Campaign of the Month: October 2017

Blood and Bourbon

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Story Thirteen, Celia XXXV

“I have eternity ahead of me; I’d like to actually do something with it.”
Celia Flores


Tuesday night, 22 March 2016, PM

Celia: Hunger prevents her from simply stalking out into the night. She fishes through her bag for the two pints of blood leftover from the thin-blood she and Draco had murdered the night before, sticking it into the microwave to heat. She drinks it down. Irritation surges through her. She should have had an easier time of things at the club; distracted by her emotions she no doubt moved past a dozen other kine that would have made an easy meal.

But the blood is a reminder that she has things to fix. She doesn’t doubt that Pete is going to check in on Emily sooner rather than later, and she’d rather have a plan in place than not. It’ll help her mom, too. Keep her from that wretched, addicted state.

Jade changes. Heeled boots, leather leggings, a double layer of tank tops beneath a hooded jacket. She pulls it up even as she succumbs to the embrace of the shadows around her, more at home in them now than she has ever been before.

She takes off into the night, heading toward Jackson Park. While she walks she pulls her phone from her pocket, uses another burner app, and dials the number on the back of Joel’s credit card.

GM: “Hello, thank you for calling Bank of Columbia,” greets a recorded female voice. “This call may be recorded.”

Jade is asked to enter the last four digits of her ATM debit card number, social security number, or tax ID. Jade is given a menu of options to pick from after doing so. Live representatives, fortunately for her, are available 24/7.

Celia: Jade’s vocal chords change without her needing to do anything more than will it. Even if it isn’t a proper match, a bank rep will have no idea, and a recording even less.

“Transactions,” she says into the phone.

GM: “One moment,” replies the stilted voice.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there are no transactions after the date he ran into Jade.

Celia: That’s good, it cuts down on the list. She needs the ones from before.

GM: There’s a variety of mundane transactions for things like grocery purchases, as well as a bus ticket to New Orleans. It was purchased a few days ago.

Celia: She’s looking specifically for a hotel, hostel, motel, or other rental property.

Though she makes a mental note of the date of the purchase for the ticket to NOLA.

GM: She gets the name of a hotel that some googling shows to be in Central City. Only $25 per night.

Celia: Who needs Reggie and Rusty, she thinks, tucking the address of the hotel away for later. She’ll catch a Ryde after she finishes at the Square.

GM: At this hour, Jackson Square is closed down. The ghost tours are over and even the crowds of visitors that gather around the back fence of St. Anthony’s Garden to take pictures of the giant shadow cast by the “Touchdown Jesus” statue are all gone. The square’s iron gate is closed and locked so that homeless people don’t sleep inside. Instead they sleep outside, with all of their dogs. Or they don’t sleep. They piss, shit, vomit, fuck, and shoot up.

Concealed by shadow, this time, no crowds of disheveled panhandlers harass Jade for money. A few dogs, though, growl at the Toreador’s passage… they are not fooled by her.

Jade can’t tell the thin-bloods by scent and sound, like she can her own kind. But there is a heady scent of blood wafting from one of the kicking sleeping bags.

Celia: Bingo.

Maybe.

Jade ignores the dogs unless they come close to her, lifting a hand and murmuring an “easy” to them. She crouches beside the sleeping bag to peer at its owner.

GM: She finds a shirtless, pale-skinned man with a red bandanna burying his face into the neck of a gasping man underneath him. An adjacent cardboard sign reads, TOO UGLY 2 PROSTITUTE!!!!!

Celia: Jade isn’t so rude as to interrupt the meal. She lets him finish.

GM: A little while passes before he sits up. He looks in maybe his 30s, with a scraggly brown beard and features that could be passably attractive under better circumstances.

“That’s the shit, isn’t it?” he says to the man in the sleeping bag, who gives a bovine grunt.

Celia: Glad he has enough sense not to slaughter the man, Jade gives him a moment to extricate himself from the bag before she speaks up, shattering the illusion for him, at least.

“Evenin’.”

GM: The man does so in short enough order. Besides the bandanna, he’s dressed in dirty black pants and high-top gray sneakers.

He freezes at Jade’s address and looks her over with something between fear and anger.

“What the fuck do you want?”

Celia: Jade smiles at him, showing the tips of her fangs behind her perfectly curved lips.

“A word.”

“Possibly an offer, if you want more of that.” A nod toward the kine in the bag.

GM: “All right, what?” the thin-blood says warily.

Celia: “Do you have things here?” she asks, casting a glance along the assortment of people. “Gather them. Come with me.”

GM: “I’m not stupid,” says the thin-blood. He still looks alarmed, and in no rush to go off alone with her.

Celia: “If I wanted you dead, darling, I could do it here. I only desired to step away from prying ears.” She tilts her head to one side, considering the thin-blood. “I’m looking for someone and wondered if you could point me in the right direction.”

GM: “All right, who?” he asks.

Celia: “An alchemist.”

GM: “What’s in it for me?”

Celia: “A bath and change of clothes, for starters. Following that, a hot meal.”

GM: “Fuck the bath, just gonna get dirty again, aren’t I?” says the thin-blood.

“I want out. Canal Street. Get me that, I can hook you up with a GREAT alchemist.”

“The best.”

Celia: “Done,” Jade says easily.

GM: The thin-blood looks surprised by that answer. And still suspicious.

“Done, how?”

Celia: “Done as in the lord and I are closer than many think. Done as in until I have it officially cleared I can offer you better.”

GM: “Okay, what’s better?”

Celia: “Off Bourbon.”

“I have a block between Bourbon and Dauphine. You’ll have access to a portion of it until we get Canal for you.”

GM: The thin-blood regards Jade warily.

“What’s gonna stop you from just leavin’ me high and dry, after I hook you up?”

“Actually, fuck it, I’ll just take cash and juice.”

Celia: “Prudent.” Jade smiles again. “I have an interest in what you can do and would have offered an ongoing deal, but we’ll settle it up with cash and juice, then.”

GM: “Okay, I want… $2,000, and a donor.”

Celia: “I’ll give you $500 now, $500 after I meet your contact, and take you hunting.”

GM: The thin-blood considers that.

“Okay. The hunting before you meet him.”

Celia: “Bring your things, darling. We’re going clubbing.”


Wednesday night, 23 March 2016, AM

GM: The thin-blood brings his things. There aren’t a ton. Just a stuffed- and worn-looking backpack he slings over his bare shoulders.

Plus a sleeping bag.

Celia: Jade asks the thin-blood for his name during their trek. It doesn’t need to be a real name, she offers, just something to call him by. She gives him her own if he asks, and tells him they’re making a quick stop on the way.

“I run a spa,” she says, “on Royal. If you’re coming out with me we’re going to get you washed and changed. It’s all about appearances out here, sweetheart.” That last line is delivered with a tiny quirk of her lips that could mean a dozen different things.

She lets them in through the employee entrance and leads him to one of the Swiss showers, offering a towel and assorted bathing supplies.

GM: “You can call me Jake,” says the thin-blood.

He doesn’t disagree with her logic about the clubs, and seems to figure what the hell. He’ll wash up.

Celia: Jade gathers a few more things while he does so. Clippers and scissors, a clean outfit—shopaholic, she has clothes and accessories everywhere—and pulls a thousand dollars from the safe behind the counter. She keeps the bills small, tucks five hundred into one pocket and five hundred into a small plastic bag that goes inside her stomach. Just in case.

Once he’s out she asks if his hair still grows, and if he’ll let her trim it for him.

GM: “Yeah,” he nods in answer. “Not as fast as it used to. But no thanks.”

Celia: “Shame,” she murmurs, putting away the clippers, “I imagine you’re rather cute beneath all that. Come on then.”

She offers to let him leave his things here if he wants, but it’s no skin off her back if not. They walk toward her turf on Bourbon and Jade peppers him with questions: how long he’s been like this, does he know who Embraced him, where he stays during the day and whether or not the sun hurts him, if he’s figured out how to totem twist, what he did prior to his half-death.

GM: With visible reluctance, Jake decides to leave his things at the spa, figuring that toting around a sleeping bag and worn-looking backpack will make it harder to pick someone up at the club. Between the bath and shirt, he looks pretty cleaned up, though his beard and hair are scraggly enough he could probably blend back in among the homeless.

“Why do you give a shit ’bout all that?” he asks, suspiciously.

Celia: “Idle curiosity. I’ve made a study of anatomy and physiology among kine and Kindred, and you fall somewhere in between. I think it’s interesting.” She casts a glance at him, offering a small, amused smile. “And the walk would be awfully quiet without making conversation.”

GM: “I been a vampire maybe a year, I don’t wanna talk about that, I ain’t gonna tell you where I sleep, I dunno what that is, and I was a traveler.”

Celia: “I only wanted to know if you had a safe place during the day,” Jade says with a dismissive wave of her hand. She moves on to a less-intrusive topic. “Where all have you traveled?”

GM: “’Cross the country. Me and my friends were in Lubbock before we freighthopped to NOLA.”

“Fuckin’ awful city.”

Celia: “Have you done that since? Traveled outside of here, I mean.”

GM: “No, there’s all sortsa shit out there, isn’t there?”

Celia: “That’s what I’ve heard.”

GM: “You donno?”

Celia: Jade shrugs. “It’s as dangerous for us to travel as it is for you. Perhaps more so. Loops can sniff us out. I’ve run into plenty of monsters on city streets, but none while I was on the road.”

GM: “Fuckin’ awful city,” Jake repeats, spitting to the side.

Celia: She doesn’t disagree.

“Where would you rather be?”

GM: “I didn’t mind what I was doin’ earlier. I got by. Saw the country, didn’t work a stupid 9 to 5.”

Celia: “Freedom,” Jade says with a smile.

GM: “Yeah, fuck the man an’ all that.”

Celia: “You might enjoy Houston. Or LA.”

Celia: “Something to consider for a later date,” Jade says with another shrug. “Come on then. It’s open mic night.”

She leads the way into The Cat’s Meow.

GM: “The fuck?” he grouses. “Come on, I just wanna grab a girl, not sing an’ shit.”

Celia: Jade rolls her eyes. “That’s what we’re doing, darling. I only meant there’s significantly more people here than a normal Tuesday would warrant.”

“Make sure you do it somewhere discrete,” she adds as they walk inside. “You still show up on cameras.”

Jade buys drinks for the pair of them, casting her eyes through the crowd for a likely target while it’s mixed and poured.

GM: Open mic night at The Cat’s Meow goes well. Some people play the guitar. Some play the piano. Some sing. The crowd claps and seems very into it. Jake elects not to take the mic and strikes it up with a girl in the crowd. Jade does, though, and is showered with applause and admirers. People can’t get enough of her. Guys can’t get enough of her. Many invite her back to their places. She has her pick of the litter. It’s so unfortunate she’s full, or as close to full as she can be from lighter sips, anyway. Feeding from a handsome guy in the back of his car still feels good, though. She feels the rush of all-natural sweet flavor across her tongue, running down her throat. It tastes like lust, yes, but also like adoration. It tastes like cheers and applause and calls for more. It tastes like everyone loving her and being unable to get enough of her. It tastes like people bowing down before her… and it tastes like she could now make them, even those who weren’t here to see her tonight, through the Blood.

Jake, last she saw him, disappeared into the bathroom with his girl.

Celia: It’s a heady, intoxicating rush. This is what she exists for, why she was made: the adoration of a crowd. The invites back to their places. The smiles and catcalls and whistles and suggestive looks. The dancing, first with one boy and then the next, until she winds up in the arms of her ideal partner in the ideal situation: on his lap with his throat bared to her teeth, her pockets full of phone numbers from hopeful admirers and future meals.

She’s not hungry. Not really. But she feasts, taking this majesty with her, letting it roll and flow across her tongue to slake a thirst that’s never truly quenched. When she’s done she licks closed the evidence of her deed, pressing a kiss against his lips instead.

He’s kine, just a passing fancy for this one night in the back of his car, not real.

But that’s all she wants right now.


Wednesday night, 23 March 2016, AM

GM: Jake expectantly collects the $500 from Jade and goes back to Flawless with her to collect his things.

“‘Kay, he’s at Rampart.”

“I’ll lead you there. You got the other 500?”

Celia: “Yes,” she says, calling for a Ryde for the pair of them. “You two on good terms?”

GM: “Yeah, we’re tight, sometimes I sell him shit and buy his shit.”

“Lemme see it. The money. You can hang onto it, but I wanna see it.”

Celia: Jade gives him a look. “I took you to my business, took you to my domain, and got you a vessel. Do you really think I’m going to stiff you over $500?”

GM: “Hey, why not.”

“If you’re not gonna, doesn’t cost you anything to show it.”

“Not like I can take it from a full-blood, is it?”

Celia: “Not without retaliation,” Jade says with a smile. “But it does cost me something to show you.” She leans in close, whispering in his ear, “I’ve got it tucked into a secret hiding spot.”

GM: He gives her a look. “Uh, why?”

Celia: “Because these pants are too tight for me to put a wad that big into my pockets.”’

GM: “Okay, like… there are purses.”

Celia: “Mm, good target for thieves. Not worth the hassle.”

“I didn’t roll it into my twat, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

GM: “Rather have it up a girl’s pussy than her ass.”

“Might still be something to lick.” He makes a face.

Celia: “Does that still do it for you?”

There’s no judgment in her voice, just curiosity.

GM: “Yeah, I’m not a fag.”

Celia: “Mm. Majority of ‘em can’t get it up anymore.”

“What did you mean when you said earlier that he buys your stuff?”

GM: “Sometimes he pays me to get shit for him.”

Celia: “Like what?”

“Are you good at that, getting shit?”

GM: “Random shit. Bones, gas, vape juice, soda, pills, just random shit.”

Celia: “Bones?”

GM: “Yeah, I knew a guy with a dead dog, he said he wanted the bones.”

Celia: “Huh. He say why?”

GM: “Nope, and don’t wanna know.”

“But yeah, I guess I’m good at it.”

Celia: “What else are you good at?”

GM: Jake shrugs. “What’s it to you?”

Celia: “Maybe I could use your services too.”

“If you tick the right boxes.”

“Though you’re rather reticent to offer anything that might tempt me.”

GM: By this point they’ve left Flawless and are walking towards Rampart. It’s along the same route Celia takes to her mom’s house.

“Okay, I’m good at surviving, I guess. Did okay for years after I left home.”

Celia: “Good in a fight?”

“Surviving in the wilderness, or in cities?”

“Come on, Jake,” she says, nudging him lightly in the side with her arm, “don’t be shy.”

“Pretend it’s a job interview. Sell yourself.”

GM: The thin-blood flinches at Jade’s nudge.

“What’s in it for me if I do sell myself?”

“’Cuz I hated jobs and interviews.”

“More blood and cash?”

Celia: Jade is quiet for a moment, watching the buildings they pass by.

Whatever he is, he’s not going to replace what she’s missing. He’s no Roderick. No Reggie. No Reynaldo.

He’s not even a Randy.

“Yeah,” she finally says. “Blood and cash.”

GM: She can imagine Draco sneering at the idea she could replace him with some homeless duskborn.

Reggie would probably laugh.

Maybe Reynaldo would make a quip.

Who knows about Randy, though? Maybe look flummoxed.

“Okay, I’m good surviving in cities. I can beat someone up.”

Celia: Jade doesn’t imagine any of that. It’s her head. She’ll control her own thoughts.

She nods at the answer but doesn’t press further. They’ve reached Rampart, and Jade succumbs to the embrace of shadows once more.

“Which way?”

Then, after they start that way, she asks what else. Breaking and entering? Stealth? Finding people? How good at fighting is he really?

GM: “Yeah, I can follow people and find shit, and I can fuck someone up,” the thin-blood answers. “Dunno about B&E.”

Celia: “Any good at fucking?” she asks, lips quirked in amusement.

GM: Jake snorts.

“What, you want to hire me as a gigolo?”

Celia: “I don’t need to pay for sex, sweetheart.”

GM: “Yeah, sure, I’m good at fucking too.”

Celia: She laughs, slinging her arm through his.

“You’re amusing.”

“How far down is your friend?”

GM: Jake regards Jade’s arm warily for a moment, but doesn’t pull away as he answers,

“Not far. He’s got his drug lab in a house.”

Celia: “You’re afraid of me.”

GM: He glowers at her.

“Yeah, I’m a duskborn, if you missed it.”

Celia: Jade regards him for a moment, wondering what it would be like to be on the other end of it. To be a half blood like he is. Weak. No rights. Not belonging to one world or another.

“I have a friend,” she finally says, “from before I was turned. I recently found out this friend is now Duskborn.”

GM: She’s had some taste of that with Dani.

But it’ll always be one thing to witness and another to experience.

“Sucks to be them,” says Jake.

Celia: Her lips twitch.

“Yeah.”

GM: Rampart Street is everything Jade remembers, full of homeless, junkies, prostitutes, and other desperates, low-lives, and down-on-their-lucks. Their gazes slide off the Toreador, though Jake catches some looks and glances. Few look friendly. No one stops him, though, when he arrives at a sagging and dilapidated-looking house with grimy, paint-peeling walls and blacked-out windows. Garbage is piled out front. It’s one of the least homely homes Jade’s ever seen. Edith at least tried to make hers look hospitable.

Jake bangs loudly on the door.

“Yo, it’s me!”

GM: No one answers.

Jake bangs again.

OPEN UP, JACKASS!”

That finally elicits some muffled footsteps from the other side of the door.

Jade sees a shadow darken a peephole.

“Who the fuck is that?” comes a nasally male voice.

Celia: “He sees me,” she muses. Curious.

“A client,” she says to the eye staring at her through the door.

GM: “Do people call you a name other than ‘A Client,’ A Client?”

Celia: Amusement flashes across her face.

“Jade.”

GM: There’s a longer, thoughtful pause before Jade hears deadbolts unlocking.

That takes a while until the door swings open.

Celia: Jade waits patiently. She gets it.

GM: The door swings open. The man on the other side is white and pasty-faced, with a scraggly beard, thick glasses, and semi-messy shirt brown-blond hair. He’s got wide shoulders and a thick neck for his size, though he’s only a few inches taller than Jade, and has a portly belly. He’s dressed in a stained black wifebeater and stained, worn-looking jeans it looks like he doesn’t care if he ruins. He smells vaguely like rotten eggs. His face is flat and unsmiling as he closes the door behind them.

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The inside of the house looks little homelier than its exterior. It looks filthy and neglected. Like no one has lived here for years.

“You staying?” he asks Jake. “I’m only redoing all the bolts twice.”

Jake thinks. “Nah.”

He looks at Jade. “Half up front, half when you’re here, we agreed.”

Celia: “Thought you wanted a job.”

GM: “What’s the job?”

Celia: “Come by my place tomorrow,” she says, “we’ll discuss.”

Claws sprout from the tips of her fingers. She pulls aside her jacket and shirts, for a moment baring her chest to the two duskborn. Though to a layman it might look like she’s cutting herself open, the claws are just for show: her flesh parts at her mental command, letting her reach in to pull free the bag of folded bills.

She hands it over.

GM: Jake stares for a moment before tucking away the bills.

“…’kay,” he says.

“The spa?”

Celia: “Yes.”

GM: “’Kay,” he repeats. “Later.”

He moves to get door. The other thin-blood preempts him and opens it instead, with a flat look on his face. Jake looks at him too for a moment, then leaves.

The second thin-blood does up all of the deadbolts and then turns back to Jade.

“If you want to fuck me while you’re in here, bad idea. Really bad idea. I wouldn’t be meeting a nightborn I don’t know know, one on one, in my lab, without an ace up my sleeve.”

“So with that out of the way, what are you here for?”

Celia: “I suppose I appreciate the heads up. But I’m not here to fuck you.”

Not in either sense of the word.

“You’re an alchemist?”

GM: “Yeah.”

Celia: “Have a name, Alchemist? Or something I can call you by?”

GM: “Sean.”

Celia: “Sean.” She nods. “Jade,” she says again, looking around the place.

“A warlock told me that you might be able to assist with a project I’m working on. I came to verify. And perhaps come to terms.”

GM: The room they’re in looks like it’s been abandoned for years. Graffiti is sprayed all over the peeling walls. It smells like stale piss and mildew.

“Okay. Depends on the project.”

Celia: “I’d like to ask you some questions about your work. What it can do.”

GM: “Anything a full-blood can do.”

Celia: “Really.”

“How?”

GM: “Call it the innate potential of duskborn vitae. Same principle that lets us learn new tricks from whatever blood we drink. Just expanded and refined.”

Celia: “The twisting.” She nods. “What about other things? Things the blood can’t ordinarily do?”

GM: “Depends on the things, but alchemy can do plenty things the blood can’t do.”

Celia: “I want to thin the blood to tamper with its properties. Slowed aging rather than stopped. Make it not or less addictive to its drinkers.”

GM: “Diluting its beneficial properties should be possible. Making it less addictive is probably more trouble than it’s worth. Who’d want to do that?”

Celia: “Not less binding. Just less like a high. Less of a drug. The desire for it can cause emotional and cognitive impairment.”

GM: Sean shrugs. “You’d be the first nightborn I know who’s wanted to do that. I suppose it’s theoretically possible. There’d probably be side effects.”

Celia: “Do you deal with many nightborn?”

GM: The thin-blood’s lip faintly curls.

“More than would like to admit it.”

Celia: The desire for gossip runs deep.

“For what?” She glances around again, then finally perches on the edge of a couch.

GM: It’s a rotted, blackened, moth-eaten, and badly stained leftover of a couch that looks like it’ll dirty her clothes just sitting on it.

“Things they can’t get anywhere else.”

“Things they didn’t think were possible.”

“Things they knew they couldn’t ever do themselves.”

The nasally-voiced man smirks faintly.

Celia: She opts against perching, in that case.

GM: “You nightborn think we’re runts, but we’re the future. Homo sapiens are runts next to dinosaurs, and look who rules the planet now.”

Celia: Jade shakes her head.

“I have no quarrel with duskborn. I think the ability to twist is fascinating. Likewise, the alchemy.”

“And the… other things.”

GM: “Nightborn get weaker with every generation. Every iteration is worse than the one before it. We just get more flexible.”

Celia: “More flexible?”

“But don’t you eventually hit a stopping point?”

GM: “Why should we?”

Celia: “No, I mean… with generation. Isn’t the blood eventually so diluted that you just get humans again?”

GM: “If water’s poured from a high vantage point it doesn’t evaporate when it hits the ground. It just spreads horizontally.”

Celia: Jade stares.

“Tell me more.”

GM: Sean gives her an appraising look.

“What’s it worth to you?”

Celia: “Jake took cash and blood. Are you looking for that… or something more?”

GM: There’s a faintly contemptuous sneer at the other thin-blood’s name.

“More.”

Celia: “I can get you out of here,” Jade says. “Better digs. Better feeding.”

GM: The sneer deepens.

“I am out of here. I have territory on Canal.”

Celia: Amusement meets the sneer.

“Yes, I didn’t imagine you called this home.”

“A decoy. Convincing, with the locks, for someone who isn’t familiar.”

GM: Sean considers that.

“What sort of decoy?”

Celia: She’d meant his fake haven. But if he’s interested…

“You were worried enough about me trying to fuck you to mention it off rip. You have a fake place here with a dozen locks, which means you don’t feel safe. Turf on Canal is a nice step up. But more than that…” She looks him over, up and down.

“I want a partner. Someone to work with on various projects. I’ll give you a new face and identity. A mask, if you’d like, or something more permanent.”

GM: “I don’t need a new identity. This is a better place to cook than Canal, and I wouldn’t be stupid enough to sleep here even if it wasn’t.”

Celia: “Then what do you want.”

GM: “You said a decoy. I thought you meant a physical one.”

Celia: Laughter.

“I meant this decoy you have here. But if you’re looking for some sort of physical decoy, I imagine I can do that as well.”

GM: “Tell me more. What can you do?”

Celia: She could lie.

Or she could put Emily and her mother and maybe even Dani ahead of herself for once.

“I’m a night doctor.”

GM: Sean considers that.

“Okay. So you could make a dead body look like me?”

Celia: “Yes.”

“Are you trying to escape someone?”

GM: “No. Could just be useful down the line.”

Celia: She nods.

GM: “The decoy can pay for questions, or can be part of the payment for developing what’s essentially diluted vitae.”

Celia: Jade shakes her head.

“I’m looking for something long term. I want to know more. About you. About duskborn. About the alchemy.” Jade considers him, then finally goes for it. “Perhaps about your nightborn clients.”

“I am willing to provide more than just the decoy.”

GM: “Me, duskborn, alchemy, sure. My clients, forget it. Some would stop coming if they knew I was blabbing about it.”

Celia: “Even if you just tell me what they’re after and not who they are?” She flashes a winning smile.

GM: “Okay. For the right price, sure.”

He looks her over.

“No wonder you look this good if you can change faces.”

“I’ll give you a discount if we fuck.”

Celia: Jade laughs. “I was pretty before I was turned. But yes. I upped it.”

She prowls forward, stalking around him and surveying him up and down. He’s not her usual type. And she has her pick of every lick in the city, every breather with eyes.

But she’s curious.

So very, very curious.

She stops behind him, sliding a hand around his back and down his thigh. Her lips find his ear.

“Does the breather way still do it for you, or were you hoping to get a little messy?”

GM: Sean just stands there. She can hear his breath faintly hitch at her touch.

Perhaps he’s reconsidering the advisability of this idea.

But she is absolutely gorgeous.

“Yeah. I can still cum and get hard.”

Celia: “And have you, or do I get to pop your cherry?” She nips at his neck with the flats of her teeth.

GM: She hears the thin-blood’s elevated heart rate.

“I have. Yeah.”

Celia: “Tell me about it. Your first time. How you met. Where it happened.” One hand slides up his inner thigh. “What it felt like.”

GM: Sean reaches out with one hand and starts squeezing Jade’s right breast.

“As a breather?”

“She was an escort. We fucked in a hotel room.”

“It felt good. Using a condom made it worse, but a real pussy was still way better than a fleshlight.”

Celia: Her nipple pebbles beneath his touch.

“And as a duskborn?” Deft fingers snap open the button of his jeans. “Have you ever fucked a lick before?”

GM: His cock is hard and throbbing against his briefs. His other hand reaches out to squeeze her other breast too.

“A couple times,” he says. “For payment.”

“Fuck, though.”

“None even close to you.”

Celia: “Really,” Jade muses, “you’ve fucked other licks.” Her fingers close around the desperately throbbing cock. With fangs long in her mouth she leans in, grazing the tips against the side of his neck.

“Is that the truth, Sean? Other licks touched you like I’m doing now, slid down your pants, let you put it in them? Hm?” Her hand slowly slides up and then down his shaft.

GM: The physical response from Sean’s pulsing cock is nigh-immediate. The thin-blood is breathing harder.

“Yeah…” he gets out. He squeezes her breasts some more. At least he knows what to do with his hands, unlike Celia on her first time, but his movements still feel stiff and slow next to Jade’s expert seductions.

“Quarter rats… Caitiff… Flannagan, one time.”

Celia: “Pity,” Jade sighs, breath warm against his neck. “I wanted to be your first. You always remember your first.”

She trails a line of heat from neck to jaw to lips, free hand fisting in his hair when she brings her mouth to his.

“Fucking makes me hungry,” she murmurs against his lips, “and feeding makes me horny. Do you think anyone will miss one of those breathers outside, or can I show you a really, really—” her hand squeezes gently, thumb brushing against the head of his cock “—good time?”

GM: “I’ll remember you…” breathes Sean. He starts to kiss her back. The motions may be stiff, but they’re no less hungry for it. Jade very much doubts the alchemist gets to fuck any licks as gorgeous as her.

“Yeah… they’re nobodies, no one cares…”

Celia: They’re not the only thing that’s stiff. Her nipples strain against the double layer of shirts, aching to be touched again. She rubs against him, removing the hand from his cock to slide around his lower back, pulling him flush against her.

“Let’s go get one,” she whispers between kisses, “and share a drink, so that when I sink my teeth in I don’t rip your pretty little throat out.”

GM: His hands are moving up and down her sides, and doubtless they’d return to her breasts swiftly enough if they weren’t right against his chest. “Yeah,” he answers thickly as hands descend lower down to squeeze her ass, “let’s.”

Celia: Jade all but purrs at the touch. She pulls back just enough to let her hands between them, tucking him away and fastening the button again. She strokes him through his jeans, giggling, and turns to start unlocking the door. Maybe she doesn’t need to bend over quite so far to reach the lower locks, but she does.

It’s a nice view.

GM: It’s a very nice view, and elicits a sharp smack from the palm that connects with it.

Celia: She wiggles her hips invitingly, then finally gets the door open. Jade peers outside through the crack in the door to survey their options, reaching behind her to pull Sean flush against her back. She rubs against him.

GM: There are some homeless camped out nearby. None look, or smell, like anything close to an appetizing meal.

She feels Sean’s firm cock rubbing against her ass and his hands returning to her breasts.

Celia: There’s something sweet that pours out of her. Something innocent and friendly and all-too-wholesome as she catches the eye of one of the homeless men and waves him over.

GM: The old man looks up towards her from his sleeping bag.

“Not the ones right outside,” preempts Sean. “If they all see someone walk in and never walk out, they’ll talk.”

Celia: Jade huffs. “Come on then, let’s go stalk the streets.”

She moves her hands across her face as if she needs them to shift her features, and when she pulls them away she looks like a rather fit black woman in her early thirties. Pretty, but not drop dead gorgeous.

She tugs Sean out the door with her.

“Is your name really Sean?” she asks as they go.

She slings an arm through his.

GM: Sean closes and locks the door after them.

“It’s the name I use now.”

Celia: “What did you do before all this?”

GM: “I was a convicted felon working a dead end service industry job. Before that I was a medical researcher.”

Celia: She seems more interested in the medical research than the felony.

“What kind of medical research?”

GM: “Pharmaceuticals.”

Celia: “And that transitioned well into what you do now?”

GM: “Yes. Past the initial learning curve, it’s just more chemistry work.”

Celia: “How long have you been at it?”

GM: “Chemistry, since the early-mid 2000s. Alchemy, a few years.”

Celia: “And it’s different than the blood magic the warlocks do.” Not quite a question, but she looks to him to confirm. “Not magic?”

GM: “What is magic?”

“Just natural laws and processes there’s no other explanation for.”

Celia: “People used to think technology was magic,” Jade concedes. “Can you tell me more about it? How it works? Is it something you taught yourself with your chemistry background or did it kind of just… come to you?”

“The shifting,” she adds, as if to explain what she means, “that just came to me. After my Embrace. When I was kine I had to wear a lot of different faces. Pretend to be a lot of different things to different people. So I think that’s why it comes more naturally to me than others with whom I share blood.”

GM: “Closer to the former,” he answers. “It took time to learn and develop. It didn’t come just from drinking the right kind of blood.”

Celia: She nods, but waits for him to continue.

GM: “But it doesn’t go away, no matter what I drink or don’t drink.”

Celia: “What does it… do? You said you can mimic what nightborn can do. How does that work?”

GM: “It works through elixirs. I make them, drink them, snort them, inject them.”

Celia: “What do you need for them?”

GM: “Different things. Depends on the formula. But always blood.”

Celia: “Lick or kine?”

GM: “Why do you want to know all of this? Nightborn can’t learn what we can do.”

Celia: “That doesn’t mean I don’t want to know how it works. I’m not looking to steal your secrets. I’m looking to broaden my own knowledge to make an informed decision on whether or not the two of us can work together on various projects… or if this is just going to be one of those hit it and quit it situations.”

GM: “I have blood. I have money. I’d never say no to more, but I’m not desperate for them like other rats. What’s in it for me with these projects?”

Celia: “Partnership. Protection from the Guard. Expanded clientele if we can mesh our abilities. Sex. Information. Domain. Connections.” Jade glances sidelong at him. “There are many things I can do for you, but I’m not interested in tracking every single service we exchange to nickel and dime each other over whether that was one question or two.”

“If we can form a working relationship we will be able to go further than either of us would alone.”

“I don’t want an assistant or a lackey or an errand boy. I could take another ghoul if I did. I want someone who knows what they’re doing and brings something to the table. Who isn’t desperate for blood or cash or selling out to the highest bidder.”

GM: Sean considers all of that thoughtfully. He looks wary, still, but intrigued.

It doesn’t hurt that the ‘sex’ is right in front of him.

“We’ll see how this deal goes, then, as proof of concept for any future ones.”

Celia: “Let’s find our vessel, then.”


Wednesday night, 23 March 2016, AM

GM: Rampart Street’s homeless seem warier of the predators crowded into their midst than one might give them credit for. They stick together. They sleep in groups. Some of them even have guys keeping watch. They make themselves as inconvenient to target as possible—and they are wary and suspicious of passersby in the middle of the night.

Jade isn’t sure how the rats penned up in here get by. The feeding is bad, despite the initial seeming abundance of vessels. The area has been so overhunted that the prey are spooked. The better part of an hour has passed by the time Jade and Sean finally locate one of the thinnest, grayest, saddest, most disheveled-looking old bums she’s ever laid eyes on. He’s moaning softly into his sleeping bag.

“Finally,” mutters Sean. “N-”

=He’s cut off when no less than three attackers descend on him, knives and fists flashing. They look like street kids. One smells like a true-blood. They howl their wrath and scream bloody murder about poachers.

The old bum bolts awake and starts to flee like a spooked deer.

Celia: This is it. What she’s been looking for all night: the opportunity to beat the shit out of someone.

The old man flees—

Which means that these three get to face her wrath. She could shift. Right here. Let the Beast out. Let the claws out. Descend upon them in a maddened rage—

No. Someone had told her once that she needs to control herself in a fight. That she can’t risk breaking the Masquerade because she went apeshit.

Still, her Beast rises to the surface, lips pulling back over her teeth to bare her fangs and a snarl ripping from her throat. Her eyes flash in the darkness.

GM: The eyes of one attacker bulge as his face drains of color. He promptly turns and flees, cowed by the vampire’s wrath.

Seeing the obviously greater threat, the true-blood leaps at Jade, fangs flashing to sink into her neck. Her companion stabs at the Toreador’s flank.

Celia: One threat disposed of, Jade turns her attention to the lick and lackey stupid enough to come at her.

She doesn’t need a knife. Not when she has ten razor sharp blades that sprout from her fingers with nothing but a thought, body weaving to avoid the knife and claws shooting out to catch the leaping lick in the gut.

GM: Jade’s claws slash across her slower attacker’s belly, leaving angry red gashes. Cat-quick, five more rents open along her other attacker’s face and throat before the knife can land in her back.

The rats don’t stay and fight, in the face of serious opposition. They scramble off, bleeding and hurting into the night.

Celia: Oh no they don’t.

They’re not going to chase off her meal and get off scott free.

Jade sprints after them.

GM: The duskborn aren’t any match for their nightborn cousins, in either fight or flight. The true-blooded rat swiftly disappears into Rampart’s squalor, but Jade slams into the one whose heart still beats in her chest and tackles her to the ground. She looks like a teenager, dirty-faced and dressed in threadbare clothes.

“Let me go! Please!” she begs.

Celia: Jade twists her fingers through the girl’s hair, yanking her head back even as she presses a knee into her back.

“Where’s he headed,” she growls. “Tell me or I’ll rip your fucking throat out.”

GM: “Back, back towards Can, Canal,” the girl stammers.

Sean’s watching from a distance, having started to take off when the rats jumped them. There’s some blood staining a gash across his shirt, though the flesh underneath now looks hale.

Celia: Took off.

He took off.

She’s not even a fucking brawler, took on two of them after scaring off the third, and this motherfucker took off.

She shouldn’t be as angry as she is. But she’s used to real licks, not these half-blooded abortions that bail at the first sign of trouble.

Jade yanks the girl to her feet, still gripping her by the hair.

“Show me,” she snarls.

GM: Dani didn’t bail when Rocco was menacing them. Even when Jade told her to.

“Forget it,” Sean says flatly. “Decent odds that rat’s raised the alarm with others.”

Celia: Dani was mind fucked. That doesn’t even count. And they’re not friends anymore. She’d probably hand Jade over to Rocco for the asking now.

Jade looks back at him. Then to the girl.

“We’re going for a walk, sweetheart.”

GM: “Do what you want with them,” says Sean. “I’m going back to the lab.”

The girl just nods unsteadily.

Celia: A low growl rips from her throat. Jade lets go of the girl and tells her to get lost. She stalks back toward Sean, shoving her hands into the pockets of her jacket as she falls into step beside him.

Silently, she stews.

“Fuck this street,” she finally says.

GM: The girl bolts off as soon as Jade releases her.

“Yes, fuck it,” the thin-blood agrees.

“Hunting here is terrible. Too many predators and not enough prey.”

Celia: “Should have taken you to Bourbon. Wouldn’t have been a waste of time.”

She kicks aside a pile of rocks.

“Just wanted to get fucking laid without losing it,” she mutters.

GM: “You can just blow me.”

“Does that make you lose it?”

Celia: “If I were to sink my teeth in.” Jade gives him a look. “What do you think I needed it for?”

GM: “Keep the fangs in, then.”

Celia: “Better O when you do it both ways.”

“You ever…?”

GM: “Fed and fucked? Yeah.”

Celia: Of course he has.

Jade doesn’t say anything further, slinking into the shadows of the night as they head back to the lab. Slumming it on Rampart with thin-bloods.

How the mighty have fallen.

GM: As shitty as the house is, there is a bedroom. Who knows how much use it sees. The peeling, blackened and graffiti-scrawled walls look as neglected as the rest of the house. There’s a mattress on the floor with sheets over it, clean enough to actually use, though it looks like it’s been a while since the sheets were washed. The room still smells vaguely unpleasant—the same rotten eggs smell that clings to Sean’s clothes, which he takes off.

Celia: Jade might have seen worse, but nothing immediately comes to mind.

Before he takes his clothes off she’s at his throat again picking up where they’d been before she’d decided she wanted a pre-fuck snack. She keeps her fangs away but nips at his neck with flat teeth, fingers once more working at the buttons and zippers on his jeans. Her hand slides inside.

Maybe it’s not the prettiest location, but she isn’t going to half-ass it.

She lets him strip her out of her jacket and pull the shirts over her head. When he turns her around and kisses her neck she arches her back into the fingers pulling at her nipples. His movements might be stiff, but she makes up for it. She peels the leather down her legs and is left with nothing underneath but the smell of her arousal, and he finds her slick when she moves his hand between her legs.

“There,” she says, and when he finds the right spot she makes a noise that has him throbbing against her backside.

She doesn’t blow him. But she does take control, pushing him onto his back so she can straddle his hips, sinking down onto him with her head thrown back. She moves the right way. She makes the right noises. She’s warm and wet and tight and none of the other girls he’s been with can compare to what she does with him. It’s enough to drive their failed hunt from her mind.

GM: Jade has, at least, seen uglier than Sean. He might not smell the best, and be a little overweight and out of shape, but he’s no Nosferatu. He’s eager to remove her clothes once they get going, though, and Jade soon finds his cock firm against her hand. His own hands squeeze her breasts like he’s kneading dough. He gets right to business once all of their clothes are off, and moves to fill her legs until Jade pushes him back-first onto the bed. He seems happy to let the Toreador take him from cowgirl position, though, especially when it means he can keep his hands on her tits.

None of the girls he’s been with can surely compare. Jade can only imagine what sorts of girls he normally gets. Desperate rats, like the thin-blood she grabbed? Desperation isn’t sexy, even if they were anywhere close to as experienced or ravishingly gorgeous as she is, which they surely were not. Sean’s eyes are wide. She’s incredible. How the hell did she just fall into his lap like this? This goddess of love, knocking on his door from out of nowhere?

He moans throatily as Jade rides him, and it’s not overlong before his quivering cock shoots its load, filling her with his seed. Not very much leaks out from her, though, when she climbs off him. It doesn’t really leak out at all, actually. There’s more of it on his cock than she sees come back out of her pussy. The consistency is more watery than any cum she’s seen.

“Holy…” Sean breathes.

Celia: Do the other licks he fuck get wet like she does? Do they look like they enjoy it like she does? Or do the lie on their backs with vacant smiles while his cock pumps in and out of a cunt that’s just as dead as their eyes?

Jade smiles down at him when he’s done, then moves to one side and rests her head half on his chest and half on his shoulder and upper arm. She leaves evidence of her own release splashed across his cock and lower belly.

“Mm.”

Jade idly trails a hand down his chest.

“I get to pick the location next time.”

GM: “This place is a shithole,” he agrees, eyes still appreciatively roaming her naked form.

“The other nightborn don’t cum like you.”

Celia: “I imagine they don’t fuck like me either.”

“They’re missing out. Sex was the best part of being human.”

GM: “They don’t come even close to fucking like you.”

“And yeah. They are.”

“Feeding is great, but sex and food are terrible things to miss out on.”

Celia: Jade can think of something that compares, but she doesn’t share her thoughts with Sean. She only smiles, as if she misses the taste of food.

GM: Maybe Celia does. But Jade never ate anything after she was born.

Celia: The pads of her fingers continue up and down his chest, occasionally slipping lower across his rounded belly.

“You’re happy,” she says eventually, “with what you are?”

GM: “It’s a better deal than I had alive.”

Celia: “How old were you? When you were turned.”

GM: “34.”

Celia: “Married? Kids?”

GM: “No. Never wanted any.”

“Had a girlfriend, but she split fast after the felony conviction.”

Celia: “Can I ask what you did?”

GM: “I cooked meth.”

Celia: She had assumed as much.

GM: “Wasn’t even selling it. Purely for personal medicinal use.”

Celia: “So how’d they find you?”

GM: “Bad luck. Terrible luck. I was smart. I never bought meth, never sold meth, just made small amounts for my own use. Police searched my car on a routine traffic stop.”

“They didn’t even find any meth at first. Just some spilled powder they thought was ephedrine, even though it was not actually ephedrine or even a related chemical.”

Celia: Jade arches a brow at that.

“Why were they testing it?”

GM: “Because their stupid PharmaChek sweat patch drug test turned up a false positive. The powder was probably just from a spilled sugar packet. But because of the false positive, they searched all of my possessions.”

“And they found the actual meth.”

“My life was over after that.”

Celia: “That’s awful. I’m sorry that happened to you.”

GM: “It’s a farce. Drug laws. Methamphetamine is legally fucking available by prescription under the name Desoxyn, for treating narcolepsy and ADHD, but only one company is allowed to make it.”

“A prescription will cost a person with no insurance about $500 a month, not counting doctor’s visits.”

“The same amount of dextromethamphetamine can be purchased on the street for about $100.”

“Or manufactured by a medical researcher with a chemistry degree for about $10.”

Celia: “Is that why you started?”

GM: “Yes. I had, have, several mental disorders. I was in and out of the mental health system for years trying different combinations of medication. None worked. I kept fucking up my life.”

“So I finally turned to illegal drugs. I experimented, and discovered that indica-strain marijuana and low-dose methamphetamine let me eliminate virtually all of my symptoms.”

“I decided to keep making my own meth, because why the fuck would I want to get involved with drug dealers and pay ten times what it’d cost me anyway.”

“I went back to school. I got my master’s. I had a prestigious career.”

“I wasn’t ever going to sell the stuff. Too risky and didn’t need to. My job already paid well.”

Celia: “But just having it was enough to get you sent away, and once you’re in the system it’s almost impossible to climb your way back out.”

GM: “I was also transporting it across state lines. So my ‘crime’ fell under federal jurisdiction. I thought I could get away with it because I was making such a small amount, but nope. Five grams was enough.”

“I got fired from my job. Felony meant I’d never be hired again. Lawyer was able to get me only a month behind bars, because small amount and no distribution, but couldn’t plea deal away the felony.”

“The feds are pitiless.”

“I lost all my savings between court fees, legal bills, and the judge ordering I move far away from the site of my ‘meth lab’.”

“Girlfriend was already gone by then. I got a new job as a minimum-wage O’Tolley’s cashier.”

“And that was my life.”

Celia: “Until you became duskborn.”

GM: “Yeah.”

Celia: “Here?”

GM: “No. I came here because I heard it was a friendly city to duskborn.”

“That was half-right. The Quarter is.”

“If you’re not just another set of fangs taking up space.”

Celia: “So you’ve done work for Savoy or Preston. That’s how you ended up on Canal.”

GM: “I did work for some other licks. They talked to Preston. She upgraded me to Canal.”

Celia: “What kind of work?”

GM: “Alchemy, obviously. And I still cook meth.”

Celia: Jade rolls her eyes at him. “Obviously. I meant specifically.”

She pauses a moment, lifting her head to look at him, then lays her cheek against his chest once more.

“Can you still take it? Does it do anything for you?”

GM: “Meth? Yeah, it still does.”

“Makes me good money now, too, seeing as I’m no longer gainfully employed.”

Celia: “I have, like, a million questions,” Jade admits, “and I don’t know where to begin or what you’ll answer.”

GM: “Why? Nightborn can’t learn alchemy.”

“But whatever. For the sex, I’ll answer anything that isn’t a trade secret.”

Celia: “I’m not trying to learn alchemy,” she says again.

“I just want to know about it. How strong it can get. What it needs. What it can do that Kindred can’t. What it can’t do.”

“And you,” she adds after a moment.

GM: “Like I said. It can do anything nightborn can do, and a lot they can’t do. It’s all a question of having or taking the time to develop the right formulae.”

“It needs blood, always mine, often someone else’s, and other ingredients that vary by formula.”

Celia: Jade sighs at him. He isn’t telling her anything new.

“You’ve mentioned. I’m looking for specifics, Sean. I’m not trying to steal your secrets or learn your alchemy process; I just want to understand it, then discuss whether or not the things I’d like to do are viable.”

She sits up, drawing her knees to her chest. He hadn’t seemed much interested in the post-sex intimacy of cuddling, and she’s got too many other options to try to force herself where she isn’t wanted.

“I have a medical degree. I’m not going to say I’m the best night doc in the state, but there are things I can do, have done, would like to do, that other’s can’t. They lack the vision or the drive or the ambition, maybe even just the creativity. Any knob off the street can rearrange a face. It takes a deeper understanding to do what I do.”

“You’re smart enough to have been a medical researcher, smart enough to turn cooking meth into alchemy, smart enough to keep your mouth shut about your clients when I asked. That’s what I’m looking for.”

“You want to trade sex for information, sex for favors? Fine. I’m happy to do that. But from the way you spoke it sounded like you want more from your Requiem than you currently have.”

“Am I wrong?”

“Because I’ll tell you what, Sean. You’re not the only one. Yeah, looking from the outside, I’ve got it good for a greenfang. Domain on Bourbon. Savoy’s favor. Lots of friends. But you ask someone about me and you know what they’re going to say? Vapid slut. Stupid whore. Plays with makeup.”

“Makeup,” she says, “because I run a spa. That’s all they think I do. Make people pretty. The ‘intellectuals’ look at me and roll their eyes because they think I’m just a makeup artist; they don’t understand the the body itself is my medium. They don’t get that I can dissect a corpse in a fraction of an hour, pull apart bone and muscle and ligaments and turn it into armor, weapons, clothes. That even without the ability to sculpt bone I can harden collagen and cartilage and replace what’s damaged. They think because I’m small I can’t render them paralyzed with a single touch in a certain area that leaves them awake and present and able to feel everything with no control of their limbs, or that I can’t split apart their skull and dig through their brain matter and twist their limbic system until they’re puppets: a claw in their hippocampus and they’ll be unable to store new memories, a touch of the amygdala and their emotional attachment to old memories are twisted to what I want them to be, damage the neocortex and they’ll become naught but vegetables drooling all over themselves in a nursing home. Sever the connection between specific neurons and an entire memory can be wiped from their mind.”

“Yes. I can destroy. And I can also heal. I can tell you about the case I took where a man’s spine was so crooked he hadn’t been able to walk in years, and how I was able to identity the source of the issue and fix it. I can tell you about the woman who had her shoulder repaired twice by a kine doctor, and how he said that she couldn’t continue her career because he couldn’t put her back together a third time.”

“But I could. And I did. I repaired a meniscus and let a young man go back to playing sports when all his therapists said he’d never be on the field again. I repaired the damage done to a woman whose husband threw acid in her face because another man smiled at her. I grafted new skin onto a burn victim who’d been so badly injured I could see bone.”

“I touch a body and I listen with my hands, let my gut lead me to the proper areas, find the sources of pain and trauma and fear and help them let it go. Chronic pain? Gone. Inflammation? Gone. Femur rubbing against tibia because the cartilage has been worn to nothing? A kine doctor will tell that patient he needs a total knee replacement. They’ll break the knee apart and cement a new one in and it’ll take him months to recover, and every time it rains he’ll feel the ache of the screws in his knee, and he’ll always favor that leg because he’s terrified of damaging it and going through that pain again because the way they put in the replacement means they have to break it all over again to swap it out for a new one. I can fix it. Good as new, brief recovery, very little associated cost.”

“Those pills that cost the patients $500 a month? That emergency surgery that set the young couple back $30,000 that they didn’t have? The doctors that don’t listen to their patients and prescribe pills that don’t work and add extra dosages until the patient is so numb from all the chemicals and side effects that they dig their nails into their own skin just to fucking feel something again?”

“Fuck that. Fuck them. The drug laws are a farce. Medical insurance is bullshit. It ruined you: your career, your relationships, your name, all because you took your health into your own hands. I have eternity ahead of me; I’d like to actually do something with it.”

GM: Sean’s eyebrows shoot all the way up to his forehead.

Jade’s seen that same look on more than a few other faces. When the pretty Toreador, the pretty girl, they all thought was so vapid and shallow in her thoughts and interests suddenly starts spouting smart-sounding medical facts and shows she knows what she’s talking about.

“I guess you are more than just a pretty face,” says the duskborn.

He’s quiet for a few moments as he chews over Jade’s words, his impressed face growing increasingly thoughtful.

“No. You’re not wrong.”

“I’m comfortable. I sell the meth and make good money. I trade the alchemy for favors. I live along Canal. I have it better than most duskborn here. But it feels like a glass ceiling. I’m still boxed in to the Quarter, boxed in to this part of the Quarter, and using this shithole for my lab. Dealing with scumbags and losers. For the meth and the alchemy.”

“Even leaving the city would be just a change of scenery. Maybe smart for the duskborn who don’t have anything, and are starving along Rampart. But just more elbow room in the gilded cage for me.”

“My sire was nightborn. He approached me, when I was working at O’Tolley’s, and thinking about killing myself. He said the Tremere could use someone like me. He said I could master the secrets of the universe. Have a fresh start, belong to a society of like-minded, intelligent and educated people whose knowledge I could enrich, and who could enrich mine. Who didn’t give a shit about the felony. He said I could be respected again, appreciated, and be part of something greater. And live forever. I guess I was the perfect candidate in hindsight. My life was over, I had no other options. I’d have been completely loyal to the Tremere.”

Sean pauses again.

“Then I turned out duskborn, and suddenly that was all gone. All those promises. ‘Duskborn’ was just another felony conviction.”

“So yeah.” His voice isn’t without bitterness. “I do want more.”

Celia: It’s a look that part of her hates and part of her relishes, but she doesn’t let that cross her face now. No, she listens to his story, to the promise of a better life that he was offered by his sire, and though her face remains impassive her heart hardens.

“How,” she asks, “how could he not have known that you would turn duskborn? There’s a limit to how far a nightborn can be removed from the first lick before they are labeled thin-blood; he should have known. The chantry should have known.”

Anger shoots through her on his behalf. Someone was careless. Someone was stupid. Someone promised him the world and snatched it back when he came out wrong.

Or someone had set him up.

“I don’t care,” she says, “that you’re duskborn. I don’t care how far you’re removed from Caine, or that everyone else in this city would mock and deride me for being seen with you. If you want to study the secrets of the universe, we’ll study. If you want a fresh start, I’ll give it to you. And if you want to get off of Canal, I’ll take you somewhere else. Preston can shove it. The Tremere can shove it.”

Bitterness colors her own voice; perhaps she’s thinking of the way she’d asked to study and been denied, the derision in Bornemann’s face when he’d spoken to her, the echo of Lebeaux’s words when he said he was taking magic off the table.

She casts a glance around the room, then finally looks back to Sean.

“No more of this. No more slumming, no more scumbags, no more losers. We’ve got the world at our fingertips. So let’s take it.”


Wednesday night, 23 March 2016, AM

GM: The first thing Sean wants is simple. He wants a better lab space. Just any old apartment won’t do, or he would’ve gotten one by now: this is a literal meth lab he’s working from. The chemical odors are very noticeable, not to mention the activities therein very illegal. He wants a nice space where he won’t be noticed or disturbed.

In return for that, he’ll work on developing a less addictive strain of vitae. He’ll need periodic samples of Jade’s vitae. He expects the process to take anywhere from months to over a year. There will probably be negative side effects: “Nothing comes free in alchemy. Or in life, I guess.” The initial, earliest results will probably be disappointing.

Sean is not sure what other ingredients he will need, as he’s developing this formula from scratch. He’ll try different things and see what works. He thinks they should start with methadone and buprenorphine, which are used in the treatment of addictive disorders. Blood from the ghouls in question could also be of use, particularly if it has a phlegmatic resonance. Taken while they’re in lazy, apathetic, calm, or sentimental frames of mind. It could also help if Jade’s vitae carries a similar resonance (obtained, in her case, from feeding on phlegmatic-flavored vessels).

Celia: Lab space for what he’d have traded her anyway.

The thought bothers her, but perhaps not as much as it should. She has a lab where he won’t be disturbed, and so long as he keeps his nose out of her projects they should get along fine. The locks were recently changed; all she needs to do is sweep for bugs, and she’ll hire someone shortly to do so.

There’s another lab being built, she mentions, but it isn’t ready yet. Once it is they can both move their projects over into the space that will be better fortified and better equipped. She asks what he needs and fires off a text to Mel about the additions to the lab. She’s sure to make it discrete and not let on it’s for an alchemist or meth production.

Unless her grandsire is too angry with her to build it for her now.

A frown mars her pretty features.

If he’s coming into the deeper parts of the Quarter and is seen entering and leaving Flawless he’ll need a good disguise and a cover story. She has no interest in flaunting her association with alchemists; she’s not ashamed of him, but she doesn’t want people to know what she’s up to. He can be passed off as a new ghoul, medical assistant, or some sort of handyman if he likes. Regardless of what the story is, he’ll need a new face. A mask if he doesn’t want to get rid of the Sean identity in the meantime.

She’s not looking to dominate his time, but she does want to know what sort of work he does for other Kindred, whether or not he gives her the names of the Kindred in question. If he asks why she only shrugs and says that she doesn’t have a monopoly on ideas.

Eventually, she says, she’d like to file for another business license (under a different name) and manufacture various products. Medically based.

GM: “Where are the labs and how much space is there?” Sean asks. “This house is a shithole, but it has room. I need to move supplies and product in and out periodically. Cooking will more or less ruin all surfaces it takes place on. Every pound of meth creates several times as many pounds of toxic waste that need to be disposed of, and alchemy creates runoff product too.”

It’s immaterial to him what what story Jade comes up, but he’s keeping his face. He’ll take a mask.

“Disciplines in a bottle is a common request. Powers duskborn can use regardless of what blood they’ve just drank,” he answers. “What work do you do for other Kindred?”

Celia: Her current lab won’t work, then. She says she’ll find something else; it’ll be a little bit, but she’ll get on it.

“Depends on the Kindred. Body modifications for the most part. Alterations, fixing flaws, synthetic aging, removing unwanted body parts.” She cocks a brow, then smile. “Disciplines in a tattoo.”

“Does that work for nightborn? Disciplines in a bottle?”

GM: “No,” he says. “Just duskborn. Only their vitae has the potential.”

Celia: She ends up on his lap, still naked on the mattress in the grimy room, straddling him with her thighs parted and knees on either side.

It’s just comfortable. And she likes the way her tits keep distracting him.

“You said you can do things Kindred can’t. Is there a formula that can… change perspective on a memory? Or permanently alter someone’s emotional state?”

GM: It’s very comfortable.

For both of them.

He looks as if he likes being distracted by her tits, too.

“None that I know,” he admits, reaching out to squeeze them.

Celia: “Was probably a dumb idea anyway,” she sighs, leaning in to the touch. Her nipples stiffen into tiny little buds when he runs his thumb across them.

“What about lifting curses.”

GM: “Like?”

His thumbs run back and forth as he stares, then leans close to lick them.

Celia: “Some snake thing. Lick is stuck in torpor. Blood isn’t waking her.”

She runs her fingers through his hair when he leans in, letting out a soft sigh when his tongue touches her flesh.

GM: “There are formulae that can awaken torpid licks,” he says, pulling his mouth briefly away to answer. “I don’t know if it’d work on her or not, but it’s doable on other licks.”

Celia: Jade lifts his chin, trailing her fingers gently down his cheek. Her hips shift just slightly, rubbing against him. “Do you happen to have any handy?”

GM: “Maybe.” His hands return to her breasts, squeezing and kneading the firm yet bouncy flesh. “What would I get in return?”

Celia: “You mean a gorgeous lick on your lap isn’t enough?” She leans in to press her lips against his.

GM: “It’s a great star-”

He cuts off as their lips meet, his tongue hungrily exploring her mouth.

Celia: Great starts lead to great finishes.

Jade makes sure he enjoys the ride.

She kisses him slowly, intimately, taking her time to tease and coax him with her tongue rather than rush through things. They’ve already had each other, already engaged in the frantic, panting union. Now it’s time to explore. To take his hands in hers and move them down her body, caressing the smooth, soft skin of her chest, belly, thighs. They part for him and he finds her dripping, eager for a finger, then a second, and her hips shift against his hand as he moves them inside of her, returning her own hands to his shoulders. Her nails dig into him when he finds the right spot, lips parting in an eager gasp that begs for something bigger. She trails kisses across his mouth, down the line of his jaw, his neck, all the while rocking gently against the hand inside of her.

She doesn’t even need to touch him to make him hard again; his cock throbs against her.

GM: Jade always makes sure someone enjoys the ride.

There is so much of her for his hands to explore, and all of her body is so soft and supple. And wet. Between kisses, he retracts his hand to taste her juices, then sticks his fingers in her mouth so that she might taste herself in turn. He gives her that something bigger she craves, too, letting her sit atop his lap and wrap her thighs around his torso as his manhood fills her. He sucks and kisses her breasts until she brings him to another climax, his wet and non-ropy seed filling her.

“God damn,” he pants, face pressed against his breasts.

Celia: There isn’t better sex to be had in the city. She’s made sure of it.

Jade rests her cheek against the top of his head, listening to the flutter of his heart beating in his chest. His shoulders rise and fall with every breath that he takes; her body moves gently to accommodate the motion.

She’s quiet. And then she’s kissing him again, lost in a memory of soft lips and gentle touches, until finally she pulls her lips away, shifts on his lap, and curls between his legs with her cheek on his chest.

GM: His heart beats slower than breather lovers she’s had. But still it beats.

Faster, too, for her diligent attentions.

Someone would have to be dead, fully dead, for their heart not to pound after a tumble with Jade Kalani.

“…gonna need a less shitty place for this, too,” says Sean.

Celia: “Mm,” she agrees, “somewhere with a real bed. And a couch. And a countertop… or desk… or table.” It’s clear she’d like to utilize all of those surfaces to fuck. “Maybe even a bath.”

GM: “Bath in a meth house wouldn’t be much of a bath. It contaminates pretty much the whole property.”

Celia: “Suppose we’ll need our own fuckpad, then.”

GM: “Definitely not saying no to that. This was mind-blowing.”

Celia: Jade stretches her arms above her head, smirking contentedly.

“And you thought I came to fuck you the other way.”

GM: “I mean, I’ve traded alchemy for sex before. It’s been… okay.”

“The nightborn are the worst at it. I had to tell one lick to make herself warm and wet, because this was literally fucking a corpse if she didn’t, and we got into an argument about how much blood it took.”

“I tried just asking for blowjobs, after that, but sticking your cock in another moisture-free room temperature cavity is about as much fun as it sounds.”

Celia: Jade laughs at the description.

“We’re corpses, dear. Dead as all the rest of them. Could always lube them up and shove it in if you really want to, but it doesn’t feel good to any of them.”

“So mostly they don’t bother.”

“Waste of vitae and all that.”

GM: “Lube doesn’t fix the fact they’re still room temperature.”

Celia: “Shove some of those hand-warmers up there.”

“Or fuck their ghouls instead of them.”

GM: “Even sex toys can warm up with use, but something as large as a human body that’s at room temperature is staying at room temperature.”

“I tried that a few times. Ghouls.”

“They were even less into it. Pulses or no.”

Celia: “How fortunate you found me, then.”

GM: “Yeah.” He pauses. “Bring me some of the torped lick’s blood. And another hit, to make up for costs accrued.”

Celia: “I’ll get that over to you. Possibly tomorrow, tonight if I get lucky. There a number I can reach you at, or should I just show up and knock?”

GM: “Yeah,” he repeats. He gives her a number.

Celia: Jade gets up long enough to search through the pile of clothing for her phone, then settles back on the sex-infused mattress. She taps off a text to Josua.

You free if I stop by a sec? Need to grab something from sleeping beauty.

She saves the number Sean gives her.

GM: What you don’t want to grab something from me? ;)

Celia: That’s the plan, darling.

“I have a haven,” she says after a moment, “off of Canal.”

GM: I like this plan. Marie’s under lock and key tho. Need to ask Daddy M to see her

“Works.”

Celia: Can you let him know I’m swinging by?

Jade looks up at him.

“That’s not quite the response I expected.”

GM: Yeah he’s not in right now tho

“I mean a haven’s a haven.”

Celia: “Mhm, most licks are just like, ‘wait what that’s secret are you going to kill me what do you mean you’re inviting me over’?”

Can his kid let me in? Wanted to get this taken care of for him.

GM: “I mean, guessing you have more than one, so whatever if one’s not secret.”

Uh idk lemme check

Celia: I’ll owe you/him/whoever one if I can get it tonight. ♡

She laughs at the words.

“None of them are secret. Regents always know who is where.”

A pause, and the laughter fades from her eyes.

“But it was. Until my ex and I split. Now it’s… whatever.”

It’s not like Draco will ever come by for anything now that Celia and Roderick are split. And she’s moving soon anyway; all she has to do is let her sire know there’s a new location for him to meet her.

Somewhere that doesn’t have so many memories attached to it.

“Gonna head out. Catch you later, Sean.”

She has more to do this evening than dwelling over what was or might have been.


Wednesday night, 23 March 2016, AM

Celia: The nice thing about Sean’s place on Rampart is that it’s filthy. Which is terrible in most situations, but in this situation it means there’s a handful of old, ugly rags that Jade can and does use to toss over herself on her way out the door, features shifting and back stooping to look like another dirty homeless person.

She changes her gait, shuffling along the street toward Canal, and dampens the Beast inside of her. Then, setting the trap, Jade starts to leak blood the same way a menstruating woman does. Not a lot, and not obviously, but to any predator in the area she’ll be blazing a neon sign: free food.

She hasn’t forgotten the rats that chased away her meal.

GM: The homeless woman shuffles down Rampart for some time, but eventually, she runs into someone. Blood in the water attracts sharks.

Or at least, would-be sharks.

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Like reading a 48-foot billboard, one glance is enough: this woman belongs on Rampart Street. She’s pushing fifty—or maybe it’s pushing her. Her wrinkles are there if you look for them, but more distracting is her gaudy makeup (obviously a Pangloss knockoff to an esthetician’s discerning sight) that runs the gamut of electric blue eyeshadow, hotdog-hued foundation, and prepubescent pink lipstick. Her jewelry is similarly garish: plastic-looking rings likely bought from a capsule vending machine, mismatched earrings (one’s shaped like the Eiffel Tower), beaded bracelets probably salvaged from broken Carnival throws, and a necklace that might be a two grand Bvlgari choker or just a large washer strung with a dog-tag chain (it’s probably the latter). Competing with these eye-magnets (if not eye-sores) is ‘hair’ that looks like a discount rack wig trimmed down into an inverted bob. She wears a v-neck spaghetti strap top with cut-off shorts that parade her body. Her sun-bronzed skin and overall figure might belong to a Loyola senior returning from spring break, save for her legs’ varicose veins and worn-looking hands—with surprisingly unpainted nails that look freshly clipped. Her tattoos are far less surprising. One is a snake on her right bicep, and others are tattooed cocktail drinks running down her left leg. More letters are inked between her sandaled toes like maker’s marks: JT, JB, MD, and JC. The first pair of letters are crossed out, while the last are encircled by a tattooed heart.

Notwithstanding such low class accents, it would be inaccurate to call the woman unattractive, especially in poor lighting and when inebriated. Given that such conditions are ample in the French Quarter, Jade supposes she’s passable enough.

She stares at the leaking blood and licks her lips.

Then, without pretense of shame or dignity, she stoops to her knees, runs a finger along the dirty street and the blood freshly staining it, and sticks the finger in her mouth.

Her eyes close. Revulsion wars with want on her face. Then she looks up and rises to her feet.

“Hey, for s’more, you can feed on me…”

Celia: Beneath the dirty rags, Jade watches the woman kneel to taste the blood. Too late she realizes she should have masked that as well.

Then again, she hadn’t truly expected someone to lick it from the street.

She keeps up the bent-back appearance and speaks in the raspy voice of a long-time smoker.

“Din’t look like yeh liked the vintage.”

GM: Rampart Street apparently lives to defy her expectations of the extent to which its residents will prostitute their dignity.

“Oh, no, no, it’s great, real great… best I tasted in a while, and torrie, too. Best kind.” The woman licks her lips again in obvious want. “Just… I don’t normally lick it off the ground…”

“You wanna feed on me?” she repeats. “You can do that, if I can have some…”

Celia: Jade’s hunger gnaws at her.

“M’ridin’ the edge is all.” It’s not a no. The borrowed face displays its own want for the blood coursing through this woman; not her normal fare, and not the rats she’d been after, but food is food.

GM: Desperation wars with caution in the woman’s bag-lined eyes.

“Well… how bad you ridin’?”

Celia: “Ain’t bad ’nuff to spring at yeh here. But close. Trade ya, three fer one.” She holds up three fingers on her right hand, just as gnarled and bent as her back.

GM: The woman’s face falls.

“That’s a horrible deal.”

Then she says:

“Fuck it.”

She bares her neck.

Celia: It is a horrible deal. But Jade had expected a counter offer of two to one; it’s the woman’s own fault that she hadn’t tried to haggle.

She’s glad she found Sean. She hates the idea of her mother ending up like this wretch.

Jade shuffles forward, casting a glance down the street to make sure the pair are alone.

GM: Surely this won’t ever happen to her mother.

Surely.

There are some homeless sleeping nearby. In a group, making predation that much more inconvenient. There’s a man in a hoodie walking along by himself, hands stuffed in his pockets and not making eye contract. Otherwise, the street looks largely dead at this late hour.

Celia: There are other things for the man and homeless people to look at. Jade makes sure of it.

Fangs long in her mouth, she closes the distance between herself and the woman and sinks in.

GM: The blood reminds Jade of her mother.

Oh, none of the ambrosia-like love for her is there, that radiant and warming quality that made the woman’s blood incomparable to anyone else’s—save Emily’s. (And how sweet would little Lucy’s taste?) The firmness and heartiness of Jade’s most recent draught, that taste of steel spine, is also gone. No, this woman tastes desperate. She tastes dirty. She tastes as cheap as she looks. She tastes like knockoff makeup, faded tattoos, varicose veins, cheap wigs, cheaper sex, shot-up and snorted illicit substance, all so many dull diversions turned addictions to numb the pain beneath. To forget what’s beneath.

Because Jade does taste what’s beneath. She tastes like flowers and gardens around picturesque Garden District homes. She tastes like floral prints and pastels, perfume and sunlight, and wind chimes on gentle spring days. It tastes dainty and pretty and feminine.

Buried beneath so much cheap swill.

Surely this won’t ever happen to her mother.

Surely.

Celia: Maybe it’s the reminder of her mother that keeps her Beast in check. Maybe it’s the rather public locale, or the man minding his own business across the street, or the undoubtedly curious homeless people that would raise the alarm should Jade slip up.

Maybe it’s the desperation of the woman herself, the overwhelming need for a hit that has her bartering at a three to one ratio; maybe that’s enough to know it’s a superior being.

Regardless of why, regardless of her worry, the Beast stays dormant as Jade eagerly laps at the blood flowing from the woman’s neck. The cheap taste almost makes her recoil… but it’s warm, hot even, and as it fills her belly and the dirt and grime wipes away she’s ensnared by what once was, what might have been.

This woman had been loved once. This woman had a family, a job, friends, a social life; she’d been pretty and delicate and happy, and Jade drinks deeply enough to taste the memories lost to time.

Like all vessels, the woman’s strength wanes the more Jade drinks, but the Toreador’s firm grip doesn’t let her fall. She leans the pair of them against the side of a building to keep her upright, taking her time with the vessel to prolong the ecstasy of the kiss and avoid unnecessary damage.

GM: Jade’s choice proves prudent. The woman grows weak in the knees. The side of the building looks like one Jade would want to wash her hands after touching, but the woman doesn’t care. She moans like a whore in heat as Jade’s fangs withdraw.

“My… turn…”

Celia: Licking the wounds closed tastes almost as bad as licking blood from the pavement, but Jade finishes the job. Then she lifts her hand to her mouth to sink her teeth into her wrist and silently offers it.

GM: The woman drinks deeply. Rapturously. Desperately.

That reminds Jade of her mother, too. During their first proper meeting, after she’d been beaten and humiliated and was at her absolute lowest, with nothing left but feeding her addiction.

This woman looks like she’s been at ‘absolute lowest’ for a while.

Celia: Jade keeps her face blank, thoughts spinning through her head.

This is Rampart. This is what it’s like out here: desperate Quarter rats and duskborn and independent ghouls chasing their next high. The dregs of society. People so desperate for the blood or vitae that they whore themselves out, take unfavorable deals, and otherwise debase themselves to score.

This is what unlife could have been like for her. This is what it still could be if she ruins what she has with sire or grandsire. Maybe she won’t be penniless, maybe she’ll never live in the streets, but her domain on Bourbon, her family, her business—it’s royalty compared to this.

She understands Sean’s bitterness now. How everything was ripped away from him, how he was forced to make it on his own for an accident of Embrace.

How easily this could have been Dani’s fate.

Silently, the Toreador lets the breather drink the promised hit, withdrawing her wrist once she’s taken what was offered.

“Independ’nt?” she asks in that same raspy voice. “Or you one-a them duskies?”

GM: “Yeah, indep,” says the woman. Her glassy eyes don’t once meet Jade’s, instead lingering on the Toreador’s wrist.

“Listen. Can I have s’more, please. You drank deep, that’s still plenty fair, if I get less…”

Celia: “How long,” she says, not immediately answering the question. “How long y’like this?”

GM: “Indep?” asks the woman. “Katrina.”

“Lost my domitor.”

Celia: “Whose were yeh?”

GM: “A Malk’s. Nobody important’s, but I been on the Blood since ’56.”

Celia: Jade considers. “Y’want a new one? Domitor. Regular blood.”

GM: The woman looks as if she was about to resume begging when she raptly.

“More blood? Yeah. Yeah. Please.”

“I’m useful, you’re torrie, I’m a potter.”

“Artist.”

Celia: “Artist,” she repeats. “Got a name, potter?”

GM: “Cheryl,” says the ghoul.

Celia: “Potter like clay. Sculptin’?”

GM: “Clay,” she nods. “Pottery more than sculpting, though I could probably do that too. Also embroidery, glassware, block printing, watercolors, pastels, sketching. But I’m best at pottery.”

Celia: “C’mon,” Jade says, holding out a hand to help the woman back to her feet, “walk with me. Tell me. ‘Bout you. The city. Stuff you’ve seen ’round here.”

GM: The pale-faced woman takes some time to right herself. She shuffles slowly after Jade.

“Like what? Not much to see on Rampart.”

“Well, not much people enjoy seein’, anyway.”

Celia: “City, then. Your old dom.” She keeps her pace slow.

GM: “Oh. I didn’t see much of the city. My dom kept me locked up.”

Celia: “Huh. Why.”

GM: “To make art. She… didn’t like a lot of it. Smashed it. Hurt me. I was good, she’d give me hits, but that wasn’t often.”

Celia: “Some people create art from pain. Some of ’em need sunshine and happiness.”

GM: “That second, that’s me,” Cheryl nods. “She wouldn’t let me eat, bathe, or use a toilet, when she wasn’t happy. I couldn’t work like that.”

Celia: Jade shakes her head. She makes a disgusted noise.

GM: “But had to work, only got food and blood if I did.”

Celia: “Keeps ‘em desperate, you do it like that. Only thing you’re thinkin’ is the next hit.”

“You on drugs? Other shit?”

GM: “Yeah,” she admits. “Not late enough you’ll feel it. I can stop, if it’s a problem.”

Celia: “You c’n taste the blood. What else you do?”

GM: “I can work fast. More or less had to.”

Celia: “Any other mind readin’ shit?”

GM: “Ah, no, but I can see in the dark.”

“More or less had to learn that one, too.”

Celia: “Huh. Like shiftin’? Red eyes n’ shit?”

GM: She shakes her head. “No, my eyes’re normal.”

Celia: “Hmph. Aight. Tell you wha’, Cheryl. We gon’ do a trial thing. Gon’ get you cleaned up, place to sleep, some hot food. Gon’ see wha’ ye can do, art n’ otherwise. Goes good, got a new life for ya. None’a the shit she put you through, tell y’that.”

GM: Cheryl nods. “I, I’ll need to go back to my old place, for some things. But that sounds great. Better than great. Thank you. Thank you. I’ll be useful, you’ll see.”

“What’s your name?”

Celia: “Le’s get ‘em now. Gon’ put you up t’night.”

GM: “Put up where? You along Rampart too, I’m guessin’?”

Celia: There’s a moment of hesitation over the name. She could lie. Should lie. Take another fake name, just in case things don’t work out.

“Nah,” she says to the question about Rampart, “Bourbon.” She lifts her hands to the rags covering her face, fingers blurring against her skin—as if she needs to. When she removes them it’s not Jade’s face that looks out at the woman, but a familiar face all the same. Younger, beautiful, none of the age she’d pretended to wear. She smiles with straight, even teeth, and unbends her back.

“You can call me Dicentra.” The voice no longer belongs to a years-long smoker.

GM: “Bourbon,” Cheryl whispers, eyes wide. “You’re shittin’ me.”

That seems to hit her before the face-changing does.

Celia: “New life,” Dicentra says again. Perhaps there’s more weight to the words this time. More understanding now that Cheryl knows who she’s speaking to.

GM: “I… forget my things, they’re crap,” says Cheryl, clearing her throat. “I’ll be useful, you’ll see. Promise.”

Celia: “You sure?” Dicentra asks her, perfectly arched brow lifting slightly. “They’re yours. If you want them, we’ll get them.”

GM: “Nah. Nah. They’re crap,” Cheryl repeats. “Where are we going?”

“In Bourbon, I mean.”

Celia: “Hotel. I’ll pay for the week, give you some cash for clothes, meals, toiletries. You spend some time recovering from years of this, and I’ll visit.” There’s no trace of the gruff accent she’d adopted for the ruse. “We’ll see how things go. If the arrangement works…”

She trails off, finally looking to the woman with a fanged smile.

“You familiar with the name? Dicentra?”

GM: Cheryl thinks.

“Ah… night doc?”

Celia: “That’s the one.”

GM: “I… I look a mess, no Bourbon hotel’d let me in…”

Celia: Dicentra shrugs out of the rags she was wearing.

“They won’t even look your way.”

GM: “If you say so, ma’am. Should I call you that, or somethin’ else?”

Celia: “That’ll do for now.”

GM: “All right, ma’am,” nods Cheryl. “Thank you, thank you again. I’ll be useful, you’ll see.”

Celia: They certainly will.


Wednesday night, 23 March 2016, AM

Celia: The Bourbon Orleans Hotel isn’t on Bourbon itself, but it’s a stones throw away on Orleans Street between Bourbon and Royal. Opened in 1819, it has centuries of history behind it, first as a ballroom and later as a convent and orphanage; the hotel itself opened in 1964. Apparently it’s haunted by memories of its rich past.

Dicentra has been here a number of times over the years; she’s entertained more than a handful of guests in the Governor’s Suite when her own haven was out of the question as both Jade and Celia (along with some other faces), and every time she’s come in she’s had a pleasant experience.

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She books a balcony suite for Cheryl and pays for the week. The night clerk, a familiar face, is more than happy to put the reservation as “unlisted” when she asks; anyone who calls or visits looking for her will be turned away. Hotels across the country have used this for years when people, especially women, are on the run from abusers or stalkers. Celia does it herself when she needs to travel since her face is well-known; she loves her fans, but she doesn’t need any fanatics trying to break into her room in the middle of the night or day.

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Dicentra asks the clerk to send someone up with the usual toiletries: shampoo, conditioner, body wash, toothbrush, toothpaste, and a bathrobe. Like she’d told Cheryl, the clerk doesn’t even look her way. Dicentra oozes allure that these breathers can’t get enough of. They don’t notice the disheveled, out-of-sorts woman slightly behind her.

Once they’re alone in the room, Dicentra takes a seat at the desk and reaches for the provided hotel stationary and pen. She starts writing as she speaks to the ghoul.

“Tonight, tomorrow, and tomorrow night I want you to focus on recovering. It sounds like you’ve been on the streets for a long time; we’re not going to get you up to anything strenuous. There are two restaurants downstairs. Breakfast is complimentary. You can charge your meals to the room for lunch and dinner. I’ll have a few clothing items delivered to you tomorrow morning.”

She pulls a sleekly folded handful of bills from her jacket pocket and sets it on the desk.

“This is for anything else you need in the meantime. The list I’m writing here is what I want to know about you and about what you know. Skills and talents, connections—Kindred and kine—what you did prior to your ghouling, what you’d like to do, what you know about Kindred society in general and specifically as it relates to our city. Your health, mental health, any medications you are currently on, including anything illegal. Don’t lie about this; I don’t care what you take, I only need to know if you’ll need chemical or medical support to go through the withdrawal process.”

Dicentra finishes scribbling, finally looking back up at Cheryl.

“I’ll be back in two evenings to discuss further. My phone number is below if you need to get ahold of me in the meantime. The hotel is outside of my domain; don’t cause trouble.”

“If you’re serious about getting off the streets and serving a new domitor, we’ll assess then. If not, feel free to leave. I have no interest in a ghoul who spits in the face of kindness.”

“Do you have any questions?”

GM: Cheryl stays quiet and out of the way when Dicentra checks her in. The hotel lobby is largely empty at this late hour, but for the few graveyard shift staff.

“Wow, this really is living the Top Shelf life…” Cheryl murmurs. She’s quiet and subdued even after the staff are gone, and quick to sit down on the bed. The pale-faced, newly anemic woman’s eyes are already drooping, but they blink back to wakefulness when Dicentra addresses her.

“Okay. Skills, things I know, things I’m on… oh, right, you said you were making a list.”

She blinks again and nods slowly.

“I won’t cause trouble. I’ll just stay in here. You’re serious about just… leaving?”

She glances around the room.

“Not that I’d want to… been a… lifetime, since I slept anywhere this nice.”

Celia: “Yes,” Dicentra says simply. “I’d rather find out now that it won’t work out than after you learn things about me you can trade for other hits.”

GM: “All right,” nods Cheryl. “Ah… if you want to order some art supplies too, ma’am, I can show you I’m still good.”

Celia: “Write down what you need. I’ll have it delivered tomorrow.”

GM: Cheryl does so. There’s a pottery wheel, raw materials—“kilns are pretty bulky, don’t really work in this room”—and sketch pads, pencils, and some other basic-sounding supplies.

GM: “I think that’s it, ma’am,” she says when she’s done. “Thank you again. Thank you, so much. I’ll be useful, you’ll see.”

Celia: Dicentra smiles briefly.

“I hope so. Rest up. I’ll see you in a few nights.”


Wednesday night, 23 March 2016, AM

GM: It’s a short enough Ryde from the Bourbon Orleans Hotel to the Alystra in the CBD. Celia, Dicentra, Jade, or whoever is currently in the driver’s seat (of the body) still has time to fire off some texts along the way.

Celia: Jade lets Josua know she’s on her way.

Then she fires off a text to Diana: Made a new friend tonight. Think he can help w/ Em’s stuff.

GM: Wait I’m not there right now, Josua texts back.

Celia: Oh fuck. How long?

GM: I was gonna come back an hour-ish before sunup

Casino pretty boring at this hour on a weeknight

Celia: Wouldn’t have been if I were there. ;)

You hear from Daddy M?

GM: Haha true

No I think he must be in the middle of something. Or ignoring me. :( Look I don’t think this is happening tonight, try tomorrow?

Celia: Yeah np. Catch you later.

“Change of plans,” Jade tells the Ryde driver. She rattles off the address for Joel’s hotel.

GM: I’ll let Daddy M when I see him before sunup

Celia: ❤️ thx boo

GM: Josua sends back:

🍆 🍑 💦 😍

Celia: Hot.

GM: The driver nods and adjusts his route.

“Kind of a shitty neighborhood,” he remarks.

Celia: “Mm,” Jade agrees, “if I pay you extra can you stick around in case my friend isn’t in?”

GM: “Yeah, sure,” he says.

Jade’s mother seems to be up very late, or perhaps her phone’s woken her up. But she’s already texted back:

Oh that’s wonderful! :) Remind me which stuff? Been a lot lately!

Celia: “You’re a gem,” she says to the driver.

The same stuff w/ you that Pete told us to try that he said was impossible.

GM: Oh my, that was fast. That’s double wonderful! I KNEW you’d do it! :)

Celia: Gonna take some time to make is all. Also need some samples. Can start w/ you and then her since, uh, everything tonight and all.

GM: That seems wise. Maybe if she takes one on her own, too. How much?

Celia: Prob just a little, will double check when I see him again though. Might be a few over a long period. Making it from scratch.

GM: Also, am I texting Celia or Jade right now?

Celia: Also have kind of a crazy idea.

Jade

GM: Hi Jade! :) I love you!

Celia: :) I like hearing (reading?) that. Love you too, Mom.

GM: I like saying (typing) that too! What’s the crazy idea?

Celia: Like Dani

GM: The idea’s with Dani?

Celia: No, she’d be like Dani. Can explain tomorrow, will stop by. Thought maybe it might be a good middle point but there are some drawbacks so idk, something to talk about for sure.

GM: Oh! You mean… oh my goodness, sweetie, Dani’s talked so much about how hard she has it and how lonely she is, I don’t think I’d wish that on Emily

Celia: Ah. Yeah maybe was a bad idea. Want her to see what it’s like before she decides if it’s what she wants is all. I’ll figure something out.

GM: No such thing as a bad idea, sweetie, just bad ones to act on. More options is always good, even if I think Emily would be happiest staying the way she is. I want her to marry Robby and have his kids!

Celia: Yeah you’re prob right.

Hey don’t tell Dani about Emi, I don’t want that getting out.

GM: Okay. I think Dani would really like having another person she could confine in, but if you don’t think it’s safe, Emi’s safety comes first

Celia: Just b/c of her brother.

GM: Also don’t forget you and Celia are going to be her kids’ best-ever aunt :)

Celia: Speaking of. C wanted me to tell you she saw him tonight with his new gf. :/

GM: Oh no, that must have been rough. :( How are you both holding up?

Celia: I’m okay. She’s… not.

Wanted to marry him.

So.

GM: I know she did. I wanted that too. :( I’m so sorry, sweetie. I can only imagine how she must be feeling right now. Stephen was her everything. Would both of you like to come over for a girl’s night in? Can’t share any ice cream, but we could watch movies in our PJs and cuddle

Celia: I think we’d like that. When?

GM: Anytime! I’ll make it work, I don’t want Celia to not be okay

Celia: I’ll let her know. Thank you.

GM: You’re welcome! And I’d love to do that with you, too!

Celia: Jade closes the messages to Diana momentarily, tapping off a text to Alana with instructions to deliver the needed supplies to the hotel where Cheryl is staying (she doesn’t mention Cheryl herself). She tells her to include some basic clothing and gives a size estimate for those and a bra. Rather than guess on shoe size she says some slippers or flip-flops are fine.

Also took 1k out of the safe jsyk.

She doesn’t expect a response this late.

GM: True to her expectations, the likely asleep ghoul doesn’t immediately get back to her.

Perhaps Abi is also what’s keeping her mom up.

Celia: Maybe Cheryl has experience raising kids and can take some of the pressure off Diana.

Jade navigates back to Diana’s text.

Looking forward to it.

GM: Me too! Are you and Celia into the same movies?

Celia: I’m more into thriller and action than she is.

GM: You know, that seems very fitting! I’ll look up some titles :)

Celia: Strong female leads are badass

GM: Strong female lead, got it! That seems very fitting too.

Celia: :) I’m a stereotype

You tell Goose she’s getting a dog yet?

Jade glances out the window to check her surroundings.

“How long’ve you been driving for Ryde?” she asks the man in front.

GM: Haha, I am too. :)

Diana, like Celia, loves romances (but wholesome ones). And musicals. She also likes a lot of older black and white movies.

Not yet! I think in a few weeks would be good, after Abi’s had time to settle in. And things have had time to calm down in general.

“Too long,” mutters the driver.

Celia: Ah yeah makes sense.

Jade offers a sympathetic smile. “Side hustle or main gig?”

GM: “Main gig,” says the guy. “Shitty but it’s a living.”

Celia: “What do you want to do?”

“Or what would you rather do?”

GM: “Get paid to fuck bitches and snort coke.”

Celia: She laughs. “I can’t help with the second, but if you stick around for me while I run this errand I wouldn’t mind a tumble.”

GM: The man raises his eyebrows.

“You serious?”

He’s not an ugly man. He’s thoroughly average, and she’s way out of his league.

Celia: “Like you said, dangerous neighborhood. I don’t want to be stranded this late at night.”

“Plus my ex and I just split, so…” She flicks her tongue across her lips.

“Could use a night of fun.”

GM: “Well his loss, my win.”

Celia: “That’s the spirit.”


Wednesday night, 23 March 2016, AM

GM: The hotel they arrive at is a shithole. Not so much as Sean’s meth lab, but only by a very small measure. The place smells funny and looks like it needs a new coat of paint, new furniture, new everything. Jade hears a gunshot in the distance. Jade waits for minutes after ringing the chipped service bell until a tired and resentful-looking female employee, who might have been sleeping, ambles up.

“Yeah?”

The difference between this dump and the Bourbon Orleans is like night and day.

Celia: Hunting probably doesn’t pay very well. Hopefully they at least get medical.

“Good evening. I was wondering if you could give Joel Price a ring. He told me to swing by but I forgot which room.”

She smiles winningly.

GM: The tired woman looks past two stages of even giving a shit.

“Not all the rooms got phones.”

Celia: “Ah. Can I get his room number then, if it doesn’t?”

GM: The woman pages through an old-fashioned log book instead of looking it up on a computer.

“Room eight.”

Celia: That was easy.

“Thank you.”

GM: The woman grunts and shuffles off.

Celia: Jade watches her go. Once she’s out of sight Jade pulls the log book toward her to check for a phone number for Joel. She jots it down and puts the book back into place.

A second later she’s behind the desk, pulling the extra key for room eight off the hook on the wall.

Then she’s off to find the room in question.

This, she thinks, is why she pays extra for better hotels.

GM: The woman doesn’t even bother to secure the book. Or the room key. Joel’s name is recorded in atrocious, barely legible handwriting. There is no phone number.

She finds room eight in brief enough order. The carpet in the hallway has a funny stain and looks like it hasn’t been vacuumed in a long time.

It smells terrible, especially outside Joel’s room.

Celia: Jade slips the key into her pocket. Her face changes as she moves through the hall to resemble the woman from the front desk; she shoves a hand through her hair to make it look just as rumpled as the rest of her.

She knocks.

GM: No one answers.

Celia: Good thing she has a key. Quietly, she pushes it into the lock and turns it to let herself in.

GM: She’s hit by an ungodly stench as she steps inside. A man’s corpse hangs suspended from the ceiling by a belt around its neck.

Celia: Well. Fuck.

Jade closes the door behind her, moving around the body to see if this is her missing hunter.

GM: The stiff-looking, pale-sheened face isn’t the one she saw him wearing, but it looks like the face on his ID. The corpse’s abdomen is slightly swollen. Piss and fecal matter stain the body’s pants and the floor beneath.

Celia: Her fingers clench into a fist at her side. Dead end. Literally.

She takes stock of the scene, looking over the body and the surroundings. She checks the cervical bones, looks to see where the blood is pooling in his body, checks to see what he stood on to suspend himself from the ceiling like this.

GM: Joel stood on a chair that looks like he kicked away. The man’s blood is where she’d expect to find it in a hanged man, and his cervicals are in a similar state. However, there are abrasions around his neck that are inconsistent with belt marks. Jade’s trained eye notes these ones are closer to hand-sized. Almost certainly from someone else, unless Joel chose to choke himself with his bare hands before hanging himself.

Jade can only come to the conclusion that the man’s “suicide” has been staged to conceal his murder.

Celia: Who doesn’t choke themselves before hanging?

Jade reaches out to touch the body to gauge its temperature to determine if she can find a time of death. She takes a photo of the handprints around his neck, then searches the room for his phone, the mask he’d worn, or anything else that she might find even remotely useful.

GM: Between the temperature and its physical state, Jade estimates Joel’s body at two or so days dead.

Apparently hotel staff have not noticed or done anything about the corpse in the room.

The man’s phone and mask are not present. His remaining belongings are few and consist of clothes, toiletries, a backpack, some snacks, a half-empty pack of cigarettes, a hunting knife, and a sub-compact pistol. Jade already has his wallet.

Celia: She rifles through the backpack.

GM: She finds many of the aforesaid items.

Celia: Two days puts it at Sunday. Someone had followed him from Elysium, then. Shame; she and Dani should have tailed him that night.

Who was it, Rocco? Wright? Doriocourt?

Someone else? Someone who wanted to take care of this quickly and quietly and not give Jade the credit she’d deserved for finding the hunter in the first place. Or someone who simply hasn’t spoken up about it yet. The thought annoys her perhaps more than it should, but what does she expect from the Hardliners?

Jade leaves the belongings where she found them, eying the body. She could fix the abrasions around his neck. Better for the Masquerade, isn’t it? Someone was sloppy. Even more annoyed, Jade reaches up to fix the marks on his neck, smoothing them out and lightening the skin to erase any trace of foul play.

Amateurs.

She empties one of his snack bags and plucks a few hairs from his head, wraps them in tissue, and slides them into the bag. There’s a glass on the nightstand that she wipes off with the edge of the bedspread, then presses his fingers against the glass and slides that into the bag as well.

Jade eyes the body. If she takes a sample of his blood is anyone going to notice? It’s not like a coroner will pour it out and measure, not when the cause of death is so obvious.

She dumps out a plastic water bottle and opens the vein in his wrist, then pinches it closed and smooths it all over when she’s done.

Maybe she can do something with this. Pete can, anyway; she doesn’t like the idea of asking him to do another favor, but… well, she can ask someone else, maybe.

Maybe. It’s all a bunch of maybes.

Jade huffs, stepping out of the room once she’s done with it. She locks it behind her and steps back toward the front desk, glancing around to find the woman. If she’s not present—and why would she be, Jade has no doubt she went back to sleep—then Jade puts the key back and looks for a TV or computer that might hold security footage.

GM: The woman is not present at the front. Jade sees a very obvious security camera with a view of the front door, although there is no nearby computer or TV.

Though it’s not as if she’d show in the footage.

Celia: Has to go somewhere, doesn’t it? Jade follows the line.

GM: Jade discovers the line is not actually plugged in to anything.

For all intents and purposes it’s a fake camera.

Celia: Jade scowls at the line where it ends. She knows her kind don’t show up, but she’d been hoping to at least confirm that it had been a Kindred visitor.

She searches the front office for a schedule. Places like these probably just keep them posted on the wall; she looks for the name of the night attendant on Sunday.

GM: It reads Dustin Clayton.

Celia: She moves a few more papers around to find an employee file for him, looking for a phone number or address.

GM: She finds both. His address is also in Central City.

This hotel is laughably insecure.

Celia: She jots them down.

“Thanks for your help,” Jade calls, “couldn’t get an answer, guess I’ll try again later.”

She expects the woman is sleeping, but… well, whatever, it’s not like she can be on the hook for a guy who died two days ago.

She snags a bag to put her things in. Wouldn’t do for the driver to ask about the bottle of red liquid.

GM: The woman does not answer. No one stops the bag’s theft.

Celia: Jade steps outside, glancing around the parking lot and nearby telephone poles to check for any sort of cameras.

GM: Jade espies one camera, though perhaps little to her surprise, she discovers this one is also fake. It’s not actually hooked up to anything.

Celia: What the fuck is with this place.

No wonder it’s such a shitty neighborhood.


Wednesday night, 23 March 2016, AM

Celia: Jade moves back to the car, making sure that her face is all in order as she goes.

“Thanks for waiting,” she says to the driver. What was his name again?

GM: “Shitty neighborhood,” says the guy.

Jade hears a car alarm blare in the distance.

“You wanna do it in the back, or someplace else?”

Celia: “One more stop,” she says, “then we can do it wherever you want, however you want.” She winks at him.

GM: The man grins.

“Okay. Where next?”

Celia: She gives him Dustin’s address, then asks if she can sit in the front with him. She slides into the seat at the affirmative.

“Hope your meter’s off,” she says as he starts to drive. “Since it won’t cover the waiting I’ve asked you to do.”

“Figured we’d settle up in cash. No taxes and all that.”

GM: “I ain’t complaining,” the man says agreeably as he drives.

Seemingly to all of that.

Celia: Too bad he drives a Prius; Jade could use a new driver she can pay in sex.

She runs a hand up his thigh as they drive, making idle conversation.

GM: The man struggles to keep his attention on the road, but he persists. Mightily.

