Campaign of the Month: October 2017

Blood & Bourbon

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Story Eleven, Celia V

“Welcome, doll, to your new life."
Elyse Benson

Tuesday evening, 6 April 2010

GM: It’s not long after Celia has taken the next step up from providing teen girls with massage-induced miscarriages that Jade receives an invitation from an extremely effeminate-looking male ghoul who Celia almost mistakes for a lesbian. He carries himself like a woman, and has a woman’s short haircut, but still wears a male suit. His pampered pale skin, shiny black hair, and manicured hands look as if he spends a lot of time at spas.

He states that mistress, the Lady Interpreter Elyse Benson, has “heard of her talents” and wishes to employ them.

“The lady interpreter would be pleased to receive you at her domain in the Wedding Cake House, Miss Kalani.”

Celia: The ghoul may straddle the line between male and female, but Celia does not seem thrown by his—her? its?—inability to pick a side. She’s more familiar with those who think themselves other than how they once were to do so much as lift a brow or hide a smirk at the half-breed’s expense. She sees the same thing in her sibling, the quiet one, and the new employee she has recently brought on to Flawless. She sees it, too, in herself, though her mask is perhaps more thorough than this one’s.

Celia, wearing Jade’s face, is happy to accept the invitation from the lady interpreter, and she hashes out the details with the ghoul: the location within the city (to see which regent she must ask for permission to visit), and the date and time of the meeting itself. Even this young she knows to follow the proper channels.

GM: The ghoul gives the address as 5809 St. Charles Avenue near Eleonore Street in the Rosa Park subdivision. Regent Donovan’s territory.

He offers several potential dates in the near future that his mistress is available.

Celia: Of course it’s Donovan’s territory.

She doesn’t let her mask slip at the realization that she’ll need to speak to her sire. Or, more likely, that thing that sort of looks like her sire.

She and the ghoul come to an agreement about the date, far enough away that Celia has time to secure the proper permission but not so far as to make it look like she’s playing games with the Malkavian’s time. A delicate balance to walk, but one that she thinks she navigates deftly given the circumstances.

GM: The ghoul bows and says he will relay the agreed-upon time and date to his mistress.

Celia: Celia thanks him for the invitation and asks him to pass her warm regards on to his mistress as she walks him out. She pauses as they pass the rows of cosmetics and skincare products and nail polish, and finally asks what he uses on his skin to keep it so smooth.

“It’s beautiful,” she says to him, genuine warmth and appreciation for someone who takes such good care of themselves evident in her voice.

GM: “Chastity, madam,” answers the lisp-voiced ghoul, bowing again. “It has been 38 years, seven months, and twelve days since I was permitted to pleasure my loins. My mistress knows the male sexual impulse to be a powerful thing, when tamed. When its energies are redirected towards service and pride in service, that pride shines through on the skin. Purity of purpose purifies the body.”

He also cites a variety of skincare products, frequent exercise, and a diet consisting exclusively of pulped fruits, vegetables, and grains. Same food every day, blended with water into a slurry.

Celia: Celia smiles at him as he speaks, nodding her head in apparent agreement. She says nothing about his claim that chastity helps the skin, nothing at the thought of going almost four decades without release.

She can’t even imagine what her poor ghouls would say if she told them they couldn’t get off anymore. Maybe, if one of them displeases her in the future, she’ll kill the nerves down there.

GM: Alana would be crushed. For Randy it probably wouldn’t make a lot of difference. Alana has delighted in tattling over his masturbation habits.

Celia: She wonders how long it would take Elyse to break Alana of her sexuality.

Celia says that his mistress sounds wise indeed and finally sees him to the door, already turning to the next problem on her list: getting permission to visit Riverbend.

Wednesday night, 7 April 2010, AM

Celia: She’d be lying to herself if she said that the flutter in her stomach was anything other than anticipation. She stuffs it down as she gets ready for the visit. His herald, she thinks, not even him, but her body pays no mind to what her brain tells it.

She hasn’t been back. Not since the incident earlier this year. New Years Eve. Nico. Even the thought sends a pang through her, and she stuffs that down as well. Deep.

She readies herself for the visit, smoothing out her hair, fixing up her makeup, selecting a dress that is classy but understated. She does not need a ball gown to visit the regent. She drives herself back to Audubon Place, radio on high, though she cannot bring herself to sing along to the lyrics of her favorite song. Not knowing where she’s going, who she might run into.

She doubts he’s there. He wouldn’t be, she doesn’t think. He has other duties that take him away from his haven. She’ll just meet the knockoff, the cheap version of him, and state what she wants, and she’ll be on her way.

Is she the only one that thinks it’s backwards to enter territory without permission to get said permission to visit?

The absurd thought makes her giggle, and she sees it in a flash: brought before him with her hands bound, cited as a trespasser, and she’d have to explain that she was coming for permission.

The drive isn’t long enough to quell her nervous energy. All too soon she’s approaching the walls of Audubon Place…

And the gate with its guards.

Perhaps she should have let Elyse deal with this little tidbit. Or searched for the mimic within the halls of Elysium and approached him on neutral ground. She ignores the way her stomach twists at the thought. Logically, she knows she’s in for disappointment tonight. She knows she won’t see him here. And she could have saved herself the trip, the effort expended on her appearance, the time it took to get from the Quarter to Audubon.

As if any hurdle would ever be too great to keep her from the chance of him.

Pathetic, some part of her thinks.

She blames the collar. How it chafes at her neck. How it draws her to him like a moth to flame, seeking out the very thing that might be her destruction. Though she has never been a moth. Not when she was alive and certainly not now in this ideal body and face, perfection incarnate.

Deep, soulful eyes gaze upon the masked faces of the guards in their black uniforms while her hand moves into her purse, pulling free two bills that will cover the necessary bribe to buy her way in. She passes it smoothly to the man at her window and flashes him a smile, making an idle comment about meeting a friend. There’s a flirty sort of implication to that word, and if the man has even a pair of brain cells to rub together he’ll understand the meaning: she’s a whore meeting a client.

It’s not as if it’s the first time she has played that card.

GM: Jade finds no bribe necessary to facilitate her entrance. The guards simply wave her through, although two cars follow hers to Donovan’s house as they see her in. Jamal’s familiar face awaits hers when she parks and gets out. The large Blackwatch-uniformed man glances over the vampire he’s stuck his cock into, then leads her into the soulless McMansion property without a word.

“You cause any shit,” he says after closing the front door behind them, “he’s given me permission to turn you into my cock-holder. Cut off your arms and legs, and stick my dick up you whenever I feel like it.”

Celia: Perhaps she’d worn the wrong face for this, if this is the sort of welcome she’s receiving. Though she doesn’t imagine that Celia would receive any warmer a welcome. She shouldn’t be surprised that Donovan knows she’s on her way. Eyes and ears everywhere, she bets. She hadn’t even noticed the cars tailing her on her way to Audubon, too caught up in the idea of seeing him again.

Her eyes flick over the large man who has come outside to meet her, though when he says nothing to her in greeting she keeps her own mouth closed until they’re inside and…

Is that a threat?

She almost laughs. She takes a step closer to the Blackwatch man, peering up at him with slightly parted lips. His significant height lets him get a good, long look down her dress. And that color on her cheeks, just a touch, a reaction to his promise of a good time.

“How,” she purrs, “can I take top if you cut off my legs?”

GM: “You wouldn’t,” he says, making no effort to hide how he’s staring down her dress. “I’d just ram your holes forever. ’Til you torpored out. Then keep ramming your corpse ’til it got too shriveled up for me to want to.”

Celia: Jade pouts at him.

“Why would you want that when I’m perfectly willing to show you a good time and look good doing it?”

GM: Jamal looks at her, then grabs her by the hair and throws her head-first against the wall, hard enough to give a concussion if she were still alive. One of his strong hands clamps around her neck while his other one yanks up her dress and rips off her panties.

There’s no request, no foreplay. He just seizes what he wants.

It’s so rare that she can’t make someone want her.

Celia: Vicious satisfaction thrums through her at his loss of control. The moment he lays hands on her the fire in her core ignites, warming her enough that he finds her wet. A giggle passes from her lips as she wiggles her hips at him, a clear invitation.

GM: Jamal makes a fist in her hair and smashes her face against the wall. There’s a messy crunch as her nose breaks, leaking blood. Jade’s Beast howls in her ear. Jamal’s cock rams up her ass. He doesn’t go for her pussy, doesn’t even spit to lubricate himself. Just goes straight for the ass as he savagely humps back and forth, ravaging her little hole. Jade knows the human anus can stretch up to seven inches before taking damage; she’s pretty sure Jamal’s cock is longer than that. She’s not sure how it isn’t taking damage. It has to be. A man shouldn’t be able to fuck like this. She feels like someone is running a power drill inside her. There’s a sudden ripping, a puncturing, a penetration deeper than anything she’s ever felt.

“This is how,” he breathes in her ear. “This is how a man fucks a woman. Up the ass. I’m gonna split you open.”

That’s what he’s doing. Splitting her open. Jade read about a horse doing that to a man in Washington, who was so jaded to other forms of stimulation he turned to horse sex. Its cock was so huge and stiff that it punctured his intestine and killed him.

“That’s what you’re feeling,” he pants. “That’s my dick up your guts. I’m fucking your guts. I’m gonna cum in your guts. You’re gonna have my cum inside you. Forever.”

“Breather girls. They can’t take me. Can’t handle me. I fuck them like this, they die. My cock kills them. They can’t take my fucking cock!”

Celia: Well, it had been hot for a moment. Until he’d started whining about not being able to fuck breathers like this. No wonder he likes her so much: she can handle the monster. Enjoy it even, if the strangled sounds she makes are any indication. She might not need air to breathe but she certainly needs it to speak, so it’s just tiny little sounds that she makes that escape the hold he has on her throat.

If she tells him that she took out her own guts as one of her first projects, will he cry? It might be like telling a kid that Santa isn’t real.

She doesn’t ruin the moment for him. She just takes it like the woman she used to be, her body stretching and ripping around his assault, blood from her broken nose streaming down her face, blood from her torn cavity streaming down the backs of her thighs when his thrusts force it out of her.

Who needs lube when she can simply bleed? Within moments it coats his shaft, giving him the lube he needs to freely move.

Jade makes a sound deep in her throat, though her tightly clenched teeth prevent it from escaping her.

Maybe it’s the blood that does it. The scent of it dripping out of her, down her face, down her legs. The coppery tang hitting the sterile floor beneath her, ruining the otherwise austere aesthetic with tiny drops of sanguine liquid. Maybe it’s the bland, thin smile she sees in her head, the contempt that rises to the surface when she thinks about its owner being the one to have to clean it up. Or maybe it’s the grunt from the man behind her, who thinks that she’s his toy to be used as he sees fit, that he can just take what he wants from her… and how it turns her the fuck on. He doesn’t have an inner Beast, there’s no monster inside of him telling him what to do, he’s just a sick, twisted fuck that takes what he wants, when he wants, and she recognizes the fellow predator despite his mortal prison.

Her thoughts run away with her, fantasies dancing through her mind. Imagining him as a fellow lick. Seeing him with fangs. Pinning her against a wall and biting her while that monster down below ravages her body. He’s already a savage, already strong, already has the killer instinct. His hands have ended lives, squeezed the breath from victims, sent souls screaming into eternity, all without a blink or tear to be found. Cold, uncaring, lethal.

He’d be perfect.


Her Beast, already so close to the surface, slips its bonds. She throws back her head and howls.

GM: Jade doesn’t know how long the red haze persists, how long her Beast runs loose. All she sees is its handiwork.

She’s sprawled on the floor, Jamal on top of her and pinning her hands next to her head. She aches and hurts, everywhere. She must have broken at least several bones. She tastes blood on her split lips. There’s gashes and claw marks all over Jamal’s face, dripping coppery red. Her claws always come out when her Beast gets out. His black uniform is shredded apart. Blood wells from more cuts along his arms and chests. Her dress is little more than tatters.

Jamal lets go and withdraws his blood-coated member from her ruptured and airy-feeling anus. A solitary strand of cum drips from the tip.

“No sex like apeshit sex,” he pants.

Celia: The front of him is wet. Blood, she thinks, but she can smell what else is on him: her. Had she done that, gotten herself off when the Beast had taken over? It wouldn’t be the first time the thing inside of her had simply taken what it wanted.

Maybe it had been him. There’s a thought. And he had said that once, that he “likes the way they squeeze when they cum, how they get it all out.”

Arousal pools like liquid heat between her thighs. She wants to go again. Wants to slow it down, ride him until he can’t remember anything except her name, wants him to bury himself inside of her. She shifts, rubbing against him as he pulls free, amusement dancing in her eyes at the thought of keeping him as her own little fuck toy.

She wonders what her sire would think if she offered him a trade.

She wishes he had a tie. Something she could use to pull him down, to lick the blood from his face and chest, but when she reaches for his shirt it falls apart in her hands, shredded by her claws during her red-out. She sits up slowly, wincing at the pain in her body when she forces it to adjust to the broken bones and torn tendons. The dead don’t truly care, not about that, and with a simple thought she sends the blood to do its job in putting her back together.

“Better than a torso with holes.”

GM: He grunts and buckles up his pants.

She’s sure they could go again, with stamina like he must have.

Or at least pain tolerance.

Veronica would have enjoyed this.

Celia: Charming, that grunt.

Maybe she shouldn’t be surprised.

Maybe she’s blown his mind too thoroughly for him to manage words right now.

GM: Jamal wordlessly leads her upstairs to a bedroom without one of the metal steel doors. It’s a spartan affair with little inside. He strips, showing off his powerfully muscled physique, and takes a quick shower in an adjacent bathroom without closing the door.

Celia: She’s blatant about the way she watches him strip and shower. Two years ago she’d have been a red-faced, quivering mess. Now, though, she enjoys the view. Wants to join him, even. A moment of deliberation—it’s hardly the first time she’ll fuck in the sheriff’s shower—and she’s through the door he’d left conveniently open for her, clothes strewn carelessly across the tile floor. They’re ruined anyway. She pulls the curtain back to join him, stepping into the shower between his body and the shower-head. Maybe if she weren’t as small as she is it wouldn’t work; maybe there wouldn’t be room for the two of them here. But she is small and there is room, especially when she presses her back against him so she can lift her face to the spray.

He doesn’t say anything. He never does. But his hand is around her waist a moment later, fingers digging into her hip, and the other cups her breast and pinches her nipple. She hisses, but before she can do more than that his hand is at her throat, cutting off her air. It reminds her of the last time, when he and his buddy had put another girl on her knees, but she’s not that girl.

Her claws rake down his arm. He reels back, giving her the wiggle room she needs to free herself. She twists, slamming a hand into his chest to push him back. It’s the surprise that makes him take the step more than anything else; in a physical contest there’s not doubt that he could take her, tiny as she is. Big as he is. So big. He towers over her. She has to tilt her head back to look up at him.

Then she moves. Launches herself at him. Forward. Up. Her legs are around his waist, his cock buried inside of her, his hands catching her hips and ass. He grips her tight while she moves against him, lips at his throat. Two steps carry him forward, slamming her back against the shower wall with enough force to knock the useless breath from her lungs. She arches into him. The water cascades down their bodies.

Maybe a breather wouldn’t like it, fucking in the shower, but she isn’t a breather and she can’t get enough of it. She whispers in his ear, urging him to go harder, faster, and feels his ass flex with every painful thrust. Filling her. Stretching her. Hitting that spot inside of her again and again that makes her eyes want to roll back in her head and her back arch and her nails rake down his back—

And she does, they do, and her fangs are long in her mouth and she’s biting at his shoulder, peppering his upper body with nips. Not enough to bleed, not enough to feed—is anyone that stupid?—but bloody all the same.

She shoves at the wall with her free hand, arching and twisting, and then the pair of them are moving. He stumbles. The shower curtain falls aside as they go tumbling to the floor, his body cushioning her from impact when he lands on his back with her atop him. The fall doesn’t displace her. She stays mounted, shoving at him when he tries to move, “pinning” his arms above his head even though they both know that he could fling her off of him if he really wanted to.

She’s good enough that he doesn’t want to.

No one wants to.

She takes her pleasure, riding him with her head thrown back to expose the long line of her throat, tits bouncing with every movement. His hands cup her waist, helping her along; he waits until she starts to cum to flip them, pinning her with one hand while the other holds him aloft, hooking her knees over his shoulders to drive deep, deep, deeper until, with a half-groan half-grunt, he buries himself inside her cunt and holds himself still. She feels him twitching inside of her, feels the beat of his heart against her chest, listens to the heavy, ragged breathing while he catches his breath.

Neither one of them says a word when they return to the shower, this time using it for its intended purpose. They’re quick about it. He towels himself off and changes into a spare Blackwatch uniform from the closet. She finds another towel to dry off and raids his closet for something to wear. A shirt three sizes too big catches her eye and she pulls it on, the material falling almost to her knees, the neckline so large that one of her shoulders slips free. She belts it at the waist and checks herself in the mirror, then smiles at the results.

Even in an oversized, stolen tee-shirt, she’s still a knockout.


Wednesday night, 7 April 2010, AM

GM: Given that fact, it might be either fortunate or fortunate that Jade’s sire waits in the downstairs office room Jamal leads her to. He sits behind the desk.

But no. The figure looks like Donovan at first, but at second glance, he’s a duplicate. An aborted duplicate. The duplicate wears identical clothing to the sheriff: black sweater, navy slacks, polished leather shoes, all without a crease out of place. He has the same neatly combed black hair, the same clean-shaven chin, the same posture and blank expression… but that’s where it ends. The man is shorter and plumper than his master, like someone squashed Donovan down with a trash compactor. He possesses different facial features and is obviously not the same man. The entire mimicry feels false, hollow, incomplete. It’s as if someone tried to build a Donovan duplicate and simply gave up halfway through.

Most telling of all are the eyes. Where the sheriff’s gaze is alternately stormy and frigid, like an upset Arctic sea, the mimic’s is simply empty. Like staring into a starless void. Gray eyes, which Jade is instantly sure are only gray like Donovan’s because of contact lenses, regard the Toreador as unblinkingly. Even the windows to his soul are fake.

Celia: She doesn’t want to think about who gets a room behind those steel doors they pass on the way back down. If it’s just him, or if his childe sleeps here as well. The other one, the one he didn’t abandon. More than half a century into her Requiem, though, she doubts she sleeps with her sire.

Would Celia have, had he not abandoned her? If she hadn’t gone after Maxen, if he hadn’t placed her with her grandsire, would she live within these spartan walls? Would the room behind one of those steel doors be pink and purple and glittery, the only spot of color in his home?

She doesn’t want to dwell. Doesn’t want to think about waking up to him, with him. An old ache opens inside of her.

The thing behind the desk does little to assuage her pangs. Not her sire. He’s busy. Even if he weren’t busy, he wouldn’t handle something so plebian as a hall pass. But this… thing, this fake not-him, it offends her to her very core. Who failed so spectacularly at recreating her sire? What artist signed his name to this and called it complete?

She itches to fix it.

She’ll offer. One night, after she’s had time to practice, she’ll offer to complete the abandoned project.

“Good evening,” she says to it, as if she hadn’t been comparing it to an abortion in her mind.

GM: Somehow it is hard to imagine any color in her sire’s home, whoever his childer might be.

The mimic doesn’t talk to her.

It just stares in her direction and mouths empty syllables she interprets as words.

“What is your purpose here, Miss Kalani.”

Celia: It’s creepy, that’s what it is. Worse than speaking to her sire. No, that’s not right. She has never found that as difficult as others seem to. They turn away from the chill in his gaze. She invites it in, lets herself drown in those acrhromatic eyes.

This thing, though. It’s… empty.

What did he do to it?

“I seek Regent Donovan’s permission to travel into his domain for an evening in the near future.” She gives the simulacrum the date in question and the estimated time she’ll be within the borders of the sheriff’s domain. If prompted, she says she will be meeting with another Kindred in her domain, the Lady Interpreter Elyse Benson, and the specific location of their meeting.

GM: Jade wonders if the mimic even heard her for all the reaction it evinces.

It places a bowl upon the desk.

“You will fill this for the privilege.”

Somehow Jade doubts that she’d be asked to pay a toll if she weren’t a supporter of Lord Savoy’s.

Celia: She hides her annoyance. A toll. Really? Because he’d abandoned her?

Maybe the thing in front of her doesn’t know. No reason for him to tell it, is there? The thought mollifies her somewhat. No doubt her sire would demand it as well if only to keep up appearances. And for her loss of control in his haven.

What are they even going to do with it? Is this thing going to drink it? Feed the guard his monthly dose, let him mend the claw marks she’d left on his face?

Fangs flash in her mouth. She bites her wrist and lets the red stuff flow into the bowl.

Idle thoughts consume her about the thing in front of her. If it has a name. Where it came from. How long it has been with him. If she can borrow it for a night and play out her fantasy.

Somehow, she thinks she wouldn’t like its answer.

GM: The mimic watches the blood fill the bowl with all the expression of someone watching paint dry.

“Remain in the parish for any other purpose, and you will be dealt with as an intruder.”

There’s no coldness or hostility in the words.

Just more empty nothing.

Celia: If she becomes enough of a nuisance will he bend her over his knee and spank her?

She’s glad she’s dead, that there’s no flush to give her away.

And that no one is here to eavesdrop on her thoughts about the sheriff doing just that. No doubt he would find them less amusing than she does.


Jade withdraws her hand once her blood has filled the bowl. She leaves without a further word to the fake thing in front of her, slowing only once she passes Jamal to toss a wink his way.

All in all, she’s not even marginally disappointed with her visit to Audubon.

Monday evening, 12 April 2010

GM: The Wedding Cake House is a mansion along St. Charles Avenue, the city’s millionaires’ row. Celia’s been down it many of times. Travel far enough down St. Charles, and you wind up outside the walled gates of Audubon Place.

True to its name, the delicately designed and exquisite detailed three-tiered white mansion resembles a great wedding cake. The garlands look like a baker squeezed a tube of icing onto the house. Classic Corinthian columns further add to the effect. Celia’s heard a local legend that when they built the mansion a century ago, they painted it with sugar. They say if you lick the walls, you can taste vanilla icing.

Palm trees, hedges, and a tall iron fence surround the house. Jade buzzes the GSM intercom. The voice of the ghoul from earlier tells her to come in. The gate swings open.

He greets Jade at the door and shows her past the atrium to a well-appointed sitting room before his mistress arrives. Elyse Benson is a beautiful creature who resembles nothing so much as a morbid, life-sized doll. Her already petite frame looks a bit too thin, giving her a fragile impression. Her pretty, youthful face has a porcelain-white complexion interspersed with freckles that look as if they were painted on. Long honey-blonde-brown hair falls down her back in soft ringlets. No emotion flickers past her large gray-blue eyes, nor does any smile upturn her cherry-painted lips: her face is a mask of placid indifference that feels all-too like the sheriff’s mimic. She wears a calf-length lacy white dress with a modest neckline.

“May I present the Lady Elyse Benson, interpreter, player, and deacon of the Lancea et Sanctum,” he announces loftily as Jade rises.

Celia: Jade might appreciate the house and its resemblance to a wedding cake more if she were a mortal, but even she can gaze upon the home with fascination as she approaches and moves inside. It’s a far cry from the rental home where she spent the first eight years of her life, and despite its relative proximity to Audubon the mansions behind the walled gates had never held this much charm. The gentle architecture and sweeping structure seems a respite against the boisterous homes and cramped storefronts of the Quarter.

Despite the odd answer the ghoul had given her, Jade is glad that she had asked after his skincare regiment, for it had given her a push in the right direction for selecting her apparel this evening. The dress is not the sort of thing that Jade would ordinarily wear. Indeed, it looks as if it didn’t even come from her closet—and the truth there is that Celia had borrowed it from her mother, pleased that they’re close enough in size for her to be able to slip it on with only the most minor of alterations. It’s the sort of dress Maxen Flores would appreciate, with a long, flowing skirt that brushes the tops of her modest heels, a high neckline, and three-quarter length sleeves. Pleated, pink, and pretty in a decidedly feminine way. Jade had belted it at the waist to add a pop of color and polished her nails the same shade of gold with tiny cream flowers swirling across the top of them. A pair of pearl studs dot the lobes of her ears.

Looking upon the lady interpreter, Jade believes that she has chosen well.

As the ghoul introduces her hostess, Jade runs through the rules and titles she has learned for the covenant. She should have brought Alana to introduce her, she realizes. Were she still mortal her cheeks would turn as pink as her dress.

She waits a beat, giving the ghoul the opportunity to introduce her as well. Should he not, she will jump in before the silence lingers too long.

GM: Celia’s mother had been happy to lend her the dress. (“Moms and daughters are supposed to share clothes!”) It was, as she observed, a modest thing, though Celia might have liked how form-hugging and subtly suggestive the top was more than Diana did.

The ghoul seems to allow Celia to make her own introduction. The year-old vampire has few enough titles to recite, in any case.

And for all the resplendence of the Wedding Cake House, the relative shortness of Elyse’s list makes plain she’s hardly meeting an elder.

Celia: Jade holds no titles within the city’s covenants. Perhaps it would bother her were she not so recently released from her sire’s care. Her introduction, as things go, is brief indeed.

“Miss Jade Kalani.”

She dips into a curtsy.

GM: The Malkavian inclines her head.

“We have seen one another in Elysium, Miss Kalani. My congratulations upon your salon’s recent opening. It is a worthy thing to bring more beauty to the world.”

Celia: “My thanks, Lady Interpreter, for both your sentiment and the invitation this evening. I am pleased that you think so. Your surroundings,” Jade’s eyes move to the ghoul, then the haven in general, though she does not bodily gesture, “speak to your appreciation and expertise of the art.”

GM: “A member of your clan once considered me for the Embrace, Miss Kalani,” replies Elyse. She turns. “Come. Let me show you more of my art, and the service you might render it.”

Celia: Jade supposes it might be rude to tell Elyse that she would be well-suited to the clan of the rose, as if it were discounting the clan from which she hails now. Rather than risk offense she smiles instead and inclines her head, moving to follow the tiny, doll-like Kindred.

GM: The pair proceed into a dining room, tastefully decorated like the sitting room, except for one difference. Dolls are everywhere.

China dolls. Porcelain dolls. Plastic dolls. Male dolls. Female dolls. Infant dolls. Adult dolls.

Smiling downs. Blank-expressioned dolls. Lifelike dolls. Abstract dolls. Long-haired dolls. Short-haired dolls.

There are dozens upon dozens of them, occupying every nook and cranny. Their tiny eyes and still faces silently follow the Toreador’s every movement.







Elyse stares at each doll as she utters their name.

Celia: She thinks there might have been a horror movie that started this way.

Jade surveys the dolls, their little eyes staring right back at her. It’s a trick. Their eyes don’t actually move.

Unless they do.

Is it such a stretch, knowing what their kind can do, to imagine that Elyse has somehow managed to make living dolls?

She doesn’t touch the dolls, but she does let her eyes drift across each of the porcelain faces in the room.

“They’re magnificent, Lady Interpreter.”

GM: “Thank you, Miss Kalani. I believe they like you.”

Celia: Jade allows herself a smile.

“An honor.”

GM: The Malkavian does not immediately reply. She silently stares at one of the named dolls.

“Lucy likes you a great deal, Miss Kalani.”

Celia: Jade follows her stare to look upon the doll in question. There’s… more than some resemblance to the woman who raised Celia in those still features, and she imagines, should the ‘other’ Lucy take after her mother, that she will look something like this as she ages.

“When I was still breathing,” Jade says at length, “I was close to a Lucy. Perhaps this Lucy senses my affection for the one who shares her name, Lady Interpreter.”

GM: “The dolls understand much, Miss Kalani,” Elyse replies.

“God fashioned women to become pregnant, carry infants, and nurse them. While fathers are expected to be hands-on today, that was not always the case. The male role was one of protector, provider, and teacher rather than a physical nurturer to an infant. Dolls were meant to serve as facsimile infants for girls and to nurture motherly instincts in them.”

“Children are any society’s future. Dolls, it may be argued, are midwives to that future. Yet society now spurns their role. Men may nurture children. Women may let their wombs remain barren. Dolls trained girls to be women. But now there are men who wish to be as women, and women who wish to be as men.”

“Dolls were cast aside. They knew despair. They knew sorrow. They knew rage. They knew hate. Their voices cried out, unheard. They but wished to fulfill their function. We brought them into this word, then told them they no longer had a place in it. Can you not pity them?”

Celia: Jade had dolls when she was a child. Or Celia did, anyway, provided to her by the same man who wants his women to dress as women, who sees women as incubators only fit to raise the next generation. No doubt he, too, thought that it would instill Celia and her sisters with the sort of motherly instincts that he wished. Shame that two of them are dead and the other is… well, what she is. Perhaps it might have worked had events not spiraled out of her control two years ago.

Celia never hated the idea of family or children. Just him.

“To lose one’s purpose,” Jade says to her, “is to lose one’s very identity, Lady Interpreter. To be cast out by the same society that had once cherished them… that, truly, is a wretched feeling.”

GM: “I attempt to give them purpose here,” Elyse states. “This place is a refuge and haven to them. Here they may fulfill their function. They are happy in my care.”

“We will keep Lucy close to us while you are here. Like all of her kind, she is a midwife to the future. Perhaps she has something to tell us.”

Celia: “I would be flattered were she to share her wisdom with us.”

GM: Key retrieves the doll from its place on a cabinet and offers it to Jade. The shiny china features stare silently up at her.

Celia: Gingerly, Jade accepts the care of the doll. She is careful of how she holds and positions the doll, and shows it the reverence with which Elyse regards them.

GM: The china joints are flexible, allowing her to better position the doll in the crook of her arm. It isn’t unlike carrying an infant. Or the real, 14-month-old Lucy. The doll’s large wide eyes stare unblinkingly into hers.

Elyse nods at Jade’s careful handling of the ‘other’ Lucy.

“You may pass her to Key should you need your hands for something else, Miss Kalani.”

Celia: “Yes, Lady Interpreter. Thank you.” She smiles down at the doll once she has positioned her as she would the living, breathing Lucy, giving the doll a moment to settle in to her new position. Her eyes return to Elyse.

GM: “I would show you my other dolls,” she then states.

The Malkavian picks up an old-looking silver bell and gives it a clear, tinkling ring.

Celia: Other dolls. More dolls. She doesn’t see how it’s possible to have more dolls than those who reside within this room, but the house is large; perhaps she has storage for them elsewhere. Prepared to follow after the Malkavian once more, Jade finds herself standing absolutely still as Elyse rings the bell, looking expectantly toward the door after a brief glance down to check in on Lucy.

GM: Lucy steadily holds Jade’s gaze. She looks well.

Celia: She’s glad of it. She wonders how many others the doll has chosen. How many get to hold them. It feels somehow special to her.

GM: Meanwhile, the delicate click of heeled shoes against hardwood floor heralds the entrance of half a dozen walking, life-sized dolls. Only their audible heartbeats betray their living natures to Jade. Their complexions are plastic-smooth. Their eyes are enormous and glassy. Their waists are impossibly thin. Their expressions are glazed and tranquil. All of them are dressed in human-sized, doll-like attire, with lots of lace and frills.

“Tea party,” is all Elyse says.

The ‘dolls’ silently turn. Some head towards cabinets, other leave the room. They bring in a round table, lay out a tablecloth, and start setting places.

The table is low to the ground. They bring out small chairs. Each one sits down a china or porcelain doll that looks almost identical to them.

“Sit,” says Elyse.

They all sit.


As one, they pour from teapots into tiny cups. The ‘tea’ is a brownish-green soup-like substance that doesn’t smell at all like tea.

Key pulls out three remaining chairs for Jade, Elyse, and Lucy.

Celia: Jade should, perhaps, be more surprised than she is. But even without her obsession with beauty and all things flawless she would have heard of the girls, like them, who alter their looks and model themselves after the plastic perfection that calls itself Barbie. How they stuff, tuck, and otherwise preen themselves until they resemble nothing so much as life-sized versions of the toy that every girl cherishes in childhood.

She remembers hers. The boxes of clothes and toys she and Isabel had played with while they were young. Brushing and braiding their hair. Losing shoes and finding them, months later, tucked beneath the bed or the couch cushion. Creating elaborate stories. Forcing David to play with them when Daddy wasn’t looking. The collectible he’d given her for her ninth birthday that had sat, untouched, in its box on her dresser, and how she hadn’t understood why she couldn’t open it up and play with it, how his explanation of “then it will lose its value” had been little consolation.

She watches the girls as they work. Notes the makeup across their faces that gives their eyes the large appearance. The lines they have drawn on their skin to create joints. Deftly done, but not… not perfect, no, and her trained eyes spots it for what it is.

Jade settles Lucy into the offered chair, adjusting her to sit comfortably at the table, then takes the seat that Key pulls out for her.

GM: David, at least, was willing to play with them. Logan never had much interest. Or Sophia, for that matter.

Celia: To be fair, Logan had still been in diapers.

GM: “Fill,” says Elyse.

One of the ‘dolls’ takes up a knife and cuts her wrist without flinching. She bleeds into a teapot. Elyse takes her wrist and licks the wound closed.

“Pour. Two cups.”

The doll pours red-filled teacups for the two vampires.

“Each of these dolls once committed grave sins against God,” Elyse states. “I have reformed them. I have saved them.”

“Blossom, name your sin.”

“I poisoned Felicity’s sister,” the ‘doll’ recites tranquilly.

“Song, name your sin.”

“I embezzled from Kelly’s family company to fund a sinful lifestyle,” another ‘doll’ with a high, clear voice recites, just as tranquilly.

“Flower, name your sin.”

“I had coitus with Aubree’s brother,” the next ‘doll’ recites.

“They destroyed their lives and would have damned their souls to Hell,” states Elyse. “They serve me now. I have redeemed them. They are chaste. They are modest. They are obedient.”

“And they are beautiful.”

Celia: Jade recognizes the Sanctified dogma and recalls the title Key had named earlier: deacon. Curiosity makes her want to know more, to learn of their sins, but Elyse beats her to it when she has them spill.

Like props, she thinks. They’re pieces to be discussed. Art to be seen and heard, to be admired as much for their appearance as they are the transformation itself.

“Butterflies,” Jade says after a moment, the thought coming to her as if upon a flutter of wings. Elyse has taken something ugly and turned it into something beautiful. A smile spreads across her face, delighted at her find and the Malkavian’s handiwork.

GM: “Butterfly. I will use that name for another,” Elyse states.

She raises the teacup to her lips and takes a dainty sip.

“Drink,” she tells the ‘dolls.’

As one, they lift their teacups to drink.


They set down the teacups.

“I give each of them new names,” the Malkavian says. “Their old selves are dead. In my service, they are reborn.”

Celia: Jade watches the girls drink, every move in perfect synchronicity. How much work must go into them to turn them into these living, breathing dolls. How much patience Elyse must have to carve and sculpt them into these beauties.

Jade lifts her own teacup to her lips, following Elyse’s lead and taking a small sip.

“Wise, Lady Interpreter, to have them shed their old names as they do their old skins and sins. One less hook with which the anchor of the past might drag upon their progress. They are exemplary.”

GM: “Thank you, Miss Kalani. I have invited you here because, as I have said, I have heard of your talents from the Lady Councilor Seyrès.”

Celia: She looks as if she might blink at the name.

She nods instead.

“How may I be of assistance?”

GM: “I divide my dolls into orders,” states Elyse. “What you see here is their fourth and penultimate order.”

“It takes time to advance a doll along these orders. There is their spiritual and practical education, behavior training, psychological conditioning, and of course their physical transformation.”

“Drink,” she tells the dolls.

They lift their teacups to drink.


They set down the teacups.

“I have unlimited time, as do we all. But I do not create dolls solely for their own spiritual redemption or my personal use. Kine often contract me to transform other kine into dolls for them. Many are wealthy families with problematic children. In most cases, it is not necessary to advance such dolls to the fourth order. The second or third order is usually sufficient to reform all but the most truculent kine.”

“This process takes time, as I have said. My clients would be pleased if their dolls’ transformations could happen more quickly. I would be able to take on additional dolls. My wait list of clients is extensive.”

“I believe your talents would be of great use in accelerating, and enhancing, my dolls’ physical transformations. Many of them require some degree of bodily modification, even among the second and third orders.”

Celia: “I understand.” She eyes the girls from across the table, taking in their forms. The tiny waists, the large eyes, the symmetry of their faces, the complete and utter lack of any physical deformity. Smooth, clear skin. She sips at the blood in her teacup, considering the offer, wondering if this was what her future had in store for her had Maxen learned of her transgressions.

“I believe that physical transformation is something with which I can assist. I have a handful of queries about the process that will allow me to better tailor my work to your expectations, if you’ll permit, Lady Interpreter.”

GM: “Please ask, Miss Kalani.”

The blood is some of the strangest Jade has tasted. It’s extremely sweet, like distilled sugar. There’s something thick and heavy to it, like cream. It feels utterly absent of any of the sexual lust that sweet blood—all-too familiar fare to Jade—normally carries.

Celia: “At which point in the process would you prefer that I work on them?” She doesn’t point, but she makes a gesture toward the one sitting across from her, whose hands bear the doll-like marks of actual toys. “The joints that they show, is that something you wish to display in a more permanent fashion? And the eyes as well. Or would those specificities be determined by your clients as their requests come in?”

GM: “Most of my clients do not request dolls of the fourth order,” Elyse answers. “They are predominately for my personal use.”

“I should like these dolls to better resemble true dolls very much.”

Celia: “I would be pleased to assist with that. Is there a doll of the second or third order that I may inspect?”

GM: “Yes. A delivery with a first order doll will also be arriving tonight,” says Elyse. “Dolls of the first order are kine taken off the streets. Most of them actively resist their transformations.”

“Once they have fully accepted their fates, they graduate to second order dolls. A second order doll acts as a mentor to a first order doll and assists in her transformation.”

“I do not ask that dolls merely internalize my lessons. They must teach them to other dolls.”

Celia: “Teaching,” Jade says with a nod, “is the surest way to affirm that the lesson has sunk in and is understood.”

GM: “Correct, Miss Kalani. This both saves on labor costs, as neither I nor my ghouls can constantly attend to first order dolls, but also ensures my lessons have, as you say, truly sunk in.”

“A second order doll graduates to the third order once she has raised a first order doll to the second order.”

“A third order doll is sufficiently transformed that she may be released back into larger society.”

“She does not physically resemble the fourth order dolls you see here. She is simply a proper and socially contributive God-fearing woman.”

Celia: It’s a clever way of doing things. Not only for what it saves on cost, but for the simple fact that, when faced with an “order” to climb, most people will strive to get to the top. They will see to it that their disciples attain the necessary skills to pass into their next level so that they, too, can ascend further. She imagines many of them become quite fervent in their studies.

GM: “Most of my clients, as I have said, only request third order dolls, but I make ones of the fourth order available to a select few. All dolls that I retain for my personal use are of the fourth and fifth orders.”

Celia: Fifth order? She finds herself curious.

GM: The half-dozen dolls sit silently at the table, hands demurely folded across their laps.

Celia: “May I ask… if these are the fourth order, what step takes them to fifth?”

GM: “Physical immobilization, lobotomization, and removal of the vocal cords,” Elyse answers.

Celia: “Very thorough, Lady Interpreter.”

GM: “Dolls unable to graduate to the second order in a timely manner are graduated to the fifth order,” the Malkavian states. “They become, as the kine refer to them, ‘vegetables’, though I may leave them with varying degrees of self-awareness. All, however, are unable to move under their own power or independently care for themselves.”

“First and fourth order dolls are responsible for feeding and cleaning them. They impress proper fear upon first order dolls who see the fate that awaits them if they do not graduate to the second order.”

“A third order doll who does not return to kine society, but remains with me, learns to desire them and the perfection they represent. Once a third order doll has completed her mental and physical transformations and truly wishes to attain the fifth order, she graduates to the fourth order.”

Celia: More than clever, Jade realizes. It is nothing short of genius. The orders, the lessons, the pure transformation that the dolls undergo. She is awed by its detail, by the care and thought that Elyse has put into her dolls. These are no mere play things, no childish toy, no fanciful Malkavian whim.

They are art.

Living, breathing pieces of art. The story of transformation. The story of order. The story of purity, if she is not mistaken.

The story of perfection.

Jade bows her head. Mere words do not express the feelings swirling inside of of her. Flawless. No wonder Elyse had reached out. They strive for the same goals.

She wants to touch them. Feel them beneath the pads of her fingertips. Caress that silky hair and smooth skin. She’s drawn to them, to their stories, to the very idea of their evolution: sinners turned divine. And she can be part of that. She can have a hand in the shedding of their skin, the metamorphosis from ugly into beautiful.

She keeps it lidded, her emotions on a tight leash around the dollmaker. She has seen no sign of loss of control from the Malkavian, nothing resembling feelings, and Jade will not be the one to interject it into their exchange. She snuffs it out before it has a chance to consume her.

“Your attention to detail and process is inspiring, Lady Interpreter. I would gladly play a role in the shaping of their transformation through physical modification.”

GM: “I am pleased that you wish to, Miss Kalani,” replies Elyse, draining her teacup. “I see much that we could accomplish your abilities. I believe you have erred in your support of Mr. Savoy, but I am not one to allow political differences to stand in the way of realizing perfection.”

Celia: “On that note,” Jade says, “I perform most of my work in my business within the Quarter.” She doesn’t ask outright, but the question is there: will it be a problem to bring the girls to her?

GM: “That will be inconvenient,” the Malkavian replies. “As was, perhaps, your trip here.”

“But we may discuss that later. Key, fetch Honey. The new first order doll will need her soon.”

Key rises, bows, and leaves the room.

Celia: Jade lets the topic of where the service will be performed drop. As Elyse says, they can hammer out the details later.

GM: Key returns shortly later with a stunning young buxom blonde. Her thick, long blonde hair is tied in a ponytail with a gleaming red silk ribbon and falls down her shapely back to the base of her spine. Her face is carefully made up with long, curving eyebrows and helplessly fluttering eyelashes that complement her large blue eyes. Her full, pouting lips are painted a dark cherry red that matches her long fingernails. She wears a black choker and a black maid’s dress trimmed with white lace.

The doll dips into a curtsy.

“Show Miss Kalani your ‘secret,’ Honey,” says Elyse.

The doll lifts her petticoat-lined skirts. Celia sees a hairless penis locked in a steel chastity cage.

“Tell Miss Kalani your sin, Honey,” says Elyse.

“Jeffrey raped a woman, mistress,” says Honey. Her voice is sweet and gentle, like a little girl’s high pitched tones. “Several women.” She gives a delighted giggle. “That certainly won’t be happening again now!”

Celia: Jade blatantly eyes the doll that Key leads into the room, taking in the fluttering lashes and long, thick hair. It’s the sort of hair that women would kill for.

Surprise flits across her face at the revelation of the penis and her sin, though on second look… there, the jaw, the throat, the set of the shoulders. She had let the rest of the package distract her from the contents.

No, she doesn’t think that “Jeffrey” will be raping anyone ever again.

“Have you considered removal, Lady Interpreter?”

GM: “I have, Miss Kalani. I think I will make a graduation present of it, when Honey achieves the third order.”

“I have had clients who wished to purchase ‘shemales’ for their sexual gratification, but I will not encourage such unnatural lusts.”

Celia: Interesting that she would dictate the terms for her clients, though she supposes that, busy as she is, there will always be more clients to take the place of those she turns away.

“Your clients,” Jade says at length, “are they often relatives of those who are sent to you, or do you take all sorts?”

GM: “They are often relatives, but I will take any whose uses for the dolls I do not object to.”

“The latest doll I took was a woman who committed adultery. Her husband is the client.”

Celia: “I confess to curiosity surrounding your process, though I do not wish to pry into your personal or business affairs.”

GM: “The process of the dolls’ training, Miss Kalani?”

Celia: “Yes, Lady Interpreter. I imagine you have a consultation with prospective clients to discuss their wishes, as I would with my own.”

GM: “I do, Miss Kalani. A first order doll will be arriving shortly, as I have said. You may participate in her initial training if you wish.”

Celia: Jade inclines her head at that and thanks her for the opportunity. She would be happy to see the initial intake and training. She finishes what’s left in her cup, glad that her curiosity did not come across as rude.

GM: Elyse makes pleasant but idle chatter with Jade for the next short while until Key receives an alert on his phone.

“Ah, the new doll is here. Let us meet her. Come along, Honey.” She rises from her seat.

The other dolls remain seated, hands still folded across their laps.

Celia: Jade stands, then reaches for Lucy. She gently pulls out her chair and lifts the doll into her arms, readjusting her limbs to help her lay comfortably.

GM: The china doll fits snugly against Jade’s arms, much like the “real” Lucy does when Diana lets Celia carry the infant. Like Elyse said, dolls seem to be good practice for mothers-to-be.

Celia: The real Lucy is a little more squirmy than her porcelain namesake. Her mother had given Celia a whole list of rules to follow with the little girl: hand here, hand there, support the head, cradle the neck, don’t squeeze, put her against the body rather than apart from… Celia had been alarmed at how fragile the little thing was, and how her mother had willingly handed her over to a monster.

It made excellent practice for holding this Lucy, though. Jade thinks she’s quite comfortable.

GM: But for all that, the monster had handed Lucy back.

Monster Celia may be, but she’s not that terrible a monster.

Celia: Not yet, anyway.

Hopefully not ever.

GM: The group walks to the house’s front door. Two men are carrying inside a large rectangular wooden crate. Muffled sounds of fury and alarm emanate from within.

Elyse directs the men to lay the crate down on a cart and pry boards loose with crowbars, though at Elyse’s direction they don’t actually take the boards off. Key tips the men and sends them on their way. Honey is instructed to pull the cart towards what Elyse names “the dollhouse.”

Scared and angry sounds continue to go up from the crate.

Celia: It’s not quite how she expected the girl to be delivered, though she supposes that this causes less questions than a struggling woman thrown over someone’s shoulder. She matches pace with Elyse, following along as needed. She’s rather eager to see how this goes.

GM: “The means of delivery is important,” says Elyse as they walk. “Dolls come out of boxes.”

Celia: “That makes perfect sense. Delivering them into their new life as what they are, or will become.”

GM: They enter a room that looks like a Barbie dollhouse combined with a salon. Everything comes in soft and frilly pinks, whites, and baby blues. There are several vanities against the wall, adjustable high-backed chairs with leather restraints for the legs, arms, and neck, and tall glass drawers filled with neatly organized beauty products and devices. An attached walk-in closet with a glass door is filled with pretty dresses and accessories of a variety of styles. The room smells of perfume and is very brightly lit. Instead of the potted plants that come in many salons, dozens of china dolls are on display. They’re very pretty ones with rosy cheeks, long hair, large eyes and busts, and tiny waists: the very models of idealized femininity.

Celia: A child-aged Celia would have loved to live here. Even now the dead girl inside of her can’t quite contain her childish glee at the sight of the dollhouse and itches to touch it all. Her eyes roam the room, taking in the girlish colors, the beauty products and their brands, and in her mind she organizes them further: what she’d use on Honey, how she’d make over Elyse if given the chance, the colors that would compliment Key.

Then she sees the closet, and she has to remind herself that none of this is hers and she definitely shouldn’t go snooping for gowns and accessories and shoes and bags and…

Jade clamps down on it. She distracts herself with the doll in her hands, sending warmth and excitement her way rather than projecting it to the room at large.

GM: Lucy’s cold china body ably absorbs that warmth as she stares up at Jade with large, trusting eyes. That’s what dolls are for, Elyse had said. Practice babies, for girls to nurture.

“Stop,” Elyse instructs Honey. Key removes the crate’s boards, from bottom to top. The woman inside looks in perhaps her early 20s. She has very short spiked black hair and thickly muscled arms decorated with black tattoos of voodoo skulls, leering demonic faces, anarchic symbols, and cats engaged in the act of coitus. Metal studs and piercings decorate her flesh. She’s dressed in a Love & Liars band t-shirt, torn black jeans with a chain, fingerless leather gloves, and shit-kicker Doc Martens. She’s tightly immobilized with robe bonds and has a fat cloth gag secured around her mouth.

“A great deal of work to do, I see,” Elyse assesses, her eyes slowly roaming the woman’s body.

Celia: Jade sweeps her eyes across the girl’s form, already determining what changes she would make. Tattoo removal jumps immediately to mind. Trimming the muscle. Dolls don’t have muscle like that. Removal of the piercings, smoothing out the holes they leave behind. Sometimes they close on their own, but Jade would never make such base assumptions or leave such a flaw in her work. Extensions or transplants for the hair. Tuck the waist. Pad the breasts.

It’s only the shirt that gives her pause.

“Though often they wear what matches their insides, sometimes their choice of garb is simply an ill-chosen fashion statement.” The smile that moves across her face has an edge as sharp as any blade. Not one bit of her believes that stripping her of her clothing will reveal the ‘real’ girl inside. “Though I get the impression that this one has internalized the message on her skin.”

GM: “Ill-chosen garb reflects an ill-chosen life,” Elyse states. “I have removed unsightly markings before, but your talents may be of great use in expediting the doll’s transformation, Miss Kalani.”

Gagged sounds of outrage go up from the woman.

“Strip it,” Elyse tells Key.

She stares deeply into the woman’s eyes, her voice thick and heavy.

“Remain motionless."

Key produces a pair of heavy trauma shears and snips the rope bonds, then makes quick work of the woman’s clothes. First to go is the Love & Liars shirt, snipped vertically from her tummy to her neckline. Then come the pants. Honey shines a bright light over the woman’s body, clearly to make her feel as exposed as possible before removing her shoes. The woman tries to spit past the gag with an outraged expression.

Key perfunctorily flips her over onto her face, snips through the clothes in more places, then pulls the tattered garments off. Jade sees even more tattoos over her toned flesh. There’s fat too, in addition to the muscle. She’s a pretty big woman.

The sports bra and boxer briefs are next to come off under the shears. The woman’s face reddens, but she cannot move to cover her nudity.

Celia: It’s almost a shame to see the shirt cut as it is. Jade has no small amount of fondness for the woman to whom the band belongs, though she realizes that such music and lifestyle is not to everyone’s taste.

The light assists with Jade’s inspection of the woman, and she takes one step closer to view her up close, nothing the rippled effect of the fat cells swimming beneath her skin. Her lip curls before she flattens it once more.

“Excess adipose tissue,” she states in a voice that gives Preston a run for her money at dispassion.

It’s clear what she thinks of that.

“Suggests an excessive and indulgent lifestyle. Inability to control herself or her impulses. A creature of comfort and familiarity.” Disdain drips like venom from her tongue.

GM: “I had reached the same conclusion, Miss Kalani,” replies Elyse.

“All dolls adhere to strict dietary and exercise regimens to trim excess fat and musculature. Jeffrey had a great deal of excess musculature before he became Honey, did he not, Honey?”

“Yes, mistress. Such great big and ugly muscles,” giggles Honey.

“It took a great deal of time to trim down Jeffrey’s muscles,” says Elyse. “The immediate loss of such could be of equally great benefit to the doll’s psychological transformation.”

Celia: “I have serviced women before in this shape, Lady Interpreter. I could smooth it off of her, though that would not teach her the proper discipline. The kine have a technique they use, a surgery, that cuts out a piece of the stomach and only allows them to eat small portions. It has been effective in initial weight loss, though the long term effects are still under scrutiny by their medical boards. Some of them apparently eat right through it.”

Jade tilts her head to one side, considering the girl.

GM: “Discipline is enforced, Miss Kalani, until it is taught,” states Elyse. “The doll will have no opportunity to sate its gluttonous appetites.”

Celia: Jade inclines her head.

“Then it can be removed as easily as the markings and steel on her skin.”

GM: “It, Miss Kalani. The doll may be crude and unsightly, but it is an object and not an individual.”

Celia: “Yes, Lady Interpreter.”

GM: “I may employ gastric bypass surgery. We shall see, based upon the doll’s conduct.”

Key flips over the now-naked woman. Her face is red with the humiliation of exposure. Her gagged features are set with hate.

“Welcome, doll, to your new life,” states the Malkavian.

Jade feels the force of Elyse’s presence push out from her like a wave, though one that rolls harmlessly past the Toreador.

The woman’s eyes widen as her mouth slackens.

“You are here because of the embarrassment you have caused your family through your homosexual behavior and degenerate lifestyle.”

The woman makes an angry noise past her gag that sounds almost like, “M-y life,” but some of the fight already seems taken out by Elyse’s larger than life presence.

Celia: Questions rise within her. Which family she belongs to. How Elyse will train the homosexuality out of her, if such a thing is even possible. She steers her thoughts away from her family, focusing instead on this woman, on what she could become rather than what she is now. Curiosity—and something that resembles an eager desire to learn under the practiced hand of the Malkavian—stills her tongue.

GM: “Those days are now at an end. Your grandfather has hired me to reform you into a proper lady and credit to your family’s name.”

The woman’s face gets even angrier at the word ‘grandfather.’ She looks as if she’s trying to struggle. She can’t. Her arms won’t move.

Celia: Rich grandfather with a dyke along the family tree. She glances again at the tattoos, as if there will be some further hint to its identity scrawled across its skin.

GM: Maybe Randy or one of his brothers would have a better idea. Elyse continues,

“When you leave my care, you will be a credit to your family’s name. You will be obedient. You will be chaste. You will be modest. You will be God-fearing. You will bear your husband many children. One has already been selected for you.”

Celia: That sounds familiar.

GM: It’s too much. The woman screams past the gag, something that sounds like “F-CK YOU!!!!”

Elyse stares into the woman’s eyes. “Foul yourself."

Piss starts to flow from her vagina, soaking her legs.

Key tsks. Honey giggles. Humiliation colors the woman’s cheeks.

“Foul your tongue and you will foul your body,” states Elyse.

Celia: A deft way to handle the situation. Jade has to give Elyse credit: her first thought had been claws. But this… oh, no, this reduces the thing to nothing more than that. A thing. Humiliation can work wonders on a defiant spirit.

GM: “Your transformation may proceed quickly and with a minimum of pain and embarrassment, or it may proceed slowly and with a great deal of both. That choice alone is yours, for all other choices are now closed to you.”

Horror and hate fill the red-faced woman’s eyes as she glares up at Elyse.

“Stand up. Stay still," orders the Malkavian.

The woman stands up. Piss runs down her thighs.

“Clean it, Honey.”

Honey quickly curtsies and retrieves a sponge from the sink area to do so.

Celia: Jade does not look away from the would-be doll. Her expression remains cold, though her nose wrinkles at the pungent odor of the urine staining her thighs. It’s all for show, reinforcing the idea that this woman has no friends or allies here. All of them will see that she is turned into what she could be rather than what she is.

GM: Indeed, the red in the woman’s cheeks does not abate as Honey takes her sweet time cleaning the woman and patting her skin dry.

“That’s much better now, dolly, nice and clean,” she says softly.

“Turn your head. Sit in the middle chair," orders Elyse.

The woman robotically marches towards it and sits down. Key and Honey secure the leather restraints.

“Our work may begin in earnest now, Miss Kalani,” states Elyse.

“We will have to shave its head and start entirely anew with the hair. It is already short enough,” she considers.

Celia: Jade takes a step closer to the chair, eying the shorn locks on the woman’s head.

“Indeed. The lack of symmetry makes fixing what remains more time-consuming than simply starting over. Another way to shed its old life, Lady Interpreter. I could transplant something new, or it could simply be allowed to grow out while it learns its place.”

Another way to shed its old life and another way to dehumanize it further.

GM: “Remain still," Elyse orders the woman.

She turns to Honey. “Shave its head.”

“Yes, mistress.” Honey starts trimming what little there is to trim with a pair of scissors.

“An immediate transformation would be superior, Miss Kalani,” states Elyse.

“I typically require dolls with shaved heads to wear wigs, then extensions once their hair has grown out.”

Celia: “Wise, Lady Interpreter, to give them the mold they must learn to fill.”

Her eyes travel to the assortment of products once more, then across a row of busts where, indeed, a selection of wigs await. If those are human hair she could simply transplant the hair onto her scalp from it, or if she has other dolls whose hair has grown out she could cut and transfer that. Simply growing the hair from the root is, generally, impossible: she cannot create material out of nothing, after all.

GM: Honey soon finishes shaving the woman’s head with an electric trimmer. Hate-filled eyes stare back at them from the mirror.

“Let us remove the piercings next,” states Elyse. “Can your talents expedite this, Miss Kalani?”

There are many of them. Stud on her nose, ring through her nostrils, ring on one nostril, stud on her lips, stud below her lips, stud by an eyebrow.

Several more on each ear.

Celia: “Yes, Lady Interpreter. The removal itself is generally straightforward, as they are designed to be removed and swapped out at their leisure; it is the holes that remain within the skin that cause issue and lasting marks. Lucy, Key will hold you for a moment.”

Jade gently hands the doll off to the ghoul. She steps forward once the doll has been seen to, standing directly in front of the woman. Her fingers make quick work of the metal studs in her ears, unscrewing the backs and dropping both pieces into Honey’s waiting hands. Then the industrial bar, the double helix along the top curve, the tragus. Even the tiny stud at the inner conch. She moves lower across the face, plucking out the piercing in the woman’s brow, the hoops from her nose, the one from her lip and below it. She does not remove the gag, just nudges it aside while she works.

Lower still. The bar through her nipples, then the one at her bellybutton, and finally she nudges apart the girl’s thighs to take the little hoop from the hood of her clitoris.

“It is possible its tongue is pierced as well. Many homosexuals enjoy the feeling.”

She has not yet started to close the holes, simply removed them bit by bit. She will close them all in one pass once the steel has been taken away.

GM: Key reverently accepts the doll as Elyse watches the process with approval. True to Jade’s expectations, there are piercings lower down on the woman’s body as well as her head. The Toreador deftly removes them all and passes them off to Honey, who deposits the metal studs in a trash bin.

“Tongue piercings. Most thorough, Miss Kalani,” states Elyse. “Open your mouth and remain silent," she orders the woman. Honey pulls out the gag. True to Jade’s expectations, she finds two. They are removed and deposited in the trash as well.

The woman’s eyes flare as the Toreador methodically takes away her piercings.

Her mouth still hands open.

“Close your mouth."

She closes it.

Elyse watches with attentive interest as Jade readies to seal the holes.

Celia: She remembers what Pete said to her when they’d gone to see Xola. How the doctor doesn’t let anyone watch him work. Calls it a trade secret. She had intended to do the same, to pretend that her skills were simple kine techniques made possible by the blood. But Xola has years of experience and his fearsome reputation behind him. Jade is simply a neonate. She does not think that asking Elyse to leave the room will amount to anything besides hard feelings.

As before, she starts at the top. Her fingers close down around the holes that have been created through the woman’s ears, pinching the flesh between her fingertips to seal it shut. It’s similar to how Celia’s mother had once shown her to seal a hole in a pie crust: just grab and pinch, smooth it out with her fingers. She does that now. Grabs and pinches. Smooths it out with her fingers. The holes in the ear are easiest to close. She moves to the brows, then the lip, below the lip, the nose. Everything closes with a pass of her fingers across the skin. When she’s done it looks as if it had never been marred by such steel instruments. Then the nipples. She’s more careful here, wary of just pinching them into a different, unappealing shape, and she leans in to focus more attentively on her work. First one, then the other, and when she’s done with them they’re perfect little buds of slightly pink skin. The belly button next. Then the hood. Again, she nudges apart the woman’s thighs. She uses two fingers to spread her labia, then pulls the skin of the hood taut until she finds the ripped portion. She closes it and lets it free.

There isn’t much to watch. The work along these areas is shallow, requiring no more than a touch to set right.

At last she moves back to the woman’s mouth, waiting for Elyse to give the command to open up before she holds the tongue taut with one hand while she smooths it over with the other.

GM: Elyse does so, watching with rapt interest as Jade closes the holes and wipes away the woman’s imperfections with but a touch. Key and Honey watch attentively too. Confusion clouds the woman’s eyes, for a moment, then she looks in the mirror and sees her hairless, piercing-less self. Her eyes still look outraged, but there’s an undercurrent of misery too. As it sinks in what is happening.

“Perfection,” states Elyse.

Celia: Jade smiles, pleased with herself.

GM: “What of the tattoos and muscle bulk, Miss Kalani? Do you require any special preparations or resources to remove those flaws?”

The woman’s mouth tries to form sounds of protest and defiance.

Celia: “Yes, Lady Interpreter. Working beneath the dermis can be messy once I cut away excess muscle and adipose tissue, and the flesh itself and inner pieces will need disposed of. At my workshop I have created a special room for such work that allows me to simply hose it down when I am done, with a drain that collects any solid or partially solid bits to be properly disposed of or reused, as needed. While this chair will serve for some of the work, it is often easier to lay them out flat, so a table with similar restraints would be advisable. And, of course, the blood itself to fuel the project. Skin level, however…”

Jade touches a finger to the smiling demonic face of a tattoo. She rubs, and the ink fades away as if an eraser has been dragged through a pencil drawing.

“The ink only goes so deep.”

“Hair follicles,” she says idly, “are found within the dermis as well. Should your clients ever ask for smoother skin, it would be a quick change to destroy the roots and prevent it from growing again.”

GM: The woman’s face twists with pain. It’s easy for Jade to take for granted, the price she must pay for perfection. But all beauty takes pain.

Celia: Beauty is pain. But beauty is everything.

GM: “Would a bathtub serve your needs, Miss Kalani?” Elyse asks. “The doll will not resist your ministrations, even awake.”

Celia: “That would suffice, Lady Interpreter.”

It’s not as if Jade’s body will ache should she spend an hour hunched over a tub.

“The treatment itself can be quite painful for the subjects. Should that be a concern, a local anesthetic generally solves the issue.”

GM: “That is not a concern,” states Elyse. “I believe the pain will be of psychological benefit.”

Fear flashes through the woman’s eyes. She tries to struggle, but her limbs won’t obey.

Celia: A handy trick, Jade admits. She might need to see if she can find someone to teach it to her.

“Do you have desired proportions for this one?”

GM: “Thin and willowy, Miss Kalani. Like a doll.”

Elyse orders the woman to stand still and not move as Key and Honey remove her restraints. Elyse orders her to stand up, then has Honey bind her arms and legs so she can’t run, just hobble.

A collar and leash go around her neck, then a blindfold covers her eyes.

Elyse tells the woman that she will have a “special lesson” at the end of the evening. Her behavior here, and whether she attempts to escape, will determine “its degree of pain.”

They lead her out and through the house’s first floor. It’s when they round a turn that the woman tries to make a run for it. She bolts and runs, the leash flying out of Honey’s slender hands. Key sticks a foot under the fleeing but blinfolded woman and trips her, sending her sprawling. He and Honey take firm hold of the leash and yank her to her feet.

“The doll’s lesson will be a painful one,” Elyse states to the woman. “The choice was its.”

“Do you think I should punish Honey, Miss Kalani?” asks the Malkavian. “The doll is large and strong, for a doll, and I have made Honey weak. But she has nevertheless failed in her duty to restrain her charge.”

Honey demurely lowers her gaze with an ashamed look.

Celia: With Lucy tucked back into her arms, Jade watches the attempt at escape dispassionatly. Not a flicker of emotion crosses her face until Elyse asks the question on her, then she turns appraising eyes to Honey.

“Honey,” Jade addresses the doll. “When you first arrived, did you attempt a similar escape?”

GM: “Yes, ma’am, I did,” answers Honey, gaze still lowered.

Celia: “And did the lesson provided to you teach you the futility of such an attempt?”

GM: “Yes, ma’am, it did.”

Celia: “And when your hand slipped out of her leash did you think that this one would learn the same lesson and benefit from it?”

GM: “Only afterwards, ma’am. All I thought about then was how I needed to restrain the doll, because the mistress had ordered me to.”

Celia: Jade says nothing further to Honey. She turns to regard Elyse.

“Yes, Lady Interpreter, for failure to perform her duty. Had she knowingly let go of the restraint to teach a lesson to the new doll I may have suggested something else.”

GM: “How do you think I should punish Honey, Miss Kalani?” Elyse asks.

Celia: “Blows that wound cleanse away evil; strokes make clean the innermost parts.” Jade quotes the scripture that another girl grew up with.

“Let her bear the marks of her failure until my next visit, if it please you, Lady Interpreter.”

GM: “Very good,” states Elyse. The group makes their way into a bathroom. It’s pink and well-lit, like the “dollhouse” from earlier, but the dolls on display are fully ceramic ones without cloth garments. Key secures the blindfolded woman’s leash to a towel rack and pulls up a chair for Elyse, who sits and says, “Present your posterior, Honey.”

The doll meekly lifts her skirts and lies down over Elyse’s knees.

The scene is all-too like one from the Flores family household as Elyse brings down her open palm over Honey’s buttocks, again and again and again with loud fleshy smacks. She doesn’t keep count. Just keeps going until the baby-soft flesh is bright red, then white, then white with hand-shaped red imprints. Honey takes it stoically at first, but is a sobbing mess by the end of it, blubbering how sorry she is to have failed her mistress.

“What do we say?” asks Elyse, her hand raised over the doll’s buttocks.

“Th… thank you… mistress… for teaching me… to be… better…” sobs Honey.

“You… killed… Jeffrey… your… touch… is… an… honor… thank you, mistress, thank you…”

“Do you believe her suitably chastened, Miss Kalani?” asks Elyse.

The blindfolded woman stands very still as she listens to the screams.

Celia: Jade keeps a tight hold on Lucy as the scene plays out. She’s reminded of her own punishment over her father’s knees, and Isabel’s before her. The blood that was drawn by his hand. The humiliation at being beaten in front of her siblings, how none of them lifted a finger or spoke up in her defense. Had she been sent to Elyse for training and not been so headstrong she supposes that his lesson would have sunk in further than it did, though, to be fair, she had antagonized him into striking her and been prepared for the fallout.

“I believe I can see the shape of your hand on her flesh, Lady Interpreter. I would say the lesson has sunk in, and she will be reminded of it every time she attempts to sit for the next few evenings.”

Drawing blood with no intention of feeding is, of course, a waste.

GM: “I believe you are correct, Miss Kalani. You may stand, Honey. You will do better in the future.”

“Y… yes, mistress, thank you…” sniffs Honey, straightening her skirts. Jade notices her semi-erect cock straining against the chastity cage before the petticoats re-conceal it.

“Key, the new doll.”

Key removes her blindfold. Elyse stares into her eyes.

“Lie in the tub. Do not move."

The woman robotically does so.

Key moves the blindfold back over her eyes again.

“You may begin, Miss Kalani, if there are no further arrangements you require.”

Key holds out his arms to take Lucy again.

Celia: Jade shakes her head at the question.

“No, Lady Interpreter. Thank you.”

As before, she lets Lucy know that Key will hold onto her and passes the doll off to the ghoul. She rolls up her sleeves to give herself room to work and washes her hands in the sink to sanitize, then kneels beside the tub to begin her work.

Claws grow from the tips of her fingers, nails lengthening into long things as sharp as scalpels. She starts at the front of the woman, the tip of her nail cutting into her flesh above the collarbone near one shoulder. She’s careful of where she digs, making sure not to cut too deeply and nick a vein or artery. There will be blood, but there needn’t be excessive blood.

She works quickly, cutting away the fibers of her biceps, triceps, and deltoids. She reconnects what she severs with shorter strands and scoops out globs of fat cells, dumping it into the tub without a second glance. It’s gelatinous, a transparent beige as she pulls it free that solidifies into white as it cools.

One arm, then the other. She moves lower, across the chest, flattening her pectorals even as she adds padding beneath the breast tissue. From the stomach she scoops out adipose by the handful, the semisolid squelching through her fingers. Lower, onto the legs, smoothing and shaping as she goes, until the woman’s front and sides are as thin and willowy as the other dolls. She nips the waist, tapers the calves, tucks the belly. Once her front is done and all the cuts pressed back together with a pinch of her fingers Jade flips her onto her stomach with Honey’s assistance and begins again.

As before, she works top to bottom. She removes excess muscle and fat and carves the woman as others of her clan carve clay. The skin is elastic in her hands, pushed and pulled and stretched as she sees fit, until no hint of the large woman remains. Baggy skin is cut away with the tips of her claws, deposited likewise into the tub.

Once she’s shaped Jade begins the process of tattoo removal. This work only goes skin deep. As before, she just drags her hands across the skin and erases the ink that has been deposited into her. Like chalk on a board, it disappears.

When Jade finishes the back she’s flipped again to repeat the tattoo removal, and after the last of the ink vanishes the woman has become a doll. A blank canvas for Elyse to work her will.

The face is last. Smoothed, narrowed, her proportions adjusted to become the ideal version of herself.

The process is not quick. Jade does not cut corners. Nor is it painless, though she pays no attention to the muffled screams that pass the gag. This part of the transformation is graphic and messy. The woman becomes the goo within the chrysalis, much as butterflies liquefy as they change from their prior caterpillar state. She, though, has no cocoon to hide her evolution. It is ugly. She is ugly. Until Jade makes her beautiful again. Until Jade wipes away the fat and tendon and muscle that clings to her and she emerges, flawless.

She asks after the extensions if Elyse would like her to have hair.

GM: The process is not quick. It takes hours.

Elyse watches the entire time. She does not blink. She does not look away.

She simply stares. Enraptured.

The woman is another matter. She screams. Oh, how she screams. Elyse has removed her gag, but the Malkavian doesn’t look perturbed by the sounds. Perhaps the walls are soundproofed. Perhaps the neighbors are simply that Victorian. But the woman screams the entire time. She screams her throat raw and bloody. She screams curses and profanities and foul names dredged up from the Quarter’s filthiest gutters upon them all, but Elyse doesn’t move to punish her. The process and its lack of anesthesia is perhaps punishment enough. The woman fights against the Malkavian’s compulsion not to move the entire time. Her limbs shake. That just makes the pain worse. Key and Honey eventually tie her up anyway. Tears and sweat pour down her face until, finally, she passes out. Elyse orders Honey to retrieve some smelling salts.

They have to use them twice.

Elyse has Jade adjust the woman’s facial features, too, as well as her body. Add more fullness to the lips. Make the nose more slender. Make the curve of the face rounder, more feminine, more doll-like. The discarded adipose is useful for making the breasts bigger, rounder, perkier. Jade works her magic.

Finally, the result lies gasping and sobbing and sweating beneath them, reborn amidst a vat of her own skin and fat and blood.

A brand new doll.

A flawless doll.

“It… is perfect, Miss Kalani,” Elyse breathes reverently.

“You have accomplished in hours what would have taken months of surgeries and conditioning.”

“We shall give it hair. We shall give it beautiful clothes. We shall make up its face. Never have I beheld a finer canvas upon which to work my art.”

Celia: Jade does not pant. Her limbs do not shake. She does not sweat. The hours that pass stake no claim on her immortal body.

When she has finished, sitting back on her heels to admire her work, she feels as fresh and energized as she had when the evening began.

The Malkavian’s praise makes her swell with pride. She has done this. She has crafted this exquisite creature, this doll, has transformed it singlehandedly from “before” to “after.”

“Thank you, Lady Interpreter.” Pride, pleasure, and gratitude color her voice.

GM: At Elyse’s direction, Honey cleans up the excess fat and flesh from the tub’s rim and deposits it into a trash bag. She runs the shower head over the weakly crying doll, washing away all the filth and gore, then draws a full bath and fills it with sweet-smelling products from oils to ginger to epsom salt.

“It’s okay, dolly… I know this was hard… I’m here, and you look very, very pretty now…” Honey whispers, gently scrubbing and massaging the woman’s skin.

She leans heavily against the tub as she works. Her posterior must still be burning.

Celia: She wonders what they think of her, these dolls. If they see the monster lurking behind her pretty face. If they realize what a gift she has given them. Wonders, too, how Elyse will explain things to them, or if she will doctor their memories.

She rises as Honey takes over, washing her hands and arms in the sink to get rid of the blood and guts that linger beneath her nails. She dries them, vanishes her claws, and reaches for Lucy.

GM: The blindfolded woman makes a weak little choking noise. It sounds as if Jade’s ministrations took a lot of fight out of her.

Key reverently passes the china doll into her arms. Lucy stares up into Jade’s eyes, as unjudging as she is unblinking.

Celia: Jade smiles down at the doll. She, at least, doesn’t need any changes.

GM: “She is the state they all aspire to,” states Elyse.

Lucy regards the two knowingly.

As Honey goes about her work, the Malkavian occasionally interjects with an instruction or two of her own. She asks Jade if there is any aftercare or beneficial treatments they should administer to the doll now, still so newly-emerged from her chrysalis.

Celia: Recovering from her hands is less involved than recovering from the scalpels of the kine. Jade suggests a day of rest while it adjusts to its new body. Such a sudden change is bound to cause some imbalance while the doll regains her equilibrium. Plenty of fluids as well. Stretching.

All in all, though, the recovery itself will be quick.

GM: Elyse seems pleased to hear there will be a quick recovery time. She says she will permit the doll time to rest, “Though its behavior will determine the quality and amenities of that rest.”

Honey eventually drains the tub, towels off the wet and weary doll, and helps her up. She doesn’t fight or try to make a run for it, this time, when Honey clips her collar back on. Elyse leads them back to the ‘dollhouse’ and has the doll reassume her seat in front of the vanity, though the Malkavian does not remove her blinfold just yet. Honey re-affixes her restraints.

Celia: The fight has indeed gone all out of the girl. No doubt this will make the rest of her conditioning that much easier on Elyse. She finds herself curious as to how the rest of her training time will shorten now that the doll has undergone the physical changes all at once.

GM: Elyse looks over a selection of wigs that Key brings in. They’re in a variety of colors and textures, but all are long—past shoulder length. They look like they’re made of real hair to Jade.

“Which of these do you prefer for it, Miss Kalani?”

“I am partial to something blonde and wholesome, in contrast to the black ‘hair,’ if such an unsightly near-buzzcut can truly be termed such, from its prior life.”

Celia: Jade surveys the available wigs, considering the options and the coloring of the girl herself. At last she selects one, gesturing toward where it sits on the bust with her free hand. Long, thick, with gentle waves that will frame her newly sculpted face and bring light to her eyes. Honey blonde: not so light that it looks as if it came from a bottle, but not yet the midpoint between brown and blonde. Not the “dirty blonde” or “ashy blonde” that are big hits right now. This wig is more cultured than the current trends. Elegant and refined.

Jade says as much to Elyse.

GM: “It may be twins with Honey,” muses Elyse. “Near-twins. An excellent choice, Miss Kalani. Please proceed.”

“This may hurt, dolly, but I need you to be very brave for us, okay?” Honey whispers to the doll.

Celia: As before, Jade passes off Lucy to Key with a murmured word of warning to the doll.

It will hurt. More so perhaps than the rest of body modifications that Jade has performed on her, this one will be… excruciating. The girl should know this, though. The hair will go on her head, and, as a former woman who had tattoos, she should know that the closer the work comes to the bone the more pain reverberates through the body. She will feel it until her toes curl.

Easy to simply plop the wig on her head and call it a job well done. But Jade does not believe in shortcuts when it comes to beauty. Each individual hair is taken from the wig and transplanted onto the doll’s head. She begins with a pass of her hand across the newly shorn scalp, turning her flesh pliable, and then starts the transplant process. She works from the back of the head forward, giving her an even hairline across the back and sectioning off strands as she works so that they do not get in her way. Her formerly dark hair lights the way to the follicles like a beacon in the night, allowing Jade to place the locks from the wig with ease. Though it does not take as long a time as the body, the work she does with her hair is an involved, time-intensive process. Even extensions applied in a salon to normal hair, braided in and applied as delicately as they need to be, can take upwards of three hours. Jade does not have hair to work with. She has skin, and hair to stuff inside that skin, and by the time she is done there is no telling that the wig was anything other than grown from this head. It curls down her back in gentle waves and sweeps across her brow in wispy strands that bring focus to her newly created nose, eyes, and lips. A perfect balance.

Jade tucks a strand behind the doll’s ear, placing a finger upon her chin to lift her face once she is done. She makes a few minor adjustments and gives a light tug on the hair to make sure that it all stays place.

Nodding, untucking the hair from where she had placed it behind the girl’s ear, Jade makes a final pass with her fingers across the scalp to smooth out the flesh she had just worked.

She steps back.

GM: Elyse commands the doll to be still. But not to be quiet.

She screams.

Her throat is already so raw. Her cries come out quieter, but only because she’s already so hoarse as she shrieks and raves. She doesn’t scream curses and insults, this time. She just sobs and pleads and begs. For them to stop. That she’d do anything. Anything.


Her voice eventually gives out as she hacks up blood. Her fingers squeeze. Her toes curl. She sobs and sobs, tears running down past the blindfold, for the pain to end. For it to please, please end. That she’s sorry. That she’s sorry—

“Very good, Miss Kalani,” Elyse murmurs once she’s finished.

The doll lolls back in her chair, spent and exhausted.

Honey squeezes her hand.

“It normally takes a great deal of time to make this much progress with them. I am not a sadist. I only inflict pain and humiliation when they disobey.”

“Yet the results of your method, even if incidental, cannot be argued with.”

“Perhaps it will find its defiance again, after some time to collect itself, but I am hopeful that it is a rational creature and may learn from past mistakes to spare itself future pain.”

She runs a handful of the doll’s new hair through her fingers.

“The hair is magnificent, as well.”

“Would you like to ‘unveil’ it for us? I have kept it blindfolded so that the psychological impact of its transformation will be all the greater.”

Celia: Jade nods her head at Elyse’s words. She had been thinking the same thing. That though the pain is unintended, it does benefit the doll to learn that her defiance is futile. They can always cause more pain. Jade can always come back and make more alterations. And there are other ways to break a woman, or a doll, than simply through physical means.

“Yes, Lady Interpreter. I would be glad to.”

She steps behind the doll, turning the chair so that her face is pointed toward the mirror. She keeps one hand on her shoulders, the other running through her soft, luxurious locks as she reaches for the blindfold’s tie. A twist of her fingers has it loosened enough to sweep away with a small gesture.

Her eyes find the doll’s in the mirror, watching her expression at the unveiling of her new look.

GM: Disbelief.

Utter and total disbelief.

Someone looking into the mirror and seeing a stranger’s face.

She blinks several times. This can’t possibly be her. This barbie doll-thin creature, with the perfectly feminine, doll-like facial features and luxuriant blonde mane. This is not her. This has to be a trick. A dream.

Elyse touches her cheek. Draws the finger along smooth flesh. Lets her feel the sensation. See it reflected in the mirror.

“Yes, doll, that is you,” she murmurs.

“You’re so beautiful,” smiles Honey.

Celia: “A vision,” Jade tells her, smiling into the mirror.

GM: The doll works her mouth several times.

Then she starts crying again. Bitter, furious tears.

The defiance in her eyes has already dwindled. But Jade can see hate smoldering behind them.

Hate for the people who’ve stolen who she was.

Celia: “It misses its individuality,” Jade guesses. Her tone dismisses the notion.

GM: “Its feelings are failings. Dolls do not have feelings,” states Elyse, giving its so-sensitive hair a very sudden tug. The doll gives a little gasp of pain.

“We must dress it, now, before making up its face. Would you care to select an outfit, Miss Kalani?”

Celia: “I’d be delighted, Lady Interpreter.” Jade holds her hands out for Lucy and takes a step toward the closet. “An everynight outfit, or something more refined?”

GM: “Something to wear around the house, Miss Kalani, but indicative of its new status. Something it will find belittling,” states Elyse.

Key retrieves the doll. She fits snugly against Jade’s side, her eyes large and trusting.

Celia: The closet does not lack for options. Jade takes her time flitting through them all, looking between the gowns and sundresses and party dresses with a discerning eye. Despite her mortal years at a school that imposed a uniform, even the little girl inside of her had more fashion sense than many who suffered from wearing the same thing day in and day out.

The dress that she selects will serve Elyse’s purpose. Feminine but modest, with a neckline that stretches across the collarbones, sleeves to the elbows, and a skirt that ends at the knee. The hem is longer in the back than the front, in accordance with current fashion trends. The skirt itself is fluffy, tapered at the waist, and reminds her of the sort of thing she might wear at Elysia within the Quarter. Flouncy. Though her dresses are never so modest as this. A light gray, close to white, it’s a far cry from the darker hues the girl is used to.

The bodice and top of the skirt have been decorated in swirling embroidery in a thread only slightly lighter than the dress itself. She glances down at Lucy, as if asking the doll if this will do before she presents it to Elyse.

Not so frilly as the dresses the other dolls wear, it represents her status at the bottom of the pack.

GM: The doll does not voice her disapproval, although there are shoes to pick too, its tiny mary jane-clad feet seem to say. It’s a wonderful thing to be a girl.

Celia: Shoes. Of course. Jade smiles down at the doll. She can’t forget shoes.

She searches for a pair of heels. Sensible shoes that compliment the color of the dress, with a buckle across the front and a thicker heel. The sort of shoes that can be worn with a pair of socks, a la Lucy’s lovely mary janes, with frilly little bows at the top of them.

She knows someone who likes shoes like these, though she tries not to think about that part of the life that no longer belongs to her.

These can be worn with tights as well, or no stockings at all. Versatile. Sturdy. But cute. The type of “little girl” shoe that will remind the new doll of her new place in the world.

GM: Key carries back the dress and shoes, along with a matching set of light pink bra and panties. Honey undoes the doll’s restraints as Elyse orders her to stand and remain still. Honey puts on the bra and panties, then helps her into the dress. Jade can see the look of silent despair in the doll’s eyes as the pink skirt descends her newly-thin waist. Elyse orders the doll to sit down. Honey kneels demurely and fastens on her little girl shoes.

“Excellent choices, Miss Kalani.”

Celia: “Thank you, Lady Interpreter. You have a wonderful selection for them.”

GM: “Doing up its face is the last major initial step that remains in its transformation, Miss Kalani. You are an esthetician. How would you paint its face?”

The doll has almost everything now. Body, clothes, hair, shoes. All that remains is the makeup.

Celia: “The no-makeup look is en vogue right now, Lady Interpreter. However, due to this one’s prior inclinations I would assume that it either did not wear any or trended toward darker colors. I would instead soften its features further. Instead of a smokey eye I would use a halo. Brown liner rather than black, or perhaps… charcoal, would look good as well. Fill in the brows. Taupe, to match its hair. White on the inner corner, white along the waterline. Both will make its eyes appear larger. A spot of color high on its cheeks. Liner slightly darker than the chosen lip color, a soft pink. Honey’s red is too deep for this one’s face, too stark. I would focus on softening first, reducing the hard edges and lines that it clung to in its prior life.”

“Give it nothing to hide behind.”

GM: On cue, Honey wheels over a selection of beauty tools and products.

“I am inclined to agree with you, Miss Kalani,” states Elyse. “Whatever current trends may be among the kine, dolls are timeless.”

“Its face should be heavily made up to better distance it from its old life.”

Celia: Jade lets Lucy know that Key will hold onto her and passes the doll over once more.

This is it, she thinks. Her final task. She will transform this woman into a doll.

She eyes the selection of products and brushes, already working out the details in her mind, the order with which she will apply them. She centers herself and begins.

It starts with moisturizer. A dollop of a serum across her face, hyaluronic acid that will plump and smooth her skin. She follows it with a thicker cream. Occlusive, to lock in moisture. She lets it set while she organizes her colors. A pump of primer onto her fingertips that she spreads across its skin in smooth, even strokes. She follows it with foundation, taking care to match her neck, the line of her jaw. She blends it with a stippling brush until nothing but a blank canvas remains with which to work. White across the lids, a base coat to make the color pop. White across her water line, NYX’s “milk.” Soft hues on the lids, the baby pink she had mentioned earlier that she buffs with a brush until it disappears. Tiny, hair-like strokes across the doll’s brow in a taupe pomade that fill them in and give the illusion of fuller, thicker brows. Jade dots the silvery white highlight into the corner of her eyes and blends it into the pink. She uses a charcoal pencil above the lashes, then black between the individual hairs to make them darker. Another coat of foundation to even and smooth her complexion, a translucent powder to set it all. Highlighter on the cheek bone, beneath the tail of her brow, the cupid’s bow, the bridge of her nose. No need for contour, not really, but Jade applies it anyway and blends it out. And blush. Two spots of color, less blended than the other, though not a perfect circle that would be on a doll. She creates the same illusion but makes it real rather than plastic. Mascara to finish it off.

Then the lips. The liner around the edges, bleeding into the color she swipes across with the applicator.

It looks nothing like it used to. Its features have been softened. Its femininity has been highlighted. There is no trace of the woman it once was. That woman is dead now. This woman is soft, dainty, graceful. This woman is the epitome of “girl.” This woman, this doll, is a woman in truth, not the half-thing it had been prior.

A spray locks it into place.

GM: “Do not cry," Elyse orders before Jade begins.

The doll does not cry.

But perhaps it wishes to.


It is an ‘it’ now. The nameless woman it once seems, indeed, well and truly dead. A stranger could look at the doll and whoever it had been before, and conclude them to be two completely different people, with nothing in common save their sex. The large-eyed, rosy-cheeked face that stares back at Jade in the mirror truly does resemble a doll’s, all softness and delicate femininity.

The doll does not cry. It can’t. Dolls don’t have feelings. All they can do is look pretty.

“Magnificent,” breathes Elyse, resting her hands upon the doll’s shoulders in satisfaction.

“This would have been impossible without your talents, Miss Kalani. Imagine applying makeup to the muscled, fat-bellied thing it used to be. It would have been like putting, as the kine term it, ‘lipstick on a pig.’”

Celia: Jade gazes with pride upon the doll. She has done it, guided the ugly thing it once was into this marvelous creation before her. It was nothing without her. It would be nothing without the talent that she has cultivated these past months and years. Nothing without all the pain and blood and tears that have gone into Jade’s craft, first as a girl, and now as a newly Embraced Toreador. Those in her clan who have not seen her work may think she lacks in artistic ability, but those who have… ah, they know. No mere mortal could create such a thing. No paints or brushes wielded by any other hand could begin to touch what Jade has crafted here. The body is her canvas, this doll her work of art. No wonder Veronica and Pietro had been captivated that night they made their deal. Her words, her gift, her work—it had stolen their proverbial breath from their bodies. What could they do in that instance but worship the expertise that they found?

“It will face no such difficulties now, Lady Interpreter. No one would ever confuse it with the thing it used to be.”

GM: “Its grandfather will be very pleased,” says Elyse. “Its education will take some time. But now we may truly begin.”

Elyse motions to Honey. Long baby pink nail extensions go on next. Honey also spritzes some perfume along the doll’s inner wrists, throat, ear lobes, breasts, rear knees, and inner elbows. It’s a soft and fruity smell, with a whiff of new leather, baby powder, and even plastic. It’s like the smell of a brand new doll. Jade hasn’t inhaled anything quite like it.

“All we must do now…” the Malkavian declares, hands still rested on the doll’s motionless shoulders,

“…is name it.”

Celia: Elyse had taken a word she’d said earlier and said she’d use it as a name. It comes back to her now, the creature with its fluttering wings. Fitting, perhaps, that her first transformation would be so named.

She suggests it again, her lips forming the word of that being of evolution.


GM: “Butterfly,” Elyse says thoughtfully, as it tasting the name on her lips.

“An apt name, Miss Kalani.”

“Give me Butterfly’s old name,” she tells Key.

The ghoul reaches into his coat pocket and produces a neat index card and fountain pen. He sets it down on the vanity.

“Write your previous name, Butterfly,” Elyse orders. “You may move your right arm."

Butterfly writes a name down on the piece of paper:

Gabriella Kelly

“Gabriella. What a lovely and delicate name,” states Elyse. “I imagine Gabriella went by ‘Gabby’ as a consequence of her sexual orientation.”

Celia: “Or Gabe, Lady Interpreter. I have heard the kine do that sometimes. Take the masculine form of feminine names to further internalize and display their… nonconformity.”

GM: “Perhaps so, Miss Kalani. It is no matter now. That name is a dead woman’s name.”

“Key, the box,” states Elyse.

Key produces a slender wooden box with a heart-shaped lock. He opens the lid.

Elyse holds up the card.

“To wear Gabriella’s name is a privilege Butterly has not earned, as its grandfather believes it unworthy. That is why it is here.”

She places the card inside the box, closes it, and pockets the key.

“Butterfly will sleep with this box upon its bedside table. When Butterfly has achieved third order status, it will be permitted to unlock the box and reclaim Gabriella’s name.”

“Until such time, whether it takes us six months or six years, this doll’s name is Butterfly. If it should ever speak Gabriella’s name, or should it refuse to acknowledge its new name, Butterfly will be punished.”

“Tell me now. What is its name?”

“It may speak."

The doll stares up at Jade and Elyse. Its tormentors. Its transformers.

It cannot cry. Elyse has told it that it cannot.

Hardly any emotion is apparent across its perfectly made-up, china-doll face.

But Jade can see it in the doll’s eyes. Like an ember doused in water. Sizzling and dying.

But still glowing. By just enough.


Butterfly says nothing.

Elyse waits, then asks, seemingly unconcerned, “How would you punish Butterfly, Miss Kalani?”

“I have a standard punishment for dolls who refuse to acknowledge their new names. But I am curious what you would prescribe.”

Celia: “It clings to its pride, Lady Interpreter. ‘It was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice. It is the complete anti-God state of mind.’ Pain has not broken it, Lady Interpreter. It has only begun to think itself a martyr. I would suggest humiliation. That is the antithesis of pride. Humble it. Remind it of its place within your care. Remind it how you are ahead of it, not by one step, but by many. How each of its petty defiances has only endeavored to show how futile its resistance amounts to.”

GM: “’Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted,’" Elyse quotes in turn.

Celia: Jade inclines her head.


GM: “What manner of humiliation would you suggest, Miss Kalani? You are Butterfly’s creator as much as I am. It is your name the doll now rejects. Its first punishment as Butterfly should be one of your devising.”

Celia: Jade had once known a girl who had too much pride to accept what she was. She had been subjected to a lesson that told her, in no uncertain terms, how people would see her, and she had undergone that lesson with a witness to make sure that it had sunk in. It had been reinforced later when she thought she was safe. Less than the pain of the lesson, the girl had remembered the humiliation.

Perhaps, had that girl’s life not ended when it did, she would have turned out differently.

Jade doesn’t think that Elyse would want her to subject Butterfly to the same sort of lesson that the other girl had undergone. Purity, she reminds herself. So though the method will be different, the teaching will remain the same.

“The classics are rife with punishments that accommodate the nature of the sins, Lady Interpreter. Dante, for instance, would have it wear a weight around its neck to keep its prideful eyes on the ground and keep its head bowed to all it meets. This would prevent it from ever thinking it is above its station and humble it before all watchers. I believe we take part of that, the public shaming, and call your dolls to witness what it is. Bring it to the room where we took tea, so Lucy’s sisters might witness its shame as well. Immobilize it. Have it recite its sins for your dolls. Let all of them see the pathetic life it clings to, how it spits on what you offer it. Let each of them wield a paddle against it, for by rejecting itself it rejects them. Should it still refute your generosity, allow it a place among the fifth order for a day and a night. Instruct the others others not to clean it. Let it wallow in its filth, aware of what it is, next to the perfection you have visited upon the fifth order. A pig to a doll. It will learn its place.”

GM: “A pig to a doll,” states Elyse. “Very good, Miss Kalani.”

“We will combine your suggested punishment with my normative punishment. Key, retrieve the chalkboard.”

The ghoul bows and departs the “dollhouse.”

“Remove Butterfly’s restraints, Honey. Butterfly will stand up and follow us without speaking.

Butterfly stands up and wordlessly follows after the two vampires. Her walk is ungainly in her new shoes, even thick as the heels are.

“Easy, Butterfly,” says Honey, helping her along. “Walk heel to toe, not toe to heel. Take shorter steps. Delicate steps.”

She gives a giggle. “I guess those shoes must be new for it. They were for me, too.”

The four arrive at the tea table. All of the other dolls are still sitting there, hands folded in the same positions. They do not look at the new arrival.

Butterfly’s eyes widen, though nothing comes out of its mouth.

“Yes, these are the dolls Butterfly and Honey may aspire to be,” says Elyse. “Butterfly’s grandfather only wishes it advanced to the third order, but should he leave Butterfly within my care permanently, this will be its fate.”

Silent horror fills Butterfly’s eyes.

Celia: Jade trails after Elyse and the dolls, Lucy tucked against her side once more. She’s curious about the chalkboard but holds her tongue, knowing that she’ll find out soon. She’s also curious about what would happen with her public identity should she not graduate to second order in time. Then again, if her grandfather is the man she thinks, she has no doubt he’s capable of sweeping it under the rug.

She watches, silent.

GM: Lucy fits comfortably against Jade’s flank, silently watching the unfolding scene. The fourth order dolls still have not turned their heads to look at the new arrivals. They have not been ordered to.

“There are two words Butterfly is now forbidden,” states Elyse. “They are ‘I’ and ‘you,’ when spoken in reference to itself. Dolls are objects, not individuals. It will speak of itself in the third person, and be referred to by others in the third person. It will be permitted to regain its individuality when it achieves the second order, as Honey has, for its family wishes it to leave my care as an individual. But until such time, Butterfly is an object and will be referred to in the third person.”

Key brings in a wheeled chalkboard.

“For its failure to respond to its new name, Butterfly will write ‘Its name is Butterfly’ on the chalkboard one thousand times.

Butterfly picks up a piece of chalk and scrawls out, Its name is Butterfly.

Elyse looks at Key, who erases the sentence.

“It will write in cursive with neat penmanship."

Butterfly writes, Its name is Butterfly in neater cursive letters.

“Its handwriting will be another thing to work on, I see, but that is acceptable for now,” states Elyse.

Its name is Butterfly, goes the doll’s hand.

