“God, I want to trust someone! I need to trust someone!"
Thursday night, 10 March 2016, AM
GM: “-they all fucking died,” finishes Roderick.
“All of them who were left. Every last fucking one. 23 people.”
“I know exactly how many, because I couldn’t do shit with a stake in my chest except lie on the ground and watch. And count.”
“I can’t even describe what that was like. Some of them tried to go out swinging. Tried.”
“They didn’t last long against the prince’s team of professional murderers. Donovan lopping off heads left and right. Meadows just… just literally ripping them apart. With McGinn, I could see the pure joy on his face as he swung his sword. I actually wondered, for a second, if the Sanctified had to offer those Invictus ‘auxiliaries’ anything in return for their help. I bet they didn’t. I bet McGinn was perfectly happy to murder duskborn for free.”
“Some of them just cowered and begged. Screamed they had families. Kids.”
“Probably wasn’t even a lie. Lot of them still do that.”
“Some of them tried to run, for all the good it did. Surrounded in a walled cemetery. Ghouls with riot police shields. Malveaux and Doriocourt using magic to hedge them in. The whole thing couldn’t have been more planned. It was planned, systemic slaughter. All they could do was die.”
“And the Anarchs. They all just stood there. They all just…” Roderick’s voice finally cracks, “they all just fucking watched.”
Celia: Celia is quiet for a long moment as Roderick finishes his story. It’s the second time she’s heard it, but she doesn’t tell him that. The horror in this telling is fresh. Her own ghosts scream in some distant part of her mind.
Set up. The word echoes in her head. She’d thought it the first time she’d heard the tale and now, knowing what she does, having read that paper, she knows it’s true. Coco and Opal set them up. They knew the slaughter was coming and they’d stood aside and let it.
And now they’re planning to do it again.
She runs her hands up and down his back. None of her own thoughts here matter. Everything she thinks to say is platitudes. Empty. Lies. This is what her Requiem has come to. She can’t even tell him that she knows there are incoming raids without revealing she’d seen the paper.
“It’s awful. What they do to them. For an accident of Embrace. The wrong sire and you’re… you’re just fucked.”
GM: Roderick gives a bitter laugh.
“Danielle. She’s fucked.”
“It’s funny. They all say we Anarchs have a thin-blood problem. That there’s tons of them all holed up in Mid-City.”
“Well, there’s some. Almost every thin-blood present for that mass execution got mass executed, so who do the new ones hear about the Cypress Grove Massacre of 2011 from? Because you can bet we don’t tell them about it. We don’t like to talk about that night.”
“Only four of us had any balls. Four. Me. Max. Jonah. And Hez, who was half-crazy. His stunt got him exiled from the city. But I suppose half-crazy meant twice the balls.”
“Everyone else… some of them are ashamed. Say there’s nothing they could’ve done. Some of them say there was, and they regret not doing anything. And some of them clearly don’t give a fuck about thin-bloods if it means their asses on the line.”
“Sheriff still goes on sweeps through Mid-City, sometimes. We all know he means business. What thin-bloods we have, they don’t show up to rants. To votes. Oh no. They hide. We tell them they should do at least that much.”
Celia: “If you’re in contact with them, couldn’t you do a proxy vote? It’s not the same as being safe or accepted, but…”
GM: Roderick gives her a flat look.
“And how did thin-blood representation work out last time?”
“Someone tipped off the sheriff. I sure hadn’t planned on inviting him.”
“So public proxy votes for thin-bloods. How do you think that would go?”
Celia: He’s too smart to not realize it, right?
Is he being willfully ignorant?
Does he really have no idea?
“Whose idea was it to get them all together?”
GM: “I don’t remember. Lot of us had been talking about thin-bloods during recent rants.”
Celia: “To include them? I mean, I assume yes, but when it was brought up what was the general consensus? It sounds like some of the licks that evening weren’t happy.”
“It’s… a shame that Coco and Miss Opal weren’t there. Maybe they could have talked the sheriff down.”
GM: “Doubt it. He has a pretty long leash these nights, but for a slaughter on that scale, the order had to have come down from Vidal.”
“Though I guess it’s moot. ‘Thin-blood massacre’ seems like something Vidal or Donovan would both be happy with.”
Celia: “Their voices might have helped, though.”
GM: “What would the sheriff have done? Stood down and looked like a bitch to everyone?”
“Though who knows how it would’ve gone. Two elders might’ve really turned things around.”
Celia: They’re both just lying to each other now. He knows. He has to know. There’s no possible way that he doesn’t know. She’d made the connection in seconds; how has he missed it? Did his sire collar him tightly enough that he can’t even think ill of her? Do they wipe his mind after the meetings?
He calls her a liar, but here he is just spouting bullshit.
She nods, though, like he’s right.
“Danielle might be safer in the Quarter if the sheriff is running raids in Mid-City.”
GM: Roderick seems to sag under those words, running a hand through his hair.
“Fuck. I…. oh, fuck. I can’t believe she’s a fucking abortion!”
“The a-word. I’m a horrible ally. Oh well. Like any of them stood up to the Sanctified Gestapo.”
“She’s fucked. She’s fucked if she stays in Mid-City. Matter of time.”
Celia: “I can look out for her. Keep her contained here, so she doesn’t… wander somewhere she shouldn’t.”
GM: Roderick plants his face against his hands.
“Oh my go…. oh my god.”
“This. This is where it is. I have to go to him. He’s got me over a barrel.”
He gives another bitter laugh.
Celia: “What are you talking about? Who?”
GM: “Who the hell would I be talking about? Savoy!”
Celia: Ah. Well. He’s right. She doesn’t deny it. Savoy does have him over a barrel. Better than the alternative though, isn’t it? Dead sister.
She knows what that’s like.
Celia pulls back from him. Draws her knees into her chest, wraps her arms around her legs. She looks past his shoulder, as if the answer is written on her wall and all she has to do is search hard enough for it.
GM: Her wall remains tellingly blank.
Roderick runs a hand through his hair as red starting to brim around his eyes.
“Oh… my god, Celia, I… I can’t…”
He throws his arms around her and buries his face against her neck.
Celia: Oh. Well that’s… she’d be lying if she says she doesn’t want it. Doesn’t want him, here, like this, seeking comfort from her. Her body moves to support him, her arms around his broad shoulders, her mouth forming soothing, crooning noises. One hand runs through his hair, like her mom used to do when she was a child.
“Let it out,” she says quietly, “just let it out, sweetheart. I’ve got you.”
GM: “Oh, Celia, it’s…” he sobs, “it’s fucked… everything’s fucked… everything’s shit… no one’s who they say they are, you can’t, you can’t trust anyone…”
She feels her fangs lengthening in her mouth again at the smell of his leaking blood.
Because only vampires get boners over hurt people.
Celia: She didn’t want this for him.
She never wanted this life—unlife, whatever—for him. He doesn’t deserve it. He deserves so much more. Her heart—is that thing still working? It breaks for him. Again and again and again. Every word. Every bloody tear. Every halting space between syllables.
“I know. I know. It is. It’s fucked. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry that you’re going through this.”
I’m sorry I broke us. I’m sorry you can’t trust me.
GM: He squeezes her in his arms. Crushingly hard. If she were alive, she might yell that he was hurting her, that she couldn’t breathe. But she’s not alive.
“I’ve done… been complicit in things,” he sobs. “Heard things. Known… known what’s really… I keep saying, I keep saying it’s worth it, it’s the least awful way forward, the only way, doing what I can, but I don’t… I don’t know… there’s no good guys…”
“Just… bad guys and worse guys…”
Celia: She doesn’t do so much as squirm in his arms. He can squeeze if he needs to. If it helps. She can give him that much. She keeps her grip tight around him, nails on his scalp, the back of his neck, his back. Up and down, long, slow strokes. Soothing.
She’s quiet while he works it out, while he spills his pain. Sometimes people need an ear more than they need someone telling them they understand.
GM: He keeps squeezing as he rubs his head against her neck.
“I just wanted to be the good guy! I just wanted to put the bad guys away! I wanted to do the right thing, and this… they… they’ve ruined my whole fucking family…!”
Celia: “We can do the right thing,” she murmurs. “I’ll help you get there. Anything you need.”
GM: There’s another choked laugh.
“There is no right thing! Savoy’s a con artist, used car salesman, and Coco’s a… I want her to be right, so fucking bad, but she’s… she’s not! There isn’t a right thing!”
“And Dani’s, she’s a monster too, an abortion half-monster that’s not even a real vampire!”
“My dad’s gonna die, alone, thinking both his kids are dead, and that’s the sanitized version!”
Celia: The Garrison line dies with him. There’s no more kids to have more children. No more lawyers in the family to continue to try to take down the Mafia. It’s over. Bad guys won. Three generations of Garrisons… and this is how it ends.
He’s squeezing so tightly that she can barely draw the breath she needs to form words.
“We have time. A whole bunch of time ahead of us. We can turn it around. Just because they’re not right doesn’t mean we can’t be. You’re a good person, Roderick. The best person that I know. If anyone can find a way to be a lick and still be humane, it’s you.”
GM: “How? How can I be a good person when, when nobody else is? When the only option is to go along with the sheriff, or die for nothing, or get staked and get special treatment and have everyone say you’re an elder’s pet?”
“Why do you even think that about me, that I’m good?”
Celia: “Because you stand up for what’s right even in the face of adversity. Because you were the first person who opened your mouth to the sheriff when he showed up. Because if you hadn’t been staked you’d have gone down swinging. Because prior to all that you were the one who had the backs of the thin-bloods that no one wanted anything to do with. Because when we met you didn’t make me feel stupid, you didn’t look down on me, you didn’t talk down to me, you never let my dad scare you, you went out of your way to help my family. Because even when you were mad at me you didn’t just leave me, and you could have. Because every time I’m in a moral dilemma I ask myself, ‘what would Stephen do?’ and I have my answer on what is right and what’s wrong.”
“You are not other people. You can’t judge yourself based on what the people around you do. You can only be you. The best you that you know how to be.”
“And it’s hard and it sucks and people suck and licks suck and everything is fucked, and despite all that you still have an existence to be part of, so you do your damndest to be the source.”
GM: He holds onto her for a while without saying anything. Stops squeezing.
“Celia, I want to trust you…”
Celia: She stills. Doesn’t even draw breath. Trusting her has nothing to do with anything she’d just said.
“But you don’t,” she says for him after a brief silence. She sounds… resigned.
GM: “No! I want to! I’m just… scared it could turn out like the last time…”
“God, I want to trust someone! I need to trust someone! We all do!”
Celia: Something flutters inside of her at his words. She squashes it before it can do more than that.
He shouldn’t trust her. She’s a self-serving, manipulative cunt. She knows it. One day her unlife will come crashing down around her and anything standing in the blast radius will be destroyed. She can’t even tell him the worst of it. The things she’s done.
She’ll just hurt him. Again.
“We do,” she tells him. “We do need someone. We’re all isolated, afraid to confide, and it just… it’s just the Beast with us then, our only companion, no wonder it draws us all down a dark path.”
Maybe he’s not squeezing her now but she’s squeezing him, clinging to him because she’s afraid that once this moment ends reality will set back in and everything will turn to shit again.
GM: “God, you’re right… just the Beast… I can feel it in me, pacing around, waiting… I swear, it gets stronger every year…”
“I’m still a virgin, but I have no idea… no idea how long I can keep that up…”
Celia: “As long as you want to. Indefinitely. I believe that about you.”
GM: “Coco says that’s admirable but I should expect to kill at some point, if only by accident. Our Beasts are too strong to resist forever.”
“It’s a matter of statistics. Forever, and all you need is to lose control at least once. Gets likelier with every year. Every night.”
Celia: “We talked once. About how you couldn’t stay in your family’s life because you lose control more easily. I’ve been worried about it, with my mom, Lucy, Emily. I’d never forgive myself if something happened to them. But I make sure that, when I see them, I’m not hungry. I keep my emotions under control as best I can. I have a business, I see people all the time… it’s… it’s difficult, you know, when I started it was like they all looked like snacks and I just wanted to rip into them. And yes, the Beast gets stronger with every year. But so does my control.”
“And so can yours.”
“And maybe… maybe Coco is right, that you should expect it to happen. And that’s awful. But it hasn’t happened yet. You can’t live in fear of it.”
“Be prepared, sure, but don’t… give yourself a panic attack over it or something.”
GM: “I guess you can’t. I guess all you can do is try to minimize the damage. That’s a really good policy, not ever see your family when you’re hungry.”
“Are you still a virgin?”
Celia: “Of course not. Don’t you remember that date? Batman?”
GM: “Ha ha. Other kind of virgin.”
GM: “How’d it happen?”
Celia: “It was ugly. And messy. And I lost control.”
She still remembers the shirt she’d been wearing. Green. Low cut. Clingy. The blood had spilled across the front of it and she’d looked like some sort of garish Christmas monster.
“He… I was on my own. One of the first times. He looked like my dad, and I just… Lucy had just been born, and… I just… I kept thinking, I have to keep her safe.”
GM: “Was he like your dad? A real monster?”
“Or did he just look like him?”
Celia: She’s quiet. Her weight shifts, the movement betraying her discomfort. She lifts her shoulders as much as she can with their arms still wrapped around each other, as if to shrug, and thinks better of it. She settles again.
“I don’t know,” she finally says. “I told myself he was. But I don’t… I don’t know, honestly, and it’s…” She hasn’t thought about it in a long time. She hadn’t felt anything after she’d ripped his throat out. She remembers that: staring down at this man who is vaguely Maxen-shaped with his warm blood splattered across her face and chest and feeling absolutely nothing.
“Probably not,” she says quietly.
GM: “Have you wanted to do anything about it?”
Celia: “We don’t normally dream, but I… I dreamed about that for a long time. That he was just… that he just looked like him, and I happened to be there, and it… wrong place, wrong time, and he’s dead now, and I’m not supposed to care, I’m supposed to… to just not… I told Veronica, after, I thought maybe she’d say something helpful, but she just sneered at me like she does.”
“So I just pushed it down. And tried not to think about it.”
GM: Roderick pulls away enough to look her in the eyes, but still holds on.
“You should care. What if that guy had a family he loved as much as you love yours?”
Celia: She can’t look at him. Her lids drop down over her eyes to shield herself from his judgment. She blinks back the same coppery-scented moisture that leaked earlier from Roderick’s eyes.
“He probably did. He probably did and I ruined it, and they never knew why he didn’t come home.”
“There’s no—there’s no guidebook, there’s no rules on what to do when you kill someone, it’s not like you just send flowers.”
GM: “I agree, there isn’t. I mean, there’s nothing you can do that’ll bring him back. But you can make things less painful for any survivors.”
GM: “Funerals can be really stressful, not to mention expensive. Helping with those, directly or indirectly. Making sure his family has money. Helping them out, if they’re disadvantaged, or just to pursue their goals and dreams if they’re not. Finding anything else in their lives that needs fixing.”
Celia: “You don’t think that draws attention? A random person showing up and helping with bills and other stuff?”
GM: “Well, you have to be subtle about it. But there’s ways to do that.”
Celia: Celia wipes her cheek on her shoulder, as if the motion is at all a subtle way to wipe away the moisture trickling down from her eye.
“Yeah? What would you do?”