He stops outside an apartment building that looks like even more of a shithole than Brian’s. There are actual needles littered around the front step.

Celia: Gross.

Jade gives him a peck on the cheek and tells him she’ll be back in a flash. She heads into the building, decides against the elevator, and takes the stairs to Dustin’s apartment.

GM: The driver looks like that moment can’t come soon enough for him.

The building’s door, though, is locked. The building is also small enough that she’s not sure whether there is an elevator.

Celia: Awkward. She presses the buzzer for the right apartment.

GM: There is no buzzer. Just a wooden door in bad need of some new paint.

Celia: Well how the fuck do they get their Chinese deliveries.

Jade uses another burner app to dial his number.

GM: The blighted-looking graffiti-tagged building looks too cheap for its residents to order out often.

The phone rings for a while.

“Yo, leave a message,” sounds the probably sleeping man’s voice.

Celia: Jade hangs up.

Lotta effort for probably only a little bit of payoff if she tries to break in. She can always try again tomorrow.

She heads back to the car.

GM: “That was fast,” says the driver, surprised.

Celia: “Didn’t answer his phone,” Jade says with a shrug.

GM: Jade sees it coming out of the corner of her eye. A dead-eyed man in a hoodie stalking briskly towards her, hands in his front pockets.

He pulls out a gun.

HANDS UP, BITCH!” he yells.

Celia: Jade puts her hands up.

GM: The driver freezes.

The man with the gun grins at her.

“You gonna suck my cock, or I’ll blow your brains out.”

Celia: She lets her face take on the expression of fear, eyes wide and lips paling.

Silently, she nods her head up and down.

GM: The man laughs and gestures at his crotch with the gun.

“C’mon, bitch! Start suckin’!”

He points the gun at the driver.

“Get outta the car!”

The driver freezes.

The man advances forward a step, gun leveled.

GET OUT OR YOU’RE DEAD!”

The driver slowly gets out.

Celia: She’d at least thought he’d take her somewhere private. With exaggerated, “fearful” slowness Jade gets on her knees, shuffling forward until she can undo the man’s jeans.

GM: “Ahhh, yeah!” the man grins as her fingers work, even as he gestures for the driver to step around to his side of the vehicle.

“Keep y’ hands on y’ head!”

He turns back towards Jade. He’s already hard past his boxers.

“How many cocks you sucked in your life, huh, you cocksuckin’ whore?”

“I bet you jus’ looove havin’ the dick in y’ mouth, don’t you?”

Celia: Jade pulls his cock free of its confines, sliding his pants and boxers down until she can see the thing he wants her to suck. She opens her mouth and brings him into it, looking up at him with a mouthful of cock when he asks. She doesn’t talk with her mouth full.

She gives it a minute.

Then she bites.

His cock isn’t the only hard thing in her mouth.

GM: It’s dark, hairy, and average-sized, despite the man’s whoops that “I bet you can barely fit that in!” He calls her a whore, a slut, and spits on her face. He threatens to kill her anyway if the BJ isn’t any good.

Then his eyes go huge and moans like a bull in climax as the vampire’s fangs pierce his shaft.

Celia: Her Beast snarls at the degradation.

Jade beats it back. It’s not the only thing that wants to rip and kill, and once she gets going and the blood hits her tongue she doesn’t stop. She doesn’t take just a little. Oh, no, she keeps going until she’s had her fill.

GM: The man’s blood is hot, arrogant, and angry. He thinks he’s on top of the world, because he’s the guy with the gun. She tastes his contempt. His ego trip. The big man he thinks he is right now. It’s so hollow, but such a change from her usual affair. The sweetness of his lust is an undertaste, although it’s definitely there, and growing, at the sight of Jade on her knees.

He reminds her of another man, with a plastic smile, who couldn’t get enough of seeing Celia Flores on her knees. Who mocked her, belittled her, and humiliated her, like this man now does. He’s not even half the terror Paul was—and Jade is ten times the terror Celia was. And he dares to spit on her!

The Beast will not abide.

She takes more than her fill.

It passes in an eyeblink, like the red haze always does. She’s no longer on her knees with a cock in her mouth. She’s straddling the prone man’s chest like a tigress over a kill, savoring the mouthfuls of hot and terrified lifeblood she’s gulping down, one after another. The face is white as a sheet and his eyes blank and nonresponsive. His fingers are limp around the gun that availed him not. A fast-slowing pulse beats weakly from his chest.

Celia: Sounds like a personal problem.

Jade licks him closed when she’s done and rises to her feet, looking for the driver.

GM: The man stares at her with wide and terrified eyes.

“What the fuck…!”

Celia: “What, you don’t keep a blade in your mouth?”

She doesn’t think that’s going to fly here. Perhaps if she’d just stuck to his cock…

Jade takes a step forward, holding her hands out to her sides as the clouds part in the sky and the moon shines its light directly upon her. She’s so beautiful. Ravishing, even. So what if she killed a guy with a gun? What had he done besides stand aside while his rider was assaulted?

God, she’s a badass.

“It’s okay,” she croons.

GM: The man stammers and actually sinks to his feet under the force of her supernal presence.

“What… what the fuck… what’d you do to him!”

Celia: “He was going to kill us,” Jade says patiently, crossing the distance between the pair of them and wiping the spit from her face. She reaches out, pressing his face against her thigh and rubbing a hand gently across his shoulders.

“I know you wanted to do something heroic, baby, you wouldn’t have let him hurt me, but he kept waving the gun around.” Jade sinks to her knees beside him, pulling him into an embrace. “I was so scared that he was going to pull the trigger and hurt us, I had to do something.”

GM: There’s blood on her face, too.

Jade can feel the tension in the man’s body as she pulls him in to embrace. Can hear his heart hammering in his chest. He’s terrified.

“What’d… what’d you do!” he repeats.

“You sounded…. Jesus!”

“How the hell’d you…?”

Celia: Jade rubs her hand up and down his back, pulling the terror from his body with her light touch.

“It’s okay,” she whispers, “it’s okay, I bit a little too hard and he started bleeding on me, so I hit the greater auric nerve and knocked him out. I didn’t mean to scare you, baby.”

“Help me move him, okay? He looks heavy. We’ll put him in your car and drop him off at the hospital.”

“Please, baby, I need you.”

GM: The driver’s features slowly calm.

“Okay.”

“I guess we should.”

The medical term seems to go over his head, but he calmly gets up, opens the car door, and reaches under the unconscious man’s armpits to start lifting him.

Celia: Jade helps him load the man into the back of the car. She asks if he has a blanket she can put over him to keep him warm.

GM: The driver doesn’t have a blanket, but does have a jacket.

Celia: Oh well. Same difference.

After he’s loaded Jade picks up his gun and anything else he nubby have dropped, then starts to wipe the blood of her face as she climbs into the driver’s seat.

GM: There’s just the gun. The driver calmly asks where they should take him.

Celia: Jade directs him to a hospital on the other side of the city. While they drive Jade plies him with her charm, alternating between making herself more trustworthy and comments about how scared she was and how grateful she is that he was there. She twists the narrative with every telling: first that she bit the gunman and knocked him out while he was reeling in pain, then that she bit him and the driver attacked him, then that she punched him and the driver attacked him, and finally that the driver attacked him while he had a gun to Jade’s head.

She gets more and more emphatic with the telling, breaking off a few times to sniffle and wipe at her eyes, and keeps repeating what a hero he was and how he’d saved them, how he was right it’s a bad neighborhood, how she was sure the gunman was going to kill them both. Hero, she repeats, and she curls herself against his side while he drives, snuggling into him as if she’s still scared.

She says that too. That she’s scared. That she thought she was going to die. That she’s never… the gun… it all happened so quickly, and he was so brave to stand up to the gunman, and she’s so small how could she have possibly fought him off herself? He’d have killed her. He’d have killed her, she repeats, burying her face against his side, raped her and killed her and done who knows what with her body; she can never repay him, she’s sure of it, she’ll thank God every night that he was there with her, that he was her driver, that he didn’t abandon her.

GM: The driver demurs, at first, that he did anything to the guy. He was mostly scared shitless over the gun. Jade was the badass one. She took out the bad guy—

He doesn’t keep it up, though, when Jade is curling herself against him and calling him a hero. He repeats that yeah, he wasn’t just gonna let something like that happen, not in his watch, in his car. Jade’s not sure whether he actually believes what he’s saying, but he’s clearly happy to repeat the line when she’s there in his arms.

Celia: She eases up on the hold she has on his emotions with every word. By the time they hit the Quarter she’s withdrawn her suppression completely.

That’s when she looks into the back seat and lets out a gasp. She touches the body.

Dead.

“Oh, no, no, no,” she murmurs, “he’s… I think he’s…”

He’s dead. He’s dead and they killed him and it was self defense, but look at those bruises on his face and the swelling at the back of his head, they’re going to know someone punched him out, they’re going to come after them. She can’t go to jail, she can’t, and she’ll go down with him for being a witness and not doing anything, and he’ll be locked away for years for manslaughter, and, and, and…

As she speaks she turns the emotions the other way, dialing up them up rather than turning them down, letting him feed off of her hysteria and fear as she says she won’t let him go to jail for this, she won’t, he’s a hero, he shouldn’t be punished, he saved her life.

GM: Like a coin flipped, the driver freaks out when she tells him the guy is dead. He starts cursing. “Shit! Shit! Shit!” They shouldn’t have ever gone to this neighborhood! What the fuck are they supposed to do now!? They can’t just turn themselves in!

He does not try to feel the body himself, or notice the beating but fast fading heart.

Celia: “We can hide it,” Jade says, “we have to hide it.”

Shakily, she tells him that they can take the gunman to her place. She’s reluctant, but she finally whispers that her ex is connected to the mob, and he can make it go away, she’ll call him tomorrow. He’ll want something from her, and maybe he’ll knock her around a little bit for the trouble, but he’ll help. She knows he will.

She directs the driver toward her haven on Canal.

GM: The driver does so.

The dying man expires not longer after they divert to Canal. Jade can tell, from the cessation of his sluggish heartbeat. It’s not a bang or even a whimper, just simple cessation of a bodily function.

Celia: Jade makes sure no one is looking their way when they pull in, directing stray attention elsewhere. She helps her driver carry the body inside, quietly laughing over how he’d had too much to drink and thanks so much for the help getting him home, just in case anyone is listening or looking. She unlocks the door for the pair of them and takes the gunman into the bathroom, setting him in the tub.

GM: The driver grunts and pants as he helps Jade carry inside the corpse. Completely limp human bodies are heavy.

Celia: Jade finally looks back to the driver.

“Will… will you stay tonight? I just… I feel safer with you.”

GM: Perhaps, if it were anyone else asking him to stay and get laid with a corpse in the bathroom, the driver would say no.

But Jade isn’t just anyone. She’s Jade Kalani.

“Sure,” he nods, raptly.

Celia: Of course he wants to stay. Hasn’t he seen any action movie ever? He’s the hero and she’s the damsel and he single-handedly defeated the bad guy. He probably even had a cool line at the moment of takedown. Now it’s time to kiss the girl and claim her as his prize.

So he does. Gently at first, and when Jade makes the right noises—she always makes the right noises—he deepens the kiss with a tilt of his head and a hand on her cheek, and she’s putty in his arms after that. Or is he putty in hers?

She tops from the bottom, letting him “take control” while she drives the action, moaning and panting and gasping as needed, sliding out of her clothes and letting him get an eyeful of her gorgeous, fit body while she repeats the words “hero” and “brave” and “saved me.” That’s the only way an average guy like him gets a girl as hot as her: by being a badass.

She’s warm and wet and tight when he finally pushes inside of her, legs around his waist and fingers buried in his hair, holding him close against her while her heart pitter-patters against her ribcage and her lips brush against his ear, his cheek, his jaw, his mouth. She’s eager to please. A slippery little minx beneath the sheets, taking everything he gives her and then some, and all the while making him feel like the giant, strong, badass he is.

For a moment maybe he even forgets that he drives a Prius.

And when it’s done, when his seed trickles from between her legs and he lies on his back with her little body curled against his, arm around her, she asks him to tell her what happened. It was all so fast.

GM: The man is soon lost in her embrace, putty in her hands even as she plays at being putty in his. All of his fear, all of desperation, all of his stress, comes out as he frantically takes her. He’s less than a pale shadow of other lovers she’s had, but serviceable enough in his intended role. Like a human dildo. One that’s at least warm flesh rather than cold plastic or silicone.

She’s incredible. He’s almost certainly never been with a goddess of desire like her in all his life. He climaxes quickly, and before she does, hot seed filling her dead cunt. After it dribbles out, he plants his face between her legs to service her with his mouth, and then his fingers when she says to keep doing something that’s at closer to what he was doing. Once again, she’s had better, but it beats a vibrator.

He feels big, all right, getting to nail this vision of perfection and beauty who tells him how big and strong he is.

He lies there, and holds her against his chest, and tells her they both took out the guy together.

It’s definitely the story he’d like to be true.

Celia: Jade stays curled against him for a few moments, listening to the beat of his heart inside his chest.

Why are none of these people she picks up ever actually good at sex? Why are they always… bums? Desperate degenerates that she’d be wasting her vitae on if she ever decided to share. Even Randy had only been a decent find because of his brothers.

She needs to start recruiting or something. None of this adopting strays nonsense.

GM: Perhaps he’d be better around someone else as thoroughly average as he is.

And in fairness to Randy, she never did have sex with him to find out.

Even if Reggie thought he’d have no idea what to do with his own cock around her.

The driver’s blood is better than his performance was, though.

Celia: “Together,” she says, nodding her head in agreement, and repeats the line about being scared without him. She turns to her side to kiss him, working her way from lips to jaw to neck.

Gently, she sinks her fangs into the side of his neck. Just a hit. Just enough to make him a little woozy, a little off his game. His blood is hot and sour-spicy-sweet across her tongue, peppered with adrenaline, fear, and lust.

When she’s done she nuzzles against him for a few minutes, then finally sighs and murmurs that she should call her ex to let him know. She slips out of bed and pads naked across the floor to where she’d left her phone on the counter. She taps a few buttons and pretends to dial a number, holding the phone to her ear once it starts to “ring.”

Jade has a whispered conversation with the phantom on the other end of the line. She says she’s in trouble. She says she made a mistake. She says she needs him, that someone had jumped her; she never mentions the body in the tub, only alludes to cleaning something up.

“Please,” she finally whispers, and nods at whatever imaginary response there is. “I will. I will, I promise… t-tonight? I, I—okay, yeah, okay.” The driver can see her close her eyes and nod again. “I know. I’m sorry.” She swallows. “Thank you, yes, I’ll be here.” A pause. “You too.”

Jade hangs up. She sets her phone down and moves across the floor to her closet, quickly rifling through it for a handful of items.

“He’s on his way,” she says to the driver. “He’ll take care of it. You have to go, okay? You have to go.”

GM: “He?” the driver asks sleepily. He sounds pretty sluggish between the sex, the blood loss, and adrenaline crash.

Celia: She pulls on a silk robe around her naked form, belting it at the waist to hide her nudity. She tells the driver again he needs to go. But he’s woozy. Tired. Spent after the sex, the blood loss, the crash of adrenaline fading from his body. He’s slow to get up, slower to get dressed, and by the time he finally pulls his shirt on Jade holds out a hand, cocking her head to the side.

She runs to the window, pulling open the drapes.

“Shit,” she says, “shit, he’s here, you have to hide, you have to hide. The… the closet,” she says, pulling him toward it, “just stay in here, stay, okay? Just go behind that rack of dresses and sit on the floor and don’t move, okay? Don’t come out, no matter what. He can’t see you here.”

She pushes him inside and closes the door, then drags an armchair in front of it to prevent him from opening it.

GM: The driver tries to act masculine, at first, about not needing to hide. He finally “relents” under Jade’s entreaties, but is probably all-too glad to just get out of the way between his mental and physical exhaustion.

And Jade has already seen his character. Is this a man who would rather confront danger than flee it?

Celia: Ruse halfway over, Jade gets to work. She strips from her robe and leaves it draped across the chair, then moves to the front door. She knocks on it. Opens it. Murmurs a greeting, then says “you fucked up” in an accented, masculine voice.

“Show me,” says the voice, and the door locks and closes behind him. Footsteps through the apartment, then the bathroom door opening. A long, loud sigh. Some shuffling in the kitchen, a few drawers opening and closing, then the bathroom door closes. Jade locks it behind her.

Alone in the bathroom, she looks down at the corpse and gets to work.

Celia: It’s routine work at this point, stripping a body down to its base parts and destroying the evidence. She uses her claws to pull apart skin and muscles, setting it to the side, and drains the blood into a handful of jars for later consumption. When the flow slows she reaches inside the chest cavity to wrap her fingers around the heart, pumping the blood through the arteries and into the waiting containers.

Jade works quickly once the blood is taken care of. She sets the containers beneath the sink and pulls out a large plastic bucket, cuts open the man’s abdomen to remove his stomach, and dumps it into the bucket. She pours in hydrogen peroxide and watches it start to bubble.

Then it’s just a matter of getting rid of the evidence. She strips muscle and flesh from his bones and, on a whim, opens up her own body to stuff it inside. She wants to see how far this new ability of hers goes. So while she works on getting rid of the rest of the corpse—routine by this point—her focus turns inward. The movement of her hands fades into the background; she’s inside herself, unwinding the muscles inside of her own body to absorb what she has stolen from the man.

The body has three different types of muscle inside of it: striated, smooth, and cardiac. The smooth and cardiac muscles control involuntary functions; the cardiac muscle makes up the mass of the heart and causes the contractions to keep blood pumping through the body, while the smooth muscle is found in the stomach, intestines, and walls of blood vessels.

Jade doesn’t need any of that, dead as she is. No, she’s focused on the striated muscle, or skeletal muscle. These are the muscles that most people think of when they picture an anatomically correct body, what weightlifters want to build when they pump iron in the gym.

These muscles consist of long fine fibers, each of which is a bundle of smaller myofibrils. Inside of those are filaments of protein, myosin and actin, that slide past one another as the muscle contracts and expands. Each myofibril has a dark band, the Z line, and the area between the bands is the structural and functional unit of muscle tissue: the sarcomeres. When the proteins within the sarcomeres slide against each other the myosin head acts as a cocked spring, binds with the actin filament, and produces a power stroke, which then slides the actin past the myosin, shortening the sarcomere and generating force. Since the sarcomeres are joined end to end they all contract, shortening the entire muscle in what’s called a power stroke. The more Z lines and sarcomeres a muscle has, the more power is generated.

That’s how people move. Tiny little fibers of proteins inside their muscles and expand and contract based on the impulses of the brain that send the signals to motor neurons. The better you get at telling your motor neurons to make your muscles contract, the stronger you get. That’s why smaller people can be deceptively strong: they’re just better at activating those motor neurons and contracting their muscles.

That soreness from the gym? That’s from damaging the muscles when you lift things heavier than you should, and when you rest the next day your body repairs or replaces damaged muscle fibers, fusing them together to form new muscle proteins. More muscle protein is more strength.

If Jade weren’t as versed in anatomy as she is, and if she wasn’t as familiar as she is with going inside of herself along the chakras and energy lines in the body, maybe it wouldn’t work. Maybe she’d have to cut herself open and let someone else do it, like she’d done for Tantal.

But she is well-versed in anatomy. She is well-versed in the breakdown of muscles and how they function. And she is very, very familiar with sending her consciousness spinning through her body to adapt to her individual needs.

So while her hands move on autopilot, slicing ligaments and tendons apart to loosen the skeletal frame to dissolve in the same liquid concoction she’d done for Edith, she starts breaking down the bands of muscle fibers stolen from the gunman and unwinding her own fibers. She merges them. She creates more cross bridges in the myfobril, more Z lines, more sarcomeres. More force. More power. She buffs her biceps, her triceps, her traps. She adds to her quads and hamstrings, to the lats and deltoids, to major and minor pecs. She adjusts all three of the gluteus muscles, then the abductors and extensors in her forearms and calves, the rhomboids, the levators, the supraspinatus and splenius and serratus.

It’s like years of gym-use in moments. Power surges through her. Strength and durability and flexibility; she waxes as the gunman wanes.

Jade brings her attention back to the bathroom and the desecrated body in front of her when she’s done with her experiment. She finishes the work, changing her shape and body size as she puts the last of the bone and flesh into the concoction. She doesn’t make herself any taller, but she doesn’t need to. What she lacks in height she makes up for in width. She darkens her skin, shortens her hair, and when she looks in the mirror… well, it’s a spitting image.

Flawless.

Roberto_Vaccaro.png
He’s a handsome man: machismo made flesh. Shorter than most men but with lean, prison-yard muscles that make him look taller. Youngish, but with enough gang-touting tats and a body-bag stare that makes it clear crossing him would be a fatal mistake.

GM: Corpse disposal is indeed routine work for Jade at this point. The dead gunman is downright pleasant to dispose of next to the disgusting work that Joel would have been. The corpse hasn’t even had time for rigor mortis to set in. There’s some dried piss on the penis… he must have pissed himself when he tried to rape Jade.

Jade weaves muscle fibers, taking from his and adding to hers. Just like that, he’s made less of a man so that Jade can be more of one. So Jade can be Roberto.

She already knows just how to have him act.

Flawless.

Celia: Jade—Roberto—finishes the work. He takes the gunman’s clothes and slides the shoes onto his feet. He borrows the pants, then finds a masculine muscle tee from the assortment of things Jade had removed from her closet earlier. He sticks the gun into the band of his jeans and stomps out of the bathroom, a heavier gait than Jade’s light step.

“Yeah,” he says, “I fuckin’ got it. And what about you, huh? What were you doin’ that way?”

Jade mumbles a response, but Roberto cuts her off.

“Who’s here?” he demands.

“No one—”

“No one? Those shoes don’t look like fuckin’ no one. Hijo de puta, you think I’m fuckin’ stupid? How’d you get him up here if there ain’t no one, huh? You reek like sex, you fuckin’ whore.”

There’s the sound of flesh striking flesh. A muffled cry. More footsteps. Roberto shoves aside the chair in front of the closet and yanks open the door.

It’s like staring down a speeding train. Like standing on the tracks knowing there’s nowhere to run. Like a deer in headlights, or an unfortunate soul lost in the woods while a wolf stalks closer, teeth bared and snarl ripping from its throat. He practically radiates power and importance.

“You,” he says, “you the fuckin’ driver, huh? You kill this motherfucker? You some whipped pussy ass bitch whose mistakes I gotta clean up?”

GM: The driver feebly holds up his hands against Roberto as he back against the closet, cowed by the man’s supernal presence.

“N-no, it was her, I didn’t do anything, I was just there…”

Celia: Roberto points a finger at him. “Left your fuckin’ wallet out, dipshit, now I know where to find you if you open your fuckin’ mouth about any of this. You go through Ryde? Yeah, asshole, delete that shit. Forget you ever went to that neighborhood. Was a quiet fuckin’ ride around Mid-City, hear?”

GM: The driver nods, rapidly, at Roberto’s growled commands.

“Ryde. Yes. I’ll delete it, all of it. I didn’t see anything, I didn’t, never saw anything, I never met her. This didn’t, didn’t happen.”

He adds, awkwardly,

“Thanks.”

“Sir.”

Celia: Roberto glowers at him.

“You tryna tell me that this little bitch took out a man twice her size and you stood around with your limp dick in hand? Huh, is that it? You think I’m fuckin’ stupid, driverboy? You tryin’a pin this on her so I don’t kick your ass, that it?”

GM: “N-no, a lot of, lot of it was a… was a blur,” the driver demurs, hands still raised. “She just… she made the first move… then I helped.”

He pointedly says nothing about what a short guy Roberto himself is.

Celia: “‘Course she made the first move, she a bitch but she ain’t a fuckin’ pussy, bit that fucker jus’ like I tol’ her n’ got ‘im nice an’ loose for ya.”

Roberto stares a moment longer, then finally grins.

“Hope for you yet, dipshit. Don’t make me come find you, hear?”

GM: The driver nods again, managing a weak grin back.

“I won’t, man. This never happened. I won’t talk to nobody.”

“I’d be in big trouble if I did, yeah?”

Celia: “Big trouble.” Roberto draws his thumb across his throat. “Clean the piss off your johnson, driverboy. Firs’ kill? Yeah, fuck ‘er nice an’ good, best thing after.”

Roberto slams the door on him and shoves the chair back in front of it. He says something in rapid fire Spanish to Jade, then stomps to the door and yanks it open. He closes it behind him.

Jade gives herself a moment to return her face and body to its usual state; she keeps the extra muscle she’d given herself, making it lean rather than bulky, and strips from the clothing. They’re shuffled in among a pile of other clothes she has lying around, gun tucked under the sink in her kitchenette. She slips back into the robe, puts a red mark on her face in the shape of a handprint, and finally opens the closet door to let the driver out.

GM: The driver can’t get out of Jade’s haven fast enough. He doesn’t say anything about the mark. He doesn’t try to get more sex.

He just gets out.

Runs out.

Literally runs.

Celia: Jade waits until he’s gone to start laughing.

“Gonna have to thank Roberto for this one,” she says to herself.


Previous, by Narrative: Story Thirteen, Caroline VIII, Louis VII
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Story Thirteen, Caroline VIII, Louis VII

“I’ve said goodbye to too many, for too long. But I’m ready for the big goodbye.”
Louis Fontaine


Wednesday night, 23 March 2016, AM

GM: At Lou’s sudden appearance, of Caroline’s protectors whirl on the old man at once. Ferris draws a gun. Kâmil, who’s driving with one hand, produces a knife in his other hand, perhaps to throw—the car’s tight confines are too small for swords anyway. The casquette girl draws no weapons, but her posture shifts into one of battle-readiness. Her face remains placid as ever.

Caroline and Lou can see the same thought in Kâmil’s and Ferris’ eyes:

Where the hell did he come from?

Louis: Hell indeed, the old man muses—though it’s the hell he’s going to that concerns most of his thoughts these days.

Caroline: Caroline isn’t the girl who Lou saw six months ago. She’s changed. Harder. Colder.

She’s still dressed in black, but tonight there’s nothing but function to see: pants, shirt, practical shoes. All of it singed, much like her. The bottom of the shoes are melted, and pink flesh shows through charred holes down her left side. Her strong side, he recalls.

The damage to her clothing gives lie to the modesty of her injuries now.

There’s still pink flesh and blisters across the backs of her hands and forearms, and flash burns redden her cheeks, one eyebrow is mostly ash, but the heiress is more whole and hale than the rest. More than anyone has a right to be after emerging from an inferno.

For all that, she looks like death. The blisters and burned flesh stand out all the more starkly against her oh-so-pale flesh. The genuine vulnerability of only half a year ago has been replaced with something hard and cruel, like someone pounded the girl out of her and left behind only the monster. Lou’s pulled more lifelike corpses from the Mississippi.

The shadows of vehicle hide it, but in the light he knows what he’d see, and so does she: she’s a monster.

But then, so are they all.

“I rather expect if Mr. Fontaine were here to kill me, he’d have waited to announce his presence until after he’d put bullets through most of you.”

The voice is the same. More confident, perhaps. If his appearance frightens her, she hides it well.

But then, she’s here in an armored convoy with three other ghouls with centuries in the Blood.

The other ghouls relax perhaps an inch. They’re tired. Wary. Hurt. And very alert.

GM: The other ghouls relax perhaps an inch.

Kâmil still drives, with one hand. He doesn’t lower his knife.

Ferris doesn’t lower his gun.

The tranquil-faced casquette girl doesn’t look away.

But for all that, they don’t look as if they’re about to use their weapons on him.

For now.

Caroline: Caroline turns to watch Lou in the third row of seats. He catches a flash of now-blue eyes.

“I expected a visitor this evening. But not you, Lou. I confess, I’d hoped you’d cashed in your chips, old man. Were retired on a beach somewhere.”

The Ventrue’s eyes sweep up and down him with all the humanity and compassion of a bar code scanner. Taking him in. Measuring his worth. His value. Perhaps his price.

“You look better.”

Louis: “You still look blonde,” he fires back like a shot from his Smith & Wesson.

Caroline: “Trick of the salon, don’t believe it.”

She flashes a smile that would be charming if there weren’t two sharpened points among her teeth.

“You still look alive. I was worried the sheriff had found you, hunted you, after you brought down his man.”

“You know, since you didn’t call, didn’t write.”

Louis: “Looks are like dames,” Lou replies. “Some are pretty, some ugly, but all of them can lie.”

Caroline: She might have winced last time they met.

Not tonight.

“I don’t recall many lies from me. But then, you held all the cards back then, so you might know better than I.”

Louis: Lou has enough winces for both of them. But the old man first turns briefly to the casquette girl, his bourbon-colored eyes washing over her. He scratches his rough jaw as if trying to remember her name—or what century their paths last crossed.

He settles for a shrug and an offer of the gelato.

GM: He receives a placid stare from the seeming teenager’s milk-pale face.

Louis: His eyes, however, turn back to the blonde who could make a bishop kick in stained glass windows.

Caroline: She’s done more than that to a bishop.

“Forgive my lack of hospitality—you understand there are many demands upon me these nights—but to what do I owe the pleasure of your return this night, Mr. Fontaine?”

There, he can see it. Not fear, but the darkness lurking in the shadows around her eyes. What might in a mortal be too many sleepless nights. What might manifest in gray hairs that will never trouble this ageless monster. But it’s there all the same. Pressure, the kinds that makes bombs or diamonds.

Louis: “Back then, the only cards I held were from a tarot deck, Caroline, and all of them were the Fool.”

Caroline: “You seemed to wield a fair few more: Justice, Judgment, Death even.”

Louis: Lou shrugs, but doesn’t plead ‘not guilty’ to the charges.

Caroline: “What cards do you hold tonight, old man?”

Louis: “More of the same, Caroline. I’m old, tired, and full of no coffee. But this time… this time I’m almost ready to say goodbye. The French have a phrase for it, just like they have a damned phrase for everything. ‘To say goodbye is to die a little.’ I’ve said goodbye to too many, for too long. But I’m ready for the big goodbye.”

There’s more coming, Caroline can tell. But it takes a while for the old man to draw up the hard truths from the deep, bitter-hurt well of his heart.

“I’m done with hating your old man.”

Caroline: “If you’ve come to kill me, know these nights that it is not easy.”

Louis: Lou shakes his head.

“I know you’re as blue as any blood can be, but I’m not talking about you, blondie. I’m talking about saying goodbye to New Orleans. To a city worth dying for. Living for too, though that’s a hell of a lot harder.”

“But eventually, we all gotta say goodnite.”

He pauses, and wishes for the hundredth time tonight that he had a bottle. A full one—so he could make it empty.

He scowls and tries again.

“I’m done hating your old man.”

Caroline: That makes one of us.

She loves him. She hates him.

Louis: “And I’m not talking about the senator.”

Caroline: “No, I don’t imagine you are,” Caroline answers.

Louis: “Remember what I told you?”

“About what you were, are?”

Caroline: “That and more.”

She remembers many things the old man told her. Some were more true than others.

“But if you’re turning out the light, and you’re not here for me, I’m not sure what it is to you.”

Louis: “Poison,” he coughs up the word like someone’s ripping duct-tape off his lungs.

Caroline: Poison. He’s not wrong, he didn’t lie, but it was half the story.

“It’s in deep, old man.”

It sounds like a confession, the first real one she’s given in months. The words rob the tension from her shoulders.

Louis: “It’s in all of us, but some deeper than others.”

It’s not an accusation. Not tonight, at least.

“When I was a younger, wiser man, I thought it was the deepest in your old man.”

Caroline: The city continues to move past them.

“Nothing is free.”

Louis: “But I’m not young anymore. Nor wise. Time has taught me both of those hard truths.”

Caroline: She mulls over what Savoy said about the prince.

It wasn’t something she’d expected.

“Few of us truly see one another for what we are.”

Louis: He looks like he wants to wearily run a hand through his dishwater gray hair. But he’s got one, and it’s still occupied by a melting gelato. He settles for a sigh.

“So if I gotta pick a poison…”

Caroline: “Picking a side? Late in the night for that.”

There’s a strained smile, all the same.

“I might be able to put in a word for you.”

Louis: Lou looks out the window at that. Or maybe he just looks away from that truth. He knows what it looks like anyway.

“Remember the last time we parted from my office? I told you something.”

“I thought it was true, and maybe it was back then.”

“I told you that I didn’t want to die, but that if I had to, I was gonna die last.”

“Tonight, though, I know better. I told you I’m almost ready to die. Almost. Now it’s just a matter of who dies first.

“So I’m picking a poison, but not a side, at least not any of the unbreathing ones.”

“And this poison, I don’t plan on drinking, though it will likely kill me all the same.”

Caroline: Realization cracks across her mask like a spiderweb of cracks across a window.

“If not the old man, then who?”

“Who’s worth your life?”

Louis: “My life? My life’s not worth that much, honestly. And I’m not being modest either, blondie. Reality is, most people go through life—and beyond—using up half their energy trying to protect a dignity they never had. No, the lives worth living and dying for are the few saints that still walk in this devil-ridden town. They’re a dwindling species, these days, but God was willing to let Sodom slide with only ten.”

The names and faces of those rare souls flit before his eyes. He’s failed them. Time and time again. Maybe he’ll fail them again. But damned it he won’t try to at least fail them better.

Caroline: She doesn’t leave him to that reminiscing.

“You really must be getting old, Lou. Your sentimentality is showing.”

There’s no gentleness in the girl these nights. It’s been beaten out of her like a blade upon an anvil. And everyone has taken a turn with the hammer.

Louis: “There you go telling another lie, blondie. I’m not getting old. I’ve been old. A long time too. Too long.”

Yet, when he looks at Caroline, Lou’s eyes are no longer watery like aged bourbon, but sharp as a smashed bottle.

“Your old man has a snake in his garden.”

Caroline: That gets her attention.

She runs her tongue across her fangs unconsciously.

“In that, at least, we can agree.”

GM: The other three ghouls remain silent throughout the pair’s conversation.

Weapons still drawn.

But it looks as if it gets theirs too.

Louis: Lou sets down the melting gelato, and pulls out the humble wooden cross that still hangs around his neck. But the words that next come out of his lips aren’t from the man who hung on Calvary’s tree, but rather the man who allegedly nailed him to it:

“‘But the Damned serve as the sign to humanity of the price of sin, and to make mortals fear and to understand that their lives are brief and full of pain, and they can only see the most pitiful reflection of the glories of Heaven, for they do not see clearly, but see as if through a blurred mirror, and the Damned do not see through the mirror at all.’”

“‘And it is the lot of the Damned to take the blood of mortals, that mortals might know that they will die, and that their only salvation is in the next life.’”

The recitation, if not resignation, hangs heavy on the man. But he trudges on. Like an old habit he can’t quit kick.

“Bringing Claire’s secrets to the House will only feed the snake.”

Caroline: She runs her tongue across her fangs again.

Pithy replies dart across her mind, like someone’s been brushing up on their Longinus, but she aborts them, lets them die, as he finishes and his latest condemnation washes over her.

A pause.

“I have to make him see. Make one of them see.”

Louis: “Maybe there’s a needle in all this haystack,” Lou says, waving his plastic spoon at the inferno-spared cache. “The Barrett Commission is, or was, well-connected, and Claire was one of their best.”

He shakes his head, as if to deflect some anticipated blame, or dislodge some inner guilt. “And no, I didn’t know who she was when we last met.”

He shakes his head again, and points again to the ‘haystack.’

“But searching for that needle, and making sure the sheriff doesn’t snatch it up is going to require time, and a safe space. A space safe from him.”

“And the snake, as I said, is already in the garden.”

“But as you also said, you assumed the sheriff had found and killed me over these many months.”

“He certainly wanted to, tried to, but he failed.”

“He doesn’t like loose threads.”

Caroline: “I’ve got threads. There’s more here.” She gestures.

Louis: “There is more,” Lou admits, laying down another one of his cards.

“Like the identities of good men and women trying to stem the poison’s tide.”

Caroline: “Trying. Failing. They’re doing more damage than they’ll ever prevent,” Caroline answers.

Louis: “Maybe. Maybe not. But that’s my price. I’m asking for that which you ultimately consider is hay. And in return, I’ll help you find the needle—and then drive it into the serpent’s heart.”

Caroline: “The individuals,” Caroline parries. “Not the big fish.”

Louis: “There are many fish,” Lou says. “Some bigger than others. Which one seems big to you?”

Caroline: “Gettis.” Caroline spits out the name like a curse.

“Anyone in bed with Savoy already.”

“And I want to know about the big picture events in the city. The government players, especially the spooks.”

“You can have the dorm room warriors, the lone wolves, the moms and pops, and the faithful. And we can parse out other individuals.”

Louis: It takes Lou a moment to catch his breath, as Caroline’s first word sucker punches him in his sclerosis-scarred gut.

Gettis.

That’s what she says—but he hears another name. A far older name.

Caroline: “We have a visitor.”

Louis: Lou looks out the windows, expecting it to be his ride. His other ride.

But as Twain said: assuming is good, finding out is better.

Then again, sometimes finding out is worse.

Far worse.

“Might be one of mine,” Lou admits. Reluctantly.

Caroline: The heiress has nothing further to say about that.

“I hope you have a plan, old man. Otherwise things are about to get very interesting.”

She runs her tongue across her teeth and meets his eyes.

“You’ve got the snake’s attention, but you knew that already. So I guess the only question left is where are we going?”

Louis: “To hell, I fear,” the old man quips, but with more sorrow than sarcasm. Still, there’s a hard steel behind his eyes. A grit that’s been worn down but also hardened and honed through centuries of his half-life.

“But we all have to sleep in the beds we make. Even if it’s the big sleep.”

He then trudges on, no time for self-indulgent shrugs or sighs.

“So you got a deal. You get the big fish, but I need to be there when he goes down. I know about his history with you, but I swear on Antonio’s cross that mine is longer and with a hell of a lot more pain and blood.”

He doesn’t wait for her to agree or understand. They’re fast out of time.

Instead, he continues, “But you’ll need this.”

He once more offers the gelato to Gisi, but this time with a clear sign that he will drop it in her lap if he has to. The man, after all, only has one hand.

GM: The casquette girl silently accepts the gelato without change in her serene expression.

Louis: Lou then fishes out a burner phone which he passes to Caroline. For any who look, the burner is hot pink, with knockoff Hello Kitty stickers, and a background lock-screen that seems to be an oil painting of Caroline. A damned good one too.

“Password’s the age of the Kentucky bourbon you brought to my office.”

“My old office,” he says with a sour look. He then nods to the phone. “It’ll have what you need, or well, some of what you need.”

Caroline: “We could just drive there now, together,” Caroline offers, glancing at the casquette girl.

Louis: That’s when his hand snaps. His other hand. The dead one that exists beyond the Shroud—and signals the waiting Knights of St. Balacou, or at least the Undying ones.

GM: Ferris and Kâmil remain just as silent as Giselle. The gray-bearded man’s gray eyes methodically take in every detail…

Every detail that he can see.

It happens in an instant.

A cold chill descends on the car’s occupants as translucent figures pour through the walls like smoke. One flows up Caroline’s nostrils, ears, and mouth like an inhaled mist. Suddenly, she is no longer there. She is in a distant and faraway place. She feels asleep. She feels underwater. Was something happening…?

But something stirs beneath that water.

A maelstrom bursts from the Devillers scion’s heart, black as sin and furious as a hurricane. Caroline vomits the invading spectral figure from her mouth as a scream nearly inhuman in its agony splits the air. Foul-smelling black mist pours from the writhing figure’s half-dissolved, rotted flesh in pungent streams. The ghost looks like they’ve been aged a hundred years and dipped into boiling wax at the same time. Their emaciated, fleshless limbs writhe like a drowning insect’s.

Another has already laid claim to Caroline’s soul.

Meanwhile, the Ventrue sees that Lou is rapidly absconding with every single document, laptop, and flash drive in the vehicle, his hands moving like lighting as he stuffs the treasure troves of information into his voluminous trench coat.

The ghouls aren’t doing anything.

Just staring sleepily ahead.

There’s a knife embedded in one of the seats. Gelato is running down it too. The air smells like gunpowder. There’s a gunshot against the car’s wall.

Louis: Lou gives a split second glance.

Trust me.

He’s always told her true.

The only one, from the beginning.

But he can’t help but raise a brow at the horrific display of dark magic. A chill runs up his spine, reminding him of a certain painting he’s seen…

Caroline: Ferris was quick, but not quick enough. She’s impressed.

The heiress eyes him for an instant.

It’s a lot of trust to ask.

Claire’s documents are her best chance to flip others against Donovan. The information on the hard drives is vital to dismantling her mother’s ticking bomb, to earning her sire’s favor, to cleaning up the disaster that Donovan has fostered with the city’s hunters and Savoy.

She has Lou with his pants down, perhaps for once… but how many times has he had her hopelessly vulnerable? How many times did he have need only to turn aside, to step aside, to close his eyes, for her to die?

If there’s someone in the city worth trusting… perhaps Fontaine is it.

She could stop him. Delay him, perhaps.

Their eyes meet.

You better be worth it, old man.

She dives across the front of the seat to take control the steering wheel in the sleepy-eyed elder ghoul’s hands.

Louis: If she could hear his thoughts, they’d ring like a bullet off an old, battered police badge.

I’m not. But the city is. Or at least her saints are. They’re a dying breed. But even if they were a dime a dozen, they’d still be worth it.

And with that shared thought, his ghostly hand gives another sign. An old symbol to Jacques to remember his family’s oath. The real prize awaits. Lou cannot stay to see if Jacques understands or hearkens. He too will have to trust tonight.

And so, in a supernaturally fast series of movements, the old man stows the last of the documents, laptops, and USB sticks. He unlocks the door and exists the slowed but still moving SUV, falling into a roll that prioritizes protecting the pilfered cache versus sparing him pain. He eats the latter. Just like all the nights he’s served this city. He eats the pain and keeps moving.

Caroline watches the old gumshoe run down an alley, only to disappear behind a dirty plume of sewer-vented steam. And when it clears, the old man is gone.

So too is the car with the old man’s presumed allies, having long taken off during the spectral attack and mass diversion.

They are gone. Gone without saying goodbye, yet a little deader all the same.

GM: The sleepy-eyed ghoul is still alert enough to bat Caroline away as she tries to seize the steering wheel. He doesn’t say a word. Just continues driving.

He doesn’t have to say anything.

Just the look on his face for Caroline says enough.

Hatred.

Raw and bloody and hideous like a picked-at pustule.

Caroline: Like she hasn’t seen that before.

Trusting that she has a moment of privacy from the ghouls, Caroline tucks the phone Lou gave her into her bra and sends a text from her own.

Tonight. Location to follow.

GM: Affirmative, reads the answering response.

Caroline: She tucks the phone back away.

She’s put her trust in Lou. The die is cast.

She’ll see soon whether she was a fool or not.


Wednesday night, 23 March 2016, AM

GM: ‘Kâmil’ drives for a while. Suburban houses give way to cityscape. It looks like they’re now in Mid-City, the Esplanade Ridge neighborhood. The other black SUV follows along behind.

Louis: Eventually, Caroline feels a buzz from the burner.

Caroline: She checks it, plugging in the 18-year password.

Louis: It’s a text—but one that seems to contain little save for a second ‘security measure’.

Who brought your chair to my office after it was renovated.

Even via text, the last word drips with sarcasm.

Caroline: If the situation weren’t so dire, she might laugh.

Carla, after she finished throwing out all your filth.

Louis: Although the gumshoe has taken only a handful of footsteps, Papa Legba’s gift has taken him far across the city. But the distillation of distance does nothing to dilate time. The latter is vanishing like the counting-down digits of a stop-clock. The old man wishes he had time to quip back about ‘one man’s trash being another man’s treasure’. But he doesn’t. Not tonight. Maybe not ever again.

Instead, his response to Caroline is a phone-sent photo.

The burner’s photo app isn’t the best. Far from it, actually. But even a casual glance can tell it’s one of Claire’s documents. The paper kind—the electronic ones would take far too long to crack. After all, it’s only been a few minutes since the gumshoe rolled out of her SUV.

But a casual if squint-worthy read of the document makes clear the document’s content. Dirt on the sheriff.

The next text interrupts her inspection.

There’s more.

Several pictures pop up on the phone, pictures of the two laptops, drives, and the physical files. In the background, she can make out what is clearly a school. Not a living one, but one of New Orleans’ zombic collection, a Katrina-ravaged affair left to rot and fall into ruin.

One picture has a paint-peeling montage of local city legends such as Satchmo, alongside a moldy, laminated poster that reads:

Watch your habits, they become character.

Pic.jpg
Caroline: Don’t get comfortable.

Louis: Been so long since I have, I can’t remember what that would even feel like.

He follows up that indulgent if true quip with an address.

1901 N. Galvez

Caroline: Keep the phone in the evidence you snagged. Smashing this one, she sends.

Sending friends ahead to meet you.

She forwards the images to her own phone.

GM: Incorporeal figures pour from the mouths of the three ghouls, then abruptly vanish. So too does what’s left of the fourth one on the floor.

It’s been a long time.

And she looks uglier than ever.

But Caroline can still recognize the face.

Turner.jpg
Caroline: Caroline takes that particular punch in the gut and rolls with it. She’d hoped the woman had gone on to whatever awaited her. But what awaits most of them, she has to admit, is probably none too pleasant.

Plus Turner was too pissed to die the right way.

She’s happier than ever for her mother’s influence that so violently ejected her. Caroline doesn’t imagine Turner had anything pleasant to say to her.

The Ventrue drops and steps on the tiny pink phone and steps on it while she waits for the ghouls to come to. Her gaze fixes on the casquette girl.

GM: Gisèlle’s head gorily explodes as the car’s window shatters under a bullet’s unmistakable crack. The corpse slumps forward off its seat.

Caroline: Caroline remembers, even early in her Requiem, the question that came up with uncomfortable frequency: could she react more quickly than a shooter? Could she stop a bullet? Could she throw herself in the way of Wright, for instance, if he took a shot at Aimee? Could she shove the co-ed out of the way or take the bullet herself?

Hindsight will tell her that given the amount of energy required to punch through Mr. Ferris’ armored vehicles, the round was moving at a fraction of the speed it started at. That in the open air there’s no way she’d be faster than the supersonic high velocity round that her people can explain cut through the window. The slow down that maybe, just maybe, let the animistic portion of her brain react to the sound of the shot, the sound of the shattering glass.

That will all come later.

For now, instinct bounces Gisèlle’s face off of Mr. Ferris’ headrest as Caroline herself violently dives for the floor, putting the significantly more armored doors between the two and any further fire.

Her voice cuts into the night. “Kâmil, drive!!”

She pulls the other woman down on top of her.

GM: Tires squeal as the car speeds. Ferris shouts something and dives for cover too.

But Caroline smells it before she even looks at it.

The blood.

Before she feels it.

The body’s limpness against her own.

Before she sees it.

The gory remains of a head, red blood and gray brains and white skull shards over black hair, messily spattered across the car’s floor.

The casquette girl is dead.

“We are returning to Perdido House, bayan!” shouts the other ghoul as the wheel spins in his hands.

Caroline: “No!”

He’s reacting, not thinking.

There is only one group that knew their location. Only one group that knew where they were going. That could set up an ambush with the resources available. One group that would take out the casquette girl first, over herself or the heavily armed men in front.

They killed Gisèlle with purpose. To blind them. To cut them off from the seneschal. To make the rest of their deaths an unfortunate cost of their current operation.

She knows who’s coming next, and she knows they’ll never make it to Perdido House.

“1901 N. Galvez, Kâmil! Or we’re all dead!”

She rolls over, the ghoul’s bloody corpse on top of her and digs out her phone rather than glance into the night to give the shooter another chance.

“They knew we were going to Perdidio House. They can’t let that happen. We won’t make it.”

Her fingers work over the phone, sending the address to her allies.

1901 N. Galvez. Tonight. As soon as possible. He’s coming.

She sends another to her sister.

Wake him now. The phone with him will have all the answers he needs.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this, but you play the hand you are dealt.

GM: The response from Cécilia is immediate.

Ok. He’ll be there soon.

“It’s a setup! Exactly what they expect!” snarls the ex-CIA agent, already pulling out his own phone.

Caroline: “The sheriff,” Caroline snarls.

No one could make that shot, through the passenger window of a speeding vehicle. Through bulletproof glass. A head shot like that? Not humanly possible.

But then, he’s not human.

GM: Ferris pulls the casquette girl’s corpse over Caroline’s body as grisly cover. There’s not the faintest semblance of respect for the dead.

“We need to get off the road, ma’am! That shot won’t be the last!”

Caroline: “The school, Kâmil. 1901 N. Galvez. Drive like hell.”

She punches in the number for her phone to Mr. Congo.

GM: The Turkish ghoul hesitates for only a moment.

Then he drives.

“Hello, Miss Malveaux-Devillers,” greets the seneschal’s other ghoul.

Caroline: She doesn’t sugarcoat things.

“Mr. Congo, Gisèlle is dead and I may join her shortly.”

The screeching of tires in the night punctuates the comment.

“She was in contact with the seneschal when a sniper killed her.”

“They targeted her first because they knew she was in contact with him. The list of people that knew that as well as our current location is pitifully short.”

GM: There is a grave pause.

“The seneschal has already left Perdido House, Miss Malveaux-Devillers, on a matter of some urgency.”

Caroline: And perhaps wandering into a trap of his own.

“Can you contact the Hussar? This message must reach the prince. There’s a traitor in Perdido House. I have the evidence, but I can’t reach him and may not live to deliver it.”

GM: “Yes, madam. I will do so as soon as possible. What is your present location?”

Caroline: “We are en route to 1901 N. Galvez. If we can make it there, it is where we will make our stand.”

A pause.

“Mr. Congo, trust no one but the Hussar.”

“The traitor is Sheriff Donovan. It always has been.”

GM: “Grave findings, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. I will attempt to dispatch aid to your location.”

Caroline: “The message is more important than my Requiem. Guard your life carefully. Uou may be the only one with this truth before the night is over.”

Another pause behind squealing tires.

“God go with you.”

GM: “God go with you as well, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. I shall ensure your message is delivered to my domitor and the Hussar.”

Caroline: She lets the line go dead.

GM: Another ear-splitting crack sounds as glass shatters. Caroline can’t see the damage from her position on the floor, but she smells the unmistakable tang of blood over a wetly gurgled gasp.

Caroline: “Ferris?!” she demands, seeking an update.

She makes a decision in a heartbeat as she waits and sinks her fangs into the warm body atop her.

They’re all hurt. They’re all going to be hurt worse before this is done. And Gisèlle doesn’t need it anymore…

GM: “Notified the others to meet us there, ma’am!” he shouts.

“I… live, bayan,” rasps the Turk’s voice from the front seat.

The blood is odd. Most of it tastes like piss. Gisèlle was evidently not enrolled in college.

But there’s a strong undercurrent of something far headier. It’s quality seasoning on top of cheap food.

But to a starving man, even the latter by itself will do.

Caroline: It feels disrespectful, but there’s little room to worry about that now. The sheriff is coming to kill them all, and she expects that Gisèlle would offer up freely if it meant bringing down her killer.

She sucks down the blood as quickly as she can, all too aware of the other ghoul that may be bleeding out in the front seat. As it turns out, that’s quite quickly.

GM: There’s another shark crack through the glass. Caroline can smell the blood wafting from the front seat. Kâmil drives like mad. Caroline can only guess what state the elder ghoul is in, beyond ‘alive’ and ‘hurt.’

“We… are being… followed, bayan! More cars!” Kâmil gets out.

Caroline: Caroline shoves the empty body off of her and leans forward across the center console between Ferris and the elder ghoul. She holds a bleeding wrist before him.

“Drink, if you pass out and crash we’re dead.”

She takes the opportunity to look back at the pursuing vehicles.

GM: The ghoul is bleeding from his chest, but drinks thirstily from Caroline when she offers. The Ventrue sees several black cars that look much like her own.

With preternaturally fast reflexes, she whips her head out just in time for the next sniper’s bullet to demolish a chunk of nearby seat. It leaves an angry red trail from its graze along her head.

“Get down, ma’am! You’re the primary target!” calls Ferris.

Caroline: She lets the ghoul drink until she feels her hunger begin to cloud her thoughts, even as the last of her own wounds molt way.

Not quite the primary, her mind retorts. But she can’t deny she’s the most desirable one remaining.

Mind, also a rather hard target.

She can do something about that.

She offers the same bleeding wrist to Ferris with a, “You’ll need this,” even as she keeps her head moving. Looking, searching, for the next shot while she’s exposed.

She seizes a dark thread too at her heart and pours her emotions into it. Danger. Anxiety. Violence. Worry.

GM: The seat’s headrest explodes just after Caroline pulls her head away.

“Get down, ma’am!” Ferris yells after quickly imbibing.

Caroline: Two fewer rounds in Ferris and Kâmil are a win for her.

GM: She looks in the mirror.

The car with the other ghouls is nowhere in sight.

Caroline: Stopping will get them killed.

The others weren’t the target.

She grits her teeth.

Hopefully that’s enough.

“I’m a lot closer to bulletproof than you are!” she snaps at Ferris, more out of frustration than anger.

Fish in a barrel.

They’ve done everything right. Changed direction. Changed route. Varied speeds. They’ve prepared for this—bulletproof glass, tinted windows, multiple vehicles….

And yet all they can do now is to drive. Dodge. Run.

GM: The dark thread is answered by feelings of love. Warmth. Equally grave worry. Desire to help.

And, above all:

Willingness to endure.

Desire to endure. For her.

Where… are you…?

Caroline: Fighting… sheriff… wake… Raaid.

She’s grateful she’s already confirmed her sisters are safely within their mother’s embrace tonight.

GM: The connection dies with that final word—just as Kâmil pulls into the parking lot of an abandoned, decrepit school that looks as if it was wrecked by Katrina only yesterday. Caroline recognizes it from Lou’s images. Cars roar behind them as the school’s intercom system blares to life. An unfamiliar man’s voice starts directing “proper guests” down the hallway route inside.

Kâmil all but crashes the car as close to the school as possible. He gets the door for Caroline and leaps out in front of her, shielding the Ventrue with his much larger body.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t extend Kâmil’s time in the line of fire by arguing with him. Instead she races into the building, putting solid walls between them and their pursuers.

GM: Caroline’s velocitas-imbued blood proves a great boon yet again to her servants as Ferris blurs towards the building alongside her. Bullets whiz and crack past the trio. Kâmil staggers as he catches one in the thigh. It is perhaps a testament to the mighty ghoul’s endurance that it doesn’t blow off his limb wholesale.

Tires squeal as the black cars come to a stop. Figures pour out from the doors. Camilla Doriocourt’s cold and haughty face is among them, but Caroline can’t make out much more before they open fire, belching hot columns of lead after the swiftly retreating trio.

A bird of prey silently divebombs. Its form shifts in mid-flight, the avian features becoming those of a roaring puma. The great cat tackles Caroline to the ground, roaring, biting, and shredding her flesh before the Ventrue blurs away like lightning and delivers a savage kick to its flank. She staggers as another sniper’s bullet takes her in her hip. Kâmil and Ferris catch several more bullets before the group makes good their retreat into the building.

Caroline: Caroline looks at Ferris once they’re inside with a savage and blood-splattered snarl.

“Do it.”

GM: The bloodied, raggedy-bearded man doesn’t say a word in response. He just pulls out and hits the detonator.

Caroline: They’d talked about this early on—which isn’t to say long ago.

Really there were two arguments in favor. First, that it was highly probable that the vehicle might have significantly incriminating materials in it, and that they might have to abandon it. Her blood. Their blood. Another lick. Whatever it might be. Plenty of reasons the vehicle couldn’t fall into the wrong hands.

Second, more pointedly, Caroline had no interest in ever becoming someone’s prisoner. After Ferris’ experiences in the Middle East he wholeheartedly agreed with that sentiment.

Which is why wrapped around the giant SUV’s massive American gas tank is a sharped charge. Another reason Ferris always rode with her, given he held the detonator.

The time it takes for Ferris to draw out the detonator is enough—more than enough—to draw in the men, the ghouls, the vampires pursuing them, smelling their blood. Rushing in for the kill.

Caroline can’t see the explosion, but she can feel it through the building as the bomb goes off and turns two tons of steel into two tons of flaming shrapnel.

She just hopes someone, anyone, stopped to stick their head inside and look around the vehicle.

Plaster shakes around them and dust rains from crumbling ceiling tiles.

Because fuck them, that’s why.


Wednesday night, 23 March 2016, AM

Louis: A few miles away in the Seventh Ward, Lou receives Caroline’s last texted reply inside the rotted bowels of the century-old, now decade-abandoned Velena C. Jones Elementary. He looks outside, peering through a gunshot peephole in one of the school’s boarded-up windows. Across the street, the white steeple of Mt. Carmel Baptist Church points to the night-black heavens.

He’s chosen the abandoned school for a variety of strategic reasons, including its location, extant utility, labyrinthine interior, evacuation, and planned demolition. But it was ultimately the name of its neighbor that sealed the deal.

Mount Carmel.

Kerem-El.

The Vineyard of God.

In the days of the prophet Amos, Mount Carmel had become a haunt of criminals and sinners, a place where apostates, blasphemers, and infidels thought they were safely hid from God’s sight and wrath. But the Lord told Amos the truth: He could still see them, and His justice would not be denied.

Even more famously though, Mount Carmel was the renowned location of the epic showdown of Elijah versus the 850 priests of Baal to determine whose deity was the true god of Israel. That biblical battle involved bloody sacrifices, a deluge, and a great slaughter of the wicked by blade and fire. God’s fire. So much so that in Islam, the location became known as El-Muhraqa.

The Burning.

The Big Easy is a far cry from the Holy Land, but tonight, Lou prays that its Mount Carmel sees a similar miracle. The bloodletting sinners are coming. They, like those in Amos’ time, are confident in their safety from God’s sight and wrath. Lou, like, Elijah, is outnumbered. Outmanned. Outmatched.

Unless.

Unless God hears his cry.

And so he prays. He pours out his heart like four large jars of water Elijah used to baptize his altar.

And so he prays. He pours out his heart like four large jars of water Elijah used to thrice baptize his altar. He prays for God to fulfill His promise made to Amos. To once more use His power to save Israel. Not that Israel deserves God’s mercy. Nor does Lou, after all. The gumshoe ghoul has no delusions that he’s a holy man like Elijah.

But he still prays. He still pours. Some of that pouring is with words. Others with tears.

He clutches Antonio’s humble cross between his hard-boiled fingers, and he pleads. Pleads that God might know his heart—and not hate him too much.

After all his centuries, despite all the darkness and sin and depravity, the old man still believes. He doesn’t need faith to know that devils are real; he’s been fighting them for centuries. Compared to those devils, saints are scarce. But Lou has met them. Loved them. And perhaps most piercingly, they have loved him back. And so Lou believes. He believes that God and His angels are real, and so too is the forgiveness that He offers.

Perhaps even to a half-damned sinner like Lou.

Not that Lou deserves it. At all. His hands are unclean, and the blood that runs through his veins is even uncleaner. But that’s it. No man deserves forgiveness. No man earned Christ hanging on the cross for him. No man is worthy of His blood. But the blood was still shed all the same.

So he confesses his sins. It takes a long time. His throat burns, and his face is drenched, but he keeps on praying. Pleading for God’s mercy. Like the red-robed woman shown to Longinus by the Angel Amoniel, the old man begs God for forgiveness, begs that Christ accept him, and vows that he will “drink no more of any blood save the Blood of Christ.”

Yet, when the old man finishes his prayer, no sky opens. No fire descends. No light receives him to Heaven.

But the old man still believes. Still dares to hope. He will wait for God to do His work.

In the meantime, he has his own to do.

Much of that work has already been done. For like Elijah of old, Lou has toiled long to prepare his ‘altar.’ However, Lou’s preparations do not involve twelve stones, cut wood, a trench, and a sacrificed ox.

Rather, the old man has made the defunct elementary school into a trap as deceptive as it’s deadly—at least to his foes, or so he hopes. Certain doors have been strategically locked and blocked by tipped over lockers. Others have been left unlocked. In certain places, drywall has been cutout and covered with classroom posters or rotting backpack cubbies to create secret passages. The effect is a maze within a maze.

Cafeteria supplies have been ransacked, with seemingly harmless if rancid flour and sugar packets spread across strategic corridors and thresholds. Such ‘spills’ blend seamlessly with the other detritus left behind by the schools’ former students, teachers, staff, and subsequent squatters. Rubbish and ruin is everywhere, giving the place a post-apocalyptical look that distracts the eyes with too many details and too many places to hide. At least for those unfamiliar with the ‘renovated’ school.

Further adding to the death-trap is its placements of burning candles. Enough rooms are completely bare of such Kindred-feared flames, but others are full of them. If you looked at each of these flame-lit rooms, which most vampires wouldn’t, you might even find a moldy birthday cake that had been left in the staff fridge, and repurposed with lit candles and ‘fresh’ strawberry jam icing that roughly spells out:

HAPPY RETIREMENT, SHERIFF

Less obvious—but far more lethal—are the school’s new supernatural defenses.

Blood-painted veves adorn the walls of multiple rooms, alongside Cainite and Voudun fetishes, some in rooms with flames, other without. In the locker-lined corridors and metal doors, spray-painted dogs mingle with older gang graffiti. There is magic here. Waiting like a web for flies.

And at its center sits Lou, an old spider.

Patient, but no less deadly.


Wednesday night, 23 March 2016, AM

GM: The silence in the explosion’s aftermath is literally deafening.

“Let us make haste, bayan,” says Kâmil, taking off down the hallway in a jog.

Ferris grunts and moves after him.

“Should buy us some time. This is a good place to set up an ambush.”

“Take a right at the end of the hall,” sounds the crackly intercom voice.

Caroline: Caroline follows the voice, burning away more blood as she goes against the gaping rents in her body.

If she had time to put the others back together, she would. But at some point she has to trust to their own abilities: they don’t have time to stop and ghouls are hard to kill.

GM: Not hard enough, in Gisèlle’s case.

The intercom voice continues to issue directions. It’s a large building. Ferris voices his suspicions. He isn’t sure they should play along—the old man who sent them here has already fucked them over once.

“Might be he decides to cut a deal with the sheriff, ma’am. Right now I’d give better odds to Donovan’s side than ours.”

Kâmil silently pounds the keys of a dumbphone as he runs.

“I am summoning aid, bayan, but I cannot say whether it shall arrive in time.”

Caroline: Caroline looks to the blood-splattered spy and the blood-soaked elder ghoul. She knows she’s covered in blood, brains, and worse. Her clothing charred away. They’re a pathetic sight.

“We started the night with seven, Roger. More than half are already dead or missing.”

She wipes blood off her face with the back of a sleeve and gives a grim smile. “If that’s what he decides, it’s all over but the crying. But I think the old man will play it square. He hates Donovan more than us.”

She digs out her phone to send another message, this time to Adler. He made his move. It’s happening now. 1901 N. Galvez. Either victor will appreciate your presence.

“Tell them to group up,” she advises Kâmil. “Anyone rushing in alone is going to get mowed down.”

Well, almost anyone. There’s still one hope that stirs something fierce in her breast, unlikely though it is.

Only twice before has she felt him through their blood—once at the trial, again at her reveal. Both times in anger, in hate. She’d felt his unbound fury such that the first time it overwhelmed her. She wonders if he’s ever felt the same from her. Felt a stirring in his blood at the dangers she has faced.

Surely he’d feel it now. She can almost feel her dead heart roaring in her chest. The odds stacked against them are… frightful, but it’s not fear she feels. It’s anger. It’s hate. The same hate she felt through him.

Traitor… Donovan… fighting…

Snakes in the garden.

She’ll kill them all.

GM: The first response she receives is a text on her phone. Not from Adler, but Westphal’s number.

Where are you and where is he?

Caroline: She looks down at it as they set off into the building, following behind Roger.

We just entered the building through the north entrance, on Miro St. He was right behind us—and brought friends.

She sends it out to Raaid (via the phone her sister should have supplied), Jocelyn, and the three Lasombra—the allies she’s arrayed for this battle.

Not that she intends on using Jocelyn in battle. No, she instead asks the Toreador to bring her a vessel. They’ll need one, and badly.

GM: All four of them, besides Lou.

All too few against the sheriff and the forces he might bring to bear.

Caroline: It’s not so bleak an accounting as she might have feared weeks ago.

Five vampires—each of them battle-tested, punching well above their weight and age. None of them individually may be a match for the sheriff, but none of them have reason to fear the others among his traitorous pact individually—save perhaps the bishop’s sire. None of hers have grown fat and soft. They’re all bloodied, tough, and battle-tested.

Two elder ghouls—Lou and Kâmil both. She knows well how fearsome both are individually. She has seen Lou cut down a vampire the match of any in the sheriff’s gang.

The parade of lesser ghouls each might bring to this battle—and the strength she can give them through both her blood and the frightful weapons the sheriff so inadvertently placed in her hand with his last assassination attempt.

Whatever strength Lou might bring to bear in this battle—she does not imagine he leaped into it blindly or alone. The centuries-old ghoul has a plan, an agenda. He’s laid his trap, and while she may be the bait used to spring it, she’d rather be the bait than the target of the cunning cruelty of the old man in a profession most die young in.

Then there is the crushing weight of time bearing down on the sheriff—not upon her. The longer this conflict goes on, the more chance another will intervene. Two specific others that leap readily to mind: sire and seneschal, the great pieces that might sweep the board before them clear.

And the cards in her hand she has yet to play, few though they are.

It’s far from hopeless—the strongest hand she could hope to play for this confrontation, barring her trump cards.

GM: That same hope looks as if it weighs upon the minds of both ghouls. Or at least Kâmil.

Just prolong this.

Just hold out.

“Right,” sounds the intercom again.

“Don’t like this,” growls Ferris.

“Whomever is here has anticipated this confrontation,” says Kâmil. “That gives me hope.”

But Caroline is the first to hear it. Distant crashes.

“Second classroom on the left, through the poster,” sounds the voice on the intercom.

The thump of footsteps, of many footsteps, echoes loudly off floors. The preternaturally sped ghouls burst from jogs into sprints as gunfire explodes behind them, shredding apart drywall and blowing chunks in floors and paneled ceilings. Ferris swears profusely and stumbles. Caroline smells the fresh of aroma of blood. Kâmil seizes the other ghoul, slings him over his shoulder, and takes off in a blur with the Ventrue for the second door on the left. The dusty classroom inside is completely trashed, but there’s still a moldering poster of a cat hanging onto a tree with the caption ‘hang in there’. Gunfire continues to echo as Kâmil shoves aside a turned-over desk and peels away the poster, revealing a crudely excavated hole in the drywall that one must crawl to enter through. The ghoul regards it approvingly as he waits for Caroline and Ferris to get through first, then crawls after them, doing his best to right the desk and poster after he’s through.

“I fear this may do little more than delay the sheriff, but in delay too is hope,” he murmurs.

Caroline: “I knew this night was coming,” Caroline agrees, shoving a desk in front of the hole as soon as the elder ghoul clears it.

“We will not face him alone, even here.”

GM: “Alone’s best. If it were me, I’d let him break his strength against us and any booby traps, then swoop in for the mop-up after we’re dead,” Ferris blackly observes. The ghoul is pale-faced and sweating as he pushes several bullets out of his bleeding legs, regenerating the chewed flesh.

Caroline: “That’s why you make certain most of your ‘allies’ value you more alive than dead,” Caroline answers wryly.

“I don’t trust anyone else Lou brought farther than I can throw them, but I’m not relying on him alone.”

GM: “Right, left hole, then third door on the right,” says Kâmil, holding up a note on the floor as he takes off in a jog. “Our ‘allies’ are prudent not to use the intercom alone.”

“Fuller and Green haven’t gotten back to me,” says Ferris as he takes off in a jog. “Or the others. Would assume they’re compromised or dead.”

“Chandler and Graves are making their way over.”

Caroline: Caroline grimaces. She doesn’t like Fuller and Autumn’s odds against the forces that were pursuing them, if even a fraction broke off to finish them off, and she’s missing Ericson’s blade tonight—exactly as the sheriff had intended when he named her.

“Widney had other directions that are likely consuming her attention tonight,” the Ventrue offers.

The administratively focused ghoul was the most ready attaché she could attach to her Lasombra allies—the one least missed in the safehouse raid and fighting. She’s hopeful that will pay dividends tonight—her charred clothing and lack of weapons leave her feeling distinctively naked in the moment.

GM: If Ericson’s blade could even be counted on. The mother of two was not eager to risk her life again in Caroline’s service after the clash with Meadows. The Olympic athlete had never actually fought to kill someone before.

Perhaps some hidden blessing that the sheriff didn’t know that.

“Or she’s been taken out or compromised too,” says Ferris as he stoops through the next hole in the wall.

Caroline: Caroline gives a bloody grin. “Your cynicism is inspiring, Roger.”

She wishes she could have shared more with him—about her ties to the newly-arrived Lasombra and other countermeasures she has in place—but there were some secrets she’s kept very close to the vest. At least until Donovan was removed, and especially after learning about the brazen invasion of Adler’s mind.

GM: The next few harrowing minutes can only be described as navigating a maze—one of musty corridors and derelict classrooms filled with concealed drywall holes and secret passageways, all of them ensconced amidst squalor, detritus, and filth. Sometimes the voice over the intercom tells them where to go. Sometimes there are notes left on the floor. That measure is clearly intended to throw off pursuers—anyone who followed the intercom’s directions without also following the ones on the notes would be hopelessly misdirected. All throughout the Katrina-ravaged school, rancid flour and sugar is spilled across floors and doorways at random points. In other locales, tiny pinpricks of fire wheedle at Caroline’s badly aggravated and on edge Beast.

For there is another source making it whine and snarl.

Pursuers.

Sometimes the noises of many, many footsteps behind them die off. Sometimes they start again. Sometimes there are tremendous crashes and explosion-like booms as Caroline’s hunters rip and tear and brute force their way through the maze-like school. Caroline isn’t sure how he’s following them. Sorcery. Preternatural senses. Simple if uncanny powers of deduction. Other methods. Perhaps several of them, or all of them. Like with Claire’s security, like with any security system, the most Lou’s precautions and defenses can hope to accomplish against a truly committed force is delay and resource taxation. Caroline’s foe has committed himself to this gamble and cannot back out now. Not without risking all coming to ruin.

So the Ventrue and her ghouls run, the hounds almost literally nipping at their heels—and finally duck through another drywall hole and emerge inside the gymnasium.

But Lou’s countermeasures have succeeded in one of their purposes.

Delay.

Mahmoud, Westphal, and Cimpreon are gathered there. Of Raaid, Caroline sees no sign. Barricades close off the entrances. Around half a dozen ghouls with shotguns, assault rifles, swords, molotov cocktails, and—most deadly—Raaid’s several rocket launchers are lined up in rows at the top of the bleachers, the highest ground available, behind more barricades. Shadowy presences with vaguely demonic features lurk in the room’s darkest corners, their presences radiating malice and hate. None of the ghouls look eager to stand any closer to them.

Caroline: It’s a sight that brings a genuine smile to the Ventrue’s soot-, drywall dust-, and blood-stained face.

Not seeing Raaid doesn’t immediately concern her—he had further to come—and might be present all the same.

She observes with satisfaction that the Lasombra have set up a textbook L-shaped ambush. The ghouls can pour heavy weapons fire—to say nothing of actual fire—into the forces advancing through the double doors. It will be a killing field for any ghouls with Donovan’s party, and one that will bleed its vampires as well. She’d noticed the distinct lack of cover in the hall leading into the gym.

Any attackers that make it into the gym itself can be contained by Caroline, the Lasombra, and Kâmil—a ‘security’ force that will hold either side of the entrance to prevent breakouts—to allow the shooters to continue to pour fire into the kill zone as long as possible to maximum effect.

With the Molotovs and rockets there’s the hope, too, of spreading fire in the hall—sowing chaos in the vampires pursuing them—and if the ghouls can place the fire only in the hall, at least to start, it may allow the defenders to avoid its effects.

If they can set them into flight through the school, she has little doubt it’ll prove a death trap for them—full of traps designed specifically to catch, destroy, or incapacitate frenzying vampires.

Against almost any other force she could imagine arrayed against them, it’d be a slaughter.

But against the sheriff she knows it’s not enough. Knows it in her bones. She remembers well her duel with the Hussar, the gap in skill, in strength, in brutality. She expects the sheriff will prove all the more frightful—none of them can stand against him if he comes through the doors.

Too, there’s sorcery aplenty on the other side—perhaps enough to control the fires, to raise barriers, to shape this battle.

Their initial strike will maul the sheriff’s party badly. If they’re lucky, it’ll torpor or destroy vampires and kill most of their ghouls. But it won’t be enough. The sheriff and his remaining Kindred supporters will carve through them.

She hopes this isn’t what Lou has in mind.

The absence of other figures concern her as well. Jocelyn was supposed to arrive with a vessel. It shouldn’t be a surprise that there was an answer in place to remove her from the board—she’s been one of Caroline’s most well known ‘supporters’, but it still stings—and justifies her decision to drain the slain casquette girl.

She doesn’t let the concerns show on her face as she approaches the Lasombra.

“I’m glad you could make it. Sorry about the late notice—he decided to start the party early.”

GM: “His funeral, and my payday,” sneers Westphal.

“I been waitin’ a long time for this,” smiles Cimpreon.

“But he ain’t gonna go down easy, even with this setup, if he’s brought friends.”

Caroline: “He did.”

Caroline briefly elaborates on those she saw.

“They’re not far behind us—but I’m expecting additional company still.”

She looks into the openness of the gym.

“You hear me, old man?”

GM: Ferris and Kâmil, meanwhile, move amidst the other ghouls to procure extra weapons. Both of Caroline’s protectors (though just as often this evening, protectees) already bear sidearms, but Kâmil gladly avails himself of a proper sword. The group’s hasty flight from their vehicle forced him to abandon the blade he’d stored there. Ferris accepts a heavier submachine gun. As weakened as individual bullets might be against the undead, massed automatic weaponsfire is no laughing matter even to them.

No response from the old hunter answers Caroline.

“You look like shit,” says Mahmoud.

“What forces did you see and what backup can we expect?” Westphal asks crisply.

“Do zhey haf any sorcerers?” asks Mahmoud. Faintly contemptuously. It’s clear who she considers the real threats.

Caroline: “At least two sorcerers of equal or superior skill,” Caroline offers Mahmoud as she breaks open the trunk she’d left with the Lasombra for tonight and peels offs the tattered and charred remains of her clothing.

“And at least one other Kindred—a shapeshifter. Multiple ghouls. Maybe more. I counted at least three vehicles total. Minus whatever losses they took here.”

She belts on a sword and dagger, then loosens the sword in it scabbard.

“I’d expect four or five Kindred, plus Donovan, and call it an even dozen ghouls.”

GM: “Donovan… Doriocourt, Agnello, Wright,” counts off Cimpreon. “Who’s our other pals?”

He regards Caroline appreciatively as she changes.

Caroline: She raises an eyebrow at the Lasombra as she pulls a fresh long-sleeved turtleneck on, then shimmies into pants.

“Kâmil has a couple centuries in the blood.” She gestures towards him to as she pulls a hand through a sleeve. “I had a casquette girl, but she was their first target. Most of my other ghouls are dead or missing, but I’ve got half a dozen kine that can use an automatic weapon on the way.”

“We’ve got a Banu Haqim with what I’d wager is about a century as well.”

“The old man—ghoul—and whoever else he’s brought to the party. I’d stack him even against anyone but Donovan, and he has friends.”

She gives a savage grin.

“And the prince knows.”

GM: “Damn, they plugged a caskie?” Cimpreon lets out a whistle. “These guys really want you dead.”

Caroline: “Me more than anyone in the city,” Caroline answers with another grin as she fits a gorget under the turtleneck.

“But don’t get any ideas, love. If I don’t walk out of here, the prince will kill everyone involved, and probably everyone they’ve ever known. But just as surely, the rewards for those that survive standing with me will be just as large.”

GM: “That’s precisely what I was counting on,” says Westphal with a thin smile.

“Though I’m sure there’ll be a story for your final death, if they manage to pull that off. I doubt that Donovan or anyone on his team is as smart as me, of course, but I’ll give someone who’s wound up sheriff some credit. He has to know how the prince thinks to get and hold the job.”

“Yeah, and doubt they’re as modest, either,” Cimpreon smirks at the off-hand boast.

Caroline: There was no winning if they weren’t all brought in. She couldn’t spend this fight wondering if a knife in the back is coming, if someone offered Westphal a better deal, or if they’ll turn if things look grim. Even if there’s an immediate cost.

“Maybe with any other lick in the city it could be an unfortunate accident in the broader fight,” Caroline answers. “But I have a rather direct line to him, and my message my sire to was unequivocal.”

GM: “Good, we’ll cause a broplem efen if we lose,” says Mahmoud. “One last ‘fuck you.’”

“I have no plans on losing,” sneers Westphal.

“How long do you estimate we have and what further preparations would be most efficacious?”

Caroline: “Minutes at best, probably less,” she answers, pulling on a tailored Kevlar arming coat and buttoning it tightly at one wrist and at the throat, leaving the other wrist loose for now.

Whether it’ll stop any of the higher-caliber bullets being used tonight is an open question. She doubts it. Similarly, she doesn’t expect it to hold up to any weapon wielded with inhuman strength or speed. What it does offer is a significant degree of protection against that most feared of banes, fire. She can’t imagine a stake surviving impact against the small titanium plate sown into the back over her heart, either.

She looks at the ghouls. “Pull the least effective shooter off and give him a fire extinguisher. Hold the shadow beasts back around the ghouls to intercept anything that gets past us.”

Caroline brings her exposed wrist to her fangs and draws blood. “Who else is getting fast?”

GM: “Someone get a container,” calls Westphal. “All three of us, and whatever else you have to spare for the half-bloods.”

One of the Lasombra’s ghouls produces one and approaches.

“Lot of security contractors going to be dead after tonight, I expect,” he observes.

“Inconvenient. The market here can’t be anywhere nearly as good as Saudi Arabia’s.”

Caroline: “If each of you hit me back we can make it go further,” she suggests.

GM: Westphal empties the ghoul’s water bottle. The three Kindred drink their fill after Caroline bleeds herself, then bleed themselves and pass it back.

“Zhe Apyssal entities work best swarming enemies,” says Mahmoud. “Zhey hate life and lofe killing, and I don’t care if zhey die. Zhere’s always more to call up.” She smirks faintly at Westphal. “Unlike your mercenaries.”

Caroline: “You know better than I do—but they’d make ideal catchers for those that make it out of the kill zone, because while they’re fighting the ghouls don’t have to worry about where their bullets and Molotov’s go.”

She checks her phone as she swigs down the other Kindred’s vitae.

GM: It tastes dark and hard and smoldering with ambition. There’s a refined flavor to it, even a nobility of sorts, but it’s… got a more direct kick to it, Caroline can only say, than the vitae of her own clan.

“Pullets won’t do much to zhem, put as creatures off incarnate darkness zhey’re still hurt py fire.”

Caroline: “That makes all of us.”

GM: Two of the ghouls, one of Cimpreon’s gangsters and one of Westphal’s security contractors, imbibe from the water bottle after Caroline bleeds herself.

Caroline’s phone has one new message.

Adler still has not responded, but there is a text from Jocelyn:

Hey I’m here with the juicebag where are you

Caroline: She bites back a curse.

Jocelyn’s timing isn’t actually the worst, but it’s not great either. Too late to sneak in with the Lasombra, too early to help with cleanup, and just in time to cause a problem with Lou and any hunter friends he brought.

Running late here. Can you park a street over? I’ll let you know as soon as I’m done.

GM: No I don’t want to wait around

I’m already being your maid bringing over food on demand

Caroline: Petulant child.

Her patience for the Toreador is at an all-time low amid a fight for her life against the sheriff.

Do not approach the building, Jocelyn. Things are about to get very violent. I’ll let you know when it’s safe.

She swaps to texting Cécilia.

I may need you again tonight, she sends, feeling guilty even as she taps out the words. I may need everyone. Things not going as planned—he made his move early. Things are about to get bad.

She hates the idea of shifting her pain to her sisters, hates to even ask. But the alternative may be dying on them—and she knows that would hurt them in more than one way more.

It easier, in some ways, when she was the only one she was going to hurt if she failed.

GM: Too late I’m doing it, Jocelyn texts back.

Fuck you ordering me around when I’m already doing you a favor

A moment later:

I’m inside now :)

The smiley face feels more than a little passive-aggressive.

Caroline: She stops responding to the Toreador, looking up to the Lasombra and her ghouls. “Any word, Kâmil?”

GM: “Aid is en route to our location, bayan,” he responds. “I am told the seneschal has already taken some portion of the covenant’s strength with him upon another errand, however. And with the Guard de Ville accounted for, our prince’s remaining forces are now spread thin between two fronts.”

“Good time for Savoy or the B-man to make a move,” Cimpreon observes.

“If they know the prince is so besought,” muses Westphal.

Ok. We’ll be here for you, Cécilia texts back. Thanks for the heads up.

Actually I’m gonna try the gym, texts Jocelyn.

Caroline: Caroline runs her tongue across her fangs, thinking of a certain other Toreador.

“I laid a false trail with Savoy’s side, but if we succeed tonight obviously there’s going to be a pretty large red flag going up for Savoy pretty immediately. We need to be ready to dip as soon as the sheriff goes down for good. And if the seneschal is gone with additional forces as is, pretty good odds whatever have left is going to divert to counter their thrust.”

She looks at Westphal, then the other Lasombra.

“Obviously that goes beyond our deal, and assumes a lot of things, so we can cross that bridge when we get there.”

GM: Already thought of a couple ways you can pay me back, hint hint ;) texts Jocelyn.

Caroline: “I’ve got a friend coming in,” she adds for the other licks.

GM: “More the merrier,” smirks Cimpreon.

“What would I do if I were Savoy and felt my childe die?” considers Westphal. “An attack on Perdido House is probably too risky, without clearer intelligence and advance planning. But I’d hit secondary targets, knowing there’s going to be a delayed and/or less effectual Hardliner response with their most effective field agent out of commission.”

“Yes, zhat’s fucking great and all, put right now I care a lot more apout zhis pattle,” says Mahmoud.

Caroline: The Ventrue nods. “Eyes on the prize, not on the horizon.”

GM: Westphal shrugs. “We’ve made as many preparations as we can. There’s little else to do now except wait.”

“If I lose enough of my people, I may let you and your sire off the hook for some of your promises in return for that CIA agent of yours,” says the Lasombra. “If he survives tonight.”

Westphal had already offered to buy Ferris from Caroline. The man’s background in the Middle East very much drew his interest.

Caroline: Caroline grins. “It’s possible we could find some manner of agreement about his future, assuming all of us survive tonight.”

She imagines her suggestion is less than aligned with Westphal’s own ideas.

“If I die and he doesn’t tonight, feel free to extend your job offer—I expect you’ll both be looking for a speedy departure from the city.”

GM: “You hear that, ghoul? You have a backup option,” smirks Westphal.

“Glad for it, sir,” answers Ferris. “I’d rather not be left high and dry if she dies tonight and I don’t.”

There’s a banging against the gym doors.

HEY LEMME IN!”

Caroline: Caroline’s grin becomes a smile at Ferris’ diplomatic answer.

Both fade with the banging at the doors.

Jocelyn is no fighter. It’s possible that the sheriff made no accounting for her when he accounted for so many of her ghouls and allies.

It’s possible, but that doesn’t mean she thinks it likely. If she’d been on the other side, Caroline would have had forces outside to account for late arriving forces—to pick off everyone they could.

Jocelyn sauntering up doesn’t feel right. Doesn’t smell right.

She approaches the door. “Be ready,” she murmurs to those around the doors, indicating they should not remove the barricades just yet.

Instead she calls on the blood, on the connection between her blood and Jocelyn’s, the Toreador completely in her thrall, to bend her will and ask the question with the Beast’s voice.

“Are there other Kindred with you?”

GM: “No,” Jocelyn answers in a sleepy voice.

Caroline: “Did you meet other Kindred or ghouls on your way in?” she persists.

GM: “No,” she answers again.

GM: Cimpreon frowns. “If you don’t trust her, I say leave her out for the De Villes.”

“What value does she bring to our force?” asks Westphal.

“Not a strong will, zhat’s opvious,” remarks Mahmoud.

Caroline: “Let her in,” Caroline answers.

There’s a risk here, but she’s mitigated the worst of it if Jocelyn hasn’t seen or interacted with other Kindred, and doesn’t present a Trojan horse for them in that way.

GM: Westphal motions. Two of the ghouls climb down the bleachers and move aside the barricades. Jocelyn’s standing outside, casually dressed in jeans, raincoat, and backpack. Meg is there too, similarly dressed. Both of them are half-carrying a half-conscious-looking man around college age. He’s dark skinned and dressed in jeans and a hoodie.

“Finally,” Jocelyn mutters, letting go of the man shoving him off towards the ghouls. They catch him before he hits the ground. Meg gives a squeak.

Jocelyn takes off her wet coat and shoves it into the ghouls’ hands, then smiles, straddles up to Caroline, and wraps her arms around the Ventrue. She plants a kiss on her lover’s lips.

“Seeee, wasn’t dangerous at all.”

She looks over the three Lasombra. Her gaze passes off Mahmoud and Westphal, but settles on Cimpreon.

“You’re cute. I like the suit and tats. You wanna fuck my carmilla here with me?”

Cimpreon looks amused.

“Maybe after this is all over. Killing always gets me worked up for fucking.”

“Somehow I’m guessing Toreador,” Westphal sneers to Mahmoud, who rolls her eyes.

The ghouls hand Jocelyn’s coat to Meg and lay down the man. They close the doors and start re-assembling the barricade.

Caroline: Caroline slides out of Jocelyn’s embrace.

“The sheriff is coming, Jocelyn. And we’re going to kill him.”

GM: “Uh, wait, what?”

“You eating him?” asks Cimpreon, nodding towards the man.

Caroline: She gestures across the room for Jocelyn, to the rows of heavily armed men and ghouls. To Kâmil and Ferris.

“I didn’t wave you off for giggles.”

She turns to Cimpreon. “That was the idea—either before or after. Didn’t expect that I’d show up as full as I did after my earlier activities.”

GM: “Uh, you have a death wish, or just some other reason you wanna pick a fight with the De Villes?” says Jocelyn.

“Well if you’re not going to eat him now, I will. I sbent some plood calling up zhe Apyssal peasts,” says Mahmoud.

Caroline: She nods to Mahmoud. “Split him if necessary—we’re all going to need it. Alternatively, I could use the blood to speed up all the remaining ghouls.”

She turns to Jocelyn. “He’s a traitor. He tried to kill me—three times.”

GM: “Okay, this is completely nuts. You should leave,” says Jocelyn.

“Fuck ’em,” says Cimpreon, and sinks his fangs into the man.

He drinks for a bit, then stops and licks his lips. “Mm. Funny flavor.” He hefts the man up by his shirt and casually throws him across the gym. He lands at Caroline’s feet with a crash.

“Drink up, ladies.”

Caroline: “Funny how?” Caroline asks, planting a foot in his chest to stop the others.

GM: “Relaxed, I guess.”

Caroline: Caroline tilts her head. “Maybe better to wait, then, if there’s anything unusual.”

“And I don’t know that our other associates would appreciate us killing him.”

GM: “Squeamish?” Westphal sneers.

“So far I’ve seen a fat lot from these associates beyond an intercom voice. This feels like us being used to do someone else’s dirty work.”

Caroline: “Wouldn’t have been able to group up without their prep—you didn’t see that the rest of the school is a deathtrap and maze.” She licks her lips.

GM: “No, we saw,” says Mahmoud. “Zhere’s wardings on zhese walls. And zhe ceiling.”

“No effect on anyzhing coming in. Going out’s bropably anozher matter.”

“Dirty work,” repeats Westphal.

Cimpreon abruptly collapses to his feet.

“Wha’… the…” he slurs.

“Don’t move,” Westphal snarls at Jocelyn, who halts in mid-step.

“What the fuck!” she exclaims.

Caroline: Caroline’s expression twists into anger as she rounds on Jocelyn. “Where’d you get the vessel, Jocelyn?”

“Mahmoud, is there anything you can do for him?” she asks.

GM: “Fuck you! Tell short stack here to let me-”

“Freeze,” Westphal hisses next at Meg.

The ghoul cowers in place.

Mahmoud stares daggers at Jocelyn. “No, I’m not a fucking healer. Who wants to kill zhis cunt?”

Kâmil draws close to Caroline, hand on his weapon. The other ghouls instantly move into positions of readiness.

Caroline: “Toss the backpack through one of the windows,” she tells Kâmil.

She turns back to Jocelyn.

“One job, and you fucked it up.”

GM: Caroline’s order is exactly when the pack explodes.

The sound is beyond deafening, shredding ears as surely as the shrapnel shreds their bodies. The concussive shockwave rocks everyone off their feet, but deadlier still is the fire as the room turns into an inferno. Napalm burns and clings to everything through the cloud of dust. Caroline can only guess how many explosives were crammed into the backpack.

She can guess, because her screaming Beast does not claim her as the others burn and suffer and scream and succumb to frenzy. The Ventrue is there one second, right by the backpack. The next she’s gone, seemingly teleported across space if not time. Did she merely run at incredible speed, dodging shrapnel, napalm, dust—solid, liquid, gas—alike? Did she soar through the air, unbound by laws of gravity, like unto the sheriff and seneschal? There is no witness quick-eyed enough to say. They can but observe that the prince’s childe is now perched atop one of the back-most bleachers, pale flesh hale, clothes intact, even her hair scarcely disturbed.

Caroline: Too slow.

She knows it before the words leave her mouth.

Whether they’re listening in with a bug on Jocelyn, some discipline, or sorcery, she knows what’ll happen the second the words leave her mouth—and she knows exactly how devastating it’ll be.

Too slow, and bringing Jocelyn in at all was her decision, her fault.

The others can’t say afterwards exactly what happened—even with her blood in their veins, she doesn’t so much move as simply teleport to their eyes—one second standing beside Jocelyn, the next stumbling away, having flung the Toreador’s bag with all the speed and strength that is her vampiric deathright.

She narrowly avoids an outright fall only with the same inhuman speed and grace that lets her catch herself mid-fall with half a dozen lightning-fast steps to regain her balance.

GM: The backpack explodes.

That still happens.

Shrapnel flies everywhere. Fire blossoms as napalm flies everywhere, riding the cloud of dust. The shockwave sends people staggering and stumbling—those too slow or unawares (or held frozen by the sanguine voice) to throw themselves on the ground for cover. The sound leaves even Caroline’s dead ears ringing, and she cannot imagine how much worse it is for the living. The floor is completely wrecked and gutted. Groans rock through the structure. Rubble and dust fall from the ceiling.

But where it happens is another matter.

It happens, instead, at the far opposite corner of the gym. Kâmil, Jocelyn, Meg, Westphal, Cimpreon, and the motionless man are caught at the outer edge of the blast, rather than ground zero. Flames cling and burn to clothes. Blood wells from abrasions. The vampires howl their rage as Kâmil throws them to the floor and stamps on them to put out fires. The other ghouls leap down from the bleachers with fire extinguishers. But no one looks too badly hurt. No one looks dead—or looks like an unrecognizable mess of charred and scattered bits of meat.

“Put a round in her fucking head!” Westphal screams at his ghouls, his face livid.

Caroline: Caroline draws a stake out of her belt and drives it into Jocelyn’s breast.

GM: Even as wood pierces the heart of Caroline’s already paralyzed lover, the Lasombra’s servants have little chance to obey.

A rumble doesn’t build—it’s been building, hardly perceptible over the explosive detonation, but audible now to Caroline’s sensitive ears. The thump of onrushing feet. Many feet.

Then the window above the bleachers shatters.

Outside, rain and wind howl. Glass spills like falling tears as rainwater whips inside—

And Caroline’s foe comes forth.

Donovan_Large.jpg
He’s dressed in a dark, double-breasted trench coat, its style vaguely reminiscent of a World War II German military officer. On someone else, it might look offensive. On him it feels like the Third Reich is back—and pounding on your door in the dead of night, each sharp bang promising you’re next. He bothers with no umbrella. The rain weeps against his waxen, corpse-like face, and perhaps seems to trickle down its frozen contours more slowly than rain should. He does not blink as the moisture runs down his eyes, nor move his mouth as it beads on his lips. He looks like a statue. Chiseled stone indifferent to its state in the gloomy weather.

He’s dressed for war, too, beneath his coat, in full Kevlar body armor. Does he even need it? It’s some protection against fire, Caroline knows. He’s armed to the teeth. A heavy-looking sniper rifle is strapped across his back—surely the weapon that slew Gisèlle—along with an M16A4, that 20-lb monster of a gun most soldiers fire either prone or mounted, and an AK-47. Hardware enough to weigh down a lesser man. Sword and machete hang from his hip. Bandoliers of ammunition crisscross his chest. His coat pockets are full with what can only be further devices and instruments of destruction.

There is no mistaking the mission of this black-garbed templar.

There is no mistaking what lurks in his inscrutable, storm-colored eyes, those empty eyes that chillingly pierce through to the very soul, and threaten to make them as empty as their possessor. The thing that lurks in those icy eyes is same thing that has stared at Caroline since she first saw the sheriff in Perdido House, what feels like a lifetime ago.

It was always there.

She always knew it was there.

The seneschal delayed it for as long as he could. Kept her ignorant of her heritage. Kept him ignorant of her heritage. Gave her time to grow from a frightened and ignorant fledgling into the prince’s rightful childe and heir. Gave her time to grow into something that could meet this nemesis—and perhaps cannot, if the forces she has assembled tonight are inadequate. But Philip Maldonato can shield her from her destiny no longer. Can delay this confrontation no longer. The seneschal is so conveniently occupied tonight upon another “matter of urgency,” and the would-be usurper who surely lusts for her sire’s throne is here. Here to remove this threat to his ascendancy, once and for all. Before her sire can spirit her away. Before her strength can further wax. Late is his coming—doubtlessly he wishes he had done this long ago (and was it truly so long ago?) in Perdido House, when she was a babe in the night and would have been helpless to withstand him. He, too, can delay this confrontation no further. He sought to preempt it with Raaid, she suspects. Do the deed without dirtying his own hands. But the assassin’s mission failed and now he must handle the job himself.