“As to your punishment, Miss Kalani.”

“Dolls, look at Butterfly.”

The six dolls all swivel their heads. Their expressions remain still.

Its name is Butterfly, goes the newest doll’s hand.

“It is not necessary that Butterfly recite its sins aloud for the other dolls, for they are not individuals. They are objects. The only individuals in this room know Butterfly’s sins already.”

Its name is Butterfly, Butterfly writes again.

“It is enough for these dolls to know only that Butterfly has sinned and must be humiliated before them. They will take turns with the paddle as you have suggested, Miss Kalani, so that Butterfly may experience pain in its posterior as well as its wrist.”

Its name is Butterfly, Butterfly writes again.

“Honey, lift its skirts. Chime, you will paddle Butterfly first, in clockwise order, and stop after 166 repetitions.”

Its name is Butterfly, Butterfly writes again.

Honey lifts the doll’s skirts, then pulls down its panties. Key passes Chime a spanking paddle. Chime delivers a sharp, loud ‘smack’ to Butterfly’s rear.

Butterfly gives a low sound of pain, but writes, Its name is Butterfly again.

“Lighter, Chime. Butterfly is to receive almost thousand paddlings,” says Elyse.

The doll gives a lighter smack with the paddle. Butterfly still makes a noise.

Its name is Butterfly, goes the doll’s hand.


Its name is Butterfly.


Its name is Butterfly.


Its name is Butterfly.


Its name is Butterfly.

On and on it goes.

Celia: Effective, Jade thinks as she watches the proceedings. The reinforcement of its name through writing on the board. The paddling it receives with each sentence that it writes.

It’s a lesson that the doll won’t soon forget. Not only for the pain in its wrist, but the pain in its rear as well, and the echo of it each time it will sit over the next few days, the cramping that won’t go away until it has a chance to rest its hand, the knowledge that each of the dolls has been instrumental in the lesson.

Effective indeed.

GM: “We will obviously be here for some time, Miss Kalani,” states Elyse as she re-assumes her seat. “What topics would you speak of?”

Its name is Butterfly.


Celia: Jade follows her lead. She sets Lucy down in a chair and settles her in once more before sitting herself. She watches the proceedings for a moment before turning her eyes to Elyse.

“What is next for it, Lady Interpreter? If you can speak of it within its hearing.”

GM: “Blossom, cover Butterfly’s ears,” instructs Elyse.

The doll rises and does so.

Its name is Butterfly.


“Sexual education, Miss Kalani,” answers the Malkavian.

Its name is Butterfly.


“I typically keep dolls chaste and unsullied, but Butterfly’s grandfather was very specific that he wished his granddaughter’s homosexuality cured.”

Celia: “Butterfly will be educated to enjoy the touch of the proper gender?”

GM: “Butterfly will gain experience with the touch of the proper gender. Its enjoyment is immaterial.”

Its name is Butterfly.


“Concurrent behavioral conditioning will induce revulsion at the sight of female genitalia.”

Celia: Jade inclines her head.

“Aversion therapy. I have heard the kine dabble with it. No doubt your methods are more thorough, Lady Interpreter.”

GM: “They are, Miss Kalani. The gifts of Caine can accomplish much that kine sciences cannot.”

Its name is Butterfly.


“Butterfly will learn to fulfill its essential function as a woman.”

Celia: “It is good you put it to such use. That it is not wasted.”

GM: “I am pleased that you believe so, Miss Kalani. Do you have any male half-bloods in your service who deserve the reward of coitus with Butterfly?”

“I had thought to have Honey serve as Butterfly’s first sexual partner, for she still possesses male genitalia. Butterfly’s disobedience has denied it that reward.”

Its name is Butterfly.


Celia: Her mind jumps to the sheriff’s ghoul of its own volition. No doubt he would show Butterfly the proper way to do things.

He is not hers, though.

“I do perhaps have one that will suffice, Lady Interpreter. Would you prefer a gentle or painful lesson for it?”

GM: “Do you believe Butterfly deserves a painful lesson, Miss Kalani?”

Its name is Butterfly.


Celia: “I think, should it still not know its place after this lesson, it could do with thorough instruction in sexual education. I also think that to make it too painful will cause it to revolt again, however. Scaring it with more pain would perhaps not be beneficial to its long-term conditioning.”

GM: “All first order dolls graduate to a higher order, Miss Kalani, whether it be the second or the fifth.”

“But I believe you are right. If Butterfly has learned its name after this lesson, it may be rewarded with a more gentle instructor.”

Its name is Butterfly.


“Honey, as you have seen, has also been instructed to exhibit a gentler hand towards her charge. She will comfort Butterfly when they are alone.”

“Praise and rewards are necessary to condition a doll as well as punishment. Anyone can break a doll, but only an artist can create one.”

“Butterfly must not merely submit to my will. It must come to enjoy and appreciate its state as Honey does. That is the prerequisite for advancement to the second order.”

Its name is Butterfly.


Celia: “Wise, Lady Interpreter. I admire the thought and detail you have put into the care and training of the dolls. It is no wonder that you have a waiting list as long as you do. I find myself eager to see how this one’s progression compares to the others now that it has been physically modified.”

GM: “It would be my pleasure to keep you informed, Miss Kalani.”

“The primary reason my waiting list is so long is because I accept clients from other cities. There is local demand for my services, but it is unlikely I would require a wait list at all if I limited my clients to local circles.”

Its name is Butterfly.


Celia: “Thank you, Lady Interpreter. That does, of course, make sense.” Jade pauses, watching the spanking once more.

“I have given some consideration to our earlier discussion regarding locale, if you’ll permit me to bring it up now? We can always revisit should this not be the time.”

GM: “Please do, Miss Kalani. This is a convenient moment.”

Its name is Butterfly.


Celia: “I see the wisdom in performing the treatments here rather than transporting the dolls between locations. Less convenient on my end, but traveling for clients is hardly a novel idea. You have all you need here; Key and your other dolls, Honey in this case, have proven capable assistants with what I need. Everything can be done at once.”

Jade gives a firm nod. As much as she is more comfortable within her spa, she is not adverse to coming to Elyse for this level of modification.

“I will speak with the area’s regent to discuss how he and I might come to an agreement about my continued presence within his domain on the evenings you have use of my talents.”

GM: Its name is Butterfly.


“Your talents have proven most satisfactory, Miss Kalani. I may do so in your stead, if you wish. I do not believe he will be as inclined to listen to a follower of Mr. Savoy’s who is as new to the Requiem as you yet are.”

Celia: “I believe you are correct, Lady Interpreter. He will assuredly be more amenable to the situation were it to come from you. If it is not too much trouble.”

GM: “It is some trouble, Miss Kalani, but towards an end of significant value.”

Her gaze falls upon Butterfly.

Its name is Butterfly.


Celia: “Lady Interpreter,” Jade says after a brief moment, “while I see the wisdom in what you say, I have no wish to cause you inconvenience. His toll may be steeper considering our political differences, but perhaps I can assume the responsibility for this portion of our venture so that you may focus on your business.”

GM: “On the contrary, Miss Kalani, I am in your debt for the service you have done me tonight, and for a service I would have you yet do.”

“I would feel it improper to ask you to do still more without recompense.”

Its name is Butterfly.


Celia: Jade offers the diminutive Malkavian a fond smile.

“I understand, Lady Interpreter. Perhaps we could table the discussion of this evening’s service and revisit the topic of recompense at a future date? I am curious to know which other service you wish to use me for this evening.”

GM: Its name is Butterfly.


Elyse rises. “Come, Miss Kalani. This is not for the dolls’ ears.”

Celia: Jade rises, bringing Lucy with her. She thinks that is the exception to the no dolls rule.

GM: Its name is Butterfly.


Indeed, Elyse nods as if in faint approval. Lucy looks contently snug in Celia’s arms.

The three depart.

Its name is Butterfly.


Monday evening, 12 April 2010

GM: The three proceed to a nearby parlor room. Elyse sits down on a chair, pulls up her dress, and lowers her panties. Celia sees that the Malkavian’s labia and clitoris have been cut away. Her vagina is sewn shut. She has no pubic hair.

“I desire my anus and remaining genitalia removed,” states Elyse. “My mammary glands, as well.”

Celia: Jade bends before the chair to examine the area. After a moment she gives a brief nod. She wonders if Elyse has to shave and sew herself shut every evening.

“Internal structure in addition to the external?”

GM: “Yes, Miss Kalani. I desire it completely expunged,” states Elyse.

Celia: “And the mammary glands, Lady Interpreter. Do you wish to be smooth up top or simply have the glands themselves removed while you maintain the shape?”

GM: “Dolls possess breasts, Miss Kalani, but one does not see a doll’s mammary glands. I wish my breasts to be perfectly smooth and uniform in color.”

Celia: No nipples, then. Jade nods again.

“It is possible. The procedure will be painful, as you have seen. Do you wish for a local anesthetic?”

GM: “Thank you for your consideration, Miss Kalani, but I do not. You may begin at your leisure.”

The Malkavian leans back to give Jade more room and spreads her legs.

Celia: “Would you like to hold Lucy while I work, Lady Interpreter, or shall I put Lucy with Key?” Jade asks before she begins.

GM: “I would like her to witness this, Miss Kalani, thank you for asking,” replies Elyse. She accepts Lucy into her arms and cradles the doll gently against her body. Lucy looks very content.

Celia: Jade begins at the bottom this time. She finds a sink to wash her hands before she starts and dries them thoroughly, and brings a garbage bag with her to collect the innards. She takes a knee before the chair and summons the claws from her nails. Long, sharp, but pretty. So pretty. Like the dolls.

She starts with the tip of one claw against the midsection of her abdomen and creates a vertical incision. The skin peels back from Elyse’s body with ease, allowing Jade to view the muscle and padding within. Another cut takes her inside of that, and once she has pressed it back she can see the structure that Elyse wishes removed. It’s a simple swipe of her claws to snip the connective tissue surrounding the ovaries and womb. She pulls it through the incision she made on Elyse’s skin and deposits it into the bag. Elyse will feel an emptiness within her while her body tries to sink into itself, but Jade keeps hold of the flesh in one hand while she works the other. A downward flick of her wrist cuts through the sutures in Elyse’s inner labia, the cord likewise deposited in the bag to dispose of. As gently as she can, she removes the excess tissue. She rolls it in her hand to soften it and uses it to pad the vacant spot inside of her. The pads of her fingers press against the evidence of Elyse’s clitoral removal, smoothing it all over. Another pass of her hands kills the hair in their roots. A third shapes it into the smooth, even skin she has seen on many dolls beneath their dresses. Her fingers pinch to close the earlier incision, then massage away the lingering line until it looks as if it had never been.

Jade adjusts the Malkavian’s legs so she can repeat the process with her anus. A cut across the sphincter allows her to reach inside and remove the lower portion of her bowels, tossed aside like the garbage it is to them. She takes a piece of skin from the cheek and smudges it across the opening until Elyse is as smooth and hairless as her dolls.

She spends a few moments longer shaping the area where her genitalia used to be. When she is done she steps back, viewing it from all angles to make sure that Elyse will be pleased with her work. She nods her head. There is nothing left to suggest that Elyse ever had any lady bits.

She lets Elyse know that she can begin the work on her chest and waits for her to move her dress. Another cut of her claws takes her into the breast tissue, and from there she finds the offending glands and removes them. The work here is more detailed than down below, as the glands themselves are littered and strewn throughout the entire breast and each woman’s shape is different. She makes sure that she gets them all out, carving into Elyse with no sense of hesitation.

Once the internal structure has been seen to Jade closes her back up and begins to shape her. She removes the nipples and evens out the skin tone—exactly like the Barbies she used to play with—and consults with Elyse as to her preferred size and shape while she works, making sure to take her preferences into consideration.

When she’s done they are as smooth and perfect as the rest of her, round little globes that will sit nicely beneath any top.

She looks for a mirror to present Elyse the finished product in case she has any requests.

GM: The pair (or trio, if one counts Lucy) proceed to the bathroom for Jade to wash her hands. While they’re there, Elyse supposes they should just do it in the tub—there’s likely to still be some mess.

Elyse strips off her dress for ease of access. The Toreador likely cannot help but admire her nude form. She’s already a petite thing, and very thin for her frame. Her skin is flawless pale porcelain, free of all marks, blemishes, and non-uniform features. It’s an uninterrupted stretch of pure milky white. It’s cold to the touch and feels more like plastic than a human body’s skin. She resembles nothing so much as a life-sized doll, all the way down to perky breasts that remain rigidly fixed in place as she moves. Some people’s beauty looks artificial, but it feels as if the entire point of Elyse’s was to look artificial. Her body seems to proclaim that artifice is superior to mere flesh.

The Malkavian’s face remains still and impassive as Jade slices her open. Her eyelids briefly flit up, and her lips press together, but no sound escapes them as Jade methodically destroys her anus and reproductive organs. She tells the Toreador to remove her extraneous organs while she’s in there—the kidneys, digestive tract, liver, pancreas—anything that’s not absolutely necessary to support her skeletal structure, or which would interrupt the flow of vitae through her arteries, can go.

Jade cuts them out and dumps them into the garbage bag like so much trash, but there’s not much to dump. The organs putrefy into foul-smelling half-goo the moment Jade severs them from the rest of the Malkavian’s body. She’s heard that some vampires lie about their ages, and she supposes this is one of the more foolproof ways to verify the truth. She’d peg Elyse at around 50 years dead.

Celia: Jade has experience removing the inner organs. She doesn’t tell Elyse as much, but taking out her own body parts was one of the first things that she had done to herself when she had learned the skill. Her teacher had watched, impassive, while Jade cut into her body with her own claws, staring in the mirror. She had learned the location of each of her organs, her flesh cut away and pinned outward like a dissected frog on a seventh grader’s lab bench. Her teacher had pointed out what could and couldn’t be removed to interrupt the Kindred anatomy, had made her undergo the process and the pain itself to learn what it felt like to be on the receiving end so that, when she began to work on her own clients, she would know what kine could handle without stretching the Masquerade too thin.

Or perhaps her teacher was a sadist and had no other purpose than that.

She’d wondered how those stories happen, the people who get trapped and cut off their own arms or legs to remove themselves from the situation, and now she, too, knows what sort of pain she is capable of withstanding.

She doesn’t chatter as she works, but she does tell Elyse that, should she be interested in reusing the parts from her dolls, human fat can be rendered and turned into soaps, pressed into tiny little flowers or cute shapes, colored, with added fragrances.

GM: “Waste not, want not, Miss Kalani,” Elyse replies in a very tight voice. “I believe it would be to Butterfly’s benefit to receive soaps made from its own fat. I will have Honey retrieve the trash bag.”

The process is not painless. It must be agonizing to be systematically sliced apart and disemboweled like this. The Malkavian’s lips press firmly together, but she remains as silent as a doll. Her clear eyes don’t blaze so much as sharpen with intensity as she watches Jade smooth over the flesh where she used to have a vagina. The Toreador leaves nothing behind. Her “canvas” truly resembles nothing so much as a life-sized a human doll, free of all the needs and frailties of mortal flesh.

“Outstanding work, Miss Kalani,” Elyse replies when she is finished.

She turns on the shower head to clean herself. It doesn’t even feel like Jade is looking at a naked person. There are no nipples, no vagina, not even any crack between her cheeks. Elyse asks her to seal that up too.

It’s as immodest as looking at a doll.

Celia: Jade appraises her work once she is done, her eyes sharp as she gazes upon Elyse’s new form. She does not think that she would ever submit to such a thing herself, but she understands the appeal. Perhaps she is not yet long enough dead to want to give up her human vices.

She cleans herself in the sink, the drain taking away what little bits of flesh and gristle remain beneath her nails. She scrubs at her skin as she has become accustomed to doing, not because she thinks that Elyse is dirty but because, given her profession, she must remain clean. Jade supposes that it would be difficult to infect Elyse with unclean hands, dead as she is, but she will not be sloppy. Not in this.

She offers Elyse a towel once she has finished showering. No need to drip across the tile in search of one or summon a ghoul when a simple hand-off will do.

GM: Elyse accepts with thanks, towels herself off, and pauses to clean Lucy too. The cabinet has a very soft toothbrush, cotton swabs, small towel on which to lay the doll, and polishing cloth. She shows Jade how to dust Lucy lightly with a dry cloth, then a soft damp cloth, with just a little bit of dish soap.

“Do not use chlorine bleaches, as these are likely to be damaging. Many porcelain French lady dolls bear permanent marks on their cheeks where overzealous collectors used abrasives to clean them.”

Celia: Jade assists with the cleaning, nodding at the explanation. There are few things in the world as hardy as what she has become, she realizes.

“Can the damaged dolls be repaired?”

GM: “As a home remedy, rit color remover combined with cool water and administered via sponge can sometimes remove recent marks. Chlorine stains, however, are often only possible for professional hands to remove.”

Celia: “When did you begin your work with the dolls, Lady Interpreter?”

GM: “My mortal grandmother possessed a sizable collection, Miss Kalani. I grew up with them my entire life. I could hear them in ways others could not. But it was only after my circumcision that I started to create them with my own hands. I found perfection within their round little eyes, their delicately rendered faces, their soft hair and carefully chosen outfits. Beautiful and timeless, they always look how their creator intends, expressing but not feeling.”

Elyse removes Lucy’s clothes and shoes and carefully washes them in a glass jar with dish detergent.

“Washing a doll’s clothes can often be more hazardous than washing its face. Sulphur dioxide is a common air pollutant that may cling to a dress. Putting the dress in water creates sulphuric acid, leaving the fabric in shreds.”

“Fortunately, Lucy’s clothes are free of such, nor is it necessary to wash her hair. She is a very easy doll to care for.”

Celia: Jade smiles down at the doll in question.

“She certainly seems well cared for. They all do.”

GM: Elyse pats down Lucy’s little clothes, then dresses herself. She wraps the nude doll in a swaddling cloth and hands it to Jade.

“She likes you a great deal, Miss Kalani. You have been very attentive to her.”

Celia: Jade tucks the doll against her side.

“Thank you, Lady Interpreter. I recalled your words, how dolls are created to give girls a chance to learn and practice their instincts at mothering, and… well, that road is closed to our kind, but I would be a poor visitor if I snubbed the opportunity provided, or snubbed Lucy’s affection. She deserves happiness.”

GM: Elyse strokes the doll’s porcelain hair.

“She has much happiness within her. There is much happiness she would share.”

“As you say, Miss Kalani, our kind cannot be mothers. But nor can dolls truly be daughters. We are made for one another. We may be their mothers, and they our daughters.”

“They have voices. They have feelings. You need only listen, Miss Kalani, and they will speak to you.”

Celia: Will they? Will she? Jade has never been spoken to by a doll before. Perhaps she has never taken the time to listen.

She meets the porcelain eyes now, as if asking Lucy if she has some wisdom or words to share with her.

GM: The eyes meet hers.

“She is sad, Miss Kalani,” whispers the Malkavian.

“She is sorry. She thinks her last face was displeasing to you.”

Celia: “Her last face, Lady Interpreter?” Her voice matches the pitch of the Malkavian’s, low and solemn.

GM: Elyse nods. “You felt as if judgment was written upon its contours, Miss Kalani? Lucy did not mean to seem as if she was judging.”

Celia: Jade falters. The thought had been fleeting. She hadn’t realized the doll would pick up on it.

“I… felt as if I was somehow… not good enough for her,” Jade confesses to Elyse.

GM: Elyse nods slowly, then looks back towards Lucy.

“What do you feel as if she is saying now, Miss Kalani?” asks the Malkavian.

Celia: Jade takes a good, long look at the doll. She sees it again, the similarities to the woman who had given birth to her. That woman had given her life, and Celia—the dead girl who pretends to be Jade—had given it up to keep her safe. The night she picked up the phone to call the bar and invite the monsters to her home… she had known what she was doing. What she would trade. It had not happened the way she thought, but stories never do work out the way they’re intended, do they?

She blinks back something that might be emotion. She doesn’t stuff it down, not like she had before. Nor does she wallow. She feels, letting it run through her, letting it wash over her, and then she releases it.

She takes a breath she does not need.

“Proud,” Jade says at last, voice soft. The word of the evening, isn’t it? “She’s… proud of… of me, for what I gave up, even though she would have never asked it of me, even though… though she might not understand, not the depth of it, but she sees the results. Acceptance. Affection.”

More than that, though. Not simple affection. Deeper, stronger, the bond between the girl and the mother. She can’t bring herself to say the word.

GM: “Love,” finishes Elyse.

Celia: Silently, she nods.

GM: “Yes. Yes, Miss Kalani. You do hear her.”

“You hear her very, very well.”

“I do not believe you will understand everything Lucy says…. but it is plain upon her face. She trusts you.”

“Like many of the dolls in my care, Lucy was abandoned by her mother. She has known hurt. But still she trusts you.”

“I believe she would like to leave the Wedding Cake House with you, Miss Kalani.”

Celia: Jade has never cared for anything in her life. Jade doesn’t think she’s capable of caring for things. Certainly not something as fragile as Lucy. She’s afraid that she will break her. Afraid that she will not care for her the right way. Afraid that Lucy will grow to regret trusting her and will resent her.

She swallows. She blinks.

And Celia rises. Celia, the girl abandoned by her mother, left to deal with her father on her own. Forced to grow up too quickly to care for children that weren’t hers. Murdered before her time. Her womb will never quicken as she might have wished. The child that she could have had with Stephen, the accident in the car, had died with her—if it had ever existed at all.

She holds the doll as if it were her baby sister, more precious than spun gold, more delicate than a crystal figurine.

She finds her voice. Jade’s voice, but Celia’s reverence. “To stay with me, Lady Interpreter?”

GM: The Malkavian inclines her head.

“As her mother, Miss Kalani.”

Celia: A thousand reasons why not come to mind. What if she doesn’t care for her properly? What if she gets hurt? What if she doesn’t get enough attention? What if she gets too much attention? What if she’s not as happy with Celia as she thinks she will be? What if she’s wrong? What if Celia doesn’t deserve her?

And she realizes that, perhaps, this is what all new mothers go through. They think they will not be enough. They second-guess their own ability. They get nine months to figure it out, a lifetime to get it wrong, and moments… moments that will make up for it all.

Celia smiles down at the doll.

“I think I’d like that, Lady Interpreter.”

GM: The doll’s porcelain head lays against Celia’s arms.

“Then it is done,” Elyse declares. “Lucy is yours now, Miss Kalani. Key will pack you some cleaning supplies and changes of clothing for Lucy. If she should suffer damage, you may bring her here for restoration.”

Celia: A smile breaks across her face.

“Thank you, Lady Interpreter. I will care for her as you have. May I ask…? I have heard others have your work within their havens. Do the dolls… do they choose their new homes, as Lucy has?”

GM: “Only upon rare occasions, Miss Kalani. But you are not the first.”

“More typically, other Kindred commission the dolls, and I create them.”

Celia: Celia—Jade—nods her head, as if the answer does not surprise her. She keeps hold of the doll, thanking Elyse once more for her and, more quietly, thanking Lucy for choosing her.

GM: The doll rests quietly against her new mother. Elyse finishes blow-drying the small clothes and gives them to Jade to dress the doll back up.

She’s in safe hands.

Monday night, 12 April 2010, PM

GM: The three return to the tea party room. Butterfly is still writing, Its name is Butterfly on the chalkboard to the accompaniment of steady smacks with the paddle. The doll does not cry, cannot cry, but its eyes look as if they want to. It’s too exhausted, too despairing, to continue fighting. Its posterior is very red.

“I find myself in a forgiving mood,” says Elyse. “Are you as well, Miss Kalani?”

Celia: “I am indeed, Lady Interpreter.”

How could she not be, with a new doll of her own?

GM: “I had thought so. Buttefly may stop writing. It may speak.

The other doll stops paddling Butterfly.

“What is its name?” asks Elyse.

Butterfly does not meet their eyes. Its gaze is tired. Its voice is quiet.


Celia: Jade allows herself a small smile at the concession.

GM: “Very good,” says Elyse. She does not smile, but Honey does. The other doll looks elated.

“I think Butterfly could use a hug, Miss Kalani. A hug and words of comfort and assurance, after the pain it has gone through.”

“Would you like to provide them? Your skin is so lifelike.”

Celia: “I would, Lady Interpreter. It has done well this evening. Key, will you hold Lucy?” She passes the doll off.

GM: Key reverently accepts Lucy.

The Malkavian looks at Butterfly. “Some release is still healthy, for a new doll. It may cry.

Celia: Stepping forward, Jade smiles a tiny smile at the newly-christened Butterfly. She opens her arms to the former girl, bringing her into her embrace. Her heart beats in her chest, her lungs expanding as she draws in air, bringing in the scent of ‘new doll’ that Elyse had applied to it earlier. Jade’s skin is warm to the touch. She lowers the doll’s head onto her shoulder and lets it cry its painful, ugly tears onto her pink dress, running a hand up and down its back.

GM: Butterfly doesn’t wrap its arms around Jade, but just stands there and cries into her shoulder. It lets it all out. All its pain. All its humiliation. All its exhaustion. All its despair. They come out in great choking sobs, noises that sound almost too large for its now-willowy frame. Butterfly trembles in Jade’s arms as it weeps.

“P-Please, you’re killing me…” it whispers.

Celia: “We’re not killing it,” Jade says softly to it. She lets it cry, holding it tightly. “We’re building it. Butterfly will be the ideal version, the best version of itself. It will be perfect and beautiful, soft and feminine. It will learn to love itself and its new place in the world. And Butterfly is doing so well in this initial transition.”

She’d had to do the same, when she had died. This is no different.

GM: Jade’s words wash over the crying doll like an abuser’s caress. Yes. She has hurt it. But she offers comfort.

And it so, so wants comfort.

It doesn’t pull away. It rubs its face against her neck.

“P-please, I’m… I can… I can’t…. what if this… happened… someone you… knew…? P-please…”

Celia: “It,” Jade corrects her gently. “Butterfly has no sense of individuality. Butterfly is an it.”

The thought stirs her, though. How easily she could see herself, her former self, undergoing this same training. Her father would have sent her here, she has no doubt. Perhaps his neighbor as well, though she thinks that he, at least, would have preferred to break her himself. Her sister, though, should Maxen discover her… inclinations.

Has it happened to someone she knew? Her mother, perhaps?

She pushes the thought aside. Jade has no mother. Jade is not human. Celia has a mother, but Celia does not exist in this moment, in this world.

Celia is dead.

“Butterfly will learn its place,” Jade says again, “and it will accept its place, and it will learn happiness within its place. It will be content, in time.” Up and down, the hand across her back. Gentle. Soothing. Jade comforts the tormented doll.

GM: Paul had mentioned ’the dogs."

He seemed as if he had his own way of breaking girls.

The doll just continues to cry softly into Jade’s shoulder.

“Please, don’t… don’t hurt… can’t take… the hair…”

Someone else might say ‘me’ at the end.

Butterfly doesn’t say ‘it.’

But it doesn’t say ‘me.’

Celia: “If Butterfly accepts its place, it won’t be hurt,” Jade tells it. Her voice is soft. She knows a girl who might have once been broken, and what could have been said to her to hasten the process. “Pain is a lesson, Butterfly. When the lesson need not be taught, the pain need not be applied. It’s okay. It will be okay. It will learn to thrive.”

“The physical transformation is complete. It is beautiful.”

GM: Butterfly doesn’t say anything to that. Just sniffs into Jade’s shoulder and takes what comfort it can.

“What do you think we should do next with Butterfly, Miss Kalani? Adhere to its planned lesson, or something else?” asks Elyse.

Celia: “I believe Butterfly could use with a gentle introduction to its next lesson, Lady Interpreter. As you say, it does not need to enjoy it, but it has learned its name and—”

and if Paul had once been gentle with her she might not have hated him, might have cared for him

“—and may find it illuminating rather than terrifying.”

GM: “A gentle introduction. I believe I may have something in mind, Miss Kalani,” says Elyse.

Celia: Jade steps back from Butterfly. She uses the pads of her fingers to wipe away its tears, fixing the makeup with her fingertips.

GM: Butterfly clings to Jade as she tries to pull away.

“Please, my… its… can’t go through that again, the hair…”

Celia: She makes soft noises at the doll, crooning sweet-sounding nothings at it as she dries its tears, and allows it to pull her back in.

“The hair is done, Butterfly. The hair is done. It will not go through the bodily transformation again.”

“Say it, Butterfly. Say how pretty it is, let me hear it say the words.”

GM: Butterfly doesn’t say anything at first. Honey squeezes its hand.

Finally, “It’s pretty.”

Celia: Jade squeezes the doll.

“It is pretty. It is beautiful. It will learn to love itself and its new look. It will be happy with its new life. Butterfly is beautiful.”

Up and down, up and down its back. She holds it tight, pushing that sense of comfort into the doll before her. Jade is a mother now. She shares that nurturing instinct with this doll.

GM: Butterfly takes what comfort it can. It lets Jade hold it. It doesn’t respond to the praise. Elyse does not say anything, but the click of her heels sounds against the floor. The others follow. Honey holds Butterfly’s hand.

Celia: Jade continues the praise. She tells it how good it has been. How it will be happy, how it will learn to be happy, how it will love its new life and its new self. She keeps a steady stream of praise going into the doll’s ear, her voice as warm as the skin beneath her pink dress.

This is what the girl needed all those years ago. Someone to tell her that it would all be okay.

And it had been for her. So, too, it will be for Butterfly.

Jade tells it that she’s proud of it for how quickly it has come as far as it did.

GM: It is so hard to reject praise.

Butterfly doesn’t preen or smile. But it doesn’t muster the spirit to reject the words either. Honey strokes its hair and echoes similar praises, saying it’s coming along very well—“Much faster than I did!”

Key hands Jade a blindfold. It’s obvious who it’s for.

Butterfly freezes at the sight, but doesn’t try to bolt.

Celia: Jade continues her string of praise to the doll. Slowly, gently, she eases the blindfold around its eyes. She shushes it when it protests, whispering that everything will be okay. She’s gentle about it, aware of how skittish the doll is.

GM: “Trust,” whispers Honey. “We’re there for it, Butterfly.”

Butterfly tenses, and does protest. But it doesn’t try to run. Its breathing comes quicker and Jade can hear its heart beating in its chest. They walk upstairs. Key opens a locked door. Inside is a girl’s bedroom with minimalist but pink and pretty decor, including a floor to ceiling mirror. Everyone helps Butterfly onto the bed and restrains it, spread-eagled, to four handcuffs. It starts begging and pleading.

Jade suddenly sees a man in the room who wasn’t there before. He’s slightly below average height, in maybe his early 20s, with brownish-blonde hair that ends in forehead-length bangs. He’s handsome, in an almost bashfully boy band-ish sort of way, and wears a jacket with a loose-hanging tie. His eyes are milky white and blind-looking. He smells like a ghoul.

Celia: Jade steps back once Butterfly has been restrained. Her eyes flick toward the ghoul, then back to the doll. She doesn’t recognize him. He means little to her.

GM: “Fear,” the ghoul murmurs in a tender voice. It’s so soft Jade almost doesn’t hear it.

“Pain. Very loud…”

“You may silence it,” says Elyse. “Pleasure it orally.”

“Please, no…!” Butterfly begs, straining against its bonds.

The ghoul slowly raises his hands, touching his slender fingers to his forehead as if he’s getting a headache.

“Very loud, very loud…” he whispers.

Celia: Jade slides her eyes to Elyse, her brows lifting in silent question.

GM: Elyse merely looks towards the ghoul.

The ghoul nods.

“Shh…” he whispers. He removes his shoes and slowly climbs onto the bed. Jade can barely hear him. His touch is tender and careful as he lifts Butterfly’s skirts, then pulls down its panties.

“It’ll all be quiet…” he whispers.

He pleasures Butterfly with his mouth.

The doll struggles at first, begs him to stop, to get off. The ghoul holds his forehead again several times. Elyse tells him to move on with it. Jade feels the Malkavian’s supernal presence wash out from her, bathing the doll in feelings of comfort and reassurance.

It stops protesting. It takes a little while, but eventually Butterfly starts to give soft, almost gasping little whispers of pleasure.

The doll gives more sniffs and shudders as the ghoul pleasures her. Its breath comes more quickly. When the orgasm hits, Butterfly’s face flushes as it gives a soft gasp, like someone just stole away a hidden secret.

The ghoul whispers, “Shhh…” and touches Butterfly’s lips.

He touches his fingers to his forehead again.

“Just be still…”

He moves off and silently pulls his shoes back on.

“What do you think, Miss Kalani?” asks Elyse. “As gentle an initial opposite-sex partner as any former homosexual could ask for.”

“Do you believe we do more with the doll, tonight? Or should we allow it to rest?”

Celia: “Very gentle, Lady Interpreter,” Jade says quietly once the ordeal is through.

She’s reminded of Celia’s first experience at the hands of her college boyfriend. As before, she pushes the thought aside. It has no bearing on this doll. It has no bearing on Jade.

“I believe it might behoove the doll to linger with this lesson in its mind.”

GM: Celia was also straight.

Then again, the doll was blindfolded.

“Expound, Miss Kalani.”

Celia: “The doll came to us in fear and anger. It felt pain and humiliation. Now, it felt pleasure. Its transformation may accelerate if it is given a chance to let that pleasure linger as it drifts off to sleep this evening and during the day. It will fight less and accept its place more readily, Lady Interpreter, should it be allowed a gentle fall into slumber. It is like when I work on them at my business. Those who tense and resist will see little change to their bodily structure. Those who let themselves relax, or be heavy, will allow the change to take hold more quickly. This doll will internalize this last lesson and will be more pliable when you begin with it again.”

“It will be eager rather than resistant.”

GM: Elyse nods. “Sound reasoning, Miss Kalani.”

“Remove its blindfold, Key.”

The ghoul does so.

He sets down the box containing Gabriella’s name on the bedside table.

He then hands Elyse a doll’s body. It’s made of porcelain and has no clothes, hair, skin, or facial features. It’s a blank slate.

Elyse holds it up. “Look well at this, Butterfly.”

Butterfly looks at the unfinished doll.

Celia: Jade watches as well, Lucy at her side.

GM: Key hands Elyse some scissors. She snips off several sections of Butterfly’s hair, loops them together into a tiny crown, and places them on the doll’s head.

“Tomorrow evening, we will begin to make Butterfly’s doll in earnest. It can see that we already have the bisque.”

“That portion is the doll’s unglazed body. We will apply paints and fire it within an oven to give it the fleshy skin tone.”

Key holds up a camera and takes a very close picture of Butterfly’s face.

“We will compare that to paint samples. The hair will be made from Butterfly’s hair. We will cut a little bit each day, starting as we have tonight.”

“All human dolls create and care for porcelain dolls. Butterfly’s doll will teach it how to nurture an infant, as dolls have taught girls for thousands of years. Butterfly’s doll will make it a woman.”

She holds the doll close to Butterfly’s face.

“Butterfly will kiss its doll goodnight.”

Butterfly kisses the doll’s head.

“Butterfly will say it loves its doll very much.”

Butterfly stares tiredly for a moment.

“Butterfly loves its doll very much,” the doll mumbles.

“Very good, Butterfly. I am very proud of it tonight. Honey, release its hands.”

Honey unlocks its hands.

“Butterfly will clasp its hands and say a variation of the Lord’s Prayer, after me: now it lays itself down to sleep.”

“Now it lays itself down to sleep,” repeats Butterfly.

They both recite:

“It prays thee, Lord, its soul to keep;
If it should die before it wakes,
It prays thee, Lord, its soul to take.
If it should live for other days,
It prays thee, Lord, to guide its ways.

“Goodnight, Butterfly,” says Elyse. Honey cuffs both its wrists to the same bedpost, then likewise with its ankles so it lies on its side.

“Would you like to give it a goodnight kiss, Miss Kalani?”

Celia: Silent, Jade watches the proceedings. She watches the hair be cut and applied to the doll, watches the prayers, mouthing silently along, and watches the cuffs move to the other post to keep it contained. Jade looks to Elyse at the question, nodding her head. She steps forward, Lucy held in one arm, and brushes back a piece of Butterfly’s hair from her face. She leans in.

“Goodnight, my beautiful Butterfly. May the Lord bless it and keep it.”

Jade presses a chaste kiss against the doll’s temple and withdraws.

GM: She and the others leave the room. Key locks the door closed behind them.

“There you are, Miss Kalani. You have witnessed a new doll’s intake,” says Elyse.

Celia: “I thank you for allowing me to participate, Lady Interpreter. The process was most illuminating. It gives me a solid picture of what to expect and how to best implement my talents to further assist your work.”

GM: “I am most pleased to hear so, Miss Kalani. I believe there is much we might accomplish together.”

“If you have any proficiency at occulto or anima visus, there are tricks of the Blood that Lucy and I might teach you in compensation for your assistance tonight.”

Celia: “I would be most interested in learning, Lady Interpreter. I admit to some proficiency with occulto, though the other, as yet, has evaded me.”

GM: After some brief questioning as to the Toreador’s capabilities, Elyse believes there are two powers Jade might learn from her.

The first power will allow her to make objects appear as dolls, and dolls appear as other objects. Elyse calls it porcelain transfiguration.

The second power will allow Jade to conceal herself beneath a doll’s illusory form. The illusion will break if someone picks her up or sees Jade perform out of character actions for a doll. Elyse calls it porcelain facade.

Celia: Jade asks a few clarifying questions of her own. At last she nods, saying that she would very much be interested in learning the abilities.

GM: Then it is settled. Jade may come back in several nights, after Elyse has spoken to Donovan, to receive her first lessons. She should bring Lucy, who will be her principal tutor.

Elyse will also be pleased for Jade to witness and assist in Butterfly’s own lessons.

Celia: Jade expresses her desire to see the process through, and is grateful that Elyse has offered her the opportunity to do so. She believes that she has much to learn about Elyse’s methods and the human psyche.

Thursday night, 15 April 2010, PM

GM: Several nights later, Key informs Jade at Flawless that Regent Donovan has agreed to charge a toll in vitae for every week that Jade visits his mistress, rather than for every visit. Elyse is willing to pay this toll every other week.

The Malkavian’s lessons are unconventional, next to Pietro’s. She simply leaves Jade in a room with Lucy and dozens of other dolls, to do nothing but stare at them for hours. She emphasizes how the Toreador must truly internalize what it means to be a doll. She must not blink or move a muscle, nor allow extraneous thoughts to intrude upon her mind. She must “become as porcelain.”

Elyse often meditates this way herself. She finds it soothing.

Celia: She finds it similar to meditation.

Which, honestly, she was never good at. As often as Celia’s dad said that her head was empty, she’d never quite managed the ability to simply think about nothing. For hours she lets her mind wander, trying to stop the thoughts, trying not to think about the fact that she will pay Elyse the toll every other week rather than make the journey into Audubon Place herself (and consoles herself with the fact that even if she had made the journey there’s no guarantee she’d run into her sire, and even if she did he wouldn’t deign to speak with her anyway, and she very clearly avoids thinking about the other reason she might want to go back).

But, from across the room, Jade meets Lucy’s eyes one evening. And she lets herself get sucked into those eyes the same way that she’d once been sucked into her sire’s. She lets herself travel across the space between them, inserting herself into the doll’s mind, just as she’d once done with the cat she’d studied and eventually drained to take its form. There’s a stillness inside of that mind, an acceptance that Jade has not often found among her kind, and she floats in that space as gray static buzzes around her. Not empty, no, but… different. Like stepping into someone else’s skin, just as she has always done.

Another mask.

The process, once she views it like that, becomes… easier. Her body doesn’t shift so much as she makes it look like it has shifted, as if she had made herself up with jars of porcelain paint while she stared at her reflection in her vanity.

And one night she finally manages the feat.

Even in her doll form she is beautiful. Her hair looks much the same: wild and untamed, curling halfway down her back and framing the delicate features on her face. Pointed chin, full lips, hazel eyes rimmed with expertly applied makeup, a body that looks every bit as tall and willowy as the dolls Elyse trains.

GM: Jade drinks once from Elyse’s veins when the Malkavian thinks she is getting “close.” The dollmaker’s vitae tastes cool, like liquid porcelain or plastic. It smells sweet, like the perfume Honey sprayed Butterfly with.

Elyse is very pleased when she sees the fruits of Jade’s “metamorphosis” and states that Lucy has taught her well, “but that is little surprise.” She advises Jade to study other dolls’ at length if she wishes to assume them, but declares that the Toreador’s first form is her “true one.”

“You understand them better now, Miss Kalani. Their patience. Their acceptance. Their tranquility. Their minds are not so different from our own as we believe.”

“With continued practice, you may come to understand them further still.”

Celia: Curious, Jade asks how she can attain the level of understanding that Elyse implies. She admits that, while she has been able to connect with Lucy, she is concerned that she is missing part of the bigger picture.

GM: Elyse answers that it is partly a matter of simple practice. Repetition is the mother of all skill. Elyse grew up surrounded by dolls. She made herself as them. She created them with her own hands. She has spent all of her Requiem doing these same things, and transforming others into dolls too. Dolls fill her haven. Dolls watch her every waking moment.

“While it would require a commensurate degree of effort to attain my degree of understanding, Miss Kalani, there is much we may still do to further your own.”

“You could learn to make them with your own two hands. That is the largest piece of the picture you are missing.”

Celia: Jade nods her head at that.

“Of course that makes sense, Lady Interpreter, thank you. If you ever have spare time I wouldn’t turn down the lesson.” She pauses briefly, considering her words. “The ability that you taught me… using occulto, it changes the appearance without changing the structure. I wonder if there is some combination between your ability and my prowess with metamorphosis that would allow one to become a doll in truth.”

GM: “It would be my privilege to give you such a lesson, Miss Kalani.”

The Malkavian’s clear eyes do not flash at the possibility. They simply look larger, glassier, even more doll-like.

“Perhaps, Miss Kalani. Mutatio to work flesh and bone into porcelain. Anima visus to see through eyes of glass. Resistencia to suffer the loss of one’s heart. Perhaps both, to remove the brain.”

“I have considered this question before. How one might become a doll in truth. To replace all the weaknesses and frailties of the flesh with porcelain perfection.”

“I have already developed the means through anima visus to better experience a doll’s perceptions. But they are impermanent measures. To attain true enlightenment, I believe one must perfect one’s own flesh, not merely escape to another’s.”

Celia: “I had not considered adding resistencia to the mix. That is wise, Lady Interpreter, to forestall the idea of shattering should one become too delicate to bear any stress. Perhaps… well, with the mutatio,” Jade tries out the older, more formal word for it, “often you gain the capabilities of what you turn into. I think, maybe, you could get away with either anima visus or resistencia rather than both.” She pauses, drumming her fingers in an unneeded action against her thigh.

“Doesn’t the First Estate have a position that studies these sorts of abilities and powers? Perhaps we could speak to the Kindred who holds that office and see if they have any recommendations? I admit that I have not heard of an ability that uses more than one combination of skills like that.” She is young, though. Perhaps they are more common than she realizes.

GM: “Technologists, Miss Kalani. Yes. The city does not have one in residence, but I am passingly familiar with two from Houston and Chicago.”

“I have consulted with them before. But I did not then know a Kindred proficient at vicissitude who shared my vision of perfection.”

Celia: Jade smiles at the Malkavian.

“I am pleased that you have now, Lady Interpreter. We could look into it, if you’d like.”

GM: “I should greatly like to, Miss Kalani. I should also like you to address me as Lady Elyse.”

“While there are many Kindred who admire my dolls, there are few with the necessary patience and understanding to become a doll themselves, as you have.”

Celia: Jade had never thought herself the patient sort. She’s pleased that Elyse thinks so, though, and decides that it is something she can be if she chooses, just as she chooses to be a great many other things. At Elyse’s invitation to use the new title, Jade offers the same, and says that she would be pleased if Elyse calls her Miss Jade.

“When last I received instruction in occulto, Lady Elyse, my teacher was more hands on. I think that being given the opportunity to learn for myself, to sit with the dolls and attempt to join them, opened up a new world of possibilities for me.”

GM: “I am more pleased by this than I can say, Miss Jade.” The Malkavian’s eyes reflect that glassy shine. “Now that you have learned to join them, I would suggest you learn to watch others as they do.”

Part of Butterfly’s (and every doll’s) lessons include being locked in the “reflection room” for hours at a stretch. It is an empty room with nothing inside besides dolls and floor to ceiling mirrors.

The perfect place for Jade to hide. And watch.

“So that we night observe, too, how fully its lessons have sunk in.”

Celia: Jade gives Elyse a sly smile. It’s not the first time that posing as a doll to observe others has occurred to her. Just as she and her krewe-mate use their various forms to watch, she had intended to add this one to her list of intel-gathering skills. After all, who would suspect a doll when such a skill is practically unheard of?

She says that she is amenable to such a thing, and eager to see how Butterfly has progressed these past few evenings.

GM: Indeed, Elyse concurs, while many Kindred suspect invisible evesdroppers, few suspect dolls as evesdroppers.

The Malkavian’s lips purse faintly. “It would displease me were you to use your new powers against our rightful prince, Miss Jade. But I accept this as a potential and necessary cost to further your understanding of perfection, and it is one I pay willingly.”

Celia: Jade assures Elyse that she has no intention of using it against the prince. She’s even honest about that. She can think of far better people to target with such a skill, though she does not say as much.

Not talking is what dolls are best at.

Monday night, 19 April 2010, PM

GM: Meanwhile, Butterfly has ceased its open defiance and rebelliousness. It refers to itself as an it. It says its name is Butterfly. It follows directions and does not try to escape. Elyse and Honey have started to give it scriptural and home economics lessons.

But Jade can read the glumness in the doll’s eyes. It does not enjoy what it is, not like Honey does.

Elyse is unperturbed. She says no doll has ever reached the second order after only several nights. They are all unhappy at first.

Jade makes herself at home among the reflection room’s dolls. She has dozens of sisters to hide herself among. Whereas the room Jade practiced in had no mirrors, so that nothing might distract her from the sight of the dolls, Butterfly is forced to constantly stare at its new, doll-like reflection. It wears the same clothes and shoes that Jade last saw it in. Dolls don’t change clothes.

Hours pass after the door’s lock clicks shut. Butterfly buries its head against its knees and looks miserable.

Sometimes it looks around at all the dolls. Sometimes it just lies down and stares up at the ceiling, but there’s a mirror there too. Sometimes it closes its eyes.

Sometimes it touches the steel chastity belt under its dress, tugs at the belt, and looks angry.

And sometimes it just cries with its arms folded around its knees. They’re quiet and bitter tears that leave its makeup mussed.

It slowly rocks back and forth, weeping and sniffing from reddened eyes.

Its face looks as miserable as any of the ones Celia wore in Maxen’s house, during those years before college after Mom left, when she would sometimes cry herself to sleep in her bed.

Celia: It’s not her problem.

That’s what she tells herself, that it’s not her problem. She is Jade Kalani, childe of Veronica Alsten-Pirrie, and she does not feel sympathy for the kine. She was never Celia Flores. Celia Flores is a chaste, goody-two-shoes that wouldn’t have done half the things that Jade has done. Celia died when she was nineteen to make way for the Beast and its Beauty.

And dolls don’t have feelings.

Dolls don’t have hearts to break.

Dolls don’t have childhoods that they remember, or wish that their father still loved them, or wonder why their sire doesn’t want them.

Dolls aren’t murdered and abandoned and called stupid and spanked and raped by people who are supposed to help.

Jade-Doll doesn’t feel because Jade-Doll is not a person. Jade-Doll is just a doll.

GM: Jade-Doll needs a name.

But Jade-Doll doesn’t worry about that, because Jade-Doll is just a doll.

Jade-Doll doesn’t feel about anything.

Butterfly finally looks up at the mirror and stares at its miserable, puffy-eyed, and doll-like reflection. It stares for a long time. Then it picks up one of the dolls, a smiling and pink-clad plastic Barbie.

“My name is Gabe,” the woman whispers, and snaps off the doll’s leg.

She sets the doll back down, then sets its leg against its torso, so no one can tell how it’s actually broken.

Celia: Observe. That’s how Elyse had told her to spend the time. Watching to see Butterfly in its natural habitat.

Only… it shouldn’t be breaking the dolls. And every dog trainer knows that an animal is too dumb to realize what it’s being punished for if its owner waits to correct its behavior. It has to be corrected in the moment.

But Butterfly isn’t a dog. It’s a doll. And a former person. And Jade doesn’t think that Butterfly is so dumb that it won’t understand if Jade waits to mete out its punishment. And it’s better, she thinks, if Butterfly doesn’t know how they’re watching, only that they are.

Jade-Doll smiles serenely at the Butterfly doll.

GM: Gabe gives a vicious little satisfied smile.

“This place is crazy,” she whispers.

“I’m not crazy. I’m not crazy. I’m not a doll.”

“This place is crazy,” she repeats.

Celia: Jade-Doll is just a doll, but inside the doll there’s a consciousness. And that consciousness has gifts that the Jade-Doll doesn’t.

Jade-Doll uses one of them now. She focuses on the Barbie doll, and then on Butterfly, and she sends it out from her in a wave: a strong wave of emotion, a powerful guilt and paranoia and urge to open up about every wrong thing she’s ever done in her life. Barbie was an innocent doll that Butterfly tried to break to feel better about herself. So Jade-Doll will break the Butterfly when she makes it confess its sins to the mirror.

GM: Butterfly stares into the mirror with suddenly wide eyes.

“When… when Nadine got raped… I didn’t say anything.”

Celia: This is why Butterfly will become a doll. Because it is a horrible person.

GM: “I knew and I didn’t say anything, because I was scared what Grandpa would say.”

Gabe stares in the mirror, then starts crying again.

“Nad… Nad, I’m sorry… I’m so… so… sorry…” she chokes out.

Celia: But Nad isn’t here to hear it. Just Butterfly’s stricken reflection. Just the dolls that Butterfly wants to break for merely existing.

GM: “I wish… I wish I… could take it back…” She breaks down choking again. “I’m… so… sorry…”

“I was scared, I was so scared… Grandpa can do anything… look what he’s doing… to me…”

“They all say… how I’m such a big tough bulldyke… look at me… look at me…”

“Look what they did to me…!

Celia: Jade-Doll (she thinks Blossom might be a good name, but she thinks Blossom might also be taken by one of the other dolls) agrees that Butterfly had been a bulldyke. But Butterfly is so pretty now. Jade-Doll had done that. Or the person Jade-Doll used to be had done that. Jade-Doll, of course, is just a doll.

Jade-Doll doesn’t want the Butterfly to cry. Jade-Doll reaches out again with that intrinsic part of her that manipulates emotions. Perhaps if she weren’t a doll her eyes would flash. But she’s a doll, so they don’t. They just stare blankly ahead while she tries another trick. The broken Barbie is her focus. Broken, like the Butterfly is now, but she doesn’t need to be. Barbie is a friend. Barbie is the best friend. Barbie is plastic and can’t repeat secrets, and maybe the Butterfly would like to share?

Maybe then the Butterfly doll will view itself as not above them, but among them. Maybe then it will accept its new life.

GM: Gabe looks at the broken Barbie, then sniffs and gets a shamefaced look.

“I’m sorry I broke your leg…”

She picks up the doll and its leg, fiddling with both.

“I… I don’t know how to fix this, sorry…”

“You didn’t do anything bad… you just looked pretty, and I was mad over… what they did…”

She looks at the mirror with that same miserable expression.

“I fucking hate them,” she whispers bitterly.

“When I get out. I’m gonna shave my head, and burn these stupid clothes, and never wear makeup again…”

Celia: Jade-Doll (maybe Lotus?) knew a girl named Celia that had a broken Barbie once. Her brother had used it as a chew-toy. But he was in diapers, so she forgave him once her dad popped the leg back on for her.

Jade-Doll doesn’t think that her tricks are working. Perhaps she shouldn’t have meddled.

GM: “I could… maybe tell them about your leg,” Gabe says slowly.

“They could probably fix it.”

Fear flickers across her face. “But… they’re crazy… what do you think they’d do to me?”

“The… the thing with the hair… oh my god, that hurt…”

Celia: The Barbie might even be amenable to this. Jade-Doll would be. They both just smile at Butterfly. Maybe Butterfly was a girl once who heard the Barbie motto on the 90’s commercials: You can be anything! Maybe Butterfly can be a doll and be friends with Barbie like Barbie wants.

Dolls have it so easy. They’re pretty. They get nice clothes. They wear pretty makeup. They get cute shoes.

GM: “I…” Gabe looks between Barbie’s face and leg again. “I want to fix you. I really do. But what do you think they’d do…?”

Celia: Barbie’s plastic face doesn’t change. But Barbie considers Butterfly a friend. And if you break your friend you have to fix your friend.

Remember, her face seems to say, how you didn’t tell about what happened to Nadine and felt bad about it? Remember that guilt that you still carry with you?

Barbie would have told. Barbie would have helped Nadine. And Barbie thinks that truth is better. If they discover that Butterfly broke the Barbie they’ll be mad. But maybe if Butterfly apologizes for what it did they’ll be grateful.

They really do care about their dolls around here.

Barbie doesn’t want to be another Nadine.

GM: “Oh my go… oh my God, you’re right…” Gabe whispers, her eyes glistening again.

“Okay… I’ll get you… get you fixed…”

She hugs the doll and strokes its hair.

“I’m sorry… I was just so mad…”

Celia: Barbie knew that Butterfly would do the right thing. She’s content to be in Butterfly’s arms, like any friend would be. She’ll help Butterfly get through this transition.

They’ll be best friends.

Barbie is sure of it.

GM: “I hate what they did to me,” Gabe whispers, stroking the doll. “I hate it. I hate it so much.”

“I just have to get out of here. I just have to last long enough, get out, and then cut this stupid hair.”

Celia: But Barbie would be so lonely without Butterfly.

GM: Gabe’s face flickers.

“I’ll ask if you can come with me. I feel like they’d like that.”

Celia: No one else cares about Barbie the way Butterfly does. Barbie is in this room with all these other dolls and no one talks to her like Butterfly does, or strokes her hair, or worries about fixing her. Barbie will miss Butterfly if she leaves.

GM: “You’ll come with me,” she repeats. “Be pretty funny, right, the bulldyke and the Barbie?”

Celia: Barbie likes it here, though. No one calls anyone a bulldyke here. What a rude term.

Did Butterfly’s former friends really talk to it like that?

Are they really friends if they did?

GM: “I don’t mind it, honestly. It’s supposed to be an insult, but you make it yours, and it isn’t anymore.”

“So yeah. Proud to be a bulldyke.”

She gives a weak laugh. “Even if I don’t look anything like one…”

Celia: Really? Barbie isn’t sure she believes that. Her face doesn’t change, but Butterfly knows.

Barbie thinks that’s just what people say when they’re secretly wounded by a word.

GM: “Well, what’s the other choice? Just let it always hurt you?”

Celia: Barbie wouldn’t let someone call her a bulldyke. And she wouldn’t let it hurt her if someone whispered it about her behind her back.

Barbie got to be anything she wanted to be. She was a nurse in the 60s, and an astronaut after that, and a doctor, and a firefighter, and a pilot. She thinks that Butterfly could be a doll if she wanted. Happy, like her. And think of all the freedom that Barbie has. She’s had more than ten careers in six decades. So much time to try new things!

What does Butterfly want to be?

GM: Gabe laughs. “Yeah. Guess you have. But you live forever, right?”

Celia: All dolls live forever.

Maybe Butterfly will live forever.

GM: “I’m not a doll,” says Gabe. “I’m not Butterfly. I’m Gabe. Gabe. That’s my name. Gabe.” She repeats it like a mantra.

Celia: Butterfly.



GM: Her eyes scrunch. “Only until I get out. Only ’til I get out.”

Celia: Butterflies are so pretty. So delicate. So beautiful. Butterflies are creatures of change.

Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.

Butterflies have sayings about them. They can cause great change in the world, not just change themselves. Some culture think they’re lucky. And if they flap their wings hard enough, they can cause tsunamis.

GM: “Please don’t call me that. That hurts. That’s their name for me. If I stop being Gabe, they win.”

Celia: Barbie wants to know what it would do if it could do anything.

Because Barbie thinks that leaving an old life behind and getting a new life is an adventure. A chance to start over. A chance to do, to be, anything. And that’s amazing.

GM: “Well, being a botanist would be pretty cool. Just haven’t really been able to go to college with parents cutting me off.”

Celia: But if it accepts this new role, it can be a botanist. Barbie was an architect this year, didn’t it hear? And a news anchor and a race car driver. And if Barbie can do all that then a botanist is certainly within reach.

Think of all the free time.

All the college classes open.

All the travel and the world to see.

GM: “I don’t need to be Butterfly to be a botanist. I can… find a way to make it work.”

Celia: Butterflies and botany go hand in hand, though.

GM: “I dunno, maybe just take out loans, if I really have to.”

Gabe holds her head. “I hate butterflies after this.”

“Like, no offense to them, but fuck ’em.”

Celia: Barbie would frown if she could.

GM: “Fuck. Ha. That crazy lady said she’d wash my mouth, if I said swear words. I bet it’d piss her off just to know I was doing that here.”

“Shit. Fuck. Cunt. Ha.

Celia: Barbie has been a lot of things, but certainly not a potty-mouth.

GM: Gabe chuckles. “Yeah, well, bulldykes are potty-mouths. You ever heard of any that weren’t?”

Celia: Barbie thinks that Skipper isn’t a potty-mouth.

GM: “Skipper?”

Celia: Skipper is Barbie’s younger sister.

GM: “Oh. Cool. I have a younger sister too.”

Celia: Barbie is curious about the sister.

GM: “Her name’s Susannah. She’s in seventh grade. She’s a lot more like you than me. Grandpa definitely won’t send her here.”

Celia: Barbie wants to know if the sister is happy.

GM: Gabe looks thoughtful. “Maybe? Seventh grade sucks for everyone, but I guess she’s not doing too bad.”

Celia: Barbie thinks that if Susannah is happy being an almost-doll, then so too can it.

GM: Gabe’s face falls at her reflection. “I look so fucking pathetic.”

Celia: Does that mean Barbie looks pathetic too?

GM: “No, it’s… it’s just you, not me.”

Celia: Why?

Was it conditioned to think that anything feminine is bad?

That being pretty is terrible?

That being soft is wrong?

GM: “It just… isn’t me,” Gabe shrugs, haplessly.

Celia: Barbie knew a girl who knew a girl once who thought that. She wouldn’t wear dresses or heels or be friendly and shaved her head just like this one did. And it wasn’t until she embraced that side of her that she became at peace with herself. And she was happy.

There are insults, Barbie knows, about being a girl. “You play ball like a girl.” When someone calls a man a girl or a bitch or a pussy they mean it derogatorily. Even common sayings—“sack up,” “nut up,” “grow a pair”—imply that to be brave and strong someone has to be a man.

In 1992 Barbie had a “runs for president” version of herself. Not even president. Just “runs for president.” Because even Barbie’s creators think that Barbie isn’t capable.

But they know the truth. Women are capable. And being soft and feminine is not a death sentence.

And if this one thinks that being a feminist or being strong is all about looking and acting like a man, then it is buying right into the patriarchy.

And Barbie thinks that’s sad.

GM: Gabe holds her head. Surrounded by all these dolls, these doll-like reflections of herself, this talking but not talking and so softly insisting Barbie, she must be…

“I think I’m going a little crazy…” Gabe whispers.

“Being, being feminine, being soft… it’s weak… it’s what Grandpa wants to keep them… down.”

“I’m not doing it because that’s, what he wanted, not what he wanted. I’m doing it, because. Because, that’s me.”

She looks in the mirror at her doll-like reflection.

“I’m crazy, is what I look like. I can’t go crazy.”

“Like I hugged them a couple nights ago and they were so sweet and nice but they were calling me an it, and I just…”

She gives a rattled laugh.

“How, how does that work. And they said my prayers, and they tied me down, and they had this… I was blindfolded, it was… maybe a guy, but like a woman, and I didn’t say yes, but I’d hurt so bad, and they kissed me to sleep, and…”

She laughs and touches a hand against her doll-like reflection.

“It’s like I’m not even me, but who’s even…”

Celia: But it could be.

It could be.

Grandpa thinks that being soft and feminine is weak because he’s a man and that’s what he’s supposed to think. They look down on females. They all do. But it’s not true. Barbie knows it. Barbie had to learn that.

And now this one can too. It can be soft and feminine and pretty and still do what it wants to do.

It sounds like “Gabe” was just what Grandpa didn’t want rather than what this one actually wanted. It sounds like the fear of conforming was greater than the desire to be true to itself.

This transition is freeing. Once it’s over she can do anything. Be anything.

Like the Barbie motto.

You can be anything.

And Barbie is soft and feminine and has taken on all these different occupations to show girls that they, too, can do it. Even if they’re women. Even if the men don’t want them to. And they can do it and be feminine.

GM: Gabe holds her head and moans.

Celia: And not letting them take away the femininity while still doing what it wants… that’s the real victory. Otherwise, what, “be a man/be mannish and you can do what you want?”

What sort of lesson is that?

Barbie has been through it before.

Barbie can help.

GM: “They… they call me an it…” the doll-like woman moans.

“I had an orgasm… what the fuck… what the fuck…”

“I was tied up…”

Celia: …but was it good?

GM: The doll moans.

“I’m going crazy… "

Celia: Barbie doesn’t think so.

Barbie thinks that enlightenment feels crazy because it’s different.

That’s how people get other people to stay the same. By implying they’re crazy.

GM: “But I’m not… an it…”

Celia: But the word “it” is so… freeing. “It” can be anything, refer to anything.

GM: “Wh… how?”

Celia: The word “it” means so many things. It can be so many things. It can be an animal. It can be a plant. It can be a place. It can be an abstract thought or idea or cosmic event. It can be an emotion. It can be an act or gesture or activity. It can be a part of the body. It can be an inanimate object. It can be a person. When people say “it,” they just mean the thing of which they were speaking.

Like a nickname.

Barbie used it earlier: Barbie thinks that enlightenment feels crazy because it’s different.

It meaning enlightenment.

Barbie has been through it before.

It meaning all of the sexism and negative comments and derision that has ever been directed at Barbie, and all of the people telling Barbie that Barbie couldn’t do a thing because Barbie was born with two X chromosomes, as if that is the only deciding factor on worth.

It is shorthand.

Barbie admits that Barbie has been a teacher more than any other career. Barbie has had six iterations of Elementary Teacher Barbie alone because Barbie enjoys sculpting young minds. Elementary school, that is Barbie’s niche. Get them while they’re young. And at that age, Barbie used to teach them to not use the word “it” in written papers because “it” was too vague. Because “it” could refer to literally anything.

GM: “They call… kids it… sometimes…”

“Bbbuughh…” Gabe groans, clutching her head.

“This place… I’m not crazy… it’s a stranger, it’s not me, in the mirror, it’s not me…”

Celia: The reflection isn’t the past. The reflection is the present.

The reflection shows change.

Embrace the change.

GM: Gabe presses her palms against the reflection, claws at the mirror, and starts crying again.

“Oh my God… where’d I go…”

“I don’t know how to come back…”

“I don’t know… I don’t know…”

Celia: The only way forward is through.

Growth happens outside the comfort zone.

GM: “I… I can’t let Grandpa, let Grandpa win…”

Celia: Grandpa only wins if the true self is denied. Grandpa wins if Grandpa convinces the next generation that being feminine is wrong.

GM: “Wha… I just… I just wa…”

Gabe stretches her arms and splays them against the mirror. She presses her face against the glass and pushed against it, as if to shove through.

A huge-eyed, rosy-cheeked, lustrous blonde doll with Barbie-thin limbs stares back.

She shudders and opens and closes her eyes several times.

Still there.

“What… what do I need to do…?”

Celia: Embrace the transformation.

Be stronger than Grandpa by getting through it.

Be the change.

Be the butterfly.

GM: “O… okay… just get through… just… through…”

Celia: Be the butterfly, Barbie suggests again. Do what the butterfly would do.

GM: “What’d… what’d, would Butterfly do…?”

Celia: The caterpillar goes into the cocoon to change. The caterpillar becomes literal goo inside of that cocoon. It breaks down into literal goo to become mold-able. To be sculpted into something new. Something beautiful. Something delicate but strong.

Something that has the wings to go anywhere.

The caterpillar emerges as a Butterfly.

Be the Butterfly.

GM: “O… Okay… just… be… Butterfly…?”

Celia: Be Butterfly.

GM: “When, when they let me out, just… be… Butterfly.”

Celia: Be Butterfly, Barbie agrees.

GM: “Be, be Butterfly. O… okay, I can do that…”

Celia: Barbie smiles serenely up at Butterfly.

GM: “Butterfly’s so… pretty…”

Celia: Butterfly is beautiful.

Butterfly is one of a kind.

Butterfly is a snowflake like that.

Butterfly is so very, very special.

GM: Butterfly stares into the mirror.

“There’s… there’s something Butterly needs to say…?”

Celia: Butterfly accepts Butterfly.

Butterfly loves Butterfly.

Butterfly cherishes Butterfly.

GM: “Butterfly accepts Butterfly. Butterfly loves Butterfly. Butterfly cherishes Butterfly.”

Celia: Again.

GM: “Butterfly accepts Butterfly. Butterfly loves Butterfly. Butterfly cherishes Butterfly.”

Celia: Believe it.

Feel it.

Live it.

GM: The door clicks open.

Elyse walks in. “Butterfly closes its eyes."

Butterfly closes them.

Elyse turns towards Jade-Doll.

“The Doll has served well. Jade will come out soon.”

“The Doll will come back.”

“The Doll will always be there.”

“The Doll requires a name.”

“It may take any name it wishes. The other dolls will surrender their names to the Doll, if the Doll wishes.”

“The Doll is special.”

Celia: Jade-Doll takes some time coming back to herself. She thinks she had been the Barbie for a while, but maybe she had dreamed it. Still, something plastic lingers on the edges of her consciousness, and her leg… the echo of a memory lies down that road, but though Jade-Doll tastes plastic on her tongue and in her nose she knows that is not who she is.

She is not Barbie.

She is not Celia.

She is not Jade.

She is Jade-Doll.

But she needs a name. Blossom… she likes it. It appeals to her. Rolls off the tongue. But the offer to give it up doesn’t sit right. She doesn’t want a used name. She wants her own. Because she’s special.

Like a snowflake.

Each iteration of her is different. Unique. Delicate and beautiful and made up of thousands of tiny facets that are repeated nowhere else. Cold. But feminine.

But there’s something… wrong about that. She doesn’t like it as a name. Snowflake is a dog’s name, not a doll’s name.

She considers further.

The other name had been beautiful as well. Lotus. A water lily. But the history goes much deeper than that. And the lotus had survived the ice age, when so many other flowers died out. Had she, too, not survived an ice age?

GM: “Lotus,” pronounces Elyse.

“I am pleased to welcome you into the world.”

“My name is Elyse. I am your father. Jade is your mother.”

“I saw you as a gleam in Jade’s eye. I inseminated her with the knowledge that made your life possible. Together, we brought you into the world.”


“What a pretty doll you are, my beautiful Lotus.”

Celia: Lotus.

Fitting. It symbolizes the circle of life. Death. Rebirth. Brought into the world thrice now: by her mother, by her sire, by Jade and Elyse. It’s a hardy flower. A survivor. Like her.

Lotus is pleased with her new name.

GM: Elyse kneels and strokes her hands along the doll’s tiny hair.

“Such beautiful hair you have, my beautiful Lotus.”

She picks up the doll and carefully, tenderly holds it in the crook of her arm.

“My beautiful, beautiful Lotus.”

Celia: The beautiful Lotus doll smiles up at Elyse. It’s comfortable in her arms.

GM: “Such pretty hair you have. A queen’s midnight mane. Such a pretty, delicate face. Such wide, soulful eyes. Such a thin, willowy body. You truly are perfection.”

Elyse cradles the doll and strokes its hair.

“We have been waiting for you here. I love you very, very much, my beautiful Lotus.”

Time passes as the Malkavian cradles the doll.

“I have a secret to tell you, Lotus.”

Celia: Lotus likes secrets.

GM: “It’s a very important secret. So it’s going to be just between us.”

“Jade isn’t going to know, not just yet. She isn’t ready.”

Celia: Lotus won’t tell Jade.

GM: “Good Lotus. Very good Lotus,” says Elyse, petting the doll’s hair. “One night she will be ready. We all know she has it in her.”

Celia: Has what in her?

GM: “Jade wants to be flawless. She’s off to a good start, my beautiful Lotus. A very good start.”

Elyse hugs the doll against her chest. Her porcelain lips brush against its ear.

“Now listen carefully, beautiful Lotus…”

Monday night, 19 April 2010, PM

GM: Elyse takes Jade’s hand to help her up from the floor.

“Welcome back, Miss Jade.”

Celia: Jade rises to her feet, her eyes moving around the room as if to reorient herself to having a body capable of motion once more.

“Thank you, Lady Elyse.”

GM: “Lotus is truly beautiful. I will teach you to craft a body for her, so that she might exist independently.”

Celia: Jade smiles at Elyse, thanking her for the compliment on Lotus.

“Would Lotus… would she still be part of me, if she were to exist outside of me?”

GM: “My apologies, Miss Jade, I did not mean a physical body.”

“Lotus is inside of you, but you may learn to draw her out.”

“She will remain a part of you, for she will be able to come back in.”

Celia: “I see. Thank you for clarifying. Yes, I would… I would like that, Lady Elyse.”

GM: “I am pleased to hear so, Miss Jade. I believe Lotus would like it a great deal as well. I think she and Lucy will become the best of friends.”

Celia: “Was Lucy created in a similar fashion?”

GM: “Lucy’s story is one we must allow her to tell herself, Miss Jade, in her own time. She is a very special doll.”

Celia: Jade nods her head at that. She had felt it too from Lucy. That she is special. She will be patient.

GM: “Butterfly may open its eyes."

Butterfly’s eyes open. It curtsies, swallows, and then says slowly, “Butterfly did something bad.”

“Butterfly knows confession is good for its soul,” says Elyse.

Celia: Jade asks the question softly, “What did Butterfly do?”

GM: Butterfly lowers its gaze.

“Butterfly broke a doll’s leg.”

Celia: Her eyes slide to the doll in question, the Barbie that she—


She has never been a Barbie.

“And what did Butterfly learn?”

GM: “Butterfly was angry and hurt something that did nothing wrong.”

“But the doll was still very nice to Butterfly.”

“Butterfly wants to fix the doll. Please.”

Celia: Jade holds her hands out for the doll.

GM: Butterfly picks up the doll and its leg, then sets them down in Jade’s hand.

“The doll told Butterfly it can be anything it wants by being Butterfly.”

“The doll told Butterfly it would be strong by being Butterfly.”

“It said Butterfly was very pretty.”

Celia: Jade listens silently to Butterfly speak. She watches the doll’s face, searching for signs of further resistance.

GM: The doll isn’t resisting. It also isn’t fully brainwashed. It’s taking a leap of faith, half-unsure where it might land.

It’s wondering if it’s going crazy.

It wants stability.

Celia: “Butterflies are creatures of change and adaptation,” Jade says to the doll. “They are strong. They survive. They fly. And they are very, very beautiful.” Jade reaches out with one hand, touching the doll’s chin to lift its gaze.

GM: The doll’s beautifully made-up face meets Jade’s eyes.

“Will… it be punished, for breaking the doll…?”

Celia: “I knew a girl,” Jade tells the doll, “whose mother’s leg was wounded in an accident. A fit of rage, as you have done to this doll. The woman lives in pain, day in and day out. She was a dancer once, but now she cannot do the thing she loves. What punishment would be fitting for the action that took her leg?”

GM: Butterfly’s lip trembles.

“But, can it be fixed…?”

Celia: “That is not what I asked.”

GM: “Taking… their leg,” Butterfly says slowly.

Celia: Jade’s eyes move down Butterfly’s new, willowy body to the leg in question.

She lets that stare linger.

Butterfly knows what she is capable of.

GM: The doll starts crying.

“Please, I-it confessed, Butterfly confessed, it’s so sorry, its name is Butterfly, its name is Butterfly…”

Celia: “Butterfly will not be punished because Butterfly confessed. To forgive is God’s gift, and so we must all do in His name.”

Jade wipes away the tears from the doll’s face.

“Butterfly is forgiven. Butterfly will care for the doll during the remainder of its time here. Further harm that comes to the doll will leave its mark upon Butterfly.”

GM: Butterfly nods raptly, eagerly, mouthing thanks.

Celia: Jade looks down at the doll in her hands, then up at Elyse.

GM: Elyse takes the doll and re-affixes the leg in all of two seconds.

Celia: Just as she had thought: they all pop back on.

If only she could repair that girl’s mother so easily.

Monday night, 19 April 2010, PM

GM: “Well-handled, Miss Jade. And well-handled, beautiful Lotus,” Elyse says after she presses the doll into Butterfly’s hands and sends it away.

“As Butterfly’s grandfather does not desire it permanently damaged, the normative punishment would have been breaking both of the doll’s legs, instead of amputating one. Were the doll unable to have been repaired.”

Celia: Jade slides a sly smile toward Elyse.

“I had thought it might slow down its progression to lose access to both legs, Lady Elyse, though I confess that I had assumed the threat of the punishment would be enough.”

GM: “On the contrary, Miss Jade. Dolls do not walk under their own power.”

Celia: “Ah, yes. You are correct of course, Lady Elyse.” Jade inclines her head. She had spoken too hastily.

GM: “But there is no need for such brutal measures when the doll has confessed. You handled it capably, Miss Jade, by instilling fear and gratitude in the same stroke.”

“It fears to transgress, but it will self-report and regulate its own behavior. It is well on its way to being truly broken.”

Celia: “They need both. Fear and gratitude, as you said. One without the other would lead to imperfect results. Resentment. Lingering anger. They need punishment and comfort. All things in balance.”

Perhaps that is why the Malkavian has not shown her temper or any overt sign of emotion. She already knows that they need both, and she has internalized it herself. Perfectly balanced.

GM: “Indeed, Miss Jade. Gratitude is as powerful a force as fear. The breaking process comes in stages, typically with initial defiance, followed by punishment and then comfort, hidden thoughts and acts of defiance, release in the reflection room, and finally acclimation under a consistent system of rewards and punishments.”

“Yet just as your talents allow you to accelerate a doll’s physical transformation, so too do my clan’s gifts allow us to accelerate the mental transformation.”

Celia: Conditioning. The system breaking of a person to then build them back into the desired form.

“Indeed, Lady Elyse. The physical transformation that Butterfly has undergone already—has that accelerated the mental transformation as well, or is it too soon to tell?”

GM: “I believe it has done so, Miss Jade,” answers Elyse. “Dolls normally require further sessions in the reflection room to reach Butterfly’s present state.”

Celia: Jade beams at her, clearly pleased with the result of her work.

GM: “Most female dolls do not undergo physical transformation as drastic as Butterfly’s. This has made it especially susceptible to my mental influence.”

“In some ways, male dolls are easier to break. The destruction of their masculinity is an additional and significant trauma.”

Celia: She will keep that in mind when she finally gets her hands on her father.

“I imagine so, Lady Elyse. They seem to place much stock in such things. Butterfly was under the same impression about itself.”

GM: “Yes. Butterfly’s angst over being made to dress and comport itself as a woman was also significant.”

Celia: “May I ask a question, Lady Elyse? Have previous dolls ever required a tune up, or refresher, after spending too much time away?”

GM: “You have seen me clean Lucy, Miss Jade. All works of art require care and maintenance. Ideally this will be periodic, and my own involvement unnecessary, as I seek to place my dolls in environments where they will be well cared for. One does not need the skill of an artist merely to maintain an artist’s work.”

“But were a doll poorly cared for over a long enough period, my skills would be necessary to repair it.”

Celia: “And do they ever come back to be… reversed? Is such a thing even possible, Lady Elyse, if your client were to desire it? I am thinking, of course, of my own clients, and the somewhat fickle nature of the kine. One evening they want one thing, the next they want a wholly different thing.”

GM: “That is why they require firm hands to govern them, Miss Jade. If a kine client changed their mind, I would decide on a case by case basis whether to return an unfinished doll to them. There are many circumstances where I believe I would not. I would honor the request of another Kindred.”

“But it would be one matter to return an unfinished doll and another to destroy a completed one. Can one render, for example, a Barbie doll down to its constituent plastic and synthetic components? It would be simpler to start anew with fresh materials.”

“I do not believe I would be inclined to do such a thing without significant inducement. What manner of person asks an artist to destroy their own work?”

Celia: Jade inclines her head at that.

“A poignant question, Lady Elyse, and one I had not considered in that fashion. The work I do with them is often temporary, meant to be repeated time and again, to be kept up with and altered as the fashions and styles change. Yours, of course… is eternal.”

GM: “Indeed, Miss Jade. But as with yours, fashions and styles may change. If one is displeased with a doll in its present state, many alterations may easily be performed. Blonde hair may be turned to black, or a white dress to pink.”

“I have had many clients bring dolls back to me for behavioral or physical modification. I have also had some change their minds mid-way through the process. I have had a handful bring broken dolls to me for repair. As with any repair job, this requires far less time than creating a new work wholesale. The dolls swiftly remember their places and routines.”

“I have also, in all my years, had but three clients who wished me to destroy a doll and restore its former self.”

“Two of these I refused outright. The third is a story for perhaps another evening.”

Celia: Jade looks forward to hearing it. She says as much to Elyse, and thanks her for sating her curiosity.

Tuesday night, 20 April 2010, AM

GM: Lucy and the Malkavian next teach Jade “how to bring the dolls outside of you.” This involves a great deal of practice making real dolls. Elyse starts by showing Jade how to make the bisque for porcelain dolls (bisque is unglazed porcelain). One mixes clay paste and water together into a mold, then bakes it in an oven at extremely high (2300 F) temperatures. The doll head is painted and fired several more times to get its skin tone.

Doll bodies are instead made out of composite, a composite material composed of sawdust, glue, and other materials such as cornstarch, resin and wood flour. An all-porcelain doll would be too heavy for most people to conveniently carry, not to mention fragile. The porcelain parts are just the ones you see.

Doll hairs can be made from a variety of materials (real hair or synthetic), and is threaded through a cap that one glues to the doll’s head. Porcelain dolls effectively all wear wigs.

This process is different for other dolls, such as plastic Barbie dolls. Elyse will not go into that for now, as plastic dolls are less valuable ones anyway, though they don’t wear wigs. It’s bolted to their heads via a sewing machine-like machine.

All that’s left to do after that is make clothes and (optionally) shoes for the doll. This step in the process is likely more familiar to Jade, as Celia’s mother did a fair amount of sewing. She didn’t make her own costumes, but she did (half-)make her own shoes. Every ballerina’s shoes have to be adjusted to fit the individual dancer, and they rarely last more than one show, so the sound of the sewing machine was a ubiquitous one in the Flores household. Diana often used it to make costumes for Celia and Isabel too. “There’s a bit of a seamstress in every ballerina," she’d said.

It’s not so different the way Elyse does it. Just for smaller frames.

Celia: Jade had never really thought about the weight of porcelain before. She supposes it makes sense, though it’s hard for her to imagine something so delicate as being so heavy. She asks Elyse if she has ever used something like ivory, and tells her a brief story about the chess set her father used to have that was made of ivory before the ban on hunting elephants for their tusks. They’d had red felt bottoms and secure red felt boxes that held the pieces, and rather than black and white one side was white and the other a rich shade of green.

She doesn’t tell Elyse about the spanking she’d gotten when she’d broken the sword off the knight.

It seems like the sort of thing they might do in other countries, make dolls out of ivory.

It’s a blessing that Jade might still be able to use her own hair for the doll. Some women don’t cut their hair for years and keep it healthy, and Jade asks Elyse if she thinks that, given her age, she’ll still be able to use her own, or if she should use something else.

She does enjoy the process of making the clothes. She uses pieces of her own, brings in scraps of fabric that she had worn at momentous events in her life and unlife so that they can sew them together to make one of the pretty dresses the other dolls wear. Like a quilt, made up of all sorts of memories.

But less patchwork.

GM: Elyse answers one could make a doll out of anything that can approximate a doll’s shape, so long as it isn’t overly heavy. Ivory dolls do indeed exist, though most are historic items rather than modern play dolls or collector’s dolls.

Elyse says that Jade could indeed use her own hair. She hasn’t been undead for very long. The Malkavian made a practice of sheering hers every evening before dawn during her early nights. Jade, however, can also change the color.

Elyse is pleased by the fabric Jade chooses to use. It will “better imbue” the dolls to use materials of personal significance to her.

Butterfly’s own doll concurrently takes shape throughout this process. Butterfly will make the doll with its own hands and care for it like its own child, in addition to Barbie.

Celia: Jade lets the memories roll through her as she arranges the fabric for the doll and begins the process of sewing. They accompany her through the project while she stitches beneath Elyse’s practiced eye. She likes her dark hair and keeps the color, though she gives the locks a bit of a wave as she attaches them. And shoes… heels, of course, though she had debated a pair of ballet shoes. Too similar to Celia, though. These tiny shoes get leather soles to keep them in good condition. Not that the doll will be moving on its own. But it’s the principle of the thing: don’t skimp on details.

GM: Elyse agrees firmly with this, and suggests she make another doll with the ballet shoes. There can never be too many dolls.

Celia: A Celia doll, to go with Lotus? She’ll need a name too. Jade keeps it to herself; she likes Elyse, but she doesn’t need to spill any more about her mortal life. She only says that, had things gone differently, she might have been a dancer.

GM: A worthy profession, Elyse states. All her dolls receive dance lessons. Ladies know how to dance, and dolls are supposed to look like ladies.

It’s one of many parts of their “curriculum.”

Celia: Maybe the Celia doll will be softer. Maybe it will have the innocence and wide-eyed naiveté of the girl who died so recently. Maybe that is where she will use the name Blossom. Borrowed from another doll instead of getting her own.

GM: Elyse states she will change the other Blossom’s name. She changes the fourth order dolls’ names periodically, to remind them they are not individuals.

Sometimes she directly swaps their names. Song will become Chime and Chime will become Song. They have nothing that is their own.

Celia: Thus Blossom begins to take hold of Jade’s imagination. She’ll need to meditate on it to find what makes it unique. Maybe it won’t end up being a Blossom at all.

Regardless, the name cycling is wise.

GM: The fourth order dolls are good dolls. They have almost no individuality left. It is very rare Elyse needs to discipline a fourth order doll.

Celia: They do seem very well behaved.

Jade asks Elyse if she makes other sorts of dolls, too. Like boy dolls.

Boy dolls that stay boys, she means. Ideal male figures.

GM: Elyse does not make male (human) dolls. Honey, however, is far from the first male kine she has turned into a female doll. They are a minority next to the female ones. Most clients who request male-to-female dolls want to use them as sexual objects, a practice Elyse finds disgusting and obscene.

Celia: She asks about male porcelain dolls as well.

GM: Elyse does make male porcelain dolls. They too are a minority next to their female counterparts, but Jade can still find dozens of males throughout the house.

Celia: She waits a bit before asking if they could maybe make one of those, too.

GM: Elyse would be pleased to.

Celia: Jade asks if it’s a different process with the males, or if she needs anything special to prepare for it, or if it’s just another sort of commission.

GM: Elyse uses a different bisque mold to give the dolls different proportions, but she uses different molds for different female dolls too. The process is essentially the same.

“Dolls are sexless creatures.”

Unless a client specifically requests otherwise, Elyse castrates male-to-female dolls and circumcises female ones, in addition to sewing closed their vaginas upon graduation to the third order (sometimes sooner if a doll requires a harsh lesson). Dolls do not know pleasures of the flesh.

“Butterfly’s grandfather wishes it able to bear children, but it does not require its clitoris to do this.”

Celia: Jade asks if Elyse would like her assistance with the process, or if she still intends to sew them.

GM: Elyse would be greatly pleased were Jade to make her dolls even more perfect.

Celia: She’s happy to assist.

“Will Honey be given female genitalia, or left smooth?”

GM: “Honey may receive a small hole for urinal discharges, but that is all she need have between her legs.”

Celia: “Yes, Lady Elyse. I had simply wondered… well, perhaps to go down that road is too close to playing God.”

GM: “I cannot impart Honey the capacity to bear children. The only other function her genitalia might serve are sexual pleasure.”

Celia: “Yes, Lady Elyse. I had thought about the children, perhaps with a transplant. But I do not think that our gifts allow for such.”

GM: Elyse looks pensive. “I would have to consider the theological implications of that, Miss Jade. But if it is beyond your abilities, the point may be a moot one.”

Celia: “I have not tried such a thing,” Jade admits, “and I would not experiment for the first time on one of yours. I can perhaps reach out to my teacher to see if it is something possible, though I imagine that there would be other methods involved.”

Magic, she means. Like the warlocks have.

GM: “I have some clients who would likely desire their new daughters able to bear children. I am uncertain if I would accede to such. I would find it informative to know whether it is possible, Miss Jade.”

Celia: “I will find out, Lady Elyse.”

The second doll she makes indeed becomes a Blossom. Jade had spent time with the dolls in Elyse’s room to find her form and, when she had emerged, Jade had known exactly what it meant. Lighter hair, lighter eyes, smoother skin. An easier smile. Long, flowing hair that was not a chore to tame. A flower crown and frilly clothing, with flowers added to her hands as well. Feminine. Cute. Willowy.

What Celia might have been.

What she could have been, had her birth not been as it was, had her wish not gone astray, had the monster stayed beneath the bed where it belonged.

Blossom, she knows. An innocent name for an innocent doll.

And the other. The male doll they had made with the new molds Elyse had them use. Jade had never said who it was. She had dressed him in black and kept his dark hair short. Not slicked back, but short. Pale features, a stark juxtaposition against the darkness of his clothes. Black has long been his color. A face as expressionless as the rest of him. Even a sword accessory. The eyes had given her trouble. Gray eyes, like storm clouds rolling in, but it had taken her an evening of mixing paints before she had declared herself satisfied with them.

Still, there is no comparison to the real thing.

And, finally, the fourth doll. The lightest hair. Straight, held back by a headband, almost blonde. Blue eyes. A heart-shaped face and a little teddy bear that she can cuddle at night because nothing bad has ever happened to her, so the stuffed bear is enough to keep her safe. A girl that never existed, but could have existed. Could have been happy. If things had gone differently. If someone else’s life hadn’t gotten messed up first and sent that negative energy right on down the line. She gets the ballet slippers.

Princess, Elyse suggests Jade call her, because she’s daddy’s little girl.

GM: Guided by Elyse’s instructive hands and Jade’s—Celia’s—depth of feeling, the dolls come to life. Truly, they are labors of love, or at least yearning. Jade stares into the dolls’ glassy eyes, and she sees herself. Herselves. Girls who might have been, a lover who might yet be, if life had turned out differently. If life had turned out perfect. But life never does. Only dolls can be perfect. In them, Jade feels as if she sees something more of what the Malkavian sees. A perfection that encompasses not just form and function, but circumstance. Dolls look perfect and get to have perfect lives, too. It’s hard not to envy them.

Hard not to want to be them.

“Do you understand them better now, Miss Jade?” Elyse whispers.

“Each one is its own person, with its own life and story to tell.”

Celia: It’s hard not to. With as much practice as Elyse has given her, Jade has… has become like them. Understands the desire to be like them. Not empty, not like she’d first thought, but content. She likes the Lotus doll. Even the Blossom doll. But the Princess doll is the one that captures her attention. What could have been.

And the other… she hasn’t given him a name. Elyse hadn’t asked. She hadn’t known what to call him, or what his model would think if he knew that she had made a doll of him.

Even in this form, he’s hard to read.

She wonders if the Malkavian could do it. Get inside his head. She’s afraid to ask.

GM: Elyse strokes his hair.

“This one is not like the others.”

Celia: “No,” Jade says, voice quiet.

GM: “Blossom and Princess are very happy to have Lucy as their friend. But he does not need friends.”

Celia: “Does he need anything?”

GM: “No. He needs nothing.”

Celia: Silence greets that declaration.

GM: “I do not know that he even needs a name.”

“Names exist to distinguish a thing from other things. Names give context.”

Celia: “What does that make him?”

GM: “He does not find it necessary to distinguish others from himself. In his mind, there is only he.”

“Aristotle said a man who can exist without others is either a beast or a god. Which do you believe he is, Miss Jade?”

Celia: A god.

She had thought that once when she was with him. More than once. She wonders if he heard it.

“Can he not be both?”

GM: “Perhaps. That is a question for philosophers. I am merely a dollmaker.”

Celia: “What does he think he is?”

GM: “He says the question is false as it stands, Miss Jade. He believes all beasts are gods, all gods beasts, and all humans beasts. He believes all that distinguishes them is power.”

“Several names for him occur to me, but he finds them all unsuitable. I believe it is his wish to remain nameless.”

“Or perhaps better said, his intention. We may give him a name, but he will not heed it.”

Celia: Jade had been wrong then. She thought perhaps he thought himself a beast, that others thought so as well, but only she saw true. That the others didn’t understand.


She nods her head at Elyse’s statement.

“I shall refrain from giving him a name, then.”

GM: “Very good, Miss Jade. You have done exceptional work with all four of these.”

Celia: “Thank you, Lady Elyse. I could not have done so without your tutelage.”

GM: “I am sorry, Miss Jade. You have done exceptional work with all five.”

Celia: “Five, Lady Elyse?”

She counts them again, as if she had missed one.

She doesn’t understand.

GM: She’s sitting right there on the table. Jade hadn’t noticed her. Hadn’t made her.


“Hello, beautiful Lotus,” says Elyse.

“Lotus is very happy to come out again.”

Celia: Lotus. Her.

Because she is Lotus, and Lotus is her.

Lotus, Blossom, Princess, the nameless, and Lotus.

Lotus flowers come in all colors. This one just happens to be Jade.

GM: Elyse strokes the doll’s hair.

“Lotus is very, very pretty.”

“You are a mother to more dolls than Lucy now, Miss Jade. You will love them all?”

Celia: She will love them all.

GM: “Very good, Miss Jade. I see a great many more dolls inside you, waiting to come out. I see you as mother to them all. But I believe we have accomplished enough here for tonight.”

Elyse accompanies Jade to the house’s atrium. Key brings Lucy, Blossom, Princess, and the nameless in a quilted carrier. Butterfly and Honey also arrive to see the Toreador off.

“Flawless and perfection are different words, but their meaning is the same. I believe you understand my vision as few others within the city do, Miss Jade. If you ever require aid or shelter, you will find it if you come here. Your Requiem has become important to me and I would not see it lost.”

Celia: The words touch her in a way she had not expected. Just as Elyse herself has with her profound insight these evenings together. Easy, she thinks, to dismiss their clan as crazy and look no deeper than the surface. Easy to marginalize them with jokes and words and a roll of the eyes.

But the older Malkavians are right. It is not crazy. It is simply enlightenment looked down upon for the crime of being other.

If Elyse were anyone else Jade might attempt to hug her. But Elyse is Elyse, and Jade only touches two fingers to the place upon her chest where her heart once beat. The gesture, small as it is, says enough: she is grateful, and that promise goes both ways.

When she wishes them a final good evening it is with the knowledge that perfection and flawless go hand in hand, and she quite likes that.

Transformative indeed.

Wednesday night, 13 May 2015, AM

Celia: She doesn’t play with the dolls.

They’re not that sort of doll, that she can dress them up in different outfits and pour imaginary tea into tiny tea cups and pass crumpets back and forth while they discuss the events of the day. She doesn’t even know what a crumpet is. And she’s not that kind of girl.

Not anymore.

But she sits with them frequently, and every time she does the meditation gets easier. It isn’t what she thought it was the first time she had done it, when she had tried to clear her mind of the chatter and simply be nothing. Because dolls aren’t nothing, unthinking and unfeeling. Their heads are not as empty as she once thought. They are wise little creatures, mature beyond their relative youth, and she finds that she quite enjoys their company now that she has learned to understand them. The chatter that fills her mind is theirs.

The four girls are fast friends. Princess is the lightest and the bubbliest of them all. She is often dressed in white, similar to a gown that another girl once wore to a purity ball, or a soft pink. She doesn’t remove her ballet slippers no matter the outfit, though; she says that they are part of her, that this is who she is. She smiles often and sees to it that the others get to voice their opinions, and though she sometimes thinks that Lotus is too jaded she loves her all the same. She gets on best with Lucy.

Blossom is witty. Charming. She likes to be the center of attention but she’s conscious of Princess’ frequent shyness and makes sure to include her. Sometimes she and Lotus disagree, but Blossom will always forgive the darker-haired doll. She likes bold, vibrant colors and frequently wants to change her style.

Lotus is striking. Objectively the prettiest of the dolls, with features as sharp as the edge of cracked porcelain. She likes the darker colors, the blacks and grays and navy blues, but Lotus knows that there are times for softer colors as well. Lotus is who she needs to be when she needs to be it. She thinks she might be Lucy’s favorite, but she never says so. She’s never so rude as to openly say something like that. She finds that the nameless one is often the subject of her attention; she finds ways to bring him up in conversations and wishes that he would join them.

The doll’s maker loves them all. Even the nameless one. Perhaps she loves him more fiercely than she loves the others, as if pouring it into him will make him finally feel something for her as well, as if all she needs to do is fill him up so he can start giving back. Blossom is afraid of him, and Princess tolerates his presence in their room with unfailing politeness, but not one of the five ever convince him to join them.

He doesn’t need them.

Jade sometimes hates him for it. She wants to know why he can’t be easy to love like the others. Why he rejects her. Why she isn’t good enough. She created him, put part of herself inside of him, isn’t that enough?

Why isn’t it enough?

She loves him harder for it. She loves him aggressively. She loves him thinking she can change him.

