Campaign of the Month: October 2017

Blood & Bourbon

======================================== NAVIGATION: CAMPAIGN SIDE ========================================
======================================== NAVIGATION: DASHBOARD SIDE ========================================
Story Seven, Rocco IV

“Friendship is more tragic than love. It lasts far longer.”

Thursday night, 25 September 2015, PM

Rocco: In the wake of René Baristheaut’s final death, Rocco sends word to and organizes a meeting with his old krewemates. The Kindred who belonged to Sol’s Grief have long since gone their separate ways, but he still remembers how their then-leader René named the coterie for Ecclesiastes 2:17:

So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

A pensive look colors Rocco’s face as he stares at a collection of busts in a secluded suite within Harrah’s Hotel New Orleans.

The Gangrel looks like marble as he stands unnaturally still. He has instructed his servants not to disturb him until his guests have arrived.

GM: There isn’t much left of Sol’s Grief after so many years. Pablo has been missing for decades, and no one ever found out what became of him. Their benefactor has been gone for even longer. René was gone for just as long, but it’s different now.

Harlequin and Father Malveaux are the two sole Kindred to enter the hotel suite, the former trailed by several masked ghouls, the latter by himself. Neither initially speaks.

Rocco: “Can I offer any refreshments?” the hound asks, breaking the silence.

GM: “A libation for the fallen. How quaint. What is any friendly get-together between old friends without drinks!” Harlequin declares.

“His memory deserves no libation,” Father Malveaux rasps. “I do not thirst.”

That mask is false,” Harlequin titters. The Malkavian tits his head pensively. “Yes—both of them.”

Rocco: “We’re all friends here, Benjamin,” Rocco agrees, indicating a tray of martini glasses being carried by the small, child-like Simon. His eyes linger back to the busts for a second, but Rocco turns back to the group as a hand deftly grabs one of the martini glasses on the proffered tray. Its contents are deep red. “There’s no reason to hide our true thoughts on the matter. René Baristheaut is dead and this is a time of mourning. So a toast to immortality!”

GM: “To that most enchanting of all masks,” Harlequin titters again, clinking his glass against the others’. He raises it to his mouthless domino mask. Blood visibly drains.

“Come come now, Benjamin, dear!” he exclaims when he sees the Ventrue leaving his own untouched. “Drink not for the Kindred he became, but for the Kindred he ceased to be.”

The Malkavian nods slyly before the priest can respond. “Yes. That is somewhat tiresome. Drink instead, Father, for the Kindred that one us shall cease to be.”

“Cease to be,” echoes his first ghoul.
“Cease to be.”
“Cease to be.”
“Cease to be.”

Rocco: “A nice sentiment, Harlequin,” Rocco says, casually. His glass is raised. “I have always been more romantic than sentimental, though. The sentimental person, of course, thinks things will last while the romantic in me says that they won’t.” He drinks, adding, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” bastardizing Romans 3:23.

GM: Father Malveaux stares at Harlequin intently, then takes the cup and silently upturns it in apparent libation.

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”

Rocco: “It must be five o’clock somewhere,” Rocco quips airily, drawing from his glass until its contents are empty. He continues more somberly, “One solace we have is that Sheriff Bastien never got to see what became of René.”

GM: Harlequin tilts his head at Father Malveaux.

“Or his grandchilde,” the Malkavian declares in a smiling tone.

The priest says nothing.

“Blue bloods!” Harlequin titters. “They’ll sooner bite out their own tongues than speak ill of their own. Well, Father, the consistency of your mask at least does you some credit—even if the fledgling you would shield with it scarcely does.”

“We are not here to speak of fledglings,” Father Malveaux rasps, his pinkish eyes returning to Rocco.

Rocco: “I can’t help admiring Malveaux’s delivery into this world. It’s reminiscent of a Gangrel’s Embrace, and she has come out more or less in one piece.” A mirthful, almost-sarcastic smile etches its way across Rocco’s face. “It is with God’s grace and mercy that Bastien’s blood runs through her veins,” the hound mutters.

“What are your thoughts on the girl’s mortal mother, Benjamin?” Rocco asks, scurrilously. He intends to let Harlequin in on this latest scandal, too.

GM: “The ruttings of the kine are of little concern to me, Hound Agnello,” the Ventrue rasps. “I care not what the latest tabloids speculate concerning her mates.”

Harlequin tilts his head, then holds a gloved finger to his mask’s painted lips.

He giggles.

The priest whirls and rakes his hand through the air in a vicious, stabbing-like gesture. There’s a hideous rupturing sound, like a cork being popped, and a shower of sizzling gore. Simon falls screaming to the ground, clutching his face. In between the thrashing ghoul’s gore-slick fingers, Rocco can see smoke wafting from a black and red cavity where his left eyeball used to be. The smell of cooking flesh hangs pungently in the air.

Father Malveaux’s eyes burn like hot coals as the priest all but screams, his fangs distended and his voice livid with hate,


Harlequin’s ghouls recoil in terror as their master lets out a shrill, delighted scream and claps his hands excitedly.

“The mask comes off! Oh, the mask comes off! Oh, how droll!

Rocco: A cold annoyance sets in as Rocco watches the bloody drinks hit the floor. He listens to Simon’s agonized wails with a slightly downturned expression. Such a waste of blood, he thinks idly. He will doubtlessly need to feed the boy to placate him and heal him after this mess is cleaned up. Benjamin’s screams only add more fuel to the fire as he mulls over the red-stained carpet.

GM: “Oh, Benjamin, Benjamin, you hopeless romantic!” Harlequin continues. “Oh, you still see her face, don’t you? All your life, there was never another woman for you, especially when the orderlies took your tender and weeping flesh for their own! How you longed to return to her embrace, she who made everything better when your brothers picked on you! How you did—such a regrettable loss of control! What a broken and fragile thing you were in those early years! Did you ever succeed? Did you really not find her spirit—or did you wish you had not? Did she reject you to your face, Benjamin dear? Is that how it plays out, generation after generation? Oh dear, oh dear. No wonder you’re so furious at-!”

The albino’s scream of rage goes beyond all words as his Beast snaps loose.

Rocco: Rocco feels his fangs distend, his Beast snarling to escape its own confines. Vicious, unsightly claws appear as quickly as they slash at the albino’s gut. It’s a petty retribution. But where Benjamin lets his Beast run wild, Rocco hastily beats it down. The Gangrel is in full control of his anger as his dark brown eyes almost turn black like a shark’s.

“I will not tolerate poor manners,” he declares to nobody in particular.

GM: Rocco’s hideous claws shred through the albino’s priestly vestments like tissue paper, laying opening equally hideous and gaping wounds with their passage. The spindly-framed albino is a lot tougher than he looks, but his blood still spatters the walls as he reels backwards on unsteady feet.

Harlequin abruptly vanishes into thin air. High-pitched giggles continue to manically echo through Rocco’s mind.

As one, the Malkavian’s four ghouls collapse to the floor, soundlessly clutching their masks.

Simon continues to wail and writhe, clutching his ruined face.

Father Malveauxx thrusts a stick-thin limb towards Rocco’s face. Too-pale fingers make that same vicious impaling motion. Blood-weeping stigmata erupt across the Gangrel’s hands, legs, and chest—the five holy wounds of Christ. The gory slashes across the albino’s gaunt frame begin to close and mend.

Rocco: The Gangrel growls and gnashes his teeth. He is surprised the good father is still able to utilize such esoteric powers in his frenzied state. Nonetheless, this has become a contest for dominance, and Rocco is intent on cementing his authority. This is his domain. He tackles the albino priest to the floor, rolling and grappling with him as he tries to bury his claws into his foe’s chest.

The Gangrel figures Harlequin is enjoying the show. The masked fiend’s laughter echoes in his mind.

GM: Father Malveaux stabs out his hand. A hundred pinpricks of blood-boiling agony burn through Rocco’s veins as he tackles his foe to the ground. The spindly-limbed priest’s maddened thrashings are pathetically easy for the veteran warrior to bat aside: he’s obviously had no real training in hand-to-hand combat.

He’s not needed it.

Rocco rakes his claws across the priest’s chest, leaving jaggedy red tears across solid white. The albino rips his own talon-like nails through the air. There’s no prayer to Longinus or the Black Saints. No sacred invocation. Just pain. Rocco’s skin blackens and flakes off like dandruff. The rotting flesh transforms into a pox of buzzing locusts that descend upon him with a thousand ravenous mouths. He screams past the pain, stabbing his clawed fingers into the Father Malveaux’s exposed belly like a redbone wrangling a catfish from the bayous. The Ventrue’s dead flesh feels as hard as solid cement, but the Beast Clan’s claws cut deeper still. He pulls out his catch. The priest’s century-atrophied guts dangle from his hands. The buzzing locusts vanish like blown ash under a brisk wind. Father Malveaux’s blood-caked corpse lies motionless.

Harlequin suddenly reappears in Rocco’s peripheral vision, clapping delightedly.

“The masks come off! The masks come off!

As one, the Malkavian’s four still-prostate ghouls begin clapping too.

“The masks come off!”
“The masks come off!”
“The masks come off!”
“The masks come off!”

Simon lies motionless on the floor, his small hands still clutching the melted flesh where his eye used to be.

Rocco: The Gangrel has not forgotten Harlequin’s part in provoking Father Malveaux’s Beast.

“Why did you have to taunt him about his family, Harlequin?” he asks. He presses a claw against the blood-crusted floor, waits a few seconds, and begins to soak up the gore like a hungry sponge.

“I have never fully understood Benjamin’s penchant for acting the way he does about his family,” Rocco notes. His wounds vanish as blood fades from his clothes and retreats into his pores. His red-caked face is soon bereft of any blemish. His claws retract. The Gangrel leisurely strolls around the room and presses his hands against any bloody walls, decorations, furnishings, and spots on the floor. The suite is soon cleaned of any evidence of a gory fight.

“You have always been evasive in the past when I asked about his Embrace, about his sister Monique. Harlequin, what would it require for you give me the full story on why Benjamin is how he is? A boon? Another secret?”

GM: Harlequin titters and traces a gloved finger along his mask’s lips.

“You can never go home again, my dear hound. There is now but the kennel for you.”

He giggles again and approaches the torpid Ventrue, cupping his hands around the priest’s still face. “He is so much like us. Truly does he see.” Another giggle sounds from behind the domino mask. “What fun he may be! Hee hee!”

His masked ghouls throw back their heads, laughter spilling from unseen mouths.

“Hee hee!”
“Hee hee!”
“Hee hee!”
“Hee hee!”

The Malkavian holds up a finger. The laughter dies. “Poor, poor, missing Pablo! One can never go home again. Mother’s lost her head and I couldn’t even begin to guess where she might have misplaced it. Ah, well.”

He rises from his position over the father and slowly runs his gloved hands across Rocco’s face.

“I am not a fishmonger, nor are you a fish. You can only be what you are, George. You can only be what you are.”

Rocco: Rocco smiles at the touch but casts a raised eyebrow at the masked madman. Getting straight answers out of a Malkavian is never easy.

He settles his eyes on the quivering, wounded Simon. There’s a flash of fangs as the Gangrel bites his wrist and pushes the bleeding font to his ghoul’s mouth.

“Please feed, Simon. It’s all right now. Use the vitae.”

GM: The child ghoul remains motionless. The bodies of the living are so pathetically fragile next to Rocco’s own.

Rocco: Impatience clouds Rocco’s thoughts as he callously prods at the boy’s wounded eye socket to stir him awake.

GM: Simon still does not stir.

Rocco: Rocco looks up from his ghoul at Harlequin and considers his next words. He furtively glances at Benajmin’s corpse. “Do you want to know a secret, Harlequin?”

GM: Harlequin titters and strokes his finger along Rocco’s lips.

“Remove this mask.”

Rocco: “It will cost you a mask of your own.”

GM: Harlequin’s gloved finger falls away from the Gangrel’s lips.

“Do you take me for a leper beneath this mask?” he asks tiredly.

Rocco: “You’re right, Harlequin. I am being tactless. Why don’t we make a game of it, then?”

GM: The Malkavian brushes his finger across Rocco’s cheek.

“Expound, dear hound.”

His four ghouls’ heads bob up and down as they follow the finger’s path. Words simultaneously spill from their lips.

“Expound, hound.”
“Expound, hound.”
“Expound, hound.”
“Expound, hound.”

Rocco: A small smile appears on the hound’s face at Harlequin’s curiosity. “Are you familiar with the Italian card game Scopa?” he asks.

GM: Harlequin claps his hands. “As one with a chance-worn mask! A delightful choice, hound. You shall play me for truths. But what shall I play you for? What price shall you pay if I sweep your cards?”

Rocco: “A secret that will be as equally useful to you or the Krewe of Janus,” Rocco replies, genuinely. “Assuming you want to play for one big secret, of course.”

GM: The Malkavian claps his hands again.

“Deal your cards.”

His ghouls’ four masked heads simultaneously rotate to face Rocco.

“Deal your cards.”
“Deal your cards.”
“Deal your cards.”
“Deal your cards.”

Rocco: The angel-faced fiend retrieves a standard Italian 40-card deck from a nearby desk drawer. He leads the masked harpy to a place to play. The hound originally planned to entertain his two guests with a game of scopa as they traded gossip and banter, but with Father Malveaux now indisposed, the hound figures the pair of them will suffice. The classic Italian card game is arguably best played with two players in any case.

“It’s said that Scopa is as entertaining to watch as it is to play,” Rocco remarks coolly, removing the deck from its box and shuffling the cards with preternaturally deft speed. “I initially decided on scopa over Italians’ other favourite pastime Briscola in case Benjamin chose to sit out and simply watch as is his usual habit.” The hound gives a sideways glance as he looks at the albino’s torpid form for a fleeting a second.

GM: One of Harlequin’s ghouls gets down on his hands and knees as Rocco leads the pair to a table. The Malkavian sits on his back. Two of the other ghouls get down to just their knees, serving as armrests. One stands behind the harpy, serving as a back to the literally man-made throne.

Harlequin shrieks with laughter at the Gangrel’s flippantly dismissive barb. His ghouls shriek too. The sound discordantly echoes from the floor, the ‘armrests’, and the tall chair’s ‘head’.

The Malkavian holds up a gloved finger. The sound dies.

“You know what they say, my dear hound. Some cause happiness wherever they go. Others, whenever they go.”

“I have always believed there is no such thing as good or evil. People are either charming or tedious. Wouldn’t you agree?”

Rocco: “I would sooner entertain Jack the Ripper than Mother Teresa,” Rocco flippantly agrees. “I believe the most charming people are generally the most wicked. For instance, you’re the most wicked and interesting person I know, Harlequin. What do you have to say to that, my dear friend?” His brown eyes twinkle mischievously.

GM: “One should choose one’s friends by their authenticity, my dear hound. One may fake intelligence, interest, and even sincerity—but one cannot fake wit,” the Malkavian blithely answers as he deals out the first three cards to each of them.

“Saucy Jack is one of ours.”

Rocco: “We haven’t even started this game and it’s already proving quite educational,” the hound remarks, intrigued by the knowledge that Jack the Ripper is Kindred. “I never found authenticity to be an interesting trait in a person. What’s so interesting about the truth, anyway? We all become what we pretend to be, so we best choose our masks well.”

It’s ironic that Rocco should say as much while the two play for truths.

GM: Rocco also knows full well that most Kindred claims regarding Embraced historical personages are patently false. The Malkavians are especially notorious for it, as the lunatics may even genuinely believe their own claims. New Orleans alone has seen at least several Napoleons and Robert E. Lees. One rumor last year claimed Donovan was John Wilkes Booth. The sheriff did not deign to respond. One of Rocco’s clanmates since perished in Katrina, Terrence Oswald, claimed to have offered Charles Darwin the Embrace, only for the famed naturist to decline his offer. Embracing and associating with famous personalities is just another thing for Rocco’s kind to spread lies about.

It only further muddles the waters that some of those claims are true.

Harlequin, meanwhile, places four cards face up on the table, then deals himself one of the table cards.

They say scopa is a game of equal parts luck and skill. This game’s players have both in spades. Few spectators could rightly call them anything but lucky to have survived a century of unlife, and equally few spectators could malign their skill. Harlequin brings a harpy’s wit and the Moon Clan’s propensity for baffling leaps in logic. Rocco brings a century of practice at his people’s game, and the same grim tenacity that turned them from Ellis Island’s huddled masses into masters of their adopted country’s criminal underworld.

Coins, clubs, swords, and batons flip back and forth as the two Kindred play and capture one another’s cards. Scores fly up and down as each vampire claims sweep after sweep. Both of them win multiple scopas: the removal of all cards from the table, for which the winner receives an extra point. Harlequin’s velvet-gloved hands ceaselessly shuffle and deal pit more cards.

Rocco idly wonders if the Malkavian is cheating at cards. He could also be cheating by reading his host’s thoughts. But, the Gangrel ponders, where is the fun for him in that?

Harlequin is playing for idle fun. But Rocco is playing to win.

The Moon Clan may be notorious for their uncanny powers of insight. Many are afraid to challenge them at games of chance. But the Beast Clan are hunters. They pursue their quarry as tenaciously as any poor and downtrodden dago wanting to carve out their bloody slice of the American Dream. Rocco has done both. His will cannot be denied.

The last of the cards leave Harlequin’s gloved hands. Both Kindred consider their respective scores. The Malkavian titters.

“Sometimes I am so clever, my dear hound, I don’t understand a single word I say. Sometimes I am so clever I don’t understand a single thing I do! The game is yours—skillfully played and fairly won.”

Words emptily spill from his ghouls’ lips.

“Skilfully played. Fairly won.”
“Skilfully played. Fairly won.”
“Skilfully played. Fairly won.”
“Skilfully played. Fairly won.”

“The story of dear Benjamin’s past is yours, too,” Harlequin adds with a droll glance towards the torpid vampire’s corpse. “You are certain you still wish it? It’s dreadfully florid, full of unrequited love and tediously unoriginal tragedy. I dare say he could win friends among Toreador circles if someone put it to ink.”

Rocco: “I am still a curious cat, Harlequin,” Rocco responds a kittenish smile, “and we both know that once I set my mind on the hunt, little can divert my interest.”

GM: Harlequin effects a dramatic sigh, pumping air through dead lungs, and drums his gloved fingers against one of his ghouls’ heads.

“Well! It’s a trite and sad tale with a trite and sad beginning. He was a virgin when the orderlies dragged him to his cell in the asylum, I’m sure, still shrieking for his dear sister. How he must have shrieked for her still as they sodomized his tender and quivering flesh!”

Harlequin effects another needless sigh.

“I did tell you it was a trite and sad tale, my dear hound, though it’s less sad at this point than trite. Why, I have been made a trite and hackneyed character myself merely for speaking such platitudinous words aloud. This mask must be discarded.”

Words spill from his ghouls’ lips.


“The youngest of your litter is incorrect,” the Malkavian titters, patting one of his ghouls’ heads. “Tell him as much the next time you are gnawing bones together in the kennel! That one entered his Requiem as no virgin.”

“How do those bones taste these nights, my dear hound? Lots of meat on them still, I should hope?”

The Malkavian tilts his head. Four other masked heads tilts with him, making his ‘chair’ seem to sway in an unfelt wind.

Rocco: “You’re such an incorrigible flirt, Harlequin,” Rocco answers the masked fiend, allowing the smile to reach his eyes. “I will be sure to let Wright know the next time I see him.”

The hound does not specify whether he means to tell Wright about Benjamin’s lost virginity or Harlequin’s own deviousness. Instead his brown eyes bore into the space where Harlequin’s own eyes should be. A predatory, oddly flirtatious gleam touches his features.

GM: But Harlequin’s eyes are there, Rocco observes. Every mask needs eye-holes to see through, after all.

The Malkavian’s eyes are as green as the second of Mardi Gras’ official colors. The long-dead vampire recalls the 1892 Rex Parade establishing green as symbolizing faith. Yet, those eyes laugh. They laugh—in the same way the daring and discrete, pious yet blasphemous city itself seems to laugh at its own faith. Looking into those mocking green eyes, it is all-too easy to see how the greatest debauch in the world can precede a day meant for prayer and fasting.

But Harlequin’s eyes don’t look just green, either. Rocco could swear they become purple when the angle is just right. Carnival’s first color, representing justice. The laughter dancing in the harpy’s eyes seems all the more appropriate.

They seem to be gold, too, when he tilts his head just so. Carnival’s third color. For power. When haven’t those with power laughed at others?

The Malkavian, meanwhile, resumes his tale.

“But he would not remain an eromenos forever, would he? Few masks endure forever. I am certain his violators’ pain was exquisite to behold when that one came off!”

Rocco: Fitting colors, one and all.

“So it’s a tale of vengeance, as well?” the hound asks approvingly.

GM: Harlequin laughs shrilly.

His ghouls’ mouths sequentially open. More laughter spills out.

“Oh, my dear hound, their fates are hardly a footnote! None survived to regret slaking their lusts on his quivering flesh. Why, at least…”

The harpy trails off in further titters.

“Well, perhaps! Perhaps after all. It’s hardly as if he had many other oulets, at least there…”

Rocco: “There is nothing purer in this world than a vengeful heart, Harlequin,” Rocco adds, cheerfully.

GM: “To grant one’s loyalty to a man is foolish, my dear hound. They surprise you. They waver. But give your soul to hate, and you will grow and gain in strength.”

The harpy gives another shriek of laughter. His four ghouls clap their hands.

“Where have I heard that!” he wonders airily, drumming his fingers along one’s head.

His gold-hued eyes glint as they rest upon the Gangrel.

Rocco: “I haven’t a clue, Harlequin,” Rocco answers honestly.

GM: “No one does, these nights,” the Malkavian declares, almost sadly. “Mother’s dashed out of the house and left the children all by themselves to play. They’re already twisting knobs on the kitchen stove for fun.”

Rocco: “Who’s going to light the match?”

GM: “It’s gas-powered. No one needs to. But one of the little brothers or sisters are going to anyway. This is what happens when you have a permissive parenting style, Rocco. Papa wasn’t a good father either, and big sister and big brother aren’t papas at all. So the children giggle and play tag with steak knives. Whoever bleeds first is it.”

The Malkavian presses both gloved hands to the painted mouth on his domino mask and giggles.
The four ghouls’ masked heads swivel towards Rocco.

“You’re it!”
“You’re it!”
“You’re it!”
“You’re it!”

Rocco: “The only memorable thing my parents did is bring me to New Orleans,” Rocco says offhandedly, resting a hand thoughtfully beneath his chin.

GM: Harlequin claps his hands.

“Silence, my pretties. It’s story time right now. He’ll be it, later,” the harpy leers, green eyes glinting.

He tilts his head at Rocco.

“My parents died. I found that memorable. Did someone steal yours? Our memories don’t belong to us, not really.”

Rocco: “I can only suppose they died a long time ago. I never got along with my parents, of course,” Rocco admits with a smirk. “I can’t rightfully recall whether I abandoned them or they abandoned me. Perhaps the only thing stolen at that time was my innocence.”

GM: “The Bible says we are conceived and born in sin. In such a world, my dear hound, who is innocent? I’ll tell you who. Adulterers. Nothing looks so like innocence as an indiscretion!”

The Malkavian claps his hands.

“The story grows dreadfully trite again here. Benjamin won the tag match against his violators and merrily skipped back to his dear sister’s doorstep. What was he hoping to do? Profess his love? Vent his fury over her betrayal? Break down in tears and bare his newly damned soul to her? She had let another man touch her, and where was she when they hauled him away to the asylum? For that matter, was he even merry when he skipped home?”

“It doesn’t matter what was said, though. Or perhaps it does matter. Perhaps, in fact, it was everything, to poor Monique Malveaux, and certainly to dear Benjamin through her. But that doesn’t matter right now. Nothing matters now, until it matters later, and it’s too late to do anything right now. Benjamin ended his Requiem’s first night cradling his dear sister’s pale and lifeless corpse in his arms, weeping bloody tears.”

Harlequin leans back in his ‘chair’. His purple eyes look utterly bored.

“I told you, didn’t I? That this part was trite and hackneyed? You did believe me, didn’t you?”

Rocco: “I had no reason to ever doubt you, Harlequin,” Rocco answers, chuckling a little to himself.

GM: “That’s good. I needed to know you believed me. We can’t make any progress in this relationship if we don’t trust each other, or at least that’s what the doctors always say.”

Rocco: “What’s more trustworthy than someone who asks you to trust them?”

GM: “Someone who’s dead. Three can keep a secret, if you take away two.”

Rocco: “But the worst lies do come out upon someone’s death, Harlequin,” Rocco muses.

GM: “What is a lie, my dear hound? ‘Why, what is truth?’ retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, ‘I find no basis for a charge against him.’”

Harlequin giggles. “Let us all say a pretty prayer for Pilate!”

Here is where the story gets better, my darling. Dear distraught Benjamin could only think: he must have his sister back! And why shouldn’t he have thought so? The dead are not very good at staying dead in this city.”

“Spiritualism was in vogue at the time. It’ll always be in vogue, of course. Just like messily smeared red all over a black suit or dress. Young Miss Adler still likes to wear whites, though. And pinks, lemons, and baby blues. I’ve found it charming, and delicious, given her sire. Haven’t you?” The Malkavian’s yellow eyes glint with mirth.

Rocco: Rocco’s eyes share that mirth, but he decides that that’s a matter better left unsaid.

GM: The harpy pats one of his ghouls’ heads.

“Benjamin consulted with them all. Priests. Mediums. Psychics. Charlatans. Kindred and kine. Kindred of dubious standing and repute. Kindred and… cousins. It was very naughty of him. Our prince should have given him a good paddling for being so naughty! The Bible names divination a sin, and I can come up with a new sin every time I stand on my head, but what is another sin to monsters such as we? We can resist everything except temptation.”

“Poor lost Benjamin looked high and low, through every cupboard and hard-to-reach place in the house, and in every one of the last places you’d think to look. Those are always the first places you should look. But try as he might, he could not find his dear, dead sister. Anywhere!”

“What would you do then, my dear hound? If you hoped to find your dear, dead, sweet sister’s spirit in the afterworlds, and she wouldn’t show her pretty face?”

Rocco: “I would move on, Harlequin,” Rocco answers, “but that would make for a very boring story, I suppose.”

GM: “What if you wanted to fuck your dead sister? Could you still move on?”

Rocco: “I feel like that’s ever the more reason to move on, friend,” Rocco replies, laughing earnestly.

GM: “Everything in the world is about sex, you know. Except for sex. Sex is about power.”

Rocco: “Do you still enjoy sex, Harlequin?” he asks, curiously.

GM: It’s hard to discern the Malkavian’s expression past his domino mask, but the furrowed shape to his eyes seems disgusted.

Rocco: “The apple doesn’t fall that far from the tree, I see,” Rocco notes, nodding.

GM: “The apple could roll all the way to the opposite end of the orchard,” the harpy opines disgustedly. “Is this Gangrel humor? Remind me to leave a bowl of kibbles at your clan’s next gather, if you all miss being alive so dearly.”

Few Kindred, after all, take pleasure in forcing dead and unresponsive sexual organs into a semblance of life.

Rocco: “I never took you to be such a prude, Harlequin,” the Gangrel comments, smirking at the masked fiend. “Don’t you ever find yourself reminiscing over past trysts?”

GM: “I never took you to be such a sentimentalist, Rocco. Don’t you ever find yourself reminiscing over past bowel movements?”

Rocco: “Sentimentality has always been my gravest sin, Harlequin,” Rocco declares with a laugh. “Why, it’s my sentimentality that brings us here tonight. It’s my sentimentality that lets me enjoy playing scopa with an old friend.”

He adds, “I suppose sentimentality is Benjamin’s gravest sin, too.”

GM: “Friendship is more tragic than love,” the harpy declares wistfully. “It lasts far longer.”

Rocco: Rocco nods, agreeing. “What of Benjamin’s tragedy, Harlequin? How ever did he escape his predicament?”

GM: Laughter concurrently spills from five lips.

“Why, my dear hound—he never did. He still hasn’t.”

A smirk crinkles the edges of his purple eyes as he glances towards the albino’s motionless corpse.

“No man is rich enough to buy back his past. But here is where the story gets good!”

His four ghouls excitedly clap their hands. The ones who are kneeling clap too, for that briefest of seconds, before clamping their hands back down on the floor. None of the ‘chair’ even falls down.

“Ever-hopeful, ever-faithful Benjamin searched the afterworlds for her spirit for decades, but couldn’t find it. So what was he to believe?”

Rocco can all but hear the Malkavian’s wide smile as his gold eyes flicker.

“Why, if she wasn’t in the next world, she must still be in this one.”

“Everyone knows the Hindus believe in reincarnation. But so did many of the era’s spiritualists. So does dear Madam Defallier, sweet, mothering Marguerite, even now! Why, she fancies… ah, but that is another story.”

“Isn’t that a quaint notion, my dear hound? That you can use re-old souls like bottle caps, twist them onto new bottles, shove them into new bodies, all without needing to make a whole new person? I should like to be a reincarnated soul! Certainly, we’d be doing the world a favor by shunting out the insipid souls and reusing the better ones. Don’t you think so, my dear hound?”

“What souls would you displace and with whom would you see them replaced? Pretend you’re God. That shouldn’t be hard with an ego like yours.”

Rocco: The hound looks at Harlequin’s ghouls. “It would not surprise me if you’ve already tried to play this game many times before, dear Harlequin,” Rocco muses, using the comment to stall as he thinks of those he’s lost and those he would do away with.

“My initial thoughts are drab, wanting to bring back Robert, Maria, and even your sire Clarice. I suppose some ghouls who’ve since died during my Requiem also spring to mind, but the name that sings loudest would have to be David Hennessy.” He asks, “Who would you bring back?”

GM: “Ah-ah-ah, my dear hound,” Harlequin tsks.

Five sets of fingers simultaneously wag.

“There is a preponderance of souls, but you’re not God enough to fashion further bodies. There’s a patent on those, and you don’t have the rights. Who must surrender their lives to grant new lives to the individuals you treasure so dearly?”

Rocco: “My enemies,” Rocco answers quickly.

GM: “And you have four of those? Exactly as many enemies as souls you would see given another spin on the karmic wheel? Another ride on the marvelous merry-go-round we call life? How fortunate for you! I dare say you’ll be twice as fortunate as anyone else who should happen to wake up one night and realize they’re God!”

Laughter spills from behind five mouthless masks.

Rocco: “Do you have less enemies, Harlequin?” he asks. “How fortunate of you, I dare say!”

GM: The harpy gives another shrill, gay laugh. “Dear hound, that’s so easy it doesn’t even feel sporting. Go have Annabelle read you some more picture books and maybe one night you’ll hit a fourth grade reading level.”

Rocco: “I’ll give you that one, Harlequin,” he replies, biting back his teeth, impressed by the needling barb.

GM: “I have many enemies,” the harpy proclaims airily, “for I always forgive them. Nothing annoys them quite so much.”

Rocco: There’s a pause.

“I am guessing Benjamin currently seeks to reincarnate his sister,” Rocco idly thinks aloud.

GM: The harpy’s eyes look as if they smile past his mask. “The supplicant gets the words wrong but the prayer right. ‘A’ for effort, my dear hound. Certainly, Benjamin would like his dear dead sister back—but how is he to reincarnate that dear dead sister when he doesn’t even have her soul? He isn’t God, after all. Thank Caine for that. He cannot decree that her soul simply waltz back into his bony and so-possessive hands… so what is one to do? How does one compel a lost soul to make itself un-lost?”

Rocco: “This sounds like the lead-up to a Faustian pact, or a deal with the devil,” Rocco observes, chuckling.

GM: Five masked heads shriek with laughter.

“If only, my dear hound! I wouldn’t put an infernal bargain past him. Or anyone, I suppose, but he’d have certainly come out the poorer for this one. This, this, this,” the Malkavian’s tone drops to a theatrically low whisper, “is how he shall get his dead sister back…”

The four ghouls exaggeratedly crane their ears.

“Benjamin is settled that his sister’s soul has flown back home to roost. So where should it reincarnate? Why, in a like vessel, of course. In one’s blood relations.”

Harlequin giggles. “Infringe upon them at your own peril, dear hound. They are all to him. Any who interfere with what is his shall earn his undying hate. Who knows which Malveaux might have a dearly dead sister hiding inside their fleshy shell? Even the ones who don’t have holes between their legs might someday father a suitable vessel for dear Monique. And the ones who are too old for all that—well, habits are old too, and they die rather hard, now don’t they? We are all of us creatures of habit!”

“They’re his brother’s children, of course, the main line. That’s another habit which must die hard. You know how dear Benjamin can get! Can you picture the hatred he must feel, dear hound? After all, he has ten thousand and one plus an extra twelve reasons to hate his big brother. And no matter how much time he took exacting his revenge for all those years of mistreatment, he couldn’t have taken equally many years. Not unless he was very creative, anyway, which he isn’t. So the sins of the father must be visited upon the children, but they can’t be fully visited, now can they? He needs them to survive and prosper if he is to get his sister back.”

“He’s helped them do that, managed and minded them like a fretful mother hen for all those decades, in the hopes that one might finally lay his golden egg. Perhaps he pokes holes in their condoms! The more Malveauxes there are in the world, the more chances that one of those cereal boxes will contain the plastic decoder ring. Is there anything to such a notion? I don’t know, but I suppose it doesn’t hurt to try. And so the world fills with Malveauxes!”

“It’s been so long. Since he first began, we’ve seen, why, an Irish novelist shatter the Masquerade, an iceberg sink the Titanic, the war to end all wars, peace for our time, the war that would really end all wars, man split the atom, Camelot end under an assassin’s bullet, disco balls, pet rocks make a man a millionaire, platform shoes, morning in America, blowjobs in the Oval Office, cellphone cameras, the Mayan doomsday, the legalization of homosexual marriages, and a national rise in counts of jaywalking. Through it all, Benjamin has watched, waited, and toiled!”

“Where is Monique? Where is Waldo, too? I can never find him, not without cheating. I’m not a cheat. Just because I’m cheating you right now doesn’t make me a cheat. There’s a very important distinction.”

Harlequin looks at his ghouls. “Did I say that out loud, that I was cheating him?”

All four nod.

The Malkavian tilts his head in a shrug-like motion. “Oops.”

“There is an easy answer, of course,” he continues, “where Monique is. Beware easy answers and the men who offer them, so take what I have to say with a grain of salt in your vitae. Take what I have to say with many grains of salt, actually. Even when I sound lucid, and reasonable, and like I’m saying something with actual basis in reality, I’m really not. Half the time I’m just making it all up.”

“I might be doing that right here. Just making it all up. Everything that I told you. I think telling lies is funny. It doesn’t even matter what they’re about, sometimes I lie about the most trivial of things, like telling someone I arrived in Elysium six minutes later than I really did. I think it’s funny when people believe my lies.”

“Do you believe I might do something like that, Rocco? Make up everything I just told you, and lie to you because I thought it would be funny? You can be honest with me. I value honesty in others. I don’t value it from myself, and I don’t really care if others would value it from me, because my continued amusement is the second most important thing in all Creation, but I would value honesty from you. Truly, I would!”

Rocco: “It’s no concern to me, Harlequin. I have an ear for lies and the only truths that matter are the truths that matter to me,” he replies jestfully. “I am able to separate the wheat from the chaff.”

GM: “You would name yourself a farmer, my dear hound? You are quite sure?” Harlequin asks, his gold eyes glinting with mirth.

Rocco: “Why not? I have many masks,” he answers, calmly.

GM: “’And I, first-born Caine, I, with sharp things, planted the dark seeds. Wet them in earth. Tended them, watched them grow. And Abel, second-born Abel, tended the animals. Aided their bloody births. Fed them, watched them grow.”

“Tell me then, dear hound, if you share our Dark Father’s vocation—who is your Abel?”

Rocco: “Why not you, dear Harlequin?” He casts a furtive glance at the fiend’s ghouls. “You already have the well tended herd, and you were our father’s favorite when we were only neonates.”

GM: Harlequin and his ‘herd’ laugh uproariously.

“Well-played, my dear hound. Well-played, at my expense. After all, if I am Abel, I should go to heaven after you kill me. I shouldn’t like that. None of my friends are there.”

Rocco: “You’ll be glad to know we’re all damned, then.”

GM: “Are we? The things no one tells me.”

Rocco: Rocco laughs, all-too amused.

“You mentioned that there’s an easy answer as to where Monique is, Harlequin,” he thinks aloud.

A smirk plays across his face.

“Part of me wants to say she’s quite easy to find—in her grave.”

GM: The harpy laughs again. But there’s a hard, cruel edge to the sound this time.

“The best lies are the ones we tell ourselves, Rocco,” Harlequin smiles. His voice is almost soft. “The masks whose gilded frames are so soft, so weightless, we never realize we are wearing them. A mask to both wearer and onlooker. The perfect mask.”

He forces air through dead lungs with a dramatic sigh.

“The dead are not very good at staying dead in this city. Everyone knows that. But some of the dead still manage to stay dead just fine. Maybe even most of them. I don’t know. I’m not a census taker, of the quick or the dead. Just consider—and Benjamin certainly has considered: what if Monique’s soul… simply passed on?”

The smile in the Malkavian’s eyes seems to spread. His rapt ghouls still even their breathing.

“Monique would be very easy to find, as you say—in her grave. But the part of her that her brother really wants would lie forever beyond his reach. Poor Benjamin, so lost and hurt and confused on the first night of his Requiem, would have murdered his dear sweet sister in a loss of control that’s impossible to ever undo or take back. He would never see her pretty face or feel her gentle caress again.”

Cruel mirth brims from Harlequin’s silently laughing, faith-green eyes.

“But what manner of notion is that to go through eternity with!”

He can no longer contain his jubilation. The Malkavian and his masked entourage throw back their heads and scream with high-pitched, shrieking gales of laughter. They laugh and they laugh and they laugh, and sound as if they could go on laughing forever.

Rocco: Rocco, in comparison, only chuckles a little. Naturally, he has no desire to use the information he’s gleaned from Harlequin tonight for any nefarious or manipulative purpose. He’s simply content to have satisfied his curiosity—good gossip is the next most tasty thing there is after blood. Benjamin’s torpid corpse might be lying several feed away, but he is still a friend, after all. As Rocco continues to chuckle along with Harlequin, he takes another sip from his red glass and idly wonders:

What am I to do with Benjamin’s corpse after this party ends?

Previous, by Narrative: Story Seven, Caroline VIII
Next, by Narrative: Story Seven, Caroline IX

Previous, by Character: Story Seven, Rocco III
Next, by Character: Story Seven, Caroline XI, Rocco V

Story Seven, Caroline IX, Emmett I

“Sucks to be you. Though still not as much as me.”
Emmett Delacroix

Wednesday evening, 14 October 2015, PM

Caroline: There’s so much to do, seemingly every night, and only the addition of further servants to Caroline’s retinue makes it manageable. In particular, Ms. Widney aggressively plans out Caroline’s evenings, filling in meetings and keeping them firmly to task within their lanes. She cuts out extraneous distractions. It makes time for things otherwise impossible to manage. Things like…

Framing Em, to have the one time small time crook brought back to the city for testimony, and thus far earlier access for Caroline, is not terribly difficult in principle, especially with the forensic samples Turner and Autumn acquired when dropping off the corpse of Eight-Nine-Six’s ghoul. Clothing, hair from a brush. It’s the basis of a narrative, when combined with a few rumors spread by Diego’s criminal contacts—another welcome addition—and Caroline’s own powers of manipulation. Em, not the criminal mastermind, not the vicious killer, but Em, with his fingers in so many pies, with connections to so many killers.

And many of those killers are still active, and the killing has not stopped. It’s a delicate thing, putting that narrative in place, tying him to them carefully enough that the police are interested. Tying him to recent atrocities and violence tightly enough for the police to tug on the thread, and pull him back within Caroline’s reach. But then, Caroline’s touch is increasingly delicate. Emmett, the concierge of crime. She doesn’t quite smile at the thought. With the police already so hot about him and his family, it’s not as hard a sell as it might have otherwise been.

She keeps Savoy in the loop—as she said she would—but very intentionally does not go to him for guidance. She plans, executes, and informs—taking on changes he requests but not seeking them. After all she has asked already, and the assistance he’s giving her elsewhere, she’s determined to let this project stand on its own—at least in these early stages.

The Ventrue tries not to tell herself that she’s trying to prove something to the charismatic Toreador, but she’s far to intelligent to run from the fact that trying to impress him, or at least not disappoint him, isn’t far from her mind.

GM: Emmett’s second framing proceeds along.

Caroline had the “luck” to be present at the Central City shooting with Eight-Nine-Six. Beyond that, it swiftly becomes apparent that the privileged heiress knows little about what crime is like in New Orleans’ poorer neighborhoods. Her starting point is the public crime statistics she can pull up on a Sunpad from her room in Harrah’s New Orleans Hotel. Perhaps to her surprise, the infamous Ninth Ward does not rank among the top three. The neighborhood with the highest crime rate is Little Woods, located all the way off in New Orleans East—practically in the bayous. The second-highest is Central City, closer to Em’s usual stomping grounds. The third-highest is the French Quarter, and was where he lived.

Antoine Savoy gratefully receives Caroline’s updates on her progress and supplies her with the occasional piece of information, but otherwise does not indicate any desire to micromanage. He talks with her about semi-related topics just as often. He confirms that yes, crime rates in the Vieux Carré are higher than in the Ninth Ward, but those statistics are skewed—there are streets where crime is much worse than others, and then of course there are the types of crimes and times they are committed. Rampart Street is more likely to see spillover from gang activity in Tremé or the Seventh and Eighth Wards, while sexual assaults and other less obvious crimes are higher on Bourbon Street.

“The tourists think they’re safe,” the Toreador elder smiles, “and so long as they do, that’s enough for NOPD.”

It wouldn’t surprise him, he continues, if the French Quarter has one the highest rates of unreported crimes. There are more Kindred in his parish than any other in the city, and they are more likely to clean up their messes than mortal criminals. The Eighth District cops, too, are particularly likely to fudge details on reports, or simply neglect to file them altogether. The French Quarter offers so many diversions and temptations to those who wear the crescent badge. There is a reason the Eighth District is the most desirable posting in the city.

“Crime is more art than science,” Savoy chuckles. “And crime is good! At least for us. The more of it there is among the kine, the less our own crimes stand out. There’s more than one reason well-to-do suburbs like Metairie don’t have many Kindred residents. But what I’m getting at, Miss Malveaux, is that NOPD’s corruption in such an already… diversion-filled part of town should play to your favor.”

Caroline, meanwhile, looks around for a prospective ghoul who has a better knowledge of the city’s mean streets than she does. She’s initially not sure where to start, and neither are Autumn or Widney: none of the women actually know any criminals.

It’s half out of whim that she turns to her sometime-housekeeper, Carla Rivera, figuring the illegal immigrant might know other people who live outside the bounds of the law. She is pleasantly surprised to learn that Carla’s brother Diego actually runs with a Latin gang called the Cottonmouths—even if she has to rape the single mother’s mind to find that out (Carla naturally being reticent to disclose such information to an employer). Carla is dubious that her brother would want anything to do with Caroline until the Ventrue once again ‘persuades’ her to set up a meeting anyway.

Diego Carlos Rivera is 20-something man with a shaved head and dead expression. He wears a wifebeater with dark stains that shows off his bulging biceps, ripped chest, and full-sleeve tattoos of a skull-faced woman with chains for her hair. A gold cross glints from around his neck. The knuckles gripping his firearm are thick and scarred.

He calls his sister’s sometime-employer a chifaldo and does not hit off with her until the Ventrue lets her supernal mien wash over him. Diego reacts with horror when Caroline reveals what she is, and mouths a prayer while drawing a cross in the air to drive off the vampiro. He does not want her blood and fears what it will do to his soul. Caroline has to forcefully mesmerize him into drinking it. He accepts the second and third drinks willingly, and is soon awash with the possibilities of what his new powers and Caroline’s patronage can do for his gang. They’ll crush the last of Terrytown’s black gangs that weren’t flushed out by Katrina. “We’ll run every corner south of the Mississippi!” he exclaims. Then he explains to Caroline what a corner is. It’s a spot where his people can sell drugs. Gangs fight over them.

Indeed, it does not escape Caroline that she has relied nigh-exclusively upon her supernatural powers to establish this foothold in New Orleans’ underworld. Diego will have far more autonomy over his gang’s operations than her other ghouls will have over their own areas of responsibility. Or as Autumn warily puts it, “In a tight pinch, you could do my job or Widney’s job… but I don’t think any of us could do his job. I mean, I don’t know the first thing about running a gang.” Outside matters of criminal law and Kindred politics, Caroline will be the one listening to Diego.

Nevertheless, now that the gangster is brought in, Caroline tells him and Autumn to handle the matter of Em’s framing. Antoine Savoy offers his own advice on related matters.

“Be careful in the Outlands, Miss Malveaux. They’re where things from the Dark start to bleed in, so not many Kindred choose to travel there. Be prepared to fight for whatever you claim.”

Caroline: “We’ll see if it’s worth fighting for first, Lord Savoy.”

GM: “Make sure you mind our prince’s laws if you decide to stay,” Savoy smiles in a chiding tone. “The sheriff and hounds still make semi-regular patrols through the area.”

Caroline: “Of course, Lord Savoy. I am, as are we all, the prince’s sworn servant after all. I wouldn’t dream of dishonoring my oath to him.”

GM: The Toreador grins and strokes his ten o’clock shadow, as if in contemplation of what further sage advice to dispense. “Silver bullets aren’t a poor thing to have on hand either. Loup-Garoux are all but unkillable otherwise.”

Caroline: Caroline smiles when he brings up silver bullets. “What else would you keep in your gun, Lord Savoy? Lead? Like a peasant?”

GM: Savoy just laughs. “A born Ventrue if I’ve ever seen one!”

Tuesday evening, 20 October 2015, PM

GM: Around a week later, Autumn reports back to Caroline that she and Diego took care of Emmett’s second framing with only a few hiccups. Louisiana’s cops are a different flavor of corrupt in Terrytown than they are in the French Quarter. Some timely applications of mesmerism smoothed over her and Diego’s occasional stumble, and they lined the cops’ pockets with bribes so that everything still adds up in their heads.

“It’s insane, just insane, how lazy these guys are. You should have seen the looks on their faces when they realized the guy they needed to catch was already locked up.”

Emmett has been linked to a drug bust in the French Quarter, and should thus be held in Orleans Parish Prison, where Cécilia’s stalker Mouse was also sent—and Amelie Savard is due to be sent, if she wakes up from her coma in time. (Caroline hasn’t heard any news on that front.) All that remains is to gain access.

Caroline: Even as the framing is in progress (perhaps as a sign of her confidence in Autumn’s ability to pull it off) Caroline sets a meeting with Coco to discuss gaining access to the prison—or at least not stepping on any toes as she arranges it. She tells herself that her pull towards Coco is purely practical, but can’t resist the tingle in the back of her head as she arranges the meeting.

GM: Jennifer Haley tells Caroline to come by Blaze in several nights. The shithole bar is as loud and raucous as ever, and the Mardis Gras beads spelling ‘FUCK YOU’ are missing several beads at the top of the ‘o.’ Coco sits at a table in the back, nursing a rose cocktail. She wears a black tank top under a leather jacket that’s less scuffed than the other patrons’. Her once-red hair is now pale blue.

Caroline: Caroline smirks as she considers how much easier it is for Kindred to manage that kind of rapid and frequent shift in hair color. No worries about damage to hair from frequent dye jobs. After introductions she takes a seat opposite the Brujah primogen with her own drink.

“Do you shave it then re-dye it in the morning?” she asks, answers.

GM: “The late evening, usually,” Coco replies.

Caroline could picture another Kindred smirking. But the elder Brujah’s eyes don’t seem to fully take in the Ventrue. Her lips remain still.

Caroline: Caroline fights to keep the frown off her face as she continues, “I was hoping to arrange a visit with someone in your domain. Well, nominally.”

GM: Coco absently motions for her to go on.

Caroline: “He’s currently staying at the parish prison.” The Ventrue opens her folded hands on the table.

GM: “I’m sure he’ll appreciate the visit. It’s not a fun place to spend one’s time.”

Caroline: Caroline smirks. “Well, I do try to spread joy wherever I go.”

GM: “You have my leave to spread some to the local jail. But given the rightness of your purpose, maybe you shouldn’t have to ask me.” Coco takes a sip of the reddish-pink drink. “Que chacun se met à sa place.”

(“_Let every man put himself where he pleases.”_)

Caroline recognizes the quote. It’s what Louis XVI supposedly told his domestic servants after participants in the Women’s March on Versailles all but forcibly relocated his family to Tuileries Palace in Paris.

Caroline: “Est-ce qu’il a réellement dit cela?” Caroline asks with a smirk.

(“Did he actually say that?”)

GM: “What made Napoleon a strategic genius was his ability to organize,” Coco remarks, her eyes still only half there. “He determined that what would make an army unbeatable was its mobility and capacity to adapt faster than the enemy to changing circumstances. He broke his forces into small divisions and gave his field marshals freedom to make decisions in the moment without having to consult him. This led to chaos, but he enjoyed the room for creativity it allowed. He encouraged soldiers on all levels to show initiative, and gave them the chance to rise from the bottom to the top, just as he had done. This Grande Armée did not merely fight in the Revolution’s name, but implemented its ideals on a strategic level.”

Caroline: “C’est donc avec vous?” Caroline asks.

(“So it is with you?”)

GM: “It worked masterfully. Napoleon won battle after battle,” Coco simply continues in English. “He would not march to proscribed places to meet the enemy in open battle, but threw his divisions into scattered patterns. Depending on how the enemy reacted, he would close in from several directions. His revolution in warfare was strategic, not technological. He had a better idea and exploited it to the maximum.”

“Napoleon’s model for success did not die with him. It’s applicable to any group operating in a transitional period in history—where speed and mobility triumph over ponderous older methods. It means paying supreme attention to how one’s group is organized and creating a structure that fits the times.”

“We’ve seen it even among modern tech companies. Macroware operated with layers of bureaucracy, gigantic staffs of engineers, and intensive testing of all products prior to their release, which was handled by large-scale sales and marketing teams. Their machine was slow and lumbering, and rolling out new products took years. Hooli, in contrast, had a small engineering staff, no marketing or sales team, and self-managed employees who were encouraged to release early and often, and to independently research new ideas. They undercut Macroware’s monopoly just like Napoleon smashed coalition after coalition of rival nations’ outmoded armies.”

“Hooli’s company culture promoted the idea they were the spearhead of a revolution: the company that would give the entire world free access to information. Macroware’s employees simply collected paychecks. Again and again, during times of great transition, small bands of men and women with great ideas march forward to change the world. And they do. Then they stop changing, and the world passes them by.”

“The Grande Armée’s rapid forced marches and proclivity for living off the land served it well in the geographically small, densely populated, and agriculturally rich central Europe. Old order Austrian and Prussian armies were left dazed and confused. But Russia was geographically vast, thinly populated, agriculturally sparse, and had a poor network of roads. Troops grew sick drinking mud puddles and eating rotten food and forage. They hadn’t even intended to take Moscow, initially, but Napoleon wanted the costly campaign to be worth it. He was not prepared for the Russians to simply let him have the city. They knew the harsh winter would drive him out within the year. And it did. Napoleon had stopped thinking in terms of tactical realities and instead let his ego drive his actions, refusing to adapt his tactics to changing circumstances. He become as lumbering and obsolete as the very armies he had once smashed. The changing world passed him by.”

“Already we see indications of that obsolescent thinking in today’s tech companies and social revolutionaries. I wonder what their Russia will be.”

Caroline: Caroline listens to the elder’s lecture.

“Has the Brujah primogen found herself out in the cold?” she finally asks. “I find that hard to believe.”

GM: Coco gives the nauseous-smelling concoction in her glass another swish. “People I knew believed in Napoleon with all their hearts, and died for him in Russia. For his mistakes.”

Caroline: Caroline’s eyes glitter. “Ah, this is a cautionary tale then.”

GM: “I don’t know why I had a ghoul rouse me to catch a glimpse of his funeral procession. The sun’s rays burned no less painfully, for all the day’s cold. The people had turned him into a god, but he was never anything but a man.”

Coco’s gaze lingers on her glass. “Go visit your friend, Caroline.”

Caroline: The Ventrue’s gaze lingers on the Brujah elder. “Just like that?”

GM: “Just like that.”

Caroline: Wisdom and experience bid Caroline to take it and go, but something else pulls on her.

“Are you quite all right, Coco?”

GM: Coco looks several years younger than Caroline does, now that the Ventrue considers it. Her facial features have less definition; less firmly set aspects, fewer character lines that would have eventually become wrinkles. It’s an almost incongruent detail. She isn’t a marble statue like Matheson, or timeless like Maldonato, whose medieval garb in his Moorish palace seemed like the dominant reality rather than a discordant anachronism. The Brujah’s facial expressions, body language, and other subtle ways of comporting herself simply seem more like Claire’s than a 20-something’s. But they are more languid, more reserved, than even Caroline’s mother. They have more in common with those elderly Okinawans who continue to run, swim, and sweat alongside their great-grandchildren. It’s only when Caroline really looks at Coco that it becomes apparent the elder Brujah could pass for one of the giggling coeds she feeds upon. Could have been one of those giggling coeds, if she were born in another time and place.

“I’m just fine, Caroline,” she answers. “Nowhere that I haven’t been before.”

The echo of a smile brushes over her lips. “That’s the great comedy of it all. I’ll be just fine.”

Caroline: Eternal youth. What a lie. Caroline can see the years weighing down on Coco, centuries of life, and loss, and suffering. Of decisions made and prices paid. How many years has Caroline aged in the last couple of months? How much do those choices weigh upon her? And she came from everything, a mortal life lived in comparable splendor and comfort.

How old does Coco feel? How tired of fighting?

And how capable is she? In months Caroline has found within herself a lethality, cold-bloodlessness, and brutality she’d never known. How much more dangerous is a Kindred that has lived through centuries. The thought sends a shiver through Caroline.

Why then does she press on? Is it the blood bond? The subtle but impossible to ignore pull toward Coco? That twisted pull of affection that she knows, if she were to drink again, would pull her further and further towards infatuation? Or is it her own weariness, and her own loneliness. Her own frustration. Even as she’s filled her life with ghouls, with plots, with plans, Caroline feels more alone now than she ever has in her life. Distant from her ‘family’ with the great plunge coming. Family that has meant so much, that has dominated her life. Distant in faith, which she clung too, and still does, in its own distorted, perverted form. She is so alone.

Idiot. From the French, idiota meaning ‘an ignorant person’ and in turn from the Greek ‘idiōtēs’ meaning a private person. Aristotle called humans social creatures, insisted that it was in the nature of man to crave connections to others, and that those that were isolated from their own kind, the hermits, the outcast, were less than human. She certainly feels that way, and knows it can’t continue. She has plans within plans. Plots within plots for the future, but in this seeing moment of opportunity, she can’t resist. Can’t help herself.

“I’m certain that you’ll survive, and once more emerge from it stronger than before,” she begins. “But fine is another matter altogether.” Caroline shuffles. “I don’t think I’m on your Christmas card list right now, but I don’t know that I have to be to see that something is clearly bothering you, eating at you. Everything I’ve seen suggests you deserve better.”

Caroline digs out a card and sets it on the table. It’s simple, plain, heavy weight paper with ten numbers and two dashes.

“This is direct, not to my ghoul like the number I called Ms. Haley on. If there’s something I can do, please call.”

GM: Coco’s eyes drift towards the professional-looking phone card. “That’s thoughtful of you to offer.”

“I’ve not known many people, or Kindred, who got what they deserve. But it’s touching you think I should be one of them.” The Brujah finishes the last of her pinkish cocktail, leaving only the cherry at the glass’ bottom. “You should visit your friend, Caroline.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “Good advice.” She finishes her own drink—more to prove a point than anything, and rises.

“The offer remains open, in any case, Primogen Duquette. A pleasure, as always.” She leaves the card on the table.

Thursday evening, 22 October 2015, PM

Caroline: The Ventrue digs through her own contacts—and takes advantage of the prison’s proximity to the CBD—to build her plan for reaching Emmett in the prison and getting out. She targets deliveries to the prison in the evening for entry and egress, working to get official (or at least official looking) credentials for the name she’ll be using to gain entry and egress.

At the same time she digs around the prison’s staff, particularly ‘corrections officers’ (a nice euphemism for often sadistic and poorly educated ‘not police’ that administer the prison) picking out targets that she can plant buried commands in to deliver Emmett to a meeting with her during her ‘brief’ visit. It’s not so easy as it seems, but she’s able to draw heavily on Diego’s knowledge (and more, that of his associates) of the prison and how it functions to identify the proper positions that need either bribes or controls to make her plan work. Emmett’s status as a death row inmate makes it more difficult, but Caroline has resources available that no normal mortal might, and with the ability to literally plant commands in people’s minds to execute… the impossible becomes possible. Even if she is forced to shy away from the handful of sheriffs that she has to work around, rather than through.

It’s a massive undertaking nonetheless, one that she can think of few circumstances it would be worthwhile in… but an opportunity to have the tale of her night in the Dungeon… to get some of the truth of her Embrace… it’s worthwhile. Worth something.

GM: Diego laughs at Caroline when she asks about Orleans Parish Prison and chides the pampered white girl for her ignorance. He knows more about OPP than she does, yes (he’s known people who did time there), but Terrytown is part of Jefferson Parish. When he and his people saw the inside of a parish jail, it was in Gretna’s Jefferson Parish Prison. The Mississippi might as well be a wall as far as Terrytown’s criminals are concerned. What, does she imagine they take drug-filled cars on daily ferry commutes to New Orleans?

“Make us sitting ducks for 5-0,” he chides again, but he seems more amused by Caroline than anything else. “You just leave this business to me, amiga. It’s not your territory.” The ghoul’s tone is considerably less deferential than Caroline’s other servants.

Caroline: Caroline ignores it for the moment, but only just. Time will tell how useful a servant—or not—he will be to her.

GM: The easiest way to gain access to an inmate in Orleans Parish Prison, Caroline soon discovers, is to simply visit them through legal channels. Regular inmates are allowed up to three visitors with active status on their visitation lists, with visiting hours of 8 AM to 5 PM and 8 PM to 10 PM on Tuesdays through Saturdays. Any Kindred could visit Em without recourse to Caine’s gifts.

True to the Ventrue’s prediction, things are less straightforward in Em’s case. As a death roow inmate, he is only authorized to receive a single visitor on Sundays between the hours of 9 AM and 3 PM. One of Caroline’s ghouls could get to Em legally, but the grifter remains inaccessible to Caroline if she is not willing to brave Sol’s burning eye—at least, through public channels.

Some casual research by the almost-lawyer turns up that Orleans Parish Prison has something known as professional visiting rooms. These are available for use by the professional community, who include attorneys, bondsmen, law enforcement officials, licensed private investigators, approved counselors, approved clergy, approved medical professionals, approved media representatives, and approved paralegals. An inmate may receive any number of professional visits, and can even receive them outside of normal visiting hours. The warden retains discretionary authority to restrict, deny, or suspend a professional visitor’s privileges.

The legal ground is once again somewhat blurrier in Emmett’s case, but death row inmates are permitted lawyers like anyone else. Even if a prisoner is beyond all possibility or parole or judicial appeal, they still have one last option—a plea to the governor, who may exercise their power of pardon if they are sufficiently moved. Caroline remembers studying the topic only last semester under Tulane’s Professor Isaiah Wellington. The gray-haired, craggy-faced old man had described it as, “The last vestige of the divine right of kings,” because,

“The power of pardon was one of the attributes of divine right. The king could only exercise it because, as the representative of God on earth, he was above the ordinary human justice. In passing from the king to the presidents of republics, this right lost its essential character and therefore its legality. It thenceforth become a flimsy prerogative, a judicial power outside justice and yet no longer above it; it created an arbitrary jurisdiction, foreign to our conception of the lawgiver. In practice it is good, since by its action the wretched are saved. By nature, however, it is ridiculous. One has but to imagine Earl Long or Jim Jameson invested with the attributes of divinity to come to this conclusion.”

Whatever opinion Caroline’s former professor may hold on pardons, however, Em still has valid pretext over which to see a lawyer. Most death row inmates are not eloquent writers and rely on attorneys to draft their written pleas to the governor. Caroline could be that lawyer. While the names of attorneys who visit Orleans Parish Prison must appear in the current edition of the “State’s Bar Association” manual/website, and Caroline’s currently does not, paralegals are also allowed to visit inmates in a professional capacity if they have an attorney’s authorized letter designating them as that attorney’s representative.

Caroline: Caroline briefly—very briefly—toys with the headache required to get her name on the list as a licensed attorney. She ultimately settles for the easier option, roping in Denise Bowden as a potential representative for Emmett and herself, or at least an identity that shares her face (she cannot, after all, be linked to Emmett), as a paralegal for the licensed attorney in an early evening meeting.

The extra hours in the night as they race towards winter works to her advantage, even as it drives home how bitterly short the nights will be in the summer. She idly considers the idea of a summer home, some day, to rotate between the seasons. Somewhere on the far side of the world. The idea of jetting to some foreign palace for to escape the long days in the summer, the reverse of so many tourists, is a pleasant thought. It’s only a thought though.

GM: After confirming plans by phone, Denise meets with Caroline several nights later at the Caribbean Room, the fancy dining room of the small but elegant Pontchartrain Hotel in the Garden District. It is a near silent, eerie world of candlelight, white tablecloths, and waiters who look like ghosts, or even vampires in old horror movies, with their black jackets and stiff white shirts.

Denise starts off with an appetizer of crispy, still-steaming oysters that include spicy red jalapeno and bleu cheese deliciously melted over crispy greasy bacon. “I’ll make up for this with a salad entree,” Denise jokes. She orders a tomato salad, along with the mile high ice cream pie for dessert. Jet black cookie crust, meringue, marshmallow topping, chocolate syrup, and ice cream the restaurant makes from scratch over a three-day process. Denise insists on splitting the ‘pie’ with Caroline, so that “I don’t feel too guilty.”

However unlikely, a far-off summer home is something Caroline could still enjoy.

Caroline: The smell is nauseous, but Caroline has grown quite skilled at picking her seats where fans or vents blow from behind her, carrying the worst of it away from her. It makes the experience only slightly worse than sitting next to a dumpster on a hot summer day.

GM: Caroline tries to remember how a meal like that would taste. It’s harder to than it was even a month ago.

Caroline: It both helps and hurts that their server is a clean cut, good looking, and oh so delicious smelling twenty-something no doubt plugging away at a degree somewhere during the day, even if he is, like so many in the city, off limits.

The entire experience, from the food, to the candles, to the waiter works to test her ability to control the Beast’s influence, and her own ability to present herself in public: she has little doubt that far more trying evenings await than an uncomfortable meal with Denise.

“I was also thinking of a light meal tonight.” The not-quite glitter of the Kindred’s eyes in the firelight, amid flickering shadows, has a predatory gleam.

GM: Caroline catches Denise’s gaze lingering on the man too. The Kindred are not the only ones to hunger for more than food.

“Better for your health,” her old boss remarks after the man walks with their orders. Reluctantly turning her gaze back to Caroline, she continues, “Anyways, I had the stupidest client to deal with today.”

Caroline: “Oh, do share?” Caroline holds her revolting cocktail as she smiles over the smell.

GM: “So, I’m talking to a woman who wants to send us a contract she wants our client to sign,” Denise says as she forks out a cheese-melted oyster from its shell. “As you know, the name of the firm is the last names of the partners. And with five partners it’s pretty long, so our email domain name is just HMHLP.”

“Me: ‘So you want to send it to’

Woman: ‘Can you spell that?’

Me: ‘I-n-f-o-at-H-M-H-L-P-dot com.’

Woman: ‘So that’s i-n-f-o-c-h.’

Me: ’There’s no CH.’

Woman: ‘OH! I mean i-n-f-o-and.’

Me: ’There’s no ‘and.’ Where did you get ‘and’?’

Woman: ‘OH! I can’t read my writing. So it’s i-n-f-o- that email sign thingy—H-M-H-L-P-period-c-o-m. Right?’

Me: ‘Yes.’

Woman: ‘Your e-mail address is hard to figure out.’"

Denise rolls her eyes. “I’m sure she’ll wonder why we’re recommending our client not sign the contract.”

Caroline: Caroline laughs. “If she was the one who wrote it I’d say sign away.”

GM: “Oh, if only.”

Thursday night, 22 October 2015, PM

Caroline: Rather than involve her former boss, Caroline instead turns to a patsy for her purposes.

GM: The attorney whose dingy office she finds her way to at 11 PM is clad in a threadbare suit missing one of its buttons, and is himself half-passed out over a stack of legal papers. A bottle of Jamesons sits at the desk’s edge next to a gift basket of fatback, pickled pigs’ feet, cornbread, and a small peach cobbler. The red-haired man grogs fitfully when Caroline wakes him up, then grows considerably more agitated when a small gray pit bull barks madly and tries to sink its teeth into Caroline’s leg. The Ventrue commands its bleary-eyed eyed owner to lock the all but rabid animal upstairs, then to (illegally) write and sign the requisite letter. The man sleepily hands it over. Caroline commands him to let out his dog, go back to sleep at his desk, and forget she was there. He groggily assents, ignorant of the pale nightmare who disturbed his dreams. Caroline leaves his office with a letter saying she is the designated representative of Howard Sloan.

Caroline: Or at least, that Annette Merteuil is, to go with her matching documentation.
There are some additional hoops to jump through to arrange things, most mostly documents to be routed, phone calls to make, and letters to send.

GM: In comparatively short order, Annette has arranged for “her” firm to take Emmett’s case (largely drafting the plea to the governor at this point) pro bono. Sloan apparently has a history of representing clients no one but public defenders will touch. The day of Annette’s 8 PM visit to the parish prison soon looms.

Friday evening, 23 October 2015, PM

GM: It looks more like an interrogation room than what the website led Caroline to expect: bare walls and floors, bolted-down stainless steel table, two chairs, table-bolted handcuffs on the prisoner’s side. The man attached to them looks terrible. He’s dressed in an orange jumpsuit, but no feet are visible at the bottom of the too-flat pant legs. The bottom of a wheelchair is. The guards doubtlessly loaded him into one at his cell, pushed it into the interrogation room, and then didn’t bother to move aside the table’s existing chairs. Their cuffed would-be occupant consequently has little room to move his stretched-out hands. His arms are thin. His jumpsuit fits him loosely. His hair is shaggy and unkempt. His beard is short but clearly untrimmed, and only partly hides the lines marring his face. He smells like he hasn’t washed in days. His eyes are dead and vacant. He looks like he’s aged twenty years since Caroline last saw him.

That wasn’t so long before Decadence.

“You’re writing my plea,” Emmett says hollowly.

The Ventrue can’t tell if he recognizes her.

“You can tell the governor that he can please suck my dick,” the crippled man continues, his voice still without inflection. “I’d think of something wittier if I cared more.”

Emmett: “Wait—” He holds up a finger. “—no, it’s gone. Still don’t care.”

GM: “I was going to get you pregnant,” Em continues, “or just fake the test so you thought you were. Then you’d get an abortion, or I’d just slip you a morning-after-pill. There were a lot of ‘or justs’, up to the part where I’d blackmail you for years.”

Someone else might shrug. Maybe laugh. Em just hollowly continues,

“Didn’t pan out. Story of my life, right? I guess that didn’t pan out either.”

Caroline: There’s a spike of anger, but also a deep relief at Em’s antics.

“You know… I actually felt bad about ruining your life. Briefly. Thanks for getting rid of that for me.”

GM: “Probably lots of people who’d say thanks for getting rid of me too,” Em answers. No reaction crosses his face at Caroline’s admission of guilt.

Caroline: A toothy smile. “It’s good to know that sometimes things work out for a reason.”

Her eyes meet his. “Now… that indulgence out of the way, let’s get to what matters.”

GM: “I talk a lot these days,” Em goes on. “Always did, I guess. There’s not a lot else you can do in death row, and I’ve always been my own best audience. Or maybe I’m just such a hit with the guards they don’t wanna stick a needle in me yet. I thought they were gonna do it when I came in, but it’s been a while. Dunno how long. We don’t get clocks or calendars in there.”

There’s no regret or annoyance in his words. Just emptiness. Conversational noise filling the air.