She is out of time.

He is out of time.

Her doom, that archaic word for ‘destiny’ that now carries such sinister connotations, has arrived upon dark wings amidst a miserable and storm-lashed night. The nameless and dreadful thing lurking in the sheriff’s empty eyes has come forth. That thing she glimpsed a terrible preview of, when she met his gaze in Perdido House, and all masks and lies were finally stripped away from them both.

Death.


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Story Thirteen, Celia XXXIV

“You just want to spread your… fucking curse, onto all of us. You can’t just leave us alone!"
Emily Rosure


Tuesday night, 22 March 2016, PM

Celia: The nightjar does a final swoop around the neighborhood, looking for signs of Kindred activity on the streets below. The Beasts always sense each other, hidden though the nightjar’s is.

GM: The nightjar’s 15 or so minute search yields sees nothing.

The Nosferatu, after all, must hide their deformed faces too.

Celia: The nightjar doesn’t linger overlong in the territory when its search turns up nothing. Despite the lack of rats this evening it’s still riding the high from the earlier altercations, and it wants to keep that going. It turns to head back to the Quarter.

GM: The nightjar finds Jade’s haven currently empty.

Celia: It heads instead to Flawless.

GM: After 8 PM, the spa is closed down and the lights turned off.

Celia: The bird flies back to Celia’s mother’s house, touching down beside the car. It resumes its male form and pulls out Celia’s phone from where she’d left it earlier and dials the ghoul’s number.

GM: “Yes, m-Celia?” Alana asks, quickly picking up.

Celia: “Let’s go out. Where are you?”

GM: “Nowhere as important as by your side,” the ghoul croons. “Where do you want me?”

Celia: “In my arms, darling. Come home so we can get ready together.”

GM: “That’s just where I want to be too,” Alana purrs. “I’ll be home right away.”

Celia: Z’s face begins to change the moment he gets into the car, turning him into Jade once more. It’s a quick drive home. She lets herself in, idly browsing through the closet for an outfit for this evening.

GM: A loud, “HEY!” goes up from Diana’s house as the man gets inside Celia’s car.

Celia: Oh boy.

The flesh continues to change. Jade looks toward the source of the noise.

GM: It’s her mom, carrying a carving knife.

She looks confused when she sees Jade.

Celia: Jade gives an awkward wave.

GM: “Hi,” she says tersely, folding her arms.

Celia: “Hi,” Jade says quietly. “I was just… getting my car.”

GM: “Yes, I saw. There’s an alarm around the house now. I get a phone alert when someone comes close enough.”

Celia: “Oh. Good. Glad that’s working. Quick installation.” Jade nods.

GM: “Yes. I wanted to take quick action. We don’t feel as safe as we used to.”

She hasn’t uncrossed her arms.

“I thought you’d be the one to do something bad, but maybe that was unfair of me. Tonight was all Celia.”

Celia: “Celia is… struggling right now. Sometimes the taste of love overwhelms us. There aren’t many who taste like that, and even I felt it from Emily. That doesn’t excuse what she did. It was wrong. But she’s struggling, and deeply ashamed.”

GM: “Emily feels very hurt,” says Diana. “She feels very betrayed. She feels like Celia sees her as food.”

“She’s cried a lot. And said some pretty angry things.”

Celia: “Would you like me to speak to her?”

“I just fed,” she adds, as if that might help.

GM: “That depends,” says her mom. “Was what happened tonight the same thing that happened, earlier? When Celia was chained to the bathtub, and just… lost it?”

“Because I could tell that thing wasn’t Celia. I wasn’t as sure tonight.”

Celia: “No. That was Celia tonight. The Beast wouldn’t have asked. It would have just taken. But she… wasn’t in her right mind. The blood can do that, make us do things that we ordinarily wouldn’t ever consider.” Jade cants her head to one side. “You weren’t affected by what Celia did earlier.”

“The emotional manipulation. The aura.”

“I don’t know if that’s a reflection of the abuse you went through that you can shrug it off, or being reunited with Lucy and finding your strength again. Or if it’s simply a byproduct of the love you feel for your children. Either way, it’s a gift. It makes us worry less that someone might sway you like that.”

“I’m stronger than Celia in that regard. She has admitted as much. If it is okay with you, I would like to apologize to Emily and make it right. Especially knowing what I do about what Emily has been through. I’d like you to stay with us, if you’re not too tired, so that you see I have no ill intentions.”

“I—we—also think it might be beneficial to tell her about… us.”

“The others.”

“Please,” Jade adds quietly. The word is foreign on her tongue. She doesn’t often find herself begging; Celia does most of that. But this, she knows, this is important. This is another mistake Celia has made that Jade can at least attempt to fix.

GM: By this time, Diana’s hair is fairly soaked under the still-falling rain. She finally clambers into the car on the passenger side and pats Jade’s hand.

“I had planned to introduce the two of you. And Lucy.”

“You’re my daughter. So that means my other kids are your brothers and sisters.”

“I’d still like to.”

“I also think meeting Celia’s alters would be a lot for Emily to take in right now.”

Celia: “I don’t want her to hate Celia.”

GM: “This is about Emily, before it’s about Celia.”

“As she’s the one who’s been hurt and now feels unsafe.”

“Why did this happen?” Diana asks, simply. “Was Celia hungry, and that’s why she wasn’t in her right mind? Or is it dangerous for her to be around blood at all?”

Celia: There’s a moment of silence while Jade collects her thoughts.

“Celia told you the other night that she wants to be better. Before she came here she met with someone who is part of her herd. He’s facing some difficult times at work, so rather than feed as deeply as normal she only took a small amount. She was still riding the edge. She wanted to show Emily the things she can do with the skin, but she didn’t want to risk crossing the line to where the Beast has an easier time of things. So she licked it instead. That was… a mistake.”

Jade pauses.

“We’re always hungry. Sometimes more hungry than others. The only time we’re not is when we kill, and even then within a few hours we’re usually hungry again. Celia wasn’t out of control, but because she’d expected a full meal and didn’t get it she was not quite herself. Blood also has unique flavors, and love is… exquisite. Better than any meal she’s ever had. So she tasted that, and she wanted more. It wasn’t quite the Beast, but it was hunger and desire and loneliness. It was wanting a reminder that people do love her and that she isn’t as much of a screwup as she thinks.”

“I feed through sex,” Jade says. “So the taste is always sweet. Like candy. But too much of it rots your teeth. Celia wanted something real, not the fake stuff she so often gets.”

GM: Her slowly mother takes that all in.

“Okay. So Emily’s blood was like catnip to Celia, basically. How do we STOP this?” she asks, frankly. “Something like what happened earlier. How does it become safe for Emily to be around you and Celia?”

“Is it simply, you and Celia can’t ever taste Emily’s blood, even a little bit? Or Celia needed to be less hungry when she came over?”

“Both? Something else?”

Celia: “I don’t believe this is a mistake Celia will ever repeat, not after learning that she’d hurt and scared her sister. That being said, she shouldn’t be around anyone while hungry, and she shouldn’t taste the blood again.”

Jade shifts, bending her knee and pulling it into the seat to face Diana.

“I’m not excusing her behavior, but I would ask that you understand she’s in a very fragile emotional state right now and not thinking clearly. She’s being reckless and impulsive.”

“On Friday night I made plans with a friend to travel. Because I was seen with him, Celia’s lover followed her from the event we were at and staked her. He spent the evening emotionally and verbally abusing her, twisting the knife as much as he could. Saturday night she asked him for help. He belittled her again. She was kidnapped and tortured. Sunday night her lover came by the spa with some of his friends. He kidnapped and tortured her again, then brought her back to the spa and attempted to force her to sign over everything she owned. She outplayed him, but she paid for it. During the day on Monday she was staked and kidnapped by her grandsire’s agents and brought to the interrogation room. Her grandsire let her ex-lover lead the interrogation. Her friend was killed. She lost Dani’s friendship. The krewemate that helped her on Sunday was brought in as well and will no longer take our calls. The detective has expressed dissatisfaction with her and verbally reamed her out over what happened.”

Jade effects a sigh and shakes her head.

“Celia is spiraling and thinks the world is out to get her right now.”

“I’m not telling you this to invoke pity,” Jade adds. “Just saying what she won’t.”

“To give context to what I mean by being in a fragile emotional state.”

GM: “My lord, that’s… horrific,” Diana says slowly, blinking. “And a ton to unpack. Is it… I’m sorry, there’s just been so much trauma in our family lately. I just want to know what needs triage and what can wait until later. Is this hurting you, too, right now? Or Celia? Or can it wait?”

Celia: “I’m fine,” Jade says. “I never much liked him anyway. I miss my friend. I’m upset with my grandsire and concerned that I will lose what I’ve worked for. My business, my turf. You. I don’t think he’s that mad, but…” She trails off with a shrug.

“It wasn’t supposed to go like this. Celia is hurting and afraid. I blew off some steam earlier tonight and am going out shortly to blow off more. So I can wait. She can wait.”

GM: “Okay,” says Diana. She rubs Jade’s shoulder. “I’m sorry you lost your friend, though. It sounds like friends are something you and Celia could use right now.”

Celia: Jade gives a tiny nod. Then, in a quiet voice, she says that her grandsire had called for his death after her lover demanded it to switch sides, so to speak.

“We thought playing for the same team would make it better with him. But not like this. Neither of us wanted this. Yeah, though. Friends sounds… nice.”

GM: “It sounds like your grandsire isn’t a very nice man.”

“He sounds very manipulative and full of it.”

Celia: “Yeah. He is.”

“I thought he was different.”

“She thought he was different.”

“He’s an elder,” she says, as if that explains it.

“But he helped get us situated. With domain. The business. Emily’s living costs for a while. He knows who we are.”

GM: “He paid Emily’s living costs?”

Celia: “I gave you money when you were pregnant. It came from him.”

GM: “That was badly needed,” her mom nods. “I obviously couldn’t work then. Couldn’t let anyone know I was pregnant.”

“Anyway, that was years ago.”

“But as far as Emily right now.”

“That’s helpful to know about Celia,” she says, rubbing Jade’s hand again. “But one thing I want to throw out, sweetie, is that all of us have context. All of us have stories. All of us have reasons. For why we act and feel how we do.”

“Consider Emily’s. She’s been raped, which I guess you know if Celia knows. When she was younger, in foster care. She thought she was over it. She thought something like that would never happen to her again, in my house. She is really broken up about what happened with Celia.”

“And this is coming after she learned about… how she was raped in college, too, by a vampire. Raped more times than she even knows. And just months ago, too. By… Isabel.” Diana’s voice is a whisper at her daughter’s name. “She feels very powerless and very vulnerable right now. All of this has really broken her up.”

“So, this isn’t just her being hurt and scared. Or even feeling betrayed. She can, if she believes this won’t happen again, and finds it within her heart, choose to forgive Celia. But this is also about her no longer feeling safe around Celia, or in my house. After always having felt safe with us. She’s upset at having that sense of safety torn away from her.”

“At being a victim again.”

Celia: “What can I do to help?”

GM: “Hm. Well. Beyond Celia apologizing, I’m not sure. Anything to help Emily feel in control again would help. Anything to make her feel like she’s not just a victim.”

“Like what we did, after Celia realized what a bad thing she’d done. That really helped me.”

Celia: “The spanking?”

GM: “Yes. Though I don’t think Emily would want to do quite the same thing.”

Celia: “Feeding isn’t always a bad thing,” Jade says. “If it’s done right it doesn’t hurt, and it feels good, and it’s… I mean it’s not always malicious. Maybe I could show her that..?”

“To show her that she isn’t a victim. Wasn’t a victim.”

GM: Diana blinks.

“Sweetie, I think being fed on by a vampire is the last thing she would want right now.”

Celia: “No, not her. On someone else.”

GM: “Hm, maybe. I think something Emily could do would be more helpful than watching you do something.”

“Maybe nothing’s possible in this situation. I just know that it really helped me.”

Celia: “I wanted to show her what I can do. The body work. I was going to have her help me with your leg, but I don’t have the bone yet. I was supposed to get it last night.”

GM: “It’s fine. I’ve lived with this bum leg for thirteen years. Another day or few isn’t killing me.”

Celia: “Do you think that would help?”

“I was planning on going out with Alana. As Celia. And me as someone else. Emily could come, if she wants.”

GM: “Oh, what to do?”

“Emily’s said she doesn’t want to go out to bars and clubs anymore after learning vampires feed on people there. I don’t know if she meant it seriously.”

Celia: “Dancing, I figured. Maybe some karaoke. Normal girl stuff. I could find something more exciting if you think she’d be into it.”

“No one will feed on her in my territory.”

GM: “Hm, I might ask her that,” says Diana. “I’ll ask her if she wants to talk to Celia tonight.”

“I also had some things to bring up, before we got… derailed, earlier. About Abigail, mostly. Would you or Celia be better to talk to?”

Celia: “Me.”

GM: “Okay. I got some legal advice about her, from Dani.”

Celia: “Oh?”

“You two are still talking?”

GM: “Yes, we have a good relationship. We don’t want to let what happened between Celia and Dani affect what we have.”

“Dani doesn’t really have anyone else she can talk to, besides her brother. About what she is.”

Celia: Jade looks down at her hands.

“I was going to tell her on Sunday, before we went to the church. I got distracted. I made a mistake with her. Celia and I made a mistake.” She shakes her head. “Something else I need to fix. But this isn’t about me. I’m glad she still has you.”

GM: “I hope you do, for her sake as well as yours. She is very sad to have lost a friend.”

“In any case, she came by today to help with Abigail. She picked up the crib and a bunch of baby supplies.”

“Emily was in school, and spending time with Robby afterwards. I hadn’t told her about Abi yet.”

“I wanted her to enjoy a normal day and not fall behind on schoolwork.”

“But, my lord. I am having to draw on all of my mom skills for this child.”

“She has been a handful.”

Celia: “Do you want me to take her?”

GM: “Take her where? We’re all she has.”

Celia: “I didn’t bring her to you to add stress.”

GM: “No, you brought her so she would have a loving home, and a family that could meet her needs.”

“And I think because God wanted you to.”

Celia: “You look like you haven’t slept in a week,” Jade says frankly.

“And she bit Emily.”

GM: “Yes, she bit me too, several times. She also hit Lucy.”

Celia: Jade purses her lips.

GM: “And I do look exhausted.”

“I am exhausted.”

“I will also need to take a maternity leave from work, to take care of her. She needs round-the-clock parenting.”

“Which is where Dani comes in, anyway.”

“She says that Abi needs a birth certificate. Documentation she exists, and that I am her legal guardian.”

“If I’m going to be reporting the fact that she exists to McGehee, to get a maternity leave. If I’m going to someday be enrolling her at McGehee. Taking her to doctor visits. Getting her a driver’s license and social security number and helping her apply to colleges, when she’s old enough.”

“There needs to be, in Dani’s words, ‘some legal record that Diana Flores has an eighth child.’”

“Did she have a birth certificate, from where you picked her up?”

Celia: “I can look, or I can get her another one.”

“We could use Isabel here, possibly. Since she’s…”

GM: “Dead. Yes. How do you mean, use Isabel?”

Celia: “As the mom.”

GM: Diana heaves a sigh.

It sounds like relief.

“Oh, my lord. I wish I’d thought of that.”

“I’m glad you have.”

“Dani dropped what I thought was going to be an enormous headache onto our heads.”

“Getting custody of her.”

Celia: “If we say that the child was born in Sudan then it would make sense she doesn’t have the legal paperwork yet.”

GM: “Yes, that would make sense. Though how does she get here, if Isabel is dead?”

Celia: “Isabel’s father dropped her off and went back.”

“Or Isabel died here.”

“Maybe an illness she picked up there.”

GM: Diana closes her eyes and rubs a hand across her forehead.

She looks less than thrilled to be concocting explanations for her daughter’s death.

“Take care of it.”

Celia: “I will.”

GM: “Dani said we were going to need to report the baby to social services. DCFS. Get them to issue a birth certificate. She said they would try to locate relatives, and then if they found none, we could apply to adopt. And she said that would involve a long screening process with background checks, interviews, training, and social worker visitations, and oh my lord I did not want to deal with that. I have more than enough on my plate right now.”

“And it would involve Abigail being taken away and put in a foster home, to boot, until I was allowed to adopt her.”

“Unless I wanted to become a foster parent, which would involve its own series of hoops to jump through.”

Celia: “I’m glad it won’t come to that.”

GM: “And then Dani said she thought I’d be a really good one, which made me feel good.”

Celia: “You would be, Mom.”

GM: She gives a tired smile and rubs Jade’s hand.

“It might be something to look into. When life is less hectic. And Lucy is older.”

Celia: “Oh, definitely. Not now.”

GM: “Yes. Abi is handful enough.”

Celia: “Dani might be able to help with the paperwork as well. Or… ah, her brother. Though I’d rather go to Payton if we need to push anything through.”

GM: Her mother purses her lips.

“Your grandmother is a criminal judge. This is all family law.”

Celia: “Oh. Viv. Duh.”

GM: “Yes, I would feel better getting Viv’s help. And Dani’s, even if she isn’t a lawyer yet.”

Celia: “I’d rather not owe her brother for anything,” Jade agrees.

“Keep him away from you. From our family. He’s not the boy he used to be.”

GM: “Yes, you said he was abusing you.”

Celia: “Celia and I fucked him up. I won’t say we deserved it. But we caused it.”

GM: “I asked myself all the time if there was something I did to make your father abuse us.”

“No good comes from going down that road of thought.”

Celia: “I lied to, manipulated, and cheated on him,” Jade says baldly. “Then I outplayed him when he thought he’d won and reduced him to nothing.”

GM: “Does he want… revenge?”

“Because abusers do not react well when they feel like their control is threatened.”

“They try to re-assert it.”

Celia: “We settled up last night.”

“We’re supposed to have a truce.”

GM: “I don’t know if I’d count on that.”

Celia: Jade smiles. “I’m not.”

GM: “Can I help?”

Celia: “Celia wants him back. Even after everything. She wants to fix it. I don’t think he’ll forgive her. I don’t think it’s worth pursuing. I’m also not interested in someone who knows everything about us, including another identity and the truth of some things most licks don’t, being an enemy. I don’t want to have to constantly look over my shoulder or wonder if he’s going to come after my family, my business, my turf, or if he’s going to set up his new night doc as me because no one will know. I don’t think there’s a magic fix-all. We lied every chance we got. We can blame plenty of other things, but it was us.”

GM: “Is there anything you can do to make up for what happened, if it really was your fault? And that’s not just the line he’s telling you as he beats you?”

Celia: “…maybe, but it jeopardizes everything.”

GM: “How so? Are there any other things you can do?”

Celia: Jade is quiet for a moment, biting the inside of her cheek. Finally she leans forward, searching all the obvious spaces for bugs. The same places she’d seen Draco check in his car, plus a few more.

GM: Jade locates none.

Celia: She’s still wary. Emily had called her paranoid the other night and maybe she is, but she’d rather be safe than sorry, and she doesn’t have whatever thing Draco had used to scan for electronics.

“I don’t know,” she finally says, “it’s a long story where I thought I was doing the right thing and it turned out to be wrong. I believed a lie and trusted the wrong person. I don’t have proof. Not proof he would trust, not proof that he’d let me show him. But it’s… not about Celia tonight. It’s not about him.”

GM: “Are you looking for something, sweetie?” her mom asks, first.

Celia: “Bugs.”

GM: Diana peers around the same spaces.

“That sounds a lot like what Dani says.”

“And maybe there’s something to it if you also think so too.”

“She’s obviously going to take her brother’s side for anything, just like I’d take yours.”

Celia: “She said that about me?”

GM: “Not you, but she did say Celia had lied to her brother and manipulated him and betrayed him.”

Celia: “He killed someone because of me. Because Celia told him what happened with the hunters. We were jumped. And he killed them.”

“Then I used Dani against him.”

“Things got worse from there.”

“We’re past the point of apologies.”

GM: “When did the abuse start?”

Celia: “After he found out he’d been betrayed by someone else.”

“The same week he killed two people and found out his sister was a thin-blood.”

“And that his girlfriend was a lying, cheating whore.”

“So.”

“Just kinda piles up.”

GM: “Celia might have lied and cheated, but she is not a… lady of the evening.”

Celia: “…she kind of is.”

GM: Jade’s mom smiles and rubs the back of her head.

“The figurative kind, sweetie.”

“Obviously, you’re both ladies who only wake up after evening.”

Celia: “No. I mean she is a whore. We are whores. We sleep with… a lot of people.”

“Not to burst your bubble about her.”

GM: “Well, I may not approve of that lifestyle choice, but that isn’t the same as accepting money for it.”

Celia: “She… ah, she’s done that too.”

GM: “Oh. Is that a… vampire thing?”

Celia: “No. It was before.”

GM: “In… she’d have been in college. Or high school.”

Diana blinks again.

Celia: “Yes.”

“College.”

“She didn’t want you to know.”

GM: Diana takes that in, but not for long. She hugs Jade, running a hand up and down her daughter’s hair.

“That’s peanuts to forgive, after everything. You’re my baby no matter what you, she, did then.”

Celia: “Thanks, Mom,” Jade says quietly. “Maybe some night she’ll tell you what happened. I think she’s still kind of messed up over it.”

GM: “Oh no,” her mom murmurs. “Absolutely. Anything I can do to help her. Anything to show her she’s loved and accepted.”

Celia: Jade shakes her head, pulling away. “Do you want to ask Emily if she’d like to come out tonight?”

GM: “I think it would be better for Celia to apologize, see how that goes, and ask if it goes well.”

Celia: Jade gives a nod. She reaches into the back seat, pulling out a wooden stake and handing it over to Diana.

“You can give her this. It’ll put a lick down. Goes in easier than you’d think.”

“She should carry a lighter. Or a torch. Or something that makes fire. That puts us down too.”

GM: “You mentioned,” says her mom as she accepts the stake, looking it over. “Earlier. To aim for the heart.”

“This would be much harder than Hollywood makes it look.”

Celia: “The wood is… symbolic. Photosynthesis. You’ve seen how the sun hurts. So this does the same thing, sort of. It’s all intertwined.”

“Do, uh, do you want to try it?”

GM: “On… you?” Diana asks, eyebrows raised.

Celia: “I… yes? We could show Emily?”

“Just, y’know, no decapitation or fire or anything.”

“Even monsters have weaknesses.”

GM: “You’d mentioned,” her mom nods. “Dani too.”

“I think this maybe would make Emily feel better.”

Celia: “You should get some lotus flowers,” Jade says idly. “They put Stephen to sleep. Easier to stake.”

“In case you don’t want to set him on fire if he comes around.”

GM: “I’d rather not have to do anything to him. I think it’s better if we just go our separate ways, if things are what they are between you two.”

Celia: “Right. I just mean if he decides to get back at me by coming after you.”

“I’ll kill him if he does. But that will keep you safe in the meantime.”

GM: Her mom looks wary.

“Okay. I can keep some lotus flowers just in case.”

Celia: “Anything else before we see Emily?”

GM: “If you’re going out tonight, and not as Celia, would you like to do your makeup together?”

Celia: “I was thinking about going as a man.”

“But… I could bring Alana over and do her face while Emily does her makeup, so it’s kind of the same.”

GM: “I was going to remark, you are wearing some pretty boy-ish clothes.”

Celia: “I, ah, yeah. Was trying something new.”

GM: “I don’t think Alana would like to come over. And I’d rather not invite Alana over.”

Celia: “Then I’ll text her and let her know I’m running late.”

GM: “She was here just today, anyway.”

Celia: “For what?”

GM: “Trying to bully and intimidate me.”

Celia: “To… what? What happened?”

GM: Diana shakes her head.

“It doesn’t matter. I told her I wasn’t having any of this nonsense and closed the door in her face.”

Celia: “I’ll talk to her. She shouldn’t be showing up like that.”

GM: “Yes, it was disruptive. Abi was having a tantrum. Though still actually a bit satisfying.”

“I think she was expecting a doormat again.”

Celia: “She’s jealous,” Jade says with a sigh.

GM: “Of what?”

Celia: “That night Henry was here she showed up sobbing about how I ignore her and don’t spend time with her.”

“She was always jealous of Randy if we spent time together.”

“The bond, you know? But it’s not always like that. I think she’s just naturally jealous.”

GM: “Maybe she is,” Diana says thoughtfully. “I don’t think she has any family of her own, does she?”

Celia: “A sister.”

“She was a mess when I found her.”

“I put her back together.”

“Gave her a new body. New purpose.”

GM: “A new body?”

Celia: “She’s your age, I think Celia mentioned. Was obese when I found her. Bad skin. Bad hair. Bad everything. I trimmed the fat. Added some curves. Sculpted her into what she is.”

GM: Her mom’s eyebrows raise again.

“She’s my age?”

“Well, good job. I certainly wouldn’t have guessed it.”

Celia: Jade smiles.

“I’m very good at what I do.”

GM: Her mom smiles and squeezes her shoulder.

“Yes, you are. You’re extremely bright and talented and creative.”

Celia: “Thank you. That means a lot.”

GM: “It’s only the truth,” her mom repeats, still smiling.

“You and Celia have certainly kept me pretty all these years, too.”

Celia: “Good base to work with.”

GM: “And good hands to be worked on by.”

Her mom looks at her thoughtfully.

“Oh, say, is there anything you’ve ever wanted us to do together, that we couldn’t before?”

“On the spa table, that is.”

Celia: “I’d like to get rid of the rest of your scar tissue. Fix up any old wounds, aside from the leg. See if I can reverse the clock a little on some areas. You’re not old, but the body still changes, you know?”

“I have some theories to test with the tattooing I do.”

GM: Her mom nods.

“Yes, I’d be happy for you to do all those things. I love how pretty you and Celia keep me.”

“Is the tattooing that medical thing you mentioned, earlier?”

Celia: “Which medical thing?”

GM: “You mentioned an experiment or something, the last time we were in the car together. My car.”

Celia: “Oh. That. No, it’s different.”

GM: “Oh, what’s that? We were discussing a lot of other things, I don’t think we went into details.”

Celia: “It’s more to see if I can make temporary things in advance that someone can apply.”

“Ah, a thing to… make you unable to be bonded.”

“It’s still just kind of a hypothesis.”

GM: Her mom nods again. “Of course then, I’d be happy to help with all of those things.”

Celia: “Thank you,” Jade says earnestly. “I know it’s been bumpy, and that we’ve had our struggles. But I’m glad you know.”

GM: “Me too, sweetie.” Diana wraps an arm around her. “I’m glad I have another daughter. Or can love all parts of my daughter.”

“You and Celia get a lot more alike, when your hair is down, so to speak.”

Celia: “There’s no one to pretend for here. I feel safe with you.”

GM: Her mom smiles again and gives her another squeeze.

“Good.”

“How would you like to do something together, some night you and Alana and maybe Emily aren’t going out?”

Celia: “I’d love to.”

GM: “Me too. I don’t want us to spend all our time together in the car.” Diana thinks. “I’ll need to arrange childcare for Abi. Which already came up today. Find someone reliable who can care for her before I take a leave from work, and after I’m back. Before we can enroll her at Little Gate.”

She shakes her head. “Anyway, that’s all mom stuff. You want to, ah, what do you call it, when another of your alters comes out?”

Celia: “Switch, mostly. And yeah.” Jade takes Diana’s hand in hers. “Thank you. I appreciate you. I’ll let you talk to Celia now.”

GM: “Switch,” Jade’s mom repeats. “Okay, I’ll see you later. I love you.”

Celia: One moment Jade is there. The next she’s not. Diana’s other daughter hunches her shoulders slightly, looking away from her mom.

GM: “Sweetie?” Diana asks, rubbing Celia’s shoulder.

“Are you okay?”

Celia: “I hurt Emily,” Celia says in a quiet voice.

GM: “Yes, I’m afraid you did.”

Celia: “I didn’t mean to.”

GM: “I don’t think you did mean to.”

Celia: Celia blinks down at her lap. “Jade said staking might help.”

GM: “I think seeing and doing that would make Emily feel more in control and less like a victim.”

Celia: “Okay.”

GM: “And I think would be useful for us both to see and know how it’s done.”

Celia: “But you’re going to let me go, right?”

GM: Her mom gives a faint laugh like she just asked if Santa really gave all those childhood presents.

“What else would we do?”

Celia: Celia shrugs, rubbing her shoulder. “Cut me into pieces. Light me on fire.”

GM: “Celia, I am your mother.”

“You don’t seriously believe I would do that.”

“Or allow someone else to do that.”

Celia: “Stephen did.”

“My sire did.”

“My sister did.”

GM: Her mother frowns. “Isabel?”

“It can’t have been any of the others.”

Celia: “No. My other sister.”

“The vampire one.”

“She didn’t know I was her sister at the time.”

“But she still did.”

GM: “Ah. Well, I don’t know her or what to tell you about her. Does staking hurt you, though?”

Celia: “No.”

“It just paralyzes us.”

GM: “Is it painful?”

Celia: “A little.”

“…a lot,” she admits.

GM: Her mom frowns.

Celia: “I think it’ll set a record, though. Lick staked the most unrelated times for X nights in a row.”

“So that’s good.”

She smiles weakly at her knees.

GM: Her mom’s frown doesn’t quite abate, but she hugs Celia close.

“Well, I’m sorry it hurts. Do you think it’ll be worth it here?”

Celia: “Yes. To help Emily. And to show you both how it’s done.”

GM: Her mom nods. “And you trust us?”

Celia: Does she? She’d trusted Diana and Emily with the truth. Now she has to trust them with her body.

“Yes.”

GM: Her mom gives her a squeeze. “Okay.”

She pulls her phone out of her pocket—the pocketted dress was something Emily got her for one birthday—and taps off a text.

“Just letting her know you’re outside with me.”

Celia: Celia nods.

She taps out a text to Alana letting her know she’s running a bit behind. Meeting ran late.

GM: See you soon… xoxoxo

Celia: She sends back three heart emojis.

GM: “Okay, she says we can come see her,” says Diana.

“Just a word of warning, sweetie, she is still very upset.”

Celia: “Ah.”

GM: Celia’s mom climbs out of the car, heads through the rain up to the carriage house, and knocks. She’s still holding the stake.

Celia: Celia trails after her.

GM: “Come in,” sounds a terse voice.

Celia: Celia makes a gesture for her mom to go first.

“After you,” she murmurs.

GM: Her mom walks in and sits down on the bed next to Emily. Celia’s sister looks like she’s been crying a lot, if her red and puffy eyes are indication. But there are no wet tears along her eyes. The black-haired woman looks pissed.

Worse than pissed. Celia’s seen pissed Emily plenty.

She looks hurt. She looks betrayed. She looks vaguely nauseous.

And pissed.

Celia: Celia doesn’t move any closer than she needs to in order to shut the door. She doesn’t think Emily wants her crowding her space right now.

“Hi, Emi. Thanks for… thanks for seeing me.”

GM: “Fuck you,” she says flatly.

“You fucking rapist cunt.”

Celia: “Okay. Well. I can see this is a waste of time.”

GM: “Oh, what, you don’t like me calling you a rapist? Would ‘attempted rapist’ be better?”

Celia: “Since that’s technically the correct term, yes.”

GM: “Because I’ve decided, fuck ‘not-technically-raped’. Because, you know, I’ve been raped by a vampire sucking my blood without my consent, and I’ve been raped by someone penetrating my vagina without my consent, and honestly, they both made me feel equally violated.”

“I’m a fucking rape connoisseur.”

Celia: “Yeah. That wasn’t a great explanation when I told you that. I was just… trying to explain.”

GM: “Attempted rape from a family member, though, that one sure is new.”

Celia: “Yeah, Em, I fucked up. I’m a habitual rapist. I feed on people without their consent. I leave them worse than when I found them. I’m a monster.”

GM: “Don’t forget a liar, too. I asked if you’d killed anybody and you lied about that.”

Celia: Did she?

“I lied a lot.”

GM: “You saw how sick that made me. Remembering it. And you still. Fucking. Did it. Just, wow. Just wow.”

“Nice to know where I really stand. Nice to how how little I mean to you.”

“Nice to know all I am to you is food.”

Celia: “Everyone is food,” Celia snarls at her, “that’s how it works. I’m breaking all the fucking rules here by telling you what I am and not reporting this violation like I’m supposed to. You’re human. Kine. That’s what we call you. If I didn’t give a fuck about you more than that I wouldn’t fucking be here letting you yell at me, would I? No. Of course not.”

GM: “Oh, no, you might just be hoping I’ll forgive you, so you can keep using me. Maybe sneak in a few midnight snacks when I’m not looking. Or when Mom’s not around, I guess, if you’re just gonna rape my mind again.”

Celia: “Jesus fucking Christ, Emily, I made a mistake. I fucked up. I’ve done that a lot lately. I’d like to make amends, and it’s not so I can fucking snack on you.”

“I wasn’t expecting to fucking taste your blood tonight.”

GM: “Hey, was it a ‘mistake’ when Maxen beat you? Huh? Should he get to say Jesus fucking Christ’, he just wants to make amends, he’s tired of you being such a bitch and not making it easy? And suspecting your motives when you’ve shown just how suspicious a person you really are?”

Celia: “Then don’t forgive me.”

GM: “So far I’m seeing absolutely no reason to.”

“Lot of blaming Emily for being mad about her attempted rape.”

“What a fucking bitch, that Emily!”

“You’re sick. You know that? You mind-raped me, Mom says you mind-raped her and wanted to mind-rape Lucy, you drink Mom’s blood, you got Mom to drink your blood, you wanted to drink the baby’s blood—oh, and lie to Mom about that—and you tried to drink my blood. You just want to spread your… fucking curse, onto all of us. You can’t just leave us alone!”

Celia: “I mind-raped you before. The night I took Mom out of the hospital. You followed me in to see a night doctor and got in my face about not ponying up the money I didn’t have. Offered your scholarship. I fucked with your head then to make you leave because it was easier than trying to explain. I took the easy way out.”

GM: Emily stares.

“Jesus fucking Christ.”

Their mother frowns in confusion.

“Her scholarship?”

Celia: “I borrowed money,” Celia says, waving a hand. “I borrowed to make sure you had your toes reattached.”

“So she didn’t need to give it up. I saw what she was willing to do and I thought that even if I had to live on the streets I wouldn’t let her do that, or you live without toes.”

“So I borrowed.”

“And I told myself I’d never fuck with your head again.”

GM: “Thank you for doing that,” says her mom. “I’m sure glad to have my toes.”

Celia: Celia shakes her head.

“Not the point. But you’re welcome.”

GM: Emily laughs.

“How’d that fucking work out? Never again?”

Celia: “I just wanted to let Emily know—”

GM: “Wow. I don’t even know how many people have fucked with my head at this point.”

“I don’t even know how times that college vampire raped me.”

Emily laughs again. It sounds a tinge hysterical.

“Wow. Fucking wow.”

“Celia, maybe you should explain what happened,” her mom says quietly.

“Oh, do not tell me you’re excusing her!” flares Emily.

Celia: “It doesn’t matter what happened. I broke a promise to myself not to hurt either of you, not to make you afraid of me, not to… fuck with you. And I did. I fucked with her.”

“Everyone has a story, that’s what you said.”

“So it doesn’t matter.”

“I messed up.”

“Really badly.”

“And I’m sorry. I know that doesn’t fix anything. But I am.”

“I wanted… to show you something cool. And I tasted you. And I just wanted more. And it was stupid and selfish and I’m never going to be okay with what I did to you, because how could I?”

“You trusted me. I told you that you wouldn’t have to be afraid of me.”

“And then I did that.”

“I’ve been where you are. Used. Hurt. Raped. I never wanted to put you through that. I never wanted to hurt you like that. But I did. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I don’t want you to feel unsafe around me. I don’t want to cause you unhappiness.”

“I don’t ever want you to feel helpless.”

“Because you’re right. It is a curse.”

“I ruin lives.”

“And I’d like to make sure you never worry about that again.”

“I want to show you how to stop us. So that you’re not afraid. So that you never feel like you’re not in control. So that you don’t think someone is going to jump you in the middle of the night.”

GM: Diana looks like she’s about to interject, at first, then stops as Celia hits her stride.

Emily takes that all in. Celia’s not sure how much less angry she looks, but at least she doesn’t look angrier.

“Stop you and other vampires from mind-raping and blood-raping me,” she says. “Okay. Sure. Sign me up. How?”

Celia: “We have weaknesses. Some of them are universal. Stakes. Fire. Sunlight. Some of them are more personal, only work against specific individuals. I want to show you how it’s done. Staking. It paralyzes a lick. They can’t do anything. No shifting, no mind powers, no talking. Nothing. They’re helpless.”

“I think it’d be a good idea for you to keep one with you.”

“And a torch. Or a lighter and hairspray.”

GM: “Helpless, huh,” says Emily. “Wonder how they like how that feels.”

Celia: “We don’t,” Celia says flatly. “I’ve been staked and tortured every night since Friday. It sucks.”

GM: “Good.”

She looks at the stake in their mom’s hands.

Celia: “Is that what you want? To shove a piece of wood in my chest so you can torture me tonight?”

“Want to go get a saw and cut off a limb?”

GM: “I don’t really give a shit what happened to you every night since Friday, about now,” says Emily. “You volunteering to be a test subject?”

Celia: “Yeah, Em. I am.”

GM: “Great. Except you can’t actually fucking stake someone like in the movies. You are not going to completely penetrate the sternum with a sharpened piece of wood.”

Celia: “No? Why don’t you quit feeling sorry for yourself and fucking try it.”

“You wanted into this world of monsters, now’s your chance to prove what a fucking badass you are.”

“Or you can sit there and be weak, just like we all want you to be. Makes feeding on you that much easier.”

GM: Diana purses her lips, but doesn’t interject.

Emily’s eyes flash as she grabs the stake out of her mom’s hands and plunges it down into Celia’s heart.

“Don’t say I didn’t tell you so.”

Celia: But it is just like the movies.

The wood easily pierces her flesh. Then her sternum. Then right through her ribs and into the heart itself.

Celia’s body freezes.

Then she topples over.

GM: Emily blinks.

“What the fuck?”

Celia: The staked lick offers no response.

GM: “It is like in the movies, sweetie,” Diana offers helpfully.

Celia: They’re bound to get some things right.

GM: “Have you done this before?” Emily asks.

“No,” her mom answers.

Emily walks back to Celia.

“Okay, great, you’re staked. No more mind-rapey powers?”

Celia: She can’t answer.

So she doesn’t.

She just stares.

GM: Emily frowns, then waves her hand over Celia’s eyes.

Celia: She doesn’t even blink.

GM: She raps her knuckles against Celia’s knees.

Celia: Nothing. No involuntary reflex to jerk her leg.

GM: She frowns in thought, then shoves Celia off her desk’s swivel chair.

Celia: Her body hits the floor with a dull thud.

GM: She can’t see anything except carpet, either.

She feels hands moving her limbs.

“Hey, she’s posable.”

Celia: She’d laugh if she could.

GM: That’s the second time this week she’s wanted to laugh at a quip while staked.

Celia: Must be a record.

GM: Emily rolls Celia’s body over several times. She gets a look at the bed, then the ceiling, then the carpet again.

“Yeah, pretty paralyzed, looks like.”

Emily finally rolls her back up so she can see the ceiling.

“You feel like you understand this, now?” asks her mom.

“The effects, yeah. Still not sure how the fuck it worked,” says Emily.

“It’s easier on vampires, I think,” says Diana. “Celia said something about photosynthesis.”

“Because… wood?” says Emily.

Celia: There’s a dick joke to be made here.

GM: “Must be,” says her mom.

“Dick joke to be made here,” says Emily.

Her mom gives a dry look.

“So, what, wood hurts them because there’s ‘lots of sun’ in it?” asks Emily. “What if you used some other material with intenser sunlight exposure? Shouldn’t just our fingers be able to stake vampires? Most people get plenty sun.”

“I have no idea, sweetie,” says Diana.

“Maybe your sister does.”

Emily looks like she’s weighing the pros and cons of leaving the stake in.

Celia: The vampire probably doesn’t know anything about vampires, to be honest.

GM: Diana doesn’t say anything. Or even give Emily that sharp a look.

But she does look at her.

After a moment, Emily pulls out the stake.

It hurts. Like it always does.

Celia: There’s no gasp, no sharp inhalation, no sound. Celia winces at the sensation of the wood leaving her chest, but she sits up.

GM: “Well, why wood?” says Emily, sitting back down on the bed.

“And is it just wood?”

Celia: “Just wood. Other materials won’t work. You can kill us by ripping out or destroying the heart, but not by shooting us there or anything. And it’s like Mom said, the photosynthesis thing. Wood is imbued with the, ah, the power of the sun, so to speak. Sun burns us, can kill us if we’re exposed too long. It’s kind of a supernatural thing, like a lot of what we do. Like why I can turn into a cat with clothes on and they’re still there when I turn back. Where do they go in the meantime? Who knows.”

GM: “You said there were other weaknesses, too,” says Emily.

Celia: “Fire. Sunlight. You can scare a lick off with a big enough fire. Even a lit cigarette makes us wary.”

“Takes a long time to heal if you’re exposed long enough.”

“Decapitation kills us.”

“So does destroying the heart.”

“And enough of the body. Like the whole body, though.”

“Some licks are sensitive to certain things. Certain types of wood. Silver. Flowers. Salt. Things like that. We keep most of ours pretty hidden from each other so they’re not exploited.”

“That’s all pretty individual, though.”

“The clans all have weaknesses.”

GM: “What’s yours?”

Celia: “Mine gets distracted by art, or aesthetically pleasing things. Some are music, some is actual art, some is people.”

GM: “You said Stephen was sensitive to lotus flowers,” said Diana. “That they put him to sleep.”

Celia: “Yes.”

GM: “Are there any things that do that to you?” asks Emily.

Celia: “Not quite like that, no.”

GM: “What do you mean by not quite?”

Celia: “The sleep thing is specific to him. I have other things that affect me in different ways.”

GM: “What are your things? Seems fair for me to know when you have mind-rapey and shapeshifting powers and fangs and I don’t.”

Celia: “People. Pretty people. I’m distracted by them. I want to touch them. Interact with them. Sleep with them. And, ah…” Celia tells her the rest of them.

Celia taps her fingers together in a steepled position.

“I also kind of have to have sex every day or I have a hard time focusing. Like an addiction.”

“Which, uh, some people don’t believe.”

GM: “Er,” says Emily.

“Is that a vampire thing?”

Celia: “No. Most of us don’t have sex like I do. They think I’m the weird one because I can still get off. It’s… leftover from being human, I think. Because of some things that happened to me.”

GM: “It sucks getting raped, doesn’t it?”

Celia: Celia smiles tightly.

“Yeah. It does.”

“I’m sorry I tried to rape you.”

“And that I fucked with your head.”

GM: “It’s like catnip for you, isn’t it, the taste of blood,” says Diana. “Like a drug.”

Celia: “Certain blood, yes. Yours. Hers. You taste different than what I’m used to.”

“It’s rare and special and it… made me lose my head for a bit.”

“But even normal blood. If I’m hungry, I just… want it. We’re always hungry, but sometimes it’s worse than others.”

“Sometimes we get to the point that it’s all we can think about.”

“If we see it. Smell it. We want it.”

“You saw what happened that night,” Celia says, nodding to her mother.

GM: Her mom nods.

“It was like… a piranha feeding frenzy. She was different. It wasn’t her. It was some, animal instinct, that took over. Dani’s explained it to me some more. They’re called frenzies.”

Celia: Celia nods. “Anger. Injury. Hunger. Fear. Those can all trigger it.”

GM: “So if blood sets you off so bad, why do you drink Mom’s?” says Emily.

Celia: “When I’m not hungry it’s safer.”

GM: “Has she ever mind-raped you when she was drinking your blood?” asks Emily.

“No,” says Diana.

Emily looks back to Celia. “So am I just a bigger rape magnet?”

“That’s weird, ‘cause Mom’s been raped before too. Every adult female in this household has been raped.”

Celia: “No. Not specifically. College kids are easy targets. A lot of partying and drinking. Blackouts are common.”

“For me, it was just… the taste.”

“You love me. I taste it.”

GM: “So would you be trying to mind-rape Mom if she wasn’t letting you drink her blood?”

Celia: “No,” Celia says quietly. “I made a mistake. A really big mistake. I’m… I’m trying, Em, I’m trying to be better than I have been, and I lost sight of that when I tasted you, and in my head I just made excuses because I wouldn’t hurt you, but I… I did.”

GM: “And blood’s really important, isn’t it?” says Emily. “It’s food, it’s life, it’s everything?”

Celia: “It all comes back to blood with us. Food. Life. Barter. Bonds. Everything we do is about blood. Getting it. Saving it. Using it. It powers us. We fight over it, over easy feeding grounds, over people we’ve claimed. We trade favors for it. It’s the whole foundation of our society.”

GM: “Okay,” nods Emily.

“If you’re really sorry. Prove this is more than just words, and that I do come first, and that I matter more than blood.”

“Bleed yourself into the kitchen sink while I watch. Flush it down the drain.”

Celia: Celia blanches at the request.

GM: Emily regards her with a piercing look.

“Harder than saying sorry, isn’t it?”

Celia: “It’s like taking food out of my mouth. Taking away my strength. My ability to do things.”

GM: “Cool. Is it worse than someone trying to rape you?”

“Sorry, your sister trying to rape you?”

“Like, say I lubed up the strap-on, or maybe just didn’t lube it, while you were helpless, and rammed your ass. Would that be better?”

Celia: “No. It’s not.”

Celia rises and starts to walk off.

GM: “No. No vampire things in the house,” Diana says sharply. “That’s a rule.”

“All right, fine, my bathroom sink,” says Emily. “Closer anyway.”

Celia: She walks into the bathroom, bites into her wrist, and starts to bleed.

“That happened to me,” she says idly, watching her precious vitae flow into the sink. “The no lube ass rape thing.”

“But it was my neighbor, not my sister.”

GM: “That sucks,” says Emily. “Probably really hurt for him too without lube, at least.”

Celia: “I think he got off on pain.”

GM: Emily watches the glass fill.

Diana doesn’t seem to hear her daughter’s words. Her eyes, far more than Emily’s, are fixed on the trick-trick-trickle of red.

“…I’m going to wait outside,” she says.

Celia: Celia only nods in understanding. She doesn’t offer Diana the hit. Not after what she’d said last time.

GM: “How much were you gonna take from me?” asks Emily.

Celia: “A hit. I didn’t want to leave you too out of it.”

GM: “How considerate. How much is a hit?”

Celia: “Like a pint.”

GM: “Is that a lot for vampires? Would you rather go without sex for a day or lose a pint?”

Celia: “It’s a pretty standard amount to take from someone.”

“But I’d rather go without sex than lose blood.”

GM: Emily waits. The glass isn’t tall. Celia soon fills it up.

“Pour it.”

Celia: Celia grits her teeth.

But she upends the glass into the sink.

GM: “Now pour another.”

“Because getting sexually assaulted by your sister doesn’t feel ‘standard’ to me.”

“Double sounds better.”

Celia: Of course it does.

If this weren’t her family she’d rip the cunt’s throat out.

But she bleeds again.

GM: The syrupy red vitae trickles down the drain. Drip. Drip. Drip.

Emily turns on the water, flushing the residue away.

Celia: What a waste.

GM: Emily searches her face.

“Sucks, doesn’t it?”

Celia: Celia shoves her anger down as far as she can. She licks the wound closed, giving a terse nod at the question.

“I’m going out,” she says shortly. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

GM: “Good,” says Emily. “‘Cuz it sucked for me too. I don’t know if this is an equivalent price. Maybe I should ask you to bleed for longer, for all the good it’d do. I don’t know if you even can put a price on something like this. There’s nothing that’s going to take away how I felt tonight. How I still feel.”

“I’m not Mom. I knew a lot of really terrible people growing up, but I’ve never had a Maxen who I kept willingly coming back to. I decided a long time ago that I wasn’t going to give second chances to people who hurt me.”

Emily pauses again. She looks back towards the empty sink.

“But I’m going to here.”

“If you ever try to drink my blood again, though, that love taste is gonna be a lot less tasty.”

“And I am completely uninterested in ever becoming a ‘donor.’ Don’t even ask.”

Celia: Celia just looks at her.

“They’ll kill you for knowing what you do. Keep that stake handy.”

Then she’s gone.

GM: Celia’s mother steps in the way.

“Girls,” she says, with a note of reproach, looking between them.

“Please hug. Or at least shake.”

Celia: “She’s made it very clear she doesn’t want me near her.”

GM: “Emily, do you accept Celia’s apology?” Diana asks.

“Yeah.” Emily folds her arms. “I still remember what happened. But yeah.”

“And what made you?” asks her mom.

“Because she bled. She picked me. Over the blood.”

“She did,” Diana nods. “And do you want Celia near you?”

“If this doesn’t ever happen again.” Emily pauses. “Yeah.”

Celia: Warily, Celia takes half a step toward her.

GM: Emily watches her approach, arms still folded, but doesn’t move away.

Celia: She takes another step. Then a third. Then she’s gone and a gray cat winds herself around Emily’s legs.

GM: Emily blinks and looks down at it.

That will take some getting used to.

“Hewwo, Wuna!” Diana exclaims in her cat voice, kneeling to her feet as she starts scratching the cat’s ears and petting its back. “Who’s da bes’ kitty, huh? Who’s the bes’ kitty-cat? Huuuuuh?”

Celia: Luna meows at Diana, rolling over onto her back. She starts to purr.

GM: “Who’s a good kitty-cat? Huh? Who wants some bewwy wubs? Huh?” she asks, scratching and petting back and forth along the cat’s exposed belly. “Huh? Oh yes, this is a vewy twusting kitty! Such a good kitty!”

Celia: From her back, Luna bats at Emily’s shoes with her paws.

GM: Emily’s just wearing socks together with her sweatpants and t-shirt. She hasn’t quite joined in yet as she watches her mom play with the cat.

“She’s less of a floomph than Victor and Shadow,” smiles Diana. “Shorter fur. It’s an interesting change of pace.”

“I bet she would loooove some ear scritches.”

Celia: Luna flicks her ears at the mention of it.

GM: Emily looks at her mom, who’s smiling encouragingly, then kneels down and scratches the cat’s’ ears.

“This is weird.”

“It’s Celia.”

Celia: Luna rolls onto her stomach, lifting her head to rub her cheek against Emily’s hands.

GM: “Looks pretty cat-authentic to me,” Diana chuckles, petting the cat’s back as she shifts position.

Emily scratches along the sides of the cat’s neck.

“Yeah. But like. Does this feel as good for her as it does for them?”

“It certainly looks like it!” says her mom.

“You’re enjoying this quite a bit, aren’t you, Wuna?”

Celia: The cat purrs its agreement.

GM: “Oh, we got a purr goin’! Confirmed, this is most definitely a purr!” says Diana, spreading more loves down along the cat’s back.

Emily moves her scratching hand under the cat’s chin. She gives a faint smile.

“This is so weird.”

“Wuna, are you a twusting kitty?” Diana asks, pausing to scratch her flank.

Celia: The purring stops long enough for a meow. Luna flicks her tail.

GM: “Okay! I’m gonna pick you ups-” Diana starts, picking the cat up with both hands and shifting Luna so that she’s belly-up.

“-and gonna give you to your big sis Emi!” She passes off the feline into Emily’s arms.

“Crook of your arm, now, so you can give her belly rubs too!”

Celia: Luna snuggles against Emily, lifting a paw to touch her face. Her claws stay retracted.

GM: “Hi,” Emily says dryly as the paw presses into her face. She holds the cat against her stomach with one hand and rubs Luna’s belly with her other.

“Oh, yes! This is a very trusting kitty!” Diana exclaims, rubbing the cat’s belly too.

“You can’t do this with Victor and Shadow,” says Emily.

“Her body is completely relaxed.”

“No tension.”

“Yes, not many kitties like being held this way,” nods Diana. “Did you have pets growing up? I know you didn’t with your birth mom, but in foster care?”

“Yeah,” Emily says. “In a few homes. That was nice.”

“Cats or dogs, I didn’t care.”

Celia: Celia didn’t have any cats or dogs growing up. She’s made up for it now by turning into one.

GM: “I bet you didn’t, any animal must’ve been welcome,” says Diana. The two continue to pet and scratch and the belly-exposed cat.

“Yeah. Lot of people, I think, who like animals more than people.”

“Or at least cats and dogs.”

Celia: Pets continue loving you, even if you mess up.

GM: “They give us nothing but love,” Diana smiles, giving voice to that same thought as she rubs the cat’s belly.

“I had a college professor who liked to say all they want from you is food,” Emily observes.

“I don’t think your professor was a pet owner,” scoffs her mom.

Celia: Luna doesn’t want food. Just cuddles.

Eventually she shifts in Emily’s arms, lifting her face to touch her nose to the girl’s.

Celia: Luna finally wriggles free from the two women and Celia resumes her human form.

“I do need to get going,” she says.

GM: “Oh, it’s a kitty kiss. Say thank you for the kitty kiss,” Diana croons at the nose-to-nose contact.

“Thank you for the kitty kiss,” Emily smiles faintly.

Both of them stare as she transforms back. That must take some getting used to.

“Okay, sweetie,” nods her mom. “You and Emi want to hug now, as people?”

Celia: “I dunno, Ma,” Celia says, looking Emily up and down, “I think she has cooties.”

She offers a tentative smile at the attempt of levity.

GM: “I think she has ringworm,” says Emily.

Celia: “I got my vaccines in January.”

“Fleas, though.” Celia scratches her cheek.

After a moment she crosses the floor and holds out her arms for Emily.

GM: Emily looks at them for a moment, then crosses the remaining distance and hugs her back.

Celia: “I’m sorry, Emi,” Celia whispers against her shoulder. “It’ll never happen again. I love you.”

GM: “Yeah,” Emily answers as she rubs Celia’s back. She gives a sniff. “Love you too.”

Celia: “Thank you for giving me another chance.” Celia rubs her hand up and down Emily’s back.

GM: Their mom smiles and lays a hand on both of their shoulders.

“All right, sweetie, we won’t keep you.”

“And thank you for giving her another chance too, Emi.”

Celia: “Thanks, Mom. Em. I’ll swing by tomorrow. Love you both.”

GM: “We love you too, baby.”


Tuesday night, 22 March 2016, PM

Celia: Celia leaves her family with a final round of hugs, glad that she and Emily had been able to bury the hatchet sooner rather than later. Despite her sister’s forgiveness she still feels a pang of guilt for what she’d done. Almost done. Tried to do.

That’s the worst part, isn’t it. If her mother hadn’t been there she’d have turned her own sister into a vessel. She’d been perfectly happy to turn on the charm and make her consent to the donation of blood.

Donation. Ha. Theft, more like.

And she thought I’d cause problems. Jade’s thoughts flow from somewhere in the back of her mind as Celia gets into her car. She grimaces at herself in the rear view mirror. Her skin ripples at the look, a pair of green eyes staring back at her. For a moment the two are one; then Jade takes over, neatly sliding into the driver’s seat of both car and body. She takes off back to her haven to meet up with Alana, glad to see that the ghoul has already pulled out suitable clothing for the evening.

“Hello, darling,” Jade purrs in her ear, pulling the ghoul towards her. She nips at her neck just hard enough to draw blood.

GM: Alana is waiting at the vanity, staring at her phone, and looking increasingly bored, upset, and even angry.

Then she’s all smiles when she sees Jade.

There you are, mistress,” she purrs, embracing her and gasping lightly as the Toreador’s fangs prick her skin.

Celia: “Mm,” Jade muses, “what took you to my mom’s house today?”

GM: She pauses at that.

“I just wanted to clear the air between us, mistress. Be sure everything was okay.”

Celia: “Why.”

GM: “But that was with Celia’s mom, anyway; Jade doesn’t have a mom, does she?”

Celia: Jade waves a hand at the attempted change of subject, fixing the ghoul with a look.

GM: “Well, you brought up kissing her. And I was scared she was saying bad things about me, and trying to take you away from me.”

Celia: “So you went to confront her.”

GM: “I wanted to find out what she’d been saying and say that we need to be able to share Celia, without getting into stupid fights about it, since she values us both.”

Celia: “Maybe you don’t realize that I have cameras at her house, pet. The truth now. It’ll be much easier on you if you admit it all while I give you the opportunity.”

GM: Alana pauses.

“I was scared. Okay? I thought she was badmouthing me and spreading stories. I freaked out. I went over and yelled at her and caused a giant scene, because I thought she was trying to sabotage things with us.” The ghoul gives Jade a miserable look. “And you always believe her. You always spend time with her. She always comes first. If she told you to get rid of me I think you would, and maybe that’s what she’s planning, and… and sometimes I feel like I’m just waiting until you leave me, and get tired of me. Just f… find another ghoul, another fat loser whose l… life you c… can turn around, and make pretty. Because I c… can’t ever be what she is, will I? You’ll always l… love her… more…”

Alana stifles a sob into her hands.

Celia: “Alana,” Jade murmurs, pulling the ghoul flush against her chest and cradling the back of her head with a soft touch. “I’m not going to find another ghoul. I don’t want to replace you. We’ve been through so much together already, and you’re very good at what you do for me. Diana wasn’t badmouthing you. She mentioned the kiss; I’d wondered if someone had stolen your face to make her uncomfortable, if someone sent another ghoul that looked like you to her home today to cause problems for me.”

Jade pulls back slightly, wiping at the tears on Alana’s cheeks with her thumbs.

“Things are turbulent right now. Many of the people and licks I’ve relied on in the past have fled my side, the boys included. I’ve made some enemies lately. I had to be sure they’re not trying to get to me through you.”

“I was concerned for you.”

GM: Alana gives a sniff and looks up at her domitor with glistening eyes.

“You’re not… mad at me?”

Celia: “Frustrated, mostly. I told you to stay away from Diana’s house and you promised that you would. I also told you last night that your jealousy is getting tedious. I have plenty of lick friends left, darling. Plenty of mortals I can spend time with as well. But I called you.”

GM: Alana sniffs again.

“I’m sorry, mistress. I don’t want to make you mad. I’m just so scared you’re getting tired of me, and going to get rid of me, because it seems like all I do is cause problems.”

Celia: It’s like talking to Celia.

Jade takes a seat on the edge of the bed, pulling Alana onto her lap.

“You do more than that. You took care of everything I asked you to do today. You always make yourself available when I need you. You’ve filled in for me as Celia plenty of times. You keep the spa running, you bring me meals, you keep our employees happy, you collect gossip and tidbits and even if you have no experience doing something you still try it and let me know when you’ve been unsuccessful so I can make sure it gets done.”

She tucks a strand of hair behind Alana’s ear.

“Sometimes I get busy. Sometimes things pull me away from you. But it’s not because I don’t appreciate or value you. That’s just the nature of the Requiem.”

“You just need to show me that you’ve learned from your mistakes, pet.”

GM: Alana snuggles up against her domitor.

“I’m trying, mistress. I really am. It just feels like I’m never good enough, sometimes, and that things happen I can’t control. Like that kissing thing, it seemed to come up out of nowhere, and I felt so helpless about it. Like all I could do was watch it destroy our relationship.”

Celia: “But you didn’t kiss her, right?”

GM: The ghoul laughs faintly.

“Diana’s not nearly as kissable as you are, mistress.”

Celia: “Alana,” Jade says sharply.

GM: “Mistress?” Alana says cautiously at the change in tone.

Celia: “Did you do it or not?”

GM: The ghoul lowers her eyes.

“…yes, mistress, I did. It was years ago.”

“I’m sorry.”

Celia: “Why would you do that?”

GM: “She kept pushing food onto me. You know how she is with it. I told her a million times to stop, and she just never would. She kept trying, constantly, to get me to eat. It was the only way I could think of to get her to stop, to leave me alone.”

Celia: Jade keeps her face carefully neutral.

“You lied to me about it.”

GM: “But I didn’t lie, mistress.”

“She isn’t my type. God knows I don’t want to do that again.”

Celia: “I asked you,” Jade says in a deathly quiet voice. “Last night, I asked you. You twisted your words and lied. I just told you that I suspected someone of stealing your image to get to me. I just told you I have enemies now. Why would you lie to me?”

GM: “I’m sorry, mistress,” says Alana, raising her hands. “I didn’t think I was lying. I didn’t think I was hurting anything. I’m sorry.”

Celia: “I’m under more than enough pressure without worrying about someone I’m supposed to trust lying to me because she didn’t think it would hurt.”

Jade removes the ghoul from her lap, rising to her feet.

“Why would you do that to me? Why would you add stress to my unlife? I just went hunting to find the bitch I thought was doing, and it’s only happenstance that I didn’t. Do you know what kind of fight that would have been?”

“I could have gotten myself killed. Because you lied.”

GM: Alana hits the floor. She doesn’t try to arrest her fall. She doesn’t try to get up as her face quavers against her domitor’s displeasure.

“Mistress. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I never wanted that to happen. I was wrong. I didn’t see. I didn’t know. I didn’t think you were going to do that, I didn’t know you were going to do that. I’m so sorry.”

Celia: “You have one chance,” she snarls, “one chance to tell me everything you’ve lied to me about, to come clean about all of it. One chance. Right now.”

“I don’t care how bad you think it is, I don’t care how mad you think I’m going to be. You tell me. Right now.”

“Because I can’t account for it if you don’t tell me.”

GM: “I’ve… I’ve thrown out Emily’s lunch, from the staff fridge, and lied to her about it,” the ghoul hyperventilates, hands raised.

Celia: “What else.”

GM: “I’ve, I’ve, I’ve changed Diana’s place in the schedule, a few times, picked some times, a few times, when something was going on for Lucy, so she’d cancel, and wouldn’t come in.”

“I’ve given Emily worse hours, ones I knew she wouldn’t take, or that she’d hate, because she had something due in med school, or a family thing going on, or something with her boyfriend. I’ve given good clients to other girls. I’ve… skimmed some of her tip money.”

“I’ve made her be late for some clients.”

“I, I gave her a client who Anoushka said made creepy ‘happy endings’ jokes.”

Celia: “And outside of the spa? Things with licks. Other ghouls. How about there.”

GM: “I’ve, I’ve been bad to Randy. I once gave him a really bad massage, that hurt his body, and I told him it was something wrong with him, and he needed to go to the ER to get that checked out, and he had a horrible evening and took a bunch of medications he didn’t need to.”

Celia: “You used your ability to help and heal for your own personal vendetta,” Jade repeats.

GM: “But, you’ve done that too, mistress…?”

Celia: Jade glares down at her.

“You injured my interests. You put my business at risk. Made my ghoul sick.”

GM: Alana starts crying.

“I’m sorry, mistress, I’m so sorry, you asked me to, to tell it all, you don’t want me to lie…”

Celia: “What else. What else have you done, Alana.”

GM: “I’ve, I’ve stolen money from him, from his wallet.”

Celia: “Who else have you sold out. Who have you spoken to about me, about who I am, what I do? Who have you sold secrets to for a hit?”

GM: “N-no one, mistress!” Alana sobs. “I’ve never done that, I SWEAR!”

Celia: “No? Never? Really.”

GM: The ghoul keeps crying. “Yes, mistress, I swear, I’ve never sold you out, I’ve never betrayed you, I’ve only done bad things to the others, NEVER you!”

“I l-love, you, I’d never hurt you, never!”

Celia: This, at last, is where it differs from a conversation Celia had only nights ago.

Only she was the one on the floor crying. And she had knowingly hurt someone.

Jade stares down at the weeping ghoul.

Now she knows what it feels like. Now she knows how it had been on the other side of lies and deceit, not knowing if she could trust the words coming out of the pretty face in front of her. Not knowing if she’s still being lied to, or what damage had been done because of the lies, or if the girl is going to continue to lie.

That fragile, glass-spun trust shatters into a thousand tiny pieces.

Karma, isn’t it? The idea that what she sends out into the world will come back three times as much. Is Alana the first? Or were the boys the first, Alana the third? And Benji, where does he fit in? What about Dani?

Who else? Who’s left? How many friends does she even have anymore?

“Stay put,” Jade says to Alana. She walks into her bedroom and closes the door behind her, digging into her pocket to pull out her phone. She scrolls through her contacts to the name ‘Ronnie L’ and presses the call button.

GM: Alana manages a nod between tears.

She’s answered after several rings by the movie director’s,

“Yeah?”

Celia: “Oh good, you’re up. It too late for me to stop by?”

GM: “You ever hear of these things called ‘lunches’?”

Celia: “Not in my vocabulary.”

GM: “You have them around noon or so. Give or take an hour. You go to a restaurant, order some food, and talk about shit.”

Celia: “Oh, sounds fun. How’s dinner? I’ll bring you something yummy. A nice bottle.”

GM: “That’s more what I’m talking about. This old man don’t stay up as late as he used to.”

Celia: “You can wear that fluffy robe I got you for your birthday,” she offers, “and I’ll send over your favorite girl tomorrow, hm? I’ll be in and out.”

GM: “Yeah, you still owe me a girl. I’m staying up plenty late if she’s doing her job.”

“What’s eatin’ you, anyway, callin’ this hour?”

Celia: “Nothing,” she says, and even she can hear the lie for what it is. She sighs. “Just finished up some work. Time got away from me. Meant to stop by earlier.”

GM: “Do it tomorrow then, or whenever.”

“Always another tomorrow ‘til there ain’t.”

Celia: “Yeah,” she says, “guess so. Tomorrow, then.”

GM: “Yeah. Night.”

Celia: “Night.” She hangs up.

What had she hoped to accomplish? Ronnie isn’t her friend. And he’s not her dad, either. He’d made that clear. She knew before she called that it would be a waste of her time.

Jade ignores the name above Ron’s. She doesn’t want to think about him. About the ghoul in the other room. She scrolls down instead, shooting off a text to Roxy to ask how she’s doing and if she wants to go out tonight. Then she scrolls all the way to the top of her contacts list, selects Andi’s name, and hits the call button once more.

GM: There’s no immediate response from the Gangrel.

Jade’s call goes through, though, after a few rings. She hears the blare of what sounds like punk rock music. Fast, rough, and very, very loud.

YEAH?”

Celia: Maybe she’s busy. Maybe she’s hunting or fucking or spying on someone or running with the loops. Maybe she left her phone at her haven.

Or maybe she’s with Benji and they both went to meet Draco and even now they’re agreeing to kick ‘Ren’ out of the krewe so Draco can take her place and bring his stupid little snake friends because she doesn’t think he’d actually ever said he wouldn’t come after her and what better way to make her pay for what she’s done than take out her entire support system in one go now that the rest of her friends are dead or hate her?

Jade—Celia?—which face does she have on? one? both?—

The loud music in her ears shakes her from the thoughts.

“Hey,” she says back, raising her voice so Andi can hear her, “how’s the tour? When’re you guys due back?”

GM: Jade isn’t supposed to be the insecure one.

GREAT, PROBABLY A WHILE, TYRELL’S FOU-!”

Andi’s next words get cut off over a particularly loud (musical?) crash-like sound.

Celia: Found something interesting or expensive or good, Jade mentally supplies. She doesn’t ask the rock star to repeat it.

“Where’s your next stop?”

GM:AUSTIN!”

Celia: On the way to LA if she takes the I-10. Maybe she can meet up with them if Draco is serious about heading out to Cali with her. Good excuse for her to travel if she’s not taking the movie deal as Celia, right?

“Sounds awesome,” Jade says, “but I can barely hear you. Call me when you’re not busy, yeah?”

GM:YEAH I WAS-”

More words are lost over the music’s blare.

“…RROW OR-!”

There’s another thunderous crash.

“-EVER!”

Celia: “Perfect,” Jade agrees. Something about tomorrow. She can always text if not. “Enjoy your show!”

GM:ANKS-AY AR—B—?”

Celia: “What?”

GM: “F—R—?”

Jade can’t make out anything more.

Celia: “Text me,” she yells into the phone, “I can’t hear you.”

GM: The call disconnects.

Celia: Jade fires off a quick text to Andi. Too loud to hear lol, what did you say?

GM: There’s no immediate reply.

Celia: Busy having a good time. Jade checks the thread with Roxy to see if the Gangrel has gotten back to her.

GM: She has not.

She also tends to be worse about texting than the coterie’s younger members.

Celia: Jade gives her a call.

GM: It rings to voicemail.

The rock star, though, responds,

Oh I thought you were gonna see Benji’s fight

Celia: Jade glances at the time.

GM: Around 10.

Celia: Within thirty seconds she strips, yanks on leggings, stiletto boots, and a form fitted cold-shoulder sweater dress with a hood. She yells for Alana to sit tight. Then she’s out the window, a pair of feathered wings taking her toward the Evergreen as quickly as she can go.


Tuesday night, 22 March 2016, PM

GM: There’s a “private party” notice over the Evergreen’s front door. Jade arrives inside to find a modest gathering of Kindred seated around a makeshift arena. Draco and Benny are fighting in the center.

Both Kindred are brutally strong. Jade’s watched two vampires with stone fist fight before. It was ugly there, and it’s ugly here. The seated Kindred roar their approval as the combatants smash chairs and tables over one another’s backs. Stoneskin just makes the whole affair last that much longer.

Yet it looks as if Draco has the upper hand. Benny’s fighting prowess was forged through back-alley brawls and scraps against his fellow Anarchs. Draco, or at least Roderick, cut his teeth there too, and both Kindred have solid reps among their covenant-mates (at least, under one name or other). But Draco, Jade knows, also had his sire’s training. There’s form and discipline to his technique—and frightening speed that Benny lacks. The Caitiff solidly accepts Draco’s hits, and even gets in some good punches that messily shatter the Brujah’s face, but he can’t keep up. Hit after hit after hit smashes through his guard until he crashes to the ground, out torpid.

Draco raises a triumphant fist amidst alternating boos and applause. Some Kindred gleefully demand their fellows pay up. Others bitch and grouse. Cash, blood, and promises of boons owed or favored to be paid up later change hands.

“I’m sick of your face anyway,” Veronica sneers to Micheal. She throws his leash over to Natasha Preston.

“Enjoy your new bitch.”

Celia: As Jade takes in the assorted Kindred watching the two licks duke it out she can’t help but wonder if there’s some message board or group text that she’s not part of. How had everyone else known about this? Even Andi had known, and she’s hundreds or thousands of miles away.

She blames the blood for the way her fangs lengthen in her mouth as Draco takes the upper hand and sends Benji crashing to the ground. It’s the blood, hot and heady, that calls to her. Not the sight of her ex solidly beating her krewemate into a bloody pulp. Not the thought of what she’d had, or how they’d have celebrated his victory were they still together. Deadly with his fists and one of the smartest people she’s ever known. Maybe the last decent lick in the city. Bonded through real affection, an emotional attachment that supersedes any of the fake bullshit these other Kindred ever experience.

And she’d thrown it away.

No, she tells herself, it’s the blood. Not him. Never him. Not anymore.

Jade doesn’t join the throng of licks who exchange blood or boons or money. She hadn’t placed any bets; if she had she’d be collecting with the rest of the winners. But she makes note of who collects and who pays up, amused to see Preston accepting Micheal’s lead from Veronica. What does she need a bitch for?

Jade doesn’t ask. She keeps that amused, slightly disinterested mask plastered across her face as she slides through the crowd toward her alleged sire and the thief beside her.

“What’s got them throwing down?”

GM: “A marvelous throw-down, you two!” grins Savoy as he applauds. “Well fought and well won!”

Preston passes off Micheal’s lead to Princess.

“Thank you, my lord,” replies Draco, bowing. He soon turns to roughly kiss and fondle the sultry redheaded vampire who was present with him earlier. She looks very aroused by his victory. He looks very aroused by his victory. Some laughing onlookers seem to enjoy that.

Veronica shrugs at Jade’s question.

“Who gives a shit?”

Celia: Her. That’s why she asked. Obviously.

Jade doesn’t bother to respond to the acerbic question. She slides an arm around the thief’s waist, glancing at him instead.

“How about you, darling? Did you win something pretty, or is someone going to find their pockets lighter when they leave?”

GM: “Probably the latter,” smirks Pietro. “I’ve never liked betting as much.”

Celia: “Why gamble when you can make it a sure thing,” she agrees.

“Who’s next?”

“Surely,” she drawls to Pietro and Veronica, “this wasn’t all set up so we could watch a nobody spank a Caitiff.”

GM: It doesn’t look like it was. Next in the ring is Ramon Korda against Marcio de la Cruz.

Celia: Jade fires off a text to Andi while the two square up, letting her know that Benji lost.

GM: Oh that sucks he’d really expected to win

Celia: Why was he fighting?

“You should steal her,” she whispers in Pietro’s ear while she waits for Andi’s response, nodding discretely toward the redhead.

GM: “Steal her yourself, you’ve already asked me to steal a person.”

Celia: Which hasn’t been done yet. Because she’s too busy doing things for Savoy and her sire and her family and destroying relationships to focus on goals like seducing cops for Pietro.

GM: uh idk the full story, he seemed pretty mad tho

Celia: “Mm,” is all she says.

damn that sucks, I’ll have to ask him later

“Change of target,” she offers, “same deal.”

GM: “Do it yourself,” the thief repeats as he watches the unfolding violence. The match between Marcio and Ramon is fierce and a closer thing than the last one, drawing even more Kindred onto the edges of their seats. It ends with Marcio’s win, but also with the two combatants clasping arms in seeming goodwill. Veronica looks rather more bored by that.

Celia: She’s not the only one. Jade’s expression mirrors her sire’s.

GM: Draco laughs as he forks over some cash to the redhead, who’s sitting on his lap. He remarks ruefully about “always betting against the clanless. Thought that would be a sure thing.”

“Don’t always bet against the underdog,” she purrs, licking his throat.

Celia: Jade doesn’t give a single fuck what Draco and his slut get up to.

She’s not looking forward to seeing more of him around the Quarter. He should have stayed in the slums of Mid-City where he belongs, the pampered fuck.

Cried a week ago when he committed his first murder but he’s out here now like he’s some hotshot badass with a cunt on his lap—

Jade murmurs her excuses to the ancillae—not that they care—and slips through the crowd toward the door, cloaking herself in shadows as she goes.

GM: Her last sound as she departs is the crack of Draco’s fists and the cheering of the crowd after he leaps back into the ring.


Tuesday night, 22 March 2016, PM

Celia: Jade stalks the streets, anger in her veins. She has had her own victories this evening, her own wins against two men, but the rational part of her mind knows that they were weak, pathetic kine. They don’t stand a chance against a lick, even a lick like her who prefers words to fists.

What if she’d jumped in the ring?

What if she’d challenged someone and ripped them to shreds with her claws?

What if she’d told the redhead she wants to throw down and torn her throat out in front of everyone?

She shouldn’t want it as much as she does. She shouldn’t be imagining herself on his lap instead, licking the blood from his chest, sinking her fangs into his neck in front of everyone, claiming him as hers in front of the entire faction.

What a power couple they’d have been. Smart. Strong. Fast. Charismatic. They’d been in love. No outside force could have torn them apart.

Except her sire. Whatever affection she’d felt or still feels for Roderick pales in comparison to what she has with her sire. Is it worth it? Is breaking a good man worth it?

She hates that she doesn’t have an answer to that question.

So Jade stalks through the streets like a huntress in the night, moving into her domain to search for someone with whom to let out this built up tension in her chest.

GM: Few disturb the seething huntress on her lonely errand. A light rain drizzles down from overheard. It’s always raining in this city.

The night rolls past as Jade stalks the kine. She finally winds up at the Bourbon Heat’s bathroom. It’s a place not unlike the one where she reconnected with Dani. There’s a lone pair of female-looking legs visible under a stall door.

Celia: It’s not the fight she was looking for.

She’d wanted to wipe the smug look off of someone’s face. Wanted to turn her knuckles red with someone else’s blood.

And even as she thinks it she knows that she wouldn’t be satisfied with kine right now anyway. She should have gone poaching. Made herself stand out. Let someone pick a fight with her and lay them out, because that’s so much smarter than just jumping into the ring at the Evergreen.

Jade curls her lip at herself in the mirror.

Laying out this bitch won’t be satisfying. But she’s already here. She might as well get a hit. She dissolves into nothing but shadows and waits for the stall door to open, intending to shove herself inside once it unlocks.

GM: She waits a while. Heavy panting sounds from inside the stall.

Celia: Seriously? Jade steps onto the toilet seat in another stall and peers over.

GM: The 20something club-going woman’s face is strained as she takes a particularly constipated-seeming shit.

“Ffffuuuuck…” she moans.

Celia: So much for the idea of someone getting hot and heavy in a stall.

GM: “Aggh…” groans the woman.

Jade smells it, even past the slowly expelling shit.

Blood.

Celia: Hemorrhoids? Or period blood?

Does it matter?

What’s that expression about not eating where you shit? Not that she shits. And not that this is what that saying means. But fuck, it sounded funny for half a second in her head before she realized that, for all her searching, this is what she’s ended up with.

She’s torn between disgust and hunger.

In the end disgust wins. Jade stalks from the bathroom and heads back to her haven, irritation growing with every step.

GM: “Mistress!” exclaims Alana when she’s back. The ghoul’s eyes are red. She doesn’t look like she’s left the spot where Jade told her to stay put. She’s still sitting there.

“Are we… okay?”

Celia: Jade wants to snap at her. Tear her head off. Lay into her for being a pathetic little cunt.

But she knows how it feels. Watching someone else take the person you love away from you. Feeling useless. Feeling stupid. Feeling worthless.

Well, no. She doesn’t know. But Celia knows.

So rather than greet the ghoul with anger Jade simply sighs, sinking onto the floor in front of Alana.

“You’re going to make this up to Emily by calling a company tomorrow and giving her a glowing review. And then you’re going to leave the Flores family alone. All of them. Lucy, Diana, Emily, the boys, everyone, unless I explicitly tell you otherwise. The new job gets Emily out of your face here. No contact with the family will show me that you value me more than you’re jealous of them.”

“Clear?”

GM: Alana nods her head raptly.

“Yes, mistress, of course. Glowing review, leave them alone.”

“What should I do when they’re at Flawless, just not talk to them?”

Celia: “Last time I told you to leave them alone you disobeyed.”

“This job isn’t important to Emily. It’s important to me. It’s a step in a direction I want to take, and she’s my in, just a pawn planted inside so I have a foot in the door. If you think it will be cute or funny to mess it up for me then we will not be okay.”

GM: The ghoul lowers her head.

“I’m sorry, mistress. I must have misunderstood you then. I understand now. Leave the Flores alone. Emily’s job is important to you, if I mess it up I’m hurting you.”

“I don’t want to hurt you. I don’t want to mess up. I want to do what you want.”

Celia: “When they’re in the spa,” Jade says, lifting Alana’s chin, “be civil. You don’t need to seek them out. But don’t be rude. They don’t know about me. You know about me. All of it. I don’t trust them like I trust you.”

GM: Alana nods, smiling at the contact. And her domitor’s words.

“That’s right, mistress. They’d just mess things up for you, if they knew.”

Celia: Jade nods.

“So we understand each other? Good. Grab my laptop for me, I want to show you something.”

GM: The ghoul all but springs to her feet and is back in moments with the Sunburst laptop.

Celia: Jade moves to the couch, pulling Alana in front of her so she can see the screen. She nuzzles her neck as she types in her password and then connects to her WiFi and a VPN.

“I had you look for that man earlier today. Did you visit his house and find it empty?”

GM: “Ah, I couldn’t find a house for him, mistress.”

She gladly snuggles against her domitor on the couch.

Celia: “His address was on his ID.”

“What do you mean you couldn’t find it?”

GM: “I’m sorry, mistress, I misspoke. A house in New Orleans. Since the ID said he lived in Houston…?”

Celia: Had it? Why had she thought it said New Orleans?

“Mm,” Jade says, opening the browser. “Pity, that. But there are things we can still do that I’d like to show you. Better if it’s local since we could just visit, so it’s a little more complicated than showing up at his door. First, we’re going to search his name.”

She types it into the search bar.

“A very high percentage of people have social media profiles. It’s only a matter of tracking down which one is his. I don’t imagine he thought his wallet would be stolen.”

“His face,” she adds idly, “was stolen from someone in Houston.”

“No doubt he thought he could get in and out and everyone would think him an ordinary ghoul. Someone’s new toy.”

“Unfortunately for him I have friends out that way.”

“And,” she adds in a whisper, lips brushing against the shell of Alana’s ear, “I made his mask.”

GM: Jade gets a result that says a Facemash account associated with his name has been deleted.

“You’re so smart, mistress,” giggles Alana, nuzzling her neck.

Celia: “Sometimes they do this,” she says to her ghoul, “and think they’ve gotten away with it. But things you put online are never really gone, are they? There are sites you can use to find old pages that have since been deleted.” Jade pulls one up, copying the part of the URL on his profile before it hits the 404 error. She pastes it into the new site.

GM: To her chagrin, she gets another 404.

Jade also knows people can ask those sites to delete their data.

Celia: “Good sign,” she murmurs. “That means this name is real. He went through a lot of effort to hide who he is. So the ID is his.”

GM: “That’s very good, then, mistress,” Alana nods.

Celia: “So now,” she says, pulling open another browser, “we find his house. Every county has a database you can search to find out who owns what property, what it sold for, tax information, things like that. It’s all public record. Which is why we don’t use my name on anything. Or yours.” Jade runs a hand down her thigh. “Too easy to find if you know what to look for.”

Most people don’t.

“It’s called a real property search. That plus the county, which is…” a quick search returns the results, “Harris County.” She taps it in and pulls up a state government website.

“It’s the same here even though we have parishes instead of counties. So now you go through this legal popup, click the accept button, type in the address, and… voila.”

“Everything you ever wanted to know about the house. Size, layout, last time it was sold, estimated taxes or taxes that are owed, sometimes work that has been done, most recent appraisal price, and the person who owns it. Which could be our guy, or it could be his wife or partner, or it could be a business.”

Jade points out the fields of text as she explains them.

GM: “I know about these, mistress,” nods the ghoul. “My sister once looked up information on the property where she lived, when she was pissed at the landlord.”

“Didn’t really do anything, though.”

Celia: “There’s not always something to be done. But we’re not looking to do anything, just find a name.”

GM: “I wouldn’t have thought to use it here, though,” Alana says. “I’d honestly forgotten all about it.”

Jade finds the subject of her search lives at a shitty-looking apartment building owned by the Pavaghi clan. Shwari had mentioned during one spa visit that her son Walter is doing well with his Houston startup.

Celia: Jade unlocks her phone and opens a well-used burner app. Violet’s number. She gives Chuck a call.

GM: The yuppie lawyer picks up after a few rings.

“Yeah?”

Celia: “Hey baby,” Violet croons into the phone. “You got a sec? I was hopin’ you could help me out with a little pickle. And then I can help you out with a big pickle.” She giggles.

GM: “I wanna see it in your mouth,” says Chuck. “I want you to gag on my dick. I want that thing rammed down your throat, far as it can go. I wanna see drool coming out of your mouth, as you stare up with big wide eyes, from your knees.”

“Chuck? Who is it?” calls a distant voice. Female.

“Just a client, Sarah,” calls Chuck. “Go back to bed.”

“At this hour?”

“Yeah, some of ’em just got no boundaries. Go to sleep.”

There’s footsteps, then Chuck whispers, “And when I blow my load in your mouth, I want your eyes to get even bigger, and for you to choke, ‘cause it’s too much for you.”

“And when I pull out, you hack all my cum out, over the ground.”

“Then I wanna watch you lick it all up, off the floor.”

Celia: Violet gives a little gasp of delight, the same sort of noise Alana makes when Jade touches her. She lowers her voice, all but purring into the phone.

“You want me on my knees, baby? How ‘bout two of us. I have a friend I told allllll about how hard you make me cum, and she says it’s not fair I don’t share. I’ll lick it all up and give her a taste of what she’s missin’.”

GM: “Oh, yeah. I wanna see you lick it all up, then french her and glob it all into her mouth, like a baby bird.”

Celia: “Ditch your old lady,” Violet says, “and come make it happen.”

GM: “She’s 17,” Chuck mentions off-hand. Jade thinks he’s… 26, 27?

“And what, tonight?”

Celia: Pervert.

“Or tomorrow, but I want that favor tonight if I’m bringing a friend for you.”

GM: “Yeah, tomorrow’s better.”

“How good is the friend and how big is the favor?”

Celia: “Outside of you she’s my favorite partner. And it’s not big at all, not like you are. Just need to find someone real quick. Think you can handle that?”

“I met a guy tonight,” she says, “and he stiffed me. And not in the good way, Chuckie. But he left his wallet—no cash, ugh, and it wasn’t good enough to arrange another deal—so I looked him up and he rents from your family out in Houston. Thought maybe he might have left a forwarding address, and if not then his number will work.”

GM: “Ha. Ha. Yeah, most people who rent from my family are peasants. They’re bad people to fuck.”

“I mean, sexually.

Celia: “Lesson learned,” she sighs.

“But you’ll make up for it tomorrow. You always show me a good time.”

GM: “Fuckin’ straight. So this friend of yours is free, right, ‘cuz I’m not paying for two girls if you want a favor on top.”

Celia: “Of course, baby.”

GM: “Okay, I can look into this. Won’t be tonight. Got work tomorrow.”

“I dunno if the juice is even worth the squeeze for some poor dude out in Houston, but I’m not complaining if it gets another girl swallowing my cum.”

Celia: “It’s gotta be tonight,” Violet whines, “please, Chuckie? Just a quick lookup? I’ll let you cum on my face after my friend and I suck and swallow.”

GM: “There’s nothing for me to look up. It’s not like we have a database with every tenant’s names and numbers. I need to call my uncle to ask him, and he needs to call one of his people to ask them, and they’re probably gonna call someone else, ‘cuz fuck if he knows every poor dude he rents to, and I’m not gonna bother him this late.”

“What’s Poor Dude’s name, anyway?”

Celia: “Joel Price.”

GM: “’Kay. What a loser name.”

“Say you’re a cocksucker.”

Celia: Violet rolls her eyes. “I’m a cocksucker,” she croons.

“Your cocksucker."

GM: “Ah yeah, that’s what I love to hear from a girl.”

Celia: “I’ll see you tomorrow, Chuckie, to show instead of tell. Mwah.” She blows a kiss into the phone and hangs up.

“Fuckwad,” she mutters to Alana.

GM: “What a jerk,” Alana agrees.

Her hand starts to rub along Jade’s crotch.

“Let me worship you, mistress,” she whispers. “Let me treat you the way you deserve.”

“Let me make you feel good.”

Celia: “I want to find this guy,” Jade grouses. “Why is no one fucking helpful anymore?”

GM: “I know, mistress, they’re all such jerks… none of them appreciate you, like they should…”

Celia: The ghoul’s words do little to assuage her.

“I hate them. This whole fucking city.”

GM: “All a bunch of jerks,” Alana nods, moving her hands up to massage Jade’s shoulders.

“Jerks and fuckwads.”

Celia: “Are you just agreeing with everything I say?”

GM: “Of course not, mistress, you just happen to be right.”

“That jerk could’ve done more for you, called his uncle tonight, gotten the ball rolling.”

Celia: She’s lying, but Jade doesn’t bother pushing the issue. Of course she’s agreeing with everything Jade says. She’s under a bond.

GM: “Would you feel better if you took it out on me, spanked me good?”

Celia: “No,” Jade sighs, “I want to rip someone’s throat out.”

“And you’re too pretty for me to do that to you.”

“I want to fucking do something while Drakey sits at the Evergreen throwing punches like it fucking means anything.”

GM: “You could beat me ‘til I’m black and blue, mistress… I don’t mind,” suggests the ghoul.

“You could patch me up afterwards.”

“Maybe I deserve it anyways. For being bad.”

Celia: “Not tonight,” Jade says. She snaps her laptop shut and slips one of the credit cards from the wallet into a pocket. “I’m going out. I’ll see you later tonight. Get some sleep, pretty.”

GM: “All right, mistress.” She kisses Jade’s cheek. “You know that however they treat you, whatever happens out there, I’ll always love you.”

“We’ll always have a home here together.”

Celia: “Love you too, ’Lana.”

Her heart isn’t in it, but she’s so very good at convincing people. She’s the only one who knows how truly broken it is.


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Story Thirteen, Celia XXXIII

“I remember who my real friends are. And who the fair weather friends are.”
Joseph Montobon


Tuesday night, 22 March 2016, AM

Celia: Jade sends a text to Draco as she wraps things up with Celia’s mom, asking if he’d heard anything from their friends.

GM: Haven’t asked.

Celia: Oh good. Got you in time. Don’t bother, I figured it out. Thanks though.

She even includes a heart emoji, just to keep him guessing. Then she mutes the text thread, preventing any notifications from him until she unmutes him. She’s not really interested in anything he has to say anymore.

She dials Benji’s number.

GM: It rings for a while.

“Yo. Leave a message.”

Beep.

Celia: “Hey, it’s me. Just making sure you’re okay. Hit me up. Mwah.” She blows a kiss and hangs up.

Surely Savoy doesn’t have a reason to detain Benny. He hadn’t done anything. Probably just wants to avoid her for getting him staked, right?

Right.

She takes off.


Tuesday night, 22 March 2016, AM

Celia: The first stop is the clubhouse. Located on Royal, the building isn’t far from Flawless and the Evergreen itself; she should be able to hit all three if needed.

Jade uses her key to unlock the panel to put in the code that lets her inside.

GM: Jade looks as if she has the place to herself. Andi, Tyrell, and Nova are still off on their road trip, last she heard, and Roxy and Benji do not currently seem in.

Celia: Disappointing, but expected.

Jade resets the alarms and security systems and heads out. She stops at Flawless long enough to make sure that is securely locked down as well before she swings by the Evergreen.

Celia would run from this place, tail tucked from her earlier chastisement. But she isn’t Celia. She squares her shoulders, straightens her spine, and approaches the door.

GM: Flawless is quiet and still at this hour of night and appears secure.

The Evergreen is quiet too, at this hour on a Monday (well, Tuesday), and though bereft of crowds its lights remain on. Fabian receives Jade cordially and inquires what he can do for her with a wide smile.

Celia: How much does he know about what goes on here? Was he aware that only hours ago she’d been held captive in the same interrogation room where she had murdered her sister?

Does Savoy keep his people apprised of his moods towards his subjects?

Jade answers with a smile of her own. It’s politics, not personal. She inquiries after Benjamin, asking if he’s still here, or if he was released.

GM: The smiling ghoul gives no indication either way.

Fabian answers that Mr. Moore is no longer enjoying the hospitality of the Evergreen, though he is expected back tomorrow night.

Celia: She asks for clarification: did he leave of his own volition or was he taken to another location? Essentially, is he free or not?

GM: Fabian chuckles like Jade just told an amusing joke and replies that of course Mr. Moore left of his own violation.

“All of Lord Savoy’s guests may enter and leave his house safely, freely, and—he dares hope—while leaving something of the happiness they bring, madam.”

Celia: Her smile doesn’t slip.

“Naturally, Fabian, and let no one suggest otherwise. I merely wished to complete my business with him. When did he go?”

GM: “Perhaps an hour or so ago, madam.”

Celia: “With friends, or alone?”

GM: “He left in the company of two ghouls, madam.”

Celia: “Why is he due back tomorrow?”

GM: “He had some business he wished to conduct with a one Mr. Draco, madam.”

“Any friends of theirs are welcome to attend.”

Celia: Why the fuck.

“What time.”

GM: “10 PM, madam.”

Celia: She thanks him for his assistance and heads out.

GM: Fabian beamingly replies she is very welcome, wishes her goodnight, and declares the Evergreen has been made all the happier for her presence.

Celia: Sure it has.


Tuesday night, 22 March 2016, AM

Celia: Celia dials the Caitiff again.

GM: “Yo. Leave a message.”

Beeeep.

Celia: She continues to call.

GM: She continues to get voicemail.

Celia: Anxiety gets the best of the other girl inside of her—is he mad at her? Pissed she got him staked? Turning on her? Going to leave her krewe for Draco’s? Did Draco get his own office within nights and she hasn’t in years? Is he going back on their deal not to fuck with each other?—but the lick in control beats it back down. She finally sends a text to the Caitiff.

Sorry for the spam. Big shit happening, want to make sure you’re okay. Lmk when we can discuss. Owe you.

It’s late. She’s alone. She doesn’t like being alone. There are too many people whose relationship with her are up in the air for her to settle down.

How did it come to this?

Her flesh ripples, shifts, changes. Celia stares into the rear-view mirror in her car, hating… everything. She wants her mom. She wants Pete. She wants the boy Stephen used to be.

Mostly she wants her sire. His arms around her. His lips at her throat. She wants to find whatever it is that turned him into this beastly thing and kill it so she can free him, so they can be happy together. She even wants her sister-in-blood, wants the genuine warmth and kindness she’d seen beneath the mask, wants—

Celia takes a useless breath.

Blood ties them together. Blood ties her to her sister and her sister to her. There’s no one else in the world who understands what it’s like to be his childe, lying to everyone, cut off from… from everything. Her grandsire had let Gui be killed because he’d only ever served his sire; what if he finds out the same is true for her? What if, even now, he’s plotting her demise?

It’s anxiety talking, that’s all it is, anxiety because she’d messed up; every time she thought the worst would happen she’d managed to pull out of it, hadn’t she? And Pete would have brought her back in if her grandsire was pissed. She’d be dead. He said so.

And Draco is… they have a deal.

Benji, though? Her ghouls? That hunter? The Setites and Marcel?

She wants advice. Needs advice. Needs someone who isn’t pissed at her, someone who doesn’t think she’s a weak, burdensome fuckup, someone who she can trust.

Can she trust anyone?

