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Emmett V, Epilogue
One Less Monster

Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

Emmett: And now it’s the end, again, only it takes Em a minute to realize it’s also a beginning, which maybe happy endings should be. Are supposed to be. But the truth of the story is always more complicated. The truth of people even more so, especially when those people are also monsters.

It’s a happy ending for Emmett Delacroix, and the beginning of the end for everybody else.

Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

Emmett: Bertram Villars arrives to find his office broken into one morning. Nothing much is taken, and even the vandalism is minimal. One piece of vicious graffiti catches his eye, though, spray painted in blood red as it is over the law degree on his wall:


Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

Emmett: Cash Money’s having a good night. It’s like all his other good nights. He’s in his club surrounded by his whores and thugs and pathetic petitioners. Even better, he’s surrounded by people. People he doesn’t know but who all know him, because he’s a mean lean Cajun rapin’ machine, and he’s a cop, too, so there’s nobody in this whole world of monsters that can touch him.

Only tonight, he sees something in the crowd that makes him curse and stutter through his debauched carousing. Tonight, among all the jealous gazes that tickle him at his table, one tugs at his attention, holds him in its grip.

They’re terribly familiar, is the thing, though damned if he can place them. He’s damned anyway, though, and he has the unmistakable impression of looking into eyes he had somehow acclimated to never seeing again. None of these are what shake Ricky Mouton to his redbone soul, though.

No, it’s that once when he was a boy he made eye contact with a cottonmouth in the bayou, and that was the last time he saw eyes that shape.

Only snakes don’t have eyelids, so they can’t wink.

But this one does, and after the officer of the law blinks, the eyes are gone.

Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

GM: The nurses tell the sweet and handsome visitor who swings by that Mrs. Merinelli in the hospital there anymore. She’s no longer under arrest, either. She was discharged a little back. They mention the name “Malveaux.” Apparently some people get happy endings after all.

Except not really. Lena’s still half-awake in the living room, at god knows what hour in the AM, staring at some movie on the TV with glazed eyes and a half-eaten tub of ice cream. She’s already getting fat again.

She eventually slumps forward into a sugar- and depression-fueled stupor. Maybe she doesn’t register the words said by the handsome visitor, stolen into the room like a sandman into that border state between dream and waking. Maybe tomorrow will bring no further news about her missing husband and kids.

But a smile still touches the corners of the sleeping woman’s face.

Eveline Merinelli will have good dreams tonight.

Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

Emmett: The dogs are barking again. Phil can’t get them calm, can’t even make them whine in response to his stern commands. Something in the house is just driving them mad. Some scent, maybe. He turns his attention to the thing he found in his office at work, the anonymous gift from some student or other. He wouldn’t normally keep such a thing, but he really has no idea who sent it to him, and besides, it reminds him of better days. Much better days. He’ll keep it, he decides suddenly. Hell, maybe he’ll dig out some tackle and bait to go with his new rod.

It’s been so long since he’s gone fishing.

In the same room, perfectly still and perfectly invisible, somebody smiles.

Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

GM: A movie director might say a fishing boat and a dying carp on a hook is where it all began. It is where a movie director had it all begin, after the in media res opening scene. But there’s a sense of closure and everything coming full circle as a visitor walks up the now-familiar steps to 1415 Third Street.

The first time, he was a living boy, looking for affections to toy with and lusts to satisfy. Desperately fleeing the emptiness inside of him.

The second time, he was a dead man, striking a devil’s bargain to avoid a fate worse than death. Desperately fleeing the emptiness inside of him.

The third time, he’s… the others like him all say they’re dead, but the Sandman has died, really died. Whatever he now is, it feels more alive than he used to be.

But this time he doesn’t want anything from the house of nightmares. This time he’s just here to say his goodbyes, and perhaps offer thanks for this third lease on life.

The house’s matriarch is not present to receive him, though some part of her feels like it will always be here. But he isn’t really here for her, anyway.

Cécilia looks good. Really good, even in a sleeping robe and slippers, without her hair or face done up, and another man’s ring on her finger. It might just be because he can see the blonde of her hair, and the rest of her, all in color. Or maybe it’s the heartfelt smile that lights up her eyes, after he says who she is, and the feel of her skin and warm body against his as she hugs him. It’s her first, he realizes, not to Elliot, but to the real him.

He feels his new fangs lengthening in his mouth, too, at her embrace, at the sound of the heart beating in her chest, pumping hot blood through her veins. Some part of him wonders how she would taste. If the flavor of her lifeblood over his tongue would answer whether she is a monster too.

It’s probably for the best, when she pulls away.

For her. For him. He doubts that would make Maman very happy.

She’s happy for him, though. She really is.

“I hope you can find peace here, Em,” she says.

Maybe he will. Maybe he won’t. It’d be nice if he did.

“You have forever,” she says simply. “And now that you’re longer burdened by your dark side… I think this second chance is just what you need. You’ve been through life and death, made mistakes, and come out the other side. I think you’ve gained wisdom from your experiences. I don’t think you’re the same man I met at a McGehee school dance. I think you’re right that you need time and distance to process everything you’ve experienced.”

She smiles.

“And there’s no rush. You have forever.”

She plants a chaste kiss upon his cheek. She wishes him luck. She wishes him well. She tells him to be careful out there. She tells him to stop by if he’s ever in town again.

Is she a monster?

Is this, as he asked another monster, inhuman indifference? Or real forgiveness, real grace?

Perhaps, in the end, it doesn’t matter.

Either way, she’s less of a monster than he is.

Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

GM: Finding shelter from the dawn is tricky, that first night. Camille tells him not to crash at Chakras. He’ll have to get used to finding shelter, if he wants to survive on his own. If he can’t do that in the city he grew up, he can’t do that anywhere.

But he does. It might be inaccurate to say that a man who’s died (twice?) is good at surviving, but Emmett Delacroix always got by on his own, and the Sandman will too.

He did tonight. He will tomorrow. He will for a lot of tomorrows.

This time he isn’t chasing his own death. He caught it, like a dog with a car, but it’s not true that he had no idea what to do with it. It tasted awful and he spat it back out.

So that leaves this.

The I-10 cuts through sun-baked Texas and Southwest desert before coming to a stop in L.A. Hollywood. The Dream Factory. The movie capital of America. It seems a fitting place for the Sandman to go first, maybe followed by a detour to Vegas and San Francisco, if he doesn’t change his mind. There’s also the Big Apple. Or maybe he’ll head south into Mexico, practice his Spanish. They say Mexico is dangerous because of the Sabbat. They say the Great Plains are dangerous because of werewolves. Frankly, everywhere sounds dangerous.

But the Sandman intends to go everywhere, because Emmett Delacroix was never one to listen to warnings. He’ll either survive or he won’t.

This time, at least, he’ll have help.

Eileen’s arms fit snugly around his chest as he revs up the motorcycle, clad in a leather jacket, no helmet, and a belief in his own invincibility’s entirely justified this time, at least from road accidents. The moon shines brightly in the sky, its silvery outline promising an eternity of nights ahead.

Eternity. It’s more than he honestly knows what to do with. Emmett Delacroix was always good at the chasing, never what came after. Maybe that’s why Sami struck it rich before him. What would he even do with that much money? What does someone who feels empty do when he gets everything? What comes next?

He didn’t know then. He doesn’t know now.

But Cécilia was right about one thing.

He has time.

He’ll survive or he won’t. He’ll figure it out or he won’t.

He’s seduced the devil’s daughter. Orchestrated a revenge to make the most jaded Kindred elders proud. Burned down a mob boss’ house and befriended his giant cannibal hitman. Killed a man everyone said was untouchable by the likes of him. Twice. Spat in the faces of the arrogant and powerful, when he wasn’t vomiting into their laps. Done things everyone warned would be the death of him, and were, and bounced back from the consequences like a kid on a trampoline. Duped an army of souls into the devil’s maw. Fed his literal dark side to a monster. Bested nightmares, danced with demons, woven dreams into tapestries.

He absently spins a new dream in the palm of his hand. Eileen claps and exclaims at the pretty show.

It is a pretty show. A remarkable show. Whatever else might be said of him, Emmett Delacroix’s existence has been a remarkable show.

He’s been a man, been a ghost, been a vampire. He’s been as many things as tales he’s told and dreams he’s spun.

It’s time, now, to be something else. Perhaps many things else. He may be a literal bloodsucker, but the canker gnawing at his soul is finally gone. What he fills it with is his choice. Infinite vistas and eternity to pursue them stretches before him like the open highway.

He grips the motorcycle’s handlebars and roars off into the night.

Emmett: And what better way could he end his story, by beginning another one?

For a moment, everything is perfect.

Then his new, perfect face wrinkles in consternation. He swears, and his profanity is swallowed by the wind.

He yells at Eileen to hold on as he guns the bike into a wild, reckless turn that would set a man who had something to lose’s teeth on edge.

He’s just realized he’s forgotten something…

Wednesday night, 16 March 2016, AM

GM: The Sandman drives back to the Quarter. He drives back to the place it all began: the pretty little condo in hell.

Technically, it was never a condo. It was an apartment. But ‘condo in hell’ sounded better than ‘apartment in hell’, and that’s what matters. How it sounds. How it looks. How the story’s pretty illusions come together.

He thinks back to the question he asked Cécilia during their goodbye.

“Do vampires become ghosts?”

“I don’t think so,” she’d said, shaking her head. “You, they, go on to whatever final fate awaits you.”

“What do you think that is?”

“The Lancea et Sanctum believe Kindred go to Hell, with the possibility of resurrection and redemption upon Christ’s Second Coming for Kindred who’ve been faithful to the teachings of Longinus. Many Invictus Kindred share that belief. Many Kindred raised in Western cultures without strong religious convictions still seem to accept the belief they go to Hell. Others just don’t think about it. Many Kindred who are atheists believe they simply cease to exist. Kindred who follow non-Christian faiths all have their own explanations. Caroline tells me one of her ghouls is Jewish and believes the same thing her faith teaches: mortals and Kindred who’ve done bad things spend time in Sheol having their souls purified, but even Hitler’s will be clean by the time the Messiah comes. Kindred who’ve made serious study of the occult can believe much stranger and darker things. Maman’s told me about one theory which holds that the Strix, demonic owls made of smoke and hate, are the specters of deceased Kindred.”

“So it’s like the mortal afterlife, in that regard,” she’d answered. “The only people who know for sure are the people who are there.”

“Ah, but I asked you,” he’d said. “Just like the last time we talked about this. What do you think happens to us?"

“I believe in a merciful and all-loving God, Emmett. But I also believe our blood defines us. I believe our blood is perhaps the strongest force in existence. Kindred have inherited the blood of Caine, and with it, his sins. I believe that Kindred go to Hell as a result of the covenant they’ve made with their forefather, even if they made it involuntarily. But," she’d then emphasized, “I also believe in Christ’s grace and mercy. I believe the Kindreds’ suffering doesn’t have to last forever, and that upon the Second Coming, those whose actions were more than their blood can enjoy a final reward not determined by their blood.”

“Maman just laughs whenever we talk about that,” she’d continued with a faint grimace. “I don’t think she shares my belief in that regard. She hasn’t told me exactly what she believes happens to Kindred after they die, but… I have the feeling her answer is much, much grimmer. And she knows so much more than I do. The implications of that can be very dispiriting to think about. I want to believe that something better can await you and Caroline.” She’d paused. “But that’s what it means to have faith: to believe in something better not because you have evidence, but because you trust in God.”

So he goes to Hell. Maybe not permanently, which is a nice thought, but even she acknowledges that he goes to a place of suffering and torment. It’s a refreshingly direct answer.

The truth is, it doesn’t much bother him. If there is a Hell, then by any reasonable metric, Emmett Delacroix deserves to go there. He’s made his peace with that.

“But ashed licks don’t become ghosts,” he’d repeated, just to be sure.

‘Ashed.’ He’d liked that word when it came up in the car with Sami.

“Ashed licks don’t become ghosts,” Cécilia nodded. “Maman tells me that most rules have exceptions—you’re a fairly obvious one, as I hadn’t thought ghosts could become Kindred—but she was very clear with me, when I asked, that destroyed Kindred don’t become ghosts. Whatever happens to you is final… outside of God’s hands, if you believe in that.”

Well, that’s good enough for him.

The Sandman drives and drives, and the night rolls past. He drives until it’s just the right time when he arrives back at his old place, just one story up from Café Soulé and the chocolate crepes he can no longer enjoy. He exercises a little of his new glamour, and one of the apartment residents happily lets him past the locked door. He walks up to the balcony where he used to take his smokes.

He waits.

He waits.

Then he starts to smoke.

There’s no lighter.

Or cigarette.

No, the smoke wafts from his blackening skin. His Beast screams with pain, rage, and panic. It’s the newest incarnation of pure evil to rent a room in the dilapidated house that is his soul, and it’s just as pissed off as the last tenant. It wants to get away. It wants anything but this. The Sandman grips the railing and stares into the rising sun. He’s glad he told Eileen what he was doing, and that he told her to go back to Chakras, or wherever else she wants to go. She doesn’t need to get burned trying to save him from the flames crackling up his flesh, even if burning other people through his self-destructive behaviors is what he’s best at. Who says he can’t learn?

He smiles and he feels a smoldering ligament in his jaw tear. He looks down at his hands and he sees something the color and texture of burning charcoal. His Beast is an all but physical force trying to throw him out of harm’s way. Soul-deep terror rocks through him like the strongest, longest line of coke he ever snorted (was he trying to kill himself then too, by ODing?), but he grips the railing like a lifeline. A deathline. He grips it and watches the rosy dawn sky.

The truth is, there’s no happy ending for people like Emmett Delacroix. A fresh start was a nice thought. Ending his story by starting a new one was an even nicer thought. But he’s a walking disaster who’ll always be on the run from his past, no matter how many names and faces he hides behind.

There’s no happily ever for the Kindred, either, he thinks. We just have to enjoy the smaller parts of a very sad song.

That’s the real Requiem. The Swan Song. They might as well skip to the end.

He spent all his life chasing his end.

Gasper spent all his death chasing their end.

His Shadow even offered him Oblivion. Why didn’t he just take it?

Well, the truth was that Gasper pissed him off, and he wasn’t about to let that childish brat get one over on him. The surest way to get Emmett Delacroix to do something is to tell him not to do it, even if that means cutting off the nose to spite the face. This, he thinks savagely as he burns and blisters and blackens, is spiting someone else. His Beast doesn’t want him to do this. As far as he’s concerned, that makes it the right decision. He’d have been too good at being a vampire. It’s better for everyone this way.

And no coming back as a ghost, this time. Abélia’s reward was good for that.

Emmett Miloud Delacroix closes his eyes and lets the sun burn him to a crisp. For all the lies he told, and for all that could be said about his life, death, and undeath, there’s one thing people can now say for sure:

There’s one less monster in the world.

A smile touches the dead man’s face, as it ends where it began. Then he’s ash upon a morning wind.

Emmett V, Chapter XVII
Family Gathering

“To sell desire, one must know one’s own desires.”
Camille Richlelieu

Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

GM: Fabian shows Em back to the sitting room in his new face.

“And may I say, sir, what a handsome one it is,” the ghoul smiles.

Emmett: “Thanks, Fabian. I’m sure the guests make their share of passes at you, eh? At least the ones who don’t want to drink you. Which I suppose is its own kind of compliment.”

Em wants to drink him, for example.

GM: “Many do, sir,” Fabian beams. “If the help isn’t attractive enough to drink, after all, how much help can they truly be?”

Emmett: Parrying predatory implications with obsequious good humor. Say what you like about Savoy, his servants know their manners.

He has the vague sense that kind of thing is going to matter a lot in this kind of life.

But then, it always has.

GM: And probably always will.

Fabian sets up another movie for Em, but he doesn’t have long to wait.

Emmett: Good thing, too. It’s Gone with the Wind.

GM: Sami walks through the door. She’s dressed differently in a LBD and red pumps. She looks him over.

“Welcome to the snake cult.”

Emmett: He laughs. “Right? She made it sound like you had the same reaction I did, for the most part. How good’s the inside track, once they have you in their coils?”

He’s wearing a different dead man’s coat, long and warm and with more pockets than it looks like.

“It’s nice to see you again, Sami.” His voice has more roughness to it than it did before his death, but it’s still his voice. Odd, how Dicentra was able to pull that off. “In the flesh, and all that.”

GM: “I bet. Ghost didn’t seem like it suited you.”

“We were always vampires anyway.”

She turns. “C’mon. We’ll talk and drive.”

Emmett: “You driving, I hope. I’m in the mood to ride shotgun.”

Doubtless she’d prefer it, too.

She never was a fan of him behind the wheel, after that night.

GM: “Lucky us.”

Still, it’s hard to picture that happening again.

Or maybe not. Maybe vampires just have their own ways of fucking each other.

Either way, they make their way to Sami’s flashy sports car and get in.

“They’re basically a crime syndicate with a religious mythos,” she answers as they get in.

Emmett: “Doesn’t sound so bad.”

GM: “Or syndicate slash cult, I guess.”

She revs up the engine. “There’s a lot of lying and hoops to jump through to hide it from other licks.”

“There’s risks, if they find out.”

Emmett: “Your girlfriend the medium know the truth?”

GM: “Yep. She’s one of us.”

Emmett: “Does Astride?”

GM: “He’s one of us too.”

“He’s a fuckhead. But he’s good at killing people.”

Emmett: He nods, quiet suspicion rewarded. “I learned where he sleeps, for what that’s worth.”

GM: “Could be worth something. We might have to put him down if he lets his Beast get any more out of control.”

The Quarter rolls past.

“But you asked me how the inside track is.”

“Well, I’m fucking rich.”

“Most things I want, I get.”

“The parties are fun.”

“And Camille… understands.”

“The snake religion bit. Whatever. I never believed in God.”

“But people have been trying to keep me from what I deserved ever since McGehee.”

Emmett: Deserved, huh. But he doesn’t say that. For one thing, he can’t say he hasn’t thought the same thing.

“What does she call them? The Aeons?”

GM: “The Aeons. The people born inside the club.”

“I don’t buy that the snake cult wants to bring everyone inside.”

“But if they bring me inside, what fucking ever.”

Emmett: “It’s hard to argue with that,” Em says, placid. “I’m just wondering about the entrance free. And who pays it. What kinds of things do they ask from us?”

GM: “‘Corrupt’ other licks. Find what they need. Supply them. Get them dependent on us. Or breathers. You’ll probably be good at it.”

“That’s the entrance fee and monthly membership dues. And how we get ahead. It’s basically a pyramid scheme.”

Emmett: “Well, those are old hat, at least. Where are you driving us?”

GM: “Mm, depends. Who’s your first renfield gonna be?”

Emmett: There’s a moment of somewhat surprised silence.

Then a moment of deeper consideration.

“You ever meet Bert Villars?”

GM: “I’ve heard of him. Haven’t had the pleasure.”


Emmett: “Well, let’s fix that.” Em gives her directions to the poisonous bastard’s office. “Bit of a toss-up to see if he’s already taken. If he isn’t, he’ll be a good get for us. And besides.”

“I had plans for him already. Better not to ghoul people you actually like, eh?”

“We’ll have to toss his place to find out where he lives, though.”

GM: Sami shrugs. “I don’t mind some B&E, but he might also just be around tomorrow.”

Emmett: “Since we have forever. Okay, then.” He thinks a little bit harder.

Then he asks for a phone.

He hopes Miranda’s number is the same.

GM: The phones rings for a bit.

“Leave a message,” comes an annoyed-sounding nasally voice.

Em wonders how many people bother to after that.

Emmett: Not him, apparently. He hangs up.

“Forget renfields,” Em says. “I just want to find a place to call home, for tonight at least.”

GM: Sami drives.

“What’s your name now? Camille said you’d have a new one.”

“Some of us do. Some of us don’t.”

“I kept mine. Obviously. If someone wants to go after my stupid family I don’t give a rat’s ass.”

Emmett: He thinks of Lena, handcuffed and anemic in her hospital bed. God knows if she’s still there.

God, and a Malveaux.

“I’ll take a new name,” he says. “Something flashy, probably. Dramatic. You know the sort. This seems like the kind of society that appreciates enigma.”

GM: “Pretty sure at least half the elders all use fake names.”

“So what’s yours?”

Emmett: It’s a few moment of consideration before he chuckles. He doesn’t answer her, not out loud anyways.

But as she drives off, a song flitters to life through her car, haunting but enchanting at the same time. Maybe Sami looks at the radio in surprise, but it’s not on. The sound is ambient, all-encompassing.

Stuck in her head, courtesy of his.

Maybe, but Em isn’t looking at her. He’s only got eyes for the road, the night, the city.

The colors.

Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

GM: Sami and the Sandman drive until they reach a dark building in the Quarter named “Chakras.” The Sandman’s heard of it. Invite-only BDSM club.

“She explain havens yet?” asks Sami.

Emmett: “I think it’s a weird word for a home.”

GM: “They’re where we sleep during the day. We’re weak and vulnerable then. So a haven has to be exactly that. Secure against intruders and the sun.”

Emmett: “And this place is a haven?”

GM: “Anywhere can be a haven in a pinch. We don’t need to eat, shower, or shit. We won’t wake up sore if we sleep on the ground. All we really need is someplace sunproof where breathers won’t disturb us.”

“But some havens, like here, are more secure than others.”

“And comfy.”

Emmett: “Whose is it, then?” The Sandman follows her from the car.

GM: “Camille’s. She owns this club, and a few others.”

Emmett: He whistles. “Fancy. And she’s, what, the matriarch?”

GM: “Matriarch?”

Emmett: “Mama snake. Cult leader. Whatever. She’s in charge?”

GM: “Nah. She’s middle management.”

“She and Elianna.”

Emmett: “Who’s above them, then?”

GM: “That’s complicated,” says Sami. “I’ll let you make up your own mind, when you see it.”

Emmett: It, she says. Interesting.

GM: They walk up to the club’s door.

“This is the Sandman,” Sami says to the bouncer. “He wants in, he gets in.”

The large and cruel-eyed man offers a mute nod.

The inside of the club resembles a lounge and art gallery. Everything is in black and dark red. There’s modern abstract art and iron sculptures along the walls, and a fully-stocked bar. Comfortable leather seats over places to sit down and discuss the art over drinks.

The sculptures nag at Em, though, the longer he stares at them. There’s a looming, grasping quality to their distinctly alien shapes. They seem humanoid, at first, but there’s a distinctly serpentine cast to their posture and anatomy, like they might silently coil around the room’s patrons as they drink their fine drinks and discuss the meanings behind abstract art.

There aren’t many people around this late. Or this early. There’s a handsome man dressed in strategically placed black leather who looks like he’s cleaning. His too-wide smile doesn’t quite meet his eyes. He’s still smiling, even when he’s not looking at Em and Sami.

He holds up a shot glass to the light, polishes it, smiles at Em, then stares away from him, back into the glass.

“Welcome, master…” he whispers.

He touches his teeth with his fingers and gives a little giggle.

Emmett: The ‘master’ glances at his escort. “Who’s the gimp? I remember Camille had another one, way back when we met.”

He trust he doesn’t have to clarify the night he’s talking about.

GM: “She has a lot of them. Their names don’t really matter.”

“There’s always more.”

Emmett: “I figured. Are all renfields kinksters? Or does she just like them that way?”

GM: “The Blood tends to twist them all, to some degree. Some of them eat rats. Some of them get stutters or hair-trigger tempers.”

“I’m not sure if she naturally draws kinksters or just twists them into that.”

“Probably some of both.”

Emmett: “How’d she find you?” he asks this one.

GM: “I heard about her club, master,” answers the smiling man, inclining his head. “I heard about the things that went on here, but it was by invitation only. I tried so hard to get in. Some of the members told stories about me. She decided to let me in, to see how far I would go.”

His grin widens, to the point it looks like his face is half-paralyzed.

“I have not disappointed her.”

Emmett: Well, this is turning out to be as wholesome as I thought it would be.

“Yeah? What kind of things do go on here, beyond getting tugged off with your hands behind your neck and a gag in your mouth?”

GM: “Revelation, master. The loss of illusion. The shattering of the old self. We experience ecstasy, terror, desire, satiety, despair, ignorance, and chaos, all to unwrap our true souls beneath layers of self-deception and social conditioning.”

Emmett: “And you feel wiser, now? Revealed to? Enlightened?”

GM: “I do, master, though I still have far to go.”

Emmett: “And what have you learned? Since I’m just starting.”

Ah, high school again. Telling Ren to explain why there were suddenly letters to deal with in math.

GM: The ghoul smiles.

“We are a visceral religion, master. Damaballah’s revelations must be experienced to be understood. But if you are here as you are, you have experienced some of them already.”

Emmett: Em eyes the leather-clad cultist. “What do I call you?”

GM: “Bitch or toy, if you like,” he grins.

“Also pet, gimp, slave, ghoul…”

Emmett: “…please tell me they’re not all like this,” he directs to Sami.

GM: “The ones here mostly are,” says Sami. “I guess your own will depend.”

Emmett: “Nothing personal, ah, bitch,” the Sandman says to the ghoul.

GM: The man just grins at him. “Let me know if I can ever be of service, master.”

Emmett: “Who else did you want me to meet?” the Sandman asks Sami.

GM: “Right now there’s no licks here but us and Camille. There’s a bigger cult meeting tomorrow.”

Emmett: “What does the cult believe, exactly?”

GM: “She didn’t give you the shpheel?”

Emmett: “It was loose on details. What do the ones who aren’t bloodsuckers believe, is the point.”

GM: “That varies. It’s a mystery religion. Which means, the more you pay in and do things for the cult, the more about its beliefs you actually get to learn.”

“Like Scientology. Except we don’t directly bill people.”

“The initiates think we’re just a Vodouisant cult. Worship some loa and get things in return.”

“Here, they’re people who come to Camille’s clubs for a good time and get promised an even better one if they’ll participate in some rituals. Or they’re just outright looking to be bondage slaves, because it’s a bondage club. Or to do things to slaves if they’re tops.”

“She shows them a better time than they’ll find anywhere else. Sex, drugs, kinks, whatever. The people who succumb and can’t live without her she just uses. There are a lot of well-connected people who show up for her sex parties. To a lot of them she isn’t a vampire.”

“The ones who impress her she brings into the next ring of the cult. They get to know more about what she is, the Aeons, and our origins. They get tested harder. They undergo more of the revelations. Which are like bitch over there describes. They’re expected to do more for the cult, and Camille does more for them. The more revelations they undergo, the more they learn about us, and the deeper in they get.”

“A lot of us have our own self-contained little mystery cults like this. We trade favors and contacts and whatevers with each other. To get cultists and prospective cultists the things that hook them.”

Emmett: “What about you? Keep some believers on the side?”

GM: “Yep.”

“I figure you will too. They’re pretty useful.”

Emmett: There are people in this city who would kill for a break from their nightmares, the Sandman thinks but does not say.

“Might be,” he agrees. “What do you tell yours? And how many of ‘us’ are there?”

GM: “I mostly don’t bother with the religion angle.”

“You have to at least partly believe it to really sell it.”

“Like anything.”

Emmett: Especially snake oil.

GM: “There’s a lot of us. More than the Camarilla realizes.”

“Savoy’s happy for us to make ourselves at home.”

Emmett: “I like the sound of that. When do we get together? If we do.”

GM: “I just said. Tomorrow.”

Emmett: “Oh. The entire clan?”

GM: “Probably not all of us, but a lot of us. Wholesome family get-together.”

Emmett: “Wholesome,” he repeats, looking at “bitch” and pacing amongst the serpentine statuary. Not how he’d decorate, but that’s okay.

It has… potential.

“Okay, sure. I’m excited to meet the cousins. Did you bring me here just to meet the help, or was there something else we’re here for?”

GM: “Remember that talk we had about havens?”

Emmett: “Ah, so this is where you’re sticking me for the day? I thought we might come to another arrangement. Like maybe you could take me back to yours.”

GM: “Camille thought we’d all sleep together today. More wholesome family time.”

Emmett: “Oh. Well, you should have said. Lead the way.”

GM: The pair head through another door. The room resembles nothing so much as a medieval torture chamber, replete with stone walls and floors, an iron maiden with a screaming metallic face, racks, wheels, and several other metallic devices whose function Em cannot identify. Some of them look almost like the abstract sculptures in the previous room. Whips, chains, scourges, and assorted leather and metallic implements hang from the walls, along with several gagged and blindfolded men and women bent into extreme positions, naked but for leather gloves and boots. The scent of blood hangs heavy in the air. Em cannot say where it is from, but his fangs lengthen in his mouth. At the sound of Em’s and Sami’s footsteps, some of them start screaming and shaking their restraints. The gagged sounds are raw, desperate, and filled with terror. Others shiver with rapture, the men growing noticeably firm and the women wet.

Most do some amount of both.

“You can practice on them,” mentions Sami. “Any disciplines you’re trying to learn.”

Emmett: “Disciplines… those are the superpowers, right?”

GM: “Yep.”

Emmett: Em does so. His squeamishness over using human beings as things is made much easier to bear by the opportunity to test out his cool new vampire powers. He asks Sami for suggestions of things to try.

He cannot, it turns out, turn into a snake. Nor can he turn invisible, no matter how unmoving and boring he tries to be. He’s just too remarkable.

He can, however, use the same special effects he’s become accustomed to. At a whim, strange noises and sensations dance among the assembled kine. Lights flicker in otherworldly arrays.

One of the women whimpers in confusion at the unreality.

“You’ve got nothing to be afraid of,” Em tells her, instinctively, and for a moment, the air is charged.

Somehow, when her eyes meet his, there’s trust in them. Faith. Belief.

All completely unearned, and like most lies, it’ll make the truth hurt more.

But for the moment, her faith belongs to him.

GM: He feels another woman’s hands upon his shoulders. They’re cold hands, and something seems to almost shudder beneath the palms.

Shudder, or slither.

“Sami said you’d be good at this,” Camille’s voice purrs into his ear. Her cold smile meets his.

He could swear she wasn’t there a moment ago.

“Don’t think of it as hiding. Think of it as telling them who you are. You’re reaching into their heads and telling them what to see, what to believe.”

The woman’s eyes meet his. Sami’s already removed her blindfold. They’re manic eyes, wide and sleep-deprived, hovering on that knife’s edge between suffering and pleasure.

Support: And for all that, there’s something familiar in the shade of blue that stares up at him. Cerulean, he recalls, like the tropical seas he had once told her that he’d take her to, the whispered promises of a new life together away from the desperately degenerate city. He remembers the way those eyes had sparkled at the vision he created for her, the trembling fingers that had finally fumbled at the buttons of her blouse, her nervous stutters that she had “never done this type of thing before.”

Eileen Afflerbach.

The name rings in his mind. He remembers the way she had tasted like strawberries and cream, the delicate floral scent of her perfume, how she had called fifteen times the night her husband disappeared and left increasingly frantic voice-mails. But before all that she had looked at him the way she looks at him now, transfixed by the illusions he creates.

Suffering and pleasure. He’d brought her both.

Emmett: “Eileen,” he murmurs. “Your name is Eileen.” He blinks and looks at Camille, somehow less startled at her sudden appearance than he might expect. “She’s… do you know who she is?”

He’s more surprised, anyways, by the realization that he does.

Not like him to remember a pretty face. They come and go. Or at least, he does.

GM: “I know every slave here,” Camille smiles, stroking the woman’s face. Tenderly.

Emmett: Em nods, satisfied. He reaches for the woman, fingers stopping inches from her flesh. Hesitant.

He’s already touched her, of course. But he was just a human monster then.

GM: “Hesitance is a limit to overcome. A chain placed on you by the Aeons. There are no limits and no chains here.”

Camille turns the woman by her chin to face the Sandman.

“Be all that you would be, Sandman.”

The Sandman doesn’t recall telling her his name.

Emmett: She’s been listening. Natural enough.

But all that he would be? That’s an easy enough prompt.

After all, what does a vampire actually do?


And Em is very thirsty. He doesn’t will his fangs to come out, or so much as remember that he has them. They lead him. Seek her jugular like a freshwater well in the sweltering swamp.

Once, she tasted of strawberries. But now?

Now her taste is more than it ever could have been, before.

Support: A delicate shudder travels down the slave’s spine at her mistress’ touch. She leans into the hand on her cheek, but her eyes don’t leave the Sandman’s.

Even when he leans in.

Even when his fangs grow long in his mouth.

Even when he bites.

Her eyes finally close, cerulean hue disappearing beneath the flutter of her lids. Her lips part and she sighs softly, the same sort of sound he used to get her to make.

GM: Strawberry bliss floods the Sandman’s tongue. It’s not like it was, the first time. The hunger was an inferno within his chest during his dark rebirth. His every vein sang with unholy bliss. This isn’t that. But it’s familiar. It’s the high of cocaine, the orgasm between a girl’s legs, the bite of something delicious and Nutella-lathered. It runs down his throat like red velvet, cooling the heat within his breast, assuaging the monster.

It’s a better hit than any coke he ever did.

He didn’t, he realize as he pulls away, think how to do it. It just comes naturally. As naturally as breathing. As eating. He looks down at her, rolling over the last droplets of coppery bliss in his tongue, and sees there’s a flush to her paler cheeks. A needful shudder running down her body. She looks like she’s enjoyed this almost as much as him.

That’s like last time.

And also not.

But compared to last time, it’s almost refreshingly honest.

“Lick her neck,” says Camille, “and you’ll seal up the fang marks.”

“Always lick a vessel after you feed. Or everyone will know that you did.”

Emmett: The Sandman licks her neck. Feels her hair in his fingers. Tastes the last notes of her vitae on his tongue.

Hears the noises his drinking coaxes from her. Her pains. Her pleasures.

Where do they end? And where do they start?

“Can I keep her?” The questions comes unbidden. He isn’t thinking. He isn’t even being sarcastic. It just seems like the right thing to say, the correct way to word it.

He almost promises to feed her and take her out for walks while he’s at it.

GM: Camille laughs.

“Go on, then. Feed her some of your blood.”

Apparently, ‘feed her’ is part of it.

Emmett: He almost asks for a knife before he remembers the equipment he’s got in his mouth. A flash of fang, the strange flavor of his own vitae—what is that flavor? Hot milk? Chocolate? It’s gone— and his wrist is pressed to Eileen’s lips, his slashed vein an unholy nipple for a blasphemous feeding.

Support: Eileen falls upon his wrist without prompting, her lips closing around the offered flesh to bring the blood into her mouth. She sucks eagerly, like a child at a teat, and he hears the same sort of pleased noises from her that he had given her a moment ago. Her body shudders in want as his blood flows through her.

Emmett: Later, he’ll wonder what it was about her that made him choose that moment, that instant before his marriage to the snakes was consummated. Maybe it was that when he saw the woman whose life he had destroyed, something like regret flashed through the Sandman’s unbeating heart. Something like trepidation. What could she be but a bad men? No matter where he goes, Emmett will be damned to look into the eyes of the people he’s destroyed, and maybe destroy them a little bit harder.

Or maybe it’s the opposite. Maybe seeing her is like feeling somebody walk on the grave of his conscience, dead and buried and haunting him since that night he threw somebody who had hurt him to monsters, and become a monster himself. Maybe that ghost of a thing that might never have lived in the first place whispers to him, haunting the gaps between Eileen’s gasps:

It is not too late to make this right.

Maybe. But really, who knows why the vampire previously known as Emmett Delacroix did anything? Certainly most of the people who sentenced him to death must have been perplexed. When he was alive, he chased his death like he was allergic to life, only to find death so wanting he clawed his way back to… well, to this.

And now that he’s neither, perhaps because now that he is neither, he finds himself inclined to think of third options.

His eyes find Camille’s. For a moment, just a moment, they seem a tad vertical.

“We need to talk.”

GM: The Setite strokes Eileen’s face. Smiles. Motions for him to proceed.

The eyes are the same shade of poison as nine years ago.

But they’re a familiar devil, now.

Emmett: The short of it is he’s still processing this. That’s his main sell, anyways. It’s not a malicious deception, but one of convenience. Come to think of it, he’s not actually sure it’s a lie. He’s stopped differentiating between reality and illusion recently.

Between dying, being a ghost, confronting his worse half, committing mass ectocide, and becoming a vampire, he’s gotten a little lost. He needs time, you see.

Time, and space.

He’s very apologetic about the whole thing. He won’t be able to stay away forever, he knows, but still. If high schoolers are entitled to a gap year, reincarnated monsters sure as shit are, too.

That said, he explains he doesn’t know when he might be back, either. There’s a bunch of places he wants to see, cities he hasn’t been to in years.

“You said things were interesting in L.A. these days, right?” he asks.

He doesn’t want Camille to feel like he’s taking advantage of her generosity.

“The truth is I don’t know yet what this existence is like, and my curiosity and natural distrust of authority would taint my usefulness to you. And besides, if I’m not smart enough to survive on my own, I doubt you’d get much value out of me anyways.”

He wouldn’t even need much to be on his way. A little money, a good vehicle, maybe some drugs to make more money, and company.

“She’ll do,” he says, gesturing to Eileen.

GM: Camille listens patiently. Sami glances her way, once or twice. But their mutual sire just smiles.

“I asked what greatness lay within you, Sandman. What purpose you believed yourself intended for.”

“Some call our clan tempters. Corruptors. Pushers. Whatever one calls us, we provide people with what they want.”

Her hand slowly pets the new ghoul.

“Including ourselves.”

“You aren’t sure what you want. Are you?”

Emmett: “No,” he says. “I’m not.”

GM: “To sell desire, one must know one’s own desires. To master others, one must master oneself. I told you the truth, Sandman. If you want to walk away, walk away. We only desire willing believers.”

“That’s how they get you,” says Sami.

She might or might not be joking.

“Eternity is a long time. Find your purpose,” says Camille. “We will be here when and if you return.”

“Think a motorbike feels more your style than a car, though,” remarks Sami. “You can be that asshole who doesn’t wear a helmet.”

Emmett: “Covering this face would be the biggest accident,” Em agrees, deadpan.

GM: And he doesn’t need to, does he? He can get into a fatal crash and bounce right back up. And if he actually gets hurt, that’s nothing a little blood can’t fix. He can eat someone else to make them eat the bill.

