wisely. She doesn’t fidget like some nerve-struck high schooler while she waits for her guest to arrive. She is not so skittish as that anymore, not when her feelings for the visiting Brujah have long since cooled. Her collar snapped the night that he put his fist through her face. Now just an echo remains, a pale imitation of what once was or could have been.

First, her face. She seats herself before the vanity in her bathroom and gets to work. Her fingers sculpt flesh, muscle, and cartilage from Celia’s face to transform it into Jade’s. She is not Celia anymore. Not for Roderick. The differences between the two faces are enough to make them distinct, and once she begins to play with the powders, liquids, and mists atop the counter there is even more that separates them. Jade’s face is narrower than Celia’s, her cheekbones cut by contour, her nose slimmer. She starts with that base color, foundation blended all the way down to her neck to avoid the horrid line that some women just forget about—your face and your neck should not be different colors, dear—though she does not truly need this step. Her complexion is pristine all on its own. A pink blush is dabbed across her cheeks, blended upward, the amount so minuscule that it’s not even there in some light. Just a hint. A hint of color across her lids, gold—not the yellow gold she’d used for Caroline earlier this evening, but a metallic color that might even be bronze depending on how you look at it. Duochrome, they call this effect, and the pigment is loose. She applies it with a wet brush. A dark brown liner across her eyes that cuts upward to suggest a wing. Highlighter in the key spots. A mauve, dusky rose color on her lips. Matte. It’s in season.

The clothes next. She strips from the borrowed clothing and pulls on a new bra and panties. Pastel pink. He’ll never see them, but knowing what she wears beneath her clothing gives her a boost of confidence.

She pulls a dress over her head, smoothing it down her body with her palms. It clings to all the right places, accentuating her slim waist. The dress itself stops halfway to her knee. Low enough that it’s not whorish, high enough that it’s suggestive. It leaves her throat and shoulders bare.

Her nails are seen to next, filed and painted and adorned with the crystals she has just for this purpose. Shades of carnation pink, gold, and white, carefully filed into points, though they lack the edge of true claws. Her sun ring is, as always, worn on one hand. On the other is a similar stone set in the shape of a flower, fire opal all around the diamond in the center.

Once her personal aesthetic is seen to she sweeps her eyes across the location.

The apartment hasn’t changed much in the past few years. Celia is still the only one who uses it; there is no hint of human presence inside, thought it seems assuredly lived-in if the closet is anything to go by. Full back then—there had barely been room for the things he’d started to move in—it’s practically overflowing now with gowns and sundresses and more heels than a person could possibly wear in their lifetime.

Good thing Celia has plenty of them ahead of her.

The bed holds the same four wooden posts he’d tied her to the one night, though the bedding itself has been upgraded. Higher quality sheets: higher thread count, softer, more luxurious, whatever the marketing teams are pushing these days. Darker, too. She’d learned the hard way that getting so much blood out of sheets is nothing like trying to remove a stain from her panties because she’d been caught without a pad (no tampons in the Flores household—wouldn’t want to risk the cherry popping).

Maybe Roderick thinks it was him who taught her that. Or maybe she’s used this place as a fuck pad since their breakup. He knows her reputation: her sire’s childe in deed as well as blood. Heard from her own lips that she’d bagged the sheriff one of her first nights. Is it so hard to think that she’s been with the others the rumors claim? Plus, look how pretty she is. Hot piece of tail, isn’t she? Who wouldn’t want to sink their teeth in.

The furniture looks similar to what she’d had before, though if her guest has a keen enough eye for that kind of thing he might notice it’s not the same pieces. Even so, they’re wrapped in slip covers as if she’s afraid of unruly children or pets or frenzying Kindred who seek to destroy her face. There had been a rug in front of the couch last time he’d been here. He’d ruined it with the gore from his attack. She’s rolled up its replacement and slid it under the couch itself to reveal the hardwood floors beneath. Easier to clean blood out of polished and protected wood than it is to get it out of an expensive rug, isn’t it?

A DVD case rests on the surface of the coffee table near the flat screen, its cover blank.

By the time midnight rolls around everything is in its proper place. The knock on her door takes only a moment to answer. She pulls it open.

GM: It’s him.

He doesn’t look much changed for the past four years. At all changed, actually, but that’s eternal youth. 31 and physically 22. He’s dressed more formally than he was during their last meeting: gray jacket and pants, white undershirt, maroon necktie. Overcoat over the suit. Winter is on its way out, but it’s still an average 56 degrees during the often-raining nights. Same leather shoes he’d usually pair with more relaxed outfits, though.

A moment passes, as though he’s thinking of what to say.

Finally: “How bad are things?”

Celia: Her eyes sweep his form. One-time boyfriend. One-time paramour. Brief, but what a mark he left on her.

Does he remember the words they’d shared, how they’d promised to always be there for each other, how she’d told him that she wasn’t afraid of him that night at the park—that she trusted him—before his fists destroyed her?

Her visage lacks any of that internal discourse. She steps back to allow him in, then closes and locks the door behind him.

For a moment she is silent, weighing her words, his question. Will this be the norm, then, this stilted conversation, these long pauses? She can play that game.

“Bad,” she says finally.

GM: He nods and follows her in. His eyes briefly sweep the familiar surroundings. Perhaps he notices the change in furnishings, but it has been four years. He probably notices the slip covers over the furniture, though.

“I’m here,” he answers.

“What happened?”

Celia: What hasn’t happened? That’s the real question, isn’t it.

“Before we begin,” she says to him, “I’d like to set a ground rule. Don’t bring me to Primogen Duquette should the night go awry. The Evergreen was always more my scene.”

GM: There’s a flash of… something in his eyes. Maybe hurt.

“The Evergreen isn’t really mine either,” he answers.

There’s a pause for a moment as he seems to consider several things to say. He finally settles on,

“If that… happens. I can leave you here and call someone. One of your renfields. If they know about this place. Or drop you off at another address.”

Celia: Good. She’s glad it hurts. He should remember what he did to her. How he told her he could forgive her and then refused to do so. How he’d beaten her instead. The rage of his clan, sure, but he’d be lying if he said there wasn’t some vicious side of him that enjoyed terrorizing her, ripping apart her face, slamming his fists again and again into that pretty smile until it was nothing but a red ruin.

“The Evergreen,” she repeats.

After a brief moment of hesitation—how much would she have told him had they spent these past years together?—she adds, “I am staying there now until some matters have been cleared up. Taking me to another location is only asking for trouble.”

GM: “I can’t go to the Evergreen,” Roderick says. “I can call someone for you.”

Celia: Celia shakes her head. He has known her too long for her to pull off the gemstone-named harpy-in-training whose mask she dons around everyone else. She drops the facade, lets him see the weariness and wariness beneath. No lines mar her expression, no bags settle beneath her eyes, but she shows him in the slight rounding of her shoulders, the lips that pull downward in one corner, the eyes whose blink lag behind their ordinarily swift movement.

She opens her mouth to say something as she steps toward the couch.

“Okay. You c—”

The heel of her shoe catches on an uneven spot of wood, a groove in the floor perhaps made by her own claws those many years ago. It snaps. The sudden loss of support makes her ankle buckle sideways.

She starts to fall.

GM: There’s a gray blur, and then he’s caught her, arms around her waist.

His gaze lingers for a moment before he remarks,

“Bad shoes.”

Celia: Even after all this time?


The line from the book echoes through her mind. Her body stops before she so much as grazes her knees across the floor. His arms around her, like they should have been all this time. Even in heels she has to look up at him.

“Bad shoes,” she agrees. Perhaps her voice is more faint than normal.

The moment lingers. Silence stretches between them. Closer than they’ve been in years. She thinks to make her heart hammer in her rib cage, to cause a flush to appear on her cheeks, but they’ve both been dead long enough to know that these are affected, forced gestures.

She touches a hand to his cheek instead. Her skin is warm against his cool flesh. His face looms in front of her, taking up her entire field of vision. Her eyes land on his lips, on the mouth that she knows so well.

She leans in.

Just as quickly she aborts the movement. She blinks twice, gaze dropping.

“Thank you.”

GM: With her gaze averted, Celia can’t make out the expression on her former paramour’s face. There’s another pause before he answers, “You’re welcome.”

He starts to help her to the couch, then seems to realize her shoe doesn’t have a flat underside even with the heel gone. He finally just picks her up for the remaining distance, short as it is, and deposits her on the couch.

Celia: She can’t help the laugh. It bubbles up inside of her and passes her lips before she can think to press them together to trap it inside. Inside, where he can’t hurt her. The sound transforms her face, brings light to her eyes. A moment of levity in a dark, tense life.

Once the fabric slip cover concealing the couch touches the backs of her legs she kicks off both of her heels, nudging them beneath the couch with her bare feet. She tucks her legs beneath her, smoothing her skirt down her thighs where it had ridden up in the excitement of the moment.

Her eyes find his. She pats the spot beside her.

GM: He takes off his coat, hangs it at the spot by the door, and sits down on the couch.

“Seems the crappy footwear was good for a laugh, at least.”

“I guess you could’ve used one right now.”

Celia: “It’s been… rough. I had a particularly awful day.”

Day, she says. Not night. She watches his face for any sign of… anything.

GM: “I guess that’s why I’m here,” he answers. His face doesn’t look like it’s done much laughing or smiling, but it is earnest and serious.

They did promise, after that second back-together bout of lovemaking. Perhaps it’ll count for something and perhaps it’ll count for nothing, but if nothing else, he is here.

“So, what happened?”

Celia: It’s not why he’s here, despite the fact that he—she stops her thoughts before she can go down that line. She’ll tell him in a minute, anyway.

“D’you know the punishment for being caught somewhere you’re not supposed to be?”

GM: “Sure. Usually a sip from the domain holder’s veins, though they can decide to go easier or harder. Cut and dry Second Tradition violation.”

Celia: Celia makes a vague gesture with her hand.

“Sure. For our kind.”

GM: “Okay, if you mean in the breather sense, trespassing has a scaling penalty. First count is a $100-500 fine, imprisonment up to 30 days, or both.”

“There’s all sorts of ways to make that go away, obviously.”

Celia: Her lips curl upward in amusement, though the motion doesn’t reach her eyes. Those are dead serious.

“Would I have called you about a $500 fine?”

GM: “By itself, probably not. If it was part of something bigger, maybe. You implied this wasn’t about lick-related trespassing.”

Celia: Celia folds her hands on her lap. She looks down at the rings on her fingers, the flower and sun. Spinning the band around and around her finger is an old, fidgety habit that tells him of her apprehension. She’d done it the night she’d confessed to cheating on him. She does it again now.

GM: “Unless you meant about a renfield being caught trespassing, in which case… well, sucks to be them. Largely up to the lick who caught them what happens.”

He looks at her ring and frowns faintly.

Celia: “I was picked up by a pair of hunters,” she says quietly.

GM: “I’m sorry. Glad you made it out.”

Celia: “Are you?”

GM: “Jesus Christ,” he mutters.

“Yeah, what you did really hurt, but I don’t wish you dead over it.”

Celia: “All I could think about,” she says to her lap, “while they had me tied and gagged and stabbed me with knives and held a lighter to my face, was that I’d die without ever actually doing anything, without fixing anything, and I had this stupid, absurd fantasy of y—someone swooping in and rescuing me, and when I got out, when I was finally safe again, I kept thinking about you.” She looks back up at him.

GM: Roderick doesn’t look completely sure what to say to that.

“That sounds horrible. What they did, that is. But I think your mom, Emily, Lucy, and your other brothers and sisters would disagree that you accomplished nothing of value with your life.”

Celia: He doesn’t know what to say because he doesn’t care. He still hates her. Silly to think that four years is long enough to let him forgive.

All this worrying for nothing. She’d wasted her Roderick card on Savoy’s missive.

She should have stuck with Jade.

She lets up on the gas. Lifts her shoulders in a shrug. Doesn’t say anything for a moment.


GM: “So what’s going on?” he asks. “Are you still in trouble from hunters, or is it something else?”

Celia: “Is it fucked if I say the hunters are the least of my troubles?”

An old ache throbs inside her chest. She wants to tell him. Wants to tell him everything. Wants to be able to tell him and trust that it will stay between them, that the rest of their society won’t find out.

She hates Savoy for making her do this.

“I mean. Celia might have to die. I guess that’s…” She trails off. He knows.

GM: He doesn’t say anything to that for a moment. She knows all-too well that he knows.

“I can’t say I’d recommend that, if you can avoid it.”

“So what’s going on?” he repeats.

Celia: Celia shifts in her seat, knees still bent but waist unhinging as if she is about to rise. She pauses halfway through the motion, catching his gaze. Her face is open. Earnest.

“I just wanted to get that out before I tell you this. All of that. Because I… I…”

GM: “Because you…?” he guides her along.

Celia: She bites her lip. Her eyes dart towards the floor where he had once thrown her. No bloodstains remain, but the wood itself is still gouged. She glances back at him, then at her lap, and finally looks up at him through a line of thick lashes.

“I…” she shakes her head. Makes a noise. “It doesn’t matter,” she finally murmurs.

She looks at him for a moment longer, as if wishing he just knew what she was thinking so that she doesn’t need to spell it out for him. How can he come here, make himself available, keep her from falling on her face, physically pick her up and carry her—hold her in his arms… and pretend it means nothing?

Maybe it does mean nothing. He’d probably do it for anyone. Maybe she’s reaching. Searching for something that isn’t there.

Maybe she killed it.

GM: It wouldn’t be the first time.

“All right, so what is it then?” he asks. “That you’ve been dancing around over. I presume it’s something bad. Probably also sensitive. But I can’t help if you don’t tell me what it is.”

Celia: “What I’ve been dancing around,” Celia says as she rises to her feet, “are my own feelings, things I won’t admit to myself, let alone you. I have… so much—there’s so much—”

She cuts herself off. It doesn’t matter. She hadn’t intended to say any of this to him; the words just spill out of her mouth of their own volition.

“My mom begged me to hit her tonight.”

Her eyes flick once more toward the gouges in the ground. Maybe he doesn’t see it. Maybe he’s not watching her as closely as she’s watching him. Wary. Waiting for him to pounce.

“Begged me. She had a run-in with a stiff and it fucked with her head something fierce.”

She looks devastated. She shakes her head again, a sharp motion that dislodges a few curls from her effortlessly messy up-do and lets them spill into her face.

GM: “Wow, that’s incredibly fucked,” he says. “To do that you’d… never mind. How is she now?”

Celia: “I don’t know. Her blooper reel… she’s fucked, Roderick, someone fucked with her, and they did it at a time that I couldn’t do anything back.”

She pauses. Takes a breath. “She seemed… fine when I left.” ‘Fine’ is generous. “I would kill to keep them safe. Her, Lucy, Emily—all of them. I’d kill for them.”

“Would you do anything less for yours?”

GM: He shakes his head. “If someone did that to my dad or Danielle… I’d kill them. End of story. So it couldn’t ever happen again. I can’t do a lot for my family, these days, but I could do that.”

“Your mom’s the sweetest lady, too. I don’t know why anyone would want to fuck with her head like that.”

“There isn’t any ‘good’ reason for it. Any lick who’d do that has to be a real monster anyway.”

Celia: “Because they needed to make a scene so she’d leave Maxen and he’d attack her, possibly get arrested, lose his seat.” Her voice is bitter. She doesn’t know if her theory is true, but after tonight… after tonight, she thinks she knows who did this to her.

GM: “So you think Savoy did that to your mom, or one of his people? That’s the problem?” Roderick asks, his eyebrows raising.

Celia: “No.” She paces. “If they did anything it was… too long ago to matter. It doesn’t matter. What happened years ago doesn’t matter. It can’t matter. I’m not mad at my grandmother for telling my mom to abort me, I can hardly be mad at them for taking action against a rival’s pawn.”

But she is.

She’s furious.

They broke her family.

She doesn’t know that it’s Savoy, but she suspects. Just like she now suspects who it was that handed her the gun and told her to kill the fucker when the story of his arrest was buried.

They lied to her.

And she can’t tell Roderick. She can’t tell anyone.

She pushes her rage down. Inside of her, where it can’t hurt anyone. Where it smolders like an ember in her gut. She can’t let him see it. She needs him to be on her side. Savoy’s side.

The rage doesn’t want to go away, though.

It’s a dark, twisted thought that she’s had. That the Kindred who offers her so much with one hand used the other to take a hammer to her family.

It comes howling to the surface. Fangs explode from between her lips. Maybe she howls, too, joins the Beast in its undulating chorus. Her claws come out, nailbeds splitting in their wake, blood dripping down her fingertips.

For a moment she’s a beast. A slavering, angry, mindless beast. The Beast.

It wants to destroy. Her arm lashes out, knocking a kitchen stool to the ground. Papers and trinkets go flying; she follows them down. Her claws rake across the ground, tearing gouges in the wood.

It isn’t the same as rending flesh. Flesh that she knows would part beneath her claws. Especially now, with that gift running through her system. She’d win. She’s sure of it. He’s on the couch. Waiting. Expectant. All she has to do is leap and tear and—


The girl’s voice in her head. Reminding her of what’s important. Reminding her of what needs to be done. The battle that she’s fighting isn’t with him; it’s with the rest of them. Tonight isn’t about her.

