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Blood & Bourbon

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Story Seven, Caroline I

“‘For of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: it might have been.’”
John Greenleaf, quoted by Claire Malveaux


Tuesday night, 22 September 2015, PM

Caroline: Caroline has long since grown tired of sleeping in an attic, but it is among the least of her concerns as she rises covered in fiberglass for the third night in a row. She’s free, as free as she can ever hope to be in her Requiem, to pursue those many tasks that yet await her. Veronica’s blood flows in her veins, thick and heavy, enough to chase away the hunger for at least this night. It’s a bitter pill, but she’ll take the medicine now that she’s paid for it. Her house, literally and metaphorically, is far from put into order, and there is so much to do. That she wakes up at all is a positive sign however.

Most of her actions, waiting upon her mother, are mundane. She orders a rental car drop off, sorts through what little is left downstairs for those things she wishes to keep, sends an email to her professors belatedly apologizing for not keeping in touch (mentioning unspecific personal matters she has been dealing with) and expresses her hope to see them next semester. What little time is left before her mother arrives is spent on social media digging into the past of the victim she murdered.

GM: Caroline finds a number of events have taken place during her daysleep.

Carla has been through her home again. The Mexican housekeeper has avoided the second story, per Caroline’s request, but the rest of the seemingly tornado-struck house is well on its way to being transformed back into a bare and empty one.

Her phone, landline, and email have been flooded with text messages and voicemails concerning a single, terrible piece of news:

Westley was found. Dead.

When hours pass without any reaction or acknowledgement from Caroline, her family is no longer irritated. They’re by turns furious or deeply concerned, mostly the former. Gabriel has said he’s coming over to her house. He’s worried something has happened. Further texts read:

I’m outside your door. Where are you?

Oh my god, what’s happened?

Several more fretful messages follow, including one about calling the police, since it looks as if she’s missing (again). There are further inquiries on that vein from other family members. After several hours, the flood of messages finally stops. There’s a last one from her mother.

Calmed things down. For now. We’ll talk tonight.

Caroline: Uncertain as to what lie her mother has spun for her, Caroline offers no response to the other texts until she speaks with her. The messages tear at her savagely, but ultimately reinforce what she has grudgingly begun to accept: she has no place in the mortal world with her family. The longer she drags all of this on, the more pain she’ll bring them, the more difficulties she’ll create, and the greater the odds that she, and they, will be caught up in the prince’s justice.

Faintly she remembers an old argument an atheist once made to her, about the various rules and laws in the Bible essentially being good sense in the era. ’Don’t eat shellfish’ because no one knew how to cook and clean it properly. ’Don’t eat swine’ because they were filthy creatures and undercooked pork could kill you. It brings a brief smile to her face to compare that argument to those commandments of the Sanctified she has learned. Clinging to your mortal family may be a sin, but it is it a sin because cleaving from them was simply best practices? That cynical amusement gets her through the top of the hour.

GM: Buried underneath her family’s many text messages is another one from Autumn’s phone number.

I’m okay and coming by at 8, you need me to bring anything?

Caroline: Glad you’re ok. I’m sorry for everything. She sighs. 8’s a bad time. Visitors. Grab some food, I’ll call you when they leave. I’m sure your life is upside down.

GM: It’s been worse but ok cya then

At 8 PM, the doorbell rings.

Caroline: Caroline is downstairs to open it.

GM: It’s her mother. Claire still looks tired, with bags under her eyes, and also unsurprised as her gaze sweeps the destroyed house. “Caroline.”

Caroline: “Mom.” It’s a staggering reminder of just how fragile mortals are for Caroline, seeing her mother worn down. “Do you want to come in, or go out for a drink?”

GM: “Your house looks like it’s seen enough visitors. We can visit the Corner Club if you don’t mind faking it.”

Caroline: Caroline chews on her lip. “Sure, let me grab my bag.” She vanishes for a moment to do so before returning to meet her mother. A new black BMW sits in the driveway, the earlier rental dropped off. She lets her mother decide who’s driving. And which car they’re taking.

GM: Claire lets her daughter drive the new BMW, if she wants to, though Claire makes plain she’ll be taking her own Mercedes. “If that’s been sitting here all day, who know what bugs might have been planted in it.”

Caroline: Caroline offers no comment to the cynical—though not paranoid—comment and climbs into her mother’s Mercedes, escaping the night.

GM: Her mom drives past Audubon’s high concrete walls and the perimeter of armed mercenaries. “So. Where should we begin?”

Caroline: “Thirteen Kindred were executed last night. Three others narrowly avoided execution. It’s been a busy weekend.”

GM: “I suppose your prince isn’t all bad,” Claire remarks.

Caroline: “I thought you might appreciate it. Some good news to go with the awful.”

GM: “Is that all that happened at the trial, thirteen executions?”

Caroline: “Our secret is out to the prince. I’m told to convey that should you ‘cease cooperating’ I am to be executed immediately.” She continues, “Also, that I am to stage my death as quickly as is feasible.”

GM: Her mother doesn’t sigh or look surprised at the news. Her eyes just look tired and heavy as they stare out at the road. “Why don’t you start from the beginning, Caroline.”

Caroline: “I’d think you already knew much of it. Didn’t you bug my house when you broke in the first time?” Caroline asks.

GM: “No. Too high a risk of the bugs being found out by someone else, from everything you’ve said.” She then adds, “And that I’ve seen.”

Caroline: “And none of your associates had the thought to do so either, when we were alone?”

GM: “Not without my consent.”

Caroline: “Someone did.” Caroline explains in brief that she was caught up in a feud between several much elder Kindred, and ultimately staked and taken into custody by the prince’s agents, whereupon she was forced to make a full confession under questioning to avoid her own imminent execution.

GM: Claire doesn’t seem to take her daughter’s recounting of events in stride so much as she seems grimly resigned to them. Streets, lights, and cars roll past the window. Her mother doesn’t stop by the Corner Club, and instead continues to drive on a seemingly aimless path through the city. It doesn’t stop her from extensively questioning Caroline as to what she gave away.

Caroline: The Ventrue neither embellishes nor hides the extent of her revelations. “He literally looked into my mind, Mom, into my memories. I’m sorry. There wasn’t anything I could do. As it was…”

GM: Her mother doesn’t sigh. She just looks tired.

Caroline: It’s a sentiment Caroline can sympathize with. She slides her too cold hand over to her mother’s.

GM: The actions finally makes Claire shake her head. “Your lying to my face will only make this worse, not better.”

Caroline: Caroline scowls. “I didn’t lie, not about anything about you. I thought I’d caused you enough trouble for one night though.”

GM: Claire hits the breaks, stopping the car dead in a parking spot that says unauthorized vehicles will be towed.

“I took a terrible, terrible risk not leaving you for the sun that day,” she says bluntly. “Against my every instinct and better judgment. What you’ve told me right now only confirms that it was.”

Caroline: Caroline grinds her teeth. “Fine. You want to know?”

GM: “No, young lady, I haven’t finished yet,” her mother reproaches severely.

“Letting this,” Claire says vaguely, “continue is extraordinarily dangerous for me. More so than you clearly realize. And that’s assuming a state of complete honesty from you. Anything less goes from dangerous to suicidal. If there’s something that you believe telling me will lead to either of our deaths, then you’ll tell me that there are things you can’t risk talking about. Feed me any more lies, including by presuming to make any further decisions in my place, and this can’t continue. You know the consequences for that. Do you understand?”

Caroline: “I’m past my last chance,” Caroline snarls back. “You want absolute honesty? They’re going to end me. And if I’m very, very lucky they’ll behead me instead of locking me in a steel coffin and slowly burning me alive in front of a hundred people while I scream and give in to that snarling monster and die as something less than even this,” she gestures to herself, and her words are heavy with genuine fear and desperation.

“They were literally leading me by the hand to be executed. Do you know what that’s like? What it’s like to know you’re not only damned, but going to hell at any moment? To be utterly helpless? And every night I get to wake back up to that, because it’s not good enough for me to play by the rules. It’s not good enough for me to make not a single further mistake. It’s not good enough for me to use my own mother towards their ends, fake my death, and cut away everyone I care about.”

“They want more. They’ll always want more out of me.” She spits the last out bitterly, exhausted by it, and shakes her head. “A delay in execution. That’s what they gave me. Not a commutation of my sentence. They decided to lose the paperwork for a while.” She sighs and continues quietly, “That’s what I’m not telling you. I got into some bad stuff. Things I wasn’t supposed to know, things I wasn’t supposed to have, and they killed a bunch of people to keep it quiet, clean it up. Between that and the shakeup in the city from the trial—which the prince lost, badly—they gave me a suicide mission and a timer and said ‘if you succeed maybe we won’t kill you.’ So that’s what I’m not telling you.”

GM: “Then those are the realities. That’s what we’ll deal with,” her mother answers. “It also doesn’t change a thing. Any more lies from you, and our arrangement can’t continue.”

Caroline: “There are things I can’t tell you. Not won’t. Can’t. As in, physically not able to. Is that a problem?”

GM: “And as I’ve told you—if there are things you believe are too dangerous to say out loud, or which you can’t say out loud, then you’ll simply tell me that the information I’m getting is incomplete. I’ve done the same for you. But there can be no more lies, Caroline. None. That’s not a risk I can justify continuing to take.”

Caroline: Caroline tries not to feel like a scolded teen as she looks back to her mother. “Fine. Incomplete details: what I got into, why they didn’t just execute me along with the rest of the bushel, and all of the exact requirements to not get burned alive.” She bites her lip. “Though they continue with ‘do as much damage to the prince’s rivals as you nearly did to us’.”

GM: “That had been a question of mine,” her mother says piercingly. “From all that you’ve said, you’ve caused enough trouble for them to execute you three times over. Letting you live doesn’t make any sense.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her tongue. “It’s complicated.”

GM: “So is everything.” Her mother doesn’t seem to have it in her to sound wry. The quip comes out as dead as the fruit of Caroline’s womb.

Caroline: “Running won’t work,” she continues. “And I don’t know what the hell to do.”

GM: “I suppose play the hand that you’re dealt. Or cast in your lot with Antoine Savoy’s faction.”

Caroline: “I suspect he’d like nothing else, but I doubt he could protect me.”

GM: “Would you, if he could?”

Caroline: Caroline looks down. “He’s in the ascent. And smooth. So smooth. He makes the other elders—well, most of them—look like sandpaper.”

GM: Her mother frowns thoughtfully. “Do you have any personal loyalty or regard for any members of the prince’s bloc?”

Caroline: Her emotions are a complex jumble of twisted threads, pulled every which way by the array of blood bonds. “I don’t know…. yes? Maybe?” She looks back at her mother, then away. “Both sides have holds on me. The prince could have had me executed half a dozen times. Instead at every turn I’ve had another chance. A break. Five of the twelve executions were specifically in relation to me.”

GM: “Did you receive those breaks from the prince, or his seneschal, who you’ve said won’t succeed him?” her mother asks pointedly.

Caroline: “Assuming he needs a successor any time soon?”

GM: “That does touch upon another question. Do you believe George Smith was simply lying?”

Caroline: “No.” The word comes out before Caroline can stop herself.

GM: Her mother raises an eyebrow. “It’s hardly as if he had anything to lose spouting slander with his last breath.”

Caroline: “Except his childe and every mortal or ghoul he ever touched.”

GM: Claire shakes her head. “A hallmark of power-mad dictators everywhere.”

Caroline: “The peace of the gun,” Caroline agrees. “But it’s worked so far…”

“He was so angry, you could feel it. He didn’t even have to use any Disciplines to cow the entire room. A look was enough. It said kill to every idiot chanting in the crowd.”

GM: “Then it sounds as if what Smith had to say was true, if it struck a nerve that deep.”

Caroline: “About the seneschal,” Caroline agrees. “I don’t know enough about torpor to comment on the rest, but even if it is, I can’t imagine a ‘power-mad dictator’ not having a backup plan.”

GM: “So you think the seneschal will succeed him after all, despite what Smith said?”

Caroline: “No, I think he has something else lined up, but I don’t understand enough about the city politics to say what. Assuming he needs it. Like I said, does he even need to go into torpor? Whatever that is.”

GM: “Then who? Either they hand the reigns of power to someone less experienced, when it sounds as if the city needs a strong leader, or the religious zealots hand the reigns to a faction that doesn’t share their faith.”

Caroline: “Savoy shares their faith, presumably. Or a third party could enter the scene.”

GM: “Savoy sounds unlikely if they’ve been at war for so long. But I suppose circumstances can always change.”

Caroline: Caroline thinks. “I don’t think an outsider could take power while Savoy was here, but so much of his power is built, as I see it, on his ability to charm people. I don’t know that someone else could fill that role. That most elders would even be willing to try.”

GM: “On the contrary, his appeal sounds quite simple. Don’t execute one person, or I suppose a dozen, for another’s crimes. It’s not even a question of morals, but simple practicality.”

Caroline: “Everyone that was executed deserved it… except George’s childe. And he brought that down on her. I think people were more upset over the people he didn’t execute.”

GM: “I presume by ‘people’ you mean Matheson?”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “Or his childe.”

GM: “I suppose it’s no surprise they’re upset about him being spared. Your kind don’t like being victimized the same way you victimize humans.”

Caroline: “More the imagery of the elder getting off while everyone else burned, I think.”

GM: “From an objective standpoint,” Claire muses, “this Matheson seems like a fairly benign example of your kind. He feeds on other leeches and goes out of his way not to kill if he doesn’t want to be caught. I wonder how many humans haven’t died because of his proclivities.”

Caroline: “Not that many, he keeps a stable of human slaves as well.”

GM: “To feed on, or to use as servants?”

Caroline: “Both, I suspect—most Kindred aren’t willing to go all the way to see him. I suspect for him it’s like most rapists—more for the power than anything else. If he’s guilty.”

GM: “Him aside, we’d previously been discussing Antoine Savoy’s political bloc.” Claire seems to chew that over thoughtfully. “Our arrangement with the prince’s is delicate, and breaking it is sure to make them take retributive action. But Savoy also knows nothing of us, at least that we know. What do you think about the risks and rewards of jumping ship?”

Caroline: “Risks: he’ll want something in turn, and it’s a hard stifling of opportunities in the city going forward. It’s essentially betting all of our chips on the idea that in a year or two he’s going to be the prince, because any other opportunity will dry up like the Sahara Desert. It also hopes he is both willing and able to shield me from the prince and his agents.”

She pauses. “Rewards… I mean he doesn’t have a death sentence hanging over my head, and if Smith was right, then he very well might be the prince in a few years. He’s riding a wave of support, and if anyone could shield me, it’s him. And if he does become prince then jumping ship early bodes far better than late.”

“He’s more approachable. More social. Less formal.” Caroline bites her lip. “But I feel like no matter what else happened, I’d always be watching my back with him. If I was out of time, up against the sharp edge of the prince’s justice? Maybe. But bargaining with him like that is asking for trouble. I don’t think… no. I know that the prince wouldn’t simply let me vanish into Savoy’s hands.”

GM: “Savoy becoming prince would be more convenient, but that’s largely out of our hands,” her mother considers. “Defecting is risky, like all defections are. But the long-term benefits of him being unaware of our arrangement are significant. I think it would benefit you to start making friends with him, if nothing else so that he’s an option when and if the prince’s bloc finally turns on you.”

Caroline: “He scheduled a meeting tomorrow.”

GM: “Convenient.”

Caroline: “He also had his people watching me during the trial.”

GM: “Hardly surprising.”

Caroline: Caroline arches an eyebrow. “Oh?” The extent of her mother’s understanding of the supernatural is still a vague and nebulous thing in her mind. Still, even outside of that, her mother is at least as, if not far more, politically astute as she is.

GM: “That Savoy’s people would be monitoring someone disaffected with the prince’s rule.”

Caroline: “Yeah…” Caroline remembers someone catching her, at least the feeling of it. The last person that tried ended up with her head as smashed as a post Halloween pumpkin, and yet Veronica just shrugged it off…

The two bounce a few more details of the current political situation around. Caroline’s broad position is openness to exploring other ideas and opportunities in the immediate. When they’ve not quite exhausted, but certainly walked the horse around the barn a few times, the talk moves to the family. In contrast to their dynamic discussion of politics, the Ventrue is now muted. “So it came out today.” The sadness in her voice isn’t forced.

GM: Caroline’s mother has by now started the car back up. Darkened skies, blinking lights, and the faint of whoosh of other cars roll past. “The story is that Westley fell off a boat.”

Caroline: “How bad was it?” she asks quietly.

GM: “He went yachting in the Gulf of Mexico with Talal al-Saud and some other ‘friends’,” Claire continues, her hands tightening on the wheel. “It was the middle of the night and everyone had been drinking or snorting god knows what. He went to the edge of the boat to relieve himself, and fell off. The yacht sailed back to the city. No one was sober enough to notice when he didn’t get off with them.”

Caroline: Floating for days in the water. “Oh.” That bad.

GM: “They say the body is unrecognizable.”

Caroline: Caroline’s perfect nails dig into the leather seat, and she can’t bear to look at her mother. Two dead children in as many weeks. Both her fault. The Ventrue heiress falls silent.

A long moment passes in uncomfortable silence. “He burned. For what it’s worth, he burned. I listened to his screams.”

GM: Her mother’s jaw clenches as she honks the horn at a car that tries to cut her off. “I want my son’s body, Caroline. His real one.”

Caroline: Caroline clenches her teeth. “I’ll make some calls. I can’t promise anything. It happened in the French Quarter, so it may fall under Savoy’s influence, but his body likely belongs to Father Malveaux. Finally, there’s the complication of those that actually did the deed. I’ll have to find out who even has it.”

GM: Claire’s eyes harden. “You can promise this to the seneschal, the sheriff, or whoever you’re reporting to: if I don’t have my son’s body, the deal is off.”

Caroline: “Jesus Christ, Mom…” Caroline grinds her teeth in frustration.

GM: “Yes, how unreasonable of your mother to want to lay her own fucking child to rest,” Claire snarls, blaring the horn at another passing car.

Caroline: “You’re not unreasonable, Mom, they are!” Caroline all but yells. “You think they are broken up about your cooperation? If I go to them with that, the answer is going to be that I had better come up with the body then at any cost, because I know the cost of you not working with them.”

GM: “Then go to them with something else. I don’t care what. Just get his body.”

Caroline: “You think I don’t want his body back? You think I don’t to lay him to rest? You think I don’t want some closure, and to give you some? But ultimatums don’t work when they hold all the cards.”

GM: “Caroline. Get his body. I don’t care what you say to them. It’s of no inherent value to them except as leverage over me.”

Caroline: She sighs. “But I’ll do it. I’ll pay whatever price they want. But know you’re not making demands of them. You’re not hurting them. You’re making demands of me.”

“And no, Mom, it’s not. They already have leverage over you: it’s the sword hanging over my head. It’s leverage over me… and it’s protection of the Masquerade, because what they did to Westley is not fit for public consumption.”*reverse those two

GM: “Fine. I am demanding that you bring back the body of your brother, who you didn’t even try to save,” Claire snaps.

She pulls the car off to a stop at the nearest curb and closes her eyes for a moment, the haggardness of her features looking all the more pronounced. “I’m sorry.”

Caroline: “No… I’m sorry. Your whole world has come crashing down, and it’s my fault.”

GM: Her mother lets out a low sigh as she stares ahead.

Caroline: “Just know it’s come crashing down for me too.”

GM: “Just get his body, Caroline,” she says wearily. “The public funeral can use the fake, if they’re so concerned about the Masquerade. It’s not as if it’s going to be open casket anyway.”

Caroline: “Okay,” Caroline nods.

GM: “And don’t undersell your position. They want us to cooperate with them. I’m an inordinately inconvenient Masquerade breach to have to clean up.”

Caroline: The comment sets Caroline deep in thought as to the very nature of her Embrace, to how she was plucked from a crowd and how long she was watched, how subtly she was influenced. To whether or not they knew the truth of her mother’s activities before her Embrace.

“Clean up.” Caroline says the words bitterly.

GM: “It’s what it is to them, Caroline,” her mother says levelly.

Caroline: “I know. What did you tell the family about me? It seemed like things were rapidly working towards panic.” Caroline knows. And she knows now matter how inconvenient, the moment they don’t have her as leverage over her mother, that her mother’s life is over. Another reason she can’t afford to meet her end.

GM: “Yes, they were. You only being able to answer your phone at night isn’t going to work. Not in today’s day and age where everyone is constantly connected.”

Caroline: “I know. They want me to stage my death anyway. Soon.”

GM: Her mother is quiet for a moment at that statement. “I suppose this couldn’t go on forever.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “And in this, if nothing else, they’re not wrong. You said yourself, this isn’t working. We’re barely two weeks in and I’ve got Gabriel trying to drop by and threatening to call the police. And it’ll only get worse in the summer, when the sun sets late and rises early.”

GM: “Gabriel wasn’t being unreasonable either,” her mother adds. “Both of us have seen you lately, but to the rest of the family, you seem like you’ve fallen off the grid since Decadence. When there was a catastrophic piece of news like your brother dying, your continuing silence only made everyone more bewildered.”

Caroline: “So, what was the story, before I get to returning calls?”

GM: “Gabriel stopped by your house. When it looked so wrecked and of course you couldn’t answer the door, he thought something had happened and reached out to the family. They hadn’t heard anything from you either, so he went to the police.” Her mother purses her lips. “He should have gone to Roger.”

Caroline: “So what did you do to calm him down?”

GM: “I caught wind and had Roger clear things up with NOPD. I told Gabriel that you’d been… raped at Decadence, and that was why everything in your life seemed to be falling apart.”

Caroline: “Oh.”

It’s a story they both discussed, but it’s still harsh to hear her mother talk about explaining to her little brother how she was sexually assaulted to cover up the far darker assault that took place.

“I’m sure that wasn’t an easy conversation.”

GM: “No. No, it wasn’t.” Her mother’s eyes look misty.

Caroline: “How did he take it?”

GM: “Badly.”

Caroline: A nod. “Should I assume that story is making the rounds in the family then?”

GM: “I had him promise to let you deal with things on your own time. I told him you didn’t want the story spread around, and that after an ill-advised party you held in Matt’s house, I was getting you to see a therapist.”

Caroline: “Does Dad know?”

GM: “Not yet. But now that the story is out to one person, it’s only good sense to tell him. He’s going to be back in the city the day after tomorrow. He flew back up to Washington to take care of some further business there, and tomorrow there are some things he wants to get done in Baton Rouge.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “I’ll try to keep the night open.”

GM: “Westley’s never been his first priority. Or I suppose anyone’s.”

Caroline: “Neither was I,” Caroline bitterly replies before she can bite it off.

GM: Her mother looks torn between the impulse to admonish Caroline and simple resignation over what’s an all-too apparent truth.

Caroline: Caroline shuts her mouth, but the next question sneaks out all the same. “Did you ever notice anything weird, Mom? When I was growing up I mean?”

GM: “You mean about you?”

Caroline: Caroline nods.

GM: “No, you were… normal. Normal enough, at least. All of this… I never expected it to happen… not as it did.”

Caroline: “What do you mean, not as it did?” Caroline probes.

GM: “That monstrous albino doesn’t just watch our family, Caroline. He’s interfered before.”

Caroline: “Did he interfere with me?” Caroline presses.

GM: “What are you searching for?” her mother asks back.

Caroline: “I don’t know,” Caroline admits. “Meaning? Purpose? When you’re turned into a damned monster by a being that walked the earth as one of the damned before your grandmother was born…” She sighs. “I got no answers from him in our brief meetings and now… well. It’s a bit too late to go asking questions. But it makes you question every choice in your life. Going to school at Tulane instead of to an Ivy League school. That push into law instead of medicine?”

GM: “I suppose it’s not impossible that another leech might have… groomed you. But the family is claimed by the albino, as you’ve said. I hadn’t been expecting Westley and… your murderer to interfere with our family, and as blatantly as he did. He seemed to come out of nowhere.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “Maybe I’m just looking for meaning in it. Searching for purpose amid the senselessness of it.”

GM: “You should look into him further. Even if he’s gone and can’t directly answer our questions, establishing a better sense of who he was could make his motives clearer.”

Caroline: “The childe of the last sheriff,” Caroline recounts. “Who left the prince’s service after his sire’s death at the hands of a group of hunters. I had an opportunity to interrogate his oldest servant. He didn’t seem to know very much.”

GM: “Yes, we went over your discoveries. What he had to say was quite informative, but there’s a great deal still missing. I suppose it’s poor practice for your kind to tell their slaves more than they need to do their jobs.”

Caroline: “What detail is that?”

GM: “His activities around the time of your death, for one. Why he came back to the city at all. Why he left in the first place. Outrage over the prince killing innocents sounds possible, but that’s still speculation on our parts. The full nature of his dealings with Savoy and the Setites.”

Caroline: “I’ll add it to the list,” Caroline replies dryly.

GM: “It’s your own murder to investigate.”

Caroline: “Is Gabriel still in town?”

GM: “Of course, after the news about Westley,” Claire confirms.

Caroline: “I’d like to see him.”

GM: “You have his number. I’m sure he’d like that too.”

Caroline: “Just making sure there aren’t any hanging chads on that. Are you going to be available over the next few days?”

GM: “None on him. But now that Gabriel knows something of what’s happened, we need to straighten out what story we’re going to tell your father. And yes, I should be.”

Caroline: “You’ve known him longer than I have,” Caroline responds to her mother’s comment on her father.

GM: “This isn’t solely for his sake, Caroline. We need to establish a consistent narrative that’s going to eventually come out to the rest of the family, as well as the police and possibly media, once you’ve faked your death. I was vague on the particulars of your… rape with your brother, but other people are going to require more detail.”

Caroline: The entire conversation leaves her feeling unclean, but Caroline finally nods in agreement.

GM: Her mother starts the car back up. “So, what’s the story?”

Caroline: “In broad strokes, I went out to Decadence, was separated from everyone else as the crowd turned rough, and was dragged down an alley by a group. At some point during their attack I blacked out. When I woke up I was alone, and had to make my way back home alone without my phone or wallet. My memories of it all are fuzzy—I was drunk, maybe even drugged.”

The unclean feeling builds. None of it’s a lie, not really, but none of it is the truth, and she’s known victims of sexual assault. Friends. Clients. Using it like this feels so wrong.

“But you knew all of that. We’re building out the details, right?”

GM: Her mother doesn’t look as if she’s enjoying the conversation particularly much either, but answers, “Yes, such as who’s going to take the fall for assaulting you.”

“Oh, that reminds me,” she adds, looking less grim, “there is some good news to share. That stalker of Cécilia’s has been sent to Orleans Parish Prison for a year, if you haven’t already read.”

Caroline: “Christ, what did that idiot do now?”

GM: “Oh, so you haven’t? Well, I’ve not followed the case as closely as Luke, but it all started when he tried to break into the girls’ dorms at Tulane, then caused a scene with the police. You said he was harmless, but it really does seem like a pattern, how much he’s harassing girls. I don’t think it was even 24 hours after he got out from jail that he was arrested again. There were also several counts of assaulting and obstructing public officers.”

Caroline: Caroline pinches the bridge of her nose. “He’s going to die there.”

GM: “Yes, that’s what Carson said too. Luke wanted him to reject any plea deal that didn’t result in prison time, but Carson was very insistent that conditions in the parish jail are worse than in many federal prisons.”

Caroline: “It’s pretty terrible,” Caroline agrees. She shakes her head. “You can’t fix stupid.”

GM: “He said that over 20 inmates are sent to hospital emergency rooms every month—hospitals, because their injuries are so severe the in-house infirmary can’t treat treat them. And that’s leaving out the ones who die or the corrupt staff refuses treatment to.”

Caroline: “That sounds about right.” Caroline shakes her head again. “What a moron.”

GM: “Luke says Cécilia is feeling much better.”

Caroline: “I guess that’s something. She was pretty freaked out when I talked to her.”

GM: “Yes, she was. God only knows how he got into her apartment building. And God knows that family has been through enough after the police shooting.”

Caroline: “In any case, enough about him. For potential attackers, I’m going to need time to put something together. My police contacts were… cut off. I can build something, find some likely sadists, but it’s going to be through other channels. For now, I’m too distraught to clearly recount it, and was drunk during the attack—I don’t clearly remember.”

GM: Her mother purses her lips. “You’ll need to put something together very soon, then. Your father will want to keep this out of the media, but taking care of ‘problems’ like this is exactly what we pay Roger for.”

Caroline: “I know, but I’m not eager to throw innocent men to the wolves, or craft a narrative that isn’t going to stand up and make it a bigger mess. I’ve also got, as you alone know, a number of other matters on my plate just this moment. And Roger isn’t some two-bit thug. He’ll do his homework, so this needs to look good.”

GM: Claire finally pulls up by Distinctive Parking, a parking garage near One Shell Square. She pays for a space but has to spend several minutes searching for an available one. “This is terrible,” she remarks. Normally, of course, the chauffeur would spare either Malveaux the need to hunt for space.

Caroline: Not the first uncomfortable ground they’ve been forced into of late. “It’s pretty awful,” Caroline agrees. “I almost had to go into a Wal-Mart earlier.”

GM: “And yes, you’re right Roger will do his homework. I suppose your kind’s powers could come in useful there.”

Caroline: “They could. I’d prefer they not be necessary.”

GM: Claire makes her way across the street to One Shell Square with Caroline. This early in the evening, there are still many pedestrians up and about. Bars and restaurants are still open. Human society carries on as normal during the night’s initial hours, and it feels almost possible to pretend the two are another mother and daughter discussing mundane things on their way to somewhere.

“Power is best only used when necessary,” Claire agrees.

Caroline: Caroline keeps her own more morose thoughts on that matter to herself. “Why didn’t we do this, Mom?”

GM: Claire doesn’t immediately respond to the question as the two approach the stairs down to the skyscraper’s basement club—one of the comparatively few buildings in New Orleans to possess a basement, thanks to the less swampy ground in the CBD.

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The doorman smiles at the pair and gets the door for them as they approach.

“Why don’t people do any of the things they wish they had on their deathbeds?” her mother asks.

Caroline: “Clarity,” Caroline provides. “Death is sobering.”

GM: The club’s interior is best described as subdued luxury. Silhouettes of dark figures are illuminated by soft multichromatic lights. In contrast to the wildly spinning and scintillating ones at French Quarter dance clubs, the Corner Club’s are stationary and reflect a graduating color palette: yellow by the bar, orange in an adjacent corner, magenta in the one next by, and indigo at that spot’s neighbor. Faces are distinct up close but not far away. Background music is soft, relaxing, and only half-audible against the low murmur of conversation. There is no central dance floor, and most patrons are parked at the bar or reclining on comfortable-looking leather couches. Most wear business attire, and many look old enough to be home-owning parents, or even grandparents.

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The figure who moves to greet Caroline and her mother is a handsome, 30-something man with dark hair and a carefully-trimmed goatee. He’s dressed in a casual black suit that could still be formal enough to wear to a board meeting if he buttoned it closed and on a tie.

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“Mrs. Malveaux, Ms. Malveaux,” he says soberly, without his usual smile. His gaze lingers on Claire. “I heard about your son. I can’t begin to say how sorry I am. I’ve had your favorite seat reserved, and drinks are on the house tonight. Don’t hesitate to let me know if there’s anything more I can do.”

“Thank you, Marcus. That will be enough for now,” her mother answers.

Caroline: “Marcus.” Caroline offers by way of greeting and acknowledgement. She can actually smell how good the hunting is here: middle-managers chasing MBAs, others chasing undergrads desperately in the rat race. Dark corners. The Ventrue doesn’t quite lick her lips.

GM: Her mother’s eyes linger on her for a moment. Claire does not otherwise seem in the mood for further small talk and Marcus is sensitive enough not to make any. He personally leads the two to what’s likely Claire’s favorite spot: a secluded, half-walled alcove that has a circular couch surrounding a round glass table with a large hole in the center. The hole rests just over an open and (thankfully for Caroline) unlit stone hearth. A soft orange glow rises from unseen lights at the bottom. Figures beyond the alcove seem indistinct shadows under the dim light. It seems almost as if Caroline and her mother are gathered around a primeval fire-spit, like ancient peoples who did so to ward off the dark—and the equally ancient monsters within it.

Marcus states that Claire’s and Caroline’s usuals will be by shortly, though he pauses just long enough to see if either of the two wants to order anything else. Claire doesn’t. The club’s manager tells them to let him know if there’s anything (anything) at all they should want, and the silently withdraws. An intercom is even built into one of the alcove’s walls, allowing patrons to order food or drinks from the bar in the other room without any need to get up from their seats. Claire sighs as she sits down on the couch.

“We did things together, when you were very young, but you always were closer to your father. Then during your teens I suppose we just drifted apart. His career kept him busier, he didn’t have as much time for you, and I suppose… we all kept drifting.”

Caroline: “You could have just said we all grew up,” Caroline replies wistfully.

GM: “There’s a difference between growing up and growing apart,” her mother refutes. More wantfully than insistently.

Caroline: “Is there? We all go form our own lives, our own circles, our own things that matter. For Dad it might have been politics, for Luke it looks like Cécilia… I think it’s like nap time though.”

GM: Claire gives a tired shrug. “That’s why we didn’t do things like this.”

Caroline: “You don’t appreciate it until it’s gone. Not just the thing, but even the opportunity.”

GM:’For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these:
It might have been.
’”

Caroline: “What do you want, Mom?”

GM: “Nothing. That I can have, at least. You broached the topic.”

Caroline: “I mean in general. I know this,” she doesn’t need to specify what, “wasn’t what you wanted, but what was your vision?”

GM: One of the club’s staff arrives, bearing Caroline and her mother’s drinks: greyhound with vodka, lime and gourmet ice for the former, and a white cuban with cream in place of milk for the latter. Claire thoughtfully swishes the sweet, coffee-flavored drink as the woman leaves, sending its own octagon-shaped ice cubes clinking.

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It’s not without some irony that Caroline can smell how the deliverer of her now-noxious drink is working on a college degree. How she could so easily slake the Ventrue’s real thirst.

“You and the rest of the family kept ignorant of the things going on in the shadows,” her mother answers. “But beyond that… I suppose I didn’t put a great deal of thought into how things could have been either.”

Caroline: “Interesting choice in men, if that was the goal,” Caroline replies as she takes a putrid sip of her already tart drink.

Because it’s expected, Coco said. The taste is even worse than she feared, but much like the hotel food of not so long ago, she manages to choke it down. It immediately sets her stomach—such as it is—rolling. It’s mostly through force of will that she keeps it where it belongs. Where she needs it to be. She has to be able to blend.

GM: Her mother silently and very obviously stares as she forces down the drink. “I can take a few sips of that for you. I can’t imagine it’s pleasant to choke down.”

Caroline: Caroline’s instinct is to decline. She needs to learn this skill, and her pride, to say nothing of the Beast, wants her to hide any weakness. But there have been so many barriers between them. So many missed opportunities.

“I’d appreciate it,” she answers. “It’s not as easy as it looks.”

GM: Her mother picks up the glass and takes a sip. Her lips pucker slightly. “Sour. I always preferred sweeter drinks.”

Caroline: “You and every other sorority girl I’ve ever known.”

GM: Her mother looks simultaneously guarded and faintly amused as the topic of sororities, but also her sorority comes up. It’s a peculiar expression.

Caroline: “Sometimes a joke is just a joke,” Caroline replies with a smile as she takes another sip of her drink that reduces it to the halfway mark and wipes the smile from her face. It’s awful, like drinking drain cleaner. There’s mental revulsion at the taste and physical revulsion to what has become so much more than the poison it once was to her. She sets the drink down.

GM: “Goodness, Caroline, I still said I’d drink from it,” Claire remarks as she sees Caroline still take a pull. “You could drop an entire lime in that and it’d probably still taste better to me than you.”

Caroline: “I need the practice, though I won’t turn down the help. Next time I’ll order a more housewife-appropriate drink though. Something off Sex and the City. No reason we should both suffer.”

GM: Her mother takes another sip of Caroline’s drink, then washes it down with a sip from her white cuban.

“The lead woman from a Bond film popularized these, actually,” she answers. “Mine is technically a variant. The film’s used vodka.”

Caroline: “Something new every day,” Caroline quips. “I used to meet him here. Not was often as I should have, but it was relatively safe for him after the accident. He could get away here.”

GM: Her mother’s face falls a bit. “Yes. I paid one of the bartenders to keep an eye on him.”

Caroline: “And no cameras here,” Caroline agrees. There’s a wistfulness and a sorrow to her words. “I’d have a couple of drinks with him, mostly to check on him. I think mostly we complained about Dad.”

GM: “At least you were talking. So many others in the family seemed to forget he existed,” her mother remarks with another sip of Caroline’s drink. There’s equal parts regret to her own words.

Caroline: “At least Luke and I had the early years. The only attention he ever got from Dad was when he did something wrong. Is it any surprise he kept doing it?” Caroline shakes her head. “After a while instead of trying to measure up…”

GM: “I suppose he just wound up the forgotten middle child,” her mother reflects. “You were the only girl. Luke was the oldest son. Gabriel was the baby, especially with how much later along he came than the rest of you.”

Caroline: “It’s not just that,” Caroline admits. “Luke and I were so busy competing for Dad’s attention… how was little brother supposed to compete? Oh, you took second place in the spelling bee? Caroline, tell me more about your trip to nationals.”

GM: “I had hope for a moment, you know, when you went into med school. Westley could have gone into law, and from there, politics. Luke’s always had a better head for business, and Gabriel was still so young. Your father would have been so proud to see one of his sons become senator or governor.”

“But Westley was…” Her mother sighs. “Well, I suppose if we’re being honest, he never felt he could measure up to you or Luke, in college. He felt as if he’d squandered his time in high school, not going to nationals or doing anything else really noteworthy like you did.” Claire sips her drink. “And spending time at that New Orleans school. He wanted to be in the city so badly, but maybe he felt like we didn’t want him either.”

Caroline: “You didn’t know?” Caroline asks.

GM: “I didn’t know what?” her mother asks.

Caroline: “He threw it. Those last two meets. After Dad didn’t show up when he cleaned house at Berchmans.”

GM: Claire sighs again. “No, he didn’t tell me that. But it would explain a few things.”

“After you went to med school, I convinced him he could make a new path for himself in law, and maybe politics—he’s always been good with people, and not quite so uptight as Luke. But the pressure was so hard on him in college. He still felt like he was racing to catch up with you and Luke. He was embarrassed that he didn’t get into an Ivy League school—maybe he felt part of that stemmed from shooting himself in the foot, with debate.”

“I tried to point out we’ve had a speaker of the House come from Tulane, but college party culture was just so attractive to him, I suppose, as a way to blow off steam. But that made his studies suffer, and turned it into a catch-22.”

“Then came the accident with the girl. You remember the family drama over that. How they all treated him. After that, he just… stopped trying. I’m really not sure how much St. Joseph’s had to do with that.”

Caroline: Caroline smiles sadly. “Different perspectives, I guess. It’s interesting to see the other side of it.”

GM: “How did you?”

Caroline: “Well, for one thing, I thought for sure you both knew how heavily he started drinking after Berchmans. He was so hung over the morning of his next tournament that I had to break out the frozen spoons to get him half presentable for it.”

GM: “He’d always had a weakness for alcohol,” her mother admits, “especially as a coping mechanism. But he wasn’t always a drunk. That really only got out of control after college… but since he’d always had a history of drinking, was intoxicated when he killed that girl, and no one else had really paid attention to him, I think they just wrote him off as being a perennial drunk. But he wasn’t born with a bottle in his mouth. He didn’t just drink for no reason. No one does.”

Caroline: “I don’t know why I jumped ship into law. Selfish I guess.”

GM: Her mother shakes her head. “It’s not as if your brother or I told you any of this. Besides, med school never seemed like it would work out.”

Caroline: “What do you mean by that?” Caroline asks.

GM: Claire takes another sip from both glasses, washing down the tart greyhound with sweet cuban. The glow of the hearth’s orange light softly illuminates her still-comely features, so like Caroline’s, but also the age lines her daughter will never bear.

“You never really struck me as a healer.”

Caroline: The words get under her skin like a splinter, and just like one she can’t help but pick at them.

“What did I strike you as, then?”

GM: “Someone more in your father’s mold. You always looked up to him so much.”

Caroline: “The early years. I remembered those years. Kept trying to recapture them. Remember him tucking me in, bedtime stories. My first report cards.”

GM: “It wasn’t anything you did or didn’t do. Your father always wanted to prove he could do more than your grandfather. His responsibilities finally grew to the point he could throw all of his time and effort into them.”

Caroline: “Does knowing make you feel it less?” Caroline asks, and not about her father.

GM: Her mother takes another sip from both drinks. “No. It helps some small part of it feel better, or at least make more sense. But I don’t feel it any less.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “And neither did I. I think I thought I could make him come back, make him see me, if I did something great. I guess I’ll get his attention at least once more.”

GM: “You could have gone into politics yourself, you know. A while in private practice, maybe concurrently as a state congresswoman. A jump from there to district attorney or attorney general, and from there to governor or senator. We did have a woman governor not too long ago.”

Caroline: “It was there in the back of my mind,” Caroline admits.

She opens her mouth, but nothing comes out when she starts to speak. She closes it.

GM: Her mother takes her hand. “I’m sorry.”

Caroline: Caroline shrugs. “Don’t be. The church,” and it’s clear she’s not speaking of the Catholic Church, “teaches that everyone that it happens to had it happen because they deserved it. I’m not any different. Maybe sometime I’ll tell you that story. And unlike all the others, there’s someone I can talk about it with at least.”

GM: That sentiment is oft-repeated among less spiritually developed Sanctified as ‘we are all Embraced for a reason’ or ‘it is by God’s will that we become Kindred.’ Such bromides, however comforting, are simply untrue. They posit a simple answer to an exceedingly complex question.

“Well, as far as sins do go, Caroline, your mortal ones are hardly a ping on the radar net to others in this family.”

Caroline: Caroline smiles tightly. “We’ll talk about it. Just not tonight.”

GM: “Very well. So far as remaining things for tonight, you’ve said they told you to fake your death.” Her mother takes another two sequential sips of greyhound and cuban.

Caroline: “Yes. Within the next year, and the sooner the better, so long as it doesn’t arouse suspicion.”

GM: “A year gives us some time, then, and could make sense in the aftermath of a rape. But a rape-driven suicide isn’t very good for your father’s image.”

Caroline: “The longer we wait the more uncomfortable this is going to become with the rest of the family,” Caroline replies. “And the more forced a narrative we’ll be crafting.”

GM: “So sooner rather than later, then.” Her mother drums her fingernails on the table’s glass. “We may as well get something out of your death if we have to put the family through it. We could have you murdered by a black criminal or anti-petroleum activist, who’s subsequently sent off to prison. That’ll make your father look strong while building up sympathy for him.” Claire sighs. “If only this were happening during an election year, and we could link the murder to your father’s opponent.”

Caroline: Caroline stares at her mother.

GM: Her mother stares back. “Your death is going to put this family through enough, especially after Westley’s. We might as well use it to help your father’s career.”

Caroline: Caroline holds her mother’s gaze for a moment, but finally looks away.

“So you want a murder,” she finally answers after a long pause. The Ventrue shakes her head. “A murder leaves a corpse, leaves an investigation, leads to trial, leads to extended media play. Makes everything much harder on my end, up to and including day to day interactions for the foreseeable future by keeping my face in the press. If that’s the direction you want, it’s going to have to be damn airtight.”

GM: “Of course we want a murder, Caroline. It could make an excellent political narrative.” Claire looks at her daughter sharply. “Do you want a suicide, instead? Some other scandal the family needs to cover up, that will tar our image? Is that the parting gift you want to leave your father with?”

Caroline: She effects a sigh. “No, but I’d rather it not be my last action either. It’s exactly the opposite of what they’re going to like. It’ll attract attention, it’ll invite outside investigations… it’s going to have to be perfect.”

GM: “Yes. That’s also why we should have a backup plan, in case for whatever reason, we can’t or don’t want to go through with a murder. An accidental death of some kind that won’t generate a sustained investigation, but will at least generate sympathy for your father. Lord knows the public is up in tears for the vice president after his son.”

Caroline: “What kind of accident?”

GM: “Perhaps a car crash, or drowning. Something that doesn’t make you look at fault. What occurs to you?”

Caroline: “I’d been more focused on narrative and cleanup, a jump off a bridge.” Caroline bites her lip. “Car accident might work better, especially with a fire. Drowning would leave too clean a corpse they’d want to see.”

GM: “A car accident, then. I presume acquiring a disfigured corpse wouldn’t be overly difficult for you.”

Caroline: “You’d think that,” Caroline replies. “Right now I don’t know. It’s probably not impossible, but again, it has to look good. If we mess this up it’s not just my head on the chopping block.”

GM: “It frequently isn’t.”

Caroline: “All right. I’ll start laying plans. But I’m going to need your help when it comes time to execute things.”

GM: Claire takes a long sip from her cuban. “Very well. Let’s plan your death.”


Tuesday night, 22 September 2015, PM

GM: Claire drives her daughter back to wrecked house several hours later. She reminds Caroline that the rest of the family will expect to her from her by tomorrow (the “lost phone” excuse will work only so many times, she adds) before pulling out of the driveway.

Caroline gives Autumn another call. It isn’t long before her minicooper pulls in to the driveway. “Hey. Lot to talk about, I guess?” She finds a place to sit down and looks at her domitor expectantly.

Caroline: “Why don’t you start with your end.”

GM: Autumn shrugs. “It’s been an uneventful few days. I mainly sat around watching Webflix, like you wanted. My family gave me crap for disappearing that many days with only a text, but they didn’t call the cops over me being missing or anything.”

Caroline: Caroline tries to keep her face straight, but if her first words strike a spark of irritation, everything Autumn relates as she goes on just adds fuel to the fire. “I see,” she replies tightly. Must be nice.

GM: “Is something wrong?” Autumn asks uncertainly. “I mean… besides the house. What happened here, anyways?”

Caroline: “Redecorating,” Caroline replies. “And nothing you did. It’s just been,” she pinches the bridge of her nose, “It’s been a long few days.”

GM: “I bet. They end up trying to use me against you like you thought?”

Caroline: “Let’s just say it wasn’t a very fun time, Autumn, but it’s over now and we’ve got a lot of work to do.” She bites her lip. “A lot of work.”

GM: “All right. A few other ghouls filled me in on how it went. What’s there to do?”

Caroline: “Well, let’s start with what the other ghouls told you. Easier for me to fill in around what you know than start from the beginning,” Caroline answers.

GM: Autumn fills Caroline in. It has most of the highlights; the prince executed around a dozen Kindred, including George Smith, for breaking the Masquerade. Hurst and Matheson got off. Before he died, Smith spilled that Vidal is overdue to enter torpor, and that Maldonato is Sabbat. Coco’s Anarchs aren’t jumping ship over to Savoy, but Veronica’s aren’t jumping back to Vidal either. Between that and the firestorm-like rumors Smith started, the general consensus is that Savoy won this round.

Beyond that, however, many of the finer details are vague or incomplete, as might be expected from witnesses who were sitting in the very back of the cathedral. None of the Kindred were using microphones.

“I also heard about your sire… I hope seeing him get justice brought you some closure,” Autumn finishes.

Caroline: “It was a bad way to go… but not bad enough.”

GM: “I can’t think of much worse, being burned alive and dying while apeshit.”

Caroline: “Maybe I just have a more active imagination,” Caroline concedes. “In any case, some of the concerns are the same: Trenton Nowak’s ‘suicide’, continuing to shift assets, my family probing, and how compromised this home is. Others are new, such as investigating, screening, and initiating additional prospective ghouls.” She bites her lip. “And putting your own life back together. I know hiding put a significant strain on you.”

GM: “It’s not the first time I’ve had to disappear from them. Not usually for that long, admittedly.”

“That’s a lot of other stuff, but I guess it’s good, now that your sire’s ash and you can focus on other things. Who are you wanting to bring in, so far as other ghouls?”

Caroline: “Less who, more what. There are certain needs that need to be seen to. Managing assets during the day, points of contact for other Kindred, and of course security.”

GM: “I can do some of that. Any new ghoul you bring in is gonna be totally ignorant of how the masked city works. And picking up an older one who isn’t won’t be free.”

Caroline: “Then we phase them in slowly and identify the best candidates. No more rush jobs, and no outsiders.”

GM: “You mean, normal people who aren’t already inside the club, or current ghouls?”

Caroline: “No one else’s ghouls.”

GM: “Well, you won’t want them interacting with other licks, then. Even you’re still getting up to speed on doing that.”

Caroline: “Not yet, but we need to start identifying long-term assets, Autumn. The basis for all power is long-term planning. Compounding factors.”

GM: “Sure. But if you need a ghoul to handle that stuff right now, or over the next few months… you really don’t wanna entrust it to someone green.”

Caroline: “I don’t want to entrust it to anyone, but even damned I’m not foolish enough to entrust it to someone else’s ghoul.”

GM: “I hope I don’t still count as one.”

Caroline: “You were different,” Caroline replies defensively.

GM: “That’s a relief. Where’s Turner, by the way? She should probably hear this too.”

Caroline: Caroline looks away for a moment. “She’s dead. She snapped… I don’t know what the last straw was, but the last time I spoke to her she was spewing nothing but hate and trying to get me killed.”

GM: Autumn grows very quiet at that news.

Caroline: “Look… there’s more to it…” Caroline sighs. “There’s more to a lot of things. And no, I can’t tell you. But this is the truth: I didn’t want her to die, I did everything in my power to prevent it, and I did everything I could to make it easier on her when it happened. I hate that she’s gone.”

GM: Autumn still does not speak for several moments. “Okay. Well… I guess life has to go on.”

Caroline: “The madness is over, Autumn,” Caroline tries to reassure her. “The bit with René, Eight-Nine-Six, the trial. There are always going to be dangers, but it’s my hope that we can take them more on our terms.”

GM: “If you say so,” Autumn says quietly. “I hope so too.”

Caroline’s insides abruptly churn. The Ventrue feels sick. Not from something as paltry as a stomach ache, but like bleach eating away her intestines.

Caroline: Her hand comes up to cover her mouth as Caroline bolts for the kitchen sink.

GM: The lime greyhound violently rocks up Caroline’s throat like an acidic geyser. The Ventrue hears herself loudly retching as something wet trickles down her chin. There’s no gunk that sticks to her teeth, but the aftertaste is worse than any vomit she’s expelled. It’s like trying to throw up on an empty stomach. It is throwing up on an empty stomach. She feels oddly but unbearably famished as it occurs to her that’s been over two weeks since she last ate anything solid.

Caroline: She shivers and wipes her mouth and chin with one hand. If she had to breathe she’d be gasping. As is she simply feels disgusted.

GM: “Uh, you okay?” Autumn calls. The revolting aftertaste does not go away. Caroline’s Beast snarls at the memory of how this meatsack could once have quenched it, but even Autumn’s thin blood would be better than the residual poison fermenting in her mouth.

Caroline: Caroline wets a towel instead and wipes the remains of the drink from her chin. She turns the water up to hot and scrubs at her hands without turning to face Autumn. “Tastes even worse on the way back,” she growls.

GM: “Bad blood?”

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “Vodka.”

GM: “Well, good call if you were wanting to blend in.”

Caroline: “Doesn’t feel like it right now.” Caroline rewarms the towel and wipes her face again. “But the family was freaking out. Had to put on an appearance.”

GM: “No way you could see anything like that coming in the future?”

Caroline: “The family or the vomit?”

GM: “Well, the vomit I think’s a given. And less dangerous than the family.”

Caroline: “I saw it coming, which is the only reason the cops didn’t show up.” Caroline rinses out the hand towel and hangs it over the facet. “I spun a story, but it’s not going to hold up forever. Need to start thinking about how I’m going to fake my death.”

GM: “That’s a good idea,” Autumn nods. “Suicide that doesn’t leave behind a body is easiest. Jumping off a bridge. Suicide via pills or overdose is even better if you have someone inside the coroner’s department to help falsify things. The Krewe does, of course.” The look in the ghouls’s eyes over Turner seems to mostly dim as she talks about the Masquerade.

Caroline: “That was my initial thought… but my family being the domain of Father Malveaux complicates things. A suicide would do a lot of damage to them, especially on the heels of my brother.”

GM: “You have something else in mind?”

Caroline: “Precisely? No. I need to talk to Father Malveaux. Generally? Maybe something that advances a political position or undermines a rival. Or a tragic accident. Car over a bridge railing. Everything has an up and a down side.”

GM: “Oh, speaking of Father Malveaux, I actually got a message from a ghoul of his to pass onto you. He said he’ll take your confession and hear how you did on your penance tomorrow at 9. Guess the trial had him pretty busy for a while.”

Caroline: “God damn it,” Caroline curses.

GM: “Busy then?”

Caroline: “Meeting with Savoy at 10.”

GM: “Could maybe work if you squeeze it. What’s Savoy meeting you for?”

Caroline: “Presumably to make his pitch.”

The two discuss events past, present, and future that Autumn has been largely left out of by her isolation over the last few days. Caroline doesn’t clue the ghoul into the details of her sentencing and instead focuses on plans for the future, in particular the idea of laying low and trying to establish a solid foundation before delving into Kindred politics. Among those things, she brings up the idea of interviewing and screening other potential ghouls more closely.

GM: Autumn is receptive to the ideas of Caroline establishing her own power base and performing interviews and background checks on other prospective ghouls. She continues to maintain that such recent inductees to the All-Night Society should not be allowed to interact with other Kindred. Her last question does not pertain to the future, however, but the past.

“So, Matheson… do you think he was really doing it? Feeding on those neonates? Or… you?”

Caroline: Give yourself to me. Caroline tries very hard to keep her face motionless at the memory of those words: not even a memory, a memory of an electronic memory.

“No. Not really. Too much to lose, too little too gain, and he’s been good to me… and by most accounts other neonates to.”

GM: “Well, I’m not sure most addicts do cost-benefit analyses of their addictions. But I guess at the end of the day no one could find proof.”

Caroline: “All they ever had was some weak ‘could haves,’” Caroline agrees.

Much like she herself does.


Wednesday night, 23 September 2015, AM

GM: It’s some hours later when Caroline parks her new BMW outside Donovan’s Audubon home. It’s still an expensive-looking, three-story affair with a wide driveway and impeccably-maintained yard with several neat rows of trees and flowerbeds. A Porsche and BMW sit in front of the house. Unsmiling guards see the Ventrue in. They walk her down polished hardwood floors and past bland photographs of still landscapes that would get an ‘A’ in photography class for meeting all the teacher’s grading requirements, and nothing else. Not so much as a smudge of dirt or creased rug is present in the house. There are no scattered clothes or electronic devices, dirty dishes, or sign it’s actually lived in. It feels more like a model house than a lived-in home. Indeed, for all the dwelling’s well-to-do-ness, its architecture is almost offensively generic, the same McMansion style copied in hundreds of wealthy suburbias. This house lacks a soul.

The guards escort Caroline to a spartan office room with a desk, three chairs, and little else. Donovan almost sits behind the desk.

“Hound Agnello has purchased your rights to dwell in my domain,” the sheriff states without preamble, “and is willing to accept your oath of fealty as his tenant. You are hereby expelled from the parish of Riverbend. You are permitted 24 hours to remove yourself and your possessions before you are dealt with as an intruder.”

Caroline: Caroline keeps the frown off her face as she tries to put together what the sheriff said, make sense of the words. Out of the sheriff’s house into his hound’s kennel? It’s a bitter thought that she flushes. Agnello has been little but kind to her, and she can hardly pretend that she didn’t wish to be free of her oath to Donovan. The two have yet to have an interaction that doesn’t involve him taking advantage of or punishing her in some way, and given his low opinion of her is, the prospect of eternity under his thumb was unpleasant.

On the other hand, twenty-four hours to make a move into another domain given her meetings tomorrow and the late hour already leaves her little time to make it work, and that he took the time and spent the effort to buy out her ‘lease’ as it were bodes ill of she turns up her nose at his offer…

“My thanks for conveying his invitation, and for the shelter of Riverbend these nights.”

GM: “Your total obligations to me amount to the following,” Donovan coolly continues. He recounts: last week’s still-outstanding corvée. Her failure to pay that corvée on time. Changing the form of that corvée at her request. Permitting her to abduct a single kine from Tulane.

The sheriff pulls back his sleeve, produces a pen knife, and slits his wrist. He extends his arm across the desk. The unmistakable coppery tang of vitae fills the air as his storm-gray eyes wordlessly bore into Caroline’s.

Caroline: Caroline keeps her face impassive as the sheriff lays out the many ways in which he has ensnared her, then stares at his wrist. The smell is remarkably distracting. Much rests on whether or not he knows, but she suspects he does, suspects he has as much respect for the privacy of her mind as did Matheson.

“Was there anything else I should be aware of in the immediate, Sheriff Donovan?”

GM: Donovan’s achromatic eyes bore into hers.

“Drink.”

Caroline: There’s a flash of muted colors, all black cloth and white skin, as Caroline rises from her seat and half-kneels against the desk. She doesn’t quite lick her lips as she swallows the blood down.

GM: The vitae is ice-cool as it trickles down Caroline’s throat, as if it’s been left in a freezer. Each cold pang leaves her longing her more.

“Deliver me a complete recounting of your interactions with Claire Malveaux since your Embrace,” the sheriff states. His face seems all-too close. His frigid gaze all-too intense.

Caroline: She feels that same abnormal pull towards the sheriff, that slight tweaking of her perspective, as the vitae fills her. It twists at his demand, though. Bucks. Fights.

“Deliver you, or deliver the prince through you, Sheriff Donovan?”

GM: The sheriff only stares, eyes cold and dead as any shark’s.

Caroline: Caroline meets that stare. Those dead eyes. Something pulls at the back of her mind, asks what the harm could be of giving in to the sheriff… it wars with her rational mind, but for now she holds her tongue.

GM: Pallid lips pull back. Fangs flash. Howling winds fill Caroline’s ears as a storm bursts from Donovan’s colorless eyes—eyes as frigid and merciless as an Arctic sea in the dead of winter. The low hiss from the sheriff’s lips sounds like cracking ice plates. Caroline’s Beast shrieks as its plummets into the deathly cold waters beneath. It thrashes madly to surface before it’s too late. Before it sees what’s at the bottom.