Emmett Delacroix was always good at making other people pay for his mistakes.

And hey. Maybe after feeding his worse half to a monster, he’ll make fewer this time around.

“You don’t need our money,” says Camille. “Our needs are few. Use your new gifts, and kine will open their wallets to you without hesitation. Their trust and admiration is already yours.”

“You have no idea how easy it is for us to get money,” Sami agrees. “You’d have killed for star mode when we were alive.”

“You’ll learn from experience, too, how far you can push them. Warnings never did a lot for you.”

Camille snaps her fingers. ‘Bitch’ appears, then at a glance, starts unfastening Eileen’s restraints.

“It’s funny,” says Sami as the other ghoul goes about his work. “I always knew this was what I wanted.”

“Thought it’d be what you wanted, too. We were already vampires when we were alive.”

She tilts her head.

“But I guess you’ve never really done things any way but your own way, have you?”

“Get her some clothes,” says Camille. ‘Bitch’ disappears again and comes back with something dark and leather.

“He is your master now,” she tells the new ghoul. “You will follow him and obey him.”

“Yes, mistress,” Eileen answers, bowing her head.

“See you around, Sandman,” says Sami as the ghoul dresses. “Watch your back. It’s dangerous out there.”

Is that concern in her voice?

“So is existing, my childe,” smiles Camille. “So is existing.”

Emmett V, Chapter XVI
The Night Doctor

“Appearances usually are deceiving.”
Antoine Savoy

Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

GM: Savoy, Preston, and Camille spend a little while filling in Em on the basics of his condition and the city’s politics. Prince Vidal bears little love indeed for the Snake Clan, and will likely order Em’s execution if he or his agents discover the fledgling’s true lineage.

“Most of us claim to be Toreador or Caitiff when we leave the Quarter, or do so in stealth,” explains Camille.

Em is technically an illegal Embrace too, but against the fact of his lineage, it’s largely moot. The prince will seek his destruction for that fact alone, should he ever learn.

He also learns what night it is (they don’t say day), as well as the fact that it has been multiple nights since he first arrived at the Evergreen. Rosa Bale was able to tell them around when to expect Em back—“in some form of other,” Savoy remarks amusedly.

Emmett: So time… passed differently where he was?

Whatever. He’s a vampire now.

His mind is still swimming with the new names and minutiae from the other three. “But won’t I be expected to have a legitimate sire to claim as my own if I ever want to appear in… Elysium, you called it?”

GM: “Lie,” says Camille. “Sami says you’re rather good at that. Claim to have been Embraced somewhere else.”

“Mr. Delacroix could also claim an established Kindred as his sire, which carries its own drawbacks and advantages,” states Preston.

Emmett: “Ah. Well enough, then. Being an immigrant seems simpler, as far as that goes.”

Em continues to be an attentive listener, particularly interested in the finer points of etiquette related to ghouls and human pawns.

He has a couple of ideas there. He asks Camille point-blank about her relation to Mouton, who he has designs on himself. He does not wish to ruin the cop’s usefulness to his sire, but would be interested in holding his leash, or purchasing him from whoever currently does.

GM: “Mouton is a considerable asset to myself and Lord Savoy,” says Camille. “Establish yourself somewhere and I’ll consider selling him.”

Emmett: “I have thoughts on that. Does Ron Landrenau belong to anybody?”

GM: “He’s a man in demand,” chuckles Savoy. “He’s one of mine, though I haven’t blooded him. Camille says something about you having an interest in movies, Mr. Delacroix?”

Emmett: “Indeed. I also have an interest in him specifically. To be frank, I am deeply interested in maintaining a relationship with my uncle beyond but including using him to realize creative projects. Lord Savoy, rather than attempting to purchase him from you, I would rather like to oversee his work on your behalf, and perhaps act as a sort of…creative consultant, overseeing projects that further your interests politically while bringing an understanding of the specifics of film to his oversight. Please, don’t spare my feelings; do you see value in such an arrangement? I would never want to involve myself with your pawn without benefiting you in the bargain. The same, of course, goes for Mouton.”

GM: “See? This one’s already wheeling and dealing,” Savoy grins towards Camille. “You could’ve found someone much worse for your second Embrace!”

Emmett: Em acknowledges the point with a smile.

GM: He turns back to Em. “Movies are mostly incidental to my interests, Mr. Delacroix. I think there’s value in your proposition. It’s one of the reasons I haven’t blooded your uncle.”

Emmett: “Well, that’s encouraging. I would try to make the most of his cultural influence, which I know to be considerable. It sounds like youth is a bit of a millstone on this side of the grave, but I think this is an area where my relative proximity to breathing days and my growing understanding of the Kindred world creates opportunities others might not be able to parse. Vampire media exists, despite the Masquerade you’ve described. I’m sure there’s risks playing with such material, but perhaps rewards as well—do Kindred not wish to see something of themselves on the screen, and attach meaning to stories that capture their hearts? And if course there are subtler games to play with entertainment, towards whatever other goals you might have that benefit from popular consumption of this or that idea. Stories do make us who we are, after all.”

GM: “Indeed they do, Mr. Delacroix. There’s a lot of power in stories, among the dead and living alike. We think they affect us less, because there’s no mass market for Kindred-exclusive books and films, but we’re wrong. We still tell stories.”

“And those Kindred-exclusive films that do exist… well, I’ll just say you need to see them to believe them,” the French Quarter lord winks.

“I remember when Dracula was published. You wouldn’t have believed the panic. Many kine had stopped thinking about vampires by then. We swore that book would shatter the Masquerade. And it did—but it reforged it, too, into something better and stronger. Successful vampire films can repeat that book’s feat, by telling the stories we want to tell. Films can make the kine view us more sympathetically and spread disinformation about our strengths and weaknesses.”

“All before the artistic value inherent to them.” Savoy chuckles. “That timeless advice to write what you know. Or film what you know.”

Emmett: “I was going to ask about Dracula,” Em admits. “But I believe you about all of it, especially the Kindred-exclusive movies. I’d be interested in seeing that kind of thing. You can learn a lot about people if you know the stories they know.”

GM: “One surely can. I’ll see what can be arranged as far as those movies. And I’ll offer you some further advice when it comes to kine besides your uncle, Mr. Delacroix.”

“The best pawns are the ones who owe what they are to you. I’ve seen my share of young Kindred who approached established and successful kine, turned them into ghouls, and relied on the Blood alone to secure their loyalty. Love and addiction tug at one half of them, but resentment and ingratitude pull at their other half. They ultimately don’t need their domitors, but their domitors need them. That isn’t a position you want to be in.”

“But, when you approach someone who doesn’t have what they want, as the smiling devil in a sharp suit, offering the opportunity of a lifetime… that’s another matter. That cultivates lasting loyalty and dependence, if you set up a gangster as head of his gang, help a first-time politician get elected, or take a chance producing a young director’s experimental film. Make someone who they are, and they’ll owe you what they are. They won’t soon forget.”

“It takes a little more time and trouble to arrange. But the dividends pay that back and then some.”

Emmett: “Sage advice, my lord,” Em says unironically. “I couldn’t have picked a better place to be reborn.”

GM: When the question of thanking Savoy for his hospitality and continuing to operate in the French Quarter arises, the Toreador chuckles.

“The more operators we have in the Quarter, the better, Mr. Delacroix. What questions do you have for me?”

Emmett: “The Quarter is prime real estate,” Em says directly, “even if I’m a quiet tenant. I’d like to know whose toes to avoid stepping on and how to walk around them. And, by the same token, where I can find friends to run with. I imagine this life is lonely without them, just like the one before.”

Well, before he got executed, anyways.

GM: Savoy chuckles again. “The other students will always give you better advice where to make friends than the principal, Mr. Delacroix. You might start by asking your sister-in-blood that.”

“Your sire will also steer you straight, as far as toes to avoid. You’ll have her and the rest of your clan backing you up. There are a lot more of them than just her.” Savoy offers a knowing wink, then drums his fingers. “But as some immediate advice, many of the border and poorer areas of the Quarter—Rampart and Canal Street, mainly—are pretty crowded. Full of… how might you describe them, Nat?”

“Weak-blooded vagabonds, riffraff, outcasts, clanless, and scum other cities didn’t want,” notes Preston.

“That’s one way,” grins Savoy. “They’ve been pushed around a lot. They aren’t too dangerous by themselves, but in large numbers they can be. They’re popularly known as Quarter rats.”

Emmett: “I’ve seen some of that crowd,” Em agrees amiably. “I know what you mean.”

He steers the conversation towards Abélia next. “I confess there’s still a lot of things I’m unsure of about her nature. If I’m right about her reasons for sending me here, she probably wants a contact in your camp. I might be better positioned towards how to navigate her if I knew more about her; and of course, that would go a long way if you wish to use me as an intermediary with her.”

GM: Em hears a voice echo in his head as he starts to broach the topic, but before he can say her name.

:: If you’ll oblige me, Mr. Delacroix, let’s speak of her more privately. ::

The French Quarter lord’s lips, though, continue to mouth other words.

“1020 Esplanade and the surrounding area is where the Giovannini make their domain. Watch your step around them, too, but they can be valuable allies to enterprising Kindred.”

:: I’m to understand she facilitated your Embrace as payment for services rendered, though using you as a contact may well have occurred to her—and also has to me! You’ve certainly dealt with her more intimately than any other intermediary I might send. There aren’t many Kindred who’ve entered her lair and emerged to tell of it. ::

Emmett: The thrill of the sudden telepathic subterfuge would set the stolen body’s pulse racing if it still had one, but as is Em feels every muscle (does this guy have more muscle than him? that’s a nice change) in his new cadaver twinge with rigor mortis at the shock. His response is stumbling, but electric

:: You’re in my head this is new sorry let me orient. Ahem. Yes, in the interest of utter honesty I’ve seen an awful lot of her and what she can do but still don’t know what she is, and knowledge that lets me respect her better is very precious to me right now, as, to be blunt, I’m sure direct experience with her is valuable to you. Lord Savoy. Sorry, it’s harder to be polite in your own head. ::

A mental pause. He can’t help himself with the honesty. It’s like talking to somebody when you’re naked. Pretense goes out the window.

:: You’re very dashing, by the way. Since you’re listening in. And I don’t use the word dashing often. I don’t even think the word dashing often. ::

“I’ll keep that in mind, too,” he replies a moment later to the spoken comment.

“Thank you, Lord Savoy.”

GM: There’s a mental chuckle as Savoy continues to talk about various spots in the Quarter.

The voice in Em’s head is more controlled. He ‘sounds’ like he’s done this before.

:: Practice makes perfect, Mr. Delacroix. It can help to visualize the words when you’re new. Like you’re writing a letter. ::

:: As to Madam Devillers, she is a predator, much like us. Perhaps you know something of her diet already? I think she only prefers the taste of incorporeal flesh, though. Anything with a soul can sate her hunger. ::

Emmett: :: And… her daughters? ::

Unbidden, Cécilia’s face swims to the front of his mind. Perhaps Savoy can see it, or feel the sudden longing to stand before her that consumes the fledgling.

:: What is their nature? ::

GM: Another mental chuckle.

:: They seem human in all the ways that count, though appearances usually are deceiving. I doubt they’re wholly so with parentage like theirs. I confess to having had more dealings with their mother. ::

:: You want her, don’t you, Mr. Delacroix? That can be achieved. ::

:: What is success without a beautiful woman to share it with? ::

Emmett: :: I don’t know what I want. Except… to know. If she’s a monster, too. ::

He manages to articulate a mental cough. :: Sorry. Bit maudlin, that. ::

GM: :: Perhaps you know the answer already. What makes a monster? A frightening appearance? Preternatural powers? A diet like ours? How one treats others? ::

Emmett: :: I suppose in her case, I’d say it’s what she’s willing to tolerate from those she loves. But I don’t know if that’s some kind of inhuman indifference—or real forgiveness. Real grace. ::

GM: :: That second quality is precious, isn’t it? I’m afraid I can’t answer you there, but perhaps you might ask her yourself. We can find reasons to send you to her mother’s on my behalf, I’m sure. ::

:: If I may also advise—a whiter face may make her easier to pursue, should you choose to. Even if she sees past skin, many of her friends and acquaintances likely don’t. ::

Emmett: :: Then I guess I should talk to your Dr. Dicentra about that, at least. ::

GM: :: It’ll be well within her talents, I’m certain. The color of one’s skin is a small thing to us. ::

:: White or black, you’ll find it all tastes the same. ::

Emmett: :: I’m new to vampirism, but not to predation. I was a bad man. A wicked ghost, too. I understand the value of secrets. So I understand if this one isn’t yours to give, or if it costs me more. Is there a word for the kind of predator Abélia is? ::

GM: :: The answer to that is both, Mr. Delacroix. It’s a costly secret, and not mine to share. ::

Emmett: He inclines his head, seemingly at some recommendation flowing from the vampiric lord’s lips. Neat bit of multitasking, that.

GM: :: Understand that most of our kind aren’t aware she exists, so I’d be cautious whom you share that secret with. We’re exploitative beings by nature and she doesn’t desire much company outside of her daughters. Kindred who disturb or seek to investigate her rarely survive to regret their mistake. ::

:: I’m impressed you’ve made it as far as you have with her. ::

Emmett: :: I’m lucky. It’s my best feature. Especially now. ::

Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

GM: Em and his sire depart the Evergreen’s rooftop garden after Preston says Dr. Dicentra has been contacted. Camille spends further time explaining the basics of Kindred existence to him in a Louis XIV-style sitting room.

They’ve been in conversation for perhaps an hour when the night doctor arrives.

Support: They look as if they’ve taken care to hide their identity. Red has long been the Kindred color of choice, but the night doctor has taken the night for their own in their garb: black on black on black. Black combat boots with a chunky heel laced to mid-shin, black leather pants that cling to every curve, a black shirt that shows off an ample chest and well-muscled arms, and black gloves with black nails that longer than any lick’s should be. They look sharp, those nails. Even her hair is black, and the eyes that peer out from truly ebon skin obscured by some sort of glamour are black as well.

The form is feminine enough to call it “her,” though perhaps that is yet another way to mask their true identity.

The night doctor halts in the room’s doorway.

“My services have been requested,” she says without preamble.

Emmett: “Which services were those again,” Em mutters, looking her over. “You’ve made me forget everything except how to ask for you name.”

Support: The black-clad doctor might smile, but it’s hard to tell beneath the mask. She steps into the room.

“Your appearance. You wish it altered, I have been told.”

Emmett: “I think so,” Em says, “But I’m on the fence about what I need it altered to. You might be able to help me decide.”

“This face isn’t really mine to begin with, if you want to know the truth. I’m not sure if I should ask for a new one altogether, or try to make do with my old self.”

GM: “What advantages do your old face and a new face have?” Camille poses.

Emmett: “My old face is dead, at least to those who know me. If I show it to them, they’ll recognize me, which breaks the Masquerade. But I am easily disguised, and it might be useful to reveal my identity to certain people. For, ah, dramatic flourishes, if nothing else.”

“But a new face is a chance to start over, and this is a new beginning. Not many people ever get that chance, and besides, there’s a lot of baggage in that old face. A lot of hate, too. Maybe it’s better to wear a new one.”

Em considers the night doctor. “Whoever you are, you’ve done this before. What do you think?”

Support: “Many Kindred seek my services for different reasons,” she answers. “They want to be stronger, bigger, more imposing. They want to erase old scars from their bodies. They tire of the nightly shave and a haircut routine.”

The doctor studies Emmett.

“If your former face is known to be dead, let it stay dead. Do not break the Masquerade. There are other ways to prove your identity than a face should you desire to seek out old acquaintances. But appearances are everything. A charming smile will get you far when you pair it with quick wit and a silver tongue.”

The doctor nods toward Camille, though she continues to speak to Emmett.

“Kindred and kine alike remember the eyes. Should you seek a face easily disguised, something plainer will do. Then you can become your own canvas. Alternatively, I can create an ideal version of the old you with enough changes that no one who was not intimately familiar with your face will recognize.”

“If you are still undecided… I am a sculptor. Sometimes the flesh speaks to me and tells me what it wants to be.”

Emmett: “Sculpt,” Em says. “I will talk with you as you do. Maybe I’ll look more like myself than I did before.

But… you said the eyes have something of the soul. If you saw a picture of me, could you give me my old eyes back?”

Support: “Yes. I could. I will warn, however, that eye modifications are among the most painful bodily altercations I can perform.”

Emmett: Em smiles faintly.

“Well. Maybe you can give me a treat if I don’t cry, afterwards.”

He looks at Camille. “Do you happen to have an image of my old face in your phone, or something?”

GM: His sire only gives that question a thin smile.

Emmett: “Fine,” Em says. “I’ll get it.”

He holds out his hand. He does it without thinking about it, flexing that part of him that still hasn’t processed that he’s no longer a being of spirit rather than flesh.

A pair of eyes float inches above his palm, staring into the night doctor’s. They’re dark as a dark night and full of cruel mirth—but for all their cruelty, most people would kill to get the joke.

They’re Emmett Delacroix’s eyes, he realizes. The dream of his eyes, gathered and held for the good doctor to see. By the time the conjured gaze dissolves, he expects it’s left an impression.

GM: “Well done,” Camille purrs. “Veiling can also be used to resume your old face, should the need arise.”

“Or should I say, the rest of your old face.”

Support: It’s difficult to tell whether the display leaves an impression on the doctor or not. The black mask gives nothing away.

“I can see,” she says mildly, “why you’d like them back.”

“Consider it done.”

Emmett: “Then let’s get started. Where do you want me?”

“Um. Also. Do I need to be naked for this?”

Support: “Not yet.” A flash of fangs accompanies her amused tone.

Dicentra looks to Camille.

“I do not allow others to observe my process. I will take him to the Red Room and send for you when we are done.”

Emmett: Red Room. Sounds, dare he think it, erotic?

What else would red signify?

GM: “Of course, doctor,” answers Camille as she rises from her seat. A smile plays across her caramel features as she brushes past the masked Kindred. One of her hands strokes the night doctor’s breasts as lightly and idly as a serpent’s flicking tongue.

“What luscious thoughts swim underneath the mask, I wonder…” she murmurs into Dicentra’s ear, “that one with the power to alter flesh would wear so luscious a form, even disguised… I bet you’d be a lot of fun, with it off.”

She winks knowingly, then turns slightly to address Em as well.

“Sami will swing by in an hour or so. Think of a new name to go with your new face. It can be real-sounding, or something poetic like Harlequin or Sundown.”

Support: The doctor looks as if she might follow in Camille’s wake at that touch; she reaches out, snagging the snake’s wrist in her hand before she can go too far.

“Perhaps,” the voice from beneath the mask purrs, “one night I shall seek you out and grant your wish to see beneath the leather.”

Dicentra only turns to Em once his sire has taken her leave and beckons for him to follow her. She leads him through the halls of the Evergreen with casual certainty, obviously familiar with the layout of the club. She makes no idle chatter as she walks, though the vibe that he gets from her is less “foreboding” than it is “contemplative.”

Eventually they reach the Red Room. She takes him inside and closes the door behind her, ensuring their privacy with the click of a lock. Looking around, Emmett can see the reason it is called the Red Room: though they have been drained of blood, bodies sit on metal shelves around the room. Some of the corpses have had their throats torn out. Others have been split from sternum to groin. Still others carry a multitude of marks upon their skin, holes from which they bled their last. Male, female, black, white, and in between, but all of them have been stripped of their clothing and their life.

It might be cold to the kine, but the freshly dead fledgling does not feel the chill upon his skin. A table has already been set up in the middle of the room.

“You can remove your clothing now.”

She gestures toward the table. Metal, like the shelves, reminiscent of the sort of gurney found in a coroner’s office. Holes have been drilled into it to allow for easy cleanup; beneath Emmett’s feet the tile floor slopes gently toward a drain set in the middle.

Emmett: He does so in efficient, experienced bursts, only somewhat belied by his relative inexperience in this passenger. He pulls stolen cloth from stolen flesh and then approaches the table. The whole thing is very Six Million Dollar Man.

“This seems uneven,” he says wryly, as he sits the stolen body on the table.

Support: The doctor watches from behind her impassive mask. It’s hard to tell how she thinks or feels when her features are thus hidden.

“You must be new,” she says, though the words aren’t unkind. “You will get used to being naked in front of other Kindred.”

Emmett: “Oh, I’ve been a whore. That’s not the hard part. It was more of an invitation by way of observation.”

Support: “Clever,” she purrs, “I can see why your sire chose you. Shall I call her in and let you share me?”

Emmett: “Is it wrong that I don’t want to share my first time?”

Support: Low, throaty laughter sounds from beneath the mask.

“Perhaps if you don’t scream that will be the aforementioned treat.”

Dicentra tells him to lie back and removes the gloves from her hands, reaching for his face. She stops just shy of touching him.

“May I?”

Emmett: “Please.”

Support: Her fingers stroke his skin, their touch cool.

“Young,” she murmurs.

The pad of her thumb traces his lips. He can feel it shift beneath the gentle pressure; pain flares, but it is fleeting, banished by the light touch that follows. A moment later it dissipates.

“Made for smiles.”

Two fingers slide down the bridge of his nose, squeezing as they go. For a moment he’s blinded by the pain. Then it, too, flees before the words that come.


The doctor pauses.


Cool fingertips brush against his skin from his hairline to his jaw. They trail down his cheek, a whisper-soft touch that reminds him of butterfly kisses and the wind on his face. They remind him of every girl he’s ever embraced, every longing thought, every moment of ecstasy.

“Close your eyes,” she whispers. “Go inside.”

Emmett: He does so. It’s easy to listen to her. She’s been right enough, so far.

And those fingers, besides. There was nothing like them in the Shadowlands.

Support: The last thing he sees before closing his eyes is motion behind the mask the doctor wears, the slight suggestion of a smile.

Then she’s gone, and him with her. He’s transported; no longer lying on a metal table within the Red Room, he finds himself in a long hallway. Rich carpet gives beneath the soles of his shoes, burgundy tussore woven through with saffron and ivory. Cream walls hem him in to the left and right, their continuous lines broken only by the frames of doors that open onto empty tableau. Colorful lights shine from beneath the frames of the doors: crimson, coral, amber, viridian, azure, indigo. He recognizes the settings as he passes:

A sitting room in Madam Devillers’ house, devoid of life.

Cafe Soulé, where a smiling Madeline delivers a pair of hurricanes to a younger Emmett and a beautiful girl in a sling.

A hotel suite. He doesn’t linger long in this doorway. Hotels have never been kind to Emmett Delacroix.

The Giacona manse, where a woman with poison eyes asks him how much he’ll give to get what he wants.

Louisiana State Penitentiary, his final resting place.

The rooftop garden he just vacated, the place of his rebirth.

All of them speak of his past. It is the door in front of him, however, that speaks to his future. White wood inlaid with swirls and whorls of gold and silver that dance before his eyes, slithering across the frame. A golden handle waits for his touch.

Emmett: He touches it, hopes his fingers can do the same thing to it the night doctor’s touch does to him as he turns it—

Support: It opens into a well-appointed suite. A king-sized bed sits in the center of the room, its ornate bedspread covered in rose petals that have spilled from the bed to the floor in a puddle of red. To one side another set of doors open onto what he imagines is a closet, beside it a mahogany armoire and floor length mirror. The windows look out over the city he has called home for most of his life, an idealized, colorful version of it that makes the Shadowlands’ grayscale a far distant memory. The yellow, green, and purple of the Quarter dominate the scene.

A champagne bottle rests on ice in the center of the bed, but when he pops the cork the heady scent of blood reaches him. Blood. The bread and butter of their kind now. The only thing he will ever taste again. A glass waits beside it should he choose to quench his thirst.

Emmett: He drinks. When has he not?

But there’s such a large bed, and plenty to drink, yet nobody to share it with.

Support: Despite the ice the blood within the bottle is hot. It slides down his throat, viscous and warm; it tastes like a comforting embrace, like the mythological siren of Poseidon or Hades beckoning him down into the depths of the water to deprive him of his last breath; it tastes like unrequited love, like ruby red lips and kohl liner, like leather and lace. It sets a fire in his belly, unfurling outward to sing through his veins.

“Delicious, isn’t it?”

A black-clad woman reclines on the bed beside him. Black gauze obscures her face; there’s no movement beneath the fabric, no way to tell if she has a mouth or eyes or features beyond the flat mask. Different than Dicentra, but somehow Emmett knows: it’s her.

“You’re like me,” she tells him, “a man without a face. But that’s okay. We’ll find you one.”

He looks into the mirror and sees that she’s right. He has no face.

Her voice echoes through his mind and body.

“Who are you?”

Emmett: His voice answers hers in a murmur, one that tugs his lips in the waking world as surely as they responded to the taste of blood.

“A bad, bad man. I’m worried I might be too good at being a vampire. People have always been disposable to me.”

Support: The mask over her face moves, suggesting a smile.

“You are in good company, then. Those whom you call friend and ally will tell you that to be good at one thing you must be bad at another. They will ask you to shed your human shackles.”

Emmett: “Do you believe something different?”

Support: “Not in so many words, though as in all things I believe there is balance to be found within your Requiem.”

“Strong enough connections can keep you tethered to your humanity. You need not be a purveyor of wanton destruction to succeed, though many will say that is the swiftest path.”

“But this is your rebirth. Who do you want to be?”

Emmett: “I want to be free,” he says truly. “To love who I love and fuck over who I don’t. Free to watch movies and maybe make one when I get bored. Free so… mmh.”

Free so the souls I destroyed went for something other than Abélia’s larders, he’d been about to but just barely does not say, mindful of the French Quarter lord’s warning. He’s not normally this open, is he?

Damn her hands.

“I want to be on top,” he finishes without so much as stuttering.

And winks.

Top-shelf flirting for a dead man, really.

Support: “Big dreams for the freshly dead,” the masked woman tells him, “but we all start where you are now. I’ll give you the advice that was given to me when I was still a greenfang: make yourself useful to someone. You’re at the bottom of the mountain now, but it is not insurmountable.”

There’s definitely a smile beneath the wrapping. The hands touching his body have moved from his face lower; beyond the scene in his mind he feels the tips of her fingers against his traps, unwinding muscle fiber.

“The great thing about hierarchies is that they change. As do people, Kindred included. Take your time to try on new masks as you will, but you need a face beneath that.”

Emmett: “Could I be of use to you?” He pushes on, lost in her touch.

Support: “Aside from the favor you will owe me for this work?”

There’s a momentary pause, though the hands on his body do not cease their work.

“Perhaps I will see what you make of your Requiem and seek you out. Pick a pretty enough face and I know a former whore with whom you might compare notes.”

Emmett: “And what if I wish to find you?”

Support: “I have a phone. Unlike the Anarchs, you won’t need to rely on tagging a random surface and hoping that I find you.”

Emmett: “Anarchs are which ones again? Vampire communists?”

Support: “Rebels who think they have a cause.”

Emmett: “I didn’t even have to die to meet those.”

He lifts a hand to her obscured face. “Could I see yours? Since you’re the first ever to see mine.”

Support: The doctor does not resist his touch. His fingertips brush against the gauze and it fades away like smoke, dissipating into the air.

His own face stares back at him.

Emmett: He blinks.

Not the smartest cookie, but he can figure this one out.

“You know me.”

Support: “We’re inside your head. You know yourself.”

Emmett: “How are you doing this? This dreaming thing.”

Support: “Shadow dancing,” she tells him. “Not dreaming. You can get out of it at any time. The lick I mentioned earlier taught it to me in exchange for some work. If this is truly your face, she has a pet that might be interested in knowing. She can tell you more.”

“But we’re here to pick a new face for you. The man you were is dead. Who are you now?”

Emmett: “Tired. Older. Wiser, maybe.”

But maybe not, of course.

Support: Dicentra considers him for a moment. A wave of her hand opens the set of double doors to the side of the room, where a thousand faces hang from a thousand gilded hangers. A crook of her fingers summons one to them.

“Tired and old,” she tells him, “and perhaps some wisdom in there somewhere. Is this the face you seek?”

Emmett: He laughs. “Some men age gracefully, don’t they? I want a face people trust, for all that. Thirties, more than forties.”

Support: She laughs with him, dismissing the first face into smoke and shadow.

“Your own face, but better? Older?”

Another takes its place. Him. The two sides of him: young and old, light and dark, dead and alive. Wicked and innocent.

Emmett: “Older,” he agrees. I always wanted to be grown up, some day. Now I suppose I have forever.”

He requests some cosmetic changes, too. A few roguish scars about the face. A bit of aging here, smoothing there. His hair can afford to be messier now than it once was, he expects.

His face lies. Makes him a new man.

But his eyes will tell the truth.

Support: The face of the man floating in front of the two of them shifts as Emmett speaks. Dicentra controls the movements with a twitch of her fingers, and every word that comes out of Em’s mouth makes another alteration to the flesh in front of them. They build the ideal face together. Dicentra remains predominantly silent; she just sculpts. She is the paintbrush and he the hand that directs it, and only when he asks for input does she speak to offer a word of advice—“that scar will suit you better on this side,” or “the symmetry is off.” She offers guidance without judgement.

She asks if anyone has explained how their bodies work, and tells him that any changes she makes will be permanent, though any that he himself makes will only ever be temporary. He could shave his head one night and will find that the next it has regrown to its original length and color. Some Kindred find ritual in their daily grooming, while others despise the wasted time and curse the styles that were en vogue when they died.

Younger, he says, and she teases him with a boy.

Messy hair, he says, and laughingly she gives him a mop of curls that will never be tamed.

He wants a smile that can shatter hearts, and she smiles at him with his old face and gives him the smirk of someone who might have cut those same hearts out of their chests.

Less like a serial killer, he asks, and it changes again.

Distantly, Emmett feels the doctor’s hands across his body. His flesh shifts beneath her touch; there’s pain, dull and sharp by turns, and inside the suite of his mind the doctor tells him to keep going. She distracts him with this game of faces, preventing the pain from overwhelming him, teasing and coaxing him to make absurd changes to make him laugh. He feels it, but it’s muted, and all the while the new face comes together.

When they’ve decided on a face she asks about the body, and the pain that flares at her touch shifts to something less red hot while she reworks muscle and skin at his direction. Buff or willowy, hard or soft, big or little—yes, even there—she gives him what he wants.

He doesn’t know how much time has passed when the work finally ends. But the Dicentra in his head smiles at him and tells him it is done.

She withdraws from his mind, her black-clad form dispersing into smoke and shadow.

When he opens his eyes, she holds out a mirror.

Emmett: It’s not such a young face, really. Younger than his father, as far as that goes. Younger than his uncle, too.

But this face looks like maybe it’s been to prison. Like maybe it’s seen the ugliest parts of being human, from the inside looking out.

But for all the ugly inside him, Em thinks he comes out looking pretty good.

Maybe a little soviet, at that.

Support: As if Lord Savoy or his sire would give him some second-rate night doctor.

Behind the mask, Dicentra smiles down at him.

“There are showers to rinse yourself of blood,” she tells him. Her hands, he sees, are bloody up to the elbow, and his body is covered in it.

Emmett: “Oh,” he says. His new voice sounds strange, but also comforting to new ears.

“How do you feel about saving water?”

Support: “I’d hate to waste such a renewable resource.”

Emmett: “So we should share a shower? That’s terribly unfortunate.” He rises, tests the feeling of his new, undead flesh.

Support: “I hope you’re not looking to bump uglies,” the doctor drawls, eyeing his new form with blatant interest. “The breather way doesn’t do it for us anymore.”

Too bad, that thing between his legs looks rather nice.

“But it’s this way.”

The Red Room isn’t too far from the semi-public showers that Savoy has had installed for his guests. Dicentra tells him on the way that there’s a “lost and found” closet if he needs clothing for his new form, as well. She leaves the discarded parts behind.

The Boggs will eat well.

Emmett: “What uglies?” he says easily, following her like a satisfied puppy. “Your work is flawless.”

“I suppose I’ll have to find somebody to teach me how vampires fuck, then. Otherwise I’m going to be all awkward at parties.”

Support: “Fangs, mostly.” But she smiles at the compliment. “Blood. Like everything. If you’re looking to lose your V-card, Lord Savoy hosts parties on Saturday evenings after court. There are plenty of horny licks around.”

Emmett: “V-card? Really? That’s a long lost cause, even if this is a new body. Anyways, what day is it?” He reaches for the knob that activates the shower, and a pink mist levitates off of his skin and spatters the both of them.

“Saturday seems like a long time to wait.”

Support: “It’s Monday,” the doctor tells him, “but I’d be stunned if your sire doesn’t fuck you before then. She has quite a reputation.”

Blood from her hands rinses down the drain. She has yet to remove her leathers.

Emmett: “You’re letting me start off my Requiem with a rejection?” He pouts. “I was just trying to thank you.”

Support: “You already owe me a boon, pretty boy. Didn’t anyone tell you how our economics work?”

It’s not a no, though.

Emmett: “I’ve worked very hard to become a man,” he protests, “with a few wrinkles and facial hair and everything. And besides. Economics is one thing. I’m talking about gratitude. Completely different phenomenon.”

He turns his back on her. Blood runs between his shoulder blades down the channel of his spine. “But if you prefer your privacy, I won’t look.”

Support: “Don’t blame me if your sire is upset she didn’t have you first,” Dicentra says to that.

But she turns around and gestures at the zipper in the back of her suit, letting him have the fun of unveiling her.

Emmett: It takes him a minute to realize she has also turned around.

But he obliges her, running his new fangs against the nape of her neck as he sheds the layers between them.

He hasn’t had an actual fuck in a while.

Like, a long while.

He’s almost nervous.

Support: He shouldn’t be. Dicentra seems more than happy to explain the rules to him and let him get his feet wet; she’s been patient enough so far. Em knows he doesn’t need to breathe anymore, but there’s a little gasp of pleasure and a shiver that runs down her spine at the touch of fang to neck. Her blood pools in the wound, waiting for him to lick it clean.

The leather slips free from her like a second skin, revealing the body beneath. Just as luscious as the leather implied.

It’s the face that might throw him off. Pale. Pierced. Thin brows, full lips. Pretty but… familiar.

Almost like the girl he’d met on the roof. The one who hadn’t smiled at all.

Way prettier, though. He can’t imagine Preston ever wearing makeup, taking her glasses off, or letting her hair down.

Emmett: Indeed, the very comparison is one he feels immediately guilty for even making.

Nobody deserves to be compared to Nat.

“You’re sure I don’t know you? You’ve got one of those faces,” he deadpans, albeit with a note of sensuality since he’s talking quietly into her ear. She has a feeling the question is ceremonial more than earnest.

For one thing, he is not looking at her face when he says it.

Support: The question makes her laugh.

“I think you’d remember me,” she purrs in his ear. But she seems to like the attention all the same; she stretches luxuriously, arms above her head to lift that beautiful rack even higher, as if now that her outfit has come out she can finally breathe again.

Then her fangs come out and his back is against the wall when she puts a hand on his chest to shove him back, the tile cool against his skin, her body cool against his, but the water is warm. So very, very warm. His blood flows where she nips at his neck and chest and shoulder, letting it sit for long, precious seconds before she comes back to drink.

Emmett: It’s been a long time. But he knows better than to keep talking.

It’s bizarre, this vampire fucking. Rougher than he was into, for sure. More about the nuances of pleasure that is ripped from your other’s pain, and learning that pain enjoyed the right way can breed enormous pleasure.

They hurt each other, and it is glorious, and the sordid details of the coupling are lost in blood and drainwater.

When they’re done, which is some time later, he lays with her below the raining showerhead, and does not know if he is soiled or clean.

Only that he is happy.

“Wait a while before dropping the other shoe, will you?” he mutters to her.

Support: Despite the tile, neither one of them are uncomfortable. Dicentra seems content to rest next to him with her head on his shoulder while the water rinses away the evidence of their coupling. Her fingers trace idle circles across his chest and lower stomach.

“No other shoe to this, just fun. The Saturday parties I mentioned earlier almost always end up something like this.” He can hear the delight in her voice at the thought.

Emmett: “Maybe not to this. But you?” He squeezes her shoulder. “I’m in danger of actually liking you, Dr. Dicentra.”

“I suppose I’ll have to come back on Saturday, then. You mentioned a phone, earlier? It seems a shame to wait so long before we… talk.”

Support: “You’re a shameless flirt,” the doctor laughs. “I don’t even know your name and already you’re asking for round two?”

“But yes. I’ll give you my number before we go. You have seventy-two hours to decide you want minor modifications before it costs you more. For your… gratitude.”

Emmett: “Finally. A woman who appreciates my nobler qualities.”

“The least of which is my name, really.”

Support: “Shame the best part of you doesn’t work anymore. I heard it’s rather enjoyable to have it sucked if you give a little nip.”

Emmett: “That’s a strange way to talk about my eyes.”

Support: Her eyes find his face.

“Mm,” she muses, “I stand corrected. Those are gorgeous. I’d say I good do work—and I do—but that was some great starting material.”

The doctor finally rolls off of him, rising to her feet to rinse off the results of their tryst beneath the spray of the shower.

“I’ll get you that number. And the one for my friend. I think she’ll like you if you make it a habit of showing gratitude with sex.”

Then she’s gone, plucking her outfit from where it had been left on the ground on her way out the door, and just a card with a hastily scrawled name and a pair of numbers is all the memento he has from his time with the night doc.

Emmett V, Chapter XV
Suckers & Snakes

“Have you ever felt as if you could not be all that you were?”
Camille Richelieu

Date ?

GM: It’s in color.

Caramel-brown skin. Darker, almost black, but brown-tinted hair. Red lips. Gold earrings. Green eyes. Even poisonous as they are, even for all the awful memories they conjure up, they’re in color.

It’s all in color.

There’s a low breeze against his skin. There’s birds chirping in his ears, and pleasantly muted sounds of traffic, cars with living people behind the wheel, thrumming along towards their destinations.

He can smell again. Oh, he could smell in the Shadowlands, but the only smells there were of death and rot. They were all bed smells. Here he smells recently-cut grass and sweet floral scents.