GM: Roderick thinks. “There’s a fair amount of things you can do legally. For instance, you could contrive an inheritance from a fictional deceased relative who lived far away, with a lawyer you know serving as executor of the estate. That’d seem like an uncanny coincidence if it happened right when he died, but if that was six years ago I don’t see anyone getting suspicious.”
Celia: The word inheritance reminds her of the other bomb that was dropped on her earlier in the evening.
“The sheriff killed my grandparents.”
GM: “Oh my god. Why?”
Celia: “All the money went to my dad. So he could run for… whatever, or move to Audubon, or… whatever.”
GM: “I’m so sorry. Were you close to them?”
Celia: “Before they died, yeah. They were always around. Then they just… weren’t.”
“I wasn’t allowed to tell my siblings why she left. He came into my room the morning after it happened and told me it was our secret, and… and I don’t even know if he really remembers what he did to her, or if it’s just part of his blooper reel. He used to… get weird, sometimes, and I guess… I guess there’s this part of me who just wanted my dad back, so I used to think that maybe Donovan had replaced him with someone else, or had mind controlled him into being like this, and…” she trails off.
“It doesn’t matter.”
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to get into… but just, why would he take my dad’s memories and not mine?”
A moment passes. She doesn’t really expect an answer from him on the subject of her family. She’s not even sure she wants to talk about it. Skates too close to the truth.
“Tell me about the inheritance thing. I might have a friend who’s a lawyer.”
GM: “Your dad’s memories of what happened to your mom? I thought he did remember all that,” says Roderick.
“But inheritance-wise, the idea is basically as I said. You have your lawyer friend show up, claiming to be the executor for the will of a deceased relative you invent a story and identity for. Then you hand over the money that’s part of the ‘inheritance.’”
Celia: She looks like she might have more to say on the subject of her family, but she doesn’t press it once they move to different topics.
“And you don’t get caught?”
GM: “Sure, that’s what you have a real lawyer do it for so that everything seems legit. But people probably aren’t going to look too closely at free money with no strings attached.”
Celia: “I’ll look into that. Thanks, Roderick.”
He is her implied lawyer friend, but she isn’t sure he got it. Or he’s pretending not to get it.
“What’s next for you? What do you want to do?”
GM: “Ugh. I was just starting to get in a better mood.”
“I know what’s next, but I’d honestly rather put it off.”
“Just… give me some good news. How’s your family doing?”
Celia: Good news? There is no good news. Not about her family. She’d just murdered her sister. But she doesn’t tell him that.
“I had dinner with them the other night. Emily brought Robby by. He’s… got some really nerdy hobbies, I don’t think I realized that when we first met. He’s sweet, though. Mom and I are already picking out wedding dresses for her. She discovered Pin-It and she sent me the board she’s been working on, it’s honestly kind of ridiculous how much time she’s already put into it. I’m happy for them, though. Might have finally convinced Mom to start dating again, sort of. Mostly it’s that I’m just going to surprise her with a date and see how that goes. She also, uh, tried to give me dating advice, which was… kind of funny.”
But mostly funny.
GM: “I guess there’s only so much useful advice you can give when you haven’t dated in ten-plus years.”
Celia: “It was a lot of just be honest and write down how you feel and give it to him in a letter.”
GM: Roderick frowns in puzzlement. “A letter?”
Celia: “She’s pretty old school. I imagine she was picturing floral stationary sprayed with perfume.”
GM: “Well, Flores, floral stationary. I guess you could do worse.”
Celia rolls her eyes at him. She’s smiling, though, and she makes a noise that’s half a laugh.
“You’re as nerdy as Robby.”
She does not mention that her private notebook has roses all over the front of it.
GM: He smirks back. “Hey, you need to have some nerd in you to be a lawyer.”
Celia: “Anyway, don’t tell me that you never wrote a girl a love letter. Cute guy like you? Probably had all the babes.”
GM: “I wrote a letter, once, to a girl when I was in middle school. She’d moved away and I think she had a big crush on me, so she sent a letter.”
Celia: “Did you become pen pals?”
GM: “We sent a couple more, over the summer. I think she found a new guy to distract herself with when school started up.”
Celia: “Ouch. You ever do that thing where you slide a note into a girl’s locker?”
“Dear Girl, I like you. Please find attached contract to become my girlfriend. Sincerely, Future Lawyer Boy.” She mimics what she thinks his middle school voice would sound like. It ends up rather pompous.
GM: Roderick laughs. “Future Lawyer Boy is a pretty cruddy lawyer not to ask her to sign it in person. Less likely to read the fine print.”
Celia: “No, see, that’s how you get her. You put a bunch of crazy things there that she reads and gets indignant about, then she comes over all angry and you turn the argument around on her, then she falls for your way with words. Like a meet-cute. Kind of. Not really. Whatever, you get it.”
GM: “Sorry, meet-cute?”
Celia: “It’s a thing in romance books and movies. When the leading couple meets. And it’s… cute. Often they get off on the wrong foot. But like in a silly, charming kind of way.”
“It’s, uh, it’s in a lot of rom-coms.”
GM: “Yeah, not to sound like your dad, but that’s such a chick thing,” he smirks. “Guess I’m not surprised I didn’t know what it was.”
Celia: “Hey man, sometimes I let Randy pick on movie night, it’s not my fault he’s a closet romantic.”
GM: “You watch movies with your renfields?”
Celia: “Yes. Why, should I be more like my sire and torture them?”
GM: “No, it’s cute. Just honestly wasn’t something that occurred to me.”
Celia: “Oh. Yeah. We just kind of make a night of it. They get snacks and we pick a movie and it’s… Honestly it’s kind of nice, to just hang out like that. Randy picks a lot of rom coms or action flicks and Alana picks a lot of horror movies so she can pretend to be scared, but when she’s actually invested she has pretty good taste.”
GM: “That is cute. I might ask one of mine to do that.”
Celia: “You could come over with us sometime. If you want.”
GM: “I guess that’ll be easier if I’m in the Quarter more.”
There’s a bitter taste to the words.
Celia: “You don’t have to come to the Quarter. I’ll… deal with Savoy.”
GM: “He’s not going to let me keep Danielle there for free. I should at least have the balls to look him in the eye.”
Celia: “I doubt he’d ask you to relocate.”
GM: “Of course he wouldn’t. I’m not any use to him if I’m on the outs with Coco.”
Celia: Well at least she hadn’t had to tell him what Savoy wants.
“I think he might value discretion over the balls of looking him in the eye. I can pass along a missive. If I meet with him it’s normal. If you do people might talk.”
GM: Roderick shakes his head. “He won’t settle for that. I wouldn’t if I was in his position. Some things you have to do in person.”
“I’ll bet he’s great at setting up secret meetings with licks who aren’t supposed to be seeing him, anyway.”
“Why are you even on his team?” the Brujah asks. “It’s been two election cycles for your dad, since you were turned, and he’s still in power. Savoy obviously isn’t helping you get rid of him.”
Celia: She can’t tell him the truth. Not the real truth. And she’s so, so tired of lying to him. They all need someone to trust, like he said. But she doesn’t know if she trusts him. The secret isn’t hers to spill, and he’s already told Coco information about her that he should have kept to himself. If she opens her mouth here it’ll be around the rest of their society in no time, and then what? Then she’s got more trouble than the war between sire and grandsire that she’s already caught in the middle of. More trouble than a beautiful fledgling with extremely potent vitae in the middle of the Garden District. More trouble than ‘Celia’ being found out as undead.
“Roderick, please don’t meet with Savoy. I can tell you exactly what he’d offer you and Dani. You don’t need to get your hands dirty by meeting with him or being goaded into getting aggressive, then he does own you. Let me help you. I can do that much for you.”
“I’m used to dealing with him. I speak his language.”
GM: “Celia, are you even listening to me? There’s no way I’d agree to that if I was in Savoy’s position. And with Dani in the Quarter, I wouldn’t have to do. He holds the fucking cards!”
Celia: “I am listening to you. I get it. And I am telling you that he is a master manipulator. He will know exactly how much you want to keep her safe, exactly what buttons to push, and you will end up bent over even more than you think you are right now.”
GM: “Probably,” Roderick says bleakly.
Celia: “Then why would you give him that power?”
GM: “Because he’s not going to settle for less! He’ll want information on the Cabildo. The things they’re talking about. That’s not as useful to him secondhand through a messenger, and he knows it!”
Celia: “Why would I lie to him? If I were being charged with giving the information to him, why would I change it?”
GM: “Celia, you’re being… ugh. That’s not as useful, even if you were 100% honest, because he’d want to actually ask questions about the information, and that’s way more tedious if he has to do it through a messenger. Not to mention, he’s an elder, so I doubt he believes anyone is 100% honest to him.”
Celia: “I’m being what?” Her voice is sharp.
GM: He effects a sigh. “Sorry. I was being angry. Forget it.”
“I know you’re trying to help. I appreciate it.”
Celia: “You were going to call me stupid.”
GM: “You’re not stupid. I just lost my temper. This whole situation is completely fucked and there’s no way to make it better.”
Celia: “You want the truth, Roderick? The truth is that I’m going to lie to him about you. About us, and how I delivered this. The truth is that I’m going to spin this to keep your hands clean. The truth,” she spits the word like it’s a curse, “is that I’m going to let him think that I manipulated you into thinking he doesn’t know, instead of lying to you like he wanted me to do, so he can continue to be the magnanimous elder and I’m the lying, manipulative bitch, and at some point in the future when I really, really displease him he’s going to use it against me because, like Coco said, the truth comes out eventually, and I’ll be fucking damned thrice over if I’m going to let it drive another god-damned wedge between us.”
“I’m supposed to tell you that he doesn’t know she’s your sister. That it was all my idea. And if you go to him he’ll know that I told you. And I’m not because I’m tired of fucking lying to everyone and you deserve to know.”
GM: “What? He knows?” Roderick asks sharply.
“That’s why you called me, because Savoy told you to use Dani to bring me over?”
Celia: “No. I called you because I found out what happened to her and I was worried about both of you. I wouldn’t keep that from you.”
GM: “So how does he know about Dani? Did you tell him, or did he tell you?”
Celia: “His steward told me. I assume she told him.”
GM: Roderick frowns. “He couldn’t be assed to himself, for something as big as this? So, what, this was Preston’s idea to use Dani to bring me over?”
Celia: Celia makes a noise that might have once been a sigh.
“She gave me the photo. I imagine they talked about it. I’ve long thought she only speaks what he thinks, to be perfectly honest, so yes, I can safely say Savoy knows and that it was probably his idea.”
GM: “Maybe, but for Savoy not to even talk to you about any of this? That’s really fucking weird.”
Celia: “And I can also tell you that you meeting with him is not in your best interest, and I’m… I’m laying my heart open to you. That I am choosing you over an extremely powerful elder. That I am… am giving you this information, knowing it could get back to him, knowing that I will be the one to pay the price for it, and asking you to please—please—trust me.”
GM: “Wait. Wait.” Roderick holds up his hand. “Savoy isn’t like Vidal. He meets random licks off the street all the time. If he didn’t even talk to you about this, himself… there’s a big piece we’re missing. But I’m not sure what it means.”
“Is Preston trying to make some kind of play?”
Celia: “I doubt it. I told you, she only says what he already thinks.”
“Of course Savoy is behind this.”
GM: “I don’t know, she’s a Malkavian. There’s some part of her that’s 100% completely fucking nuts, you can’t ever forget.”
Celia: “She’s pretty sane for a member of her clan.”
GM: “Or she just looks that way.”
GM: “There’s no such thing as a sane Malkavian. Any more than there is a handsome Nosferatu or a Brujah without anger issues.”
Celia: “Yeah…” Her eyes dip once more toward the destroyed couch. She doesn’t physically move away from him. But it’s in her eyes: wariness. Ready to bolt at the first sign of trouble.
GM: He effects another sigh. “I’m not about to lose it. I’m just trying to piece out what the full picture is. It’s just really fucking weird Savoy wouldn’t even talk to you about me and Dani himself.”
“Some part of Preston is crazy, and I think that’s a mistake to assume everything which comes out of her mouth is something Savoy would say. She’s pretty new to the city, in relative terms. She was her own Kindred for 50 years before ever coming here.”
Celia: “Probably because he doesn’t trust me not to fuck it up, and I’m playing right into his hands, and it’s all a large game.”
GM: “But that doesn’t explain why he wouldn’t even see you. Has he… was this recent? Has he been out in public, since Preston told you about Dani?”
Celia: “He had a party last night.”
GM: “Okay, so I guess that rules out him being out of town. Or something crazy like torpor.” Roderick frowns. “There has to be something here! Why wouldn’t he talk to you abut this?”
Celia: “He wants to help you take down Corolla and Agnello.”
GM: “Preston said that too?”
Celia: “No, Savoy said that.”
GM: “What do you mean, he said that? thought you heard this all through Preston.”
Celia: “I heard about Dani from Preston, and about that from Savoy. Preston gave me the photo.”
GM: “At different times?”
Celia: “Stop. Stop giving me the third degree. I’m telling you what I know. I’m telling you that Savoy wants to help with those two and that Preston gave me the photo and the information on Dani. And I contacted you as soon as I knew about her. And yes, they probably fucking planned it, Roderick.”
GM: “Well I’m sorry if it seems like I’m grilling you, but given how completely and utterly fucked Dani and I might be-” he calms his voice, “I’m just trying to get as complete a handle on things as I can.”
Celia: “I’m trying to help you. I’m not… I don’t want to be your enemy here.”
GM: “I know. I’m just looking for any kind of handhold here, that Dani and I could still use.”
Celia: “I don’t want anything bad to happen to her, or you, or your dad, or anyone you care about. I’m not a… I’m not a monster. I’ll find a way to keep her safe.”
GM: “Okay.” He takes a needless breath. “I guess good thing I’d already assumed the worst. I had some kind of half-cocked idea to get Dani out of the city, but that’s even more of a crap shot if he already knows.”
Celia: “We still can. He’ll just… know that I told you. If you want to run…” she trails off for a moment, looking at her hands, at the wall, at anything but him. Finally she breathes in, sets her mouth in a grim line. “I can try to cover for you.”
GM: “Like I said, it’s probably a crap shot. I don’t know any licks outside the city that well. None I’d trust with Dani.”
Celia: “That Asian girl. With the fucked hands. She’s from Texas, isn’t she?”
GM: He thinks. “Yeah. I don’t really know her. She helped the thin-bloods all get butchered.”
Celia: “She what now? I thought she pulled Max to safety?”
GM: “Yeah. Instead of pulling the stake out. She was the first to cross over, behind Sanctified lines. After she did with Max, and Veronica and Pietro followed with Jonah, it was over. Everyone else deserted the thin-bloods.”
“If we’d stood our ground that would’ve been a fight even the sheriff wouldn’t have wanted. He wanted to scare us into just surrendering them up, without resistance.”
“And we did. Two dozen thin-bloods, all just… slaughtered. Just like that.”
“I’ll admit that’s one of the things Savoy has going for him, he doesn’t support a policy of active genocide.”
Celia: Celia sighs.
“She came to me about it, you know. Not like… that specifically, and I’m only telling you this because I’m trusting you not to let it out. She sees me for her hands. They’re fucked, like I said. Have you seen her without gloves? Not pretty. We’re working on reducing the scar tissue, but it’s slow going.”