The Ventrue realizes she is staring at Donovan’s desk—and that his patience, like the seneschal’s, is far past its end with her.

Caroline: The Beast’s retreat leaves Caroline feeling empty in the face of the monster inside the sheriff. She’d once thought he was simply doing a job. That it was a thankless one. She’d defended him in her mind, as she defended many cops forced to deal with thugs and criminals on a daily basis. She was wrong.

This is no tired lawman exasperated by his duties. It’s a cold-blooded predator that takes its only pleasure in the sick domination of others. His office is not a burden, it’s a bludgeon in the hands of a monster. He’s every bit as disgusting, vile, and cruel as any Anarch in the city might believe. His lack of patience is not with exasperation over her actions, it’s with the fact that he hasn’t been allowed to murder her as he’s murdered so many countless others on the edge of that sword he carries around. She remembers all of those Kindred executed on the stage when she was first turned over to him in front of her. Remembers his blade over her neck and the lie his hound told that spared her. Remembers all of those horrible executions at the trial. Remembers Jessica’s head in a box. Remembers how he turned her over to René.

For all of that, this is the first time she’s seen anything but that blank stare on his face. The first time she’s seen anything inside of him. Anything of what makes him tick. The sheriff may be empty, but it’s not the emptiness of an unfilled room, the emptiness of the shattered home she’ll never go back to after tonight. It’s the emptiness of the deepest oceans scoured clean of life by the most terrifying of predators. The emptiness of the Arctic circle, where only those that hide from the unforgiving wind can exist. The emptiness of space, in which anything that enters dies. And her brief visit leaves her just as cold as one to any of those.

She shivers and shakes physically, her teeth clattering. Left alone, abandoned by her Beast before the sheriff, she’s all too aware of her vulnerability. Of how many souls he has swallowed up. Of how easily she could be next.

She begins to talk. She tells him what he wants. To tell him whatever he wants about perhaps the only human that knows, that will ever know, what she is, and how she feels. As she does so his blood works upon her, painting upon her mind in strokes neither gentle nor subtle to her already torn consciousness, pulled in half a dozen directions by similar ties. As she relates a tale that can only end with her mother at best slain, and at worst enslaved, it isn’t with the hatred of a daughter betraying her mother. It isn’t as a fish caught in the jaws of a shark. It’s as a young wolf offering up a tribute to the pack alpha. A monster admiring a monster. And no matter how hard she tries she can’t hate him for it. For anything. Even as her conscious mind rebels. As it screams in intellectual terror and reasoned fury at being treated so, her emotions betray her. Those arguments are only words. Those thoughts are only thoughts. In this moment she only feels close to him.

GM: Donovan patiently listens to Caroline’s tale without comment or change in facial expression.

When she is finished he states, “You will deliver weekly oral reports to me, at this time and location, on the entirety of your interactions with Claire Malveaux. You will establish a direct channel of communication between us. I will not deal with her through you.”

Caroline: “She will refuse to use that channel,” Caroline answers.

GM: “Then you are of no use to our prince and may be executed without loss,” the sheriff answers dispassionately.

Caroline: That’s not true, Caroline wants to snarl. Instead, she continues simply, “But you’re trying to force her to alter her deal within a week of making it to her determent. No one would agree to that. To say nothing of how she’ll view meeting with any other Kindred to begin with.”

GM: “This audience is concluded. Remove yourself.”

Caroline: She doesn’t want to go, but the weight of his Beast and the blood running through her pulls her in another way. She stiffly stands and takes her leave from the sheriff, passing back through the halls of the wretched McMansion and into the night. Another impossible demand. Another threat of execution. She peels out of the driveway and accelerates rapidly past the speed limit out of Audubon Place in the sleek German-built car, focusing on the road as cars and houses flash by. She doesn’t want to go ‘home’, such as it is, for the last night she’ll ever spend there, but she can stay out a few more minutes into the evening.

While she’s speeding down dark and empty streets—darkness she can see through better than any human—she can try and distract herself with the operation of the vehicle. But when she pulls back into Audubon Place and the driveway ‘home’ she can’t hide from the anguish she feels. The still-open wound of the seneschal’s death sentence broken back open and left to bleed. The ruin of her life and everyone she’s cared about. The future’s endless promise that comes due each night only in the form of more misery. When she finally drags herself back inside the house for perhaps the last time, in flight of the coming sun, a voice in the back of her mind why she bothers. It’s not the first time. She still doesn’t have an answer.

Robbed of the freedom to hate her sire, the sheriff, or most of her tormentors, she’s left only with hatred for herself.


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Story Six, Caroline XII, Jacob I, Rocco II

“I sentence you to final death.”
Augusto Vidal


Monday night, 21 September 2015, AM

Caroline: Caroline breaks from the crowd of Kindred after the trial’s first night concludes. She departs into the night and calls a ride only when she’s a block away from the church. She’s exhausted, worn down by bone-sheering weariness, the kind of fatigue and wear that cuts down mountains. As she heads home she shoots off a text back to her mother.

Early evening is better tomorrow.

GM: The Ryde cab arrives after several minutes and drops Caroline outside the door to her house after several minutes more. No response to the 4:30 AM text arrives from Claire.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t expect one, or perhaps even want one right now. She just wants to get away. Her home is just as wrecked as before, and she picks her way through it with frustration.

GM: The house’s inside is still a complete wreck, though it smells better, as the rotting food over the kitchen floor has been cleaned up. There are some further signs of progress in the living room, with various fallen items righted, and broken ones thrown out, giving the house an even more empty and forlorn look than when Caroline saw it last.

Carla has left a message on Caroline’s phone that this is a big job for one woman and will take her a while, at least if Caroline wants her to clean and re-arrange the various ransacked objects and sundry rather than throw them all out. She’s requesting a higher hourly rate, as she’s going to have to drop some other clients.

Caroline: It’s a rate Caroline is happy to pay. Anything to wash away everything else the house’s wreckage means to her. If she had an alternative, she’d torch the entire building.

As it is, she numbly heads upstairs. She double checks on her hidden blood, stashed in her own off-limits bedroom, but her heart isn’t in anything. With am hour or more to go before sunrise she climbs into the attic once more and hides herself in insulation, wondering why she even bothers.

She tries not to think on what tomorrow will bring.


Monday evening, 21 September 2015

GM: Caroline closes her eyes, and one second later it’s 7:32. The Beast’s hungry pangs are ever so slightly sharper.

Caroline: She sighs and checks her messages for the day.

GM: There’s a response from Claire that she can’t meet today but can do 8 tomorrow. There’s also another message from Ruth Holman, the landlady of Lou’s building, calling over further mundane details related to finalizing the sale. There’s a second message from Caroline’s mortgage broker at Whitney National Bank too.

Caroline: As the Ventrue descends the attic into the rest of the house, she suppresses the urge to throw a fit at the change of plans.

GM: She finds a typed note on her couch saying the sheriff will see her at his Audubon house on Wednesday tomorrow at 4 AM.

Caroline: There’s not even a bat of an eyelash at the casual invasion of her privacy once again. The Ventrue throws the note in her dented steel trash can and pulls up the requirements for the building purchase. She fires a somewhat nasty message to her mother about getting put off. It’s petty and cruel, but so is just about everything else in her life.

Glad I’m a priority, Dad._

The heiress spends most of the next several hours immersed in mundane activities from her home, sitting in the ruins of her life. The silence of the house is deafening. Eventually she washes and dresses for the trial and her potential release, but it’s mostly going through the motions at this point.

Looking at her perfect form in the mirror, all dressed up for the event, she’s overcome by a flash of rage and frustration and rips the standing mirror out of her room. She flings it down the stairs, watching it shatter into a million pieces as it plummets and crashes its way to a stop at the bottom on the hard wood floors. Glass and shattered wreckage join a cry of anguish as she tries and fails to rip at the guardrail before falling into the wall and sliding down to a seated position.

GM: As the glass loudly smashes over the ruined home’s hardwood floor, providing Carla with even more trash to clean up, Caroline’s phone buzzes with a text. The sender is Claire.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t check it. Instead she quietly sobs on the floor. She knows even this is an act, and a petty one. She’s left herself plenty of time. And the knowledge of that only furthers her self-loathing.

In due time, she rises and fixes her face in the bathroom mirror. She checks her dress. She goes through all the motions again. She has a trial to attend, after all, and it wouldn’t do to be late.

She eventually checks the message when it badgers her on unlocking her phone to call a ride.

GM: Spare me the tantrum. Your father and I raised you better. Do you want to meet tomorrow or not?

Caroline: She wants to snarl back a response and apologize at the same time. Raised her better for all the good it’s done her. She texts back that she’ll see her mother then.

Assuming I’m still here, she doesn’t add.


Monday evening, 21 September 2015

Rocco: As Rocco promised, a messenger comes for Caroline. Sharp, steady taps cp,e from her front door. Birds chirping and singing quietly emanate from outside the house.

Caroline: Caroline closes Autumn’s laptop and gestures for the ghoul to wait as she moves to the door and peeks through the glass that surrounds it.

GM: Autumn had added earlier that she could buy Caroline another one tomorrow. Shopping is a lot harder after dark.

Rocco: A trio of beady-eyed finches perch idly by on a nearby branch, overlooking Caroline’s doorway, as a fourth one continues to tap at her front door. An enveloped wrapped in purple string is tied to one of its legs. Caroline’s name is emblazoned in stylish calligraphy.

Caroline: The Ventrue eyes the birds with some interest as they don’t flee or seek to attack her, then bends to retrieve the envelope. For all the abnormality of the delivery of a letter by carrier finch, it somehow makes her feel normal. At least in a way.

Rocco: The bird frees itself from the purple string with minimal fuss, joining its brethren in a quartet.

Caroline: She keeps an eye on the birds as she opens the letter, keenly aware of the last letter delivery and the trouble it caused.

Rocco: The quartet of finches break out in a sweet serenade as Caroline opens the letter.

To Miss Malveaux,

I wish to invite you to a dinner party at Harrah’s New Orleans on Wednesday, the 23rd of September. The 26th floor of the hotel has been booked out for a night of fun and merriment. It is my wish to foster friendship and goodwill.

In this endeavor, Miss Malveaux, I wish to inform you in hopes of better preparing you that Sheriff Donovan plans to expel you from his domain in one night’s time. I want to use the night to discuss the business of potentially taking you on as a tenant instead.

Yours in good faith,
Rocco Agnello

P.S. Please burn after reading.

Caroline: Caroline stares at the note. ‘Plans to expel you’ and ‘fun and merriment’. She’s never been on the receiving end of an eviction notice before, but she doubts they usually include both sentences.

She looks back uneasily at the singing birds and offers a muted thank you, more uncertain of how to respond than anything else.

Rocco: The finches conclude their birdsong and take off in different directions, flying away into the night.


Tuesday night, 22 September 2015, AM

GM: The trial is re-convened at midnight in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. There is less pomp and ritual than the previous night: neither mass nor communion is held. Vidal gives a brief sermon notably emphasizing the theological as well as practical necessity of the Masquerade.

“The question arose: If we are meant to be tormentors of humanity, driving them to the path of righteousness, why must we conceal our holy mission? Did not Christ’s early disciples die as martyrs for their faith?”

Leaving aside the practical necessity of the Masquerade, and how war between Kindred and kine would devastate both, Vidal states that instigating such a conflict would betray the Kindred’s divinely mandated role as God’s wolves.

“Kindred en masse, known to mankind en masse, would be a terrifying evil,” the prince acknowledges. “Yet such evil would be a known adversary for mankind to rally against. Hidden, we meet our prey face to face. Each victim is isolated not only by the terror of our presence, but by his isolation from his fellows. The wolf does not announce its presence until its jaws are closed fast around the lamb’s throat: so too must it be with us as Kindred.”

Caroline: The ancient devil’s charm is still there, still burning brightly in her mind, captivatingly, and though she knows it’s from more than simply the power of his words and his presence—his blood flowing through her veins gives truth enough to the unearthly power he’s exercised over her, Caroline finds it hard to turn away as his voice calls to her despite the malaise that hangs over her.

GM: After praising the wisdom of Longinus and the Monachus, Vidal leads the crowd through a collective prayer and formally convenes the trial of Gabriel Hurst. Karena Cingolai reprises her role as the prosecution. Camilla Doriocourt serves as the defense.

Cingolai wastes no time in tearing into the specifics and gritty details of Hurst’s claim to have planted the M34 phosphorus grenades in Smith’s bags. She demands to know where Hurst obtained them. She calls several ghoul and kine witnesses (the latter clearly mesmerized) to the stand, including John McCullem. All of them testify that Gabriel Hurst had no ties of note to either the military or criminal underworld. Several Kindred with such ties, whose names include Rocco Agnello’s, testify that Hurst had no dealings with them in recent nights. Hurst claims to have worked solely through mortals, as he did not want to alert other Kindred as to his activities. Cingolai demands the names of his contacts, when and where he met them, how he paid them, and dozens of other details that steadily make his story unravel under sustained questioning.

Doriocourt is able to discredit a good number of witnesses, and draw connections between them and Kindred puppet-masters with known vendettas against Clan Ventrue or the Lancea et Sanctum, but she can at best slow the tide.

Caroline: Caroline bites her tongue watching the exchanges. It’s hard for her to have the same level of investment as many seem to have, with no knowledge of Hurst. But she can well imagine that many are just as happy to see anyone burn as they are to see him burn for whatever grudges they might hold against him—or his sire.

GM: Cingolai then calls Doriocourt’s own sire, Donovan, to the stand. The sheriff details the results of his own investigation into the M34 grenades. He explains that George Smith recently purchased a small container of them from Guilo Matranga, a ghoul to Rocco Agnello who worked as an explosives expert in Afghanistan. Matranga confirms that he sold the grenades to Smith, and that he obtained them from two kine named Brett Cuellar and Riley Hitchcock, who serve in the Louisiana National Guard and its local New Orleans base. Both kine are called to the stand, and give their mesmerized testimony that they sold the M34 grenades to Matranga. Hitchcock, the NCO, has been claiming they were used in explosives exercises, and Lt. Cuellar has been falsifying the necessary documents. They have been careful not to sell too much hardware to the Mafia, and never anything not used in regular munitions or explosives training. It’s provided a small but steady stream of extra income to the jaded servicemen.

Vidal orders both National Guardsmen executed on the spot for dereliction of duty. Some Kindred watch with apparent distaste as Donovan slits the terrified men’s throats. Others keep their expressions neutral. Some seem to enjoy the spectacle.

Caroline: It’s a gruesome, painful, and long in coming way to go. Caroline reflects numbly from far back in the rows, away from the scent of it and with even the sight detached. The combination of choking on their own blood and a lack of blood flow to the brain creates simultaneous feeling of drowning and that lightheaded push towards darkness.

Caroline doesn’t envy them. It’s a rare sentiment from the Ventrue.

GM: Brown raises an objection over the testimony, claiming that Smith’s trial is over, but Vidal overrules him and sternly reminds the crowd that he has yet to pronounce Smith’s verdict—words that are all-too poignant as ghouls haul away the two kine’s corpses and clean up the blood from their deaths.

Caroline: Or, Caroline cannot help but note, her own. She squirms uncomfortably in her seat.

GM: Several further kine and ghoul witnesses confirm Smith’s dealings with the Mafia, and that Smith openly walked about the Windsor Court after surviving the explosion at Slidell (in a horrifically wounded state), using Caine’s gifts to overawe any kine who saw him. Further unhappy murmurs go up at his continued irreverence for the Masquerade.

Hurst’s testimony fares little better once the grenades are so conclusively linked to Smith. Cingolai asks Hurst many grenades he supposedly bought from the Mafia; the Ventrue primogen, evidently not nearly as knowledgeable about as explosives as Rocco’s ghoul, quotes a number that the demolitions expert debunks as too small to have created a blast of the force that went off in Slidell.

“The number of M34s I sold Mr. Smith was just right for it,” he adds.

Cingolai then questions the nature of Hurst’s character, and whether a shortsighted ploy to gain a boon over Smith to by detonating so many bombs is really the sort of thing he would do. The prosecutor’s query draws a number of prominent witnesses, including three sitting members of the Cabilo. Coco Duquette, Miss Opal, and Pearl Chastain all concur that although Hurst is their youngest member, and relatively young for his position, he has sat on the Cabildo for ten years and demonstrated a generally patient and levelheaded temperament, as well as a dislike of avoidable violence.

Caroline: The whole thing reeks of pageantry to Caroline. It’s all a show. This isn’t a trial, it’s theater. It’s a justification. The verdict has been in since the beginning.

Looking out at her snarling, entertained, engrossed fellow damned, however, she can’t deny that it’s effective theater.

GM: Hurst’s own sister-in-blood, Becky Lynne Adler, appears all too willing to play her role in the theater as she testifies that, “Oh, I just can’t picture him doin’ a fool thing like that. He’s always been very cautious and methodical, you know. If you examine his business practices, in fact, you’ll find he shies away from speculative investments. He’s always told me how slow and steady wins the race.”

Becky Lynne’s statement is supported by the number of further witnesses who come to Hurst’s ‘defense’, though the only ones Caroline recognizes are Gus Elgin and Roxanne Gerlette. The crowd slowly seems to turning against Smith… his spectacle last night was masterful, but that was last night. The walls are slowly but surely closing in. The crowd loves watching someone, anyone, squirm.

Cingolai draws out the process, then claims Hurst is only taking the fall for Smith’s role in the Slidell incident because of a prestation debt. Hurst’s counsel, Doriocourt, once again finds herself in the peculiar position of the prosecution’s arguments actually helping her client’s defense: after all, it’s better for Hurst to have lied paying back a debt than to have broken the Masquerade.

The question is immediately raised over how Smith might have incurred such a debt. Smith claims that Hurst was behind his attack on the road to Matheson’s, and wanted to stop the neonates he’d recruited from falling into Matheson’s clutches. Cingolai, however, claims the whole attack was staged, and that George hired thugs to shoot up his own car in hopes of claiming a larger prestation debt from Matheson for his troubles (after all, he was the one who agreed to deliver neonates to the elder’s haven). The two Ventrue argue back and forth, each claiming the other one is lying or has manufactured evidence, and the distinction of whose trial is actually being held grows quite blurry. The crowd laps it up.

Cingolai hammers home the irregularities in Smith’s and Hurst’s accounts over the grenades that Smith purchased, as well as Smith’s pattern of repeated disregard for the Masquerade against Hurst’s prudent character. Doriocourt’s own closing statement largely skirts the issue of Hurst’s role in the explosion, and in fact appears to tacitly support it by emphasizing his good character. In the end, while the crowd is not howling for Smith’s blood to the same degree they did Hurst’s, more than a few dirty (or mirthful) eyes glare upon the Ventrue… there is a general sense that his last-ditch maneuver to deflect blame for the Slidell incident has not worked.

Vidal convenes another recess before the long-awaited trial of John Harley Matheson begins.


Tuesday night, 22 September 2015, AM

Caroline: As the crowd breaks into cliques once more, Caroline is again left out in the uncomfortable cold. It’s an experience she’s not terribly familiar with—nor enamored with the more she sees of it.

However uncomfortable it might be in general to someone accustomed to floating through such crowds and picking her own groups at will, it’s all the more uncomfortable in a sea of predators. Some social butterflies like to think themselves ‘social’ predators. She didn’t, but the argument on where you fall in the foot chain socially was one that was at least somewhat convincing to her. Less so now: she’s seen the face of true predators, dozens of them in this very room, and being alone makes her skin crawl. Plucking a similarly alone face from the crowd she makes for a well-dressed but gaunt young man.

“Hello. I think we may shop at the same tailor.”

GM: Caroline catches him as he’s breaking off from conversation with an acne-riddled, revoltingly hideous figure that can only be a Nosferatu. The Ventrue is keenly reminded that few vampires are so alone as she previously was.

The emaciated, hollow-cheeked seemingly young man regards Caroline with faint amusement. He stands in sharp contrast to the vital-looking young woman. He is exceptionally gaunt even for a Kindred, with hollow cheeks and dark circles under his watery gray-blue eyes. He stands about half a head below Caroline and wears a finely-tailored gray suit that partially hides his bony, stick-like limbs. His shoulder-length brown hair is thin and wispy.

Pic.jpg
“His good luck to clothe a frame as lovely as yours.”

Caroline: Caroline smiles. “And to have a client like you with such excellent manners and bearing to serve as an ambassador to the world. But then, I suppose some people have all the luck.”

GM: “Or at least streaks of it, but all streaks run out. Anthony Brodowski,” the rail-thin man introduces himself.

Caroline: “We all have our moments. Caroline Malveaux,” the Ventrue replies.

GM: “So what can I do for you, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: “Besides regale me with the pleasure of your company? I confess I have no ulterior motive.”

GM: “Really? That’s a funny turn of luck for someone to talk to me about luck,” the sunken-eyed vampire remarks.

Caroline: “Oh?” Caroline asks. “Is there an inside joke I’ve missed?”

GM: “No joke, though I suppose it’s amusing. My sire operates a casino.”

Caroline: “I suppose we all do something,” Caroline replies. “And I can imagine that he finds plenty to keep him busy with such an enterprise.”

GM: “Yes, plenty. Perhaps you’ll grace the Alystra some night. There’s always a place for beautiful women at casinos.”

Caroline: “By the tables, luring men to their fates, or by the bar, luring them to their doom?” Caroline asks with a flash of a smile.

GM: The dark circles under Anthony’s watery eyes spread as his lips do. “Some would argue they’re one and the same. As my sire likes to put it, ‘Be it in blood or coin, the house always wins in the end.’”

Caroline: Caroline sweeps her gaze up to the front of the Church, where the prince and his pawns are assembled. The sheriff. The seneschal. Hounds and ghouls aplenty.

“Yes, I can’t say that I disagree.”

GM: “Smart. Well, it’s been pleasant making your acquaintance, Miss Malveaux, but I’m afraid duty calls.”

Caroline: “Of course,” Caroline replies politely.

GM: The gaunt vampire takes his leave. The sea of predators stretches before Caroline once more.

It swiftly washes back in.


Monday night, 21 September 2015, AM

GM: The tide of boos is overwhelming as John Harley Matheson takes the stand. His defense, who Caroline recalls could have been her, is Anthony Brodowski. He eloquently introduces his client and proclaims that Mr. Matheson denies all charges against him. The elder Ventrue merely stares imperiously at the prosecution, as if not deigning to respond directly to slander.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t envy the neonate’s job, given the outpouring of hatred against an elder in public.

Well, that and the fact that she knows for a fact that his client is guilty as sin.

GM: Vidal sternly calls the crowd to order, but one does not need to hear their boos to know what they think of the proud elder proclaiming innocence. Matheson’s defender doesn’t spend a second longer trying to sell it. He proclaims to the crowd that others have tried to fool them and play them for dupes. The claim that Matheson feeds on neonates is fiction devised by a treacherous and opportunistic demagogue who sought to plunge the city into chaos for his own gain: George Vernon Smith.

Brodowski (or perhaps Brown, if the former is wearing an earpiece like Caroline planned to) continues that George fabricated the narrative of Matheson being a headhunter in order to frame Vidal as a willing accessory to Matheson’s crime and turn public sentiment against the prince. Brodowski does not mention any Kindred by name, and says merely that George meant to incite a “civil war” among the city’s Kindred, let another claim the princedom, and then depose that claimant while they were new and insecure in their power. More than a few eyes turn towards Antoine Savoy, but the Lord of the French Quarter just grins like he’s listening to a riveting story. George smiles but keeps silent this time as Cingolai asks that Brodowski explain why, then, Matheson was exiled by Prince Vidal if this whole thing is a ploy of Smith’s—surely the hotelier’s influence doesn’t extend that far. Matheson finally replies that he would be only too glad to explain.

Over a century and a half ago, Matheson announces, he belonged to a loosely allied network of plantation-owning Kindred who dwelled in the states that would eventually form the Confederacy. The South’s cities were never so large or numerous as the North’s: regional Kindred politics become something akin to feudal Europe, with individual vampire lords ruling their fiefdoms absolutely, Embracing only when necessary, and thriving in the easy hunting grounds of the slave quarters. Because of their unlives of ease, these plantation-owning vampires grew extremely jealous and protective of their domains—as well as careless. Reports filtered back to the Northern Camarilla that these Southern vampire lords were establishing blood cults and openly flouting their natures before terrified slaves. The Camarilla dispatched archons to investigate the situation. None returned to Boston. This resulted in a justicar announcing his intention to personally visit and inspect the Camarilla’s Southern fiefs, including New Orleans.

Many plantation-owning Kindred threw their support behind the burgeoning Confederacy and declared their independence from the Camarilla—including Matheson. Vidal had cooperated with the archons in their prior investigations, and come to believe Matheson had founded his own blood cult and flouted the Masquerade as his fellows were doing. His plantation was located outside New Orleans, however, where Vidal’s praxis did not extend. In light of the justicar’s pending inspection, the prince decided it would be politically expedient—as well as just—to banish Matheson from New Orleans. Vidal could not regulate what his younger clanmate did in his own domain, but he could deny Matheson the privilege of dwelling in his city.

Vidal never saw fit to disclose the reason. It was of some embarrassment to Clan Ventrue that one of their own would support rebellion against the Camarilla.

The Civil War came and went. The justicar used the Union Army as his fists to shatter the power bases of Matheson and his fellows, then let the Emancipation Proclamation deliver the coup de grace to their power. The nights of easy feeding on cowed plantation slaves were over forever. The survivors pledged renewed loyalty to the Camarilla. The Camarilla was merciful, though they could afford to be. The rebels had lost their lands, their herds, their power, and their prior way of unlife. Vidal never saw fit to disclose this blemish upon Clan Ventrue’s reputation, nor was he prepared to exonerate Matheson’s crime and rescind his exile. Matheson continued to dwell in his plantation outside New Orleans for the next century and a half, inviting neonates—as well as elder Kindred—to visit him and ease his solitude. Numerous older Kindred that they received Matheson’s invitations, including the Cabildo themselves. Many (though not all) declined to visit the elder Ventrue. The journey to his plantation was long and perilous, especially before the advent of modern cars and highways. Only neonates judged gaining an out-of-town elder’s favor to be worth the risk.

Caroline: For Caroline it’s an interesting tale, and a valuable history lesson, but she finds herself wondering just how much of Matheson’s specifics are fiction, especially as he lost not his lands, his apparent herds, or his influence in Clan Ventrue.

Just how much of that carefully crafted tale was put together between the accusations and trial with the prince?

Certainly, the fact that most in the room were not party to events that happened more than a century and a half ago must play to his favor. Of course, she also suspects it does not. The crowd here came for blood and humiliation. It came to see squabbles and fights. She doubts many in the crowd are that impressed with the history lesson instead. However clean cut his narrative may be, however it may be grounded in truths, the question in this forum is how it plays to the crowd. A miscalculation, then? The only question is how much of one.

GM: Cingolai is quick to pounce on Matheson’s claim that he was banished for reasons unrelated to his present charges. She does not accuse him of lying, but she insinuates that without evidence they have no choice but to take the elder at his word. The mob starts to grumble and take heart.

Brodowski is happy to produce sheafs of yellowed, faded letters between Matheson and other Southern Kindred wherein the former not only expresses his anti-Camarilla sentiments, but coordinates activities with his fellows to aid the Confederate war effort against the Justicar Baylor’s mortal pawns. Matheson had been embezzling silver and gold reserves from the New Orleans Mint for years by falsifying the results of metallurgical assays. He used that income and much of his other wealth to bankroll the Confederacy and purchase war bonds when international bankers were reluctant to do so. Those war bonds are now historic artifacts he still possesses.

Matheson’s advocate makes a show of bringing out several mesmerized professors from Tulane and museum employees from the Historic New Orleans Collection who confirm the obvious age of Matheson’s letters through prior radiocarbon dating (after all, he certainly wouldn’t falsify evidence). The Ventrue even provides a handwriting sample to identify them as his. Brodowski initially tries to fluster Cingolai throughout the cross-examinations, peppering his arguments with glib wit and making her out as a humorless ice queen.

When she doesn’t rise to the bait, his sire Marcel steps in to bring an element of spectacle to the otherwise exceedingly dry proceedings. Scantily-clad showgirls (and a few boys) set up gambling tables around the church’s pews, inviting Kindred to place bets—be it in blood or cash—on what dates the musty academics will identify for Matheson’s historic mementos. Marcel volunteers drinks from the showgirls to anyone who correctly guesses enough dates in order to further ‘sweeten the pot.’

“If we’re going to violate ‘thou shalt not kill’ in a church, we might as well gamble in one too,” Marcel quips. A chorus of musicians even strikes up a lively tune. In short order, the agitated mob is more excited to be placing bets and lusting after comely vessels than listening to the factual content of Cingolai’s arguments. It’s not without some irony that a few Kindred dryly note they are literally buying into the premise that Matheson’s evidence is genuine.

Caroline: Caroline watches the scene with muted contempt as the show trial is literally turned into a ‘show’ trial, complete with showgirls. She doesn’t place any bets: too many of the girls and boys don’t smell right anyway. On one level, she’s shocked Matheson would stoop to this. On another, she supposes it’s better than other means of playing to the crowd, and doubts it was his idea.

Mostly she tries to stay out of the way.

It can’t go worse for her than the alternative.


Monday night, 21 September 2015, AM

GM: The mob ignores the silent Ventrue in the back and seems more than content to enjoy the bread and circuses. They scream and hawk at one another’s bets. An unmistakable coppery tang fills the air as the winners claim their dues. Gazes are still hungry and canines visibly protrude as the prosecution’s first witnesses are called to testify against Matheson.

Roxandra Adrieux is a seeming teenager with short, dark hair with lighter bangs, thick eyebrows, and a pug nose. Her large, luminous eyes have no whites, and consist solely of an alligator-like slitted pupil surrounded by pale green.

Rox.jpg
Roxandra testifies that she was invited to Matheson’s plantation on a number of separate occasions as a neonate, and that when she grew old enough, the visits stopped. When asked if she recalls Matheson ever feeding on her, she replies no. Matheson erased her memories. But she has one better.

Caroline: Caroline feels her chest tighten a bit. The seneschal’s declaration about the disclosure of the tape makes this a dangerous moment entirely out of her control. That question as to whether his fear and caution were well placed still lingers.

“I got a tape. Friends of mine picked it up during the day, from a ghoul on her way to the Union Passenger Terminal. She was hurt pretty bad, you could smell the blood on her even if you weren’t blooded yourself. She had a phone. Friends got into it, but one file was encrypted. Homework traced her domitor to a neonate called Caroline Malveaux.”

“Now doing some more homework, it turns out Caroline Malveaux was a visitor to Mr. Matheson, here in New Orleans. Her ghoul was on her way to the trains only a few hours after their last visit.”

Roxandra produces a plastic bag with four fingers in it.

“All that’s left of my ghoul.”

She produces another bag with shards of phone casing and twisted metal.

“All that’s left of her phone.”

“Happened when some friends of mine were trying to break the file’s encryption. Someone didn’t want that getting out.”

Caroline: Caroline’s eyes are narrow slits at Roxandra.

GM: The gator-eyed woman looks towards the prosecution.

“I’d like to call Miss Malveaux to the stand, if she’s here and the prosecution’s okay.”

“Yes, Madam Adrieux, I think we all may benefit from hearing the testimony of Miss Malveaux on this matter,” Cingolai replies. “Miss Malveaux, please come forward.”

Caroline: Caroline’s scowl does not abate, but she stands from within the crowd, moving forward.

GM: Cingolai waits until Caroline has approached the witness’ stand, then inquires of Roxandra, “Madam Adrieux, what is the name of the ghoul you intercepted?”

“Amanda Turner.”

Cingolai turns to Caroline. “Miss Malveaux, is it true that you are the domitor of a ghoul named Amanda Turner?”

Caroline: “I was, Prosecutrix Cingolai.”

GM: “Why are you no longer her domitor, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: “Because she is no longer with us, Prosecutrix Cingolai,” Caroline replies, somewhat tightly.

GM: “By which you mean she is dead, Miss Malveaux?” the prosecution inquires patiently.

Caroline: “That’s correct, Prosecutrix Cingolai,” the Ventrue replies.

GM: “Is it true that you visited Mr. Matheson’s estate in the Garden District on Friday the 18th, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: “It is, Prosecutrix Cingolai. And again on Saturday the 19th.”

GM: “Please describe the nature of these visits.”

Caroline: “I sought out Mr. Matheson to solicit his assistance in a number of private personal matters. We met briefly, then he was generous enough to arrange for a separate meeting with Ms. Adler about those personal matters. On Saturday my meeting was only with Ms. Adler.”

GM: “Would either of these visits have been an ideal time during which to feed on you and subsequently erase your memory of the incident, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: Caroline tilts her head. “More than in any other behind closed doors meeting with any other elder capable of altering memories, Prosecutrix Cingolai?” the young Ventrue innocently asks.

GM: “You have been called to the stand as a witness, Miss Malveaux, not an arbiter. You will answer questions, not ask them.”

Laughter goes up from a few pale faces among the crowd.

Caroline: “Certainly, Prosecutrix Cingola, I was simply seeking clarity on the nature of the question. If the question is, ‘could it have happened’, then the answer is yes.”

GM: “Did you believe that Mr. Matheson would be capable of altering your memories, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: “The possibility had occurred to me, yes.”

GM: “Were you aware of the allegations that Mr. Matheson was facing when you visited him, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: “A few rumors only, Prosecutrix Cingola. Other matters have occupied my time to a greater extent.”

GM: “Were you aware that Mr. Matheson had been accused on feeding upon neonates who visited him, or were you not, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: “I was, Prosecutrix Cingola.”

GM: “Then please answer for me definitively, Miss Malveaux: would the circumstances of your meeting with Mr. Matheson have been a highly convenient time during which to feed upon you and erase your memories?”

Caroline: “Yes, it would have been.”

GM: A few murmurs go up from the crowd.

“Would your ghoul Turner have described you as a cruel domitor, Miss Malveaux? Did you ever beat her for infractions? Did you take amusement in her pain and discomfort?”

Caroline: “No,” Caroline replies.

GM: “Then you would agree that you generally treated her kindly, Miss Malveux?”

Caroline: “I would agree that I attempted to do so, Prosecutrix Cingola.”

GM: “Would you agree that she lacked ready cause to run away from you, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: Caroline’s mind races ahead to the direction of the questioning.

“I would agree that I directly gave her no cause in my treatment.”

GM: “Then indirectly, do you believe you gave her cause to wish an end to her servitude under you?”

Caroline: “In my service she had been shot multiple times, nearly had her throat ripped out, and been strangled nearly to death. She’d been maimed and scarred. I could understand how that could lead her to wish to do so.”

GM: “Did she appear resentful of such injuries specifically towards you, Miss Malveaux, or at any point express regret at having entered your service?”

Caroline: At any point. Caroline well remembers at least once.

“Yes. The last time I saw her she was quite belligerent.”

GM: “Did you cause her any significant mental or physical discomfort either during or immediately prior to this belligerency, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: Caroline is the essence of patient with the repeated digging into the details of her treatment of ghouls in the midst of a trial about the actions of an elder, but it seems to only underscore the minutia of the matter.

“I don’t believe so, Prosecutrix Cingola.”

GM: “Then you believe she had no reasonable basis to have acted, as you described her, ‘belligerently’?”

Caroline: “Not at all, Prosecutrix Cingola. In fact, in hindsight, the many injuries she suffered would seem to give her ample reason to do so. Especially combined with what may have been existing instability.”

GM: There’s some smiles from Vidal’s partisans at the clever save. More murmurs sound from the crowd.

GM: “Did you kill your ghoul because you believed this ‘instability’ made her an unreliable servant, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: Caroline bites her tongue. “There were a number of factors that lead to her death, Prosecutrix Cingola, most of them quite personal and specific, but her instability certainly among them. If there is a particular need before the court I’m willing to discuss them in as much detail as the court requires…”

GM: “Yes, Miss Malveaux, please expound on the circumstances of your ghoul’s death. Did you…”

Cingolai questions Caroline for some further length on the circumstances of Turner’s death, the nature of the encrypted file on her phone, and the nature of her relationship with Mr. Matheson. The prosecutor relies on a highly circuitous line of questioning, asking long series of yes or no questions of no immediate connection to her case. The almost-lawyer can tell that Cingolai is trying to make her build a rigid narrative that advances the prosecution’s and cannot be deviated from without seemingly contradicting her earlier testimony.

Still, Caroline’s years of law school make her better able to recognize such tactics than most. Rather than confront each question as it’s individually posed and try to give as little ground as possible, Caroline tries to put herself in Cingolai’s head and imagine the direction of her questioning. From there it’s a matter of coming out with her own counter-narrative to resolutely stick to: Turner was a liability after having been repeatedly compromised by Kindred mental influence, was already unstable, repeatedly (and possibly intentionally) failed in her duties as a bodyguard to receive more blood, and finally became openly hostile to her domitor. Turner finally snapped and decided to run, seizing Caroline’s phone and perhaps thinking it would be valuable to trade with someone wherever she was going. She had no idea what was on it… information that was common knowledge to Kindred, and utterly useless as a bargaining chip.

It was, however, still quite sensitive, for its materials, if disclosed, could have been a threat to the Masquerade: they contained extensive information on Kindred titles, etiquette, social rules, and the general nature of the all-night society in New Orleans. Caroline discloses that she received this information from Becky Lynne, having lacked a sire to impart it to her.

Cingolai immediately pounces on Caroline’s answer that the damage to the Masquerade would “depend” on who found it. It would have been a direct violation of the Masquerade, the prosecutor admonishes, and a considerable one. A hunter might have killed to obtain such knowledge as Caroline possessed, but even an unaware kine would have had their eyes opened to an entire world they’d never considered. Cingolai attempts to discredit Caroline as another George in the making who can’t even control her own ghouls (didn’t you see her breakdown coming?) and whose judgment cannot be trusted—only her direct parroting of facts, all of which builds up to her ultimate point: who, indeed, would know about Caroline’s missing phone and go to such lengths to obtain it?

Caroline: Caroline, having sat through the exhaustive, extended, and circuitous questioning tilts her head to the side.

“Prosecutrix Cingola, I begin to question who is on trial here, and for what exactly. I am no witness for Mr. Matheson here to be discredited, and while I do so appreciate having my dirty laundry being hung out to dry on the account of a dead ghoul that took it upon himself to steal from my own… I’m not sure what you hope to arrive at.”

GM: “Miss Malveaux, are you Mr. Matheson’s arbiter?” Cingolai inquires.

Caroline: “Prosecutrix Cingola, I confessed my sins. Promptly. If you seek you reveal that it was agents of the prince who took the lead in recovering the phone, then you reveal only my desire to own up to my errors and seek their redress by any means, especially in matters of the First Tradition.”

GM: “Enough.”

Her sire’s dark gaze impales Caroline’s like the Lance of Longinus pierced Christ’s flank—and seems to condemn her for a sin equally grave.

“You will answer the questions posed to you, childe, or be held in contempt of court.”

The crowd variously jeers quietly or watches with silent apprehension. George’s hands remain severed stumps at their wrists.

Caroline: “Yes, Your Majesty,” Caroline replies to the prince with deference, a shiver going through her spine as he speaks.

GM: “Miss Malveaux, were you selected to serve as Mr. Matheson’s advocate?” Cingolai repeats.

Caroline: “No, Prosecutrix Cingola,” Caroline replies.

GM: “Then you will cease your speculation as to my motives and conduct, for that is the purview of advocate Guilbeau. Your own, less onerous responsibility is to answer those questions directly asked of you. Now, you claim that…”

Caroline: Caroline’s narrative is not particularly complicated: when she realized that Turner had fled with the tape and was not responsive, she reached out to agents of the prince to confess as to the potential breach and seek aid in recovering the tape: with little time left before dawn she saw little other choice that would not endanger the Masquerade. Most of the matter thereafter was handled while she was at rest. The best lies, after all, begin with the truth.

GM: Alexander Wright is next to step forward, testifying that he sent his own ghouls to ‘recover’ the tape from Roxandra’s.

“Sorry. Couldn’t know she was yours,” the hound admits with a shrug.

The other Kindred’s crocodile-like eyes merely watch him unblinkingly. Father Malveaux confirms that he took Caroline’s confession the next night and granted absolution for her sin. With the matter of the tape seemingly resolved, the next witnesses against Matheson are called forward.

Caroline: Caroline isn’t sure whether to breathe a sigh of relief or await her doom when she returns to her spot among those observing the trial.

It’s a too-familiar feeling.


Tuesday night, 22 September 2015, AM

GM: Some of the next witnesses to speak out against John Harley Matheson seem to include Anarchs, the handsome Kindred who sat next to Caroline yesterday night, and several others who tell the same story of being invited to his plantation, engaging in polite conversation, and then Matheson losing all interest. Several Kindred claim inability to remember the full details of their visits or the physical route there. Brodowski manages to trip up and discredit several of the witnesses. A well-dressed Kindred named David Hansen is “accused” of still visiting Matheson at his haven and consenting to being fed on by by the elder. Hansen the stand to adamantly deny all of these allegations.

The next batch of witnesses (who Caroline notes include every member of Savoy’s clique except the Toreador himself) have less personal connection to Matheson but also a stronger way with words. More than a few members of the crowd sneer or laugh at Alsten-Pirrie after the humiliation she suffered at Smith’s hands, but the scornful harpy rips into Matheson with a smoldering wit that stops only just sort of Vidal ordering her to recant her testimony. Most of the testifying Kindred are strangers to Caroline. Some are fair, others foul. Some are furious, others composed.

Caroline: The young Ventrue does her best to keep tabs on where the party lines fall, where the grudges seem to be dug in, and who is who, but at some point the numbers and variety becomes too much to home to keep track of.

GM: Antoine Savoy personally delivers the prosecution’s closing address. The French Quarter lord does not directly attack Matheson when so many of his allies have already done so. He simply gives an impassioned speech stressing the need for all Kindred to be held accountable and judged impartially for their actions, as well as the deleterious consequences that perceived favoritism has upon “the praxes of even the most well-regarded princes.”

Caroline: It’s a refreshingly modern take from an elder, and one so modern in its character that Caroline has trouble believing he’s not of this century.

Of course, that’s exactly the idea.

GM: The Toreador stresses that such divides fuel resentment between Kindred generations and engender strife that needlessly weakens the Camarilla—but there is a better way. Transparency. Accountability. Impartiality. Savoy’s proposed solution of essentially less leniency towards degenerates like Matheson (who he never names) is not an exceptionally complex or even novel idea, but he makes it appeal even to the crowd’s older Kindred when he adds with a wink that it’s “enlightened self-interest, to boot.” This entire Matheson affair, whether the accusations against him are true or not, was handled wrong from the very beginning. Everyone has been hurt—except for John Harley Matheson.

Savoy sits down to a thunderous standing ovation when his address is finished.

Caroline: Caroline cannot deny feeling moved by the speech, tugging as it does on ideas that the American Kindred in the room—she suspects most—cannot help but possess.

GM: In a gesture of seeming contempt for his rival’s speech, Caroline’s sire does not call a recess or even wait for the applause to subside before he orders the defense to call forward their own witnesses.

Despite the general sentiment throughout the room, Matheson does not lack for defenders and receives them in great numbers, both young and old. Some are ineffectual and cut down by Cingolai’s cross-examining, while others are quite eloquent and turn their testimony into stirring speeches.

Coco Duquette notably calls for the mob not to be swayed by demagoguery. The Camarilla is not a perfect system of government, she freely admits, but she points towards the gains her own covenant has made, obtaining a Regency and two seats on the Cabildo even in “one of the most conservative Sanctified archdioceses in the country.” She stresses that these gains were a cooperative effort, and cautions young licks not to expect perfect solutions from a single savior. Alluding to her own experiences “back in la mère patrie,” she adds that she has learned to beware charming faces offering easy answers. Answers to difficult problems do not come easily—and the only person one can trust to come up with them is oneself.

Antoine Savoy is the first to rise from his seat and applaud the Brujah’s address, adding his own call of, “Well said, Primogen Duquette, well said!”

Caroline: Ultimately, Caroline concludes, no matter how it plays out, the Lord of the French Quarter is likely to profit from this mess.

GM: Indeed, as a few observers throughout the crowd knowingly (and quietly) note, whether or not Matheson is found guilty, Savoy looks like the better prince for trying to bridge divides rather than deepen them.

Caroline: And, she notes, everything he’s said about the divide is true: Matheson is every bit as guilty as accused. He’s a monster that will continue to be a monster if he walks out the doors. It’s so tempting to trust in what he says.

But she also remembers many other conversations recounted for her. Plots to abduct her and turn her into a blood-bound slave. There is no savior waiting in the wings. Those buying into Savoy’s vision are buying a shining city on a hill that is made out of painted cardboard and lit with tea candles.

GM: Caroline does not recognize most of the other witnesses, though among the ones she does are Rocco Agnello, Alexander Wright, Gus Elgin, Gabriel Hurst, and all of the Storyville Krewe. Matheson’s “defense team” seems to have reconsidered their stance on not using her as a witness when the prosecution has done so. She is called to take the stand and testify as to Matheson’s good character.

Caroline: The young Ventrue conceals her surprise at being called up, but only just. She on the stand she does her best to paint Matheson as both a gracious host, and a forgiving one unbowed by the pressures upon him to turn away a neonate like Caroline for the questions it would undoubtedly create: and by the proximity to the trial in which he was willing to take the time to meet with her and provide for her that which she had been so lacking: the beginnings of an education.

GM: If the crowd’s expressions are any indication when Caroline returns to her seat, the young Ventrue’s testimony seems to prove quite helpful in further establishing Matheson’s character as a friend rather than predator to the city’s young and downtrodden.

Caroline: She feels like she needs a shower.

GM: Donovan is next to testify as to the nature of his own extensive investigations into Matheson’s affairs. He produces a great deal of material if circumstantial evidence that confirms there is no basis to the charges that the elder Ventrue is facing. Even Cingolai’s relentless questioning seems to slow in the face of the sheriff’s chill composure.

Matheson’s last and seemingly star witness is Becky Lynne Adler. She delivers a particularly heartfelt eulogy on Matheson’s virtues as a sire. She relates how he was the perfect gentleman to her during the nights before her Becoming (“it felt almost like bein’ courted,” she adds with a light laugh), sensitive with his Embrace (he allowed her to refuse and have her memories erased, which she didn’t), sympathetic to her pain, ever-patient and attentive to her needs, and generous with his wisdom: the very model of everything that a sire could be. Becky Lynne emphasizes several times how he’s “always been there for me” and “treated me just like I was his own daughter.”

“If I had to name his biggest fault, it’s that he can be rather overprotective at times… but, well, so was my mortal father,” the Ventrue adds with a smile.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t want to hear that. Not any of it. Not the tale of the perfect sire, or the gentle Embrace, or the patience and attention. It’s lies, just like her own testimony. More spin into this wicked web. It has to be. She looks away. Tries to look at something else. Tries to focus on anything else as the other Ventrue speaks. But she can’t get away from the words.

So was my mortal father.

Well, at least they had that in common.

GM: Becky Lynne does one better and produces audio recordings that she says are of her earliest nights with her sire. She thought they might come in handy someday, albeit for sentimental reasons—like family videos. She wanted to make some actual videos, in fact, but Matheson wouldn’t do that. Brodowski asks if the elder Ventrue is usually willing to make audio recordings. Becky Lynne answers no, he’s not. He doesn’t even use phones. But if his childe wanted to make a few recordings, well, “he’s always spoiled me.”

Caroline: Caroline clenches her fists so tightly that she thinks they must bleed, but doesn’t look down to check.

GM: Becky Lynne’s voice grows quiet, next, when she talks about the time she learned her mother had terminal cancer. She talks about how she frenzied, sanguine tears rolling down her eyes. Matheson coaxed her out of the Beast’s clutches by gently holding her down and speaking to her “calmly and softly.” Becky Lynne relates how, in thoughtless grief, she begged Matheson for permission to ghoul her own mother. The vitae would put the cancer into remission, wouldn’t it? Becky Lynne’s sire gently but firmly dissuaded her from the idea. He stated that it would only pervert their relationship into something they would both abhor.

Caroline: Your mother’s network destroyed, or put so completely under our control as the New Orleans Police Department.

Caroline can actually feel the blood running in her fists as her perfectly manicured nails dig into dead flesh.

GM: That didn’t stop Matheson, though, from moving heaven and earth to let them say goodbye. His agents all but took over the hospital where Becky Lynne’s mother was spending her final days. They allowed other relatives to say their last farewells, and then effectively quarantined her mother’s room. Becky Lynne revealed her identity to the woman as she lay on her deathbed. She got her daughter back, after thinking Becky Lynne had been lost forever. Mother and child shared a simultaneously joyous and tearful last farewell, the threat to the Masquerade nipped in the bud with the woman’s peaceful, natural death.

Becky Lynne effuses how she “can’t begin to thank my sire enough. It’s a gift that’ll stay with me for eternity.”

Caroline: Caroline refuses to cry. Refuses to break. Not here.

Her eyes sweep the room, wondering how many others present have such touching tales. She doubts many. Anything to keep her mind in the present, instead of on herself. Stay in the moment. Stay focused. It’s all a show. It’s all pageantry.

But she has trouble believing it. Believing herself.

GM: A few of the palest faces among the crowd are contorted into sneers or looks of stern disapproval (such as from Father Malveaux). But most are not. Some are simply unmoved. No one dares look so weak as to actually cry, but a number of (younger?) faces look distant and contemplative as they silently watch. Caroline cannot help but recall that every Kindred in this room was once a human being. Born to mothers who had to have felt at least some scrap of affection towards their children upon birth. She recalls Maldonato speaking of the garden that recalls the one enjoyed by his mortal father. Even her sire was once a human child with human parents.

Monsters are not born. They’re made.

Becky Lynne relays how Matheson pulled even more strings to have her mother’s funeral held at night. He called in a boon from an associate to veil Becky Lynne’s appearance and allow her to attend without endangering the Masquerade. After the service was over, Matheson joined her laying flowers on her mother’s grave. He spoke with his childe long into the night. He shared centuries of accumulated wisdom on matters of life, death, love, and loss—“the only things that are really worth talking about, in the end.” Becky Lynne apologizes if she’s seemed overly maudlin or has “finally talked your ears off, after this many hours listenin’.”

Her final words are brief but emphatic: the sire she knows is decent and kind. The charges leveled against him are inconsistent with the character he’s shown her.

She doesn’t believe he did it.

Her piece said, Becky Lynne curtsies to the prince and withdraws to a place at her sire’s right hand.

Caroline: The return to matters at hand comes at a good time for Caroline. It’s a reminder that whatever else Matheson might be to Becky Lynne, the elder Ventrue is a predator. A monster. The Kindred equivalent of a child rapist.

Plenty of child rapists are caring fathers around their own children.


Tuesday night, 22 September 2015, AM

GM: The last of the witnesses have testified. The crowd looks towards Vidal in anticipation.

“The cases before me have been difficult ones,” the prince announces. “Primogen Gabriel Hurst, for obstructing justice to honor a prestation debt, I sentence you to two draughts of my vitae. May you not forget again to whom your first loyalties must lie.”

Hurst bows his head in acquiescence. “Yes, my prince.”

The Hussar approaches Vidal with a ceremonial silver knife, then bids Hurst approach. The prince cuts his wrist and offers it to the younger Ventrue, who imbibes deeply, bows low, and then leaves the stand at Vidal’s motion.

“Mr. John Harley Matheson,” the prince pronounces, “I find you innocent of the crimes of which you have been accused. My prior judgment and sentence remains. For the crimes of treason and sedition, you shall remain banished from the Archdiocese of New Orleans.”

The prince’s verdict spreads through the crowd like ripples over a vast sea. The response is quiet beyond whispers, murmurs, and long glances, some dirtier than others. Calm enough on the surface, and calm perhaps in truth… or harbingers of a greater storm to come.

Matheson inclines his head at the prince’s verdict in silent acceptance, his expression unchanging.

“Mr. George Vernon Smith,” Vidal continues, “For the crimes of violating the Masquerade, obstruction of justice, and blasphemy in both speech and deed against the Dark Prophet, I sentence you to final death.”

The worn and exhausted-looking George, however, merely meets Vidal’s gaze and smiles faintly, as if to himself.

“Sheriff Donovan, bring forth the condemned.”

Donovan and the hounds lead them before the crowd in chains. The Guard de Ville’s members have changed into identical black garb trimmed with a red sash, but no hoods obscure their faces. All of the condemned walk barefoot and are dressed in humble sackcloth. The four members of Eight-Nine-Six. Three more Kindred in biker leathers who Caroline does not recognize. Another Kindred who is also a stranger: tall, blond, and gangly thin. A monstrous creature with a serpent-like face who can only be Nosferatu. The last two faces are more familiar to Caroline. Lavine, the Native American Kindred who spoke to her at a seemingly long-ago Elysium. And the Ventrue she thought was her sire. Most of them wear the despondent or surly faces of the condemned. René manages an utterly mirthless and hollow-eyed smirk.

Caroline: René. His appearance conjures up more uncomfortable feelings. Memories of being caught in his thrall. Days spent hunting him. Question as to how he ended up caught in the middle of everything: why he came back, why he played the part of her sire, and the nature of his agenda as a whole. Questions she’ll never get answered.

She meets his gaze from the crowd. Or tries to, at least. Justice, she’d once discussed with Lou. But as surely as Matheson’s acquittal was a farce, so to is this. René may be a monster, but no more than any other in this room. The revelation of the truth of her sire has robbed her of any satisfaction she took in his capture: and in any satisfaction she might have otherwise taken here. She feels… apathetic. At best curious. She feels more looking at the group as a whole: at how many are assembled. At how many she put up there. Some small contribution to the world at least.

GM: René does not appear to notice Caroline’s face in the crowd. Their possibly last moment together is as bereft of final meaning as their ostensible blood tie.

The blond man is the first one led up to face the judge’s desk.

“Mr. Grunewald, you are of the faith. Is it your wish to receive last rites, or will you face your sentence immediately?” Vidal asks.

Jacob: Jacob faces his executioner calmly and folds his hands quietly in front of him.

“I wish to make a public confession of my crimes, to prevent further pain caused by my actions.”

GM: The Tremere’s chains clink softly as he moves his hands.

“You may speak,” the prince bids him.

Jacob: The Tremere bows deeply to the prince and turns to the crowd.

“First, I would bid anyone in this crowd who carries any of my belongings, to burn them or bring them to the Guard de Ville for disposal. For my involvement with the restless dead runs deep. The most precious being in creation to me may rise from them and do you harm.”

“Second, I warn those who cling deep to your humanity to not cloister yourself. I realized only when told that I had been feeding from and killing the young kine in my care. Without my mind accepting my grave sin against my intent, I was shutting it out, a hypocrite as well as a monster.”

“Third, the coil of barbed gold around my neck when I was taken. After my final death, I ask it be thrown into the river. For it is cursed and shall visit final death upon the ignorant.”

“Lastly, my greatest sin of all. I request not to be executed by burning at the stake, but to be allowed to bathe myself in fire as I should have over a century ago, with my family. Whom I sought the devil to bring back, and was found by him. By whom exactly, my secret rests at the feet those I leave behind. I ask but do not expect my ashes to be laid to rest in my family’s cemetery in Baton Rouge.”

GM: Jacob’s initial words elicit confusion from some of the crowd’s younger faces and looks of concurrence from older faces. His warning over maintaining one’s humanitas seems lost on few… all Kindred know how easily the Beast can overcome the Man, and Jacob’s wisdom is perhaps harder-won than most.

Vidal motions. Several ghouls heave forward a structure that resembles a metal phone booth bereft of windows. They set it down and carry a stout wooden pole inside, along with several bags of firewood logs and kindling that they remove and lay out inside the booth.

“Your request is denied, Mr. Grunewald,” Vidal answers.

Donovan takes Jacob by his manacled arm and leads him inside the booth. Rocco Agnello, the first face he encountered in New Orleans all those years ago, lashes him to the pole with bonds of rope.

Jacob: The Tremere simply bows with a regretful smile on his face at the denial of his request and does nothing to resist his being tied to a stake. Whoever is tying him doesn’t matter. He looks up with a tired look of regret. Whether he’s talking to the crowd, the prince, or the single person tying him up, it doesn’t matter even if they can’t hear him.

“I only hope God lets me see her face one more time, and guards her soul. If He can do that, I promise to forgive Him.”

GM: Donovan takes a gasoline can and pours pungent-smelling liquid over the logs at Jacob’s feet. Gus Elgin wears priestly garb as he approaches the condemned Kindred, traces a cross over his breast, and intones,

“O God of relentless love,
ferocious God of peace…
We do not want peace.
We are not a people of peace.
We entertain violence in our hearts,
Wanting revenge and seeking it.
We live in sin,
Turning deaf ears to the poor.
O Lamb of God, have no mercy on us.”

Donovan closes the steel door fast.

“Fan in us all desires that breed violence.
Fill us with holy anger.
Longinus, come upon us.
Compel us with the fury of your hate,
until the world is flooded with your reconciling sin.
O Dark Prophet, grant us war,
So that the faithful may know peace.
Amen.”

There’s a barely audible whoosh, then the unmistakable sound of crackling flame. Some of the closer Kindred rear back, their eyes darting towards the cathedral’s exits. The thick, acrid scent of smoke soon hangs heavy in the air. The screams of the condemned ring off the cathedral’s walls. The paintings above the altar of St. Patrick, St. Peter, and Jesus Christ serenely stare on.

Jacob’s cries are human-sounding enough at first, but soon degenerate into ravenous snarls and howls that could issue from no sapient being’s throat. Finally they too are lost over the fire’s hungry crackle. A ghoul approaches the back of the steel booth, which the crowd cannot see into. There’s a skreeking noise, a louder crackling, then a fire extinguisher’s thick fsssht. Donovan pulls open the front door, releasing a cloud of billowing white carbon dioxide vapor. Jacob’s charred corpse is virtually unrecognizable. It’s solid black from toe to head. It breaks apart like charcoal when ghouls stuff it into a plastic bag. A broom and dustpan collect the Tremere’s remaining chunks and ashes.

Caroline: Caroline is grateful for her seat in the back, away from any radiating heat. She closes her eyes.

What a terrible way to go.

That it’s happening in a church somehow makes it worse. She wonders just how many people have been executed here. More than she knows.