Caroline: She sets down her folder and takes out a tape recorder.

“Tell me everything you remember about the night you lost your legs, Em. Tell me about the Dungeon.”

GM: “Oh, that?”

Caroline: Caroline sits in the uncomfortable chair to get to eye level, her long legs stretching out for eternity. “Yes, that.”

GM: “Yeah, well, I remember jack and shit, so sucks to be you. Though still not as much as me.” The scraggly-bearded man stares vacantly ahead. “They said I had AIDS and glass up my ass when I got out. I’m pretty sure I’d remember that, unless my name was Mercurial Fernandez and it was a daily occurrence.”

Caroline: “That’s cute. But I’m afraid, Em… that’s not good enough.” Caroline’s gaze burns into his. “Remember that night. Tell me about the Dungeon, and about what you saw there. About what happened to me,” she demands, finally letting the Beast run loose.

GM: Em’s mouth falls open. Not in shock. His muscles just go slack. His mouth works and clomps several times.“You… got… wow, I don’t… want… be… you…”

Caroline: “Start talking,” Caroline growls, her voice low and throaty with the Beast’s venom.

GM: “Have I… ever done… anything else?” Em asks, but the sarcasm comes out as flat, dead, and torn-up as the rest of him. Like an animal carcass dragged through a thrasher. “Dungeon’s a… ffuucckkkk…” Em winces as if struck.

“There’s a… place for… ggghhh… fucking dungeon, stone and…”

“You… guy came… heh… you had sex with your baby…”

“I don’t even… that’s… OKAY, WHAT THE FUCK ALREADY?”

“Ha… ha… you got… raped… ha… ha…”

Caroline: Caroline’s patience is long gone. The Beast takes over, and takes over Em’s mind.

“Stop, and calmly relate everything that happened to me in the Dungeon, and all conversations you overheard related to me, she demands.

GM: The man garbles and twitches. “Ten… mouths… twelve… heads… mother… spare your faithful… mother… take us into… take us into… that… which is flesh… shall not die… that… which was n-not sh-k-l… n-gh-ev…”

Tears begin to stream down the cripple’s eyes.

Caroline: Caroline has no pity for him.

GM: “It’s… s…”

Caroline:TALK,” Caroline demands again.

GM: “When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male nor the female be female, when you make eyes in place of an eye, a hand in place of a hand, a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image, THEN YOU WILL ENTER THEKINGDOMOFHEAVEN!” Em screams in one great big lurching rush.

“G-g… god… whe… r… you… n… o… jus… can’t be.. jus… m… ee… the jungle… all they do… is watch… watch you… me… all do is blee… blee… BLEEHEEHEEHEEEEE!”

Em shrieks and howls with laughter, his cuffs dully clunking as his arms thrash. “G… g… et it… GET It AWAY! GET IT AWA-Y!”

Caroline: Caroline moves to stifle his screaming.

GM: Her hand clamps over his mouth. She feels the moisture of his tears and the wetness of his madly thrashing tongue. “G… i… i… y…” Em’s face crumbles like muffin topping as Caroline shifts her hand. “Yyy… y… mother…”

Caroline: “Repeat what you just said,” Caroline demands. “Quietly.”

GM: “You’re one… dead… bitch,” Em pants in the same dreary monotone. “One… dead… bitch… they threw you out… with the rest of the… trash… were all… done with you… him, he thought he’d… he fucking cried over it… fuck are you here… you’re dead…”

Caroline: “What did they do to me!” Caroline demands.

GM: “No, no, you were dead, he said, he said, all ten kinds of dead, all gone, time to throw you out.”

Caroline: “Who said!”

GM: “Guy who brought you.”

Caroline: “He tortured me.”

GM: “Dead, dead, dead, dead bitch in a dumpster, dead bitch in a can! Dead bitch in a trunk… dead bitch in a car… come on, baby, take a ride with me, you’re one dead bitch and we got places to see…”

Caroline: She lays on another gift of the Beast on top of that already rampaging through his mind, pulling him in the most favorable way possible as he attempts to drag the knowledge from him fail. The presence hits him like a raw wave.

GM: Em’s tears warmly trickle through her palm. “I… wish… hadn’t killed you…”

Caroline: “Me too,” Caroline murmurs, her tone more soothing.

“It’s okay, Emmett. Let’s slow down. We were there together.”

GM: Em winces.

Caroline: “Did I tell you anything when we were there?”

GM: “No. You were dead.”

Caroline: “Before I was dead.”

GM: “How the fuck should I know?”

Caroline: “You were there. You just have to remember, Em. I need you to just slow down and remember. When you got to the Dungeon, was I dead already? Answer all of my questions as completely and truthfully as you can about what happened at the Dungeon with me, Em.

She narrows her questions down, getting away from the broad inquiries that have given him so much grief and struggle.

GM: The slack-jawed cripple awaits her next query.

Caroline: Those questions begin with the mundane. Was she there when he arrived? Was she alive when he arrived? Was she hurt. Did they speak? If so, about what? How many people arrived to hurt her? What did they do? She makes him walk her through, as carefully and step by step as she can, what he witnessed of her torture and death before getting to what happened to her body when it was done. Who declared it be taken away. Who took it away? Describe them. Like a broken pane of glass she slowly begins to piece together the shattered memory in his own damaged mind. This last tenuous piece of that night, perhaps the last anywhere, trapped in the mind of a crippled death row inmate. The most important night of her life: her last.

GM: Emmett is unable to coherently answer any questions about his point of arrival. He raves and screams through Caroline’s clamped hands about being “an animal, animal, welcome to mee-heee-HEEEE!”

But yes, oh, yes, he says, Caroline was very much alive. “The way you screamed!” he manically giggles. “Live bitch to dead bitch, presto, out of the magic ha-aaa-aaaat! Hee!”

Questions about Caroline’s tormentors and their methods draw the most unintelligible responses of all. Em cries, rants, and weeps, “Every man… god in d… follow! Oh, honest, I… FFFOOOOOOOO-mmph-mm-mhnhnhnh! Haaaaa… aaaAAH! No moooore… EYES!” With another shrill muffled cry, Em starts raking at his eyeballs with his bare nails. Caroline holds him down and commands the shivering cripple to answer her next questions.

René. It was René. Emmett doesn’t know him by name, but the description is consistent with René’s appearance on the night of Decadence. René said she was dead. He was distraught. He hadn’t intended… but no, he supposed he really did. It was time to get rid of the corpse. He told someone to get rid of it. But not here. Something more… just not here.

Em couldn’t see very well. He’s not sure if the room was just dark, if he was drugged, delirious, or some combination of the three. The figure sounded male, with a soft voice—like a whip being brushed along naked breasts. Tenderly. He said he’d get rid of Caroline’s body.

“Dead, bitch, dead! Sorry… we’re all… sorry,” Em half-sobs, half-wheezes. He gingerly lies his head on the steel table and runs fingers through his shaggy hair.

Caroline: She pulls him up gently but firmly from the table. This may be her only opportunity: she’s not going to waste it. She asks about any names he heard, anything she might have said, and anything said of her. Only when she is content that she’s pulled everything she can from his broken—and now moreso—mind does she leave him in peace.

GM: There was a Courtney. Em remembers that with relatively little prompting. He woke up somewhere with a stone floor, feeling like worse than shit. There was a raggedy-voiced woman who cried and droned, “Cash Money… always gets his money… always…” Em calmed her down and got her name. When she couldn’t tell him where they were, he told her she was useless. She started hyperventilating or screaming again. Was it something he said? She had a dead mom. “Heh. Heheheh. Thaaaas meee…!” Em whispers, running his hands through his hair.

Em relates there was a woman. Another woman. He remembers the sound of high heels clicking against stone. She didn’t talk to him. Or Courtney. She just played a game of, “Eeny meeny miny moe,” between the two victims. Em’s sanity was cracking and he interrupted with a quip. He remembers the woman’s words. “The city for her. Bad pockets for him.”

Caroline: Caroline continues to lay into his fragile mind. She’s all too aware of how much damage she’s doing. How an already horrific trauma (so great that he blacked it out) has already hurt him, and how she’s making his broken mind reopen those wounds… and if he were some innocent bystander, some poor soul caught in her web, she might reconsider.

But this is Emmett. The same scumbag who was bragging about how he’d intended to get her pregnant just minutes ago. How he planned on using that life against her, how he wanted to blackmail her and ruin her. The same man that minutes ago was laughing at the fact that she was literally raped, at the memory of her rape.

She presses on. His life is already ruined. His body is ruined. Why shouldn’t his mind be too? He brought it on himself. If there was ever a soul that needed to be culled from the herd, someone too far gone to be saved. A warning for future wayward souls… the more she thinks about it the more she’s able to justify it, intellectually and spiritually. “Talk about that night!"

She doesn’t ask; she demands. She doesn’t question; she interrogates. And she doesn’t stop until she has pried from him the most complete narrative of the evening that she can. Piece by piece. Question by question. She ignores his bleeding, ignores how deeply the knowledge cuts him. To her he’s already less than human. A thing. To be used up and thrown away. And she’s going to get one more use out of him.

GM: Cut him the knowledge does.

Emmett’s psyche bleeds.

He screams. He cries. He convulses. He shrieks. He tries to bash his own head in against the metal table. And, finally, he talks. Caroline pries out each word like a crazed dentist methodically ripping out each of her patient’s teeth. They are wet, bloody, and leave a sobbing mess of quivering flesh with each extraction—there can be no anesthesia for this operation. But they come out.

The man. The man who took Caroline. His voice. It was…. beautiful. It was the most beautiful thing Emmett saw—heard—during that sick fever dream. He could listen to that man talk for hours and not hear a single word. The man’s voice was a gentle sponge. A soothing balm. A loving caress. For a few brief moments, it could make things better.

Or maybe it just made them worse.

“Byoo… hoo-hoo-hooOOOOOO!” Em raves.

There was—there was a g—girl. Small. Young. Twelve, thirteen, fourteen. “Maa-aaaa-yybee…. tennn… miiiilyy…un! S… was… you! Youuu! Like you! S…s…ooo… HUNGRY! F… or… mmeEeheeheehHehhEhEhE! lick me up, bit by bit, bit by bit, bit by bit! She’ll lick me up, biiiit by iiiit, and… driiiink…… my…….. SOUUULLL!!!”

Her tongue was forked.

Raymond. That was. Raymond. His name. Raymond. Raymond. Raymond. He was there. “Aallways th-th-eere! Oh, Rrraaayymm… YOU LET IT HAPPEN RAYMOND! YOU LET IT HAPPEN! YOU LET IT YOU LET IT YOU LET IT-”


Auction. There’s an auction. There’s been an auction? Was an auction? Will be an auction. Yes. An auction. A place and time, where things will be sold. That’s what an auction is. Isn’t it? Wasn’t it? No. Maybe not. Raymond. Raymond is involved in the auction. Raymond is part of the auction. “He… sells… things a…t… the auction! Behold… Ray… mond… the auc…tion…eer!”

Matheson. A name. Known to Raymond. Matheson is involved in the auction too. “Matheson Matheson Batheson Fatheson Matheson Katheson Lafeson Kafison KaNaKalalajaaaaaaaa….”

Emmett slumps forward, his head clunking against the metal table. He ceases to move or speak.

A foul stench wafts from a dark stain around his crotch.

Caroline: Caroline leaves the shattered man with a parting gift of, “I was never here,” as she takes her leave from him.

Part of her, that human part, wants to feel badly for what she’s done to him… but only a little bit. A wretched man meeting his own wretched fate. Isn’t that God’s will? Isn’t that what they say her purpose is? To cull the wicked and wretched from the herd?

A beautiful voice. Matheson. Raymond. A Kindred girl with a forked tongue. And an auction.

Something to go on.

Monday night, 26 October 2015, AM

GM: Savoy and Preston receive Caroline at the Evergreen to hear how her meeting with Emmett went. The smiling Fabian brings all three Kindred a “red glass” before unobtrusively receding back into the scenery.

Caroline: Caroline shares the tale of meeting with the convicted murderer, and of just how broken his mind was by the events surrounding his own dismemberment and Caroline’s ‘murder’ at the hands of René.

“Honestly, he was barely coherent, even when dominated. But he did mention something that caught my eye. Have you heard of ‘the auction’, Lord Savoy?”

GM: Savoy strokes his half-beard. “I can’t say that I have, much as it breaks my heart to disappoint a lovely woman. Maybe we should ask what an auction might sell that a Ventrue elder would want?”

Caroline: “Never a disappointment, Lord Savoy, only a new challenge.” She runs one finger around the rim of her glass musically. “I can think of all number of things… but from that particular place?” She bites her lower lip. “That did not quite seem to be to his tastes.”

GM: “That’s the real measure of success for a place like that, Miss Malveaux. Drawing in people, or Kindred, who you couldn’t ever imagine wanting something there,” Savoy remarks. He doesn’t quite chuckle, or even smile, but there is a gleam of mirth in his eyes.

Caroline: “Of most places I should think, Lord Savoy.” The irony of his statement is not lost on her amid their own relationship. “Unless they are of a particularly undesirable sort.”

GM: “Especially if they are an undesirable sort,” Preston humorlessly replies. “Did Delacroix mention anything of note beyond this ‘auction’?”

Caroline: “Sadly little. You’ve more knowledge of the Dungeon than I, Lord Savoy, but I can only imagine the horrors that go on are such that the conscious mind cannot bear them. Even dragging out what I did took… effort. One of our kind, young, with a forked tongue. Raymond….” Caroline shakes her head. “Other names to run down, but nothing I think so immediate and easily achieved as Delacroix.”

GM: Savoy nods soberly at Caroline’s initial words. “Our powers over mortal minds aren’t foolproof. Awful enough trauma, supernatural interference, unexplainable resistance, and more can all block us out.”

The Toreador drums his fingers. “Hmm. That first description could be something to go on. Having a name is even better. Do we have anything on a Raymond, Nat?”

“Yes, sir,” the Malkavian notes, scrolling through her tablet. “A neonate who presented himself to Seneschal Maldonato approximately a year ago. He claimed amnesia and ignorance of his past and clan, but that his search had led him to New Orleans for answers. The seneschal granted him permission to reside in the city on a provisional basis—until he could verify his clan and sire. He was unable to do so in the time allocated to him. Seneschal Maldonato ordered that he leave the city.”

Caroline: Caroline frowns. “How is that possible, if clan can be determined readily, as it was for me?”

GM: “Oh, that little ritual? It’s not always reliable,” Savoy mulls.

Caroline: “In the sense that it doesn’t always give a result, or that the results can be wrong?” Caroline asks contemplatively.

GM: “Those reasons, and any of the ones that can foul up a mortal forensics test. Those can turn up false results too, can’t they, Nat?”

“They can, sir, but inaccuracies are more frequently due to human error or deliberate interference than technical issues with the testing procedures themselves,” Preston answers.

“Don’t trust anything without verifying it at least twice,” Savoy smiles.

“Yes, sir,” the Malkavian agrees.

Caroline: “A solid philosophy,” Caroline murmurs.

GM: “It’s kept me undead so far,” the elder winks. “But beyond that little truism, Miss Malveaux, it could well be none of the Anointed ever performed that ritual for our boy Raymond. They’re usually happy to use their magic in the Lance’s formal service, which administering the archdiocese’s ‘criminal justice’ affairs falls under. But with Raymond Embraced outside the city, they might well have lacked… let’s call it probable cause, to use a term perhaps more familiar to you, to pray for Longinus’ intercession upon Raymond’s behalf. Even if he were clanless, he’d broken no laws—that anyone knew of, I suppose!—and presented himself in accordance with our customs.”

Caroline: “Meaning had he asked for the ritual, and been clanless in truth, they might have been within their rights to execute him. Making asking for such a service a dangerous affair.”

GM: Savoy nods. “Even if they didn’t mean to, could be he was scared and thought they might. Letting a priest know for sure he was Caitiff wouldn’t have won him any friends either way. I’d say our boy was smart not to limit his options there.”

Caroline: “A year, and yet he’s still in the city,” Caroline murmurs. “Presumably for a reason.”

GM: “No doubt,” Savoy nods. “But wasn’t there more, Nat?”

“Yes, sir. He did leave the city, but later returned, claiming his clan as Tremere. The warlocks appeared to have little to do with him despite that claim, though that may be simply due to the clan’s insularity. Other rumors circulated that Mr. Raymond was a Ventrue or simply Caitiff. He eventually left the city again and was not seen for months.”

“Hmm. It’s a pity we couldn’t have been of help to this Raymond in uncovering his past,” Savoy muses. “It’s an easy enough way to make a new friend. Why don’t I remember his face, Nat?”

“You were not present in New Orleans at the time of his arrival in the city, sir. Other matters subsequently occupied your attention.”

“Ah yes. Well, we can’t catch them all,” the Toreador shrugs.

Caroline: “A little trip, Lord Savoy?” Caroline asks, bemused. “Anywhere interesting?”

GM: “New York, to catch up with a few friends I made after Katrina. Quite a few eyes turned to our city then.”

Caroline: “Mhmmmmm.” Caroline doesn’t quite moan. “Good shopping. The late night scene in New York must be to die for.” There’s a hint of humor in her voice.

GM: “You can imagine, Miss Malveaux!” Savoy chuckles. “I’ve always hoped my humble parish is as close to a Kindred paradise as anyone could desire, but every city has its own character.” He chuckles again. “And room for characters.”

Caroline: “Well, Lord Savoy, it did accommodate you for a time…”

GM: Savoy laughs all the harder at Caroline’s reply. “If given the choice between having character and being a character, Miss Malveaux, I can’t deny I’d have to think on that one!”

Caroline: “I don’t know they’re mutually exclusive, Lord Savoy.”

GM: “There’s always a third way,” the Toreador concurs.

Caroline: “Is there? I should think that for the lord of the French Quarter there would be only one way: to have it all.”

GM: Savoy slaps his knee as he laughs again, full and deep. “Oh mon!” he exclaims in French. (_"Oh my!") “I think we may have a harpy in the making, Nat!”

“Perhaps so, sir,” the Malkavian replies.

“Perhaps other cities will enjoy the pleasure of your company some night, Miss Malveaux,” Savoy remarks, his laughter subsiding into a grin. “Ours might be shameless, but it would still be a terrible shame if she kept you all to herself.”

Caroline: “I bet you say that to all the sireless fledgling heiresses, Lord Savoy,” Caroline smiles as she leans back and crosses her legs.

GM: “I do, Miss Malveaux. For who but the most clever and resourceful of new Kindred could dance that perilous minuet of no sire, no knowledge, and no allies—only to finish it with her partners breathless and her audience agape, not merely surviving, but prospering?” Savoy answers, his features settling into an easy smile. “‘Sireless fledgling’ is not a moniker that becomes you, my dear. You are far more than that.”

Caroline: “Lord Savoy, you must stop. You pay me more than enough compliment with these meetings.” She looks at his companion. “As I’m certain Ms. Preston is happy to tell you after each of them.”

GM: “Madam Preston, Miss Malveaux,” the Malkavian corrects without looking up from her tablet.

“What compliment I pay you for these meetings I make back tenfold from the pleasure of your company, my dear.” The smile on Savoy’s face doesn’t waver either. “I shouldn’t like another of my departures from the city to interrupt that pleasure, either. Perhaps you’d care to join me next time.”

Caroline: “Inviting a young neonate off on a flight to a foreign city with you, Lord Savoy? What would the harpies say?” Caroline asks with mock shock, one hand over her mouth. The response comes easily and gives her a moment to think about the potential benefits and dangers of such a journey… and whether she could refuse in spite of them. It’s… intriguing. “Robbing from the coffin.”

GM: “The harpies could but speak the truth, Miss Malveaux. The truth is never any greater cause for scandal—and scandalous it would be that I was so taken by any neonate.” Savoy laughs again at Caroline’s quip. “Taken enough that I would declare, to the winds with whatever they say!”

Caroline: Caroline laughs. “I can scarcely believe you could be so tactless, Lord Savoy, but it’s a very flattering and intriguing offer… one that I fear I would have to give answer to in the moment. I’m sure you understand, better than anyone, how delicate a time a beginning is, and that my time is not always my own.”

GM: The Toreador inclines his head in acknowledgement. “Of course, Miss Malveaux. We’ll speak again when I have firmer plans, and the mice are making ready to play with the cat soon away.”

Caroline: “What an interesting allusion, Lord Savoy,” Caroline seizes on. “Is that what we are? Cats and mice? I suppose both come out at night.”

GM: “The mice are the kine, Miss Malveaux,” Savoy chuckles. “We are the cats. Always, we are the cats.”

Previous, by Narrative: Story Seven, Rocco IV
Next, by Narrative: Story Seven, Milo I

Previous, by Caroline: Story Seven, Caroline VIII
Next, by Caroline: Story Seven, Caroline X, Rocco V

Previous, by Emmett: Story Three, Emmett Epilogue
Next, by Emmett: Story Eight, Arthur I, Emmett I

Story Seven, Caroline VIII

“There’s never any shortage o’ room at the bottom.”
Pierpont McGinn

Monday night, 11 October 2015, PM

GM: Caroline’s next meeting with a clanmate after Marcel takes her back to the same house in the Garden District where she usually meets Becky Lynne. The Ventrue is not there, but the vampire who has been described as her broodmate is.

Gabriel Hurst is a rectangular-faced man seemingly in his late 20s or early 30s with thick black hair, a short beard of the same color, and bright blue eyes. He’s dressed in a gray jacket and pants with a light blue button-up shirt and no tie. He’s seated on the couch where Caroline normally finds Becky Lynne and working on a laptop rather than tablet as a ghoul ushers her into the sitting room and introduces its occupant as “The Honorable Gabriel Hurst, Primogen, Esquire, Aedile, Knight Bachelor of the Order of the White Cross, and Deacon.”

Caroline: Caroline shows enough surprise to be polite, and after introductions are exchanged continues coyly, “Aedile Hurst, to what do I owe the honor of your attention this evening?”

GM: “Your sire and my sister, as it may be,” Hurst answers in a thick Louisiana drawl as he rises from kissing Caroline’s hand. “Right this way, Miss Malveaux. We’ll be goin’ on a field trip.”

Caroline: “As you will, Aedile Hurst.” She adopts an intrigued, and perhaps amused, smile.

GM: The two get into Hurst’s silver, slightly older-model Ford. The older Ventrue drives it himself and stops off first at Cullem’s Cuts, the barber shop where Caroline met his ghoul what seems like another era ago.

John McCullem is gumming an unlit cigar in his mouth and tidying up the empty shop as the two Ventrue step inside to the sound of a chiming shop’s door. He greets them with a, “Miss Malveaux, Master Gabe—forgive me, Aedile Hurst with company around,” the silver-mustached ghoul says with a wink.

Hurst chuckles as he greets the ghoul and sits down with him on one of the old-fashioned red leather chairs. McCullem talks literal shop with his domitor about how the business is doing: he starts with how one of the younger barbers suggested they install gaming consoles to keep the kids entertained. Another barber thought that sounded good initially, but then, maybe not: they have magazines and “kids oughta read more these days.” Part of the shop’s appeal with their customers is its retro image, too. On the other hand, there are drawbacks to looking too retro—especially for Kindred. Lots of businesses these days like to go for a retro modern look; embracing the new while evoking the spirit of the old. It can be a fine line to straddle, though, and ‘spirit’ can be an easy thing to get wrong, or just slightly off-kilter.

“What do you think, Miss Malveaux—how should we keep the younger customers entertained?” Hurst asks.

Caroline: Caroline mulls the idea for only a moment before responding, “My father, among the kine, rarely brought me to a place like this. Only really when I was really young,” she gestures to the barber shop, “though I know he still makes use of them, and that he brought my brothers with him with some frequency—and perhaps still does.” She smiles. “Something about how it’s part of the world of men, that he wanted to share with his ‘boys’. I was only an interloper until they were old enough.” There’s an almost wistfulness to her commentary.

“For much of the clientèle here, I imagine it must be much the same. There are cheaper, more modern, places to get a haircut, and a shave can await them in their bathroom sink if they truly desire.” Her gaze sweeps across the retro barber shop. “For them this is a place where, if they bring their sons, they can introduce them to masculine ways.” She chuckles, remembering her visits from her childhood more in feelings than specifics. “Man talk.”

“I’d not interrupt that careful harmony with a bunch of games that damage the atmosphere and distract from the image. If you felt compelled to, Aedile Hurst, I would do so carefully. Perhaps a vintage pinball machine, coin fed. Something they can use to entertain their children if need be from their own past, but that requires their ascent. In truth though, if they really do want to entertain their children and be left alone, their phones these days are the easy option. I think most would rather their children learn as much from this place, rather than occupy their attention while here.”

GM: Hurst smiles at Caroline’s answer. “You’re right, Miss Malveaux, that atmosphere is something we consider carefully in a place like this. As you say, people who just want a haircut have other options. Cheaper options.”

McCullem chuckles. “This one knows. He owns another barber shop, on the other side of town. More modern one. I’m half-convinced it’s only to keep tabs on how the competition does things.”

“You’re right about those father-son moments too, ma’am. Kids have enough distractions with just their phones these days.”

“Yes, I think we can skip the video game console,” says Hurst. “Use the money to upgrade the coffee machine. How’s the current one holding up, John?”

“It’s still got another few years left in it, Master Gabe, but I think…”

Hurst and McCullem spend the next few minutes discussing assorted minutiae of running a barber shop: replacing chairs and upholstery (one of the most expensive and important items in a barber shop, it turns out), which magazines to keep and keep up to date, placing supply orders, and how effective their current advertising methods are.

The older Ventrue regularly asks for Caroline’s input on these topics, particularly where social media presences and web design and advertising are concerned. It’s plain that neither the ghoul nor Caroline’s older clanmate are ignorant of the internet’s importance, but talking to them about it is rather like talking to Uncle Orson or her grandmother Camillia. There’s just a gulf.

Caroline: Caroline does her best to provide answers that bridge that gulf, though her relative lack of direct business experience and knowledge of their chosen industry hampers her in some ways. She’s quick to suggest that though print may be a dying art, it’s also more likely to be of greater appeal to those that value traditions like a barber shop, and that if they do continue with online advertisements such things might be better directed to the local news prints’ online presence: that such things are dirt cheap by advertising standards is no small plus.

“I picture those that are interested in something like this as more interested in their local community—and local papers have trouble with internet advertisers as it is.”

GM: Hurst and McCullem both agree with Caroline’s assessment. As she says, many of their customers are particularly likely to still read newspapers. Her points on online advertising lead to a brief foray over the state of the Times-Picayune; for a couple years the newspaper scaled back its paper presence and focused on online content, but did that with the benefit of an existing customer base. More and more papers seem to be doing that these days.

“We lucked out how the Picayune’s back in daily print,” McCullem says.

“Mr. Garcia may be partly to thank for that,” his domitor replies.

Another topic that comes up is informal performance reviews for the shop’s barbers. Skill at conversation is essential for a barber, particularly at a shop like this which focuses more on atmosphere than economy, McCullem explains to Caroline. Barbers have literally captive audiences and can build real rapports with customers to keep them coming back.

“One thing you noticed despite all the customers being gone, Miss Malveaux, is that Cullem’s Cuts is a boys-centric business,” Hurst says to Caroline. “Most of our customers are male and feel, I think, most at ease around male barbers. They see this place as a male space.”

“We recently had a lady barber apply for a position here,” continues McCullem, the unlit cigar in his mouth briefly dipping towards the floor. “I turned her down and she’s threatening to file suit for gender discrimination.”

“Got any thoughts on how we should handle that, Miss Malveaux?” Hurst asks Caroline.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t quite roll her eyes, but it’s a close thing. “Of course she is, Aedile Hurst.” She is all but openly contemptuous of the idea when he mentions the lawsuit.

She gives a moment of thought to his question.

“I expect it depends on what you’re after in terms of solution, Aedile Hurst. From a purely law-related standpoint, the most expeditious answer to most frivolous lawsuits is settlement. Once a matter goes to court it almost always costs far more in legal fees than almost any settlement will pay out, and oftentimes people can be bought out for hard pennies on the dollar.”

“Most resist the idea of essentially paying off threats—and reasonably so—but the numbers are quite clear. That’s hardly the only option, though, depending on one’s interest, commitment, and resources. Particularly the resources that ones such as ourselves enjoy.”

GM: “The clan’s new lawyer,” Hurst chuckles to McCullem. “But say this was your business, Miss Malveaux. What would you want to do?”

Caroline: She shows teeth. “I don’t like being threatened, Aedile Hurst. I’d probably have someone investigate her background—and with the gifts of some Kindred that grows all the easier—and look for something conventional to hold over her in turn. I’d also, if possible in the future, develop a salon in parallel to help nip these problems in the bud by having a carrot available to offer such applicants vice only the door. As the country grows increasingly liberal, such scenarios may only become more common.”

“I’d also consider, either as an alternative or in addition to either option burying ownership of the business deeply behind LLCs and shell corporations to make it difficult to even get a complaint or case off the ground. It’s a somewhat petty legal method, but for smaller claims like this even the shiftiest lawyer most often doesn’t want to go through the headache of trying to find out whom he’s trying to sue, assets available, and and where to file and where to serve if he does go far.”

GM: “A lawyer’s answer, Master Gabe,” McCullem says to his domitor with a chuckle. “But perhaps one we could use.”

“And one that we can use, John,” Hurst replies before turning to Caroline. “You’ve an eye for the long term, Miss Malveaux.”

Caroline: “Empires aren’t built in a day, Aedile Hurst,” comes her deadly serious response before she breaks into a smile and continues more coyly, “And I’m told that while I have few enough days left, I might enjoy a great many nights.”

GM: “Yes, empires,” Hurst says thoughtfully. “John, what else do you have for us tonight?”

“A few things here and there, Master Gabe…” the ghoul begins.

The rest of the pair’s discussions don’t take long. Caroline picks up that a barber shop’s hierarchy is determined by seating when they talk about the other barbers (ones with more seniority get chairs closest to the door), but it’s a brief tangent. McCullem talks about some other seemingly unrelated businesses with his domitor, including the other across-town shop that Hurst owns. He suggests redirecting the “lady barber” in a similar vein to what Caroline suggested with the salon, which Hurst approves of. The two Ventrue are soon headed back out the door.

Their next stop is a grocery store several blocks away. The manager ddresses Hurst as “Caleb.” The older Ventrue introduces Caroline as the relative of a “family friend” and talks shop with the woman about inventory, personnel, the physical state of the building, and a few tangentially legal-related issues. All of it seems quite mundane.

Another drive takes them to a clothing store and boy’s private school in the Lower Garden District, a hardware store and construction company in Mid-City, a landscaping business in Uptown, a restaurant in the CBD, and other businesses ranging from ice cream parlors to plumbing services to apartment rentals. Many such businesses are closed at this hour of the night, but simply drives by the location and talks with someone over the phone (in speaker mode for Caroline). Many of the people Hurst talks to address him as a boss, but not all of them do. Some relate to the Ventrue as an investor, others as a partner, others as a trustee board member, and some as a financial backer they hope to woo.

Hurst continues to solicit Caroline’s opinion on many of the topics that arise, which concern everything from the nitty-gritty (dealing with suppliers and shoplifters) to the broad (economic trends and their impact on certain job sectors) to the social (dealing with personal problems and ethical questions among employees).

“If you had to take a gander, Miss Malveaux, what domain do you think I hold?” Hurst finally asks as darkened cityscape rolls past the car’s window.

Caroline: Barber shop, grocery store, private school, hardware store, construction company, landscaping, restaurants, ice cream parlor, apartment rentals. Caroline only takes a moment to answer, having been privately considering that very topic for some time.

“Blindly speculating, Aedile Hurst, I would offer that you hold an array of seemingly unrelated properties across the city—perhaps as part of a broader set of services of use to many in Clan Ventrue as a whole.”

GM: “Good guess, Miss Malveaux,” Hurst answers. “I like to think of my business holdings as being like the perfect Thanksgiving dinner—a little bit of everything. What sorts of benefits and drawbacks do you see to that?”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “Influence, for and to most those outside the ‘1%’,” she uses the term with an ironic smile, “tends to revolve around what one can do for them. The ability to produce a job in a field they want with a phone call, arrange an apartment, or fix a day-to-day problem, or get someone into a school.” She’s seen these levers pulled many times.

“That’s real power insofar as day-to-day life.” She runs her tongue over her fangs. “Especially dispersed as it is here. I imagine that when another Kindred—or a kine—needs any such specific task, you must be in high demand, Aedile Hurst. As you note, you offer potentially a little bit of everything.”

“Additional upsides include the distributed and disbursed nature of your domain. It would be very difficult for any one rival or foe to take apart such a domain with ease—not only for difficulty in identifying it, but for difficulty in leveraging their own resources in so many areas.”

GM: “That it would,” Hurst smiles. “And you probably guessed our tour hasn’t covered all of it.”

Caroline: She pauses and nods before continuing, “Of drawbacks, though, I think this night shows several. Among them are the amount of different matters you juggle each night, Aedile Hurst. The number of projects you must keep tabs on and running appropriately. Generalization is difficult to maintain specialty in by its nature. And that’s before crossing to domains and the many that you work in. We’ve been to almost every respectable neighborhood in the city, and I imagine that even for one as well-regarded as yourself, all of those relationships and commitments present their own added challenge.”

GM: “There’s a cost to that,” Hurst nods. “I have arrangements with a fair number of Kindred. I operate a business in their territory, they get a slice of the profits, or sometimes other favors. I learned a while back to always offer profits in exchange, when I can. That doesn’t cost me anything much, not really. Not when I have forever to expand.”

Caroline: That perks Caroline’s interest. “Is that a typical arrangement?”

GM: “Oh, my sister hasn’t explained contracts of fealty to you yet?” Hurst asks.

Caroline: “We spoke about it in brief, and she mentioned such was an option, but I wasn’t aware that many regents and esquires were willing to accept such an arrangement in lieu of boons.”

GM: “Well, don’t get your hopes too up, Miss Malveaux,” Hurst smiles ruefully. “Most won’t. But here’s how it is with me.”

“Now, if my sister hasn’t explained this yet, the standard feudal contract is for feeding territory and right of hexis, or mortal influence—that’s taken from a similar Greek word to the ‘praxis’ we say princes have. A ‘half-contract’ is for just one of both, with rent only collected half as often.”

Hurst smiles again. “Now, not many Kindred will accept rent paid exclusively in money. That’s why, when I want to set up shop in another Kindred’s territory, I ask for pretty modest demands.”

“I don’t ask to take over an existing business there and promise I’ll somehow run it better. Instead, I’ll promise to create a new business out of nothing, in one of the emptier parts of their territory. Say some old apartments have been condemned by the city as unsafe.”

“Well, those get torn down, and I’ll open up a new flower store, pizza joint, new apartment building, whatever looks most profitable. I won’t ask for any domain or authority outside of that place’s walls. I make it an attractive part of the neighborhood, and it’s suddenly drawing more kine and money to the area who weren’t there before. That’s already a good thing. But the Kindred I’ve struck a deal with also gets a cut of the profits.”

“So they can have all those benefits, or they can have none of them. I don’t ask for anything else. Most Kindred are a lot happier to swallow that sort of arrangement than, say, if I can create a few ghouls inside a company they already own.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “I can see how that would be more appealing, even if it does require a longer vision and one’s thumb on the pulse of each domain.”

GM: “Empires aren’t built in a night, Miss Malveaux,” Hurst rejoinds.

Caroline: Another smile.

GM: “Still, I can imagine it’s a topic of some interest to yourself.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “Of course it’s of interest, though I don’t exactly intend of trying to expand influence across the city in quite the same way.”

GM: “How would you like to, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: “More directly service oriented, Aedile Hurst, with less direct ownership and potential interference in domains,” Caroline replies.

GM: “Gerousiastis Guilbeau mentioned your plans there, Miss Malveaux. I hope tonight’s field trip has been educational—or raised some new questions for you to chew over.”

Caroline: “It has, Aedile Hurst,” Caroline replies pleasantly. “Hopefully I was not simply a burden.”

GM: “Perish the thought,” he grins.

Thursday night, 14 October 2015, PM

GM: Caroline’s next meeting with a clanmate takes her to a familarly gigantic 4-story stone mansion with grounds enormous enough to be a public park. The house is built in the Richardson Romanesque Revival style, and even on the millionaire’s row that is St. Charles Avenue, it dwarfs its neighbors.

Caroline: It’s rather different than her last visit here. All the same, this time she brought a rental.

GM: An armed escort leads Caroline through the house. It has rare and expensive ‘flame’ mahogany covering the inside, antique tapestries, stained glass windows, and mantels from the mid-1700s. Caroline heard the stately home even has a bed once owned by Marie Antoinette.

They come to a stop in a luxuriously appointed living room. Richly upholstered, gold-decorated furniture, persian rugs, and classical portraits dominate the surroundings. Two crossed cavalry sabers hang over the empty fireplace, along with the portrait of a dashing, square-jawed, blond-haired man dressed in the gray uniform of a Confederate military officer.

Most prominently displayed is a family tree with names and genealogies that trace all the way back to Caine, whose birth date reads simply Genesis 4:1. It’s a shorter tree than others Caroline has seen, partly because each name only has one rather than two ‘parents’ listed above it. The genealogy of the house’s master proudly traces back, Pierpont McGinn, Troy Hansen, Alejandro Rojas y Batiz, Decimus Titus Optatus, Etewoklewes, Medon, Ventrue, Enoch, Caine.

It’s the same room where McGinn had her whipped.
Caroline: Tonight the heiress is alone and dressed in a black dress that leaves her shoulders almost bare and hangs to mid-knee, flaring only at the bottom. It’s minimalist by her standards, but showcases her lithe build. As before, heels accentuate her height: she looks down on most of the escorts.

GM: And for that matter, most people. Caroline waits for a few minutes before the room’s double doors swing open.

The same young-looking female ghoul as last time strides in. She’s a blue-eyed strawberry blonde with perfect Aryan announces. She announces her master’s entrance with, “Kneel in the presence of the Honorable Lord Pierpont McGinn, Regent of Uptown, Gerousiastis, Knight Banneret of the Knights of the Blood, Councilor of the Prima Invicta, Commissioner, and Earl.”

Caroline: It still grates on her nerves, on her pride, but she’s doing the best she can to turn her relationship around, and refusing the demand is a poor way to start. She takes scant comfort in the poise with which she does so and validation in her clothing choice. Something longer, or tighter, might have made things awkward.

GM: Pierpont McGinn watches Caroline kneel with an air of lazy contentment. The tall, dirty blond-haired and chalky blue-eyed Ventrue is dressed in an immaculate white seersucker suit, gray dress shirt, and red necktie. He plops down on one of the room’s chairs and accepts a proferred cigar from the ghoul.

“This is a better way for you ta be sayin’ hello than last time, Miss Malveaux, wouldn’t you reckon?” McGinn smiles.

Part of Caroline, the part that drank his blood all those months ago, cannot help but bask in his words. At his voice. He’s not angry at her.

Caroline: “It is certainly under better circumstances, Gerousiastis McGinn,” she agrees from the floor.

GM: “You have ma leave to rise,” McGinn declares magnanimously as the ghoul lights his cigar. Caroline’s Beast instinctively rears at the tiny flame’s brief presence.

Caroline: The younger Ventrue clamps down on that fatal instinct and mostly avoids shaking as she gracefully rises from her feet, like a queen rising from a throne. She cannot let that monster out here, especially now that she knows how the game is played.

“Thank you, Gerousiastis.”

GM: McGinn idly motions towards a chair with the smoking cigar.

Caroline: She slides sinuously into it, trying to avoid shying away from the waving brand.

GM: “How much do ya hate me, Miss Malveaux?” the older Ventrue smiles at her over a puff of his cigar.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t smile.

“We didn’t meet under very favorable circumstances, Gerousiastis McGinn,” she admits.

GM: McGinn takes another puff from his cigar.

Caroline: “What followed wasn’t better.”

She remembers getting whipped to ribbons like it was yesterday. Whipped by a ghoul. Stripped naked. After his ghouls attacked her on the side of the road. Her anger, her self-righteous indignation still burns hot, even months later. Even with the bond pulling on her, demanding his approval.

Ultimately, though, it is less the bond that pushes her to continue than something else: a pull to success. A demand that she swallow her pride here. That she make this work.

“A Requiem can be a long time, though, Gerousiastis, and if I held a grudge for every regrettable encounter in my earliest nights I fear there’d be very few Kindred in the city with whom I could hold a conversation.” She finally cracks a smile. “At least those of dignified breeding.”

GM: “From what I hear, Miss Malveaux, they hate ya jus’ fine on their own,” McGinn drawls back.

The older Ventrue snaps his fingers. The blonde, pretty-faced ghoul withdraws from the room.

When she reappears, it’s with two more ghouls—large, burly men half-carrying two more figures. The first is a black man. The second is a black boy in his early teens, with his hair in cornrows. Both are bound and gagged with duct tape and dressed in perspiration-soaked and slightly t-shirts and jeans.

The ghouls dump the pair on the floor by McGinn’s and Caroline’s feet. The older male emits what sounds like muffled swearing past his tape gag, but freezes when one of the ghouls holds a gun to his head. The kid just freezes.

“What’s past is past, Miss Malveaux. I’m a man who looks ta the future,” McGinn declares.

Caroline: “I’m happy to hear it, Gerousiastis McGinn. I know how easy it is for a first impression to make the wrong one.” Caroline pays the two black males as little attention as possible.

GM: McGinn clucks his tongue. “I don’t believe in wrong impressions, Miss Malveaux. Not really.”

“I believe in wrong people, though. People who are born shitheads and blame circumstance fer their own fuckups.”

“Let’s talk about the future. What do you bring to the clan?” the older Ventrue asks.

There’s a light puff of his cigar over the two duct-taped males’ heavy breathing.

Caroline: His words dig into her pride again, and the smoke is an ever present bite against her control of the Beast, but she doesn’t rise to the bait.

“I understand there’s a void left in the legal field with the departure of your sister-in-blood Rebecca DeMatthews, Gerousiastis McGinn. I intend on filling it. And anywhere else I can find that does not step on the toes of a member of Clan Ventrue or an important ally. Whatever damage my pursuit of René Baristheaut did to the reputation of Clan Ventrue, I will undo.” She leans forward. “And whatever it takes to not kneel on a floor again, I am willing to do.”

GM: McGinn barks a laugh.

“I give two hoots and a holler about Questor Baristheaut, Miss Malveaux.”

Another puff from that cigar, but a harder edge to his smile.

“I care a lot more what Gerousiastis Malveaux says about ya, though.”

Caroline: “And what does Gerousiastis Malveaux say, Gerousiastis McGinn?” she asks.

GM: Another puff. A slight widening to his grin.

“Oh, I’d be just tickled ta hear your opinion there, Miss Malveaux.”

Caroline: Her eyes remain hard. “Father Malveaux was the first to discover my Embrace. He attempted to lead me down an appropriate path.” She pauses for a moment. “I wasn’t prepared to go.”

GM: Another expectant puff from the cigar. Loud breathing from the two duct-taped males, furtive eyes still sweeping over the room.

Caroline: “I have nothing but the highest respect for Gerousiastis Malveaux. He was trying to help. I was too foolish to realize how much.”

GM: “That’s all o’ it, then?” McGinn boredly drawls.

Caroline: “Is it the place of a neonate to speak otherwise of a member of the Gerousia?” Caroline asks seriously.

GM: “Yer so full o’ shit it’s a wonder yer eyes ain’t brown, Miss Malveaux.”

Caroline: Caroline swallows her anger again, but can’t resist a response.

“That my relationship with Gerousiastis Malveaux has been strained from the moment he laid eyes upon me is no secret Gerousiastis McGinn. And why not? I was by my Embrace an infringement upon his domain that he caught infringing upon his domain that resisted and was horrified by the message of faith he preached. By simply existing I remain a headache for his continued management of his domain.”

She pauses. “I could enumerate the many grievances we might have against one another, but hold them to be of little value if I am to have any future in Clan Ventrue,” she finishes firmly.

GM: “Tell me then, Miss Malveaux, what future do ya see for yerself in the clan, with things as they are now?” McGinn asks.

The two bound black males follow the pair’s conversation with looks of simultaneous confusion and apprehension.

Caroline: “Poor. Limited.” Another pause. “Unlikely.”

GM: Another puff of the cigar. McGinn looks expectant, still. Maybe even more. But no longer toying at all. His grin is gone.

Caroline: “Poor relationships with half of the Gerousia bodes ill. I expect such with any one member might be enough. Even if by some virtue of propriety none object overtly, beginning with enemies among the most powerful Ventrue in the city seems to chase failure.”

GM: Another puff. That same, still-expectant look.

Caroline: “That is why I came to you early in the process, Gerousiastis McGinn.” The heiress continues. “I hope that a first meeting did not hopelessly poison any future between us, and if it did, I would know early, before consuming the time of others within the clan in an entirely selfish endeavor with little prospects.”

GM: “I don’t much like ta repeat myself, Miss Malveaux,” McGinn drawls. “What’s past is past. I’m a man who looks ta the future.”

Another puff of the cigar.

“Rightchere, that’s yours with the good father, and the rest o’ our peers.”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t frown, but the stern expression on her face deepens. “I am, and have been, working to remove myself as much as possible from affairs surrounding Gerousiastis Malveaux’s domain. The matter is complicated by the recent death of my brother and a desire to avoid bringing too much attention—or worse negative attention—to it in too short of a time. I think given time, stability within the Sanctified, and distance from matters he cares for so deeply, that passions may cool.”

“Among the rest, I’ve had relatively productive meetings with Gerousiastis Guilbeau, Aediles Hurst, and of course Questor Adler.”

“With their guidance I’ve begun to set up a fledgling domain,” (is that a hint of a smile at the use of the word?), “of my own in the Central Business District, and even entertained a handful of Kindred ‘clients’ willing to test the waters of a newcomer.”

GM: McGinn takes another puff of his cigar and looks towards the older of the duct-taped males. Caroline can still smell his fear, sweat, and of course, lifebloood. Even drying.

“You see, Miss Malveaux, that kine there…” The older Ventrue starts, then trails off with a wide grin.

“Ah, it don’t matter. He’s done me wrong. What should I do with ’im?”

Caroline: Caroline’s sweeps her gaze to the bound kine. She doesn’t wonder what he might have done to wrong her clanmate: she can easily speculate as to several possible options, including simply existing as a black man or coming here to send a message.

“Whatever you wish, Gerousiastis McGinn. He is one of the kine.”

The smell of the smoke, the flickering tip of the cigar, and the blood in the air battle for her attention, but she tries to remain clearheaded.

“His presence for the rest of this conversation however makes me suspect your question is more about how to arrive at an end, rather than what end to arrive at. Unless I miss my guess, Gerousiastis McGinn?” She looks up and to the older Ventrue.

GM: McGinn snubs out the cigar into an ash tray and stares at Caroline.

“I asked you, girl,” he drawls in a low voice. “If ya don’t much care fer yer opinion bein’ asked, I can tell the rest o’ the Structure ta stop. That ya’d rather grovel on the floor than sit at the table.”

He holds out a hand and the comely ghoul produces another fat cigar. There’s another too-long wisp of fire, and then more smoke wafting from the Ventrue’s grinning mouth as he puffs on the newly-lit cigar.

“There’s never any shortage o’ room at the bottom.”

Caroline: She clenches her jaw through the next flash of flame. Doing it to make a point, she decides. She’s seen her uncle smoke on occasion, but it’s just that, on occasion. Never in sequence.

The thought is swept away with the next wave of scorn from McGinn.

“You have two, Gerousiastis McGinn,” she gestures. “At least one as wronged you enough to be brought before you in this way. Kill one, frame the other that committed the lesser offense for the murder for a cleaner package before the Masquerade, while also providing him an opportunity to suffer and potentially turn from his ways in prison—or at least serve as an example.”

GM: “The little one’s ’is brother,” McGinn drawls. “Bystander in this all. He hasn’t chosen ta do anything ’gainst me and mine.”

The older brother’s eyes widen. Perspiration gleams on his forehead as he starts making muffled exclamations through his duct tape gag. The guards cock their weapons as the agitated man jostles in place, but McGinn just smiles.

The kid looks between Caroline and McGinn with equally wide eyes, but doesn’t struggle or try to say anything.

Caroline: “Depending on the nature of his brother’s offense then, it may be all the more appropriate, Gerousiastis McGinn,” she observes.

GM: “Bullet ta the brain for him, the Farm for his kid, then,” the older Ventrue repeats over a puff of his cigar. He jerks his thumb. “Git a tarp.”

MMMM-MPH!” the bound man exclaims, frantically struggling against his bonds.

The kid moans past his gag and starts crying.

Footsteps sound as one of the guards departs the room. He returns with a large plastic tarp and lays part of it down over a far corner of the sitting room’s floor. He duct-tapes the rest up to the walls, then grabs the bound man together with his fellow and hauls him over. The man bucks, emits more muffled shouts, and casts furtive looks at his gagged but screaming brother the whole way. There’s a shot, still loud despite the silencer, a splatter, and red over plastic.

The gagged boy screams.

Caroline: Caroline watches it all through hard eyes. The sound of the tarp crinkling as it is moved into place and the tape tearing brings back uncomfortable and chilling memories of helplessness and agony, but she remains silent, her lips pressed together in an emotionless line and her face very still. Perhaps it gives away too much—bit its less than she would reveal otherwise. Everything about the memory is still raw.

As the man starts to struggle and the teen starts to cry, she clinches her teeth all the firmer. She’s killed before—with her own hands. Inflicted terrible and horrible violence, especially in the throes of the Beast’s rage. She’s even ordered others killed: the ghouls of Eight-Nine-Six gunned down by soldiers of fortune that they never had a chance against by her order. This is different. She’s here for this. She has no animosity towards either of them. They’re simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. She doesn’t even know what they did wrong—a decision she cannot view as accidental by the cruel elder monster beside her.

She watches the shot, and not only because she’s all but ordered the death. No, the murder. She watches because it means she isn’t looking at Gerousiastis McGinn when the shot goes off. Maybe he would give something away. She doesn’t care. A shot, a splatter, and a splash of running red. A life snuffed out with all the effort of squishing a bug. She can’t even tell herself this is truly God’s will. This is no Sanctified killing. She doesn’t know his sins, simply his misstep. One she too made: stepping into the sights of Gerousiastis McGinn by stepping on his toes.

Distantly, detached, she hopes they used low velocity ammunition: otherwise the bullet is likely to go through the body and tear through the tarp. Surely, given the cool efficiency with which it was all done though, that is a lesson long ago learned. Either way, it’s not really her problem, just something her mind is trying to use to distract herself from the casual murder of one, and the destruction of the life of another.

It all leaves her feeling cold: and not simply because she’s dead. Some part of her, the human part locked away, screams inside her head at what she’s done, at what she’s become, that human life is so cheap now. But that part seems to grow quieter all the time: most days its barely a whisper.
There’s something louder driving her, something she can’t ignore or tune out in the same way.

She turns back to her fellow Ventrue.

GM: McGinn puffs his cigar contentedly.

“I’m a God-fearin’ man, Miss Malveaux, but I’m not one o’ the Sanctified.”

Caroline: “So I’ve been told, Gerousiastis McGinn. Your position of prominence among the Invictus is well known.”

GM: “It don’t much matter ta me if the kid turns from his ways or doesn’t in prison. God’ll sort it all out. And killin’ his own brother?” McGinn makes a look of mock surprise. “Ma, ma. That’s a tough story ta swallow without more details.”

“Kin do like ta avenge kin, though.” A faint sneer over another puff. “Shootin’ their problems is all these kine know how ta do.”

McGinn jerks his thumb to the guards, who grab the hysterical youth by the scruff of his shirt and drag him across the floor. There’s another scream, another shot, another splatter, and more red.

The older Ventrue contentedly puffs his cigar.

“No loose ends, Miss Malveaux.”

“No half-measures.”

Caroline: “I understand.”

It’s staggering how quickly one can become accustomed to awful things like murder. Then again, maybe it’s in the blood. Wasn’t it Caine’s first sin too?

GM: “Good,” McGinn smiles. “That’s what yer real lesson here tonight is all about.”

He leans back in his chair and takes another puff of his cigar. “First, yer a brat.”

“Or a ‘self-loathin’ brat with fangs’, as the Lady Adelais called ya.” The older Ventrue chuckles. “That heartless bitch does have a way with words.” The insult’s phrasing sounds more like a compliment.
“Yer a brat ‘cause you’ve shat on the good father and expect the rest o’ us not ta mind one bit. You say ya don’t ever want ta kneel again?”

McGinn barks a laugh. “You think that’s impressed me, or anyone, when ya haven’t done a thing ta clear yer name? When you say yer waitin’ so his passions cool? You aren’t fit ta do anything but kneel right now, girl.”

“Ya may think yer showin’ dignitas by not shit-talkin’ the good father, or bein’ clever by not fessin’ up ta yer sins. Ya ain’t. Everyone in the Structure knows yer history. Everyone knows why Gerousiastis Malveaux doesn’t like you. Any give ya found comin’ yer way from Gerousiastis Guilbeau, from Aedile Hurst, from Questor Adler…”

McGinn leisurely waves his cigar. “It comes from their bein’ strong, not from you bein’ strong. It comes from their wantin’ to bring in a clanmate from the cold. And it’s all in spite o’ how ya’ve been actin’, darlin’, not because o’ it.”

The regent takes another puff of his cigar. “I’ll tell ya somethin’ of myself, Miss Malveaux. I was born too late ta fight in the War o’ North Aggression, but just in time ta see the Yanks destroy all my family had worked ta build for generations.”

“I rebuilt our fortunes from nothing by the sweat of ma brow. I did that in spite o’ all the scalawags, carptebaggers, and other parasites working to destroy what made our homeland great. When the niggers went cryin’ ta the Freedman’s Bureau fer land and handouts, seized from families like mine, I put in an honest day’s work. The fruits I reaped were of ma own plantin’ and toil. I earned ma sire’s Embrace.”

“There is nothing, nothing, I’ve got more contempt for than charity, Miss Malveaux. Make no mistake, that is what you are ta the clan right now. Probably the Sanctified too. A charity case.”

McGinn takes another puff of his cigar. “Me, now, I’d never take charity. I’ll never give ya charity, not like the others are.”

“What I am prepared ta offer ya is respect—mine and theirs—fer a fair and honest exchange.”

“Ya want respect, it’s time ta show us you’ve grown up and deserve it. Humble yerself before the good father and ask his forgiveness fer how ya’ve impugned his dignitas. Show ya can give somethin’ back fer all that time, advice, and lessons Gerousiastis Guilbeau and Aedile Hurst have lavished on yer sorry self completely fer free.”

“Say sorry ta the good father, and ya’ll have my vote to induct you into the Structure… as well as ma guidance, ma advice, and if ya sell me on yer domain havin’ promise, my patronage and backin’. There’s a few things I could use a Kindred lawyer fer, and connections I have the other gerousia don’t.”

McGinn leans forward closer to Caroline and lowers his voice. “And just case yer petty, scared, and yeller-bellied enough ta wonder if the rest o’ us would all back Gerousiastis Malveaux after you humbled yerself and he spat on ya, you’ve got a lot to learn on what dignitas is. There’ll be no hidin’ behind that excuse.”

McGinn leans back in his chair. “Ya can be part o’ somethin’ greater with us all, or ya can nurse yer grudge by yerself as we carry on without ya.”

He gestures to the two ruined corpses being wrapped up in bloody plastic by his ghouls.

“All in or all out, Miss Malveaux. It’s yer call.”

Caroline: Caroline listens silently through the elder Ventrue’s lecture. By it’s end she looks as through she’s been slapped. Silence hangs in the air behind his last remark. She can’t tell what stings more, the faint feeling that she’s disappointed him or the outright anger generated by the scorn in so much of what he’s said.

She tries to push both feelings away as treacherous and flighty emotions with limited success. It’s easier to abandon a conscience than the feelings created by the Blood or those so at home for the Beast.

When she is finally allowed to speak, both still color her words. “Gerousiastis Malveaux has declined to meet with me. He’s arranged a ghoul in his stead. Do you recommend, Gerousiastis McGinn, that I deliver such an apology by proxy?”

GM: “Gerousiastis Malveaux will meet with ya in person, fer an apology,” McGinn answers, puffing his cigar again.

Caroline: “As you say, Gerousiastis McGinn,” comes her emotionless reply.

She bites her tongue for a moment before continuing, “Might I ask the details of what Gerousiastis Malveaux has shared, lest I have overlooked something, Gerousiastis McGinn?” Caroline asks carefully.

GM: McGinn puffs his cigar. “He’s told us all plenty.”

“He started with with findin’ ya in his domain, screwin’ with his archbishop’s head. Ya went along with him to Perdido House without resisting, an’ between that an’ you bein’ fresh off the turnip trick, he was prepared ta overlook that trespass.”

“He said ya comported yerself with fair dignitas at what could’ve been yer execution.”

“He told us how he was made yer confessor. He kept the details o’ what was said in the box between him and you, save that he had no significant objections ’gainst your character.”

“He told us how later ya broke the Masquerade with one o’ his kine, another kine friend o’ yers, an’ screwed with the former’s head again. He told us ya’d confessed this sin ta Hound Agnello, who had ya confess it ta him all nice an’ proper, so he showed mercy. He fixed up all the kines’ memories, sent ‘em home, an’ turned yer friend inta a ghoul so ya’d learn ta be responsible for something.”

The older Ventrue puffs his cigar. “The rest o’ the Gerousia considered that a wise call.”

“He also said ya omitted information ta Hound Agnello about one o’ Harlequin’s ghouls who’d been caught in that mess, hopin’ she’d git off lighter. He said the hound magnanimously agreed ta overlook you makin’ his job harder in return fer joinin’ a krewe.”

Another puff. “The Gerousia considered that a wise call too.”

“The good father said he next saw ya for yer second, regularly scheduled confession. Outside o’ whatever was discussed there, he said ya appeared interested in the Sanctified’s faith, and he attempted ta illuminate yer understanding. He also said ya asked ta mess with his kines’ memories,” here McGinn smirks, “no doubt o’ course fer the Masquerade—an’ that he granted ya permission, which he has since retracted.”

McGinn takes a slower puff of his cigar.

“He also said he was gravely, gravely disappointed by yer efforts in the penance he’d assigned last week. He wouldn’t say how, ‘cept that it was one o’ the sorriest penances ta ever perk his sweet ears. He said he told ya that level o’ effort would not fly, and further encouraged ya ta join the Storyvilles or some other krewe, so ya’d have someone ta show ya the ropes o’ things.”

“He said he next saw ya fer the showdown where Sheriff Donovan staked an’ bagged yer sire.” McGinn smiles. “He had a lot ta say there. Makin’ the sheriff’s job harder at e’ry turn. Even one o’ yer ghouls bein’ a hunter he had ta put down.”

McGinn smiles. “That’s probably news ta ya, isn’t it? He said ya’d done one o’ the sorriest jobs bringin’ her inta the Blood he’d ever witnessed.”

The older Ventrue snaps his fingers. “Ah yes, knew I was fergettin’ something. He also said ya’d let yer other ghoul, that kine friend, get abducted by a krewe o’ kaintuck Anarchs.”

“He said at yer next weekly confession, ya’d disappointed him again. He said ya’d failed ta even start one o’ his assigned penances this time, and waited ‘til the due date ta give ’im some BS excuse why ya couldn’t. Yer other penance, he said, ya did just as sorry a job on as last time.”

“He said ya didn’t have any word on yer missin’ ghoul. Said ya still hadn’t joined a krewe, like he and the hound advised.”

“All this, the night after Strategos Vidal personally oversaw yer release, induction inta the Sanctified, and presentation before the clan.”

McGinn does not smile or puff his cigar. He merely shakes his head.

“Gerousiastis Malveaux’s report after then should have been fuckin’ glowin’.

“He said he didn’t feel you’d taken seriously any of the responsibilities ya’d been assigned, e’en few as they were, and threatened excommunication if ya didn’t shape up. He said fer yer next confession, ya fulfilled the penance he assigned—but not the way he told ya to do it. Still no word on any krewe. He said ya hadn’t once shown any sign o’ remorse or contrition fer all yer mistakes, so he cut ya loose. He then said he wanted you out o’ his domain, fer good, with a nice an’ easy suicide or accident. And he then said, last o’ all, ya pitched a scheme ta frame a bunch o’ niggers for yer murder so yer daddy could score some points with voters.”

McGinn smiles. “Has Questor Adler told you about the Enquerry, darlin’? The good father said if ya didn’t have it in you to take care o’ one horse, or one ghoul, or one o’ any o’ those other things he trusted ya with, Satan would be ice-skatin’ ta work before he let ya carry out that plan under his watch.”

McGinn leans back and puffs his cigar. “Violet, can your darlin’ lil’ head think o’ any details I might have missed?”

The blonde ghoul shakes hers as she answers, “I don’t rightly think I can, Gerousiastis McGinn.”

The other Ventrue grins back at Caroline. “There ya have ’em then, Miss Malveaux. The full details.”

Caroline: The young Ventrue listens stoically to her enumerated sins against her distant relative. When the elder Ventrue has seemingly had his fill she speaks.

“Thank you, Gerousiastis McGinn. That was… enlightening as to Gerousiastis Malveaux’s position and specific grievances.”

GM: “Tickled ta be o’ help, Miss Malveaux,” McGinn answers over a puff of his cigar.

Caroline: Just one more question, Gerousiastis McGinn. Were all of these offenses against then-Aedile Malveaux made before or after you plotted with René Baristheaut to abduct, frame, and further blood bond me? I find it so difficult to keep track of when I was a Ventrue beholden to clan elders, and when I was just a sireless fledgling unworthy of any protection or regard that those same elders were plotting to destroy for their convenience or profit.

The heiress’ inner dialogue has grown dark indeed this night, regardless of what she says. It’s a skill she’s practiced over many others, and not only since her Embrace. Putting on a smiling face in the face of the distasteful. Rarely though, prior to her Embrace, was she so directly called upon to use it.

“One more question, if I may, Gerousiastis McGinn?” she asks finally.

GM: McGinn motions with his cigar for her to proceed.

Caroline: “I heard a story about you, Gerousiastis McGinn, that you were awarded your regency because you organized a visit by a number of prominent Invictus and others in New Orleans to another nearby city. Is there any truth to that?”

GM: McGinn barks a laugh, smoke spilling from his mouth. “I reckon that’s one way ya could put it.”

He smiles at her. “Kindred liked what they heard about the lil’ trip I’d organized, darlin’. That’s the truth that counts.”

Caroline: “Appearances are everything and perception is reality,” Caroline agrees, “but it seems to me that mistaking perception is truth has the potential to result in unfortunate surprises Gerousiastis McGinn.”

GM: The Ventrue grins and puffs on the last of his cigar.

“Those do so keep the game interestin’, Miss Malveaux.”

Tuesday night, 19 October 2015, PM

GM: Becky Lynne mentions at Caroline’s next ‘lesson’ with her that Lictors Hollans and Kingolai are no longer in New Orleans, and haven’t been for a little while. “Business for the strategos seems to’ve called them away earlier than we all were reckonin’—ah well, we’ll expect them back soon enough. In fact, the timing rather works out. Once you’re inducted into the Structure, you can be accepted into smaller clubs and societies within it.”

Lictor Cingolai, Becky Lynne adds, is a member of the Hague—a society of blue bloods who study the theory and application of the Camarilla’s Traditions. They also serve as arbiters in intraclan tribunals and provide general legal counsel (many of their members have backgrounds in mortal as well as Kindred law). Gerousiastis Matheson’s defender and prosecutor during his trial were both members of the Hague. No members currently reside in New Orleans, but induction into the society—“and any other ones that strike your fancy”—will allow Caroline opportunities to network with Ventrue from other cities, should she be recommended for membership.

Before they get to that, Gerousia Guilbeau and McGinn seem to have persuaded Gerousiastis Malveaux to meet with Caroline, Becky Lynne is “tickled to say.” If the younger Ventrue also wishes to do so, which Becky Lynne presumes, she coordinates schedules and asks whether Caroline would like to “run anything past [her].”

Caroline: “That sounds like a very polite way of encouraging someone to vet their plans through a more experienced Kindred,” Caroline replies.

GM: “If you think it’d be helpful for that reason too, Miss Malveaux, so much the better,” the older Ventrue smiles.

Caroline: The heiress bites her lip for a moment before responding, “My relationship with Gerousiastis Malveaux has been complicated from the onset, and became no clearer with time, what with the matter of René Baristheaut, damage to his domain as a result, and matters of faith that saw little common ground.”

GM: Becky Lynne does not immediately reply to this, but waits to let Caroline say her full piece.

Caroline: The heiress doesn’t beat around the bush. Gerousiastis McGinn made his expectations clear in no uncertain terms, but she expects a poor reception from Gerousiastis Malveaux. She’d like to bury the hatchet with him, but has concerns about how to do so without the priest simply finding more fault with her.

GM: “Then we’re on the same page, as that’s somethin’ we’d both like to see you do,” Becky Lynne nods before asking what Caroline wants to do at their meeting to improve the father’s opinion of her.

Caroline: Caroline probes a bit into her ’teacher’s’ knowledge of the elder Malveaux’s preferences, and ways in which she might make a better impression in what might be her last opportunity.
She inquires as to what his past accomplishments have been, and why he is so well respected.

GM: “Not to be playin’ coy, Miss Malveaux, but I might ask you to mull that one over before I share my two cents,” Becky Lynne answers. “What do you suppose the good father has done to earn his seat at the Gerousia’s table?”

Caroline: “Beyond surviving a century or more. Questor Adler?” Caroline asks. “His prominent position within the Sanctified jumps to mind.”

GM: “Surviving one hundred years isn’t quite enough to join the Gerousia by itself, Miss Malveaux. Nor does the Structure pay much mind to clanmates’ positions within the covenants.”

Caroline: “His control of the Malveaux family,” Caroline continues, before again pausing. “Though in truth, I don’t rightly know.”

GM: “Put some thought into it,” Becky Lynne encourages. “What he’s done with your mortal family could be a start.”

Caroline: The Ventrue brushes her hair out of her face as she adjusts. It’s an uncomfortable thought, that so much of her family’s success might belong to the Albino.

“The success of Malveaux Oil, control of the Catholic Church in New Orleans over generations. Riding out the Civil Rights movement.”

GM: “Those first two are estimable accomplishments,” the older Ventrue agrees. “Establishing a worthwhile domain is an important component of any clanmate’s dignitas. What else do you think has contributed to the good father’s?”

Caroline: Caroline speculates, “Perhaps events during Hurricane Katrina or other crises.”

GM: “Is that what makes up a clanmate’s dignitas, the domain they hold and their actions during tryin’ times?”

Caroline: Along with the timely deaths of a few of their own superiors, it would certainly seem so, Caroline thinks.

“Their actions across their Requiem, Questor Adler, but I must imagine that those in such trying times hold more weight than in an ordinary night. I suspect Gerousiastis McGinn might agree. One’s bearing and activities when under pressure often says more than when at ease, no?”

GM: “Pressure shows what someone is really made of,” Becky Lynne nods,

She finally goes on to explain that Gerousiastis Malveaux has earned dignitas through his decades of loyal service to the clan, which has included; serving as the Structure’s premier (and sole) occultist and blood magician, and volunteering these abilities repeatedly on the clan’s behalf; making valuable inroads with the Lancea et Sanctum and Malkavian clan; maintaining good relations with the sheriff and his hounds, to whom he serves as confessor (the Ventrue have lacked a member on this coterie since Robert Bastien’s final death); his accomplishments with the Malveaux family and Catholic Church; his specific awards and, two of which include the Cornix and Exorcist; valorous defense of the city during the yearly Sabbat incursions, for which he has earned several awards; his steadfast opposition to the new regimes in Houston and Baton Rouge that deposed Ventrue princes; valorous service during Hurricane Katrina; his service to Vidal as steward of the Garden District; his zeal and accomplishments in advancing Ventrue interests among the other clans; the good relations he maintains with all of the other gerousiastes; his mentorship to Questor Polk and Eiren Gerlette; and his simple age, bloodline, and proximity to Caine. Caroline gets the impression Becky Lynne could enumerate a great many further specific examples, and that she also considers Father Malveaux a Kindred worthy of respect and admiration.