And, above all, a coppery red that he knows is the most luscious scent he will ever take in, from now ’til eternity.

He feels no heartbeat in his chest. Some things haven’t changed since dying.

But he does feel the monster. He feels it in the fangs in his mouth. He feels it clawing and pacing inside his chest, sated only by blood, and only, he knows, temporarily. Monsters must feed. Monsters must kill.

“It’s not on your side…” Gasper had said, before it devoured him.

He’s lying on the ground. The Poison-Eyed Lady pulls back from him, licks closed a bloody gash along her wrist, and offers him a hand up.

It’d feel like clasping the Devil’s hand to make a pact, if he hadn’t already done that.

Emmett: Em blinks. Squeezes his eyes shut. And opens them slowly.

Color. All the colors in the world. Even the ones that make him nervous, like that poisonous shade of green.

The colors are still there the second time he opens his eyes. And, Em realizes, they’ll be there the third, too.

They’ll be there forever.

And when you’ve got forever, what’s a few seconds to take in the view?

It doesn’t take him very long to take her hand, though. Some things don’t take much thinking.

Nor does he break the silence. He simply gazes, at her, at the surroundings, at everything that isn’t rot.

Gorgeous, mute, and with something new Emmett’s never had before. Not in the flesh.


He waits for her to speak.

GM: Em’s hand is a black man’s. It’s a bit thicker than his old one.

Emmett: Okay, that’s strange.

Bit ironic to start complaining about color now, though.

GM: He looks around and takes in his surroundings.

They’re a bit different from last time.

They’re outdoors, on the same rooftop, open-air garden that affords a spectacular view of the New Orleans skyline. Statues of fallen angels, some brooding by themselves, others locked in passionate embraces with their fellow elohim, are nestled among the garden’s trees, rose bushes, magnolias, and other fragrant-smelling flora. Blue-, orange-, and red-winged butterflies fly past gold cages containing chirping songbirds with exotic plumages displaying every color in the rainbow. A short ways off from them, a French marble jacuzzi patterned to resemble the ocean floor sits invitingly. Soft fluorescent blue lights cast hazy patterns over the bubbling water.

The stacks of corpses are gone. The blood and gore is gone. The rot and rust is gone. Everything is polished and fresh and bright with color. It’s night out, and Em feels like it’s going to night out for some time. Next to the Shadowlands’ endless gloom, he might as well be attending a gay pride on a Miami beach at noon.

“I told you I’d have my eye on you,” winks the Poison-Eyed Lady .

It feels almost friendly.

Emmett: Almost.

“Both of them, even,” Em manages. “I’m a little confused. I think I was having a dream. I was dead, you see.”

Are they alone?

GM: Savoy is there. So is Preston. Both are seated by the table. Bale stares at him appraisingly with her glass eye. A dark-skinned woman in a cotton gown, who somehow feels… less than them, is packing away some unlit candles, chalk, bottles, an animal carcass, and assorted other Vodoun trappings. She’s also removing a veve inscribed on the floor round Em. He can hear a heartbeat thumping inside her chest.

All of the others’ cavities are still.

Savoy motions towards the iron table. The chairs around it have cushions. Intact, red cushions, not the hole-ridden and slimy bits of shredded gray cloth they did in the Shadowlands.

“Have a seat, Mr. Delacroix. I’m sure you’ve got questions.”

The Poison-Eyed Lady assumes a place by the table.

The woman in the cotton dress finishes cleaning up. Bale looks away and back towards the French Quarter lord, though her gaze seems to only half rest upon him.

“I am called elsewhere,” she says.

Savoy inclines his head.

“Of course, Madam Bale. Thank you as ever for your services.”

Emmett: He sits down next to her, if such a space is available. “Many,” he says. “But I’m sure you know better where to start than I do.”

His gaze flickers to Bale at her statement.

“A pleasure to meet you, Madam Bale.”

GM: Such a space is available.

“Is his memory intact?” Preston inquires of Bale.

The glass-eyed woman does not look at or respond to either of them. She stares out over the city, offers a deep inclination her head, then slowly walks backwards with lesser-feeling woman.

She only looks away when she reaches the elevator, gives a murmured, “Lord Savoy,” and then takes it down.

Savoy offers Em an indulgent smile.

“Madam Bale can seem a little strange to Kindred who meet her for the first time, but she’s that way to everyone. It’s the price for the powers she commands, I think.”

“At least she is more coherent than Curry,” replies Preston.

“She is that,” grants Savoy.

“But as to Mr. Delacroix’s questions….”

He smiles towards the Poison-Eyed Lady.

“You were dead, and you are still dead,” she says to Emmett.

Emmett: “Not all afterlives are equal.”

GM: “They are not,” she agrees. “My name is Camille Richelieu. Madam Bale and I brought you from that afterlife to this one.”

“You are Kindred now. What mortals call a vampire.”

“For as long as you drink the blood of the living, you are immortal.”

Emmett: He nods, still patient. “That sounds better than my dream. In that one, I was a ghost, and I couldn’t drink anything.”

GM: “You were not dreaming.”

Emmett: “May I see a mirror, please?”

GM: “Nat?” asks Savoy.

Preston taps the tablet in her hands, then turns it around. It reflects the rest of his surrounding’s, though Em’s features are indistinct. The lighting is terrible.

“We’re what you might call camera-shy by nature,” smiles the French Quarter lord.

“Focus,” says Camille.

“Will yourself to appear. Look for your features. They’re there.”

Em concentrates. His face slowly swims into view. The lighting isn’t that bad after all.

It’s also not his face. He sees a moderately handsome, goateed African-American man with short hair in maybe his late 20s.

“I’m afraid your original body is buried over 100 miles away, Mr. Delacroix, so we had to get you a new one,” says Savoy. “If you’d prefer your old face back, we have an associate who can alter your appearance.”

Emmett: “I’ve seen worse,” En replies gamely, and lifts a hand to his goatee. “Whose body is this, and how did I wind up in it? And why?”

He glances over his shoulder. “I must seem terribly rude, having my existential transition right at the beginning of our acquaintance, Lord Savoy.”

GM: Preston sets down her tablet.

The French Quarter lord chuckles. “I think we’re both entering new territory here, Mr. Delacroix. There certainly aren’t many Kindred who enter their Requiems as you have!”

Emmett: “Not many,” Em echoes, “but more than one?”

GM: “If there are others, I can’t profess to have heard of them. As far as I’m aware, Mr. Delacroix, you are one of a kind.”

“If it can happen here, it could have happened elsewhere,” Camille says contemplatively.

“As to your body, I can’t say I know who it belonged to either. We wind up with a lot of bodies at the Evergreen, let’s just say,” Savoy winks.

“Though Nat can have someone look into it if you’re curious.”

Emmett: “That seems like it might end up being relevant. What was that about a… surgeon, you said? Somebody who could make me look like my old dead self?”

GM: “It is unlikely to be relevant if your face changes,” states Preston. She looks towards Savoy. “Nevertheless, sir, I will see it done.”

“Very good, Nat,” he smiles, then turns back towards Em.

“Oh yes, her name’s Dr. Dicentra. She’s quite talented. She can make you look like your old self down to your nose hairs.”

Emmett: “…how?”

GM: “How do dead souls live on as ghosts?” asks Camille.

Emmett: “Fair enough,” Em agrees amiably. “I suppose I would like to know the name of this body anyhow, just in case somebody comes looking for it.”

GM: “It will be looked into,” Preston states.

“It’s a trade secret exactly how she does it,” Savoy winks at Em’s earlier question. “I don’t know the exact process either, only the results. But the Blood carries many gifts.”

Emmett: “Gifts,” Em echoes. “I suppose I’m confused as to how you come into this,” he directs to Camille. “Did you know I was a ghost?”

GM: “Yes,” she answers. “Madam Bale helped your spirit cross over into our world and was your midwife into the Requiem. She informed Lord Savoy that a Kindred’s vitae would be necessary to complete your transformation. In so many words, a sire.”

“He thought about who to call and asked around.”

Emmett: “And your name arose?”

GM: “He asked Sami first.”

Emmett: “Ah.”

GM: “She thought she would be a better sister than sire to Emmett Delacroix. She knew I’d had my eye on you, after all.”

The woman’s poisonous eyes simmer as she smiles.

Emmett: “So you turned her as well.”

GM: “She received her first taste of my vitae after you asked me to bring her back.”

“She received the full thing after she struck it rich and proved what an asset she was to our clan.”

Em remembers that. When she told him she was ‘happy,’ and he concluded she no longer needed him to survive.

Emmett: But there’s a more interesting word in that sentence.

“Our clan?”

No ‘K’ in front of that one, he’s pretty sure.

GM: “In the time before time, there was Gran Maître, the supreme god, alone and apart.”

“Gran Maître created Damballah, the great white serpent and primordial creator of all further life. Damballah created the cosmos by using his 7,000 coils to form the stars and the planets in the heavens and to shape the hills and valleys on earth.”

“Damballah created many further gods; his wife Aïda-Wedo, goddess of the rainbow; Ogoun, god of war and metal; Zarabanda, the messenger-god; Cristo Negro, the king of the dead; and all the saints and mystéres and loa and whatever you want to call them.”

“Long ago, a mortal king stole divine power by cutting out and eating Damballah’s heart. This was not actually fatal to the god, but it made him and his consort terribly angry. Aïda’s curse banished the king from life and the day, while Damballah’s curse banished him from the peace of the grave, but the two gods could not take back the stolen power. The king, however, could share it with others who accepted the curse as its price.”

“The king’s brothers and sisters persuaded him to share his stolen power, and in turn passed it on to others.”

“For all its curses, this power was a great blessing. After death, the worthy may become gods; but those who inherit the king’s stolen power may do so in the flesh rather than as spirits. They may live forever and command fantastic powers as living gods.”

“But the king’s brothers and sisters became greedy and wished to be the only gods. They used their powers to oppress and subjugate mankind, to destroy their spirits and prevent them from achieving their potential, denying them the chance to become gods upon their deaths. The king’s brothers and sisters would only allow further gods to exist by their permission: whomever they chose to pass on the king’s stolen power to.”

“The king’s son also received the stolen power from his father, but he did not grow jealous and greedy. He did not seek to oppress and command mortals, but to liberate them from their self-imposed chains and to see them all become gods upon their deaths. He passed on his stolen power to his own children, whom he considered worthy to aid him in this goal. They passed on the stolen power to their own children, who passed it eventually to me, and I to you and Samantha.”

Camille smiles at him knowingly. It’s almost comforting, if he can look past the glimmer of that awful night in her simmering eyes.

“Samantha believes none of this. She said you would believe none of it either.”

“Your belief is not necessary.”

“I would instead ask: Have you ever felt as if you could not be all that you were? Have you ever felt as if the world was stacked against you, and full of rules and power structures that benefited a small group of people who didn’t want to let you in to their club? Have you ever felt as if idiots enjoyed nice things they didn’t want you to enjoy too? Have you ever felt as if the only way to get what you wanted was to lie and steal? Have you ever felt as if the world would grind you down to a banal existence of 9 to 5 mediocrity if you didn’t cheat to get ahead? Have you ever felt as if you had an extraordinary vision, potential, or destiny that the world wanted to destroy before you could achieve it?”

Emmett: Em says nothing to her question. But he does not need to. The distance in his eyes is a soliloquy. Even the staring statues of the garden know what he knows.

Some stories are truer than the myths they’re made of.

“And what do you ask of me, in exchange for this blessing?”

GM: The poison-eyed woman’s smile turns content at the look in his eyes.

“That depends, partly, how you want to spend eternity.”

“Sami says you ran confidence schemes and wanted to make movies.”

“Do that. Do something else. It doesn’t matter what. Only that you fulfill your purpose.”

Emmett: “What purpose?”

GM: “What you felt everyone in your old life tried to stop you from achieving. The greatness that you knew lay within you.”

“What was that?”

Emmett: Em is silent for a time. But now the look in his eyes is less certain.

“I’m still trying to figure that out,” he says finally. “But you said I have eternity. Do you need an answer now?”

GM: “What is ‘now’ to one who has forever?” smiles Camille.

“You asked who we were. Our clan goes by many names. We call ourselves the Timoun nan Damballah, the Children of Damballah, we in whose veins runs the blood of gods, we whose forefather alone sought to uplift mankind to its full potential.”

“Ignorant Kindred call us the Followers of Set, but you will find no clanmate in the city who worships a jackal-headed god of Egypt.”

“Ignorant Kindred call us tempters and corruptors. They call us fixers, dealers, and purveyors of vices, and believe we ‘corrupt’ others simply to gain power over them.”

“But we seek only to do as our forefather has done, to break the chains imposed on humanity by the Aeons—our name for the forces that kept you from achieving greatness in your old life. Vice only holds what power one allows it. Sin is only sin because the Aeons say it is sin. One must transgress against taboos to overcome them.”

“Only the small-minded are ‘corrupted’ by us and enslaved by us. They are only trapped within our coils if they cannot see past them.”

Camille pauses briefly.

“You asked what we would ask of you.”

“We would ask to help you prosper, and that you help us to prosper.”

“We would ask you to help lead others to truth, and to use those who cannot find it—those you ‘corrupt’—as you see fit.”

“We would ask you to enjoy immortality’s pleasures alongside us.”

“We would ask that you allow us to help you achieve purpose and greatness.”

“We would ask to protect you from our enemies, and that you help us against our enemies, Kindred who hate us for the crime of our blood.”

“We would ask you to defy the Aeons, and that you help us to defy the Aeons.”

“We would ask that you do these things and accept these things only willingly.”

Emmett: “Only willingly? What would happen if I refused?” His tone indicates he has no intention of doing so.

GM: “Then we would part ways here. You could remain in the city, or establish a new unlife somewhere else. We don’t have any use for unwilling converts, and trying to harm you is effort expended for no gain.”

The woman extends a slender hand for him to shake. She smiles more fully, and Emmett notices that her eyes have vertically slit pupils. Like a snake’s.

Preston continues to work on her tablet.

Savoy, seemingly content to let Emmett’s sire handle things with him, grins with the pleasure that comes from watching a sealed deal.

“So what do you say, Emmett Delacroix?” asks Camille. “Are you one of us?”

Emmett: It’s a good sell. One of the best he’s ever heard. Here he is, naked and helpless and young, and all she has to do is make vague promises with vaguer obligations. It’s a winning formula for a scam: all carrot, and the only stick is how obviously ill-footed he’ll be without them. Em’s disoriented, but he’s not so out of it that “vampire snake cult” sounds like a winning proposition for eternity.

And yet. At least with a cult, you know where you stand.

“I’m one of you,” he says, as truthfully as that goes.

Just one more sucker trying to be a snake.

His hand is cold against hers, but so much more real than a wraith’s.

Emmett V, Chapter XIV

“Bring the pain, Gaspy. You were always the one who couldn’t handle it.”
Emmett Delacroix

Date ?

GM: Em falls and falls through an endless black void. Howling winds buffet him. Voices are audible through the storm.

“God, you’re such a fucking hot little bitch,” whispers Stines.

“Don’t take this the wrong way, Em, but you’re, well, an idiot,” says Villars.

“You’re bad seed,” wheezes Ron. “Everything you touch turns to shit.”

“What is your shirt and pant size?” asks the corrections officer.

“Heart’s desire,” smiles Abélia.

He lands in hell’s pretty little condo. A man who wishes for death laughs and throws up over a redbone cop, and a sea of vomit and broken, blood-smeared glass washes it all away. Poison eyes smile up at him from glass as the noxious wave carries him to the corridor of a prison’s death row wing. It’s a condemned man’s final walk before facing the needle. Vomit and squashed cockroaches, the kind that came in his meals, stain he walls, along with movie posters spelling out in blockbuster lettering:

This way to everything you’ve ever wanted

This way to fill the void that’s always gnawed at your heart

This way to meaning and purpose

This way to things no longer being shit

A figure stands in front of the door. He’s a king of two courts, with a crown made of teeth and a smile made of gold. He does not need to float, not when he stands over twelve feet tall. Over twenty feet tall. God, he’s tall. He’s wearing a suit, a hoodie, a polo and khakis, a poncho—it doesn’t matter. He’s wearing Em down.

He’s his own best friend.

And he’s in control.

“Mini-me, huh?” smirks Em, staring down at Em.

Emmett: Like a greatest hits montage, only it’s just him smashing like a comet through each successive rock bottom until he lands here, in his freshest hell. Well, he’s here now. Time to see it through to the end.

“Huh,” Em says, and squinting up.

“I mean, I knew I had a big ego.”

He folds his arms. “So. Harrowing. Spooky. You have any demands before you start making me eat shit, or are we getting to it?”

Even here, even small, he’s not going to let the bastard think he’s won.

Even when the bastard is him.

GM: Em smirks down at him.

“I’m only this big ’cause you fed me so much. As in, literally fed me, with every stupid sap you sent Abélia to chow down on.”

“Thanks to you, I’ve grown up big and strong.”

He mockingly folds his own, much bigger arms.

“Two ways this can go, Em.”

“We walk down this corridor together, and that’s that. We claim the prize, and you spend the rest of existence with me.”

“Or, you can try to beat me. Because this prize sure is something special. Win, and you’re done with me forever.”

“Lose, and you go straight to Oblivion, and I get to enjoy it all to myself.”

“Because boy oh boy, Em. Is it great. Is it sure something. Abélia really came through on this one. You have no fucking idea how badly we’ve wanted this. You didn’t even ask for it. That stupid ‘adopt me into your family’ crap you were thinking. But we’ve wanted this for years. In any fair or just universe, there’s no way we should get to have it.”

“But hey, since when has the universe been fair or just?”

Emmett: He acknowledges the point with an incline of his head.

“Beat you how? Duel of wits? Brawl? Harrowing? What sort of contest are we talking about, before I take a step off the last cliff?”

GM: Em just smirks.

Emmett: Em looks up at himself.

And sighs.

“There’s a smart answer here, isn’t there.”

GM: “Since when did we do smart?”

Emmett: Em tosses his hands up. “Look. I’m feeling unusually zen right now. Maybe it’s because we’re separated.”

Which means…

Oi. Cunt. Midget. Dwarf-in-a-flask.

He awaits a response.

“You want me to challenge, I’m guessing. Because you think you can win, and that’s that for being the backseat driver.”

GM: Em only continues to smirk down at his smaller self.

Emmett: But this is all pussyfooting, a bit of foreplay before the violent round of fucking that’s coming.

Em already made up his mind. And Em knows it.

“You have grown up big, haven’t you? And nasty as a fucking gator. Congratu-fucking-lations, Gaspy. You ate your veggies.”

“But you know what? I still can’t bring myself to be all that scared of you. Because you’re me, right, and I’m you? And you’re the bit of me that got Sami raped, the bit that made sure Clarice went to Hell crying her eyes out, even the bit that drove away the people that loved us because you knew that they saw past you. And because you’re me, you’re a good liar. You had me fooled, most of the while.”

“You made me think I was the weak half. That all the parts of me that hurt were mine alone. You’re too big to cry, aren’t you, Gaspy?”

“Except you aren’t.”

“Every bad thing I’ve ever done I did to run from the pain. But I did them. I was the one who got Sami raped. I was the one who chose to let rip over Mouton’s shite fucking outfit. I was the one who kept digging my own grave, because to be honest, it looked a lot more comfy from the outside.”

“And you? You were the bit of me that took it personal. You know how much I’ve thought about Stines and Sami and all the rest who made me feel small since I’ve died, all on my own? Jack. That’s why I felt nothing when he died. That’s why you’re so hung up on seeing me get my vengeance, too.”

“You empty-headed, smiling cunt. You forget, I know how your mind works too, only I’m reflective enough to appreciate it. You aren’t big because you’re strong.”

“You’re just compensating for something.”

Em isn’t aware of when he started growing. It doesn’t really feel like that, in this not-place. Maybe the other guy’s shrinking. All he knows is he’s suddenly staring into his worse half’s eyes, and they’re not so high up anymore.

“Bring the pain, Gaspy. You were always the one who couldn’t handle it.”

GM: But Em isn’t staring into Em’s eyes. Not anymore.

Now he’s staring down at them.

Em looks like the scrawny misbehaving brat everyone always said he was. He’s fat, too, from a garbage diet of Nutella and Hot Pockets. His greasy skin is pasty and acne-ridden, bereft even of the good looks that were always so good at covering up the emptiness and the ugliness festering in his heart.

For a moment, he doesn’t say anything. Just stares up at Em—at himself—with a look of pure hate. Hate enough to hurt everybody and everything until his own pain is eclipsed in the resulting detonation of grief, agony and sorrow. He wants the whole world to suffer because he does, the entirety of existence to writhe with his tantrum and know that nothing, not a single moment of kindness or love or hope or resurrection will ever undo the crimes committed against him, the defendant: everybody else.

Em knows then, that whatever waits on the other side of that door, it will not make Gasper happy. Maybe for a little while. But he will find a way to sabotage it. He will take a good thing and he will turn it to shit, like he turns everything he touches to shit, exactly like Ron said he did. There is only one place that Gasper can be happy. It is the same place Em tried to reach after he realized Sami didn’t need him and he gave Roberts a call for lunch at Cafe Soulé.

Gasper is the first one to say it, the words seething with spite.

“I’m gonna drag us both to Oblivion.”

The corridor starts to collapse around the pair. Chunks of wall, floor, and ceiling spiral away into a void as black and empty as his worse half’s own heart.

Emmett: “Yeah. Maybe you will, fatty. But I’m bad at standing still, and your sorry ass doesn’t like going anywhere.”

So Em throws the handful of wriggling roaches he palmed while he was getting up into Gasper’s eyes, and then darts past him and to the door.

He’s going to lock the bastard into his own mess.

GM: The 12-year-old screams and flails like a girl as the roaches get over his face. Em takes off. Track pays off, like it always has. Em feels more agile than he ever did while he was alive. His corpus isn’t a fragile thing of meat and bone and ligaments like his old body was, but a mutable thing of ego and desire made solid, and his ego has always been so much more than his body.

Corridor blurs past him as as he runs and runs. The chunks falling away into the void seem to pass in slow motion.

He runs… and runs… and runs…

The door swims tantalizingly ahead.

His own voice laughs behind him.

“It’s not gonna be that easy… you fed me so much, Em…”

The floor splinters away beneath him. He falls through a howling void. It’s full of regrets and mistakes. Hospital corridors, where the doctors all rape you, places he hated for no reason until Doc Brown and his nurse gave him one. Stairs up the strip club, to a private lap dance room with Courtney, the latest in a string of bad decisions. The blood-soaked grass courtyard of Giacona Manse, where it all went wrong with Sami. It all jumbles and spills together like an ill-fitting jigsaw puzzle.

But it is not empty of inhabitants.

Em’s wriggling roaches fall through the void, mating like roaches do, facing away from each other. They exoskeletons fall away as they die. The egg they laid bursts open in a wash of foul-smelling blood. A presence stalks through the void on all fours, drawing steadily closer like an approaching comet. Em can’t make out exactly what it is. There are claws, he is sure, and horns, and teeth, but he cannot say how many. Everything about it is sharp and cruel. Nightmares enough to make Abélia sing praises swim across its rippling flesh. Hatred pours from it in nigh-tangible waves, even from so far away, and Em knows instinctively that it portends doom… but its burning gaze does not alight upon him.

“You IDIOT! LOOK WHAT YOU DID!” Gasper shouts from nowhere and everywhere, his voice shrill.

Emmett: “Don’t tell me you’re scared of a little bug, big man.”

It’s big talk. Em’s terrified. Still, the terror just makes him giddy. It always has.

“Come on, Gaspy. You hate me and I hate you, but this thing’s more dangerous than both of us. Work with me and we can take it down together. If you call out to it and rearrange the furniture around here, we can trap it in this place.”

Bullshit, but believable, especially with the all-too-real note of terror in his own voice.

GM: “You know, Em, I actually believe that,” sounds his nasally 12-year-old self. “I really do. It’s just your bad luck there’s an even better way to get rid of it…”

The ground gives out underneath Em. He lands in Orleans Parish Prison, on the other side of a plexiglas barrier, seated on a too-familiar stainless steel stool with a phone in his hand. Ron stares at him from across the glass. His uncle’s words are as blunt and heavy as a dropped anvil:

“What the fuck happened to my son?”

Emmett: Ron. The face, followed by the words that started the cruelest conversation in his life, might stop Em’s newly lightened heart.

If it hadn’t stopped a while back, anyways.

For a moment, he waits for the old panic. The defensiveness that always led him over one burning bridge and onto another, never figuring out why everything behind him kept catching fire.

But he’s done chasing his own shadow.

“I killed him, uncle Ron. I killed Jermaine. And nothing I can say will ever make that alright. I told myself it was because I needed to save somebody else, or that he deserved it, or that he wouldn’t have live longed anyways. But that’s all bullshit. I killed him because I was scared, and desperate, and I thought it would be easier to get away with than letting the girl die. I cut his throat and lied to him about not liking him much as I did it because I didn’t want him to know what a pathetic cousin I knew I was being. I killed him because I’m a bastard, and it’s a lifetime too late and a coffin too little, but uncle— I’m sorry I took your son from you. It hurt too much to say it then, but no matter what else I am—I love you, and I’m sorry for what I did that night.”

“And one way or another, I won’t rest ’til you know that. I owe you that much.”

GM: Ron is quiet at those words, at first.

Maybe Em isn’t sure what he expected his uncle to say. It’s hard to say what someone should say to those words, that come a lifetime and a coffin too late. The movie response would be to break down in tearful exclamations of forgiveness.

Ron’s tomato-red face loses some of its color. It doesn’t lose its edge so much as go still. It’s hard to say what’s moving in his eyes.

As Em looks into them, his surroundings shift again in his peripheral vision. They’re not in OPP anymore. They’re in a bayou. It’s hot and humid even late at night. There’s insects buzzing and bullfrogs ribbitting, but the most noticeable sound by far are the snapping jaws of the alligators.

Em’s on a rowboat. Gasper sits in front of him, twelve years old and smiling and fat.

“Well, that was touching. I’m sure it felt really cathartic. But the right thing was a little obvious, wasn’t it?”

He glances to his side. There’s two other rowboats. Bud’s in the one on the left. Cash Money’s in the one on the right.

Bud and several faceless goons are holding Lena, tied up and gagged. Cash Money and some equally faceless goons are holding Ron, in the same state. They’ve lifted both of their hostages over the sides of the boat, and the gators are snapping hungrily as they try to get closer to the succulent meals. Ron and Lena thrash and make terrified gagged noises as they’re slowly lowered closer to the water.

Gasper glances between them both. “Decide who you save, I guess.”

“We’re pretty done with Lena, aren’t we? There’s just no living her down. But good old Uncle Ron didn’t give us a Hollywood moment at that confession, either…”

Water splashes as the gators’ jaws snap steadily closer.

Emmett: Em looks, too. They aren’t all faceless. He sees Josh in there. Bobbi Jo, too, though she looks confused by what’s going on.

His expression is moving faster than the rest of him. It has to be like that, sometimes. If he thinks too hard he won’t be able to act.

His face, already pale with death, blanches. His eyes widen, his lips quiver, his hairs would stand up if they could, but he works with what he has. For a moment, Delacroix seems arrested, broken.

For a single cruel moment, he lets Gasper think he’s won.

It’s a good trap, as far as traps go. Whoever he tries to help, Gasper gets to drop the other, and swell in the shadow his choice will cast over him. Taken from a hundred spy flicks and superhero movies, but Em saw them all growing up, and unlike Gasper, he remembers the right answer.

The right answer is the unrealistic one.

The right answer is both of them.

Em’s face is a tableau of doubt that Gasper can’t look away from. That’s helpful because it keeps his adversary from noticing the phantasm he’s spinning until it’s been spun.

It pours from the sky in a trickle, then a tumble. Probably at first if anybody notices it they guess it’s rain, no uncommon sight in the bayou, but then some of it gets in their eyes, and they quickly realize the error.


First a bucket’s worth, then a beach’s. Coming from everywhere and nowhere, dancing in the wind and spilling from the waters. It blinds the henchmen, buffets the bosses and gives the gators some very, very dry throats. Gasper gets a sandcastle up the nostril.

And everybody but Em’s flinching and swearing and fumbling as the hostages fall into the water and the gators dive in confused animal terror, and he dives in after them.

GM: Em’s seen movies where people try to swim through sand. There’s one he saw with a guy in an Amish… grain mill? You can drown in sand, but you can’t swim through it, even when you think you can. It’s too thick and too heavy. The guy in the movie tried and failed. Or maybe it was his girl. Bud and Cash Money and the goons all try to, but they can’t, and give muffled yells through mouths full of the stuff as they try to ‘swim’ through.

“It’s an illusion, you idiots! He can’t make sand out of thin air!” yells Gasper.

They either don’t hear, don’t understand, or can’t deny the illusion’s power. Maybe all three. Gasper grabs at Em’s pant leg as he dives off, but the tubby 12-year-old never took track and hits the water with a loud splash as Em dives under.

The gators are all trying to get away from the free-flowing sand. But another shape cuts through the waters, simultaneously black as midnight and red as blood. It’s much closer now than when it burst out of the cockroach egg. Em can’t even begin to count how many claws and teeth there are, or how many ways it has to kill. The sheer force of the thing’s hatred boils the water around it into smoke.

Gasper motions with his hands like a fussy director rearranging a movie set. Ron and Lena seem completely forgotten by the Shadow as he frantically sends wave after wave of subsurface water crashing into the monster, forcing it away.

Emmett: The glow of the victory is tempered by the encroaching doom. Out of the corner of his eye, he tries to make sense of its shape. He decides it’s something like a beetle, if only because it makes him incessantly think Deathwatch,with none of the associated coziness of the particular species.

It gives him the self-control he needs to keep his mouth shut and undo the bindings of his prisoners of conscience with quick and silent fingers under sand-logged waters. It helps that he’s had to get out from the other side of the ropes more than once. That’s the harder trick.

Then he starts to guide them to the nearest shore, taking what advantage of Gasper’s distraction that he can.

GM: The other two are struggling and drowning as Em alights upon them. They have some ways to swim after he gets out. It’s nothing but water and moss and trees for as far as they can see. Mosquitoes alight upon their flesh as the bullfrogs ribbit.

“Shit, kid… it’s all a movie, see?” gets out Ron.

“It’s all movie logic. But that still doesn’t explain… something’s wrong here.”

“Something’s really wrong.”

Emmett: “Wrong how?” Em asks as they bob and strain against the current.

GM: There isn’t much current. It’s a swamp.

Emmett: Oh. It just feels like that, because of his noodle-weak arms. One thing death hasn’t fixed for him. Yet.

GM: “All surgeries leave scars,” says Lena. “Anytime there is a cut through skin, there is a 100 percent chance of a scar. How big it is depends on how careful your surgeon is.”

“Nah, nah, that ain’t it,” says Ron.

“I mean, fuckin’ duh. I think this whole thing is actually-”

Suddenly, there is a current, fast-flowing and furious. There are alligators, too. The fake sand couldn’t last forever. They swim for the trio, jaws wide and snapping. Ron and Lena shout and swim furiously.

The current rises into a full-blown wave, carrying the gators with it. Then it’s a tsunami, swallowing the bayou into a giant wave that goes on forever. Gasper’s laughter sounds as it crashes forward. Ron and Lena both try to shout something.

He doesn’t hear it, not as the wave smashes into him like an avalanche. The gators burst through. Enormous fangs clamp over Em as the jaws close, rip, and tear. The water turns red with his blood as Gasper laughs over his screams. Cash Money’s laughing, too. Bud and Stines and Josh and Bobbi Jo and everyone else he’s ever hated or cheesed off, all laughing, except for Doc Brown, who’s just smiling, because not all of the pain in his body feels like it comes from gator teeth. The rushing waters carry him off a cliff, and he plummets through the void.

He lands with a crash on the carpeted floor, wet and bleeding and broken.

“Ah, just in time!”

His surroundings painfully swim into focus. He’s in Commander’s Palace. There’s lots of people seated at tables, all wearing suits and nice dresses, and looking towards a movie projection screen.

It’s a huge screen. Enormous. Taller than a house. The restaurant goes on for miles. Em can’t see the doors out. There’s a whole army of people in their nice evening clothes, sitting around an infinity of tables.

Gasper’s on a raised stage, standing behind a podium with a microphone. He looks good. He looms Em’s age, now, and devilishly handsome in his black tux and bowtie. A little old-fashioned, but he pulls it off. The Devil always knows how to dress well.

The lights dim as a white spotlight shines on him. Then on Em, in his bloody and tattered rags. People make faces and start murmuring amongst themselves. Gasper flashes the crowd a pearly white smile.

“I know what y’all are thinking.”

“It’s appropriate he should be here for the movie, though.”

He snaps his fingers. “Garcon, want to get our late guest a chair? I can’t imagine anyone wants to share a table with him.”

A smirking waiter appears behind Em with a rickety-looking chair. One of the legs is shorter than the others. The black paint is badly chipped. People start snickering.

Emmett: His body’s racked with pain, so he welcomes the chair, even ka-klunking as it does with the short leg. There’s too much at stake, the parts of him that aren’t writhing in agony cry, but he he has no juice to heal with. It’s a grind from here on out.

But that’s okay. He’s seen Gasper with his pants down.

He’ll manage. He has to.

GM: “Would you care for a drink, sir?” asks the waiter with a thin, preening smile that doesn’t reach his eyes.

Emmett: He may as well. Seems like an open bar.

“A Café Brûlot, please,” Em requests, shifting in the uncomfortable chair.

GM: The waiter gives Em a shot of brandy with an orange peel stuck in it. It’s a rather less memorable performance than the last Brûlot Em ‘had.’

Emmett: He holds it up to his eye and squints, sloshing the liquid inside around.

“Cheap service,” he stage whispers. “Get on with your movie, then.”

GM: “Every guest here gets what they deserve, Em,” smiles Gasper.

The crowd variously smiles or titters. He’s got them in the palm of his hand.

Em’s Shadow flashes another pearly smile.

“Now that all y’all are finally here, I won’t bore anyone with a speech. Art speaks for itself. Hit it!”

The restaurant’s lights dim as the screen comes to life.

It starts with a close-up of Em. Really close up. There’s just his eyes, then it slowly pulls away.

He’s dressed in a prison jumpsuit, sitting in a wheelchair behind the glass. In prison. Because where else. He looks like a young man left aged and haggard before his time. He’s holding a phone to his mouth.

The camera follows his eyes. Cécilia’s on the other side of the glass. She looks on the verge of tears, but valiantly keeping it together. The beautiful love interest.

The camera follows Em’s eyes. Down to his legs. Back to up his face. Close up to his mouth.

He opens it. The audience doesn’t hear any words. The camera zooms all the way into Em’s mouth, into a black empty space. The camera fades out into a fishing boat on the bayou. It’s a hot-looking summer day. A young-looking Em is there on the boat, with his father, rods dangling over the sides.

A fish bites and tugs the line. Em gives an excited exclamation. His father’s eyes mirror the emotion. He tells Em to pull, pull, boy, pull-

Em pulls out the carp. It’s a big catch, for a boy his size. Phil whoops. The camera focuses on the carp. It’s wounded and cut from the way it chewed at the bait. The camera zooms closer. It flicks and tries with all of its living will to swim away, to escape, to be free—only to cut itself deeper, and deeper, denied the quiet dignity of death or joyous current of release.

The camera focuses on Em’s face. He’s not smiling. Just watching. Quietly hypnotized.

Phil’s yelling fills the audio. Quiet, then suddenly loud, like he’s been making noise this entire time and Em tuned him out. Phil yanks the rod out of his son’s hands, drops the carp to the boat floor, and stabs his hunting knife into the fish’s brain. Ikejime, Phil once told him the technique is called. It grants a quick, humane death.

Phil’s face is scarlet red as he shouts at his son. Em pulls away, as though afraid his dad will hit him. Phil never does. It’s inaudible what Phil is saying. Just yelling. Pointless noise filling the air, that gets quieter every second, like Em’s tuning it out.

The camera pans away, focusing closer on Em’s face. Closer.

He mouths something, also inaudible. Maybe that he’s sorry. But the words clearly don’t matter, or the audience would hear them.

The camera zooms in closer. Em’s mouth disappears. There’s just his eyes.

There’s nothing in them.

No sorry.

No regret.

Just… nothing.

Nothing, and the reflection of a blank-eyed dead fish.

A few audience members look away. Angry murmurs and ugly looks go up from most of them.

Emmett: He looks into his eyes through a camera’s stare. His eyes gazing out of a television the size of the moon, the way he always meant them to be. Eyes made gorgeous with the distance of a lens, buffed by the haunting sociopathy.

It’d be a dream come true if it wasn’t so damn honest.

He waits. Acting prematurely could mean the end of everything. He turns over the words he might need to say to free himself.

But for now, he waits.

Still as the carp with a knife through its brain.

GM: The movie plays on.

Teenage fights with his parents.

Detentions at school.

Doing weed in his bedroom, while homework sits undone.

Cruel remarks to other kids, wrapping the needful and insecure ones around his finger.

More fights with his parents, Phil’s face getting steadily redder, and then no fights at all, as they just stop talking.

Eating dinner in his bedroom, instead of at the table.

His sins catching up. Transferring to Brother Martin’s, his parents’ last (second to last) effort to set straight, just as he planned, just as he’d abuse.

Whispering things to Lee at the dance. Adeline’s exposed tits. Elliot’s first beautiful lies to Cécilia.

More beautiful lies. Talking to Ron. Plotting. Planning.

Sami’s smile. Blacking out. Wiping cum off the seat, with her paper note and its hotmail address.

His seething fury. The gangbang. The cigarette lighter flicking open, in front of her dead and empty eyes.

The knife, slitting Jermaine’s throat.

Josh. Screaming past Cash Money’s cock, as Em smiles. Screaming louder, as Maneater carves him open.

Laughing in the hospital bed to the two cops, Tweedledee and Tweedledum.

Ron’s tomato-red face, calling him bad seed, saying everything he touched turned to shit.

The heartbreak on his parents’, then the sad resolve, as they hang up the phone and walk out.

Shaking hands for the first time with Bert Villars, smiling his oily smile.