“Sometimes people talk to me when I’m working on them. And she told me about that night after it happened.”
“That she’s… she’s really messed up over it, that she thought she was doing the right thing. Her sire, he’s… he’s a piece of work. She didn’t want to see the people she’d thrown in with, the Anarchs, all slaughtered, like he’s done. I don’t think she was thinking of it as abandoning the thin-bloods, just getting Max out after Veronica made her play. Anyone in the circle, right?”
“And then everyone else folded, because she made that choice. And I think she’s more messed up about it than she’s ever let on to anyone. And it’s why she doesn’t run with a krewe, because she’s ashamed.”
GM: “Well, I’m sorry for her. But I’m sorrier for the thin-bloods. Someone with a track record of folding under pressure isn’t someone I feel safe about leaving Dani with.”
“Though I guess… I mean, unless she’s leaving the city, it’s passing Dani along to any friends she has in Texas.”
Celia: “I just can’t imagine what kind of pain she’s in to unload to me when she doesn’t even know me.” Celia shakes her head. “We’re all so isolated in this existence, it’s… heartbreaking.”
GM: “Yeah. It is.” He gives a long look. Runs a hand through his hair.
“Look. I’ll… I’ll talk to her.”
“How long do you think I have, with Savoy?”
“Before he starts asking you how things went?”
Celia: “I…” Celia looks uncomfortable. “I didn’t tell him I was meeting with you tonight or anything, but I’m staying there now because Lebeaux told me to avoid ‘Celia’ places, and I’m honestly… kind of afraid of staying somewhere alone, so even though no one knows about this place…”
“I can try to put him off.”
GM: “You could stay with me today, if you wanted. I have a decent place.”
Celia: “With, ah, with Coco?”
GM: He effects a snort. “No. I’m not that much an elder’s pet.”
Celia: “D’you live with the others? Hez and Chris and them?”
GM: “I live by myself. Prefer the privacy.”
Celia: She nods. “Same. I mean, Andi and Tyrell are never in town anyway, but… still.”
“But yeah. I mean. If that’s okay with you.”
GM: “Oh?” He looks thoughtful. “I wonder if they could… no, maybe too risky with them in Savoy’s camp.”
Celia: “Roderick.” She takes his hand in hers. “Please, please, please. Don’t tell anyone. He’ll know I told you.”
GM: “Jesus Christ, of course I won’t! It’s Dani’s life, unlife, I’d be risking too. I’m not telling anyone more than they absolutely need to know. All Ayame does, if we even get that far, is that there’s someone I want to get to Houston. I’ll make up the reasons why.”
Celia: “Sorry. I wasn’t implying that you would, I just…” She’s scared, he can see it in her eyes.
GM: “I know.” He squeezes her hand back.
“I also want… to talk to Dani, before going forward with anything.”
Celia: “I’ll get in touch with her.”
GM: “Savoy’s watching her, isn’t he? That’s what I’d do.”
Celia: “Yes. To prevent a breach of the Masquerade, but…”
GM: “Yeah. Okay, so the moment that happens, we’re basically out of time, and he’s going to expect results from you.”
Roderick thinks. “Maybe it’s… better if I don’t talk with her. At least in the city.”
Celia: “Would she have a reason to distrust ‘Celia?’”
GM: “I don’t think so. You two seemed to get along okay, back when… before we got turned.”
Celia: “I just meant, like… after we, um, broke up. If you said anything negative that would make her not want to talk to me.”
GM: “Uh. Well…”
“You could tell her I’m not actually dead. That probably earns a lot of forgiveness.”
“Well, dead dead.”
Celia: “That bad, eh?”
She shouldn’t be surprised.
She isn’t, really.
GM: “I wasn’t trying to badmouth you. I was just… she saw how horrible I felt. What a total mess I was. And she obviously doesn’t know the full story.”
Celia: “It’s okay. Maybe she’ll follow me out of anger and I can get her alone.”
GM: “We just need to do this carefully. Depending how this goes… you’re going to look incompetent to Savoy at best, or traitorous if we mishandle everything.”
“I don’t know. Maybe that’s a long shot. I haven’t even talked to Ayame, maybe Texas isn’t an option.”
Roderick slaps his head.
“Oh, wait. I’m such an idiot.”
“Coco knows licks outside the city, too. I might be able to go to for help with this. Hell, she knows licks in Texas too.”
Celia: “For a thin-blood?”
GM: Roderick’s face sinks again. “That’d be…”
“Honestly, if Ayame can’t do anything either, I think it’d be… a gamble.”
“Look. Elders, they basically all hate thin-bloods. I mean, Savoy doesn’t pursue active genocide, but he treats them like shit. Relegates them to the worst parts of the Quarter. Crams them in like sardines.”
“She doesn’t say anything hateful about them, I think because they’re so arm in arm with the Anarchs now. I mean, if you talk to her, you might even walk away thinking she’s all for duskborn equality.”
“But she’s just… I’m around her a lot. She’s cooler about them. Definitely cooler. In this really understated way you might not notice, if you didn’t know her as well as me. It’s the same way she gets when…
“Look, there’s this passage from A Tale of Two Cities, about this aristocrat whose carriage runs over a little boy and kills him. The father runs up, screaming and crying as he’s cradling the body, ‘You killed my boy! You killed my boy!’”
“The aristocrat doesn’t even care. He’s just annoyed his carriage got stopped and he’s been delayed from getting to where he’s going. The Third Estate, the common people, were like bugs to him.”
“I’ve talked about that passage with Coco. She says Dickens was better at writing about London than Paris. But she said he got that part completely, 100% right. Just the sheer contempt the nobles held for the common people, the utter disregard for their lives and dignity.”
“And she says the Revolution wasn’t the country going ‘crazy’ or violent revolutions being somehow specifically endemic to France. She says the amount of violence and terror and bloodshed during the Revolution was simply the natural human response to people being suffocated under such unbearable tyranny for so long and wanting payback.”
“She says that how it played out wasn’t perfect, but that it was superior to the Ancien Régime. That anything would’ve been superior to the Ancien Régime.”
“I’m getting a little off-track. She’s fascinating to listen to about this stuff. I mean, she saw all this history unfold during her lifetime.”
“But, my point was, when we were talking about that noble whose carriage ran over the little boy… she got this cool look in her eyes. It was really hitting home for her.”
“And… it’s the same look she sometimes gets, when thin-bloods come up.”
“This coolness. This faint, but almost instinctive disgust.”
Celia: “People revolt when they taste something better and are then forced to go back to what they knew before. If they never know any different, they don’t think to ask for something more. Like a battered woman who thinks she’s getting what she deserves. But a whole people who get that taste of something else, who for a moment it is better? That’s the boiling point. That’s what causes revolt. Historically speaking.”
“But… yeah, I mean, I can’t imagine that any elder is a fan of them, but if she doesn’t get out… the Quarter is safe, at least, and we can minimize the amount of people who know who she is, and get her some decent place to feed so she’s not struggling to just survive.”
GM: “I guess that battered woman example hits a little close to home.”
“Coco says it was a combination of financial crisis, famine, France having helped the American Revolution, and times simply changing while the Ancien Régime kept trying to live like it was still the Middle Ages. I’m sure she could list even more factors. Events that big don’t ever have simple causes.”
Celia: “She’s probably right about those first reasons. I’d need to brush up on my French history. I wasn’t there, of course, or in any of the other places where they revolt.”
GM: “I don’t know why she’d feel that way about thin-bloods, anyway. I don’t know what thin-bloods have done to her. I don’t know what they even could’ve done to her. I think they only really started popping up in the ’90s.”
Celia: “One of the first presidents said something to the effect of Americans needing to have a revolution every 8 or 12 years to make sure the government doesn’t become corrupt.”
GM: “Different age now, but I don’t know that he’s completely wrong.”
Celia: “Have you talked to her about why she dislikes them so much? Or why they all seem to?”
GM: “I sure have. Didn’t get anywhere.”
“I could try with Savoy, maybe. See if it sheds some light on them. Maybe he’d be willing to talk to me about it. Or Lebeaux, he knows a lot about random stuff.”
GM: “Well, unless he likes you more than Coco likes me, I dunno how much you’re gonna get out of him. But I guess it couldn’t hurt.”
Celia: “Worst case scenario he tells me nothing and we’re back to where we are now.”
GM: “True. I mean, if I thought Coco wanted to help Dani, things could look a lot different.”
Celia: “Want me to call up the sheriff? See if he wants to explain? ‘Hey buddy so I heard you don’t like thin-bloods.’”
GM: “Ha ha. Maybe we should call up your dad and ask him why he beats women, too.”
Celia: “Oh, I found his stash of paraplegic porn actually.”
GM: “Wow, morbid.”
Celia: Celia thinks she’s funny.
GM: She once heard a ghoul somewhere say you should let other people tell you you’re funny.
“But who the hell knows, maybe it even is a partly sexual thing.”
Celia: That ghoul sounds like she has a stick up her ass.
“Oh. So there’s this girl. Who is like… a hacker or something. And she thinks that all the politicians in the city are involved in a city-wide sex ring. And she told me my mom was a sex slave. And I was like… what?”
GM: “That’s pretty crazy-sounding, but so’s a lot of the Requiem.”
Celia: “I thought she was pretty crazy at the time.”
GM: “You think there is a sex ring?”
Celia: “Oh, I dunno, she also told me that wearing makeup makes me a sex addict and that Pangloss is putting chemicals in their products. It was real weird.”
GM: “Well, you probably know better than me about makeup, but I’ve heard some pretty disturbing stuff about those companies.”
Celia: “Like what?”
GM: “That they perform torturous experiments on animals as part of product development. There was another story I heard about a Pangloss plant spilling toxic chemicals in the local town’s water supply.”
“But, really, I guess that’s all par for course in corporate America.”
Celia: “A lot of companies test on animals. They say it’s safer than testing on humans, but they do some shady things. And even if a company doesn’t, there’s a chance their parent company does. Like in cosmetics, in order to sell in China, you have to do product testing on animals.”
“So all these companies say they’re ‘vegan’ or ‘cruelty-free’ but they sell in China so you know they’re full of shit.”
GM: “Geez. There’s a lot wrong in the U.S., but China can really be something else. They’re definitely the greater evil.”
Celia: “I mean it’s a huge market, but people just… lie about it, or use general ignorance. I mean most people don’t know that thing about China, but then you can say the same thing about anything, really.”
GM: “Yeah. The deeper you dig into anything, the more rot and corruption you find.”
“Just ask me about all the places the Mafia has its tentacles wrapped around. Or don’t, if you’d rather not think about the ways humans can be monsters just as awful as us.”
Celia: “I already know firsthand that humans can be monsters,” she says quietly, “but I’m happy to listen to you tell me about it.”
GM: “I know you know. I said spend time thinking about it.”
“Don’t you want to take down your dad, by the way? Like I said, he’s had two election cycles since you were turned.”
Celia: “He wants to see me. My dad. Logan told me.”
She blurts the words out in a rush, like she can’t contain them inside herself.
“Said that he’s ‘proud of me’ for what I did with my business.”
GM: Roderick gives that a look.
Celia: “I know.”
GM: “Your dad’s a despicable human being. He’s a worse monster than a lot of vampires. Sheriff’s the only one who immediately jumps to mind as worse.”
Celia: “He is. I know he is. I know. I hate him. Like. Just. So much. I hate him.”
“But when he said that… God, I just… I just want a dad sometimes. And it’s so stupid. And I know that. And I’m just trying to figure out how to leverage this.”
GM: “Count your blessings,” Roderick says quietly. “I’ve got a mom and dad, but… well. You’re lucky to have the family you do with Emily, Lucy, and your mom. Plus all those brothers and sisters, even if you aren’t as close to them.”
Celia: She winces. “Sorry. I… you’re right. Of course you’re right.”
GM: “Well, my mom also didn’t try to saw off my dad’s leg and regularly beat him bloody, so you have that going against you.”
Celia: “And yeah, Roderick, I do want to take him down, I’m just…”
She doesn’t want to go up against her sire. She doesn’t want him to have a reason to come after her. I won’t show leniency again, he’d said. If killing her is leniency, what isn’t?
GM: “Just what? Because of the sheriff?”
Celia: She nods.
GM: “I don’t have a good answer there. But I know Savoy hasn’t seemed to help.”
Celia: “I brought that up to him recently.”
GM: “I’d like to see how he took that.”
Celia: “Preston said something like of course he wants to take down his rival’s pawns, and he just kind of waved it off because it didn’t go well last time. And I just feel like I’m supposed to come up with and execute a plan on my own. Or something.”
GM: “At least with the Mafia, Coco’s said she’ll help me, but she won’t do it for me.”
Celia: “That’s what I meant, yeah. I haven’t pushed for it as hard as I could have, I guess that’s on me.”
GM: “Well, if you come up with a plan, I’d love to help too. Your dad’s as awful as any mob boss.”
Celia: “What do you plan with the Mafia? Can I help?”
GM: Roderick rubs his head. “It’s embarrassing to admit this, but I got… distracted.”
“That sounds so stupid, I know. But it’s just such a big endeavor and there’s always more Kindred things demanding attention.”
Celia: “No, I get it. That’s kind of… I mean, like you said, I haven’t moved against Maxen either.”
“Maybe we can make a plan together.”
GM: “I’d like that. Help each other destroy our respective monsters.”
Celia: Her thumb traces circles across the back of his hand.
“I think we’ll give them something to finally worry about.”
GM: He wraps an arm around her shoulder.
Celia: It’s natural to let her head fall onto his shoulder. To scoot closer to him so he doesn’t need to lean to put his arm around her. She should have had this. All this time, she should have had this. They should have had this. She won’t mess it up again. Even if they don’t do anything more than this—even if they never get together—she can be his friend, at least, or ally, or something.
Maybe that can be enough. Make up for all the wrongs she’s ever done. Help him take down his demons.
“I missed you,” she finally says. The words are halting, like she doesn’t trust him not to throw them back in her face, but she says them anyway. “So much.”
GM: They’re not the first time she’s said them.
He doesn’t answer, immediately, but holds her close. She can feel his heart beating. There’s warmth to his skin. It’s not real, she knows. It’s from the vitae circulating through his system. But it’s so easy to think of it as real, in the moment. She thought her kind were good at surviving without warmth.
Maybe they’re not any good at it. Maybe they just don’t have any choice, and that’s why everything has to be horrible.
It feels good, just to lean against her man, head on his shoulder, and feel his warm skin against hers.
Or whatever he now is.
“I’m sorry I got mad at you for telling the truth,” he says.
Outside, it’s starting to rain. Celia can hear the steady patter-patter against the windows.
Celia: She almost tells him that it’s fine.
She swallows the words instead. It isn’t fine. But it’s over, and they’re here now, and that’s what counts. That’s what has to count. Not years-old aches and pains.
“I shouldn’t have lied. It was wrong of me. Everything I did… it was wrong. I’m sorry.”
GM: “Coco said to me, once, that it’s unfair to say Kindred are creatures of the past.”
“Maybe we are, on some level.”
“But we’re also creatures of unlimited potential. Because we have forever. We don’t run out of time, at least naturally. We can always reinvent ourselves.”