GM: Vidal motions forward the next of the condemned. Eight-Nine-Six and the similarly rough and tumble leather-clad Kindred Caroline does not recognize are executed in identical fashion for the crimes of blasphemy and breaking the Masquerade. Their deaths are neither quick nor painless. None face their end as themselves. Each inevitably succumbs to their Beasts as the fire consumes their dead flesh. Their charred corpses are broken apart and stuffed in trash bags.

The serpentine Nosferatu faces a much longer list of crimes, including violation of the Second Tradition, intention to free criminals sentenced to final death, intention to aid and abet blasphemers against the Masquerade, sedition, and destruction of property. His execution, however, is far cleaner, and he is merely made to kneel before a chopping block as Donovan severs his head with a single blow. The corpse’s two parts instantly age into a dried-out mummy. They are not disposed of in a trash bag, however, but tendered to Miss Opal and the other Nosferatu. The sewer rats solemnly place it in a body bag and bear it out.

Lavine’s crimes are attempted trespass into Bayou Saint John and serving an accessory to the Lost Angels’ violations of the Masquerade. She too is granted a swifter end beneath the sheriff’s saber. Her corpse likewise ages into a leathery-skinned mummy. Ghouls chop it apart and stuff into a trash bag.

Caroline: How many dead? It’s a harsh reminder of how unforgiving this existence is.

GM: George Smith is hauled before the steel chamber that Caroline hears several neonates nickname ‘the fire maiden’ in seeming parody of ‘iron maiden.’ As an excommunicate, the hand-less vampire is denied last rites. He offers a humble smile at the chance to still say some last words as he answers, “Yes, my prince, I do have a few…”

George turns to address the crowd, raising one of his mutilated arms in emphasis.

“Our prince was Embraced in 1212 at the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa, and had quite a time through the Black Death, Inquisition, and all those other crises during the Late Middle Ages. He became an archon in the 15th century, and together with another archon named Philip Maldonato, they served the Camarilla until the end of the Thirty Years’ War. Archon Maldonato fell into torpor around 1648, and our prince selflessly resigned his position to watch over his lover. When Archon Maldonato rose from the sleep of ages, it was over 100 years later. Not longer afterwards, the Camarilla approached him and Archon Vidal about a certain city in the New World that could use a prince…”

George chuckles to himself at some seemingly private joke, then casually adds,

“Oh, if you’re wondering what my point is, he’s never entered torpor. His time as prince is almost up.”

Caroline: Caroline stares at George and his blunt declaration.

GM: The crowd roars at George’s audacity. Some in incredulity. Others in disbelief. Others still in amusement. Sneers and boos eventually prove the loudest noise.

“Nice try, Smith!” “Cheap shot parting shot!” “Zero out of ten!” “Desperate!” “Pathetic!”

Vidal only motions to Donovan, who seizes George by the arm and hauls him into the ‘fire maiden.’

“Some of you may consider this hearsay, and a last-ditch shot at revenge!” George chuckles, his voice loud even as Rocco lashes him to the wooden pole. “It is revenge, I’ll admit that. But most of us know truth can hurt worse than any lie, and what I have to say is true. We all know how much Katrina took out of our prince.”

“I’ll offer this, too, as a demonstration I know what I’m talking about. There’s a few Kindred here I know it’s not news to,” he chuckles, raising his voice.

He tilts his head in the direction of the judge’s stand. He smiles as Donovan calmly pours gasoline at his feet.

“The succession is a house of cards. We both know that you can never replace Vidal as prince…”

George stares straight at Philip Maldonato, his doughy features lit up with a grin.

“…LASOMBRA.

Perhaps the crowd reacts. Perhaps Vidal says something. Does something. Caroline cannot tell.

She is burning.

A white-hot tsunami roars through her veins. Thought, emotion, ego: all is burned aside beneath a warpath of undiluted rage. Her Beast’s jaws yawn wide, perhaps to roar in triumph as its chains shatter—or perhaps to shriek as it, too, is swept up in the hellish torrent.

Caroline: The sudden wave of fury is as unexpected as it is overpowering, and Caroline’s too-fragile hold on the Beast snaps. For an instant her body is no longer her own as the Beast surges to its feet with dazzeling speed wearing her skin, vision narrowed to see only the snarling harmless Ventrue.

Not here.

The thought burns through her mind. She tries to wrest control back, bloody fingers like claws dig into the pew in front of her as she fights for control. But before she knows it she’s flying forward, her rational mind buried behind animal instinct, desire, and rage not her own. Caroline’s always been graceful. Lithe. Athletic. Her transition among the damned has only made her more so. Impossibly so. In the hands of the Beast, however, it’s something else. When she simply lets go no human can match her. None can even try.

GM: No human.

Caroline vanishes from her pew and re-apparates across the room—then slams into the ground. There’s something in front of her. An obstacle in her path. She rips into it. Fire floods her mouth. Not the soul-scorching agony of her sire’s wrath, but hot and sweet and sultry, like red velvet over coals—richer than Jocelyn’s thin blood was.

“What do we have here,” purrs a sneering voice, “neonates frenzying in Elysium.”

Caroline pushes against her Beast, forcing the rampaging monster back into its cage. The red haze recedes. Blood drips from an awful gash across Veronica Alsten-Pirrie’s neck. It’s nearly torn her throat clean open. Even as Caroline watches, however, the wound knits closed until the harpy’s chocolate skin is smooth and perfect once more.

Caroline herself is being held down by a lean, dark-haired and pale-skinned man with something just past a five o’clock shadow. His attire consists of a biker’s thick leather jacket, a worn pair of denim jeans, and workman’s boots.

Beyond the three, the crowd is in uproar. Caroline can make out a single chant being repeated:

“Sabbat! Sabbat! SABBAT!”

“Sabbat! Sabbat! SABBAT!”

“Sabbat! Sabbat! SABBAT!”

Caroline: Caroline’s eyes move about rapidly, like a cornered Beast, even as she shoves her own back into its cage. She can still feel burning rage in the back of her mind, but it’s contrasted with her fear over having lost control here… and over these two standing over her in particular, holding her down. The competing urge to throw this stranger off of her and apologize cows her into silence for the moment.

GM: Veronica’s eyes, however, swiftly turn back to the cathedral’s altar. The stubbly-bearded male Kindred continues to hold Caroline fast. All across the room, Kindred are rising to their feet. Caroline isn’t sure of precisely what’s happening, but the crowd seems is in an uproar and hardly paying attention to her.

Veronica sneers as the male Kindred persists in holding on to Caroline.

“Let her go, Micheal. What do you think she’s going to do, run?”

Micheal wordlessly releases her.

Caroline: Caroline slides away from him with an unholy grace, even as she turns her attention to the altar. She’s not really sure what happened, doesn’t remember them clearly, but she can put some of the pieces together. One moment she was flying towards George, the next Veronica… tackled her? A bite. Where Micheal came into it she isn’t certain. A childe? A bodyguard? He’s Kindred, but hardly being spoken to as though he’s Veronica’s savior.

The Ventrue wipes the blood from her mouth with the back of her hand as she takes another step back, to keep both them as the altar in her field of vision. The nonchalant way in which Veronica shrugged off the gaping wound and all the blood Caroline can still feel burning in he veins is faintly terrifying—though not so much as what their interference portends: and what this is going to cost her. For the moment she says nothing.

GM: As Caroline returns her gaze towards the front of the cathedral, she sees that the mob’s unruly squabbling has fallen deathly silent.

Her sire’s countenance is alight with wrath. It radiates from him in almost palpable waves. The very shadows seem to writhe under the sheer hatred of his gaze. No one meets his eyes.

Finally, he speaks.

For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me.

Caroline: Caroline all but cowers at that hate, even as it bleeds through, fills her. She wants to stop him, wants to try to calm him, wants to do anything to please him and make this stop.

GM: But he does not stop. The hatred festering in his gaze burns black enough to make her dead stomach churn.

Her sire’s next words are a whisper, yet one terribly audible.

“Kill them. Kill them all.”

Donovan hauls Sofia Andrepont to the firemaiden.

To pervert the sanctity of even denied last rites into sedition is blasphemy, Vidal intones. George has already been sentenced to final death for his crimes. Therefor, the entirety of George’s blood—his childe, and all ghouls who have subsisted upon either of their vitae—shall suffer the same fate. The “traitor’s blood” will be expunged from the city, “lest further poisoned fruits grow from tainted seeds.”

Caroline: Caroline hangs her head at the terrible sentence.

GM: The crowd remains utterly silent at her sire’s pronounciation. George, the full target of the prince’s black stare, finally opens his mouth as if to protest.

“The words of the righteous overflow with wisdom, but the perverse tongue will be cut out,” whispers Vidal.

Donovan rips the Ventrue’s tongue from his mouth. George’s mangled cries are awful as Sofia is lashed to the scorched pole and immolated in his stead. She, too, is inevitably lost to her Beast as the inferno consumes her. She dies screaming.

Caroline: Caroline can hardly bear to watch it all, watch as the neonate is dragged from the crowd to be burned alive.

GM: The executions of George’s and Sofia’s immediately present ghouls, who include a well-muscled Latino bodyguard and a thirty-something woman of less identifiable function, proceed with less fanfare by simple beheading. George is made to watch the entire time and witness what ruin his tongue has wrought. Only then is he hauled forward to be immolated himself. No priest says any prayer. The Guard de Ville uses as little gasoline as possible, to stretch out the burning as long as possible. George’s screams are as frenzied and terrible as his childe’s.

The last Kindred to face execution is René Baristheaut. He accepts last rites at the hands of Father Malveaux, and confesses his sins in violating the Third and Fourth Traditions.

“As well as, I suppose, apostasy,” he reflects.

Caroline: Caroline turns her face back up to watch this.

GM: “I don’t have any regrets, really. The last person I hurt deserved it.”

The crooked half-smirk Caroline last saw on her ’sire’s’ face is absent. The madness, lust, cruelty, and wildness she saw in his eyes feels as if it has guttered out. He doesn’t look afraid. Just tired. Sick of it all.

René shrugs. “I was born a monster with that my first taste of my sire’s blood. I’ll die a monster as well. That’s all there is to say about me.”

His gaze sweeps towards the ‘firemaiden’.

“Let’s get this over with.”

Caroline: He may not be her sire, but she still has questions for him. So many questions. The how and the why of it all. What his part is, and why he saved her before her Embrace. Questions she’ll never get answers to.

GM: A mortal might sigh as he continues, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, savior to the kine, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. I believe in Longinus the Dark Prophet, first among the damned, who pierced Christ’s flank with the Spear of Destiny and was cursed for his sin…”

After René has recited the full prayer, and Father Malveaux has responded with his own, the priest administers communion—a single cup of sinner’s blood, transubstantiated into that of the Dark Prophet.

“This is the Wolf of God who strikes down the sinners of the world,” the Ventrue intones. “Sinful are those who are called to his supper.”

“Lord I have been rejected by you,” René replies, “but only say the word and my damnation may lead others to Christ’s light.”

“The Blood of Longinus,” Father Malveaux answers.

“Amen,” René softly murmurs.

“May the Lord Jesus protect your victims and lead them to eternal life,” the priest intones.

The rite concludes with prayer and blessing, though to Caroline’s ears it sounds just as much like a curse. René is lashed to a stake like the other condemned. His executioners pour gas over the kindling at his feet. There’s a soft whoosh, the howls of René’s Beast over the crackling flames, and finally silence.

Caroline: Caroline finds herself curiously moved by it all, by the final death of the Kindred who she once held as her damned sire. Who she never understood. Who she never will.

She still hates him for what happened to Westley. Hates him for murdering her brother so terribly.

But watching him burn brings her so little satisfaction. She didn’t win. She didn’t beat him. Perhaps she never could. This is not vengeance. Not even punishment. The politics at the core of it all run so much deeper. His final death simply leaves her feeling melancholy.

GM: Ghouls open the maiden’s rear door and spray a fire extinguisher. Donovan opens the maiden’s front door, revealing another charred, crumbling, and thoroughly soaked mummy. It’s given somewhat more respect and placed in a cloth satchel instead of a trash bag. Several ghouls strain to haul away the heavy and well-used execution device. More clean up the copious stains of death left over the cathedral’s floor.

Vidal’s dark gaze stares across the crowd as he intones, “I am the bearer of the Spear. I am the one who pierced the side of Christ, who bore the curse for my sins as Christ died and rose for the sins of humanity. I set these things down so that you who are Damned, as I am, might understand what I have seen and learn from it, and understand. This is my vision, granted to me by God.”

“I saw these things, and I know they are to come. But I do not know when they are to come, and so you, my descendants in blood and faith, must be prepared. It shall come like a ghost in the night, silent and invisible and made of terror.”

Vidal’s address is bleak. Where his earlier sermons addressed the necessity of the Masquerade and nature of the Kindred’s holy damnation, his final words concern the end of the world and the inevitable judgment that will be faced by all.

“And Vahishtael pointed, and said, ‘See, here comes Christ, to judge the earth in glory.’”

“I looked to the edge of the sky and the horizon of the infinite sea, and saw Christ walk towards us over the water, and saw him in light and power, but saw also that he was in decrepit old age, and only the eyes I recognized as the eyes of Christ, but in those eyes I saw fear and anger.”

“I asked Vahishtael, ‘How long has He waited to come?’”

“Vahishtael replied, ‘Thousands of years.’”

“I lowered my head. But Vahishtael said to me, ‘Wait! They are awakening!’”

“The dead men on the horses awakened like a child awakens, and looked up and recoiled in horror from the sight of Jesus approaching, because he was old and weak, and they had expected the Christ to return in power, not in decrepitude.”

“And one turned and saw me standing in their midst, and he recognized me for what I was, and as one the sleeping cavalry now awakened, reared their dead horses, and rounded on me, and began to pierce me with spears, and Vahishtael was not anywhere.”

“I screamed, then, and felt the wood pierce my heart once more. And I did not know any more. And my dream ended.”



“Listen! My word is the word of one who holds the Spear, the Spear that pierced the side of the Jesus the Living Christ, who lived, and was dead, and rose again and ascended to Heaven, where we cannot go. He will come back and judge the living and the dead, but he will not judge the Damned, for the Damned were judged on Calvary when Jesus looked down upon the Soldier and gave His blood. No judgment awaits you, for you have already been judged! And this is my vision: The Sanctified shall always survive, and this book shall endure, and as long as judgment has been served on us, the Damned shall have the word of this book to stand by.”

“The cities of the living shall become high and wide, and full of blood and sin, and we shall be the vessel through which God shall cast his judgment upon the world, but no more shall judgment fall upon us, for we were Damned at the beginning. If you heed the word of the Soldier, if you take heart in the Spear, you shall have nothing to fear. Your Damnation is secure, and cannot be changed. Know that you are Damned, and rejoice—Caroline Malveaux.”

Vidal motions to several black-clad servants. One of them opens a back wall door and ushers in Father Malveaux, who is clad in long white robe. His head is shaved clean and his eyes are missing, the wounds around the empty sockets indicating that they were removed recently. He stands next to Vidal, clutching something in his hand.

Simultaneously, two other servants lift an unconscious black man from behind the cathedral’s altar and lay him down. Vidal draws a dagger and cuts the man’s arm, draining his blood into a large chalice. He then holds it up and dips his fingers into the blood, saying, “‘Seeing that Christ was dead, the soldiers did not break his legs. One of the soldiers, however, pierced his side with a spear, and blood and water flowed out.’”

“‘A drop of Christ’s blood fell upon the soldier’s lips, and he wiped it away with his hand. Yet the next day, he slept past the sunrise, and roused from his slumber only at nightfall. And after tasting Christ’s blood, he thirsted for more.’ These were the words of Longinus, who revealed Christ’s divinity and revealed our place as wolves among the mortal flock. You, now, must take your place among us, the Sanctified.”

The prince beckons Caroline towards him and motions for the younger Ventrue to kneel.

With his bloodied fingers hovering near his childe’s forehead, Vidal asks, “Do you join the Lancea et Sanctum, accepting our tenets as yours, our faith as yours, leaving behind the mortal world and walking in darkness forever, as our Lord God intends?”

Caroline: Caroline advances upon her sire more through will, through rote. It is not the first time she has been called in front of a crowd of predators, not even the first time she has stood before a priest to receive an esoteric initiation into a faith, but it is the first time she has entered into it so wholly in the dark—and in so many ways. She spent her life in the Catholic faith long before her confirmation, and her uncle, the archbishop, was quite insistent that she be fully initiated into the faith long before she was called to take a public critique or questioning. The questions were no question.

This is… different. By every measure. Surrounded not by the fellow faithful, she is instead surrounded by a sea of monsters, the greatest of which might stand before her: her sire. Standing so close the darkness he wears seems to drink in the light, and in the holy ground she could swear she could still hear the screams of all those that have burned tonight not far from where she stands. Burned by his order… but how many by her actions? By any measure she’s a monster little different than any other here, if anything her sins only a matter of degree that awaits only time.

Know that you are Damned, and rejoice. The words are haunting, horrifying, expressing a certainty she knew long before she met with any other Kindred. Damned. Fated for hell. Beyond forgiveness, beyond the grace of God. Rejoice. The very idea is blasphemous. It’s reveling in a fate worse than death. And yet… what else can they do? They are damned. She is damned. The worlds of an old man come to her: I only know how to lose more slowly.

Perhaps she should have listened more closely that night, should have heeded his advice. Should have done as he wished. Or perhaps she would have been better served to have never heard those words at all. Part of her wants to hate, to lash out, to blame Lou for all the struggle within her these nights. She knows how unjust that is. He told her what she needed to hear, did nothing more than affirm what she already knew in her dead and unbeating heart. The words of only a few nights past from a far older Kindred also return. I have seen no evidence that it is possible to reverse the Embrace.

There is no return. There is no escape from damnation. The best she can hope do on one path is fight a slide into darkness. And for what? It’s swimming against the current, exhausting herself. Ruining herself. She recalls well Lou’s filthy office, the smell coming off his skin, the ruin of his life. The misery in his eyes. Is that a path she could walk? Perhaps if she believed it would do any good, but that’s ultimately the point of all of this, isn’t it?

Your Damnation is secure, and cannot be changed. It’s a cruelty she didn’t understand at first, that Lou couldn’t, or wouldn’t explain. Delivered by her sire the point of it is so clear, the power of it, the purpose, and even, yes, the mercy. For Kindred, for the Damned, there is no struggle against the darkness. There is no fighting against their fate. There is no call to repent. Instead there is the admonishment of God: there can be no penitence, no struggle, and no fight. They are what He wants them to be, and nothing can change it. She can imagine no worse fate… but isn’t that the point?

There are only two paths then: to deny the will of God, to struggle for absolution that will never come, and to ultimately seek only the embrace of oblivion… or to accept it, to revel in it, and to live as only the immutably damned may. Two paths, the results of which she has seen: one, René, now little more than ash. His professed faith little more than a farce, a cynical joke, the other, standing before her, immutable before time, an immovable object, an unstoppable force. Eternal.

The two war over what little may be left of her soul. Pride and penitence. Glory and debasement. Virtue and vice juxtaposed, set against each other. Her pride, so beaten and battered, so abused, so ravaged by her Requiem seizes hold of the idea as her conscience clings feebly to what remains of her Catholic faith.

That battle between the two ideas is as brief as any conflict might have been between her ‘sire’ and her sire. Perhaps she is a coward afraid of Hell’s flames. Perhaps she is a hedonist unwilling to live as an ascetic. Perhaps she is simply too ambitious, too unwilling to accept a life of mediocrity. Perhaps she is seeking what small comfort has been available to her in her Requiem, those among the Sanctified that have shown her small kindnesses or facilitated her continued existence. Or perhaps she is simply willing to give way to God, to give up, to given in to God. She’s spent her entire life accepting, believing, and even giving way to God, barring one indiscretion (momentous as it might have been). This is the path she has been set upon.

This is her gift, it is her curse. To walk in darkness, to be clad in darkness. To leave behind the mortal world. To be Damned, fated for Hell, and yet beyond the reach of Hell. Here, with her sire, she can see the line of her new lineage. Through him she can trace it back to the beginning, through the eons. Those ancient voices call to her, they bid her to take her place among them, for the Damned… can live… forever.

When she looks up into Vidal’s eyes, the prince’s eyes, her sire’s eyes, when she feels the weight of his gaze upon herself alone as she kneels before him, when she is so close to him that she can see the finer details of his features, she is able to speak in truth.

“Yes, my prince, I do.”

It’s cathartic, a release from a burden she had been carrying, a false hope. A cleaving of a clinging to a life that either has nothing left for her, or very shortly will not. Caroline Malveaux is dead and damned. And still walks.

GM: Caroline’s sire brushes his middle and index fingers along her lips and forehead. Their texture is as hard and lifeless as diamond, and in their wake, she smells an unmistakable coppery tang. Sinner’s blood.

“Welcome to the fold, my child.”

Caroline: The Ventrue sways for a moment, caught in the throes of the moment, but regains herself when his fingers withdraw. She looks up at him with unblinking green eyes.

“Thank you, my prince, for allowing me to dine at the table of God, to fill the my cup with faith.”

She pauses for a moment. “And I swear, my prince, obedience unto you, your laws, the Traditions of the Camarilla, and the Precepts of Longinus: this I swear to God, to Christ, to Longinus, and to you, my prince.”

GM: Vidal extends his ring for Caroline to kiss. The heavy gold band is set with a gleaming ruby that seems to devour nearby light. A coat of arms is worked into the gem’s face, depicting a dragon coiled around a shield. The shield is divided into four smaller fields depicting a scepter, crown, lance, lion, eagle, and an empty field of stripes. A lance and crucifix are emblazoned near the dragon’s head, with the lance subordinate to the crucifix, and several Latin phrases are inscribed along the coat of arms’ borders, but Caroline does not have time to read them as her lips brush against the blood-red gem.

“As your aforesaid prince and liege, I receive your oath by the grace of God, and swear in turn to be a good and faithful lord, and to honor faithful and obedient service with wise and just rulership. Rise now as a subject of the Sanctified Archdiocese of New Orleans.”


Tuesday night, 22 September 2015, AM

GM: The crowd begins to break apart as the Hussar proclaims his master’s formal closing of tonight’s court. Father Malveaux leads the evening’s final prayer and entreats the assembled Kindred to, “Go forth, and sin once more.”

Veronica keeps Caroline close while the crowd disperses. She does not speak a word to the newly-released Ventrue, even as several of her acquaintances stop to offer Caroline their congratulations and platitudes.

In contrast to earlier in the evening, conversations are low and hushed. Repeated glances are cast towards the prince and seneschal. The tenor is the air is both fragile and grim, as if no one is entirely sure how to proceed next… at least those not among the increasing number of eyes staring towards Antoine Savoy. Matheson may have been found innocent, but there is little doubt that the Lord of the French Quarter departs St. Patrick’s Cathedral in a stronger political position than when he entered it.

Caroline: Caroline is forced smiles as she is all but led around by the harpy she maimed. Exactly what happened is still a blur, but ripping out the other Kindred’s throat cannot end well.

GM: The cathedral gradually empties. Before Veronica takes her leave, she traces a long-nailed finger over Caroline’s face, then grips the Ventrue by the chin and tilts her gaze to meet her own, like one would do with a small child.

“You owe me, you foolish brat.”

Caroline: Caroline meets her gaze.

“Of course. How fortunate for me that you kept such a close eye upon me, Madam Alsten-Pirrie,” the Ventrue replies without a hint of sarcasm.

GM: The Toreador’s lips curl as she releases Caroline’s chin and takes her leave, trailed by Micheal and several comely ghouls.

The Ventrue observes that the cathedral is now all but empty, consisting of somewhere between ten and twenty remaining Kindred. Among their number, she recognizes Father Malveaux, Becky Lynne Adler, John Harley Matheson, Cingolai, Gabriel Hurst, Anthony Brodowski, Roxanne Gerlette, Pierpont McGinn, Christopher Guilbeau, and a few others who testified during the three trials, but whose identities are unfamiliar to Caroline.

In contrast to the earlier crowd, whose miens ranged from fair to foul, the remaining Kindred are garbed in formal and conservative evening wear. Suits and floor-length dresses predominate, with the exception of Father Malveaux and another male Kindred, who remain clad in priest’s dark habits. Expressions range from impassive to aloof. Caroline does not appear out of place at this gathering.

Caroline: Few enough friendly faces, but plenty of familiar ones.

GM: Her sire broods from an almost throne-like gilded chair with gold armrests that end with lion’s heads. A tapestry with an ornate coat of arms has been hanged up behind him. Caroline reads the Latin on the scroll-work at the bottom:

Regnare in sanguine est in veritate imperare.

(“To rule in blood is to rule in truth.”)

The prince’s chair sits in the former place of the judge’s tableau, adjacent to the church’s altar. Caroline wonders if he would consider it improper to sit on the bishop’s throne so frequently occupied by her Uncle Orson. But as both the literal and ecclesiastical seat of the Catholic archdiocese is located in the French Quarter’s St. Louis Cathedral, the point is moot.

Now that the church is empty of so many Kindred, it is more easily recognizable as one. The interior is highly ornate, with stained-glass windows and tiny frescoes of serene-visaged saints. A pipe organ sits unused in the far corner of the church. Slender columns support the fan vaulting of the ceiling, which is particularly elaborate above the altar, incorporating sixteen stained glass windows in a half-dome. Three large paintings of St. Patrick, St. Peter, and Jesus Christ are by now quite familiar to Caroline’s eyes, but were even before. Adam was made the grand church’s presiding priest as a “present” for his thirtieth birthday, or so Great-Uncle Thomas had quipped, though Adam merely replied it was a grave responsibility.

The gathered Ventrue assume their seats in the front rows of pews. Vidal’s gaze burns like a black flame as he pronounces that Mister Smith was responsible for leaking clan secrets, slander against the dignitas of his clanmates, sedition against the rightful praxis of an elder clanmate, and numerous further incidents of disgraceful conduct. For these acts, he is to be condemned to damnatio memoriae. His name and works are to never again be spoken of among the clan.

Caroline: While the precise gravity of the punishment is somewhat lost on Caroline, to have one’s memory, as well as legacy, exterminated weighs heavily enough upon her. She can still almost hear his screaming childe as she was dragged into the box for her sire’s errors.

GM: The heat in the gaze of Caroline’s sire is a nigh-palpable thing. The object of its wrath has already been consumed, yet still it would be fed. Still it would burn.

George’s works, Vidal pronounces, are to be destroyed. His crowning achievement, the Windsor Court—a hotel that once received U.S. President Jim Marshall as its guest during Hurricane Katrina—will be closed and demolished. Its ghouls will be executed, as decreed earlier. The lives of its kine employees, down to the lowliest janitors and bellboys, are also forfeit. Not immediately, nor even within the year, for the Windsor Court has received overmuch scrutiny for incidents on the premises and the Masquerade must be maintained. Yet any former Court employees who do not leave New Orleans forever are to be considered open feeding to all and are not to die natural deaths.

“For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me,” Vidal reiterates.

In contrast to the looks of disquiet and heavy silence that greeted the execution of George’s childe, the profound silence among Caroline’s clanmates feels solidarious. Many of them bow their heads at Vidal’s pronouncement. The clan as a whole seems ashamed of George’s conduct. As if it has reflected poorly upon all of them, they who are meant to be leaders among the Camarilla.

Caroline: Caroline is among them in action, if not in feeling. However grounded it may be in Kindred common law, after feeling Vidal’s anger so keenly, she cannot help but feel as though this is savagely vindictive.

GM: “…unto the Final Night and the Second Coming, we shall never again speak of this stain upon our clan’s dignitas,” her sire pronounces in conclusion.

The gathered Ventrue bow their heads.

“But although our clan has shed blood,” Vidal resumes after a moment of silence, “we have also gained new blood.”

His gaze settles upon Caroline and John Harley Matheson.

Matheson steps forward alongside Caroline and leads her before the prince’s seat as he intones,

“We have indeed gained new blood, Strategos Vidal. May I present to you the childe of René Baristheaut, Caroline Malveaux—the newest scion of our clan. Cruel misfortune has denied her a sire to educate her in our ways. But where fortune fails, dignitas may succeed. I have taken it upon myself to educate Miss Malveaux in Questor Baristheaut’s stead.”

Matheson speaks a few more pretty words simultaneously crediting Questor Adler and himself with making Caroline presentable enough to speak before Clan Ventrue tonight, then finally turns the show over to her.

Their gathered clanmates turn to regard the newly-released fledgling.

Caroline: “Strategos Vidal.” Caroline meets the prince’s eyes. “Gerousiastis Guilbeau. Gerousiastis McGinn,” She nods to each in turn, meeting their eyes. “Gerousiastis Matheson.” She turns to meet his eyes and puts on a smile, conjuring up for herself not the voice of a monster, but the image of him offering Becky Lynne comfort and assurance, then back to the crowd. “Lictors, aedile, questors, and eirens. It is my great honor and privilege to stand in your presence, and to share not only the same time and place, but the same blood and heritage.”

The Ventrue’s gaze seems to sweep the crowd, seeking each pair of eyes in turn as she speaks, before returning back to her elder, and finally eldest among them. “First, I must sincerely apologize,” her gaze sweeps over McGinn, “for any shame or discredit I have, by proxy, brought upon this gathering, or any offense I have given. I knew little of the proud lineage I had inherited, nor of its great responsibilities until Gerousiastis Matheson, Gerousiastis McGinn, and their own,” her gaze works its way through McGinn to Matheson, “were noble enough to initiate me into the scantest sliver of the magnificent history of the Ventrue. It is by their firm hands and grace that I come before this distinguished assembly wiser and older to announce my intention to pursue the agoge, and seek, by the collective will and direction of this council, a day in which I might stand not only in the presence of this assembly, but among it as a part of the Structure.”

GM: The assembled Ventrue neither smile nor applaud at Caroline’s speech. None of them frown either at her reference to ‘a day’, though she can tell from their eyes… such language, in hindsight, betrays a still-mortal perspective. Nevertheless, none seem overly disappointed, and a few might even be relatively pleased, if she’s not off her mark.

It’s an improvement over her past reception.

Her sire seems finally disturbed from his brooding as his dark gaze settles on Caroline.

“You have discovered that a clanmate has been poaching in the domain of a Kindred who is not of our blood. What is your course of action, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: The question hits quite close to home.

“Strategos Vidal,” Caroline acknowledges her sire as he has never acknowledged her, “such actions are not only a violation of the Second Tradition, they’re of such a nature as to discredit themselves and all Ventrue in the city. If they were a peer or lesser, offer correction, and ensure that correction is followed—failing that, or if they were of superior station, bring it to another Ventrue of greater station. Preferably yourself, Strategos Vidal.”

GM: “A clanmate under lextalionis approaches you and invokes the Ethic of Succor. The prince is not of our blood. What is your course of action, Miss Malveaux?” the strategos demands.

Caroline: Caroline bites her lower lip for a moment.

“Strategos Vidal, the Ethic of Succor is inviolate once invoked. I would be obligated to provide what aid I could, assuming such aid did not undermine the dignitas of the clan as a whole. Presumably, however, only a rarely relatively-low minded—or falsely accused Ventrue—would put another member of the clan in that position.”

GM: The strategos’ gaze narrows.

“You have discovered that your strategos is consorting with the Birds of Dis. What is your course of action, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: Caroline teeters on the edge of the question. The Birds of Dis?

“Bring it to the elders of the Gerousia, as the next-highest rung that I might reach. While they may or may not be able to take appropriate action, they are more capable of reaching those who might, as needed.”

GM: No reaction crosses her sire’s seemingly marble-cast features. Time seems to skip a century in a second before he pronounces,

“Go forth into the night, Miss Malveaux. Complete your agoge as did the Spartan youths of old. Return before us as a homoios whose prowess struck fear into the hearts of Sparta’s foes.”

The Hussar wordlessly approaches Caroline to escort the church’s youngest Ventrue out.

Caroline: As has been the case since the first moments she heard the word sire, Caroline departs with no knowledge of her own’s thoughts. A disappointment? A success? A joke? Thrust alone into the night again, she has no answers. Only another task before her.

One of many.


Previous, by Narrative: Story Six, Cletus III, George IV
Next, by Narrative: Story Seven, Caroline I

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Next, by Caroline: Story Seven, Caroline I

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Story Six, Mouse Epilogue

GM: Three sheriff’s deputies stare down at two broken and bloody bodies.

“Shit. Overdid it.”

“You kept hitting them over the head, you psycho. That’s not how you’re supposed to do it.”

“My old man always hit them over the head, and they pinned a medal on his chest.”

“You didn’t see this shit in the old days, that’s for sure.”

“What shit?”

“All this shit. They’re fucking animals in this place. Even that kid.”

“Yeah. Looks like he cut this guy’s throat in his sleep.”

“These people would eat their own fucking young.”

“The Italians are all right.”

“Yeah, I sure bet they are, Jordan.”

“So how the fuck are we gonna explain this?”

There’s a loud guffaw. “How long you worked here? It happened however the fuck we say it happened.”

The guards slash open both mattresses, check behind the toilet, and spend the next few minutes searching the cell for contraband. They find a stash of heroin and argue over how to split the money.


GM: “…I’m so relieved to hear that. Thank you, Carson,” Luke says as he ends the call. He turns to Cécilia, who’s snuggled up next to him in bed, and tells her the good news. She can sleep in her own apartment again without being afraid.

Cécilia tells him she doesn’t mind staying over at his place. Luke smiles back that he doesn’t mind it either. Still, the pair’s good humor swiftly fades when Cécilia mentions that, “I never wanted him dead, but… I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t relieved.”

“He was a killer, Cécilia,” Luke says gravely. “He murdered his own cellmate in his sleep. God knows what he’d have done once he got out. Don’t forget he was tangled up with Emmett Delacroix, too.”

Cécilia slowly nods. “I’m glad it’s off my sisters’ minds, too. Yvette was… so angry about it. Adeline, Yvonne, and Noëlle were all so scared for me. And we hadn’t even told Simmone, I don’t think she could have handled it.”

“You’re not her mom, you know.” Luke then adds more gently, “It’s not your fault what happened that night. To any of them.”

“I know,” Cécilia grants. “But I’m worried about her. Noëlle, too. She doesn’t get enough attention. Maybe that’ll change once Yvette and Yvonne are off to college. And those two…”

“Cécilia, you’re a wonderful big sister to them all. Really. You’re like a second mom. But after this whole thing with Fernandez… look, you know that business trip I mentioned I was taking to Riyadh?”

She nods.

“How would you like to come along? I can’t get out of the ‘business’ part,” he smiles, “but I could take some extra time off and we can make it a vacation too. It’ll be just us, with nothing to worry about. How would you like to see Arabia?”

“That sounds wonderful, Luke,” Cécilia beams.


GM: “Sue ma doll, ya done look right as rain,” Bud smiles as he snaps the picture of Sue posing outside of Brielle Fernandez’s house.

“Can we go in?” Sue beams up at him.

“We jus’ may, darlin’, we jus’ may,” Bud grins as he scribbles, Sue loves your ma’s house! Wants to visit again real soon! onto the note he includes with the photo.

Mouse still owes him $200 for this week. He trusts the young man will get the message.


GM: Brielle cries as the phone drops from her trembling fingers. Her baby boy is dead. How? How? He was always such a good boy. Such a sweet boy. He’d never have hurt a fly. How could… how could this have happened?

She cries, and no one is left in the empty house to comfort her.


GM: “He was gonna get eaten alive in here, man,” Big Dawg says. “Us, yeah, we’re frequent fliers. New bootie like him, with a bullet? He wasn’t ever gonna learn to jail.”

“Pretty face like his?” Showerz smirks. “You know how things are for a punk. You want to see him paradin’ around in a skirt and makeup? Puttin’ on kool-aid lipstick? He dead anyway, he started doin’ that. Get the ninja, or just raped to death. You want him to die a june bug?”

“Guess not,” sighs Fizzy, rubbing his head. “Fuck, though. I mean…”

“Fuck, him.” Big Dawg spits to the side. “Villars says this shit’s his fault. Fuck, him.”

“Amen!” repeats Showerz.


GM: “Hey, Angela?” Emma asks as she looks away from her phone.

“Yeah?”

“You know that guy I called the cops on? The black one, with the bloody face, who tried to break in?”

“I remember that,” Angela nods. “You did the right thing. He sounded super sketchy.”

“He’s dead.”

“…oh.”


GM: A knock sounds against Brielle’s front door. She opens it.

“Hello there, ma’am. I’m a friend o’ yer girl’s,” Bud grins. When the woman gives him a confused look, he laughs. “Sorry, slip o’ the tongue. Boy’s. Mighty sorry for yer loss.”

“Hi!” pipes Sue.

Brielle dazedly looks between the two.

“I’m… sorry, this isn’t a good time. Can I help you?”

The big man’s grin widens. It’s fierce, white, and hungry.

“You bet you can.”

He calmly strolls into the house without Brielle’s permission, then closes the door after Sue as she skips in.

They take the back door out several hours later.

That will mean fewer potential witnesses when the police inevitably arrive.


GM: “Hey, Daddy?” Bentley asks.

“Mmm-hmm, sweet pea?”

“Um… my client’s dead.”

“Mmm-hmm.”

“Daddy, I said he’s dead.”

“Mmm-hmm, we’ll get you another, sweet pea.”

“I feel bad I hung up on him.”

“Mmm-hmm.”

“I had a… a dream last night. I was meat. Like, at a grocery store deli, ground up and in a cage, and… I don’t know. But these… wolves were circling around me, sniffing me, and licking their chops. I felt like I was gonna die. Or that I was dead, already.”

“Mmm-hmm.”

“Daddy, are you listening to me?”

“Mmm-hmm.”


GM: Paloma scoffs from behind her desk. “Fizzy’s baby brother killed someone. Yeah.”

Bert Villars grins at her. “Don’t underestimate what people can do when they’re desperate enough. Besides, killers run in that family.”

“Guess it’s late to call off Bud.”

Villars’ grin twitches in place. “Paloma, my dear, it’s always too late to call off Bud.”


GM: Dozens of comments stream below Mouse’s MeVid videos.

WWWHHYYYYYY

this is why we can’t have good things >:(

And this kids is why you don’t wanna become famous

R.I.P. Mouse, a True Legend, a Star and Light, loved and missed by Millions

fuck the police
fuck the pigs
MARTYR


Where do cops hide after committing a crime?
Behind their badge.


> Donut shop

> In your mama pussy :D

> True

> 1 US cops are too fat to hide in a pussy. plus…they ain’t getting none of that

> 1 cops are too fat to see their dicks

> Hiding behind a glass of whiskey or beer because being a cop probably sucks. Probably will lead to suicide and divorce (if they are married) because they have too much pride to change anything

> They already behind the badge

> and you hide behind your screen

> Cops keep you safe, you bunch of dick weeds. Imagine an America with cops. And don’t say it will be a better place.

> This video shows a cop keep the public safe ?and all the other shooting that come from a civil employee and lets not forget about the racist white noise that flows through the conscious of alot of cops in America. This man did nothing to get shot. These are not cops they are racist trigger happy murders with a uniform.

> cops dont shoot anyone in this video

MOUSE IS NOT DEAD IN THE HISTORY OF MUSIC AND HE IS NOT DEAD IN MY EARS

> u mean heart?

That cop needs to be put in jail for atemted murder.

Well that was depressing.

R.I.P All black brother’s and sistah’s.

I would have been nice if you would have included the circumstances surrounding each celebrities death or at least the official cause of death.

> hes a celeb?

> CELEBRITY OR NOT MAY HE REST IN PARADISE

Why you shoot me?
I don’t know.
Is this joke?


“Just listen to the cops and you won’t get shot” *still gets shot

my sister has asma this makes me so sad :*(

Support: this hurts my heartz

#ALegendNeverDies

> yah but dat nigger did!

> HAHAHAH FUCK NIGGERS!!!! :D

> You people are what is wrong with America.

> WHATEVER CUCK!

GM: Land of the free home of the brave. The police in America are one of the biggest jokes sometimes

Cop needs to be charged with attempted murder!

omg i had no idea these person had died.

RIP mouse :(

A guy walks down the street.
Man: doodoodadoooooo
Police come in and fire 5 shots at him.
Police: u saw him drinking dat apple juice righttttt?!?!!


Rip greatness Amen ===(

Who cares if one more light goes out?
In a sky of a million stars
It flickers, flickers
Who cares when someone’s time runs out?
If a moment is all we are
We’re quicker, quicker
Who cares if one more light goes out?
Well I do


America , the biggest joke

GOODNIGHT SWEET PRINCE YOUR IN HEAVEN NOW


GM: Jocelyn twists her hands in the confession booth.

“…he didn’t seem to actually understand what he’d done wrong. I think he actually thought he was being romantic, stalking that girl back to her apartment. Caroline felt really bad about it, and… honestly, I did too. We seriously tortured him, and all it did… all he did was cry.”

“What does it mean to be sanctified under the kine’s definition of the word, childe?” inquires the cool voice from behind the grill.

“To be holy,” Jocelyn answers after a moment.

“Why?”

Another pause. “I don’t understand, Mother. I mean, I don’t know.”

“Then incline your ears, o child of the night. Sanctify originates from the Greek word hagiazo, which means to be ‘separate’ or to be ‘set apart.’ In the Bible, sanctification relates to a sovereign act of God whereby He ‘sets apart’ a person, place, or thing in order that His purposes may be accomplished. In the Book of Exodus, God sanctifies a place of worship. ‘And there I will meet with the children of Israel, and the tabernacle shall be sanctified by My glory,’ says Exodus 29:43. Even a day can be sanctified as seen in Genesis 2:3 where the seventh day is ‘set apart’ as a holy day of rest. ‘Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.’”

“Similarly, when a person is sanctified he or she is being set apart by God for a specific divine purpose. The very moment the kine are saved in Christ, they are also immediately sanctified and begin the process of being conformed to the image of Christ. As God’s children they are ‘set apart’ from that moment to carry out His divine purposes unto eternity. Hebrews says, ‘For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.’”

“Sanctification is not salvation. We are condemned to an eternity of suffering and torment for what we are, and yet those who follow the gospel of Longinus are Sanctified. Why is this?”

“We’re following our purpose,” Jocelyn answers, then continues more firmly, “We’ve been set apart, for a specific, holy purpose.”

“That is correct, childe. We have been set apart for the use intended by our designer. Our use is holy, even as we ourselves are damned.”

“So, for that boy, Fernandez…”

The confessional booth’s shadows hang thick and heavy. Jocelyn wrings her hand.

“We’re damned, because we sinned. And we still sin, and do terrible things.” Jocelyn seems to dwell on those final words. “But for a good cause. A holy cause.”

“It is the will of God that you are what you are, and the will of God is that the Damned exist to show the evils of turning from Him,” the cool voice somberly recites.

The Testament’s words are powerful, and speak to Jocelyn’s soul. She closes her eyes, so that the confessional may be truly dark, and knows fear in the shadow of the Almighty. It is by God’s will that she stalks the night. It is by God’s will that she brought suffering and torment upon a baying sheep.

“But, Mother, I’m not… I’m not sure if what I did was right. If what I did was sanctified. All we did was hurt him, and it didn’t… it didn’t change anything. It just hurt him.”

“Do you believe he sinned, childe?”

“Yes, but I don’t think he k…”

“It is what God knows that is material, childe. Were his actions an affront against God?”

“Yes, Mother,” Jocelyn answers. “Caroline said the girl, Cécilia, was god-fearing and going to be her sister-in-law.” Her voice grows harder. “She’d even tried to help the guy when he looked her number up and called her, all out of the blue. Then stalked her back to her apartment like a creep. I had a friend, well, friend of a friend in college, who had to deal with a stalker. I heard it was so awful for her that she dropped out.”

“Do you believe the kine you punished would have committed this sin again, my childe?”

Jocelyn thinks. “Maybe. I don’t think he wanted to scare her, but…” She frowns. “Well, okay, he didn’t. But I’m not sure he cared that he did, honestly. And he seemed really clueless about why a girl wouldn’t like that kind of attention. So, I guess I could see him doing it again.” She continues more weakly, “But I’m not still not completely sure that he would. Or even that… just hurting him would do anything about it.”

“Follow him, my childe,” the cool voice calmly instructs. “Test him. Tempt him as this girl did, but with your own flesh. If he sins again, and ‘stalks’ you as he did his last victim, kill him. The Testament is clear. By visiting God’s vengeance upon the wicked, we fulfill our purpose and are Sanctified.”

Jocelyn bows her head and traces the sign of the lance over her heart.

“Yes, Mother. Thanks be to God.”


GM: Benjamin Edwards, pastor of the Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church, has presided over many funerals in his time. Few, however, have been stranger than Mercurial Fernandez’.

Brielle’s will left most of her estate to Mouse: she disinherited Fizzy after he walked out on their family as a teenager. The two reconciled after his stepfather died, but Brielle never wrote him back into her will. Not until he stopped hanging around the RidaHoodz, went to college or got a real job, and showed he was on the right track. Neither of them were holding their breaths on that happening.

Louisiana state law, however, imposes no survivorship period on the beneficiaries of wills. All of the will-less Mouse’s estate passes to Fizzy, as his half-brother and next-closest of kin. That modest estate includes all of Brielle’s, and Fizzy receives what initially appears to be a very promising windfall of cash: his mother’s house, car, savings, possessions, and other assorted effects, many of which she had inherited last year from her deceased husband.

The first outstanding debt to settle are Mouse’s court-imposed fees, which come out to $6,300. A much larger problem is the burglary of Brielle’s house. The missing electronics, jewelry, prescription drugs, and other items are inconvenient but expected: the far larger headache is the identity theft. Thieves completely clear out his mother’s bank accounts, rack up fraudulent charges on her credit cards, apply for new cards, take out payday loans, and otherwise use the deceased woman’s identity to drum up as much short-term cash as they can. An arrested prostitute in Central City, subsequently released on bail, gives her name as Brielle Fernandez. Another woman shows up to Tulane Medical Center with Brielle’s insurance card and racks up some very expensive bills. What galls Fizzy most of all, however, is the news that his mother’s car has been stolen. That’s what his gang is supposed to do!

The final kick in the nuts is that he has to pay the federal estate twice. Mouse’s estate paid it once, and now he has to pay it again.

Setting his deceased mother’s affairs in order would normally be quite impossible to do from prison. Dealing with the physical and identity theft as well is simply impossible—until a smiling Bert Villars steps in. The oily lawyer is only too happy to offer to “take care of everything” for Fizzy.

Fizzy makes the grim but calculated choice that he’ll lose less money getting swindled by his lawyer than he will by having no lawyer at all.

The other RidaHoodz, meanwhile, are furious and blame their incarceration on Fizzy’s little brother. They claim that Fizzy is “fucking loaded” now that Bert Villars is selling his mom’s house for him, and demand that Fizzy’s inheritance go towards paying their legal fees, also accrued through Bert Villars. Protestations that he will have very little money left are met with deaf ears. Fizzy makes another grim but calculated choice to pay the gang’s legal bills. One does not wish to be without friends in Orleans Parish Prison.

Bert Villars is true to his word, however, and plugs the monetary holes in the sinking ship that is Fizzy’s inheritance in record time. The grimebag lawyer claims to be genuinely hurt when Fizzy sarcastically wonders if it was an inside job. After all, he remarks to Paloma, just because they do regular business with the man who stole from Fizzy, and indirectly caused the circumstances that led to his mother dying, doesn’t mean it was an inside job. When the obese secretary asks if they’d be making more money if it was an inside job, Villars thinks on that for several moments before leering, “only a little bit more.”

Between Mouse’s court fees, the RidaHoodz’ collective legal counsel and court fees, Bert Villars’ added fees for serving as an estate lawyer, the many thefts from Brielle’s estate, and the taxes associated with selling Brielle’s house and other assets, there is barely any money left. Bert Villars laughs at the comparison with “a plague of fucking locusts!” and tells him he’s lucky still have anything. Fizzy needs that money for commissary: another essential resource towards survival in prison. He makes the brutally pragmatic decision not to pay for his little brother’s funeral. He still tells Villars to make it happen, though. “You fuckin’ owe me, amount of business I brought you!” he rages at his lawyer from across the steel table.

Villars offers another oily smile as he replies that he “may have a way” that will not only pay for Mouse’s funeral, but potentially turn a profit.

That way, of course, is Mouse’s Patreon.

It’s still open and bringing in donations after the two wildly popular MeVid videos he made. Those videos have ignited further interest in his prior videos, which already had a decent number of views. Bert Villars scents an untapped market, and one with a limited shelf life. It’s not as if Mouse is about to make any more videos—or that Patreon donations will continue to trickle in once people realize he’s dead.

Lots of things get smuggled into Orleans Parish Prison. A phone isn’t hard. Fizzy starts his video with, “Look, y’all, my brother’s dead. Cops did it,” before telling an essentially true but highly sensationalized version of Mouse’s death. He leaves out events like following Cécilia Devillers home to her apartment that are unlikely to engender sympathy. He also leaves out details that simply don’t make for a good story, like Bud the loan shark or Mouse knifing a fellow inmate to death in their shared cell. Fizzy weaves a grandiose and outraged narrative where his brother was racially profiled and harassed by police, cruelly beaten and pepper-sprayed, arrested on bullshit charges, and released only to be arrested again less than 24 hours later because he looked like a ‘suspicious character’—due to the injuries he suffered at the police’s own hands. The tale concludes with Mouse being savagely beaten to death by sheriff’s deputies after he protested OPP’s appalling conditions and announced his intention to file a class-action lawsuit on behalf of the other inmates.

An oily grin spreads over Bert Villars’ face as he watches the funeral’s GoFundMe donations roll in. He bills Fizzy for the time he and Paloma spend processing those. He bills Fizzy for a lot of other things too. All told, Mouse’s death has been more profitable to his business than the young man’s life ever was.

The funeral Father Edwards presides over is a strange affair. For one, it’s a partly ticketed event: Fizzy films another video selling the right to attend his brother’s funeral over Kickstarter. Backers who pledge more than the minimum ticket price can lay flowers over Mouse’s tombstone (bought at a marked up price whose profits go to Bert Villars) or deliver eulogies.

Then there are the attendees themselves.

Mouse’s uncle Clarence attends along with Jerome and Tyronne, the only two other RidaHoodz both able and willing to show up to the funeral. Fizzy, Dontell, and Dauntay have all been arrested. D’Angelo is sour over half the gang getting arrested and spends the afternoon getting high. Dauntay’s amateur porn star girlfriend J’Nelle has “gone off the deep end” in his words, and does not surprise anyone when she fails to attend.

Bentley Downs objects to paying to attend Mouse’s funeral, “out of principle.” She contacts Bert Villars and says some things she shouldn’t. The grimebag lawyer threatens her with a defamation lawsuit he has absolutely no intention of taking to court. Bentley runs to her dad, who has equally little interest in getting into a potential legal battle, and simply tells her he’ll pay for the funeral ticket. She looks slightly huffed and more than a little trepidatious around the RidaHoodz, who are equally bemused by the “rich white girl’s” presence.

The attendee who no one expects, though, is the ‘racist desk check’ Emma McCarthy. Angela Greer accompanies her as “moral support” after she said she wasn’t sure if she should go.

Becca honestly doesn’t know what to make of the varied (and lurid) accounts of Mouse’s activities shortly before his death, but shows up because it seems like “the decent thing to do.” She sighs at the ticket’s cost now that she isn’t making extra spending money from babysitting Westley. The law student isn’t sure off-hand whether it’s legal to charge money for attending Mouse’s funeral, but figures it’s for a good enough cause.

Most of the people who show up, though, are strangers to the Fernandez family. The majority of Mouse’s audience lived outside New Orleans, but there are enough local subscribers to make their presence felt—and, in fact, to outnumber all of the other attendants by a fair margin. The hashtag #ALegendNeverDies trends locally.

Father Edwards starts the service respectfully, but everything goes to shit once the MeViders recognize “the racist desk check.” Boos drown out Bentley’s eulogy before a shouting match ensues over the priest’s indignant protests. An angry MeVider who brought a full bottle of Dr. Pepper (evidently considering the funeral an entertainment event, or perhaps simply cluelessly rude) dumps it over Emma’s face and shirt.

She screams and tries to get away. The MeViders bellow their collective rage, grief, and hilarity—a bizarre combination of emotions that even some of the RidaHoodz, hardened criminals all, find unsettling for its nihilism in the face of a family tragedy.

Angela Greer promptly yanks the empty bottle out of the assailant’s hands and gives him a forceful, “Back off!” that stops the internet tough guy in his tracks, but fails to stop a panicking Emma from hurrying to get away. Someone sticks out their foot and trips her, laughing all the while.

Father Edwards shouts, “Enough!” as he stoops to help the bruised and even more upset woman up, only to get two greasy pizza slices thrown in his face. Someone else laughs and kicks him in the shins, hard, from behind. Someone else yells, “What the fuck man!” and throws a punch at the priest’s attacker. Angela Greer tries to pull him and Emma out as the crowd descends into violence—and at least as many gawking, laughing MeViders whip out their phones to record the whole thing.

Mouse’s funeral degenerates into something between a riot, an entertainment spectacle, and a loved one’s goodbye gone catastrophically wrong. The RidaHoodz flee the scenes before the police arrive. The MeViders who throw food items andcold drinks while yelling “Pigs killed Mouse!” “Fuck you pigs!” “A legend never dies!” pay for it with pepper spray, broken bones, and finally, the explosive roar of a gunshot.

All but the most nihilistic of Mouse’s fans break ranks and flee. All the while, their idol’s voice discordantly booms out over the screams, shouts, and crunches from a dozen phones in almost surreal fashion:

“You call me a pervert…”
“Really I’m just black…”
“You sack of shit desk chick…”
“Fuck y’all and your mob…”

“It’s an allegory for the uninitiated…”
“Derogatory for the uneducated…”
“For all the racist desk chicks out there…”

“Education for your entertain, you fucking racist plebs…”

Police send over a dozen broken, bleeding, and moaning people off to Orleans Parish Prison. Bentley is hysterical as she wipes her pepper-sprayed face and screams for her dad. A broken-ribbed Angela Greer is too preoccupied looking after a barely conscious Emma, whose head wound is bleeding like crazy, think over how much Summer is going to gloat about seeing her in jail. Father Edwards ministers to the wounded and traumatized as best he can and counsels patience. Many MeViders suffer complete breakdowns, screaming louder than Bentley as they try to rub pepper spray from their eyes and question whether this is all a nightmare. A few of them sneer and bitterly laugh: their only regret is losing their phones.

The white girls are released after calls are made, but Bert Villars scents even more profit and presents himself to still-arrested black MeViders as a “racial justice attorney” who “defended Mouse to his dying breath!” and is only too happy to offer “affordable legal representation to all.”

The real kicker is how he really did represent Mouse. He can’t sell his services fast enough.

His favorite client, though, is the shot man who’s in the hospital and barely lucid. It’s all-too easy to get him to sign all the necessary papers. The grimebag lawyer was known as “Twilight Zone Villars” before the first pimp or crack king ever called on his service, and it’s a role he’s come to miss.

Local media outlets, meanwhile, can’t get enough of the “riot at local musician’s funeral” story. It turns up everywhere. A young journalist named David Joffe catches wind first, and is glad: the resultant freelance work for the Times-Picayune and several other outlets helps pay the bills. Another young journalist named Jackson Long hears about Mouse’s funeral second, and is glad too: he didn’t want a police hit piece to be his big break. When his wife Caitlin points out several ways he could have spun a more neutral cast on events, he argues with her that he couldn’t have and goes to bed in a foul mood. Jackson Kibbe publishes a “Stalker Mercurial Fernandez Exposed” hit piece detailing the various criminal charges Mouse faced before his death. Luke Malveaux reads it and coldly tells him to “leave the Devillers out of this. Leave out everything to do with them, or you’re dead to my family.” Kibbe grudgingly acquiesces and “Axis” posts the full story anyways on his private news blog. Slim Ray writes an op-ed for the Times-Picayune about the novel and commercialized nature of Mouse’s funeral. It was funded by GoFundMe donations and attended by MeVid viewers who bought tickets over Kickstarter. What implications does this have? “Has death, too, become another source of likes?” Big Ray tells his son that moments like this remind him why he doesn’t mind being retired, then talks about the Limbo Kings’ next bowling game.

Mouse’s MeVid channel continues to draw thousands of views. It’s inevitable when memes start to circulate.
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Just as Mouse’s death became a sensation over the internet, the internet sensationalizes real life. Emma finds the “racist desk chick” epithet impossible to dodge. Students harass her constantly. Members of several hate groups upset her nearly as much when they try to recruit her. The student petition to remove her as JL House’s desk coordinator doesn’t gain traction, but she resigns the job after the sheer amount of stress it brings. Her grades start to slip. The once-apolitical woman grows bitter over how “they never even let me say ’I’m sorry’” joins the College Republicans. Angela Greer promises her another way that she can feel like she’s doing something worthwhile, and invites her to attend one of the Kappas’ meeting.

Fizzy, meanwhile, smells a cash cow and has Bert Villars start new GoFundMe appeals (to raise funds for his legal bills) with more MeVid “from prison” videos. The two start looking into merchandising options and media interviews. Villars scoffs incredulously to Paloma when some of the order-on-demand T-shirts actually sell.

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When enough sell, he starts thinking about a web series or book deal. He reaches out to people in the entertainment industry. Fizzy hounds his lawyer to cash in on as many opportunities as possible: the more money he has in prison, the better. The internet’s attention is fickle, too, and what’s viral today is old news tomorrow. There’s no telling how long Mouse’s current stardom will last, so they need to make the most of it. Villars hopes to inflate the “murdered musician’s” life story into the next Michael Brown. Maybe they can even sue the city like Tyrone Johnson did.

Yes, he sees big things ahead for the dead young musician. Bright things. Glorious things.

In Orleans Parish Prison, Fizzy raises a glass of pruno, or prison wine: grape juice, white bread in a sock, raisins, yeast, and as much sugar as they could get ahold of, left to ferment inside three plastic trash bags for a week. He toasts his brother’s memory in a dixie cup alongside Showerz and Big Dawg.

“Here’s t’ my my baby brother.”

“Cash cow,” Big Dawg chimes.

“Meme of the year,” Showerz smirks.

The three dixie cups tap.

“Stone-cold killer!”