That’s the discussion she’d had with her mother earlier tonight. Take the mask off, let them see it doesn’t have to be like this. Her sister had done so.

Celia closes her eyes, searching inside of herself for the ties that bind the pair of them together. Donovan’s childer, linked by blood that doesn’t care what sort of mask they wear because its ties are stronger than the lies they tell each other, stronger than the lies they tell themselves, stronger than the lies that their whole society buys into. She finds the connection and marvels at the clarity of the red hue, as if all this time it had been waiting for her to simply see it.

Celia tugs.

GM: That is what her mom had said. Be the change you want to see from others. Like she’d been the change she wanted to see from Celia. And from Jade. Show there’s no need to lie, that the masks can come off.

And Camilla had too, hadn’t she? Celia had hated her, or at least resented her, until she took off her own mask. So many years spent hating the Kindred who could have been sister.

Yet Camilla’s mask, Celia knows all-too well, is strong. And for all that she risked on her younger sister’s behalf—that’s its own thrill, isn’t it, to have someone else who’s the big sister, who can be the one to give advice—that mask came back on, flawlessly in place, the moment they left that cold cell in Perdido House.

For all the world knows, Camilla has no sister. Jade has no sister. And Celia, if she has any ties to the masked city at all, is but a ghoul.

Nothing answers.

Celia: Disappointment is her constant companion.

She wants a win.

Needs a win. A victory over someone else. Needs to feel in control again, to take back the power, to… to just stop feeling like a fuckup.

Celia sends her thoughts to Jade, but it’s another that comes out, another that makes a call to a boy on a phone that doesn’t belong to Celia or Jade.

Ayame: Ayame scrolls through her contacts to find his name. Durant. She presses the ‘send call’ button and holds the phone to her ear.

GM: To her chagrin, she gets his voicemail.

Celia: She’s perhaps unsurprised to once more be sent to voicemail. Celia decides against leaving a message; she hadn’t needed him for this, not really. She knows where the bitch hangs out. And it would be too hard to explain to him why she’s doing what she is.

But it will hold for tomorrow. Tonight she wants to get lost in the comfort of the arms of someone who adores her.

She goes home to Alana.

GM: She finds the ghoul wearing a babydoll nightie and soundly asleep in bed. She’s wrapped around a large pillow in seeming substitute for spooning with her domitor.

Celia: Alana won’t be asleep for long. Not if Celia has anything to say about it. She strips from her borrowed clothing and deposits it across the back of a chair before sliding into bed behind her ghoul. She presses her lips to the back of Alana’s neck and snuggles close, arms snaking around her body.

GM: The ghoul soon wakes at the physical contact. She shifts and turns around to face Celia with still-bleary eyes.

“Mistress…?” comes a sleepy purr.

Celia: “Hello, darling,” comes the answering purr. Jade’s voice. Jade’s face the ghoul sees when she attempts to turn over, but the Toreador takes her by the wrists and gently pins her down.

“I missed you all night,” she murmurs, nuzzling at Alana’s neck, “and I want to make up for it.”

GM: “Mistress…!” comes a second explanation with suddenly wide, delighted eyes.

Alana squirms under Jade’s grip as her domitor gets on top. The position does not look displeasing to her.

“I missed you so much, too… more than I can say… but you’re here, and when I’m done, you’ll never want to leave…”

She leans upwards, as much as she can with her pinned wrists, and plants trails of tender, rapturous kisses along Jade’s neck and naked breasts.

“You’re so beautiful… you know that… just absolutely, stunningly perfect…”

Celia: “I know,” Jade says with a smirk, “but I love hearing you say it.”

She nudges Alana’s thighs apart with her knee and settles between her legs. And then she… changes. Her skin ripples below the waist, the padding from her firm, round butt moving to take on a new position in front of her. She builds from her clit outward, turning the tiny bundle of nerves into a larger, thicker shaft that she presses against the girl beneath her, rubbing her stiffening cock between her lips.

“Do you want it?” she whispers in Alana’s ear, nipping at her lobe. “Tell me how badly you want this. How much you want me inside of you.”

GM: “Mistress…!” Alana gasps, eyes widening as she feels Jade’s budding manhood brush against her lower lips.

The ghoul’s face looks as if Christmas just came early.

She instantly spreads her legs, already dripping wet, and arches her back as she moans wantfully and tugs against Jade’s grip.

It’s amazing how fast she’s woken up.

“Fuck me, mistress,” she begs. “Please fuck me. Please fill me. Please give it to me. Please let me take you inside me. Please fuck my brains out. Please, mistress.”

Celia: With her back arched maybe Alana doesn’t see the rest of the changes take over Jade’s body. Perhaps she misses the darkening of the skin, the way her hair recedes back into its follicles, the way her chin and cheeks darken with scruff. Soft feminine curves slide beneath her skin to pad her arms and legs, filling out what needs filled and giving her the appearance of more muscle tone. Her chest flattens into the smooth plane of pecs.

Jade can’t make herself taller. She can’t create matter from nothing. But she does rearrange her body’s structure, and the result is a very, very handsome man now poised between Alana’s legs.

Pic.jpg “I prefer,” Jade—Jade?—says in a deeper, more masculine voice, “if you’d call me master.”

He pushes inside in one quick thrust.

GM: Alana gasps. From surprise. From delight. From the cock that’s now inside her, its owner now busily thrusting back and forth.

“Yes… master…!”

The ghoul’s inner walls are warm and wet around Jade. This isn’t his first time with a cock, but it’s still an altogether distinct form of pleasure. There’s no wanting someone to hit the spot. She’s—he’s—not ‘taking’ anyone into her. He’s taking the wet and willing woman beneath him. He’s the one whose cock is soaked with Alana’s juices. The ghoul’s pussy is soft like the finest silk. It’s similar to the feeling of a french kiss when Jade’s tongue is entwined with another person’s tongue, but this feels a hundred times more pleasureful. Jade can feel everything in his pulsating manhood. Alana’s pussy feels like the most natural place in the world to be. Jade goes in and out and in and out, remembering how her—his—partners did it, keeping his rhythm constant.

“Thank you… master…. thank you for your cock… master…!”

Even the word is different. Master. Shorter. Blunter. More direct. None of the trill that comes with ‘mistress’.

Celia: He likes it. The power that comes in having his own cock to fuck this warm, wet pussy. The way she writhes and pants beneath him when he hits that spot he knows so well, the one that makes her thighs tremble and the breath leave her body in tiny little gasps. When her back arches it presses her tits against his chest, firm nipples rubbing over his skin with every bounce and jiggle.

He growls, shifting, hooking her knees over his shoulder so he can press further into her, drilling deeper to make her toss back her head and moan. He keeps at it, but only for a little bit. Then he shifts again, spinning the pair of them so that he’s on his back and she’s kneeling above him.

“Ride me,” he says, sliding a hand between her thighs to stroke a finger across her clit.

GM: It seems obvious, that familiarity with having a penis and vagina makes one better equipped to provide pleasure to one’s partner.

But how many people can claim the same firsthand familiarity with both sex organs that Jade now has?

A flushed, sweaty, and breathless Alana eagerly obliges her master’s request. It’s different from this angle, and pleasantly so. The ghoul does more of the work. It’s less actively ‘drilling’ than it is… the closest thing Jade can think of, absurdly, is his mom juicing lemons with one of those handle-less, hand-operated juicers. Pressing the fruit against the hard, thrusting, jutting surface. Pressing down and squeezing, watching the juices all run out, as soft yielding flesh meets immovable tower.

Jade’s pleasure builds with every upwards thrust from him and downwards grind from Alana. Soon, but not too soon, he feels it coming. The explosion he’s on the brink of from all the pressure built up in his penis. It’s so different having the sensation concentrated in an appendage. Jade’s muscles tighten. He cries out in pleasure, in tune with Alana’s gasps and moans and cries for more. Jade wants to release the tension, to finally cum inside his ghoul.

And then he does. Jade can feel his penis pulsating like it did earlier, but now in waves rather than quivers, as he climaxes. He feels a release of fluids. Vaginal juices, from his ‘wet’ penis. The wetness couldn’t have just been Alana’s. Does it feel different for men to release thicker ropes of white cum? That’s one detail which would take deeper than surface-level work.

The afterglow is similar, though. He feels calm and at peace. The tension is gone, there’s just a relaxed state of pleasure. He can feel his penis returning to it’s flaccid state. He lies still for a moment, entangled in Alana’s arms. Nothing could move him from this position. This feels like the place he is meant to be.

Well, except for round two.

“You were magnificent, master…” purrs Alana, lying her head against Jade’s flat chest.

Her fingers lightly play across his abs and pecs.

Celia: Jade rather enjoys the sensation of soft, warm hands on his chest and abdomen, his partner tucked beside him in bed with her cheek on his chest. He wants more mass. Wants to be able to pick up Alana and take her against the wall, the way Celia likes being taken. Wants to be taller, broader, stronger.

Bone work, he thinks. He needs to learn the bone work. Already he imagines a way to replace his bones with calcified collagen, storing the rest of it inside of him where no one can see but where he can get to if he ever needs to be bigger.

He could be as big as a Brujah.

“I need a name,” Jade says at last, his fingertips running up and down Alana’s spine.

GM: “Hmmm,” Alana muses, nuzzling her head against her domitor’s chest in apparent thought before looking up.

“How’s Jason, master?”

She smiles as she uses the word again.

“Jason Kalani.”

Celia: “Not Kalani,” Jade says. Something about the name “Jason” rubs him the wrong way.

“Caelum is what Celia comes from. But perhaps that’s too close.”

GM: “Caelum is a weird name,” says Alana. “You don’t see anyone with that.”

“Maybe John.”

“That’s a strong, tough guy name.”

Celia: “Mm,” Jade says at the suggestion. John rubs him the wrong way as well. It’s not a name he wants to respond to.

“We’ll think of something,” he says at length. “Master will work for now.”

Jade runs his fingers through Alana’s hair.

“I have a job for you.”

“Today I’d like you to go shopping for this face. Get me something casual and get me something dressier. Fitted. Find shoes in my size with an insert or inconspicuous platform. Make sure the pants are long enough to hide it; we can hem them if needed. An inch or two.”

Alana has good taste in clothing and will know to take his measurements with her when she goes. It’s not a hard task. She might even enjoy it.

“Your friend down at the coroners, you still see her? Find out what happened with her boss. Friend of a friend mentioned he was attacked. And a missing body or something.”

GM: Alana gives a delighted trill.

“Sure thing, master. Clothes and shoes. Ones to look taller.”

“And she’s not my friend, just a client. But I can ask. Maybe send her a gift card, since it’s been a little while.”

Celia: “Do so. Send one to the woman running for mayor as well. And my father.”

Jade slips from the bed, padding silently across the floor to where he’d set his purse. He brings it back to bed with him and sifts through the contents before finally holding out a wallet.

“I’d like to find this man. Sooner rather than later. Ordinarily I’d send Reggie, but I still haven’t heard from them. See what you can do. Carefully. I suspect he’s a hunter.”

GM: “Sorry, master, who’s the woman running for mayor?” asks Alana.

Celia: “That city council lady. Ocampo.”

GM: The ghoul nods. “Sure thing, master. Dale, Ocampo, and your dad. Do you want to do any of their treatments yourself, or to leave it to me or the techs?”

Celia: “Put Ocampo and my father with me. You have a rapport with Dale already.”

GM: “Okay, master,” Alana nods again.

She looks over the wallet.

“Do you want me just to find him for you, or to bring him in?”

Celia: “If you think you can bring him in safely, do so. Otherwise just find where he’s squatting.”

Jade sets the purse aside and turns to face the ghoul.

“Did you kiss my mom?”

GM: Alana nods again at that directive, then pauses.

“…sorry, master?”

Celia: “Did you kiss her. When you first started at Flawless.”

GM: Alana gives a faint laugh. “I don’t think your mother and I are much each other’s type, master.”

Celia: “No. It sounded out of character for you.”

Jade settles back against the pillows, pulling his girl toward him once more.

“We need to find the boys.”

GM: Alana nods and snuggles up against her domitor.

“I can’t believe they’d just abandon you like this.”

Celia: “I don’t understand why. Or where they are now. Why they won’t pick up. There were voices on the other end of the line, yelling at them about being on the phone. Rusty got lippy. Laughed when I said I wanted to make sure they were safe. Said they were.”

His fingers curl against Alana’s back.

GM: “What awful people, master,” murmurs Alana, nuzzling against Jade’s chest.

“I’m here for you. I’ll always be here for you.”

Celia: Jade purses his lips.

“Their brother was missing. I get it. But it doesn’t explain why they wouldn’t let me help.”

GM: “Who knows, master. Maybe they’re just weird about it, since he’s family. I think he always came first, with them.”

“Before you.”

Celia: “But I could help.”

GM: “I know, master. It’s completely irrational.”

Celia: “I wanted him back just as much. I wanted to find out what happened just as much.”

GM: “Completely irrational,” Alana repeats. “I never thought we could rely on them.”

Celia: Jade scowls at the top of her head.

“You’d have it be just us if you could. But you’re not muscle. Not an investigator. You can’t stop other licks from snatching me up off the streets and torturing me.”

GM: “They’d say things about you, when they thought you wouldn’t hear, master. They never took you seriously.”

Celia: “Like what.”

GM: “That you were fuckable. That it was the only thing you were good for. That he’d have been out of here, Reggie that is, if it weren’t for the sex.”

“Or how he was ‘humoring you.’ Letting you think you were in charge. That sooner or later, he was going to ‘make’ you give him a blowjob. About how much he was looking forward to ‘putting you on your knees, where you belong.’”

Celia: Jade is silent for a moment.

Then he twists, pinning Alana beneath him with her wrists in his hands.

“Don’t lie to me, darling. They know too much about me for us to let them go rogue. The truth now. What they said. When. No embellishments.”

GM: Alana looks up with wide, half-aroused and half-fearful eyes.

“He said you were fuckable, master. He said he was going to make you give him a blowjob, master, if you didn’t on your own.”

“The other things were more, implicit.”

Celia: “Wanting to get out. To get away from me. To no longer be mine. Did he say that?”

GM: “Not directly, master. It was other things, and the way he said them. I don’t think he ever really took seriously the idea you were in charge.”

“You were someone he fucked, not a literal mistress.”

“I don’t think he was ever scared of you, of displeasing you. Of disobeying.”

“I’ll admit that Randy at least had that, he knew who was in charge.”

Celia: “His brother will be a cripple without me.”

“A week, two, and he’ll be right back in that chair.”

GM: “Reggie cuckolded his brother, mistre—sorry, master. Laughed about it. Enjoyed it. I don’t think that family was ever completely right in the head.”

Celia: “Was I supposed to beat him harder to keep him in line?”

GM: “Maybe, master. There was just something wrong about them, I thought.”

“Reggie tried to rape a girl at Flawless once.”

Celia: “He what?”

GM: “Mira, you remember her? Quit a while ago. Reggie had come over to the spa for something, figured he’d get a massage while he was there. She was his massage therapist, and seemed pretty upset after they were done together—she ended their session early. She clamped up when I asked about it, said she wanted to just move on. I couldn’t prove anything. You remember how she was moving across the country, and you’d been nice letting her quit before her two weeks were up. She said she didn’t want to make waves, risk you saying bad things if another employer called for a reference.”

Celia: “That motherfucker,” he snarls.

“And who the fuck would give a woman trouble if she said she’d been raped?”

“What kind of person do they think I am?”

GM: “I think that was actually part of it, master,” Alana says thoughtfully. “She’d had a really good experience with us. She didn’t want to ‘tarnish’ it, if that makes sense—which, I know, doesn’t make sense.”

“She just wanted to bury the whole thing.”

Celia: “Send her something. A gift basket.” As if that makes up for it. “Something nice.”

Jade lets the ghoul go, anger in his eyes. He’ll gut the bastard.

“He’ll need a hit eventually. Or he’ll go looking to get laid. Or his brother will stop walking and not even juice can put him back to rights.” Rusty will need a doctor, someone like Jade.

No, it’s even easier than that, isn’t it. He doesn’t have to go looking at all. Jade will lure Reggie back in without expending the effort of a search.

“We’re looking for replacements in the meantime.”

“And we’re moving. Get the havens ready. Start looking for a new place. Up the security on the spa and have the locks changed.”

GM: “Okay, master. I’ll send her something,” nods Alana. “I’ll write her something sensitive, too.”

“Change the locks. Okay. What sort of place do we want? Nice like this?”

“Inside your domain, still? I know that’s how things are supposed to be, but there’d be a lot more options if we moved outside.”

Celia: “Stay in the Quarter. We’ll use alternative identities if we end up outside my turf. Apparently,” he spits the word, “we can count on my landlord to hunt us down eventually, but I’d like to make it at least a bit of a challenge for him.”

GM: “Okay,” repeats Alana. “What about a haven in Flawless, too, master? Obviously it’s not a place to have sex—well, bed sex—or watch movies, or anything like that, but you are safe there. Surrounded by people who’d all do anything for you.”

Celia: “Put something in place. Discretely. And have the whole spa swept for bugs. I’m tired of my conversations not being private.”

Maybe even this one isn’t. His lips pull back from his teeth at the thought.

GM: Alana nods. “Sure thing, master.”

Celia: “Get your sleep, pet. We’re going hunting tomorrow.”

GM: “I can’t wait, master,” the ghoul purrs.


Tuesday evening, 22 March 2016, PM

GM: Jade wakes up. It’s a second later than it was eight hours ago. Alana is snuggled up next to him in different clothes.

“Good evening, master,” she purrs.

Celia: “Hello, darling.” Jade slides his arms around the ghoul. “How was your day?”

GM: “Not as good as last night, when I got to see you,” Alana beams.

GM: After some more early evening cuddling and kissing, the ghoul has the following things to report:

Courtney Dale is scheduled for an appointment later this week.

Maxen and Thalia Ocampo have both been sent Flawless gift cards. Ocampo’s with “a little more pizaz” than Maxen’s since she’s an important woman who doesn’t yet have a relationship with Celia.

Mira has been sent a nice gift basket and handwritten note saying something thoughtful and validating.

Alana has some real estate listings for Jade to take a look at, both within and without her domain.

Alana has changed the locks at Flawless, bought some further cameras, and upgraded the alarm system to one that will send a mobile alert to her and Jade’s phones whenever it’s triggered.

She was, regrettably, unable to locate the man whose wallet Jade recovered, or to find any bugs in the spa.

Celia: Jade hadn’t really expected Alana to find the man. They had waited too long. It should have been done on Sunday immediately following Jade’s departure from Elysium. But he praises Alana for the rest of the good work; he has other avenues he can pursue to locate the hunter.

GM: Alana beams at the praise.

Celia: Jade reaches into the bedside table to find his laptop, tapping in his password when prompted and then connecting to the Wi-Fi through a VPN.

“What do you know about Hensler,” he asks.

GM: “Sorry, master, I don’t know who that is,” she admits. “Maybe I could go to more lick events with you, to pick up on these things.”

Celia: “Mm,” Jade muses, “are you going to keep it in your pants if I bring you around?”

GM: “Of course, master. I don’t want to cause problems for you.”

“And I’d be more helpful to you that way, if I knew about things and people like Hensler.”

Celia: “It’s okay, darling. I know about Hensler. I wanted to see what you knew. But you’re right. That answer was… illuminating.”

Celia’s mother’s words about trust echo in Jade’s head. Alana will be a terrible teacher for Diana if she doesn’t know what she needs to.

“He’s one of Cartwright’s. Animal trainer, of sorts. If I’m not mistaken, either Nova or Roxy got one of their hounds from him.” Or sent one to him. Or liberated one from him; Jade doesn’t quite recall the details. “There was an incident at my mother’s house. I might get her a dog.”

A smile broadens his lips.

“His domitor and I discussed some collaborative work a while back that never quite got off the ground. Perhaps now the opportunity is ripe.”

Jade taps a handful of letters into the address bar of the laptop before he changes his mind and disconnects it from the Wi-Fi. He turns it off and reaches for his phone instead, scrolling through to find the text thread with Diana.

How’s Emi & Goose?

GM: “Your mother can get her own dog if she wants one,” hmphs Alana.

But she smiles as her domitor does.

“Maybe it is, master. I’ll remember that, who Hensler is. Cartwright’s ghoul.”

Diana texts back soon enough.

Hi sweetie. Things have been hairy. This was a very big change for Goose. You want to come over tonight?

Celia: “I like you more when you’re less insecure,” Jade sighs, nudging Alana with his elbow to move the girl off of him. He rises, tapping back an affirmative to Celia’s mother.

“The more secure her home, the less I need to visit.”

“The less I need to visit,” he says, padding across the room to the closet to pick out a variety of outfits for the evening, “the more time I spend with you.”

GM: “You’re right, master,” agrees Alana.

Celia: “Then don’t begrudge the time I spend setting her up for success. It saves in the long term.”

GM: “I guess it does, when you put it like that.”

“You said you wanted to go hunting tonight? Do you want to come by the spa, too?”

Celia: Jade turns to look over his shoulder at Alana, a dress in one hand and leggings in the other.

“Oh, darling. We’re not hunting kine tonight.”

GM: “What are we hunting tonight, then, master?” the ghoul smiles.

Celia: “Something a little more slippery.”

Jade doesn’t offer further on the subject, only tells Alana to get a message to Cartwright’s hag to set up a meeting, and to “be sure to clear it with his regent, once you get a date." A glance at the clock on his phone tells him that most of his kind probably isn’t even up yet.

Hunting. Then Diana. Then big game hunting.

Gonna grab dinner, but on my way, Jade texts to Diana.

GM: “I’ll do that later this evening, master,” nods Alana. “It might take me a little while to track down her number.”

Great, see you then. :)

Celia: “Text me when it’s done.”

Jade’s flesh begins to ripple and change as s/he peruses her/his closet for additional items. S/he asks where Alana left the male clothing as s/he packs a bag with tonight’s necessities.

GM: Alana tells him/her where they are in the closet. The clothes are stylish and range from casual to semiformal. The shoes have Jade’s female size but are male-appropriate.

Celia: S/he checks the lift on the shoes.

GM: As requested, there’s a discrete insole to boost his/her height by a bit.

Still pretty short for a man, but less short.

Celia: “Perfect,” the voice from the body says.

GM: Alana beams at the praise.

“Do you want me to come with you, mast… er, mistress? Cartwright’s hag might be easier to reach during the day anyway.”

Celia: S/he shakes her/his head.

“Not yet. I have some personal errands to run first. I was thinking about sending you over to see Ron. He mentioned he wanted to speak to me.”

The face finally settles into Celia’s. She pins up her hair with a deft flick of her wrist, letting stray tendrils of it cascade down her back and curl to frame her face.

“But I’d prefer to do it myself, truth be told.”

GM: “Flawless as ever, mistress,” Alana purrs, reverently stroking a handful of that silky hair.

“Okay. I’m here if you need me for anything.”

Celia: “You’re a gem, ’Lana.”

GM: “You’re a star, mistress. You’ll be one in every sense of the word, too, after Ron comes through for you.”

“You deserve to be famous. More famous. You deserve to have people all through the world talking about you, idolizing you, wanting to be you. Worshiping you.”

Celia: “I know,” Celia says with a smile. “I will be.”

GM: The ghoul continues to reverently stroke Celia’s hair and face, then leans close to plant a trail of kisses along her domitor’s head.

“You’re the most beautiful, fabulous, incredible woman in all the world, mistress.”

Celia: Celia tolerates it while she gets ready. Then she’s gone, a trail of her signature scent in her wake and a final kiss lingering on Alana’s lips.

GM: “I love you, mistress,” the ghoul calls after her.


Tuesday evening, 22 March 2016, PM

Celia: Celia texts him on the way. It’s a casual text, an innocuous line about “being in the area” and “thinking about swinging by,” but they both know there’s nothing happenstance about it.

She sucks in her aura as she traverses the city streets—habit with this face after so many years—and keeps an eye in the rear view mirror. Perhaps to look for pursuers. Perhaps just to touch up her lipstick with the tip of one finger before she pulls into the complex where her friend is waiting. Nude heels click against the pavement with every step that she takes once she parks her car, dress dancing around her knees. Not too short, no, not for Celia. Not too formal, either. Casual. Maybe even a little risque, though the soft mauve color and fluttering skirt prevents it from being aggressively sexual.

Celia presses the number for his floor once she reaches the elevator and takes it up to knock upon his door.

GM: Celia’s date for the evening lives at a ritzy condo building in the CBD. He says he’ll let the people downstairs know to let her in. It’s a relatively long elevator ride up to his unit; she feels like there has to be some kind of metaphor there about the recent reversal in the Montobons’ declining fortunes. She vaguely recalls the family either currently or formerly owning a more historic property along St. Charles Avenue. Whether the Montobons lost it when times were tough, or whether Joseph simply prefers to live in the CBD’s more modern and forward-thinking environs, downtown is where he makes his home.

Working late, just getting off. I’ll meet you at the lobby.

The girl at the front desk is smiling and pleasant, the artwork trendy and contemporary, the plants bright and green, and the chairs around the unlit fireplace large and comfortable. Celia doesn’t have to occupy herself on her phone for long before her date for the evening comes in.

JosephMontobon.jpg
Joseph Montobon is a young and handsome man around 30 with short brown hair, strong facial features, clear blue eyes, and a very carefully maintained stubble outline suggestive of a beard without the actual hair. It gives him a crisp and focused look while making him look more masculine and mature than going clean-shaven. He’s dressed in office clothes, dark navy suit with black oxfords and white dress shirt, though his jacket is undone and his tie loosened in seeming concession to the late hour. All things told, he looks attractive, confident, healthy, successful—everything a man in the prime of his life should want to be.

Celia: And everything she wants in a man.

Celia is all smiles as she watches him approach, enjoying the way his jacket gapes open to reveal the smooth planes of a chest she is intimately familiar with. Right now it’s tucked away behind the white collared shirt, but soon…

She rises as he draws near, though she makes no move to greet him more personally than she would any other friend. The exact nature of their relationship has long been confined to behind closed doors.

“Hey, handsome.”

Well. It’s not like she doesn’t greet all her friends like that.

GM: Almost everything she’d want in a man.

He’s fit and healthy, but he’s not as buff as Roderick is. There’s no six pack swimming beneath that white shirt, even if the chest and stomach are smooth. There’s equally little question who would win in a fight, probably even before the Embrace.

He’s almost everything a breather might want in a man.

But to her kind?

Just another plaything.

Nevertheless, Joseph smiles as he sees Celia and greets her with a touch along her shoulder.

“Hey, cutie.”

He takes the elevator up with her.

“So how’s the biz?”

Celia: Celia doesn’t linger on thoughts of Roderick. He isn’t hers anymore. Perhaps he never truly was; perhaps they’d been doomed from the start. The monsters have been in her life for so long. And she knows Joseph is only a passing distraction, knows that she’d called on him because despite the lack of six pack abs he reminds her so thoroughly of her ex-lover. Because, were she kine, she could see herself happy with him. Instead she comes like a hungry wolf in the night.

No, she hasn’t forgotten what she is.

She’s just so very good at pretending.

Physical proximity comes naturally to Celia after spending years of her Requiem touching others. The predator inside of her doesn’t even stir when she casually leans against his side, as if quite by accident.

“It’s going well,” she enthuses, “busier than ever. Working on the expansion plan and have a few collabs coming up. More medically based. I’m pretty excited.”

The truth of the statement is in the smile she turns on him.

“What’s got you tied up this late?” A nod to the suit and tie.

GM: She’s always been good at pretending.

“Is it? Good for you,” Joseph smiles back, rubbing his hand up and down her side. “Expanding a business is one of the most satisfying things you can do.”

“For me, it’s work. Surprise.”

“If time is money, spending time on your business is giving it a cash infusion.”

Celia: It’s as easy as talking to Roderick once was. Her chest aches at the thought.

“And there’s never enough of it,” she says with an effected sigh. “Big project?”

GM: “Yeah. Contract with NASA.”

“Things got fucked up for a bit when our lead engineer disappeared.”

Celia: “Disappeared? Like quit or just vanished?”

“Think he was selling secrets to a competitor, maybe? People do weird things for money.”

GM: “Vanished. And yes, that’s part of what caused the delays. His wife was indirectly involved in some drug deal turned massacre. They sent her to prison. It made the news, but thankfully wasn’t ever connected to me. Enough degrees removed.”

Celia: “Oh good. Your piles of cocaine bricks are safe.” Celia shakes her head. “That’s… honestly crazy. Hopefully things have calmed down a little for you.”

GM: “It’s mainly losing my lead engineer that set things back. There was a lot to make up for.”

Celia: “I bet.” Celia gives his hand a squeeze. “I’d ask if you need anything, but y’know, not an engineer and all.”

GM: “Nah. Another guy I know stepped in and he’s been great.”

“Retired guy who knows what he’s doing.”

Joseph lets them into his condo after they’ve stepped out from the elevator.

Celia: She follows him inside, slipping out of her shoes and setting down her purse to pad after him through the space.

GM: It’s a nice place. Neat, clean, comfortable and modern-looking furniture, a few paintings, nice view of the waterfront. It looks like he’s rarely here to do anything besides eat, sleep, and (she knows) fuck.

Joseph takes off his shoes, removes his tie, and lays down his jacket over the couch.

“Was gonna grab some food from the fridge. You had dinner?”

Celia: “Not yet,” she says, “swinging by my mom’s later. She always has something waiting for when we show up.”

Maybe a new face could get a place here. Nice view. Celia steps toward the window, already wondering what it would take to get away with making a haven in the building.

“They allow pets here?”

GM: “Hm, good question. Probably. Moot for me.”

“Had dogs growing up, but I’m not around enough to give one attention.”

Celia: “Could get a cat. Or a bird.”

GM: “Cat still needs attention, and birds aren’t real pets.”

Celia: “Maybe a turtle,” she muses, turning to join him in the kitchen.

GM: “You want a drink?” he asks, pulling open the fridge.

Celia: She does.

“Watcha got?” Celia slides in behind him, touching a hand to the small of his back.

She peers over his shoulder.

“Tell you what,” she says, “I’ll mix up some cocktails and you get started on dinner.”

GM: He’s got some Ten Tickle microbrews and Woody Creek Kentucky bourbon. The latter kept outside the fridge.

“You sure? I was gonna wait on dinner if you’re eating at your mom’s.”

Celia: “You worked all day,” Celia says, stepping away to find a pair of rocks glasses for the bourbon. “I’m sure you’re hungry. Besides,” she glances at him over her shoulder, “I’ll probably steal a bite before you’re done.”

She finds the glasses in a cabinet and has to stretch to reach them, rising to the tips of her toes.

GM: “Works.”

Joseph grabs something from the fridge and sticks it in the microwave.

Celia: “Master chef,” Celia teases, getting to work on the cocktails. Ice in both. A pour of whiskey in both. Celia raids his refrigerator for lemon juice and soda water—or any bubbly, fizzy clear drink—and tuts at his lack of simple syrup. No soda water, either. She supposes it’s not something most people keep on hand. But there’s maple syrup in another cabinet. And a jar of honey.

Perfect.

She glances as the rocks glasses and shakes her head, putting them back to find something taller. She grabs the cocktail shaker while she’s at it.

“Don’t suppose you have Campari,” she says as she pours the bourbon and ice from one glass into the shaker. The Italian liquor is nowhere to be seen. “Hm, back in a flash.”

Celia carries one of the glasses into the living room where she’d left her purse, pretending to search through it while the flesh on her wrist ripples and parts, exposing a blood vessel to the air. That, too, parts with just a thought, and Celia thanks Jade for the cool trick while she bleeds into the cup. She makes sure he’s busy looking elsewhere—the microwave is really interesting all of a sudden—while she works and sets things back to normal.

It doesn’t take long to mix the drinks after that. Lemon juice and honey join the bourbon in the shaker. She caps it and shakes until the container itself is cold, then strains it into a glass for him.

“Gold Rush,” she announces as she hands it over. “And this is… well, it was going to be a Boulevardier, but no vermouth. So we’ll see.”

She clinks her glass against his in a toast.

GM: “Busy chef,” retorts Joseph.

It’s interesting mixing drinks like this when she never really got to enjoy them, or even learn much of anything about them, as one of the kine. Drinking was always out of the question at her father’s house, her mother had the desire literally programmed out of her, and Stephen only drank occasionally. Emily was the person deepest in her cups that Celia ever knew, and she wasn’t big on mixing drinks, just swigging tequila and cheap shitty stuff out of the bottle.

Maybe in another life she’d have been a connoisseur.

Joseph raptly watches the microwave’s rotating dish before using an oven mitt to take out what looks like some leftover chicken alfredo. He carries it to the counter while Celia carries the drinks.

“Fancy,” he says, impressed, and toasts his glass to hers with that praise.

Celia: She spends enough time at bars to know the names and common ingredients. Better for the Masquerade. And better to know a few drinks that look red, like hers, to avoid questions.

“Mostly,” she admits, sipping at her drink, “I can’t stand the taste of it straight.”

GM: Drinking one’s own blood, for all the lust-sweetened flavor of Celia own, just never does it like someone else’s. It’s like masturbating. You’re simply missing out without a partner, even if you’re objectively a far better lay than they are.

The mixed-in ice and bourbon just make it worse. This is like masturbating with a hand that’s coated in sewage.

She supposes it beats having a sewage-coated hand without masturbating, but it’s really just a different degree of bad.

Celia: But as she’d shown Emily, at least it lets her get a little bit tipsy.

Well. A lot bit tipsy that night. She’s gonna slow it down tonight.

GM: “Think more guys prefer it straight,” remarks Joseph, tossing his back before starting on the steaming food. He’s brought out an additional fork and napkin for her.

“I’ve known girls who did too, but not as many.”

Celia: Celia leans a hip against the counter while he eats, sipping slowly at her drink. She doesn’t let the distaste cross her face, not even to wrinkle her cute little nose.

“Acquired taste, they say. Had a friend who used to wax poetic about notes of cherry and vanilla and oak whenever he drank. Open it up with a little drop of water. He’d be livid if he saw me mixing it like this.” Celia smiles at him over the rim of her glass.

GM: “Ha. Sounds like a snob.”

Celia: “He was. Glad he moved, to be honest. One of those people you end up with as a friend and you’re not really sure how but they kinda just keep coming around.”

GM: Joseph takes another bite of alfredo.

“I know how that is. Lot of them are pretty bad friends.”

“When things weren’t doing so well at the business, a lot of them drifted away.”

“Now that things are better, surprise. They’re back.”

Celia: “You get that everywhere,” Celia sighs. “People disappear once the whispering starts, then change their story once it’s over. Hope you told them where to shove it.”

GM: He shakes his head.

“Alienating people doesn’t do me any favors.”

“But I remember who my real friends are. And who the fair weather friends are.”

Celia: “That’s fair,” she concedes. “Think I’m just… annoyed right now with some who went that way.”

GM: “What happened there?”

Celia: Celia shakes her head.

“It’s not quite the same. Just finally parted ways with a friend only to find out some really dumb stuff was going on behind my back with the whole family and another friend.”

GM: “Too bad, but least you finally cut them loose.”

Celia: “Just makes me wonder what the mutual friend is still keeping from me, since she didn’t bother mentioning it until they were gone.”

GM: “Could be she was lying and trying to make you split. Or just didn’t figure you’d believe her until you decided to split.”

“Depending when she told you.”

Celia: “Last night. Wasn’t quite ready to write off the whole family, just the one kid who kept causing problems. Spoke about it to her.”

Celia shrugs. “Minor problems, I guess.”

GM: “You writing them off now?”

Celia: She shrugs again. “Guess I’ll see what they have to say if they come around again.”

“Someone cute once told me that alienating people doesn’t do me any favors.”

GM: Joseph smiles. “It doesn’t. Though if they’ve walked off, sounds like they’d only be fair weather friends if they came back.”

“Because they wanted something.”

Celia: Blood, mostly. But Celia doesn’t share that with him. She smiles back, setting down her drink to slide her arms around him.

“Everyone wants something. What about you?”

GM: “Restore the business. Grow the business. Make my family’s name respected again. Pass it along to a son.”

“Everything I do is for that. My family used to be important. Few of us went into politics, back in the day.”

“My dad really bungled things.”

Celia: “Did they? I don’t think you’ve mentioned that to me before.”

GM: “Yep. My grandpa ran for mayor. Lost, obviously. Pretty ancient history now.”

“It’s not something I’d want to do, but my mom says she’d love a grandson who went into public service.”

Celia: “So one son for the business, and another who goes into politics. What about the rest of them?”

GM: “Two boys’d be enough for me.”

“Maybe a girl too.”

Celia: She’d meant it to be light-hearted and fun speculation, but it’s too close to another memory, too clear a reminder that this isn’t a world where she fits anymore.

GM: “But kinda feel like I’m already being half a dad to my younger sister.”

Celia: “How old now?” She reaches once more for her drink. It’s disgusting, but isn’t all booze? It still does the trick. If her body weren’t so carefully controlled her cheeks might begin to flush.

But she’s dead. So they don’t. Not unless she wills it.

“Joseph,” she says slowly, swirling the blood and bourbon around her glass, “if it’s not too personal… what happened with your dad?”

GM: “Sixteen,” he says. “Still living with my mom. Other sister’s 24.”

“My dad killed himself.”

“Left a note and blew his brains out.”

Celia: Celia’s eyes briefly close. She’d meant the business. What happened with the business that his dad had bungled. But perhaps it was the suicide that had done it.

She murmurs an apology for bringing it up, returning her drink to the counter and sliding her arms around him, cheek pressed against his chest. Her fingers move across the shirt covering his back, slow and soothing.

GM: “It’s fine,” he says. The way he wraps an arm around her and squeezes her shoulder makes it seem more like he’s comforting her than the other way around. “I’ve had a bunch of people bring it up way worse than that.”

“Even had some try to use it against me.”

Celia: Celia stares up at him. “What? Why? How even—?”

GM: “That sort of thing can tank a company’s value if you let it. Make investors or business partners not want to associate themselves. Plummet stock values. Wind up in newspapers. Ruin workplace morale.”

“Competitors might want to air dirty laundry to ruin you.”

“Or unscrupulous types who want to buy up a business after they drive down its value.”

“Again, sort of situation where you find out who your real friends are.”

Celia: “People are just…” she shakes her head.

“I mean, I get it, I guess. Use what you can to get ahead. But wow, just…” she trails off. “My dad mentioned he might run for higher office. I keep wondering if there’s going to be some ugly digging into our family history because of it.”

“You expect it in politics, you know? I guess I didn’t think it’d show up everywhere else too.”

“Naive of me.”

GM: “It shows up everywhere. It’s just worst in politics. So if your dad’s running, yeah, I’d expect to deal with the paparazzi.”

“And any ugly old stories to get dug back up.”

Celia: “Gross. I’m changing my name and moving.”

GM: “Good luck.”

“Some people thought I should do that, though, just sell and move to Florida.”

Celia: “Doesn’t sound much like you.”

GM: “Nope.”

Celia: “Unless you want to run off together.” Celia wiggles her eyebrows at him.

GM: “Ha ha. Maybe for a weekend getaway sometime.”

Celia: “That could be fun.”

GM: “I know a bunch of people who like to yacht across the Gulf.”

Celia: “Hmm. I was just looking into one.”

GM: “Funny timing. Just be sure not to fall off and drown like the Malveaux kid.”

Celia: “I’ll buy some arm floaties.”

GM: “Perfect.”

“My mom was really unhappy things didn’t work out with Savannah, marrying up and all, but right now I feel like I got the better end of the deal.”

Celia: “Hard, losing someone that young. Losing someone before their time no matter the age, really.”

GM: “Harder losing two someones like they did.”

Celia: Celia can only nod in agreement, thinking of her own family. Her mother losing two daughters. Henry losing his son, his daughter walking the edge of a tightrope to stay safe so he doesn’t lose her, too.

GM: “Crazy what that family’s been through lately. Wonder if someone has it out for them.”

Celia: She can think of who.

“You think foul play?”

GM: Joseph shrugs. “There’s plenty people who don’t like them. Didn’t get where they are being nice.”

“I don’t know if there was or not, but it’s sure possible.”

Celia: Probable, even, but she doesn’t say.

“I heard a story once about how everyone who is ever successful has to make a deal with the devil to get there.”

“One of those real heavy-handed morality stories.”

“Maybe they sacrificed a goat once and now it’s coming back to haunt them.”

Her smile slips.

“That’s kind of worrying to think about. Being a target because someone doesn’t like your family. I’m, ah… well, glad you’re not involved anymore.”

For many reasons, like the fact that if he were she wouldn’t be here.

“I used to date a guy who said his family was threatened a few times because of his dad’s job.”

GM: “What was that, cop?”

Celia: “DA.”

GM: “Not surprised there.”

“I think there’s some truth to that story, anyway. Success doesn’t come without work and pain, and plenty people want to take shortcuts.”

Celia: “And here you are slaving away for hours and hours and hours instead of drawing occult symbols on your floor.”

GM: “Ha. Well, I’m sure there’s plenty people who would if they thought it’d get them results.”

Celia: Her father certainly had.

What deal had he made with her sire? Giving up his first born? She’d been there that night; had he realized, even then, that she isn’t Maxen’s child, or had it been later?

Is that why they took Isabel too?

Celia forces a smile, dismissing the thoughts. She’s being silly. She turns to pick up her drink and finish it off, draining the contents.

GM: “What really gets you through the tough times is friends. People with friends they can count on don’t make devil’s deals.”

Celia: It’s like a knife in her chest.

Maybe it’s not too—

She can’t finish the thought. The collar tugs, reminding her of her job. Her place.

“Knowing that someone is there for you, even if you’re at your worst… that’s pretty priceless. Imagine it would get someone through a lot.”

GM: “Yeah. I’ve been lucky. Not everyone is.”

Celia: Not that it had helped him escape the rumors.

“D’you want to—” she falters. She came here for blood. Sex. Not to get further involved with the kine. There’s no future here. Pretending otherwise is stupid.

He’s not just going to replace Stephen for her.

GM: “You okay?” he asks at her pause, eyebrows raising slightly.

Celia: No.

“Yeah.”

She’d ruined someone.

“Just thinking.”

Sold him out.

“I lost someone close to me recently. Watched him kind of… spiral out of control. Think there was more I could have done to prevent it.”

Turned him into a monster.

“I miss him.”

She broke him.

Celia lets out a breath.

“Little close to home is all.”

GM: “Maybe there was, maybe there wasn’t. Only person we can be totally responsible for is ourselves.”

Celia: “When did you get so wise.”

GM: “Ha. I’m not wise.”

“Sorry for your loss. Maybe you should lay some flowers on his grave.”

“Still do that with my dad, every now and then.”

Celia: “Does it help?”

GM: “A bit. Helps my sisters more than me, I think.”

“Girl thing.”

Celia: “Girls and their silly emotions.”

GM: “I mean, call it sexist, but they are more emotional. That’s my experience.”

Celia: “Or more willing to show their emotions, at least.”

“I don’t think our brains really produce more or less chemicals on average.”

GM: “I think it’s more than that, even if it is that too.”

“How’d he die, if it isn’t too raw?”

Celia: “ODed. He was going through a tough time and started getting into harder and harder things as the time passed. Hanging out with some sketchy people. Lost some of his support systems all at once, so it was… was a bigger blow than I realized at the time.”

GM: “That’s pretty rough. At least he had you there for him.”

Celia: “No,” she says, “I wasn’t there when he needed me. I could make excuses about having my own family things going on, and that’s true, but in the end I messed up.”

GM: “You think you could’ve saved him?”

Celia: “Yeah. I do.”

GM: “That’s pretty rough, too. Sometimes there isn’t a happy ending.”

Celia: “I’ll get to feel guilty about it for the rest of my life, so that’s something to look forward to.”

GM: “What do you think he’d want you to do?”

Celia: Die in a fire, probably.

“The guy I used to know would want me to move on. The person he turned into would want me to suffer like he had.”

GM: “Well, you didn’t give him the pipe or sell him whatever he OD’d on.”

“Either that last dose or the first one.”

“You’re not responsible for someone else’s bad habit.”

Celia: “Thanks. I appreciate you saying that.”

Even if it’s not true. She manages a smile, subdued though it is.

GM: “Least I can do. Also the most.” Joseph finishes his glass.

Celia: “That’s not quite true.”

She takes his empty glass and sets it aside, stepping into the circle of his arms. Her palms flatten against his chest, lips parting slightly as she lifts her gaze to his face.

GM: She doesn’t see it for long, at least from a distance, before Joseph meets her lips with his. His hands encircle her waist, roaming up and down her hips as his tongue explores her mouth. She remembers, as a 19-year-old with Stephen, wondering what to even do with her hands.

Celia: She doesn’t wonder now. She starts at the top of his shirt and works her way down, deftly unbuttoning as she goes without ever breaking away from his lips to watch what she’s doing.

GM: Joseph busies himself pulling off her dress, then undoes the clasp to her bra while continuing to kiss her. He hefts her off his lap, sets her down, then pulls at her hand, leading her to the couch.

Roderick could’ve just carried her there.

Celia: Maybe she’ll give Joseph a little something back so he can be just as strong.

She strips from her panties as they go, leaving them on the floor, and slides right back onto his lap once they reach the couch. Finished with his shirt, she pulls it open to run her hands down his chest, admiring the view of his body beneath hers. He’s not Roderick, no, but he’s certainly no slouch. A moment later her lips follow, fingers pulling at his belt, then the buttons and zipper of his pants. She slides them past his hips and off of him until, for an instant, she’s kneeling on the floor in front of him.

This is why Reggie had left. This, right here, this unwillingness to put a cock in her mouth now that she’s a lick. But she’d sucked off Roderick, hadn’t she. There’s nothing less than about doing this, not anymore than her kind would see the sex itself. So she kisses the inside of one thigh. Then she does the other. And finally she brings him into her mouth.

GM: Reggie wanted something for so long that she freely gave to another.

Perhaps, in that regard, he and his brother are not so different.

Joseph enthusiastically lets Celia please him with mouth and tongue, but has her stop short before he cums, so that he can enter her between her legs as well. It’s a pleasant change of pace to go back to after she was the one to fill Alana, but Celia has a newfound appreciation for what the experience is like for male partners. Is her pussy silky soft like Alana’s? Does it feel like the most natural place in the entire world for a man to be? Joseph seems to think so, if his face and rapid movements are any indication. He’s vigorous and hungry and looks like he relishes every moment with the incomparably gorgeous (and experienced) woman beneath him. He lasts a while before he cums and fills her with his seed, collapsing onto the couch with her in a sweaty heap.

“I needed that,” he pants.

Celia: His seed isn’t the only thing that fills her; she waits until his breathing changes, until he can’t quite hold back the sounds he’s making, until he twitches inside of her. Then she bites. She’d come over with the intention to drink her fill and then leave him a bloody mess in her wake, but something decent that might be a conscience or a promise made last night makes her stop after a single hit.

The taste of his blood is enough to bring her over the edge she’d been riding from the sex, and once she licks his neck closed and cleans off her lips with her tongue she’s content to lie beneath him, satisfied smile in place. Her chest rises and falls in mimicry of his.

“Yeah,” she nods, taking unnecessary breaths, “me too.”

GM: Joseph’s blood tastes crisp and energetic. It’ss got a dark, woody undercurrent that’s harder to place her finger on, but the Kentucky bourbon gives it a good further seasoning and leaves Celia feeling pleasantly buzzed. The simultaneous orgasm is a bonus: there’s no sensation quite like feeding while cumming.

Joseph nods sleepily, looking a little paler. Perhaps the late-working man would be a weakly breathing, near-motionless heap if she’d drank as deeply as she’d intended.

Celia: Decent, she thinks, but still a monster. Still feeding off of others to exist.

Celia presses a kiss against his lips as his lids begin to droop, lightly teasing that it had “taken a lot out of him.” She excuses herself to the restroom to freshen up and rejoins him after a moment, letting him know that she turned the water on to warm up for a shower.

She says she’ll bring a movie next time, or maybe work out that knot in his traps for him, but she understands that tonight he just wants to lie down. Celia doesn’t overstay her welcome. She even cleans up their plates and glasses before she goes, sticking them neatly into the dishwasher.

Then she’s gone, leaving his place as intact as she’d found it. Almost like she’d never been.

GM: Almost.


Tuesday evening, 22 March 2016, PM

Celia: She calls Delta on the way to her mom’s house to speak to the woman who inquired about Emily.

GM: She gets a voicemail saying their corporate office is closed right now and listing their business hours.

Celia: Celia doesn’t bother to leave a voicemail. She’ll have to make it work another way.

Shortly thereafter she arrives at her mother’s house, sending a text when she’s near so Diana has time to put the cats away.

GM: Thanks sweetie, her mom texts back. I’ll be in Emi’s room.

Emily, Diana, and Abigail are all there when she arrives, the (biological) 18-month-old sleeping in a crib and the adults sitting on Emily’s bed. Emily looks mostly okay, if rather subdued. Celia’s mother looks beat. Circles ring her eyes. This is the second night she’s not bothered with makeup or looked like she’s spent any time on her hair, and it makes her look closer to her true age than not. The woman would probably look like a dump if Celia hadn’t given her that “touch-up” after her sire’s visit. She’s wearing an older dress with paint stains that she doesn’t look like she cares if it gets further damaged. Nevertheless, her embrace lingers as she hugs her daughter.

“Hi, sweetie.”

Her voice is a whisper, seemingly so as not to wake the baby.

Celia: The sight draws her up short. Any thought she’d had of taking a nip from her mother vanishes when she sees the circles under her eyes. She should have taken more from Joseph; why had she thought that her mom could feed her like normal?

Diana needs a hit, not the other way around.

“Hi, Momma,” Celia whispers back, moving across the room to hug her.

GM: Her mom releases her after several moments to sit back down with a cautious glance towards Abigail.

Emily hugs her next. “Hey,” she whispers. “I’ll keep this short-”

“-we do not want to wake the baby,” Diana says tiredly.

“-but I remember everything.”

She rubs her head.

“Everything Pete did unraveled when Emi saw Abigail,” whispers Diana.

“I guess no surprise.”

“Didn’t have an explanation for her.”

Celia: Celia can’t even pretend to be surprised. She should have known that Abigail would make it unravel; none of them had mentioned her to Pete.

Celia hugs Emily tightly.

“Thank God. I hated the idea of you not knowing.”

GM: Emily squeezes her back.

“Me too.”

Celia: “It’s messy,” she says in a whisper, “but we’ll figure something out.”

Maybe hunt for alchemists tonight instead of rats.

GM: Abigail suddenly starts crying and screaming at the top of her lungs.

Diana sighs wearily.

“Oh my lord-”

She gets up, walks to the crib, and fits the ghouled child into the crook of her arm. She starts to rock her back and forth and lowly starts singing ‘Hush, Little Baby’.

Abigail keeps bawling.

WWAAAAAAAHHHH-!”

She squirms in Diana’s grip and snaps at her. Celia’s mom awkwardly tries to keep the child away while still singing and holding onto her.

Celia: Celia frowns at the sight. “Is she like this all day?”

GM: “Yes,” her mom answers.

“I’ll take her,” says Emily, holding out her arms. “Go talk with Celia.”

“Emi, you’re-”

“Mom. You need a break. Go talk with Celia.”

WWWAAAAAWWWWWW!!!!”

Celia: Celia reaches out with the gifts of her clan on her way out the door, attempting to soothe the child in Emily’s arms to stop the screaming.

GM: The child is still in her mother’s arms, but promptly shuts up. Both women have odd expressions. Simultaneous frowns and looks of relief.

“All right, take her while she’s calm,” starts Diana, foisting off the child to Emily.

“Hey, Abi,” says Emily, fitting the baby into her arms with several pointers from her mom. “There there, who’s a lot nicer now tha-”

“Emi, don’t move your hand so clo-!”

Abigail promptly sinks her teeth into Emily’s nearby hand.

FUCKING-!” Emily swears, jerking her hand away. The held baby nearly falls. Diana swoops in to stop that, only for Abigail to burst into tears again.

WWWAAAAAAAAHHHH!!!!”

“Just put her on the bed, Emi!”

Celia: “Here,” Celia says, holding out her hands for the child. “Give her here.”

GM: “Celia, she bites. A lot. Emi, let’s get her on the bed.”

The two women carry the crying child over. She kicks and thrashes as they set her down.

Celia: “There are two bottles in my purse, Emi. Can you heat them up in the microwave? And bring the first aid kid over so I can look at your hand.”

GM: “Celia, tell me you don’t want to feed her more vampire heroin,” frowns Emily.

She winces as her mom takes a look at her hand.

Celia: “If it’ll get her to shut up? Yeah. I will.”

GM: “Yes, you need the first aid kit.” Diana rubs her head. “I’ll be back in a moment.” She gets up and walks out of the room.

Celia: “Take the purse!” Celia calls after her.

GM: Celia smells the blood welling from her sister’s hand before their mom says anything, though.

Diana gives it a dull look.

“Celia, we can’t use that every time she cries or bites. Do you want to be here, drugging her up, 24/7? Because that is what it would take.”

WWAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!”

Celia: Celia was thinking about pulling her gums down over her teeth to prevent the biting, to be honest.

She rubs the side of her head. Keeping Abigail was a mistake. She should have let Draco drain her.

“No,” she admits, “but until we figure something else out it might help.”

GM: Her mom shakes her head, looking in little mind to argue, and walks out.

Emily swears softly and sucks her hand while Abigail kicks and cries.

Celia: “Let me see, Emi,” Celia says, reaching out.

GM: She turns her hand over.

It smells luscious, that tantalizing flow of red, even short as it is.

“Been like this all day, from what Mom says.”

“I guess no surprise.”

Celia: She hadn’t gotten nearly enough from Joseph. Celia all but licks her lips at the sight of it.

“I can fix this.”

GM: “Oh, how?”

Celia: “Don’t tell Mom,” Celia says seriously. Then her fangs are out. But rather than sinking into her sister she turns them on the screaming, kicking child. By the time they’re five or so, children have almost the same amount of blood in their bodies as adults do. Abigail isn’t yet five, but she certainly has more than a newborn, and she has enough to donate a hit to Celia without risking serious injury.

GM: Emily holds out an arm to forestall her.

“Celia, what the fuck!”

WWAAAAAHHHHH!!!!”

Celia: “It’s just a little, and it’ll make her tired. She’ll fall asleep. It’ll replenish.”

“Do you want a scar or permanent damage?”

GM: “Uhhh. I don’t feel comfortable with you feeding on a baby, sorry.”

Celia: Celia gnashes her teeth in frustration.

GM: “Especially if you don’t want me telling Mom.”

“I’ll be fine.”

Celia: “Then we’ll wait until she gets back and I’ll do it then.”

GM: “I don’t think she’s gonna be a fan either. You’re supposed to weigh 110 lbs before you can safely donate blood.”

WWWAAAAAAHHHH!!!!!”

Emily rubs her head.

“This was no surprise.”

“Abusive home. Chemical dependency. Change in caregivers.”

Celia: “I don’t know what else to do for her.”

GM:WWWAAAAAHHHH!”

Diana walks back in with a first aid kit. She sits down, opens it up, and takes a look at Emi’s hand again.

Celia: “Mom, I can fix that, that’s why I wanted the blood.”

“I can take a hit from Abi and it’ll probably put her to sleep like it does you.”

GM: Her mom blinks at Celia’s first words, then her gaze sharpens.

“No! Abi is a baby, Celia, she can’t give blood! She cannot consent like I can.”

Celia: She has the decency to look ashamed, at least.

GM:WAAAAAAHHH!!!!”

Diana swabs away the blood and applies some disinfectant to Emily’s hand.

“Look, sweetie, I appreciate you want to make things easier for us, but all of this with mind controlling her, giving her blood, drinking her blood, it is just going to cause more problems.”

Celia: Celia sits beside Emily on the bed, looking down at her hand. It’s not a large wound. Maybe she doesn’t even need to use her craft. She could just… lick it.

“Can I try something?”

GM: Emily considers her for a moment.

“Okay, go ahead.”

WWWAAAAAHHHHH!!!!”

Celia: “I’m not going to bite you,” Celia promises, lifting Emily’s hand to her mouth. She extends her tongue, lapping first at the blood dripping down her wrist, then moves it across the wound itself.

GM: Emily’s blood is fantastic.

It’s fierce. Alive. Sharpening. It makes Celia feel strong and alert. It’s not dissimilar from Roderick’s vitae, in some ways, that Brujah fire, but this is an altogether different vintage. This is… natural. All-human flavor. But there’s something else, too, something deeper. That love for her, her adoptive sister. They’ve meant so much to each other. It tastes…

But that’s all she gets. She can’t sample the rest. Can’t roll it over her tongue, can’t swallow mouthfuls of it down, can’t experience the full heady flavor, can’t compare the depth of its love to Diana’s blood. How delicious must a sister’s love taste? She’s already had a mother’s. She’s had just the barest sample of Emily’s. It does hardly more than whet her tongue before she’s swallowed it all, and then it’s gone. This is cruel. Torturous.

To just get the full thing…

The alcohol-based disinfectant is so bitter and cruel against her tongue. Then just like that, Abigail’s bite marks are gone, sealed over. The baby’s teeth were hardly sharper and deeper than a true lord of the night’s.

“Wow,” says Emily, looking over her hand. “That’s good as new.”

“I remember, you did this on Mom, when you first told me.”

“I went on about how many medical applications this could have.”

Abigail continues to cry despite Diana’s soft words and efforts to calm her down.

WWWWAAAAAAAAHHH!!!!!”

Celia: Celia doesn’t seem as if she’s listening to anything Emily says. The wound is gone, healed as if it never was, but the taste of her sister’s blood lingers on her tongue. The disinfectant isn’t enough to turn her off; it’s like the other night when she’d mixed tequila with the bagged stuff, just something to get through.

But if she bites… if she bites, and takes a full drink, it’ll get rid of that sharp acidity in the back of her throat, she’ll be able to…

Celia’s eyes glaze over, tongue running across her lips and fangs like an alcoholic trying to get the last drop from an empty bottle.

GM: “Uh. You doing okay?” asks Emily.

Celia: “Hungry. Tastes… really, really good.”

GM: “Should I say thanks?”

WWWAAAAAHHHHH!!!!!”

Celia: “Could say you’re welcome,” Celia says, “if you want to donate.”

GM: “Uh,” says Emily.

Celia: Is the moon shining just for her? Her eyes sparkle something fierce when she lifts them to look at Emily. This is her sister. And she’s hungry. And all Emily has to do is let her take a little nibble. It won’t hurt. She’ll recover quickly. Celia can show her so many cool things…

GM: Emily’s eyes swim in and out of focus before a smile spreads across her face.

“All right, go ahead…”

Celia: That’s consent. Even if it’s assisted consent. Right?

Celia smiles at her sister. She slides closer, murmuring something about taking from the wrist for the first time, and lowers her mouth to Emily’s arm. Her fangs pierce the soft, supple flesh of her sister.

She drinks.

GM: She tries to.

The slap connects full on with her cheek, turning her head around.

Her mother’s face is furious.

Celia: Her mother is met by lips pulled back in a snarl, eyes narrowed at this bitch that thinks to keep her from a meal. She snarls.

GM: Perhaps the Diana of old would flinch, but the one tonight does not. If anything, she looks emboldened.

“Get out,” she says in a low voice.

“Right now.”

Celia: For a long, tense moment Celia stares her mother down.

Then she blinks, eyes focusing on the scene at hand. Angry mother. Wailing infant. Star-struck sister.

Color creeps across her face. Shame fills her eyes. She lets the aura drop as she turns on her heel and strides from the carriage house, picking up her purse along the way.

GM: “What the fuck!?” exclaims Emily.

Diana doesn’t say anything over Abigail’s cries. Just watches Celia leave through the door.

Celia: “I’m sorry,” she says before stepping out into the night.

She shuts the door behind her.

GM: It’s started to rain outside. The night is not cold, not in New Orleans in late March, but it is dark and wet.

And lonely.

Celia: It’s a quick walk to the car. Celia catches sight of herself in the reflection from the window: fangs distended, eyes wild, hunger plain to see.

The face of a monster, isn’t it?

Her hand curls into a fist. She brings the bottom of it down on the roof of her car just above the door. She’s not strong enough to dent it, and all she gets for her effort is an aching hand.

Stupid. Reckless. Useless. Selfish.

Selfish to ask her sister for blood. Selfish to hit her with a mind control power rather than letting her make an informed decision.

She’s supposed to be better.

Supposed to be making life better for her mother and family rather than more difficult. What was she thinking, dropping a baby off? What was she thinking, asking to feed from the child? From her sister? Snarling at her mother?

GM: Roderick was supposed to be better, too.

He was the shining example of all that was better.

And look at him now.

The lines are so easily crossed.

Celia: That’s her fault, too, isn’t it. No matter what Joseph had said. She’d told her grandsire what sort of heroin to hook him on. The easiest way to get to him. Slammed the final nail in the coffin with all the lies and cheating.

GM: Who among them stays better?

What saints remain among the ever-swelling legion of devils?

Celia: No one. It’s all just a slow descent into darkness.

She’s itching for a fight. Itching to take out all this pent up frustration on someone because sex just hadn’t cut it tonight. She needs release. Another outlet. She wants to hurt someone.

She knows who, but she can’t. Or won’t. It’s just going to fuck her night up some more.

Celia doesn’t want to be here anymore. She tugs at Jade, skin and flesh rippling to become the prettiest lick in the city—and what a crock of shit that is. As if it means anything. As if anyone respects her after years of playing airheaded lapcat.

Celia’s last thoughts are of her mother’s angry face and low voice. Then she’s gone, Jade in her place, and the beautiful lick knows exactly how to let go of this mounting pressure. She opens the back of her trunk and strips from her clothing, pulling on the men’s clothing Alana had gotten for her. A moment later she’s gone too, the male version with his lifted shoes in her place.

He tucks a handful of necessary items into his pocket and calls for a Ryde from his new phone, glad Dani had suggested two that night. He leaves the other phones behind and sets his pickup spot down the block, closer to Rampart. Then he takes off.


Tuesday night, 22 March 2016, PM

Celia: The nameless male doesn’t speak to his Ryde driver on the way. He’s not overtly rude about it, just absorbed in his own thoughts, eyes staring out the window at the passing city.

He doesn’t have the same troubles as the girls. He’s not quite one of them, not really, just a step removed from their problems and drama and petty bullshit.

A bit of shadow dancing keeps the predator tucked away as the car approaches the edge of the turf he’s looking to invade. Once he’s out of the car another bit of it prevents anyone from thinking he’s out of place. He’s just another nameless face in the dark, walking through the rain to see what the night brings him.

GM: Mid-City is a working-class neighborhood, even if gentrifying forces may be at work. The nameless man passes by fast food places, an auto repair shop, cheaper-looking hotels, a self-storage space, a dollar store, a laundromat, and apartment buildings with rents in only the triple digits. There are more black faces than white faces out on the streets.

Celia: He fits right in, dark-skinned as he is.

He glances through the windows of the fast food joints that he passes, looking to see who’s inside.

GM: Breathers, more dark-skinned than not. Some younger. Some older. No kids, at this hour.

Celia: The man steps inside one of the joints, shaking the rain off his coat. He lingers near the door with his eyes on the menu, lips moving soundlessly as if he’s debating what to order. He waits for a likely subject to head to the restroom down the hall.

GM: He doesn’t wait long before another man in worn jeans whose tired- and jaded-looking expression belies his 20- or 30-something years heads down to the loo.

Celia: The man slips after him.

GM: The O’Tolley’s bathroom looks like it hasn’t been cleaned in ages, with formerly white tiles that are now stained an ugly yellow-brown. Crude graffiti mars the walls. It smells like the previous occupants did their business on the floor rather than the toilet.

The other man unzips his fly and starts pissing into a urinal.

Celia: The girls have seen worse in club bathrooms. Drunk girls are disgusting.

He waits until the door closes behind him to hit the guy with the same trick Celia had used on Emily, making him seem powerful, important, maybe even a bit desirable. Not in a weird way, though. No homo.

He flicks the lock on the door. Starts to wash his hands in the sink. Does a double-take at the dude.

“Hey. You Mike’s friend, ain’t you?”

Everyone knows a Mike.

“He still slingin’?”

GM: No guy in a public bathroom likes a stranger starting a mid-pass conversation with them.

The other man, though, gives a downright friendly-looking nod.

“Nah man, he got picked up last week. LeBron’s slingin’ now.”

Celia: “Ah, shit, I was lookin’ to get somethin’ tonight. Y’aint got anything, eh?”

Celia: “I got cash if you cool partin’ with some.”

GM: The other guy finishes pissing, wiggles his junk, and zips back up.

“I got some weed.”

Celia: The man gives him a look. He steps away from the sink to let the other guy in, lowering his voice.

“Listen,” he says, “I know Mikey got picked up, I jus’ need a few to get me through the next few days, aight? Jus’ like a few, my girl been on my ass an’ I can’t hardly deal with her when she gets like this, yaknow?”

GM: “I know, man, I totally know,” other man nods, caught on his words. “All I got’s the weed. But I can hook you up with LeBron if you need somethin’ harder, yeah?”

Celia: “Wha’ like t’night? Aigh’ yeah.”

“Lesgo see ’im.”

GM: “’Kay. You got money, right?”

Celia: The nameless man gives his new friend a look. “Jus’ said so, ain’t I?”

GM: The other man rubs his head. “Right. Sorry, man. Tired an’ shit.”

“Had a shitty day.”

Celia: “Yeah? What happen?” He leads the way out the door, unlocking it with little fanfare to let the pair out.

GM: The other man glowers. “Asshole brought in her dog where I work. Shat all over the floor. Boss yelled at me while I cleaned it up, about how I shoulda kept her out, when I was already swamped dealin’ with even more assholes.”

Celia: “She made you clean it up? Fuckin’ bitch.” They leave the restaurant. He falls in step beside his new friend.

“Who brings their fuckin’ dog places like that.”

GM: “I don’t even fuckin’ know, but I got a million horror stories.”

The other man digs out a phone and taps off a text.

Celia: He seems receptive to listening to the stories while they head out, nodding his head and making disgusted sounds as needed.

GM: “Like, one time a lady tried returning somethin’ that wouldn’t scan, an’ she didn’t have a receipt. I called an’ called for a manager, but nobody showed. So I told her, okay, I’d go to the back an’ find a manager. Soon as I was in the back, she was right behind me. And she just ran up and fuckin’ punched me in the back! I got no fuckin’ idea why. Like, I was so fuckin’ shocked I didn’t even say nothin’ about it when I found the manager.”

Celia: “Punched you? You shittin’ me, right?”

GM: “Nope. Just ran up an’ hit me.”

“Like, why?”

Celia: “The fuck is wrong with people.”

GM: “Really weird’s how it was a woman. Like, figured that would be a guy.”

Celia: He shakes his head.

“Fuckin’ people.”

“You smack ’er back?”

“Sometimes, y’know, my bitch gets lippy, I just wanna—” He makes a backhanding motion.

GM: “Yeah,” the other man nods.

“And I wish man, but I was just totally surprised. She ran off after she hit me. I was still standin’ there goin’ ‘what the fuck.’”

He leads the first man to Comiskey Playground. It’s open 24 hours, or so proclaims the sign, though no kids (or adults) are enjoying themselves on the play equipment during this dark and rainy night.

The two wait for several minutes, listening and telling more retail horror stories, before two other guys show up. They don’t ‘look’ like drug dealers, or at least any more than two other 30-something African-American males in a working-class neighborhood in do.

“Yo,” says the other man.

“Yo,” says one of the newcomers.

Celia: “Yo, sup sup,” the nameless man says, clapping hands with one of the newcomers and pulling him in to pat his back. He repeats the motion with the second.

“Heard y’all took over for Mikey since he got pinched.”

GM: One of the new men, who’s wearing a blue rain jacket, returns the motions.

The other one, who’s wearing a gray rain jacket, doesn’t.

“Yeah, what you hear?” he asks.

Celia: He jerks his chin at Mikey’s buddy. “Said you the guy to talk to.”

GM: The guy in the gray jacket grins.

“Ah, yeah, Brian here set you straight, din’t he?”

Celia: “Said LeBron’s the new guy, got what I’m lookin’ for.”

GM: “Uh huh, uh huh,” nods the blue jacket guy. “DeShawn, ain’ it?”

Celia: “Who, me? Nah man,” he holds out his hand again to bump, “I ain’t think we met yet, it’s Z.”

GM: “Z, huh,” says blue jacket.

Gray walks behind ‘Z’.

“Well, there ain’ no DeShawn, give you that.”

Blue jacket walks closer and gives a mean smile. He spares a glance at Z’s ‘friend’.

“But his name ain’ Brian.”

Celia: “Never sai’ it was, man, jus’ ran into him at O’Tolley’s an’ knew he was Mike’s buddy.”

GM: Blue spits at his feet.

“You givin’ me this shit?”

Gray takes another step closer.

Celia: “Look dawg,” Z says, taking a step back with his hands up, “I ain’t want whatever bullshit y’all into, wanted some bennies, y’ain’t got it then it’s cool.”

GM: “Nah man, we ain’ got no bennies, donno what you heard,” says Blue.

Celia: “Oh, aight. S’cool then. S’all I was lookin’ for.”

GM: “Yeah, I bet it were,” sneers Gray.

Both men cast dark looks at ‘Brian’, who’s been rather conspicuously quiet, then turn to leave.

Celia: Z turns a look on ‘Brian.’

“The fuck, dude. Said he had the shit.”

“Said he’s the guy.”

GM: “Hey, he is, man!” the supernaturally charmed man nods.

Celia: “He ain’t sellin’ it, is he?”

GM: “Sure is, man!” ‘Brian’ nods again. “I dunno whas’ up with him, you the shit!”

“Like, why the fuck wouldn’ he wanna deal to you?”

Celia: “I ‘unno, man, why don’t you ask him. He’s still righ’ there an’ all.”

Z waits for ‘Brian’ to call out before he hits the other two boys with the same charm. How could they not want to sell to him? He’s got money. He needs something small, just a few pills, ain’t a big deal. So he didn’t know a dude’s name, they probably met at a party or something. Those are all loud and shit, can’t hear anyone.

GM: The two men aren’t still there, they’re walking away. Though they haven’t gotten far yet.

Celia: “Yo, LeBron!”

Z jerks his chin at ‘Brian’ and takes off at an easy jog to close the distance so he doesn’t have to scream across the park.

The supernatural charm hits the pair of boys before Z even gets close.

GM: The two turn around once it hits them. Both men look impressed, and a little cowed.

“Yeah?” says Gray.

Celia: “Think we got off on the wrong foot,” Z says, slowing to a halt.

GM: “Yeah, might be we did, man,” he nods.

Celia: “How’s we start over, eh? I’m Z.”

GM: “Okay,” he nods again. “Nice to meet you an’ shit. I’m LeBron.”

Celia: “Like that basketball guy, eh?” Z grins.

“Shit, man, wish my momma woulda thoughta that. Betcha could pick up a buncha babes with it.”

GM: “Yeah, man,” LeBron grins. “He’s better’n MJ, you ask me.”

“Taller, too.”

“No he ain’t,” says Blue.

Celia: “Yo ain’t they both play fo’ the Cavs at the same point an’ they still sucked?”

GM: LeBron ignores his friend completely as he scoffs in agreement.

“Carryin’ all the weight, man.”

Celia: “I mean, depends’n how you lookin’ at it,” Z says to Blue, “like yeah Jordan put up more points but LeBron got ’im beat everywhere else.”

“‘Cept free throws, that kid can’t sink a shot to save ’is life.”

GM: “There’s no comparin’ with MJ,” says Blue. “Man’s a legend. I remember, growin’ up, how every kid wanted to be MJ.”

Celia: “Now every kid wanna be LeBron.”

GM: “Everythin’ from when you was a kid seems better, though,” says ‘Brian’. “LeBron’s MJ to kids today.”

Celia: “Ezactly.”

GM: “Fuck, that makes me feel old,” mutters Blue.

Celia: “S’like lookin’ at actors, man. All these new faces.” Z shakes his head. “Can’t fuckin’ keep up wit it half the time.”

GM: “Well actors at least stick around,” says LeBron. “Like, Towers. I watched his shit as a kid and he’s still makin’ movies.”

“Wait, I thought he’s dead,” says ‘Brian’.

“Yeah, drank himself dead, din’t he?” says Blue.

“No man, he ain’t dead,” says LeBron. “Was in some shit, but he’s still makin’ movies.”

Celia: “Shit, feel like I been under a rock, tellin’ me he dead. Damn.”

GM: “Yeah man, his life was a fuckin’ train wreck,” says LeBron. “Gettin’ arrested an’ shit.”

“I know a guy who says he was in OPP same time.”

“Get out,” scoffs Blue.

“Someone like Towers, he gets bail.”

Celia: “Nah man nah, sometimes they wanna make a point.”

GM: “I didn’ say I believe him, just that he said s…” starts LeBron, then trails off as Z disagrees.

“Yeah, man, maybe,” he then says, changing track. “Example makes sense.”

Celia: Z shrugs. “But ‘ey, who’s surprised the rich guy got off on bail? Ha!”

“Hey, let’s get outta this rain, eh?”

GM: “A’ight, sure, you goin’ someplace?” asks Blue.

Celia: “I got a date later, na’mean?” He smiles.

Z slings an arm around Brian’s shoulders.

“Not-Bri, you hostin’?”

“Or y’all wanna kick it with the good shit?” A nod towards LeBron.

GM: The men’s smiles start to slip.

“Look man, you cool and all, but we don’t know you,” Blue says slowly.

“You could be a cop,” says LeBron, his tongue clearly loosened by Celia’s supernal presence.

Celia: Z looks at LeBron like that’s the dumbest shit he’s ever heard. Then he laughs.

“Oh shit man, you serious?” He looks at Brian. “He serious? What kinda half-assed—” Z cuts off with a shake of his head, looking back to the ‘dealer.’

“What kinda whack-ass fantasy world you living in, nigga? What kinda fuckin’ cop goes after a small time nobody for slingin’ a handful’a bennies? You think you in a fuckin’ movie ‘cause you mention Towers? Fuck man, only way some lightweight like you gets picked up is at a routine fuckin’ stop after speeding down the street in yo mama’s car with fuckin’ drugs in it. He said you was new, I ain’t think he meant you don’t even got hair on your nuts.”

Z gives an exasperated sigh.

“You got the pills or not, clown? I got shit to do.”

“Or is this one’a them ‘gotta frisk you to make sure you ain’t wearing a wire’ shit to get me outta my shirt? Cause fuck, I ain’t into that homo faggot shit, n’ I’ll buy from someone who ain’t a pillow biter if that’s the case.”

GM: LeBron’s face reddens as he takes all of the insults in. Small-time nobody. Lightweight in his mama’s car. New. Hairless nuts. Homo faggot. Pillow biter.

Then he throws a punch.

Celia: Z’s pretty sure this kid ain’t never been in a drug deal before, ‘cause he ain’t even playing by the rules. No one wants escalation in a deal. It ain’t like the movies. It’s chill. It’s all real chill. A lotta smack talk, lotta posturing, but nobody starts shit like this.

Fuckin’ rookie.

Maybe it’s all those souls he’s collected lately. Or maybe it’s that old “fake it til you make it” bullshit. Either way, LeBron gets an air ball. Like the real LeBron when he goes for a free throw; that shit don’t even strike the rim.

Z’s fist is nothing but net, though. LeBron’s nose crunches under his blow and the wannabe dealer hits the ground. Z reaches into his pocket for the pills while he’s dazed, then throws a wad of cash down on his chest.

“Coulda been real fuckin’ easy, man.”

GM: Crack, goes Z’s fist. Blood messily spurts from LeBron’s nose. Z might not be big enough to knock someone over with a punch, but sweeping the stunned dealer’s legs out from under him does that just as well. LeBron moans as he hits the wet earth with a crash.

The other two men don’t make a move, seemingly cowed by the combination of quick takedown and Celia’s preternatural aura of power and importance.

Z’s search proves disappointing, however, for LeBron’s pockets are empty but for wallet and keys.

Celia: Z takes the wallet and keys, flipping open the former to look at LeBron’s ID.

“Lawren Bernice Jackson,” he reads. Then he laughs. “No wonder you fuckin’ go by LeBron. Your parents too poor to afford them extra letters for Lawrence?”

Z stuffs the wallet in his pocket.

“This for wastin’ my time, faggot. Now I know where you live.”

Celia: “See you ’round, twinkletoes.”

He takes off.

GM: The last thing Z hears is LeBron cursing the other two men while picking himself up from the wet, hard ground.

“You chickenshit numb-nuts…!”


Tuesday night, 22 March 2016, PM

Celia: Z doesn’t go far. A bit of shadow dancing, a bit of shape shifting, and a very hard-to-spot nightjar lands in a nearby branch. It looks like any other bird. Harmless.

The drugs might not have panned out, but Z isn’t going to waste the damage done to the bloody dealer. That red dripping down the front of him is like a neon sign pointing to an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Some predator is bound to notice.

GM: The nightjar swoops down in time to see the spot of trouble ‘Brian’ has landed himself into. Blue and LeBron are kicking the shit out of him as he yells and protests his innocence. A particularly fervid explanation earns a particularly hard kick to the ribs. The two men spit on him, take his wallet, split the cash, then go their separate ways. LeBron gets into a car and drives off.

Celia: Even better. There are all sorts of wild predators that cull the weak, slow, or injured from the herd.

The bird sticks with Brian.

GM: ‘Brian’ curses and stares death after the two. He slowly picks himself up, sticks his hands into his pockets, and walks back to the O’Tolley’s. It’s a damp and miserable-looking walk for the sullen-faced man. He walks towards the glowing ‘O’ over the doors, as if to order something inside, then seems to remember he doesn’t have his wallet. He gets a darker look, stalks back to his car, gets in, and drives off.

Celia: Unfortunate. The bird had thought that Brian might be in for a long walk home, all the better to spread that blood across the streets and lure in any hungry fish.

But the bird is patient. It follows the car. Perhaps something might yet be hooked.

GM: The car drives for a bit until it reaches a shitty-looking apartment building. ‘Brian’ parks, gets out, unlocks the front door, and lets himself inside.

Celia: What’s that over there? That thing that catches the eye? It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s—

Oh. Nothing. Just a trick of the light. That mirror with the cracked edge draws the attention every time.

How fortunate. The bird takes advantage of Brian’s distraction to swoop after him, flitting near the ceiling on silent wings with the mobster’s stolen gift.

GM: Brian ignores the bird completely as he shuts the door behind him and stalks up the creaky stairs. The building looks dirty and neglected. Sounds of yelling are audible past the paper-thin walls in one unit. “Shut the fuck up!” Brian yells.

“You shut up! Fuck you!” a voice yells back.

Brian loudly kicks the door, then walks down the hall to his own unit, unlocks the door, and walks in.

Celia: Charming.

The bird follows him in. It finds a place to perch where it can see the door and Brian both.

GM: Brian doesn’t leave the door open for long, or for particularly wide. It’s when he turns around to lock it that the nightjar seizes its chance. The 1.7 foot wingspan is an awkward fit, and the bird has to close its wings to come to an awkward landing on the floor, but the door closes behind in.

The apartment is pretty shitty. Dirty dishes are stacked high in the sink. There’s stains and cracks over the walls. Whether from Brian’s personal habits or the building being a shitty building, the nightjar cannot say. The mirror over the sink is caked with toothpaste spittle. The windows and cheap tile floors have weird splotches on them, and the wood looks black and decayed. There are some squashed bugs sticking to the walls too. The whole place smells vaguely unpleasant. Brian removes his shoes, walks up to the freezer, and removes a Young & Smith frozen dinner to stick in the microwave.

Celia isn’t a total stranger to shitty apartments. But Diana at least did her utmost to spruce the place up with as many homely touches as she could. This is a rather stark look at what someone who isn’t a long-time housewife and expert homemaker can’t manage.

Celia: It smells like poor people.

No wonder the kid has turned to drugs; he’s living in a literal shithole. Getting high is probably the only thing he has to look forward to.

The nightjar settles in while Brian makes dinner for himself. Perhaps the bait hadn’t been tempting enough. Perhaps it will need to search the turf itself to find the disgusting little creatures.

For now, though, it is patient. It takes stock of the layout of the apartment while it waits to see if there are any other visitors.

GM: There’s a combined kitchen/living room area and a bedroom. That’s it. The bathroom must be communally shared.

Brian sits down on a chair and plays on his phone until the microwave dings. He pulls the hot plastic tray onto a plate.

Pic.jpg
There are two rubbery-looking ‘steaks’ swimming in some kind of sauce that smells like liquid sodium. Some sad-looking mashed potatoes and corn lurk in adjacent depressions in the tray. The brownie looks like a turd.

Celia’s mother would weep if she saw this.

Brian starts eating with a spork while watching a MeVid clip on his phone.

Celia: Even if the bird ate human food it doesn’t think it would touch this slop. It keeps a keen eye on the floor, looking for signs of disturbance. Wet footprints from a second pair of shoes. Indentations on the carpet from someone unseen moving around.

GM: The bird can make out none as Brian continues to slowly chew his ‘food’.

Celia: Maybe his trip in the car had prevented him from letting his scent out.

Maybe the Nosferatu are busy.

Maybe they don’t feed this way, or just wait until people go to sleep.

Maybe it was a stupid plan anyway.

GM: There are always maybes.

Tinny sounds and voices continue to go up from Brian’s phone as he eats. The consistency of the mashed potatoes he picks up in his spork looks runny and gooey.

Celia: The bird is hungry too, but not for the runny, gooey potatoes or steak. It hops from one perch to another, taking a quick survey of the apartment.

GM: As the bird observed, there’s a bedroom and a kitchen. Unfolded clothes are littered around the bed, some clean, some dirty.

Celia: It makes its way to the kitchen, where dirty dishes have piled up in the sink and the remnants of someone’s “home cooking”—which smell just as foul as the TV dinner—stick to the bottom of a pot.

The bird becomes a man again. With shadows still clinging to him he circles back to the kitchen, where Brian is absorbed in the video on his phone.

“Protect your pretty," Reggie used to tell her when they squared off against each other. “Tuck your chin. Keep your hands up. Ain’t you ever seen a fight before? I said hands up!"

No doubt he’d taken some pleasure in knocking her around whenever they settled in for the lessons, happy for the opportunity to get in free shots on a vampire. He’d used to say things like, “thought y’all were supposed to be strong and tough," as he broke her nose when she let her hands dip.

She’d thought that was what he meant to protect, since it had sent pain spiraling through her whole face and her vision had blurred with bloody tears. Apparently everyone tears up when their nose breaks, he’d said, and a bit of blood had set her to rights.

Then he’d taken her to see a fight. The underground kind with the chain fence where almost-anything goes and bare-chested men with wrapped hands squared off against each other. He’d pointed out how they stood, with their chins tucked, looking through their brows. She’d finally seen why when one of the men had taken a right hook to the jaw and toppled backward, out before he hit the ground.

“Wow," she’d said, “must have been a hell of a punch."

Reggie had snorted.

“No. That’s just an instant KO. You get a jab in on the chin and it don’t matter how small you are, you gonna rattle their brain and send ‘em sprawling. That’s why I keep tellin’ you to keep your damn hands up. You remember this next time you get in a fight without me."

So she’d tried it. Multiple times. On Randy first, testing to see if even her small frame packed enough of a punch to knock him out. The first time it hadn’t worked. Then Reggie had stood behind her, hands planting her hips, toes nudging her feet apart, and he’d shown her how to rotate the hips. How to throw a hook rather than a jab. How to put her whole body behind it rather than just punching with her arm.

It had reminded her of the times Stephen had taken her to the batting cages, how he’d said the same thing. Plant one foot. Take a tiny step. Rotate from the hips. Once she’d mastered that the balls she’d hit had gone farther and faster.

So she’d done it with Randy. And she’d sent him sprawling. Then she’d tried it on Reggie, since he’s bigger and all, and she’d been amazed to see that had worked too.

Now Z plants one foot and curls his hands into a fist. He pulls back. He takes a step. He swings.

GM: The angle isn’t the best with Brian seated and facing a table, but he doesn’t in a million years see the punch coming. Who the fuck would in their own apartment? The punch connects solidly with his chin, like a rock ‘em sock ’em robot. The ’off-switch’ that if punched straight on, a forceful level action in their skull will cause their brain to rock around violently inside their head.

The man’s eyes don’t even widen in alarm before he’s out like a light, slumping face forward into his Young & Smith microwavable dinner.

Reggie always said the best way to throw a KO punch is for the other guy not to see it coming. The entire reason boxing requires a fighter to keep their hands up and jaw clenched is to make chin shots more difficult.

But not many boxers, Celia supposes, expect to get KO’d at their kitchen table while eating shitty microwavable dinners.

Celia: Maybe it’s not the same as beating up a lick or ghoul, but getting the better of two kine tonight in a physical contest has left Z feeling… well, like a man.

The video keeps playing on the phone where Brian had set it, but Z pays no mind to the voices coming from the speaker. He’s hungry, and this vessel is all-too-easy to snack on. He even deserves it, doesn’t he, wasting Z’s time like he had with a dealer who’s too chickenshit to carry product with him.

“You might be a cop."

Right. Name any normal cop that stalks people back to their homes so they can break in and feed.

Z punctures Brian’s neck with his fangs and drinks.

GM: Maybe lick cops like Pete feed this way. How does he feed?

The man’s blood tastes salty with simmering anger and sour with hopelessness and depression. Not the good kind of salty, like homemade cheese crackers or carrot chips. Not the good kind of sour, like Diana’s lemon bars. This tastes cheap and preservative-laden, perhaps as a result of a steady diet of Young & Smith microwavable dinners. You are what you eat, Kindred or kine. This tastes exactly like a cheap microwavable dinner. It tastes like a dead-end minimum-wage retail job where random customers punch you in the back and your boss yells at you. It tastes like cheap and dirty apartments without proper sofas.

But it’s blood, hot and coppery and claimed as the fruits of victory, claimed by force, and it fills.

Celia: The Beast inside wakes at the taste of hot, coppery blood. It’s different. Less sweet than the usual fare. None of the admiration or sexual chemistry that normally rounds out the flavor profile. This tastes like strength. Like power. Like a win.

The Beast purrs, rubbing against the rib cage that contains it despite its hunger, letting the lick drink his fill without interruption. It settles back down.

Z drinks deeply. He licks the wounds closed when he’s done. The video on the phone continues to play.

GM: It’s looped into a video ad for King Distilleries beer.

Just as well that he’s missing it.

Celia: It’d be easy to leave Brian dead on the floor. Easy to walk away from this scene. No one knows who he is. No one will connect this dead kine to the lick who runs a spa in the Quarter. Why would she slum it? Let him slake her hunger. Let him fill her completely. Z already knows how he’d make it look like an accident.

I want to be better, one of them had said.

So he doesn’t. Like Celia hadn’t earlier. Z finishes with the kine and drags him across the floor to his bedroom, taking his shoes off and tossing the comforter over his unconscious body. Then he sees the sauce splattered all over his face and dampens a napkin to wipe it off.

He glances down at the wallet stolen from LeBron and effects a sigh, taking out the cash to stuff into the pocket of a pair of jeans laying on the floor. It’s not like he needs the money. There’s even a gift card in there for gas, so he leaves that too.

Z turns the screen off on the phone and plugs it into the wall charger.

He knows what other licks would say if they could see him now. He’s glad that he’s alone. Z moves into the kitchen and slides the window up so he can leave. His form blurs and twists and the nightjar takes to the sky.

GM: As unhappy as the kine’s life might look, no doubt he prefers it and a bruise to being dead.

No doubt he prefers waking up in bed to waking up with his face over a cold microwaved dinner.

Better is better, even if it falls short of good.


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Story Thirteen, Caroline VII, Louis VI

“Defense just lets you lose more slowly.”
Caroline Malveaux-Devillers


Tuesday night, 22 March 2016, PM

Caroline: Caroline draws heavily upon her ghouls to find a lead on Claire’s safehouse, especially when Ferris relates that he cannot directly tie Donovan to any of their murders. She proposes a solution of her own, trying to catch a break.

As Claire’s stepdaughter, it’s no great challenge to acquire a copy of her death certificate. She turns that, her legal knowledge, and the tech savvy of Ferris’ team to the matter of Claire’s missing phone.

She has no doubt the phone is encrypted. She has no doubt she’ll never see it again. It also doesn’t matter: with the death certificate in hand (and perhaps a few hundred dollars) they’re able to convince a worker to clone Claire’s last backup—either via the cloud or from the last time she upgraded her phone—onto a new phone. A new phone without the same security features.

It’s not even something uncouth: the frequent death of individuals with their passwords going to ground with them has made the business of providing access to accounts after death a common matter for tech companies.

There are certain things the phone doesn’t have: access to all of Claire’s more sensitive documents or accounts hidden behind their own passwords, for one. But it does have access to a few items of note, most notably an application she once made Caroline download for herself. An application that ran in the background on Claire’s own phone thereafter.

Find my phone.

Complete with data on where the senator’s wife spent the last month of her life.

Caroline doesn’t expect that Claire was so foolish as to bring the phone into her ‘safehouse’ but she also knows that she couldn’t be away from it for long.

No, she had to leave it stashed nearby—in a car perhaps. And that, combined with Ferris’ knowledge of her routine, is far more than just a start.

Caroline has them pull additional resources to narrow things down: various satellite and local mapping sites available publicly are updated irregularly, but the brief time investment to look over the last several clips from various locations rules out some, and more importantly might give them a break: the right car parked on the street, the right flash of color as a blonde goes by at the same time as the mapping vehicles.

GM: Ferris’ people already had a lead via the bug transmitter in Luke’s apartment, and were working that, but the ex-CIA agent directs them to follow up on the phone’s lead as well. Several nights later, he has an address for Caroline in Gentilly. It’s a middle-class suburb northeast of the CBD. Satellite imagery shows Claire’s safehouse to be an unremarkable-looking single-family house, invisible amidst its many neighbors.

Caroline: Harrington and Graves keep the building under surveillance through the day.

The early following night, Caroline packs Ferris, Fuller, Autumn, and Goodman into two vehicles alongside herself, the two elder ghouls, and a fair amount of equipment related to breaking and entering.

She articulates two concerns to Ferris, seeking his concurrence or input.

First, that the building is almost certainly conventionally booby trapped.

Second, that those booby traps are likely aligned against supernatural beings specifically.

Her intentions are to push Goodman forward first, with herself, the casquette girl, and Ferris behind him, in that order. Autumn and Fuller will follow behind them, while Kami will ensure the perimeter is not disturbed.

Autumn and Fuller will be responsible for bagging anything they encounter as quickly as possible for removal—she thinks it likely that her mother’s choice of trap would be set on a delay and/or designed to destroy any evidence within.

She judges Goodman the least likely to set off any supernatural traps, herself and the casquette girl the most likely to notice them or others in time to react, and Ferris’ familiarity with Claire’s method to be vitally important.

If Mahmoud is in town, Caroline inquires as to her ability at foretelling, if any. If she answers in the affirmative with regard to such abilities, Caroline offers her a debt to meet them on site and provide short term insights.

If not, she and her ghouls proceed alone.

GM: Mahmoud is not in town.

Ferris concurs the site likely has mundane and supernatural defenses. There’s no reason not to give it any. Especially without any guards.

He agrees that traps to destroy evidence would accomplish an objective just as important (if not more so) as killing any intruders. Not to mention, it’s easier to rig a trap to destroy some hard drives or paper files than it is to kill a vampire.

Caroline: If Ferris has no further inputs, she has them move forward.

To their advantage, she judges that an especially complex system is unlikely—mystically, it’s likely to have been too power-consumptive, and conventionally difficult to install and likely to attract attention.

Beyond the obvious, she’s leaning heavily upon her own broad and deep knowledge of Claire personally, and Ferris’ specific knowledge of her stepmother’s operating pattern as a hunter.

Her inclinations, her pattern of thought, her habits, the things that would constrain her action.

It’s not much, but it’s something.

GM: Ferris helps as he can. He and Autumn both identify some concealed cameras and sensor alarms—“almost certainly not infrared,” both ghouls observe. Claire would obviously want ones to detect vampires.

Goodman wonders why not infrared—“it’s the most available on the market”—but Ferris brushes him off. Goodman seems fine with that and comes on to a somewhat annoyed-looking Autumn.

“I don’t see your stepmother sharing this place’s location with anyone, though, or wanting any alarms that summon a police response,” Ferris muses as he ignores the two, “so fat lot of help they can summon with her dead.”

“Unless third parties already await us inside,” Kâmil observes. “Your stepmother’s secrets could be a useful bait to draw out those who meant harm to her and her allies.”

Ferris considers that. “Not impossible. But if Claire’s friends are in that house, then her files are already gone.”

GM: Kâmil nods. “Leaving any third parties waiting in ambush our best lead to recover Mrs. Malveaux’s files—or in absence of any third parties, then any trace they have left behind. Gisèlle’s abilities may prove useful in discerning their identities.”

Caroline: The heiress nods, “I think it more likely they would have destroyed this place, than risked it, unless they were fanatics.”

“Typically those raiding a place like this are foot soldiers, expendable types, not the fish they’re after.”

More than summoning help, Caroline is afraid that the safehouse will have a self destruct system of some kind. That would be a problem for a variety of reasons.

“I want everything photographed before it’s moved, and each room photographed as we enter.” This place is a treasure drove—any minor detail they can recover if something goes wrong is worth the effort.

“You can put it on the cloud for now.” Her father once told her the NSA and associated alphabet agencies essentially collect everything in the US, but that photographs were a lot harder to sort through for the algorithms that helped flag items of interest than text was.

That typically required individual personnel to look through each one—something they deemed not worth it unless they’d already flagged the source for special interest. The downside of collecting everything has always been sorting the wheat from the chaff.

“If there is anyone inside, apprehension is the goal. No firearms.”

GM: “Expendable foot soldier,” grins Brett. “You just call me raunchier names every time, ma’am.”

Autumn rolls her eyes.

“I can handle the photos,” she says.