“We can always be something else, something better, tomorrow.”
Celia: “That night, she and I talked. And I asked her if it was ridiculous to think that love exists between Kindred. If I’m searching for something, chasing something, that will never happen.”
GM: “What’d she say?”
Overhead, the rain falls and plunks.
Celia: “That it’s hard. Rare. The exception rather than the rule.”
“But that it can happen.”
GM: “That’s better than never. That’s hope.”
Celia: It’s not what she wants to hear. She nods, though, because she isn’t ready to push him, and he isn’t ready to be pushed.
GM: He looks up at the ceiling. Holds her close.
He seems to waver for a moment, then says, “She was complicit. I’ve been complicit.”
“In what happened. That massacre.”
The words seem to leave him smaller. Hollow.
Celia: She nestles against him. She doesn’t breathe, doesn’t blink, doesn’t let the forced beat of her heart betray her. She just listens. Waits. When he pauses, she gives him a gentle prompting, voice hardly louder than the rain outside the window.
GM: “She… god, Celia. I shouldn’t be talking about this. My dad said to me, when you tell secrets that aren’t yours, you’re telling anyone who hears them that you can’t be trusted.”
“But I can’t, I can’t keep this to myself. I can’t not… not confess.”
“So I’m an accomplice if I say nothing, and I’m untrustworthy if I do. Lose-lose either way.”
Celia: She lifts her head enough to touch a hand to his cheek, to meet his eyes. “I don’t think you’re untrustworthy because you unburden your conscience.”
GM: “But what about revealing things I’ve been trusted with, in confidence?”
“It’s the cornerstone of attorney-client privilege. What lets everyone get fair counsel and representation under the law.”
Celia: “I trust you. I trusted you back then, and I trust you now. If you hear something… if it’s better to talk about it than hold it in… even if it hurts, isn’t it better to let it go? You told me that, once. You’d rather know the truth. You don’t want the beautiful lies.”
She puts it into her voice. The pain she’d felt at betraying him all those years ago. The ache she’s carried since. Losing him. Telling him she’d trusted him all those years ago only for him to turn on her in a moment of rage. Telling her that he could forgive her and then beating her into a bloody, messy pulp instead. The fear she’d felt when she’d opened the door this evening—had to be fear, didn’t it? Asking—begging—him not to hit her. All those steps she’d taken to keep her home from getting ruined and he’d done it anyway, forcing her to hide from him. But here she is, on the couch with him, wrapped in his arms, close enough that a simple squeeze could immobilize her. Offering herself to him anyway, despite the things that he has done, despite what he could do.
It’s an old tactic. The old manipulation: to hit him where it hurts. To find his shame and play it up. And she knows what shames him. She leans into it. They’ve come this far. Gotten this much. Every word, every action this evening has been to wrap him further around her fingers, to bring him to this confession. The mask she wears for Roderick: trusting, naive, helpless. The Beauty to her Beast. And how well she plays that card, how well that mask covers up the lie within.
Trust, she tells him.
GM: He stares up at the ceiling. Listens to the rain. Maybe tries to listen to his conscience. Or just look for his conscience.
But Celia’s there to say:
“She knew it was coming.”
His voice is quiet.
“She and Opal.”
“That Vidal wanted to butcher as many thin-bloods in one place as he could. Because that’s how it works, with him. Change the system from within.”
“Well, you don’t get to do that without being part of the system. You want him to do something for you, you have to do something for him. Way of the world.”
Celia: She keeps her voice clear of judgment. Neutral. Like the face that she puts on for him—though she is tucked against him and he cannot see it anyway, her mask is on. No anger. No sadness. Nothing but compassion for the position that he’s in. Difficult, to stand by and watch them be slaughtered.
“Did you know?” she asks him.
GM: “Before it happened… no. God, no. I don’t know if I could’ve… if I could’ve just done nothing.”
“And she told me that. Why she didn’t tell me. That my spirit was admirable, that I was a good person, why she Embraced me, and all that.”
“But that I still had a lot to learn about how the world worked. About the way things really are, the invisible axis the world turns on.”
“She said it was horrible. Acknowledged it. Though I don’t know if she really meant that, or was just saying it for me. I’ve seen that look in her eyes, that they give her.”
“She said it was horrible, but that it was the only way forward for the Anarchs. That it would’ve happened with her or without her. That Vidal could’ve found someone else to turn coat, even if she hadn’t slipped him all the details of the meeting. That he probably already had found someone else to turn coat, just to be sure she was being honest with him. Hell, she said that’s what she’d have done if she were Vidal. To be totally sure that both her Anarch informants were being honest. Get verification from multiple sources.”
“She said Vidal would’ve sent the sheriff, scourge, and all the others to go wipe out the thin-bloods anyway. And even if there wasn’t a meeting, he’d have just done sweep after sweep through Mid-City to get as many as he could.”
“And I told her I didn’t accept that, that you can always do something. If the Nazis demand Jews, do you just turn them over? How does history judge the collaborators over the people who fought back and sacrificed their lives? How can anyone say they’d rather not be one of those heroes than a collaborator? Saying ‘it would’ve happened anyway’ is making excuses.”
Celia: “You weren’t complicit.” Her words are quiet but certain. “You weren’t complicit if you didn’t know. You stood up against them all. You’re not a collaborator.”
GM: “I… I’ll get to that.”
“She told me the comparison was bullshit, essentially. She said thin-bloods weren’t innocent Jews, they were vampires, they had blood on their hands just like us. She said the Camarilla weren’t the Nazis. That its existence and the vampiric population control it enforces and the Masquerade are wins for humanity. She said that the problems with the Camarilla and its leadership were eternal, not like a breather Hitler who’d just get old and die someday.”
“And she said the good we do can also be eternal, and that older Kindred who could effect real change couldn’t throw away their unlives irresponsibly. That they had to judge where they could do the most good where they could, otherwise they’d do no good at all.”
“There was… there was more to it. More reasons. More rationales. Maybe you can think of some of them. She’s convincing. Really convincing. There’s a reason the Anarchs all look up to her as a leader.”
“And I think she really does care about them, about the Anarch cause, not like some other elder who’s completely selfish. She really does want to make the world a better place and Kindred society more egalitarian.”
“I mean, how do you argue with that? With someone who’s really and truly convinced they’re doing the right thing?”
“But I guess that’s stupid, because who actually thinks they’re doing the wrong thing and does it anyway. Even Vidal probably thinks he’s doing the right thing.”
Celia: “Some people know. They know and don’t care because it’s easy or convenient.”
GM: “I think they’re a minority. I hope they’re a minority. Even mob bosses can think what they’re doing is right in their own twisted way. People’s capacity to rationalize and make excuses is pretty much unlimited.”
Celia: The people who know and don’t do anything differently aren’t usually the ones in charge. They’re the ones following orders. Like Roderick.
But she doesn’t say it. She just runs a hand down his back, squeezes the other. I’m here, that touch says.
GM: “She just said this is how it works, if you want to work with Vidal. It’s all in or all out with him. You can’t get something for nothing.”
“She says a bunch of neonates try that with elders. They flatter them and offer to be their ‘ear to the ground’ or some other bullshit. To make noise about supporting them but not really do anything more than hang around and expect patronage and support. She calls it ‘selling hot air.’”
“But that doesn’t work with Vidal, or any elder. You want something from them, you have to fucking pay your way.”
“So, she helped. For all those reasons and a whole bunch more. Skipped town when it happened. Would’ve eroded her and Opal’s authority with the Anarchs, wouldn’t it, if all they did was stand by and watch during the sheriff’s bloodbath?”
“Hell, the whole thing even enhanced their authority. Any Anarch can point to it and say, ‘look what happens when the big mama and big sister aren’t here to stick up for us!’”
“God, I just think how it would’ve played out. If she and Opal were there and didn’t just let the sheriff do what they did. They could’ve rallied everyone. Morale is such a huge determinant in how battles go, and Vidal didn’t fucking want a battle. He wanted to neuter us through fear. We already outnumbered the Sanctified, and to have two serious heavy hitters on our side…”
“I just think how it could’ve gone. I’ve poured over it. So many things that could’ve gone differently.”
“And… and you should’ve heard what it was like, at the next Cabildo meeting. The elders were fucking celebrating. All talking about how pleased they were with the sheriff, how neat and clean the whole slaughter was, how the Anarchs were all nice and cowed and reminded of their place. You should have just heard all the things they were saying. It was unbelievable.”
Celia: She’d been right. Opal and Coco, she’d been right. The paper confirmed it, and now her childe as well. She doesn’t pull away. He needs strength now, not gloating, not sneering. Gentle understanding to get him through the worst of it. Are there adequate words? She can’t think of any. She just looks at him, long and solemn, hurt in her eyes. For him. For carrying this burden for so long.
“You did everything you could. They would have killed you, too.”
GM: He closes his eyes for a moment.
“But I’ve kept quiet about it. I haven’t said, done, anything. I’m there for every meeting, taking notes, listening to them.”
“I don’t think Coco and Opal said aloud they helped it happen, because what does that gain them. But the other elders aren’t stupid. All of them are smart, duplicitous, cynical. I think they all know. Except maybe Hurst, but he’s not a real elder.”
“And they’re all 100% behind the continued sweeps and purges. That’s one of the big reasons they don’t do anything about Caitlin Meadows. Because sure, she’s a mad dog off her leash, but she still goes after as many thin-bloods as she can, and they’re all happy with that. Happy with how many she kills.”
“All of that’s going on. And they help. They volunteer intelligence, strategies, recommendations. They pass it on to Maldonato to pass down to the sheriff. It’s still going on.”
“And I’m complicit.”
Celia: It smolders in her mind. Satisfaction. That she’d been right. This whole time. People think she’s stupid—he, apparently, thinks she’s stupid—but she’s right. Always. When it comes to other people, she’s always right. She’s made mistakes, and those weigh heavily on her, but she’s not some dumb air-head, she’s not just an image-obsessed Toreador and social media influencer. Even mistakes have been spun into victories.
She’d been right about the Cabildo the first time around, too. When she’d said that he was keeping secrets that the city deserves to know. That night in the car—she’d been right, and he had tried to lie to her, but she had known. Had let him win the battle. He hadn’t trusted her then, and she wonders at this sudden trust he shows now, if he is more coy than he seems. A lawyer presenting a poisoned gift. Misinformation. She doesn’t think so. His concern for his sister is real. His surprise that night had been real. That night the horror had been too fresh, perhaps.
Already she thinks of how to spin this. How to protect her own assets—protect him, because even after all this time she aches for him—her own end game, while furthering those of whom she serves.
She doesn’t let it distract her from the boy in her arms. She draws him in, lets him lay his head upon her breast, presses her lips to his temple. Her fingers are feather-light, sliding through his hair, down his neck, his back. Long, slow, stroking movements. They are the same that she ends her tablework with, they calm the body and bring everything to a nice close. Kindred might not have that same physiological response, but Roderick surely has memories that this sort of touch evokes: skinned knees as a child, comfort after losing his grandfather, the months of practice she had gotten in on him before her Embrace. The body holds memories and she summons them now with her fingers and hands, taking him back to a better time. A more innocent time.
She is quiet for a moment. Lets her touch work on him. Lets him take comfort from it, if he does, or stew in his emotions. His guilt and shame and grief over his own action—or there lack of. It is not a judgmental, uncomfortable silence. It is a contemplative silence. I hear you, that silence says, I’m here for you, I’ll help you.
A beat. Two. Three. Long enough that he knows she thought about her next words, that she considered what he said and her own response rather than blurting out the first thing to come to mind, that she does not offer an empty platitude.
“I understand your pain, Roderick. I understand how you feel, and why you feel. But knowing about the sword… that does not mean you swung it. You cannot blame yourself for the actions of other people. Those who died at that first massacre, that is not on you. The order came down from Vidal. From the Camarilla at large. His minions carried it out. Others stood aside, or made a stand, or did what they thought was right even if it wasn’t.”
“You tried. You stood up. You were the vocal minority. Your Blood saved you, yes, and think of… think of how good that is now. What you can do, how you can change things. You said to me once how we need to learn from the past. That it informs our future, our present. So we take this, and we go forward. We can’t get anywhere in our unlives if we stare in the rear-view mirror, but it is there for a reason.”
Unless there’s more. Her voice does not betray her, but the question is there all the same. Unless there’s more you haven’t gotten to yet, unless you are an active participant and not a bystander.
The rain lashes against the windows. How well the night reflects her own moods, she thinks, that the heavens cry when she cannot, that they weep for her and the boy in her arms. Boy, because he was innocent once, though their kind no longer subscribes to such things. Lick, then. Kindred. Rain sent to echo her own sentiments. Rain to wash away the stains of their souls, perhaps. Or a darker omen yet. Had it rained the night of her Embrace? Within the arms of her sire nothing touched her, nothing but his lips at her throat, her mind inside of his. Safe, despite the horror she found lurking. Safe, despite her death at his hands. Their souls touched that night. More of her innocence drained away. She shed her mortal coils.
Is this evening, too, a turning stone for him? A dark, spiraling stair that will lead him down a path from which he can never return? She is the sire, then, sent to guide him down. Savoy compared her once to Aphrodite, but perhaps she is Charon, and this his river Styx.
GM: Roderick can’t sigh under her touch, at least not without forcing it. Some parts of the flesh stay dead after they die. But he looks relaxed. Content to close his eyes and lie there against her, perhaps remembering those same earlier times as Celia’s practiced fingers works her magic. Evening study sessions at his place with junk food, some with actual studying, and head for massages. It was a good trade.
For a while they just lie there as rainfall beats against the windows in dull, tearful plunks. Solitary rowers along their River Styx.
There’s worse analogies for the already dead.
“So, say we get out Danielle. Then… what? I just stay with Coco? Keep taking notes every meeting at the Cabildo nothing’s happening? Should I even be this worked up about duskborn when they’re still vampires?”
“There’s so much about Coco I respect, that I look up to. She’s done so much for me. I know I’ve wound up with as good a sire as any lick could ask for, in so many different ways.”
“I believe in her vision. I want to help it succeed.”
“But as much as I hate to admit it… Vidal is a greater evil than Savoy. He just is, in so many ways.”
“And I wonder if Coco made a huge mistake a hundred years ago, and the real reason she’s still with Vidal is that it’s too late to reverse course without destroying everything she’s built.”
“So if get out Dani… then what? What’s the right thing to do next?”
Celia: “I was going to ask you,” Celia says quietly, “why she stayed with him. After the massacre. After the trial. What keeps her there when… I know he’s not the ideal ruler, but to displace the prince… She has that sway, I think.”
GM: “What, overthrow the prince?”
Celia: “Or defect. Switch sides. I just… from everything you’ve told me, I don’t understand.”
GM: “She can’t overthrow Vidal. He’s too strong. And she doesn’t believe violent Kindred revolutions ultimately lead anywhere good, even if they succeed.”
“Savoy’s been trying to woo her for a long time, anyway. She says she doesn’t trust him. That with Vidal, you’re at least dealing with a known evil. A predictable evil. Because he’s guided by an actual ideology and follows it even when it’s politically inconvenient.”
Celia: “Do you think that’s all it is?”