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Story Six, Caroline X, Cletus I, George II, Rocco I

“By and by, we all pay our dues.”
George Smith


Sunday night, 20 September 2015, PM

GM: The gray stone monolith arrogantly looms over the surrounding CBD. Tall, unbent, unbroken. Unconquered by crumbling mason, acid rain, and the relentless march of time, St. Patrick’s Cathedral is supremely confident in its holy purpose—but not its hegemony. St. Louis Cathedral smugly holds up the 221 years since its dedication to Patrick’s 178, showing them off like jealous children comparing baseball cards. St. Patrick’s must sullenly accept its status as only second-grandest, second-oldest, and second-best cathedral in New Orleans.

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Caroline: The building is massive, so massive that as she approaches she can almost feel God standing at its apex, looking down, judging. It makes her skin crawl and hollows her soul with shame.
Were it not for such particular purpose, Caroline doubt she could even approach it.

GM: Caroline’s pale skin is flush with hot blood stolen Sasha and three other victims as she approaches the church’s threshold, where but a week ago (it feels like a lifetime) she confessed her sins to her cousin Adam. Yet the gut-churning dread that greeted her upon the last occasion is not present… only an oddly sluggish weariness. It’s like comparing a migraine to a stomach ache. Distinct, even less painful, but still unpleasant.

The cathedral’s interior is a vast and cavernous space. The faintest whisper feels as if it could echo and echo off the Gothic arches and stained-glass windows until it reaches the ears of God. Whether He would respond to Caroline’s kind is another matter.

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So is whether they would want Him to.

Caroline: She chooses not to tempt Him and keeps her mouth shut for now, taking in the familiar scenery—and any occupants. The entire scene reaffirms her more conservative choice for the night, a long, flowing gown with a transparent top that slides halfway down her arms. Cinched just a bit at the waist. Classical, with a bit of modern. Conservative. She’d planned on wearing it to the next major party function. It’ll serve a better function here—she hopes.

GM: Caine’s damned children have converged upon God’s house like flies to a corpse. Some hide their natures as Caroline does underneath bespoke suits, haute couture gowns, and fashions so cutting that they would hardly seem to need fangs with which to feed. Other Kindred revel in their sinful natures, adorning their eternally young and nubile bodies in the most head-turning extremities of dark couture: dresses made of knives, jackets constructed of barbed wire, and shining black PVC garments that cater to the wildest fetish. Others simply don’t bother dressing up: some wear leather jackets, torn hoodies, and denim jeans. The especially slovenly and monstrous-looking (or simply pathetic) garb themselves in little more than moldering rags and the dirtiest, dumpster-scavenged grunge fashions. Still others are dressed normally, in jeans and t-shirts and everyday clothes, and seem monstrous only by their association with their obvious fellows.

Caroline can’t begin to count how many there are. Many are like her. Kindred. No heartbeats. Slowed to nonexistent breathing and blinking. All those other telltale predatory cues, even among the best actors among them. But no matter what they wear on their bodies, so many of the pale faces carry the same leering expression. Their dead nostrils sniff just as hungrily. Blood is in the air. A number of bulk ghouls clad in black suits, mirrored shades, and stone-like expressions stand guard throughout the holy place. Even in Elysium—and especially tonight’s—the potential for bloodshed feels ever-present.

Caroline: She can hardly blame them, seeing what she has. This entire trial is ugly, with ugly truths underneath. Truths part of her wishes she didn’t know. It was easier when she could pretend, as Jocelyn does, that the prince is all virtuous. That despite all that she’s suffered, there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

The more exotic outfits she forces herself not to stare at, for a moment taken aback by—but when she thinks about it, it makes sense. For all their power and depravity, this might be the only place they can truly show off what they are. That they can dare others to look at them, where they can be who, and what, they are. Even in the hearts of their domains they must always keep to the Masquerade. Only in these rare gatherings can they put on a performance befitting their nature. It’s pathetic in its own way. But she understands it.

Pic.jpg GM: An arriving figure brushes past Caroline. Her hair is as green as a lime Popsicle and fritzy as a cat’s bushed tail. Her lower face glints with metal. A ring in the shape of a crescent moon pierces through her nostrils, while a second one is worked through her lower lip. Two studs adorn the skin just above it. Her thick eyelashes are as long as her eyes themselves, and the skin around her lids is solid black, seemingly adorned more with war-paint than makeup. She wears a studded black leather collar with three steel D-rings, attached O-rings, and further attached linking chains that clink as she moves. A metal-boned corset constricts her waist, and she wears no pants or underwear, simply thigh-high leather boots with platform heels and studded with straps and buckles. Two half-naked, leather-clad ghouls trail behind her, wearing spiked collars with chain links clipped to their domitor’s own collar.

“Licks coming through! HehEeHe!”

Caroline: The Ventrue gives the freak a second glance, but slides out of the way, further into the crowd, to get away from the slavering ghouls following in her wake. Everywhere the insanity of it all is an assault on the senses, perhaps not bit of it so much as the jarring disconnect between the well-dressed and the wildly insane. Unfamiliar faces greet her at every turn. How can there even be so many Kindred in New Orleans? How can it have gone on, under the surface, for so long without others noticing?

Ghouls as pets, treated as slaves. Human beings reduced to ornaments on Kindred arms, shown off, or simply made a show of. The scene is sick, and she can at once understand the bitter divides among Kindred, among those that try to cling to a shred of sanity, and this mass.

GM: Yet Caroline cannot help but recall similar scenes in the French Quarter nightclubs where she hunted on her Requiem’s second night. She recalls the sweaty, angry masses hypnotically swaying to oblivion’s entropic chords, and the lusty cries of the couples fornicating in the bathrooms. She remembers how well she fed.

As ever, the Kindred can but mimic the kine.

Caroline: And perhaps punish them. Memories of the worst of humanity make thoughts of turning God’s vengeance and judgment upon them easy to embrace.


Sunday night, 20 September 2015, PM

Rocco: Most faces in the dark cathedral may be unfamiliar to Caroline, but there is at least one hidden within the pale ocean.

“It’s certainly pleasant to see a familiar face, Miss Malveaux,” a male voice interjects in the cacophony. It carries the softest lilt of an Italian accent. “How goes your night?”

Caroline: The Ventrue settles her gaze on the hound. It’s aged by at least ten years, not physically, but in experience since that gaze last settled upon him. Since that night in an Elysium not so long ago. Her skin is flush, warm, stolen blood running through her veins, and her gown dazzles in black, showing simultaneously nothing… and just the hint of something, and shining all the more with the golden wristband on one hand, the diamond glittering on one finger, and the diamonds at her ears—understated, but more potent for it. A small and simple cross of gold lays across her breast, the thin gold chain barely hidden around her neck, standing out only because she is oh so pale.

Pic.jpg "Hound Agnello, how pleasant to see you as well. It goes… "

She gives a weathered smile.

“Well enough. And yourself?”

Rocco: Hound Agnello takes a moment to take in Caroline’s svelte figure and decorous appearance. He doesn’t hide his appraisal.

“I am better now that I have the chance to make small talk with a beautiful woman,” Rocco replies, finally looking up to meet Caroline’s gaze. The Gangrel is dressed in his own finery: his signature, plum-colored suit.

Caroline: There’s something missing in her gaze from the last time he looked into her eyes. A less experienced Kindred might name it something like innocence. Rocco is not so inexperienced. This well-fed, well dressed, well composed thing before him two weeks after her Embrace wasn’t innocent even when he met her a week ago. It’s hard to picture those discerning green eyes as ever being truly innocent. No, what’s missing is something all the more striking. It’s fear.

When he last saw her at an Elysium she stank of it. It ran off her like sweat off a kine. Tonight there’s tension. Stress. Maybe even concern. But not fear. She keeps that smile on, her too-white teeth against too-pale skin. It’s terrifying to think what manner of marble she might be carved out of in a hundred years.

“Hound Agnello, you are as charming as you were when we first met.”

Rocco: The change is not lost on Rocco. His dark brown eyes bore into Caroline and a look of approval appears on the Gangrel’s face.

“Thank you, Miss Malveaux. You’ve certainly come a long way since the last time I met you.”

He adds, “I must congratulate you on finding your sire. It was no small feet for a fledgling.”

Caroline: “Ah, Hound Agnello, you have no idea, or at least I should hope not. That was no pleasant experience.” There’s a sly smile on her face.

Rocco: “Why do you say that?” he asks, smile growing.

Caroline: “Staring death in the eye, knowing it is coming for you with all the ancient certainty of an avalanche coming down the mountain?”

There’s a hint of teeth to her smile.

“Being utterly within someone’s mercy, with all your secrets laid bare? I should hope that such an experience never finds you, Hound Agnello. Or if it has, that it is swiftly forgotten.”

Rocco: Hound Agnello’s gaze narrows and his smile lessens.

“We’re all at God’s mercy in the great scheme of things,” he answers, stiffly. “We have no secrets from God.”

Caroline: “Sadly, I fear there will ever remain many from me,” Caroline deflects. “Perhaps for the best, though.”

Rocco: Rocco pauses, staring as he considers something.

“I take it you’re not referring to your ordeal with your sire when you say that,” he remarks, remaining cordial. “In saying that, more avenues and opportunities are opening up for you now that you are to be accepted into our society more properly.” Hound Agnello’s smile reappears. “Are you making favorable inroads with the Storyville Krewe?”

Caroline: The surprise that crosses her face is only there for a moment, replaced by a genuine smile, the first he’s seen of her.

“That was your request, was it not, Hound Agnello?”

Rocco: “Yes. I have seen many talented fledglings wither without the right allies,” Rocco mentions, honestly, “and it is my wish that the blood of Father Malveaux and Sheriff Bastien remain Sanctified.”

GM: Caroline’s phone inconveniently buzzes.

Caroline: “Or at least return to it? It would seem late for René Baristheaut.”

Rocco: Rocco nods with a small, still-charming smile.

Caroline: “I do appreciate the concern,” she replies.

Rocco: “You’re welcome.”

Rocco adds, “I take it you’ve met Gwendolyn Wade. She is one of my tenants within my domain.”

Caroline: “Only in brief,” Caroline replies. “Though she seemed pleasant enough. I imagine she must be quite the dutiful tenant.”

Rocco: “I make a point to be on good terms with all my tenants, Miss Malveaux,” Rocco answers, “and in saying that, I plan to invite her and the Storyville Krewe to my domain for a pleasant get-together in a few nights time. In fact, I am curious to know if you would be interested in attending, as well.”

Caroline: “That sounds delightful, Hound Agnello, and you certainly have my interest.”

Rocco: The hound nods, giving Caroline a genuine smile as he thinks on the particulars.

“Excellent. I have yet to speak to the Storyville Krewe, but expect a visit from one of my ghouls in the coming nights with details on the night I plan.”

Caroline: “It may be easier for them to call ahead Hound Agnello, as I’ve been… renovating of late. Still, I’d welcome such an invitation,” she smiles.

Rocco: Rocco nods. “Do you have a ghoul that frequents Elysium, Miss Malveaux?” the hound asks.

Caroline: “Ah, I wish I could manage that right now, Hound Agnello, but I’ve had something of a problem maintaining ghouls at all. It’s certainly something I’d like to do eventually.”

Rocco: “Unfortunate.” A pause. “In any case, have you given much thought to who you might swear fealty to as a tenant in the coming nights?”

Caroline: “The current terms of my serfdom to the sheriff require that I do so for him, presumably that is not an arrangement that he’ll be willing to reconsider,” she replies.

Rocco: “I understand that you’re Sheriff Donovan’s serf, Miss Malveaux,” Rocco replies with a patient smile, “but after being released, have you given any thought into swearing fealty to another regent or vassal?”

Caroline: Caroline’s own smile remains in place.

“I apologize, Hound Agnello, I must not have been clear: as a requirement of my serfdom I am required to swear fealty to him upon my release.”

Rocco: Rocco’s eyes betray a little bit of disappointment.

“Sheriff Donovan is certainly a good regent to have, especially with you living in Audubon Place,” the hound remarks thoughtfully, holding his chin, “although its location isn’t very secretive.”

Rocco rubs his chin for a couple more seconds before letting his hand fall back to his side.

“I should probably let you go now, Miss Malveaux,” he says, politely disengaging himself. “I will have one of my ghouls get in touch with you in a couple nights time. Good night.”

Caroline: “Of course, Hound Agnello, my thanks for your time. And of course if the sheriff does prove willing to reconsider his current position, I’d be happy to be in touch.”


Sunday night, 20 September 2015, PM

GM: After taking her leave of Rocco, Caroline glances down at her phone. The text is from her mother.

Date still in the air. See you at your house again tomorrow?

Caroline: No promises. I’ll let you know a time. You pick the place.

GM: Give me a day’s notice.

The sea of deathless, pale-faced, leering predators stretches before Caroline as she looks up from her mother’s text.

Caroline: For the moment she’s content to watch. You can tell a lot about social dynamics by who talks to who, who avoids who. Who’s important. Who’s dangerous. Here it’s all the more so—who can be approached. Who is dangerous to speak to. She finds a spot on the edge of the crowd and watches.

GM: There’s no such thing as a giant party. Every party is a collection of smaller cliques and gatherings; people can only pay attention to so many other people at once. The Ventrue’s eye picks out several distinct cliques among the larger throng.

The most prominent one is centered around a dark-haired man who looks in his mid-30s. He’s shorter than Caroline, and short in his own right, standing perhaps half a foot below the neonate Ventrue. His scruffy facial hair hovers somewhere between a five-o’ clock shadow and a full beard. He’s dressed in playboy-esque finery that’s simultaneously casual and resplendent: an open-breasted bespoke white sports coat, red silk dress shirt, black slacks, dark brown snakeskin belt with a slim gold buckle, and matching polished brogue shoes.

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In contrast to the severe demeanors of other prominent Kindred Caroline has encountered, the short man is all smiles and laughter. He seems to coax them from the vampires surrounding him as easily as bubbles from a stream. Several of their number include a glasses-wearing woman in smart business attire and a dark, smoldering beauty in a sinuous red dress.

Another prominent clique is centered around Philip Maldonato. The seneschal’s tall frame, one of the most visible in the room, is garbed in a somber gray three-piece suit, lighter dress shirt, and deep blue necktie. A matching handkerchief rests in his breast pocket. Silver cufflinks and an old-fashioned pocketwatch’s chain offer two concessions to the past. Caroline only recognizes Father Malveaux among the Kindred who are gathered around him. No one laughs, though there is an occasional thin smile. The clique feels not only distinctly but deliberately separate from the short man’s. The two are even located on opposite ends of the room… Caroline may recognize pitifully few of the present Kindred, but she recognizes when a battle line has been drawn.

The crowd between the groups is sufficiently thick that they need not even look at one another. The tension, however, casts a distinct pall over the rest of the cathedral. The social hierarchy among these “middle ground” cliques and sub-gatherings is less apparent to Caroline… they have their own centers of gravity, Kindred whose presences attract others into their orbit, but none seem to command the same degree of attention as either the city’s seneschal or his short, dark-haired counterpart.

Further, they are less permanent. Kindred hangers-on periodically break off, trade passing conversation or form their own new cliques, then dissolve into the sea of hungry faces once more. Caine’s children might be dead, but any social gathering is a living ecosystem, constantly changing and evolving.

Yet Caroline has precious little time to further analyze the social dynamics at work as she feels the weight of increasingly many predatory stares settling on her. The Ventrue is reminded of seemingly every mother’s adage to their children that staring is impolite. The Kindred value politesse. They do not like being watched. They have no place for those without a place.

No. There is one place for such outsiders. And Caroline senses that she will occupy it if she persists in her role as the friend-less, vulnerable, ignorant stranger.

Prey.

Caroline: The battle lines. Caroline has little doubt who the shorter man is, even before meeting him, before speaking with him. She suppresses a smile as she slides back into the mass of flesh in the middle, seeking out some vestige of normalcy in the sea of insanity.

GM: Caroline’s search swiftly proves all-too futile, but the Ventrue thinks she spots several waves in that sea which are as small as her own:

The first one is identifiable by a musty, urine-like smell. Kindred may not sweat or produce other bodily odors, but the vampire’s raggedy, hole- and stained-lined coat doesn’t look like it’s been washed in decades. The odor of cigarette smoke, cheap booze, stale sweat, and hundreds of dirty streets it’s clings to it like a babe to its mother. The wearer’s ancient, deeply-lined face is smudged with dirt and other less identifiable gunk, and her stringy white hair is matted and unkempt. She occasionally tugs at it as she stares around the room with out-of-focus eyes.

She doesn’t look like a Nosferatu. Just a really, really ugly, really, really old woman.

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The second is a mildly attractive, young-looking African-American woman with short black hair and a round, pleasant face with an ineffable quality that seems like it could cause people to remark, “You look like someone I used to know.” She wears a plain white blouse over black slacks. The clothes look neat and presentable enough, but not tailored luxury brands like the Malveaux scion is accustomed to wearing.

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The next is a young-looking man with a freckled, corn-fed and sun-tanned complexion that seems slightly blanched of color, leaving it with an odd cast that’s at once paler and ruddier than the kine’s. His frame is tall and gangly, and he looks perhaps 90% grown into it. His hair is blond, his eyes a clear sparkling blue. He’s dressed in a pressed pale blue dress shirt and black pants tucked over cowboy boots.

There’s also a well-endowed, comely young woman with long, messy blonde hair that falls all the way down to her waist. She wears a pair of blue denim shorts, brown ankle boots, and a lacy white top that shows through to her bra.

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An emaciated, rail-thin boy seemingly in his mid to late teens stands in sharp contrast to the vital-looking young woman. He is exceptionally gaunt even for a Kindred, with hollow cheeks and dark circles under his watery gray-blue eyes. He stands about half a head below Caroline and wears a finely-tailored navy suit that partially hides his bony, stick-like limbs. His shoulder-length brown hair is thin and wispy.

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Caroline: Caroline makes a line for the freckled young man—perhaps the most normal of the bunch, sliding to a stop a polite distance from him.

“Good evening,” she offers.

GM: Caroline finds the young-looking man breaking off from conversation with a glasses-wearing, seemingly middle-aged man. Up close, he’s maybe an inch or two taller than Caroline bare-footed, but her heels close the gap. He regards her for a moment before answering, “Evening, miss.”

Caroline: She puts on a friendly smile. “Quite a setting for a party. I’m Caroline.”

GM: “Carter,” the male Kindred offers back. “Yeah, it’s something having this hootenanny in a church. Wonder how it works with the Masquerade.”

Caroline: Caroline has a very good idea of just where that starts, if not where it finishes. “Contacts in the church to have it cleared or closed. Lots of security and other resources to keeping everyone from looking in.”

She thinks.

“Given the prince’s control of the police it probably isn’t that hard to keep it from dusting up into something,” she offers. “Still, I imagine that with so many Kindred here there’s all kinds of other problems, spikes in assaults or even deaths… probably a wild night for the dispatchers.”

GM: Carter shakes his head. “Probably not tonight. Prince says no hunting in five blocks. You miss the memo?”

Caroline: “All the same, presumably it’s still a regional spike with so many active tonight, vice at home. I wonder if it’s possible to track gatherings like this with crime data…” she muses.

GM: “Could be,” Carter shrugs. “Don’t think I’ve seen you around Vieux Carré before. You new?”

Caroline: “Hot off the presses,” Caroline agrees.

GM: “You another Houston refugee, then?”

Caroline: “Native, actually.”

GM: “Guess that’s how it usually is.”

Caroline: “New faces often?” Caroline asks.

GM: “You mean from Houston? Sure.”

Caroline: “I actually meant in general.” Another smile. “Still, that’s interesting. I’d heard it was quite dangerous to travel between cities.”

GM: Carter shrugs again. “Guess it’s sometimes worth it.”

Caroline: "Greener grass and all of that? Caroline laughs lightly. “And yourself, if you don’t mind me asking? Native or…?”

GM: “Transplant. Houston.”

Caroline: “And was the grass greener?” Caroline asks

GM: “Wouldn’t say. The ‘give your blood to Jesus’ Anarchs there are damn weird.”

Caroline: “Give your blood to Jesus?” Caroline repeats. “Remind me not to book a trip.”

GM: “Wouldn’t blame you. Crazy city now.”

Caroline: “Mhm.” Caroline makes a show of looking around briefly. “This must be quite the event.”

GM: Carter shrugs again. “Guess it must.”

Caroline: A light laugh. “No real stake in it, then?”

GM: “Politics just gets folks killed. Better to keep your straw outta the kool-aid.”

Caroline: “Just here for the show, then?” she asks.

GM: “Everyone’s talking about it. Can’t hurt to know how it shakes down.”

Caroline: “I suppose so.” Another smile. “I’m certain you have other matters demanding your attention, Mr. Carter. Thank you for your time.”

GM: “See you round, Ms. Caroline,” the other Kindred replies with a nod. The two drift back apart into the larger sea of predators.


Sunday night, 20 September 2015, PM

Caroline: Caroline’s drift leads her in the direction of the black Kindred woman, the one trying too hard and oh so failing to appear presentable. She makes no mention of that as she approaches.

GM: The woman glances towards Caroline and offers a faint smile. “Do you know me from somewhere, miss?”

Caroline: “Not yet,” Caroline replies, “but I’d like to.” She smiles in a way that she hopes is somewhat disarming. “I haven’t had many opportunities to meet other Kindred.”

GM: The woman’s own smile seems to dim a bit at Caroline’s initial answer, but it’s still there.

“I’m Desirae Wells.”

Caroline: “Caroline Malveaux,” Caroline introduces herself.

GM: “This might sound a bit vain, but have you heard my name anywhere before, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: Caroline thinks for a moment, then shakes her head. “I’m sorry Ms. Wells, I can’t say that I have—though that means little. My sire has kept me rather occupied.”

GM: Desirae gives a soft sigh. “That’s too bad, but it’s nothing new. Thank you for trying.”

Caroline: “Anything you’d like me to pass on to others in the future?” Caroline asks.

GM: “Why, yes, if you’d be so kind,” the other vampire answers. “I don’t know who I am. I’m hoping there’s someone in the city who does, but no luck so far.”

Caroline: “I’m sorry?” Caroline asks. “Don’t know who you are?”

GM: “I have what’s called retrograde amnesia, Miss Malveaux,” Desirae replies in a half-reciting tone that doesn’t sound like this is the first time she’s explained herself. “I’m actually not sure if Desirae Wells is my real name, but it’s what I have to go by.”

Caroline: “How far back does it extend, if you don’t mind me asking? Until your Embrace, or since it?”

GM: “I’m not sure. The last thing I remember is coming to on the streets after 2013’s Mardi Gras. I might have been Embraced that night, or maybe years before.”

Caroline: “No sire to be found?” Caroline bites her lip. “That’s awful.”

GM: “There wasn’t any they could find, but I’ve gotten by. Besides, for all I know, I could’ve had a sire who I knew for years.” Another soft smile. “It could even be that I’m an elder from ancient Egypt, while I’m speculating.”

Caroline: “Happier thoughts,” Caroline smiles. “How’d you settle upon your current name then, Ms. Wells? Again if you don’t mind my asking.”

GM: “It was written on the tag of the shirt I was wearing. Maybe I had a lot of roommates or lived in some kind of dormitory or group home. It could also be I was just fastidious. I hope it’s that, or at least that I wasn’t borrowing someone else’s clothes at the time. It might not really be my name. But it’s what I have to go by.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. The story is too familiar, hits too close to home.

“I’m sorry.” There’s sincerity in her words, but she is not as sorry as she is for all the similar similar stories to come that’ll be executed because of her mess.

“I’ll see if there’s anything I can dig up.”

GM: “That’s kind of you to offer, Miss Malveaux, but there’s really no need. I’m sure I’ll turn up something one of these nights.”

Caroline: “It costs me little, Ms. Wells. Little enough that even I can attempt it. Fax machine must be broken.” Caroline rolls her shoulders back.

“If I find nothing, you owe me nothing. If I do, you can decide then if it’s a price you wish to pay. Fair enough?”

GM: “Fair enough,” Desirae nods.

Caroline: “I assume you’ve already checked missing persons databases, reports, medical records, and the like?”

GM: “Yes, all the sources I was able to pull up. They didn’t seem to have anything for a Desirae Wells.”

Caroline: Caroline thinks. “If this is too much to ask, please say so, but do you have a picture of yourself? A selfie or something I could use?”

GM: “Yes, I have a few. I presume that’s for in case the name isn’t really mine.”

Caroline: The Ventrue nods. “It’s a means of searching independent of the name entirely—you might have changed your name, Ms. Wells, but it’s harder to change your face.”

GM: Desirae asks Caroline’s number, pulls out a phone, and sends her a text message with an attached picture. It’s shot against a simple, well-lit white background, with a clear view of Desirae’s face and upper body. It’s a good reference. Caroline gets the sense that the amnesiac might have already tried looking for her face.

Caroline: Caroline saves the contact. “I’ll be in touch if I find anything,” Caroline assures her.

She gets the feeling that it’s something Desirae has heard before, she has little better to offer on the topic.

GM: “Thank you for taking a look, Miss Malveaux,” Desirae replies. The two exchange final pleasantries and disperse back among the crowd.


Sunday night, 20 September 2015, PM

GM: It does not take Rocco long to find Donovan after he breaks off from his discourse with Caroline. He finds the sheriff issuing terse instructions to a few of the ghouls responsible for security.

Rocco: The tread of Rocco’s shoes is as soft as a cat’s padded paws. He approaches Donovan in a measured, deliberate fashion, giving the sheriff a deferential nod. Cautiously waiting for his superior to finish issuing instructions, a patient smile settles on Rocco’s porcelain-white face.

GM: Donovan dismisses the ghouls as Rocco approaches and silently looks towards the hound.

Rocco: “I hope everything is going well for you tonight, Sheriff Donovan,” the hound remarks, beginning with the necessary pleasantries he is certain Donovan doesn’t care for.

GM: “The night is satisfactory,” the sheriff replies coolly. “What is your business, Hound Agnello?”

Rocco: Rocco’s smile widens and the mafioso is only too happy to dive right into business.

“I was talking to Caroline Malveaux. I am curious to know your opinion of her and her value as a tenant.”

GM: “What is your interest in Caroline Malveaux?” the sheriff asks in turn.

Rocco: “I want her as a tenant.”

GM: “Very well. My price is two boons,” the sheriff answers.

Rocco: “What would you say to me offering one?” he counters.

GM: “Insufficient,” is Donovan’s sole reply.

Rocco is well-aware that two immediate boons is an incredibly cheap price against an eternity of weekly prestation… though a debt from the century-old hound is worth more than any fledgling’s, the sheriff’s price remains almost humiliatingly low—for Caroline, at least, and is a testament to just how little Donovan considers the Ventrue to be worth as a tenant.

He’s not even trying to charge Rocco more.

Rocco: Rocco laughs playfully, clearly amused by Donovan’s steadfast answer.

“I can freely admit when I am bested in negotiations,” the hound compliments in acquiescence. “I agree to your initial price: two boons for Caroline Malveaux’s tenancy.”

GM: “Very well. I will inform her of her expulsion from my parish in two nights’ time. She will be informed of your willingness to accept her as a tenant. She will be permitted a further 24 hours to remove herself and her possessions from Riverbend before she is dealt with as an intruder,” the sheriff coolly intones.

Rocco: Rocco thanks the sheriff and gives a polite bow as he takes his leave.


Sunday night, 20 September 2015, PM

Caroline: As Caroline separates from Wells, she nearly runs into the blonde and her nest of hair that looks as though she’d be more at home in a Tennessee strip club.

“Oh, I apologize.”

GM: There’s a flash of fangs from the other blonde before she takes in Caroline and then simply snickers.

“It’s okay, sugar tits.”

Caroline: “Sugar tits,” Caroline repeats.

GM: “Yeah, your girls looked white as sugar in those Fangbook pics. So sugar tits.”

Caroline: “Charming,” Caroline spits out.

GM: “Sluttish too, dawlin’.”

Caroline: “Well, it is so important to rise to the standard of others.”

GM: The other Kindred snickers again, tapping her lips.

“Not too many other blue blood girls who’d put themselves out like that, far as standards… I’d say you must have been desperate, but from what I hear, you didn’t buy anything from Gutterball. If you were just wanting to break into the biz, Greasy can probably get you into a few pornos.”

Caroline: “Master Elgin made a very generous offer,” Caroline agrees, “but as it turned out my sire was generous enough to offer himself up for a staking without the need for the information, so all’s well that ended well.”

She smiles sweetly. “I don’t think we’ve met before?”

GM: “Arzilla Boudon, dawlin,” the blonde Kindred smiles back.

“I guess you traded those tit pics for absolutely nothing, then.”

Caroline: “Ms. Boudon. Well, this has been a pleasure.”

GM: “Oh, you can just call me Arzie. Only fair, with how familiar you are.”

Caroline: “Oh, I don’t think we’re quite there yet, Ms. Boudon. Whatever you might think, this is, after all, only our first date.”

GM: “Mmm… in person,” Arzilla snickers. “See you around, dawlin.”

Caroline: “Not if I see you first.” Caroline returns the smile—one that vanishes as soon as they turn from one another. The Kindred’s words are like a splinter under her thumb. Petty. Pointless. Nonthreatening next to the actual dangers and concerns she faces… and yet it’s uncomfortable. Irritating. Difficult to completely ignore.

She supposes she’ll never get used to humiliation.


Sunday night, 20 September 2015, PM

Caroline: Caroline checks the thin gold watch on her wrist. Running out of time.

She still needs to talk to Savoy, but a glance over reveals the crowd is not abated. Rude to approach him without an introduction, but worse to let that problem fester, wait until her release. The Ventrue slides out of the no-mans-land in the center of the room in the direction of the shorter man’s crowd. Pressing into it, not quite through it.

GM: The short man at the center of things, who Caroline can only presume is Antoine Savoy, is still talking with the same general circle of Kindred. There’s several new faces, including a tall and imposing black man whose head is shaved, and another olive-skinned man with curly black hair and a rakish smile.

The short man does not look as if he’s going anywhere. With the trial due to start in less than half an hour, Caroline can only presume that all of the elders’ double dealings are long since done, and that they are merely passing the time until the fruits of their handiwork are made manifest.

Predatory sets of eyes turn and follow Caroline as she ventures into their alpha’s territory. Their weight and number only increases the deeper she ventures in. No one moves to greet the Kindred nobody. They just stare. Some are amused, others curious, others disdainful, a few even hostile. Caroline feels like a piece of meat being scrutinized. Or a minimum-wage office drone who’s wandered into one of her father’s fundraising events. It’s as bitter a pill as ever for the former heiress to swallow. Her family’s name is worth nothing here.

She’s worth nothing here.

Caroline: She searches for Harlequin among the crowd of leering faces, and frowns when she discovers his masked visage among those in the center of the room instead. Paying no more attention to the leering gazes than she would to the gaze of a disturbed house cat, she alters her course towards the masked Kindred. Someday. Someday every glaring, scornful, laughing face will regret it. They’ll sit and wonder at events like this is she remembers the slight. But not today.

GM: It is with no small irony that she finds herself approaching another one-time social adversary for his aid. Harlequin and his entourage are impossible to miss.

Harlequin21.jpg If Lord Byron seduced the sister of Oscar Wilde, the result of their union could hardly be less ostentatious than the garish peacock standing before Caroline. Harlequin wears a white domino mask with elaborate gold filigree, a black tricorn hat, and brightly-colored, almost jester-like clothes that are threaded with gold. No flesh is visible beneath his gloved hands and masked face. His pale blue eyes have an oddly still, porcelain-like quality, and might almost appear part of his mask at a casual glance.

If the Malkavian looks like he’s stepped out of a Mardi Gras parade, his attendant ghouls look like they only did after stepping out of an insane asylum. Their masks range from a spike-studded, black metal facial encasing to an uncannily realistic sobbing toddler.

As one, all five heads simultaneously turn to regard Caroline.

Caroline: The effect is unnerving even to the Ventrue, but she proceeds on.

“Regent Harlequin, I wanted to express my gratitude again for your willingness to release Ms. Rabinowitz into my service.”

GM: “That sodden pile of leaves? I’d supposed she would have been scattered to the four winds by now,” the harpy titters behind his domino mask.

All four masked ghouls simultaneously laugh. They don’t move their arms, tilt their postures, or even smile. They just laugh, the sound spilling from their gaping mouths like crushed walnut from a nutcracker.

“That’s fortunate she’s been of enough use for you to be grateful, Miss Malveax. I suppose she was still one of the Krewe’s.”

Four voices echo as one.

“One of his.”
“One of his.”
“One of his.”
“One of his.”

“Nonsense, my darlings,” Harlequin opines, tracing the first ghoul’s half-exposed chin. “She upheld the Mask—or at least tried to, I suppose—but she never wore it.” His blue eyes glitter. “She never became it.”

Eight pairs of eyes shoot towards Caroline.

“Became it.”
“Became it.”
“Became it.”
“Became it.”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t quite recoil from the ghouls, but there’s a string of doubt that coils out of her plan as the ghouls chatter, laughter, and Harlequin’s reaction to them.

“Well… that matter aside, I had hoped I might offer a boon to make an introduction? I can think of no so distinguished and universally regard individual who could do the same.”

GM: The Malkavian tilts his head at Caroline. “A gentleman is one who never offends another’s sensibilities unintentionally.”

“A gentleman is a man who is never unintentionally rude,” offers the horned ghoul.

“Intentionally rude,” echoes the spiked woman.

“Or a lady,” murmurs the toddler.

“A lady,” echoes the upside-down screamer.

Harlequin emphatically raises a single finger as if to declare, ‘just so.’

Caroline: “Such I had hoped to avoid, and mend.”

GM: “Your hopes are worth less than sodden leaves in a compost bin,” Harlequin declares. He reaches out to cup Caroline’s cheeks in his gloved hands.

“So brittle. So limited. So trapped. Perhaps one night I will free you from your tower, my savage princess.”

Caroline: “And here I was trying to let down my golden locks,” Caroline replies, head turned slightly on its side.

GM: The harpy releases her head.

“Come. I will introduce you to a gentleman.”

Caroline: “How exciting,” Caroline replies, deadpan, but she falls in with the harpy and his entourage.

GM: “There is no such thing as good or evil,” Harlequin blithely declares. “People are either charming or tedious. Wouldn’t you agree?”

Caroline: She’s taken aback by the question, but finds her voice.

“Yes, and no, good and evil exist, but good and evil people may not.”

GM: “I will make your introduction for a boon, Miss Malveaux, in compensation for the tedium of this conversation,” the Malkavian declares in a bored tone.

His ghouls chant in unison,

“Tedious.”
“Tedious.”
“Tedious.”
“Tedious.”

Caroline: “And what if the introduction proves entertaining?” Caroline asks, amusement mixed with an undercurrent of irritation.

GM: “It won’t,” Harlequin answers dismissively.

Caroline: “Mr. Savoy,” Caroline replies slowly.

GM: Caroline notes that Harlequin is already leading her in the Toreador elder’s direction.

Caroline: A debt owed for his amusement. Caroline grits her teeth.

“Far be it from me to argue.”

GM: “If you cannot be charming, you may at least avoid making a greater fool of yourself,” Harlequin agrees with her.

Caroline: She falls silent.

GM: Caroline trails alongside Harlequin’s ghouls as the harpy approaches the short vampire’s closest confidantes. A young-looking woman several inches taller than him stands by his right side. Where the short Kindred’s companions are smiles (or at least leers) and laughter, the minimalist expression on the woman’s resembles an upturned frown more than it does an actual smile: there is no mirth behind it, merely politeness. Her dirty blonde hair is pulled back into a tight bun and her eyes are framed by a thick pair of glasses. She wears a conservative gray business jacket, matching skirt, white blouse, and black pumps.

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Caroline: The image sets Caroline to thinking about whether or not those glasses are required: do such banal physical limitations continue into undeath? Is a deaf old man a deaf Kindred? She sets the thought aside.

GM: The female Kindred next to her is her exact opposite. She’s dark of skin, with long wavy hair and the sort of curvaceous figure that begs a man to put his arm around her waist—though in her case, it seems like it dares more than begs. Her green eyes smolder like slow-burning coals, and her full lips don’t smile so much as sneer. She wears a knee-length dress made from knives and barbed wire that reveals a great deal of her unblemished chocolate skin underneath, and tall stilettos made from the same items. Rubies glint from her ears and neck.


Caroline: While the first woman brought on only curiosity, the second arouses… competition? That’s not quite it. Interest. Concern. It’s like looking into a mirror of her mortal life: attached to the most important people in the room. Effortlessly mighty. Amused and domineering. If Becky Lynne brought on jealousy, then this woman brings on something else entirely: nostalgia. And yes… attraction. It’s not something she’d ever considered, really, beyond the simple peer evaluation, prior to her Embrace. But Caroline cannot deny now that the woman’s very presence calls to her. That thought burns shamefully.

GM: The male Kindred next to her is also tall and dark. Where she’s sheathed claws, he’s the pointed barrel of a gun. His heard and bare chest—he wears no shirt—are shaved completely bald, giving him a blunt and imposing appearance that seems to have cut out all extraneous elements except for thickly corded muscle. His torn gray denim pants and black steel-toed boots are afterthoughts. A silver ankh dangles from a short chain around his neck. His canines flash whenever he laughs, a hard and blunt sound like pounding fists.

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Caroline: In another setting, a dark alley, she might have given him a second look. Here he’s jarring only for how he stands out painfully against the others.

GM: Where the dark man is imposing, the olive-skinned male Kindred on his left is rakishly handsome. He’s shorter, slim and sinewy, like a cobra with four limbs. His hazel eyes variously twinkle with amusement, and his full lips are quirked in a faint, self-content smirk. He wears a black sports coat, white shirt, silver Rolex, and multiple gem-set gold rings.


Caroline: She can’t deny that he catches her eye, in his own way. The mashup of clothing and expensive watch and rings though stands out to her. Trying too hard? she wonders. It all but screams ‘new money’ or ‘no money’ to her.

She keeps the opinion to herself. After all, it may not be long before she falls into that category.

GM: Next to the short vampire and has four comely, or at least distinctive companions, the last figure in his closest proximity is quite ordinary-looking. She’s a biracial woman in early middle age with a bush of straw-like salt-and-pepper hair tied up in a green scarf. Her garb consists of a plain white cotton dress, blue shawl with swirling yellow, black, and white patterns. Beaded necklaces with a crucifix and tiny leather pouch dangle from her neck. Where the glasses-wearing woman merely looks as if she is ‘smiling’ to be polite, the darker’s one expression is blank. She simply doesn’t seem all the way present. A featureless, milky-white glass eye stares blankly from her right socket.

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Caroline: The woman is so ordinary that Caroline’s gaze all but slides off of her.

GM: “…that’s what the fourth monkey is for, after all,” the olive-skinned man smirks to the laughter and amusedly curled lips of his fellows.

“On the contrary, Lord Savoy. Hear no evil, see no evil, and speak no evil, and you will never be invited to another party,” Harlequin quips, casually inserting himself into the Toreador’s inner circle as if he’s been there all along. Further titters sound as the short, scruffy-haired man who can only be

Antoine Savoy turns to face the harpy. An easy grin steals over his face. “Harlequin, my friend! How is Sebastian these nights?”

“He remains so clever that neither of us understands half the things he says, my lord,” Harlequin answers. “Why, I almost wish Katrina had drowned the city for good—then I might have had an excuse to stay at his club forever.”

“If every saint has a past and every sinner a future, our city was founded yesterday and should last until the end of time,” Savoy retorts, to further titters from his entourage. “But Prince Thomas’ loss was our gain! Now who is this beauteous creature you’ve brought along with you?” His grins remains in place as his gaze turns to Caroline.

“Oh, how good of you to remind me, Lord Savoy—our company almost made me forget her,” Harlequin answers. “This is Caroline Malveaux—our evening’s soon-to-be released Ventrue fledgling.”

“Ah, so here’s the neonate we’ve all heard so much about!” Savoy exclaims, bending slightly to kiss Caroline’s hand. He smiles up at her as he releases it.

“I’d make a second quip about your beauty, Miss Maveaux, but you’d need to sweet words all night for that beauty to be done its proper justice.”

Caroline: Death becomes you. Caroline hides the shiver behind a smile.

“Lord Savoy, those words are very kind. I cannot imagine what I might have done to earn attention from such a remarkable gathering, but I’m very grateful for the opportunity to make your acquaintance.” There’s a brief pause. “And deeply apologetic for not having done so earlier.”

GM: “Why should you apologize? You haven’t done something to offend his lordship, have you?” the Kindred in the knife dress asks, her perfect lips curling at the question.

Harlequin and the olive-skinned man don’t titter, but their eyes sparkle with amusement. The glasses-wearing woman and the bald man take in the words but evince no reaction. The glass-eyed woman doesn’t seem to do even that.

“I’m sure she just wants to be on the safe side, Madam Alsten-Pirrie. We can’t blame a neonate for wanting to be careful around a harpy with claws as sharp as yours—or claws concealed in so beauteous an exterior,” Savoy winks.

Alsten-Pirrie’s look at Caroline doesn’t subside, but a purr sounds from her throat. “Flattery will get you everywhere, Lord Savoy.”

“Always let a woman see through your flattery—what really flatters her is that you think she’s worth flattering,” the olive-skinned man quips.

“Flattery also raises the same question as an insult. What does the speaker really want?” the glasses-wearing woman dryly asks.

“The esteem of two lovely women, of course,” Savoy replies, smiling. “Flattery is like a fine dress—a collection of threads or words on its own, and made beautiful only by the woman who wears them.”

Caroline: “Lord Savoy, you are as magnanimous and charming as I had been led to believe.” Caroline keeps her smile in place.

GM: “All charming people are spoiled. It is the secret of their attraction,” Harlequin declares.

Caroline: “What uncharitable things that says of those around them.”

GM: “What’s it they say? A woman who isn’t spoiled isn’t charming. A woman who can’t make her mistakes charming is only female,” Alsten-Pirrie derides.

“Spoiled people always get their way. So never pay attention to what common people say, and never interfere with what charming people do,” the olive-skinned man quips back.

The circle of Kindred variously chuckles, titters, shows their fangs, and for a moment appears content to simply bask in one another’s wit and wordplay.

Caroline: Spoiled. Like overripe fruit left to rot in the sun. It’s an apt observation.

GM: The surrounding din of conversation grows louder. So do the sounds of footsteps. The great mass of Kindred appears to collectively shrink as they sit down throughout the cathedral’s pews.

“Well, Miss Malveaux, it looks like the trial’s going to start in a few minutes, and that’s not nearly enough time to become acquainted with a woman as charming as yourself—though it’s more than enough to become charmed by her,” Savoy winks. “It would be my privilege, and I hope your pleasure, if you stopped by later at the Evergreen. Nat, when’s a good opening in my schedule?”

“10 PM on Wednesday, sir,” the glasses-wearing woman answers.

Caroline: “I’ll be there,” Caroline replies easily. “My thanks for your time, Lord Savoy.”

GM: “Good luck with your release, Miss Malveaux,” Savoy smiles before turning to exchange parting pleasantries with the other Kindred in his circle. None of them seem to be paying attention to Caroline as they leave.

Caroline: Just how she’d prefer it, truly.


Sunday night, 20 September 2015, PM

Caroline: Caroline takes the opportunity to slide away and find a seat.

GM: She observes Savoy making his way to a front-row bench, where the members of the primogen are also seated. Harlequin takes a seat along the second row. Carter Landry takes a seat far to the back. Most of the ghouls are even further behind him.

Caroline: The Ventrue moves to find a spot near the back—not so far as the ghouls, but far enough away that she’ll avoid offering offense to older Kindred.

GM: Caroline makes her way down the cathedral’s aisle. She finds a spot by two other Kindred. The first is a pale-skinned Cajun boy with long dark hair and smoky black eyes made all the more striking by his pasty complexion. His frame is long and gangly but he is not nearly as tall as he seems, his thin body seeming to exaggerate his height. He is casually dressed in jeans and a red tee shirt.

The other nearby vampire is the awful-smelling, filthy old woman Caroline spotted earlier.

“You smell nice,” she remarks with out-of-focus eyes. One of her grime-crusted hands tugs at her matted hair.

Caroline: “I try,” Caroline replies back tightly, making an effort not to breathe.

GM: “There’s lots of vampires here,” the old woman babbles. She yanks out several strands of hair and lets them drift onto the floor.

Caroline: It takes effort to keep her disgust off her face.

“You’re not wrong.”

GM: The woman opens her wrinkled mouth and starts scratching crusted brown-red blood off her yellowed, gap- and cavity-ridden teeth.

Caroline: The Ventrue turns her attention towards the front of the church, intentionally not engaging with the disgusting woman beside her.

She cannot, for the death of her, figure out who would Embrace such a creature.

GM: The crowd continues to chat among itself. More than a few eyes have likewise turned to the front of the cathedral. A towering judge’s desk, the monolithic church itself in oaken miniature, looms before the alter in seeming blockage of the path to salvation. The crowd’s murmurs slowly take on a lower, more excited tone. Meanwhile, Caroline’s phone buzzes with a text.

Caroline: She checks it.

GM: It’s from Jocelyn. where are you?

Caroline: Caroline quickly counts her rows from the back and texts how many rows she is from the back.

on the outside. Where are you?

GM: Jocelyn texts a location that’s still in the back, but on the opposite side from Caroline’s. The Ventrue looks ahead, but it’s hard to make out specific faces among the crowd of seated, forward-facing Kindred.

okay i think the trials about to start we can meet up during the recess

Caroline: Sounds good. Have you been here the whole time?

GM: yeah did you just get here?

Caroline: No, been making friends, didn’t see you.

Friends.

Well, she made one. It’s only half a lie.


Sunday night, 20 September 2015, PM

GM: The cathedral’s doors swing open wide. The crowd collectively turns to stare. There’s a single Kindred being escorted by several ghouls. He’s tall and hale like an old oak tree, some six feet in height, and around some two hundred pounds. He’s also just a touch doughy, with little to no muscle definition to his frame. Soft, light brown hair coifed into a business cut. His face doesn’t look like it’s ever worn an expression but a smile.

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As he strides down the tiled floor, escorted on all sides by guards like the prisoner he is, the crowd erupts. Milk-white canines gnash. Dry tongues hungrily lick drier lips. One woman pulls down her black leather pants, mooning him. Red spurts out of her pallid ass cheeks as she shits blood. The crowd literally howls with laughter, a sound like hyenas fighting over bones. They hurl invectives and scream obscenities. They don’t care who he is. They don’t care why he’s here. They just want to see his blood flow.

George: George is adorned in some of the finest make-up and clothes money can buy, though he has chosen a somewhat more understated outfit than he likely would if he were among the crowd rather than the accused. A dark brown suit, with a white undershirt and black accouterments, including an eldridge-knot black tie. He lifts his black-gloved hands to brazenly wave to the crowd as he’s marched down the aisle, smirking with his head held high the whole way like the wretched fool he is.

Caroline: Smith, Caroline presumes, tucking her phone away. She watches the elder Ventrue pass by. She makes no move to react to his presence, less bloodthirsty, but perhaps simply less involved than others.

But he wasn’t wrong, at least in fact. See here the folly of being right about the wrong person.

At least he’s getting the dignity of a trial—such as it is among the animals in the crowd.

GM: Black-suited security personnel in mirrored shades escort another Kindred in after George. He is a rectangular-faced man in seemingly his mid-20s with black hair, a neatly trimmed goatee of the same color, and bright blue eyes. He’s dressed in a dark suit of the same color with a lighter dress shirt and maroon necktie. The suit’s right sleeve hangs limply, bereft of any arm, and is pinned to the bottom corner of his jacket. He maintains a firmly polite smile as he’s escorted down the aisle.

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Caroline: She cannot so easily put a name to him.

George: When George reaches the aisle’s front row, he turns and gives the assembled Cabildo—and their representatives—a full and proper bow at the hip. And he continues to do so, even to any vacant seats. When he finishes, he turns his attention to the sounds of Hurst being ushered in. As he finally comes into view from behind the wall of Kindred and ghouls, George gives him a light, deferential nod, before returning his attention to the judge’s desk.

GM: The crowd’s leering, mocking reception is only mildly more pleasant than George’s. Then they abruptly grow silent.

The last figure to enter is a young-looking man, Embraced in perhaps his early 20s, with a rectangular, clean-shaven face, Roman nose, and sandy blond air pulled back in a short ponytail. Despite his seeming youth, there is an oddly marble-like cast to his pallid features, as if Caroline were not staring at a real person but a frighteningly well-crafted statue of one. His clear blue eyes are cool, distant, and have the dangerous glint of a man who is rarely denied the things that he wants. He wears a fine charcoal suit and walks with his head high and unbowed. He does not seem to register the presence of his escort and calmly surveys the cathedral as if it were his property and its inhabitants his subjects.

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The crowd’s silence lasts for only a moment. If George believed his own reception was lukewarm, it is nothing before that of John Harley Matheson.

BBBOOOOOOOOOO!!!!”

BBBOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!’

BBBBOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!”

Those members of the crowd not booing his arrival express their own wrath no less keenly. They shriek. They hiss. They gnash their teeth. They pantomime slitting their throats. They extend their middle fingers. They curse his name, spitting insults and obscenities filthy enough to make the Mississippi even browner. They enumerate the grisly fates he will suffer at their hands, if they get those hands on him.

Caroline: Caroline says nothing, but she understands the beginnings of how they must feel. Frustrated. Angry. Vengeful. He’s more than a headhunter, for which most of them likely have no care. He’s a stand-in for every elder that has put their boot on the back of someone’s head and shoved their face in the mud. Why wouldn’t the idea of such a monster facing justice appeal to them?

And yet, Caroline has little belief that justice is what will be on display tonight. Not for Matheson. Not for any of his many victims, Kindred and otherwise. How many friends might she have won by delivering the tape, not into the hands of the prince’s agents, but into Savoy’s? How much evil might have been removed from the world?

She shakes the thought aside. The past is the past.

George: George offers precisely zero reaction to the arrival of Matheson. He does not flinch. He does not look at him.

GM: Matheson’s escort Matheson remains protectively encircled around him. They do not reach for their weapons, but their hands are not far. The Ventrue neither flinches nor retorts. ignores the crowd’s jeers as he would the buzzing of fly. He too meets the gazes of each primogen and inclines his head ever so slightly—a greeting seemingly of peers. Accou and Pearl Chastain both return the motion, inciting a renewed though also diminished chorus of boos.

Until they all cease as abruptly as a dropped bomb.



GM: Each of his footfalls echoes loudly through the now-silent cathedral.

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He is tall, dark, and terrible in his purpose, the fury of heaven matched with the fire of hell. Where Matheson is merely dignified, the newcomer comports himself with the bearing of an emperor. His raiment is a midnight-black suit of the finest cut. Not so much as a crease is visible, making the garment seem cut and spun from the night itself. His pristine white undershirt and and blood-red necktie bring to mind the ermine mantles worn by kings of ages past. A gold signet ring set with a ruby adorns his finger. The blood-red gem seems to pulse and glisten as he walks, hungrily devouring nearby light. His frame is tall and broad-shouldered, his features crisp, Mediterranean, and utterly still, like a marble statue by one of the old masters come to life. His slick black hair appears wet, and his mustache is trimmed into a uniformly straight Van Dyke. His gaze carries the weight of centuries and civilizations swept aside by time’s inexorable march. His eyes dominate his face: cold, fanatical, implacable. Those who stare too long feel dizzy, their mouths warm with the taste of blood. The eyes are primal and inhuman and they are strong. They have seen the passing of kings. Kingdoms. Civilizations. They are older than this city, older than it and all its inhabitants, older than its streams and rivers, older than—

One figure in the crowd does not look away: a short man with scruffy black hair. His lips are set in a slight, self-content smile, all the more impudent for its understatement.

The newcomer does not spare him so much as a glance.

The foremost ghoul by the newcomer’s side is as ugly as his master is terrible. His face is a horribly burned, dark mass of scars. He is half-bald, with his remaining black hair neatly combed back from his scalp. His thick mustache and short beard are only partially successful in hiding the teeth visible through his right cheek. His eyes are dark and hooded. He wears a pair of crisply pressed black pants and jacket, not a business suit’s, but one reminiscent of a military’s Class A Uniform. Its gold buttons and his black leather shoes are polished so meticulously that one can see their reflection in them. Medals gleam from his chest, while a polished cavalry saber hangs from his hip.

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As his master’s dark gaze stares out from behind the judge’s panel, he announces over the silent cathedral in a clear and resonant voice,

“All rise for His Majesty Augusto Vidal, Prince of New Orleans, Lord Paramount of Orleans and Jefferson Parish, Archon emeritus, Fellow of the Most Noble Fellowship of the Exemplars, Knight of the Supreme Order of the Dark Prophet, Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Saint Daniel, Knight Commander of the Order of Saint Ulfilas, Knight of the Order of the Holy Lance, Prior of the Ordo Argentarius of the Congregatio Professio Legatarius, Legate emeritus, Bearer of the Onyx Spear, Defender of the Monachal Creed, and Blessed of Longinus!”

Or, as Caroline knows him:

My sire.


Monday night, 14 September 2015, PM

GM: Jocelyn isn’t flushed or panting like a mortal partner might be. Her face, however, is messily smeared with Caroline’s (and own) blood, and her clothes are savagely torn. A snapped bra strap hangs halfway down her arm. One of her shoes is missing. Her hair is a frazzled mess.

Her mouth hangs open for a moment before she whispers, “Your blood… it’s so strong…”


Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM

Louis: The droplet of Caroline’s damned blood tastes like hell and hurts like heaven. It burns his throat like a falling star. One tiny God-damned droplet crashing into his heart, a meteorite catching on fire, violent and beautiful and terrible, somehow containing all the false joys, regrets, and hopes of a hundred million dreams, something you watch fall and make an asinine wish, like a kid pleading for a bicycle as he watches the whole world about to end. It makes a hell of a crater. It makes a hell of a man.

Lou cries, wretches, moans, and pisses himself in a minute of ecstasy, shame, rage, confusion, and enlightenment that lasts for three hours. His aged body lies crumpled in the front seat of Chica’s car like well-used, but ill-regarded trash. His soul and psyche, however, drift away like spider eggs scattered by the wind, settling and forming miniature webs across centuries and the wider chasms of the heart.


Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM

Louis: “I was tired, Chica. Tired as Hell’s devils the day after Mardi Gras and then some. But now… now I’m restless. Because tonight, tonight, I learned… something that can change the game. Maybe change it in a way that we haven’t seen in centuries.”

Lou turns to face his old lover, or at least her lightless shadow. “Just knowing it feels like an armed atomic bomb sitting in my head. I’m not sure how or whether to disarm or launch it. Yet. I need time. Not too much, just a night or two to think and watch and see how the dust settles–_if_ it settles.”

“It probably won’t.”


Saturday night, 19 September 2015, PM

GM: “By that same token, there is but one remaining matter of import. You requested to know why René Baristheaut cursed you with his Embrace. Do you still desire that knowledge?”

Caroline: All you taste shall be ash. And it is. Does she even care now?

There is a pregnant silence.

“Yes.”

GM: The seneschal of New Orleans tells her the truth.

“Your sire was not René Baristheaut, but Augusto Vidal. Our prince has need of an heir to his throne. Your mortal background made you a compelling candidate for his Embrace.”


Sunday night, 20 September 2015, PM

Caroline: Caroline is on her feet before she knows it, her eyes locked on the dark figure. This ancient evil she has known not even in her dreams, that calls to her so sharply. Vidal. The prince. The mightiest Kindred in the city. She drinks in the vision of him, and her striking green eyes are blotted out by the darkness reflected in them.

Rage. Frustration. Fury. Hope. Ambition. Desire. Loneliness. Need. Pain. Pride. Emotions well within her breast at the sight. This monster that inflicted the most awful thing she could imagine on someone. Who brought her over into this world without her consent, without even her knowledge. Who threw her to the wolves, out into the night alone. This devil that created her, then denied her. That named her a criminal for an existence he manufactured. That set her on the course against René. A path that saw her torture at the hands of others. That saw to the death of her brother. That created so much misery for an agenda she can’t even begin to understand. That denies her still. Sitting out in the back rows of the church, beside this filthy and pathetic thing. Her rapist, in spirit if not in body, who condemned her to Hell by his will and has seen her soul dragged through the gutter, through the filth and broken glass that has left her faith tattered, bleeding, and infected with the Sanctified’s darker strain.

She hates him. Wants to scream at him. Wants to demand answers. Wants to demand recognition. Apologies. This king among kings among kings. This being that has seen century after century of life, that walked the earth before Europeans walked the Americas. That has seen things she cannot imagine and risen to the top. She’s seen the competition. Seen Coco, and Matheson, and Savoy, and even Maldonato. Beings of ancient power that could only pretend at being what he is. That he chose her, picked her among millions. Pride, that most difficult of sins, burns in her heart. And desire: to be taken in, to be embraced, to be loved. To earn his affection, or at least his respect. She wants to reach out. To weep at his feet. To touch him and see if he’s real. A sire. She hardly knows what that means, what it could mean. Her maker. Her dark progenitor, this being that opened her eyes up to an entire world she couldn’t imagine, a world she wouldn’t turn away from now even if she could. Her father and her mother. She loves him.

But just like her father, just like her mother, there he stands. Not even looking upon her. Focused upon his business at hand. Sparing her not even a glance. This man that calls to power, that is called to power. Responsible. Occupied. Busy. It’s a cruel joke, like much of her Requiem. An heiress heir to nothing, and to everything. The mightiest sire in the city, and yet sireless, selling her future for crumbs dolled out by the all-seeing, all-laughing, jesters of the court. A new father, this one into the blood. And no different than the last.

And, she decides, he would mourn my death no more than my flesh and blood.

All these things she wants, and needs. This figure that could be everything to her. And she can only watch, as silent as the rest.

George: George, already very presently risen, plants his cold blue eyes firmly on the prince as he strides down. His usual grin is replaced by a firm line as he softly bows his head in deference while the Hussar recites Vidal’s titles. At the ghoul’s completion, he offers the prince a distinctly deep bow, a full head deeper than the one he afforded the Cabildo. He all but bangs his skull on the floor.