Laughing as Taylor sputters with anger and throws his shit in the broken toilet.

The savage satisfaction on his face, spite burning his blood, as he saws off Mark Stines’ penis.

Recruiting girls into porn in Los Angeles, promising the world and turning a blind eye to their screams. Ron always said not to ask about the ones who wind up with Death Mask Productions.

Robbing the girl he’d stayed with for three months, disappearing without a goodbye.

The sins back home, playing out like a hand of cards being dealt, one after another after another. There are so many to pick from. Maybe that Affel-something guy trying to kill himself, whatever his name was, and sleeping with his freaky wife.

The hole in his chest, when Sami said “I’m happy now,” and the realization of what he must do. The call to Roberts…

Himself in the hospital bed, croaking out, “Deal,” to Bud. The Dixie mobster’s good ol’ boy smile, dribbling through the receiver.

“Miss any payments an’ we’ll kill yer family.”

Lena’s furious face as she literally dumps him on the curb.

“I’m not a good person, Lena.”

Some of the final lip he showed after Underwood’s warning, just the last of so many warnings that never mattered, never slowed him down.

“…as part of your plea in mitigation, you have forfeited the right to appeal any and all aspects of this judgment and conviction.”

Cécilia’s tear-moist eyes as she talks into the phone, the words inaudible. The specific ones don’t matter. The director really gets that right. Lot of showing and not telling in this movie.

Elliot’s smile, and then his shadow.

Emmett strapped down to the execution gurney, the team having dotted their i’s and crossed their t’s.

The prison warden’s question, the last words anyone ever spoke to him alive:

“Do you wish to make a final statement?”

The camera pans in on Em’s face. Up close and personal, like in one of the movie’s earliest shots.

“I deserve to die. But I’m no judge of anything, so don’t take my word for it.”

Just like that, it cuts to black.

The credits roll.

The Many Sins of Emmett Delacroix.

The lights come back on.

Gasper smiles from the stage.

A gaping back pit yawns open. It’s a swirling vortex of absolute nothingness that chills Em to his soul.

A chunk of ceiling caves away, directly over the pit. In its place there’s a bright white light. It’s warm. It’s right. Part of him wants, with all of his being, just to float on up.

“There you have it,” Gasper smiles at the crowd.

“I won’t waste my breath on a speech.”

“You’ve seen his life and times.”

The room is utterly silent. People aren’t staring at Gasper, now. They’re staring at Em.

Their faces are very, very still.

Many of them.

Disgust boils in his others. Anger, too, indignant and righteous, and perhaps hypocritical, but there all the same.

“If you think he belongs in the pit… throw him in!” Gasper exhorts.

The crowd is silent for a moment.

Then, hundreds of legs rise from their seats.

Emmett: Em’s staggering up to the main stage, arms flailing, lungs heaving. He doesn’t look good. He doesn’t even look pitiful, as far as that goes. He looks like a dead man.

But he makes it, somehow.

“Hold up,” he gasps, defiant to his last. “Hold up, dammit.”

He grabs the mic from Gasper. His worse half lets him have it. Why? Maybe because he thinks he’s already won. Granted, Em thinks he probably has, too.

But he’s done it by lying. And just this once, Emmett Delacroix cannot let that stand.

“That was a good movie,” Em says as the mob presses closer. “But what if you saw the director’s cut?”

Restlessness in the crowd. Confused expressions. This is off-script, and this lot aren’t improvisers. All the free will of a bacteria between them.

“Come on!” Em yells at the back of the room, at the cosmic shadows that control the projector. “Come on, if this is going to be it, show them the whole thing!”

For a cold, still moment, nothing happens.

Then the lights dim, and the film starts anew.

GM: Gasper just smirks in his tux and gestures grandly towards the giant screen.

“Sit back down, y’all. It’ll be extra satisfying for us to chuck him in, after this.”

Emmett: Lights. Cameras.


It’s those eyes again, but not. So clean. So young. They stare down at the carp, who stares back but does not see.

Something pools in his eye. The boy (when was the last time he thought of himself that way, as just a boy?) looks away so Philémon does not see it. But this camera captures all, artifice and artistic license be damned.

The camera shows the tear, but cuts before it falls. Maybe it never does. Did. What’s time, in a movie? A matter of where, not when.

The movie keeps on playing. Em doesn’t watch it. It’s like he’s seen it before, only he knows he hasn’t, because he’s crying and he never does that with a movie except for the first time.

Anyways, he didn’t direct this movie or write it, and if he starred in it that was only because he hadn’t made room for anybody else in the spotlight. He only knows it because he was there. For all of it. When you’re dead, your life doesn’t flash before your eyes. But you do remember it. Not as a story, nor as regrets. You just remember it as a moment, all one glorious, cascading moment of change. That’s all anybody actually gets with the lifetime racket, Em supposes. Just a single, glorious cosmic moment in which to be.

Only now, his life is over, so movies about it feel a mite silly. He doesn’t really watch the movie, because he remembers the movie.

Em doesn’t need to watch his stammered apology to his dad. His bewildered, unsure excuses. He knows now what Phil did already, and he remembers Phil’s too-wrinkled face growing older in that moment as he replied:

“You’ll learn.”

The scenes with Clarice are tiring, and he does not watch those either, barely registers the sounds he makes onscreen. They simply don’t interest him anymore. His own suffering is banal, especially to this audience. It’s the part after that’s a mindfuck.

“Em, did anything happen while you were there?”

A moment, dark eyes wide and innocent, but hollowed out. “No.”

His first lie, and he supposes the most successful one. They never suspected a thing, after…

A quiet whispering in a mirror, each word quieter than the last:

Look how happy you can make people.

And Em wanted to make people happy. He might have forgotten a lot about who he was, but he remembers that part of him, and it lives in him, not in Gasper.

The world is the camera. It spins and takes the viewer with it because this is not good camerawork. This is kismet, like fate or something, because somehow from this angle on the far end of a movie screen he can see it all:

He’s not a good man. He’s not even properly a bad man. He’s a wicked ghost, a conniving wraith.

But he’s not properly evil, either. Just a mean, mean bastard who wished the world hadn’t taught him that to be mean is to be safe, to be cruel is commendable, and that his father perhaps should not have told him—

Ah. This is the core of it. This thing he never forgot but never precisely could recall until he sees it now, on the screen, the scene doubly enthralling because he knows, unlike so much in this place, it is true.

“So anybody? Anybody could be forgiven, if they were really sorry?”

They were outside the church in St. Charles Parish. The one Phil had grown up going to. It was night, but there are lights on inside.

“That’s the idea of the thing,” Phil answers, eyes sunk into the annotated pocket bible he always brought to the church, regardless of occasion. Em had nicked it once, when he was older, but he couldn’t read the handwriting.

“What about the really bad people? The ones who nobody can ever forgive, like Hitler? Or Marshall, I guess.”

The then-president.

This was, after all, 2004.

GM: Phil hadn’t taken long to answer, even if his answer took a while.

“It is really an old question, Emmett, often asked to imply that if Jesus would forgive a person like Hitler, then the God of the Bible is unjust. The truth is, all of us fall short of the glory of God. If we had ‘forever’ to do our own thing, we would never create a world conducive to life, light, love, and liberty. Without the soul-changing power of the Holy Spirit and the unabridged and undeserved grace of God poured upon us, we would find ourselves standing before a throne of judgement one day with absolutely no credentials to present that would be worthy of admission into those great gates of pearl.”

“How many times a day do we sin? We’re not talking about just murder, stealing, and blaspheming. We’re talking about everything—the attitudes of your heart, your motives, the actions and failing to love God with your whole heart, mind, soul, and strength, failing to love your neighbor as yourself. Those are moral requirements that we fail constantly. Even say you only commit one sin a day, and only from when you’re 18 to 70—that’s almost 20,000 sins. What judge would let you off with that kind of a rap sheet? And that is the best case scenario.”

“Was Hitler worse than that? Most likely. There’s a spectrum. A few relative lightweights like Charles Manson might be standing under the dictator’s shadow. Many world leaders throughout the ages, people like Caligula, Mao, many kings of England and other European states, some caliphs, some popes, and many, many others will make up the rank and file of those who had it made on earth but came up wanting when the scales were balanced in Heaven.”

“How sad it would be to find that we were ‘not quite as bad as they, but not good enough to avoid joining them.’ Justice? It was meted out at an old rugged cross. That bought the grace that makes it possible for a vile sinner to come to terms with the error of his ways. If Hitler ever had a chance, it would only have been evidenced by his renouncing his wicked ways and standing good before his death. The fact that, rather than face responsibility for his heinous acts, he escaped the judgement of man by taking his own life is evidence that he went from the frying pan directly into the fire.”

“Theoretically, could Hitler have gone to Heaven? Yes. But repentance is a process, not an event. The more time and effort you spend on it, like anything, the better it will turn out. This is why ‘deathbed repentance’ is frowned upon. Sure, anyone can say they believe, say that they repent, say they are changed moments before death, and trust God to know their hearts—but will those words have actually changed them? God can tell. Repentance is for you, as much as those who you wronged.”

“For Hitler to be forgiven, that’d require him to realize the depth and wrongness of his errors, and to shed his pride. That includes national pride, particularly the kind that treats others as ‘lesser than.’ It would be a very different Hitler coming out of this than the Hitler we’re familiar with. This new Hitler would have been incapable of leading Germany into war and ordering the killing of millions. He would be a completely different person. Change like that only takes a sudden about-face in Hollywood. In real life, change that big takes years and years of hard spiritual work.”

“So yes, it can happen. There’s no doubt in my mind that Hitler went straight to Hell, but he could have gone to Heaven. God’s capacity for forgiveness is infinite. It’s only our capacity for change that falls short.”

Emmett: Em takes a while to answer. His father is hopeful his recent silence is a delayed sign of precocity, and maybe it is, but mostly Em’s trying to make sure he doesn’t need big words to ask this next question.

“But how do you start to be better? How do you go from being, well, whoever it is that’s going to hell, and then turn around? How are people supposed to find their way back, if they’ve already walked so far away?”

GM: “Confession,” answers Phil, more succinctly. “Admitting the problem, any problem, is the first step to fixing it.”

Emmett: He might have confessed then, had he the words for his sin. But he did not have them, so he could not.

Instead, Emmett lives. That’s the rest of the movie. He doesn’t understand, thinking back on it later, what editing magic trick the director must have employed to make it so. But the movie tell the story of his life, all of it, the absolute essence of it, and it doesn’t seem boring or unnecessary or middle. It is not sparing, either. It still contains Em at his utter worst, and the truth is there’s simply no getting around the naked fact that Emmett Delacroix was a villainously awful person. His life was spent in the throes of great bouts of escalating mischief that often evolved into cruelty. He had brief moments of kindness and mild moments of self-awareness. But for the most part, he was a cruel, rapacious bastard, and then he died.

But there’s the thing.

The movie doesn’t end there. Em is dead, the first man to be killed for his crimes in more than ten years. That he did not commit the crimes in question owed more to the way of clerical error than to actual injustice.

But the dream of Em, the story of him, his role, his star, the part of his soul that would have become his celebrity had he ever passed through that celestial gate of makin’ it in Hollywood—had lived on, and mutated in the zeitgeist. His story was more, now, than that of a wicked man meeting wicked ends.

He was a ghost with a cause, a revenant on a quest for righteous vengeance, for justice, for redemption—and that means only one thing in this place that’s nine-tenths silver screen.

Em turns to Gasper, and the little shit’s not fat again but he’s shorter, and Em looks straight through him over the crowd.

“I’m too interesting to die.”

He holds out the mic, so naturally that Gasper’s hand actually starts to respond to it and reach out—

Only for Em to drop the mic to the floor, the thump of it going everywhere in the perfect acoustics of that room.

GM: Too good to die is probably a lost cause to sell the crowd on, after those back-to-back movies.

But too interesting to die is something altogether else, if the applause he’s receiving is any indication.

Hundreds of hands clap and clap and clap at the conclusion of the director’s cut. Cheers, whistles, and exclamations of “bravo!” go up from the crowd’s newly-adoring eyes.

Gasper scowls like when Phil told him to stop watching TV and take out the damn trash.

“Fine. Guess we’ll do this the other way.”

“Boys, KILL ’EM!”

Gunfire explodes through the crowd as Gasper’s goon squad opens fire. They’re all there. Cash Money. Bert Villars. Bud and Sue. Mark Stines. Doc Brown. Judge Underwood. Dino. Bobbi Jo. Sugarbelle. Yvette. They’re carrying old-fashioned tommy guns. Rat-a-tat-tat, they go. Dozens of people scream and die, gorily mowed down by the hail of lead. The survivors scream and stampede every which direction.

“Don’t worry, Em, I’m on your side! We can take ’em-aaaaAAAGH!” screams Mouse as bullets riddle his chest. Blood sprays the air. He goes down twitching, then stops moving.

“Don’t worry, Em, I got your back!” whoops Zyers, then flees for the exits.

“Good luck,” says Hannah, and dives for cover. Taylor looks undecided for a moment, then follows suit. “Yeah, good luck,” echoes Ren. Jermaine dives without a word.

Turner, Westley, and Fizzy also abandon Em to his fate. The goons shoot at him too. Gunfire explodes the area around his feet as he falls off the stage. A few upturned tables offer some modicum of cover.

Courtney, though, shoots back with her own tommy gun. Dino goes down in a spray of lead. Ginger takes out Villars. Sami blows off Cash Money’s crotch and seems to take no small pleasure from it. Miranda kills Mark again, ranting conspiracy theories about the Malveauxes. Cécilia says, “I’m afraid I don’t really know how to use these things,” and tosses Em her own tommy gun. “I’ll try to talk some sense into Yvette.”

Em’s family members are notably absent from the picture.

The floor explodes. Hell crawls out. The monster. Em sees it up close now. It’s huge, four-legged, and black as sin where it isn’t on fire. Ravenously crackling, hateful red flames wreathe its flesh like an unholy mantle. It almost looks like it’s bleeding into the air. Its claws and quills and talons are enormous and wickedly sharp, and there are so many of them. Its maw goes on for eternity. It has more teeth than Em’s criminal record has items. It has no eyes. Just more instruments of death.

TAKE IT OUT! TAKE IT OUT, YOU IDIOTS! TAKE IT THE FUCK OUT!!!!” Gasper screams, his voice shrill with panic.

They try. They rain down a hail of lead over the monster, but the bullets don’t so much as slow it. Bud, Underwood, and Bobbi Jo all go down faster than a preacher’s daughter. They look like they’ve been fed through a wood chipper when the monster is done with them, but it doesn’t slow. Just races for Gasper.

But the restaurant-turned-theater is so large, and there are still so many tables and corpses and bystanders between Shadow and monster. Gasper allows himself a smirk as the tommy guns scream lead, then pulls out a rocket launcher.

Emmett: During which point Em contents himself with getting to the ethereally lit exit. It’s been a fun day, but a long one, and it’s past time he quit the scene.

He does feel a pang for Mouse, though. Ah, well. At least this version of him had died nobly, in defense of somebody who cared about him sometimes.

GM: Cécilia looks horrified as Em runs away and leaves his friends to trade gunfire with Gasper’s goons. “Em! How ca-”

The rocket launcher explodes.

Em hits the ground in a heap, the blast ringing in his ears as shrapnel lances his legs. His abandoned allies are caught dead center. Their screams abruptly cut off as gory pieces of them rain down over the ground around Em.

Gasper’s goons, no linger pinned down by enemy fire, turn their tommy guns at the fleeing Delacroix. Lead belches after him as Gasper grins.

His Shadow looks taller than before.



Emmett: One last miscalculation, and it’s cost him all the allies he’s accumulated. Is that it? The sorry state of his corpus tells him it might be. He’s out of strength, out of tricks, and when he reaches for the determination that’s carried him through this mad vision quest his fingers strike bottom.

Oh, he had a good run, Emmett Delacroix. But this is where it ends.

It is a bastard, though. Even he has to admit Gasper looks handsome.

Celia: He is handsome.

Very handsome.

And so is the girl that steps out of the shadows behind him, the girl with a wild mane of dark hair that curls around her face and has a smile that will break a thousand hearts. But right now she’s young, innocent, with wide eyes that look in adoration upon the Shadow who wears her cousin’s face.

“Hey baby,” 19-year-old Celia Flores says to Gasper as she slides up beside him. “Did we get him where we want him?”

GM: A sports car smashes through the movie screen. It’s black and sleek and sexy. It’s open-roof and got a badass entrance. The Poison-Eyed Lady is the driver.

“Oh, missed one,” smirks Gasper, then punches Celia in the throat. Cash Money smashes the butt of his tommy gun between her shoulder blades. She goes down in a heap as Em kicks her in the vagina for good measure. Bud and Sue tie her up, then throw her into the convertible’s back seat.

“Was gonna do that to Sami and Cécilia, but I guess one cunt’s as good as another,” Gasper sneers, then leaps into the car and takes the wheel.

“In this movie, Em, the bad guy wins,” he smirks, then hits the accelerator and plows through the movie screen again, leaving another car-sized hole.

On the other side, Em sees a highway in an American Southwest desert, perfectly flat, that stretches on for miles into the setting sun. The perfect ending locale for any movie.

And at the end of the highway.

At first, it looks like Château Devillers. Then it’s the glowing briefcase from Pulp Fiction, the macguffin that drove the whole movie. Then it’s the prison corridor a 20-foot Gasper tried to block Em from.

But he knows what it is, whatever it looks like.

The prize.

Home stretch.

Gasper’s car roars down the highway and into the setting sun, towards his happy ending.

Celia: She goes from almost-ally to damsel-in-distress in the blink of an eye. Gauzy white dress, ropes around her torso and legs, hands bound behind her back, a cloth gag in her mouth. Muffled screams rise up from the back seat as the car speeds away.

It’s a stereotype and a cliche, but a cute and effective one for all that: they’d had a discussion once about Detective Em coming to save her from the bad guys.

Now’s his chance.

Emmett: His chance. Isn’t that a chuckle? How many chances has he had, so far? He’s spent so long in this fever dream the real world is starting to swim away from him, and let’s face it, Em, you’ve always had a a pretty touch-and-go relationship to reality—that place the grown-ups live, where dreams never come true and the good guys and bad guys never quite figure out which they are.

In this child’s world, he’s supposed to be one or the other. When he fails to embody the archetype, the world convolutes itself around him, making the stage what it needs to be for his path to resemble choreography. Celia? The blossoming adult he had to die to become wants to howl. She’s his cousin, and a mess and a half herself, and also he’s pretty sure she’s lying to him still about something. He’s seen the real her, too, in glimpses and glances—she’s as bloody-minded as him, and more cunning by half. What a terrible damsel she would make in the real world.

And yet.

Even in the real world, she’d look damn good playing it. In this twisted funhouse of mirrors? She’s brighter than the sun.

Which gives him an idea.

Where’s he get the motorcycle from? Who knows, this movie isn’t big on continuity. It’s all explosions and somersaulting cars. Em has to slide under a collapsing truck, the leather on his back kissing the sparks from his Harley’s back wheel. He lets out a whoop and does a stuntman jump over a combusting petrol tank. His whole corpus aches like Satan’s bad back, but the stunts aren’t about him; they’re the magnetic forces of story marching to climax, or anti-climax. It’s almost like the rhythm of sex, but inverted. A decoupling, an unraveling of one being—into two.

CELIA!” he bellows. “CICI!” He swerves on the bike, almost kissing asphalt but righting just at the right moment to avoid a sputter of tommy gun fire. “CELIA, I need to ask you something, and I need you to answer! Do—you—trust me!?”

A cliché wrapped in a trope and smothered in romanticism.

In a dream, the question becomes a binding, a ritual. The flourish of a magic trick.

One that only works if she says the right thing back.

The blindfold slips from her mouth, the dramatic forces in play too vast for something as fragile as cloth to obstruct.

Does she trust him, this one last shred of his psyche that looks like love? This one tortured part of him that might live in somebody else?

Does she trust him?

GM: Gunfire sprays past Em. The rest of Gasper’s goons are on motorcycles too, riding two to a bike. One drives, the other belches lead death from their tommy gun.

They miss, of course. It’s a movie. They’ll miss no matter how many rounds they fire. At best, maybe they’ll graze his shoulder or leg.

Celia: The damsel wrapped in rope in the back seat of the car twists to see the (leather-clad?) motorcycle-riding stuntman cousin/friend. Whatever he is right now, he’s always been her cousin and her friend, and he’s coming to save her.

Does she trust him?

He’s the one she’d called when she was in trouble. When she needed help with her dad. When she found out that monsters were real. His was the number she punched into her phone to save her from the bad guys. And now here he is, riding in on the back of a Harley like he has every right to be.

She works the gag free—they never tie those things tight enough in movies like these—and screams back,


Emmett: The camera pans in to capture her face. In a theater that resides in dimensions incomprehensible, the non-Euclidean gaze of every entity is on the red of her lips, the flush in her cheek, the glimmer of truth in her eye. For a moment, precious and timeless, the entire cosmos could fit behind her eye and nobody would notice the Big Bang.

Magic tricks, Ron had told him once, require misdirection. Maybe on some level, real magic does, too. Movies certainly do.

Gunfire sprays over Em’s leather-clad corpus. His luck, already strained well past the suspension of disbelief, snaps entirely. Two of Gasper’s goons cackle maniacally as they pull alongside him on either flank, death-belching machines that bear little resemblance to actual firearms ablaze. Lead turns Em into swiss cheese under his chin.

He looks confused. He also looks… different.

His cheeks are chubbier, for one thing. The blood that bubbles in the back of his throat is Nutella-colored. His eyes are smaller than they were a moment ago, as if contact lenses have shriveled and fallen away to render them greedy and hollow and mean.

The Em on the bike looks confused, and so do the goons on the bike, wondering how it is they’ve shot up their boss. For his part, Gasper finally earns his name. His lungs have been wiped away by lead.

The camera tilts along with everybody’s necks as they look again at the man behind the wheel.

If he had a mustache, now would be the time he tears it from his lip. As is, though, Em and Gasper look alike enough a change in lighting is enough to distinguish one from the other.

“Oldest trick in the book,” the Confidence Man quips as he helps Celia into the passenger seat. “It’s a switcheroo.”

The logic is lazy at best, the device just a few strings shy of a deus ex machina. But Em sells it. He has to, and not just because it’s his ass on the line but because it’s basic acting, and this role’s old hat to him.

It’s all about confidence, really.

GM: It is all about confidence.

The old switcharoo, when the mark’s distracted.

Em knows it well.

Both Ems.

That’s why Celia’s throat is slashed, her eyes staring blankly up into the sunset as blood gushes over her gauzy white dress. Just another disposable woman in grand cinematic tradition.

Just another switcharoo.

He looks up from his dead cousin, and a solid face of dessert rock meets the car’s headlights.

“Ha… ha…” wheezes Gasper as he crashes off his bike.

The car smashes into the rock at triple-digits-miles-per-hour. In equally grand cinematic tradition, the vehicle explodes in an enormous red-yellow-white fiery conflagration that lights up the highway like an atomic bomb.

Em rolls to a literally dead stop on the highway, charred and smoking and burning, his blackened flesh baked to a crisp as smoke billows around him. The door to Château Devillers, the briefcase, the prison corridor is only feet away at the highway’s end.

“I… win…” wheezes Gasper past the holes in his chest. He doesn’t look much better as he crawls along the asphalt by his palms and knees. He’s burned too, from the explosion, and bleeding from dozens of gunshot wounds.

He hauls himself tortuously towards the prize.

“You… lose… Em…”

“I… win…”

He spares enough effort to kick his other half’s corpus, despite the stab of pain that shoots up through his own bullet-riddled leg. He wheezes another laugh, blood frothing from his charred lips.

“I… win…”

Only this round.

The goons are all dead. Em can’t say for sure, but he feels safe presuming, given that all that’s left of them is shredded bits of bone, gore, and viscera on their smashed-apart and blood-spattered motorbikes. The monster paces patiently down the highway, blood dripping from its uncountable claws, fangs, and horns. The only illumination comes from the moon, stars, and the sports car’s burning wreck, casting the monster’s already nightmarish visage in an even more hellish glow.

Gasper stares down the road at it, then gives a soul-deep, half-gurgled cry of boundless frustration—and terror.

He won the battle.

He lost the war.

“Em…” he wheezes, “let’s make… a deal…”

The monster paces closer.

“I can… help you… see… won’t fight you any… more…”

The monster paces closer.

“Won’t… try to… seize control… I can… do a lot… for you…”

The monster paces closer.

“Partners… like we said… invisible friend in… your head…”

The monster paces closer.

“Just… call… it… off…”

Emmett: Em stares. Up close, the beetle is even more terrible to look upon. Even more merciless and inescapable and vast. God forgot to name this thing, when all the other beasts were labeled, the tidier monsters defined.

Forgot, or maybe did not dare to.

How long has he dreamed about this moment, or one like it? His enemy begging for his mercy, for forgiveness. How often has he considered the perfect quip, the last parting sting?

But now, in this dream that is more than real, Em has no final rejoinder. Maybe that’s the cruelest reply of all. Nothing.

He’s as silent as God, but at least Gasper knows he’s watching.

And he does watch.

GM: Up close, the thing doesn’t look like a beetle at all. It doesn’t look like any kind of animal. Just incarnate hate, hunger, and destruction.

“It’s not… on your side…” wheezes Gasper, still crying to crawl away. The monster draws closer.

“You’ll be… next…”

“The two of us ca…”

The thing pounces. Gasper’s feet are the first to disappear inside its mouth. There’s a grisly crunch and spray of blood. Gasper screams and writhes over the pavement, and the great jaws come down again with another crunch and wet tearing. Gasper’s screams grow higher, then higher still as the monster’s jaws descend again, as it gnaws off his legs bite by bite. There is no clean and quick devouring of either limb all at once.

The monster rips open Gasper’s chest next and tears out his entrails, bite by bite. Blood gets everywhere. Gasper writhes and flails his arms, until the monster’s teeth crunch down over his fingers. Then his palms, then his wrists, until it’s gnawed off his arms and left him a gore-spattered torso with four stumps and a head whose mouth gapes open in ceaseless scream.

The nose and ears come next, then chunks of his cheeks. After that come the chunks of flesh nearest to the stumps. The monster takes its time. It eats Gasper whole, piece by piece, bone by bone, organ by organ, until all that’s left is a head, a neck, and a heart. The stench is unspeakable. Red paints the highway asphalt. Em may wonder if it will ever come out. Gasper, either out of taunts and offers, never stops screaming.

Em’s reminded of the carp on the hook. Twisting, writhing, denied the peace and dignity of a swift death, suffering for his younger self’s idle amusement.

When the end finally comes, the monster’s jaws open wide to swallow what’s left of Gasper down its gullet. It doesn’t pause to chew. Em’s Shadow disappears into the literal belly of the beast, still clinging to life. Em can only imagine his darker twin will die a tortuously slow death being immersed in the monster’s stomach acids, if he doesn’t simply bleed out first. Either way, he will die in darkness and pain, and utterly alone. There’s a last, barely audible scream from the monster’s stomach, more like the whining of a dog than a proper scream. It goes on for several minutes.

Finally, silence reigns over the highway.

The fire from the burning car wreck has guttered out. Darkness reigns.

Up ahead, the prison corridor and the door at the end patiently await.

Emmett: It’s everything Gasper deserved and then some.

Em feels nothing.

Nothing at all.

It’s an almost anticlimactic end to his Shadow. But it’s like he’d said:

“And you? You were the bit of me that took it personal. You know how much I’ve thought about Stines and Sami and all the rest who made me feel small since I’ve died, all on my own? Jack. That’s why I felt nothing when he died. That’s why you’re so hung up on seeing me get my vengeance, too.”

Em gets to his feet. It’s a little ridiculous to watch, like seeing a drunk man stumble into his pants, but then again, there’s nobody left to watch. Everybody’s dead.

Even him.

The door’s right there, only it’s not a door, it’s a briefcase, no, it’s an electric chair—whatever it is, this place won’t wait for him forever. It won’t do to idle.

Still, he looks back at the thing that’s apparently given up all interest in him as he approaches the door.

“What are you?” he croaks out, hand on the knob.

GM: The door opens.

All Em sees at first is pitch darkness.

But, swimming through that darkness, like a half-remembered nightmare.

Poison eyes.

Poison-green eyes.

“How badly do you want…" the woman’s voice warbles, "…to live, boy? How much will you… hurt for it?”

“Anything," wafts Em’s voice from the gloom. "I’ll do anything to undo this. Please.”

Suddenly, Em is on the ground. The monster is on top of him, and the Poison-Eyed Lady is holding him down, anthrax dripping from those awful eyes. The monster rips open Em’s chest with its claws, splitting him from throat to groin. The pain is indescribable.

The Poison-Eyed Lady grabs hold of the split flesh with both hands and pulls it wide open, splaying Em’s insides to the night sky like a rat in a high school dissection lab. Impossibly, the monster dives inside.

Em wildly looks up into the sky. The moon looks like the pure white light that awaited him at the end of his harrowings. He remembers the sense of calmness and peace as he ascended into that light, as his Shadow was silent, as all his dark and spiteful and hateful thoughts and memories were finally still. All was quiet. All was warm. All was right. He knew peace such as he never had before.

Then, with a feeling of ineffable sadness, the light dies.

The moon and stars are gone. Agony surges through Em’s arteries as a fire roars within him. It’s a thirst, terrible and burning. It’s more thirsty than he’s ever felt, it’s an almost stabbing pain, like the monster is coiled inside his chest and madly clawing to get out, and it does get out, some small part of it, as he feels two fangs surge from his mouth as he screams, and screams, and screams—

He’s on a hard floor again, and he sees only red, tastes only red, smells only red, as the bliss hits him. It’s drinking the finest champagne from a movie premier, it’s making love to Cécilia and Sami together in the same bed, it’s the rush of snorted cocaine, the drag of his first cigarette, and that’s only some sense, some tiny, infinitesimal sense, of what it feels like to drink the liquid ecstasy coursing down his throat.

Emmett: After the night he’s had, the unbroken adventure of his execution?

He guzzles like a babe at the tit, and doesn’t stop until it’s dragged away.

Then, and only then, does he look for poison eyes.

GM: They’re right above him.

Staring down.

Smiling their anthrax smile.

“Ah, Mr. Delacroix!” exclaims Antoine Savoy’s voice. “Welcome back. And welcome to your Requiem.”

The other vampire sounds like he’s grinning.

“We have a lot to talk about.”

Emmett V, Chapter XIII
Everything He Wanted

“Dreams do come true. You just have to die for them.”
Emmett Delacroix

Date ?

GM: The Quarter is a sea of glowing souls. True to Em’s memory, the Evergreen is a posh jazz club along Royal Street. Sounds of warmth and merriment emanate from within over the sound of classic Louis Armstrong.

Yet if that were all it was, it does not feel to Em as if it were the sort of place his dark benefactor would send him.

Emmett: Forget feelings. Abélia’s love is rape and her favors are guided missiles.

But for all that, he suspects he’s at least carrying the payload rather than about to be crushed under it.

That’s fine. If Abélia won’t give him the time of day, he’ll leave things as they are with her. Her daughter’s still warm to him, after all.

And if this pays off… maybe it’ll make the loss of his conscience easier to bear.

Probably not, though.

GM: The Evergreen’s walls part for Em like so much smoke. He’s treated to an all-out assault on his senses as he strides inside. He hears laughter, and the sound of jazz, both louder now and carried through the place by means of a static-filled and barely functional sound system that hurts his ears. It sounded state of the art when he was last here. Em doesn’t smell any smoke or alcohol, despite the copious quantities of both. The rotted, once-fancy décor looks French. The first floor is a large, loud room full of carousing men and women lounging around on ruined antiques antiques while a live band plays.

The club’s walls suddenly turn solid and opaque. Em can no longer see through them. A high, alarm-like whine splits the air, although none of the patrons pay it a glance.

A tall and extraordinarily handsome Creole man strides towards Em, winks at him, and makes a beckoning motion with his finger. He strides up the stairs, away from the carousing patrons.

Emmett: Em salutes back, which is why he’s reasonably sure the playboy cannot see him.

Nevertheless, he follows. Seems only polite.

GM: The glove-wearing man looks and carries himself more like a butler than a playboy as he walks upstairs and down a hallway into a well-appointed parlor room in that same fancy French style. He opens a cupboard, removes an ouija board, and sets it down on a table.

“Welcome to the Evergreen, departed spirit,” smiles the man, inclining his head. “My name is Fabian. May I ask yours?”

Emmett: Well, fuck, Delacroix is too long to spell.

He spells out, E-M.

GM: The planchette does not move.

Hahaha. Idiot.

Fabian’s smile does not dim. “If you are unable to answer me, departed spirit, a medium can be made available. I would pray your patience until then.”

Emmett: Em waits.

GM: Fabian removes a phone from his jacket. “We have a guest who’d like to remain out of sight. Can you ensure they are suitably entertained, please?”

“Thank you. C-”

“Don’t bother, Fabian. I guess it’s your lucky night,” sounds a familiar voice at the door.

Sami Watts leans against the frame with an arm out. She wears a low-cut black dress tonight with red pumps.

“The spook’s at the table, you suppose?”

Fabian bows low. “Yes, madam. Lord Savoy would be most obliged if you were to be of assistance. I had not been aware that mediumship was among your many talents.”

“A girl has to keep a little mystery to keep herself interesting,” replies Sami. She looks at the table and closes her eyes for a moment. Em sees her fangs lengthen slightly in her mouth before her eyes open.

Emmett: He twiddles his fingers at her in greeting.

“Long time, no see. Moved past ouija, have you? That’ll make things steamier.”

So. It’s a vampire joint.


GM: Sami looks over his corpus. It’s not unappreciatively.

“That was the idea. Nice jacket. I didn’t notice it, last time.”

Emmett: He would dab if he hadn’t died before that became a thing. Instead he just winks and flourishes. “Ah, well. Can’t chat all night, but I’ll find you later, if you hang out around the hotel.”

He looks her over shrewdly, but not unappreciatively, either. “I’m here to talk to an Antoine Savoy, on behalf of the proprietor of the LaLaurie House.”

He lifts the box, taps it. “And I’ll give you a gift if you pass on the message.”

GM: She glances its way. “Mm. What’s in it?”

Emmett: “A surprise,” he says, completely honestly. “And my heart.”

“You wouldn’t throw away my heart, would you?”

GM: “I could probably use it as a blackening agent, at least.”

Emmett: He thinks back to the rotten, shriveled thing Abélia tore from his breast.

“You have no idea. So, you gonna tell this guy why I’m here?”

GM: “No, but Fabian will.” She glances at the living man. “He says he’s here to talk to Lord Savoy.”

The man bows. “Thank you for your assistance, madam. The lord has an opening in his schedule four nights from now.”

“He says the LaLaurie House’s owner sends him, too,” says Sami.

“Ah. The lord is available in two hours.”

Emmett: Em winks at Sami. “I’ll meet you at the hotel later tonight.”

GM: “I remember getting raped, tortured, and murdered the first time I accepted a gift from you.”

Sami winks at Em.

Emmett: He shoots her finger pistols.

There’s an accompanying pew pew.

GM: She cocks one at his forehead, deadpan, and fires it once without sound effects.

Emmett: His head explodes in a burst of gore and viscera. He cries out and clutches at it.

Then he lowers his hands and he’s fine. He wipes his intact brow of nonexistent sweat.

“I do birthday parties, too.”

GM: Nothing happens to his head. Em cries and clutches it without visual effects.

Hahaha, idiot! You don’t get ghost powers until I’m out of the box again!

Emmett: It’s a mime show, mate. I’ll cope.

GM: “I bet. Anyway, keep the heart. I suppose I’ll see you around.”

Emmett: “Your call,” he says frankly. “For what it’s worth, it’s one of those high-risk, high-reward deals. I’ll tell you more about it later.”

Aw. We’ll have to wait a bit longer ‘til we’re reunited, Gaspy.

GM: Don’t worry. I’m patient. Won’t be long before you’re like an ADHD kid forced to sit in class all today.

Sami knows how well those tend to work out.

“I bet. You want Fabian to get anything while you’re waiting here?”

Emmett: What the hell.

“A Cafe Brûlot. With the fire and all, please.”

GM: A raised eyebrow. “I didn’t think you could still enjoy those.”

“He’d like a Cafe Brûlot, fire and all,” Sami says to Fabian.

“Of course, sir. Will there be anything else?” smiles the butler-like man.

Emmett: “I can always enjoy a drink somebody makes for me. Plus, I like a show.”

GM: “I suppose Fabian will enjoy getting to drink it, too.”

“Madam, may I inquire as to the departed spirit’s name?” asks Fabian.

“Delacroix,” Sami answers.

“Mr. Delacroix. It is Lord Savoy’s pleasure, and my personal one as well. Welcome to the Evergreen Plantation.” Fabian bows again, towards where Sami is speaking. “The lord shouldn’t wish you to be kept idle until he can see you. Are there any additional entertainments or diversions we might arrange?”

Emmett: “A movie, if it wouldn’t be any trouble. Surprise me.”

GM: “A movie,” says Sami.

“Of course,” smiles Fabian.

“See you around, again.” Sami eyes the heart-shaped box. “Good luck with the high-risk, high-reward deal.”

“You’ll probably need it.”

Emmett: “I make my own luck. Or make off with somebody else’s. Either way, I’ve only died once.”

Date ?

GM: The movie is the first to arrive. Some people bring up a TV into the room. Fabian selects the movie. Like everything else in the Evergreen, and the Shadowlands, it’s ruined. A spiderweb of cracks runs across the surface and the movie flickers with static. Em can make out enough of what’s playing. It’s the original 1960 Ocean’s 11 with Frank Sinatra and the rest of the Rat Pack.

The Cafe Brûlot comes partway through the first act.