GM: “She says if you really make an effort understand the Sanctified, don’t just dismiss their dogma as a bunch of fundamentalist bullshit, you can understand Vidal. And that in the long run, having a prince you can predict and plan around is the important thing. It’s what’s let her establish everything we have in Mid-City, and that really is a lot. Vidal used to just kill or exile Anarchs wherever he found them.”
“But with Savoy, she says he’s not motivated by anything besides political convenience. That he doesn’t give a shit about ideology or anything else, except what’s best for Savoy. And that’s always going to shift, depending on the current landscape.”
“I guess that makes sense enough, though it’s not impossible there could be more. She doesn’t tell me everything.”
“But right now, even if she were to defect, I think it might be too late. Because Veronica did first.”
“And no offense to your sire, but… I don’t think she has the Anarchs’ best interests at heart. Or really anyone’s besides her own.” A pause. “She raped you.”
Celia: Celia forces air through her nose. It might be a huff. Or a laugh.
“She looks out for herself,” she agrees. “But that doesn’t mean Coco can’t also switch.”
GM: “Yeah, and say she does, what kind of welcome do you think she’s going to get from Veronica, from Savoy, from the Anarchs who already have?”
Celia: “Veronica sneers at everyone. That’s nothing new. But if Savoy has been pursuing Coco… could be there’s something there to look into at least.”
Not that Coco is simply going to defect because of a sales pitch.
GM: “Yeah? Think about it some more. Veronica’s #1 among the Anarchs on Savoy’s side. Coco shows up, but she’s used to being #1 with Opal. Can you guess where that might go?”
“And then there’s Savoy. Coco will have less leverage over him. Less clout. She’s late to the party. Missed the chance to get in on the ground floor.”
Celia: “I know. Maybe you’re right. I just… it was just wishful thinking, I guess. That you and I…”
GM: “It’s just… big-shot Kindred like her, you can’t convert with just a sales pitch. Something needs to actually happen to shift the landscape for them.”
“Like Matheson using your sister as his, I guess sex slave. That’s what moved Veronica.”
Celia: Her mouth flattens into a line.
“Yeah,” she says coldly.
GM: He frowns. “Sorry, did I say something wrong?”
Celia: “No. That whole thing. That he got off. It’s bullshit.”
GM: “100%. He was guilty as fuck. Vidal just didn’t want to admit another blue blood did anything wrong.”
Celia: “He fucked with her, and then he… He fucked with her mind.”
GM: “Were you and Ryllie that close? I know you were on opposite sides.”
“I mean, I know Veronica’s cut her completely out.”
Celia: “We got along. Veronica made sure of it. Didn’t want her childer fighting or showing anything less than a unified front. Bad reflection on her, she said. And… yeah, I mean, I liked her. I would have been right there with you guys if things hadn’t… you know.”
“Even if we hadn’t been. No one deserves that.”
GM: Roderick looks surprised. “Huh. Didn’t expect that when she has such a shitty relationship with her sire and grandsire.”
“But… yeah. I’m sorry, too. But I don’t know if you could’ve done anything.”
Celia: “I’m not my sire, though. Not my father. Not my mother. She’s isolated a lot of people with her venom, but I try to not let that affect my relationships with them. It’s just burning bridges for no reason.”
“Honestly, I wonder if the prince let him off because he does the same thing.”
GM: “Of course he did. They all do. Donovan would’ve ashed me if it weren’t for my sire.”
GM: “Don’t tell me you’re surprised. I mean, he said so.”
Celia: “That all of them…” She thinks they might be talking about different things.
GM: “All of them what?”
Celia: “I thought you meant all the elders use neonates like that. I was just kind of being catty and then you were like ‘they all do.’ But that isn’t what you meant.”
Oh fuck. Is it?
GM: He might blink, if he were alive. “Oh. No, I didn’t mean that. I thought you meant just judge every neonate on who their sire is.”
“They couldn’t all do that, what Matheson did. Just… no way.”
Celia: “But… but him? The prince?” She’s afraid to say his name. Afraid to speak too loudly, even here, about something this blasphemous. Her snide, off-hand remark… it can’t possibly be… She swallows.
“You say ‘all’ like you think there are others.”
GM: “Somewhere, out there, absolutely. Of course there’s more. In New Orleans… I dunno.”
“I hope not.”
“If there are any, they’re better at hiding it than Matheson.”
Celia: “I kept thinking about doing something ridiculous. Like going to him and letting him do it to me so I could show them what he does, that it’s all true, that they’re covering for him.”
GM: “That’s way too dangerous,” Roderick says sharply. “Matheson knows Vidal can’t bail him out twice. He’d be on guard, he’d kill you if he thought for a moment, for a moment-”
Celia: “I know that.” His concern is touching, though.
GM: “Okay. I just don’t want that to happen to you. I see how fucked up Ryllie still is.”
Celia: Celia’s gaze softens. “Does she talk about it at all?”
GM: “Sure, for a while. She wouldn’t shut up about it. How great Matheson is, how completely innocent, how she wants to see him again so bad.”
Celia: “And now?”
GM: “I started going apeshit over it. That finally made her stop.”
“Sometimes I think we need lick therapists or something. Go through shit like that.”
GM: “I hear there’s some who are Malks. Sounds safer just to go crazy by yourself.”
Celia: “Sometimes my clients treat me like a therapist. They just, like, unload. Divorce, fertility problems, nightmares, how much they hate their neighbors or mothers or bosses.” She shakes her head, smiles ruefully. “I should start charging them more.”
GM: “I remember. You told me all about how that’s a thing. I’m still a little amazed they say so much.”
“But I guess, what else do you do when you’re lying on a chair for hours around someone you never see anywhere else.”
“Do your family do that at all, when you’re working on them, or does it only really happen with people who are pure clients?”
Celia: “Both. Mom talks a lot when I work on her, Emily usually falls asleep. She needs it, though. Final year of med school and all. A lot of times it’s clients, but I see them so often it’s almost like we’re friends sometimes. Like I could tell you what they’re in school for and who is dating who and what their kids are up to, and I’ve been invited to a fair few events, and some of them get me birthday or Christmas presents.”
“If Piper and I trade she just talks my ear off the whole time. Really just depends on the person, I guess, if they’re more inclined to open up or not.” A brief pause. “We used to talk. Before you fell asleep. And drooled.” She sticks her tongue out at him.
Even that time he’d thought she was a stranger he’d talked.
“I think I still have my old table in the closet. If you want to relax and just take your mind off things for a bit.”
GM: “That’s sweet, with your clients. You can get to know people pretty intimately as a lawyer, but usually not in that same way.”
“And I did not drool!”
Celia: “Dude. You 100% did.”
GM: “Pics or it didn’t happen.”
Celia: “You snored, too.” Celia makes a chainsaw sound with her mouth, snorting in air.
GM: “I did not snore. I’m civilized.”
Celia: She laughs.
“All right. You’re right, actually.”
GM: “See? Law school was good for something,” he smirks.
“But as far as your table… that sounds great, but we also got side-tracked.” His face grows stiller as he pulls Celia closer. The rain’s steady patter fills the silence.
“Assuming everything with Dani goes off without a hitch… what do you think the right thing is for me to do, with Coco?”
“I didn’t want to… well, betray her, but I can’t accept or condone Vidal’s regime. It’s been getting worse and worse.”
Celia: It’s a sobering question. The laughter in her eyes dies, and her mouth pulls down at the corners. She tucks herself against him, head on his shoulder, arms around his neck, taking and offering what comfort she can from the closeness of their bodies. It’s not the same to some—a lot of licks don’t like being touched—but to her it’s as natural as anything else, and their history together… she hopes it’s helping him, too.
“It has been getting worse.” Even shielded from the worst of it, she knows how bad it’s getting. “If you want to make a change… it’s not betrayal, Roderick, not if she’s not doing the right thing. You can help so many people. Everyone in this city. All the thin-bloods. The Caitiff. Anyone who has ever been hunted down by Donovan or Meadows.”
“No one deserves to die because of an accident of Embrace. That’s like saying someone should be put down because they’re black. Or half black. Or Jewish.”
GM: Maybe it’s not a question of being touched or not. Just by who.
He shifts, running one arm along her neck and shoulders, hooks the other around her back.
“But it’s being a traitor. A Quisling. Stabbing her in the back, when she’s counting on me. Been so much to me.”
Celia: “It’s not. It’s doing the right thing in the face of adversity. It’s not like you’re going to literally stab her in the back, it’s not like she’s going to suffer or be overthrown or taken down from power.”
“Once things change… once things change we just, we adapt.”
GM: “Is it? I mean, Vidal’s going to konk out, soon. That’s going to change everything.” His brow furrows. “I think you have a really… a really rosy view of what the city’s going to look like, if you don’t think any licks are going to die. Or that Coco’s going to be immune, if she backs the losing side.”
“There are lots of organisms that die if they can’t adapt. We tend to forget that part of natural selection.”
Celia: “I don’t think no one’s going to die. I just… I think you’re being overly pessimistic about it, and you’re conflicted because you care about Coco, and you don’t want to hurt her. And that’s admirable. It really is. But just… you said yourself she made a mistake. And she’s helping them exterminate people. People like us. People like your sister.”
“If you’re worried about it getting back to her…” She lifts her hand momentarily, shoving it through the curls that crowd her face. “I told you that I will always, always have your back. That if you’re in trouble I’ll be there for you. And if you need a fall guy… fuck, Roderick, if you need a fall guy, what am I doing with my Requiem anyway?”
GM: “Look, I appreciate that, but… Celia, seriously, picture it!” Roderick exclaims. “We take the Traditions and Vidal’s peace for granted, but cities fall into civil war. It happens. There is no police force to keep all vampires playing nice with each other. The archons and justicars are too few to be everywhere at once. A lot of cities are on their own. It happened in Baton Rouge. Meeks didn’t just drive out Marcel, he killed a bunch of the old prince’s supporters too. It happened in Houston, when the Anarchs overthrew the Invictus and killed a bunch of them.”
“Coco says when that happens, even uninvolved licks take advantage of the violence to kill off rivals, settle old scores, or just get caught up in the bloodlust and lash out because it’s what everyone else is doing. A ‘Mardi Gras’ effect, where the whole city just goes crazy. And the winners usually don’t offer much quarter to the losers. They kill them to nip any future threats to their power in the bud. Or just to open up more domains and influence for themselves, because licks don’t ever get old and retire. There are a ton of licks who’ll have every reason to make a run at Coco. Your sire honestly being one of them.”
“Coco’s seen it happen, in Paris, where the bloodshed lasted for years. She was even there for it in Houston during Katrina. The fact we had that archon, North, show up last month should tell you how seriously licks are taking this.”
“I really don’t think you understand just how bad things could get.”
Celia: Maybe. Maybe she doesn’t. Maybe her position as Savoy’s favorite grandchilde (she assumes) has kept her from the worst of it. Has left her free to pursue her various interests rather than getting into the thick and heavy of it. She struggled as a mortal, but here? No. She woke up on the lap of luxury here. She’s been privileged.
“Twenty-three people slaughtered in one night. Countless more dead at the sheriff’s hands, at Meadows’ hands, at Vidal’s hands, with all their sweeps and raids.”
She doesn’t need to say it. It’s the old conductor on a track problem: does he change course to the one he knows, or does he let hundreds be slaughtered in her stead?
GM: “Look, forget that right now! Celia, I need to hear you’re taking this seriously. That you have a plan in case things get that bad.”
“Because the primogen take it seriously. Especially recently, since the trial. They’ve talked about what they might do if things get to the point of open war.”
“And they say some of the heaviest fighting is likely to be in the Quarter. Because Savoy doesn’t actually hold a lot of physical territory, even if the Quarter is valuable real estate, and has crammed so many licks into the neighborhoods he does have.”
Celia: “…are you asking if I have a plan for me?”
GM: “Yes! If you know what you’re going to do if the worst happens, if the Quarter turns into a giant bloodbath!”
Somehow, she thought he wouldn’t give a fuck. That he doesn’t care.
She doesn’t know what to say.
“I don’t have a detailed plan,” she finally admits.
GM: “Okay, well, you don’t need to feel bad about that. A lot of licks don’t. They just get swept up in the violence, or told to go fight by their elders. They’re also the ones who usually die.”
“So, with you, I don’t know how likely Savoy is to press-gang you into a war coterie. Because, well, I never got around to teaching you how to fight, and he might not think you can.”
“I should still do that. And you maybe shouldn’t tell him you know how, after I do.”
Celia: Would Savoy send her to die? Would he?
She doesn’t want to think it, but… it might be true. That they’d just send her off to fight as if she knows how. Neither one of them had cared that she’d almost died two days ago. She hasn’t even heard from her sire, and it was him she reached out to.
Is this why Savoy lets the thin-bloods and Caitiff into the Quarter? Because he’s planning for open war?
And she’s… as ignorant as her daddy used to say.
“Oh,” she says finally. Quietly. “Okay. I can… you’ll show me?”
GM: “Yes. I will. Obviously, it’s better if you don’t have to fight at all, but it could happen. Even if you’re doing your utmost to stay out.”
Celia: She doesn’t want to think about it. Doesn’t want to think about a horde of licks coming after her because of who she chose to back. Being torn apart in the streets. Staked and left for the sun. Heart ripped out. Soul cleaved from her body.
“I’m good at hiding,” she suggests, but even to her own ears the words sound… lame.
GM: “Okay, so if you want to hide out, that’s probably a good idea. There’s almost guaranteed to be fighting at the Evergreen.”
“Coco and most of the elders have secure bolt holes, around the city. Emergency havens no one else knows about, with provisions like blood, weapons, burner phones, survival gear. Plus food and toiletries for renfields. Places they can hide out if things turn ugly and their main hangouts get compromised. I don’t know where Coco’s is—better that way.”
“Some elders, I think, don’t have bolt holes, and just focus on making their main havens as secret, fortified, and well-stocked as possible.”
Celia: She cannot help but look around the room. This was supposed to be her secret haven. But Roderick knows. And her sire knows. And if they know—it’s possible to keep a secret, but only if the other two are dead.
She hadn’t thought about it. What it would mean if Vidal fell. Somehow, she’d thought she would be safe. It’s an error that could have cost her everything. Safe place. Supplies. She can start on that, at least. Perhaps more muscle to add to her retinue should, God forbid, Randy fall.
“You have a plan, right? For you?”
GM: “I guess you could say. I’ll be in one of those war coteries.”
Celia: Is her mouth always this dry?
GM: He shakes his head.
“Someone has to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty. Licks fight other licks. They can’t all sit out.”
“Wouldn’t be much of a war if everyone holed up in their havens.”
Celia: “You can’t.” She says it again, as if it will change his mind, as if her insistence has any bearing here. Her arms tighten around him. He can’t. He’ll die. She can’t lose him. Not again. Not after last time. She’d barely survived it then, and here he is talking about marching off to war. Maybe she says it out loud, that she can’t lose him, maybe she gets the words out around the ache in her jaw that makes it so hard to talk, the pressure in the corners of her eyes, the searing agony in the middle of her chest that makes it hard to even bring the air into her lungs so she can form the words.
GM: Roderick holds her close, but only shakes his head.
“This is how it is, Celia. My sire’s done a lot for me. I’ve enjoyed what a lot of licks would call significant privilege. But that isn’t free. My sire helps me out, so I have to help her out. And if things get to the point of open war, that’s when she’ll need me most.”