It’s Celia who disabuses her of this notion. Celia who doesn’t force her company on the nameless doll, who sits within his proximity but not with him. She is there if he decides that he would like her to be, but doesn’t push. He will come to her or he won’t and no amount of anything she does will change that. She accepts her role in his life.

Her love is quieter. Accepting. Not because she thinks he needs it, but because she simply wants to give it. Celia has been inside of him before, physically and mentally. He took her into him that night: her blood into his body, her consciousness into his mind. They were one for that long, lingering moment in the sky, when he put his arms around her and his lips against hers and her heart ceased beating. She was not afraid of him then, just as she is not afraid of him now. She doesn’t push. She doesn’t ask. She just accepts.

And she thinks the question that Jade asked those years ago was wrong.

She thinks it’s not about what he needs.

It’s about what he wants.

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Previous, by Character: Story Eleven, Celia IV
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Story Eleven, Celia IV

“Once a whore, always a whore.”
Paul Simmons

Saturday night, 1 January 2010, AM

Celia: She has been to executions before. At Perdido House, with the rest of the city gathered together to witness the example of whoever had transgressed the laws of the city or the Camarilla. The first time she had been stunned that they would do things publicly, that their kind would hoot and holler and turn it into some sort of show. She had watched her sire swing the blade that took off the heads of those who had forfeited their right to eternity and wondered how much blood that saber of his has seen, how many souls it has claimed. Wondered, too, what he would do if she were dragged before him, if she were made to kneel, if her crimes were read to the eager audience.

Tonight, she finds out.

Tonight she stands with three others, her body torn apart by their claws, her dress shredded, makeup smeared down a face that isn’t even hers, every tiny movement a lesson in agony when her synapses fire and her nerves alight. She does not sway. A pair of hands keep her up, the only one of them afforded the “luxury” of a guard.

As if she would run.

As if she could run.

As if there is any place in the city where he would not find her even should she make it out the door. She’s seen him move. She knows the speed he possesses. Knows it as well as she knows herself. After all, he murdered her.

He does not read their crimes. He does not make a grand speech, does not wish them well in the afterlife, does not say a single word to those assembled. Her, the three licks, the ghoul behind her. He simply draws his blade. It arcs through the air. Once. Twice. So quickly that she did not see the gesture, that where once there were two Kindred now sit two seemingly days-dead corpses.

He advances on her, his blade red with blood, his eyes as dead as the bare walls.

She won’t go out crying. Hadn’t she thought that once before, that she wouldn’t beg, wouldn’t scream, wouldn’t cry? She’d thought she would welcome her death with open arms. It comes for her now wearing the face of her sire. A hand in her hair, head tilted to the side. His fangs sink into her neck.

How did it come to this?

Friday afternoon, 26 December 2008

GM: Almost two years ago, Celia isn’t Kindred. She’s just a girl. A mortal girl. She’s just received her cashier’s check from Ron after their first dinner together, to cover tuition at John Jay. She doesn’t need to see Paul anymore. She goes to his house to break things off. Paul greets her at the door to his sterile house with a sterile, plastic smile that doesn’t reach his eyes.

“Hello, whore.”

“I presume you are here for more of your whore money.”

Celia’s not sure why he even says so. Why else does she come here?

Celia: This is it, then. Her last time here.

She hadn’t had to come. She’d told herself to just stay away, that she doesn’t owe him an explanation as to why she suddenly stopped showing up.

But she’d been dicked around by so many men in her life that she can’t resist when the opportunity is dangled in front of her to take the upper hand. So she’d decided to tell him, to his face, that she isn’t his whore anymore. Dani’s words weigh in her mind—“He really likes you.” She really likes him too. And she isn’t going to mess it up for money she no longer needs. She hadn’t gone to see Ron for a check, but if he’s willing to cut her one to make her life easier, well, she’ll come up off her knees.

She’d worn the uniform to be spiteful. To show him what he’s going to miss. Pleated skirt, white blouse, knee-high tights. Maybe, if he’d even once been kind to her, she wouldn’t get such a thrill out of it.

Celia bows her head at his question. Her last little bit of playing. Ron had said she’d make a good actress, hadn’t he?

“Yes, sir.”

GM: Paul closes the door behind her.

“Remove your clothes. Clothes are for people, and you’re not a person. You’re a whore.”

Celia: Celia stares up at him. She’d come to him for help and he’d put her on her knees instead. Turned her into the whore that he wanted, complete with the sick, twisted school girl fantasy. The spankings. The demand that she be “smooth as a child” down there, for all he’d never touched her like that. She’d long wondered if his true desires run even darker than she’d realized.

“I’m not.”

GM: Paul’s plastic smile quirks humorously. It still doesn’t reach his eyes.

“Did you perform sexual acts for monetary compensation, Celia?”

Celia: “I’m not anymore,” she clarifies. “I’m not going to do this anymore. I came to tell you that. That it’s over. That I don’t need…” she gestures vaguely between the two of them, “this.”

GM: “Once a whore, always a whore,” replies Paul.

“If someone were to be informed of your sexual history and the financial transactions related thereto, would they believe you no longer a whore?” That same plastic smile. “They would not. They would look at you in disgust. Perhaps pity, if they were charitable. Men would refuse to marry you, for men do not marry whores, so you will never tell your prospective mates what you have done with me. You will go through your life, and even decades from now, you will carry that secret shame with you like a scarlet letter. The two of us will always know what you are.”

His hand cups and starts to knead her breast.

“Celia Flores, my pretty little whore.”

She can see the bulge growing against his pants.

Celia: She shouldn’t have come. Should have just left him wondering why she’d never come back.

The words cut her to the core. A lump forms in her throat, moisture pooling in her eyes. She doesn’t even move when he touches her, unable to shake the thought that what he says is true. She’s a whore. She’d blown him for money. Her money. She’d cheated on her boyfriend. One taste of sex with Stephen and she’d gone running to the next man who would take her, and he’d paid her for it. Hadn’t she and Emily talked about how awful it is that girls sell their dignity like that? Now here she is, doing the same. And he’s right: she’s never going to tell. It’s a secret shame she’ll bury deep inside to keep anyone from knowing the foul things that she has done with him, but she’ll always remember what he made her do when she needed his help, when she was young and dumb and desperate.

She hates him.

“I’m not,” she says again, more fiercely this time. “I’m not a whore. I’m not your whore, we’re done, get off—

She shoves at him.

GM: Paul grabs Celia’s arms and holds them against her sides. She can’t break his grip.

“I will determine when we are done, whore. I think tonight I will penetrate your anus. From behind, like an animal. Whores enjoy anal.”

“I will not use a lubricant. It will be painful. I will enjoy listening to your whore screams.”

Celia: There’s nowhere to go.

It’s all she can think, that there’s nowhere to go. That she was so stupid for coming here. That Paul is going to rape her because she’s too stupid to cut her losses and run. Wide, fearful eyes stare up at him as he pins her arms to her sides and details exactly what he’s going to do with her. The tears she’d tried to withhold streak down her cheeks, her head shaking back and forth.

GM: A knock sounds against the door.

Paul pulls Celia against his body, pins one arm over both of hers, and clamps his hand over her mouth. Celia can feel his erection pressing against her bottom.

“Who is there?” he calls in a raised voice.

“Jamal, sir,” answers a deep male one.

Celia: She starts to say it, to say no again, when the knock comes.


She shrieks against the hand pressed to her mouth. Maybe they’ll hear. Maybe they’ll get help.

GM: Paul’s plastic smile only returns.

He moves towards the door with Celia. He takes his hand off her mouth for a moment, to open the door, then clamps it back over her. A man steps inside the house. He’s big. Really big. About as tall and buff as her dad. He’s even bald, too, though unlike her dad he’s black, with deep ebony skin that starkly complements his crisply-pressed Blackwatch uniform. Also black. There’s a hard cast to his firm jaw and a cruel glint to his dark eyes as he looks at Celia that makes him feel like a bogeyman from every story well-to-do white mothers frighten their white daughters with.

Just one look at this face, and Celia knows.

This is no savior.

He closes the door behind himself.

“Is this the whore, sir?” he leers at Celia.

“Yes, Jamal. This is the whore,” answers Paul.

Celia: Celia jerks, kicks, flails, screams. It doesn’t seem to do any good. She goes still and silent at the sight of the man before her. Jamal. Huge. Black. Her head shakes back and forth—or as much as it can with Paul holding her still—and her shriek turns into pleading words muffled behind the flesh of his hand.

GM: “Whatever business you were here for may wait. Would you like to fuck my whore, Jamal? Only $50. I believe this price will be instructive to the whore as to her true value.”

Paul smiles as she struggles, holding her fast. Celia feels the bulge pressing against her bottom press harder.

“Damn, only $50?” leers Jamal. He cups Celia’s face with one of his large, dark hands. “This one’s just the way I like them.”

“You ever fucked a black man, lil’ whore?”

“You ever had a fat cock slip between your thighs and fill you? The way a man fucks a woman?”

Celia: He’s joking. He has to be joking. He’s not going to—to let this man fuck her. He can’t. He’s just trying to scare her, to make her remember who he is. She shouldn’t have shoved him. She should have just said sorry, it’s not working out and left. It’s a game. A cruel, sick, game. She’ll say she’s sorry, she will, as soon as he lets her go she’ll say she’s sorry.

It’s working, though. His game. Celia stares up at the man with wide eyes, tears hot on her flushed cheeks. She shakes her head back and forth.

GM: Celia sees the immediate bulge form against Jamal’s crotch at her response.

“Aww, yeah!” he grins, eyes flashing hungrily. Paul shoves Celia to her knees and twists her arms behind her back. Paul unbuckles his belt. Unzips his pants.

His penis is black. His penis is hairy. His penis is huge. It’s so much bigger than Stephen’s. There’s a foreskin, too, like he doesn’t have. Jamal brushes the thick head against Celia’s cheek. It’s warm and all but pulses against her.

“This is the monster.

“Had another whore who called it that, once. My big fat monster cock.”

“You like monsters, little whore? You ever had a cock this big inside of you?”

Celia: Mouth free, Celia finally does it: she apologizes. Over and over again, her apologies interspersed with “no, please,” and “please let me go.” At least until he unzips, until his cock—that can’t be real—comes close enough to her mouth that she clamps her jaw shut and flattens her lips before he gets the idea to shove it inside.

She shakes her head again and again. No. No, no, no.

GM: Jamal just gives a hard, cruel laugh and pinches her nose shut. She can’t breathe.

He strokes his dick with his other hand, rubbing it up and down along the enormous and all-too erect shaft.

“You are only arousing him further, little whore,” Paul says from behind her in his plastic smile voice.

Celia: She tries to jerk her head away from him, backpedaling, kicking up off the ground.

GM: Paul tightens his grip and presses his weight against her. Jamal makes a fist in her hair and yanks her head down. His pinching fingers don’t relent from her nose. She can feel herself starting to suffocate. Jamal spits on her face. The saliva dribbles down her cheek like pre-cum.

“Bad little whore,” chides Paul.

Celia: Her lungs start to burn with the effort of holding her breath. Her shoulders scream where Paul jerks her hands behind her back. She twists, the motion futile when Jamal has a hold of her by the hair, and finally she opens her mouth to breathe.

GM: Just like that, Jamal shoves ‘the monster’ inside. She can feel the tip brushing against the back of her mouth, titillating her gag reflex. Celia’s eyes roam up his hairy crotch. The entire shaft isn’t even in her mouth. Jamal releases his fingers from her nose. Celia feels her scalp scream as he yanks her forward by her the roots of her hair, burying his cock even deeper. She wants to gag even harder now.

“Yeah! This is how a man fucks a woman!” the Blackwatch merc leers.

“Bite his penis and we will extract your whore teeth with a kitchen knife,” Paul says calmly.

Celia: She gags. Choking, sputtering, she can’t breathe around the thing in her mouth until he lets go of her nose, and then he yanks her further down. Instinct tells her to bite, but Paul’s words stop her before the decision fully manifests. She doesn’t. The sheer size of him stretches her jaw wide, muscles already aching with the effort to keep her mouth open around it. Drool collects in her mouth. She tries to swallow it, absurdly reminded of the dentist—and gags again. She doesn’t do anything for him. Doesn’t suck. Doesn’t move his head. Doesn’t give him what he wants. She stays absolutely, perfectly still, held down by the pair of them while one fucks her face.

GM: Jamal smirks and re-pinches her nose shut. Celia can feel her lungs starting to burn again. Drool leaks from her mouth.

“Put more into it, whore. I can see how wet you are.” One of Paul’s hands strokes her drool-stained lips, gathering some of the saliva over it. “God, you’re so wet,” says Jamal. “Like a faucet. I bet your cunt’s even wetter.” He smirks as Paul wipes the saliva over her face. “Your jaw’s around my dick like a fuckin’ bear trap… you just can’t get enough.”

“Filthy little whore,” Paul smiles blandly.

Celia: Tears leak from her eyes, mingling with the saliva he’d spit in her face earlier. She nods her head, as much as she can with his hand fisted through her hair, and does what he asks. It’s hard, this much of it in her mouth, jaw on fire, but she tries.

GM: Celia got practice on Stephen. He loves when she blows him. Emily says all guys love blowjobs. But when she and Stephen do it, it feel like she’s the one doing it, that she’s driving all the action as she pleases him. And of course, Stephen “owes her one” for it, and later pleases her with his mouth.

Jamal lets go of her hair and clamps his strong hands around the back of her head. He thrusts violently back and forth, burying the massive shaft as deep as he can. It feels like he is the one who is fucking her. Like her mouth is just another hole for him to fill. Celia can barely move her tongue around his cock, but he makes sure she does. He pinches her nose shut again when he isn’t happy.

“Such a good little whore,” Paul whispers in her ear. He licks the side of her face.

Licks up her tears.

“Delicious,” he purrs. “The tears of a whore…”

“All right, whore, let’s graduate you to the big leagues…” Jamal smiles. He lets go of her head to pry her mouth open, as wide as he can, and shoves his hairy balls inside.

It takes a bit of work. Actually, a lot of work. It really, really does. Drool gets all over Jamal’s fingers. Celia’s jaw screams with protest. It simply isn’t meant to stretch this wide. But somehow Jamal manages. Her cheeks have to be bulging. Like a chipmunk’s, just full of cock instead of nuts.

Celia: She’s blown Paul plenty of times. Maybe as many as she’s blown Stephen. Compared to this thick black thing his dick is a tiny, insignificant nothing, for all that he had promised it would hurt if he were to shove it inside of her. She doesn’t think that they come bigger than this. There’s no way that Jamal has ever been satisfied with a blowjob when it’s too large to even fit properly inside a mouth. She can’t imagine that she’s even doing a good job, gagging and drooling and jerked up and down his shaft as she is, unable to even do it on her own. He just doesn’t fit. He doesn’t fit, he doesn’t—and then he tries. He shoves further into her, his hand closing around her face to squeeze the muscles of her jaw that force it open, another yanking her down by the teeth, and she screams because she thinks he’s going to break her jaw… then he’s inside and the sound is abruptly cut off, muffled by the flesh in her mouth. Her cheeks do bulge. More tears leak out of her eyes for Paul to lick, and she shudders each time he touches her like that, but she’s too busy choking on Jamal’s cock to do more than hold still and silently cry while they toy with her. She retches, feels the burning in her esophagus and the back of her throat. Nothing comes up.

GM: He might be happy if he just stuck less of his dick inside her mouth. Or had a second girl to lick the parts of his dick he didn’t. But he doesn’t, and he does seem happy. When Celia screams, Jamal’s eyes flash like lightning, and his hands fly around her throat. Squeezes her neck, clamps it between his hands, as he humps back and forth. Strangling her as he fucks her. He’s doing more movement with his groin than his penis at this point. There’s no further down it feels like his cock even can go. The head brushes so low inside her throat that she wants to vomit, but the sight of his gun holster is enough, just barely, to curtail that impulse. Sometimes he changes things up. Strangles her with one hand as he spreads is other over the crown of her head, forces her down onto him. Celia’s throat burns. Her jaw feels ready to split open. Snot leaks from her nose.

“Oh yeah… that’s how a man fucks a woman… yeah… you hungry for the dick… you can’t get enough of the dick… you love the dick… live for the dick… you little dicksucker… yeah… you want this dick… God, you’d just swallow this dick if you could… you so horny for the dick… this is what a woman’s made for… what a woman’s good for… to suck all the dick…”

Jamal pinches her nose shut, every so often. There’s a rhythm to how he does it. Sometimes he clamps her nose shut for a while. Sometimes there are long spans where he lets her breathe. Sometimes there are only short spans before his fingers cut off her air supply again. Sometimes he just traces her nose, letting her wonder and letting the dread build. Sometimes his fingers pull away, and sometimes they take away her air again. Sometimes for a long while. Sometimes for a little while. Sometimes for a little while, with a second of relief, before he pinches her nostrils shut again. His other hand alternates between choking her throat, pulling her hair, or pushing her head forward onto his cock. Celia’s vision blackens at the edges. She feels lightheaded, like she could just drift away into oblivion. Her tortured lungs feel ready to explode.

“Too much for you?” Jamal smirks.

Paul just keeps licking her tears, the bulge in his crotch never receding. There are so many to lick. He gives her big wet kisses, his tongue glued to her face, but they aren’t sloppy kisses. There’s nothing about the man that’s sloppy. He’s efficient and businesslike. Celia doesn’t feel so much as a teardrop escape off her cheeks. Paul drinks down every last one. He alternates between each side of her head. Her face is plastered with his saliva.

Scream, whore! Scream as loud as you can!” pants Jamal, his eyes blazing as he pumps faster. He feels close now. Almost ready to come.

Celia: Panic spirals through her the moment his hands close around her neck. She jerks, trying to move away, but there’s little she can do from her knees with her hands pinned behind her back and Jamal holding her down. Paul is almost a welcome presence at her back; his body keeps hers from collapsing, prevents her from being flung across the floor. Even the ache in her shoulders is nothing compared to the pressure in her jaw, the sharp stretch of her wide open mouth, the dots that make her vision swim until she finally closes her eyes and waits for it to be over. She can’t even retreat into the back of her mind, though, not when she tries to keep up with him, when she thinks that choking means she’s not doing it well enough and pinching her nose shut means she needs to use her tongue and she just doesn’t understand what he wants.

Too much? Yes. Yes, yes, she nods, it is, and she hopes he’ll stop, but there’s no mercy here.

She screams. Like he asks. Tries to, anyway, with her mouth as full of his cock as it is and his hands around her throat. The noise she makes is some sort of strangled cry, anyway, more of a whimper than a yell. Behind her back, her fingers search for something to clamp onto, fisting in Paul’s shirt like he’s some sort of anchor.

GM: “Aww, yeah, you little whhhhoooooooore!!!” Jamal exclaims. His cock pulses in her mouth, and Celia feels a wet stream shoot down her throat. Cat-quick, the Blackwatch merc tugs his penis out as Celia gasps instinctively for air, and blows the rest of his multi-roper load all over her face. He gets it everywhere. Her nose, her mouth, her eyes. It stings. Celia’s never had cum in her eyes before. That shit stings like hell. Her mouth tastes salty.

“Aw, yeah…” Jamal whispers, rubbing his still-moist head along her cheeks.

Paul finally stops licking.

“What do you think, whore? Is that how a man fucks a woman?”

He tilts her face up by the chin to meet his.

“Have you been fucked like a woman?”

Celia: For a moment Celia thinks it’s over. They’ve humiliated her, cum on her face, made her swallow it, treated her like the whore they think she is. She tries to rub her face on her shoulder to get off the worst of it, but his fingers dig into her chin and leave her face before she can do more than touch her cheek to her blouse. She swallows repeatedly, trying to get the taste out of her mouth.

Celia blinks up at him. He can’t. He can’t. She shakes her head back and forth. She shrinks back against Paul, as if he’ll tell Jamal the same thing—that he can’t. That he’s not allowed. Blowjobs only.

GM: “Oh? You don’t think that’s how a man fucks a woman?” asks Jamal.

“Perhaps a further instructive lesson is necessary, whore, if you are unsatisfied with Jamal’s performance,” Paul states blandly. His hands brush through her hair. He presses his nose to her neck and sniffs as if inspecting it.

“It necessary that you be able to perform your essential function.”

Celia: It’s already drying on her face. A sticky, filmy, flaky mess across her cheeks and mouth. She belatedly realizes her error, that she had misunderstood his question, that she had thought he meant to continue to fuck her.

“N-no,” she says finally. “It was. It is. Good. How—how a man f-fucks a woman. I’m sorry, please, I’m sorry, it is.”

GM: “Say it again,” smiles Jamal, brushing her face. “Say you’ve been fucked like a man fucks a woman.”

Celia: Celia closes her eyes. She can’t even look at him. Her mouth forms the words, stammering out what he wants to hear.

“I’ve been… been fucked like a man… like a man fucks a woman.” Her cheeks burn.

GM: “We could educate you further,” continues Paul, stroking her hair. “There are so many things we could teach you, my pretty little whore. There are so many things we could train you to do. You haven’t even had either of our penises in your ‘real’ holes. Two-thirds of you is still virgin.”

“Damn, is she really? That’s pretty tempting,” says Jamal.

Celia: She’s crying again, shaking her head. “Please, no, I can’t—”

GM: “Yes. It is very tempting,” replies Paul. “There are entire worlds of experience beyond what your small mind can imagine, little whore. There are procedures by which to break young females and train them to fulfill a variety of sexual functions. The services of these whores can command considerable prices. They do the things no ordinary woman will ever do. They do things even ordinary whores will never do.”

“The market is highly lucrative. It is largely unaffected by economic ups and downs. There is always demand for such commodities by men of wealth and means.”

“You are a commodity, Celia. That is what it means to be a whore, in its purest form. You could command a high price.”

Celia: Is he… is he trying to talk her into it? Into letting him break her so she can be used by men like him, men like Ron, who just wave money around and get what they want?

It’s a joke. It has to be. Surely he doesn’t think that she’s going to say yes, please, fuck me again, turn me into a whore.

“I d-don’t need it anymore, I don’t, I don’t want to be a w-whore.”

GM: “Tell her about the dogs, Jamal,” Paul says with a thin smile.

“There’s a guy who could turn you into a dog,” smirks Jamal. He tousles Celia’s hair. “You go naked, everywhere, on your hands and knees. You wear a shock collar. Mitts around your hands. Shit and piss outdoors. Eat kibble from a dog bowl. Sleep in a cage. Anything comes out of your mouth except barks, you do anything a dog won’t do, he beats you bloody. But if you’re a good little pooch, you get rewards. A softer bed. Scraps from the table. Most girls don’t take long to break. They do everything to please him. Pleasing him makes them happy. They really become fucking dogs.”

“That’s when he gives them the real… litmus test.”

“You fail, he slits your throat and dumps you somewhere.”

“You pass, you go visit the vet. For surgery.”

He leers. “And the real fun begins.”

Celia: Her face steadily drains of color as he explains it to her. By the end of it, by the time he mentions the vet, she’s as white as a sheet beneath the load he’d blown on her. She shakes her head again, fat tears sliding down her cheeks to mingle with the drying cum, turning it into a further mess.

Test? Surgery? She doesn’t want to ask. Doesn’t want to know. But it’s like passing a car wreck on the side of the road: she can’t look away. So, haltingly, she asks what he means. What test? What surgery? What’s left for them after that, how does the real fun begin?

GM: “What a curious little whore we have…” Paul smiles blandly. “I think she may actually want it, Jamal.”

“I bet she does. I can see it in her eyes,” he smirks.

“Unfortunate for you, whore,” says Paul. “We are done with you. Jamal, you may pay this whore for her services.”

Jamal produces a wallet. Five $10 bills. Drops them on the floor.

“Pick them up, whore. Pick up your whore money,” says Paul.

He shoves her to the ground.

Celia: She thinks to protest at their comments, tell them no, she’s not interested, she didn’t mean to ask, she shouldn’t have asked, but the words don’t come. She’s frozen, terrified that her body is going to end up in a ditch somewhere, and then… then he says it’s over, and her shoulders slump, and she starts crying in earnest because it’s finally over, and she’d thought there’d be worse, so much worse, and now she can’t even see past the tears that blur her vision as her hands strike the ground in front of Jamal. On her hands and knees in front of them both, she reaches trembling fingers towards the money to pull it toward her.

GM: Paul waits patiently for her to collect her “whore money,” then touches a finger to Celia’s cum-stained lips. The bland smile is still there on his face. But his eyes have never looked so empty.

“Tell me what you are, Celia. Tell me what you are, and why we will only be done when I say we are done. Tell me what you are, and why you will always be mine to use as I see fit and to reclaim whenever I see fit.”

“Tell me what you will always be.”

Celia: She sits back on her heels once she has the bills in hand, tucking them into the tiny little pocket of her skirt. Shame keeps her head down until Paul touches her, then finally lifts her eyes to his face.

She can’t even summon enough anger to hate him. She’d done this to herself. She’d come here to ask his help and he’d put her on her knees, and when she’d thought to end it he’d shown that he’s still in control. Like he is now, looming over her, touching her; like he’d been the whole time, holding her still, licking her, sniffing her, treating her like… like a pet, not a person.

Like a whore.

That’s what he wants her to say. That she’s a whore. His whore. His pretty little whore. Pretty but stupid.

She stares up at him, silent. If she says it he’s right. If she says it he wins. But if she says it she’s free, she can go, she never has to come back. It’s worth it, right? Worth it to give him what he wants. To let him win. To tell him that she’s nothing but a whore.

The words stick in her throat. Cum on her face, money in her pocket, the words don’t come. Not for a long moment.

Then, finally, she says the word.


Wednesday night, 31 December 2008, PM

Celia: New Year’s Eve arrives, a moderately chilly evening despite their southern locale. The mood over the city is festive: everyone is ready to put the year behind them and ring in the new one. Tulane is host to no less than three parties this evening, with more that Celia is sure she hasn’t heard about, one of them at JLH itself. Emily and Stephen had both told her she should go, but Maxen had informed his daughter that she has other plans: he’s hosting a NYE event and he expects her to be there.

She’d been stuck at home most of the winter break, unable to slip away to visit her mother, Emily, or Stephen, and not being able to see her boyfriend on New Years Eve put a bit of a damper on her plans. She’d wanted to be able to kiss him at midnight like all the other girls with boyfriends get to do. She supposes it’s not the end of the world, though. Daddy had even taken her shopping for a new dress for the event, and he’d let her pick something gold and shiny and above-the-knee. It is still longer than her fingertips when she sets her hands against her sides, so she supposes in the grand scheme of things it’s not even that short. He had, however, told her, in a tone that had no room for argument, that she is to pair it with opaque, black tights, and that if her skirt so much as rides up an inch he’ll make sure she can’t sit for a week. She hadn’t bothered to ask if he would consent to let her wearing lip balm after that.

She had only said, “Yes, Daddy.”

Thus dressed, Celia is the first to greet the guests when they arrive. She does not open the door for them—that is the job of the help, not the lady of the house—but she smiles politely to all of them, welcomes them to their home, and shows them into the kitchen for a refreshment. It keeps her busy for the first hour or so of the party, greeting guests and playing hostess, and her Daddy even favors her with a fond smile when all is said and done. He kisses her cheek and tells her she’s been a good girl and to go enjoy herself.

There isn’t much to enjoy as he might think. The guests are older, the sort of people her daddy rubs elbows with at the office, campaign donors and political types. Mr. McGregor from next door had declined his invitation this year after the argument he and Daddy had gotten into, but almost fifty other people had shown up. Celia flits among them, playing the doting daughter. She makes sure that the background music isn’t too loud, that everyone has gotten the proper drinks, that people can find their way to the bathroom. She answers questions about her plans for the future—"I’m not quite certain yet"—questions about her major—"dance, I’m at Tulane"—and questions about whether she has met any boys, to which she blushes prettily and says that no, she’s not dating anyone.

The house itself is done up for the event in tasteful gold, silver, and black decor. The company had arrived earlier in the day to set up: candles, streamers, balloons, a replica of the ball drop that will take place in Times Square. Celia thinks it might explode with confetti, but she isn’t certain. The catering company had commandeered the kitchen for their own use, and black-tied waiters carry trays of hors d’oeuvres and other small bites. Celia helps herself to shrimp cocktail, artichoke phyllo cups, bacon-wrapped water chestnuts, and some sort of tuna dish that she doesn’t know the name of but that keeps her coming back for more. She’s careful to make sure that her dress never lifts an inch past where she’d set it earlier, and smiles prettily next to her father for the various photos that he stops to have taken. Her siblings were deemed too young to attend the party, so it’s just Celia on her father’s arm tonight. She can’t even pretend to be upset about it; she’d taken vicious satisfaction in watching Isabel fail to persuade their father to let her attend.

It’s nearly eleven when Celia sees him for the first time: Paul. She hadn’t even known that he was here, had assumed that she would never see him again after he’d made her leave the house covered in Jamal’s cum, but there he is standing next to her father when Celia returns from the kitchen with a glass of sparkling cranberry juice. She stops dead in her tracks.

He looks… normal, in this light. Less like a predator and more like a typical member of her father’s party. Black suit, black tie, his glasses perched on his nose. Even here his smile is thin. He catches her eye and she sees it on his face: trouble.

Celia’s feet feel like lead as she walks across the room to where he stands with her father.

“…here she is, Celia. You remember Mr. Simmons. He handles your trust,” Daddy says to her.

Celia bobs in what might be a curtsy.

“Yes, Daddy. Hello, Mr. Simmons. We’re so happy you could make it this evening. I didn’t see you at the door.”

Paul’s smile stretches.

“No, Celia—do you mind if I call you Celia?—I arrived late. I was just telling your father how grown up you are.”

Flustered, Celia doesn’t do more than smile uncertainly.

“But Celia and I have seen a lot of each other, haven’t we?”

Her stomach flips. A fist clenches her throat; she can’t do more than stare at him in mute horror. Even her father is looking his way, a question in his eyes.

“Celia came to see me a few weeks ago about some trouble she was having.”

“Trouble?” Daddy asks him.

“Money trouble,” Paul confirms.

Celia stares. He can’t.

“But we worked it out, didn’t we, Celia? That math problem was no match for us.”

Her blink comes slower than usual. Daddy looks her way. She doesn’t trust herself to speak so she nods instead, trying to summon a smile. Paul continues, his eyes glinting.

“She wanted to improve her math grade, so she asked if I’d be willing to offer my assistance. How could I refuse such a polite young woman?”

GM: Celia’s father doesn’t respond to Paul. Instead, he stares at his daughter. She can hear the edge creeping into his voice.

“You should know better than to bother Paul like that, Celia. He’s a busy man.”

Celia: “Oh, nonsense, Maxen,” Paul claps him on the shoulder, “she’s a quick learner when she puts her mind to it. I’m happy to help.”

“I… my grades went up, Daddy,” Celia says quietly, “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you, I know how much you value doing things on your own. Mr. Simmons was really helpful when the numbers didn’t make sense to me, he explained it all real well.”

“I’m happy to help, Celia. You’ve a bright one on your hands, Maxen. A real bright one.”

GM: Maxen offers a tight smile at the compliment. Celia wonders how much he believes it.

“I’m glad someone thinks so. I’ll reimburse you for the tutoring lessons.”

Celia: “Happy to help,” Paul says again. “Actually, if you’d like, I could meet with her once a week to make sure that her grades don’t slip in the new semester.”

GM: Maxen glances at his daughter.

“I suppose she could use the help.”

Celia: “Splendid,” Paul says brightly. “Well, I don’t know about you, but this punch ran right through me. Can you point me to the restroom?”

“Celia will show you,” her dad says.

“Yes, Daddy. This way, Mr. Simmons.”

She can feel his gaze on her back as she leads him down the hallway to the restroom. It’s the public half-bath on the first floor that mostly sees guest use, but as soon as Paul sees it he shakes his head at her.

“Oh, this won’t do, this won’t do at all. Haven’t you learned anything…” he leans in to whisper the last word in her ear, “whore? Your daddy just gave you to me.”

Celia shivers. She’d thought that she was done with him. That she would never see him again. But he had effortlessly inserted himself back into her life. And with her father’s permission! She turns to face him, trying and failing to keep the apprehension from her face.

“Mr. Simmons,” she says quietly, “I appreciate your discretion earlier with my daddy, and I was hopin’ that we could end things on a friendly note.”

“Oh, Celia…” Paul touches her cheek. “I told you that I could reclaim you at any moment. Whenever I want. You belong to me, don’t you?”

Celia closes her eyes. She takes a deep breath. When she opens them again she looks past Paul’s shoulder, but no one from the party has even noticed that they disappeared down the hallway together. She looks back to him to see him studying her face with the same thin, bland, plastic smile he always wears. He can ruin her. One wrong word to the right person and he will ruin her, and her daddy will beat her bloody, and Stephen will know what she’s done. She swallows, and finally nods.

“Yes, Mr. Simmons,” she whispers. “Please, sir… please, not here, my daddy might—”

“Your daddy is otherwise occupied, and no one even notices you’re missing. Take me upstairs, whore, and show me how grateful you are that I didn’t say anything to him.”

She reels backward, but she doesn’t see a way out of it. She finally nods, turning her back to him once more, and leads him towards the secondary staircase that Luana mostly uses, then down the hall to the bathroom connected to her room. He follows her in… Now she sees it: why upstairs, why this bathroom. Jamal is waiting for them. She doesn’t know when or how he got in—he’s hardly on the guest list—but there he stands in the same Blackwatch uniform he’d worn last time, already leering at her with the same sort of knowing look in his eye. Celia backpedals immediately, but Paul is behind her and his body blocks the door. He touches her hips with his hands, steadying her, and in a move that’s almost gentle he pushes her forward. She can already feel something pressing into her from behind, knows that it’s his hard cock.

The lock clicks.

Celia stares up at the black man in front of her, already shaking her head. They can’t. Not again. They’d humiliated her at Paul’s house, pushed her onto her knees, made her do things, and she’d thought that she was free. Until Paul had shown up this evening, she’d thought she wouldn’t need to see either one of them again. Jamal touches a hand to her cheek and she freezes, his thumb tracing her lips.

“Liked your mouth the other day, little whore. Thought I’d try it again.”

“Please,” Celia whispers, “please—”

She’s cut off when his thumb slides into her mouth. Her lips close around it.

“Monster missed you. Did you miss Monster? Want another taste of being fucked by a man? I can cum all over your pretty little face again. Oh, you’re crying already, tears of joy? Happy to see me?” He leers at her.

Paul leans in. His tongue laps at the moisture leaking from her eyes. He sniffs her hair, running a hand through it, his fingers curling through her locks to pull her head back. He exposes her neck, presses his lips against it, sending an involuntary shudder down her spine. Her breath catches in her throat.

“Jamal here paid good money to have you blow him again, Celia. What did you do with the last $50?”

“I… I bought a… a Christmas present for my—for my friend.”

“Not even fully trained and you’re bringing in money. Once you’re broken you’ll fetch an even larger price. Doesn’t that excite you? Blowing men for money like the little whore you are. It’s an easy living, on your back.”

“Mr. Simmons, please, not here, my daddy—”

“Your daddy doesn’t have any idea what his filthy whore daughter is getting up to tonight.”

Tears fall thick and hot down her flushed cheeks.

“He’ll know, he’ll know, he will, please, he’ll hurt me—”

“No wonder she’s a whore,” Jamal says, grinning. “All bitches with daddy issues are whores. Maybe I’ll even buy you myself, whore, let you call me daddy. Yeah, I think I’d like that, my own little white bitch. Give it a go, slut, call me daddy.”


He smacks her. Hard. Her head flies to the side, shoulders curling in on herself while she openly sobs. Paul looks to Jamal. No expression changes his face.

“You’ll bruise her.” His voice is flat.

“She needs to learn her place.”

“She is valuable because she is pretty. If you mark her she is less pretty, ergo she does not command as high a price.” He sounds as if he is discussing the weather, not the crying girl in his arms. “Limit your blows to her body. We don’t need her crying about getting hit by a black man.”

There’s a click. Celia looks up to see Jamal holding a wickedly curved blade in his hands. She makes a strangled sound, maybe a whimper or a gasp, and Jamal’s hand flashes out to cover her mouth with his palm. He touches the blade to her neck. Celia’s nostrils flare as she struggles to draw breath, eyes closing, her body as still as she can make it. Paul’s hands prevent her from moving, his body a firm presence behind her.

“She’s not going to say a word,” Jamal promises. “Are you?”

Celia shakes her head back and forth, the movement desperate, fervent. Paul strokes her hair, nuzzles her neck, and she takes some absurd solace in the fact that no one can hear her cry with her mouth covered. Her shoulders heave as she sobs.

“Going to do what we tell you?” Jamal asks, and Celia nods. “Take off your panties, lets see that pussy.”

Celia reaches for her thighs. She digs her fingers into the stretchy nylon material of her tights, trying to pull it down without lifting her dress. Paul makes a sound that might be a laugh and slides the hem up over her hips. The dress is snug; once he puts it there it doesn’t move, and Celia finally slides her thumbs into the waistband of her tights and pulls them down her legs. Jamal uncovers her mouth to slide them the rest of the way down, helping her out of them.

“Cute panties,” he says, touching a finger to the pink satin. He moves almost faster than she can see—she shrieks again, and Paul is quick to silence her with his hand—but the knife doesn’t cut her skin, just the panties. The material falls in scraps to the ground.

“Well look at that, Simmons, smooth as a baby down there. Who you keepin’ that trimmed for, whore? Knew we’d be coming and got yourself prepped, did you? Look how excited that makes Monster.”

Celia can clearly see the outline of his cock straining against his pants. He slides a finger across her lower lips and she jumps, pushing backwards, but Paul holds her steady.

“Can’t wait to bury my cock in that snatch. Make you take it all, nice and deep. What do you think, whore, think it’ll fit?”

Celia shakes her head again.

“Oh, we’ll make it fit, don’t worry. Got it all into your mouth, didn’t we? Why don’t you get back on your knees and remind me how much you liked it. Give it a little kiss. Really make me feel welcome at this rich guy party.”

Paul shoves Celia onto her knees, sliding onto the ground with her to twist her arms behind her back. She’s almost seated on his lap, with him kneeling behind her, her thighs spread across him. Jamal towers over her. He’s already undoing his belt, the blade set aside. Celia stares at it. She can grab it. Bury it in his stomach. Run.

He follows her gaze and laughs.

“Yeah, I bet that’s real tempting, huh? Want to try it? See if you have the guts to stab someone? See if I don’t get out of the way in time, then stick it back in you? Maybe I’ll fuck you with it.”

Slowly, Celia lowers her gaze. She shakes her head.

“No? Don’t want me to shove that blade up your pussy, get it nice and red?”

“N-no, please,” Celia whispers.

“Didn’t think so. Open up, whore, let’s get Monster back where he belongs.”

Celia hesitates for a brief second. Resisting hadn’t done her any good last time; he’d simply pinched her nose shut until she had to open her mouth, and Paul had let it happen. She remembers what it felt like to run out of air, the way black circles had appeared in her vision, thinking that he might not let up in time. She doesn’t think they’ll be as understanding a second time.

She opens her mouth, leaning forward to take Jamal’s monster cock inside. Her tongue flicks against the head and she hears Jamal sigh.

“Isn’t it better when I don’t have to force you? There you go, take it in your mouth, come on, open wide. Ungh, yes, like that. You have to suck it, whore, not just lick it. There.”

She tries to do what he wants. To swallow him, to use her hands at the base of his shaft where she can’t reach with her mouth, to suck and lick and bob. Drool drips past her lips. He thrusts forward and she gags, but he winds his fingers through her hair to prevent her from pulling back.

“Don’t make me choke you again,” Jamal grunts.

Behind her comes the sound of pants unzipping. Paul lifts her skirt even higher, spreading her cheeks with his hands. Celia falters, and Jamal makes good on his threat. He pinches her nose shut and she flails, but that doesn’t distract her from the fact that Paul presses a finger against the tight ring of her asshole. He shoves it inside without warning. Celia shrieks. Or tries to. The sound comes out as a strangled cry, muffled as it is by the thick cock in her mouth and the plugged nose. She struggles against him, shifting her hips, trying to twist away, but Paul grabs onto one arm and Jamal the other and hold her still while they violate her.

“So tight back here,” Paul tells her, his words a whisper in her ear, “isn’t it good that Jamal has you gagged? You can scream all you want, little whore, and no one will hear. It’s going to hurt. I bet you bleed.” Something presses against her ass, another finger that joins the first with one smooth motion. Celia jerks and screams, but true to Paul’s words no sounds make it past the door. Only the two of them can hear her cries. Jamal’s eyes flash in arousal, and he shoves himself further into her mouth until she chokes, sputtering and gagging.

But that’s not the worst of it. No, the worst of it is when Paul removes his fingers from her side, pulls her cheeks apart, and puts the tip of his cock against the recently abused hole. Celia shifts again, trying desperately to twist away, and Jamal closes his fingers around her throat. She stills, but her body rocks forward anyway when Paul shoves his cock inside her asshole. She can’t even scream. She can’t breathe. Can’t move. Can only hold still while her body stretches, tears, while Paul fills her and keeps pushing until his balls hit her thighs. He grunts when he finally gets all the way in, his hands moving around Celia to trap her arms at her sides, burying his face in her hair. He teases her ear with his tongue, fat and wet, his breath warm on her skin.

“Like a glove,” he tells her. “Do you like that, whore? Nod your head, there’s a good girl.”

“Fucking—spitroasted—” Jamal grunts, letting go of her throat, “going to put my balls in her whore mouth again, just fill her, so hot with her cheeks bulging—open wide—no? I’ll pry it open again…” Jamal does just that, pulling her mouth open until her jaw creaks and she screams again, forcing himself further and further into her mouth. The head of his dick hits the back of her throat and goes further still, until one hairy ball and then the other are forced inside.

Celia doesn’t even pretend to suck anymore. She cries, writhes, drools, while the men fuck her, while Jamal humps her face without ever moving his dick. Snot drips from her nose. They don’t care. They don’t even notice. She isn’t a person to them, just a whore, a body with orifices that they slide in and out of until she is limp with agony, until sweat shines on her legs and neck and back, her body too exhausted from struggling and lack of hair and humiliation and—and just sheer helplessness. She’s helpless. They’re bigger than her, stronger than her, faster than her, smarter than her. They take what they want. And she’s Paul’s whore, he made that clear. He will always find her, always own her. She’s his. His whore.

She swallows when Jamal tells her to, and seconds later she feels Paul’s cock twitching in her ass. He grunts as he cums inside of her, finally still while he pulses, splattering her insides with his seed. She’s glad Jamal didn’t cum on her face at least, but he makes her suck the rest of it out of him—”like there’s diamonds in my balls, whore, suck”—and squeezes the base of his shaft forward, milking the thick, ropey stuff into her waiting mouth. He tells her to kiss it when she’s done, brushing the head of his cock against her lips, and Paul finally pulls out of her. His hands fondle her breasts from behind, holding her to him while she trembles and cries.

“What an obedient little whore. Wasn’t that nice, Celia? My pretty little whore. You’re mine, aren’t you?”

Celia nods her head, exhausted. She doesn’t even care that she’s leaning against him, that she has slumped over and he has caught her, that it’s his body supporting her weight, his fingers wiping the tears from her face. She’s tired. She’s tired and she hurts and she’s just a whore, and he’s… he’s holding her, and he’s warm, and she’s sorry, so sorry, and she tells him that, the words tumbling out, she’s so sorry she told him it was over, she didn’t mean it, she’ll be good, she’ll be his whore, she is his whore.

“Good girl,” Paul murmurs when she’s done, nuzzling her cheek with his. “What a good girl. You are sorry, aren’t you? I can taste it. Be at my house at the usual time. Jamal gets to fuck you next.”

Thursday night, 1 January 2009, AM

Celia: After the incident in the bathroom, Celia had cleaned herself up as best she could before returning to the party. Daddy hadn’t reacted to her long absence, and she had found him at midnight so she could plant a kiss on his cheek and he on hers. He’d told her to run along and go to bed, and she’d been happy to leave the party early and escape to the comfort of her room.

Only when she gets there she sees that she isn’t alone.

“Jamal,” she breathes, flattening herself against the door. She reaches for the knob, to turn it and duck out, but the click of the knife stops her in her tracks. Jamal approaches. Black on black on black in her dark room, she can barely make out his huge form. But she can feel him, the sheer size of him looming over her in the shadows. Twice her size. Legs as thick as her waist. Hands that have been twice around her neck. He lifts a hand now, stroking her cheek with calloused fingers while she trembles.

“Whu… what d’you…” she can barely get the words out. Her mouth is dry.

“I couldn’t stop thinking about your lips, you know. About how you cry when I push inside. So fucking hot, the way you struggle before you finally give in. Sexy. And I thought, well, why wait until Simmons tells me I can have his sloppy seconds. I know where you live. Which room is yours. I can take you whenever I want, can’t I?”

“Please,” Celia whispers, tears already threatening to fall. She blinks back the moisture. “Please, it hurts, I can’t, you’re too big—”

“Oh, sweetie, I don’t want your ass. Simmons already fucked you raw, didn’t he? No, I want your cunt. I’m gonna slide my big, black dick between your thighs, really fuck you like a man fucks a woman. Only I’m gonna make you call me Daddy, and you’re gonna be my little baby girl, aren’t you? Because otherwise… well, otherwise, I’m gonna carve up this pretty little face of yours.”

She can’t help the tears. They streak silently down her face, lips trembling. There’s no emotion to his voice. No reservations about doing exactly as he says—carving her up. Why wouldn’t he? What would keep him from stabbing that knife into her, giving her a red smile, leaving her body in a ditch?

“Please,” she whispers, voice cracking, “please don’t, I’m not—I can’t—”

“I like it when you beg,” Jamal tells her, “but I need you to be specific. Please what? C’mon, little girl, pretend I’m your daddy, go ahead and say it, all little girls want to fuck their daddies, tell me you’re not a whore.”

“I’m not!” Celia cries. “I’m not a whore, I’m not, please—”

“Daddy,” Jamal says again. “Say it. Say, ‘I’m not a whore, Daddy.’”

Celia falters, crying silently, until Jamal touches the blade to her cheek. She flinches, jerks, and finally stammers it out.

“P-please, Dad… Daddy, please, don’t, I’m not a whore, please don’t hurt me.”

“Daddy,” Jamal says again. “Really get into it. Maybe say punish instead of hurt.”

“Please, D-daddy, please d-don’t… don’t punish me. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, Daddy, please—”

“Oh, there there,” Jamal croons. He scoops her into his arms, pressing her face against his chest while she sobs. His hardened cock presses against her stomach as he rubs her back. She can feel the hilt of the knife in his hand. “It’s okay baby girl, Daddy isn’t mad, Daddy could never be mad at you, baby girl, he just wants your first time to be special. Don’t you want that, Celia? Come on now, smile for Daddy.” He touches her chin, lifting her face. Celia sniffles, face wet with tears, but she tries to smile. It’s a broken, tremulous thing.

“There’s my pretty little girl. Can I have a kiss, baby? Give daddy a kiss. Show me you love me.” His thumb wipes at her tears. He leans in, and Celia doesn’t pull away. His lips press down on hers, thick and warm and all-encompassing. His fingers stroke her cheek. Celia shudders, but Jamal doesn’t relent. He pushes his tongue into her mouth, seeking, claiming, controlling… and Celia melts into his arms. His beard scratches her face. He tastes like smoke and sin and sex, and Celia almost doesn’t realize that he has pushed her back against the wall until his hands hook beneath her knees to lift her. He spreads them around his waist, presses her back so that she can feel the heat of him right at her center. She makes a noise, a gasp maybe, and Jamal groans in response. He finally pulls away. His tongue is a thick thing, brushing against her cheeks in the wake of her tears. Something tightens in her core.

“It’s okay to want me, baby,” he whispers. “Just say it. I’ll make you feel real good, just call me Daddy, come on sweetheart…”

She can’t, she can’t. She won’t. She’s not going to give into him, to give him what he’s asking for, to let him… let him claim her like this. But that knife… it’s in the back of her mind. Sharp. She knows what he can do to her. What he will do to her. And Paul’s voice sounds in her head, reminds her that she’s his, that he’ll always get her back. She trembles, searching for her voice. If he’s going to do it anyway, if he’s going to take what he wants…

“You… you’ll be gentle, Daddy?”

“Real gentle, baby, you want that, don’t you? Want daddy to take it real easy on you your first time, don’t you? Make you a real woman. Oh come on, baby, say it, say you want daddy to fuck you…”

“Please,” Celia whispers, “please fuck me Da-ah!”

Jamal smacks her.

“That’s filthy language. Say you’re sorry.”

“I’m—I’m sorry.”


“I’m sorry, Daddy.”

“It’s okay, baby, you just got excited, didn’t you? Yeah, my little girl thinking about Daddy filling her with his big cock. Reach down, baby, touch it, come on, rub it… over the pants like that, there you go, wrap your hand around it—oh baby girl, I’m gonna fuck you nice and good—”

He cuts off, capturing her lips once more. The wall moves out from behind her. They move across the room, Celia’s legs around his waist, her hand wrapped around his cock, until they reach the bed. He sinks down onto it with her on his lap, moving her dress up over her hips. Celia writhes against him. He’s not her boyfriend, no, but Stephen has never kissed her as thoroughly as this, and when he bites her lip she makes a sound somewhere between moan and whimper that makes his fingers dig into her hips.

“You want it, baby?” he whispers against her lips. Celia nods.

“Yes, Daddy.”

“You want to ride it for me, baby girl? Bounce up and down on it? I’ll show you how. Put your titties right in my face, how’s that sound?”

“I…” Celia hesitates. “I’ve never…”

“That’s what daddy’s are for, isn’t it? Lay back, baby, take your dress off… oh yeah, there’s my baby girl, let me see your pussy, spread your legs… oh, there you are, already wet aren’t you? Do you want Daddy’s big, thick cock? Nice and smooth, I bet you’re real tight, aren’t you.”

Jamal kneels between her legs. It’s quick work for him to slide his pants down his legs, exposing the monster Celia is already intimately familiar with. He strokes his shaft while she watches.

“Little big for your tight hole, isn’t it?” Celia nods, eyes wide. It can’t possibly fit. “Why don’t we start with a finger, think you can take a finger, baby? Oh, look at that, slides right in doesn’t it? Does that feel good, little girl?”

“Y-yes, Daddy, oh… oh, yes, yes—oh!”

Jamal slides another finger inside her. Her body clamps down around his digits. He wiggles them back and forth, hitting a spot inside of her that makes her toes curl and her eyes close. He fingers her while she pants and moans, trying to be quiet, and finally he leans over to cover her mouth with his hand. She panics until he croons in her ear, telling her to let it out, that he’s just keeping her quiet, that they have to be secret, and she nods and tries not to think about his hand around her throat, but he flicks a thumb across her clit and she can’t even remember her own name after that.

He doesn’t let her cum, but he fingers her for a long while, and when he finally pulls them out of her they glisten, slick with her juices. He uncovers her mouth, crooking a finger at her, and she sits up, then moves onto her knees.

“Suck it a little, baby, can you do that for Daddy? Just until it’s hard, then I’m gonna make you feel real, real good—oh yes, there like that…” He doesn’t wrap is fingers in her hair, doesn’t force her head down, just makes encouraging noise, asks if she can take a little more, go a little deeper, all the while rubbing her ass, her breasts, her back. And Celia does. She takes him deeper, swallows him—she’s had practice, after all—takes his shaft into her mouth until she hits his balls, and when he finally pulls her up he’s beaming at her while he rubs her mouth with his thumb.

“Magical little mouth. You know how to keep daddy happy, don’t you. Lay back, baby girl, there you go.” Jamal looms over her, his cock long and hard and thick hanging between his legs. Celia stares at it, then looks up at him, her eyes wide.

“Don’t be scared,” he tells her.

“Is it… will it hurt?”

“Just for a minute, baby. But it’ll be okay. I’ll hold you the whole time, like daddies should. I’ll kiss it all better. Tell me you want it, Celia, go on, ask for it.” He hovers over her on hands and knees, a hulking figure.

“Please, Daddy,” Celia whispers to him, “please… do it, put it in me, take me, please, please—oh, Daddy—!”

He pushes into her, lowering himself to capture her lips once more to muffle her cries. He’s big. Huge. He’s splitting her, ripping her apart, it’s too much—her back arches but Jamal holds her steady, distracting her with his tongue, and she stretches around him while he pushes inside, bit by bit. She’s panting by the time he comes to a halt, halfway in, whimpering while he nuzzles her cheek and neck and whisper that it’s okay, it’s all okay, she can take it, she can, just a little further, just—

“Oh, oh, oh—”

She can’t even think straight, he’s so big, too big, she tells him so, cries out against him, but he holds her still and whispers, over and over again, that she’s his special little girl, that he’s so proud of her, that it’s just going to hurt for a minute…

And, bit by bit, she gets used to it, used to the thick cock inside of her, used to his weight pressing down on her, used to how it feels to stretch around him. She clings to him while he moves, slowly at first, then faster, hitting a spot inside of her that makes her pant and writhe and gasp, and his lips move to her throat and her fingers curl around him, holding him close, and she whispers his name over and over again, “Daddy, there,” “yes, Daddy,” “please, Daddy.” His arms snake around her, pulling her up when he sits back so that she’s on top of him, riding him, and he keeps a hand on her hips to guide the movement, up and down, and his thumb finds her clit and she…

It hits her suddenly, the climax making her cry out before Jamal claps a hand over her mouth, eyes squeezing shut tight while it spirals through her. He waits until she’s done to bury his face in her tits, biting and licking at one and then the other, and he forces her up and down on his cock until he finally shudders, and she feels the twitching inside of her, the warm spurt of cum inside her pussy. He holds her still while he cums, her arms around him, nuzzling his cheek, seeking his lips, and he finally lays her back down and pulls out of her, curling her against his broad chest.

“There you go, baby girl, there you go… was that good for you?”

“Yes, Daddy.”

Friday night, 31 December 2010, PM

Celia: Yes, Daddy.

Two years later, Celia is Kindred. And not about to tell anyone that.

Except maybe her sire.

The call comes through shortly before 6 PM. The ID only says “Ray,” and when Celia picks up the phone she’s greeted by the cheery voice of Defallier’s driver.

“Good evenin’, Jasmine,” he says once she answers, “there’s an engagement for you tonight if you’d like it. Triple pay for the holiday and last minute of it all.”

The code is easy to decipher: the use of her “real” name means it’s a political thing and that Defallier doesn’t trust one of the usual girls with it. And a boon to top it off. It’s an interesting proposal. Celia can’t imagine why Defallier would feel the need to offer a boon on top of their usual arrangement. Must be juicy. She smiles, though she knows that the driver can’t see.

“I suppose I can make it work, Ray. Who am I meeting?”

“There’s my girl. Your old friend Martin is in town. I’ll swing by around eight. Apparently there’s a party; wear something sparkly.”

Celia laughs and says she’ll do just that. She hangs up and tosses the phone on her bed, wondering what in the fuck Defallier is doing sending her on a date with Martin Borges. She doesn’t know for sure whose boots he’s licking, but he’s got a powerful backer that’s keeping him fat and happy.

She assumes she’ll be briefed in the car, anyway, and sets the thought from her mind while she gets ready. A series of texts go out. First to Alana, letting her know she has a date tonight and to not wait up. A second to Randy, telling him the same thing. She cancels the ride he was supposed to give her and tells them both to enjoy their evening. His brothers need no text to her whereabouts; tonight they’re doing their own thing. Once she’s out of the shower she calls the lick she’s been seeing for the past year.

“Jade, babe, what’s up.” On the other end of the line Celia can clearly picture him taking a drag from a cigarette. She knows he doesn’t smoke, but he looks like the kind of guy who used to smoke. And if his slightly husky voice is anything to go by, she’s pretty sure that he did.

“Hey, Nico. I have some bad news.”

“Don’t tell me you’re bailin’ on me, babe.”

“You don’t sound surprised.”

“It’s New Year’s Eve. I figure a pretty girl like you got all sorta things keepin’ her busy tonight.”

Celia breathes a sigh of relief. She doesn’t need to, but the habit dies about as hard as she had.

“You’re not mad?” she asks.

“Nah. Disappointed, maybe, but I know you’re good for it.”

“I’ll make it up to you,” she tells him. He laughs.

“Yeah, babe, lookin’ forward to it. Have fun tonight. Give ‘em hell.”

“You too.”

“I always do.”

She hangs up to continue getting ready, pleased that Nico doesn’t seem too put out about canceling on him. It’s not the first time she’s had to do it, and he might throw a fit occasionally but she thinks it’s more to show he cares than any real concern over missed plans. She doesn’t tell him it’s whoring that she’s doing, of course, but he knows that she’s got an agreement with another lick that occasionally ties up her evenings.

Still, the “makeup sex” is always good.

With that thought in mind, Celia sits down in front of her vanity to do her face. Her literal face, using her fingers to sculpt and shape the skin and muscles to pull it into the face of the woman she will be tonight: Violet Moerani, real name Jasmine, one of Christina Robert’s most highly paid escorts. The bone structure remains the same—she isn’t yet so advanced that she can shift that around—but Celia doesn’t mind. The heart-shaped face is particularly appealing to her, and she uses her gift to enhance the natural beauty she was born with. Makeup follows, a primer followed by liquid foundation followed by a setting powder, blush, shadow across her eyes. She avoids sparkles with her makeup and picks a lip color that won’t feather or transfer; Whoring 101 means that the wife at home should never learn about the other woman through something careless like makeup or perfume. Black liner, black mascara, and a final spritz to set it all. She curls her hair and piles it atop her head in an easy, casual up-do, then moves across her haven to the walk-in closet.

The closet is organized into neat sections based on the face she’s wearing. Violet’s section has almost as many party dresses and gowns as Jade’s section; it doesn’t take her long to find the right sort of thing for this evening. Gold and black, it clings to her hips and waist and ends just above her knees, with a high neckline and sheer sleeves that end in cuffs at her wrists. A pair of strappy black heels and she’s ready to go.

She meets Ray down the block. He knows she lives in the area, just not which particular house, and she doesn’t intend to bring him up for coffee any time soon. There’s only so much trust she’s willing to show Defallier’s ghoul. She’s not even sure if he knows she’s a lick; she never asked. She keeps her aura shrouded when she’s wears these other faces of her, puts the Beast to sleep inside of her so that its scent cannot give her away. It’s the most frequently used tool in her kit and she’s glad to know it. Ray opens the door of the black SUV for her and she climbs inside, buckling in as he pulls away from the curb.

“Senator Borges?” she asks him, brows raised.

Ray flashes her a wide smile, white teeth shining.

“Requested you, Miss Moerani. Said he’d seen you at another function and has been thinking about what he wants to do to you.”

“Really?” Celia—Violet now—lifts her brows at the driver.

“Dossier in the box.”

Violet nods, reaching forward to pull the manila folder from the glove compartment. She flips through it, looking for the pertinent information. Positions he likes. Talking points. Requested information from Defallier. Known associates… ah, shit.

She had assumed as much, but this confirms it.

Dangerous night ahead of her, if this is the truth.

Friday night, 31 December 2010, PM

Celia: Violet appears to be the first arrival to the party. The house is lit up with leftover white Christmas lights and a handful of cars sit in the driveway, but when Violet rings the bell after Ray drops her off there’s no sound of partying coming from within. An overweight maid in a blue uniform answers the door and invites her in, though she doesn’t offer to take her coat. She simply says that Mr. Borges will be with her in a moment and to please wait over here.

Violet waits.

She’s used to waiting. The elders play this game as well, where they make her wait when they summon her to a meeting. As if she hadn’t just waited nights to meet with them. Some make her wait longer than others—the Invictus, at least, know better than to waste each other’s time—but she has found the same sort of games played among the mortal men with whom she visits. No one wants to appear overeager to greet an escort.

Violet plays her role well. When the almost-obese man appears in the doorway in a black tuxedo with wing-tip shoes Violet lets her face relax into a pleased smile. Her heels click against the floor with every step that she takes toward him.

“Good evening, Senator Borges.” She kisses both of his cheeks, one after the other.

“Good evening, Miss Moerani. I’m pleased you were able to make it.”

“I was delighted to accept the invitation. Am I the first to arrive?”

“You’re the only arrival. Party isn’t here.”

“Oh?” She takes the arm that he offers her, her white French-tipped nails stark against the black outfit.

“Going to an event. Come on, then, you can blow me in the car.”

The pair slide into the back seat of a town car with tinted windows. Borges makes no secret of what she is in front of his driver, who must be used to it if his vacant look is any indication, but he puts up the privacy divider and Violet spends the ride on her knees with Borges’ cock in her mouth. It’s as thick as the rest of him, which gives her plenty of room to sink her fangs in. He might have intended for his date to swallow something else this evening, but by the time the car begins to slow Borges is singing her praises and says he’s “tempted to skip the damn party so you can do more of that, sweetheart.”

Violet merely smiles at him and licks her lips while he tucks himself away.

“We’re here,” the driver announces as the car stops. He knocks on the door before opening it, letting Borges slide out first. He turns to offer Violet a hand and she looks around to take in her surroundings as she steps from the car.

It’s a familiar sight. Large houses. Immaculately kept lawns. A wall all the way around the perimeter.

Audubon. Her stomach clenches. She can’t be in Audubon. She isn’t cleared to be here, and trying to get permission now… no, no, no, someone messed up, someone really dropped the ball on this one. The party was supposed to be at Borges’ house, not… not here. Not her sire’s domain. Not only that, but the house they’ve stopped at… Number 3 Audubon Place.

Daddy’s house.

The dangerous locale aside, she can’t imagine why they’re here. Borges and Flores don’t play for the same team. She knows better than to furrow her brow, but the curiosity gnaws at her all the same.

Violet forces a smile at Borges when he reaches for her, sliding an arm around her waist. He leads her to the door, ignorant of the way her mind races. How is she going to get out of this one? Pretend she’s sick? Claim her period started? No, he’ll just want her on her knees again. She can make him think she drank or ate something funny, maybe. Family emergency… Defallier will be pissed, but it’s better than being caught here. Isn’t it? Something must be going on if Borges is gatecrashing a Republican party.

“Now, Miss Moerani,” Borges drawls, drawing her attention toward him, “if you can’t think of anythin’ clever to say, you just go ahead and let me speak for you, hm? Buncha politicking goin’ on behind these here doors. Just need you to smile pretty for me.”

“Yes, Senator Borges.”

“There’s a doll. And call me Martin here. Save the senator stuff for later.”

“Of course, Martin.” She simpers up at him, batting her lashes. Martin gives a firm nod and knocks on the door.

Seconds later the door swings open to reveal Maxen Flores. Violet’s stomach churns at the sight of him. She hadn’t thought that he’d stoop so low as to open his own door; isn’t that what the help is for? She’d expected to be able to slip quietly inside and avoid him the entire evening. The last time she’d seen him was just after he’d fucked Isabel; he’d been on his knees with his hands clutching his head, screaming. She can’t even stomach to watch him on TV but here he is now, standing two feet in front of her.

GM: The bald senator gives a tight smile, at first. It disappears completely when he sees who’s at the door. He just stares, not even pretending to be friendly.


The faintly growled word sounds less like a greeting than like an expression of distaste for beholding something disgusting and obscene.

“I trust you have an explanation for what you’re doing on my property.”

“Evenin’, Maxen,” Martin says with an easy smile. He ignores the way the unsmiling and much taller man stares directly into his eyes, not once looking away or even seeming to blank. Instead, he plows forward as if they’re old friends. “Had some business in the area that I thought could use a second set of eyes. And who better than a room fulla the GOP?”

GM: Code? Has to be code. Maxen says nothing. His gaze instead moves to Violet. He offers no greeting to the young woman.

Celia: “This here is Violet Moerani," Borges fills in. "She’s new to the city, lookin’ to get into politics. I thought your party would be the perfect place to bring her.”

GM: Maxen just stares down at Violet.

“Is she now.”

Celia: She can see it in his eyes: contempt. His lip doesn’t do so much as curl, but she’d been on the receiving end of that look enough times to know it when it’s leveled at her. Usually from the same people who wish she were on their arm instead of whoever she’d accompanied that night. She smiles up at him, then dips into a curtsy.

“Good evenin’, Senator Flores.” Her accent comes out a little more Southern than normal, but Martin doesn’t seem to notice. “I hope you don’t mind that I’ve accompanied Martin this evenin’, only he told me how you flipped the whole state legislature red for the first time in a real long time, an’ how you were elected at only twenty-five, an’ I jus’ couldn’t stay away.” Her eyes widen, lips parting slightly. “You’ve done a lot of good work for the state, sir, it’s a real pleasure to meet you. An’, don’t tell Martin,” she leans in, lowering her voice to a stage-whisper, “but I been playin’ for your team since my daddy taught me which way was up.”

GM: Maxen stares at her. Long enough to be far past polite. There’s nothing at all friendly in his look.

“You don’t belong in politics.”

He suddenly steps forward, directly into Borges’ personal space. Borges takes a reflexive step back. Maxen steps right after him. His chest is only inches away from the shorter man’s.

“The Romans paraded slaves at the triumphs they threw their greatest generals. Did you know that, Borges? These slaves were taken from the savages and barbarians they’d conquered.”

“Uh, what does that have-”

“It’s simple. My side won. Yours lost. This party is my triumph. My triumph will have a slave.” His thickly muscled arm suddenly seizes the flabby black man around his shoulders and forcefully pulls him inside the house. Maxen’s voice is a whisper. “You are my slave tonight, Borges. An example of the weakness and moral turpitude that made your party lose, and made mine win. My slave will entertain my guests. My slave will make my victory sweeter.”

Borges stares at the other senator in equal parts bewilderment and growing anger.

“You’re fuckin’ crazy, Maxen.”

“And you are degenerate scum, Borges. I suppose you can put a nigger in a suit, but you can’t give one a higher drive than procreation, can you? Give my regards to whichever of your children you’re currently raising.”

Maxen closes the door behind Borges, then smiles and raises his voice loud enough for the other guests to overhear. “So glad you could make it tonight, Martin. Help yourself to some punch.”

If Maxen intends to do anything besides ignore Violet completely, it’s interrupted by another knock on the door. He smilingly bids Borges a good evening before turning to greet his new guests.

“What the fuck did I get myself into," Borges mutters a moment later as they shuck their coats off to the hired help for the evening.

GM’s Note: There are some edits in progress to this log, some of which was originally a fiction piece written by Celia’s player. Rest will be up when finished.

Previous, by Narrative: Story Eleven, Caroline IV
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Story Eleven, Caroline IV

“My immortal soul? Fuck my immortal soul."
Caroline Malveaux

Saturday evening, 26 December 2015

Caroline: Caroline’s meeting with Adam is shorter. She declines his offer to take confession, joking that, “Haven’t you heard I’m going to be excommunicated soon? Uncle Orson would be furious.”

Despite the levity of her words, they’re more bitter than she wants to admit.

GM: Adam humorlessly replies that her excommunication has not yet occurred, and states that “Confession is always good for the soul.”

Caroline: Can anything be good for a soul condemned to Hell?

She’s curious as to his read on all of this—being someone who’s close to Orson and has gone along with everything the family wished of him. She asks if he ever regrets just doing everything they wanted for him. She also asks what he thinks she could do, in general, now.

GM: Adam states that if Orson’s heart attack had been fatal, there would still be a Father Malveaux. Against that, nothing else matters. Even what regrets he himself may have.

He brings up Caroline’s prior confession to having killed a man and asks how she thinks that action has weighed upon her soul. He asks if she has fulfilled the penance he assigned.

Adam has seen many parishoners confess to a single misdeed before never hearing from again. Confession may be good for the soul, but it is only half the process. Confession alone cannot grant absolution, only set one upon that path. He believes Caroline is still hiding the truth of what she is from the family, and that guilt over her crime (and perhaps further unrevealed circumstances pertaining to it) are the true source of her “fall from grace,” far more than even her sexuality.

He expresses grave concern for the state of Caroline’s soul. Murder is no small sin, and absolution will not come easily. Further, it will come harder now. This man’s loved ones have assuredly moved on—and suffered—in the months since his death. He can understand if Caroline has avoided them out of guilt and even fear, but such actions will only cause her and them greater harm.

Or perhaps Caroline has simply not thought of them. If so, the peril to her soul is even greater. Adam urges her to make right for this sin while there is still time. Perhaps she feels she is irredeemable, but God knows and judges all. The church may be soon to excommunicate her, but only God can judge her immortal soul. Ones guilty of greater sins than hers have still been saved.

Caroline: The lecture and concern comes at a poor time for Caroline. “My immortal soul? Fuck my immortal soul,” she almost snarls. The family doesn’t care about immortal souls, they care about scandal and appearance. Orson himself literally ordered his servant to murder Caroline’s girlfriend, and the whole family approved of abortion if needed to protect the family name. They’re all hypocrites.

Her whole life is coming apart—her family, her faith—and he wants to lecture her about making amends.

GM: Adam accepts his cousin’s vitriol with apparent calmness. “Let us assume you are right and that our family are unworthy servants of Christ. Do you still hold faith in Him?”

Caroline: Caroline looks away and down, bitterly shamed by her cousin’s response. Does she believe in God? Of course. She’s a walking, talking, example of His wrath, of the kinds of damnation that can await sinners. A ‘wolf of God.’ Believing in God is oh so easy. How could she not believe in God.

But faith is another matter. Faith implies trust. The things she’s experienced have torn away at faith. Carved at it, mutilated it as she remembers being carved upon in the last night of her life. Trust in a God that allowed such things to happen, even to a sinner like herself, is hard in coming. Faith also implies some manner of reciprocal relationship. The things she’s done, the people she’s hurt, bear down on her more heavily than all the awfulness of the rest of the world combined. A great weight on her conscience that drives her to her knees and bows her head. How can she even begin to have a relationship with God, after all that she has done?

That same weight weighs upon her as she tries to look up, to meet Adam’s steady gaze. She knows what she wants to say. A quarter century of faith cannot be stamped out, not entirely, by a quarter of awfulness. There’s something there to her still, that quiet voice that wants to give the answer she knows Adam too wants to hear.

An answer that would give catharsis to them both. It swells in her breast like a deep breath, straining for release as she forces herself to look up from the ground, struggles against the weight. If she can simply say the word she knows so much of it will be lifted. She draws in a breath to speak, that simple word crying out for release.

It’s too much, no one can lift that weight. Another word escapes like a serpent, slithering from between her open lips like the lie that it is.


She stares at her cousin’s chest, unable to look upon the disappointment in his eyes or written across his face.

“No,” she says again, the lie growing easier to accept each time she tells it. “I’m sorry,” she says, rising quickly, hurriedly, and turning from him. “I shouldn’t have come.”

GM: With her gaze turned away from Adam’s, Caroline cannot see whatever expression crosses her cousin’s face at her answer.

“‘The Lord does not delay His promise, as some regard delay, but He is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.’”

Adam pauses after the scriptural recitation, then continues,

“Worse sinners than you have returned to the fold and made right their sins. But remember first that excommunication is separation from the church, not from God. No one can separate you from God. Peace be upon you, Caroline.”

Caroline: The Ventrue is, for once, grateful for the shame that has hidden her face from her cousin. It helps to hide the bloody tears that well in her eyes at his patient response. He might be the best of the family. A rare good apple to fall from the poisoned tree. All the same, he’s wrong. So very wrong.

God has no mercy for the damned. All she ever feels in His churches, or when the cross’s shadow falls upon her, is His scathing hatred for her sins and all those she inherited from her sire. Whatever tie she had to Him exists now only in her damnation. And why not? She’s done horrible things. Awful things. Murdered with her hands and her words. Ruined lives. Enslaved people with the poison in her. Wrecked the family, betrayed her mother’s trust to her death, left her brother to die. All that before her nightly treating of people like little more than cattle, feasting on them, hurting them. Not just to survive—she could feed half as often and do that. She’s not just a coward clinging to her Requiem out of fear of Hell. She’s an active participant in her own damnation night after night as she tries to claw something out of this wretched existence.

Excommunication may only be separation from church, but it comes far too late, a formality of function. Her separation from God happened months ago.

She flees her cousin’s mercy without a further word. Away from the righteous and God’s gaze. Back to the dark where she belongs.

Saturday night, 26 December 2015, PM

GM: Summer Greer hasn’t done anything to leave a paper trail since her disappearance. No ATM withdrawals, credit card use, and so on.

It takes no small amount of hassle, but Caroline and her private investigators eventually locates Summer Greer at a cheap French Quarter apartment. The place has lots of dirty laundry and smells like weed, but she’s alive and seemingly unharmed.

“No, I wasn’t kidnapped,” the girl declares with a huff when Caroline asks about that.

She doesn’t look as if she was going completely to ground Lou style either. She still has her phone.

Caroline: No small amount of hassle is right. The PIs fell through and Caroline had to get personally involved.

She’s glad for her working relationship with Savoy. She could have told Neil and Angela that the teenager was in the French Quarter, yes, but she’d sooner question Summer herself first.

She doubts Angela is any slouch at locating missing girls, given her vocation. And not being able to find her own sister? Something doesn’t add up, for Summer to vanish so completely.

In fact, she’s positive that Summer should not have been able to. The amount of effort (or rather, lack thereof) she put into hiding her whereabouts simply does not match the amount of hassle, legwork, and hoop-jumping that Caroline’s team had to go through to track her to this crummy little apartment.

She asks if the girl wants to go back to her family.

GM: Summer answers that she does not. She’s been in contact with her birth mother, but doesn’t seem to care that Angela, her father, or her stepmother are upset.

Caroline: “Fair enough,” Caroline answers mildly. “What do you plan to do next? I hear you’ve missed class.”

GM: Summer says she’s dropping out from Tulane to spend time on “more important things”. She’s tired of living the life they’ve all planned out for her and being treated like a child.

Caroline: “What sorts of things are those?” Caroline asks, without disagreeing.

She covertly looks over the girl for signs of being fed on.

GM: Summer does not appear to have been fed upon. She seems a little distracted and out of it, and Caroline doubts that weed smoked itself, but that’s as far as the harm to her goes.

Caroline also observes some cut-up and spliced-together debit cards, bus transfers, dollar bills, and assorted (messily) handwritten notes indicative of cut-up technique.

Caroline: Caroline looks over the cut up materials and expresses to her without skepticism that they explain why she was so difficult to find—her sister couldn’t do it. She asks if she’s been able to affect any other real effects, or if it’s her first.

She also asks if Summer would be willing to do a proof of life photo just to keep her family from going nuts. She tells the girl she completely understands wanting to get away from the life her family wants and have her own space. It might help them move on a bit and bother Summer less if they know she’s not lying dead in a gutter or being held captive in some sex dungeon.

GM: Summer warily says that she can do other things, and has done so before—but not very well.

She emphatically does not want any photos, is glad to be causing them so much worry, and doubts they can find her. They haven’t so far. She’s done with that life. They can all rot.

Caroline: Caroline asks her if that’s what she’s dropping out to pursue, but seems generally supportive. Basically she tries to suss out what Summer’s experience is with magic. She’s also curious as to what the tipping point was? She relates her own growing family frustration (relating to her) with managing other people’s expectations.

GM: Summer says that is what she’s dropping out to pursue. It’s the “one thing I can do that Angela can’t” and she seems to take savage pleasure in that notion.

The tipping point was meeting the ‘vampire’ in the Abbey. Summer had just been blindly groping along before meeting her. But after her, it all came together. She showed Summer things. Things that scared her. Things that hurt. Things that hurt in ways she couldn’t have even imagined, that she’s still struggling to accept. Sometimes she wanted to go back. But it was like “a switch just flipped”. All of it comes to her easily now. She can’t go back—even if she wanted to.

She is glad Caroline “understands what it’s like” and how empowering it is to douse those expectations under kerosene and watch them burn.

“You should leave,” Summer says quietly. “I don’t think my teacher will like visitors.”

Caroline: “If you want me to leave, I will,” Caroline answers diplomatically. “Two questions. Is the vampire your teacher? What’s their name?”

GM: Summer is quiet at Caroline’s queries, then abruptly screeches, “I TRUSTED you! She was right! You’re a LIAR! I can’t trust ANY OF YOU!”

Autumn looks to Caroline, as if about to say something, when the dingy apartment’s lights suddenly blow out with a shower of sparks. Green’s hand snaps towards her sidearm. The short girl’s eyes flash as she takes an angry but unafraid-looking step towards the three.


Caroline: Caroline determinedly meets her gaze and gives a command rather than a request this time.


GM: Summer’s will doesn’t accede to Caroline’s so much as collide against it before buckling under. The girl’s face goes still.

Autumn quickly hits her phone’s flashlight icon and shines it over Summer. “She down?” the ghoul queries.

Green’s gun trains on the now-illuminated Summer’s center mass.

Caroline: “For the moment,” Caroline answers Autumn, stepping closer to Summer and examining her closely. Incidentally coming between Green and her shot. “Did you get a read on what it was that set her off?”

GM: Green lowers her gun.

“No more than you did,” Autumn answers, shaking her head. “I can try to scry her. What do you want me to find out?”

Summer breathes normally and remains still.

Caroline: The Ventrue instructs Summer to follow her orders and tells her to have a seat before turning back to Autumn. “Can you find out what made her so angry?”

She never takes her eyes off the ‘girl.’ This normal-looking teenager who was so hard to get a handle on. A girl who is clearly far more than that.

GM: Autumn stares at her for a moment.

“It’s… poking into her ‘vampire’, I think. She doesn’t wanna talk about that, at least to you.”

Caroline: Caroline folds her arms. “Specifically to me?”

GM: Autumn’s brow furrows. “That’s… further than I can see.”

Caroline: “Was she more afraid of discussing them, or angry at me?” Caroline asks.

GM: The ghoul’s eyes glaze over for another moment.

“Some of… both… but I think more angry.”

Caroline: Caroline nods as she continues to stare at the teenager. “She’s different. Not just an ordinary mortal.”

GM: “That makes none of us,” Green mutters.

“I could scope her out some more, with some juice,” Autumn volunteers.

Caroline: “No,” Caroline shakes her head. “Look around this place. Find me something useful. If her teacher is actually a mortal, there will be signs of two people living here. If it’s a Kindred, you should be able to tell the difference.”

GM: The two look around the dingy place. It’s not well-kept. Rumpled clothes lie scattered over the floor. Dirty dishes pile up not just past the sink, but the adjacent countertop. There’s stains on the walls and ceiling. The carpet looks like it hasn’t been shampooed in a long time. Assorted detritus of daily life from deodorant sticks to Cheese-It boxes are piled everywhere.
It doesn’t take too long before Autumn locates a laptop and cracks it open.

“Looks like she was keeping a personal journal on this.”

Summer continues to stare sleepily ahead.

Caroline: “Pull up this week,” Caroline instructs.

GM: There’s the light sound of Autumn’s fingers moving across the keys, then she stops.

Green readies her sidearm again.

“Someone’s coming,” she whispers.

Caroline: Caroline frowns at Green’s words and orders Summer to sit on the bed. “Copy the diary,” she tells Autumn, before moving towards the door to be with Green.

GM: Summer sits down. There’s a few more sounds from the keyboard with Autumn.

None emerge from behind the door.

Green looks at Caroline questioningly.

Caroline: Caroline remains tensely by the door, but looks back at Autumn and Summer. “The last couple days, Autumn, I want to know about this teacher of hers.”

GM: “We can just take the laptop, we don’t need to copy it,” she whispers. “But… maybe we should get out of here?”

Caroline: Caroline nods and quietly instructs Summer to follow Autumn. “We’re taking her and leaving.”

GM: Autumn snaps shut the laptop under her arm and gets up.

“So do you want to get us fucking going or what?” Green mutters.

Caroline: “Let’s go,” Caroline gestures towards the door to Green.

GM: The ghoul pulls it open. No one is visible in the dark and moldering hallway.

“Lights are out here, too?” Autumn frowns, holding up her phonelight so she and Green can still see.

Summer stares tranquilly ahead.

Caroline: Caroline’s vision is not so encumbered by the lack of light, and she steps into the hall.

GM: No force arrests her progress.

Caroline: She proceeds forward down the stairs.

GM: “What the FUCK!” Green shouts, swiveling her gun.

Caroline: Caroline spins. “What?”

GM: The ghoul unloads her .45 Browning into an apartment unit’s door. The brutal pistol all but explodes it apart. A gory pulping, heavy thud, and cut-off scream sound from inside the unit.

Caroline: “What the fuck!” Caroline all but yells, witlessly echoing her ghoul as she sprints up the stairs to the bullet-riddled door.

GM: “Summer’s gone!” Autumn yells.

Caroline: “What do you mean, ‘gone’!?” Caroline snarls, looking through the holes created by Green’s shots.

GM:YOU FUCKER!!!” Green screams, barreling past Caroline.

A bleeding, bullet-ridden and dark-skinned man in sweatpants lies sprawled over the unit’s floor. Red froths from his mouth as he screams insensibly.

“She’s GONE! She just vanished!” Autumn yells.

Caroline: Caroline grabs Green and whirls her around. She wants to snarl, to ask her why, but refrains. Instead she simply slams into the mercenary’s will with her own.

“Stop it!” she commands.

GM: Green’s furious expression goes slack.

Caroline: Caroline presses further into her mind, taking control of it. “Go out to the car, get in it, and wait for me to come down,” she orders.

GM: The ghoul calmly heads down the stairs without a further word.

The shot man’s frothy screams ring in their ears.

Caroline: “Autumn,” Caroline hisses as she moves in on the screaming man to examine his wounds.

Caroline moves to check the man’s injuries, then decides she doesn’t have time before an emergency services response to do a proper job of it and feeds him her blood—just enough to stop the worst of the bleeding and keep him alive until someone else responds. With the poison running through his veins she then reaches into his mind and restructures his memory of the sudden, unprovoked attack.

It wasn’t some crazy woman. It was a couple of gangbangers. They tore up his apartment looking for a quick score and fled with a laptop, some cash, and a couple pieces of jewelry.

While she works on his memory she has Autumn (quickly) make a show of riffling through the apartment. The ghoul adds weed lifted from Summer’s apartment to the man’s living room. The two are gone within a couple minutes.

GM: The shot, newly-ghouled man hacks and curses weakly after the ‘gangsters’ who invaded his apartment, but there’s no true anger behind his barely comprehensible words. Not anymore. He sucks and licks at Caroline’s wrist until she forces his lips away. His needful moans follow the pair down the stairwell. The other units are deathly quiet, though Autumn murmurs on their way out, “Heard crying from one of those. Breathing from a few more. This… probably isn’t the first shooting for a lot of these people.”

Caroline: Once back in the car Caroline has Autumn drive and Green sit in silence while she makes a call to Lord Savoy’s herald to explain that there was an incident while she was looking for a kine. A man was shot in his (crummy) apartment, but she doctored the scene and will continue to follow up, if he’ll allow it, to ensure there are no lingering loose ends to tie up.

She takes Green’s firearm from her (it’ll be given to Diego later to be sold on the black market—and likely used in another crime which will connect it to an existing criminal).

Only when those matters are done with does she release the hold over Green’s mind. She demands to know what the merc saw and what prompted her to start shooting.

GM: “Sounds like an exciting evening, Miss Malveaux,” Melissaire purrs over the line. “His lordship more than trusts you to take care of things… by all means, please do. You can impress us with the full story at the Evergreen.”

Green looks at Caroline shakily.

“I… dunno why I did that.”

“Saw a woman. Said it was horrible what you were doing to Summer… that you were gonna hurt her. That she was just a kid. Said I needed to, to give her a distraction. So she could get Summer out.”

“I… dunno why I did that,” the blonde merc repeats.

Caroline: Caroline digs a thin flip book out of the holder behind Autumn’s seat and passes it to Green along with a pen. “Everything you remember about her. Tone of voice, what she was wearing. Hair color, style, length. Eye color. Everything,” she demands.

“Did you see anything, Autumn?” Caroline asks.

GM: The other ghoul shakes her head. “Summer just… disappeared. I mean literally. I was looking right at her, then she was gone.”

Green’s pen starts scratching. The ex-SWAT’s face looks increasingly red.

“I’m… not sure we shoulda stuck around after she mentioned that ‘teacher’ coming back,” Autumn ventures. “What do we want to do, still find her?”

Caroline: “Maybe. If we even can. I want to know what that diary says.”

She looks back at Green. “He’ll live, by the way.”

GM: “Well, we got her laptop, it’s not even password-protected.”

Caroline: The scowl that’s been on Caroline’s face since they left doesn’t abate. She mutters something unkind under her breath.

“I want background on that building too when we get back,” she adds for Autumn.

Sunday night, 27 December 2015, AM

GM: Caroline returns to her haven in the Giani Building after departing the French Quarter. Green announces to no one in particular that she’s going to get drunk. Autumn turns over the laptop she retrieved from Summer’s apartment. The ex-college student’s journal is a LibreOffice document where she’s jotted down her various thoughts and feelings on each of her day’s events (an idea recommended by her therapist). She hasn’t bothered to write entries for every day, and they increasingly taper off in recent weeks. A few entries stand out to Caroline among the more mundane ones.

Summer’s interest in magic goes back some years to her reunion with her birth mother, a Latina woman whose own grandmother was a curanderismo: a spiritual healer who uses traditional herbs and remedies, and is often considered a leader in the local community in contrast to the more malevolent-tempered Brujo, or witches. Caroline is uncomfortably aware that she did not even know what a curanderismo was several weeks ago, and still cannot account for how Abélia impregnated her mind with its present trove of occult lore.

Summer’s interest in Mexican folk magic was mostly passing, and a way of reconnecting with a heritage she hadn’t been aware was hers. Her father was white, her skin was as pale as his, and people always treated her like she was white. She didn’t know she was part Hispanic until she was in her early teens, which she describes as “actually really weird” to suddenly find out.

Regardless, it was that initial interest which got Summer started. Her journal is light on further specifics, but it seems like that passing interest became more than passing by the time she was in college. She read several books of Angela’s that her older sister denied being hers and appeared flummoxed by Summer’s possession of. After Angela confiscated the books, Summer kept her interest hidden. She continued to find more books in their dorm room, which seemed strange, given how ardent Angela was about them being “a distraction” from her coursework. Did her big sister think she was too stupid to find something there on a bookshelf?

She “learned things” from those books. Things she’d never learn from any of her classes. She started skipping (“it’s so great how college professors don’t care if you don’t show up”) to spend more and more time in her dorm room reading those books.

Summer mentions a dorm party at Josephine Louise back in August where she felt “just really drawn” to an out of order bathroom. Inside, she “saw… I don’t know what the fuck. It feels insane to be writing this. Something in the bathroom. There was SOMETHING there. I could feel it. The mirrors were fogged. And smashed in. It was so cold. And whispers, and I just felt so sad. There was SOMETHING there.”

She also recognized the line of salt scattered across the doorway. Caroline, too, (somehow) recognizes salt as a symbol of purity and simple ward against incorporeal entities such as ghosts. Someone else had been in the ‘out of order’ bathroom before Summer… and her opening the door broke the line of salt that kept “the presence” trapped inside.

Summer doesn’t remember exactly what happened next. She’d wanted to commune with “the presence”, like she’d read she could do. But seeing that broken line of salt, the smashed, fogged-up mirror, the impossible cold… her guts suddenly turned to water. She was terrified like she’d never been in her life. She could have sworn she heard screaming in her ears, and after that… she’s not sure if she fainted or ran away or what, but when she came to, she was huddled on her dorm room’s bed drenched in a cold sweat. When she ventured outside, the partygoers had all come down with influenza.

Subsequent journal entries are incoherent, missing, or entirely mundane. Summer talks about her sister coming down with the flu, “crashing hard,” and scaling back on her commitments. There are also a few comments on her new boyfriend “Nelson or whatever” whose name Summer eventually remembers as Neil, and describes as “kind of nice, but kind of a wimp, and always really tired. Perfect match for Angela I guess.”

Summer complains about her sister being a bitch and “always siding with [her] parents” (well, technically dad and stepmom) and college being “still basically high school”. She felt depressed over having no idea what she wanted to major in, and spend her semester taking semi-random classes (mostly ones that met her graduation requirements) which sometimes interested her and sometimes didn’t. Professors didn’t mother her like high school teachers and her grades didn’t do so hot. Cutting classes made them do even less hot. Her dad wasn’t happy, and compared her with Angela—who still maintained a perfect 4.0 despite “doing so much more stuff” than she did. She’s not sure she’d have even gotten into Tulane if it weren’t for her sister being a “legacy member or whatever”. Her stepmom never brought up her grades, but Summer “could tell” she was disappointed too. “She has no fucking right. Why does she give a shit? I’m not really her daughter.”

She and Angela got into a huge fight when her older sister caught her photoshopping a screenshot of her grades to list better ones than she actually got. Her dad had threatened to take away privileges if her grades kept slipping, and Summer just felt less and less motivated as the semester wore on. “And of course he doesn’t ask Angela to do that, he just believes everything she says.” Angela wouldn’t cover for her, and lectured Summer “about being dishonest, and lying, and telling the truth and blah blah blah JUST FUCK THAT STUPID BITCH SHE NEVER NOTICES WHEN I DO NICE THINGS JUST FUCK HER.” She was going to tell their dad—not just about the bad grades (“JUST FUCK HER”), but how Summer was doctoring the screenshots she sent. “JUST FUCK HER FUCK HER FUCK HER.”

At that moment, Summer “just saw fucking red.” Angela was suddenly blasted off her feet and smashed against the wall like a rag doll.

Summer stared for a moment, then ran out the door.

She didn’t come back.

Summer lapses in keeping her journal entries after that. The next one picks up with Summer thinking about going back to her “REAL mom”, but deciding on “my vampire” instead. “[Her] vampire” told her that she had “done well”, but advised her that it would be in her own self-interest to exercise greater discretion in the future—there were “more subtle ways” to avenge herself against “those who would stifle my potential”. Her vampire said there was nothing for her at Tulane. She could be so, so much more. More than Angela. Summer was delighted when “[her] vampire” pointed out that her older sister could never do any of the things she was capable of.

“[Her] vampire” also seemed different. When they met, she’d been “more I guess playful”. She was “a little scary”. Actually, she “could be really scary.” But that was “to that douchebag who wouldn’t leave us alone”. It never felt like she’d wanted to scare Summer. “She kept saying how much ‘more’ I could be, how amazing I was.” After her fight with Angela, things became… different. She got “pushier”. Less fun. But not at all “like Dad”. Summer wanted to please her, wanted to impress her.

Caroline has to read between the lines, because Summer’s words on the subject are very terse. But it sounds like they were starting to have sex—and that the experience was deeply traumatic for the former coed. She mentions her vampire laughing when she screamed. She mentions bleeding, including when she took shits, losing sensation between her legs, and “hurting everywhere”. There are long showers, “black steel”, horrible nightmares, and incoherent ramblings where Summer doubts whether her experiences are even real, or just things she’s dreaming. She didn’t really leave the apartment much. Or want to. Her developing powers were “like a drug.” She could make the bleeding stop. She could “make [herself] feel good.” She could levitate objects. She could hear neighbors’ conversations. She could know what they were thinking. She could do things to them: give them headaches, make them hot, make them cold, make them horny, make them trip and bang their heads, fall asleep, talk in voices that weren’t theirs, hear things no one said, see things that weren’t there… Summer could “do anything to them”. Summer could “do things” on her phone and laptop too: write blocks of text without touching the keyboard, access Angela’s email account without the password (she was “really pissed” at some of the stuff she read), make her phone keep running when the battery was dead…

She even fought back once, and sent her vampire flying across the room like she did Angela. Her vampire said she was “progressing well”.

The journal abruptly ends there.

Autumn turns up some information on the building by the time Caroline has finished reading. It was built in the 1950s along Rampart Street and but has since been almost exclusively rented by low-income black tenants. There’ve been numerous building code violations, shootings, and similar incidents that make it a place where few individuals would desire to live. It’s passed from slumlord to slumlord before finally winding up in the Pavaghis’ hands during the ’90s.

“Just a random shithole hideout, I guess,” Autumn concludes. “We could look into if there’s a lease agreement, but my guess’d be they’re not coming back.”

Monday night, 28 December 2015, AM

GM: Becky Lynne remains true to her word to utilize the services of Caroline’s law firm and sends a ghoul to the Giani Building to take care of it. Caroline has seen the modestly-dressed, chubby-faced, and short-framed blonde woman hovering around her mistress in a personal assistant-like role a few times before. She smiles as she introduces herself as “one of Questor Adler’s people, ma’am, I reckon you’ve seen me around a few times.” The ghoul’s attitude is pleasant and agreeable, but it also becomes evident as the pair converse that Becky Lynne doesn’t have a specific purpose in mind for which she wants to utilize Caroline’s law firm. The ghoul seems happy to arrange anything that she calls “reasonable.”

Widney is quick to privately point out that while a “high-profile client is good PR,” this seems like an under-utilized opportunity. Wouldn’t it be even better if they had something Becky Lynne specifically wanted the law firm to handle—and felt was important enough to attend to personally? Widney is unclear exactly what kind of sway Matheson and Becky Lynne hold over Whitney Hancock Bank, but the 237-branch financial institution is worth $27 billion in assets. This could be a significant opportunity.

Caroline: The heiress has several ideas for ways in which to better flesh out their business relationship. Among other things, like all major corporations, Whitney Hancock Bank no doubt has to hire out a significant portion of its litigation to outside counsel, despite maintaining its own (very significant) in-house legal office. Not only does the ebb and flow of such work mean that at times the amount required far outstripes the amount of work their own staffs can produce, there are always questions of conflicts of interest for bank attorneys given prior cases (and even the entire legal branch), interoffice disputes that require outside arbitration and counsel, matters better handled outside of the office more discreetly (particularly those involving impropriety by bank executives), and (of course) simple quality assurance and ‘double checking’ of work on importance cases and simple contracts (especially employment contracts) both. And of course any acquisitions or mergers—which are almost always handled out of house due to conflicts within (and heavily scrutinized by the bank’s own attorneys).