Ferris and Kâmil both concur with Caroline’s order against firearms. Gunshots risk a police response even if their goal wasn’t to take any waiting parties alive.

GM: The group takes several further moments to prepare. Caroline and Goodman take point in inspecting and unlocking the front door.

The safehouse’s interior proves a death trap filled with just about every booby trap they can imagine—and a good deal more. The first one Caroline spots an narrowly disarms is a shotgun blast from a spring gun—loaded, she observes after disarming the weapon, two dragonsbreath rounds. Ferris is glad there’s no ruckus from a firearms discharge. Goodman narrowly spots and de-rigs a trip wire that would’ve activated some further nasty surprise that isn’t immediately apparent. The group’s luck, however, cannot hold out forever. Proceeding into the dining room triggers an elaborate series of traps that seal the doors and fill the room with tear gas and thick, foul-smelling smoke. The group’s living members cough and gag as the awful stuff gets in their eyes, burns their throats, and panic starts to set in. When Goodman throws his weight against the door out, against Kâmil’s warning, the scent of blood fills Caroline’s nostrils as something slices open his cheek. Indeed, though Caroline’s dead lungs are unaffected by the smoke and gas, she still finds they severely restrict her vision.

Most of the group shows their quality, though: only Autumn and Goodman seriously panic. Ferris, Kâmil, and Fuller all maintain discipline and cognizance of the fact that the sealed room is doubtlessly full of trip wires and other booby traps designed to be carelessly triggered by blinded, suffocating, and panicking intruders. Everyone except Caroline and Kâmil looks on the verge of unconsciousness by the time they’ve located and disarmed the booby traps before forcing open the door out. They take a few minutes to rest and recover, but the rest of the house is no kinder. There are spring gun traps, IEDs, stake-launching traps, and traps that threaten to spill gasoline and ignite fires. Caroline and Goodman disarm many of them, and likely save a number of the team’s lives. They suffer the worst for it; Goodman’s thigh gets sliced open and leaves him bleeding like a stuck pig. Caroline inadvertently triggers an occult ward hidden underneath a rug that causes her blood to boil beneath her skin. Gisèlle alone makes it through without suffering visible injury.

Eventually, everyone makes it to a concealed room hidden behind a bookcase. Ferris thinks that it’s “potentially where the files are hidden.” He gets to work combing through it with Autumn, Kâmil, and Gisèlle.

“Who the fuck booby-traps a house like this,” Goodman grouses from the floor as Fuller improvises a tourniquet for his leg. “Who the fuck is this paranoid.”

“Someone who’s right to be,” Ferris deadpans.

Caroline: “Someone who expects the level of opposition they’ve faced?” Caroline adds on. She’s grateful Goodman isn’t her type.

The larger question is who else Claire might have thought could penetrate such a death trap: a mortal team would have taken far more casualties than her own. Even if Claire had a dead-switch that would turn over the house’s secrets to another, she can’t imagine she’d also give them all the keys to it.

Only one name jumps immediately to mind: Gettis.

An elder ghoul, centuries old, might be able to do so.

GM: “Guess she was right to be this paranoid if we made it this far, anyway,” says Autumn.

“You could even make the argument she wasn’t paranoid enough.”

GM: Ferris shakes his head. “She did everything that was tenable and practical under the constraints she faced. No amount of home booby traps will keep out a determined enough force.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “Defense just lets you lose more slowly.”

GM: The group turns the room upside down and disarms some further traps before finding another concealed door. The room on the other side contains a staked and hooded woman’s body in a circle similar to the one that Caroline recalls entrapping her. This one, though, is bereft of any fire. There is a nearby lighter, along with a USB stick and paper note in Claire’s handwriting that reads, “Read the information contained here before you do anything else.”

Caroline: The staked and hooded vampire trapped within the circle brings up unpleasant memories of how her own Requiem could have ended quite quickly at Claire’s hands more than once.

She lets the ghouls and kine go about the business of documenting the room, including the staked vampire and the circle entrapping her, and heads outside to get a tablet from the cars to examine the USB stick on.

GM: Autumn has a tablet in her bag she lets Caroline borrow.

Caroline: She plugs the USB into it.

Who might Claire have left a message for? She imagines Gettis would be more comfortable with had written than with an electronic. For her?

GM: The USB stick is encrypted and asks for several passwords, including “the name of your first crush”, “your favorite book”, and “your favorite menu item at Galatoire’s”.

Caroline: She provides them, answering for herself.

GM: The USB stick promptly erases itself.

Kâmil frowns as he observes.

“Regrettable, but perhaps little surprise.”

Caroline: It was stupid, she realizes, the moment she hits send. She could have had the casquette girl break the passwords: she’s seen her do it before.

Perhaps she’d hoped there was something here for her, that Claire had left something for Caroline. She’d wanted Claire to care for her, to have trusted her. Perhaps it was arrogance—the desire to break in herself. Regardless, an opportunity lost.

Stupid. Sentimental. Weak.

She blasts herself silently.

“Better to know.”

Even even as she says it, she knows it’s not true. Knowing the desired passwords though would have been quite helpful in identifying who exactly Claire had hoped would breach her safehouse, perhaps as much so as the actual information within.

GM: Claire didn’t trust her, that much is plain.

And she was right to, wasn’t she? She died at Caroline’s hand. Even if that hand was forced by Claire’s own actions, Caroline had said to Maldonato:

I suppose it was very foolish, to get closer. To believe there might be an ending other than tragedy. To hope. She wasn’t so blind.

Caroline: The past has always haunted her, the memories of her past mistakes surfacing as she lay in bed, both as kine and one of the Damned. She’ll save the reminiscing for that time: there’s still work to do here, even with the ghouls hard at work searching the room for hidden materials and documenting everything they find.

She turns her attention to the hooded and staked vampire.

GM: The vampire looks Caucasian and female, judging by the hands and body shape. She rests undisturbed in the center of the circle.

Autumn snaps pictures from her phone.

“Why keep a lick here if this place is supposed to be so secret?”

The ghoul keeps her voice low, mindful of Brett in the other room.

“That’s what I don’t get, vice a headquarters she and her other hunter friends used.”

Caroline: “The blood is valuable. We know she was working with Gettis. Possible her people wouldn’t have approved—or would have wanted to take them off to some other site.”

It’s a fair question.

“Claire always wanted to be in control.”

But that answer still doesn’t feel right. Not complete. Bringing the vampire here was a risk.

“We’ll interrogate her later—maybe she’ll have answers for us.”

GM: Ferris frowns in thought.

“No need for an intact Kindred if all you want is their blood. Bag it and stick in a fridge.”

Caroline: “It’s possible she was experimenting on them,” she postulates.

GM: “Possible. She’ll be able to tell us that much.”

“What do you want us to do with her for now?” asks Autumn.

Caroline: “We’ll take her with us,” Caroline answers. “Need to finish poking around, though, before we start disturbing things.”

GM: “All right.”

The ghouls leave the staked vampire in the circle and get back to their search. Gisèlle is the first to eventually locate a well-hidden cache of documents, two encrypted laptops, and several more encrypted USB sticks. Autumn reports there’s no internet connection originating in the house, and upon pulling open the laptops, finds they don’t have wireless network cards. The devices are physically incapable of connecting to the internet.

“Jackpot,” says Ferris.

Caroline: Caroline nods. They’ve discussed this eventuality.

The seneschal will know of their findings shortly, if he doesn’t already with Gisèlle spying for him. She doesn’t expect the seneschal will allow them to retain the laptops, the USBs, or the documents, and for her purposes whether they vanish into the elder’s possession or are handed over to the sheriff and his progeny is irrelevant. She needs to know what’s here for herself.

“Fifteen minutes, people. We’ve been here a while as is.”

“Autumn, same rules apply. Document everything as it is including how we found it. Kâmil can you help Brett to the cars? Then I’d like you to help Ms. Rabinowitz with staging and removing any material she finishes with. Roger, you knew her better than most: keep an eye out for any further fail safes while Autumn works. Gisèlle, can you check the perimeter? We’ve been here a while, and the last thing I want is uninvited guests.”

The invisible ghoul’s powers of perception eclipse all of theirs—and she’s likely to notice anyone sneaking up far before anyone else in the group.

GM: “I believe Mr. Fuller may suffice for that purpose, bayan. I do not believe it wise for me to leave your side in this place,” Kâmil answers.

Autumn is already snapping pictures of the laptops, USB devices, and contents of the manila folders.

Caroline: “Very well,” Caroline answers. “I’m going to examine our guest.”

GM: Gisèlle is already gone as the words leave Caroline’s mouth. Ferris continues to scan the perimeter. Kâmil tells Fuller to get Goodman back to the cars.

Caroline: Caroline surveys the hooded Kindred from every available angle, making note of any distinguishing marks that might reveal their identity, before finally breaking the circle that holds her and laying heads on the dead woman.

She removes the hood, studying the revealed features.

GM: The staked, pale-skinned vampire is around five and half feet tall and slim of build, with small breasts and narrow hips. Two decades ago, she’d have been a trendy heroin chic. She’s casually dressed in jeans, a dark windbreaker, rebellious-looking shirt with a skull face, and sneakers. Caroline makes note of no distinguishing marks.

With the hood removed, the vampire appears around 16 or so, with a smattering of freckles to complete the teenage and draw out the creeps. It’s her build together with her features and long black hair that really sells her age. She looks like she never quite grew into her body and now never will. Her apparent youth, combined with her slight frame and large eyes, gives her a seemingly harmless if not naive appearance that Caroline imagines has fooled more than one kine into mistaking this predator for prey.

Obviously, it was wasted on Claire.

Gina5.jpg
Her eyes are blank and nonresponsive, seemingly making no note of Caroline’s presence.

“Fortuitous,” states Kâmil, waving an experimental hand over her eyes. “I would not have this stranger know of our activities here.”

“You don’t recognize her from anywhere?” asks Autumn.

“I do not,” replies Kâmil. “There are many Kindred in the city who are unpresented and unknown to our prince, alas.”

GM: “Looks like a greenfang, if the clothes are anything to go by,” says Autumn. “Obviously had the bad luck to run into hunters.”

She glances at Ferris, but the ex-CIA agent doesn’t return the look.

Caroline: “She’d remember what we desired if it came to the point,” Caroline observes, bringing the girl’s wrist to her lips and drawing a whisker of blood from a puncture that she gathers on one finger before gently testing it.

GM: The vampire’s blood has a rosy, velvety undercurrent like Jocelyn’s. Like Josua’s. Like Celia’s. It’s sensuous blood, that stirs some memory of life in Caroline’s dead loins. Blood that makes her appreciate the girl’s pretty features and sets her mind to ways that pretty could be made beautiful. Maybe if Celia had a few minutes to work magic with her paints and brushes.

Definitely Toreador blood.

It’s weak blood, too, like Jocelyn’s. ‘Greenfang’ seems even more likely.

Caroline: “A rose,” Caroline agrees. “Recently bloomed. And late blooming.”

GM: “She doesn’t look like she’s been harmed,” frowns Autumn. “So, maybe not any physical experiments by your stepmom. And she’s out of it.”

“Torpor, probably.”

“Why keep her here like this?”

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “Hard to say. A message?”

GM: “I guess we’ll see if she has any answers once she’s up.”

Caroline: “That’ll wait. Better if she doesn’t wake here.”

And that they’re not caught in company of an unknown, unpresented, and likely illegal fledgling.

“Proof of the supernatural, perhaps?” she muses.

GM: “Whom do you believe she would be proof to?” inquires Kâmil.

“Certainly, any individual to whom the existence of Kindred was new information would likely be a poor custodian for Mrs. Malveaux’s secrets.”

Caroline: “The sheriff alluded to a failsafe she’d threatened him with,” Caroline observes. “Exposure, shattering of the Masquerade.”

GM: “I wouldn’t assume we’ve taken care of that without proof, ma’am,” Ferris offers darkly.

“It has been some time since her death now,” Kâmil concurs.

Caroline: Caroline nods. “Perhaps proof for her chosen successor—I feel she’d have wanted someone from the family.”

Stupid. Not getting the casquette girl to open the USB. Knowing who it was intended for would have been extremely valuable.

GM: “That’d be consistent with the questions on the USB stick,” considers Ferris.

Caroline: “Could have demonstrated the blood, and if he had her in the circle, shown the monstrousness of frenzy with the fire.”

“Hard to imagine many of them could have gotten inside though. Not without help.”

GM: “She’d have been their first kill,” says Ferris.

“Don’t need her anymore after she’s proven vampires are real.”

“Lets them get their hands dirty in a safe environment. See what it’s like.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. She wonders who Claire had earmarked. Her brother, perhaps. Or her cousin Adam. It fits into place—feels right.

“I think that’s the answer.”

GM: Ferris considers. “If it were me, I’d have left blood somewhere to revive our friend. I’d want my successor’s first kill to be a walking, talking, responsive vampire. Especially if they’d never killed a person before. Better learning experience. The warding circle, the lighter, some gasoline—that lets them do it all with training wheels.”

He strokes his beard.

“Think you’re on to something. This explanation feels right.”

“What was on the USB stick, then, you think?” asks Autumn. “Instructions on how to kill a lick?”

Caroline: “Not worth dwelling on,” Caroline doesn’t quite snap.

“Let’s move her to the entrance—we can have Gisèlle veil when we’re ready to move her to the vehicles.”

GM: “All right. Least she looks pretty light,” says Autumn.

Kâmil slings the staked vampire over his shoulder.

“Veil her against Mr. Goodman, bayan? She would attract little enough notice stored in the trunk.”

Caroline: “Veil her against being carried out into the residential neighborhood,” Caroline clarifies. “As you say, little enough notice in the trunk.”

GM: Kâmil considers.

“The hour is late, the night is dark, and our vehicles nearby. But if you wish to veil her, bayan, there is no harm and potential good.”

“I would sooner not leave a staked Kindred unattended or further split our group. Gisèlle and Mr. Fuller should return soon.”

Caroline: “We can wait for them with her,” Caroline agrees.

GM: They don’t wait long. Gisèlle and Fuller eventually return, by which time Autumn has finished documenting everything. The casquette girl veils the staked vampire’s body in shadow at Caroline’s request. Ferris and Autumn carry the laptops, USB sticks, and documents.

GM: The group moves to depart.

The Ventrue is the first one to feel it.

Before the soft ‘whoosh’.

Before the heat at their backs.

Before the pungent smell of rising smoke.

Before the telltale hissing and crackling.

But not before her Beast’s instinctive, soul-deep panic.

Fire.

Everywhere. Fire behind them. Fire beside them. Fire before them. Fire between them and the exit from the sudden death trap the safehouse has become.

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“Shigh-!” exclaims Autumn, coughing as she shouts.

Caroline: Of course Claire wouldn’t let them go that easily.

Of course she’d use her knowledge of magic to rig the house.

And of course it would be fire. Fire, which will destroy all evidence of this place: including Caroline if given the opportunity.

In the earliest nights of her Requiem, she fled at the sight of fire. She remembers being forced into howling, terrified frenzy by Claire when she invaded her haven during the day and built a circle of flame around her. Remembers how the very sight of it, even bound by the circle, had driven her Beast into a whimpering but powerful thing that controlled her.

She remembers that, and she knows very well that if she does so now this trap will consume her ghouls, consume the evidence they desperately need, and consume every trace of her.

Caroline is ready when the Beast comes charging out of her breast, when its frantic rage boils over. She’s just as ready to violently clamp down on it in that moment with all of her will, bottling up its useless—and likely lethal—terror response like a pressure cooker.

She wins that first battle, and as she does the rest of it slides into laser focus.

This is the actual trap. All the blades and wires and even explosives before were window dressing: at best, they kept out the riffraff. This is intended to be the lethal one: it’s not lost on her that it triggered when she attempted to leave the building.

It’s brilliant in its simplicity, actually: let the vampire send in their people, let them clear out the traps and suffer, and then report it clear. Trigger the actual trap when they are inside. When you’ve lured in the bigger fish.

And it could easily kill her, or any other lick. A moment of frenzy and it’d all be over—lost in the burning building, all obvious exits blocked. She’s certain there’s a path clear of flames—but it’s one that will lead back further into the house. The kind of path the Beast might take while fleeing the immediate threat, oblivious to the real one.

She’s just as certain plunging through the door they came in will be suicide: that’s where she’d concentrate her own efforts.

No, the answer, she concludes at the speed of thought, is somewhere else. Somewhere the inherent logistics of the house work in their favor.

The kitchen window. It was large enough for them to escape through, and the tile and stone countertops will retard the spread of the flame—as will the piping. She’s certain it’ll be trapped. And she’s just as certain that she will be the one who has to ensure the bite of those traps.

It’s tempting to send Kâmil through first—the tough old ghoul might even shrug it off (whatever it is)—but he’s the only one capable of handling their torpid lick and anyone else that goes down in the smoke. The rest of the ghouls are too soft—too fragile. She on the other hand might beat it outright- and if she doesn’t, recovery is much less painful for her—and hasn’t she become accustomed to pain anyway? She needs the other ghouls to carry out the goods in any case—escaping is not enough tonight.

It’s not a happy thought, the prospect of braving whatever pain her wicked stepmother has in store for her, but there’s little in her Requiem that has been pleasant where the older woman was concerned.

She takes a breath, the hot air searing her lungs in a way that would no doubt deal internal injuries to a kine, and yells into the fire, “Follow me! Kitchen window!” She gestures to Kâmil. “Carry her!”

She’s just grateful they got Brett out first: she wouldn’t like the lamed’ kine’s chances.

And then she’s blazing a path through the heat and smoke.

She could move more quickly on her own, but she can’t leave them behind. Won’t leave them behind. It’s not in her nature. They battle their way through the burning building, through a living room choked with fire, the ceiling full of billowing smoke ready to ignite and roll over at any moment. She can feel her skin blistering as they go, feels her cloths smoke and start to melt: too much plastic in them.

Then there’s the window.

She knows, especially with a running start, that she could dive through a single pane—perhaps too fast for any remaining traps to go off. But that wouldn’t help the others—and hauling their ill gotten take they need her to blaze the way—to tear a hole the softer ghouls can get through.

No—this is going to hurt. It’s going to hurt a great deal. But that’s something her Requiem has prepared her for. The whippings, the beatings, the knives. the duels, and bullets. She can suffer. If that she’s certain.

She snatches up a small chair from the table in the kitchen as she goes past. She’d dearly like to hit the window with that first, to save her pale flesh, but the others need something to step up to onto the counter, then into the sink, on their way out the window. She leaves it behind with a deftness she could never have managed in life as she vaults into the counter and through the still closed window, arms held before, bent with her elbows and forearms out to make first contact as quickly as a speeding car.

The collision is cataclysmic—Einstein’s equation for energy is brutal at that speed for a human body, even a dead one, when colliding with a much firmer object. She feels something pierce her chest—though not her heart. Feels the glass slice bloody tears into her arms and torso as she goes past. And she feels a dreadful blossom of heat as her momentum carries her through the window frame. Sorcery? Another dragonsbreath round? It doesn’t matter. She doesn’t see it, and the effects are the same.

Flesh smokes and crackles, blackening beneath it. Hair turns to ash and fingers swell, the flesh bursting like swollen sausages to let vitae drip out. She hits the grass outside in a smoking blur leaking crimson from half a dozen wounds and rolls.

Out. Free.

One hand painfully plants in the grass to force herself up, to look back, but her body betrays her. She teeters, falling as darkness rushes up like it never has in her Requiem.

She’s put her body through horrific ordeals, but this is something else. Everything hurts. Everything is on fire—and she can’t tell if it’s physically or figuratively. The darkness rises to engulf her in blissful nothingness.

She slams into the darkness like she slammed into the window, like a car hits a brick wall at seventy miles per hour. There’s no fall into oblivion, into the nothingness sleep that she knows awaits every vampire that pushes their corpse too far. Instead she careens off the the inky depths at the same moment she feels something else—like a pinprick through her heart—a yank upon a black thread wrapped around her unbeating heart as that energy that should have carried her into torpor travels through it into something else. Then, a moment later, she realizes, with a sinking and growing sickness, into someone else.

GM: Caroline feels the blistering, flesh-roasting heat evaporate from her body like steam released from a fogged bathroom into the night air. But energy cannot be created or destroyed, only transferred. The black thread spins and spins into its terminus. She feels suddenly lightheaded and vaguely nauseous, like she’s having a heat stroke-induced headache. She feels ‘her’ body pushing out sweat to cool itself as the air absorbs the moisture and the heat with it—a crap shoot outdoors in New Orleans’ constantly humid weather. She feels footsteps beneath her, the sound of water running from a faucet, and then water running down her throat.

She feels awareness, too. ‘She’ knows ‘she’ isn’t having a random heat stroke. She feels Cécilia trying to talk to her, trying to communicate thoughts as words, but words are lost against the burning pain. Both of their pain.

But for all that, she feels no resentment. She feels fear, worry, concern, desire to know what’s happening—and thankfulness.

Thankfulness, that Caroline is being spared pain.

Caroline: The heiress burns vitae at a terrifying rate when she realizes with a sickening feeling who her pain went to, who paid the price to keep her from slipping into torpor. How could she? How could she be so reckless? Doesn’t she know how important she is now, as a member of the family? She should have let everything else burn. The evidence, the ghouls, the torpid vampire.

Caroline stomps down on that line of thinking. It’s small—shallow, narrow in its vision in a way she cannot afford.

She had to. It was objectively the right choice. The information in the files might save her Requiem from the most terrifying foe she has known. He isn’t going to stop trying to destroy her just because she sisters now.

She made the right choice—even if it feels so wrong.

Singed skin falls away, molting as fresh unblemished pale flesh grows beneath it. Some of it flakes away, other badly damaged pieces slough off in rapidly putrefying fashion. There’s a sickening crunch as her broken wrists snap back into place. It’s not even about the pain or damage tonight, it’s about not putting her sister in that position again. Where she has to suffer in Caroline’s place.

The Ventrue looks up to see how the others are faring.

She can call Cécilia when they’re on the road. Right now they still need to make their escape.

GM: Thumps sound against the lawn behind Caroline. The others are following her out. It hurts to roll around, even on the soft grass. Her Beast’s never-ending whine is not far from her ears, like a baying dog constantly tugging at its leash. Behind her, the house has gone up in flames.

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The first out is Gisèlle. The casquette girl’s once-immaculate white dress and face are singed, stained, and burning. Flames enshroud her long black hair, now so clearly a terrible fire hazard. The unmistakable scent of cooking flesh and burning hair assaults Caroline’s nostrils. Gisèlle flings aside a laptop and folder of documents—seemingly liberated from the clearly slower Autumn and Ferris—to stop, drop, and roll over the grass. Her white form blurs to and fro, quickly smothering the flames. She gracefully springs to her feet and disappears around the house.

The next out are Autumn and the staked vampire, both bodily flung out the window if the latter is any indication, Autumn still clutching a laptop against her chest. The screaming ghoul’s red hair has never looked so red as it does now, burning and smoking along with her peeling, grotesquely orange-brown flesh. She’s lost her glasses.

But doubtless her companion’s cries would make Autumn’s sound as a sleeping baby’s troubled whimpers. The staked vampire cannot stop, drop, and roll like the ghoul—the ghoul who is also spared Michael’s dread curse. The vampire has gone up like a torch. She looks like a bonfire. Nothing remains of her hair, and almost nothing of her clothes, but for a moment Caroline thinks she’s still clothed. Her blackened, roasted flesh looks almost as dark as her jacket did. Skin literally melts from her body like a foul wax. Perhaps it’s a mercy that she lies in torpor. It is a mercy that she lies in torpor.

Gisèlle abruptly reappears with a garden hose to spray down them both.

The laptop-clutching ghoul gets the water first.

Caroline: It’ll be a bitter awakening back to the Damned, assuming the girl gets one. If Caroline had sympathy to spare, she’d have it for the girl. In the moment, she doesn’t.

Caroline’s attention fixates on Autumn, assessing: not life threatening. Still, Caroline doesn’t disagree with the application of water—and applauds the casquette girl’s quick thinking on it.

GM: Ferris hits the ground next, wheezing and hacking past smoke-filled lungs. He’s already rolling over the grass to put out his burning clothes, hands shielding his face, when Gisèlle sprays him down.

After him comes Fuller. Caroline rapidly identifies a pattern emerging. After Gisèlle, who was seemingly fastest and clutching as many of Claire’s materials as she could, came the most vulnerable among them. Autumn, the least in shape, and carrying more documents. The helpless vampire, all-too vulnerable to the house’s last and deadliest trap. Then Ferris. Then the ex-Corpsman who runs a gym. Fuller’s peeling skin is no less hideous a shade of orange-brown as he hits the grass, smoke and embers trailing after him, before Gisèlle’s garden hose sprays over him next.

The last to fling himself from the burning building is Kâmil. The large-framed man could’ve been first, or at least second, if he wanted to, but clearly waited behind to get out the others first. He’s coughing the least of anyone, and as with Fuller, no hair can burn atop his bald head. What’s left of his suit and dress shirt are little more than burning rags. He drops and rolls as Gisèlle sprays him down.

Ferris staggers to his feet, still coughing, and seizes up the fallen laptop and documents.

Behind them, increasingly thick and pungent smoke wafts from the burning house. Caroline can feel the air growing hotter and hotter as fire hungrily consumes wood. Her Beast will burst its chains if it must face the flames.

Goodman’s voice swears and shouts behind them as he hobbles up.

Caroline: It’s a remarkably orderly exit from the building, some part of her mind reports, though her admiration is buried behind the still hovering shame and throbbing pain.

There’s a surge of relief as the last of them exits: out, safe, with everyone. And the files..

She doesn’t test her luck with the Beast and the roaring inferno behind them further. She held on through sheer need, through force of will, when inside. She has no illusions that she’ll be able to do so again. Instead she stays turned away.

“We need to go, now.”

The weariness hits her like a tsunami—the sheer bone-deep exhaustion brought on by agony and the high of the discover, then escape, but she fights through it.

They need to make good their escape, with their prizes. Now, much more than before the fire. With so many wounded and such a treasure trove they’re a prime target.

She forces her way to her feet and marches towards the vehicles.

GM: No one disagrees.

The burned, now-soaking wet ghouls stagger into the waiting vehicles with their precious findings. Kâmil, Gisèlle, and Ferris take the car with Caroline. Fuller, Autumn, and Goodman pile into the other vehicle with the staked and half-incinerated vampire. Kâmil starts driving.

Caroline doesn’t look back to confirm. Her Beast still whines anxiously in her ears. Doubtless, the conflagration behind them is spreading and consuming the house.

Caroline: Caroline settles into the backseat.

There’s some symbolism in the conflagration that is Claire’s legacy—one that nearly consumed Caroline. There’s symbolism, too, in her refusal to look back upon it as she speeds away. Both are lost on the Ventrue tonight.

Her thoughts are focused on the future. On the opportunities tonight may offer. On the challenges the next nights will hold.

The past can burn. She has no past.

It’s up to her to determine if she’ll have a future.


Tuesday night, 22 March 2016, PM

GM: The SUV speeds into the night. The ghouls, or at least Ferris, look wet, burned, and miserable. Gisèlle’s once-beautiful mane of waist-length black hair is unevenly burned away, resembling nothing so much as a ragged and hole-lined old blanket, and interspersed with bits of lawn grass. Ferris’ badly singed beard and hair look in an equally sorry state. The ghouls’ horrid skin burns, though, fade away before Caroline’s eyes. Orange-brown reverts to sensitive-looking pink, though ugly splotches of yellow-white dead skin still mar their hands and faces. They’re technically growing -_new__ skin, not undoing the damage to the old.

They’re a sight prettier than any mortals, though. Neil told her about the horrors of TMC’s burn unit.

Burning is a horrible way to get hurt, even for the living.

When Caroline brings up the subject of the fire’s origin, Ferris nods grimly.

“Didn’t see or smell any accelerants. Had to be magical.”

“With how fast it spread, and from so many points.”

“Didn’t know your stepmother could create fire. There was a lot about her capabilities she didn’t tell me, at my recommendation.”

Caroline: “She was always extremely cagey about it,” Caroline agrees.

It’s a lesson Caroline could stand to learn.

“I’d call it a miracle that everyone made it out, but I think it has rather more to do with sublime execution. That place was a very expertly crafted death trap.”

“It took some very clear heads to get everyone, as well as the majority of the documents and materials, out.”

GM: “Not expert enough for us to get out without fatalities,” remarks Ferris.

“But if she wasn’t dead, it’d have still done its job softening us up. I’m sure we tripped a dozen alarms.”

Caroline: “Do we know for sure that Claire laid the fire trap, and not a Kindred?”

GM: Ferris strokes what’s left of his beard.

“No.”

“Could’ve been her. Could’ve been someone else.”

Kâmil observes that if another Kindred laid such a booby trap they’d have probably taken all the documents and devices by now.

“Mrs. Malveaux has been dead for long enough. And to one who laid her safehouse’s defenses, it would be child’s play to retrieve the secrets contained therein.”

“Unless the files we have are all fakes,” Ferris muses.

“Gisèlle—and the seneschal—may psychically examine them to verify their authenticity,” states Kâmil.

Caroline: “Better the seneschal,” Caroline muses. “Anyone powerful enough to breach the home and set those traps almost certainly had the power to lay false impressions. I would.”

“Even if someone didn’t have reason to suspect they were false, reading is something I’d want to do.”

She stretches. “Not many licks I can think of that are known for wielding flame, if one did set the trap.” The heiress inclines her head to the two elder ghouls, “Any names jump to mind?”

GM: “A rarer skill, but I would nevertheless concur in having the seneschal examine them,” agrees Kâmil. “To command fire, too, is an infrequently seen skill among Kindred.”

Images silently fill Caroline’s head upon her question.

Grunewald.

Faces she senses as Steinhäuser’s and the Baron’s, for they are largely unknown to hers.

Then, with greater uncertainty:

The archon Caroline glimpsed at one Elysium.

Erwin Bornemann.

The seneschal himself.

Bishop Malveaux.

Eliza Curry, another near-unknown.

Symbols of a jackal-headed god of Egypt and a stylized “G”.

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip. “Few enough.”

GM: “An uncommon skill,” Kâmil repeats, “though there may be others who keep their talents even more closely hidden.”

Caroline: “We’ve foes aplenty without seeking them out in every shadow.” Caroline states.

GM: “Could also have been other hunters,” considers Ferris.

“Speculation gets nowhere, though.”

He’s already reading through the paper documents.

He scowls at their half-burned state.

“Fortunate you had Rabinowitz take pictures.”

Caroline: “Half the evidence without the paper,” Caroline answers with a scowl.

“But better than nothing.”

GM: “The authenticity of electronic images’ contents cannot be psychically verified,” concurs Kâmil. “But as you say, bayan, preferable to have those contents than not.”

Caroline: “Better to get them to him sooner than later.” She turns to the casquette girl. “I presume the further into the past an event, and the more damage and changes of hands it’s seen, the harder it is to get accurate impressions?”

GM: Gisèlle dips and then raises her head in confirmation.

Caroline: “Perdido House, then. Better not to waste time.”

It’s also not lost on her that injured and tired as they are, they make a fat target with their prize in hand.

She digs out her phone and sends a text to Cécilia.

Are you ok? I had a hot flash while looking at a property, but am feeling better now.

GM: “Gisèlle has already alerted the seneschal,” states Kâmil. “He has dispatched emergency services to the site of the fire. As well as our own people, in the event the Masquerade is still at risk.”

The phone’s casing is partly melted and the screen painfully hot to the touch.

Caroline finds several texts from Cécilia already asking if she is all right.

Yes, nothing too serious. Had some water and wet a washcloth to cool down. You’re sure you’re feeling better?

Caroline: Worst I’ve felt in a while, but I’m ok now. You know I bounce back.

GM: I do. Do you want to come over?

Caroline: Always. But I have to visit my father first about the house I looked at.

She pauses, then adds,

May be big moves tonight. Might be a good idea to keep a handle on where everyone is.

GM: It’s a school night, thankfully, so we’re all at home. I’d been thinking of taking a walk, but I’ll maybe get some more work done instead. Unless you need me? How did things go at the house?

Caroline: Not a fun experience, but outcome looks good so far. Need to talk to my father about it.

Caroline then tells Kâmil that she desires to bring the materials to Perdido House, but intends on conveying them directly to the seneschal. She does not outright state that her intention is to keep them from the sheriff, but there is little doubt as to what other motive she could have, and she leave little ambiguity.

She intends on sending either him or Gisèlle—whichever needs the elder’s potent blood more after the death trap they braved—to deliver that message directly or to Mr. Congo.

GM: “That is acceptable, bayan,” states Kâmil. “Gisèlle has alerted His Grace as to our mission’s success. She will inform him now as to your imminent arrival.”

The casquette girl closes her eyes.

She re-opens them and stares at Caroline. The Ventrue sees Maldonato’s face.

:: Tell Miss Malveaux-Devillers she has done well. Bring the materials to my offices in Perdido House. I will be available to receive them. ::

:: Tell her to remain on her guard. Many parties sought Claire Malveaux’s secrets—and still seek them yet. ::

Caroline: She can think of one off-hand.

Louis: Those thoughts are interrupted by a loud slurp.

As heads whip back to the sound, Caroline and her entourage finally notice the old man sitting in the back of the SUV. How long has he been there?

Too long.

He’s been around far too long. And he’d be the first to tell you.

Presently though, his mouth is occupied. Slurping down another spoonful of Brocato’s lemon gelato. He swallows, but lets the plastic spoon dangle from his sour lips and lantern jaw like his old cancer-sticks.

A half-heartbeat later—at least for the SUV’s half-living passengers—Lou removes the spoon and gives a smile that somehow makes his face look sadder. His watery gaze drinks Caroline in. Slowly.

“Hey, doll-face.”

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Story Thirteen, Celia XXXII

“I’m glad to know I’ll always love and be loved by a daughter, whatever face she has on.”
Diana Flores


Tuesday night, 22 March 2016, AM

GM: Diana’s phone buzzes. She swipes and looks down at it. “It’s Emi. She’s seen our car and wants to talk.”

The two make their way back to her carriage house. She’s put ‘Abigail’ to sleep on her bed, wrapped up in her baby blanket.

“Right, someone want to finally tell me what the story is here?” she asks.

Celia’s mother rubs her head. Between the late hour and all that’s happened, she’s no doubt fuzzy on earlier details. “Celia… found a baby who was being abused by a vampire. I think. She wasn’t being cared for.”

“You think?” asks Emily, dubiously. “She looks healthy. Physically.”

Diana rubs her head again. “No. She was being abused. Horrifically abused. She’s a ghoul. She’s drinking vampire blood and it’s stopped her from aging. She’s… I don’t remember, years old.”

“Wait, what?!” exclaims Emily.

“I thought that stuff was vampire heroin!”

“Yes. It is,” Celia’s mother answers, this time all-too knowingly. “This baby is a heroin addict.”

“Her caretaker was giving her heroin.”

“Jesus… Christ!” Emily whispers, shushing her voice so as not to wake the child.

“Well, okay. That’s incredibly fucked up, but good news is it’s easier to make a baby quit heroin than a grown-up.”

Celia’s mother looks at ‘Abigail’. Her heart has been put through a meatgrinder too many times tonight to look as if she might cry.

“No. She needs to keep taking it,” she answers heavily. “For now. Because she’ll age and die without it. She’ll grow up too fast and her body won’t be able to handle the stress.”

“So, she needs to be gradually weaned off, vice quitting cold turkey?” Emily asks dubiously, looking to Celia.

“Okay, explain this to me. Someone drinks vampire blood and they stop aging. But it catches up if they quit?”

Celia: Celia nods at the question.

“Yes. A ghoul who drinks blood stops aging. When the blood is no longer in their system the years catch up with them. For someone like Mom, who has only been on it for a week, it’s not a problem. Even for someone like Alana. Seven years, not a big deal. But Abigail is older than Lucy. She’s been trapped like this for years. There are all sorts of physical and mental complications that would occur if she just quit.”

GM: “Jesus fucking Christ,” mutters Emily.

“So, okay. She can’t get dropped off with social services.”

“Does she have anyone else?” asks Diana. “Any family? Anyone who loves her?”

“Anyone who is capable of taking care of her the way she needs?”

Celia: “No. No one who won’t take her apart, keep her like this, or simply put her down.”

“No one.”

GM: “Okay. Then I will.”

Celia: “Mom…”

“It’s… I can’t guarantee that I can even undo what was done to her. Or that she’ll ever be normal.”

GM: “Then we’ll do the best we can and trust in Jesus for the rest.”

“Some babies are born with problems. Some are born with terrible, life-altering problems.”

“Some don’t get to stay on this earth for very long.”

Celia’s mom looks at the sleeping child.

“All we can is care for them and show them love, one day at a time.”

“What else can we do?”

Celia: “What about Lucy? Seeing this child and not understanding who she is or why she’s so difficult?”

GM: “We’ll tell her the truth,” Diana says simply. “As much of the truth as we can. Abigail came from an abusive home. Her caretakers did harmful things to her. We don’t need to tell Lucy how drugs work until she’s older, but when she’s old enough we’ll explain that it was a chemical dependency.”

“And we won’t ever tell her that it was vampire blood.”

Celia: “She’ll need multiple surgeries. Bodily repairs. Blood. Alchemy. Sorcery.”

GM: “Okay,” says Celia’s mom. “Whatever she needs.”

“Whatever gets her off vampire heroin.”

Celia: “And if it’s not working?” Celia presses. “Are you going to be able to let her go if keeping her alive is doing her more harm than good?”

GM: “Celia, you are not saying you’d ever want to murder this child,” says her mom.

“Look at her.”

“She is alive.”

“She is right there.”

Celia: “One of my clients,” Celia says eventually, “has a son who is severely disabled. She confessed once to me that she’d like to put him in a home but that society will tell her she’s a terrible mother. He’s in his mid-twenties and still nonverbal, still looks five, still doesn’t use the bathroom on his own. She will spend the rest of her life taking care of him.”

“I’m not saying to murder a child. I’m saying that sometimes things aren’t realistic.”

“Are we the best chance of helping her? Yes, absolutely.”

“Does that mean it will work? I don’t know. I can’t promise that.”

GM: “I thought she was nuts,” Emily says helpfully. “He’s probably going to outlive her. He’ll need to go to a home at some point, unless another relative is willing to take over his care.”

“But okay. So we try our best to get Abigail off vampire blood. And if that works, and if she’s too much trouble to take care of, we can put her in a home. Is that realistic?”

Celia: “Provided she doesn’t become a threat to the Masquerade.”

“We don’t know what she’ll remember from her time. But if it all works out okay… yes.”

GM: “Okay. So what do we do?” asks Diana. “How do we get her off heroin?”

Celia: “Find a way to cut it.”

“Dilute its properties.”

GM: “So, just mix it with water?” says Celia’s mom. “Would that do it?”

“Wean her down, make it steadily less pure?”

Celia: “No. This is where the alchemy comes in. It’s the same thing I was looking into to make it less addictive for you.”

“It might not be possible for one or even both of those. But if it is, I’ll find a way.”

GM: “Morphine and methadone are also used to help wean addicted babies off drugs,” says Emily. “When their asshole mothers used while pregnant. But even the chemical dependency those babies have is different than… this.”

“Do you think those drugs could still help, to lessen the withdrawal symptoms?”

“I would think so, but I’ll admit to being completely out of my depth where this vampire stuff is concerned.”

Celia: “It’s worth a shot. I don’t think it will hurt. Should assist with the chemical dependency. The issue is all the rest of it. Letting her age. Teaching her. Rapid growth.”

GM: “So, if you dilute vampire heroin’s properties, that’ll fix her?” asks Emily. “I mean, it sounds like there are two issues, the… induced aging, and the actual chemical dependency. How does diluting the blood treat the first of those?”

Celia: “Mostly it’s just a theory that she’ll be able to age more slowly. As I said, I don’t know if it’s possible. This sort of thing just isn’t done. Even the worst of us don’t ghoul babies like this. There’s… a child ghoul who was allowed to age, I can see what they did there, but I imagine it will be different than what we’d need.”

GM: “What happens if your theory is wrong?” asks Emily. “Does that mean, no way to fix her, she’s stuck as a baby forever?”

Celia: “No. It just means we find another way. Let her age rapidly in short bursts.”

GM: “That sounds rough on the kid, but guess there’s no other choice.”

“Or anyone else who can give her a shot at a normal life.”

Celia: “No,” Celia agrees. “No one else. There are other night doctors, but not night doctors with loving families and mothers that have raised a brood of children and still have enough love and patience to go around. Other families, but none with three women who have spent the past seven years raising a child together to make sure that her needs are met, who are aware of the difficulties this one will face and what is and isn’t possible with the blood.”

Other licks, but none that are as eager or willing to experiment.

“The detective has offered to teach me the magic of his clan. It may be slow going, but I believe it will help. I will also make more of an effort to locate the alchemists to see what can be done in the meantime.”

“I’d ask that you not mention Abigail to him,” Celia finally says to the pair of them, “or to Dani, if you continue to associate with her.”

“Or Caroline,” Celia tacks on. “Mentioning her to them, I mean.”

GM: Emily smiles at Diana at Celia’s initial words.

“You’re sure you want to do this, Mom? You’d said earlier with Lucy that you’d had enough kids.”

“That’s what I’d thought,” says Diana. “Two nights ago I learned I’d lost a daughter. Tonight I learned how she died. Now this, that very same night? A baby showing up on our doorstep, with no one else to love her, no one else able to take care of her?” Celia’s mom looks back down at the sleeping child and lays a hand against her blanket. “I think this a sign.”

“I think this is what God wants.”

“And I think this is what Abigail would want.”

“What about money?” says Emily.

“We’re getting a settlement from Maxen, aren’t we? Honestly, Emi, I don’t need more money. We live comfortably. Lucy has money for college, a car, and a trust. I only really want Celia’s father to pay up because, well, that’s fair. The settlement can go towards Abigail. I couldn’t think of a better use for it.”

“And, yes. We’ll keep quiet about Abigail’s past around other vampires, if that’s in her best interests.”

“I can’t think of much reason it wouldn’t be.”

Celia: “It is.”

Celia runs a hand through her hair.

“I… will need to do some extra hunting or something to make sure she’s well fed, then, until this is all figured out.”

GM: “What if you give her the blood you’ve given me?”

Celia: “It’s fine,” Celia says after a moment. “Randy is dead. I don’t need to feed him anymore. The boys are missing, so if they don’t get a dose… I’ll have room for another. I don’t usually run this low. Being unable to see my clients has added stress to my unlife.”

GM: “Uh, tell me you don’t want to keep taking her blood anyway,” Emily says to their mom.

“I have been thinking about that,” says Diana.

Celia: “Before you quit,” Celia interjects, “I’d like to fix your leg.”

“You’ll need the blood to mend properly.”

GM: “Mend properly?”

Celia: “Well. Mend. I mean. It’s… I just want it as a safeguard in case anything goes wrong.”

“So there’s no downtime.”

GM: “Sorry, sweetie?”

“How is it a safeguard?”

Celia: “Complications happen in surgeries all the time. If anything were to go wrong, I’d want to make sure that it’s okay if I give you some.”

“I don’t imagine anything will go wrong. But I just… I’d feel better.”

“We can do it tomorrow.”

GM: “Right, I know that about surgeries. Just how would it make me okay?”

Celia: Celia tilts her head to one side.

“Mom, the blood has healing properties. I explained that, didn’t I?”

GM: “You might have. I don’t remember. There’s just been so much that’s happened.”

Celia: “Right. So. It lets you heal from things. That’s why when you gave too much you didn’t die.”

Perhaps she’d be more eloquent if she weren’t as weary as her mother.

GM: “Oh. Of course.”

“I remember now.”

“You’re up at 3 AM two nights after learning you lost a child, Mom,” Emily says quietly.

“I’m amazed you’re even this together.”

Celia: Celia nods in agreement.

“So… I think we could table this discussion, if you’d like, for when you’re more awake. But I have your bone. I can fix your leg as early as tomorrow. Or… I mean maybe tonight, even, if I hunt.”

“I thought Emily could help. If she wants. If that’s okay, Mom.”

Celia finally looks at the floor.

“Sorry,” she murmurs to it, “I shouldn’t be throwing so many things at you. You’re barely awake and… with everything.”

GM: “Help with… the surgery?” says Emily.

Celia: “Yes.”

“I want… I want to show you what I can do. What I meant to show you last night. I want you to see.”

“If you’re in this you might as well be all the way in.”

GM: “I feel a little compelled to point out that neither of us has an actual medical license. Like, massage is one thing, but even after I graduate, it’ll still be three years before I’m allowed to perform unsupervised surgery.”

Celia: “I have a medical license,” Celia reminds her.

“So you wouldn’t be unsupervised.”

“I can do it on my own. I’ve done other things on my own way riskier than this. I only thought you might want to see.”

GM: “Celia, please understand I only just found out you had a medical degree. I didn’t know you had a license too. You have a license to perform major surgery on Mom’s leg?”

Celia: Celia lifts her shoulders in a shrug.

“It’s different, what I do. I wanted to show you. Celia Flores doesn’t have a degree or a license. But my teacher was very thorough. And I’ve done… a lot. On my own.”

“I don’t do surgery like you do.”

“I don’t need to cut.”

“I don’t need to use tools.”

GM: “You don’t… cut?”

“That sounds a little like massage without hands.”

Celia: Celia smiles.

“Watch,” she says, and then it happens: the change takes over. She doesn’t need to move, doesn’t need to touch her skin, doesn’t need to physically alter the muscles. Ordinarily it’s quick. This time, too, it’s quick. She goes from Celia Flores, makeup artist and dancer, to Jade Kalani, Toreador. She’s only Jade for a moment. Then she shifts again, and she strips from her clothing as her flesh warps and contorts to stand stark naked in front of them. Beneath her skin her muscles, ligaments, and tendons re-align. The transformation takes longer. She’s doing more than quick adjustments to her face. Her very build changes, the padding from buttocks and breasts moving to add mass to her biceps and quads. Everything is more defined. Brawler rather than dancer. And again, almost as soon as Ren’s face finalizes, she shifts once more. Her hair lightens and lengthens. Her skin changes from tan to porcelain. Her eyes shift from brown to blue. Same size, but there’s a youth to her that isn’t present in her other faces.

Leilani smiles at the pair of them.

“I do this,” she says, “but on people. I cut if I need to. But I can do without.”

GM: Changing her entire body takes longer. But Emily watches with boggled eyes throughout the minutes-long process.

“Oh my god,” she whispers.

“This… I can’t even begin to wrap my head around how many medical applications this could have.”

“If you can do it on people.”

Celia: “I can.”

“I do.”

GM: “What are the limits? Can you just… turn anything, into anything else?”

“Like, could you turn your feet into broccoli?”

Celia: Leilani giggles. She starts to shake her head. Then she pauses, drops onto the floor, and pulls her feet toward her. She doesn’t need to touch them to make it work, but she stares at the changes that take over. Her skin darkens to the green of the plant. Her flesh bubbles to form the tiny little florets on the end.

But it’s not a complete transformation. She shakes her head at the result, a foot-broccoli hybrid that no seven-year-old could ever be talked into eating no matter how much cheese it comes with.

“I can’t do bone,” she says, “and it’s still flesh. Touch it, see?”

GM: Emily dumbly touches it.

Celia: It’s definitely a foot.

“Wait,” Leila says.

The flesh hardens beneath Emily’s fingers.

As if someone had dried it out over years.

It becomes leathery, inflexible.

GM: “Okay, I could not ever be talked into eating this,” says Emily.

Celia: “Not even with cheeeeese?”

“Toe cheese.”

“Toe jam!”

Leila giggles.

GM: Emily makes a face.

“Gross.”

Celia: Leila lifts her foot to her mouth and gnaws on the hardened flesh with the flats of her teeth.

She makes a face.

“Gross,” she agrees.

It takes barely any time at all for her foot to become a foot again.

And for Leila to wave shyly at Diana before disappearing into the daughter she knows.

GM: Diana is leaning against Emily’s shoulder and looks like she’s half-nodded off.

Emily doesn’t look like she has the heart to wake her.

“Wow,” she repeats.

“Okay. I guess… if it’s safe, and you’ve done this sort of thing before… yeah, let’s fix Mom’s leg.”

“Or rather, ‘you fix Mom’s leg.’”

“I mean, I’ll help however I can, and definitely want to watch.”

“Just not sure how much I can do.”

Celia: “An extra set of hands is always useful.”

GM: “Okay. I’m not a real doctor yet, but I’ll do what I can.”

Celia: “Flesh work like this I don’t need to cut. But bone deep it’ll be quicker. Extra pair of eyes making sure nothing goes wrong, someone to monitor the vitals… it’s painful. I was thinking about knocking her out for it.”

“Though I’d prefer a local anesthetic.”

“Less complication.”

GM: Emily nods. “Yeah. Absolutely. This isn’t the 1800s. Way better to put her under, if there aren’t any side effects that will interfere with the operation.”

“No idea there. I’m just at a total loss to explain how this even works or what might interfere with it.”

Celia: “There’s a lot I want to show you,” Celia admits. “A lot I think we can do together. I was looking into that company you applied for, Delta, and I think you could do some good work there.”

GM: “Huh?” says Emily.

Celia: “…the, uh, the Delta Medical…?”

“I got a call that you applied.”

GM: “Er, sorry?”

Celia: “I received a call that you applied to work at Delta Medical Systems Inc. In the CBD. The biotech research company? They were asking for a reference.”

GM: “Huh. I never applied there.”

“But I’ve heard they do that.”

“Preemptively look into people they’re thinking of making offers to.”

“Heard they can also be pretty aggressive with those offers.”

Celia: “Mmm,” Celia says noncommittally. “How’s your residency coming along, anyway?”

GM: “It’s not. I haven’t finished med school yet, remember?” Emily says dryly.

“That comes after I graduate.”

“But med school’s crazy. I don’t know if I mentioned this, one of Dr. Crawford’s friends got attacked at his job.”

Celia: “What?”

“Attacked?”

GM: “Or, uh, was it an accident?”

“I’m sorry, I can barely think straight after everything lately.”

“Something happened to him and she brought it up again recently.”

Celia: “Huh. He okay?”

GM: “I don’t remember. Hope so.”

Celia: “Why would someone attack a doctor,” Celia muses.

GM: “There’s some fucked-up stories I could tell you there,” says Emily. “He’s also the parish coroner, though. Something Wilkinson. I guess people have even more reasons to get mad at him.”

Celia: “Oh. I think I heard about that. Was like… a body missing or someone died or something?”

GM: “Huh. That sounds bad.”

Celia: “Yeah. Haven’t heard much else about it. Coroner’s office is a good place to die, I guess.” A weak smile. “Hope Crawford is holding up all right.”

“You said you’re tight with her. Maybe she referred you to Delta?”

GM: Emily gives a faint smile. “She is. She’s tough.”

“But I’d be surprised there, she doesn’t like them.”

Celia: “Oh?”

GM: “I think they’ve stolen some people from Tulane. They’re a private company and I hear they pay really, really well.”

Celia: “Is that what you want? To work there?”

GM: Emily considers that. “Hadn’t thought about it. I want to help people. And from what I hear they’re doing some pretty cutting-edge research.”

“Little surprised they’d be interested in me, honestly, given my focus.”

“I’m doing ER medicine. Not as much of a research angle.”

Celia: “What’s their research on?”

GM: “I’ve heard everything from painkillers to cancer treatment to artificial organs and anti-aging.”

Celia: “…huh. That sounds…” like something she could do. Like something the Blood could do. “…really cool,” she finishes.

GM: “Yeah. If I wanted to go into research, I’d want it to be something with practical applications.”

“I want to help people.”

Celia: “You don’t think those are practical?”

GM: “Oh, no, I absolutely do.”

Celia: “Sounds like someone over there has taken an interest in what you can or want to do if they’re already headhunting.”

GM: “Yeah. Like I said, I’m just surprised they’d be after me given my focus.”

“Doesn’t hurt to keep my career options open, though. Did you say they called you about a reference?”

Celia: “Yeah. Job reference.”

GM: “Well, if you want to tell them I’m awesome, I’d be obliged. I guess they went after you because we weren’t legally related.”

“Hey, I bet I could get Mom to give me an awesome reference too.”

Celia: “Ha. Probably.”

“And I’d be happy to.”

GM: “Man, this feels like a hilarious cheat being able to use family members as job references.”

Celia: “I mean, hey, I’m technically your boss too.”

GM: “That’s riiiight. There we go. ‘Previous employer’ too.”

Celia: Which reminds her that she’s still sitting on the floor naked. She rises, pulling on her borrowed clothing.

GM: Emily snickers.

“I mean, salon, we’ve seen each other naked anyway.”

Celia: “Mm, trying to seduce the detective, won’t work if he’s seen everything I’ve got.”

“Gotta leave some to the imagination, yeah?”

GM: “Ah, yeah, gotta build up to it. Tease is better than immediate reveal. Unless you work at a salon. Then you give your boss or employees a vajacial.”

Celia: “Spread ’em open and really get to know ’em.”

GM: “So we’ve seen each other naked, and we’ve seen Mom naked. Only thing missing is Mom seeing us naked. Feels like there’s some incomplete symmetry there.”

Celia: “Let’s wake her up and flash her.”

“Though technically she’s seen me naked. Kid and all.”

GM: “Yeah, but that doesn’t count. Different body.”

Emily glances to her side. Diana is full-on asleep.

“Help me put her down gently? I don’t want to wake her right now.”

Celia: “Of course.” Celia moves to assist where she can, helping to lay Diana out on the bed with her head on the pillow.

GM: The woman is out like a stone. Celia not only lays down her mother against the pillow, she tucks her in beneath the blankets and moves Abigail to a better position too.

“Wow, you got some deft move-sleeping-people skills,” says Emily.

Celia: “Most people are asleep when I’m up,” Celia says with a wink.

GM: “Yeah. Fuck. I’m going to be a zombie at school.”

Celia: “Was just about to ask.” Celia flashes a wry smile. “Do you want to crash? I can amuse myself.”

GM: “There’s a lot I wanna talk about, but yeah. Later. I need sleep.”

Celia: “Same. I’ll be around tomorrow earlier. Hopefully.”

GM: “We should do the surgery during the weekend, by the way.”

Celia: “Oh. Yeah, we can do that.”

GM: “Just so Mom has time to recover.”

“Or, more time.”

Celia: “Makes sense.”

“Oh.”

“Can Robby do lessons at night?”

“For sword fighting.”

GM: “You wanna learn too?”

Celia: “Might as well.”

GM: “He said it’s better to learn hand-to-hand combat or how to shoot, and that swordighting is largely a hobby these days.”

“Because it’s hard to take a sword many places.”

Celia: “I guess. I don’t really know anyone to teach me how to fight better that I’m on good terms with right now. Hand-to-hand wise, I mean.”

“I also doubt I’d be carrying a sword anywhere.”

“Just meant like a weapon in general.”

“Blades are better against us.”

GM: “Oh, how’s that?”

Celia: “Blood. Healing properties. Bullet wounds just close back over. If you cut something off it takes time to re-attach it or regrow it.”

“Plus cutting the head off kills us and shooting us in the head doesn’t.”

GM: “No? There are guns that can pretty much blow up your entire head.”

Celia: “Okay,” Celia grants, “maybe those guns.”

GM: “What do you mean by a weapon, anyway? Like, knives?”

Celia: “I’m not saying we don’t take damage from them, just that the blades do more.”

“Yeah.”

“Or a stake.”

“Mostly stakes.”

GM: “Yeah, pretty sure Robby’s never used one of those.”

“I mean, I can ask if he knows, but my hunch is you won’t find much there outside of vampire hunter circles.”

Celia: “Yeah. I’d rather you not, to be honest. Wasn’t going to ask him about stakes, just thought the skill might translate.”

“But it’s no big.”

“Go get some sleep.”

GM: “Well, I can ask there too, about how well skill translates. I’m not a weapons nerd like he is.”

Celia: “If you can do it without tipping him off, sure. Otherwise I’m sure I can find a ghoul or another lick to practice with.”

Benji certainly hand’t minded rolling around on the floor with her.

GM: “Oh. Last thing. You’re gonna get Mom to quit the vampire heroin, right?”

“Because I don’t know why she said ‘thinking about it’ instead of ‘yes, I am quitting.’”

Celia: “That’s… complicated,” Celia says slowly, “and a discussion that should include her. If she wants to quit, I’m happy to help her. If she wants to stay like this, I’ll make it work. I don’t want her to get hurt because of me. And I don’t want the fact that she knows about this to get any of us into trouble if the wrong person finds out that she knows and isn’t blooded.”

“Same with you, to be honest.”

“Taking a risk here.”

“Which, uh, doesn’t feel great.”

GM: Emily rubs her shoulder. “Well, it feels pretty great to know the full and real you.”

“I felt like we were talking less for a while.”

Celia: “We were,” Celia acknowledges. “Hard to share.”

GM: “And lot of stuff not to share.”

“That thing you did with your body was beyond amazing.”

Celia: Celia smiles.

“Yeah. Not a lot of us can do that. The flesh work. It’s pretty cool. I guess I kind of thought… if you knew, you know, and wanted to learn… but you can’t do it as a mortal, is the only thing.”

GM: “I’d love to do it. I really, really, really would. I can’t even imagine all of the applications, especially now at 3 AM. But being a heroin addict is a big ‘no thanks’.”

“I’ve known addicts.”

“Saw a lot of drug abuse in the foster system and the restaurant industry.”

Celia: “I know. I… yeah. I know.”

“Maybe we can be research partners.”

GM: “And I’ve had a lot of people tell me I’m strong, but one adult I talked to when I was young, I forget who, said ‘no matter how strong you think you are, heroin is stronger than you’.”

“One of the better ‘stay off drugs’ warnings I heard.”

Celia: “There are other ways,” Celia points out.

GM: “You mean… becoming a vampire?”

Celia: “I… yes?”

GM: “How is it, all things told?”

“Net positive, net minus?”

Celia: “Mixed bag. I can do cool things. I like the idea of being able to do what I can do, and like I said, not a lot of people can. I’ve learned so much more stepping into this than I ever imagined was possible as a breather. I mean, I can turn into a cat. And a bird. I can fly. Literally fly through the air. I can tattoo people and give them powers. I don’t age. I live forever. The prince of the city is from like the 1200s. Can you imagine that? All that history, all that knowledge, everything you can learn. I’ve been to other worlds. Fairies are real. I’ve met them. So are werewolves. And other less awesome things.”

“But it’s… you know, I drink blood to survive. There are a lot of rules. Like. A lot. If I get caught in the wrong area of town I can get into trouble. People suck. Like not haha-suck-your-blood type suck, but in a ’we’re the popular kids and we don’t like you because you looked at us sideways’ suck. You can’t really trust anyone. You can’t eat. Or have sex. You have to lie to everyone you care about. Hunters are real and they’ve gotten their hands on me twice. I’ve been staked and tortured three times this weekend. There’s a monster inside of me that wants to fight, fuck, and feed. And that’s it. That’s all. Get off on the wrong foot and you’re pretty boned. Even people you thought liked you will tear you down if they’ve got an opportunity.”

“Everyone’s a liar.”

GM: “That does sound like a pretty mixed bag,” says Emily.

Celia: “And all of the older licks will push you around and expect you to take it, but only so far, and if you show too much teeth they’ll hurt you more and if you show no spine you’ll be a doormat forever so it’s a constantly balancing act.”

GM: “The 1200s, though? Geez, that’s amazing.”

Celia: “And I was objectively spoiled and I still… like it can all just be taken away, you know?”

GM: “Hm, like how, there?”

Celia: “Like what if my grandsire becomes prince and then he sires a bunch of childer and he doesn’t like me anymore and then I’m just kind of hanging out doing not much of anything.”

“Oh. Like. My domain. He gave it to me. He can take it back. Tell me I can’t feed on Bourbon. I’d have to go to like Rampart or something and there’s never enough blood to go around there.”

GM: “That sounds a little insecure. Mom didn’t love you less when she had Lucy.”

Celia: “Vampires don’t really love,” Celia says quietly.

GM: “You love.”

Celia: “Maybe that’s why I keep getting things wrong and hurting everyone.”

GM: “I don’t think loving people is getting anything wrong.”

Celia: “No? What about when that love makes me do hurtful things to other people to please someone? Or makes me do terrible things to protect someone I love, which just makes it worse?”

GM: “I haven’t known you to do anything like that.”

“But I will say lots of people are willing to do terrible things to protect the people they love.”

“If someone were trying to hurt Lucy, Mom would blow their brains out, no question.”

Celia: “Yeah, but what if it was like… someone kidnapped Lucy and told her to hurt some random person, or someone she cares for. What if someone took Lucy and said ‘break Emily’s spirit or I’ll break your daughter.’”

GM: “I don’t think Mom would take that lying down.”

“Not the new her.”

Celia: “No. But it’s more subtle than that. They’ll make you do things and then make you think it was your idea.”

“Or just pull strings.”

“So you never find out.”

“And then you wonder how much is you and how much is them and how much is the Beast and what if at heart you’re just an ugly person.”

“And you try to blame everyone else.”

“Even though it’s your fault.”

GM: “Are you speaking from experience, there?”

Celia: “…Yeah.”

GM: “That sounds pretty fucked. Also sounds like someone else was manipulating you.”

Celia: “I’d like to believe that. That it wasn’t my fault. But I ruined a perfectly decent person.” Celia lifts her shoulders in a shrug. “I lied and cheated and manipulated and didn’t trust, and that’s… that’s on me. It’s just fresh right now, I guess. Still getting over it.”

GM: “Is there any way you could make up for it?”

“To un-ruin them?”

Celia: “To what end? He hates me. He’ll never un-hate me.”

GM: “Doing the right thing.”

Celia: “And if the right thing gets me killed for acting against someone’s plans?”

GM: “Killed how? Can you do anything about that?”

Celia: “Maybe.”

“Just puts everyone I know in danger. You, Mom, Goose.”

GM: “How would it do that?”

Celia: “When we die,” Celia says, “we don’t generally use our mortal names. Some of us do, I guess, but most of us change them. Isabel went by Roxanne. Stephen goes by Roderick. I changed my face in addition to my name. But there are people who know who I am. The real me. Celia. They know about you. They know about Lucy. They know about Mom.”

Celia swallows.

“Mom has been used against me before. Thrown off the roof, remember? So… more of that. Or executed. Or bonded to someone else. Or just abused. And that’s tame. You, Mom, Lucy—you’re all kine. Cattle. You have no rights in our world. None. So long as we don’t draw undue attention from the mortal world we can pretty much do whatever to people like you and no one cares.”

“So if you piss off the wrong person and they know who you are, why wouldn’t they go after your family.”

She would.

GM: “Okay,” says Emily slowly. “So you think if messed up this manipulator’s plans by un-ruining a decent person, he’d go after us?”

Celia: “Yeah.”

GM: “I think this is a conversation we should have with Mom, but I don’t like the idea of you doing bad things because you think it’ll keep us safer.”

“And I do like the idea of you fucking up some manipulative asshole’s plans by doing what sounds like the right thing.”

Celia: Maybe she should take Emily to a party or two to show her what the licks are really like.

“We need code words or something,” she says after a minute. “The three of us. Phrases. To know we’re us and that someone didn’t steal my face or something.”

GM: “Okay. How’s, off the top of my head, ‘xangdoodlemorph’.”

Celia: “I was thinking something a bit more sophisticated…”

GM: “Like?”

“This is me, being all cool with the idea someone might ‘steal your face’.”

Celia: “Like a reference we can make in our opening lines and a response to the reference. Or like certain phrasing meaning different things on the phone or via text or something. Like… when I started at Tulane, Mom told me that if I ever needed her but wasn’t in a position to say so, to make a reference to dance rehearsal. Like ‘rehearsal is running late’ or something. And she’d know that I’m in trouble but can’t outright say it. Like when we were kids if we called because we didn’t want to sleep over or play anymore with our friends it was similar.”

GM: “Okay, how’s maybe a spa thing?”

“Since we’d plausibly talk about that anyway.”

Celia: “That could work.”

“We can iron out the details with Mom,” she adds. “I just don’t want either of you to ever be approached by someone who you think is me but isn’t.”

“Or, you know, if one of us is actually in trouble and can’t say.”

GM: “How will we know if someone is… impersonating you? Are there physical tells, or just them feeling wrong?”

Celia: “Depends on how they do it.”

“Hence the codes.”

GM: “Makes sense. Just wondering what to look for.”

“This sounds pretty paranoid.”

Celia: “…yeah.”

“I guess so.”

She lets the silence linger. This is why she’s losing everyone. Because she always expects the worst and doesn’t trust anyone.

“You should go to bed,” she finally says.

“I’ll wait for the detective. We’ll talk tomorrow.”

GM: ""You’re right. I’ve said I would how many times now?" Emily asks wryly.

“Oh, call McGehee, okay? So they can find a sub. Mom shouldn’t go in.”

Celia: “Sure thing.”

GM: Emily hugs her. “All right. Night. Love you.”

Celia: “Love you too, Emi.”


Tuesday night, 22 March 2016, AM

GM: About another hour passes before Celia gets a text from Pete saying he’s at the door.

Celia: She uses the time to make the call to McGehee for her mother. She leaves a polite voicemail that Diana and Lucy are both under the weather and won’t be in tomorrow (or rather later today), and leaves a note in her mother’s room to the same effect so that she doesn’t panic upon waking.

Celia checks the peep hole before she opens the door for him.

GM: It looks like him.

Celia: That doesn’t mean much.

Celia opens the door to let him in.

GM: He walks in and looks around.

“So.”

Celia: Celia closes the door behind him.

“So,” she echoes.

GM: “So, what’s the emergency?”

Celia: “Lucy overheard some things,” Celia says. “Sensitive lick things. Mom and I were hoping you could… erase it.”

GM: “What’d she hear?”

Celia: Celia gives him a brief overview. She keeps Emily’s name out of it. Abigail’s too. She mentions that she and Diana had been having a discussion and Lucy snuck up on them while they thought they were alone. It was tense. There was some chaos.

GM: “Okay,” says Pete. “I can erase this. Need a cover story if it scared or stressed her.”

Celia: “Would a sick pet work?”

GM: “You tell me. How upset has she been?”

Celia: “Very,” Celia admits.

GM: “How upset would a sick pet make her?”

Celia: “Depends on how sick. Could be maybe it got out and something happened to it. Mom was gonna have him stay with her friend a few days to ‘recover.’”

GM: “You tell me. How sick would be consistent with her emotional state?”

Celia: “It’d need to be pretty sick,” Celia says. “There was some vomiting. And a fire. A lot of crying.”

GM: Pete glances at the spot where a couch is missing.

Celia: “Need to order a new one.”

GM: “How did a couch catch on fire? I imagine your mother knows better than to have any open flames around you.”

Celia: Celia just kind of shrugs.

“Bit of a blur. I felt the heat and ran. Smoke alarm was going off. Got pretty crazy.” Celia nods toward a patch of carpet that also needs replaced.

“Maxen was here,” she adds. “Not at the time, but earlier. Lucy wanted to know why she couldn’t see him. Told her he’s not a particularly nice guy. Could… work it in, maybe, if you think it’ll help.”

GM: “Felt the heat from where?” Pete glances around. “I don’t see an apparent fire source.”

“Your mother doesn’t strike me as a smoker, either.”

“Place doesn’t smell like cigarettes anyway.”

“Much less with a kid in the house.”

Celia: Celia pauses. She’s aware of how stiff and awkward this whole thing is going between them. Aware of how high her guard is. Because of him, maybe. Or his sire. Or her grandsire.

She crosses her arms, then uncrosses them, and finally squares her shoulders.

“Your sire turned me in for infernalism,” she says bluntly, “and my grandsire thinks I’m a traitor. Where does that leave us?”

GM: “Ha. Ha ha ha,” Pete says flatly.

“You visit the interrogation room and you still don’t get it, Celia.”

“If Lord Savoy thought you were a traitor, you wouldn’t be standing here.”

“You’d be dead.”

Celia: Celia bites back a handful of retorts. She finally smiles.

GM: “You definitely fucked up, though, making a lick disappear whose death your grandsire ordered. What the fuck was he supposed to think?”

Celia: “That I tied up the loose end.”

GM: Pete looks at her incredulously.

Celia: Celia crosses her arms again.

“What,” she snaps, “I let Durant walk all over me? Continue to abuse and humiliate me? Let him torture me indefinitely because I fucked a few people? Nightly stakings and getting my arm taken off with a saw sounds great, Pete, and so does being beaten and put into a microwave when I piss him off, but I guess I just draw the line at being forced to sign over all my assets.”

GM: “No one gives a shit about your problems, Celia,” Pete snaps.

“Why the fuck are you still defending yourself after you wound up in the interrogation room? Do you think Lord Savoy was wrong and overreacting? Or that you did something boneheaded?”

Celia: He’s not the enemy.

That’s what she has to tell herself to keep the claws in. To keep her fangs in her mouth. To prevent herself from snarling in his face like she wants to do.

He’s not the enemy.

“Of course it was boneheaded,” she finally says.

GM:Roderick was ordered to take care of Gui. That was the plan. He and his friends would go to Flawless. Gui would die there. You,” Pete jabs, “messed up the plan. Lord Savoy doesn’t like his plans not going according to plan. And when he heard that his plan had not gone according to plan, and that Gui was missing and Roderick was kidnapped to boot, all without an explanation, you think he should have just assumed Celia was taking care of it? Despite not actually knowing where Gui and Roderick were? Oh, and Celia having feelings for Gui to boot?”

Celia: “Well maybe,” she snaps back, “they should have told me they were going to show up at my spa and murder someone.”

GM: “You weren’t trustworthy.”

Celia: Celia’s laugh lacks humor.

“What am I now?”

GM: “That’s partly up to me. So you tell me. How’d you fuck up?”

“Because I’d sure like to be able to say ‘Celia learned her lesson and isn’t going to pull this dumb shit again’ over ‘Celia is a spoiled childe who’s mad at the world and thinks her grandsire is making a big fuss over nothing.’”

Celia: For long moments Celia is quiet. If she were Diana she could burn a hole through the floor with the intensity of her gaze. But she’s not. She’s not Diana or Jade or Leila. She’s not Roderick’s girlfriend or her grandsire’s favorite or Pete’s friend.

Celia finally looks up. The rage is gone from her face. The stubbornness is gone from her jaw, from the set of her shoulders, from her eyes. She uncrosses her arms and she’s just Celia again. Alone. Afraid. Waiting for judgement.

“No,” she says quietly. “He isn’t overreacting. I fucked up. I got angry and stupid and put my personal problems ahead of his goals. No explanation excuses what I did or risked. I shouldn’t have let my personal shit get in the way of what he asked of me. All of this would have been avoided. He was right to bring me in.”

GM: Pete grunts.

“Better answer.”

Celia: Celia chews on her lip.

“I don’t suppose an apology is going to smooth things over. Or that asking to explain myself to you will win me any favors or do anything but waste your time.”

GM: “Right on both counts.”

“We don’t care why you did it.”

“Don’t do it again.”

Celia: “Can I talk to you?” she asks. “As a friend rather than as the warden.”

GM: “I don’t know,” says Pete. “Can you? I’ve come here at your request to do you favors, and I’m hearing stories about fires that don’t add up.”

“Fire and demons go together like peanut butter and jelly. I wonder if I should take a closer look through magic or ESP.”

“Maybe you have figured out how to summon a demon, despite my sire wisely not telling you, and called one up in here.”

Pete glances down at the floor. “This rug could cover up a lot of physical evidence.”

Celia: “I didn’t summon a demon. I wouldn’t have summoned a demon. I just… I didn’t want someone else to get in trouble.”

“Because I think my mom did it.”

GM: Pete glowers at Celia.

“Asking about soul eaters. Spinning bullshit about North looking through your head for soul eaters. Asking about demons. Asking how to summon demons. Paying four boons to my sire. You think I’m stupid? You think he’s stupid? You think we can’t tell you’re up to something? You don’t cough up that much prestation to satisfy idle curiosity.”

“I don’t think you’re an infernalist, but only by dint of ignorance. I think you could become one, though, if someone were dumb enough to tell you how. I think you’re naive and emotionally volatile enough to summon a demon, convinced you were doing it for a good reason or being selfless or whatever bullshit ignorant excuse before the whole thing blew up in tragedy.”

Celia: “I didn’t summon a demon,” Celia says hotly. “And I wasn’t going to. I wanted to know how they came from Hell to here.”

GM: “So that’s why you only asked him twice how to summon one, and only coughed up four boons.”

“He was completely right to turn you in.”

“I’d have turned you in, if you were anyone else.”

Celia: “Pete,” Celia says quietly, desperately, “I’m not going to summon a demon. I’m not an infernalist. I’m not going to become one. I was stupid to ask, I know that, but it’s not malicious intent.”

GM: Pete bends down, pulls up the rug, and presses his palm to the floor.

Celia: “Can you let me explain please?”

GM: “Floor tells me everything,” the detective grunts after a moment.

“Congratulations, this is the second Tremere in a week you made wonder if you’re an infernalist.”

Celia: It’s not the first time that Celia finds herself at a loss. Not even the first time tonight. She doesn’t know what to say. How to fix this situation that she created by inviting Pete over.

“I’m not an infernalist,” she says again. “I didn’t summon a demon. I was going to talk to you about it, but I guess you saw.”

GM: “What was it I said after our chat about soul eaters? ‘No one cares about satisfying your curiosity, and you are going to attract the wrong kind of attention if you bring these things up with other licks.’”

“Gosh, it looks as if Pete turned out to be completely right over that one.”

Celia: Gosh, who knew, people are smarter than Celia.

Gosh, who knew, Celia is disposable.

Gosh, who knew, Celia is useless now that she’s gotten Roderick over to her grandsire’s side.

Gosh, who knew, Caroline was right when she told Jade that she could demand her head if she threw in with Savoy.

Like Roderick had with Gui.

Life is cheap.

He’d told her.

And hers is useless now.

Or had it always been?

She picks at that old scab until it bleeds. Stupid. Useless. Whore.

I want to be better.

But she’s a stupid. Useless. Whore.

There is no better. This is her existence. This is her. Her way of being. Stupid. Useless. Whore. If she can’t fuck it she can’t pull one over on it because she’s too stupid to think of a way to solve problems that doesn’t involve spreading her legs, which makes her useless as anything except a bed warmer.

Except licks don’t even like sex. Not that way. Which makes her doubly useless.

She’d laugh, but she’s barely holding on as it is.

At her side her fingers curl. Her nails dig into her palm until the voices in her head begin to retreat.

“Yes,” she says. “You were right. I should have listened.”

What else is there to say?

GM: Jade wouldn’t have these thoughts.

Jade is confident and bold and vicious, and all the things a lick needs to be to survive and thrive.

Pete grunts again.

“You going to leave these things alone?”

Celia: Jade isn’t in control. Celia is.

“Yes,” she says again. “I’m… I’m sorry, Pete. I won’t dig into them again. If you tell me to leave something alone, I will. If Lord Savoy tells me to make sure something is done, I’ll do it. No more stupid mistakes.”

“No more personal problems getting in the way.”

GM: “Good. I’m not teaching you magic.”

“I do you more than enough favors as it is.”

Celia: One by one the pillars she has come to rely on continue to fall.

“I understand,” she says quietly.

The rest of her questions die in her throat.

GM: “Now, speaking of favors. Lucy. Where is she?”

Celia: Celia leads him down the hall to Lucy’s room. Quietly, she opens the door.

GM: She finds the girl asleep in her bed. The bunny nightlight once again fails to keep out the monsters.

But there are worse monsters that could enter her room.

“When are the memories she needs removed?” Pete asks quietly.

Celia: Perhaps the unbroken line of salt they’d stepped over keeps out the worst of them. Celia doesn’t ask if that advice from his sire is accurate.

“Last night and tonight.”

GM: “That salt will raise questions from her and Emily.”

Celia: “Will it keep her safe?”

GM: “From some things, and only through this door.”

“You and I obviously have no difficulty stepping over it.”

Celia: “Mom had a vision that Maxen took her,” Celia says quietly, “so I thought if the possession thing was real it might stop him from getting in.”

GM: “Only through the door. Won’t do anything for the windows if they’re not covered.”

“And won’t do anything for her or your sister’s questions.”

Celia: “I’ll find another way to keep her safe.”

GM: “Might as well clean it up now. It’s useless if someone steps on or disturbs it.”

Celia: Celia disappears to find a broom and dustpan. She’s back with both a moment later.

“Are there wards,” she asks in a low voice as she bends to clean the salt, “that would protect from those things?”

GM: “Sure. All a question of how long they last, how big an area they cover, and how obtrusive they are.”

Celia: “Can I… pay you for one? For this house?”

GM: “Your sisters would notice a ward that covered this entire house.”

Celia: “Oh. I don’t know why I thought they’d be undetectable to breathers.” A pause. The salt line breaks as she sweeps it with the hand brush she’d found, on her knees in the doorway.

“What about just a room?”

GM: “They’re not subtle. Unless you have something to cover them with, they’re obviously occult-looking runes and symbols.”

“They’re drawn in blood, too.”

Celia: So much for her “white paint on white walls” idea.

“What if you put something like wallpaper over it? They still work?”

GM: “As long as it doesn’t disturb the integrity of the designs and disrupt their flow of energies. Paint and wallpaper is usually a no.”

Celia: “Don’t suppose they could be hidden and uncovered as needed. Like a panic button. Dormant until they’re exposed.”

GM: “They can run out of juice and be inactive that way. But if they’ve been ruined via physical disturbance, they need to be re-done and re-empowered.”

“An untrained person can’t ruin a ward and then fix it themselves. The whole thing needs to be re-done by a thaumaturge.”

Celia: Celia looks up at him. She opens her mouth, as if to ask if he’ll reconsider teaching her, but shuts it again without saying a word and returns to cleaning the salt.

GM: Pete waits until she’s done.

“If you’re wanting to protect your sister’s room against demons, I’d need to draw an uninterrupted line throughout it, and you’d need to find a way to make sure she wouldn’t ever notice or disturb that line. You would pay for the ward’s cost in juice and pay that cost again every year and a night to reinforce it.”

Celia: Celia rises, dustpan full of salt in her hand. She stares down at the white crystals that keep evil at bay.

“Am I overreacting?” she finally asks, looking back to him. “Maxen mentioned a demon, Mom mentioned a vision, now I’m four boons deep to your sire and being called an infernalist and…” She trails off.

“I want to keep her out of all this. Safe and happy. I’ll pay.”

GM: Pete shrugs. “Your father’s untrustworthy and vision from your mom sounds thin.”

Celia: “The other part of it came true.”

GM: “That being?”

Celia: “The falling.”

GM: Celia gets a blank look.

Celia: She’d told him about it already.

GM: The detective’s expression doesn’t change.

Celia: Trust. Right? That’s what she learned tonight?

“The roof,” she reminds him. “She freaked out after a dance lesson and started sobbing and clinging to me and said she had the worst feeling, like something terrible was going to happen. The first part of it was that she was falling. And she did. When she was thrown. The second part was that Maxen came to take Lucy away, that she was screaming and begging him not to but she couldn’t get to Lucy.”

GM: “Ah, that’s right,” Pete seemingly recollects. “Interesting. I’d be inclined to dismiss that if it hadn’t come partly true.”

Celia: “I thought if he was lying about the exorcism I could figure out how to defeat him,” Celia says a little lamely. “If he’s not human anymore. Your sire said they’re good at lying, and he said pretty much everything I wanted to hear, so…” She trails off.

GM: “I will say that wards aren’t guaranteed to keep out anything, won’t keep out anything the ward doesn’t specifically include—like, for instance, licks and scumbag ordinary breathers—and won’t alert you if anything happens. I’d invest in a quality home alarm system linked to your phone.”

Celia: Celia is quiet for a moment. “What about keeping sound in? Or preventing eavesdropping, rather. Lucy likes to sneak around and while there are other places that I can talk to my mom, it’d be convenient if we didn’t have to get in the car and drive every time we needed to discuss something.”

“So this doesn’t happen again with her.”

GM: “So don’t drive. Talking about lick things in a small house with two breathers is unwise.”

“How you got into this mess, isn’t it?”

Celia: “Yeah. Alarm system then. Guess it makes sense to use normal things instead of hoping magic fixes it all.”

GM: “If you have the juice to spare, and can guarantee your sister won’t see and disrupt the wards, those won’t hurt. They also may not help, and I’d not be inclined to trust anything out of your father’s mouth.”

Celia: “How much juice?”

GM: “Anywhere from around half to a full human body’s worth, renewed every year.”

Celia: “I can get it.”

“Probably not tonight, but I can get it.”

“What else?” she asks. “What else do you want for it, so I don’t keep asking you for favors?”

GM: “You paid an arm and a leg to my sire for a service that cost him nothing. I’m sure he’ll think of something.”

Celia: Celia shakes her head.

“I’m asking you, Pete. I’ve been…” She pauses, running a hand through her hair. “Selfish. And stupid. And needy. And I keep asking you things, and you’ve never really asked for anything back. I do your face, and I did the work on Tantal, and I’m not saying let’s nickel and dime each other, but I don’t want this to be a one way thing. I fucked up recently. I’d like to start fixing it. I don’t want to be a spoiled mooching childe.”

GM: “Don’t forget the bullshit spinning over everything from soul eaters to couch fires,” says Pete. “That’s part of why no magic.”

Celia: Celia looks back down at the salt she’d gathered from the floor as if expecting to find the answers to her unlife’s problems written across its surface.

Perhaps blessedly, it stays blank and still.

“You’re right,” she says. “I had a chat with my mom earlier. About lying. And not trusting people. It doesn’t really matter why I did it, just that I did. Like you said earlier about Lord Savoy. We don’t judge others by their intentions, just their actions.” She glances back toward the Tremere. “An apology probably isn’t worth anything to you, but I am sorry. For trying to lie to you. For digging into things you told me to leave alone. And for causing headaches. I appreciate everything you’ve done for me, I… guess I just… wanted to be useful to you. And to him. And to stop disappointing you.”

Because she doesn’t have a dad and she never had much of a sire and he’s the closest thing she’s got to either and every time he effects a sigh or grunts at her she feels that much smaller. But she doesn’t say that. She keeps it inside where it can’t hurt.

GM: Technically, she’s had a dad.

Just not a very good one.

Her sire loves her, though, in a way Maxen never did. He does. She just needs to be worthy of it. Worthy of him.

Pete grunts.

“There any other lies and headaches I should know about while I’m here?” he asks.

Celia: Celia disappears another moment to dispose of the dustpan and broom. She tells herself she’s not running from the question, just giving herself time to decide if he means personal headaches or faction-wide headaches.

She decides to tell him both.

“I was picked up by the Guard on Saturday and questioned at Perdido House,” she says when she gets back. “I cut a deal to avoid execution. I haven’t fulfilled the terms yet. I suppose that’s a personal headache. One of my ghouls is dead and two are missing, which is another personal headache. There was a spy at Elysium on Sunday and I’ve been unable to locate him, partially due to lack of manpower with the missing ghouls.”

What else?

“Um. Mostly personal headaches, I guess. Family stuff.”

GM: Pete has closed the door to Lucy’s room by the time she’s back. He walks out to the living room with her.

“I was going to ask about that. Not much reason they’d normally let a captive Bourbon go.”

“What was the deal, who was the spy, and does this family stuff break any Traditions or cause Lord Savoy any headaches?”

Celia: “I told you about the thing with Guilbeau, the luck charm? I have to, ah, get it to them. But I have to raise Marie first for him to do the spell, and the Setite I thought I was making headway with is… well I’m not. So Draco is asking for me, otherwise I might just go to Camille, since, ah, I imagine kidnapping one of the snakes to interrogate is a no-go. Guard took my blood, I’m not really sure what the penalty is for not paying up.”

Celia pauses. She makes a gesture toward a chair if he wants to sit. She perches on the edge of the couch.

“Spy is a hunter, I believe. I have his ID and wallet, but the face he was wearing wasn’t his. Belonged to a friend of mine in another city. Found out recently he and some of his krewe were killed by hunters. I grabbed him after Elysium but Agnello was there and… yeah.”

“The, uh, family stuff…”

Celia trails off. Trust. Right? That’s what this is about? Show that she can be responsible by admitting she’d messed up? Or does messing up in the first place prove she’s not responsible?

“It… breaks a Tradition,” she says quietly.

GM: Pete sits down.

He gives a dark look at her first news.

“Don’t get tangled up with snakes. That’s a patently terrible idea.”

Celia: “I don’t know how else to break the curse.”

GM: “Then get the charm another way. Don’t get involved with snakes. It will not end well.”

Celia: Celia twists her hands on her lap.

“Durant is involved with them. That’s… I mean that’s part of why I panicked last night and things went off the rails, because there were at least two. And Camille… knows. That I’m Dicentra.”

GM: “Durant is foolish.” He glowers at her next admission. “So you both have that in common.”

Celia: “I assumed Lord Savoy set him up with them. Is that not the case?”

“He found another night doctor rather quickly, is all.”

GM: “That’s not your concern,” says Pete.

Celia: “I wasn’t trying to pry. I just…”

She considers her words.

“When I was at Perdido,” she says finally, “I thought maybe it would have been better if I’d not made the deal and let them kill me. Grandsire got Durant, and the Guard would look like it was executing licks for rumors. I reached out to him. With the blood thing. And I thought maybe he knew I was going to die and took other courses of action for Durant.”

GM: Pete grunts.

“As far as this hunter. He’s probably noticed his wallet’s missing and long gone by now, if he has a lick of sense.”

Celia: She doesn’t point out that Pete hadn’t denied it.

GM: Pete doesn’t point out that he hadn’t confirmed it either.

“Wonder if it was a plant or he was just dumb.”

Celia: “I hit him with star mode a few times.”

GM: Pete shrugs. “Look into it or not, as you prefer. If this happened at Elysium, it’s not Lord Savoy’s problem.”

“But as far as something that is. Let’s hear about this broken Tradition.”

Celia: Every instinct inside of her screams at her to lie.

She’s already fucked up. What will they do to her for this? What will Pete do? Turn her in? Put her back in the interrogation room and ask how she ended up so stupid? Execute Emily to teach her a lesson about keeping secrets? Give her to Durant and his new friends to turn into a plaything, force her into another slutty outfit with heels that don’t fit so she can serve as vessel at some party?

A thousand and one excuses, explanations, and fibs come to mind. She could spin any of them. She could spin all of them. She could fall all over herself explaining why things happened the way they did and how it’s not her fault and that she’s really not a fuckup, really, she can prove it, just give her a chance, another chance, a third or fourth or fifth or however many she’s on now, she won’t do the same dumb things again, really, she won’t, she swears it—

The tips of her nails dig into the remnants of the fabric on the couch.

“The first,” she finally says. “Mom doesn’t think she wants to be a ghoul anymore. And… Emily knows.”

This is why they don’t keep families.

GM: Pete takes that in.

He doesn’t ask how.

He doesn’t ask why.

He just asks:

“How long, now?”

Celia: “Last night.”

GM: “Okay,” says Pete.

“Your mother can only quit if she’s okay dying or becoming a lick. That’s three options.”

“Emily can have a long stare into my eyes, have a drink of your blood, become a lick, or die. Four options.”

“So. What’s it gonna be for them?”

Celia: The unsaid option is that Celia can take her family and run. Flee the city. Flee the state. Change all of their identities, uproot their lives, start over somewhere else.

And look constantly over their shoulders for knives in the dark.

“I can’t Embrace either one without breaking more Traditions,” Celia points out, voice hollow. “Mom will stay a ghoul. And… I guess Emily will too.”

GM: If they’d even be willing to.

“Oh, you certainly wouldn’t Embrace either one,” says Pete. “Lord Savoy would pick their sires. And whether they were to receive the Embrace at all. Though, granted, he rarely says no to more licks in the Quarter.”

“And yes. Either of them would be Quarter Rats.”

Celia: “They deserve better than that. Better than… this.” She gestures vaguely.

“Are you going to tell him,” she asks.

GM: “No.”

“I will, if he directly asks me. I’m not going to lie to him. But I doubt your breather family weighs upon his mind.”

Celia: “I thought I had a handle on all of this,” Celia says numbly. “Years without any incidents. And then in the span of two weeks…” She runs one fist into the other and flexes her fingers, making explosion noises with her mouth.

She wants comfort. She wants him to tell her it’s okay. That she’s not a fuckup. That she’s not stupid. That her grandsire doesn’t think she’s be better suited to just playing with makeup and leaving all the heavy thinking to the licks like Durant with college degrees from real schools. She wants her boyfriend back. She wants Pete to pat her on the head and call her champ and go back to sitting in his office teasing him about dating her mom. She wants her ghouls. She wants to feel like she matters.

She stares across the living room at him but doesn’t say any of it. He’s not going to give her what she wants. No one is. Not anymore.

“Thanks,” is all she says.

GM: “Was it years?” says Pete. “Car crashes don’t happen in seconds. The vehicle has to build up speed first. But everything is fine until the collision.”

He rises from his seat.

“Let’s fix your younger sister’s memories.”

Celia: “Is your intent to make me feel like a colossal fuckup that will never be able to do anything right,” she asks, “because I’d love to be able to put this behind me and move forward and make something better of myself in my grandsire’s service.”

GM: Pete turns an angry glare on her.

“This kind of Masquerade breach can get licks executed in Vidal’s territory.”

“I just said I wasn’t even going to tell your grandsire.”

“Oh, and after giving you home security advice—by the way, get something with a motion sensor, but cameras are good too for the psychological value—and showing up on request to fix your sister’s memories. And volunteering to ward her room. At no cost beyond the blood it costs me. After catching you spinning more bullshit.”

“You’re going to complain I’m making you feel bad?

“Fucking apologize.”

Celia: “That’s not—” Celia cuts herself off. How had this gone so far off the rails? When had she decided that every time she opened her mouth she’d say something dumber than before and alienate everyone instead of just most people?

The monster inside of her gnashes its teeth at the demand. But the girl—and she’s the girl now, there’s no denying that—knows she’s wrong. That she has been wrong this whole time. And if it were anyone but Pete she wouldn’t back down, not in her own home.

But it is Pete.

And she is wrong.

Celia dips her head, eyes on the floor. Excuses and explanations come to mind. The desire to make him see how bad she has it, how dark this hole is that she’s in, how she didn’t mean to. But that’s all they are. Stories. Excuses. Ways to foist off the blame onto someone else rather than take responsibility for herself.

Is she a lick or not?

Is she Savoy’s grandchilde or not?

Is she worthy of the blood or is she not?

Celia looks up. The anger and righteousness in her eyes has been swept away, the chaotic storm calmed. She is Celia Flores, childe of Donovan, grandchilde of Lord Antione Savoy, and she will not embarrass her bloodline further.

She will not give Warden Lebeaux a reason to write her off as a waste.

“Pete,” she says quietly, “I’m sorry. You are absolutely right, and I am wrong. I apologize for lashing out at you. I was angry and afraid and let that rule my tongue when you have been nothing but lenient and merciful with me. Thank you for your help. For tonight and for everything else you’ve done. You’ve always been willing to assist and I am grateful that I have you. I’m sorry for my behavior tonight. For the past few weeks. Please allow me to make amends for the disrespect in whichever way you deem necessary. I promise that this will not happen again. I will not be a source of trouble for you or Lord Savoy.”

GM: “That’s what we hope,” says Pete, seemingly placated.

“As far as amends, you can start right now. Go talk to your sister. The older one. Tell her the way things are going to be.”

“Well, do more than tell, I suppose.”

“If it goes badly, I’ll be on hand for Plan B.”

Celia: “Yes, sir. Thank you.”


Tuesday night, 22 March 2016, AM

Celia: Celia does not delay further. She leaves the room, trusting that Pete is going to do right by Lucy with what they talked about, and slips into the night to cross the tiny courtyard and knock on Emily’s door.

GM: Pete takes out his phone, but looks like he’s staying where he is in the living room.

A very groggy-looking Emily opens her door a few moments after Celia knocks.

“Whuzzit?”

“Tryin’a sleep.”

Celia: “I’m sorry for keeping you up,” Celia says, “but we need to speak. It’s urgent. Can I come in?”

GM: Emily rubs her head and steps aside. “’Kay. Sure.”

“Should we wake up Mom?”

Celia: She’ll be mad if she wakes up and Emily is a ghoul. Mad if she wakes up and Emily is dead. Mad if she wakes up and Emily is Embraced.

“Probably,” Celia sighs, “but there’s company here and I’m on thin ice.”

What kind of lick can’t make their own decisions and has to ask their mom for help? All the same, she wants it. Their situation is highly unusual, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Just different.

“I’d prefer to let her sleep. She’s been through enough tonight.”

GM: Emily takes that all in.

“Okay, what’s the situation?”

Celia: Celia steps inside and closes the door behind her. She gestures for Emily to have a seat.

“The warden is here to alter Lucy’s memories of the past two nights. He is doing me a huge favor at no cost. But he knows about you. And he has agreed to keep it to himself so long as I do the right thing. I am going to offer you my blood so that you become a ghoul, like Mom. I will tell absolutely no one what you are, and you will tell absolutely no one what you are. I can give you a mark to hide it.”

Celia paces.

“I will teach you what I know. I will show you how to shift. I will share my knowledge of the body with you and allow you to do the things that I can do. I will not treat you as a ghoul, but as my sister. I will not ask anything of you that you are not willing to do. I will protect you. Your life will not be interrupted or put in further danger. If you decide you want to see what vampire society is like, I will create a new identity and cover for you. If you don’t, I will not force it on you.”

“Tomorrow evening I will search for the alchemists and learn how to dilute the addictive properties of the blood so that there are no complications to your life or chosen path.”

She halts, turning toward her sister.

“Emily,” she says softly, “this isn’t an ideal situation. The alternative is death or memory loss.”

GM: “Wait a second,” Emily says slowly.

“We had a whole conversation about this. About blood being vampire heroin. About not wanting to be a drug addict.”