It’s gone as suddenly as it appears. Caged. Back to where it belongs, inside of her. Her knees hit the floor in its sudden disappearance, a puppet whose strings have been cut. Her palms strike the floor when she doubles over, fingers settling into the new grooves she’d just carved.

She stays down for a long moment. Enough to make sure that it is well and truly locked away.

Controlled breaths do nothing to calm or focus her. She isn’t human that these bullshit meditation techniques work. She takes them anyway. They make her feel human, and that’s what staves off the Beast. Ritual. Her ring spins on her finger. Claws and fangs retreat into her flesh and gums.

Her hair came undone with the action. It’s a wild, curling, tangled mess around her head. She shoves it back from her face when her spine straightens. Pulls her dress back down her thighs, though she stays on her knees, sitting on her heels. She wouldn’t want a recently-raging lick coming any closer. Still, she makes sure that her appearance is in check. That’s ritual, too. The curls don’t care. They bounce right back to where they were.

Her gaze seeks Roderick.

Tonight has been one mistake after another. Celia’s nerves are on edge, frayed by the close call with the hunters, her sister’s execution, trespassing in Vidal’s territory, Caroline, her mother…

It could be shame in her eyes as she looks at him. Frustration at her own self for being so emotional. Longing—wishing that she could just tell him. They were supposed to be friends. Allies. Partners. Lovers. Whatever he wants to call it, they were supposed to be it. Now she only has a ghost.

She’s been spiraling for nights. She hadn’t meant to lose control.

She’d beaten it back into submission, though. Not like him, when he’d beaten her instead of the Beast, when he’d pulverized her into a bloody pile of broken bones and torn ligaments and displaced tendons. She swallows whatever lump has lodged itself inside her throat, just like she’d swallowed the (possibly misplaced) anger at her grandsire.

At least she lost her cool here rather than in front of him.

“Are you—?” Okay, she might be asking, but the question seems silly. She hadn’t touched him. Still, she asks. The old ache colors her voice; she can’t keep it out. She stops trying.

GM: Roderick is squatting on his haunches next to her. He isn’t reaching out to touch her. Maybe because they’re not there anymore, or maybe because touching a lick on the verge of apeshit is an objectively terrible idea, no matter what feelings exist between them. She can hope it’s the latter.

“Yeah,” he answers. "You didn’t go apeshit on me. Your nails might be another story, but nothing you can’t mend. "

“Things are bad though, huh?”

Celia: Bad?

‘Bad’ is an understatement.

‘Bad’ makes her want to laugh.

She’s fourteen all over again and just found out her mom fucked someone else and she isn’t her dad’s kid.

She presses her lips together and nods. She hasn’t even gotten to the part she contacted him about. That’s the worst part. That she hasn’t even told him yet.

And now she’s afraid of losing control again and shattering whatever remains of the goodwill between them. Maybe, just for a minute, they can pretend.

She reaches for him.

GM: He doesn’t kiss her. But he lets her, shifting off his haunches to properly sit down.

Celia: Her body slides easily across the floor, scooching closer until her arms are around his neck and her face is pressed into the hollow between his shoulder and head and she’s, predictably, curled on his lap. It’s a familiar pose. An old pose.

Her eyes squeeze shut as she breathes him in. Wintergreen, tumeric, ginger—who had sold him this shampoo and why had they suggested it? Their kind don’t need to worry about thinning hair. It’s enough to make her exhale sharply through her nose, almost a laugh. The same kind of response she gives when she reads something funny on her Insta feed.

“Sorry,” she says to his neck, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to—to…” To what? She hadn’t hurt him. Not tonight. “It’s harder to choke down a second time.” He knows that, of course; his clan is famous for their raging.

A warning, maybe.

Or a proposition.

GM: “Well, you didn’t go apeshit on me,” he repeats, rubbing her back. “Though I guess you could always say sorry to your floor, if you feel like getting more apologies out.”

It’s an intimate position Celia’s in with him, for someone just seeking comfort, but it’s far from the first come-on she’s made to her ex this evening.

“So, you said your mom ran into a lick recently. Who do you think it was, if it wasn’t Savoy?” he asks.

Celia: His haste to get back to the subject at hand tells her all she needs to know: there’s no leftover feelings here. None on his end. And maybe what she’s feeling is nothing. Not real. Just an old, familiar wanting, a desire to be close to someone she once trusted implicitly.

It’s a bitter thought, knowing that she ruined it.

“I know who it was.” The answer is given in a voice that lacks any inflection. Dull. As dead as the rest of her. “It was a fledgling. Some… girl I used to know. Lick now. She wasn’t trying to hurt my mom. I don’t think. It just… went downhill after that, my mom started freaking out, said she kept getting visions of Maxen taking away Lucy, nightmares from way back when.”

“My fault. Then. Now. Christ. I’m so fucking tired of paying for shit that I did when I was still a child. Nineteen. Fucking. Nineteen. Fucked everything up. Still paying. Years later.”

“Her. Isabel. My whole family. All of it. Logan—Logan is fucked, his whole head, he hit his girlfriend, just hit her, said she was nagging, now he wants to go overseas to blow people up. Just. Boom. Kill them all. I want to—to smack him, knock some sense into him or something. And then—then you, I messed up the only… the only good thing, I just—boom—blew it up. Self-destruction. Ruined. Everything. Just… just ruined.”

GM: Roderick’s face is sympathetic enough, for most of it.

But his hand falls when Celia brings up him.


“That wasn’t just you being 19,” he says evenly. “You also lied to me about it. I spent years thinking you’d cheated on me, which really fucking hurt, and dealing with that. Then we got back together when you said you hadn’t been cheating, and I tried to work past that, and all my guilt over cutting you out when I thought you didn’t deserve it. Then it turned out you actually had been cheating after all, and were lying about it, and were even lying about how you were cheating. And then I had to go through all of those emotions all over again, plus new ones, plus interest. And I bet that right now you’re wishing you had kept lying, because maybe if you had, we’d still be together. That wasn’t 19. I don’t feel like I can trust you not to always be lying about something.”

His next words are bitter.

Bitter and hurt.

“Like any other lick.”

Celia: “I don’t.”

She pulls back far enough to look up at him, to meet his eyes.

“I don’t wish that I had kept lying. I hate it, I hate what happened, I hate that I did what I did, that I treated you like that, I hate it. What became of us. This. Yes. Yes, I wish we were still together, I do, I miss you, I want you, I thought I was over it and then there you were and it rekindled everything inside of me, but I don’t wish that I’d kept lying, I don’t want a relationship that’s built on lies.”

GM: Roderick looks at her.

It doesn’t feel like he’s thinking of what to say. It feels like he already knows, and is just waiting to say it.

“I wish I could believe that,” he answers heavily.

“I really, really wish that I could.”

Celia: His words are a knife to the gut. It twists inside of her. She’s glad she doesn’t need to breathe; she doesn’t think she’d be able to swallow down any air past the numbness in her chest.

It’s a bubble waiting to pop, an ache she’ll never be rid of.

She did this.

Grief colors her world. Blue, gray, exactly like the dream she’d had. The tinkle of glass shattering reaches her ears and she knows that it’s her heart.

She did this.

Pressure in the back of her jaw, burning in the corners of her eyes. Might-have-beens flash before her vision, scenes of small houses with tiny fences and moonlit gardens, the two of them hand-in-hand, a white dress and champagne flutes of red, red wine.

She did this.

She broke him.


Her family.

Her mom.

Her sister.


Her dad, too. Wishes gone awry.

She doesn’t wish for things anymore. But she wished for him. Maybe that’s why she can’t have him. Penance for twenty years ago. A seven-year-old’s blunder.

GM: It’s not too many more years until Lucy celebrates that same fateful birthday.

She should probably just tell her sister not to make any wishes, given how those have turned out for the Flores family.

“Is that the reason I’m here?” Roderick asks. “Because all that other stuff… hunters you escaped, lick who accidentally freaked out your mom, your brother and sister being fucked in the head by your dad… it’s all bad, and I’m sorry for it. I wish your family was whole and that hunters only went after licks who are unrepentant murderers. But is any of it an emergency you needed my help with?”

Celia: “No.” Hollow. “I wasn’t going to tell you any of that. But then I saw you, and it just… came out.”

GM: “Well, like I said, I’m sorry for it. You didn’t deserve to get tortured by hunters, and your mom should get to live her life in peace. It probably isn’t too late for your brothers and sisters, either, once they’re out of your dad’s house.”

Celia: “Not your problem.” Celia shrugs.

GM: “I guess it’s not. But they’re good people. If there’s something I can do for them, feel free to ask.”

Celia: She wishes he would stop. She doesn’t want his thoughts and prayers and half-hearted advice. She’s not his responsibility anymore. Her family isn’t his responsibility anymore. They’d both already made their plays, she’d lost, game over.

“Okay.” That, too, lacks inflection. As dull as the rest of her is vibrant.

GM: There’s an uncomfortable silence.

“So what did you bring me here for, then? You said it was something bad.”

Celia: Is it uncomfortable? She doesn’t notice. Maybe sitting on the floor on her ex’s lap is more uncomfortable than the silence. Maybe her thoughts are spiraling too hard for her to be aware of the silence.

Maybe she just doesn’t care anymore.

“I didn’t contact you for me. I did it for you. If you end up shooting the messenger, you can call Lebeaux to clean up what’s left of me.”

Maybe he’ll put her on the cross, too.

There’s no judgment in her voice, either. Just resignation. Weary and wary. Maybe she even hopes he’ll hit her. Hadn’t Daddy always said that a firm hand is just another form of affection?

GM: He frowns.

“What do you mean, you contacted me for me?”

Celia: “There’s been talk. Since the trial. That you’re… discontent.”

GM: “I’ve always been discontent with Vidal. He’s the lesser evil to Savoy.”

Celia: “Is he? Your personal feelings of the Mafia aside, is he really?”

GM: “Please tell me you aren’t shilling for Savoy here.”

Celia: “Yes, I wasted my one ‘call Roderick for help’ card on a sales pitch. Buy in now for three easy payments of $19.99.”

GM: He glares. “It isn’t one, but it is for actually serious things.”

Celia: “It is,” she says quietly, all mirth gone from her face.

GM: “But okay, so you aren’t subbing for that ghoul of Pietro’s. So what is it?”

Celia: “It’s your sister.”

GM: He freezes.


Celia: “Please don’t hit me.”

She’s already backing away, either for safety or to finally grab the phone she’d left on the counter earlier.

GM: He lets her go.

“I won’t,” he says shortly. “Now what is it about Danielle!?”

Celia: She rises to her feet, moving swiftly to pick up the new phone Alana had purchased for her. A few taps of her fingers as she returns to his side—in striking distance, he might note—unlocks the screen. She pulls up the photo of Danielle.

Wordlessly, she hands him the phone.

GM: He looks at it.

There’s a choked half-bestial howl as he turns and smashes its face against the wall, his fangs visibly distending.

Celia: At least the smashed face hadn’t been hers.

She flinches backwards, hands lifted in front of herself as if to ward him off should he look her way.

GM: He grabs the couch, hefts it up, and hurls it against the wall with a terrific crash.

Sounds of destruction go up as he mindlessly rips and tears cushions apart.

Celia: Celia watches the destruction across her apartment. She doesn’t stand in the way. She doesn’t get involved. She instead makes herself as small as possible, moving out of his path and into the tiny kitchenette.

Maybe there’s a cabinet she can duck into until he’s done.

GM: She opens one to check. Poorly-placed pots and pans come loudly crashing out. Roderick snarls at the noise, and then suddenly the furious Brujah is coming right at her.

Celia: Celia can’t help but wonder where the fuck the pots and pans came from, considering her undead status. Maybe they’d been here when she moved in and she’d forgotten about them. It’s not like she’s in her kitchen very often—it’d be just like her to shove them haphazardly inside and leave them there.

She has seconds before he smashes into her. She recognizes the rage in his eyes and wants no part of it. His “I won’t hit you” promise ends the moment the Beast takes over. Maybe if she’d stayed still…

It doesn’t matter. No time for regrets.

Celia’s body shifts. Hair sprouts from her skin, a cool steel gray that covers her from head to foot. Her muscles and bone compact, ears rising higher on her head into two tufted triangles, spine lengthening as bone shoots through her skin to form a tail. Brown eyes bleed into green. Nails sprout from the tips of her shrinking fingers, thumb retracting higher onto what is now a paw. Black pads have replaced her palms, and whiskers sprout from her face. Her nose sinks into her skin, lips disappearing as finely pointed teeth replace her own.

The transformation is instant.

A moment ago she was a girl. Now she’s a cat, darting into the open cupboard and pressing herself behind the pile of pots and pans, more nimble and dexterous in this form than she is in her own. She cuts through the “terrain” and into the next cupboard, glad for the lack of dividers.

The pink dress is left behind, formless with her sudden disappearance. It falls slowly to the ground. Another distraction for the raging Brujah.

GM: Metal bangs and crashes against tile floor. Fists slam against stove and counter. Sounds of destruction echo through the apartment as the cat-transformed Toreador hides.

It’s as she’s doing so that she observes some unfamiliar-looking papers in Roderick’s handwriting, lying on the kitchen floor. They must have fallen out during his rampage.

Celia: She waits until the sound of his warpath has taken him from the kitchen. Until he’s on the other side of the apartment. Then her paw flashes out, quick as that, and slides the papers toward her. She uses her teeth to pick them up and pull them into the cupboard with her, tucking the papers and herself away behind the junk inside the cabinet while his wild destruction continues.

Her eyes scan the page.

GM: It looks like a transcript written in shorthand. Individual lines all have a M, D, O, C, P, S, or H written in front of them:

M: Vienna catastrophe. Reports pouring in. Cities being systematically cleared. Hunters hunted.

S: Pyramid stands tall.

D: Matter of time before hits city.

C: Happening again. Sit on this.

P: Have warning. Can sit on it.

O: Will come out.

M: Conclave @ Prague to address.

H: Should send rep.

O: M logical but can’t spare.

Suggestions. P, H can go. D maybe.

P can’t go.

O: Sheriff?

M: Can’t spare.

_H: Gather names list. Submit @ next meeting?

Mo. suggestions. H compromise candidate. V wants Sanct._

_S: Gather names. Submit @ next meeting.

Vote_S: 3:3. M casts tie. Will submit @ next meeting.

C: Throw childer to Inq. pyres.

S: Worked last time.

D: Caused Anarch Revolt.

S: Countermeasures.

D: Won’t work.

P: Must have plan. Will hit city.

O: Baron + Savoy necessary on Cabildo.

S: Agreed.

M: Can’t happen.

O: Hobbles primogen.

_H: Vote?


yea: O, P, S

nay: D, C, H

3:3. M casts tie. Motion denied.

O: Would be denied anyway, nonbinding.

S: Will regret this when hits, can’t coordinate effectively. Savoy + Baron will pursue independent plans.

O: Know already if we do. Might be already.

M: Move on.

H: Prince Vitel? Host Black again?

D: Can’t hurt.

M: Are in touch.

P: Vidal?

M: Is informed.

D: Want here for this.

S: Vote request presence @ future meetings.

yea: D, O, P, S, C

nay: H


M: Will pass on.

P: Blacksites?

O: Haven’t seen any.

S: Houston?

P: House divided.

D: Will ask.

S: More thin-bloods good/bad, draw attn?

D: Don’t underestimate.

C: Don’t overestimate.

O: Don’t like.

P: Some merit.

H: Wait and see?

M: Prague year+ away.

M: More thin-bloods not happening.

M: Mid-City/Quarter still problem areas.

D: Anarchs angry.

C: Exterminate all. Infestation.

C: Prophecies very clear. Doom of us all.

H: Testament doesn’t mention.

S: Exterminate, only question sheriff or SI.

O: Always be more.

P: Keep numbers more manageable.

D: Are Masquerade risk as-is, ferment discontent.

S: Anarchs always turn on own.

H: Vidal plan?

M: More sweeps coming in Mid-City.

M: Advise to make selves scarce again or lose face w/ Anarchs.

D: Can only play card so many times.

O: Did when counted.

D: How big purge?

M: Big. Wants example made.

O: Always wants example now.

The sheet ends there.

Celia: Oh my god.

This is nothing like what she’d expected. Nothing like the note she had kept inside of herself before she could read it to Isabel. This is… this is huge.

She’d thought, maybe, it was some sort of love letter to her, but this…

Her thoughts swirl too quickly for her to try to pin down. She has to get to Savoy. She has to get to Savoy right now and she’s got a raging, hulking, maniac Brujah tearing apart her apartment.

She hunkers down. Her body stretches flat against the back of the cabinet where she hides. Her paw nudges the paper beneath the bottom of a frying pan. There’s no reason for him to look there, even if he notices it’s missing. Once he calms she can shove it inside herself, maybe, like she’d done before.

Now, though, she waits. Waits until his rage ends, until it’s safe to come out.

GM: “Celia?” his voice calls.