Fabian prepares it himself over a portable grill, and briefly regales Em with the the drink’s history as he halfway peels the orange into a continuous curl and studs it with cloves. Café Brulot Diabolique, or “Devilishly Burned Coffee,” was invented at Antoine’s Restaurant in the late 1880s by Jules Alciatore, the son of the restaurant’s founder. According to Phillip Collier’s Mixing New Orleans, Alciatore was inspired by French bon vivants who would drown a sugar cube in Cognac and place it over an open flame before extinguishing it in a cup of hot coffee. Today, one can still find the drink in New Orleans restaurants including Antoine’s, Galatoire’s, and Arnaud’s—“As well as, of course, the Evergreen,” Fabian smiles.

The preparation of Café Brulot is something like a magician’s show. Outside of the flambeaux at a Mardi Gras parade, there’s nothing like it. Fabian puts cinnamon, cloves, lemon peel, sugar, and brandy in a fireproof bowl and heat on open flame. When the brandy is hot, but not boiling, he brings the bowl to the table and ignites it with match, sending up a gout of fire. He uses a ladle to stir the liquid around for two minutes before pouring the hot coffee into the flaming brandy. Then—to the delight of usually present guests—he proceeds to ladle the still-flaming mixture into demitasse cups.

“A toast, Mr. Delacroix, to your and my good health,” says Fabian as he raises the drink to his lips.

It seems a safe enough toast to make with someone who can’t talk or toast back.

Emmett: Maybe less so to a man whose heath is decidedly moot.

Still, fire burns even in the Shadowlands. That makes the drink a spectacle, even if he can’t appreciate it more directly.

He can remember how it tastes, though. That’s enough.

GM: Fabian downs the drink, hits play on the movie, and leaves the room. He returns after the caper crew has made off with their millions (or rather, been revealed to have done so already).

“The lord will see you now, Mr. Delacroix. Please follow me.”

Emmett: He doesn’t answer the lackey. Why would he?

Perhaps it would be flattering to pretend he’s taken his respite and schemed even as Frank Sinatra schemes onscreen.

But the truth? That fragile thing he keeps running over, backing up on, and running over again?

The truth is, it’s nice just to watch a movie again.

Time to go see the vampire.

GM: The Creole man escorts Em to an old-fashioned gilded elevator with an elaborate iron pull gate. It’s all rusted and pitted. A preserved 1863 ‘greyback’, or Confederate dollar bill, is framed and mounted just above the gate. The bill is torn and the cracked glass is specked with crud.

Fabian steps inside with Em before the door can even close through his incorporeal form, then presses the ‘up’ button. Em doesn’t feel any motion underneath himself as he rises.

There is no ‘ding’ sound as the elevator reaches its stop—its burnished doors merely open to a rooftop, open-air garden that would probably afford a spectacular view of the New Orleans skyline, on the other side of the afterlife. Here it’s just dismal. Em can survey carnage and destruction and decay across the ruined cityscape.

Corroded statues of disfigured angels, some brooding by themselves, others locked in passionate embraces with their fellow elohim, nestle among dead and leafless trees, rotted rose bushes, dead flowers, and withered grass. Moths and maggots infest rusted cages containing crows’ half-rotted carcasses.

A short ways off from them, a corroded marble jacuzzi beckons mockingly. Clouds of flies hungrily buzz over half-rotted corpses reclining in the filthy, stagnant, and algae-infested water.

In fact, corpses are everywhere. Some look fresh. Some are rotting. Some are skeletons. They’re as common as logs, all the way down to how they’re stacked and piled atop one another. Blood freely oozes from their cuts and gaping wounds, as well as the neck punctures that all of them have. Em’s never seen so many bodies in one place besides Abélia’s house.

He still hears the rain, endlessly weeping, but doesn’t feel it. A globe-shaped curtain of dark, hungrily crackling energy encircles the garden from the building’s railings to perhaps 20 feet in the air. Rain that hits it dissolves into plumes of noxious-looking black smoke.

The stench of blood, rot, mildew, and decaying vegetation is awful, but Em’s nose is as dead as the rest of him.

Three figures are seated around a rusty circular iron table, its surface slick and dripping with blood.

The first is a short, dark-haired man who looks in his mid-30s. His scruffy facial hair hovers somewhere between a five-o’ clock shadow and a full beard. He’s dressed in playboy-esque finery that has a casual sense of easy luxury: sports coat, dress shirt without a tie, slacks, and snakeskin wingtip loafers. A signet ring set with a crown and several fleur-de-lis for its coat of arms sits on one of his fingers. Em can’t tell what color his clothes are, beyond various shades of cheerless gray.

The second is a pallid-looking woman with a severe expression with hair pulled back into a tight bun. Her eyes are framed by a thick pair of glasses. She wears a conservative business jacket, matching skirt, lighter blouse, and darker pumps. A tablet with a shattered screen rests on her lap.

The third figure is a biracial woman in her early middle years with a bush of straw-like salt-and-pepper hair tied up in a scarf. She wears a shawl and plain cotton dress. Beaded necklaces with a crucifix and tiny leather pouch dangle from her neck. One of her eyes is glass and glows a faint, otherworldly blue—the sole splash of color in this patch of the Shadowlands. The air around her feels thick and feverish, and is blotted with writhing shadows. Phantasmal faces fade in and out like mirages, their lips ceaselessly mouthing whispers too low for Em to make out. A single rotting, disembodied hand rests on her shoulder. Its wrist vanishes into the aether.

There’s no telltale white glow around the three figures. Their forms are lifeless and ashen as Em’s own.

The first two figures continue speak among themselves, but the third one stares Em straight in the eye as he approaches.

Fabian bows deeply as he approaches to them.

“Lord Savoy, Madam Preston, Madam Bale, may I present Mr. Emmett Delacroix, departed spirit here on behalf of the LaLaurie House’s proprietor.”

Emmett: He winks at her.

Pauses and taps the sole of a dress shoe against the forehead of a blankly staring corpse.

“Well, y’all nailed the ambiance,” he ventures. “I like your eye, Ms…”

GM: The corpse continues to bleed from its neck.

“Madam Bale,” says the woman.

Her eye rests upon the heart-shaped box in Em’s hand.

Lord Savoy smiles at the space in the air where Bale stares.

“Mr. Delacroix! I think I’ve heard your name somewhere before, if memory serves. Where might that have been, Nat?”

“The first man executed by the state of Louisiana in some years, sir,” answers the glasses-wearing woman, who by process of elimination must be Preston.

Emmett: At last, his reputation precedes him. Famous, just like he’s always wanted. Goes to show, dreams do come true.

You just have to die for them.

“Lord Savoy,” he says. “From one dead man to another, your hospitality is a rare thing on this side of the grave. I’m grateful. I lived near here, you know. Right on Royal. The Quarter’s a good place for swindling.” He glances at the corpses stacked like pizza boxes. “I suppose it’s a good place to hunt, too.”

He glances at Bale. “Thanks for the translation, madam. I’m sure it’ll sound sweeter in your voice than mine.”

GM: Disembodied whispers sound near the glass-eyed woman as she repeats Em’s words.

“They aren’t always so different a thing, sometimes,” Savoy replies to the air with a knowing wink. “And it’s our pleasure, Mr. Delacroix! To a friend of Abélia’s, and to a fellow purveyor of the Quarter’s own pleasures. What can we do for you this fine evening?”

Emmett: “To converse with me is already a great gift. I ask for nothing more, merely a conversation. To be transparent, neither does Madam Devillers. I came here looking for somebody to give my heart, and when I listened to it it brought me here, looking for the one I would give it to. She told me to use her name to speak with you, and so I have, and I hope that you do not feel deceived by her. I am new to this side of the world, and there is much I have to learn. But, I hope, also much to tell. And much to offer, if you should like the services of a sandman who serves who he pleases.”

“I know that even Kindred dream. Dreams of blood, but dreams still.”

GM: Wow, you sell yourself to everybody. If you just could’ve kept doing that with your hole, without fucking things up, we’d be a rich man.

Or a rich man’s wife.

Bale translates.

“Indeed we do, Mr. Delacroix. I just may take you up on that offer! There’s much a freelance wraith can do for my people, and we for him.”

“But first things first. I don’t think it’s by chance your heart led you here, if Abélia also did. I wonder what we might do to unite your heart with the object of its affections?” Savoy drums his fingers against the blood-smeared table thoughtfully.

“Perhaps you should listen to it again, now that you’re here?”

Emmett: What a nice lick. So likable. So warm.

That’s probably what all the other dead people on the roof were thinking, too.

Still, it’s good advice. He listens to the box.

GM: He hears voices, like Celia’s and Cécilia’s and Sami’s, but they fade out against the sluggish thump-thump. A low whisper starts to build, hauntingly familiar. Em’s dead stomach clenches with instinctive, soul-deep unease, and he feels as if the box is somehow smiling at him.

Heh. Heh. Heheheheh.

Blood starts to leak from the box, black and oily, and it suddenly feels fleshy and sensitive underneath his hands. Like the time he carried Dino’s cut-off testicle to the gimp. The heartbeat grows stronger and faster. There’s suddenly a terrible, sucking emptiness in Em’s chest, a void that cannot be filled. He feels like he’s trying to breathe through a lungful of tar.

Oh yeah… !

There is a cavity in his chest. A gaping hole open to the air. Em feels like he’s having a heart attack, only held from the palm of his hand. The whispers around Bale rise to a fevered pitch as the faces fade in and out, faster and faster.

“…coming… "

“…rouq… "

“…heart’s desire… "

“…bargain made… "

“…heart’s desire… heart’s desire… "

“I suggest you replace your heart if you do not wish to meet Oblivion,” says Bale, the spectral hand tightly clutching her shoulder.


Emmett: Guess this is the bed we made.

Bring it on, mini-me.

He replaces it.

GM: It fills his chest with a wet squelch, and he can breathe again.

But the hole expands.

It spreads over his chest. Em watches chunks of his corpus spiral away into black void. He pitches over backwards and the hole swallows him up. The last sound audible to his ears are the whispers fading in and out around Bale:

“…heart’s desire… "

Emmett V, Chapter XII
Feast of Evil

“I am certain you are eager to claim your reward.”
Abélia Devillers

Date ?

GM: Em’s been to Clay Square a literal lifetime ago with Cécilia. It’s a tiny, block-sized park in the Garden District that consists of a green field surrounded by trees and an iron fence. There’s a few benches and tables to relax and enjoy picnics at.

There’s a children’s playground, too, and a paved area to play sports on. Cécilia thought it was romantic to do that ‘too-old couple playing on the swings’ scene.

On the other side, everything is shittier. The withered grass is dry and lifeless. The trees are barren. Anything metal is rusted, pitted, and bent out of shape. The catcher’s enclosure, or whatever the fuck it’s called (Em wasn’t big on sports) looks like a hungrily yawning maw.

Rain starts to fall from the black sky. It batters relentlessly against his corpus, but Em doesn’t feel cold. His legs don’t feel sore. He doesn’t feel hungry. He doesn’t feel like taking a piss.

He doesn’t feel anything.

He’s not sure how much time passes. It feels like a while. It might be an hour. It might two hours. It might be twelve hours. He supposes time doesn’t matter as much when you’re dead.

The dead have nothing but time.

Emmett: Em enjoys these moments of silence. He didn’t have many of them when he was alive, and now his existence is such that they are his only luxury. Well, not his only luxury.

He has the dreams.

Em doesn’t know either when he realized that’s what they are, the phantom FX he can conjure on a whim. But that’s really the only way to describe how he conjures them. He dreams, and his dreams make themselves seen.

He measures the time in stories, now, half-imagined fantasies and fancies that he makes swirl around him. There a couple dance, the prince dark and cackling, the princess grinning and fanged.

GM: He does have so many to choose from.

Tall and blonde? Darker and shorter? Dusky-skinned and poison-eyed?

Emmett: None of these. Frankly, the princess looks more like him, which he’d rather not think too hard about.

Other stories abound. He does not focus too hard on any one of them, and so the gloom of the Shadowlands about him is suffused with the endlessly shifting story-lights, all greens and purples and golds, Mardi Gras decorations given shadowy life.

The stories are not easy to follow. They don’t have to be; he is the audience. When he was a child, he could sometimes spend hours in a daydream, perfect loops of fantasy and meaning that he could not separate from himself until somebody said his name and the bubble popped, the dream vanished.

This is no different than that, really. There a ghost outwits a vampire. Here a father embraces his son. There a hitman sticks his gun in his mouth as (for convoluted reasons Em hasn’t entirely thought out) his enemies conspire to keep him alive.

A dozen idiot, ignoble stories. Smears of color in an ugly, corpse-colored world.

He’s still there when they come upon him, floating cross-legged in a mist of fantasy and idle nightmare.

His expression is almost peaceful.


GM: Applause echoes through the gloom.

Rain and fog part to reveal Doc Brown’s grinning face. Ectoplasmic blood leaks down his torn-open throat. He claps his hands as the illusions play out, spots of color in an afterlife of cheerless blacks and grays.

“Isn’t this a pretty little show! There’s just nothing like a splash of color in a world with so little, now is there, Emmett?”

Emmett: He shrugs as he rises himself. “We all do what we do. You bring the merchandise?”

GM: “We all try to bring a little cheer wherever we can,” the doctor agrees, smiling widely. “I tried to bring some to your bedside when I treated you, you know! Research shows patients in happier moods recover faster and more fully.”

The sounds of footsteps and the clink of chains grow audible past the downpour. Along with moans.

Emmett: “I remember.”

Stop smiling.

GM: Em sees the first of them, a broken-looking man with vacant eyes, and an iron collar fastened around his neck. Chains link it to another collar and another broken soul behind him, another man whose mouth has been… Em can only describe it as fused shut. His eyes are numb with despair. Another chain followers behind his collar. It links to another, and another behind it. As the shuffling line of thralls emerges from the fog, Em can see over a dozen souls held in bondage, all told. Some are men. Some are women. Some are men. Some are young. Some are old. One looks no older than 12. Some have had their hands chopped off. Some have had their mouths and eyes fused shut. But most numbly shuffle along without any visible restraints save for the collars and chains. Bob and Mark stroll along their sides, armed with long knives.

“Oh, I’d be surprised if you remembered everything,” the dead doctor winks.

“And here they are! I suppose you should lead the way, Emmett. Where are we headed to this merry night?”

Emmett: He gets to his feet and starts to walk, smiling vaguely.

As they proceed into the Garden District, past ruined villas and manors, Em asks, “What don’t I remember, Jared?”

GM: They are already in the Garden District, but Em’s path starts to carry them to 1415 Third Street. The softly moaning convoy follows behind them, chains clinking in its wake.

Doc Brown just grins. “You were in and out of it. And out of it for quite a bit. The hospital staff can get very playful!”

Emmett: “Including you? You always had a bit of a reputation for, ah, playfulness.”

They’re close, now. Em keeps his mind on maintaining a leisurely pace, on leading his fellow dead to their doom as calmly as possible.

Plus, he’d like to get a straight answer before Brown becomes chow.

GM: The doctor chuckles. “My goodness no, Emmett! You did have AIDS, after all. I certainly didn’t want to risk catching that. No, the two of us had to have fun in other ways.”

Emmett: “Don’t get prudish with the details now, doctor. We’re no longer in the flesh.”

Just around the corner, now.

GM: “That’s right, Emmett,” the forever-bleeding doctor grins, his dark eyes twinkling.

“We’re so much more.”

Suddenly, the fog stirs like a monster’s exhaling breath. Mark and Bob grasp their weapons.

A pained, inhumanly low noise as though the earth were screaming splits the air. They come out of nowhere. At least half a dozen figures, gaunt of figure and grim of visage, with cruel-looking weapons drawn at the wraiths. They emerge from patches of solid midnight, dark shadows clinging to them like cobwebs.

“Make this easy and you’ll be thralls. Make this hard and you’ll be soulslag,” sneers one of the figures.

“Look at ‘em all! We’ve hit jackpot!” whoops another one.

Emmett: Em keeps his calm, though it’s touch and go for a moment. A glance at Jared tells him the doctor isn’t surprised.

“You know these gentlemen, Jared?”

GM: Doc Brown’s smile notably dips.

“I can’t say that I do, but I suppose it’s no shocker someone would want to rob this many thralls.”

Emmett: He nods, then raises his voice.

“Howdy there. Whom do I have the honor of addressing?”

Egotistic pricks love the whom. Really gets their dicks hard.

GM: Outnumbered at least three to do one, Bob drops his weapon in seeming surrender. Mark sprouts molting wings and takes to the air. Several of the figures collide into him like flashes of dark lightning. He hits the ground hard, but Em can’t see what happens next as the shadowy figures fan out around Em and Doc Brown, attempting to shove them to their knees. Two other pry open steel collars. Soft moans waft up from them.

One of the figures walks up close to Em.

Real close.

The shadows run off his face like water. Em sees a slashed-open, bleeding throat. Like Doc Brown’s, but neater and tidier.

Along with a familiar face.

“Still honored, cuz?”

Emmett: Hey, Gasper. Can you talk to his Shadow and find out what our cousin needs more than anything right now? I’ll make you stronger for it.

“Jermaine,” Em says out loud. “I’m honored by my luck. Small underworld, huh?It’s been a while, cousin.”

GM: “Pretty big, actually,” his cousin replies with a mean smile.

“Bet you’re wondering why you’re running into me here.”

He holds up a forestalling hand to the shade with the collar, but the kneeling Em and Doc Brown are swiftly surrounded by Jermaine’s apparent friends.

“Well, you’ve been wandering all over the afterlife like an asshole. I thought about just jumping you, the first time I saw you.”

“But that lacked something. Being dead’s taught me to be patient. And I thought, what kind of man is my cousin?”

Emmett: “A forgivable man?”

GM: “I guess we’ll see how forgiving you are in a bit.”

There’s that same iron-hard and iron-sharp smile.

“But my cousin’s always got a hustle going. He’s always running some kind of score.”

“I waited. And you led me right here.”

His eyes sweep out across the mass of chained thralls.

“What a score. Whole shipment of Hierarchy thralls.”

Yawn. I’m already gonna be the strongest Shadow in the Underworld after you feed all those assholes to dear Maman.

Emmett: Sure, but that only happens if this conversation goes the way it needs to.

“Not compared to what we were about to spring,” Em replies. “The thralls are just the buy-in to a much, much bigger game.”

He spreads his arms, as if to welcome a hug.

GM: Oh, you’ll find a way, Emmett. You always do. I’m gonna need more than ‘make you stronger.’

“Really,” says Jermaine.

His cousin doesn’t look in a very hug-giving mood.

Emmett: That’s preposterous. Everybody wants a hug.

Still, he folds his arms. “Well, if you want to be skeptical about it, that’s fine, but I’ll tell you the same thing I told these fine reapers,” Em says, flourishing his arms from the ground, his palms open and appeasing. “There’s a woman who has more oboli than you could stuff in a fridge, just aways down the road. 1415 Third Street, actually. You ever been?”

GM: “Suppose I may in a bit,” says Jermaine.

“They must’ve been about to sell her those thralls,” says one of the other figures.

“Could do that ourselves,” says another.

“Or just take her oboli and keep the thralls.” A third.

Emmett: Em gives him a pair of finger-guns.


“She’s expecting me. I’ll be happy to introduce you. Help you take her by surprise. And maybe, in return, you could keep my share of the take, seeing as how we’re both victims of circumstance, ultimately.”

It was very circumstantial, your murder.

GM: “How convenient,” Jermaine says flatly.

“How about your friends here?”

Doc Brown’s smile looks more entreating than sinister.

Emmett: Em studies the nails on his dead man’s hand. The few of them that remain, anyways.

“Well, that depends on who you work for, Jay. That, and how they feel about the Hierarchy.”

GM: “I work for the same guy I’ve always worked for, cuz.”


Emmett: “Wouldn’t have it any other way. What do you think of the Hierarchy, boss-man?”

GM: “Hmm. So we can let go four wraiths, who I’m sure will be happy to get robbed in return for not getting slapped with Nhudri’s embrace.”

“Or we can just collar them and sell them without any risk of getting stabbed in the back.”

“Try harder, cuz.”

Em sees it in his eyes.

Jermaine is enjoying this.

Watching him squirm.

Watching him try to talk his way out of trouble.

Emmett: “Who said anything about letting us go? I’m just saying we’re wasted as thralls. I’m more the kind of help you employ. Look, I’ll make you a bet. You like bets, right?”

GM: “When the odds favor me.”

Emmett: “Okay, well, let me give you a win-win. Let me show you to the place. We’re not ten minutes from it. I won’t bolt, we both know I wouldn’t make it around the corner with this many guys on us. I’ll bring you to the lady these upstanding gentlemen had decided to rob. We’re on good terms, and she’s loaded—and she’s looking for friends on this side of the Shadowlands. Let me introduce you. If you don’t make more oboli from shaking her down than you would a few extra thralls, I’ll give you something more valuable to you, still. The name of the bitch that made me kill you, and how you can find her. And, you know, you’ll enslave me and cut off little bits of my corpus and feed them to me, and all that.”

“But, if I win, and you admit you’re satisfied, then I’m not your enemy. I’m your second. Your personal Sandman. And then I can start making you lots, and lots, and lots of money.”

He’s so close. So close to getting them where he needs them.

He only needs his cousin to bite.

GM: Jermaine stares at him.

He doesn’t smile.

Em probably can’t make him any less pissed off about his own death.

But directing that anger onto something else? Someone else?

That he can do.

That’s something he knows how to do very well.

He spent his whole life (or at least adolescence) pouring self-hate into external hate, after all.

His cousin extends a wordless hand to the prone wraith.

Emmett: Em takes it.

As he rises, he glances at Jared and happens to catch his eyes.

“Oh, and these lot have a whistle on them that summons legionaries, I’d get that off them, Jared over there looks very… whistley.”

GM: Doc Brown chuckles.

“My goodness, Emmett. Those things do have a limited range, you know.”

“But I suppose while we’re speaking of legionnaires… "

“Collar them. Now,” snaps Jermaine.

Suddenly, dark shapes materialize from the fog.

They’re humanoid shapes, garbed in heavy gray clothing under armor resembling that of the Roman legions. Their helmets mimic human skulls. Cruel-looking swords bristle from their arms.

Wordless war cries go up from both sides. Blades flash, biting deep into spectral flesh. Jermaine’s sword sends a legionnaire’s head tumbling from his shoulders. Doc Brown stabs his hands into a wraith’s face, laughing as the corpus comes apart in oozing chunks. The one menacing Bob gets basted off his feet by an unseen force. Mark vanishes into a patch of shadow, then reappears behind one of Jermaine’s crew, knife slashing across the wraith’s throat.

A few ghosts in the mass of bound thralls try to run, tugging desperately at their chains, shouting for the others to make a break for it. Many just stand there apathetically, literal dead weight against their fellows, but the chained mass starts to sluggishly move away.

Emmett: Em, for his part, works to ensure both that Jermaine’s team comes out ahead, and that the huddled masses stay conveniently in place. A nightmare mass of glaring, spectral eyes and fanged mouths straight out of a horror game (Domestic Wickedness 3: The Blob-Things, to be exact) burrows from the ground and scatters the encroaching legionnaires, allowing Jermaine’s crew with their lesser numbers to regroup. Then said blob menaces the straggling thralls, making them stumble over and entangle each other in blind panic.

Nothing’s ever allowed to just work, is it?

GM: Em’s conjured nightmare conjures dread indeed among the thralls. The ones trying to escape shriek with terror at the sight of it and try to flee back the other direction. With the battling wraiths behind them, and the weight of their more apathetic members dragging the more animated ones down, the desperate mass of damned souls gets nowhere fast.

Jermaine’s outnumbered crew, however, fares worse against the Hierarchy’s legions. Ear-splitting shrieks split the gloom, loud enough to make Em feel like his head will explode. Blood rains from the sky, melting corpus on contact. The wraiths on both sides are relentless warriors, fighting past gaping wounds, past loss of their limbs, past all the frailties of living bodies. There’s one particularly vicious Hierarchy wraith, adorned in a featureless steel mask, whose sword cuts down three of Jermaine’s crew. Shrieking black voids yawn up to swallow most of the defeated, though a few collapse to the ground and writhe with pain as their foes clamp collars around their necks. The battle comes to an end when Jermaine gives it up and dives into a shadow.

Emmett: It’s not the first battle he’s been in the middle of.

It is the messiest, though. His corpus drips with ectoplasmic ichor. He weaves and floats and dances among from the carnage, his only priority his survival and not letting that steel-faced brute catch him; the featureless figure seems to be looking at him intently, for some reason.

Probably jealousy. It’s often jealousy.

GM: “Don’t go a-running now, Emmett! We still need to meet the nice lady together!” smiles Doc Brown as the masked legionnaire lunges after Em with a collar.

He can try to still deliver the Hierarchy to Abélia in chains.

Or he can flee a free man.

Lamarck: There’s no such thing as an easy come up, but why does it always end up like this around him. Ever blood-soaked, ever spiraling further into madness. Death sacrificing death. He can see it all, the brutal slaughter, the gory explosions of wraithly forms, the terrible pull of the nihils on the bodies of his fallen combatants. No one could blame him for losing his focus in the tempest.

But in this darkest, most important of moments, his sight becomes as sharp as any one of the Hierarchy’s soulforged daggers.

And in the crystal clarity he sees one of Jermaine’s men with fury in his eyes staring directly at him. He’s a boulder of a man, and his black, veil-like clothing is draped over stone-grey muscles that shift like quaking tectonic plates as he takes a thunderous step forward in the carnage.

The hulk of a wraith opens his gorilla-like maw and starts to roar something at Emmett, ectoplasmic spittle already hitting his face, and then he is silent.

The eyes of the tank go painfully wide as his jaw drops and two ectoplasm-soaked blades stab through his gut and pull up, tearing through his dead entrails. The blades stab in and out of his form again and again, tearing two windows through the dead man’s insides.

The gore-spattered blades run him through and through, and then they go further, and they don’t end at hilts but arms, which stretch out a man-sized hole in the unfortunate wraith. The blade-handed man crawls like devilspawn out of his womb, and stands proud in the dead corpse, grasping a length of its intestines and biting into his trophy.

As he steps past the soon-opening oversized nihil that the corpse falls into, not seeming to notice the dead conman, Emmett catches a view of the mad butcher’s blood-soaked face.

It couldn’t be. But it has to be. He wears the same predatory grin he did when Emmett put on that terrible collar.

He’s back.

Emmett: When it’s all over, though, he can count. It’s five against one.

Oh, and Lamarck. Because why not. He accepted long ago that God, fate, the universe, whatever, was determined to quash his hopes and dreams.

“Let’s talk about this,” Em says, and then the collar snaps shut around his neck.

GM: The pain is as horrific as it was last time. Searing hot flames and powerful surges of numbing cold rip simultaneously through his mind and corpus. Even his Shadow screams inside his head. A shrill chorus of agonized shrieks seems to simultaneously ring from the collar’s dull surface.

“Ah, today is a good day! So many new thralls!” smiles Doc Brown.

Emmett: He screams.

A part of him knows he deserves it.

GM: “I presume you’ll want this one for yourself, sir,” the doctor addresses the masked wraith.

Emmett: “Marck,” he gasps, at some point in between the screams. “’La… Marck. The… collar. I took off… your… collar. Chains. Not collar. Please.”

GM: The masked wraith doesn’t say anything. Just folds his arms and stares at Em.

Bob laughs and glances at Lam.

“This one stole every artifact to your name, didn’t you say?”

Emmett: “Spared… the… collar.”

Lamarck: The ectoplasm-soaked butcher’s boots squelch against the wet ground as he lands his gaze on Emmett. He smiles sickly, sharpening the blades extending off his arms against each other. The metal shrieks.

Bob’s words don’t seem to affect him, perhaps it’s all water under the bridge.

“Zis von, ist very klever. Very klever in-deed.”

Lamarck frowns.

“But terribly foolish. And so green. I vould hef had gut use for you too, Emmett, but ze commander insisted. You vould hef made gut entertainment, zandmann.”

Emmett: Ah, well. Worth a shot.


A distant corner of his soul, untouched by the freezing agony, watches. And waits.

Waits for them to make him walk, and lead them to their doom.

GM: The masked wraith brushes a hand against Emmett’s cheek, almost tenderly. Em feels wet ectoplasmic blood against his skin, from the taller figure’s glove. It doesn’t smell like any blood he’s been around before. It doesn’t smell like anything.

Emmett: Bad touch, he would say if he wasn’t screaming.

But he is, sadly, screaming.


GM: There’s soft laughter at his cries. Then the figure takes off the skull-patterned mask.

He smiles fondly. Like a father being reunited with a long-lost son.

Or a daughter.

“Hello, Em.”

Emmett: Called it, Em thinks.

Out loud, he says, “FUCKUNTABITCH!”

GM: Em would say his former john looks good, but he doesn’t. He looks dead.

“My sweet little boywhore,” he murmurs, pulling Em into an embrace that’s almost warm. Em feels too-cold steel against his chest as Mark brushes a hand through his hair.

“I’ve missed you so much.”

“I’ve spent seven years thinking of you.”

“Thinking of the things I’m going to do to you.”

“There are so many, many things.”

“I’d say I don’t even know where to start, but I do. I’ve spent seven years thinking about where we’re going to start.”

Emmett: At least now he knows that if he doesn’t pull this off, he’ll literally be a sex slave. Nothing like a good incentive.

Em looks to Doc Brown. “Rich… make you… rich.”

GM: The doc just laughs. Rivulets of ectoplasmic skin and fat run down his chin, mingling with the blood spurting from his slashed throat. He hasn’t even bothered to clean it off.

“Oh, we’re all going to come out of this rich, all right.”

“First, we’re going to visit the masquers,” says Stines. “There are some really good ones in the necropolis here. They’re going to give you an enormous pair of tits. Just enormous. They’ll be so heavy you can’t even walk with a straight back. They’ll give you long hair, makeup, giant eyelashes, fat dicksucking lips, the whole nine yards. They’ll also get rid of those clothes you have on, and replace them with something frilly and lacy that ends with a skirt, which they’ll fuse to your skin. I’m going to tell them to make the entire moliating process as long and painful as possible. They’ll be able to make it very painful, though not as much as what comes next.”

“All of that will just be the appetizer.”

Lamarck: Lamarck shakes his head at Emmett’s vulgarity with a smile that carries a certain almost paternal pride. Boys will be boys. And what’s the harm when the boy is under excruciating, debilitating pain?

But when the commander starts talking, his expression shifts, like that of a child taking their first bite out of a lemon their their parents promised would be sweet as sugar. No one cleared him on these details, it seems. He holds his tongue for the moment, but his grin transfigures into a grimace. Before the commander looks back, he hides his disgust behind his dead stare.

Emmett: Talk, talk, talk. Em doesn’t bother to listen to it. If it ends up happening, he won’t need to spoilers, and if it doesn’t, he’d rather not know to begin with.

Plus, well.

The pain.


GM: Stines just smiles and pulls back, brushing Emmett’s cheek again.

“Because once you’re dolled up, once we’ve got you looking ready for one of our dates again—and you’re going to look like that forever, the process is permanent—we’re going to visit the soulforges, you and I. I’m going chain you down to a low table, with your legs spread, and stick your dick right into those furious white flames. The artificers will get to work with their hammers and anvils, and they’ll forge it into a little keepsake for me, while it’s still attached to you. They’ll only slice it off at the very end. Do you have any idea how painful that process is? Just any idea? Getting your attached penis soulforged is most painful thing I could think of to do to you, and I’ve spent seven years thinking of painful things to do to you.”

“That little keepsake made from your dick is going to be a collar, by the way. Just like this one, and just as painful. But it’ll have a little tag that reads ‘Mark Stines’ pet bitch.’ Or maybe ‘dicksucking faggotgirl.’ I actually haven’t decided. It won’t even come with a lock. I’m going to have them weld it around your neck.”

Emmett: Is he still monologuing? Jesus fucking christ, you’d think a dead man would learn to appreciate how little anybody actually cared about what he had to say.

Still, almost feels rude not to give as good as he gets.

Em howls and hacks and sputters, but sways desperately close to Stines and looks him in the eyes.

Then he smiles, a pain-fueled grimace, a smile only a corpse could wear.

“How’s… the… wife?”

He even winks. Well, winces. But only with his left eye.

It’s wildly impudent.

Mark can see it in Em’s eyes, then. The worst thing a man like him can ever see in a victim’s eyes.

Em thinks he’s funny.

“Hehheh… heh… heh.”

His laughter turns into a scream. Or maybe the other way around. It’s not a nice noise, any which way.

GM: Stines’ cheeks don’t redden. There’s no color here.

Instead, the dead man’s ashen-hued face turns black with rage. Literally black, like someone spilled paint over it. Paint distilled from seven years of pent-up, fetering hate.

Stines belts him across the face, hard, crunching in his nose with a bloody spray. He throws Em to the ground. Falls on top. Brings down his fists again and again and again, beating Em until his face is a mashed-up, bloody ruin.

“Hey, you beat him too bad-” starts Bob, with a dubious look.

SHUT UP!” roars Stines, his eyes bulging with hate.

He beats Em some more.

And some more.

His soldiers frown among themselves. Doc Brown trades a glance with Lam.

They’ve collared and chained up all the wraiths who didn’t flee or plummet into those black rents. Everyone is just standing there, waiting, as the commander throws his tantrum.

Emmett: It hurts.

But fuck, everything hurts, and every blow that lands tells him that Stines still knows Em’s winning.

Yeah, that’s what this is.


“Ah’ll neVer… shOw yah where shh, she iS…” he hacks, between the howling laughter. "No o-bo, oboli, for yooou… "

Give Stines something to take from him. Something to bully him into.

GM: “1415 Third Street, Emmett,” smiles Doc Brown with a tsk-tsk tone. “You did say so, yourself!”

Emmett: He shakes his head. "Need me… to int, introduce… " but Stines is beating him and he’s screaming.

Lamarck: Lamarck looks on with disgust at Stines’ weakness. It’s a weakness he bore himself. Cut on Emmett’s sharp tongue. And collared as well. It’s disgraceful.

When Emmett brings up the oboli, he breaks his quiet by sniffing the air around Stines’ body and recoiling.

“Ze smell of his Shadow ist thick viz him, gentlemen. Es ist mein professional opinion zat ze dear commander ist under ze influence of his Shadow as ve speak. He’s undergoing catharsis. Ze Shadow might ruin his mission and throw away all our oboli if ve don’t take action to reshtrain him.”

He gestures to the collar that hangs around his belt.

“I might be able to calm him. But only ven he is reshtrained.”

Looking to Emmett writhing like a maniac on the floor, some part of Lamarck still has hope for himself. Maybe this is what altruism looks like. That’s what it is, after seventy years of enslaving the freshly dead, he’s turning a new leaf.

Bullshit. Of course not, whispers the Shadow into his ear. He’s doing this for himself. For money. And he can’t afford to fail. That’s why he calls on his Shadow when it offers it’s wares, and sells off one more bit of himself to his greatest weakness.

GM: The soldiers look at one another.

“Too many fucking times,” says one.

As one, the armored legionnaires yank Steins off Em and hold him down. He howls and bellows orders until they snap a collar around his neck.

Then he just screams.

“Regs are clear, sir. I’m assuming command,” says one, a grim-faced legionnaire missing his left eye. There’s just a steadily weeping pit of gray where it used to. “You’re relieved until the pardoners can calm down your Shadow.”

Emmett: Hahahahahahaha.

Oh my god, I think I might literally die from the pain. AGAIN.

GM: He looks at Lam. “Can you do it here, or do we need to take him back to the necropolis?”

Lamarck: Lamarck takes a moment to look at Emmett as the legionnaires wrestle and collar the degenerate rapist.

Lamarck a pardoner. Perhaps he was more ‘unharrowed’ than they expected.

He turns back to the new commander and responds,

“It’s likely best vor us to press on, acting kommander, unt let him tucker himself out. I vill check up on him every zo often, but I don’t vant to let zis effort go to vaste if ve don’t hef to.”

“Ze castigation process is kvite energy-intensive, unt I very vell might reqvire zat strength to finish zis mission. Ve kan get him some longer term treatment ven ve’re back if it appears necessary,” he assures.

GM: “All right,” says the one-eyed legionnaire. He motions at the others. “Chain them.”

The remaining legionnaires attach chains to Em’s and Stines’ collars, which they hook to the thrall first in line. Stines’ face is a mask of agony. He doesn’t resist the other wraiths.

But he still manages to shoot Em a look of pure, murderous hate.

Lamarck: Lamarck absentmindedly sharpens his blade-arms against each other, thinking, and then he approaches Emmett, and asks the now chained conman,

“All right, zo, vat ken you tell us about vat ze vun at ze address ist expekting of you? On a normal trip hier, vat vould you be doing to approach?”

GM: Bob laughs.

Emmett: Em screams and gesticulates wildly to his collar.

GM: “Why the fuck would he tell us anything close to the truth now?”

“I take it back, you know. You’re not my kind of scum.”

He delivers a swift kick to the screaming wraith’s flank.

Lamarck: “Because Bob, wiz ze oboli ve ken collect from a successful operation, unt ze delivery of ze ozer thralls, ve can afford to offer zis von a chance at mercy. He ist a being of opportunity. Unt right now, beink honest ist ze only opportunity he has if he vants to get zat collar off.”

Emmett: Em gives a thumbs up.

He doesn’t stop screaming.

GM: “Or he could just lie,” Doc Brown smiles.

“Well. More, that is.”

His grin spreads.

“I’m afraid your only future is as a large-breasted sex toy, Emmett.”

Emmett: He shrugs. Pleads, with his hands.

But mostly screams.

GM: The doctor laughs.

“What a sissy,” says Bob.

“Well, it does take them some time to get used to,” says Doc Brown.

Lamarck: “Vat ze commander vishes to do viz him ist zomething he can handle upon ze castigation of his Shadow. For now, I vant ze oboli. If zat takes taking off his kollar, zen so be it.” Lamarck reasserts.

“Unt he should know,” Lamarck says, holding his literal sword-arm up to Emmett, “Zat I am proficient in zat kapacity az vell. If he gets any ideas, I’m happy to demonstrate.”

Emmett: Em manages to stop screaming long enough to squeak out a particularly high-pitched “Please!”

GM: Bob kicks him again.

“Enough,” growls the one-eyed legionnaire.