“I don’t know a lot about all of… this, Celia. Your whole world. But I saw the way Mom looked at that blood.”

Celia: “In any other domain I would already be on my way to the executioner’s block and you would be put down. He has given me a chance to do right by you.”

GM: “Don’t care,” Emily answers stubbornly. “Let’s find another option.”

“What’s behind door #3, memory loss?”

Celia: “He’d make you forget all of this. You wouldn’t know why Mom suddenly found her spine. You wouldn’t know why I’m never around. I’d resume lying to you about my activities. I’d distance myself from you to avoid anything like this happening again.”

GM: “But I thought you told me all this because there was just so much weirdness and you figured I’d put something together…?”

“I didn’t fucking believe it when Mom found her spine. People don’t just change like that on a dime.”

“I’m still trying to wrap my head around how exactly that happened.”

Celia: “I’d like to be able to share that with you. All of it. Everything. Which is why I’m offering you the blood instead of asking him to erase it. But you’re right. You might figure it out again. So I’d… I’d probably stop coming around. In a few months or years I might fake my death. You wouldn’t have anything to question after that.”

“It’s what most of us do. What I should have done.”

GM: “…Celia, that is incredibly fucked up to ask me to pick between losing you and starting a drug habit,” says Emily.

“Like. Seriously one of the most fucked up things I’ve ever heard.”

Celia: “My other option is to watch them kill you,” Celia says quietly.

GM: “Then maybe we can come up with some other options.”

“Like, okay, the warden very thoughtfully wants me to get started on vampire heroin.”

“Why not just lie to him?”

Celia: “Because he’s a warlock and has ways of ferreting out the truth.”

GM: “Does he want me to take a drug test? Piss in a cup and see if if it pings yes for vampire heroin?”

Celia: “No, Emily. He won’t need to. He’ll read your mind. He’ll take your blood. He’ll read the psychic impressions in this room to see that we’d talked about lying to him.”

GM: “Do we know for sure he’s gonna do all those things?”

Celia: “Ordinarily, I’d say no. But this time? Yes. He’ll make sure I’ve done it.”

GM: “So can we fool him?”

“Because you can fool drug tests.”

“And I’ll admit there’s a lot here I don’t know, but is he seriously going to do three separate tests on me?”

“Like, is it much time or hassle or money to do them all?”

“Even a $30 drug test is a pain in the ass if you’re shelling out $90 and collecting extra piss samples for three tests.”

Celia: Celia shakes her head. “He won’t need to do all three. Even one of them will suffice.”

GM: “Okay, so can we fool one?”

“Like, give him Mom’s blood or something else?”

Celia: Lie to the warden. Lie to her grandsire. Lie again. Pick her kine family over her blood family. Pick breathers over her covenant. Show them that they’re right not to trust her.

Betray her family.

Again.

“Emily,” Celia says gently, “I know you’re scared about becoming addicted. I will do everything I am capable of doing and look into every avenue and path and pay anything I need to pay in order to prevent that from happening. I won’t let this interrupt your life.”

Celia squeezes her hand.

“My grandsire has a claim to the throne,” she continues in a quiet voice. “Once he becomes prince he’ll be in charge of the entire city. If you want to join me as a lick I will ask for permission and do it the right way. We’ll find you the proper sire and you won’t need to worry about being hunted down as a bastard. And if you don’t want that, we won’t.”

“I love you, Emi. I’m asking you to trust me. Please.”

GM: “Celia…” Emily says slowly, “I do trust you. I love you, too. But you didn’t actually answer my question.”

Can we fool a drug test?”

“Or, that thing you did earlier. Where you found out my memories had been… fucked with, and got them back.”

“Could we just do that again?”

Celia: They could. She hasn’t told anyone about the memory manipulation she can do. Pete has no reason to suspect that she’s able to bypass his ability to steal memories.

She’s thought about telling him. About offering her services as interrogator should they ever need it. Another useful trick in her grandsire’s arsenal.

So far she hasn’t mentioned it. Just to Durant, who blew her off and hadn’t believed her anyway.

“It is possible to fool a drug test,” Celia says hesitantly, “but it’s not guaranteed and there will be no second chance. I’m unwilling to risk your life on a chance. But I have… another idea. A compromise, of sorts.”

GM: “Okay, what’s your idea?”

“And what would happen if we failed to fool the drug test?”

Celia: “You’d be killed or forced into becoming a ghoul anyway.”

“Probably someone else’s.”

“Who would use and abuse you as they saw fit.”

GM: “Wow, fuck that.”

“Fuck this warden guy, too.”

Celia: “If there was no risk of addiction, would you consent to becoming a ghoul?”

GM: “Uh, sure, but you said this stuff was stronger than heroin.”

“And you can’t use heroin recreationally. It’s just too addictive.”

“The line between recreational drug use and drug addiction can be really blurry anyways.”

Celia: “He’s actually one of the nice ones,” Celia says, “and has helped me out of plenty of terrible situations in the past. If I hadn’t…” Celia cuts herself off before she accepts another invitation to a pity party. “It’s my fault we’re in this mess. Not his. He’s just doing his job, and he’s being more lenient and merciful than I deserve.”

GM: “Yeah, well, you’ll forgive if I don’t share your glowing assessment right now.”

“’Cuz he could always just choose not to do his job.”

Celia: “He might have once. But I created this problem.”

“I’m going to have him remove your memories with the caveat that I will unlock them if I can find a way to make the blood not addictive. I will find a way to stay in your life even if you don’t know about me being a lick. Is that fair to you?”

GM: “Uh, how likely is it that you could make the blood non-addictive?”

“But, okay, you don’t want to fake your death even if I forget all of this?”

Celia: “Same probability that vampires are real and I can turn into a cat and others can fly.” Celia shrugs. “Anything is possible.”

“But I won’t fake my death even if you forget.”

“If I can’t make it work, if I can’t make you a ghoul without the risk of addiction, I’ll stick around anyway and just be extra careful.”

GM: Perhaps another’s eyes and ears would be fooled.

Celia’s are not.

Her mother might be pretending otherwise, but she is awake and listening.

Celia: Celia could pretend, too. Say she hadn’t realized. Lie again, let this fester, try to hide it.

Or stop running like a coward at the first sign of dissension and face things head on.

“That sound okay to you, Mom?”

GM: Celia’s mother slowly gets up.

“Oh, Mom, we didn’t want to wake y…” starts Emily.

“This was worth waking for,” Diana says heavily.

“We are not putting Emily on the blood. Not unless you find a proven way to make it non-addictive. I don’t know if that’s possible or not.”

“Right, that was my thought too,” says Emily.

“I don’t know if this is going to just be as easy as telling Emily to forget,” says their mother.

“I listened good with Caroline.”

“She said the things vampires can do, to erase memories, can’t erase feelings.”

“That was why we needed a story about the cats getting sick with Lucy.”

Celia: “I had a cover for Emily planned.”

GM: “What’s that?”

“Because, sweetie, Emily has been on an absolute rollercoaster of feelings.”

Celia: “We got into an argument on Friday night when Henry came over for dinner. I found out that she and Stephen slept together. I got mad, accused her of being a whore, then fired her.”

GM: “Uh, that’d definitely inspire some… strong feelings,” says Emily.

“I’d have probably said fuck you, I’m graduating in a couple months anyway, I’m gonna start my residency this summer.”

“Is that the best you got?”

Celia: “It will damage our relationship. You’ll think I’m a drama queen and better not to be around. I’ll keep my distance. Lucy will be safe. You’ll be safe. In a few months we’ll move past it. You’ll have used it as an excuse to drink heavily and blur the past few nights. Mom’s change is explained by watching us fight.”

GM: “Nah, I wouldn’t get smashed over that. I’d want to rub in your face how little it meant to get fired from a job I’d have had to leave anyway.”

“Girls, do not start a fight over a pretend fight,” their mother says dryly.

Celia: “Did you?” Celia asks, head canted to one side. “Did you sleep with him?”

GM: “Girls,” Diana repeats.

“Have that out later if you want to.”

Celia: “We broke up. He put me in a microwave. Cut my arm off. Tried to make me sign over my assets. Called me stupid. Made me watch him fuck someone else.” Celia shrugs. “So I’m just curious now.”

GM: “Wait, what?!” says Emily.

Diana stares at those words with a very stern look.

“Wow,” says Emily. “Jesus. I’m sorry I introduced you to him. I really thought he was a decent guy.”

Celia: “He was. I loved him. He loved me. But I cheated on and lied to him, among other things going wrong.” Celia shrugs. “Long story, I’ll tell you some night. Right now we need to figure out you.”

GM: “He is no longer welcome in this house,” says Diana.

“And yes. As horrific as all that sounds, right now we need to work out how to stop something horrific from happening to Emi.”

“I am not an expert on… what do you even call this. How vampires invade people’s heads and change their memories.”

Celia: “Stiffs call it the lordly voice. Since, you know, they run the circles and all, makes them feel powerful and in charge. Mesmerism. Domination. I mostly just call it mindfucking or mind control.”

GM: “Okay. Mind control. I am not an expert on mind control-”

“I prefer mindfucking,” says Emily.

“-so, do you think that story would work? Stop it from being ‘a scab’ Emily would keep picking at?”

Celia: “Probably. I’ll say some hurtful things, like that I seduced Robby or something, things that are obvious lies. So the disbelief she’s been feeling will have some basis.”

GM: “Well, having a bad fight with you doesn’t sound fun,” says Emily. “And… so does forgetting all of this, honestly. This side of you. Everything you’ve told me. I want to remember it. The shit you did with your body, yeah, and the fact that vampires and god knows what else is real, but also just… this side of you, like I said. It felt like we were growing apart and didn’t really talk anymore. You were never around, except for work or family dinners, and we weren’t really just hanging out. I thought you were purging and not telling me about it. I mean, things were good between us, it just… felt like we were moving apart. Not being sisters who could tell each other anything. Getting drunk with you and prank-calling Stephen together was just really fun and I don’t want to lose that.”

Emily looks a bit sad at that.

Maybe more than a bit.

No, definitely more than a bit.

“But going back to how things used to be sounds better than developing a heroin habit.”

“Or dying.”

Celia: “I’m sorry,” Celia says quietly. “I… I messed up, Emily. Mom. I messed up big. I wish I hadn’t messed up and that you could keep your memories and stay human. I’m sorry that you’re paying for my mistakes.”

GM: Her mom rubs her back. “We’re making the best of a bad situation, sweetie. However we can.”

“Though what if we just tell this warden ‘no’?”

“Fair point,” says Emily. “I mean, we could just tell him to pound sand. What happens?”

Celia: “The warden is Pete, Mom.”

GM: “Doesn’t change a thing.”

“I liked him, when we met him, and I appreciate what he did for us, but Emi will always come first.”

“I bet that’s where you’d say ‘I did not give birth to him’, but you can’t say that about me, can you?” smirks Emily, slinging an arm around her mom.

“Lookit me, ruining all your good lines being adopted.”

Celia: “Best case scenario? He does it anyway. Worst case, he brings me in, locks me up, executes Emily, turns you over to a new domitor, I die… you know, fun things.”

“I’ve become a headache,” she says bleakly, “you don’t generally give them the benefit of the doubt after they mess up.”

GM: Whatever smile Diana might have managed at Emily’s words dies utterly with Celia’s.

“So what if we stop him?”

“You said these vampire groups were like gangs, though,” says Emily. “Does he have many buddies?”

Celia: “Yes. He does. He works for my grandsire. My grandsire controls the Quarter.”

“If we stop him, if I use lethal force, then we’re all dead.”

“They hunt us down.”

“He knows who I am. He knows my other identities. He knows I can shift.”

“If I weren’t blood, I have no doubt my grandsire would have put me down for messing up already.”

GM: “All right, that kinda sounds like a lot to bite off and I’ll admit I have no idea what we’d be getting into,” says Emily.

Diana’s eyes just look flinty. Her spine looks tall and stiff.

“Mom. You can back down or fight another day without being a doormat again,” Emily tells her quietly.

Celia: “I just need to show them they can trust me again. Things will go back to normal. They’ll get better. I won’t… won’t be afraid of constantly making mistakes anymore.”

GM: “I don’t like backing down from anything,” says their mom, frankly. “But if both of you think that is for the best… I will relent. And not stand up to the warden.”

Her eyes do not look pleased at the concession.

Emily rubs her shoulder.

“Sometimes it’s enough to know you have the guts to stand up. Even if you choose not to.”

Her mom makes a noncommittal sound at that.

“So, okay. It sounds like this… mindfucking thing will work,” says Emily. “And that it’s a better option than, you know, heroin or dying.”

“Just, two more other options I’m mulling over.”

“One, could you just do that… whatever you did earlier, and un-fuck my head later?”

Celia: “If we give it enough time to blow over, yes.”

GM: “Okay,” says Emily. “That sounds to me like a good option.”

She looks at Celia.

“Are you okay with it, though? Do you want to share this side of yourself with me?”

Celia: “I’d love to share this side of myself with you. I’d love to be able to tell you everything. I’m scared you’ll get hurt and that I’ll ruin your life and that I’ll die because I can’t keep my mouth shut, but… I imagine a future where we… maybe you become a lick with me and we do amazing things together, or maybe you become a ghoul and we still do amazing things and when you decide to move on you do. Or maybe you just stay human and you have a million kids and you know that someone will always be looking out for them. That Aunt Celia will pull strings and keep them safe.”

“Yes. Of course. Of course I want you to know me.”

GM: Emily rubs her back. “Yeah. I know I want kids with Robby. Lucy’s been a joy.”

“Though… between her and maybe now Abigail,” she adds with a glance to the sleeping infant, “I could go without popping out any of my own.”

“Sweetie, I don’t want to deter you from having children if that’s your goal,” says Diana.

“I don’t blame Robby at all if he wants kids of his own, and having them will make the two of you closer.”

“In fact, I’d be worried about your two’s relationship if you choose to give up having kids with him. All of this is already a huge secret you’re keeping.”

“What will you have that’s yours?”

Emily frowns in thought.

Celia: “Licks can’t have kids,” Celia supplies. “Nor can ghouls without some tampering.”

She’s quiet a moment.

“The last time Stephen and I had sex we didn’t use protection. I’ve always wondered if…” She touches a hand to her abdomen.

GM: “Oh…” says Emily.

Celia’s mother embraces her.

“I’m so sorry, sweetie,” she murmurs.

Celia: “Better this way,” Celia says into her mother’s shoulder. “He turned into an abuser.”

GM: Did she, too?

Celia: “And me,” she adds. “I’d have ruined him, too.”

“And a kid.”

“So.”

GM: “Oh, baby, you’d have been a wonderful mother,” consoles her mom, rubbing her back. “Whatever his faults, whatever he turned into.”

Celia: “I’m the reason he turned out like this,” Celia says. “But we can… later, we can talk.”

GM: “Yes. Later. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that you are a mother, to someone who calls you Mom every time she sees you.”

“And you might have just made all the difference in little Abigail’s life.”

“I’d think it only fair for her to call you Mom, too.”

Celia: Celia’s smile is subdued.

GM: “Sweetie, there is no halfway option when you take a child in,” says Diana. “If I’m going to be her mom, that’s that. She gets the same ‘other’ moms and aunts and uncles as Lucy does. And a sister, too, in Lucy.”

“You can’t exclude a child you take in. They can’t be made to think, in any way, they are less loved or less a part of the family. It has to be all in or all out.”

Celia: “No, that’s not it. I’m just wondering if I made a mistake with her. If this is another headache waiting to happen. If I won’t be able to adequately provide. And I wonder how we’re going to explain her to Emily now.”

GM: “What is the alternative?” asks her mom, plainly.

“You said she had no one else.”

“Can’t go into the foster system or be put up for adoption.”

Celia: “I don’t need the warden breathing down my neck because of her is all. But we’ll figure it out.”

GM: Her mom rubs her back. “I think you are doing a good thing with her, sweetie. I think God will notice that.”

“Emi, are you nodding off?”

Emily blinks awake.

“Mmf. Sorry.”

“You been through way more shit than I have.”

“I also didn’t drink myself silly,” says her mom.

Emily rubs her head. “Yeah. That hangover wasn’t fun.”

“Glad I didn’t get hammered on an empty stomach.”

“I threw up in the spa.”

Celia: “Did you?” Had Celia forgotten?

GM: “Yeah. After you left.”

“When Alana wake me up. She was telling me I had to leave and coming on really strong.”

“Gave me a real glare of death after I tossed my cookies.”

Celia: “Oh. She didn’t mention.”

“There were a lot of licks around that night. I just wanted you to be home safe.”

GM: “There’s a lot she doesn’t mention,” says Celia’s mom.

Celia: Celia presses her lips together.

“Tell me. Once this is resolved. Let me go get Pete so Emily can get back to bed. Or… I guess Emily can come with me so he doesn’t see Abi.”

GM: “It’s fine, sweetie. We have more than enough on our minds,” says her mom. “And yes, that sounds best. For all of us to go to Pete. I will be there when he is… mind controlling one of my children.”

“Wait a sec, did something happen with Alana?” asks Emily, frowning.

“‘Cuz I know she doesn’t like you. Or me.”

Celia: “Wait. You said she kissed you.”

GM: Celia’s mother sighs. “Yes. She did. It was a while ago.”

“Did you consent?” asks Emily.

“No.”

Celia: “Why did she kiss you?”

GM: “I have no idea,” says her mother. “I was disgusted. Mortified. I couldn’t look her in the eye after that.”

“Well maybe that’s what she wanted,” says Emily.

Celia: “How long ago?”

GM: “A while. Maybe a year after you hired her. I didn’t want to cause waves.”

“So I didn’t say anything.”

Celia: “How did that even happen?”

GM: “I was at Flawless. Though I suppose, where else. I’d tried to give her some food.”

“She never seemed interested. I offered less often, but never really stopped.”

“She gave me a very cool look, said ‘I don’t want your slop’, then gave me a french kiss, abrupt as you please.”

Celia: Celia just kind of gapes.

“That… doesn’t even… that doesn’t even make sense.”

“Not that I don’t believe you, just that it’s so… weird.”

GM: “Why’s that?” says Emily.

Celia: “Because why would she do that? Like Reggie I know has a thing for moms, he’s wanted to get with you, but Alana? She’s… yeah like a hornball, but it just… why?”

GM: “Yeah, well, sexual assault is about power, not sex.”

“Think she just wanted to bully Mom.”

“‘Cuz what’d you do about it?”

“I didn’t do anything,” says Diana. “Just stammered and hurried away.”

“I didn’t really offer her more food after that. Tried to avoid her, or avoid being alone with her.”

Celia: “That just… really doesn’t sound like her is all,” Celia says slowly. “She didn’t do anything else? Say anything else? You didn’t feel woozy at all?”

GM: “Woozy?”

Celia: “Like when I feed from you.”

GM: “No, not that I recall.”

Celia: “And you…” Celia trails off. “Can I take a look at that memory?”

GM: Her mother gives her a tired look. “We have a thousand other things on our minds, Celia. Why do you want to spend time on this?”

Celia: “I didn’t mean now.”

GM: “If she tries it again, it will not go well for her.”

Celia: “I just meant in general.”

“Because it’s super out of character for her to randomly kiss you like that and I don’t think it was her.”

“And now I’m wondering who it was and what they did.”

GM: “If you’d like to. All right.”

“Why would someone else make her kiss Mom?” asks Emily.

Celia: Celia shrugs. “It might not have been that at all. Could have been someone said or did something to her that made her disgusted, covered it with a kiss.”

“No idea.”

“Maybe it’s nothing.”

“Maybe I’m jumping at shadows.”

“Anyway, let me get Pete so you two can sleep.”

GM: “You mean we’ll go to see Pete,” says her mom.

“So he doesn’t see Abigail.”

Celia: “Yes.”

GM: “Is this a bad time to bring up how Celia’s brought up turning me into a vampire… three-ish times and I’ve been kinda thinking about it?” says Emily.

Her mother gives her a long look.

Celia: Celia goes quiet. “I can’t turn you. Not yet. Not until my grandsire takes the throne. You’ll be a Quarter Rat. That’s worse than being a ghoul.”

GM: “What’s a Quarter Rat?”

Celia: Celia does her best to explain.

“They’re basically the illegal immigrants of Kindred society. They’re bastards. Caitiff without a clan or those Embraced without permission. They’re considered scum by most. They don’t get domain, they go hungry, they have to fight for every scrap they do get. They’re nobodies. They can’t leave the Quarter because they’re not legal, so they’re stuck here forever. If they leave they risk getting caught and then executed.”

“It’s uh… it’s like being a poor black woman in a society of rich white dudes.”

GM: “Well, that sounds like it fucking sucks.”

“Being a vampire sounded like it was more of a mixed bag than… that.”

“Is that what Dani is?”

Celia: “No. Dani is a thin-blood. The only thing the rats can look down on.”

“Being a legally Embraced vampire is better than that. Having a powerful patron is better. Having someone in your corner makes it easier. But the way it would be done for you right now isn’t the way to do it.”

GM: “How would it be done for me?”

“That way? Or I’d be a thin-blood?”

Celia: “If you want to be Embraced, I’d rather wait until my grandsire is prince or find another way. Because right now you’d just be a rat. And that’s… worse.”

“It’s a death sentence to Embrace without permission.”

“For sire and childe.”

GM: “I don’t know if I want it, I’m just thinking about it. You’ve brought it up a couple times now.”

“Emily…” her mom says slowly.

“I don’t think that is something you should want.”

Celia: “It’s a big change. Life changes. It’s… I never got to explain it all to you, but it can be bad. It can be great. But it can be bad. Consider it for the future, maybe, but it’s not an option tonight.”

GM: “Okay. That’s reasonable. I have to be up for school anyway.”

“It does sound like there’s a lot of awesome stuff and a lot of terrible stuff.”

“Is there more I could see, to get a better sense of what it’s like?”

Celia: “If you become a ghoul I can bring you places to show you, yeah.”

GM: “We couldn’t just fake it? Are all vampires gonna give ‘urine tests’ like the warden?”

Celia: “Can you please stop pushing me into things that are going to get us in trouble or killed? If I can swing it I will.”

GM: “Not trying to push you. Just asking whether it’s possible.”

Celia: “It’s possible.”

GM: “Well, possible and practical.”

“’Cuz, again, not pushing.”

Celia: “It’s not practical.”

“You get caught, you die.”

“That’s it.”

“You get tortured and die.”

GM: “How would I get caught?”

Celia: “Emily. Stop. The warden is waiting.”

GM: “Girls, this is a discussion you should have later,” their mom says tiredly.

“Hmph. Read my mind.”

“I will say this, Emily. You have a life ahead of you. You have a family, a career, and a likely husband you want children with.”

“Everything I’ve seen about vampires makes me think it’s humans who are getting the better deal.”

“You’d be giving up all of that except your current family.”

“And even then, you’d be giving up everything to do with us during the day.”

“You’re right that is a lot, Mom.” Emily rubs her head. “But like you say. Better discussion for another time.”

Celia: “So. Memory erasure. We got into a fight over dumb shit. It’ll explain the last few nights and we can make up in a week or two.”

GM: “All right. Sounds good.”

“I am looking forward to… remembering this, and talking about it with you, and seeing the stuff you wanted to show me.”

Celia: Celia smiles. “Me too, Emi.”


Tuesday night, 22 March 2016, AM

GM: The trio walk back to the main house. Pete is waiting in the living room and occupied on his phone. He looks up as they arrive.

Celia: She should have gone ahead. Spoken to him alone. Told him what she plans so he doesn’t think she’s lying to him again.

She catches his eye.

GM: He meets it, and the other two’s.

“Hello Mrs. Flores, Miss Rosure.”

“Hi, sir,” says Emily.

“Hi, Detective Pete,” says Diana. “I’m sorry, I don’t remember your last name.”

“Lebeaux,” he answers. “Pete or Detective Pete is fine.”

Celia: “Thank you for your patience, Warden. I did not intend to take up so much of your time this evening.”

Celia glances at her family, then looks back to Pete.

“We went over our options,” Celia says, “and I think it might be best if we erase her memories with Lucy’s. There was an incident a few nights ago that we can build from to provide explanation for the turbulence in emotions, and the same story can be used with Lucy so that there are no hiccups.”

Celia pauses.

“I’ve heard of licks using this with additional clauses built in, and we wanted to know if you’re willing to do such for us with Emily. To remember the events as they were should she become a ghoul or lick in the future. I am looking into a way to negate the addictive properties of the vitae with the alchemists, as you suggested prior.”

GM: Pete effects a sigh.

“To be honest, Celia, that’s probably a thin hope. Meth is addictive. Crack is addictive. Vitae is addictive. Just what it is.”

Celia: “Oh,” she says, finally aware of how much hope she had been pinning on that idea.

“Maybe they just didn’t find a way yet,” she continues in a quiet voice. “Maybe no one combined the right things yet. Maybe it takes alchemy and biology and sorcery and the secret is just waiting to be revealed to the person who keeps looking.”

GM: Pete just grunts.

“It’s bad to keep talking about these things if you’re sincere about wiping your sister’s memories.”

“I also would not count on discovering non-addictive crack.”

Celia: So much for hope. So much for possibility. So much for having her family and her covenant both.

“Then I guess we just… take her memories, Pete.”

GM: “For what it’s worth, you’re making the better decision.”

He seemingly addresses Celia’s mother and sister as much as her.

Celia: “She deserves better than being an addict or a Rat,” Celia agrees.

GM: “I don’t want my daughter to be an addict,” her mom echoes.

“All right,” he says. “What’s the story you want her to remember?”

Celia: “On Friday, Henry Garrison came by for dinner. At dinner the fact that Emily and Stephen had dated came up. I confronted Emily. We argued. Nothing from that night needs changed. Nothing from Saturday needs changed. That all happened. So… Sunday, we escalate. Boyfriend comes over for dinner, Maxen comes over, everyone is already in a bad mood because of that. I get insecure when the boyfriend laughs at Emily’s quip, accuse her of being a whore and trying to steal my new boyfriend, start a fight, wine glass breaks, more fighting, Maxen mentions missing Isabel, I leave to reach out to my detective friend—that’s you, Pete—and come back to see Mom and Maxen cuddling on the couch, Emily glowering. She and I get into it about inviting him over, then Mom snaps and says something like ‘I have one missing child already I will not tolerate your infighting now,’ kicks Maxen out. Emily and I call a truce to celebrate getting rid of Maxen, we both get drunk, we start fighting again. I demand to know if she slept with Stephen. She says yes. I slap her. Maybe she slaps me. This is probably where Lucy walks in and sees us all upset and fighting, vomiting from alcohol, not sure how to explain the fire, and, uh… yeah I guess I storm out and she’s hungover all day today and night.”

GM: “That’s some family drama,” Pete says mildly.

“Are you actually mad at her?” he asks Emily.

“Uh, not really,” says Emily.

Celia: Celia’s face falls.

She thought it had been a good cover: based in reality, dramatic, doesn’t need to make vast alterations.

GM: “Feelings need to be real,” says Pete.

“You say someone was mad, they don’t actually feel mad, that’s a hole.”

“For that matter, why does your mother kick out her ex because her daughters are fighting?”

Celia: She doesn’t think Pete will appreciate her “movies have plot holes all the time and they still make millions” quip, so she keeps it to herself.

Emily would think it’s funny.

GM: She probably would.

Celia: “How were you feeling?”

GM: “How was I feeling when?” asks Emily.

“That night with Maxen?”

“Mix of nauseous dread and angry as hell.”

Celia: “I could… side with Maxen. Publicly. And… I guess that still… doesn’t help the emotions towards me.”

GM: “Nope,” says Pete.

“So if she wasn’t mad at you, that part needs a rewrite.”

Celia: “Don’t suppose you could just ward her head against intruders and pretend you saw nothing.”

GM: “No,” he says flatly.

Celia: “No,” she echoes, “I assumed not. I, ah, I wasn’t serious about that, Pete.”

Celia pinches the bridge of her nose between thumb and forefinger. Solution. She needs a solution. Not more problems.

Celia: “I guess we just leave the angry-at-me part out. Tell you I broke up with Randy and came out as a lesbian. You probably wouldn’t care, but you’d have all sorts of feelings over me hiding that from you that might echo what really happened. Explains the tension with you and I and Mom when Lucy found us. Doesn’t explain kicking Maxen out. Maybe he… called me a dyke, and Mom got all, ‘God will judge you, but I’ll always love you’ on him.”

GM: “Will that work?” Celia’s mother asks Pete.

The Tremere chews his lip.

“I suppose we’ll find out.”

“Miss Rosure, I’d like you to relax and look into my eyes.”

“Well… bye,” says Emily, then meets Pete’s gaze.

Celia’s mom takes her hand.

Pete slowly recites what happened and when, faithfully following Celia’s describe narrative. Emily stares into his eyes with a sleepy look. The Tremere finally tells her to go back to her room, take off her shoes, go to bed, and fall asleep.

Emily turns and walks away as though she’s sleepwalking. She does not close the door behind her.

Celia: Celia does for her. She makes sure Emily’s door is shut, too.

GM: “This is one of the patchier jobs that I’ve done,” Pete says frankly when she returns.

“I don’t know if it’s going to last.”

Celia: “Then I’d better be quick with the addiction thing or find her a sire.”

GM: “You aren’t going to find anything there,” Pete snaps. “You don’t know a thing about magic, Celia. You don’t get something for nothing. Ever. There is no addiction-free variety of juice out there. You think it wouldn’t be widespread, if there was? That a greenfang who can barely keep her own Requiem together will not only somehow find it, but find it quick?”

Celia: “If the alternative is watching my mother lose another daughter or subjecting my sister to a life of addiction and slavery, then I will look, and I will consider every viable path and option that don’t involve a miracle cure while I look. I am not burying my head in the sand and hoping the patch job holds, Pete.”

She doesn’t raise her voice. She doesn’t snap back at him. She just looks at him, determination in her eyes.

“I won’t sit idly by while my family pays for my mistakes. People used to think space travel was impossible and we’ve been to the moon. I don’t have the resources or the training of the Pyramid, no, but that doesn’t mean that I am useless or that I have created nothing with my Requiem. Everyone thinks star mode can’t get inside people’s heads and I made that happen too.”

“If the memories come back and I’ve found no other solution I will immediately tell you and follow your mandate. But I can’t just not do anything, Pete.”

GM: Pete grunts.

“I won’t fault your logic in not wanting to sit on your hands.”

“If the patch job fails and her memories come back, you’ll let me know. At that point, she’ll need to be ghouled or Embraced for real.”

“There’s some element of risk in choosing to do things this way. I don’t know what memories could come back first or how she could react.”

“But she deserved a shot at a normal life.”

Celia: “Thank you for your help in giving her that shot.”

GM: “Thank you, Pete,” Diana says quietly.

“If I might ask, what made this such a patchy job?”

GM: The detective regards Celia’s mother for a moment.

“Too many and too strong emotions,” he answers, shaking his head. “Learning vampires are real and that your sister is a vampire is enough to rock someone’s world. Anyone’s world. There is no equivalent experience. Not in the big picture, not down to all of the little nuances. This is like stuffing a too-big lady into a too-small dress, made from too-thin fabric. Something is likely going to rip. It doesn’t help either that I wasn’t here when Celia told her about Kindred. I can’t custom-tailor the new memories as thoroughly as I might otherwise. It’s always better to have an eyewitness to the real memories handle a memory job than a second party, for the really involved jobs.”

“Consider, as a counter-example, the midwife who was there for Lucy’s birth. I swapped your face with Celia’s, so in that woman’s head, Celia was the one giving birth while her mother watched. Just a single alteration that re-purposed the memory’s existing details, and in a self-consistent manner that the subject wasn’t ever likely to question. She had no emotions associated with the mother being you versus Celia. Even if someone questioned her at length about what she remembered, and made her re-examine and go over every little thing, I’d fully expect the memory job to hold up. It was, if I may say, one of my best ever jobs.”

Pete shakes his head again.

“That was tight, light, and subtle. This job was not. There are too many ways it could unravel, and I’ll count us as lucky if it holds. So it’ll be incumbent on you to make sure it does. Don’t press Emily about what she remembers. Don’t talk about it. Keep her mind on other things. Let it fade into her subconscious.”

“The fact it will be hard for you to do that, and that she will want to talk about what she remembers, is part of why this is such a patchy job.”

“Just don’t feed her imagination. Try to distract her with other things.”

“Would be a good time for another family crisis, if you were waiting to spring one.”

Celia: Celia glances at her mother, brows slightly lifted.

She can think of several.

GM: Celia’s mother listens attentively like Pete is a doctor prescribing how she should administer her child’s medication.

“Perhaps Isabel,” she says. “Better if that comes out anyway.”

“And better, too, if they know something of the truth.”

Pete raises his eyebrows and looks at Celia.

He knows what happened to Isabel.

Celia: Celia meets his gaze.

“I told her what I did.”

GM: “Hm. Perhaps no surprise,” says Pete after a moment.

“I’m not under a ‘blood bond’ to her,” says Celia’s mother. “I know what she did. I know she murdered her sister.”

“I choose to forgive her. I choose to love rather than hate my daughter.”

Pete’s thick eyebrows raise still higher.

“I’m very impressed, Mrs. Flores.”

“Your daughter enjoys a rare and precious love that not many licks get to. Not many at all.”

He glances sidelong at Celia. “I’ll do her another favor and overlook the fact you haven’t been properly collared.”

“I advise you not to mention this fact around other Kindred.”

“Thank you,” says Celia’s mother. Not quite earnestly, but at least politely. “I don’t have any interest in meeting further vampires, from what Celia tells me, but I’ll make a note not to.”

“Good,” says Pete.

“What would happen if one found out?” asks Diana.

“At best? Force the collar on you,” answers Pete. “At worst, ask Celia to use her imagination. A ghoul without a collar is a dog without a leash.”

“I am not a dog,” declares Celia’s mother.

“You aren’t, but our society sees you that way,” says Pete.

“Do you see me that way?” asks Celia’s mom. “She’s told me stories. Will you chop off Lucy’s fingers if I backtalk you? Should I be grateful if you don’t?”

“No, no, and no,” says Pete.

Celia’s mom pauses. “I didn’t know you knew I was her mother.”

“Celia enlisted my help to make sure the midwife couldn’t tell anyone,” says Pete.

“Thank you,” Diana repeats, more sincerely. “Thank you. You saw what… my former husband did to Celia. At the hospital. I didn’t want that to ever happen to Lucy.”

“I don’t blame you,” says Pete. “Making Celia the mom on her birth certificate was one of the smartest ways you could have kept her safe.”

“Yes, it was,” agrees Celia’s mom. She manages a weary smile. “It was Celia’s idea.”

“Inviting your ex-husband over for dinner was damn foolish of you, though,” says Pete.

The smile dies on Celia’s mom.

“Yes, it was,” she agrees again.

“He won’t be back. He is not welcome in this house.”

“I will die before he, or anyone, touches Lucy.”

GM: Pete regards Celia’s mom thoughtfully.

“You seem less the shrinking violet than your daughter made you out to be.”

Celia: “I found the way to undo what Benson did to her,” Celia says to him.

GM: “Good timing,” Pete remarks.

Celia: It went quickly enough once Celia realized what she was. What Benson had done to her. Maybe undoing the work of a Malkavian isn’t the same as finding a cure for vitae addiction, but she’s not the stupid whore society makes her out to be.

“Yes,” she agrees. “He offered a ward for Lucy’s room, Mom. To keep out demons. And advised a better home security system for everything else.”

GM: “A ward against… demons?” she asks.

“Yes. Potentially keeps them from entering the warded site, or hurts them if they do enter,” says Pete. “I have no idea if it’ll help or not, as I don’t know whether your ex-husband is actually possessed by a demon, but it won’t hurt.”

“Okay. I’d rather be safe than sorry. Thank you, Detective, very much.”

Celia: “Your sire said there’s a way to test that,” Celia mentions. “Though I imagine doing so will create a problem with Maxen’s friend.”

GM: “More likely any demon itself than his friend. It might be strong enough to take you.”

“Best fight is one you don’t have. I gave you that advice seven years ago.”

“Just keep him away from your family.”

Celia: Celia nods.

GM: “That’s sound advice whether there’s a demon or not,” Diana nods.

“What should we do about home security?”

“Get an alarm,” says Pete. “One with a motion sensor linked to your phones. Someone breaks in, you get an alert.”

“Don’t get one that detects changes in infrared radiation. They’re the most common, but they don’t work against licks.”

“Infrared alarms look for changes in body heat, which trigger the sensor. Licks are usually room temperature.”

Celia: “What about shadow dancers? They’ll still be picked up with motion sensors?”

GM: “Cloaking fools the mind. It’s a purely mental phenomenon. Literally all in your head. It doesn’t physically affect the environment, or fool sensory devices that observe physical phenomena.”

Celia: Then how the fuck did the ghouls get into the clubhouse? The alarm would have woken her.

Celia doesn’t ask. Better that they hadn’t been deterred. Less effort spent bringing her in.

Celia: “Ways around everything,” Celia says eventually, looking to her mom, “but it’ll deter the most likely scenarios.”

GM: “So what kind of alarm should we get?” asks Celia’s mom.

“Well, there’s a number of alarms that don’t use infrared technology,” says Pete. “There are hidden cameras, electrical field sensors, signal emitters, and ultrasonic detectors. Each one has its own pros and cons, and what I’d recommend for a family home like yours isn’t necessarily what I’d recommend elsewhere.”

“But for this house, I’d go with an electrical field sensor. They operate like the touchscreen of your phone, except no contact is needed. If there’s motion, even from a room temperature source, the alarm picks it up.”

Celia: Maybe she should hire Pete to overhaul the security at her various havens.

She cants her head to one side, wondering if he’d be into it if she pays.

Probably not. Seems like more favors. She’ll do it herself. After she moves, now that the entire city knows where she sleeps.

GM: “Okay, an electrical field sensor alarm,” says Diana.

“You can also get ones that turn on lights or emit a recording of barking dogs,” says Pete. “Those further help deter intruders.”

Celia: Or get a dog. A hellhound for Lucy. Roxy and Nova both have that certain touch with animals to help her out if she asks.

GM: “Cameras are a good idea too,” says Pete. “They’re piss poor at capturing licks’ faces, but they can potentially alert you there were licks, and they can capture other intruders’ faces.”

“You can also get alarms that call the police, the Quarter Response Force—the latter’s faster if you’re paying them—and the fire department.”

“Okay, that’s a lot to think about,” says Diana. “Excuse me for a moment, I want to write this down.”

She disappears into the kitchen and comes back with a notepad, then writes down what Pete says.

“Is there a specific alarm model you’d recommend I get?” she asks.

“There’s a bunch on the market,” says Pete. “Some better and some worse, like anything. Some cheap and some expensive. Do your research and see what fits your needs. Run whatever you find past me and I’ll weigh in. Celia has my number.”

Celia: Celia nods to show that she’s listening and taking it all in. She lets them sort it out, and only once the warden mentions his number does she speak up.

“I’ve got a question,” she says at length, “about magic. The ward. Would it be more powerful if you use the blood of someone close to her, someone who loves her, or does it not matter?”

GM: “Doesn’t matter,” says Pete.

Celia: Celia just nods again.

GM: “Probably could with some magic. Doesn’t with mine.”

Celia: “I’ll get that soon for you. Fix up your leg,” a nod to her mother. “Should rest easier after all this.”

Now would be a good time for her mother to ask about the magic lessons. To see what Celia is going to learn to do. Is it too much to hope she knows how to read her daughter’s thoughts?

GM: “Thank you, both,” says Celia’s mom, with a further nod towards Pete. “You’ve been extremely helpful, Detective. This will make me feel very safe about Lucy.”

For all the woman’s love, it does not appear to grant her knowledge of Celia’s thoughts.

Celia: Ah, well, no doubt he’d have been angry at her and accused her of using her mother against him.

“Thank you, Pete. For everything.”

GM: “You’re welcome. Let’s see Lucy.”

Celia: Celia leads the trio down the hall and opens the door to Lucy’s bedroom.

GM: She finds the girl asleep under her blankets. Diana sits down on her bed and touches her shoulder. “Hey, Goose…” she murmurs softly.

Lucy whimpers as she slowly starts awake. Her eyes are bleary and out of focus. “Mommy…?”

“I’m sorry to wake you up again, sweetie… there’s a nice man here, who I’d like you to meet. I know things have been very sad and very scary lately, but he’s going to make them better, okay?”

Celia: Celia takes a seat on Lucy’s other side, touching a gentle hand to her back.

“Hey, baby Goose,” she murmurs, “just a little longer and then you can snuggle under the blankies as long as you want. Shall I fetch Mr. Owl for you? I think he’d like to sleep in too.”

Mr. Owl is not an owl, but a stuffed rabbit. He’d taken the name Owl to swallow his fear of being scooped up and gobbled.

GM: “Okay…” Lucy answers sleepily, seemingly to both women.

“Good idea, with Mr. Owl,” says Diana. “Aslan can keep him company.”

“Keep him extra safe from any mean ol’ owls.”

Celia: Celia rises to hunt down the stuffed animal. Aslan is already tucked against Lucy’s side, but Mr. Owl is wearing a white bow tie at a table set for tea. Celia pulls out the chair for him and lifts him into her arms. She walks him over to Lucy, giving him a pep talk on the way about bad dreams and Queen Lucy needing some good beauty rest. She extols a promise from both of them to look after her while she sleeps.

“Mr. Owl and Aslan are ready for duty,” Celia says to Lucy, handing over the bunny.

GM: Mr. Owl seems receptive enough to the pep talk, and he hasn’t failed yet to remain by the side of his sleeping queen.

“Mmf,” Lucy answers tiredly as she hugs Mr. Owl in her arms. She lays her head against the stuffed animal (he’s bigger than many owls) and looks almost ready to fall back asleep right there. Diana lightly jostles her back awake.

“You can go back to sleep in just a moment, Goose. You’re being very patient for us. This is the nice man who’s going to make things better.”

Pete steps up to the bed, squats down on his haunches, and catches the child’s gaze.

“Hi, Lucy. Those are some mighty big stuffed animals you got there. Just look into my eyes now. That’s it. You’re already falling back asleep…

“Just focus on my voice. You remember last night? It was pretty scary, I bet, but it’s gonna be all right. What happened was that…”

Pete goes on to repeat the narrative that Celia and Diana arrived at. There was a family fight, the same one he filled Emily’s head with. Celia broke up with Randy and came out as gay. Maxen called Celia names. Mommy made him leave. There were angry discussions. It was all very confusing and frightening for a child, but things will be better now.

Diana whispers something in Pete’s ear, as if unsure whether her voice will interfere with what he’s doing. The Tremere frowns, then continues they also had a scare with Victor getting hurt. They took him to see a vet friend in the middle of the night. Lucy got out of bed for that. It was very scary, especially after everything else, but the cat turned out to be fine.

The six-year-old dumbly follows Pete’s voice and takes that all in with a glazed expression.

“Lie your head down on your pillow and go back to sleep, Lucy. Get a full night of z’s,” Pete finishes.

Lucy lays down her head and is out like a light.

Diana tenderly strokes the girl’s hair, then pulls up her covers and props up Aslan and Mr. Owl around her.

She gets up, nods for everyone else to follow her out, then closes the bedroom door behind her.

“Thank you,” she whispers to Pete, earnestly. “Thank you, so much, Detective.”

“You’re welcome,” he answers. “It’s not my best memory job, but I’d say it’s more likely to hold than Emily’s.”

“Reinforce it. Say you’re glad things turned out okay with Victor. Maybe have a brief talk about the events of last night, staying light on specific details. Away from Emily. Not good for her to be re-examining those memories.”

Celia’s mom nods. “I can do that. We’ll be sure to.”

Celia: “Thank you,” Celia quietly adds when all is said and done. She’s said it a lot this night, but she means it a lot too: he could have turned her down. Turned her in. Done any number of things to her worse than harsh words and demanding an apology. But he’d shown up for her. Even if he does now think she’s a moron.

“I’ll get extra for the ward,” she continues, “so you’re not out anything. Mom and I will figure out how to disguise it and… hopefully that and the upkeep is all you’ll be back here for.”

It might not be the time to wiggle her eyebrows at the warden, but she does. Just a tiny wiggle. The mere suggestion of movement. She could even pass it off as a trick of the light if she were really inclined to, his mind playing tricks on him.

GM: “Hopefully less, as you can do the upkeep yourself,” responds Pete. “Doesn’t take anything except blood.”

“And that’s a good thing for us all, Lucy especially. The less often licks come here, the better.”

Celia: “Oh. I thought I needed to…” she trails off, deciding not to get into it, and nods.

GM: “We aren’t ever going to talk about vampire things in the house again,” nods Diana. “I don’t know if I mentioned that. We’ll keep Lucy away from all of this.”

“Wise,” says Pete. “I hope you do.”

“Is there any way I can repay you, Detective?” asks Celia’s mom. “This is the second time you’ve helped my family out of a jam. Or, really, the third time.”

“Keep taking your daughter’s blood, Mrs. Flores,” says Pete. “You can be as involved or uninvolved with the masked city—that’s Kindred society—as the two of you like, but mortals don’t get to know about us.”

“And you’ve been through far too much for a memory job at this point.”

Diana’s face slowly sinks at that request.

She takes a step forward and places a hand on Pete’s arm.

“Detective. Pete,” she says softly. “I don’t want to lie to you, after all you’ve done for my family. I don’t ever want this,” she gestures, “for Emily. I’m not even sure if I want this for me. If the patch job fails, what’s the harm in us knowing? We won’t tell a soul. We just want to live our lives without being drug addicts.”

Celia: There’s a twinge in her chest at the expression on her mother’s face. She quietly adds her voice to the discussion.

“Emily and my mother have kept things between the three of us for years. They know the dangers of life and death situations. We’ve been through them before.” She glances away, then back. “They’re good people. They deserve some semblance of normalcy after everything.”

GM: “Blame yourself, blame them, blame even me. But whoever’s fault it is, normalcy is not in the cards anymore,” says Pete.

He looks from Celia back down the hall to Lucy’s room.

“And I have done more than enough to help this family already.”

He turns around.

“Drink your juice, Mrs. Flores. That’s how you can pay me back.”

The Tremere waits for no goodbyes, after that. He strides out the door and closes it behind him.


Tuesday night, 22 March 2016, AM

Celia: “I don’t think he likes me anymore,” Celia says to her mom.

GM: Celia’s mom wearily sits down and rubs her head.

Celia: She should have stayed out of it. Watching him go without a word is almost as bad as watching Roderick turn into Draco. She doesn’t like this desolate rock she has found herself on.

“He won’t teach me magic,” she says, as if it matters, “because he thinks I’m irresponsible and emotionally volatile and he’s tired of doing me favors. I’ve offered things to him. Every time. I’ve offered. And he always says no.”

Celia sits on the floor where the burnt couch used to be, pulling her legs against her chest.

“I’m sorry,” she says.

GM: Diana does not look as if she thinks Celia learning magic particularly matters.

“I am not addicting my daughter to heroin,” she says. “No one has the right to ask me that.”

She closes her eyes.

“But for what he has done for our family. Then and now. And for the other reasons. I will stay a… ghoul.”

Celia: “Great. An unwilling ghoul and a sister whose memories will unravel any night now. That’s a good family dynamic.”

GM: Celia’s mother looks up and casts a dark stare her way.

“A mother who loves you unconditionally. A sister who accepts you for what you are. Yes. That is a good family dynamic.”

“Many people do not have what you have, Celia. Be grateful for what you do.”

Celia: “Why,” she asks bleakly. “Why would you still love me after what I did.”

“How can you forgive me for that.”

“For Isabel. And Ethan. And bringing Maxen back into our lives. And putting you, Emily, and Lucy in danger.”

GM: “I told you.”

“Because I am your mom and don’t get to stop loving my kids.”

“Because God gives moms strength beyond their own.”

“Because that is the person I want to be.”

Celia: “We can run,” Celia says quietly. “We can run. And change our identities. And live somewhere else.”

GM: “Running away somewhere else is just running away from ourselves, Celia.”

“We have a life here. You and I and Emily and Lucy. I’m not abandoning it.”

“Nothing has changed from earlier. Emily is going to get back her memories, soon. She wants that and I want that. Lucy is safe from all this.”

Celia: “I imagine he’s going to check in on Emily, knowing that we don’t want this for her. If I fail to tell him when it happens…”

“It can get ugly, Mom.”

GM: “We could see him. Let him know I’m on the blood.”

“Show that we’re complying.”

Celia: Celia effects a snort. “Yeah. He loves seeing me these nights.”

GM: “Sweetie… buck up,” Diana says shortly.

Celia: Even her mother is telling her to stop whining.

Celia is quiet a moment. She uncurls her body, straightens her spine, and lifts her chin to find her mother’s eyes.

“You set the couch on fire with your mind, didn’t you?”

GM: Her mother frowns.

“I’m sorry?”

Celia: “Last night. The fire.”

GM: Celia’s mom looks at the empty spot in the living room.

“I don’t know how that happened.”

Celia: “You got angry. And you lit it up. There’s no other explanation for that. I don’t start fires with my brain. I certainly don’t hang out with smokers or lighters or open flames.”

GM: “I don’t know… what to say there.”

“Why would that happen?”

Celia: “Why do licks and loops happen?”

GM: “I don’t know. God sees fit to allow it.”

Celia: “Also haven’t you seen, like, any superhero movies? Origin stories are always full of high-intensity emotions that bring out powers.”

“You learned that a lick killed your daughter. It wasn’t the right lick, but it was still a lick, so you developed something to use against licks.”

“Makes sense to me.”

GM: “…if you say so, sweetie.”

Celia: “Do you have a better explanation?”

“I mean I told you what I thought about your mom.”

“Maybe it’s hereditary.”

“Call her up and ask if she’s lit anything on fire lately.”

GM: Her mom rubs her head. “I don’t remember what that was right now.”

“What you thought about your grandmother.”

Celia: “Hunter.”

GM: Celia’s mom blinks slowly as if to recall what that is.

Then she seemingly does, if her darkened expression is any indication. Celia said that ‘hunters’ raped her.

“No, I don’t have a better explanation.”

Celia: In fairness, who hasn’t raped Celia? The girl is a walking magnet for perverts.

GM: “What of it, anyways?”

Celia: Celia shrugs. “Nothing. I just wondered if it’s something you can do at will. Which would be pretty sick. ‘Oh you’re an evil lick and you came to take my daughter? Not tonight. Pewpewpew.’” She makes the “whoosh” sound of a fire with accompanying hand gestures.

GM: On another night, Celia could see her mom laughing and smiling back with her.

She has seen few smiles and no laughter since Diana learned of her daughter’s death.

Celia: “Just… trying to find some levity, I guess. Speaking of paranoia and wild theories, though, I’d like to let you know now that I will never, ever, ever send another lick or ghoul here that isn’t Pete or Alana, and if I do there’ll be a code word. Don’t ever leave with anyone else. Not even Dani.”

“Feel free to practice the fire thing on Stephen if he shows his face.”

GM: “Okay. All of that sounds reasonable,” says her mom.

Celia: “We could get a dog.”

“A hellhound, maybe. To protect Lucy.”

GM: “What is a hellhound?”

Celia: “Just a nickname for a ghouled dog.”

“Although I could do some experiments and see if there’s a way to give it a boost…”

GM: “Okay. If you think that would keep her safe.”

“Yes, probably.”

“The cats can’t well protect the house.”

Celia: “A bigger cat could. Like a tiger.”

GM: “I don’t think the local humane society stocks any of those.”

Celia: “Internet,” Celia says wisely.

GM: “One of the reasons I am continuing with this is to keep all of you safer. You and Lucy and Emily. It isn’t just to repay Pete.”

Celia: “We’ll need to find a solution for Emily. In case he checks in.”

“One that doesn’t involve knocking him out and keeping him in a basement somewhere. Because I definitely thought about it.”

GM: “Could you do anything with those tattoos?”

“Like the ones you gave Dani and me?”

Celia: “I’ve been thinking about it. Giving her a fake tattoo to pass as a normal breather. Giving her fake blood that won’t actually turn her into a ghoul in front of him. That sort of thing.”

GM: “Fake blood sounds like one idea. You’re smart. You’ll pull it off.”

“And there’s always just fibbing the patch job is holding up.”

Celia: “Or finding the cure that I mentioned.”

GM: “I certainly wouldn’t say no to that.”

Celia: “Plenty of reasons people wouldn’t share that if they found the answer.”

“And some licks have blood like that anyway. Sterile. Can’t make childer. Or ghouls. Or bond people.”

“So it’s… just finding the right stuff to work with.”

GM: Celia’s mom nods. “He seemed close-minded.” She stands up. “I know Pete put Lucy to sleep. But we should get in the habit of talking in the car.”

“We can keep it parked where it is. Just no more vampire talk in the house.”

Celia: Celia follows her out. “Sometimes the smartest people are the least creative. There are plenty of things I can do that they think ’don’t work that way.’ Cool, maybe not for them, but they do for me.”

GM: Celia’s mom sits down in the Beetle with her. Rain still patters against the windshield.

“I believe in you. You’ll find a way.”

“I’d also like to talk to Jade, please.”

Celia: “What, now?”

GM: “Yes.”

Celia: Celia’s skin ripples and dissolves, moving across her face like a wave crests upon sand. She doesn’t lift a hand to assist the movements, and it takes only seconds before Jade lounges indolently in the front seat.

“Mrs. Flores.”


GM: “I read your letter,” Diana says. More calmly than when she had the carving knife in hand. “I appreciated the apology. There are some ground rules to establish going forward, if I’m staying on the blood.”

Celia: Jade runs a tongue across her fangs, smile as sharp as their points. Her eyes dance in the ambient streetlight.

“Naturally.”

GM: “We’re equals in this arrangement,” Diana says simply. “I’m Celia’s mother. I’m not a servant or slave. I don’t follow orders. I’ll consider requests, because I am Celia’s mother and will do everything in my power to help her and fight for her. I’ll listen to advice, because both of you know more about vampires than I do. But that’s all. I make all final decisions about myself, for myself. As well as all decisions for Lucy, until she turns 18.”

“I don’t care that you’re vampire. I don’t care what’s normal for vampire society, or what the rules are, because they don’t apply to us. The only rules that’ll ever matter are that I am Celia’s mother, she is my adult child, and you are one of her alters. And for all that I might be the older partner in this relationship, we’re equal ones. You and Celia are adults and I don’t get to tell you what to do or make decisions for you either.”

“I’m glad that you regret your actions at Flawless. That’s why we’re talking. I hope, as you said, we can peacefully cohabit. But if you ever abuse me or my family again, I will cut you out of our lives. If you do not leave us alone, I will do whatever is necessary to protect my family. I will kill, and I will die, before I let another Maxen abuse us. Are we on the same page?”

Celia: Jade tilts her head to one side, listening to the breather’s words as she utters them. By the time she’s done Jade’s lips have curled into an approximation of a smile that does not quite reach her eyes. She looks for all the world as if she gazes upon a particularly interesting oddity of nature. A dog walking on its hind legs, perhaps, or a pig that has decided it can fly.

“She certainly did a number on you,” Jade murmurs, almost in admiration. “Perhaps if you’d shown this fire from the start you and I would have never gotten off on the wrong foot.”

The smile sharpens. But at least it finally reaches her eyes.

“I can agree to your terms, Mrs. Flores, so long as you agree to mine. If you are ever to accompany me to an event among the Damned you will act according to your role as ghoul. You will not backtalk or embarrass me in front of any Kindred. You will cease telling the half-blood anything about Celia’s actions now that her relationship has been terminated. I don’t care if you amuse yourself with her, but she will not be allowed to become a spy for her brother. You will tell no one that I am Celia, or that Celia is Dicentra, or that we can shift our flesh as we do.”

She waves a hand.

“I say this not to order you about or reduce you to the mutt that the All-Night Society sees you as, dear, it’s simply about keeping your daughter and my body safe. There are those who pounce upon perceived weakness and her recent slipups have tarnished my reputation. Without the good detective’s favor and our grandsire’s approval, we risk being eliminated from within. Should the detective find we’ve lied about your daughter, well, the results won’t be pretty for any of us.”

“Now… as far as requests…”

“Learn to fight. Not just with a blade but fists and stakes. They keep us down. Aim for the heart. Your daughter has a medical experiment she’d like to run that will benefit you as well as your family. Allow her to try it. And that trick with the fire. That’s so very, very clever. Train in it. Learn to control it. That will keep your family safe from any of the monsters that come crawling through the door. You feed us, so I suppose I won’t begrudge you your monthly allowance, but right now we’re down three ghouls. We would appreciate your assistance in finding the missing brothers so that undue burden does not fall upon you or the spa girl.”

GM: Diana considers all of that.

“Those terms all sound reasonable.”

“I’m happy to keep Celia’s secrets. Keeping her safe will always be my #1 priority. I don’t want to turn my relationship with Dani into either of us trying to use each other, either.”

“As far as requests, I’m happy to learn that ‘fire trick’ and how to fight. Whatever keeps my kids safe.”

“I’m happy to help with any experiments Celia thinks will help our family.”

“I don’t have time right now to go looking for any brothers. Or much interest in looking for the one who sexually harassed me. I have one daughter to bury, a new one to raise, and more than enough on my plate.”

“I don’t have any interest in meeting more vampires. Much less going to an event of Bensons and Carolines. Not without a very good reason. But I suppose I don’t have any objection to pretending to be a ‘normal ghoul’ around other vampires. Lord knows I’ve had the practice to pull it off. Just act like a doormat.”

Celia: “You want revenge on those who have done you wrong,” Jade says after a moment. “On those who have hurt your daughters, as well. Is that correct?”

GM: “That’s incorrect,” says Diana.

“I thought about it, at first, after hearing how I thought Isabel died.”

“But then I heard how she really died, and I forgave Celia for that.”

“If my kids are in danger, yes, I want to do everything in my power to keep them safe. Whatever it takes.”

“But if there’s no danger to them, I don’t want to risk Lucy losing her mother if something happens to me. Or any of her brothers and sisters, even if they need a mom less. I don’t want to throw away my family on revenge.”

“My first priority will always be my kids. Always has been. Always will be.”

Celia: “How utterly boring,” Jade sighs at the woman’s insistence on turning her cheek. “If you won’t serve in the field to dish out revenge, then my request is that you learn the politics of the city and serve as advisor. Lord knows your daughter has lost enough friends lately. And you did well with the Ventrue bitch and the cost of favors, even if she’d have been right to slap you for it.”

GM: “If I couldn’t look past terrible things someone has done to my family and me, we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” Diana says calmly.

“If Celia thinks she’s in danger, she will always be able to count on me to protect her. I will fight tooth and nail to keep her safe.”

“But help with revenge, no. Not if all that’s doing is putting our family in avoidable danger.”

“As far as politics, I can do my best there. I always want Celia to feel like she can go to her mom for advice.”

Celia: “You’ll work with Alana. Masked. When she has no more to teach you we shall hire you a tutor.”

Jade inspects her nails.

“That boy meant the world to her,” she says idly. “He means nothing to me. But her grandsire and the warden do. They mean everything to me. Their good opinion keep us safe.”

She does not mention the sire who means more to her than any other. This breather does not need to know the depths of her affection for the dark god who killed her and then gifted her his own blood to bring her back from the other side.

“If Emily’s memories do not hold and we have not found a viable solution, we will gauge the risk in allowing her to remember. The warden turned us down twice. He will not be so lenient if he needs to come back again because we tried to flout the rules.”

GM: “We’ll find a viable solution,” says Diana. “I’ll help however I can. We’ll deal with things as they come up.”

“And as we bring them up. We’ll have time to plan and prepare what we tell and show him, so that favors us.”

“What is it you think Alana can teach me, politics?”

Celia: “That’s the plan.”

Jade fixes the woman with a look.

“If any of them come here again, burn them. They do not get free reign in my domain. I don’t care what they say or who they represent. Burn them.”

GM: “Any of who, other vampires?”

“And be mindful, Jade. I like ‘will you pleases’ and ’I’d like you tos’ more than ‘you wills’.”

Celia: “Your comment as to my verbiage is unnecessary, Mrs. Flores. I have not said anything to that effect after framing my initial requests as just that—requests.”

She arches one expertly sculpted brow at the teacher’s desire to split hairs and be seen at the big kids table.

“Yes, I mean vampires. The half-breed’s brother. Anyone in his company. Anyone the dog barks at. Lebeaux, if he shows up without us.”

“The thing I’d ask you to understand, Mrs. Flores, is that if they get close enough to speak with you they are too close. They will warp and shred your mind until it seems like a good idea to do as they say. My intention is for you to avoid that, and for your daughter and family to avoid the pain of what that may bring.”

GM: Diana frowns.

“I don’t know how to burn them. Is there any way I can defend against that? Or tell from a distance that they’re vampires?”

“And it’s not unnecessary, as far as verbiage. It’s the same as saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. Just being polite. I know Celia wouldn’t mean ‘pass the salt’ as an order at the dinner table, but I still taught her to say ‘please pass the salt’ or ‘could you pass the salt’ instead.”

Celia: “Celia wouldn’t need the salt passed at the dinner table. She has never had anything but positive things to say about your cooking. It is… unfortunate that the rest of us will never experience that.”

It seems as much a bone as Jade is willing to throw her, accompanied by a small, brief smile as it is.

“Stoneskin can help protect against it. So can the steel spine you’ve recently found. There are tells, with licks. Stillness. Forgetting to fidget, to breathe, to blink. Some look truly dead. Temperature. You could invest in an infrared camera. Handheld. To use when you suspect but aren’t sure. Licks rarely show up, as the warden said.” A brief pause.

“Animals react poorly to most of us. We react poorly to fire. I believe there are some powers that allow you to tell at a glance, as we do, when another is Kindred. And yes, Mrs. Flores, we know you don’t know how to burn them yet. That’s why you said you’d be willing to learn. To keep your family safe.”

GM: Jade is not sure if Diana has smiled at all since the news of Isabel’s death. But at the Toreador’s expression, she manages a smile back. The same shadow that hung over Henry hangs over it.

But however faint, the smile is there.

Then she rubs Jade’s hand.

“I’m sorry too, or I’d cook you something. A meal is a good thing to mark new beginnings with.”

“But okay. I can get an infrared scanner and keep the cats handy around visitors, to see if they get agitated.”

“And yes, I do want to learn how to… burn, to keep my family safe. I just don’t know where to begin.”

Celia: Jade takes Diana’s hand in her own.

“Then we’ll figure it out. Together.”

GM: Celia’s mom nods.

“Do you consider yourself and Celia separate people?” she asks.

Celia: “That’s… complicated. And depends entirely on your definition of what makes a person. We share a body. A brain. A heart. I know what she knows. But I know more than what she knows. And I don’t know enough about souls to say if there are multiple inside this body. Outside of the host, would I survive on my own? I’m uncertain. Does that make us the same person… or simply a parasite?”

GM: “I think it makes you the same person,” says Diana. “I did a little research into DID, earlier, and there obviously are plenty other people with it. I don’t think God would place more than one soul in one body. I don’t think He’d change the rules.”

“Most people develop DID in response to trauma, as a coping mechanism. So I don’t think it makes you a parasite either. It serves a purpose, to keep the… host, safe.”

Celia: “Then her ex is right. We are simply insane.”

“I thought,” Jade says at some length, “that I had survived what would break most people. That I had bent so I could keep going. But maybe this is just another way of being broken.”

GM: “Or maybe this is its own way of bending. Maybe, if you hadn’t bent like this, you would’ve broken, and Celia would be much worse off.”

“Because I think a better way to look at your, I guess, situation, is what good it accomplishes. Celia says you’ve done bad things, but also that you help her and protect her.”

“That you deal with other vampires, the Bensons and the Carolines, so she doesn’t have to.”

Celia: “Celia will never grow up. She’s stuck as the child who saw the monster shake her daddy’s hand and let him tuck her in. She still believes in love and fairytales and thinks the half-blood will forgive her and the brother can be good again, that her grandpa will welcome her back with open arms after this fiasco.”

GM: “Is she right?” Diana asks, simply.

“I believe in love.”

“I don’t know her vampire grandfather—I presume that’s who, the vampire one—enough to comment on him, but think Dani would like to forgive her and trust her again. Dani was much more sad than angry when we last talked.”

“Stephen abusing her is a big thing to overcome. I don’t know if there’s a way with him or not. But I do know that you, or Celia as you, abused me once, but we’re here and talking now.”

“I believe love can overcome a lot.”

“Or, anything, really. So long as it’s there in both people’s hearts, and they believe it’s there in the other person’s.”

Celia: “You’re kine,” Jade says with an effected sigh, waving a hand. “Love does not exist among the Dammed.”

A beat of silence.

“We love someone. Your daughter and I. We love someone. We love. But the rest of them? No. You don’t get to the top by loving. My grandsire’s affection for us is but a ruse meant to cultivate our loyalty.”

Jade fixes the breather with a look.

“Celia and I messed up. We are on thin ice. Had we not fixed the situation we’d have been put to death. Even now the warden scurries back to his master to tell him of our chat, that I’m an ungrateful, spoiled, emotionally volatile childe.”

“You forgave. Kindred do not.”

GM: “I don’t think you came across to Pete that way,” says Diana. “I’ll take your word that your grandsire doesn’t love you. Some people don’t have much to go around.”

“But I think if you’re capable of love, there’s no reason other vampires couldn’t also be.”

Celia: “We’re just pawns,” Jade says, “to elders like them. We don’t matter, not really.”

GM: “So you’re not an ‘elder’, then?”

Celia: “No. Elders are hundreds of years old.”

GM: Diana nods. “Well, regardless. Celia said you were like a kicked puppy that had only ever been kicked, so you grew up into a mean dog. That no one is good to you. That sounds like it’s been your experience.”

Celia: “A kicked puppy?” Jade flattens her lips.

GM: “That’s since grown up, yes. Grown up hard and used to abuse.”

“I think you are Celia, too, like she and I said. Just another side of her, and maybe one she’s needed. But maybe also one that has needs of her own. Maybe one that’s not had an easy time always being hard and keeping Celia safe. Maybe you’d like someone else you can be less hard around, and know you’ll always be loved and safe with. So I don’t want to be Mrs. Flores when you’re around.”

Diana’s face softens as she spreads her arms.

“I want to be Mom, if you’ll let me.”

Celia: “You want to be my mom,” Jade repeats, like she’s never heard the words before.

GM: “I do,” Diana answers, arms still held out.

“Everyone should get to have a mom.”

Celia: Jade is quiet for a moment. A mom. Diana is offering to be her mom. Is that so unusual, she wonders, when the woman has adopted Emily and Abigail and only waits to meet Ethan before she brings him into her brood as well?

Jade doesn’t have a mom. She doesn’t need a mom. She doesn’t need anyone. She’s fine on her own. She’s doing just swell, thank you very much—

Except she’s not. She’s been hemorrhaging friends and allies left and right the past few weeks, looking every gift horse in the mouth for signs of betrayal, keeping everyone at arm’s length so that she can spring her trap before they spring theirs.

Perhaps that’s not the way.

Slowly, hesitantly, Jade nods. Her eyes dart back and forth across the dim interior of the Beetle as if waiting for someone to jump out and laugh. When it doesn’t happen she moves forward inch by inch until Diana’s arms can wrap snugly around her.

“Mom.”

GM: Technically, Celia’s mom only said she’d bring in Ethan if he didn’t love Mary.

But she did say she was prepared to.

It’s easy to imagine Veronica sneering or Pietro laughing or Preston rolling her eyes. But they aren’t there in the Beetle, and Celia’s mother is, with her outstretched arms patiently waiting. The woman’s weary and grief-wrought features seem to ease at Jade’s acceptance, as Celia’s protector lets down her armor. Perhaps Diana thinks back to Jade’s words at Flawless, when they first met. She told Celia they were the most hurtful things someone ever said to her.

“Jade isn’t your daughter.” “Right now, Diana, I am not your sweetie. I am your master. “I am its domitor, not its daughter.” "I am the master. Grace is the slave.”

Perhaps that single word, “Mom”, and reciprocated embrace does more to heal those hurts than all of the words in Jade’s three-page letter.

“I love you,” Diana murmurs, voice as soft as the hand stroking Jade’s back.

Celia: For long moments her body is tense, waiting for a knife in the dark. A stake in the back. Revenge for the pain.

She’s ready to go. Ready to fight her way out of this with fang and claw, ready to shred whoever seeks to end her.

But it doesn’t come. So bit by bit, Jade’s muscles relax into the embrace offered to her while the soft patter of rainfall plinks off the windshield.

“I… love you too.”

GM: Diana holds her close for a while. Jade can sense the woman’s steady breathing in the dark, feel the warmth of her skin as the rain falls outside.

Eventually, she pulls away, enough to look the Toreador in the eye.

“Celia said people only want to use you. That they only want to… butter the biscuit with you.”

“I’d like to get to know you,” she says softly. “This side of you. Tell me about yourself.”

Celia: Jade doubts very much that Celia used the term ‘butter the biscuit,’ but she doesn’t press the issue. No matter which way you slice it, the girl is right.

“I don’t know,” Jade says quietly, “no one has ever asked me that. They just use me. For sex, mostly. Sleep with this person. Lure in that person. Seduce and entrap this one.”

GM: “What do you like to do on your own time?” her mom asks, curiously.

Celia: Jade considers the question.

“Sex,” she says after a moment, with a lilt to the end of the word as if she doesn’t know if that’s the right answer or even an answer at all. “I like it when she has sex. To be in control. It makes me feel… powerful. Like dancing—I like when she dances. Everyone looks. Wants to touch. Wants to be there on the floor with me, hopes that I’ll favor them with a smile. Even people who don’t like me. The frat guy wouldn’t have become a friend if I weren’t a pretty package.”

There’s a pause.

“‘Naldo used to say I was smart and pretty. I liked that, I liked when he said that. But he’s dead now.”

A longer pause.

“Art,” she says eventually. “Parties. Hosting. Entertaining. Socializing. All the trivial things that being a Toreador means. I’m good at them. At lying to people. At being what they want me to be. But… surprising them, too, I enjoy. Showing the depths they don’t get to see. Research for the medical experiments. Research on old religions and mythologies. Research on… everything, I guess. Taking things apart and putting them back together again, but doing it better than before.”

“And flying.” She smiles, looking past Diana toward where the clouds shed their tears. “Flying is wonderful. If I could leave everything behind and live as a bird I think I would. I’d just go. Be free.”

GM: “Birds get a lot to be envious of, there,” says her mom. “What I find so romantic is how they also mate for life.”

“Swans, geese, bald eagles, California condors. They all spend their lives soaring the skies with their partners.”

Celia: “Mm. Is it? Or is it tying yourself to someone who will never allow you to grow into the person you’re meant to become because at eighteen you decided ‘this is it, this is my person’?”

GM: “I think it’s different for birds, there, than it is for people. They just want to soar, and they’ll do it anyway with or without a mate. But a partner makes everything better.”

Celia: “They’re also biologically wired to reproduce. Kindred are not. We have the urge to fight, to fuck, to feed, but not to mate. Not like the kine do. Not like animals. We don’t need a partner to perform that function. And there’s nothing but the pull of blood keeping us together once we’ve done that. Some sires don’t even stick around long enough to explain the rules to their bastard progeny.”

GM: “That’s very sad,” says Diana. “There obviously are animals that reproduce without partners. But they’re wired for it, from day one. Not like vampires are. You’ve been, well, human all your lives, before becoming vampires. I don’t think you’re meant to just… give up husbands and wives and children, psychologically, even if that’s how your bodies are wired now.”

She shakes her head.

“But never mind that. I want to talk about you, and the things that interest you and make you happy. So you like art, parties, medical research, old religion and mythology, and flying. And buttering biscuits. And dancing?”

Celia: “No,” Jade says slowly, “I think you’re right, and I’ve raised that point before. That the reason we’re all such horrible cocks to each other is because we’re isolated, because we see ourselves as separate and alone instead of the pack-minded, bonding animals that we came from.”

GM: “Maybe the answer is to just make an effort, there,” says her mom. “I could introduce you to Emi, if you like.”

“Because humans become worse people, too, when they’re isolated. Or maybe I should say, they become hurt when they’re isolated, and that makes it easier to hurt others. That isn’t just vampires.”

Celia: “So we gather all the licks of the city into a hug line?” Jade muses.

GM: “Back in the ‘80s, you know, there was an event, I forget what it was called, where a whole bunch of people all tried to hold hands across the entire country. They used it to raise money for charity. There’s been sillier ideas.”

“I was in, oh, I think middle school when it happened. It actually didn’t reach across New Orleans, so some people organized a local chain. It was sweet and fun, coming together with a bunch of strangers for a good cause.”

Celia: “That doesn’t make sense. Unless you had to pay to be part of the line you weren’t really raising money. How did it raise money?”

GM: “People were encouraged to donate, what was it, $10 to reserve their spot in the line. You didn’t have to, you could hold hands without it, but lots of people did anyway. I remember turning over a Thomas Jefferson. It raised a lot of money.”

Celia: “My sister is nice,” Jade says abruptly. “She pretends she isn’t. But she is. Very nice. I like her a lot. I wish I’d… I had seven years to get to know her and I didn’t, and now she’s talking about something dangerous coming. And I wonder how many are like her. Hiding behind their ice masks.”

GM: “Emi?” asks Diana.

“I don’t think she has much of an ice mask, sweetie.”

Celia: “No. My blood sister.”

“My sire’s other childe.”

“I hated her. I used to be jealous that she… that he wanted her, but not me.”

GM: “What changed that?”

Celia: “I met her.”

“As her.”

“She tortured me. Us.”

“But once she found out who we were…”

GM: It’s telling that ‘she tortured us’ doesn’t immediately elicit more than a deep frown at this point.

“She didn’t know she was your sister?”

Celia: “No. No one’s supposed to know who we are.”

“That’s why he threw you off the roof.”

GM: It’s also telling that all Diana does in immediate answer is rub her head.

“At this point I almost don’t care, as long as it’s not going to happen again.”

“I have enough else on my mind. I have enough other things to deal with.”

She manages another tired smile and rubs Jade’s hand again.

“Including you. Not all of those things are bad.”

“I’m glad you’ve gotten to know your vampire sister, and found out she’s a nice person.”

“I think you raise a good question, on how many more might be like her, hiding under ice masks.”

“Some of those masks, I’m sure, are real. Like Benson’s. But with other vampires, maybe all they need is someone else to make the first move, and show them the masks can come off.”

“Maybe they’re just scared to be vulnerable until someone shows them it’s possible.”

Celia: “And you think I should be the one to do that?”

GM: “Yes. I think everyone should be the change they want to see.”

Celia: “I… don’t know about that. Even Pete told me no one cares about my problems.”

GM: “Pete seemed like he had a bug up his butt.”

Celia: “He’s in love with you. Or the ‘idea’ of you.”

“Or I dunno maybe it’s something else.”

GM: Diana slowly shakes her head.

“I am not thinking about finding a man right now.”

Celia: “Dunno what else he’d be upset about. Happy enough to tell me I’m useless.”

GM: “What happened to Isabel’s body?” Jade’s mom asks. Not accusingly, but the pain is there in her voice.

“I want to lay her to rest.”

“I want Ethan to be there for it.”

Celia: Funny how Diana assumes it was Jade rather than Celia who ripped the heart out of her sister.

“I have it. I preserved it.”

GM: “Thank you.”

“I’ll think about… arrangements later. Tomorrow. I just wanted to know she was still there.”

Celia: “I’m sorry,” Jade offers. “About your daughter. Both of them.”

GM: “Thank you,” her mom repeats, squeezing her hand,

“I’m glad to have you with me in this time of grief.”

“I’m glad to know I’ll always love and be loved by a daughter, whatever face she has on.”

Celia: “Mom?” Jade asks after a moment, the single syllable foreign on her tongue. “…are we insane?”

GM: Diana smiles as she hears her daughter call her Mom again. For all the grief that might beset their family, it looks as if there’s no sound that brings the woman greater happiness.

“What is insane? There is a spectrum with these things.”

“Are you a danger to yourself, or other people? Can you distinguish reality?”

“Because I think those are the really important things.”

“There are girls in my classes with ADHD, or anxiety disorders, or eating disorders, or OCD, and others from the DSM. You could call them ‘insane’, but I think that’s a very hurtful and overly simplistic way to look at them.”

“And that the actually important things are, are they dangers to anybody, and do they know what’s real and not real.”

Celia: “I’m a vampire. Of course I’m dangerous.”

GM: “Sure, but because you have DID? Or just because all vampires are?”

Celia: “We all are.”

GM: Jade’s mom rubs her shoulder. “Well, there you go then. I don’t think you’re insane.”

She looks into Jade’s face for a moment.

“You’re very pretty, you know. Your eyes especially. Did you, or Celia, decide how you looked?”

Jade’s heard innumerable iterations of such words, but rarely ones whose admiration sounds as chaste as Diana’s.

Celia: Jade’s smile lights up those eyes her mother so admires.

“I did. She has a good base. I just improved upon it.”

“I’m the prettiest. In the whole city.” The haughtiness she’s known for returns with a toss of her head. “Of all the licks, none of them look better than me. Beauty is subjective, certainly, you’ll have those who point it out… while their partners and lovers crawl after me.”

GM: Jade could see her mother chuckling, earlier. Diana doesn’t do that, but she does smile at the Toreador’s response.

“You look a lot like her, in some, I’d put it, ‘indirect’ ways. You’re right. You also talk like she does, about some things. I can see how you’re ‘related’.”

“It’s not obvious, don’t worry about that. I know you don’t want it to be. I’m saying this as your, both of your, honest-to-goodness mother.”

“More the sort of thing that makes me go ‘aha’ in hindsight.”

Celia: “We’ve been less careful with this face,” Jade concedes.

GM: Diana shakes her head. “You’re more than different enough, on the surface. Like I said. Only saying this as the woman who gave birth to you.”

Celia: “Thank you,” Jade says at length. “For… this.”

“If you get a dog, I can start working with it.”

GM: “You’re welcome.” Jade’s mother touches her cheek. “And thank you, too. I’d rather love you than hate and fear you.”

Celia: Jade slowly nods.

“Me too,” she says.


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Story Thirteen, Caroline VI, Celia XXXI

“We don’t live in a world of fairy tales, just of monsters.”
Caroline Malveaux-Devillers


Tuesday night, 22 March 2016, AM

GM: Draco drops off Jade at Diana’s house. The hour must be late, as the lights inside are all off.

Celia: Jade checks the time on his dash before she gets out. She makes sure to get a time and location to meet him for the day as well and thanks him kindly for the lift.

She gets the bag out of the back of the car first and slings it over her shoulder, then leans back into the front seat to wrap the baby ghoul in the blanket before bringing the child into her arms. A bit of shadow dancing and no one will even notice the child in her arms.

GM: It’s around 2 AM.

He provides her with both.

Celia: They’d spent a decent chunk of time together this evening. She wishes him well for his evening and mentions that even Savoy told her not to trust the snakes, but once she’s out of the car he’s not her problem.

Getting into the house is.

Jade knocks.

GM: Draco offers a cold smile to Savoy’s secondhand advice.

“Don’t trust anyone,” he replies, then drives off.

No one answers Jade’s knock from the presumably sleeping house.

Celia: There’s an unlocked window or a key hidden somewhere. No matter how many times Celia had told her mother not to, the woman just couldn’t help leaving one out for wayward children.

Jade searches for it.

GM: She finds concealed in a more clever hiding spot behind a loose brick in the gate.

It was Emily’s idea. No “under the welcome mat” for her.

Not that the porch-less and stair-elevated house has a welcome mat.

Celia: Clever.

Jade lets herself in.

GM: The house is dark and silent inside.

Silent until Shadow gives a furious hiss, the calico cat’s tail immediately going as thick as a beaver’s.

Celia: Jade turns toward the noise. There’s something… familiar about it. Something that calls to her. She crouches, making a sound that isn’t quite human.

“Easy, boy.”

GM: The dark-faced calico stares for a moment, then blinks and settles back down on its haunches. The shrinking tail curls around its side.

Celia: …interesting. Jade plans to explore more of this later. Now, though, she asks the cat to keep her company while she moves through the house to find Celia’s mother.

GM: The cat rises and silently pads after the vampire, a literal Shadow at her side.

Diana’s bedroom sits empty, but Jade finds the woman asleep with Lucy in the latter’s room, arms wrapped around the child. Her face bears lines of grief and perhaps even age that were not present yesterday. Sleep looks as if it brings her little peace.

Lucy’s sleep, too, looks less than well. The girl’s face is buried against her stuffed lion, Aslan.

The bunny nightlight glows from the corner, as do the smiley-faced stars pressed to the walls and ceiling, their soft light all too unable to keep the monsters at bay.

Celia: Jade may not have a mother, but the sight of the two together still sends relief rippling through her. Celia has enough problems without losing the rest of her family. For the moment she lets them sleep, backing out of the door to step into Diana’s bedroom with the baby and the bag. She sets the sleeping child on the bed and rummages through Diana’s closet for something suitable. While she searches, she keeps half of her attention on Shadow. The sounds that she makes are more feline than human.

“Tell me about the women. Their actions today.”

GM: Shadow springs onto the bed and pads around on the covers.

“They were slower feeding me.”

“They didn’t come when I called.”

“Except for the little one.”

“But she doesn’t feed me.”

Celia: Amusement flickers across her face. No doubt the cat “called” when he was hungry, making a racket to their attention. She’s heard it before.

“Did they have visitors?”

GM: “The girl came back. She scratched and petted me.”

“I marked her with my scent.”

Celia: “Which girl?”

GM: “The one who smells like white flowers.”

Shadow does another lap around the bedcovers before finding a satisfactory spot to settle down.

“You may now scratch my chin.”

Celia: White flowers? There are a lot of white flowers and they all smell differently. Which white flowers?

She finds an outfit while the cat makes his laps and laughs aloud at the order. Jade takes a seat on the bed, reaching out to scratch Shadow’s chin. She can’t remember the last time she touched a cat.

“How often does White Flower Girl come by?”

GM: It’s been a very long time.

The cat’s eyes slowly blink under Jade’s scratching fingers. A purr sounds from its throat.

“Her smell is familiar. It became part of my territory. Then she left.”

Celia: Oh. Dani.

She’d said she was stopping by.

Because she can’t keep her nose out of anything, can she. ’I’m going to tell Diana that you’re all the same person.’

This. This is why Jade hadn’t told anyone.

Because none of them keep their mouths shut.

GM: A perhaps predictable reaction after she felt betrayed and manipulated by Celia.

“You may now scratch behind my ears.”

Celia: Jade moves her fingers to behind the cat’s ears.

“Is the older girl in her den?”

GM: Shadow blinks long and slow.

“Yes.”

“Scratch lower.”

Celia: “I am taking the young girl and the mother away this evening. We will be back before it is time to feed you.”

Jade moves her hand.

“Will you watch over the sleeping cub?”

GM: The cat arches its back as it gets up, then rubs its head along Jade’s flank several times, marking her with its scent.

“You are now mine.”

Shadow turns and pads over to Harper, then rubs a head along the sleeping child’s back.

“It is now mine.”

The cat paces around the bedcovers again, then finds another comfortable spot to settle back down.

Celia: Cats are delightful.

Jade rises to remove her pajamas and slip into something more suitable for a lick. Diana’s fashion choices differ from hers, but Celia will be the one wearing the face and clothing this evening.

She finds Diana’s phone plugged into the wall on her nightstand and uses it to make a quick call to Alana to check in.

GM: The phone asks her to trace a pattern before it unlocks.

Celia: Diana had given it to her yesterday when she borrowed the phone. She traces the pattern.

GM: Alana answers groggily and sounds like she’s been woken up in the middle of the night. She found some paperwork in Celia’s office about transferring ownership of the spa, as well as all of Celia’s assets. What’s going on there?

Other than that, the ghoul reports things are fine.

Celia: Jade tells her not to worry about it, that it was a misunderstanding. She can shred the papers. She asks if her packages came in and if she has heard from the boys.

GM: A new phone indeed arrived for Celia. She has not heard from the boys.

Celia: They’re turning into a headache.

Jade asks where Alana is and where the packages are. She’ll swing by to get them later.

When she’s done with the work she uses her charm to calm and soothe the child in case there’s any lingering pain and asks Shadow if he’ll mind cuddling it until it falls asleep.

It. She’s referred to the child as “it” this whole time. She.

Or he. Wouldn’t that give her more anonymity? Who would suspect that Jade changed a baby’s race and sex?

Perhaps that’s a step too far.

The work didn’t take long, anyway, with so little actual body to work with.

Jade turns away from the child to pull an outfit from the closet, a soft pink skirt and ivory blouse with sensible kitten heels.

Then she moves out of the room to find Diana again, waking the woman with a gentle hand on her back.

GM: Harper wakes up as Jade feeds her the pill, dumbly swallowing it down. She probably doesn’t feel anything, after that. Maybe it’s just the unfamiliar sensation under this unfamiliar woman’s strange touch in an unfamiliar place that causes the baby to suddenly start crying.

It’s distracting, especially when the baby starts weakly flailing her arms and limbs.

Jade supposes she’s had worse “patients”, though.

Like Celia’s ex.

Granted, he remained completely motionless.

Celia: He’d also had a stake in his chest.

Though he’d handled it quite well without, too.

It really is a shame the little bitch fucked it all up with her half-truths. Draco is far more interesting than who he’d been before.

And there’s so much she can do with him if he’s on her side…

Jade sighs at the child like it’s her fault things turned out the way they have. She takes a hit from the vitae they’d collected from the thin-blood and filters it through her body before biting into her wrist to give to the child.

GM: The bedroom light suddenly switches on. Celia’s mother stands at the doorway, dressed in a nightgown, and carrying a carving knife. She looks awful, for all the work Celia has done on her. Woken up at 2 AM the night after learning her daughter is dead. The same shadow Celia saw on Henry’s face is dark across Diana’s.

She looks at the baby, then looks at Jade’s face.

Her grip on the knife does not slacken.

“Explain this. Right now.”

Harper cries louder.

Celia: “Mrs. Flores,” Jade says smoothly. “Celia has asked me to handle some things for her. She will be out in a moment to speak with you.”

She looks down at the child.

“I am trying to rehabilitate this one. She has lost her mother, a despicable lick who has tormented her for years. Celia and I believe we can help her make the transition into a normal life, but—oh, sweetheart,” Jade murmurs to the child as it cries louder, pulling her up into her arms to tuck its face against her chest. She murmurs sweet nothings into the baby’s ear as she reaches out with her clan’s gift to blunt its emotions.

GM: Just like that, the baby shuts up, tears still wet on her face.

Diana’s face, though, is not nearly so placid. She continues to walk closer, carving knife gripped in hand. Her voice sounds like stone.

“You do not have my permission to be here. To be this close to Lucy.”

The woman’s gaze is deathly intent. She has no eyes for this stranger’s baby. Only the child she has just named.

Leave. Or I will make you.”

Celia: Jade’s eyes meet Diana’s. Instinct demand that she snarl, bare her fangs, put this kine in her place. But this is Celia’s mother, and Celia has lost enough. Will continue to lose more.

Jade dips her head in deferment.

“As you wish, Mrs. Flores. My apologies for dropping in. I had not meant to violate our agreement.”

She turns, as if to leave out the window.

When she turns again it’s Celia’s face on her body, large eyes staring at her mother.

“Momma,” she says, “I’m sorry.”

GM: Diana stares ahead. Perhaps at Celia. Perhaps at the window. She grips the knife and says nothing. It is hard to say what thoughts swim in her head.

Celia: “I didn’t mean to surprise you.”

“I… I meant to come by earlier, but things went sideways, and I… I didn’t know where else to go.”

She swallows, a human reflex she no longer has need for, but it conveys her apprehension all the same.

GM: Harper suddenly starts crying again. A foul smell fills the room.

Diana dully blinks, sets down the knife, and moves to take the baby.

Celia: Celia blinks down at the child. Then she, too, starts to cry. When Diana reaches for her she hands over Harper.

She rummages through the diaper bag for a fresh diaper, assuming that’s what the girl needs.

GM: Celia’s mother carries Harper into the bathroom and proceeds to change the baby’s soiled diaper with the rote movements of a mom who’s done this in the middle of the night… probably way too many times, after six kids. She cleans Harper’s bottom under water, towels her off, applies some baby powder from the cabinet, and fixes on the clean diaper provided by Celia.

Harper cries the entire time.

Celia: “She won’t stop crying,” Celia says, wringing her hands as she follows Diana through the house. She does it again, reaching out with her gift to blunt the child’s emotions, but it always seems to be a bandaid rather than a cure.

She tries another gift, using it on herself rather than the child, letting Harper know that she can trust Celia. That she’s a friend. That she’ll help.

GM: Harper keeps crying. Celia’s latest use of star mode doesn’t seem to inspire much change there.

“Celia, what is this,” her mother says in a dully exhausted voice. She fits the baby into the crook of her arm and starts slowly rocking her back and forth.

Celia: “It’s a really bad situation,” Celia says quietly, “and I’m trying to fix it so she can have a normal life. Or any life.”

GM: “Well, that’s why she’s crying.”

“And because she’s a baby.”

“They cry.”

Celia: “Lucy didn’t cry this much.”

GM: “Celia… of course she didn’t,” Diana says in a too-tired-to-explain tone as she rocks the child.

“Where is this girl’s mother. She should be with her.”

“Mother. Caregiver. Whoever.”

Celia: “Missing,” Celia says, because that’s all she knows.

GM: “Has she eaten?”

Celia: “I don’t know,” Celia admits. “Probably not for a while. I don’t have…” she makes a vague gesture toward her chest. “I think there’s formula in the bag, I can check.”

GM: The long-time mom shakes her head at that idea.

“She looks maybe… 18 months? That’s too old for formula. Go to the fridge, grab whatever produce is handy, and stick it in the blender with some water. Doesn’t need to be a lot.”

“18 months is old enough to handle table food, for that matter. But we’ll start her off easy. I don’t know where she’s at developmentally if she’s from a bad home.”

“Actually, go with fruit. Something sweeter might be easier to coax her into eating.”

Celia: “Okay,” Celia nods, moving into the kitchen to do just that. She searches the fridge for available produce, unsure what’s best for the child, and finally finds a selection of fruit like her mother said. She cuts it into small pieces and puts it in the blender with water, then pours it into one of Lucy’s plastic cups. She brings it back to her mom.

GM: She finds some strawberries and mangoes. She hears her mom singing to the still-crying child in the living room when she gets back.

“We need a spoon, sweetie,” says Diana. “She might spill a cup.”

Celia: “Oh.” She leaves the cup and locates a spoon to bring back.

GM: Diana sets Harper down on the couch, swaddles her with her blanket, and coaxes her with the spoon, but she isn’t interested. She keeps crying.

Celia: Blood.

That’s what she really wants.

Diana had interrupted Jade before she could give her any.

“Here,” Celia says, biting into her wrist and extending it toward the child.

GM: Her mother’s gaze rivets to the welling blood, for just a moment, before it meets Celia’s eyes.

“Celia—are you insane?!” she whispers furiously.

Celia: Well, yes.

“She’s already an addict,” Celia says hotly. “It’s not like this is the first hit.”

GM: “And if someone’s been shot once you don’t keep shooting them. You call 911.”

Her mother shakes her head.

“Christ almighty. God in heaven almighty. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Who would do this to a baby.”

Celia: “I can’t not give it to her or she’s going to age very quickly in a very short time and die.”

GM: Harper gives a scream and lunges for the wrist. Diana presses a hand to the baby’s chest, holding her at bay.

“What!?” Celia’s mother repeats.

“This stuff is heroin! You do not give heroin to a baby!”

Celia: “She’s been stuck like that for years. I’m trying to find a way to fix it. Slow down the aging so she can have a normal life.”

“And I know, Mom, I didn’t. Someone else did and I wanted to help.”

GM: Harper keeps crying her head off.

“So what happens? If she misses a dose? You said it… stops aging, but for a baby?”

Celia: Celia nods. “She’s been frozen for years. If it wears off she’ll rapidly catch up to where she should be and the shock of it will put too much of a strain on her body for her to handle it. People aren’t meant to grow that much that quickly.”

GM: Diana looks like someone just punched her in the gut. Equal parts shock, horror, and incredulity dance across her haggard face.

Harper wails.

“God forgive us. Give her some, then. God forgive us.”

Celia’s mother closes her eyes and traces the cross.

Celia: “I’m sorry,” Celia murmurs, but she doesn’t know who she’s apologizing to anymore. She feeds the child with the blood from her body.

GM: Just like that, faster than the softest and sweetest nursery rhyme Diana ever sang to Lucy, Harper shuts up. The baby clings to her wrist and mindlessly sucks.

It’s like a flipped switch. Lucy never calmed down that fast.

Diana looks like her heart is breaking on her face.

She finally looks away, leaning her head into her hand.

Celia: It’s like feeding any other ghoul, Celia tells herself. She’s saving her life, Celia tells herself. She’s fixing someone else’s mistake, Celia tells herself.

GM: Harper just sucks contently.

Eagerly.

Avidly.

“Celia. How in God’s name does anyone fix this,” sounds her mother’s voice.

Celia: “I thought I could find a way she could age more slowly, and make sure she hit all the right milestones, and work with a psychologist or something…”

GM: “This is… this is above my department,” Diana repeats slowly, shaking her head.

“This poor, poor baby…”

“What happened to her, Celia? Who did this? Does she have anyone else?”

Diana waits until Celia is done ‘feeding’ Harper, then tries to interest the baby in another spoonful of pulped fruit. The woman’s eyes briefly flick towards her daughter’s wrist.

Celia: “I don’t think she has anyone else,” Celia says quietly while Harper sucks at her wrist. “And the person who found her thought the kindest thing to do would be to put her down gently. We don’t think she can have a normal life after this. There’s too much damage. I just… wanted to try, I guess, and now I wonder if I’m in over my head. I didn’t even know how to feed her… I don’t know if my plan will work, I don’t know if it will just be more painful.”

Celia trails off, bringing her wrist back to her mouth to lick the wound closed. She eyes her mother.