“I’m… in control again…”

Celia: Feline ears swivel toward the sound, trying to place it.

GM: From outside the kitchen.

Celia: Cautiously, slowly, the cat that was once a girl slinks from her hiding spot.

GM: Roderick’s leaning against the tipped-over couch. Red leaks from his eyes.

He looks up at the cat.

Celia: Awkward. She’d meant to shift back before he’d seen her.

Ah, well. Maybe he’ll be nicer if he can pet her. Maybe she can lick those tears away. Maybe the sight of her as a cat will distract him from… everything else. She pads toward him, tail flicking behind her, and stops just before she reaches him. She stares up at him with large green eyes. Green, like her name now. Like Veronica’s. Smoldering.

She takes stock of the damaged apartment. Small worry, but things will need replaced.

GM: It’s a wreck. He’s destroyed basically everything in the living room/kitchen area.

Roderick looks at the cat.

For a moment, it looks like he isn’t thinking of anything else.

“Why are you a cat.”

Celia: Is that a question? She can’t tell. It sounds more like an accusation than anything.

So much for belly rubs.

Her form shifts again. Hair recedes into her body. Her bones pop, growing back to their normal size, her muscles stretching with them. Nerves, blood, organs; it’s all there, rearranging inside of her as her frame shifts. Her ears slide back down her head, rounding out again, and her tail disappears back into her spine. Her fangs turn into teeth, except for those fangs, and her claws… her claws are still claws, even when she’s human, standing in front of him in her Jade skin with the rosy pink bra and panties that she’d sworn to herself he wouldn’t get to see. White lace dances across the top, some swirling pattern stitched across the sides.

She makes no move to cover herself, makes no sign that she’s embarrassed of her (lack of) clothing.

“Because,” she says simply, “you came after me, so I hid.”

Celia tucks a stray curl behind her ear. Her gaze moves to the closet. Did he ruin that, too?

She could say something about it. Be as petty to him as she is to everyone else. Make a snide comment about him not having the capacity now to do more than be destroy.

She doesn’t.

She doesn’t touch him, either. She wants to. Wants to pull him into her embrace, wipe the tears from his cheeks. Even after he’d come after her. Even now, with that look on his face.

GM: He might blink right now, if he were alive. But he isn’t and doesn’t.

“Oh. Sorry.”

The closet door looks like it got punched a few times, if the cracks in it are any indication, but it’s still closed.

Celia: That is the most half-assed apology that she has ever heard in her unlife.

GM: “I’ll… pay for this.”

He numbly looks towards the shattered phone.

Celia: “Okay.” She won’t fight him on that. She reaches out, as if to touch him, but thinks better of it. Her hand falls back to her side instead.

“I’m going to get dressed. Why don’t you… find a place to sit, and we’ll talk.”

GM: He looks around for a moment. Gets up. Moves back the battered couch with its torn-apart cushions.

When Celia gets get back from changing, he’s sitting on one of them, leaning forward, his face buried in his hands.

Celia: It only takes her a moment. She abandons the idea of putting the dress back on—she thinks he’d shredded it when he couldn’t find her—and selects a pair of leggings, a loose tee, neckline so large it slips off one shoulder Comfortable, casual, nothing even remotely form-hugging, nothing that could ever be considered sexy.

Unless that’s his shirt. Did he leave that here?

No, no, that’s the name of a band. He does listen to Love & Liars.

She seats herself next to him, legs drawn up beneath her body, turning to face him.

GM: “They got her,” he says hollowly.

Celia: “They did. I’m so sorry, Roderick.” She keeps her words quiet. Concern for him—for his family—colors her voice.

“It… it looked as if she’s been this way for a while. I don’t know how long. I contacted you as soon as I found out. But she hasn’t broken the Masquerade, she knows how to feed… someone taught her that much, at least.”

GM: He looks up.

“Where’d you get this? Where is she now?”

Celia: “That was at a club. In the Quarter. Beach on Bourbon.”

GM: He takes that in.

“How’d you even get a picture. We… make them turn out wrong.”

Celia: Oh.

Oh good.

She gets to explain that his sister is a thin-blood.

“We do. Except when we want them to turn out right. Could be that she knew the picture was being taken.” She’d thought that, initially. She hadn’t wanted to think that Danielle was a thin-blood. Having just been released from hunter captivity, her mind had jumped to all sorts of nefarious ‘bait’ plots.

“I don’t think that’s the case, though. No one wants to be caught feeding. I think… I think she might be a thin-blood.” She says it as delicately as she can. Still, there’s no good way to break that news.

GM: Horror blanches his face.


Well, not blanches. It’s not as if he gets paler.

Celia: Hopefully there’s no more red, though.

Maybe that rage stays inside this time.

GM: “Danielle’s a fucking… abortion?!”

Celia: Oh. Uh. Well. That’s… certainly one way to put it.

Celia flinches at the word.

“It’s possible.”

“It’s also possible she knew she was on camera.”

GM: His face falls into his hands again.

“Oh. Oh my god. Oh, oh my god.”

Celia: “Can I…?” he can’t see her gesture, face in his hands as it is. She reaches out anyway, touching a hand to his shoulder, offering whatever comfort that might bring. If he doesn’t lash out at her she brings him in for a hug.

GM: He doesn’t lash out. Or shove her off. He doesn’t shake, either, like a living man might.

But the coppery aroma wafting up from between his hands is unmistakable. Celia can feel her fangs elongating in her mouth.

Celia: She can’t help it.

She’s not hungry, but she wants it anyway.

She’s quiet for a moment, as if to obscure the fact that she’s popping a boner, to keep it tucked neatly inside her mouth. She’d had a client pop a chub on the table; he’d made it more awkward by trying to conceal it, and when his face had turned red she’d told him, smiling, that it happens all the time.

It does.

It’s natural.

Her body’s natural, undead response.

She rubs a hand long his back, slow strokes meant to soothe.

She doesn’t tell him it will be okay.

It might not be and she doesn’t want to lie. Not to him. Not anymore.

She doesn’t know what to say, really. Honesty comes rare these days, and she doesn’t want to make promises that she doesn’t know she can keep. She doesn’t want to remind him of the faction war. Doesn’t want to linger on anything unpleasant.


“She’s safe, Roderick,” she says finally, quietly. As safe as can be, anyway.

“I won’t let anything happen to her.”

GM: He slowly looks up, red messily splotched over his eyes.

“How… how do you know? Where is she now?”

Then, more quietly, “Who did this to her?”

There’s an undercurrent of menace to the question she hasn’t heard from her former boyfriend before.

Celia: “She’s being watched. To make sure she doesn’t draw attention. But I haven’t… I haven’t approached her yet, so I don’t know, I don’t know who did this.”

“I wanted to tell you before I tried to talk to her.”

GM: “I can’t believe it,” he says numbly. “They turned my baby sister into a fucking abortion.”

Celia: Celia makes sympathetic, soothing sounds as she rubs her hand along his back. “I’m sorry,” she says again, “I’m so sorry this happened to her.”

GM: “I can’t believe it,” he repeats. “You know what, I’m not even going to pretend. Fuck equality. Fuck them being ‘Duskborn.’ Fuck everything the Anarchs say. They make me sick, to my stomach, and I can’t think of a… of a worse thing to happen to her. To anyone.”

Celia: She’s quiet. She pulls him close to her, letting him feel the movement of her head nodding in agreement. She lets him get it out.

“It is. It’s awful. It’s…” she trails off. “I’m here for you. Whatever you need.”

GM: “Do you think we go to Hell when we die? Do you think they do?” he asks.

Celia: “The Sanctified think that we’re all Damned. That our whole purpose here is to serve God by scaring mortals onto the straight and narrow. Taking care of the flock, so to speak. It’s implied that we do, but…” Celia takes a breath she doesn’t need. “I’ll admit, I think most organized religion is kind of… I mean, cultures create religions because of things they’re afraid of. It tells us how to act, how to be. And their underworlds, their sins, their purgatory—it’s all based on their traditions.”

“We’ve adopted Catholicism pretty heavily in this city because of Vidal, but it’s true all around the world. Look at the kine. Ancient civilizations. Hell has evolved over time, like everything else, and so has what it takes to get there. You take places like Mesopotamia, Sumer, Akkad, three thousand years before the birth of Christ, and they’ve got stories of their underworld too. In Mesopotamia it was the City of the Dead. Or… well, City of Dust. A lot like the regular world, but very dreary. Darker. Like if you take a movie and watch it at a really low resolution. That’s what their version was. And in order to get there you had no control over it, none at all. There were only a handful of reasons you’d go to that underworld, and they were things like dying a violent, unavenged death, not being buried with proper rituals, not having your grave tended to properly. You literally have no control over that. So anthropologists think that it’s because of things they wanted to avoid at the time, like war. War is bad, ruins the people, they start saying that if graves aren’t tended to or deaths are violent there will be ghosts, they make their people not want to go to war.”

“There’s no individual, moral connection to where you end up.”

“Then you get into Ancient Egypt, and they rely heavily on the Nile in their civilization. It brings them life. Every year it would flood and if it floods too early or too late or not at all then it doesn’t water what it needs to and doesn’t deliver the nutrients to the soil, so their people starve. They’re obsessed with order. Look at how they mummified people: to stop the chaos of decay. Their afterlife had a whole song and dance you needed to do in order to get to it, all these gates and monsters, and then you meet the gods at the end and they weigh your heart and if you’re not perfectly balanced then they eat you. So Egypt was about some moral choices, but if you didn’t have the right ‘spells’ to fight the monsters and the right answers to the gods’ questions then you’re boned.”

“The Aenied has a whole excerpt about what happens in the underworld, and within its pages you get full-on torture scenes: do bad things and bad things happen to you. We start to get more into the personal narrative.”

“The afterlife… it’s a tool for control, really. We take what’s important. We make it sound important. Don’t do these things or you’ll go to the bad place.”

“But… that’s kine, I guess. I had a dream…” Celia trails off for a moment, gathering her thoughts. “I had a dream I was visited by a ghost recently. I don’t remember all of it, but he said that he’s in this place that’s kind of between worlds. An echo of worlds. Dark. Dreary. Like the underworld I mentioned a bit ago. Said that death row is a better bargain.”

“But he was human, and he became a ghost, so… maybe we don’t go to Hell. Maybe there is no Hell. Maybe there’s just nothing. We cease to exist. Maybe Hell is the absence of God. Maybe the Buddhists have it right and we just go into nothingness.”

“That’s all the afterlife is. That’s all any religion is. Searching for meaning. You have these communities of Kindred who are searching for a purpose—because that’s all we are, ever, searching for a purpose, for a reason to exist, for the answers about why the world is the way it is, why bad things happen, why people die… And maybe, all that time ago, it started innocuously enough, but even as early as Egypt you see people making money off of it. People would sell the ‘Book of the Dead’ scrolls that had the spells and answers you needed for the gates, you could even personalize them for more money, and they made these little statues that served you in the afterlife. Their whole culture was about maintaining things exactly as they were, someone said of course it means there’s work in the afterlife, but if you buy this statue it will serve you instead.”

“So now someone comes along and unites everyone in a religion, says that these are the rules now… it started with the kine, but we do it too. The canons are really, really similar to the Traditions. Rules to follow. But no one was there, so no one can really say for sure. It’s all just passed on orally. Even if a lick is old enough to claim to have been there, how much do they really remember? How much of it is something they make up because it suits their purpose?” They’d talked about this before, with the Ventrue and the Brujah and Carthage. Everyone tells their ideal story.

“As people, we create these stories of the afterlife because we’re afraid of something. As Kindred, we just… modify them. I mean, the Sanctified story about Longinus is… is kind of a direct rip-off of Zoroaster did thousands of years ago—”

She pauses. Maybe this isn’t what he’s looking for. She runs her fingers through her mess of curls, smiling sheepishly.

“Did that, uh, answer your question?”

GM: Roderick gives a mostly blank look as Celia talks.

“Look, the theology, sociohistoric context, fascinating. Any other time. "

“Mostly I was just thinking about how likely Danielle is to get ashed and wondering what’ll happen to her.”

Celia: Right. Maybe she should have saved the history lesson. He’s the only person she ever opens up to about this kind of thing and now she knows why: no one ever really wants to hear it if it’s only tangentially related.

“I told you I wouldn’t let anything happen to her.”

GM: There’s a bitter laugh.

“What, you want to offer Meadows a manicure for her claws when she comes calling?”

Celia: I mean, would that work? Maybe she’ll try it if she ever runs into the scourge. ‘Hey babe, red would look good on you.’

“I’m not as useless as people seem to think I am, Roderick.”

Like you seem to think I am goes unsaid.

But it’s there. The judgment she feels coming off of him for her chosen profession. A long-ago fear, finally manifested.

GM: Roderick gives another bitter laugh.

“You weren’t there for it. 2011. I’ll never forget.”

Well, it’s true Celia wasn’t there personally.

But she knew someone who was.

Ayame I, Prologue
Buried Things

Wednesday morning, 11 November 2009, AM

Ayame: Triangles appear everywhere in nature. Pyramids, mountains, even trees—maybe they’re not perfect triangles, but they’re triangles all the same. It’s a solid unit: wider at the base, narrower at the top. The base gives the triangle its foundation. Strong. Spread out.


There’s only room for one at the top, right? The higher you go the narrower it gets until there’s just one person perched at the pinnacle. The man in charge. President, CEO, king.

Or prince, if you’re a lick.

Orders, like shit, flow downhill. It starts at the top. The prince shits on the people below him, those people shit on the people below them, those people smear that brown shit all over the people below them, too. Everyone is trying to climb the pyramid to get to that top spot, or at least to a spot where they’re not being shit on by quite as many people. Their eyes are all skyward. Heaven-bound. Climbing, hand over fist, to reach the top. A top they’ll never get to. Try to move above your station and there’s always someone there willing to cut you back down to size.

Some people get halfway up and they freeze. They look back to see how far they’ve come and they don’t want to fall. Falling from here means starting over, after all; why would anyone want to go back to being the base?

Some ancient civilizations put their slaves on the bottom rung, no better than the animals they fed from. Licks do it, too. Any lick worth their salt will tell you that their ghouls—their renfields—are below even the kine. Below the literal animals from which they feed. Nothing. Disposable. Expendable.

Problem is, you’ve got so many of them down there at the bottom, and some have been around longer than the licks that raise a hand against them. So they keep ‘em bound with the blood, like a pimp who gets his hookers hooked on heroin. Anything for a fix, right? Sure, she’ll lay on her back, suck a few dicks, let her pimp beat her black and blue—so long as she gets that next hit she doesn’t give much of a fuck. And that hit they get is better than the purest, cleanest heroin, better than all the coke some drug-addled alley-dweller could shove up his nose, better than the oldest, finest cognac from a glass snifter. When that blood hits their tongue… well, there isn’t much they wouldn’t do for it, let’s just leave it at that.

All this to say that the ghouls, the revenants, the thralls, whatever you want to call them, they’re all just junkies of varying loyalty, and once that collar is snapped into place there isn’t much they wouldn’t do for their domitor. So all those numbers at the bottom of the pyramid? The licks keep ‘em there with blood.

Nice to know there’s always someone beneath you, right?

Ghouls got their own pyramids, though. Their own hierarchy. You know what’s worse than being collared by a lick? Being at the bottom of the ghoul pile. No one gives a fuck what happens to the best ghouls; imagine how much less they care when it’s a literal nobody.

So ghouls scrape and claw and fight their way to the top, too. Only sometimes it don’t matter if you’re good as a ghoul because your domitor is a fucking nobody, and if you’re the property of a nobody then you’re a nobody too. Whatever name you’re trying to make for yourself doesn’t mean shit if your domitor gets their head lopped off for violating whatever bullshit rules, maybe lookin’ at someone the wrong way, ‘cause chances are pretty solid that you’re going to be next. Even if they don’t mean to hurt you—rare, by the way—they might just lose their temper. Give in to that Beast inside of them.

“Sorry, babe,” they say, “I didn’t mean to hurt you, really. It was the Beast.” Domestic assault on steroids.

Us ghouls? We take it.

Like the bitch in the white nightie who tells the nurse she fell down the stairs. Ran into the wall. Cut herself shaving. Burned herself on a hot pan.

That last one is even true—they just don’t mention it was their domitor who held them there, screaming, while their flesh sizzled and bubbled and the smell of searing meat hit their nose and, worst of all, it just makes them fucking hungry for something.

Yeah, I know all about that.

There’s a reason I don’t go anywhere without these fucking gloves. You think you got scars? You think someone Embraced you when you weren’t ready? How about the mangled skin on my palms, the nerve endings that were shot after a few seconds of exposure, that gave in and fucking died rather than continue to send that message of agony to my brain. Told I couldn’t mend it, couldn’t use an ointment, and every night he’d peel back the skin and pop the blisters and let that fluid run down my arms instead of fix it. All those wasted white blood cells. Flesh doesn’t come back from that kind of abuse. Fingers don’t bend right. Sense of touch is vague at best. But the way it looks… that might be worst of all. Pink. Shiny. Hairless. Thick fibrous waves of tissue where it should be smooth skin. Like a wave that’s constantly cresting.