Matheson’s childe also states that Caroline “would’ve had to go back and hit the books” if this had been a question on an exam, and makes plain that she is expected to know the accomplishments of her clanmates. Still, she adds, “Good on you to be askin’. Better now than never.”

Becky Lynne then smiles as she asks, “For the next question on your pop quiz,” bearing this additional context in mind, how Caroline “plans to mend fences” with Gerousiastis Malveaux at their meeting. The younger Ventrue has the impression that her tutor genuinely is quizzing her just as much as seeking to offer constructive input.

Caroline: “Not showing further disrespect. Divesting myself of continued interaction with his domain. Offering a boon would show a truly deep apology,” Caroline replies. “Continued respect and growth within the faithful.” She considers. “Perhaps leaning on my confessor to put in a good word.”

GM: “Offering a boon is a solid way to back up an apology and show someone it’s really serious, if you’ve done them real wrong,” Becky Lynne nods. “That’s a good idea, Miss Malveaux. Promises and assurances probably won’t be up the good father’s creek, so what are some tangible ways you might be able to back up those other ideas of yours around him?”

Caroline: “I’ve been planning my ‘demise’ in the public eye for some time. I’ve coordinated with Harlequin to try to ensure it goes off without a hitch, had him vet my plan for potential problems. I think being less directly involved with Gerousiastis Malveaux’s domain would go far in putting an end to our continued friction. It’s simply complicated with the death of my brother. Two deaths in short order appearing suspicious… and potentially damaging to his domain.”

GM: “It does sound like a tricky situation,” Becky Lynne nods. “Given that, the good father might feel better if you were to offer to coordinate with him. I’m sure he’s already keeping track of developments, of course, and will step in if he’d prefer things to go a different way, but just hearin’ it from you could go a ways.”

Caroline: “I did offer to coordinate, but the matter is further complicated by the prince’s stake in my mortal father’s position as a senator. The prince, by proxy, agreed to my proposed plan in principle, but Gerousiastis Malveaux objected to it.”

GM: Becky Lynne raises her eyebrows at this. “I’m sorry, Miss Malveaux, but am I to take it that you went over his head?”

Caroline: “At the time it seemed prudent,” Caroline replies dryly.

GM: Becky Lynne shakes her head. “Well, that needs to get fixed right away. The Hussar no doubt figured you’d already cleared it with the good father.”

Caroline: The Ventrue runs her tongue over her fang. “The matter is more complicated than that in ways I cannot readily disclose, Questor Adler. Suffice it to say, I had numerous reasons for doing as I did, including admittedly attempting to leverage broader support for the idea against Gerousiastis Malveaux’s known hostility.”

Reckless perhaps, to admit as much, but Caroline’s had just about enough of being thought the fool by the blonde across the table. There’s the old adage, that it is better to be thought a fool in silence than known a fool by one’s words, but Caroline is too familiar with politics, and social interactions, and communities of predators. Being thought a fool is more than enough, and silence—save in an interrogation room—provides no relief or opportunity. Something needs to change.

GM: If any such derisive thoughts were running through Becky Lynne’s head, her pretty features give no indication of them. She isn’t smiling anymore, but neither does she look upset or even surprised by the admission as she replies, “I’m glad that you’re now fixin’ to make a good name for yourself within the clan instead, Miss Malveaux. I’ll be frank, this is some extra spilled milk to clean up—but I think we’re up for the job too.”

“If I were you, I would fess up to the good father how you tried to go over his head—better if he hears it from you than the Hussar. I’d say sorry for it, and bring a detailed plan of how you plan to fake your death—exactly the way he’s said he wants it done—and ask him if he’d be so gracious as to look it over for potential Masquerade hiccups. Ask him if there’s any other ways you could make things more convenient for him. Make plain that you are deferring to him on this, and I think it will do a lot to help smooth things over between you.”

Caroline: Caroline listens attentively, nodding before the other Ventrue has finished her suggested course of action.

“Are you much a student of philosophy, Questor Adler?”

GM: “In passing, Miss Malveaux. I’ve tried to read all the great classics, but I’m hardly Seneschal Maldonato,” Becky Lynne smiles.

Caroline: “Sartre may have passed you by, then,” the heiress smiles in turn.

“He was a 20th century French philosopher. Controversial in his time. And so he remains.” She continues, “One of his major contentions is that we are all, in truth, whether or not we should deny it or not, free to do as we wish. No course of action is closed to us, as we are thinking beings able to define ourselves at all times, rather than inanimate objections that can only be what they are.”

“A table,” she gestures to the low one between them, “can only be a table. It does not have any options available to it. It cannot chose to do anything else, but a man,” a grin, “or woman might choose to take any action at any time. Do you follow, Questor Adler?”

Caroline pauses her explanation for a moment to ensure she hasn’t lost her companion.

GM: “Not to jump back into ‘tutor mode,’ Miss Malveaux,” Becky Lynne smiles, “but don’t ask your elders if they follow—presume that they’re sharp tacks who already do.” She motions. “But please, don’t let me interrupt. What education I’ve received in philosophy, like I’ve said, was more focused on the classics.” Another smile. “It makes a nice change to have you be the one instructin’ me here.”

Caroline: “A point well taken, Questor Adler,” Caroline agrees. “In any case, Sartre advocated all manner of other ideas,” she laughs lightly, “that I expect most Ventrue, especially our elders, would absolutely hate. Among them the idea that one should not allow anyone else’s expectations to in any way color your own existence, lest it lead to a less true version of yourself, but for the purposes of this topic I’ll limit myself to his idea of ‘radical freedom.’”

“Faced with a choice, say when faced with a blocked path on a mountain pass which immediately presents only a single option—turn back—he would argue you in fact have several choices. You might turn back, or you might attempt to dig out the pass, or you might throw yourself from the cliff to your death. Any claim as to not having a choice in a matter, he would claim was false. There is always a choice.”

Another smile.

“In the spirit of radical freedom I will not claim that I have no choice but to defy Gerousiastis Malveaux’s wishes on the manner of my death, but I have no doubt that you might read between the lines when I say as much, Questor Adler,” Caroline finishes rather soberly. “It would be much easier in almost every way to do as he wishes,” she clarifies.

GM: Becky Lynne taps her chin contemplatively.

“Puttin’ questions of philosophy aside for a minute, Miss Malveaux, you’ve told me that you have no realistic choice but to fake your death by means of a plan the good father doesn’t much like—but that the prince agreed to your plan by proxy. Do you see how things might look from where I’m sittin’?” she asks.

Caroline: “I can see how the possibilities begin to present themselves,” Caroline agrees. She gestures between them. “Is this anything more than a business arrangement, Questor Adler?”

GM: “This has been more than a business arrangement with every clanmate you’ve met, Miss Malveaux,” Becky Lynne answers seriously. “The Structure is made stronger—and my sire, brother, and I made stronger—by the success of every clanmate. Whether I’m your au pair or not, so long as we share the same blood, I would like to see you succeed and find a place for yourself within the clan.”

Caroline: “Of course, Questor Adler, but with no other have I spent many a night cloistered together in a room.” She crosses her legs. “We both know of course that you would not have been here to begin with but for the gracious offer you and your sire extended, but what I’m getting at is a simpler question: do you have any affection for me? Plainer still, can I trust you?”

A faint smile. “Or I suppose in the spirit of Sartre, should I?”

GM: “To quote a thinker from my own education, ‘every heart sings a song, incomplete, until another heart whispers back,’” Becky Lynne smiles in turn. “Whether you can, I’ll leave for my actions from our time together to speak for themselves. Whether you should… the Requiem is a dark existence, Miss Malveaux. Trusting others of our kind doesn’t come easily—but I’ve found, after extendin’ my own to a handful, that it’s helped make my Requiem just a bit less dark.”

Caroline: Caroline rolls her tongue across her fangs, and after a moment finally seems to make a decision.

“The sheriff is no friend to me. Nor has he been, or would I expect it. The night he learned of my existence was the night the death warrant for a former fellow hound was written. While I don’t know that I’ve ever managed to rise to the level of enemy for him,” she smiles, “too small, he has rarely been inclined to act in my favor.”

She pauses. “If you can accept that, everything else becomes much clearer.”

GM: Becky Lynne nods at this for Caroline to go on.

Caroline: “René Baristheaut was no fickle neonate. He was a well-regarded, and so far as I can tell, well respected former hound in good standing with Clan Ventrue and specifically with numerous powerful individuals in the city, from Gerousiastis McGinn, to Mr. Savoy, to the serpents. Even were he not, he was more than a century old and in addition to his knowledge and personal power even had elder ghouls at his service. And contrary to how he may have presented himself at his execution, he was far from eager to meet his end, and not exactly screaming ‘stake me’ when we met for the first time.”

She tilts her head. “I, in contrast, was and remain a fledgling Kindred of no standing among Clan Ventrue or any other group, with few such avenues of power open, a handful of ghouls I barely knew, and half a dozen Kindred enemies in the first nights of my Requiem. No one was exactly interested in backing the underdog for free, Questor Adler. Especially not with other events going on in the city if much greater importance than the city’s newest fledgling, vis-a-vis your sire.”

GM: “There are some things the Requiem changes, and a lot that it doesn’t,” Becky Lynne answers with a fainter than usual smile.

Caroline: “Plenty of my errors have been mine alone. Mistakes made as I learned of and adjusted to my Requiem.” A discomforted look passes over Caroline’s face, but is gone in a moment. Her voice is steady when her expression returns to a resting one. “But there were costs associated with that ‘victory’ too, Questor Adler. Obligations, expectations, requirements, and outright demands.”

There’s a bitter humor to in her voice as she finishes, “Difficult though it may be to believe, I do not simply enjoy doing everything in the most difficult way possible, or thumbing my nose at those in power simply because.”

GM: “The Anarchs can make a more welcomin’ home for those who do,” Becky Lynne comments, but once again does not seem to wish to interrupt.

Caroline: “I doubt they’re likely to excuse the destruction of four of their own,” Caroline replies.

GM: “An unfortunate bit of business there for all parties,” Becky Lynne nods.

Caroline: “In many ways,” Caroline agrees.

“In any case,” she shifts from the topic of Eight-Nine-Six. If she were still living she might sigh, but she’s not. Instead her shoulders simply sag for a moment before she straightens her posture. “I doubt any Kindred’s Requiem is so simple as it might appear on the surface.”

GM: “They rarely are,” Becky Lynne nods in agreement.

Caroline: “In any case, I did not attempt to ignore and disrespect Gerousiastis McGinn simply to do so.”

GM: Becky Lynne gives another, fainter nod of understanding, but waits for Caroline to go on.

Caroline: “It nonetheless leaves me with few choices where he is concerned.”

GM: Becky Lynne again waits for Caroline to go on.

Caroline: The Ventrue falls silent, however, having apparently expressed her position adequately.

GM: It’s an awkward moment when she realizes that Becky Lynne is apparently still waiting for her half-explanation to build towards more.

The older Ventrue, however, is the one to finally break the silence.

“The present consensus within the Structure, Miss Malveaux, is that you ask your clanmates for much while offerin’ little in return.”

Caroline: “A bit of a catch-22 there, Questor Adler, as few are inclined to allow me to do anything for or with them until I’ve made something of myself already.” She tilts her head. “How can I change that view with yourself?”

GM: Becky Lynne shakes her head. “No, Miss Malveaux, I’m afraid you’ve received plenty chances in ways large and small.”

Caroline: Caroline scowls in anger, annoyance, or perhaps frustration. Her voice remains even.

“I asked for nothing. Not even a seat at the table. You offered.”

GM: “All right, Miss Malveaux, I reckon I should be fully honest here,” Becky Lynne says patiently. “All of us are waitin’ until you’ve completed your agoge before we want you to do anything for us, or with us. Right now we are more interested in your character—your dignitas—than in business.”

Caroline: “Then take this of my character, Questor Adler,” Caroline replies simply. “I asked not that any of you take sides when one of your own violated the Traditions and Embraced me. I asked nothing when threatened with final death. I held no grudge when I was set up, was whipped into near torpor and blood bound, and then had a gerousiastis plot with the renegade René to capture me, frame me, and bond me further.”

“I held no ill will toward your own sire for what transpired between us when I approached him out of respect, despite what it cost me. And I have at almost every step been willing to bend to fit. To avoid giving offense from the moment I knew what offense there was to give.”

“I want no handout. I have no intention of asking Clan Ventrue to support my weight, of resting comfortably under the roof others built and continue hold up, but I’ll honorably take a position as one of the pillars holding up the Parthenon of Kindred and kine. You’re correct that I have little to show for now.”

GM: “Four-fifths of the Gerousia are still likely to induct you into the clan at this point, Miss Malveaux,” Becky Lynne states. “The great deciding factor for them—more than the success of your firm, in fact—is the resolution of your present dispute with Gerousastis Malveaux. If two pillars are at odds, that Parthenon risks crumblin’.”

“I’d like to help the two of you resolve that dispute, and put the bad blood behind you. We’ve hit an apparent snag over the matter of his domain, and how you fake your death. My opinion doesn’t matter there, not really. You don’t need to convince me one way or another to secure your induction into the clan. But my take on the situation is this:”

“If you repeat to Gerousiastis Malveaux the same things you’ve said to me, he will not be satisfied. He will vote against your induction, and the other gerousiastes will follow his lead.”

“I’m sorry you’ve suffered and feel the clan has done you wrong in the past. I’m sorry if this feels like more bad news and another hoop for you to jump through. I would still like to help you fix the current situation with Gerousiastis Malveaux and, apparently, the prince. I like to think there’s a few things I could do for you.”

“If you’d like, I can put you in touch with the Hussar. I can put you in touch with other Kindred who might be able to assist, whether that’s the seneschal, the primogen, the Gerousia, or whoever else. I can approach them on your behalf, or not mention your name. I can leave other Kindred out of this and simply listen.”

“I confess I don’t quite know what could fix things here for you, but the offer is open. If we can, I would like us to raise up another pillar in the Parthenon.”

Caroline: Caroline interjects, “Respectfully Questor Adler, you’ve misunderstood me.”

“I don’t feel mistreated by Clan Ventrue. I don’t feel entitled your support, or their support, or anything else for that matter—outside of honoring the arrangements we have made.”

“I mean Gerousiastis Malveaux no ill will or disrespect. Perhaps I once did, perhaps I thought him a monster, but that version of myself is so distant that it’s barely a memory. I will give him my apologies for past wrongs—and admit there may have been some for which I was entirely to blame. But…”

She continues after a moment, “I am not Gerousiastis Malveaux’s childe and I owe him no boons. He is not my priest, and I am no longer part of his domain myself. He is not my benefactor and has made his own position quite clear.”

“Is it really so disrespectful to say that he does not get to decide how I should die?”

GM: “Indeed he isn’t, Miss Malveaux,” Becky Lynne nods. “But you enter his domain with every interaction you have with your mortal family. The circumstances of your death will have significant repercussions upon his domain. A young clanmate who showed consideration and deference to her elder by soliciting and payin’ heed to his input would show the clan a few things about herself: that she’s socially astute, works well with others, has respect for the Structure’s traditions, and has the foresight to recognize how fosterin’ good relations her elders benefits her in the long run. In your particular case, this is also your chance to show us, not simply tell us, that you bear Gerousiastis Malveaux no ill will.”

Caroline: “It sounds as though there’s only really two options then, Questor Adler. Either I succeed in arguing another position with others on my end, or I accept this has been a lost venture for all parties,” Caroline replies.

GM: “Talkin’ things out with others rarely hurts to try,” Becky Lynne nods.

Caroline: Caroline laughs genuinely and darkly at that remark.

When she stops Caroline’s eyes fall more soberly upon the older Ventrue. Silence reigns for a moment.

“I apologize, Questor Adler. There has been no one I could discuss any of these matters with. Not since my Embrace. Still, that was inappropriate.”

GM: “Better that it was here in private, Miss Malveaux. And even better that you caught it,” Becky Lynne nods. “Happily accepted.”

Caroline: “I hope my benefactor and Gerousiastis Malveaux feel the same way,” Caroline replies.

Saturday night, 23 October 2015, AM

GM: Caroline finds herself summoned to a luxuriously appointed corporate boardroom several floors from the top of Perdido House. The table is polished African Blackwood. Chairs are a rich, wine-colored upholstered leather. Five classical paintings depict a number of scenes, including: a monstrous dragon-like creature leading a charge of Roman legionnaires against Persian cataphracts; a stunningly beautiful, steel-faced woman felling two demonic figures with a bow even as their claws pierce her heart; a golden-haired and perfectly proportioned youth spreading his arms above Pope Leo as the latter crowns a kneeling Charlemagne emperor; a majestic, titan-like man hurling thunderbolts from the sky, while a crowd of terrified worshipers prostrate themselves; and serene-faced Indian man floating above another prostate crowd in lotus position, a halo illuminating his head like a crown.

Above the paintings, a glittering chandelier illuminates the figures seated at the table beneath it: Father Malveaux and Marcel Guilbeau, adjacent to one another at the table’s rear. Gabriel Hurst sits off by their right hand. The priest’s pinkish, flour-white face betrays nothing as Caroline is ushered into the room by an adolescent female ghoul whose pallid skin and shock-white hair mirrors his own.

The diminutive ghoul bids Caroline kneel as she recites the other three Ventrue’s many titles and honorifics, beginning with, “His Majesty Marcel Guilbeau, prince of Baton Rouge…”

Caroline: It’s a routine Caroline has gone through many times by now.

GM: “You may rise, Miss Malveaux,” the albino priest rasps after a brief pause.

Caroline: “Thank you, Gerousiastis Malveaux,” the Ventrue replies as she climbs gracefully to her feet. She’s dressed for the occasion in a relatively conservative black dress, cinched at the waist with a dark belt and hanging loosely past her knee. She left her coat outside.

GM: “For what purpose are you here, Miss Malveaux?” the older Ventrue asks with another rasp.

Marcel and Hurst remain silent, their eyes on Caroline.

Caroline: “To make amends, Gerousiastis Malveaux, for past behavior. To demonstrate that the mistakes following my Embrace were just, mistakes,” Caroline replies.

GM: “Of what errors do you speak, Miss Malveaux?” the albino asks, his pinkish eyes unblinking.

Caroline: “Several leap immediately to mind, Gerousiastis. Disrespect and indifference shown in the face of your efforts to initiate me into the Sanctified and promote my spiritual well-being. Discourtesy towards you and your domain in my handling of the Masquerade with it specifically, and careless handling of the Masquerade more generally beyond that amid my hunt for my sire.”

She pauses only to take a breath to continue, “Attempting to end around you, Gerousiastis, by bringing my planned mortal death to the prince’s attention first via the Hussar and ignoring your wishes with regard to how I should stage such a thing.”

“Failure to join a krewe as you, Gerousiastis, and Hound Agnello had advised.”

GM: “Hound Agnello did not advise that you join a krewe, Miss Malveaux. He asked that you do such, in repayment for your debt to him—a debt he has since either repurposed or generously overlooked,” Father Malveaux rasps.

Caroline: “As you say, Gerousiastis,” Caroline agrees without argument.

GM: “By what means have you rectified these many errors?”

Caroline: “I’m grateful that you still consider that question worthy of your time, Gerousiastis,” Caroline begins.

“While you understandably concluded some months ago that further interactions constituted throwing good money after bad—you had, after all, seen no significant improvements in my behavior amid my search for René Baristheaut, the truth is, Gerousiastis, that your lessons planted the seed for my embrace of the Sanctified and the Gospel of Longinus. Your patience gave me the opportunity to learn the errors of my ways amid the Masquerade, and correct my course, before I did irreparable damage to it, and your guidance helped to shape my further interactions with the kine.”

“I’ve taken Father Elgin as my priest and confessor.” She draws forth the small handbag she carries. “Rather than offer you my assurances of the matter—I’m certain at this point they mean rather little to you, Gerousiastis—I asked that he pen a letter as to his views on my position on and growth within the faith.”

“I shall not pretend that his words are universally glowing—I have as much room to grow within the faith as I do within my blood—but I daresay they may yet be a surprise given my previous showings. Associated with it is my handling of the Masquerade in recent months. He was not so callus as to break the seal of confession, but the matter is touched upon in brief.”

“I have been as disengaged with your domain as my current status allows within the bounds of the Masquerade, and have not made use of the gifts of Caine upon them. In accordance with your last expressed wishes, Gerousiastis, I have revised my plans for my ‘death’ to mortal eyes to be more modest, in accordance with your last expressed wishes. My ghoul waits outside with detailed plans for the ‘accident’ that will ‘take my life’ for review by yourself—or a ghoul—as and if you deem appropriate. Upon your approval I shall bring the revision to Capitán Gaultierrez for his own approval in place of the prince. It is my intention to fully disentangle myself from your domain at the earliest convenience to all parties, barring your objection, Gerousiastis.”

“I have cultivated relations with the Storyville Krewe, though they have understandably declined to extend membership at this time. I have not abandoned that goal, though it has proven more difficult to immediately obtain than originally expected, even with Hound Agnello expending his own considerable influence in attempting to persuade them to change their position by demonstrating my value individually, and my growth within the faith. Among other things I have actively investigated the disappearance of one of their members, expanded my knowledge of the Gospel, built my own financial security, and cultivated the beginnings of a domain in the belief that it may yet allow me to fulfill that goal. My proximity to them has, as both Hound Agnello and yourself, Gerousiastis, seemed to believe, aided in furthering my understanding of the faith, and in keeping me grounded and committed to it.”

GM: Father Malveaux receives Caroline’s testimony without comment or change of expression. Marcel and Hurst, too, mirror the other gerousiastis in their silence.

“You may have your ghoul detail your planned efforts to preserve the Masquerade in lieu of your mortal death, Miss Malveaux,” the albino priest bids.

Caroline: On the list of Caroline’s possible outcomes this was relatively low, but Caroline has prepared for it all the same.

Once Widney is summoned, the assistant begins her brief, offering multi-fold folders to each of the present Ventrue.

The plan is relatively straightforward. Caroline will ‘die’ in a car accident. A drunk driver will hit her (the target has already been identified as a repeat offender that Caroline has previously fed upon) while returning from an outing with a group of ‘friends’.

She will be killed on impact, and subsequently the car—a model purchased under her name that has a known defect that seems to have been tragically uncorrected in her own vehicle—will burst into flames. The body will be burned beyond immediate recognition, leading to dental records being used to identify her.

A dentist has already been identified to match the body to be used as a stand in for her with those on record.

GM: Gabriel Hurst pages through his copy of the report. Marcel and Father Malveaux mostly listen. Once again, Caroline’s testimony passes without comment from the three Ventrue.

“From whence did you procure this ghoul?” Father Malveaux inquires without looking at Widney.

Caroline: “She resided within the domain provided to me by Hound Agnello. I was familiar with her from my mortal life, and with her competence,” Caroline replies.

GM: “On what basis should your ability to create ghouls without endangering the Masquerade be trusted, Miss Malveaux?” the priest then asks.

Caroline: “I would have it be judged by the quality of my ghouls in the months since the last incident, Gerousiastis. The burnt hand often teaches best, and I have been much more through of my vetting than I was as a fledgling,” comes Caroline’s smooth reply. “There were many errors in those nights, on many fronts, as I learned of my own nature, of the sanctity of the Masquerade, and of my place within both and the All-Night Society. By the guidance of my elders in blood and faith I have grown since those nights.”

GM: “And what errors did you commit in your previous ghoul’s creation?” Father Malveaux rasps.

Widney’s features remain carefully impassive.

Caroline: “Improper and incomplete vetting of them,” Caroline replies. “I allowed my haste in my search for weapons against René Baristheaut to overcome what was a necessary diligence before exposing them to this world.”

GM: “What manner of risk did your ghouls pose to our world as a result of this lack of diligence, Miss Malveaux?” Father Malveaux asks. His pinkish eyes remain unblinking.

Caroline: Caroline tries her best to remain calm as the meeting increasingly turns into an inquisition that appears designed to drive wedges between herself and her servants. “Poor handling of Ms. Turner, especially after her injury, gave rise to her eventual betrayal with secrets of the All Night Society stolen from me. In the wrong hands such information could have been not only damaging to the Masquerade generally, but specifically to various Kindred of New Orleans.”

“Ms. Polk I’m told was secretly a hunter,” Caroline actually quite suspects this tale is a cover for Lou, but does not say as much, “and my failure to vet her more thoroughly both endangered myself specifically, and potentially others had she remained in my service for longer as she could have discovered details of various Kindred’s Requiems that could have left them vulnerable to other hunters. Thankfully the danger she poised was ended by yourself, Gerousiastis, when you executed her upon my arrival to Perdido House with my torpid sire.”

GM: “And what of the third ghoul created from your mortal cohabitant, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: “Her knowledge of even what she was remained extremely limited. Shortly after her creation she was badly mauled by the Eight-Nine-Six Anarch krewe, and after her recovery she attempted a programmed attack on me—a side effect of her captivity—which resulted in her demise.”

“The largest threat was her vague and highly generalized knowledge of the existence of the supernatural. I am of the opinion that as with many, she was poorly suited to existence as a ghoul.”

GM: “Sheriff Donovan relayed to me that you were evicted from his domain, Miss Malveaux. For what reasons did he feel this was necessary? How does your poor relationship with the sheriff not reflect poorly upon our clan?” Father Malveaux inquires.

Marcel’s and Hurst’s expressions remain as neutral as before.

“Have you any final statements or demonstrations you wish to make as to your worth in my eyes?”

Caroline: She gestures once more to her of yet undismissed ghoul, who produces a much thinner folder out of the soft leather briefcase for her domitor. “A penance to me, when you were then my confessor, Gerousiastis, was to seek out my past victims.”

“I was not diligent in doing so, but nor did I forget. Due to my erratic hunting patterns early in my Requiem some I was unable to find once more. The rest are there. Some turned their lives around. A handful had little to repent for. One… well, it’s there.” Included in the file is a list of names and an obituary.

Troy Holloway seems to have tragically taken his own life in his apartment. Perhaps he had a guilty conscious. Something to do with all the women the paralegal and would have been lawyer drugged and raped. Caroline tried to teach him a lesson once. When she came back she was less forgiving.
The three Ventrue receive this too in silence.

GM: “This is all you wish to say, Miss Malveaux?” Father Malveaux rasps.

Caroline: “No, Gerousiastis Malveaux. I would also offer you my personal apology, and a boon as evidence of my sincerity, for my past behavior,” Caroline replies.

“You were more than patient with a sireless fledgling, and I chose to ignore your attempts to guide me down a more proper path.”

GM: The same silence that has characterized Marcel and Hurst thus far continues to linger from the two Ventrue.

Father Malveaux stares probingly at Caroline with his still unblinking, pinkish eyes. His thin and motionless features seem almost reptilian as he silently regards her.

“I am unconvinced of your worth, Miss Malveaux,” he rasps. “You offer assurances and token actions to offset one of the most shameful histories of behavior I have ever borne witness to from a Kindred of Ventrue blood. Your conduct has been an embarrassment to our clan, and those actions you have taken to rectify it have been inadequate.”

The silence again lingers.

“I am, however, convinced that you should be extended opportunity under which to do so. I accept your boon and will not oppose your induction into the Structure under the basis of your prior actions.”

“The completion of your agoge and the establishment of a good name within our clan shall be yours to earn, and the Gerousia’s to judge, on the basis of your own efforts.”

Caroline: “Thank you, Gerousiastis Malveaux, that is more than I could have asked,” Caroline replies once more.

There’s truth to her words. Truth in what she has said this evening. There’s no way she could have sold this if there were not truth to her words—lies only go so far, even pretty sounding ones.

A step forward, if at cost. Cost to pride. Cost to face—in the presence of her own ghoul. Cost in boons. Cost in blood. Costs that will yet be born. Consequences of this night will persist for those to come.

She hopes it’s worth it. Hopes she has something to show for it in the end. Giving up her family. Giving up her life. Giving up everything.


It’s her birthright, in more ways than one. Acceptance by the others in the clan is the first step on her path.

That’s how she has to frame it in her mind. A step forward. Not humiliation. Not the cost of what she’s done. Not the murders she has done that damned her as surely as her blood. Not the loss of her father.

There has to be a light at the end of the tunnel. There has to be something waiting.

She remembers Vidal as he cut through the gathered city for the trial. Remembers the pull of desire. Remembers the brief touch of his hand as he annotated her brow.

Something has to be waiting. It has to be.

There’s certainly nothing tonight.

Previous, by Narrative: Story Seven, Milo Prelude, Louis I
Next, by Narrative: Story Seven, Rocco IV

Previous, by Character: Story Seven, Caroline VII
Next, by Character: Story Seven, Caroline IX, Emmett I

Story Seven, Milo Prelude, Louis I

Saturday afternoon, 13 July 2002

GM: The porta-potty smells.

It’s a novel concept to a ten-year-old, a toilet with no handle to flush. The contents of the bowl just sit there and smell, trapped within the confines of a seven-by-eight wide box. Sweating makes it worse. After long enough inside, the beads of sweat seem to trickle down the gray polyurethane walls rather than the boy’s skin. Or maybe it just looks that way past the tears blurring his vision. Either way, the distinctive odor of warm plastic in prolonged contact with human flesh still fills his nostrils.

The smell would probably be weaker if he’d shat into the toilet.

Milo: His voice is a croak, throat scraped raw from cries he doesn’t remember.


When he doesn’t get an answer he starts to scream again. His throat hurts so much but it doesn’t matter. Later, they’ll tell him he screamed for help. But he isn’t trying to. He just wants to go home. He isn’t thinking when he rushes the locked door, either. The complexities of the lock escape him. The world tilts.

GM: His head bangs against the floor. The polyurethane is warm against his bare legs thanks to the even warmer Louisiana summer day. His rear end is moist with his own waste.

The world smells.

He’s not sure how long passes before the knocks against the door sound. Just that the polyurethane is warmer, his bottom is drier, and the smell is worse by the time they do.

Milo: He screams again, incoherent. Monsters. There are monsters trying to get inside. He curls into a ball, the smell of his own filth filling his nostrils and burning there.


He doesn’t know if he’s thinking or screaming, and he doesn’t care.

Are the sounds he’s making even words? Can anybody hear him? Can Mal? Does it even matter?

The monsters pound at his sanctuary. Everything stinks.

GM: There are more knocks, then heavier thuds. The porta-potty’s door bangs open. Two looming, man-shaped spots blot out the light that otherwise floods the boy’s darkness-accustomed vision. There’s a sound like someone sharply inhaling their breath.


“Yeah,” answers another voice. “That’s shit, all right.”

Milo: They look like people. They talk like people. But are they? Questions fill his mind like shit and piss fill his pants. Where is he? What’s happening? Where’s Mal? Mal?

“Help,” he rasps, one last time.

As questions and filthiest things leak around him, the world tilts backwards. The man-shapes fill his vision, blotting out the starlight. He closes his eyes, and forgets to open them, and falls…

Saturday afternoon, 13 July 2002

GM: The bare room is small and claustrophobic, maybe wide enough for a grown man to lie down with some room to spare, and a little bit longer. The seat is cold and hard against Milo’s bottom, and his dangling feet don’t touch the floor. A single dull light glints from the ceiling, casting long and hungry shadows across the walls where all manner of terrors from a child’s fevered imagination might lurk.

Including the two sitting just across the bolted-down metal table from him.

The first is short but well-built, almost but not quite stocky, with a square jaw line and a full but well-maintained mustache. His gray eyes are alert, methodical, and searching, ferreting out seemingly every wrong to cross Milo’s mind—or which he has ever even done. He wears a white shirt, rolled up at the sleeves, and dark tie. A smoldering cigarette dangles from his lips.

Louis: The second was well-built… a long time ago. Taller than his partner, the once-muscular man’s frame is held together by gristle and grit. His shoulders are slack with the weight of sleepless nights and cases gone cold. Swollen joints crack and groan, badges of hard-won gutter-brawls and lonely stake-outs. Scarred knuckles, meat-slab hands. His skin, riddled with scars, rat out old injuries like bad alibis. A history of hurt. His face, grim. Unlovely. Unloving. Atavistic brow. Thick-slabbed nose, mangled from kissing too many fists, crowbars, and brick walls. Iron-brush hair. Jutting underbite. Lantern jaw. Like his partner, a limp cigarette dangling from his pale lips. A countenance of low cunning and stubborn pursuit. His eyes, deep-sunk. Heavy-lidded. The hue of old bourbon, a watery brown that runs to black and drinks in everything they see. Lies. Lusts. The glint of truth in the flood of grime.

The second pours coffee from a silver, bullet-shaped thermos into a pair of styrofoam cups.

The old man grunts and slides a cup to the young boy. He doesn’t hand it to him. He can’t. Not with the prosthetic hook that gleams from the vacant place where a hand should be.

GM: The younger man exhales a plume of smoke.

“The break room machine doesn’t get washed too often. Can’t say whether it’ll bite less than his hook on the way down. But drinking something will help, about now.”

Louis: The older man downs his own cup, and crumples it like the ill-attempted smile on his face. He tosses it at the corner trash-can, but he misses. Badly.

“C’mon, Pete,” he says in a voice as smooth as used cat litter. “Cut the smoke and cut the crap for the kid’s sake. You might owe Gettis a favor, but don’t spit shine the toilet bowel.”

GM: Pete gives his partner a long look as the cigarette’s tip glows a dull red. He’s been smoking a lot lately.

“Not Gettis who’s telling me to enjoy these, Lou.”

He looks towards Milo, then sighs. The burning embers snub out against the metal table with a near-inaudible hiss. Another thin plume of smoke wafts up Pete’s face.

Louis: Seeing the snubbed cigarette, the old man’s face softens a bit, like going from 100 to 600 grade sandpaper. He pats his trench coat pocket. “I’ve got your next one right here, Pete. Always.”

GM: The younger detective smiles back at him.

He knows.

Louis: He then slips his own limp, unlit cigarette from his lips and lays it beside a pen and notepad already sitting on the table.

Milo: Milo stares at nothing. The policemen make noises with their mouths like water running down a faucet—“blub blub blub, blub.” Nothing makes sense. They’re barely people. One a dragon, shrouded in smoke with embers burning where its mouth should be. The Pirate hands him something. It smells like morning. The world is wet again.

“I want to see my mom and dad.”

He sips at the drink, and recoils at the heat.

Louis: “Sorry, kid,” the old man answers.

For what, he doesn’t specify. Perhaps for the coffee, perhaps for his parents, perhaps for… everything.

GM: “You’ll get to, in a bit,” the dragon supplies, his smoking mouth finally extinguished. “They’ll be happiest seeing you together with your brother.”

Milo: Eyes the color of dull knives meet bourbon-colored gaze. Those eyes don’t understand. They barely even see.

“I don’t know where he is. I don’t know. I just want to go home.”

GM: “We want him to go home with you too. Do you want that?” the younger detective asks.

Milo: “I don’t… I don’t remember…” Now he’s a mess again, tears running down his cheeks like his shit down his legs earlier.

Louis: The older NOPD homicide lays a light, if scarred hand on his younger partner’s arm, and whispers, “Let’s try another pitcher in the ball-pen.”

GM: The detective gives a low sigh, more seemingly out of tiredness than exasperation. “Christ, Lou.” He gets up from his seat, walks around to the boy, and extends a tissue.

Louis: The old man leans down, holding the boy’s gaze. His disturbing hook hand disappears beneath the table. “Milo, my name’s Detective Fontaine. This here’s my friend and partner, Detective Lebeaux.” He lets the words sink in, not to comprehension, but just enough to saturate the air. To provide some stability to the otherwise fraught and fragile trauma that otherwise sucks up all the air.

“Milo,” he then adds, not releasing the gaze, “what school do you go to?” The question is simple like a stoplight changing from red to green. Mundane, familiar, and yet compelling in a quotidian fashion.

Milo: He can’t see the tissue through his tears. He doesn’t notice the question’s oddness amongst the clamor of unknowable things. He’s just glad to have something he can remember. “B-Benjamin Franklin.”

Louis: “Benjamin Franklin,” the old man repeats calmly. “That’s a good school, I hear. Can’t recall if your school has a mascot.”

Milo: He blinks. “It’s… Benjamin Bear.”

GM: “Ben Bear, huh,” Peter remarks. “Wonder if they mixed up the president with the founding father.”

The detective presses the tissue into his hands. “For your eyes.”

Louis: Lou waits for Milo to at least recognize the tissue, then says, “So do you usually sleep in on the weekend or wake up early to watch those, um, morning cartoon talkies, er shows? On the TV?”

Milo: He takes the tissue, dabs once, and otherwise ignores it. “Sometimes.”

Louis: Lou nods to his partner, in gratitude, then returns his calming gaze to Milo with another query: “Yeah, that’s good. Did you watch anything yesterday morning?”

Milo: “Blue’s Clues.” His voice sounds steadier, at least. Landslides instead of avalanches. “Mal watched with me.”

Louis: Lou doesn’t try on a fake warm smile. He knows it won’t fit. Instead, he just nods, almost more with his bourbon-brown eyes than his lantern jaw. “That sounds real nice, kid. Blue’s Clues. Do you remember anything about the show, about Blue’s Clues, yesterday?”

Milo: Milo nods slowly. “There was an egg.” He adds, “In a nest.” No further explanation is immediately forthcoming.

Louis: “That’s a good place for eggs to be,” the older detective replies, once again with a placid rather than outright pleasant face.

GM: “The best place,” his partner echoes.

Louis: “What did you and your brother do after watching Blue’s Clues?”

Milo: “Mal didn’t watch,” Milo says quickly. His eyes are finally dry, though his cheeks still glisten like concrete slicked with so much rain. “He was reading. Wizard of Oz. Then he wanted to go to Crepes a la Carte…” His brow furrows.

Louis: Lou nods, “Yeah, that’s a good food truck. Do you two go there frequently?” The old man intentionally keeps his last sentence in the present tense–even if privately he has darker doubts.

GM: His partner taps the laid-out cigarette in silent consideration. Right about now Lou could imagine him taking another long drag, or lighting up a fresh one.

Louis: Right about now, Lou could and does imagine himself taking lighting up a fresh one and taking a long drag. Gettis, he inwardly groans, both as the culprit of his denied smoke ‘break’, but also for putting him in this room with a poor kid whose sibling became the NOPD’s newest missing persons case–and hopefully not the city’s newest statistic.

Milo: Is that a smile, that’s flickering so briefly? Or just a curled lip? “Yeah. It’s good. We sneak out sometimes.”

Louis: Lou’s face crinkles with an ornery old man’s grin. Not a true smile, but an ugly, if good-intentioned cousin to it. “Yeah, Pete and I sometimes sneak out for food, too.”

Gravity and the gravity of the situation though then pull down the man’s momentary grin. “Did you and your brother stop anywhere before going to get breakfast?”

GM: “Hubig’s pies,” the younger detective declares. “Lou got me hooked on those things when I wasn’t too much older than you. Could never get into donuts like a good cop is supposed to.”

Louis: Lou’s face takes on the momentary grin again. “I’m more of a beignet man myself, but considering they declared them the official state donut, I guess I’m the ‘good cop’,” he jibes to his partner.

He then returns his calming gaze to Milo and restates his inquiry, while adding another:

“What about you, Milo, what food did you and your brother order?”

Milo: He nods slowly. “Mal got the Funky French Monkey, which they made with Nutella and bananas. Mom doesn’t like us eating Nutella because it has hazelnuts and her mom was allergic to hazelnuts but Mal doesn’t think he’s allergic so it’s fine but mom’s still scared. I didn’t get anything even though Mal asked me if I wanted any, I didn’t even take a bite of his. I don’t like spending Mom and Dad’s money without them knowing.”

GM: “An honest man,” Pete nods.

Louis: “Hard to find these days,” Lou says with both approval and sadness. He then follows up the observation with his next line of inquiries. “Had you two ever done this before? Either take your parents’ money or go out and spend it together?”

Milo: Milo blinks. His lip trembles a bit. “Um. I didn’t think that was against the law. Mal’s not in trouble, is he?”

Louis: Lou shakes his head. “Just trying to understand the story. Like in Blue’s Clues.”

Milo: “Okay.” The boy takes him at his word. “Yeah. A few times. He mostly spends the money, though. I just don’t tell.”

Louis: Lou nods. “And did you two talk to anybody or stop anywhere else before he bought the… Funky French Monkey?”

Milo: “No. We just walked and talked. I mean, he talked, mostly. I listen a lot.”

GM: “Get you far. Most people like to talk. Like it when they have an audience even more.”

Milo: “I guess.”

Louis: Lou nods in agreement.

GM: “You two talk about Wizard of Oz, or something else?”

Louis: The older detective doesn’t interpret the inquiry save for giving his partner the most subtle looks of approval as they slide into a synchronous stride like well-greased, familiar gears.

Milo: “Yeah, actually. He talked about the Tin Woodman.” Milo frowns. “He said he didn’t get him. He read that book all the time, and he got everything else, but not him. Because…” The boy suddenly blinks, and those gray eyes go listless once more.


Louis: Lou doesn’t reach out a hand, fearing he’d spook the boy, but he leans in, “Stay with me, Milo. You’re telling me a story, like Blue’s Clues. A story. One clue, then another clue.”

Milo: The boy’s breaths escape through chattering teeth, and they carry words, but not the ones Lou’s looking for. “I—I asked why and he said… hesaidhesaidhesaid—”

The room is so hot. So tight. So small. There’s not enough air, or maybe there’s too much, and they’re crushing his lungs, they must be, because he can’t breathe, he can’t breathe…

Louis: Lou doesn’t let the emerging frown overshadow his entire face as he tries to calm the swiftly panicking kid. “Milo. Listen to me. Remember. You’re good at listening. You are a good listener. Nod if you hear me.” He tries to make his words, his voice an anchor in the breathless panic. “I know this is hard. It is. You aren’t alone, though. I’m here. Your parents are coming. Pete’s here. You’re here.”

“Milo. You’re here.”

GM: The well-greased gears are continuing to turn if the equally slight frown that emerges on Lou’s partner’s face is any indication. Nevertheless, the younger detective adds, “You remember that line from The Wizard of Oz, Milo? It went something like, ’You’ve got plenty of courage, I bet,’ answered Oz. ’There’s no living thing that isn’t afraid when it faces danger. True courage is facing danger when you’re afraid, and that kind of courage you have plenty of.’”

Milo: “You’re here.” He is. But Mal isn’t. Where’s Mal? Milo speaks in a whisper, or perhaps just a tired scream. “It… it hurts to remember. I don’t think I can.”

Louis: The old man keenly knows how trauma can induce paralytic amnesia. It fades in time, like waves eroding the black spots of repressed memories. With a little time and counseling, Lou figures the kid could say more. But time is something they don’t have right now. Especially the kid’s brother. It’s the first hours that matter the most in missing person cases, a small window of time. And it’s already been some twelve hours. The window’s already half-closed. If not broken. Lou tries to swallow that last thought like a mouthful of glass shards hitting an ulcer.

“Milo,” he says as gently as the old cop’s gravely voice can be, “I know it’s hard. But you gotta do your best. It’s all anyone ever can do: try.”

He then calmly, thoughtfully proceeds through a line of questioning, backed up by his partner. He knows that each question put forward is another step on the thin ice of Milo’s mind right now, but he also knows that each question shaves down his brother’s chances–and they’re already slim.

Milo: Milo won’t remember how helpful he was later. His mouth moves without his mind helping, as it grapples with something Milo could not comprehend, except that it was awful, and that he just wished his brother was sitting here and not him.

He simply talks, and tries not to bite off his own tongue. One moment he’ll remember, though, is when he meets the eyes of the old man. For one second, there isn’t room for grief, or fear, or even anger. There’s only the confusion of a child who has seen too much.

“Why did it happen? Why is this happening to me? Why Mal?

Louis: The old man’s expression looks bruised, like a low-paid bantam southpaw who’s gone ten rounds with a heavyweight headliner–and has to still go another ten.

“I don’t know, Milo,” the old man says, not quite throwing in the towel, but certainly wringing it as he considers the scant facts and more specious deductions. He catches his partner’s eye, “But we’ll do our best to find out.”

GM: That partner, in contrast, looks as if he could go for a cig now more than ever. He manages a smile for the boy, but it’s belied by the grim nature of their surroundings. “Lot of kids who disappear, it’s at the hands of someone who already knows them. Can make the case easier to solve.”

He knows the actual rates as well as Lou.

Milo: Milo is gone again, teeth chattering like bone cymbals; it’s not that cold in the room.

Louis: The old detective knows how to recognize a tap that’s gone dry. He sighs, stands up, and places his trench coat over the boy–less to warm the kid and more to simply anchor him to the ground. He pats Milo’s shoulder, wearily.

Poor kid, he mentally sighs, but tries to keep his face bereft of that pity as he speaks aloud. “You’ve done good, Milo. You tried. Now it’s our turn to try, to keep trying, and you’ve given us some answers, or clues at least. It’s now our time to hunt them down.”

He looks to his younger partner, “Or try.” There’s a silent exchange between he and Pete, a small flicker of the eyes to the door, as if to confirm they’re done–here and now at least. Because, of course, they’re never done. Not in this city.

Milo: Clack-Clack-Clack, is the only verbal answer. The boy manages a nod.

Louis: Lou regards the neurotic, traumatized youth, then mutters to his partner, “Next time, Pete, remind me to use decaf.”

GM: “Next time, Lou, remind me not to owe Gettis favors,” Pete responds with a weariness belying his nearly thirty years. Nevertheless, he nods towards the door. “C’mon, kid, let’s get you home.”

Milo: At the mention of home, something of Milo reenters his eyes. He doesn’t presume to get up, but looks questioningly towards the nice pirate.

Louis: Lou nods, to both of them. “Time to 86.”

Milo: “Um. What?”

Louis: “Time to split, kid,” Lou clarifies, and helps Milo up. “Time for you to go home. Where you belong. Time for us to do our job.”

Milo: He’s all too happy to let the old man help him. He waddles to the door, his bottom still uncomfortable.

Louis: The detective takes back his coat and folds it over his hook, as his younger but far from young partner opens the door. “Or at least, time to try.”

GM: The dimly-lit interrogation room’s door creeks open. The two detectives escort Milo out, down a hallway with two more adjoining, dimly-lit rooms where scared little boys could get asked scary questions.

Milo: For a few seconds, all is well, or as well as things could be expected under the circumstances. Milo manages to walk by himself down the hallway, to stand on his own two legs.

Then everything changes.

The boy becomes an anchor as Lou suddenly senses that things are not all right. Milo sees too much. Milo’s eyes go still as the stones they so resemble, and his body locks around them, anchors. Milo’s world breaks into small pieces, fine china crushed underfoot. He’ll try to put it back together, but the best he can do is rearrange the pieces of his reality into less horrifying shapes.

The hallway swirls like toilet water.

Louis: No stranger to trauma, the homicide detectives sense the kid’s cracking psyche. Well-honed hunches cause them to peer into one of the just-passed interrogation rooms.

GM: Peter’s gray eyes doggedly run over the dim room’s shadows. His mouth pulls into a tight frown.

Louis: Lou’s bourbon eyes and downturned lips do the same. There’s a telling look shared between the partners as they return their attention to the mentally crumbling kid. “Decaf and favors, Pete,” Lou grumbles as he tries to shepherd the kid away from whatever spooked him–or at least closer to his waiting parents.

Milo: Whose fault is it? His? Mal’s? The faceless men who found him before they found his brother The world drowns as his eyes fill with salt and water, and Milo lets out an underwater scream, a blub-blub-blub of confusion and anguish.

Nothing makes sense anymore. His brother’s been stolen from him, and his innocence ripped away. He’ll keep screaming, and keep crying, long after they thrust him into the arms of people who love him, long after he lies in bed trying to sleep, and long into dreams he won’t remember.

But that’s okay. He’ll get used to it.

Saturday afternoon, 13 July 2002

GM: After seeing Milo off with his parents, Lou and his partner retrace their steps to the porta-potty in Bywater. It’s within sight of the crepes cart. The kids hadn’t meant to wander far. It’s an unremarkable structure. Green plastic-like walls, white roof. You’ve seen one porta-potty, you’ve seen them all. The two detectives slip on latex gloves, mark the place as a crime scene, and squeeze inside.

There isn’t a great deal to see. Anything, really. Even Milo’s excrement has been cleaned up by someone, which prompts a deep scowl from both detectives. Pete nevertheless sets to work photographing the scene. Lou starts by dusting for fingerprints on the interior door and toilet paper, hoping to establish a time frame for when the boy was abducted—before, during, or after he’d taken a dump?

Lou finds prints on the toilet paper, but none of the door. So the kid took a piss or dump, but was taken before he could leave. Pete muses whether someone barged inside, took him, and simply never closed the door. The younger detective makes a note to re-interview the crepe cart’s operators later.

The centuries-older one has a hunch, though, and opens the toilet’s lid. He slowly pokes around at the rancid contents with a ruler stick. He’s looked at worse. A lot worse. Smelled worse, too. There isn’t a lot left, and what’s left is fading fast, but Lou’s sharp eyes discern even it amongst the turds, piss, and soggy toilet paper. A viscous, near-transparent substance that would probably go unnoticed to someone who didn’t know what to look for—or wasn’t willing to look where he did.


Lou holds it up on the tip of the ruler. Touches a gloved finger to it. There’s warmth there. Ectoplasm from the shades of the departed is always cold. This seems thicker, too. More… alive. There are traces of color. Past the stench of human waste, he can even make out a hearty, primal smell, like blood over freshly turned earth.

So, that’s what this thing is. It came out of nowhere—nowhere on earth, at any rate. It went back to nowhere, too. It took Milo’s brother with it.

There are more nowhere-places it could have gone than there are names for them in all the tongues of man. Lou can only hope the kid is somewhere comprehensible enough to even have a name.

Either way, this case is now far outside NOPD’s jurisdiction.

Louis: Outside NOPD’s jurisdiction, yes, but not outside his conscience’s.

The boy is gone. Taken. His family grieves. What he does next isn’t for the crescent badge he wears–but for the city he serves irrespective of that badge. The Crescent City, his home. The Glass’ home, too. The old detective sighs. He waits till his younger partner is done with his photos and finger-printing, then grunts.

“Pete, you mind giving me a moment? Too long fishing in the can…” he says, patting his belt. “Old habits and older bladders, you know?”

He doesn’t like holding back from his partner, not this one or the last dozen or so. Never has. But it’s like sneaking medicine in a sick kid’s applesauce: you do it for them and deal with the bad aftertaste as best you can.

“While I’m taking care of business here, you mind calling in for the address of the crepe-maker? I don’t want to let this wait till tomorrow. First 24 hours and all,” he adds, his face all-too honestly grim. “Even if he didn’t see anything, maybe he can recall somebody else that was around–busker, customer, or so forth–who did. Might give us a break.”

It’s a long shot, given what he knows, but given what he knows, everything is a long shot now.

GM: Even the younger homicide detective has seen worse on the job. Pete doesn’t look bemused so much as interested at the sight of Lou poking through the contents of the toilet bowl. It’ll be a story hearing what evidence he was able to gather from the kid’s turds.

“Sure. I’ll leave you to keep taking ‘shit job’ to a new level.”

Louis: Lou smiles, “Sounds like the academy’s new motto, ‘Taking craps when nobody else gives one’.” He slips off his glove and fishes a cigarette into his mouth, “You hear the rumor about the guy who blew himself up while smoking on the pot after eating too many beans? Well, Pete, if things go badly for me, tell my wife you can drive my lamborghini whenever you want.” His hook then shuts the porta-potty and flicks the sign to ‘occupied’.

GM: Pete gives a single half-snort, half-bark of laughter and heads away as Lou closes the door. Footsteps sound. The old man turns to regard the witness he’ll interview—a toilet’s black polyurethane rim.

Louis: He’s had uglier witnesses. Like the mirror. Still, the old homicide detective grunts as the feces’ smell returns four-fold when he closes the door and shuts out the ‘clean’ city air outside.

GM: Lou’s hand brushes the toilet seat. His hand isn’t touching the toilet. His bottom is. He feels relief as the feces exit his rectum, hitting the formalehyde-blue water with a light plop. The stench isn’t as bad when it’s covered by his thighs, and the chemicals help, but there’s no concealing the smell of a pile of human waste. He reaches for the toilet paper.

Pressure. Around his waist. Cold. So cold. Wet, slimy texture against his skin. Tightness. His kidneys scream as they’re smooshed into his liver and intestines. His lungs constrict. He opens his mouth to scream, but the sound dies in his throat. He tries to flail. His arms don’t respond.

Something wet. Wet and fleshy, dragging across his cheek. A foul, pungent musk against his face.

He tries to piss himself as the thing licks his cheek. But his bladder’s already empty. His vision swims, tunnels, then blackens. A roaring noise overtakes his ears, like he’s being plunged into rapidly churning water.

A single image flashes across his mind before everything dissolves into screaming black. A bayou. In the heart of the city. Where dead men fear to tread.

Louis: Lou crunches down on the anguish and fear like a fresh-fallen pecan. It’s hard, painful even, but in the end, it breaks before he does. He sucks in a thin but long breath between his teeth. He feels the beads of sweat on his face, the iron hackles on his neck, the stench of the place. There’s a bitter gratitude as he realizes he’s ‘back’ in the crime-scene. There’s another visceral plop in the toilet hole, his wrinkly behind and back slowly relaxing.

Muerda, Lou curses silently. I should have been a meter maid.

Previous, by Narrative: Story Seven, Caroline VII
Next, by Narrative: Story Seven, Caroline VIII

Previous, by Louis: Story Six, Caroline VII, Louis I
Next, by Louis: Story Thirteen, Louis I

Previous, by Milo: -
Next, by Milo: Story Seven, Milo I

Story Seven, Caroline VII

“I lived a life of privileged and purpose… but one without meaning. One in the service of nothing, and to no end but its own.”
Caroline Malveaux

Thursday evening, 7 October 2015

GM: Despite Caroline having been dropped from her classes, Tulane caves to Malveaux pressure as people so often do and lets the Ventrue back in. But whatever threats or bribes Caroline’s family resorted to, she still remains unable to attend her previous daytime classes—and must physically enter Donovan’s parish to do so in any case. And despite her mother’s suggestion (perhaps more offered out of reflexive anger than serious consideration), holders of online law degrees can only take the bar exam in California, even if they can from there attempt to receive certification in other states. The legal profession is as tradition-bound as the Kindred themselves in some ways. Caroline is back on the registers for all of her old classes, but the old problem of how to actually pass them still remains.

There is also the matter of her job as a legal clerk. She’s expected to send in her resume, cover letter, and go through all the actual process of applying for a job before she’s given the position Thomas has already snagged for her with his colleagues on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Caroline’s ‘handler’ in this matter is her mother. Claire has done her best to maintain cordial relations with Orson, for she gains nothing by turning the Albino’s favored pawn against herself. She says she would not put it past him to seek independent confirmation of Caroline’s law school enrollment and job status—or, even more likely, to simply investigate Caroline for further indiscretions and incidentally happen to uncover the fact she is unemployed and not attending classes.

Caroline: Caroline works with her mother, calls on her expanding net of resources, and brings to bear the growing might of her unholy powers to turn the family’s eye and ire from her. Professors are waylaid and left with buried reminders to mark her as present, private investigators are identified, their minds broken, and their loyalties redirected, and even the influence of the Lord of the French Quarter is (much to Caroline’s unease) turned to the project of helping with her need for a ‘day job’ in an appropriately prestigious legal field.

GM: As in so many things, Caroline’s damned state proves her solution as well as problem. Tracking her professors to their homes, or following their movements until they leave the parish, and then raping their minds into marking her as present for classes proves trivially easy.

Caroline: Nights are exhaustively filled with meetings, liaisons, planning, and ruthless use of the extent of her gifts to bend the wills and minds of others as she pursues not only this project, but also the many others needed to arrange her death and set up her new life among Kindred society. Without the aid of her mother, without those new half-damned souls she brings in as ghouls, it would be an impossible task. As is, it is much like eating an elephant: a mountain that is devoured one bite at a time.

Like many matters, it would be worlds easier with the aid of Father Malveaux, but his continued animosity is just another push in the direction of Savoy’s oh so welcoming camp.

Friday night, 8 October 2015, AM

GM: Caroline continues to have meetings with Antoine Savoy. They are quiet affairs, and the Lord of the French Quarter arranges passage with anonymous cabs that take long circuitous routes to the Evergreen, including handing Caroline off to other faceless drivers mid-way through the trips.

“You’re still figuring things out, Miss Malveaux. Being seen too often with me will limit your options, so far as allegiances,” Savoy smiles.

Caroline: In spite of everything she’s heard, in spite of her lineage, in spite of the affair with René, the Ventrue cannot help but find herself associating with Savoy, and, perhaps even liking him. He may be a politician, but in a city of tyrants his appeal is undeniable.

GM: Like him or not, the Toreador is also happy to dispense advice and counsel that her Kindred relative does not exercise so free a hand with.

“It’s not entirely true that Father Malveaux is your family’s master, Miss Malveaux. Oh, Orson is his, to be sure, and it’s through the archbishop that he has his hold over the Catholic Church. But it’s Vidal who makes the donations to your father’s campaigns, and who owns the largest share in Malveaux Oil. The lesser Malveauxes are the good father’s, for the most part, but they’re just that—lesser.”

Caroline: “He owns my father and Matthew?” she asks.

GM: “Look up the name Sebastian Ortega, Miss Malveaux. You’ll find that he’s a regular and generous donor to your father’s campaigns. You’ll also find his name on a number of unaffiliated PACs and corporate boards that have consistently supported Senator Malveaux, as well as many of his other pet causes. Then look up the names like Hubert Gonzalez that are aliases for Vidal’s favored pawns. When you factor in their campaign contributions—and I’m sure I don’t need to tell you where those funds come from—you’ll find that our prince is your father’s largest donor by a good margin.”

Savoy smiles again. “Follow the money, as they always say.”

Caroline: Caroline shivers at the darkness surrounding her family.

“Is there anything you don’t know, Lord Savoy?” It’s a dangerously loaded question offered with a smile and a light tone.

GM: The Toreador only laughs again, then answers with a look that’s curiously frank and facetious at the same time, “Let’s start with where Mr. Ortega lives, Miss Malveaux. I know about a number of properties attached to his name, but I doubt he actually sleeps in them.”

“We do our homework as best we may,” Preston offers blandly.

Caroline: “I suppose there has to be some mystery to keep life interesting.”

GM: “And the usual wheels within wheels of him knowing that we know that he knows we know,” Savoy offers with another smile and vague motion of his hand.

“It’s largely the same story with your Uncle Matthew, in any case. Most of the company’s shares are owned by family members, but that doesn’t stop a tidy profit from finding its way to our prince’s various bank accounts.”

Caroline: “And with all of those family members under the thumb of Father Malveaux who is under the prince’s thumb in turn…” Caroline finishes with a nod. “How far back does that connection go? The Malveaux family and the prince?”

GM: Savoy scratches his chin. “Around the Civil War, I’d say. They were one of the few local families to cooperate with the Union, and Prince Vidal’s hold over the city was its weakest during that point. He had limited success subverting the occupying Union forces, but a native family was another matter. His interest in them waned but didn’t entirely fade after Reconstruction. Father Malveaux’s Embrace, of course, reignited it, as did the oil boom and their rise to their present wealth.”

Caroline: “He’s been in with the prince from the beginning, then?”

GM: “He’s a Kindred who knows his loyalties,” Savoy smiles. “He’s enjoyed our prince’s favor for well over a hundred years.”

Caroline: “Is that typically the way of things? Kindred find their allegiance early on?”

GM: “Early loyalty can pay dividends. Getting in on the ground floor of something, and all. But that would keep things far too stale if they could never change, wouldn’t you say?” Savoy grins.

Caroline: “I’ll keep it under advisement.”

GM: Among other matters that the two discuss are Marguerite Defallier and a certain mortal pawn of hers Caroline is interested in acquiring: Christina Roberts. Yes, she’s been friends with ‘Jill d’Agostino’, Marguerite’s current mortal alias, for around a decade now, and listens faithfully to the Toreador’s ‘advice’. Savoy furnishes the Ventrue with information, including his own indirect interest in seeing the harpy’s hold over the city’s escort scene weakened, but leaves it to Caroline how she wishes to proceed.

Caroline: The Ventrue is attentive to the information. Her own agent has already started staking out Caroline’s position, and the Ventrue is stalking her harpy would-be prey with all the certainty of a lion. Waiting for her moment even as she gathers information on her and her existing network.

GM: The matter of Caroline’s job is taken care of when Savoy invites the Ventrue and her distant cousin Thomas to dinner at Antoine’s—“my” restaurant, as the Toreador jokingly refers to it. Thomas greets him as “Chris,” and the three settle down to enjoy a sumptuous meal. The Supreme Court justice, in his old age, makes do with a simple glass of bordeaux and the Salade de Laitue au Roquefort: a wedge of iceberg lettuce with apples, walnuts, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, fleur de sel, and topped with a rich Rocquefort dressing.

The salad is nearly poverty-stricken in comparison to Savoy’s order of Louisiana gulf oysters baked on the half shell with Rockefeller sauce—a unique creation of the restaurant’s in 1889 named for how rich it is. Caroline’s food tastes as ash in her mouth, but Savoy seems to almost relish his meal when he orders the oysters twice, this time for his entree, and laughs how he “knows these are supposed to be appetizers!”

Much of the meeting seems like it’s been worked out in advance. Thomas only brings up Caroline’s job as a court clerk when their waitress takes desert orders. He says that “circumstances have changed” since the appellate court internship he’d snagged for Caroline, and he’s prepared to offer her old job back—with the understanding that she’ll be stuck doing a larger share of grunt work, and that if she gets fired again, she can’t count on his help getting a new job again. After the dinner, Savoy tells Caroline that she should file all the necessary employment forms, but otherwise doesn’t need to show up for work. The Toreador is frank about his intentions and declares, “I consider this an investment, Miss Malveaux. And a wise one! I’m confident it’ll pay ample dividends down the road.”

Caroline: Throughout her meetings with the Lord of the French Quarter it has become more and more difficult for Caroline to view him with the same suspicion and fear she once did. She knows that when the bill comes due it’ll be more than she wishes, but for now she’s grateful for the minor help in keeping her family off her back, and despite herself, can’t help but smile at his compliments and confidence.

He’s not wrong.

Saturday evening, 9 October 2015

Caroline: Caroline addresses another very pressing concern over the following weeks: money. Her trust fund and other income sources will be inaccessible once she’s legally dead. She needs to transfer those assets to new accounts, and to do it in such a way that her family won’t be suspicious of so much disappearing money. The Ventrue herself knows many of the legal mechanisms required to make her plans work, while her new ghoul Sarah Anne Widney knows many of the precise financial institutions required.

Caroline and her servants pursue a multi-pronged approach. She diverts some money from her existing accounts in ways that are not suspicious, such as apparently reckless spending funneled other ways.

GM: Autumn suggests a particularly simple trick where such “money laundering” is concerned: buy something expensive with a credit card, then mindfuck the sales clerk into taking it back, giving a cash refund, and forgetting the whole thing. Repeat the process at a dozen stores. It would be incredibly tedious for any investigator to turn up the minor irregularities in so many stores’ records, and the stores themselves ultimately wouldn’t care, since they haven’t lost any money.

Caroline: She and her ghouls identify likely targets in Rocco’s domain and shanghai them for “donations,” gifts, and some cases, outright blackmail. Few businessmen are capable of resisting her supernal charms and fewer still want incriminating photos of themselves disclosed to wives or the like. Caroline attempts to maintain a very low profile throughout this process, using her mental powers to identify victims as good candidates: anyone with money and no significant other. At a certain point, and faster than one might think, even these relatively “modest” events become self-sustaining. Caroline uses that off-grid money, independent of her identity, to leverage her and her servants’ financial awareness alongside insider knowledge gained from both victims and family in significant (but rarely obvious) shorts or early moves.

At the end of the day, turning $100,000 into one million is not overly difficult. Turning one million into ten million can be even easier. There are even more subtle options available: traders who are persuaded to buy just a little high on something, or sell just a little low, which results in large numbers created when one is already dealing with large numbers. The easiest method Caroline can settle on to make her misappropriated funds grow is by shorting stocks and companies, or jumping in early. There is a reason insider trading is illegal, but if one can get inside information from an outside source and then jump in… well, that’s a different problem.

Most of Caroline’s ill-gotten gains go into numbered overseas accounts registered under corporate headers. She’s had plans to start her own law firm and fictive corporations for some time, and it’s now that she finally starts to lay the groundwork.

She attempts to be relatively careful with all of the men she defrauds. Memories of women are not memories of her, but of women that are different enough. She also avoids going deep to the same well more than once—and passes up on some easier scores because of the smell or feel of another Kindred being involved as she gets close. The details are tedious, but in the end, transferring large sums of money isn’t difficult for someone with a Ventrue’s powers and a lot more knowledge available than the average thug on the street. As she recalls one of her own law instructors once remarking, faintly horrified, “Oh my god, I’ve taught you all how to launder money.”

GM: Weeks pass.

To Caroline’s relief, for once in her Requiem, the process appears to go off without a hitch. Her available funds have taken a hit after the $50,000 spending spree, and much of her initial efforts go towards recouping those. Remaining funds are drained (but not completely emptied) from her trust and transferred to anonymous new accounts far from her family’s prying eyes. No other Kindred come down on her for interfering with their domains. For once, things go off without a hitch.

Autumn is deeply impressed (“from a Masquerade perspective”) that Caroline was able to make such large sums of money disappear so seamlessly. Several nights later, she approaches Caroline and says she wants to learn more about law and finance. “This is where the real game is played, in a way. The elders with their offshore accounts, rolls of investments, and teams of lawyers juggling legal and extralegal strategies to keep them rich. Cleaning up bloodstains seems kind of… well, crude, next to that. The closest I came was falsifying identities, but even that’s small-scale.”

Autumn continues that she has a bachelor’s in journalism, or at least could—she was only one semester away from graduating. If Caroline could finesse Tulane into giving her the degree she’s already worked so long for, she could go to work at that law firm her domitor is starting up. Obviously not as a lawyer, as she hasn’t been to law school, but either there or at some other job where Caroline thinks she could get a hands-on instruction in the intricacies of financial law.

“I need a cover story with my family, anyway, to explain what I’m doing with my life after I graduate,” Autumn finishes. “We might as well make it something that’s useful to you. You can always ghoul more lawyers or stockbrokers, if you want to spend the extra juice, but none of them know the Masquerade like I do. You could do a lot, with someone who can fill both roles.”

Caroline: Autumn’s approval of her efforts means more to Caroline than she’d like to admit, even as the effort consumes so many hours and involves breaking into so many minds. Watching her accounts slowly fill is a frustrating experience- she’s never had to work for a living—but the satisfaction when her illicit accounts move into the high six figures, and finally the seven figures, pays off eat the end.

She’s independent of her family and their pale, cruel master. It’s a liberating experience. She listens to the ghoul’s pitch with some interest, but clarifies several points: her own influence at Tulane, in terms of ‘handing over a degree’ is limited, and she will not risk Autumn’s identity by involving her family. She does however encourage the ghoul to resume her last semester and promise her a place in finance and law when she graduates, even offering to help pay for law school in the long term, though the ghoul’s expertise will likely be in high demand for the time being.

GM: Autumn seems cagey about the idea of law school and presses Caroline about working as a paralegal, legal secretary, or some other job that doesn’t require more school. “Doesn’t being a paralegal take a bachelor’s and a shorter series of certification courses?”

In fact, Autumn seems rather too cagey. It’s not wanting to dive straight into the work… she’s afraid of something at law school.

Caroline: It doesn’t take a genius to put two together with the ghoul’s desire to avoid further schooling. “I need you to finish your bachelor’s… but I understand your reluctance thereafter.” And her tone makes it very clear that she does understand. Explicitly.

Still, she sounds more disappointed than angry, and it’s not entirely clear whom she is disappointed in. She doesn’t bring up the topic of further schooling with Autumn, and agrees that she can readily find a place for the ghoul among other college-educated workers: an office that large may even eventually need a simple supervisor.

GM: Autumn thinks for a bit. “Caroline, what’s the most important thing in the world to you?”

Caroline: Caroline considers the question.

“I don’t know that I have a good answer to that right now.”

GM: “Well… what used to be?” Autumn asks.

Caroline: Autumn’s question sparks a moment of pause in her domitor, especially coming so quickly on the heels of her success in building her own fortune, and on the eve of her ‘death’.