“Lucy’s memories need erased. I have someone that can do it, I just need to let her know I’m coming. The sooner the better. I don’t want her exposed to this life.”

GM: Harper doesn’t look very interested in the fruit at first, but eventually swallows a spoonful after some very patient coaxing from Diana.

“What do you mean, no normal life? What will it take to fix her?” she asks, dipping the spoon back into the cup. “But ‘putting down’ a baby, what a perfectly vile thing to say.”

Lucy’s name makes her pause in mid-action.

“And what do you mean, her memories erased?”

Celia: “I don’t know what she overheard last night between us. Then the fire. It should have been done last night but I let you two sleep instead, and I didn’t want you to wake up to see her gone. So we’ll cover her memories with something else, make her forget what she heard.”

“It doesn’t hurt,” Celia offers.

GM: “Celia, I don’t understand what you mean.”

Celia: “…which part?”

GM: “Covering her memories. Making her forget. That isn’t how it works, sweetie. She isn’t going to forget overnight.”

Celia: “There are powers that let us make people forget. I don’t know how, but I know someone who does.”

Celia pauses.

“Mom, do you remember flying across the city? Falling?”

“The morning you got sick.”

GM: “No, sweetie, I don’t.”

Lucy definitely isn’t going to forget overnight, though.

Celia hears it before she sees it. The faint intake of breathing.

She knows it before she hears the pitter-patter of little feet.

Lucy is out of bed.

Lucy has heard Harper’s unrelenting, minutes-long cries and screams.

Lucy is snooping.

Lucy is hearing things she should not hear.

Again.

Celia: The little snoop.

Celia becomes a blur of movement, out the door and down the hall to lift the child into her arms with a huff and a smile.

You,” she says to the girl in a teasing tone, “are going to give me gray hairs before my time, did you know that?”

She carries Lucy back into the bedroom with her mother.

“Guess who is up.”

GM: Lucy stares dumbly up at Celia with a minute inhalation of breath.

She’s silent as her sister scoops her up.

She looks at Harper, this crying baby who’s in their house without explanation. The subject of such pained and distraught and grim-sounding words uttered by the adults.

She looks at her mom, with her confused and wearied and pained face.

Then she starts crying.

Celia: Celia’s face crumples. She hadn’t meant to scare her.

GM: “Oh, Luce, Luce, Luce…” murmurs Diana, picking the child up onto her lap. She hugs the six-year-old and strokes her back.

“It’s okay, baby, it’s okay…”

“Who’s… who’s that…” sniffs Lucy.

Diana opens her mouth as if to answer, then seemingly realizes she doesn’t know.

Celia: Celia glances at her mom, then back to Lucy.

“This is my friend’s baby. My friend is sick, very sick, and she asked me to look after her for a while. I’m sorry she woke you, Goose.”

GM: Lucy sniffs some more.

Diana comforts her. She asks Celia to feed the other “her”, not knowing Harper’s name.

That goes on for a few minutes.

Celia: Celia takes Harper from her mother and sets the child down on her lap, taking over with the feeding. She has to coax her into taking each bite.

“Abigail,” she says to Lucy, “but I just call her Abi.”

GM: ‘Abigail’ seems less interested when it’s coming from Celia. She was never around for any of Lucy’s early feedings.

“We’re gonna go visit Emi, okay, Goose,” her mother says. “Celia, you can watch Abi, please.”

Diana’s gone for a few minutes, then comes back. Some of the adrenaline looks like it’s worn off. Her voice is number, or at least more tired again when she resumes feeding ‘Abigail’.

“Celia. This cannot go on.”

“Lucy seeing and hearing all of these things. Fires. Running out to stay at Randy’s. Babies in the middle of the night. Visits from Jade in the middle of the night.”

“This is not a stable home environment.”

Celia: “I know, Mom. I… honestly think it might be best for me to cut contact. I don’t know what else to do.”

GM: “No,” her mother declares dully between feeding ‘Abigail’ another spoonful of food. “I have lost one daughter. I am not losing another.”

Celia: “Then how do you want me to do this? Just not come by?”

GM: “We’ll decide something,” her mother says tiredly. “Later. This just cannot go on, the way it is.”

Celia: “I agree. We’ll figure something out and stick to that. I never meant to interrupt your life with any of this. That’s why I lied about it for so long.”

“But listen.”

“Let’s take Lucy to see my friend, she’ll alter the memories, we cover our bases there, and then we’ll figure out the rest.”

GM: “Who is the friend. Is he or she a vampire. Are there… side effects. Is there any way this could go wrong, and cause harm to Lucy.”

“Do you truly believe, this is the best option, for Lucy.”

Celia: “There are no side effects. Not unless someone rifles through her mind. But if she doesn’t know anything, there’s no reason for her to be bothered. She’s a child.”

Celia shakes her head.

“I was exposed to them young, Mom. I remembered it for years. And now I’m dead. I’m trying not to repeat the same mistakes that someone else made with me. I don’t want this for her. I want her to be happy and healthy and ignorant of this.”

“It’s a gentle process. We’ll just tell her to remember something else. And yes, my friend is a vampire, she… I, ah, I don’t know if she’d want me sharing her identity, but you know her, and you’ve had positive interactions with her.”

GM: “I do not care what your friend wants,” Diana says exhaustedly.

“This is my child.”

“I will know who we are trusting with her.”

Celia: Celia supposes she can always have the Ventrue take this memory, too.

“Caroline.”

GM: Celia’s mom just keeps feeding ‘Abigail’.

“The gay girl. Fine.”

Celia: “She’s not gay.”

“I mean I guess she is but we’re dead, gender isn’t really a thing to us anymore.”

GM: Celia just gets the exhausted, past-caring stare of a sleep-deprived woman who lost her daughter not one day ago.

Celia: It’s never the right time to explain.

GM:If you think this is best. Okay. I am out of my depth. I want a normal life for Lucy. None of this.”

“We will go to Caroline.”

“I will be there the entire time.”

“Lucy will not once leave my sight.”

Celia: “Of course, Mom. It’ll be okay. I promise.”

GM: All Celia gets at that declaration is a hollow look.


Tuesday night, 22 March 2016, AM

GM: Diana picks up ‘Abigail’ and walks outside to Emily’s room. Celia hears voices. Doubtless, her sister is full of questions and opinions, as always.

But perhaps tonight she restrains them. Perhaps tonight she accepts necessity.

Or perhaps Diana refuses to put up with her. All Celia can tell is that her mother re-enters the house with Lucy and without ‘Abigail’ or Emily. She goes to her bedroom and throws on a dress, coat, and shoes. She dresses Lucy, next. She does not fix her hair or face. She looks awful. She doesn’t look as if she cares. She gets pepper spray and a kitchen knife to stick in her purse. Perhaps she wishes she owns a gun she could bring too.

Celia: Celia uses her mother’s phone to call Caroline while Diana gets ready.

You don’t just drop by unannounced.

Celia lets Diana know not to mention Jade in front of Caroline or her people before she hits the “dial” button. No one is supposed to know.

Caroline: Caroline answers: she was generous enough to provide Celia with her direct line, rather than the one to her assistant. She covers any surprise at Celia’s call and provides a time. She hints her price, such as it is, remains the same.

GM: Diana holds Lucy’s hand, at first, then finally just scoops up the sleepy-looking child into her arms. She tells Celia to get the keys to the Beetle and drive for them. She sits in the back with Lucy. Rain pelts against the car’s windows. Lucy nods off. Her face does not look peaceful in sleep, even with her mother’s hand running over her head. Her mother’s face looks worse.

With ‘Abigail’ gone, and her child asleep in the dark car, driving towards another vampire, what maternal instinct seemingly animated Celia’s mother gives way to that same look as when she found Jade in her bedroom at 2 AM. She looks grim. She looks numb. She looks weary. She looks grieving.

She looks like she’s thinking about Isabel, and all of the things that could have been said and done that were not said and done. Because how could she not think about those things on a dark and rainy car ride in the middle of the night.

She’s brought pepper spray and a kitchen knife in her purse. Perhaps she wishes she owned a gun she could bring too.

She does not look away from Lucy.

She does not speak.

The drive passes in silence but for the patter of the rain.

Celia: Celia has one stop to make in the Beetle before they hit the CBD. She’s in and out in two minutes, leaving her mother in the car. She returns with a purse. Then the drive across Canal to the Giani Building, and Celia kills her aura. She doesn’t want to get picked up for trespassing before she’s had a chance to even do anything.

GM: Diana finally breaks the dark silence to ask if there are further things, for Lucy’s and their family’s safety, she should not speak of.

Celia: Emily. Dani. Stephen. That Emily knows about any of this. Celia’s DID. That’s most of it, she thinks.

Oh. Abigail. Any of the other ghouls she keeps.

Or how long Celia has been a vampire.

“Honestly maybe just keep the topic to what’s at hand and pretend you don’t know much about me or what I get up to.”

Caroline: The Giani Building isn’t a far drive from the French Quarter, the building looming just over the border from Savoy’s domain.

There are no games this evening. There’s a familiar blonde in a pantsuit waiting for them in the lobby that gets them past a smiling doorman. The blonde lookings perhaps a little worse for the wear than the last time Celia saw her, though she’s tried to cover up the dark circles with heavier makeup.

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Celia: Celia greets her politely, announcing herself for Caroline’s… herald? Assistant? She’s not sure which function this one serves.

Caroline: The ghoul answers in kind, welcoming her to the Giani Building.

It’s a far cry from the reception Jade and her ghouls received. She’s even polite enough not to comment on bringing a child to a vampire’s haven in the dead of night.

She swipes a badge on the elevator and presses the button for the roof when everyone is inside. The ride up is quick.

The doors opens to reveal the Ventrue seated at a table inside beside the redhead from the Walter Robinson House. They’re hunched over a folder that snaps shut rapidly as the door opens.

“That’ll be all, Autumn,” she directs.

Autumn_Alt1.jpg
Celia: She steps forward to greet Caroline, outpacing mother and sister.

“Thank you for seeing me. I appreciate the quick response at the inconvenient time.”

GM: “All right, see you,” Autumn nods as she gathers the folder and gets up to leave.

The vampire’s mother looks terrible. Physically and otherwise. She looks like she’s gotten out of bed after hearing some of the worst news of her life. The look on her face is not a dissimilar look to the one Caroline’s mother wore after Westley’s death. Before her own.

She was all smiles and sweetness at the Walter Robinson House.

She has no smiles tonight.

Lucy doesn’t look so alive as she did there, either. She looks sleepy and scared. She clings to her grandmother’s side.

She reminds Caroline of Simmone.

Caroline: “There’s never a convenient time in my experience,” Caroline offers gently.

She can read the room.

“Please, have a seat,” she extends the offer to all the guests with a wave of her hand.

“I know it’s late.”

GM: “Thank you,” Mrs. Flores responds tonelessly. She sits and pulls Lucy onto her lap.

The child ventures a glance up at Caroline, but doesn’t speak.

Celia: Celia watches Autumn go, then takes a seat between her family and Caroline. As if she’s decided that Caroline is a threat she needs to protect her family against and putting herself between them will amount to anything.

Her tired smile doesn’t quite reach her eyes.

Why, she asks herself again, did she turn to Caroline rather than Lebeaux?

Because his sire lied to you and turned you in for infernalism.

Yeah.

“My mom knows,” she says without preamble.

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip. “Oh.”

She turns her gaze from Celia to Diana. “I imagine that was rather quite the shock.”

GM: Mrs. Flores looks more numb than shocked.

A moment passes before she responds.

“She’s still my daughter.”

Caroline can picture the dance teacher at her mother’s house laughing and making a quip about something.

Caroline: The heiress smiles tightly. “Of course she is.”

She looks between Celia and Mrs. Flores.

Celia: “She took it well,” Celia offers. “Only it’s been a little hectic, and, ah, Lucy kind of overheard some things.”

GM: The child remains very quiet.

Mrs. Flores squeezes her hand.

Caroline: “Ah,” Caroline answers.

“Some of the things we discuss aren’t things children should hear about.” She runs her tongue across her teeth.

“I presume that’s the favor you wanted?”

GM: “We want her to have a normal life,” says Mrs. Flores.

“Monsters under the bed don’t need to be real.”

Lucy turns away and plants her head against her grandmother.

Caroline: With a vampire mother, vampire aunt, and a ghoul grandmother. I’m certain it’ll be totally normal, Caroline doesn’t say.

“I can get behind that.”

GM: Mrs. Flores wraps wraps her arms around the girl.

“Celia says you can take away the bad memories.”

Celia: “I thought it would be the best way to prevent any more of… this. Any interference. I was exposed young and I’d rather Lucy not be.”

Caroline: “I can,” Caroline answers. “Within reason. It requires some knowledge. Some planning. It doesn’t always take in the long run—it’s not quite the blunt instrument some people use it for. The more precise I can be in what I’m looking for, in where things happened, in what their emotional state was at the time, the better a job I can do with it. The more likely it is to neatly smooth over.”

“The less careful, the less information, the more likely that it becomes a sort of mental scab that they’ll pick at. It’s not actually that dissimilar to surgery in that way.”

“It’s good that Celia brought you here. There are a fair number of people that don’t use quite the same gentle touch.”

To say nothing of the fair number that would charge an arm and a leg for it.

GM: “Lucy was awake when we thought she was in bed and asleep,” says Mrs. Flores. “Can you just tell her that she was sleeping?”

Celia: “I don’t know if it works like that, Mom,” Celia says, but she looks to Caroline for confirmation. “Unless she thinks the whole thing is a weird dream or nightmare.”

Caroline: Caroline nods with Celia and turns to meet Mrs. Flores’ gaze.

“I could, Mrs. Flores, simply paper them over with bad dreams. Assuming you could tell me which dates and times we were talking about. But I suspect if I did so, it’s the sort of thing that she’d pick at for years in the back of her mind. People are good at detecting falsehoods, understanding when things don’t match with how they should have felt. Especially if you give them enough time and similar situations, if that makes sense.”

She gives a sharp smile. “It’s much better to find something that fits neatly into the context—for instance, a homophobic woman walking in on two women together.”

GM: Mrs. Flores silently follows Caroline at first, then frowns sharply.

“What?”

Celia: Celia’s lips flatten into an imitation of her grandmother’s.

Caroline: Caroline’s smile doesn’t fade. “When done properly, you align emotional state to memory, and the person in question doesn’t think twice about what they now believe they remember.”

GM: “You’ve been in my head,” Mrs. Flores states slowly. There’s no fear in her voice, though, but what sounds like growing anger.

Caroline: “Once before,” Caroline admits.

“I don’t make a habit of it, but it was better than the alternative. I use the example to illustrate the point.”

GM: Mrs. Flores’ eyes narrow.

“I see. And what was that alternative?” she asks in a low voice.

Caroline: If Caroline notices the anger, she doesn’t react to it. “The damaging of your daughter’s Masquerade, and the dragging of you and your family into this world.”

GM: Mrs. Flores doesn’t look away from her.

“Did you know and approve of this, Celia?”

Celia: “I knew of it,” Celia says quietly, “but I didn’t ask her to. You walked in on the two of us. And later that night was, ah, was when some worse stuff happened, so I thought it would be better to focus on that.”

“I got in trouble for trespassing. The sheriff threw you off the roof to make a point. I was more worried about him killing you than making you forget your daughter has lesbian tendencies.”

“Then you got sick. And Maxen came back. And everything else happened.”

GM: “You will not attempt to break inside my head again. Ever. I have had enough vampires in my head without my consent. If you do, I will know, and I will make you dearly regret it. Are we understood?” Celia’s mother tells Caroline.

Celia: …oh yeah, this was a great idea.

Her ghouled mother threatening the prince’s childe, what could go wrong?

“Mom, why don’t you let me talk to Caroline alone for a minute.”

Caroline: The Ventrue’s eyes flash, and not kindly.

Celia: Celia rises.

“Let’s take a walk, yeah? Outside? So we can discuss this.”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t rise. She calls over to the blonde they arrived with, still waiting by the elevator.

“They’ll be leaving now, Widney.”

“Good luck with your granddaughter, Mrs. Flores. I’m certain your daughter can find someone else more understanding. I might suggest you move quickly—few of us can do more than a day or two into the past. I also recommend you keep a civil tongue in your head with them. Very few of us are as forgiving as I am.”

She turns to Celia. “Celia, I look forward to hearing about how you resolved this by tomorrow night. I would hate to have to report this sort of ugly Masquerade breach to the Krewe. You know how unreasonable they can be, and how seriously they take this sort of thing.”

Celia: The color drains from her face. She rounds on her own mother, hurt and anger in her eyes.

“Mom,” she hisses, “stop it. We came to her for help. She didn’t hurt you. She doesn’t know what you’ve been through or why what she did has such an impact on you. You don’t threaten people who are trying to help you. Apologize. Now. Please.”

She can’t tell the Krewe. She can’t. Lucy and Emily will both be in trouble.

Celia whirls toward Caroline.

“Caroline. Please. How many boons? I’ll pay. I’m sorry. I’m sorry for her outburst. She didn’t mean to threaten you. She’s had a really rough few nights, she’s never been around other licks before. Can we just talk about this, please? Privately?”

GM: Mrs. Flores wordlessly rises from seat and picks up Lucy. Caroline’s words stiffen the dance teacher’s spine until her daughter cuts in.

The ‘please’ seems to be what finally does it.

“I will give the benefit of the doubt,” she says slowly, “that you wanted to do right. That you wanted to keep my family and I out of… this world. I’ve had other vampires abuse me. Stay out of my head and I’ll have no bone to pick with you. I learned yesterday that one of my children is dead. I don’t want anything to happen to Lucy. She’s innocent. She’s six. She’s done nothing. Please help us. I just want her to live a normal life.”

Widney looks expectantly towards Caroline, as if to see whether her orders stand.

Celia: Celia also looks to Caroline, pleading with her eyes.

“I don’t trust anyone else with them. Please. I have something you might want.”

Caroline: When did I become this way? Caroline wonders.

When did she become so imperious? When did she let the arrogance seep in so far that a demand that she not rape another person’s mind was enough to set off her temper? When did she start viewing the kine as just that, not even people? As being not worthy of respect. As being she should threaten and lord over. As being she should punish physically for speaking out of turn.

The thought is short-lived.

She is what she is, what she has become. She’s become what she has to.

The kine’s words don’t touch her heart. They don’t warm it, or stir it. She has no sympathy for her buried child or past abuses she might have suffered.

There’s similarly no love for the girl cradled in her grandmother’s arms, and no bond between them and she. The list of mortals she genuinely cares for is preciously short. It costs her nothing to throw them out. It would make her feel powerful. It would free the time she’s earmarked for this meeting, spare her the use of the precious vitae she has so little spare time to acquire these nights.

But there is something with Celia. A bond of fathers, or of sires, or of experiences. It’s not the begging of the kine that moves her. It’s the begging of the Kindred.

“Mrs. Flores, I have none of the sadistic tendencies of many of my kind. So I will not, as many of them might, break into your mind and force you to cut off your granddaughter’s fingers one by one with a kitchen knife to prove a point about how you fit into this social hierarchy. But you would do well to remember that you not even a person where we are concerned. I would be more likely to be held accountable for allowing that sort of arrogant trespass on your part to pass without response than for harming you or any member of your family. Those are the stakes of every meeting with a Kindred for every ghoul, Mrs. Flores.”

GM: Lucy finally starts crying in Diana’s arms.

Caroline: She rises and starts towards the roof.

“Quiet the child while the adults speak.”

GM: “Stop frightening the child if you don’t want her to cry,” Mrs. Flores glares back, rocking Lucy back and forth as she rubs the girl’s head.

“As for my ‘arrogance’, I’ll tell you this, Caroline. I know too well how vampires treat their ‘ghouls’ and that is not me. Not ever again. I am not part of your hierarchy. I am not part of your society. Celia and I are equals. If that’s offensive to how other vampires think, we will be happy to stay away from them.”

Celia: Silently, Celia wonders at the woman beside her. How far she has come from the broken wretch she was only nights ago, tormented and tortured into a shell of a person rather than this marvelous thing. Telling off a vampire in their own domain. Portraying herself as an equal.

Selling the story Celia had given her.

She touches a hand to Diana’s shoulder in quiet solidarity, though when she looks back to the Ventrue there’s apprehension in her eyes. Waiting for the derision, scorn, and contempt that so many of their kind would harbor for such a statement. She opens her mouth to speak before any more venom can be spit this evening.

“Momma, I’m going to make arrangements with her, we’ll be back in a moment.” Celia touches a hand to Lucy’s head as well, leaning in to murmur that it’s going to be okay. Then she follows the Ventrue out onto the roof proper.

GM: Celia’s mother raises no objection to that. Lucy gives a sniffled, “I wanna go home…” at Celia’s touch. “I know, Luce, I know,” murmurs Diana, stroking the child’s back.

Celia: She waits until they’re outside to break the silence.

“I’m sorry,” she begins. “I thought it might be better to not bring her, but she’s not letting Lucy out of her sight right now.”

Celia shoves a hand through her hair, looking for all the world like the almost-child she died as.

“I’m in over my head,” she admits, “and I don’t trust anyone else with them. I figured since you already knew about me…” She trails off into a sigh, then finally shakes her head. “She’s been through a lot the past few nights. Please excuse her rudeness.”

Caroline: Caroline offers the ghoul no further regard as she makes her way out onto the patio. The chilly night air helps clear her head, wash away the fury the ghoul inspires.

“You need to break her of it,” she almost snaps. “Before she gets herself killed.”

Celia: “What would you have me do,” she snaps back, “beat my own mother?”

Caroline: “If necessary. I’m sure Jade would be up to the task.”

Celia: Silence.

“She was,” Celia says bitterly. “How do you think I found out she was a Malkavian’s doll?”

Caroline: “Do you think your sire would be as forgiving as I have been?” Caroline asks pointedly.

Celia: Her laugh lacks humor.

“My sire would kill me if he knew I’d come here. I have no intention of bringing Diana into Kindred society.”

“If you’re not interested then say so. Donovan will have no trouble erasing the memories and child both.”

Caroline: “It never works.” She shakes her head. “You try to keep them half-in, or mostly out, and they’re just drawn in, like moths to the flame.”

Celia: “You have a family,” Celia points out. “Sisters. A mother.”

Caroline: Caroline’s eyes glitter. “And they, with the exception of my mother, are not a part of this world.”

“And she is more than capable of taking care of herself.”

Celia: The soul eater. Celia has heard all about her. Has had her tongue silenced from afar by the bitch.

“No doubt. I learned long before all of this that-”

GM: Celia’s next words die in her throat as she tries to speak.

Celia: Her mouth opens. Closes. Opens again.

No words come out.

Bemused, Celia sweeps her gaze across the city.

“Powerful,” she says.

Caroline: “There are parts of her life she keeps from even me,” Caroline answers.

“But I’m not surprised. She has no more affection for the life of any Kindred or kine not of her blood than you or I might for an insect.”

A beat of silence.

“How many nights of memories, for your sister?”

Celia: “Do any of us?” Celia asks in turn.

“Two.”

Caroline: A nod. “Since I presume neither of them is intended to serve as a vessel, you’ve got something else to offer?”

Celia: “Does one of them do it for you?” Celia asks with some amusement. “I’ve heard blue bloods are picky eaters.”

GM: It’s impossible to say for sure without a taste, but not unless the 6-year-old girl and 40-something schoolteacher are taking college courses.

Celia: “Happy to let you sink into me if not,” Celia adds, twirling a strand of hair around her finger.

Caroline: It’s not that it isn’t tempting.

“We know how your mother feels about that,” Caroline observes.

Celia: “Shame there’s no one around to make her forget.”

Caroline: Caroline arches an eyebrow. “Shame she’s made it so firm how she feels about that. And I do so tremble at the thought of a furious schoolteacher.”

Celia: Celia giggles.

“Next time, then.” She reaches into her purse, pulling out two containers of blood. “Two hits here,” she says, “and this one is… lucky.” She indicates the second.

Caroline: Caroline arches an eyebrow.

She hasn’t had great experiences with bottled vitae.

“What does lucky mean?”

Celia: Celia can’t help but smile.

“Thought that might get your attention. Things go well for you when you drink it. I’ve seen it firsthand, and I’ve experienced it myself. I watched a man lie down in traffic and cars swerved around him. I’ve seen him get picked up by ghouls whose weapons misfired and ricocheted off the walls to strike themselves in the knee. I’ve seen handcuffs meant to constrain him pop open.”

Her smile fades.

“I thought to use it to prevent love from slipping through my fingers, so I suppose like all magical things it doesn’t work that way. Otherwise, though, you’ll find yourself with the advantage in most situations. Just until you use it. Or drink from another source, I assume.”

Caroline: Caroline runs her tongue across her fangs. She can think of more than a few uses for something like that.

The dimming of Celia’s smile snaps her back to the moment. “We don’t live in a world of fairy tales, just of monsters.”

“I need something else as well, from your mother.”

Celia: “From my mother?”

The words make her immediately wary.

“What.”

Caroline: “Simmone is in a delicate place. Your mother is one of the few people she trusts outside the family. It would be better if she didn’t go anywhere. I’m certain her introduction into this world will pull at her desires, but I want her to remain Simmone’s teacher. For at least a year.”

Celia: Silence lingers.

“Her leg needs repaired,” Celia says at length. “The old injury has flared up, which is part of why I pushed her to stop. I’m working with a night doctor to make it happen. The bone she needs will be harvested tonight.”

A brief pause.

“She won’t be harmed while in your domain. The Garden District, or your home.”

GM: Cécilia told Caroline that Mrs. Flores was canceling the lessons on account of her personal health a little while ago. She referred them to another dance teacher who she said she’d known for decades and would be a great instructor.

Caroline: Caroline nods. “We’ll extend all hospitality to her, and expect her to return it in kind. I’m certain you’ll give her no cause to seek anything more than the lessons in my mother’s home.”

Celia: Celia’s flashed smile contains fangs.

“I have no desire to tangle with your mother.”

“Or you,” she adds. “Not in that way, at least.” The smile turns sly.

“And you’ll keep her employment at McGehee to yourself. I’ve no wish for another visit from the prince’s agents.”

Caroline: “My sire has rather more important matters to see to than a ghoul with no desire to interact with Kindred society. Unless she finds herself engaged in some manner of behavior untoward, I have no reason to point them to her.”

To say nothing of how few of her sire’s agents would care for anything she had to say.

Celia: “I’d assumed,” Celia says with a nod, “but I’d rather not take the risk with her life. She’s been through more than enough.”

She’s quiet a moment, then adds, “If your sister needs a playmate, and my mother accepts, Lucy might offer some measure of companionship.”

“While I loathe the idea of offering the pair of them up on a platter, I’d prefer not to make an enemy when there could be… something else.”

“And if I ever meet the fate of my sister, I’d like to know that at least someone they know might be inclined to glance in their direction once or twice, if not look over.”

Caroline: “I’ll leave that to your mother’s discretion. I have no opposition in principle.”

That it might be the greatest protection that could be offered to Lucy from Abélia’s casual snuffing out of her young life is left unsaid. Celia need know nothing of the family’s internal politics.

Celia: Celia only nods.

“What do you need to know to set her to rights, then?”

Caroline: “Dates, times, locations. Her emotional state if you can pry it from her. If there’s a cover you’d like, I can see if I can make it work. Otherwise I’m likely to go with something that checks the appropriate boxes. Perhaps her seeing one of you with someone. That’s the sort of thing likely to create the same anxious, uncomfortable, and curious feelings she felt in the moment.”

Caroline looks out into the night.

“I can give you a few minutes to figure it out. And obviously tonight.”

She bites her lip. “Does she have a pet?”

Celia: “Seeing me with someone,” Celia echoes, amusement writ across her face. “I’d had the same idea, that she’d walked in on me with someone Diana wouldn’t approve of. It was… tense. Very tense. Maxen was there for dinner. Diana found out about Isabel.” A pause. “There was vomiting. A fire. And this evening she heard me talk about… this. Erasing her memories.”

She touches a hand to the bridge of her nose, as if pinching it does anything to stem the headache that this night has brought.

“She has two cats. Family pets. Victor and Shadow.”

Caroline: “Pet’s illness or death might cover a lot of the feelings from tonight. The foreign location, strange scary people, scary discussions.” She shrugs. “I’ll let you figure it out with your mother. If she balks, maybe Victor could spend a few nights at the ‘vet’ with another ghoul.”

Celia: If Victor is anything like Shadow, no doubt he’ll be pleased to feign injury for a few days and milk the sympathy from Lucy.

“I’ll discuss with her. I think finding out her mother is a lesbian might be enough, but I’ll see what my mother has to say.”

Celia appraises the Ventrue before her.

“Thank you,” she says at length.

Caroline: Caroline muses, “I had a similar situation, very early in my Requiem. When I went to someone for help they forced me to ghoul the mortal. To make them my servant.”

“Such a simple thing, an exertion of ones powers, and they made it an ordeal. She’s dead now. And before she died she hated and feared me.”

“I’ll give you and your mother a few minutes.”

Celia: Celia blanches.

“Thank you for not repeating that with me. I can’t think of what sort of monster would ghoul a child.”

“I’m sorry that you lost someone.”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t share that it was a valuable lesson about the difference between Kindred and kine.

Celia: Was it? Or is that just what she tells herself to sleep at dawn?


Tuesday night, 22 March 2016, AM

Celia: Oblivious to the thoughts and memories it might drag up, Celia returns to her mother’s side to tell her the options.

GM: Celia’s mother is sitting where she left her, still hugging and comforting a very tired- and unhappy-looking Lucy.

“Victor being sick,” she says. “He can stay with someone for a few days. We’re not getting rid of the cats.”

Celia: “He can stay with one of Jade’s friends. She’s good with animals.”

GM: Diana shakes her head. “One of my friends.”

Celia: Celia nods.

GM: “What’s Caroline charging you?” her mom asks critically.

Celia: “Some blood.” Celia shrugs. She glances away, then back. “She’d also like you to return to teaching Simmone. She said she’d keep you safe while you’re in their home and the Garden District. No invasion of the mind, no mention of your position at McGehee, so long as I don’t use you to spy on her family.”

“Once your leg is fixed.”

“Not now.”

GM: Diana gets a stony look.

“She talked about chopping off Lucy’s fingers.” She lowers her voice so the child can’t hear.

Celia: “…no. She talked about how other licks would do that to you to prove a point. If you spoke to them like you did to her.”

“Mom…” Celia sits beside her, lowering her voice. “They’re dangerous people. Vampires. Okay? They’re dangerous. And Caroline is… has connections. And if she says that she won’t harm you, then I think she won’t harm you. But she’s also not fucking around. That’s what they’re like. I’ve kept you from the worst of them. If you really want to see what they’re like, I can show you. She’s… been tame, compared to all that.”

“I told you,” she adds in an undertone, “how the sheriff used you against me for trespassing.”

“He came to you in the middle of the night. In your home. Flew you across the city. And threw you off the roof. He told me to catch.”

“Then he made you think it was a dream.”

“That’s what they do.”

GM: Celia’s mother blinks dumbly at that latest revelation.

She looks past even asking for details at this point.

“No, Celia, to answer your question, I don’t want to see what they’re like. All of them except—you, have been vile and despicable people.”

Celia: Celia’s eyes narrow. “What did Michael do to you?” The words come out as almost a snarl.

GM: Her mom’s face softens, but only slightly.

“He didn’t do anything. I almost forgot he was one of you.”

Celia: Her lips flatten into a thin line.

“Yeah. If he comes around again, set him on fire.”

“Or his sister.”

GM: Her mom frowns.

“We’ll talk about that later. I just want to get Lucy out of here and back in bed.”

“So, two things.”

“First, you’re being overcharged. Blood and dance lessons for Lucy’s memories? Two for one.”

Celia: “I didn’t know if you’d be willing to resume teaching.”

GM: “Maybe. That’s how many lessons, for… two nights of memories? Doesn’t seem fair to me either.”

Celia: “A year,” Celia supplies. “Simmone is apparently in a delicate place.”

“And you’re one of the few she trusts.”

GM: “One year of lessons is not worth two nights of memories.”

“And I’m not doing those lessons again just for my normal fees. Not after how cruelly Caroline has behaved this evening.”

Celia: She tries not to smirk.

GM: “I only did those lessons as a favor to Cécilia. I don’t normally give private lessons during the school year. I haven’t done that since you were in college.”

“Let’s bring Caroline back in, though. This is a chat we should have with her.”

Celia: “Mom,” Celia says quietly, “I can find someone else if the terms are unacceptable. I know a few licks.”

“My grandsire would probably do it for free. I just don’t want him to know about you.”

GM: “I don’t want Caroline to know about me either,” her mom says frankly. “But we’ll get to that later. Who else is an option?”

Celia: “The detective.”

GM: “He was a kind man. I trust him.”

“We should have gone to him.”

Celia: “Then we’ll go. Now. I’ll call him. He’ll do it.”

GM: Her mom shakes her head.

“We’re here. Caroline knows. We might as well see it through.”

“That’s good the detective is an option, though. So is Caroline wanting something from us. We have room to negotiate. We can walk away if we don’t like her terms.”

Celia: “There are others. Just no one I want around you or Lucy. No one that knows about… me.”

“But we have options.”

GM: “Pete was a kind man,” Diana repeats. “He’s our backup option. We’ll go to him if Caroline doesn’t work out.”

Celia: Celia just nods.

GM: Her mother’s gaze is hard and fierce as she cradles Lucy.

“We are not letting someone walk all over us, Celia. Not again. Not ever again.”

Celia: “Then we just go, Mom. I haven’t told her anything yet. We go and ask Pete and he’ll charge a reasonable fee.”

GM: Celia’s mom shakes her head again.

“I don’t mind giving the lessons. I also sure don’t mind not giving the lessons. We are going to negotiate with Caroline and we are going to get a good deal. And we are going to walk away and go to Pete if we don’t think we are getting a good deal.”

Celia: “The blood is lucky. The blood I’m giving her. If that helps you any.”

GM: “Lucky?”

Celia: Briefly, Celia explains.

GM: Her mom shakes her head.

“You don’t need to give that up. One year of dance lessons for two days of memories is already an uneven exchange.”

“So what else do you want to ask Caroline for? I only have one thing I want to ask for, and it’s not worth anywhere near as much as a year of lessons either.”

She glances around, as if to see whether anyone is listening. Then she whispers, “I don’t like Caroline knowing about me.”

“You kept saying how dangerous it was to get involved with other vampires. I think you were right. She does not care about our family.”

“What if I say I only drank your blood two days ago, and ask her to erase those memories?”

“Because I don’t want to do this anymore.”

“So she thinks I’m not a ‘ghoul’, just a mom.”

“Or do you think that’s just asking for more trouble, to let her inside my head? We could say we’re getting another vampire to do it.”

Celia: “This was a mistake,” Celia says just as quietly. “I thought we had… I don’t know. Something.”

That’s the problem, isn’t it. She always thinks she has “something” with others and it comes back to bite her in the ass.

“I don’t think she can help me with what I need, anyway, if I were to ask for more to make the trade even.”

GM: “There’s nothing you want from her?”

“Because there’s nothing I want from her, beyond leaving us alone.”

“I liked giving her sister dance lessons. I like the rest of her family. But she’s been so unpleasant I’ll only do those lessons if YOU are getting something out of it.”

Celia: “I thought maybe she’d know some sorcery that could help me lift a curse or like be able to instantly track down my missing ghouls, but both of those are long shots and time sensitive anyway.”

GM: “Okay, so nothing either.”

Celia: Celia shrugs.

“I might just not be thinking big enough.”

GM: “Celia, I have no idea,” her mother says tiredly. “Isabel is dead. I am exhausted. Lucy is exhausted. Lucy is terrified. I want to get this over with and go home.”

The six-year-old is still silently clinging to Diana. She’s not made a peep. Celia’s mother strokes the girl’s hair.

“If you think my giving dance lessons could help you, I’ll do them. If you don’t, I won’t.”

Celia: “If she can do those,” Celia finally says, “and if you want to do the lessons once your leg is fixed, we’ll go that route. If not, we walk.”

GM: “I only want to do the lessons if they will significantly help you, and Caroline will treat me with courtesy and respect. Those are 50-some hours I could spend with Lucy.”

“Because I sure as hell aren’t taking Lucy back to that house.”

“I do not trust that she will be safe around Caroline.”

Celia: She has a very dumb idea.

And yet… what if it works.

GM: Oblivious to her daughter’s thought, Diana then states,

“Tell me what you think of my idea. I don’t know enough to say if it’s good or bad.”

Celia: “Making her think you’re just a mom, not a ghoul?” Celia considers. “She wouldn’t know unless she tasted your blood that you’re a ghoul, but that’s what the mark is for. I could say that you don’t want this. Say it was recent. Have her erase it. I could… try to unlock it for you again. Like I did for Emily.”

GM: “Is that a guarantee? What wouldn’t I remember, if she’s not actually erasing the memories she thinks she is?”

Celia: “What she’s doing is a little tricky,” Celia says slowly, “and depends more on exactly what is said versus what she intends. So, the differences between our clans is that the stiffs essentially turn people into robots. They issue commands that leave no room for interpretation. It’s like… like a computer program. She types in a very specific set of instructions to get a very specific output, and you, the robot, have no room to deviate. Or a puppet. She pulls the strings, you dance. Whereas if I were to make you want to do the same thing, you’d have wiggle room to deviate from the cut and dry plan so long as you got the same result. A wind up doll versus a puppet.”

She pauses.

“I don’t know if that makes sense. I’m trying to keep it brief. But I don’t know what would happen if she told you to forget a memory that doesn’t exist. If she says ‘forget last night between midnight and two am and remember this other thing instead,’ that’s what you would remember. But if she said ‘forget that Celia told you she’s a vampire two nights ago,’ you’d… I mean I didn’t tell you I’m a vampire two nights ago. So it might fizzle.”

“And if not… if something happens… I could ask Pete. Or my grandsire. I’d rather he not know about you, but he’s… old. He knows more about this than I do.”

“To reverse it, I mean. If I can’t. I think I can. I did it with Emily. And I’ve done it before to someone Caroline made forget things.”

GM: Diana takes that all in.

“Ask Pete. Not your ‘grandsire’. I don’t trust other vampires.”

“Either way, they’re not here, and we are.”

“I don’t know enough about all of this. What do you think is our best option?”

“Ask Caroline to erase my memories, or tell her another vampire is doing that?”

Celia: “Asking her to do it will make her think it worked. I’m concerned she’ll find a reason to fuck with you if I say someone else is doing it. But last time she did that to you… that’s when you had the vision about Maxen and Lucy.” Celia runs a hand through her hair, looking for all the world like a scared little girl. “I just don’t want to give her a reason to mess with you further. And her mom is…”

GM: Celia trails off as her voice dies in her throat.

Nothing more comes out.

Celia: “I’d rather not tangle with her, is all,” she finishes lamely.

“Or Caroline,” Celia mutters, “she’s the prince’s kid. This was dumb to come here.”

GM: Celia’s mother does not look like a scared little girl. For all the grief and weariness that mars her darkened face, her eyes look hard. Her eyes look angry. She looks like a mother bear deliberating the best way to kill or evade the hunters threatening her cubs.

“Spilled milk. Now that we’re here, we need to pick one option or the other,” Diana says patiently. “Do you not feel like you know enough to make that judgment call?”

Celia: “One problem at a time. We’ll have her fix Lucy. I’ll tell her I need someone else to do yours. If she starts digging, we’ll take care of it then. If she can’t do anything for me that I need right now, then no lessons.”

GM: “What are you trading her for Lucy?”

“The lucky blood?”

“I want you to get a fair deal. I don’t want her to take advantage of you.”

“I don’t want her to get more than the minimum of her money’s worth. She isn’t Cécilia.”

Celia: “If I can raise this lick from torpor then I’ll have plenty of lucky blood.”

GM: “How certain is that ‘if’?”

“Because this ‘lucky blood’ sounded useful. Can you pay her anything else?”

Celia: “Maybe,” Celia hedges. “I suppose if not then we can walk there too.”

GM: “Maybe,” repeats Diana. “Be certain, Celia. People who are certain will roll over ‘maybe’.”

Celia: Celia grits her teeth. Jade would be better at this. Jade never says maybe. But Caroline can’t know about Jade.

“Sometimes they trade information. Sometimes open-ended boons that can be used on minor favors. Sometimes just blood. I’ll see what else I can tempt her with.”

GM: “Do you have any information or ‘normal’ blood? I’d rather you settle accounts here than owe her anything.”

Celia: “Stiffs have a type when feeding. If what I have on hand isn’t her type, then I guess I’ll down it and let her drink from me.”

GM: “Will that hurt you?”

Celia: “No. Just makes me hungry.”

“I can feed later.”

GM: “I can’t feed you tonight, if that impacts things.”

Celia: Celia looks her over.

“Who did you feed?” she asks.

GM: “No one,” answers her mother.

“I am not going to feed other vampires when that could go towards my daughter.”

Celia: “Dani didn’t take a hit when she came by? You weren’t in a fight I don’t know about? Pushing yourself too hard? You look… rough, Mom.”

GM: “No. Dani never asked for my blood.”

“I had terrible dreams.”

“I felt sick.”

Celia: Celia’s lips flatten into a thin line. “Tonight? Before I woke you?”

GM: “Yesterday night.”

“When you told me about Isabel.”

Celia: “Tell me more about this when we get back home. I want to know what’s going on with you. I’m sorry I wasn’t there earlier tonight for you. I meant to be.” She shakes her head. “Intentions count for little. You and I will talk.”

GM: Celia’s mother says nothing to that, for a moment.

Then she removes one arm from Lucy to pull her other daughter into a hug. She closes her eyes and savors the moment of respite.

It’s all-too brief.


Tuesday night, 22 March 2016, AM

Celia: Celia pulls away from the whispered conversation with her mother, rising to her feet to nod to Caroline.

They’re ready.

GM: Mrs. Flores rises alongside her, hoisting up Lucy in her arms.

Caroline: The Ventrue tucks away her phone and heads back inside.

GM: Mrs. Flores directly meets the Ventrue’s gaze with head held high. Her face does not have a trace of the subservience or humility endemic to ‘broken in’ ghouls.

It reminds Caroline of Diego’s last phone call, and the way he swore at her and hanged up. He, too, never accepted his domitor as his superior.

Nevertheless, Mrs. Flores waits for Celia to speak.

Caroline: She remembers well how Diego’s story ended. On his knees in a dirty abandoned home.

She doesn’t share that.

Celia: Celia doesn’t quite smile. Perhaps the pair of them aren’t intimidating to the prince’s childe: the sheriff’s bastard and the school teacher, neither one of them more than a handful of inches over five feet tall, neither one of them brawlers.

But together… together there’s some steel in the spine. Together they’re a united front, mother and daughter and granddaughter, a family that loves and is loved in turn.

All of this to protect a child from the truth and horror of their world. To let a young life continue in ignorance rather than subject her to what lurks in shadows.

“My mother thinks that I’m being overcharged,” Celia says baldly. “That a year of dance lessons isn’t worth two nights of memories. I’m inclined to agree. I believe there’s more that we can negotiate to make matters more even.”

Caroline: The smile behind Caroline’s eyes doesn’t fade as she settles into a chair.

“Does she now? Well, please, I’d be fascinated to hear about the dynamics of Kindred boons through the eyes of a just ghouled dance instructor.”

GM: “Certainly,” replies Mrs. Flores as she sits down across from Caroline. Lucy doesn’t turn to look at the vampire.

“One year of weekly lessons comes out to approximately 50 hours of my time.”

“Will what you are doing take 50 hours?”

Celia: “Someone did this before for me. She only asked for juice. But as I said, I’m willing to negotiate my mother’s time. There are other things I could use some assistance with that should cause you no undue stress.”

GM:We will negotiate your mother’s time,” Mrs. Flores corrects, then turns back to Caroline.

“Celia and I have discussed our options for Lucy. You are not our only one. There is another vampire we can go to for help with her memories. I have no attachment whatsoever to that vampire being you.”

Caroline: Caroline rolls her eyes at Mrs. Flores’ opening argument. “Do you use this same line of reasoning with your doctor or lawyer? Do you think they do the same with their grocery bagger?”

“Our skillsets are not equal. If there are ten Kindred in the city that could do what I do with similar proficiency, I would be very much surprised. Most of those would execute you and your daughter out of hand.”

“You are also approaching this with a shortsighted view of here and now, and failing to understand the basis for Kindred economic functions—which your lessons would allow you to facilitate for both you and your daughter.”

GM: “Actually, I think my skillset is the higher valued one here,” replies Mrs. Flores.

“Leaving aside your implicit comparison between dance and grocery bagging—because oh boy, don’t get me started—-I trust that Celia’s other vampire is just as qualified to erase Lucy’s memories as you are. I also trust that Lucy will be at least as safe in their hands as yours.”

“You, on the other hand, already have a referral for another dance teacher. Naomi is just as qualified to teach ballet as I am. You could find another ballet teacher if you don’t want her. You don’t need me if you want Simmone to learn ballet. But Simmone doesn’t like strangers.”

“I’ve taught her enough lessons by now to see, don’t pardon my bluntness, what a mess she is.”

Celia: Oh boy.

“Regardless, Caroline, there are other things I’d ask for before we barter out my mother’s time for a year. Can we discuss?”

Caroline: “Your daughter is an illegally Embraced lick. There are painfully few doors open to her.”

“If your daughter genuinely believed your other option could do the job as well, as immediately, and without risk, she would have called them first. Don’t sell her short to make your argument. There are plenty of second-rate licks on the street that can paper-mâché over a memory, but the further in the past it was, the narrower that list becomes. Doing so with a solid enough foundation that it won’t crumble if she picks at it over time becomes even narrower still.”

“If you want to go with someone else, by all means. But when they botch the job, don’t come back to me in a month and ask me to pick up the pieces.”

“But by all means, what else would you ask of me, Celia?”

Celia: Celia stares across the space at Caroline. There’s no anger on her face. Just hurt.

“Are you threatening me?” she asks quietly. “I am not my sire, Caroline. I don’t know what hatred you have for him or why, but if it is your intent to turn me in for my illegal Embrace then I ask you take my head yourself and spare me the ordeal of being dragged before the city. I’ve no wish to make him murder his own childe.”

“I thought…” she trails off, looking down at her hands. “Jade told me what happened when she came to visit. She told me that she’d recorded the… the correction, that she made you listen, and that you threatened her afterward.” She swallows, looking back up to Caroline. Pink colors her cheeks.

“I thought maybe it meant something, that you’d defended me. I apologize if I misunderstood, or my misplaced affection is an inconvenience. I wanted help. I thought of you. That’s all.”

Caroline: “Wiser not to speak of him,” Caroline answers firmly.

“But if I intended to turn you in, I’d have done so. I think your mother simply fails to understand the position you are in. She imagines some egalitarian world in which all doors are open.” She turns back to Diana. “They aren’t.”

“That I am not simply taking what I wish from you should be a clear demonstration of my affection. And that I was interested in cultivating continued connection between us—connection that would make your execution inconvenient for me—through your mother’s lessons would have been evidence enough of that.”

She should have simply let her mother do as she’d intended. Part of her would enjoy watching this arrogant ghoul shattered by the loss. Instead, she’s here trying to make it work. Taking attitude in her own haven, in her own domain, from a ghoul with even less time in the Blood than any of Caroline’s own.

No good deed goes unpunished.

GM: Diana follows the two’s conversation with increasingly narrowed eyes.

“If there is one thing I know too well, Caroline, it’s that absence of abuse is not affection.”

“If you’re threatening us, do it openly. If you’re not threatening us, then don’t. But don’t say ‘I could threaten you, but I’m not’ and expect gratitude for it.”

“I am more than willing to entrust another vampire with Lucy’s memories. Celia says this vampire can and will help us. I believe her. I do not believe we need you.”

“How much you want me as Simmone’s dance teacher and what you’re willing to pay for it is up to you. But I will not give 50 hours of lessons for two nights of altered memories. Celia, lay out the other things you want.”

Celia: Celia is quiet for a moment. She doesn’t quite meet Caroline’s eye. Or her mother’s. She might even squirm, if licks could do such a thing, but perhaps that’s merely a trick of the light. There’s a shine to her eyes not so often found in the faces of the dead when she finally rises, shifting seats in a quick movement to put herself next to Caroline.

She takes the Ventrue’s hand.

“Caroline,” she murmurs, “you told me once that you’d do anything for your family. I watched you with your sister. I know you’re scared for her, just as I’m scared for my daughter. I can’t be with her during the day anymore. My mother has to look over her now. She just found out I’m dead. And Isabel…” Celia trails off. Caroline can smell blood, but the Toreador looks away.

She’s quiet while her mother talks. Finally, she looks back to the Ventrue.

“There’s someone who asked me to do a favor for them. I’m having a difficult time with it. I don’t know enough about dark magic and curses to break this spell. I thought maybe you…” or your mother “…would be able to help. And there’s…”

Her jaw sets. Finally, she looks angry.

“You recall the two ghouls Jade brought with her when she visited? One of them is dead. I found out that Jade—”

Her fingers clench into fists. She breathes in sharply through her nose.

“It doesn’t matter. One is dead, the other is missing. I’d like to find him and I don’t know where to begin. Your team seemed competent.”

“It’s just a time crunch.”

Caroline: “You want me to beseech my mother to intervene on your behalf, and to meddle in the domain of another vampire, within the French Quarter, who is no doubt already on high alert following the death of one of their ghouls?” Caroline restates more flatly.

Celia: “I didn’t say anything about your mom,” Celia points out, “but if you think she could help, sure.”

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head.

“I have no interest in jumping in the middle of whatever fucked up games you and Jade play. I think we’re done here. Good luck with your other option.”

The Ventrue watches them go from her seat.

GM: Mrs. Flores rises from her own seat.

“I loved teaching all of your sisters,” she says. “Each one of them was and remains a delight to have in my classes. I was delighted to see and teach Simmone outside of school. I regretted canceling her dance lessons. I never did them for the money. Cécilia insisted on paying me for my time, but I got a big insurance settlement some years back. I’m very comfortable financially. The time I spent with your sister was time I could have spent with my granddaughter. I normally don’t give private lessons during the school year, either, just the summer months. I made an exception for Simmone because Cécilia asked me and because Cécilia was one of my favorite students. I also thought it was worthwhile to teach dance to a badly traumatized child, and that maybe I’d even be able to help her in some small way. I wanted to help your family because I liked them. I felt honored that Cécilia trusted me enough to do that. I felt honored that Simmone trusted me enough to do that. I thought there was friendship and goodwill between our families.”

Mrs. Flores shakes her head.

“I thought wrong.”

“I’m glad Celia and I have another option.”

“I don’t know where your mother went wrong with you, but you are the one Devillers I regret knowing. If your sisters were as heartless as you, I’d have wanted nothing to do with them. I hope you have brought less unhappiness to your family than you have brought to mine in our brief time together. Because in my experience, people who are cruel outside their families are cruel inside their families. In my experience, cruelty poisons love. And I’m sorry for your sisters, that they have such a cruel person in their lives.”

She adjusts Lucy in her arms.

“Tell Cécilia I said hello.”

Caroline: A million petty responses flow through Caroline’s mind as the schoolteacher rants. This pathetic kine that doesn’t even know Caroline has already once saved her entire life from demolition by powers she can’t even imagine, much less fight.

At its most petty she could assert her power, force Diana to jump in the pool or throw her granddaughter in to prove the point.

But there’s no need. The way she’s behaving, the way she’s interacting, tragedy will come home to her soon enough.

“One night, probably soon, you’ll look back on this night and regret that you didn’t listen to me, Mrs. Flores. Or your daughter, for that matter. When that happens, do drop me a line.”

Celia: Celia rises abruptly to her feet, anger in her eyes. But not at Caroline. Oh, no, not at Caroline at all. The budding fury is not directed at the Ventrue, is not present when Celia manages to bite out a “thanks for your time” before she stalks toward the elevator. She grabs her mother’s elbow with slightly more force than necessary on the way.

“Congratulations,” she snaps at the kine, “your stupid pride and your insistence on getting something else means we’re all dead. If we make it through this I’m having your memories wiped too.”

The door closes on that threat.


Tuesday night, 22 March 2016, AM

Celia: Celia waits until they’re back in the car to let the anger fade. She doesn’t say anything as she puts the keys into the ignition and starts the car.

“Wasn’t worth continued exposure to the Garden District. Hopefully that line in the elevator throws her off.”

GM: Diana settles Lucy into the Beetle’s back seat and sits next to her. The sleepy-faced six-year-old starts crying again and clings to her mother.

Celia: Celia is quiet for a moment. “I can blunt her emotions,” she finally offers.

GM: Celia’s mom doesn’t ask what’s wrong. She holds the girl close and murmurs words of comfort.

“I think that does more harm than good, Celia,” she answers. “But thank you for asking first.”

Celia: “I’m concerned she’s going to follow through on her threat,” Celia adds after a moment, “about calling the Krewe.”

GM: Diana’s eyes grow hard again.

“We will take care of this. Lucy does not need to know monsters are real. Not at six.”

Celia: Not ever, Celia hopes. But perhaps that’s just wishful thinking.

GM: “You should make sure with her, after we do. That no more vampires will invade our lives. I just want them to leave us alone.”

Celia: “I will.” Somehow.

Celia taps Pete’s number into her mother’s phone.

GM: Celia’s mother gives a weary sigh and picks up the phone.

She’s answered after a few rings with the detective’s grizzled, “Yeah, kid?”

Diana hits speaker mode and sets the phone down.

“Hi, Pete. It’s Celia’s mom, Diana. You helped us some years back, if you remember.”

Celia: He does. They’d just had a conversation about her.

“Hi, Pete,” Celia adds.

GM: “I do remember, Mrs. Flores,” he answers. “Hi, Celia.”

Celia: “Mom and I were hoping to borrow a moment of your time this evening, if you’re available.”

It’s not like she can ask over the phone.

GM: “I’m a little busy this evening.”

“We need your help,” Diana says, frankly. “It’s an emergency. I don’t know if there’s anyone else who can.”

“Please.”

There’s a pause from Pete.

“All right. Can this wait a few hours?”

Celia’s mom looks down at Lucy.

“Yes.”

“Okay,” says Pete. “At your house?”

“Yes. Yes, please. At our house,” says Diana. “It’s 1110 Burgundy Street.”

“Okay,” repeats Pete. “Hang tight.”

“We will. Thank you.”

Celia: “Thanks, Pete. See you soon.”

GM: “Bet on it.” The detective ends the call.

Celia: “I should eat soon,” Celia says to no one in particular once the call ends. “Do you want me to drop you off and come back, or… do you think we could… order pizza?”

“Or I can… one of the neighbors… I think we have a lot to talk about.”

GM: Her mother blinks slowly.

Celia: “And you need a hit,” Celia adds.

GM: “No,” Diana replies firmly.

Celia: “Mom, you look like hell.”

GM: “Heroin is not going to bring your sister back.”

“Heroin is not going to heal the hole in my heart.”

“Heroin is not going to make my problems better.”

Celia: “No,” she agrees, “but it will let you function at 100% instead of… this.”

“And you can better care for yourself and your daughter if you’re not jonesing for a fix.”

GM: “No,” her mother repeats. “Heroin is going to make my problems worse.”

“Do not offer again.”

“Do not tempt me.”

Celia: “Are you just not going to be a ghoul anymore?”

GM: Celia’s mother gives her a thousand yard stare. Rain patters against the car’s windows again as the wipers whisk back and forth.

“Celia, I am past exhausted,” she finally answers wearily. “I don’t want to decide anything right now. I want to protect Lucy. I want to go back to bed. I want to put Lucy back to bed. I want to take care of Abigail and figure out options for her. I want to talk to Jade about how things are going to be. I want to make it to work tomorrow. I want to stay home and mourn my daughter. I want to break the news to David, Logan, and Sophia, and even Maxen, because even he deserves the closure of finally knowing that our baby girl is never coming home.” Diana’s voice chokes a little. “I want to lay her body to rest. I want to arrange her funeral. I want to talk to you about how she died. I want to talk to you about how she lived. I want to weep for all the things left unsaid between us, and for never being able to tell her that I forgave her. I want to know if that would have made a difference in her life for the better. I want to know how God is going to judge her. I want to do something kind for someone in need, because I am so tired of there being so much darkness and misery in our world and the only way I know how to fight it is to be the light that I want to see. I want to collapse and cry into a man’s shoulders and let him take care of me. I want to stand tall and strong for the people who need me now, because maybe it was God’s will that I find the strength I’d lost during this time of need.”

“I want to talk to Natalie and make up for all the years I could have had a relationship with her. I want to help Dani land on both feet and figure her life out. I want to help Henry out of the well of grief I am drowning in. I want to stop Elyse from hurting more girls like me and destroying their lives. I want to punish the men who raped you. I want to take Alana to task for that time she kissed me. I want to talk with you about the things I remember being important and am too frazzled to even remember what they were right now. I want to learn to fight so that I can protect our family from anything that would threaten us. I want to get even for all the hurts our family has suffered. I want to forgive and move on. I want to fall to pieces. I want to be whole. I want to raise Lucy in love and light and happiness and put tonight’s nightmares behind us forever. I want to go to bed and wake up to a better tomorrow. I want you to share that with us and see the sun. I want so many things. I do not expect I am going to get many of them.”

Diana lets out a long breath, closes her eyes, and leans back against the headrest.

“But since you have asked, yes. I am giving that serious thought, to not being a ghoul anymore.”

Celia: Celia and Jade had made an agreement: Celia would be the only one to cry. Celia would be the only one to show weakness. It would be easy to fall apart here. To let her mother’s words reduce her to a childish nature again, to give into the hurt that she has caused so many people and feel it for them like she has so many times before.

It hasn’t gotten her anywhere.

It hasn’t gotten her anywhere but here, sitting in the car while rain pelts against the windshield at three in the morning, driving her mother’s car with her sister in the back seat, listening to her mother’s woes. Lover lost. Friends dead. Family in mourning. Shattered. All of it broken.

All of it her fault.

No, maybe not all of it. Maybe by saying all of it’s her fault she’s becoming a martyr and not really letting the pain in. Maybe she’s just being a victim again.

So she keeps it in. She doesn’t start with excuses or lies. She doesn’t start blaming herself. She doesn’t start blaming everyone else, either. She just exists in the moment, listening to a mother’s grief, and letting it rock her to her core.

The wipers move back and forth across the windshield and Celia wonders, not for the first time, if this is how the rest of her Requiem will pan out. If it’s only going to be grief and more grief. If her circle of friends will slowly get smaller and smaller until she’s left alone, another jaded elder sitting in a room by themselves cursing neonates for their ability to feel anything beyond an empty bitterness.

For the first time since her death she truly understands the fact that she is Damned.

This is her Hell, slowly tearing her family apart.

For long moments the only sound in the car is Lucy’s quiet breathing and the rain against the windows, the steady swish of wipers against glass. Street and brake lights blur red in her vision. A trick of the water on the ground, perhaps, or the unshed blood that swims across her eyes.

“We’ll get through tonight,” Celia finally whispers. “We’ll get through tonight, and then tomorrow, and we’ll make it work, and I will help you however I can. Anything you need, Momma.”

What’s the point?

She wants to know.

What’s the point in all of this? What’s the point in picking a side and pledging loyalty to various patrons only to put them on the throne so they can enjoy the fruits of their labor while the rest of them… exist. Hunt. Mock each other at Elysium. Rape people for their blood. Hurt people who don’t see things the same way. It’s no different than the white man hating the black man for the color of his skin, is it? Are there really any differences in the three powers-that-be? Vidal, Baron, Savoy, they’re all the same. All the elders are.

He’s a snake. Her sire had told her the truth of him that night on the roof. It was meant to sow distrust, yes, but it was the truth as well: Savoy is a snake. He doesn’t care about her. He cares about power.

He’d used her. He’d used her and he’d lied to her just like her sire uses her and lies to her, just like she uses and lies to Alana. It’s a cycle that won’t end, a nonstop pattern of the strong preying on the weak.

And what’s the point?

She climbs her way up, stepping on licks all the while, and perches precariously atop the pyramid knowing that everyone below her wants what she has? That any night some power-hungry neonate, ancilla, or elder she pissed off at some point is going to come marching into her throne room to take everything she’s worked for?

She hoards knowledge and secrets and collects favors and boons and territory and blood for what? What do any of them actually do with it? Eternal life and they spend it playing word games and humiliating anyone who shows weakness, wearing ice masks and venom masks and never forging actual real connections.

Why?

What’s the point?

The man on top shits on the man below him who shits on the man below him who shits on the man below him, and every night they all just eat the shit they’re dealt and thank their lucky stars that they’re not even lower and hold out their hands for seconds and thirds while they sharpen their knives.

What’s the point?

Really, she wants to know. Because this, whatever it is, whatever this is that she has, it isn’t worth all the lives she’s ripped apart. She makes people pretty. That’s it. She plays house and pretends she’s part of a fairytale, like she’s some mildly endearing protagonist in a YA series about vampires that go through high school three dozen times and fall for humans and cry sparkly diamond tears about not wanting to hurt them and how they smell so good and it’s bullshit, it’s all bullshit, because none of that is real. Whoever had written those books and movies had no idea what it’s actually like, no idea how far they spiral from idealistic boy scout to soul-stealing, brutish savage. There’s not even a word for it because “beast” and “monster” don’t do this state of being justice.

She’d killed her sister. She’d made her father rape her sister because she was angry and then she’d killed her. She’d cut the head off of her ghoul. She’d beaten her mother. Bonded one of her best friends because she’d wanted to manipulate her into staying in town.

When had she decided that being someone’s pet neonate was all she wanted out of her Requiem?

Maybe that is their curse. Solitude. Humans are pack animals. They bond with anything. They’re social creatures. But by their very nature licks are unable or unwilling to form attachments, and when they do they’re so busy trying to hold onto it with one hand and pick up more with other that they let what they do have slip through their fingers.

To stand still is to lose.

So they grasp and claw their way to the top only to realize that the tide never stops and the licks behind them are eager to seize what they have, so the bright-eyed neonates turn into jaded ancilla turn into heartless elder. Life is cheap. Roderick had told her that once. Life is cheap to them.

He makes her think she matters but she doesn’t.

Not to her grandsire. Not to her krewe. Not to her lovers. Not to her sire or allies or friends, not to Draco or Donovan or Savoy or Pietro, not to Veronica or Josua or Pete or Benji. Probably not even to Camilla, despite the fact that she’s managed to retain some level of decency even as Donovan’s childe.

And that’s the cincher, isn’t it. Celia thinks that he had chosen her for her darkness, that something in her speaks to something in him, but then why Camilla? She’s his opposite, isn’t she? Isn’t Celia?

She’s glad for the turn onto Burgundy, glad for the three houses they pass before she pulls into her mother’s drive. Glad for the rain that pelts the windows when she turns the key to shut off the ignition.

The skies must weep for her because that, like everything else, leaves only a bloody mess behind when she does it.


Tuesday night, 22 March 2016, AM

GM: Diana unbuckles a nodded-off Lucy from her seat and carries her inside. Victor and Shadow both look at Celia and give furious, low-throated hisses before darting out of the room. Celia’s mother just blinks dully as Lucy cries some more. She carries the girl into her bedroom, takes off her coat and shoes, and puts her to bed, quietly rocking her and singing to her until she drifts off to sleep.

She looks like she wants nothing more than to curl up alongside her daughter right then and there.

Celia: “I can wake you when he gets here,” Celia offers.

GM: Diana slowly shakes her head.

“We have some things to first take care of.”

“I can’t let Emily stay up all night looking after Abigail.”

“She has school tomorrow. Today.”

Celia: Celia rubs a hand across her face.

“Mom,” she says quietly, “I feel like all I’ve done is interrupt your life. Emily’s life. Lucy’s life. I don’t want to do that anymore.”

GM: “Yes, we need to set some boundaries. Come on.”

Her mom tiredly gets up, leaves Lucy’s room and closes the door, then leads Celia out of the house and into the car.

“No more vampire talk in the house.”

Celia: Celia nods. She can agree to that.

GM: “This is an older house. The walls are not soundproofed. Lucy’s door isn’t locked. If there are unusual noises, if there is anything that seems like a secret or makes her curious, she will get out of bed and listen in, because that is what kids do.”

Celia: “I was thinking about having Pete ward the house. His clan does magic. It would protect you from being spied on. Not from Lucy, but others.”

GM: “I wouldn’t say no to that, if you think it’d help.”

Her mother rubs her head.

“Please visit earlier in the evening.”

“We are not nocturnal. We need uninterrupted sleep. Lucy especially.”

Celia: “I… I will, Mom. I’m sorry about tonight. I won’t bore you with the details, I just… couldn’t.”

“So if it happens again I’ll just wait until the next night.”

GM: “If you could’ve made other temporary arrangements for Abigail, I think that would have been best. But I’m not about to categorically say no. Simply call me ahead of time. So I can get things ready.”

“Like moving the cats to another room.”

“It’s bad for them to get so upset after seeing you.”

Celia: “Sure. I can do that.”

GM: “I’d also like to visit you or come in to Flawless to talk about vampire things. Or we may be spending a lot of time in the car.”

Celia: “The, ah, the spa is bugged.”

“But I’ll have it swept.”

GM: “Who bugged it?”

Celia: Celia effects a snort.

“Who hasn’t?”

“My grandsire. Some weird demon lady. Stephen, probably.”

GM: Her mom just takes that in with another dull look.

“Okay. Forget the spa. Your place, then, if it’s not bugged too.”

Celia: It probably is. But Celia only nods. She’ll have that swept, too.

GM: “The spa would be convenient. But if you remove the bugs, no reason they won’t just put more back, is there?”

Celia: “Why would anyone ever leave me alone,” Celia mutters bitterly.

“There’s something Stephen did tonight that swept for them in a pinch. And I might know someone who makes electronics not work. I’ll look into it.”

“That being said, only trust Pete so far, Mom. He works for my grandsire. And the Tremere.”

GM: “What shouldn’t I say around him?”

Celia: “Anything sensitive. Abigail. Emily knowing about all this.”

GM: “What is anything sensitive. Lucy hearing what she did is sensitive.”

Celia: “Everything is sensitive. Everything can be used against people.” Celia sighs, rubbing a hand across her face again. “My specific plans, I guess. Travel. Abigail. I’ll… tell you what not to repeat as it comes up, I guess. If you’re not part of Kindred society I guess you can’t really let things slip, but Pete is… I don’t know how I feel about him anymore.”

GM: Her mom mirrors the motion, rubbing her own head again.

“I’ll just let you talk.”

“About anything to do with vampires.”

Celia: “Do you want me to just have him wipe your memories, Mom?”

GM: “What memories?”

Celia: “All of them. All of this. We can go back to what we had before.”

GM: “I feel like that’s not going to work, Celia.”

Celia: “I’m tired of causing problems for the people I love.”

GM: “And I wish Isabel was still alive.”

“But we don’t always get what we want.”

Celia: “No? Because walking out of your life seems like it would solve a fuck ton of problems for you, Lucy, and Emily.”

GM: Her mom’s eyes are hard.

“I am not losing another daughter, Celia.”

“We will keep Lucy out of this. No more vampire talk in the house.”

“No more surprises in the middle of the night.”

Celia: “You don’t have a choice, Mom. I’m dead. Celia is dead. I’m dead and I’m fucking insane with seventeen personalities inside of me who all want different things, and all I do is ruin people, so why would you want me around?”

“Because I sure as fuck can’t handle watching you and Emily and Lucy lose everything because of me.”

GM: “Because you’re the reason I have Lucy, Emily, this house, and my old self back.”

Celia: “Then I should walk now while you’re ahead.”

GM: “I am not having this debate, Celia,” her mother says tiredly.

“Stephen, Dani, Caroline, and soon Pete will all know about me anyway. It’s too late to walk back from this.”

Celia: “Pete already knows about you.”

“He erased some memories for me so no one else did.”

“And like an idiot I let Dani keep hers, and then I told Stephen.”

“So I fucked up your life, congratulations.”

GM: “You did not make a mistake with Dani.”

“Well. That time.”

“She needed us.”

“She also told me that you ‘bonded’ her twice.”

Celia: “Yeah. I fucked up. That’s the theme of these past few weeks. Celia fucked up.”

“I lied and cheated and am a whore, too. Welcome to the club of people who know.”

GM: Her mom wearily rubs her head again.

“I’m not getting into Dani. Not here. Not now.”

“She told me Dr. Dicentra was a lie.”

“I thought she was going to operate on me.”

Celia: “Dicentra exists. She’s just me.”

GM: “Yes. Dani said. I like to know who is going to cut me open, Celia.”

Celia: “That’s the point of a secret identity. It’s secret.”

“What I do isn’t something most licks do. Best case scenario they never leave me alone. Worst case they fry me for being a fiend or something stupid.”

“Why didn’t I tell Dani? Because she can’t keep her fucking mouth shut. Because Stephen can’t keep his fucking mouth shut. Oh no, what a lie, you wanted to preserve the anonymity of the night doctor, how fucking terrible of me.”

“As if that’s anything compared to what most of them lie about.”

GM: “I like to know who is going to cut me open, Celia,” her mom repeats.

“I am honest with you. I choose to trust you. Please return the favor.”

“I do not like feeling as if you are dishonest with me and do not trust me.”

Celia: “It’s not you, it’s everyone else.”

GM: “It is me, Celia. You lied to me about who I was going to trust with my body.”

Celia: “Didn’t Dani and Stephen tell you? I’m a liar, Mom. That’s what I do. Not an honest bone in my body. Black hole spinning through space ruining everything she touches. That’s me. Loved someone? Nah, let me fuck it up. Someone loved me? Nah, let me fuck that up too. Made a friend? Nah, bonding her is a great idea, let’s make sure neither one of them ever trust me again. Can keep Maxen away from the family? What? Why would I do that when I can invite him in because he told me what I wanted to hear at dinner, because I’m too fucking curious to leave well enough alone with him.”

“That’s what I do, Mom,” she says again. “I put everyone else in danger because I’m a selfish bitch. This is your daughter. I hope you’re happy knowing her.”

GM: Diana gives another long look at her daughter’s furious and despairing words. Part of her looks like she wants to snap back. Another part looks like she wants to just crash into exhausted sleep right here in the car and let all problems that aren’t Lucy sort themselves out.

She looks at Celia for a moment, then pulls her into an embrace. It feels like a childhood blanket, worn and threadbare from the years, and perhaps now more than ever. But still warm and familiar as it envelops her and holds the night’s chill at bay.

Her mother’s voice is soft when she speaks again.

“Celia, it’s your choice to be who you want to be. Every night when you wake up. From this night until whenever your time runs out. It’s your choice.”

“Some choices may make you happier than others. But I will always love you, and you will always be my baby, no matter who you decide to be.”

“Who do you want to be?”

Celia: Maybe she’d wanted her mother to snap back at her. Maybe being yelled at and told to suck it up would have jolted her out of this pity party of one where she looks at all the choices she has made in her Requiem and regrets every single one of them.

But the harsh words don’t come. Diana doesn’t yell at her daughter. Half on her lap, the snugness of her arms pushes the rest of the world away and leaves Celia alone at the center of the storm. Anger, grief, and fear—those mangy mutts—snap and snarl at her heels while insecurity and doubt whip through the air around her.

She’s enclosed in a whirlwind of her own making, brought to her knees by the force of her own failures on a desolate patch of rock that had once bloomed with light and love. Now it’s barren and empty and Celia sees what’s left on the ground: withered plants, fallen petals black with decay, bloody thorns where leaves once grew. Dead, all of them, ripped out root and stem. And beside them, carved into stone, the evidence of betrayal.

Her nails fit perfectly into the grooves left behind by razor sharp claws.

She weeps.

She weeps for what she had, what she’s lost, what she’s done. She tried so hard to protect this little garden of hers, tucked it away and out of sight and thought that would keep it safe, but the lack of light only hastened its annihilation. She weeps for the lives that she has taken and she weeps for the lives that she has ruined and she weeps for the lives that have been touched by her damnation. She weeps for what might have been, could have been, should have been. She weeps for every angry decision, every lie spun from fear, every venomous barb hurled in hatred.

She weeps for the dead girl and the woman she never was. She weeps for the beauty plucked in its prime, the bitch forced to play the villain, the innocent whose flame was snuffed before it ever had a chance to burn.

But she doesn’t weep alone.

There, sitting across from her, the blonde woman. The mother who lost a daughter. The dancer who lost a leg. The wife whose husband turned savage before her very eyes. Tired, those eyes. Tired and weary and wary, but still they shine. Not with tears, no, but with something else, something better.

“You’ll always be my baby,” the woman says, and so the girl is. The rock and thorns cut her palms and leave bloody trails behind her, but she crawls her way to her mother and curls herself on her lap where the mangy mutts can’t reach her because her mother snaps and snarls back at them and the whispers on the wind are eclipsed by the beat of the heart within her chest.

Who do you want to be?

“Better,” she says, eyes squeezed shut against the laughter that echoes in her ears from long-dead bodies that can’t understand. “I want to be better. I want to be safe. I want to be fearless. I want to go to sleep without worrying that someone will die while I’m out or that I’ll wake to another pair of hunters or stake. I want to make a schedule and be able to stick to it because I’m not abducted. I want to go a weekend without being staked and tortured every night. I want to be honest with you instead of twisting words around to avoid spilling the truth because I’m paranoid someone will rip it from your mind. I want to be honest with you because I’m not afraid of how you’ll react. I want to be honest with you because I accept that I have made mistakes and not search for excuses for my behavior. I want to stop trying to control everything and worrying about every little thing that could possibly go wrong to the point that I’m paralyzed from terror. I want to be whole again. I want to be sane, not broken into little pieces from trauma.”

“Who is that? Who is that person? Because I don’t know her. But I’d like to.”

“Do you want to know why I lie?” she asks. “It’s because I’m afraid. I’m afraid of telling the truth. I’m afraid of what you’ll say. How you’ll react. I’m afraid you’ll mention it to someone. I’m afraid it will be stolen from your mind and you’ll never know. I’m afraid that someone will torture you. I’m afraid that anyone who knows I’m a lick will use you against me. I’m afraid my sire will come for you in the middle of the night and execute you to punish me. I’m afraid Lucy and Emily will be used against me. I’m afraid David and Logan don’t understand why I’m never around and they think it’s because I don’t like them when the truth is that I’m just trying to limit the amount of people who will be hurt because of me. I’m afraid when Sophia comes home she’ll be another target. I’m afraid that even people I like and respect will use you against me. I’m afraid Pete will turn against me and threaten you. I’m afraid my grandsire already knows about you. I’m afraid he’ll use you to punish me. I’m afraid if I tell you something you’ll tell Dani and Dani will tell Stephen. I’m afraid Stephen is going to kill me. I’m afraid that he’s right, that I am stupid, that I am weak, that I haven’t done anything worthy with my Requiem.”

“I’m afraid,” she says bitterly, “that this entire existence doesn’t mean anything, that I was just an accident, that the best thing I could do tonight to help everyone I know is to walk into the sun.”

“I have been staked and tortured every night for the past three nights. Twice by someone who used to love me. I was staked again tonight. Not tortured, no, but the threat was there, and I was held inside an interrogation room, and my tormentor tried to get into my head and warp my emotions and the only thing that kept it from working is the fact that I’m intimately familiar with that same technique.”

“Randy is dead. His brothers are missing. Even if they haven’t turned against me they’re a Masquerade breach waiting to happen, and if they haven’t turned against me why would they not answer my calls? I’m neck deep in hunter plots that they were working with me on and one of the masks I made for someone in Houston just showed up at Elysium last night and the lick it belonged to, someone I deeply cared for, was killed by hunters. Instead of following up on it last night I got drunk with Emily and was ambushed at my spa when I met with my friend to solve a problem for someone else. I ran. I left him. I abandoned him. And I listened to them torture him while I hid in a closet with Emily, hoping they wouldn’t find us, too.”

“My spa is bugged. Emily and I discussed vampire stuff there. Openly. Whoever was listening will know she knows. I didn’t even get to show her what I wanted to before she passed out, but I said enough to get us both killed. I have the hunter’s ID from Elysium but I guarantee that he’s already left his house if he realized it’s missing, and I don’t have any backup to go after a hunter anyway because the only way I win a fight is if I resort to cheap tricks, have someone else with me, or turn into a tiger and go apeshit. Reggie is supposed to be my bodyguard and he’s missing.”

“Not to mention all the other things I’m working on that have been put on hold because I’m running around trying to put out fires that I started because I’m an idiot and I have no one anymore. I have no one. I’m not willing to risk you. Alana just wants sex. The others are dead or missing. Dani hates me. Stephen has turned into an abuser worse than Maxen. My grandsire and his secretary think I’m a traitorous idiot. And my sire is just waiting for me to fuck up again so he can kill someone else I love or break every single bone in my body and call it a lesson.”

“That’s what we’re up against, Mom. That’s why my life is so messy. That’s why I lie and cheat and steal and show up in the middle of the night, and that’s why, right now, I’m trying to understand that I’m not the only one drowning here but all I can think about is how badly I have fucked everything up and how much I’ve hurt you and our family and how do I come back from that? How do I come back from that, Mom? How do I undo a decade of mistakes that have lead to pain and misery for everyone around me?”

“Because I don’t want this for you or Lucy or Emily. I want Lucy to grow up and be happy and have no idea there are monsters in the world or that she’s known one since birth. I want Emily to marry Robby and work at Delta and do amazing things in healthcare. I want to apologize to Isabel for all the fucked up shit that happened between us, for not being her sister when she needed me, for leaving her alone with Dad all those years when I should have protected her, for failing to keep her alive. And I want you to find someone who makes you happy and treats you well and takes care of you. Not because you need it. Because you want it.”

“I just want all of you to be happy and healthy and safe.”

“So who do I have to be for that? Who do I need to be for the world to leave the lot of you alone? That’s what I want. That’s who I want to be.”

GM: Diana cradles Celia in her arms as her daughter crawls onto her lap, seeking comfort and assurance. Far from Caroline’s haven, and perhaps not even there, they are not Kindred and kine, not ghoul and domitor. Here together on the car seat, with the rain pattering against their tiny sanctuary’s windows, they can simply be mother and daughter.

Celia’s mother holds her and listens her. To all of her fears and insecurities and regrets and self-recriminations as they come tumbling out.

She has never given Celia much advice. Or at least not much good advice. They both know that. But she was not the woman then that she is now. So she listens, eyes not moving from Celia’s, then tries her best to answer her daughter’s question.

“Celia, I don’t think there’s anybody you can be, to guarantee that. We could get hit by cars crossing the street, or crash a car we’re in, or slip and break our necks in the shower, or get attacked by hungry vampires in a dark alleyway, or have a fatal reaction to eating unpasteurized dairy—I had a friend’s husband who passed that way—or ten million and one other tragedies. Yes, we can all do our best to reduce the odds of bad things happening, and we should. But in the end, you can’t guarantee it, not 100%. We can’t control what other people think and feel and do. The only thing that’s 100% in your hands is who you, Celia Adelaide Flores, choose to be for yourself.

“But you asked me who a better you would be.”

“I think you do know who that person,” says her mom. “Maybe not the full details. But I think that’s the point, too. You don’t know how it’s going to pan out. Whether it’s going to be smooth sailing or stormy waters or what. But you know where she lives, and where to find her, and at this point it’s just a matter of openin’ the door, and taking a leap of faith.”

“Because I think you’re right, Celia… it does feel to me like you’re scared.”

“I know a thing or two about being scared.”

“I spent my marriage to your father being scared. I spent so much of my life being scared. I’m not proud of the things I did. I failed you and your brothers and sisters in so many ways. I let your father beat and belittle and abuse us all, and ruin your lives in so many ways, and I always justified it. It will hurt less this way than the other way. I will just make things worse by standing up. I am making the best of a bad situation for our family. I lied to myself, and I turned myself into a martyr, and I threw an endless pity party, for poor lil’ old me. But I never took ownership for the wrong thing I was doin’, and what it was doing to you and your brothers and sisters.”

“Cowardice is a sin. Up there with pride and wrath and greed and all the others. And I think that’s how all sin works. Whether it’s being cowardly or lying or whatever else. We justify it. Find reasons it’s okay.”

“But it catches up with us. Being a coward just hurt you and the others, and made me miserable. Even after your father divorced me and you were visiting again, and I couldn’t hide behind the excuse that ‘oh your father will beat us’. I saw myself for what I was and I hated it. And, yes, maybe it was… Benson’s fault, that I was as weak as I was. But was it? I remember, after I got you and your brothers and sisters back, how I was starting to stand tall again. And then your father cut me back down. That was… too great a test for my strength, that soon, and I failed it. I became the person I didn’t want to be again, and for years I justified it. That was easy to do, with Lucy and Emily and our life so much better.”

“But sooner or later, I had to face the music. Sin caught up with me. Jade… you… beat me and abused me and I was prepared to take it, like a coward. And it would have destroyed our family, because I was a coward.”

Her mom smiles.

“But you were my strength. You didn’t just stand up for me, you believed in me, and helped me stand up for me. There’s a lot I don’t understand about vampires, but I do understand how things are between them and ‘ghouls’—that still feels like such a silly word. They’re the cowardly Dianas and the vampires are the Maxens, and that’s the way things are. You took a leap of faith, that we could defy the odds and be something different. Because someone who beat her mom wasn’t the person you wanted to be.”

“Then you took a second leap of faith, with Lucy. The doll Lucy. I was finding all sorts of reasons to doubt and be scared, but you were patient with me and gave me the strength, again, to be the person I want to be. You were scared too, of what would happen. But that good thing wouldn’t have happened, unless we chose to open that door, not knowin’ what was on the other side.”

Celia’s mother shakes her head.

“Maybe I’m not makin’ sense. My point is… I think you, me, we all know, who we want to be, and we’re just scared it’s not going to work out. That we’re going to get hurt, or get others hurt, and that’s how we justify sin and not being the person we want to be.”

“But I think when we do that, all we do is hurt ourselves more. Hurt others more.”

“Dani said, when we talked, that truth always comes out. But I think that’s maybe a little oversimplified. I don’t think God sweats the details of who knows what truths. He thinks bigger than that. I think, instead, that our decisions eventually catch up with us. Good and ill. Which it sounds like maybe they did for you with the Garrisons. Dani said telling the truth was your white whale, but I wonder if it’s actually trusting people.”

“I think back to that time in your old loft spa, when we talked about sharing the truth of your dad with Emi, and you didn’t want to. But I insisted, which was pretty darn rare comin’ from me, and six years later, she’s not let us down. Because she feels like she can trust you. Stephen and Dani didn’t feel like they could trust you anymore, so they spilled Dr. Dicentra’s secret. In my experience, if people feel they can’t trust you, they will be untrustworthy. And if they feel they can trust you, they will be trustworthy. Just the golden rule. Unless they’re saints or devils, people treat us the way we treat them. There’s no coupon or secret handshake to get around that. Eventually, it catches up.”

“I mean, even if you hadn’t told Stephen you’d ‘bonded’ Dani and he’d told her, she could have found out anyway. It could’ve come up between them in another conversation, or she could’ve found out from another vampire, or, heck, even I could have mentioned it to her, we talk pretty often. I feel like the cat was eventually going to claw out of the bag, and if you had a whole… what’s that word for a group of cats… a clowder?” Diana manages a smile. “Yes, it’s a very silly word. Well, a clowder’s just gonna scratch and bite and hiss even worse when it finally gets out.”

“And that just sounds like such a stressful and miserable way to live, balancing a thousand lies and hoping they don’t come tumbling down like a house of cards. Kind of like being a coward and hoping your husband will beat you and your kids less if you don’t stand up to him is a miserable way to live. Because, in the end… that’s what happened, isn’t it? The lies still came out and your father still beat us.”

Celia’s mom gives her a squeeze.

“I’m not saying this to blame you, sweetie. I’m on your side. I’ll always be on your side against the world. I just want to help you realize where things went wrong with Dani—Stephen’s his own can of worms—so you don’t have to go through that again with other people. Because that’s the beautiful thing, about life. Every day, or night I guess in your case, you wake up and can be whatever person you want to be. It’s never too late to change. You can turn over a new leaf, with people who’ll give you another chance, and you can even meet new friends and new loves and new family, with people who’ll know the new you.”

“I waited… your entire lifetime, almost 30 years, to turn over a new leaf and be the person I wanted to be. And I can rue all the hurts and pains I caused our family by waiting that long, and say that everything which happened to you is partly my fault because you never had a mom to protect you and fight for you. And I am sorry for that. More sorry than I can ever say. But in the end, ‘sorry’ doesn’t do much. All I can do is start being the mom I want you to have… and you can give me a chance to be that mom.”

“So, that’s where it is with you, too. I think it starts with you trusting people more, and being open with them about things you’re scared to be open about. And I think that starts here in this car, with me.”

Celia’s mom gives her a long and thoughtful look.

“You said, in the spa, as Jade, that you’ve done terrible things. You said you’ve hurt people. You said you did the makeup for Benson’s… victims, is the only word I can call them. Maybe you’ve done things like Caroline said, cut off little girls’ fingers to prove some cruel point. Or killed some people, or killed a lot of people, Dani told me about how people were murdered at that vampire church. And maybe you think I’d reject you, and you’re scared, because you don’t want to ruin things between us, just like you were scared of telling the truth to Dani and Stephen. Sweetie, I can only imagine how you feel to have lost Stephen right now, like someone has ripped your heart out of your chest and stomped all over it. I’m so sorry I didn’t talk to you about that and give you a shoulder to cry on, there’s just been… so much else. If you want to cry right now, go ahead. If you want to tell me things, because it’s hurting you to keep them bottled up inside but you’re scared of what I might think of you, scared that it might destroy our relationship, go ahead. I will be your strength right now, like you were mine. I will be your bridge across that leap of faith. I will always love you, unconditionally, no matter what you’ve done or who you’ve been. Even if you abused me again like Jade, even if you abused your brothers and sisters, even if you abused Lucy. I’d try to keep us safe from you, but I would never stop loving you. Even if you were Hitler and killed millions of people, even if you didn’t love me back, I would love you. You don’t get to turn that instinct off, when you’re a mom. You just don’t. God will judge your sins, but He made me to be your mom. That is the person I want to be. Your mom.”

Celia: “I’m insane,” Celia whispers to her mom while the rain patters against the windshield.

The words aren’t new. She’d said them only moments ago. But she’d said them angrily, said them because she doesn’t want to believe them, said them because they’re a convenient excuse for her behavior. Blame Jade. Blame Jade for being a bitch. Blame Jade for all the bad behavior. Blame Jade for every lie, every lay, every act.

Jade is the villain so Celia can be the princess.

“I blame everyone else for my problems,” she continues, wiping at the red that hasn’t ceased streaming from her eyes, “because it’s easier than accepting I’ve been an awful person. I have a whole different identity I try to hide behind. But it’s me. Even if she’s real, she came from me. She’s what I’m capable of. I’m what she’s capable of.”

“I don’t trust,” she admits, nodding to the words that her mother said. “I don’t trust. I don’t trust people to keep secrets. I don’t trust people to not hurt me. I don’t trust people to not take advantage of me. Even… even people I love.” Eyes the color of a storm swim in her vision. “Absence of abuse doesn’t denote affection. That’s what you said.”

She falls silent, turning her eyes to the dark sky. Thoughts tumble through her head as thunder rumbles above.

Who hasn’t she lied to? Who hasn’t she hurt? Who does she trust?

No one.

She trusts no one.

She has kept things even from her sire for all that she has given him her heart.

How could Stephen compare to that? How could he compete against the dark man that has been with her her whole life, the cool hands that held her aloft, the strong arms that have cradled her so gently? He set the world on fire and never let the flames touch her.

But he’d abused her as well. Beaten her when she failed him. Broken her when she’d disappointed him. Saved her, yes, spared her, yes… but punished her for her failings. Meticulously. Coldly. Even their sex three nights ago had been methodical rather than passionate. He has been in control of their relationship since the night he murdered her. Even before then. He has always been in control. Has never shared with her the way she shares with him.

And now Draco does the same. No sharing. In control. Because he doesn’t trust her. Because she’d broken his trust. Does her sire…?

She can’t bring herself to say the words. That he’s a monster. That she loves him anyway.

Celia finds her mother’s eyes.

“I broke them,” Celia says hollowly. “The other dolls. I did their makeup, yes, but I broke them. Until I beat her into torpor for what she did to you, I considered Elyse one of my closest friends. I watched her train them. Countless dolls. Countless victims. I never asked who they were before, only wanted to know who they became after. How I could make use of them. I inflicted physical, emotional, and mental anguish on them because she asked me to. Because I was happy that someone admired my skills. Because it was nice to be wanted. So I watched, I learned, and I helped.”

She swallows.

“I met Lucy there. The first time. I made dolls of my own. The porcelain kind… and the human kind. When Elyse wouldn’t take a client, I would instead. The training was different. But just as terrible.”

“I broke into your mind once. You wouldn’t tell me what I wanted so I used my gifts on you and made you open up. After that you stopped taking your pain meds. I promised myself I would never do it again.”

“I’ve killed. Multiple times. People who have hurt me. People who haven’t hurt me. I’ve set up people to take the fall for my crimes. I meant to do the same last night, but I… didn’t have a convenient moment to do so.”

“I betrayed Stephen. Utterly. I lied to him. I cheated on him. I used him.” Red rims her eyes. She doesn’t try to blink it back again. “And now he’s gone. He’ll never be Stephen again. He’ll never trust me again. He’ll never love me again. Because I ruined it. Me. Not him. Just me. Because it’s what someone else wanted. I bonded Dani so she wouldn’t leave. So she’d stay here instead of flee the city to be safe like he wanted. I thought I could take care of her.”

“But none of that… none of that even comes close to what else I’ve done. What I’m still afraid to say.”

GM: Diana cannot stop her eyes from flicking to the red streaming from Celia’s. Just for a moment.

So she does not reach to brush away Celia’s tears. She looks back into her daughter’s eyes and listens to her confession.

Her gaze turns hollow too, when she hears about the dolls. For a moment, she does not look there, but back in the Dollhouse. Back in the video, accepting her new name. Perhaps she thinks to what names Celia has given other dolls.

“Those are terrible, terrible things, Celia,” she answers slowly. “I condemn them. I hope you will never do them again. I hope you will do what you can to make up for them. I will push you to make up for them.”

Then she embraces her daughter again, holding her close in the car’s tiny confines, and softly strokes her hair.

“But I love you. I love you whatever you decide and whatever else you’ve done. My love for you has no conditions. Thank you for trusting me. I think you need, more than anything else, someone you know you can trust. I cannot imagine what it must have been like, to not have that. How lonely and scared you must have felt. So I will be that person for you. That is who I want to be.”

“What are you afraid to say?”

Celia: The words should mean something to her. She should believe her mother.

But she doesn’t. She’s had too much experience with people asking her to trust them.

“Stephen told me once,” she whispers, “that if I told him the truth he’d forgive me. That we would get through it. That he’d always love me. He said what you said.”

She blinks. She touches a hand to her chest where her heart used to function. It’s dead now, just like the rest of her.

“Then he beat me. He tortured me. He used my body as an outlet for his anger.”

Celia shakes her head.

“You won’t love me if I tell you. You won’t forgive me.”

GM: “I’m so sorry, sweetie,” her mom murmurs, hand still stroking her hair. “I can’t imagine what that must have been like, after you bared your soul to him. It’s no wonder trusting people is so hard for you. I don’t know if I could’ve come back from that, either.”

“There’s something I want to tell you. Maybe it’ll help.”

“Do you wonder why I named Lucy, what I named her? After the doll?”

“I’m sure that must have seemed pretty disturbed, when you found out.”

Celia: Silently, Celia nods her head. It has never made sense to her why her mother would name her daughter after a nightmare.

GM: “So, there’s a bit of history to it. Lucy was a name I always really liked. I got it from your grandfather. Who was a man with a gentle, lovely soul I’ll always wish you’d known. He’d wanted to name me Lucy, but your grandmother didn’t approve. She wanted ‘stronger names’, for me and your aunt. So I decided, if I had a baby girl, I was going to name her Lucy. To stick it to my mom.”

She smiles ruefully. “That isn’t why I picked it, by the way. That’s just the initial history.”

Diana’s smile is already a weak one, a dim candle against the night. After a moment, it’s gone.

“Well, when I was in the Dollhouse. Benson found out, what the name meant to me. She finds out all of those little things, about us. And she uses them to get to us.”

Celia’s mother doesn’t bring up that she probably knows that.

“So, she made me use the name for my doll. She thought it was fitting. Turning something I wanted to defy my mom with into… another way I was submitting. Finding something else in me to ruin, to grind down.”

“After I was pregnant with you, I mentioned the name to your father. And its history. I didn’t say we should use it. He immediately said we shouldn’t, anyway. He liked Celia more and I liked it a lot too.”

“Then we had Isabel and Sophia, between David and Logan, and it just didn’t seem fitting for them.”

“And I doubt your father would’ve wanted to use it anyway.”

Celia: “Why?” Celia asks quietly. “I thought he was a decent man back then.”

GM: “Because I’d have been naming our daughter a nightmare, Celia, like you said,” her mother answers, just as quietly. “Your father knew about the Dollhouse. He didn’t want any of our little girls’ names to be a reminder of that.”

“And I don’t blame him. It’s how most people would have felt.”

Celia: “Then why give it to Lucy?”

GM: Her mother rubs her back. “Well, that’s what we’re getting to. Then I got pregnant again, many years later, after your father raped me. After he kidnapped and humiliated and tortured and mutilated me, on one of the most awful, terrible nights of my life. And you and Emily both thought I shouldn’t carry a rape baby to term.”

“I could have ended her life and murdered her in the womb. I know you and Emily didn’t see it that way, and thought she was just a clump of cells, but that wasn’t how I saw it. To me, she was alive.”

“And I knew she was innocent and blameless and just needed a mother’s love, and I thought about how much joy my other children had brought me. About how much joy I gave Emily, by being her mother.”