“And it’s not just her. If I jumped ship to Savoy, you can bet he’d expect me to fight his enemies, because I know how to fight.”
“And it’s not like I’m being press-ganged. If I acquit myself well, I’ll get rewarded. Coco says there’s usually lots of spoils to go around after a war. Just like if I turn tail and run, my name’ll be mud.”
“But for what it’s worth, if, things get to the point of open fighting, Coco said she won’t be sending me out to die in her name. She’ll fight beside me the whole time.”
“She fights her own battles, not like Vidal and Savoy. They’ll probably just hole up in Perdido House or the Evergreen and let the city’s neonates die for them.”
Celia: “If. If you do. If you win. If you don’t die. If someone doesn’t take your head off.”
She’s seen him move. A blur. A fucking blur. How do you fight a blur? You don’t. You can’t. It’s just there and then it’s not. And he’s not the only monster out there, not the only one that Roderick would be going up against.
She was that fast once, and even she was no match.
GM: “If all that happens…?”
Celua: “You said it. If. If is a… it’s a terrible word, Roderick, it’s a terrible, terrible word. Two letters but it changes everything.”
“What if you do. Sure. But what if you don’t? What if you don’t acquit yourself well because you’re dead? Because someone got to you? And I’m just supposed to—supposed to be okay with that?”
GM: He gives her a squeeze. “Well, I hope you’d be pretty sad for me, at first. But I also hope you’d learn to be okay and move on. What’s the alternative?”
Celia: Hunt down the person who killed him and make them pay. Rip them apart. With hand and claw and fang.
GM: “Now, look. All of what I’m describing might not happen,” he says assuringly. “It isn’t guaranteed. None of the elders want there to be war, for a whole bunch of reasons. It could cost them everything and elders hate taking risks that big. War is the worst case scenario.”
“But it is a possible scenario. That might be why the archon showed up, and why the elders are all preparing for it, just in case. And why I want you to prepare for it too.”
Celia: “What do you use to fight? Do you have a weapon?”
GM: “Don’t need one. I’m better at super-speed than super-strength, all that baseball practice I guess, but these things are as lethal as any stabbing instrument close up.” He holds up one of his hands. “I’ve done a lot of training, with Coco and other Anarchs.”
“I’m also a decent shot. Guns without serious stopping power are mostly useless against licks, but you never know. Still good for picking off renfields. So I’ve got a few firearms too.”
Celia: Celia shakes her head. She holds up her own hand, her skin soft and supple, her nails painted in whorls of white and gold and pink, crystals dotted across them. She shows him her hand… and then the change happens. Her cuticles split. The keratin of her nails hardens. Lengthens. Becomes as sharp as any scalpel. Thick claws spring from the tips of her fingers, like a cat who has decided to finally attack the hand that rubs it. Beautiful claws, an ombre of black to red, with pointed tips that can sink into anything.
She holds it out so he can see. So he can touch. Test the sharpness for himself, if he wants.
“I can show you how.”
“Maybe they’re not good for every situation. But if it gives you an edge…”
GM: “Whoa, neat trick. I didn’t know you’d picked up morphing.”
He runs his fingers along the claws, holds them up experimentally, then smirks.
“They’re even pretty.”
Celia: “Everything I do is pretty.”
GM: “It sure is. Looks like I can show you how to fight and you can show me how to sprout claws.”
“They’re something I could keep in reserve. Useful if I’m pinned or on the ground and can’t leverage my full strength. Or just pop out when I’m really close to someone. Or surprise someone with them in the middle of a fight, if I suddenly change modes of attack.”
“Coco says all warfare is based on deception, like the book says, and that’s just as true in hand-to-hand fights as anywhere else.”
Celia: She waits until he’s done with them to let them sink back into her flesh. They disappear as if they had never been there, and once more her neatly manicured nails are in place.
“They have all sorts of uses. No one expects them, not really. It’s an easy trick, but an advantageous one. Like you said, deception.”
GM: “I think they expect them if you’re a Gangrel. But who does from a Brujah or Toreador?”
Celia: “Exactly.” She pauses a moment. Her hands are on his arm suddenly, pulling it from around her shoulder to across her lap. She unfastens the cuffs of his button-down shirt and slides the fabric to his elbow. Her hands splay across his forearm, the tip of her pink at his wrist, thumb extended as far as it can go. Her other hand completes the line, thumb touching to thumb, and only once the second hand is set in position does she move the first, lining it up with the crook of his elbow. She mouths a number.
Too tall. Not by much, but by too much for her to do anything with right now. She shakes her head. She’ll make another. More money. She’ll have to give the Nosferatu something besides money, then. Or borrow from Savoy. It won’t come cheaply. Maybe Pietro…? She’ll talk to him.
GM: Roderick looks puzzled, but lets her work. “What’s this for?”
“Speaking of. How you turned into a cat earlier, you should take advantage of that if you get a safehouse. There’s all sorts of hard to find and hard to reach places a cat can get that a human can’t.”
“It’s a good form to sleep in during the day, too. Harder to stake a cat.”
Celia: “Easier to rip their heads off, though.”
She’d thought about that when he’d come charging at her earlier. How easy it would be for him to rip her apart.
“But yes. It’s useful for getting away from things and getting into things.”
GM: “It’s always better to avoid fights you don’t need. Cat form helps there.”
Celia: “I can’t sleep like that,” she admits. “I have to turn back eventually.”
“I could learn, maybe. I’ve heard it’s possible. That there are some Gangrel out there who spend more time as animals.”
She already knows how to cloak her Beast, too. She’d be just another house cat.
GM: “There’s a lot that is. If nothing else though, you could set up a a sleeping area somewhere that’s impossible to get into as a human, but easier as a cat.”
Celia: It’s something she’s been thinking about for a while, anyway.
“Yes,” she agrees, “I’m going to look into that.”
GM: “If you get an emergency haven, try not to have your real name attached to it. Well, names. Celia or Jade.”
Celia: Celia gives him a wry smile.
“This place has no name attached to it. I had a tutor once. Taught me a lot about the internet. How easy it is to track things like that. He could do some pretty scary things from a smartphone or a laptop. I try to remember what he taught me when it comes to safety.”
GM: “Okay, good. I was thinking more from a legal angle.” He thinks. “Does anyone else know about this place?”
Celia: “Oh. Explain.”
GM: “I just mean that’s what I’d do, if I were looking for someone. Try to run down as many things legally attached to their name as I could. There’s a ton of stuff you can find out about people through public records that lawyers know to look through, but a lot of people don’t.”
Celia: “That’s pretty creepy, to be honest. But also smart.”
“People think tech and records and everything are great, that we’re not giving away privacy, and sure sometimes it’s just to sell to advertisers. But then you’ve got people who really know how to look. How to dig. And it’s… it’s scary, sometimes, what someone can find out about you.”
GM: “It’s not as creepy as technology, honestly. Lot of those records have been around for a pretty long time. They’re not even that Orwellian. It is necessary to keep track of, say, what buildings are owned by what people.”
Celia: “Maybe I’ll hire you to do some digging once this whole thing blows over. There’s some land I want to develop that I keep putting off.”
GM: “There’s a fair amount of overlap between legal work and investigative work. Law firms hire PIs for things all the time. I know a bunch of them.”
“What land is that?”
Celia: “It’s in the Quarter. Savoy gave me the domain and I haven’t done much with it. I keep thinking it could be… better.”
“I mean. If I still have it after this.”
GM: “Well, it’s impossible to say for sure when a war is going to happen, or if one is even going to happen at all. So I’d keep living your unlife.”
Celia: “I know that shmuck owns a lot of land but I never did any digging into what I have.”
“That chicken guy. T-shirt guy. You know who I mean.”
GM: “The T-Shirt Czar. Pavaghi.”
GM: “Yeah, my dad doesn’t like him. I don’t like him.”
Celia: “Randy knows one of the kids. Said he’s a ‘total fucking scumbag douche with more money than brains’ and also a pig fucker.” Celia shrugs.
GM: “Also a decent bet someone that powerful has a lick behind them. No idea who it might be for Pavaghi, though.”
Celia: “Ah. Right. Well, I’m not looking to make enemies. Just develop some land.”
GM: “So you want to find out who owns it? You could actually probably do that yourself with some time on Qeeqle.”
Celia: “But then I don’t get to spend time with you.”
GM: “Ah, true. Guess the lawyer better handle it.”
Celia: She smiles at him. It’s a pretty smile, like the rest of her, and when she looks at him like that—with her face open and earnest—it’s easy to see the genuine emotion behind her eyes. Their kind are cool. Their bodies, their attitudes. But Celia has always been the exception to that rule. She’s warm where others are cold. Fire to their ice. She lets him see it: the affection. The yearning. Everything that has come up over the course of their conversation, every emotion that bubbled and gurgled, that she thought was long gone, dead and buried. She shows him.
GM: He runs a hand along her face and smiles. It looks like he needs it. Their kind may not get wrinkles, but Celia can see the weight and worry and internal struggle hanging heavy under his eyes. It’s an older sort of worry than a 31-year-old should have, and all the more out of place on his boyish college student features.
But the corners of his eyes do lift up, as he smiles at her smile.
“God, you can be so cute. In this earnest, direct, ‘yes I am cute’ way. It’s sweet and wholesome and good, and something worth protecting, and even being Kindred doesn’t take it away.”
“I think you get it from your mom. She’s really sweet, too. There’s just absolutely none of your dad in your face when you smile like that. I wouldn’t even think you were related to him.”
Celia: Her undead nature prevents her from blushing at his words. Her cheeks no longer burn like they used to, not without her consciously sending the blood there. But her lashes flutter and she leans into his hand, parting her lips to say—
Something. Something that’s cut off when he says what he does, cut off by a laugh.
“I’d hope not. ‘Jade’ shouldn’t look like either one of them.”
GM: “Your face might be different, but it’s like Coco says. Truth comes out.”
Celia: “Well I’m glad you think I’m still cute, at least. Even if you went on to compare me to my dad. Which is, decidedly, not sexy.”
“I knew a girl in grade school who people used to say looked like her dad, but then she’d come back with ‘I don’t have a mustache!’”
GM: “Ha. I wasn’t trying to be sexy, though. Beauty’s more than that.”
“Anyone can be sexy. But that smile, that kind of sweetness and inner beauty you can see shining out of someone’s face, that takes more.”
“You can’t fake that. Even though everyone wants to, wants to bottle it up and sell it and market it, but they can’t. It’s genuine.”
“I guess I’m ‘clansplaining,’ though.” He chuckles. “You’re the beauty experts.”
Celia: He thinks she’s sweet? That her beauty is inside and not just on the surface? Maybe it’s because he doesn’t know what she’s done. The terrible, terrible—
No. She’s not going to go down that line of thought. She’s not going to ruin this moment.
“Sometimes,” she says after a moment, “people tell me I’m pretty, and I just kind of… I mean, you know, like it’s just something people say, mindless flattery. But when you say it…” she touches a hand to her chest. “I feel it. And it just… makes me feel like I could fly, or something.”
GM: “Well, that’s what words should do. Lift people up. Help them soar.”
“But they can only lift up something that’s already there, that could already fly.”
Celia: She can’t go further down this line of conversation. Not without making a fool of herself. Neither one of them are ready to take that leap yet, she thinks.
Her eyes dart toward the window, though. She nods toward it.
“Should we test it?”
GM: Roderick laughs. “I’m fast, but I can’t actually fly like some licks can. Just jump really far.”
Celia: “I heard there was a lick that jumped to the moon, once.” She raises her eyebrows at him.
“Can you jump that far?”
GM: “Only if I’m carrying your heart.”
“Okay, that sounded smoother in my head. Not, like, literally.”
Celia: “I was, uh…” She starts laughing. She can’t help it. Not at him, though. With him. There’s a difference. “I was a little alarmed,” she manages.
GM: “But, seriously. I might not be able to hit the moon, but I could get pretty far, for you.”
Celia: Uncertainty flashes across her face. Just for a moment before it’s gone again, smoothed out in the wake of such a declaration. Her insides threaten to spill outward, like a can of soft drink that someone shook too hard. It bubbles and fizzes. Her hand touches his cheek.
She wants him.
But she’ll hurt him.
She knows it. It’s a certainty inside of her. He’ll get too close and he’ll get burned. She can’t be honest with him. Hasn’t been honest with him. Minuscule, tiny lies, but they tear at her. Her father. Her sire. Threaten to eat her from the inside out.
He’s too good for her. Even standing idly by while the Calbido makes their plans to slaughter thin-bloods and hide the existence of hunters—what is that compared to the decisive action she has taken?
Maybe he’s not too good for her. He can bring her back from the brink. Unbury the part of her she thought long dead. They can be there for each other. Isn’t that what matters?
But it’s so soon. So sudden. Unless he’s just been stuffing his feelings this whole time… has he been with no one else? Alone, all alone, in this vile city of sin and debauchery and corruption? He should not be half to weary as he is. And she can help. She can make it better. Can’t she? Without burning him?
It shouldn’t hurt this much. She doesn’t have to pretend around the other. He knows exactly who she is. She’d bared her soul to him, let him see the monster.
Celia tucks a strand of hair behind her ear. All these years she’s been holding out for someone who doesn’t want her. But he’s here for her now. He wants her. Doesn’t he? Isn’t that what he means? And her sire… he’ll never want her, not the way she wants him. She could be happy with Roderick. So happy. Even the thought of losing him makes her want to dissolve into a puddle of tears.
There’s uncertainty in her eyes when she looks to him. Hesitation. Longing.
She can be good. She can be better. If it means him, she can do better, can’t she? For him?
Yes, she thinks.
“Show me,” she says.
GM: “Oh, well, not right here,” he answers a little lamely. “There’s people around. Masquerade.”
Celia: Poor choice of words, Celia reflects. She hadn’t meant for him to show her that. Just the other thing, the implication behind his statements. It’s entirely possible she’s reading too much into it, though, and only hearing what she wants to hear. Her thumb runs across his cheek bone, as if she hadn’t thought about pouncing on him just now, as if she’s capable of keeping it in her pants. It’s not even that, though. She knows it, deep down. With other people it’s just sex, human or lick, just fucking. With him it’s… it’s more than that, she doesn’t even want to fuck him, not tonight, not like the licks do. She wants intimacy.
But if he wants to show off for her, who is she to stop him? Maybe he’ll even show her how to do it.
“It’s raining,” she points out. “We could sneak off somewhere. Probably not a lot of people out.” She wonders if Savoy has found a way to waterproof his rooftop garden, if his birds and butterflies stay dry. If he’s up there now, plotting, watching over the city. If the sheriff is out there on top of that skyscraper thinking the same thing. If he’s thinking about her. He’d have felt it if she died. Wouldn’t he? Savoy had felt her Embrace, it stands to reason they’d feel her death. Maybe he knows she can take care of herself. Knows she got out. That she’s safe.
Or maybe he doesn’t care.
She shouldn’t be thinking about it, though. It doesn’t matter. Their twisted romance is a one-way street, no matter how many times she’s played those scenes over in her mind. The hallway. Her Embrace. The roof.