She’s spent virtually her entire life under the thumb of her family, guided by its expectations, but the demands of the Malveaux name, and with her life so wholly influenced and controlled by that name. The advantages she enjoyed, the opportunities provided, the respect she had: all the product of her distinguished family and its influence. For the first time she’s ‘free’ or as close to it as she’s ever been, death sentence, Ventrue expectations, and the harsh limits of Kindred society as a whole not withstanding.

What did she care about? What mattered to her? Faith? Family? Future? These were all assumptions, givens. She would uphold their name. She would believe in God. She would finish her schooling and start a successful career. But what did she really have? An absent father, a distant mother, and siblings all dysfunctional in their own ways. She had friends, connections, but how many of them had depth, and how many were products of her demands of success and the influence she wielded? What would her life have meant if Vidal had not swept her up into his plans? If he had not damned her with his blood and brought her over?

The most important thing in the world to her: not her family. She let Westley die to save herself, she flushed away her own child as an inconvenience and embarrassment, and she was all too happy to be left alone to pursue her own agenda. Not her faith, obviously, when she has so readily embraced one all too blasphemous. Not even her future: how many of her tears in truth have been shed over the loss of her classes, or a mundane job as an attorney?

Looking at it all through the prism of her new existence, so much of it feels so… empty.

GM: “Should I not have asked that either?” Autumn questions at Caroline’s pause.

Caroline: The Ventrue frowns. “No… you should never be afraid of asking a question. And it’s a valid one. I hadn’t ever really thought about it before, but the truth? What I cared about?” Caroline shuffles. “I lived a life of privileged and purpose… but one without meaning. One in the service of nothing, and to no end but its own.”

GM: “Sounds like the Embrace might’ve been a step up in some ways.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “Yes… it was. Or at least, may yet be. It certainly created… perspective.”

Perspective. And pain. And suffering… and opportunity. To carve out her own path for once. She wars inside with her sire’s abandonment of her and the idea that it might have been done to create just that, an opportunity for her to stand on her own two feet, rather than a malicious attempt to set her up for failure. Especially of… she wonders how long ago he signed off on sireless fledglings not being executed on sight. How long the plan was in motion.

Is there a long game at work here? How long had he been watching her. In the back of her mind though, she can’t help but wonder how much the bond created by his blood is pulling at her thoughts, pulling her in another direction, towards thinking the best of him…

GM: “Well, I hope it turns out to be. But on school.”

Someone with a clear and cool head might wisely leave the matter be. Especially when Caroline volunteers to make things without more school.

“Swear on… the meaning you want to find,” Autumn says somewhat lamely, “that you won’t ever feed on me again, and I’ll go back to school.”

Caroline can see the desperate desire to please warring with the rational caution in her ghoul’s eyes.

She can just as easily see ‘feed on me’ replaced with ‘hit me.’

Caroline: The thought is interrupted by Autumn’s question returning the topic to herself, and Caroline feels a flush of anger as it becomes clear that the question that sparked such existential considering was just a precursor to worries about Caroline feeding on her.

It spirals off into irritation that the ghoul dropped out purposefully and she can feel, for just a moment, the Beast’s hackles rising as it senses any opportunity to slip free its bonds. The anger bleeds away though as she sees the fear in Autumn’s eyes, the genuine hurt. She bites back what would have been her original comment (“I promise that you won’t remember”) and sits in silence for a moment.

“You know that’s not why I offered.”

GM: “I know. I’d still like to hear it,” Autumn says.

Even if the Beast won’t give a damn.

Caroline: Those same demands from another lesser, another servant, another ghoul, might cause Caroline’s anger to surge again, but looking at Autumn Caroline feels only regret. Autumn, whose life she has destroyed, whose entire fate was altered by their meaning… for Autumn, she nods.

“I won’t feed on you again.”

GM: “Okay,” Autumn answers. There’s still some amount of caution in her eyes, but Caroline can see an even more fervent desire to believe. “I suppose the lawyers with the grad degrees are the ones who run firms anyway.”

Caroline: Caroline shrugs. “It’s all fluid really past a certain point. The people that run everything are the people with the money. But if you’re serious about being able to get deep into the financial side of the Masquerade, a law degree and the benefits it provides, especially in terms of what it allows you to do legally, are pretty advantageous. There’s a reason I wanted one.”

GM: Autumn nods. “Like I said, I need some kind of cover story for what I’m doing with my life after getting my bachelor’s.”

Caroline: “We’ll find it.”

Monday evening, 11 October 2015

Caroline: Even more practical is the matter of outstanding Masquerade problems: Trenton and Paxton. In both she is flying without all the information, or even a body, but she aggressively builds her narrative around Trenton of the tragic suicide of a transgendered youth. Additional threads are put together should any investigation lead back to her to explain their online connection, but Caroline’s investigations reveal how reviled the boy was by his family for his lifestyle choices: they seem ready to seize on the idea that his gender identity flaws led to his death. By the time they even notice that Trenton has gone missing, many days have passed, the case is quite cold, and Caroline has had ample time to plant evidence, including a rather touching suicide note.

GM: Someone at Tulane files a missing person report over Trenton. The trail eventually leads to detectives from the Tulane University Police Department stopping by Caroline’s suite at Harrah’s New Orleans. One of the detectives remarks it’s a “Bitch of a commute time, lady,” next to her recently-listed address at Audubon Place. The suicide note they found in Trenton’s dorm room at once gladdens and baffles the detectives. On the one hand, they’re glad the missing boy turned out not to be murdered. TUPD deals with a lot less homicides than NOPD and is expected to have a commensurately higher clearance rate. Suicides among the student body are sadly more common. The missing car and body, however, are strange. What did he do, drive into the Gulf of Mexico? Or jump off a bridge before someone stole his car? The police puzzle for a bit, and return to interview Caroline several times—“as you’re our only real witness”—as well as the guards on-shift at Audubon Place at the time. Their stories of remembering the car leaving but not much else are frustratingly uniform. Eventually, however, Trenton Blake Nowak is declared dead in absentia, with the suicide note taken as evidence of imminent peril.

“Students are saying the kid’s dorm room is cursed,” one of the detectives shares with Caroline in parting. “Him committing suicide. His roommate getting sent to prison. Another student on the same floor going missing around the same time. You wouldn’t know anything about a Stan Weber, would you?”

Caroline: “Never heard of him,” Caroline replies easily.

GM: The detective gives Caroline a card.

“Give us a call if you ever do. His family, at least, is worrying.”

Caroline: “I suspect the same can be said of all you visit, detective.”

GM: “Not the Trenton kid. Take care, ma’am.”

Tuesday evening, 12 October 2015

Caroline: Paxton is a different problem. She investigates his family—the picture the PI showed her still haunts her, but more aggressively uses her in’s with her family’s investigators built by their spying upon her to pry at the details of the investigation they’ve discovered.

GM: Caroline’s investigation into Joseph Paxton’s family reveals Lou was right in his suspicion that the picture Caroline saw wasn’t of Paxton’s kids. He still has children, however. They are an acne-ridden 12-year-old boy named Zachary and a 13-year-old girl with a small head, low ears, narrow eyes, and uncomprehending smile that the Ventrue almost-med student identifies as Down Syndrome. Both children are also moderately overweight. The PI who flashed the picture of two younger, cuter, physically unblemished girls hugging each other seems more likely to have melted hearts.

Paxton has a divorced wife by the name of Lucilia Plantaine, a long-time receptionist at Ware and Lebowski (after Paxton left the FBI, Lucilia apparently introduced him to Franz Hartz, who introduced him to the Malveauxes). Lucilia was relying heavily on alimony and child support payments from her ex-husband, who made better money than she did. The family’s financial situation is at once better and worse than the Christians’. While they do not need to pay off any immediate medical bills, their standard of living is likely to significantly decline now that their primary breadwinner is dead. This will likely entail dropping the kids from private school and enrolling them in the public school system. New Orleans’ already underfunded and poor-performing public schools were turned into charters after Hurricane Katrina and are consequently a dysfunctional mess. Special education programs and other “nonessential” services have been mercilessly slashed by the for-profit schools, which spells poorly for mentally handicapped students like Rowan. Lucilia might be able to keep her in private school if she goes deep enough into debt. Paying for Rowan’s care is another long-term issue, as she’ll never be able to live independently. Good community homes for mentally handicapped adults cost equally good money. Zachary can doubtlessly look forward to a smaller college fund, but that is also relatively long-term next to immediate issues like mortgage payments, groceries, bills, and other recurrent expenses that the family now has less money for. Orson did not look favorably upon Paxton’s divorce, which seems to have been initiated by Lucilia. Help from the Catholic archbishop does not seem likely.

But even the money is a distant concern to Paxton’s family right now. He’s been missing for weeks and they’re terrified over what’s happened to him. That sort of behavior is completely unlike the stubborn, duty-driven man who Caroline remembers murdering after his second escape attempt. The family went to NOPD and filed a missing persons report, but nothing has come of it. Lucilia seems to have resigned herself to the fact that she can’t hire better PIs than Orson. The obese receptionist has switched back from Diet Coke. Zachary got into a fight at school, which the out of shape preteen lost badly with a black eye and bloody nose. (Caroline has to wonder how Paxton viewed the gangly, unathletic child, and how the boy must have viewed his father—invincible, like all young boys view their fathers, but perhaps even more so.) Rowan’s epilepsy, a condition sometimes comorbid with Down Syndrome, has caused her several fits.

Through it all, Paxton’s family waits for him to come back or to hear the worst news—but far likely is that they will hear no news at all, and wait a full five years before the state of Louisiana declares Paxton dead in absentia.

Caroline even finds out, ironically, that Paxton had taken out a good life insurance policy. Between his career in the FBI and employment under Orson, it must have seemed like a real possibility he’d die early. His childrens’ and divorced wife’s odds of collecting without a body or even, at this point, death certificate, however, are quite poor.

Caroline: For now, Caroline tables the matter.

For now, she has no ready answer for the family.

Wednesday evening, 13 October 2015

GM: Caroline gets a phone call from Neil. He sounds like he’s trying not to be a nag, but he’s worried about Angela and reports the same thing as Summer (though lacking the younger Greer’s closer perspective as Angela’s roommate). She crashed hard after the influenza bug and cut down on a few of her responsibilities, but she’s now back to odd-hours meetings with Kappas. Anything Caroline has to tell him would be a relief.

“Things are just so crazy right now. There was another resident here, Jared Brown… he and his sister turned up murdered in the Ninth Ward,” Neil mentions in passing.

He does have some good news, though. “Your friend Lauren is out of the hospital. She has some scars, but it’s a full recovery. The aunt still wants to know who paid for everything after your firm wouldn’t comment. She’s really thankful.”

Caroline has already heard that Sarah woke up. Neil actually isn’t one of her doctors anymore, but he reports that she’s recovering well, from what he’s heard. She’s in physical therapy.

Caroline: Neil’s call brings a smile to her face, even with the trouble he’s in. She has few answers for him, other than that it’s ‘how the Kappa’s are’. Even her own mother remains relatively tied to the sorority and refuses to talk about it. Angela is no different: Caroline put out feelers and came up cold on her.

The call from Summer is both disappointing in its timing, and happy in its content. Caroline agrees to meet with her for drinks another time.

On the topic of Lauren, Caroline is grateful that Neil kept matters to himself, and also that she’s recovering. The poor girl is as much a victim of Caroline’s monstrous embrace and abandonment as Caroline, and that one of them will emerge from it brings a momentary smile to her face.

Sarah is another victim of hers, too, in a fashion. She’s glad the girl’s road to recovery is proceeding uninterrupted.

GM: Neil can’t hide his disappointment at Caroline’s answer, though he admits it was a long shot. Still, “I don’t know,” her ex admits. “It’s just starting to get to me. Some of that volunteer work she used to do at SAPHE was pretty meaningful. We had a fight over it.” There’s also another girl—drop dead gorgeous at that—who’s been making moves on him lately. Neil feels horrible admitting it, but it actually crossed his mind to, “See where things would take us.”

Caroline: The heiress doesn’t come out and say it outright, but her response leaves little doubt that she thinks he should consider the other woman: though she can’t tell him, the idea that Angela’s Kappa involvement could turn into a bigger problem for her before the year is out, and a desire to keep him from harm, goes a long way.

GM: Caroline’s advice appears to leave Neil even more torn, though he resolves that, “I’m not going to cheat on Angela. If I want to be with Becca I’ll leave her first. But Becca’s just… so sudden. I’m not sure if she’s only really after sex.”

Caroline: “I’d expect nothing less,” she answers with approval.

Thursday evening, 14 October 2015

Caroline: Paradoxically, as Caroline grows more distant from her family and her nights grow busier with the relatively mundane business of planning her death and establishing her position, she loses her excuses for many matters she had previously let fall by the wayside. Minor things… but not to her, especially as she is unable to run and hide from behind the insanity of her unlife’s pace. These are moments of shame she’ll never live down, that come to her in those moments before dawn as she waits for the darkness to overtake her, but perhaps can do something of.

Jacobson’s wife, who she never had time to visit, and who became so meaningless a pawn when Marco cut his ties with her, is added to the dossiers for her perusal, an examination of how she’s reacted to her husband’s death and the aftermath, and what she may require. Among those things is not a visit, but is a letter written anonymously to the widow of how she was saved by her husband’s bravery, and will not forget him. There’s truth within it, even coated as it is in murky untruths. It’s not hard for Caroline to imagine how awfully her life might have gone had not Marco and his fellow police officers overrun Eight-Nine-Six as they did. A prisoner of the Anarch gang, or humiliated by them, or simply beaten into a pulp: none would have bode well.

GM: Caroline finds that Jacobson’s wife Kelly is a fifth grade teacher at a local school, Benjamin Franklin. As a police officer’s widow, she is entitled to a survivor’s pension that is half of her husband’s full salary. Caroline is even able to calculate the amount to $30,459.50, as Jacobson was an officer II who’d been with NOPD for six years, had not been denied full merit pay, and held an associate’s degree (NOPD detectives require them, in addition to the simple incentive that degree-holding cops get paid more). Between Kelly’s salary as a teacher (not a lot, but still a regular salary) and her survivor’s pension, she seems relatively well-off. Financially, at least. Caroline recalls Marco’s words that, “No kids, so there won’t be any babies growing up without fathers, though he and Kelly had been trying.”

But cops take care of their own, and Kelly received far more than a simple survivor’s pension. She was notified in person of her husband’s death Superintendent Bernard Drouillard, the senior chaplain, and a designated department representative who became her liaison. Cops shrouded their badges with black tape and flags were lowered to half-staff. Support of all kinds, including prepared meals and transportation, was made available to Kelly 24 hours a day. The designated department representative assigned a team of officers to work on various aspects of the funeral: the chaplain arranged the service, the traffic unit supervisor planned and coordinated the procession, an the cemetery officer handled the internment. Further responsibilities taken on by NOPD included assigning a 24/7 watch of Kelly’s home until after the funeral, shifts of officers on casket watch who stayed with Jacobson’s body around the clock, a color guard for the funeral, ushers for the service, and a team of pallbearers to carry the casket—one of whom was Marco Rizaffi. The department also arranged the funeral’s location (Saint Louis Cemetery #2), made arrangements for parking, and hosted a luncheon after the service. At all times, Kelly was given full input into as many or as few aspects of the funeral as she wished to involve herself in, and the department did everything within its not-inconsiderable power to honor her wishes.

The funeral itself was attended by police throughout the city. Full military-style honors were made available to Jacobson, “as a hero who died in the line of duty.” Two officers stood vigil over the casket during 30-minute shifts. A flag was folded and formally presented to Kelly while a firing party emptied shots into the air. Mayor Borges did not personally attend, but Superintendent Drouillard gave an address. Further eulogies were delivered by Jacobson’s co-workers and superiors, and of course his and Kelly’s families.

New Orleans is not a sprawling metropolis like Chicago or Los Angeles, and the death of one officer has all the more impact in the smaller police department. It is an old city, too, and a Southern city. Old boy networks and respect for traditions remains alive and well here. So does corruption. Almost all of NOPD is “on the take” and receives money beyond their official salaries, in return for “doing things as they ought to be done.” There are no records of such, but it seems highly probable that Jacobson’s fellows put together something extra for his widow. Relatives, police, and families of police alike have almost certainly made Kelly enough food to last for weeks, and impressed upon her that she is free to call them if she ever needs anything, anything at all. More thoughtful well-wishers may have volunteered specific things to help out with.

NOPD paid for all of the funeral’s expenses. They wouldn’t go to such lengths to ease the burden upon Jacobson’s widow and then stick her with the bill.

Caroline also discovers that there was—and still is—a spike in Mid-City arrests and police violence. Two African-American youths were shot dead under controversial circumstances. Around half a dozen more individuals (several involved in Black Lives Matter) were savagely beaten, allegedly while resisting arrest. A 13-year-old boy lost his ear. Departmental unity goes and went both ways as Jacobson’s fellow officers turned their grief outwards into rage, and exacted the full measure of retribution that only the law can get away with.

Police, Caroline knows, absolutely despise cop killers. Their inability to catch Jacobson’s murderers is salt upon an already raw wound.

The Ventrue may feel somewhat at a loss regarding what else she can do against the combined (and timelier) efforts of the entire New Orleans Police Department. Materially, Kelly appears to want for little. She has, however, taken a leave of absence from her teaching duties. Caroline can hope the anonymous note provides the widow with some further comfort.

Caroline: It looks as if the NOPD has taken care of the widow. There’s little else she can do, much less without exposing herself. She exits the woman’s life.

Perhaps, more than anything, that’s the best thing she can do for Kelly Jacobson.

Thursday evening, 14 October 2015

Caroline: Another fairly direct victim her gaze falls to is the family of Emmett, though her motives are not so selfless: his cooperation may go further than outright domination when the time comes. She keeps semi-regular tabs upon them, as best she can, given their location in McGinn’s domain and his overly protective nature.

GM: Caroline’s investigation into Emmett’s family reveals that he has two living parents who are professors at Tulane University. They have not spoken to him in over half a decade. Emmett seemed on better terms with his older sister Eveline, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital New Orleans. She is married to an aerospace engineer (aerospace is a significant industry in New Orleans) named Daniel Merinelli and has two children with him named Noah and Maya.

Caroline may be discomfited to learn that as a result of her frame-up, Eveline has been arrested as an accessory to murder (which of course she is not) and will likely face prison time. Her medical license has been suspended, leaving dim prospects for when she gets out. The family is preparing to sell their house in Touro and to move to a smaller one in a lower-cost neighborhood. Although upper-middle class (husband and wife both made six-figure salaries), belts are tightening now that half their income is so abruptly gone, on top of paying their considerable legal fees.

Still, even beyond that, the family seems unusually cash-strapped given the circumstances… some further digging reveals that Eveline withdrew $10,000 in cash from the bank. She went to multiple branch locations and tried to space the withdrawals out over several days, but it doesn’t take a genius to see why the police would get suspicious in conjunction with Emmett’s drug-related charges.

There’s also another potential reason for the increased scrutiny on his family. Denise Bowden passes on the story, which has now made its way around legal circles and entertained countless incredulous professionals in the field, that Emmett went out of his way to get on the nerves of a judge in her own courtroom—and, “get this,” Denise scoffs, after the judge, Payton Underwood, had already signed off on a plea deal negotiated by his public defender. Underwood even warned Em once that he was in contempt of court, and he still kept trying to get on her nerves.

“I’ve never heard of anything like that,” Denise remarks incredulously.

Well, Em succeeded in getting on Underwood’s nerves. The results were predictable. She threw out the plea bargain that, as Caroline knows all-too well, judges aren’t actually legally obligated to honor. Then she threw the book at him for his crimes and the additional crime of contempt of court. She gave him the maximum sentence: death.

That’s justice in Louisiana.

Caroline: The Ventrue shakes her head at the sheer stupidity of his actions, but isn’t quite able to shake her own guilt at the cause of the family’s woes. She may not have made an array of poor choices that turned their circumstances into a train wreck, but she certainly had a part in setting it in motion.

Still, their proximity to certain individuals makes it difficult for Caroline to get leverage on them… that is until her pocket firm starts to gt up and running… beset by legal fees and with dwindling incomes and savings, the firm will soon extend an almost too-tempting offer of services.

Saturday evening, 16 October 2015

Caroline: Mrs. Christian and her son also feel Caroline’s gaze fall upon them. While she’s not so brazen as to turn around an actively pay for bills or send them money, as she did with her first victim, Caroline does encourage her medical allies to trim bills to the bone, and using her connections to high society need not work hard to ensure that her son’s college prospects turn for the better: particularly out of the city. The prospect of someday feeding upon him makes her nauseous. She keeps tabs to make sure the family does not go under as a result of her visit: some small mitigation of the brutal assault she inflicted upon the poor widow and single mother.

GM: Caroline’s investigations into Marianna Christian turn up that her husband John was a moderately successful electrician and died around four years ago. He left behind a life insurance policy that helped support Marianna and her son Brandon while she put more hours into her job at one of Larry Simpson’s hotels. She enrolled in community college to presumably earn a degree that would lead to a higher-paying source of employment. She has an insurance policy to help cover the hospital’s costs, but it’s not enough. The family has modest savings, and seems unlikely to be put out on the streets, but Marianna it still seems like it’s causing them considerable distress. Marianna is fretting over bills and planning to sell her car. The Christians look as if they fall into an uncomfortable middle to lower-middle class demographic… too well-off to qualify for programs like Medicaid, and just poor enough they’re being reduced to selling off assets.

Claire, when approached by Caroline about helping Brandon Christian get into college, wants to know why she should pull strings for “some random black boy.” She purses her lips at Caroline’s answer, and says she’ll ask one of her friends to ask another friend to write him a letter of recommendation. It’s not a free ride scholarship, but it’s better than nothing. Claire isn’t inclined to use the family’s influence on “an investment without likely returns.”

Or, perhaps, one of her daughter’s victims.

Caroline: The argument with her mother over assistance for the Christian family turns bitter before Caroline takes her leave from the conversation. The topic was tender enough, shameful enough, before she brought it to Claire’s attention. Her mother’s relative reluctance to to get involved and dismissal of its meaning to Caroline quickly turns it sore.

The entire experience is demonstrative to the privileged heiress, how someone that has done nothing wrong can be so wrecked by events beyond their control, with so few safety nets.

She’s known, academically, how it could happen, but seeing it play out over time and knowing she’s at the root of it stings. It’s all the more frustrating for the limits on her considerable influence given the event’s sensitivity: throwing enough money to get rid of the problem for the family would be laughably easy were it not so tangibly tied to the Masquerade. In the end she plants the idea in one of Marianna’s coworkers to put together a GoFundMe for the family to help defray the remaining legal expenses—an idea inspired by another of her victims—the autistic Tulane student. Still unable to deeply involve herself in it, she watches as minor contributions trickle in from coworkers, fellow students, and neighbors and has someone plant the idea—in the mundane sense—to Larry that matching donations to the campaign makes good business sense, in terms of helping to retain employees and show his ‘caring’ and ‘concern’.

GM: Caroline’s indirect GoFundMe campaign, however, meets with considerably more success over the following weeks—remarkably so, when all is said and done. Or perhaps not so remarkably, when one considers how incredibly slow hospitals can be about sending out bills. Donations match and even exceed the amount needed for the Christians’ medical expenses, once Larry Simpson steps in. He even helps buy back some of the possessions they’ve already sold off. His employees love it. The Christians do even more.

So does Antoine Savoy, whose interest in the hospitality magnate appears more than passing.“You can’t just spend money on goodwill, you know!” he laughs to Caroline. “They’re all saying what a generous and caring boss he is, and it’s much more cost-effective than raising wages. I’m pleased to see him doing well.”

Caroline: “I’m just pleased you didn’t find it to be intrusive, Lord Savoy,” Caroline demurs. “Some Kindred, I’ve find, are very possessive, even in the face of a light touch.”

GM: “And what is there for me to find intrusive?” Savoy remarks amiably. “You didn’t tamper with Larry directly, did you? The neighbor who started that fundraiser didn’t even work for him.”

Caroline: “Of course not, Lord Savoy, but I need not tell you that not all Kindred would see it that way.” The meeting is over drinks that neither of them truly enjoy, though Caroline had grown more adept at forcing down the foul liquids, and takes a sip between comments. “All they’d see is ‘their’ money going out the door to something affiliated with another Kindred.”

GM: “We see that too, Miss Malveaux,” Preston comments.

“Pure guesswork that it was you, by the way,” Savoy winks. “The circumstances of the injury sounded like a Kindred attack, and the only Kindred likely to go hunting in Black Pearl are poachers or tenants without feeding rights in Tulane—not many of those. Knowing who lives and feeds where can tell you a lot of things, my dear.”

Caroline: “If you require fiscal compensation, I’ll be happy to arrange it,” Caroline replies sweetly to Preston, before turning her attention back to Savoy. “Knowledge is power,” she agrees, “though not on its own.”

GM: “Play nice, you two,” Savoy chides with an amused wag of his finger.

“Knowledge is leverage, I think, has always been a better quote. It’s all in how you play it.”

Caroline: “That’s fair… though depending on how much leverage you can muster, it may take very little power to make it go a long way… and a four-foot pipe wrench is easier and cheaper to maintain than bulging muscles.”

GM: The Toreador laughs. “You should share that one with the sewer rats, Miss Malveaux. I’m sure they’d be amused.”

Caroline: A smile peeks out from behind her lips.

“No doubt I already have, Lord Savoy.”

Monday evening, 18 October 2015

GM: Caroline is left with a brief window while her family “sorts things out” with Tulane. During that time, Summer Greer calls the Ventrue back to report her sister Angela is disappearing again during the middle of the night. Angela was really out of things for a while after the influenza outbreak, Summer says… Angela was already balancing her college courses, volunteer work, a part-time job, a boyfriend, being Josephine Louise’s dorm supervisor, babysitting her little sister (Summer calls it “staying on my case”) and, as Caroline is all too aware, maintaining a double life as a hunter. Getting sick on top of all that finally wiped Angela out.

“Not forever though, that’s my sis. Supergirl,” Summer half-sarcastically remarks. She continues Angela took some time off from the Kappas, quit her part-time job, and scaled back on the volunteer work. It’s only now that she’s resumed going out with her sorority again on weekend nights.

“She’s the same as ever there though. She just completely shuts down when I ask her about what she’s up to.”

Caroline: The Ventrue listens with some interest—its the closest she can really get to the Kappas without digging in directly, and ultimately invites the other girl to meet her for coffee.

GM: Summer meets her at the French Quarter’s Arrow Cafe for some traditional Southern chicory coffee.

Caroline: Caroline is friendly enough, letting the Beast run over the freshman, in their conversations about the Kappas. She relates how her own mother is a prior Kappa, and how frustrating the wall it created between them was. More than talk though, she listens to Summer’s frustrations, and encourages her to offer up more than simply those about her sister. Caroline is, after-all, such a good listener.

GM: Many of Summer’s frustrations are heavily tied to Angela, given that she is required to dorm with and attend parties in her older sister’s presence. She still doesn’t have a boyfriend. Her sister still gets better grades and better everything than her. Summer’s complaints are largely the same as they were during the last time they talked, though to Caroline it feels like a lifetime ago. Summer still appears just as willing to appear her frustrations to a sympathetic audience.

The only real change is that Angela was sick and staying in bed more. Summer seems like she tried to help out and Angela rebuffed her, or at least that’s how she tells it.Angela’s boyfriend Neil also came over a few times, so Summer had to make herself scarce. Normally Angela goes to his place.She appears particularly ticked off over how “easy” holding a boyfriend in her living situation actually looks.

“So much for the college experience. It’s been exactly like high school,” Summer finishes annoyedly.“I don’t even feel like an adult. It’s exactly the same. Just the older sister instead of Dad and Stepmom.”

Caroline: Listening to the freshman’s complaints, it feels more than a lifetime ago. Simple problems, perhaps without simple answers, but with such low stakes.

“So what do you do when she goes out on her Kappa things?”

GM: “It’s in the middle of the night, usually. But… I did sneak off a bar last time,” Summer admits. “Not The Boot, one of the real ones in the Quarter. God are they so much better.”

Caroline: Caroline laughs. “Why’s that?”

GM: “You mean apart from not apart from letting in more people than college kids spending their parents’ money?” Summer asks sarcastically.

Caroline: “College kids like you?” Caroline teases.

GM: “The Quarter has real clubs and bars. Frat Row’s are the little kid versions. And they don’t give a crap in the Quarter how old you are.”

“I didn’t even get checked for ID.”But besides not being kids, the people there are just a lot more colorful.“Like, I ran into a lady whose hair and face were painted silver, and wore everything in silver. She was like a walking statue.”She never talked either, just twirled around her umbrella."

Caroline: Caroline bets they are.

GM: “Or parousel, whatever.”

Caroline: “Have you ever tried following your sister? Seems like if she’s a load around your neck, you could be the same to her.”

GM: “Fuck no. I’m gonna enjoy it while she’s gone,” Summer declares. “’Nother funny character I ran into said she was a vampire.”

Caroline: That snags Caroline’s interest, even as she recognizes the possibility that’s it’s a fake given New Orleans’ history.

“A vampire, huh?”

GM: “Yeah, she wore goth clothing and had even filed her teeth.”

Caroline: “Freaks everywhere, I guess,” Caroline answers.

GM: Summer shrugs. “Better company than kids at The Boot. She was actually pretty nice. Not like you, though.” Her voice gets slightly thicker. “I feel like I’ve known you my whole life…”

Caroline: “I hear that a lot,” Caroline replies, trying to deflect the topic.

“Did she ‘have you for a drink’?” she asks in her best fake accent.

GM: “No, she gave me a massage. She said that’s how she’d ‘drain my energy.’ It actually felt really good.”

Caroline: “Oooooh, a vampire massage,” Caroline teases.

GM: “Shut up, it felt good,” Summer mumbles, but partly grinning.

Caroline: “Anything else about this vampire masseuse?” she asks.

GM: “She said she’d like to see me again. I don’t wanna feel like I’m leading her along, though. I’m not into girls.”

Caroline: “You got a goth vampire girl’s number? After she gave you a massage?”

GM: Summer rolls her eyes. “No, just the club. The Abbey.”

Caroline: She makes note of the name. Probably a wild goose chase, but it costs her little to check it out.

Caroline spends a few more minutes talking with Summer, mostly offering small pieces of advice and a sounding board for her complaints and plans. It’s surprisingly relaxing to have less troublesome problems to consider, and she knows too well the pain of not healing a rift before it’s too late, though she does not offer such trite advice outright.

GM: Summer nods along, agreeing with almost everything the vampire says. Her head is held fast between the Beast’s jaws.

She doesn’t have many plans, though. She’s mostly just waiting until the end of the year. When Angela will be gone.

“Maybe then everything can get better.”

Monday night, 18 October 2015, PM

GM: Caroline receives another phone call from the coed, mere hours after their meeting—not quite long enough for the Beast to release its grip—asking if she’d like to hang out again sometime. Summer really enjoyed talking with her.

Summer is not old enough to legally drink, and though some bars in the Quarter may not card her, the ones Caroline is more wont to frequent do. Three nights later, the two meet again at the Arrow Cafe for chicory coffee. Summer rants some more about the pitfalls of having to room with her older sister and how she can’t wait until Angela graduates. It’s largely the same words over the same topic, but the young coed seems grateful for someone who listens.

“Oh yeah, Angela was actually talking about you.”

Caroline: “About me?” Caroline’s hands are wrapped around a warm paper cup, and she’s equally grateful for both the gentle heat and the lid that covers how little of it she’s actually had to drink.

GM: “Yeah, it was about that Trenton guy,” Summer answers, having removed her own cup’s lid to blow on the hot drink. “Did he really blow his brains out in front of you?”

Caroline: That certainly gets Caroline’s attention.

“What? No! Jesus, who’s spreading that rumor around?”

GM: Summer shrugs. “Maybe that wasn’t it. I just heard he killed himself around you or something. Is it true?”

Caroline: “After he left.”

There’s just a bit of a catch on the word he.

“Seemed pretty disappointed that I wasn’t interested in… well… that. The police stopped by to talk to me about it and everything, said he threw himself off a bridge or something. Left a note and everything. They said his family life was pretty messed up.”

The conversation is too close to topics she doesn’t want to talk about on more than one level. The memory of coming to, the lifeless body in her arms, blood all over her face… she grinds her teeth.

GM: “Oh. Well, that musta sucked. For you both.” Summer frowns. “I heard there was someone who tried a rape a girl in JLH. That was another guy, right?”

Caroline: “More for him I suspect, since I didn’t throw myself off a bridge,” Caroline offers in a muted tone. “And yeah, that one I heard about. Real creeper. He’d actually stalked my brother’s… well, not-quite fiance before that. I guess he had a taste for white girls.”

GM: “I think he’s in a movie or something on MeVid,” Summer says thoughtfully.

Caroline: “Is it security footage?” Caroline half-jokes.

GM: Summer laughs. “No, wait, I heard he gets arrested at the end. That’s gotta be staged.”

Caroline: “So you’re saying a happy ending? Yeah, it’s fake.”

GM: Summer laughs harder.

Caroline: “I heard he got the book thrown at him though. We’ll see how much he likes a year in jail.”

GM: “That can’t be all he’s getting for rape,” Summer frowns.

Caroline: “Attempted. Why was your sister talking about it though? The Trenton guy?”

GM: “She used to volunteer for a sexual aggression hotline. He was also trans and she’s queer except when she’s with her boyfriend, so I guess she felt bad about him. Seemed pretty broken up, anyways.”

Caroline: “Dangerous lifestyle. I’ve heard like half of all trans people end up killing themselves though.”

GM: “Huh, that’s a lot. My poor sis, she goes through so much too,” Summer says sarcastically.

Caroline: “You have to think there is some kind of screw loose in their heads. I mean, I sort of understand the gay thing, but ‘trans’?” The heiress shakes her head. “Wanting to cut on your body and take hormones?” Another shake of the head.

GM: “I dunno, I might be happy with my body, but I don’t think I can really speak someone else’s. I think people know what’s best for them.”

Caroline: “If half of them end up dead like Trenton?” Caroline shrugs.

GM: “You should debate my sister. She’d talk your ear off.”

Caroline: “Ugh. Let’s not and say we didn’t,” Caroline offers.

GM: “She’s all up in that stuff. She went to Decadence as a fairy princess or something.”

Caroline: “That’s dangerous,” Caroline offers with a degree of seriousness. “My old roommate got drugged when she went to Decadence. Ended up having to get shipped off for therapy and all kinds of stuff afterwards. I know that entire community wants to promote itself, but it’s not as harmless as they’d like everyone to think. The later it gets the more deviants come out.”

GM: “Sorry about your roomie. But that’s just every festival in the city from what I hear. That stuff happens at Mardi Gras, Halloween, and all the others.”

Caroline: Caroline shrugs. “You’re not wrong.”

GM: “That’s when Angie puts on her Supergirl cape. I don’t think she even goes to Mardi Gras, just looks through missing persons reports or whatever.”

Caroline: “In this city that’s a full time job,” Caroline offers, though the tidbit offers an interesting bit about how the sorority’s hunters operate. “Personal thing or a sorority thing?”

GM: “Beats me, but she does that pretty often. Talks to a lot of cops too.”

Caroline: “Ugh, that sounds miserable. Once in a year is more than enough for a police visit. Some people want to be martyrs though.”

GM: “Or superheroes. It gets her whenever I call her Supergirl,” Summer smirks. “She says it’s her job to keep JLH safe.”

Caroline: “Right, how’s that going to work when she graduates? I don’t exactly think you can put ‘superhero’ on your resume.”

GM: “I’m not really sure, actually,” Summer remarks. “She wants to stick around for grad school, though.”

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head in frustration and disgust. “Of course she does.”

The police side is interesting. An opening under other circumstances.

“What about you? What’s your long-term plan, Summer?”

GM: Summer looks a bit uncomfortable. “I’m still, I dunno, figuring things out. I guess. I don’t have to declare my major yet.”

Caroline: “Don’t have to doesn’t mean can’t, and once your sister gets out of your hair I’m sure you’re going to have other things to occupy your time…”

The last bit is more mischievous than chastising.

GM: “Oh, god, finally. It can’t come soon enough, her moving out,” Summer declares.

Caroline: “So do what you can now, and make time for yourself later.”

“If you decide on something I could even see if I could pull a string or two, help get you a foot in the door somewhere.”

GM: “Oh really? I thought you were a student here.”

Caroline: “I am, but that doesn’t mean that’s all I am. One advantage of attending swanky shirt stuffing parties.”

“Every now and then they become stocking stuffers.” The Ventrue winks.

GM: “Nice. Well, I’ll keep it in mind.”

Caroline: Another wink, and a fake sip of a disgusting beverage.

Monster and manipulator she may be, but it feels good to at least offer to do something for someone.

Early-mid October, 2015

Caroline: Among the many projects Caroline engages in during her first weeks after her release, perhaps none is so important to her as the establishment of her new haven. She’s quick in staking out the limits of Rocco’s domain, and swifter still in identifying several potential sites of interest, among them the recently refurbished and restored Giani Building—still mostly vacant following its reopening.

The luxury apartments on the corner of the hound’s domain present an intriguing opportunity, especially when probing with Becky Lynne and investigations by Autumn reveal that the largest single stakeholder in the property, Ernest Phimlee, is not under the influence of another of the Damned. Caroline wastes little time before swooping in on the architect / developer to secure her own influence over him—and the rise of her dominion over the building as a whole.

By the time she has, and now quite tired of living out of hotel rooms, she’s able to put other pieces into play towards the same end. Ghouls are moved into the building as they are brought into the fold. Others, loyal by more conventional means, fall into place with comfortable positions in the building: Iraq and Afghan campaign vets filling in as on site security, Carla sliding into the cleaning agency for the building as a whole, and other less scrupulous individuals filling newly created maintenance positions. Several apartments see further renovation for Caroline’s needs, and it’s with relief—but not rest—that she puts the finishing touches on securing her haven against all comers, all too aware of just how many there may be.

Her new ghoul and financial manager, Sarah Widney, rents the apartment through a dummy LLC that exists solely to hold the lease and several other assets for Caroline. The setup is both legal and opaque to an outside observer, as even the name of the “corporation,” Elise Bennett, appears on leasing documents as just another name, rather than as a corporate ownership or holding to a casual examination.

GM: Caroline’s move-in to the Giani Building goes smoothly. Widney reports that she met with the building manager, and found him “pliable and eager to please.” Caroline even sees him a few times passing through the halls.

Pic.jpg Hugo Cleveland is a middle-aged man with a wide belly, receding hairline, and egg-shaped head who nods when he smiles, which is often. He lives on-site and tells Caroline that she should not hesitate to come to him for any needs she might have. His job is to make her stay at the Giani Building “as pleasant as possible.”

Autumn proves less than enchanted by the man. “Oh, wow, I guess property managers act like tools instead of scumbags if your rent is high enough. Who’d have thought?”

Caroline: Caroline gets a good laugh out of Autumn’s explanation of ‘landlords’.

“Something you’ll have to get used to, Autumn, when you have a certain amount of money or power, people become far less inclined to wave that banner, whatever their temporary powers may be.”

GM: Rent at the Giani Building starts at $1900 for the cheapest one-bedroom one-bathroom units, moves up to $4,000 for the better ones, and is not posted on public listings for penthouse suites such as Caroline’s. The Giani Building offers many amenities for rent within those ranges, including a shopping center, concierge, 24 hour surveillance, on-site maid, grocery, online, and meal service, as well as a childcare center. Most of these amenities are paid for separately from rent, however, which Autumn terms a “sucker trap,” since that fact is not mentioned on any of the apartment sites (though the amenities themselves certainly are).

Widney finds the building to her liking. Brian Fuller, Caroline’s new chief of security, is less pleased. It doesn’t have a gym.

Autumn is mildly surprised and amused when she picks up this is the first time Caroline is really living on her own; that is, outside of hotel rooms and her father’s or uncle’s houses. “Most landlords are douchebags. That’s the first thing to keep in mind. Granted, we have some of the worst landlord-tenant laws in the country here. Thanks partly to your dad. No offense.”

Autumn and Widney also go about the task of examining the building from a financial and Masquerade standpoint. Both ghouls are quick to point out two vulnerabilities that have likely already occurred to their domitor: the Giani Building lets out apartments, rather than sells condos, so Caroline could be legally evicted from her haven. Kindred powers combined with her own legal acumen make it easy for her to secure a favorable lease, but if it comes down to a conflict with other licks, Autumn is wary that Caroline does not own the deed to her haven. Widney seems less concerned by this.

The simplest way around this would be to buy it. At $4,847,700, however, the price tag eclipses Caroline’s net worth.

Widney brings up Lou’s building while they are discussing real estate, and asks what Caroline’s long-term plans are for it. Does she want to keep it as a source of steady revenue (a property manager can handle the day-to-day details), or does she want to fix it up and sell it?

There are no reports of the ghoul PI being spotted there since their last fateful meeting.

Caroline: Caroline makes clear to the ghouls that while the Giani Building may be a long-term investment—it may just as easily not. It’s functional and pleasant, but she’s by no means wed to it—and certainly not to the five million dollar price tag. For now she’s comfortable hiding behind the very favorable leasing agreement and the other bolt-holes she puts together in case of emergency.

As for the office building she bought to get to Lou, Caroline is content to keep it for now, renting out open space as available to cover the mortgage and renovation work in the building as a legal cover for some of her ‘off the books’ employees.

GM: Widney and Autumn both approve of the idea. Lou’s office is in a bad neighborhood, but gentrification is taking place in New Orleans as surely as it is anywhere else.

Autumn, though, says that might not be the case for Caroline’s landlord, “Because he’s that big a cock.” Her research revealed that Hugo’s boss and the owner of the Giani Building is Canal@Camp Ampartments LLC, whose mailing address is 161 Lakewood Estates—around 6 miles south of New Orleans in Jefferson Parish, and almost discongruently proximate to Diego’s own Terrytown. Ernest Phimlee is the spokesman rather than owner proper. The real owner of the LLC is a man named Rishu “Rich” Pavaghi. Locals know him as “the t-shirt czar.” A less generous writer on has described him as “the worst person in New Orleans.”

Caroline is familiar with him.

“…basically the kinda guy you Sanctified are supposed to prey on,” Autumn notes.

Caroline: “Maybe I will,” Caroline offers with a fang-filled grin.

Early-mid October, 2015

GM: As part of moving into the Giani Building, Caroline has her ghouls set up the details of a live-in or on-demand staff, hiring security guards, maids, drivers, PIs, and the like. These mortal employees believe they work for Widney, and legally, they do. Caroline does not make any ghouls from among their number, at least not yet. Widney takes care of negotiating the lease terms for their apartment units with Hugo, which ultimately fall under Elise Bennett’s corporate umbrella. She says there were some further legal hoops to jump through, and that Hugo was initially skeptical of essentially granting Widney permission to rent out whatever units Elise Bennett is itself renting. The two have managed to hammer out a more detailed lease agreement with the help of several lawyers, however, and Hugo made it especially clear to Widney that Elise Bennett is going to continue paying rent even for units that sit empty (as Canal@Camp Apartments LLC will be unable to rent them out for as long as Elise Bennett’s lease lasts).

Autumn is quick to seize on flaws with this arrangement. “So Widney was a butler ruined by Argabrite, and now she’s living large with all these people at her beck and call? What’s the story if someone asks where she got all this money?”

Indeed, it soon becomes plain to Caroline that her two ghouls do not get along. Widney considers Autumn unqualified and unprofessional. Autumn considers Widney dangerously ignorant of Kindred society, and resents her for appearing out of nowhere to assume so many responsibilities. While Caroline’s newest ghoul handles those, her oldest one falls into a critic’s role. Autumn spies on and runs background checks for Widney’s employee recommendations, and is quick to report any dirty laundry to Caroline, as well as to seize on threats to the Masquerade or her domitor’s Kindred interests. When Widney argues back, Caroline is distinctly reminded of how she sounded during her Requiem’s earlier nights—and Autumn is just as quick to drive home that the other ghoul doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Widney naturally resents the constant second-guessing and responds by laying into what she perceives as Autumn’s personal flaws.

At the heart of it all, both ghouls seem to regard one another as threats. Autumn fears obsolescence and resents Widney for swooping in to manage job functions which, though she would never admit it to her rival, she considers “higher” than espionage and Masquerade maintenance. The sorts of financial wizardry and employee hirings Widney has been handling are the basis for ultimate Kindred power. More than that, Autumn believes she’s smart enough to do that sort of work… she just doesn’t yet have the degree. That pride is there in other ways, too. Anyone, Autumn believes, can learn law and finance. Occult knowledge is much harder-won.

Widney’s emotions are harder to get a read on. She hates relying on Autumn, but is even more loath to go about her new duties ignorant. She keeps it together well—very well, all things considered—but like almost anyone thrust into this life, she fears she’s out of her depth. She tries to compensate by going to Caroline for information instead of Autumn.

Caroline: Caroline tolerates the infighting for only a short time, waiting to see how they shake out the relationship and giving them an opportunity to resolve matters without her interference. When they fail, and as their interactions grow more toxic, she steps in, cutting right to the point first with Autumn.

“Do you think I have room for only one of you two?” It’s early in the evening, and Caroline has time between her next ‘appointment’.

GM: “It’s not that. She’s putting you at risk, with how much she doesn’t understand about this life,” Autumn answers.

Caroline: “And who is she supposed to learn that from?” Caroline answers in turn, stone-faced.

GM: “It’s not that. There’s things she just doesn’t get. Remember how you were at first?”

Caroline: “Yes, I do.”

GM: “Well, someone giving you a lecture wouldn’t have fixed that. Not by itself.”

Caroline: The Ventrue crosses her legs as she looks up from behind her desk. “Have you given that lecture?”

GM: “Of course. She’s trying to get all her info from you, isn’t she?” Autumn half-asks, half-answers from the seat across from it.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t take the bait. “I don’t think you want me to answer that.”

GM: “Rhetorical. It’s pretty obvious that she is.”

Caroline: “And what does that make you?” Caroline asks.

GM: “Hey, I’m still doing my job. I tell her how things work. That’s on Widney if she still goes to you.”

Caroline: “That’s exactly the point,” Caroline intones clearly. “If she’s coming to me then you aren’t, and similarly if you are not taking advantage of her presence to learn her own craft for yourself, you’re also selling short yourself at the same time.”

GM: “Have you told this to her too?”

Caroline: “Do I need to?” Caroline asks.

GM: “For sure. You think this is all on me?”

Caroline: “No, but I think you’re the more experienced of the two of you, with a firmer understanding of what this life involves and what is waiting out there. You know, better than she, how important it is that we circle the wagons here. How much I need both of your expertise.”

GM: “Definitely,” Autumn nods.

Caroline: “How are you going to impress that importance on others to come if you can’t impress it on her?” Caroline asks sharply.

GM: “Because you’ve handed her all this authority over day-to-day stuff and it’s gone to her head,” Autumn replies defensively. “In the Krewe, every ghoul knew what the hierarchy was. Widney doesn’t. Brian at least always listens, and asks a lot too, but that’s because he knows the information is important. Personally knows. Not because there’s any, I guess you could call it, chain of command.”

Caroline: “You need more power and authority from me,” Caroline offers.

GM: “That wouldn’t be bad,” Autumn agrees. “If you want to bring in more ghouls, there should be some kind of organization. All of the prince’s know the Hussar’s in charge.”

Caroline: “Is the Hussar in charge because the prince placed him there, or because he is the most capable?” Caroline asks.

GM: “Probably some of both. It was the same in the Krewe.”

Caroline: “And if I placed you in charge, could you keep that position without my attention?” Caroline again asks.

GM: Autumn seems to think before answering, “If all I had was your say-so, I probably could. The others don’t know anything about this life without me.”

Caroline: “Could they be effective with you only handing out that information as needed, or would you have to withhold information to control them?”

GM: “Both. They’d probably still want to know more, even if I told them the minimum needed to do their jobs.”

Caroline: “That’s not leadership—that’s control.”

GM: “You don’t think other ghouls and licks in charge don’t do that?” she scoffs.

Caroline: “And what tends to happen to the ghouls and licks caught in the middle of that environment?” Caroline asks.

GM: “They don’t like it, but they adapt.”

Caroline: “The ones that don’t die in mass.”

GM: “Not telling them information they don’t actually need isn’t what gets them killed.”

Caroline: “No, but it contributes to the atmosphere of fear, hate, and suspicion.”

GM: “Well… to be honest, that’s always gonna be there, even if you hadn’t brought in Widney,” Autumn says slowly. “I mean… I’ve seen everything that’s gone on around you.”

Caroline: Caroline sits up. “Meaning what?”

GM: “Well, every ghoul who originally served under you besides me is dead.” Her voice is quiet.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t quite snarl. “Something I’m trying to avoid in the future.”

GM: “I hope so too, goes without saying. But… it’d be really easy for it to happen again.”

Caroline: Caroline’s fingers drum on the desk. “For all of us.”

GM: “Yeah.”

Caroline: “Which brings us full circle. I need everyone working together, doing everything they can, to not only keep our heads above water, but also to build on what we have. So, would I like for you to eventually have a leadership position? Absolutely. But you need to be ready when you step in, and in more than one way.”

GM: Autumn looks nonplussed at that assessment. “Can I be blunt? It sounds like you’re in denial. Widney isn’t going to be a ‘leader’ when she knows this little about Kindred society. Or about you. There’s not going to be a happy work-together atmosphere if she knew anything about your previous ghouls. Or just how common that sort of ‘turnover’ is.”

Caroline: The drumming stops. “That sounded disturbingly close to a threat. Perhaps you’d care to rephrase it.” There is a dangerous look in Caroline’s eye.

GM: “It wasn’t a threat,” Autumn clarifies hastily. “I don’t have anything to threaten you with. You’re the lick, I’m the renfield. I couldn’t stop you from midscrewing me into doing… anything. I’m not stupid. I just meant if you, not me, told her about the full realities.”

Caroline: “That they were murdered by more powerful Kindred?” Caroline spits. Both wounds are scabbed over, but not closed.

GM: “That it’s just what comes with the job, working for a lick who isn’t powerful,” Autumn offers, though there’s no small wariness in her eyes. “I haven’t said anything to them about that. I won’t, unless you tell me to.”

Caroline: “That’s right,” Caroline answers to the first of Autumn’s statement. “But today both of those deaths would have been avoidable.”

GM: “I hope so.”

Caroline: “We’ve wandered rather afield the topic. Widney isn’t going anywhere, nor am I going to ignite a power struggle between you two by crowning someone. You both need each other, and I need you working together. Identifying problems and finding solutions together, rather than airing them to me. If a dispute or concern makes it that far, something has gone horribly wrong.”

GM: “Okay, I can do things that way,” Autumn agrees. “Widney just thinks she’s already been crowned with how much day-to-day stuff she manages.”

Caroline: “So show her how out of depth she is. Introduce her around one day.”

GM: “That could just as easily get her killed.”

Caroline: “Meeting other ghouls with you would get her killed?” Caroline asks skeptically.

GM: “Showing her how out of depth she is. Just seeing other ghouls won’t do that.”

Caroline: “It would show how much more there is to this world… and how well you know it,” Caroline suggests.

GM: “I guess it could. But that’s still pretty far from seeing a lick kill one of us for shits and giggles.”

Caroline: “No Kindred is going to kill any ghoul of mine again for ‘shits and giggles’,” Caroline growls.

GM: “I sure hope not,” Autumn agrees. “But… you’re less than a year old, and don’t have any friends. Other licks can do whatever they want to us.”

Caroline: “Tell that to Eight-Nine-Six,” Caroline replies acidly.

GM: “Well… it was the prince who took care of them. You’re really lucky they broke the Masquerade in Central City like that.”

Caroline: Caroline’s eyes glitter from behind her desk. She allows the pause to continue for a moment.

“In any case, establishing your credentials with her and proving the value of actively involving you, rather than working around you, would go a long way.”

GM: “If she doesn’t try to go around me and get to know other ghouls and licks by herself. That’d end badly.”

Caroline: “It could, but understand this: tearing each other down cannot build either of you up in my eyes.” Her eyes are hard. “Figure it out.”

GM: “Are you going to talk with her about this too?” Autumn keeps her mild, but still asks.

Caroline: “I’m going to talk with everyone that matters.”

Early-mid October, 2015

Caroline: For all of Caroline’s earlier words, she aggressively pursues many of Autumn’s recommendations to address the ex-Krewe cleaner’s concerns. Rather than rent out a live-in staff, Caroline goes out of her way to integrate them into the building’s existing services. What staff she does move in all move in under their own or assumed names.

GM: Caroline’s ghouls are, for once, unanimous in their support of this idea. Autumn says that employees under Caroline’s thumb are less likely (though still could be) moles for other Kindred, and will be more inclined to look the way where the Masquerade is concerned. Fuller points out that the building already has its own security staff (smaller and less professional than the one Caroline wants), and that he doesn’t like the dynamic with two forces working for different entities in the same building with distinct and overlapping areas of jurisdiction. Security should all fall under the same umbrella, with a clear chain of command, so nothing “confuses” the men. Plus it makes his own job inherently easier when he directly runs the full show. Widney agrees that the more of the building’s operations Caroline controls, the better.

However, Widney is still just a tenant, and cannot hire or fire the building’s staff. Hugo wants to make Widney’s life more pleasant, but he is likely to draw the line at hiring and firing so many people at her recommendation. What does she care about all these employees anyway? Hugo can assign specific maids to service her unit if there are ones she prefers.

Caroline: Widney pitches that her boss isn’t a fan of the rent-a-cop security and is putting pressure on her to up the security in the building. Rather than hire people and have them in conflict or creating potential problems for him, she’d prefer to pass on some more capable names for him. Widney pitches it as a win-win in that she keeps her boss happy because she convinced Hugo to bring in people, he doesn’t have headaches, the building gets more attractive as a whole, and she is of course willing to make it worth his while. Her boss Caroline is in with his boss Phimlee, which in turn is likely to look good for him.

GM: Widney hammers out an arrangement with Hugo that she reports back to Caroline. The Giani Building’s manager agreed to some of the terms, rejected others, and proposed his own modifications to a few. He was also very clear that he wouldn’t take bribes of any kind. However, he did mention that he was operating off a fixed budget (unless he could convince his boss to increase it), and hiring more and better-qualified security employees would mean cutting back on the building’s other amenities and employees. If Widney’s boss wanted to provide the Giani Building with additional funds to enable the security increase while preventing other cutbacks, Caroline’s ghoul relays, Hugo said he was entirely amenable.

“‘No bribes’, huh,” says Autumn.

Widney supplies the first payment. A week later, Hugo has fired many of the rent-a-cops and hired ex-servicemen recommended by Brian Fuller, who he has also hired as the building’s security chief. He has also downsized the building’s maid service, firing some of the workers and outright lowering the wages of the undocumented immigrants, essentially demanding that they do more with less.

Autumn rolls her eyes as she reports all of this to Caroline. “Louisiana, right?”

Widney later sits down with Caroline to talk about finances. Fuller is self-sufficient, but Widney and Autumn both rely on Caroline for salaries (informal in the latter’s case). The soon-to-be former heiress has around $50,000 a month to play with, thanks to her ongoing financial manipulations. It’s considerably more than her prior trust fund. This amount is before monthly expenses like rent and mortgage payments (on Lou’s building), and the $4,000 that could sustain both her ghouls in decent comfort. The money is mostly pulled from stocks, bonds, rent from Lou’s building, her trust fund, and assorted other “stable” investments she can largely leave to Whitney, and parked in overseas accounts.

Widney is concerned, however, that it is not enough to pay for a full-time staff of the scope Caroline wants. The ghoul can think of several ways to pay for them. First, cut back their hours back to part-time, and let them draw money from other jobs. Second, ghoul key personnel who will serve out of simple devotion, and don’t pay them anything. Let them work other jobs, as per the first suggestion. Not paying the key ghouls will open up a larger budget to pay with. Still, even the full (unavailable) $50,000 budget split into $4,000 monthly salaries comes out to 12.5 people.

The third option, Whitney says, is to acquire a business or organization that has access to inherently larger sums of capital than any individual. Have her staff work for it, either in fact or only nominally as listed names drawing salaries from the payroll.

A way partly around this, too, is for Caroline to place ghouls in supervisory positions of existing organizations and let them bear the payroll costs for her staff. Caroline has already successfully done this with Fuller, Widney adds: he’s loyal to Caroline, draws his salary from the Giani Building’s employee payroll, and supervises a large force of security guards who are likewise paid by Canal@Camp Ampartments LLC. Widney thus recommends that she replicate the same strategy on Hugo (in other words, ghoul him). Caroline could also do the same with Hugo’s own boss. While he determines bigger-scale things like the building’s budget and major projects, he is also largely uninvolved in daily management.

Widney also specifically brings up Autumn, who she spends a significant amount of time discussing. Does Autumn have a job, or otherwise doing anything to bring in money? Does she have any appreciable assets in her name? What does Caroline plan on having her do once she graduates and that drain on the ghoul’s time no longer occupies her? What were her previous living arrangements and expenses before the recent move-in to the Giani Building?

Once they are finished with the topic of Autumn, Widney also says that she would be very interested to see how other vampires manage these sorts of financial and logistical issues, which are quite distinct from any others she’s dealt with (“The closest thing are the finances of drug lords and crime bosses who can’t do everything through legitimate channels.”) In fact, Widney believes she could learn a great deal from whatever models Caroline’s elders have presumably been successfully employing for centuries. Could she arrange for the prince’s or seneschal’s ghouls to “show her the ropes”?

Caroline: Caroline firmly closes the door on the question of Autumn’s usefulness and what she brings to the table. “She’s a subject matter expert, the best available and the only one you should trust besides. Don’t be foolish enough to make this a war between you. She’s been a member of the keepers of the Masquerade in New Orleans for years. She both knows and is known in the ghoul community. Don’t assume she’s around just because it’s comfortable. Most Kindred would give their left hand for someone with that kind of knowledge and experience—and I very nearly did. She could be worth more to you.”

On the topic of trying to arrange a meeting with someone else to learn from, Caroline is similarly lukewarm. “I’ll reach out, but don’t hold your breath on it. Those kinds of details are valuable, and there isn’t exactly an internship program. It’d also be dangerous. Most of those same older ghouls you’d be interested in learning from are little different than powerful Kindred in their respect for life, and just as many of them would view you something they could use to gain powerful power or influence with by planting all kinds of mental programming in your head when you were alone with them.” She lets that morbid thought sink in.

Her come around though takes a different tack. “You also shouldn’t sell yourself short. They may have been at it for decades, even centuries, but that’s as much a disadvantage as it is an advantage. The world is changing, and not being tied to older models both keeps you from falling into mistakes and patterns they’ll use means you can work with things that didn’t exist when they were putting their empires in motion – and avoid the weaknesses of them. For instance, they rely very heavily on ghouls. Far more so than we can afford to. Almost if not every guard the prince uses is a ghoul for instance, and it’s much the same among others. They also use ghouls… and people… disposably and tend to keep them very much in the dark. That’s not how I view you.”

She slides a folder across the table for the ghoul, and gives her a couple minutes to look through it. Inside are profiles on a number of attorneys, several potential leasing agreements for office buildings, and an array of potential organizational diagrams. “I think your suggestion on using organizations is valid. That’s something I’ve been putting together for a while. I also think, for non-sensitive tasks, we could also look at a model of contracting rather than trying to keep everyone in-house all the time. I’d be interested in your inputs.”

The two talk late into the night, eventually bringing Autumn and Fuller in as well as part of brainstorming ideas. Caroline lays out her own plans, takes criticisms, and makes changes according to them. It’s only the first of many planning sessions. One major takeaway is from Widney’s observations on finances. Caroline is comfortable, and can continue to grow her own nest egg, but many of her plans are going to require additional funding. Quickly. They set to work determining where it is going to come from at speed.

GM: Widney might only be 30, but she could easily pass for a decade older. The ruthlessly bound and under-control hair. The unchanging, wide-shouldered pantsuits. The lines along her mouth, that are only exacerbated when she does not smile. Widney is currently not smiling.

“How long has she been in this ‘line of work’? If she is so valuable, why would her previous domitor have dismissed her? It is just as important you do not overestimate her, ma’am, as it is that I do not underestimate her.”

Caroline: “I caught her, and I influenced her, and for that her old domitor was going to execute her,” Caroline answers. “I took the alternative.”

GM: Widney does not dwell on the topic, but respectfully disagrees with Caroline’s next assessment. “I’ll work with what I know, as I always have. It would nevertheless be of considerable use for me to know what’s come before—and to know what mistakes the others are making.” The abstract comment on ghouls planting ‘mental programming’ gets a mostly noncomprehending look.

Autumn scoffs at Widney during the next group discussion. She seems to take no small pleasure in it. “Wrong. Ghouls aren’t as behind on the times as you think. The Krewe brings in new people fairly often. There’s higher turnover with ghouls, plain and simple, and it’s not as big a deal to make a new one. The Krewe has a ton of ghouls who can navigate technology and the modern world better than Harlequin probably can. I mean, I’m one of them. Elders might not be able to keep up with the times themselves, but they’re usually a lot better at spotting and ghouling the people who have. I mean, you think you’re the first financial advisor a Ventrue ghouled? No offense, but that’s nothing new.”

Caroline: Caroline throws Autumn out of the meeting. She doesn’t speak to the ghoul for three nights, forcing all her interactions through Widney instead. She doesn’t beat her. She doesn’t cut her off of her resources. She doesn’t threaten her. She simply ignores her.

When they do speak again, Caroline’s point is quite clear. “You offer a valuable perspective, but when you offer it in that way, you force yourself to the outside. Find a more productive way to express yourself.”

GM: Widney is all-too dutiful in reporting Autumn’s communications, especially their lack thereof after the nature of the three-day arrangement becomes clear to her. Widney does not outright call Autumn unprofessional, but is simply attentive in mentioning “Rabinowitz has yet to talk to me about this or that.”

Caroline can only imagine what those three nights were like for Autumn when she next sees her. Loving someone, so consumingly, and not being able to simply say “whatever” to their silence. Knowing that love is not only a lie, but one she forced upon herself. Caroline can only imagine the tempest of emotions swirling through her ghoul’s head, tempered by the knowledge half of them aren’t even real. Her expression simultaneously hardens and quavers like a tectonic plate breaking up under magma.

Her eventual reply is a terse, “Okay.”

Caroline: And just like that, Autumn is welcomed back into the fold, with a bloody wrist and all.

GM: Autumn stares at the wrist for a moment, almost angrily, but it’s only for a moment before the look cracks and she prostitutes her pride over Caroline’s pale wrist. Relief, anger, ecstasy, humiliation, love, and self-disgust all might be why the tears flow from her eyes as she rapturously drunks.

Caroline: Caroline softly strokes the ghoul’s hair and holds her long after the pale wrist has been withdrawn. “It’s okay, Autumn. It’s okay.”

GM: It’s another lie she—they—want to believe.

Monday night, 11 October 2015, AM

GM: Not overlong after Caroline’s final confession with Father Malveaux, Rocco informs her that one of his duties, as her landlord, involves seeing to and assisting her spiritual development. This process will start with finding Caroline a new confessor, as Rocco is not an priest. The newly-released fledgling has several options:

There is Father Elgin, who she has already met several times.

Mother Doriocourt is Donovan’s childe and one of Rocco’s fellow hounds. Caroline likely vividly recalls her from that first night at Perdido House, though they have yet to speak to one another.

Father Morrow is a pious Nosferatu who resides in Tremé, an Acolyte-controlled district of the city, with a reputation for being nonpartisan.

Father Polk is the sire of Roxanne Gerlette, and also considered Father Malveaux’s understudy.

Father Malveaux, of course, is not an option any longer.

Rocco will make introductions between Caroline and any of these Kindred whom she wishes to meet. the hound and Caroline’s confessor will also instruct her in the tenants and theology of the Lancea et Sanctum. To date, she has been unable to learn her covenant’s belief system from a consistent and reputable source. That will now change.

Rocco: Rocco, adamant that Caroline’s lineage is reason enough to see to her proper education, makes it clear that he finds it his personal mission to make sure she succeeds. Notably, he suggests Mother Doriocourt as the best fit for Caroline’s spiritual well-being. He speak very highly of her. He is fine with Caroline looking into her other options, though.

Caroline: Caroline is polite but forceful in rejecting Doriocourt as a suggestion. Her faith has taken a battering, first in the rapid sweep towards conversion to the Sanctified’s own twisted brand of Christianity, and again (and again) at the hands of Father Malveaux.

Between her poisonous relationship with the sheriff and Father Malveaux both Caroline strikes Doriocourt and Polk from the list of those of immediate interest. If all else fails she might come back to them, but it seems unwise to stick her hand into the tiger’s mouth once more. Similarly, given the nature and direction of Malveaux’s piety, she’s leery of Father Morrow’s reputed piety. Not hostile, but wary. Of the choices, Elgin seems like the best one.

She approaches the master of Elysium demurely after one of his sermons, when the Midnight Mass has concluded. She spends long enough on introductions and talk of the sermon itself to avoid appearing impolite before broaching the subject, her tone almost tentative, “Father, I find myself without a confessor. I had hoped that I might persuade you to fill that void.”

GM: Gus Elgin’s sermon and its subsequent discussion address the Church Eternal’s dogma regarding ghouls. Traditional Monachal doctrine is quite clear that only mortals guilty of serious sins should be fed the Blood. The exact criteria for what constitutes a serious sin, however, appears to vary widely by Kindred. The strictest Sanctified believe that would-be domitors should explain the spiritually corrosive effects of their vitae to would-be ghouls, and clearly offer them the choice of power at a risk to their immortal souls.

Many Kindred consider this impractical: most vampires do not have the power to erase memories (if the mortal demonstrates sufficient moral strength to decline the vitae), and point to dozens of examples of Biblical temptation that are less direct. More Sanctified believe that would-be domitors should play the role of Faustian tempters: they should reveal their true natures as vampires, and offer mortals power, but the latter should be left to judge for themselves whether accepting such power is a sin against nature (which the Church Eternal of course believes it to be).

The most spiritually indolent Sanctified consider ‘testing’ the moral character of their ghouls purely a formality: if they can bend a mortal’s mind into drinking vitae ‘willingly’, or if they force-feed vitae to a mortal and the mortal becomes an addict, then clearly their moral character was always weak. Almost all Sanctified, however, are in agreement on two points: a ghoul imperils their soul by imbibing the blood of the Damned (the Bible has several verses that specifically address this very subject), but ghouls are not yet damned as the Kindred are. They are still alive. They may still atone for their sins.

Furthermore, any ghoul who renounces the Blood and sincerely asks their domitor for freedom—not out of anything so paltry as fear their life, but sincere desire to seek atonement for their sins and commit themselves to a new life in Christ’s service—is to be immediately released from bondage. They have withstood temptation and proven their moral purity.

Of course, the Masquerade must still be preserved. If their domitor cannot arrange the erasure of their memories, then the newly-liberated ghoul must regrettably die. Their former domitor should not inform the ghoul of this fact, lest by choosing death and freedom, the ghoul re-imperil their soul by committing the sin of suicide. Gus Elgin encourages the erasure of such a ghoul’s memories as a “humane” alternative. The Masquerade must always come first, but if possible, pious and God-fearing mortals should be permitted to live natural and fruitful lives. The Sanctified are not meant to prey upon such individuals.

“A significant void that we must indeed seek to fill,” the pudgy-jowled Nosferatu answers with his typical dim smile. “I know little of your soul, Miss Malveaux, and would request that you first illuminate me as to its shape and contours. Tonight’s sermon is as good a means as any by which you may do so. May I ask your thoughts as to the spiritual questions raised? How have you offered the Blood to your own ghouls, and of what sins are they guilty that you would so demean their souls?”

Caroline: It’s a tender subject, but Caroline indulges the priest.

“My first ghoul was actually forced upon me by Father Malveaux. A friend in life, when she discovered my nature he thought it best to ghoul to, to force upon me a fuller understanding of the implications of my own failures.” Her expression tightens once more. “It ended poorly for her. Thereafter… they have been of my own choice.”

She considers the question in the framing of his own sermon.

“I confess, Father, though I was largely ignorant of the spiritual implications of bringing others into the blood. I have always endeavored to offer the choice, weighted though it might be. I’ve probed for weakness, for lack of moral certainty, for anywhere I could sink in my teeth. I’ve torn from them secrets and desires, and always found them wanting… in more ways than one.” She looks down. “And too often to their doom. Some have been murderers. Others were killers of a less refined taste. Most simply those lost from the flock, seeking something more in a godless world.”