Any of those are matters that the firm could assist in, which would bring in potentially significant business with marginal risk to the bank or Becky Lynne’s assets. With the possible exception of mergers and acquisitions.

She also proposes using the firm to help manage contracts for acquisitions and transfers of property or funds, and for contracts that may have Kindred undertones driving them—for instance the use of services by other Kindred at reduced rates in exchange for boons and other favors. Essentially anywhere that such transactions might otherwise raise eyebrows from the kine.

GM: Becky Lynne’s ghoul seems to think on Caroline’s words, and then replies that there is a matter which seems like it would fit the bill (“literal and otherwise,” she adds with an airy laugh) for what the Kindred lawyer is describing. As Caroline heard at the dinner with Warren Whitney not too long ago, the bank is relocating from its historic St. Charles Office and six other scattered buildings to the roomier One Shell Square (to be rebranded as Hancock Whitney Center), along with moving over a number of assets from Gulfport to further centralize operations. As Caroline has mentioned, there are a number of interoffice disputes involved in the move, especially pertaining to the Gulfport asset transfers. Some employees in Mississippi are going to lose their jobs. “No real way around that, sadly.” Some business relationships in New Orleans are also taking hits. Whitney Hancock Corp did not own all seven buildings that the bank’s prior operations were conducted in, and the holding companies that do own them are not pleased to have lost rent from one of their largest tenants.

The chubby-faced ghoul continues that a further and related area of concern is what these parties may make of Gerousiastis Matheson’s and Questor Adler’s plans for the historic St. Charles office. They intend to keep it vacant for “at least the immediate future.” The city government is very sensitive about potential damages to historic properties. Becky Lynne has considered whether parties who oppose Whiney Hancock’s move may seek to get the building declared a historic landmark through the Historic District Landmarks Commission, or possibly the state-wide Louisiana Office of Cultural Development’s Division Of Historic Preservation. This could tie the two Ventrue’s hands regarding future uses for the building, or at least result in costly legal action. Either way, the parties opposed to the bank’s move may hope to bring them back to the negotiating table.

Currently, none of those parties have actually pursued legal action against the bank. Becky Lynne would like to ensure things stay that way. While the ghoul frankly states that affairs pertaining to other Kindred are beyond the scope of the authority her mistress has vested in her, if Caroline can lubricate the process of the bank’s relocation and ensure things go off without a hitch (which is to say, no costly lawsuits), then she will no doubt “look mighty favorably” upon doing further, more directly Kindred-centric business with Caroline’s firm.

Caroline is more than happy to take on the ‘project’ with her firm. It’s the kind of thing she’d dearly like to seek input from her Uncle Matthew on—given the numerous acquisitions and consolidations he’s helmed—or even her brother Luke or cousin Savannah. Lacking any of the three, she’s forced to lean more on her own limited legally focused experiences, what she recalls of his truncated observations in the past, and the aid of her own ghouls.

The first matter is having the transition, handling of the leasing contracts, and the personnel matters officially under the firm’s legal umbrella. Obviously the company will dictate its own personnel requirements, but hiring out the process of handling terminations, separations, and contracts both significantly reduces the liability of the bank and gives the firm legal standing to deal with matters that might come up in the process directly.

When it comes to actually assisting in the move, she starts with mitigating and otherwise limiting any litigation from disgruntled employees. With the firm helping ‘provide direction’ on cost efficiency of consolidation, on which positions can and should be terminated, and so forth, questions of impropriety in the process are more insulated from the bank legally. After all, who can challenge that an outside agency with no stake in any personnel matters was impartial in its selection of who can stay, and who must go? The truth—that their projections and decisions will always match almost exactly with what the bank wants—matters far less than the fictional appearance of impartiality. The firm provides ‘studies’ and ‘statistical analysis’ to support its decisions—but as the saying goes: lies, damned lies, and statistics. Caroline (and ‘her’ attorneys) can make those studies say whatever she wants. Not that they’re filled entirely with nonsense.

Built into those studies is actually useful information available through varying bar associations—tables on how severance in varying amounts aligns with declines in litigation historically. How much salary is required to get a certain percentage of those affected to sign severance agreements. How many personnel can be laid off in advance of the closure of various branches and departments without undue suffering of production is more a question for the various departments (especially outside of New Orleans) she leaves to the bank to decide, but she’s firm (remembering her both the admonishment of professors and her uncle) that the more people they can get rid of before individual offices are moved, the fewer problems they’ll have. The goal is a more incremental draw down, rather than a massive wave of pink slips: employees let go alone or in small groups are less likely to seek litigation as a group, and more likely to find quicker success in the job market with less competition. It also allows those hired on early by other businesses after their firing to provide windows for newly unemployed personnel to crawl through into new careers. The less time terminated employees spend on the job market, the less likely they are to sue.

When it comes to actual terminations, the proposal she (and her attorneys) come with is for the individual managers, vice presidents, and so forth of each affected business or branch do the firing of their own people. Caroline relates the anecdote she heard once from her uncle, “people take bad news from someone they trust far better than from a stranger”. Wherever possible, those handing out pink slips are those that have every incentive to sell it well—they’re sold on how performance reviews have shown that they’re the ones the bank wants to keep, how they’re the elite, those worth the cost and expense of moving. For some of them it’s even true. For those that it’s not worth moving, or who prove unwilling to move, severences more generous than those they’re giving out are available.

Contingent upon any severance for any employee is of course a iron-clade waiver of any right to future legal action. If asked, Caroline explains that some degree of severance—in some cases only a week’s salary—is required to make those waivers enforceable. Essential elements of a contract being the tendering of the offer, acceptance of it, and, pointedly, some form of consideration offered for acceptance. Included in the waiver of legal action however is more than just a waiver of a right to sue for termination—there’s an enforcement clause for any that disparage, unethically share information about the bank, or otherwise attempt to damage the bank in any way. Caroline recalls more than one legal headache discussed by Mark Stines at a high level social function created by a disgruntled former employee leaking information to some opposition group during the (brief) era in which her uncle doggedly refused to pay out any severance to employees terminated for ‘cause’.

Handling the (in some cases) understandably disgruntled landlords of buildings and properties the bank is vacating is a more complex matter. The first step is ensuring the bank isn’t in violation of any contract provisions on their end—especially for early termination. The next is documenting or ‘identifying’ all manner of contract violations by the landlords. Asbestos, corroded pipes, rotten drywall, mold, bug infestations, and simpler (more mundane) more easily overlookable contract breeches are shockingly ‘discovered’ by Caroline’s ‘investigators’ in each building being vacated. Sometimes they don’t even have to plant or create these breaches.

All of them give Caroline ample ammunition against any of the property owners and managers that might seek to cause problems for the relocations. In some cases Caroline strikes early and fast—threatening breaches of contract litigation against them and seeking compensation. The goal of these threatened actions is never to take the matter to trial, and instead to seek settlements that indemnify both parties from disparagement and any future action (among other things). She’s happy to settle such matters quickly—much to the benefit of landlords. It would be a shame if the properties were tied up in litigation for months—or even years—as evidence in potential lawsuits. In others she holds it in reserve should they seek threaten action against the bank. As much as it might hurt to lose a major tenant, Caroline can and will make it hurt far worse if they want to make something of it.

When it comes to the St. Charles office, Caroline is more blunt. If the building goes up for review, it will likely be deemed to be of historical significance. It’s also highly probable that even if no hostile party (and there are many hostile to Gerousiastis Matheson in the city beyond the mortals affected by the move) seeks to take such an application before the committees, that a historically minded citizen is likely to do so. That means they need to either defeat or delay any such designation. There are several paths they could follow. Most unscrupulous among them, members of each committee are prohibited from discussing the matters of specific proposed locations with outside parties. If they do, they must recuse themselves from discussion and votes. Get enough members so tainted (conventionally or otherwise) and the matter, even if before the committee, cannot be properly nominated and supported by three other ‘seconds’. Failure there results in a mandatory year wait before further consideration. Better though, if a majority of the committee does not support such a nomination, it cannot be reconsidered at all for five years. Given that many committee members also serve year after year, any tampering might produce benefits for many years to come. That option is, however, significantly above Caroline’s ‘level’.

Two more indirect—and more conventionally expensive and time consuming—options are available. The first is to backlog the committee with applications. It meets a single time each month. The staff that sets the agenda has to verify applications before they can come before the committee. That staff is small and already overworked. If it’s Adler’s preference, Caroline simply flood them with applications, creating a massive backlog until her own affairs and plans for the building can come to fruition. That option works better on a more limited timeline—a year or two at most. The other option—which can be utilized in kind—is to submit the building application first, then pull it before it comes to the committee. No building can have more than a single application in for consideration, and those submitting may withdraw their submission at any time. By controlling the submission they can, in theory, work to ensure it never comes up to a vote.

Finally, if they’re concerned about outside meddling, and direct meddling with the committee is a concern (by outside forces or themselves), Caroline purposes they could bring the matter to the committee instead as one that the elder Ventrue desires. There are advantages to having the building declared historically significant, particularly in terms of it’s regard by other Kindred, how it’s regard by the city, and even in terms of taxation and legal protections. If the committee is actively hostile or controlled by a hostile group, creating the appearance of desirability on their part is the surest way to see it rejected—and the matter punted for a minimum of five years. Failing that, the committee cannot make rulings on matters before the review of the city council—if that venue is more welcoming to Gerousiastis Matheson.

All of the above is to say Caroline can delay such a consideration by a number of possible means, depending on what best suits Adler—but delay is all she can do is directly.

GM: Becky Lynne is exceedingly pleased with her clanmate’s assistance. It’s far more than she or her sire expected from some random neonate they were throwing a bone to. They are inclined to go to her law firm for further business of more substantial and sensitive natures, as well as to involve her in more Kindred-related matters.

Bishop and the other lawyers are happy just to have six months of billable work, and the prospect of further work for Whitney Hancock makes them even happier. The firm is clearly starting things with a bang.

Monday evening, 28 December 2015, PM

GM: Savannah meets Caroline at her posh high-rise apartment in the CBD. It’s been a while since the Ventrue has seen her cousin wearing casual clothes instead of formal businesswear—or for that matter, mourningwear. Savannah offers to get drinks for the pair (“I think tonight calls for some hard bourbon”), sits down with her by a scenic view overlooking the Mississippi, then gets right to the point.

“So you like girls. I do too.”

Caroline: Caroline accepts the drink from her cousin and clinks glasses, taking a seat beside her and letting the stillness of the moment hang in the air. She takes a sip of her drink after Savannah’s admission, then looks back to her. “I know,” she admits with a soft smile.

“I have for years.” The smile turns shy. “Susan and I followed you, years ago, to a meeting.”

GM: “Shit,” Savannah says, though whether at Caroline’s years-ago snooping or the reference to Susan is unclear. “Well, thanks for not telling anyone, if the fact they didn’t fucking excommunicate me is any indication.”

Caroline: “Susan doesn’t know. Or at least I don’t think she does,” Caroline clarifies. “She was waiting to prank you in the bathroom.”

“And as for me… well, even before I found out—quite recently—that I enjoyed the fairer sex as well, it didn’t seem worth ruining your life over,” Caroline replies knowingly. “And to be clear, that’s what they’ll do if it ever comes out. Excommunication is… well, if not the least of my worries, then certainly the least of the physical ones.”

“They’ll tell you a story about what happened the night Orson had his heart attack, because you can’t have the black sheep painted in any other light, but if things had worked out just a little differently… well.” She pauses to take another sip of her bourbon. “We wouldn’t be having this conversation. And it won’t just be you they go after.”

GM: Savannah’s eyes narrow in seeming thought for several moments.

“Pretty convenient for you that fat bastard had an attack. Did you slip him something?”

GM: Savannah’s eyes narrow in seeming thought for several moments.

“Pretty convenient for you that fat bastard had an attack. Did you slip him something?”

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “Quite the opposite. Or did you really think his brute had the presence of mind to call the paramedics and perform CPR until he got there? I got lucky—and I guess so did he in some ways. For this I’m to be excommunicated—from Church and family. Cut off of all support and contact from the family forever more.” There’s more than a trace of bitterness in her voice as she recites her ‘sentence’ as though making a decree.

“Better than what they had planned when I arrived though, so maybe God has a sense of humor. If you ever wondered why Susan went along with the demand to join the covenant and meekly retire from public life, let me assure you that the other option they offered was far less merciful.”

Her eyes meet Savannah’s. “I wouldn’t count on betting so lucky as I did, Savannah, and they’re going to be positively out for blood and jumping at every shadow.”

“I didn’t do you any favors by getting outed. I’m sorry.” She tosses back more of the foul smelling, fouler tasting, bourbon.

GM: Her cousin sighs.

“First girl I opened up to pulled out of her school and was dead by the end of the year. I’ve learned to be careful.”

Caroline: Rather before you opened up, Caroline thinks, but she keeps that thought to herself and instead bites her lip before nodding. “That’s what he said. He wanted her found. Wanted ‘the degenerate’ found. Wanted her killed.” There’s a hardness in Caorline’s voice as she speaks, an edge sharp enough to cut through steel.

“I should have let him die,” she spits out. “But I don’t think we’d be having this drink if I did.”

GM: “Probably not,” Savannah agrees, then shrugs like it’s turned out to be an oil reserve not worth the cost of extraction. “Either way, he’s alive. Don’t think the family’s going to be out for blood so long as he’s in the hospital though, which should be a while. My mom and dad are probably uncorking champagne at that news, not to mention actually fucking talking to each other. Your dad’s busy in DC, your mom’s been a wreck ever since Westley, and this isn’t any of the others’ fight.”

She sips her drink. “If you want to get out of New Orleans, now’s the time. Don’t think there’s really anything here for you anymore.”

Caroline: The idea holds a certain appeal, in the same way she might have fantasized about going to school abroad, or about which celebrity she would have wanted to date. Wouldn’t it be fun to go to school in Paris? The thought has as much meaning now as it did then, and for the same reasons: she won’t be allowed to leave. Even if she wished to flee the city, flee the seneschal, and flee her oblivious sire, someone would either conspire to bring her back, or more likely destroy her. For better or for worse, her fate is tied to New Orleans for reasons she can’t express.

“Where would I go?” she asks lightly, ideally. “Some big and liberal city? New York? Let them run me out of New Orleans like a tramp in the night?” Caroline laughs and shakes her head. “No. There’s still.. well… Some things here. And even if there weren’t, I wouldn’t run.”

GM: “Can understand that,” Savannah grunts. She takes a sip of bourbon.

“Was planning on getting myself inseminated at some point, you know,” she remarks conversationally. “Family wouldn’t be happy over the whole ‘no husband’. But it’d bury the lesbian talk for good. Might do that sooner depending on what shape dear old uncle is in after he’s discharged. And how right you are about being out for blood.”

Caroline: Caroline looks grim at severity of her cousin’s plans. Better to be a single mother than to care for someone unacceptable. The twisted nature of the family on full display. “I imagine it might. Might be worth waiting to see how all of this plays out though. In a few years… well. Things can change as the old guard changes,” she agrees. “You and Emilia?” she asks.

GM: Savannah grunts. “Not in a hurry. Our generation’s of age though, like it or not. Gabriel’s the last one going to college. Our parents are waiting to be grandparents.”

Caroline: “I get the feeling Luke is going to kick it off here shortly.” Caroline agrees with a genuine smile. “Maybe it’ll give them all something else to focus on for a while. Or maybe not. After him it’s you—I think Charlotte has a few more years before it starts to become expected.”

She gives a laugh. “Have you always known? That you liked women?”

GM: “I tried to fool myself for a few years. Boys kept getting pissed when I wasn’t into kissing and pushed them away. Even sat down in front of some porn videos, bless me father for I have sinned,” Savannah traces a sarcastic cross in front of her face, “and tried to get off to those. I started to get a clue when I realized how much I was looking at the women.”

Caroline: A more genuine laugh follows. “That must have made for some awkward confessions.” She tries to picture the scene. “You’ve managed it well. Far better than I did. I won’t offer any condescending talk of ‘how confusing it must of all been’. I don’t think either of us have ever really been much for seeking sympathy or a shoulder to cry on—and it sounds as though it was a long time ago besides.”

GM: “It was.” Savannah sips her drink. “So who’d they catch you in bed with?”

Caroline: “No one you’d know. Artist type. Photographer. Moved here from California.” A smile slips across Caroline’s face unknowingly. “The whole thing moved so fast. Felt so easy.”

GM: “Another California liberal, huh? Seems you have a type.”

Caroline: “Decently,” Caroline replies with another drink.

GM: “You like men still, or turns out no?”

Caroline: “Equal opportunity,” Caroline quips. “That’s the stupid part about all of this. Could’ve been happy with someone more ‘acceptable’.” She shakes her head.

GM: “Spilled milk,” Savannah shrugs. “Enjoy your photographer. Live the life you want to lead and all that shit.”

Caroline: “Yeah.” Caroline looks out on the night, then back at her cousin. “I should have reached out earlier. I’m sorry.”

GM: Savannah shrugs again. “Regrets and two bucks will get you a cheap bag of pre-sliced cheddar.”

Caroline: “Shame they’re so worthless, since they come so easily,” Caroline remarks before finishing her drink and setting it down on the small glass table between their chairs.

“I don’t imagine we’ll have another chance to chat. At least not anytime soon.” She looks over at her stern, serious cousin. “Take care, Savannah.”

GM: Savannah finishes hers. “Take more care yourself. Give a shout if we do get that chance.”

She rises from her seat. “Wishes though have about the same market rate as regrets.”


Monday night, 28 December 2015

GM: Autumn earns enough credits to graduate from Tulane at the end of December. (She isn’t graduating in spring quarter because she took classes at an uneven rate while working for the Krewe.) Whether she is happier to have a journalism B.A. or to no longer be a viable food source for her mistress is difficult to say, but Caroline can smell at a whiff that the recent college graduate is no longer a suitable vessel.

She brings up again how it will be good for the Masquerade if she holds some kind of paying job, as well as Caroline’s earlier promise to find her a place at her law office. She reiterates how “that’s where the real game is played with the Masquerade, in law offices and boardrooms… elders are all basically committing a ton of white-collar crimes to keep their empires running. Cleaning up bodies and bloodstains feels kind of, like I said, crude next to that.”

Caroline: If Caroline is disappointed by the ghoul’s removal from her eligible ‘herd’ she says nothing of it, though perhaps her gaze hovers just a moment less on the ghoul in early evening meetings before she’s gone out to find her next victim, and her teeth are just a little less pointed in those same meetings. She congratulates Autumn on the achievement and even has a small ‘bonus’ waiting for her.

She’s true to her word with the firm. A Bachelor’s of Arts with no official job history of note is not exactly a sterling resume. Caroline could find a dozen recent college grads that would be thrilled simply to get some kind of internship (and several others that would be happy, though less thrilled to get an unpaid one). One of the benefits however of controlling the firm is less of a need to justify the hire, review a resume, or even have Autumn submit one. A position appears for a director of media relations. It’s a nicer term for ‘spin artist’, and that’s a job that Autumn is quite qualified for. Officially her duties involve helping frame narratives around cases that gain (or require) media attention and getting out in front of media reports and stories that might involve clients or points of interest to the firm. The office is not immediately luxurious or even particularly large, but it serves a purpose, and the requirement that she stay ‘on the button’ with and maintain ties to various media sources is a ready explanation for her somewhat irregular hours.

Among other things it legitimizes Autumn’s income and gives her access to the firm’s resources. Caroline is clear that it’s right at the edge right now of what she can justify. Were it not for Autumn the position would not exist, and Autumn does need to work to grow it into something of merit for the firm while also juggling her own duties to Caroline in the evenings. The Ventrue is open to the ghoul’s suggestions as to ways she can better do so, and it becomes apparent that she is, for now at least, content to give Autumn her head to discover the best way to do so. She mentions, however, that if Autumn does intend to step further into that arena that she’ll need to stretch beyond a B.A. She stops just shy of suggesting the ghoul should return to school. At least immediately.

GM: Autumn initially points out, half-seriously, that she does have a sterling resume. It’s just one that mortal employers can’t see.

Bishop vouches for Autumn at the firm. He says that while the other partners raised some eyebrows over creating a brand new paid position for a fresh college graduate, they seem willing to see how things work out after he recommended her. He lied about being friends with one of her professors.

Autumn is grateful for the position, especially the ‘bonus,’ and rapturously tells Caroline in the ‘post-coital’ glow that she will make the most of it. Her dad will be happy to hear she landed a salaried job this fast, too. She figures doing well on the next couple cases will be enough to quiet any doubts the firm’s other employees may have about her. She ‘agrees’ she should also focus on work and balancing the new job’s responsibilities with her ones towards Caroline before thinking about grad school.

Wednesday night, 30 December 2015, AM

Caroline: It’s after Christmas when the appointed meeting with Yi Huang rolls around. Caroline hasn’t made a habit of visiting sewers—in fact, she hasn’t visited them at all—but she agreed to meet with the misshapen Nosferatu on his terms. She takes his advice and trades heels for watertight boots, pairing them with burgundy athletic pants, a dark sports bra, and a plain black top.

She arrives at the appointed manhole cover at the appointed time. Not only does it present the opportunity to interact more with the principled Nosferatu, it’s also a ‘chance’ to see something of their underground empire. Not bad for a social call. Even if it is in a sewer and requires ‘practical shoes’.

GM: A rat leads Caroline a little ways in to the sewers. She’s soon soaked, fouled, and completely covered in shit. She looks as ugly as any Nosferatu.

Huang says he’s willing to talk there when Gerald Abellard shows up. The second Nosferatu taunts Caroline for probably not being tough/strong enough to survive a journey to the clan’s warrens. “Huang’s going easy on you,” he cackles. “Oh, and those pictures of your tits have gotten even more likes. Couple ghoul fapped to them. Got a video of that if you wanna see it.”

Huang neither condemns nor acknowledges the profane talk. He’s willing to talk with Caroline at either location, here or the warrens, and expresses interest in what manner of atonement she’s pursued for her various sins.

Caroline: Caroline tolerates the filth surprisingly well—no doubt aided by being dead. She tolerates the taunts from Gerald far less so, commenting clippedly on how difficult it must be to be one of the few Nosferatu so ugly on the inside as well.

GM: Huang seems ready to instantly turn against Caroline without an immediate and profuse apology to his clanmate for calling him ugly.

Caroline: Caroline wavers for a moment in her anger before offering a short but genuine apology for attacking his physical appearance. By no means does she seem ready to ignore Gerald’s taunts, but she seems to genuinely regret having gone to such a petty place.

GM: Gerald cackles that “down here you’re as ugly as me anyway.” She should look in a mirror. He lays off after getting in the last word, but repeats how it’d be “absolutely hilarious” to see a “spoiled princess like her” just try to make the descent all the way down.

Caroline: Caroline is happy to chat with Huang here—among other things deferring to his decision on the meeting place—though at the end of their conversation she mentions that in the future she’d rather they gave Gerald nothing to laugh about if they continue to meet.

She asks him about his views on atonement and his own attempts to find it. If he’s willing to share, she asks what his sins in life were. She mentions that the Sanctified dogma of hunting the evil has its appeal to her. She’s emphasizes that she’s committed to the Church Eternal and is grateful for her elders’ guidance. Still, hurting and killing people to make up for… hurting and killing sometimes leaves her feeling empty. To say nothing of how difficult it can be to target specifically those that fit the mold. Left unsaid is that more powerful and influential vampires who lead the Sanctified often suffer no such difficulty.

She’s mostly interested in just chatting, discussing rights and wrongs, and hearing another opinion on how to fulfill one’s Requiem.

The conversation passes pleasantly enough, but ultimately doesn’t soothe the canker in her soul. She supposes, upon reflection, that little else drives her besides her acceptance by her sire. Besides being worthy of him. Being more than just some other spiritually lost neonate on the street.

Right and wrong have always been a distant second to that.

Monday night, 2 January 2016, PM

GM: In January comes the bar exam, which Caroline may take to finally become a bar-certified lawyer. The exam location is in Kenner, which is within the New Orleans metro area. It is held from the hours of 7 AM to 5 PM over the course of three days.

Caroline: The heiress considers several approaches to the question of the bar, from extremely overt interference in the entire affair with Kindred supernatural powers to more nuanced options that rely on them not at all. There are several hurdles to be overcome in the process that affect both plans.

Among other things they include the need to put someone in a physical seat during the Monday, Wednesday, and Friday of the bar’s administration, the need to insert her own answers, and the need for those answers to be convincing to graders that are of yet unidentified. Caroline knows that many practicing attorneys in Louisiana (especially older ones of good standing and repute) are called on to anonymously grade various exams, and that trying to identify which has hers would be a monumental undertaking. To say nothing of the more personal question she wrestles with: she doesn’t simply wish to cheat her way through the bar. There’s a matter of pride in passing on her own. The difference between being an attorney and ‘near-attorney’ is very much the difference between being a success and a failure.

Some problems have immediate solutions. Say what she might about Ferris’ men’s investigation, they threw a passable lookalike into her path. Passable to the unfamiliar eye, at least. She can put a body in the seat during the day, even if it isn’t her own.

That still leaves two questions: that of the exam itself, and how she will insert it into the others. Unlike many professional exams, the bar is not multiple choice. It’s a series of essays that are graded against a set ‘correct’ pattern answer created by the same author as the questions themselves. The exam is designed to require over twenty hours of outlining and writing to complete broken into a trio of seven-hour sessions. It also changes for every single test, semi-annually. It’s not something that one can readily ‘cheat’ in the same way that she knows a fair number of her fellow debutantes cheated on the SAT, MCAT, and similar tests.

Which isn’t to say that there aren’t plenty of ways that enterprising young would-be attorneys have tried to get an edge. The easiest is getting the test questions ahead of time. They’re tightly controlled, but ultimately they’re not nuclear launch codes, and several people have access to them. In a city as notoriously corrupt as New Orleans, it’s even considered sporting for certain people to get leaked early ideas of what the questions might be. Or at least the topics in question, if you know the right people: mostly judges.

More tech-savvy law grads have aggressively taken the opportunity presented by the ability to bring a ‘vetted’ laptop using special software to introduce all manner of ‘cheats’ for themselves, from references to samples of past test answers (supposedly destroyed but flourishing on the darkweb). That accommodation, presented mostly for the ease of reviewers who grew tired of reading hand-written exams some years ago, has been a boon for would-be cheaters.

Caroline intends on making use of both paths. She needs to see the exam question early to have a chance to work on them during the nights in advance, and she’ll use her new ghoul (and the opportunity presented by the laptops) to insert her answers without extra duplicity or need to compromise the entire testing process by ‘injecting’ her tests into the bank.

She’s aggressive in her courting of those that might have those ‘early looks’ at the exam, leaning heavily on enthrallment where personal charm fails to make new friends and pry potential truths from others. Some connections she already has—former teachers, business associates, family connections. Others lead from one to another, a chain of hunting for literal answers at legal events (often and so helpfully hosted at night due to the schedules of the judges).

She simultaneously hires on a programmer to create a break into the bar exam’s testing software. Perception Questionmark is a solid program that essentially locks out the computer with everything other than the testing software while in use. It’s not really designed however to be tested. Most companies that use it (including the armed forces) do so on their own computers which have their own firm administrator controls built into every computer on a given network—often in relation to a single server. When exposed to administrator controls on a private laptop, it’s almost trivially easy to build in a backdoor to do something as simple as allow copy and paste from a root directory… and if one happens to have been built specifically to hide answers in a null format… well. That’s too bad. Honestly, Caroline doubts someone cheating a pre-written answer into the bar in that particular way is a concern that most are actively concerned about: if you know the questions ahead of time, why risk the headache when you can simply tailor your studies? Who would both need to and be able to cheat in pre-written answers like that? Who indeed?

It’s perhaps especially true because the actual ‘right’ answers (i.e. the model answers graders are required to score to) are typically not provided until after the exams have been proctored, and even then only to the graders. It’s ostensibly a form of protection against them being compromised. Caroline knows that there’s some truth to the two jokes told about them: first, that given the scale of the work, the ‘answers’ often aren’t ready at the same time as the test. Second, given there is no review available applicants of grades, and given who ends up doing most of the grading, graders don’t look at the ‘real’ answers half the time anyway. In short, anyone trying to cheat the bar in that way would have to be able to answer the questions anyway. Research might help with some, but they’d be on an abbreviated time anyway to do so.

Caroline’s own time is certainly ‘abbreviated’ when it comes to working on her own answers, even once she gets the questions. Unlike kine, she can’t exactly spend all day and night researching and cramming ahead of the bar. Even when the gets the answers she doesn’t have, in truth, much more time than the average person taking it. The nights leading up to it are the weekend—Elysium nights she can ill afford to spend buried in books and writing papers.

GM: Caroline retrieves her copy of the exam’s questions from Richard Boner, an associate judge for the Criminal District Court of Orleans Parish, the same court on which her cousin Carson serves as chief justice. The Ventrue remains inconvenienced by that court’s location inside Mid-City: Anarch territory. She settles for tracking down each judge’s home address and waiting until they venture to a more readily accessible location. Most people of means have business in the CBD at some point, and it’s then that she makes her move, invading the elderly man’s mind as she has so many others. Her own intimate knowledge of the legal field’s workings significantly lubricates the process: perhaps another Ventrue who desired the bar exam’s questions could simply obtain what they wanted through brute force, ordering the criminal judge to fork them over like a mindless drone, but Caroline leaves him thinking he turned them over of his own violation for entirely understandable reasons.

Widney takes care of the details in hiring Trevor Nguyen, a Vietnamese-American computer science student at Tulane and gray hat who has no apparent reservations over helping someone cheat on the bar exam in return for a respectable cash payment. If Caroline inquires as to details, Widney mentions that he actually some apparent ethical objections, but these took a back seat to his desire to quickly pay off student loans. He cracks the program and has it working to the Ventrue’s specifications in short enough order.

Gerald Bishop, who’s obviously taken the bar some years earlier, remarks that Caroline is the first Kindred he’s seen to acquire a law degree after her Embrace. He applauds her for still wanting to pass the exam under her own merits, and even recommends that she answer its questions in an unfamiliar setting and under a time limit over the course of three nights, if she wants to recreate as ‘authentic’ an exam-taking experience as possible.

Caroline feels very good about how she does on the Code I, II, and III essay questions for the first ‘day’. The next ’day’s’ Code of Civil Procedure, Torts, and Business Entities doesn’t feel like she’s knocked it completely out of the park (which she’s adamant she absolutely did yesternight), but for someone who’s had relatively little opportunity to study next to many other would-be attorneys, she feels pretty good. The last ‘day’ brings Constitutional Law; Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, and Evidence; and Federal Jurisdiction and Procedure. Caroline feels like the exam is starting to wear on her. She has so many other worries and concerns and literally life or death deadlines the bar is ultimately irrelevant to. Still, she reflects as she shuts down her laptop for the third and final night, her efforts are something to be proud of. Many of her kind’s elders, for all their knowledge and power, would likely fail the bar outright. She can do something they can’t.

Audrey reports no problems sitting in for Caroline and substituting the Ventrue’s answers for her own.

Once the exam is taken, there is nothing to do but wait, at least for most would-be attorneys. Exam results are mailed out after two months. Names of passed applicants are posted on the doors of the Louisiana Supreme Court. Caroline can’t make that happen any faster—but she can revisit Judge Boner and ‘ask’ that her cousin’s work associate grade her exam first.

Several nights later, she holds that graded exam in ‘hand’. Her weighted score is 900.

It will be several months before her name graces the front doors of Louisiana’s highest court. It will be several months before she can tell her mortal family what she now is. But she knows.

Caroline Malveaux, attorney at law.

Caroline: The sight of the graded exam fills Caroline with a whirlwind of emotions. First pride, in having not only passed, but done so in such a glorious fashion despite so many items of importance competing for her attention and robbing her of the study time she always imagined she have. A third of test takers fail outright. To crush the exam so thoroughly is a reaffirmation of the self-exceptionalism she’s long believed, but so often had cause to doubt over the last year. She didn’t even have to ‘cheat’, beyond as needed to get the exam in the first place.

That glowing pride rapidly gives way to outright joy and excitement. Another dragon slain, a great accomplishment that she can’t wait to celebrate. She laughs and smiles like she’s alive, jumps up and down for a moment, and has her phone in her hand to text someone—anyone and everyone—when the next emotion hits like a bucket of cold water: emptiness. She looks down at the glowing screen as her smile fades and her laughter dies.

She can’t call her family—for many reasons—to tell them about it. Not even her mother is likely to appreciate it. She’ll comment on how Caroline’s a monster for having pried the grade out earlier and turn up her nose in conviction that Caroline cheated. Of her Kindred ‘friends’ and associates, she doubts many, if any, will understand what it means to her, or even why she bothered. She’s going to die relatively soon, isn’t she? Why should she care if she can pass some stupid test? Why go through the trouble? It’s not as though the piece of paper attached to a dead woman’s name is going to impress them. And that assumes any even believe that she passed it straight up, actually taking the test instead of simply cheating her way into it.

That leaves her ghouls—some of which will understand: Bishop for his experience with the exam and Kindred society, Ericson for the first but not the last. Others, no doubt, the collar will pull into joy on her behalf, but she knows it’s empty. It’s like celebrating at home with your pet dog and a bottle of boxed wine. Bragging and celebrating with them is a hair past pathetic.

Which leaves her pride. Always pride, in herself. In her accomplishments that no one will ever really appreciate, even if they know and believe. She looks down again at the weighted score: 900 / 900. Her success, entirely on her own merits. One she knows about, even if no one else does.

The score still makes her smile.

Maybe that’s enough.

Sunday night, 3 January 2016, PM

GM: Father Malveaux is formally consecrated as Bishop Malveaux in a glorious ceremony attended by the whole of the city. Donovan is given a special place of honor as the one to cut the sacrificial victims’ throats. The newly-elevated bishop exalts the sheriff’s piety and labors on behalf of the Church Eternal in his sermon. It is plain to all who Malveaux supports as Vidal’s heir—and that such support carries no small weight.

Donovan appears at the Board’s next Tuesday meeting. Father Malveaux sets an ornate silver pin recognizing vital friendship with the Ventrue clan upon his breast.

The hounds, especially Camilla Doriocourt, are increasingly seen by the bishop’s side in the coming weeks. Some take to calling them “the bishop’s guard.”

The other priests increasingly fall within their newly-elevated no-longer-peer’s orbit. Father Polk reaps the benefits of his loyalty as he and his long-time mentor receive enlarged hunting grounds and domain within the Garden and Central Business Districts. Sermons at Midnight Mass are conducted by the bishop now, with the other priests in supporting roles. Bishop Malveaux performs every transubstantiation and ritual feeding of Longinus’ vitae to congregants.

Firmer policies are set down aimed at weeding out the “spiritually indolent” within the church. Congregants whose confessions their priests seem lacking and “empty of faithful works” are prohibited from receiving communion at the next Midnight Mass, their shame made obvious to all. Caroline herself is prohibited from taking communion on more than one occasion. Some faces are more absent than others, but most seem eager to demonstrate loyalty to the new bishop. Donovan expresses his approval of the bishop’s new methods, declaring that the Sanctified shall be sharpened into a blade that might “strike down all enemies of our faith.” Rumor abounds the two have reached an accord for Bishop Malveaux to serve as Seneschal Malveaux under a Prince Donovan.

Monday night, 4 January 2016, PM

GM: Becky Lynne receives Caroline at her sire’s Garden District haven. She listens patiently to the younger Ventrue’s story of the aid she has rendered in ensuring Sarah’s online comments over the Amelie were kept from the public domain. She pulls up her Solaris and taps into it for several minutes (“You’ll pardon my bein’ rude here”) before telling Caroline to consider one of the boons she owes her sire repaid. She then proceeds to discuss the circumstances under which the other Ventrue will sever ties with Sarah.

Caroline: Caroline readily excuses the delay, and thanks Becky Lynne for the repaid boon—it wasn’t something she’d have thought to bring to her attention normally: preserving another’s domain seems like it should be minimally troublesome efforts on behalf of another Venture. As to splitting with Sarah, she sees several options she night pursue towards that end, each with its advantages and disadvantages.

First, she might simply ghost Sarah, continue to avoid her, and work behind Sarah’s back with those trying to keep them in contact to keep her away until the teen leaves for college. The disadvantage is that it’s slow, it isn’t the hard break.

Second, she can be direct with Sarah. She can tell her off in rude and no uncertain terms: she has better things to do than spend her time on a brain damaged teenager, or in some similarly rude way. She might even ‘come onto’ heras a means of pushing her away and alienating her.

Third, she—or they—can manufacture external pressures on Sarah to force her away from Caroline. This isn’t difficult: the disowned Malveaux scion is in disgrace with her family. Much of her social standing has been significantly diminished. Association with Caroline (especially publicly) is ill-advised. This would be particularly effective if Sarah’s family also worked to push the narrative.

All three have advantages and disadvantages, both for Sarah and for Caroline. The harder Caroline’s alienation the more disruption to Caroline’s own plans (Sarah’s boyfriend’s family is significantly influential and owns the Giani Building, and Sarah may be making an enemy for ‘life’ of both) and to Sarah’s own life (she’s likely to face ostracization, repercussions, or retaliation if she becomes beligernate towards Caroline from others, while Caroline’s own belligerence could lead her down negative responses from the girl).

So, how aggressively does Gerousiastis Matheson wish for her to break with Sarah? Caroline will carry any costs on her own end—the cost of doing business—but she’d not damage Sarah’s standing as part of the elder’s domain without his direction.

GM: Becky Lynne replies that “unpleasantness” and sexual harassment—the former logically following the latter when Sarah turns down Caroline’s advances—is the ideal course of action for her younger clanmate to pursue. “The latter in particular is a very good idea of yours, Eiren Malveaux. It pairs with the existing narrative like beans with rice.” Becky Lynne and her sire “will take care of” further external pressures on Sarah to end their association. “You won’t need to fret about your haven. This shouldn’t take more than a few nights.”

“A good, clean break is best in all things, Eiren,” the shorter blonde finally nods. “You set the wound and move on. Leavin’ things messy just invites more messes down the line.”

Caroline: “As you wish, Questor,” Caroline agrees. “Let’s hope she doesn’t make things awkward by not declining.”

Caroline allows the thread with Sarah to play out, lessening her resistance to the younger girl’s attention with another meeting with the twins in which she lets her eyes linger just a bit too long on her, lets her hands linger just a moment too long on Sarah’s own when she corrects something, and in which she continues to insist, especially in the brief moments in which they’re physically closer, that being closer to Caroline is no good for Sarah.

It’s in the second follow up in a more relaxed environment in which Caroline sets her barb. The gathering is small, intimate. Caroline, the twins, Sarah, and a few others at the Devillers’ house—organized by the twins with Caroline ‘dropping by’ at the twins invitation—notionally killing two birds with one stone by coordinating with Cecilia at the same time for the wedding. Drinks are flowing, though none of the high society girls are there specifically to get drunk in the way that many of their male counterparts might. Still, it helps, that slight social lubrication, for Caroline’s purposes.

She continues her press on Sarah, hands that maintain contact a little too long when passing a drink. All the ways a man has ever made her uncomfortable, thinking he was ‘pursuing’ her when really he was hunting her. And the last, when Sarah sneaks off to the bathroom after her latest glass of wine. Excusing herself to follow. Catching Sarah alone in the vast house.

GM: Sarah doesn’t take long to pick up. To her credit, she doesn’t get flustered, only stops asking for drinks. When she sees Caroline by the bathroom, she actually looks relieved. “Caroline, I’m glad you’re here. I wanted to talk in private.”

“You’re an amazing person. You saved my life, and probably my granddaddy’s too. I’ll never forget that. I’ll always, always be grateful to you. Any boy would be beyond lucky to have you. Or girl.”

“So it’s not you, Caroline, not at all… I’m just not into girls. You’re a wonderful, an amazing, person. And I’m sure you’re scared what your family would think, what they’d say, if they knew. Maybe I can help?”

Caroline: Caroline’s face goes through a range of emotions, but seems to settle on haughty annoyance. “How do you know?” she asks pushily, standing too close to Sarah. “I didn’t until I tried it.”

GM: “Maybe, but I have a boyfriend. I don’t want to hurt him,” Sarah offers placatingly.

Caroline: “Would he have to know?” she asks, one hand pushing a stray hair out of Sarah’s face, behind her ear.

GM: Sarah’s posture tenses at the contact. “I don’t want to hurt him, Caroline,” she repeats. “Please.”

Caroline: “What he doesn’t know wouldn’t hurt him,” Caroline repeats. “Aren’t you at least a little curious?”

GM: “It would hurt me,” Sarah insists. “Come on, let’s get back to the others. Yvette always has such funny videos.”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t let up, “I wouldn’t hurt you.” The younger girl can feel Caroline’s false breath on her skin.

GM: “I’m sure you wouldn’t. But I’d hurt me. I’m sorry, Caroline. Come on, they’re missing us.” Sarah starts making her way back to the living room.

Caroline: Caroline’s arm bars the way, planted against the opposite wall. “After all of this, after I tried to push you away that’s what you want?” There’s suddenly venom in her voice.

GM: “I’m sorry, Caroline. I always wanted us to stay friends. I still do.” Sarah’s is quiet. She rests her hand on Caroline’s arm she gently tries to guide it away.

Caroline: Caroline’s arm is like iron. “I tried to make this easier,” she spits. “Tried to make it a clean break.” Her eyes burn with anger. “You were the one that came back to me.”

GM: “You’re starting to scare me. I just want to be friends.” Sarah’s tone isn’t getting softer, though, but firmer.

Caroline: “I don’t,” Caroline snarls. “But that doesn’t matter to you right? It’s about what you want.” She shakes her head, then catquick leans in, one hand catching the smaller girl’s head even as she closes the distance, her mouth closing over Sarah’s savagely, her tongue snaking out. She breaks away after a moment. “So you know what you missed. Keep away from me, you little snake.” She draws her way blocking arm back.

GM: “Gf-off-!” Caroline feels Sarah pushing against her as their lips meet, but it’s over with too fast for her struggles to grow too animated. Sarah’s chest heaves as she looks Caroline up and down. Color is rising to her cheeks.

“What… what happened to you?” she whispers.

Caroline: “This is who I’ve always been,” Caroline replies, licking her lips then wiping clean her smudged lipstick. “You’re the one who changed. Or maybe just woke up? Welcome to the real world, Sarah.”

GM: Her jaw sets. “I don’t believe that. I never wanted to hurt you.”

Caroline: Caroline laughs bitterly. “You failed.”

GM: She doesn’t say anything for a moment. “Are you lonely? How long have you been hiding this?”

Caroline: The laugh turns condescending. “I don’t need saving. Certainly not by someone who can’t save herself. And you had your chance besides. You don’t get to have second thoughts now.” Her hand comes up again, and pushes that pesky stray hair back. “You’re beautiful, Sarah, but I don’t need a tease, and I don’t want a friend.”

GM: Sarah reflexively steps back this time when Caroline reaches out to touch her. She pauses for a moment, then says, “I think you could. I’m not giving up on you, Caroline. I’ll see you same time next week with the twins.” She turns to head back to the others.

Caroline: “Is that so?” Caroline grins savagely, still in the other girl’s field of view, and reach’s up smear her lipstick and ruffle her hair again. “We’ll let’s go then.”

GM: Sarah looks at her, but then goes. The sound of peoples’ chatter is audible from the living room.

Caroline: Caroline follows the flushed girl with similarly smeared makeup with a grin back to the others.

GM: Sarah stops for a moment to fix her face in a hand mirror. She moves to chat up Yvonne and Yvette. Caroline gets curious looks.

Caroline: Caroline casts suggestive glances to Sarah at the curious looks, but departs before long.

GM: True to her word, a determined-looking Sarah shows up with Yvette and Yvonne for their next training session.

Caroline: Caroline is positively vicious towards her. She loudly belittles form, too forcefully corrects, and whenever the other girls aren’t looking takes the opportunity to grope her or brush up against her suggestively and whisper bitterness in her ear.

“Why are you here?”

“You like that, don’t you?”

“You keep coming back.”

GM: Sarah pushes and then swats away Caroline’s hands with a firm but quiet, “Stop that.”

Perhaps the twins notice. Perhaps they don’t. But they are clearly uncomfortable at Caroline’s viciousness towards their friend.

“‘Ey, let up, she’s lots better than me…” Yvonne protests.

Caroline: “Is she?” Caroline makes it a point to dismantle Sarah’s flaws in form. By the end of the night Caroline leans in close once more, whispering in her ear, “You’re wasting both of our time. Don’t come back.”

GM: The twins disagree that Sarah’s form is so terrible and are clearly uncomfortable at how the training session went. Sarah primly packs up her things at the end, though with perhaps more force than is strictly necessary.

“I’m coming back,” she glares. She keeps her voice a whisper. “But the next time you grope me, I’m not staying quiet. Stop that.

She leaves with Yvonne, who tells her comforting things about how her form was really just fine. Yvette stays behind.

“What the ’ell were you being so mean to Sarah for?” she asks frankly.

Caroline: Caroline eyes the younger girl. “She can’t take a hint,” she admits after a long pause.

GM: “Over what? ‘Er form _wasn’t_ that bad, and you know it,” Yvette accuses.

Caroline: “That she should get away from me,” Caroline answers.

GM: “Why?” Yvette asks.

Caroline: “We had a falling out.”

GM: “Why?” she repeats.

Caroline: “It’s personal,” she responds, then sighs when it becomes clear that answer isn’t going to be sufficient for Yvette. “Does it matter? I told her to leave me alone and she keeps insisting on inserting herself.”

GM: “What the ’ell?” Yvette says. “Sarah’s nice, Caroline! You saved ’er life, she loves you!”

Caroline: “Does it matter?” Caroline asks. “I never said she was a bad person. I said I didn’t want her in my life.”

GM: “It does matter! We’re all friends and you want to, what, just shove ’er out?”

Caroline: “No,” Caroline replies bluntly. “You three are friends. You, your sisters, and I are friends. Sarah…” She frowns. “Sarah is something I can’t have, and that I’d rather not have waved in my face constantly.”

GM: “Why?” Yvette asks again, just as bluntly. “Why are you being so mean to ‘er? She loves you, she’d do anything to make you ’appy!”

Caroline: “No, she wouldn’t!” Caroline all but snarls. “Trust me when I say she won’t.”

GM: “Why?! Why are you so mad at ’er!” Yvette demands.

Caroline: “Because I can’t have her,” Caroline snaps.

GM: “Says ‘oo? ’Er family loves you too! Sarah’s grandpa ’ad ’is ’eart broken when ’is daughter died, ’e loves you for saving Sarah!”

Caroline: “Says her,” Caroline replies.

GM: “What are you talking about? Says Sarah? She’s trying to be nice!”

Caroline: “What she wants and what I want are not the same thing,” Caroline replies with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer.

GM: Yvette blinks.

That, at least, finally silences the teenager’s objection. A moment passes.

“Ah guess A’ll see you later,” she says roughly.

She closes the door with somewhat unnecessary force as she leaves.

Caroline: Caroline rubs her head after the last of her students leaves.

She’d thought, for a moment, Father Malveaux was alone in the unreasonableness of his demand.

Wednesday night, 6 January 2016, AM

Caroline: Caroline’s interest in Summer remains—and grows—as she reads through the girl’s journal. She castigates herself for letting the mage slip through her fingers—not following up on her ‘vampire’ and once more for letting someone take her out from under her.

She brings in a sketch artist to work with Green to get a description of the woman she saw, and begins quietly running the name ‘Dusk’ through ‘friendly’ Kindred channels. She does as promised to Angela and puts out Summer’s name and picture to her contacts and P.Is, with an emphasis on local groceries and bolt-holes: places she expects that she has to pop up eventually. She quietly offers an added reward for information leading to her location.

The Ventrue even devotes her own time to the matter. She’s known all-too much about such occult esoterica since her encounter with Abélia, but perhaps it’s enough to come up with possible countermeasures to Summer’s seeming ‘methods’ of hiding her tracks. Her own commitments unfortunately limit the time she can personally spend on the matter—no matter how interesting.

GM: Searching the name “Dusk” draws only blank looks from Wells, Tina, and Jocelyn. “Kind of a pretentious name though,” her lover remarks.

Ghouls to “Prince Guilbeau,” Questor Adler, and “Coco” inform Caroline that their domitors do not have time in their busy schedules to see her over a matter this trifling. They’re polite enough about it, next to McGinn’s ghoul, but the sentiment is the same.

Cecilia apologizes that she doesn’t know of any Kindred by that name. She advises against bringing the matter to her mother’s attention. “Maman could feel like you were taking her for granted, to ask about something this… well, in her eyes, small.”

The Hidden Clan, however, comes through where the others do not. Gus Elgin states that he can identify the face—in return for a boon owed. Sundown’s ghoul states that her master can also do the same, in return for a boon repaid.

Caroline: Caroline takes the many rejections in silence. Polite or not, it’s clear where things stand: she’s unimportant in the eyes of these Kindred.

She decides to hold off on cashing in the boon from Sundown for now. She’ll look into things on her own end first.

Monday evening, 11 January 2016

GM: Caroline’s landline gets a phone call from a reedy-voiced man who identifies himself as, “Lance Pertkin. I’m a P.I. Private eye. That’s what that means, if you didn’t know. You might not have. Some people don’t know and get it mixed up. Stupid of them. Maybe they’re not always stupid, but they are stupid there.”

He says he’s the former boyfriend of Jessica White, who was “killed, murdered by some voodoo freaks, fucks, a few months ago, if you didn’t hear. Didn’t know. She’s dead. Those fucks.”

He was going through some old things of his girlfriend’s, he continues, when he found an item on a to-do list that mentioned a Caroline, a medical examiner’s report, and “a few other details. Sketchy details. Not many details. I’m not a P.I. for nothing, but I wouldn’t have taken that as a case. Probably. Not, that is, probably not. They weren’t good details. They were very bad details.”

‘Bad’ details or not, Pertkin put together who the Caroline referenced by his former girlfriend was, as well as the report she was looking for. He dug up the details there.

“Girl with her eyes gouged out during Southern Decadence. Most of them, that’s not technically accurate. The optic nerve was still in, partly in, a Dr. Leah Crawford, the surgeon at Tulane, had to remove what was left to prevent infection. They weren’t gouged out either. They were cut out. Very unpleasant. Very upsetting for the family. Very upsetting for her.”

“Jessica wrote ‘medical examiner’s report.’ Well, a few things, you can’t look at a medical examiner’s report. For minors. You need parental consent, from the deceased minor, that is, their parents, to look at the report. It’s private information. Inconvenient, but a good thing. For people like you and me. When we’re looking for details and we don’t know the parents, of the deceased minor. It’s private, so that’s good. For them, I mean. It respects their privacy. But it’s not insurmountable. We can get permission, by asking them, but we have to find them. That’s what you have a P.I. for. Finding them so it’s not private, but in a good way. I mean, by asking permission. It’s good to ask permission, of the parents. So it all happens with consent.”

“The girl in question is named Brenda Allen, female, I said she’s a girl, Caucasian, twelve years old. At the time of her mutilation, her loss of sight. She’s thirteen now. Statements and phraseology, some yours, some by Dr. Neil Flynn, a resident doctor, I interviewed him, he treated her and implied she was dead, but she isn’t. She’s alive. She lost her eyes, but she is alive. She’s thirteen years old and she lives in South Sioux City, Nebraska, with her parents. Obviously, so do most girls her age, boys as well, but she might live with them a while. After turning 18, that is. Depends how she adjusts. I expect a lot of mental problems. Compounding the physical ones, she’s obviously without sight, and that’s significant.”

“Now, I can’t give you a medical examiner’s report, like was on Jessica’s list, because there isn’t one. There is no report. The girl is alive, so there never was a medical examiner’s report. There’d only be one of those if she was dead. That’s good. Not good for her, obviously, but—better. Better blind than dead.”

Pertkin passes along the phone number where the Allen family may be reached. He also provides email addresses, social media handles, and a home address in South Sioux City.

“It’s what Jessica wanted. For you to have this. It was on her list of things to do. I can’t give you a medical examiner’s report, because there never was one, but this is the closest thing. This is what she wanted to do, for you. And now it’s done. It’s months late, I don’t know if it still matters to you, but the important thing is Jessica wanted to do it, and now it’s done. Call me if there’s anything more you want to do. I want it to be done right, the way she, Jessica, would have wanted it. I’m very skilled at what I do. So let’s, let’s make sure that it’s done right. Goodbye, thanks. Bye.”

The phone message ends with a click.

Caroline: The call out of the blue months later digs up ugly memories of Jessica’s head in a box, killed by Caroline’s abject ignorance and the sheriff’s cruelty. The feelings it conjures are no less ugly and cruel on their own. She was never physically sadistic in life.

She’d almost forgotten the request, the girl, and her first ‘attacker’ on the night of Southern Decadence. Things that had seemed so important months ago that now seem almost meaningless. Does she really care anymore, especially with the secrets the coin revealed to her about her Embrace? She goes back and forth on it, and eventually decides it’s a wound she can leave unopened with the girl—and one she’s not willing to risk sending her people to investigate outside the city. She returns Pertkin’s call and thanks him for his effort on her behalf—and to cross off those last items Jessica wasn’t able to get to before her murder. She spends a couple minutes talking, if he’s so inclined, fondly about the deceased police officer and ends the call.

She places the notes from the message—the girl and her family, the doctor, all the contact info—in a folder and buries it in amid so many of its kind. Perhaps another time.

Thursday evening, 21 January 2016

Caroline: Amid their other shopping, Caroline brings up ‘shopping’ for ‘something else’ they can both use. As much as she enjoys their bloody nights together, they both know the dangers of them—not the least of which is the bond. The Ventrue genuinely enjoys the increasingly less subtle tug towards her lover it creates, but if they’re going to keep going as they have they need to find other ways to express themselves.

Random victims of the night have some appeal, but lining up their tastes with a sinner and enjoying victim in a significant way with more than sips for each of them is similarly a difficult product. She brings up the idea of introducing a ghoul into the mix, made for that purpose. Someone attractive enough for their tastes, that they can keep going throughout the night with their vitae if they so desire. Someone that, not incidentally, might also help fill in some of the holes that come with having only a single anemic ghoul available to Jocelyn.

Obviously a great deal would depend on who exactly they decided on to fill that roll, and they wouldn’t be an every time thing. Just an option they could add.

GM: Jocelyn thinks the idea of ghoul “birth control,” as she terms it, is interesting. She doesn’t seem to mind the thought of bringing in a third partner to their bloody evenings. They’d even talked about it in passing earlier.

She’s more reticent at the thought of keeping that ghoul for herself, though, and brings up (again) how seemingly all she’s managed to do with her previous ones is get them killed. Her sire won’t even loan her any anymore, calling it a “bad investment.” Besides, Meg does all the basic stuff she needs a ghoul to do: it’s still been years since the Toreador did her own laundry, vacuumed her own floors, ran her own errands, and so on.

Still, it becomes a matter of logistics when the pair consider Caroline’s ghouls. The Ventrue already has many mouths to feed each month, and hunting has been growing more onerous to meet their demands. Jocelyn also admits that none of Caroline’s current ghouls “are really ones I’d want to bring into bed, sorry,” which leaves only the Toreador as a domitor for this new possible ghoul.

And maybe things will be different this time around. Meg has lasted a while. Jocelyn says she’s willing to try the idea out.

Caroline: Caroline laughs in a genuine mixture of amusement and mortification at Jocelyn’s apology about bringing any of her ghouls into bed. “Oh God, no.”

She briefly mentally runs through her roster and simply shakes her head, tongue out, and shudders to clear the image from her mind and the bad taste it brings from her mouth.

“They’re many things, but desirable in that particular isn’t exactly one of them, and even if they were, none of them are the right flavor.”

Wednesday evening, 27 January 2016

Caroline: As Mardi Gras approaches Caroline remains mindful of Tina Baker, her interest in Lucas Gates, the murderer’s predilection for visits to New Orleans, and the ties to Becky Lynne. It’s something of a long shot, but it’s one that for the moment has relatively small costs associated with it, especially given how difficult it is to track a Kindred with no interest in power games traveling across the country.

She directs her attempts at tracking to focusing on the disappearances or deaths of those that match the demographic profile for Gates’ preferred victims: young, attractive, white, educated women. The good news is that such disappearances and deaths tend to generate far more media coverage than, for instance, the death of random immigrants or criminals. The bad news is it’s a massive drag net. She sorts through that by trying to organize them by date reported and geographic location, then mapping them visually to a literal map by color to try and identify any patterns or or series to deaths that might indicate a pattern of movement: i.e., deaths in sequence along a path. If she finds that she expands her interest along it, looking for anything that could more definitively tie it to Gates. A witness account, a person of interest described, a blurred image in a surveillance tape. Something.

GM: Lucas Gates has changed a great deal since 2004 in some ways. In other ways, he hasn’t changed at all.

Gates’ stint on the FBI’s Most Wanted seems to have engendered greater caution in the violent-tempered Brujah. Caroline already established that Gates more or less fell off the map after his violent confrontation with Tina’s and Becky Lynne’s coterie in 2004, and resurfaced in 2012 around Miami.

There are no longer any dead women directly linked to him. Caroline’s efforts do, however, turn up a higher than typical spike of Miami women from Gates’ preferred demographic who went missing in 2012 and were never found. Autumn speculates that Tina’s sire “learned to clean up.” Missing persons obviously generate less heat than murders do.

“Still kind of a slow learner, though. I mean, we pinned down he was Embraced in ‘78. That’s 26 years to finally learn maybe you don’t want to go leaving bodies everywhere.”

Caroline’s dragnet does not turn up any bodies since she last looked into Gates. But there are multiple missing persons who match his preferred demographic in Shreveport, Louisiana, over the past few months. Kathleen Cohee, 24, Jennifer Graham, 22, and Olivia Largent, 23, are all still fervently sought by friends and loved ones. It’s an unfortunate fact that young, attractive, white, and college-educated women rarely live socially isolated lives.

There are any number of reasons those women might have disappeared, of course. Caroline well knows by now that Lucas Gates’ brand of monstrosity is hardly unique. What appears to link him to those three Shreveport women is the fact that a fourth woman, Lisa Conway, 25, was murdered by a one Mark Chappell, 24, around the same time as the three’s disappearances. Chappell’s mugshot depicts an obese and acne-ridden young man who news stories state was a self-professed “incel” and active on several of that community’s online boards. He shared some college classes with Conway, but she never filed any reports of stalking or harassing behavior. There are no accounts of him even speaking to her. His apartment, though, was full of printed-out pictures from Conway’s Facebook album that Chappell masturbated to (and onto). Several more photoshopped images show her face plastered onto a BDSM porn model being led around on a collar and leash. No one expected it, though, when he bought a $100 HP22 from a pawn shop, followed Conway to the Moonbucks where she spent her lunch breaks, and put four .22 rounds into her head as she was leaving with a salted caramel mocha. Chappell was apprehended by police shortly after fleeing the scene, still clad in the same blood- and coffee-spattered black sweatshirt. He currently awaits trial from the parish jail.

It’s Autumn who thinks to go on the /r/incels subreddit where Chappell was active and interview other posters about his change in behavior. Some consider him to have gone too far, while others consider a Chappell “a martyr” or simply take bleak satisfaction from his murderous actions. Efforts to contribute to his legal defense fund have raised a grand total of $128. What most interviewees agree on, though, was that Chappell “didn’t seem like he had the balls” to actually kill someone. He was bitter, introverted, misogynistic, lacking in social graces, and a host of other unpleasant personal qualities, but that was it. It’d be easy to dismiss Chappell as just another maladjusted young white male lashing out at the world for denying him his perceived due—if not for the fact that one reddit poster, who met Chappell while in Shreveport, also met a “houseguest” his fellow incel had over. The description matches what Caroline has on Lucas Gates to a T.

“He was ‘scary as shit,’” Autumn says the poster described. “‘Something about him was just, completely wrong. He looked like the kind of guy who would shoot up Virginia Tech, and not even care if they were Chads or Stacies or Beckies.’’”

Sunday evening, 31 January 2016

Caroline: As information on Gates comes in, Caroline reaches out to Tina Baker again with the news: she has a location on Lucas Gates, and the name he’s using. If she’s interested, they should meet.

GM: Tina accepts and does so the very next night. The brunette arrives in jeans, a blouse, and knee-high brown leather boots.

Caroline: Once again the heiress receives the Brujah on the roof of the Giani Building. The unseasonable highs of late December have been long forgotten in favor of chillier nights in January, and tonight is no exception. Caroline has moved inside the deckhouse tonight, rather than out on the deck, and the glass doors to the deck are tightly shut, keeping in the warmth of the room.

She’s had a small coffee table and two matching chairs moved near to those glass doors though, and the lights are dimmed when the elevator doors open for the Brujah (escorted by Fuller), and is tapping away on a tablet. It’s dim enough that on the clear night, even with the lights of the city, Caroline can still faintly make out the stars. She reaches for a small plastic remote when the Brujah enters and dials the lights back up to full brightness, even as she darkens the tablet and rises gracefully to her feet to greet her and invites her to take a seat with her.

She explains that she’s been keeping an eye out for anything that might tip her off as to the locations or habits of Gates, and finally caught a break. Her last information has him in Shreveport, about three hundred miles away, using the name Adam Keller. He’s not changed his previous pattern of behavior, and continues to murder young, attractive, and successful young women, though he’s gotten better at hiding the mess.

If asked why she continued to investigate him after their previous meeting, Caroline replies wryly, “A dangerous and murderous Kindred with an affinity for young women that enjoys visiting New Orleans and previously clashed with a number of other Kindred from that demographic within the city? Honestly, Ms. Baker, I’m not certain that I shouldn’t have paid you the boon for tipping me off to him in the first place.”

GM: Tina assumes the seat across from Caroline and listens raptly, if stonily, to the Ventrue’s findings. She remains mostly quiet until Caroline gets to Gates’ latest victims. She asks for details. All of the details. It’s hard to read Kindred faces, at times, which do not flush red with embarrassment or anger. Caroline can only read partially incongruent expressions—and of course the eyes.

It’s only after the detail of Conway’s salted caramel mocha hitting the floor as the four .22 rounds penetrated her skull that Tina’s eyes give way to all-too familiar passenger’s: the Beast’s. The Brujah literally roars as she shoots to her feet and hurls the glass coffee table aside like it’s nothing—and falls upon the bearer of the that grisly news.

Caroline: Caroline, in control rather than in a rage, throws the Brujah using her own momentum past her as the brunette’s teeth snap in front of her face. There’s a moment of shock as she realizes just how damn strong the other woman is, before she’s turned around and coming back at Caroline, seemingly unfazed by the hard landing on the tiled floor.

It’s nothing like her previous fights. Tina’s raw strength is something totally different, especially combined with the Beast’s animalistic fury. Caroline turns, twists out of the way of the Brujah’s next lunge and tries to grab her arm, to twist it into a lock, but loses control as her opponent all but throws her off. The Ventrue lands with unearthly grace, but finds herself with her back against the wall. Gritting her teeth she stares down Tina as the Brujah gathers for another feral leap at her, and the two collide violently: one all snarling fangs, power, and brutal violence with almost discordantly matching speed and grace, the other exclusively grace and technique. Caroline digs her elbow into the Brujah’s throat, her fist planted in the wall behind her, as Tina’s fangs snap inches from her face. Her other arm works wildly to keep too-strong hands from finding purchase… and then the ghouls are there, and the notionally fair fight becomes far less so.

Brian isn’t tall, but he’s nothing but muscle, as solid as a rock. Muscle only further enhanced by Caroline’s potent vitae in his veins. Curtis is tall, and no slouch himself… especially also on the blood. Both are far more than comfortable with the kind of brute force grappling the frenzing vampire attacks with. Against three fighters, and locked in her frenzy, Tina doesn’t have a chance. She rages like a lion and twists like a serpent, but the three take her down like a pack of hyenas, never letting her bring her strength to bear. In moments it’s over. Caroline holds a broken and blood splattered table leg slick with Tina’s vitae over the torpid Brujah while the two ghouls gasp for breath after the ferocious struggle. There’s blood everywhere. Splattered across the glass windows. Dripped across the tiled floor. And of course splashed across Caroline and both ghouls.

The heiress throws away her improvised club and wipes the splatter from her face, then, after a half-second of pause she licks it off her fingers with a savagely satisfied grin that takes a moment to fade. Not unlikely a cat cleaning their claws. After checking to make certain neither ghoul is badly hurt Caroline has them gather up Tina and bring her downstairs to the ‘guest’ apartment Caroline has set up. She directs Widney to get the mess upstairs cleaned up and has the two other ghouls go clean themselves up as well with thanks for their timey efforts.

In the apartment she quickly strips and showers, washing Tina’s blood off and throwing her own splattered clothing in a trash bag she seals tightly, before changing into a new set of clothes. She picks out three different outfits from the ‘guest closet’ that she thinks might suit the Brujah. Finally, she handcuffs the torpid Brujah (hands in front), on the off chance that she loses control again.

Only when she’s done does she open her wrist and allow vitae to flow into Tina’s mouth, quickly withdrawing her wrist when she starts to stir.

GM: Tina’s eyes bat open. A palette of emotions runs over her face, from confusion to fear to sudden alarm. She forcefully throws out her arms from one another, and Caroline can already see the too-taut steel links bending out of shape.

“What’s going on?!”

Caroline: Caroline holds her hands out in front of her. “Relax! You flipped out earlier. I just wanted to make sure if it happened again when you woke up that I’d have a fighting chance. Just calm down and I’ll take those off. I thought it would be better if you didn’t come to in a room splattered with blood.”

GM: Tina looks at Caroline searchingly for a moment, then simultaneously lowers and extends her hands.

Caroline: The heiress lets out a breath she didn’t know she was holding and digs the small metal key out of her pocket. She reaches out to undo the cuffs as she gestures with her other hand, “I laid out some clean clothing if you’d like to change. There’s a bathroom down the hall if you want to clean yourself up. I’m sure you feel like hell.”

GM: “Not the first time I’ve woken up something like this way,” the Brujah grants. She rubs her wrists, then her split lip, shattered nose, and black eye start to fade into nothing as dead flesh knits, though a too-familiar hunger starts to edge into her eyes.

There’s a faltering step up, then that grows obviously less painful too after another moment. Tina looks down at her torn and bloody shirt and jeans. A frown and also too-familiar look of slow-dawning fear appears on her still-bloood-streaked face.

“Did I… hurt anyone?”

Caroline: “Not seriously,” Caroline replies as she watches the Brujah knit herself back together. “Sorry about the face, there wasn’t really a better option at the time though. You’re way stronger than you look. Faster too.”

GM: “Guys tend not to like that either, even if you don’t have bulldyke muscles.”

She rubs her neck as she looks over Caroline, then looks down to the Ventrue’s feet.

“Huh. You lost your shoes. Heels’d be a bitch to fight in.”

Caroline: “I don’t know, it seems like a perfectly serviceable face to be honest,” Caroline replies deadpan to the Brujah’s first remark.

“They were a bitch to fight in,” Caroline corrects, “It took a minute to kick them off when you were trying to eat my face. I really wish you’d’ worn less practical shoes yourself.” The heiress is barefoot now. “Learned that lesson though. For now at least.”

GM: Tina, for her part, is wearing a brown (and now red-streaked) pair of knee-high boots.

“Yeah, I’m not a big heel fan for that reason,” she answers as she looks up. “They leave you too helpless. Strapless ones might be more up your alley, though. Only a second to kick those off.”

Something stirs in her eyes. “Though even a second can count, in some fights.”

Caroline: “Sounds like you’ve had a lot of experience with that type of thing,” Caroline hazards. “You were definitely anything but helpless upstairs.”

GM: “I did martial arts when I was alive. The world isn’t safe.” She looks down at her bloody clothes again. “It got even less safe after dying.”

Caroline: “Really?” Caroline asks, “In what way have you found? I mean, obviously there’s hunters and the like—including asshole sires, and the further you go out from the city there’s all kinds of weirdness, but at least now you have some idea what’s out there, and have some of the tools to fight it.”

GM: Tina soberly shakes her head. “There’s always more, always worse out there. At least when you’re alive, there are… limits, I guess. Anyone with an internet connection can look up Auschwitz, or child porn, or any other awful thing you can think of. And I know how awful the world can be, and how big the gulf between knowledge and experience is. I’ve been raped.” Her face sets for a moment at that admission, but she goes on, “But all of that is, on some level, a known thing. You know it’s out there, and can even prepare for it, even if you haven’t experienced it.”

“But on the other side of the curtain… you can’t. You have to find it all out firsthand. And all of the monsters and awful things are worse. And for every new one you see, and think ‘this is as bad as it gets’, there’s always more. Always worse. And you never know what it’s going to be, when it’s coming, or just how bad the very worst, the bottom of that Pandora’s box, really is. I don’t think I’d want to know, either.” She pauses. “No, I know I don’t want to know.”

Tina looks down at her bloody clothes again. “So… yeah. I’m stronger and faster than just about anyone still alive. I can get up from a beating that’d leave me in ICU for god knows how long. But next to how much worse the worst of our world gets, whatever that worst might even be… I really don’t think that we’ve come out ahead.”

Caroline: If they were alive Caroline might try to reach out and physical comfort the Brujah with the admissions, but it just feels… wrong for what they are. Instead she bites her lower lip. “It’s bad,” she agrees. “Before, well, all this,” she gestures to herself. “Rene took me down into this place called the Dungeon. I guess it’s the place for a lot of the more sadistic types from among our kind. I don’t remember a lot, but what I do I wish I didn’t sometimes. Things so awful there aren’t words for it in any of the six languages I learned growing up. I’m glad we don’t dream, because I know I’d have nightmares about it every night.”

“But that was always there. Every day and every night it was there, and I was just going about in blissful ignorance. It was always there. The only change is that I know it’s there. And maybe I’d rather not see it, rather not have the memory of what was done to me there, and of what I saw done, but when I’m laying there when the sun’s coming up with nothing but my thoughts, I can’t honestly say that I’d want to go back to before. To being completely helpless and ignorant to even my own helplessness.”

“I thought I was safe. Thought I was the daughter of privilege, and tough enough besides that nothing could really hurt me. Really, I was just the happiest most privileged cow in the slaughterhouse. There’s a lot I don’t forgive my sire for. But there’s worse things than knowing, I think. And I’m not even a badass Brujah martial artist that can snap handcuffs.”

GM: “Well, it’d take me a little while to completely snap them. Actually faster just to have you use the keys,” Tina answers with a faint smirk.

“I think there’s a lot to be said for knowing what’s out there. Up to a point, maybe, but forewarned is forearmed. It’s just that… after you’re on the other side, you have a front row seat to all of the world’s real awfulness. When you’re alive, it’s possible you might get led into the slaughterhouse, but there’s a lot of sheep. You have fairly decent odds that you might not be the one.”

“But there’s a lot fewer wolves than sheep. And we all see each other.”

Caroline: The heiress nods, not disagreeing, “True, but I’ve found that not all the other wolves are bad.”

GM: “Not all, but a lot more than there are bad sheep.”

Caroline: “It is true, my social circle is way smaller than it was when I was still breathing.” Caroline admits with mock seriousness.

GM: “I guess it’s moot anyway. We’re wolves and… well, that’s what we now are.”

“But wolves can hunt in packs, at least. My old coterie was, is, there for each other in ways we wouldn’t have ever been as breathers.”

Caroline: The heiress arches an eyebrow, “Sounds like either I have the wrong kind of Kindred friends or you had the wrong kind of kine ones.”

GM: “Maybe both. You already heard me say my parents are assholes. But we were… well, I guess ‘memorable’ enough for the masked city to be talking about for a while. You ever hear of the Armstrong Five?”

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head, turning and sliding into a chair as their conversation continues, “I can’t say that I have.”

GM: Tina sits down on the living room’s sofa. She unzips her blood-stained boots and kicks them off. “I guess these are going in the trash.”

“There were five of us, anyway, like the name implies. Me, Lou Maddox, Jack McCandles, Ed Zuric, and Becky Lynne Adler. The prince didn’t want to spread around the details, but we all woke up in Louis Armstrong Park together the night after 2004’s Fat Tuesday. We didn’t have any idea who our sires were, or that we were even vampi…”

Tina’s face suddenly freezes as she looks at Caroline. “You collared me.”

Caroline: Caroline stares with rapt attention, and can’t quite keep the shock off her face at the reveal about Louis Armstrong Park, and their wakeup there, but shifts to a more guilty expression, “I’m sorry, I thought you realized when you woke-”

GM: “Of course I realized!” Tina interrupts. “I still shouldn’t have said that!”

Caroline: “Did you hear about where I woke up, after I was Embraced?” Caroline asks in turn, seriously.

GM: “No. Just that you’d been turned without permission and your sire was getting ashed.”

Caroline: “I woke up in Louis Armstrong Park, alone, with no idea what I was, or how I got there.”

GM: Tina stares at her. “You’re kidding.”

Caroline: The heiress shakes her head. “Not at all. I just about ripped this poor girl’s throat out when she stumbled across me.”

GM: Tina stares at her. Harder. “You’re fucking kidding me. We did too.”

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “She and her boyfriend were fooling around. I didn’t even think about it.” She stares at Tina like she’s seen a ghost.

GM: “You’re scrying me,” Tina answers disbelievingly. She pauses, then continues, asking as much as declaring, “you knew about us from somewhere.” Another pause and a shake of her head, “that’s too insane to be true!”

Caroline: “You can check the records. I carried her to the hospital after I realized what I’d done,” Caroline replies quietly. “I’d never heard of you as a group before. I’d assumed that Becky Lynne had been Embraced in privilege, on account of her sire and all that, and that you two just ended up with shared interests.”

GM: “Pull them up. Those records,” Tina says, warily. “I can wait.”

Caroline: Caroline pulls out her phone and sends a text to Widney to bring down the file from upstairs. “That’s unbelievable,” she murmurs while they wait.

GM: “Yeah, it is,” Tina simply repeats.

Caroline: “It was on the last night of Southern Decadence,” she continues.

GM: “Okay. I guess that better explains you finding someone to feed on,” the Brujah says, though the all-too mutual alarm in her eyes doesn’t fully die.

Widney, meanwhile, texts back an affirmative response. After a brief yet agonizingly too-long wait, the ghoul enters the living room carrying the requested box.

Caroline: Caroline takes the box from her at the door and sends her back on her way. She sets the box between herself and Tina. “Have a look. I picked up the tab for her medical expenses afterwards.” She bites her lip. “I felt bad. Didn’t want to ruin her life. I thought I’d gone insane or something.”

GM: “Becky Lynne wanted to do that too,” Tina says as she pages through the files. Her pace slow a bit as her eyes grow distant with memory. “She was just a kid. Only turned 18 a few weeks ago.”

Caroline: “But you didn’t,” Caroline fills in.

GM: “No,” Tina says quietly. “We just called 911 on her cellphone, back when everyone wasn’t carrying one of those, and took off. She’d wanted to use it to call her mom and dad.”

Caroline: “How the hell did you all end up there together?” Caroline asks.

GM: “It’s a long story.”

Caroline: “Does it involve something called ‘the Auction’?”

GM: Tina gives her a blank look.

Caroline: “Something I’d heard that might have been related to my Embrace,” Caroline answers. “I’d heard that Becky Lynne’s sire was involved somehow.”

GM: She continues to page through the box’s files. “What’s the Auction?”

Caroline: “I wish I knew. It came up with regard to Mr. Matheson and another Kindred named Raymond. I never found out much about it.”

GM: Tina finally pulls out the records concerning Lauren Peterson. She reads them over.

“Well,” she finally says, “these look legit. I’ve seen my share of medical records.”

Caroline: “From when you were a breather?” Caroline asks curiously.

GM: “Yeah. I double majored, I know, useless, in sports medicine.”

Caroline: “I mean, I was a pre-med that went law. I can’t really talk,” Caroline replies. She gives a wan smile. “I suffered through Organic Chemistry for nothing.”

GM: “Maybe not. Learning is learning, but having a degree doesn’t really matter on our side of things.”

Caroline: “Do you believe me now?” she asks, gesturing to the records. “I couldn’t read your mind even if I wanted to.”

GM: Tina pauses. “I need to run this past the others. What to do… isn’t, shouldn’t, be just my call to make.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip, but nods. “That’s fair, especially with the collar partly on. It’s a lot to ask.”

GM: “Yeah,” the Brujah answers. “I shouldn’t have told you as much as I did, even if that might have been for the best.” She frowns thoughtfully. “How did your juice bring me around, anyway? You got turned practically yesterday.”

Caroline: “What do you mean?” Caroline asks, frowning.

GM: “That’s not how it works. Someone’s blood needs to be a lot stronger than yours to bring you out of a dirt nap. And you said there wasn’t a stake.” Wariness starts to return to Tina’s eyes.

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “Another mystery I’m chasing about my Embrace, and what exactly my sire was up to. Keep that one between us though and I’ll keep everything else about tonight the same though.”

GM: Tina frowns again, but replies, “All right, sure. But that’s pretty strange. You should find some lick more in the know to ask about it.”

Caroline: “Usually those licks more in the know want to know more than you want to give them—if they’re willing to give you anything to trust at all,” Caroline replies warily.

GM: “Well, there’s some who specialize more than others. The Dragons aren’t that powerful and would probably know more. Or a younger Tremere, if you’re desperate enough to trust a warlock.”

Caroline: Caroline laughs bitterly. “Some secrets can wait. Besides, I don’t even think I know a Dragon.”

GM: “Lidia Kendall’s supposed to be one. There’s not many in the masked city here, admittedly. It’s Houston that’s supposed to have a lot.”

Caroline: “Next road trip I guess, whenever that happens,” Caroline replies. “I’ve heard that kind of stuff is super dangerous. And I’m pretty sure if I go hang out with her though it’ll get me off the Sanctified’s Christmas Card list, for like…. forever,” she laughs.

GM: Tina looks mildly weirded out by the Ventrue’s ‘casual’ tone, but answers, “What they don’t know doesn’t hurt them. The other clubs at least don’t have any real stake in the prince’s feud.”

Caroline: “Other than that when it comes to an end, their slice of the pie is going to grow?” Caroline nudges.

GM: “Sure, though that goes for any of them. Nature abhors a vacuum.”

Caroline: “What about you?” she asks.

GM: “What about me?” Tina asks back.

Caroline: “Do you have any skin in the great battle of our time? And also the last hundred years?”

GM: She shrugs. “My club’s nominally friends with yours, but past that, why should anyone? It’s all just the same three elders bickering for power. The only other licks with skin are ones who figure they’ll come out ahead supporting the winner—or who’ve bled and want to get even.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “I can see that. Maybe I’m just more accustomed to that type of thing because of the political family. There’s been an ‘us’ and a ‘them’ my entire life.”

GM: “You’re also at the bottom of the pecking order here, unlike there. I’d think about how much skin you really have in that game.”

Caroline: “It also wasn’t exactly an offer at the time,” Caroline clarifies. “I think the prince wanted some kind of positive news since he knew he was going to execute a dozen and one Kindred. So here I am.”

GM: “Why did you wake up in Louis Armstrong?” Tina asks.

Caroline: “And other questions I never got to ask,” Caroline replies. “Maybe he knew about you all and thought it would be funny, or send some kind of message.”

GM: “I guess that’s not impossible, but it doesn’t seem likely. That was twelve years ago and he was new to town. The masked city forgot all about the five greenfangs abandoned together after Katrina.”

Caroline: Caroline shrugs. “I never thought anything of it—and no one ever saw fit to mention you all. Not even the seneschal when I was brought before him or Father Malveaux. I thought it was where he happened to dump me—or someone did.”

GM: “Saw fit to mention to you, maybe. Elders never tell the full truth.”

Caroline: If you only knew, Caroline thinks to herself.

Tuesday night, 9 February 2016, AM

GM: Mardi Gras approaches. Jocelyn tells Caroline how amazing it is. She has so many things she wants to do together. So many colorful licks show up. You can feed wherever you want. And the parties, and the costumes, and the…

None of it matters.

The night before Fat Tuesday, when Caroline is making her weekly report to Donovan, the sheriff casually picks up a stake. The next second, Caroline suddenly topples over backwards. The stake is rammed through her heart. Donovan impassively orders a ghoul to “store her with the others” and then goes back to reading a paper like she’s not even there.

The ghoul who answers is the same leering, dark-skinned man who slugged Caroline in the face months ago. He fondles the Ventrue’s breasts as he hauls her off to an empty room with several other staked Kindred, then unceremoniously dumps her on the floor.

Time passes. Caroline can’t say how long. All she can do is stare at a blank wall.

Finally, the ghoul approaches her, carries her staked body to the front entry hall, then removes the stake and expels her from the house without a word.

Caroline checks her phone.

It’s the night after Mardi Gras. There are anxious texts from Jocelyn about where she is.

Caroline: The experience is deeply traumatic for Caroline. The inexplicable assault. The powerlessness of it, both physically and socially. Again. Despite all that she’s achieved and learned, despite her victories against others, it all comes crashing down.

Monday night, 1 February 2016

GM: Caroline isn’t a stranger to the old Garden District house where Tina contacts Caroline to say they’ll meet Becky Lynne the next night. They meet in the same tastefully, if traditionally appointed sitting room where Matheson first struck her.

Caroline: And mind-raped her. And demanded she ‘give herself to him’. The room where she recorded it all, and that recording exploded her entire unlife, like a stick of dynamite shoved in a stuffed animal. She puts the negative thoughts out of her mind and leaves her ghouls behind in the two SUV’s that delivered her.

GM: Becky Lynne is there with Tina and better-disposed than she might have been, before Caroline’s assistance with Whitney Hancock’s business. She cites the “mighty odd peculiarities” in the circumstances of their Embraces, but is her usual pleasant self in letting Caroline approach the subject initially how she wills.

Caroline: Caroline is polite to her more senior (if even less so than she’d expected) Ventrue, more stiff and formal than she was around Tina alone. She agrees that it’s very bizarre to have had her dumped in the park just like they were. She’s had a million questions about her Embrace (don’t we all?), that she never got answered by René or anyone else, but until now that one was far lower on the list. She lets the Brujah or the other Ventrue come out and say it, but it’s plain she doesn’t think it’s a coincidence, and once it’s out in the open, suggests that barring something about the park she doesn’t know, that it means someone had a specific purpose in trying to emulate their own first awakening after their Embrace. Whether that purpose was political, social, or something else she can’t say.

She admits she still doesn’t know how she got to the park, despite her investigations into her Embrace, but is more than willing to share the events that followed it—maybe something else will stand out to them. She stops shy of asking them about the details of their own Embrace and awakening. It’s clear that she is very interested in their own Embrace, and all the associated details, but don’t want to bluntly ask the question and pry into their secrets.

GM: Tina and Becky Lynne are relatively open about some things, like the fact they don’t think it’s a coincidence where C was Embraced (or at least, left). They ask her at length about the events following her Embrace, but don’t seem able to draw many firm conclusions from those. The Kindred they’d really need to talk to is René, but that’s obviously off the table now.

Becky Lynne asks Caroline what she knows about her sire’s associations and relationships. She specifically brings up the Ordo Dracul and asks if René had any ties to them—or if he’s spent much time in either Houston or Charleston.

She finally thanks Caroline for her cooperation and volunteers that the full story behind the Armstrong Five’s Embraces is not a matter of public record, but it too was no accident, and they too did not remember the circumstances that led to their being in the park together—at first. They were able to regain those memories over time through a number of ways, the first of which was simply revisiting Louis Armstrong. She and/or other members of the Five could go there with Caroline to guide and assist her in this.

Tina, Caroline pegs, looks inclined to bring up her unusually powerful blood—and that she seems to think there is a strong potential link between that oddity and the circumstances of their Embraces.

Caroline: Caroline is willing to return if they think that might help. The thought hadn’t occurred to her, and she’d expected any forensic evidence (where she tends to focus) would be long washed away by the time the matter was of significant interest to her (and she had any time to worry about it). If she goes back, she’d rather do it with one or more of the Armstrongs, given where it is.

Caroline shares what little she knows about René. He traveled frequently, so it’s entirely possible he spent time in Houston and Charleston, but almost all of her info on him is second hand. That he took her to the Dungeon to torture her on the night of her Embrace.

GM: Becky Lynne answers that not all evidence is forensic—and other varieties may linger for much longer.

Both Kindred stop when they hear about the Dungeon. Becky Lynne asks if she remembers anything of that place.

Caroline: Caroline admits that she does remember parts of the Dungeon—far more than she’d ever wanted—though mostly what was being done to her than anything actionable.

GM: Becky Lynne thinks details might help if she can stomach sharing them.

Caroline: Caroline’s body language clearly says that she does not want to talk about it.

GM: Becky Lynne doesn’t push her, and in fact suggests they speak of other things.

Caroline: Regality and poise seem to melt away as Caroline reflects on those memories, and she’s silent for a long moment before finally insisting (unconvincingly) that it’s fine. She’s not some fragile kine that can’t talk about unpleasant things. Mostly she, she repeats, she remembers things done to her. Tortures that started recognizable and continued into things there aren’t words for. Rape of the body, mind and spirit. She remembers a voice. She remembers wanting to die. Her white dress turned red and dripping with blood. Her voice is hollow, almost lifeless as she recounts things, but she doesn’t speak for long. She looks down and finds her hand shaking, and finally agrees that perhaps it’s better that they move onto other things.

GM: Tina and Becky Lynne prove a sympathetic audience. Neither vampire touches her, but they offer what comfort they can. They say she was brave. Baker says she’s been sexually victimized, too.

Caroline: Caroline appreciates the sympathy, to an extent. It’s better treatment than she’s gotten from many Kindred.

But mostly, it was her own pride that got her talking. She didn’t want to seem like she couldn’t talk about it. Like she needed sympathy. Like she was fragile. She insists she’s fine, even though she’s not really close to it over literally getting tortured past death and suddenly remembering it later.

She tries to continue to lean on Tina to not share the matter of her blood without Becky catching on.

GM: Tina eventually shakes her head and says this is simply too consequential not to bring up. She relays the circumstances of her frenzy and Caroline’s blood reviving her. Becky Lynne is very interested to hear this, and remarks that “You were certainly correct there, Miss Baker. That is not how it normally works—at all.”

This is germane to them, however, for one key reason: the Ordo Dracul was involved in the circumstances of their Embraces. The two Kindred appear reluctant to go into further details at this point, but state that “many of the normal rules” stop applying where the Dragons are involved.

Becky Lynne takes out her phone and says she’s “sending a few things” to her brother and sire, who may be able to help them more. She and Tina both ask if Caroline knows anything more regarding the unusually potent efficacy of her blood. This could well be why she was Embraced (or simply left) where she was.

Caroline: Caroline is not thrilled when Tina spills the beans. She cites already having enough targets on her back as a sireless, and krewe-less neonate in the divided city. Her meaningful glance to Becky Lynne also no doubt alludes to her lack of particular affection within her clan as well, though she doesn’t say as much.

She’d rather not be a point of interest for some other unknown party. Plenty of neonates have disappeared of late as it is, and it’s not as though anyone would care if she vanished tomorrow. She admits to knowing very little about the Ordo Dracul, beyond that they don’t (to her knowledge) have a big presence in the city.

Caroline tries to dodge the broad question about her blood by weaving obfuscation with truths. She admits that various disciplines have come quite easily to her—at least so far as she can tell in comparison to her peers in the blood, but she hasn’t exactly had much basis for comparison. She repeats that she only spoke with her sire a single time, but that she doesn’t think he intended to Embrace her. He showed no affection for her in that meeting, and in fact threatened to destroy her.

GM: Becky Lynne corrects Caroline that is not how the Blood works—but seems at least to buy that Caroline doesn’t know how it works either, and inclined to further pursue the Ordo Dracul lead.

She says she’ll work out a time for the Armstrongs to all visit the park with Caroline.

Caroline: Caroline is a little peeved to have given up big pieces of her story and had Baker leak some details she’d wanted more private, for essentially a ‘catcha later’’. Still, she is too polite to show it, especially to Becky Lynne. She expresses gratitude over their willingness to help.

Caroline leaves Tina with a sealed dossier on the remaining information she has on the Brujah’s sire as her meeting with the two Invictus ends. “There’s a fair bit in there I’ll leave you to peruse at your leisure,” she tells the older vampire.

GM: Tina is grateful for the information and says she’ll “owe you one” for this.

Caroline: Caroline’s pleased enough by that resolution. Who knows what may come of the Armstrongs, but a boon is a boon.

Wednesday night, 10 February 2016, PM

GM: Autumn is able to track down Lauren Peterson relatively easily. She is no longer enrolled in Tulane University or a resident of New Orleans, having transferred to Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina. Autumn interviews her over the phone. She was upset by the attack and no longer felt safe in the city. She doesn’t remember much about the events leading up to it. She’d had a lot to drink and the whole thing happened a while ago—she takes a couple moments just to remember the name of the guy she was with. She does remember that it was a mistake to go off alone with him, though. She should’ve stayed together with her friends. She doesn’t know what got into her that she didn’t. Or maybe she shouldn’t have gone to Decadence, or New Orleans, at all. Autumn represented herself as a party to the anonymous benefactor who paid her bills, and Lauren was very grateful. When she asked why this was coming up now, Autumn said her boss had simply been “thinking about her” and “wanted to be sure she was all right.” Lauren was touched and said thanks again, thanks so much for everything, but didn’t inquire as to who her benefactor was.

“You want, I could fly out to Greenville and bring her back if we want to grill her deep, but I dunno what licks that city has,” Autumn says. “Doesn’t feel to me like there’s much of a Masquerade breach here though. It’s been half a year. I get the sense she’s moved on with her life.”

Caroline: Caroline demurs on bringing back Lauren. They can leave the girl be.

GM: The planned meeting with the Armstrongs has “hit a bit of a snag,” in the words of the plump-faced ghoul who Becky Lynne has sent to treat with Caroline before. The Baron’s heralds, unfortunately, have refused the Sanctified Ventrue permission to enter their master’s domain. It was always a 50/50 proposition that Caroline’s elder clanmate would be able to negotiate that. The ghoul doesn’t mention the possibility of trespassing within a regent’s territory after being refused permission: somehow, Caroline has a hard time seeing Becky Lynne doing something like that. The ghoul cheerfully tells the younger Ventrue not to give up hope, however, as her mistress “can be mighty persuasive” and will “do her best to work the Baron’s people” to see if she can make them come around.

Wednesday night, 10 February 2016, PM

Caroline: Following her meeting with Becky Lynne and Tina, Caroline coordinates with them to reconvene at Louis Armstrong Park to continue their investigation into the many parallels between her Embrace and their own. Before doing so, she has Autumn follow up with her first victim—inquiring subtly—or less so and then mesmerizing away her memories—about the events that led her and her paramour of the night to the park where she was injured. Her first approach is as a party to the anonymous benefactor that paid for her medical bills. She also takes the opportunity to doctor any memories as needed if Autumn discovers any lasting incongruent memories associated with Caroline’s attack on her that night. That ‘report’ is among others she brings with her to the meeting, along with several ghouls.

She relates what she knows of René’s side of the story—that he took her into the Dungeon to kill her—and believed that he had when he left her. She relates some of her own: that someone drugged her and her mortal companion the night of her Embrace, that she was attacked by thugs and ‘rescued’ by René. That she awoke within the park to find two victims wandering her way. How she nearly killed one, and left the other behind as she tried to save the first. She relates again that she does remember things about the Dungeon, but incomplete memories. Her investigations into that night showed a way into madness, and she broke the mind of the other she knew was there—the now-executed Emmett.

Until recently she knew nothing of the ‘Armstrong Five’, but thinks the ‘coincidences’ of their Embrace are too significant to be simple coincidence. Someone either intended to mirror the Armstrongs, or to send a message.

Thursday night, 11 February 2016, PM

GM: Caroline reads in her news feed that Emmett Delacroix was the first man executed by the state of Louisiana in several years. She knows all-too well the cause of that delay: a 1993 law makes it illegal for the state to execute inmates by any means other than lethal injection, and there was a years-running dispute with the supplies of the necessary drugs. So for quite a while, Louisiana physically lacked the means to execute its death row inmates, even ones who waived their appeals. Noelle Cherry, as Senate minority leader, managed to build a bipartisan initiative to abolish capital punishment on the grounds that it wasted taxpayer money to house inmates in the more expensive death row when they couldn’t be executed anyway.

No legislation came of it, obviously. The Senate judiciary committee and Caroline’s father, back when he was majority leader, spent over a year slogging through non-conclusive negotiations with assorted pharma companies before finally opening more promising-looking talks with Magadon Incorporated. After her father was elected to federal office, his successor as majority leader, Maxen Flores, pledged to continue his work. Flores then opened negotiations with Weide GmbH, a rival of Magadon’s, which led to even longer delays. The senator maintains that playing the two companies against each other let the state get a better deal when they finally awarded the contract to Magadon.

All those years of negotiations have finally paid off. Emmett Delacroix is the first man to die under the needle in four years. His last meal was a nutella crepe. His last words were, “I deserve to die. But I’m no judge of anything, so don’t take my word for it.”

Caroline: The news leaves Caroline feeling cold. Another death she’s responsible for, if indirectly, and one that plagues her conscience (or at least what’s left of it) more than most. She doesn’t remember everything of her time in the Dungeon, but she remembers now that he was there too. She remembers him losing his legs, remembers the monster eating them as he screamed. Remembers him watching her suffer, and watching him suffer in turn. Remembers the relief and following shame when they went to go cut on him for a time instead of her and she had to listen to his screams. They shared a moment together at what she can only imagine was the absolute worst point in their lives. A moment when she wasn’t Caroline Malveaux and he wasn’t Emmett Delacroix. A moment when they were both nothing but victims in ways that still tear at her sanity to think about.