Learned my lesson, though, didn’t I?

Never forgot to call him “sir” again.

Monday night, 5 April 2010, PM

Ayame: You hear about that prison break in 2010? Two of ‘em, but I mean the second one. April 5th. Reynosa. Wikipedia says “a convoy of ten trucks packed with gunmen entered the prison grounds without resistance, broke into the cells, and liberated thirteen ‘extremely dangerous’ inmates.” Extremely dangerous. In quotes like that. That’s their code word for what came out of that prison: thirteen licks. Maybe the guys on the ground didn’t know it. Maybe whatever douchebag reported didn’t know. Maybe the guy who edited the Wiki article couldn’t tell his head from his ass, he just wants to load up on Cheeto’s and Mtn. Dew while he builds his editing cred so he can finally put up that fake conspiracy theory that’s been years in the making before it’s torn down within a few hours by the constant vigilance of the rest of the editors, goody-fucking-two-shoes that they are.

Probably a good thing no one knows they’re real. Can’t even handle black versus white, imagine trying to deal with a whole new species. All those people who think aliens coming down to earth will be peaceful are just as delusional as every flat-earther.

Regardless. Those ten trucks, all those guys in the back, they knew what they were coming for. And so, apparently, did the prison guards, or at least some of them. So did the warden. The overseer. Whoever it was. Problem with throwing a lick in jail is that at some point they’re gonna find a window and the sun is gonna ash them. But Reynosa? Oh no. There’s no sun there. The whole compound is nothing but a front. All the good shit is beneath the ground. Those cells down there don’t feel the heat of the sun, don’t catch a breeze. Nothing but metal and more metal. Steel cuffs. Steel doors. Individual cells, sound proof, little torture chambers set up nice and pretty for any lick that’s dumb enough to get caught by the people running the place.

You know why there was no pushback, no resistance to the convoy? Wikipedia won’t tell you, but the guards were already dead. All of them. We’re not amateurs. We got our guys on the inside months ago. This plot isn’t something that someone pulled out of their ass. Got our guys hired in, took on kitchen jobs and cleaning jobs and patrol jobs, and when the time was right they moved real quietly through the whole complex and slit all the throats of the people who weren’t on our side.

You ever see a lick feed from a dead body?

I guess when you’re hungry enough you’ll eat anything.

So there we were, my little team and I, sent in to retrieve these ten licks. One by one we took the stakes out of their chests and told them what we were about, who sent us, all that garbage. Had the blood waiting to stave off any hunger. Some of ‘em didn’t wake, so those we just carried back to let the boss sort out.

Except that last guy.

Might’ve been older than the rest. Might’ve heard shit he wasn’t supposed to. Who knows. He asks where we’re gonna put the bodies of the old ones.

That’s what he called them: old ones. Like he wasn’t some ancient dust-ready, half-rotting corpse himself. Team looks at me, I look at them.

“Show me,” I tell him. So he does. He fucking shows me. Takes me down another level like he knows the layout of this place, like he isn’t just guessing. Brought a snack with him, a severed arm that he sucked from like it was a juice box, and I guess it is to them. Left it withered behind him when we hit the stairs. Two flights. Three. Four.

“How deep does this place go?”

But he just looks at me. I can see his eyes in the dark. Red. Glowing. He can see just as well down here as I can under the noon-day sun, and there I am, shining the flashlight on the end of my gun around so I don’t trip over a fucking rock or something. But there’s no rocks down here. Just smooth concrete. And more security gates than I’ve seen in my life. Row after row after row of them, all set with their own key cards, their own pin codes, easily defend-able from the outside. This lick I’m with, though, he just waves his hand and they all unlock for him, and I wonder sometimes how humans are so fucking stupid. I see the glint of his teeth in the edge of my light, as if he’s inside my head, but when I look over at him he’s working on the last of the gates. A little more effort on his end if the furrowed brows are anything to go by.

Then he’s reaching for me, reaching past the gun to wrap his long, spindly fingers around my arm, and I know better than to pull away from him even though I want to press my back into the wall or bring the gun to bare. I’m still instead, even when he yanks me almost off my feet, even when I see those fangs distend past his lips, when his face, lit from below by that light so I can see him for the monster he is, comes towards me.

When his mouth comes towards me.

Then two pinpricks of pain in my shoulder, daggers sliding into my skin, and by the time the sound of slurping hits me I’m rolling on the best molly in the world. Bliss. Pure bliss. Nothing matters, not my dead hands, not that I’m seven stories deep in some crazy bunker, not this thing in front of me that’s slowly draining my life force, and I wonder why he brought me all the way down here to do it when he coulda just drained me up top, and maybe I make a sound, maybe I ask him that very question, because then it’s his tongue on my neck and he’s letting go, pulling back, and he’s smiling at me in a way I should recognize but my head’s a little fuzzy, so it makes sense when he tells me that he just needed a hit to get past this last barrier, that he’d rather do it now instead of after just in case he can’t control himself, and he gives my head a little pat.

Like a dog.

I lean against the wall when he opens that final gate, then we’re at the end of a hallway with a handful of steel doors, but he knows exactly which ones to open because the three that he picks all have bodies inside of them. Old, old bodies. Corpses. With little stakes sticking out of their hearts. Two men and a woman, all of them with marble white skin that looks like it might be even thinner than paper, but I don’t test that theory by trying to touch them. Mostly I think I might have been brought down here as some sort of offering to get them to wake up and I wonder how far my blood will actually go to fill the three of them, but the thought doesn’t bother me as much as it maybe should.

Until my companion pulls the stake from the lick all the way at the end. Then it bothers me. It bothers me a lot because the thing that sits up on the table isn’t like any lick I’ve seen before, and before I can do so much as part my lips to scream he’s off the table and coming right at me.

Only it’s not me he’s after.

It’s the lick that brought me down here, the guy that thought he was safe. The old one grabs him right by the shoulder, slams him bodily against the wall, and rips out his throat in a spray of blood that splatters all over me, the floor, the stone table. He drinks. He drinks, and drinks, and drinks, and I watch the little guy struggle and fight and scream, and maybe I drop that gun and back into a corner and make myself as small as possible, but the light’s enough to watch the color bleed from his prey, transferring from one body to the other, and there’s finally just a wet gurgle and… and maybe a flash of light, something silvery that slides out of his neck and into the waiting maw of the old one, then the lick who brought me down here is nothing but a pile of ash.

Now it’s another pair of red eyes that are looking at me, taking me in where I’m huddled behind the table as if that will keep me safe from him, and all I’m thinking is of course I die down here, and he reaches for me. To grab me, I think, but he just holds his hand there in front of my face, and I realize that he wants me to take it.

So I do.

Saturday night, 10 April 2010, PM

Ayame: Angel.

Maybe that was his name when he was still alive. “Angel,” soft G, the way the Mexicans say it. Like how they say “Hey-Seuss” for Jesus. Or how the name “Maria,” in English, is a long R sound like you’d get in “rat,” and in Spanish you tap your tongue against the roof of your mouth to make that hard R and cut it off before it rolls too much.

But when he came up out of that tomb and took his place at the head of the organization that was the only name I ever knew him by. Angel. Maybe the “Jesus” from the example would have been a better moniker, rose from the dead and all, and maybe he caught me thinking that once because he drilled it into me that his name is Angel. Sir Angel. Master Angel. Lord Angel. Not Arch Angel—he’d caught me thinking that, too, and it had been another lesson in titles.

When I say “drilled it into me,” I mean that in a literal sense. A power tool. Screws. He told me to sit still while he did it, while he lifted my skirt to find that inner spot on my thigh, the soft, sensitive skin that no one touches. Had me spread my legs over the sides of the chair so he could access the white flesh, clamp my fingers around the edge of the seat. Don’t move, he told me, so I didn’t. Even when the tip of the screw bit into my flesh. Even when I felt it go deeper, so much deeper, past the layers of fat and muscle and slide right into my femur, when blood pooled and dripped out of me and onto the wooden seat, and the lick that he made watch—my domitor—used his tongue to lap it up later, after Angel finished.

Those orders they give you, when they put you under the Imperius (Sorry J.K.), they don’t care how much it hurts. They hold you still no matter what your body really wants to do, especially when it’s someone as old as him issuing the command. His order was a knife to my brain, cutting through what I thought to do and replacing it with his will. I was just a puppet. So even though I screamed, even though my entire body started trembling from the searing agony of a literal screw being carved into my fucking leg, even though I knew I’d eventually black out from the pain, I held still. At least there wasn’t the smell of burning flesh this time, right?

Thirteen screws in my leg to make the “A.”

He asked me, when he was finished with the first letter, if I would ever make the mistake again. He said he had more screws if I felt like I needed another lesson. And I told him—I told him if he wanted me to remember he should finish the job so that I never forget, because what else am I supposed to say in that situation? Beg him not to hurt me? Maybe he’d have liked that.

But he liked my willingness to suffer, too. Said it spoke to fire inside of me. So he put that fire outside of me. Carved his name with a red hot iron across my thigh, right over those screws he’d drilled into me.

And then he let me drink.

I heard some licks say once that they remember every sip of blood they’ve ever taken. That we’ve got a resonance, a unique taste, and if they taste the blood of other licks they can tell you all sorts of facts about them. My human tongue is hardly as advanced as all that, but I can tell you this: he didn’t taste like anyone I’d had before, and when that first drop hit my lips I knew that this was something different, something special. Thick. Heady. Just a drop, just a taste, and it was enough to have me hooked. That collar my domitor put on me? Snapped. Like it was nothing.

Maybe that’s on account of the head that rolled across the floor, though. Right before it crumbled into ash.

Tuesday night, 13 April 2010, PM

Ayame: It’s like this: a childe is the weakest point in the armor of a more important monster. You know who said that? Yeah, me neither, but it’s a real fuckin’ thing. You got all these old ones who are super important, lots of power, blood so thick that mortals don’t do it anymore, prince of the city, king of the gang—whatever the fuck they are, and then they decide to Embrace someone. And that someone is just a little baby neonate. Doesn’t know enough about the life to know what’s right and what’s wrong. And if they show any sort of affection or deference to that childe—if they’re even capable of such things, the twisted fucks—then everyone knows where to hit.

You hear all these stories about people being Embraced by accident, and sure maybe that’s a real thing out with the wild ones in the middle of fuckin’ Mexico, but up here we’re a more civilized people. Don’t just take people all willy-nilly like that. Especially those Sanctified licks, there’s a whole song and dance they do, and woe be to you if you got a fuckin’ sire who wants you to prove yourself and jump through the god damned hoops because you didn’t say enough “Hail Marys” when you were still breathin’.

Maybe that’s just another punishment for calling him Jesus that one time.


Anyway, it’s like this.

There’s a church. The lick who wants to bring his childe into the fold approaches said childe, says something like “join me or I’ll kill you,” and the would-be childe just kinda goggles at them, all wide-eyed, and maybe some stupid ones opt for death, I’ve heard that happens sometimes, but mostly we just kind of nod and smile and go along with it because really what the fuck else are we supposed to say?

“Sorry dude immortality doesn’t sound fun.”


Lotta times they take a normal breather, the kind of innocent fucks that don’t actually know what’s going on, got no experience with this sort of stuff. Somethin’ about the bond of a ghoul and not a good childe and blah blah blah. But for every rule there’s an exception—like how when two vowels go walkin’ the first one does the talkin’ but then you got words like neighbor and friend that just toss up two middle fingers toward that rule—and I guess I was this year’s exception or whatever, because Angel sat me down and said, “you’ve got a choice to make.”

And the choice wasn’t whether I wanted to live or not. It was how I wanted to die.

Ordinarily, see, they just drain you. Lick it all up, take all that warmth inside of you into themselves. Only Angel ain’t into that kind of thing because he didn’t wanna do it that way, or maybe he just liked the idea of making me choose how he was going to murder me so he could see what sort of twisted shit I’d come up with—like that time he made me light the barrel of oil on fire after he stuffed someone inside who’d pissed him off—but when you’re faced with that choice it’s like…

Like what do you say to that?

Is there a pleasant way to die? After all the shit I’ve seen in this life I don’t really think there is, at least not with these people.

Friday night, 16 April 2010, PM

Ayame: A lotta people wonder how they’re gonna die. Keeps ‘em up at night, thinkin’ about how they’ll go, what sort of circumstances is gonna take ‘em outta this life, what’s waiting on the other side. Most people say they wanna go quietly, in their sleep, glass a wine, maybe during sex, who knows.

Look at all the people who kill themselves with somethin’ simple and painless, like an overdose. Or quick, like a gun. No one wants to lay there in agony. No one wants to lose their mind. Like all those old people you see just kind of takin’ up space, sometimes you think somethin’ like “yeah I hope I never get so old that I’ve got to shit in a bag or can’t remember my grandkids.”

Or licks. Right. So there’s only a few ways to kill a lick, and anything involving fire is pretty damn painful—did I tell you about that time they put that guy in a box and shoved him into one of those crematorium ovens? The howling was unreal. You get to be a lick and you think maybe if you gotta die you want your head taken clean off because fuck burning.

Fuck burning.

I’ll just say that again, really hammer it in: fuck. burning.

So when Angel summons me and he says, “how do you want to die?” I think maybe it’s some sort of weird test, and I tell him I might like to be ripped apart by his own hands, and he just kind of looks at me and then it hits me that he’s actually asking me, and then there’s a little bit of panic, right, because what the fuck did I do that he’s going to kill me for that another punishment won’t suffice, and then I start thinking about all the shit I didn’t get to do, and maybe I think about my family a little bit, and the kids I can’t have now, and the books I won’t write and the places I won’t get to see.

But really what I’m thinking about is that he’s going to have to replace me and what if he doesn’t find someone good enough to do so? What if his next servant girl doesn’t do things the right way, or doesn’t know her way around a smart phone, or won’t sit still so he can write his name in her flesh, and won’t light the fire for the burning oil barrels when people piss him off? How’s he gonna get on without that, right?

But I can’t say anything like this to him because you just don’t question a lick like Angel. You just don’t. So I tell him I’m not sure and ask if I could have a little bit of time to think about it, and he says that I got until Friday and it’s already Tuesday now and I only got three days and nights to get all my affairs in order.

There’s a lot of ways to die. Most of ‘em involve the same sort of things, you know. Killing the brain. Stopping the heart. Brings up a whole question of if you’re dead once your heart stops or if you’re dead once your brain stops, but in three days time I don’t really think I’ve got enough time to find out because I’m busy looking into all the other ways that I can die and trying to figure out if there’s any way to salvage this situation or not. And there’s probably not, since once Angel makes up his mind about somethin’ there isn’t much swaying it, so mostly… mostly I’m just trying to think of a good way to die.

Lotta people who do the suicide thing look for a way to make it painless, right. But I think Angel is lookin’ for a show. And these fucks got a thing for blood, so maybe I could just bleed myself out. Or I could let someone choke me. Or let the guy with those big fuckin’ tigers of his feed me to his pets. You ever hear that call recording of that girl being eaten alive by a bear? Yeah, I bet being eaten by a tiger will be pretty similar. Maybe I can strap on some armor and a sword and can go down gladiator style, but then I think maybe that lick will be mad if I hurt one of his pets.

And, absurdly, I just keep thinking about the little picture on my drivers license that says I’m an organ donor, and that’s what I just keep coming back to.

So on Thursday I tell him I’ve decided, and on Friday he sends these three ladies he says are going to be my “handmaidens” and they’re going to make me ready for it. If I weren’t about to die I might have even enjoyed their attention, little like a spa day with all the primping and waxing and exfoliating, and I guess he took me seriously because I’m reminded of all those surgeons who have to shave their patients before they operate. I mostly wonder if they’re going to give me anesthesia, but of course they won’t. Eventually these girls put me in a white shift and I get a little flower crown because I asked for it—listen I’ve kind of always wanted to wear one and I figured if I’m gonna die I might as well die in style—and they take me to the cathedral.

Because why not go out in the place that closest to God, I guess.

The altar has been cleared off, for me I suspect, and I kind of hate that I’m right when these handmaidens take me up the stairs to stand in front of the altar. Room isn’t as full as it has been for an open mass so I suppose it’s just some small ceremony that Angel has gathered people together for, and there’s a guy in a priest outfit that I assume is going to read me my last rites. And that’s… well that’s kind of nice, I guess.

So there’s some stuff that the priest says, but I’ll be honest I’m not really listening because, y’know, I’m about to die. Some words about sacrifice, honoring God, that kind of stuff. It must be pretty moving because all of a sudden I’ve got tears running down my cheeks and the church is pretty cold and drafty because I’m shivering, but I don’t make a sound. I won’t go out screaming, that’s what my rule is, I won’t scream no matter what they do to me, and that thought’s pretty comforting at least because a lot of the anxiety and fear about dying just kind of seep out of me. I chose this. I’m in charge.

Then it’s time.

I climb onto the altar after the priest anoints my brow in the sign of the cross and I lay back, staring up at the ceiling as if I’m not about to die, like this is just a game.

But it’s not a game.