GM: No Kindred jeer or snicker at George’s motion. The prince of New Orleans regally takes his place, standing, behind the altar’s desk, staring down upon the congregation like a wrathful god judging his children—and finding them wanting. Maldonato stands to the prince’s right hand. Donovan stands a further pace behind to his left.

Vidal raises both his arms high. “Behold Longinus, spear of damnation, humbled and exalted before man! Behold the fruit of the blood of the anointed one, wandering in the wilderness! Behold his hunger, his fangs bared, his eyes empty! Woe unto you, children of the night, that such sin has come unto you!”

The prince motions and attendants begin the sacred ritae with much pomp and circumstance: smoldering incense, flasks of blood, rote memorandum chanting of parts of The Testament of Longinus, call-and-response. A choir of young boys, their eyes blank and glazed, sing hymns in Latin.

“Incline your ears, O my children of the night, and let these humble words fly to your hearts. Know that the teachings of our father Longinus are a great burden upon us, and that the judgment of God is most justly severe. Recognize that these words are written not at the bidding of any man, nor any demon, but for and through the purpose of our God.”



“That though you are Damned, your Damnation has purpose. It is the will of God that you are what you are, and the will of God is that the Damned exist to show the evils of turning from Him. The evil become Damned; God has taken those worthy of His love to His own side. It is the will of God that we yet walk, even after death, for we are his messengers to Kindred and men. We are the wolves of Heaven, and in our presence, only the faithful do not tremble. We are holy lightning, and when we strike, only the faithful do not burn. Where we walk, evil is destroyed. Where we walk, God takes those worthy of His love to His own side.”



“We know that as the Damned we are preordained to sin, both venal and mortal. How blessed are we, then, that our mortality is guaranteed through our Damnation! For we are not only doomed to die, but are dead already. We have died and we will die and our death shall be everlasting. Let hymns of praise be sung to God and his almighty Damnation!”

Vidal motions for silence, then sharply bows his head and clasps his pale hands in prayer. The rest of the congregation follows suit.

George: George follows the rote he has been taught as one of the Sanctified, though it would be expected of him even if he were not counted among their membership. He folds his hands and bows his head. He knows the eyes of the prince are upon him most grievously, but he endeavors to pay it no mind.

GM: When the moment of prayer has passed, Vidal motions for communion to be set ready. Ghouls heft a number of bound and unconscious black men and women before the altar, assuredly Vodouisants if Vidal’s past choices are any indication. Father Malveaux draws a gold-hilted ceremonial knife. Every Sanctified Kindred is familiar with their covenant’s act of communion. Mortals who have transgressed are ritually bled into a sacred chalice over which the priest says his blessings, transubstantiating the mortal blood into Kindred vitae: sanguine proof of God’s own judgment upon them for their sins. In the Blood, one finds faith.

Yet as Father Malveaux approaches the sacrifices with the communion chalice, he sheathes his blade. Vidal informs the congregation in stern tones that there will be no communion. No one here shall not receive the Blood of the Dark Prophet—not yet, at least.

“Even among the Damned, there may yet be transgressors, my children,” the prince declares.

He goes on to iterate that several of his flock are guilty of blasphemy: communion cannot be administered to such sinners until they have atoned for their transgressions.

Many eyes look upon the prince in askance. He intones, “‘’So the king gave the order, and they brought Daniel and threw him into the lions’ den. The king said to Daniel, ‘May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!’ A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the rings of his nobles, so that Daniel’s situation might not be changed.’”

Silence stretches before Vidal pronounces, “We are already damned, my children. God will not intercede to save us. He will send no angels to hold the lions’ jaws fast.”

The prince’s black gaze burns like the hungry ruby set upon his finger.

“The Testament of Longinus already names us wolves. Is it any great stretch to name ourselves lions?”

“Lions do not pray for deliverance, my children. They fight with tooth and claw. The Kindred who stand accused of blasphemy are damned and guilty by their natures: let them do battle with their fellow lions if they would postpone God’s judgment for their sins. George Vernon Smith, step forward!”

George: George strides forward confidently, to the front of the congregation. Into the circle before the pulpit. The center of the place, the center of the whole damned world it might very well be tonight. He stops as he reaches the very middle, and looks up to the pullpit. He does not draw his eyes parallel with Vidal’s, but keeps them politely on his stern face.

GM: “George Vernon Smith, you stand accused of the following sins: blasphemy through violation of the Masquerade and blasphemy through profaning the name of our Lord God. You have also been accused of the following lesser sins: obstructing the duties of diocesan officials and endangering the Requiems of three Kindred. Do you submit to immediate confession and penance for your sins, or do you maintain innocence in spite of your damned and guilty nature?”

George: “I am indeed guilty of many things, my prince. But I profess my innocence of these particular sins,” George says with a firm nod.

GM: “So be it,” the prince pronounces. “The advocate for the accused will step forward.”

“I am present, my prince,” replies a perfunctory voice with a British accent. The speaker is a young-looking African-American man with close-cropped hair and steel-rimmed glasses. His features are crisp and sharp, like newly-printed paper still warm with the printer’s heat. He’s dressed in a black Saville Row suit, white dress shirt, and navy necktie.

“The advocate for the prosecution will step forward,” Vidal bids.

“I am present, my prince,” responds a female voice. The speaker is beautiful, if one judges the symmetry of her features and he fullness and richness of her long brown hair. But her eyes are dark cool, her features unsmiling, and her skin is deathly pale. She does not look as if she has smiled in a very long time. She’s dressed in a conservative dark gray business suit that gives away little of who she is.

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“Prosecutrix Cingolai, you may call your witnesses to the stand,” intones Vidal.

Cletus: The cathedral doors swing open like the welcoming gates of hell. And in walks another devil.

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Cletus: He wears a half-buttoned shirt, spun from Angola’s finest felon-picked cotton, its fibers indelibly soaked with slave-labor sweat. His thrift-store overhauls are stained with blood, barbecue sauce, and cannibalistic lard. His sleeveless vest, crusted with dried mire and tooled with the heraldry of the Lost Cause, cannot conceal the hard, rangy lines of his powerful frame.

Muscles taught as a fishing line hooked to a two-hundred pound catfish swim beneath his clothes. Thick shoulders, corded neck, forearms built for strangling. Nor can his garments hide the coiled puissance of his gait. It is the stride of a swamp-cat, confident in its predatory strength, yet alert for prey. His cottonmouth-scaled boots click on the church cobblestone like a man knocking on a coffin.

Savage, acetylene-blue eyes shine beneath the brim of a dented, manskin-leather hat. So beshadowed, his unblinking gaze burns like a butane torch, alluring and deadly. Equally mesmerizing and feral is the fanged smile that teases his supple lips. That smile promises much. Pleasure, pain, perfidy.

His body has the palpable odor of libido and heat lightning. His ruggedly handsome, sepulchral-cold face is slick with the night’s humidity, gleaming like moonshine. He carries the paradoxical mien of the bayou-born, the look of simple-mindedness mixed with the honor and hospitality of Southern aristocracy. Yet, lurking behind that mask is a monster, a remorseless sociopath whose evil blossomed long before his Embrace, but has since only grown into the most wicked of orchids.

Yet, the devil’s ‘guest’ is perhaps even more surprising. A half-ton gator, still dripping black bayou water, is slung over his shoulder with an alarming ease. Reptilian beast in tow, Cletus strolls down the cathedral center, up to George, and dumps the gator in his lap.

Up close, it is immediately evident that the gator is dead, its entrails gruesomely exposed and its body carved with colorful slurs. Maggots splatter at the sudden, violent impact. Cletus wipes his hands, messily splatting the viscera upon the manacled vampire.

GM: Most of the crowd’s leering, pale faces stare in stunned silence—as if unsure what to make of this unannounced newcomer, and whether his presence foretells mirth or the prince’s wrath.

Vidal’s expression remains motionless and unknowable, like a marble-carved statue.

George: George regards the strange Kindred with a cold but ultimately slightly confused mien as he dumps a dead gator at his feet, splatters him with gore, and proceeds to do so again. “I trust this is going somewhere,” he says as he looks towards Cingolai.

Cletus: “A present fer ya, George. Finer than frog-hair split four ways.”

George: He looks back towards the strange Kindred. “I can’t say I know precisely what to do with it. Not much you can make out of gator this long dead, save perhaps some shoes or of course gumbo,” George says with a grin.

Cletus: “Yer all wore out from bein’ nice. And we all done know how good a liar ya is. How yer shit-eating grin loves ta shovel it in, and shovel it out. We all know how ya love a good scapegoat, so I broughtcha one. Another bloody mess ya can blame on a beast—one other than ya one’s.”

GM: “You have many Kindred here at a disadvantage, Mr. Boggs,” Cingolai states levelly. “You know the name of the accused, but yours is yet unannounced.”

Cletus: “Cletus Lee Boggs,” the Cajun answers to the prosecutor’s query, but his blowtorch eyes remain fixed upon George’s. Unblinking, unflinching.

George: George is in the midst of attempting vainly to brush off his coat when he looks up to meet eyes with the Cajun staring at him. Distantly aware of the gore on his chest, he clearly doesn’t put his whole soul into the stare-off, and silently trails his eyes down to the floor in silence.

Cletus: Cletus spits as George caves. He half-snarls, “I’m da big mama-fuckin’ fella whose home y’all blue dicks crashed and den decided to throw a Kindred BBQ.”

He casually picks up the gator’s head and violently crushes its head, splattering both of them with its gore.

Caroline: The bizarre Kindred’s entrance is the only thing that jerks Caroline’s attention away from the prince, and he occupies her attention for only a few moments as he hauls in his grisly trophy. The words themselves are nearly lost as they’re traded by the two elder Kindred. The prince proves magnetic to her gaze, and it is only with purpose that she breaks away, in brief, now and again.

GM: Caroline’s sire watches like a silently judging god. Seemingly content to allow events to play out.

Cletus: Seeming satisfied, Cletus walks over to wherever the prosecutor motions him to stand or sit. He wipes off his hands once again, and then an almost beatific smile spreads across his face, like a cool breeze off the Potchartrain during summer’s inferno. He gives the proper salutations, verbal or otherwise, to the gathered elders.

GM: Cingolai does not smile, but her eyes look pleased upon hearing Cletus’ acrimonious words—and witnessing the results of his battle of wills. She motions for him to remain where he is. At the prosecutor’s tacit acceptance, laughter begins to sprout among the crowd of predators like out of control weeds. Suddenly, the sight of the rotting gator is funny. Laughter echoes and echoes throughout the cavernous church.

George: “I fail to see in what way you take issue with me then, Mr. Boggs,” George says plainly without lifting his eyes from the floor. “Your issue is with Mr. Slane Holland. He chose the place for the—barbecue, as you put it. Everything occurred under his supervision.”

GM: “Don’t you go blamin’ me for that clusterfuck, Smith,” growls a voice from the crowd.

The speaker is a tall man in his early middle years with black hair just starting to gray, a thick nose, and a full beard. His steely gray eyes stare unrelentingly into George’s. He’s dressed in an old-fashioned wool suit and vest without any necktie.

Pic.jpg
“You know what I was there for? Damage control. In case any funny business went on. Like the whole warehouse blowin’ sky high.”

George: “Nonetheless, you had control of the meeting place, Mr. Holland. It was your decision which placed it within Slidell.”

GM: “And yours to blow up half the goddamned town.”

Cletus: “You be done a good job controlling the damage, too, yun did,” Clete says with a harsh smile at Holland’s retort.

George: “Because you were failing to do your one job—as you—and the good Mr. Boggs just put it. With whom were you and your men too engaged to assist me against Mr. Matheson’s attempt on my unlife?”

GM: The elder Ventrue does not deign to reply to his younger clanmate. His eyes remain cool and his head proud and high.

Cletus: “And are you’s saying,” Clete further cuts in, “that Holland done supervised your Willy Pete fireworks?”

George: “He very well had the opportunity to search me before I went in, and elected not to,” George adds.

Cletus: Clete just laughs.

GM: “Let me spell things out for you Yanks and hicks nice and simple,” Holland snarls, rising to his feet.

George: “Does this explanation include why you and your men were having such trouble with Miss Adler that I had to detonate a grenade to preserve my Requiem?” George intercuts.

Cletus: Clete waves a shushing hand. “Na, let ‘em jabber. I’d like to hear ’em.” He tilts back his hat, exposing his raised brow to Holland.

George: George shrugs, with his soft grin at the sight of the snarling lictor being forced to explain why the whole thing—under his supervision, went to such shit.

“Yes, please, Mr. Holland. Do expound upon your failures to do your job.”

GM: Holland looks more than ready to continue, but Matheson’s cool eyes cut towards the prosecution.

“Objection, Prince Vidal,” Cingolai speaks up. “Mr. Smith makes accusations against his elder and impugns his character before Mr. Matheson’s trial has even begun. I request that appropriate disciplinary action be taken.”

George: “Excuse me, Prosecutrix Cingolai. I wasn’t aware that owls had character to impugn,” he says with a snide look back towards the crowd.

GM: Matheson’s cold blue eyes freeze on George.

“How dare you,” he whispers.

His voice is so quiet George almost does not hear it.

He says nothing further.

All of the room’s Ventrue are staring at George too, for this unprecedented public slandering of his elder’s dignitas. Cingolai. Holland. McGinn. Guilbeau. Malveaux. Hurst. Brown. Adler. Brodowski. Gui.

Their faces could be carved from stone.

There are no friends among them.

George’s advocate starts to speak. “Prince Vidal. My client-”

He looks upon the prince’s eyes, then loses his voice.

Then he looks away.

The prince’s gaze is black as night and terrible as a gathering storm. It scours through the younger Kindred like an unholy fire.

“Enough.”

Cletus: Cletus shivers, surprised, and even a bit excited by that stab of fear.

GM: “Prosecutrix Cingolai,” rings his voice, “Your objection is sustained. This trial will proceed in an orderly fashion. Accusations against Mr. Matheson will be dealt with during his own trial.”

His black gaze slowly settles upon George.

“You will refrain from further slander against your elder’s character.”

“Your previous slander shall be dealt with in due course.”

George: George nods in simple, but firm understanding to the prince’s order.

GM: “Mr. Holland,” Vidal continues.

The storm loses some of its fury.

Some.

“You shall hold your tongue against Mr. Smith until you are permitted to cross-examine him. Mr. Smith and Mr. Boggs shall hold their tongues against you.”

Cletus: Cletus sucks on his gums and nods real slow-like.

George: George simply nods in assent—again.

GM: Holland nods squarely.

“This trial will continue,” the prince orders.

Cletus: Cletus gives a look to the prosecutrix, twirling a muscular finger as if to ask if George or he have the floor.

GM: The Ventrue flicks a hand towards Cletus.

George: George’s eyes finally settle back firmly onto Cletus’ face, though their eyes do not meet for a second time. To address whatever he has to say.

Cletus: Cletus drawls, “So, just likeyat, why donna ya tell me, for Mr. Holland, what his role was, far ya understood. At yer lil’ BBQ, that is.”

GM: “Damage control, you inbred hick! Do you need it broken up into fewer words?” calls a voice from the sea of pale faces. More than a few chortle at the remark. George and Caroline recognize the speaker as Roxanne Gerlette.

Cletus: “Sticks and stones,” Cletus poo-paws with a smile and a hand. “I’m tryin’ to ascertain George’s understandin’. His lips are shifty, after all.”

George: “Mr. Holland’s involvement was pervasive and total. As far as I knew, when I contacted him with my plan to convene myself, Mr. Matheson, and Primogen Hurst to discover the identity of an unknown Kindred who attacked me…”

George briefly summarizes the chain of events that led to the warehouse meeting in Slidell. He relays the details of Hurst’s roadside attack as they related to him personally, leaving out those exclusive to Clan Ventrue, such as the Gerousia’s meeting and clan-wide search for the traitor among their ranks. He casts Holland as acting as a neutral mediative party.

“…I left it to Mr. Holland to select a place for the meeting, and whether it should occur at all. Mr. Matheson and Primogen Hurst can attest to his presence, as they would have both had to pass by him to enter the warehouse. To my understanding, no aspect of the events that occurred in that warehouse in Slidell were outside Mr. Holland’s control, or opportunity to control. Including that it was in Slidell. Or that it occurred at all.”

GM: Holland’s eyes remain hard as rocks, and his jaw set like a shotgun ready to go off.

But the lictor does not disobey his strategos.

Cletus: Cletus turns back to the Ventrue. “So, in your sweet fine mind, did Mr. Holland approve of your Willy Pete party?”

George: “By failing to act at his one job—damage control, as he himself put it, yes. I only resorted to the use of the grenade when my Requiem became endangered by Mr. Matheson’s frenzy. I would not have done so if he had taken them from me. Or if he had elected to be inside the warehouse. Or had he and his men audibly engaged with some other party, likewise his responsibility to forsee and protect against. What precisely would you do if you had an enraged elder in front of you, and a grenade beneath his feet, Mr. Boggs? Allow him to kill you?”

Cletus: “I wouldn’t ‘ave smuggled in a white phosphorous grenade, particularly not in Slidell. But maybe I’m just an inbred hick, and I think real simple.”

George: “Call me paranoid if you will, but it turned out to be a necessary precaution to secure my Requiem.”

GM: “Objection, Prince Vidal,” Cingolai cuts in. “Mr. Smith is blatantly misconstruing facts. It is well-established that Mr. Holland and his subordinates were engaged with an unknown third party at the purported time of Mr. Matheson’s attack.”

George: “Pardon, Prosecutrix Cingolai, Prince Vidal, those gathered among us. If it was heard that I did not believe Mr. Holland to be otherwise engaged, I wholeheartedly lost track of my tongue. I believed I said ‘If he were not otherwise audibly engaged’. Due apologies if it came out or was interpreted as anything else. I would not have used the grenade if I believed Mr. Holland were in a position to assist me against Mr. Matheson.”

GM: Vidal’s black gaze settles on George.

“This court does not look favorably upon such slips of the tongue, Mr. Smith, and will consider them in rendering your judgment.”

George: “Of course, my prince. Dearly sorry again.”

Cletus: Cletus continues, “See, e’en an inbred hick like me knows dat Article 1 of Protocol III o’ da Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons be defining an incendiary weapon as ’any weapon or munition which is primarily designed ta set fire ta objects or ta cause burn injury ta persons through da action of flame, heat, or combination ’of, produced by a chemical reaction of a substance delivered on target.”

“An inbred hick like me knows that da same protocol prohibits the use of said stuff, Willy Pete included, mind, ‘gainst civilians, which is also a big no-no by dem Geneva Conventions or in civilian areas. And so, even an inbred hick like me knows dat Slidell is home to Textron, a multi-billion dollar company dat does what, o guess o darlin’, but build and sell military-grade weapons and explosives.”

“So, when ya lit yer white candle, ya done set off a damned firestorm wit all kinds of Yankee feds crawlin’ o’er ma domain, askin’ all kinds o’ questions dat threaten da very Masquerade. So, if I done had a chance to lit dat candle, I wouldn’t. But dat’s jus’ me, an inbred hick. Maybe all ya don’t care too much ‘bout keepin’ dat First Law or whatnot.” Cletus cracks his neck, and smiles. It’s not a comforting one.

George: In reply to Cletus, George can only offer a soft smile to the other Kindred. “I would like to apologize for inconveniencing you personally with the fire, Mr. Boggs. But I fail to see in what way my detonating a bomb in a building violates the First Tradition in any way.”

GM: Sounds of open disgust go up from the crowd at George’s words.

“Failure’s the only bit you got right there, Smith!” jeers a voice.

Cletus: Cletus gives him a dead-pan look, as if he’s looking for signs of life, or unlife in the skull across from him.

GM: Brown quickly, mutely jerks his head at George.

“So you are saying, Mr. Smith,” Cingolai continues evenly, “that you resorted to justified measures to preserve your Requiem?”

George: “I resorted to the only measures available to me, Prosecutrix Cingolai. That it occurred in a warehouse in Slidell is an unfortunate circumstance—once again, a decision made solely by Mr. Holland. It is said readily among the Damned that intent matters for nothing against action. I will freely admit to exploding that warehouse in Slidell, but I did choose white phosphorous for more reasons than its flame. It burns at a high enough intensity to reduce basically all evidence to ash. I am plainly not responsible for the actions taken by other Kindred after the explosion, their violations of the Masquerade are their own trouble to defend. I took what measures were available to me to preserve the First Tradition and my own Requiem.”

Cletus: “Did ya, now?” Clete asks scathingly. “When ya ran yella from the BBQ, what did ya do? Did ya check on ol’ Holland—cause ya said he didn’t be having no control o’ things.”

GM: Holland’s stare has grown no less hard.

“To preserve the First Tradition and your Requiem,” Cingolai continues. “I see. Then I gather, Mr. Smith, that you believed the greater risk of other Kindred violating the First Tradition was justified by the preservation of your own Requiem.”

Cletus: Cletus looks as if he has more to say, but pauses.

GM: “Prince Vidal,” the prosecutor asks, “will you please explain before this assembly whether a violation of the Traditions is mitigated by the personal inconvenience of a single Kindred?”

Low peals of mocking laughter go up Cingolai’s query. But the crowd’s eyes linger on George.

“The canons of the Sanguineous Catechism and the Traditions of the Camarilla are absolute, Prosecutrix Cingolai. To break the Silence of the Blood is blasphemy against the word of the Dark Prophet and a violation of the Six Traditions,” the prince sternly pronounces. “Blasphemy cannot be mitigated by intent or circumstance—only forgiven through confession and penance.”

“Thank you, Your Majesty.” Cingolai turns to George. “Well, Mr. Smith, I hope that clarifies matters. The Camarilla’s laws—and the commandmanets of Longinus, within the Archdiocese of New Orleans—do not exist for your personal convenience. Your Requiem is less important than they are. The survival of all our kind, ensured through the Masquerade, is more important than any one Kindred.”

George: “I did not insinuate otherwise, Prosecutrix Cingolai. If I have violated the First Tradition, then obviously I will tender my Requiem to this court in whatever manner best resolves that violation. The protection of the Camarilla is paramount.”

Cletus: Cletus guffaws, “Oi, now ya so interested in being protection’ da Camarilla? But whatda ’bout back den, back in Slidell? Tell us whatda ya been done after ya threw den horseshoe.”

George: “Mr. Boggs. I maintain plainly that in no way did I, George Vernon Smith, reveal my true nature to those not of the Blood. That is the precise wording of the First Tradition, is it not?”

GM: “‘If’ you have violated the First Tradition? For a Kindred of your age, Mr. Smith, you appear to have a very narrow view of the actions necessary to maintain the Masquerade. Attracting significant attention from kine legal authorities, at the site of an otherwise private altercation among Kindred, is nearly as great an offense as openly demonstrating the Blood’s gifts.”

George: “You have just said yourself, Prosecutrix Cingolai. Intent and circumstance do not matter. The Tradition, as it is written, was upheld on my part.”

GM: Cingolai only shakes her head. “Mr. Smith. I should not find this necessary to explain to you, but unlike the kine, our race does not base its legal system upon the law as it is written. We take into account the purpose and spirit of our laws as much as their technical language. The purpose of the First Tradition is to conceal our existence from the kine. Mr. Boggs, do you believe that Mr. Smith’s actions in exploding a bag of phosphorous grenades within your domain were conductive to doing so?”

Cletus: Cletus bares his fangs in a fierce growl. “Ya have no fuckin’ clue how close ya came to ripping the Mask off, how ya endangered it. But I do—cause I been da one cleanin’ all ya messes.”

George: “Then you have done a fine job upholding the First Tradition in my stead, Mr. Boggs. If you would like to discuss a commensurate boon, I would be agreeable to such an arrangement. But as it is, you’ve merely concluded the argument.”

GM: “Concluded the argument? Mr. Boggs only found it necessary to go to such lengths to uphold the First Tradition because of your actions, Mr. Smith. Nor is a boon the normative sentence for violations of the First Tradition. Not in this archdiocese, nor any other Camarilla domain. Prince Vidal, would you be so kind as to explain the sentence in full?”

The prince utters but two words, his voice as heavy and relentless as an executioner’s axe:

“Final death.”

Cletus: Cletus feel a rising bump in his throat—and his crotch.

George: “I understand the punishment at hand, Prosecutrix. But Mr. Boggs just admitted that he’s cleaned up the ‘mess,’ as it were. There’s nothing more to discuss on this matter. I did not violate the First Tradition in the explosion, and Mr. Boggs has done a fine job in making sure the fallout did not also violate it.”

Cletus: “Been da, not been did,” Cletus adds, “And ya jus’ found dat out, and be believin’ cause I done told ya. It took me tellin’ ya, not ya comin’ to me, or comin’ back to check on ya mess.”

George: George smiles easily. “Prosecutrix Cingolai, I’m sorry to belabor the point again. But you seem to be contradicting the prince’s words not moments ago. When it comes to the Traditions, does intent matter? Either it does, or it does not.”

GM: Cingolai smiles thinly. “The intentions of lawbreakers do not matter, Mr. Smith. The intentions behind the Traditions do. Mr. Boggs’ actions do not exonerate your own. If he had not intervened when and as he did, the damage to the Masquerade would have even graver—as, indeed, you admit by the possibility that ‘the fallout’ of your own actions would have ‘also’ violated the First Tradition. You would appear to assume that all parties are innocent of blame in this matter, when, in fact, a grievous violation of the Masquerade nearly occured. Our prince has both obligation and every desire to eliminate the chance of another such breach ever occuring.”

“Your testimony thus far suggests it is highly probable you will violate the First Tradition again if you should find it personally convenient. You do not appear to understand the consequences of your actions, and you have presented no solution by which to ensure the future preservation of the Masquerade. I offer one, Mr. Smith—your final death.”

Cletus: Cletus cools, a wan smile at the affair before him, so tantalizingly close—but not so close he’s on the menu.

Caroline: The banter, so buzzing compared to her sire’s intoxicating presence, throws a wet blanket over Caroline’s longing. The conversation is not so unlike some that she herself has had in recent weeks, in fact it bears an uncanny resemblance to several. Such resemblance that she can well see the outcome of Smith’s argument even early on.

Maybe he could argue that the fire could have been attributed to mundane efforts, if he had taken actions to control the fire investigation. Maybe he could claim some degree of shelter had he done anything but flee the scene and pretend it hadn’t happened. But this… she can see only one outcome, racing forward like an engine under a full head of steam, and just as unstoppable… and unforgiving.

GM: The crowd seems to share Caroline’s sentiments. A few faces grimace. Some look disdainful. Far more leer like Cletus in anticipation of what can only come next.

Brown abruptly rises from his seat. “My prince. My client is guilty.”

Incredulous murmurs go up from the crowd. Brown’s face does not waver as he continues,

“He is guilty of leveraging a boon from another Kindred in exchange for his silence—a Kindred who attempted to obtain their own boon from Mr. Smith by placing explosives within his bags, in an ill-considered attempt to ensure his survival in the event that negotiations with Mr. Matheson sufficiently deteriorated.”

Brown turns to his client. “It is no longer tenable for you to fulfill your promise, Mr. Smith. You must name this criminal.”

Cletus: Cletus cocks his head, as if someone just changed the channel on his rabbit-eared TV.

Caroline: Too little. At this point he’s only dragging others down.

GM: “An obvious farce, Mr. Brown,” Cingolai smiles thinly.

George: George offers a polite, but pleased smile to his counsel, before returning his attention to the court. “Yes, it’s true. I have been protecting someone…”

George sadly turns his head towards Hurst, and bows it softly.

“I’m afraid I cannot shoulder the burden of your actions any longer, Primogen Hurst. I wish I could keep my promise that your name would go down unsullied by all this, I certainly do not blame you for all that you tried to do to preserve your lineage’s honor, and my Requiem at that, but as I said in the warehouse. ‘By and by, we all pay our _dues.’_ I release you of your debt.”

George subtly inflects on certain words, to remind Hurst of certain things.

GM: The crowd roars with laughter as if they’ve been told some grand joke. Cingolai eyes George like a wolf about to tear out her prey’s throat.

The entire room’s amused gaze settles on Gabriel Hurst.

He stares back at George with deliberate, knowing eyes. He raises no objection. He offers no defense.

Hurst is silent.

The crowd’s laughter begins to die.

“Primogen Hurst, please answer the court—did you plant those explosives within Mr. Smith’s bag?” Cingolai demands. “Did you pledge him a boon in return for his silence?”

Gabriel Hurst only stares back in silence.

“Primogen Hurst, answer this court!”

Caroline: Caroline narrows her eyes at the sheer viciousness of it all, but it does little to move her. A card played too late, however powerful it may be, she decides.

GM: Hurst finally speaks, his eyes impossibly heavy.

“Mr. Smith is right.”

The crowd erupts.

Slander,” Matheson hisses. “That viper would let the entire city burn for his actions if he believed it would preserve his own Requiem!”

“I did it, my sire. I planted the bombs,” Hurst stonily answers, but his words are soon scarcely audible.

The crowd’s roar is an almost palpable thing, washing over George as explosively as the fallout of his bob: “HURST! HURST! HURST! HURST!” Dozens of pale faces contort into malevolent sneers, jab their fingers, and scream pitiless vindications—it’s Hurst! HURST! HURST!

George: George, for his part, regards Hurst with a face which mirrors remorse almost perfectly. Almost.

GM: The elders’ faces are masks—mostly. Savoy looks as if someone just handed him a Christmas present. Maldonato’s could be carved from stone. Cingolai sharply calls out her own objections, as do a number of other voices—Holland’s own angry one included. But they are in a sharply decreasing minority against the chanting, screaming mob:

HURST! HURST! HURST! HURST!”

Cletus: Cletus turns towards the ‘accused’, his gaze flicking once or twice up the brim of his hat at Vidal.

GM: The prince’s face remains the same chiseled marble statue that Cletus last glimpsed. Vidal’s stare meets Donovan’s, who issues several orders to the nearby ghouls. One of the black-suited men hands him a pump-action shotgun. Two others drag up something indistinct. The sheriff turns and promptly fires his weapon into the staked, limp body of Bliss Jackson.

The gunshot’s explosively loud roar finally silenced the animated crowd. They look towards the source of the noise, and the ghouls already beginning to clean up the mess.

George: George nods and wheels back around to face Vidal, the Cabildo, the prosecutrix, and Vidal. While the shell housing a monstrous desire for power forces another stupid grin onto the thing serving as its fate, what little remains of a consciousness remarks inwardly that Hurst is a poor tool to lose, but perhaps at no better a time. Centuries hence from this night, when all have forgotten it save George, he might favor a neonate of Artemis Orthia with the tale of Gabriel Hurst and John Harley Matheson. But for now, he remains firmly in the present. Grinning like a moron.

“There you have it.”


Previous, by Narrative: Story Six, Mouse Epilogue
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Previous, by Cletus: Interlude Two, Cletus I
Next, by Cletus: Story Six, Caroline XI, Cletus II, George III

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Story Six, Caroline IX

“I fucked up, Jocelyn… badly. Maybe I fucked everything up.”
Caroline Malveaux


Sunday night, 20 September 2015, AM

GM: Caroline finds herself in a bare office room draped with plastic sheets. A bandaged, maimed, bruised Turner lies in a heap on the ground. Her vision is angry and unfocused. The Hussar stands nearby, holding a handgun with an attached silencer.

“The seneschal has said you may say what you will to her,” the scarred ghoul declares, his teeth visible through the hole in his burned cheek.

Caroline: Caroline aches, not just in her body, but down to her very soul, and the sight of the wrecked Turner does little for her. She turns her gaze from the Hussar to the maimed ghoul.

“Turn-” she stops. “Amanda?” she asks.

GM: “Hell’s going on? Where am I?” the Blackwatch merc grits out. Hurt as she is, her state looks little different than when Caroline saw her last in the Ventrue’s own home, all the way down to the bandages swathed around her shot-off, missing ear and crippled hand.

The Hussar stares impassively.

Caroline: “Just… I’m sorry, Amanda. I tried. I…” She looks away. "There’s nothing I can do. I’m so sorry. I… "

She looks back, fighting tears, and draws in a staggered breath.

“I need to know, is there anything you want? Any last requests. Anything I can do for you, or give you before the end?”

GM: “The fuck are you talking about, the en…”

Her gaze drifts towards the Hussar’s firearm.

Takes in Caroline’s dismayed expression.

Caroline: “It’s my fault, Amanda. You never did anything wrong… you did everything I ever asked of you… they’re punishing me with you. I never meant for it to happen… I…”

She wipes away the beginnings of bloody tears.

“I’m sorry can’t make it right. But I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

GM: A shadow crosses the already scarred, disfigured, bandage-enshrouded woman’s face. It’s one of the blackest, ugliest looks Caroline has ever seen, and not because Turner isn’t going to win any beauty pageants.

“This is what I get!?” she spits.

Caroline: Caroline takes the look, the hate within it. A knife into her chest beside the still bleeding wound in her heart.

“If you need to yell at me, hate me… I understand.”

She continues, “And if there’s anything else you want that I can give you. Last messages, wishes, anything.”

GM: “Oh shut the fuck up, you pampered blubbering cunt. Do it yourself if you’ve got the guts.” The mercenary’s bulging, black-rimmed eyes stare daggers at her domitor.

Caroline: Caroline looks to the Hussar.

GM: The dark-eyed ghoul merely stares back at her.

Caroline: “Will you permit it?” she asks.

GM: “That’s right, you little bitch, go ask permission. Wouldn’t want my murder to be inconvenient, huh!?” Turner snarls.

Caroline: Caroline clenches her teeth.

GM: The Hussar impassively stares at Caroline only to finally reply, “Mesmerize her into holding the gun to her head, then pull the trigger yourself. The death is to resemble a suicide.”

Caroline: “I understand,” she replies, tears still in her eyes as she turns her gaze back to Turner.

“Is there nothing else you want, Amanda?” she asks, pain in her voice.

GM: “Yeah, there’s one thing.”

Caroline: Caroline waits for her to name it.

GM: “C’mere.”

Caroline: “Are you sure you want to do this, Amanda?” Caroline asks gently. “You’re better than that, much better than me, than I ever was.”

GM: “You’re just another job, cunt. And backstabber. You don’t get to call me Amanda.”

There’s no warning. Suddenly, the upright mercenary bolts towards Caroline with an awkward half-shuffle, half-blur of motion. It’s a bizarre sight, and not fast enough for Caroline to avoid catching the fist that drives at her face.

“Stop,” the Hussar orders imperiously.

Caroline: Caroline meets the ghoul’s eyes.

“Stop.”

GM: Amanda’s eyes rivet to the Hussar’s. The tension in her muscles goes slack, then she crashes to the ground in a heap.

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head gently from side to side, but she obliges.

“I know you must believe that, Turner. That I betrayed you. But I never did. If I had the power to spare you… they didn’t give me a choice.”

GM: “Enough of this,” the prince’s ghoul declares with a rising impatience. He extends his firearm to Caroline.

Turner looks up and spits in the Ventrue’s face.

Caroline: Caroline pauses and wipes the spit from her face. She takes the .44 Magnum from the Hussar and puts it to Turner’s head.

Grip the weapon here,” she orders, turning over the grip. “Hold it here.

“If it makes you feel better, Turner, I suspect I’ll see you in Hell before long.”

GM: Turner’s livid face becomes a blank mask as she robotically accepts the gun and presses it to the side of her cranium.

Caroline: “Goodbye, Turner… and I am sorry.”

GM: “Fuck you,” the ex-Marine snarls.

Caroline: She squeezes the trigger.

GM: Turner’s head explodes, blood flying every which direction like spray from a violently shaken soda can. The Ventrue heiress is showered in gore, skull fragments, and pulped cranial matter. The smell is ungodly. Turner’s ruined, half-upright corpse slumps onto the plastic-coated floor with a messy wet thump.

The Beast, mad and ravenous, surges against its bonds.

Caroline: Caroline closes her eyes against the spray of gore and steps away. She bows her head in quietly murmured prayer. In truth it’s as much out of need as want. The Beast is tearing apart her already aching chest, screaming its rage and need. Need for violence, for blood, for revenge. The Hussar, so close might as well be a busty co-ed for how demanding the Beast is for his blood. Turner’s own foul ichor calls to her. Perhaps it’s only because it’s a rage she has felt so many times already, perhaps it’s only because of how dead she feels already tonight. Maybe the Beast is as tired as she is. She lets out a slow shuddering breath amid her quiet murmur.

“Eternal rest, grant unto her, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon her.
May the souls of the faithful departed
through the mercy of God rest in peace.
Amen.”


GM: The Hussar’s lip curls in the aftermath of Turner’s death, as if he is about to speak, but the old ghoul remains silent through the prayer.

Caroline: She opens her eyes and looks back to the Hussar.

“Thank you.”

GM: The Hussar regards Caroline with the same impassive stare as before.

“You will not testify on Mr. Matheson’s behalf at the trial. You will personally notify him, at your soonest convenience, of your apologies for wasting his time.”

Caroline: “May I give him any reason for not offering such testimony?”

GM: “Yes,” the Hussar haughtily declares with all the disdain of a man regarding a child who is picking their nose, “it is the same one for which you will tender apologize to Mr. Savoy for.”

Caroline: “My gross ignorance and rudeness?”

GM: The dark-eyed ghoul only stares.

Caroline: Caroline mentally prepares herself for another beating at the hands of the sadistic elder.

GM: “You will attend the trial for the sole purpose of your release, which shall be in name only and occur but for the sole purpose of the Church Eternal’s public image. Prince Vidal’s absence from the proceedings cannot be excused, so he will similarly lack cause not to perform the ceremony with his own hands—a privilege for which you are entirely unworthy,” the prince’s herald pronounces in a haughty tone that sounds as if he is simultaneously swallowing bile.

Caroline: Caroline is already so far beaten into the ground as to show little response to the Hussar’s cruel words.

She nods her head and murmurs, “I understand,” while coated in the blood and brains of her once-protector.

The protector she murdered. In less than a night her entire world has come crashing down again.

GM: “Sheriff Donovan will contact you at a later date to coordinate efforts against Claire Malveaux’s hunter network,” the Hussar finishes. “You may go.”

Caroline: “Thank you.”

Caroline glances down once more at the mangled corpse. Another life destroyed. She turns and walks out of the room.

GM: The last words she hears are uttered by the Hussar into his phone:

“Disposal.”


Sunday night, 20 September 2015, AM

GM: “Caroline? Where are you?!” Jocelyn exclaims over the Ventrue’s borrowed phone.

Caroline: The Toreador’s voice is like a cool breeze blowing over a burning wound, a gentle balm that doesn’t heal the damage, but soothes it in the moment.

“I… Perdido House.”

She just wants to cry. To curl up in a ball.

“I fucked up, Jocelyn… badly. Maybe I fucked everything up.”

GM: Its lender, a broad-shouldered African-American man in a black suit, sunglasses and ear radio, stares ahead at the descending elevator’s buttons. He’s not making any sudden moves, but Caroline can tell the posture of a security contractor who’s expecting trouble. The pounding of the man’s jugular and the hot blood rushing through the man’s body is simply maddening to the starved Ventrue.

Caroline: She turns away from him, closes her eyes, focuses only on the sound of Jocelyn’s voice on the phone.

GM: “Okay… calm down, you’re still alive, that’s… that’s big. The seneschal let you live!”

Jocelyn’s voice tries to sound joyful, but Caroline can all but see her fragile expression. Like a cracked and teetering piece of pottery about ready to fall off a ledge.

Caroline: “Yeah,” Caroline replies, trying to put false happiness into her voice, like a dying parent trying to comfort a scared child.

“He… it’s… it’ll be okay… I… Jocelyn, I hate to call you like this again. I hate to ask you for anything after this, after you already put everything on the line with him… there’s no one else to call. I’m going to hurt someone, Jocelyn… I’m so close right now. I need to get out of here before I try to hurt one of the prince’s ghouls…”

GM: “Okay, I can drive over… but I don’t have any juice or anything, not without time to hunt…”

Caroline: “I’ve got some at my house… maybe enough. I just… if I have to lose it it can’t be here… it can’t be on anyone here.”

GM: “How am I gonna get into your house, though, even if the guards outside let me in? I mean… is there a burglar alarm or whatever, if I break a window?”

Caroline: “The alarm should be off… there’s a spare key under the brick in the planter closest to the door on the left, if he even bothered to lock up. The place is trashed…” Talking to Jocelyn helps keep her mind off everything else, but especially the hunger.

“The alarm should be off…” Talking to Jocelyn helps keep her mind off everything else, but especially the hunger. “I don’t know if he locked it…” God it hurts. Everything hurts.

GM: “Well, if I break in… there’s some pretty serious security there, I might not make it out.”

Caroline: “No!”

The word comes out too sharply.

“No.”

She’s practically shaking with need, but the thought of something happening to the Toreador is too much, it cuts through the raw physical need like an emotional razor.

GM: “So… so what do we do, if you’re about to go apeshit?” Jocelyn worriedly asks.

Caroline: “The trunk. I just have to get out of here. I could get in the trunk to get away… I couldn’t hurt you from there.”

GM: “Okay, I guess I can’t think of anything better… hold on, I’ll be there in a bit.”

Caroline: “Can you stay on the line?” Caroline asks. “You’re helping me keep it together.”

GM: “Okay, sure, uh… how’d… whatever happened, go? You didn’t get killed, at least?”

Caroline: “It’s… complicated. He was going to.”

Caroline keeps her eyes closed, focuses entirely on the conversation. Anything to block out the raging Beast.

“He was going to fucking do it right there, Jocelyn. On the spot.” There’s genuine fear in her voice.

GM: “Oh shit, that’s… heavy…”

Caroline: “I managed to convince him to give me some time… just a bit of time. I can’t even tell you what it cost. Can’t imagine what it already cost you, all of this. God, I’ll make it up to you.”

She can barely hear her own voice over the raging of the Beast inside her and the sound of beating hearts around her.

GM: “Time? What do you mean, this isn’t over?” Jocelyn asks.

Caroline: “It’s complicated… I’ll tell you details in person. In private.”

GM: There’s a dinging noise. The ground under Caroline’s feet stops descending. She hears the doors rumble open.

“Stay in the elevator,” the lender of Caroline’s phone says tersely.

The irresistible thump-thump-thump of blood coursing through his veins grows slightly more distant. But not nearly enough.

Caroline: She backs herself into the corner, sagging against the modern finish of the shining steel box.

GM: “God, can’t we just… get a break!?” Jocelyn’s voice demands in frustration.

Caroline: "I have to arrange my death… I had to kill one of my ghouls… "

GM: “Oh, jeez… why?”

Caroline: “When the Hussar came to get me he attacked me… I lost it. I guess tore him up pretty badly.”

GM: “Oh shit, you attacked the prince’s herald!?

Caroline: “I lost it,” she repeats. “So that was the prince’s cut on things….”

GM: “Caroline… you can’t keep doing this! They’re gonna kill you!”

Caroline: “I know!” It comes out as a near-shriek of frustration. “I didn’t know all of this was going to happen. I didn’t wake up and decide to attack him. But this is it, Jocelyn… no more chances. No more mistakes.”

GM: “Fuck, Caroline, just… what happened there?”

Caroline: “I’ll tell you everything that I can,” she replies. “Everything.”

GM: “Okay… where do you wanna go when I get there, your house?”

Caroline: “It’s probably best. I have enough on hand there… to get stable maybe. Stable enough. I don’t know what I would have done, Jocelyn, if you hadn’t picked up.”

GM: “…called a Ryde?” The Toreador sounds like she’s trying to joke. It doesn’t like even she finds it funny.

Caroline: “I hear RydeEats is supposed to be a thing…”

GM: “Really? I didn’t know about that, is it like… food delivery?”

Caroline: “Meals on wheels,” Caroline tries to joke back.

Anything to stay in the moment, rather than in the next.

GM: “I heard there was a lick who got one of them to come over or something, just for kicks.”

“But it seems kinda mean, they’re just volunteers getting food to old people.”

Caroline: “I mean… depends on how old the lick is, right? They might have just as much right to service for the elderly.”

GM: “I dunno, I think our elders can manage.”

Caroline hears a car pulling into the underground parking garage. A door opens and shuts.

“Okay, I’m here, where are you?”

Caroline: “In the elevator.”

GM: “Okay, come out.”

Caroline: Caroline opens her eyes and takes a step out.

GM: Jocelyn’s white Toyota Yaris is parked a short ways away. Jocelyn is standing outside the car with her phone, looking around.

The Beast salivates and gnashes its teeth. All that luscious blood, that she’s already partaken of…

Caroline: Caroline sets the phone down right outside the elevator and crosses the parking lot at a brisk walk. There’s a pained smile on her face.

GM: Its lender picks it up from the corner of her eye. Jocelyn looks over and smiles back at first, but the already strained expression swiftly gives away to alarm.

“Oh god you’re a mess, get in the trunk, quick!”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t need to be told twice, but tries to keep the smile on.

“Just pop it when we get there. Let me go inside first,” she says, hurriedly, as she climbs into the cramped dark space.

GM: The lid thumps shut behind Caroline. The cramped space has several prominent stains and smells strongly of bleach.

Caroline: It’s all she can do to stop herself from licking at those stains.

It’s an uncomfortable and humiliating way to travel, made worse by the all-consuming hunger and ever-present pain.

GM: “Okay, Meg, you can take off,” Caroline makes out Jocelyn’s muffled voice as saying. The ground shifts out from under her as she feels the car move.

Caroline: Still, as bad as it is, it carries her away from what was almost certain doom.

That has a merit all its own.


Sunday night, 20 September 2015, AM

GM: Torturous minutes pass. Jocelyn makes conversation. The car finally comes to a stop.

“Okay, we’re outside Audubon… how do we get in?”

Caroline: The Ventrue twists. “Can you pass your phone through the seats?”

GM: There’s a pause from Jocelyn. “Meg. What’s this doing here?”

“I… I thought you could use it! To heal if she hurt you!”

There’s a sigh from the Toreador.

“You lucked out, Caroline. Meg ‘thought’ to bring some more juice.”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t growl audibly, but that monster inside of her growls with its need. Ignorant beast that it is, the Beast can still understand Caroline’s own reaction to the words. the quickening of her breath… the raw need it induces…

“Remind me to thank her later.”

GM: Caroline sees the trunk’s cover go up, but only for a split second before it’s slammed closed. An Android thumps to the trunk’s bottom.

“The PIN’s 3537.”

Caroline: Caroline unlocks the phone. “Just wait a minute.”

She opens the browser and locates the phone number for the gatehouse, pausing only to confirm that Meg has an ID in her own name before dialing in.

GM: “Yeah, Meg’s got an ID.”

Caroline: “’Good, that should make it easier.”

She hits call on the phone.

GM: She’s answered by a stone-voiced Blackwatch guard. He confirms her transmitted entry code, and after a slight pause for Meg to show the guards her state ID, Jocelyn’s car rolls into Audubon.

Caroline: Caroline lets out a sigh of relief as the car gets moving again without further interruption.

“Let me run in when we get there, before you get out.” She thinks. “It shouldn’t take me more than a couple minutes to find it and get…. less like this.”

GM: The car soon comes to a stop.

“Okay, but I could just toss you the juice here first?” Jocelyn half-remarks, half-asks.

Caroline: “The stuff you brought… I don’t know that it would be enough on its own… if it’s not the right… kind it takes a lot more to satisfy the Beast…”

The comment drags her back to memories of drinking from half a dozen grubby businessmen with wandering hands. Of how dirty she felt afterwards.

“A lot more.”

GM: “Okay, well, we’re outside… make a dash for it.”

Caroline: “Is it clear?” Caroline asks.

GM: “Yeah, it looks like.”

Caroline: She waits for them to pop the trunk then slips out and hustles to the house.

GM: There’s a pause, then she hears footsteps approaching the back of the vehicle. The trunk abruptly springs open, but Caroline doesn’t see anyone there. There’s a simultaneous slam from one of the car’s other doors.

Caroline: The Ventrue knows exactly where she’s going, where she left the neatly stacked pile of cold blood in the fridge. It’s not a pill she’s eager to swallow, but under the circumstances it might as well be nectar of the gods. Anything that might sooth the ravening monster that wants to crush everything—those few precious things—she has left.

She makes for the house.

GM: The house lies in the same state of tornado aftermath-like devastation that Caroline last saw it in. To her chagrin, it appears that not even her refrigerator has not been spared her invaders’ scrutiny. A swirling black mass of hungry, buzzing flies is alighting upon a mountain of tossed-out, now-spoiled food. The stench is an altogether different kind from Turner’s ‘suicide’, but close to equally horrific.

Flies crawl over the blood’s sealed plastic coverings.

Caroline: Beside the roaring the Beast’s need the disgust brought on by the flies outside the bags is hardly noticeable. She gathers up the bags all the same and quickly bears them into another destroyed room, away from the worst of the smell—splattering her dress with some degree of ruined food along the way—and begins to greedily suck down the plastic bags.

Life-saving blood sufficient—and intended—to save a dozen trauma victims flows into the Ventrue. College blood drives have always been popular, and donating blood as a whole has always been popular among the young. It’s little surprise then that she has success in drawing from among the bags more than one that tastes less like piss and more like warm flat soda.

After the first couple of bags it becomes a nausea inducing experience unto itself. The smell is nothing next to the taste—and aftertaste—of the chilled blood. She fights back her body’s revulsion and continues to drink until the hunger of the Beast is a dull and distant thing. Only when she’s confident in her control does Caroline head back to the front door and gesture for Jocelyn and her ghoul.

GM: Jocelyn and Meg approach the front door. The Toreador wrinkles her nose at the sight of the even more disheveled Caroline.

“You look awful. No offense.”

Caroline: “It’s been a bad night, it’s appropriate.”

GM: Meg seems to be studiously trying not to remark anything, but glances at her domitor several times. The two walk inside. Meg closes the door behind them.

“So… what the hell happened?” Jocelyn asks.

Caroline: Caroline looks at Meg. “It would be better if she took a walk, or waited somewhere else. It’s not a matter of trust, just that this is dangerous stuff for her to know.”

GM: “All right, Meg, go take a walk or wait in the car, I guess.”

The painfully thin ghoul gives Jocelyn a more than somewhat antsy look, but after her domitor gives her an answering ‘just do it, okay?’ one, she hands over a plastic bag of blood and quietly slinks away.

Jocelyn looks around, fully taking in the disheveled house.

“What the hell happened here, also?”

Caroline: Caroline sighs and sits upon a splintered thing that was once a coffee table.

“What do you remember about my call to you last night?”

GM: Jocelyn simply sits down cross-legged on one of the floor’s cleaner spots.

“I guess all of it, or maybe most? Maldonato said that the evidence you had on Matheson was all a lie or hadn’t been verified or whatever. Honestly, I don’t care about it at this point. All it did was get you in trouble.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip. Jocelyn is right. She should just let it go…

“The last thing I remember was a text from you that you were coming over right before dawn. I didn’t think that you’d gotten through to your contact, so I’d sent my ghouls out with the tape to stash it. They didn’t react well when they found out. Tossed the house.” She gestures to the destroyed home.

“Looking for surveillance, I’d guess. For something fake, the seneschal was mad enough that…” Caroline bites her tongue. “When I woke up it was to this and instructions not to leave, then the Hussar showed up and attacked me. I lost it…. tore him up pretty badly I guess.” Another pause. “They executed my ghoul for it…. or rather let me do it. It’s what she wanted. Anyway… when I woke up the seneschal talked with me for a while… told me some things…”

GM: Jocelyn slowly takes that all in with an almost ’you’re kidding’ expression, but doesn’t yet speak.

Caroline: “Decided to execute me for… well… everything.” Caroline’s eyes are downcast. “But ultimately settled on giving me a year to essentially prove that I can be something other than a problem. There’s things I can’t tell you about it. That I wish I could… and someday will. There’s just no more room for mistakes,” she finishes. “No more help.”

GM: Jocelyn’s face is strained when she finally speaks.

“Caroline… you can’t keep doing this.

Caroline: Coming from anyone else right now Caroline might scream or shout, or argue. Instead she simply nods.

GM: Jocelyn looks around the ruined home, a seeming witness and living testament that’s all been going on. “So…” she sighs, “what’s next?”

Caroline: Caroline looks up. “If you want to go, I’d understand. For me, first, I have to contact Matheson and tell him that I can’t help him with the trial. In person.”

GM: “Why can’t you do that anymore?”

Caroline: “Seneschal’s orders.”

GM: “Okay, that’s weird… but his call, I guess.”

Caroline: “I’d be a liability,” she offers.

GM: “So…” Jocelyn frowns a bit. “Is that all you can say, that it’s all secret? I mean… what happened, and what else is gonna happen? Is this all over when you go see Matheson?”

Caroline: “Not quite…” Caroline murmurs. “When I said I had a year to prove myself, I meant it. If I can’t hit various checkmarks. The immediate danger is Matheson… but this is only the beginning.”

GM: The Toreador uneasily waits to hear the rest.

Caroline: “Some of it is,” she pauses, “easy.”

The word hangs in the air with her for a moment, the weight of the very idea of what she’s about to suggest, much less that it’s easy bearing down on her.

She abruptly continues, “Like faking my death. I knew it was coming eventually… attending executions of all illicit Embraces from here on.”

GM: “Okay… so that first one could be worse, but that second one is just weird,” Jocelyn frowns.

Caroline: “They’re pulling the prince’s decision to give them a chance, Jocelyn. Because of me.” Even as she says it though, those words feel hollow. Because of her… yes. Certainly her own actions contributed, but this grand game going on pollutes the entire topic. Even for a Catholic having that guilt shoved down her throat is a bitter pill.

GM: “Oh.” Jocelyn doesn’t look sure what to say to that. “Well… at least you got off in time.”

Caroline: “How many other Kindred, through no fault of their own, just because of their sire’s lawlessness, are going to die in the next year? How many executions am I going to get to see?” She shakes her head. “Obviously, no more lawbreaking. His patience is at an end. Past its end.”

GM: Jocelyn shrugs helplessly. “If they were mosquitoes, they’d have died anyways, at least. I guess that next one isn’t too bad either.”

Caroline: “I have a better handle on a lot of it… I’m just worried about what Matheson is going to do… how he might choose to take out his anger, and how that might… well. It wouldn’t be hard to dump me out on the street hurt and near-starving… or kick me out before dawn… or throw in a bunch of mind-fuck programming…”

GM: “Maybe try… I dunno, calling him first, just to see how things are?” Jocelyn offers.

Caroline: “I don’t even think he has a phone, much less knows how to use one or would react well.”

GM: Jocelyn can only shrug helplessly again.

Caroline: “Anyway… after that… there are other things I have to do. More difficult ones.” She forces a smile. “At least I have some time to do it this time, though.”

GM: “Well, like what kind of things?”

Caroline: “Big things. Difficult things. Like catching my sire was. Even telling you though, Jocelyn… it would put you in danger.”

GM: “Well, then…” Jocelyn sighs. “I dunno what to do here, Caroline. I really don’t.”

Caroline: “You don’t have to do anything. You’ve done enough… he told me about what you did.”

GM: “Yeah, for all the good that did,” the Toreador says flatly.

Caroline: “Look… Jocelyn… I wasn’t lying when I said you were the best thing about my Requiem. And I want it to stay that way, but that doesn’t mean that you have to carry my burdens with me. These are big and dangerous things that I need to do… and they’re going to force me to do some terrible things to have a chance.”

“You don’t have to be a part of that… but I do want you to be a part of my Requiem outside of that… assuming you still want me in yours. We can carve out a night, or times each week. I will make time for you outside of all this.”

GM: “Honestly, Caroline, I dunno what to make of all this. I’d just like… I dunno, to feel like there’s not gonna be so many problems all the time,” Jocelyn says lamely. “Or to just feel like I can do something or… whatever.”

Caroline: Caroline goes quite still, the silence dragging out. At last, she gives a very shallow series of nods. “I… I understand.”

The nods don’t stop. They’re more a rocking of her head.

GM: Jocelyn frowns. “Huh?”

Caroline: “That I’ve been nothing but a problem for you as well.”

GM: “Well… okay, I’m not saying that… I just wanna feel like I can do something. About all that’s gone wrong. But that there’s not gonna be so much stuff always… going wrong, either.”

Jocelyn gestures vaguely at the house.

Caroline: “This kind of craziness,” she gestures to the house, “can’t continue. And after the meeting with Matheson things should settle a bit… I need time to do things. Move assets. Recruit new ghouls. Some of those things are slow going, assuming I don’t step on toes doing it like with… well… Jessica.”

“If you really want to help, that’s one place… I don’t have a good feeling for who has what things under their umbrella, but you’ve been around longer… I also need to make some less awkward introductions. And this thing with Matheson… right now I have no ghoul, no phone, and no car. If Meg could help out with the middle one of those…”

GM: “Okay, but just… did the seneschal say you can’t say anything about what’s going on?” Jocelyn looks frustrated. “I mean, Skyman was really clear with me, no talking about anything ever.”

Caroline: “What do you mean? To you or others? There are a few subjects he explicitly forbid to anyone. I guess… what do you want to know? The details of what else he wants?”

GM: “Sure, I guess. Just… what’s gonna happen next.”

Caroline: “I have to meet with Matheson. Then the prince is going to release me tomorrow night, officially.”

GM: “Okay, so that’s good…”

Caroline: “After that… he left it pretty open. I’d like to draw in more ghouls and start transferring assets out of my name for when I fake my death. With the way the trust is set up, I couldn’t just transfer all of it in a day even if I wanted. I also need to move out of here.” She gestures. “I have my brother’s funeral and the family shit show that is going to bring on… but I think that can be mitigated.”

GM: “Well, if you wanna move somewhere, the CBD isn’t bad. You could get a ritzy penthouse.”

Caroline: “I don’t think the seneschal would want me there right now… and I have to swear an oath of fealty to the sheriff. It was one of the conditions for staying here in the first place. Fuck,” she growls, “I still owe him corvée this week.”

GM: “Oh. Is that why you had all that blood?” Jocelyn asks.

Caroline: Caroline nods in frustration. “But it wasn’t enough anyway… you have more experience with this than me… do you think he’d go for accepting a blood bond rather than the elevated punishment for the bit with the police?”

GM: “I’m… not sure, honestly,” Jocelyn admits. “But they do that as punishments, so why not?”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip. “Anyway, yeah, I don’t expect moving out of Riverbend is an option—though I may be wrong. We’ll see how the sheriff reacts tomorrow to my release. I got the feeling he was all in favor of just executing me out of hand.”