“I think I felt better offering them a choice of the blood, a certain lessening of moral culpability, even if I didn’t understand spiritually why.”

GM: “You are still facilitating a great sin, Miss Malveaux,” Elgin corrects. “But it is in as such a role as tempters that we are meant to serve… as well as guardians of the innocent. I shall be certain to commend Father Malveaux on his choice of penance when next I speak with him.”

The Nosferatu peers past Caroline towards some approaching figure. “I fear that my duties as host must again impose upon me. Think further upon my words, and meet me tomorrow night in the belfry of the Marigny Opera House at 2 AM, if that is amenable to your schedule. I am usually available to take confession on nights other than Fridays and weekends.”

Caroline: “I’ll make arrangements to be there Father Elgin, thank you,” Caroline replies, more than a little relieved as she takes her leave.

It’s not until later that she has an opportunity to reflect on what she’s said, and how it fits into Kindred theological perspectives. The imperiling of the soul of a ghoul, a role as a tempter into damnation. So much of what she’s done as one of the Damned has been because she’s had to, or at least something she can justify as a requirement. The active bringing of others into this life however, the dragging into damnation of ordinary mortals for her own ends, is perhaps the first entirely willing and intentional act in keeping with the dogma of the Sanctified. It sparks a moment of pause and introspection.

A shot in the arm of the fledgling’s furiously fading faith? Only time will tell.

Mid-October 2015

Caroline: Meg’s bulimia is a problem that Caroline approaches with her own interest. On one hand, it’s a problem she hopes to resolve for Jocelyn. On another, it’s an opportunity observe the effects of her gifts in the ability to alter behavior. With Jocelyn’s permission, she semi-regularly begins mesmerizing the ghoul, planting ideas and reactions in her head to fix her disgusting habit.

As much as anything, it’s a controlled experiment for her: with the rarity with which she bends the wills of her own ghouls so overtly, Meg represents perhaps the best option for examining ways in which her abilities actually function over time—and how long they last.

She soon discovers that simply making demands lasts only the evening. Nor is memory alternation an answer—even at her most successful, she struggles to reach more than into the beginning of the evening. What she does discover, however—what she knew was possible from her own experiences with Aimee—is that with time, effort, and patience, she can plant an idea, a demand, in the back of Meg’s mind. A tripwire that allows her influence to seep back in at any time. The key then becomes finding the right action.

The poor ghoul, pathetic as she is, doesn’t warrant punishment. She deserves help. Like many, she has a ritual with her purging. Once Caroline unwraps those secrets she’s able to more effectively direct the ghoul towards changing her habits. The other key is ensuring that she plants a demand that can be satisfied even if the ghoul is out in town engaged in other activities. Ultimately, she settles on something relatively mundane: each time Meg heads to the bathroom to purge she instead sends Jocelyn an affectionate message. For now it’s a band-aid, one that prevents the ghoul from exercising her more disgusting habit, but Caroline hopes over time that it breaks the habit, the chain. She’s careful to continue to watch for the ghoul’s next destructive behavior.

GM: Jocelyn consents to Caroline playing around with Meg’s head so long as the ghoul doesn’t remember the commands, which the Ventrue can easily explain that Meg won’t. “She needs to think she’s getting better on her own,” says Jocelyn. “Knowing one of us ordered her to stop could get all kinds of screwed up.”

The most basic applications of Caroline’s sanguine voice (a term by which she has heard Becky Lynne refer to the discipline, in addition to “lordly words” and “the voice of the Ventrue”) meet with unsurprisingly little success. Longer-term applications fare better, but as Caroline indeed discovers, Meg is free to stick fingers down her throat once the sun goes up. Meg initially finds loopholes by using methods other than her fingers to induce vomiting, prompting Caroline to change the verbiage of her commands.

Caroline’s longer-term implanted commands to make the ghoul forget her bulimic urges altogether fare better. Jocelyn reports that Meg isn’t vomiting at all during these weeks (and is filling her phone with syrupy text messages).

Caroline is also correct in her assessment that the sanguine voice is ultimately a band-aid on the problem. Meg clearly has underlying mental health issues, and bereft of her outlet through purging, Jocelyn reports that the ghoul cries constantly about how fat and ugly she is, and goes through episodes where she lies in bed and does nothing but send text after text after text. The Toreador says this is “still a net upgrade, I guess. Better for her teeth.”

“Maybe it would work better in conjunction with therapy. I mean, your average shrink would probably find a ton of ethics issues, but being able to just hot-wire people’s minds like this has gotta be of some help.” She muses, “I’ve heard there’s actually a few Kindred shrinks out there. Malkavians, surprise surprise.”

Caroline: “Sounds like the blind leading the blind to me,” Caroline replies. “And I can’t imagine they’d be as interested in ghouls as other Kindred.”

“You might try working with her a bit. A lot of this is driven by a desire to please you, to make you happy, to be beautiful for you. You could do occasional shoots with her, providing things you wanted her to model. Telling her not to do something, or trying to convince her she’s not fat is probably less effective than actively showing her over time that you want her to look a specific way.”

GM: “That’s true. She can get pretty clingy, but a few shoots couldn’t hurt,” Jocelyn muses.

Caroline: Caroline shrugs. “Might even help.”

Tuesday night, 19 October 2015, PM

Caroline: Mercurial Fernandez. The story of the autistic ’artist’s descent into the criminal justice system rubs Caroline the wrong way for reasons she can’t quite put her finger on. The beatings he suffered at the hands of the authorities, loss of things he loved, torture at (her own hands), loss of his ‘life’, destruction of his reputation, and seeming ruining of his future (to say nothing of the horrors he’ll endure in prison) leave a bitter taste in her mouth when she considers them and his own seeming ignorance and helplessness in the face of those abusing him. A more astute observer might observe parallels the Ventrue does not with the effeminate black boy.

There’s relatively little she can—or more precisely wishes—to do, especially with her family sniffing about him. The very resources she might nominally muster on his behalf are those happy to see his destruction (by her mother’s account). Still, Caroline is not helpless to watch his suffering and if she cannot wield the Malveaux hammer, she’s happy to be more subtle. Among those more ‘subtle’ avenues towards his well being. She has information on Mouse’s arrests—including details about his broken fingers and bloody beaten face during his alleged ‘invasion’ of the female dormitory—dropped in on Herman Lewis, remembering well the rants and complaints she once heard from Marco made in the past about the belligerent former convicted murderer. Mouse may have signed a plea bargain that denied him his right to appeal, but she has little doubt that he’ll have plenty to raise complaints about from within the Parish prison.

GM: Caroline actually hears about it from Jocelyn first, of all people, when she starts to look into things. Mercurial Fernandez is dead. It happened around a month ago.

She was following him at the instruction of her priest to see if he’d lapse into sin again. He’s dead. There’s a viral MeVid video filmed by his brother (from inside jail!) floating around that alleges Mouse was beaten to death by prison guards after he protested OPP’s horrific conditions and started organizing inmates to file a class action suit.

Jocelyn isn’t really sure what to feel.

Caroline’s calls to her own relatives paint a rather less cheery picture. Mouse was literally raped to death in his cell and expired from his injuries during the night. The notorious jail’s notoriously lazy and ineffectual medical staff can rarely be asked to treat inmates before morning. He managed to kill his violator, though, by repeatedly stabbing the man in the throat while he slept.

Cécilia does not celebrate his death, but is, admittedly, relieved that he will no longer be a part of her life.

There’s a GoFundMe for donations to pay for the funeral. Mouse’s brother claims to be destitute from court fees and attorney’s bills.

Caroline: Caroline’s response mirrors Jocelyn’s. She regrets what they did, and expresses as much to her paramour, but the fact that he died attacking his cellmate in his sleep says unpleasant things about the truth of his character—not that she’s judging him for attacking his rapist. She’s simply observing that clearly he had more violence in his heart than they might have thought.

The entire thing is just… unfortunate. Not really sad—she doesn’t feel that deeply for him (she didn’t know him beyond a single night of hurting him)—but another dead body, another person she’s met dead, adds to a sense of dread. She’s hurt a lot of people. Killed a lot of people. He’s just another name on the periphery. There’s little room left in her heart to mourn those that far down the list.

Little, but some small measure. She has Autumn investigate the truth of the family’s claim of being destitute.

GM: Autumn soon reports back. She reports that after Mouse’s mother died, her estate was heavily stolen from. Fizzy sold the house and what was left. Fizzy belongs to a street gang called the RidaHoodz, many of whom were arrested recently. They have heavily commercialized Mouse’s death to the extent of selling tickets over Kickstarter to attend his funeral.

Autumn reports that Mouse has no surviving immediate family besides Fizzy. He’s telling the truth about his expenses, but he also came into a windfall with his mother’s inheritance and selling her house.

“He seems less destitute than he had a major payday interrupted by some major expenses,” finishes the ghoul. “Could probably survive without the Kickstarter funeral tickets.”

Caroline: Caroline is more than a little disgusted by the commercialization of Mouse’s death by his brother. She mentions to Jocelyn that those involved might make ideal victims—though they fall a bit out of her own tastes.

GM: “I guess he’s in prison anyway,” Jocelyn says. “So he’s probably already having a shitty time. I read an article about how OPP is the worst jail in America. I dunno there’s really anything more we’d even need to do to him.”

“There’s probably some college students wearing those stupid t-shirts, though.” The Toreador rolls her eyes. “I swear those things are worse than MAGA hats. I don’t know how they’re even selling.”

Her eyes glint.

“Bad luck for whoever we see with one on.”

Previous, by Narrative: Story Seven, Rocco III
Next, by Narrative: Story Seven, Milo Prelude, Louis I

Previous, by Character: Story Seven, Caroline VI
Next, by Character: Story Seven, Caroline VIII

Story Seven, Caroline VI

“Clanmates can abide by the rules, contribute towards shared prosperity, and reap the benefits—or they may go their own way, and do without.”
Marcel Guilbeau

Monday night, 4 October 2015, PM

Caroline: It takes eleven long nights for Caroline to make her first appearance before a clanmate. Things are finally beginning to take shape.

She’s left behind her ‘home’ in Riverbend in favor of the Giani Building, renting out two separate apartments under the names of her remaining ghouls while renovations are ongoing on the three bedroom suites on the upper floors.

Two ghouls have joined Autumn, replacing—if such a thing is possible—Turner and Aimee. The two ghouls weigh heavily upon her mind by their conspicuous absence.

Brian Fuller seems to be taking to it well. The former Corpsman is an intimidating presence despite his small stature, all coiled muscle potential for violence. He’s protective—Caroline knew he would be from their past dealings—and happy to have something else to provide meaning in his life. He took to her offered blood almost hungrily.

The second presence is dominating in an entirely different way. Sarah Anne Widney is thin, almost frail-looking, but that brittle frail of iron rather than the outright weakness of glass. Disgraced by her last client—the object of his lust—she was perhaps even easier to lure into the fold than Fuller. And is just as essential. Already Caroline has the orphaned financier helping to transfer funds into new names and new accounts.

More subtle activities are also in progress. Tours of office spaces. Meetings with other attorneys she knows are disenfranchised. Wheels are turning. Now she needs persuade Gerousiastis Guilbeau of that fact. Such is foremost in her mind when she presents herself before the Alystra.

GM: Caroline’s ride drops her off in the CBD, only a few blocks away from the Hilton where she spent a terrified first day as one of the Damned. Marcel Guilbeau’s domain is a multi-decked riverboat casino with yellow and purple lights that flash and pulsate over the water. Music, cheering, and sounds of revelry are audible from within.

Caroline remembers a few discussions within her own family concerning the state’s riverboat casinos, back during her father’s time as majority leader in Baton Rouge. Her uncle Orson was morally opposed to gambling, but her father was unopposed on the grounds that the industry brought in hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes. Gambling on public land is illegal in Louisiana, the Ventrue also recalls, so the state legislature naturally had no objections to people gambling on water. Except for Harrah’s, also several blocks away, which was able to obtain an exception. And that new bill she heard about somewhere, still in the works, which would no longer require riverboat casinos to have operable paddlewheels. The Pelican State’s efforts at regulating gambling seem as slapdash as everything else it does.

If the numbers of people making their way up the casino’s walkway seem any indication, however, few souls besides her Uncle Orson would seem to mind their government’s laxness—though a few, with the benefit of hindsight, might be grateful for it. While some people leave the casino in excitedly chattering groups (or more lustful pairs of two), the losers look either sullen or morose. One man looks as if he’s about to throw up into the Mississippi and is hurriedly rushed away.

Caroline is greeted a short ways off from the casino proper by a handsome ghoul in a dark suit.

“Welcome to the Alystra, Miss Malveaux,” he says with an easy Louisiana drawl. “Gerousiastis Guilbeau was tickled pink you could make it here tonight. Before you step aboard, he has one request… please will your Beast to appear normally before the cameras.” He smiles wryly towards the stream of people making their way on and off the boat. “As a casino, we’ve got plenty installed. Any malfunctions make it easier on the cheaters who’d as soon rob us blind.”

Caroline: It’s not an unreasonable request, even if it is a slightly unusual one, but Caroline’s thought process immediately goes towards the worst possible scenarios. Blackmail? Perhaps, but tame if so. Documentation on her? Perhaps. Certainly she hasn’t posed for many family photos (or any photos for that matter) since her Embrace. Certainly a loss of deniability if she’s framed for (or commits) any crimes on board.

Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter. She’s here as much at her own request as at his invitation, the product of her own decision to engage with Clan Ventrue rather than go her own way, and she’s been told time and again that notionally, backstabbing each other is not how the clan operates. Notionally. Still, if matters are so poisoned with Gerousiastis Guilbeau there’s not much hope as a whole. Better to find out here than in meetings with more overtly hostile players.

The calculus takes place in an instant behind her green eyes and she flashes a toothy smile. “I’d be a poor guest not to meet such a minor demand from such a distinguished personage.” It takes an effort of will, a conscious choice, she’s found to appear in photographs or video footage: her first Snapchat uses as a Kindred were a disaster.

She exerts that effort, but can all but feel her Beast circling in her mind at the unwanted imposition. Not quite angry—she’s experienced that enough to know when it is roused—but certainly stirred. It vastly prefers when its host is bowing to its whims, rather than the reverse.

GM: The ghoul beams and replies with various pleasantries as he escorts Caroline into the riverboat casino, even offering a hand to ‘help’ her up the amply wide (and railed) gangplank.

As soon as she enters the gambling hall, she is assailed by a riot of sounds, smells, and scintillating colors. The first thing she notices is the massive array of slot machines with blinking lights, whirring sirens, and tokens clattering into the metal payout drawers. Gold and bright primary colors glint excitedly everywhere. Rowdy jazz music plays from speakers and a live band. Crowds of clapping, exclaiming, shouting people are clustered around the array of games, including three-card poker, blackjack, roulette, craps, Mississippi Stud, and Ultimate Texas Hold’em—and the ever-present slot machines that make up the most of any casino’s revenue. An all-you-can-eat Creole/Caribbean-themed buffet and bar is set up in the corner, along with the band. Cocktail waitresses weave their way through the lively crowds while suited croupiers smartly deal out cards.

A tall, dark-skinned man in his late 20s looks at Caroline as her guide leads her past one of the whirring slot machines.

“Hey, aren’t you Westley’s sister?”

Caroline: “I was,” she replies coldly. That wound is still fresh.

GM: “Yeah, was,” the man says. “I was his friend too, though that turned into a ‘was’ before he died.”
He swirls a drink in his hand. “I just wanna say, good fucking riddance, and fuck him very much.”

“Mr. Perroneau is upstairs, ma’am, whenever you’re ready to see him,” her escort states with an undeterred smile.

Caroline: “I’m glad you’re doing so well for yourself, Brayson,” Caroline replies with an even more noticeable chill than before. “It must be because of all the time you spend worrying about the fortunes of others.”

She doesn’t do him the dignity of granting a response, instead following her escort away.

GM: “Yeah, I learned from the best there,” Brayson calls after her over the din as she leaves.

Caroline: The Ventrue doesn’t bother to look back.

GM: The ghoul leads Caroline up several flights of stairs. In contrast to the riotous scenes below, the baccarat lounge at the riverboat’s top deck is a much more subdued affair. It’s quieter, most noticeably. People are having normal conversations in low murmurs rather than screaming or cheering. The blues band plays relaxed, slower-paced tunes. The lights are dimmer. Larger windows overlook the Mississippi’s dark waters, imparting a sense of stillness. A cocktail bar and small restaurant with booths provides some distraction from the baccarat tables.

Caroline: Caroline takes it all in, soaking up the ambiance, carefully crafted she’s certain.

GM: The ghoul leads her a ways further back into a private room/alcove. Caroline didn’t see it from the main floor, but its tinted wall affords a one-way view of the baccarat tables. The lighting is even dimmer, but that doesn’t bother her. A snug-looking booth encircles a wide table that also seats the casino’s owner.

Baton Rouge’s prince-in-exile is a tall and deeply handsome man with rectangular features, a prominent nose, dark caramel-brown hair sculpted into a neat mustache and goatee, and deep blue eyes. Two pale gold crucifix earrings hang from his ears. He’s dressed in a navy blazer jacket, matching slacks, a white button-up shirt with no tie, and black loafers.

He’s reading through a sheaf of papers but looks up as his ghoul announces,

“May I introduce His Majesty Marcel Guilbeau, Prince and Duke of Baton Rouge, Gerousiastis, Praetor emeritus, Gold Consul of the Assembly of Colors, Knight Banneret of the Order of the White Cross, Commissioner, Interpreter, and Librettist.”

Caroline: “Gerousiastis Guilbeau, thank you for receiving me.” Caroline curtsies before the older Ventrue while doing her best to maintain eye contact—a matter made much easier by the preternatural grace she’s acquired in death.

“I am Caroline Malveaux, childe of René Baristheaut, childe of Robert Bastien, childe of Lothar Constantine, childe of Dominic de Valois-Burgundy, childe of Gaius Pedius Marcellus, childe of Alexander, childe of Ventrue.”

The lie is easier than the truth, and not only to the outside world.

“And I come before you to seek your wise counsel, that I might learn from your brightly shining example and build for myself a domain worthy of the name ‘Ventrue.’”

GM: Marcel quirks an amused brow at Caroline’s description of him, but gestures towards the place opposite his.

“You don’t need to flatter me that obviously, Miss Malveaux. Please, have a seat.”

Caroline: Caroline cracks a smile in turn that she hopes is at least somewhat charming.

“As you say, Gerousiastis Guilbeau, though I doubt any would challenge the description of the Alystra as anything but bright.”

She moves to take her seat opposite the once-prince.

GM: The elder Ventrue smiles in turn at Caroline’s quip. “You ever do much gambling as a mortal, Miss Malveaux? Or ‘gaming’, as it’s polite to call it now.”

Caroline: “I’m afraid not, Gerousiastis Guilbeau, I always preferred the odds more stacked in my own favor,” Caroline replies. “Though I’m given to understand that for many, it’s as much about the experience surrounding it as the actual action.”

GM: “Oh, you’d be right. As a way of making money, it’s terrible.” A faint smile. “Unless you’re the house. But the experience is another matter. Would you care for a hand of baccarat?”

Caroline: “I confess, Gerousiastis Guilbeau, I’ve never played.”

Westley might have, and might have tried to get her to go along with him one night: she never did. Going out with her brother had never seemed wise, both in entertaining his poor choices and in potentially ending up wrapped up in them.

GM: Marcel simply smiles. “Movies about… gentleman spies portray it as a deeply complex game requiring high skill and intense knowledge of the rules. But it’s actually dirt simple. I can show you how it’s played, if you like.”

Caroline: “Far be it for me to turn down such an offer, gerousiastis,” Caroline replies easily.

GM: “Well, here’s the first thing to know. The only real thing that distinguishes baccarat from the games you’ll see on the lower decks are the stakes, which are normally set high. That’s why it’s depicted as a rich man’s game, why it’s popular in the movies, and why it has its own floor here. Because you have to be rich to play it.”

“Minimum bets are $50, and can go as high as $500, depending on where you play. They’re lower here.” The elder Ventrue smiles deprecatingly. “We aren’t quite Las Vegas. The house edge on baccarat is fairly low, which means that if you can afford to play—and afford to lose—the payouts can be respectable.”

Caroline: The Ventrue heiress listens attentively to her elder. It makes sense—most high rollers aren’t inclined to throw away money on long odds—they wouldn’t have made it far if they were. A game with more neutral odds, though… she can understand why it would be appealing.

GM: Marcel glances to the nearby ghoul, who pulls the various papers off the table, and then presses a button underneath its surface. There’s a soft whirring sound as the top-most section of the table retracts into the wall, revealing another green-colored surface beneath. It has spaces sectioned out for multiple players. Each numbered space has two sections above it that read ‘PLAYER’ and ‘BANK.’

“You only need two people to play baccarat,” the ex-prince goes on. “One is the player, and the other is the banker. Each one gets two cards from a dispenser called ‘the shoe,’ which contains eight complete decks of cards. The hand that comes the closest to nine points wins. That’s essentially it. Aces are worth one point, cards numbered 2-9 are worth their point values, and 10s and face cards are worth nothing.”

Another faint smile. “Sometimes, being king isn’t all it’s cracked up.”

Caroline: “So, where does the house’s advantage come in?” Caroline asks.

GM: Marcel chuckles at that. “In due order, Miss Malveaux. Now, so far as how you place bets.”

“As I said, you only need two people to play baccarat, though it’s more fun in groups. Before cards are dealt, you place your bets on either the player’s hand, the banker’s hand, or a tie between them—that obviously doesn’t happen as often, but payouts are higher when it does.”

“Once the cards are dealt, you add up their values. If the cards have a combined value above nine, you reduce it by eliminating the first digit. For example, say a player gets the eight of spades and six of hearts, which adds up to 14. You then remove the first digit, so he actually has four.”

The ex-prince looks content as he continues to explain, “Reasonable payouts, and rules against shooting too high. That’s why baccarat is a gentleman’s game. Depending on how high or low the initial hands are, the dealer may decide to ‘hit’ one or both of the hands with a third card. This is determined by stringent rules that, of course, only dealers need to know. It usually favors the bank hand.”

“Player bets pay out at even money, as do bank bets, but the latter are charged a five percent commission by the house. That’s how we make money. So, although baccarat remains a gentleman’s game with a gentleman’s sense of restraint, it’s still gambling… you can play it slightly safer, and win slightly less. Or you can play it slightly less safe, and win slightly more.”

Caroline: “By betting upon a tie,” Caroline fills in. “In which case, the house is more likely to collect. Though, obviously, if one had precise betting upon the likelihood of ties versus… wins or losses by house or player, that might be eliminated over a long enough period of time.”

GM: “Betting on the bank hand is safest,” Marcel clarifies. “Betting on the player hand is slightly less safe, but slightly more lucrative, since the house charges no commission on your winnings. Tie bets aren’t safe bets at all. House odds are 8 to 1, but true odds are actually 10 to 1. So those favor the house even more. Gentlemen shouldn’t be reckless with their money.”

Caroline: The heiress nods in understanding. Most of her math classes were in accounting rather than higher-level theoretical math: not only were they easier, she thought they’d apply more in her day-to-day life. She didn’t expect they still would in her night-to-night undeath.

“More a game of chance than of skill, then?” she asks the exiled prince. “It’s all in where one puts their money.”

GM: “That’s the nature of gambling,” Marcel agrees. “If you want skill, there’s chess for that. Or poker, really, if you care to straddle the line.”

Caroline: “Were you a gambling man in life, Gerousiastis Guilbeau?” she asks.

GM: “Oh, yes. So were most of my peers. The Bible said it was a sin, but all of our fathers initiated us into that manly art when we were young, so we’d know how to take part. It was almost a social obligation at barbecues, musters, jockey clubs, race tracks, aboard steamboats… you name it. Only cowards would refuse to ante up, so it was believed—and you only gambled to excess when you lost more than you could pay.”

Caroline: “If I might ask, is it something you were able to retain a taste for, personally, gerousiastis?”

GM: Marcel simply gestures at their surroundings with another content smile.

He then nods to the ghoul, who removes several rolls of tokens from his coat and sets them down on the table. “No need for us to go visit the cage,” the ex-prince states.

The ghoul produces a deck of cards and shuffles it several times.

“For luck,” Marcel adds, “as the shoe randomizes them too.”

The ghoul feeds the cards into the device.

“Now then, Miss Malveaux, how much do you care to bet?”

Caroline: “I suppose that depends, Gerousiastis Guilbeau, on what I’m playing with. Is it house money?”

GM: “Your money, just as I’m betting mine.”

Caroline: Caroline cannot help but note the allegory for a young Kindred’s existence in the ex-prince’s proposal. Those with the money and power, with the odds inherently stacked in their favor, dragging those still learning the rules into games where they have little to gain and everything to lose.

She keeps the observation to herself and instead keeps the smile on her face. She reaches out and plucks a stack of chips, turning them over in her hand to verify their $25 denomination before dropping three into the betting area.

“Conservatively,” she answers.

GM: “Here’s the next lesson I’ll offer you, Miss Malveaux. Never look as if you’re short on money around a clanmate,” the older Ventrue replies, matching her three chips with three $500 ones. “I’ll bet on the player’s hand,” he tells the ghoul.

“Very good, Your Majesty,” the man smiles before looking towards Caroline.

Caroline: “Far be it for me to gainsay, Gerousiastis Guilbeau,” Caroline gestures in agreement. “Better to be incautious than cheap?” she asks the ancilla more directly.

GM: “What is there to be cautious about, if the sum is too trifling to mean anything?”

Caroline: It’s not a sentiment she’s often heard echoed. Though far from penny pinching, throwing money away towards no discernible end was always frowned upon.

“Perhaps I’ve been learning the wrong lessons, Gerousiastis Guilbeau,” she concedes.

GM: “Kine lessons, more likely. Applicable enough among them. But you’ll find that money means rather less among us. No one in the Structure is impressed at one another for having money. That isn’t to say you should spend it frivolously, but to appear concerned over amounts this small is to project an unsuccessful image and impose a needless handicap in your dealings.”

Caroline: “If you can’t afford to play or have to wonder how much it costs to do so, you shouldn’t be at the table,” Caroline fills in. “My mortal father once said the same thing about owning a sports car.”

GM: “Exactly,” Marcel agrees. “Or to look at it another way, it’s paying to improve your clanmates’ opinion of you—or your mortal peers’, in the case of the sports car. From that standpoint, what seems a frivolous use of money is actually a sound investment.”

“Now then, Miss Malveaux, how much would you care to bet, and on what hand?”

Caroline: The heiress plucks a pair of $500 chips and places them forward.

“On myself, of course, Gerousiastis Guilbeau.”

GM: “Then it seems we’ll both make something if you win,” Marcel remarks as his ghoul feeds several more decks into the shoes, then proceeds to deal Caroline’s cards.

“Four points to you,” Marcel remarks as the ghoul deals the banker’s hand.

“Now here is where it seems like we’d lose, but this is where things get interesting,” the exiled prince smiles. “In the punto banco version of the game—that’s the one played in the U.S.—the player receives another card if she has a total of 5 or less.”

“Ah, a pity for us,” Marcel remarks as the queen’s face turns up. “Baccarat may be a rich man’s game, but being royalty counts for nothing.”

The ghoul collects the tokens, putting them out $1,000 and $1,500, respectively.

Caroline: Caroline has spent money quickly, but she’s rarely seen money disappear that quickly without return.

“That’s why they call it gambling,” she replies easily.

GM: “Hopefully your other endeavors will have more luck, Miss Malveaux. What domain are you establishing for your test?”

Caroline: “I’d thought to establish it around a law firm, and in the legal arena as a whole, from within the Central Business District. I’m told there was another Ventrue that maintained such a domain with some success before Katrina,” Caroline answers.

GM: “Yes, there was. A promising domain. Everyone relies on lawyers these nights,” the exiled prince remarks, before dispensing three more $500 chips to himself. “I’ll bet on the player’s hand again,” he tells the ghoul.

“Very good, Your Majesty,” the ghoul smiles. “And yourself, madam?” he asks of Caroline.

Caroline: “A leopard cannot change its spots,” Caroline replies, sliding out two more matching chips.

GM: The ghoul deals the player’s cards.

“A stronger hand,” Marcel remarks. “That leaves you with nine—the highest total you can get in the game.”

The ghoul deals the banker’s cards.

“Rather less strong,” Marcel remarks. “But since my total is five or less, that means another card for me.”

“And that still leaves me with a four. It seems we’ve won back everything,” Marcel smiles as the ghoul slides over their chips.

Caroline: Caroline smiles contentedly. “A more social game, with a more natural ebb and flow.”

GM: “It is, isn’t it? There’s a reason we give it its own floor, away from the other games’ noise.”

Caroline: Caroline can picture a group of rich men sitting around playing the game for hours as they discuss business propositions and social arrangements. It’s neither a pleasant nor unpleasant image, simply one her family tended away from. They preferred other arenas.

“I can see it.”

GM: “Tell me some more about your firm,” Marcel goes on. “What areas of law will it be specializing in? How do you plan to use it in Kindred and kine circles?”

Caroline: “Notionally I’d like to diversify in interests, though civil is likely to be a larger area. Asset management, estates, and trusts all have significant application both among Kindred and kine circles—especially for those making a transition from among the living to the dead.”

“Criminal law, though less directly applicable to us—if it gets to the point where a Kindred is arrested things have probably gone too far already—but it has its own appeals with pawns. Ghouls that take the fall for things, mortal pawns of interest, and the obvious general application of influence in the legal field to anyone that seeks influence as a whole.”

“At least so goes my thinking, Gerousiastis Guilbeau.”

GM: “Those are some relevant areas to us,” Marcel agrees. “Especially to our clan. There are plenty of kaintucks who get by with only the clothes on their backs, but I’ve yet to meet a blue blood who didn’t own some manner of assets intangible to all but the law.”

He nods to his ghoul, who slides him another three chips and takes his bet (the player’s hand, again).

“You say recently Embraced Kindred are of interest to you,” Marcel remarks after Caroline has placed her bet. “Do you plan to offer them your services? Would they be your primary focus, or other Kindred too?”

Caroline: “I’d be interested in offering my services to any Kindred that was in need of them or had an interest, but it is not my immediate expectation that more established Kindred would be willing to entrust a relative newcomer before they’d proven themselves capable, Gerousiastis Guilbeau,” the much younger Ventrue replies smoothly. She slides forth two more of her own chips beside his (once more, on herself).

GM: The ghoul deals the player’s cards.

“A one. That would bode very poorly, by itself. Since your total is below six, you’re due another card.”

“Five, now. That’s an all right hand.”

The ghoul lays out the banker’s cards.

“Only three for the banker’s hand. But I’m due another card too.”

“Leaving me at one. Our lucky streak continues,” Marcel smiles.

The ghoul slides over their chips.

Caroline: Caroline’s attention is far more upon the ex-prince than the game.

GM: “That’s prudent,” Marcel continues in answer to Caroline’s earlier remark. “The newly-released ones are more trusting.” He glances over the chips. “Hmm. We’re both over a thousand dollars richer than when we started playing. Here’s the most cardinal rule of all in gambling, Miss Malveaux: quit while you’re ahead. Luck is a fickle patron.”

Caroline: Not the only fickle patron.

GM: “What do you say we bet some other collateral? The coup’s winner gets to ask a question of the loser. And if we’d rather not answer, we’ll slide over one of our checks to the other.” He then adds, “That’s the polite term for ‘chip’.”

Caroline: “I’m amenable to that arrangement, Genousiastis Guilbeau,” Caroline replies. “As you so astutely observed, the money is of little concern.”

GM: “Excellent,” the deposed prince smiles as the ghoul starts dealing Caroline’s cards.

Then Marcel’s.

“A rare tie,” the older Ventrue observes. “We’ll say that entitles us both to a question. You can ask first.”

Caroline: The heiress considers for a moment before asking, “What have you heard of me, Genousiastis Guilbeau?”

GM: “Quite a few things,” the exiled prince answers. “That you performed your role adequately at the trial. That you are an ill-mannered whelp who understands no language but force. That you are a flagrant violator of the Traditions, unreliable in the execution of your responsibilities, and unworthy of the Blood. That you come from worthy stock, have been disadvantaged by the circumstances of your Embrace, and should be afforded the opportunity to correct your ignorance and prove your worth. And that you are an adequate conversational partner who is neither particularly engaging nor offensive.”

Caroline: Were she living, Caroline might flush with embarrassment or anger at some of the comments. Or perhaps not. Controlling her reaction to provocations became a constant during the last election cycle. Neither is a concern in death.

“It’s difficult being so many things to so many different people,” she replies instead.

GM: “They say there are two sides to every issue, or sometimes three. I’ve never found that to be true. There are as many sides to an issue as there are people involved in an issue.”

Caroline: “I’d beg to differ, Genousiastis Guilbeau,” Caroline replies with a hint of a smirk.

GM: “As for my own question, how do you intend to attract more established Kindred into engaging your firm’s services?”

Caroline: “In the immediate? By establishing a reputation for competence at odds with much of what you’ve heard, Genousiastis Guilbeau, with those that will deal with me.”

“Selectively but aggressively extending my services to those more established with whom I have better relations at reduced rates to build a ‘client’ base. Cultivating relationships and allies among those more established. To find a place among them myself.”

That grin appears again. “And, perhaps, I had thought, asking you to join those willing to make use of such services, Genousiastis Guilbeau.”

GM: “That’s a question of its own, Miss Malveaux. Answers, at least for now, aren’t free,” the deposed prince smiles faintly back as the ghoul deals their cards. Caroline’s are first.

Then come Marcel’s.

Marcel arches an eyebrow. “Another tie. Luck can take strange turns.”

“You can ask first, again.”

Caroline: “What guidance would you offer to my plan, as described, Genousiastis Guilbeau?” Caroline asks piercingly.

GM: “That would very much depend on the Kindred you had wanted to approach. Fortunately, that was also my next question.”

Caroline: “I have some ties to other Sanctified. The Storyville Krewe. Perhaps Marguerite Defallier—we share some past interests from my mortal life,” Caroline replies. “Others… I confess, to be identified.”

GM: “That’s a very small list, Miss Malveaux,” Marcel states. “Perhaps somewhat obvious of me to state, but no less true.”

Caroline: “A fine rope to walk, Genousiastis Guilbeau,” Caroline replies.

GM: “But as for what guidance I can offer, I can think of several things off-hand.”

“Eiren Gerlette notwithstanding, other blue bloods seem conspicuous for their absence. They are some of the Kindred most likely to benefit from such services. They are the only Kindred who will feel a sense of obligation, or at least collective self-interest, to make further introductions and help you ‘network.’”

“I imagine your mortal family helped you snag a number of choice internships and career opportunities before you had done much to build up your own name. The Structure is much the same. We all share the same blood.”

Caroline: Caroline nods but replies, “All the same, Genousiastis Guilbeau, it was not my intention to come to others in the blood, hat in hand, requesting their aid if there was another avenue available. Even laying aside my understanding of the agoge as a test of one’s ability to individually make a place for themselves without the aid of the clan, I am not of a mind to ask aid. Perhaps I an mistaken, but while we are stronger together, a Ventrue that cannot stand on their own is only a liability to others.” There’s a certain fierceness to Caroline’s reply.

GM: “That’s true. Yet you have expressed a wish for me to engage your services, as well as Eiren Gerlette,” Marcel observes.

Caroline: “I would engage Erien Gerlette as fellow neonates, rather than as Ventrue, asking nothing she would not grant to any other.”

GM: “That would seem fair of you, to only engage those Ventrue with whom you are personally acquainted.” Marcel strokes his beard. “Another name that still occurs to me is Questor Adler’s. The Gerousia is aware she is providing your education, and approves of the arrangement. Compared to the Storyville Krewe, she could be a far more lucrative client to you.”

“I don’t know if she’s yet outlined for you which spheres of influence are claimed by which clanmates, but her sire claims domain over the city’s banking and financial sector. He’s held onto it since long before my Embrace.” Marcel smiles. “The Brits are the fathers of modern banking. And he was still a neonate when he witnessed the Bank of England’s 1694 founding.”

Caroline: Caroline squirrels the knowledge of Matheson’s Embrace away amidst the many others.

“I’ll speak with her, but as favorable as her arrangement has been to present, I do not want to seek an undue influence.”

She will give no excuse to deny her due if she succeeds in this arrangement.

GM: “Mm. As a related bit of historical trivia for you, in fact, Spain didn’t have a central bank until 1782. France took all the way until 1800, thanks to the phobia of paper money that John Law helped them develop—he was the real founder of this city in many ways.”

Caroline: “It was a major cause of their economic woes as a result of the colonies,” Caroline agrees.

GM: “Yes, it’s a fascinating piece of history. Questor Adler could tell you all about it, too—she learned her history from a firsthand witness who was extremely studious as to the mistakes France and Spain were making.” Marcel smiles again. “So you can see why Strategos Vidal allowed a Brit to manage the city’s finances. They knew what they were doing.”

“So did Gerousiastis Matheson. He was there pulling the strings of the Monnaie de La Nouvelle-Orléans when it was first founded. It was his domain until his exile, and that whole business with the Numidians. He was one of the original founders of Hancock County Bank too, back when 19 men could do that with only $10,000 in their pockets. Nowadays of course, it’s called Whitney Hancock Bank. It’s continued to grow under his careful husbandry ever since.”

“I believe its total assets are now worth around $20 billion. The Alystra is worth around $150 million. I have other assets and sources of income, of course, but since money means rather less to us, I’m not embarrassed to admit that Gerousiastis Matheson is richer than I am. I don’t think anyone except Strategos Vidal, and maybe a few other elders, hold personal fortunes that can believably claim to rival his own. Certainly, his influence over the banking sector gives him flexibility in the ways he can use capital that even our prince lacks.”

Caroline: “He’s involved with the Whitneys?” Caroline asks, not so much surprised as curious. Another piece in a puzzle whose edges she has yet to find.

GM: “They’re less useful to him now than they once were. Lyman’s retired and Warren doesn’t seem to have any aspirations of becoming CEO after the Hancock merger. But they’ve been his for many years.”

Caroline: “Such is the way of things,” Caroline murmurs.

Had she learned such a thing only months ago the degree of Kindred involvement in the lives of mortals might have been horrifying, but she’s had a rough enough lesson in just how little independence many have from the all-night society in these last weeks.

GM: “Perhaps Sarah will be more ambitious than her father, though.” Marcel smiles. “I’m to understand it’s thanks to you that she’s alive at all—and made that miraculous recovery following her hospital stay.”

Caroline: “We can hope.”

The memory of the younger Whitney dying under her hands is not as fresh as it once was, but Caroline cannot help but feel a swell of emotion at the mention. She’d feared the girl might have significant brain damage, but last she heard the teenager is recovering neatly.

“It’s always a shame to see bright stars fade.”

The Ventrue smiles. “It would seem we’re once more due a hand,” she offers, “unless we are to dispense with the pretense, Genousiastis Guilbeau.”

GM: “Not just yet,” Marcel says, motioning his ghoul to refrain from dealing the cards. “There are ways in which Gerousiastis Matheson’s financial flexibility is more limited, however. His banishment and inability to physically enter the city are significant handicaps. That’s where the younger of his childer comes in.”

The older Ventrue smiles again, but with a touch of wistfulness. “I rather wish I could have been her, at that age. She has almost unrestricted use of an elder’s resources, his name and authority to invoke in her dealings with other Kindred, and what’s probably very little actual oversight from him. Gerousiastis Matheson doesn’t even maintain a herald, or at least a ghoul herald. He allows her to act as his voice and representative in all things.”

Caroline: “She seems to have enjoyed a rather charmed Requiem,” Caroline ventures.

GM: “Yes, she has. I think she’s a model childe and has a very bright future within the clan. But as to my actual point, Miss Malveaux, you’re receiving private lessons from her and working together in a close capacity. Thanks to that acquaintance, you have a potential point of access to nearly $20 billion in assets, and one of the largest banking empires in the South. It predates my Requiem by at least a century. The Storyvilles are nothing next to that.”

Caroline: “An astute observation,” Caroline replies.

But do you know the details of it? That he would have fed upon me as though I were kine had it not been for the words of another?

“As you observed though, Genousiastis Guilbeau, the wealth means little next to potential influence among others. Whatever her means, Questor Adler’s wealth means less than the potential esteem that others might provide by their interest.”

GM: “I’m not the only Kindred of standing to have a favorable opinion of Questor Adler, Miss Malveaux. Primogen Chastain enjoys her company. Madam Defallier believes she has the makings of a harpy. Gerousiastis McGinn considers her a fine example of traditional Southern values. To cite but a few examples. The Storyvilles, unfortunately for them, are less talked about.”

Caroline: Caroline is more than smart enough to read between the lines.

“Your point is well taken, Genousiastis Guilbeau,” she replies.

GM: “Excellent,” Marcel smiles. “Now, I believe we are due for another coup.” He adds, “That’s what ‘hands’ are called in baccarat, by the way.” The ghoul deals Caroline’s cards.

“A strong total,” Marcel observes as the ghoul deals his own.

“The question is yours,” the exiled prince grants.

Caroline: “What might I do to earn your favor, Genousiastis Guilbeau?” Caroline asks.

GM: “You can start by acquitting yourself well in baccarat, which you have,” the older Ventrue smiles faintly.

Caroline: “Fearlessness I have never lacked in,” Caroline replies. “As you have heard, Genousiastis Guilbeau.”

GM: “Yes. But since you won the coup fair and square, I’ll answer you directly. Gerousiastis McGinn and Gerousiastis Malveaux have both had very unfavorable things to say about your character. I respect them both. They’ve earned their spurs to sit at the same table as me, and I’m inclined to listen to their opinions on many things.”

“But I also recognize that Lady Luck sometimes deals us bad hands, and that bad hands can play out even worse when we don’t know the rules of the game.” Marcel gestures as if towards the whole of his casino. “Luck is fickle. Another hand of cards, and bad luck can turn good, especially after we’ve learned the rules.”

Caroline: “I would make no excuses for the past,” Caroline replies. “Only seek changes for the future. A man I knew once said that a card laid was a card played.”

GM: “A card laid can be a card played, but there are always more cards to be dealt. In any case, Gerousiastis Malveaux has refused to personally take part in this stage of your agoge, as is traditional. He’s delegated the task to a ghoul. I’ll give you a guess as to why—but it’s not the dislike he bears for you.”

Caroline: “A boon owed to another,” Caroline speculates.

GM: Marcel quirks an eyebrow. “Who among the Ventrue would call in such a boon for your sake, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: Caroline can think of more than one name on that list.

“I have made enemies enough beyond our clan, Genousiastis Guilbeau,” she replies. “But while naming one among many may be a struggle, I can think of few other things that could keep such an esteemed Ventrue from doing his own duty. If it is, as you say, not a personal matter.”

GM: Marcel only shakes his head. “He recused himself from your instruction because he believed that was the best way to fulfill his duty.”

Caroline: “Better to say nothing than to give false counsel?” Caroline states as much as asks.

GM: Marcel looks at Caroline for a moment, then answers, “Gerousiastis Malveaux believes his feelings for you would prejudice his judgment and make him a poor teacher. He also does not believe that you are likely to pay heed to his instruction. So he has recused himself, in the modern parlance, and delegated that instruction to another.”

“He admitted, without pride, before the Gerousia that he did not believe himself competent to execute his responsibilities. He could just as easily have assigned no ghoul to show you the workings of his domain, and none would have begrudged him for it. You had only enemies and strangers among that body.”

Caroline: A fact that makes this meeting both all the more meaningful… and all the more meaningless.

GM: “That is what it is to show dignitas,” the exiled prince states slowly.

“Gerousiastis Malveaux is easily given to hate. But for ten years I watched him faithfully execute the instructions of a clanmate he despised. That was why the vote to install him in that clanmate’s seat on the Gerousia was unanimous. He’s served the Structure faithfully since before your grandfather was born. To be frank, Miss Malveaux, you aren’t important enough that he’d compromise his dignitas for you.”

Caroline: Caroline betrays no emotion.

Inwardly, though, she thinks upon hearing that the vote to place Father Malveaux on the Gerousia was unanimous. That had been one of her last hopes.

GM: The exiled prince holds up a finger. “But.”

“Gerousiastis McGinn is willing to personally meet with you, instruct you in our ways, offer advice, and show you the workings of his domain. He places much stock in blood, and can be a forgiving Kindred towards members of our clan.”

“I’m aware that bad blood exists there as well, and that he had you whipped for prior offenses. I’d willing to accompany you to that meeting, as an assurance for your physical safety—though I don’t think you’ll actually need me—and to provide re-introductions.”

Caroline: “That’s an extremely generous offer, Genousiastis Guilbeau, but one that I hope is unnecessary. If matters were truly so poor with Genousiastis McGinn that I should fear for my safety, and are also so poor that Genousiastis Malveaux can’t bring himself to speak with me, then I can think only that I might have made poor use of your own valuable time in pursuing this course at all. I should rather place my faith in Genousiastis McGinn’s own honor and integrity.”

The words are easier spoken than believed, but something pulls upon her judgment. She vividly remembers the whipping, but it’s difficult to hold it directly against him. However unpleasant it was. Despite what she learned of her ’sire’s’ own plans with McGinn to frame her and further blood bond her.

GM: “I see this meeting still having much potential to be a profitable use of our time, Miss Malveaux. As for meeting Gerousiastis McGinn on your own, I believe that’s a decision he will respect.”

“As for Gerousastis Malveaux, I’ve spoken to him already. If you are also willing, he will meet with the two of us. Not to, as my childer would term it, ‘kiss and make up’—but to simply recognize past wrongs, agree that neither of you will seek to further aggravate the other, and leave things at that.”

“Do these three things, and I will be willing to not only personally engage your firm’s services, but to recommend that both of my childer do the same, and to make introductions within Clan Ventrue, my covenant—the Invictus—my personal household, and Camarilla society at large. Some of those pending your agoge, since I’m not allowed to directly help with your Test.”

“I will do this even if Gerousiastis McGinn and Gerousiastis Malveaux do not alter their opinions of you, and abstain from voting in favor of your induction into the Structure. My only condition is that you attend a meeting with them both, and display the same dignitas they are also expected to uphold.”

Caroline: It’s an incredibly generous offer, perhaps the most so she has received since her Embrace, even with the obvious outs built into it—that it requires she complete her agoge and be accepted into the Structure.

“Even were you not a member of the Gerousia and centuries older, that is a term I would be a foolish not to meet, and an offer I cannot refuse, Gerousiastis Guilbeau,” Caroline replies, trying to keep the surprise off her face at the magnitude of what the elder Ventrue is offering.

A mediator with Father Malveaux who isn’t hostile and potential inroads amid the Invictius—to say nothing of his own not insignificant dealings. It’s quite a carrot vice the typical stick she’s seen in most of her Kindred dealings to date.

GM: The exiled prince spreads his hands. “This is how we operate, Miss Malveaux. Clanmates can abide by the rules, contribute towards shared prosperity, and reap the benefits—or they may go their own way, and do without. I’m pleased to hear you want to do the former.” Another faint smile. “There aren’t many blue bloods we fail to win around.”

Caroline: “I can begin to see why,” Caroline agrees.

Though where was all of this when René was hunting me like a dog and Gerousiastis McGinn was plotting to enslave me?

The question goes unasked, mostly drowned by the opportunity before her. She knows the answer anyway, or at least think she does.

Wednesday night, 6 October 2015, PM

GM: Marcel and Caroline play a few further baccarat coups, with the casino owner questioning her further regarding the details of business plans. He states that he’ll inspect her burgeoning law firm in person (once it gets to the point), as well as offer Caroline a later, lengthier tour of his own business operations. The rest of the Gerousia will do the same, for this is apparently the first of many further meetings that will occur over the coming months.

Two nights later, Becky Lynne receives Caroline again to coordinate scheduling between the recently-released fledgling and the two lictors, the latter of whom are soon to depart the city.

“By the way, Miss Malveaux, how did that first meeting of yours go with the gerousiastis?” she asks.

Caroline: “Genousiastis Guilbeau was a charming host, Questor Adler,” Caroline replies professionally.

GM: “Oh, I’m so glad you thought so. I’m not much of a gamblin’ woman, but the Alystra is a gorgeous sight over the water.” She smiles. “Only fitting that its owner should be equally charming, isn’t it?”

Caroline: “Indeed. He had quite the generous description of you as well, Questor Adler.”

GM: “Oh, now I’m certain he is a flatterer,” the other Ventrue laughs lightly.

Caroline: “Some make it easier than others.”

GM: “And I might say the same for yourself, Miss Malveaux,” smiles Becky Lynne. “Complimentary turns of phrase like those will go over very well for you in Elysium.”

Caroline: “Some of us take longer to learn lessons than others, but the all-night society has ways all its own to make one begin to understand the rules. And they are quite persuasive,” Caroline agrees.

GM: “Aren’t they so,” Becky Lynne echoes. “Everyone learns the rules, even if they claim not to follow them.”

Caroline: Caroline frowns. “I’d argue there are plenty that don’t learn, we simply have to clean them up with a broom.”

GM: “A difference of philosophies, then,” Becky Lynne smiles. “My mama always taught me there’s no one who’s unreformable, not really—though sometimes they do make it too hard to justify the effort involved, unfortunately.”

Caroline: “Fortunate for me,” comes the heiress’ response.

GM: “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure, she also said—or every man’s, once it’s had a good polishing.”

Caroline: Caroline gives a light laugh. “I’ll take that in what I presume was the spirit it was meant, Questor Adler.”

“Speaking of treasure, though. It was observed to me how greatly many have come to value your counsel and opinion.”

GM: “You must have been talking to a whole bunch of flatterers there, Miss Malveaux,” Becky Lynne laughs again before her expression grows more serious. “But it’s flattery I hope there is some truth to. I owe my bloodline’s reputation nothing less.”

Caroline: Particularly after all he has given you, Caroline cannot help but think with the lingering hint of bitterness, but that’s a scabbed-over wound.

“Perhaps I was, but that wouldn’t necessarily make it less true. I’ll move towards the point, however. You are familiar with my past, mortal dealings, with the Whitney family. I’m told they reside largely within your own sphere of influence.”

GM: “Oh, that’d be my sire’s sphere, Miss Malveaux, let’s have no illusions there,” Becky Lynne amends. “But he is most appreciative of the earlier service you rendered him with their daughter. The Whitneys have faithfully served his interests for a very long time. They aren’t what they used to be in the company, but he’s not a Kindred to forget loyalty.”

Caroline: “I’ve heard she’s recovering well,” Caroline agrees. “I’ve been thinking about that night. On the insanity of Detective Gettis’ actions. But that’s a story for another night I suspect.”

GM: “Yes, she’s very lucky by all accounts,” Becky Lynne agrees. “Or at least, certainly lucky that you were there during an unlucky time.”

Caroline: “It was a very strange night,” Caroline continues. “And also interesting how close on its heels my Embrace came.” She shakes her head somewhat dismissively and smiles.

GM: “I’m sure that it must have been,” Becky Lynne agrees. “Two lives dropped right in your hands, all out of the blue. That’s news to me so far as your Embrace, though. How much later was it?”

Caroline: “Eight nights,” Caroline replies easily.

GM: “Hot on the heels,” Becky Lynne agrees again. “In any case, Miss Malveaux, what’s the main story if that one’s for another night?”

Caroline: “There are two matters. The first relates to the Whitney family and that night, moving forward. I suspect after that night they would be willing to sponsor one of my chosen pawns in the establishment of my domain—and point other kine in the direction of it, but I would not presume to meddle in Genousiastis Matheson’s domain, even indirectly, without his blessing. But that connection would also be valuable in preserving my own Masquerade as well.”

GM: “That is very prudent—and polite of you to bring to his attention first,” Becky Lynne nods. “Might I ask after the second matter?”

Caroline: “Given the regard with which many hold you, Questor Adler, I had hoped I might persuade you to make use of my services in some capacity,” Caroline replies. “I understand that members of the Structure are not permitted to meddle in the establishment of one’s domain during an agoge, but I would seek to engage with you outside of such bonds.”

GM: Becky Lynne nods thoughtfully, clasping both her hands over a crossed leg. “Miss Malveaux, you’ll pardon me if this seems forward, but since you have engaged my sire for my help here… are you new to the city?”

“Obviously, of course, your family isn’t,” she clarifies. “They’re a big family, with a lot of branches in a lot of places. Have you spent much time among the out of state ones?”

Caroline: “Thankfully not,” Caroline replies, scrutinizing the other Ventrue heiress.

GM: Becky Lynne smiles at that, but Caroline can’t make out anything past the shorter blonde’s so-frequent expression.

Caroline: “I tried, of course, but the family wouldn’t let me out of Louisiana for an extended time.”

GM: “Blood can keep us on a short leash,” Becky Lynne agrees. “In any case, Miss Malveaux, I ask because this isn’t quite how business is done in the city, among Kindred or kine circles. It’s missing a certain somethin’. A je ne sais quoi. if you will.” Despite her Southern accent, the French effortlessly rolls off her tongue.

“Relationship, is what I think I’m gettin’ at,” she continues. “My sire is very traditional and deals with Kindred he knows—or Kindred his associates and kin know. You can be the best lawyer in the world, but for him, it’s that personal relationship which really seals it.”

“We’ve spent a fair amount of time together lately, Miss Malveaux, but I don’t rightly feel as if I know you too well. And I reckon you don’t feel as if you know me too well, either.”

Caroline: “Its position to be in,” Caroline agrees.

GM: Becky Lynne smiles again. “But those relationships can still be built, fortunately for us both.”

Caroline: Caroline meets that smile with one of her own. “I confess I’ve been hesitant in approaching such things,” she admits. “The rules of propriety that govern us in death are far more akin to those that I suspect governed Gerousiastis Matheson in life. Adjusting to them, and to my own… shall we say revised position in relation to others in death has been difficult.”

GM: Becky Lynne nods again. “I’m sure it has been very confusing, and you’ve not been sure what social guns to stick to and which to holster up, knowin’ that one wrong shot could mean disaster. But there are some things that don’t change, not too much.”

Caroline: “Like common interests?”

GM: The other Ventrue nods again. “That can well be one.”

Caroline: “Then forgive me, Questor Adler, I had not wanted to presume an undue familiarity. After all, as your sire made quite clear, we are not peers.”

GM: “That’s another thing that can change, Miss Malveaux,” Becky Lynne beams. “Another thing my mama always told me was, ‘act like you’re gettin’ ahead, but not that you’re already ahead’.”

Caroline: “Meaning the stricter formalities are of less interest to you, absent your sire,” Caroline speculates.

GM: Becky Lynne taps her chin, then smiles. “Why don’t we make me seem like a good girl by saying not less interest so much as fewer are required. As you say, Miss Malveaux, we may not be peers quite yet, but formalities are less strict between you and me than they are between you and my sire.”

“What is of interest to me, though, is someone who can follow those formalities while makin’ nice and makin’ new friends. It’s a fine line to straddle, and can take some real skill—but it’s the kind that gets noticed by the right people.”

Caroline knows about that.

She knows all about that.

Wednesday afternoon, 17 March 2004

GM: It’s not Mardi Gras.

Uncle Orson had always disapproved of the family’s participation in those festivals, and particularly the girls. Luke and Westley had never got to go before, but the latter pleaded and cajoled with his parents so badly that they relented, and the boys got to experience their first Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
Caroline didn’t. She stayed home in Baton Rouge, where she had a ‘girls’ night in’ with her mother and grandmother.

One month later, it’s still not Mardi Gras. It’s her mother’s idea of a compromise.

The St. Patrick’s Day parades attract a less wild crowd, Claire said. That had to have been true, because even Orson didn’t object to the idea. Caroline didn’t have much chance to object either. Her mother felt that with high school at St. Joseph’s Academy starting next year, the fourteen-year-old could use the time to “unwind” and “have some fun.”

Caroline: Being left at home with her mother was a hard pill to swallow, especially given how the distance between them has grown over the last year. They’ve never been particularly close—she was her father’s daughter—but the petty fights are becoming more frequent.

She’s too well-behaved and too inculcated to the family’s expectations to really lash out, but it probably only makes the biting comments and empty silences all the more obvious. The trip to New Orleans can’t help but feel like an attempt to band-aid over a wound that grows more infected by the day.

GM: Her mother hasn’t come with her. She cited things to do in Baton Rouge. Caroline’s father has been a state senator for two years, ever since he had to retire from the House (where he served as speaker), and is gearing up his bid to take over as majority leader. Claire has had more to do.

She also didn’t want to be “a drag” on Caroline’s outing with her older cousins and their friends, she’d said. So the eighth grader gets to tag along with a clique of girls who’ve all grown up together, but are either family or (at closest) acquaintances to her.

Bossy, grown-up Savannah accompanies the group as a chaperone. The 17-year-old didn’t appear to enjoy hanging out with a bunch of middle schoolers either. And so they all went out to enjoy the parades in the Irish Channel, only a few blocks away from Uncle Orson’s home.

Elaine, the youngest girl at only 10, squealed and tried to run out among the crowds before Savannah annoyedly pulled her back. 12-year-old Charlotte teased her. The tall, gangly, pimpled and braces-wearing preteen liked to take shots at other people, maybe because she was so easy to take ones at herself. 14-year-old Susan simply had fun, snapping pictures on her cell phone with its built-in camera. Uncle Matt’s kids always get the newest toys.

Savannah talks on a cellphone too, or at least is trying to, and trying not to be overheard by her sisters, cousin, and the former’s friends. “Mae? Mae? Where the hell are you? I have to look after these dorks all day, you could at LEAST be around to talk!”

Caroline: Caroline, already tall and lankier than she’d like, mostly tries to tune out her older and younger cousins. She points out things of interest to Susan and enjoys the break from the highly supervised and structured life of Baton Rouge. Between language classes, music lessons, extracurricular activities, political events with her too absent of late father, and her recent uptake of fencing she’s had precious little time to do so.

GM: Susan is tall for her age too, and lanky—few fourteen-year-olds are actually graceful—but she’s a sight prettier than her sister Charlotte, with unblemished skin and hair that’s dark rather than blonde like Caroline’s. She smiles at the floats, leprechaun costumes, and outrageous red dye jobs Caroline points out.

“Vannah’s pretty pissy lately, you’ll have to excuse her,” the other eighth grader remarks as she catches a flung green and yellow bead necklace. It could be made for Mardi Gras if it had any purple.

Caroline: “It’s fine. She’s still better than my mother,” Caroline replies, with particular emphasis on the last two words. She’s made a point of not calling her ‘mom’ around others.

GM: “What’s she do?”

Caroline: “Nag, mostly.” Caroline points to another float. “Talk about when she was my age half a lifetime ago.”

GM: Susan glances at its foam rainbow, then catches a handful of chocolate coins one of the leprechauns tosses out of a black pot. “Our mom does that first one a lot too. Though she also freaks out about all the horrible stuff that could happen to us.”

Caroline: Caroline rolls her eyes. “‘You don’t know how dangerous the world is. You don’t understand what it’s really like.’ I’ve heard that one so many times.”

GM: “Really? Did your mom get stabbed or something too when she was young?” Susan asks as she peels off a gold wrapper.

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “Nothing like what happened to yours. She’s just… protective is a nice word.”

GM: “Guess that’s all moms.”

Caroline: “I guess,” Caroline concedes. “Doesn’t make it less annoying to get treated like a kid.”

GM: “At least you’re not pregnant.” Susan munches on a coin. “That’s what I think happened to Vannah’s friend Mae. Mom freaked out and says she can’t even see her anymore, like it’s contagious.”

Caroline: Caroline rolls her eyes. “Only if stupidity is contagious.”

GM: Susan snickers. “It might be.”

Caroline: It’s stupid enough to sleep around, but much less forgivable to not even bother to use protection. Not that St. Joseph’s is eager to advertise the latter. She suspects that the Ursuline Academy is very much the same in that regard. Still, the internet is a thing.

“At least it’s interesting. St. Joseph’s is as boring as my French tutor. Vous devez pratiquer la conjugaison de vos verbes, Caroline,” she quotes.

(“You need to practice conjugating your verbs, Caroline.”)

GM: Susan rolls her eyes. “I’m taking French too. So are all my sisters. My mom actually picked it out for all of us.”

Caroline: “It’s not just French,” Caroline continues. “My parents want me to be ‘well-rounded’, but they forget I want to have a life too.”

GM: “Well, at least you get to pick yours. Uncle Orson pretty much told Adam he’d be a priest and what to study in college. And he does it all without complaining.”

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “I think he mostly forgets about me unless it’s something that’ll make the family look bad. One of, maybe the only, perk to living in Baton Rouge.”

GM: “Yeah, I wouldn’t want to. There’s nothing to do in a town that small. Well, city, I guess.”

Caroline: “What about you? Does Uncle Orson pay a lot of attention to you?”

GM: Susan thinks. “I didn’t think so, but we actually sat down a couple weeks ago, to talk about stuff He asked me about my grades and hobbies and what I want to do in high school. Stuff like that.”

Caroline: “What did you tell him?” Caroline breaks from the conversation to point out a woman with lime green hair covered in lime green body paint—and seemingly little else—on a float that goes by.

GM: “Oh, wow. He probably wouldn’t want us to see that,” Susan remarks. The woman’s breasts are covered with two tiny shamrocks, and more than one voice in the crowd makes a “luck o’ the Irish!” related joke.

“Anyway, pretty much what he asked,” Caroline’s cousin answers after a moment, “though I dunno how much fun he had listening to my volleyball records or what malls I go shopping. He mostly just nodded and said to ‘stay on the path.’”

Caroline: “So, don’t go taking your top off at parades for attention?” Caroline scoffs at the painted woman as much as anything else.

GM: “I think this parade’s a little tame for that,” Sarah remarks. Indeed, though the painted woman only hangs onto a semblance of modesty, there are still numerous parents and children throughout the crowds. No one is obviously intoxicated, and no women are baring their breasts. The St. Patrick’s Day parade seems quite a bit tamer than the city’s other festivals—at least during day and in the family-friendly neighborhood.

“Not that Mom cares. Vannah’s friend got pregnant or whatever during Mardi Gras, and now she’s actually on Orson’s side about it.”

Caroline: “Was she anyone important?” Caroline asks in the way that only children of the powerful can. “Her mother must have been all over her if they caught it that fast…”

GM: “Yeah, her dad’s a bank CEO,” Susan answers in a similarly casually familiar way. “She goes to McGehee but Vannah knows her.”

Caroline: “Did they, like, walk in on her or something?”

GM: “Dunno. It was a month ago though, maybe she took a pregnancy test.”

There’s a somewhat uncertain pause from the Catholic-educated girl.

“But I think you have to wait before you can take them?”

Caroline: “I don’t really know. Maybe? That seems really early, though.”

GM: Susan shrugs. “I hear she’s a total daddy’s girl, so he’ll probably just… hire a nanny or something. But it’s all ‘cuz of her I can’t go to Mardi Gras when I’m 16 like Mom promised.”

The other girl makes little effort to hide the annoyance in her voice.

Caroline: “What a dumb way to ruin her life… and everyone else’s,” Caroline agrees.

“Wait, it wasn’t the friend dating James Dyer, was it? Because that would be both kind of gross, and also seriously bad news for everyone in the family.”

GM: Susan thinks. “Actually, yeah… it was. They were going out for a while.”

Caroline: “We’re never going to hear the end of this one.”

GM: “No, we’re not.” The other fourteen-year-old looks annoyed. “I’d like to really tell her off, for ruining Mardi Gras.”

Caroline: “What’s her name? Mai?”

GM: “Mae. Short for Rebecca Mae.”

Caroline: Caroline’s always hated those double names.

GM: “Vannah has her number on her phone…” Susan says thoughtfully.

Caroline: “Yeah, because none of our moms and dads would get upset if they caught us calling her,” Caroline replies. “Plus, I don’t think your sister is going to hand it over… but maybe she could lure her out.” She tunes back into her older cousin’s phone conversation.

GM: Past the blare of musicians, the float performers, and noisy crowds, Caroline can observe that Savannah looks a bit calmer.

“Okay, look, it’s probably not that bad…” she says into the cell.

Caroline: It doesn’t even occur to her to torment James about it. It’s not his fault, after all. He wasn’t the one that let himself get pregnant.

GM: The ambient noise makes it hard for Caroline to hear, but that cuts both ways, for it proves equally hard for Savannah to notice her younger cousin’s and sister’s eavesdropping. Caroline picks up that Mae is out doing things with her own friends, and unsurprisingly doesn’t want anything to do with the younger girls Savannah is so reluctantly babysitting. Savannah says she’ll find a way to ditch them later, and the older girls can meet up to “have some ACTUAL fun.”

“And you should have some, with how shitty everything sounds,” Caroline’s older cousin adds.

Caroline: Caroline relates what she’s learned to Susan and pitches her own plan: they’ll give Savannah an easy out by explaining they want to go shopping, but instead, if she goes for it, follow Savannah to enact some kind of revenge—or at least get some juicy gossip.

GM: Caroline doesn’t need to relate much, as the other fourteen-year-old could hardly resist the opportunity to eavesdrop on her big sister’s phone conversation. “What do we do about everyone else, convince them to actually go shopping?”

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “I don’t like the idea of leaving them alone. We can see if she’ll take them—probably home—or we can see if there’s somewhere we can drop them off. Do any of their friends have phones? See if we can set them up with their friends?”

GM: Susan thinks. “That could work. And yeah, probably. I mean, it’s 2004.”

Caroline: They go about executing the plan.

GM: And enjoying the parade.

The parade is a sea of green, starting with the giant floats accompanied by bands, music, and marching clubs. Crowds of people chow down cabbage, corned beef, beer, and green-dyed foods, but are no less vigorous in chanting the timeless, “Hey, mister, throw me something!” The float crews oblige, showering the crowds with potatoes, carrots, moonpies, chocolate coins, shamrock tokens, leprechaun hats, and most of all, cabbages. Everyone’s hands are raised in the air, hoping to catch a throw. A few enterprising children and adults can be found in trees along the route, trying to capture the best position. At that moments, it seems nothing else matters but being the lucky one to catch those beads, cabbages, or even underwear. Cabbage recipes will doubtlessly be in abundance throughout the city over the coming days.

Caroline and Susan, meanwhile, are able to obtain several phone numbers from Elaine easily enough (despite being two years younger than Charlotte, she has the most friends) and convince the younger girls they can have more fun with their friends. Savannah, who clearly isn’t enjoying being a babysitter, actually helps out.

Savannah is a bit more reluctant to leave off Caroline and Susan by themselves. It’s still a school night, and Caroline needs to be back at Matt’s house for one of the family employees to drive her the one hour and 22 minutes back to Baton Rouge. She lets up when she sees the girls have cells, and agree to be back no later than 9 PM.

Caroline: They even agree to make use of one of the family driver’s for their shopping.

GM: The 17-year-old finally ditches them.

“So what do you think we should do to Mae?” Susan asks.

Caroline: “I don’t know. Depends on where they go, really.”

GM: That answer soon becomes evident.

Parosol’s is locally known as a bastion of roast beef po’boys and cold beer, but is perhaps most widely reputed for being a gathering place for St. Patrick’s Day revelers. The combined Irish pub and restaurant, along with the neighboring pub Tracey’s (less than a block away) serve as the final party stop for crowds of revelers decked out in green outfits, buckled hats and shamrock pins. The block party between the two pubs is in full swing as the crowds swig green beer and hope to catch some last “luck o’ the Irish.” Savannah arrives at the pub for her rendezvous around dinner time, leaving the two cousins with ample time to actually go shopping (like they’d lied) before following after the high schooler and her friend.

Caroline: Caroline is rather satisfied with the day so far: away from home, with shopping bags filled with new cloths, and now an opportunity to pick up either some choice gossip or to prank the girl likely responsible for her own loss of Mardi Gras for the foreseeable future.

GM: “You think they’re gonna let us in? It is a bar,” Susan wonders. “Well, kind of. I guess Vannah isn’t old enough to drink either.”

Caroline: Caroline tries to see her way through the crowd to figure out if there’s a doorman in place checking IDs.

GM: There is not. The pub is already a combination bar-restaurant, and is full to bursting with patrons on St. Patrick’s Day. Some even have young kids.