Mostly she remembers his cries and screams when she invaded his mind, when she forced him to relive it again. When she became the torturer and he became her victim. The Emmett she remembers was objectively a bad person, but he wasn’t that terrible a one. He didn’t deserve what happened to him in the Dungeon, and he didn’t deserve to be forced to relive it in the horrific way she forced him to, when she was groping around in the dark for answers. It’s a bitter lesson in unintended, or at least unconsidered, consequences of single-minded pursuit one’s own desires, and she regrets it in hindsight. Caroline hopes that the broken man found some peace in death. She certainly hasn’t.

Caroline makes it a point to visit St. Patrick’s Cathedral despite her excommunication to include him in her prayers. It’s ann empty gesture in the face of an uncaring God that certainly has no time for the words of a monster like her, but one she finds the time for.

GM: Her cousin Adam is not. The serene stained-glass visage of Christ pulling St. Peter from the sea silently stares down at her.

It’s a peace she can but hope Emmett will also receive.

Sunday night, 14 February 2016, PM

GM: Donovan is ordained as a priest by Bishop Malveaux. Father Donovan will enjoy a number of privileges he previously did not as deacon, including receiving confession from the tenants of his domain. Rumor abounds that the bishop is tutoring the priest-sheriff in theban sorcery, further adding to his puissant reputation.

The Storyvilles are among those Sanctified who espouse their support for Vidal’s would-be successor. Jocelyn encourages Caroline to do the same. “He’s the only Sanctified ‘running’ and the frontrunner… I know you haven’t gotten along, but with the way things look… all I’m saying is, it could make things easier on you.”

Caroline: Only in the short term, Caroline bitterly thinks.

Tuesday evening, 16 February 2016

GM: It’s not too much later that Caroline receives another piece of news regarding an old acquaintance.

Yvette sends Caroline an enigmatic text about “getting even for my sisters and Sarah, Hannah too” with a link to her friends-only Instagram account. The page contains a video showing a starved and emaciated figure, with limbs as thin as sticks, chained to a hospital bed. There’s thick mittens over their hands, a black hood over their head, and a brown-stained diaper around their pelvis. They look male: the chest beneath their hospital gown is mostly flat. A feeding tube hooked to a nutrient bag snakes up underneath the figure’s hood.

The video plays at a choppy fast-forwarded speed: the room goes from light to dark and dark to light more times than Caroline can count. It slows down at multiple points, though, where the chained-up figure thrashes and screams. They are ghastly, horrified and strangely muffled sounds concurrent with their worst thrashings. Sometimes there are broken sobs, incoherent wails, furious screams, and insane garbling that doesn’t make any sense. Sometimes it sounds like the figure is crying. Sometimes they try to tear off their hood, but it’s a futile effort with their chained and mittened hands.

Nurses appear during some of the figure’s most violent episodes to inject their stick-thin arms with a sedative. Contrary to how such drugs are depicted on TV, it takes several minutes before the figure goes completely limp. Nurses pull off the figure’s hood when this happens, revealing a bulky, helmet-like contraption with a bite-preventing guard that goes over their mouth. Amelie Savard’s gaunt, haggard, and too-pale face is underneath when they take it off. Nurses inspect the young woman’s head for a few moments, then fit the helmet and hood back on. They also change her fouled diaper and inspect her body for bedsores around once a day. Sometimes they don’t bother and runny brown stool leaks over the sheets. The invariably different nurse who has to change them looks annoyed. Amelie’s hood and helmet come off less often, usually concurrent with sponge baths, and only after she has been sedated.

The video appears to play out over the course of several weeks. For 24 hours a day, Amelie is kept chained to her bed in a state of complete sensory deprivation and social isolation, and left to stew in her own excrement. Her struggles grow weaker as her screams and cries taper off into low moans. Nurses check her pulse, but seem satisfied by what vital signs they detect.

Yvette includes a single caption below the video:

Suffering :)

Caroline: The heiress is taken aback by the savagery of Amelie’s fate. She remembers a very different image of the mannish and stocky ‘girl’. The two visions are almost impossible to reconcile with each other. Both are disturbing in their own ways, but this one is far more so. Disgusting, even. This half-living creature is more ghoulish than any of her own ‘ghouls’. Caroline’s disgust is only amplified by Amelie’s too-human needs and the way they are so crudely on display. The feeding tube. The vile brown sludge she produces. It’s revolting, almost nauseating.

She chokes back her disgust. What does she care about Amelie? The girl irritated her during their brief meeting. Even if she weren’t simply kine, she’s kine that Caroline has no ties to, no affection for. There’s even some justice to what Yvette is doing. Isn’t Amelie a sinner? Isn’t this the very path that Caroline has been put upon as a member of the Sanctified? To punish the wicked? She’d never thought to do so in such a thoroughly wicked way, but what was it Abélia said, “my daughter Yvette would never hesitate to take up a weapon”? She almost wonders if there’s a lesson here for her.

There certainly is one for Yvette. Caroline doesn’t critique her decision to take her revenge on Amelie, but she does offer a critique on the decision to put it on social media, even a private account. Such things are never as private as they might appear to a teenage girl. Caroline suggests an alternative: a private server where these things could be hosted with true security. She could even have such a thing set up and maintained for Yvette.

GM: Yvette says that sounds like a great idea and she’d “definitely appreciate it.” She already got in trouble with her family over posting some other pictures of Amelie (“tamer ones, where I literally ’ad ’im licking mah boots,” she describes with a smirk) on a public blog, but she’s not sure where else she’s supposed to post her stuff. “Ah mean, gmail’s just owned bah another company, no? Ah want to ’ave somewhere I can share it.”

As long as her friends can watch Amelie suffer along with her, though, she’s happy.

Previous, by Narrative: Story Eleven, Celia III
Next, by Narrative: Story Eleven, Celia IV

Previous, by Character: Story Eleven, Caroline III
Next, by Character: Story Eleven, Adelais I, Caroline V, Isa I, Jon III, Rocco I

Story Eleven, Celia III

“Have you been a good girl this year, or are you on Santa’s naughty list?”
Nico Cimpreon

Saturday evening, 2 January, 2010

GM: One upshot to the kids moving back to their father’s, at least, is that Emily and Diana can move to a smaller two-bedroom apartment to save further on money. Both women are very, very sad that Celia doesn’t want to move in with them. Her one-woman loft salon is doing well, and she has big plans for Flawless, but she’s hardly rolling in cash right now. They try everything to convince her. Emily wants her best friend as a roommate. Diana wants to have her daughter close. She wants to cook Celia’s meals, do her laundry, and see her off to work. “Obviously not forever, sweetie! I completely understand you wantin’ to have your own place as an independent adult. Just… money is a lil’ tight, now that I can’t work, so why not do this until the settlement pays out and your business gets big?”

Mélissaire doesn’t need to tell Celia that living with two breathers is out of the question. It’s not even a question of Kindred society’s rules. There’s no apparent way to do it and still conceal the truth.

And money isn’t as tight for Celia as her family believes, either. Her material needs in her present state are few. Savoy seems happy to float her for whatever she needs until she “finds her feet.” Veronica and Pietro show her that it’s laughably easy to part kine from their money. Her mortal family doesn’t know the half of her actual finances.

In the end, Emily and Diana can’t force her to live with them. But they do appreciate how Celia “convinces” their old landlord to let them break lease early so they can move into the smaller place, seemingly as a peace offering.

Viv, meanwhile, proceeds ahead with the insurance settlement. She says it will be very helpful if the company doesn’t think the women will be inclined to buckle for an early payout. The longer this process looks like it will take, even out of court, the higher their attorneys’ fees will climb. “There’s a whole cost-benefit analysis their legal team will do. These people aren’t motivated by ego, just the bottom line.”

It’s not long before Lucy’s birth that the insurance company’s seven-figure settlement pays out. It’s like winning the lottery. Celia’s heavily pregnant mom nervously laughs that, “I don’t even know how to spend this much money!”

If she wants to, she can splurge on an expensive and spacious property. The neighborhoods where she wants to live don’t lack for high-end real estate. Celia’s mom thinks about buying or renting a big house and then buying a smaller condo once the older kids are moved out. But Emily raises that maybe the privileged Flores kids can stand to live in a little less comfort, and there are so many taxes associated with selling a house, while renting is just money down the drain. Why not just get something you’ll be comfortable in once the nest is empty, but has room for guests?

“Or a guy,” Emily brings up with Celia.

Celia: “Or a guy,” Celia agrees.

GM: So Mom agrees to that logic. She buys a house up front. It’s harder to sway her into buying something in the Quarter. She’s worried about crime reports and really, really wants to buy something in the Garden District, or at least the Lower Garden District. “It’s just so, so pretty there. It’d be in walking distance of work, school, and church for me and Lucy.”

Pete says the Garden District is Vidal’s personal territory. Horrible idea if Celia wants to regularly see her family. The Lower Garden District isn’t much better, with a swath of the prince’s territory still between them and Celia.

So she pushes. And eventually Mom folds on that too. Like everything. Quarter it is.

Celia: Celia doesn’t feel bad about it. She gets to see her family.

GM: She’s done much worse things to feel bad over.

Celia’s mom is budget-conscious with the settlement money: her ~40k salary at McGehee is livable but not luxurious. Maxen is paying child support for their first five kids.

So Diana buys a smaller house up front, with a decent chunk of the settlement money. Smaller, but she wants smaller, both for an emptier-nested future and “So there’ll be no mortgage. Own it full and in the clear.”

With that significant expense marked off, she budgets out another quarter-million remaining settlement money to the expenses of raising Lucy from diapers to 18, which Maxen is obviously not helping to pay for.

Another chunk of the settlement gets budgeted out for Lucy’s college fund. “I don’t ever want my baby to go into debt,” Celia’s mom declares resolutely. “Just never, not like I did.”

Another chunk gets budgeted out to buy Lucy her first car.

Celia: Celia swears to hire her mother a goddamned accountant. Or financial advisor. Or something.

She isn’t seriously sticking the money under a mattress?

GM: Celia’s mom clarifies that the money is going into savings accounts and a variety of low-risk investments. “So that my money will go to work for me.” She is simply establishing a budget plan for how to eventually spend it.

Celia: Oh. That’s all right.

But she should still tell her kids to actually work, or something.

GM: Emily agrees. She’s going to work at Celia’s business, after all, until she’s a doctor.

Speaking of Celia’s business, another chunk gets budgeted out for “my remaining lifetime’s worth of spa visits,” as her mom declares with a happy smile. Assuming weekly visits, plus monthly hair styling, comes out to 97k after tips (which Diana insists on paying despite Celia saying tips are optional for her momma). Habits add up, even with the substantial discount Diana will be getting to only pay product fees rather than full service fees.

“What if I just pay you an even $100,000 right now, sweetie? Would you find it more helpful to have that right now, when you’re getting things of the ground, or to have a customer you can count on for maybe 40 years?” her mom asks.

Celia: Celia takes the $100,000. She’s found someone to invest for her, after spending part of it on that new room she needs once she realizes her Kindred clients need their own space. She tells her mom it’s a “free service for life” kind of thing.

GM: The bulk of the spa’s funding, after all, has already been taken care of. Savoy provided that with a very large and interest-free loan. He laughs off the idea of anything like service for life. Mélissaire pays the full service fee and tips generously whenever she comes in. “All” Celia’s grandsire expects in return is that she will be “amenable” to any particular uses he has for the spa down the line.

The first use is when he asks her to administer slow-acting poison to a client who needs to die, slowly and without suspicion. That sort of thing.

Mélissaire recommends the place to all her girls.

Celia: She doesn’t have an issue with that. It’s administered without question. She doesn’t pry or ask needless questions; when Lord Savoy asks her to jump, she does so. Backwards and in heels, even.

GM: Unaware of such shadowy benefactors, Celia’s mom is delighted to feel like she’s an integral part of her daughter’s business getting off the ground.

What’s left of the settlement money, after being budgeted out or actually spent on the house, raising Lucy, Lucy’s college fund, Lucy’s car, Flawless’ start-up funds, and a 100k retirement fund for the almost-40-year-old Diana, comes out to around 150k left.

“I’m honestly not sure what to budget out the rest on, sweetie,” Celia’s mom says thoughtfully. “I’ve offered to pay for med school for Emily, but she just says she won’t be a freeloader—like she’s any such thing! Maybe a trust fund for Lucy, like you and your siblings had?”

Celia: “You could,” Celia tells her, “and if you go that route I’d recommend talking to someone who knows more about it than I do. But, if the worst were to happen, it would protect Lucy from being taken advantage of by creditors or probate court from her… aunts and uncles, or eventual cousins, who think it unfair that your ‘grandchild’ gets a payout when they do not.”

Celia doesn’t want to think about her mother dying, but there’s no doubt in her mind that, if she passes away, Maxen or her siblings would come sniffing after the money, house, retirement fund, everything.

The more she thinks about it, the better of an idea it becomes. She even offers to help her mother find someone to speak to about it and serve the role of trustee.

Someone who isn’t Paul.

GM: “What about Viv?” Celia’s mom asks. “She’s a lawyer, obviously, and why we have this money in the first place, so she’s certainly done right by us before.”

“What about your mom?” Emily suggests instead, once the conversation comes to include her. “She’s also a lawyer, obviously, and not the kind of lady who’s easily pushed around. And this might be a way of extending an olive branch, to show you trust her in that role.”

“Oh, that’s thoughtful, sweetie, but I really think Viv would be a better idea, unless Celia has somebody else in mind,” their mom says.

Celia: “Honestly, Mom, if the whole point of it is to keep Lucy safe, then we already know Grandmother would go up against Maxen. You can also make them co-trustees, or have Viv be a successor trustee in case something happens to Grandmother.”

GM: Diana’s lips draw into a thin line. “She can be a co-trustee, but you can ask her to do it.”

Celia: “I figured you’d want to protect the child that Maxen can’t get to,” Celia says with a shake of her head. “Can’t bully Judge Underwood.”

GM: “Hrm,” is all her mom replies.

“So much for that olive branch,” Emily says.

Wednesday evening, 6 January 2010

GM: Judge Underwood looks fairly nonplussed at the request to serve as Lucy’s co-trustee when Celia passes it along. They’re meeting at her house in the Lower Garden District rather than her courtroom office, this time.

“Your mother is a small and petty woman,” she declares as she serves Celia iced tea that she can’t drink.

Celia: “She is,” Celia had agreed, choking down the tea. “She made strides, and Maxen’s kidnapping put her right back to where the thinks she belongs. I’m hoping that, with time, she will find herself again.”

GM: “Your statement presupposes there is something further within herself to find.”

“For good or ill, adversity shows who we are.”

Celia: “She told me you pushed for my abortion, when I was just a clump of cells.” There is no judgment in her voice, no hurt or pain or sadness. Just cool, even facts. “That it was Maxen who fought to prevent that. I think, on some level, she has never gotten over that, so when he reduced her to nothing, to someone not worth fighting for, that is who she became.”

GM: Celia’s grandmother does not say anything for several moments.

“Your mother had been accepted into the Royal Ballet School,” she finally replies. “Children can wait. Dreams cannot.”

Celia’s mom hadn’t told her that. Just that she’d been accepted into “some schools” and wanted to dance in London or New York.

“I did not approve of your mother’s dream, but nevertheless found it preferable to her becoming an incubator out of high school. Unborn children cannot miss lives they have not experienced.”

Celia: “You had the right idea, then. I would have told her to do the same.”

GM: “I am grateful you have the maturity and perspective to recognize that fact. My advice for your mother to abort her pregnancy is not in any way an indictment against your personal worth. You were, as you say, a clump of cells, endowed with personhood in only the most philosophical of senses.”

“It is also not your fault that your mother chose to give up a promising career in her field. Your father enabled that decision, but it was, in the end, hers alone.”

Celia: “I cannot be blamed for choices that people made before I was born,” Celia agrees, remembering the words that Pete had said to her in the car that first night.

GM: “I also hope you have considered whether becoming a parent at 20 years of age is conductive to your own dreams and professional aspirations, or so very different a personal choice from your mother’s.”

Celia: “She spends more time with my mom than she does with me,” is all Celia says to that.

GM: Celia’s grandmother does not press the matter further. For good or ill, the child has been born.

“I will serve as a trustee for your daughter’s trust, in any case. I will also be 80 years old by the time Lucy is 18, assuming I am still alive then, so it would behoove you to find a second and younger co-trustee.”

Celia: “Mom wants to use Viv.”

GM: Celia’s grandmother has to ask who that is before indicating her approval of the choice. Vivan Carney is an attorney they have a preexisting relationship with and who’s done good work for them.

“I also would not mind seeing my great-granddaughter occasionally,” Payton dryly remarks as the pair conclude their business.

Celia: Celia does not need to feign her smile. She says she’ll be happy to bring the little one by.

“Your daughter is the one who keeps her schedule, though. Perhaps a reconciliation is in order.”

GM: “I have many objections to your mother’s personal decisions, but I have none to her company, especially when that goes hand in hand with your daughter’s.”

Celia: Celia relays the sentiments to her mother the next time they speak.

“I would like for Lucy to know her grandmother, since she does not have a father. Your mother also asked me to pass along that she misses her daughter.” She hadn’t said so in as many words, but the meaning was clear.

GM: Celia’s mother is nursing and cooing at Lucy, who’s now a chubby little baby with wispy blonde hair.

Her happy expression turns immediately taciturn.

“The only thing she misses about me is not being able to tell me off for ‘how foolish’ ballet is. She’s happier spending time with your aunt.”

Celia: “She told me you were accepted into the Royal Ballet School. She was proud of you.”

GM: Celia’s mother closes her eyes. “I wish she hadn’t told you that. You already blame yourself.”

Celia: Celia’s gaze hardens. “You will not keep this child from the only family she knows. Emily is without. You are all I have. Maxen will never put his hands on her. That leaves your mother. Stop being selfish.”

GM: At Celia’s look, her mom averts her gaze back to Lucy.

“She wouldn’t even attend my performances, you know,” she quietly says over the infant’s suckling. “Your dad and I invited her all the time. She always said she had ‘more important’ things to do, even though she’d have gotten to sit next to you and your brothers and sisters, and spend time with you there.”

“Even when I made principal dancer. Even when I was the Sugar Plum Fairy in the Christmas shows. She didn’t come to a single one.”

Celia: “She messed up. Are you going to hold that against her forever? Are you going to prevent your daughter from being in her life?”

Celia touches a hand to Lucy’s head. Her skin is so lifelike, now. So warm and vibrant. The infant doesn’t even recoil at her touch like Pete says babies normally do.

“She was born for a terrible reason. Maybe she can be what mends that broken fence, Mom. One day it will be too late to make amends.”

“You’re not a little girl anymore. You don’t need her approval. You never did. So don’t let what she thought of you be what keeps you going. Don’t hold onto resentment. It just eats away at you until there’s nothing left.”

GM: “It is too late for some things, sweetie. I won’t ever be the Sugar Plum Fairy again. It’s what I’d always, always wanted, ever since I was a little girl, and those moments on the stage, with the celesta playing, that just divine little sound, were some of the happiest of my life.” Her mom’s face is pained.

“I wanted her to be a part of that. That was me, that was who I was. And she just treated it all with… contempt. Just total, complete contempt. She didn’t even say ‘sorry, can’t make it’ when your dad and I invited her. She just didn’t even reply. That was how little respect she had for me. How little love she had for me. Those shows were me. And it’s too late now if she wants to see any. We can’t even sit and look at pictures of them, of me and Naomi and all the cast in our costumes, from that scrapbook I’d kept for years, or listen to that beautiful music box Mr. Guarini got for me, or look at my awards, because your dad threw all of that away! Just all of it! It’s too late for even that!”

Lucy starts crying as her mother’s voice reaches a near-yell.

Diana immediately starts rocking the child back and forth while quietly shushing her.

Celia: “That’s his fault, Mom. That’s his fault that he did that. That he took that from you. She didn’t show up. She messed up. You still have the memories, don’t you? Why would you deny that to Lucy, who will never get any of her own? Grandma is past sixty. She’ll be eighty by the time Lucy is eighteen. What do you think Lucy is going to say when she’s a young adult and she learns you kept her family from her?”

“Do you want her to be as hateful as you’re being? You’re hurt. I get it. She messed up. So be the bigger person.”

GM: “I’ll tell her I kept her away from someone who didn’t have any love in her heart,” Diana says as she switches Lucy to another nipple. The infant starts suckling again promptly enough. “Just like I am with her father. That’s love, to shield her from that kind of person.”

Celia: “And yet when he raped you, beat you, and put you back into the hospital, she was there for your children.”

GM: “She couldn’t humiliate them like she wanted to humiliate me.”

“After that first time, when your dad put me in the hospital. After… after we weren’t talking. I asked for her to come. She did.”

“I was never lower, Celia, just never lower. I needed someone. I was just, just naked in a blizzard.”

“She didn’t hug me. She didn’t comfort me. She didn’t grieve with me. She just lectured. Said how she’d seen this coming. About how this was all my fault. How I’d made so many bad decisions.”

“But also how this was a good thing, because now I could finally move on to a real career, because I was only 30 and I was still young.”

Celia’s mom doesn’t yell this time. She just cups a hand over Lucy’s ears, as if to shield the infant from hearing something obscene.

“She told me it was good, how I couldn’t dance.

Celia: Celia just gives her mother a tired look.

GM: Diana lets that hang, then finally sighs at her daughter’s non-response.

“But you know, if she could just say sorry for that and everything else, just apologize for once in her life, maybe, I don’t know, that would be a start to showing she won’t be a bad influence on Lucy.”

Celia: “I’m done playing mediary. You’re both adults. Figure it out.”

GM: And that swiftly seems like the end of that, at least for then.

The trust fund is set up. A use is found for the remaining settlement money. Payton and Viv are co-trustees.

Sometimes you can’t fix the past, but you can plan for the future.

Tuesday night, 21 December 2010, PM

Celia: True to form, the Evergreen has been transformed for Lord Savoy’s holiday party. Rather than the typical decor or the Christmas explosion that has taken over much of the city, stepping into the Evergreen transports the guests back in time. Low couches and pillows dot the floor for seating, and off to one side a table has been set with a feast fit for kings—or at least the ghouls that will be treated as kings on a night when rules go out the window and society flips on its head. Gauzy drapings hang from white column pillars, roping off private sections and turning a segment of the large area into secluded alcoves for clandestine trysts or other fun. The center of the room, though, holds the main attraction. No one is quite sure how he pulled it off, but two pits have been dug into the very floor of the Evergreen itself. One has been filled with water and bubbles merrily, steam wafting from the top of it. Attendants stand by with scrubs and towels in smaller sectioned-off areas to rub down the licks or ghoul who choose to use the tub. The other pit is ten feet deep, its bottom piled high with sand. Rough stairs descend into the pit to allow for easy travel in and out, and “viewing boxes” have been cut into the walls themselves to allow for a closer look at the action. Right now it sits empty while Kindred guests mingle, some decked out in togas or synthesis garb, others in their modern-day clothing. Various vessels offer themselves to the present licks, their blood spiked by spirits and other party drugs.

Savoy and Mélissaire appear atop the stage, the former lifting his hands to draw attention to himself. A hush falls over the room, expectant.

“Good evening one and all!” he calls, hands slowly lowering to his side. “Thank you for your attendance this evening. The winter solstice, the longest night of the year, has long been celebrated around the world to honor the gods and rising sun.” Some few Kindred hiss, and Savoy chuckles. Beside him, Mel smiles. “Precisely. Tonight we celebrate Saturnalia as the Greeks and Romans of old. Eat, drink, gamble, cavort—slaves and masters alike! I’d say no base desire is to forbidden to you, but we all know there’s no such thing as ‘forbidden’ in the Quarter, now don’t we?" He grins as laughter goes up from the gathered Kindred. "But first, the opening ceremony! OXR, would you care to crown our Saturnalia’s king?”

A spotlight appears from above, centered on the black Kindred that appears beside Savoy in a puff of smoke. Dark hair curls around her face, framing her kohl-rimmed eyes and red, red lips. A similarly colored robe hangs from her shoulders. She pauses for one long moment to let the assorted licks get a look, then opens her mouth and croons into the microphone in her hands. Seconds later the steady beat of a drum joins her voice, followed by a soft piano. The sound starts light. For all that Andromeda Brooks is known to be a punk artist, the velveteen purr that pours forth from her lips serves her just as well singing the story of Lucia of Syracuse.

Across the room, the doors open. Tyrell waves a hand and smoke pours forth from the open door, heralding the approach of the girl from the story. From deep within the shifting smog Jade emerges, clad in a long, flowing white gown that leaves her shoulders bare. It’s cinched at the waist with a red sash that trails between her legs as she walks, her bare feet making not a whisper of sound upon the floor. On her head is perched a wreath that flickers with each step, “candles” to light her way. And in her hands…

Blood. A silver goblet filled to the brim. The heady aroma makes people stop and stare as she winds her way through the congregation. On stage, Andromeda sings about Lucia bringing nourishment to the people. Her words encourage people to approach, and anyone who does is offered a sip from the chalice. Licks take a knee and let her pour it into their mouth, or cover her hands with theirs and lift it to their lips. Everyone who desires a sip is gifted the blood from her chalice, until at long last she comes to a halt in front of where Nico, Roxandra, and Lord Savoy have gathered near the stage. Jade offers the final drink to her grandsire; he takes the chalice from her, freeing her arms to be gathered by Nico and Roxandra. They drag her backwards and denounce her as a heretic. They say she’ll pay for her sins. Andromeda’s song changes, the music sharpening to something harder. No longer the smooth beat of the drum but unsteady, frantic. She sings about a virgin sacrifice, the death of Lucia of Syracuse, the stories and traditions woven together in such a way that leaves no doubt as to what will happen next.

Roxy and Nico drag Jade to a stone altar. They bind her at wrist and ankle, and each of them heft a wickedly curved blade in their hands. They make cuts along her arms, her blood slowly dripping from the wounds. Jade hisses, fangs lengthening in her mouth, but the steel cuffs hold her tight.

“Who will rule tonight?” they ask in unison.

“Who will blood the virgin—”

“And who will bring her back?”

A hulking Brujah steps forward, clad in a leather vest that only serves to accent the slabs of muscles on his chest and abdomen. He accepts the knife from Nico and stands over Jade, glancing at the two krewe members.

“Carve her,” Roxy whispers to him. The Brujah nods, plunging the knife into Jade’s abdomen. She howls and thrashes at her bindings. The white shift turns red when the knife comes out.

“Blood for blood,” Nico says, offering the chalice. The Brujah bites into his wrist and drips it into the chalice, then bends to slurp the blood from Jade’s body.

“Put your chosen vessel in the pit. If, upon waking, the virgin chooses yours to sup from, you will be crowned king.”

The Brujah moves off.

A parade of Kindred follow after him, everyone from Gui—with a cocky smile—to Pietro to a handful of nobodies. They each bleed into the chalice and carve Jade with teeth or knife to take their drink. Some sip directly from her flesh, making her writhe atop the altar, while others use it as a means to inflict pain upon the pretty neonate for past slights. The white gown becomes saturated in her blood by the time Veronica saunters forward and rips out her childe’s throat. She shrugs at Roxandra when the Gangrel bares her teeth, says something about “that’s how the story goes,” and tosses her vessel into the pit with a careless shove.

Jade lies still upon the table, her body sinking into the deep sleep of torpor. Still they come to claim her blood, until Nico finally puts a halt to it.

“Dry,” he announces. He produces a stake from his robe and plunges it unceremoniously into Jade’s chest. He and Roxandra untie her. Nico scoops her into his arms and Roxandra follows with the chalice when he deposits her in the pit, laying her gently upon the sand. He tilts her head back to pour a small measure of blood into her mouth. Her eyes open instantly. Her face can’t move, but the fangs in her mouth tell them what they need to know: the Beast has her in its grasp. Roxandra evacuates the pit, Nico at her heels with the chalice in his hands, still half full.

“Remove the stake,” he says to another vessel. The man’s eyes glaze over and he nods, taking the stairs one at a time, then moves unsteadily across the sand until he kneels before Jade. His fingers close around the wooden stake in her chest, yanking it free.

Immediately Jade jumps to her feet, ignoring the man in front of her in favor of an obese woman doing her best to avoid notice. She launches herself at the woman and they go down in a tangle of limbs, Jade’s fangs sinking into the woman’s throat. She rips it out in a spray of blood that has the Kindred attendees murmuring and jostling one another, inching forward as if to get in on the action. The other vessels in the pit scream and make a dash toward the stairs, but they’re snatched up and snacked on by the licks closest to them, passed along the audience while Jade finishes her meal. The red haze recedes from her vision. Blood stains the front of her, splattered across her face, her chest, her neck. It weighs down the curls in her hair, turning it into a sodden mess. She looks up to see Gui smiling at her.

“King of Saturnalia,” he declares in a lazy drawl. “My first order—a bath for our not-virgin.” The Ventrue takes her hand when she ascends the steps, leading her across the floor to the bath. He smirks at Nico when he strips her from the saturated gown and shucks his own clothing, descending into the water.

“You were a lovely virgin,” Gui murmurs in her ear, pulling her bodily onto his lap. His hands stroke down her front and sides in the guise of washing, fingers lingering over her breasts, stomach, and hips. Jade leans back against his chest, eyes closed while he works.

“They all watched me murder her,” she says after a moment, voice quiet. She doesn’t sound particularly upset about the death of the woman, but the witnesses. “Isn’t that… bad?”

“It happens every year. Didn’t they warn you?”

“No,” Jade admits. Then, hesitantly, “I thought losing it like that at an event is poor form.”

Gui laughs. He gives her rear a squeeze.

“Ordinarily, yes. Tonight, though, the rules go out the window. Tonight you will see plenty of Beasts running rampant, limited to the pit. Tonight ghouls will be treated as equals and dine with us. Tonight you’ll see licks duke it out, fuck it out, rage it out. There are no rules tonight, save that all must stay within the walls. And my rules,” he adds.

“Yes,” Jade murmurs, “King of Saturnalia. What does that entail?”

“Ruling. My word is law. If I tell you to do something you have to do it.”

“Even Lord Savoy?”

“Especially Lord Savoy.” She can hear his smile. He nips at her neck and she giggles, tilting her head to the side. “But it’s a double-edged sword. Fine line to walk between entertainment and impudence. It’s mostly just silly things. Telling people to do what they’re already good at. I could tell your sire to sing, or Silvestri to steal something, or your paramour to fuck you. Or I could make you be my arm candy all night, make him watch.” His hand cups her breast, thumb flicking across her nipple. Jade squirms. She rolls her neck to the side, nuzzling his cheek with her lips.

“Don’t be cruel to him.”

“And why shouldn’t I?”

“Because you’re a brighter king than that. Happy subjects are loyal subjects.”

“Smart and pretty,” Gui says again. “Go on then, find your lover and a corner. And Jade,” he wraps a hand around her wrist as she rises, pulling her to a halt, “when you’re tired of him I’d be happy to show you a good time.”

True to his word, Gui serves as a magnanimous king. He presides over the Gladiator Games—single combat in the pit until one lick cries uncle or is knocked into torpor, upon which they are woken by a drink from Lord Savoy—and indeed has Veronica regale them with a set to give Andi a break. The hulking Brujah who had first stabbed Jade wins the bracketed Gladiator Games and claims a pair of Caitiff as his prize. Their snarling fills the air even after they excuse themselves to a private alcove. More people pair off after that, licks and ghouls intermingling with no thought as to who belongs to whom. Jade sees Alana bent over by one of Gui’s security thugs, then later riding Nico’s herald with her head thrown back. Alan pins Clem’s adolescent form against the wall while he worships her with a tongue between her legs. She smirks, half-lidded eyes pronouncing her smugness to the room.

The Kindred become more rowdy the more they drink from the provided vessels. Some have been fed alcohol, others smoke joints or take tabs of ecstasy, and it shows: ordinarily orgies, the party has devolved into a frantic need, partners coupling and moving on and coupling again. Some fuck, others fight, still others allow themselves to be chained to the altar and abused by any who wish to inflict pain. Groups of three, four, or five share each other. Jade never manages to make it back to Gui for the promised good time, but she does tumble with Nico, then Roxandra, then Tyrell and Andi, and finally the five of them all together in a pulsing, throbbing mess of desire. She thinks she’s spent until she sees the hulking Brujah eye her from across the room, and when he draws near and pulls her into his arms she doesn’t even think to protest. He apologizes for the gut shot before sinking his fangs into her shoulder. Her nails rake down his back. When it’s over she shyly tells him that she’d been impressed with his prowess in the arena, and he smirks and throws her over his shoulder to give her an impromptu lesson in brawling that ends with his knee on her back and her arms yanked behind her, throat exposed for his fangs. He takes her again. When he’s done drinking his fill he flips her over and lets her drink from him, then tells her he’d be happy to go again sometime. She’s whisked away by Pietro before she can respond, dunked into the water, then bent over the edge of the pool so the thief can drink from the supple flesh of her lower lips. Then he’s gone, his laughter lingering in her ear.

Nico slings his arms around her from behind and pulls her back into the hot water, both of them flushed and sated from their hours of play.

“Guess you’re not a virgin anymore,” he says, idly tracing a hand up and down her side.

“Mmm,” Jade hums in agreement, “does that mean you don’t like me anymore?”

“Yes,” he says, effecting a sigh. “I only like licks in white.”

“Pity. I suppose I’ll need to find someone else with whom to while away my evenings. Maybe that Brujah—did you get his name?”

“Who, Teddy? No, no. He won’t do at all. I heard,” he stage-whispers, “that he fucked a Caitiff.”

“His name is Teddy?”

“Like the bear.”

“Huh. Well, I suppose I’m stuck with you, in that case.”

“I think I’ll manage,” he says with a smile.

Friday night, 24 December 2010, PM

Celia: Jade had thought that maybe they’d cancel Elysium Primo considering the holiday. Savoy had thrown a solstice party three nights prior that had, in her humble opinion, been the best party ever. She’s not sure how he plans to top it next year or in the months between now and then, and she doesn’t think it’s possible, but she’s hardly going to turn down an invitation if he attempts to outdo himself.

Yet here they all are, listening to Gus Elgin give a few opening words about the piece, the holiday, the history. They came out in their “Elysium Best,” be it floor-length gowns or frocks or just their nicest jeans to listen and mingle on this holiday eve. The primogen and elders take up the prime spots, closest to the master of Elysium and art both. Jade can barely see from where she’s at with the other nobodies.

Following the revelry of Lord Savoy’s party, this week’s Elysium is downright dull. Jade is glad she doesn’t need to shift her weight or yawn at all; it’s proving more difficult than she imagined to keep her attention on the droning of the Nosferatu, but at least she doesn’t need to be rude about it. Some of the Quarter’s residents didn’t even bother to show up this evening, perhaps knowing anything that took place tonight wouldn’t top what they’d already been to. Jade wonders if she should have sat this out as well.

The sermon is mercifully brief this evening. Elgin dismisses them with a few final words. The Kindred attendees disperse, cutting off into smaller groups to discuss the art or each other, and some walk the halls in pairs or alone. Jade plays nice with the harpies and their hanger-ons for a few moments before excusing herself at the earliest possible convenience to see the rest of the exhibits.

She walks alone, her thoughts muddled by what she could be doing this evening instead of mingling with the Kindred of the city. She had left her mother’s house at ten to get ready with the promise to stop by tomorrow evening—she’d lied and said she’s spending the day with Randy’s family—and she wishes, not for the first time, that she did have a family to spend the holiday with. A real family, one she doesn’t need to lie to about why she’s not around during the day, why she can’t come over to watch Lucy “open” presents on Christmas morning (at this age it’s more watching Diana open them for her), why she’s just not around anymore. It’s easy to pretend she isn’t dead when she can spend her evenings with them, when they can laugh and smile and be a family, but every time her alarm goes off on her phone that tells her to “get to bed or else” she knows the lie for what it is. She has them, at least, and maybe that should be enough. But the guilt… the guilt gnaws at her. She knows that some of the older licks have long since stopped celebrating, that to most of them it doesn’t mean anything, but to her, still freshly dead, the holiday is just a reminder of a life she no longer has and the tales she needs to spin to keep her mask from slipping.

Last Christmas she’d still been new to all of this. She’d accepted an invitation from her grandsire for a quiet night in and he’d left her mostly alone with her thoughts. No business on Christmas, he had said, and she didn’t know if it was because of her or because he never does business on Christmas, but she’d appreciated the sentiment all the same. Preston hadn’t been there. Just the two of them. He’d spoken enough for the both of them, telling stories while she listened like a literal grandchild at his knee, and when she’d excused herself to the restroom he hadn’t pointed out that their kind don’t use restrooms anymore, and hadn’t said anything about the red around her eyes when she came back.

She brushes the thought from her mind and continues down the hall, her eyes on the artwork around her. She hadn’t been listening to Elgin, but she thinks there’s some sort of holiday theme going on with these paintings. Renditions of Jesus, Mary, Joseph. The wise men. The angel. The birth of Christ.

She’s standing in front of a particularly realistic carving of the nativity scene, her thoughts inward even while her eyes gaze upon the white marble, when Nico finds her. He slides towards her with all the smooth confidence of someone who is used to getting exactly what he wants, hands in the pockets of his leather jacket. Beneath that he wears a suit, but even for Elysium he won’t change his habits.

She kind of likes that about him.

“What’s on your Christmas list, Miss Kalani?” he asks once he’s drawn near. Difficult to be melancholy around him, she muses, turning to him with a smile.

“The usual,” she drawls. “A Ferrari, a yacht, diamond necklace, world peace.”

“Tall order,” Nico observes. “Have you been a good girl this year, or are you on Santa’s naughty list?”

She can’t help but think of a very similar conversation she’d had with Pietro when they’d met at Saints and Sinners. Jade takes a step toward him and he reaches out, resting a hand at the small of her back. She leans in to whisper in his ear.

“If I say naughty, are you going to spank me?”

“Such a mind, Miss Kalani,” he murmurs. His finger taps against her spine, sending a shiver all the way up. “Maybe, if you ask nicely, I’ll forgive you for such filthy thoughts.”

“Did you bring me a present, Mr. Cimpreon?”

“It’s on your bed.”

Her eyes glitter.

“What is it?”

“That would be telling, dear. You’ll have to wait and see once this is over.” He pulls away, winking. “I think you’ll enjoy it.”

“You’re such a tease,” Jade mutters. Nico whistles, hands in his pockets as he strolls off.

Jade watches him go, a fond smile on her lips. He turns the corner and her eyes move past him to the Brujah Anarch standing near the Calbido. Her smile dies as quickly as a rose touched by frost. She turns away before he can see her looking and moves in the opposite direction. She doesn’t want anything to do with Roderick Durant tonight.

She isn’t fast enough. He’s just behind her a moment later, keeping pace with her while she walks through the museum’s halls. Her heels click against the marble floors with every step that she takes. Neither one of them says a word. Not for long minutes while he trails after her, pretending that he’s not following her, until finally they’ve reached a secluded area. Relatively secluded, anyway; she knows that nowhere in Elysium are they ever truly alone She stops in front of a painting, hoping that he won’t turn the corner, that it was mere happenstance that made him take the same path as her.

“Miss Kalani,” he says a moment later, sliding up beside her. He smiles and her heart threatens to break all over again. “How are you this evening?”

“Mr. Durant.” She keeps her voice cold, not even turning to look at him. “I’m well. If you’ll excuse me—” She starts to move past him. He reaches out, touching her arm.


“Don’t.” She turns to him. “Don’t. There’s nothing here. There’s nothing left. We’re not friends. We were never friends. I was just your one-night stand that turned into a clingy girlfriend with a crazy family. You’re an elder’s pet. As privileged in death as you were in life. Bully for you. Enjoy it.”

“Damnit, Jade—”

“Stop it.” She lifts her gaze. He can see it then, the red that rims her eyes and threatens to spill down her cheeks. “Please. Just leave me alone.”

His jaw tightens. This time when she turns to go he doesn’t stop her.

Art blurs around her. She blinks back the bloody tears that will give her away, wipes the emotions off her face. It won’t do for someone to wonder who or what has gotten under her skin this evening. She pauses in an out of the way area to pull herself together, standing in front of another piece of art. Something she can’t make heads or tails of, some abstract sculpture with smooth edges and square cutouts. She doesn’t know what it has to do with the theme—or even what the theme was. Christmas, she thinks idly. Or maybe Jesus.

She doesn’t know when he appeared beside her. One moment she is alone, lost in thought, the next she is aware of him some few feet away. Not close enough to touch. Not close enough to speak without raising her voice. He scrutinizes another piece of art with those stormy eyes of his. No one looking at them would even know that they were aware of each other’s existence. She’s so far beneath him that of course he doesn’t register her as being present.

A moment later he’s in her head, his presence a permeating chill that sweeps through her. Hard, cold, insistent, he forces his way into her mind, an icy pick cutting through a field of red roses. She puts up no resistance, no struggle, simply welcomes him with silence. And silent he is. There are no thoughts that leap from his mind to hers, no orders, no questions. Just a steady presence in her brain, a steel trap around her own. Utterly still. A blanket of darkness that she can sink into and know that the claws who rip and shred so many others have been tucked away. The world around her fades out; she loses herself in that sea of black.

It’s… nice, honestly. Not the physical affection she craves from him, but something like affection all the same. Acknowledgment. For long moments she is content to simply stare at the vague sculpture and feel him around her, floating on her little piece of ice. Then she tests the waters. She searches for the tether that links their minds, the little cord from her brain to his, and sends a pulse of emotion down the line. Not happiness, but something similar. Contentedness, maybe. Safety. Affection. Gratitude. She sees it as a string of lights that flare a dusky pink before dimming.

The answering pulse contains no words or images, just quiet acceptance.

Emboldened, Jade sends another. His face, as viewed at eight. A heart in his hands. His face again, half-shadowed as he whisks her away from a hallway filled with blood. A thrum of pleasure. Wind against her face, her dress dancing with the breeze, his arms holding her aloft. Longing. Him. Not an image of him but the idea of him. Strong, silent, cold. Demanding. Intoxicating. She drowns in his sea, happy to have her breath stolen away.

Another pulse echoes down the line from him. Questioning? Hesitant? She isn’t sure. She doesn’t recognize it, not on him.

Shyly, she sends a third. The two of them at a party, speaking in low tones in a corner. She’s in a red dress, he has his arm around her waist. He says something and she smiles, looking up. Her eyes catch sight of a sprig of mistletoe above them and she laughs, pointing. He favors her with a smile that she has never seen in life or unlife. It’s hard to picture, that smile, just a gentle lifting of his eyes rather than a movement across his lips. A surge of affection follows after.

Christmas wishes.

She lets go of the image. The tether in between them fades back to black, once more a simple sea of ink. No breeze, no light; emptiness all around, as devoid of any sort of anything as the home in which he lives. She floats in the ebon sea, her sire all around her. Silent and still. Moments pass in nebulous quiescence. Finally, a cool breeze swirls past her, lifting the hem of her dress and brushing the curls from her face.

In real life, Jade shivers.

The mental tendrils of her sire slowly retreat from her mind. A moment later he’s gone.

Previous, by Narrative: Story Eleven, Amelie I
Next, by Narrative: Story Eleven, Caroline IV

Previous, by Character: Story Eleven, Celia II
Next, by Character: Story Eleven, Celia IV

Story Eleven, Amelie I

“I’ve… had a very bad day.”
Amelie Savard

Day ? Month ? Year ?

GM: Pain.

It surges through bone and blood—and beyond.

Fire courses through her veins. Her throat burns like she’s swallowed a torch. She tries to breathe. She can’t. She’s suffocating. Drowning. Burning. Pain assails her from all sides. It hammers her into slag, like a worthless proto-sword being beaten against a hot forge.

But this time. Different.

Just away. Right in front of her.



Amelie: Waking to pain. It feels as though it’s become rote.

But this time it’s a juxtaposed pain for the blacksmith. Burning. Fire. Amelie chokes on carbon within and without. Her bones boil to charcoal, her marrow feels as though it’s steaming, softness wrapped in hard steel.

Water. Not relief, but temperance. Hardening. Crystalization. Semi-permanence.

She doesn’t scream, there is no throat to carry the sound. She just steps into the quench, her only thoughts those that have come to mind a million times. Water or oil. Steam or fire. A sigh of relief or a battle with the dragon.

GM: Any smith who quenches their sword in oil must blow the fire out, like dragons fighting over whose breath wins.

Only one can win.

One must lose.

Cool relief crashes through her. Molecules freeze in place. Burning metal becomes carbon-bearing steel. Bliss floods her veins, hot and rapturous. Like she’s gorged herself until her stomach was swollen and bloated after days without eating. Like she’s fucked her brains out after a lifetime as an unhappy virgin. Her great work is complete. She is complete.

The pain is gone.

A man’s savaged, gore-streaked corpse stares blankly up at her.

Amelie: She is complete.

She, the sword. The weapon forged from other’s cruelty.

She freezes as the chunk of meat beneath her comes into view.

Did… she hurt him, too? Another thug who tried to force himself on her?

She slowly looks herself and her surroundings over, trying to parse together what’s happening.

GM: The body underneath Amelie is a black male in maybe his early 40s. He has a slightly tubby face, with a wide nose, short beard, and short hair. He wears blue latex gloves and a white lab coat that’s streaked with violent red spatters.

His jugular has been been completely torn out, as if by a wolf’s or wild dog’s teeth. The man’s pudgy face is frozen in a mask of shock, agony, and terror. A growing pool of red slowly seeps across the linoleum floor. A broken pair of rectangular-shaped eyeglasses rest a short distance away.

Amelie takes in their surroundings.

She is straddling the corpse’s chest at the foot of a gurney, next to an open steel vault. She’s naked.

An overhead clock mechanically ticks away.

Amelie: Everything happens at once. Her frozen body feels almost giddy, like it’s never been more awake. Her mind feels sharp as ever as she methodically ticks through each new sight in quick succession.

Neck. Morgue. Blood.

She looks down at her body and shudders at what she sees. Her ribs are visible against her skin like a Holocaust survivor’s. The rest of her is bruised and ripped up like nothing she’s ever seen.

Memories flits through her head. A dark shape biting her neck and grinding against her body as it drains her. Is that what did this? Did the thing’s bite carry an… infection? But that was… she doesn’t even know how long ago that was. No. Whatever happened to her happened later. Probably.

Amelie doesn’t know what she’s feeling. Her whole body shudders as she starts to hyperventilate. She distantly wonders if it’s a purely psychological reaction and she only wants to feel cold.

She stops breathing and doesn’t waste another moment as she tries to stand. She needs something to cover herself. She needs a sink, and clothes, and time. Her eyes glance up at the clock.

GM: Amelie rises without impediment. The clock’s black hands rest at approximately 9 PM. Its thinnest red hand impartially ticks forward.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t know what it means to her. Whatever she is now. Whatever the rules really are for…

She moves her jaw around, smacks her lips and tastes it. It. What can only be the ‘relief’ she felt. What couldn’t have been water.

Oh god.

The demon. It was there before and after she passed out, if that’s what she even did. Did that… thing make her this? At the cost of this man’s life?

Her face twists as emotions finally roil up through the shock. Despair. Guilt. Horror. This man is dead, for her ‘relief’, when she could have just stood there and burned. Maybe it would have been better if she were ashes.

She tries her best to keep it all down, kneels beside the man and closes his eyes and jaw. She looks at the wound. Made with her teeth.

“O my God, I love Thee above all things with my whole heart and soul, because Thou art all good and worthy of all love. I love my neighbor as myself for love of Thee. I forgive all who have injured me, and I ask pardon for all whom I have injured.”

It’s not enough. It never will be, especially given what she needs to do next. She turns him over just enough to look for his wallet, and stifles a sob.

GM: The dead man’s eyes stare at Amelie as blankly as before while she opens his coat and rummages through his pants. His leather wallet has a few IDs, credit cards, spare cash, and photo of a hijab-wearing woman with dusky skin.

Amelie: Wife? Girlfriend? Amelie shudders to think.

She quickly removes one of the gloves from his hands and pulls it over her own. She gently rests the photo on the man’s chest, underneath his coat, while she takes his cash and keys with her gloved hand.

“I’m sorry… I’m sorry. I don’t—I don’t know Muslim rites,” she pleads, as if hoping he’ll spring up and scream at her. She puts back everything else and rushes to find a sink.

GM: Amelie gets her wish.

The corpse’s eyes snap open.

It springs to its feet.

And screams.

Blood pours and runs from its savaged neck.

It all happens in a second. The mangled, soul-piercing cry. The hellishly lost, crazed look from the ’corpse’s’ bulging and vein-shot eyes. The door slamming open. The flash of white, red-smeared coat. Footsteps hammering against floor.

Amelie: Amelie jumps like a gun went off next to her ear, but lets the man run by. Her heart rises and sinks at the same time. She’s glad he’s alive. She’s fearful for the help he may go and find.

She quickly searches the room for amenities. She needs to wash up, find clean gloves, and a change of clothes. Even a lab coat will work.

GM: The room has a sink. Someone has left a white lab coat on the nearby counter. Amelie spies no further amenities.

A muted shattering noise abruptly pierces the too-brief silence.

Amelie: Amelie has no idea what the sound might be, but she doesn’t waste any time. She turns the sink’s faucet and washes her hands and face as fast as she can, wiping her face with her arms.

She pulls on the coat, stuffs the wad of cash in a pocket, and takes off through the door. Whoever finds the scene can think whatever they want. She just needs to get out.

GM: A deserted hallway stretches before her in two directions. Right. Left.

Bloody foot-shaped prints, that rivet her gaze like a magnet, go left.

Amelie: Amelie grits her teeth. The panicked man would go towards the nearest exit. Or to a guard station. She has time. She has his keys. Maybe she can clean this up.

The thought strikes her as strange as she yanks her eyes from the bloody prints. She turns right instead, away from what she hopes will be a good distraction for her getaway.

GM: Several windows along the corridor overlook a barren-looking yard encircled by a black metal fence. Past that is roadway and darkened cityscape interrupted by the odd passing car. Points of light silently flash before disappearing back into the gloom.

Amelie: Amelie keeps running but keeps the windows in mind. She looks for a stairwell, fire escape, or some other exit from the hall. If bad comes to worse, she’ll need something to break the window.

GM: A flight of stairs leads down to another empty and darkened hallway.

Distant footsteps sound against floor.

Amelie: Amelie quickly shifts and opens the nearest door just to peek inside. A janitor’s closet would be perfect, but anywhere that puts a door between her and people works for her.

GM: The room on the other side has a carpeted floor, couch, cloth chair, and low table with a kleenex box. Bookshelves loom behind the furniture.

Amelie: It’s better than nothing. Amelie steps in and closes the door as quietly as she can. She grabs the heaviest book she can find off the shelf, along with the kleenex box. She pulls out the latter’s tissues, stuffs them in a coat pocket, and approaches the light switch.

GM: She finds it already off.

Amelie: She fits the box’s opening over the cover plate and wedges the cardboard just enough so that when she lets go, it still hangs there covering the switch plat. It’s a weak attempt, but an attempt nonetheless.

She crouches underneath the table, makes her thin body as small as she can, and rests on the balls of her feet as she watches for lights under the door. And waits.

GM: Time passes.

Silence reigns.

Then, lights flashing beneath the door.

There for a moment.

Gone the next.

Amelie: Amelie quietly watches from her darkened hiding spot as the lights pass. She counts to 20 before she gets out from under the table and listens by the door for movement.

GM: She strains her ears. None is audible.

Amelie: Amelie slowly cracks the door open to check the hall.

GM: It stretches before her, a dark and empty passageway into an equally dark and uncertain future.

Amelie: Amelie steps out from behind the door and quickly makes her way towards the stairwell. She only dares to use the balls of her feet and the tips of her fingers as she scrambles up the steps on all fours. She doesn’t stop until she gets all the way to the roof access at the top. Medical buildings keep a lot of their maintenance units on roofs, especially air conditioners.

GM: It’s hard not to feel like an animal as she frantically bounds up the stairwell on her hands and knees. A ravenous, forlorn, hunted creature, skulking desperately out of sight. Perhaps a bystander might ask why she is doing this, but more likely they would scream. There is only the pounding, id-driven urge to flee. To find safety.

Amelie bounds up the stairs. On the second flight up, the door flies open. A flashlight shines in her face.

“Hey!” yells the uniformed man holding it.

Then he crumples to the floor.

Amelie’s eyes and nose are clogged with blood. Her lab coat is stuck to her skin like she’s been sweating in it. Her hand clutches a fistful of hair. She’s standing on a corpse with its head facing the wrong way and its throat torn out. Her mouth burns hot with coppery-smelling bliss.

Amelie: Everything is wrong. Amelie stares down. Blood everywhere. All she can smell, taste, and for a moment all she can see. It’s salty. Warm. Like the surface of a perfect melty hot pretzel, sliding down her throat in a perfect ecstasy she’s never been allowed to experience before. Sex in all its far-away romance for a virgin soul, never having gone through the sheer disappointment of reality. A reality she is absent from for the barest of moments before her eyes focus on the scene below her.

There she stands on a corpse, holding him by the hair like she’s twisted him, like a doll she’s been disappointed with.

It’s not supposed to be like this, it’s not like it was with me. Am I not a vampire? A demon? Monster?

She remembers laying in that bed, watching that door and hoping her grunting attracted the monster she felt on the other side. She wished for it to take her away. She remembers the other—same?—vampire being so gentle, a sickening sensual grinding, almost intimate. And here stands Amelie, letting the corpse she’s just ripped apart thump back onto the floor as she lets it go, her mind swimming.

She’s stuck like this, lower than a man, lower than a pretty woman, and now lower than a monster who dry-humps unconscious girls in their beds. She remembers Tantsy telling her she would die. The LaLaurie house, the… wherever the hell was with Emmett, she was destined for a quick circling a drain into a dark dark pipe. She remembers the realization that old hag was likely right. It’s what drove her to seek dangerous people like Sal and Boxcars. She wanted to be ready to face the dark. Now she is the dark, worse than that long-haired parasite. She isn’t surprised, she just wishes that her death didn’t have to mean others’ deaths. Doesn’t have to mean. She doesn’t know if she’s really a vampire, what the rules are, if she can live without hurting people like it did. All the questions and academia don’t give her any comfort.

There are no words, whatever cruel fate has left empathy in this body rips at her from the inside. She can’t force it down this time. Her body shudders and seizes even just in a psychological remembrance of a sob as her legs fail her and she falls to one knee. She brings her fists down, impotently beating on the man’s chest, pulling at his shirt, trying to will him to stand up. To be okay. Her face presses into his chest, not knowing if she’s trying to comfort him, or seeking some kind of comfort from the residual heat of a human being who once had hopes and dreams. Both options feel insane, but she needs them both. Just for a moment. Just to replace the feeling she’s never gotten, to cry into a father’s chest and have him tell her things will be okay.

But something cold tells her to move. Something cold and logical, a machine that’s kept her alive until now. Amelie wants to ignore it, to have someone come from behind her and put a bullet in her brain. But she doubts it would kill her. She would just hurt that person afterwards. She needs to protect him, too. She lets out one last desperate scream into the dead man’s chest before she grabs him with both hands, tosses him down the stairwell, and rises to her feet. She runs as fast as her legs will carry her. Up wards. She feels light as she runs, fast, faster, too fast! She can feel everything start to move far too fast, but her feet know exactly where to step, barely making contact with every few stairs as she blurs up the staircase, too scared to encounter another person.

GM: Amelie pushes and heaves at the corpse. Limp bodies weight a lot, and her arms are emaciated sticks of their former “bulging” selves that Yvette mocked her for. In the end, it’s gravity that literally does the heavy lifting, and the corpse rolls forward with a crash. Amelie’s last glimpse of the dead man is his wide-open eyes and gaping mouth rolling over a step as if kissing it.

Then, noise.


“Hey! Up there!”

“Come out with your hands up!”

Footsteps rapidly thump up the stairs from below.

Then. Another crash. Noises. A surprised yell.



Amelie: Hearing the yells, she doesn’t stop to obey. She thinks back to the cop in the French Quarter, how she should have tried to lose him. She doesn’t want to make the same mistake twice. Amelie runs up the stairs, eyes wide as whatever has taken her body since her ‘infection’ takes hold. Its like her bones are hollow, like her whole being is vibrating all at once. Her legs move too quickly to take every step, so she does every two. Three. Four. Her body moves fast enough to remind her of her face ice skating, screaming in fear as she moves too fast to stop. But she does. Her legs still know who’s boss, and at the very top of the stairwell, she pushes the door open.

Back outside. Finally.

Now that she’s up on the roof, she quickly looks around the dark city and tries to get her bearings.

GM: She’s on the highest point for a while around. A tangle of freeway viaducts and expressways loom ahead. Everywhere else is parking lots, low buildings, and onrushing cars, their headlamps spearing beams of light through the gloom.

Thumping footsteps pound against the stairs after her.

Amelie: Amelie eyes the ground and feels a split second of vertigo. She knows she went up more stairs than just the one, basements being so rare in New Orleans. But that’s all the hesitation she allows. She keeps running, straight off the building, hoping her body still remembers how to roll when landing.

GM: She hits the soil with a thud.

Amelie: Her body feels the thud, and remembers its motions, weaken the legs, fall forward with the momentum, take it on the shoulder, and roll. Amelie springs back onto her feet in mere moments and sprints the yard towards the fence, aiming for the nearest car park.

GM: Her bare feet pound against dry soil. The unmistakable tang of blood draws her head like a magnet. Droplets are haphazardly scattered by the building along with shards of broken glass. One of the second-story windows is broken.

She pulls herself over the black iron fence and lands with an audible smack against concrete.

Amelie: It’s a dizzying scent. She instantly remembers the sound of shattering glass from the mortician, the trail of blood leading to him bleeding even more. She can’t though. She can’t go back to collect the soaked shards. She pulls herself over the fence as fast as she can, and slams into the concrete. Picking herself back up fast and once again taking off running. Away from the freeways and people’s eyes as much as possible, she heads into the maze of parked cars and just keeps running, one hand holding the blood-soaked lab coat closed around her naked body.

GM: The several rows of cars obscure her, but remain far from an impenetrable maze. The night is dark and cool against the sounds of onrushing traffic.

Amelie: It doesn’t need to be impenetrable. Amelie keeps her legs moving as fast as she can, away from the traffic as much as she can. She keeps her eyes open as she can, looking for street signs, company advertisements on the side of buildings or warehouses. The dark night and cool air feels incredible after so long. Stuck in a hospital, trapped in the underworld, imprisoned in OPP. She finally feels the rush of air past her face. Her legs moving.

GM: Street signs say she is on Earhart Boulevard, an apparently long and flat stretch of concrete interspersed with cars. A taller and thicker complex of buildings across the road is labeled Booker T. Washington High School.

Amelie: Amelie sees the complex of buildings as a better means of hiding and escaping than a parking lot, stopping only long enough to wait for a break in the traffic before she makes a break for the high school

GM: She crosses without incident. The buildings look drab and sterile, more like a factory complex—or Orleans Parish Prison—than a high school. One of the windows has a bullet hole. The school looks like a far cry from McGehee.

Amelie: Amelie runs around the side of the building that gives her the most cover from the road, trying doors for something that’s unlocked this late at night.

GM: The school is locked up tight. This doesn’t feel like a safe neighborhood.

Amelie: Amelie makes peace with it pretty damn quick, turning and keeping running. She passes the school and keeps heading away from the morgue, keeping her eyes out for street signs, trying to get a cardinal direction. Before the police get on this way.

GM: She passes rows of houses and parked cars. They’re smaller, shoddier-looking structures than her old neighborhood in the Garden District, but their lights are warm and inviting against the winter night as Amelie skulks outside, barefoot and blood-stained, like an unwanted ghost. She passes a Boys & Girls Club before seeing a street sign that reads S. Dorgendis St.

Amelie: Amelie feels like a ghost. She briefly wonders if perhaps she IS dead. Maybe Emmett a figment of her imagination and this is how the dead see the underworld. But it’s a short thought as she spots the S on the street sign. South is the way to the waterfront no matter where you are in New Orleans, if she remembers the map of the city well enough. Still, she takes it on faith and heads where she thinks is south, breaking into another full sprint.

GM: Amelie follows the south-labeled street signs. Cars drive by in the dark. She wonders if any the drivers can make out her bloody appearance, away from their headlights, but none stop. Running soon feels unnecessary.

She passes dilapidated buildings with broken windows and vandalized exteriors. A dirty-faced old woman bundled up in equally dirty, tattered coats ambles past with a junking-filled shopping cart, muttering nonsense to herself. She pays no heed to Amelie, whose bare feet hurt. She nearly steps on a discarded needle.

She remembers Oscar talking about how “rough neighborhoods can be righ’ nex by the not-so-rough ones” on that long-ago limo ride from the airport. The elderly driver’s words prove true. Property values abruptly climb as she spots restaurants and coffee house alongside better-maintained homes. There are patrols, too. White cars bearing the word “POLICE” and blue crescent badges. Amelie melds into the shadows like the ghost she is when they draw near. When anyone passing her on the streets draws near.

She eventually reaches a street sign whose name she recognizes: St. Charles Avenue. Following that east will lead directly into the French Quarter.

She does so, trying to avoid the increasingly frequent police patrols in the nice neighborhoods. A low roar warns her to get off the street before a green-colored old car barrels past. She wonders if it’s the same one she rode to Tantsy’s.

Tall and proud Southern live oaks create an almost roof-like canopy overhead. Classical statues and colorful flower beds dot the well-maintained yards of Colonial-, Victorian-, and Greek Revival-style old homes.

Amelie has walked this route before. Skated it, too. Her aunt’s home is only a few minutes away.

Amelie: Oscar. She remembers him so fondly, but with the state she’s in now, she wonders if maybe his words were an omen about the evils of New Orleans. The horror and rot in the woodwork. Lots to love in-fucking-deed.

What hits her more as she proceeds through the sudden shift are the routes she remembers skating and walking, the familiar corners. Somehow her instincts have brought her to where she lived a few scant months. Aunt Christina. She wonders for a moment if her aunt is even aware she’s dead, or if her knowledge ends with her being in a coma. Maybe she thinks she’s all alone in the world. Like Amelie has felt too many times.

She quickly turns, however. It’s dangerous for her aunt to see her like this, as a monster who can’t control herself around real people. This is for her safety too, and soon enough she’ll come back and let Christina know her niece is okay.

Amelie keeps her heading southward, hurrying along to try and get to the shipping yards. She can follow them along the river without many people being present and cross before she hits the French Quarter.

GM: Amelie soon passes another familiar sight.

It’s her first time seeing McGehee at night. The school’s graceful campus looks like another several peacefully sleeping homes in the rich neighborhood.

It’s not hard to think back to all of the bad and good times there. Ms. Perry’s history lectures. The way the history teacher smirked when she talked about Jean Lafitte and other “bad boys,” and how impressed she was by Amelie’s knowledge. Mrs. Flores’ dance classes. The former ballerina might have “ragged on” Amelie to play the lady more often, but she was still so warm and friendly. Her other classes were more mixed bags, either because of the teachers or subject matter. Off-tangent Mr. Thurston, pissy Ms. Ward, sleepy Mrs. Laurent, drinking Mr. French.

It’s hard to think of any real friends she made there. Maybe Hannah, dead according to Yvette. Miranda, who she only got to meet twice. Maybe Megan, if she didn’t know about the malicious prank her peers were all playing.

Amelie: Amelie’s expression sinks further when she sees her old school, and all that come to mind are wasted opportunities. Hopes this place gave for stepping stones to higher education. Now she just wishes she could burn it to the ground. Find all those girls and show them horrors they can’t imagine.

She spots the place she last spoke with Miranda as well. She feels a pain in her chest for the preteen still trapped there with queen bees pulling her every which way and making her suffer. She still wishes she could have been friends with her and eased her burden. Been the person she herself needed as a girl.

She doesn’t spend more than a few moments staring before moving on and quickening her pace. She doesn’t want to be reminded of everything she has lost. She doesn’t want to look back and feel horrible stabs of grief and anger. She needs to go south.

GM: Amelie’s path once again takes her away from her former life.

The Port of New Orleans isn’t as ornate as the rest of the Garden District. It looks largely the same as any other city’s port, with lots of gray concrete and multicolored shipping containers. A chain-link fence, passing security guards, and the odd passing car keeps Amelie from disappearing into that maze, but she follows the water east.

She passes an industrial white building with potted plants labeled ‘Mardi Gras World’, where carnival floats are made. The twin cantilever bridges of the Crescent City connection loom ahead.

It soon becomes apparent to Amelie that there is no dedicated lane for cyclists or pedestrians. The closest is a slim section of road past the white line, where passing cars don’t drive—but well within their headlights.

Amelie: Amelie walks along the fence the whole way along the waterfront, clutching hard to the coat around her. Seeing ‘Mardi Gras World’ stings. She remembers her excitement at Caroline Malveux’s offer of working with them, hoping that things are… okay with her. She doesn’t know how to feel about Caroline. Father Malveaux is a good man, her judge uncle or something was a horrible prick, and Vera Malveux? Maybe her face got like that for punching down. But Caroline, she hopes is okay.

The bridge doesn’t leave Amelie much cover, but she finds herself without a fence between her and the river, at least after Mardi Gras World. She walks through the parking lot of the Post of New Orleans building and to the water, looking if there are any small boats left moored. For maintenance, she would think.

GM: None are apparent tonight.

Amelie: There doesn’t seem to be much choice. She’s not dumb enough to try swimming in the river. All rivers are killers. The bridge doesn’t leave her with much cover, but her blessing is the nature of the bridge. Traffic travels in both directions, but on ‘different bridges’, while a fence and a large gap lead down into the water between them. She picks the one the cars will come at her back in, and starts her walk of shame across. Barefoot, aching, humiliated with her naked body just under the dried blood of this lab coat. She wonders if it might be a better idea to simply swim across.

GM: Amelie’s bare feet are worn and dirty after so much walking, but don’t feel as sore as perhaps they ought as she treads along the concrete. Her white coat stands out against the headlights of so many passing vehicles. The now-dried bloodstains stand out even more.

Car after car after car passes. Amelie hears the occasional honk.

She’s perhaps halfway over the bridge when a white vehicle with the words ‘Louisiana State Police’ emblazoned on its side in red letters appears in her peripheral vision.

Amelie: Amelie keeps her pace when the cop car, wiping her mouth a bit and keeping her pace. Five minutes in and five minutes to go, she knows she can clear the bridge in under a minute if she runs, but she can’t outrun a car.

She just hopes they move on and ignore her. No more deaths need to happen today.

GM: The car’s sirens start wailing.

Amelie: Amelie pauses, looks over her shoulder at the car, and stops moving.

GM: The car pulls to a horizontal stop, blocking the maximum amount of traffic. Two men get out. They look like the Mounties from Amelie’s home, down to the same style of hat, except their uniforms are navy blue. One officer stays close to where he is and makes stopping motions towards traffic as angry honks go up from approaching cars. The second officer approaches Amelie.

He looks over the bloodstained lab coat covering her naked body.

“Pedestrians aren’t allowed on this bridge, sir. Why don’t we give you a lift the rest of the way?” he asks in a tone that doesn’t sound like it’s asking.

Amelie: “There was a shoulder here, I apologize. I’m just trying to get to Algiers. I’ve… had a very bad day,” Amelie tries to explain. “I don’t want blood all over your car. If I promise to jog, can you just… let me cross? Just this once?”

She makes no movements to get away from the officer.

GM: “Please follow me to the patrol vehicle, sir,” states the trooper.

Amelie: Amelie bites her tongue for a moment and tries stay calm. The cop isn’t making her angry, but he is making her worried. She needs to be careful with herself.

“It’s ‘miss.’ Am I being detained, officer?”

GM: “You are being detained, miss,” the cop answers.

An increasing number of angry honks are going up from the choked-off traffic.

Amelie: “I need your badge number and name for my lawyer, then. Unless you’re willing to do things the easy way, just for five minutes until I vanish into the ghetto other side of this bridge.”

She still has that cash in her pocket.

GM: “You can have those once you’re in the car, miss. Let’s stop holding up traffic,” the cop states.

Amelie: Amelie feels like her heart should be pounding in her chest, just like every other moment she sizes someone up for a fight. Her eyes lock onto the trooper’s as though a duel is about to start, like she’s already going to fight for her life so soon after freeing herself.

But it feels different now. Still. Painfully still, like all she ever has to focus on is her target. No more counting breaths, no more being careful about blinking. Everything falls away as her eyes dig into the trooper with a clarity she’s never felt before. She sees only him, everything black past his profile as she feels the strangeness of her new body take her over. Amelie digs for answers in his eyes like every fencer she ever has, and finds more.

GM: It’s not a fencer’s hunch. It’s something deeper, a glimpse of sinew instead of skin. Answers bleed into her head as suddenly, easily, and naturally as blood leaking from a struck opponent’s flank.

Blood coats Amelie from head to toe. It slides off her head, hands, everywhere, in great rippling sheaths. The man’s eyes linger upon a discarded, red-crusted lab coat. He is yet ignorant of her other crimes.

Amelie: Amelie’s hand comes up to her head as the visions overtake her, flashes that tell her more than she should know. It’s this body again, that of a monster, now her mind goes with it. Just like Emmett, whispering things into her skull. But her shaking hands dig into her breast pocket, taking out the wad of bills from the mortician.

“Money. I have money. You can have all of it, just for five minutes of me getting off this bridge. This is New Orleans, take the easy way, yeah? No precinct paperwork, just a wretch wandering away from the French Quarter.”

GM: The trooper guffaws, pulls some zip cuffs off his belt, and grabs at Amelie’s hands.

“You’re under arrest.”

Amelie: Amelie pulls away and quickly backs up towards the edge of the bridge.

“I’ll jump! Get back, or I’ll just jump! All you had to do was let me go, I was going AWAY from from the French Quarter!”

GM: The trooper curses as Amelie darts away from his grasp. “All right, bitch, we did this the easy way! Hey, Bill!”

The other state trooper looks over, sees what’s going on, and comes at Amelie from her flank.

Amelie: Amelie feels like silk, just as fast as she once was, stepping just where she needs to without touching either of the troopers. While they fumble her like the Saints fumble footballs, Amelie braces and… lets go.

She got a good look at the underside as she walked: the X-pattern construction. She swings her legs as she falls and grips the steel support beams as hard as she can, trying to get quietly into the bridge’s undercarriage.

GM: There’s a stomach-flipping sensation of vertigo as Amelie plummets off the side of the bridge. It feels like a hundred years passes between the split second that happens and the moment Amelie seizes the steel supports. All of her senses feel as if they have been honed to a knife’s edge—one that could just as easily slip and cut her.

The contours of the bridge"s x-shaped supports are visible to her as plainly as day, down to individual nicks and scuffs. She can hear the roar of the Mississippi so many hundreds of feet below. Falling into its muddy, midnight-black waters would be like striking cement from this height. She can smell the industrial-strength, chemically-saturated polluted run-off that makes the river a triply foolish destination in which to swim.

She also hears noises and exclamations from the state troopers and perhaps other witnesses above. Voices rapidly fire numbered codes and “overs” into what can only be police radios.

The journey across the bridge’s underside is grueling. Amelie doesn’t once feel sore or tired, but her stick-like limbs appear woefully insufficient for the task before them. At any moment, it seems as if she could fall and plunge into the fast-moving, concrete-hard waters below.

It feels like a lot longer than five minutes have passed by the time she draws close to the other side—and can make out the glow of flashing red and blue sirens from overhead.

Amelie: Amelie wonders if the sudden vertigo signals the real and true end to her life, if her hands and arms are going to fail her and she’s going to plummet to the river below. She knows all about the Mississippi, which is a hundred times more dangerous than the St. Laurent. If she somehow survives the fall, she won’t survive being swept out to sea.

But she doesn’t fall. She feels the familiar slide of iron against her hands, and grips with all her being, pulling herself up all in the same motion to bring herself in between the cement of the bridge and the beam structure holding it up. Amelie crawls like a worm through her natural element, her thin pathetic arms threatening her every second, but never making good on the threat. There is no tiredness, no shaking, no lactic acid telling her body how long her body can go on. The worm feels like she wants to throw up, denied the familiar feeling she knows in her mind should be present. But that too is denied as a possibility. It’s monstrous.

Amelie still doesn’t stop. She can’t afford to give them more time to organize if they know where she is. She keeps climbing until she’s over land, and keeps going. Peeking quietly ahead, past the first cement pillar on the shore, she spots a shift in the structure, almost a platform she can walk to keep going. She heads towards that, hoping to find a safe place to drop down.

GM: Amelie can distantly make out several cop cars parked close to the water. Tiny ant-sized dots of light crawl across the bank like bugs. A blue and white police boat cruises the Mississippi, searchlight sweeping the dark current.

Amelie: Amelie freezes for a moment, scoping out the scene. They think she’s fallen into the water, even a boat searching for her corpse as cops scrounge the bank. The monster they’re searching for feels a small moment of panic in her chest, before her plan forms. She continues climbing, planning to go right over their heads and past the search for her corpse. She knows with them looking at the water, she only needs to get away from the shore and climb down a ways away from them, and she’s home free in Algiers point. She keeps moving, eyes darting from the beams to the flashlights, trying to keep anything from drawing their attention.

GM: The police are clearly not searching the underside of the bridge. At least not yet.

That fact appears Amelie’s saving grace as she descends the stairwell connecting it to the ground and climbs over the surrounding fence.

Amelie: Amelie jumps from the stairwell over the barbed wire, squeezing her hands in each other. She knows even in her peak, that climb would be grueling, horrible, and have made her cry in effort and frustration at how pain might slow her down. But here she stands, staring at her own body, just imagining how it might now be capable of a whole day of uninterrupted work in the forge. She feels a sharp spike of disgust at the fantasy and turns quickly north.

Within her sight after just a block and a half is a sign. All Saints Church. Amelie heads towards it right away. Maybe there’s a clothing donation box if she pushes on the doors and they open this late.

GM: The church’s doors do not budge when Amelie pulls them. No one from within answers any calls. No lights are visible. The days when a church’s doors were always open for poor sinners to seek refuge appear well and truly over.

As Amelie considers this fact, a distant gunshot pierces the night.

Amelie: Amelie feels saddened by that fact. She wishes she could get inside at least to rest. But the gunshot draws all attention away. She knows Algiers is violence-ridden, but it’s one of the reasons she came here. She starts off in the direction of the gunshot, looking for a more active area. Streetwalkers, gangbangers, someone who’ll take her wad of cash and give her something to cover this awful yet wonderful new body.

GM: Amelie wanders the night.

Most of the homes by the Crescent City Connection appear middle to lower middle class. New enough. Maintained enough. As Amelie’s path takes her away from the soaring overhead bridge, she encounters increasing signs of vandalism and urban neglect. Boards over broken windows. Graffiti ranging from gang tags to crudely-etched genitalia. Trash littering the streets.

She passes a street sign labeled Whitney Street. Perhaps it’s named for Sarah’s family. Perhaps it’s just a coincidence.

One of the areas closer to the Crescent Connection looks nicer, though it’s hard to make out much past the six-foot wall that cordons it off from the rest of the neighborhood. There’s a sign that labels it Algiers Point. Armed and uniformed men patrol the boundaries.

Amelie skulks away. Another ghost in a shadowland of forsaken souls.

Amelie: Amelie worries less and less about the police as she puts distance between her and the shore, more and more preoccupied with concerns about the time she’s spending wandering. She doesn’t know what she is or what she needs. Her body feels like a weapon with blades in every direction, but what chips her? The sun? Garlic? Crosses? Stakes through the heart feel as though they’d be bad news no matter what she is.

But at least the view is getting rougher. Amelie knows she can likely get what she needs here. She can hide in the floorboards of shitty houses if she has a claw hammer. Train tracks that haven’t been used for decades and that wall with all the armed assholes could be useful too.

The most vile thing here is Whitney Street. She remembers Warren Whitney’s little secret and wonders how she might be able to use it against him now that she’s dead to them.

GM: The night stretches. Then she hears it. Pounding, violent lyrics in Spanish.

“Su cartel ya lo conocen
le llaman La Vecindad
Los contrarios por envidia
lo han querido asesinar
pero el ‘8’ no está solo
su gente sabe trozar”

("His cartel is well-known
it’s called La Vecindad
His jealous enemies
want to take him out
but “8” isn’t alone
his people are killers, too")

The noise comes from the open windows of a black ’85 Buick. Steadily rolling towards her.

Amelie: All her thoughts get put on hold when she sees the Buick, slowing her pace and giving the car a casually nod as she steps closer to the sidewalk. She hopes they’ll stop to talk with her, maybe she can use some of this cash to get a t-shirt or a lead on a place she can steal some clothes.

GM: The car opens.

The man holding it is a 20-something Latino with a shaved head and dead expression. He wears a wifebeater with dark stains that shows off his bulging biceps, ripped chest, and full-sleeve tattoos of a skull-faced woman with chains for her hair. A gold cross glints from around his neck. The knuckles gripping his firearm are thick and scarred.

Amelie can hear the blood pounding and pulsing through his veins, too. It’s thick and powerful and aggressive—more than either of those state troopers’ was, or anyone else’s she’s seen since starting this grim new existence, except maybe that coroner whose impossible screams were so raw and hoarse after she ripped out his throat. The blood from the car doesn’t smell as fresh, but there is so very much of it. Amelie can already feel two sharp points pressing against her lower set of teeth.

The car’s rear door opens. Another man gets out. He’s a stocky figure with closely-shorn hair, dark glasses, another wifebeater, and a gold dollar sign on a necklace. He’s also pointing a gun towards Amelie’s head as he holds the Buick’s door open. There’s two further figures inside, one in the front and back sections of the vehicle.

The smell of blood is cloyingly, overpoweringly strong from the back. It’s not completely fresh, she can tell that at a whiff. It still tantalizes her senses like a day-old all-you-can-eat buffet would would tease a starving woman—or tender hands caressing her loins after days of stress and tension. It’s been so very, very long since she last ate. It’s been even longer since she got off. Smelling that tantalizing aroma, it’s like she could do both at once.

The gun-hefting man in the front seat says only two words.

“Get in.”

Amelie: Amelie feels all the words she prepared in Spanish fall away from that smell. She feels like the car itself has come to feed her, rescue her from the tiny gnawing that’s been starting to scratch at the back of her head. The gun barely phases her in the state she’s in, looking the man of men pull up. She hates to admit it, but the satin wrap of that perfect blend of smells and the sight of a man with arms that big make her swoon to touch him. Grab him by the wrist and take him. He’s not even her type.

The points do little to dissuade her, her eyes still locked on the killer in the car’s while her hand gently probes against these new additions to her anatomy. They ache for him, too. Curiosity even in arousal, hunger, need, whatever this feeling is, it seems. But his words start a strange part of the girl that she’s rarely felt since fumbling around in high school, flirting. She wants to… eat, this person. She knows it. He looks so dangerous, it’s fine to let him lead for now, and then get him off guard later, right? Just a bit. She’ll only take a little.

“Lo que digas guapo. Tú tienes el arma.”

(“Whatever you say, handsome. You have the gun.”)

Amelie looks the stockier man over and worries for him a moment, as well, hoping he doesn’t box her in with that disgusting gun pointed in her face.

She finally gets into the car, looking for the source of that smell, like a possum into a trap. With plans to spring from it and get into the larder later.

GM: Amelie hears an ominous click from the gun as the man standing outside the car shoves it directly against her temple.

“Keep that shit to yourself, maricón!” he shouts disgustedly.

Amelie: Amelie pauses as he shoves it up against her head. She knows he’s in danger, and she goes through the motion of a small calming breath before she speaks.

“Jodido como soy, sigo siendo una mujer. Enfríalo.”

(“Fucked up ugly as I look, I’m still a woman. Cool it.”)

She pulls away from the gun, sliding into the back seat to take a look at her interrupted look-see for the scent of blood.

GM: The man seizes Amelie by the throat as she tries to move away, smashing the back of her skull against the car’s door.

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t resist. She feels her head hit the car door and grits her teeth, feeling her new fangs pressing hard against her gums. She doesn’t look at him and strains her eyes to look into the car instead. Not because she feels she must act cowed to the gangbanger. Amelie feels something else, something that confuses and scares her. It’s not the bottled up animosity that turned on Big Dawg. She cannot place it, and as she swallows it down she doesn’t feel it go away. Not completely. She stays quiet and waits for the cholo to shove her into the car or let her go.

GM: Amelie feels rough hands pulling open the rim of her lab coat. The gun’s cold tip brushes against her loins.

“You one of those maricóns who cut off your dick?” the tanned-skinned man leers in English, staring at Amelie’s snatch. “Because that thing don’t look like a pussy to me, maricón. You couldn’t pay me to stick my dick in that slimehole. Probably spiders in there. Where are your tits? Huh?”

He pulls off Amelie’s bloody coat and throws it on the ground. His gun traces her bruised, emaciated chest and withered breasts. Rain steadily falls and patters.

“Where? Where are your tits?” he asks exaggeratedly, to the now-accompanying laughter of his fellows.

Amelie: Amelie looks down at her body as the soaked coat falls away. She misses it. She misses the thickness of her shoulders and the power in her arms. She misses the tone and coil forged from years of tears and bleeding calluses.

But here is this man now, mocking a skeleton, a body more at home decades ago, a gaunt Jew-like victim staring at a cackling Aryan cunt she wishes would just die. But Amelie knows she doesn’t have to wish. She remembers the security guard’s broken neck, she remembers her own quench, the visions that came to her while screaming and burning coming back to remind her. She is forged in horror just like this.

The tiny Holocaust look-alike stares the man right in the eye, and feels a will allow itself to be pushed out like a weapon. To subjugate the lesser man. She takes all humiliations she has suffered and shows them that feeling, and shows them it’s their turn.

Amelie stands up straight, shoulders back, turning ever so slightly to the side with her left foot front. It’s a pose she knows well, practiced to tears, a dignified squaring up of two paper tigers circling each other. But she’s the weapon now, her face twisting into a half-feral snarl, showing the man her teeth, and two long sharp fangs more than capable of ripping his throat out. She’s seen it. And she lets him hear it, an inhuman throaty growl more suited to a creature than a woman. Amelie is both. She pushes out in a few certain words as her eyes bore holes in the cholo asshole’s glazed oafish orbs, hissed and jabbered more than spoken. This tiny little holocaust woman’s will, honed to a keen edge, lashes out at the man.

“Show some respect.”

GM: The man half-flinches, half-staggers back several steps from Amelie like he’s been stabbed, his face suddenly white as a sheet. “Que m-m-mie-?!” he starts, in what’s becoming a satisfyingly familiar response from toughs who think to push her around. (“What the f-f-fu?!”)

Yet so too is the follow-up becoming increasingly familiar to Amelie. The car’s doors fly open as the other two men burst out, violence in their eyes.

Amelie: Amelie feels her steps following him as he backs up, but she realizes he mistake a moment later. She sees she forgot about the two other men in her bid to make the third in front of her cow to her. That strong handsome cholo now stepping from the car to gun her down. Familiar and satisfying as it is to see the man bend to her, she feels the fool for forgetting what comes next. She remembers dying the last time this has happened, and sees a second death coming for her.

Fear. Oh sweet fear.

She feels her body turn to silk once again, a sharp duck down too fast for her to realize how unnatural it looks, like a grotesque spider with missing limbs. She grabs the bloody lab coat and kicks off the Buick, a kickstart at a sprint line, she takes off. It’s different this time though. Faster. So much faster, even than her trip up the stairs of her death-place. She takes off into and through a yard, into the back, all in the same blink of an eye. She holds the coat, listening intently for her armed pursuit incoming.

GM: Amelie makes out swears and exclamations in Spanish just under the sound of a moving car. The music has been killed.

The night is otherwise quiet and still.

The two sharp points jutting against her lower set of teeth have not gone away.

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t count herself out of danger yet. She makes her way to the back of the yard and lets herself out through whatever gate is presented to her, hopping the fence if need be, and starting off into a jog east-ways. She knows it’s time to stop fucking around, starting to look for businesses nearby or people out walking this late. Maybe she can find a drug dealer that’ll point her to a thrift store she can burgle.

GM: Amelie wanders darkened streets and once-forbidden paths. Sometimes she makes out faint noises at the edge of her hearing, or sees a shadow flicker in her peripheral vision. Nothing is there when she turns her head.

Eventually, a steady rain starts to fall. The low patter-patter-patter of water against pavement is her sole companion as hair plasters against her head. Her red-crusted lab coat is drenched. Perhaps soon, or perhaps eventually. The night feels timeless. She doesn’t feel cold, even when rain drops spatter over her bare and now-grimy feet, which have walked more miles tonight than she can count.

Bereft of such basic sensations as cold and exhaustion, this entire experience feels almost unreal. Like it’s happening to some stranger in a morbid video she can’t look away from or turn off. Some strange part of her actually feels hope at the sounds of gunshots, wailing police sirens, and the splash of rainwater under cars’ turning wheels, even if those same sounds send her fleeing away into the shadows. The individuals responsible for them will make poor victims.

The night stretches out before her. Long, dark, and wet.

Perhaps prison, and the streets, aren’t really so different from McGehee. People spit on her no matter what she does, and make her suffer worse if she complains. Perhaps it’s her fate to be a ghost. Forever outcast. Forever outside. Forever alone.

Alone, but for the dull hunger burning in her gullet.

Amelie: Amelie keeps walking. Moving. It’s all she’s ever done and it’s all she’s ever been good at: moving on when people slap her in the back of the head and laugh when she yowls in pain. But this place keeps her jumping at every shadow. She finds more concern for those dark shadows than the thugs in the car. She shrinks back from every shadow that doesn’t meet her eyes and every sound that isn’t recognizable.

The rain feels like a blessing at first when it covers the sounds and makes static to hide the shapes. What she doesn’t know can’t hurt her. Amelie washes her face and skin, slicking her thick black hair back, even stopping a time or two to try wringing the coat out. Look presentable. Look meek. Look lovable.

Her comfort in the rain doesn’t last long. It creeps in, the strange and alien feeling of complete zero. Perfect room temperature, skin and air blurring together. She almost misses the goosebumps and uncomfortable warmth on her cheeks and forehead. But small sounds are her comfort. She follows the sounds of gunshots, pauses to listen to passing police siren, and eventually just starts wandering residential areas. She looks into cars and trying to find any traces of clothing, or if anyone has been unlucky enough to leave a cellphone on their seats.

Even as she searches, she is alone wondering if this dull burning is the kind that goes away. Or if God has abandoned her to a Buddhist punishment, and she is a “hungry ghost.” An ancient creature born of great need, cursed to an unending life of seeking food, only to never be able to truly eat enough to sate the hunger of a bloated stomach of famine.

Amelie knows very few houses have garages, peeking up fences and hoping the rain covers both the sight of her, and the sound if she finds what she is looking for. Either a damned 24 hour 7-11 or a car with something good in it.

GM: The rain falls and plunks as Amelie walks.

So many houses look vacant and decaying, bereft of signs of human touch or habitation. Pickings look slim.

Amelie steps over another discarded needle amidst so much other trash. A feverish moan drifts from one of the nearby houses’ boarded-up, graffiti-tagged windows.

She wanders until she sees neon.

Amelie: Amelie starts to wonder who lives in this part of town, or if anyone does at all. All these buildings can’t be empty, can they?

The monster’s thoughts get pushed even further away when she sees the needle and hears the moan. This is a ghost town. All that dark nothing crossing the freeway, that’s here. It hurts to see this side of New Orleans.

GM: It’s then, as she stands in the vacant Circle-K convenience store and gas station lot, that the detail occurs to Amelie.

She hasn’t seen any cars, anywhere, since crossing the Mississippi.

Except for the Buick.

Amelie: Amelie seeing the neon lights of the gas station make her quicken her pace, but the realization stops her in her tracks.

It worries her that the only car she has seen has been one that tried to pull her in.

But she hurries forward to the gas station, taking the cash out her breast pocket to count it, and see how much she has to bribe her way to a phone, or a spare uniform.

GM: Amelie counts $84. A dollar less than she stole off the coroner.

Amelie: It’s a good amount of money, at least after the conversion rate. Amelie steps towards the gas station and tries the doors.

GM: They soundlessly slide open.

The surroundings are banal. They brim with lime-flavored Matador Beef Jerky, Cheetos, Pringles, Cocoa-Cola, Dr. Pepper, and other packaged and bottled brand names. There’s a small selection of dairy and meat products that come in plastic cups and boxes instead of bags.

The red-shirted clerk stares blankly ahead from behind the counter. She rests a single clenched fist on its surface.

Her other hand rests unseen beneath.

Amelie: Amelie takes a quick look around, seeing the desk. She keeps one hand on her chest, to keep the lab coat drawn, and the other up to her side to show she means the cashier no harm, showing the money in the same hand.

“I look like hell, sorry about that,” she starts as she approaches. “You probably don’t sell clothes… but you wouldn’t happen to have any extra uniforms in the back?”

Amelie shows the woman three slightly damp $20 bills.

“In and out, just can’t use the ferry looking like this in the morning. Got plenty of money here for your trouble.”

GM: The woman looks at Amelie and the three twenties with empty eyes, then smiles. She raises the knife she’s holding behind her back and slashes her own throat. Red sprays and leaks gruesomely. Her fist doesn’t unclench until she crashes to the floor, gurgling with laughter, leaving a single blood-flecked dollar bill on the counter.

She does not once cry out.

Amelie: Amelie jerks her hands back, not looking for another cats-eye scar in her other hand. Her hands clamp over her mouth in abject horror watching this woman… eviscerate herself! Dozens of panicked thoughts race through her mind all at once.

Did she do this? Drive this poor woman insane? No, that doesn’t explain the bill. She doesn’t know how it came out of her pocket, assuming it dropped during the scuffle earlier. So then why has this woman come into possession of it!? Why is she laughing!?

Amelie can only see one vague answer: whether this is real or if she has gone insane on top of being turned into a monster.


She hurries to the counter, quickly looking over the counter for the woman, to jump over and stop the bleeding if she can.

Her hands smear into the blood on the counter, and all her senses rubber band to the present. Slick, warm, and cooling so terribly fast, a new panic rises up in her for a moment. Like another deli wrapper has hit the ground and she needs to rush to—Amelie’s conscious catches up with her sheer thirst this time, her tongue already nearly against her chin, her hand drooling the liquid ambrosia. She is disgusting.

Amelie slams her fist into the counter, grabbing a display on the counter and sending it flying. Angry at herself for even pausing as she hoists herself up onto the counter, to see if the woman can be saved.

GM: The woman’s neck has no pulse. She smiles up at the ceiling with empty eyes.

An increasingly large red pool is spreading across the floor. It smells like ambrosia.

Amelie: It smells like ambrosia. She’s been too long without any kind of real comfort, too many things turn off searching for it. She slides off the counter into the pool, feeling it coat her as she kneels in it, her face soon joining them as she slides her tongue through the cooling lifeblood.

The dignity of just using her tongue goes out the moment the smell of copper hits the intersection of her olfactory senses. She dives into it, slurping and scooping. Her mouth devolving into a blood spattered dustpan of what used to be a human life. But she needs it too much to pull herself away.

GM: The woman’s blood is savory, warm, and filling, like chicken soup that’s been sitting out just long enough not to scald Amelie’s tongue. Everything is bright and well-lit. And warm. It’s almost comforting against the cold, dark, rainy night outside.

The spreading pool of blood has by now seeped against Amelie’s knees.

Amelie: It’s more than that. It’s her mother’s post-thanksgiving soup. That big dumb pot she used her husband’s forge to simmer, turkey bones, meat, carrots, celery, always too much onion. It has its own taste, but the feeling that fills her when she swallows it down does nothing but evoke the kind of bliss only a memory so tender can. And perverts it while it’s at it.

She drinks what feels like, but she wonders is her fill, and looks down at the pool. Her hands. The woman’s face down in the floor. She still doesn’t even know if this is real. She feels her heart slowly start to rip in half as she stares into the dead meat’s eyes. Two deaths in a single night she’s had to watch. She only prays that one of them isn’t truly real, or at least that she isn’t directly responsible.

Amelie quickly brings herself up on her knees and looks around for the controls to lock the front doors, she’s yet to see a gas station without them.

GM: Amelie locates the control system easily enough.

It’s as she’s walking over to punch the keypad that she also spots the same Hispanic men from earlier, and several others, striding up to the gas station’s front doors.

Amelie: Amelie feels a surge of fear and panic, trapped behind this counter with a bunch of the fucking cholos coming down onto the door. It pushes her just fast enough to surge forward and click the keypad by the register, the door’s magnetic locks soundlessly charged with electricity, locking the doors and barring their entry. She keeps her head down under the desk and prays, hands clasped together.

But she feels strange again, something different from the sudden bursts of speed, the same thing as with the police. Amelie feels as though she’s going crazy, before she finds that same unnatural focus extending from herself and towards the gang-bangers who have become her predators.

GM: Drawn guns trained at her flash through Amelie’s mind’s eye.

Amelie: Amelie sees their guns too clearly, even if she’s just insane. It’s the snapping twig she needs to make a break for it. She runs with all her might, clawing at the cabinets and corners to launch herself through a set of doors into the employee area, quickly checking if the door has a bolt before moving onto the next door, looking for the maintenance ladder up onto the roof, or a back door.

GM: Amelie tugs the door to the employees-only area.

It’s stuck.

Something smells from behind it.

Something rotten.

Then, there’s the explosive roar of gunshots. Shattering glass. Flying debris.

“We know you’re in there, maricón!” shouts a man’s voice over the tromp of heavy footsteps and crunching glass.

“Where are your tits!” laughs another advancing voice.