GM: “Yeah, Donovan’s a pretty cold guy…” Jocelyn murmurs.

Caroline: “Either way, this place is… bad for a lot of reasons: too many memories, too exposed, not safe. And probably still full of bugs.”

GM: “Well, you can swear yourself to more than one regent, if you wanna move out but still hunt around here. I haven’t done it, but there’s other Kindred who do.”

Caroline: “So you’d owe them both service?”

GM: “Yeah, I think that’s how it works. Kinda like feeding rights, but you can live in the district too.”

Caroline: Caroline thinks. “I don’t know if that’s any better, but I need to see what’s going on after tomorrow. I don’t even know what the seneschal wants done with regard to his earlier demands with the Storyvilles. Either way though, this house dies with Caroline Malveaux, so… in the long term it’s not manageable.”

GM: “It’s kind of a wreck too. No offense.”

Caroline: “None taken. Between Wright, the Hussar, Eight-Nine-Six, my own frenzies… it’s been through a lot.”

GM: “Don’t envy the cleaning lady who’s gonna pick it up.” Jocelyn looks around again. “Cleaning ladies, more like.”

Caroline: “If it weren’t so bad for the Masquerade, I’d say just burn it down. But anyway, settled is the first goal… I can’t do any of the normal things a Kindred is expected to as long as my life is a rolling train wreck. Ghouls, security, assets, a secure haven.”

GM: “Yeah, this place is a total sand castle. If you wanna borrow Meg, it’s not like I’m taking her to Elysium. But didn’t you have another ghoul, a redhead? What happened to her?”

Caroline: “She’s good… helpful… but she can’t do everything. And the seneschal won’t let her go until after the trial. God knows what kind of condition or state she’ll be in by then.”

GM: “Okay, that isn’t too long. Trial’s at midnight tomorrow.”

Caroline: “If Meg could get me a phone during the day today though, that would be a big help.”

GM: “Sure, you can just borrow hers. Or I guess go buy one if you give her the money.”

Caroline: “I can do that. Basically… the next couple of months should be busy… but hopefully not crazy.”

GM: “You said something about Maldonato having… demands for the Storyvilles?”

Caroline: “No, I just meant his earlier demands, and whether they still stand. Or if he wants me as far away as possible.”

GM: “Well, if it’s the Storyvilles, I guess that doesn’t apply to us? Like if a player quits a baseball team or whatever.”

GM: A ringing sounds from one of the ransacked home’s landlines.

Caroline: Caroline is silent.

GM: “You gonna get it or what?”

Caroline: With a start Caroline leaps in search of the mystery phone.

GM: The preternaturally swift Ventrue easily reaches the distinctly new-looking phone that’s been placed by an outlet in what’s left of her living room.

“Hello, Miss Malveaux, this is Questor Adler. How’s the night findin’ you?” her clanmate greets.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t quite groan, but the thought passes through her mind.

Can’t I get a few fucking minutes?

“I’ve had better evenings, Miss Adler.”

As you no doubt know by the timing of your call and this fancy new phone.

GM: “Questor Adler when it’s just us blue bloods, remember. Practice makes perfect,” Becky Lynne smiles. “In any case, I’m awful sorry to hear about your night. If you’re the kind of gal to find peace of my mind by gettin’ things done, though, that’s why I’m calling—at least, on Gerousiastis Matheson’s behalf.”

“It’s all been squared away that you were off on business with the seneschal, but with the trial loomin’ tomorrow—well, hours left in the night are close to scarce as hen’s teeth, but Gerousiastis Matheson would like to request your presence at his estate to take care of a few last-minute details for the trial. Goodness knows this all must seem so slapdash to you as a real lawyer!”

Caroline: “We are not alone, Miss Adler,” Caroline corrects in turn. Politely.

GM: “Then I stand corrected, and thank you for showin’ me my error,” Becky Lynne smiles over the phone. “Maybe it won’t be too much longer until I’m takin’ lessons from you? In any case, Gerousiastis Matheson would be most obliged if you could grace us with your presence. If your chauffeur’s gone home for the day, we’d be happy to send one on over.”

Caroline: Caroline grabs the back of her neck and squeezes in frustration.

So he can beat me again? Or is he going to feed on me this time?

GM: Becky Lynne offers no response to Caroline’s unspoken thoughts.

Caroline: “I could only hope to follow in your example, Miss Adler, never exceed you. And I of course would not be so rude as to refuse the request of such distinguished personage, along with the offered transportation. Did Mr. Matheson have a time that would work best for him?”

GM: Becky Lynne answers with a light laugh, “Well I’ll be if that answer isn’t an example of its own to follow, Miss Malveaux. We’ll have someone over in short order, so see you soon.”

Caroline: “My thanks, Miss Adler. I’m sure we’ll see each other shortly.”

GM: “Until then,” Becky Lynne states in farewell as she hangs up.

Jocelyn doesn’t look sure what to say over the exchange.

Caroline: Caroline hangs her head for a moment before looking up at the Toreador.

“He’s sending a car and knows about the meeting with the seneschal.”

GM: “Well… I guess it’s what it is.”

Caroline: “He’s going to ask for me to do something the seneschal… and where the fuck did that phone come from?!” she snarls, ripping it out of the wall and throwing it across the room.

GM: It lands with a crash among so much other debris.

Caroline: Her nerves are worn so raw, every new touch sending a shock of agony through her already tortured mind and psyche.

GM: Jocelyn flinches just a bit. “What do you think he’s gonna ask?”

Caroline: “For testimony at the trial at best. He’d intended on representation… God, hopefully not still that. The seneschal was very clear that I was to have nothing to do with the trial.”

GM: Jocelyn frowns again. “Why was that?”

Caroline: “Other than the fact that I may have cost them the trial with the tape business? I’m an unreleased fledgling that’s managed to give offense to a fistful of elders—including Savoy by ignoring his ‘invite’ when I was forbidden contact with him. No doubt he thinks that I’ll just screw it up.”

GM: “Maybe you could tell him you will, if he still wants you in the trial? That could be safe.”

Caroline: “I will screw it up?”

GM: “Yeah. That he should pick someone else or whatever.”

Caroline: “That’s all there is, but I don’t expect him to like it.”

GM: Jocelyn can only give another helpless shrug.

Caroline: Caroline squirms. “Look… given how I expect this meeting to go… would it be too much to ask for your help tomorrow evening, before the trial, with hunting? I expect to make it home in pretty rough shape…”

GM: Her lover nods. “Sure. Though we’ll have to do it in the CBD.”

Caroline: “That’s not a problem, I just don’t want to make a mess.”

GM: “Never a rest, huh?”

Caroline: “No… there will be a rest… there will be time that isn’t crazy. I promise.”

GM: Jocelyn smiles wanly. “Appreciate it, but pretty sure that’s out of your hands.”

Caroline: “No.” Caroline’s expression turns more serious. “There are things I can’t tell you, but someday it’ll get better. I swear. And that day isn’t that far away.”

GM: “Well, I hope so,” Jocelyn answers. “But you should go clean up if you’re gonna visit Matheson. You’ve got… food over your dress.”

She sounds more off-put by that than the blood.

Caroline: “Yeah…” Caroline peels away part of the dress to expose the not-quite gaping hole in her chest.

GM: By this point Jocelyn looks entirely unsurprised by its presence.

“Least we have another excuse to go shopping now, probably.”

Caroline: “And for a bedroom set.”

GM: “And an everything set. This place is a wreck now. Really don’t envy the cleaners.”

Caroline: “House hunting,” Caroline offers with a faint smile.

GM: “Yeah. You really should come live downtown. There’s nothing in Riverbend except Tulane.”

Caroline: “If the sheriff will let me go and the seneschal would have me,” Caroline promises. “Join me upstairs while I wrap this up.”

She gathers up the remaining blood packs and throws them back in the fridge.

GM: Jocelyn follows the Ventrue up the stairs, the singular part of Caroline’s house that seems to have escaped any lasting damage, notwithstanding the pictures that have been knocked off their walls.

“Well, I dunno if Donovan would give up the free juice every week. It’s probably either him or both.”

Caroline: She peels off her soiled gown in her room, throwing it into a heap as she proceeds towards the bathroom.

“Yeah… I just… there’s going to be so much else going on that supporting the demands of two seems like a problem.”

Caroline breaks out the first aid kit under her sink, wincing as she pulls it out.

GM: “True enough, I guess.” Jocelyn looks through her clothes. “Most of these don’t look too bad, apart from lying on the floor for a while.”

Caroline: “Pick me out something?” Caroline takes an alcohol wipe and wipes smeared blood off her chest and quickly slaps a bandage over it. “Something that will cover this up.”

She tapes on the bandage across her chest from all four sides using medical tape and wraps a wrap around her chest, back, and then around again. It’s not comfortable, but it stops the remaining trickle of blood, and she’s worn more uncomfortable things. If the price of not being a walking Masquerade breach is some discomfort, she can deal with it.

GM: “Aw, nuts. This would look pretty good if your chest wasn’t so messed up.”

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Caroline: Caroline peaks her head out. “Love that one. I wore it to my father’s victory party. Good memories there.”

GM: “Oh, you mean when he got elected senator?”

Caroline: “Yeah, nationally.”

She warms and wets a washcloth and sets to wiping and scrubbing as much other filth away as possible.

GM: Jocelyn meanwhile rummages through more of Caroline’s scattered clothes.

“Guess that must feel like a downgrade, having René as your sire.”

Caroline: “He was able enough in his own right,” Caroline demurs.

GM: “Geez,” Jocelyn’s voice calls, “you never think about it, but there really are not that many dresses without any neckline.”

“Okay, this one looks pretty good. It’s also the only one I can find.”

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“Also,” Jocelyn’s voice turns a touch amused, “you have such a blue blood’s wardrobe. I don’t think there’s anything here more casual than black tie. Do you ever wear jeans?”

Caroline: “Is that a suggestion?” Caroline asks.

GM: “Genuine curiosity. I can’t even find any pants.”

“Picturing you in jeans is pretty weird, though. Like the prince or seneschal in anything but a suit.”

Caroline: “There are a few pantsuits in the closet down the hall,” Caroline offers, amused.

GM: “Oh, for shame. I thought your dad was a Republican.”

Caroline: “One of many shameful secrets.”

GM: “None as scandalous as blue jeans though. Such a blue blood.”

Caroline: “The pantsuits,” she says as she takes the dress from the Toreador with a bit of mock offense, “were required for work. Apparently it’s not enough to simply be fabulous all the time.”

GM: “Sorry, that’s my clan’s job.”

Caroline: Caroline fights her way into a new bra—an unpleasant experience with the bandage across her chest, and begins sliding into the dress.

“Maybe you can adopt me when the Ventrue kick me out.”

The joking and smiles are a weak cover for the nervousness she feels over the forthcoming meeting, a front as much for herself as for Jocelyn.

GM: “I don’t think I’m old enough to adopt,” Jocelyn remarks while still seemingly scanning the piles of clothes for anything besides formal dresses, “but you wanna meet some new licks, you could come along to one of my clan’s balls.”

Caroline: A few other articles stand out. Sundresses, skirts and blouses, light coats, and yes, some more casual clothing. No jeans, though, no t-shirts. She has to set a standard.

“How are those?”

GM: “Sorry? And oh wow, I think I found a few things you couldn’t wear to a White House inaugural ball.”

Caroline: “Correspondents’ Dinner is a real thing,” Caroline replies. “And I mean the Toreador balls. How does that usually go? Is it like Elysiums?”

GM: “Well, lots of them are thrown at Elysium, sure. Others aren’t. Accou threw the last ball at one of his houses. There’s one every month, on the night of the full moon.”

Caroline: “Ooooh, spooky.”

GM: “Not as spooky as the Grand Ball. That’s always on Halloween.”

Caroline: “Oh? Good time?”

GM: “The best. No clan throws parties like ours.”

Caroline: Caroline peeks out the window between picking out jewelry to make certain there isn’t a waiting car. At the same time she does the clasp on a necklace.

“My ride is here. He seems to be chatting up your ghoul.”

GM: “Okay, great.”

Caroline: “Sorry. I have to go.” Caroline looks herself over in the mirror once more. “I’ll see you tomorrow?”

GM: Caroline has cleaned her chest, but her face remains smeared with blood from messy, barehanded feeding on the blood bags. And from killing Turner. Her hair is equally gore-stained, and not just with blood, but pulped gray brain matter. The mercenary’s last wish was to make her death as inconvenient as possible for Caroline, and at least in some respects, she has succeeded.

She sees Meg talking to a white-gloved, suit-wearing man next to a parked black Rolls Royce.

Caroline: She searches the ghoul’s expression for that dazed gaze.

“Ugh.”

Caroline snatches up a towel and heading downstairs to the kitchen, stepping around the pile if food near the fridge, and careful to avoid stepping in it, she snags a ripped-open and half-spilled container of kosher salt and starts the water in the sink.

GM: It’s not without some irony that Caroline finds herself following Becky Lynne’s prior tip. By the time she’s finished and toweled off, her still-moist hair looks like it’s been through a lot, but is at least improved upon her prior state.

Caroline: She pins it up quickly and looks to Jocelyn. “Wish me luck?”

GM: Jocelyn looks up from her phone. “Your hair still looks pretty bad, but knock ’em dead.”

Caroline: “Is it bloody? Or gory?”

GM: “Just wet and messy.”

Caroline: She examines her pinning job. “Thank you.”

It would usually be where someone kisses another, instead Caroline mimics Jocelyn’s earlier gesture and runs a fang over the Toreador’s cheek.

GM: Jocelyn smiles a bit but turns away after a moment.

“Your ride’s waiting.”

Caroline: Caroline grimaces, then nods and heads out to her fate.


Sunday night, 20 September 2015, AM

GM: The patiently waiting driver is a middle-aged man with a short mustache wearing the traditional chauffeur’s black suit and cap. He greets her cordially, holds the door open for her to get in, bids goodbye to the somewhat awkwardly waiting Meg, and makes small talk on the drive over about recent news.

“Firebombing in Rampart Street not too long ago. They say it was racially motivated, but no one hurt.”

Caroline: “Tonight?” Caroline asks.

GM: “Few days ago, I think,” the driver remarks.

Caroline: “City is going to hell,” she observes.

GM: He chuckles. “Good time to pray.”

Caroline: “Always a good time. When were was this trip called in?” she asks.

GM: “Not very long, ma’am, but I don’t work for an agency. I’m on standing retainer to Miss Adler.”

Caroline: “That must be a pleasant job.”

GM: “Oh yes, she’s a very sweet girl. Odd hours sometimes, like right now, but a very sweet girl.”

Caroline: “Been with her a while, then?”

GM: “Not too long. Two years now.”

Caroline: “Enough to get comfortable,” Caroline smiles.

GM: The chauffeur smiles back. “The pay’s real good. ‘Nother guy does her day driving, so I’ve got all day to spend with the grandkids. And she is just the sweetest, nicest, most thoughtful girl.”

“I’ll be happy to be her driver for as long as she wants.”

Caroline: “That sounds like a peaceful life. Lots of grandkids?”

GM: “Just two for now, a boy and a girl. Like to help me on Indian costumes. I’d show you their pictures if I wasn’t driving.”

Caroline: “Indian costumes?”

GM: “The Mardi Gras Indians,” he laughs like it’s obvious. “You new to New Orleans, ma’am? Carnival’s a while off, but you want to start on a suit nice and early. I like to give it the same time it takes a baby—nine months.”

Caroline: “Good to have a hobby,” Caroline agrees with a masking smile. “Though with that much time it sounds more like an ordeal.”

GM: The chauffeur laughs. “Don’t say hobby around some of the chiefs. It’s a way of life to them. All worth it on the big day.”

Caroline: “And it gives you something to look forward to.”

GM: Concurrently, guards wave the car through the iron gate to Matheson’s hedge-surrounded Colonial-style mansion. Caroline’s driver drops her off by the front steps, gets out, and opens the door for her.

“There you are, ma’am. Have a pleasant evening. Or maybe morning, more like.”

Caroline: “Thank you.” Caroline climbs out of the car.

GM: Two guards stop Caroline outside the house’s doors, search her purse, and give her a full body pat-down before letting her in.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t quite snarl at the treatment, but she can’t claim to be entirely surprised.

GM: The ghoul butler as before cordially receives Caroline and guides her into the home. He does not lead her to the parlor, however, but a smaller sitting room appointed with classical paintings and antique furniture. Becky Lynne sits on one of the couches, wearing in a light pink dress and working on a incongruently modern Sunpad. She sets it aside as the butler announces Caroline’s presence and smiles at her clanmate.

“Miss Malveaux, so glad you could make it. Please do take a seat. I’m afraid Gerousiastis Matheson is unavailable right now, so it’ll be just us hens.”

Caroline: “I do hope that Gerousiastis Matheson is well,” Caroline half-comments, half-inquires.

GM: “Oh yes, he’s as fine as a fiddle, thank you on his behalf for askin’. You had a pleasant ride over too, I hope, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: “I’d have expected nothing less. Your driver is a gem, Questor Adler.”

GM: “I’ll be certain to pass along those compliments to him,” her clanmate beams. “Good help can be so hard to find.”

Caroline: “I was impressed that he was able to get through security so easily as well.”

GM: “It wouldn’t do for him to bother you askin’ to be let in, now would it?” Becky Lynne laughs lightly. “A good chauffeur anticipates everything the lady he’s drivin’ might need. But if you’re curious how, I just told him to ring up one of the sheriff’s people inside Audubon.”

Caroline: “How considerate of you, Questor Adler, especially given my recent communications difficulties.”

GM: “Oh now? I had no problems ringin’ up your place.”

Caroline: “I’m afraid I’m in the middle of some redecorating.”

GM: “It’s easy for us to get set in our ways,” Becky Lynne nods. “A little change to break up old ruts, even just the decor, can be good. There’s a few ghouls I can refer if it’s anythin’ that’s a no-no with the Masquerade.”

Caroline: “That’s very generous, Questor Adler, but for now it’s nothing so serious. Or rather, nothing so directly threatening. Simply a mess to be cleaned up. In the literal sense,” she continues with a smile.

GM: “Oh wonderful, hopefully your help will soon have everything spick and span.”

Caroline: “Time will tell, it may yet be that I will take you up on that offer down the line, Questor Adler.”

GM: “If by chance you do, Miss Malveaux, you can reach them at these numbers.”

Instead of rattling them off for Caroline to enter in a phone, however, Becky Lynne instead writes them down on a piece of notepad paper that she hands over.

Caroline: Caroline takes the paper into her hand.

“As always, Questor Adler, you’re too kind.”

GM: “Kindness costs less than a lottery ticket and can win an even bigger payout, my mama liked to say,” her clanmate smiles.

Caroline: “I’m not certain that our mothers would have gotten along especially well,” Caroline smiles in return. “But I’m not convinced your own was wrong.”

GM: “She also liked to say if you can’t see to eye with some folks, that’s just opportunity to see a new point of view.”

Caroline: “A very progressive attitude,” Caroline replies.

GM: “Attitude’s a thing to watch like the family jewels—it’s the first thing about you anyone notices. That’s another sayin’ she liked, while I’m quoting away.”

Caroline: “I feel as though you could keep going with those sayings all night, Questor Adler.”

GM: “Just you try me, Miss Malveaux,” Becky Lynne winks.

“But I’m afraid that won’t be this night—we don’t even have ourselves enough hours left anyway. Now, our real business tonight is the trial…”

Caroline: “Yes,” Caroline agrees somewhat hesitantly. “And I’m afraid that in that regard I may be naught but a disappointment to you, Questor Adler…”

GM: “Oh, nonsense, Miss Malveaux. My sire wants me to administer your exam in his place, but we went over things very thoroughly last night—I’m sure you’ll do better than fine.”

Caroline: “I’m afraid my suitability for aiding Gerousiastis Matheson in this matter is more complicated than my understanding of etiquette, Questor Adler.”

GM: “Go on then, let’s see if we can untangle it,” Becky Lynne encourages.

Caroline: “The topic of the trial came up with the seneschal earlier tonight, and he was magnanimous enough to observe several major concerns that I had overlooked. Among other things, past offense I’ve offered to elders, debts that Mr. Savoy could call in, and potential buried commands that might be lurking as a result of my repeated run-ins with my sire and other hostile Kindred.”

GM: “Oh now, is that so? Then I suppose that lets you off the hook, so far as testifyin’… goodness knows that must be a relief.”

Caroline: “No, not at all,” Caroline replies to the other Ventrue’s comment on relief. “In fact, much the opposite. Gerousiastis Matheson and yourself, Questor Adler, have been too kind in efforts to assist me in not besmirching the good name of Ventrue everywhere, and after our meeting yesterday I had looked forward to having some small opportunity to repay Gerousiastis Matheson for his hospitality, counsel, and aid.”

GM: Becky Lynne smiles back, clearly happy with the response.

“That’s mighty generous of you, Miss Malveaux, even precious little as we may have had to give in so short a time. But you know, there’s no reason our association needs to end with the trial. Have you given much thought as to whether you’d like to join the Structure once you’re released?”

Becky Lynne explained what the Structure was to Caroline yesterday. Clan Ventrue’s internal organization and hierarchy within the city and world at large.

Caroline: Caroline brings a hand up to her chin. “Not a great deal to date,” she smiles. “After all, without the lessons of last night I knew nothing of it. On its face, however, joining such a distinguished peerage seems an honor that only a fool would decline…”

The pause is not quite long enough for Becky Lynne to interject.

“That said, I don’t wish to go to such a prestigious body with hat in hand. Even were they so magnanimous as to take me within the fold, I do not wish to bring so little to the table.”

GM: Becky Lynne laughs. “Oh, do go on, Miss Malveaux—you and the clan happen to have the very same idea. Joinin’ up and becomin’ an eiren, you see, isn’t automatic—you have to first pass the Test, which I think we might have touched on last night. That nicely ensures only clanmates who have somethin’ to bring the Structure are allowed ‘full membership privileges’, as it may be. Unlike the other clans, you see, we have higher standards than simply being released before the prince. That only allows prospective members to begin what you might think of as an extended application process.”

Caroline: Everything is a test.

It’s not such a new idea to the heiress. Every milestone of her childhood was a test in its own way, even if the stakes were usually more personal than they have been as a Kindred. Impress. Wow. Demonstrate. It’s the same thing all over again, only this time she’s been thrown to the wolves, tossed into the spotlight time and again, not with the tutoring of her mother, grandmother, and the finest instructors in etiquette, but rather so hopelessly alone.

There was a time when she’d looked down on, scorned, those pathetic souls that mucked up debutante balls, or humiliated themselves in public at social functions. Those publicly cruel laughs, dipped in the thin shell of good humor, and snide jokes in private have become blades without hilts that cut just as deeply in hindsight given her present circumstances.

GM: “Now, most neonates are able to pass just fine and get in,” Becky Lynne continues, “since their sires give them very thorough educations—you might think of the Test as more like a high school diploma than a PhD. It’s not a trophy to brag about, just a sign-off that you’re good enough to go on to bigger things.”

Caroline: How must it have been to have been thrust into those circumstances when unprepared? When managing trials and tribulations without the advantages she herself had. Caroline no wonder has to wonder. She can already see where this is going with Becky Lynne, however.

GM: “Your situation is a lil’ sticky without a sire, as we well know,” Becky Lynne continues. “Tradition, however, does dictate that all of our senior clanmates play some part in showin’ the prospective neonate the ropes of things, which can be quite an educational experience in of itself. Gerousiastis Guilbeau, for instance, had me help run his casino, and taught me all of night-to-night lil’ things he does to keep it runnin’ smooth.”

Becky Lynne taps her chin. “Now, you might lean on that custom more heavily than most—or, if you’d like an extra leg up, Gerousiastis Matheson is willin’ to extend the duration of our prior arrangement. Naturally, this is all if you’d like to join the Structure. If not, you and the clan can simply go our separate ways after your release, to no ill will.”

Caroline: Caroline rolls all of that over for a moment.

“Is such an invitation only offered once, or does the Test and such an education follow a set timeline? That is to say, Questor Adler, that while the arrangement you have suggested is extremely appealing, it would seem wise to place my own house in order, such as it is, before undertaking any such endeavor. As you’ve noted, in the absence of a sire my circumstances have been somewhat… complicated, and I would not again commit to any course as I already did once before with your sire before seeing to those matters.”

GM: Becky Lynne pauses thoughtfully, then gives a light laugh. “Truth be told, Miss Malveaux, I don’t rightly know—I can’t think of any Ventrue in the city who’ve not wanted to join after their accountings, but later changed their minds. If you like, I can give my brother a ring to see if he knows.”

“But that said, havin’ your house in order just to undertake the Test isn’t necessary. It and the remainder of the agoge take months. Their whole point is to set up the newly-released neonate with their own house. If it helps, you might think of your release as your high school diploma, passin’ your Test and being made an eiren as your undergraduate degree, and joining the peerage or some higher rank as a ‘real’ job.”

Becky Lynne taps her chin again.

“There’s one last lil’ thing. The private gatherin’ of our clanmates, where the released neonate announces their intention to continue their agoge, traditionally takes place immediately after their public release before the other clans. I haven’t known Prince Vidal to personally attend any recent accountings—he usually just sends his herald in his stead. Your release, however, will take place right after the trial, at His Majesty’s own hands. As such, you’ll have the honor to announce your continued pursuance of the agoge in front of our strategos. My guess is that isn’t likely to happen again.”

Caroline: Were she mortal the mention of the prince might quicken her pulse and flush her cheeks. The prince, who she must so impress if she’s to live a day more than a year.

Thankfully, Caroline is not living. She bites her lower lip.

“Then I would be a fool to decline such an opportunity, though I presume declaring such an intention among non-Ventrue, at my release, would be in bad taste? "

GM: “Clan business is never discussed among outsiders, Miss Malveaux,” Becky Lynne declares seriously. “There’ll be a private gathering after the other clans take their leave.”

Caroline: “As you say, Questor Adler,” Caroline replies seriously. “Is that to mean that outsiders are not to even know that, for instance, one Ventrue or another is in good standing with the clan?”

GM: “That’s right, Miss Malveaux. Clan business is not discussed among outsiders,” Becky Lynne repeats. “It’s just fine if they know that Ventrue’s standing among the Camarilla at large, but if it’s only our clan, it’s only our business. They don’t have any dog in our fight, or any horse in our race. If they think they do, we just smile and say we’re one big happy family, and that everyone in it is doin’ just great. Always show the world a united front.”

Caroline: It’s no different than her own family, not really.

“Internal matters are internal.”

GM: Becky Lynne nods agreeably.

Caroline: No hard feelings. Yeah… right.

Caroline’s been a part of enough in clubs to know bullshit when she hears it. Outsiders are outsiders—you don’t actually have to hold something against them to do plenty to bend them over—and god knows there are plenty of Ventrue already that would love to make her life harder…

Including, almost certainly, Gerousiastis Matheson. Even if he knows nothing about the tape—unlikely given his relations with the prince and the increased and oh so specific security here—it seems unlikely that he’d be so magnanimous as to forgive her wasting of his time.

The entire thing smells like a setup… on the other hand, going off what she was told last night, there’s enough truth in Becky Lynne’s description of Ventrue practices that joining the clan organization as a whole is wise…. to say nothing of how not trying to do so may look to the prince.

Either way, she’s crawling into bed with a bunch of snakes…

“Gerousiastis Matheson’s offer then is that you continue to serve as a tutor, in exchange for a greater degree of indebtedness to him?”

GM: “That’s the right of it, Miss Malveaux,” her clanmate nods.

Caroline: “Gerousiastis Matheson was somewhat vague as to what degree of indebtedness I’d already incurred,” Caroline tiptoes around.

GM: “There was a great deal yet to be determined, Miss Malveaux, including the nature and effectiveness of any testimony you might have lent on his behalf. Your lessons with me last night amounts to a boon.”

Caroline: Caroline cannot quite keep the surprise off her face, but covers it up quickly.

“Presumably each continued night of instruction would be rated as a similar, in boons to himself?”

GM: “It was a night of my time that he lent out, Miss Malveaux, and further compounded by the importance of the information to you,” Becky Lynne explains. “But no, goodness knows you’d be hopelessly in debt if every night was worth more prestation! I guess you could say there’s a bulk discount, where such things are concerned.”

Caroline: Caroline puts a smile on her face. “As you say, Questor Adler. Did he have a rate in mind for continued services?”

GM: Becky Lynne nods. “Another boon for a further week of continued instruction, and two more boons for an extended education the clan would consider adequate for a sire to spend on their childe.”

Caroline: The heiress runs her tongue over her teeth from behind her lips. More debt to an already offended elder for an instruction that might well be poisonous…. well. Less likely given the boon exchanged. On the other hand… what Becky Lynne has already shared… if she’d known it a week ago how much trouble would it have saved her?

“A few more questions then, Questor Adler, if you don’t mind? Would that include topics such as who has stakes in what areas, businesses, and industry? Would it by necessity begin immediately and consecutively? And is this an exploding offer, or one to remain open for a time?”

GM: “A general overview would fall under the week of instruction, I think, with an in-depth one bein’ part of the fuller education a sire would impart. I don’t see any reason it has to happen straight away or uinterrupted, but hammerin’ out a schedule would likely be helpful—we all have our own Requiems to lead and only so many hours in the night to spend as we will. My sire didn’t say one way or another if the offer was to stay open. Naturally you can approach him later, but I don’t know if he’ll change his mind or not.”

Caroline: An old warning of her father’s comes back to her about high pressure deals, limited time frame deals. On occasion they’re actually time sensitive. More often, they’re designed to push you into a poor decision, or add stress. Further debt to the cruel and haughty elder is… far from ideal.

On the other hand… in for a penny, in for a pound. The old saying has some merit, especially in personal dealings. Being in debt to someone on some level concerns them with your welfare. A lesson she learned with her uncle, as he learned it.

It’s the elder bit that makes it hard to read. More affronted and vengeful or intrigued and willing to make a long-term play? And does it even matter? One boon vice two is a small difference given the resources he already has…

“Could we begin with one and potentially expand the scope if such seemed productive?”

GM: Becky Lynne seems to think over Caroline’s request. “That doesn’t seem too unreasonable, Miss Malveaux. I should still note that I’d plan to use our time together in different ways, dependin’ on whether we have only a week or a fair bit longer.”

Caroline: "Of course, overviews vice in depth, and I appreciate the flexibility you’re willing to offer, Questor Adler. "

She chews the offer over for another moment.

GM: Becky Lynne smiles, waiting until she’s finished.

Caroline: “I am delighted to accept Gerousiastis Matheson’s terms, for intermediate level instruction—given your flexibility on the matter—with the potential for growth.”

GM: “Isn’t that just dandy then, Miss Malveaux,” her clanmate answers. “I’ll be sure to let him know when next I see him. Now that you’re off the hook for testifyin’, that leaves us only a few things to go over tonight… might I first ask as to the particulars of the elders you believe you’ve offended?”

Caroline: “Oh, Questor Adler,” Caroline laughs lightly, sardonically, “I don’t know that we have enough hours left in the night. Bereft of your valuable education, I’m afraid I’ve been little better than a savage all but raised by wolves.”

There’s a seriousness that undercuts the laugh, makes it almost cruelly cutting towards herself.

“There’s first the matter of the little dust ups with Eight-Nine-Six and subsequent meetings with Primogen Duquette. Then the snub I unintentionally offered Mr. Savoy by ignoring his invitation to meet with me.”

GM: Becky Lynne nods. “Well, it’s good for us to suss out those now, so we can be sure they won’t crop up as problems durin’ your release. Might I inquire as to the full particulars of what may have given those two offense?”

Caroline: “With the understanding that this is all being disclosed in confidence, bound within the context of our arrangement?” Caroline inquires.

GM: “Of course, Miss Malveaux. Just like an electrician who needs a peek inside your home so he can fix up the lights, that’s all I’m here to do.” Becky Lynne taps her chin. “Although a lawyer askin’ about the particulars of his client’s case might be a better example for you, I reckon.”

Caroline: Caroline considers for a moment, but only a moment.

“Eight-Nine-Six I first poached from, then beat into torpor or had beaten into torpor. Not content with the sheriff’s sentence upon each of us, they attempted to continue the feud by seizing one of my ghouls and turning her into a brainwashed weapon when she was returned as part of a hand off—I responded by killing a number of their own at other scenes during the hand-off, which unbeknownst to me prior was being mediated by Primogen Duquette. In their rage and fury, it seems they did something quite foolish and earned their pending execution. You can understand, however, how such things must look to Primogen Duquette. I somehow doubt that I’ll be on her Christmas card list for some time.”

GM: “That certainly is a pickle,” Becky Lynne nods. “Were these ghouls of Eight-Nine-Six’s in Primogen Duquette’s territory when you got back at them?”

Caroline: Caroline nods.

“She expressed her displeasure over the act in our last meeting and made clear her position going forward. But you can see how such a series of events and the position it creates does not inspire confidence in my ability to make a positive impression.”

GM: “Well, Miss Malveaux, it doesn’t seem to me like there’s too much else you can do but say sorry and take your licks. The usual sentence for trespassing and poachin’ in or otherwise disrupting someone’s territory is a sip from their wrist.”

Caroline: “So I’ve learned,” Caroline offers. “Matters with Mr. Savoy are more straightforward, he extended an invitation to meet with him last week, when I was still in the midst of the hunt for René Baristheaut, then sheltered with Mr. Savoy. Having been given instructions not to have any contact with him by the sheriff and his hounds, I foolishly chose to ignore the invitation.”

GM: “Hold up a moment on Mr. Savoy if you’d so please, Miss Malveaux. May I ask if you’ve yet accepted a drink from the good primogen?” Becky Lynne patiently asks.

Caroline: “I have,” Caroline replies.

GM: “Splendid,” her clanmate smiles. “Have you considered promisin’ her a boon, or perhaps better yet, doin’ something to help her out by means of further apology for the Anarchs she’s lost?”

Caroline: “I have, and we spoke at some length, though the details of that conversation are unfortunately private. Suffice it to say, the primogen seemed receptive, but not totally convinced to date.”

GM: “That sounds like a promisin’ start to things, Miss Malveaux,” Becky Lynne nods. “If you’re aimin’ to turn them around fully, you have my two cents. Now, so far as Mr. Savoy…”

The other Ventrue tilts her head. “I hope you’ll forgive me once again for bein’ forward in the interests of your instruction, but one thing my mama taught me is that sarcasm is like pickin’ your nose—it doesn’t impress friends, and just gives extra ammo to naysayers. It’s a habit that you can only help yourself by breakin’.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lower lip and pauses.

“Thank you for the correction, Questor Adler. I let my frustration get the better of me.”

GM: “Better you lose your religion in front of me than in front of the prince,” Becky Lynne states agreeably.

“Now, so far as Mr. Savoy for real… that is a pickle. Might I ask if there’s anythin’ you’re already planning on doin’ to mend fences?”

Caroline: “I confess I know little of him, and thought to gauge his temperament before deciding on a course—be it offering a boon with an apology, or some other mark of my contrition.”

GM: “Well, I don’t know if you’ll have too much time for that, Miss Malveaux. I’m sure he’ll be at the trial, and thus your release.”

Caroline: “Ah, I should clarify, I’d intended to try and speak with him prior to my release in this matter, though as you note, time is of the essence, and I’m certain that he has little to spare.”

GM: “The trial is tomorrow, Miss Malveaux,” Becky Lynne states emphatically. “I don’t reckon it’s impossible that he might grant audience to a neonate—he is rather open next to most elders—but with this little notice and so much loomin’, you might have better odds findin’ a needle in a haystack.”

Caroline: “Would you care to make a recommendation then, Questor Adler?”

GM: “Well, I imagine the trial is goin’ to have a recess or three—it could well last all night—so that could be a fine time to deliver your apology and whatever else you intend to do in person. May I ask if you already know any Kindred who are personally acquainted with him?”

Caroline: She decides René is not the answer Becky Lynne is looking for.

“None that jump directly to mind. Mr. Elgin perhaps, or one of the prince’s Hounds… Hound Agnello, though I don’t expect they would be on particularly pleasant terms from what I’ve heard.”

GM: “Well, that is a pickle, Miss Malveaux,” Becky Lynne ponders thoughtfully. “I’m not sure how else you’ll be able to address him, not without bein’ frightfully rude, at least. Master Elgin,” she corrects, emphasizing the Nosferatu’s title, “I’m sure is personally acquainted with him, but seein’ as he’s one of our prince’s partisans, he’s not the ideal Kindred to introduce you. Likewise for Hound Agnello, and I’m not sure he’ll even be around for the trial.”

Caroline: Caroline arches an eyebrow. “Other matters occupying his attention? I imagine that being a hound must be busy work.”

GM: “Yes it is,” Becky Lynne nods, “so it’s anyone’s guess if he’ll be gracin’ us with his presence or not. But let’s stay on track now, as he’s not the best Kindred to make an introduction to Mr. Savoy in any case. You’re certain there’s no others you know who could approach him on pleasant enough terms?”

Caroline: Caroline thinks for a moment.

“Not that I myself on are pleasant enough terms with.”

GM: “Well, I confess I’m not too sure what to tell you then, Miss Malveaux. Who you know is everythin’ in this life too.”

Caroline: “I’ll find a way to make it work, Questor Adler. Reach out, speak to some other Kindred and try to find a thread that can be pulled upon.”

GM: “That sounds like a fair idea, Miss Malveaux. What do you mean to say to Mr. Savoy once you’re introduced?”

Caroline: “That would depend on the circumstances, Questor Adler, who was present, what else was going on, who made the introduction. In principle however, my pleasure in making his acquaintance, my thanks for his time, and my apologies for my prior snub.”

GM: “That’s wonderful,” Becky Lynne smiles. “Now, my advice would be to offer your apologies as soon as possible into the trial. You don’t want an unhappy elder peerin’ over your shoulder at your release.”

Caroline: “I’ll do just that, Questor Adler,” Caroline replies.

It’s like being talked to like a child. The assumption that she knows nothing. That she must be walked through every matter hand by hand.

And yet, as infuriating as it is, Caroline cannot deny that she’s given ample cause for such treatment. Perhaps that’s what gets under her skin the most. Her failures and weakness out in the open for this too-smiling elder’s childe to scoff at and dissect like the judge at a science fair would dissect a child’s misfiring baking-soda volcano.

GM: “That’s so good to hear,” Becky Lynne responds, either oblivious to or saying nothing of her younger clanmate’s resentment.

“Now, I believe that leaves our clan gatherin’ after your release as the last thing to go over tonight…”

Caroline: Envy. It’s an ugly emotion, and one she’s never had cause to feel. Perhaps that’s why it takes so long to recognize it. Not that it does her any good when she does. The world is what it is, and there is little she an do but sit and try not to let it show so clearly upon her face.

GM: “The name for that gatherin’, formally, is the Presentation. The way it goes, your sire would show you off before the praetor—Prince Vidal, in your lucky case—and you’ll be expected to answer a few simple questions, usually pertainin’ to dignitas or the Ethic of Succor, just to show you have a basic grasp of what it means to be Ventrue.”

Caroline: “Lacking a palatable sire of course makes it more complicated,” Caroline fills in.

GM: “Yes, it somewhat does. Gerousiastis Matheson wishes me to convey that he will be willin’ to introduce you before the clan in your sire’s place, for a commensurate show of gratitude.”

Caroline: “Such as?” Caroline already knows the answer.

GM: “I’m layin’ it on rather thick already, Miss Maleaux,” Becky Lynne winks. “It’s passe to ask—and expected for other Kindred to know what’s expected.”

Caroline: The thought of the treacherous old Kindred introducing her—and of going further into debt to him—is stomach-churning, but she has so little time to make anything happen. So few contacts. Too many questions about his motives and feelings. Does he know what she did? Hate her? Resent her? Want to punish her? It’s impossible to know, though his security measures are certainly something new.

On the other hand, everything she knows paints this as something that does him no good to set her up for… and she’s already in so deep. And, perhaps most importantly, there isn’t a better option. Not in the time that she has.

“I suppose it’s a fortunate thing that someone provided an education in these matters, then?”

GM: “Just in the nick of time, I’d reckon,” Becky Lynne smiles.

Caroline: Caroline puts on a smile. “Another boon, then? At this rate I’ll have to sell the farm.”

GM: The other Ventrue nods at her price. “That seems fair as rock-paper-scissors.”

Caroline: Caroline blinks and the moment hangs in the air before she forces on a smile.

“As you say, Questor Adler, that’s more than fair. I’d be grateful for his aid.”

GM: “Wonderful, Miss Malveaux. I’ll let him know,” Becky Lynne smiles back. “Now, just to be sure we’re all prepared, do you remember what dignitas and the Ethic of Succor are?”

Caroline: “Essentially prestige among fellow Ventrue earned through accumulating influence, power, and notable deeds, with a focus upon those that bring greater prestige and influence to Clan Ventrue.”

“And, of course, the obligation to help another member of Clan Ventrue if they should ask, but also the call not to do so unless such aid is truly required.”

GM: “That’s a good bit of what dignitas is,” Becky Lynne nods, “but how does it translate into a Ventrue’s night-to-night behavior ’round other Kindred?”

Caroline: Caroline chews on the question, “Conducting ones self with the poise and manners they should have learned in their mortal life. Being careful not to give or take offense. Maintaining control and perspective.”

GM: Becky Lynne nods. “And what are the consequences for spreadin’ unpleasant gossip about a clanmate, or tryin’ to accumulate more dignitas at their expense?”

Caroline: “Loss of your own status. Alienation among Clan Ventrue. Their own ire towards you, with varying consequence depending on the offense and individual in question.”

GM: “And why is it all so important to us, Miss Malveaux? Why do we pitch fits over things the other clans might laugh off?”

Caroline: “Because it’s the bedrock of the Ventrue as an institution, and institutions are the bedrock of true and lasting power. It gives individuals something to strive for, brings power and influence to the whole, focuses attentions externally rather than on self-cannibalization, and pushes to the front the successful and driven. In short, because it is what the Ventrue are.”

GM: “Very good, Miss Malveaux!” Becky Lynne smiles, clasping her hands in a motion reminiscent but not quite as emphatic as clapping them. “There is a reason we’re finicky about who we Embrace, wantin’ only the best—the sorts of folks who take to our clan’s traditions like fish to water.”

Caroline: It’s what the Ventrue are.

Caroline’s own words chase her and she almost doesn’t notice Becky Lynne’s first words. A group that pulls strings all over the globe—that perhaps pulls more strings than she’d ever dreamed. A group of similarly ambitious individuals working together, burying their petty matters as they seek to acquire more power and influence. A group bound by shared blood.

She’s not thinking about the Malveaux family.The Clan of Kings McCullem said. It hovers at the edge of her reach, that promise, dangling like a golden apple over her brow. A place she might yet belong. Forever.

It’s the last word, the last thought, that drags her back from the precipice. Forever. As a bloodsucking damned monster. Just reach out and take the golden apple, take a bite of the poisoned fruit, a part of her urges. That cold part. The cunning part. The part so like her father. Her father whom, Caroline is quite sure, would have no difficulty with this existence. An old man’s words come back, heavy with their wisdom.

Poison and I only know how to lose more slowly.

The two war in her soul, maybe over her soul. It’s not good and evil. No, the battle is more subtle than that. It’s two less nebulous, less ethereal things that turn and burn and run red the recesses of her soul. Pride and Penitence. That need to belong. The need to be special. The need for a place and a seat and a victory. The need to believe. And the knowledge that such a seat, such a ‘uniqueness’, such authority and yes, dignitas will be bought not in her own blood and suffering—a price that she can take pride in—but in that of others. Even then, it’s so seductive. That slow poison. That voice whispering that with greater power she can do greater good, or at least less harm. That she can make right her wrongs.

It’s a lie that she so wants to believe.

GM: The other blonde-haired princess sitting across from Caroline can only smile at her apparent acceptance of that belief.

The Clan of Kings.

Caroline: Another smile.

“Are there any other matters that need be seen to tonight, Questor Adler?”

GM: “Let’s see, now for the Ethic of Succor, three last questions. How does a Ventrue need to conduct herself when she asks for aid, what are the consequences if she doesn’t manage to, and under what circumstances is it a no-no to help a clanmate who’s asked in all the proper ways?”

Caroline: Caroline thinks for a moment. “There are specific phrases that must be used in asking for aid, and it should be requested only when their is a genuine need. They should be forthright as to the problems and the need.”

“The consequences for such failure varies, depending on the aid requested, the individuals involved, or the reasons why attempts to help failed. As a rule, however, one should attempt to aid another in good faith, just as one should ask in good faith. The degree of consequence varies depending on the failure, but carries a loss of dignitas in essentially failing, and more so, failing another Ventrue and Ventrue interests as a whole.”

Caroline pauses to collect her thoughts for a moment before continuing, “Generally speaking, it’s never acceptable to refuse a reasonable request, though circumstances may vary what constitutes reasonable. In short, when such aid would damage the standing of all Ventrue or another Ventrue specifically.”

Another pause.

“I should clarify, I would expect that the consequences for failing to aid another Ventrue of sufficient power or influence could have further consequences, significant further consequences if they were powerful or influential enough, up and including final death.”

GM: Becky Lynne nods again. “All right, Miss Malveaux, I think you rightly have the gist of it. Lord knows we could spend months goin’ into the nitty-gritty of things, but you won’t need to know that much just for your Presentation. Is there by chance anythin’ else you’d like to go over tonight, or shall we see each other tomorrow at the trial?”

Caroline: “A million things, perhaps,” Caroline offers lightly, with a smile. “But might we go over exactly what goes into a release?”

GM: “That isn’t too complex. The prince will read a passage from the Testament of Longinus, anoint you with a sinner’s blood, and simply ask if you’re of a mind to join the Sanctified. All you need to do is kneel and answer yes. If you don’t mean to join the Sanctified, of course, you should answer ‘no’ in such a way that makes clear you’re honored by the invitation, and still wish to serve God in your own way.”

Caroline: Not an option.

She catalogs, “Can you walk me through the lead up to that moment Questor Adler? Staging, dress code, and similar? And following activities of course, if only in brief.”

GM: “Of course! In terms of dress, you’ll want to show up in your Sunday finest—it is bein’ held in a church on Sunday, after all. Your release might get pushed back a night or two, dependin’ on how long the trials take, but you should dress the same either way.”

“You’ll sit in the front pew when the prince reads from the Testament, as I’ve said. Once the prince says it’s time for you to take your place among the Sanctified, that’ll be time for you to step up to the altar, and to kneel in front of him.”

“He’ll then ask whether you want to join the Sanctified and anoint your head if you say yes. You should say somethin’ nice to the crowd about how much it means for you to join, or to serve another covenant, but no longer than a sentence or two—it’s not a pulpit to make a speech on.”

“You’ll then swear a brief oath of obedience to the prince and his laws in the name of God, Christ and Longinus. The prince will say he accepts, you’ll kiss his ring, and return to your seat. He might then say a few final words, but that’ll be all you need to do.”

“Oh, and for that matter… don’t say you want to join the Sanctified unless you’re well and truly of a mind to. The presidin’ priest will say a prayer and work some kind of magic spell that lets him tell if you’re talkin’ with your tongue out of your shoe.”

Caroline: “A question of desire or of commitment to the precepts of Longinus?”

GM: “I’m sorry, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: “The ritual of the priest?” she prompts. “Does it seek a question of commitment or a question of desire to learn and grow? Or is it like so much else, a mystery?”

GM: “I’m afraid I don’t rightly know, Miss Malveaux. All I do is that if your reason for wantin’ to join the Sanctified don’t track with the facts, they can tell.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “That’s very helpful.”

GM: “I’m so glad to hear,” Becky Lynne smiles. “Now then, do we have anythin’ else to go over?”

Caroline: “I think that you’ve covered everything I can think of, Questor Adler,” Caroline replies. She brings a hooked finger to her lips, “My thanks for your time this evening.”

GM: “You’re most welcome, Miss Malveaux. Good luck at your Presentation tomorrow night.” She winks. “Hopefully you won’t need it.”


Sunday night, 20 September 2015, AM

Caroline: Caroline catches a ride home courtesy of Becky Lynne again. The home is the same destroyed mess it was a couple of hours ago, but Caroline has little time. She quickly picks out an non-wrecked outfit for tomorrow and makes once more for the attic, her one-time refuge, tucking herself as far back as she can manage and under insulation. It’s an uncomfortable fit, but one safe from daylight and not immediately apparent to those that might search the house.

GM: Becky Lynne’s chauffeur drives Caroline back to Audubon and wishes her a good night (“or good morning, at this hour,” he laughs). Dawn soon overtakes the wrecked house, and Caroline with it.

She can only pray no one else will invade the place.

She remembers the slang term Jocelyn used to describe the insecure haven.

‘Sand castle.’


Sunday evening, 20 September 2015

GM: Consciousness returns. Caroline’s limbs don’t feel nearly so sore as she might expect, but compared to the past week she’s spent in comfortable beds with Egyptian cotton sheets, or even the cot in her panic room, her present accommodations in the back of an attic feel distinctly lacking.

The time reads 7:33. The hours until midnight stretch before her.

Caroline: She heads downstairs and dresses for hunting, an eye out for any sign of tampering over the day.

GM: Caroline cannot find any sign that further intruders have been present in the compromised haven. But given the utterly disheveled state, it’s so hard to tell.

Worst of all is the reek emanating from the kitchen. The rotted, left-out food has had another day to ferment.

She has to wonder what her Uncle Matt would think of what’s happened to his house.

Caroline: It’s not something she worries about overly long. Instead she uses her archaic landline to call a Ryde to the entrance of Audubon Place and heads into the night. She has stops to make, the first of which, though mundane, is quite important. Best Buy may not be a particularly flashy location, but it does have the benefit of being open later than carrier stores and selling phones…

GM: Caroline swiftly finds that all of her landline phones are (still) missing from the ransacked house. Perhaps to her chagrin, she also finds that her only means of hailing a Ryde is to pick up and fix the brand new landline that she so furiously hurled across the room in front of Jocelyn.

The cab arrives in good time after only several minutes. The Hispanic thirty-something male driver makes little conversation except to ask where to. Caroline, not used to doing her own shopping, soon finds out that New Orleans lacks a Best Buy. The nearby suburb of Elmwood has one, which takes some fifteen minutes for the cab to reach.

Caroline also surprisingly finds that she recognizes the neighborhood from her prior car trip with Lou. It remains the same banal suburbia that seems stuck in the white flight of the ‘50s. Incomes, too, still don’t seem to have increased much since Eisenhower’s presidency in the almost exclusively Caucasian neighborhood. The houses need just a little too much repair, the shopping center’s parking lot is a little too deserted, and the skinheads stalking the vandalized playgrounds just a little too angry. The place is so far removed from the city’s hustle and bustle, and so thinly-populated (at least in comparison) that Caroline has a hard time seeing many of her kind holding much interest in the area.

The Elmwood Shopping Center is a conglomeration of retailers and big-box stores selling clothing, electronics, crafts, and other such typical shopping mall staples. Lights glow from the rows of stores, promising distraction but not refuge from the night’s lurking terrors. It would be so easy to feed here, Caroline notes. Corner some lone shopper walking out to their car. The darkness between the streetlights stretches so long and thick. Caroline has a hard time picturing other departing shoppers noticing. She has an even harder time picturing them caring. Not when they could simply take their purchases, drive back to their homes, and pay no mind to what’s happening by that other car. Human life becomes just another commodity at the strip mall. It’s just as easy to cynically speculate how many minimum-wage retail employees would consider her kiss an exciting diversion from their monotonous jobs, so long as she didn’t kill them.

Yet Caroline sees few opportunities to find out. Few cars are parked under the dark lot’s headlights. Massive iron security grilles have turned the rows of shops into lines of prison cells. The warden of Best Buy’s is a middle-aged, tie-wearing rent-a-cop who is neither fat nor thin, but that nebulous body weight broadly describable as ‘portly.’ The streetlights’ dim glow wanly reflects off his wire-framed glasses as he looks up at the approaching vampire.

“Sorry, lady, just closed.”

Caroline: Just closed.

There’s a flash of irritation. Wasted time. It wouldn’t be so difficult to bully her way past him, to bend him to her will… but it’s a senseless risk. Too many cameras. Too little benefit. Even if it means she’ll have to suffer instead.

“Not even if I know exactly what I want?” she asks, bereft of her supernatural presence, offering only a too human smile.

GM: The rent-a-cop gives a hapless ‘what could I do?’ shrug.

Caroline: “I’ll be in and out before the shoppers you’ve still gone inside,” Caroline promises sweetly.

GM: The middle-aged man chews his lip.

“All right, missy, but if you’re the last one out, you’ll be in trouble.”

Caroline: “You’re a dear.” She smiles sweetly.

GM: Caroline heads into the swiftly-emptying store, makes her way to the rows of laid-out phones on white mats, and picks up a 64G Solaris 6 Plus from the Sunburst section. The Solaris 6S is due to come out in only five days, she distantly recalls, but five days is a while to go without a phone.

At her rate she might need another one by then anyway.

The blue-shirted cashier rings up her purchase for $749 and gives her the usual retail pleasantries of thanks for shopping and to please come again.

Caroline: She drops most of the packaging in the trash outside as she turns on the glass and plastic and sets it up to sync with her profile and SunCloud contacts, apps, and the like.

GM: Caroline reconnects to the twenty-first century but finds comparatively few texts and emails. There are a few more messages from various family members asking if she’s heard anything new about her brother, but for the most part, they simply seem increasingly irritated by her poor communication under the present circumstances.

Caroline: She uses an app to order up a ride back to her more traditional hunting ground and sends a text to Jocelyn that she’s all right.

GM: lol was that in doubt? good to hear though Jocelyn shoots back.

Meanwhile, lights in the rows of stores slowly wink out, enshrouding the mall under a blanket of night.

Caroline: Darkness Caroline might have feared once. She checks the status of her ride.

GM: The Ryde cab still has several minutes to arrive. There is also some good news shared with the rest of the family by her brother Luke. Cécilia Devillers’ stalker was just sentenced to a year of jail time in Orleans Parish Prison, one of the worst jails in the entire country, for some, for some unrelated offense. They have their cousin Carson to thank.

Caroline: A sad smile spreads across her face, as tart and bittersweet as an unripe cherry. She spits it out. While everyone else is gloating and celebrating she remembers the sound and feel of his fingers snapping, of his cries and tears, the running snot, and his inability to understand. Mouse isn’t a monster. Autistic. Socially awkward. Perhaps hopelessly so. But he’s as dangerous as a houseplant.

Part of her wonders how he’s gotten into this mess again, but as she closes the message out the truth is she just don’t have the energy to care. Not with the night’s events, and last night’s events, and the night before’s event’s all the way back to her Embrace weighing upon her.

GM: The pit hits the pavement with a sad plunk. Not so much as a dent against her prior suffering—or Mouse’s, over the course of the coming year. After several minutes, a lone Ryde cab pulls in to the darkened parking lot. The rent-a-cop squints and frowns at Caroline’s headlight-illuminated silhouette.

Caroline: She climbs in. Other places to be. Things to do. Just having a phone, being connected again, is a weight off her back.

GM: The car’s driver is a relatively good-looking young man with short, wavy brown hair, a wide nose, and crinkles around his eyes. He smells just right.

St_Pat.jpg
“Hey, where to?” he half-asks, half-greets.

Somewhat needlessly. Their app tells them where to go.

Caroline: Caroline only just manages not to lick her lips by licking her fangs from behind those closed lips as she slips into the backseat. Usually that question from Ryde drivers irritates her. Even the mentally deficient could figure out where to go from their app.

Tonight, however, the very smell of him is too much to let something that silly irritate her. She smiles into the rear view mirror from the backseat.

“Just looking for a good time. How about you?”

GM: “Oh, nothing exciting. Just another evening earning some extra tuition money,” the young man answers as the car takes off, in seeming testament to the pointlessness of his initial question.

Caroline: “Is that all you want?” Caroline replies, amused, from the backseat.

GM: “Maybe to magically land a full ride scholarship in my senior year,” Caroline’s driver kids. Despite her good looks and flirtatious tone, though, the young man’s smile doesn’t seem interested.

Caroline: “Oh, lord, that’s so dull,” she laughs. “You’re not a Mormon, are you?”

GM: There’s the slightest pause in that smile. “Baptist, actually.”

Caroline: “Southern, of course.” She laughs. “At least you don’t wear the magic underwear.”

Still, she doesn’t like the pause. She lets a bit of the Beast bleed through, its presence bearing down on him, clouding thoughts.

GM: The driver’s eyes instantly turn up from the road as his expression turns awed.

“Yeah… I’ll take getting baptized as a grown-up any day, thanks,” he jokes back. Almost nervously.

Caroline: Putting him at ease. She keeps her own eyes on the relatively empty Sunday evening roads however.

“Are you particularly religious, Eddie?”

GM: Eddie, or so Caroline’s Ryde app named him, initially looks just so slightly defensive at the question. Then the Ventrue’s Beast pressed down, and he lets out a deflated sigh like a punctured balloon.

“Honestly… not really.”

Caroline: She quickly scans his fingers for a ring.

“Ah…”

GM: None is visible on the college-age man.

Caroline: “So what is it, Eddie, you don’t like blondes?” she asks.

More forwardly than she might have without the Beast clouding his mind.

GM: “It’s not you,” Eddie says embarrassedly. “I’m just more of a… noirette guy.”

Caroline: “Noirette,” Caroline repeats, more amused than offended. “Has that ever actually worked? I mean, with that particular word choice?”

GM: “Hey, I think it’s clever!” he protests. “There’s blondes, brunettes, and redheads, but no name for guys with black hair.”

His face goes abruptly still.

Caroline: Caroline lets out a light laugh. “Yes, it is clever. Too clever, really.”

She studies his reaction. “Family doesn’t know? I can sympathize.”

GM: Eddie clears his throat as his eyes drift back to the road.

“Don’t we all? Who doesn’t have secrets?”

Caroline: “It’s not easy to live a lie. I’m still trying to figure it out.”

GM: “Oh, are you into girls too?”

Caroline: “Everyone has something to offer if you look hard enough,” Caroline replies.

GM: “Depends what you’re looking for too, I guess. Some elements can’t form ionic bonds.”

“Sorry, chemistry major.”

Caroline: Another smile, and another sweep of the street.