Emmett: “Enough,” wheezes Em in agreement.

GM: He looks at Doc Brown. “You warned us about this one. He was behind the illusions?”

The doctor nods. “Struck a deal with the renegades, too.”

“This was a setup?”

“Spontaneous, it seemed like.”

He looks at Em. “Well, renegade, tell you what. Answer our questions, and we’ll let you go. You won’t get any of the spoils, but you won’t be a spoil either.”

Em’s told enough lies in his time to smell another one.

“Anything you hear from him is suspect,” cautions Doc Brown.

Emmett: Em tries to disagree, but finds himself screaming instead.

Somebody should really take off that collar.

GM: The one-eyed legionnaire gestures to two others with an irritated look. They shove Em to the ground and pin him with their arms and knees. But the acting commander unlocks the collar. The sheer relief hits Em like a gut punch.

Emmett: “Oh thank fuuuuck,” he practically sings as the soulforged torture-steel leaves . “Okay! Okay, in order of importance. I’m not a ‘renegade,’ I’m just a prick, all right? I just look out for myself, like everybody else does. Nothing more to it than that. These fine gentlemen captured me, I told them my situation and how they might make some oboli and they let me go. We were on our way to the deal, my jerk cousin showed up and made like I was about to be soulslag. So I sold them down the river to him. Now you lot are in control, so I’m on your side again. Look, it’s not fucking ideological, I just really like my own skin, is that so wicked? Now, what do you want to know?”

Tongue like a fucking turbine.

Lamarck: “All right. Zo, first zings first. On an average meeting, vat’s your approach?”

Emmett: “I fly in and bow in the yard. I say whatever flowery shit comes to mind. Then the doors open. I go in. She’s normally waiting in there. The Devillers witch.”

“I don’t know what she is, exactly. Not dead. Not alive. Not a lick. But she’s got oboli. Whopping big safe full. And she’s, um, well, she doesn’t like you lot very much. The Hierarchy. She sent me out to feel out some recruits. Potential, I guess you would call them renegades, but she pitches it using words like ‘opportunity’ and ‘ground floor.’ You know, she’s looking for ambitious Caspers who don’t like wearing the uniform or getting their wanking hand turned into a cutlass.”

He chooses to wait, at this point, for questions.

Lamarck: Lamarck chews on that answer like a goat would his cud, long and slow.

“Ah, I see. Unt zer ist no one zer to open ze doors? Zey just open? You think she can see you from inside? Hev you ever tried to open ze doors yourself, without alerting her?”

Emmett: He shakes his head. “She’s got some kind of power over the house. She won’t be easy to surprise there. I know she can be lied to, though, I’ve done it before. Let me walk you up there. No chains, no collar, or she’ll know something’s off.”

The bruises and bleeding inflicted by Stines’ beating are already fading, his corpus restoring itself and his face to its usual charming proportions.

“Look, I get that I’m scum, you can’t trust me, whatever, but that’s just the best way to get her to come out on our terms. It’s not like I’ll be able to get away from you if chucking you down that elevator shaft didn’t do the trick. I’ll behave. I mean, it’s five of you against her. Like I said, earlier.” He nods to Bob. “I’m scum who can count.”

GM: The other wraiths don’t immediately reply, seemingly content for the pardoner to finish his questioning first.

It’s a tough-looking audience.

When isn’t it?

Lamarck: “So, no shneaking up on her, or her oboli. Ve hef to get her to open ze gates of her own volition. Zen ven ve’re in ve’re good to get her. Zat’s ze deal? Like ze Trojan horse. Ve just need to get through ze gates.”

His sword arms scrape against each other further. Emmett can’t help but notice how honed the edge has become.

“Unt vat vill she think ven zer are armed wraiths and legionnaires at her doorstep viz you? You don’t hev a horse to hide us in, do you?” he asks with a hint of humor.

Emmett: “I was kind of imagining y’all would do your shadow-teleporting thing and swoop down from above. Once we get there, you can get into position.”

Lamarck: “I see.” He chews on that thought too. “Do you know her to have any particular blind spots or veaknesses? You’ve lied to her? Vat does she fall for?”

Emmett: “The same lies anybody believes, Lamarck. Ones about how she’s the prettiest woman you’ve ever seen and how she’s got you wrapped around her finger. She’s smart, but arrogant, like.”

Lamarck: “Vell, zat ist all very helpful. Your ko-operation ist noted,” Lamarck says with his permanent smirk, before turning back to his fellow wraiths for their thoughts.

GM: The one-eyed legionnaire seems to consider all that he’s heard.

“What about his Shadow?” he asks Lam. “How large a threat do you peg it?”

Lamarck: Emmett sees Lamarck turn towards him once again, lean close, and inhale the dead air around him. The skin around his nose wrinkles and he slowly withdraws.

After seeming to consider it for a moment and looking back to ensure Emmett’s still held down, he answers, “Es ist qvuite ze stronk Shadow. It requires purifikation before ve kick zis off. Ve don’t vant it sabotaging ze operation.”

“I aem prepared to do zo, but I’ll need extra pathos to sustain my corpus in ze process.”

He looks to the one-eyed legionnaire.

“Akting kommander, ef I rekall correktly you are shkillt in usury. Vould you be villink to facilitate donations durink ze purifikation process?”

GM: “If I had a reason to throw pathos after this one,” the legionnaire answers levelly.

“Just snap a collar back on the fuck,” agrees Bob.

Emmett: “I might be better placed to distract the lady and give you gentlemen the opening you need if I’m not screaming in agony,” Em suggests.

GM: “Who the fuck cares what the pardoner says, sir. Let’s just get a damn move on,” says Bob.

“I suppose we aren’t getting any younger, are we now?” smiles Doc Brown.

“Cute,” says another legionnaire.

GM: “We’ve already gone to all the effort of lugging these thralls here,” says another legionnaire.

“Caught a few more, to show for it,” says another.

The one-eyed legionnaire looks at Em. “You’ll approach the house to sell the thralls. Brown and Norman will go with you. We’ll also give you some extra incentive to stay loyal.”

He produces a dull-looking knife and stabs it right into Em’s heart. The blade pierces Em’s corpus like it’s made of clay, and the sensation doesn’t hurt as much as Em probably thinks it should, though it isn’t a comfortable feeling either. A dull chill seeps through Em’s chest after a few moments.

The one-eyed legionnaire looks at Brown. “Say ‘command word’, and he’ll get what’s coming to him.”

“With pleasure,” smiles Brown.

“We’ll be watching you for any illusions, too, Mr. Sandman,” says Bob.

The one-eyed legionnaire makes a signal, and just like that, they vanish again into shadow. Em and his two ‘companions’ lead the fettered thralls up to the Walter Robinson House. It’s a short trip. The gates are closed when they get there, but Em can see through them to the other side, unlike last time.

Also unlike last time, the house’s yard consists of dead and withered grass rather than skulls. The living darkness smothering the building is also absent. The property appears as ordinary as any of its neighbors.

“Knock knock,” smiles Doc Brown.

Emmett: Dammit, dammit, dammit. One more fucking hoop to jump through, eh? Well, stick a tail up my ass and call me a bunny.

“No worries, Bob,” he says as they approach, the house’s participation in his chicanery only vaguely registering next to the knife in his heart. “Got me cornered, you have. No more tricks up my sleeve.”

Gasper, you still want me to shove these pricks down her gullet, yeah? I need a favor to make that happen, if you’re game.

Knock, knock, go his dead man’s knuckles against the door. He expects it to sound like knocking on a coffin.

GM: I’m game to cut a deal.

Em’s hand passes through the translucent gate like so much smoke. Bob and Brown trade amused looks as they follow him up the house’s front steps, their line of weakly moaning thralls in tow.

But the house itself is opaque to the wraiths’ sight. When Bob gives an experimental knock, the door silently swings open. The inside is pitch dark.

It feels like opening a coffin.

“There’s too many to bring inside,” frowns Bob. “Get her to come out.”

GM: The two wraiths look impatient.

“There’s a collar back there with your name on it, if you can’t,” growls Bob.

Emmett: “Uh huh,” Em says.

Get Brown’s Shadow to pull him into a harrowing, I’ll let you decide what we do to him when he pops back out. Even shit I’d normally fight. Plus, I’ll make you stronger, obviously. Deal?

“As you wish,” he says aloud, and steps into the perfect pitch black of the house.

GM: Bob plants a hand on Em’s shoulder.

“Yeah, leave you to go warn her we’re out here, or lead us into an ambush. Maybe you should just try yelling it’s you?”

Uh huh, I’m already gonna get a lot stronger, and there’s nothing I’d do to that smiling fuck you also wouldn’t. Swear to kill Lena, on your soul—which I’ll get if you try to weasel out—and I’ll get the good doc’s Shadow to play ball.

Emmett: You know that’s a nonstarter. Nightmares about her kids dying, take it or leave it.

Em shrugs off the hand. Worth a try.

“Madame,” he croons, “I have brought you your thralls, and those who would sell them. They shan’t fit in the house. Would you deign to meet us outside? I told these gentlesouls your beauty could make a garden bloom, and I quite look forward to being proven right.”

He glances at Brown.

An idea blossoms.

“And if she would join us… your eldest might find the company invigorating.”

GM: Em’s Shadow does not answer him.

But the darkness does.

A figure steps out. It looks like Abélia, down to the pale skin and black hair, but that’s where it ends. The cheeks are a bit rounder, the smile less knowing, the eyes less dark. Her dress looks like a real dress, moves like a real dress, rather than a living extension of the night itself. The figure looks exactly like her, but somehow robbed of all that she is.

The facsimile smiles.

“Hello, gentlesouls. I bid you welcome to my home.”

Even the voice sounds off.

“My eldest shall be along momentarily… I’m afraid she can’t see you, but perhaps you might find her company invigorating?”

Emmett: And just like that, the game is still on.

Em keeps his face composed even as he ponders his next move.

“How could we not, when she’s your spitting image?”

GM: “How could we not, if she’s as lovely as you, madam,” smiles Doc Brown. “Aren’t you going to introduce us, Emmett?”

Emmett: Em lets a moment pass so the copycat compliment can linger like the bad fart it is before he speaks.

“Madame Devillers, Dr. Jared Brown is an old associate from my breathing days and currently employed as a thrall-hunter by… well, I’m sure he can list his credentials more precisely than myself. Oh, and that’s Bob. His sidekick. Bob, Jared, this apparition is Madame Abélia Devillers, and her needs for spectral muscle are, as I’ve mentioned, substantial.”

He glances at Bob. “That means ‘large.’”

GM: “Cute,” says Bob. Em gets a very mean-looking smile.

The facsimile gives an airy laugh. “It’s my privilege to make both of your acquaintances. And you’ve some thralls to sell, I hear from Mr. Delacroix?”

“Why yes, madame. A whole 22,” smiles Doc Brown. “We’re hopeful that many of them will meet your needs.”

Emmett: “Enfants mostly, I expect?” Em cuts in breezily.

GM: “A corpus is a corpus, at the end of the night,” smiles Doc Brown. “Though there aren’t many things as satisfying as snapping nhudri’s embrace around the neck of an arrogant older wraith. We certainly have a few of those!”

“I am certain they will serve splendidly, young and old,” smiles Abélia. “Please, take me to them.”

“We’re going to ask that you bring your oboli with you, ma’am,” says Bob. “Standard rule for prospective customers.”

“Why, of course… I’m certain you’re used to dealing with all manner of unscrupulous sorts,” agrees the facsimile. “A moment, please.”

She disappears back inside the house.

Doc Brown and Brown both smile at Em.

They’re smiles as nice as is typical for the pair.

Emmett: “She’s nice, isn’t she?” Em smiles back. “And wait ‘til you meet the daughter. You’ll like her, Brown. I did. Bob, she doesn’t have any sons, but you can probably get a handy from one of the thralls. You know, as a going away gift. If the doc gives you permission, I mean.”

GM: “That’s also cute. Still not as much as you’re going to be with a giant pair of tits as the commander’s fucktoy,” leers Bob.

Emmett: Em grins.

GM: “He’s been fantasizing about what he’ll do to you for years. Had a lot of stories down in the necropolis.”

Emmett: “Yeah, and I bet you listened to all of them, eh? You’re right, Bobby boy. You’re not scum like me. I’d rather get fucked by your boss in the taint than spend my afterlife choosing to follow him around like a dead fucking groupie. At least Brown knows why he’s a rapist. It’s because he likes the power. You don’t even realize why nobody needs to put you on your knees. It’s because you wind up there your own damn self.”

He just needs Brown to crack a smile. To break ranks for a moment. A snicker will be enough, if he’s got Bob’s number right.

And he knows he has. The schmuck’s deathly garb is a wife-beater. He won’t like being laughed at.

Well, then again, nobody really does. Not even the dead.

GM: The other wraith’s face can’t turn red. But his eyes turn furious. Absolutely furious.

“You’ve got some lip on you. Command wo-!”

The knife flies out of Em’s chest.


The blade turns solid black, then explodes in a shower of glassy, bleeding fragments. Em doesn’t want to think about what that would have done inside his corpus.

Dr. Brown shoots the other wraith an equally black look.

“Couldn’t leave that alone, could we, Bob?”

“Couldn’t wait all of five minutes?”

Emmett: Em stretches, his chest suddenly feeling miles lighter. “Don’t be too hard on him, doc. We can’t all be as cool as you. And let’s not get too worked up, eh? The lady’ll be back soon. And we have a sale to make.”

He regards the pitch darkness of the house plaintively. “Command word,” he scoffs. “Nobody ever bothers to change the factory settings, do they?”

GM: He’s heard of bondage couples who use “safeword” too.

And also children’s show critters.

Bob just glares.

Nobody talks. The facsimile eventually re-emerges, though, along with Cécilia. She looks straight past the three wraiths as if oblivious to their presences.

Several chests on little carts follow along with Abélia. They’re heaped high with colorless coins stamped with a masked figure and bearing a reaper’s scythe. Low moans go up from them.

Emmett: “Shall I bite one?” Em offers.

GM: “Seems like you’re pretty used to experimenting with things in your mouth,” says Bob.

Abélia only smiles and gazes out at the line of fettered thralls as if noticing them for the first time.

“Please, tell me of them. This white-haired one looks of exceptionally fine stock?” she inquires, looking towards Mark Stines.

Emmett: “I can certainly vouch for his stamina. Easy to manipulate, though,” Em chimes in.

“Of course, that might be a pro, not a con.”

GM: “Very good,” smiles the facsimile.

“I shall be happy to purchase all of these thralls.”

Doc Brown smiles back at her, then blows his whistle. It sounds like the screams of the damned. Dark shapes suddenly materialize out of nowhere, clad in the Hierarchy’s skull-and-bones armor. They fall upon the facsimile with collars and chains, burying it beneath the weight of their numbers as they bind it fast.

The facsimile, Cécilia, and the carts full of oboli abruptly dissolve into oily black sludge.

Some of the legionnaires’ gazes turn sharp with surprise.

Bob just roars,“GET HIM!” and tackles after Em.

Emmett: “Sorry, boys.” Em deftly weaves away from Bob, retreating back towards the house. “You bet on the wrong horse. Or beat the dead horse. Because we’re ghosts? Get it? Oh, never mind, I bungled it.” He sprouts wings and flaps into the air, stares down at his old tormentor. “Hey, Doc Brown? You really should have stopped smiling.”

He spreads his arms wide, the pitch-black doorway looming behind him.

“Your larder, madame.”

GM: The house ripples as though from a mirage’s heat waves.

The ground beneath the wraiths does too. The gates and fence suddenly grow solid and opaque to their deathless eyes.

Lamarck: Lamarck catches Emmett’s eyes from beside the mass of legionnaires. The blade-armed man sprouts two great wings which unfurl as he twirls into the air. At first he seems to grin, but then as the illusion melts melts away, so does his levity. There’s an unstated question in his gaze, Please.

Emmett: Em spots a certain Kraut in the crowd. “Maybe leave that one. He’s all sinewy. He’ll behave, won’t you, Lamarck?”

GM: An abyss yawns wide over the house. Enormous, tree-sized tendrils of dripping darkness squeeze about its walls, whose geometric angles seem off and no longer fully euclidean. Staring at them makes the wraiths’ heads hurt. Black, tar-like blood runs down the building’s side like oily tears. The ground is no longer dead grass, but row upon row of human skulls and flesh-picked bones.

But its true shape is but the precursor.

Lamarck: The Amerikan kraut doesn’t hesitate a lick at the offer. Maybe it’s that they’ve ran into a trap and only Emmett seems comfortable. Or maybe he’s developed a soft spot for the young sandman.

Either way, he flies before Emmett to brandish his swordarms in his defense.

“Of kourse I vill, Emmett.”

Emmett: It’s definitely the first one.

Lamarck: Perhaps Lamarck was surprised at first how comprehensively Emmett’s soul was tainted. So young, so struck with naiveté about the world of the dead. This very same soul even tried to save him from his own sins and even offered him a way out.

One glimpse at the true form of the mistress he serves dispels any and all such illusions. He averts his eyes immediately and looks to Emmett gravely.

“Vas ist das, mein Freund? Mein Gott in Himmel.”

There’s no power to his voice, no outward presence at all. Just a cold, concentrated mixture of fear and awe that flirts with Oblivion.

Emmett: “That’s my madame, Mr. All-American. Now shut up and watch the show.”

GM: The doors burst open, vomiting out a tidal wave of pure darkness. Shapes swim through it, like a spider’s writhing hairy legs, a shark’s gnawing teeth, and a kraken’s grasping tentacles, all at once, as though the night itself and all its terrors were come alive with hunger. The black tide floods over the wraiths like a vast web enveloping a cloud of flies, then sucks them in.

No one is spared. The legionnaires, the thralls, Doc Brown and his associates, Lamarck, Em: all souls are food for the void past the house’s yawning doors. The legionnaires hack away with their swords, slicing off chunks of dripping darkness that transform into scuttling spiders and writhing maggots as they hit the bone-lined ground. Em and Lam watch as their corpi blacken and rot before their eyes. Wholesale chunks disappear as though gnawed away. Em looks down where some of his used to be, and sees himself in his old apartment’s dumpster, screaming over his lost legs. He and Lam struggle and beat their wings, taking advantage of the house’s preoccupation with so many other victims to extricate themselves. Lam fights like hell and tears himself from the darkness first, coated in oily-smelling black bile. Em suffers far worse before he’s spat out, his legs resembling blackened bones gnawed clean of flesh.

A few of the legionnaires cut themselves free, too. The one-eyed legionnaire tears off Stines’ shackles and shouts something indistinct before his head disappears beneath the nightmare tide. Bob just screams as he’s sucked past the house’s doors. He does not reemerge. Mark rips open a dark tear in the ground and prepares to dive through, then screams as black tendrils explode from the rift and drag him inside. The other legionnaires, shouting not to open nihils here, sprout wings and take to the air. The house ravenously drags back several, including the one-eyed legionnaire. Each wraith is swallowed through the house’s awful doors. Stines and Doc Brown soar furiously towards the starless sky.

Emmett: It take the last drop of Em’s powers to restore his wrecked corpus, but restore it he does, as his wings propel him upwards after his fleeing foes. He has no intention of letting the two biggest fish off their hooks.

He doesn’t even have the juice for an illusion. So he’s reduced to soaring within shouting range and hollering at the fleeing wraiths at the top of his lungs. The sound seems to carry all right, though. He supposes air isn’t so much a factor.

“That’s right, you limp-dicked FAGGOTS! Fly off! You think this is where it ends? I’ll find your fucking families and give them dreams about their cowardly casper cunts! You’ll remember that I fucked you harder than either of you fucked anybody, and you’ll remember it for-FUCKING-EVER!”

Bit crass, but he’s still reeling from the tentacular rape of his corpus. Luckily, they probably are too.

GM: Doc Brown flashes Em a humoring smile but seems to have no intention of flying back to certain death. After all, Em hasn’t actually done much of anything to him.

But the same can’t be said for Mark Stines.

The hate on the other wraith’s face is as black and festering as his ravaged and half-destroyed corpus. With a wordless scream, he launches himself back towards Em as he throws a punch, frothing and spitting (though no spittle flies from his dead lips) about the unspeakable things he’s going to do.


Emmett: Eh, he’ll take it.

He lets Stines get close. Too close. Dangerously close.

Then he tucks his wings and falls, plummeting from the skies like a sickly angel, forcing Stines to dive with him—

—so that the dead legionnaire can see Em’s grinning face fade away like a bad dream, the grin lingering behind as his rapist enters the house’s orbit once more, and a tentacle slithers around his blackened corpus.

“Bye, Stines,” the real Em says, just a few tantalizing feet out of reach. “It was nice seeing you again. Enjoy Oblivion. I hear it’s quiet.”

Lamarck: Up in the sky, as Doc Brown smiles down at Em, Lamarck beats his wings once again, spiraling with the quiet of the dead towards his hopefully unsuspecting quarry. He can’t let him escape, not after what he saw Lamarck do.

Lamarck’s corpus is fully healed. He escaped in time. This man was too busy ogling that woman—that thing’s daughter to have gone unscathed. That means he’s weak, and for Lamarck, there’s only one thing weakness can be met with.

He readies his last collar and then his arms shoot out from his body, stretching like endless vipers before clamping the cold steel around the resident rapist’s neck. A lengthy chain, held firm in his hand, extends from the collar to let the wraith’s tortured form hang from.

GM: Jared writhes and screams as the collar clicks shut around his neck. Both Lam and Em well recall its pain.

Blackness washes up from the house like a cloud of ink expelled into the sky. Nightmares roil within the surface, teeth and claws and less identifiable terrors out of mankind’s darkest memories. Doc Brown, already free-falling through the air as his wings cease to beat under the collar’s pain, is helpless to avoid his fate. The chain is yanked out Lam’s hands as Brown hits the cloud’s ‘surface’ and sinks into it like quicksand. He struggles and flails, but it only seems to make him sink faster. His arms disappear, then his hands, and finally his head.

The last the other two wraiths see of it, he isn’t smiling.

Just screaming.

Mark Stines’ fate is little kinder. His mouth opens in alarm. He beats his wings and tries to pivot, but he’s too slow. Darkness flows into his mouth. Stines gags and chokes, but when he tries to pull it out, his hands pass through like smoke. The darkness pours out of his ears, his nostrils, and his asscrack, and his screams get shriller. He stares at Em and Lam with terror-mad eyes. Finally the darkness bursts through his pores. The wraith splinters into a thousand pieces like shattered pottery. Em and Lam hear his screams echoing from each one.

Then the darkness washes over them too, and there’s only silence.

The black cloud hungrily flows up around Lam. Thicker tendrils lined with gnawing teeth and madly swiveling eyeballs shoot up to ensnare the wraith.

Lamarck: Lamarck’s form ripples and flows as the primeval blackness begins to surround him. His visage is wrought from an unholy mixture of yellow gall and freshly invigorated blood which show easily through his stretching ectoplasmic flesh and scraping bone. The old wraith roars and thrashes against the threat of Oblivion, his skin stretching to cover every vulnerable orifice and sprouting dark scales. Grasping hands erupt from his back wielding jagged blades which slash at the gnashing mouths that bite at his clawed feet.

Wings, once feathered and corvine sharpen into powerful skin-sails stretched over a spiny osseous frame. This crop he reaps is far from free. It comes from feeding the darkness within, fueling his Shadow. But oh is it worth it. Anything as long as those rapists get what they deserved, anything to see another day, even if it cuts into his soul.

Heavy wings beat against the dark and spiral his ever-shifting form out like a missile shot out of this hell.

A monster roars.

GM: Lam’s herculean struggle send the black cloud roiling like jello in a bowl. Black tendril after tendril lashes towards the wraith and plummet through the sky after he slashes them off, trailing their own small clouds of inky blood. Dozens of hungrily gnawings maws gibber incomprehensible blasphemies. Lam beats his wings mightily and soars higher, only for one last tendril to snake around his ankle. Needle-like teeth bite deep and the wraith’s corpus blackens as ugly veins spread up from the wound. More tendrils snake up from the black cloud. The starless sky stares pitilessly down as Oblivion’s siren song sweetly beckons. Why does he fight?

Emmett: “Madame! He’s served you tonight. Spare him and he will again!”

GM: The darkness rises up Lam’s legs like quicksand, heedless of Em’s words.

Emmett: Well, he tried.

Lamarck: Lamarck’s herculean task continues. He cannot give in, no matter how sweet the sound Oblivion is. It is a falsified rest, built from lies. Oblivion is the end of all that is good, the erasure of all hope down here. He’s fought over seventy years to reach true peace, to get his last works in order. Instead of fighting that fight, Oblivion has made his afterlife into an awful death march, ever growing closer as the necessary deeds he does strengthen the darkest parts of hos soul. Today is not the day he succumbs to its lies. He is sure of it. He wills it.

As he thrashes wildly to escape, further ectoplasmic blades erupt from his legs and attempt to excise the vile tendrils.

GM: The spikes draw gouts of inky blood as Lam slices through his assailant (assailants?). Coils of darkness roil towards him like striking serpents, one after another. Lam desperately tries to drive them back, pushing his soul and corpus to its uttermost limits. Black blood splashes his face like fast-flowing oil as his clawed hands rip and tear and whir through the air.

But he is too slow. Too small. The midnight tide rises higher and higher, an avalanche that can only be postponed, but not denied. The ex-pharmacist attempts a risky gambit and tears open a nihil in the sky. He dives for safety. Darkness pours after him.

But he is too slow.

Darkness envelops him like a tar pit. Phantasmal mouths assail him from all sides. Incomprehensible blasphemies ring in his ears. The former cab driver opens his mouth to scream, and then he vanishes into the darkness just like Brown and Stines.

Another soul to sate Maman’s hunger.

Emmett: And that’s that, then. The board is emptied, but for Em and all the fallen pieces. The sandman perches on the privacy wall of the house across the street, knees pulled to his chest in a crouch that would be uncomfortable if his muscles were corporeal, bat-like wings folded around him in a chiropteran shroud.

Emmett Delacroix watches the carnage he has wrought, listens to the screams of souls whose names he does not know being torn asunder. The thing in the house gorges itself on his gift.

Perhaps he expected to feel something, some satisfaction at the destruction of Stines and Brown. Both rapacious bullies who sneered at him when he was in their power and never conceived of how he might ruin them—and now they are gone, their souls ravaged and devoured, and he is here, dead but not dead, haunting the house across the street from the devil.

And he feels nothing at all, except relieved that he doesn’t have to think about them ever again.

He can feel Gasper swelling, pushing out whatever parts of him aren’t already cast in Shadow. Good. That way he doesn’t have to feel the guilt, the doubt, the parts of him that are worth saving but too painful to live with. Die with. Whatever. No more jokes, not tonight. There’s nobody to make laugh, anyways.

There’s just the waiting. So he waits.

GM: That’s it, Em. Just a little longer, and you won’t have to feel anything at all.

The house spares little thought for Lam as he escapes.

Not next to the feast before it.

They’re all there, still. The score of chained, doomed souls. Suspended in the morass of darkness just beyond the doors, hanging from it like flies caught in a spiderweb.

Some of them look like people Em could have known. Many of them, in fact, from all walks of life. Some look like party kids whose dreams of being young forever both came true and were forever denied. Some are older adults like his parents in sensible, grown-up clothes. Some are children clad in pajamas; Em wonders how they died. Some look like old men and women who died in their beds, still clad in hospital gowns. Some look like victims of drive-by shootings or gang violence. Some have slit wrists and look like they killed themselves. Some have blackened veins in their arms like he did, perhaps dead from one shoot-up too many.

Some of them beg and plead for their lives. Unlives. Whatever those are now. Some futilely tug at their fetters. Some scream, their voices mad with terror. A few accept their fate with bleak resignation.

In the end, all stand equal before death.

All stand equal before the death after death.

The house’s doors yawn cavernously wide. The damned souls shriek their final pleas and lamentations, or just scream with pure terror. It doesn’t matter. The universe doesn’t care. It never has. Bad things happen to good people and bad people and all people, because Em was right to Miranda, all those years ago. The world is sick and broken and it will take everything from people who don’t see it coming.

It’s impossible for the score of wraiths to escape, chained together as they are. What happens next reminds Em of the way someone might suck up a long piece of spaghetti. Just like that, the chained mass of wraiths is swallowed through the doors. Just like that, a score of existences are snuffed out without so much as a soul to mourn them.

Yet, even as the house feasts, Em can all but physically feel his Shadow swelling in his chest. Like oil in his veins, it blackens everywhere it spreads. It screams its exaltation over this feast of sin.

It’s not an unfamiliar feeling.

Em remembers back to one night after a “date” with Stines.

Stines pounded Em’s ass until it bled and he could barely walk in his high heels. When he sat down in Ray’s car, the guy who drove Christina’s escorts to and from their clients, it felt like someone was stabbing him there. He stumbled up to his apartment and looked in the mirror, Celia’s makeup messily smudged over his face. In his reflection’s blank expression, one utterly indifferent to his or any other person’s suffering, he saw a terrible yawning emptiness that would swallow him whole if it was not immediately filled.

Some girls said he was a slob, that he didn’t know how to cook. But the truth was he did know how. He was capable. He just never applied himself. Like in so many areas.

He’d gotten the idea from a MeVid video. Pizza, but with a crust made out of chocolate chip cookie dough. Surface lathered with Nutella, for tomato sauce. Cream cheese, butter, and marshmallows for cheese. Extra Nutella on top. M&Ms and other candies for toppings. Bake until golden brown, then spread the gooey warm surface with frozen double fudge brownie ice cream, and lather with even more Nutella on top. Em ate and ate and ate. There was enough fat in that pizza to stop his heart and enough sugar to give him diabetes.

He drowned his emptiness and depression and self-hate in sweetness.

But it wasn’t enough. No matter how many messy, gooey, Nutella-lathered slices he crammed into his mouth, it didn’t fill him. It didn’t plug the whole. It was just another way to kill himself. So he ate himself, desperately, into a sugar-induced coma.

Then he woke up the next morning, still dressed in his whore clothes, feeling fat as a whale with a splitting headache and a bleeding ass and wanting to throw up and just shrivel up and die, if he weren’t too fat to do anything besides stew in his own misery.

He remembers, because that’s exactly how he feels now as Gasper gorges his fill.




Almost there, Em! Oblivion’s right around the corner now!!!!!

Emmett: Right around the corner, huh? Em starts snickering.

All that, and you can’t even cross the finish line.

There’s so little of him left. Almost nothing.

But that which is there cackles in defiance, and he can feel its heat chafing at Gasper, holding him back from the edge.

Ha. Haha. Ha.

GM: Oh, guess I wasn’t clear.

I can fuck you over whenever I want.

Like, right now, before you get to talk to dear Maman. If I want to.

Emmett: That’s not going to change no matter what I say. Are you asking me to apologize, or are you just swinging your dick around for a physics lesson?

GM: Huh. That’s a good idea too.

Yeah, why don’t you apologize. Make it good, because it’d be pretty funny to hear you scream if you weren’t able to collect shit from her.

Emmett: I’m sorry, Gasper. You deserve better than disdain.

Em can’t do much about the hate seething behind the words, though. Probably makes it better, anyways.

GM: Good boy, Em.

Good boy.

Emmett: When it’s all over and done, and the house starts to look like it’s regular horrifying self, he takes to the air, until he hovers a dozen feet above the middle of the ruined boulevard. He’s reminded, absurdly, of a nature documentary factoid about crocodiles and a certain species of bird. Not filmed around here; there’s only gators in Louisiana, and gators don’t get along with anybody. But not so the crocodiles in (was it Egypt? Probably Egypt, they’ve got all kinds of mad shit down there) the documentary, who let the birds pick rotten flecks of meat from their teeth. The bits of carrion too small for apex predators to bother with.

And now that he’s staring into this evil bitch’s teeth, Em’s appreciating how much smaller to her he is than a bird is to a croc.

But he’s here, now. And she’s evil, but she’s the kind of evil that keeps her word.

“Madame. How was dinner?”

GM: The house looks much as it did when Em last laid eyes upon it. Vast and dark and terrible, and actively painful to gaze upon for too long.

But it’s different, too too. The air around him is darker, as though an enormous shadow were cast over the house’s yard. Dead trees’ rotted leaves no longer stir in the wind, nor does he hear the rain’s steady downpour. All around him is silent and still.

He remembers when Jermaine slit Sami’s throat, and the part of his soul that wasn’t dead exclaimed, oh shit! like a rule-breaking kid who suddenly realized he was in terrible trouble. He could imagine his father’s wrathful, red-hued face.

But there was something almost comforting in that wrath. If you break a rule, you’ve done something wrong, which means there has to be an opposite. Something right. Dad yells and calls you selfish and horrible and lots of other angry names, but implicit in that yelling and its promised punishments was restitution. A way to make things right again, after a good chewing out.

Em knows, like he did then, that he has done something bad. Something very, very bad.

But this time, he has the snaking suspicion he has done something there aren’t even any rules against. Because no one thought he would ever break them. Could ever break them.

And he finds himself oddly unable to summon Phil’s face in his mind, or to picture what his father would say.

There is only beshadowed stillness and silence, like an exhausted Jiminy Cricket that’s finally packed all his things in a cardboard box, and decided being Emmett Miloud Delacroix’s conscience is too thankless a job.

Fluttering laughter breaks the silence.

He turns and sees Abélia Devillers standing behind him. The real one. Or the closest thing to whatever is real for her. She looks identical to her form in the Skinlands. The same pale skin, the same midnight hair and dress, the same knowing smile. There’s even color to her lips and cheeks, as though this realm’s laws affect her not. There is little comfort in that color. Only the nagging sense there is more to this ‘woman’ than he might ever understand.

“Mine appetites are sated. You have done well, my dear boy. You have done very well.”

Her dark eyes gleam.

“I am certain you are eager to claim your reward.”

Emmett: Reward. Right. That’s why he led all those souls to massacre. That’s why he razed most of his soul.

What was he going to ask for, again?

“I would ask a favor first, madame. I would put myself in your debt, and count myself lucky to be called upon in the future.” He makes a little flourish, and a flower appears in his hand. Only, it’s not a real flower, so it’s far less banal. The petals are blades of gossamer light, the bud a miniature sun.

Envy green, dragon gold and aubergine purple. A crest of a flower, painstakingly rendered in three dimensions. It smells of the Quarter, and of lilies, and innocence both of them know is not real.

He’s so absorbed in its creation that he doesn’t remember why he’s distracting himself until he’s offering it to her.

“I would greatly appreciate it if you would impart to my Shadow some of your genteel manners, madame. It needs to be disciplined. I don’t care how much it hurts me, as long as it screams too.”

He’s expecting it when Gasper tries to seize the words in his throat. And maybe the Shadow succeeds, at that.

But Abélia is no mere enfant, and he doubts she will be misled in her own home. Misled, or escaped, or restrained.

Have fun, Gasper. I know I will.

Even if you stomp me into the dirt. Even if you try to make me regret it. I’ll never stop fighting back.

GM: Ha. Haha. Hahahahaha.


I know just what I’m gonna do now.

Also, you’re wrong. You will stop, once I take over for good.

Emmett: He looks Abélia in the eyes. Strains to convey his plea.

GM: She can’t help you, Em! NOTHING can!

Emmett: He’ll fight as long as he has to.

GM: I’m YOU, dipshit! If you’re sick of me, you’re sick of yourself! And there’s just one way to fix being sick of yourself, isn’t there, that you were too chickenshit to try when you were alive?

Emmett: Oh, I’m not asking her to off you. Just to give you a makeover.

GM: You’re asking her to give YOU a makeover, idiot. There is no me! There’s just we!

Emmett: I’m down. This face is getting old. And you know the best part? So is this conversation. Which means…

GM: Abélia plunges her hand into Em’s chest and rips out his heart. The pain is incredible. His heart is a shriveled, blackened thing. It looks like it belongs to a man who’s been smoking a pack a day for all his life, then somehow got the tar to show up in his heart instead of his lungs.

Emmett: He screams.

Or is he laughing?

He can’t tell anymore.

“AARgghFFANnnncKkk, yyYyOOOOuu—!”

Take a time-out, okay Gasper? It’s time for the grown-ups to talk.

GM: Guess that means dear Maman’s having a conversation of one.

Abélia smiles and holds a finger to her lips at Em’s screams, as though to shush an infant.

“Shhhh… "

Emmett: Witty. Wanna back that up with a harrowing? Maybe a few phantom dicks?

It takes a few moments to adapt to the pain.

“Thank you,” he pants again, finally. “It’s a relief to talk freely.”

GM: Oh, I have something even better in mind, Em, after how strong you made me. Don’t worry. I’ll be patient. Being the Underworld’s chum bait should get pretty old, pretty fast.

Emmett: Em doesn’t bother to respond. He lets his satisfaction speak for him.

GM: Shadows thicken around Abélia’s hands. Squelching noises that sound more like screams go up from within. When the shadows dissipate, Abélia presents him with a black and unadorned heart-shaped box. It feels cool to the touch. A steady beating pulses from within.

“From the heart, heart’s desire. Take this to she who holds your heart.”

Emmett: Em takes it in his hands, staring down at it. “Your daughter?” he ventures.

GM: A fluttering laugh.

“My Cécilia can be many things, but in this matter she is unsuitable.”

“A young man as charming as yourself is acquainted with other young ladies who hold some claim upon his heart, I am sure.”

Emmett: “What would make somebody suitable, then? And what will happen when I give it to them?”

GM: The ’woman’s’ dark eyes glint as she smiles.

“Why, you shall receive your heart’s desire, of course.”

“But you know your heart better than I, Emmett. Surely, there is another daughter of Eve with some claim to its affections.”

Emmett: He wants to ask more, but if she wants to be cryptic, there’s not much he can do about it. Nothing, actually.

“Many thanks, madame. I confess I had hoped to talk to you more. Not about my heart’s desire, but how I might be a part of yours. How I might enter your service, and learn from you. Might we come to such an arrangement? Your feast was the work of a day. Your imagination is far vaster than mine. I’m sure you grasp how much more I could do for you, with time. With power.”

The flower that isn’t a flower is in his hand again, outstretched for her to pluck.