Angel’s there, standing over me, his hands on my shoulders. And he’s cold. So cold. A shiver runs down my spine when I meet his eyes because they don’t hold anything resembling mercy or pity or anything soft, and I’m reminded of the day we met in that tomb when the lick pulled the stake from him, and I think how fitting it is that I was there for his beginning and he’ll be here for my end and maybe… maybe he’ll slide a stake into me too, when he’s done with the rest of it, and that’ll be what takes my life.

And all of a sudden I’m wishing that I’d asked him to drain me instead because then, at least, I’d be part of him, and as far as dying goes the Kiss is pretty mild. And when I think that word—Kiss, capital K—I can’t help but look at his lips and wonder what it would be like to kiss him, if his mouth is as cold as the rest of him is now, and I know I’m not supposed to but I sit up on that table and I reach for him.

I do it.

I kiss him.

Right on the mouth.

His lips are softer than they should be. I don’t get fancy with it, I don’t try to slip my tongue into his mouth or anything crazy, just a long, lingering kiss that takes the breath from my body so that when I pull away I can’t even form words—not that I can even think of what I would say if I could—and so I just lie back down real quietly and keep my eyes on him as he lifts the knife.

And when the blade comes down I can’t help but think that I’m glad it’s him, even if it hurts, even if the fire starts at the point of insertion and spreads through the rest of me and I open my mouth maybe to scream but I keep that down inside of me, the pain buried so deep that no one will ever be able to find it again, and there’s just this sense of freedom, like this life of slavery down at the bottom of the pyramid is over, like my soul maybe finally has wings or something, and I just look into his eyes and as the edges of my vision start to go black I whisper his name.


Date ?

Ayame: People say that death changes you. They mean that when someone else dies the people who are left behind are irrevocably altered by the experience of losing a loved one. The trauma of losing someone who meant the world to you. The anger at their selfishness if they took their own life. The grief of a long, drawn out battle with some disease while you sat idly by while they wasted away in a hospital bed, more tube than human. The hole in your life they left behind—it changes you. That’s what they mean.

I guess none of the experts ever head of the undead, though, ‘cause I tell you what—good luck lookin’ for a fuckin’ therapist to talk to about being a blood sucking monster, our bodies twisted by whatever mystical properties of the blood that keep us animated when we are, by all rights, nothing but corpses.

How do you even start that conversation? “Say, Doc, you got a prescription for this kind of shit?”

There’s no pearly gates waiting for us on the other side. Even if our souls were to pass on now apparently we’re just gonna fuckin’ burn for all eternity for a choice that often had nothing to do with us, and what kind of old world bullshit is that? “Thanks for playing. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.”

Hell ain’t some physical place. It ain’t some metaphysical place. Hell is here. Now. Earth. Demons in Hell? Ha. They’re the people who turned you into what you are. They’re the people who turned me into what I am. They’re the people who ask you how you want to fuckin’ die and then give it to you just like that, and when it’s all said and done with they go, “BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE. Billy Fuckin’ Mays here with another exciting product from Eternal Damnation.”

I don’t remember my time between worlds. That’s what people always ask, isn’t it, if I saw the white light or my withered old grandmother or if I saw the face of God and the truth is no—there’s none of that. No out of body experience. No learning the secrets of the universe. Nothing but drowning in a sea of darkness until the ritual that twisted my blood brings me back into my body, until that heady red fount hits my lips, my tongue, so much sweeter now than it ever was when I was mortal.

And his arms are around me. Angel’s. Holding me flush against him, cradling my body with his, and maybe I might think it’s sweet but I am busy lapping at the wrist he holds to my mouth because I know that I never want it to end. Never. And he’s making these noises at me, these encouraging noises, telling me to drink up, that I need my strength, that I have such a ways to go yet, and I’m thinking why would I ever leave this, but then honestly it kind of all flies out the window when two little points of pain hit my neck. Because I know it’s his teeth at my throat. I know that the ecstasy that’s flowing through me is him, that the burning in my loins and the tightening of my nipples is some remnants of what came over from human me—it’ll fade quickly, that’s what he says—but right now all I can think about is how much I want him, and how with him feeding from me and me feeding from him it’s pretty much the most exquisite experience you can imagine.

Whatever you’re thinking? Yeah. Double it. Triple it. You could hundred times it and it still ain’t enough, because I’m literally in the arms of an angel.

My Angel.


Something inside me. Snarling. Rampaging. It comes roaring to the surface. Pain like you couldn’t imagine, like you wouldn’t believe. Burning? Oh no, this is worse than burning. This is worse than fire, worse than screws in my leg, worse than the smell of my own flesh sizzling. This is standing on the surface of the sun. This is a hundred, thousand, million knives in every available surface of my body. This is being flayed alive. Gutted. Torn apart by hands that don’t care how much I scream because we’re all just monsters here, fighting to survive.

Tight arms around me. Yelling. Someone screaming. Pressure in my chest. Gnashing fangs. Chanting. Fire in my back, my belly, my wrists, my thighs.


The complete annihilation of the self.

Date ?

Ayame: I wake to the sound of chanting.

I think I might be in a dream because this is not the place I died, and I can hear Angel’s voice beyond the murky fog that obscures the stone altar upon which my body lies. I cannot see beyond it. Just a world of gray mist. No stars twinkle above, no moon illuminates the sky and ground. Nothing. I call out for Angel and my voice is not my own: a strangled cry leaves my throat. A moment of silence and then a guttural howl is torn from me, racing up from my withered lungs to sound its displeasure to the world. Drums sound in the distance. They beat in time with what might have once been my heart. Thump-thump. Thump-thump.

I am in white. White gown, white sandals, and atop my head a crown of white flowers, the same that I died in. My fingers brush against the petals of the lilies and they shake free of the vine, shrunken and decayed by the time they hit my lap.

I have no time to wonder at this before the haze parts. The form that steps toward me is like no man or Kindred I have ever seen. Black robes obscure his form, hide whatever horror has come to welcome me to this new Hell that is my existence. The robes do not billow with his steps, there is no wind that lifts them in some affectation of drama, and yet I am chilled to my very core. His face is shrouded in shadows that even my new vision will not penetrate, but even so I can see his eyes. Yellow eyes, slitted like a cats.

Power radiates from him. It ensnares me in its grasp. I seek to swing my legs from the altar, to drop to my knees and worship this dark god as he should so be worshiped, but my body does not obey my commands. I look down to see chains that bind me fast to the altar, steel cuffs around my wrists and ankles, and even as I take notice of them I hear the hiss of steel on stone. The chains retract, pulling my limbs taut until I am flat on my back, my chest rising and falling as I take breaths I do not need. The drums that have become my heartbeat echo the spiraling sentiments inside of me. I am stuck. I strain against the bindings until my wrists ache with the effort, every moment stretching on into infinity. His slow, unhurried steps draw him near, all the while those drums increasing their tempo, their sound thrumming through my veins until it is my own body that keeps the rhythm, the trembling of my limbs and thus the chains a melodic chime accompanying the percussion.

A presence floods my mind.

All at once the sounds of my belabored breathing, the faint chanting in the background, the whisper of steel on stone and muscle against bone wink out of existence. Fingers comb through the soft folds of my brain, a tantalizing touch that I both feel and don’t. Caught as I am—physically, mentally, emotionally—I do not resist his perusal. I know that, should he choose it, he could crush me, that with a mere thought I, too, would be gone from this place, that indeed my very body, my soul, my essence—whatever it is that makes me me —would vanish. I would become another Damned soul caught in the mist. Formless.

Words form inside my head. His voice, both old and young, rasping and dulcet, echoing and infinitesimal.

You are not the usual sacrifice.

I do not need to speak for him to pull the answer from me, the resounding No that dwells within my very bones.

His fingers probe deeper into the abyss inside my mind. Physical sensations fade away. Only he and I remain in the universe. I see what he sees: the memories of long-ago, the suggestions of what might have been. I see my sire’s face. Smell the charred remains of flesh set to boil. Writhe in agony and ecstasy upon an altar that is a crude facsimile of what I lay on now.

You are not a sacrifice. His laughter reverberates through my body, forcing it to twitch and dance to his tone. Your master sends a fledgling to treat with the gods. Tell me, little baby Cainite, did he tell you what waits for you beyond the fog?

Ignorance stills my tongue.

It will destroy you. Go back to the land of the unliving. Your kind has no place in this realm.

My lips part. My mouth forms the words, though not a whisper of breath passes from me.

I am strong, he hears me say.

You are nothing.

He stands before me. His gaze travels from my eyes to my chest, where inside my ribcage my heart remembers how it feels to beat. Blood pumps through my body, spurred along with every pulse. My lungs fill, drawing in the wet air around us; they spasm on the exhale and a cloud of dust expels from within.

You are a puppet with a hand inside of you. Another pulls your strings. Would you like me to pull your strings, little Cainite? Shall I show you how to dance?

Bones crack beneath the pressure of his hands upon my chest. My sternum shatters at his touch. A skeletal finger cuts a blazing line of white fire from throat to groin. He need only flick my ribs and one by one they splinter and crack, spine bowing in half. A touch on my brow lays me out again, panting, and then his hand is inside of me.

Shall I show you your heart, child? He rips it from my chest. My screams do not make it past my throat. The muscle is tiny in his hands, throbbing away as if it has not realized that it is dead, that it is no longer a part of me. His jaws gape open, rows and rows and rows of teeth inside of his mouth that can’t possibly be real, and yet…

And yet when he bites down it rattles me to my core. My psyche splits, rent and torn. Someone far away screams as sanguine drops drip from his masticating jaw. Blood oozes from my open chest cavity. I watch my heart continue to beat inside his mouth and hear his laughter in my head.


Thump-thump. Thump-thump. The drums that sound again make mockery of my lost heart. The mist swirls around us and the dark god fades into its depths as chanting touches my ears.

Hands pull me from the table. I am wet. I can smell blood, my blood, and look down to see that the front of my white shift is saturated. Nothing beats inside my chest. The monster who takes me into his arms is familiar, but there are mountains and trenches between us when once there was nothing. His eyes take me in, mouth descending towards the blood on my chest, and when he tastes it he knows. His echoing howl is twisted in dismay, grief… and rage. Rage that makes his entire body tremble. Rage that crushes my arms where he grips me. Rage that sends fangs plunging into my shoulder, claws into my sides. My Angel has become a nightmare.

Smoke wafts toward us. Burning wood. Embers. I see the reflection of the fire in his eyes and it halts whatever madness has taken hold of him, rooting him to the spot for the instant it takes me to break free. My Beast shoulders me aside and takes the reins, fleeing into the night.

Somewhere in the distance sounds cold laughter and the beating of the drums.

Celia III, Chapter XI
A Mother's Fears

“There’s nothing in the past but more nightmares.”
Diana Flores

Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, PM

GM: Caroline lets Celia borrow her choice of clothes from any of her sisters. There’s plenty to pick from. By the time she’s dressed, the girls seem to have finished their dance lesson. They thank Celia for doing their faces and making them look so pretty. They all took lots of photos.

Simmone has to be reminded by Cécilia to say thanks. She’s starting to look anxious again. Her sister makes pleasantries before spiriting her upstairs.

The others head out to their cars. Diana closes the door behind Lucy as the six-year-old gets into the pink Beetle. She then turns, hugs Celia tightly, and gives a little sob into her daughter’s shoulder.

Celia: Celia explains away the wardrobe change as spilled wine and loose powder if anyone asks, and promises to get the clothes back to their rightful owner after a good wash. The clothes she’d left on the floor of the Devillers mansion are nothing but shredded tatters now; Caroline had said she’d take care of it, allowing Celia time to pack up and smile at the girls with their makeup and photos.

She’s a little taken aback by her mother’s sudden sob. She holds Diana close, rubbing a hand up and down her back.

“Everything okay, Momma?”

GM: Her mom hugs her tight.

“I… sweetie, I just had this… this just awful feeling…”

“Before the lesson… I don’t, I don’t know why, I love givin’ girls lessons…”

Celia: “An awful feeling?”

Does she mean the mind control bit Caroline had pulled? Had something else happened? Her gaze sharpens, sliding up and down her mother’s figure as if expecting to see some sort of physical marks.

GM: Celia’s eyes, all-too sharp despite the darkness, can make out nothing out of place.

“I did see…” Her mom’s voice lowers, “those girls Caroline and Autumn… I saw them being… affectionate. In a way like a man and a woman would be.”

“I guess that’s their choice… I’ll pray for them… the Devillers are a good family, they shouldn’t have to go through that…”

Celia: Oh. So it had been that. Celia is very, very grateful that Caroline had erased her from the memory; seeing her mother’s face crumple and listening to her now is like a shot to the gut. How bad would it have gotten between them if her mother hadn’t been made to forget her own transgressions?

“Well, Momma… it’s like with Landen, right? You don’t understand, but you don’t have to understand. It’s their life. I think it’s very thoughtful of you not to make a scene inside and to offer up your prayers, but we’re still in their driveway, and I know you love teaching Simmone. Let’s not do anything that will jeopardize that, hm? Caroline is old enough to make her own decisions.”

GM: Diana just shakes her head and hugs Celia tighter.

“I just felt so, so awful, sweetie… I… I can’t even…”

“I had to take a breather, before the lesson, and I just felt…”

Celia: “Maybe I can talk to her. It could have been a one-off. I’ll take her to church, she can… say some Hail Marys.” She’d said the same thing to Caroline when the lick had pinned her to the bed.

GM: “I think that I passed out, for a moment…” her mom shakily continues.

Celia: “Well, it’s all okay now. Your family is all fine. That’s something worth being happy about, right? And the lesson went well.”

GM: Celia’s mother bursts into tears and holds her for dear life.

“Sweetie… I saw… him! He was taking Lucy!”

Celia: “What.” The word comes hissing out from between tightly pursed lips.

GM: “I… I don’t know what it was… it was like I was… falling… and I saw him carrying her away, and she was screaming, and I couldn’t get to her…”

Celia: “That’s never going to happen. He will never touch her.”

What the fuck had Caroline done to her mom?

GM: Her mother steals a furtive glance at the car, as if to make sure Lucy is still there. The six-year-old looks like she’s nodding off.

“I hope you’re right…” she finally sniffs. “You, you have to be right. She’s the one, one child, who I haven’t…”

She doesn’t finish that thought.

Celia: “He doesn’t have any reason to come after her, Mom. She’s my daughter. There’s no contest there.” Celia holds her mom out at arm’s length to look into her eyes. “I promise you, Momma, she will not be taken away from you. I will never let that happen.”

She’ll kill him. That’s all there is to it. If he comes after Lucy she’ll kill him, consequences be damned.

GM: “I hope so, sweetie…” her mom answers.

“My leg’s actin’ up,” she sniffs, shifting her weight. “I don’t think it’s a good idea for me to drive right now. Would you mind givin’ me and Lucy a lift?”

“You and Emily could drive back here together, to pick up your car.”

Celia: “I can drive. That’s fine.” She doesn’t want to leave her car here and have to come back, but what choice does she have? Another trip into enemy territory.

GM: Celia’s mom finally pulls away after a last squeeze. She hands Celia the keys and takes several limping steps towards the Beetle, favoring her left leg.

Celia: Celia squeezes her mother’s hand on the way to the car. She’ll text Cécilia or Caroline to let them know she had to leave the car when she gets home, and… maybe one of them can drop it off. Maybe Randy can pick it up. Anyone but her. Coming back to this place… no. She’s had enough of the Garden District.

She starts the car to head back to her mother’s house.

GM: Her mom pulls out her Solaris and says she’s texting Cécilia about exactly that as her shorter-named daughter drives.

“She did give me a really big tip, for tonight, on top of the larger class fee… I guess there’s that,” Celia’s mom says with a shaky smile.

Cécilia had also insisted on paying Celia. She was here in a professional capacity, using her supplies and expertise.

Celia: “That’s wonderful, Momma. I’m glad we could make it work. The girls looked so pretty tonight.”

Celia had told Cécilia she’d put it towards the service for her wedding. She hadn’t felt right accepting the money when she’d ended up messing around with the woman’s sister.

Not that she had said the real reason.

GM: Cécilia had acquiesced to that. They could add it towards the bill.

“They did. You outdid yourself with Simmone, in particular,” her mom says with a less shaky smile. “You made her look just radiant. Like an angel.”

“You’re amazingly talented, sweetie. Beyond amazingly. You work magic with those hands of yours.”

Celia: Celia smiles at the compliment. She’s always happy to receive praise for her work; she only wishes she’d thought to take a photo of Caroline before they’d torn each other’s clothes off.

Next time, she promises herself.

“Simmone has wonderful coloring. I think Cécilia will end up in something similar for the wedding. She was very shy, just like you said. Clingy. They’re very protective of her.” Celia lifts a brow at her mother as they drive.

“I hope I didn’t scare her. I tried to keep her busy with something to do, all those people around…”

GM: “You were smart there,” her mom nods. “That’s always a good thing to do with the nervous kids. Give them something to be busy with. Better yet, feel important with.”

Celia: “Learned from the best.”

“Lesson go okay otherwise? The, ah… that vision you had, was it before you started?”

“When you walked in on them, I mean.”