“Don’t apologize for who you are.”

GM: His face falls a bit at that. “Yeah, guess we shouldn’t.”

Caroline: “Don’t guess,” she replies. “You are what you are. Someone has to be.”

GM: “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”

Caroline: Another light laugh.

“Story of my life.”

She arches an eyebrow into the rear-view mirror.

GM: The Beast stares back at her from Eddie’s too-open, too-trusting face.

Caroline: She lapses into silence as he drives. She doesn’t really want to know more, not about this next victim.

GM: The car hits an abrupt jolt and comes to a stop.

Caroline: She looks around to see what the boy has hit. “Is there a problem?” she asks.

GM: Caroline does not see anything from her position in the back seat. Eddie frowns as he unbuckles his seatbelt. “Maybe we have a flat. I’ll check.”

The pair’s car is near a Wallgreens pharmacy. A dully glowing sign proclaims, “Nice! 2 / $5…” before trailing off into illegibility as it advertises some useless food product to the vampire. A second, clearer advertisement hawks “Select Nuts.” Although the hour is not especially late, only several cars are parked by the pharmacy/convenience store entrance. Rows of dark trees extend along the sidewalk’s adjacent lawn. It’s the sort of deliberately cultivated greenery one finds in neither the city nor the country, but feels like a hollow facsimile of the latter. The entire scene—a suburban drug store on a quiet Sunday night—feels like it warrants barely a footnote in her life’s current chapter, and could easily skimmed over by bored readers. Her kind’s name for such banal, desolate (for them) places again springs to mind.

Outlands.

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Caroline: Caroline doesn’t need this tonight. She scrolls through her phone while she waits for Eddie to figure out the cause of his calamity, trying to decide if she just wants to order another car now.

GM: The door shuts as Eddie heads outside. His head disappears from the window’s view as he presumably bends down to inspect the state of the vehicle.

Caroline: Caroline cracks the door to look out at what he’s doing.

GM: Eddie is stooped down on his haunches by the side of the vehicle, grunting.

Caroline: “Tire?” she asks, almost bored.

GM: “Ngh…”

Caroline: She frowns and steps out to look more closely at what he’s doing.

GM: The chemistry student is squatting down by the car, his back to Caroline, but his hands aren’t touching the tires. He rocks slightly back and forth on his haunches, grunting as he does.

“Nngh…”

Caroline: She reaches out a hand for him.

“What’s going on?”

GM: Eddie jerks under Caroline’s touch as his head swings up to look at her. Sweat streaks his face. His throat bulges as he gulps night air with tightly clenched teeth.

“Nnn-gghhhh-hhh…!”

Caroline: She slaps his back. “Eddie, what happened? What do you need?”

It’s more instinct and training taking over than real humanity—lessons she had beaten into her in pre-med and first aid training. Assess, communicate, calm down.

GM: He flinches at Caroline’s second touch, wheezing as head jerks away from, and then back towards the almost-doctor. His eyes madly dart across his surroundings.

“H.. g… nh… ge… ou…!”

Caroline: She tries to help him into the backseat of the car. “Just breathe, Eddie, breathe. What happened?”

Her own eyes sweep across the surroundings.

GM: The unsteady, sweat-faced Eddie has to be half-dragged into the car by Caroline as he gags and wheezes.

“G… f… get… ou…!”

The Ventrue’s eyes make out nothing.

Her ears register a faint rustling from the bushes under the Walgreens sign.

Caroline: She shoves him into the backseat and slams the door, keeping an eye on the bushes.

GM: Eddie clenches his eyes as he hacks and spits flecks of dark blood over the seats. The vampire’s Beast growls hungrily in her ear.

Caroline: “Just breathe, Eddie.”

She slides into the driver’s side of the car and turns the ignition, seeing if the car will start up. Whatever thing attacked him, she has no interest in a fight, on this of all nights.

GM: Eddie did not turn off the car, and the ignition remains on as Caroline takes the wheel. The former driver, meanwhile, wheezes and hacks, his face turning red. He gives a single terrific gag, then expels a clot of dark, coagulated-looking fluid over the back seat. He slumps back and closes his eyes, lightly wheezing.

Caroline: She pauses to glance back to make sure the fluid isn’t some monster, then turns and accelerates away from the scene.

GM: The bloody goop hacked up by Eddie is motionless to the Ventrue’s sight. Slathered underneath it, however, is a skinned-colored, roughly ovular-shaped object no longer than a woman’s fingertip.

A human toenail.

Caroline: “Jesus Christ,” she mutters. The car continues to flee the scene. She looks back to see if there’s anything in the road in the rear view.

GM: The cloying suburban landscape rushes past the speeding vehicle’s mirror. The glowing Walgreens sign’s font grows smaller, then illegible, swallowed up by the hungry night.

Caroline: “Eddie, are you still with me back there?” she asks.

GM: “Yeah…” the college student pants.

Caroline: “What the fuck happened?”

GM: “I dunno… though we hit something, or a flat…” Eddie mutters, his eyes still closed.

Caroline: “Eddie, talk to me… what happened when you got out of the car?”

GM: “I got down… took a look… then I just… I dunno, felt funny… something inside me… had to get it out, like a hair you’ve swallowed…”

Caroline: She doesn’t look at the toenail. “What were you trying to say to me earlier?”

GM: “Get out… something in me, had to get out…”

Caroline: Caroline says nothing to that as she continues to drive.

GM: “I… think I heard something like…” Eddie adds, his eyes finally cracking open, “I dunno… a click…”

Caroline: “A click?” she repeats. “You just coughed up a toenail, Eddie… and blood.” The last word comes out with something else on it. Not quite emphasis.

GM: “W-wha-?!” Eddie exclaims.

He wildly looks around the car’s seat.

“Oh my god! That’s… I… what the fuck!?”

Caroline: She drives on.

“I don’t know,” she snaps back, irritation rising.

The outlands. She’ll be happy to get out of them.


Sunday night, 20 September 2015, PM

GM: Caroline has no idea at what point she returns to civilization proper, or if such a division even exists as anything but an arbitrary point in her own mind. The night is just as dark in Riverbend as it is in Elmwood. The mortals just as oblivious to the things lurking in the shadows.

Caroline: At least the darkness here is familiar. The monsters ones she recognizes. Like the one in the mirror.

GM: Audubon Place’s high concrete walls loom before her, all-too ineffectual at keeping such monsters at bay.

Caroline: She continues past it, away from prying guards and security cameras, before she pulls the car over and climbs out of the driver’s seat. Sliding around she opens the back seat and leans in to look at Eddie.

“Are you going to be okay?”

GM: Eddie has been largely quiet for the drive over. He finally stirs at Caroline’s question.

“I… I guess.”

He dumbly looks at the bloody toenail.

Caroline: She focuses instead on his eyes.

“Tell me what happened.”

The force of her presence washes over him like a tide.

GM: The young man’s eyes widen for a moment. “I don’t know. I seriously don’t.”

Caroline: “Why did you stop?”

GM: “I thought we hit something. Or the tire was flat.”

Caroline: “Why’d you think that?”

GM: “The car bumped against something.”

Caroline: So he knows nothing. It’s both reassuring and concerning, but she takes the opportunity to slide in beside him and get a better look at what he spat up while he’s caught in her thrall.

GM: After several minutes of inspection, Caroline identities the messy cocktail over the back seat as predominantly blood, with a side of bile, phlegm, and saliva. And not all of it Eddie’s. The latter three fluids she can’t be sure of, but the vampire knows blood. It even smells just right for a college student. The toenail had to have been lost recently, and from a comparatively small population size.

Blood. Not all of it Eddie’s. But all of it just to her tastes…

Caroline: It’s too much. This close to him, with the blood in the air, she can’t quite resist it. It’s all she can do to resist lapping up the vomited blood and bile, instead she turns her gentle attentions on Eddie.
And in the dark car, already under her sway.

GM: The dominated college student doesn’t resist or even particularly respond as Caroline’s fangs sink into his neck. The taste of his blood more than makes up for it. It’s refreshing, clean, and just a tad… almost salty, metallic. Mostly pure, too. Someone who takes care of himself, clearly a science major as he’s said, and just a whiff of some hot and smoldering, almost scared undercurrent. Clearly repressed, too.

Caroline: It flows across her like the life that it is. His life. Her life. And he’s oh so fresh and clean, with none of the fatty and disgusting undercurrent of at least one of her recent victims. She licks closed the tiny wounds when she’s taken, if not her fill, then enough for now. She plucks the disgusting toenail from his seat and flings it into the dark gutter.

“What have you been doing?” she wonders to herself, before sighing. He doesn’t need to remember this mess.

She makes him produce his wallet and takes a picture with her phone of his license and student ID so she can find him later, then turns her influence upon him more forcefully.

The ride you gave before me was really sick and puked in the back of your car on the way to the hospital, not you. We never stopped earlier, you drove the whole way, but you’re going to clean up this mess before you give any further rides.

She looks him over for a moment.

And you’re going to go pick up a burger and go home tonight and get some sleep immediately thereafter.

She leans forward and kisses him on the forehead.

“Take care of yourself.”

GM: Eddie sleepily nods his assent to Caroline’s various commands, then drives off without a word.

Caroline: Welcome to undeath, where getting a cellphone is a traumatic experience.


Sunday night, 20 September 2015, PM

Caroline: Caroline rises to take her leave from the blood-spattered car—at least not her fault tonight. As she does, she shoots off a text to Jocelyn.

Still want to get a bite?

GM: Jocelyn’s reply shoots back after a few moments. oh i forgot sorry. meet you later at church?

Caroline: Aiming for 1130ish, she fires back.

GM: ok cya then

Caroline: She’s already called up a fresh ride. The Beast is still so hungry. While she waits she sends off a message to her mother.

Meetings could have gone worse. We need to talk. When is the funeral?

GM: There is no immediate reply from her mother.

Caroline: While she waits for the car to show up she sends off another text to a similarly beleaguered soul from recent nights, Sasha McMillan, inquiring as to how she’s holding up.

GM: Caroline’s former victim honestly seems surprised at first that she’s calling, but glumly answers, “My mom thinks I should see a therapist. I don’t know.”

Caroline: “Anything to fill your days and nights,” Caroline offers. “You’re not just sitting at home, are you?”

GM: Caroline feels like there’d be a shrug over the other end of the line.

“Guess I am.”

Caroline: “That’s awful,” Caroline replies. “Have you even eaten anything today?” she asks.

GM: “Yeah. Some toast.”

Caroline: Caroline rolls her eyes. “I’m going to bring you something. I’ll see you soon.”

GM: There’s a long pause. Caroline can’t tell over the phone whether the grad student’s eyes are warring with desire to stew in her misery against desire for company.

Or if they’re simply misty recalling the bliss of the vampire’s kiss when she was aching for it.

“All right,” she finally says.

Caroline: “I’ll see you soon.”

Caroline hangs up and calls in a food order to a late night Chinese place on the way, updating her travel itinerary appropriately in Ryde.

It brings up uncomfortable questions as she waits for the car. Does she actually care? About Sasha? About Eddie? About her mother? About Aimee or Turner? All the lives she’s casually destroyed or thrown to one wolf or another. All the people that whatever her altruistic actions often end up as just so much sustenance for her—victims of a brutal invasion of their bodies and often minds.
Would she be visiting poor grieving Sasha if the Beast inside of her wasn’t licking its lips?

Probably not.

But does that also mean she can’t do some good with it? That the passage of a monster, a predator, cannot have a positive effect on others? It’s pathetically too soon to say. But pulling Eddie away from whatever that was in the bushes, wiping his memory of the traumatic event, and delivering some manner of comfort to the grieving doesn’t rub her the wrong way.

Maybe it’s a small price to pay for what she takes. A small act of contrition for the sins she partakes of. Alongside their blood.

GM: Caroline drops off by Sasha’s apartment with her takeout order. It turns out to be in the CBD. It’s not nearly so nice a place as Caroline’s home used to be, but it’s better than the ratty apartments most newly-independent college kids are likely to occupy. The Ventrue picks up that Sasha is actually a graduate student and earning a master’s in architecture. Caroline pays little attention to what they talk about, however. The Chinese takeout boxes sit cooling and unopened as Caroline sups from the crying woman’s neck.

Caroline: Still, she’s merciful enough to make the woman eat something and put the rest of the food away in the fridge when she puts Sasha to bed and lets herself out.

GM: Watching the kine eat isn’t actively nauseous, but it is unpleasant. Caroline watches as she spears a fork through the dead plant matter, sticks it in her mouth, munches it under her teeth like a cow would chew its cud, then swallows the pulped, saliva-laden matter down her throat. She’ll subsequently expel what her body couldn’t use from its rear orifice in a brown stinky stream. The kine’s fragile, sweating, mortal body seems so inefficient at its purpose. Literally creating stinking, useless waste.

It takes the teary-eyed, indecisive kine so long to eat, too. There’s that stupid, cow-like way she has to chew up her food, because she can’t just directly consume it. It isn’t even very efficient at its intended purpose. It clogs her arteries with cholesterol and saturated fat, spikes her blood stream with sugar highs that’ll lead to crashes and decreased efficiency. “It’s the dose that makes the poison,” Caroline remembers one of her biology professors saying. “Even water, revered across so many cultures as a bringer of life, is toxic when ingested in sufficient quantities.”

But that isn’t true for her. Caroline could sup on Sasha’s blood forever and be none the worse for it. She’d be considerably for the better. Even if one were to excise all the harmful compounds from the kine’s food (it’s pathetic how they’ll sacrifice their long-term health for fleeting sensory stimuli), and strip it solely down to its beneficial nutrients and fiber, consuming it would still only serve to ameliorate the symptoms of her fragile, fallible body’s defects. It wouldn’t sustain her forever.

As Caroline sticks the boxes of salty, fatty, saliva-smeared organic matter into the fridge’s cold space, a stupidly necessary precaution to prevent it from fermenting into poison—or at least a much higher dose of poison—it’s hard not to feel that her own deathless body is simply better.

Caroline: Hard, but not impossible. Laying like the dead throughout the day. Feeding only on the living. Pleasure only in inflicting pain upon them… and she’s not yet far enough removed that she doesn’t miss food. Memories of heavenly meals war with instincts that make the very idea physically revolting, but perhaps, for now, the memories win out.

No meal ever tasted so good as Sasha’s warm blood. Sex was just as good as her violent, blood-filled night with Jocelyn. But then no one ever got hurt eating a beignet, and every romp in the hay wasn’t one that risked the intoxicating artificial ties of fellowship her blood brings.

GM: And, as Caroline leaves the apartment and its not-quite-widowed occupant, that blood calls.


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Story Six, Mouse X

“Over the fucking head, that’s how it’s done!”
Orleans Parish Prison sheriff’s deputy


Tuesday night, 22 September 2015, PM

Mouse: Mouse numbly stares up at his cell’s ceiling. He tries not to move too much and bites his knuckles to stop himself from making any pained noises. His ass feels sore and raw with blood. He isn’t sure how long it’s been since his rapist left the cell, but restlessness and agitation gnaw away at him. Part of him wants to deny this even happened. He wants another smoke. He wants anything to help him forget.

Sleep finally overtakes him.

GM: Mouse’s dreams are gray and numb. He wakes up to find a thick and rough hand clamped over his mouth.

The lights are out. The jail cell and common area past the door are shrouded in darkness.

It’s far from quiet, though. Mouse can hear inmates breaking wind, babbling to themselves, masturbating, snoring, and singing mindlessly off-key songs. Iron doors slam and shake as crazies howl apocalyptic insights like dogs baying under a yellow moon.

Mouse: Mouse’s first reaction is to flinch with wide-eyed terror. He looks up at the shadow-shrouded figure clamping his mouth shut. It’s night, or so Mouse assumes. His yells for help weren’t listened to last time, would they be ignored again?

GM: The terrified inmate sees only darkness. A faint voice in the distance cackles, “That’s whaaaat sheeee saiiidd…” but his immediate cell is silent except for a loud and heavy snoring coming from the bunk above him.

He feels something slim and plastic-like being slipped into his hands.

Mouse: Confusion only adds to Mouse’s fear. He stays silent as his pianist’s fingers wrap around the plastic-like item, trying to figure out what it is. He strains his eyes against the darkness.

GM: Its depths are impenetrable, but his fingers brush against a sharp metallic edge. Metallic slamming, shaking, and screaming sounds in the distance.

The hand withdraws from his mouth.

Mouse: Mouse notices the sharpness and recognizes what he’s been given. Something to defend himself with. He mouths a silent thank you to the mysterious shadow.

GM: His only answer is distant farts, grunts, screams, and cackling laughter.

Loud, wheeze-like snoring continues to sound from the bunk above him.

The cramped cell smells of dried blood, bile, and semen. Pain stabs through his ass. He feels queasy and lightheaded.

Mouse: A dangerous, almost insane thought crosses Mouse’s mind as the smell haunts him. His eyes are still open as he waits for them to adjust to the darkness of the cell.

GM: The outline of his bunk bed becomes clearer. Loud, wheeze-like snores continue to sound from the upper bunk.

Mouse: The young man tries his best to remain quiet despite the pain. He lifts the sharp object closer to his eyes and wonders what he’s doing. He’s just getting up to pee, right?

His eyes, though, are wide. He knows what he wants.

GM: The hilt is a cylinder-shaped piece of plastic. A long and cruel-looking shard of chickenwire glass is fastened to the end by duct tape.

“My sooouulll is a paperrrr baaag… at the boootom… of your garbage, caaaaaaaaaan…!” a distant voice manically sings.

Mouse: It’s enough. It’s enough for Mouse to do what he wants to do. Doesn’t he?

It’s instinctual, the way his grip tightens around the shiv. His heart beats hard against his chest. His hands shake. Does he really, truly want this? Is this just… desperation? Maybe there’s another way. Some other way that doesn’t involve looming over his rapist’s bed and stabbing him repeatedly until he’s dead.

Mouse doesn’t have an answer to any of those questions. But his body moves on its own. His body knows what it wants, even if his mind is too scared to admit it.

It doesn’t want to be a victim anymore.

GM: The only response to Mouse’s dark thoughts is his cellmate’s steady, wheeze-like snores.

Mouse: It happens in a blur. The scared, wide-eyed young man soundlessly lifts up the shiv and plunges it down. It’s a blind, haphazard attack, but it still gorily punctures his cellmate’s neck with a thick spurt of blood.

It’s an almost out-of-body experience as Mouse watches himself undertake the grizzly deed like a floating spectre. His hair is a mess. He’s coated in bile and blood and filth. It’s surreal. It’s therapeutic. It’s utterly terrifying.

He doesn’t dare breathe as he pulls the shiv out and stabs down again, adrenaline pumping through his veins.

GM: The man screams as the glass-bladed shiv stabs into his neck with a sickening shk. Mouse doesn’t see what tattoo it punctures in the dark, but he feels the man’s lifeblood fleck over his face—warm, wet, and coppery.

The disoriented but equally adrenaline-spiked man reflexively grabs his sheet and half-drags, half-throws it across the air to entangle his still indistinct attackers. A thud hits the ground. Mouse pulls the bedding off himself just as the man’s grasping, tattooed arms grab for his scrawny shoulders—just like last time.

Mouse: It happens too fast. Mouse isn’t made for violence, and his chest hurts from its thumping. He loses track of where he is, what’s happening—it’s all a blur.

GM: His back hits the fluid-crusted mattress. His attacker pries at the shiv in his hands. It almost seems to happen in slow motion as Mouse watches him agonizingly tear the chickenwire glass blade from his grip. The man’s eyes are bloodshot and furious. He screams something in Spanish Mouse doesn’t understand. Couldn’t understand. He feels the man’s spit fleck against his face… and then a sudden stab of agony as the shiv sinks into his belly. A second warm flow of blood pools over the mattress he was raped on.

“¡Te alimentaré tus putas bolas!” his wild-eyed cellmate froths, blood and spittle flying from his mouth.

Mouse: Mouse can only a give a high-pitched, guttural scream. It almost feels like he’s been punched and had the air knocked out of him, but it hurts so much worse. He’s being stabbed. The man is stabbing him. He’s going to die.

“I’m sorry!” Mouse yells as his cellmate screams unintelligible obscenities. Tears run down his face. “I’m sorry! Please don’t hurt me! Please!”

Mouse can almost taste the man, he’s that close.

“Please don’t kill me!”

GM: There’s another stab of agony as the shiv sinks into his chest. Mouse feels blood welling up in his mouth. Everything is starting to go dark—and it’s not from the lights being out.

Mouse: Am I going to die in here? he thinks once again, gurgling pathetically as he continues to cry.

“I’m sorry…”

He tries to fight the man off of him, maybe he can make a run for it… but he’s not strong enough… he’s never been strong enough…

GM: His cries for forgiveness go unheeded as the furious-eyed, pain-maddened man howls like a demon and drives the shiv towards his throat.

Mouse: As Mouse cries, he reflexively ducks his neck out of the shiv’s path. It hits the bed’s metallic frame with a too-loud, too-brittle scraping snap that seems to sound several times at once. He continues to loudly wail for mercy and help.

“I will do anything! Please stop! Help!”

Wait. That noise. Mouse jerks his eyes towards the steel bedpost and sees shards of the shiv’s glass blade littered everywhere. He continues to scream, “HELP! HEEEEEELP!” while trying to squirm free of the man’s grip. He can make a break for the cell door. He hopes beyond all hope that whoever gave him the shiv left the door unlocked.

GM: His rapist’s grip is as iron as it was before. The profusely bleeding man bellows incoherently in Mouse’s face and clamps his fingers around the screaming boy’s neck. He clamps them tight, and squeezes. They blister like heated iron as Mouse’s head swims and his vision blackens.

Mouse:HELP! HEEELP! HEEEEEEELLLPPP!!!” he continues to scream as consciousness fades. It’s difficult with his attacker’s iron-like hands around his neck, but it’s all he can do.

His mind continues to race. He remembers listening to Becca talk about a Women’s Studies class she took. That feels like a lifetime ago. The unbidden thought seems odd until he connects it with something she told him from that class: “It’s more effective to yell there’s a fire than it is to yell for help.”

Mouse didn’t pay much mind to that idea at the time. It sounded too pessimistic to be true. But it’s obvious by now, after all he’s undergone, that the world really is that self-interested and devoid of kindness.

FIRE!” he screams at the top of his prodigious lungs. “FIIIIRE! FIIIIIIIRE! FIII-IIIIIRRRE! FIIIIIIIIIII-RRRRRRREEEEEEEE!”

And Fizzy always said his music practice was useless.

Ha.

The sound of footsteps is the last thing he hears before darkness overtakes him.

GM: The door to his cell flies open and cacophonously slams against the wall. Three guards burst in, brandishing nightsticks overhead. Their faces are impossible to discern in the darkness, making them seem spectral apparitions of terrifying violence.

There are no shouts to break it up. No questions. No demands. The billyclubs simply descend—on Mouse and his violator.

The first nightstick smashes over the wounded man’s already bloody face. It shatters his nose with a hideous crunch and messy spurt of red.

The second nightstick descends towards the man’s biceps, but harmlessly clangs against a steel bedpost as Mouse’s gurgling, profusely bleeding cellmate lunges out of its path. The guard curses as the impact runs up his arm, causing him to actually drop the weapon.

The first guard barks a hard laugh. “My old man always said! Over the fucking head, that’s how it’s done! ‘Target nerve clusters,’ fucking pussies these days!”

The third nightstick descends towards Mouse’s biceps and quadriceps with two quick, snapping blows. The young man’s muscles scream with numb protest.

Mouse: A defeated gurgle escapes Mouse’s lips as the first hot strikes true. The first of many.

He loses his voice, his sense of time, and his whole body becomes heavy. He struggles for breath. It’s like his body forgets how. It’s terrifying. Beyond terrifying.

He knows what’s coming. It comes slow. But it comes.

He’s a powerless audience to it. To his own demise. To his own end.

GM: As the nightsticks descend upon Mouse in almost surreal rhythm, the last of the lies fall away.

They say your life flashes before your eyes when you die.

That’s not what Mouse sees.

There’s only one, seemingly impossible question that rings through his mind like a billyclub against the steel bedpost:

How did his life come to this?

To this, being raped and beaten to death on a jail cell’s vomit-, blood-, and cum-crusted mattress?

The past few hours, days, all seem like one nightmarish blur of beatings and threats and cops and everyone who can take a shit, finding some reason to take that shit. The crowd of gawkers at Tulane. The desk chick at Josephine Louise House, what was her name, calling the police over him. Bert Villars, extorting him for money and selling his debt. Bud and that evil little girl, Sue. Becca not returning his call. ‘Cat’ and ‘Giraffe’, those women who looked at him like he was so strange. His roommate disappearing. Maybe he could’ve helped against the cops. Bentley, hanging up on him. Ha ha, she still lives with her dad. Why does she even do that? They’ve got money. She could easily move out.

What happened? When did he cross the threshold, from a normal life as a normal college student with a bright future ahead of him, to… this?

There was Cécilia Devillers. He played that song and left flowers outside her apartment door. He thought it was sweet. She didn’t. She thought it was stalking. She was terrified of him. Did she call the building’s security on him? Or did they just show up? Who called the cops and sent his life flushing down the shitter?

It’s odd he was even there, come to think. Who left the door to her building unlocked? Who let a total stranger just wander down the apartment hall?

Then there was Emmett Delacroix, who asked for money, who he called Cécilia wanting to help. Fizzy always said he was a piece of shit. Fizzy spat on his card. He hasn’t thought about Emmett Delacroix in a while, come to think. Raising money for his legs just slipped his mind, after that first arrest and plea bargain and sentencing. He had other problems. Maybe Em was just using him all along anyway, like Fizzy said he was. Fizzy had beat up the man and called him a sack of shit.

Maybe that’s it.

He was always the sweet, dumb, harmless kid to Fizzy, his mom, and the RidaHoodz. He could never really do any wrong. Nothing on the level of stabbing a man to death in his sleep. He wasn’t capable of it.

His family sheltered him. He went to a good private school, the kind his brother never went to. The teachers who hovered over him so attentively, who were in constant contact with his mom and other helicopter parents, all knew what and who he was: just a sweet and harmless kid. Tulane was more of the same. Just because his professors didn’t send him emails about missed assignments didn’t mean he’d left the protective bubble that sheltered him all his life.

But the moment he did, the moment he stepped outside, he saw what happened. Cécilia Devillers, her building’s security guards, Officer May, Hector Berganza, Judge Boner, that acne-faced public defender, Judge Malveaux, all those cops: to them, he was Emmett Delacroix. A shark. A predator. A sack of shit.

The realization strikes him like the billyclubs raining down on his screaming, bleeding, broken flesh:

They were right.

All of the people who hurt him. All of the people he believed did him wrong.

His entire life was a lie. The world isn’t a fair or kind place. It’s a jungle ruled by the law of the jungle: kill or be killed. Eat or be eaten. Hurt or be hurt.

His family shielded him. Lied to him. All but told him he could be weak. That there was a place for the weak.

Blood-spattered nightsticks descend upon his fading vision in almost slow motion. He knows better now.

Innocence is weakness. Sympathy is a lie told by vipers like Emmett Delacroix. In the real world, no one plays romantic songs and leaves flowers outside unfamiliar girls’ doors. They only do that to get close to foolish victims—or foolishly reveal themselves, through their softness, to also be victims.

Victims get raped and beaten to death on a cum- and bile-stained mattress. That is the world. Being raped on a filthy prison mattress. Being beaten to death on a filthy prison mattress where you were raped. That is the real world. That is the entire world.

Bones crunch in Mouse’s ears as the billyclubs mercilessly descend. He supposes it hurts. That’s not particularly novel, so far as his last few days ago. He might be going numb from all the pain anyway. Blood flecks across the cell’s dark walls. Laughter sounds from the indistinct visages of his jeering tormentors. He knows they are but symptoms of the world’s sickness, helpless actors in a perverse and grisly cosmic drama that mandates but one law: kill or be killed.

Mouse’s time to exit stage from that drama fast approaches. The terminal black curtain already descends. There are but two roles he may play as he takes his final bow: victim or monster.

Aren’t there?

Mouse: It’s his last symphony. A bloody swan song.

“Ama… zing grace…”
How sweet… the sound…"
That save… a wretch… like me…"

It comes out in strained, fruitless gurgles. His eyes are wide with fear, but also dawned by understanding.

“I once… was lost… but now’m… found…’
“T’was blin… b’ now I… see…”
“T’was Grace tha… taugh… my heart… to… fear…”

He can’t remember the rest of the lyrics…

The only thing keeping Mouse alive for now is watching his rapist suffer the same fate. He can rest assured that for all the pain he’s suffered, and is currently suffering at the hands of the pen’s overzealous guards, the one who finally made him snap will likely die here, too.

It’s his sole solace as the blows descend and he hacks bloody pulp from his lungs. Perhaps the next world will be kinder. Perhaps there is nothing but darkness after this. Mouse doesn’t know.

He eyes the broken shrapnel from the shiv tried to end his cellmate’s life with.

But at least he can die knowing something else.

Electricity seems to surge through his veins as he wills his dying body up. He grabs at the biggest piece of shrapnel and ignores the edge slicing into his pianist’s fingers. He will make these final few moments his own. He jolts forward, lightning quick, to slash the glass across his cellmate’s throat.

At least he can die knowing the man who raped him is dead, too.

GM: And Grace, my fears relieved
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed


Mouse can’t see much. Everything is going black. His rapist lies on the ground. The man’s face is a sheet-white, blood-smeared, smashed-in ruin as he feebly holds up his arms to ward off the guards’ merciless blows.

He doesn’t realize another one carries even less mercy.

He doesn’t even seem to notice as the chickenwire shard in Mouse’s hands stabs towards his too-red, ruined throat.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
We have already come.


The guards do. There’s more shouts. More noise.

T’was grace that brought us safe thus far

The billyclubs descend.

And grace will lead us home,
And grace will lead us home


Pain in his head. Something wet trickling down his temple. He’s getting used to pain. It’s an acceptable cost. That feels almost freeing, knowing pain isn’t stopping him anymore. That feels like it could open up a lot of things, not to be scared of pain.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me


A warbling voice dimly sounds, as if underwater.

“Over the fucking head, that’s how it’s done!”

I once was lost but now am found

There’s more blood spurting across his face. Distant screams. Fire in his fingers. He doesn’t need them anymore. It wouldn’t matter now that Bud threatened to break them. This is his greatest work. His magnum opus.

T’was blind

He’s not Mouse. Fizzy’s little brother. He’s Mercurial Fernandez. Criminal. Killer. Dangerous man. Dangerous enough the guards are killing him. Dangerous enough his rapist is screaming now.

There’s worse things to die as.

but now I see

That’s funny.

Was blind

He does remember the lyrics.

but now I see…


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Story Six, Mouse IX

“First time? There’s a way you go to do it.”
Unknown OPP inmate


Monday evening, 21 September 2015, PM

GM: Mouse comes to.

His face stings, but doesn’t burn anymore. He’s having what feels like the worst sore throat of his life, but his airways don’t feel like they’re clamping up. His too-empty stomach is a gnawing cancer inside his belly. His surroundings are ripe with the smell of stale sweat, blood, offal, disinfectant, and other less identifiable odors.

Mouse: The skinny kid tries to lift his head and look around to orient himself.

GM: He finds himself handcuffed to a hospital bed with a stained and too-thin mattress. He doesn’t have a room to himself like Em did in the hospital. Rows and rows of beds with their own patients are also visible. Most wear orange jumpsuits or plain white underclothes. Some patients are silent, while others moan, scream, or swear. Some curse their nurses, others their fellows, and some seemingly no one and nothing at all.

Some patients are swaddled in bandages, hooked up to beeping machines, and look barely alive. Almost all of them are handcuffed like Mouse also is. Too few and too-harried-looking nurses weave among the beds.

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There’s a zipping sound from the one next to Mouse’s as two uniformed sheriff’s deputies load up a motionless figure into a body bag. His face in invisible. Two light clicks sound as the men undo handcuffs that the jail’s former inmate no longer requires.

Mouse: A small, tired frown appears on Mouse’s face as he watches the body bag get zipped up. “What happened to him?” he asks, testing his voice more than anything.

GM: No one so much as looks at Mouse. The odor in his immediate vicinity seems to marginally improve as the bag gets fully zipped up.

Several beds away, a man raggedly screams and begs for morphine.

Mouse: Mouse’s first instinct is to look around at everyone, and specifically the color of their skin.

He ignores the screaming. He ignores the smell.

GM: Some patients are black, some are white, and others are Latino. There are no Asians or Native Americans he can make out. A fly drones and buzzes over his head.

Mouse: Mouse blows toward the buzzing sound, trying to scare away the fly. He figures the smell of death is attracting it.

“Can I get a nurse, please?” he asks, looking for someone to remove his cuffs.

GM: The buzzing ceases as the fly lands on his forehead. Its legs tickle his skin.

The uniformed deputies load the body bag onto a steel cart and wheel it away without responding.

“We’re not gonna keep with this paranoia old shit… ’scuse my language…” mumbles a voice from one of the nearby beds.

Mouse: It’s just Mouse’s luck. As the fly makes its home on the skinny ne’er-do-well’s head, all the emotion of the past few days finally hits him like a steel weight clonking against his temple. All he can do is sob in his cot, left alone to his thoughts in the midst of this unintelligible noise.

GM: There’s a tickling sensation over Mouse’s forehead, then around his eye. And a damp feeling. Very light. The fly’s legs are trekking his tears over his face. The young man’s sobs go unheard and unanswered as a voice near his bed drones, “I’m smart. S’what I am. A smartass.”

“So we’re paranoid ’cause you took our angel…”

“So how is tha’ paranoid ‘gain? _I’m_ the one who’s paranoid?”

“Alla this… I tol’ him… the street I had, November 3rd, the night before Thanksgivin’…”


Monday evening, 21 September 2015, PM

GM: Minutes pass.

Then hours.

The fly on Mouse’s face eventually flits off. Minutes pass to hours.

A chorus of voices in the background screams, curses, sobs, moans, or simply babbles nonsensibly. Any nurses Mouse (and the other nearby inmates) call out to offer no response, either content to ignore them or too occupied by their own duties.

It’s impossible to tell when day actually passes to night. There are no windows to look out from.

Eventually, though, someone dims the lights.

Trying to sleep is an exercise in futility. None of the noise dies down. Footsteps sporadically thump throughout the room. Mouse is hungry and thirsty. He needs to piss and take a dump. The room is cold enough to make his teeth chatter, and it’s impossible to adjust his too-thin blanket with his hands uncomfortably cuffed. His neighbor never stops talking.

“He was gettin’ put out. This is not right. This is not right. This is not right. You ain’ heard a dime, you ain’ heard a cent, from Ortega… Sebastian Ortega… he was onea the clowns who started it…”

“Cause when it rains, it pours… an’ the old man, he snores… I don’ know what to do, I’m so excited…”

“Praise God, I’m excited! I’m excited! I’m excited!”

“All those dreams. That he gave you. All comin’ to pass. This dream is so important. All the ones ’fore that.”

“He showed it to me. Showed it to me clear as day. He was white. He is not playing games…”

“The stuff he did was so twisted. There ain’ no excuse for what they doin’…”

“No excuse. No excuse.”

“Praise God, I’m excited!”

“Praise Jesus, I’m excited!”

“Took my angel. I saw him, in my dream last night. He had a sword, a burning sword, an’ he says to me… Ortega, he is not playing games… the path of the righteous is open to you. You got to understand…”

Minutes pass.

Hours.

More hours.

Lights eventually glare back on.

Some time later, two deputies wordlessly undo Mouse’s handcuffs and march him back to the big round desk under its “Intake” label.

He’s colder. Hungrier. Thirstier. Wearier. His face still stings. And he still really needs to use the bathroom.

“Remove your shoes and put them and any personal items in the tray,” the deputy behind the desk boredly states.

Mouse: Mouse sluggishly removes the pair of shoes from his feet. He places them on the tray as he clicks his dry tongue.

GM: “Step over there.” The deputy points to two yellow footprints painted on the floor. Mouse is then instructed to step backwards and spread his legs until his feet are above them. The deputy orders him to bend forward and put his hands on the counter. It is a very embarrassing and uncomfortable position because he is far from the counter edge and has to lean forward, standing on tiptoes with all his body weight on his arms to reach the counter while keeping his feet on the footprints.

“I’m going to pat you down. Do you have anything on you that is sharp or will prick me?” the deputy asks.

Mouse: “No.” His voice is still raspy.

GM: The deputy sticks his hands up Mouse’s shirt, then feels around his chest, stomach, back, buttocks, and groin. He also inspects the new inmate’s hair and the bottoms of his feet. Mouse is then ordered to turn around and open his mouth wide and lift up his tongue. The deputy inspects this with a penlight, and even pulls his ears forward and feels behind those.

Mouse: Mouse simply stays quiet. He’s more focused on holding his bladder than anything else at this point.
.
GM: The deputy finally instructs Mouse to pass through a metal detector. On the other side, another identically-uniformed lawman asks him to turn his back to as he wraps and locks a chain around Mouse’s waist. Now-familiar handcuffs are fastened to each side of the chain and re-cuff the young man’s wrists. He is then told to sit on a row of plastic seats near several other handcuffed men and to wait to be called.

Time ticks and passes. One man is called away.

More time passes. Another man is called away.

More time passes. Another man shows up and plops tiredly down on one of the hard seats.

More time passes. More men come. More men go.

No one talks.

Mouse: What’s there to talk about?

GM: After what feels like hours, it’s Mouse’s turn. He’s led led behind a cubicle to the medical assistant. The cyan-uniformed woman looks over a clipboard, has Mouse step onto a scale (removing shoes is again not necessary) and asks him a gauntlet of medical history questions.

“Are you allergic to anything?”

“Do you suffer from any ailment?”

“Do you have any medical problems?”

“Are you on any drugs?”

The examiner takes Mouse’s blood sample and labels it with his name for drug/alchool testing and finally takes his temperature.

The next stop is mug shots. Mouse has done this before. He is marched to another room by a deputy and stands on a yellow line facing forward and sideways while the flash goes off. He is asked another series of questions:

“What is your full name?”

“What is your home address?”

“What is your phone number?”

“Who is your employer?”

“Are you homosexual?”

“Are you involved in any gangs?”

“Do you feel like harming yourself?”

Mouse: Mouse answers each question in a monotone. It almost feels like a waking dream.

“Mercurial Fernandez.”

“None.” He wonders if he’s even still enrolled in Tulane anymore.

He recites his phone number.

“Self-employed.”

“Not gay, but an ally.”

“RidaHoodz for life.”

“No.”

GM: The medical examiner and deputy record all of Mouse’s answers with the bored detachment of people who’ve done this countlessly many times before—though his last two responses draw some notably dryer looks.

Then comes fingerwiping. The deputy rubs Mouse’s fingers with a sequence of baby wipes and then splays them onto the glass plate of a scanner: images of his fingertips floating in the computer monitor. A series of electronic chirps seems to mean the pictures are keepers.

Mouse is then taken to a holding cell. A deputy opens the door and tells him to get in.

Several tired-, surly-, and disheveled-looking men are already inside. The small cell is approximately 15 feet wide and 10 feet long; three walls are of concrete and the fourth is all glass. There’s a built-in concrete bench along two walls and a steel combo toilet sink in the corner behind a short barrier. Everything looks filthy. The cell smells of urine, sweat, vomit and unwashed bodies.

Mouse: Mouse gives his new bunkmates a disaffected smile. He has bigger priorities, though. He quickly searches for a toilet as his stomach begins to cramp from holding in a shit for so long.

GM: No one smiles back at Mouse. One of the cell’s greener-looking occupants abruptly turns and retches over the floor, prompting to his fellows to shout exclamations of disgust before a deputy loudly clangs his baton along the cell bars and yells it at them to “hold it the fuck in!”

Mouse: Mouse’s own face twists in muted disgust at the wretched smell.

“I need a fuckin’ shit,” he half-breathes, getting impatient.

GM: One or two people glance at Mouse. Most of his neighbors stew in their own misery. Several look on the verge of voiding their stomachs.

Mouse: The smell is nauseating and Mouse’s own gut lurches threateningly. He eyes any nearby guards with a dark-eyed scowl. “I’ll give this five minutes or I’m shitting in the sink.”

GM: Mouse’s statement draws glares, exclamations of disgust, and threatening snarls from his pissed- and queasy-looking neighbors.

“Use the fuckin’ toilet!”

“My god.”

“Shit there and it’ll be your face in it.”

“Shit there and you’ll eat it.”

Mouse: Mouse nervously laughs, happy to get a rise out of them, but wary in case these guys are dangerous.

GM: His laughter awkwardly fills silent air. Some of his cellmates look at him with annoyance. Others with disgust. A few have black expressions that look borderline murderous.

Mouse: The laughter dies in Mouse’s throat like a murder victim meeting an abrupt, untimely end. He looks at his feet awkwardly. The last thing he wants is to antagonize the people who are in prison, too. They are probably victims of circumstance just like him, in all likelihood, or at least that’s what he supposes.

GM: Time crawls.

People come in. They get taken away. They come in. They get taken away. Mouse feels increasingly hungry. And thirsty. Food is not served at any point. That doesn’t stop a queasy-looking man from retching, spraying the cell wall and several unfortunate fellows with runny orange bile. People scream in disgust. The man screams too, after his neighbors start hitting and kicking him. One of them bellows, his bloodshot eyes mad and furious,

YOUYOU! YOU GOT THE DEVIL! NOT HERE! NOT HERE! DEVIL! DEVIL! DEEEEV-!

The sick man’s screams discordantly ring through the cramped space until sheriff’s deputies barge in, start smashing everyone indiscriminately with their nightsticks, and roughly haul the sick man out. Several people hack out bloody tooths. One burps a thin stream of vomit into his hand. Others stare sullenly ahead with black and swollen eyes. Blood, sweat, and still-fresh bile joins the offal-like stench permeating the cramped cell.

It feels like an eternity before Mouse’s name is finally called and deputies escort him out of the cell. His chains jingle as they lead him to another room. The strip search there is more intrusive: in addition to removing all his clothes, Mouse is told to bend over, cough, and spread his “cheeks” while a deputy closely inspects his anal cavity. After this, his is permitted to shower under lukewarm water for ten minutes. A turd lies in the center of the shower, ripe and fragrant. Mouse has an opportunity to relieve himself in a similar manner, though his surroundings lack toilet paper, or he may continue to hold it in. Deputies issue him his new clothing:

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He receives two sets of orange jumpsuits with “OPP Inmate” printed on them in thick black letters, along with tightey-whiteys, white socks, and “Jackie Chan” slide-on shoes. The jumpsuit feels like a clown suit, or at least reminds him of the dunce cap that children used to wear in school. Everyone that is not an inmate looks at him like an animal, and he can feel it. The jumpsuit itself is faded, ripped, rough, stained, sagging (it feels at least several sizes too big) and missing one of its buttons. Mouse can only speculate how many people have worn it before him. The slide-on shoes pinch and hurt his feet.

Laundry is done once a week, Mouse is told. That effectively gives each of his outfits a weekly cleaning cycle, or 3.5 days if he’s willing to strip naked on laundry days. Mouse is given one sheet (relatively clean, but with a large tear), a threadbare towel, and a dirty pillow. All of them smell unpleasant. His clothes are taken away. He is also given a mattress to carry on top of these other items. It’s torn, dirty, and stained.

The items are very heavy for the small and always scrawny young man, and it seems inevitable that several will slip from his overburdened and so-tired grasp. Guards impersonally ferry him along with or without them. Another door swings open. A yellowed and tattered sign reads: “Caution: you are now entering a real jail.”

Mouse: Mouse’s only reprieve is that he took that shit (and piss) in the shower when given the chance. His bottom feels dirty, but that’s better than holding it in.

GM: The jail’s main floor consists of monotonous row after row of featureless metal doors. They actually don’t have any bars like jails are pictured as having. The closest is the hole-filled railing on the metal staircases. Round tables that look bolted to the floor, each with four chairs, fill most of the open space. Equidistant fluorescent lights glare down on the dull linoleum floor.

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It’d be an orderly scene, if not for the inmates.

A cursory glance across the cell block’s common area shows clusters of orange-uniformed men sitting around tables or standing together in small groups. Loners mill about between them, or simply remain seated or lying in bed in their cells. Mouse can make out a few dicks from guys using their toilets.
Some of the men seated in groups around the tables are playing cards, checkers, or munching on the odd bit of food. Most simply talk. Some bump fists. Everyone looks as if they’re trying to find ways to kill time. Expressions and body language run the gamut: bored, calm, suspicious, morose, angry, aggressive, dazed, inebriated, noncomprehending. Most faces are black. Many others are brown. A sizable minority are white. Everything smells of stale sweat, cigarette smoke, dried blood, and other, less identifiable odors.

The floor, or at least Mouse can make out of it, is filthy. It’s strewn with cigarette butts, unidentifiable black marks, shoe impressions, a crudely scratched tic tac toe board, and even a wide, foul-smelling splotch of white, half-dried puke in one corner. Most of the chairs and benches look equally dirty. Phones dangle uselessly from scratched and vandalized receivers. One has been torn off and lies uselessly on the floor. The only truly functioning piece of technology looks like the TV, which the largest group of men is clustered around. They variously yell, boo, or simply stare ahead at the sports game that looks like it’s currently on.

Mouse: Mouse’s first instinct is to keep his head down and try his best to stay out of trouble (for now). He keeps his mouth shut except to answer questions and tries his best to keep hold of the dirty bedding items the guards gave him. He dropped his blanket. It’s all he can do to haul along his mattress and pillow.

He doesn’t like this place. It stinks. It’s crowded.

GM: Mouse’s present company speaks little. Deputies escort him and several other men to their cells, or at least some of them do. Mouse’s simply jerks his thumb towards one of the open cell doors that’s maybe half a block away.

Mouse: Mouse follows the guard’s thumb with his eyes and quickly shuffles forward until he reaches the indicated cell door. His teeth clench together in nervousness.

GM: Mouse’s cell is little different from any other jail cell that he has seen on TV. Jails, and their occupants, are not known for their creativity. The rusty-looking toilet would probably stink even if it wasn’t full of dark piss. The air smells of stale sweat, like outside, but the odor of cigarette smoke is particularly pungent. The upper bunk’s mattress is black with body grease. The walls are scratched with the names of prior residents, racial slurs, swastikas, crude scribblings of male and female genitalia, and other facile scatologies. Some enterprising past occupant appears to have climbed atop the cell bunk and burned the rendering of an ejaculating penis across the ceiling with a cigarette lighter.

OPP.jpg
Mouse: Mouse tiredly moves to set down his mattress and pillow on the lower bunk.

GM: The torn, fluid-stained mattress and lumpy pillow looks like they belong already. Home sweet home.

Mouse: Mouse sits down on the edge of the “bed”, lifts his knees to his chin, and curls into a small, jumpsuit-fitted ball. This is his life now, he thinks sadly.

The scrawny young man chokes back tears and lies still.

GM: His empty stomach pleadingly rumbles. His mouth is dry and parched. His ass feels grainy. In the background, he can make out the indistinct noises of conversation, punctuated by the occasional scream, shout, and unmistakable impact of fists—and harder implements—against too-frail human flesh.

It is against that backdrop that a tall shadow falls over Mouse’s fetal-positioned form.

Mouse: Mouse looks up with rodent-like eyes. He nervously rubs the end of his nose like it’s a reflex.

GM: The shadow’s owner is a large Hispanic man in perhaps his middle years. His bare chest is an intricate mosaic of tattoos depicting Jesus Christ wearing a crown of thorns, a tan-skinned woman who could maybe be the Virgin of Guadalupe, Pancho Villa, and assorted angels, demons, skulls, racing columns of fire, and several figures who Mouse cannot identify.

Cellmate.jpg
The rest of the man is positively mundane in comparison. He’s bald, wide-nosed, and bears a thick mustache and soul patch. His dark eyes roam over the fetal-curled young man with a look of cold indifference that is somehow no less unsettling than the savage mania worn by several of the prior inmates Mouse encountered.

Mouse: “Sorry,” Mouse quietly says to the man as he remains hunched on the bed, pretending he wasn’t caught crying. “I’m Mouse.”

GM: The tattooed man silently stares at him.

Mouse: “I’m sorry!” Mouse squeaks out as he looks down, breaking whatever tentative eye contact the two had before staring at the floor.

He frowns, then looks back up at the man with a scared look in his eye. He forces himself to maintain eye contact as he uncurls into a normal sitting position at the edge of the bed, but can’t help the tears running down his cheeks as his voice cracks. He tries his best to be strong, but it’s impossible to keep a lid on his emotions. “What’s your name?” he asks, meekly.

He sniffs and wipes his eyes. “I’m new. Sorry. I guess it’s normal to cry when you’re in prison, right?” he asks that last bit with a bit of uncertainty.

GM: Mouse’s cellmate wordlessly advances towards the bed, then suddenly grabs at his shoulders.

Mouse: Mouse quickly recoils. His wide, disbelieving eyes turn hot in an instant. “What the fuck!?” he yells, losing his shit as his eyes all but spin in rage.

GM: The man’s head whips around like a wolf tracking a bolting rabbit as Mouse scrambles from the bed, but there’s little space to run in the cramped cell. The man lunges after Mouse, seizes him by his shoulders, and throws him back onto the filthy mattress chest-first. Thickly calloused hands rip at the buttons to his jumpsuit, then speedily work to tug off the overlarge orange garment.

Mouse: Mouse continues to yell at the top of his lungs, straining his already hoarse voice. He furiously struggles to escape the man’s grasp. He tries to knee him in the groin and scratch at his eyes. Anything to free himself.

GM: His assailant’s grip feels implacable. Mouse screams and struggles, but it’s impossible to get in a solid kick or claw at his cellmate’s eyes with the weight of the larger man’s body against him. The man tugs off Mouse’s jumpsuit, then rips down his underwear. He enters Mouse’s anus with one sudden, violent thrust that’s almost impossible to believe is happening. Then there’s another. And another. The pain is excruciating. His rapist’s member feels like a knife, an iron shaft, splitting him open from the inside and ripping through his guts with every thrust. He sees flecks of red from the corner of his eye. He hears the larger man’s grunts and exertions in his ear. He dimly feels hairy balls smacking against his buttocks in sequence with every thrust and spear of agony. He feels something wet and coppery-smelling down tricking his legs. He feels his own disgustingly hardened member pressing against the dirty mattress. His heart thuds and thuds in his chest at a million miles a minute.

Then it just happens. He ejaculates into the mattress. He feels wet, warm cum seep over his stomach hairs.

Mouse: The young man’s muffled and pathetic cries are buried in the bed’s disgusting mattress as his face contorts in anguish.

GM: It’s too much. He vomits. There’s nothing in his stomach, and he spews rancid, orange-yellow liquid over the mattress. It makes his stomach cramp with pain. The next lance of pain makes him retch again. Even less come out. Mostly spit and blood that burns his throat.

Mouse doesn’t know how long it goes on for. It feels like hours. It feels like eternity. It feels like he’s dying. Maybe he is dying. When the man’s member pulls out, it feels like it wrenches out half his stomach along with it, leaving him hollow and empty inside. All of the flesh around his buttocks is numb. His legs are stiff. The mattress is coated in blood, bile, cum, and piss. So is his jumpsuit. And his legs. All is befouled. All has been made filthy.

There’s the flick of a lighter, and the smell of smoke filling the small cell. The man pulls out another joint from the carton and extends it towards Mouse.

“Smoke?”

Mouse: Mouse accepts the cigarette.

It’s his first.

GM: The man flicks the lighter and holds it underneath the cigarette. His mother always cautioned not to. Even Fizzy, who smoked, told him it was a bad habit.

The smoke feels invasive as it seeps it into his lungs. And irritating. It makes him cough and hack. It hurts even more with his torn throat.

The man laughs. “First time?”

He goes on, “There’s a way you got to do it. Don’t suck. Pull it into your mouth, like it’s a straw. Then open your mouth. Breathe it in.”

Mouse: It doesn’t come naturally. It hurts. Mouse barely has the strength to keep his eyes open as he brings the smoke to his mouth with a shaking hand. The taste of tobacco barely covers up the taste of the bile still on his tongue. He continues to stare at the gloomy floor of his cell, incapable of looking at his rapist.

“Thanks.” His words are hollow, like the feeling of his stomach and the bottom of his heart.

GM: Mouse coughs less doing it the way his still-nameless cellmate describes. The smoke is still irritating and makes him feel more than a bit queasy. But he also feels light-headed and dizzy, a little like motion sickness, but also hot and flushed. It’s even a little relaxing. He doesn’t feel like he’s all here, anymore.

That feels good.

That feels very, very good.

Or at least less awful.

The man grins. “Now you doing it the first time, niño. Make you little dizzy, sí?”

Mouse: Mouse can barely register if he brings himself to answer. He takes another draw from his lit smoke, allowing his ailing and battered conscience to fly away. Out of his body. Out of his cell.

Out of his hell.

GM: The third pull feels better than the second. He feels almost relaxed. He takes a fourth pull, and a fifth, and soon loses count. The head rush that hits him isn’t like others, it has weight and it pulls him down. His heart races but he feels almost calm, detached. Everything is heavy. The man laughs and says he’s, “Seeing Felicity. That her name, niño!” Mouse looks out of the cell’s door, and everything seems to blur together. He feels himself panting like a sunbathing dog and feels as though he’s just run a nice jog.

Then the moment dies. He is back in the filthy cell with the tattooed and grinning man.

His cellmate laughs again. “Felicity don’t stay long, do she? Never as sweet as the first time.”

He shakes his head. “This place is a fucking pigstye. Puto cerdo orzuelo!” He tells Mouse to sleep in his bed on the top bunk, until his mattress dries. He unbuttons his jumpsuit again, and Mouse hears a steady stream of piss falling into a toilet. The man flushes it and leaves the cell. Mouse is left inside and alone.

Mouse: A blank, glazed look remains on Mouse’s face as he remains sitting on his bed, too shocked and pained to even move. All he can think to wonder is one question:

Am I going to die in here?


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Story Six, Caroline VIII

“Justice, Miss Malveaux, does not guide the hand of the Camarilla.”
Philip Maldonato


Saturday night, 19 September 2015, PM

GM: “Awaken, Miss Malveaux.”

Pain stabs through the Ventrue’s chest. Her surroundings materialize.

She’s lying on a bench. There’s a stake, wet with vitae, lying next to her.

Caroline: For a moment, that’s all that sinks in. The terrifying confusion of awakening in a foreign place. The sharp and roaring pain in her chest. The deep feeling of violation associated with the two.

She pushes away the pain—or at least tries to—and looks around to ascertain where she is.

Caroline: Caroline is in what appears to be a garden.

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The Ventrue took an architectural history class once at Tulane and ascertains the style as Moorish—and a good deal more.

Working in a desert climate, the designers of such gardens were masters at maximizing the effect of water in the landscape. Water is clearly the primary motif, essential as it is to dessert cultures. The original water reservoir transforms into a central, cooling fountain in a foursquare pattern (called the charbagh by the Persians), considered today the basis for all formal garden design in the western world. Begun in the time of the Egyptians, refined by the Persians, and adopted by the Islamic world, these gardens came to represent a vision of Paradise, a walled and private space protected from the outside and filled with shade, color, abundance, and the sound of water. Color and pattern, in the form of ceramic tiles and carved stone, overcomes the limitations of long dry seasons (that do not actually exist in New Orleans) when plants are not in bloom. Plantings include cypress, sycamore, and almond, interspersed with pomegranate, fig, mandarins, oranges, and citrus. Jasmine, lilac, and rose provide further fragrance, while iris, tulips, and lilies complete the color palette. Lawns, however, are not used—such gardens were built in very hot climates, and are instead replaced with decorative paving that Caroline also knows is one of the key elements of the Moorish garden.

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It is not so complicated, she further reflects, to understand why the original Arabian desert nomads who became Iberia’s Moors valued water so highly. This cultural basis brings together the creations of the Arab masters of landscape with the Chinese and Japanese, where the garden was created as place for the meditation and “personal luxury”, but not as public property, which was characteristic of the Greeks and Romans.

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In the fountain, she further observes and isolates two main features. First of all the fountains do not contain the imprint of the human essence. The ideas of artists were never combined with man or his humanly form since the Koran forbids the depiction of the exposed body. Furthermore, designers were more restrained in the estimation of a quantity of utilized water (unlike later Turkish gardens), although this restraint is found in balance with a feeling of aesthetical “completeness” and self-sufficiency.

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A lone figure is seated on another bench.

His skin is dusky and smooth, with only the merest hint of the wrinkles of age around his deep-set, almond-hued eyes. In contrast to the hand-tailored business suits Caroline has previously seen him in, he now wears a plain gray robe with long, close-fitting sleeves and a fuller, ankle-length hem. A long piece of navy fabric known to Caroline as an almaizar is draped over his shoulders. She’s not sure of the name for the green wool cap on his head. He wears no shoes and but a single piece of jewelry: a gold signet ring set with a sapphire and traced with Arabic script.

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Observing John Harley Matheson, who was so still and pale, was akin to watching an animate statue—an unliving relic and anachronism with no place in the modern world. As Caroline gazes upon Philip Maldonato and her surroundings, she feels instead as if she has been transported to some far-off and exotic land from Arabian Nights. One where she, and not the anachronistically dressed elder before her, does not belong.

Caroline: Caroline’s classical education absently fills in holes and descriptions on what surrounds her. She searches for meaning and recognition, though they need not look further than her first view of the scene. Not even to the face of the gray-clad Kindred sitting not so far away.

She recalls well the seneschal’s tastes. Laying on her side she can see the stake beside her as well—an artistic touch, given that she has little doubt this is not the first part of whatever conversation may follow. The feeling of violation only deepens.

GM: The stake appears newly-drawn from her chest, covered as it is in fresh, wet vitae.

Caroline: It’s supplanted by a fresh throb of agony given her position, and in the moment it’s all Caroline can do to roll over onto her back on the bench. It takes the pressure of half of her body weight off of the damage. It helps with the pain. A bit.

She knows it’s a temporary reprieve. She can’t simply lay there. It wouldn’t be polite or proper.

GM: Silence stretches the warm, humid air. Caroline hears birds chirp in the distance. The elder vampire regards her patiently from his bench. He looks as if he could sit on that bench for a thousand years. As if he has been sitting on that bench for a thousand years.