Caroline: “The harder question is how we get close without them noticing us.”

GM: “It’s pretty crowded. Maybe just try and blend in?”

Caroline: “Yeah…” Caroline eyes a late teens or early twenties something woman with a large green top hat with matching cheap green wig, “Hi, I forgot my green. I’ll give you $100 for the wig.”

GM: The woman, who’s sipping from a tall mug of green-colored beer, raises her eyebrows and grins at the same time. “Little late to remember now, but it’s all yours.”

“I’ll give you another $100 for the hat,” adds Susan.

The woman laughs about the “luck o’ the Irish being with me,” hands off the hat and wig, and pockets the teenagers’ money.

Caroline: Caroline fits the shockingly green wig over her own standout pale hair. “Blending in by standing out. How do I look?”

GM: Susan grins as she dons her hat. “Green.”

Caroline: “Let’s give it a shot,” Caroline smiles.

Having changed into one of the new sets of cloths she bought earlier—and garbed in the wig—Caroline makes her approach with Susan, using the crowd for cover (or at least trying to so much as a 14-year-old may).

GM: Susan actually tries to order drinks at the bar first. She and Caroline are both as tall as many adult women, but the bartender just rolls his eyes and ignores them.

“My dad could buy this place,” she huffs as they leave.

Caroline: “Yeah, but it probably still wouldn’t serve us,” Caroline observes. Drinking may be a Catholic pasttime—Caroline’s seen a massive share of it at St. Joseph’s—but it tends to be a high school activity.

GM: “True,” Susan admits. “Could fire that jerk though.”

Caroline: “At least he didn’t throw us out.” She searches the crowd casually for her cousin—and their mark.

GM: The crowd inside the restaurant-bar is quite thick, which is both a hindrance and blessing. “Drunken Lullabies” by Flogging Molly plays in the background, while the smell of fried pub food is thick in the air.

GM: Caroline isn’t so sure she’d be able to pick out Mae in a crowd, but her older cousin is another matter. Now that Savannah no longer has any younger girls to look after, the 17-year-old is seemingly cutting loose. She’s wearing more shamrocks and bead necklaces, her hair is a bit more missed, and she’s drinking.

Caroline: She’s quite certain the same applies in reverse, and the sight of Savannah drinking puts her at ease. Between the change of cloths, the packed room, the loud music, the wig, and being inebriated she doubts Savannah can pick her out. In time Mae will become clear based on both Savannah’s interactions—and Susan’s inputs. She finds a spot in Savannah’s blind spot to watch.

GM: Susan doesn’t settle down with her so much as stand next to her. Savannah waits for a bit, then orders some food from a server.

“So, what do you think we should do when she shows?” the other eighth grader asks.

Caroline: “The toilet shower is always popular,” Caroline observes mischievously. “Especially if you spike the water green with all the food coloring around…”

GM: “Oh, that’s good!” Susan smirks, her eyes briefly cutting towards her sister as she realizes she’s raised her voice, but Savannah doesn’t appear to notice them. “Though she’d need to use the bathroom here, and other people could get in the way…” She thinks. “Though I guess we could just pay them too.”

Caroline: “I’m not sure that’s a good idea. The more we throw money around the more someone’s might remember us. If they stay here long enough drinking though we should get at least one chance.”

GM: “We’re not really doing anything that bad, though. I mean, who cares if anyone remembers us?”

Caroline: “I care if we make your sister mad enough that my parents find out. I don’t want to wait until I’m 25 for Mardi Gras.”

GM: “Okay, true. I guess we can still make it work, if we just keep anyone else out of the bathroom.”

Caroline: “Mostly your sister,” Caroline agrees, watching. “Which one is Mae?” she asks of those around Savannah.

GM: “None of them,” Susan answers. “I guess she’s taking her sweet time.”

It’s a few minutes later before a girl around Savannah’s age wearing a bright red wig, shamrock hat, and knee-length green dress finally shows. She and Caroline’s cousin hug one another in greeting.

“I went ahead and ordered for us. Just us, I figured your McGehee friends wouldn’t be around,” says Savannah.

“Thanks. You know how it is,” the other girl smiles as she un-shoulders her purse and sits down.

“That’s Mae,” Susan whispers to Caroline, her eyes cutting back to the red-wigged girl.

“Yeah, I do,” says Savannah. She slides over a mug of green beer towards Mae. “So, what’s new?”

“Same old, same old, you know,” Mae smiles between a pull of beer. “Getting ready for college. Convincing my daddy I’m not just just lazin’ around on my bum ’til then.”

Savannah smiles back, but it doesn’t quite reach her eyes. “You’ve never liked beer.”

“I guess not,” Mae admits with a faint laugh. “But we’re all Irish today, now aren’t we? And the Irish do like their beer.”

“I don’t like beer either, honestly,” says Savannah. “It’s always makes me think of fat men watching TV and asking their wives to ‘get me a cold one.’”

Caroline: Caroline lodges no disagreement, nursing a sweet tea herself to better blend in.

GM: Mae laughs again in agreement. It’s not much longer before the pair’s food arrives: two po’boy sandwiches with sliced wet tomatoes, lettuce over a gravy-like, sweet-smelling sauce, and deep-fried crab. The tender meat inside looks to pair well with the crab’s crunchy exterior.

“You ordered us the same thing. Isn’t that cute,” Mae smiles.

“Seemed fitting,” Savannah agrees.

Light crunching is audible as the two set to work on their crab po’boys. They don’t say anything for a bit.

The third girl watches them no less intently for it.

Caroline: “Why don’t you get it ready, set up in a middle stall,” Caroline suggests to her cousin.

GM: Caroline spots her at the table adjacent to her cousin’s. She’s pretty, looks around Savannah’s and Mae’s age, and wears one of the telltale green wigs and shamrock hats that so many other women today are sporting. She nurses a green-colored beer as she silently watches the pair out of the corner of her eye.

Susan looks between Caroline and the first two girls. “Good time, maybe. I’m getting hungry watching them.”

She heads off towards the bathrooms.

Caroline: Caroline tries not to make too obvious her own observation of the girl watching her cousin, but she can’t help but be curious.

GM: “We have a lot in common,” says Savannah.

“We sure do,” Mae smiles.

The other girl continues to watch the pair.

“Too many of my friends are bitches,” says Savannah. “I’m always thinking about what I say around them. I feel like I can just talk with you. And not have to think about what other people might think.”

Mae pauses mid-bite, swallows, then smiles again. It reaches all the way up to her eyes, and all but glows there. “You know, that’s the nicest thing anyone’s said to me in a while, Vannah. Thank you.”

The third girl shifts forward in her seat to stare at Mae more closely.

“The nicest thing anyone’s said since Mardi Gras,” Savannah says. It could be a question. It doesn’t sound like one.

Mae is silent for a moment as she happens to take another bite of food. Her eyes drift across the crowd. For just a fraction of a second, they flit upon the girl watching them.

The green-wigged teenager gives a minute shake of her head. She licks her lips as Mae turns back to Savannah.

“Yes,” Mae admits.

Caroline: Caroline feels a shiver go through her. What the hell? she wonders with more than mild concern.

GM: “You must be in so much shit for that,” says Savannah. “And it’s even worse than I see, I bet. I know how good you are at keeping up appearances.”

“Not good enough here,” Mae admits. She tries to smile, but her heart doesn’t seem in it.

The third girl watches them both like a hawk.

“I want you to know I don’t judge,” Savannah says.

Mae looks at her.

“The pregnancy thing. I think that’s just my mom freaking out.” She lowers her voice. “I know what it’s like, Mae. Living with the lie.”

Savannah reaches across the table and takes Mae’s hand in hers.

“It’s a lot easier when you can… when you can be real with someone.”

Mae’s words seem to catch in her throat for a moment. “Vannah…”

“I know with your parents… how much you care about them. How you don’t…” Savannah continues.

“Vannah… this is in public,” Mae whispers. Her face catches, but only for a moment as she pulls her hand away from Caroline’s cousin. There’s another quick glance, that seems like it tries to reach the other girl but stops just short of her face.

The other girl silently stares back.

Savannah looks hurt as Mae pulls her hand away, but goes on, “I can’t stop thinking about you.”

Caroline: Caroline is utterly silent, almost transfixed by the sight.

This is so much better than a prank.

GM: “I had… I had this whole speech prepared. But I just…” Savannah looks like she wants to take Mae’s hand again, but seems to settle for touching the other girl’s arm. “I hate seeing you like this. You don’t deserve it. You’re not a bad person, Mae.

Mae’s hand goes to her mouth. She looks as if she’s on the verge of tears. Their po’boys sit uneaten. “Vannah…” she whispers, just as the short blonde from the next table strides over to the pair.

“…I want you to meet my friend.”

Savannah is speechless as the smiling new girl lays a hand on Mae’s shoulder.

“I’m Rebecca,” she says. “Mae and I have the same name. Isn’t that the funniest thing?”

Caroline: Caroline pauses to take a drink, looking away.

GM: “You can call me Becca, though,” the new girl’s voice continues.

“So you and Mae are together,” Caroline’s cousin says. There’s pain in her voice.

“Since Mardi Gras,” Becca answers, before her tone softens. “But I really am sorry, Savannah. I had no idea… and I don’t think Mae did either.”

“Well,” manages Savannah. “I guess not.”

Caroline: Caroline swallows. Susan is going to freak.

GM: “I think we should take the rest of this conversation somewhere private,” says Becca. “Why don’t we freshen up in the bathroom?”

“…all right,” comes Savannah’s voice.

The seated two pull out their chairs.

Caroline: Caroline carefully turns away. She hopes Susan doesn’t do something dumb with all three in there. For now all she can do is wait.

GM: “Excuse me,” says Mae.

She sits down at Caroline’s table.

Caroline: The young heiress doesn’t turn towards Savannah.

“Hello. Do I know you?” she asks lamely.

GM: Mae dabs at her eyes and gives a sad smile. “Probably, to be listening in.”

Caroline: “I mean… it was interesting.”

GM: “Your mama had to have taught you it’s bad manners,” Mae answers, but her heart doesn’t seem in the rebuke.

Caroline: “There were a lot of lessons she taught that no one seems to be following,” comes Caroline’s slightly stronger reply, but there’s an emptiness to it: her mother taught her few enough lessons.

GM: “You’ll find those lessons aren’t always easy to follow once you’re older.”

Caroline: “So why are you lecturing me on them?” comes a defiant response.

Lesbian. And her cousin is one of them too. If Uncle Orson found out… talk about a scandal. She’d be in so much trouble. This is way better than a prank.

GM: “Habit, I reckon,” says Mae. She seems to study Caroline. “You’re very young.”

Caroline: “Because you’re so much older.” The 14-year-old’s sarcasm shows through.

GM: “I suppose not by all that much. Not really.” Mae looks sad. “It’s so funny, you know. I never felt that way about her. Or had any idea she felt that way about me. Then again, maybe I did, and just wanted to pretend things were normal.”

Caroline: “Well, you seem happy now with your girlfriend, or whatever.”

Only, she doesn’t.

After a moment, “Are you sure this is what you want?”

GM: Mae pulls out a tissue from her purse and runs it across her eyes. “Oh, what do you think?”

Caroline: “Then why are you doing this?” Caroline asks.

GM: Mae looks at her and sets the tissue down. “Some things about ourselves we can’t change.”

Caroline: “That’s not true,” Caroline answers. “You have a choice.”

GM: Mae actually gives a laugh at that, but there’s little mirth in it.

“I used to think that too.”

Caroline: “What changed?” The young teen seems genuinely curious.

GM: Mae looks at Caroline, as if thinking of how to answer that. She finally seems to settle for, “I’m sure your mama says this all the time, but… you’ll understand when you’re older, maybe.”

Caroline: “Sounds to me like you don’t know either,” Caroline counters.

GM: The older girl just gives another sad smile. “I’ve been rude. I shouldn’t keep you like this.”

Caroline: “I’m just waiting on my friend to get back.” Caroline gestures.

GM: Mae looks at her again.

“You’re so young. It wasn’t good for you to get involved in this, but I’ll do my best to keep you out.”

Caroline: Caroline feels a faint stab of fear, but marshals her composure and wits.

Involved in what?

“I think it would be best if you went back to your friends. We’re leaving soon anyway,” she says more bravely than she feels.

It’s a phrase she’s heard many times, ‘I think it would be best’. Typically when she was actually being given an all but order.

Footsteps approach the pair. Susan and Savannah aren’t there, but the other girl is. She takes a seat next to to Caroline. She looks older up close. Not wrinkled, not even middle-aged, but definitely past college age.

“There was another girl,” she says.

Mae looks at Caroline. “Your friend?”

“That’s who she said she was,” ‘Becca’ replies. “They were eavesdropping on your friend.”

Caroline: Caroline’s discomfort only grows. What happened to Savannah? If she comes over and sees Caroline she’s going to flip. Beneath that though another sharper fear bites at her. They’re talking about her like she isn’t even here, and Becca isn’t just another teenager.

“Look, just leave me alone, all right?”

GM: “You don’t need to be scared of us,” Mae says. She sounds like she wants the words to be comforting. They aren’t.

“She should be. Especially of you,” says Becca.

Mae looks at her.

“Sorry,” says Becca. “You don’t want to drag this out, though. It’ll just make her more scared.”

“You’re right,” says Mae before looking back towards Caroline.

Caroline: “Whatever you’re thinking about doing, you shouldn’t.”

Caroline stands and takes a step away from the table and the two increasingly threatening homosexuals.

GM: Mae’s eyes look sad as they stare into Caroline’s, but they’re no less level.

“I want you to forget Savannah’s conversation, all right? I want you to forget talking to me, too. What you actually remember is…”

Wednesday night, 6 October 2015, PM

GM: “…what is of interest to me, though,” Becky Lynne goes on, “is someone who can follow those formalities while makin’ nice and makin’ new friends. It’s a fine line to straddle, and can take some real skill—but it’s the kind that gets noticed by the right people.”

Caroline might have been wrong to presume an ‘undue’ familiarity with her older clanmate.

But they were familiar.

Entering someone’s mind and pulling away a few pieces surely counts.

Caroline: The rush of memories, broken loose perhaps by a careless word or just frequent proximity, rocks Caroline’s psyche for a moment, but she’s far from the 14-year-old girl of years past. She covers her brief disorientation with a hollow response.

“Well, I confess, Questor Adler, we’ve had only a few opportunities to become more antiquated outside of these meetings.”

She looks down for a moment, wincing as minutes slip back into her memory in seconds.

GM: “I suppose we haven’t, now. My daddy always told me not to mix business with pleasure—which gettin’ to know unfamiliar people usually is,” Becky Lynne smiles back, either unnoticing or unremarking of Caroline’s thoughts.

Caroline: The younger Ventrue finishes wincing.

“Few opportunities,” Caroline concludes. “But there have been a few. Do you remember when we first met?”

There’s now something else in her eye, almost predatory, honed.

GM: “Are you referrin’ to the Elysium at the Ogden Museum, Miss Malveaux?” Becky Lynne asks, then smiles. “Yes, I do remember that. It was your first time out in Elysium, wasn’t it?”

Caroline: “You have an excellent memory, Questor Adler, but we actually met some years ago.”

GM: “I’m just a regular barfly in Elysium, I suppose,” the other Ventrue lightly laughs. “We could have, though, what was the occasion?”

Caroline: “I confess, it was a long time ago and I was only a bit player to it, but I think the meeting was similar in some ways to this one, with you providing guidance to another fledgling.”

GM: “Now that would be rather symmetric, wouldn’t it? I hope you found it of use.”

Caroline: “It aligns with some thought I had already,” Caroline agrees. “What happened to her?”

GM: “I’m sorry, Miss Malveaux, what happened to who?” Becky Lynne asks in turn.

Caroline: “Mae,” comes Caroline’s one-word response.

GM: “I’d find it helpful to have more context, Miss Malveaux, if you could oblige,” Becky Lynne requests.

Caroline: “Of course. Honestly, I’d forgotten it myself. It was 2004, not long after Mardi Gras.”

GM: “Mae left the city,” the other Ventrue answers. “She’d had a rough start in her Requiem and felt too much of herself was still here. I’ve not heard from her much, but I think she’s made a fresh start and adjusted to things.”

Caroline: “She seemed very melancholy,” Caroline agrees softly.

GM: “Not all of us take well to the Requiem at first,” Becky Lynne nods. “I might even take a gander that most don’t.”

Caroline: “Did you, Questor Adler?”

GM: “That’s a rather personal question to ask anyone, Miss Malveaux. Have you?”

Caroline: Caroline considers. “A personal answer then, for a personal question.” A beat passes. “I didn’t. Not in those first nights when I knew nothing, and then knew nothing but misery. I actually considered destroying myself because everywhere I went, and everyone I touched, I caused nothing but destruction and suffering.”

She pauses before continuing, “In my first week among the Damned I was tortured, shot, stabbed, burned, beaten, and whipped—each to a point that would have probably killed me were I alive. I destroyed my best mortal friend’s life, lost my family to Father Malveaux, and saw my brother murdered.” She pauses again and admits in a softer voice, “I murdered. I had murder done on my behalf, and ruined more lives along the way even as I dragged more still into corruption with me.”

“No, I did not take well to the Requiem at first.”

GM: “At first,” Becky Lynne nods.

Caroline: “The Requiem has its own trials. Its own costs. But it is not inherently better or worse on its own than a life.”

GM: “My thoughts exactly,” the other Ventrue smiles. “My own start to the Requiem was rough, for similar reasons. Giving up my future. Wrestling with the Beast. Accepting I’d never have children. Leaving my entire life behind. But I adjusted, with my sire’s help. I believe the Requiem can be as good or bad an existence as you decide to make it.”

Caroline: “As you are capable of making it,” Caroline abridges.

GM: “You really put your mind to something, and there’s a lot you can be capable of,” Becky Lynne smiles.

Caroline: “Did your sire ever tell you how he decided upon you, Questor Adler?” Caroline asks.

GM: “He did, Miss Malveaux. I’m afraid that repeatin’ his full reasons would sound awful immodest of me, though,” the other Ventrue laughs lightly.

Caroline: “No doubt a Kindred as distinguished as Gerousiastis Matheson put a great deal of consideration into his childe,” Caroline agrees. “Had he not explained himself, I might have offered that it was your optimistic nature, Questor Adler.”

GM: Becky Lynne raises a hand to her mouth as she laughs, quite fully this time.

“Oh, now that’s good, Miss Malveaux! I’ll admit it wasn’t one of the reasons he gave me, but I think he’d smile if he heard that.”

Caroline: “It must be your influence then, Questor Adler: I am rarely in the habit of finding good in people that others have missed,” Caroline replies.

GM: “My mama always said other people can’t change who we are, but they can bring out our best selves. I’d give yours its due credit too, Miss Malveaux.”

Caroline: “You speak about her a great deal.”

GM: “Quote her, if we’re to split hairs,” Becky Lynne smiles. “But she was a font of practical wisdom, fortunately for me. And at the risk of bein’ immodest, I might even hope for others who’ve known me too.”

Caroline: “What we say says a great deal about us. What we say that others carry with them says more,” Caroline observes. “But I think there’s a rather limited amount of modesty required for the city’s most successful neonate, Questor Adler.”

GM: Becky Lynne daintily covers her mouth as laughs again.

“Oh, definitely not the most successful at compliments and flattery, Miss Malveaux!”

Caroline: “We play the hands we’re dealt, Questor Adler: occasionally my own permits me to speak the truth.”

GM: “We’ll just have to hope those occasional occasions grow all the more frequent,” the other Ventrue smiles.

Caroline: “Oh, let’s not hope for that too strongly, Questor Adler. The truth isn’t always as pretty as it has been tonight.”

GM: “Even ugly things can be made pretty, I think, if they’re just presented different. But speakin’ of tonight…” Becky Lynne glances down at her Sunpad. “The hour isn’t too late yet, but it’s headed there. You also had some business you wanted to discuss, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: “Well, there was a small matter with the Whitney family…”

The two Ventrue spend some time going over Caroline’s two proposals.

First, that she be allowed to use the Whitneys’ influence with Whitney Hancock National Bank to help fund her firm’s startup. The agreement will not be unfavorable to Whitney Hancock, but does entail the meddling within Becky Lynne’s sire’s domain on several levels, and Caroline wouldn’t do so without permission.

Second, that Becky Lynne herself conduct some manner of business with the firm as it starts up, to lend credibility to it. Caroline does not ask that she make major commitments or entrust her with matters of particular significance or sensitivity—not tonight. Instead only that she make it known she is doing so to provide, what Caroline describes as, “instant credibility.”

GM: After discussing the details of Caroline’s first proposal at length, Becky Lynne states that her sire through Whitney Hancock will be willing to loan her the necessary start-up capital for her firm—subject to several conditions.

The first of these concern the terms of the loan itself. Matheson does not require any assets as collateral from Caroline to secure her loan, and is willing to waive virtually all of the barriers and red tape that would normally inconvenience someone who wants to legally die and start up a firm that her name isn’t attached to.

In return for a pledged prestation rather monetary debt, Matheson is also willing to give Caroline an interest-free loan. For a larger such debt, he will not even require her to pay the money back.

Caroline: Caroline chooses to pay in money. She owes enough favors to the elder Ventrue as it is.

GM: Becky Lynne nods and continues that Caroline will not need to interact with the Whitney family. She will conduct her dealings through Becky Lynne, who will grease the same wheels that the Whitneys would.

“Your heart’s in the right place for askin’, Miss Malveaux,” Becky Lynne adds, “so good on you there. Most elders, as a heads up, will also say no to you influencin’ their mortal agents… we Kindred usually don’t much like to share.”

As to the second term, Becky Lynne says that Caroline will need to “do her share” in preserving the Masquerade throughout her financial dealings with Whitney Bank. In fact, until her agoge is complete, she will need to “do my sire’s share as well” in maintaining the Masquerade. Other Ventrue are prohibited from directly assisting Caroline throughout her agoge; she must exercise the same care in her initial dealings with Whitney Hancock Bank as if it were any other mortal financial institution.

Becky Lynne will still be watching these dealings, and will correct any “Masquerade hiccups” that slip through, “so no real harm done if there’s any,” but the Gerousia will make note of these in their final assessment of Caroline’s performance. They want to see how skilled she is at maintaining the Masquerade in this particular arena.

Regarding Caroline’s second proposal, Becky Lynne is willing to do business with the younger Ventrue’s firm to give it some good publicity. She will do so once the Caroline is fully accepted into the Structure—“as the Gerousia, once again, wants to see that your domain can stand on its own two feet.”

“We can also discuss the nitty gritty details of what your firm can do for me then—you’re likely to have a wider range of ranges and firmer idea of them once it’s started up anyway. All that seem fair?”

Caroline: “More than, Questor Adler.”

Previous, by Narrative: Story Seven, Isa III, Rocco II
Next, by Narrative: Story Seven, Rocco III

Previous, by Character: Story Seven, Caroline V
Next, by Character: Story Seven, Caroline VII

Story Seven, Caroline V

“This whole family is tainted.”
Caroline Malveaux

Wednesday evening, 30 September 2015

GM: Westley’s funeral is a grand affair held in the early evening at St. Louis Cathedral. The occasion draws much of Caroline’s extended family. The New Orleans-Baton Rouge core of her parents, brothers, uncles, aunts, and first cousins are there as expected. Virginia and Charlotte have flown in from Massachusetts and DC. Gabriel already made the drive from Baton Rouge some time ago; Caroline hears something about Claire pulling strings at Berchmans for him to get the week off (as a senior who’s already been accepted into Cornell, after all, he doesn’t have much left to do at high school). Thomas, Carson, and their own families are present, as are many Malveaux cousins from along the Gulf Coast, Texas, and beyond. To the surprise of many, even Camillia Malveaux attends. The trip down from Baton Rouge, separate from Gabriel’s looks as if it’s been very hard on the 86-year-old. She spends much of the time before Westley’s service with her eyes closed as her live-in caretaker Jordan Marco slowly pushes along her wheelchair.

Non-family are present for the occasion too. Caleb Gallagher attends with his wife, adult children and grandchildren. Franz Harz hasn’t served under as many Senator Malveauxes as the two-time chief of staff, but the long-standing attorney and his wife are also present to pay their respects. Katherine Merlou shows up by herself: everyone knows Vera keeps her much too busy to have time for a husband or boyfriend. Emilia Rosa also lacks a male companion as she hovers by Savannah’s side. Orson, Thomas, and several other older family members purse their lips at her presence, but no one makes a fuss. No one seems to have any desire to bring further scandal to the funeral of a young man whose life was so consumed by scandal. Cécilia Devillers is a less unwelcome sight by Luke’s side. Her new bodyguard, ex-SEAL Daniel Hayes is not far off. Caroline catches Carson checking in on Luke and his girlfriend to see if they feel safe with Cécilia’s stalker behind bars. Roger Ferris, Mr. Taylor, Alphonse Meridian and the other family security remain unobtrusive at the edge of the gathering, their demeanors somber and respectfully distant for this occasion of mourning.

Susan is unable to attend. Reasons are not given. The Ursulines send a wreath of flowers on her behalf.

Westley’s funeral even draws Claire’s brother and sister, Gregory and Joanna, who Caroline has only met on a handful of occasions. The two live in San Francisco and Los Angeles, respectively, where they work in finance and media. The two look almost like movie stars, especially Joanna with her suntanned skin, big white hat, and unworn pair of sunglasses. They apologize that their mostly adult children are unable to attend and remark on how grown-up Caroline and her siblings look. The funeral, however, is not a time for catching up, and the reception from more than a few Malveauxes is cool when it comes out that both of Claire’s siblings are divorced (Gregory terms it “separated,” which is apparently a distinct legal state). These West Coast in-laws lead come from an altogether different culture than that of a centuries-old, tradition-steeped Southern family like the Malveauxes’, and bonds of kinship seem unlikely to persist beyond Claire’s lifetime. This unspoken fact seems to further depress Caroline’s mother. Another missed connection not unlike Westley.

The funeral’s mood is expectantly somber, but among Caroline’s siblings and first cousins, it seems almost shellshocked. The last funeral any of the three brothers’ families held for one of their own was James Malveaux’s. That was over twenty years ago, in 1991… Caroline was too young to even remember it. Now that she thinks on it, her generation has grown up without ever really experiencing death. To see one of their own’s lives so abruptly cut short is deeply sobering to the twenty-somethings who’ve grown up so confident in their invincibility.

Westley may have died as a black sheep among his family, but his funeral is a deeply traditional affair with all the honors afforded to a faithful and practicing Catholic. It is divided into three distinct events, the first of which is the wake. The numerous Malveauxes, long-standing employees, and family friends gather around Westley’s closed casket to lay flowers or rosaries and pay their respects. Orson and Adam, clad in priests’ black and violet vestments, lead a group prayer for Westley’s soul. Caroline feels all but sick in the holy church. The softly burning candles around the saints’ icons only further incense the Ventrue’s Beast. No other lights are present, and much of the vast cathedral is shrouded in darkness. Long shadows obscure Orson’s face as he delivers a haunting sermon on “demons” and the Book of Revelation, made all the more surreal by the moonlight filtering through the multichromatic stained glass windows. When Orson leans his face across the path of a red pane, his fevered visage looks downright hellish. The family, still reeling from Westley’s death and somber in the presence of what they know to be a human corpse, is all but spellbound by the eschatological sermon. Several of the younger children actually start crying—clearly in fear rather than sadness as the burning-eyed archbishop, clad in the full regalia of his office, raves about dragons rising from the sea, the extinction of mankind, and the doom of the world. Caroline isn’t sure what has gotten into him either. No one says anything. They just listen, stunned, and quietly leave.

The second component to Westley’s funeral is a requiem Mass, held the next night at St. Louis Cathedral. Although Catholic funeral services can be officiated by a deacon and held without Mass, no one in the family is so much as hearing it. The Eucharist is the perfect prayer and therefor certainly more ideal to offer the Eucharist for the soul of the deceased. The requiem Mass itself is similar to other Catholic Masses except that incense is not burned at the points usually designated, nor is the kiss of peace exchanged. The instrumental and choral music is hopeful (no one sings—it is not an African-American funeral), focusing on the themes of resurrection and everlasting life. No one speaks: eulogies to the deceased are not part of traditional Catholic funeral services. The Eucharist is the sacramental representation of the once-for-all saving sacrifice made by Christ on the cross, and though the requiem Mass is meant to honor Westley, it ultimately isn’t about him. There will be time for eulogies and reminiscing after the internment. Orson is dressed for the occasion in full pontifical vestments: mitre (triangular bishop’s hat), chasuble and dalmatic (bishop’s robes), crosier (curved staff), archiepiscopal cross (distinctive with two crossbars instead of one), and episcopal ring (set with a ruby, not unlike the ring worn by Caroline’s sire). The Mass lasts for over an hour, but Orson does not once speak a word of English: he delivers all of the liturgies in their traditional Latin form.

The focal point of any Mass is Holy Communion, by which the congregation receives the sacrament of Holy Eucharist and unite themselves with Christ, making them sharers in his blood and body. Yet, as Caroline’s family rise from the uncomfortable wooden benches and approach the cathedral’s altar, Adam quietly informs Caroline that Orson has declared her “ineligible” to take communion. The vampire is left sitting along with the funeral’s non-Catholic attendees, mostly family employees and Claire’s brother and sister, while she watches her parents and siblings participate in their faith’s most sacred ritual.

Then again, she recalls the Sanctified referencing “the blood of Longinus” for their own communion, not the blood and body of Christ. It seems almost like sacrilege for one of the Damned, forever beyond God’s grace, to partake of the latter.

Caroline: The Ventrue has little doubt as to who she has to ‘thank’ for the experience. Despite the blasphemous nature of the very idea of taking communion, it’s just another humiliation to be denied it before her family for reasons most will never know.

The entire experience, from the funeral to the mass, is wrenching and wretched for Caroline in equal parts, haunted as she is by Westley’s death, her own ‘part’ in it, and the great many questions as to her own fate. She’s sullen and quiet throughout, haunted by the ghosts of her family that surround her, all too well-aware of and already dreading her own funeral to follow.

GM: Once the requiem Mass at St. Louis is concluded, the mourners take a fleet of cars to St. Louis Cemetery, where Malveauxes as far back as the Civil War are interred in the family crypt. The walled cemetery resembles a veritable city of peak-roof graves, filled with crypts, monuments, and even tiny gardens. Nathaniel, Luke, Gabriel, and Adam act as pallbearers for Westley’s coffin. Orson officiates the rite of committal, which is far briefer than the preceding mass. Orson blesses the grave and coffin with holy water that he has personally sanctified, and expresses (in English) the hope that, with all those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith, the deceased awaits the glory of the resurrection. The rite is an expression of the communion that exists between the Church on earth and the Church in heaven: the deceased passes with the farewell prayers of his family into the company of those who need faith no longer, but see God face-to-face.

With that final benediction, Westley’s pallbearers pull open the marble vault that belongs to him and who knows how many further ancestors: Louisiana’s muggy heat has long since literally baked their remains into ash. In a flood-prone city where the soil is too muddy to bury the dead, reusing vaults was only practical. This reality cannot be fully escaped even in modern times. Westley’s coffin, a luxury denied to his ancestors, is placed inside one of the yawning marble vaults like a long pan of bread. The mourners then recite a communal Lord’s Prayer and make their way back to their cars.

With the funeral proper over, it is customary for the mourners to gather and share a meal at the home of the deceased or his closest relative. Nathan and Claire do not own any homes in New Orleans, so the procession departs for Orson’s. The family seat has ever been the great Antebellum house (calling it a “mansion” is gauche) he occupies in the Garden District. The Malveauxes like to claim they have held the property since their French ancestors immigrated from Saint-Dominique. While the house itself may well be that old, Caroline is aware that her family actually acquired it during the early 20th century’s oil boom. It was a once uncomfortable, and now merely irksome fact that the Malveauxes, although indisputably an old family, never belonged to the Creole aristocracy that ruled the city during its golden age in the Antebellum. (In fact, they likely bought the property from one such family who were unable to maintain their wealth into the 1900s.)

Yet that history, even “young” as it may be for the Big Easy, is still old and very much alive as dozens of Malveaux cousins converge upon the house. Even with the family employees mostly gone, there are still too many people to fit into the dining hall, so rows of tables are set up under the open stars. Caterers bring forth plates of richly sumptuous food that Caroline cannot enjoy (whatever Orson’s faults, it cannot be said he skimps on food). Now that they are out from church, the family can let it down its hair as cousins who have not seen each other in decades (or ever, in the case of younger ones) are introduced and mingle among themselves. Thomas takes point for many of these ‘do you know…’s and regales the extended family with stories from their history: the elderly Supreme Court justice is clearly feeling his years after Westley’s death and wants to pass on as much as he can before he is gone, too. He looks nothing less than delighted when Virginia, otherwise quiet for much of the gathering, suggests recording the family history on tape “so that we’ll always have it.” Even Camillia, who eats almost as little as Caroline, seems to come alive a bit during the talk about “back in the day.”

“Is it true the family forbearer was a pirate who made his fortune raiding ships in the Caribbean?”

“That could be true, but he probably married above his station and took his bride’s name for his own.”

“Not necessarily. Pirates can ‘go legitimate’—just look at Jean Lafitte.”

“Yes, his partner Barthélemy Lafon even designed the Garden District.”

“I thought Lafon only designed the Lower Garden District.”

“The Lower Garden District is just as beautiful.”

“If we really are descended from pirates, there could be something to those stories about family vaults filled with silver and gold.”

“Louisiana’s Gulf Coast doesn’t even have rocks, never mind gold. The Caribbean colonies’ wealth was always in its plantations.”

“Yes, precious metals were in South America.”

“But Havana was the embarkation point for those treasure ships on their way back to Europe. Pirates could and did prey on them.”

“A Malveaux pirate doesn’t even need to have raided those ships to have become wealthy. He could have sold slaves.”

“Or maybe our ancestors weren’t actually that rich. You don’t really hear about the family until the War Between the States.”

“Yes, we were ‘scalawags’ for working with the Yankees.”

“Only because we had even more claim to fame than the Creoles. We’re descended from Napoleon, after all.”

“Napoleon’s nephew.”

“That’s just a rumor.”

“A distracting and strategically planted rumor. You think it’s a coincidence it started the same time that albino was sent to an insane asylum?”

“Those dates don’t match up. The albino was born during Reconstruction.”

“No, he was born a few decades later.”

“He was born during the War Between the States, actually.”

“Either way, there’s a large time frame for when one of Napoleon’s nephews could have fathered a child. Napoleon III died in the 1870s.”

Westley is far from the late dinner’s sole topic of discussion, but neither is he forgotten—perhaps for the only time in his life. Nathaniel rings a knife against his wineglass and delivers an address before the gathered family, saying how inspired and thankful he is to see everyone come together during this trying time. He tells the story about how Orson and Matt’s family were displaced by Katrina, and how his own family in Baton Rouge took them in. There were some rough moments—Nathan tells a brief anecdote about a 13-year-old Westley flushing his cousin Charlotte’s makeup kit down the toilet, to his audience’s subdued laughter—but the family came together, weathered the storm, and was stronger for it.

“I see that spirit in front of me today,” Nathan continues. “Not just at this gathering, but in every day of our lives.” In the ten years since Katrina, all of his adult children have moved to New Orleans, and received succor and hospitality from the relatives they once took in—which Orson has even now extended to them all. Caroline’s father relates a few more touching stories from Westley’s childhood about playing baseball or going to the barber shop together. He says that as deeply as he mourns his son’s death, he takes heart from the solidarity the family has shown in coming here tonight, “Even late as the hour is.” He vows to honor Westley’s memory by carrying on his own life’s work, “Stronger than ever!”

The gathered Malveauxes applaud as Nathan sits down. To Caroline, her father’s speech sounds like it was prepared in advance, even if he wasn’t reading off any notecards.

The rest of the family delivers shorter eulogies. Gabriel talks about the older brother who was always cool, would read comics with him past bedtime, and never tattled on him for anything—unlike Luke, he ribs.

Luke speaks about Westley had “great potential cut short,” and that his brother’s death is making him think about “what’s really important in life.” His gaze lingers upon Cécilia in the audience.

Matt says Westley always had good taste in “life’s finer things,” particularly cars.

Vera reads off a notecard that Katherine hands her and somewhat awkwardly says how she always felt sorry for his “struggles,” which she does not define.

Adam delivers an eloquent if deeply somber eulogy that Westley was a “soul lost in darkness” who despaired of ever finding the light. He hopes his cousin can now be at peace.

Savannah seems like she empathizes with Westley not being accepted for who he was, or at least struggling to find an acceptable role for himself. She says that she hopes he found some peace too.

Elaine delivers a surprisingly heartfelt address that Westley “just wasn’t able to find himself before it was too late” and visibly blinks back tears. Claire acridly remarks out of earshot that Elaine is an “empty-headed cow” who’s “just like Westley was, only her family hasn’t given up on her.”

Virginia says she wished she understood Westley better. “He was my cousin all my life, but I don’t feel like I ever really got to know him… I don’t know how many of us did.”

Charlotte’s address lacks the heartfeltness of her siblings and sounds as if she’s talking about a stranger. She seems like she never understood why Westley would flush his life down the toilet like an adolescent’s makeup kit.

Carson says some short, to the point, but still respectful words that Caroline’s brother never really struck him as a troublemaker. “Just angry.”

Thomas talks about the day he showed a younger Westley and Luke around the Supreme Court at their father’s behest (Caroline may bitterly remember, to her then-chagrin, being forced to spend it with her mother instead—seemingly because she was a girl). He says that Westley reminded him of himself. Sharp mind and an easy way with people that could have made him “a popular judge, or senator like his old man.”

Orson and Claire do not give speeches.

Caroline: Neither does Caroline. No one approached her about it, and she doubts anyone would have let her anyway given her black sheep status.

GM: The already late hour winds steadily later until family members make their way back to parked vehicles and hotel suites. Promises are made to “come by and visit” more often. No one is happy over the occasion under which the gathering was convened, but almost everyone seems to feel the family made the best of a bad situation.

It’s an uncanny preview for Caroline of what her own death might look like.

After the last relatives offer their condolences and climb into their cars, there is a briefer gathering among the three brothers’ families and their significant others (Emilia Rosa, if the rumors are true, does not stay, and Elaine has too many suitors for any one of them to be ‘significant’, while Gabriel has a nice girl named Linda he’s been dating since his freshman year in high school). Tearful embraces and private words of condolence are exchanged, particularly towards Claire. Westley’s final mourners eventually get into their cars and drive off, except for Camillia. She is too tired for Jordan to drive back to a hotel and has a room made up for her at Orson’s. Plus she’ll probably rest better at the historic family home anyway.

Caroline is asked to “stay a moment” by her mother. The two of them settle down in the house’s living room for a “private meeting” with Orson, Roger Ferris, and Caroline’s father.

Now that they are behind closed doors, Caroline’s father lays into her with a cold fury. Fired from her job at the Supreme Court. Flunked out of law school. Blowing through ridiculous sums of money at casinos. Kicked out of Matt’s house. Friends with drug addicts. Missing confession. Embarrassing him in front of his relatives. (This is half-directed at Orson, who coldly retorts he will not desecrate the Eucharist for “this harlot of a daughter!”) Paxton, who was sent to look for her at Decadence, and is still missing. Going to that “debauched festival” at at all and “getting yourself raped,” for which Nathan clearly blames Caroline. He sums up his opinion of her recent conduct in a single word:


He continues, calling her a “disappointment,” “a failure on every level,” “as bad as Westley,” “a worse daughter to me than your cousin” and “inordinately selfish” for making him waste valuable and limited time on her problems that could be spent in their family’s, state’s, and country’s service. “That’s on you, Caroline.”

“But if this is how you want to do this, then this is what we’ll do.” He demands details about Caroline’s rape and subjects her to a relentless slew of graphic questions, and grows even angrier when she cannot provide answers to his satisfaction. He finally tells Ferris “that will have to do” and sends the ex-CIA agent away with orders to “find this man and ruin his life.”

Nathan then orders Caroline to take a pregnancy test as soon as possible, and tells her that, should it be necessary, Caleb will arrange an abortion with a very discrete doctor in D.C.—he’ll be damned if he’s going to let some “half-black bastard” plunge the family into scandal. Their spin doctors are already working overtime turning Westley’s death into a tragic accident rather than a “stupid consequence” of reckless partying—“I suppose we can consider that his goodbye present,” Nathan all but spits. Orson calmly interrupts to give the abortion his blessing, and states that Caroline need not worry about her soul—at least where that singular sin is concerned. He will absolve her of it himself. “For it is better that a child conceived in sin should perish in the womb, than that its life should tempt an entire family to ruin.”

Nathan barely seems to hear his brother as he tells Caroline that he is “unimpressed by these antics” and tells her that it’s “time to shape up.” What he terms “controls” will be placed on her spending habits, since she can’t even be trusted to manage something so basic as money. Next is law school. Claire broaches the subject of Caroline resuming classes next semester. Nathan answers that it’s “out of the question.” He tells Caroline she’s going to pick up her classes, finish the semester, and pass the bar exam, starting first thing tomorrow. When Claire says Tulane has dropped her, Nathan impatiently replies, “Promise them another grant. Threaten them no more grants. Threaten a lawsuit over something. I don’t care what it takes. Just make it happen.” Nathan even snaps at Orson for failing to “rein in” Caroline after the self-destructive spiral that clearly began with Decadence, and laments that he must “do everything myself in this family.” Caroline may take some satisfaction from the deep frown on her uncle’s face… he clearly has no idea why he was so lenient to her earlier, and so unlike his usual self.

The archbishop doesn’t take his brother’s words lying down, however, and spews venom right back at Nathan and Claire. He coldly answers how they were the ones who raised Westley and Caroline, the family’s two greatest failures. Perhaps it is their fault as parents for their children turning out so poorly. Once might be an “innocent” mistake, after all, but twice is clearly a pattern.

Unleashed by Orson’s cruel words, the floodgates of pain and hate erupt. For just a moment, Caroline’s own sins are forgotten as she watches her parents fight, savaging at old wounds that have already been opened so raw and deep by their son’s death.

“Not even mourning your own son! If you’d ever been there for him, just once, he might still be alive! You could have stayed involved in his life, involved him in your work. You could have made him feel valued. You could have shown him that someone gave a damn. But you walked away!”

“You walked out on this family long before I did, Claire! You know what they’re saying? Have been saying for years? That you’re in bed with other men! And what did I do? Did I break faith and bring shame on our names with a divorce? Did I wallow in self-pity and throw away my life like either of the failed children we tried to raise? No. I put this family’s welfare first and brought our name back to Congress!”

“You ran away is what you did! I was always there for Westley! There when no one else in this family was, no matter how pretty their eulogies were! But at least some of them mourned him. You haven’t shed a tear!”

“When I mourn my son, I will do it on my own time, without embarrassing myself in public and making his death all about me!”

“About me? You have no idea how much I’ve sacrificed for our children, Nathan! Especially Caroline! If you had any idea!”

“And what has that accomplished? Our daughter, the slut and law school drop-out?”

Orson finally intervenes again by blaming Caroline for this “strife among our house,” and openly tells her that she is going to Hell. Claire snaps at him to stay out of this. Her comment clearly isn’t directed at Nathan, but Caroline’s father snarls back that he means to do that very thing—he’s taking a flight back to Washington, tonight. He has real work to do. He’s not wasting another second on Caroline’s “pathetic plea for attention.” He further reproaches as he pulls on his coat, “You know where that gets you, Caroline? Six feet under, like your brother. That’s someone who did nothing but wallow in his own problems—and make one of himself for the rest of us.”

He holds his finger an inch away from Caroline’s eyes and pronounces slowly, “I don’t care if you were raped by a hundred niggers. You will not drag this family down with you.” He then tells her that if she doesn’t resume her classes, pass bar, get a job, and turn her life back from “this spiral of self-destruction,” he’s going to disinherit her and send her to the Ursulines. Just like Susan.

“If you aren’t capable of running your own life, then we’ll run it for you,” he finishes, his face livid. “I will not bury a second child! I will not!”

Caroline: Caroline takes her own leave from the group in a quiet and cold fury. Hours of humiliation, reminders of her slain brother, and the final blowup between her parents and at her directly have left her nerves rubbed raw and bloody, her temper barely contained as she’s screamed at, insulted, and threatened.

It doesn’t even take the Beast’s influence to turn her mind to darker thoughts, to how easy it would be to terrorize everyone in the room, to bend their will, to hurt them as they’ve so callously hurt her tonight. She refrains, though not easily, and the night as a whole is as much a reminder of how distant she has grown in so short a time from everyone in her life as it is anything else. Even her affection for them has grown so tepid and weak, and by the end she finds herself wondering why she’s even bothering with the illusion of faking her own death cleanly for the family.

It is perhaps telling that her happiest thought of the evening comes in the dark satisfaction of how wrong her father is with his last words of it.

Thursday evening, 31 September 2015

Caroline: Caroline’s wroth towards the family, and specifically her father and uncles, has not dimmed when she next meets with her mother. Despite the warm blood coursing through her veins from a victim already forgotten, her temper is on full display as she bitterly offers, “I should burn it all down on my way out the door.”

GM: “Your father doesn’t want to lose another child, Caroline. He doesn’t know what else to do. He stayed out of Wesley’s life. And look what happened.”

Caroline: “He was murdered by a twisted and vindictive vampire to try and get at his other viciously murdered turned vampire daughter?” she snaps back with bitterness. “Truly a failure on his part.”

GM: “Maybe it was,” her mother replies quietly. “Perhaps if Westley wasn’t so alone, spending his nights partying in the Quarter, he wouldn’t have made such a convenient target. Maybe he could have been working as a senatorial intern in DC, or attending graduate school at Harvard. Been away from this all, and been safe. We can never know. We can… we can never know.” Claire’s words are heavy as she stares into her drink. “But he could have at least died with more than two names on his lips.”

Caroline: “I imagine he’ll be so bitterly disappointed with how my death is going to affect his political career. This whole family is tainted. I wish you’d never gotten involved with them.”

GM: “Don’t say that about our family, Caroline,” her mother reproaches. “I fell in love with your father for his ambition, but that wasn’t the only reason. I’ve never known a more selfless man.”

Caroline: “With his important work. He’s just a pawn for the Albino, you know. We all are, this whole family. Just pieces on a chess board.”

“I could destroy him,” she spits. “This family has so many skeletons in its closet that you could lead an army of the dead out to drag us all down.” She throws the rest of her drink back bitterly, vilely. “But then, that’s what I’m good at now. Destroying things.”

She sets the glass down with a loud clank, too quickly. It cracks, spider-webbing like the mask she wears. “It’ll be suicide. If there’s anything you think he’ll need to read in the note, I’ll entertain suggestions.”

GM: “Yes, it would. You’ll give the Albino and I common cause against our family’s enemy, and prove everything your father said about you completely right,” Claire answers severely.

“And you’re not killing yourself that way either. There will be no note, and no scandal brought down upon our heads. If there’s at least one, one good thing to come out of this tragedy, it’s an outpouring of public sympathy and goodwill for the Malveauxes. I won’t squander it just because I’m in grief.”

Caroline: “Why do you even care?” Caroline demands. “If it were Orson, or Matthew, or Vera… but you know what this family is built on better than anyone, and that it’s nothing but a tool for him.”

GM: “So many tragedies befall his family, yet Senator Malveaux bravely soldiers on, not missing so much as a vote in his state’s service. No can ever say that this Senate Republican ’isn’t ‘doing his job.’ That’s the narrative we’re going to sell.” Claire swishes her sugary-pink, edge-frosted drink as the Corner Club’s artificial fire-pit casts crackling tongues of orange light over her face.

“I care because it’s true. Some people… some people describe their loved ones as ‘fighters.’ Too often when they’re losing or succumbing to some incurable disease. And I suppose a fighter isn’t a poor thing to be.” Her mother sets down the glass, staring into the artificial flames. “At Cornell… your father joined one of the fraternities there, Alpha Delta Phi. Very old. It’s included senators, chief justices, even several presidents, and the like. He used it to network. He didn’t care about parties or hazing pledges. He was a teetotaler—he didn’t even drink.”

“It drove some of his frat brothers mad. They felt like he was only there to use them, to tick off another box on his list of accomplishments. They never liked him. But by the end of his time at Cornell, he was still the chapter executive officer.”

“Your father… I would describe as a conqueror, not a fighter. For as long as I’ve known him, he sets his mind to something and achieves it, damning to hell what it costs him or what others may think. I’ve never known him to give up on a challenge. Only to come at it from another angle, with another set of tactics.”

“It’s never been his own ambition that he’s served. Not really. Your grandfather weakened the family, and I suppose your father has always seen it as his responsibility to pick up the pieces. And has never hated anything more than seeing others shirk their responsibilities.”

“He can be a hard man to love, at times. He still hasn’t let me see him cry over Westley, even back in DC. Even when I can tell the tissue box next to our bed is lighter. It simply isn’t… isn’t his way. He’s out of his depth with your brother’s death, because there’s nothing he can do about that ‘problem.’ He can’t conquer death. I think it’s angered—scared him, like nothing else has in years. He sees you slipping through his fingers, on the same path as Westley, and he sees something he can finally do. He sees fixing your life as that enemy he can conquer. And he’ll do it, even if his methods make you hate him.” Claire shrugs. “That at least is just part of being a parent.”

“He can be infuriating, at times. He’s made me furious, many times. But I’ve never felt apathetic or resigned over him, not like Vera and Matt do with each other. There’s no man I’d rather spend the rest of my life with.”

“And of all our children… you’ve always been the one in whom I’ve seen the most of him, Caroline. Gabriel is too gentle. Luke too mild. Westley too…”

Claire doesn’t finish that sentence as she takes another libation from her drink.

Caroline: “I guess it’s going to be awful for him when he gets to fail with me too,” Caroline spits, her anger still there, but sputtering under the assault of her mother’s words.

There’s hurt under the anger, shame. And also anger directed elsewhere, and this cruel and unfair world, at her sire, and at God for making her a failure long before anyone else knows it. Her mind crawls back to that night, to that phone call. Ten minutes to show up before they handed over Westley. The question of whether she could have saved him haunts her. Her rational mind says no, but that ugly voice in the background screams that it’s her fault. She thinks it might be her conscience, but she doesn’t remember it being so quiet before.

GM: Claire glances at Caroline severely as she sets her glass down.

“You shouldn’t have seen that scene last night. He shouldn’t have talked with you then. But don’t be petulant, Caroline. People can say the most poisonous things to one another when family dies. I had the most vicious fight of my life with Joanna, after your grandmother passed. The death of a child, especially… tragedies like that can destroy marriages. But be assured that he mourns Westley. And that he loves and… will mourn you. In his own, proud way, as you and he always do things.”

Caroline: Caroline’s cold fury ignites again at her mother’s defense of her father’s actions.

“At my brother’s funeral I was called a failure, a harlot, a whore, a slut, a drop out, a burden, and a threatened with disinheritance and a lifetime in a convent. I was blamed for my own ‘rape,’” she pauses before continuing in a lower voice, “which may have very well been true, as an aside.” Her knuckles are white and strained around the edges of the table as she grinds out the words, low and deep. “Given that my last moments in life were spent suffering the same gentle affections that Westley did in the same place.”

“You don’t get to defend that,” she growls. “There aren’t excuses for that. ’It’s his way’ isn’t an excuse. I hope he chokes on those words to me. I hope they’re his last to me and that he has to live with him. I hope they haunt him in all of his noble pride.” She says the last with red rimming her eyes, and has to look away, one hand digging out a black handkerchief from her purse to wipe the blood away before it runs.

GM: When she finally lowers the coppery-smelling tissue she becomes conscious of her mother staring at her, eyes as cold and motionless as glass.

Caroline: “It’s his own choice,” she adds, almost accusingly at her mother’s glare. “Not as though he’ll have time to speak to me again before it happens.”

GM: “He’s damn well going to. And you’re damn well going to go along with it. I won’t have something like that hanging over his head for the rest of his life.”

Caroline: “Great, then I’ll do my best to explain to him as he does so why I shouldn’t be excommunicated by the family for not getting back into law school, since I’ve been barred from Riverbend.”

GM: Claire just gives a disgusted sigh. “Then take online classes. Or cut a deal to get back in. Why don’t you try actually solving a problem, for once, instead of throwing tantrums and making more?”

Caroline: “Why don’t you stop creating problems so that you and everyone else can feel better about this?” Caroline snipes back.

GM: “Because you’re the reason this family has gone through everything that it has,” Claire lets loose, her eyes flashing. “If you hadn’t gone to that debauched festival with your awful friend, none of this would have happened!”

Caroline: “You’re wrong!” Caroline snaps back.

GM: “Oh, that’s right, none of this can be your fault! I suppose you’re blameless for Westley’s death too, and for exposing me to your kind! I’m sure that’s only going to end well, for us both!” Caroline’s mother flares, anger rising to meet her daughter’s own.

Caroline: Caroline seems about to argue the point, about to launch into her own response, but the wind falls out of her sails as she looks at her mother. She looks old, and tired. It’s not the time or the place, and it may never be. There are few enough people she can talk to about anything of her life, and little enough time to spend with them. She doesn’t want to spend what little time she has left in the evening arguing.

It’s not as though she can tell her mother the truth, or what she suspects it is. That she was singled out years ago, targeted, selected, groomed. That her fate was sealed when she was born into this family, when she was tied to this city by the events of her pre-debutante ball and her uncle’s fury.

Previous, by Narrative: Story Seven, Isa II
Next, by Narrative: Story Seven, Isa III, Rocco II

Previous, by Character: Story Seven, Caroline IV
Next, by Character: Story Seven, Caroline VI

Story Seven, Caroline IV

“You seem alone here. Are you without friends?”
Adelais Seyrès

Thursday night, 24 September 2015, PM

GM: Three nights after Caroline’s presentation before her clanmates, she meets again with Becky Lynne. “Congratulations on being released, Miss Malveaux. That’s just so good for you, it really is,” the older Ventrue smiles. “I think I’ve said before your release is like graduating high school… you’re an adult now, by everyone’s reckonin’, and free to move on to bigger and brighter things.”

Becky Lynne doesn’t dawdle before diving into that topic: the Test, the final component to Caroline’s agoge. She’s explained Clan Ventrue’s simultaneous instruction period, rite of passage, and test of character to Caroline during their prior meetings.

“Our clan goes out of its way to prepare fledglings for life among the Camarilla. We and the Tremere are the only ones who still educate neonates after their release… you might even think of this part of your agoge as your college education, in fact. You don’t absolutely need it—not really, you’re released and your own Kindred now, but it’ll give you extra tools to succeed.”

“You won’t be goin’ it alone either, sire or no sire. You’ll spend time with all our local elders, to learn the way things work. They’ll show you how they run their domains, and you’ll show them how yours is shapin’ up too—the one you’re preparing for your Test.”

“None of them can help you with it directly—no funding, called-in boons, gifted assets, or things like that—but they’ll all give you an earful of advice. I recommend takin’ notes, like you’ve been doing here.”

Caroline: Caroline gives a knowing, if slightly bashful, smile at the reference to notes. Does Matheson’s childe know the truth about her sire, or about the stolen tape? It’s hard to say.

GM: “Once that’s all finished, and you’ve passed your agoge with flyin’ colors,” the other Ventrue smiles back, “we’ll all turn out for a party in your honor. And there’ll be plenty cause for it. The clan as a whole will be that much stronger.”

Caroline: “Certainly a welcome change I expect after the recent losses, Questor Adler,” Caroline agrees. “Is there a best way to go about contacting them to arrange those meetings?”

GM: “Right on the ball, Miss Malveaux,” Becky Lynne laughs lightly. “And so are we. Now, the following nights and times work for them, let’s see how they do for you…”

Gerousiastis McGinn will receive Caroline at his house in Uptown. Becky Lynne supplies the address and several times and dates that he may accommodate.

Gerousiastis Guilbeau will receive her aboard his casino, the Alystra. Becky Lynne supplies times and an address for him as well.

Lictor Cingolai and Lictor Holland, though not permanent residents of New Orleans, will both see Caroline and provide some instruction to the aspiring eiren before they leave. The preliminary times and dates available for them are earlier than the other two Ventrue.

Aedile Hurst will see Caroline at the barber shop where she met his ghoul McCullem.

Strategos Vidal and Gerousiastis Malveaux are sending their heralds to interact with Caroline in their stead. The Hussar will receive her at Perdido House, and whoever Gerousiastis Malveaux’s ghoul is will do so at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

The clan’s questors and eirens are not expected to show Caroline the ropes, but if Caroline desires to meet with any of them, Becky Lynne will have a ghoul see if they are amenable. Besides herself, the clan’s other questors include Polk, Gui, and Brodowski. Guilbeau (the younger) and Gerlette are the eirens. Rosa Bale does not participate in the Structure.

Caroline: Caroline carefully notes each time and place, and politely inquires as to how to finalize each set of arrangements—so as not to keep her elders waiting.

GM: Becky Lynne states that she’ll “see it’s all taken care of,” then laughs. “Oh, silly me, I couldn’t find my rear with both hands! Gerousiastis Matheson will show you the ropes too, of course. Owin’ to his particular circumstances, I’ll do so in his stead, so that’ll just be business as usual between us two.”

Caroline: “I’m certain you’ll do your sire proud, Questor Adler,” comes Caroline’s polite reply.

GM: “All three of us can so hope,” Becky Lynne smiles back. “Now then, I’m sure you’ve been layin’ groundwork for your domain already, but I’ll recommend kickin’ it into high gear before you see Gerousiastis Guilbeau and the others. The more that’s already done, the more advice they can offer…”

Thursday night, 24 September 2015, PM

GM: Not long after her first meeting in the French Quarter with Antoine Savoy, Caroline is called to make her next weekly report at Donovan’s soulless McMansion in Aubudon. The Ventrue pitches her mother’s counter-offer of speaking to Donovan over her (Caroline’s) phone. The sheriff listens to her proposal without comment or visible expression, then replies with a single icy word:


Donovan then tells Caroline to bring $50,000 in cash to his house within 24 hours. Failure to gather the requisite funds by this date will result in “punitive action” and further such action for every additional 24 hours that elapse.

Yet whatever natural feelings Caroline may harbor for the sheriff, she feels the bond tugging at her. Wanting to stop disappointing him. Wanting to win his seemingly impossible approval.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t gawk at the sum in and of itself, nor can she find herself surprised by the newest demand. That doesn’t make it any less of a problem. Even with her own substantial assets, $50,000 would be a significant amount. Assembling that amount of cash in a day is virtually impossible by conventional means not likely to earn her a great deal of unwanted attention from federal authorities—especially in the era post-9/11 in which examinations and controls on financial institutions are especially strict.

Virtually, but not utterly. There are still places in which such large sums can be bandied about without undo regard, and where large stacks of hard currency are readily available without excess scrutiny. Fortunately, one happens to be the heart of her new landlord’s domain. Between calls to her mother, Caroline reaches out to Hound Angello, offering a boon for assistance using Harrah’s to translate more scrutinized assets (money in accounts) into currency (cash) in the form of winnings payouts or simple sleight of hand money laundry. Of the former, winnings that she’ll account for in losses on the other side of the week. Time is of the essence. She cringes at the idea of what this is going to cost her on the other end when her family finds out. No doubt more evidence of her own slide and poor judgement.

She keeps her mother in the loop with a meeting in the late hours of the night, but has no answer for the sheriff’s newest demand.

“I have no idea what he’s going to ask for tomorrow, but if he’s going to keep demanding a meeting and sums like that when I don’t comply, then my days are well numbered. In fact, I could probably give you just how many days I can support a $50,000 habit.”

GM: Claire agrees. She is willing to help with some of the money given the sheer abruptness of the demand, though she makes clear this will be a one-time thing. For perhaps the first time in her life, Caroline hears one of her parents tell her “we’re not made of money.”

Rocco is amenable to the offer and helps Caroline launder money with the casino to put her hands on $50,000 cash on the quick.

Caroline meets the sheriff in his house the next night. The banker whose Facemash picture Caroline looked up, Paul Simmons, opens the suitcase and looks over the crisp stacks of $100 bills as if inspecting them for forgeries.

Donovan does not speak a word, but looks towards the man, who removes the bills and starts feeding them into a paper shredder with a plastic smile.

Caroline: Part of Caroline wants to protest. Part of her wants to ask why: why he’s destroying the money, why he has to be such a monster, why he hates her so. She asks none of those things. Instead she sits in the too-quiet room with the icy-eyed devil, only the crinkling sound of the currency going through the shredder between them.

At the end of the night the sheriff is like the weather, like a storm, something that cannot be avoided or reasoned with, that cannot be understood or fought. No, he’s something to endure. Something to suffer through.

And so she sits, and she endures. There’s no point in asking why.

GM: “Father Malveaux has informed me of your inability to follow instructions. Anything less than complete obedience to the letter and spirit of my orders where Claire Malveaux is concerned will be punished with a monetary fine,” Donovan states without preamble.

The shredder continues to whir and shred in the background as if to say how little the sheriff cares about Caroline’s money.

Caroline: “As you say, Sheriff Donovan,” is Caroline’s only reply. There’s no purpose in responding further.

GM: Savoy’s childe does not respond. Simmons leaves without a word, then returns carrying a box of wires. Donovan tells Caroline to put one on, then places a sealed, unmarked, and opaque envelope on the front of the desk before her. Simmons offers Caroline an old-fashioned dumphone, her smartphone having been confiscated by the sheriff’s guards at the door. Donovan tells her to arrange a time and location with Claire Malveaux to deliver the envelope. He listens to the call. When she hangs up, he tells her that the envelope is “safeguarded against treachery” should she attempt to read its contents, and that he will execute her if he believes she has done so. He will also execute her if she reads her mother’s written reply, which will be returned in a second, presently un-sealed envelope contained within the first envelope. The sheriff lays forth a sequence of further orders concerning how and when she will deliver her mother’s reply to him. The orders are very precise yet simple to understand, like a technical manual one might write for a middle school student.

Caroline: Caroline supposes there’s no choice but to do what he asks given the ‘pain of death’ demands.

She still makes a note to avoid talking while wearing the wire.

GM: Claire reiterates that she’s not paying these $50,000 fees when Caroline sees her again, but otherwise finds Donovan’s method of communication acceptable. She refuses to be in a given location at a known time to make the pickup for the letters, however, insisting that Caroline mail them to the Hotel Monteleone instead (at which point she can pick them up at her leisure).

Claire gives her identically sealed letters to deliver back to Donovan. Caroline continues to make weekly reports to the sheriff as well, who gives her further sealed letters to deliver back to her mother.

Donovan sometimes summons Caroline (via a specific dumbphone he gives her) outside of their usual weekly times when he wants another letter delivered.

Caroline: She grits her teeth and bears through it.

There’s nothing else to do.

Friday evening, 25 September 2015

GM: Caroline receives a phone call from Blackwatch and two visits from NOPD around the same time. Both organizations inform her that Amanda Turner and Nicole Polk have both been found dead. Turner committed suicide by the Mississippi and was found floating in the river several days later. Polk had the misfortune to be drinking heavily when her home was robbed by a pair of (black) criminals. They had initially thought she was asleep, then panicked and killed her, and attempted to get rid of the body. A plea deal will likely be struck to send them to Angola. NOPD has the usual questions to ask Caroline about her relationship to the deceased individuals and whether she knows any information pertinent to their deaths. Blackwatch expresses their condolences and offers Caroline a discount on further bodyguards hired through the security firm.

Caroline: The Ventrue makes no further moves towards Blackwatch after she does some digging into their origins. Of course Donovan has his fingers all over that pie. Little surprise, she supposes, given the security they provide around his haven.

She has her eye on a new ghoul, one who will be able to bring in his own individuals. Laying aside possible insults others might take from her actions, she’s not willing to meaningfully introduce that kind of headache into her life, and she couldn’t truly trust any agents she received from them short of ghouling.

Saturday night, 26 September 2015, AM

GM: Caroline meets again with Antoine Savoy and asks whether he could acquire Westley’s body from the Dungeon himself. Savoy answers that he could, though it will cost him a small boon that he will ask of Caroline in turn. She agrees to the price, and Preston informs her of a public storage unit from which she may retrieve her brother’s corpse after three days.

Savoy chides, “This is her brother, Nat,” and has it delivered to Caroline’s home in a coffin (itself placed in a crate the neighbors may find less unusual) instead. There are several floral wreaths lain over the top and Westley’s body is covered with a respectful burial shroud. It has also gone through the necessary embalming procedures to mask a corpse’s awful stench, but Savoy does not otherwise attempt to make arrangements or personal decisions for the body that Caroline may herself desire to.

Her mother still looks physically sick and on the verge of tears after she sees the state that it’s in.

She’s brought over a sedan with extra trunk space. She insists on lifting the coffin inside herself, but is willing to accept Caroline’s help. It’s too heavy for just one woman. Claire snaps at her daughter if she draws on any of the Blood’s power to make the heavy task easier, but eventually, the two manage to heave the coffin into the trunk. Claire says she’ll try her utmost to get “that changeling’s carcass” exchanged for Westley’s real body, but admits at this point it might be too late.

Caroline: Caroline is silent and accedes to her mother’s requests. She isn’t the one who gets sore muscles.

That wouldn’t be the first time they were too late for Westley.

Saturday evening, 26 September 2015

Caroline: Caroline goes looking for “dates” in one of the hotel bars around her new liege’s territory.

GM: She meets a 30-something paralegal who’s a funny, winsome guy and seems interested in consensual sex. He slips a roofie in her drink when she gives a “not interested” vibe.

Caroline: Once they are alone, the Ventrue unleashes her Beast on the kine’s all-too vulnerable body and mind alike, then rapes the latter, demanding a complete recounting of all his sins. When the bruised and bloodied man awakens from his half-remembered nightmare the next morning, he finds all of his sins written in lipstick across the bathroom with an accompanying note to ‘change his ways.’

Caroline pays him another “visit” the next night.

GM: He has dark circles under his eyes and empty liquor bottles in his sink.

He’s not gone to another bar, he blearily recites under her spell.

Caroline: Satisfied—at least for now—God’s avenging wolf withdraws.

Sunday evening, 27 September 2015

Caroline: Caroline’s investigations into her missing private investigator, mentor, confessor, and perhaps conscience, are a delicate thing. It begins with probing into public record, and into private record. She speaks with the prior owner of her new building. What does she remember of him? When did he first arrive? How long had he been there? Is there any record of others he dealt with? She digs into public record. If Lou was a PI, he had to be registered somewhere. As slovenly as he was, there has to be some record of him. She bounces the name “Louis Fontaine” off of public record to see what comes back. It’s an investigation she keeps private from Autumn, save for a single question: do does she know anything about a one-handed ghoul?

GM: Autumn answers that she hasn’t heard of any one-handed ghouls. It there are any, she probably would have. It’s a fairly distinctive trait.

Caroline’s finds that Lou’s name doesn’t seem to be on any of the papers or documents attached to her new property. When offered a chance to make some easy money, and in return for Caroline’s promised silence, the former landlady Ruth Holman admits she sometimes rented units to illegal immigrants and other characters she derisively describes as “bums” without actually signing any lease agreements. The alternative was letting the units sit empty. Caroline even gives her the number for Lou’s unit and describes the one-handed old man, but Ruth just shrugs. “Ugly old man” sounds like a lot of tenants she’s had, and maybe one or some or all of them did have prosthetic hands, but it’s possible to miss if they weren’t wearing short sleeves. She tried not to interact with her “undesirable” tenants very much. The one upshot to no lease agreement meant she never had to perform any kind of maintenance in their units, and absolutely never had to see or interact with them. When Caroline asks if Lou didn’t have a lease agreement, Ruth admits she isn’t sure. Her records aren’t the best. It’s possible some papers got misplaced. Is there any reason Caroline is looking for this man?

Giving up on her new property as a wash, Caroline looks into public records. Being a private investigator in the state of Louisiana means Lou’s name is in a database somewhere. In some states like Idaho, all one needs to be a PI is a business license. (Although without joining the state’s privately-run and more stringent PI association, it’s doubtful anyone but their own mom would hire them.) In Louisiana, license requirements are more rigorous. Lou had to take at least 40 hours of certification classes from an approved agency and pass the state PI Exam from the Louisiana State Board of Private Investigator Examiners (LSBPIE). Graft being what it is in Louisiana, Lou could have gotten around those requirements. He certainly doesn’t meet the requirement that applicants “may not be actively addicted to alcohol or drugs.” No matter how dubiously Lou’s license was obtained, however, it would still have had to be issued in his name.