GM: Her mom’s smile at Celia’s initial words dies.

“That was after, sweetie. After I walked in, that is. But before the lesson.”

Celia: Connected, maybe? But why? She hadn’t heard the blue bloods had that power to cause visions. More of a kook thing, isn’t it? A side effect from the memory lapse? Intentional? Unintentional? They’d talked about Maxen, hadn’t they? She and Caroline. Is it possible his name brought something up inside the house?

But, no, that doesn’t make any sense, and she hadn’t sensed any other licks there that could have messed with her mother like that. Who would want to mess with Diana, anyway? She’s… so sweet. So pure. Minus the fact that she doesn’t understand the gay spectrum, but she’d been married to Maxen for thirteen years, so Celia kind of gets it.

Maybe Caroline will know. She could ask. Not over the phone, though, when she sees her in person. Their next, ah, date. She hadn’t called it a date. But a scheduled time to get together is a date, isn’t it? Or a meeting. Who schedules a meeting during sex, though.

“Have you felt anything like that before while you were there? That’s just so… random, isn’t it?”

GM: “I… not that I can remember, sweetie… like I said, I might have fainted… and I have had bad dreams, every so often.” Her eyes briefly cut to the sleeping Lucy before she adds in a quiet voice, “Since the rape.”

Celia: Her brows pull together.

“Mom, are you seeing someone? For treating stress. Ah, PTSD, that kind of thing.”

“You’re supposed to see a therapist after… something like that.”

GM: “Oh, I just… never got around to it, I suppose. There was Lucy and the others and the lawsuit and buying the house, and all that.”

“It was seven years ago, anyway.”

Celia: “If you’re still having problems then you should see someone, Momma. I can look around for you if you like.”

GM: “Oh, I don’t have time to see a shrink, sweetie. I have Lucy to look after. I don’t trust anyone besides you and Emily to babysit, if I’m being honest, and you’re both so busy these days.”

Celia: “I’ll make time for it, Mom. This is important. You shouldn’t mess around with your mental health. We’ll find someone and if it doesn’t help then no problem, I won’t force you to go.”

GM: “Well, I don’t want you to cut back on your business for me, with it doing so well. I don’t have the bad dreams too often, these days, either. They were worse seven years ago.”

Celia: “You’re my mother,” Celia says shortly. “I will make time for you.”

She reaches out to take Diana’s hand in hers. “Did you have them… before? When you were with Dad?”

GM: Her mom gives her hand a squeeze back. “I… I suppose I did. I was just so scared, all the time, when we were together.”

Celia: “Mom,” Celia asks quietly, conscious of the girl sleeping in the back, “why didn’t you just leave him when it first got bad? The first time he hit you?”

GM: Her mom just gives her a sad smile.

“That never even occurred to me, sweetie. It just never even occurred.”

Celia: “You said he changed after he was elected. You never really went into detail… is that something you can talk about now?”

GM: Celia’s mother glances towards the sleeping Lucy in the back.

“Well, he… just got a lot colder. Less patient. Less kind. He didn’t really seem to care about all that much, except work. He got… testy.”

“I always thought it was maybe being Nathan Malveaux’s #2 man. Star quarterback, and all. He wasn’t really used to bein’ second-best.”

Celia: “He was young, though. He can’t just assume he’s going to get to the head of the pack that early in the game. That’s not how life works.”

GM: “I know. But I don’t think he liked it, still.”

Celia: “Did he ever give you a reason when he hit you? Like. When I was a kid it was over the makeup. Did he say anything..?”

GM: Celia’s mom falls quiet.

“Well… the first time was after his parents died.”

“That he hit me, that was.”

Celia: “…but why?”

“He was sad so he hit you?”

GM: “Honestly, things between them were… were very strained, after that birthday party.”

Celia: “I… sometimes feel like he was a different person, after that.”

“Like I think back to when we were young. He was happy. He played dress up with me. And then overnight… just changed.”

GM: “A lot in his life did change, sweetie. He became a legislator. His parents died. He inherited a lot of money. That’s a lot to deal with.”

Celia: “You ever feel like he used to just… suck all the warmth from the room? After his parents died?”

GM: “I don’t know about that, sweetie, just… there were some very, very bitter feelings, there. Between him and the rest of the family.”

“There’s a reason you never really saw all that much of your relatives, on his side.”

Celia: “Can you tell me what happened?”

GM: “His parents cut your uncles and aunt out of their will. They didn’t take it well. Inheritance is… it’s just so easy for bad blood to develop, when there’s disputes over money.”

“I have Emily written into my will, equal share of everything to what your brothers and sisters are getting, and I’m worried they might fight over it.”

Celia: “They might. People are strange about money. That’s why we set up the trust the way we did for Lucy. Sometimes it’s a timing thing, too… did they change it just before they died?”

GM: “I’m not completely sure there, sweetie. I don’t think they really talked about their estate plans, with your dad or his siblings, and it came as such a surprise.”

“Your uncle Jason in particular really wanted that money. He did not take it well.”

Celia: Celia can imagine. She’d also once really wanted money.

“You and Dad never really talked about it,” she prompts, waiting for the story.

GM: “So, I’m not 100% on what all the details were, myself. I’d only met your uncle a few times. He was pretty well off, I’d thought, like most of your dad’s family was. They weren’t the Malveauxes, but they were all pretty comfortable.”

“He’d moved out to Houston a while ago, I think to work for an energy company, or maybe it was a hospital. Or it might have been to start his own business. Like I said, I’m a lil’ fuzzy on the details.”

“But he was a bit of a spendthrift, or just never seemed to have that much luck with money, and had been counting on the inheritance to bail him out of a tight spot. Or I think he’d just planned to invest it in his business. Like I said, a lil’ fuzzy.”

“Learning your father was getting everything was a real burr in his saddle, anyway. They had some pretty heated conversations over the phone.”

Celia: “And then we just never saw any of them again. Because of money.”

“You and Dad didn’t tell us until way after they died… when did it actually happen?”

GM: “That was in… I think 1997? Your father used his inheritance to buy the house in Audubon. Plus some of the money from selling your grandparents’ home. That place did not come cheap.”

Celia: Hundreds of thousands of dollars… and two lives. The vague suspicion she’d had is cemented into place.

“Mom,” she asks after a moment, “what do you remember that night of the election?”

GM: Her mom is quiet for a moment.

“You mean… the Senate election?”

Celia: “Yes. 2003.”

GM: Her mom closes her eyes.

“More than I would like to.”

Celia: “Will you tell me?”

GM: “Sweetie, why… why do you want to know?” her mom quietly asks.

Celia: “I have dreams about it too, sometimes.”

GM: “There’s nothing I can tell you that will make those dreams go away, Celia. It was a dark night. Just such a… dark night.”

Celia: “I think I imagined parts of it. And… I’d like to know the truth. What you remember. What happened.”

GM: “Sweetie, why?” her mom asks uncomfortably. “You know the truth. What your… what your father did.”

She winces and reaches down to massage her leg.

Celia: “Because I wake up at night searching for a gun I do not have, that I do not remember holding. I have fragments of memories, a mix of truth and lies, the imagination and hurt of… of a teenager. Because I blame myself for not stopping him, Momma, and it’s almost thirteen years later. I want to know. So I can put it to rest.”

GM: Her mom looks up at her.

“Celia, you were fourteen. There was nothing you could have done against him. Absolutely nothing.”

Celia: “Then tell me.”

GM: “Sweetie, let’s… another night, please.”

She glances towards Lucy, then closes her eyes.

“Just… another night.”

Celia: “You said the same thing about Grandmother, you know. That you’d tell me. You never did.”

GM: “I’m sorry, about… your grandmother?”

Celia: “Why you’re fighting. That’s not my point. My point is you say you’re going to do things or tell me something and you don’t. I’m an adult, Mom. I don’t need to be protected anymore. I know what Dad is, I know he’s a terrible person. Not telling me just makes me ignorant, it doesn’t… save face, or whatever you think you’re doing.”

“You’re not the only one with nightmares about it. About both times. About what might have happened. I could have lost you. Forever.”

“And if we don’t talk about it, if you don’t see someone to get help, then he won.”

GM: “I will, sweetie. I will. Just… not now, please.”

Her mom’s face looks tired. And pained.

“Just not right now.”

Celia: “Later,” she agrees.

Celia doesn’t push her further. She squeezes her mother’s hand in reassurance. They’ll get through this.

Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, PM

GM: Celia pulls in at the Flores home’s courtyard. Her mom opens the car door and hefts Lucy into her arms.

“Mommy…?” she yawns.

“Hey, little Goose,” Diana murmurs softly. “Let’s get you to bed.”

Celia: Celia offers to carry Lucy on the way into the house, asking if she should stick around to put the girl to bed.

GM: “Oh, we’d just love it if you did, sweetie,” her mom answers. Not quite beaming, after the unhappy words exchanged, but definitely with a brighter look. She passes off the child to Celia and looks a little relieved to be equally relieved of Lucy’s weight. She still favors her left leg as they head inside, letting the right one drag.

“Aw, fudge, Emily’s not here,” she ‘swears’ as she flips on the lights. “I forgot, she’s spending the night with Robby. I’ll text if she can come over for the car.”

Celia: Celia cradles her daughter against her hip, the girl’s legs around her waist, as she carries her inside. Her eyes scan the room immediately, reflexively, as she crosses the threshold.

“It’s okay, Mom. Let her spend her time with Robby. I can get home from here and get it in the morning.” She hefts Lucy higher on her hip. “Does she need a bath..?”

GM: “Okay, sweetie. If you’re sure. You’ll call a Ryde?” asks her mom.

“’M tired…” yawns Lucy.

“We’ll make it a quick bath, then, Goose,” says Diana, stroking the girl’s hair. “Can you do that for us? Your mommy Celia’s a real pro at this stuff. She’s the best bath-giver in the world!”

“Mmm. M’okay,” Lucy answers with another yawn.

Celia: Celia assures her mother that she will call a Ryde for the ride home. She takes Lucy into the bathroom to get the water running in the tub, setting the girl down on the sink so she can use a wipe to remove the makeup from her face while it fills.

“I heard you did wonderfully in class today, sweetie,” Celia says to her as she wipes away the colorful shadow around her eyes. “And you look so pretty. Did you have fun with your friends?”

GM: Diana excuses herself to the kitchen to “get somethin’ ready” while Celia takes Lucy to the bathroom. The close lights against the small room’s white ceramic seem so bright, and the night so vast and dark outside.

Lucy sits still on the sink as Celia wipes her face. She looks too sleepy to kick her feet.

“Mmm. Yeah. We did… positions.” Lucy holds out her arms like she’s holding a big bouquet of flowers. The five positions are the basic building blocks of all ballet moves. Celia’s mom has taught them to beginners countless times. The footwork is more important than the arms’ position, but that’s hard to do on a sink.

“I’d kinda done it all before, but Mommy says practice is good.”

Celia: “Mommy knows what she’s talking about,” Celia agrees. “She was very good when she was my age. Basics are important. Sometimes people want to jump into advanced moves because they look better, but that causes all sorts of problem down the line. I’ve seen a few athletes at work that injured themselves doing things like that.”

Celia touches a hand to Lucy’s cheek, tilting her face to get the smudge of color on her chin. How had it managed to get down there? Kids.

“How many bubbles tonight? Lots of bubbles? Fill the room with bubbles?”

GM: Lucy gives a short giggle and looks a bit more awake. “Yeah. Fill the room!”

Celia: Celia complies. She finds the bottle and pours it into the water as the tub fills. The bubbles begin to form over the surface of the water, thick and white, almost an opaque layer by the time Lucy is ready to get in. Celia helps remove the leotard and tights and sets the child in the tub.

It’s… weird, she thinks, giving Lucy a bath. She’d done it a fair few times when the girl was younger, but this is… something she should be doing with her own daughter, not her sister. She fills a cup with water and has Lucy tilt her head back so she can pour it over her head, using her hand to cover the girl’s eyes while she wets her hair.

“You gonna be a dancer like Momma when you grow up, Goose?”

GM: Then again, she probably didn’t expect to have a new sister when she was 19.

Or to pretend her sister is her daughter.

Or for her mom and best friend to be raising her sister.

The age of the nuclear family feels well and gone. It got cut apart with a hacksaw. Maybe it was always sick.

There’s also a pink tutu to take off. That’s Lucy’s favorite part of the costume.

“I wanna be a dancer an’ an astronaut!” says Lucy, closing her eyes under Celia’s hand. “So I can do dance moves in spaaaace.”

Celia: “Dance moves in space, huh? I bet we can get you a rocket ship and you can be the first person to dance on the moon. They’ll stream it for everyone on Earth to see. Think you could pull off a grand jeté up there?”

None of it is Lucy’s fault. She’s an innocent, like Celia had been before the day she’d wished for a pony. Lucy is getting to that age soon, too. Celia will make sure that her sister—daughter—doesn’t need to wish for anything. She can do that much for the family she broke.

Notes of papaya and almond milk hit her as she opens the bottle of shampoo. She lathers it between her fingers and works it into Lucy’s hair.

GM: “I hear someone bringin’ up ballet terms?” smiles Lucy’s and Celia’s mom as she steps in, closing the bathroom door behind her.

“Yeah! I wanna be an astronaut ballerina so I can do grand jetés in space,” declares Lucy. “Mommy asked me if I could do one and I could do an amaaaazing one.”

“I bet you could, Lucy-Goose!” Diana smiles back, rolling up her sleeves and kneeling down next to Celia as she helps rub shampoo in the girl’s blonde-brown hair.

“Why, you could leap across the whole spaceship, I bet!” she declares, waving her pointer and index fingers back and forth like a ballerina’s legs standing en pointe. She mimics them running across the surface of the bath, then leaping into the air as she raises her arm.

“Whooom! Look at her go! Lucy’s cleared the spaceship! Houston, we’ve got a ballerina entering orbit!”

The six-year-old giggles and claps her hands.

Celia: Despite the fact that she’s part of the family, Celia feels like some sort of intruder to this wholesome moment. She’s happy to let her mother help out, both by entertaining Lucy and with the actual bath. Celia laughs along with them as she rinses Lucy’s hair with a cup of clean water, then repeats the process with conditioner while her mother scrubs her back and belly and everything else.

GM: “Dancing in space would be an amazing thing, you know,” Diana explains to Lucy as they bathe her. She seems more than happy to have her beautician daughter around to help.

“That’s the whole point of en pointe, Lucy-Goose, to make the dancer look as light on her feet as possible. Like she’s floating through the air. But in space, everybody floats! You would have the most amazing ballet ever!”

They finish bathing Lucy relatively promptly despite all the bubbles. She’s up past her bedtime. Diana sings the ‘shimmy’ song as she wraps the towel around Lucy’s back, holds onto one end in each hand, and rapidly pulls it back and forth over the girl’s wet skin. Celia remembers it from her own childhood.

“Oh a shimmy-shimmy one and a shimmy-shimmy two! A shimmy-shimmy three and a shimmy-shimmy you! Who’s my little shimmy? Shoo, shoo, shimmy-shoo!”

Several encores follow. Celia is invited to give a rendition herself.

Celia: Celia doesn’t pass up the opportunity to sing the shimmy song and do the shimmy dance. By the time the two are done with Lucy she’s already dry, and Celia lets Diana help her with her teeth while Celia heads out of the bathroom to turn down her bed and get her PJs ready.

GM: They’re Frozen-themed. Lucy heard the song and couldn’t ‘let it go.’ Diana comes along after the girl’s teeth are brushed and asks if she wants a bedtime story, but Lucy seems pretty tired. Diana helps her say the Lord’s prayer (“…I pray the Lord my soul to keep…”) and lifts her into bed.

“Who’s our little Goose? Huh? Huh?” she asks as she tucks her daughter under the covers, leaning in to nuzzle the six-year-old’s nose. “You’re our little Goose. You are. You are!”

Celia: Celia helps her mother tuck Lucy in, pulling the covers right up under her chin once she’s done with prayers and in bed. She says one silently for the girl and her mother as well, just in case He is listening and answers her kind. She touches a hand to Lucy’s cheek and kisses her brow.

“Sleep tight, little Luce.” Like loose. Rhymes with goose.

GM: If someone up above is listening, He gives no response.

But that, at least, is no worse an answer than He’d give the girl and her mother.

Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, PM

GM: “Did you have dinner before the dance lesson, sweetie? Are you hungry?” Celia’s mom asks after she kisses Lucy goodnight and closes her bedroom door.

Celia: Celia follows her mother down the hall.

“I did, yes. Randy and I had dinner together while I was getting ready, and after the lesson started Caroline and I had a quick snack. It was nice to catch up with her.”

The memory of her still lingers on her tongue. A mistake, maybe, but a pleasant one for all that. She’ll need to… let Savoy know that Celia’s identity is no longer as secure as it once was. Revealing herself to Roderick had been a calculated risk; this is possibly just asking for trouble. There’s something off about her. She’s not just a fledgling, her blood is too thick for that. She’d disarmed Celia too handily in the bedroom, and that gift… she shouldn’t want to see her again, but she does, both for her own sake and the intrigue. Celia tells herself it’s the mystery, but she can’t deny her attraction.