“The roof.” She says this last bit aloud to him. “It’s higher than most of the buildings around here. Raining, dark, no lights up there. I mean, unless someone has some night-vision binoculars or something, knows where to look.”
Do they? Do those hunters’ friends—the bad ones—do they know? Do they do that? She can only assume they do, if even the Calbido is worried.
“Maybe we shouldn’t risk it, though.”
GM: “You’re right. Maybe we wouldn’t get spotted,” he grants. “It’s just the responsible adult thing not to. Or responsible elder thing.”
But he seems to be gauging her response.
Celia: “We’re hardly elders, though. I dunno about you but I was frozen forever at 19, which is barely an adult. They only say that 18 is an adult because way back when the people paying child support didn’t want to do it past then. And technically our brains continue developing until like 25. So really, Roddy, we’re both just children and we should act accordingly. Which includes dancing on the roof in the rain, even if we don’t get up to anything fancy like pretending to be Spiderman or The Flash.”
GM: “Yeah, well, Coco says adolescence is also a modern construct. Back in the old days, you were either a man or a child. Inheriting noble titles, going to war, or having kids at 15 was perfectly normal. Life was harder. People had to grow up faster.”
He smirks and scoops up Celia in his arms, hefting one under her knees and the other around her back. He carries her up to the rain-spattered window.
“But what does she know, right?”
Celia: She thinks, for a moment, that he’s going to turn her down and is prepared to pout at him. Then she’s in his arms, her own around his neck, a giggle pulled from her lips as he carries her across the room. She reaches out to tug back the drapes, thick and heavy to prevent them from moving in the middle of the day, and slides the window open. It’s an awkward movement with just the one hand, but she manages.
“Are we jumping? And by we I mean you.”
GM: “We sure are.” He looks out the open window. Some rain is already pattering against the windowsill. “Though actually, if we’re going to be on the roof, do you want to get some shoes?”
Celia: She forces her body to sigh, long and heavy, then points towards the closet.
GM: “Oh, of course. Can’t interrupt your ride.”
He carries her over to the door.
Celia: “You’re stuck with me forever, to be honest.” But she wiggles free of his grasp so she can open the door the smallest amount, just enough to let her slip inside the walk in closet. She seems to be trying to contain whatever it is inside from spilling out—probably a literal ton of dresses, skirts, and other assorted garments—but maybe he catches sight of something white inside before she yanks the door shut. There’s some rustling from within, then she’s back in a pair of heels that look like they’re made for dancing. She even pulled a long skirt on over her leggings that swishes when she walks. It’s a silly look, with her distressed band tee, but she pulls it off.
Celia holds her arms out to him.
GM: “Cute look. Makes me feel way overdressed.”
Roderick pulls off his jacket, seems to think for a moment, then folds it up and sticks it inside the fridge.
“Probably being paranoid,” he says. “But there’s some stuff in there I don’t want anyone to get, and who’d think to look in the fridge first.”
Celia: Celia lifts her brows at him.
“You smuggling drugs and porn?”
Fridge is a decent hiding place though, she has to admit. She’s heard of people putting cash and credit cards in their freezers for the same reason.
GM: “Like that’d bother any of us. ‘Just’ some sensitive papers.”
Celia: “I was just gonna say if you need a naked girl to look at. Y’know.” There’s a pause. “Internet.”
GM: “Also the one in front of me,” he smirks back. “Who even uses porn magazines anymore, though?”
Celia: “Nobody. I was making an old man joke.”
“Randy told me that he once found porn on his brother’s laptop. Downloaded. And he was like, ‘I can’t believe I’m related to someone who doesn’t know how to stream.’”
“Also,” her gaze sweeps the apartment, “this place is pretty wrecked. If anyone broke in I bet they’d be like, we’re too late, boys.”
GM: “Hey, might not be that dumb. Some porn gets taken down. Some of it is taken from sites with a paid subscription uploaded to free sites. Or it just disappears for some other reason.”
Celia: “Spoken like a man who’s used to using his hand. The kine way still do it for you?”
GM: “You kidding? I haven’t looked at porn since before I was turned.”
Celia: “Mhm, mhm. I won’t tell.”
“Wait. Did you watch porn when we were together?”
GM: “Sometimes,” he answers a little defensively. “When you couldn’t come over and I was horny.”
Celia: “Oh. I’m not mad. I’m just curious.” Her grin is salacious. “What kind?”
GM: “Oh, uh, mostly pretty tame stuff, honestly. Lot of lesbian porn.”
Celia: “They seem more into it in lesbian porn.”
GM: “You think they do? I didn’t notice.”
Celia: “Did we ever… I mean, was there ever anything you wanted us to do that we didn’t?”
GM: “I don’t think so. My tastes were pretty vanilla.”
GM: “I suppose they still are. Like, I’m happy just to drink someone’s blood. I don’t need them to do any of the really kinky shit you hear some licks are into.”
“Or the really sadistic shit. Like, your sire’s idea of a good time.”
Celia: She wonders whose blood he’s been drinking and decides it’s better not to ask.
“Ah, yeah, she’s… yeah.”
GM: “Yeah. Do you still… get off to it, the breather way?”
GM: “You told me earlier, remember? That just seems… so weird.”
Celia: Celia shrugs. She glances away from him. It is weird. She knows that. All of the rest of them don’t, but she’s still… something. Human enough, maybe, even though she hates that term. She is human. She’s just also a vampire. Becoming one doesn’t mean the other is null and void; it’s like a square is a rectangle and all that. She breathes, she has a heartbeat, she’s warm.
She’s a fucking weirdo.
“Yeah, I guess.”
GM: “Sorry. Didn’t mean to shame you for it. I mean, compared to the other shit licks can get up to, it’s harmless.”
Celia: Her eyes find her toes, visible despite the heels. Pink polish. One of her arms crosses her stomach to rub the other.
“That… that hunter…”
GM: “He… did he rape you?”
Celia: She doesn’t look at him. She lifts her shoulders in a motion that might be a shrug, though it’s a weak thing, barely a movement at all. Her hair falls in front of her face and she doesn’t make a move to shove it back.
GM: He hugs her. Holds her against his chest, runs a hand along her hair.
“I’m sorry. That’s so fucked up.”
Celia: “He just… I was tied down, and he… he like, he was choking me, which doesn’t… like it doesn’t do anything, but then he just kept… he just kept calling me his little vampire whore, and that he’d fuck me forever, and it was…”
GM: She feels the Brujah’s hands tighten.
“What happened to him, if you got out?”
Celia: “I… I killed him.”
The words are a whisper against his chest. Her head shakes back and forth, as if to deny that it happened, as if to say there was no other way. She didn’t have a choice. Her or them.
GM: He continues to hold her tight, running his hand up and down. “It was self-defense. Against a rapist who also probably wanted to kill you. Even under breather laws, that’s perfectly legal. If you’d emptied a gun into your dad’s head during any of the twisted things he did, I sure wouldn’t have blamed you.”
“God, and they say we’re the monsters. That’s just… so fucked up. It never even occurred to me a hunter might do something like that.”
Celia: “He kept saying that they were the nice hunters, while they… did all that. And they were going to give me to someone else.”
GM: Roderick looks curious. “Really? Who? I wonder if…”
Celia: “If what?”
GM: “There’s just been a lot of… talk about hunters lately.”
Celia: She pulls back enough to look up at him. The question is plain on her face.
GM: “There was a major attack on Vienna, a few months back. By hunters. There’s been reports from other cities, too.”
Celia: Is that why the archon had disappeared? She’d never gotten to show him how far she’d come with the face he’d told her to practice. Had he been killed?
“Why does nobody know? Why is this… why is this the first I’m hearing from someone about it?”
GM: “I guess it depends who you’re talking to. But so far it hasn’t really seemed to be a problem in New Orleans. Ocean away, right?”
“The Tremere seem to be trying to cover it up. Acting like everything is fine.”
Celia: "Why? What does that net them? Hunters are an everyone problem. “Not a faction problem, not a clan problem.”
GM: “My guess would be they don’t want to seem weak. I’m really not sure of the details.”
Celia: “That’s ridiculous!”
GM: “Well, that’s Kindred politics. The Tremere primogen, Steinhäuser…” He pauses. “Ah, I shouldn’t talk about it.”
“If you know any grayfaces, ask them about it. Seems like a way to really freak them out.”
Celia: “If you’re not going to tell me I doubt they will,” she huffs, pulling back to cross her arms. “Politics. Letting people die because they don’t know because of politics.”
GM: “Look, anything I know about hunters, I’d tell you. It was just about Steinhäuser herself, nothing to do with hunters.”
Celia: The words seem to deflate her.
“Okay,” she says quietly. The levity from moments ago is gone; she wishes she’d kept her mouth shut about the stupid hunter.
GM: He rubs her back.
“So what did that hunter say, about who he wanted to hand you off to? Any details?”
Celia: “No. I tried to press them for information and the girl kept saying that I shouldn’t hear it and he kept saying that it didn’t matter. And that they’re not ‘enemies,’ but she ‘doubts they’ll help.’”
GM: “Hm. That’s too bad. I was going to ask, if you thought this sounded serious enough, if you wanted to present what you have to the primogen.”
Celia: “To the… to Coco?”
GM: “To the Cabildo as a whole. But, might be moot. They don’t like having guest speakers unless it’s for something they think is really serious.”
Celia: Her almost dying isn’t even serious enough for her sire. She doubts the Calbido will give a fuck.
GM: “I’m just wondering if this might tie into the increased hunter activity in other cities.”
Celia: Of course it does.
She just still needs to work the angle to figure what she can get out of it.
GM: “But they might’ve also just meant some other group of nastier hunters. Hunter attacks have always been a thing.”
“I’ll tell Coco about this, though.”
Celia: “I wish you wouldn’t. I don’t need people knowing I messed up enough to get picked up.”
GM: “Isn’t that what you were just criticizing the Tremere for, not sharing information because it makes them look bad?”
Celia: “The hunters that picked me up are dead. Both of them.”
GM: “Sure, you just said there were other hunters they seemed to be in contact with, and wanted to hand you over to.”
“Why even do that? Why not just ash you? Or if they were going to interrogate you, do that themselves?”
Celia: “And then what if she tells other people, and then it gets out that ‘Celia’ is a lick, and then they find my family?”
“They tried.” She snorts. “They failed. I hit them with star mode.”
GM: “Coco hasn’t told anyone you’re Celia. She calls you Jade.”
Celia: “Oh. Well that’s… I appreciate that.”
GM: “I’ve told her that your mom and Emily are good people, that I don’t want to see them hurt. And also that they were raising Lucy, who for two years I thought might have been my kid.”
“She doesn’t have any reason to go around blathering you’re Celia. All that does is endanger them.”
Celia: She’s quiet for a moment, taking that in. Thinking about what might have been. Finally, she says, “Thank you.”
Even if he hadn’t done it for her, she can appreciate what he’d done for her.
“I don’t even know what I’d do if they…” She shakes her head. “I don’t want to even think about something happening to them because of me.”
GM: “Do you have a plan for them, if that happens? How many other licks know you’re Celia?”
Celia: “Ah… not a lot. Savoy, Preston, Lebeaux. You and Coco. Veronica. Pietro. And… there’s a fledgling… I, um. Remember how I said, earlier, about trespassing?”
“I think the seneschal might,” she says after a moment, “since Veronica had to get permission and all.”
More people than she realized, and she hasn’t even named the sheriff yet.
GM: “That’s, uh, a fair few.”
“You might ask Veronica if the seneschal knows. I mean, usually, you don’t tell the prince what specific kine you want to Embrace, just that you want to take a childe.”
Celia: Except that Veronica probably did have to name her, since they’d needed to find out if she was spoken for by Donovan. Otherwise how do they even know that Celia is illegal?
GM: “Who’s the fledgling?”
Celia: Unless she isn’t. And Donovan did have permission, and Veronica was vague, and then… no, but she’d been presented as Veronica’s childe… but maybe Donovan just said he changed his mind.
It’s a whole new problem she hadn’t even considered. That maybe she’s not an accident.
“Uh, Caroline. We went to college together. Sort of. Malveaux-Devillers.”
GM: Roderick frowns. “Her? How does she know?”
Celia: “She… so my mom, right, she teaches dance, and I guess the Devillers hired her to teach their youngest at home. And she’s been real finicky since the shooting in August, one of her sisters was shot, Cécilia told me about it. So my mom was telling me and I thought I’d put together like a little gift basket for her of spa stuff, but then they invited me over, and I’m… pretty good at passing as a breather, you know, I can mask my Beast, so I figure why not, but then Caroline was there, and of course now I’m like why wouldn’t she be there if that’s her family, but I guess I thought since it was in the Garden District, like, why would she be, you know?”
GM: “Wait, you went to the Garden District? That’s Vidal’s personal territory!”
Celia: “Yeah, well, I was in Tulane a few nights ago too.”
“…wait, don’t tell anyone that. I wasn’t poaching. I swear.”
GM: “Jesus! Celia, poaching, trespassing, whatever, it’s like shoplifting. Do it once, you can probably get away with it, but the odds go up every time you do. Eventually they bust you.”
Celia: “Yeah, so, that’s how Caroline knows.”
GM: “Well, you think she was fooled, if you’re pretty good at passing?”
Celia: “Uhh… no.”
GM: “Maybe… you aren’t so good at passing.”
Celia: “Uh… well, so like, I thought she was going to mindscrew me so I… so I kind of… revealed myself so she didn’t.”
GM: “That’s… why would she be mindscrewing you, if you’re just a breather there for spa stuff?”
He shakes his head. “Okay, I guess it doesn’t matter. Ventrue being Ventrue.”
Celia: Celia nods.
GM: He thinks. “Maybe you should get some dirt on her, to make sure she can’t use this against you.”
“Like, was she also in the Garden District without permission? Because Vidal wouldn’t give a rat’s ass if she just wanted to visit her family. It’s being a bad Sanctified, too. They aren’t supposed to have breather families.”
Celia: “I don’t know. I didn’t really ask. But… you’re right, maybe. I mean, my mom wanted to move there and I had to talk her out of it because Lebeaux told me I’d never get to see her if so.”
GM: “Uh, yeah, your mom living there would be a fucking horrible idea.”
Celia: “She told me… she told me that her family helped cover up the scandal with the tape. With my dad. That she helped.”
GM: “I wish I could say I was surprised. Your dad was her dad’s #2 man. I bet he would try to bury that.”
Celia: “I know. I guess I was just surprised she told me. Like she was confessing. Or something.”
GM: “Guilty conscience, maybe.”
Celia: “Maybe,” she says. “I’m supposed to do all the makeup and stuff for her sister’s wedding so I’m just trying to figure out how to swing that, or if I’m going to have to cancel. And I’m worried about my mom going into the Garden District so much, even though no one really has a reason to bother her. It just makes me wary.”
GM: “I’d just cancel. Why get any more involved?”
“And, yeah. That’s a problem when she works there. Though at least it’s during the day. I dunno what to do there unless you think you can get her to take another job somewhere else.”
Celia: “She’s still at McGehee. She just does this on the side.”
GM: “I figured she was. Imagine she wouldn’t want to quit, either.”
Celia: “Sometimes I wonder how I managed to make it to 19, being so ignorant about everything that really goes on. Trying to keep them all safe, it’s like… it’s like a juggling act, sometimes, and I’m just waiting to drop one of them.”