Caroline also finds out there are four different kinds of PI licenses in Louisiana: an apprentice license, an individual license, a journeyman license, and an agency license. An individual license would let Lou provide direct services to the public, and require him to be registered with a sponsor agency. If Lou ran his own one-man agency, that makes tracking him down even simpler: the BLS reports only 70 private investigators were employed in Louisiana in 2012, most of whom did not hold agency licenses. Further enmeshing Lou in the system is the requirement that PIs need to renew their licenses every year. They must also submit proof of completion of at least eight hours of approved continuing education every two years.

Yet for all these potential leads, and the fact Lou even had Caroline sign a valid-looking contract, nothing solid materializes for the old man. Every potential lead results in still another dead end. Inquiries into public records concerning the name Louis Fontaine are similarly fruitless. He simply is not in the system. The Ventrue might as well be chasing a ghost.

Caroline: Caroline moves away from chasing and towards trying to keep the lines of communication open. She quietly puts up several notices and runs a couple of otherwise opaque print ads in newspapers (having seen how many he’s collected in the past) that make quiet references to matters between them and include a number to call.

GM: Nights pass, then weeks, and finally months. Caroline’s only answer is silence. The old man does not seem to want to be found.

Or perhaps he simply can’t be found. Perhaps the prince’s agents have already gotten to him.

Perhaps, like her conscience, he’s deader than she thinks.

Monday night, 28 September 2015, AM

GM: Father Malveaux listens patiently to Caroline’s next confession. He thinly grants that she has finally acted the part of a proper Sanctified. The man was punished for his iniquity, he is mending his ways, and the Masquerade was not endangered. Father Malveaux can find no basis over which to excommunicate Caroline.

But she also did not do as he asked—which was to feed upon one of her prior victims. His patience with Caroline clearly exhausted, Father Malveaux tells the younger Ventrue to find another confessor. He is sick of her.

He states that she will continue to consult with him where the matter of their mortal relations are concerned—which he grudgingly tolerates for the sake of the Masquerade, and only until Caroline fakes her death. He states that if she does not do so soon, he will do it for her. The albino priest clearly desires Caroline gone from his domain and his own contact with her to end as quickly as possible.

Caroline: Caroline pitches her plan to fake her murder at the hands of ‘undesirables’ so as to generate public sympathy for the Malveauxes and lend further weight behind her father’s ‘tough on crime’ political stance.

GM: Father Malveaux curtly rasps that he does not consider Caroline competent or trustworthy enough to handle a matter of such delicacy where the Masquerade is concerned. She will die in an accident, which will invite less police and media scrutiny.

Caroline: Of course not. Of course they’re not going to shit on a perfectly good idea just because it comes from her.

Caroline had wanted to ask him for assistance in financial matters before faking her death. Dying isn’t cheap.

She does not as she leaves.

Monday night, 28 September 2015, AM

GM: Caroline gets a phone call from Wright.

“Sold your debt to Rocco,” the hound says without preamble. “You’re payin’ him back now. Not me.”

Caroline: The Ventrue scowls but tries to keep her irritation out of her voice.

“Thank you for informing me, Hound Wright.”

GM: The Brujah hangs up.

Caroline: She’s less irritated with Wright anyway, and more annoyed with Agnello and his seemingly constant interest in meddling in her life. On the other hand, she considers, it might have less to do with her directly and more to do with his recent interactions with a certain client of hers. Either way, it’s irritating.

She considers calling Rocco and decides not to. He’ll come to her when he wants to get back in her life.

She expects it won’t be long.

Tuesday evening, 29 September 2015

GM: It’s not too many nights after Caroline first “hired” Christina Roberts (or rather, hired investigators through her) that she receives a call back from the madam. “You lucked out with those PIs, by the way. Some Pinkertons were already in town.”

Christina works out the necessary details to drop off their findings in Caroline’s hands—and also provides a routing number for a Bank of Columbia account (notably not Whitney Bank) where the Ventrue can reimburse her for the Pinkertons’ fee. Their dossiers contain the following:

The Pinkertons began by taking Caroline’s dozen or so vehicles whose reasons for being in Audubon Place were not immediately apparent or whose presences stood out to them. They ran down license plate numbers, plugged security footage of drivers (obtained courtesy of the Ventrue’s own efforts) into facial recognition software, talked to people in the neighborhood, and followed up on the names they obtained.

Most of Audubon Place’s visitors turned out to be quite pedestrian. A pool install company. An internet repair tech. An escort. A substitute plumber when the usual service couldn’t make it. A company of princess lookalikes for a child’s birthday party.

The initial investigative work narrowed Caroline’s dozen noteworthy vehicles and drivers down to half a dozen. Follow-up narrowed that down to several. Then finally to a single one.

Josué Pérez is a general contractor who works under Frank O’Malley. The Pinkertons did their homework, and he supposedly did contracting work on Caroline’s former house. Included is the license plate number for his vehicle, as well as work and phone numbers for Mr. Pérez and his employer Mr. O’Malley. The former, however, may not be good for long. Mr. Pérez has overstayed his work visa and is currently being detained by ICE in Basile’s South Louisiana Detention Center, pending his deportation back to Guatemala.

Caroline: Lucked out. Right. Caroline tries not to laugh as she pages through the dossiers. Mr. O’Malley. She’s relatively certain that Pérez is just a tool: she can’t really see her mother using some wetback as her instrument for something so sensitive.

She makes a note for Autumn to investigate O’Malley, quietly and from a distance. Mostly poking around into his business dealings, and history. She’s not quite—or even close to—ready to poke that hornet’s nest. Soon, though… the seneschal’s sentence hangs heavy, like a blade over her neck.

Tuesday night, 29 September 2015, PM

GM: It’s not long after Caroline’s release that Jocelyn takes the Ventrue to see her haven, a comfortable loft apartment in the CBD. It’s decorated with her photography, sharp black and white pieces that low-key digital manipulations have lent a vaguely otherworldly cast to. She doesn’t do much color, she says. Blacks and whites “force you to really think about the composition, and do more with less.” Sometimes she’ll do a slight color filter, but she calls it a “temptation” and tries to stick with black and white. She’s cautious that relying too much on color could dilute the rest of her work. It needs to stay rare if it’s to mean anything.

Jocelyn’s haven itself is well-furnished and has some fairly expensive-looking photography and computer equipment. The Toreador says she lives off money from a number of “boyfriends” whose behavior she has judged sinful (the most recent is a domestic abuser). They pay for her rent, clothes, art supplies, and miscellaneous expenses. Compared to Caroline’s planned financial manipulations, Jocelyn’s Requiem seems remarkably straightforward. She just takes money from people directly.

Meg lives with her in a separate bedroom. Despite the ghoul’s anorexia and bulimia, the latter of which Jocelyn describes as “so gross” (but is at a loss how to cure her of), Meg doesn’t appear entirely useless. She’s unobtrusive and can be counted on to perform assorted chores, errands, and other daily tasks Jocelyn doesn’t want to do herself, whether that’s styling her hair, picking up items at the store, or vacuuming and cleaning the haven. Meg also tracks expenses, pays bills, and manages her mistress’ money, a task that does not appear to particularly interest the Toreador.

Meg also funnels a percentage of Jocelyn’s income towards Roxanne, who Jocelyn says “manages it for the whole krewe.” When asked if all krewes do that thing, Jocelyn just shrugs, but says Roxanne makes the money come back in larger amounts. She uses it for communal expenses. “She was honestly better when she left the talking to Evan,” the Toreador admits. Roxanne can have an acerbic and contentious personality, and is used to getting her way at things. “Total blue blood. No offense.”

Evan lacked his paramour’s mind for planning, but was better at dealing people in the here and now. He was always good at tempering Roxanne’s more belligerent tendencies while not making the Ventrue feel like he was disagreeing with her. Roxanne was the brains of the krewe, while Evan was its heart and tongue. They worked well together. Since his disappearance, though, Roxanne’s more brittle tendencies have come the forefront—if not been aggravated by Evan’s absence. “It’s thrown everything out of balance,” Jocelyn admits.

Jocelyn posts a fair bit of her photography on mortal websites under a variety of pseudonyms. She posts the remaining “uncensored” artwork on “Fangbook” and other Kindred-exclusive internet domains lurking in the dankest recesses of the dark web. Still, she chafes at the lack of broader recognition, but isn’t willing to let a mortal take the credit for her artwork. The closest she’s come to publicly is getting Abraham Garcia, a Toreador with influence over the Times-Picayune, to slip in a few of her pieces while listing the author as anonymous. New Orleans’ Toreador circles don’t appreciate photography, but they’ve already talked about that.

Jocelyn is in sporadic contact with her sire, who seems to lack a regular phone number. Sally calls her childe from an ever-changing rotation of them whenever she feels like talking. Jocelyn’s tried calling back later, but the line is always ‘disconnected and no longer in service.’ “She’s pretty paranoid about that stuff.”

Jocelyn also admits to having two still-living parents “back home.” She hasn’t spoken with them in close to four years.

Caroline: “What do they think happened to you?” Caroline asks of the last bit.

GM: Jocelyn gives a little shrug. “Just… not in touch.”

Caroline: “Does it ever bother you?”

GM: “I don’t see much other choice, do you?”

Caroline: Caroline shrugs in turn. “I think leaving that door cracked would be harder for me—if I even could. The temptation to reach back out again would always be there.”

GM: “I’m going to close it. I’ve just been putting it off. Hassle to arrange.”

Caroline: Caroline gives a bitter laugh. “Don’t I know it.”

GM: One of the challenges over the coming nights is finding common interests besides fucking, which is limited by the ever-present risk of developing a full blood bond… which increasingly doesn’t seem like that bad an arrangement. After all, they could feed directly off each other as often as they wanted. And Caroline would never be in danger of having her will suborned by any other Kindred.

Caroline: It’s so tempting. Incredibly tempting, especially in those first nights after her release. Jocelyn is such a bright spot. Someone who’s never hurt her, only ever helped her, and with whom she shares many secrets. Many, though not all.

It’s a fight each evening she’s with the Toreador to resist her—and that’s a new experience as well. The raw power and desire of each encounter she’s had are unlike anything else she’s ever experienced. Better than feeding off any kine.

Caroline tries to fill their time together with other things, mundane things like shopping, hunting, movies, discussions on religion and art (in both of which Caroline is an avid listener) but the undercurrent is always there. The desire. Jocelyn’s slender throat with each word she speaks, the so sensual scene each time the Toreador swallows another mouthful of some mortal’s blood, the painfully tempting touch of licking a stray drop of some mortal’s blood off Jocelyn’s lips.

That feeling raw ‘carnal’ need and desire is another point of conflict between them, though Caroline buries it deeply. Though far from a good Catholic waiting for marriage, intimacy was a naturally flowing part of her mortal relationships. A piece of the puzzle that came up, sex something she enjoyed, but rarely craved. The deeper wanting of Jocelyn on a physical level, in truth, makes Caroline feel like the whore or slut her father so recently labeled her as.

Worse than how much she longs to sink her teeth into Jocelyn is how much she wants Jocelyn to sink her fangs into her. The kiss.

GM: Jocelyn can talk a great deal about art. Caroline can mostly listen, except when talking on the related social issues that frustrate her paramour. Jocelyn’s interest in movies turns out to run towards romantic comedies, one thing unchanged by her Embrace, and female drama-oriented TV shows.

Shopping is its own… bag. Jocelyn seems to have little interest in making money, beyond a minimum baseline, but she loves spending it. Specifically, Caroline’s, after she sees how much of it the Ventrue’s deeper financial manipulations have left her to throw around. If it’s not clothes, Jocelyn manages to find other things, from photography equipment to interior decor to high-class escorts (who make very good feeding, and are often even attending college). The blood bond makes it hard to turn down anything Jocelyn says she wants. Her new ghoul Widney is less enamored, and repeatedly uses such phrases as “significant drain” and “needless expense.” Autumn just snorts in amusement and calls it “so Toreador.”

The Kindred also end up going through a lot of clothes, partly contributing to the shopping trips. There isn’t that same need, or at least expectation, to strip before lovemaking. Their Beasts, so close to the surface during such moments, leave messes far in excess of any “wild” night as a mortal. Jocelyn particularly seems to enjoy destroying outfits she’s worn out enough times. “My closet’s low on room anyway.”

Caroline: On those bloody nights, Caroline loses herself in the violence and passion of their encounters. Hours slip away effortlessly as blood flows back and forth so many times that it’s easy to lose track of where one ends and the other begins. They are also illustrative of the very danger of the bond, and how easy it would be to lose themselves in each other. Entwined in blood-soaked sheets in the aftermath each time, Caroline soaks in that connection between them, strengthened by the blood, and wrestles with the Beast’s satisfaction in the moment and her own lingering desire. The nights never seem to come up frequently enough.

GM: In between such sanguine liaisons, there are other realities to deal with. Jocelyn loves attending Elysia and the all-night society’s seemingly endless stream of parties, balls, and salons, “even if I don’t get invited to them all.” She complains of Caroline being a “hermit” and is lukewarm to the idea of a coming-out party held for the benefit of Anarchs. “What, you want to throw some punk rock concert? The First and Second Estates throw the only parties worth attending,” she scoffs. “I mean I guess there’s a few okay Anarchs, but lots are meatheads like Eight-Nine-Six.”

Caroline: Caroline points out that unlike Jocelyn, right now she doesn’t get invites to any of those parties, balls, or salons. All the same, she waves her history at high-priced high society galas as evidence of her eventual intentions and though it does not begin immediately, as her Requiem beings to stabilize she does not have to be talked into visits to Elysium events. She keeps a relatively low profile, socializing politely and doing more listening than talking.

GM: The Ventrue finds her presence all but overlooked (though never to the point of loose lips) by other Kindred. The primary knowledge she gleans is that the opening of every Elysium Primo is officiated with a prayer and religious ritual, often by Gus Elgin (who is both master of Elysium and one of the Anointed). Midnight Mass is held weekly. Kindred with object to participating in Sanctified religious ceremonies have the “option” of simply not attending Elysium.

Jocelyn does not seem particularly happy by Caroline’s behavior and declares that the Ventrue “so boring” to go out with. “Nobody even talked to you. People don’t like wallflowers, y’know.”

Caroline: Nonetheless, Caroline is not idle in those visits. She watches and she learns. She watches to see who the centers of attention are, and why. The kinds of gossip of interest. The connections and interactions that exist.

GM: Once a week concurrently with Midnight Mass, Philip Maldonato holds formal court on Vidal’s behalf. This is often at church (every church in New Orleans is Elysium), such as St. Patrick’s Cathedral, St. Alphonsus in the Garden District, or any of the city’s other, near-equally old and venerable houses of God. Caroline never ceases to feel faintly sick in them. The chosen site is always the Elysium Primo for that night.

Court always opens with Midnight Mass and a sermon whose preacher often varies throughout the weeks. Vidal was a figure of dark majesty, whose powerful words reverberated in Caroline’s chest and felt as if God Almighty were judging her soul—and finding it wanting.

Maldonato, in contrast, is an eloquent and more cerebral orator who often begins his sermons by presenting spiritual dilemmas for the congregation to considers. He weaves seamless blends of theology, philosophy, and occasionally metaphysics into subtle answers that slowly creep over the parishioners like the rising sun, only to finally illuminate them with profound truths revealing the Kindred purpose in God’s plan.

Father Elgin relies more heavily upon the Testament of Longinus and the mortal Bible. He begins his sermons with innocuous verses and parables that lead towards some subtle yet inescapably powerful truth whose merits seem almost startlingly obvious in hindsight.

Father Malveaux zealously stresses absolute obedience to God’s will and acceptance of the Kindred’s damned nature. He backs his arguments with a hard and pitiless intellectual framework that brooks no dissension or dispute. He rails against the Sanctified’s many enemies, especially the “heathens” and “weak of faith” and calls on all Sanctified to serve as soldiers in God’s army.

Other Anointed occasionally preach sermons too. Mother Doriocourt’s are much like Father Malveaux’s in tone, and rely on fewer scriptural references but are cooler and smoother in their delivery.

Father Polk’s sermons are the most humble, direct, and plain-spoken, drawing heavily upon the Testament.

Caroline does not have chance to see Father Morrow sermonize.

All of the Sanctified theologians speak extensively of the Biblical Caine, his primeval sin against God, and Longinus being the first of their kind to accept his damned nature as not merely a punishment, but a mandate. The priests bring up different topics every week. Many of these are relevant to contemporary concerns among Kindred and kine alike, such as the theological impetus for the Masquerade when a foolish vampire endangers it, or the Kindred’s purpose as punishers of the wicked during a high-profile mortal crime.

After the sermon concludes, Kindred priests clad in black robes with blue-trimmed vestments proceed liturgical prayers and recitations with a great deal of pomp and ritual. A mortal vessel is ritually bled into a ruby-encrusted chalice before a black altar (set beneath a lance rather than crucifix). This act is always presided over by Father Malveaux or Father Elgin rather than Maldonato: it is not for laity. The smell of incense is thick in the air as the priest lays their blessing upon the sacred chalice and transubstantiates its blood. Faithful Sanctified then proceed forward to take communion. Elders and other esteemed members of the covenant go first: Caroline and other neonates go last. All Kindred eventually imbibe from the communion chalice, which never seems to run empty, and whose nectar tastes altogether distinct from any kine vitae that Caroline has sampled. This vitae, the Anointed declare, is sacrosanct and the blood of Longinus. Through Longinus, it is also the blood of Christ—for the Savior’s life was the first blood tasted by the Dark Prophet (this ultimate sin having cursed him to vampirism without a sire, just as God Almighty cursed Caine before him). The Sanctified thus believe, and in an extremely literal sense, that they are set apart from Christ’s mortal faithful, and yet they do still exist within his grace. They still drink the blood of Christ—yet it is sinfully obtained. They pay for that sin every night.

Once Mass has been concluded, the black altar and its crucifix-like lance are moved away. Two throne-like chairs are installed in their place. One is positioned a single step higher than the other. Maldonato assumes the lower throne, leaving the empty one staring down from behind him, and formally convenes court. Any and all Kindred attendees are free to leave at this point, but no vampire who was absent for Midnight Mass is permitted to attend Prince Vidal’s court. One of the hounds (Rocco for this week) stands guard by the church’s doors. One either participates in the religion of the Lancea et Sanctum, sits and listens to the gospel of its priests (non-Sanctified are exempted from and indeed ineligible to take communion), or one is excluded from the city’s most important Elysium. The Sanctified and Invictus are thus regular and numerous attendees, Anarchs attend more sporadically (Coco is usually present), and Caroline does not recognize any of the Baron’s followers. That could also simply be due to her own ignorance. She does not recognize any Tremere either, who are said to be partisans of Vidal’s, or followers of the rumored Ordo Dracul.

Maldonato issues proclamations and edicts in Prince Vidal’s name, receives Kindred petitioners with matters they wish to (publicly) bring before His Majesty’s attention, and dispenses judgment for crimes and disputes not so grave as to warrant their own exclusive gatherings. Better-informed newcomers to the city try to present themselves before the seneschal at such dates. Maldonato receives most cordially, a smaller number warmly, and grants most permission to remain in the city on a temporary basis. Seemingly no Kindred who heed the Fifth Tradition are refused from the city outright… vampires who would be regarded as so obviously incorrigible likely do not bother present themselves at all.

Gossip and chatter takes place concurrently (though more quietly) while Maldonato officiates the prince’s business from his throne. Once this matter is concluded, and with a final benediction from one of the Anointed, Kindred begin to socialize among themselves in earnest. Mortal artists and/or musicians, or some other entertaining diversion, are sometimes brought forward to provide a centerpiece to the evening’s remaining social activities. Gus Elgin never ceases to find ways to keep things interesting despite the regularity of the venue (usually a church). Still, it’s clear that Friday Elysia are where the best entertainments are.

Those Elysia show considerably more variety in their locations: one night it might be at the Civil War Museum, where Kindred attendees can admire and discuss the historic pieces. Another night, it might be at the Hotel Storyville and have more the feel of a private house party. Caroline recalls her last two Elysia at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art and Orpheum Theater. A few Elysia are even held in less conventional locales such as the New Orleans Public Library or Mercedes-Benz Superdome, but the party organizers always find a way to keep them interesting if not novel. Compared to the decadence and debauchery rumored to take place at private Kindred fetes, however, the Elysia Caroline attends feel positively cerebral. The “real fun,” Jocelyn has said, or simply opportunities to socialize with a different or more limited crowd of Kindred, takes place at private parties. Caroline has yet to receive an invitation to any of these.

Antoine Savoy also holds his own court in the French Quarter on Saturdays. Jocelyn says she should never go to those.

Caroline also learns about Elysium’s true powers: the harpies.

Maldonato and Savoy may be the brains that direct their courts, and Gus Elgin may be the skeletal system that holds Elysium together, but the harpies are its heart—or perhaps its tongue. They are the grand dames of society, the lives of the party, the queen bees, the “in” crowd, the popular clique, and social judges, juries, and executioners par force. They tell other Kindred what is and is not proper behavior. They may raise Kindred high with their praises or cast them low with their scorn, and are far more generous in dispensing the latter. Violence and disciplines are forbidden in Elysium. The only weapons Kindred may employ are words—and the harpies are grand masters at those weapons. A sneer here, a scathing remark here, can cut and bleed a vampire’s pride until they must flee Elysium in shame, lest the harpies’ scathing words drive their Beasts to frenzy. The harpies relish making examples of vampires who do not measure up to their standards. It is their foremost entertainment. Only the most exalted Kindred are exempted from their barbs—and even such luminaries as Savoy and Maldonato seemingly have little desire to pull them away from their victims (there seems no better term to use) once their claws come out. Collectively, the coterie is known as ‘the murder’—after ‘a murder of harpies’.

Few would contest the name’s appropriateness.

Jocelyn, meanwhile, heaves an effected sigh and says she’s going to “hang out with Kindred who know how to have fun” before striding off. Caroline is left alone among the sea of pale faces. The Ventrue feels the blood bond tugging at her like a leash. Some part of her yearns to follow after the Toreador, to win back her approval. It’s not for nothing that young Kindred like Jocelyn nickname it ‘the collar’.

But she does not get the chance. The harpies have scented blood.

“You there, neonate!” Adelais Seyrès imperiously calls towards Caroline. The Ventrue remembers the harpy all-too vividly from her first meeting with McGinn. “You seem alone here. Are you without friends?”

The Kindred nearest to Caroline begin to melt away.

“Yes, observe how she stares and skulks from the shadows like some would-be Nosferatu. Does she seek to make friends by joining the sewer rats?” derides the next of the harpies, a fat and pale-faced woman with jet black hair.

Observe the vacant and noncomprehending stare on her cow-like face. Perhaps we should subject it to the sun’s rays,” Veronica Alsten-Pirrie sneers, her green eyes smoldering. “We could make her a Nosferatu in flesh and spirit both.”

“Don’t fret, ducky, Primogen Opal will surely nurse you back to health,” croons a buxom, wavy-haired redhead.

“Yes, neonate, tell us: why are you so alone among this gathering of friends?” Adelais demands. The contempt on the Toreador’s features could be etched from ice.

Caroline: Caroline, however, is no idle victim. Even if she were not a senator’s daughter, even if she were not a social alpha in her mortal life among her social circles, and even if she were not the too proud secret childe of the city’s most powerful elder, with a raging Beast of her own to rival that of any ancilla, Caroline is an erudite fencer, and much the same principles apply here. And she is not unarmed.

In comes the thrust. ‘Nosferatu’, ‘cow-faced’, ‘without friends’. Parry.

“Certainly, Madam Beaumont, any neonate would be honored by the attentions and patronage of such a distinguished personage as Primogen Opal, but alas I fear such is not to be, what with the way in which renown individuals such as yourself have already taken it upon themselves to provide their own guidance and wisdom to me.”

She turns to Alsten-Pirrie. “Forgive me, I thought that light following you around, Madam Alsten-Pirrie, might be just that, though now I see it must instead be the spotlight. I can see too how from within it all else might seem cast in shadow, but I dare say it would be presumptuous to step into the limelight.”

GM: “Presumptuous. How fitting a choice of words,” Adelais acidly replies.

What follows can only be described as a tightrope walk over a sea of piranhas. Caroline plies the harpies with compliments and flattery. The murder will not let themselves be so easily won over—or perhaps simply finds it amusing to see how long Caroline can keep turning venom into honey. The Ventrue endures scathing critiques of her appearance, breeding, dress, prior and present behavior, and every other failing and inadequacy one could possibly imagine.

But she maintains an unyielding front. She catches their arrows of scorn and fires back sweet-smelling roses. Mocking laughter turns sardonic, then wry, then amused. The murder has scented blood, but perhaps, at least for now, sweet words are enough to sate their appetite. Perhaps it is more amusing to watch this prey caper and dance than to die.

Their bellies glutted with flattery, the murder finally withdraws as some other matter—some further prey—draws their collective attentions. Caroline hears scripture being quoted. It might be a theological discussion. Fangs and talons sheathe. The many eyes upon her turn away.

She wonders how fast her heart would be racing were she still alive.

Caroline: The scene itself is far more frustrating and humiliating than any of the hags’ words. In her mortal life not only would none have attempted such a stunt, not only would she have crushed them if they had, but she would have wielded such shrews as her own scalpels.

No, the words don’t hurt. The petty taunts. Not after having the flesh ripped from her body, not after causing the death of her brother, not after the sheer horrific physical violence she’s suffered. What hurts is that she has to endure it at all.

GM: Caroline can observe the murder of harpies already converging on some new target. The Ventrue’s indignities at their hands appear, at least, to be shared by others.

Caroline: And that’s exactly it. As a mortal she was special. She was influential and powerful. She was exceptional. Here she’s just another neonate—no, little better than Caitiff, with no sire, no respect, no place, and (if she can’t again accomplish the impossible) no future.

Perhaps in that the harpies accomplished their goal. They drove that dagger in further still, just when she’d thought it could cut no deeper, when she’d thought it was starting to scab over. Blood in the water indeed.

She has little taste for further socialization.

Previous, by Narrative: Story Seven, Caroline III, Rocco I
Next, by Narrative: Story Seven, Isa II

Previous, by Character: Story Seven, Caroline III, Rocco I
Next, by Character: Story Seven, Caroline V

Story Seven, Caroline III, Rocco I

“Why gamble something as precious as life for so very little?”
Rocco Agnello

Wednesday night, 23 September 2015, PM

Rocco: An ineffable pall falls over Harrah’s New Orleans. The dark contours of the upscale casino and high-rise hotel Tbask in the glow of the city’s nightlife. Neon light signs, trimmed palm trees. A monument to decadence and debauchery. A haunt for cretins and losers of many shapes and vices.

Caroline: We’re all losers Caroline reflects, picking her way through the crowd of dejected faces: the desperate, the lonely, and the bored. Some of us have simply lost more than others.

Rocco: Some of us are merely lost.

A seemingly endless stream of people passes, exits, and enters the smoke-filled casino. The building’s front doors are watched by imposing black-uniformed security guards. A pedestrian crossing separates the casino from Harrah’s twenty-six story hotel.

An obese man—or perhaps boy—of below average height hauls himself out of a taxi cab. He wears a dark sweatshirt with its hoodie drawn all the way up, leaving his face only half-visible. It looks unattractive and normal enough, at a casual glance. When Caroline’s stare lingers, though, the visage melts away into something truly hideous. His plump face is covered in unkempt dark fur except around his mouth. He has a snout instead of a proper nose, dark beady eyes, enormously oversized teeth, and equally huge ears. All that’s missing are the whiskers and facial structure: his head, at least, is still human-shaped. He looks as much like a rat as a man.

His companion is little better. Caroline looks at her and sees someone who has stopped caring. She’s portly and has bad skin and greasy hair. She smells bad. She doesn’t smile. She’s dressed in threadbare clothes with several holes and stains. Her beat-up tennis shoes look equally due for replacement. She doesn’t look like she cares. There are scab marks over her hands. She carries a large bag that conspicuous squeaks emanate from.

The chubby boy makes his way up to the guards, hands stuck in his sweatshirt’s pockets.

“I’m here to see my… dad.”

Rocco: One of the doormen reveals a clipboard and asks for the chubby boy’s name as a formality. It’s not long before the trio are then directed into the hotel’s foyer. A young bellhop who looks no older than ten stands by the service desk with a neutral expression.

“It’s my pleasure to welcome you on behalf of your father, Andrew,” the small greets says, looking brightly up at the group. His voice is low and polite. “Please follow me. Your father’s party is on the top floor.”

The small boy leads the way. He eventually directs and patiently waits for the group to enter an elevator, taking an out-of-the-way position beside the lift’s console. He has to stretch on his toes to reach number twenty-six.

GM: The hoodie-wearing boy and his two companions follow the small child. Other guests continue to arrive. Gwendolyn Wade gets out from a Ryde, while a chaffeur opens the door to Becky Lynne’s silver Audi. Both Creoles wear shorter semiformal dresses.

“Oh, how lovely to see you, Miss Wade, fancy us arrivin’ at the same party. Now did you…” the Ventrue chats as they approach the casino. The faces of the other Storyvilles, Roxanne and Jocelyn, are already known to Caroline. There’s also a handsome young man with wavy brown hair wearing a black sports coat. Another one of the faces among the guests is known to Caroline from the trial: a well-endowed, comely young woman with messy blonde hair that falls to her waist. She’s somewhat dressed up in a cheap-looking pink party dress that still has a price tag attached to it. That has to be deliberate.

Last of all are two further apparent youths whose identities are unknown to Caroline. Both are dark-skinned and look anywhere from their late teens to early twenties. Their short hair is braided into cornrows, and their garb hovers somewhere between practical and street casual: scuffed baggy jeans, thick cotton gray sweatshirts, and heavy work boots. Their wide, strong-angled but hairless faces and loose, curve-hiding clothing makes it difficult to identify their genders.

“What, you’re just walking in without me like an asshole?” the messy-haired blonde calls towards the plump boy who’s already well inside the building.

The boy turns away from the elevator. “No, Arzie, it’s not like-”

“Yeah, I bet it’s not. And here I got all dressed up for you.”

“You look like you got that from Herricks’ clearance rack.”

“Stole it on my way here, actually, but good guess.”

The Storyvilles watch the Nosferatu’s display with visible distaste.

“I reckon that makes you a speedier dresser than me, Miss Boudon,” Becky Lynne laughs. “Lord knows how long it took me to decide what to wear, but there you went, decidin’ the same as me after you stepped out the door! There’s really no color that pairs with blonde like a good, feminine pink, now is there?”

The Ventrue’s own dress is a paler hue of the same color, even if its origins look a good deal less… shoplifted.

Caroline: Caroline’s own appearance is subdued, arriving via Ryde in her typical black. The already tall Ventrue towers over the masses in heels. To a casual observation she looks well-fed, but there’s a tightness too her motions and expressions, like a coiled spring. There’s pressure there and energy ready to burst into motion. Potential energy waiting for release.

Rocco: The bored-looking security guards ask for the names of each newcomer. A dark-haired woman recognizable as Hound Agnello’s herald appears inside the main foyer, ready to greet the latest slew of guests. She keeps a particular eye on the uninvited blonde, though. She can easily be seen waiting and watching through the hotel’s glass doors.

GM: Among the new names Caroline hears are June and Cleo, the two cornrow-haired apparent youths. June is the one to introduce a silent Cleo. The male Kindred sticking with the other Storyvilles is Wyatt. Becky Lynne gives her name as Rebecca, “Though if they’re callin’ me by first name, it’s usually Becky Lynne instead.”

Roxanne Gerlette looks less than pleased by the guard’s bored look, and sharply tells him to show respect towards his employers’ guests.

“Yeah, guess not,” Arzilla Boudon responds to Becky Lynne with an almost wary tone. A devious grin spreads across her face at Roxanne’s words as she saddles up to the nearest of the bored guards. “Aw, slow night, boys? All you need is a lil’ sugar.” She abruptly pulls the man into a full french kiss.

Caroline: Caroline watches the pair of crass displays from closer to Becky Lynne and trades a glance with the much shorter blonde Venture. She offers no comment on the pink dresses.

Rocco: The guard abruptly pulls away from the blond woman, eyes bulging as he wipes spittle from his mouth. For a moment he just dry-wretches. Then a stream of vomit spews from his mouth as he keels over. “Hol-ly sh-shit!” he gags.

The other doorman, initially flabbergasted and perplexed at his partner, rushes to his partner’s prone form.

“Jerry!” he yells. “What’sa matter with you?”

“It’s disgusting, Phil!” Jerry yells back, wiping bile from his mouth. “She’s fucking disgusting! I can’t get the taste out of my fucking mouth!” The man’s eyes are red and watering. He turns his head and pukes over the sidewalk again.

“Shit! I am so, so sorry!” Phil says, looking up at the group of newly arrived guests. “Please! Please just go inside!”

GM: Arzilla blows the gagging man a kiss as she walks off. A few of the other invited Kindred cast glances that range from amused to disapproving to indifferent.

Becky Lynne smiles at Caroline, seemingly paying no mind to the nearby commotion. “What an unexpected pleasure to see you here, Miss Malveaux. You’re acquainted with Mr. Agnello?” she asks, notably using a mortal form of address.

“I guess that’s one way to speed up the line,” Jocelyn remarks to Wyatt.

Andy just gives a few snorf-like laughs. “It’s okay anyways, guys, my dad knows them all.”

Caroline: “We met briefly at an event, and again at church,” Caroline offers. “A charming man, relative to his peers.”

She looks over at the vomiting guard. “And it seems he throws quite a party.”

GM: “How lucky for you, Miss Malveaux. The good hound is a good friend to have.”

Caroline: “One of many.” She smiles sweetly at the other Ventrue.

Rocco: The clicking of heels against hard tiling breaks up the small conversation. The dark-haired woman watching the group earlier approaches.

“It’s my pleasure to welcome you all on behalf of Mr. Agnello,” she says, offering the group a gloomy smile.

“It’s Mr. Agnello’s wish that you all go up in small groups,” she explains, “so that he may properly welcome each of you into his home.”

The ghoul gives a demure laugh as she eyes their reactions. The ghoul then looks to the twin youths and the hoodie-wearing overweight young man.

“It’s Mr. Agnello’s wish that his family go up to greet him first,” she says, indicating the three.

“Please follow Simon to the elevator and he will take you to the twenty-sixth floor.”

The young boy leading Andrew earlier peeks his head out from an elevator, smiling brightly at the group. He waits for the trio of ‘family members’ to enter the elevator with him.

GM: “Oh hey, Bella,” Andrew remarks as the three Gangrel make their way over to the elevator. Rocco’s childe catches a look from Arzilla, who he motions to come along with him.

Rocco: The two ghouls remain quiet on the matter, cordially accepting Andrew’s wish to bring along Arzilla. They both appear suitably blank-faced.

GM: The four neonates step in. There are looks from some of the other Kindred, but they soon turn back to talking amongst themselves—or their ghoul attendants, in the cases of those who’ve brought servants.

Another car soon arrives with a comely curly-haired Kindred in a tight red dress who Caroline saw in passing at Blaze. Annabelle knows better as one of the guests. She asks the others what they’re “waiting around for,” then joins a soon-forming clique with Gwen and Jocelyn.

Rocco: Bella simply smiles blandly, waiting patiently for Simon to return to bring the next group of guests up.

Caroline: The tension of the coiled spring that is Caroline only seems to tighten down at Bella’s declaration of the hound’s intent: that most of the group be kept waiting. Then you should stagger your invitations, she thinks to herself, even knowing that it isn’t actually about that.

Keeping them waiting is about the same things that having her evicted a day before the meeting was about: showing power. How little he needs to care about them and their time. It all but screams ’you’re on my time’. Her uncles are fond of the tactic: she knows Matt habitually schedules meetings with subordinates 15 minutes early so that he’s never kept waiting and they often are.

GM: It doesn’t endear them to him, but they never waste the middle Malveaux brother’s time that way. He considers it an acceptable trade.

Most of the neonates simply chatter among themselves. Becky Lynne has a servant hand over an Sunpad that and connected Bluetooth that she starts tapping on and requesting that someone on the other end “please run these figures for me, will you?”

Her father’s recommended “counterattack” was to never let whoever is keeping you waiting feel like they are able to waste your time.

Rocco: The group is only left waiting a few minutes before the elevator doors re-open and the young, impressionable-looking boy rejoins them with an infectious smile.

“Lady Rebecca Adler, Advocate and Speaker,” she says, addressing Becky Lynne Adler in a formal, respectful tone, “if you would be so kind as to follow Simon to meet with Mr Agnello on the top floor.”

The young boy directs his smile at Becky Lynne, beaming up at the pretty Southern belle.

GM: Becky Lynne spares the ghoul her own a smile and a “thank you most kindly” back, but doesn’t stop talking into the headset. Her assistant follows her in with the tablet.

Rocco: The group is left waiting a few more minutes once again, although eventually Simon returns a third time, this time taking the curly-haired Kindred up with him. The Storyvilles and Caroline are left waiting another few more minutes.

GM: By this point, most of the krewe are looking noticeably irked.

“This is the stupidest power game I’ve ever seen,” Jocelyn mutters in a low voice.

Rocco: Eventually, Simon returns to take Caroline and the Storyville Krewe up to the twenty-sixth floor. The young boy looks positively delighted, reaching up on his toes to press the button in the elevator to take them to the party and meet with the others.

GM: All of the neonates glare as they step in.

Rocco: The young boy, sensing the mood, bows his head in silence. Perhaps he’s afraid they will reprimand him.

Caroline: Caroline says nothing to the boy, her cold, hard, eyes seeming to stare through him. She slides into the elevator near Jocelyn.

Rocco: The elevator lightly jolts and the small group feels a sense of moving up. Unobtrusive elevator music plays in the background as numbered lights at the top of the lift ding with each passing floor.

Eventually, the small group reach the 26th floor. The elevator doors open with the smallest jolt and reveal a spacious, richly-decorated room. A plain-faced musician plays the grand piano. Murmurs of polite conversation are also audible.

A boyish-faced, wavy-haired young man dressed in a plum-colored suit approaches the group. His light, purposeful walk is reminiscent of a cat’s stride. Simon looks up at him with naked reverence. The young man greets the group with a bow from the waist.

“I am glad you were all able to make it to my small get-together.”

Caroline: Caroline regards the hound warily, like a predator backed into a corner. Twice before she took him at face value, and twice before she’s come out the loser for it, despite all of his benign—or even benevolent—intentions. The boyish face is a lie, the smile a jest at all the world. Evil wears many faces.

But then, it also wears her own.

“How could I refuse, Hound Agnello?” Caroline asks with a smile that doesn’t quite reach her eyes. “Your invitation was as unexpected as waking up with your face glued to the floor, but fortunately much more pleasant. It’s a beautiful venue.” She gestures to the room.

Rocco: “I very well couldn’t hold a party without someone as noteworthy as yourself, Miss Malveaux,” the Gangrel mafioso replies, charmingly. “I very well couldn’t hold a party without a krewe as notable as the Storyvilles in any case, either.”

GM: “That’s kind of you, Hound Agnello,” Roxanne answers. Her krewe-mates offer several similar platitudes.

Rocco: “You’re welcome, Miss Gerlette.” Hound Agnello then looks to Simon who is still staring up at his domitor with adoring eyes. “You can receive the refreshments for our guest now, Simon,” he says, looking back to his newly arrived guests with a confident, raised brow as he continues, allowing the group to enter the room and experience the full atmosphere. The small, well-dressed boy springs to action right away, passing a corner as he receives the ‘refreshments’.

Caroline: Truly a personal meeting worth waiting for, Caroline thinks with bitter humor.

“Don’t worry, Hound Agnello, I promise not to get any blood on your nice hardwood floor,” she replies in seeming good humor at his remark about her noteworthiness.

Rocco: “It’s always nice to have such a thoughtful guest,” the hound remarks ruefully, “especially when I plan to formally invite you as a tenant as part of the celebrations tonight.”

Caroline: Caroline shows little surprise at the invitation. “That’s very generous of you, Hound Agnello, especially given how your domain seems to be flourishing.”

Rocco: “You’re too kind, Miss Malveaux. I think it’s important as a show of solidarity and goodwill to establish good ties with the rising stars of our covenant,” he adds, praising her in front of the Storyville Krewe.

“It didn’t escape my notice that you managed to embarrass and thwart the now defunct Eight-Nine-Six on more than one occasion. The fact you managed such a thing on your own is more-so impressive.”

Caroline: “Not entirely on my own,” Caroline deflects gently. “Your other guests here,” she gestures to the Storyvilles, “were instrumental in helping as they grew increasingly unstable.”

Rocco: Hound Agnello appears suitably impressed as his focus is directed to the Storyville Krewe.

“It’s a wonder you haven’t formally invited Miss Malveuax to join the Storyville Krewe,” Rocco says rather offhandedly. “That’s quite impressive.”

GM: The Storyvilles, for their part, continue to converse among themselves as they wait for Simon to arrive with the refreshments.
“We’re closed for new members right now,” Roxanne answers at Rocco’s remark. “Miss Malveaux has a promising enough track record, but we don’t feel it’s a good time with one of our founding members still missing.”

Rocco: “I’ve actually been looking into what happened to Mr. Bourelle,” Rocco says with a thoughtful look on his face as he holds his chin. “There’s certainly some peculiarities in his disappearance.”

GM: “Most of the other Kindred we talked to had the same opinion,” Roxanne grants.

Rocco: “I admit part of the reason I invited your group is to discuss his disappearance in detail,” the hound continues, smiling. “I understand the last time Mr. Bourelle was seen was entering the Baron’s territory. It certainly breeds questions.”

GM: “We last turned up that he was in New Orleans East,” Jocelyn says with a puzzled frown.

Rocco: “That is very interesting.” Rocco adds, “I can look into the matter some more, make sense of our conflicting accounts for a small price if you’ll humor me.”

GM: “There’s always a price,” Wyatt ventures. Not quite a quip, and not quite somber either.

Rocco: The hound laughs, taking on a more boyish demeanor. “You’re quite right, Mr. Jenkins,” he replies, “but I assure you all it’s rather simple.”

He sets his eyes on Caroline.

“I consider myself a proud proponent of my faith and supporter of my covenant. I consider myself personally responsible for our newest members’ betterment.”

“Which brings me to my point. I want Miss Malveaux to join the Storyville Krewe. I’d be wholly irresponsible if I didn’t expect a tenant of mine to be under the protection and guidance of one of our foremost coteries.”

GM: The Storyvilles trade brief looks with one another. They’re less than comfortable ones.

“We’re honored by your consideration, Hound Agnello,” says Roxanne. “We’d like to find Evan, though, before we induct any new members.”

“We’re just not in a good space right now,” says Gwen.

“We’d be glad to trade a boon or whatever else for anything you might know,” Jocelyn adds.

Rocco: Rocco’s smile lessens, turning away from the conversation in apparent boredom.

“It appears your refreshments have arrived,” he says coolly.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t quite squirm, but can’t hide her discomfort about the exchange from Rocco. It’s embarrassing for all parties involved. Rocco caught without knowing the game, much less all the cards on the table. Roxanne without the ability to offer a satisfactory answer. And herself as the source of it all.

GM: Gwen looks more than a little disomfited by the hound’s cool tone. Jocelyn and Wyatt look uncomfortable too. Roxanne hides it better than her krewemates, but Caroline’s assessment seems apt. Embarrassing for all parties involved.

The Storyvilles look towards the center of the room and the approaching Simon.

Rocco: Simon is flanked by a group of six glassy-eyed mortals. They appear look like lobotomies dressed up in sensuously form-fitting attire. Empty smiles adorn each of their faces in caricature. Simon presents the ‘refreshments’ with a flourish of his hand and another deep, respectful bow.

“I hope these ‘refreshments’ are to your liking,” the small boy chirps, continuing to bow, withdrawing from the group with backward steps.

“Thank you, Simon.” Hound Agnello claims one of the kine first, leisurely pulling a woman to his side.

GM: The awkwardness in the air fades just a bit as the Storyvilles turn to regard their vessels. Most are black women, their faces dolled up with heavy rouge and blood-red lipstick that emphasizes their large lips. They are clad in wide, tightly crisscrossing strips of cashmere leather that reveals at least as much as it conceals. The largest gaps are left along their bellies, thighs, and breast areas. Knee-high stiletto-heeled boots of the same cashmere leather hug their legs up the knee. The leather’s muted red-brown texture goes with their dark skin like flakes of cinnamon over chocolate pudding. Their long curly hair hangs wild and loose, like free-floating smoke any of the neonates could inhale. All present Kindred look notably aroused, including Roxanne.

The other Kindred mill about the room as the pianist plays. They appear divided into two cliques. Andrew and Arzilla are talking with, or perhaps simply talking to Becky Lynne, for the rat-faced boy is snickering over something while the Ventrue wears the same unwavering smile as before. The two dark-skinned androgynous Kindred are conversing with the shapely redhead. Or at least, one of them is. The slightly shorter of the pair seems to be listening but speaks little. The redhead is anything but, and grins as she leans against the half-exposed chest of a tall, tan-skinned man.

“Just look at this one. Italian and Puerto Rican… dangerous combination,” she purrs, stroking his biceps.

There look to be about as many of the scantily-attired, vacant-faced kine as there are Kindred. One of them is a blonde girl who Caroline recognizes from a few functions. Bentley Downs. She’s the daughter of Alec Downs, the fifty-something president of a boat-building company and Lakeview’s Southern Yacht Club, which her Uncle Matt also belongs to (though he’s always had more interest in cars than yachts). Caroline remembers talking to Alec at Cécilia’s charity event, though Bentley wasn’t there. The twenty-something college graduate still lives with her father, and last Alec mentioned at Em’s party, was trying out being a talent agent.

Right now she looks like a whore in the outfit Rocco (or his ghouls) have picked out. Next to the black women and half-Latin man, her white skin particularly stands out against the cashmere leather, making her seem all the more naked and exposed. She wears the same vacuous smile as her fellows.

Caroline: The sight of the fellow socialite dressed as a whore and paraded as little more than mindless walking cattle brings a sick feeling to Caroline’s stomach. Not for the vapid girl, but for how easily it could have been her, or anyone she knew.

For not the first time she wonders how many holes in her memory exist from her mortal years, what pushes and pulls were exerted on her, and how much of her life was really her own. Was she ever a doll at a party like this? The ease with which mortals can be controlled does not leave her missing her mortal life, even as her condition provides only a marginal protection against it. As much as she has been controlled by forces from the outside as one of the Damned, there exists at least the outside potential for her to carve out a path of her own. As just another one of the kine, her fate was a certain as that of any animal at the slaughterhouse.

GM: Meanwhile, as the six enthralled kine halt in front of the Storyvilles, so too do the eyes of the eyes of the other six Kindred guests come to settle upon Rocco, as if waiting for some word or speech now that all of the presumed guests have arrived.

Rocco: Hound Agnello cannot help smiling. “I am glad to see such hungry eyes,” the hound says. “It warms my heart knowing the effort my servants and I put into tonight’s party isn’t underappreciated. We are creatures of the night, of course. We are blood-drinking, immoral monsters. We are wolves among the mortal flock.” The hound looks about the room as all Kindred eyes fall upon him. “This is a night to enjoy ourselves,” he says, “but it’s also a night to reflect on our natures and the laws that our Kindred hold sacrament. It’s also a night I wish to use to welcome and extend a formal invitation to my domain.”

A motley of ghoulish mafiosos enter the spacious room, pulling in a couple of struggling, tied-up mortals. Their leader is dark of hair, dark of eye, and dark of expression, but still handsome enough. He carries a gold-pommeled walking stick against his shoulder, brandishing the item like a club. Caroline recognizes him from Perdido House.

“We are not monsters without reason!” Hound Agnello calls fervently. He then gives the goateed ghoul a meaningful look.

Caroline: She listens to Rocco’s speech as she surveys the room, ‘her’ kind wrapped up in his words and the mortals surrounding them, picked out for them. She pauses her examination only as Rocco pauses, his smoldering gaze locked on the handsome ghoul with the walking stick.

GM: As Caroline’s gaze sweeps the room, it becomes apparent that Bentley isn’t the only mortal she knows.

She almost doesn’t recognize Emily Rosure, the med student at TMC she’s ‘acquainted’ herself with. The moderately tall, black-haired woman is dressed up in the same revealing leather attire as the others instead of her dreary hospital garb. She looks as delectable and vacantly content as any of the other vessels.

Caroline: The sight sends another shiver through Caroline. It feels wrong, invasive, seeing these people she knows like this. Dressed as cheap whores, treated like worse. It’s worse than spying on them in the midst of an intimate act.

Rocco: The pair of tied-up mortals watch on with confused, darkened eyes. The messy, crumpled appearances of both suggest a struggle. They are dressed in boxer shorts and singlets. It looks like they were taken or abducted while they were still sleeping.

“I want you to kill the son first,” Hound Agnello orders, directing his gaze to the younger of the pair. “The son’s sins are the fault of the father’s, so the father must suffer most.”

GM: The father, a portly older man with receding graying hair and crow’s feet around his eyes, is silent throughout the hound’s bizarre (to a mortal) speech.

He gapes incredulously at the sheer abruptness of Rocco’s declaration at its end. This can’t be real.

Caroline: The turn towards violence is not particularly surprising, but it is startling. Her lips press into a thin line.

GM: But it is real. All-too real.

The ghoul cracks his cane across the equally stupefied young man’s face. There’s a sickening crunch from his nose, flecks of red, and a hard thump as the youth’s head smacks against the floor. He screams and strains against his bonds. The father screams too—that he’ll pay Rocco back. Pay him back double. Triple, even. The ghoul brings down the cane again. There’s another gory crack. Two more screams. More drops of red, now over the ghoul’s tight-knuckled hands. He raises the cane again.

Again. Again. And again.

There’s no art to what the ghoul does. No finesse. Not even any spectacle. Just the sickening crunch of human bones shattering and white flesh being beaten red, then blue, then black. The man screams the entire time. The father finally just screams his son’s name, over and over as he sobs. “Paulie! Paulie! PAAAAUULLIEEE!” The son’s cries grow increasingly raw, hoarse, and unintelligible. The ghoul’s body isn’t spattered with blood, but he really went to work on Paulie’s nose, and his hands drip red.

The smell in the air, even past blood’s heady coppery aroma, is exceedingly foul. Killing human beings is messy business even with efficient instruments, and a cane is not an efficient instrument. The father’s screams finally give way to broken sobs. It would be hard to call what comes next mercy, for the man’s fate is the same as his son’s. Just as long. Just as messy. Just as brutal. The ghoul with the red-slick hands wordlessly looks up at his boss once the all but pulverized corpse has stopped twitching.

The silence in the room is deafening.

Caroline doubts this is the first death any of the room’s Kindred room has witnessed. But the sheer abruptness, savagery, and lack of pretension or spectacle around the cold-blooded murders seems to have left the still-young vampires at an absence for words.

Their collective eyes slowly turn towards Rocco.

Caroline: Caroline’s glad she no longer eats: the scene might have made her lose her lunch. She’s killed, and more than once. But never so coldly. Never so brutally. Never so senselessly.

GM: Even more tellingly than their eyes, though, are the fangs jutting from the vampires’ lips. Already titillated by the far comelier and more enticing vessels, the room of predators cannot help but show themselves for what they are. Even the so-often smiling Becky Lynne displays two obvious white fangs past her lips.



It takes a moment before the gathered crowd seems to be conscious of that. That they are not merely stunned bystanders. A new feeling seems to slowly settle over many of the gathered Kindred, one that offers all the comfort of a soaked blanket:


Caroline: Caroline’s gaze sweeps the room, skips over Jocelyn’s toothy vestige, slides off Becky Lynne, tries to pretend she isn’t seeing what she’s seeing. Maybe it’s the smell, not quite right. Maybe it’s her relative ‘youth’. Her face is carved from marble and just as smooth.

GM: Jocelyn looks… uncertain, more than anything else. There’s shock, if not horror, but most of all, confusion. Her eyes have moved towards Rocco’s, as if in search of some answer. Some explanation to cast events in a new light.

Becky Lynne’s expression is simply present. Neither smiling nor frowning. Neither condemning nor approving. Neither soft nor hard. Simply present. Her eyes don’t waver from Rocco’s.

Rocco: Rocco watches the gory show with a bemused look in his eyes. His smile never leaves his face.

“We are monsters, but we are not monsters without reason,” the hound repeats leisurely. “I don’t take pleasure in death, but I won’t shy away from my nature as a wolf among sheep. These men thought they could cheat in my house without repercussion. They thought to gamble their lives and even their family’s lives. Why gamble something as precious as life for so very little?”

The hound taps his chin thoughtfully, continuing to smile to himself. He laughs lightly.

“I suppose it’s time I get straight to my point, however,” the hound continues, “but I do hope you enjoyed the little show.”

Hound Agnello motions for all eyes to move to Caroline. He also signals for Emily Rosure to be by his side. He takes Emily’s hand and offers it to Caroline.

“If you would accept this vessel as a token of my offer, Miss Malveaux,” the hound says, “will you pledge me a tenant’s oath of fealty?”

Caroline: It’s hardly the first time Caroline has been placed on the spot in a crowd, and though she’s grown quite adept and managing such things, she’s never grown particularly comfortable with it. It attacks her sense of control, her sense of power. She likes to know the itinerary ahead of time, to know the acts and motions before they ever come up. Not that Kindred society has let her do that yet.

She smiles, the expressions not quite reaching her eyes. Decisions and calculations made in an instant. She’s not quite surprised—it’s another move along the series she’s already seen from the hound. He likes to be in control, likes decisive action, likes to place others off balance, and simultaneously show his own power and influence. Very different from Donovan, in ways both good and ill. Unpredictable, but predictable in it.

Her gaze sweeps over the room, just once, building that second of anticipation for her answer. Respond too quickly and you risk appearing scripted, or overeager. Besides, it gives the crowd a moment to turn its gaze, for the slower thinkers to catch up to what is happening.

It’s not as though she has much choice right now. Even if she could decline, to do so here, now, in public, would make an enemy of the hound. He’s stacked the deck so heavily, boxed her in. It would hurt his pride. She has enemies enough right now. It does beg the question of why he’s so interested. Simply opportunistic? Part of another plot? Does he know? Questions that she doesn’t have answers to as she speaks.

“Hound Agnello, you do me too much the honor by asking.” The smile doesn’t slip.

She remembers her discussions with others about Rocco as a landlord. His preferences and inclinations. Her gaze bores into the hound.

“And with the details pending,” there’s a hint of a real smile there, “it would be my honor to accept.”

GM: The other nine Kindred don’t yet applaud, but look back towards Rocco once Caroline accepts. Attentions still seem half-split, or at least still somewhat shaken by the cold-blooded murders… this is no audience of jaded elders.

Rocco: Nonetheless, Rocco isn’t shy about showing violence to neonates. It does them good.

“That is an excellent answer, Miss Malveaux,” he says, clearly pleased with the outcome. He gives Emily’s hand to Caroline, offering the vessel to Caroline as a token of their public, newly-formed agreement.

He then turns to the rest of the gathered neonates.

“Business is done,” the hound says with a humorous lilt to his voice, “and so I encourage you all to simply enjoy yourselves now.”

Rocco then steps away from the limelight, casually disentangling himself from Caroline and the Storyville Krewe.

GM: “Then might we begin by offerin’ our congratulations to Miss Malveaux on her new tenancy. And to you, Hound Agnello, on your domain’s new tenant. May her pending oath bring much prosperity to you both,” Becky Lynne finally smiles as she offers a light round of applause. The other ten-some Kindred follow suit in clapping.

The ghoul, meanwhile, starts to carry off the two bodies.

Rocco approaches Amaryllis, and finds he needs to do very little cajoling to get Veronica’s childe to take the stage—though she does tease him about “flying by the seat of his pants.” But then, she continues, “that’s just how you do things, isn’t it? Shoot first. Ask questions never,” the Toreador purrs, running a hand along his chest.

At least she isn’t grabbing him by the balls.

“Hey… Angel Eyes! Hol’ up tha’ skank, s’my turn on the stage!” slurs a voice.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa. That’s the first comparison Rocco can’t help but draw with the thin-waisted, willowy-figured young woman who’s swaying precariously in her tall heels as she addresses him. Her subsequent hiccup and clearly inebriated state as she swishes from a bottle of something alcoholic only further cements the impression that she’s about to topple over. She’s hazel-eyed and dark-haired, and features that would normally be pretty if not sultry are bleary and unfocused from drink.

“You don’t look like you could even find your way up,” Amaryllis scoffs.

“Wash’ me!” the newcomer slurs. Without waiting for any response from Rocco, she stumbles her way up to the microphone set by the piano. The seated player starts to say something before she waves her bottle precariously close to his head, spilling a small stream of booze over his shirt.

“Geez, lady-!”

The woman grabs up the microphone. “I heard thish ’un from a… nother singer I… like…”

She takes another pull from the bottle.

“Like uh flower… ben’ing in th’… breezhe, dansh wi’ me… make me…”

“No, fuck, ish ‘ben wi’ me’,” she mumbles, taking another pull. “Beeeeen’ wimne, swaaaay wi’ me… no, ease… fuck it.”

“When we dance you have a waaaaaay wimme…”
“Staaaay wimme… swaaaay… wimme…”
“Staaaay with… me, swaaaaay with mee…”
“Sw… swaaaay, with…”

The woman’s voice falters as her face turns green. She abruptly drops the bottle, which shatters as it hits the floor, then doubles over and throws up.

“Oh, god!” the piano player exclaims, recoiling in disgust. The looks on the room’s gathered Kindred acutely mirror his own. Only the dressed-up vessels continue to smile vacantly.

The woman screams as she lands bottom-first on the bottle’s clear fragments, though it also might be over the vomit messily running down the front of her tight dress. She drunkenly tries to half-crawl, half-drag herself away from the glass-littered floor, screaming “ows!” but only succeeds in further cutting her hands and thighs. A coppery red aroma bleeds across the room. She slumps to a stop, holds up her cut and vomit-smeared hands, and abruptly starts crying.

“Oh, g-god! God! OH, G-GOD!”

Caroline: It’s like dropping a bag of dimes in a room full of Goldenbergs. Caroline awkwardly watches the scene, waiting on someone to claim their ghoul.

GM: No one does. The Kindred in the room, even entwined with their vessels, cannot help but stop and stare at the scene. A bizarre blend of equal parts disgust and arousal is written on many faces.

“What the hell is this?” Roxanne snaps over the woman’s crying.

Caroline: “A lost lamb?” Caroline offers with a hint of amusement in her voice.

GM: Arzilla laughs. “Your bad luck, lil’ lamb…”

Caroline: “Is it?”

Caroline’s heels click across the floors. She draws to a stop before the sobbing mortal. So close the blood in the air is so tempting, even to the well-fed Ventrue.

GM: The smashed-drunk woman only seems to half-take in the vampires’ talk as she wipes her hands over her dress. She blearily looks up as Caroline approaches.

Caroline: “You seem to have lost your drink,” she observes, not unkindly. “I guess it’s that kind of party.”

GM: “Oh, g-god, I’m a m-mess…” the woman whines softly.

Rocco: A small, sympathetic smile crosses Hound Agnello’s face as he approaches the prone figure of the drunk, nonsensical singer. His words come soft and soothing.

“Miss Matranga,” he says, helping the woman up and holding her steady, “do you want some help to the bathroom so you can get cleaned up, so you can perform?” He ignores the blood-hungry eyes watching the exchange.

GM: The rugged-looking ghoul who beat the two men to death also moves to steady the woman.

“She’s drunk off her ass, boss. Again. She should be in bed.”

The woman grogs as the two pull her up. The heady scent of her vitae wafts up Rocco’s nostrils. He has not taken a vessel for his own.

Rocco: Hound Agnello gives the handsome ghoul a blank, almost-unreadable look, nodding his head softly.

“You’re right, Guilo,” he answers, finally looking around to smile devilishly at all the curious onlookers. “Thank you for your concern, and do I hope you’ll forgive my short absence while I take Miss Matranga to bed. Please continue to enjoy yourselves and I promise to return shortly.” He motions for Guilo to help carry the singer to the elevator.

GM: Guilo pulls one of her arms around his shoulder, letting Rocco do the same with her other one. ‘Miss Matranga’ groans and says something unintelligible. The elevator doors close over the three’s faces.

For a moment, with the cat away, the mice are left free to make play.

Wednesday night, 23 September 2015, PM

GM: But the cat is not that far off. Perhaps sensing the imminence of his return, the gathered Kindred limit themselves to gawking over the recent spectacle. Wyatt remarks the woman probably isn’t going to come back. Gwen says she might, depending what sins she’s guilty of. Roxanne scoffs that she’s guilty of making a mess of herself in public, for one. Arzilla snickers that she thought it was funny. Andy concurs. The two nameless black Kindred say nothing, but look towards Amaryllis when she takes the microphone. The Toreador’s song prompts Jocelyn to muse about the starkly illustrated differences between Kindred and mortal performers. There was art in this, in a way. Arzilla laughs that “you divas would find art in your own shit, if you still shat out any.” “Aren’t you sewer rats the ones rolling in shit?” Jocelyn retorts. The back-and-forth, however, ends once Rocco returns. Becky Lynne initiates another round of polite applause once Amaryllis steps down. “That was lovely, Miss DeCur, just lovely.”

All the present Kindred partake of their vessels. Some, like Amaryllis, take slowly and savoringly. Others like Andrew chow down once, lapping up as much blood as they can, as fast as they can. Becky Lynne takes sups from her vessel at a more measured pace, perhaps little surprise to Rocco when he spots Andrew drinking from the scantily-attired kine he’d selected for the Ventrue. Nevertheless, Matheson’s childe makes no mention of it to Rocco or his own progeny. Caroline, however, may be pleased to note the presence of a dark-skinned, sultry- (if somewhat worn-)looking woman who tastes ‘like college’ to her refined palate.

No one drinks too deeply. Once the last Kindred have finished partaking of their vessels, they look towards Rocco to see if he has anything else planned. In the event that he does not, the Gangrel’s guests listen politely to his parting words, thank him for the enjoyable evening, promise to invite him to events of their own, and then make their way out. Becky Lynne and Roxanne offer further congratulatory words on his new tenant (and to Caroline on her new lord) that the other Creoles swiftly echo. Gwen compliments Rocco on the fine and specific quality of the vessels chosen. Even Arzilla agrees with that.

Those Kindred whom Rocco wishes to meet with after the party are agreeable, and either pull out phones or summon their ghouls to keep occupied until the hound is available.

Jocelyn doesn’t waste a moment as she makes her way up to Caroline and furiously whispers, “Did you hear him, earlier? He knows something about Evan!”

Caroline: Caroline is more skeptical. “Maybe, or perhaps it was bait on a hook.”

GM: Jocelyn shakes her head. “Rocco wouldn’t just make something up, not if he was actually gonna trade it for a boon or whatever. You’ve got to make him spill—this could be our big break!”

Caroline: Our big break. Caroline tries to hide the sting from the fact that even in the inclusive word, she’s been excluded in truth.

“I’ll talk to him… maybe pitch it as aligning with his desires.”

GM: “Whatever it takes,” Jocelyn repeats. “The Baron being behind it would make so much sense. No wonder Wells didn’t turn up anything.”

Caroline: “Why does the Baron make more sense?” Caroline asks, quietly nursing her own theory.

GM: “Because we’ve harassed a bunch of voodoo gangbangers in the Ninth.”

Caroline: “So, payback? Abduct one of yours?” Caroline nods her head from side to side. “That might make sense, but why not do anything other than abduct?”

GM: Jocelyn falls quiet. After the amount of time that’s gone by, she’s clearly hoping that all the Baron did was abduct him.

Caroline: Caroline bites her lower lip. “Sorry. I’ll dig into it.”

GM: “I guess you have some leverage. He really seemed like he wanted you to join the krewe.”

Caroline: “Yeah, he’s been… oddly helpful. Or at least interested. Controlling,” Caroline offers.

GM: “Wonder why?”

Caroline: “Me too,” Caroline offers more darkly.

Thursday night, 24 September 2015, AM

GM: “Hound Agnello, now what can I do for you?” Becky Lynne smiles at the hound after the pair have made their way down to his shipping container ‘office’ after the party’s dispersal.

“I certainly hope it’s somethin’ by which I can show my appreciation for these past few hours of fine entertainment and finer company.”

Rocco: “You’re certainly a credit to your sire, Miss Adler,” the hound responds with genuine smile, offering a seat to the Southern belle.

“I can say with the utmost confidence that the party would have been dimmer without your presence, and for that presence I am thankful. I was hoping to discuss the recent trial and wish to know your thoughts.”

GM: Becky Lynne gracefully assumes a seat opposite of the hound.

“I’d say you’re much too kind, Hound Agnello. But my mama always taught me never to spur another’s kindness, so I’ll simply say I’m much obliged.”

“And my goodness, the trial, now where does one even begin.” The Ventrue taps her chin as she gathers her thoughts. “I’m very grateful that Prince Vidal found my sire innocent, of course, and showed such clemency to my brother. There’s no beatin’ around the bush over it either, Mr. Smith said some very contentious things. But the Invictus won’t soon forget His Majesty’s verdict towards one of the Prima Invicta, nor will I. Whether the times ahead are easy or hard, it’s my hope that the events of last week will remind our covenants of their common bonds and inspire even closer relations.”

Rocco: “I agree. Very contentious. I understand Mr. Smith was close to your sire before recent events obviously got out of hand,” the hound says casually, “as he was the one to interview the neonates that visited your sire at his plantation. In any event, I admit the main reason I wished to speak to you tonight is that I am worried that the lies Mr. Smith told will create trouble for you. I want to make sure that Prince Vidal’s verdict is respected.”

Hound Agnello then asks bluntly, “Do you know if anybody is targeting you personally or your sire’s interests in reprisal of the verdict?”

GM: “Oh, Hound Agnello, that makes feel just so good that the Guard de Ville is concerned for my safety,” beams Becky Lynne. “I’m sure y’all have a million things on your plates right now.”

“If I had to expect trouble from anyone, I’d expect it of Mr. Savoy’s people or the Anarchs who’ve also taken up with him,” the Ventrue answers. “I don’t know that I’ve been targeted by anyone specifically, but the possibility hasn’t escaped my sire or brother-in-blood.” She smiles again. “I feel like a lucky girl to have such concerned family.”

“As for my sire, I suspect he’d be a target of reprisal before me in some ways, and after me in others—he’s the one who His Majesty’s dissenters are so spittin’ mad over, but also a less convenient target than I am.”

She gives a little laugh. “I’m sure none of this is news to the Guard de Ville, though, y’all didn’t get where you are by only havin’ only one oar in the water. I wish I had more to pass up.”

Rocco: Rocco gives a soft, boyish laugh. “I apologize for my bluntness, but I assure you I only ask with yours and your kin’s welfare in mind. I can’t allow anyone to undermine Prince Vidal’s judgment. I only ask, Miss Adler, that you let your sire know of my concern and let him know that he can count on me as an ally at this time. In that regard, I was also hoping to set up a meeting with your sire to thank him personally for helping me out with a spot of recent bother.”

GM: “Oh, I should offer my own apologies, Hound Agnello, if I gave the impression any were needed! My mama always said to never apologize for carin’, and I don’t reckon you should either.”

She smiles at the Gangrel’s subsequent statement and request. “My sire and I won’t forget who our friends are, Hound Agnello—and I hope you know you can count on us, too. I’ll be only too glad to arrange a meetin’ between you and my sire. If I might ask as to what times would be most convenient…”

Becky Lynne listens to Rocco rattle off the next convenient openings in his schedule, then says she will see which times are most convenient for her sire.

Rocco: “Very kind of you, Miss Adler.”

The hound adds as an afterthought, “I am curious, is your sire still looking for neonates to give him company?”

GM: Becky Lynne laughs. “Oh, right now he’s more than willin’ to bear the solitude, lest any further meetings give rise to more bad rumors. He’s being very careful about that sort thing right now. If any neonates have the inclination to seek him out, I think he’d prefer if they met him in coteries—or better yet, accompanied by older Kindred. Just so there’s less basis for rumors.”

Rocco: “I only ask with my own childe Andrew in mind,” the hound replies.