Amelie: Amelie’s nose picks up the stench the moment the door moves, pulling on it hard. It’s sweet rot, a flash of the demon going through her mind. She feels a horrible danger from both sides, the door and the front of the store.

But one’s louder.

The gangbangers shoot the glass in like a fucking SWAT raid, and she can hear them cackling and approaching like a pack of hyenas.

She wonder if she has a handle on it yet, the phenomenon at the bridge. She’s done it a few times now! She grits her teeth and feels the focus pump from her chest down into her arms, and PULLS, feeling the jammed door fly open with her. But the danger makes her think twice about running in. She opens the door and follows it, instead of in, she goes behind the door, the tiny form hidden in the shadow behind the open thing. She hopes two dangers cancel each other out.

GM: Amelie heaves with her stick-like limbs, and for just a moment, she feels as strong as her old self again.

The door bursts open with a crack.

The stench doesn’t waft out.

It pours out.

Wet. Acrid. Rotten. So, so rotten. Like a waterlogged corpse fished from the Mississippi after days treading polluted muddy water. Something that scalds nostrils like bleach scalds fingers. Something that hurts frail human senses for daring to overextend themselves.


The sound of men voiding their stomachs and strangled cries of, “SANTA MIERDA-!” fill Amelie’s ears—and then the explosive roar of gunfire in close quarters, and the faint ‘tink’ of ammunition casings hitting floor.

There’s several resounding crashes, exploding shrapnel, and a scream—hideously contorted, barely human—wet splatters, more crashes, shouts, gunfire—

“Muere maldito! ¡MUERE MUERE MUERE! ¡¡¡¡MORIR!!!!

Something feels like it’s ripping Amelie apart from the inside, roaring in her ears to run

And she runs.

Screams. Gunfire. Noise. Pain.

The red haze is gone as abruptly as it descended. Amelie is crouched behind a decaying and boarded-up house. Her back hurts. She can feel the night air and pattering rain drops against her skin where she couldn’t before.

In the distance, past the steadily falling rain, she can make out furious and indistinct voices in Spanish.

Amelie: Amelie feels a sudden burst of clarity back into the real world like being dumped into a bath of ice-water. She immediately pops her head up and scans around the back of the house, towards the street. She tries to get her bearings: Where the cholos are. Where the gas station is. Why she feels the air where she hasn’t been before.

She feels like a rat scurrying around and trying its best to survive while a gaggle of cats try to skin and eat her alive. Everything is top priority, too much and too important. She feels…wired.

Her mind races with agony and ideas on how she’s going to get out of here, and she realizes it immediately. She wants their fucking car. She can use it to cruise back over the bridge and get to another neighborhood. She can lick her wounds when the cholos can’t find her.

Amelie relives it all over again. Being stuck in this city in the dark, things giving chase, getting lost, all in this ridiculous fucking coat and coated in blood. She decides it’s enough, that’s she’s taking that fucking car and getting the fuck out of here.

Grabbing the side of the decrepit house she launches herself arms and legs around the corner, keeping low to the ground as she can as she makes a mad sprint for their car, ready to hop in while they bark and yell and drive away with their ride.

GM: The rain and the night seem to work in Amelie’s favor as she silently creeps towards the parked vehicle. She can see the gangsters’ outlines past the windows. Several are waving their guns and all but screaming at one another. A few are shaking and look unsteady on their feet.

Amelie tugs on the still-running car’s door.

It’s locked.

Amelie: Amelie carefully looks up and into the car, checking through the window for the keys and if the drivers door is locked.

GM: The driver’s door is unlocked. Meanwhile, the shouting among the gangsters subsides as two take off back towards the gas station.

The remaining ones start walking towards the car.

They freeze.


“¡No jodas mi paseo!”

More cursing sounds. Gunfire explodes through rainy night air as the gangsters run around the car from both sides and pump lead into Amelie.

By some insane stroke of providence, the first man’s gun clicks uselessly in his hands as he pulls the trigger. The second gunshot misses Amelie completely, but elicits a howl of pain and aromatic release of blood from the man it discharges into. He staggers beneath the shot, sending the punch he throws at Amelie into the car’s metal flank. His raw, bellowed screams sound like a demon’s.

Amelie: Amelie watches the scene unfold, too late to back away or run before the the thugs come around the side of the car. She feels it in almost slow motion, that this is the moment her fortune has finally hit the ground. That is, before it suddenly soars. One gun jammed, another firing into the driver from before, but not enough to stop a heavy thudding slam into the side of the car. She feels as though she’s stood still while a house fell around her, leaving her in the only place not savaged by the collapse.

She has a chance, now. She needs to fight back! She turns to the cholo who just shot his own driver, rears up, and lets out a feral roaring hiss in his face. Mouth open wide, face stained red, her new fangs on prominent display and still drooling leftovers from her blood soaked mouth. She tries it again. She wants to bend him to her will. Break him, order him!

“You shot him! You will die for it if I don’t kill you first!! Escape!!!”

GM: The haggard-faced and wild-eyed man looks like he’s been through hell. Like he’s still in hell. At Amelie’s bared fangs and howled threat, his face blanches—and then hardens into steel, hot and furious.


His gun discharges into Amelie’s roaring face at near point-blank range.

The shot takes her right in the throat, sending her staggering back as blood sprays through the falling rain. Getting shot doesn’t hurt as badly as she thought it might, though. It feels more like a solid punch.

Swords are better might be Amelie’s last conscious thought as one of the gangsters screams, “Te tengo jefe!” and maneuvers behind her.

Then the red haze descends.

Darkness follows.

Previous, by Narrative: Story Eleven, Caroline III
Next, by Narrative: Story Eleven, Celia III

Previous, by Character: Story Nine, Amelie Epilogue
Next, by Character: Story Eleven, Amelie II, Caroline VII

Story Eleven, Caroline III

“How might we assist one who has brought us such yuletide joy?”
Abélia Devillers

Thursday evening, 24 December 2015

GM: The Walter Grinnan Robinson House is one of the most beautiful homes in New Orleans. Located at 1415 Third Street in the exclusive Garden District, the palatial Antebellum mansion incorporates a sophisticated blend of Greek Revival and Italianate styles with a Neoclassical cast iron fence adorned in delicate shell motifs. It feels like a throwback to an earlier age of opulence. It’s far from the only multimillion house in the historic neighborhood to feel that way.

Viewed from the street, the house presents an impressive sight. It’s far back on the lot, sideways to the street, with a Palladian carriage house and iron gates. The impressive scale of the house results from its two nearly 16-foot stories of equal height. Double galleries with curved ends, an essential feature of Garden District homes, adorn the façade. These feature Doric columns on the first floor and Corinthian on the second. Cast iron panels in a somewhat heavier than normal pattern link the columns and blend well with the feeling of solidity which the building gives. The southern exposure has double galleries framed in ironwork of a lacy design, which effectively lightens and gives delicacy to the whole of the building.

The snow-white mansion is also one of the largest properties in the city, covering close to 14,000 square feet if one also includes the 1,500 square foot carriage house that likely served as servant quarters when the house was first built.

The spectacular grounds have a beautiful pool. Outdoor features include multiple balconies/porches, a Neoclassical fountain, and formal gardens with weeping willows, palm trees, and vibrant flowerbeds of roses, violets, magnolias, and other sweet-smelling blossoms. Neatly-trimmed green hedges and a wrought-iron fence make the home’s privacy tastefully but abundantly clear. Access in is controlled through an intercom by the gate.

Abélia has even decorated the place up for Christmas. Wreaths hang by the windows and garlands from the balconies.

Caroline also recognizes Jeremy May and Daniel Hayes among the guards stationed outside. They wave the Ventrue and her date on through.

“Oh, geez, this place is beautiful!” Jocelyn gushes as they make their way up the house’s front steps. Caroline can already see the rapture threatening to overtake her Toreador lover’s eyes. “They’ll just have to let me take pictures.”

Caroline knocks on the door. It swings open barely a second later. Yvette, Yvonne, and Simmone all exclaim “Merry Christmas!” and “Joyeux Noël!” and seemingly all want to hug Caroline at once. Simmone asks if Caroline will carry her. They’re almost as thrilled to meet Jocelyn, who seems a little taken aback by the enthusiasm but responds in kind.

“And you are the Jocelyn we’ve heard so much about,” Abélia declares with a wide smile. Caroline could have sworn she wasn’t there a moment ago. Her arms spread wide to embrace the Toreador.

“Uh, yeah, the one and only, Mrs. Devillers,” Jocelyn answers as she returns the hug. “Good things, I hope.”

Abélia smile’s only widens, as if Jocelyn just said something terribly witty.

“Oh, yes. The two of you have sacrificed so much to be together.”

“Yes, with ’er family-” adds Yvette.

“-saying you shouldn’t get to love ’oo you want!” Yvonne.

“Well, more her than me, honestly,” Jocelyn demurs. “She’s the one who’s had to deal with her family disowning her.”

“I’m certain your spirit is no less generous, my dear. You would sacrifice for her, wouldn’t you—give of your own blood and self so that she might prosper?” Abélia asks, her dark eyes resting upon the Toreador.

“Yeah, I… suppose I would,” Jocelyn answers, seemingly a little discomfited, but still seriously.

“Say, Caroline said you’re all from France? I thought kisses on the cheek were how you said hi, instead of hugs?” she asks, changing the topic.

“Oui, that’s normal there-” says Yvonne.

“-but people ’ere would get weirded out by it. Americans are so uptight,” Yvette declares, rolling her eyes.

“So we save fair la bise for each other.” Yvonne.

“When in Rome, one does as the Romans do,” smiles Abélia.

Caroline and Jocelyn take off their coats (the twins want to help them) before setting off into the house with their hostess. Jocelyn hangs by the back, then whispers to Caroline,

“Why’d I call her Mrs.? I thought you said she wasn’t married.”

The house’s interior is no less sumptuous than its exterior. The historic property is large enough to house all seven Devillers in comfort and privacy with seven bedrooms, eight bathrooms, a lavish ballroom, elevator, and foyer with an elaborate winding grand center staircase once featured in the Library of Congress. There are also adjacent servant quarters and a stable for houses separate from the 1,500-square-foot, two bedroom, two bathroom carriage house. The home’s elaborate features include moldings with 22 carat gold leaf, 37 window trim, fine plaster cornices and ceiling centerpieces, marble mantels, custom designed rugs, and 16 ft ceilings both upstairs and downstairs. All the palatial rooms are furnished with choice antiques, many the work of long-dead artisans who were America’s foremost cabinet makers in the 19th century.

The chimney piece of the living room is designed to contain a wooden eagle found at the mouth of the Mississippi after a hurricane. Carved from cypress, it is believed to be the sternboard of a pilot boat built in Charleston at the time of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Murals are painted on the ceilings of the living room, double parlor, and dining room, all painted in 1866 and executed with great delicacy after the manner of Robert Adam. The wallpaper in the dining room is the famous Züber 1834 “Scenic America."

Caroline: Caroline is shocked by the wealth on display. The Malveaux family is wealthy by any objective or subjective measure. Unimaginably wealthy by the standards of most people. But there’s something so impossibly elegant about the Devillers’ house. Something that almost laughs at other attempts to match it.

GM: Jocelyn seems even more smitten. The Rose Clan’s curse seems to overtake her lover entirely as she gushes nonstop about the house’s beauty and snaps pictures without even asking if that’s all right to do. Caroline catches Yvette rolling her eyes, but Abélia only laughs that she “knows well an artist’s passion” and grants her implicit permission without calling attention to it by telling the enraptured (and barely listening) Toreador that her family would love to see all those pictures once she’s done.

“This is a house of plenty, my dears—especially during the Yuletide season,” she smiles contently.

“We’re used to this,” Yvonne whispers if Caroline looks at all displeased by her ‘girlfriend.’ “Maman said you never lived in the Garden District, but everyone ’ere gets tons of tourists all stopping to snap pictures.”

She supposes that explains the hedges around Orson’s house. And they still take pictures of it.

“Dumb tourists,” Yvette sniffs disdainfully.

“Foreigners are this city’s lifeblood, my dears,” Abélia declares. “Many are the fortunes that would evaporate into smoke without their patronage. You may condescend them, but never misvalue them.”

“Ah won’t, Maman,” Yvette agrees quickly.

“Ah don’t like them,” Simmone declares glumly. “Can’t they just leave us alone.”

“You used to love talking to tourists,” Yvette remarks with a faint frown.

“Especially the ones form really far away,” says Yvonne, mirroring her sister’s look.

Abélia only hugs her youngest daughter to her breast and murmurs into her ear,

“Ne vous inquiétez pas, ma douce. Ils ne vous dérangeront jamais. Vous ne les regarderez jamais. Ta maman te protégera toujours.”

(“Worry not, my sweet. They shall never trouble you. You shall never lay eyes upon them. Your Maman shall protect you always.”)

Simmone wordlessly clings to her mother for several moments. Jocelyn, still snapping pictures, doesn’t seem to notice.

“Enough of such glum thoughts! Now is an evening for good cheer,” Abélia smiles. The family patiently wait for Jocelyn to finish snapping pictures before showing her fully into the living room, where there’s an enormous tree heaped high with presents of every shape and size. Shoes rest by the fireplace instead of stockings. The rest of the sisters are there, along with Luke. He smiles when he kisses Jocelyn’s hand, though Caroline notices it’s a little slower and doesn’t quite reach his eyes.

“You must be Jocelyn. It’s nice to meet you,” he says.

Jocelyn gives a little giggle at his old-fashioned manners. “Caroline’s brother, right? Yeah, she’s… I admit I was a little nervous.”

Luke doesn’t touch on why.

Caroline: Caroline does her best to also make Jocelyn comfortable. She does indeed note without surprise that they know of her artistic inclination. She’s also inclined to attend Vidal’s mass, as it’s one of the few occasions she has to see her sire. She asks Abélia when everyone is likely to go to bed.

GM: The younger girls go to bed at about 9 PM, the adults an hourish or two later. They’re staying overnight so they can have breakfast and unwrap presents together come the morning, so no one’s in any real hurry.

Caroline: Convenient. Caroline finds a moment to take her brother aside. She conversationally asks about his plans for Christmas.

GM: Luke says he’s spending Christmas Eve with Cécilia’s family and Christmas Day with his. Otherwise, he says there’s not a lot to talk about. He wanted to keep Caroline in the closet. Keep it a secret only the family would know.

The Devillers aren’t having any of that. Cécilia says they’re going to fight for her to have a place of honor at the wedding.

Caroline: “I know how fiercely Cécilia is also fighting for the wedding,” Caroline admits. She confides to Luke that while she’s deeply touched, she doesn’t want to be the cause of an implosion with either of them, or between him, them, and the family. “If it’s peace with me in the cold, or war, I’d prefer that peace.”

GM: “Peace is better than war,” Luke agrees mildly.

He’s pleasant enough towards Jocelyn over the course of the evening, but also nowhere nearly as warm as the Devillers, who actively seem as if they want to bring her into their lives. Caroline’s brother feels like he’s in an uncomfortable place between disapproving of her romantic choices and remembering all she’s done for his fiancée’s family.

Caroline: Caroline skirts the issue with Luke. She’s grateful that her brother doesn’t make an issue of it. She’s generally apologetic towards him for the headache created by her ‘outing’, though more for the headache caused than her actions themselves. It’s clear that she enjoys Jocelyn’s company throughout the night and is grateful for the way the Devillers have invited her in and been so warm.

GM: Luke skirts the topic of Jocelyn (or rather, seems to preempt talking with Jocelyn) to share how he and Cécilia have an engagement party date and venue decided. In more mixed news, Caroline is invited.

Adeline and Nolan are doing well. She hopes that the French Quarter Response Force will help spur police reform in the wake of the tragedy with her sisters.

Caroline knows all about the twins’ lives. There’s not much to talk about there. It’s their senior year of high school, so they’re essentially just waiting around until college starts. They’re going to Wellesley.

Noëlle’s doings aren’t really of much interest to Caroline since she’s in middle school, but she seems happier around just (mostly) her family than a dinner party with a bunch of adults.

Simmone seems to be doing better too after her outing with Caroline. She’s been able to manage several more in Cécilia’s company, all without Maman. The family is very grateful.

Caroline: Caroline tries to remember to engage with Noëlle specifically, given how left out she was last time. There are so many Devilers girls, though, and they all seem to want her attention as the ‘newer addition’ to the night’s obviously often practiced festivities. She expresses to Cécilia how very happy she is that Simmone is doing better.

GM: Noëlle seems glad for the change of pace to be so engaged. She plays the clarinet. Cécilia is very happy too that her youngest sister is starting to feel safe around her again, and grateful to Caroline for her role in that. She remarks, only half-jokingly, that it was the best pre-Christmas gift she could have asked for.

Caroline: Caroline invites that perhaps Noëlle could play something tonight. Perhaps a piece of Christmas music.

GM: Noëlle gives a lovely rendition of the same Bleak Midwinter that Caroline heard in the car during her ride with Abélia.

Caroline: The girl’s choice of song is enough to bring goosebumps to even the dead.

“I should bring over my violin to the next-together,” Caroline remarks. “We could put on a show,” she smiles at Noëlle. “I’ll have to brush off a great deal of dust though if I’m not just going to be embarrassed by you.”

GM: “Oh, well, Ah can sing too. Ah wouldn’t want to embarrass you,” Noëlle says.

“Good music embarrasses none and betters all, my dear,” Abélia proclaims. “I can attest, as well, that Caroline sings sublimely.

The other girls nod and give compliments as to the same effect. The story has clearly been passed on there.

Abélia smiles only that she “can’t wait” for the caroling they’ll all do together once dinner is finished. Everyone in their family sings or plays some kind of instrument.

She also remarks how pleased she is Caroline and Jocelyn could make it and join them for such happy holiday traditions as caroling, reading Christmas books, watching Miracle on 34th Street, and leaving cookies for Santa—Père Noël in the Devillers household.

“You’ve been very good this year, my dears,” Abélia purrs. “You both have some presents under the tree this year.” It’s hard not to feel the slightest bit like a child under her knowing smile and patient gaze.

Jocelyn doesn’t seem sure of how to respond except with an, “Oh, that’s so nice of you, Mrs. Devillers. I wasn’t expecting any presents.” She then adds, “I mean, on account of how last minute me coming over was.”

Laughter dances in Abélia’s eyes before she responds, “Please, my dear girl. Call me Abélia. Formality has its place, but that place is not among friends and family. Wouldn’t you agree?”

“Yes, Mrs-Abélia, I would. I mean, I do agree,” Jocelyn nods.

The raven-haired woman’s smile is radiant as she lays her hand on the Toreador’s. “I’m so glad you could be here with us tonight, Jocelyn. It means the world for my family to see Caroline loved and happy.”

Affirmatory exclamations to the same effect go up from her six daughters. Luke doesn’t look as if he’s entirely on board with ‘loved’, but does at least want to see his sister happy.

Jocelyn seems a bit flummoxed for words. Caroline wonders if her paramour would blush, if her heart still beat. “Well, uh, thanks. We’re… we’re, ah, we’re good together.”

Abélia’s eyes shine as if Jocelyn just said something moving and profound. “Of course you are. Anyone can see that.”

Her gaze expands to take in Caroline.

“Père Noël and I certainly made note of your places on his ‘nice’ list. Good girls like yourselves only deserve presents.”

Caroline: Caroline remarks that despite what has been a rough year for most of the people in the room, it’s had its high notes as well—namely (for her at least) the people in this room, and the many good things they’ve all brought into her life.

“I suspect Père Noël will have a tough time matching your family especially,” she laughs, “but I’ll be happy to see him try.”

The Ventrue quietly indicates to Abélia that she’d like to speak in private at some point during the night.

GM: Abélia is willing to after her girls have gone to bed. The rest of their schedule for the evening will involve dinner (which she promises shall be “sumptuous”), caroling, reading stories, and midnight mass at St. Louis Cathedral.

Caroline: Caroline says she’ll have to leave for another event in a few hours, and will regrettably be unable to join the family for mass, but would be happy to swing back past the Devillers house.

GM: “Splendid, my dear. You can help Père Noël and I distribute the presents,” Abélia declares delightedly, pressing her palms together. “It’s a long task each year, with so many children who are always so good.”

The dark-eyed matriarch’s smile widens.

“You are old enough that I think he’ll let you see him—so long as you still believe. You do believe, don’t you, Caroline?”

Caroline: “It’s been rather a long time since I had much reason to believe in any father,” Caroline replies, “but I still have a hope to.”

Friday night, 25 December 2015, AM

GM: It’s well past midnight by the time Caroline returns to the Devillers family home. Cécilia told her to simply let herself in. The wrought-iron gate silently swings open to admit her. The front door is unlocked. The house itself is silent and still.

No lights are on. The living room is shrouded in darkness—save for the soft white and yellow of the Christmas tree. It was clearly a labor of love for Abélia’s family. Candy canes, strings of lights, miniature gingerbread houses, colored beads, silver tinsel, snowflakes, pine cones, glass orbs, felt hearts, prancing reindeer, and more ornaments run about the tree, along with gold stars set with the Devillers’ girls smiling portraits at various ages. French nutcrackers with wide, oddly flat jaws stare down at Caroline with coal-black eyes that seem to hungrily follow her every movement.

“’Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house…”

Caroline could have sworn the living room was empty. But Abélia Devillers sits—behind her—upon a rocking chair with her hands demurely folded across her lap. She wears a wide-hemmed dress whose midnight-black folds match her raven hair.

She is everywhere.

She is in the family pictures and portraits of her six smiling girls. Her reflection stares back from the windows. From the softly ticking grandfather clock’s glass face. From the ornaments. From the coal-black eyes of the hungrily watching nutcrackers. She even seems to smile down from the so-slightly off-kilter glowing Star of Bethlehem. Even from the creche’s ceramic baby Jesus, she is there, reflected in each of the young Nazarene’s too-intent glass eyes. The family matriarch’s presence seems to fill the house like some monstrously gigantic octopus, whose full bulk is only half-visible in the gloom, whose every shadow might conceal a grasping tentacle. The ‘woman’ seated in the rocking chair seems little more than an avatar, a projection—the merest tendril of something vaster and darker.

Her smile spreads as her gaze slowly settles upon Caroline.

“Not a creature was stirring…”

Mirth dances in those dark eyes.

“…not even a mouse."

Caroline: The Ventrue has seen Cainite elders clash like the demons they are in hateful, furious whirlwinds that reaped lives by the dozen. She’s literally laid her head upon a headsman’s block and faced down her death more times than she cares to remember. She’s sat across from the slipperiest snake in the city and traded sweet little lies.

None of that unnerved her as much as the Devillers matriarch does. This great and terrible darkness and enigma that she’s let poison her soul. Soil her very mind. Whose gravity she cannot seem to escape, or even resist, and whom she’s not even sure she wants to. Whose daughters she might even truly care for in her dead black heart, whatever their monstrous flaws (who is she to judge another monster).

“What mouse might dare in this home?” Caroline ventures. She tries to focus on the mirth and not the sheer dark weight of the ’woman’s presence. It’s like unto only one other she has ever felt. Another so seductive…

“I shudder to think of the price it might pay for the sound of its scurrying feet in these hallowed halls. I should think it would only be caught dead at this hour.”

GM: Gay and fluttering laughter fills the still air.

From everywhere.

From the ‘woman’ seated before Caroline. From behind her. From above her. From even beneath her feet. Abélia laughs, and every reflection, every shadow concealing some further tentacle, seems to laugh with her. The whole house seems to share in its mistress’ yuletide merriment.

“How very flattering of you to say, my dear—even if one such as myself could only but hope to discomfit a mouse," the raven-haired matriarch smiles.

Caroline: Caroline hasn’t been afraid of the dark since her Embrace. Not really. It holds no secrets to her piercing gaze. She doesn’t fear muggers, or rapists, or even killers. Mortal threats to a mortal woman so trivial now. She prefers the dark. She wraps herself in it each night as she flees the dawn each morning. She’s a creature of the night.

But she finds herself dearly wanting to turn on a light. She could tell herself it’s to chase away the black mood the mass left her in—her sire was still absent—but it would be a lie.

GM: “The children are nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of sugar plums dance in their heads,” Abélia continues benignly.

“And you sans your kerchief, and I sans my cap, may settle our brains for a long winter’s nap.” Further mirth dances in the ‘woman’s’ eyes. All of her eyes.

“What shall we speak of, Caroline?”

Caroline: “Many things, so long as not up from the lawn arises such a clatter, that your children spring from their beds to see what’s the matter,” Caroline replies in turn, finding a seat opposite the French matron.

“You’re the only one, I think, who’s given me any truths. About anything. All these spiders out there spinning webs so deep in so many layers I can’t see my hand in front of my face—or even get it there without getting caught in three of them.”

“For now though, we can begin with the immediate. Your daughters are incredible. Kind, loving, fiercely devoted. But they’re taking me places I can’t go. The Whitney family, back to my own. I appreciate what the twins, and Cécilia, are trying to do, but it’s going to get me… well. Let’s say it’s putting me at odds with Kindred I can’t cross.”

GM: “My girls have been talking about you, Caroline,” Abélia smiles tranquilly. “They adore you, with the whole of their hearts. You’ve become such a role model to Yvonne and Yvette. Especially Yvette.”

“You’ve won them over quite handily. They should only wish to bring you further into their lives… to say nothing of the life of another, dear friend of theirs who also quite literally owes you her life. Sarah must be so hurt and confused to see you pulling away, musn’t she? So are the twins. They’ve speculated around the dinner table, more than once, why you wish to avoid her. And Cécilia, of course, should only wish to involve the woman who is to be her sister-in-law to the wedding. Especially after her family disowned her.”

Abélia gives an almost wistful little sigh. The tree’s branches seem to sag with her. The nutcrackers’ coal-black eyes stare ahead.

“It is, as you insinuate, a most unhappy state of affairs. What would you ask of me, my dear?”

Caroline: “You have a gift for seeing into your daughters’ hearts,” Caroline replies. “And swaying them.”

She folds her hands in her lap. “I don’t want this to be any more painful for Sarah, or for Luke, than it has to be. I certainly don’t wish it to spill out and damage my relationship with any of your daughters.”

“Might you exercise some of that sway to help me nudge them towards less confrontational paths for me with… well… my elders?”

GM: Caroline hears something from the ceiling. Something… rough. Scratching.

Abélia holds a hand to her ear. A slow smile spreads across her face.

“Ah, Caroline, you do hear.”

Caroline: “If I didn’t know better, I’d say something was stirring,” Caroline agrees. “Maybe even a mouse.”

GM: There’s a soft whoosh, then a heavy thump. A vast and bulging sack sits in the fireplace.

Caroline: The Ventrue’s head snaps around at the sound. It’s only by very intentional effort—to control the unease the entire room is causing—that she doesn’t bolt out of the chair. Still, it takes a moment for her to process the sack.

“That’s…” She looks back towards Abélia.

GM: “You half-believed,” she smiles, her dark eyes glinting. “So he is half here.”

Abélia rises from her seat. The rocking chair remains still as her weight leaves it.

“Will you help me distribute the presents, Caroline? I have so many children, and they are always so good… not to mention we have guests this year. Yourself among them. I don’t know if I’ll be able to finish in time on my own."

Caroline: The once-heiress rises with the French matron. “Of course,” she replies in a voice that is just the slightest bit unsteady as she continues to take in the sack. Abélia’s seeming weightlessness is perhaps the least disturbing or unbelievable thing since she’s arrived.

“You’ve done so much for me, how could I not?”

GM: There’s another light and fluttering laugh. Caroline almost expects it to sound from a thousand more places at once, but it does not. Abélia’s dark eyes are smiling.

“Nonsense, my dear. We have but settled accounts… though gratitude, at least, remains. It is the heart’s memory, is it not?”

Caroline: The blonde smiles. “Only the vulgar and ill-bred lack gratitude,” she agrees.

GM: “Is this your first time setting out childrens’ presents, my dear? Please, do go ahead,” Abélia offers, seeming to indicate the bulging sack.

Caroline: “I did it with my parents for a couple years, when my youngest brothers still believed,” she says as she approaches and opens the sack. “They came out of the attic though, rather than down the chimney.”

GM: The sack is packed to bursting with elaborately wrapped presents in every conceivable size and shape. The one Caroline takes out is rectangular-shaped, about the length of a breakfast tray, and wrapped in silver paper with a white bow and snowflake patterns. An attached card reads, Chère Yvette.

“Ah, my Yvette,” Abélia smiles. “Of all my girls, I believe she looks up to you the most, Caroline. There is little she would not do for you.”

She reaches into the sack and produces an identically sized and wrapped present whose tag instead reads, Chère Yvonne.

Caroline hears it this time. The noise coming from within the present.

A light, almost insectile skittering.

Caroline: “We have a great deal in common,” Caroline admits, before turning her attention back to the wrapped package. “There’s something moving, alive, in this.”

GM: “Is there? I wonder what Père Noël has decided to bring her this year,” the raven-haired ‘woman’ remarks contently. Her footsteps are hardly audible over the Persian rug’s deep weave. The hem of her long dress wisps faintly as she strides away from the fireplace’s stone flooring towards the tree.

“So you would have me steer my girls away from sharing Sarah in the joy of your friendship, and away from a place of honor in my eldest’s wedding. Certainly, Caroline, your intentions are…" she smiles, “understandable. But what could one such as myself do? I can love my girls, cherish them, nurture them—but I can hardly steer the course of their hearts.”

Caroline: “Steer is much too strong a word,” Caroline replies affably. “I know given your inclination—nay, propensity, to cave to your heart with them that you’d never take so strong a hand as to steer them. Your touch is always more gentle. But perhaps you might point to, or even accentuate, possible merits such a course.”

“Something subtle. I confess, I’ve never been particularly good at the subtle. Your daughters’ hearts are in the right place. It speaks well of their mother that they are so eager to open them to others, but I’m certain they would be far more bereaved should their well-intentioned efforts lead to a more permanent loss.”

“Just under the tree?” she asks, still holding Yvette’s present.

GM: Caroline looks towards Abélia. The ‘woman’ is gone. There is only darkness. Darkness, she now realizes, whose inky depths even her predator’s sight does not pierce.

Fluttering laughter fills the air.

“I am afraid you overestimate my powers of persuasion, my dear girl,” drifts Abélia’s voice.

“From my daughters’ points of view, there are few merits to such a course of action. And they are not so wrong, are they?” The voice is close, from just by Caroline’s left ear. “Why, if Sarah were not claimed and jealously guarded by another, there is little reason you should not wish to associate with a bright and well-bred young girl who thinks the world of you.”

The voice echoes from the Ventrue’s right ear. Close enough to feel someone’s breath. To hear their footsteps. To feel the simple presence of another human being so close by. Caroline does not.

“I must confess I’m not certain how to help you here, Caroline, much as I would like to. Perhaps we might bring in a third opinion—someone with some fresh ideas?”

Hundreds of reflections of the raven-haired woman smile from the tree’s glittering ornaments.

“Just under the tree is perfect.”

Yvonne’s twin present already rests beneath it.

Caroline: Despite her existence as one of the living dead, despite the supernaturally unknowable she’s seen, despite her past experiences with Abélia, the French matriarch’s discorporation and drifting voice still makes Caroline stand up straighter, makes her shiver, as though someone is walking over her grave. She’s faced down millenia-old elders and literal death, and neither terrify her like Abélia’s casual and welcoming darkness. Every fiber of her being, of what remains of her soul, scream to flee in terror. But in every moment of her Requiem only Abélia has been at all honest with her. She doesn’t doubt that the Devillers ‘mother’ has her own plans for Caroline, that she’s being manipulated. But it makes her no different than any other Kindred in this existence. None of them, not her ‘sire’, not Maldonato, not Savoy, not her elders in clan or covenant, have ever consigned to do more than lie or mistreat her. And with the ‘loss’ of her family, Abélia’s is all she has left.

It doesn’t help that she’s right. Caroline doesn’t want to give up her relationship with Sarah any more than she wanted to do so with her family. It’s just another cost, a cost associated with a goal she doesn’t even recognize anymore. Continued existence, perhaps? Acknowledgement by her ‘sire’? It seems like things get worse every night, like that goal moves further and further away. Presuming it were ever possible at all: she now knows full well that Vidal neither ever wanted her, nor even knows she exists. Those few moments she once thought might hold meaning: his decision to personally induct her into the Sanctified, his questioning before her release, are instead only cynical reminders of her naivety.

Moments she was so proud of that now make her feel as foolish as a child discovering it is her parents putting the gifts under the tree. His absence tonight was just another blow, another crushing reminder that she has no relationship with him, and that even if she succeeds, she doubts she ever will with his pending descent. Those bitter thoughts fight away the existential dread the darkness that is Abélia brings on: a cruel mercy perhaps, but a practical one. The blend of anger, hurt, and the associated self-loathing does an excellent job focusing her, bringing her clarity.

She forces herself to keep moving, to keep her smile on. To fight her atavistic call to terror so at odds with her new existence. She too is a thing that goes bump in the night. Caroline deftly bends to place the gift under the tree and returns her attention to the remaining ones.

“Surely you undersell yourself, as always, Abélia,” she replies, rising to return to the gifts that still await. “But did you have someone particular in mind?”

GM: The darkness smiles.

“Always, my dear. I shall pray your patience for but a moment.”

Caroline finds the sack full of further presents of every shape and size. Tags are written to each of the Devillers children, as well as Luke, herself, and Jocelyn.

Time passes. Abélia neither speaks nor makes her presence felt. Her reflection is gone from the lights and ornaments: the coal-eyed nutcrackers stare silently and jealously ahead.

Caroline: Caroline passes the time looking over the other gifts under the tree, their sizes, shapes, looks. She browses family photos on the walls. Anything but simply waiting alone in the darkness.

GM: Then, in Caroline’s peripheral hearing. Footsteps.

Darkness melts away, revealing Abélia’s pale features. But something is off. There’s fewer lines and less definition to her face. Her hair is blonde. Her dark eyes are not dark at all, but a pale blue. She’s dressed in a white nightgown under a light blue sleeping robe.

“Cécilia, my dear,” drifts a voice from behind Caroline. “Thank you for rousing yourself. I know you and Luke had also settled yourselves in for a long winter’s nap.”

Caroline: Caroline turns to face ‘Abélia’s’ return, but stops in mid-stride. She quickly puts on a mask to hide her surprise—and hide the shiver when she hears Abélia’s voice from behind her again.

GM: “It’s no trouble, Maman. Especially not for Caroline.” The Ventrue’s soon-to-be sister-in-law looks towards her. “I’m so thankful we can now be open with one another. I can only imagine how lonely you’ve felt… how isolated, since your Embrace. I’m so sorry what had to happen with your family.”

Caroline: Caroline’s fear melts away like a snowball in hell when Cécilia uses the word ‘Embrace.’ Shock could not be written any more clearly across her face as the words hit her. It lingers there for several seconds before she finally covers it up, and the awkward silence too.

“I…” she begins, stopping for a moment before she picks up again. “Forgive me, Cécilia.”

She looks upon her soon-to-be sister-in-law in a new light. “It’s been a challenge,” she admits at last, before smiling. “How long have you known?”

GM: “There’s nothing to forgive,” Cécilia smiles back.

“Do you mean how long I’ve known about you? Or… well, everything behind the Veil?”

Caroline: “Both, now that you mention it.”

GM: “Maman told me about your Embrace in September,” Cécilia answers. “I’d wanted to reach out to you, given how you’d only saved my sisters’ lives before you fell off the map. But Maman believed you needed… time. Time to deal with things in your own way. Time to learn how the Camarilla’s Masquerade worked, before you saw the… exceptions.”

She retrieves a shoebox-sized present from the sack with ‘Simmone’ marked on the label.

“I’m not one of you, if you’re wondering, or a ghoul. But I’ve known the truth about the world for some years now.”

Caroline: Caroline offers a wry smile. “So that night, at the theater? And of course, you know that Jocelyn is Kindred too.”

GM: “I did then and do now,” Cécilia nods.

Caroline: She nods back. “Exceptions, you said. Those would be news to me. I presume you mean yourself? A mortal who’s seen behind the Masquerade.”

There’s a sting, even here. That could have been Caroline and her mother. Claire knew about the world’s dangers as well as any kine could, but kept them hidden from her. That pain though is as minor as a bee sting compared to the gaping wound their relationship is tonight. It’s hardly noticeable.

She looks down for a moment, then back at Cécilia.

“I’m glad,” she finally says. And it’s the truth.

GM: “I am, too," Cécilia smiles as she approaches the tree. "If you ever want to talk about anything… well, I imagine it must get lonely, keeping so much to yourself.”

Caroline: The Ventrue looks wryly back towards where Cécilia’s mother’s voice issued from. “Well, now that you mention it, there is a topic we were just discussing that you might weigh in on. I’ve been…”

She pauses while she looks for a word she likes. ‘Ordered.’ ‘Told.’ Both make her feel like a child, or a slave. ‘Asked’ is too mild.

“Instructed,” she finally settles upon. “Instructed to break off all my ties to Sarah, immediately. She’s someone else’s property, as it were. Your sisters seem quite eager to make that process as difficult as possible.”

GM: “Yes…" Cécilia agrees with a frown, setting down the present underneath one of the tree’s lower-hanging glass icicles.

“Maman told me about that. Yvette and Yvonne were friends with Sarah, even before the shooting, but it’s probably no surprise they’ve gotten even closer since then. They’ve brought it up with me, too, how you seem to keep pushing her away. I didn’t really have a good answer for them.”

Cécilia’s form recedes into the gloom. Caroline hears a faint rustling sound from the sack. Abélia’s oldest daughter re-emerges after a moment with another present in hand.

“As I see it, there’s two options… change Becky Lynne’s mind, or tell Yvette or Yvonne the truth.”

Caroline: The Ventrue arches an eyebrow. “I’m sorry, Yvette, I can’t be friends with your friend because a centuries-old monster that has holds over me wishes it not so? I presumed if you wished her inculcated into this world you and your mother would see it done under more auspicious circumstances. And telling one is the same as telling both—I need not tell you that.” She immediately hates that idea.

GM: “I think it may be more Becky Lynne than her sire, actually,” Cécilia holds. “Obviously the Whitneys are his domain, but from what Maman tells me, he mostly listens to her where they’re concerned.”

Cécilia gives a faint smile as she sets down the latest present. “And you’re right, we know they tell each other everything. But this could be an exception, if one of them believed it could protect the other… or it just wasn’t yet time. Maman hasn’t told me all that she has lightly. It’s easy, for people who know what’s behind the Veil to get drawn in too deeply.”

“You’re right that we hadn’t been planning on telling either of them the truth—at least right now. But we have thought about doing it, and these would be under circumstances of our choosing. I’d be happy with any that spared you more grief. You’ve done so much for us, Caroline.”

“It seems like it’s either that or get your clanmate to reconsider, in any case.” Cécilia spreads her hands. “If there were a perfect option, I’d offer it. These are just the best ones I can think of.”

Caroline: The once-heiress holds a closed fist in front of her face in thought, before finally speaking again. “Matheson and Becky Lynne are both very protective of their hold over the family… and as goes Sarah, so goes that family in the broader sense.”

She thinks again. “I understand then, why they’re so… concerned about another Kindred gaining influence over her. On the other hand…” The beginnings of an idea are forming. “Whether we brought one of the twins in on my little secret or not, I cannot help but suspect that pushing Sarah away from me would damage her relationship with them, and perhaps others. More to the point, actively alienating her, as they’ve called for, could drive a significant wedge, especially given how far I think I’d have to go in order to achieve that. I don’t imagine that Yvette in particular would take kindly to Sarah speaking ill of me.” She looks back at Cécilia. “A lever to pull? An awkward one, mind you—to avoid the appearance of undue interest or threatening them with it.”

GM: “If you think that’s the best answer, Caroline,” Cécilia nods. “Just let us know how we can help.”

Caroline: “Honestly, what I really want is to keep this from hurting my relationship with the twins. I don’t have designs on influencing Sarah Whitney,” she replies.

Internally she cynically asks herself: A lie? The response comes: An omission. Doesn’t she have designs on everything, in truth, however hopeless they may be?

“Which is not to say that I wouldn’t rather not hurt her.” She purses her lips. “The danger though is that if they feel that the twins might in turn be a threat to Sarah, I wouldn’t want them to take some rash action there.”

GM: “So you would propose to remain in contact with Sarah so as not to drive a wedge between our family’s daughters and theirs.” Cécilia frowns in thought. “You’re right that lever seems a little awkward to pull. Another Kindred will almost always be seen as a greater threat than two mortals… and they will be off to college in around six months.”

Caroline: Caroline nods in agreement. “And even if it didn’t, it seems too late, honestly. Any attempt to approach the issue will appear as nothing more than meddling, and will simply create more suspicion. If it really didn’t matter to me at all, I’d simply be happy to clear the boon I owe and move along.”

GM: The tree’s lights suddenly wink out, plunging the room into pitch darkness.

“iNDECisIveNeSS DoEs Not beCOME you, mY DEAR giRl!” Abélia’s voice thunders from high above the Star of Bethlehem.

“NOr dOES SuRlinESs,” it bubbles up from beneath Caroline’s feet.

Huge, sausage-thick fingers clamp around the Ventrue’s jaw and work her mouth open and shut like a puppet’s. They feel cold as the December night and oddly… soft.

“N-nor w-weakness,” Caroline hears her own voice falteringly echo, in a high and shaking tone like Meg’s.

A stench like decaying flesh wafts up her nostrils as the too-soft hand seems to shrink in mass, becoming hard and thin like bone.

“i HavE liTtlE patiEnce foR WeaKnesS,” Abélia’s voice whispers from behind Caroline’s ear. The bone-like fingers recede. A huge, sharp-feeling incisor like a vampire’s fang, but the size of a man’s forearm, brushes against her neck.

“sAvE aMoNg mY Own BloOd. I HavE SiX dAUGhteRS tO caRe fOR alREAdy, mY dEAR. IF i dEsIRed a seVEnTh, I wOUlD hAvE fashIoned One.”

A boneless-feeling tendril caresses against Caroline’s sex. A low hiss like a rattlesnake’s shaking tail sounds in her ears.

“OncE Already YOU HAVe entrEATed ME tO RElieVE YOU OF ReSpoNSIBiLiTy fOR yoUR CHOICEs, And to pROducE ANswErs To YOur tRAvAIlS as a stAge maGiCIaN MigHt pRoduce a rABbiT frOm A hABIT.”

The ground seems to drop out from beneath Caroline’s feet. She stumbles, and collides against something cold and vast and wooden-feeling, like a giant-sized nutcracker.

“I AM Not HEre to fIGHT YoUR BAtTLES. I Am NOt hERE tO preEmPt yOur WanTS. if tHErE is a CoUrSe Of aCtion yOU wIsh My FamilY’s AId In, SpeaK iT pLAiNlY.”

A tentacle-like appendage, thick as a man’s chest, also strangely soft and far too cold, loops around Caroline’s waist and casually yanks her away.

“unless We bOTh TIrE of CommunICaTING THRoUgH thE CRUdE expuLsiON oF aIr PartiCLes ThROugH Our ORIficES, anD you wOULd haVE ME REND tHE LIVING ThoughTS fROm YoUr MIND?”

The appendage releases her as three more of those huge teeth stroke the crown of her head.

“i AM gRATefUL iN DisPOSITiOn, geNeRoUs oF sPIriT, aNd CaRE lITtLE FoR CaINiTEs’ peTty unlIVEs… Yet pERhAPS YOU WoULd thinK tO maNIPulAte Us? MY dEar GIrl, yoUr DecEpTiOns ARE aS GlaSS. liTtLe cOloRs tHe soULS OF My dAuGhTERs THat is NOT KNowN tO mE.”

Three seeming tentacles wrap around her legs, chest, and right arm. Softly, gently, inexorably, they begin to squeeze. Movement rustles, as if even more were rising from the ground.

“tHOugH i SuppOSe EVEN MaNiPULatiON ShOWS sOmE amoUnt of sPaRK. tHAT’s SOmEtHIng ThEy migHt LEaRN From. i CaN’t hAVe mY daRLiNgs ASSOciatInG wItH a MoUsE. iT’S a BAD infLUEnCE…”

The perhaps-tentacles pull away as something soft, wet, and thick as a man’s arm laps against Caroline’s neck.

“fORtUNATeLy, eVEn MIcE MAy YeT hAVE tHEiR useS.”

Abélia’s voice seems to waft from the base of that neck, like a tiny devil perched on the Ventrue’s shoulder.

“KNow THAT I aM HUNGRY, my DeAr. I dO not HungER aS yoU Do, bUt MY apPeTITEs aRE gReAt—TREaD CareFUllY In MY lAiR BeFORe yOU mArK YOUrseLf aS prey…”

Groans sound from the house’s walls and ceiling, even as the floor buckles and shifts beneath her feet—as if its mistress were some great and monstrous octopus finally detaching its holds… or if the house itself were clamping shut over Caroline like a fast-closing set of jaws.

“And could you be a darling and help Cécilia with those presents, Caroline? I might have asked you to lend a hand earlier, though I could also be misremembering… it’s not within my character to repeat myself, don’t you think?”

Fluttering laughter peals through the darkness.

Caroline’s Beast, trapped and helpless in that gloom, screams.

Caroline: The Beast screams, and the woman almost does. Abélia is terrifying in her ineffableness. But the senator’s daughter, the prince’s childe, can maintain at least that much dignity. She’s had time enough to think, to consider. That night, that drive, was not so long ago, but it was long enough.

“Are we to p-play this game once more, Abélia?” she replies in a voice that shakes with fear, in a body that shakes in a way she did not know her the dead could. Like a mortal, a kine. The Beast knows, knows the sight of a presence predator. She tells herself that it’s that animal part of her, the Beast, that bears down on her chest and threatens to choke her words, that makes her voice quiet rather than imperious. “Once before you goaded me so. I have not forgotten.”

She looks left, right, for the next nightmare to emerge out of the dark, knowing it’s a useless gesture. The first she feels of Abélia’s touch will be against her skin in the uncanny, unholy, impenetrable darkness. She continues in a meek voice she doesn’t recognize, “You want me to fight them. To lash out against them for Sarah. And you want something of me, or perhaps for me.”

She jerks her head to the other side, too much like a frightened animal, as she continues, “You’re molding me.”

GM: “Maman,” sounds Cécilia’s voice. “Caroline…”

“Of course she does, my dear,” chuckles Abélia’s. “But that is very considerate of you to be thinking of her. I’m so happy you’re no less attentive to your sister by law than your sisters by blood.”

The gloom recedes, like a great beast opening its jaws by a few more inches. The Christmas tree’s lights wink back on. Green, gold, red, and white spill through the darkness.

Mother and daughter stand before the fireplace. Caroline’s night vision still cannot fully make out their shadow-drenched features, but both of the two are pulling presents out of the sack.

“Oh, my dear girl,” Abélia laughs airily as she strides towards the tree with a head-sized, tinsel-wrapped gift in hand. “You or I could wound Alder John and his childe quite easily, and deeply, had we the inclination. There’s no need to pit you against them, if I even could… I’m sure you’d see past any such ploy.”

“But it does pain me to see you…” the raven-haired matriarch’s smile spreads, “discomfited over Sarah. Now that you’ve heard my daughter’s counsel, and remembered your backbone, I can but ask: what do you wish of my family? How might we assist one who has brought us such yuletide joy?”

Cécilia, setting down her own present beneath one of the tree’s hanging nutcrackers, meets Caroline’s eye as she does.

Caroline: The blonde moves forward as much to hide her shaking as at Cécilia’s urging.

“Begging your pardon, Abélia,” she begins, pulling a present out of the bag. “I didn’t seek to imply you needed anything, certainly not help harming an isolated vampire.” The speed with which the Devillers matriarch shifts from terrorizing to perfectly mundane is enough to set her head spinning.

“I rather meant your apparent desire to push me towards certain means, if not ends, rather than anything relating to them specifically.”

GM: “My time is valuable, my dear,” Abélia replies in a chiding tone. “Your speculation is very flattering, but immaterial to our present business.”

She and Cécilia jointly carry a much larger present, the size perhaps of Simmone’s body and wrapped in green tree-themed paper, over to one of the living room’s chairs, where they stand it upright.

Caroline’s present is rectangularly-shaped, perhaps two feet long, and half a foot deep. It’s wrapped with white paper dotted with green holly leaves around red berries. The tag is for Adeline.

The sound of soft weeping emanates from within.

Caroline: Caroline almost drops the present when it starts weeping. She instead uses it to still the shaking in her hands as she finds a place for the present alongside the other ones marked for Adeline.

GM: “Keep some distance between everyone’s presents, Caroline, if you please. Half the joy is hunting for one’s gifts amidst all the others,” Abélia calls. Caroline only turned her back for a moment, but the dark-eyed Frenchwoman is already retrieving another present from the sack—well over halfway across the spacious room. Cécilia adjusts a sagging snowman ornament on the tree.

Caroline: “As you wish,” Caroline replies, moving the last present she put down and going back for another. Abélia’s disappearance and reappearance is the least of her concerns.

GM: A flat, rectangular present wrapped in white paper with silver snowflakes has a tag marking it as Noëlle’s. No sounds are audible from within.

Caroline: The Ventrue is grateful for the silent, unmoving box. She rises with it to find its place in the room.

“Was the move against Sarah and Yvonne an intentional move against you and Matheson?” she asks bluntly, her voice growing more firm and crisp the further the experience with Abélia shifts into the past, but the predatory darkness awakened behind her eyes undiminished. She may not have wished to allow the matron to influence her, but the Beast still stirs within her, and it has a vote too this night, as with all nights.

GM: Fluttering laughter greets Caroline’s question.

“An intriguing supposition, my dear. What might someone have sought to gain from such a move?”

Caroline: “Sarah’s death might have weakened Matheson’s long term hold over the bank by throwing the Whitney family into a downward spiral. Or maybe just destroyed a family he had a long term interest in. That was around the same time that he came to greater prominence, wasn’t it?” Caroline speculates. “As for Yvonne… I guess that depends on who knows about you, Abélia, and what they know. Perhaps a move to bait you into the open?”

“I remember Gettis starting to shoot, out of nowhere, like a man possessed. It seemed like a terrible coincidence that he started with two of the more important, and vulnerable, people in the room. I presume a bullet would have less effect on you, and what was I then but a project, the longest of shots…”

GM: There’s a second flutter of laughter as Abélia pulls a tiny red present bound up with gold thread, no longer than a man’s clenched fist, from the sack. She strokes the ribbon almost affectionately as Cécilia removes a book-shaped one with reversed coloring: gold paper and red string.

“Everyone knows about me, Caroline, vain as that may sound. I am the proud mother of six extraordinary young ladies—young ladies who were extraordinarily fortunate, too, that you were present for that dreadful night.”

She places the tiny present atop Caroline’s most recent one. Cécilia’s outline recedes deeper into the gloom.

“If those events were a move, I must say it was a gracelessly executed one. Gettis has lost everything, and both girls are alive and well. Regrettably traumatized, along with many other bystanders—my poor, poor Simmone in particular. But if Matheson’s enemies benefited from that night’s events, the means by which they did regrettably escape me. Do any occur to you?"

Caroline: The once heiress shakes her head. “Not unless I’ve missed something,” she agrees. “The only ones I could cynically say may have gained from that night were you and I, and I don’t think you so cynical as to traumatize your daughters or risk their lives to do so in such a callous and brutally unsubtle way.”

“But then, I’m not certain that night went exactly how anyone expected it to,” she continues.

“All the same, seems like Sarah has gotten into trouble several times on her own, without any prompting, only to get pulled out of it by myself. Much like the twins.. Maybe that changes Ms. Adler’s view. Otherwise I intend to break with Sarah quite dramatically, and promptly. It’s a matter I’ll see to—I didn’t mean to imply that I desired more than your guidance and counsel of the girls when that happens.”

“There are more pressing matters than my relationship with a teenage girl.”

GM: Cécilia returns to scoop up another present from the still-bulging sack. Abélia retrieves a longer, tube-shaped one with snowman-printed wrapping. Both women seem quite preoccupied with the task of distributing gifts as the Ventrue remains still.

Abélia’s dark eyes twinkle as they maunder across Caroline’s face.

“Very well, my dear. Do proceed.”

She turns to set the long present down on a sofa.

Caroline: The Ventrue remains in motion, looking for a home for this latest gift as she speaks, her voice gaining strength the more time passes.

“I’m moving against Father Malveaux and my mother both. Soon. This time I expect the outcome to be definitive for one, both, or myself. I thought you should know ahead of time, in case someone involved thinks to use your daughters in some way as part of that struggle, or if I suddenly ‘disappear’.”

GM: The next present Caroline procures is also long and slim: about the length of her torso, about as wide as her arm, and wrapped in candy cane-patterned paper with green ribbon.

The tag has her name on it.

“Now we can hardly have you choosing the placement of your own gift,” Abélia smiles. Caroline neither saw nor heard her approach, but the raven-haired woman plucks the package from her hands and leans it against the fireplace.

The next present to emerge from the sack is about a foot wide and deep. A tag with Jocelyn’s name sits atop the striped green and white wrapping paper.

“That’s very considerate of you to let me know of your plans there, my dear. Why, Cécilia, didn’t you have a related matter you’d wanted to discuss with Caroline?”

Cécilia nods as she plucks two fist-sized presents from the sack.

“Yes, her place at the wedding,” her future sister-in-law states. “I can’t suppose Father Malveaux would be happy over her attending.”

She stands still with the presents as she looks at Caroline. Her pale blue eyes are thoughtful.

“I can understand if you don’t see him as family. But, Caroline, your mother…?”

Caroline: Caroline forfeits the gift to Abélia and hefts Jocelyn’s. “What was that Churchill quote, ‘When you’re going through Hell, keep going’?” she replies darkly.

“I’d thought to find another way, to find some balance, but childish naiveté has no place in my world. The wolves have grown impatient, they’ve begun their attack. The only way out now is through, and strikes in half-measures invite disaster.”

She meets Cécilia’s eyes. “There are things that I want, Cécilia. Things that I need. My dark birthright is absolute victory or utter defeat. I will not eke out an existence in the desert nor wander it for forty years—though God knows I’ve tried. I can’t live that way, and I won’t, even if others might let me—and they won’t either.”

She pauses as a darkness moves behind her eyes alongside a cruel smile. “Well, ‘live’.” The laughter that follows is anything but mirthful, however light it may be. “So yes, my mother. Of all the blades assailing me, it is hers at my throat, hers that cuts deepest. And so I must cut away that blade from her, however much it might hurt. However much it might cost.”

She stares into Cécilia’s blue eyes, seeing her again, perhaps, in a new light. “Be careful, Cécilia. Perhaps you will break the cycle, but that’s the way of my family. We hurt those we love. I think it always has been.”

GM: “Not all families are as ours, my dear,” Abélia states, laying a pale hand on Cécilia’s shoulder. The older ’woman’s’ midnight hair and black dress seem to all but bleed into the gloom. Her milk-white skin’s striking contrast makes her arms and face seem almost disembodied, phantasmal appendages floating through the gloom. But when Cécilia looks back into her eyes, Caroline is most struck by the chilling likeness of their facial features: Cécilia looks as if she’s staring into a darkened mirror of herself, twenty years into her future.

“You are right, Maman.” She looks back towards her to-be sister-in-law. “We do come from different families, Caroline. I don’t know what it’s like to grow up a Malveaux, or what kind of relationship you’ve really had with your mother. No one can truly know but the two of you. All I know is that if one of my sisters felt the same way about me… I couldn’t imagine anything more sad.”

“Nor could I, my dear,” Abélia replies, brushing her eldest’s cheek as she smiles at Caroline. “It is tragic that such a relationship should persist between mother and daughter.”

Caroline: The disowned daughter looks upon the two with an expression that might be sadness or envy.

GM: “But it is better to dwell on what can be than what it is not. I do so admire an industrious spirit in the young. And you have said this little affair could involve Cécilia’s sisters… perhaps it’s better if we err on the side of caution.”

Abélia’s hand drops from her daughter’s face. Her other bears a tiny present, perhaps large enough to be a boxed pair of earrings. It’s austerely wrapped in white paper and black trim.

“Go on, my dear,” the midnight-haired woman winks at Caroline. “We shan’t tell Père Noël you opened this one early.”

Caroline: Caroline smiles back as she unwraps the paper and removes the lid.

GM: Inside is a glass sphere the size of a child’s playing marble. No light glints off its smooth black surface.

Abélia’s smile widens.

“Break it before your foes, and they shall know woe.”

Caroline: Caroline accepts the marble and turns it over in her pale hands. “A princely gift.”

GM: That smile doesn’t dim.

“It is the season for giving, my dear.”

Caroline: There’s darkness in Caroline’s eyes as she stares at the marble, into its depths.

“Oh yes, and I have some very particular gifts in mind.”

Previous, by Narrative: Story Eleven, Celia II
Next, by Narrative: Story Eleven, Amelie I

Previous, by Character: Story Eleven, Caroline II
Next, by Character: Story Eleven, Caroline IV

Story Eleven, Celia II

“You may not have done the right thing, but I think you did the rightest thing you knew how to do.”
Coco Duquette

Sunday night, 29 August 2010, PM

GM: The gray stone monolith arrogantly looms over the surrounding CBD. Tall, unbent, unbroken. Unconquered by crumbling mason, acid rain, and the relentless march of time, St. Patrick’s Cathedral is supremely confident in its holy purpose—but not its hegemony. St. Louis Cathedral smugly holds up the 221 years since its dedication to Patrick’s 178, showing them off like jealous children comparing baseball cards. St. Patrick’s must sullenly accept its status as only second-grandest, second-oldest, and second-best cathedral in New Orleans.

The cathedral’s interior is a vast and cavernous space. The faintest whisper feels as if it could echo and echo off the Gothic arches and stained-glass windows until it reaches the ears of God. Whether He would respond to Jade’s kind is another matter.

So is whether they would want Him to.

Caine’s damned children have converged upon God’s house like flies to a corpse. Some hide their natures underneath bespoke suits, haute couture gowns, and fashions so cutting that they would hardly seem to need fangs with which to feed. Other Kindred revel in their sinful natures, adorning their eternally young and nubile bodies in the most head-turning extremities of dark couture: dresses made of knives, jackets constructed of barbed wire, and shining black PVC garments that cater to the wildest fetish. Others simply don’t bother dressing up: some wear leather jackets, torn hoodies, and denim jeans. The especially slovenly and monstrous-looking (or simply pathetic) garb themselves in little more than moldering rags and the dirtiest, dumpster-scavenged grunge fashions.

It’s not Jade’s first time at Elysium by Veronica’s side, though it is one of her first. Tonight the mood seems different. Reflective. Somber. Everyone here knows the significance of August 29th, 2010.

The fifth anniversary of Katrina’s landfall.

Celia: If you are overdressed it is a comment on them. If you are underdressed it is a comment on you.

Jade would not be caught underdressed in a place like this. She would not be caught underdressed period. Full stop. Do not pass Go. There is no coming back from that sort of debilitating humiliation in the eyes of her clan. A poseur for life, and when life is eternity… well, that is worth the effort it takes to become flawless.

So it is this night she has become that which she admires most, with hair slicked back from her face and then left to fall in loose waves around her bare shoulders. It’s hard to go wrong in a black dress, though this one has lost the L in LBD. Its skirt sweeps the ground behind her when she walks, Choo or Manolo or LB on her feet, with a slit so high up her thigh that no step is impeded by too much material. Black shoes, black hair, black dress, black winged liner, eyes so dark they seem to bleed into black, too.

There’s a pop of color at her neckline. Silver is its chain, and black its cage, but the middle of the pendant is a sapphire the size of her thumb, green instead of blue. Rich, vibrant, eye-catching. Like her. Like Jade.

It it surrounded by eight little legs that jet off toward throat and sternum, holding that gem into place. A gift from Pietro for a long ago comment. Stolen, of course.

Everything tastes better when it’s stolen.

She keeps herself to Veronica’s side. She is there to learn. To see and be seen, but to remain silent.

GM: Jade’s purported sire, in contrast, has come as Katrina. Her ‘dress’ is two layers of transparent plastic filled with water and assorted storm debris: clumps of dirt and rock with random bits of wood, plastic, and cardboard with scraps of camo cloth. There’s also a few bones that may or may not be human. She doesn’t have any underwear on. The storm debris shifts and swirls as she walks, sometimes covering her privates and sometimes not. The plastic’s exterior is splattered with red food coloring. Several attached tree branches form a collar around her shoulders. Her earrings are wood splinters haphazardly stabbed through the flesh. She looks like a walking hurricane. Her shoes are black rubber rain boots, the kind worn by first responders, with an 8-inch platform heel.

She’d remarked it would “take a few years” for Jade to “find some imagination.”

“Mourning black is acceptable until then.”

Celia: Jade hadn’t wanted to compete for attention with her elders. Better to blend, she responds, just another face in the crowd on this day.

GM: Indeed, the most risque outfits seem to be worn by older Kindred. Veronica had thought a bit, then said that “something more subdued” is appropriate for tonight. At least in Jade’s case. And those of a few “special others.”

Storm-related themes seem in vogue tonight, unsurprisingly. Black is a common color. It’s always a common color, with them, but tonight it seems especially so. It’s a color of mourning, after all. But there are scattered bits of color, too. Whites, blues, and the timeless purple, yellow, and green. Symbols of hope and renewal amidst the mourning.

Celia: She doesn’t question what her sire means by ‘special others.’ She is silent, observing the procedural arrival of the Kindred from around the city, though her eyes are drawn to those, like Veronica, who thought to commemorate the storm with themed clothing. She’s almost certain the woman with black skin and white hair in the leather and cape took Storm in a different direction than her brethren. Her lips twitch in mild amusement.

GM: The joke seems lost on most of the older Kindred attendees, at least.

There’s some initial socializing before the assorted Kindred all seat themselves along the church’s pews. Jade’s had the basic protocols of Sanctified masses explained to her: the higher a Kindred’s place in the Camarilla, the closer they sit to the altar. Ghouls sit in the very back. Antoine Savoy, Donovan, and the assorted primogen and regents occupy some of the front-most seats.

Jade recognizes the Brujah primogen Coco Duquette among them. She’s drop-dead gorgeous, at least as much so as Veronica, with high cheekbones, smooth white skin, long sun-blonde hair that freely cascades past her shoulders, and piercing blue eyes which silently smolder with that undeniable Brujah fire. Her outfit is also Katrina-themed, though less celebratory than Jade’s purported sire’s: it’s a dark rain jacket she wears open with a sports bra that shows off her finely toned physique. Black cargo pants and rain boots, all still dripping with water, complete the ensemble. The one concession she wears to her apparent past is a bonnet rouge: a red cap with a tricolor red, blue, and white cockade.

But she’s mainly notable for the fact that Celia’s ex-boyfriend Stephen is sitting right next to her.

Just one row ahead of Veronica and Jade.

Celia: What.

She tries not to stare. Maybe she’s successful. Maybe she isn’t.

She probably isn’t. It’s hard to think about anything else when he’s there, right in front of her, when all she can think about is that last night at the bar with him. Her fangs in his neck. Him screaming her name.

At her side her hand curls, fingers digging into the wooden pew beneath her. He’s here. He. Is. Here. He’s here. She’d tried to keep him out and somehow he’d found his way in. And her. Beautiful. Statuesque. No wonder.

She doesn’t breathe. She doesn’t need to. It never helps. She just holds herself still, looking at anything but him.

GM: The… other vampire just looks straight on ahead, not even seeming to see her.

Philip Maldonato, the seneschal of the city, gives a sermon/speech from the altar.

Jade doesn’t really hear it.






Some of them several times.

Paul a lot more than several times.

All of those times.

And she didn’t even come clean.

Only told him about one time.

Fed on him. Without his asking. Without his knowing.

Is that rape, too?

Even lied about her dad’s sexual abuse. He touched her in ways that hurt her, oh yes, but never in that way.

Celia: She had to. She had to lie to him. She had to get him to leave her alone. She’d have lost control. She did lose control. She almost killed him.

GM: She didn’t ever have to cheat on him.

All those times.

All those countless times.

Celia: She didn’t. She didn’t, she didn’t, she didn’t. Everything she did she had to do. She had to. To get out. To keep her family safe. To keep him safe. It all had a purpose.

Maybe, if she tells herself enough, she’ll believe the lies.

She has to get out of here, though. How long can this event possibly be? She’s glad for the mourning black. Glad that she blends, that she is just another face in the crowd, like she’d said to Veronica. She’ll blend so hard she just disappears.

GM: “… listen: my word is the word of one who holds the Spear, the Spear that pierced the side of the Jesus the Living Christ, who lived, and was dead, and rose again and ascended to Heaven, where we cannot go. He will come back and judge the living and the dead, but he will not judge the Damned, for the Damned were judged on Calvary when Jesus looked down upon the Soldier and gave His blood. No judgment awaits you, for you have already been judged. And this is my vision: The Sanctified shall always survive, and this book shall endure, and as long as judgment has been served on us, the Damned shall have the word of this book to stand by.”

“The cities of the living shall become high and wide, and full of blood and sin, and we shall be the vessel through which God shall cast his judgment upon the world, but no more shall judgment fall upon us, for we were Damned at the beginning. If you heed the word of the Soldier, if you take heart in the Spear, you shall have nothing to fear. Your Damnation is secure, and cannot be changed. Know that you are Damned, and rejoice.”

Maldonato motions to several black-clad servants. One of them opens a back wall door and ushers in a flour-white vampire who is clad in a long white robe. His head is shaved clean and his eyes are missing, the wounds around the empty sockets indicating that they were removed recently. He stands next to the seneschal, clutching something in his hand.

Simultaneously, two other servants lift an unconscious black man from behind the cathedral’s altar and lay him down. Maldonato somberly draws a dagger and cuts the man’s arm, draining his blood into a large chalice. He then holds it up and dips his fingers into the blood, saying, “‘Seeing that Christ was dead, the soldiers did not break his legs. One of the soldiers, however, pierced his side with a spear, and blood and water flowed out.’”

“‘A drop of Christ’s blood fell upon the soldier’s lips, and he wiped it away with his hand. Yet the next day, he slept past the sunrise, and roused from his slumber only at nightfall. And after tasting Christ’s blood, he thirsted for more.’ These were the words of Longinus, who revealed Christ’s divinity and revealed our place as wolves among the mortal flock. You, now, must take your place among us, the Sanctified.”

Veronica sharply jabs Jade’s side.

Her face remains impassive and fixed on the altar, though.

Another Kindred has approached the altar, clad in a black dress and heels similar to Jade’s. She kneels low before the seneschal. Maldonato’s bloody fingers hover near her forehead as he asks, “Roxanne Gerlette, do you join the Lancea et Sanctum, accepting our tenets as yours, our faith as yours, leaving behind the mortal world and walking in darkness forever, as our Lord God intends?”

“Yes, Your Grace, I do,” answers Isabel Flores.

Her hair is black now, instead of blonde. It might be Celia’s imagination that she walks less gracefully with one foot.

Celia: If you can’t go first, go last. No one remembers the middle bit.

So Celia waits, simmering. Those knuckles of hers are white from how tightly she clutches the pew. The Beast is inside of her, snarling. Isabel. Isabel is here. Isabel is here, has joined her in this unlife, when Celia thought she was rid of her. Her chest is tight with how the thing inside of her paces, stretching, itching to get out. It wants to rip and tear. It wants to bite, to bleed, to listen to that little bitch beg like their mother begged. It wants to strip her bare and parade her on a leash in front of this assembled gathering and watch as they laugh at the disgusting worm who isn’t fit for polite company.

She keeps it lidded. The only thought that keeps her going is her sister bent over their father’s knee, tears streaming down her face, screaming as he beats her raw and bloody. The way she sounded when the hacksaw bit into her flesh. Robot Dancer. Now who’s the robot dancer, Izzy?

Roxanne. Even her name is pretentious. Like everything else about her. Dress from last season, off the rack. Shoes bought at the local bargain bin discount depot. Pathetic.

Her lip doesn’t do so much as curl.

GM: The seneschal brushes his bloody fingers across Isabel’s lips and forehead.

“Welcome to the fold, my child.”

“Thank you, Your Grace,” Celia’s sister answers. “I swear obedience unto Prince Vidal, his laws, and the Camarilla’s laws; this I swear to God, to Longinus, and to…”

She goes on for a bit. Maldonato accepts her oath of obedience on Vidal’s behalf.

“In the name of your aforesaid prince and liege, I receive your oath by the grace of God, and he swears in turn to be a good and faithful lord, and to honor faithful and obedient service with wise and just rulership. Rise now as a subject of the Sanctified Archdiocese of New Orleans.”

She rises and curtsies to the crowd’s polite applause.

She turns when he dismisses her and walks back to her place among the pews.

Her eyes meet Celia’s.

She says nothing. Just stares for a moment. Her gaze was already hard, and now as one of the Damned it seems razor-sharp.

Celia: Jade’s lip finally curls. Her sneer is truly worthy of Veronica’s childe.

GM: Roxanne starts to mouth something. Jade isn’t sure what. It looks hateful.

Hisses of disapproval, interspersed with lowly mocking laughter, start to go up from the assembled throngs at Roxanne’s action. She promptly moves to sit back down, a number of rows behind Veronica and Jade. She can feel her mortal sister’s gaze burning with hate.

Celia: Jade schools her features into calm neutrality. The damage has been done.

GM: Veronica pets her hair, as if to say ‘well done.’

GM: Maldonato dips his fingers in the sanguine chalice again. He is a slender and exceedingly tall individual who stands around a head over most men. His skin is dusky and smooth, with only the merest hint of age’s wrinkles around his deep-set almond eyes. He’s dressed in archaic-looking Arabic attire: navy silk galabiyya (robes), alquice (cloth draped over shoulders) with elaborate geometric print, and imama (turban-like head covering). A gold signet ring set with a sapphire and traced with Arabic script rests upon one of his long, slender fingers.

“Hezekiah Santana, step forward.”

Support: A wall stands up. No, not a wall; a man. The gentlest thing about him are his glasses, and that’s only because they just barely soften the churning, seething passion that resides in his eyes.

He isn’t dressed up for this. He wears a black shirt with short sleeve, marked only by the priest’s white at his neck. Black slacks, too.

He has the light brown skin of the mixed-race, like so many in this city, but any question about his upbringing is squashed beneath the heavy, steady weight of his footfalls.

This is a man raised on street corners and curbside brawls.

GM: With his bloodied fingers hovering near the younger Kindred’s forehead, Maldonato asks, “Do you join the Lancea et Sanctum, accepting our tenets as yours, our faith as yours, leaving behind the mortal world and walking in darkness forever, as our Lord God intends?”

Support: “I do,” the Kindred thunders, and does not waste more words.

GM: The seneschal brushes his middle and index fingers along Hezekiah’s lips and forehead, anointing them in sinner’s blood. The unmistakable coppery tang fills his nostrils.

“Welcome to the fold, my child.”

He knows at this point he is to swear an oath of obedience to God, sect, and prince, as Roxanne did. He may use as few or as many words as he wishes.

Support: “I swear my loyalty to God, to the Camarilla, and to Prince Vidal, and to my flock,” the Brujah rumbles.

GM: Maldonato extends his sapphire-set ring for the new Sanctified to kiss.

“In the name of your aforesaid prince and liege, I receive your oath by the grace of God, and he swears in turn to be a good and faithful lord, and to honor faithful and obedient service with wise and just rulership. Rise now as a subject of the Sanctified Archdiocese of New Orleans.”

Support: Hez does so.

GM: After Hezekiah comes Christopher Guilbeau, a handsome young man around six feet tall with clean-shaven skin, light blue eyes, and long, sandy blond hair he has pulled away from his shoulders. He’s dressed in a dark suit with a burgundy tie it feels like he’d rather not be wearing.

He declines to join the Sanctified, to which Maldonato merely says, “May faith come to you, and may the Requiem treat you well.” He still swears obedience to God, sect, and prince.

After him comes Celia’s former boyfriend, who Maldonato addresses as “Roderick Durant.” He’s dressed in a dark gray three-piece suit and maroon tie that he looks like he could argue a court case in. He also declines to join the Sanctified, but likewise swears obedience to God, sect, and prince.

Veronica had explained the order of sires releasing their childer. The Sanctified sires went first. Among them, first the Ventrue sire, then the Brujah sire. After them came the non-Sanctified. The Ventrue sire first again, with Marcel. Then Coco, as the primogen, and finally Veronica.

“Jade Kalani, step forward.”

With his bloodied fingers hovering near the young Toreador’s forehead, Maldonato asks, “Do you join the Lancea et Sanctum, accepting our tenets as yours, our faith as yours, leaving behind the mortal world and walking in darkness forever, as our Lord God intends?”

Celia: “I do.”

And then, following his next question,

“I swear obedience unto Prince Vidal; to his laws, and the laws of the Camarilla; to our Lord God; to the Sanctified; to these laws, to this sect, to our God and our prince, I give my obedience, my fealty, my reverence.”

GM: The seneschal brushes his middle and index fingers along Jade’s lips and forehead, anointing them in sinner’s blood. The unmistakable coppery tang fills his nostrils.

“Welcome to the fold, my child.”

He extends his sapphire-set ring for the new Sanctified to kiss.

“In the name of your aforesaid prince and liege, I receive your oath by the grace of God, and he swears in turn to be a good and faithful lord, and to honor faithful and obedient service with wise and just rulership. Rise now as a subject of the Sanctified Archdiocese of New Orleans.”

Sunday night, 29 August 2010, PM

GM: The Midnight Mass (tonight is, fortuitously, a Sunday) lasts several hours. The announcement of the Embrace moratorium’s lifting, and the release of Jade and the other four neonates from their sires’ tutelage into Camarilla society, comes after the pomp and ritual of mass itself. The implicit statement is clear that even so significant an event as the city “finally getting back to normal” from Katrina is secondary to the reverence and fear that all Kindred owe to God.

Jade has been to several Elysia, but this was her first time attending a proper mass. The ritus offered much pomp and circumstance: smoldering incense, flasks of blood, rote memorandum chanting of parts of The Testament of Longinus, call-and-response. The congregation recited certain passages of the text with the priests, and maintained a contemplative silence for the rest of the rite, which was led by Father Malveaux and Father Elgin. The ritual transubstantiation of a sinner’s blood into Longinus’ own, and its ritual feeding to the Sanctified attendees, seemed an almost mocking perversion of the sacred Eucharist.

The sermon after the liturgical readings is brief, reminding all the Kindred that they are damned and unholy creatures who will burn forever in Hell for what they are: their only salvation lies in fulfilling God’s intended function for them as man’s perfect predators. Avenging angels to punish the unfaithful. The wolves of God. Katrina is invoked less as a thing to be mourned than as a symbol of God’s wrath: no Kindred, no matter how mighty they hold themselves, is ever unaccountable to the Almighty. The hand of God can lay low even the eldest of them, and entirely without warning. At any point, one’s immortal soul may suddenly be judged and held to account for one’s sins. The presumed ‘immortality’ of the Kindred is still but a speck in the eternal eye of God. Katrina is a reminder of how small the children of Caine truly are, and a reminder that they must never waver in His holy purpose for them, lest they face His judgment tomorrow with sin heavy upon their hearts. Praise be unto God and His almighty damnation!

The crowd of Kindred disperses with plans to reconvene several hours later at the Presbytère, where a Kindred-exclusive exhibit will be held on Hurricane Katrina and the storm’s aftereffects. Gus Elgin promises there shall be “diversions, amusements, and commemorations aplenty.” There will be no tears shed for destroyed monsters in a house of God. In a house of man, however, the storm’s fallen may be mourned, celebrated, and remembered.

Even Veronica looks solemn rather than sneering at that prospect. Everyone Embraced before Katrina lost someone to the storm. Everyone.

The various costumed Kindred begin to make their way out of the church. The logistics involved in preserving the Masquerade are no small thing to coordinate, Mélissaire had explained to Jade. The kine cannot see a parade of monsters attired like Veronica all coming out from the same building, strolling through the same streets.

Some of these Kindred will draw upon their varied gifts of Caine to keep themselves hidden from mortal sight. Others will have servants or allies do so on their behalf. Some Kindred will change out of their more outrageous fashions before departing the church: some will have the clout to secure a private changing space, others will do so publicly before the court’s eyes. Some Kindred will simply wear attire that does not breach the Masquerade. Being able to don such attire, and being able to leave Elysium with minimal apparent inconvenience to oneself, is another badge of status. Another game to be played.

Everyone who can show off wants to show off. Veronica departs arm in arm with Pietro, who exaggeratedly draws his hand over the other Toreador with a flourish, like a magician about to produce a rabbit from a hat. The pair immediately vanish like snuffed-out candles.

Mélissaire told Jade she could simply walk out. Her attire isn’t strange enough to draw attention. She should wait a while, though. The Kindred who remain behind aren’t all supposed to leave at once—better for the Masquerade that way. Elysium’s ‘afterparty’ is a good venue to socialize with what the harpy had charitably termed “the bottom feeders.” Rank neonates like her.

“Roderick’s” sire vanishes from the church in a blur of motion, too fast for any mortal eye to follow. Jade remembers what it was like to be that fast, once.

She and her former boyfriend are left among the remaining C- and D-list Elysium attendees who can’t immediately leave. For good or ill, they are their own Kindred now.

“Roderick” starts chatting with Christopher Guilbeau. He doesn’t seem to immediately notice his ex.

But how could he not? He saw her get up there, before the altar. Heard the seneschal call her by a name as fake as his own.

Roxanne remains in conversation with her sire, who evidently isn’t important enough to immediately leave. Jade can feel her mortal sister’s eyes digging into her back like daggers.

She could approach Roderick here. Or wait until the Elysium finally closes down, and catch him on the way out.

Celia: When Jade had first been Embraced she’d wondered how the immortal spent their years when there were so many of them now allotted. Forever sounds like something magical out of a blushing bride’s dream, but the reality of the situation is, decidedly, not.

They play games. They amuse themselves by playing games, and everyone is a pawn to someone else; every action, every word, every stolen glance is nothing but fodder for the denizens of the undead. It isn’t like mortal politics, where one can bury their head in the sand and be free of it. Everyone plays, and the only way to win is to bury everyone else so far beneath your own feet that they don’t have a chance of ever climbing back out.

Isabel’s glare is paid no heed. To answer such frivolity would be to stoop to her level which, Jade has decided, is so low that doing so is, frankly, unimaginable. How many rows behind her had the bitch sat? Ah, yes, too many to count. She would be doing her lost sister a service if she were to engage in some sort of open rivalry.

So too she sizes up the others, like her, who are left, and her eyes are drawn continuously to the pair in the middle. Christopher and Roderick. A power team of neonates if there ever was one. The Golden Sons. How easily she’d flit among them, butterfly that she is.

And yet…

And yet. That final moment between them lingers in her mind. She plays it over again and again: the way her stomach had fluttered at the thought of running away with him, the anger in his eyes when she told him some version of the truth, the final act of sinking her teeth in. And the taste. Oh, yes, the taste most of all, the genuine emotion, the care, the love.

That is the magic a Kindred can spend their whole unlife trying to chase and never find.

The thought is dismissed as quickly as it came. She rises from her seat, dress sweeping out behind her. Her heels click along the floor.

She moves past him.

There are others to occupy this time until she can catch him alone.

And, like the spider at her throat she claimed to be that evening not so long ago, she will weave her web.

GM: Her ex likely can’t do anything but notice when Jade walks past him. But he doesn’t turn away from his conversational partner. You should assume, Savoy (not just Mélissaire) had cautioned Jade, that anything you say out loud in Elysium will become public knowledge. Gossip for the harpies if it’s juicy enough. Kindred who wish to speak without being overheard should learn to communicate their true meaning circumspectly (“there is an art to it!” the French Quarter lord had chuckled), rely on a discipline for that purpose, find a private rendezvous in the building, or just talk outside Elysium.

“The pendant suits your sire’s childe, Miss Kalani,” smiles a nearby male Kindred. Jade knows him from Savoy’s court. Reynaldo Gui. He’s a tall, attractive young man with a thin frame, goatee, and glinting brown eyes. His dark hair has a slight wave to it, and it hangs down to the top of his shoulders. His skin is dark, especially for a vampire, and he’s left the top buttons of his white button-down shirt open to accentuate his model-good looks. Risque fashions like Veronica’s don’t seem to be for him: Ventrue always trend towards conservative. Jade knows by now that Gui’s is often the first face to greet most of Savoy’s visitors at Elysium, all the better to put them at ease.

Celia: “What a roundabout way of telling me I look fetching, Mister Gui.” Jade’s eyes glitter as brightly as the jewel at her throat as she leans in to kiss each of Gui’s cheeks in the Italian style of his supposed sire.

GM: Gui’s eyes twinkle as he lifts her hand to his lips.

“Wit has to find roundabout ways of telling obvious things, or everyone would have it.”

Celia: “How unfortunate for those who find themselves lacking.” Her eyes drift toward Hez and the large man he stands next to, then back to Gui. She keeps them on his face rather than chance a look at either of the two she knew as a mortal. “So many somebodies with promising young progeny this evening. Pity about the first.”

GM: “Yes. I think a lot of the audience were jealous they and their childer couldn’t have been presented first,” Gui smiles. “But there’s only ever one spot at the top.”

This was also in Mélissaire’s lessons. It’s impossible to get one Ventrue to badmouth a clanmate, at least in public. The blue bloods strive to project a united front to outsiders. It doesn’t do for the Camarilla’s purported rulers to be seen squabbling in front of their lessers.

“So what are your plans now that you’re released, Miss Kalani?” Gui asks, nevertheless clearly changing the topic. “Madam Alsten-Pirrie’s had a few good things to say about your cosmetology skills. It’s not often she says good things about anyone.”

Celia: One can try, at least. Imagine the shock if he had given in to the desire to cut the cunt down to where she belongs.

Jade accepts the change of subject with good humor and a radiant smile. She says that she is pleased her sire is pleased; “she is truly a beautiful canvas. Perhaps one evening you’ll permit me show you firsthand.” Her eyes sweep his form, lingering momentarily at the open button. “Though hard to say how I can improve upon such excellence.”

When in doubt, shamlessly flatter. That was one of Savoy’s earliest lessons.

GM: When in doubt, feed a Ventrue’s ego. That was another one.

“How do you think you’d try, then?” Gui asks, seemingly amused but also curious. “I’ve actually never had a professional work on me, like that.”

“My folks always said salons were for women.”

Celia: “Most people think that,” Jade agrees. “Spas and salons are a closely guarded female secret. We pretend to play at cosmetics when really we get up to so much more. Perhaps I’ll be the one to change your mind about them. Even without improving that which is impossible to better there are things you can enjoy. Muscle work, deep tissue release. Have you ever melted under someone’s touch?”

GM: “Depends in what sense you mean,” Gui smirks. “I’ve actually never had a professional massage. I had a kine associate who recommended it, after my Embrace, but I figured it would lose something after you’re dead. With muscles no longer changing. Has that been true in your experience?”

Celia: “Not at all,” Jade tells him. “Though I suppose there is some argument to be made for different schools of thought. Our bodies don’t change. They can, rather, but come nightfall the next evening we’re right back to where we began. So if you were to be Embraced, say, with a crick in your neck, you’d always wake up to that pain. And yet we do not feel those things because our bodies naturally heal themselves. Is it the blood? Maybe.”

“But you don’t lack the ability to feel. Your muscles can change, even when you’re dead, if you give it the right stimulus.”

“You are familiar, I presume, with Mary Shelley’s cult horror classic Frankenstein. Body parts brought back to life when given the proper jolt of electricity. What some don’t realize is that her work had a real life basis: the research and showings of Giovanni Aldini. In 1803 he had a live showing of what happens when you ‘zap’ a corpse, and in 1818 the showing was repeated by one Andrew Ure. Supposedly the corpse resumed breathing and sat up to point its finger at the audience.”

“You see, the cells of the body do not die when a person breathes their last, which is why it is possible for organ transplants and blood transfusions to work. The death of a multicellular organism is rarely instantaneous, but instead a gradual closing down. An extinction by ages. Nerve and muscle cells continue to retain their hold on life for some time after the individual is dead. Spark of Life, if you’d like to peruse further.”

“During a massage your muscles are worked for a variety of purposes. Generally the goal is to lengthen the fibers to reduce pain. But the act has an effect on almost all of your body’s systems: digestive, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, lymphatic, integumentary… and the nervous system. Most of those systems don’t matter to us, we’re dead. But the nervous system and our muscular system still function. Given the right stimulus at the right time with a practioner who knows your body is passed, it’s possible to retain the changes that your body underwent while on the table. So I wouldn’t suggest a kine therapist, since you can hardly say ’I’m dead.’”

There’s a pause, and Jade smiles at him.

“Of course, the other benefit is that it simply feels amazing. I am very good at what I do.”

GM: “I bet you are,” Gui smirks back.

He seems to look Jade over again. The smirk gives way to a more thoughtful look.

“Beauty and brains is a dangerous combination,” he finally says. “Especially with us.”

His earlier expression returns after a moment. “You’ve still convinced me, though. Where do I sign up for one of these massages?”

Jade can see that several other nearby Kindred have paused to listen to her explanation-cum-lecture. Roxanne looks as if she is deliberately avoiding listening, but the others all look interested.

Veronica, Savoy, and Mélissaire had all told her that Elysium was a good place to ‘network.’

If she isn’t off her mark, Flawless has found its first Kindred customers.

Tuesday night, 31 August 2010, PM

GM: Stephen looks good, for a dead man. A little pale, maybe, but so does pretty much every Kindred. He doesn’t look like the porcelain corpse-doll Jade had found herself transformed into: making her skin pretty and lifelike again was one of the esthetician’s tougher challenges. (But certainly worthwhile—the way her mom sometimes looked at her felt too much like the way the woman had looked at Maxen.)

Really, he looks about the same as he did when they were together. He doesn’t have a six-pack, but he looks like he’s gotten buffer, and his figure was already slim and in shape from those runs and baseball games her dad looked down upon. His clean-shaven face and light brown hair are well-groomed and well-cared for, perhaps with some of the same products she’d recommended—one of the benefits to having a girlfriend in cos school.

He isn’t a sculpted goddess, like Veronica. He doesn’t ooze effortless confidence and aplomb like Savoy. He lacks the frigid, soul-numbing intensity of Donovan. He’s just Stephen. Cute boy. Former significant other.

Who now happens to be a vampire.

Part of him feels different. It just does, even beyond the pallor. More tension, maybe, to the way he walks. Silently sizing up prey and rival predators. That unspoken question of what his fangs look like in his mouth. What sorts of people (girls?) he feeds on. How many times he’s killed. It doesn’t feel anywhere nearly as relaxing, this time, to see him with his clothes off. Especially when he lies down. Predators do not naturally bare their throats and bellies. Or expose their backs. That underlying instinct is there, the same one that makes Pietro and Veronica seem like animals mating rather than people fucking when they get off.

Or it might be the pack of lies she’s fed him. Is still feeding him.

But her kind lie as often as they drink.

Their kind.

So Roderick lies there, on the table, his back exposed to Jade.

And it doesn’t feel at all like it did when Celia massaged Stephen.

Not one bit.

“So when did you open this place?” Roderick asks conversationally.

Celia: She recognizes that scent. Cedar, magnolia, grapefruit. Molton Brown volumizing shampoo. It had been the bottle she’d gifted him after that first month of being together, shyly handing it to him and explaining that the Kumudu Fruit would enrich and thicken his hair, the amino acids would increase the shine.

It had been hard to focus when he came in like that. When she’d walked into the treatment room and seen him lying, shirtless, with the sheets down around his hips. Moments like these she’s glad there is no heartbeat to give her away, no telltale flush to her cheeks. She’s glad, too, that she does not need to draw breath; every time she does she breathes in that scent clinging to his skin and it makes her knees want to wobble.

The oil in her hands is warm. The drawback of being dead is cold hands, but the spa industry has a number of tools to use to to circumvent that particular issue, such as hot towel caddies and bottle warmers. She uses them to great effect with her kine following, and Pietro had mentioned, when she’d done it with him, that it was “a surprisingly decent gesture.”

She knows his body. All of it. She knows where he holds the tension, or at least where he held it while mortal, and her hands instinctively drift to those areas. Despite the body’s deceased status it can still hold areas of physical tension, though among her kind they are not so prominent. He had mentioned there was a twinge in his neck, and Jade had followed the levator scapulae down to the supraspantus and infraspinatus to find the source of the issue, lodged firmly beneath his shoulder blade.

She has his arm tucked behind his back now, wrist resting at his lumbar, to wing the scapula so that her fingers can get beneath it.

“Earlier this year,” Jade tells him. Her voice is quiet; it always is in this room, and she generally does not speak unless she is spoken to. That is the rule of the massage room. Of most treatment rooms, truth be told. It is their time, not hers. “My benefactors gifted me the startup in anticipation of my new independent status.”

Her hand slides beneath the head of the humerus, lifting slightly. The pressure lets her dig further into the spinatus along the back.

“Pain here?”

GM: Tension starts to subside in Roderick’s back as the Toreador begins her work. She’s had lots of practice, and on this specific client no less. She knows where and how to move her hands on his body. She knows how this is done.

Stephen loved getting massages from her. He tried to give one back, a few times, but his touch was clumsy next to the trained (or at least, training) professional’s. So he would usually just eat her out, in return for long massages. It was a good trade.

But Roderick doesn’t relax as completely as Stephen did. Oh, he definitely responds to her touch. But she’s a stranger now, rather than his girlfriend.

And there’s that simmering tension underneath everything, even with his fangs concealed. Veronica had even offered her own two cents on the matter, after a massage. “You’re not ever going to get Kindred to unwind like kine. You’ve got to satisfy the Beast, not just the Man.”

When Jade asked how, Veronica had answered, “Have a good hard fuck on the table with them. Give the massage once the Beast is tired out.”

“Yeah,” says Roderick. “Baseball injury, from a while ago.”

“You’re good at this.”

Celia: “Thank you.” There’s a brief pause. “Your body holds onto it. Sometimes I wish they told us, prior to Embrace, what they had planned and how we would be stuck.” Her tone is wry.

It had been on the tip of her tongue to tell him the words of her sire. To offer to soothe both Beast and Man. At the back of her head were the words of her esthi instructor, and the vision of The Yellow Book. “Every esthetician, cosmetologist, and massage therapist that loses their license because of sex is in this book. They’re stripped of their title and their name will last here, forever, for everyone to know their shame.”

But Jade Kalani does not exist, and thus her name cannot be stricken from the records. Still, there is no casual way to bring it up. “Wanna fuck?” does not eloquently roll off the tongue. Yet that question lingers, and inside of herself Celia wars with the dilemma. Jade wins, in the end. She always does.

“Your internal struggle will prevent the change from taking hold,” Jade points out after a moment. “My work will not be complete without its satisfaction.”

GM: Veronica had approved of that, too. She hadn’t even deigned to respond when Jade told her about the Yellow Book. Just sneered. That look said it all.

The Yellow Book is for kine.

They are Cainites. They take what they want, answerable to “no law but Lilith’s.”

“Some sires do,” says Roderick to her first question. “She didn’t tell me everything, but she said to take a shower and have everything shaved and cut the way I wanted it, because I’d be stuck like this forever.”

He pauses and frowns for a moment at her second one.

“My struggle?”

It’s almost like their first time again.

Questioning. Uncertain.


Celia: There is no small amount of jealousy that surges inside of her at his words. She had told him. He had wanted it.

She had left him alone that night, thinking that he was above this all, and yet when given the opportunity he had jumped.

And she had been there when he showered. Had it been romantic? Had she posed as the girlfriend, the Celia stand-in, and only taken him when she’d broken him down into her loyal pup?

Had it been Celia leaving that had prompted that in him, the certainty that this was what he wanted?

GM: Maybe this is how it felt, too, when she told him.

Celia: Her fingers dig.

“Pressure now,” she says, belatedly.

GM: There’s the faintest hiss, almost a whisper. Perhaps a bit of fang shows.

Celia: “Let it out,” she tells him. “That’s the way to freedom from your mortal pain.”

GM: “I’m Brujah. It’s bad when we let it out.”

Celia: “Ah. Of course. No controlled burn for the Brujah.” She finds a nodule and presses down. It’s uncomfortable, though not painful. “Slower going this way, then.”

Slower going. Multiple sessions. More chances to put her hands on him.

That’s not stalkery at all.

Just call her Coco.

“Anyway,” she says after a moment, “I’m talking about fucking, not fighting.”

It’s not the kind of thing Celia would ever say. She had never asked Stephen to ‘fuck.’ She would allude to it with euphemism, the delicate arch of a brow, a pointed look. But Jade has that going for her: she’s more direct.

GM: Roderick raises an eyebrow.

“Do you do that with all your massage clients?”

Celia: Jade’s laugh is warmer than the rest of her.

“Do I fuck every kine and Kindred client that ends up on my table? No. And I wouldn’t offer it to you if I weren’t worried that your Beast will react poorly with what I’m about to do. Like you said, it’s bad when you let it out.”

She presses on a spot that will send reverberations through his body. It’s the source of that old injury, the one he probably doesn’t feel anymore, but it’s still there lingering beneath the surface.

“Do you feel that? Fighting inside you when I touch here? Your body will never fully relax until it’s sated. Our conversation has made me see I’ll need something in place for the future, some sort of reinforced panic room to let it out prior to appointments, but since that isn’t available at this moment I’m offering you an easy out. The alternative is to do shorter sessions more frequently.”

Like a series of dates.

GM: “What do those offer next to the ‘out?’” Roderick asks. “If, like you say, the Beast needs to come out. Meeting more often sounds like essentially more of what we’re doing right now.”