Maybe Savoy knows more. Or her sire. She’d like to speak with him anyway.

She’ll need to look into it. For all that, though, her trip to the Garden District had been less disastrous than she’d thought. She’d given every excuse she could think of to get out of going there in the first place. She’d almost called to say she was sick tonight, but… well. She thought she’d been playing it safe with the aura manipulation, but this just makes her see that she’s been reckless. This is why she shouldn’t still be hanging with her family. It’s dangerous. For her, for them.

She wonders idly if Caroline has a claim on the Devillers family—why wouldn’t she if she’s one of them?—and if she’ll be able to continue her friendship with Cécilia. Some licks are sensitive about that kind of thing. It’ll be a shame to give her up—Cécilia is one of the few good ones—but the rules are different on this side of the grave.

She pulls out her phone to send a text to Cécilia, letting her know that she might have to pick up her car tomorrow if that’s okay. Her ride is with her boyfriend and she doesn’t want to interrupt.

Celia’s eyes return to her mother.

“I saw Logan the other day.”

GM: “Oh, good! Tell me about it,” her mom says as they head back to the kitchen. “Say, how about some milk and cookies? I’ve got a plate of your snickerdoodles warming up in the oven. That’s always the best way to reheat cookies, in the oven at low temperature. It’s almost as good as fresh-baked.”

Celia: “Ah, Momma, cookies sound great, but you know I’m watching my calories. Have to look good on camera when I do my videos. Adds ten pounds and all that.”

Celia takes a seat at the kitchen table. Maybe one of these days she’ll swallow the garbage sludge to make her mother happy, but tonight is not that night.

“I went to his dorm, figured it was easier than trying to get him on the phone. He seemed pretty broken up about it. Wanted to know how to get her back, but I convinced him she needs time.”

“I… don’t think he should be with her if he’s going to treat her like that, honestly.”

Celia privately thinks her brother shouldn’t be with anyone. Too much of a ticking time bomb. Too similar to their father. Better to find an outlet for his pent-up aggression before he dips back into the dating pool.

GM: Celia’s mom looks a little hurt as she turns down the cookies.

“Sweetie, you’re perfectly thin. If you exercise regularly and eat a good diet, one with lots of plants, it’s okay for you to have some sweets.”

Celia: Of course she’s managed to hurt her mother’s feelings.

“I’ve been a little lax about going to the gym, Momma. And, you know, prevention is easier than treatment and all that. Harder to get rid of wrinkles once they’re there.”

GM: “Well, everyone gets wrinkles sooner or later. I just feel like you’re really denying yourself, when it comes to food,” her mom says concernedly. “You barely touched your dinner when we had you and Randy over.”

Celia: Celia lets out her breath in a sigh.

“Mom, I wasn’t going to say anything yet, but… I have an audition. And you know how tiny those actresses are.”

GM: “Oh? I’m so glad for you, where at?” her mom smiles.

Celia: “Ah, Zodiac actually.” She doesn’t know if her mother is aware of whose studio that is. “There was an ad online for an open call, and I thought, well, why not.”

GM: Her mother’s face grows very still.

Celia: Celia recognizes that look. She is quiet for a moment, then finally says, “I doubt he’ll be there, Mom. Everything I’ve heard of him suggests he’d leave it to the little people to cast.”

GM: “I don’t know, sweetie,” her mom says slowly. “A lot of movie directors… they do things with their stars, or girls who want to be stars, that let’s just say they shouldn’t do.”

“I do not feel safe about you doing this.”

Celia: “You think I can’t keep it in my pants?”

GM: “You know as well as me, Celia, then men don’t always give women a choice there,” her mom says quietly.

“I do not feel safe about you doing this,” she repeats.

Celia: “I understand.” She doesn’t say she won’t go, though.

GM: “You’ve got a thriving business. One you love and which keeps you plenty busy. You don’t need to start at the bottom in a totally different field.”

Celia: “Right. Well. It probably wouldn’t have worked out anyway.”

“Dad told me once I was too stupid to memorize lines.”

GM: “Sweetie, you are not stupid!” her mom exclaims, reaching across the table to squeeze Celia’s hand. “That was a load of baloney. He said plenty baloney.”

“By my count, he’s never tried to steal Lucy because he thinks she’s your daughter, and that was all your idea. So who’s the stupid one there? You’re the one who’s pulled the wool over his eyes.”

Celia: “Yeah, well, I quit listening to what he said about me years ago.”

Except when Logan had told her he was proud. That had gotten through.

GM: “Good. I had to too, you know, when he told me I’d wasted my life on dance. I knew it was baloney but I still just could not get it out of my head, for a while.”

Celia: “He’s a hateful, spiteful man who ruins everything he touches and can’t stand to see anyone else happy if he isn’t the cause of it. He pulls other people down to make himself feel big instead of fixing his own flaws.”

GM: “Ain’t that the truth,” her mom agrees. “But enough about him. You’d brought up Logan. You think your two’s talk went well?”

Celia: “Ah, yeah, I think so. We’re going to look into getting him an outlet for his anger. I was thinking boxing.”

She’s thinking Fight Club, really, but she doesn’t think her mother will approve. Nor is she supposed to talk about it. First rule and all that.

Of being dead, not because of the book.

GM: “Oh, really? That is a good idea!” her mom exclaims. “He had to give up football, to keep up in the ROTC, but I don’t think they do anything that’s competitive in the way that he’s used to. Boxing sounds like a good idea. College football athletes are really under so much pressure and he just needs to, like you say, maybe have an outlet for his anger.”

“And oh, say—if you don’t want to go into acting, how about some cookies after all?” Celia’s mom smiles.

Celia: Celia shakes her head at the offer of cookies, glancing meaningfully at the clock.

“Not supposed to eat this late, anyhow. Bad for digestion and all that. I can take some home to Randy, though. He’s a bit of a fiend for them.”

“Anyway, yeah, I figured… y’know, if he’s gonna hit people, might as well be productive about it.”

And maybe getting knocked around by people who are bigger, stronger, and faster than him will make him realize it’s not an adequate way of dealing with his pent up frustration.

Christ, maybe the kid just needs to get laid.

Rough sex always gets rid of her pent up frustration. She smirks at the thought.

GM: Celia’s mom looks hurt by the twice-rejected offer of cookies.

“Would it be better if I made healthier recipes, sweetie? I get the feeling that Randy winds up eating most of the things I make you, these days. That’s perfectly okay for him to be a cookie fiend, but I want to cook for you, too!”

“There are low-fat, low-sugar desserts out there, it’s not any trouble.”

Celia: “Mom. I’m eating enough, I promise. Please stop making me feel guilty for my diet. It’s like reverse fat-shaming or something, and it’s… really starting to mess with my head. Health at every size and all that.”

GM: “Oh. I’m sorry, sweetie. I didn’t mean to mess with your head,” her mom apologizes, looking a little shame-faced.

“I took some pain meds for my leg, while Lucy was in the bath. They can mess with mine a little, too.”

Celia: “Do you want me to work on it for you for a bit?”

GM: “Oh, could you? The meds have kicked in, but I won’t ever say no to those magic hands of yours.”

Celia: “Of course, Momma.” This much, at least, Celia can do for her. She retrieves the lotion from the bathroom and settles herself on the floor of the kitchen before her mother’s chair, pulling her skirt up over her leg so she can see the leg in question.

The scar tissue looks better. As if she’d ever doubted that it would. She wants to fix the whole thing so that her mother never has pain again, though. So that she doesn’t have to favor one of her legs or limp or take pain meds at night.

Celia’s hands are warm against her mother’s skin. She starts near the ankle, thumbs moving in the small divot of muscle available up front. She has her mother’s records from the hospital somewhere, she knows, but not from the first time. Maybe she should look into acquiring them, find out just how much damage her father had done to the woman. There’s a lot of tendons down here… but it’s higher, isn’t it, when it starts. Just spirals down her leg like a lot of injuries do.

Every time her mother tells her that her leg hurts Celia hates him all over again.

Her fingers glide up the muscles of the calf, gliding first to warm the tissue, then kneading and stretching as needed. Her whole leg will be seen to before she’s done, but Celia starts with the calf. Always work towards the heart.

“Mom,” she says after a minute, “what, exactly, did he cut through? I know you don’t like talking about it, but it will help with the treatment.”

GM: Celia’s mom suggests they go out to the living room. More comfortable to do this on the couch, or the carpeted floor. She leans back and sighs as Celia starts her work. The Toreador might not be a dedicated massage therapist like Emily, but she knows what she’s doing, and certainly knows a lot more than most estheticians.

“He… got through to the bone, sweetie,” her mom says uncomfortably. “Quads, hamstrings, adductors, TBD, and the shaft of the femur.”

“It’s funny. We always got told how big a deal hamstring injuries were. What a… female dog they could be to heal, on account of the poor blood supply, and all that. I always did so many exercises to strengthen my hamstrings at the end of range. Kept the glutes workin’ too. ‘If they’re lazy, something else will have to pick up the slack,’ I once had an instructor who said. I suppose it didn’t really matter in the end, did it?”

Celia: Just like her mom to neuter her language in front of her grown daughter. Celia almost laughs at the expression, but she’s focused on her work, on the way the muscles move beneath the skin.

She could fix this, she thinks. Or someone could. Maybe Jon, if he was still in town. It’s too bad she couldn’t persuade him to part with some of his knowledge before he left. Better if she gets a medical report. Maybe Emily can sneak her into an X-Ray or something.

“Of course it mattered, Mom. I loved seeing you perform when I was a kid. And you’ve been able to teach that same lesson to young students; isn’t that what life is all about? Passing on knowledge?”

GM: “You’re right, of course, sweetie,” her mom says as she works. “It did matter. I loved knowin’ you and your brothers and sisters were out there in the audience. Those were some of the happiest moments of my life, getting to see and think of you the whole time I was on the stage.”

“It felt like I was dancing just for you, sometimes.”

Celia’s mother smiles at the memory, though the look isn’t without sadness too.

Celia: Celia doesn’t know how they treated her mother in the hospital. She can only assume that they were wise enough to suture the muscle back together to fix the laceration; it had to have been deep to cut all the way to the femur itself. Strongest bone in the body, but apparently unable to stand up to Maxen Flores. She wonders if he’s proud of that.

At least, she thinks, he didn’t cut through the entirety of the bone itself. Just shredded everything around it to make sure that his then-wife would never dance again.

What kind of monster does that to a person?

She has no doubt that he would have cut all the way through if Celia hadn’t been home, that her mother would be wearing some sort of prosthetic instead of compression tights and longer skirts. Soon she won’t have to do that; she’ll be able to show off her clean, scar-free legs. They’ll be as beautiful as the rest of her. And if Jon doesn’t get back in time to help, well, she has other places she can go to learn how to fix the bones.

She isn’t sure she needs to, though. She might be able to help her mother with what she already does know. Tendons, ligaments, muscle: it’s all the same to her.

Her hands glide over her mother’s knee to the site of the injury, using the flat of her hand to spread the pressure out over a larger surface. Even healthy quads are prone to sensitivity. There’s no digging with her thumbs here, though she uses the heel of her hand to feel her way through the layers of tissue to find what lies beneath.

Scar tissue. Lots and lots of scar tissue. It extends deeper than the dermal surface that she’d treated, all the way through the tracks the hacksaw had made on its way into her body. Monster, she thinks again, fingers and palm working cross-fiber to begin to break it up.

“Dancing was my favorite part of childhood, Momma. Wouldn’t have been the same without you there, showing me how.”

GM: Celia’s mom sighs again and closes her eyes as her daughter works up and down the muscle. They both know she’s in a pro’s hands.

Any brute can destroy. It takes an artist to heal.

“You were such a great student to show, sweetie. I know Isabel always teased you with that ‘robot dancer’ nickname, but you put your heart and soul into it. Just all your heart and soul. I’ve taught a lot of graceful girls, but very few who gave their all to it like you did.”

“It’s teaching you and your sisters that made me decide that’s what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, actually. Teach. Seein’ how much fun you had, and how much joy I felt getting to witness that.”

She gives a faint chuckle. “It’s not like former dancers have too many other careers, anyway… I didn’t tell you about Naomi, did I, and how her job search went?”

Celia: Celia doesn’t feel like a robot dancer right now. Her legs are long and lean and limber; she could dance circles around any prima.

“You didn’t. Where has she ended up?”

She works while her mother talks, kneading and stretching the muscles beneath her fingers. Did it not risk breaking the Masquerade she would test her theory about fixing it now, but the pain… no, better to have her mother come into the spa where she can use a local anesthetic. Fix it slowly, rather than all at once.

The lesson in patience has held up.

GM: Naomi is one of Diana’s friends from her days at the production company, Celia knows. After Diana retired, she took over as principal dancer. That was back in 2003.

“Oh, actually, I don’t think I even told you she retired, did I? Finally happened.”

“Well, she was 31 then and she’s 44 now. Ballet is a young woman’s game.”

“Or at least one who’s taken really good care of her body. And no matter how much you try, it just puts so much stress on your body.”

Celia: “What happened to Naomi?” Celia prompts.

GM: “Well, at practice, she was doing the usual warm up, tendu, demi-plié, no problem. But when she started on pirouettes, she slipped and pulled her hamstring.”

“She kept dancing anyway.”

“Isn’t her fault, that’s just what dancers are encouraged to do.”

Celia: “That… why? You should always listen to your body.”

GM: “The ballet goes on, sweetie. All dancers hurt. There is enormous pressure just to suck it up and keep dancing.”

“If they stopped practice for every ache and boo-boo, there wouldn’t be any more shows.”

Celia: “If the dancers don’t take care of their bodies there’ll be no more dancers.”

Maybe that’s not true. Always someone to replace them, isn’t there?

“I hope you’re not pushing that nonsense on your students.”

GM: “Oh, of course not, sweetie!” her mom exclaims, almost startled. “It is a completely different world at a production company than it is in a kids’ classroom.”

“But that’s the way it’s been for 400 years, at those. It’s like football. All the ladies there get hurt and soldier on. If you fall behind, there’s always someone else to take your place. It can be very competitive. Not in the same way as football, but… there’s a bit of a masochist in every ballerina.”

“You’re goin’ to hurt for your art. There’s just no way around it.”

Celia: Celia doesn’t hurt for her art. Other people do. She doesn’t think this is something she can share, though, so she just nods as her mother talks, continuing to work the scar tissue.

No wonder the world is so fucked. Everyone thinks they should bleed for their art. Art isn’t pain; it’s the source, maybe, but once you find that source you just tap into it when you need the inspiration. You don’t cut deeper with every stroke of your brush or pen or twirl because it makes you somehow better.

“Where did she end up after retirement?”

GM: “Well, let me get to that. Like I said, I don’t blame her for still dancing. It’s ballet’s fault, not hers, that she was expected to soldier on.”

“But, later, she discovered she had a labral tear in her hip. So, surgery for that. And she had to take a while off. So she fell behind and got out of practice.”

“When she finally came back to dance, Mr. Guarini let her for a bit, then took her aside and said, his words, ‘I want you to look your best on stage, and I don’t think this makes you look your best.’”

“You would not believe how devastated she was. She cried to me for hours.”

Celia: Harsh.

“I can imagine.”

GM: “They have a saying that every dancer dies twice. Once when they put her in the ground, once when she leaves the stage.”

“Anyway, she went to a workshop for former dancers findin’ new careers—I wish I could’ve gone with her, but I had Lucy to look after. And they had suggestions for things like gardener or dog walker or interior decorator, and general advice for startin’ a career after 40, and she just felt like the whole thing was so useless she wanted to cry again.”

“I mean, dog walker! Can you imagine that?”

Celia: “I imagine they pitched real estate agent, too, among the other useless things.”

GM: “You know, I think she did mention that.”

Celia: Celia smirks.

GM: “Anyway, I… called up Mr. Guarini and gave him a bit of an earful.”

Celia: “Oh?” Now there’s a surprise, mousy Diana giving a piece of her mind to someone. “How’d that go over?”

GM: “He gave her a little more time to stay on, at the company. But he said he couldn’t turn back the clock. Her time was simply up.”

“I did put her in touch with the studio I teach during summers, though. They’re giving her an interview and I’m sure she’ll get a job. You don’t need any degrees or teaching certificates, like I needed at McGehee, all you need at a dance studio is experience.”

Celia: “That’s amazing, Momma. That you called him and that you helped her out like that. I’m sure she’s real happy to have a friend like you lookin’ out for her.”

GM: “It was the least I could do, sweetie. I stayed at her place, after… after I got out of the hospital. The first time. When I didn’t have money or a job or clothes or anything.”

Celia: “Well, you’re lucky to have each other. Like me and Em.”

“And I’m proud of you, you know. For calling Mr. Guarini.”

“Natalie, you know my receptionist? She’s having some trouble with her family over being a dancer. Sometimes I think about callin’ them up, too.”

GM: “Oh, yes, of course I know Natalie! Her grandfather is your grandmother’s brother, whatever that makes her. Your… third cousin? Second cousin three times removed?”