GM: “Perhaps the two of you might make the trip out together? A long drive is so much shorter with fond company,” Becky Lynne smiles.

Rocco: “I like the sound of that.”

GM: The Ventrue inclines her head. “I’m so very pleased to hear, Hound Agnello.” She supplies him with a phone number. “You can give me a ring after you and Mr. Philips have hashed out schedules, how does that sound?”

Rocco: “Very good, Miss Adler,” he says, returning the polite gesture. “I am finished with my business. Is there anything further you wish to discuss with me?”

GM: Matheson’s childe nods. “Oh yes, just one last itty-bitty thing—there was a bit of a mix-up on my way over to your party, and I arrived a few minutes before it was due to start. If your people think they made me wait and are frettin’ over it, I just want you to know they don’t need to—the fault was mine. In the future I’ll try to be more punctual so as not to spook them.” She smiles. “That isn’t advice just for tardy folks.”

Rocco: Hound Agnello gives the Southern belle an understanding, apologetic look in response. His angel eyes twinkle with apparent sincerity.

“I will certainly let them know, Miss Adler,” Rocco responds, getting the real message, “and thank you for your patience and will see to it that you’re invited earlier on purpose in lieu of waiting at all in the future.”

He smiles, then rises from his seat, waiting for Becky Lynne to take her leave.

GM: Becky Lynne smiles and rises in turn.

“Good things come to those who wait, it’s said—and I’d say an early invite to Hound Agnello’s next soiree more than qualifies.”

She dips into a curtsy and exchanges final pleasantries, re-stating that she will contact Rocco soon with her sire’s answer, and takes her leave.

Thursday night, 24 September 2015, AM

Rocco: Rocco summons Caroline to meet with him next. Simon tells her that it’ll be at Hound Agnello’s office. The ‘office’ is located inside a shipping container beneath Harrah’s New Orleans in its employee’s underground car park. The exterior is a cold, industrial blue, although its inside has been refurbished expensively.

Rocco stands to one side, stroking his chin thoughtfully. He smiles leisurely as Caroline enters, gesturing for her to take a seat next to her vessel of the night: Emily Rosure. A tall ghoul with a slim build stands behind the bar and polishes glasses. He stares unflinchingly.

GM: The ghoul is a gaunt-faced man with thinning, slicked-back hair. A pair of round spectacles remain precariously perched on the end of his slightly hooked nose. He wears a dark suit, and bowtie, and a simultaneously thoughtful and unctuous expression that leaves his brow in a seemingly permanent crease. He remains silent in the vampires’ presences.

corbusier.jpg Rocco: There is a pause as Rocco waits for Caroline to sit or stand. “Do you want a drink, Miss Malveaux?” the hound asks, smiling wryly.

Caroline: Caroline slinks into the offered seat with feline grace. Her almost lackadaisical motions belie a coiled energy. Her gaze sweeps over the too-stoic ghoul after taking in the container. It’s a unique setting, bizarrely dark and morbid in its offered exterior. She distantly wonders if that’s more for effect, or if he’s ever actually had the container moved for convenient meetings.

She smiles at last. “I think not yet, Hound Angello. Business before pleasure.”

She tries to keep the chill of it out of her mind, tries to keep the blood of the young woman beside her off her mind—aided only by how off she smells. Like overripe fruit. Rotten.

Between the setting, the young woman beside her, and the casual brutality of the evening already, to say nothing of being homeless for the first time in her life, her nerves are already worn thin.

Rocco: “Thank you for your directness, Miss Malveaux,” the hound answers, turning to face the statuesque blonde more properly.

His smile wavers. “I hope you found some interest in my choice of vessel for you tonight. I hope you can forgive that she does not fit your tastes, although bringing her here serves a salient point.”

He then asks, “What is your relationship with Emily Rosure?”

GM: Emily stares sleepily ahead. She’s still ‘dressed’ in the same tightly crisscrossed strips of cashmere leather that reveals more than it conceals. Her heavy rouge and blood-red lipstick looks a bit smeared and her hair is somewhat mussed.

Caroline: “Hardly your fault, Hound Agnello. Some of us are just picky.”

“As to Ms. Rosure,” Caroline turns to face the whored-up girl, “she attended several undergraduate classes with me before taking her current position. I’d stayed in touch—family habit, I suppose, of cultivating potential assets—though I’d not characterize our relationship as particularly close.”

Rocco: Rocco frowns, shaking his head in a disapproving manner. His tone remains patient, though.

“You won’t succeed without being more careful than that, Miss Malveaux. Emily Rosure is an employee of Tulane Medical Center. Tulane Medical Center is the domain of the Krewe of Janus. I am not unfamiliar with your attempt to cultivate potential assets within the police force. I don’t want to see you repeat the same mistakes, especially now that I am inviting you into my domain. Do we have an understanding?”

Caroline: Caroline sets her expression in stone.

“Hound Angello, it almost sounds as though you’re accusing me of deliberately cultivating assets within the Krewe’s center of influence despite having had no contact with her since my Embrace.”

Rocco: “I don’t have time for your games, Miss Malveaux,” Rocco answers blandly, “but I will make note that your legal mind is exactly the reason I am interested in you as a tenant and see you as a potential asset. I will say upfront that I have not seen an outright breach of domain, but I want to make a point that your direct and indirect actions as of late are not beyond the scope of my notice. I will also note that hard evidence isn’t a factor if the Krewe of Janus decide to act against you. They can act against you with impunity, although I would prefer you give them no reason to. If you don’t want to see any negative backlash from the Krewe of Janus, will you accept some advice?”

Caroline: “If your guidance was intended as an intervention, Hound Agnello, perhaps it would have been more effective prior to the sheriff’s delivery of a dear friend’s head to me in a box without warning, along with at tripling of my corvée for the week.”

The Ventrue’s eyes are clear of anger, but there’s something else there.

Rocco: “I am sure you have more dear friends, Miss Malveaux,” the hound replies, “and I am sure you don’t want to see their heads being delivered to you in a box, as well.”

He indicates the blank-faced Emily Rosure is off to the side.

“I am not your enemy. I am offering my patronage, but trying to teach someone unwilling to learn does get tedious after a while. In any case, I suggest you offer the Krewe of Janus an apology in case of any offense you caused. You don’t have to take my advice, of course—but I think it’s the most expedient way for you to preempt any potential reprisal.”

Caroline: Caroline’s expression shifts to more wary, and a bite of anger takes a chunk out of her composure. the hound’s words might as well have been followed by an ‘or else.’

Rocco: Rocco pauses a moment, taking in Caroline’s reaction. He then continues, “I will also offer some advice in regard to using mortals belonging to someone else’s domain. Say you want Emily Rosure to make an appearance at a party you’re throwing, it’d be prudent to ask the Krewe of Janus if that’s all right with them while offering them a boon in payment for that service.”

Rocco leans back, comfortably clasping his hands together with an oddly warm smile on his face.

“Do we have an understanding?” he asks, cheerfully. “I would very much like to move forward and talk about the terms of your tenancy.”

Caroline: The Ventrue ‘heiress’ stares at the older Kindred. There’s something different about him, something since the last meeting they had at Perdido House, when Autumn and Aimee and Gabriel were at the center of attention. When he’d seemed… less aggressive in his interactions.

Part of her wonders if it’s a product of her release, if he’s simply less ‘accepting of errors’ if she’s supposed to be one of the Damned. But she also remembers the expressions on the faces of the other Kindred during the father and son murders earlier. Not the hunger and excitement that came later as the blood flowed. The surprise and discomfort.

Whatever the cause, it’s not worth fighting, not worth swimming up river against, not when he’s already displayed the lengths he’ll go to wrangle her into this position. Not anymore. It’s not as though he’s actually listening, or anyone is watching. She’s made her point, for what it’s worth. He can push her around, shove her, force her. Tonight he holds all the cards. But if that’s what he wishes it, he’ll have to push.

“I certainly hope so, Hound Agnello,” she replies to his question, making no commitment. “But yes, let us move onto more personal matters. You did, after all, go through significant trouble to make that discussion possible, Hound Agnello. How many I be of use?”

Rocco: Rocco leans back, giving Caroline a self-satisfied smirk. “Good.”

He asks, “Are you at all familiar with a man in the Orleans Parish Prison named Salustio Matranga, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: “I have,” Caroline answers. “A mob boss whose trial hasn’t rolled around yet.”

Rocco: “I have a vested interest in seeing that this man is free from prison. Now,” Rocco continues, casually, “the problem is I am no lawyer. I can certainly hire mortal ones, but there is a distinct advantage in utilizing a Kindred lawyer like yourself.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “I could certainly see that position, however I find it difficult to believe that all of this has been for the sake of a single mob boss.” She smiles. “Certainly it would have been easier to offer a boon in that case.”

Rocco: “What lengths would Father Malveaux go to protect his own vested interest in any one of your family members?” Rocco asks rhetorically. “I have political reasons for not wanting to offer a boon to the one impeding Salustio’s freedom. The chief reason is that it’s a direct rival of mine.”

Caroline: Caroline smirks. “I’m sorry, you mistake my meaning, Hound Agnello. I meant it would seem to have been easier to offer a boon to myself, or to the sheriff, for my services, rather than go through the trouble of having me evicted for the sake of a single trial.”

Rocco: “You are correct, then,” Rocco freely admits without losing his smile. “It may have been easier.”

The Ganrel rubs the bottom of his chin for a few moments with a musing expression. He then returns his brown eyes to Caroline. “In any case, this is what I have in mind for our tenancy agreement…”

The terms of Rocco’s tenancy are straightforward: he will grant feeding rights to Caroline, allowing her to hunt in his domain with the exceptions of Harrah’s and Fulton Street. Caroline will also be allowed to make a haven and conduct business in Rocco’s domain, too—so long as any influence she attempts to cultivate is vetted through the hound first. In corvée, Rocco wants a simple favor every week.

GM: The ghoul behind the counter seems to have finished polishing his glasses. He doesn’t make any polite pretense of re-cleaning them. He just stares at Caroline. The terms of Rocco’s tenancy are straightforward, but unlike last time, the Ventrue is aware that haggling over those terms is also allowed.

Emily continues to stare vacantly ahead.

Caroline: Caroline’s terms in response are not complicated: she wants assets and resources cultivated in the domain unmolested and (certainly) not revoked over spats. She wants her services to him to him not others without prior arrangement. She also wants reciprocity on terminating their arrangement and lead time if such becomes necessary. It’s rather clear that her experience with Donovan in which she was granted essentially nothing then summarily evicted without notice has scarred her.

She is also rather clear, upfront, that she intends on accumulating significant influence, and that let to do so, she’ll be among the most useful of tenants, one that only ever increases in value and power, but if his intentions are to keep her in a box, he’s sought the wrong neonate out.

Rocco: Rocco smiles at Caroline’s desire to be a useful tenant, but is rather prickly on the idea of letting her cultivate any influence she wants. In combination with Caroline’s ability to terminate their agreement on a whim, that would disadvantage the Gangrel rather significantly.

As Rocco continues to listen to Caroline’s demands, baring an unreadable, easy smile, he looks to his willowy ghoul.

“Can you please get Annabelle, Corbin?” he asks.

GM: “Right away, boss,” the ghoul quietly responds with a thinner, almost vulture-like smile. He doesn’t stride so much as slink away.

Rocco: The hound turns back to Caroline with a glint in his eye. His smile has grown just a little.

“Forgive my pause in our talk, Miss Malveaux. I thought it would be prudent to receive my herald as she will be handling the bulk of my dealings with you,” he explains.

In a matter of moments, Rocco’s raven-haired herald is let into the ‘negotiating room’. A gloomy, subdued smile rests on her face as she’s directed by the hound to take a seat next to her domitor. Corbin reenters the room, closing the door behind him as he slinks back behind his counter.

The hound turns to Annabelle, smiling affectionately. “I was hoping you could help with the negotiations taking place between Miss Malveaux and I, Bella. I am peckish and can’t help being distracted.” His eyes linger on Emily’s neck.

“Of course, Hound Agnello,” Annabelle answers demurely. She gives Caroline a neutral smile and effortlessly takes over where her domitor left off.

Caroline: Caroline attempts to build her case for tenancy, to lay out her own desires and requests. She’s summarily taken apart by the ghoul, with the backing of the hound, who lays out demands and summarily dismisses Caroline’s own with equal ease.

In the end, between her prior agreement to be his tenant and his overwhelming positional authority, there’s little she can do. In another circumstance she’d walk out. Instead she agrees to his terms.

When they’ve finished ‘negotiations’ on tenancy Caroline turns the topic back to the Storyvilles. “You’d alluded to knowing something about the disappearance of one of their members, Hound Angello.”

Rocco: the hound’s herald bows her head, eyeing her domitor wistfully as he reenters the conversation. The young man’s demeanor is like a cat who’s had their fill of milk.

“I did,” Rocco says, “but I have no interest in helping anyone who has no interest in helping me.”

Caroline: “And what of myself, rather than for them?” Caroline asks.

Rocco: Rocco leans forward, eyes studying Caroline more seriously.

“What’s your interest in the matter, Caroline?” he asks.

Caroline: “Other than the question of the welfare of one of the faithful?” Caroline asks with some innocence. “It is not difficult to see why the Storyvilles would be both preoccupied with their own matters with one of their own missing—they’d be a poor krewe if such were not a foremost concern—but also reluctant to take on a neonate with little public or private credit to their name.”

“And whether or not they were willing to change their minds in light of, say, uncovering evidence related to their missing member or not, doing so could only improve my standing among others in the Sanctified as a whole. To say nothing of how it would give me a reason to meet with many others among the Sanctified under a… respectable pretense.”

Rocco: Rocco appears unconvinced by Caroline’s rhetoric, but sighs a little as he relents.

“I know where Evan Bourelle was last seen, who he was last seen with,” Rocco admits, “but a little more legwork is necessary.”

The hound rubs his chin. “I would be willing to trade these two pieces of information for a price, of course.”

“I want you to procure a ghoul for me. The ghoul goes by the name of Mabel and is currently in the Storyville Krewe’s care. Are you interested?”

Caroline: “Interested, certainly, Hound Agnello,” Caroline replies smoothly.

Rocco: “Good. Our business is concluded, then.”

Caroline: The heiress makes her polite withdrawal.

The meeting’s fruits aren’t everything she hoped for, but they’re better than she had when she came in.

Previous, by Narrative: Story Seven, Isa I
Next, by Narrative: Story Seven, Caroline IV

Previous, by Caroline: Story Seven, Caroline II
Next, by Caroline: Story Seven, Caroline IV

Previous, by Rocco: Story Six, Caroline XII, Jacob I, Rocco II
Next, by Rocco: Story Seven, Isa III, Rocco II

Story Seven, Caroline II

“‘If all the world’s a stage, the set pieces in ours are all blacks and grays. It’s so rare that one gets to don a white costume.”
René Baristheaut

Wednesday afternoon, 23 September 2015

GM: It’s the same fatal heart attack in reverse that it was last time. Caroline’s body is numb, as if every part of it but her brain is asleep. Then she feels blood shooting through her arteries (her heart does not beat), her paralyzed limbs tingling and growing flush.

There’s a loud banging sound against the wood. “Wake up, Caroline. Wake up.”

Caroline: The Ventrue recognizes the grogginess of another day awakening and stirs, her eyes snapping own with the wariness of a cornered predator.

GM: Her mother stares down at her. She doesn’t waste any time as she continues, “Get up. This place is compromised. Matt’s about to know you’ve trashed his house. Well, even more compromised.”

Caroline: “What?” She works her way warily to her feet. “What time is it?”

GM: “It’s 2 PM. Luke came by your house and saw what state it was in.”

Caroline: “Of course he did.” She bites her lip. “I guess it makes sense I’d get evicted on both ends.”

GM: Her mother’s arms are crossed as Caroline hauls herself out of the floor. Looking up, Claire’s face looks extremely irritated.

Caroline: “What?” Caroline asks stiffly. Defensively.

GM: “Do you remember what I said last night? To touch base with the rest of the family?”

Caroline: “Do you remember that we were talking until after 10 and most of them don’t keep my same hours and that midnight messages on a Tuesday don’t go over well?” her daughter responds.
“I’d planned to do it tonight.”

GM: “Messages at midnight don’t go over well? Well, as it turns out, what goes over even worse is displaying no reaction to news of your brother’s death for a whole of two days. Especially after I’ve already played the ‘misplaced phone’ excuse for you.”

Caroline: “I didn’t have a good answer,” Caroline replies. “‘Sorry I didn’t respond sooner, let’s meet in 20 hours and I won’t respond all day again because my schedule is too full without a job or school?’ seemed in poor taste.”

GM: Claire only shakes her head. “I already told the family I’d come by and given you the news. In any case, Roger is coming by to ‘check on things’, and he’s going to expect to see you here. As the narrative I spun last time had you lying in bed all day. Now, after Roger comes over, Matt is also probably coming by to see what the damage is to his house. What do you want to do?”

Caroline: Caroline could scream in frustration. “How bad is it downstairs?”

GM: “Better than yesterday, I suppose.”

Caroline: “I can’t exactly go down and greet them under the circumstances… and in some ways this may be better than the alternative.” She shakes her head. “The meeting with the sheriff did not go well last night.”

GM: Her mother waits.

Caroline: “I’ve been bought out of my lease in Riverbend and have until 4 AM tomorrow to leave. Any future visits will be treated with hostility.”

GM: “All right. So what do you want to do right now?”

Caroline: Caroline digs in the floor near where she rested and pulls out a small bag from which she produces her rental car keys. “Park it on the street. I wasn’t here when you got here. I don’t expect Roger is going to go searching the attic for me. We can try to manage fallout tonight. Something about how distressed I was over the news.” She looks at her mother. “Unless you have a better answer? ‘Hi Uncle Matt, sorry I can’t leave the hall or approach any windows.’”

GM: “This was entirely avoidable,” her mother scowls as she takes the keys. “What if Matt tries to call you? Missing and still not answering your phone?”

Caroline: “I’ll stay up. Or try to,” Caroline responds. “But tonight isn’t much better. I have meetings with the Albino and Savoy at 9 and 10.”

GM: “The family isn’t going to get off your back just because it isn’t convenient for your schedule,” her mother angrily repeats. “They’re extremely alarmed over you right now, Caroline. God only knows what stories are spreading that I’m not hearing. At this point, faking your death definitely seems for the best, given what a poor job you’ve done at maintaining your kind’s Masquerade.”

Caroline: The words hit her harder than a slap, and Caroline falls very silent.

GM: “And that doesn’t just affect you,” her mother continues. “You put the entire family at risk when you do that. Do you remember what happened last time, when Gabriel and Aimee looked too closely into your odd behavior?”

Caroline: She knows her mother is hurting. She knows that she’s trying to put on a brave face. Knows all that she has going on, the danger she’s facing and the horror of her daughter as one of the beings she’s sent most of her life hunting.

And despite that knowing, it doesn’t hurt any less when her mother throws her ‘failures’ in her face. She wants to lash out. Wants to throw hurtful words back. Wants to accuse her mother just as cruelly of not protecting her, not protecting Westley, and never even giving them a chance to protect themselves. She wants to scream that she didn’t ask for any of this, that none of it has been fair. That every night of her Requiem has been twisted and pulled upon by her sire and his servants to ruin it, to ruin her. That she’s been tortured, beaten, and mind-raped a dozen times over. That she’s been hunted and victimized. That every morning she struggles to find a reason to crawl back into the darkness instead of meeting the rising sun.

She wants to scream that none of it has gone her way, and that all of her plans have been ruined with a brutal disregard that could not have been more targeted to destroy them if it had been completely intentional. That she doesn’t set meetings or decide upon her freedoms. That it isn’t her fault. She wants to break down and weep. She wants someone to hold her like she was held, if only so rarely, as a child and tell her things are going to be all right. She wants to explain everything she’s endured and hear sympathy, not scorn. She wants to talk about what she still has to do and hear reassurance instead of threats. She wants to believe it will get better. She needs to believe it will get better. That there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

She shoves away her wants. She shoves away her needs. “I know,” she replies instead. “I know.”

GM: Silence lingers between the two. What the past few weeks have been like her mother, Caroline can approximate. What’s passed through her mother’s head then, and what passes through it now, the younger Malveaux cannot say.

“Do you? Because that doesn’t seem to have stopped you from putting their lives in danger yet again,” her mother finally answers. “Simply touching base with the family was all that I asked! I have enough going on in my life, including my existing responsibilities, setting your dead brother’s affairs in order, maintaining my own double life, and dealing with the fact that I blew my cover—for you—to also uphold the Masquerade in your place because you’re too damn careless or lazy! Grow up and stop throwing your problems onto other people!”

Caroline: If her mother’s first words hit like a slap, her followup cuts more readily than any knife. She grinds her teeth rather than let a reply escape.

GM: Her mother doesn’t quite sigh or glower. “What are you going to do tonight after you’ve talked with Matt?”

Caroline: Caroline holds back her response for a moment longer, biting down her anger and her pride. “Try to fit a meeting with members in the family in before the meeting with the Albino. Meet the Albino. Meet Savoy. Then try to find out where I’m going to sleep tomorrow.”

GM: “I still have a suite at the Monteleone, in the Quarter. I can’t imagine Savoy is in the habit of turning down favors younger leeches ask of him.”

Caroline: “I’m sure he isn’t, but even a visit with him is dangerous, much less asking favors.”

GM: Her mother shrugs. “I have somewhere else to be. Is there anything else I should know?”

Caroline: “The sheriff wants a direct line to you.”

GM: “Out of the question,” Claire responds.

Caroline: “So I told him. He threatened my execution if not arranged. When I objected further he threw me out.” Caroline doesn’t quite shrug,

GM: “I suppose I can see why he’d want a direct line, even beyond the usual reasons. I doubt he trusts you to so much as feed on victims unsupervised.”

Caroline: Again, the cruelty of her words bites at Caroline. Again the Ventrue bites back her tongue.

GM: “Do you think he was bluffing?”

Caroline: Caroline gives another not quite shrug. “I don’t know. He’s impossible to read. Probably not, but I don’t know if it’s his decision to make. It depends on how broadly ‘ceases to cooperate’ is interpreted. On the other hand, I can’t ask you to meet with him, even if it didn’t utterly compromise our position to do so.”

GM: Her mother thinks. “I will talk with him over the phone—your phone. And no, I won’t buy a disposable either, not when it means I’d still have to keep it near me. In return, I want my son’s body.”

Caroline: Caroline looks away. “I’ll pitch it.”

GM: “No physical meetings, Caroline,” Claire answers pointedly. “If he insists on that, then we’ll find out whether he was bluffing.”

Caroline: Caroline gives her best ‘bitch please’ look. “If you think I’d agree to that, you think even less of me than I ever thought.”

GM: “All right,” her mother says tiredly, rubbing her brow, “I have to go. I’ll call you later tonight.”

Caroline: “You have my itinerary,” Caroline replies.

GM: Claire takes her leave. Caroline crawls back into her hiding place. She feels so tired, and alone in the dark space, even uncomfortable as it is, it’s so hard not to fall back asleep. Eventually, though, her phone rings. The caller ID is her Uncle Matt’s.

Caroline answers in a groggy daze, half-registering the sounds of his voice asking what in God’s name happened to his house. Caroline makes out some further remarks that the first floor looks as if it’s been picked clean by jackals, while the second looks as if Katrina hit it.

She grogs something about not being able to handle the news of her brother’s death and going out drinking until she blacked out, not wanting to face the family. Matt says something about Caroline having gone ‘in’ drinking. He heard about that party she threw from her mother. The burning sun glares down from overhead. All the insulation in the world doesn’t feel like it’s enough as Caroline dimly registers her uncle saying he wants her out of his house. He gives her a move-out date that doesn’t matter, since it’s more than 24 hours away.

“The family is talking, Caroline. I’m beginning to see why,” are his last words as he hangs up.

Caroline: Caroline lays back on an uncomfortable bed of insulating fiberglass and wooden beams, feeling as hollow as the bones of the home in which she resides, like there is nothing left of her but this shell.

Wednesday night, 23 September 2015, PM

GM: At 9 PM, Caroline drives to Perdido House for confession with Father Malveaux. The albino priest receives her in the same bare room with its mounted lance and wooden confessional booth. Caroline begins with the ever-familiar words of “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned,” as her deathless relative waits to her an accounting of her transgressions. He also waits to hear how she performed the penance he assigned her last week.

Caroline: Caroline elaborates on how she has made contact with the Storyville Krewe and remains in contact with them, with the intention of joining retarded only by the events of the trial that occupied the city as a whole. She relates that she has not killed any further victims for concerns about concealing such a killing given all other events ongoing, but has repeatedly fed from those that repeat their sins and actively sought out several sinners, including those that have threatened good god-fearing folk, and that she will perform that penance when she is certain that doing so will not endanger the Masquerade: perhaps with the krewe so as to continue her education.

GM: Father Malveaux questions Caroline for some length about the kine she fed upon. He learns that by all indication, the college students in her informal herd found the experience actively pleasurable, and if anything are even less inclined to mend their ways than they were before. He does not appear happy.

The father’s displeasure seems to fade. He even appears pleased when Caroline talks about the torments she inflicted on Mouse in punishment for his stalking behavior.

That impression vanishes instantly when he hears of his younger clanmate’s crisis of conscience and how she splint and bandaged the young musician’s hands.

The dark confession booth is heavy with silence.

“You are a hare who would pantomime the countenance of a wolf,” Father Malveaux finally snarls, his rasping voice livid with disdain.

Caroline: “Would you have me lie to you, Father?” Caroline bites back. I doubt very many hares have left so many bodies behind, she thinks inwardly.

GM: Not only does the albino priest find her latest efforts “pathetic,” he is also irate that Caroline has failed to do as he instructed. If she believed the penance he assigned was impossible, she was to make her case during her prior confession when he initially assigned it—not when it was due. “Nor is it your prerogative to decide whether an assigned penance warrants completion,” he hisses.

Father Malveaux does not believe Caroline is taking her duties to the covenant at all seriously. He is especially wroth that this latest failure is occurring so soon after she was initiated into the Sanctified—which the older Ventrue clearly views as a mistake.

Prince Vidal himself anointed your brow, welcomed you into the church with open arms, and this is how you would repay him! For the honor he has shown you!” the albino veritably spits, his reddish eyes burning like coals.

Caroline: “No,” Caroline replies firmly.

GM: “And yet, it is how you have,” Father Malveaux rasps hatefully. “Still your sniveling tongue! Your penance for next week remains the same. Fail to do as I have instructed a third time, and I will recommend your excommunication to our prince. No longer shall our church offer succor to those who are false in their faith! No longer shall we suffer apostates and heretics to poison the body of Longinus!”

“‘Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols?’”

Heavy silence descends upon the confession both.

“My patience with you is at its end, childe,” the albino priest finally rasps, his voice a low hiss.

“Mend your ways.”

Wednesday night, 24 September 2015, AM

GM: Caroline is treated to an all-out assault on her senses as she steps into the palatial Royal Street club. First, she hears laughter, then the sound of bawdy jazz carried through the place by means of a state-of-the-art sound system. The twin smells of smoke and alcohol are no less omnipresent, and the fine décor, done primarily in the style of France’s ancien regime, would leave any of her uncles feeling well at home. The sight that greets her is a large, loud room full of carousing men and women lounging around on seemingly priceless antiques while classical jazz plays in the background.

GM: A tall and extraordinarily handsome Creole man in a white tux rises with a grin and strides towards Caroline. “Miss Malveaux! Welcome to the Evergreen Plantation, my dear. How does the evening find you?”

Caroline: The Ventrue tries to keep the scene of her raving ancestor out of her mind. She tries not to think about his threats, about the many swords hanging above her neck. She smiles at the handsome ghoul. “Thank you, and well enough.”

It’s a mercy that her body will never show signs of aging. Signs of exhaustion. Signs of weakness. God knows she feels both, wrapped around her like a burial shroud and tied tightly.

GM: “Splendid,” the ghoul beams in answer. He then motions away from the club’s well-heeled patrons. “Please, madam, right this way. Lord Savoy will see you at once.”

Caroline: The contrast from her meetings with the agents of her sire could not be more stark. Her sire, who she has only ever seen, and never truly met. Who cannot spare a moment for her, much less a meeting.

GM: The Creole man escorts Caroline to an old-fashioned gilded elevator with an elaborate iron pull gate. A preserved 1863 ‘greyback,’ or Confederate dollar bill, is framed and mounted just above the gate.

Caroline: There’s an irony to that bill that isn’t lost on her. Once worth its face value, then worth nothing, now worth far more than it ever was in its own time.

GM: The man steps inside with Caroline and presses the ‘up’ button. There’s the usual, brief sensation of the ground sinking beneath her feet, and then rising. Jazz drifts from the club. There is no ‘ding’ sound as the elevator reaches its stop—its burnished doors merely open to a rooftop, open-air garden that affords a spectacular view of the New Orleans skyline. Statues of fallen angels, some brooding by themselves, others locked in passionate embraces with their fellow elohim, are nestled among the garden’s trees, rose bushes, magnolias, and other fragrant-smelling flora. Blue-, orange-, and red-winged butterflies fly past gold cages containing chirping songbirds with exotic plumages displaying every color in the rainbow. A short ways off from them, a French marble jacuzzi patterned to resemble the ocean floor sits invitingly. Soft fluorescent blue lights cast hazy patterns over the bubbling water. In contrast to the garden of Philip Maldonato, which struck Caroline as an intensely personal, private affair, Savoy’s is literally open to the entire city. It drinks up the glittering urban lights and basks in them. A white iron table and matching set of eight chairs contently lounge at the center of the peristyle, where they seat two figures.

The first is Antoine Savoy. The lord of the French Quarter wears a burgundy silk sports coat, immaculate white undershirt, black slacks, and anaconda scale loafers, slightly dressed down from his attire at church, but worn with the same casual, playboy-esque sense of easy luxury. As he converses with the garden’s other Kindred, Caroline hears him burst into laughter and smack his knee—a rich, hearty and belly-deep sound.

The other figure is the blonde Caroline recalls from the trial, who spoke but little. She wears a black business skirtsuit, white blouse, and pointed-toe black stilettos. Her thick glasses frame a face that looks merely dryly amused.

Savoy smiles readily and rises from his chair as he hears Caroline’s approaching footsteps. “Ah, Miss Malveaux! You look as enchanting as you did at the trial, though I dare say your spell over me grows by the night.” His eyes don’t leave hers as he bends to kiss her hand.

“Welcome to the Evergreen,” he murmurs when he releases it. “Can the servants get you anything? A splash of the good wine, perhaps?”

The Creole ghoul, meanwhile, silently pulls out Caroline’s chair for her.

Caroline: The elder Kindred’s reaction is as unexpected to Caroline as the sound of his laughter, and it takes her a moment to recover her footing as he rises to greet her, kisses her hand, and otherwise treats her as though she is a human being—or at least Kindred—rather than a dog in the process of making a mess on his floor. She smiles and responds, “Lord Savoy, your reputation for hospitality does not do you justice, but you’ve already done too much. I’m more than content simply with the pleasure of your company.”

She almost miraculously finds that it isn’t even, for perhaps the first time among one of the Damned, a lie.

GM: “Miss Malveaux, the words ‘too’ and ‘much’ are still allowed in the Vieux Carré, but we have a special law here—you can’t ever use them next to one another,” Savoy grins, then snaps his fingers as he assumes his seat. “Fabian, three glasses of the good wine, if you please, so we can teach our guest how we enjoy ourselves in the Quarter!”

“Of course, my lord,” the ghoul beams as he bows and withdraws.

“If I may speak freely, sir,” the glasses-wearing vampire remarks, “I fail to see why you bother asking your guests when you will simply order the drinks irrespectively of their response.”

“That’s because, Nat, all the guests who say ‘no’ say it for the same reason as Miss Malveaux—and that reason simply isn’t allowed in the Vieux Carré. Not on my watch!” Savoy smiles towards Caroline. “Miss Malveaux, may I introduce my steward, Madam Natasha Preston. She runs at least half the affairs in my parish. Lord only knows where I’d be without her!”

“Miss Malveaux,” the glasses-wearing woman replies in acknowledgement as she looks up from a tablet computer.

Caroline: “A pleasure, Madam Preston,” Caroline replies. As much as she wants to stay calculating in all that they do—from value of the touch of the kiss, the likelihood that the tablet is recording the meeting for later examination—if not hidden cameras—it is difficult not to be thrown completely off her guard by the response, the banter, the simple ease of all of it. She finds her guard warily lowering.

She takes the offered seat when the lord of the French Quarter does. “The party must never stop, lest we all realize we’re dead?” Caroline asks of him. She fights to keep the smirk off her face. “Or is it religious fervor perhaps? Rejoicing in damnation and celebrating it?”

GM: Caroline’s has a red silk cushion on its back as well as its seat, and she finds her posture quite comfortable despite the chair’s metal construction. Savoy leans back into his own seat and grins.

“Whether it’s religious I say is between a Kindred and their faith of choice. But according to mine, Miss Malveaux, I must beg the contrary. The party only begins when we’re dead—and realize all the overindulgence in the world can’t kill us again!”

As if on cue, Fabian reappears with a gold tray and three clear crystal glasses. One of them smells flat and stale to Caroline, but the coppery tang wafting from the second and third is just right.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t quite lick her lips, but it feels as though it’s been so long since she enjoyed a drink… still, she gestures to the elder Kindred. “Please, Lord Savoy, show me the way.”

GM: “We start,” Savoy smiles as he lifts one of the fair-smelling glasses from Fabian’s tray, “with a toast. To what shall we drink, Miss Malveaux?”

Preston reaches for the stale-smelling glass.

Caroline: Caroline takes the final glass. Is there a bit of mischievousness in her eye?

“To the prince of course, Lord Savoy. I have sworn my loyalty to him.” She raises her glass. “To the prince.”

GM: “Oh ho,” Savoy laughs knowingly, “watch this one mind her elders, Nat!”

“Indeed, sir,” Preston replies.

Savoy raises his glass. “To Prince Augusto Vidal—may his reign endure for a thousand years.”

“To Prince Vidal,” Preston echoes.

The three glasses clink. The Kindred drain them. Warm, liquid bliss that provides seemingly the only respite to Caroline’s existence trickles down her throat. Savoy and Preston set their empty glasses back on Fabian’s waiting tray. The Toreador looks well-pleased, and not merely of the ‘wine.’

“Speaking of the prince, you’ve had a portentous Requiem, Miss Malveaux, being inducted into the Sanctified at his own hands,” Savoy remarks. “What plans do you have for the rest of it, if you’ll indulge my asking?”

Caroline: “I confess, Lord Savoy, I’ve been rather occupied with the matter of my sire, and then that exciting trial. At this point I don’t know that I’m certain where to start. A drink a night? Some place to lay my weary head during the day?” She doesn’t quite shrug, but the mild tilt of her head gives much the same feeling without the baseness of the gesture. “Might you have any suggestions, as such an esteemed elder to a coarse and course-less neonate?”

GM: “Well, Miss Malveaux, I’d say that depends on what you want out of the Requiem, first of all,” Savoy muses.

“Power,” Preston supplies.

“That is in her blood,” Savoy nods. “There’s also spiritual purpose. That’s in her covenant. But we are defined by so much more than those two things, and I have a feeling that our guest will only continue to prove herself full of surprises.”

Caroline: “You may be the only one, Lord Savoy. But then those that bet upon long odds often reap significant benefits. Penny stocks and young horses.”

GM: “When one has eternity, one may gamble on the long as well as short odds,” Preston states.

“Just ask Mr. Guilbeau,” Savoy winks. “So far as for advice for coarse neonates, I am afraid that I can offer none, for we are bereft of their company. In their stead I’ll just try to manage something insightful around this august gathering! I’ve found that it can pay to begin one’s Requiem where one’s mortal life left off, Miss Malveaux, both spiritually and materially. You were a court clerk before your Becoming if I’m not mistaken?”

Caroline: “Yes, Lord Savoy.” The praise is so practiced and easy, it reminds her of her father speaking to the donor class. She wants to call it fake, but more than that want she needs it to be genuine.

GM: “Legal expertise is something very useful in our life, especially as we grow older,” Savoy considers, tapping his finger. “Gone are the nights when an elder could rule over a lonely village from his chateau, backing his authority with chests of gold and the powers of the Blood. No, these nights, a Kindred can’t so much as buy a haven or fake their death without the legal system entering into things. Many elders take lawyers for their ghouls, but ghouls are what they are—their counsel will always be biased towards immediately pleasing their domitor and getting that next precious drink. They can’t always be told the full intricacies of how Kindred society works, either.”

Savoy drums his fingers along the table. “You know, there was another promising blue blood like you before Katrina. She was a lawyer too, but after the storm hit she fled to Houston and never came back—I suppose she didn’t want to uproot her unlife twice. There are still Kindred who remember what it was like to have unbiased legal counsel on-call—and are still suffering from that lack of advice.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lower lip. “A market opportunity then?” Her gaze slips over to the accountant-like Kindred by his side.

GM: “There are always markets for the opportunistic,” Preston replies dispassionately.

Caroline: “Certainly something I can investigate, and if it proves promising, I’ll be certain to give credit where it is due, Lord Savoy. It’s much more promising than the alternative I’d considered as a corn dog stand vendor, selling meat on a stick.”

GM: “We’ll just leave that to Ignatius J. Reilly,” Savoy chuckles.

“There are further avenues to power than offering advice to one’s fellow Kindred, sir,” Preston notes.

“Indeed there are, Nat,” the French Quarter lord agrees. “There’s also claiming power among the mortal world. Most Kindred find a group of kine in their domain they want to influence—or another Kindred’s domain, if they can get permission—and start to work getting a personal hold on them. Then they work on getting a hold over institutions that will outlast any one kine’s life. In Miss Malveaux’s case, I imagine she’d want to establish her influence base among kine with connections to law. There any other pearls of wisdom you can think to dispense, Nat?”

“In the long term, it is of greater benefit to personally create new institutions from the ground up than it is to assume control over existing ones,” Preston answers, looking back up from her tablet. “Doing so provides more intimate knowledge of an institution’s affairs and eliminates the possibility of it already being claimed by other Kindred.”

“A valuable pearl, Nat. The last one I’d dispense, Miss Malveaux, is to not always rely on ghouls. Most neonates chomp at the chance to put as many kine as they can under the blood bond. But simple favors can leave a man just as predisposed to be helpful when it counts. The occasional nudge with a discipline, or blackmail material, can also be used when goodwill doesn’t go far enough. Having servants who age normally and don’t stand out to other Kindred can be beneficial, and less of a drain on the wine. You can always ghoul them later if you change your mind, after all.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. It’s all very much in keeping with her own plans, but having them reaffirmed by Savoy brings her a curious amount of satisfaction. He’s a flatterer, but such flattery has been so infrequent of late, and the ease of the conversation is so at odds with every other one she’s had of late. Even Maldonato, though he was gentle enough by Kindred standards, was a conversation so like walking across a minefield.

It’s not difficult to see why Savoy has won over others. While her sire conducts himself as a dark god, or at least the dark right hand of Him, a biblical figure of power, the Lord of the French Quarter demands a wholly different manner of respect: his very humbleness speaks more to his security in his strength than any heavy-handed beating handed out ever will.

GM: “But business is business, and pleasure is pleasure,” Savoy smiles. “And there are more pleasures than those of the blood! If you’ll indulge my curiosity a moment further, Miss Malveaux, I’d be intrigued to know: what are your interests beyond the Requiem?”

Caroline: “Are you asking what I did for fun, Lord Savoy, before my Embrace?”

GM: “Cutting to the heart of things, my dear?” Savoy chuckles. “In that same spirit, I suppose I am! Kindred or kine, someone’s pleasures say a great deal about them.”

Caroline: The Ventrue answers, “I suspect many of my interests, Lord Savoy, were little different than those of other rich twenty-somethings. I spent far more time drinking in the Vieux Carré than my family might of wanted, far more money in many shops than they wished, and far less time on my studies than they might have hoped. When I could be bothered I frequented social events in town… I suspect two of the four will have to be replaced for the next several decades.”

GM: “A life of sin and excess, then?” Savoy ribs. “Some of those pleasures may be easier to indulge than you may believe, Miss Malveaux. Enjoying the fine things in life comes all the easier after one is dead. Even pursuing an education… some Kindred still do, out of simple desire to better their minds. I’ve heard Seneschal Maldonato has picked up over a dozen degrees from the city’s universities over the years, and that Primogen Duquette isn’t far behind.” He then adds with a wink, “Other Kindred, of course, are simply relieved for school to be out forever!”

Caroline: “Sin perhaps, but my excesses didn’t start until I was Embraced to hear the tale.”

GM: “Congratulations,” Preston declares dryly.

Caroline: “Yes, it certainly seems to have worked out well for me, Madam Preston,” Caroline replies just as dryly. “But your counsel is well taken, Lord Savoy. Opportunity abounds? It is my hope that my Requiem shall not be as wasted as my life was. Certainly there can be far more to life—or death as the case may be—than shameless hedonism. And I shall endeavor to find it.”

GM: “Perhaps it has,” Savoy says thoughtfully to Caroline’s initial remark. “Some feel our condition to be a curse. Some revel in it. But few will deny it changes us. Some Kindred who led lives of restraint are driven to excess after the Embrace, and feel as if they’ve been liberated—finally able to lead the existences they always wanted. Others decide they prefer a less materialistic Requiem, but are grateful to have sampled the experiences they missed when they were alive. They find that lets them make a go of their unlives with a ‘clear conscience.’ Nat, what would you say to that?”

“My preoccupation with not having experienced coitus while living distracted me from more important matters,” Preston answers flatly. “The Embrace removed that distraction. Such was among one of its least benefits. I will not otherwise attempt to speak for others.”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t stare at the admission, but she revises upward her initial count on Preston’s age. “You’re suggesting there’s some value in my experiences thus far since my Embrace, Lord Savoy? I don’t know that I could argue that.”

GM: “Inherent value in your Requiem’s experiences,” Savoy nods. “That is how I’d put it, Miss Malveaux. But yours perhaps more than most.”

Caroline: “Mistakes out of the way early?”

GM: “Very early. In all of two weeks! Many of your clan go years before releasing their childer.”

Caroline: “I’m told most are also dignified enough to claim their childer,” Caroline replies evenly.

She snaps her jaw shut in an instant after the words escape it, aghast that she’s said as much to Savoy.

GM: “Yes, your sire,” Savoy merely responds thoughtfully, drumming his fingers. “Now that we’re away from prying ears, perhaps it’s time we talked about him.”

Caroline: “I’m afraid he left me no inheritance to pay off his debt to you, Lord Savoy. No secret instructions to convey a last message.”

GM: “Oh, I’m hardly surprised that he didn’t, Miss Malveaux.” The Toreador doesn’t sound bothered. “But I am surprised, and pleasantly so, at how well you’ve comported yourself in the lion’s den—here with your late sire’s known patron and ally!”

Caroline: “Why should it be the lion’s den, Lord Savoy? You have only ever in our meetings been hospitable and magnanimous.”

GM: “It costs Lord Savoy nothing to present such an appearance. You are unaware of the full nature of his relationship with René Baristheaut, who meant you ill and dealt with Setites. You have given Lord Savoy two causes for umbrage between your snub of his prior invitation and the several nights spent poaching in his parish,” Preston lists without inflection.

Caroline: Not quite a scowl slips across Caroline’s face. More… irritation, like she might feel at a child observing she was wearing the same dress as someone else at a party. An observation that is accurate but also utterly obvious, but does nothing for either party but call greater attention to an ugly truth.

“Am I then to fear his wrath?” Caroline asks, only turning her gaze from Lord Savoy as she speaks, bringing it to rest on Preston. “Lord Savoy is both one of the most well-respected and powerful elders in the city, and if he seeks redresses for those wrongs, or any others associated with René Baristheaut as they pertain to myself, then he need only name them, be it to myself or to the many others that would leap to the defense of his honor.”

She turns her gaze back to the Lord of the French Quarter. “Am I to let fear guide me? Let it take the wheel and steer clear of him? Certainly it’s driven me before, and hiding behind that fear like a child has a certain appeal… if you wish to be treated as a child.”

“Whatever you may wish, Lord Savoy, those wishes can hardly be denied by meekly pretending they do not exist. I would rather meet whatever this meeting may bring with my eyes open. If you wish a pledge debt for my wrongs to you and your domain, you have it. If you wish to harm me, I can hardly stop you.”

Her gaze slips back to Preston. “I find it more productive to concern myself with what I may control.” She spreads her arms with a minor flourish and mildly inclines her head, giving a mock bow or presentation, as though to an audience. “Are you the lion then, Lord Savoy? You would not be the first to take a bite out of me.” There’s a hint of a smile on her face at the words. “Forgive me for the presumption of the question.”

GM: A smile slowly spreads over Savoy’s face at Caroline’s words. It lights all the way up to his green-brown eyes.

“Aren’t you something, Miss Malveaux. Aren’t you something,” he declares slowly. Almost reverently.

The Toreador brings his hands together once in a motion faintly reminiscent of applause, then sets them down on the table as he looks ahead at Caroline. The smile doesn’t entirely fade, but his features grow more serious. Even solemn.

“No, tonight I would play the role of the dove. I would like to apologize for my role in what Mr. Baristheaut did to you, my dear—and, in what I hope is some measure of compensation, shed some light on the circumstances of your Embrace.”

Caroline: Caroline’s own expression hardens. “You owe me nothing, Lord Savoy,” she says firmly, before her features and tone soften. “But if you wished to illuminate for me in those matters, then I would have cause only to tell any that asked that the Lord of the French Quarter was never at any fault in my Embrace, and instead sought only to offer closure and grace as such a distinguished elder to a sireless neonate with many more questions than she will ever have answers.”

GM: “Oh, net’s not lavish me with too much praise, Miss Malveaux. After all, doing that is in my own best interests!” Savoy winks knowingly. “I believe that it’s much more profitable to make friends than enemies. I also believe that you’re very much an ally worth cultivating—both right now, and even more so in the nights to come.”

Caroline: If Caroline could still blush she might. “I’ll not gainsay you, Lord Savoy.”

GM: “As for Mr. Baristheaut,” Savoy continues, “he’s passed from ashes to ashes and dust to dust. What obligations I had to him—and what political worth he had as an ally—were made null and void by his final death. Nor was he entirely honest during our dealings together, and I think that’s as good a point as any for me to begin.”

Savoy slowly drums several fingers against the table. “My first dealings with Mr. Baristheaut were just after I’d woken up from my long nap, when he was still but a fledgling himself. He was a charming enough conversationalist, though there was a certain melancholy to him, just under the surface. I’m not sure he ever truly made peace with his Embrace. Many Kindred don’t.”

Caroline: Caroline settles in to hear the elder’s tale.

GM: “Upon his release, he was made a hound under his sire Robert Bastien, the city’s previous sheriff. Mr. Baristheaut and I didn’t have too much to do with one another beyond a few conversations in Elysium, which his sire disapproved of—I suppose he wasn’t wrong that I can be a bad influence.” Savoy grins at the statement. “Mr. Baristheaut served as a hound until 1915, when his sire met final death at the hands of hunters. Some of this you may already know, if you were able to interrogate his ghoul Kelford.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “Their families were executed for it, and very shortly thereafter Mr. Baristheaut departed the city.”

GM: “Yes, some thought that Mr. Baristheaut didn’t have the stomach to take over his sire’s position. Thus it passed to my childe instead.” Savoy smiles with paternal pride.

Caroline: “Sheriff Donovan.” Caroline cannot begin to see where the resemblance begins.

GM: “Oh yes, have you not heard the gossip yet? It’s been one of the best-known ‘open secrets’ floating around Elysium for some time.”

Caroline: “He certainly seems to have flourished in the role,” Caroline offers mildly.

GM: “He’s brought much recognition to our bloodline,” Savoy nods in satisfaction. “In any case, Nat, where was I?”

“Mr. Baristheaut’s departure, sir.”

“Ah yes, thank you. I didn’t hear from him for years and years. I did hear of him, occasionally—he’d been spotted in this city or that, and had apparently taken to the nomad’s Requiem. Not an easy Requiem.”

Caroline: “So he expressed, though not in so many words.”

GM: “He never returned to New Orleans during all of that time, which I found somewhat curious—he’d been spotted nearby a number of times over the years. The earliest date was Little Rock in 1923, and the latest was Houston in 2005. Perhaps important, perhaps not. But then, one night, he decided to return. Nat, when was the date Mr. Baristheaut presented himself to me?”

“August 31st, sir,” Preston replies, glancing down at her tablet. “The same date he presented himself to Seneschal Maldonato. Your agents have traced his earliest activities in New Orleans to August 30th, at least several hours before dawn.”

Caroline: Caroline listens as the Lord of the French Quarter fills in missing pieces.

GM: “Thank you, Nat,” Savoy replies before turning back to Caroline. “Mr. Baristheaut presented himself to me in this very garden. He’d matured greatly over the years, and was as charming and well-spoken a guest as any I could have received. He told me that he was in the city to enjoy Southern Decadence, and asked for my permission to make his temporary haven in the French Quarter. He intended to leave on September 7th, the night after the festivities were over, and assured me that he had no interest in politics.”

Caroline: “In hindsight, a lie,” Caroline comments.

GM: “Yes. We also had a feeling that he wasn’t being entirely forthcoming with us, didn’t we, Nat?”

“We did, sir. His stated reason for returning to New Orleans, in addition to attending Southern Decadence, was to commemorate the 100th anniversary of his sire’s final death. Perhaps the numeric significance of the occasion had changed his prior feelings towards his home and bloodline, for he had evidenced no special sentiment towards either in over a century.”

“It was something to go on,” Savoy picks up, “but not a great deal. I granted him permission to reside in my parish. I asked a few eyes and ears to monitor his movements and dealings with other Kindred. It turned out Mr. Baristheaut was telling the truth about enjoying the Quarter’s pleasures, at least. He made a few trips to the Dungeon—it’s a BDSM club of some notoriety. Nothing of particular note seemed to happen there. As far as I heard, he simply wanted to sample the club’s pleasures too.”

“On August 6th, Mr. Baristheaut approached my herald Mélissaire and requested a meeting at my soonest convenience over a matter of some urgency. We met the next night, and did he have quite a tale for Nat and me. He’d encountered a comely young woman being victimized by one of the festival’s… I suppose we might say harder revelers. He felt compelled to play the role of the white knight and rescue the fair maiden in distress. Nat, what were his exact words there?”

“‘If all the world’s a stage, the set pieces in ours are all blacks and grays. It’s so rare that one gets to don a white costume,’” Preston quotes without inflection.

Caroline: Caroline grinds her teeth.

GM: “Mr. Baristheaut rescued the young lady and drove off her assailant,” Savoy continues. “She asked him to escort her home, and again in his words, ‘it would hardly have done to remove the costume before the scene was played through.’”

“The two of them talked on the way back. He said appeared sheltered and oblivious as to the true nature of our world. He said he found it charming at first, but when she told him he was a decent man and that his sins could be forgiven… it ‘exposed the fantasy for the sad farce it was to me’, to borrow his words again. He decided to show her the true face of evil, and brought her to the city’s worst abattoir of sin that he knew of… the Dungeon. He said that a fury seized him, such as he’d not known in years. He did things to her. Things that it’s perhaps a blessing you don’t seem to remember.”

Caroline: Caroline’s expression shifts. Much of the narrative to this point matches, but this does not. At least, not that she recalls. Just pieces. Flashes of horror…

GM: “He wasn’t sure how much time had passed when he came to, and looked down at what he described to me as ‘little more than a dumb, bleeding husk.’ He was overcome with disgust—at the world, at her, and most of all, at himself. He believed she was gone and there was nothing else he could do for her. He told one of the club’s ghouls to dispose of the corpse.”

“Of course, as we all know, that corpse got back up. That was the last René saw of you. He had no idea he’d given you the Embrace—he conjectured to me that it must have been an accident. Some stray blood slipping down your mouth in a moment of passion. Damnation is regrettably all-too easy to inflict in the heat of the moment.”

Caroline: Caroline’s expression is all the more grim as the tale continues. The tale of her Embrace, little more than one as a victim of a deranged and damaged Kindred made a victim over again by his carelessness.

GM: “You came to in Louis Armstrong Park, which isn’t part of my parish. René didn’t know what had become of you, but he fell into a dark mood and requested my permission to stay in the French Quarter for several further nights. I granted it.”

“From what Lord Savoy’s agents have reported, Mr. Baristheaut threw himself into an orgy of further sins in the Vieux Carré’s pleasure dens,” Preston dispassionately notes. “This was concurrently with those same agents spotting your poaching in the Quarter, Miss Malveaux.”

“I’d intended to have my people approach you,” Savoy continues, “as doing a little homework indicated you were a stranger in town… but only as Kindred. Your family name wasn’t so unfamiliar, suggesting you were a new Embrace. Prince Vidal’s people got to you first, however, and not long after that, your existence became public knowledge to the All-Night Society… and to Mr. Baristheaut.”

Caroline: She remembers the near-brush with the sheriff’s sword before the onlookers.

GM: “He was stunned when he came to me, and insisted he’d had no idea you were Embraced. He could have skipped town, but he wanted to find out what happened that night. I agreed to grant him shelter, in return for a debt of some size. Part of its terms included investigating the circumstances of your Embrace. He made a few interesting discoveries. Such as that the ghoul he’d entrusted with disposing of your body had gone missing.”

Caroline: "That is interesting. "

GM: “Yes, I’d thought so. But so is the connection to a certain kine, Emmett Delacroix. What do we have on him, Nat?”

Preston looks down at her tablet. “A grifter from the Quarter. He had an altercation with one of NOPD’s detectives, who sold him to one of the Dungeon’s employees. Mr. Baristheaut encountered Delacroix during his own stay at the Dungeon.”

Caroline: “Unfortunate for him.”

GM: “Yes, I’m to understand he lost his legs,” Savoy agrees. “But it’s a better fate than many there.”

Caroline: “That’s… unfortunate.” For the others. Like Westley.

GM: Preston continues, “Mr. Baristheaut believed that Delacroix crossed paths with Miss Malveaux, for he took the blame for a number of crimes in which she was involved. Evidence was found planted in his apartment in the Quarter. I presume by your servants, in a further act of trespass into Lord Savoy’s parish.”

Caroline: “We crossed paths some years ago,” Caroline agrees vaguely.

GM: “Your manners are atrocious. Apologize to Lord Savoy at once for your intrusion.”

Caroline: “And incriminate myself?” Caroline asks, with a hint of playfulness. Still, her gaze returns to the Lord of the French Quarter. “I apologize of course for every offense I have given you, Lord Savoy, in ignorance and by will.”

GM: Preston merely stares at Caroline for a moment. “It’s true, sir. Another count of trespass into your parish.”

Caroline: Caroline’s temper flares. “Do me the kindness please of staying out of my head.”

GM: “Do Lord Savoy the kindness please of not lying to his face,” Preston retorts flatly. Her eyes glint. “Sir, we should make an example of her. After this many offenses against you, she no doubt believes she can commit further ones with impunity.”

Caroline: “I offered no lie,” Caroline retorts.

GM: “No. You merely attempted to steer Lord Savoy towards a false conclusion that would result in him taking different action than he would otherwise be inclined, and so escape the consequences of your own actions.” Preston’s eyes are as flat the lenses of her glasses. “Pathetic. Sir, I recommend the Ordeal of Apollo.”

Savoy merely smiles and makes a ‘settle down’ motion with his hand towards both Kindred.

“We’ll worry about the smaller things later, you two. For now, that’s useful to confirm the Delacroix connection. I don’t think it’s a coincidence, him and Miss Malveaux encountering Mr. Baristheaut in the Dungeon, and Miss Malveaux then happening to cross paths with Delacroix again. Mr. Baristheaut didn’t seem to think so either. Nat, what were the dates when Delacroix was framed, and Mr. Baristheaut changed his tactics from investigating Miss Malveaux to abducting her?”

Preston looks back down at her tablet.

“Delacroix was arrested for the murder of Miguel Rodriguez on September 13th. Mr. Baristheaut activated one of Miss Malveaux’s ghouls as his dominated agent later that night.”

“Very interesting, Nat. I wonder what Delacroix would have been able to tell of Mr. Baristheaut from his own time in the Dungeon.”

“We shall likely never know, sir, or at least not without some degree of effort. Delacroix has been placed on death row in Louisiana State Penitentiary.”

Caroline: Caroline frowns. “We were in the Dungeon at the same time?”

GM: “The extant evidence would indicate so,” Preston replies neutrally.

Caroline: Caroline frowns, a vaguely horrified expression settling across her face.

GM: “Delacroix could be a useful witness,” Savoy ponders. “Mr. Baristheaut had left the scene, the other witness vanished, and Miss Malveaux herself is fortunate not to remember personally.”

Caroline: A witness she framed and put so far out of reach. The irony is not lost on her.

GM: “Getting access to Delacroix wouldn’t be convenient, but it’s not off the table. Death row inmates are allowed visitors, if I’m correct. The real inconvenience is driving up there to see him. How far a drive is it, Nat?”

“135 miles and slightly over two hours, sir,” Preston replies with another glance down at her tablet.

Caroline: “And making him talk,” Caroline agrees. “Assuming his own mind is in any state. I suspect it might be easier to have additional charges or matters trumped up with regard to his conduct, requiring additional trial here…. and moving him here to county jail for that purpose.”

GM: “That legal mind!” Savoy exclaims approvingly. “That sounds like a fine idea, Miss Malveaux, if you want to question him. I’m sure there are a hundred and one different charges someone could slap a grifter like Delacroix with.”

Caroline: “Something to consider, certainly, Lord Savoy, though even there gaining access is not easy.”

GM: “Inconvenient but not impossible,” Preston dissents.

“Fortunately for us all,” Savoy smiles, “there are leads besides Delacroix. For instance, Louis Armstrong Park… we know you wound up there, Miss Malveaux, so someone had to have brought you—either physically, or maybe by mental commands. On a crowded night like Decadence, I’m sure there were at least a few witnesses who saw when you turned up in the park and could tell us more. There could even be physical evidence left over at the scene. Louis Armstrong falls under the Baron’s territory, so I haven’t investigated too closely yet.” The Toreador taps his fingers thoughtfully. “It’s a curious place for you to have initially turned up.”

“There is also the Dungeon itself, Lord Savoy,” Preston supplies. “There were likely witnesses who saw Miss Malveaux when she entered, and perhaps also when she left. Notwithstanding the missing ghoul.”

Caroline: “The Dungeon, Lord Savoy,” Caroline comments more thoughtfully. “How welcoming are they to visitors? Kindred, that is.”

GM: “Oh, they’re always welcoming to visitors, Miss Malveaux. Kindred or otherwise. But they do like to play.”

Caroline: Caroline gives a skeptical glance.

GM: “Some Kindred are happy to play too,” Savoy continues. “Even the ones who don’t usually come around. Their revels are… well, experiencing them is the only way to do them justice,” the Toreador winks. “Kindred who don’t want to join the fun, though, may find things more difficult.”

“It also depends how deep into the club you want to go. There are multiple levels, or ‘circles’ as they like to call them. The party gets wilder and the Masquerade falls away a bit more with each one. I can offer a guarantee of your safety and status as untouchable in all but the lowest circle, but I would have to ask a boon in return for that service—the club’s ownership won’t agree to it unless I call in favors of my own.”

Caroline: “That is a very generous offer, Lord Savoy…” Caroline seems to consider. “Might I ask a further question related to the Dungeon while I consider it?”

GM: Savoy motions grandly for her to proceed.

Caroline: “Might you know what the Dungeon typically does with the corpses left behind by their work? Such as, for instance, that of my brother Westley Malveaux?”

GM: Savoy drums his fingers slowly. The smile fades from his face. “Truth be told, Miss Malveaux… most of the bodies that go into the Dungeon don’t seem to ever come back out.”

“There are some exceptions,” Preston continues. “Dismembered parts have occasionally been found scattered throughout the city, often in the homes of those related to the victims. There are also occasional survivors. Delacroix was reportedly found in a dumpster bin outside of his apartment complex, missing both of his legs.”

Savoy’s expression softens. “I’m sorry, Miss Malveaux. I wish I had better news about your brother. Now, it’s possible, if not likely, that his body is still in the Dungeon… but it’s not going to be in any state for others to see. Looking on it would only bring your family more pain.”

Caroline: Caroline’s expression neither softens nor falls. “I had no intention of parading it before my mortal family, Lord Savoy, but I would rather his remains not end up in a gutter or ditch. It seems likely that regardless, the answer to that question—and perhaps others—lies in the Dungeon. Might I ask your permission to enter your domain for the purpose of making contact with them in the future?”

GM: Savoy waves his hand. “Granted, Miss Malveaux. You should also know we do things more casually in the Vieux Carré. Unless a Kindred wants to stay overday or take care of particularly significant business,-”

“Such as framing Delacroix,” Preston interjects,

“-I don’t require that they present themselves,” Savoy finishes. “I believe my parish and my own standing benefits when Kindred find it more convenient to do business here.”

Caroline: Where there are plenty of prying eyes? Caroline asks herself, though not with malice. Yes, she can see why Savoy is popular, why he is winning the soul of the city. Her sire’s magnificent darkness has a certain calling, but if his agents are even half as brutal and cruel to others as many have been to her, she can imagine he wins few friends among her own generation.

“A very generous position, Lord Savoy. And one that I’m certain many appreciate… myself included.”

GM: “That’s precisely what I want everyone saying,” Savoy winks. “But I can’t rightly pretend I’m unique in that regard, Miss Malveaux. There are other regents in the city who share my feelings on the Fifth Tradition.”

“Now, a few other details so far as Mr. Baristheaut… as you’ve no doubt learned by now, he had dealings with Setites. They aren’t a topic I recommend you bring up in Elysium, but it’s possible that investigating their activities could turn up more on Mr. Baristheaut’s.”

Caroline: “If they didn’t take offense to such snooping, of course?” Caroline asks.

GM: “All Kindred take offense to ‘snooping,’” Preston states flatly.

Caroline: “Some more violently than others,” Caroline replies.

GM: “Not if they’re asked nicely, Nat,” Savoy smiles.

Caroline: “Lord Savoy, one could almost take that as an invitation.” Caroline fights the smile that creeps across her face.

GM: “Anywhere in the Quarter with a door has an invitation, my dear,” the Toreador answers playfully, but his face soon sobers. “But I’d be careful asking serpents. Most Kindred, it’s true, you don’t stand anything to lose by asking nicely. The Setites aren’t among them.”

Caroline: “Of course, Lord Savoy,” Caroline agrees more seriously. “They seemed quite potent in their aggression in our brief encounter.”

GM: “The serpents are not known for being warriors, but tempters,” Preston corrects.

Caroline: Caroline plasters a polite smile across her face. “As you say, Madam Preston.”

GM: “One last thing I should perhaps add, Miss Malveaux. Nat and I believe that Mr. Baristheaut was attempting to play all three sides against one another, at least to some degree: mine, Sheriff Donovan’s, and the Serpents’.” Savoy chuckles. “It doesn’t seem to have worked out for him. But for that reason, you might well be able to glean some insight into his activities from Sanctified outside my parish too.”

Caroline: “Such as your illustrious childe, Lord Savoy?”

GM: “He’s indeed one potential avenue, Miss Malveaux.”

“Do we have any further advice to dispense Miss Malveaux in this area, sir?” Preston inquires.

“I don’t believe so, Nat, unless there are any further questions she has,” Savoy answers with a glance between Caroline and his steward.

“Then may I recommend, sir,” Preston continues, “that we sentence Miss Malveaux to two draughts of your vitae in punishment for her prior counts of poaching in your domain.”

Caroline: Caroline again turns her attention from Savoy to his steward. Her stare could melt steel.

GM: Preston stares back, her face as warm and expressive as a sheet of that same metal.

“Is there some objection you would raise, Miss Malveaux? Do you believe you should be allowed to feed in Lord Savoy’s territory with impunity?” she asks pointedly.

Caroline: “Lord Savoy is fully able to set whatever penalty he may wish within his domain,” Caroline replies, “including draughts of his vitae, and I would not presume to tell him how to conduct his affairs. I would offer to you, Madam Preston, that the optics on your suggestion seem especially poor, regardless of how just they might be.”

GM: “Ladies, please. This garden is a place of gentle manners and good feelings. To see two beauties turning against one another within it is as awful as watching two master artists stoop to fisticuffs in the Louvre,” Savoy chides with a smile as Preston looks about to retort with something even more severe. He leans back in his seat, seemingly addressing both her and Caroline.

“I value your advice, Nat, on punishments for infractions as well as other topics. It’s why you run half the affairs in my parish. In this instance, we happen to disagree. Always have. While a sip from the domain holder’s veins has always struck me as a fair and even poetic punishment for poaching, I don’t believe it’s conductive to our long-term interests when enforced among abandoned fledglings who honestly don’t know any better. Indeed, when my people are able to approach those fledglings and explain the basics of Kindred existence—including laws on poaching—I find they make some of the most loyal allies I could ask for.”

Savoy chuckles. “A few bled vessels is a more than fair price for that kind of asset. Besides. It’s not as if I can’t afford it.” The Toreador lazily stretches an arm towards the garden’s wrought-iron balcony, and the teeming throngs of kine who fill the streets below.

“There was also Miss Malveaux’s framing of Delacroix, sir,” Preston continues. “Hardly a trivial matter, given the other matters of greater than trivial import it was connected to. Miss Malveaux was no doubt aware of the Traditions by the time of her latest intrusion. There was also her deliberate snubbing of your invitation—which she has yet to offer any apology for.”

“You are right about the Delacroix affair, Nat,” Savoy muses. “But tell you what, Miss Malveaux, seeing as you’re here now and no one was hurt… why don’t you keep me apprised of your investigations into Mr. Baristheaut, and we’ll call it even?”

Caroline: Caroline taps her lip with one pale finger. “In the interest of repaying what has been your great generosity so far, Lord Savoy, I would disclose that as heavily as the activities of my sire and the events surrounding my Embrace weigh upon my mind, there are many other matters that may consume more of my energies for the foreseeable future.”

“And also, that making so blanket a promise of disclosure seems… untenable. I would propose instead, again in the interest of honesty and forthrightness, that I will disclose secrets I might uncover such as to balance the scales of the disruption of your domain and disrespect to your person as we might mutually agree upon over time—or failing the ability to do so within one year, would offer you up to a boon by way of making up the difference.”

GM: “That sounds more than fair, Miss Malveaux,” Savoy beams. “Information of a similar nature, or a boon if that doesn’t turn out to be tenable within the year—but I’ll also add the caveat that information on Mr. Baristheaut’s activities will still do just fine, if you decide to pursue those. Our sires never do stop weighing upon our minds.”

“Do you possess a secure phone number, Miss Malveaux?” Preston inquires.

Caroline: Caroline smiles. “One of many pressing concerns, Madam Preston,” she replies. “I have a number that an unsecured message might be left with to establish contact, but in the immediate future it would be wiser to conduct such interactions in person.”

GM: Savoy chuckles. “I’m afraid that I normally insist on all my interactions being conducted in person, Miss Malveaux. Beyond being less vulnerable to eavesdropping, I must confess that phones just don’t agree with me, unless time really is of the essence. They seem so… impersonal.” The Toreador then laughs and waves his hand. “But pay no mind to me. I’m like every modern Kindred’s great-grandfather, I recognize that much.”

“When you next wish to schedule a private meeting with Lord Savoy,” Preston continues, “inform your ghoul Rabinowitz when you are available, send her to Antoine’s,-”

“‘My’ restaurant,” Savoy interjects with an amused smile.

“-and instruct her to order the crispy onion strips, while holding the sauce, from the Hermes bar menu. One of our agents will approach her.”

Savoy and mostly Preston answer any related questions Caroline poses, and also provide a phone number for her to call when and if she should obtain a secure line of her own. Savoy rises from his seat to kiss Caroline’s hand again as she moves to leave.

“I’d normally wish you good luck in the nights to come, Miss Malveaux. But I have a feeling you may forge your own!”

Previous, by Narrative: Story Seven, Isa Prelude
Next, by Narrative: Story Seven, Isa I

Previous, by Character: Story Seven, Caroline I
Next, by Character: Story Seven, Caroline III, Rocco I


I'm sorry, but we no longer support this web browser. Please upgrade your browser or install Chrome or Firefox to enjoy the full functionality of this site.