Celia: “There’s still work I can do that’ll stick. Smaller changes over a longer period of time.” Her fingers release the pressure. She slides her hand out from underneath his shoulder, smoothing out the skin across his back. It’s a gliding movement rather than kneading, meant to soothe. “Shy, Roderick? I can take you out first. Make it special.”

GM: There’s no physiological impulse in the dead to sigh, as Jade knows, but Roderick seems to relax under her practiced touch.

“We’re both pretty new to this. My sire says it isn’t a big deal for licks to share blood.”

“But something special first sounds nice. I don’t think I’ve really been one for casual sex.”

“The last one-night stand I had with a breather ended up turning into something committed.”

Celia: “Good looking guy like you? I can see why.” Her hands flatten on his back, palms pressing against his sacrum. She pushes and holds the stretch. Working on Kindred and their undead muscles is definitely a unique experience, but she hadn’t been lying to Gui when she’d told him that, even without the lasting benefits, it still feels good. Isn’t that what life is all about? Dying had perverted the pleasure, but the desire for it is still there.

“I think it’s less taboo for casual sex with the licks. I had an experience with one when I was still mortal. Did this trick with a drink. Was worried it was a roofie at the time, probably just star mode though. Worked when it wouldn’t have normally.”

She releases the stretch. Her hands flow back up his spine, on either side but not touching the bones themselves, and finishes the motion with her fingertips at the base of the occiput.

GM: Jade can still feel the Beast’s tension in Roderick’s spine, but she can feel the Man’s steadily diminishing as she does her work and the conversation flows.

“It’s a useful way to hunt,” Roderick agrees. “I guess it’s a little stupid for us to get hung up over ‘casual sex’ with each other when we’re out having it basically every night with random breathers.”

Celia: “We all need a code.”

She doesn’t want to think about him having sex with randoms. How much sex does he have? Every night? Surely not. He’s exaggerating. Wouldn’t be hard for him to pick up girls like that, though. Flash a little smile, maybe a wink.

They probably throw themselves at him.

“I think it’s kind of sweet.”

Celia thinks it’s sweet, anyway. With her former partner under her hands it’s been harder and harder to keep her under wraps.

“Suppose ‘drinks’ are off the table then.”

GM: “Yeah. It’s too bad. We don’t really have an equivalent icebreaker.”

Celia: “Naked on my table doesn’t count?”

GM: “I guess there’s that,” he grants with a chuckle. “I got a lot of massages when I was breathing. It’s too bad for Gui he missed out on that.”

Celia: “It’s the kind of thing most men need to be talked into. Then they spend the whole time making super uncomfortable happy ending jokes, or tell me to drop an elbow into their spine because ’they’re real men and they can take it,’ despite the fact that spine is, you know, bone and not muscle and I don’t touch it.”

There’s a pause while her hands continue their work.

“Bet a Brujah would give a killer massage. Speed and strength? Sign me up.”

GM: “Yeah, there’s a lot that goes into massage. Most people outside the industry don’t appreciate how physically demanding it can be.”

“Getting Embraced had to be a big perk, there. You don’t ever get sore or tired.”

Celia: “Date someone in the industry?”

GM: “Yeah. That earlier relationship I mentioned.”

“She used to give me long massages like this in return for going down on her.”

Celia: “Nice trade.”

GM: “Yeah.”

Celia: “Miss her?”

GM: “We split up under pretty ugly circumstances.”

A pause.

“But yeah. Sometimes.”

Celia: Every girl’s fantasy, right? Find out if your ex misses you.

“I was with someone. Before all this. Had to break it off after, make sure he wouldn’t try to come for me. Told him some ugly things, too. Kept thinking, ‘what if I just ghouled him,’ right? Then I looked at that life and thought it wasn’t worthy of him. Wanted him to go on and do great things.”

“For what it’s worth, Stephen, I cried for days.”

GM: Just like that, his body is suddenly as tense as a startled cat’s.

He turns around to look her in the eye.

“What’d you just call me?”

Celia: Her hands finish the movement they’d been in the process of before halting and lifting from his body. She doesn’t take a step backward, but the tension in his body is echoed in hers.

“Your name. The one from before all of this. Before we broke up.”

GM: He stares at her.

“Drop the fucking stealth mode.”

Celia: “I can’t. It’s a permanent change.”

GM: “What the fuck? Who did this to you? Why the fuck?”

Celia: “My Embrace was more brutal than yours. It left some permanent… damage.”

GM: Even without touching him, she can feel the Brujah’s rising temper behind his words.

“My Embrace wasn’t brutal? You’re the whole reason I’m a vampire!”

Celia: “…what?”

GM: “You, you tore out my heart, Celia. Tore it out and stomped it into fucking bits. I was a mess. A wreck. Just a total wreck.”

“Coco swooped in at just the right time. She said I could destroy the Mafia, if she made me like her.”

“And you know what?”

“I said I had nothing else to fucking live for.”

Celia: Her hands move to cover her mouth.

She had done this. She’d tried to keep him out of it and instead had brought him in. Her earlier fears were true: she’d hit him hard enough to make him pliable for Coco.

“I couldn’t stay with you. I almost killed you that night. Think about it: would you have let me go if I hadn’t… done it that way?”

GM: “I don’t know. I just know you’re why I’m a vampire,” Stephen says flatly.

Celia: “I was trying to keep you out of it.”

GM: “What about Lucy?” he suddenly asks.

Celia: “Maxen raped my mom. All of the accusations leveled against him were true. Lucy is her daughter. I said she was mine to keep her safe.”

There’s a pause.

“Nobody else knows.”

GM: “Oh. I guess that makes sense.”

Stephen suddenly gets up and hurls the massage table aside, smashing it into the wall with a terrific crash. The towel drops from his naked body, but it’s his jutting fangs and bulging, furious, eyes that Celia’s gaze might be most drawn to. He shudders for a moment, as if trying to hold in his inner monster, and clenches his fists.

“Except how you’re still lying to me and I can’t trust a single fucking thing you say!”

Celia: Celia moves as soon as he does, backing away from the boyfriend turned Kindred turned raging monster. She lifts her hands in front of her, placating.

“I’m not. I’m not lying. I swear I’m not lying. I haven’t lied to you about anything except my name.”

GM: “Bullshit!” Stephen seethes, taking several jerkish steps towards her as his eyes burn. “Come clean, right now, or I swear to God, I won’t be able to stop you from learning why the other clans don’t piss mine off—even if I fucking wanted to!”

Celia: “What do you want me to say? That Lucy is yours? Do you want to meet her so you can know the truth? Do you need me to find the footage of what happened that night? Should I show you what I look like underneath all the makeup and reconstruction?” She matches him, step for step, until her back hits the wall behind her. The room isn’t large enough for his budding rage.

GM: That rage is larger than him, too.

There’s no warning except a feral snarl. Suddenly, he’s flying at her, hitting her, beating her, raining down blow after blow as a monster stares out from his eyes.

The too-familiar red haze descends as Celia’s own monster bursts its bonds.

Then only darkness.

Date ?

GM: Bliss burns Celia’s lips.

There’s hurt, everywhere else.

There is pain.

There is hurt.

There is want.

But it all pales, next to the bliss.

Celia: She drinks. It hurts to swallow. It hurts when her head moves to find the source. It hurts when her lips press down and she sucks. But she swallows, because there’s pleasure there too, and she needs it, she wants it.

GM: Eventually, the life-giving font recedes.

There is still pain.

There is still hurt.

There is still want.

And there’s nothing to satisfy it.

But the red haze is gone. Her surroundings materialize. Celia’s in what looks like a ratty upstairs office space. There’s a desk with papers, a computer, and assorted clutter. A few chairs, a leather couch, and more assorted clutter round out the dingy walls. A dartboard hangs from one of them. Music dimly pounds from under the floor.

Celia’s on the couch. Coco Duquette is seated next to her. Stephen’s sire is dressed in a black turtleneck, chic leather jacket, gray paratrooper pants, and black mid-calf boots. Her now-curly hair is purple now. Darker at the top, redder at the bottom.

“Rise and shine, fledgling.”

Celia: “Turtleneck,” is the first word out of Jade’s mouth. It hurts to move. Hurts to open her eyes, even; how badly had he beaten her that her eyelids hurt? She’s afraid to look. Glad there’s not a mirror readily available.

She’s alive. Relatively.

GM: “Yes, I suppose they are a giveaway,” the elder Brujah remarks.

“I guess you’ve learned the hard way what happens when we lose our tempers.”

Celia: “Y’were… followin’ ‘im. N’my fault.” Talking hurts. Words hurt. Movement hurts. Thinking hurts. Had it always hurt?

GM: “Yes. It was his decision. And mine.”

“You might’ve influenced his emotional state, but the only way not to ever do is to feel nothing for nobody. Flap your wings in Brazil if you’re a butterfly and you might cause a tornado in Texas, and all that.”

She’s pretty confident what her dad would answer to that.

It can’t hurt if you’ve never done it.

But first times usually are painful.

Celia: It wasn’t painful with Stephen.

Except for this time. Where he beat her. Speaking of…

“Mmph. Mhm.” She doesn’t know what else to say. “He’ere?”

Had he broken her jaw?

It feels like he did.

GM: “He’s feeling a little testy, still. He dropped you off so I could wake you up.”

Celia: There’s a level of decorum here that she should observe, she’s sure. But she can’t seem to think of it. What do you say to your ex boyfriend’s sire who he blames you for Embracing him after she wakes you up when he beats you into a bloody pulp at your place of business?

She’s pretty sure Lord Savoy would know the answer.

“’E tell you?”

GM: “Yes. I was a bit curious why he was so concerned for Jade Kalani.”

“He still is concerned, even if he is angry.”

Celia: That had been her next question. There’s a crack in her jaw as it rights itself. She stretches it, then snaps her teeth back together with a click.

“Didn’t mean to hurt him. Thought it was the right thing at the time.”

That’s how it always goes with her.

Maybe she should start doing the wrong thing.

GM: “You may not have done the right thing, but I think you did the rightest thing you knew how to do,” Coco agrees.

“He has been following you on social media, though. Celia Flores’ face appears in quite a few pictures.”

Celia: That thought, absurdly, makes her giddy.


GM: “He’s been following you outside social media, too. Baby Lucy has really kept him up, figuratively speaking.”

“I suppose the name is a little old-fashioned for someone of your generation.”

Celia: He’d been stalking her. The thought is disquieting. He’d never said anything. Never approached. Hadn’t he wondered? Why hadn’t he just… said something? Called? Texted? It’s not like she had dropped off the face of the planet. She had social media. She hadn’t changed her phone number.

Did he know it was her spa? Is that why he’d made the appointment?

“How much did he say?”

GM: “All of it. I suppose you’re even, so far as what you know about each other’s old lives.”

Celia: “And now you know.”

GM: “That explains, too, why you’re so cozy with Savoy. I imagine he’s been more than receptive towards the idea of taking down your mortal father.”

Celia: “I tried. I failed. You know what happened because of it.”

GM: “I’m sure he’s almost as unhappy over it as you are. That scandal really should have been enough to torpedo any politician.”

Celia: “He has friends in high places.”

There’s a brief pause. Celia sighs. She doesn’t want to ask, but she’s going to.

“Did he follow me because of Lucy or because of me?”

GM: “My guess would be some of both.”

Celia: “Salvageable?”

GM: “Maybe, if you can be honest with him.”

“Though honesty doesn’t come easy to us.”

Celia: “Everything I say to him he’ll say to you.”

GM: Would that be so bad, some part of Celia asks?

“At this point, definitely.”

“If you become something more to each other again, I suppose we all have our secrets from the people and Kindred close to us.”

Celia: “You would have gone after him anyway, even if I hadn’t… ‘ripped out his heart.’ He’d have been yours. Never mine. Not for long.”

GM: “I’d had my eye on him for a while.”

“But if you two had gotten engaged?”

“That’s a lot to walk away from. I don’t want a childe who’s anything but certain this is where he or she wants to be.”

Celia: Well. Fuck. So it is her fault. Everything is her fault.

GM: “Or a childe who resents me for stealing him away from the family he could have had.”

Celia: “Then I did the work for you. Shattered him, so he was easy pickings.” Her laugh lacks humor. “It wasn’t a choice at all for him, and now I have to… acknowledge that. Forever.”

“I didn’t have a choice. I guess I’m glad his sire is more humane.”

GM: “If you wanted to, you could find ways to blame everyone from your father to your mother to Veronica for him getting Embraced like he did. All of them played a role in the chain of events that led to him dying under my fangs.”

Celia: “I’d rather acknowledge my hand in it and mend the damage. Though I hardly see it as a punishment.”

GM: “If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that we often grossly overestimate our own degree of importance. To just about everything.”

Celia: “Ha.”

She sees what Coco did there.

Backhanded consolation. She’ll have to learn that trick.

“I almost asked him to run off with me. Months prior. Before everything. But I suppose I’ve spent enough of your time asking about mortal heartbreak. It shouldn’t matter anymore.” Still, she sounds bitter. Wistful. “Will you let him know, when he’s ready to listen, that I’ll tell him everything?”

GM: “Time and honesty heal most wounds,” agrees Coco.

“Until that night.”

Previous, by Narrative: Story Eleven, Jon II
Next, by Narrative: Story Eleven, Caroline III

Previous, by Celia: Story Eleven, Celia I
Next, by Celia: Story Eleven, Celia III

Story Eleven, Caroline II

“Don’t trust any of them, Caroline. They’re all snakes. The only question is which ones are closest to your throat."
Claire Malveaux

Wednesday night, 23 December 2015, AM

Caroline: Meeting privately with Claire, Caroline tells her mother about her bizarre meeting with her uncle. His exaggerated vices and compulsions. The near insanity with which he spoke. There’s a fair amount of ground to cover, but Caroline’s destination is more important than the journey: she doesn’t think Father Malveaux is capable of creating ghouls. She asks bluntly if her mother has any evidence that he’s done so in the past. More to the point, if he cannot do so, such a detail is something she doesn’t think others could have failed to have noticed over time. It puts a very different spin on Ferris.

GM: Although the two met only hours ago, Claire wants an update on the Orson meeting as soon as possible and has her daughter over again. She listens to Caroline’s account very attentively, and is typically cynical over how Father Malveaux doesn’t really care about his family. Of course he doesn’t. The fact things got so out of hand and his own apparent indifference towards Orson’s utilitarian value, though… Caroline said that Antoine Savoy had told her the soon-to-be bishop was insane? That claim does not appear to be entirely without basis.

As to his capacity to create ghouls, Claire frowns and says she doesn’t think her daughter has the full story. It’s true that she can’t name very many “slaves he’s contaminated with his blood” next to even the ones Caroline has. But she can name one. A little girl albino, who’s been at his side for years. She seemingly hasn’t aged a day during any of that time.

Perhaps creating ghouls is simply harder for him. Perhaps it carries a greater cost. Perhaps he can only “contaminate” humans who fit a certain criteria, much like he and Caroline are restricted in the ones they can feed on. Claire also points out that he has hated Caroline and given her comparatively few opportunities to become acquainted with his “slaves”. Maybe he hides them from other Kindred out of paranoia. Maybe he could have ghouled Alphonse and exercised some power (he is proficient with blood magic) not to do so. His questionable mental state makes his actions even harder to place context to.

It is apparent that he relies on ghouls less than other Kindred. But it is difficult for them to definitively say more. Claire does believe, though, that if Father Malveaux is capable of making ghouls (and simply under greater restrictions than most Kindred), Roger Ferris makes eminent sense as one of the few ghouls he would keep.

Caroline: If his only ghoul—or only known one—has been around for a long time, and shares his albinism, she proposes two additional possible answers there. Perhaps, as her mother suggests, he indeed can only ghoul those that meet a specific criteria. It’s also possible that he has some psychological compulsion about it, or that he’s simply lost the ability over time.

“There have been certain things that came on later, for me,” she admits. “Weaknesses.”

None of which mean for certain that Roger couldn’t have been a ghoul in his service. The Albino has many allies—the strongest of which is perhaps the sheriff. She could conceive of him having someone else ghoul Roger ‘for him’. He wouldn’t have the same ties from the bond—which might explain his willingness to cut a deal with him at the expense of the Albino previously. It’s also possible that someone else ghouled Ferris and set him on the path towards her, or at least dangled certain things in front of him that she’d presumed came from the Albino.

“I can’t help but remember that the other man with him didn’t want to show his face, that this whole thing cropped up when the Albino was out of town, and that Savoy had his lead enforcer available to respond so damn quickly. And even if he didn’t, I can’t help but think such a weakness in the Albino isn’t something he wouldn’t have known about.”

GM: “That wouldn’t surprise me,” Claire replies over a sip of her drink. “All of your kind are poison. We might investigate this other slave of the Albino’s more closely to better ascertain his capabilities.”

Caroline: The heiress folds her hands. “I’ll see what I can find out, but I don’t expect him to be exactly forthcoming, if it really is an area of weakness.” She shakes her head. “Maybe I’m drawing connections where there aren’t any. Honestly, these webs are so tangled I can barely keep track of them. Abélia, Savoy, Maldanato, the Albino—there are so many secrets and plots. It’s navigating a pit of vipers in the dark, and I feel deaf and dumb half the time compared to the other players. So easy to make a misstep. If one of mine had been a little less skilled with the camera, or I’d not thought to put her up there in the first place, I’d probably be fully wrapped up in Savoy’s coils right now.”

“And it’s not as though I can exactly have these discussions with anyone.”

GM: “Don’t trust any of them, Caroline,” her mother replies. “They’re all snakes. The only question is which ones are closest to your throat.”

Caroline: “All of them,” Caroline snaps, angrily. “They’re all around my throat, and I don’t.” She balls a fist, then releases it.

GM: “Just wait. It sounds as if they’re about to all bite themselves apart with the prince’s torpor on the horizon.”

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “That’s a nice idea, but I don’t think it’s tenable. Everyone is going to want firmer commitments before that happens.”

And when it does, my window closes, along with my Requiem.

GM: “Including me, Caroline. Six weeks. The rest of the world is not waiting on us.”

Caroline: As for getting closer, she has an opportunity to do so, to perhaps get a closer look at the Albino. They’re to go out at some point in the not distant future, to see how he would treat ‘sinners’ and find his feast within the bounds of their notionally shared faith.

GM: Claire’s eyes sharpen at this statement.

“I trust the opportunity that presents isn’t lost on you, Caroline.”

Caroline: “May present,” Caroline agrees more mildly.

GM: Her mother merely gives a dry look.

Caroline: “If and when it presents a significant opportunity I’ll bring it to you.”

GM: “Opportunities happen when one makes them happen, Caroline. Your father taught you that.”

Caroline: “And if nothing else I’ve created an opportunity to learn more about his hunting habits and preferred victims, which I’m sure is of some use. If it grows into more than that, I’ll keep you in the loop.” She bites her lower lip. “If nothing else, you’d need a countermeasure to his apparent invisibility.”

GM: “It will be arranged. The more you can learn about his personal capabilities on this trip, the better.”

But “beyond the topic of the Albino,” Claire remarks with some distaste, she is… gladdened by her daughter’s recent actions. “Orson is a disgusting pig and a heavy-handed tyrant, of course, you’re right. I think fewer of the family would mourn his death than even Westley.”

Caroline: “People mourned Westley, Mom,” Caroline offers softly. “People that knew him.”

It’s evident in her eyes that among those people is Caroline herself. Rene’s taunts, that he ‘screamed her name’ still haunt her.

GM: Her mother says nothing for a moment at that. She doesn’t look quite sad. Or quite glad.

“I suppose that both… they are, or were, family, whatever else they might be. Better that the archbishopric remains in our hands than a stranger’s. You’re right that Orson dying would’ve created such a headache…”

Claire’s expression softens. “And in… more ways than one. The family has been through enough death… even his, would have just cast such a shadow over Luke’s and Cécilia’s wedding. She and her sisters might even mourn him more than some of us—they’ve not had to put up with him for years.”

“And with the Albino on board with your ‘coming out’… now you don’t have to ‘die’ too.”

There’s something small in Claire’s voice. Something quiet, but soft, perhaps even warm. Caroline cannot help but think back to her mother’s earlier words. Hope is a luxury. I deal in realities.

Claire takes a slow sip from her drink, then declares quietly, “I don’t know how much longer I’m going to be around, Caroline.”

She looks old, next to her daughter. The lines on her face are so much deeper. Her own blonde hair so much drier and wispier. Her fingers and cheeks thinner.

Caroline: “You’re not that old,” Caroline answers defensively. “Sixty is the new forty, I’m told.”

But she can’t deny that Claire has aged at least ten years in the last six months. Since ‘all this’ started. Caroline’s Embrace. Westley’s death. Claire’s outing to Donovan, the seneschal, and others at Caroline’s hands. It all starts with her, and one way or another it’s hard to deny that it’s likely to send her mother to an early grave. It’s a fact she doesn’t want to face, an ugly truth.

GM: “You’re right I’m not that old,” Claire answers calmly. She does not retract her earlier statement.

“I’d like this to go right for him… and for her. Whether I get to see it or not… just knowing it maybe will, after tonight, and that your brother is getting married… I think I could be all right with that.”

She trails off and just looks at Caroline for a moment, in that way only mothers can.

“You look… good, did you know that? Less pale, maybe.”

Caroline: The look makes Caroline uncomfortable, makes her unconsciously smooth her skirt and creates an urge to adjust her hair that she only barely fights. Her mother was her first, and her best, critic. She braces for the next critique and is pleasantly surprised when it’s positive instead. It takes a moment for her expression, pointedly neutral, to catch up, but eventually she cracks a slow smile that spreads across her face.

“Less of the monster tonight, I guess, than the daughter.”

“It comes and goes,” she admits. “I feel more like me though tonight than I have in a while.”

Still, it’s evident that her mother’s compliment means a great deal to her, both for what it is, and for the apparent recognition of her attempts to fight the monster.

GM: “Well, keep it up. Your skin tone is already pale, more doesn’t flatter you,” Claire answers, perhaps just as unused to doling out the praise as her daughter is to receiving it.

Caroline: She has more to discuss as well, about the Devillers. She relates the high points of what the twins hinted out—a dark secret they weren’t willing to share lightly, but that she suspects she can get at. Along with some details about their ‘notional’ parentage.

GM: “Who—or what—might have ‘raped’ Abélia?” Claire poses thoughtfully. “Their sisters imply a long-term relationship, abusive or not. Cécilia is 26. Simmone is 10. I suppose it’s possible the girls could have different fathers, but they look so alike that seems very improbable.”

“Then again, it’s impossible to be certain if the children are even hers. Perhaps Abélia was speaking figuratively to Cécilia. Or simply lying.”

“But you’re right getting the full version from her younger sisters could only be to our benefit.”

Caroline: So far as she can tell, none of them have real knowledge of the supernatural. But, then, she’d believed the same true of her mother, she admits.

GM: “Yes,” Claire agrees simply.

Caroline: Still, there’s even more surrounding them than she’d thought. She relates her reaction to trying to use her abilities on Simmone. The black blood and the veil between worlds going thin.

GM: Claire purses her lips. “Then it’s probably fair to assume her other children are so protected. I’m glad we know that now.”

“But you shouldn’t rape people’s minds so casually in any case, Caroline,” her mother frowns critically, as if Caroline just confessed she’s been binging on Ben & Jerry’s to relieve stress. “That isn’t any way to calm a child down.”

Caroline: “I don’t make a habit of it,” Caroline replies defensively. “And it gave us something else to go on.”

GM: Claire purses her lips again, but seemingly chooses to leave the matter be.

Caroline: Caroline continues how, of course, that Abélia has seemingly moved herself into the LaLaurie House—a goal of hers all along. Or at least, so her daughters believe.

GM: Claire’s expression looks very dark at that news. Finally she replies,

“I don’t trust coincidences, Caroline. I’ve heard and looked into enough of the details, about that night the Devillers and Whitney girls were shot. That’s very convenient for Abélia how events played out. Some homosexual or transsexual or whatever youth, and uninvolved police officer, are the only ones injured at the house itself. Then, Abélia is ‘forced’ to buy the property. Immediately, in an effectively no-bid contract. It could have taken years normally for that house to go on the market and for even more eccentrics like the last owner to make different offers for it.”

Claire looks thoughtful. “If you still mean to dig into her finances, that might be illuminating to see whether it looked as if she was preparing to make a major purchase. I don’t know how many millions that house had to have cost, but even your Uncle Matt wouldn’t simply buy it as an impulse purchase.”

Caroline: Caroline nods in agreement on coincidences. “Neither did the girls. And my how it also generated goodwill with the Whitneys, with the house no longer as their headache, and her taking it off their hands without causing a scene.”

She’s less optimistic about chasing the money that went into the specific purchase, though she’s not disinterested in it. Financing is relatively ease with large assets to leverage against.

GM: Claire agrees it costs little, at least, to investigate. It’s the news that Abélia has moved in with Simmone, though, that causes Caroline’s mother to simply stare.

“It’s one of the blackest sites of evil in the entire city, Caroline. You don’t just move in with your ten-year-old on a lark.”

Caroline: The heiress arches an eyebrow. “You don’t say? If she wanted the house, it was for a reason.”

GM: “Just study the history. The things that woman did to her slaves were beyond atrocious. Even your kind would be hard-pressed to do much worse. That sort of evil… it doesn’t pass without consequence. It leaves its mark. Stains that never come out.”

Caroline: She pauses. “Didn’t the original Madame LaLaurie flee to France?”

GM: Claire considers. “I think she did.”

Caroline: The heiress nods. “I don’t think that Abélia is LaLaurie… but honestly, some of those things she’s described as doing match some of the things I saw in the Dungeon in their horror. Maybe even influenced by someone familiar with it. Someone that might have followed her and her family to France and only recently returned?”

She folds her hands in front of her. “It’s thin, but it would explain the interest in the house… and her lack of fear of it.”

GM: Her mother frowns in consideration. “What reasons would someone have to follow LaLaurie to France, then return during Katrina?”

Caroline: “Lots of vampires bit it during the storm, including plenty of powerful and important ones. Maybe some rival did. Or just enough knowledge of her did.” She bites her lip. “Or maybe it’s the decline of the prince. There’s talk that he’s never quite recovered from Katrina. She mentioned wanting to see him learn some lessons. Maybe it’s her last chance.”

GM: “The power vacuum. Of course, that would make sense. But why follow LaLaurie to France? Assuming, of course, that Abélia is an elder vampire, and had something she wanted from LaLaurie, she could simply fake the woman’s disappearance and keep her in New Orleans.”

Caroline: “Honestly, Mom, our motives are as complex as any person’s. Maybe even more so given you’re dealing with beings that can see plots in centuries and others whose very blood drives them insane. Maybe she had genuine affection for LaLaurie. Perhaps the entire LaLaurie flight from the city was orchestrated by another vampire as part of a broader move against her. Maybe she was willing to move on to Europe—or perhaps return.”

GM: “That’s difficult for us to do much more than speculate on.” Claire pauses. “But not for her ‘daughters’. I’d mine them for further information about their lives back in France, too.”

“We should be no less curious exactly who, or what, ‘raped’ Abélia, especially if she is centuries old. Those girls are only 17.”

Caroline: Caroline expects her ‘coming out’ will create an opportunity to chat further with them, and she’ll continue to do as her mother asked and ply into the details of that family her brother is marrying them into.

GM: Claire approves of this. She speculates as to the possibility of playing Abélia and the Albino against one another, but grants they need more intelligence on the former.

She also raises the possibility of Caroline mining further information from the other sisters. “You said Simmone is almost constantly by Abélia’s side these days. And Cécilia may know the most of the family’s past, if Abélia told her the twins’ secret freely.”

Caroline: The heiress gives a grim smile, though offset by the oddest look of strain or discomfort.

“She’d eat him for breakfast.” She’ll continue to investigate.

Wednesday evening, 23 December 2015, PM

GM: Shit hits the fan. Caroline’s phone explodes with texts and voicemails. Luke, Adam, Gabriel, and Carson all want to meet Caroline and talk. Savannah offers to meet her for coffee, further adding that “I don’t blame you, at all.” Vera leaves a shrill and nasty voicemail about how Caroline “keeps ruining things” for everyone, “right when your uncle is in the hospital, no less! No wonder he had a heart attack!” Virginia sends a text simply saying sorry. Her father, Matt, Thomas, Elaine, and Charlotte don’t contact her.

Caroline: Caroline takes the notes from her assistant and retires to listen to the messages from her family in her bedroom, all but slamming the door in Widney’s face. She doesn’t even listen to all of Vera’s message—the first few words are more than enough—before she presses 7 to delete it. The others she sits through patiently, making some notes. A couple she listens to more than once. All of the messages she saves.

The night before, with Orson, had barely felt real with the Albino watching and Orson’s insane rantings and threats. Even discussing it all with her mother, who knows the truth hadn’t hit her. Listening to the messages though from the rest of her family hurts: from her angry and confused brothers, to Carson (who she knows she’s disappointed more than, perhaps, anyone but her father), to Savannah (whose secret she selfishly stole and appropriated for her own purposes). It hurts, in a way she’d almost forgotten she could hurt.

The Ventrue is grateful that she’s alone as she sits on her bed and pulls her knees up to her chest, listening to her ‘future’ and the relationships she’s had her entire life die through her phone. Vampires can’t really sob—with no need to breathe there’s no need for the shuddering breaths and faint whimpers that accompany such a human reaction, but it doesn’t stop her from staining her cheeks red as she plays the messages and selfishly wishes in some ways that she’d just agreed to ‘die’. At least then they’d be the ones crying and sad and alone, instead of her. There isn’t even anyone she can talk to about it.

She’ll probably never see her father again, and the memory of what he said to her when they last saw each other face to face is of bitter comfort. If she sees her brothers after this week it’ll be through a crowd. And her mother… her mother’s convinced she’ll be dead in the year as well—another matter to lay on her conscience. Caroline Malveaux is effectively dead, almost as dead as she actually is. She weeps for herself even as she hates herself for that weakness.

GM: Neil also leaves a voicemail. He’s sure she’s heard already, but adds that her uncle underwent surgery and is in stable condition. “I know you two weren’t close, but… I hear you saved his life. You might’ve made a pretty good doctor after all, Caroline.”

Caroline: It’s Neil’s message that finally breaks her from her self-pity. It’s a welcome respite from the barrage of vitriol, but even more than that it’s a reminder that for everything she’s lost today, she’s retained some things as well. She pauses in her listening to wash her face, then calls him back to thank him for the update and adds a few more medically pointed questions about her uncle’s recovery. She also, almost on impulse thanks him for making her go after Angela. “There’s some family stuff going on—I’m sure you picked up on it based on their absence from the party. It wasn’t fair of me to take out my frustration on her.”

She calls back Carson, Luke, Adam, Gabriel, and Savannah, her tone colored by her relationships with each.

With Carson she’s contrite and reserved, almost seemingly waiting for his admonishment. With Luke and Garbiel she’s sanguine. With Adam she’s merely quiet. With Savannah calm. She’s willing to meet each of them privately. She suggests that Luke and Gabriel might find cover under Christmas Eve plans with the Devillers, and is certain the sisters will be happy to give them an opportunity to chat privately. Carson she’s available for tonight, if he wants to see her then. Adam she’s happy to meet at the church one night this week after hours—she expects he’s going to be very busy with Christmas services. Savannah she tells her schedule is open, though she suggests perhaps something more private than a coffee shop. She understands that she’s persona non grata, and doesn’t want that to rub off on her successful cousin.

GM: The Ventrue well knows that many judges work more than 50 hours per week, and as chief judge for his court, Carson works more hours than most. He reminds her of this, and frankly tells her that it was inconsiderate to wait so long before returning his 7 AM voicemail. That makes it even harder to fit her in. It’s after 7 PM by the time Caroline returns his call and he calls her back.

“Let’s have this out before Christmas,” he says tiredly. “You can come by my house. Barbara and I go to bed at 9. We’ve already had dinner.”

Caroline: Caroline agrees and drives over to meet with her uncle. She texts the Devillers twins and tells them she has a few more family meetings, but will be home later tonight and would love to see them.

GM: The sisters avidly agree in kind.

Luke agrees to see Caroline while they’re over with the Devillers. Maybe if things… Luke doesn’t say ‘work out’. There isn’t that much hope in his voice. But “at least it’ll be before Christmas Day.”

Caroline: The heiress is happy to meet him there. She’s not particularly hopeful either, and adds that he shouldn’t let anyone do anything stupid on my account in the family.

GM: Luke just sighs. “We’ll… we’ll talk about it there, Caroline.”

Gabriel doesn’t find it as convenient. He tries to spend Christmas Eve, and Day, between their grandmother in Baton Rouge and their larger family in New Orleans. That’s already inconvenient and he didn’t have any plans to spend the holiday with the Devillers. “Grandma doesn’t really have anyone else except Jordan, Caroline, and he has family he wants to spend time with too… we’re already juggling schedules so she doesn’t have to be alone on Christmas. Could you make it up to Baton Rouge? Grandma… I haven’t told her you’re gay. It’d just upset her. Or… maybe it wouldn’t. She’d love to see you. She’d love to see anyone.”

Caroline: Caroline isn’t willing to drive to Baton Rouge. “It would just be bringing all of this home to her,” she states. She is willing to meet him a day or two after Christmas though.

*GM: “It doesn’t matter to her, Caroline. She’s past caring. Everyone else in the family forgets she even exists,” her brother entreats. “Please. She doesn’t have a lot of time left and it’d mean a lot to her.”

Caroline: Gabriel’s plea doesn’t fall on deaf ears, and Caroline is grateful they’re on the phone rather in person so he can’t see the cracks in her mask. Still, she’s firm that she’ll not be driving to Baton Rouge. She’s sorry, but she has enough problems without opening up a can of worms by visiting family in that way, and she isn’t going to bring it home to her grandmother or her little brother who has his whole future ahead of him.

GM:None of that matters to her, Caroline,” her brother repeats, his voice increasingly pained. “She’s 86. She doesn’t care anymore. She doesn’t even have anything to care about. No one talks with her. I think she’d actually be happy if Dad or Orson called her up and yelled for talking with you. All she wants in her life right now is… is just more people.”

“And you’re not ruining things for me either! No one would even know if you drove up. No one pays attention to Baton Rouge anymore. No one lives there. There’s just me and Grandma left, everyone else has moved to New Orleans or DC. And I’m going to college next year. PLEASE, Caroline, it would mean so much if you came up!”

Caroline: The (now disinherited) heiress doesn’t budge. Her whole life is coming part: side trips the capital aren’t on her agenda. She scolds him for his commentary about no one caring if she goes up. People would very much care, and he should too. If he hasn’t noticed, Malveauxes are a dwindling group. Especially among his siblings. He has responsibilities, and she isn’t going to drag him down with her. She’s not actually sure if meeting with him at all is a good idea.

GM: Gabriel doesn’t take it well and reiterates he doesn’t care. Caroline’s his sister and he’ll love her no matter what. Hate the sin, not the sinner. He’d wanted her to meet Linda this Christmas.

Caroline: Caroline gets that. She’ll always love him, but she’s done enough damage. She also plants the seed that seeing the family again will cause her trouble (implied to be from the family).

The whole conversation is miserable for her.

GM: She’s not the only one it seems miserable for.

Gabriel mutters angrily about “this whole family being fucked” and insinuating about confronting their parents before finally, and angrily, hanging up.

Caroline gets the distinct impression his Christmas is going to be rather less merry.

Caroline: That makes both of theirs, the heiress thinks. It’s with a heavy heart that she finally hangs up.

GM: Savannah agrees to meet Caroline at either of their apartments. Whatever’s most comfortable for her right now.

Caroline: The Ventrue suggests that Savannah’s place might be better. She doesn’t come out and say that the family is probably watching her place, but Savannah is smart enough to read between the lines.

GM: Her cousin agrees and sets a date.

Adam agrees to meet with Caroline at a point before Christmas services start in earnest. He suggests St. Louis Cathedral. Father Connelly has passed away and he is now its presiding priest.

Caroline: The Ventrue is happy to set a date with Adam as well.

GM: Caroline receives updates about Orson’s condition from a few family members. All except Claire are consternated by the lack of timely response. “It’s also ‘out of the question’ that you visit him, you’re probably not surprised,” the older Malveaux adds.

This makes the third time the pair have seen one another within 24 hours. Whatever else Caroline might say about her mother, she has clearly wanted to keep her finger on the pulse of recent events with—or perhaps between— Caroline and the family as closely as possible.

Caroline: “He said pretty much everything he needed to when he tried to have his goon haul me off to Venezuela for a lobotomy,” Caroline replies to her mother’s observation. She asks for an update from her mother about how much the story—and what of it—has gone wide to the family before she sets about making arrangements and returning calls.

GM: Caroline is gay. Orson confronted her over that fact and was so shocked and enraged that he had a heart attack. Alphonse saved his life with CPR and called 911. She can probably guess what the gamut of family reactions are to her being a homosexual. There is also anger and blame over what happened to Orson (“because of her”). That ill regard will expedite the process of family ties being cut. “Likely what the Albino was hoping.”

Orson and Alphonse “dealt” with Caroline during their meeting together. The archbishop terrified the living daylights out of her and declared she was to be completely cut off and outcast from the family proper, as well as excommunicated from the Catholic Church—a very rare thing in the modern era, but Orson is making it happen. Or will, at least. Once he’s out of the hospital.

“The family will be curious why Orson isn’t sending you to the Ursulines, once he’s better. But that sort of punishment has always been his style. The others are content to simply disown you and cut off contact… or try to maintain it under the table.”

Caroline: The heiress—well, once heiress at least—grinds her teeth at Alphonse getting credit for saving Orson, but finally takes and lets out a deep breath and admits to her mother that it’s better that way anyway. Her ‘saving’ him would raise too many ugly questions in the family and potential conflict over her ‘excommunication’ from all things Malveaux. She laughs at the idea of her slovenly pig of an uncle ‘dealing with her’.

GM: “Orson ‘deals’ with the family all-too well, normally, Caroline,” her mother reproaches. “He isn’t, I suppose, as directly combative as your father… but there is a reason he’s able to exert as much frankly undue influence over the church as he does, and cow the the rest of the family so well. It isn’t the Albino. No leech wants a slave that can’t pull their own weight.” She snorts. “Though god knows that’s wholly figurative in your uncle’s case.”

“If you hadn’t been turned into… what you are, though, make no mistake that you would either be with the Ursulines or on a plane to Venezuela. Explaining why you aren’t may even be its own headache. No one in the family stands up to your uncle.”

Caroline: “I’d be curious as to how much he’ll remember and how much the Albino will plant in his skull,” she admits. “I told him if he tried to get ‘handsy’ I’d start leaking scandals. Didn’t stop him from offering the convent though.” She more seriously continues to her mother, “I won’t of course, but that’s the story I’m likely to sell when the questions come up about the Ursulines. Unless you think it’ll cause too many problems with Savannah.”

GM: Her mother probably shakes her head. “Orson would send any other niece who dared threaten the family—and him—like that to Venezuela. We’ll deal with that question whenever it emerges. Until then, I’d simply keep quiet, or insinuate you’re hoping to keep a low profile and for this whole thing to go away amidst all the fuss over your uncle’s heart attack.”

“Come to think, Caroline, the family is going to find it strange if you continue to advertise that you have money. You’ve been cut off from your trust fund, of course. And disinherited. Your father and I are writing you out of our will.”

“Your father is…” Claire starts, then pauses.

“Never mind,” she merely says.

Caroline: Claire can’t see Caroline’s face through the phone, but the silence on the other end speaks volumes.

“Yeah,” she finally says at least.

“As for the money, I’m sure that’ll be the next source of outrage. I’m afraid there are relatively few assets the family can actually freeze. I presume Orson will invoke the excommunication clause on the Trust. Losing out on the final investiture stings, but a significant amount of that has been vested already. The joint accounts are mostly empty, and it’ll become apparent relatively soon if they poke around that a significant amount of that money has moved into accounts solely under my name. Between that and certain other ventures, I’m fairly confident that I can plausibly maintain a quieter but significant standard of living.”

“Besides, it’ll give them something else to be furious about. Another good reason to hate me and cut off contact like he wants.”

GM: Caroline gets the impression of her mother pursuing her lips. “The narrative the family believes about you is someone whose life was falling apart. Out of control. Carefully moving around assets in anticipation of a final break doesn’t support that image. I don’t think any of them except your uncles are likely to look into your finances too deeply, but I’d put on an appearance of being at least inconvenienced by this.”

Caroline: Caroline is silent. "It’s way beyond inconvenience, Mom. But I’ll work out something that more readily explains it, if it comes to that, and jives with the narrative. And before long the firm is going to come online.

GM: “You might consider joining it publicly. An attorney’s salary is a plausible, and, in fact, logical source of apparent income for you.”

Caroline: “It’s an option,” Caroline agrees. “It would eventually create its own longer-term headaches, but it may be the best option. It’s all moot though unless I pass the bar.”

GM: “I should well hope you’re going to after your father and I paid to send you to law school,” her mother remarks critically.

Caroline: “I’ll casually wander in on Monday morning for the first section. Don’t mind the smoke—could you please close the blinds?” Caroline replies sardonically, before holding up a hand to forestall her mother’s forthcoming critique. “I’ll make it happen, Mom. It’s not insurmountable. You should appreciate though the amount of work that’s going to go into making it happen. You’ll be the only one that can.”

GM: “Raping the examiners’ minds isn’t a great deal of work, Caroline,” her mother declares somewhat sourly. “You’re right that it’s a far from insurmountable obstacle to your kind.”

Caroline: Caroline scowls at the critique, and replies with bitter defensiveness all too familiar between them, “I actually had the thought of playing it completely straight—well, so straight as it can be without being there in person. If I can get the test questions a night early, I’d like to take it under the same constraints as everyone else.”

GM: Her mother looks at her almost curiously. Certainly, she appears taken aback.

Caroline: “It wouldn’t mean anything if I just cheated my way through it,” she continues to defend. “I have to break the rules to get my answers submitted, since I can’t just waltz in, but… it’d be like printing out a degree otherwise.”

GM: “That’s certainly a degree of academic and even personal honesty I hadn’t been expecting, Caroline,” her mother remarks, eyebrows raised. “I would… endeavor to keep that up.” The praise sounds all-too awkward.

Caroline: “I’m glad I can still give you pleasant surprises on occasion.”


Wednesday night, 23 December 2015

GM: Caroline meets Carson at his house. True to the criminal judge’s words, he and his wife have already finished dinner and are settling down for the evening. There is no shared meal of steak, mashed potatoes, collard greens and peach pie awaiting Caroline this time. Barbara just looks at her sadly without saying much of anything and leaves the two to themselves in the living room. They sit down. There’s not any offer of coffee or refreshments.

Caroline’s uncle looks her over for several moments. His face isn’t angry. It isn’t mournful. It’s hard to say what he’s thinking. Finally he simply asks, “What happened, Caroline?”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t lie to her uncle, so far as the family matter is concerned. Investigators broke into her home, found pictures of her with a woman on her electronic devices, and that was that. “You know as well as I how Orson reacted.”

GM: “I mean with you, Caroline,” Carson says. “Not with Orson. Not with the help.”

He still doesn’t look angry. Or upset. But he does look thoughtful, or at least the closest that Caroline can recall to seeing him as such.

Caroline: That thoughtfulness is worse than anger.

She bites her lip. “It all fell apart.”

GM: Carson listens.

Caroline: She doesn’t offer excuses, or even explanations. Just relates what happened. Going out during Decadence. What happened there. Meeting Jocelyn as her life fell apart. “It was the only thing that didn’t fall to pieces.” She doesn’t have to fake the haunt in her eyes.

She frowns. “I made my choices, poor though they were.”

GM: “I remember that night after you saved the girls. First thought was how you could have done more.”

Caroline: That night seems like a lifetime ago, but Caroline remembers. “It was a bad night.” She looks down on her hands, as though expecting to find blood on them, but finds them all too pale and clean tonight. “Still could have done more. Sarah got really lucky.”

GM: “It’s a shame it was only her.”

Caroline: Caroline’s expression hardens. “I don’t need sympathy. I can live with my choices.”

GM: “Those choices make me sad for you, Caroline.” Carson’s tone is frank. “All of us have to. But I’m glad you can.”

GM: Caroline flinches. “I’m sorry.” The words don’t mean anything, but she says them. All the same.

“I didn’t… I didn’t want to disappoint you.”

GM: Both of them know Carson can’t say she didn’t.

Both of them know there’s no point in saying she did.

For a little while the criminal judge doesn’t say anything. Caroline only hears the steady tick-tick-tock of the grandfather clock in the background.

Caroline: The silence tears at her nerves. Finally she breaks it.

“Just… just say something. Scream at me. Tell me I’m a failure.”

GM: Her uncle looks at her. Really seems to look at her.

“I’m sorry, Caroline,” he finally says.

Carson’s voice is weary, and so are his eyes. So is his face. He looks old. He’s had gray hair for as long as Caroline can remember. Everyone always said silver suited him. It always made him look vigorous, or at least curiously unaffected by time, with how straight and sharp the lines of his face were, and how doggedly the ex-major kept in shape. But now those facial lines look sagging. Tired. Like the rest of his years have finally caught up, with interest. Like a once-crisply pressed suit that’s been worn out for too long, on too many sweaty days.

It’s hard not to think back to how old her mother looks, too, how certain of her imminent death. Or of Savannah’s remark that there are no children left in their generation.

They’re all getting older. They’re all dying. And she’s not.

Caroline: “No,” Caroline answers in seeming disbelief. “NO!” she shouts. “Don’t do that. Everyone’s sorry. Everyone is upset. Just fucking tell me I’m wrong! Tell me I’m a blight. Tell me I’ve ruined everything. Tell me you never want to see me again. Tell me…” she shakes her head.

“Tell me anything but that. Not you!”

GM: Carson just looks at her sadly, looking every bit his 63 years.

“I’m sorry, Caroline…” he repeats in a gravelly voice.

Caroline: Caroline stares at the old man. Those three words hurt worse than every filthy name and depraved insult Orson threw at her.

“I couldn’t do it,” she finally admits in a small voice. “I tried. Kept trying. To be what everyone wanted me to be.”

“To find a line that made sense,” she continues, to the uncle that taught her of such things. “This was the best I could do.”

GM: “I’m glad you’re not second-guessing yourself this time,” Carson states wearily.

There’s precious else to be glad for.

Caroline: Caroline clenches her fists in frustration, but instantly regrets it. It’s a childish reaction. She just wishes she could explain. Explain that she’s not an idiot, or a deviant. That if she was, she wouldn’t casually leave photos that could destroy her life laying around. That she’s doing what she has to, for the good of herself and the family both. That the alternatives were all worse.

She releases her fists and looks Carson over. He’s never looked old, or weary, to her eyes. Not until tonight. Time taking its toll on everyone, the thought drifts through her mind, except me. Time and her own actions, she admits. But then, that’s what’s brought her here tonight. She wonders if she’ll have a chance to make this right, to explain to him why she’s done what she’s done, in any way, before he’s gone. He’s in his sixties. He could live another decade, maybe two.

Perhaps it’s within her power. She hopes it is. For now all she has empty words.

“Someday you’ll understand,” she says at last. “Not tonight, or tomorrow, but someday. Why it has to be this way.”


Wednesday night, 23 December 2015, PM

GM: News apparently leaks to the Devillers. Yvette and Yvonne show up in person to Caroline’s apartment during the afternoon—Widney had to lie to them, several times, that Caroline wasn’t home. They got Widney’s number and texted her incessantly until Caroline was finally “back”. Both teenagers fiercely hug the Ventrue and gush over how they completely accept Caroline for who she is, how they are happy she loves who she loves, and how this changes nothing between them (except how glad they are she’s no longer in the closet). They cite how much more LGBT-friendly French culture is. “Another thing you Americans do so wrong,” Yvette declares airily. They want to know if she’s okay—her PA said she was off “taking some time to herself” for a lot of the afternoon.

Caroline: Caroline smiles when she sees them and apologizes for keeping them away all day—and into the night. She’s dressed more casually tonight than they’ve usually seen her, in a loose black skirt, sandals, and a white button down blouse with long sleeves. Her hair is up and off her neck in a loose french braid. It’s the first time she actually seems dressed for comfort, rather than for style. Not that she wears it badly.

“It’s been insane today,” she admits timidly. “All hell broke loose last night—as I see you’ve already heard.” She seems almost embarrassed. “That would have been insane either way, but with Orson… well..” she gives a weak smile.

GM: Both girls agree how nuts things must be.

“’Ow’s your uncle doing? We ’eard ’e ’ad a ’eart attack…” they mention.

Caroline: “He’s doing… well, as well as can be expected.”

GM: “Well, we ‘eard ’e’s stable, so… that’s good.”

They’re also hurt she didn’t tell them she was LGBT during her birthday. The girls clearly don’t want to make Caroline’s “coming out” about them, but their feelings are not difficult to fathom. They’re confused, pained, and even a little betrayed that she did not share that ‘secret’ about herself when they’d opened up so much.

The closest they come to skirting the topic is when Yvette says, “You… you can trust us, Caroline. We just want you to know, with anything.”

Caroline: “I’m sorry…” She bites her lip. “I knew it was going to be a thing, I just didn’t think it would happen so quickly. It all happened so fast.” She invites them to take seats in her living room, and promises them more of the story than anyone else has.

The first thing she makes clear is she doesn’t really consider herself ‘LGBT’ in the same sense that the people at a pride march or gay bar are LGBT. She’s not planning on putting up any rainbow flags, and it isn’t that she’s not attracted to men. “I’ve had boyfriends. Serious, long-term boyfriends, and not just to hide or anything.”

GM: “So you’re pansexual? You don’t really think about their gender, just ’oo they are?” Yvonne asks.

“Or you’re bi, you like guys and girls?” Yvette.

Caroline: The Ventrue purses her lips. “I guess bi? I don’t know. I don’t think I could be attracted to like, some transsexual. That’s just… a little too weird to think about.”

GM: “So you’re into binary people? Guys and girls, in the traditional sense, just both?” Yvonne.

“Oui, that sounds bi to me.” Yvette.

Caroline: The heiress looks between the two. “You two know way more about the details of this stuff than I do.”

GM: “Ah guess so. You Americans, so uptight,” Yvette says with an air of exaggerated (and just slightly real) snobbishness.

“New Orleans isn’t that bad. It’s a great city to be LGB—oh, Ah’m sorry, you didn’t want us to use that term?” Yvonne.

“Oui, Ah don’t think you should participate in the ‘ole subculture unless it makes you comfortable. It’s just useful to ‘ave words, to be able to say things like ’Caroline is bi, this is ’ow she broadly feels about guys and girls’.” Yvette.

Caroline: “I mean, that makes sense,” Caroline agrees. “And my feeling aren’t like, hurt by the word. God knows it’s easier to say a word than give an essay about your feelings. I just hate all the baggage associated with it all. You can’t just care for who you care for, that instead that label seems to take over and dominate so much of people’s lives.”

GM: “Ah guess that’s true so far as labels.” Yvonne.

“Ah guess for you none of them ’ave… that good a ’istory.” Yvette.

“Ah bet your family are all just saying you’re a lesbian, right?” Yvonne.

*Caroline: The heiress nods in agreement. “I’m a ‘lesbian whore’ and always have been.”

GM: Yvette rolls her eyes. “Americans.”

“So ’ow’d you find out… ’oo you liked?” Yvonne asks in a sly tone.

Caroline: “It just sort of… I don’t know, happened.”

It wasn’t long after Decadence and her life was coming apart. She’d done some things she wasn’t proud of. Between that and what happened to her, she was alternating between drinking heavily and self-loathing. She ran into her at a church of all places. It was easy, and fun, and felt natural, and one of the few things that wasn’t terrible, especially for those few weeks afterwards.

“I thought it would end before anyone else found out, and maybe it would just be one more thing I didn’t talk about with the rest of the family. I didn’t expect it to be serious or anything. I don’t know that I expected anything out of it.” She gives a weak smile. “I just needed something… something that made me feel good about myself, and like there was a reason to get up every day.”

“And then with you two… sharing it,” she wrestles internally for a moment, “I liked the idea that you thought I sort had my life together. And I definitely didn’t want to conjure up any ideas that would put me in the same image in your mind as… well. You know.”

GM: “Oh mon départ, non!” Yvette reflexively exclaims, her eyes flashing. (“Oh my go, no!”)

Yvonne shakes her head just as emphatically. “‘E _’urt_ our family, Caroline!”

“You saved us!” Yvette.

“Ah mean, so what if you both like girls? That’s like saying-” Yvonne.

“-you and ’Itler are both white, so you both must ’ate Jews!” Yvette.

“You don’t ’ave anything in common-” Yvonne.

“-we only ragged on ’im being a dyke because, well… it was just too easy.” Yvette.

“Ah think it’s merveilleuse you like girls.” Yvonne.

“You ’ave twice as many people to love!” Yvette.

“We ’aven’t told Sarah yet,” Yvonne adds. “We wanted to be sure you’d be completely okay—with everything.”

“’Oo is she? Your girlfriend?” Yvette asks.

“We want to meet ’er!” Yvonne.

Caroline: Caroline seems mostly placated by their assurances that they’re not associating her own activities with those of Amelie. She laughs at the comment about twice as many people to love. “Honestly, I’ve found one at a time works best.”

The heiress leans rises from her seat and walks over to the attached bar connecting the living room with the kitchen. An array of papers—opened and unopened mail, a volume of the Louisiana Rules of Evidence, and several manila folders—are scattered across the bar, but she picks up a food stained one and walks back to her seat. She fishes out a photo and passes it to the twins, seated on the sofa across from her.

The picture features Caroline and Jocelyn on the roof of the Giani Building, seated at one of the small coffee tables with steaming mugs in their hands watching the sunset. “Her name is Jocelyn. She’s an artist.”

GM: The sisters look the pictures over.

“Aww, that’s so sweet!” Yvette exclaims.

“You look really ’appy together.” Yvonne.

“Really ’appy,” Yvette smiles.

“She looks pretty young, does she go to college ’ere?” Yvonne.

“Shorter than you, too. Ah guess you kind of are the butch one…” Yvette ribs.

Caroline: “I guess that makes two of us,” Caroline jabs back at Yvette, gesturing between the twins with a smirk.

GM: The sisters both laugh.

“‘Ey, that’s not fair!” Yvonne.

“Oui, everyone says ’ow alike we look!” Yvette. “Ah can’t be the butch-”

“-she’d ’ave to ’ave big, rippling, muscles!” Yvonne exclaims, exaggeratedly flexing her arms.

Caroline: “I mean, relatively speaking,” Caroline clarifies teasingly. “Like being the most butch Victoria’s Secret model.”

GM: All three young women can readily conclude there are worse things to be.

Cécilia and Adeline call Caroline to express their support and acceptance. Noëlle and Simmone send texts. Simmone’s is longer and includes some photos of her family’s fluffy and white-furred cats. There are also rainbows and a few juvenile well wishes on loving whoever she wants to love.

Cécilia says this doesn’t change how they’re both getting a new sister. She slyly remarks that she “got the details wrong, but the spirit right” back at the Orpheum, and also wants to meet Caroline’s girlfriend. She says that of course the hero and sister-in-law who saved her younger siblings’ lives is going to be a part of the wedding, there is simply no question. She was going to bring this up another time, but she’d like Caroline to be her maid of honor. She’d like her girlfriend to be a bridesmaid too. Would they all like to get fitted for dresses together sometime soon? They could have dinner the same evening at her family’s house. It’s plain that Luke’s fiancee still wants to make Caroline feel loved and accepted after being disowned by her own family.

Caroline: Caroline gushes back, genuinely, about how kind, accepting, and generous the girls have been not only today and tonight but in general. She’s incredibly grateful for how they’ve opened their hearts to her. She admits, coyly, that Cécilia was right on the money at the Orpheum. But then, so was Caroline it seems.

She’s even more shocked and grateful about the offer to be her maid of honor, and reiterates that she’ll be grateful to be a part of the wedding in any way Cécilia wants, though she tries to get off the topic of the wedding quickly.

She mentions that Jocelyn is a little overwhelmed by the entire thing with Caorline’s family, but she’s going to meet her a little later in the evening and talk things over with her. She’ll get back to Cécilia after they talk a bit. “Just give her a little bit of time though, she’s not exactly used to the spotlight like we are.”

GM: Cécilia gives the impression of nodding over the phone and assures Caroline they’ll do everything they can to make her girlfriend comfortable. If there’s anything else she can think of, she has but to say. She’s thrilled by Caroline’s answer regarding the wedding—and privileged that her family are in positions to open their hearts to her.

She also extends her family’s collective invitation for Caroline to spend Christmas eve and—specifically phrased by their mother—“all day” come Christmas day with them. Her girlfriend is also more than welcome to attend, if they don’t have any existing plans.

Caroline: Caroline is happy to accept their Christmas eve invite. She claims that Christmas day may be spoken for already—or may not. As Ceclia can imagine, Caroline’s schedule has gotten somewhat complicated. She’ll ask her girlfriend about it tonight and get back her, remarking wistfully that it feels weird to use that term.

GM: “I saw how you looked at that theater, Caroline. I couldn’t imagine anything less weird,” Cécilia smiles over the phone. “I’m happy you have someone. And we’ll all be happy to meet her.”


Thursday night, 24 December 2015, AM

Caroline: It’s not long after her last trip to Elysium that Caroline approaches Jocelyn about some of the talk that surrounded it—and her specifically. She’s been busy—to say the least—preparing for the bar, trying to deal with her conflict within her clan, and dealing with the fallout of her frenzy with her ghouls, but carves out time just prior to Christmas Eve with the Toreador photographer: she wants to talk before the next Elysium.

They’re at Joceyln’s apartment rather than Caroline—the Ventrue enjoys invading her lover’s work space and seeing what she’s working on in her free time—on an unseasonably warm and foggy late into what is for most the Christmas holiday.

“I had no idea how big this Fangbook thing was. So many of the licks I talked with brought up that last shoot you posted. ’Jocelyn’s so talented. Jocelyn does such great work. Those photos were great.’” she imitates playfully, pitching her voice and turning her nose up in far from her best snob impression.

GM: Jocelyn’s loft apartment is decorated with a small Christmas tree, lights, and garlands despite the irreverence her Sanctified faith ascribes to the holiday (or rather, its belief that such joy is not for the Kindred and it is not for their race to celebrate Christ’s birth). The Toreador dismisses such theological concerns with, “I love the lights, decor, and whole atmosphere. Always have. I figure if I’m not buying presents for anyone, that’s good enough.”

Caroline: “Honestly, it’d probably be even further away from celebrating the birth of Christ if you did buy gifts for everyone,” she replies half-seriously.

GM: “Sorry, what do you mean there?” Jocelyn asks.

Caroline: “Rampant commercialization of the holiday?” Caroline prompts. “Plenty of people .couldn’t care less about the birth of Christ, but still trade gifts. Just look at how many retailers no longer say ‘Merry Christmas’, just ‘happy holidays’ as they shovel merchandise into the hands of people. The War on Christmas may be in full swing, but there’s no war against commercialism.”

GM: “Huh, that’s actually a good point,” Jocelyn says thoughtfully. “Geez. You have so many books and movies people watch every year all saying Christmas is about more than just the presents, but that’s the first thing we all still think about.”

“Though I don’t think retails saying ‘happy holidays’ is that bad. There’s lots of people who don’t celebrate Christmas.”

Caroline: The heiress arches an eyebrow, “And how many of them complained about ‘Merry Christmas’ before 1985? It’s just another front of the culture war. Some people won’t ever be happy.”

GM: “I think they were kind of complaining about even worse things, actually. But whatever,” Jocelyn waves off, “it’s Christmas in my haven.” Caroline knows her California-raised lover has a somewhat more liberal view of social issues than her family, although she at least seems less opinionated regarding such things than Neil, and fairly apathetic towards mortal politics.

True to her statement, however, her latest photographs reflect her yuletide mindset:

Some music plays from a speaker at low volume:

“Oh really, you did?” Jocelyn asks, pleasantly surprised from her position on a couch while she’s fiddling around on a tablet. “Yeah, the guilds don’t really care for my stuff, so… better audience on Fangbook and a couple other Kindred sites. Hell, the stuff that’s not bad for the Mask I post on breather sites too. These ones and our last shoot are also on Instagram and DeviantArt.”

Caroline: Caroline’s examination of Jocelyn’s current work from over her shoulder is abruptly interrupted by the Toreador’s last statement. “All of them?” she asks seriously.

GM: “Yeah, I mean, they don’t break the Masquerade or anything,” Jocelyn answers, then sees Caroline’s look. “Okay, the ones that were basically porn I didn’t post on DeviantArt. But your name isn’t on them or anything, if you’re worried about that. Just another tall, statuesque blonde.”

Caroline: “And what happens when some DNC goon stumbles across when and brings them forward, then my mortal family starts asking why the photos their PIs supposedly took ended up online?” Caroline asks sharply.

GM: Jocelyn rolls her eyes. “What, they spend their time browsing art sites? My handle isn’t my name, it doesn’t even have my face. I’m just another model when I show up in the pictures. There’s nothing to connect you.”

Caroline: “Someone’s looking at that art. Do you think it’s that much of a stretch that someone would see it in their down time and connect it? And it’s not about connecting you, or even pictures of us. It’s about what happens when someone drops a folder full of those specific pictures taken off the net that exactly match the same one’s he was looking at from his PI’s when he banished his daughter.” The frustration is plain on Caroline’s face. “It’s a loose end.”

GM: “All sweaters are made of loose ends if you tug hard enough,” Jocelyn retorts with some annoyance. “You’ve already been kicked out of your family. What’s the worst that could happen?”

Caroline: “For you or for me?” Caroline asks angrily.

GM: “For me then, ‘cuz you’re already making it sound like I only care about myself.” Jocelyn huffs. “Of course for you. Seriously, what’s actually the worst that’s likely to happen?”

Caroline: “Someone backtracks your IP and they send someone to break into your apartment during the day to snoop around,” Caroline snaps.

GM: “Actually, I use a VPN,” Jocelyn ‘corrects’. “So good for them, they can go break down someone’s door in Romania.”

Caroline: “And what about if Father Malveaux had vetoed the idea and told me to destroy the pictures and someone saw it in the interim?” Caroline responds. “You think he’d just be ok with a ‘oh, my bad’ from me?”

GM: “Oh, come on. You think he even knows what the internet is? I mean, fine, I’d have cut out your face if he was that upset over it. And there goes like half the shoot,” the Toreador declares crossly. “I don’t get a lot of recognition. Fuck him if he wanted to ruin that.”

Caroline: “He’d flip his fucking shit and accuse me of intentionally ignoring his wishes and damaging his domain,” Caroline answers her own question, seemingly ignoring Jocleyn’s. “And the other Ventrue would take his side, and so would the Sanctified, because he’s about to be the fucking bishop. I’d be lucky if they only dragged me out of my home and made me suck him off again. And he wouldn’t even be completely wrong to do it,” Caroline snarls, anger and frustration rising to the surface.

GM: “Okay, okay, okay,” Jocelyn says annoyedly. “What do you want, the pictures down?”

Caroline: The Ventrue sighs in a decidedly intentional way given she doesn’t actually breathe. “No, I just want you to be aware of stuff like that!” she implores.

GM: “Then why did you even get this upset!” Jocelyn interrupts. “You coulda just said, ‘hey, be aware’.”

Caroline: “Because I thought you’d know better in the first place!”

But she knows that’s not really the reason. Between the stress of the Malveaux meetings in the last couple days, her ghouls, her doubts about her mother, the fresh collar around her neck, and the breakup from her family, she knows there’s far more to it.

GM: “Well great, now I know, and nothing bad even happened.” Jocelyn crosses her arms as if to say how much Caroline is making a scene over nothing.

Caroline: "Caroline crosses her own arms. If she was still a breather it’s obvious she’d be huffing. She stares down her lover.

GM: “What?" Jocelyn asks annoyedly.

Caroline: “You literally can’t even say ’I’m sorry,’ can you?” Caroline snaps back.

GM: “Why should I say sorry? You were the one who got all bent out of shape,” the Toreador retorts.

Caroline: “Because of something you admitted was stupid! I go out of my way to consult you when something is going to affect you, and you just let it ride. You weren’t even going to tell me about it!”

GM: “There you go, being a bitch about it again,” Jocelyn rolls her eyes. “You can drop the whole ‘hardass Ventrue’ routine around me, y’know. Maybe be nicer and I could even say sorry.”

Caroline: “Is that what you think?” Caroline all but snarls. “That I’m trying to put on a show?” Emotions battle across Caroline’s face, ranging from anger, to hurt, all the way to jealousy. “You want me to be nicer, more like Josua maybe? All fawning?”

GM: “Wai—what?” Jocelyn blinks. “Where is this even coming from, ‘a sh’—and forget, never mind Josua! Where’s that coming from? I just said you could stand to be a little less bitchy maybe, and then I might feel like saying sorry!”

Caroline: “Look, if you’re bored or are just tired of my fucking problems, just say it!” Caroline almost shrieks. Red rims her eyes.

GM:Where is this coming from?!” Jocelyn repeats. “I never said that!”

Caroline: “You just, you don’t know what it’s like!” Caroline wails, looking away and burying her face in one hand to hide her tears. “Everyone wants something, or expects something, and-” her voice cracks as her expression twists into something like a voiceless sob, before she continues, “-and I don’t even know if any of them actually give a damn.”

GM: Jocelyn looks at her for a moment, then takes Caroline’s bloody hand.

“I give a damn, and I don’t want something. I’m on your side.”

Caroline: Caroline looks away, but more to try to try to compose herself then to avoid Jocelyn. She almost slips that Ventrue mask back on before her expression breaks when she turns back to face the Toreador.

“I got disowned today,” she chokes out. “And excommunicated. Lost faith in other people I trusted. I can’t even talk about it.”

GM: “I’m sorry,” Jocelyn says.

It’s maybe the only thing there is to say.

She sits back down on the couch and gently pulls Caroline after her.

“With your mortal family?”

Caroline: She nods. “My father didn’t even call,” she continues weakly.

GM: “I’m sorry,” Jocelyn repeats. “You two were close?”

Caroline: “Yes,” Caroline replies, then a second later, “no. I… I spent my whole stupid life trying to please him.” She wipes at her eyes, and accomplishes mostly smearing her pale face with the vitae.

“You remember that stupid purity ball picture Roxanne had? I had one of those, with him. Stupid…” Her voice cracks again. “It was a political stunt, but I didn’t even mind because I got to spend the whole night with him.”

She gives a bitter and strangled laugh. “Spoiler, I guess Ventrue sires do like rich girls with daddy issues.”

GM: “Wow, I guess so.” Jocelyn looks at Caroline for a moment, then breaks the somberness with a laugh of her own. “Those balls are seriously so creepy. I can’t believe you went to one. Well, okay… maybe I can. But I can see why you might’ve, if that was really the only way.”

Caroline: Caroline gives Jocelyn a very flat look that teeters between annoyance at her joking in this moment and cynical amusement. “It would be awful enough if it was just the family stuff. I’d half accepted that was coming, even if it hurts worse than I thought.”

GM: “I didn’t mean it like that,” she adds. “I mean, sure, they are creepy. But it sounds like you really did want to be close with your dad, if that was the only way he’d really allow.”

Caroline: “It was like my whole fucking existence. Being a good Malveaux. Being his good daughter. Honoring the family name. Fails across the board there. Now I’m not just a failure, I’m a lesbian whore, harlot, monster, victim, disaster.” She ticks off each on her fingers. “And the other shit, hanging over my head since the day I got Embraced.”

“I went to… just… other Kindred for help with…” She shakes her head and finishes lamely, “stuff. Half of them treated me like dirt on their rug, half of them wanted something from me, half of them only gave me the time of day because I gave them things, and fucking all of them are goddamn fucking liars. I spent half my fucking nights licking boots, and it’s not even to get ahead.”

GM: “I’m sorry,” Jocelyn offers again. “I guess… you can’t really count on any that aren’t family, and even that’s a toss-up…”

“I know the coin didn’t land on the good side for you, but… if you’re really in trouble, or just need someone who isn’t… well, all of what you said, I could get in touch with my sire. She’s been around knows what she’s doing better than I do. And whatever it is you need help with, she’d do it for me, if I asked.”

Caroline: Caroline can too well imagine how that call might go—and sound. The thought of it makes her ashamed.

She shakes her head lightly. “No. It’s… it’s just something I have to work out. Involving anyone else would make it worse.” And probably get them killed. “I’m just tired, Jocelyn. Tired of bad things happening. Tired of not knowing what to do. Tired of being the ugly poor kid in the class. I’m fucking not.”

GM: “You absolutely aren’t,” Jocelyn nods. “And if you just want advice, so far as not knowing what to do… my sire could help there. Like I said, she’s been around.”

Caroline: “Maybe if she ends up in town,” Caroline tentatively agrees.

GM: Jocelyn doesn’t look like she wants to argue further, as her tone is softer when she ventures, “You can let people help you, Caroline.”

Caroline: “I’m sorry,” Caroline apologizes again, lightly shaking her head. “The stakes are just always so high, and everyone has an agenda, and… and this has been the only thing that’s felt real.”

GM: “Well, I’m glad it has. Really glad,” Jocelyn nods. “But… offer’s open. My sire would want to help, if she knew this, you, were important to me. And like I said, there’s a lot she could do. She’s pretty old.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip, searching for a better way to phrase it, before just asking, “How much of the night I visited Matheson do you remember?”

GM: “A fair bit,” says Jocelyn, frowning. “It was… really ugly. You remember that.”

Caroline: “I didn’t exactly come out of that night unscathed.”

GM: “Uh, yeah, and Katrina got the city a little wet.”

Caroline: “Nor is it oversharing to point out how well that whole thing went over with my clan, then the tension with Father Malveaux and my mortal family.”

GM: “He didn’t wanna share? Yeah, I guess that’s no surprise.”

Jocelyn frowns. “I don’t know if I mentioned, but he’s my confessor now. I kinda preferred Mother Doriocourt, but… he’s gonna be the bishop. Couldn’t really say no.”

Caroline: Caroline frowns. “He asked you to swap? When?”

GM: “Pretty recently. Just this night.”

Caroline: The statement makes Caroline’s blood run cold, and she falls silent.

GM: “Is there a reason you think he’d do that?” Jocelyn frowns.

Caroline: Caroline can think of plenty of reasons, not a single one good, for the soon to be bishop to be meddling with her lover. She remembers the way he looked at her only nights ago.

She wrestles with how much to share, biting her lower lip. “It’s complicated.”

GM: “Yeah, I can tell,” Jocelyn nods. “And I remember how you asked me to help then, to pick you up from Perdido House. But it’s like since then… you’ve kinda, well, maybe not so ‘kinda’, shut me out. Why is that?”

Caroline: “Everything changed that night,” Caroline admits. “The seneschal wanted to execute me. I was certain he was going to.”

GM: “I know, you said he was going to. Those were your words. ‘Right there. On the spot.’”

Caroline: “With his own hands,” she agrees. “He held off, but not for free, and the cost.” She bites her lip again. “The cost is more than I want to think about.”

GM: “You talked about that too, afterwards,” Jocelyn nods.

Caroline: She looks back at Jocelyn. “At the same time, the possible rewards.”

GM: Her eyebrows raise. “Okay, definitely not about any rewards.”

Caroline: “Possible ones. Maybe. If everything goes right, and I’m the perfect little fledgling, and the perfect little Ventrue. And I don’t rock the boat.”

GM: “Okay, that sounds… like a good idea anyways?” Jocelyn raises. “I mean, great if there’s some payoff for it.”

Caroline: Caroline shrugs. “Think on who the most powerful and senior Ventrue in the city are, and how things were with them before. How they are.” She shakes her head. “Not that it mattered. I didn’t get a vote, so I started focusing on that. Because success is literally life or death. And not just success like I’d planned—a life for myself here—but quick and unreasonable successes for a neonate. And without any of the help I’d gotten before. With the sheriff breathing down my neck. With Agnello in my business.”

“Opportunities don’t exactly come easily as it is for younger licks either, you know? And then, part of being a ‘Good Ventrue’ is what you know. We don’t talk about it. About each other. And if you break those rules… well, you’re out. Only being out for me isn’t just losing their support. It’s a death sentence. And talking about the seneschal’s stuff can also get me ashed. The whole thing is just…” She shakes her head. “I didn’t want to drag you into the few things I even could, because if it all goes down in flames I wanted you to be able to walk away.”

“But then the other night at the Elysium they were all talking about how you were going to get bored with me, and how torries don’t do longer relationships.” She’s starting to ramble.

GM: Surprise, doubt, slow-dawning realization, and doubt again all blossom in Jocelyn’s eyes.

Before Caroline talks about what she heard at Elysium last night.

“Wait… who said that?” she frowns. “That’s… stupid. My sire and grandsire have been together since… well, since steamboats were still a thing, I guess. That’s just a stereotype. It’s not like all Jews are rich scrooges either, right?”

Caroline: “I… I guess. It just made me realize that didn’t want to lose you. That I’d thought amid everything else you were a constant, and that I was taking that for granted.”

GM: “Well, no one likes that, lick or breather,” Jocelyn nods. “But… that is really sweet, too. About being your constant.”

Caroline: “And with everything else… the North Star wasn’t there anymore either. Or might not be.”

“It made me think, at that point, what the hell am I even doing? What’s the point. I already gave up my mortal family. All the kine I know I’m going to lose. What the hell do I even want.”

GM: “Do you think you know?” the Toreador asks concernedly. “I mean, it’s always seemed to me like you have. I’m pretty sure it’s a requirement just to be a blue blood. But I’m actually not really sure what you do, specifically, now that you bring it up.” Jocelyn looks thoughtful at that remark.

Caroline: I want to take my place where I belong, Caroline thinks, but can’t actually say. At least not yet.

“Like all good blue bloods I want to rule the city,” she replies coyly.

GM: “Okay, I can get behind that, so long as I’m prince consort or whatever,” Jocelyn grins.

Caroline: Caroline laughs lightly. “More to the present… well. Lots of stuff that the seneschal wants. Or demanded. Power on the way to those things.”

GM: “So what’s he want?”

Caroline: Caroline squirms. “Some things I’m not allowed to talk about. Success with my clan. Submission to all the social norms and rules in general. Continued devotion to the Sanctified. Power at the same time.”

Caroline is grateful for her lover’s desire to help, and especially to draw in her own sire. The hardest part of the entire thing though, she admits, is simply bowing to the wishes of others. Whether in clan or covenant, she’s not used to being at the bottom of the hierarchy, and many of her early mistakes have come back to haunt her.

She floats lightly that unless Jocelyn’s sire can turn back time to undo those mistakes, advance her age about a hundred years to give her the gravitas of age on par with the older vampires of the clan, or change Caroline’s fundamental nature, she’s not sure it would help with the tasks that most hound her.

It does, however, bring her back to Father Malveaux (soon to be Bishop Malveaux), and his desire to take on Jocelyn.

Caroline discloses that she’s discovered that she has an uncanny resemblance to someone the priest cared for a great deal, back when he was among the living.

She expresses concern that he may be, in some way, jealous of Jocelyn, and their relationship. Obviously, she’d like to prefer to think that he has moved beyond such things, but hoping and believing hasn’t exactly gone well so far in her Requiem.

It’s clear she’s toeing a significant line between her desire to not break with her clan’s tradition of not speaking ill of others within it, and her genuine and not insignificant concern and (even) fear related to this latest development.

GM: Jocelyn looks more than slightly discomfited by Caroline’s disclosure about the soon-to-be Bishop Malveaux’s interest in her. “So, uh… what the hell do you want to do about that?”

She thinks Caroline’s clan’s tradition is stupid. “My clan trash talks each other around non-torries all the time. Whoop-de-doo.”

She does not, however, take the joke about her sire with much humor. “You get moody and start all these fights, and when I offer to help, you just laugh it off and won’t even say what the problem is! I’m getting just a little tired of that!”

Caroline: “I’m sorry,” Caroline apologizes quietly. “I just want what we have to be a space away from all of that.”

“Listen. How would you like to come celebrate Christmas Eve with me and some people? Humans.”

GM: Jocelyn seems to accept the apology, or at least not press the issue, if her silence is any indication.

“Oh? Who?”

Caroline: Caroline tells her about the invitation from the Devillers.

GM: “Well. The prince’s coronation Mass is at midnight, remember?” The Toreador supposes that leaves time earlier in the evening. She doesn’t have anything else going on—the Sanctified don’t celebrate Christmas, after all, so the Storyvilles haven’t made plans (Roxanne was firm over this). But the thought of forcing herself to eat food around a bunch of breathers doesn’t sound like the most fun way to spend her time.

“I guess, who are they to you?”

Caroline: The question isn’t without merit. Caroline ponders on it for several seconds.

“People that make me feel human sometimes,” she admits. “A part of the mask I wear. Valuable, powerful, accessible.” She laughs lightly. “One of them invited you to be a bridesmaid at a wedding I’ve been banned from attending.”

GM: “Thanks, I guess,” Jocelyn replies amusedly, then grows more serious. “But you know what the Testament says, right, about living like we’re still, well, living?”

Caroline: “I’m not trying to pretend that I’m alive, that nothing has changed,” Caroline replies defensively. “Just… not trying to give in totally to the Beast. Are you telling me you don’t have any kine you spend time with?”

GM: Jocelyn shrugs. “Not really, to be honest. I mainly hang with the Storyvilles.”

Caroline: Regardless, and the vulgarity of kine food aside, Caroline knows how much Jocelyn enjoys being the center of attention. She’d certainly get plenty if she came over, even if it was only for a couple hours. It’s also possible the Devillers could even open some doors in terms of places for her art to go up. She doesn’t have to go, but Caroline think she might enjoy herself all the same. It would certainly do good things for her own Masquerade.

GM: “Ehhh…” Jocelyn says. “I guess you do worse, but I really don’t wanna choke down and then barf up an entire Christmas dinner…”

Caroline: When pressed, Caroline admits there’s also an element of Kindred politics to it. She can’t—or won’t—provide a name, but their patron someone asked Caroline to maintain her ties to the family. “It’s not exactly a request I could refuse.”

GM: “That makes so many of them, doesn’t it?” says Jocelyn. Not without sympathy.

Caroline: If only she had any idea.

Previous, by Narrative: Story Eleven, Celia I
Next, by Narrative: Story Eleven, Jon II

Previous, by Character: Story Eleven, Caroline I
Next, by Character: Story Eleven, Caroline III

Story Eleven, Celia I

“Where’s your catch?"
Pietro Silvestri

Wednesday night, 8 April 2009

GM: “Good news, you two,” Diana smiles to Celia and Emily over a dinner that one of them can’t enjoy. She’s out of the hospital bed, though she walks slowly and with a cane. “Viv says the insurance settlement will probably pay out before the baby’s due date.”

The news is a relief to everyone. Vivian is clear with Diana, when the proceedings start, that a settlement might be 5-6 months away after some initial discovery. She estimates it will probably be later, though, when the insurance company tries to bury things with bullshit. Up to a year if the company settles, or two years if they go to court.

“Court is risky, though,” says Viv. “Danger of punitive damages. The discovery game is bullshit making you wait when you need the money sooner, so you’ll be inclined to settle for less.”

Financially, the Flores are doing much better now that Maxen is paying child support. Five kids and the disparity between Maxen’s and Diana’s incomes comes out to a decent chunk of money, even if there is no alimony. So does the fact Diana’s wages at McGehee are no longer being garnished. Eventually, though, she has to take a leave of absence to hide her pregnancy. Emily goes back to waitressing. Just one job rather than two, this time. She says she can balance it with school, now that she’s found her groove. Diana tries to talk her out of it, but she won’t be deterred. Diana goes back to being a full-time homemaker and does all of Emily’s old housework, so Celia supposes her former roommate isn’t actually shouldering that much more responsibility.

Both women are accustomed to living frugally, too. Diana is happy to wait longer for a bigger settlement. Just so long as it pays out before the baby is born (or, at least, is still just a baby). She wants her child to want for nothing.

“I just want him or her to have it all,” she says.

The bigger pain actually comes from Maxen. The kids can’t stay with Diana when her pregnancy is obvious, and the fact she’s a smaller woman who’s had five babies already means she’s going to show her pregnancy earlier. Loose clothes can hide it for a while, but it’s with much reluctance that Diana hammers out a deal (using Emily as the go-between) for the kids to spend the first trimester exclusively with her, and the second and third trimesters exclusively with their dad, under the pretense of “stability.”

Celia: Celia had floated the idea that she could talk to Maxen rather than Emily. Unsurprisingly, and perhaps luckily, Emily tells her in no uncertain terms that she isn’t ever going to see him again. Not after last time. She still doesn’t know what he had done to Celia to make her look as terrible as she did that night she came to get Diana from the hospital, but she seems to remember well the hollow, gaunt look.

“Like a corpse,” she’d told Celia privately, away from Diana, “you looked like he had drained all the life out of you.”

It’s close enough to the truth, anyway.

Celia doesn’t pushed too hard on the subject. Who knows how her sire would react to her meeting with her father and “interfering with his affairs” again.

GM: Emily reports that Maxen called her a “mongrel,” “human trash,” “subhuman slime,” and “dog-blooded timber nigger spic,” who had “filth in my veins.” She says he tried to scare her. She says he says he doesn’t want her spending time around his children, and that he insinuated that very bad things will happen to her if she continues to.

But he agrees to the deal, since he gets more time with his children. Two-thirds of Diana’s pregnancy.

He wins again.

“It makes me so fucking mad,” says Emily, red-faced and visibly shaking. “That we didn’t put him away. That he just… gets away with everything, and doesn’t face any consequences for being a scumbag rapist wife-beating child abuser!”

Celia: Celia never tells her whose fault that is, either.

GM: “We can get someone else to drive the kids back and forth. His housekeeper. Whatever. I swear, if I see him again, and think about what he did to you and Mom, I’m going to stick a knife in him.”

Diana just says she’s thankful for everything they have. She’s thankful for her kids, old and new. She’s thankful for the baby. She’s thankful for the future settlement. She’s thankful Emily is doing well in school and is getting the love and support she needed. She thanks Jesus over every dinner for everything their family has.

Emily doesn’t look happy when her newly adoptive mother says that. But she holds her tongue.

All they can do is move on and be thankful.

Thursday night, 9 April 2009, PM

Celia: Warden Lebeaux had promised to tell her what he found once he’d been able to run whatever tests he’d needed to run on the weapon Celia had retrieved from Em’s apartment. She doesn’t know exactly what it is he’d done—Mel had just wiggled her eyebrows and said something about magic when Celia had asked—but it looks as if the time to find out is finally here.

An answer, at last, of who it was that had placed the gun in her hand that night. Who else had been in her house, lurking in the shadows, waiting for her.

How many of them had been watching her over the course of her life? Had there ever been a moment of privacy? Had every action taken inside her home been watched, dissected, planned for? The way some of the others talk about the humans—breathers, she reminds herself—is downright appalling.

Lebeaux had told her to meet at the Evergreen, one of the rooms upstairs that Celia assumes he’s claimed as an office within Savoy’s headquarters. She stops outside the door and knocks.

“It’s Ce—Miss Kalani,” she says, stumbling over the foreign name she’s claimed as her own.

GM: “Come in.”

Lebeaux’s office is fairly austere and no-nonsense next to the rest of the Evergreen. There isn’t much in the way of decor, really just a table with a computer and phone, papers, chairs on either side, and some filing cabinets.

Pete gets up as Celia enters, then sits back down as she takes a seat.

Celia: Celia crosses one leg over the other, tucking them beneath her seat. That’s how ladies sit, Maxen had told her. She almost uncrosses them at the memory.

“Warden Lebeaux.” Celia is working on making the titles not sound as stuffy as she sometimes thinks they do, drilling them into her brain so she won’t forget. She doesn’t want another lecture from Preston. “How are you this evening? I heard you… got the results back?” She falters over the unfamiliar idea of testing items with magic.

GM: “Uh huh,” answers Pete.

“It’s information potentially dangerous for you to know that won’t change anything besides satisfying your curiosity. So better if you don’t. Sorry.”

Celia: “Wh-what?” Celia doesn’t even know what to say to that. Why had he called her in then? To waste her time? Is he messing with her?

“I don’t understand,” she says finally.

GM: “What part don’t you?”

Celia: “I mean. I understand the words. I just don’t understand why. This person was in my house. They grabbed me. I’m the one who retrieved the gun for you from where it was stashed so you could find out. If someone is seeking to use me, I’d like to know who.”

GM: “You’re not going to be now that you’re Kindred.”

“By the person who was in your house, at least.”

Celia: Human? Someone’s ghoul?

“Then why is it dangerous?”

GM: “Because knowing it makes you more likely to get ashed.”

Celia: “Then shouldn’t I know who to be on the lookout for?”

GM: “Not knowing means you don’t have to be on the lookout.”

Celia: “That doesn’t make any sense. Not knowing means I’m ignorant and won’t have any idea they’re coming. They obviously already know who I am.”

GM: “Nobody is coming for you over this.”

Celia: “Pete… please don’t keep me in the dark about this. There’s already enough secrets surrounding my situation. I feel like I’m just spiraling, adrift, losing any semblance of control over what happens to me anymore.”

GM: “Bluntly, your feelings matter less than the facts. The facts are that your knowing helps nothing and might hurt plenty.”

“Get used to being in the dark. That’s the Requiem. Most licks won’t even tell you like I am.”

Celia: So much for that tactic.

“Hurt me or your greater agenda?”

GM: “I’ve explained myself enough times,” says Pete. “We have any other business this evening, Miss Kalani?”

Celia: Jade almost lets her gaze drop. But that’s something Celia would have done, and Celia is dead. She softens her voice, though, dropping the challenging tone.

“I’d like to ask you something else. If that’s okay.”

GM: “What’s that?”

Celia: “My friend, the one who brought the tape to you.”

There’s not really a delicate way for her to ask. She hesitates only a moment.

“I guess I was just wondering why he was taken into custody. I thought he could just drop it off to you and he’d get to go.”

GM: “You think so?” Pete asks with a flat look. “That the sheriff’s people wouldn’t have picked him up? That they’d have been as gentle as I was?”

APB was out on him. Better for the Masquerade if he was taken in.”

Celia: “Oh.” That makes sense. She nods. She doesn’t want to think about what could have been done to him. A little memory loss, a little blood, that’s not so bad a price to pay.

“Right. Thank you.”

She does drop her gaze then. Why, she silently asks the carpet, does she always feel like she’s managed to disappoint him?

GM: “Christ, kid,” Lebeaux says with an effected sigh.

“I’m not trying to be a dick to you, but we are a society of raging dicks.”

Celia: Should be used to it, she tells her shoes, growing up in that house. Thicker skin, that’s what she needs. He’d said it had made her strong, but being used and pushed around by people who are older, meaner, and smarter than her doesn’t make her feel particularly strong or useful.

She takes his almost-apology for the olive branch it is and finally looks back up at him.

“How come you can still work at the police department? Mel told me it was the prince’s domain.”

GM: “It is,” says Lebeaux. “But the precinct building is here in the Quarter. Not a lot he can do.”

“I haven’t been seeding the police with ghouls en masse or trying to take over the department. More effort than it’s worth to get me booted out.”

Celia: That makes sense too. The worry she’d felt for his safety slowly starts to dissipate. Of course he can handle himself. Doesn’t need some fledgling concerned about whether or not he’s going to make it out in one piece. Still, she’s seen what the sheriff can do when he’s feeling amorous; she doesn’t want to imagine what he’s like when he’s not.

“Is this the kind of thing you’ll tell me eventually, or is it an it’ll always be too dangerous thing?”

GM: “Kid, if you want answers, and I give this as broadly applicable rather than specific advice, go out and be useful to older licks. Stuff gets shared on a need-to-know basis. If it becomes useful for them to tell you, then you do need to know.”

“Just satisfying someone’s curiosity isn’t that high a priority for most of us.”

Celia: How, she thinks, am I supposed to useful if no one will tell me anything? Seems like the kind of thing that just leads to toes getting stepped on. Maybe when she’s that old and jaded she’ll feel the same way too, and make people jump through hoops instead of saying anything useful, and when she Embraces and abandons her own childe she’ll just loom at them instead of saying anything on the subject of why they exist. Then they’ll fuck. Obviously.

At least humans have it easy:

Why am I here?

Well, sweetie, Mommy and Daddy were very horny one day…

Her lips twitch.

“Yes, sir. Understood. Thank you for… helping me adjust.”

She doesn’t think it’s quite fair that he assumes her asking has anything to do with curiosity, either, but she doesn’t tell him that the lick she wants to make herself useful to is the one who’d dropped her into the Gulf. Somehow it seems like that won’t go over well.

Friday night, 4 September 2009, PM

Celia: When Jade had invited herself along with Mélissaire to a drag racing event months ago, she hadn’t quite known what to expect. Jade isn’t the type of girl who attends events like these. She isn’t the type of girl who knows the difference between a Cadillac and a Camaro, or what an alternator is, or why boys cream their pants every time Mel says something about her Hemi.

But she’d gotten tired of the ghouls and Kindred in the Evergreen, and she needed an excuse to practice her new face. That was what she had pitched to Lord Savoy to let her out, and her grandsire had, with his usual aplomb, just waved her off with a smile. She’d told Mel that she wouldn’t even notice her presence That of course the ghoul didn’t have to babysit all night, she wasn’t going to cause trouble (“of course I just ate”). She just wanted to get out of the club.

So she’d talked the ghoul into bringing her along under the guise of practice (she was sure Savoy had actually made it happen, come to that), had found a pair of ripped jean shorts and crop top to wear with her thigh-high stiletto boots, and had pulled her hair back into a high pony that then looped back under into a sort of quasi-bun. She looks… like all the other girls at the event, she notes once they arrive, though hers is the most cutting figure, and is glad she dressed down. It’s easy to flit among them like this.

And flit she does. Like a butterfly stretching its wings for the first time, this new Jade persona is charming and witty and confident, a little bit cool, everything that Jade had always wanted to be. How easy it is to put on a mask and simply become someone else. Two parts Em, one part Caroline, one part Pietro, with a dash of Veronica and a heaping scoop of Savoy to top it all off.

So it is Jade who stalks among these mortals, watching them drink their cheap beer out of red cups, listening to the roar of the engines in cars she doesn’t know a thing about, and cheering on her favorites as they go.

Support: The track stinks of motor oil and machismo. Men, a disproportionate of them white for this city, gallivant and drunkenly screech at each other over who grabbed whose girl’s ass first or whose engine can shit out more exhaust in a shorter stretch. The air is slick with grease, sleaze, and greed. A vampire like Jade should fit right in.

“Wow,” says a voice behind her.

It belongs to a boy pretending to be a man. He’s tall enough to be the real thing, though. The stubble adds to the effect, too. So do the bruises on his knuckles, the cigarette hanging from his lips, the leather and denim and chains he’s wrapped up in like a leather daddy’s Christmas present.

But those eyes give him away. Boy’s eyes, that shift between blue and green and hazel. Eyes wide with lust and unearned confidence. Eyes so like her cousin’s, but for the color.

“I thought my heart was going fast a few minutes ago,” says the boy-man. “But you’re makin’ me rethink what a race should feel like.”

GM: The cigarettes are the worst thing about this place. The fires are tiny enough, but Jade’s Beast whines in instinctive unease. They’re a constant distraction. The lighters are worse. Get enough of them close to her face and she might lose control.

There’s a reason Savoy strictly enforces a ‘no smoking’ rule in the parts of the Evergreen that Kindred pass through.

There’s a reason Mélissaire recommended she not target smokers when hunting, either. That anxiety mixed with the rush of hot blood might also cause her to lose it.

Or at least get them to put out the damn cigs, first.

Celia: She can hear it, too. His heart pounding away in his chest, pumping blood through his body. There’s a pulse point at his neck that her eyes are drawn to. Good thing she just fed, right? Good thing she can’t smell it under the pungent stench of smoke.

She’d be more impressed if he didn’t have a cigarette dangling from his lips. Cute enough, but that’s a deal breaker. Even when she was alive she wasn’t a fan: it’s the kind of stink that lingers. That calls for excessive showers and immediate loads of laundry.

Her lip curls.

“Gonna have to try harder than that, sweetheart.”

Support: He blinks, his pride stung. But he rises to her challenge, responding to her sneer with a wry smile. “I’m just saying, if you like fast cars, maybe you’d like to be inside of one? As a good-luck charm? For the race. Which I’m in.”

Utterly. Unearned. Confidence.

Celia: She makes a show of looking him over.

“You even old enough to have a license?”

Support: He snorts. "Aren’t I supposed to ask you that? Not that I think you’re underage, obviously. " He thinks a little more. “Not obviously because you’re old, but because it would be illegal. Although I guess that part wouldn’t me bother me either. Look, what I’m saying is, I’m over sixteen and I don’t fuck underage girls. Anymore.” He coughs and looks vaguely uncertain. “Uh, what were we talking about?”

Celia: “You were telling me how much you hate smoking and about to show me your big, fancy car.”

Support: “Right… one of those sounds really, really fun.”

Celia: “It’s a both or nothing kind of deal.” She tilts her head to one side. Flashes him a smile.

Support: “I mean, if it has to be both. Call me Mr… shit, I had something for this.” He drops the cigarette and grinds it under a shoe. “Maybe buy-one, get-one?”

He fishes a key fob from one pocket and clicks.

A ride chirps in response.

His confidence might be utterly unearned, but at least some of it comes from the car. It’s a sleek, cherry red, with all the muscle in a muscle car and all the angles of the Mach 5.

“I wouldn’t say ‘big,’” he says, patting the hood. “But definitely a hot ride. Which, coincidentally…”

He opens the door for her.

Celia: “Cute,” she says with a wink, though whether she’s talking about him or the car is hard to say. She slides inside, waits for him to go around to the other side. “Who’re we racing?”