GM: Yet when Emmett does, he finds his hand empty. A dull ache throbs in the sealed-over cavity where his heart once sat.

“No power—or denial of another’s—without price, Emmett, son of Philémon.”

Emmett: He sighs. “Thought I’d ask. I’ll see you around then, madame.”

He bows before turning back as he’s about to leave.

“A daughter of Eve? A mortal?”

GM: “Eve is mother to Caine and Seth, my dear boy, and all their daughters through them.”

Cécilia’s mother smiles.

“Perhaps it is well, if an immortal daughter should hold claim to your heart. Naught but tragedy may result from a mortal’s love for one such as you.”

Emmett: “Maybe. But I bring tragedy where I walk anyways. Thanks for the doggie bag, madame. I’ll see you when I see you.”

GM: Mirth dances in the woman’s dark eyes.

“Your heart knows its way, son of Philémon. Hold it close and listen.”

Emmett: He pauses and lifts the box to his ear.

GM: Past the sluggish beating, he hears the sound of classic Louis Armstrong jazz amidst people drinking and carousing. Such sounds are not uncommon at the city’s jazz clubs, but he knows, too, that this one is the Evergreen Plantation, a posh joint along Royal Street.

Emmett: “Lovely and fruitful advice, as ever,” Em oozes, even as he thinks. The Evergreen? He’s talked his way in there for drinks once or twice, and been taken there on dates one or two times more. Nice place.

Weird fucking crowd, though. Even for the rich.

GM: “Should its master’s servants attempt to molest you, you may inform them that the LaLaurie House’s proprietor has sent you to speak with Antoine Savoy.”

“Should you reveal my nature to overcurious fools inclined to pry into others’ affairs, or to needful wretches seeking alms, know that I mislike uninvited guests in my home. Send further Lamarcks or Celias to my door, and I will devour them.”

Emmett: “Plain language is such a rarity these days. My appreciation is unbounded, and my gratitude is overflowing.”

“Should I expect my Shadow to be in state to seek revenge immediately after I, ah, make the delivery?”

GM: Abélia’s form dissolves like oily tar. The black morass seeps into the earth as the house swells, its motion reminiscent of an enormous spider bloated from a feast and stretching its legs. Soon ready to spin further webs anew.

Emmett: “…good talk,” Em murmurs, and takes his leave.

He keeps his heart under his arm, boxed up and safe.

Perhaps he should be more grateful, more gracious. But somehow, he has the distinct impression that he hasn’t won dirt.

He’s just been shown the edge of the grave.

Emmett V, Chapter XI
Chasing Grace

“My son’s still dead, whatever the fuck he meant to do.”
Ron Landreneau

Thursday night, 10 March 2016, PM

GM: Em looks around. He’s in Uncle Ron’s condo.

It doesn’t look like it’s changed much, besides newer technology. Smart TV instead of the old non-smart widescreen.

Emmett: “Oh, that evil son of a bitch.”

It’s been a while. But hey, a lot’s changed in nine years. Like apparently Ron’s gotten real sentimental about his blood relations, or so Em assumes from being deposited here.

GM: Ron’s there. So’s Celia. They’re seated on the leather couch talking to each other. Ron’s in his bathrobe. Celia’s more dressed up and is touching his hand.

Ron’s aged, and not well. He’s fatter. His hair’s whiter, and there’s less of it. His pudgier, blearier-looking face has more wrinkles. Em can see an ugly black stain around his liver, like black tar or plaque. There’s black gunk clotted around his heart, too.

“All right, enougha that mushy shit,” Em’s uncle says to Celia in a gruff but faintly choked-sounding voice. He takes a swig of his nearby drink.

“Someone’ll call you about the details. Audition times and shit.”

Support: Celia pulls back from him with a smile, folding her hands on her lap.

“I’m looking forward to it. Thank you for setting it up.”

GM: The two talk for a while about Celia getting into acting. Meanwhile, Em looks about the place.

Emmett: Particularly for any indication of hidden spaces, or the telltale glow of his niece and nephew’s souls.

GM: Like everywhere else, it looks like it’s been abandoned for years. The drapes and carpets are rotting. The TV has its face smashed in. There’s grime over the broken windows. The couch is stained with the smell of sweat and old semen.

He sees no souls except Ron’s and Celia’s.

The smell gets worse from the bedroom. Em stares through the translucent walls. The bed is the beating heart of this place. It smells like sex, old and stale, dried tears, and crusted vomit, though less of that than the bathroom does. The place reeks with a toxic amalgam or lust, despair, and self-hate thick enough to choke on.

“If you weren’t my kid I’d have definitely wanted to fuck you,” Ron casually mentions as he and Celia continue to talk.

Support: She lifts her glass with an amused expression. “Now there’s a compliment.” She doesn’t even sound sarcastic.

GM: Ron lifts his and takes a swig.

“All right. This old man needs to get to bed.”

He and Celia wind up talking longer about Celia’s mom, Diana, who made the cookies she brought over. Then he sees her out with a hug.

Em watches his uncle walk back to the kitchen and sample one of the foul-smelling, mold-laced cookies. Celia heads for the elevator.

Support: Celia doesn’t quite head for the elevator. She spends a minute searching her pockets for something, and a moment later there’s a knock on Ron’s door when she comes up empty.

GM: Em watches his uncle walk back to the door, check who’s there on the nearby monitor, then pull it open.


Support: “Hey, sorry, I forgot my keys.”

GM: Ron and Celia talk a while longer after she finds her keys. She pulls up some photos on her phone that Em can only partly make out: the phone screen’s glass is shattered. Still, he makes out one of a blonde, glasses-wearing little girl wearing a tutu and tiara, sprawled across Celia and Diana. They all look like they can hardly catch their breath from laughing.

Celia and Ron talk for a while about the girl. The topic eventually brushes up against her father.

“Remind me who that apparently handsome motherfucker was?”

Support: There’s an awkward beat of silence. Then,


GM: Ron gives a flat look.

“Well, what the fuck, I guess. Who’m I to judge.”

Support: “I, ah, I didn’t know who he was at the time. It wasn’t until after we’d…”

GM: “Legal in California, I’m pretty sure.”

Support: “I haven’t told anyone that, since… well. She never met him. And he’s…” Celia trails off, voice dropping, “gone now, anyway.”

Emmett: Sure he is.

He watches Ron’s face carefully.

He hasn’t even registered that Celia’s claiming he’s her daughter’s father. He’s pretty sure he isn’t. But that’s neither here nor there.

Support: He could be, though. They definitely didn’t use a condom. And it’s not like they saw much of each other after that.

Timeline matches up, too.

GM: “Yeah,” Ron says hollowly. “Drug-related shit. Bunch of people dead.”

“Can’t say I didn’t see it coming. Something like it.”

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

Support: “I’m sorry,” Celia says quietly. “I didn’t mean to bring it up. Are you okay? After… everything?”

GM: “I’m here. I’m breathin’.”

“Poison burns through me slower than him, I guess.”

Support: “I don’t think that’s true, you know. About poison in the blood. He was… I mean, when I knew him, he helped me out of a bad spot. And you did too.”

GM: “He also killed my son,” Ron says flatly.

“I bet he meant well, with you. Hell. Maybe he didn’t mean for things to spiral out of control, the way they did.”

“But they always do. Always fuckin’ do.”

“And my son’s still dead, whatever the fuck he meant to do.”

Emmett: Well… yeah, not much he can say to that.

GM: “We’re fuckin’ hurricanes. Calamity wherever we go. We don’t mean it, we really don’t, just a natural fuckin’ phenomenon, right? Still calamity. Bodies. Lives destroyed. Everything we touch, turns to shit.”

“I’d say the whole thing’s a sad fuckin’ waste. I’d say he coulda made movies. But maybe he’d have just… turned out like me.”

Ron sighs wearily.

“Maybe better the poison burned through fast.”

Support: Celia takes a step toward him and offers a hug.

GM: It’s not a tight hug. It’s not a limp hug. It’s just a heavy one. It lasts a while. Ron feels old and tired. He doesn’t move his arms.

Finally he pulls back.

“All right. Bed’s calling my name.”

Support: “Right. Sorry for… lingering. Everything. I’m glad you’re in my life, Ron. I just want you to know that. But get to bed. We’ll talk later.”

Thursday night, 10 March 2016, PM

GM: Ron and Celia see each other off after the former declares “enough mushy shit,” but says he “ain’t sorry” she came by either. Em watches his uncle go take a piss in the bathroom. Celia heads for the elevator.

Emmett: He’s still wondering why “Caroline” sent him here. Maybe Ron knows something.

Maybe it’s all a crock of shit.

He follows Celia, for now.

Support: Unaware of her ghostly stalker, Celia heads back home. It’s a short drive from Ron’s place to her place in the Quarter, and she pulls her car into the drive behind a ruby-red… something.

The house itself is brick, three stories, with two entrances. Celia goes around back to find the second entrance, passing through a security gate when she punches in the numbers, then a thick door with a series of deadbolts, and finally another PIN code. She takes a moment to lock up behind her before she ascends to her haven.

It’s a nice place, really: wooden floors, exposed brick walls, open floor plan. The furnishings are very Support: tasteful, elegant, probably expensive. A lot of wood. A pink velvet couch, too. The only non-Celia thing in the place is the pool table that sits in the center of the floor, currently in use by a man and a woman. A spiral staircase leads upward off to the other side, and there’s a door off the kitchen that probably leads to the bathroom.

GM: It would be a nice place, at least, in the real world.

Emmett: No Nutella in the cupboard, though.

GM: The couch is moth-eaten, caked with dust, and stained with dried cum. The pool table’s felt is little more than colorless rotted strips. The same stink of old sex wafts from them. The bulbs in the lights are shattered. The broken windows are caked with grime. The rooted floorboards look like they’ve been left to soak in a bacteria stew for years.

All just more rot and trash. Like everywhere.

Emmett: “Ugh, somebody’s totally fucked on this pool table.”

“I’ve never had pool table sex. I guess I never will, now.”

He waits for Celia to fall asleep before he nestles besides her and slides into her dreams.

Support: Unfortunately, Celia doesn’t fall asleep for a long while. She spends some time with the two people at the table, asking the girl about a series of text messages, then letting her know to expect a call from Ron’s people about an audition. Em might notice that the boy kind of looks like him. Has his eyes, anyway, though Em’s probably never looked at anyone with such clear adoration. The three get together on the couch to watch a movie together after a while, some action flick with lots of explosions and a British bad guy.

GM: The girl lies down with her head on Celia’s lap, sometimes nuzzling back and forth against the woman’s thigh.

She looks a little sleepy, and the boy too, but they try to stay awake.

Support: Celia runs her fingers through the girl’s hair while the movie plays. She tells them after a while, when it’s clear they no longer care if the hero can save the hostages, that they can head on up to bed and she’ll see them tomorrow evening.

GM: “I’d rather spend time with you, mistress…” the girl murmurs, rubbing her head against Celia’s belly. “I could eat you out, if you’ve had enough of the movie…”

“Babe, I’m always happy to watch anything with you. Or about you,” says the boy, with a brief eye towards the girl. His voice is a little jealous.

Celia chastises the girl for calling her ‘mistress’ over the phone. The girl crawls off the couch, prostrates herself on the floor, and starts to kiss Celia’s feet, saying what a goddess she is. Celia lifts her face, strokes her cheek, and tells her she still messed up and there will be consequences.

“So here’s your choice: no sex for a week… or you can watch Randy and I.”

The girl takes no sex. Randy’s face looks completely dejected. There’s some kind of miscommunication, because the girl throws herself at Celia’s feet, weeping openly as she clutches the woman’s leg like a lifeline. She babbles apologies and calls herself stupid, a pet, a toy, property, nothing. She begs and apologizes, over and over.

Celia eventually tells her to get up, tells the two of them to, “Fix this bullshit between you. Your squabbling is over.” The pair say they will. Celia wipes the tears from the girl’s face and tells her she’s going to be a movie star. She looks delighted. Then they cuddle together on the couch, alongside Randy.

“Press play, Randy, let’s finish this movie,” says Celia.

Emmett: As Randy presses play, Em nestles his way onto the couch too. It’d be tight if the inconvenient bits of his corpus didn’t become gaseous where appropriate.

He hasn’t seen this movie before.

He tries to keep track of the hours. He ought to have some time, still.

GM: “Oh, L.A. sounds wonderful, mistress! Let the whole world see how beautiful you are!” Alana croons, grinding her ass against Celia’s crotch.

Em is less gaseous than incorporeal. His corpus melts right through the seated trio. The couch might as well be empty.

The movie is one of the worst movies that he’s watched. Maybe not because of the plot or acting or cinematography or anything like that: the image and sound quality is simply atrocious. He can barely make out what’s happening, half the time.

Eventually, the movie ends. Randy and Alana go to bed. Em watches through the walls as both of them masturbate.

Celia, though, remains awake as she goes about her business. It does not look as if she’s going to bed anytime soon.

It’s hard to say whether he’ll have enough time to share her dreams before Doc Brown and the others expect him back.

Emmett: He’d rather not take risks. Not with this. She can wait until later. So can Ron.

But he has souls to damn, and only so many hours. He spends them at the rendezvous.


Emmett V, Chapter X
The Jackpot

“People can be talked into some stupid things when they think they’re getting what they want.”
Emmett Delacroix

Date ?

Emmett: Em flies souls, mad and howling and entirely too heavy, to Maman’s. He makes six flights, back and forth, his corpus aching from the effort of feeding three enfants to the house of nightmares like a low-rent Angel of Death.

As he does so, he appeases his Shadow. He’s got most of the raw wit, if the display with Cecilia demonstrated anything. He amuses his worst instincts, and does what he can to calm waters he needs to bear him forward.

He can’t fight his Shadow, not in the short term. So instead he tickles it.

GM: Em might think his corpus would ache. It doesn’t. He doesn’t sweat. He doesn’t hear his heart pumping from exertion. He doesn’t feel anything. The enfants are heavy, so the process takes longer, but that’s about it.

It all plays out like it did the last two times. He drops the victim by the gates. The house of nightmares yawns open like a venus flytrap. Its tongue of liquid midnight shoots out. The victim disappears to whatever fate awaits inside.

Em thought they were brain-dead. They didn’t struggle or resist on the flight over, besides twisting in his grasp to act out the motions of their deaths.

But all three of them scream as they’re swallowed by the house.

They aren’t like human screams, with human emotions behind them. It’s just a loud, ceaseless vocalization, like an animal makes. Bereft off sapience but brimming with instinctive, soul-deep terror that’d make the hairs on his neck stand up if they still did that.

Gasper laughs and laughs every time.

Emmett: And how does Em feel about it? To look at him, probably nothing. His eyes don’t water. A body is seventy percent or so water—less, actually, Lena told him once it was more around sixty. A corpus, he assumes, isn’t. His arms do not complain as he drags the imbecile souls to their Oblivion. One at a time, like the afterlife’s most handsome pizza boy.

Em never falters. Never hesitates. To do so will make the choice he has already made all the more perverse. For all his aloof silence to Gasper’s guffawing, Em has heard what the Shadow itself has told him.

To stop caring is to lose all he has left. So he feeds lost souls to a monster, but he does not look away as they are devoured. He does not justify or excuse the atrocity, and never for a moment does he seriously allow himself to consider stopping.

But he makes himself watch, and he cares, for all the good it does him.

GM: That never gets old. Never ever ever.

The house still hurts his head, when he looks directly at it. Tries to take in the full shape. Tries to apply any shape or fixed definition of physical matter to the midnight blackness that simultaneously swallows and caresses its pristine white walls.

But it feels… pleased.

The front door yawns open, though neither does the gate slam shut behind him.

Emmett: He flutters in, his corpus all but colorless.

“Madame,” he says, bowing low as his shoes touch the floor, his wings stretched behind him. “A privilege as always. I hope my offerings continue to please.”

GM: Silence answers the wraith. He overhears voices, though, from deeper within the opaque-walled house. Cécilia’s and her sisters’.

Emmett: He approaches them, unless he is stopped. He does not try to conceal his presence.

GM: They’re cleaning up what looks like lunch. Simmone, Abélia, and Caroline are not present, but all of the others are, along with three of the family cats. The sisters ignore Em completely as they chat among themselves over things like school, TV shows, boys, and (for the younger ones) being tired of being cooped up in the house. Cécilia and Adeline say it’s important they hang in a bit longer.

The family’s eldest daughter seems the others off, then turns around to regard the house’s unseen guest.

“Hi, Em. Sorry that took a little. You’d wanted to see me earlier?”

Emmett: “I kept busy,” he says simply. “And yes, if you wouldn’t mind my presence. I owe you an apology, for what happened last time. And for your kindness afterwards.” He smiles faintly. “I also have a request, in the interests of preventing… something like that from happening, again.”

GM: “Accepted. I know that wasn’t really you,” she smiles back. “What did you have in mind?”

Emmett: “I… heard something, from another ghost. He may have been talking nonsense, he tried to sell me into slavery later, but he told me that if we slumber with the things, or people, that we stayed behind for, it gives us… I don’t know what to call it. Energy. Juice. The stuff that lets us do stuff. And my only other way of getting it is through the other guy.”

He glances meaningfully over his shoulder at the shadow he casts.

“I know it’s a lot to ask,” he says quietly. “But, it would… it would make things easier. Until I find another place to sleep.”

Em adds, quickly, “I could also… I could make it up to you, if you wanted me to. There are some perks to being a ghost. Some ways to give back.”

GM: “Pathos,” says Cécilia. “Essence.”

Her brow furrows a bit.

“But you mean… sleep with me? I am engaged, Em… "

Emmett: He holds up a hand. “Not… not like that. Just, like, in proximity, I think. Under the bed would work, for all I know. I’d be unconscious the whole time. And it’s not as if I would even be, um, corporeal.”

He looks torn for a moment, then shakes his head, the fragile hope there retreating. Of course it’s too much to ask. Of course she won’t let him nap at the foot of her bed. That’s a spot for beloved dogs, not bothersome spooks.

“But I get it. You need boundaries, and… and your Maman wouldn’t approve, probably. I can scavenge for cauls, or something. It was wrong of me to ask in the first place. I won’t keep you from your family.”

He shuffles his wings, turns lopsidedly from her like a scared bird.

GM: “Well… let’s think about this,” Cécilia says, ponderingly. “Am I the only person you could sleep with, in that way? Are there any others?”

“Or, sleep near, as it might be.”

Emmett: He looks pained. “It’s… complicated.” True. “My sister’s in the hospital, but there’s something… predatory, there. I don’t think I can sleep with her reliably, and I’m worried about somebody finding me through her. Then there’s… somebody who’s made it plain that they don’t want me around, and who I can’t afford to antagonize. And I have a cousin who… I think she’s under the control of one of Caroline’s type. I don’t really know where she sleeps, either, and I’m worried that if I ask her she’ll tell her… friend. And then there’s my parents, who my shadow’s keeping me away from altogether.”

“This place is safe.” Safe like a dragon’s lair. “It’s secure. Nobody will look for me here. And…”

This is the hard one. The real reason. The thing he’s scared to say.

“You’re the only one who knows what I am. And the only one who’ll know I’m there. And it would be nice to sleep where somebody doesn’t mind me being there. Otherwise I think I’d just be alone.”


He doesn’t like that word. It’s not one he thinks of a lot.

It’s not a very useful one when it describes you.

GM: Cécilia seems to think on all of that. Her expression has more than a touch of pity at his last words.

“Well, okay. I’m sorry things are the way they are with your family, for whatever that may be worth, but I don’t want you to feel alone. I’m going to go work in my office for a while, so you could sleep there.”

“I don’t think that’d be anything for Luke to complain about when we’re not actually sleeping together.”

Look at you. Begging for scraps, from her table.

Like, this isn’t even a pity fuck, it’s a pity not-fuck.

Enjoy it while you can, I guess. She’ll be married to that Malveaux pretty soon.

Think she’ll still let you sleep at the foot of her bed like a stray dog then?

Oh, wait, she isn’t even letting you now. You’re not even good enough for that.

You never were. She didn’t even let you fuck her.

What are the odds she’s let Caroline’s idiot brother stick his dick up her, you think?

Emmett: He ignores the taunts. “Thank you. It means a lot.”

A part of him bristles with old indignation, old envy. But he silences it, for now.

Best not to think of such things, in a dragon’s den.

GM: Cécilia leads him upstairs to a home office space. There’s a couch, desk, bookshelves, printers, a landline, and various essentials, along with a framed MBA on the wall. She opens a laptop and gets to work. The things on the screen look like boring business stuff with lots of numbers.

“Well, make yourself at home,” she says. “I’d offer to get a blanket, but I don’t imagine that it would do anything for you… ?”

Fact is, Em, you’re not good enough. Not for Maman. Not for her.

Why don’t we think of the reasons? Is it just because you’re from the wrong family? By which we mean ‘money.’ Too poor to buy her a ring with as many zeros on the end as Caroline’s brother. Those ‘get rich quick’ schemes never did amount to much in the end.

Maybe it’s because you’re too stupid. Won’t ever have a degree on the wall like that. You couldn’t even finish high school. She probably thinks she’s smarter than you, and she’s right. She’s too ‘nice’ to gloat about it, but everyone likes to think they’re smarter than someone else. Just happens to be objectively true in her case.

Maybe it’s because she doesn’t forgive you. You did lie to her, after all, completely shamelessly. So many lies. She doesn’t think she can trust you over anything, but being ‘magnanimous’ here is just her excuse to pat herself on the back for being a good person.

You tell me, though. Why doesn’t she think you’re good enough to stick your cock in her?

Emmett: Besides it being made of ectoplasm?

He leaves it at that. Better not to engage, overall.

He stretches out on the couch, and drinking in her presence and acceptance of him as much as he can without embarrassing himself, and closes his eyes to sleep.

Date ?

GM: Em doesn’t think he’s ever had such a deep sleep in his life. He’s out like a stone. His dreams are deep and primal, as though he’s slumbering at the bottom of a vast ocean.

It crushes him beneath the impossible weight of its midnight depths. His dreams are terrifying things, though he remembers little of them, save for the feeling of his dead stomach twisting with a nameless, formless dread.

Then just like that, he surfaces. His head emerges from Cécilia’s head, his arms from her arms, his chest from her chest. He peels himself out of her body like a snake shedding its old skin.

Emmett: As he wriggles from her like a ghostly butterfly shedding its cocoon, Em blinks and shakes himself from the strange, too-deep slumber. He flinches, too, at the unexpected intimacy to his one-time… whatever they were. He separates from Cécilia in a hurry.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t realize—I thought I was on the couch, when I went out.” Em pats himself down, making sure everything’s still there. His arm is still gangrenous and mortified, his clothes still unruffled in their funerary elegance. There’s still an evil bastard in his head.

Oh, and Gasper too.

GM: Cécilia doesn’t answer Em.


Instead, she stops kissing Luke, who’s sitting on her bed with his arms around her.

Caroline’s brother frowns. “Everything okay?”

“I’m sorry… I’m just not in the mood, right now,” answers Cécilia.

There’s a condom and lube bottle on the bedside table.

Saving herself until marriage, huh?

Looks like you just weren’t good enough.

Emmett: He knows better than to linger. Bad for him. Awkward for her.

Really bad for Luke, if he processes his feelings too quickly.

Out the door with him. He isn’t as rejuvenated as he expected. But that’s okay.

GM: Maybe this is why.

Bet they were gonna do it up her ass, Gasper continues as he heads downstairs. What else would they have lube for?

Did you figure her for an ‘up the ass’ kind of girl?

Or at least, tries to.

He’s stopped by the solid door.

Cécilia gets up and opens it without looking directly at him.

Luke looks confused.

He walks up and touches her shoulder.

“Are you sure everything’s okay?”

Emmett: Em figures he never really knew as much about Cécilia as he pretended he did.

He nods politely to her without meeting her eyes, doing his best to irradiate respectful detachment. A polite, meaningless pretense they both know is false.

But he tries to mind his manners, in this place.

GM: How loud do you think she is, when they do it?

Do you think they do it doggy-style?

Do you think she sucks his dick? Do you figure she spits it out, or swallows?

How much do you think she likes wrapping her lips around his cock? Like, does she just do it in return for head from him, or does being on her knees with a dick in her mouth really turn her on?

How many other guys’ dicks do you think she’s sucked?

Emmett: He bows at the house again before flying away from the garden.

GM: Maybe you could give her tips. You sucked a lot of dick for Stines back in the day.

Emmett: He flies, launches himself into the boundless and formless skies. He circles the wreckage of the New Orleans that awaits the newly dead, considers the corpse-city and the infestations that writhe within like maggots in a mass grave.

He knew this city well in life, including her worst faces, the quickest paths to an early Louisiana grave. Those paths are useful to a dead man searching for souls more lost than him. He couldn’t have been a better truffle pig if his name was Wilbur.

GM: For all the Big Easy’s violence and crime, the 9th Ward’s and Central City’s mean streets are still amateurs next to the city’s #1 place to die.


Lena had told him that much. 1/3rd of all deaths in the country occur in hospitals. Most Americans say they’d like to die at home, ideally also surrounded by loved ones. But your odds of dying in a hospital are still 1 in 3, no matter what you say your last wishes are.

Like many things everyone says they want, a lot of people don’t get it.

Emmett: Not him, though. Say what you like about Em, he’s the 66.6%.

He died in a prison, his killer the state.

They tell stories about the Lead Room on street corners and in the drunker hours of dog fights. Em sold acid to a guy who’d been there once.

“Is it true then, about the things that happen there after dark? Whitecoats cutting out some poor bastard’s kidney and selling it on ice before the sun comes up again?”

He had been joking, in his moribund and blazed-out way. But Dougie (this was Jackpots Dougie, not two-toed Dougie) had gone real pale and not said anything the rest of the buy, and Em got the message:

The story might not be real, but the monster is.

He figures it’s a good place to look for ghosts.

GM: Amelie met at least one there.

When aren’t the monsters real?

Miserable rain weeps over Em’s corpus as he retraces his flight back to Tulane Medical Center. The living look like glowing motes from high up. Colorless fireflies.

The hospital is some seven stories tall. Em flaps up. He can see dozens of glowing souls through the walls, all going about their business or lying in bed. Hospitals are always busy.

He flies through the walls, beds, and several scrub- and coat-wearing medical personnel who don’t move aside at the invisible man’s approach. He can see the ward known on the street as the Lead Room from pretty far off.

There’s a man in a bed. Older. Black. Disheveled-looking, with an unkempt “homeless man” beard and the haggard facial lines of a hard life with few smiles. The old man’s eyes are closed. The living might not see anything different about him, from one moment to the next. But Em is there to watch the pitifully faint glow around his body finally gutter out—that feels long in the coming—as he sloughs off his mortal coil. A translucent, tranquil-faced copy of the old man floats up from his chest, standing ‘inside’ the fresh corpse.

No sooner does it do so before rough hands tear off the enfant’s caul and snap an iron collar around his neck. The newborn wraith falls to the ground, screaming and clutching at his neck as though he’s being burned alive.

Doc Brown chuckles.

“Well, this one isn’t pretty, but a fine day’s work, gentlemen! I’d say we have more than enough for the next shipment, now.”

Two other figures around the doctor—both solid to Em’s sight, both lacking the telltale glow of the living—offer grim smiles.

One is a man dressed in a police officer’s uniform with a slowly oozing bullet wound in his gut.

The other one is a middle-aged man dressed in a wifebeater and jeans with no readily apparent cause of death. He hooks up the screaming enfant’s collar to a length of chain and gives it a sharp tug.

“Move it, thrall!”

None of the four turn to look at Em.

But it looks like he’s not the only wraith to go where the deaths are plentiful.

Emmett: For a moment, he wavers.

Defeat after defeat has been his life. When the credits rolled on that mess, Magadon’s murder meds turning his blood to ichor and him into a corpse, he had recoiled from the light, a final act of puerile cowardice framed as rebellion.

His afterlife, thus far, proves little different. Every success rendered null by his worst tendencies; every tenderness denied to him.

But for all his weariness, Emmett knows a room full of marks when he sees one.

Does he dare? He wonders.

Yes. Yes he does.

The Sandman puckers his lips and a word slithers off his tongue and becomes sonorously intimate. A syllable of undiluted Halloween terror whispered into every ghastly ear.

BOO,” says the ghost.

When they whirl, he’s studying the nails on his dead man’s hand, such as they are.

“Gentlemen,” he croons, his expression widening in a smile that would spook a clown. “I was told I’d find you here. Dr. Brown I already know. Tom, would you like to tell your friends who I am?”

GM: The suddenness of the dreadful noise clearly startles the four. Em might even say half to death, around another audience.

They whirl towards its source. Even the collared thrall jerks towards it with bulging eyes.

Doc Brown’s eyes take Em in before his face settles into an indulgent smile. “It’s Jared, actually. Seems dying hasn’t been too good for someone’s memory!”

Emmett: His eyes widen, and when Jared Brown meets them, he titters. “I’m sorry about your name, Jared. You, uh, you look like a Tom.”

GM: The doctor smiles back and gestures theatrically. “Mark, Bob, this is Emmett. He was a patient of mine, back before we crossed over. I’ve tried to collar him once already, you know, and the little bugger dove right into a harrowing!”

Doc Brown’s smile widens, as if this is all an amusing joke. Blood freely leaks down his torn-open throat.

“And he’s had the bad luck to wander back into Hierarchy territory, all by himself! Places like this are where hardworking reapers like us earn our oboli, Emmett. Did you know that?”

“I don’t think he did,” says the police-uniformed wraith with a nasty smile. Drip-drip-drip goes the bullet hole in his belly.

Doc Brown chuckles, more ectoplasmic blood running down his stained coat. The newly-collared wraith on the ground just moans at the wifebeater-wearing one’s feet.

His captor just eyes the knife on Em’s belt with a look of undisguised greed.

“That’s true, I rather suppose he didn’t,” smiles the deceased doctor. "You’ll fill out our shipment quite nicely, Emmett. We’ve got more enfants than we know what to do with! You’re about to join them, and us, on a fabulous trip down to the river city. You’re going to make so many new friends there who’d be just dying to meet you… "

He flashes a huge grin.

“…if they weren’t already dead!”

The other two wraiths just offer the same nasty-looking miles.

“Dibs on his knife,” says the one in the wifebeater.

The police-uniformed wraith produces another iron collar.

“That’s the lay of that, anyways!” chuckles Doc Brown. “Any last words you’d like to say as a free wraith?”

Emmett: “That’s what she said you’d say,” Em says, shrugging. “She also said you’d get all hot and bothered when I told you about the oboli she has for you. That she pays better than the Hierarchy.”

“Mark, was it? She’s the one who gave me this knife. She can give you more, too, sharper and colder, if you let me introduce you. Bring your shipment. She’ll be impressed, and pay you up front for them. You know how these rich New Orleans mothers are… "

“Or you could just take me, now, and deliver your shipment. I understand if you’re spooked.”

“She likes men with badges too, officer. You might even know the Devillers name.”

GM: The police-uniformed wraith doesn’t put away the collar.

But he doesn’t try to fasten it around Em’s neck either.

“Who’s she?” asks the wraith in the wifebeater.

“Rich cunt in the Garden District,” says the cop.

He considers Em.

“I haven’t heard of her crossing over. Or being rich on this side of the Shroud. Where’s she get her oboli?”

Oh, this is too good.

One of these losers has a Shadow trying to talk to me. You want to give me a boost, I could ask it questions… like how many oboli a slave actually goes for.

Emmett: “Rich in one world, rich in the other,” Em says. “She never crossed over. She’s been around a long, long time. Like one of the vampires, only she doesn’t drink blood.”

What had Fizzy said they’d done to his brother? Melted him down into some damn oboli.

“She makes hers the same way they make theirs. By melting down spooks who can’t offer anything. She’s good at it, too. Efficient. You heard about the break-out from the Giovannini pen in the Quarter? She’s already hired most of us who made it out.”

Hit me, amigo. If this works, Gasper’s going to come out ahead anyways.

“I mean, the ones she didn’t need to smelt, obviously.”

GM: Okay. One fresh-reaped soul makes one obolus. One thrall goes for one obolus. Stronger souls can be smelted into more than one. Pretty rare to get souls worth more than a couple each.

Emmett: “And when I say efficient, I mean she cracks two oboli an enfant.”

Em seems to hesitate. “Is that actually good? She told me it was good.”

GM: The ‘Giovannini pen’ seems to spark some recognition on their faces.

“And why oh why is she so generous to buy thralls at a loss?” smiles Doc Brown.

Bullshit alert, if you meant smelt. You can’t make two oboli from one soul.

One soul like yours, anyway.

Emmett: What if I want to lie to them that she can? Which is what I’m trying to do.

GM: They don’t think that’s possible. They say it’s ‘making two pies with one pan.’

Hold on.

They say a lot of thralls get auctioned off. Like, bidding at markets, for the better ones.

Slavers like these losers sell their thralls to the auctioneers. Who sell to other wraiths at a markup.

Emmett: “You’d have to ask her,” Em says plainly, shrugging. “I’m just her messenger boy, Dr. Doom and Gloom. I don’t go with her to the auctions when she takes the scrappier ones she doesn’t melt down, so I don’t know how much she makes off them, but she seems pretty happy with the arrangement. I’ll tell you what, though. If you don’t want to do business with her, I’ll just go. Enjoy your work. I’ll catch the next caspers sick of dragging corpus for the Hierarchy.”

He turns, starts to flap away.

Whether they give chase or follow, he still wins.

GM: Molting black wings sprout from the cop’s back as he streaks towards Em.

The wraith with the wifebeater instead pulls out a steel whistle.

“You can stop right there, Emmett, or one blow can have this place swarming with Hierarchy legionnaires!” smiles Doc Brown.

Wow, you’re an idiot.

Emmett: “What, for little old me?” he yawns. “I’m sure that would reflect well on you fine soldiers.” He evades the cop’s grasps with some gracious flapping, but doesn’t actually leave.

That whistle could be fun to get my hands on…

“Look, gents, I’m not interested in trying to sell you something you aren’t interested in buying. Mrs. Devillers is patient, but she likes me to deliver results, not half-hearted interest. Blow your whistle if it’ll make you feel safer. The offer will still be on the table, but the pay might get spread a bit thinner.”

He sighs. “Look, I can see you’re nervous. Good things don’t come along to those on this side of the grave without work, do they? Well, let’s be clear— Mrs. Devillers keeps me very busy. But at least I get to spend most of my time recruiting people instead of chaining them up. Mrs. Devillers has oboli, but she wants Caspers, you see. Caspers to fight. All the better if you’ve seen the inside of the Hierarchy. With her, you can get in on the ground floor of something new. You probably won’t even have to quit your gig hustling for the H-men. She’s the kind of woman who’ll pay handsomely for secrets.”

GM: The cop slams into Em’s corpus and tackles him to the ground. He drives a knee into Em’s back and pins his arms there too.

It’s not the first time he’s been in this position under a cop.

Doc Brown smiles and kneels down to Em’s level. He takes the other wraith’s collar and pulls it open. Low moans sound from the cold steel.

“Let’s talk a bit about this Mrs. Devillers, Em.”

“If she’s never crossed over, tell me what she wants with thralls and oboli.”

Emmett: Oh, big scary Jared. Em would be scared if he hadn’t seen this movie before. But he knows enough to pull out the wide eyes and nervous laughter. He can make the predators feel powerful, complacent.

They don’t know what they’ll meet later.

“Come on, Jared, I didn’t mean anything by it, you know that. I’m just a prick trying to make money, just like when I was alive. Devillers, she—ghosts make useful gofers and spies. She’s interested in softening up the Hierarchy, running her own spooky little kingdom this side of the river. And she’s got enough oboli in her basement to throw some around. "

His voice lowers. “Between you and me… I kind of like being one of her only spooks on payroll. Besides the knife, she fixed me up with some chains, a dope bag… and then there’s her daughters.”

He giggles a lecherous, dead man’s giggles. “Her daughters are very pretty, Jared. You’d like them.”

Seven glowing figures dance through the air above Em, smiling and entwined. The picture of innocence. Helplessness.

“She doesn’t mind if we watch her daughters.”

GM: The dead doctor looks at the seven blonde beauties.

He gives a very ugly grin. A dark shadow seems to spread over his entire face.

“I don’t just watch, Emmett.”

“Didn’t then.”

“Don’t now.”

Emmett: “Well, if we catch her while she’s awake she’ll probably quote you a price.”

“I mean, she’s always awake, I think. But she’s not always in a good mood.”

GM: “What if we just take her oboli?” muses the wraith in the wifebeater.

“She wants to go up against the Hierarchy. Okay. Bet the governor wouldn’t mind us hauling her ass to the citadel.”

Emmett: “You—but what about me? Come on, guys, I’m trying to do you a solid here. Jared, would you really do me dirty like that after I tried to get you a gig?”

His lip protrudes like a toddler’s.

GM: Doc Brown runs a hand through Em’s hair, gently tousling it.

His grin just spreads.

“Fuck this ‘softening up the Hierarchy,’” says the cop. “We can get a nice reward bringing in some renegades to the bosses.”

“Mmm, maybe,” says Brown, not taking his eyes off of Emmett.

Emmett: “You won’t find her place without me,” Em lies straightforwardly. “Cut me in on the action, and I’ll show you the quickest way there.”

Simple, direct, ruthless. Clean as the cattle cars chugging along to Auschwitz.

GM: The wraith in the wifebeater scowls.

“Might not be a loss,” muses Brown.

“How you figure?” asks the other wraith.

“This whole thing about not crossing over, and still dealing in oboli… not even the leeches do that,” Brown says with a thoughtful frown.

“I think we may have stumbled across something interesting, gentlemen. Maybe something we could sell in Stygia.”

Emmett: Stygia?

GM: His Shadow doesn’t answer.

“That ain’t half-cocked,” muses the cop on top of Em. “Could be some lords or guildmasters there who’ll pay more than the Hierarchy here. They want to collect all the weird shit in that place.”

“Okay,” says the wraith in the wifebeater. “Here’s what we do.”

“We go see this Mrs. Devillers. She looks like she’s worth something, we snap a collar on her, bring her back to the river city. We sell the thralls we’ve got there and buy passage to Stygia.”