“But oh, is she? You should! Being a dancer is a wonderful thing, if your heart is set on it, and a family’s support… just really makes all the difference.”

“Shame on them if they’re givin’ her a hard time for it.”

Celia: “I think she feels like there’s an employee/boss line she can’t cross, but I let her know I’d be happy to help out how I could. She’s got a video posted, you know, and it’s… pretty amazing, honestly.”

“Family pressure makes sense, knowing where she came from.”

GM: “You’ll have to send me a link to it. She should follow her dreams, if that’s what her heart’s set on, she really should.”

Celia: “You could always talk to her, you know. She’s your relative, too.”

GM: “I could,” her mom says in a hedging tone. “But she was always pretty close to Prudence, I don’t want to intrude.”

Celia: “It’s not intruding to tell someone to go after what their heart wants.” Celia’s eyes stay on her mother’s leg. The muscles relax beneath her touch, but none of the work is as deep as she needs it to be to see any lasting changes. “Maybe it’s time we mend that fence, though.”

“Anyway, Aunt Prudence wouldn’t know a good thing if it bit her in the ass, so.”

“She was, ah, aptly named.”

GM: “Eh heh. Well. Natalie never did have a mother, I’m just glad some people were there for her.”

Celia: Celia hums her assent. She’s finished doing the work that she can on her mother’s leg to make it feel better for the moment, stripped what muscles she could and eased what sore spots she found with the soft touch of well-practiced hands. She tells her mother that the IT band is a little tight and asks if she’d mind if she unrolls it next time she’s in the spa.

“Sometimes,” she explains, “the pain comes from the point of origin of the, ah, injury, and sometimes it’s muscles compensating. I have a… colleague in town who might know more about your injury and if there’s anything we can do for a more long term solution. I don’t want to get your hopes up, but you’d be amenable, yes?”

GM: “Oh of course you can unroll it, sweetie, you’re the pro. Whatever you think best.”

Celia: Celia smiles at her mom.

“We’ll get you back to how it was, Momma. Promise.”

GM: Her mom blinks as if just comprehending the words.

“You mean… all the way, sweetie? That could… that could happen?”

Celia: “Maybe,” Celia hedges. “Maybe. It’s… It would take a few treatments, I think, and might be painful, but it’s a new… he kind of combined the Feldenkrais Method with myofascial release, and I guess there’s a little shiatsu thrown in.”

GM: Celia’s mother starts crying.


Celia: Celia pauses what she’s doing to scoot closer to her mother, bringing her into her arms.

GM: “Oh… sweetie,” her mom gets out, “that’d be just… just…”

“This thing with Naomi… seein’ her finally retire, at two years older than me…”

“I still practice, every day,” she sniffs, dabbing her eyes. “I eat well, I stay in shape, I haven’t put anywhere near as much strain on my body as… as someone my age, still doin’ shows. I had another friend who was still doing grand jetés with fractures in seven bones, God knows I’ve not done anything like that in… years. And it… it’s felt like I could still dance, if it weren’t for the stupid leg, and now seeing Naomi retire, like I’m reaching my second expiration date…”

Celia: Celia had once had a conversation with Mel that involved the idea of her mother as a ghoul. And despite Mel’s insistence that Diana would be a perfect candidate—already used to serving—Celia had only been tempted when she’d seen her mother lain out in the hospital bed.

Now, though, she thinks on it again. She could give her mother a second chance at her dream. Not have to hide who she is around her. No longer hurt her feelings about the cooking. Give her an unrealistically aged body, like she’d given Alana. Her mother’s age but she looks twenty.


But no. That’s crossing a line, isn’t it? The same line she won’t cross to turn on the charm, even when her mom is being obstinate.

“I’ll find out for you, Momma,” Celia says to her, running a hand up and down her back, “and if it’s within my power, of course I’ll make it happen.”

Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, PM

GM: Celia’s mom asks if she’d like to stay the night. She can sleep in Emily’s room and borrow clothes, and they and Lucy can have breakfast as a family before Celia goes off to work. Diana is disappointed when her daughter turns her down, but still sends her off with several tupperware containers of snickerdoodles and apple kale lemon dressing salad (“that last should be pretty healthy, at least?”).

“By the way, sweetie,” she asks as Celia gets ready to leave, “did your brother have any news about Isabel?”

“I know she talks to him, sometimes… and I worry for her, off in Sudan.”

Celia: Celia stills at the name, though perhaps not noticeably so.

“He said she’s been busy lately, that she might have met someone at their camp. But nothing concrete, no. I told him of our stilted letters and he suggested an alternative, but it’s only been a night.”

“I can find out more for you, Momma.”

GM: “I’d like that.” Her mom looks sad. “I’ve tried so many times to get in touch with her, but… you know how that’s gone.”

“I’m glad she’s met somebody. I hope they’re happy.”

Celia: “She still hasn’t gotten back to you?”

GM: “It’s been seven years, sweetie.” Her mom just gives that same sad look. “I don’t think it’s goin’ to be anytime soon.”

Celia: “Isabel never was the same, after… that night.”

GM: “She wasn’t. Those just… just unspeakable things, being said about her and your father.”

Celia: Celia eyes her mother. Does she truly believe that Maxen hadn’t touched their daughter?

GM: “Your father hurt us all. But there was never, ever, any abuse of that kind.”

“In his way, he was, is, fairly principled.”

Celia: “…Mom… you… you know that’s not true, right?”

“What do you mean, principled? He… hurt all of us.”

GM: “I know, sweetie,” her mom says heavily. “Lord knows that I… that I know.”

“But there was never sexual abuse, with you and your brothers and sisters. Ever.”

Celia: Celia isn’t quite sure what to say to that.

“What, ah… what do you remember from that night, Mom?”

It rolls off of her, then. The thing she said she’d never do: she charms her mother. The mention of the vision, the lack of memory… it nags at Celia. Just this one time, she tells herself. Just this one time, to see if Diana is only telling a rehearsed lie, or if someone saw to it that she truly doesn’t remember what happened. She sends the impression of a confidant.

I’ll keep your secrets, that feeling says, you can trust me.

GM: Her mother’s eyes swim for a moment, then quaver.

“Hit me, Celia,” she whispers. “I deserve it.”

Celia: What the fuck.

“Mom?” she asks.

GM: “I deserve it,” she gushes, the unspoken words tumbling out under the Toreador’s spell. She starts to cry again. “I was such a bad mother to your sister.”

Celia: Celia does not move to strike her mother. She gathers Diana into her arms instead, stroking her hands up and down her back.

“Tell me, Momma. What’s going on inside your head?”

GM: “It was… her name! Her name that got dragged through, through the mud, instead of mine! She can’t ever come back here, have a life here! Oh, Celia, just hit me!” the freshly-weeping kine begs.

Celia: “Mom. Stop it. It’s not your fault. Pull yourself together.”

“Did you beg Daddy to hit you too?”

GM: “Yes,” her mother nods and gushes on, “yes I did, I was a bad wife, so many times.”

Celia: “You asked him to hit you?” Celia clarifies.

GM: “Ye… yes. He liked when I did that, he said it… gave him hope, showed him much how I wanted to fix things, too.”

Her mother sniffs and dabs her eyes. “Oh, he was horrible to you, to us, but I… I miss him so much, sometimes…”

Celia: Her stomach turns over. If her Beast weren’t such a selfish, hoarding bastard she might spew her last meal all over this poor woman. This poor, fucked in the head woman.

“Tell me everything,” she says instead. “Tell me how it started.”

GM: “Sometimes I pick up the phone, and I dial his number,” the enspelled kine gushes on, “all but the last digit, and the only thing that stops me is… is Lucy…”

“Oh, Celia, it’s wrong, to keep a daughter from her daddy… it’s all my fault, we can’t be a family…”

Celia: “He’d hurt her, Mom. Like he hurt us. That would be your fault, if you told him.”

She will not let him get his hands on Lucy.

GM: “I know, sweetie! Damned if I do, damned if I don’t… we have to stay away… it’s my fault…”

Celia: “Why do you keep saying it’s your fault? What did you do, Momma?”

GM: “I was unfaithful! You’re not his child! And I lied, I lied you were! He was a good man and I built our family off a lie!” her mom cries.

“I took advantage of him, and I wasn’t ever grateful, all he sacrificed, all he gave up, so I could have you, so I could still dance, so I…”

Celia: “You were raped, Mom. Before you and Dad were ever together.”

“What happened when he found out?”

GM: “He… oh, Celia… when he found out, that I’d been… been with a black man…. he lost it… just lost it…”

She sweeps a hand over her leg. Her bad leg.

Celia: “Tell me the whole story,” Celia presses, “everything you remember, and I’ll give you what you’re asking for.”

GM: “It… I don’t know how it…” her mom gestures. “It was after the party, the victory party, we went home early…”

“He just asked me, if I’d, if I’d ‘lain with a nigger,’ and I…. I was so happy for him… I couldn’t lie to him, direct like that, I just couldn’t…”

Celia: There’s a stone in her gut, she’s sure of it. The weight of it presses on her.

“Does he know I’m not his?” she asks.

GM: The enthralled woman shakes her head over and over. “He’d, he’d have killed me… killed you…”

Celia: He tried.

“After you told him, what happened then?”

GM: “He called me a…” her mom sniffs, “a… lady of the evening…”

Celia: “He attacked you,” Celia prompts. “Tell me about that.”

GM: “He’s, he’s right, when we last saw each other, he called me a… used up old… lady of the evening, said no one would want me, he’s right… I was an awful wife, a worse mother, and I’m not even good enough for my daughter to eat my own food! I can’t even do that right!” Celia’s mom cries.

“Oh, sweetie, just tell me what’s wrong with it! You have to eat somewhere, just tell me what I need to do right!”

Celia: “We’re talking about Daddy right now, Mom. Focus on that.”

GM: “Sweetie, please tell me! I just want to feed my baby!” the enspelled kine sniffles.

Celia: “Less carbs,” she lies. “I’m doing a combination of intermittent fasting and keto.”

GM: “O-Okay, low carbs, lots of fat, I can do that for you,” her mom nods fervently.

Celia: “Tell me about that night, Mom, so we can heal together. What happened after the saw?”

GM: Her mom winces and starts rubbing her leg. “I… I don’t know, sweetie, I blacked out… from the pain….”

Celia: Something like shame shoots through her. She shouldn’t be doing this to her mother. She doesn’t remember anything; they’d seen to that, the licks responsible for it. His name flits through her mind too quickly for her to grasp onto, afraid that if she touches it he’ll somehow feel her anger.

He’d fucked with her mom.

The one thing she’d asked him not to do and he’d done it anyway, the bastard. How big is her own blooper reel? How many memories had he stolen from her through the years? How many times had he visited her and taken from her and left her none the wiser?

She holds her mother close, whispering that it’s okay, that she didn’t do anything wrong, that she loves her.

As soon as she leaves here she’s going to find him. Demand the answers he’s denied from her for so long.

GM: Celia’s mother looks mortified as the Toreador’s spell over recedes. As she realizes the things she just said aloud to her daughter.

Her face starts to glow red as she gets out, “Celia, you have to understand… the meds can make me say some very, very strange things…”

Celia: “Mom,” Celia says slowly, “why did he confront you, years later, about Ron?”

GM: “Sweetie, I am so—so—sorry,” her mom answers in an equally slow, shamefaced tone. “You should not have heard me say those things.”

“They aren’t true. Any of them.”

“I’ll stop taking meds when you’re over. Around Lucy. I’ll stop taking them altogether. I should not fill your ears with those things.”

Celia: “Goddamnit, Mom, stop lying to me! I was there!”

“You think I didn’t see what he did to you? Didn’t find the blood? You crashed into me falling down the stairs and now you’re lying to protect him.”

“What kind of message do you think that sends to Lucy? To me? To the rest of them?”

“Logan hit his girlfriend because he grew up in a household where abuse was normalized. Do you think that’s okay? Really?”

“Lying about it isn’t going to change what happened. Ron raped you years ago. Fourteen years prior to whatever set off Daddy that night. So tell me instead of lying to me.”

GM: Celia’s mom scrunches her eyes and holds up her hands.

“I don’t know, sweetie! I don’t know! Your dad… was having a fine time at the party, he just got in a funny mood after… he went and talked with that lady wh…”

Celia: “What lady?”

GM:STOP IT, CELIA!” Diana suddenly yells, clamping her hands over her ears. “It HURTS! The past is the past, I just want to raise your sister in peace! It HURTS how you keep bringing this up! Please, just… STOP!”

Celia: Her jaw tightens, teeth clenching together.

Hadn’t her mother been through enough? Years of beatings, raped by two different men, memories… memories destroyed. She doesn’t deserve to suffer further.

And yet…

And yet Celia’s been lied to her entire life. By these humans. By the licks. By everyone. She is so goddamned tired of being left in the dark and this woman has answers.

Is it worth it, though? Breaking her mother’s already damaged psyche for her own… curiosity?

The charm lays dormant inside of her. She doesn’t need something supernatural to sway her mother to her will; it’s a line she shouldn’t have crossed in the first place. Celia holds her mother close, rubbing her back, her shoulder, just holding her while she cries and twists and yells that it hurts.

“It’s okay, Mom,” she murmurs, “just let it out. You’ve been holding onto it for so long. Let it go. Scream if you have to. It’s okay.”

“You’re okay,” she continues, voice soft. “No one is going to hurt you anymore. I’m here for you. I hear you.”

GM: “I don’t want to scream!” Celia’s mom exclaims as her daughter holds her. The woman’s eyes are red and tired. “I just want to have you over without someone crying and feeling awful, is that too much to ask!? The drinking, the bringing up awful memories, just STOP! Stop bringing pain into my house, into Lucy’s house!”

Celia: Shame curls in her gut, sits there like a lead weight. She’d done this. Caused her momma this pain. Broken apart her family all those years ago; Daddy wouldn’t have shaken the monster’s hand if he hadn’t seen her disappointment that day. Every time she tries to fix it things just get worse.

Mel had warned her, hadn’t she? Told her there is no place for Kindred among the kine. They all have to fake their deaths eventually. They’re not healers; to pretend to be is an affront to their true nature. Despite the cute videos online of “unlikely animal couples,” a tigress cannot be friends with a hare. And her mother is a hare. A skittish, docile thing that loves with her whole broken heart.

Between the hunters and the (beautiful) fiasco in the Garden District, Celia’s time might be up. More pain for the woman to bury her child, but at least then it’s over.

“I’m sorry, Momma. You’re right. I was trying to help. I heard if you let yourself recall memories and release the emotions with them it is like a weight being lifted off, but of course you’re right.”

Celia pulls away from her mom.

“I’m going to head out. Let you get some rest. We’ll talk soon.”

Celia can let it go for tonight, at least.

GM: Diana swiftly gets up and trails after Celia, laying a hand on her daughter’s shoulder. There’s regret on her face, even if her previous words seem heartfelt.

“Celia, I love you. I’ll always love you. You know that, right?”

Celia’s mom hugs her.

“I love having you over. I loved having you help give Lucy her bath, and put her bed. You’re so good with her. Let’s just… let’s just do more of that, okay, and leave the past where it is?”

Celia: “I know, Mom. I know you love me, and I love you. I’m just… so tired of the lies and secrets between us. My whole life I thought I was Maxen’s child, only to find out I’m not. Then to hear that the fight wasn’t even about that…” Celia turns her face away, shoulders shaking as if holding in tears. Artificial movements, synthetic breaking of her voice when next she speaks. “Th-they say if you don’t learn from the past you’ll re-repeat it, Momma, and you had that vision and now I’m sc-scared that I d-don’t know enough to keep her safe.”

GM: Celia’s mom rubs her shoulders. “Sweetie, it wasn’t a vision. It was a nightmare.”

“There’s nothing in the past but more nightmares.”

“That’s why I named your sister Lucy. Because it means ‘born at dawn.’”

She gives a faint, somewhat forced chuckle. “Plus it was a really cute name.”

Celia: “It is a cute name, Momma.” Celia lets the woman think the words are a comfort. It had been worth a shot, at least. She wipes at nonexistent tears, smiling gently as she pulls back. “I love you. You know that, right? Even though it’s been… tough, recently, I love you. I’ll try to stop bringing in the drama.”

GM: “I know. I know.” Diana squeezes Celia again and rubs her cheek against her daughter’s. “I love you too, sweetie. You’re the light of my life. I’m so proud of everything you’ve done with the salon.”

“I’ll make something keto, too, for when you’re next over.”

Celia: Proud. Like Maxen is. For all the lies she’s built. Would that any of the licks she looks up to were proud, too. Proud of her for anything besides her face. Her pretty face. That can’t be all she’s good for, but it’s all they ever see. It chafes at her. Toreador. Barbie. I don’t think a Toreador like you would understand.

She pushes it down, lets it smolder in her gut. It’s not who she is. Just what they see. That’s what she wants, isn’t it?

“Thanks, Momma. I’d like that. I’ll get out of your hair. Get some rest. We’ll talk soon.”

Celia gives her mom a final squeeze. She’s done enough damage for one night. Time to retire, to cease the lies of being human. Back to the monsters she goes.