GM: “You’ve kept it up for seven years.”
By this time they’ve sat back down on the re-righted couch.
Celia: “I don’t have a plan for them, to answer your earlier question. I have no idea what to do with them.”
GM: “Well, ideally, let them live their lives. I mean in case other licks try to use them against you. Like, say, Caroline.”
“Actually, she’s probably your biggest danger there.”
Celia: “More than Donovan, you think?”
GM: “Wait, Donovan how?”
Celia: “I told you he owns my dad. What if he just… I dunno, goes after her. Finds out about… you know.”
GM: “He doesn’t have any reason to go after your mom. She hasn’t done anything to him. Lucy even less.”
“Though maybe if things hit the news. So keep them out, and don’t let your dad find out Lucy’s his. So long as the sheriff doesn’t know Celia’s a vampire, you’re probably safe.”
“It’s Caroline I’d be worried about. Because I think she’s desperate. She comes from two extremely privileged families and is used to being on top of the world, right?”
“But her sire’s a renegade hound executed for crimes against the prince, so she’s a sireless nobody. At the bottom of the heap. That has to grate anyone’s ego. She’s gotten in trouble with the Anarchs a couple times.”
GM: “A while back, she poached in Mid-City. There was a bunch of drama over that with the Eight-Nine-Six krewe. You had to have heard all that with Veronica, though, I won’t go over it. Personally, I think they were a bunch of meatheads who’d have probably jumped into bed with Savoy over the trial. There’s a reason Coco hasn’t really retaliated for her role in their deaths.”
“She’s also been an ass to Max and Jonah. That’s been talked about. She showed up to their bar this one time, sort of… apologizing without actually apologizing, for everything with Eight-Nine-Six earlier, and trying to sell them on some kind of business deal or get them to work for her or something.”
She can’t help the incredulous laughter.
GM: Roderick laughs with her. “Ventrue, right?”
Celia: “Honestly, I mostly can’t stand them. They think they own everything. And that they’re better than everyone.”
GM: “I can stand Chris, except when I can’t.”
Celia: “He seems like an ass.”
GM: “At least he’s our ass. But I’m not done.”
Cela: “Oh, go on.”
GM: “So, she shows up to Max’s and Jonah’s bar again. And, it’s over that whole thing with David Hansen. Who I hear you torries are always making fun of.”
Celia: “We are, indeed, a hive mind.” She rolls her eyes at him, then makes a motion for him to continue.
GM: “He’d gotten in some trouble and needed Max to come bail him out, but you’ve probably heard that whole story too already. Max did say Caroline tipped her off about David. So, credit where credit’s due there.”
“But she was an enormous bitch about it. Like, as soon as she had something Max wanted… she was just waltzing into the bar, talking down to Max like a fledgling, and said she wouldn’t even finish the conversation in the bar, because it was beneath her, and that Max needed to come schedule an audience at her haven, if she wanted to hear the rest.”
GM: Roderick laughs.
Celia: Even now, Celia doesn’t pull that kind of bullshit.
“That’s… wow. I can’t even find words.”
GM: “She’s lucky Max didn’t just beat her senseless and throw her out on the curb.”
Celia: “She didn’t actually meet with her afterward, did she?”
GM: “Good god, no. She wasn’t going to take that shit.”
“Seriously, now that Veronica, Shep, and Pietro are in bed with Savoy, it’s Max, Jonah and Parker who are basically the #2s under Coco and Opal. They’re old hands. They’ve done a lot for the Movement, for decades.”
“If Coco and Opal got taken out, we’d look to them for leadership, and Max probably more than Jonah. Jonah’s a great guy, he just isn’t as much of a speaker and rabble-rouser as she is. Prefers to let her do the talking.”
“It says a lot, anyway, that even a months-old Ventrue would treat some of our senior people like dirty-faced greenfangs.”
Celia: “What about you?” Celia asks him. “I mean, not like… not now, but eventually.”
GM: “Oh, eventually, I hope so. I try to do a lot for the Movement, too. But I’ll freely admit I haven’t done as much as they have.”
Celia: “No, I know, I was just curious, I guess, about your future plans.”
GM: Some of the levity on his face seems to die. “Ah. Well. I guess that’ll depend on…”
“Okay, I’d kind of prefer to just shit-talk a Ventrue for the time we have left,” he says, a little sourly.
Celia: “Does that mean we’re not going dancing? Because I can take your mind off things if you want to let me spin you around.”
GM: “I have to get ahold of Ayame. Just like you have to get ahold of Dani, and check on things with Savoy, and… everything else that’s going on in our unlives.”
GM: “Absolutely. You don’t have forever before Savoy asks if you’ve been working me.”
“But, Caroline. Last thing about her, because she’s actually relevant to you.”
“Like I’ve said, she’s from a background that’s as privileged as you can get in this city, and she’s basically lost it all with her Embrace. Had to start over from the bottom. That has to grate anyone’s ego.”
“And we see it with the Anarchs. She’s trying to… I guess make friends, but just can’t do it in a non-Ventrue way, because she sees us all as beneath her.”
“Credit to her, she did also solve a lot of Desirae Wells’ whole mystery. You probably heard about that too. And a little while back, she also found this abandoned Brujah fledgling she brought to Coco. I was there for that. Credit again. She wasn’t as big a bitch to Coco, I think, because primogen.”
“But she’s either done or tried to do a fair amount of stuff with the Anarchs. So, why?”
“I think her ego can’t handle being at the bottom of the Sanctified or the Invictus. She’d rather reign in hell than serve in heaven. That also might be why she’s wanted to do Anarchs favors and get us to owe her, rather than joining up with the Movement. We’re not as bad as the First or Second Estate, when it comes to how we treat newbies, but she’d still be the new kid. She couldn’t handle being that when she sees us as beneath her.”
“Oh yeah, actually, Isa Suarez went over to her haven once. I think Caroline wanted to do something for her too. Like I said, wants to do everyone favors.”
“But I think she’s desperate. There was that whole fight she got into with Caitlin Meadows. Any sane lick as young as her would’ve just ran. Isa’s renfield, who survived, said she attacked Meadows with a whole mob of other renfields. So, I guess kudos to her, if she’s tough enough not to just get torn apart. But that’s nuts. Why would she even get into a fight with Meadows like that? She couldn’t have thought she’d actually win.”
“Here’s what I think. I think she’s going crazy, going from so high to so low. That she’ll do absolutely anything to be on top again, whatever it costs her.”
“And… I think she might try to use your family against you. Because she’s hungry to seize absolutely any edge she can.”
Celia: Well, fuck.
GM: “But, I’ll admit I’ve never really talked with her, either. What was your take?”
Celia: “Needy. She made noise about seeing me again. Invited me to her haven, like she did all the others. But she seemed… I don’t know, I grew up with her, sort of, our dads and everything. One of the last nights I was alive she offered to teach me how to shoot, there was this whole thing with a gun on campus.”
She waves her hand. “Said she’s been stressed, really, that there’s always something new vying for her attention. Seemed to really care for her sisters, though. You should have seen it, I like… I went to touch the youngest one to do the makeup stuff and she was just… hovering. It was kind of weird, honestly.”
GM: “Huh. Maybe they’re what’s keeping her sane.”
“Scratch that. They have to be what’s keeping her sane.”
Roderick’s face isn’t without bitterness.
“I’d have given a lot, just to be able to hang out with Dani. And maybe I’d have gotten pretty protective too, especially with another lick around.”
Celia: “She didn’t know, at that point. But yeah.”
Celia: “Emily mentioned going to her party. A few months back. I was… it was not a good night for me. But I couldn’t talk her out of it.”
GM: “Oh? How’d that go?”
Celia: “Seemed fine. I checked her over after. She laughed at me and pushed me off and told me I was being silly. I just remember… college, you know, when she used to come home tired, or disappear for nights, and I just… it made me crazy, when I found out what was going on, what was actually going on, and how close I was to it, and it could have been me. And it’s not even that, like yeah that would have sucked, but it was happening to you and her and I just… I couldn’t do anything because I didn’t know.”
GM: “Ventrue are picky eaters. Maybe Emily doesn’t do it for her.”
Celia: “I just don’t want her around it at all. Ever.”
GM: Roderick nods. “Better safe than sorry.”
Celia: “I don’t want to think about someone losing control.”
GM: “What do you want to do about Caroline, though, if she tries to use your mom or Lucy against you?”
Celia: Kill her, obviously.
“I don’t know. I’m trying to think how she’d do it.”
GM: “I’m not sure how she would either, especially if she knows nothing about you. Celia is invisible to the city’s licks.”
“Actually, that’s probably the first thing I’d try to do, if I was her. Gather more information about you.”
Celia: “Too many people know. Fuck, Roderick. What am I going to do? She can find out, connect me back to Jade. I mean the identity I built is good but it’s not that good.”
GM: “The truth can always come out with enough digging. There isn’t a foolproof cover-up.”
“Okay, there’s maybe a couple things you can do.”
“If things get really bad, maybe a plan to get your family out of the city. Uproots their lives, but beats losing their lives.”
“I could also get closer to Caroline for you, if you think that’d help. She seems pretty eager to make friends with Anarchs.”
Celia: “What, like, seduce her?”
GM: “Uh, hadn’t been my first thought. Just to keep a better eye on her. Let her feel like she’s making inroads somewhere, and distract her from trying to do anything with you.”
Celia: “Maybe. I guess I just… if this is my mess, I don’t want you to get in the line of fire or anything. If something happened to you because you were doing something for me…” she squeezes his hand. Her grip isn’t nearly as strong enough as his, but right now she feels like she could crush a brick. “There’s just something off about her, and it worries me.”
GM: Roderick squeezes her hand back. “Relax. She and her renfields went up against Meadows, so I’m not going to say she’s a pushover, but I still like my odds against her one-on-one.”
Celia: “I’m, ah… she’s fast.”
GM: “So am I.”
Celia: “Faster than any fledgling has a right to be.”
Celia: “Yeah. It’s… remember how you said the sheriff was a blur? Like, ah, like that.”
GM: “Well, any lick with superspeed can seem like a blur around breathers. It does give them bad munchies, though, if they’re not as fast as the sheriff.”
Celia: “She’s fast enough to share it.”
GM: Roderick frowns. “You mean, make other people faster?”
GM: “Huh. I’m… close to that, but I’ll admit I’m not that fast.”
“That’s a fairly advanced trick.”
Celia: “That’s what I mean. It’s just off.”
GM: Roderick’s frown deepens.
“So, I can think of two answers.”
“One, she’s just a natural at it. Sometimes licks really are that good at a discipline. Prodigies from a young age. Might even be giving her an ego trip.”
Celia: “And the second?”
GM: “Two, her sire’s actually someone like Maldonato or the prince.”
Roderick grins at his joke.
Celia: “…the… you think? With the Garden District?”
GM: “What? No, I was kidding.”
Celia: “What if it’s true, though?”
GM: Roderick shakes his head. “She wouldn’t be trying to make friends with a bunch of Anarchs if she had a sire like mine. She’d have a cushy spot in their club.”
Celia has a cushy spot because of her grandsire, but she doesn’t point that out.
GM: “It might also be some other… I don’t know, supernatural thing. It’s a dark and scary world out there and I don’t understand everything about it. I don’t think any of us do.”
“But I’ll ask Coco about Caroline. Maybe she’ll have an idea.”
Celia: “I don’t want it to get back to her that I’m sniffing around. I’m not trying to make enemies.”
“But if you think Coco can help… I mean, I can talk to Savoy, see if he has an idea.”
GM: “It won’t get back to her. Coco isn’t a blabbermouth.”
“I don’t think Savoy would be willing to entertain random questions from you, even if he’s pretty approachable.”
“Just how it is with elders. You only get to hang out if you’re another elder or one of their kids.”
Celia: “Yeah.” She sighs. “I’ll handle it. I just… I’d prefer to keep this on the down low, I guess. I mean. What if she is someone important’s childe, then I’m boned.”
GM: “Yeah, but she’s not. She wouldn’t be out on the streets like she’s been.”
Celia: He’s not the one who tasted that super, super potent blood in her system, though.
“Okay, but what if she is? Like hypothetically.”
GM: “Well, if she is, she’s not out on the streets with other plebs.”
“But okay, you’re saying what if someone like Becky Lynne found out about your family.”
GM: “That’s trickier. I’d make plans to get them out.”
Celia: “I don’t even know where I’d send them that’s safe. There’s licks everywhere. They’d need new identities, new jobs, new everything.”
GM: “Sure, but in another city they’re useless as leverage to licks who aren’t involved with New Orleans politics. They’re less attractive targets. That doesn’t make them 100% safe, but there’s no such thing as perfectly safe. Just more safe.”
Celia: “And now I’m like, ‘what if the rats know?’ Because someone told me once that they know everything, and then that’s even more people.”
GM: “That’s… usually a good assumption to make. They know a lot. They have ears everywhere. They’ve probably spied on your salon before.”
Celia: The thought fills her with disgust.
GM: “But as far as your family… Lucy doesn’t need a job, but I know doctors can move around a lot. Emily might have to move for her residency, anyway.”
She had brought that up.
“Dunno about your mom, though. I don’t know anything about the job market for dance teachers.”
Celia: “Probably not thriving.”
GM: Roderick pulls out his phone and taps into it.
“‘Overall employment of dancers and choreographers is projected to grow 6 percent from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all occupations,’” he reads. “Hm, that’s not teachers, though.”
“Losing her seniority at McGehee would be a hit. Too bad she still can’t actually dance, I imagine dancers move around a lot.”
Celia: “Even if she could, young woman’s game.”
She’s thought about it. Making her mom younger. Giving her eternal youth.
But that’s all it will ever be: a thought.
“I’ll figure it out. Maybe just send them with Emily when she moves.”
GM: “Getting them away from your dad couldn’t hurt, either.”
Roderick glances back at his phone.
“Whoa. I’ve loved… reconnecting, but the night doesn’t wait for anyone.”
Celia: So much for spending the day at his place.
She nods, though, because she gets it.
GM: “I can pick you up if you still want to stay at my haven today, but I have to run.”
Celia: “Yeah, that’s fine. I get it.” Celia might even manage to keep the disappointment out of her voice. “I should get back to the Evergreen anyway.”
GM: “Okay, is that a yes, or you feel safe staying somewhere else?”
Celia: Is it needy to tell him she’d like to stay with him? Probably. But he’d invited her.
“Yeah, if you don’t mind me staying with you tomorrow.”
GM: “All right. I’ll pick you up at 5 AM.”
Celia: “Perfect.” She smiles at him. “Roderick… be safe out there, yeah?”
GM: He pulls out his jacket from the fridge and slips it on, then his overcoat.
He gives her a hug. “I’ll do my best. And you, too.”
Celia: “Well, I mean, with luck it’s only going to be a few hours.” She doesn’t mean to cling to him, but maybe she does for a moment longer than she needs to, cheek pressed against his chest. “I’ll see you in a bit, then.”
She pulls back far enough to touch a hand to his cheek. Her heart swells. She can’t keep the smile from her face as she gazes up at him.
Too soon. Too soon to tell him that he’d awoken everything inside of her that had once been there, everything she thought was dead.
They have forever, after all.