“You don’t need to buy passage,” says the cop.

“Fuck that,” says the other wraith. “I’m not riding along naked through the Tempest.”

“The Midnight Express is free,” says Jared. “What does she look like, Emmett? Would she stand out in a crowd?”

Emmett: “She’ll be suspicious if we don’t come with the thralls y’all have gathered,” Em warns. “She’s not ignorant. She knew you would probably be here, after all, and that’s why she sent me.”

“And she’s beautiful, Jared. A real MILF. Eyes like ocean deeps. I can show you the way to her house. If your friend here wants to hold on to me while I bring you, fine. I just want to come out ahead.”

Hmm. Stygia sounds like it could be fun.

GM: “Okay, we bring along the thralls. Whatever,” says the cop.

“That does sound very pretty, Emmett. I mean does she look abnormal enough someone might try to steal her. We’re obviously not taking the Express if-”

“-fuck the Express,” says the wraith in the wifebeater. “We buy passage on an actual fucking ship. And not one of those navy liners. I mean, the dreamboats. You ever been on one, doc?”

“He gets off all he needs in the hospital,” leers the cop.

The doctor just smiles.

“You don’t know what you’re missing,” says the wraith in the wifebeater. “They’ve got masquers there. Any girl you want, any way you want. Sandmen with nonstop shows. I hear, the entire thing is in color. You can almost feel alive again, when you’re inside. There’s gambling, too.”

Emmett: “Really?” Em begins.

GM: “What, you haven’t been either?” asks the wraith in the wifebeater. “Christ, am I the only one who actually spends his fucking oboli?”

Emmett: “I’m a sandman, is all. Sounds fun.”

GM: “When did you die?”

Emmett: “Early 2016. You?”

He sort of fidgets under the cop. “Also, can I get up? You’ve established dominance, very… dominantly. I’m not going anywhere.”

GM: The other wraiths look between each other for a moment.

The cop gets off, but remains close by.

“’84,” says the other wraith. “We used to have a dreamboat back when this was a free city. This relic Mississippi steamboat. Hoon and Toole were involved. You can thank the Hierarchy we don’t have it anymore.”

Emmett: “But you’d rather work for them anyways than end up a thrall, huh?”

GM: “Biggest game in town after the maelstrom,” shrugs the other wraith. “They hold the necropolis. They hold the citadel.”

“That was the maelstrom,” says the cop. “That wrecked the dreamboat. Wraiths can’t just blame the Hierarchy for everything. They gave this city some law and order back.”

“Yeah, yeah. I know who pays us.”

“Forget how we get to Stygia,” says Brown. “First we need the merchandise.” He looks at Emmett. “Can four wraiths take her with surprise?”

Emmett: “She’s older than she looks, but… I dunno, probably,” Em hedges. “And five even more so. She seemed pretty hopeful you’d be willing to talk. I mean, I’m scum, but I’m scum that can count. If you guys rush her, I’ll join. Now, shall we? I can help carry the cargo.”

GM: “Less money split five ways than four,” scowls the cop.

Emmett: “I can also accept not being enslaved in lieu of payment.”

GM: “Yeah, and just let us enslave your meal ticket,” scoffs the wraith in the wifebeater. “Four is you, unless you thought we were counting this guy.”

He kicks the collared and softly moaning enfant underneath him.

“We’ll haul off all the oboli she has, and sell her. Split everything between us four, 25%.”

He leers at Em. “Scum like you and me don’t stab someone in the back for nothing, now don’t they?”

Emmett: “Oh. I’m apparently scum that can’t count. And yeah, sounds like you’ve got my number. Which means I’ve got your back.”

He makes finger pistols. They’re accompanied by gunfire and muzzle flashes.

“Let’s stick it to the one percent.”

GM: “You don’t get anything from the other thralls,” says the cop. “We caught those, not you.”

“Well why the fuck would he?” says the wraith in the wifebeater.

“You always want to be crystal fucking clear when it comes to money,” says the cop.

Emmett: “Jared, how much you make as a doctor? Not including the free pussy. You’re going to be in the big leagues again. You too, Mark and Bob. The real big league. Post-mortem championships.”

If there’s no further questions Em is eager to proceed. Do they keep the “shipment” in some kind of container, or just a long line of chained wraiths?

GM: “We’ve got them stashed someplace,” the cop answers vaguely.

Em’s been around his share of drug dealers, when he wasn’t one himself. The wraith’s tone sounds like the same kind that one a dealer asked where his supply is might take.

“How many will look convincing to Mrs. Devillers? It’d be a pain in the ass to bring them all.”

“Wait. Do you know where she keeps her oboli?” asks the wraith in the wifebeater. “Does she hide them?”

Emmett: “She wanted a lot,” Em said.

Fill my larder past satiation…

“If we can bring ten in one go, it’d be ideal. At least five, though, show we’re serious.”

He parries the question about oboli neatly. “I’ve seen the safe she keeps them in. Spooky thing in her… I guess I’d call it a lounge? We can probably make her open it.”

GM: “Could we open it?” asks the wraith in the wifebeater. “Or could she with a collar on?”

Emmett: “I’ve used a key with a collar on. I expect she could turn a lock. And we can always make her tell us the combination. Take the safe, if it comes to that.”

GM: “Okay,” he says thoughtfully. “I was gonna say, if we couldn’t get into it, we should bring all the thralls.”

Emmett: “What’s your thinking there?”

GM: “We’d give her a look at the merchandise and ask for payment. When she brought it out, we’d jump her. Since if we couldn’t get into the safe, we’d obviously want her to bring out more money for the extra thralls.”

“Well didn’t that turn out to be a completely stupid idea,” says the cop. “We’ll bring five, then just hurt her until she tells us how to get into the safe. You always overthink things.”

“I’m not the one who died getting shot,” says the wraith in the wifebeater.

Emmett: “That’s still a good plan,” Em says, just as thoughtfully. “If we can get her to open the safe first, it might go quicker. I still think bringing more’s a better idea. How much of a pain to transport are we talking?”

GM: “It’s a pointless plan,” says the cop. “Unless she’s paying everything that’s in there for the thralls, and she’d need way more than that if she’s serious about challenging the Hierarchy, we have to get into the safe anyway.”

“You ever transported thralls, Emmett?” smiles Doc Brown.

Emmett: “In small numbers,” he acknowledges. “I wasn’t sure if the finest minds of chattel slavery had come up with something I had missed. I’ll tell you what, though. Let’s bring a solid showing—we can probably bring her ten between us. We can bullshit her for a little, feel out her actual funds, get her to open the safe herself before we try to jump her. If we do it fast enough, saves us needing to drill her about the combination or have to carry the damned thing—I don’t know how heavy it might be. Plus, more thralls we parade in front of her the more distracted she’ll be.”

GM: “She’d be an idiot to open it right in front of us,” says the cop.

Emmett: “People can be talked into some stupid things when they think they’re getting what they want.” Trust me. “More’s gonna be better to put her off her guard, at least.”

GM: “How many other wraiths are there?” asks Doc Brown. “You can’t be the only one working for her.”

The eyes of the wraith in the wifebeater shine with greed. “We could take them as thralls, too.”

Emmett: “There’s like three other freelancers, but I’ve never seen more than one there at a time. They’re running errands for her around the city. We could definitely lie in ambush, though, once we’ve taken her.”

GM: “Maybe we should just bring them all, to be safe,” muses the wraith in the wifebeater. “It’s inconvenient, but it can’t actually hurt.”

“I guess not,” relents the cop.

Emmett: This is gonna be fun.

“That’s settled then,” Em says cheerfully.

“Shall we?”

GM: “Settled,” smiles Doc Brown. “Okay. We’ll need a little to get them ready.”

The wraith in the wifebeater claps Em over the shoulder. “This guy’s my kind of scum. Let’s celebrate how we’re all about to make a shitload of money together, with some dreamwhores in the river city.”

“We can screw some whores after we’ve got more oboli in our pockets,” says the cop. “Didn’t you want to take a dreamboat to Stygia, anyway?”

“Yeah, but there might not be one in port for a while,” says the wraith in the wifebeater.

“Rather celebrate when the job’s done,” says the cop.

Emmett: Em smiles back at the man he’s about to feed to a shark. “That sounds like a lot of fun. But it’ll still be there after. Mark, right? Nice to meet you. Call me Em.”

It could be a beautiful friendship, in another afterlife.

GM: “Bob,” he says. “I know the best whores down there. But I guess you’re right. Still be around.”

“Where do we wanna meet back up with the thralls?” asks Mark.

Emmett: “Here’s good for me if it’s good for you.” If it’s not, Em names a park close to the Garden District.

GM: “Okay. We’ll meet at Clay Square in 24 hours,” says Doc Brown.

He shakes Emmett’s hand in his. The doctor’s huge grin pulls the tear along is throat open wider. Blood steadily leaks down as the collared enfant at their feet moans.

“And may I say it’s been a pleasure doing business with you today, Emmett.” Brown’s eyes crinkle upwards.

“Even more than treating you as a patient was!”

Emmett: Em laughs along. He can wait for 24 hours for them to learn why it’s really funny.

Comedy is all about timing.

Date ?

Emmett: Hey. Gasper.

Em floats through the ruined city, too lazy to fly properly but too fastidious to touch the blackened and bare ground.

Thanks, for coming through back there. I know it was a trade. But thanks.

He pauses for a moment. What did you think of what Hartford back there was talking about?

GM: Hartford?

Emmett: I got all the trivia, I guess. The wifebeater guy. Mark.

GM: I got all the brains, I guess. He said his name was Bob, idiot.

Emmett: I think that’s more a function of those two having interchangeably bland names, but besides the point. Anyways, what did you think of what he said about dreamboats?

GM: Whatever.

Distract yourself from how shitty the (after)life is with whores and movies and gambling. That doesn’t sound at all familiar, does it?

‘Death changes things.’ Uh-huh.

We could’ve ran into those two losers in a million places when we were alive.

Emmett: Maybe so. But it might be nice to run a joint like that. Or even start our own. Could try and work one for a while. See what it’s like.

The postmortem Ritz Carlton looms ahead, a leviathan’s bloated ruins infested with little glowing maggots—people.

He’s content to wait for somebody to get into the elevator and ride past the floor of his destination.

No use hurrying when you’re already late.

GM: Probably shitty, like everything.

It’s a short enough journey from TMC to the Ritz-Carlton. The rotting and decaying hotel looks just as inhospitable as the last times he was there, full of glowing people who are incomprehensibly still hanging around. They don’t see how the dust on the cracked and grime-streaked windows looks like screaming faces. They don’t see the black and festering cancer-tendrils spreading through the smokers’ lungs like hideously misshapen plants. They don’t see the dried blood lining the stairs. They see none of how awful it all is.

Em supposes he could have taken the stairs. It’s not like he gets tired.

People don’t try to hold the elevator for him. The doors literally close through his face as he steps on. He gets off at Sami’s floor. He sees people watching TV, reading books, or having sex through the translucent doors and walls. In one of the rooms, he sees a middle-aged white man strangling a crying and sputtering black woman who looks half his age. She tugs weakly at his hands. Em can feel her death closing in like vultures circling a dying animal, but that’s nothing new. There are plenty other people in this hotel stained with death, be they smokers or fat people or diseased or just plain old. He can see the black spreading over their souls.

Some might check out sooner than others, but in the end, nobody stays checked in forever.

Emmett: He stops for a moment to scare her attacker, rolling up his eyes and sticking out his tongue at the would-be snuff artist.

Oh, except he’s hanging from a spectral noose. That can’t help the laugh factor much.

GM: The man looks up and screams, his face immediately draining of all color. The girl scrambles away as his fingers slacken, barely pausing to grab her clothes before barreling out the door.

Emmett: Would have been nice to get some juice from her caul. Too add another face to his little circle.

But he’s been a whore before.

He continues on to Sami’s room.

GM: The man scrambles back too, across the bed, and falls off, sheets tangled amidst his feet. He looks back up at the spot where Em appeared with incredulous eyes.

A few people in the hallways are staring and gawking as the girl pulls her clothes on. The man just stays rooted to the ground. His face looks like he’s questioning his own sanity as his chest laboriously heaves.

Emmett: Let him question. This ghost is busy.

GM: The inside of Sami’s rotted, dust-caked suite proves less than busy. She isn’t there, and neither are the hourglass, sacks, chains, collars, or other spooks. Even Kione is gone.

Bet they were happy to dump you. I bet you weren’t away for an hour before they all went running.

Hannah clearly wasn’t your biggest fan. I bet she roped along the others.

Had a while to talk with them by herself, hasn’t she?

Em’s a liability, can’t control his own Shadow…

Emmett: He takes in the emptiness with a stare, wondering if time had gotten away from him. Bad habit to fall into, given how despite nobody in the Shadowlands seeming to be very capable of telling time reliably, spooks still relied on scheduled liaisons.

Em searches the room briskly and efficiently, looking for something to salvage from their apparent desertion.

GM: He finds dried blood painted on a wall in messy handwriting.

Talk to Sami to find us

Emmett: “Now that’s just unfair to the staff,” he quips.

He tries to remember if it seemed like Sami returned here often. If not, no point sticking around.

GM: Em doesn’t see anything that looks specifically like hers.

Admittedly, everything here looks like it’s been abandoned and left to rot and fall apart for years.

Agreed, though. There’s not.

A gaping black void screams open beneath Em’s feet. He hurtles down.

Date ?

GM: He lands in a fancy office room. There’s full bookshelves, framed degrees, expensive-looking furniture: the sort of place that would never be his in life.

Lena is sitting in a chair across from an oakwood desk. Caroline sits on the other side with a somber expression.

Em’s sister looks good. Leagues better than she did handcuffed to a hospital bed. She’s lost weight, but her skin no longer hangs loosely about her face. Her hair’s longer and done back in a bun. She’s dressed in a white doctor’s coat with a stethoscope hanging from her neck.

Or, wait, is it a doctor’s coat? Just a normal blouse and pants. Must have been a trick of the light. It’s still an upgrade from a hospital gown.

She doesn’t look at Em. Caroline doesn’t either.

“…so you said you had news about my kids?” she asks. Her eyes are full of hope, but also wariness. It has probably been a long time since she heard truly good news.

“Temper your expectations, Mrs. Merinelli. It’s bad news,” Caroline replies.

Bert Villars walks in, carrying two bulging duffel bags. He dumps them on the desk. Pulls them open.

They’re the headless corpses of two children. The naked bodies are covered in so many wounds they look like they’ve been fed through a wood chipper and glued back together. They look like raw hamburger. There’s nothing but tears and gashes and gouges and festering open wounds for as far as Em can see. Bone is visible through the reddened meat. Em can’t even tell which body is male and which is female. The crotches look like they’ve been through a blender. Blood leaks everywhere. The smell is unspeakably foul.

“I’m afraid this is all that was left,” says Caroline.

Maggots burst from the bodies, hungrily devouring all that’s left.

Lena gives a choked half-wail, half-gagging noise, and flies from her seat like it’s on fire. Caroline stares coolly after her.

“Too late, I suppose, Emmett,” Abélia’s daughter remarks.

She gets up and walks out the door. Instead of a hallway, they emerge into a gawking crowd gathered near Crescent City Connection. Lena’s standing at the edge of the bridge with her arms raised. Wind and rain whips back her hair.

“Oh don’t do it, Lena, you have so much to live for,” calls Caroline in a bored voice, like she’s reciting lines for a high school play she doesn’t want to be in.

“Yes, you have… very important things, to live for,” adds Christina Roberts.

“You really should thank Caroline, you know,” leers Bert Villars. “You could’ve been in prison. You could owe me money. You don’t need money for anything, because of her!”

“You should be more thankful for the things you have. Your situation is considerably improved from what it might otherwise be,” states Judge Underwood.

“Isn’t she married?” asks Sue.

“We killed ’er man too, Sue ma doll,” smiles Bud.

Cash Money smirks his puffy-lipped smirk and takes a pull from a beer bottle. It’s coated with blood from Em’s temple.

“My brother ruined everything!” yells Lena, her eyes red and wet behind her glasses. “He ruined my whole life, and there’s no undoing it, and everything is fucked!”

The crowd doesn’t do much more than nod, leer, and call for her to get on with it.

Emmett: Em watches mutely for the first chunk of theater. Not much he can do about the corpses, anyways. If he didn’t know the playbook by now, it would probably be rather depressing.

He chooses his moment carefully and taps Lena on the shoulder. Manifests, if he has to.

“Hey, sis,” he says. “I did. I did ruin your life. I’m trying to unfuck it, now, but that’s not enough to save me.”

He steps on to the ledge with her. It’s nice to feel the rain in his hair. He had forgotten how cool it could be. Almost like fingers running over his scalp. Almost like love, but without any of the hard parts.

“But no matter where you stand, no matter where you fall, no matter where your body lays, I didn’t stay for it. I stayed for you. And I won’t let you go alone.” He tilts his head. “Remember?”

At first the song is barely audible over the crowd’s jeers, but it swells with every word. It seems to come from the same rain-streaked winds that buffer the siblings on the precipice of mocking Oblivion.

It’s the song she sang him, back before his balls dropped and so did his soul. He wonders if she sang it to her children, after.

GM: Em sings.

Love of mine, someday you will die

Boy, doesn’t he know it.

No blinding light or tunnels to gates of white

That, too.

If heaven and hell decide that they both are satisfied
And illuminate the no’s on their vacancy signs

Apparently they were. He made his own way. Like always.

In Catholic school as vicious as Roman rule

Sami said McGehee wasn’t Catholic. But he can claim some of the credit for that at Brother Martin’s.

I got my knuckles bruised by a lady in black

Knuckles and other places. But he bruised her back. They bruised each other plenty.

Son, fear is the heart of love, so I never went back

Lena always thought that lyric was strange. But it might be a good thing, if it were true. Everyone’s scared.

You and me we’ve seen everything to see
From Bangkok to Calgary and the soles of your shoes

Em didn’t live all that long, but he did see a lot. More than his older sister ever did.

Are all worn down
The time for sleep is now

It’s always time for sleep. Sleep makes all your problems end, for a little while. Sleep is death in bite-sized doses. Sleep is temporary suicide. That’s why he spent so much of death row sleeping. Lena’s probably spent a lot of time sleeping, too.

But it’s nothing to cry about
‘Cause we’ll hold each other soon in the blackest of rooms
But that’s really all you need.

Death row was so much less lonely after Cécilia came.

Em’s crowd doesn’t clap. There’s not much love from this audience.

But they shut up.

Lena’s head turns towards his with misty eyes. Then stops.

So does everyone else. Frozen in place like a paused movie. Cash Money gets caught right when he’s picking his nose.

Caroline walks up to him, drolly clapping.

“Well, that’s a pretty speech, Em. Or pretty song.”

“Lots of personal meaning. The best songs all have that, don’t they?”

“Your sister looks like she’s feeling a little better. But let’s make this interesting.”

The Mississippi churns. A whirlpool forms. A black pit yawns open at the bottom.

Emmett: “I feel pretty interested already,” he ventures.

GM: High-pitched children’s sobs waft up past the churning waters.

“Your sister’s children are in there,” says Caroline. “Metaphorically. Step through, and when this little show ends, you’ll wind up wherever they are.”

“Might be someplace dangerous. Might be they’re already dead. Who knows?”

“Door #2, however… "

Em sees himself swinging from a hangman’s noose. He’s dressed in the same dark jacket, pants, white shirt with popped collar. His arm’s weeping black ichor. The only thing that’s different is the face. It’s a look of pure, undiluted arrogance, that screams a thousand reasons why Em is hot shit, the center of the universe, and everyone else is a tool, douchebag, and a thousand other less flattering names. The face says a lot without saying any words.

But Em can see it in the eyes. The too-familiar self-loathing, blacker and deeper than any pit Lena’s kids might be in. The eyes are pits of their own. He could fall into that well of self-hate and never come back out.

“That’s Gasper,” says Caroline.

“The hate really makes him look worse, doesn’t it?”

Emmett: “Maybe, but you have to admit he’s pretty hung.”

His expression is completely neutral.

GM: “Funny,” says Caroline.

The water starts to churn underneath Gasper. Shark fins slice through the surface, at least half a dozen of them. Gasper’s eyes get all wide. He starts frantically kicking and yelling for Em to pull him up.

Caroline hands him a knife.

“You can cut the rope, let the sharks get him, and be rid of him forever.”

“Or you can try to go after your sister’s kids.”

“Your choice.”

Emmett: “I find that hard to take on faith, since this seems like a harrowing. Aren’t you actually Gasper, just wearing that face?”

GM: “I suppose you could say we’re the help,” Caroline smiles thinly.

Emmett: “Go on.”

GM: “But frankly, he gets on our nerves. He’s good at that.”

“You can kill him. But only you. There are rules.”

Emmett: “Uh huh.” He glances at his hanging Shadow.

He smirks.

“You know, things would be simpler without him. I wouldn’t always have to be waiting for the other shoe to drop. I could finally relax in my own head.” He gazes into the void.

GM: “I’m certain it would.”

The knife remains outstretched in Caroline’s hands.

Emmett: He starts to reach for it.

Then his hand ceases.

“On the other hand,” Em says, tapping a finger against his chin, “Gasper is quite pathetic. Pitiful, really. Doesn’t really have any good ideas of his own, and he got all the learning disabilities. I’ve kind of gotten attached to him. He’s grown on me. Like a tumor, or a hemorrhoid.”

Em points to the portal. “It’ll be door number one for me.”

GM: “I guess that’s your choice,” says Caroline.

She delivers a lightning-fast kick to Em’s flank. He plummets into the churning whirlpool with a splash.

Love of mine, someday you will die

The children’s cries are mangled, pitiful things up close, even over the roaring waters.

But I’ll be close behind and I’ll follow you into the dark
No blinding light or tunnels to gates of white

Actually, that doesn’t seem true. The bottom of the whirlpool isn’t black at all.

It’s white. It’s bright. It’s glowing. He isn’t sinking, but floating. Rising.

If heaven and hell decide that they both are satisfied
And illuminate the no’s on their vacancy signs
If there’s no one beside you when your soul embarks
Then I’ll follow you into the dark

Emmett V, Chapter IX
Hunting Hunters

Gasper. If you’re me, tell me. Do I care anymore?
Emmett Delacroix

Thursday morning, 10 March 2016

GM: Em’s in someone’s bedroom. The ravishingly beautiful vampire he saw in the enfant’s… whatever is naked and frantically shaking at a motionless naked man. His aura lacks the telltale glow Em has encountered around actual people. An alarm shrieks from a nearby phone.

Emmett: Odd. Decidedly not where he meant to end up. He studies the naked vampire, and her apparent…victim? He looks dead, anyways.

GM: She bites her wrist and presses it to his mouth while shaking him with her other hand.

Emmett: As she does, the dead guy’s face clicks into a long-vacant slot in his memory. Stephen Garrison. Celia’s cuck ex.

Well, looks like he’s moved on, albeit also off his mortal coil.

But if the vamp killed him, where’s the caul?

GM: Em sees no caul, but he sees through the walls. A group of people dressed like plumbers or repairmen are busily working on the apartment’s front door as the phone alarm shrieks.

Emmett: Dressed as, but clearly not. It doesn’t take three pricks in coveralls to shimmy a door.

Caroline mentioned hunters. Maybe coveralls are the Van Helsing vogue.

He strolls into their midst, trying to better ascertain their intentions. Not like he can do much to them, though, even if he had a reason.

GM: One of them has a tool belt around his waist and is working on the door. It has an electronic keyless lock. The other two seem to be keeping a lookout. Em sees through the cases they’re carrying like so much smoke. And the clothes on their bodies. Cases and clothes both conceal wooden stakes, nasty-looking long knives, handcuffs, handguns, containers of lighter fluid, and assorted other implements whose purpose looks more like destruction than repair.

Emmett: “…oh.”

“God, is everybody in this fucking city a vampire?”

GM: The three men trying to break in don’t seem to be.

Emmett: But they’re vampire hunters. That’s vamp-adjacent. He’s pretty sure he’d rather be a hunter than a ghost.

Granted, there’s two bloodsuckers inside and three Helsings outside, so… kind of seems like anybody’s game if they’re about to rush in.

Still, fuck all he can do to affect the outcome, drained and deathly as he is.

GM: Sounds like someone could use some juice.

Emmett: Not sure why I should give a fuck about some random vampire bitch, though, even if she is all up in Celia’s shit. Might be better if they got her, to be honest.

GM: She’d owe us. Him, too.

If they kill these wannabe Van Helsings that’s three souls we get.

Emmett: If you’re offering, I’m listening. What’s the price?

GM: I’ll just get a little stronger.

Emmett: All right. Hit me.

GM: It surges through him in a hot, toxic rush. It’s the vicious satisfaction he felt at seeing the ‘oh shit’ click in Sami’s head when she realized why Em brought her to Dino’s dad’s place. It’s way she screamed when the cigarette burned into her skin. It’s the way Cash Money howled when the knife sank into his hair beanpole leg. He was strong, then. He’s strong again now.

Emmett: Not a lot of time to waste. He broadcasts through the phone’s screeching alarm in an inter-dimensional PSA, a staticky but distinctly clear voice like a newsman from the ’50s:


Okay, maybe a little on the nose. But it gets the point across.

He hopes.

Celia: The phone chimes in before the female vampire can. She shoves it at him once more.

GM: “What the fuck!?” Stephen frowns.

He taps in the code to unlock it.

“Shit! Three guys out there!”

He springs off the bed. “Fuck! The middle of the fucking day!”

He pulls the female vampire outside the bedroom, grabs the bookshelf against a nearby wall, and pulls it across the carpet. There’s a door in the space where it used to be.

“Get in, hurry!”

Celia: She nods, snatches her phone, grabs his hand, and hauls him in with her.

GM: He shakes his head. “I’ll hold them off. Even if they get me, they won’t think to look for a second lick behind the wall.”

Celia: “I’m not leaving you,” she hisses at him, “get in or we’re both fighting.”

GM: “No time to argue.”

He pulls open the door, grabs her, and tries to shove her in.

Emmett: It’d be sweet if it wasn’t utterly pointless and stupid.

GM: Describes you pretty well too, when you’re trying to be the white knight.

Emmett: I’m never a white knight. At whitest, I’m beige.

GM: Yeah, true.

But I said ‘try.’

Celia: He tries. He fails.

Celia is faster than she looks. She executes a quick spin around him, just out of reach of his grasping hands.

“You’re not the only one who knows how to fight. Close it. We can jump them. They only expect one.”

GM: “Goddamnit!” he yells, making another grab at her as she blurs away. “I’m not letting more hunters rape you!”

Emmett: Is that a thing hunters do? Definitely makes them seem less… white knight-y.

GM: Why wouldn’t it be?

We’d have been happy to stick our dick in her.

Emmett: Necrophilia, though.

Celia: “Roderick, please, you’re wasting time—they’re going to be in here any minute, we can easily dispatch three of them between us. Close it. Close it or get in with me. I’m not losing you because of some misplaced sense of chivalry.”

GM: ‘Roderick’ makes a frustrated snarl, and then he’s gone in a blur. The female vampire’s suddenly shoved through the door. A baseball bat, phone, and family pictures fall over the floor or against her bare chest as Roderick pulls the bookshelf closed behind them.

He closes the door against the shelf. Locks it.

“Okay. Fine. We’ll hope they don’t find this place.”

Celia: “Silence your phone,” the female vampire whispers to him. “Turn off your alarm.”

GM: There’s a bed on the other side, along with a laptop, phone, some guns, handcuffs, a mini-fridge and microwave, and assorted other survival supplies.

Roderick frowns as he does exactly that.

“It shouldn’t have said that,” he whispers.

“The alarm is just a beeping noise.”

Celia: “Tampering?”

GM: He thinks for a moment, then tugs it between his hands, and finally snaps it.

He walks up to the wall and taps a monitor. “We can still see what’s going on.”

The three men dressed like plumbers or repairmen are still working on the front door.

Roderick and the female vampire talk for a while. They also call some people over their phones. They consider whether or not to call police, calling them “in the prince’s pocket.”

“I’d rather capture some hunters ourselves, but better to have them locked up than out on the streets.”

Huh. That ain’t good, Em’s Shadow remarks.

They need to kill these guys for us.

The vampires talk some more. Emmett sees through the apartment’s translucent walls that the hunters have gotten through. They can’t be anything else, because they have stakes, guns, and knives out. They close the door behind them after slipping under the barrier, then fan out to search the apartment.

They’ve pulled masks over their faces, for all the good it does them now.

Celia: The female vampire leaves a quick message, shoots off a text message, and looks around the room.

Emmett: He sends a text to the phone. It comes from a number that glitches and changes and whose presence on the phone makes the air chiller.




Celia: She stares at it with a look that says:

What. The. Fuck.

GM: Roderick snarls at the screen.

“That’s why I took the family pictures, by the way.”

Celia: “Smart,” she tells him.

“Listen to me,” she whispers, “I’m going to hit them with star mode, and we’re going to take them out.”

GM: “I’m pretty confident I could take three breathers with surprise.”

“Know why I’m not?”

He looks at her.

“I stand a hell of a lot more to lose than to gain from that fight.”

Oh, cute, Romeo wants to play hero.

He squeezes her hand back.

Looks down at their naked bodies. Chuckles.

“This would almost be sexy.”

Celia: “Hush, you, we’ve already got a track record for fucking at inopportune times.”

GM: We need to give these Van Helsing wannabes a tip-off.

Emmett: It does look that way, sadly.

He uses his text-sending prowess again. This time, he catches one of the hunter’s eyes in the mirror, standing behind him in what’s empty air when the coverall-wrapped killer turns in shock.

“Behind the bookshelf,” says the man in the mirror when the hunter turns back. Then he’s gone. Maybe he was never there at all.

GM: The masked man’s eyes narrow.

“Hey,” he whispers.

His companions make their way over.

“Guy in the mirror. Said behind the bookshelf.”

They look around.

“Ghost he killed?” one whispers back.

“Might be,” whispers another. “Or trap.”

Emmett: What is he, a magic 8-ball?

GM: They inspect the kitchen mirror more closely. One shines a tiny light over it.

“Ectoplasm,” he whispers.

“Thanks, spook, if you’re for real.”

“Check the shelves,” whispers another. “Extra careful.”

Emmett: He appreciates it. He still hopes they die. But he appreciates a little gratitude.

He returns to the safe room.

Celia: “We need to kill them.”

GM: He shakes his head. “Rather not risk you.”

Celia: “The closer they get to the door the less opportunity we have to ambush them.”

GM: “And rather take them alive, if we have to fight.”

Celia: She nods.

Emmett: The girl’s phone gets a text.

Kill two. The third can wait til u talk to him.

GM: The female vampire ignores it. She and Roderick talk a little while longer. She says something is up with her family. They talk about tactics. What to do when the hunters get in. What they’re good at. Roderick says he’s a “classic Brujah” with super-strength and speed. The female says she can hide, charm the hunters, and make them underestimate her.

They settle on a surprise attack: the female will turn into a cat, Roderick will play asleep, and then the hunter gets a bat to the skull. The female will turn back and jump the second. Roderick will take out the third.

They watch the monitor. Roderick lies down on the bed back-first, bat nearby, and closes his eyes.

Celia: She locks her phone. Her form blurs, shifts. A moment later a cat is slinking into position.

Emmett: Yeah… they can turn into cats? Didn’t know that. I mean, not that I want to turn into a cat. But it’d be nice to have the option.

GM: Time passes.

But not that much time.

Em watches as the hunters move the bookshelf. They work on the lock. That takes them a little while. Finally, it comes open. The men creep in. Their stakes are already out.

They look at Roderick’s sleeping form.

One nods.

Then, simultaneously, they all look at the cat.

Celia: She stares back at them.

GM: One of the men looks at the other two.

He doesn’t speak.

At last, he shakes his head.

The others look at the cat for another moment.

Then they turn away.

They approach the bed.

They ready the stake over Roderick’s chest.

He doesn’t once move. Doesn’t once breathe or blink. He sleeps like the dead.

The man positions a mallet over the stake.

Then, suddenly.

One freezes.

Three hissed words escape his lips:

“No food bowl-!”

That’s when Roderick strikes.

The baseball bat streaks through the air, smashing into the man’s skull with a grisly, bone-shattering crack. The man doesn’t scream. He just hits the floor in a heap and doesn’t get up. Blood pools across the carpet.

Suh-wiiiiiiing, batter-batter-batter!


Emmett: I miss movies. Let’s find a way to watch movies sometime.

GM: They’re the movie.

Celia: The female vampire strikes from behind.

Powerful hind quarters propel her through the air to launch herself at one of the men, her form blurring and shifting as she dives. Her claws are the only part of her that do not change, that do not sink back into her body. She is not some housecat whose belly they can rub when she flops over for them, not some pet they will collar with a little bell that goes ding-a-ling with each step.

She is a monster. A predator.

A Beast.

It was an animal that left the ground, but a Beast that lands on his back with fangs and claws and murder in her eyes.

GM: Propelled by her once-feline haunches, the female vampire’s weight smashes into the startled hunter like a cannonball. He goes down in a heap. She goes for the throat. The larger, stronger man grunts flips her halfway off, rolling under her as he drives the stake towards her chest. It goes wide and stabs her collarbone as her fangs pierce his neck. Too slow. The female vampire drinks ravenously as she straddles him. He weakly tries to fling her off, but the female vampire shreds his triceps with her claws. She grinds against his crotch with hers, tries to guide his cock up her cunt.

Emmett: He watches in mute appreciation of the unfolding carnage for a while.

…oh, now she’s trying to rape him to death. Great. Really cool. Is it necrophilia when a corpse fucks you?

GM: Is it when two corpses fuck?

The third hunter rushes Stephen while he’s left himself open, plunging another stake towards his heart. It punctures the mattress as the vampire rolls aside, lashing out with a lightning-fast kick into the hunter’s kidneys. It sends him crashing into the opposite wall.

He staggers to his feet and rips off the window’s curtain. The female vampire is too occupied in her grisly feast to notice the stream of sunlight that stops only inches away from her feet. Stephen, though, howls and pulls back as smoke wafts from his blistering skin.

The hunter steps forward, full into the sunlight, then pulls for the gun on his belt. Stephen chucks a laptop at his hand, sending the gun flying away. The man curses and clutches his hand.

He looks at his motionless friend on the ground, then the female vampire riding his dying friend’s how-is-it-even hard cock. He pulls open the window and starts climbing out. The drop has to be at least several stories.

Emmett: He follows, unfolding leathery wings as he vaults through the corporeal form of the hunter and flaps over the street.

GM: Em doesn’t have far to follow. Stephen snarls and grabs the man by his pants, yanking him down. The vampire’s blistering arms turn blacker as he pulls the hunter out of the sun. The mortal man kicks at first, futilely, then whips out a long hunting knife and drives it into Stephen’s gut. The vampire howls and smashes a fist into the man’s face with a gory crunch, knocking his head all the way to the floor from the impact. Stephen pounces on the prone hunter, sinks fangs into his neck, and then it’s all over.

Em watches Celia’s boyfriend thirstily drink, his blackened skin gradually turning pink again, until a translucent copy of the man floats up from the body like escaping steam from a kettle.

It joins the two others wrapped in gauzy cauls. Their close-eyed expressions remain calm and placid.

Stephen leaps onto the still-feasting female vampire. Blood paints both of their naked bodies as he roars, tackles her to the floor, and sinks fangs into her skin. She goes along with it, for a little while. Then she kicks him off, scrambles to her feet, and runs out of the room. He chases after her.

Huh. Reminds me of us and Sami.

Emmett: I guess that’s kind of… sweet. Or depressing. Little column A…

He tucks his wings and sets about the somewhat lengthy process of soothing the fresh enfants from their cauls, starting with the one he contacted through the mirror. He needs the juice, and he has a feeling the licks will be engaged for… a while.

GM: Em plunges his hands through the enfant’s caul. Pure nightmares wash over the newly-born wraith’s eyes as he conjures forth the most awful visions he can think of from the depths of his blackened soul. As a finishing touch, Em rips off the enfant’s caul, then kicks him in the balls.

He then does the same thing to other two wraiths.

That’s for what a cunt you were in Sami’s dream.

You should really know, Em. We don’t ever forget a slight.

Don’t worry, though. I’m happy to see us get these three off to Maman’s. And if you want some juice, I’ll give you a fix anytime!

Emmett: Ok. Whatevs.

If Gasper’s going to fuck everything up, it’s clear there’s about fuck all he can do to stop him while also trying to look out for his interests. So it’s useless to care.

How we gonna get them there?

GM: Gosh, what do we call those two things sticking out of our shoulders?

Emmett: And we’re going to… carry them?

With these big. Hunky. Arms?

GM: That should be funny to watch you do.

Emmett: I mean, I could also not. I’m very lazy.

GM: I truly don’t give a shit if you lug along these losers or find some others.

Emmett: Why would I bother to find others if you’re gonna make it harder to transport them every time?

GM: Nah, I’ll only do that when you’re a cunt to me.

Emmett: So, what, we’re even now?

GM: For now.

I’d bet good money you’ll find a way to fuck that up though.

But what do I know about you, I’m only you.

Emmett: Gasper. If you’re me, tell me.

Do I care anymore?

GM: You’re almost there, Em. Almost.

You only pretend you don’t when something has really gotten to you. Really defeated you. Really reminded you that everything you do counts for shit, and that you’ll never do better. Because you won’t.

One day you’ll realize that as thoroughly as me.

Emmett: Em doesn’t say anything because he doesn’t need to.

For all his posturing and tired goading, the truth is he’s still the only part of himself that Gasper doesn’t own, yet. The only part of himself that dares to hope that the dreams he’s made of are something more than nightmares, that Emmett Miloud Delacroix makes a better dead man than he did a dying one.

He knows he may be wrong. He knows his road is strewn with atrocities that will make his past crimes pale for their innocence. He knows that soon, his Shadow may consume him. Soon, perhaps, he will not care.

But for now, some maimed, raped part of him does. The part that never learns.

Even, then. Let’s go deliver some souls.