“So that’s why I picked Lucy. I decided to take something wonderful, that had been made terrible, and make it wonderful again. Because I thought your grandfather would smile, knowing we’d finally used the name. Because I wasn’t going to let Benson ruin that. Because it showed my love was stronger than what she and your father did to me. Lucy would be my reminder, every time I heard and spoke her name, that I could answer hate with love. That I could turn one of the worst things to ever happen to me into one of the best things to ever happen to me.”

Celia’s mother gives a sniff and wipes at her eye.

“And, yes, also because it means ‘born at dawn’ and all of the meaning there.”

She brushes her daughter’s hair again.

“I can’t undo whatever you’ve done, Celia. Whatever blood and whatever evil you have on your hands. All I can do is decide whether I am going to answer it, whether I am going to answer you, with hate or with love. Because that is the person I have always wanted to be, and not Benson or your father or anyone else has ever managed to take that away.”

Celia: “What if I do?” Celia whispers desperately. “What if I’m finally the one to make you respond with hate instead of love? What if I’m the one to finally break you?”

GM: “Oh, Celia, baby,” her mom murmurs, pulling her close again. Diana’s hand continues to stroke along her daughter’s hair.

“You’re scared. You’re so scared.”

“I don’t want you to be scared anymore.”

“I want you to feel safe knowing there’s one place on God’s earth you will always be accepted and always be loved, no matter who you decide to be. I want you to know my love for you isn’t conditional, you don’t have to earn it, and under no circumstance is it goin’ to go away. The love I have for you comes from God, it defies all other reason and explanation, and is truly unconditional.”

“Doesn’t that sound like a wonderful thing to know you have?”

Celia: Of course it does. Which is why she won’t get it.

“Isabel and I never got along after the divorce,” Celia says hollowly. “The day after you left she eagerly said how much she hated you. She took his side on everything. We fought all the time and it never really got better.”

“She hit me once. When I brought someone over from school who trashed the place to get me into trouble, she saw me getting rid of it. She screamed at me for being a liar. And she slapped me. So I told Dad. And he beat her for it while I… I watched.”

“The night he hit me, she was… pleased. And the next night when he came for you… when I came back from Tulane to find the house empty… I saw her phone beneath her bed. The text she’d sent him. That my friends and I were gone. That it was just you and the kids. To come get them. The address.”

Celia’s hand clenches.

“Then I saw the tape. Security footage. His car, her in the back watching you. Heard what she said when he parked. Her offer to torture you with him to show you your place.”

“I watched what he did to you. Making you cook for him. Eating off the floor. The plate on your head. Raping you on the couch, then making you clean it. And the bedroom. My bed. The saw.”

Celia breathes.

“So when I got there… after I made the trade for those powers… I wanted to make him suffer. And I wanted to make her suffer. So I… I made him do to her what he did to you. He took her toe. And then he raped her.”

Silence. But only for a moment.

“I never went back for her,” she whispers. “I never checked on her. I thought about it. I thought about it many times. But I never did. And then I saw her when I was released as a vampire. She was there too. And I hated her all over again for taking this one thing from me. I never told her who I was. I already had the other face. She didn’t know. And she was… she was the enemy. Opposite factions. I mostly ignored her.”

“Then one night she showed up at my spa.”

“She’d been in a fight. Torn to pieces. Shredded by claws. The scourge, I later learned. She came to my spa because her krewe was butchered and she wanted to Embrace me. She attacked me. I staked her.”

“I was hunting for her when the hunters found me. I brought someone back to feed her and I was attacked. I was… I don’t know. I was going to question her. I thought about giving her a new identity. Making her leave the city. Fixing what was between us.”

“Then I was given the option. And when I met with her she was just… full of hatred for me. Mocking. Derisive. She repeated things Dad said. And I hated her all over again.”

“It wasn’t the scourge who killed her. It was me.”

GM: Celia’s mother does not talk throughout her daughter’s tale.

Yet, at that confession, it feels as if she falls silent.

Utterly silent.

Her face becomes a blank slate. Tabula rasa. Everything else slides off. For a moment, it feels as if Celia’s mother is not even there any more. Just a body bereft of animation, with empty eyes that stare endlessly past her child’s killer.

Celia: She waits for it. The anger. The grief. The tears. The rage. The fire. The beating.

She’s gotten so used to being hurt that maybe this time she welcomes it. Maybe she thinks she deserves it.

Instead there’s nothing.

Nothing at all.

The need to break the silence overwhelms her, building inside her chest until she finally opens her mouth.

“I’ll wait outside for Pete. Once he’s done you won’t have to see me again.”

GM: Diana’s head bows forward, as though of its own violation.

She clasps her hands.

Like she is praying.

Her lips move. No words sound. Her eyes are closed as she bares her soul to whatever God, if any, now hears her. Celia has never seen a look of concentration so total upon a living or unliving soul.

Then, at Celia’s voice, Diana finally looks up. Her face remains utterly still. But something dawns within her eyes, as though her prayer has been answered, and she knows now what to do.

She throws her arms around her daughter’s shoulders.

Then she weeps, voice ragged as hot tears flow down her cheeks:

“I l-love y-you… I w-will al-w-ways l-ove-ve y-you…”

Celia: Her mother’s loss of control, the words that she finally utters, are enough to break what’s left of Celia’s resolve. She clings to Diana as she weeps, not even bothering to try to stem the flood of bloody tears that leak from her eyes and stain her cheeks.

“I’m sorry,” she says, over and over and over again, “I’m so sorry, I’m sorry I took her, I’m so sorry…”

Eventually, Celia runs out of apologies. She just holds her mother while she cries, wondering if she’ll ever not hurt the people around her.

One night at a time. That’s all she can do. One night at a time.

“She has a child,” Celia finally whispers, wiping at her face. “A son.”

GM: Mother and daughter hold one another as they weep. Perhaps there won’t ever be enough apologies, for what Celia has done, but perhaps she does not need that many. Perhaps she did not even need one. My love for you is not conditional, her mother said. And at this moment, as she embraces and weeps and declares her love for her child’s killer, it feels impossible to deny the truth of those words.

“A… son?” her mom asks.

She pulls away enough to look Celia in the eye, but still clings to her with both arms, as though Celia is her rock in a furious tempest.

“Wh… where? Your father’s…?”

Celia: A look of distaste crosses her face, but she nods.

“Ethan,” she says quietly. “Maxen’s son. He’s… the same age as Lucy. Aunt Mary adopted him. I don’t… I don’t know if Dad remembers what he did. If he knows that it’s his child.”

GM: Celia’s mother stares into her eyes at that look.

“He did not ask for the parents he got.”

“Whatever they did. Whatever you did. He is innocent. Blameless.”

“Just like Lucy.”

Celia: “That wasn’t for him,” Celia says, eyes averted. “It was for what I did. What I created in anger.”

GM: “Celia, you have a new responsibility. Maybe the most important one of your life.”

“You created him. In hate.”

“Now is your moment to take something terrible and make of it something wonderful.”

“Protect him. Provide for him. Ensure he wants for nothing. Teach him, what is good and what is bad. Love him. Help him grow up to become a kind, decent, honest, brave, loving man who is everything you wished Isabel was. Give him the love you wish you had given Isabel. That is your atonement. Everything you did wrong with your sister. Do it right with her son.”

“I will help you in this, however I can.”

Celia: “How,” she asks bleakly, “how can I do that for him if I don’t know him, if I’ve never met him, if I’m never around during the day?”

GM: “You meet him.”

“You get to know him.”

“And you do it during the night.”

“You do everything you can for him.”

Celia: Slowly, Celia nods. She can do that. She will do that. For herself. For her mother. For Ethan.

And for Isabel.

GM: “I don’t think it’s practical to expect you to raise him. We will look into his living situation. What kind of a caretaker, what kind of a mom, your Aunt Mary has been to him. If there is love between them, they should stay together. If there isn’t, I will take him into our home.”

“And you will be the best aunt, godmother, whatever you want to call it, that that little boy could ask for. You will take something terrible and make it something wonderful.”

“That is your cross to bear.”

Celia: “I will,” she promises. “Anything he needs. Everything he needs. I’ll do that. I will. I swear it.”

GM: Celia’s mom takes her hand in hers.

“You’re not as bad a person as you think, Celia.”

“A bad person would not promise that.”

“God will judge you for all the bad things you have done, when you stand before His throne.”

“And He will judge you for this, too.”

Celia: “A good person wouldn’t have murdered her sister.”

GM: “We all make mistakes, Celia. Some more terrible than others. God judges our hearts for what we do about them. Whether we do our best to fix them or whether we don’t. Who do you want to be?”

Celia: “Better,” Celia says again. “I want to be better.”

GM: “Then it starts with Ethan.”


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Story Thirteen, Celia XXX

“This changes everything.”
Roderick Durant


Monday night, 21 March 2016, AM

GM: Alana comes back, to report Roderick’s car is taken care of. She’s eager as always for more sex with her domitor before the sun finally rises over the sky. She departs with an “I love you” murmured into Jade’s ear.

Kindred don’t dream, but doubtlessly Jade would savor sweet dreams indeed to imagine her ex-lover’s thoughts at her caustic words. To imagine his face, when Benji and the ghouls turned him out. Could he take them? Perhaps, one on one, but three on one is ugly odds, and the need to keep the Masquerade makes them even uglier. So too with the swift need to find shelter from the sun. Doubtless, it grated his pride to slink away. To let Jade get the last word and the last laugh.

Everyone hates to let someone else get the last laugh.

Perhaps that explains the stake that plunges into Jade’s heart during the middle of the day.

The face that stares down isn’t happy. Not at Jade. Not at the world. Might not ever have been.

Princess_Gemma_Bernard.png
Celia: And here she’d been hoping for round two with Pierre.

She’d gone to bed as Ren, flexing her new ability to become what Benji and his boys expected to see rather than confirm that she’s Kalani. The licks in the krewe know, but the ghouls don’t need to.

It had taken moments to make the change. With Sol beating down on her, trying to snake his tendrils through the cracks and crevices in their light-proofed house, Celia had practiced in front of the mirror. Same height, but the rest of her… oh, the rest of her shifts. Slimmer hips, smaller chest, more developed arms and legs and back; the rugged build of a Gangrel rather than the svelte form of the Toreador. Still pretty, but not enough to draw more attention than necessary. Brawler rather than dancer.

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GM: There are three other people in Ren’s peripheral vision, but the only one she can readily make out is Tantal standing next to Princess. He’s rammed a stake into Benji’s heart. Maybe he’d look apologetic if it were Jade.

“So where the fuck’s Kalani,” he says in his high voice.

Celia: She’d giggle if she could. She’d assumed they knew. But no. Here she is, hiding in plain sight.

GM: Princess grunts.

“Got all we need.”

The ghouls throw tarps over the two vampires’ bodies.

Celia: Benji didn’t do anything, she wants to say. But she can’t. She stares up at the tarp, unblinking. She should have told him to go.

GM: The ghouls wrap the tarps around the vampires’ bodies.

“Body bags are better,” says someone’s voice.

“Just zip up. Done.”

There’s a grunt in answer.

Ren feels thick arms bearing her up. Footsteps sound. She’s carried downstairs. She hears a door opening. Horrible heat bears down on her, like she’s been shoved inside a car with the windows closed for hours on a 100-degree day.

She hears a trunk opening. She’s deposited onto a flat surface. The trunk closes. The heat gets better.

The car drives for a bit. Comes to a stop. The trunk opens. The heat gets worse again. Then it gets better. There’s a steady tromp of footsteps heading upstairs.

Ren’s deposited onto a hard surface. The tarp comes off. She’s in the interrogation room where Celia killed Isabel. The body is long gone, but the restraints remain. Princess and Tantal fasten Ren onto the same St. Andrew’s Cross.

Princess yanks out the stake. She’s tall, taller than most grown men, with long arms begging someone to give them an excuse to throw a chin-shattering punch or elbow. Probably both. Then there’s her legs. Longer still, but not the kind a man might leer at. No, they’re the kind a kickboxer would use to sweep someone’s legs or smash in their teeth. Probably both.

“Where is he, Kalani,” she says flatly.

Sometimes the black ex-felon bare-knuckle fighter doesn’t sound that different from her prissy WASP domitor.

Celia: Ren’s mouth forms a smile.

“He asked me to let him go. So I did. I imagine he went back to his haven for the day.”

“I offered to let him stay. He declined.”

GM: Princess rams the stake back into Ren’s chest. The woman’s flat, not-happy expression doesn’t once change.

Tantal gives her a vaguely apologetic look.

Celia: She’d almost called him last night, she reflects. When she needed help with Lucy. Assumed he’d be able to take the memories, but then he might tell Lebeaux, and she’s not really sure where she stands with the warden now that his sire turned her in for infernalism.

Can you still be friends with the person whose dad tried to beat you up?

GM: Technically, ratted you out.

Bornemann doesn’t much feel like the kind of man to beat someone up himself.

The ghouls leave. Ren feels the sun bear down on her even through the Evergreen’s walls. Her body yearns to sleep. To become the lifeless corpse it truly is.

Celia: My dad can beat up your dad.

Isn’t that what the kids in school say?

GM: Her dad can beat up most dads.

Celia: She has the best dad.

GM: Perhaps he’ll come for her.

Like he did at the Dollhouse.

Celia: Why, is she in danger? Are they going to kill her for “abducting” Durant and saying some strongly worded things to him?

Gosh, what a pathetic little bitch.

His feelings must be all sorts of bruised.

He’d accused her of the “weeping woman” act but she’d seen him cry plenty of times, the fragile little snowflake.

Oh no, my sire lied to me.

Oh no, my sister is a vampire.

Oh no, my girlfriend lied to me.

Oh no, I expected monogamy in a society where casual sex is the norm.

Oh no, I miss my daddy.

Oh no, Celia didn’t let me treat her like a doormat and said I’m stupid. She didn’t sign her entire unlife over to me. She beat me up with one arm. She told me it took me three people to replace her and I realized she was right, and now I’m never going to have a white wedding or do any cool science experiments or find out how to turn the abortion into a real childe.

Oh no, I can’t fight my own battles and had to run and hide behind Savoy’s skirts like I did with Coco for years.

Boo fucking hoo.

GM: Boo fucking hoo indeed.

Doubtless his own thoughts for his ex-lover are little kinder, wherever he now is.

Time stretches on and on. Ren resists it as best she can, but no one returns to the interrogation room. Darkness claims her.


Monday night, 21 March 2016, PM

GM: Daysleep recedes as quickly as it came. One eyeblink later and it’s however many hours later.

Ren isn’t sore or tired.

The undead body is a marvelous thing.

Celia: Hers is particularly marvelous.

She made it herself.

GM: So many Kindred agree.

Some time passes. The door opens. Dracon strides in. He’s wearing a black suit, not like Roderick’s preferred grays, and a maroon button-up underneath with no tie.

He smiles as he looks over Ren’s staked body.

“This rather is the way I prefer it.”

Celia: Well, fuck.

GM: “That was rather stupid of you to take my phone away, Celia,” he tsks. “I couldn’t get in contact with Savoy’s people to quite literally call them off.”

Celia: Not that he would have.

GM: “I’m glad it’s worked out this way, though.”

Celia: Yes, he needs her staked to be able to stand a chance.

GM: He pulls out the stake.

Celia: She’s still bound to a cross. Restrained. Is he into that now? It’s kind of hot. She could be into it.

Just not with him.

GM: “Where oh where should we begin,” he muses.

“I know I want to save the best for last.”

“I was always the good boy who ate my veggies before dessert.”

Celia: “Such a good boy. I suppose that hit last night was Drakey instead of Roderick, since Stephen is… well, he’s very, very dead.”

GM: “He is,” agrees Dracon. “I’d say he and Celia have that in common, but really, she was always a lie.”

“Enough of the past, though.”

“Business is a good place to start.”

“Savoy doesn’t like loose ends, Celia. Gui is supposed to be ten kinds of dead by now. Or was, after we’d interrogated him.”

“Where is he?”

Celia: Celia stares, uncomprehending.

“I have no idea. He was gone by the time I came back last night. I assumed one of your friends took him.”

GM: Dracon makes a tsk-tsk-tsk sound.

“No, none of them did.”

“And he isn’t at Flawless. That’s already been checked.”

Celia: “That’s awkward. Maybe he got up and walked away.”

GM: “No, that’s not very likely. He had a stake in his chest.”

Celia: “Could have been wearing a wire. Maybe he still had a loyal friend or ghoul.”

“Granted, I told you the spa has been broken into. Maybe someone else found him.”

GM: “Mmm. No, there wasn’t any wire. I got a pretty good look at everything he had on his body while I was taking it apart.”

“The security footage at Flawless shows no break-ins, though.”

“But we’re beating around the bush.”

Celia: “Ah, yes, we don’t show up on cameras.”

GM: “Savoy thinks you’ve helped him escape, Celia.”

Celia: “I didn’t.”

GM: “Perhaps you’d like to tell that to him.”

Celia: “Sure.”

GM: “Let him inside your head to have a look around.”

Celia: “I didn’t help him, Roderick. I knew he was marked for death. I wouldn’t have helped him.”

GM: “Savoy doesn’t think so.”

Celia: “So you’ve said.”

“He can look if he likes. I don’t know where Gui went. I thought about getting him out of the city, but I didn’t act on it. Savoy would never welcome him back, and he’d spend all his time trying to get back at you rather than doing anything else, and he’d probably jump ship to someone else’s side if he ever did come back. There was no benefit to me in helping him escape. Last night I still wanted to make things work with you.”

“So I was setting him up, like you asked.”

GM: “Mm-hm,” Dracon says thoughtfully.

“I’m afraid that any answer which doesn’t produce Gui’s body isn’t good enough, Celia. You and the clanless scum were the last licks in a proximate position to do anything with his body.”

“I suppose there’s a couple ways we can play things from here.”

He glances across the rows of instruments.

Then he smiles and brushes Ren’s face with his hand.

“But I don’t want to hurt you, Celia. I really don’t. You were my first love. You’ll always have a special place in my heart. Help me to help you. Just tell me where he is, and you’ll be out of here in no time.”

His presence washes over her. She was his first love. She can trust him. She could always trust him. She can still trust him, even here. What’s happened between them won’t come between them.

Celia: His supernatural mien washes over her, but it’s like pouring water over a rock for all the good it does. There are no cracks in her armor for him to find, nothing for him to burrow into.

She doesn’t believe a word he says.

But he expects her to. He’s trying to turn the tables on her like she did to him last night. No doubt he’ll torture her once he’s done anyway. Why not have a bit of fun with it?

Celia blinks at the touch, again at the words. Her body is mobile but her head is not, and she tilts it to one side to press her cheek against his hand.

“I thought you hated me,” she breathes, eyes wide. “You… you were… you were so angry and I was just trying to help, I just wanted to do what you asked.” Red threatens to drip down her cheeks. “I don’t want to fight. I’ll help you. I will. We’ll find him. We’ll find him and, and then… you said once he’s dead we’d…” she trails off.

“You won’t hurt me?” she asks in a small voice.

GM: “Of course not, Celia,” he smiles. “Hurting you is the last thing I’d want to do. So much hate has come between us. So much hate and distrust where there was once so much joy and love. I don’t want that to be us. I want to go back to the old us. Where we were a team. Where it was us against the world. I want to do you a good turn and help our relationship begin to heal.”

“I’m sorry I refused your help. It was my pride talking. My pride and my anger.”

“And all that did was hurt us both.”

Celia: “I know. I approached it the wrong way. I shouldn’t have threatened you. I was… I was angry too, when you wanted me to sign over everything, I wanted to hurt you back but… that’s why we’re here, isn’t it. Because I did. Because I hurt you first.”

“They came for me. Like you said. They came for me and they asked where you were and I…” she blinks and finally the tears fall. “I thought you didn’t make it home, I thought you didn’t have enough time, and I was so scared that, that we’d never… that I’d never be able to apologize for, for everything.”

“I kept, I kept thinking about that movie we saw. The Dark Knight Rises. I kept remembering what you said, that you could forgive someone like Selina because she did the right thing eventually, and I just kept imagining that… that we could…”

“I never meant to hurt you,” she whispers. “I don’t want to be your enemy. Even if we’re not lovers, there’s… there’s so much that… I’m in so much trouble. So much.”

She lets the tears fall for a moment, but only that. She doesn’t want to lay it on too thick. She doesn’t sniff, but she turns her head to the other side to wipe her cheek on her arm.

“I’ll help you. We’ll find him. He can’t have gone far, not if you took him apart.”

GM: Roderick tenderly brushes the tears from Celia’s face.

“Shhh. It’s all right, Celia,” he says softly.

“It’s all right. You’re with me. Nothing can hurt you while I’m here.”

“We were both just hurting. We were both just hurting and trying to make each other hurt. But like with Selina, I think so much of what we did to each other was rooted in fear. Fears we could have confronted and conquered together, if we’d just let our hearts remain open.”

“I don’t know what the future looks like for us, but I know this. I want to help you and I don’t want to see you hurt. I want to get you out of trouble.”

“So where is he, Celia? Where did he go?”

Celia: Celia nods along to his words. The relief is plain on her face: he doesn’t want to hurt her. He wants to help. He’s going to help.

“I am scared,” she admits in a broken voice, “I’ve been afraid that they’d… that he’d… he knows everything about me, Roderick, all this time, and then the Guard…”

She swallows.

“It’s all I can think about, all I can f-focus on, that I’m going to die here or, or in a week and I… I told you…”

Her cheeks redden. She can’t meet his eyes. Her shameful gaze rests on the floor, shoulders hunched inward as if waiting for him to laugh at or strike her.

“I just want to help, I just want to fix this, all of it, all of it… I can’t, I can’t focus, I keep… keep seeing it, but I didn’t, Roderick, I didn’t help him—”

A fresh wave of red cascades down her cheeks.

Celia spends a few moments pretending to hate herself, pretending to cry while Roderick pretends to comfort her. When she finally looks back up at him her eyes shine, lips half parted and oh-so-kissable.

The desire flows from her like water off the edge of a cliff, splashing Roderick with its mist. It’s a gentle tug, a subtle invitation to remove the clothing from her body, an easy way to spend a handful of moments so her brain sharpens and he can pump her for all that she knows. She’s so pliant. So trusting and eager to help. And she’s pretty, even with this face. Maybe that makes it better, that he’s not looking at Celia or Jade but some random lick who he can pretend is anyone he wants.

And he can use it as an excuse to hurt her, can’t he? He’d done it before, the sweetest of hurts, but maybe this time he can go a little further, bite a little harder, make her cry out in pain before she ever receives pleasure.

He can bond her. He can make her love him. Fear him, yes, he can do that too when he pulls off his mask and reveals he’d been playing her all along, but she’ll be so obsessed with him that she won’t care. He’s seen it in her before, hasn’t he? With her father. With Diana. She grew up loving an abusive man and only stood up to him when he crossed a line. Hasn’t she been accepting of his punishments before? The microwave. Sleeping on the floor. Giving him blood.

She’d make a good housewife, wouldn’t she. No dead bedroom here, not when she’s an eager little slut and so happy to let him smack her around. She’d wanted to play house last night, too. Feed him. Protect him. Help him, even after he’d hurt her.

Here she is spilling her soul, offering to make amends. Maybe Savoy will let him keep her. He can add “Celia” to the list of things he oversees.

First, though, all he has to do is fuck.

It’s not like fucking her is a chore. She’s always made him see stars.

And he can see it already, can’t he. The appeal. The thin cotton shirt she’d slept in, lace panties, bare legs… alluring. Even here, chained and afraid: she trusts him, submits to him.

What’s the harm, right? Everything is about sex. Except sex—that’s about power. And here’s both.

Maybe that’s all she ever really wanted: to trust him. To not be afraid. To keep her heart open and know that he wouldn’t get swept into the danger or the drama, that no one would come after him because of her. To submit to someone powerful. To be claimed. He’s strong enough for that. To take her. Show her he’s in charge. He’s beaten her, hasn’t he? No tricks she can pull, not here. Maybe she’s an eager little slut for bad boys. Maybe Dracon titillates her in ways that Roderick didn’t.

Inside of her chest her Bitch and Beast both pace, watching the scene unfold. She’s going to fuck him. She’s going to fuck him by letting him fuck her, and then she’s going to force her blood down his throat and he’ll never know, he’ll have no idea. She’ll ensnare him, let him think she’s weak and eager and trusting, and he’ll let his guard down. He’ll think it’s easier, won’t he, because prisoners don’t try to escape when they don’t know that they’re in jail, and how sweet a cage he’ll give her.

It goes both ways.

He won’t leave her alone? She’ll show him exactly how she turned the tables on the hunters when she was blindfolded, gagged, and tied. How she had them eating out of the palm of her hand by the time she got herself free, how they were so eager to believe the honeyed lies dripping from her tongue, so eager to feed the vampire who doesn’t look like a monster, so willing to keep her as their little pet.

A kitten in a cage.

Only the cat isn’t a kitten at all, and when the tiger inside roars and bares its teeth the whole house shakes.

Celia and Jade had agreed that Celia will play the innocent. The wolf who guts the sheep to climb inside its skin.

Beauty has been perfectly cast.

GM: Beauty has been perfectly cast.

The words drip from her mouth like honey.

But it’s so much more than the words, too. It’s in her looks. Her expressions. Her ravishingly beautiful, eminently fuckable body. She is irresistible. Impossibly seductive. There is no stranger who wouldn’t blink before dropping his pants and fucking her and witlessly placing himself even further under her spell.

Celia, Ren, Jade, all the others—all of them are still the Beauty.

No one can resist the Beauty.

Roderick smiles back at her. She sees it in his eyes.

She is no Beauty to Roderick. No longer.

“You’re the ugliest person I’ve ever known,” he’d said.

His feelings for her are dead.

His desire for her is dead.

What they had together is dead.

She can see the words forming on his lips. The contempt in his eyes when she says she “needs” this. That she needs to have sex.

You’re such a pathetic slut, Celia.

“When Gui is retrieved, Celia,” he patiently tells her instead.

“I know where I left Gui at Flawless. Lebeaux can scan the area for psychic impressions. He will see with his own eyes who picked up our staked and limbless Ventrue. If he sees you helped move Gui to another location, and we can’t find Gui… things will go very badly for you. Savoy is assuming you’ve aided his escape until it’s disproven. He’s ordered you kept here and he’s ordered that you be interrogated, with torture and mindfucking if necessary.”

“This is no game, Celia. If Gui has defected to Vidal’s camp after his escape, or even just gone back to Chicago and turned his sire against Savoy, you will have attacked his power, and you will have made him your enemy. He will deal with you like all elders deal with enemies. By killing them.”

“The faster this is cleared up—the less trouble Savoy and his people have to go through, the less time and blood they need to spend on this—the better things will go for you. For us.”

He smiles again and strokes Celia’s cheek.

“Just tell me where Gui is, Celia. You’ll be let out of here, Savoy will welcome you back into the fold, and I’ll show you a good time upstairs. All our troubles will be behind us. We can face the future as a team again. Doesn’t that sound lovely?”

Celia: The Bitch inside watches her Beauty wither. She’d given it everything. All of her charm, all of the love she still feels in her heart for someone who doesn’t want anything to do with her, all of the hope she’d had that maybe, just maybe, they could make this work. That they don’t need to hate each other. She still has so much to offer him. Still has so much she wants to offer him, even after all of this. After everything. She’d still help. All he has to do is be nice to her and she’d still help, but he won’t. Just like Paul.

Inside the body, Beauty sobs. Bitch rests a hand on her shoulder.

“He’s not worth your tears, love.” Soft words for the broken girl. Bitch isn’t mad at the Beauty. Kicking her while she’s down won’t do anything but make her curl into a ball of self-loathing. She’d taken the memories, and she can sort this out.

The body blinks and Celia disappears. Jade stares out at Durant or Dracon or whatever he’s going by these nights, lips curling into a smile. Her spine straightens, bloody tears drying on her cheeks.

“I haven’t moved against Lord Savoy, darling,” she says with all the arrogance of someone who is still in control, even bound and captive like this. “You left him in my spa. Finders keepers, love. Yes, I moved him. And I butchered him. I cleaned up the loose end for you.”

GM: Jade’s flesh painfully ripples and shudders as the Bitch comes out. Her hands are bound, but she doesn’t need them anymore.

No more mix-ups.

No more spillage.

When Jade’s face is on, Jade occupies the body. Not Celia.

When Celia’s face is on, Celia occupies the body. Not Jade.

Roderick quirks an eyebrow.

“So much the better for you then, Celia. Or Jade. Or whatever you’re calling yourself. I hope you won’t get offended if I don’t bother to ‘learn your pronouns.’”

Celia: Jade cocks her head to one side, like a cat observing a very tasty looking bird stupid enough to land on its perch.

“It’s hard to believe she ever saw anything in you,” Jade muses. “Wanted you to stay that white knight forever for her, I suppose. Cute, in a pathetic, fairytale kind of way; we both know you were too weak to ever be what she really needed.”

She smiles, flashing teeth.

“Does it rub you the wrong way to know that I’ve killed more mobsters than you?”

“Your whole life’s vision, the reason for your Embrace… and I’ve beaten you at it.” She laughs.

GM: “Not especially,” Dracon smiles back.

“Carolla and Gui would’ve beaten you into pulp if I wasn’t there. Some licks get angry over ‘kill stealing,’ but if you want to enjoy my leavings, I say more power to you. We both know how those fights would’ve gone if you had to face them on your own. We both know just how little you’re capable of without me.”

“But speaking of that, let’s have some proof. No one is taking your word that Gui is dead without a body. So where is Gui’s body, Celia-Jade-Whoever?”

Celia: “Mm,” Jade says with a nod, as if considering his view valid. “They may have, had they ever seen the knife coming. They didn’t.” She smiles. “But you know all about that, don’t you?”

“He’s at the haven. Surprised Princess missed it, really. I left his hat on my nightstand. Then again, he’s in more pieces than you left him.”

GM: “I’d say it’s the first time you’ve done something useful or worthwhile in your unlife, but, well, see that ‘enjoying my leavings’ remark.”

“So he’s at the haven. Where is he in the haven?” Dracon asks indulgently.

Celia: “Christ, Durant, you went from boy scout to bully and your lines still suck. I heard they’re casting for Taken 4; you’re a shoo-in.”

“But enough flirting, hm? He’s in the bathroom.”

When Jade had taken over last night she’d cleaned up Celia’s mess. It wouldn’t do to have the girl see the body when she woke up, to wonder why it had turned whiter than flour and why the expression on his face was one of terror and agony. She said she’d take care of Celia and she means it; poor childe will get in over her head looking into things that she simply doesn’t need to know about and then they’ll have another bout of torture at someone else’s hands because she’d said the wrong thing to the wrong person. The girl is simply too trusting by half.

So Jade took care of it.

She’d hauled his parts into the bathroom for easy cleanup and used a large hooked knife to cut him open from groin to sternum. A foul, putrid stench hit her in the nose and she saw, to her disgust, that the contents of Gui’s chest had liquified into a mass of goo in some indistinguishable color between black and brown.

“What did you expect,” Dicentra had laughed, “bodies decompose.”

Jade rolled her eyes at the night doctor—as if she didn’t know—and simply tilted Gui’s body to the side to let the liquified organs spill into the shower.

“Older than we thought,” she’d observed. The doctor had only nodded in agreement.

Then she’d begun to harvest him. Not all of him, no, but patches of skin from his back where the damage to his body had been minimized, first by using her palms to turn him from white-as-a-ghost to his normal, though decayed, coloring, then using the edge of the blade to sever the skin from the body.

She’d made the same color-changing pass across his face and the rest of his pieces, then combed her fingers through his hair to change that hue as well. Her movements grew more sluggish the longer she worked—that damn sun—but a burst of speed saw her through to the end. She’d tucked the skin away with her tools, washed up, and found a shirt and clean panties in Ren’s wardrobe to pull on before collapsing into bed.

“Most of him, anyway.”

GM: “Christ, Flores, you went from stupid to stupid with multiple personalities, and your strategy to not get staked for pissing off the boss still sucks. I heard they’re still casting whores in pornos; the second Flores sister is a shoe-in.”

“But a room where filth is cleaned. I suppose that’s a fitting enough place for Mr. Gui to have met his end. I hope for your sake that he’s actually there.”

Celia: Jade doesn’t bother telling him about all the porn she’s already been in. The poor boy’s head will explode.

Imagine enjoying sex. Gosh, what thing to stone someone over.

GM: The stake slides back into her chest with a wet slurk. Dracon turns and leaves the room.

Celia: It’s too much to ask for music or a TV in this kind of place, isn’t it.

GM: Jade is left to stare at the wall. She’s not sure how long passes. It feels like a moderate while.

Eventually, the door re-opens. Dracon walks back in.

He’s followed by Hannah.

Celia: What a fun little family reunion.

GM: Hannah pulls out the stake.

“Why did you do it?” she asks, bluntly.

“Why did you blood bond me a second time without my consent?”

Celia: “He’s told you how stupid Celia is, darling. It was an oversight. Poor dear was so excited about figuring out what you could do that when she shared blood she just wasn’t thinking.”

“The bond will fade. Neither of us intended to reinforce it. Made sure to give you plenty in return though, hm? All of the rules explained. Liberated from the bar where you were looking for someone you couldn’t remember. Feeding on Bourbon Street. A tattoo to let you pass as mortal. A mask to hide your identity. A visit with the oldest thin-blood in the city that I paid for, which gave us answers as to what you could do. A lick outside your family actually willing to spend time with you and test your various abilities. Kept your memories from being deleted because I knew you needed someone normal and unbiased to talk to about all this. A place to stay. Two, even.”

“Not to mention I saved your life on Thursday when Carolla planned to execute you. And again on Sunday when the dear hound wanted a sip and might have seen through the tattoo. And, oh, I suppose when we went to see Gui to find your sire and the Guard showed up there, too. Kept you outside and kept my nose clean so they didn’t have a reason to look twice at you.”

“All this time and I haven’t even asked you to pay me back for any of it. Haven’t asked you to do anything you didn’t want to do. Haven’t hurt you or taken advantage of you. In fact I went out of my way to make you comfortable when I knew you were skittish about feeding last night. Even took you to Elysium when you asked and cut a deal to find your sire for you. Granted, I suppose that boon is moot now. Imagine Durant has your sire stashed somewhere.”

“You’ve had it better than most true-blooded fledglings.”

GM: “‘Oops, I forgot,’” Dracon says in a mocking tone.

“I told you this was going to be a waste of time, Dani.”

“Then thank you for honoring my choice anyway,” says Dani. “I wanted to hear this from her.”

“Stephen, could someone actually overlook that?”

“No,” sneers Dracon. “No, sis, I’d say it’s literally like forgetting to use a condom, but it’s even dumber than that. Because all of us are ‘carrying’ condoms on hand, and we know there’s no emergency contraception. You’d have to be so fantastically stupid to ‘forget’ your blood can enslave someone that it’d be a wonder you could even put on your own clothes without step-by-step instructions.”

“All Celia would’ve had to do was wait a few seconds for her blood to cool and lose its bonding properties, and everything else you did together, you could’ve still done together.”

“You’d said,” Dani frowns.

“Speaking of that tattoo, did she tell you she’s Dr. Dicentra?” Dracon asks.

“Wait, what?” asks Dani.

“Yes, she lied to you and her mother about that too,” says Dracon. He isn’t quite smiling, but Jade can hear the pleasure in his voice at exposing another lie. “The ‘night doctor’s’ entire persona is a lie, a convenient fiction Celia uses to hide the fact that she can alter flesh the way she does.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t know either until the night we killed Carolla,” Dracon says. “I’d assumed they were separate people too. The doctor actually collected favors from me—a nice way around the fact that lovers typically don’t bother tracking owed boons.”

Celia: Amusement flickers across her face.

“Forget to use a condom, you mean like that time you and Celia fucked in the car? So sad, wasn’t it, when her sire ripped the life from her womb.”

“Do get on with it, Durant. The only thing less titillating than this is all those times we fucked.”

“And I guess last night when you showed how cool you are, murdering kine and all. Very badass.”

GM: “Oh, Celia, this isn’t about you, I’m afraid,” says Dracon. “This is about doing right by Dani. Telling her the truth she deserves.”

Celia: “Here’s your truth, Dani: I lied to you brother countless times. I cheated on him. He’s angry. He wasn’t good enough for his sire so she Embraced some mobster and now his feelings are hurt.”

GM: “Yes, he told me that,” says Dani. “And a lot more.”

“I’m not interested in what happened between you two right now. I want to clear up the lies between us.”

Celia: She laughs.

“Why? Run home with your brother, Dani. I’m the monster he wants me to be.”

GM: Dani regards Jade for a few moments.

“Are you sorry?” she finally asks. “For the lies you’ve told me?”

“Because even if you blood bound me by accident, which I can believe, people do forget to use condoms in the heat of the moment, you never said anything afterwards. To my mind, that’s the actual lie.”

Celia: “No. I’m not.” Jade shrugs. “Celia might be. But she’s always been weak.”

GM: “Well then,” says Dani. “Okay.”

“I wasn’t a virgin before I was raped,” she then says. “I was embarrassed about how I lost my virginity, so when it came up between us and you assumed, I didn’t correct you. I wondered for a while why I did that. Why I cared so much about what you thought that I’d lie.”

“The bond twisted your feelings,” says Dracon.

“I guess so,” says Dani, looking back towards Jade. “I doubt this means anything to you right now, but I don’t like telling lies to anyone. It feels good to come clean.”

Celia: Jade is quiet for a moment.

“Celia wants me to tell you that you probably weren’t, if it helps. Most licks can’t get it up anymore. She’d offer to show you, but, well.”

GM: “And why didn’t ‘Celia’ tell me that earlier, either?” asks Dani.

Celia: “Various reasons. You were still violated. Feeding is a sort of sex. Telling someone they weren’t technically raped doesn’t make it feel less awful, just like calling it date rape doesn’t make it less heinous. You still died for it. She thought perhaps your sire might have been a thin-blood and was able to get it up, or brought in a third party to have a bit of fun, so she wanted to find out first before she brought it up. Avoiding false hope and the likes. You know, real savior complex.”

“I doubt her reasoning matters to either one of you. Spilling secrets is fun and all, but I’d like to see the warden now.”

GM: Dani gets a look on her face at that, but offers no further response.

“Yes, I was thinking about seeing him too,” says Dracon.

“We found the body. It looks like Gui. But, obviously, you can change what people look like, so I’m not sure if it’s really Gui’s body. It’d be a good escape plan. If the real Gui stowed away in a body bag, he’d have had a decent window of time for a loyal ghoul to make it out of the Quarter or even the city with him.”

“I wonder what would happen if Lebeaux combed the body over with his divinations and ESP. Would he get a vision of Celia Flores sculpting someone else’s corpse into Reynaldo Gui’s?”

“Because if he would, now would be a good time for you to give up your marked-for-death lover, Celia. I’m afraid you’re just not smart enough to fool everyone.”

Celia: Is it even worth it to point out the lack of time and prep she had? Not that it would stop her if she were truly determined to smuggle Gui out of the city, but the risk isn’t worth whatever feel-good reward she’d get from it. And if she were planning on smuggling Gui out, she’d have gone with him rather than face her grandsire’s displeasure.

Pride brings half a dozen smartass remarks to mind. The desire to survive and prevent Lebeaux from looking over the corpse makes her bite her tongue.

“Ah… no. But he will see me sculpting Gui. Ugly-dead-Gui to less-ugly-and-decomposed-dead-Gui. Grandsire said I could harvest some parts and I didn’t want the decayed bits sitting in my bag. Easier to do it all at once and cut what I need.”

There’s a slight pause. Jade looks away, uncomfortable, then throws him a bone to gnaw on.

“There’s, ah… I’d prefer he not see what I did to the corpse, okay?”

GM: “Ah, and here comes the dirty laundry,” smiles Dracon.

“And why is that, Celia?”

Celia: Bend. Bend so she doesn’t break. Bend so her unlife doesn’t end. What’s a bit of laughter, a bit of humiliation, compared to ceasing to exist?

Jade squirms. She makes a good show of it, keeping her eyes diverted, pausing long enough to make it sound like she doesn’t want to say. Finally, she blurts it out.

“I fucked him. When I killed him. I made his dick hard and I rode him and when I reached climax I ripped his heart out. And he got ugly immediately and it wasn’t satisfying and ruined the O, so I fixed him up and did it again.”

GM: Dani looks disgusted.

Dracon, though, gives her a very mean smile.

“Well then. I think I’d doubly enjoy Lebeaux checking the corpse.”

“Turns it into a real win-win proposition.”

“If you helped him escape, we find out.”

“And if you didn’t, someone else sees what a disgusting slut you are.”

Celia: “You win, Dracon.”

It’s the first time she’s used his new name. Not a nickname, no hint of venom or derision, no snide comments about it being pretentious.

“I said it last night, I’ll say it again. You win. You broke Celia’s heart when you made her watch you with the two snakes. Even after that she was still willing to submit to you if it meant she got a chance to fix it. You broke it again when you wouldn’t stay the day. She was a sobbing mess. She’s still a sobbing mess. She’ll probably always be a sobbing mess over you. So you win. You have me helpless here. I got lucky last night when I took you out, and I got lucky on Thursday with Carolla and hoping you’d turn on him and not me, and I got lucky that you’d already done the work with Gui and all I had to do was finish him off. You’re stronger than me, you’re smarter than me, you have my grandsire’s favor.”

“You win.”

“So what is it going to cost me to end this between us? I don’t expect you to ever not hate Celia or I for what we’ve done, but we’re going to be seeing a lot of each other around the Quarter, and I’d rather not fight with you every time we bump into each other when there are plenty of enemies outside to focus on. You want to fuck me over after Savoy is on the throne? Fine. But right now I’m waving the white flag and I’m asking for a ceasefire. Name a price. Boons? Marks for Dani? She’s night-blind, you know, and I can fix that. I can teach her to fly. I have pages of notes I created for your new identity that I can pass off to you, or give you a new one, or give her a new one so ‘Hannah’ isn’t seen running around with Durant after being with Jade. I’ve even got an opportunity for you to hurt me by physically ripping me apart while doing something good for someone you don’t hate.”

GM: Jade or Celia, she’s always been good at mirroring.

Telling people what they want to hear.

Telling them they are the person they want to be.

Telling Roderick that he’s Dracon. Smarter and stronger and more important.

That he won.

“I’m glad you’ve finally seen reason… Jade,” he smiles.

“It’s also Draco, I’ve decided. Dani’s idea.”

Celia: It brings to mind spoiled children who hide behind their parent’s skirts and never actually get their hands dirty and cry to daddy about everything.

Perfect, really.

But Jade doesn’t say.

GM: “It warms my heart to hear Celia is suffering.”

“I hope she will suffer for a very long time.”

“Not mine,” says Dani. She looks at Jade, but she doesn’t look hateful.

Mostly just sad.

Celia: Grudgingly, Jade nods. “She will. Every time she sees you she’s hurt all over again.”

GM: “That’s beautiful,” smiles Draco.

Celia: “Very focused on what might-have-been. Bought a dress and everything.”

GM: “Oh, that’s so sweet. I’d rip it to pieces and throw the ring at her feet, if I could.”

Celia: The words don’t bother Jade. She’d never loved a boy named Stephen.

GM: “I think I’ve heard enough,” says Dani. “I got everything I came here for.”

She still looks more sad than angry.

Draco rubs her shoulder. “That’s fine. You want to head home?”

“Yeah. School tomorrow.”

Celia: Jade turns her eyes toward the thin-blood.

“She is sorry, Dani. She was afraid. She shouldn’t have been.”

GM: Dani just looks sadder.

“Not sorry enough to tell me like she told her mom.”

Celia: “Mothers are supposed to love their children. Friends can walk away at any time.”

“She’s learned her lesson, Dani. Good luck out there.”

GM: “I’m going to let Mrs. Flores know the truth about Dicentra. There’s no reason she should think she’s made a friend who isn’t real.”

“But were we just friends? I thought we were going to be so much more than that. I’m sad, Celia, Jade, whoever. I thought I was going to have a new sister. I thought we were going to set up our parents together. That our families were going to become one. That’s really, really sad we can’t have that, because it would’ve been something beautiful.”

Dani starts to wipe her eyes.

Celia: For a moment, Jade simply stares.

Then she’s gone, skin dissolving and melting like ripples across a pond to turn into the very-familiar face of Celia Flores.

“I wanted that too, Dani.” Red rims her eyes. “I wanted that, so much. I wanted to marry your brother and set up our parents and get a place together in the Quarter. I already started calling you ‘sister’ in my head.” Her lower lip quivers.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry I messed it up. I always mess it up. I was trying to be better, Dani. For you. For…” she can’t look at him, doesn’t look his way, “for Stephen. I just kept doing what you said. Treating both of you like kids.”

Sanguine tears trail down her cheeks. She shakes her head.

“It was stupid. I was stupid. And I’m sorry.”

GM: “This is how she gets you every time, Dani,” Draco says to his sister.

“So contrite.”

“So sad.”

“So sympathetic.”

“Really makes you want to just give her another chance, doesn’t it?”

He turns back to Celia.

“Take that face off or I’ll carve it off,” he says calmly.

Celia: Celia flinches at the threat. Then she’s gone. The Bitch is back, lips quirked in amusement.

“And you thought I was taking away her choices.”

GM: Dani wipes some more at her eyes. Watery pinkish tears bead from them.

“No,” she sniffs. “I’d rather not see Celia either. Goodbye.”

She turns and leaves.

Celia: It’s an effort to resist rolling her eyes.

GM: Draco gets the door for her, then turns back to Jade.

“So, terms.”

“Let’s see, I definitely don’t want any of your personalities’ assistance with my identity.”

Celia: “It was more general ideas than assistance.”

“Things that would keep you from being found out.”

Jade shrugs. She doesn’t care.

GM: “Mm,” Draco says noncommittally.

“You spoke earlier, among other things, about curing thin-bloodedness via ‘dark magic’. That’s of interest to me.”

“I’d be a cruel brother to let my sister stay so weak and dependent.”

Celia: Jade gives a sharp shake of her head.

“Not here. Anywhere but here.”

GM: “Fine. You’re coming with me to another location.”

Celia: Jade only nods.

GM: Draco pulls out a phone and taps into it. It looks like the same one Jade removed from his person.

Celia: Phones all look the same.

Plus, it’s not like she’d hidden it. It reminds her of why she’d taken it, though.

“The couple from last night. Ring stores their data online. You took their phones, but you need to get the online stuff scrubbed.”

“You won’t show up, but your cars will.”

GM: Draco smiles at her.

“Give my big brain some credit.”

Celia: Jade inclines her head.

“My apologies, Draco.”

GM: “No, this is for something else,” he says, tapping into the phone. “I might be able to beat you in a fair fight, but after how last night went down I’m taking out some insurance.”

“We all do so hate fair fights.”

Celia: “Insurance?”

Which of her family members is he abducting?

GM: “Oh, nothing harmful to you or your interests or your loved ones, if you don’t double-cross me.”

Celia: “I’m not going to double-cross you, Draco. I’ve seen how well that went for me.”

GM: “You’ll forgive me if I don’t take your word.”

Celia: “Of course. I just also hope you’re practicing discretion with the mortals in her unlife that have done no wrong.”

GM: “Don’t worry about it, Jade. If you don’t attempt to cross me, you’ll have no idea what precautions I even took.”

He tucks the phone back away, then undoes the cuffs around her limbs.

Celia: She hadn’t expected this. She thought she’d get another stake to the heart. She glances down at herself, at her lack of clothing. Panties. Shirt.

“Are we going somewhere private where this is acceptable attire, or shall I shift?”

GM: “Shift.”

Celia: Without a word, she’s a cat. Her tail curls around her legs, large green eyes steady on the lick in front of her. She doesn’t presume to wind herself around his legs or purr, doesn’t ask for scratches or roll onto her back to expose her belly. Silently, she waits.

GM: He picks up the cat and leaves the room. Some ghouls see him along the way, but no one stops him. He takes the back entrance outside to his car. The license plates isn’t the same ones Jade saw last night. He opens the door, gets in, and deposits the cat on the seat adjacent to the driver’s. His touch is neither rough nor affectionate.

Celia: The cat flicks its ear at her former boy, as if asking if he wants her to stay feline or return to a form that can speak.

GM: “You can turn human,” he says. He turns on the car’s ignition and drives.

Celia: So she does, reaching for the seatbelt to buckle herself in. Jade’s eyes look out the window.

GM: Royal Street rolls past them. No one attempts to waylay the car. Draco drives for a while up Royal, towards the more residential part of the Quarter, then stops. He taps his phone again and sweeps it over the car’s interior. He also rummages through the glove compartment, ventilators, and other hard to reach spots.

“Let’s hear it, then. Your alleged cure for thin-bloodedness.”

Celia: Jade is silent while Draco does his thing. She waits until he’s done to speak.

“You have no reason to trust what I say. So if you require proof, I can attempt to provide it. By telling you this, I assume you understand the risks. It’s the sort of knowledge that will get you killed, the reason that elders stomp on neonates, the reason that Celia chickened out last night in giving you the truth you asked for.”

“Here’s what I’m promising you, Draco. Full disclosure. If there’s something I can’t tell you for any reason, I’ll say that. This is also a two-way street. If I’m going to share something with you that will get me killed I expect something in return.”

“You’re in charge. I recognize that. I also recognize that I’m not interested in throwing away my Requiem because you mention this to the wrong person. This stays between us. And Dani, if you choose to bring her in on it.”

“Can you agree to that?”

GM: “Yes,” says Draco.

“The thing you get in return is my statement to Lebeaux that I’ve seen the body, tasted its blood, and everything was legit. Likewise to Lord Savoy.”

Celia: “You can’t let him into your head. Once you know this.”

GM: “He’s already more likely than be in your head than mine.”

Celia: “Yes,” Jade agrees, “that’s why I’ve sealed off her memories.”

GM: “Assuming he can actually read minds without other licks noticing. That’s an advanced trick. He hasn’t confirmed or denied whether he can. Neither would I, if I were him.”

Celia: “He or Preston does it. They’ve answered multiple questions I never got a chance to ask.”

GM: “And what would that gain them? Would it have been worth revealing that thoughts aren’t safe around them?”

Celia: “I don’t know their thoughts, Draco, I only remember a very specific meeting where I was thinking something in particular and they responded to it. Multiple times.”

GM: “You aren’t thinking logically. If it’s not important enough for you to even remember, it wasn’t important enough to tip their hands over. They could have just inferred what you were going to ask.”

Celia: She never said that she didn’t remember.

But she doesn’t start an argument over it.

“There’s something else I’d like to ask you.”

GM: “Elders don’t like to disclose the full extent of what powers they do or don’t have. Case in point, right now. I’ll assume Savoy can read Kindred minds without them noticing, because that’s safest. If he actually can, he still benefits from my uncertainty. If he can’t, then I might take precautions that don’t actually advance my interests and might even set them back. That’s the fog of war.”

Celia: “That’s valid,” Jade concedes.

GM: “Yes, it is. I’ve always been the smarter one.”

Celia: Not a single flicker of emotion crosses her face.

“You are. Very smart.”

GM: “Mm, another lie, at least from your lips,” he answers with a cold smile. “But the statement itself is still true. Why, you could even say that’s a philosophical construct. A true statement uttered from a position of nonbelief with intent to deceive. But still factually true.”

“From what perspectives does this make the statement false? From what perspectives is it true?”

Celia: “I never doubted that you were smarter than me, Draco.”

GM: “Hm, that statement sounds closer to true. But no matter. Ask your question, and I’ll answer with my own truths or lies or non-answers as I see fit.”

Celia: “Do you have my ghouls? The boys. Reggie and Rusty.”

“You or one of your friends.”

GM: “No.”

“If Reggie’s come to a bad end, though, I might smile.”

“He’s fortunate he lipped off to me as Roderick.”

Celia: Jade shoves a hand through her hair.

“I thought you were going to kill him. It might have been better if you had.”

GM: Draco smiles coldly again, showing his fangs.

“Feel free to bring him by, then, and I’ll rectify the error.”

Celia: “At the risk of you mocking me, I can’t find him. Neither of them are responding to their phones and they turned off their tracking. I thought if you’d taken him it would have at least been a neatly wrapped problem.”

GM: “Oh, but it is.”

“For me.”

“It’s not my problem.”

“Very neatly wrapped.”

Celia: “No. It’s not. I didn’t intend to make it your problem.”

GM: “We’re outside of the Evergreen. There are no bugs in the car. Now, our business?”

Celia: It’s the sort of truth that will get her killed, she’s certain of it. She’s also certain that if she doesn’t tell him, and prove it, he’ll have Lebeaux test the body and they’ll find out anyway. It’s a leap of faith, isn’t it? Trusting that he wants to help his sister more than he wants her dead. Trusting that he wants to torment Celia for years rather than have Jade quickly executed.

Jade unbuckles her seat belt, turning to face him fully with her legs crossed beneath her.

“In the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t fuck Gui last night.”

She gives him a look.

“I ate him.”

GM: “You ate him,” repeats Draco.

Celia: “His soul.”

GM: “Is this how you explain developing another one of your multiple personalities?”

“I could care less how many of them you have or what insane explanations you contrive for their existences.”

Celia: Jade actually laughs at that.

“No. Though that certainly is a convenient excuse. I told you it’s dark magic. Which do you want first, the history lesson or the magical theory?”

GM: “Theory, then application.”

Celia: A thrill runs through her at the words.

“I’ve been doing some experiments on Kindred and thin-blood physiology,” she says. “Dani twists. All thin-bloods do. She drinks from me and she learns star mode. She drinks from you and she takes your speed. She absorbs what we have. The more she drinks, the more she gets. But our powers are set. I know what I know, you know what you know. Takes a while to learn new tricks. You need a teacher. Occasionally you find one of those sweet mortals who give you a boost, right? Aside from that, we’re limited by our age and our removal from the first lick. You explained it very well to Dani. The cup pouring into another cup.”

“So this… lets you bypass all of that. I took things that he can do. I learned things he can do. He didn’t show me. No one showed me. I ate him, and I absorbed him.”

“Instantly.”

GM: Draco raises his eyebrows.

“By what means? Drinking another lick’s blood like Dani does doesn’t typically absorb their powers.”

“It can, but when it does it’s a function of specific powers the blood serves as a conductor for, rather than as a result of any quality inherent to the blood.”

Celia: “Right, but it’s not the blood. Or rather, it’s not just the blood. You don’t just drink their blood and call it a day. You keep going. They’re empty, you keep going. It’s their soul. Their essence. Their life force. Their energy. Whatever makes them who they are. You take it for yourself.”

“You see it in other cultures all the time. Eating the remains of the dead to absorb parts of them. Heart of the lion for courage. In Papa New Guinea they used to eat the brains of their dead family members.”

“That may or may not be a real thing. But this? This is.”

GM: “Yes, those are just the barbaric superstitions of inferior cultures,” Draco concurs.

“So it lets you learn disciplines faster. How do you know it cures thin-bloodedness?”

Celia: “Because of a comment that was made when I heard about it. About the blood getting more potent. So if it works for us, it’ll work for her.”

GM: “Where did you learn of this?”

Celia: “That’s one of those things I can’t tell you.”

GM: “Did you trade something for this information?”

Celia: “Yes.”

GM: “So that’s the theory. What’s the history?”

Celia: “How familiar are you with the unicorns?”

GM: “Probably more so than you.”

Celia: “Perfect. They’re soul thieves. Ta-da.”

GM: “So the practice originated among them? Or they were the first to discover it?”

Celia: Jade shrugs.

“My contact didn’t say. Not many licks willing to talk about them, or what they do with souls. Attracts the wrong sort of attention when you go asking questions.”

GM: “So this practice doesn’t simply absorb disciplines. It also thickens the blood. That’s how a thin-blood becomes a true-blood.”

Celia: “That’s the working theory.”

GM: “You said this came from a ‘comment’ by your contact. What did your contact specifically say?”

Celia: “That my blood is thicker than it should be given my age.”

GM: “But you hadn’t eaten any souls when your contact told you this information, because you learned it from them.”

Celia: “Correct.”

GM: “Then why did they bring up your blood’s thickness at all? I’ve tasted your blood. It’s stronger than other neonates’, but not abnormally so.”

Celia: “That’s also something I can’t tell you.”

GM: “Your hypothesis—not theory—that this practice can prematurely thicken blood sounds extremely specious.”

“But no matter. It doesn’t need to.”

“Developing disciplines faster has value of its own.”

Celia: Jade gives a nod.

“Time for practical application?”

GM: “I don’t trust you as far as I can throw you.”

“Actually, I trust you a good less than the distance I could throw you.”

“So you’re going to show me this is true, on someone who won’t be missed.”

Draco twists the keys and starts driving again.

Celia: Jade doesn’t object. She just turns forward again, fastening her seatbelt.

“I need clothes,” she says eventually.

GM: “You’re about to get them.”

Celia: How does such an innocuous statement sound so sinister?


Monday night, 21 March 2016, PM

GM: Draco drives for a while. They leave the French Quarter. They pass into a suburb. Draco doesn’t speak. His fangs are faintly visible in his mouth. There’s a predatory stillness to his moonlit face unlike anything Celia ever saw on Roderick’s. It reminds her of Jade’s expression when Celia’s mother, beaten and abused back into Grace, went about her assigned tasks while a hungry predator coolly watched on.

Sometimes, throughout the drive, Draco smiles. The expression does not reach his eyes.

At a few moments, he starts softly chuckling.

At one point, he starts laughing, though there’s no mirth in the sound.

He doesn’t look at or speak to Jade.

Celia: That makes two of them. Jade steadily ignores the insanity beside her.

And people think she has problems.

GM: “Turn into a cat and get on the floor,” he abruptly says, breaking the silence.

Celia: The girl’s body disappears. The cat steps silently off the seat and onto the floor, curling in on itself and killing the aura that makes it look like a threat. Green eyes stare out at Draco from the shadow beneath the dash.

GM: Draco doesn’t look at the cat. The thrum of traffic sounds in the background. It feels as if they’re driving for a decent while, though the cat can’t tell where they’re going from her new vantage point.

Draco finally stops the car.

“Turn into Jade again.”

Celia: The cat crawls from its spot and turns back into the girl.

GM: “Get out of the car,” he says as he opens the door and gets out.

Celia: Jade follows suit, eyes sweeping their surroundings.

GM: They’re in an unfamiliar suburb. Many of the houses’ lights are out. Draco walks up to the nearest lit one. Through a window, Jade sees the drooped heads of half-asleep couple watching a movie in their living room.

He knocks firmly on the door.

The two start awake. Wary suspicion colors their faces, then suddenly drains away. First from the man’s, then the woman’s.

The man opens the front door.

“It’s so good to see you again,” Draco beams at the stranger, though the expression looks almost mocking. “I know it’s late. Do you mind if we come in?”

“Sure,” smiles the man, opening the door further. He’s black and in his early middle years.

“Where are her pants…?” he starts to ask.

“Don’t worry about it,” smiles Draco.

Celia: It’s the face. Whoever he is, he’s dead. The man said it last night.

And this is… another hit, isn’t it. Two birds sort of thing.

Jade follows Draco inside.

GM: Draco closes the door behind her before the man can.

“Close the shades, will you? I’ve never liked the idea of neighbors snooping in.”

“Hmph. The Petersons next door are such snoops,” says the woman. She’s also dark-skinned and in her early middle years. She closes the shades.

“Got kids?” asks Draco.

“Er, no,” frowns the man.

“Perfect,” smiles Draco, then presses a finger to the base of the man’s neck. He hits the floor with a crash and doesn’t move.

The woman opens her mouth as if to scream, but she’s too slow. Draco’s form blurs, then she hits the floor too.

Jade’s ex-lover rolls the man over onto his back.

“Make yourself look like her. Make me look like him.”

Celia: “Need a hit,” Jade says bluntly, nodding at the bodies. “Unless you want to be here all night.”

GM: Draco gestures sardonically at the woman.

He’s already kneeling to sink his fangs into the man’s neck. A low slurp sounds as the vampire drinks his fill.

Celia: Jade crouches beside the woman, then sinks in. She takes her lead from Draco. If he’s draining his, she’ll do the same. She has no idea if he’s planning on using them for anything else.

GM: Draco drinks for several minutes, enough for a decent meal, then pulls away.

He stands and strips off his clothes.

“The likeness below my face doesn’t need to be perfect. Just make me black.”

Celia: Jade drinks her fill, slurping down the red liquid with no regard to the woman beneath her. It’s not the sort of fare she’s used to, not the sweet, lust-ridden blood that so often graces her tongue. It lacks the potency of Kindred blood. And it’s nothing like what she’d taken from Carolla or Gui.

Easy to see how too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. She’s already itching for another hit of the good stuff.

GM: Human blood next to lick blood is like water and wine.

Human blood next to diablerie is like piss and wine.

Celia: She doesn’t bother to rise once she’s done, kneeling at his feet to begin the process of changing his skin tone. It’s easier than the muscle work, a quick pass of her hands over his flesh like she’s rubbing in paint, and it reminds her of the instant way the bronzer of her spray tan solution turns the skin dark. She rises from there, moving her hands steadily up his shins, calves, thighs—

She halts at his groin, asking him how thorough he wants her to be.

GM: Draco’s lips draw back and his fangs show at the sensation, though it’s less painful than deeper work. He shrugs at her question.

“I doubt anyone will see me there. But no harm in being thorough and no point in being sloppy.”

Celia: It’s a familiar feel in her hand.

She doesn’t linger overlong, doing what needs to be done before moving on to his abdomen, across the flat (chiseled) plane of his stomach, across the broad muscles of his chest and shoulders, down his arms, his hands, his fingers. She’s sure to cover every bit of him that was once white, and once she’s done with the front she moves behind him to begin on the back, sweeping down from the back of his head to his lumbar and finally across the glutes.

“Painful part,” she warns when she steps in front of him again, fingertips gliding across his face to turn Draco into random-black-guy. The muscles shift like warm butter across toast, flexing and lengthening before she carves them into the shape of the man on the floor. She works quickly, but she pays attention to the details: the fullness of the lips, the broader nose, the wrinkle across his forehead, the crow’s feet at his eyes.

GM: His fangs lengthen at her painful handiwork. He’s still until she’s done and a stranger’s face stares back at Jade’s. He then walks into the couple’s bedroom, picks out some clothes, and pulls them on.

Jade has her pick, too.

Draco’s fangs show again in annoyance as he dresses himself. The clothes aren’t a perfect fit. The shoes take him some time and probably pinch, but that will be of little discomfort to the undead.

Jade runs into similar issues. The woman’s size is bigger than hers.

Celia: Jade’s transformation to the black woman is just as quick. Her skin darkens, hair curls and shortens, face becomes older with the suggestion of wrinkles at the corners of her eyes. She’s amused by the size of the waist and booty, padding it as much as this woman’s is.

“She’s taller than me, but heels will help. Fatter, too.” Jade peruses the closet, skipping over the selection at the front to find the spot in the back where women store their “once I lose 20 lbs” clothes. She glances at the outfit Draco has chosen for an idea of how formal or casual to go.

GM: He’s gone with mostly casual. Jeans and a button-up.

Celia: Then she goes casual too, pulling on a dress that would be right at home in a bar. Cotton-y sort of material. Matronly, with sleeves that Jade would never be caught dead in but hides the saggy underarms of this middle-aged woman. The dress hits below her knees, but it’s easier to hide that it’s not the right length than a pair of pants dragging the floor behind her, and a well-placed safety pin gathers some excess material.

“Draco,” she says as she pulls on her selection, “can I say something?”

GM: He shrugs.

Celia: “I know you don’t trust me. But if this works, if you’d like, I can add mass to you. For your Draco face. Better if he’s a different size than Roderick. Your normal doc can tuck it away when she makes the changes to you from there.”

She finds tissues to stuff into the toes of her chosen heels to accommodate for the size difference, trying not to bemoan the state of her… cankles.

She hates being ugly.

GM: “Wear practical shoes,” says Draco.

“We’ll see first if this works.”

Celia: Oh. Jade finds a less flashy heel. The ugly sort, with a square toe box and half an inch lift, barely more than what a sneaker would give. She rummages through the dresser for two pairs of ankle socks to pad for size, then finally says fuck it and pulls off the dress, reaching for a blouse and jeans to go with the seldom used (by the looks of them) running shoes that are, surprise, also at the back of the closet.

She swears every woman is the same.

“You might lose your shit. When it happens. Just be prepared for that.”

GM: “You’ll probably need to be more prepared for it than me,” says Draco.

Celia: “Yes,” she agrees.

“I was just warning you.”

“So you’re not surprised.”

GM: Draco takes out his phone again, taps into it, then puts it back away. He hefts the man and woman back into the bedroom like they weigh nothing, then finds some cable cords from another room that he uses as improvised rope to bind their hands and feet in hogtied position. He gags them too.

Celia: Jade assists where she can, but mostly she just lets him do his thing. He’s stronger than her.

“Who’s the target?”

GM: “You’ll see,” is all he answers.

Draco retrieves the couple’s keys, exits the house, and locks the door. He gets into their car with Jade and starts driving.

After a little while, he says, “Turn into a cat and get on the floor.”

Celia: Jade doesn’t push further. She can only hope it isn’t someone that she is going to miss.

They’re already in the car when she asks if he needs a mark to hide his Beast.

GM: He considers for a moment.

“It won’t hurt.”

Celia: Well. It will.

GM: “It will need to be deactivated when we’re close enough to the target.”

Celia: “Oh. You can control that. You just turn it off. This just gives you the ability to mask it. Or I can put it on your hand and just wipe it away when you say.”

GM: “The former is acceptable.”

Celia: “Permanent or temporary?”

Jade moves to the floor rather than try to do it while bending across the steering console. “Or I could make this temporary and give you a permanent one in a better spot later.”

GM: “You’re very eager to be helpful,” Draco remarks.

Celia: Jade shrugs. “Truth? I told you that I don’t want you as an enemy. I don’t want to constantly look over my shoulder for you. I don’t want Celia’s family to be hurt. You won, remember? I recognize power when I see it.”

She smiles when she reaches to roll up his pant leg so she can mark his calf.

“Plus there aren’t many licks that know I rip people apart. It’s nice to be able to share.”

GM: “All of us rip people apart, sooner or later.”

Celia: She wonders if it’s still a sore spot to him, killing those hunters. If there’s something she could say to make him feel better. If she should even bother. If she cares, really.

Celia had wanted him to remain good and pure, hadn’t wanted to taint his soul with the mention of diablerie. But Jade doesn’t give much of a fuck about his soul.

“Going to start the mark,” she says instead of anything else, warning him about the incoming pain. It’s a quick piece of art made with claws rather than a tattoo gun, mimicking the image Dicentra had given him the first time he’d gone to see her: the suggestion of a linen-covered table with a pair of eyes peering out through a hole in the sheet. It doesn’t take long.

She smooths the skin around it with a touch when she’s done, getting rid of the red, freshly-savaged skin.

GM: It’s late in the game to worry about the purity of his soul anyway.

Draco growls at the sensation of her claws etching the design into his flesh, but doesn’t move.

“Turn into a cat,” he says when she’s done.

Celia: She’s gone without a word. Luna curls on the floor, chin on her paws. She watches the boy that used to be hers, wondering at his thoughts.

GM: They look like dark ones.

They have for a while.

He doesn’t laugh or chuckle as he drives, this time. But on a few occasions he shows a fanged smile, his still face pale in the moonlight. Rain starts to patter against the windshield. The wipers go back and forth.

They drive for a while.

They stop. Draco taps into his phone.

They drive some more.

Then they stop again.

“Turn into Jade.”

Celia: She assumes he means the woman and shifts accordingly.

GM: “We’re here.”

He gets out.

Celia: She follows suit, killing her aura again, and looks around at their surroundings.

GM: Right up ahead is Edith Flannagan’s house.

Celia: She almost laughs.

In fact, she does.

Just a short burst of it that steals from her lips.

GM: “I’m so pleased this agrees with you.”

Edith lives closer to the north part of the Quarter, where buildings turn from bars and clubs and tourist attractions to homes and apartments. It’s still on Rampart Street, though. This close to Tremé and the Seventh Ward, the spit starts to wear off the Quarter’s polish—or perhaps it becomes plain how much was black from tobacco spittle all along. Trash isn’t as picked up. Buildings are cheaper, dirtier, graffiti-tagged, and falling apart. Jade hears a few gunshots and car alarms. There are homeless, too, camped out with their sleeping bags and shopping carts and bags of trash and belongings, plus the odd worn-looking camping tent. There’s fewer of them than south in the Quarter, but their expressions look just as glum, intoxicated, or blanked out. Sounds of fornication echo from one of the tents. Numerous sets of eyes follow the pair.

Fewer than when it was two girls.

But still plenty on the lonely-looking middle-aged couple.

Celia: “I’d had the same thought about her,” Jade muses. She sticks close to Draco as they walk through the less-than-savory part of town. She’s not particularly worried about handling herself, but it’s better not to tempt fate, isn’t it.

GM: It’s not long before the pair are accosted by perhaps the very same unwashed half-dozen men literally screaming in their faces for money. Jade sees malformed and pathetic-looking fangs in the mouths of three, this time. Who keeps making these thin-bloods?

Celia: Probably the same someone who made Dani.

Jade tucks herself against Draco’s side like a middle-aged-wife would.

No reason to start throwing punches when all he needs to do is flash a bit of that Brujah charm, right?

GM: Draco ignores the mob at first, until they get too close. He gives a low and very dangerous-sounding snarl. Fear shudders through the mob in a palpable current.

The men falter, then slink away in search of easier prey.

“You,” he says, pointing at one of the thin-bloods, a scraggly-bearded man in maybe his 20s. “Come with us.”

Celia: And here she thought he was going to use the kid.

Is that a line he still won’t cross? Just abandon the four of them instead of outright killing?

GM: Jade supposes she’ll know for sure soon enough.

The duskborn warily edges away at Draco’s demand, then suddenly smiles in relief.

“Okay, man. Uh, y’all true-bloods?”

“Yes. We are.”

He walks up to Edith’s house and raps on the door.

The property is better-maintained than its neighbors, but it looks like someone trying to maintain a ’50s family home in the inner city without so much as a white picket fence. The same bars are there over the windows.

Just like last time, a shadow passes behind the windowshades.

After a moment, the door swings open.

Celia: While they wait, Jade murmurs to him beneath her breath.

“Four. Three kids. Plus the thin-blood.”

GM: “Yes, I’ve heard how despicable she is.”

Celia: Jade only nods.

GM: The door is answered by ‘Cinderella’. She’s got the same cheap-looking Saturday night special tucked into her sweatpants. She looks worse than when Jade saw her last. There are bandages around her neck, bruises on her pale face, and her eyes are droopy.

“C’mon in,” she says thickly, closing the door after them.

“Edith and the kids are eating.”

She gives the homeless thin-blood a very wary-looking look.

Celia: No doubt it’ll be a relief for Cinderella to finally be free of this place. Jade idly wonders what sorts of marketable skills she has, or if she’s better served as a snack.

GM: “Your domitor should be able to just lick puncture marks away,” Draco says to the ghoul.

“Oh. This is… something else, too,” Cinderella replies, rubbing her neck.

“Hasn’t had much juice to go around…”

“Yes, she never does, does she?” says Draco.

Celia: She’d given the bitch five hits a week ago.

GM: “She creates her own problems and then bemoans them.”

“You can give her charity, but it’s like pouring water through a sieve.”

“Gone the moment it’s received.”

Celia: She doesn’t bother looking at the expression on his face. She knows who he’s talking about. Once again, Jade curses Celia for her weakness.

GM: “Yeah, man, we all fuckin’ hate her,” glares the homeless thin-blood. He smells bad indoors. He doesn’t look like he’s had a bath in a while. “She hunts, all the fuckin’ time, and y’know, there ain’t much juice on Rampart, like, no shit, there ain’t much juice, and we’re all gettin’-”

“Shut up,” says Draco.

Celia: It’s a pathetic, wretched sort of way to live. Even the Caitiff in her krewe has better feeding than this, and he’s another sort of unsavory.

She’s glad for her domain on Bourbon. Glad for the easy access to meals with her clients, the way she can just pass it off as particularly deep muscle work when they start to get woozy.

It might be what waits for her if things go poorly with her grandsire.

And Draco, by proxy.

“This,” she mutters, “is why.”

GM: Cinderella doesn’t look sure how to answer the Kindred.

“Ah, I’ll go get Edith, do you want to wait here?”

“That’s acceptable,” answers Draco.

“I’d rather not meet a brood of screaming blood-addicted brats.”

Cinderella looks even less sure how to answer that, then heads away.

Jade can hear sounds of conversation and clinking utensils. Walls are thin in the sorry-looking house.

“So, what’re we doin’ here?” asks the thin-blood.

Celia: “Party,” Jade says. The charm leaks out of her, sneaking across the floor to wrap securely around the thin-blood’s mind. “Consider this the ice breaker. How long have you been like that?”

GM: His head follows her mouth like a magnet.

“’Bout a month,” he smiles.

Celia: “You stay around here?”

GM: “Yeah, maybe a block away. It’s rough, lady. It’s real rough.”

The scraggly-bearded thin-blood’s black hair is thick and matted. He’s dressed in a stained and threadbare-looking hoodie with some holes in it.

Celia: Jade nods, managing to look sympathetic.

“You’re not one of those alchemists, are you?”

GM: He gives a bitter laugh.

“Be here if I was?”

Celia: “Where do they stay?”

GM: “Where dealers stay, lady.”

“They dealers.”

Celia: Jade smiles.

“That’s not very specific, dear. We’ve invited you to our party. Can you give me more than that?”

GM: “That answer doesn’t even make sense,” says Draco. “‘Where dealers stay.’ Drug dealers can stay in a variety of locations.”

The thin-blood shrugs.

“Can I have a hit?” he asks Jade, imploringly.

“If I give you more?”

“I’m real thirsty, we always thirsty on Rampart…”

Celia: Jade reaches for him, tucking a strand of hair behind his ear. Her lips curve upward into a smile.

“We’re about to fill your belly, sweetheart.”

GM: The thin-blood smiles down at her. Three fangs show in his mouth, but they’re pitifully thin and tiny things, like growths off his yellowed and plaque-ridden teeth.

“A’ight, well, I tell you then, okay?”

Celia: “Mm, I suppose that’ll work.”

“I’ll be very upset with you if you hold out.”

GM: The thin-blood shakes his head emphatically.

“It’s yours, I’ll tell you all I know.”

Draco smashes his fist into the back of the thin-blood’s head. He hits the floor with a crash.

“Question him later if you want. I’m sick of listening to his voice.”

Celia: Amused, Jade just shrugs. There are plenty of thin-bloods.

GM: “Our hostess is taking her time.”

Celia: “I can see what’s keeping her.”

GM: “I’d rather not let you out of my sight, actually,” says Draco as he strides into the home’s dining room.

Celia: Smirking, Jade tags along.

Maybe she can get one of those bracelets with little bells if she makes him so skittish.

Shut up, Celia.

GM: Celia doesn’t control the body.

Jade controls the body.

Jade finds no one seated around the dining room table. Lunch is out. Sandwiches and apple slices and pretzels for the girls. Piles of Lunchables, Fruit Gushers, ice cream, and chocolate chip cookies for who can only be Geraldine.

The “family” is gathered all around the floor over Lily’s motionless body. Geraldine is sucking from the ghoul’s neck. The other girls look as if they’re crying. Edith just watches with her hand on the thin-blood’s shoulder.

Celia: Jade stops short.

She’d thought they might have run. She’d thought they’d gone out a window or another door, that they’d assumed the two who walked through the front heralds their death.

Not this.

A dead child on the floor. A ghouled child, certainly, but still a child, stuck forever in her this image of youth.

She clenches her jaw.

GM: Dracon grabs Geraldine by the neck and yanks her off. The thin-blood immediately starts kicking and shrieking at the top of her lungs.

“Do I even want to know the story?” he asks contemptuously.

“Put her down!” yells Edith, lunging at Draco.

The Brujah seizes her by the throat and throws her across the room like she’s nothing. She hits the floor with a crash.

The other ghouls all start in alarm, but none draw any closer. Harper cries.

Celia: Jade plucks baby Harper from the floor, bouncing her twice like she used to do with Lucy. Then she passes her to Cinderella.

“Go sit in the bedroom. Take the other one.”

GM: Cinderella takes the wailing child, then gives an uncertain look towards Edith.

The Caitiff’s fangs are distended, and her face is a mask of growing rage.

But she gives a stiff nod.

“Is the one on the floor still alive?” Draco asks Jade.

Celia: Jade crouches to check, feeling for a pulse or signs of life.

GM: There is a weak pulse. The motionless ghoul will be dead in minutes (or less) without a hit.

Celia: “Barely.”

Jade sinks her teeth into her wrist, then tilts the ghoul’s head back to let the blood fall into her mouth.

GM: Lily gives a soft, barely audible moan.

Celia: When she’s stabilized, Jade pulls the child into her arms and rises from the floor.

“I’m going to lay her down,” she says to Draco. She carries the girl into the living room and sets her on the couch, propping a pillow beneath her feet and setting a blanket across her. She returns a moment later to the kitchen.

GM: He doesn’t stop her. Geraldine continues to shriek and kick and flail in the Brujah’s grip.

Celia: Jade folds her arms, leaning a hip against the countertop. She keeps her eyes on the Caitiff.

GM: “What do you want!?” demands Edith, rising to her feet.

Celia: “You’ve been given eternal unlife and this is how you spend it? Pulling children from their families, letting this little monster murder to her heart’s content, keeping a baby as a ghoul so you can play into this delusion of motherhood?”

GM: “They had no one else!” Edith shouts back. “I give them a home, I give them a family, I give them LOVE!”

Celia: “You give them a crippling addiction to your vitae,” Jade snarls at her. “You keep them stuck forever in those bodies.”

“Was it love when you let this one attempt to murder your eldest?”

GM: “Geraldine wasn’t murdering her!”

The thin-blood screams some more from Draco’s arms. Edith’s face rivets towards the sound.

“Put her DOWN!”

“Then what was she doing, pray tell?” Draco asks with something in between indulgence and disgust.

“Geraldine wanted to make another lick,” answers Edith.

Draco looks at the shrieking thin-blood in his grip, then laughs out loud.

“Dear god.”

“I couldn’t think of a worse sire if I tried to.”

“I seriously couldn’t. I’m drawing up completely blank.”

“The homeless trash outside would be better sires than Geraldine.”

Celia: She can’t help it. She laughs. She hadn’t thought she and Draco would ever be on the same side about anything, but this? Oh, this. This makes her laugh harder than she has in a long time.

“Geraldine making a lick,” she repeats, shaking her head. “Fuck, Flannagan, what part of that sounded like a good idea?”

GM: “I’d be her grandmother. I’d take care of her. I’d always take care of her.”

Celia: Jade just looks at Draco.

“This is dumber than the shit your ex did.” She returns her gaze to Edith. “Geraldine would have saddled you with another thin-blood. Why on earth would you willingly do that to someone?”

GM: “If she didn’t just kill her,” says Draco.

Celia: “I mean great excuse, right? Takes the murder off your hands. ‘I thought I was doing the right thing.’”

GM: “What do you WANT!” Edith repeats. “Who are you to tell me what I do with MY ghouls, how I raise MY family!”

Celia: “Sit down, Flannagan. Let me tell you how this is going to go. I’m going to approach. See this?” She’s got a stake in her hands, courtesy of Draco’s pocket. “Yeah, he wasn’t just happy to see me. I’m going to shove it into you, and you’re not going to put up a fight. Because my friend here, well, he doesn’t like you very much, and he’d enjoy ripping Geraldine’s limbs from her body. What’s her kill count? Seven? Innocents, weren’t they? Tsk, tsk.”

Jade smiles. It’s a mean smile. She stole it from Draco.

“Don’t want to cooperate? That’s fine. He’ll crush her skull and take you by force. How’s that sound?”

GM: Geraldine screams even louder and intensifies her struggles, but gets nowhere.

Edith’s face looks agonized as she tears her gaze between Jade and her ‘daughter’.

“How do I know you’re not going to just hurt her anyway!”

Celia: “I saved your other kid, didn’t I?”

GM: “You called her a monster! A murderer! How do I know!?”

Celia: “She is a monster. So are you. So’s he. But, see, he’s nicer than me. I’d hurt her for the hell of it. I’m that sort of monster. And I came for you, sweetheart.”

She strides forward, stake in hand.

GM: Edith’s eyes dart between Jade, Draco, and Geraldine again.

“Promise me you’re not going to hurt her! Promise, and I’ll… cooperate!”

Celia: “Oh, that’s not up to me. That’s up to my friend Misha here. You met Misha? Nice bloke. Really great judge of character. I’m sure he’ll get to the bottom of this situation with Geraldine and decide what to do accordingly.”

Jade plunges the stake forward.

GM: Edith screams and throws herself at Jade, her eyes mad with the Beast.

The vampires collide into one another, clawing and hissing and biting as they wrestle across the floor. Draco watches with amusement as Geraldine shrieks at the top of her lungs,

MAMA! MMAAAAAAMMMAAAAAA!!!!!!”

The child vampire drives her foot and fists into Draco’s face with a sudden burst of unholy strength, the same strength that pushed Tinkerbell to her death. She shrieks as she lunges for his throat with bared fangs.

However, it avails her not against the primogen’s childe. Draco perfunctorily snaps her neck and drops the broken corpse to the ground.

“Good riddance.”

Yet Geraldine’s cries raise the alarm. The rest of the Caitiff’s household storms down the stairs and falls upon the invaders, slavishly compelled to rescue their ‘mother’ and domitor. Cinderella clubs Jade’s head with a baseball bat, the Saturday night special unused against the vampire. Melody stabs at Jade’s legs with a knife, trying to hinder the bigger vampire however she can. Two vicious-looking pit bulls tear into Jade too, baying and snarling in defense of their mistress as they rip the Toreador’s flesh.

Five against one is ugly odds, or would be, but Draco takes care of them all. A rain of lightning-fast and brutally hard blows to the skull drop the dogs, Melody, and Cinderella to the floor in motionless heaps.

But he does not raise hand against Edith. Instead, he watches from the sidelines.

Perhaps to see whether Jade is good enough to overcome the clanless trash on her own.

Perhaps to mock her if she is not.

Perhaps to call her dead weight and useless.

If so, he watches in vain.

Edith is little more than her Beast incarnate at this point, all wild offense and feral savagery. Fangs snap as she pins Jade to the floor and lunges for the Toreador’s throat, ripping and tearing with manic desperation. Jade turns into a cat and easily escapes Edith’s human-sized handhold. The Caitiff awkwardly lands on the floor as her foe vanishes from underneath her. The Toreador is already turning human again as she rolls aside, claws bursting from her fingertips, and it’s all-too easy to pin the prone Edith beneath her body’s full weight. Several vicious slashes across the Caitiff’s head and torso serve more to repay Jade’s hurts and punish her foe’s insolence than any practical purpose, for the long-time masseur knows human anatomy more than well enough to stake a vampire from behind. Edith goes rigid as a board as the wood pierces through her aortic arch.

Celia: It’s almost strange, ending a fight without any heavy panting to show her exertion. That’s what happens in all the movies: dripping sweat, heaving chests, blood dripping from nose or lip.

There’s none of that with Jade. None of the drawbacks of the limited, human body. No perspiration. No heavy breathing.

But she aches.

Everywhere.

Her black skin looks darker still beneath the red spray from Edith’s body and herself. A large gash in her calf tore through her borrowed jeans to take out a chunk of flesh, and her head should still ring from being struck by the bat.

Contempt smolders in her eyes as they take in the staked lick. Pathetic. A pathetic Caitiff almost took her out. She’d have ended up torped if Draco hadn’t taken care of the others, hadn’t downed the assorted ghouls and the two snarling dogs.

Jaded bitterness surges through her. She lifts her eyes to his.

“Thanks.”

But that’s all she has time for, a single syllable passing her lips before the blood in the air hits the olfactory senses on the roof of her mouth and her Beast, content to hang back and watch the girl fight, finally slips its leash. Her lips part in a snarl, fangs distending from the roof of her mouth—

Fight. Fuck. Feed. That’s all it knows. All it wants.

Seven bodies in the room. Two stink of mutt, their blood weaker even than the child with the broken neck or the bitch with the bat and the little singer. For half of a crazed second the Beast sizes up this rival, this boy across the way, this fellow predator with the five bodies beside him, familiar blood, hot blood, strong blood—

Danger some part of it shrieks. A savage growl rips from its throat.

The Beast claims its own kill, ripping into the side of the Caitiff’s neck.

The housewife is empty by the time the Beast takes its fill and slips back inside its cage, leaving the lick with the stolen body on the floor. Everything still hurts. She mends it a little at a time, soothing the injuries with the freshly-claimed blood, making sure that her Beast is well and truly locked away before she drinks from these other bodies.

She pays the Brujah no mind. No doubt nothing even touched him.

The choice on who to drink from is an easy one. The dogs still stink of weak, muddied blood. She decides against bleeding the ghoul child or the princess—already wounded, she’s no desire to add complication to her life.

Some part of her wants to laugh.

Complication.

As if the hadn’t just turned it upside down.

But the thin-blood is dead, neck cleanly snapped by Draco. She doesn’t even look at him when she reaches for the corpse and sucks down the foul, weak, watery blood; if regular sex is masturbating compared to the liquid gold of souls, this is like dry humping a pillow with two sets of pants covering all the good bits.

Still, she’s freshly mended by the time she finishes slurping down the red and rises to face her “partner.”

GM: Draco doesn’t touch any of the fallen.

He flips over Edith. The Beast burns in the staked Caitiff’s eyes. He waits until it recedes just enough to understand his words.

“For what it’s worth, that was probably the right call,” he says.

“Fighting back, that is.”

“We have no especially pressing reason to kill your ghouls. They don’t remember these events, I have nothing against them, and I already ate this evening. It’s clear, though, that you valued Geraldine more than any of your ghouls, and I was going to kill her whether you surrendered or not. She was a child-sized death machine and a Masquerade disaster waiting to happen.”

“Even then, I might have been able to tolerate your pet’s existence if you’d kept her on a tighter leash, but that obviously wasn’t happening.”

“It’s a good thing we arrived when we did. You were even letting it breed.”

He shakes his head.

Celia: Don’t remember. How do they not remember? And what doesn’t she remember if they don’t remember?

Her gaze sharpens.

GM: Draco smiles at her, then shakes his head at Edith.

“And we like to wonder at Elysium where the abortions keep coming from.”

“Well, this is where.”

“Ignorant trash who don’t know any better.”

“But I digress from my original point. As irrational and repugnant as I find your behavior, I hold at least some modicum of respect for someone who chooses to fight rather than capitulate when fighting is their most logical option. Even against their betters.”

He smiles down at her.

“Granted, I suppose you don’t know why we’re here, or why you’ve been marked for death.”

“But I’m inclined to allow you some closure before we kill you. I’m not a monster,” he says, his tone mocking.

He looks back up to Jade.

“We need to decide what to do with the baby. How long has she—I’m presuming it’s a she—been ghouled?”

“If it’s not been for long, I’d be inclined to leave her at a fire station, hospital, or other designated safe haven site. Safe haven laws are beautiful things, really. They didn’t exist until 1999, when Texas had 13 cases of abandoned children, 3 involving infants who were discovered dead. Safe haven laws have helped reduce the prevalence of that. They vary by state, but typically, parents can surrender custody of infants up to 30 days old without being held criminally liable. ’Edith’s’ baby looks older than 30 days, but in practice, if employees at a safe haven site find an older abandoned child, they’re not going to turn it away. The law exists for parents as much as children.”

The smile he gives looks less sardonic than his prior ones.

“But all of that is probably moot.”

“I very much doubt that Edith’s stolen baby is new to the Blood.”

Celia: Jade wonders how Celia had ever stood it, the boy’s desire to explain every single thing he knows, every law and loophole and “I’m smart” comment he felt the need to make.

Who is he trying to impress?

Jade shakes her head at the question, mouth set in a thin line.

“No,” she says flatly, “she’s not. Edith found Harper around the time of Katrina.”

The baby is older than Lucy. Over a decade spent trapped as a toddler. What sort of havoc would that do to a child?

GM: “Ten years,” says Draco.

“All of those years catching up with Harper, when she finally burns through the vitae in her system, is going to be very ugly. An adult’s body is fully developed. When it misses the blood, it just ages to the point where it’d have been at. Even that can be a shock to some ghouls’ systems. But for a body that’s going to immediately undergo all of the physical changes that accompany normal childhood development? Those aren’t supposed to happen in days. They’re supposed to happen over years. She won’t have had any of the nutritional intake that’s supposed to accompany her physical development. No milk to build up strong bones. I’d guess that her body is going to be a wreck. It could even kill her.”

“And those are only the physical consequences to her state. Neurologically, I can’t imagine what ten years on the Blood has done to an infant’s brain. The brain is an impossibly complex and delicate organ. Keeping it like this for ten years, then immediately aging it ten years, in so many words, is probably going to fuck it up. And aging it without any of the life experiences that develop its neural pathways? I can’t even begin to guess what kind of brain damage she might end up with.”

“Forget about living a normal life. Forget even about living in an institution. She’ll probably suffer immensely and be mentally incapable of comprehending any kind of existence outside of her pain, for whatever brief span remains of her life. Who even knows if she’d survive outside of a hospital setting. It seems like it’d take a miracle for doctors to give her any kind of life worth living. All before the danger to the Masquerade.”

He shakes his head.

“I don’t have any background in human biology, so tell me if my assessment seems wrong. But my thinking is that it would be kindest to euthanize her right here.”

Edith’s eyes bulge. But even paralyzed, Jade can see the Beast’s madness overtake them yet again.

Celia: Tell me if my assessment seems wrong.

Jade almost misses the words, caught up in making her own calculations with the child-ghoul. Nothing crosses her face at the ask, unexpected though it is.

“Yes and no,” she says at length. “A night doctor would be able to fix some of the body’s concerns. If it were to happen as you say, letting her age ten years instantly, then there would be little hope for her and it would be kinder to put her down now. But there are alternatives, if anyone is willing to put in the time and effort.”

“The issue, as you’ve outlined, is with her mental state. Humans learn most of their ways of functioning as children. The brain rapidly develops during early childhood. Most of its architecture and wiring takes place during those first three years. Not,” she adds, “that it simply stops at their third birthday, but it’s more of a ‘work around’ when they get into adulthood.”

“There are dozens of milestones children hit during their first few years that Harper has been unable to, beyond even the basic ‘walking’ and ‘talking.’”

Jade knows a woman who had eagerly shown her daughter each and every one of them while her decades-younger sister was still growing.

“I’d put her at a year, maybe a year and a half on the older end. She should be somewhat past the babbling phase and be able to say a handful of words, though not yet stringing sentences together. Walking on her own.” Jade pauses a moment. “I’ve never seen her do so. She’s still crawling. Either she’s younger than I think, or her development has already been stunted by the Blood. Even if so, ten years at the same age should have made her learn some of these things from the simple longevity of her existence.”

Jade shakes her head.

“There’s a reason we don’t ghoul babies. Aside from the impracticality of it, not enough study has been done to how it actually effects their physical and mental state.”

It’s research that should be done. Research that she can do. Though even that has its limited uses and would mostly serve to satisfy her curiosity.

“The child ghouls never seem to develop much beyond where they were when ghouled. They can learn new things, certainly, but without some sort of trauma or major life event their personalities are rather set. Much the same as we don’t change much without a good, hard shove. Our bodies are frozen.”

Jade finally sighs.

“She could be saved. A night doctor willing to work with her who has a ghoul or Masquerade-aware family to take her in during the days. Rather than let her age all at once it would be done a little at a time. Wait for her to hit the appropriate milestones. Let her age again. Shower her in love and affection and create an attachment to an adult caregiver. Though Flannagan’s logic is deeply, inherently flawed and her idea of love as twisted as the majority of the rest of our kind’s, she no doubt loved the child. Though perhaps not as much as she loved the thin-blood, and who knows what Geraldine has done to Harper.”

“We could also find an alchemist or magician, see if they can dilute the Blood. An associate believes they are able to make the Blood less addictive; it’s possible they can work something out to dilute other properties as well, though I imagine it would take a combination of medical work, sorcery, and the alchemy.”

“Even if that is all successful, if she were aged to her normal years, she still suffers from a chemical addiction to the Blood and any trauma or stress she has experienced will be written into her very code. Wipe her memories and the pathways will still exist. She may not know why certain things cause her to react certain ways, but her body will still respond. You’re talking about something as complicated as brain surgery. A night doc skilled in such things might be able to erase some of those pathways by physically removing them from her brain… but it’s complicated, risky, and it might not even work.”

“She’d be starting over. Relearning the big five: cognitive, social and emotional, speech and language, fine motor, and gross motor skills.”

“If someone had the time and inclination and resources to do all of that? It’s possible she could turn out normal, though the odds are certainly against her. All of this before we even begin to touch the addiction or various disciplines that have been used on her over the years."

“And,” she adds, “the practicality of what would be done with her following all of that.”

“The body work itself would also be long and complicated. It’s not a simple matter of shoving vitae down her throat. Her entire system would need to be overhauled even if she were to be allowed to age a little at a time.”

GM: Draco considers all of that.

“Flannagan’s notion of love is more twisted than even most of ours,” he says first. “I’ve never heard of any other licks with ghouled babies.”

“Granted,” he continues with a sneer, “that might just be because it’s so impractical.”

Celia: Jade had thought ghouling a functional adult without a clear purpose was impractical, let alone a child or baby.

GM: A functional adult can at least take care of themselves.

“Letting her age in the way you describe seems like it could still be hazardous,” continues Draco. “Either she has the Blood in her system or she doesn’t. So either she’s frozen where she is, or she’s rapidly aging after you put the Blood back in her system. You’d be getting ‘start and stop’ bursts of rapid physical development, rather than slower continuous development, and you’d be hoping to minimize the negative effects of that throug