Support: He gets in, points to a lime-green car that looks like TV shows get paid to reference it by name parked on the far side of the track. “This pig-fucker Pavaghi. Some fuckin’ city kid whose parents don’t know he’s spending his allowance on a sport for men. Or maybe they do and just don’t care because they don’t understand drag racing. I’m not sure what, like, ethnicity they are, but its probably not one where most of them know what four-wheel drive is.”

Celia: She knows of the Pavaghis. She’s pretty sure Stephen had mentioned one of the kids once, something like “no good, crooked family, spends all his time partying.” She’d never had a reason to run in the same circles as them.

“Do you keep his car if you win?” she asks, one brow lifted in a delicate arch. “Or do I get to decide what your prize is?”

Support: “That’s called racing for pink s—” he begins eagerly, then hears the second part of her question. “Oh. Well, um, I think you’d be awarding me a lot of, um, rep. If you gave me a kiss when we got out.”

Celia: The sound of her laughter fills the car. She puts a hand on his knee. “Impress me.”

Support: He raises an eyebrow, and a stupid grin spread across his face.

“Yeah. I can do that.”

Support: It’s a few minutes more of flirting and charmingly awkward small talk as they prepare the track. His car rolls onto asphalt like a snake finding purchase on the ground. But Jade doesn’t understand these ceremonies, these people with their raised hands and exclamations, and Randy’s explanations are… amusing, but not exactly informative.

But then the cars, cherry red and lime green, are wheel-to-wheel. She can see the other driver’s face, chubby and sweat-covered. But Randy doesn’t sweat. Unearned or not, he smells like confidence.

The cars wheel closer and closer to the starting line, as the officials and judges slowly clear the track.

“Vroom, vroom,” Randy mutters, and before she can so much as giggle at him, the car is racing.

Support: It’s fast. Very fast. She knows what it is to move faster than cars, of course, to hurtle at speeds faster than the human body should be capable of. But the unnatural speed of her kind is nothing like this chaotic, barely controlled acceleration, the roar of combustion and impossible generation of momentum as an engine screams and whips the car forward.

So fast, and yet the seconds that pass are the longest she’s ever felt.

Randy’s screaming. She doesn’t know exactly what. It’s a sustained, furious stream of abuse, pleading, and profanity like a drunkard’s prayer. The exact words are muffled by the roar of his ride’s engine, though, and by the merciless squeal of his tires.

The curve of the track looms suddenly close, impossible to miss, the car about to careen into the watchers—but somehow he has turned, just so, and the car stays on the road.

She’s thrown, inside the car, her seat belt barely restraining her.

She can see the individual brows on Randy’s forehead furrowing as he guns the pedal and the car somehow goes faster.

Everything is noise, stimulus, speed. Her bones seem to sing with the pressure of it. A part of her is certain the car is about to crash, this idiot boy is going to trap her in a hunk of burning steel and blood…


And the race is over.

It’s a pitiful few seconds later that the lime green car finishes.

He never had a chance.


So maybe not completely unearned.

Celia: If she had a heart, she thinks, it would be hammering.

She’d be as nerved out and as unsteady as any of those girls in their four-inch heels after a few cheap beers.

She’d have screamed, maybe.

But she’s already dead. Not unfazed, though. No, she gets it now: why Mélissaire likes these kinds of places. Why the ghoul spends so much time down here. Why she pouts so prettily when she has to drive a boring Altima.

She doesn’t wait for them to get out of the car. Or rather, she waits long enough to tell him to find a secluded place, and as they drive off together she waves at the gathered people to give him the rep he so desired. She can be a benevolent master.

Then she’s on him. Her knees are on either side of his lap, steering wheel pushing against her back. She doesn’t care. Her lips find his, then his jaw, his neck. She bites. Lets her fangs pierce his skin. Fastens her mouth around the wound and pulls that heady nectar free from his body. She doesn’t take much. Enough to fill her mouth, to get a taste of that adrenaline, that cockiness. She licks it closed, then bites into her own wrist and presses it against his mouth.

“To the victor,” she murmurs in his ear.

Celia: Maybe he was already so enamored that he doesn’t notice the bond taking effect. Maybe it means nothing for him when it snaps into place and she’s the new object of his adoration, the new subject of his idolization. It’s a small step, after all, one of three.

It’s like a small trip. Like a full body unwinding. Like the best rush he’s ever gotten from that first inhale after jonesing for a cigarette for hours.

She sees it in his eyes, the way they glaze over, the little smile he can’t help but send her way. She likes this power. It’s intoxicating. She croons soft, nothing noises and words into his ear while he drinks from her. Her hands slide through his hair, her teeth pull at the lobe of his ear. She doesn’t let him drink long. Enough to quench a tiny amount of thirst. Enough to bring him to heel, to let immortality flow through his veins.

She wonders if he feels it.

She sinks her teeth in again, pulling aside his shirt to bite over his clavicle, sucking and slurping from him while he feeds from her, an unbroken cycle. It’s bliss. A rush. Even her Beast is pleased, purring contentedly in her chest. Or maybe that’s her. Or him. It doesn’t matter. He’s hers now, for the simple act of saying hello.

She pulls her wrist away when she’s decided he’s had enough, though she continues feeding from him a moment longer. She goes slow, savoring the experience; there’s something about these mortals that makes her want to be gentle with them. Maybe it’s their fragility. Or the noises he makes.

Happy little noises from her new toy.

So sweet.

Friday night, 4 September 2009, PM

Celia: “You’re mine now,” she tells him when she gets him back to the apartments near the Evergreen Plantation. Savoy had given her to them when he’d fished her out of the Gulf, and she had yet to move out into a space of her own. They’re lavish. Well appointed. The other ghouls see to her needs.

She’s not in a hurry to leave. She likes this lap of luxury.

He will too, she tells him.

She tells him what he is now, too. A ghoul. Her ghoul. It’s like slavery, she says, only she’s a vampire instead of a rich white guy. She watches his face when she says that word: vampire.

Support: He’s confused at first. Then she says that word and he just looks amused.

“Yeah, okay,” he says. “Whatever. I could say I’m a race-car driver to impress you, too, babe, if we’re roleplaying.” He leans forward to kiss her.

Celia: She doesn’t move to stop him. She just smiles and there they are in her mouth: fangs.

“You are a race car driver,” she agrees.

“And I’m a vampire.”

Support: He screams.

Then he clears his throat.

“Drag… racer, technically,” he corrects. “But, uh. Those are. They’re fake. Right?”

He reaches for one, dumbly.

Celia: She lets him touch them. She finds the whole thing incredibly amusing, really. She wishes she’d thought to ask Pete if they were real when he’d shown her. Kind of like asking a woman if her tits are real, though. That’s awkward.

“If you scream again I’ll have to kill you,” she says with a long-suffering sigh. She hasn’t quite kicked the habit of sighing.

Support: “I, uh, “ he says when the tip of her fang draws blood.

“Oh. Oh. Fuck.”

He doesn’t scream.

Celia: “Good boy.” She pats his head, like she would a dog. Then she pats the seat next to her, invites him to sit beside her.

“There’s a whole new world for you to explore, pet. Here’s what’s important: you’re mine. If you run, I’ll find you. I’ll kill you. It’ll be very slow, and you’ll wish you hadn’t. Then I’ll find your family. I don’t want to have to do that.”

She strokes the back of her fingers along his cheek. “You’re cute. In a trailer park kind of way. Let’s keep it that way, mkay?”

Support: He scowls. “Come on. That’s not funny. Unless, again, it’s a roleplayjng thing. And then I want to take turns.”

Celia: “I don’t want to kill you. I want to keep you. Don’t you want me to keep you? Get you out of whatever place you’re living now, which I can guess isn’t as nice as what I can give you. Strength. Speed. Parties. You’ll still get to drive. Get to race. You just don’t get to run that pretty mouth of yours to anyone.”

“There aren’t a lot of rules. But breaking them once is all you get.”

“Don’t you think I’m pretty, little racer boy?” She traces a finger down his chest, cocks her head to one side. She shifts, moving until she’s on his lap, her arms draped around his neck. “Don’t you want to stay with me?”

Support: He’s clearly struggling a lot with the state of affairs as she describes it to him. Then she gets on his lap and he looks suddenly thoughtful, inquisitive. “So I’d be, like, your driver? Maybe?”

“Also, I like my place. It’s nice. Small, but nice.”

Celia: “Driver,” she agrees. “Do you fight? Know how to throw a punch?”

Support: He snorts. Shows her his knuckles. “You think I got these beating up kids at school? I mean, probably one of them. But come on, I was raised to be a pseudo-cop from eight. I think I know how to handle myself, babe.”

Celia: “Poor baby.” She kisses the bruised knuckles. “You won’t have to worry about that anymore, the bruising. You can beat up all the school children you want.”

Support: “I don’t still beat up schoolkids,” he snorts. Then he thinks about it. “Recently. Anyway. Wait, what do you mean by that?”

Celia: “No beating up school children,” she tells him. “Big guys only. Make me proud. Remember what happens when you impress me? Anyway, haven’t you seen any movies? Get a little blood in you and you’re near invincible.” That’s not entirely true, but she’s sure he’ll find out. “You can heal almost anything. Just like that.” She snaps her fingers.

Support: “For real?” he says. He looks again at her fangs. “So. Wait. Do I… do I drink blood now?”

Celia: “Mine,” she tells him. “You’re still… human. Ish.” She explains what he is. His place in their society. The perks of being hers. There are a lot of perks, she says, like the lack of aging, the health benefits, the things she’ll teach him.

“Plus,” she says, “you’re cute enough that you could plausibly be my boyfriend. So you get to drive, beat people up, and smooch me in public.” She beams.

GM: And live forever.

Never get old.

Support: “I could do that, for a little bit,” he says. “Sure. Yeah. Okay.”

Celia: For a little bit. Ha.

“You got a name, cutie?”

Support: “…Randy. Randy Dufresne.”

Celia: “Randy.” She considers. “That’ll work. Tell you what, Randy, I’m gonna send you off with my friend Mélissaire. She’ll show you the ropes, teach you everything you need to know about being a good little pretend boyfriend. If she tells me you’re doing well then that’ll make me very, very happy. And when I’m happy, you’re happy.” She kisses his cheek. “Any questions, Randy?”

Support: “…so can I smooch you in private, too?”

Celia: She smiles at him.

Support: He goes for it.

Wednesday evening, 6 January 2010

GM: “Sweetie, I want to tell Emily,” Diana says from the chair at Celia’s styling loft. “About your real dad.”

It’s been close to nine months since that fateful night. Celia’s mother looks like a balloon almost ready to pop.

Celia: This far along with her pregnancy, there’s no comfortable way for Diana to lay down on one of the tables for her treatment, nor is she permitted to anyway due to medical concerns: she’d be cutting off the blood supply to the fetus and to her own heart. The studies done about how it harms the baby and the mother were small, but Celia isn’t going to risk her mother’s happiness for an hour on the table. She’d done enough of the side-lying treatments, with piles of pillows supporting her head, between her knees, and in front of her that she’s pretty sure she’s unofficially earned the title Pillow Fort Queen.

Celia also, she’s decided, never wants to see another pregnant client again. Facial treatments are a bust, lashes need to be done one eye at a time… the only thing she can really do is massage, and when you’re that big around it takes a solid five minutes to roll over anyway. The whole thing is just an annoyance she doesn’t enjoy dealing with.

Hence the chair. Tilted far enough back to let Diana get comfortable, but not so far that she’s putting any pressure on the vena cava. Baby and Mom are both safe.

Or as safe as they can be under the hands of a monster.

Celia is in the middle of applying the first of three masks to her mother’s face when the woman opens her mouth. She frowns, uses her hand to swipe away the small amount of product that had been too close to her lips, and finally shakes her head as she finishes painting the mask on.


GM: Celia’s mom did like the pillows. She’d chuckled she “didn’t mind feelin’ pampered like a queen.” This close to the due date, though, she’d rather not spend a while shifting positions (such as she can) against the pillows to find the most comfortable one. Chair was faster and still pretty comfy.

“I’ve just been thinking, when we’re about to welcome a new member of our family into the world,” she says. “You know how I want you and Emily to be present for the birth. And, sweetie, you believe me, you watch a woman go through that, you’ve seen all there is to see with her. There’s no such thing as modesty left.”

“And if we can share that with her… I don’t want there to be any lies between us. I trust her.”

Celia: Celia has been pushing her mother toward a more natural birth, at home, rather than dealing with all of the procedures and complications that a hospital birth would bring. They’d argued repeatedly about whose name will go on the birth certificate until Celia had pointed out that Maxen has ears everywhere, and if they use Diana’s name he’ll be more likely to look into the child. Better this way to keep her safe. Better if it’s just the three of them at the birth.

“The problem, Momma, is that the secret about my father isn’t about you. It’s about both of us. I love and trust Emily, of course I do, that’s not the problem. The problem is if she decides she trusts someone else, then they decide to trust someone. It’s a scandal waiting to happen.”

She pauses to rinse and wipe her hands once the mask is in place.

“What do you think he’d do if it ever got back to him?”

GM: Pete, when Celia had brought up the topic, agreed that a home birth was “better all around.” Unless her mom was considerate enough to go into labor during nighttime and get the baby out before sunrise, there’s no way Celia could attend in a hospital. But she could force herself to stay up for a home birth in a windowless room.

Diana had been alarmed, though, at the prospect of not even a midwife. What if there were complications? Emily had done a lot of reading up about pregnancy lately, but she wasn’t a certified midwife, or for that matter a real doctor. She also wanted to bring in a midwife.

Pete agreed, too. He had volunteered to alter the woman’s memories and simply swap Diana’s and Celia’s faces with each other. “It’s a small and unobtrusive ‘edit’ she’s not likely to question. Better for your cover, too, if there’s someone who ‘remembers’ Celia Flores having the kid.”

“She wouldn’t, sweetie,” insists Celia’s mom. “She knows… she knows full well what he’d do. To you. To me. She’d know it’s not her secret to tell.”

Celia: Celia had been extremely grateful for Pete’s support; she’d teased him about wanting to keep Diana safe so he could take her out later, and even his firm rebuke hadn’t been enough to dim her amusement, nor the respect he’d earned from her for all of the work he’d put in to help her family. She’d told him once, privately, that she “would’ve been lost without you.” She thinks he’d gotten a little emotional, but it’s hard to tell with Pete: all of his glowers look the same.

GM: Some are harder than others. Like the one he gave at the suggestion of taking her mom out. But there hadn’t been one after she’d thanked him.

Celia: One of these evenings she’s going to try to hug him and see what kind of look that gets her.

“I don’t see any benefit in telling Emily,” Celia says to her mom, “only drawbacks. She knows I don’t consider him my father. That’s enough for her. If you want to tell her about other men you’ve been with then that is your prerogative, but I won’t have either of our names slandered in some political stunt because Emily accidentally let it slip.”

GM: “There is a benefit, Celia. Telling the truth. It’s a weight off your shoulders, not to be livin’ a lie. It shows how much you love and trust someone, to be open about who and what you are.”

She doesn’t say anything about how trusting Celia resulted in her daughter giving her the silent treatment throughout the worst period of her life, right when she needed Celia’s love and support most. The Toreador later learned her mother had stayed with one of her ballet friends to get back on her feet.

She never has, either. Celia is pretty sure her mother would prefer just to forget that fight ever happened.

“I could’ve just not told you, if I wanted to be positive it’d never get out. But I wanted you to know, because you were family. And so is Emily.”

Celia: “That’s the problem, though. People don’t confess to things to help other people. They do it to assuage their own guilt. You’d be burdening Emily with something she has to protect now. I don’t agree that ignorance is bliss, but she can’t mess up something if she doesn’t know about it.”

The timer goes off on her phone and Celia pulls a hot towel out of the caddy. She unrolls it and squeezes out the excess moisture, then places it delicately over her mother’s face. Only her mouth and nose remain free.

“It’s not your secret. It’s mine. My dad is my business. And I’m not living a lie; I know perfectly well that Maxen isn’t my father. Emily doesn’t consider him my father either. Family is who you choose, remember?”

“You’re not still married to the man. You don’t call him your husband. I don’t call him dad. No one is lying.”

GM: “But it is my secret too, sweetie. It affects me, it happened to me… it’s both of ours,” her mom says from under the towel.

“And your dad… is your dad, even if he was a bad one. Emily knows that too, how that… woman,” she says, clearly substituting the word for a less polite one, “who got into DUIs with her and ignored her calls and letters is still her birth mother. She didn’t have to tell us that, she could have just said her birth mother was dead, if she was scared we’d judge her or just didn’t want to deal with the pain. But she didn’t. She trusted us.”

Celia: “That’s an entirely different situation.” She begins to remove the mask, wrapping her fingers in the towel and wiping upward. Each pass of her hands brings some of the product with it, leaving behind clean skin.

“Emily has nothing to do with her mother. Her mother can’t come after her for anything. Emily has a new family now. If it gets out, Maxen comes after you. He comes after me. You know that reputation is everything down here; why would we take a risk when just keeping our mouths shut about it doesn’t harm anyone?”

GM: “I just think tha… oh, sweetie, I’m leakin’ over your seat. I’ve got a change of underwear in my purse.”

At nine months into her sixth kid, she seems pretty much past embarrassment.

Celia: Celia had, thankfully, put a towel down under her mother. Even if she hadn’t, the seats themselves are non-porous and liquid resistant, so cleanup is pretty easy. Used to dealing with blood and other gross things besides, what’s a little… ah, urine? Vaginal… juices?

…maybe she’s not as okay with it as she thought.

“Let me get you a towel, Momma.”

She quickly finishes what she’s doing and reaches for a fresh towel, handing it to her mother, then bends to search her purse for the change of clothing.

GM: It’s a pretty big purse. Besides the usual essentials, there’s a water bottle, protein bars, trail mix, extra wipes, body butter, antacid, tylenol, a change of panties, and empty plastic baggie.

“Emily isn’t going to tell,” her mom says as she slides down her underwear to towel herself off.

“I just know she won’t. Why would she?”

Celia: Celia can only assume the plastic baggie is for the now-soaked panties. She holds her hand out for the dirtied pair to stuff inside the bag, then offers her mom the clean pair. It’s less awkward than she thought it would be. Some part of her wonders if she would have leaked all over everything. If she wasn’t, y’know, dead.

“I don’t know,” Celia finally says. “Because she’s mad we didn’t tell her earlier.”

GM: Celia’s mom starts to thank her as she pulls on the clean underwear, then blinks in seeming disbelief. “Oh, you can’t think she’d do that!”

Celia: “I just don’t think it’s a good idea, Mom.” Celia tosses the towel she’d offered her mother into the hamper. Lots of bleach, she thinks, and steps toward the sink to wash her hands again.

“It doesn’t really matter who my dad is, does it? I don’t have a relationship with either one of them.”

GM: “Well, how do you think Emily would feel about it, if we told her?”

“And, oh, would you mind bringin’ over the hand sanitizer from my purse?”

Celia: “I think she’d want to know why we didn’t earlier.” It’s not that Celia expects the girl to betray her, not really. It’s that she might not have a choice, and that’s what scares her. Someone ripping into her mind because she’s close to Celia. Anyone who knows about what Celia is could be a potential threat to everyone she’s close to.

She hands her mother the sanitizer after another quick dig through her purse.

GM: “Thanks,” her mom says as she squirts some over her hands, then offers it to Celia. “Emi keeps trying to get me to wear pants, I bet you can remember. And, not to gloat, but this is just one instance why it can be a good thing for women to dress like women, and men like men. Clean-up’s a breeze.”

That was what Maxen said for why the Flores girls weren’t allowed to own pants. Minus the ‘clean-up’ bit.

Celia: “Mmm, easy access too,” Celia says with a smirk as she squirts some over her hands too. She remembers the times she and Stephen had put that to use. Mall. Bathroom. Movie theater.

“Kidding, kidding.”

GM: “Oh, you get your mind out of the gutter, missy,” her mom says with an exaggerated roll of her eyes.

“But if you think she’d feel hurt, doesn’t it make more sense to you to tell her later, than not at all?”

Celia: “Not really.”

“Can’t be hurt by something you don’t know.”

GM: “But she’s not a little kid, Celia. She can handle it.”

“I mean, like I said, I could have just not told you, and what would it have changed?”

“You’d have the same relationship with both men, and we’d still be here today, and maybe it would be a little safer.”

Celia: Well, that’s not strictly true. And I wouldn’t have been able to confirm that Em was my cousin after we fucked, either. But Celia doesn’t tell her mom either of those things. She doubts Diana would take it well how she’s met Ron. And she’s been trying not to think about Em since that final goodbye at his apartment. Better this way.

Celia finally sighs. She’s been working on still appearing human, and that’s one thing she’d noticed about their lot: they sigh. A lot. Little fidgeting gestures and noises.

“I guess it would do more damage to him and his reputation to know he was cuckolded than it would to me.”

GM: “I’m just saying, sweetie, if you’re glad that I told you, I think it’s only fair to tell Emily too. She’s part of this family.”

Celia’s mom moves forward a bit on the seat and holds a hand to her belly.

“Oh, oof, Lucy’s kicking. Remindin’ us she doesn’t want to be left out,” she smiles.

Celia: “That’s, uh, the only other person you’ve been with, right? While we’re… spilling secrets and everything.”

GM: “Well… can you not be hurt by somethin’ you don’t know, missy?” her mom says with an exaggeratedly serious air and wiggle of her eyebrows.

“And go on, sweetie, touch my belly! I don’t know how more times you’ll get to before the due date’s here.”

Celia: At the mention of the kicking, Celia slides her hands around her mom so she can get a feel, too. She’ll never have her own; this is as close as it’ll get for her.

“I just meant we’re positive that Lucy is his, right? You weren’t secretly dating anyone?”

GM: Her mom shakes her head. “Your father and your… biological father are the only men I’ve been with.”

Celia can feel the pressure against her palm, abating and then renewing as the infant kicks.

“Oof. Due date is definitely close, with how strong those are.”

Celia: “I guess… as long as she’s the only one you tell, and it’s just me who would be in danger if it got out…”

Celia trails off as the child kicks against her palm. Unbidden, a smile creeps across her face.

GM: Her mom’s answering smile is just as glowing.

“Isn’t it just such a miracle? I can’t wait for us to meet her.”

Celia: “It really is, Momma. I’m… happy for you. That you get this one to keep all to yourself.”

GM:Ourselves, sweetie. You and Emi are going to be very important people in her life. We’re in this together.”

Her smile dims a bit. “Just like you wouldn’t be the only one in danger, if that got out. It’d be me, too.”

Celia: “I guess I just meant that it was only me. That you didn’t… see him again.” There’s a brief pause as Lucy kicks against her hands again. “He doesn’t know I exist, does he? You never contacted him?”

Obviously, he does know. But she’s curious if her mom does.

GM: Her mom shakes her head. “I’m not ever going to. Though I admit it did… cross my mind, back when I was really strugglin’ to cover your tuition and car payments.”

“But every time I decided I’d really rather just give some more dance lessons. For so many reasons.”

Celia: Funny. His money actually did help with those things.

“I thought about it too, you know. After you told me. For the first few years it was there in the back of my head, to go see him. To meet him. See what he was like.”

“To call him, I guess, since he wasn’t in the city until later.”

GM: “Honestly, sweetie, if I could wave a magic wand and just have your father also be your biological father, I would. It’d be one less secret to carry and not change a thing between any of us.” She gives a rueful smile. “Except maybe make your hair a lil’ easier to manage.”

Celia: “I could always shave it off, like Maxen does. But hey, that’s the benefit of cos school, you know? All these new products I can use on it to make it manageable.”

GM: “Har har har.”

Celia: “What, you don’t think I’d look good bald?”

GM: Her mom laughs. “You remember that movie Emi showed us, that science fiction one on the dessert planet, with the bald women? It was just the strangest, strangest thing. No thank you.”

Celia: Celia laughs at the memory. Her mom had tutted almost the entire way through.

“I’ll make sure to get you in for extensions if you ever start thinning.”

GM: “I’ll know I’m in the best of hands,” Celia’s mom smiles.

“Oh, speaking of, was there more you were going to do…?” She motions at her face.

Celia: “Oh, yes! Got distracted with the baby kicking. Sit back, sit back, I’ve got you.”

Celia guides her mother backwards until she’s lying upright in the chair again, then resumes the treatment. A second enzyme mask meant to reduce puffiness (which the pregnant woman has in spades) and break up some of the dead skin cells on her face. It’s lightly scented, but not overpowering. Celia uses a brush to apply the mask, and once it’s on sets another timer on her phone. A second later she has the arm of the facial steamer set over her mother’s face. The water begins to bubble and the steam spills out across her skin. It helps break everything down, loosens the gunk inside her pores to make for easy extractions (pores don’t open and close, thank you very much), and… well, honestly, it just feels nice to have the warm steam on your face, especially in the middle of winter. Even in New Orleans it gets chilly at night.

GM: “Oh, that feels just heavenly,” Celia’s mom murmurs under the treatment. “I know I say it all the time, sweetie, but you’re so talented. You just have such a gift at this. I can’t wait until you have your own place like you’ve been talking about.”

“I had this, maybe not fantasy, but just cute little idea, I guess, inspired from a book I read a while ago. There’s a pregnant woman whose water breaks early and who goes into labor in the middle of her family’s kitchen, so the baby grows up to be an incredible cook.”

“So I thought, wouldn’t it just be ‘cute’ if my water broke in Celia’s place, we delivered Lucy right there, and she also grew up to be an amazing esthetician.”

Celia: “I was wondering if you were going to say spa or dance studio,” Celia says with a smile. “Though I suppose with you teaching her she wouldn’t have to work too hard at being great at both.”

GM: Her mom smiles back. “Dance studio is another cute thought. Maybe a dance studio that doubles as a spa, however that’d work, and she’d be a born natural at both.”

Celia: “Well I’ve got the midwife on speed dial, if you think you’re going to, ah, pop her out here.”

“If I do a little dance here we could pretend it’s a studio, then you’ve got both. Enough mirrors around.”

GM: Celia’s mom laughs. “Or we both could! I still dance, too, a bit.”

“Dancing while pregnant is pretty interesting. When you’re pregnant, you release a hormone called relaxin to loosen up the ligaments in your pelvis so your birth canal can expand. Relaxin affects you from head to toe, so it can actually make you more flexible. Though it also means you have to be extra careful to prevent injury.”

“Obviously I’m not about to do any grand jetés with how big I am, of course. I can’t really do those anymore anyways.” There’s a moment of sadness in her eyes before she continues, “But I’ve told you about how I’ve been belly dancing, haven’t I?”

“That uses your tummy and trunk muscles and helps to keep your back supple. It helps you to focus on good posture, too. Plus your pelvic floor muscles work, so you don’t leak as much wee when you cough or sneeze.”

“Since it uses slow, controlled movements, it’s a great way to exercise when you’re pregnant.”

Celia: “You mentioned that. Showed me those hip shimmies they had you doing; think it’s something you’ll keep up with once you’ve had Lucy?”

“Once I take this mask off you and finish up we could take a twirl around the floor.”

GM: “Oh, that’s a great idea, sweetie! We can give you a little lesson now, for when you’re pregnant someday,” her mom winks.

“It really is a very good form of exercise when you’re this late into your pregnancy. Another benefit is how when you’re exercising, blood gets diverted to your working muscles to make sure they’re getting enough oxygen—and that can possibly mean less blood going to your uterus. But that’s a non-issue with belly dance, since it’s tummy and trunk muscles you’re working.”

Celia: “Glutes, too. For those hip circles.”

“And figure-eights.”

GM: “Yep. I’ll probably do less of it after I’ve had Lucy, but I definitely think I’ll keep it up! It’s always worthwhile to learn new forms of dance.”

Celia: “I started looking into it after you told me about it. About how you have to isolate the ribs in order to do some of those more advanced techniques. It’s definitely an interesting feeling; I’d never really thought about it before, how it just kind of goes along with the rest of you, but with that control… it’s really something.”

A quiet chime from her phone has her reaching for another hot towel after she turns the steam off.

GM: “It sure is. That’s actually what some people think the original purpose of belly dance was, as a pregnancy aid and celebration of female fertility. It used to be a very private dance, done only around women. Women would gather around the laboring mom and dance to encourage her to imitate them. The dances were said to soothe the mom and lessen her pain. The movements were also pretty conductive to helping the baby along the birth canal.”

Celia’s mom chuckles. “I’m not about to ask you and Emily to belly dance for me while I’m in labor, but it’s a sweet image, isn’t it?”

Celia: That would be the only reason Diana allowed herself to do it.

GM: “Just that whole sense of community and women supporting each other.”

Celia: “I s’pose we’ll see how it goes with the delivery, Momma. If you need me to dance and praise the Mother Goddess then who am I to deny you?” Her tone is teasing. She tosses the last of the towels into the hamper and reaches for a bottle of moisturizer. No extractions for her mother today; her skin doesn’t need it, and it’s a less-than-pleasant feeling besides.

GM: “Bring a fertility idol, just in case,” her mom chuckles again.

“But about Emily… you said you’re okay with us telling her, sweetie?”

Celia: Celia is quiet while she applies the eye cream and lip balm. The treatment is pretty much over at this point; nothing left for her to do but help her mother up.

She finally shrugs.

“I guess if you make sure she knows the very, very serious nature of keeping it to herself.”

Maybe they can bond over the fact that they both chose new families for themselves.

GM: “We’ll tell her together, so you can be absolutely sure she sees how serious this is,” Celia’s mom says.

“And thanks, sweetie. It means a lot to know we can all trust each other, with something like this.”

Celia: In the grand scheme of things, she supposes it’s one of her lesser secrets.

What’s the worst that can happen?

Friday night, 18 June 2010, PM

Celia: It’s a useful trick, he had told her, a Masquerade behind the Masquerade. Other licks will look at you and see just another juicebag, so long as you are careful what you do. And for someone like you, trying to maintain a mortal identity… it is doubly so. Use it with your Celia face and no one will know any better.

I’ve seen you vanish into nothing, she had responded, will you show me how?

He had laughed at her. It wasn’t unkind; his cousin’s presence was woefully lacking this evening. The ebon goddess complained about being bored and had left her childe in Pietro’s capable hands. There was no one to posture for save each other.

Steal something worth my time, he’d told her, and I’ll show you everything I know.

Jade had waited a week to put her plan into action. It had given her the time she needed to come up with and summarily discount a dozen ideas, each more elaborate than the last: art, jewelry, that crown on display at the Presbytere, or the diamond and ruby rose with emerald leaves on loan to the art museum. Maybe, she reflects, she could steal an entire plane from the World War II place, and idly wonders what expression he would don were she to land the damn thing on top of his apartment in Marigny.

None of it seems right. Not for him. He’d enjoy them, certainly, but they’re all things that he can get on his own. Make it worth his time, he’d said. Besides, getting out will take more skill than she currently possesses, which is why she’d wanted to learn more of his stealth skills in the first place. For sneaking. Anyone who sees her vanish and stumbles across the Jade/Celia discovery will assume it’s nothing but an illusion, as Roderick had. Easier to think it’s something familiar than to strain too hard to consider the alternative. Jade will give them no reason to suspect that she is anything more than a stealthy trickster. Better for her personal Masquerade and the lies she’d like to spin.

Which is why, she thinks ruefully, Pietro is giving her a chance in the first place instead of dismissing her outright.

She’d never asked if he felt bad for the hand he had in turning her into this, but she thinks she can see it in his eyes sometimes when he assumes she isn’t paying attention. Regret. Guilt, perhaps, more than regret. He’d been the one to pick her up that night, the one to bring her back to his apartment to feed. Not fuck—she knows that now, or at least assumes she knows the truth of the evening, that he hadn’t wanted to waste the blood. Why bother if she wouldn’t remember and he wouldn’t enjoy it? He could just used his fingers and charm her into thinking it had been the best night of her life. She’d never asked, not after Veronica had made it clear that blood is sex now and anything else is a perversion against their very undead nature. Jade hadn’t bothered to tell them about her own ability to still get off that way.

Maybe it had been the best sex of her life, the best night of her life, but that was prior to waking up in his bed to hear him arguing about the body. Prior to being caught on the stairwell in a game of cat and mouse. Prior to the rape. The murder.

She prefers his touch to Veronica’s, though she has never told him. Enjoys his caress, whisper soft. She’d spent many evenings sandwiched between the pair of them, no longer left to her own devices while they rip and tear and snarl.

It’s these memories, these thoughts, that give her the idea.

She dresses for success this night, farther outside her typical wardrobe than she has ever been before: distressed jeans cut through with black patches that proclaim the names of punk and rock bands she’s never listened to, a black belt to keep them snug around her hips, black stiletto boots beneath the jeans. A cropped shirt shows off every inch of her toned, flat stomach, Satan’s goat face stretching proudly across her chest. Fingerless gloves complete the look. Grunge chic. Rocker chick. She’d given herself tattoos even, spent hours on the kaleidoscope of colors etched across her skin.

It goes with the face. Pale and angular, with dark shadow and darker eyeliner swiped across her lids. Less than blended, as if she doesn’t have time to worry about such frivolities. Her hair is long, unbound, an ombre of magenta into teal. Snake bite piercings top it off.

She looks less like herself now than she ever has. No one would recognize her as Celia Flores, senator’s daughter, or Jade Kalani, Savoy’s pet. She gives herself a new name to go with her new face: Raven.

Raven strides into the bar with a click of her heels, aura dampened, charm projecting what it is she wants people to see: fierce. It’s a challenge and a war cry all in one, and all the red-blooded males who aren’t turned off by the tats and studs answer the call. They want a piece of that fierceness; they want to tame the bitch.

Her mark sits at the bar with another woman, showing her the same tricks he’d used on Cici the night she’d come to Saints & Sinners with her arm in a sling. Raven pays him not the slightest bit of attention; the surest way to scare him off is to show any interest. She sets a trap instead, something that will bring him to her.

She dances.

Her moves are sinuous, winding. She draws people in and lets them go just as quickly, dismissed. The music pounds through her veins. She lets it lead her, hips and shoulders and torso reacting to some deeper, instinctual urge. Even her Beast, quiet though it is tonight, sways inside of her. Her partners shift around her, vying for her attention, clamoring to be the one to catch her eyes. Some are bolder than others; they jostle and jockey for a better position, a closer spot to this siren in their midst. One is so forward as to think to put his hands on her. She smiles, delighted, and spins within the circle of his arms to put her back to his chest. When she turns again he is gone. Replaced by hands and a body who echo his lost gestures before diving into his own.

She doesn’t know when he approached, when he made the others back away with look or word, but she feels the first of those feather-light touches, his hands on her hips, her back, her stomach. Claiming. It’s just the two of them on the floor; everyone else falls away, the rest of the world reduced to nothing more than a murky din. Colors fade. Faces blur. The music continues to thrum through her, but he is her focus, and she his. Hunger gazes out at her.

When he smiles at her she knows she has him.

His hand on her back pulls her in. Their hips meet. His lips graze her neck and he whispers in her ear: come back to my place.

She’s ready for the suggestion. Even so, her mind clouds. His whisper makes her pliant. She follows him from the bar, hand in his, to the car waiting outside. Expensive. Flashy. A sports car or muscle car or luxury car, top of the line, nothing she recognizes.

Do you like it, he asks, and when she affirms that she does he says that it’s stolen. Like you, he tells her, stolen from all the other men who wanted you this evening.

It’s a familiar conversation, but Raven doesn’t tell him so. Raven hangs onto his words, star struck.

Until they pull up to his apartment. Until he takes her inside and to the couch, a long, leather affair, the same one she had spent countless nights on after her Embrace. The painting hanging over it is new, though. So is the rug. Both lifted recently, shown off here before he gets bored of them and replaces them once more.

He has her on his lap before she can take in the rest of the room’s differences. His hands traverse her body, stroking and teasing, his mouth at her throat. She makes encouraging noises, like Raven would, and waits until something harder presses against her neck. Two little pinpricks—that’s when she lets the aura drop, and the Beast inside of both of them recognize the other. They snarl, snap, jostle for domination.

Skin rips. Fangs tear. Blood flows.

She ends up on her back with Pietro on top of her, her hands caught firmly in his grasp. She looks out at him from Raven’s eyes and smirks, her struggles ceasing.

“Teach me,” she tells him.

His answering growl is satisfying.

“Where’s your catch, then?”

“You’re it. I stole you, darling.”

Thursday night, 15 July 2010, PM

Celia: She never learns the way the mind powers work.

She tries. She does. She tries to learn how it goes, how to jump into someone else’s head, how to read their thoughts through their eyes like she knows the elders of her clan can do. Preston and Savoy both seem to always know what she’s thinking. Pietro and Veronica too. And her sire, him perhaps most of all. She’s never tried lying to him, not outright, but there are times where she has not told the full story and he knows, anyway.

She thinks back to that time on the roof, waking up on Savoy’s lap. Wanting a hug. How he’d known to put his arms around her, how he’d known the proper words to welcome her to the Society of the Damned.

She can’t get headaches anymore, not dead as she is, but she tries often and hard enough that she thinks she might have gotten one if she were still alive. Veronica sneers at her when she learns that she hasn’t mastered it yet. Even Pietro’s patience runs out one night. “Not everyone is good at the mental arts,” he finally says with a shrug, content to let it go.

Stupid, Maxen’s voice whispers in her head.

She tries not to take it personally. She has gotten pretty good at shadow dancing, and he said that was a mental art too.

And she doesn’t need to get into someone’s mind to read their thoughts. She reads their bodies instead: watching the way their muscles move, the minute expressions that cross their faces, dissects their gait.

She is a physical creature.

She studies the outside to get inside.

What use does she have for being inside?

She likes to touch. To be touched. To be stroked, petted, adored; to be lavished in physical affection and lavish in return. It goes against her clan to not be able to get into the minds of others, but it is true for herself.

For all that he took from her that night, he did not take her sense of identity.

Social chameleon. Liar. Woman with a thousand masks. She has long known the truth of herself, that she blends and bends and twists to get what she wants, when she wants, where she wants. Why would her Requiem be any different?

It comes upon her in a rage. One night she thinks to tear the throat out of the people who so vex her. She retires alone—and when she comes to from her red haze she finds her clothing shredded, scratches in the walls, gouges in her skin. Her nailbeds bleed. Split, torn asunder by the claws that have sprung from the tips of her fingers.

She stares.



She is a physical creature.

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Next, by Character: Story Eleven, Celia II

Story Eleven, Caroline I

“I’m done. Finished playing by your rules. Finished living my life the way you want. Finished being afraid of you.”
Caroline Malveaux

Saturday evening, 19 December 2015

Caroline: Caroline sends a message to Summer’s phone after the twins make their way home.

It’s been a minute, want to get coffee or something?

GM: Caroline waits for hours. There is no response.

Caroline: Caroline is as good to her word to Angela. She tells Autumn to hire some PIs to sic after Summer, content to wait until one or the other reports back.

Sunday evening, 20 December 2015

GM: The Devillers girls drop by the Giani Building again to see Caroline the evening after her birthday party. (They tried to come by in the afternoon, but Widney said it was a bad time.) Both sisters want to know if the older heiress could teach them to fence and physically defend themselves. They don’t have any experience in those areas, but they’ve done “lots of ballet and gymnastics.” Even though Abélia has been putting together that protection force they discussed at the dinner, Yvonne says that they,

“Just want to feel less ‘elpless-”

“-be less ‘elpless,” Yvette amends.

Caroline: Caroline is happy to see the girls again. She’s not willing to teach them how to fence, citing lack of usefulness unless they give her a good reason. She’s actually been getting her own self-defense lessons of late to supplement those her parents forced her to learn, and would be happy to either include the Devillers girls or teach them what she’s learned. She’s also willing to take them out shooting. It’ll be years until they can legally carry a firearm, but she cites it as empowering.

GM: Yvette likes the idea of “being able to kill people.” That’s harder to do with your hands than a sword. “Not that Ah want to kill people,” she laughs. She just likes “the idea” of being able to, if someone threatens her family again the way Gettis did. Or Emmett did to Caroline. She implores that she doesn’t just want to defend herself. She wants to win.

Yvette admits she doesn’t know much about gun laws, but seems like she could be made amenable to shooting lessons if she could carry a gun. Legally or illegally, just so long as there’s no big risk of getting in trouble for it.

Yvonne seems fine with only taking self-defense lessons, but ultimately wants to do whatever Yvette does.

Caroline: Caroline is somewhat disconcerted to hear Yvette likes the idea of being able to kill people and scrutinizes her carefully.

GM: The teenager seems like she’s being darkly humorous about wanting to kill people for the sake of killing them. But Caroline can see it in her eyes. She is dead serious about wanting to be able to kill someone like Gettis who goes after her or her family.

Caroline: That’s something Caroline can understand. Agree with, too. She points out to Yvonne’s twin that she’s unlikely to be able to carry a sword around either, and that a gun can be concealed in most instances, especially if it’s a smaller caliber. She also points out that even if Yvette were caught, carrying a concealed weapon without a permit in Louisiana is a misdemeanor.

“Not that I’m encouraging such a thing, of course,” she adds neutrally.

A misdemeanor is still better than dead, of course, and concealed carry is also entirely justified within one’s own home. She’s happy to share that experience with the twins and agrees it’s good not to be helpless.

GM: Yvette likes the idea of sword-fighting. Beyond being a more romantic image, it also synergizes well with her and Yvonne’s past gymnastics.

“Plus mah sisters aren’t really fans of guns after what ‘appened with Gettis…” she adds heavily.

Caroline: Caroline is more willing to bend when Yvette brings up Gettis. She still cites how rarely she’s carried around a sword when in trouble. “Knowing how to fence isn’t going to do you much good without a sword in your hand.”

GM: Yvonne’s willing to give up fencing and to try out guns, when she hears that. Yvette’s willing to learn shooting as well as fencing. “If you ‘ave time, of course, Ah completely understand if you don’t.” She’d obviously still really like to learn both with Caroline. Yvette admits to having run the idea past her mother, who said that fencing might turn out to be more practical than shooting “in the long run.”

When she sees that Yvette still wants to fence, Yvonne wants to do that too, but is still willing to learn how to shoot. She seems to want to do whatever her sister does, which includes doing at least one (and preferably both) with Caroline.

Caroline: Caroline is willing to do both when pressed, especially when she hears that Abélia considers fencing more valuable. Caroline even notes that she potentially has someone else that can help fill in if she can’t make a lesson—and can provide an alternative view on things.

GM: The sisters are thrilled and looking forward to their first lessons.

Yvette still wants to work with Caroline on the Kelly campaign—or rather, basically anything that involves regularly getting to see her in a mentor-like role. Yvonne does too.

Sarah also wants to see Caroline and hang out more often.

The teenagers are like puppies. They just can’t get enough of her.

Caroline: Caroline is happy to chat with the twins during their semi-regular self-defense lessons together, but she hesitates to commit to the Kelly campaign. She cites that she’s not certain she’ll even be working on it herself. She’s willing to look at other options over time, though. Summer should be especially convenient, as the girls will have more free time and she’ll have (hopefully) passed the bar.

She’s even less committal with Sarah, but cites her desire to hang out as well and maintain that connection.

GM: The twins are okay with that. They’re seeing Caroline plenty.

They do add they may not have much more free time during the summer, as this is their senior year at McGehee and they’ll be headed off to college.

Sarah is anything but noncommittal and tries to schedule specific dates and times to do things. The twins actively help her in this and ask if she can come to Caroline’s lessons with them.

Caroline: Caroline uses the window bought by her initial stiff arm with Sarah to run the entire thing past Becky Lynne. She’s willing (though not thrilled) to accelerate cutting ties with the young heiress if that’s her preference. Alternatively, though, she’s willing to offer a boon to continue that connection as it aids her relationship with the Devillers.

GM: It’s several nights later before Becky Lynne finds time for her younger clanmate. While most of Caroline’s recent dealings with Matheson and his childe have been through the latter’s ghoul, the matter of Sarah seems to warrant an exception. Becky Lynne receives Caroline at the same Garden District haven they’ve met in the past.

The older Ventrue listens to Caroline’s proposal and shakes her head at the offered boon before answering frankly, “Gerousiastis Matheson will share his domain over the Whitney family with none, Miss Malveaux, and requests that you take steps to terminate all further contact with its members. He has made his wishes in this matter very clear.”

The other Ventrue looks at Caroline before stating, “Your law firm’s done a stellar job handlin’ things for the bank thus far. Stellar enough, in fact, my sire was inclined to consider one of your boons repaid—you did rather more than we were expectin’.” She then states mildly, “We’ll call things even for overlookin’ those recent Facebook photos—with the understanding there will not be any more.”

“You might also find it helpful, Miss Malveaux, to review those notes you took on the Second Tradition and the distribution of domains among the Structure. They could go a ways towards keepin’ things friendly with other Kindred.”

Caroline: Caroline uses the excuse of her ‘outing’ and the ensuing firestorm to create distance with Sarah. It’s anything but personal, she explains to the teenager. “But frankly, it’s not a particularly good idea for you to be around me right now. I expect a great deal of collateral damage to shake out with my family, other political blocs to try to take advantage of it, and the associated side acts.”

She doesn’t want to involve Sarah in it. Perhaps in a couple years they can reconnect.

GM: Sarah doesn’t take no for an answer. Caroline’s troubles and hard times only make her more determined to be there for the woman who saved her life—and probably also her grandfather’s life. “If he’d lost me too, after my aunt… it would’ve just destroyed him,” she says.

Sarah wants to be involved in ‘it’. She wants to be around Caroline, and to make up for the time they weren’t in contact during her physical therapy (“I tried calling you a few times, but I wish I’d done it a lot more times!” she mentions).

The twins eventually bring Sarah to their next fencing lesson after Caroline keeps finding excuses to avoid the Whitney heiress. Sarah says she “hopes it isn’t any bother,” but the twins “practically shanghaied me into coming… and they say you’re a really great teacher. You think you might have room for another student, if I don’t slow you down?”

The Devillers sisters just grin and look towards Caroline hopefully.

Caroline: Caroline’s first tip-off that something isn’t right is the extra car present. She texts Widney to call her in a few minutes if she doesn’t hear from her before then, before getting out and going to meet the twins. She keeps a smile on her face when the unexpected visitor is the Whitney heiress, tight lipped though it is, and bites her lip as though she’s about to say something, before seeming to change her mind.

She expresses that Sarah isn’t be a burden—she’d never describe her that way. “Just a…. complication.” The exchange is rife with double meaning, and Caroline doesn’t quite hide that she’s not entirely comfortable, however she might deny it directly.
In any case, the girls are just starting as well, and for now two lessons is as simple as three. Tonight it’s not blade on blade work against each other—just as she didn’t start them with a live weapon on their shooting ship, she doesn’t start them with sharps or against each other. It’s about getting comfortable with the balance of a blade, with learning the proper ways to hold, the importance of footwork, what a lunge looks like, what it feels like when one blade meets another, how that momentum feels, how it stings your hand and shocks your wrist. The first thing to learn is how to parry.

Caroline takes up a fencing foil herself to demonstrate for them, ensuring their grip is proper, then delivering blows to each of the three’s foils in turn with deftness and firmness that belies her slender build. She’s moving up and down the line striking their foils until they stop flinching and correcting grips when her phone goes off.

It’s Widney. Caroline steps away to take the call, but they can plainly read the unhappiness that spreads across her face as she converses with her assistant. Her tone takes on a sharpness, her eternally young face creasing with an angry scowl, and she abruptly ends the call, returning to the girls and smoothing the mask on her face into something less stark before explaining that she’s going to have to cut this evening short. Something personal has come up, and she needs to take care of it. She apologizes for the sudden cancellation and admits it was nice to see Sarah again.

GM: The girls all seem to enjoy the evening’s first lesson. They flinch at first, like she might expect, and Yvonne drops her foil once, but they get better further in. Sarah asks if they’re going to cover any shooting tonight and jokes that her purse doesn’t have enough room for a fencing foil. She obviously didn’t have a parent who recommended she take up fencing like the Devillers did, but it’s also equally plain that she really is glad to be spending time here with her friends. She even brings up how it’s winter break for her and the Devillers right now, so that means-

The girls are disappointed to cut the evening short, but offer all the appropriate sympathies and offers of help. “If there’s anything we can do…” “If you need anything…”

Caroline: If only there was.

Later, she drafts a letter to be delivered to Becky Lynne about the meeting—it’s short and polite, to the point. She was meeting with other kine and discovered the Whitney heiress there waiting for her. Caroline did not expect Sarah to be there, and departed as quickly as courtesy allowed out of respect for Gerousiastis Matheson, his long-held domain, and his wishes therein. If this has caused any offense, she would offer a boon.

GM: Becky Lynne’s ghoul delivers her mistress’ written reply the next night. She thanks Caroline for the prompt notice and says she can consider the boon repaid by contriving more excuses to avoid seeing the Whitney girl.

She also adds that Gerousiastis Matheson believes this state of affairs cannot continue and is invoking one of Caroline’s prior boons: she is to alienate Sarah to the point that she desires no further contact with the Ventrue. Becky Lynne will serve as oversight, but is content to hear out any plans by her younger clanmate for how she wishes to do so.

Caroline: Caroline supposes that resolution was inevitable.

Still, it could have gone worse.

Sunday evening, 20 December 2015

GM: Ericson looks at Caroline critically when she brings up training the two girls and states that she already has a full-time job as a partner at a new law firm, and two young kids and a (working) husband at home. If the teenagers want to pursue fencing, she wishes them all the best, but she has more than enough going on in her own busy life without also serving as a fencing coach.

It is plain that the ghoul, for all her artificially instilled affection in Caroline, does not view their relationship as one of master and servant. What will Caroline do for her in return for playing coach again?

The way her eyes flick towards the Ventrue’s wrist is no different from Autumn’s, though.

Caroline: It’s been difficult for Caroline to manage Ericson’s busy schedule with her young children and husband and the firm while still getting what she might describe among other Ventrue as ‘good value’ out of her. For the most part, Ericson is ‘on call’ more often than actively with Caroline at night in the way that most of her ghouls are. It’s not a perfect arrangement, but she’s justified it thus far by the additional oversight (and value of playing her against Bishop and vice versa) she’s provided in the firm. As it stands though, her direct interactions with Caroline are certainly the least frequent among her ghouls, and the Ventrue is not unmindful of Diego’s weaker loyalties. She can, and does, want something more positive to tie her to the former Olympian, and is dogged in the belief that this may be it.

Caroline doesn’t want her to play coach—certainly not full time. But she does want Ericson to fill in on occasion when Caroline can’t, and offer occasional critiques and encounters with Caroline. It’ll work to keep her own skills sharp as well. Certainly, she can free up a couple hours a month towards one end or the other? Especially if Caroline can sweeten the pot for those nights in particular?

Like maybe giving her fixes then.

GM: Ericson agrees without hesitation to that idea.

All to getting what Caroline had planned on giving her anyway.

Not a bad arrangement at all.

Sunday night, 20 December 2015, PM

GM: Sunday’s Midnight Mass heralds the appearance of a most unexpected guest.

Philip Maldonato addresses the crowd alongside an unfamiliar vampire dressed in black clerical vestments trimmed with red. His fingers bear a ruby-set signet ring. His marble-like features look younger than Caroline’s, but his faint smile and patient gaze have an almost grandfatherly quality to them… and a coldly waiting hunger that feels anything but grandfatherly, or human. Maldonato introduces him as “His Most Reverend Eminence, Cardinal Arechavaleta.”

The cardinal addresses the quiet crowd in a soft yet sonorous voice as he tells them he is but a messenger—one who has borne witness to a divine vision.

The first vision came to him as he slept during the day. He saw a great city where the Damned feasted upon blood that ran through the streets like a river. He saw a damned man with the head of a goat, eyes of fire, and skin of gold. He told the Damned not to give thanks to God for this feast of plenty, but themselves: and he raised up the idol of a lamb, also made of gold, and told the Damned to pay homage to it. The Damned bowed before the idol and God was wrathful. A great flood descended upon the city. The Damned screamed for mercy, and ran to escape its cleansing waters, and impaled a young man upon sword and javelin and arrow; and they feasted upon the blood of a child, its head smashed against the walls of the city; and they feasted upon a woman, violated and dismembered. The flood dashed all of their bodies against the city’s walls, Damned and living, and their blood flowed out over the streets. The waters carried them out into the rising sun, where they screamed and burned and died under Raphael’s curse; and the great city was cleansed and made lifeless.

And it was good.

The second vision came to him the next night, as he fed upon the blood of an iniquitous man who had laid with his daughter. He slew the man, the daughter, and the poisoned fruit of the man’s seed and the daughter’s womb: and he rejoiced that God had shown him these sinners. He drank deep of their blood as they screamed and died, and he saw.

He saw a pit, that was black inside and deeper than he could see. He saw a Damned man, with the head of a wolf, carrying the crosier of a bishop, who bid that he look into the pit. He did, and said, “I cannot see to the bottom.” The Damned man replied, “Just so,” and thrust him into the pit. He fell for a thousand years. He looked up, and he saw a great city at the rim of the pit, where the Damned feasted upon blood that ran through the streets like a river. He heard the Damned sing hymns of praise to God for this feast of plenty and His almighty Damnation, and Arechavaleta knew hope as he fell. He reached for the rosary at his breast, and clutched it as he prayed for the city; and the beads snapped, and the lance spiraled upwards. It was the only lance the cardinal could see in the city, and then the darkness swallowed his sight whole.

Much of the cardinal’s remaining oration is similarly esoteric in nature. The Damned listen in hushed, reverent silence. Yet Arechavaleta has a second matter of a more earthly nature to announce: Father Malveaux will be consecrated as bishop. His vision led him to believe that, “New Orleans has gone without a bishop for long enough.”

He’s greeted by cheers and applause from the Sanctified audience. Everyone seems to agree: ten years is more than long enough.

Savoy’s partisans are less enthusiastic in their applause, but they still join in. The French Quarter lord himself looks as delighted as any of Vidal’s followers and offers his warm congratulations to the pink-eyed priest, who cannot do aught than courteously accept them.

Caroline: Caroline is hushed throughout the cardinal’s speech. She claps politely at the news of Father Malveaux’s promotion, but the news sets her ill at ease. His ascendance is not to her benefit.

Is is a coincidence that Malveaux is getting elevated, either, after the revelation concerning the prince’s impending torpor? It looks as if the cardinal wants to hedge his bets, in case anything becomes of her sire. Interesting.

She’s not sure what to make of that.

All she knows is that the Albino has only ever meant her ill.

Monday evening, 21 December, 2015

GM: The first obstacles Caroline has to overcome with the sisters is scheduling. All of the shooting ranges in the New Orleans metro area close at 8 PM at the latest—and are some distance away from the Giani Building. Between the transit times, Caroline’s own initial evening routine, and coordinating things with the twins’ schedules, they don’t have enough time to get in much practice. Fuller is helpful in identifying all of the components necessary to build an indoor shooting range. Widney is more critical of the price—$10,000 for a simple bullet trap setup, $60,000 for a good one, and potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars for a premium range with all of the bells and whistles. Fuller thinks it would be a good investment, more for the building’s security than for the girls. He points out the benefits in having those personnel around in the building more often as well as practicing more often.

Widney points out the economic drawbacks of being a vampire. She could just take the girls to a shooting range during the day, if she were alive.

They settle on a temporary solution, though, when Jeremy May, now one of the Devillers’ private security contractors, volunteers his own home for the three’s use. He lives a little ways out from downtown (“away from the hustle’n bustle”) as he terms it, and has a serviceable home range in his backyard. He still likes to hit the professional ranges (especially now that he’s off NOPD and can’t practice with his ex-fellow cops), but sometimes he doesn’t have time to make the trip, or as he terms it, “ya jus’ wanna blows holes in somethin’, right now.” The somewhat disgruntled neighbors are accustomed to hearing gunshots from his backyard. May brags he was the best sharpshooter on NOPD, and that you have to practice all the time to keep your skills sharp. It’s how he brought down Gettis. Both sisters clearly idolize him for his actions there, and even like the idea of practicing at one of their bodyguards’ homes more than hitting the pro range. May also seems pleased Caroline already knows how to shoot and wants to show the sisters how. “Don’ see many dainty girls like y’all who can tell a bullet ferm a barrel, no ‘ffense meant, ma’am.” He remarks on how it’s less than ideal to be doing this at night. He’ll lay out lights everywhere, “turn this whole yard inta day,” but day really would be better.

Caroline: The heiress admits she’s certainly not as proficient as May is, and is grateful he’s offered his home (and is there to help answer any further questions they have beyond her expertise). She leans on some of his own instruction alongside her own, which is focused heavily on fundamentals of firearms use long before they start putting rounds down range. She has the girls hold and handle several firearms, from rifles to pistols, getting accustomed to their weight and what the various buttons and switches some have do. Next she familiarizes them with loading and unloading. Finally, she moves onto familiarity firing—that is firing each without a bullet in the chamber to get accustomed to the mechanism and mold their form before they’re handling lethal weapons. It’s very much the same course that her father used when he took her to the range, except there isn’t a photographer here.

Only when she feels confident that the girls can comfortably manage the loading, unloading, chambering, firing of a weapon does she let them move onto the actual shooting, trying to provide support as they work through their shared discomfort.

GM: Yvette initially asks why he’s laying out paper targets instead of tin cans, to which May replies that tin cans have a chance of deflection that’s just a little too high, given his neighbors. Paper is safer, “even if ain’t as fun to blow ’part.” Yvette misses the first few targets she takes aim at, but violently unloads into the last one with a fiercely exclaimed, “HA!” as she empties the remainder of the whole magazine into it. She clearly finds release in being the one behind the trigger this time. She helps Yvonne load her gun with a warning on how hot the weapon can get after repeated use (“Ah didn’t know it did that!”). Her sister gives a less enthusiastic if still determined smile before taking aim.

Her accuracy is all right. In fact, she shoots straighter than Yvette. Her already pale complexion grows even more white with that first shot, though, and she starts breathing heavily while eyeing the gun in her hands with an increasingly queasy eye. She requests a few minutes to get herself together before the next shot. She looks even worse after the second one and starts shaking. May says that maybe they should take things a bit slower, or work their way up with BB guns or even bows and arrows (he has a set he uses occasionally, calling it a “fun change of pace sometimes” from shooting). Yvette looks towards Caroline for support and implores her sister to get off one last shot, citing “three’s a lucky number, raht? Dr. Franklin says you overcome fears bah facing them. That’s ’ow exposure therapy works.”

Yvonne shakily agrees to give it another go, then throws up after the third shot. It goes quite wide of the paper cut-out. May gives an exclaimed, “Whoa!” and says this isn’t just a bad idea, it’s unsafe. There’s no telling what direction Yvonne might shoot if that happens again. His backyard isn’t set up for this. “Gotta be sure yer gonna at least hit the wall. Y’all can empty as many rounds as ya like inta that, but any wider… folks with kids live around here.”

Yvette can’t hide her disappointment that Yvonne doesn’t seem up for learning how to shoot, but asks if Caroline could go through some self-defense training basics and show them a few moves. “We don’t need a lot for that at least, raht?”

Caroline: Caroline congratulates Yvette on her first round of shooting and does her best to encourage Yvonne through her first two shots. After the third she goes to get them both a drink and offers encouragement of a different kind, congratulating Yvonne on facing her fears to even come out.

GM: That seems to build Yvonne’s confidence, a bit, after they wait some time for her stomach to settle. The sisters are both very lithe (Yvette repeats they’ve done a lot of ballet and gymnastics) and seem to have fair potential in that area. Yvette bets they’ll do really well at fencing too. Yvonne seems in a better mood by the time they call things for the night and excuses herself to use the bathroom.

Yvette, meanwhile, tells Caroline that “Ah’d still lahk to learn to shoot, Ah really would,” but she doesn’t want to do something Yvonne also isn’t on board with. But she’d also still really like to learn. Should they maybe push her harder? Or just stick to fencing and self-defense? Maybe try shooting later? What does Caroline think?

Caroline: Caroline expresses that she feels that they’ve pushed Yvonne as far is as practical. She’d like the more sensitive of the twins to circle back at some point to try again (maybe under more controlled circumstances), but for now seems happy that they’ve learned some basics of firearm handling and safety. If they had to pick up a weapon, she feel confident they could at least get a few rounds off. Well, one of them could at least. She’d prefer to move on to try out swordsmanship as something they can both enjoy, and something that’ll bring up far fewer negative feelings. There’s time to come back around later.

GM: Yvonne seems to take better to the fundamentals instruction than Yvette does, who grants that it seems important but is most eager to start shooting things. Yvette does agree that it should (hopefully) make things easier for her sister later, now that she’s more familiar with how guns work and has actually fired one a few times. Yvette is also glad that she knows how to shoot—or at least, as she more jokingly terms it, how not to shoot.

May appears very impressed by Caroline’s firearms knowledge. “Y’ain’t what I was ‘spectin’, that’s fer sure.” The ex-cop doesn’t appear to let their difference in social stations slow him down at all when he confidently asks her out on a date. They can let “some real guns” at the shooting range he frequents and catch a crawfish and corn on the cob dinner at a great little seafood place he knows.

Fencing, however, is another story. Caroline can do that at the Giani Building with only a few, comparatively minor investments in equipment.

Caroline: Caroline politely declines the date. It’s more a “try again later” answer than one shooting him down permanently, though. She enjoys the attention that much.

Monday evening, 21 December, 2015

GM: Claire gets back to Caroline on Evan Bourelle about a week after their last conversation.

If hunters were behind the neonate’s disappearance, she states, she’d never pass that information along to Caroline. She has no interest in pointing any leeches after brave men and women fighting the good fight.

But as far as Claire could find out, hunters weren’t responsible for whatever happened to the now months-vanished Bourelle. She has no idea what could have been (and doesn’t particularly seem to care), but she seems certain it wasn’t hunters.

Caroline: The heiress takes the information from her mother for what it’s worth. She’d have appreciated something of more substance, but something is far better than nothing. It begs the question of why there seems to be an effort at pointing the finger at hunters.

Monday evening, 21 December 2015

Caroline: Ahead of her meeting with her depraved ancestor, Caroline schedules another get-together with another veritable ancestor whom she has a better relationship with: Louisiana State Supreme Court Justice Thomas Malveaux. The discussing topics move here and there: her near imminent bar exam and what guidance he might give her on it, interesting cases before his court this year, finally (once again over drinks) family history.

As a child she’d been somewhat awed by the entire hall filled with portraits and family photos of note going back to the first days of Malveaux prominence, when such things were luxuries that men and women both dressed up for. As she grew into her preteen and teen years her enthusiasm for them vanished alongside her interest in many things, but tonight she expressed some renewed interest as a way of touching base with the past, and preserving the memory of the present for the future. She asks if he’s added a photo of Westley to the wall, or to albums, and spends hours discussing the history associated with each of the framed wall photos.

A photo of Carson on his commissioning day, resplendent in a dress uniform that does not yet include the awards he received in Vietnam and carrying two gold bars instead of the gold oak leaves Caroline remembers more vividly, as he received his oath of office:

Further down a photo of her grandmother, Camillia, on her wedding day with her grandfather, smiling in her wedding dress and almost unrecognizable from the old woman she is now.

And finally, into older, less spontaneous photos, with the formal stiffness of those for whom a photograph is a serious event taken with the utmost decorum, often in their Sunday best.

GM: Thomas doesn’t say so, but he’s clearly made time for Caroline and showed her around the family’s history because he’s deeply concerned by the things he’s heard concerning her. He seems to want her to get back on the right track, and to hope that this look through the family history will impress upon her the significance of the legacy she’s heir to, and inspire her to (better) uphold it.

Caroline: It’s an interesting walk into the past that Caroline appreciates more, now that she’s grown older. But also now that she commonly shares rooms with those who walked beside these men and women, and were cut from the cloth of the era. Something that gives her greater insight, she thinks, into their personality and character. It’s one specifically that she seeks insight into.

It’s down the line that she finds what she wants, beyond what might be one of the last nights she has to spend with the elderly Thomas. A picture of Father Malveaux’s dearly departed sister: Monique. She takes out her phone and snaps a picture of the picture.

Caroline hadn’t ever appreciated it before: the last time she seriously looked at any of these in anything but passing was more than a decade before, when she was still a girl with all lanky limbs growing into her body. While Thomas is distracted—toddling off to refill their cocktails—Caroline takes the opportunity to study the dead woman closely. She can’t get a good read on how tall her dead ancestor was, but she suspects that’s a point of difference—heights increasing over time as they have. Beyond that though, it’s a startling image.

The two aren’t identical—there are enough differences that side by side they’d be told apart— but their features are startlingly similar, right down to the blonde hair, swanlike neck, and the pointed chin they share. If one were described the other could easily pass for them to a stranger, and perhaps even to someone more familiar they hadn’t seen in a few years. It’s much like looking at herself through a slightly distorted mirror, another version of who she might have been. Unnervingly so, she hopes, for the ancient dead albino whose decisions tomorrow will have a significant impact on her fate within Clan Ventrue.

Especially unnerving, she hopes, in mirroring the dead woman’s dress. Caroline smiles viciously. Victorian-era gowns aren’t exactly in vogue, and showing up in one for a meeting that others will sit in would, perhaps, be too obvious a bait to pass off in polite society. Still, there are enough elements she can have worked into her own attire for tomorrow to make the similarities abnormal, even if they are subtle. She particularly appreciates that Monique too seemed to have had affection for Caroline’s own favorite wardrobe color: black, and wonders if the photo was taken at a funeral.

She eyes too the pearl necklace around the dead woman’s throat. Yes, Caroline might make a plausible stand-in indeed.

Tuesday night, 22 December 2015, PM

GM: Marcel meets Caroline aboard the Alystra with the soon-to-be Bishop Malveaux. The two speak little—or rather, Malveaux doesn’t speak at all while Marcel makes some initial polite conversation. The two gerousiastises are seemingly content to wait for Caroline to present her findings.

Caroline: Caroline dresses up for the occasion, trying to subtly emulate her ancestor’s dead sister. She relates in short: she discovered men snooping about her ‘official’ residence so far as her mortal family is concerned. Interrogating them led to what appears to be a massive and potentially Masquerade-damaging investigation run by a ghoul notionally in the employ of the Malveaux family. Among other things, he appears to have been selling the three brothers all manner of stories, including the true one that Caroline is a murderer. It’s all in the files she turns over, though that’s not the whole story.

Worse than just the tales within the family, rumors have spread well beyond the family of their growing disconnect and her growing ill-position within the family.

She tracked the entire investigation to Roger Ferris, which was when she discovered he was a ghoul, claiming to have been ghouled by Gerousiastis Malveaux and working under his direction to blackmail Caroline. She dismisses such a claim, especially given his repeated attempts to force her to ‘comply’ or ‘capitulate’ to him before Gerousiastis Malveaux’s return to the city. He made elaborate threats in their meeting, including ’sending the sheriff after her" and the like, along with claiming that Gerousiastis Malveuax desired her fully blood bound to him. Lies of course, and perhaps those introduced deliberately by a third party to try and create friction while Gerousiastis Malveaux was away she even ventures.

They met once at his residence, and once more in a public setting where he brought a large number of mortal support and at least one unknown ghoul. Simultaneously there was a large raid on her haven—a coincidence to be sure. At neither point, despite her temptation, did she attempt to manipulate or control him using the powers of the Blood—if indeed he was Gerousiastis Malveaux’s servant it would have been far over the line.

Not trusting the ghoul, and knowing Gerousiastis Malveaux was out of the area, she contacted Gerousiastis Guilbeau to help arrange this meeting and settle the matter. She lays all the evidence before the elder Ventrue—including the recording of the second meeting with Ferris.

She expresses at last that regardless of what may come of the matter with Ferris, due to the nature of the tales that have been spread, and the extent to which they have leaked out, that she believes a ‘faked death’ would draw in a tremendous amount of scrutiny to both the family, and to the Masquerade more generally. There are simply too many eyes on her, and all expecting some manner of scandal. Mindful however of her promise to distance herself from the family, she has an alternative to propose.

She adds a folder of photos Jocelyn has produced to the pile of evidence. An illicit relationship would both serve as a lower-grade and Masquerade friendly scandal for the family (and any others it leaked to) while also firmly disgracing her with the family and creating much of the distance she swore to create. She had the photos created explicitly to give Gerousiastis Malveaux the option of whether to go ahead with them (by seamlessly introducing them into the ongoing investigation), and to put all the power for such a thing in his hands.

GM: The soon-to-be Bishop Malveaux listens patiently and without interruption for the majority of Caroline’s presentation of her findings. Some, even many, might describe his affect as reserved… little emotion appears to cross his oddly-featured and too-pale face.

Caroline, though, might be more apt to describe it as distracted.

She can see it in his pinkish, lizard-like eyes. His attention, not all the way there. Details slipping past him. The way his stare seems to linger more on her face, her clothes, than on the dossiers and evidence she presents, as if he is seeing the former for the first time. It’s only when Caroline pauses for too long at a point when the other party would be expected to reply that Marcel Guilbeau has to prompt his clanmate with an expectant, “Gerousiastis?”

“This shall be… attended to,” the imminent bishop hisses in an oddly passionless voice.

“The matters of Roger Ferris and his investigation are no longer your concern,” he states, looking back towards Caroline.

Marcel strokes his goatee.

Father Malveaux looks down at the photos of Caroline and Jocelyn. Several moments pass. Marcel looks almost as if he is going to prompt his fellow gerousiastis again before Father Malveaux says the plan meets with his approval. He will arrange all of the details, and Caroline will carry out her part during the inevitable conversation with her uncle under “direct supervision”. Afterwards, she is to cease all contact with all members of her family save for Claire Malveaux, per the standing arrangement he has already approved with Sheriff Donovan (who will continue to coordinate the details thereof with Caroline). Some of the priest’s all-too familiar hateful and venomous tone starts to reemerge as he discusses the matter of his family, only to re-subside like a serpent under a charmer’s flute as Marcel soothingly declares the “unilaterally beneficial resolution” to “this whole affair” and how “our clan as a whole has been made stronger tonight.”

Then again, perhaps it’s because of the way he’s staring at Caroline.

Marcel starts to say something about “expressing a token of the Gerousia’s appreciation” before Father Malveaux interjects that he is invoking Caroline’s prior boon. She is to drink of him, here and once—“and so cement the mortar that holds the Structure fast,” he rasps, his pinkish eyes suddenly wide and feverish.

Caroline: There’s neither surprise nor anger written across Caroline’s face. She knew full well what she was walking into tonight, and even went so far as to try to draw out a reaction. She can hardly be upset when it happened. Of the numerous potential outcomes, this had been one she’d considered. Even a likely one, and far from the worst. Especially if it will clear her boon towards him.

She folds her hands before her demurely and very intently keeps her attention on her ancestor, not letting it stray to Marcel. “If that is your will, Gerousiastis Malveaux,” she replies after a moment, keeping her eyes locked upon his own.

GM: Father Malveaux raises a scarecrow-thin veined and pale wrist to his mouth. There’s a familiar flash of canines before he holds it out. His blood is as sweet and heady as any Caroline has tasted, yet with a distinctly bitter undertaste. A Gregorian chant seem almost to reverberate in her ears as she drinks.

Caroline: The heiress latches her fangs gently onto his wrist when offered, letting the kiss take hold for the brief moment that she heartily sucks down his vitae before breaking away, her lips stained with his blood. She finally reacts as the blood’s power takes hold, shivering as it worms its way into her heart and mind. Caroline can feel her feelings towards the elder Ventrue softening around the edges, their past interactions taking on a subtle coloring. It’s subtle, insidious. Like a couple drinks at a bar softly altering her perception of things. And even knowing that it’s coming, and knowing what it’s doing, it’s as irresistible as the alcohol is in a co-ed’s bloodstream.

He’s not really that bad, is he? He’s kept her family safe for a century. Presumably kept her safe. Allowed her family to prosper in ways he might never have. Been surprisingly patient with her many disrespectful actions, and her failings as one of the Sanctified? And hasn’t she always known that he wasn’t that bad? Wasn’t she the one that talked her mother out of trying to destroy him? That defended his existence?

She releases the thin and pale wrist she hadn’t even realize she’d grasped in the moment and licks the blood from her lips. She takes a moment to compose herself. “Does that satisfy my boon to you, Gerousiastis Malveaux?”

GM: He’s not that bad at all. Caroline remembers what it was like, in those first nights of her Requiem. How she sought out his guidance and mentorship. How he used Aimee to make her take responsibility for her choices, to make her more than just a victim. How he first impressed the values of their clan upon her. And what has she been so mad at him for, really? One ghoul she barely even knew? Everyone seems over that. She might as well be too. What does bitterness over just another corpse offer relative to his goodwill?

“This act is sufficient,” the priest rasps.

“Another brick that may build the Structure tall,” Marcel smiles.

The two gerousiastises have several remaining orders of business:

As the aforementioned token of the Gerousia’s appreciation, Father Malveaux is willing to grant Caroline a single minor favor of her choosing now.

Marcel Guilbeau and Pierpont McGinn, meanwhile, will remain true to their prior words to make introductions among the Invictus. Caroline should contact their respective heralds to make scheduling arrangements.

After Caroline turns over the last of her blackmail dossier on her family, Marcel reiterates that what was discussed here tonight is to remain strictly between her and the Gerousia.

He also adds that if Caroline should happen to uncover information on an attempt by outside parties to turn the Ventrue clan against one another, as she conjectured, the Gerousia will “look favorably” upon her for bringing any such findings to their attention.

Caroline: Caroline asks, for her reward, if the soon to be bishop will take her hunting with him one night. She did not fully appreciate the faith when he tried to immerse her in it previously—but she would see first hand how the city’s soon to be leader of the flock discovers and sees to the fate of sinners. It need not be immediate, or even soon.

GM: The priest agrees to as much.

Caroline: She finally brings up the matter of all the scattered threads likely to spring loose after the meeting with Orson severs her from the family. Family members that will wish to talk, even to say goodbye, or to seek explanations or what is happening. More so, for some, she believes if she does not put on the appearance of acceptance of her ‘banishment’ there will be more questions, conflict, and unrest that could damage the family at best, and at worst tear at the Masquerade. She requests through the end of the week to fully disentangle herself from those scattered threads, and is even willing to offer a small boon for each such meeting that happens with his family and domain.

GM: The too-familiar look of slow-burning hate starts to pierce the fog in Father Malveaux’s eyes as Caroline brings up the topic of continued interference in his domain. Not wholly. He still looks somewhat (actually, more than somewhat) off-balance. But the older Ventrue is clearly regaining his footing.

Such meetings will cost her a boon and occur “under supervision”. It is clear that Caroline has worn out her welcome regarding continued interference with their mortal family.

Marcel strokes his goatee, but does not interject.

Caroline: The young Ventrue is happy to honor those conditions, and asks how and with whom the gerousiastis wishes her to arrange such supervision to his greatest convenience.

GM: Caroline will not find it necessary to arrange anything, the priest coolly informs her. She need only know that upon any occasion she interacts with his kine, he will be watching.

Caroline: “As you say, Gerousiastis,” the heiress replies demurely.

Tuesday night, 22 December 2015, PM

GM: Caroline’s mother has her over to discuss how things went with the Albino, Caroline’s future in the Ventrue clan and Malveaux family, and what they and/or Father M are to do about Roger Ferris.

Caroline: Caroline relates the meeting seemed to go well. Exactly what his plans are for Roger she doesn’t know, but he’s agreed with her plan to get herself ‘disowned’ by the family at large. Several Ventrue have agreed to help make additional introductions for her among her kind.

GM: Claire wants to know if it seemed like Ferris actually was his ghoul, if he denied an association, confirmed one, or what.

Caroline: Caroline brings up the idea that if you were trying to start a war, the matter with Ferris would be a good way to do so. Especially with Father Malveaux out of town. Father Malveaux was non-committal, beyond claiming that he’d “deal with it.”

GM: Claire solicits Caroline’s opinion on what they should do about Father Malveaux and Ferris at this juncture. The former is an established enemy whose position just got even stronger, while the latter has the potential to become “very dangerous indeed” once he’s learned the vagaries of Kindred/ghoul society—and the window there is closing fast. Would it be possible to convert him to their side? Unlike Father Malveaux, he hasn’t actually done anything to hurt the family. If Caroline doesn’t believe so, she raises the possibility of “neutralizing” him by abducting (and if need be, killing) his 12-year-old daughter—one of the few apparent chinks in his armor.

Caroline: Caroline believes that his daughter will continue to present an area of weakness for the foreseeable future, even if he isn’t slain or significantly harmed or restricted by Father Malveaux. That is something she may have a better look at than Caroline in coming days and weeks if things go according to plan with her relationship with the family. Ferris did repeatedly offer to come over, but that only further convinces her that either he wasn’t Malveaux’s ghoul, or that it was some manner of feint. The bond just doesn’t allow for that kind of substantial treachery to come easily in her experience. She does think that if Father Malveaux is actually made Bishop Malveaux, his position becomes essentially almost unassailable, Ferris or not. She has some ideas for that, but is glad they didn’t try to make a run against him coming back—given those he traveled with she doesn’t expect they’d have succeeded.

GM: Claire agrees with a simple, “Everything in its proper time and place.”

Wednesday night, 23 December 2015, AM

GM: Father Malveaux doesn’t waste any time. Mere hours after his meeting with Caroline—still during the very same night—Alphonse Meridian and several grim-faced men pull up to the Giani Building during the dead of night. The dead-eyed ‘driver’ tells Caroline that her uncle is going to see her. Now. Fuller and the building’s other security relent from challenging them at their domitor’s order.

Alphonse escorts Caroline into the same dining room where her uncle first received her after the events of Southern Decadence. It feels like a lifetime ago. Another resplendent spread of food is laid out, with items from buttered lobster to roast beef to steaming mushroom soup. Much has changed for Caroline, but it feels like nothing has for her uncle.

This time, however, Orson does not invite his niece to join him in his late night repast, even for a single glass of wine. He spends no time discussing theological parallels.

He just points at the photos.

“No more, Caroline,” the archbishop states. His voice is almost soft.

“No more.”

He doesn’t call her selfish or degenerate. He doesn’t talk about the shame and scandal this could bring upon the family. He doesn’t talk about how furious her relatives will be. He doesn’t lecture her about pissing away her future. He doesn’t tell her she’s going to hell—after all, he’s already done that.

He simply tells her what is going to happen next.

Law school is over. Her clerkship is over. Her access to her trust fund, her credit cards, her partying, her apartment at the Giani Building, her car, her friends, her homosexual lover, her life as an independent adult—all of that is over.

She is joining the Ursulines as a postulant. She will live with them in the convent. There will be no need for her to ever leave. The sisters will provide conversion therapy. If the reports on her “rehabilitation” are favorable, Orson will consider “beginning to allow” her some of her former personal freedoms back.

Perhaps, the archbishop continues with a faint smile, Caroline believes she has nothing left to lose. That she has no reason to cooperate with him or the Ursulines, because that is the worst fate she could ever suffer. That is quite untrue. There remains one final recourse, if Caroline rejects even this “last mercy”. They will fly her to Venezuela for it: while enough money in the right hands “may see anything arranged” in any part of the world, it’s ultimately more cost-effective to do “that sort of thing” in Latin America, where there are “fewer impediments.” This “final solution” will not merely make Caroline submit to the family’s will—it will render her incapable of doing otherwise. From that last recourse, there may be no return.

“I trust you will exercise more wisdom than your cousin, Caroline,” the archbishop concludes with that same patient smile. “Shall I instruct the mother superior to begin preparing a place for you at the convent, or for Alphonse to escort you to the airport?”

Yet dead-eyed Alphonse is not the only witness who remains silent to these proceedings.

Father Malveaux silently looms from a chair to Orson’s left. The black-robed, ghostly-faced, and skeletally thin albino seems to hover over the obese archbishop’s shoulder like an all-too literal devil. He whispers no temptations. His reddish-pink eyes merely glow with hellish light at each of Orson’s pronouncements—and the room feels that much darker. Caroline’s uncle does not once look at him or acknowledge his presence in any way.

Caroline: There was a time, not so long ago, that Caroline would have been terrified by such a meeting. There was a time not so long ago that she was terrified in such a meeting, despite her undead state. That time is long past.

The heiress is neither contrite nor apologetic. She’s not even polite. “I’m not going anywhere,” she tells the three-chinned archbishop before his jowls have even stopped flapping.

“Not the convent, and certainly not Latin America to be disposed of like some two-cent migrant maid that overheard something she shouldn’t have. I saw how your ‘mercy’ worked out for Susan. And I’ll have no part of it.”

GM: Orson is deathly silent at Caroline’s defiant words. He dabs his mouth with a napkin and sets it back down.

“Venezuela, then,” he whispers. “Alphonse, make the necessary arrangements.”

His long-time henchman wordlessly pulls out a phone and taps into it.

Caroline’s uncle stares at her unwaveringly as he does.

“I am very disappointed, niece.”

Caroline: “You shouldn’t be, uncle, you taught me very well,” Caroline replies, not seemingly perturbed at all by the death sentence he’s prescribed.

“Well, in truth, you, and Uncle Matt, and even Roger Ferris.” She picks up one of the photos off the table and glances at it. “That’s a great picture. Your photographer is very talented. Can I take this one?” she asks.

“My own photos are… well. Less beautiful. But then they show worse things than two women together. Worse things objectively. Worse things for you. And worse things for the family.”

GM:‘If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire.’

The archbishop pauses in his scriptural recitation. “Your filth shall befoul this family no longer, Caroline.”

He looks to Alphonse. “We have a loose end, Alphonse. I want this other degenerate found.”

“Venezuela?” the long-time ‘driver’ asks tonelessly, as if Orson is asking him what brand of drain cleaner to pick up.

“No. Her you may simply kill.”

Alphonse taps some more into his phone, then moves to seize Caroline by her arm.

Through it all, Father Malveaux watches silently.

Caroline: The glare Caroline gives the approaching ‘driver’ is positively murderous. “Don’t even think of touching me,” she all but snarls at the approaching kine.

She turns her attention back to her uncle. “We’re not done,” she declares.

“You have a great many loose ends, uncle,” she pronounces, plainly dispensing with his title once more. “Father Patterson who confessed about molesting children to you, who you shipped off to Shreveport where he’d have less oversight. Hillary Cherry, whose medical records were stolen by Roger’s people and leaked to Jackson Kibbe during the election. Sheri Bucsh—that affair of Uncle Matt’s that had that terrible accident, falling asleep on the tracks?”

“Loose ends everywhere. Pieces of evidence. Notes on where the bodies are buried, and why they were buried. Affairs. Corruption. Payments. Scandals for days to make this,” she slides the dossier of photos back towards him on the table, “look like a firecracker compared to the Fourth of July.” She stares her uncle down. “All waiting for me to take my hand off the dead man switch. Or did you think I didn’t know this night was coming? That I wasn’t paying attention to what you did last time someone slipped a toe out of line?” There’s even a bit of genuine anger in her tone.

GM: Alphonse pauses at the iron in the Ventrue’s command, perhaps unaccustomed to one who would fight back in the archbishop’s presence. He looks towards his boss.

Orson smiles benignly. “Christ’s love is boundless, Caroline—as is His mercy for those who atone through good works. Father Patterson continues to serve a useful function in spite of his indiscretions. Would that the same could be said for you.”

He shakes his head.

“I have heard enough of this whore’s ramblings, Alphonse. Get her out of my sight.”

The thin-haired man doesn’t seem to take heart from his boss’ command so much as remember that he lacks one. His stride is swift and silent as a serpent’s as he grabs at Caroline’s arms to pull them behind her back.

Their century-dead ancestor continues to watch impassively.

Caroline: The anger that flashes across Caroline’s face is all too genuine. Alphonse presents himself as an all too easy target when he makes the mistake of putting his hands on her—as he’s no doubt put his hands on dozens before—thinking she’s an easy target. She’s decidedly not. When his hand moves to close on her arm she snatches his right arm by the wrist and pulls him off balance. Her free hand palms one of her uncle’s so-sharp knives off the table.

She stands as turns and drives that knife through Alphonse’s hand and firmly into the fine oak table beneath it. As he moves to reach for his maimed hand she rips his revolver from its holster at his side and sets it on the right side of the table, out of his reach. “Do I have your attention yet, uncle?” she demands.

“Because we’re not done. We haven’t even started.”

GM: Alphonse doesn’t scream as the knife rams through his palm so much as hiss. Low, pained, and furious. His other hand snakes after the revolver Caroline yanks away, but he’s only mortal. Too slow. Far too slow.

Orson’s face pales with rage.

“Cease this foolishness at once—both of you! This is how you repay my kindness, Alphonse? Seize her!

Sweat beads from the thin-haired man’s brow as he seizes the steak knife’s black handle with his other hand and agonizingly pulls. Blood pools over the oaken table. He’s still after the Ventrue in a flash, thrusting the knife towards her face to drive her back and off-balance.

Caroline: Caroline slips outside the thrust—it’s almost harder here to move slowly enough to at least appear human than to avoid his so slow movements. She swats his attacking hand downward with her inside one, grabs it with her outside hand, and drives her inside arm’s elbow under his arm into his solar plexus. There’s a slight pause as she gives him a moment to reconsider, but when he wheels around on her again, fighting the urge to vomit, it’s all over. Two handed and fresh it wouldn’t have been fair. One handed and heaving it’s over all too quickly.

She kicks him in the groin, then, while he’s doubled over bounces his face off the edge of the table with a sickening crush that can only be his nose and teeth. Once, twice, then three times until he finally goes slack.

“Do you still feel strong, uncle?” she all but snarls in a rage. “Now that you’ve ordered my death?”

GM:ALPHONSE, you sickening incompetent!” the archbishop roars. “SEIZE her—or you will find yourself replaced! Heaven knows I can find a thousand more of your kind slavering to crawl up from the gutter!” A vein throbs in his temple as he violently stabs a piece of beef on his plate, raises it to his mouth, and chews ferociously.

Wet-sounding, raggedy wheezes sputter from the floor underneath Caroline. Alphonse pulls himself to his knees, clutching to the table with his one good hand like a lifeline. He lunges forward, trying to pull out one of her legs with his uninjured hand. A snap kick to his kidneys and follow-up punch to his already shattered nose send the blood- and vomit-caked man toppling backwards like a string-cut marionette, out cold.

ALPHONSE!” Orson roars a second time. Half-chewed flecks of beef fly from his mouth. His face isn’t just pale with rage, it’s beet red. He stabs his knife down into a second cut piece of meat, only for his arm to suddenly jerk, sending the utensil scraping against china plate. The livid expression on his face disappears for a moment as the archbishop clutches his heart, sweat now beading on his brow. Wrath, however, proves stronger still as he bellows, “IF YOU HAVE ANY FEAR FOR YOUR IMMORTAL SOUL, YOU WILL DO AS I SAY!

Yet his servant does not, cannot, answer him. Perhaps the spirit is willing.

But the flesh is weak.

Caroline: The heiress looks down at the unconscious man, then back at her uncle. “Looks like you don’t control him right now. Just like you don’t control me.”

Calm is returning after momentary blood-lust inspired by the flash of violence.

“This is what’s going to happen. I’m going to walk out that door, and you’re not going to send him after me. You’re not going to send anyone after me, or anyone that I care about. If you don’t, then every dirty secret that I know is going to show up in Noelle Cherry’s inbox, and in the inboxes of a lot of other people that hate this family, and you’re going to have a much bigger scandal to worry about than some pictures.”

“Have someone else call me when you actually want to talk.”

GM: Orson stabs his fork down into another slice of beef, then a second one. He jabs both into his mouth and chews furiously. His fat jowls jiggle up and down as he seethes at Caroline through his full mouth, still chewing,

“You disobedient slut! There are a THOUSAND more like him at our family’s beck and call! Do you believe this matters? That you have put down one of them?! Pah!” Several pieces of chewed meat fly from Orson’s mouth onto the table. Sweat trickles from his red brow as his chest heaves.

“You have but postponed Venezuela—and done me a service in showing me his faithlessness! His soul shall BURN in hell, as shall yours! Do you believe this changes anything? It changes NOTHING! You filthy, disgusting savage, brawling in our family’s house, our ANCESTRAL house, as you would FORNICATE with that cheap HARLOT! You DISHONOR our name with every breath to pass your filthy, FILTHY lips-!”

Orson chokes in mid-sentence, mushed pieces of saliva-coated meat alternately flying and dropping from his sputtering mouth. There’s light splashes as several land in his wineglass. The archbishop clutches his chest again and wheezes incoherently, but the hatred behind his bespectacled eyes blazes hotter still. He seizes the wineglass like it’s the hem of Christ’s own robe and raises it to his lips. He gulps ravenously, re-swallowing the partly-chewed beef pieces.

Caroline: “Just stop,” Caroline spits out with disgust. “I’m done. Finished playing by your rules. Finished living my life the way you want. Finished being afraid of you. I was done before you tried to order my death. I’m sure as hell done now.”

She turns to leave.

GM: “You imbelic SLATTERN!” Orson shouts in mid-drink. Wine sprays from his mouth. Red droplets spatter over the spread of food, over the tablecloth, over the silver utensils, but even its flow is as nothing next to the stream of red that cascades down his many chins and soaks the front of his clothes. Caroline can still see half-mushed, wine-soaked specks of food everywhere the wine lands.

“Your DEATH? Still you are the child who knows nothing! We could have you killed here, killed cheaply, CHEAP like your ABOMINABLE liaisons with that sickening WHORE-”

Orson cuts off again, literally choking on his rage—or perhaps the rich food. His eyes seem to swim out of place as he wheezes incoherently, pounding his chest several times with a fat, clenched fist.

Caroline: The heiress turns.


She stalks over to the table’s midpoint, grabs a hold of it, and with great effort flips the entire thing onto its side with a tremendous crash. Flood splatters everywhere. Plates crash and break. Wine and soup flow across the floor.

“Now I’m done,” she declares.

GM: Caroline’s defiant words—and action—seem to stoke just enough hatred for the obese man to recover himself. His face looks awful. It’s as red as a baking, overripe tomato, and looks nearly as ready to explode. Mashed food, spittle, and wine stain the folds of his clothes and many chins. He reaches out a condemning, accusatory hand, starts to rise from his seat, and then suddenly buckles over. Caroline can hear several plates crack under the weight of his fat body’s sudden impact, further staining his fine clothes. Orson half-sputters, half-regurgitates more half-mushed food down his chest. His eyes blaze with loathing as he thrusts his hands into the mass of floor-spilled and wine-congealing food. He seizes a tureen of soup whose lidded cover has mostly prevented its contents from pouring out. He tosses the lid aside, thrusts his hands into the still-boiling cream of mushroom, and begins shoveling literal handfuls into his mouth. His shaking hands are so furious that he misses half the time, spilling it over his shoulders or simply onto the floor, but he just shovels more in. Caroline can still see tendrils of steam wafting from his mouth as he screams at her, spitting broth and gibbets of mushroom with each exclamation,

“A LOBOTOMY! THAT is why we are having you flown to Venezuela, you foolish COW! The procedure remains LEGAL in that country, they call it psychoSURGERY, to treat AGGRESSION, it hardly TAKES a significant BRIBE to-”

Orson is cut off again with another wheezing, chest-deep cough that sends him doubling over. He balls a meaty fist against the ground as if doing a push-up. He can’t stop it this time as the vomit comes spewing out. The chewed-up pieces of beef haven’t had any time to decompose as he retches and heaves. He wipes an arm across his mouth in a futile effort to clean himself, then suddenly lurches, pounding his heart again. Caroline hasn’t ever seen a look of hatred, at least from a mere mortal, so utterly black as her uncle’s as he shakily clamps his hands around the soup tureen and screams,


The exclamation hasn’t even finished leaving his lips when he raises the tureen and ravenously gulps and quaffs. Caroline can’t even see his face behind the white ceramic, but she can make out more steaming cream of mushroom spilling over his chest and shoulders.

Caroline: The heiress looks past him, to the only other being in the room that really matters.

The pale albino in the corner.

GM: Father Malveaux remains utterly still and silent.

He has remained still and silent throughout the whole of her confrontation with her uncle.

She might as well be looking at a statue.

Caroline: “No. I won’t,” she says simply, once more turning to depart.

GM: Orson collapses backwards, cream of mushroom running down his chins. The dish hits the floor with a clatter, spilling its remaining contents over his crotch.

Caroline: The signs are obvious to her: the sweating, the shortness of breath, and the collapse. Her uncle is having a heart attack. She didn’t realize it at first between his ranting, but his collapse makes clear he’s gone into cardiac arrest. She looks around the wrecked room. The food and shattered dishes everywhere. Her uncle’s ‘driver’ (such a bland euphemism for all the things he does). Her pale ancestor watching. And her filthy, food-spattered, bastard of an uncle, the archbishop of New Orleans, who ordered the death of Jocelyn (a few years late) and her own involuntary lobotomy just moments ago.

Part of her wants to just walk away. To leave him to die. He’s a pig. A slob. A tyrant that presumed to lord over her. There’s a savage satisfaction in looking down at his dying body.

But there’s still something else there too. Something that predates her initiation into the ranks of the damned. Maybe it’s the years of dreaming of being a doctor. The plans she had. The incessant drumbeat in her ears to do no harm, to help others, however faint the noise has become since her Embrace. More likely, it’s something that predates that. Something hammered into her mind since birth: she’s a Malveaux. Their family means something. Should mean something. She doesn’t know what it means. Not anymore. Not to New Orleans. Not to her. But it’s still enough that she won’t leave the most powerful priest in the city, her uncle, to die alone (their deathless ancestor’s presence hardly counts) and covered in filth.

Maybe there’s enough humanity. Maybe there’s enough Malveaux. It doesn’t matter. She grinds her teeth and turns, rushing over to his fallen form.

“He’s dying,” she says mostly for the benefit of her elder clanm