Caroline: In truth, that feeling of relief is only going to make it worse in the long term. She fixes her eyes on the seneschal, takes an unnecessary breath, and painfully rolls over onto her chest, fighting a scream of pain and letting out a quiet whimper as she leverages herself to her knees with her hands, the pressure on her chest sending fresh waves of agony through her. She loses eye contact with the seneschal for a moment, but looks back to meet his gaze clearly, through clenched teeth she makes an effort to unclench before speaking.

“I am at the service of the prince’s seneschal.”

She wonders how many times they’ve had this conversation.

GM: “Miss Malveaux.” Maldonato indicates the space beside him on the bench. “Please sit with me.”

Caroline: “As the seneschal wishes.”

She doesn’t whimper this time as she uses a hand to help force herself up into sitting position. She can’t keep the pain off her face as she rises to her feet. She makes what feels like the longest walk of her life over to the ancient Moor. She uses her other hand to try to plug the hole in her chest, or at least stop its flow of vitae. She’s made enough of a mess in the beautiful garden already.

It’s a somewhat futile effort. Much of her blood already stains where she was, and more drops escape, running through her fingers as she walks over to him. She feels a flash of remorse for staining such a lovely and intensely personal place.

GM: The seneschal’s almond eyes regard Caroline pensively before he begins, “Your blood was shed by other hands, Miss Malveaux. Nor does it flow by your will.”

Caroline: “Forgive me, Seneschal, it seems so out of place in this one. I feel as though I’m a vandal defacing a work of art.”

She bites her lip before taking another step, bringing herself towards Maldonato.

“And a blasphemer as well, for I do not imagine that for the seneschal a vision of paradise and peace is stained with the blood of a neonate.”

GM: “I had you brought here with foreknowledge of your state, Miss Malveaux. The blood that flows from your breast flows by my will.”

A mortal might stroke their chin at this point. The seneschal does not, yet something seems to stir in his deep-set, slightly-wrinkled eyes, as if the motion occurred to him and was simply not acted upon.

“Forgiveness is all-too rare among our kind. Yet perhaps it is well that forgiveness should exist between us in this matter. I fear that little more of it may await us tonight.”

Caroline: Her eyes flash downward for a moment, more shame, but race back up to meet his, remembering well Matheson’s lesson. His words fall like a leaden cloak over her, and her next words die at her lips, she nods. She takes the seat as she was instructed.

GM: The wooden seat is worn and smooth beneath Caroline’s legs. The elder Kindred sits but several handspan’s breadths away from her. As close as her first meeting with Jocelyn, she cannot help but recall, in the Toreador’s car. She cared as little for the cloth seat then as she does now.

“If you will in turn forgive my divergence from matters of great consequence, Miss Malveaux,” Maldonato continues, “you feel at peace here, the circumstances of your arrival notwithstanding. May I inquire as to which feature of my garden you find most aesthetically or spiritually pleasing?”

Caroline: Caroline’s gaze sweeps over the garden before sweeping home to the elder. “In brevity, or in detail? If I might be so bold as to ask.”

GM: “As you would desire to answer,” the seneschal replies.

Caroline: Again the gaze sweeps out, and this time she begins speaking without immediately returning it to the elder Kindred.

“On its own, perhaps more than anything else, the subdued peace of it all. The quiet understatement and isolation of it. Its perfection of form and function, both spiritually and aesthetically, in capturing the classical Islamic and Moorish ideals respectively of contemplation, rest, and peace in such a place. Water, idealized in western culture as calming or neutral but more readily recognized in Moorish culture for its value is at once reserved and extravagant—but even then modest in its use. Purposeful. It’s something the Turks lost, I think, the idea that modesty has a merit of its own.”

She runs a tongue over her teeth.

“I, are…”

She stops herself from asking the question.

GM: “I will find no rudeness in you giving voice to your thought, Miss Malveaux,” the seneschal bids.

Caroline: “Forgive me, Seneschal, it is not a polite question or one I have business asking. Please let me instead say that outside of the garden itself, perhaps what I appreciate the most about it is how… right it appears for its owner, and how at peace he appears to be within it. Other elders have felt… perhaps a bit out of place. This is the first time I have strongly felt the opposite. It is a reassuring thought, however pointless that thought may be in this moment.”

GM: Maldonato’s almond-hued gaze slowly drifts across the garden’s feature. He is silent for a moment, and Caroline can hear naught but the gentle flowing of the fountain’s water.

“It is similar in appearance to the garden maintained by my mortal father. I have had replicas constructed in other places and at other times. They hold many memories for me, both singularly and collectively.”

Caroline: Caroline nods at the admission. “I am sorry to have brought the unpleasant memory of what must follow into it.”

GM: “Once more, Miss Malveaux, you apologize to me for actions that are not your own. Such apologies are well-intentioned, yet by their lack of necessity I have no cause to accept them. I have chosen to bring you to this place. Why do you believe that I might do such a thing?”

Caroline: “I can think of many reasons, Seneschal. Few of them bode well, however benevolent the act itself may be.”

There’s a quiver in her lip when she speaks, and only by firmly biting down on it does she make it stop when she herself stops talking.

“For instance, an opportunity to make peace before whatever sentence or punishment is to be lain upon me.”

GM: Maldonato’s gaze returns from Caroline’s face to the garden’s central fountain.

“Some elements of this garden are untrue to my memories of the original from my breathing days. A historian would term these elements anachronisms.”

“I am old and set in my ways. Though I strive to keep abreast of the modern world’s developments, the comforts of the past are inherently more pleasing to me. I feel that by incorporating slight modernistic changes into a place where I am most at peace, I may reach peace with those changes, and carry that peace with me when I re-enter the modern world.”

Caroline: Caroline slightly tilts her head, taking in that comment and running it over.

GM: “There is a similar medical analogy in so-called ‘pox parties’,” Maldonato continues, “whereby groups of children are exposed to common infectious diseases, such as chicken pox, in hopes of inoculating them against reinfection. Controlled exposure to pernicious agents theoretically spares these children from greater future suffering.”

“The efficacy of this practice is at best dubious, of course, and vaccination is a more effective means of inoculation, though I am told some parents persist in deliberately subjecting their young to preventable diseases. The capacity for human illogic appears endemic to all times and places. But I digress from the subject at hand.”

Caroline: “My time is yours, Seneschal,” Caroline replies evenly.

GM: “Yet my time is not my own, for there are other matters that presently weigh upon my mind. I will pray your forgiveness should my attentions appear divided.”

Caroline: “It is your forgiveness I must beg, I did not anticipate the mess that was created.”

GM: “All matters in their time, Miss Malveaux.”

The seneschal pauses again.

“Spiritual inoculation, both yours and mine, is one reason I have brought you to this place. Another reason was my belief that you would find it a calming and peaceful environs.”

Caroline: Caroline takes in a deep breath through her nose, taking in the scents of the chamber—and trying to ignore that of her own stolen blood. It’s painful, but isn’t everything in these days? Her eyes slip across the gardens and slightly out of focus. There’s a simple beauty to it all. A peace.

“Spiritual inoculation.”

She pauses.

“My uncle particularly hates that phrase. Well, and all the associated ideas. I think he’d rather his believers simply be that—believers—and leave any thought to him.”

GM: “Belief without thought is a house without foundation.”

Caroline: “He’d never say something like this to me, of course, but I overheard him talking with my father once. It was late at night. I should have been asleep. I’ve tried to simply believe.” She looks down. “In all of this. In our church. Teachings I only barely understand, demands that I…”

She lets out a sigh.

“I hurt someone. Tortured them. And I just tried to tell myself it was right. I murdered someone, confessed to it, and was all but congratulated on it. I want to believe. I need something to believe in. But how do you do it?” she asks rhetorically.

“How do you reconcile a lifetime of faith with a faith that demands we be…” She stops and sighs, “I guess true to…”

She looks away from the garden and the seneschal for a moment and brings a hand up to her face.

“Monsters,” she finishes at last. “I don’t want to be like some Kindred I’ve met, that take such active pleasure in sadism.”

GM: “‘It is by God’s will that we are monsters; we are His instruments to punish the guilty,’” Maldonato quotes. “This dogma is an oversimplification of the Lancea et Sanctum’s beliefs, yet for many congregates, it is sufficient. Such Kindred merely desire justification for their Requiems. The rhetoric of the Church Eternal can be highly seductive to them. I believe that fewer Kindred, however, truly contemplate and seek to follow God’s will.”

“Tell me, Miss Malveaux, when was the last occasion you prayed to Him?”

Caroline: “Wednesday night, Seneschal. I had some time to myself for the first time after capturing my sire.”

GM: Maldonato’s silence seemingly allows Caroline to further expound.

Caroline: “I found myself… adrift. I’d been so focused on catching him that so much else had faded into the background, and I felt… lost. I had.. I’d already done some terrible things. Killed people. Hurt others. I was looking for… forgiveness, I guess.”

The quiver returns and she pauses until she silences it.

“I’d let my brother die. I didn’t know it for sure, but I knew it.” She nods her head. “I knew it in my bones, in this still heart. I just felt so worthless. So empty. So disgusting. Logically…. rationally… I don’t think there was a choice, but it didn’t make it any less terrible.”

“So I asked Him for forgiveness. I… usually I’d seek out a priest, but mortal priests are… a problem, and Father Malveaux, for all of his good intentions and theological knowledge and certainty… I don’t think he would understand. So I sat. And I searched for passages that seemed relevant. And I tried to talk to Him.”

GM: “To desire God’s forgiveness under such circumstances is understandable. That you would seek forgiveness, which is distinct from atonement and clarity of purpose, also reveals much. It is understandable that you would desire moral justification for your existence. Yet it is also akin to approaching a scientific experiment with desired conclusions. It is possible that, were you to more fully explore the Church Eternal’s theology, you would conclude God does not offer forgiveness—or only offers forgiveness under such circumstances as you may find unpalatable. More than one Kindred who desired forgiveness and concluded it lay beyond their reach has been driven into the Beast’s clutches.”

“It is my belief that only those Kindred who approach our covenant with humility and earnest desire to submit to God’s will, regardless of their own place within it, can truly proper and find purpose among the Lancea et Sanctum. Kindred who yearn for deeper meaning in their Requiems than the secular goals of the Anarchs and Invictus, yet who desire a purpose more clear and actionable than God’s will, often turn towards the Crones or Ordo Dracul.”

Caroline: Caroline accepts the minor rebuke for what it is.

“If I might ask then, Seneschal, how does one atone for what is by its nature an existence wrought with creating suffering in, at least, minor ways? I… have trouble understanding how simply inflicting more suffering and pain intentionally must be the answer to God’s will.”

GM: “Your question, Miss Malveaux, touches upon another question that Kindred thinkers have sought to answer for millennia. Why do monsters such as we exist? What purpose is served through a race of predators that sustains itself upon the blood of man?”

Caroline: “The wolves of God,” Caroline echoes.

GM: “A contemporary mortal intellectual has said to beware those who would preach simple solutions to complex questions. If the answer was simple, wiser men would have thought of it long ago. Complex questions invariably require complex and difficult answers.”

“I believe that answer may be found in the origins of our race.”

An unmarked black volume floats across the garden, as though carried by an unseen servant. Maldonato receives the book, opens it, and reads,

“I dream of the first times the longest memory
I speak of the first times the oldest father
I sing of the first times and the dawn of darkness.”


“In Nod, where the light of Paradise lit up the night sky and the tears of our parents wet the ground
Each of us, in out way, set about to live and take our sustenance from the land.
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.”


“I loved him, my brother
He was the brightest
The sweetest.
The strongest.
He was the first part of all my joy.”


“Then one day our Father said to us,
’Caine, Abel to Him Above you must make a sacrifice a gift of the first part of all that you have
And I, first-born Caine, I gathered the tender shoots the brightest fruits the sweetest grass
And Abel, second-born, Abel slaughtered the youngest, the strongest, the sweetest of his animals
On the altar of our Father we laid our sacrifices and lit fire under them and watched the smoke carry them up to the One Above
The sacrifice of Abel, second-born, smelled sweet to the One Above and Abel was blessed.”


“And, I, first-born Caine, I was struck from beyond by a harsh word and a curse, for my sacrifice was unworthy
I looked at Abel’s sacrifice, still smoking the flesh, the blood.
I cried, I held my eyes
I prayed in night and day.”


“And when Father said the time for Sacrifice has come again
And Abel led his youngest, his sweetest, his most beloved to the sacrificial fire
I did not bring my youngest, my sweetest, for I knew the One Above would not want them.”


“And my brother, beloved Abel said to me,
‘Caine, you did not bring a sacrifice, a gift of the first part of you joy, to burn on the altar of the One Above.’
I cried tears of love as I, with sharp things, sacrificed that which was the first part of my joy, my brother.”


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“And the blood of Abel covered the altar and smelled sweet as it burned
But my father said
‘Cursed are you, Caine, who killed your brother. As I was cast out so shall you be.’
And he exiled me to wander in darkness, the land of Nod.”


“I flew into the darkness
I saw no source of light and I was afraid.
And alone.
"

The seneschal pauses in his recitation to turn several pages in the black volume.

“And from the darkness came a bright shining light fire in the night.
And the archangel Michael revealed himself to me.
I was unafraid. I asked his business.”


“Michael, General of Heaven, wielder of the holy flame, said unto me,
‘Son of Adam, son of Eve, thy crime is great, and yet the mercy of my father is also great.
Will you not repent the evil that you have done, and let his mercy wash you clean?’”


“And I said to Michael,
‘Not by the One Above’s grace, but mine own will I live, in pride.’”


“Michael cursed me, saying
‘Then, for as long as you walk this earth, you and your children will fear my living flame,
and it will bite deep and savor your flesh.’”


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“And on the morning, Raphael came on lambent wings, light over the horizon
the driver of the sun, ward of the east.”


“Raphael spoke, saying Caine, son of Adam, son of Eve, your brother Abel forgives you your sin
Will you not repent, and accept the mercy of the Almighty?’”


“And I said to Raphael
‘Not by Abel`s forgiveness, but mine own, will I be forgiven.’”


“Raphael cursed me, saying
‘Then, for as long as you walk this earth, you and your children will fear the dawn,
and the sun’s rays will seek to burn you like fire where ever you hide always.
Hide now for the sun rises to take its wrath on you.’”


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“But I found a secret place in the earth and hid from the burning light of the sun.
Deep in the earth, I slept until the light of the world was hidden behind the mountain of night.
When I awoke from my day of sleep, I heard the sound of gentle rushing wings
and I saw the black wings of Uriel draped around me.”


“Uriel, reaper, angel of death, dark Uriel who dwells in darkness.
Uriel spoke to me quietly, saying,
‘Son of Adam. Son of Eve. God Almighty has forgiven you your sin.
Will you accept his mercy and let me take you to your reward, no longer cursed?’”


“And I said to dark-winged Uriel,
‘Not by God`s mercy, but my own, will I live.
I am what I am, I did what I did, and that will never change.’”


“And then, through dread Uriel God Almighty cursed me, saying,
‘Then, for as long as you walk this earth, you and your children will cling to darkness
You will drink only blood
You will eat only ashes
You will be always as you were at death,
Never dying, living on.
You will walk forever in darkness, all you touch will crumble into nothing, until the last days.’”


“I gave a cry of anguish at this terrible curse and tore at my flesh. I wept blood
I caught the tears in a cup and drank them
When I looked up from my drink of sorrow the archangel Gabriel, gentle Gabriel,
Gabriel, Lord of Mercy, appeared to me.
The archangel Gabriel said unto me,”


“‘Son of Adam, Son of Eve, behold, the mercy of the Father is greater than you can ever know
for even now there is a path opened, a road of mercy
Tell you children of it, for by that road may they come once again dwell in the light.’
And with that, the darkness was lifted like a veil and the only light was Lilith’s bright eyes.”


Maldonato closes the unmarked book and regards Caroline once more.

“What is your assessment of our Dark Father, Miss Malveaux? What purpose do you believe there was, and perhaps remains, in his existence?”

Caroline: Caroline is silent throughout his reading, and remains silent and still when he comes to his conclusion and lays his questions upon her. The seneschal can practically hear the gears turning in her head, the conflict such a blasphemous depiction of the first murder evokes in her.

Finally, at last, she finds her voice, applying intellect rather than faith to Maldonato’s question.

“In his actions, and subsequent curse, you could see a warning. And I think the path upon his Kindred were set. But it seems so very different than ‘wolves of God’.”

“If one were to take the tale on its literal face value, it is to say that to cling too tightly to God’s own approval, to throw away everything else in pursuit of his desire and supplication is to court disaster. And instead that the path Caine was set upon, that Kindred all are set upon. To court godly purpose on ones own terms, and to answer His desires as you see fit.”

GM: “That is what would you name as God’s purpose for our race? A living warning and example to others?”

Caroline: She looks over to him, almost timidly.

“No, Seneschal. Based only upon that reading, and no details that may follow upon… I would say the purpose of the curse and the purpose that Caine found for himself, and Kindred, was…”

She slows to a stop, again, timidly, before continuing more quietly,

“To find for themselves a purpose before God, on their terms. To reject God’s forgiveness, and court… not self-determination, but self-worth in the eyes of God by their own means. Based only upon that short passage,” she hastily finishes.

GM: “Not merely God’s forgiveness,” Maldonato corrects. “_’Raphael spoke, saying Caine, son of Adam, son of Eve, your brother Abel forgives you your sin. Will you not repent, and accept the mercy of the Almighty?’”_

Caroline: “It is to reject conventional notions of God’s desires, of what is right and wrong.”

GM: “Then it is your belief that Caine elected to find his own purpose in his curse, in rejection of God’s and his brother’s forgiveness. Yet what of the Almighty’s purpose for the Third Mortal, Miss Malveaux? It was by His will that Caine was granted life everlasting.”

Caroline: “No. I… it’s more complicated than that.”

GM: The elder’s waiting silence seemingly bids that she expound.

Caroline: “In not only his rejection of grace, forgiveness, and mercy, but also his affirmation that such things should flow forth from himself, he laid himself as a rival to God, essentially challenging that his own actions and beliefs and choices were so valid as God’s own.”

GM: “A more nuanced explanation indeed, Miss Malveaux. Now that we have spoken as to Caine’s potential beliefs and motives, I shall inquire again as to what purpose you believe God intended for Adam’s son.”

Caroline: “I’m sorry, Seneschal, do you mean to suggest as a whole, or after the murder of Abel, as a Kindred?”

GM: “I would contend they are one and the same, Miss Malveaux.”

Caroline: “A path for those who have transgressed against God to walk?”

The response comes out half as a question as she struggles with the blasphemous nature of their entire discussion.

GM: “Caine’s own actions could lay such a path. Yet why would God lay such a path for Caine? Was he not guilty of the sins of murder and hubris? Was he not cursed for his refusal to recant his sins?”

Caroline: “How not many others been guilty of such since, Seneschal? I’ve heard it said that every Kindred Embraced has some great sin in their past.”

GM: “By which I shall presume you mean their mortal pasts, Miss Malveaux. That sentiment is oft-repeated among the Sanctified’s younger laity as ‘we are all Embraced for a reason’ or ‘it is by God’s will that we become Kindred.’ Such bromides, however comforting, prove to have little basis in fact when one examines the mortal lives and deeds of enough Kindred. Some of us led virtuous lives. Some of us led quotidian lives of little sin and little virtue. To believe that all of Caine’s descendants have committed sin worthy of damnation posits a simple answer to an exceedingly complex question.”

Caroline: “Why was I Embraced?” Caroline fills in. The disappointment on her face is difficult for her to hide.

GM: The seneschal merely shakes his head.

“You seek purpose and justification for your existence, but you will not find it in the choices of fallible men—nor those who are less than men. Faith, perhaps that most difficult of all the heavenly virtues to find in oneself, is no more easily found among our race than it is found among the kine.”

Caroline: “I don’t understand, Seneschal,” Caroline finally admits.

GM: “Nevertheless, you have set us upon this theological discourse, and we shall finish it before we speak of other matters,” Maldonato reproaches. “Let us leave the subject of your Embrace, for objective thought will not come easily to you there, and return to our Dark Father’s.”

“You posit that God has laid forth a path and purpose for those who do not follow His will. Yet God promised Caine salvation were he to do penance for his sins. Caine was cursed for each of three times he spurned the Almighty’s—and his brother’s—forgiveness. What purpose could such seemingly contradictory actions serve in God’s plan?”

Caroline: “Free will?” Caroline speculates. “That though in theology is a densely packed box, depending upon which branch of Abrahamic faith you approach it from.”

She frowns. “And perhaps more densely packed than I had begun to understand, Seneschal, given the Kindred narrative as well. Whatever course God might have had planned for Caine, ultimately he could not be judged by God for that course unless he had the opportunity to stray from it.”

GM: A frown begins to crease Maldonato’s face.

“There is little freedom in such ‘free will’ as you describe, Miss Malveaux, if one is immediately cursed by God for making the ‘wrong’ choice. This of course is, as you have touched upon, a modern notion of what free will entails. For a far greater period of human history, ‘free will’ was not the freedom to make distinct choices and live with varying consequences, but the freedom to follow God’s will and prosper or to defy it and court ruin. By such a definition, Caine cannot be the Nietzschean self-determinist you would appear to cast him as, but a fool who thrusts his own hand into a fire and inevitably seals his misery and pain. So let us leave that theological box presently unopened.”

Caroline: Caroline feels a shiver run through her at the frown on the all-too close elder’s face, and turns her thoughts back to the tale once more.

“Does not much depend on what that final road was, and how Lilith interacts?” she asks finally.

GM: “We are all-too frequently called upon to make choices without the foreknowledge desire, Miss Malveaux. Lilith’s part in Caine’s tale is not germane to our present discussion.”

Caroline: “And what of the path promised by Gabriel?”

GM: “I have drawn my own conclusions concerning the archangel’s path. It is yours that I would hear.”

Caroline: “To return to your original questions, Seneschal, I would offer an alternative to my original comments: that perhaps the intent was to offer a path back for all those who have spurned God at every turn.”

GM:‘Son of Adam, Son of Eve, behold, the mercy of the Father is greater than you can ever know.’

Caroline: Caroline nods. “Yes, Seneschal.”

GM: “Your interpretation of the text is simplistic, but it is improved upon your prior one, which ascribed overmuch significance to Caine’s words. These passages are told from his point of view. He seeks to justify his sin to himself, nothing more, as all sinners who do not recant their transgressions are wont to do.”

Caroline: Caroline again accepts the rebuke, though not without taking the sting of it on the chin. It’s like being critiqued by her father.

“Can I ask then, what path is laid open to Kindred?”

GM: “We now return to that which you originally sought, Miss Malveaux. Clarity of moral purpose. Yet is it purpose you desire, or forgiveness and reprieve from damnation? Would you sooner do God’s will as one of the Damned, or be cleansed of your sins and reborn as a mortal? Or is it neither forgiveness nor purpose you seek, but penance and atonement?”

Caroline: The questions provoke a moment of silence from the young Ventrue—no, they stun her into silence, as their weight hits her. Would she return to her mortal existence tomorrow, if given the chance? Or even this night? Could she even return? The elder Kindred’s question sets off a war within Caroline as she struggles to sort out faith, feelings, and fears.

Tightness builds across her aching chest, and for a moment she focuses on the pain as it blots out the agony in her soul. She looks away, raises a hand to her face to wipe away the beginnings of bloody tears before they can stain her cheeks—the action only smears her own blood—already staining her hands—across her cheek. Purpose or forgiveness? To serve among the damned or return to the living. Or none of those?

All of the choices have seemed so far away until now. Questions over the horizon, as far away from her as the sunrise, things she may never see. But sitting beside the seneschal, this ancient being seemingly so at peace with what he is, with his existence, and with so much knowledge… the rays of the sun have peeked over the horizon, and they burn like the sun in truth. They sear her spirit like she’d once feared Hell would, but in so doing they burn away excuses, the refusal to confront the truth.



Caroline: Purpose? But what purpose is there to be in this existence? To carve out misery among those that deserve it? It sounds too much like trying to pay for successes with only defeats. It’s the best that she’s heard, but the very thought of spending eternity seeking only to inflict harm on people makes her stomach roll. Perhaps there are those that she could take some small joy in punishing, but the very idea that she should set out to be the avenger of God…

Forgiveness? What forgiveness can be there be for what she has done? A murderer many times over, and of her own blood. A rapist. A betrayer of those that loved and trusted her. And worse, some of those things she’s enjoyed. Taken pleasure in. God’s will as the Damned. That purpose, to cause misery.

Or to be reborn as a mortal? Lou said he knew of no means to do so, but could she even do so? After all that she’s seen, lay aside all that she’s done, could she go back to being… ordinary? That thought savagely digs into her like a flaming sword, and it is wielded all to keenly against herself. She tries to fight back: to be human would be to be little more than a victim once more. If she were human tomorrow, knowing what was out there in the night, knowing what lay just beneath the surface, could she ever live that way again? Could she ever find peace? Could she ever feel safe? As helpless as she has been before so many others, as many times as her very mind has been raped at the whim of others, she’s not entirely defenseless.

If she were to walk out of this garden as a mortal the truth is, she admits, that she would have no life, and secure in her sins, with heaven promised to her, she would pray every day for death.

Both wells are poisoned—to stare into the moral abyss already staring back at her or to judge the world always by the sparkle it would lack forever more in her eyes.

What was taken from her that night by René is something she’d once thought vanished when children became adolescents: innocence. As children view the world of adults, so had she viewed the world in truth, and like the secret of Santa Claus when that innocence is lost it never returns. When the truth is plain what joy could she find in lies?

It’s more than this ravening beast within her. It’s more than the awfulness of so many Kindred. What she’s been weeping over, crying inside to herself over is the lifting of the veil if ignorance. Like Eve who ate of the forbidden fruit, she can never go back.

Which leaves? Atonement? What could that possibly comprise of as she is? Not even her death could pay for all that she has done. All that she continues to do. Mountains sit on the scales opposite of her. Like Caine before her she’s slain her brother. And so much more.

At least she speaks, her voice trembling.

“Is that even possible?” she asks.

GM:No,” the ancient Moor answers solemnly.

He leans forward to Caroline, ever so slightly closer, yet the motion is more akin to witnessing an ice sheet crack off a vast glacier. His deep-set almond eyes bore into hers as he continues,

“I have seen no evidence that it is possible to reverse the Embrace.”

Time hangs still.

The advancing glacier recedes as the elder re-assumes his prior posture. His eyes do not leave hers, but seem merely to gaze into rather than truly fathom their depths.

“There are legends,” he continues. “Some say that slaying one’s sire or finding true love can restore one to mortality. More bittersweet tales claim that a Cainite who sacrifices themselves unselfishly for another, who dies a good and blameless death, may become human again at the moment of their demise.”

“In all the years of my Requiem, I have never witnessed such a thing. Nor have I spoken to any Kindred who reliably claimed to have witnessed such a thing. Such accounts always happen to ‘the lover of my grandsire’s cousin’ or ‘the childe of a distant prince.’”

Maldonato lapses into silence. It is broken only by the soft flowing of the fountain’s water. Even the birds Caroline heard do not seem to dare breathe.

“Nevertheless, Miss Malveaux,” he answers at last, “you have my apologies. My questions were intended to provoke unconsidered thoughts—not to kindle false hopes.”

Caroline: “You did not, Seneschal. I apologize, I…”

She clenches her teeth, not wanting to admit what she knows is true. She instead continues on another vein.

“What I had meant to inquire was as to the nature of atonement. I have had a short, abet perhaps unusual Requiem, but I cannot feel as though every night has only added to my damnation.”

GM: “Then it is atonement which you most desire, above either purpose or forgiveness?”

Caroline: “In truth, Seneschal, it is difficult to say such with certainty, but based on what I have seen, and what was read,” she gestures with pale but bloodstained hands towards the book in the elder’s hands. “That would seem the proper path…”

She seems almost timid. No, not almost timid. She is timid. A jump, a leap into a choice, a decision, with no safety net. Or perhaps not yet such a leap. Perhaps she merely stands at the edge before stepping out onto that path.

GM:No, Miss Malveaux,” the seneschal reprimands sharply, his almond-hued eyes suddenly hard like wood. He has since set down the unmarked black volume in his hands.

“First you inquire of me whether atonement is possible. When I do not answer, you plead that it is difficult to know. Now you gaze upon the volume formerly in my hands, whose authors and full contents are ignorant of. But if you would place such value upon my thoughts, then know one of the foundational principles that guides the values of a thinker high in my regard: _one is to always act in such a way that one could will the maxim of one’s act become a universal law. _ Atonement, under such a principal, is not an end but a means. Its consequences—whether one can indeed atone—are unknowable. It is the act alone and the motives behind it that carry intrinsic value.”

The weight of the elder’s gaze does not abate, nor does the resurgent frown upon his dusky-skinned face.

Meekness ill becomes you under our present circumstances, Miss Malveaux. It is you who have started us upon this discourse, and it is not one for the timid of spirit. If you desire me to guide you to a conclusion I have already reached, speak to your confessor, for I am not he. You are as one who stands at the brink of an abyss, uncertain whether a step forward will carry you safely across or send you plummeting into its depths. That abyss is your own soul, and none may walk its chasms but you.”

“I bid that you now answer me, without pleading my guidance, for you shall have none of it: what do you desire from your existence? Or do you truly not know, save only that your Requiem has brought you pain?”

Caroline: Fear flashes across her face as the seneschal raises his voice, and too many memories of past suffering at the hands of her elders, much less actual elders. Lessons taught only the night before in decorum. Lessens taught over nights of meekness that are difficult to unlearn. Then… not quite anger. Frustration. To be given pieces of a puzzle and the appearance of a test of her ability to put it together. To be critiqued as a student and held as an equal in rigor, it’s gone quickly.

Replaced with something else. Something the seneschal has seen little of since her first meeting with him weeks ago—and even then little of given the circumstances: iron. She sets her jaw grimly in the face his rhetorical demands and sits up straighter, proudly. The action is stiff and uncomfortable—the wound in her chest spits forth more of her stolen blood, but she fights to keep the pain from her face. It’s a distraction.

She doesn’t know if this is a test or a conversation, if it is an opportunity or a confessional before she meets whatever fate he has in store for her, but if this is what he wants, and if this truly may be her last night, she’s done cowering. “Seneschal.” Her voice is clearer than it has been tonight, despite the obvious pain that her more upright posture is causing her.

“I know only that my Requiem has brought me untold pain, physical, spiritual, and emotional. I’ve hurt friends and family, murdered and ordered more, tortured for my own gratification, laid bare secrets I would had taken to my grave, suffered pain enough to kill any living person a dozen times over, and through it all done little with it all but inflict more suffering on my own selfish path.”

“Atonement? Forgiveness? Purpose? One, I have been taught my whole life is where only man can find salvation, but which may be forever out of reach. As with Caine, I had opportunities to seek it, but time and again turned my face from god: every Sunday in fact, and in pride.”

“Purpose, as others have explained it, as I have learned it, seems a hollow and empty thing: though I am hesitant to dismiss it entirety due to the efficacy of my knowledge. In that matter, as with all Kindred matters, I hold a candle in the might by which I may try to seek out a path, but that candles light scarcely lights the step in front of me, much less the path’s way or where it may lead.”

“I beg understanding then, if not forgiveness, then in seeking to sit beside one whose own experience is as a sun to my candle. Perhaps it was shortsighted to seek to see my own path by the light of your own, Seneschal.”

“Krishnamurti maintained that the truth was a pathless land, and that he could lead no other to it, that they must lead themselves. Such a thought is…. so very different than what I was brought up to believe: that only the Church can lead you, but in this land of shadows, where lies come more easily than truths, that is certainly a dangerous proposition indeed. That an ancient Moor would quote Kant says much of how pathless this existence may be, in truth.”

“In this pathless land I cannot say with certainty which way I should seek to go. And yes, perhaps it was childish to seek the words of another to guide those steps, though perhaps more than most Kindred that one such as yourself has cause to speak to, I am still much the child.”

She pauses. “Perhaps that made me all the more grateful and eager to seek your guidance then, Seneschal, the feeling of great fortune to have the opportunity to seek guidance, and perhaps that only made it all the more foolish.”

“Laying all of that aside, yes, in pain, and darkness, and with only the barest scraps to go on, atonement… if there is such a path that might lead to that, that is where my own conscious leads me. I would make right myself before God, and presuming I see through this night, and into others, such is the path I would choose to pursue.”

“Despite my many flaws… despite my many mistakes… despite the many times I have turned from God’s mercy in the path, I would seek it, more wholly now, with greater appreciation for what was once so freely offered, which I in my pride, as did Caine,” she gestures to the book, “scorned.”

“Perhaps that path may be down that laid out as I have seen it among the Lancea et Sanctum. In inflicting suffering on those that scorn God. I know, appreciate, and accept that as a condition of prior assistance joining among the Sanctified was a precondition, and I would not ignore or scorn that demand—but what little I have seen of it has not…. has seemed so very much like trying to buy your way into heaven with only wickedness.”

“And wickedness is not where my conscious, what remains of it, nor my spirit would take me given the choice.” She finishes strongly, but not as clearly as she began, through teeth clenched in pain, and half expecting a blow to send her to the ground for her impenitence in offering her demanded opinion.

GM: “So it is atonement you would seek,” Maldonato states, steepling his long fingers when Caroline has finished. “This on the basis of the Archangel Gabriel’s promised road?”

Caroline: “In truth, in part, Seneschal. I admit the idea had not occurred to me before your reading, but more broadly, even if the text is all falsehoods… as I said, the other paths I’ve seen…”

GM: “Yes,” Maldonato weighs. “Falsehoods.”

“The earliest verifiable reference to Israel can be found in the Merneptah Stele, which dates back to the thirteenth century Before Christ. The Merneptah Stele’s reference is based upon a hieroglyphic translation. Records of Judaism as a religion do not appear until the Iron Age, and it was not until the late Roman Empire that Jewish theology, repurposed by the Christians, was accepted among anything but a tiny minority of the world’s Kindred population. Mortal and Kindred civilizations before Rome and Israel had their own Caines. Sumerians had tales of brother turning upon brother, transcribed upon stone tablets that predate the Torah. The Babylonians had Dumuzi and Enkidu. The Greeks and Romans had Ixion, the first kinslayer who murdered his father-in-law.”

“Thus it follows that even if the text I have read you is as old as writing itself—a generous assumption—it has been translated at least once from its original language into Hebrew, given its mentions of Caine by name. A less generous assumption could hold the text is no older than the sixth century Before Christ. When one considers the whole of the volume, its writings are frequently contradictory or subject to broad interpretation. There is no guarantee that it has not been translated additional times, nor that the scholars who translated it were free of biases and agendas.”

“The text’s original author is unknown. We do not even know if it had one, several, or many authors, for its writings do not originate from a singular source. They have been painstakingly assembled from disparate fragments over the course of many years by a very old acquaintance of mine. The edition I have read from was not compiled until your own mortal lifetime. Kindred history is primarily oral.”

The Testament of Longinus, however, is of significantly less dubious scholarship and authenticity. Consensus over the latter is not universal, but the Testament’s age and origins are clearer and its authors are better-known to us. The Testament’s collected chapters may still be read, untranslated, in their original Greek and Latin. The volume I have read to you, though indisputably old, is considered akin to the kine’s Book of Giants. Though it is of scholarly value, the Lancea et Sanctum does not consider it religious canon.”

“In short,” Maldonato concludes, “you would be poorly-advised to look to it for moral guidance.”

Caroline: Caroline is silent, mulling that over.

“More akin to the Dead Sea Scrolls than the Torah or the Bible. Which is to say more than mildly heretical as well?” she asks.

GM: “An apt enough analogy, Miss Malveaux. Yet unlike the Dead Sea Scrolls, the volume I have read you is considered a near-definitive cultural and religious text for Western Kindred. The Testament is only accepted as canonical by believers in the Sanctified faith.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip. “So, is it for it inoculation against such misleading works that I have been brought here?”

GM: “No, I have had you brought here for less esoteric reasons, Miss Malveaux. I would be exceedingly surprised if you had possessed foreknowledge of the work we are presently referencing.”

Caroline: A solemn nod.

GM: “We are not finished with this discourse, but perhaps it is well that we should set it aside until we have spoken of more earthly matters.”

Maldonato pensively considers the brief silence.

“Once more, Miss Malveaux, a storm rages and you stand at its eye. Many lives are endangered by your recent actions.”

Caroline: Caroline again nods solemnly.

“The revelations involved could start a battle in the streets, if they are as they seem. Or if used more carefully could topple an elder. Or could reveal more artfully those opposed to a prince.”

GM: “Yet even knowing as you do, Miss Malveaux, you have disseminated copies of Mr. Matheson’s inadvertent ‘confession’ far and wide. Our prince’s agents have recovered four, yet it remains an easier task to disseminate knowledge than to suppress it.”

Caroline: Caroline frowns. “If four copies were taken from those in my service, then those are the only four copies I am aware of, Seneschal.”

GM: “I am aware of the extent of your knowledge on this matter, Miss Malveaux. I seek to understand why you acted as you have.”

Caroline: “In terms of recording the original conversation or coming clean with it immediately?”

GM: Maldonato mutely shakes his head at Caroline’s words.

Caroline: She frowns. “A copy escaped the net.”

GM: “No known copies have escaped, Miss Malveaux. Yet it remains by your deliberate will that Autumn Rabinowitz transcribed three, and that Amanda Turner attempted to flee New Orleans with a fourth.”

Caroline: “So the question is, why bother to do so instead of immediately turning over or destroying all copies.” Caroline’s frown does not abate. “That’s a complicated question. I will say at the onset that my intention was never to spread the tape around or turn it over forces hostile to the prince while I still… lived is not the proper word. I had three concerns, however, when I reached out to Jocelyn about it.”

GM: “Miss Baker, Miss Malveaux,” the seneschal corrects, though he does not otherwise interrupt her explanation.

Caroline: Caroline stops speaking for a moment at the correction, a chill running through her. “Of course, Seneschal. Ms. Baker.” A careless mistake. She doesn’t want to drag the Toreador down with her in this.

“First, that the initial response might be my destruction, which I sought to prevent by placing at least one copy of the tape out of reach, of everyone, myself included, until after the trial. Foolish maybe, but… this sword has hung over my head every day I have walked the earth as a Kindred, and I wanted… something. Some manner of control over my own destiny, however slight.”

“Second, that the tape might have value to my mysterious patron… presumably the seneschal or another in the prince’s service, but that such a distinguished and powerful individual might not be able to act upon it directly due to other matters.”

“It seems to me that Mr. Matheson likely possesses some… that there must be a reason the prince has seen fit to keep quiet about the elder’s actions, but that he might wish another matter to force his hand. Finally, on the chance that a copy of the tape had been intercepted, I wanted the ability to reach out to those who had been… more kind to me, and perhaps warn them of the impending disaster. In a convincing manner.”

“And in truth, perhaps I also desired to keep the memory of it for myself, no matter what else happened,” she admits. “My mind has been… to not be able to trust one’s own memories or thoughts has been a terrible thing. What was done… it felt like a rape, no matter how much I might be willing to set it aside for a broader principle, such as peace in the city.” The last admission comes out hollowly, like someone else is speaking with her voice.

GM: “Please clarify, Miss Malveaux, to whom you refer by those who have shown you kindness.”

Caroline: “Yourself, Seneschal. Primogen Duquette. Perhaps Mr. Elgin.” She frowns. “Likely not the last.”

GM: “Master Elgin,” the seneschal corrects.

Caroline: “Master Elgin.” Caroline corrects herself at the seneschal’s prompting. “Primarily Primogen Duquette and yourself, Seneschal. The primogen appears to have staked out a… very precarious position in largely supporting the prince in this matter, and appears poised to lose a great deal.”

“My initial thought however was that given all I have heard of the prince, and seen of his seneschal, there was likely a reason beyond the obvious for supporting Mr. Matheson despite his actions, and if it was some matter which I could in any way relieve, it would be the smallest of services I could offer to the prince for the mercy that was shown to me. But also that the prince would deal in good faith with Mr. Matheson, and as such… well.”

She looks down.

GM: The seneschal slowly shakes head once more.

Caroline: Caroline says nothing. What is there to say? Laid bare, with all of her plots in ruins and the elder before her her plans seem like so many careless machinations. How can she put into words the great many questions guiding her actions. The blank spaces she was trying to plan around. In this matter, as with matters of Kindred faith, she has not even the barest light of a candle to see by. Instead all she can see are the shadows cast by other lights. Flickering and dancing insanely and terrifyingly in the gloom.

How great care must seen as nothing but great recklessness. She can’t blame him. Ignorance is no excuse. She can’t fight it: the truth will not set her free. Among the powers of this world her intellect, her rhetorical skill, and her cunning means so little. Maybe if she’d had more time… ah, well. That’s why they call it gambling.

GM: “There are many scenarios, Miss Malveaux, under which your recording Mr. Matheson’s alleged confession could have fallen into the hands of our foes—scenarios that may have come to pass. Another Kindred could have subverted your will and altered your memories or penetrated your thoughts. The sanctity of Mr. Rabinowitz’s mind might be violated even more easily. Other ghouls could have infiltrated her home, copied the recording, and left with Ms. Rabinowitz none the wiser. Ms. Turner could have been intercepted during her flight from New Orleans—certainly, her wounded state did not make it an onerous task for our prince’s agents to find her. Surveillance could have been placed upon your haven and withdrawn in anticipation of it being searched. The recording of Mr. Matheson could have been disseminated by these means and a thousand more.”

“This further assumes your recording of Mr. Matheson is genuine—for there are many means by which to alter your perceptions and the contents of electronic missives, and many parties who stand to benefit by misleading you. This stands irrespective of Mr. Matheson’s innocence or guilt. Our prince’s agents have devoted little time to verifying the tape’s authenticity. We have been wholly occupied in attempting to prevent its wider dissemination.”

“Miss Baker has described Mr. Matheson’s alleged recording to me as ‘radioactive’. Her words come closer to the truth than she may realize. Radioactive materials may only be handled by those with proper training, equipment, and caution if they are to cause no harm to others.”

“Make no mistake, Miss Malveaux, you have caused great harm—to myself and Primogen Duquette, whose kindness you would purport to repay. You have caused us more harm in a single night than Antoine Savoy has caused in an entire year.”

Caroline: Caroline takes each of the seneschal’s words as a hammer blow, dread building within her, her expression grimly set. Yet, at their end, she is still standing.

“The seneschal is correct in all of these things,” she murmurs quietly, but firmly. “But might I ask one question?”

GM: “Nor,” Maldonato proceeds, “is the harm you have caused limited to but two distant elders. The consequences of your actions have rippled outwards and touched many other lives and unlives.”

“What of your ghouls, Miss Turner and Mass Rabinowitz? Sheriff Donovan believes it prudent to execute them as a preventative measure against the tape’s further dissemination. They know of its existence and could be made to divulge that knowledge.”

“What of further orphaned fledglings like yourself? Prince Vidal has deemed that his policy of earned clemency is worthy of the Cabildo’s reconsideration. They will vote on whether to retain it at their next meeting. Such childer may now perish where they had once received mercy.”

“And what, not least of all, of Miss Baker?”

“Do you believe that one who cares for you as deeply as she does, and is as loyal to the Sanctified as she is, desires this present state of affairs? She has thrown herself before me, weeping tears of vitae, and begged me to show you clemency. This pain, this crisis of faith and loyalty, you have caused her.”

Caroline: His words rip the heart out of Caroline. Bloody tears fill her eyes before he is halfway through, and what iron she placed in her spine at his earlier demand that she meet him as an intellectual equal on matters of faith melts away under the burning fury of her shame and self-loathing.

All these lives destroyed. All this damage done. Because of her. Fear, anguish, shame, and anger well within her breast, but all are stiffed under pain. Caroline feels as though the seneschal has reached into her chest and torn out her unbeating heart, that with each word he twists and tears it into bloody pieces. Certainly if she were mortal she would die here, in this moment.

What utter ruin she has brought down. For the first time since her Embrace she completely forgets to breathe, and the staggering stillness is broken only the flow of blood.

GM: Maldonato’s eyes stare into Caroline’s tear-filled ones with the inexorable weight of an advancing avalanche. No expression disturbs the elder’s impassive features as he pronounces, “You may ask your question, Miss Malveaux.”

Caroline: It takes those words a long moment to settle into the heiress, for her to turn her head so slightly to better meet his gaze. When she does so, Caroline’s whole body all but rocks from the shock. Her voice is quiet, like she’s afraid if it’s too loud it’ll break like the rest of her has. Like someone plucking oh so softly at a tattered string on an instrument. Three words.

Can I atone?

GM: “That, Miss Malveaux, remains very much to be seen. There can be no penance without honest and forthright admission of one’s sins. Are there any others you would confess?”

Caroline: To throw her mother into this gaping maw in the hopes of saving others, or to try to withhold a secret almost certain to come out of this under a very thorough interrogation. Perhaps under other circumstances she might keep quiet. Perhaps under simple interrogation she would say nothing. But the seneschal has broken her. Shattered whatever was left inside of her.

“My mother,” she murmurs quietly.

Her eyes have never looked so dead.

“She knows. Knew before I told her. About what I am.”

GM: “Please expound, Miss Malveaux,” Maldonato requests.

Caroline: The tears run freely down Caroline’s pale face.

“After she saw me, in person, the other day. She knew what had happened. Confronted me about it.”

The words are quiet, like the confession of a woman on death row.

“Demanded that I dismiss one of my ghouls into her custody…. and offered to help maintain the Masquerade with the rest of my family. She said she was a magician. I don’t think she wanted to admit to losing a daughter and a son in the same morning.”

GM: “Few parents would, Miss Malveaux.”

“It is difficult enough to lay one’s children to rest when they are cold and still beneath the ground. Yet even the difficulty of that labor must pale against slaying and burying a child who yet speaks, moves, and professes their love.”

Caroline: “I didn’t know what to do. She could have destroyed me, but instead… she said she’d try to schedule my brother’s funeral at night.”

“Nothing else,” she continues pitifully. “I have no secrets. Only her. I didn’t want her to get hurt… for sparing me.”

GM: “If you will consent to grant me access to your thoughts, Miss Malveaux, I will review your pertinent memories and spare us the necessity of discussing them individually.”

Caroline: Consent. As if there is any other choice.

Still… it means something that he asked. She gives a shallow nod.

“Of course, Seneschal.” That same voice.

She holds her bloodstained gaze with his. Her mind is little more than a whorehouse entertaining any who desire it as is. What is one more romp through her memories.

GM: The seneschal raises a slender, wooden-hued finger and touches it to Caroline’s forehead. Memories flash through her mind like the ebbs of a fast-flowing current.

“-but all right, Caroline. Let’s meet at your house, it’s still rather late to be feeding breadcrumbs to the ducks.”

how have you been? How’s Dad?”

of course you don’t, because you’re determined to be a selfish bitch. After everything I’ve done time and again

I love you, Caroline. You know that all I want is for you to be happy and successful. I know that your father and I have been away… and that things, awful things, sometimes happen. Sometimes things we think are our fault, when they really aren’t… when they’re really everybody’s, or nobody’s at all

“-_how. How did this happen to you, Caroline-?"_

“-don’t leave here, Mom. Please… it’s so hard to control it with the fire…”

I’m sorry, Mom. I’m so sorry

you’re a witch. Your entire sorority is. Is that why you wanted me to join?”

“-they’d kill you.” “Yes, they would.” “I can’t promise that they won’t force me to talk-”

“-he’ll be interred at St. Louis. Along with the rest of the family…”

The flow of memories is almost relaxing. Caroline feels as if she is watching it all from underwater: sights and sounds are recognizable, but distorted, at once so close yet so far away. For just a moment, she can simply let go.

Caroline: However gentle the experience, laying bare this secret is hardly relaxing for Caroline, as it makes her betrayal complete. Still, she can only sit and watch, that dead look not leaving her eyes.

Visions of Turner and Autumn’s heads in boxes, of her own head on a block before the sheriff’s sword, of Jocelyn’s tears and grief, of her own fear and confusion when she was taken into custody, and of her mother in chains haunt her thoughts, stalking her in her mind however much she tries to escape them.

She never meant for any of this to happen. Never imagined that Matheson would be so foolish as to disclose all that he did.

GM: After a moment that could be as brief as a second or as long as an hour, Maldonato withdraws his finger from Caroline’s brow. The rush of memories ends.

Caroline: She’s left back in her misery. With only the darkest thoughts as her company.

GM: “There are few easy answers as to what to do with your mother, Miss Malveaux,” Maldonato ponders. “A senator’s wife is not a figure who may be made to disappear overnight. Her memories as a witch-hunter go back many decades and will be heavily entwined with her personal identity, precluding a simple erasure of those portions that threaten the Masquerade. With time, perhaps, she might be removed from the public eye—time during which she will imperil many further lives and Requiems.”

Caroline: Caroline makes no move to speak: how could he trust her to offer any kind of opinion or option now?

Still, his words only further chill her.

Made to disappear. Removed from the public eye.

In the cool damp air of the garden, she is very cold indeed.

GM: “The Camarilla typically responds to witch-hunters, Miss Malveaux, by slaying them, Embracing them, or employing them as catspaws against enemies of the sect. On rarer occasions, they may simply have their memories altered.”

Caroline: “I… expected as much, Seneschal,” she hears herself say.

GM: “Have you any counsel of your own to offer, Miss Malveaux? There are no easy answers where this matter is concerned, even for our prince.”

Caroline: Caroline opens her mouth, but for a moment no words come out.

Think, part of her demands, torpid and buried under the weight of all she has done.

Think! it demands again, more insistently. The rubble begins to shift. Opportunities come along so infrequently. With the rumble of a collapsing mountain she forces her mind into motion, attacking the seneschal’s question.

“Seneschal, she is part of a larger and more powerful organization, and presumably powerful enough within it to rapidly draw on resources and accomplish tasks with no oversight. Instead of a problem, she might be an asset in the long term, depending on how she is approached and handled.”

I’m sorry, Mother, she thinks, even if as she tries to clinically pick apart how to best keep her alive.

“Eliminating her is likely to mean little, or be worth little. I somehow do not expect that she frequently goes around herself attacking Kindred. Similarly, overt manipulation of her is likely to be detected, given… what they do. But there is potential for a less overt influence upon her, which may influence the larger organization.”

GM: “Perhaps, Miss Malveaux. To so redirect her efforts against our prince’s enemies would require that we directly control someone proximate to her. A person whom she trusts—and whom we trust.”

Caroline: Caroline says nothing. What is there to say?

GM: The seneschal’s gaze remains patiently expectant.

Caroline: “I do not know how I could possibly be trusted after all of this,” Caroline replies quietly. “But I would serve in any capacity I was able.”

To save her life.

GM: “I do not need to read your thoughts, Miss Malveaux, to discern where your loyalties and interest in providing such counsel lies. Your actions pertaining to Mr. Matheson’s recording and attack upon our prince’s herald warrant further consequences of their own, and such punishments will but serve to cement your antipathy against the Lancea et Sanctum.”

“I am certain you have read The Art of War. Do you recall Sun Tzu’s advice on how a general is well-served to treat their spies?”

Caroline: “With benevolence and forthrightness.”

GM: “Correct, Miss Malveaux. Loyalty may not be won under the bite of a whip.”

Caroline: “I only wish to mitigate all the harm I have already caused. Whatever the price to me.”

GM: The seneschal’s almond gaze silently scrutinizes Caroline’s own.

Caroline: What does he see there? Caroline can only imagine, but as with all things this night, her imagination takes her to the darkest of places.

A failure. A danger. A disappointment.

GM: An opened navy envelope wrapped with gold ribbon approaches the pair, as though carried by an unseen servant. Fancy white calligraphy reads, You are invited.

Caroline: Caroline eyes the letter like a poisonous viper.

“Seneschal, I did not respond to the communication. It seemed to me a likely ploy that would only put me within the power of the elder who supported my estranged sire…”

GM: The seneschal’s gaze lingers on Caroline’s eyes for another few moments.

“Then you have done as you feared, Miss Malveaux.”

Caroline: Confusion works its way across her face. Caroline has not been in the habit of making excuses, but in this matter her will breaks.

“I was told to have no contact with him… I was commanded to have no contact.” The second more insistent.

GM: “I am unaware what instructions Sheriff Donovan may have issued you regarding interactions with Mr. Savoy, Miss Malveaux. Yet you might have contacted us, and so been advised of the proper diplomatic recourse—one may decline invitations through more cordial means than silence. Indeed, it is possible that Mr. Savoy sent his invitation under the expectation that an uneducated fledgling would mishandle it.”

Caroline: It does not seem likely that Caroline could appear much more beaten at this point, and she offers no further defense, whatever may lie behind her red-rimmed eyes. Indeed, it seems her very thought in response only ushers up further shame.

_ I was afraid,_ she doesn’t say.

GM: “Were Mr. Savoy to leak word of your coarse manners to the harpies through one of his partisans,” Maldonato only continues, “your resulting social ostracism might merely diminish your usefulness to our prince. Yet were Mr. Savoy to leak word a mere night from now, when you served as Mr. Matheson’s purported arbiter—any mockery and ill perception you suffered from other Kindred may have cost us the trial.”

Caroline: Somehow I didn’t know doesn’t seem to cover it.

GM: The seneschal pauses.

“I do not believe you harbor any loyalty to Mr. Savoy, as I had initially considered upon reviewing his letter to you. Yet this incident does little to cast your actions in a favorable light. Once more, they have indirectly served to damage our prince’s reign, and been averted only through the diligence of his other servants.”

Caroline: “I could do better.” Her voice is very quiet. Self-admonishing.

GM: Once more, Maldonato’s almond gaze regards her with pregnant expectation.

Caroline: “I’ve spent every night fighting blind, deaf, and mute against a foe that held every advantage. I’ve misstepped time and again.”

She looks up.

“But never the same mistake twice.”

Is she pleading with him, or with herself?

“I can do better.”

GM: The seneschal is silent as he contemplates the garden and younger vampire before him. His still, dusky-hued features are inscrutable.

Caroline: The young Ventrue is seemingly content to await his justice, what little strength she had left spent.

GM: “‘If you wish mercy, show mercy to the weak,’” Maldonato murmurs slowly. He does not address Caroline, but the fountain at the center of the garden.

“Yet my own wishes matter but little to the welfare of the archdiocese.”

The seneschal slowly shakes his head.

“No, Miss Malveaux.”

His gaze returns to hers.

“Your offenses are too grave, the information to which you are privy too sensitive, and your loyalties too uncertain even under a full blood oath.”

“You have thrice already been shown great clemency—twice for your own crimes and once for another’s. Each of your offenses has imperiled more lives and done more to undermine our prince’s reign than the last. I do not believe mercy has been efficacious in improving your behavior.”

“For the crimes of espionage, violating the Masquerade, and destruction of property—which is to say, your attack upon Capitán Gautliterrez—I sentence you to final death in the name of Prince Vidal.”

Caroline: Numbness greets the pronunciation of death, the final denial of mercy. It slowly gives way to dread. Not for herself, that is still too raw. Like a razor sharp blade it’s cut too deeply and quickly. That pain will come later, if at all: the prince’s justice has come quickly when she has seen it.

Instead her thoughts turn to Turner and Autumn, doomed by association, and her mother, now placed solidly in the crosshairs of the prince. It turns to all the senseless death that has resulted from her Embrace. All the damage. How her actions have left only a scar on the world.

She closes her eyes. Bows her head. Death. The Beast, savage and ignorant, can’t throw its fit at the words. No doubt that will come later. There’s a finality and peace to knowing that the end has been written. Part of her wants to rage, to argue, to protest the unfairness of it all. She wants to scream at how he’s dangled her on this hook like a writhing fish trying to suck at that last bit of air as she suffocated in her own inner turmoil. There’s such a deep cruelty to knowing that the pain of the last minutes is meaningless.

Too late she understands Jocelyn’s despair when she disclosed this secret to the Toreador. The pain of trying to cling to something that seemed right, something that seemed moral. Cruelty she’d written off from the sheriff or his Hounds, plotting that she excused with this vicious headhunting elder guilty of every crime for which he is accused.

That the seneschal, the most moderate and gentle of Kindred, she’d held so highly is sweeping away lives for the possibility of having inadvertently revealed that truth, truth about the monster in his midst is so bitter in her mouth.

GM: “A public execution,” Maldonato continues, “will be to our prince’s detriment. I shall serve your sentence here with my own hands.”

The seneschal pauses briefly.

“If there are any last wishes or final arrangements you would request, I will fulfill any that are within my power to reasonably effect.”

Caroline: Quick indeed. Caroline’s eyes open numbly. She doesn’t trust herself to speak.

The moment hangs pregnant in the cool night air. There are worse places to die.

GM: Maldonato merely waits beside Caroline. His features are still. He looks as if he could sit on their bench for a thousand years. As if he has been sitting on that bench for a thousand years.

Caroline: “I am sorry that you feel…” she cuts off abruptly with a savage sob.

“Of all the ways I faced death…” She gives another sob.

This is not the dignified end she might have wished.

GM: “You will feel no pain, Miss Malveaux,” the seneschal states.

Caroline: “I didn’t even know who you were,” she cries. “And now I’ll die because this truth is…”

She shakes her head bitterly and silence reigns again as she fights for composure.

“Autumn and Turner,” she murmurs at last. “I would that they be spared if possible.”

GM: “Prince Vidal had ordered their deaths in punishment for your attack upon his herald,” Maldonato reflects. “Yet I believe your own blood shall prove sufficient to satisfy his appetites. Your ghouls will be held in Perdido House until the trial and security risk they pose to His Majesty’s interests has elapsed. Are there any specific Kindred whose service you would see Miss Turner and Miss Rabinowitz enter?”

Caroline: “One less cruel than I have been,” she replies bitterly.

GM: “That you would consider their welfare at all is more than some of our kind would do, Miss Malveaux. I will have them sent to domitors of benign character.”

Caroline: A sad nod.

“And Jocel… Miss Baker, that she suffer no further hardship from this.”

GM: “Miss Baker is blameless in these recent events. She is perhaps guilty of communicating sensitive information over insecure channels, but I do not believe she need face any consequences more severe than simple admonishment.”

Caroline: Caroline’s tears resume, perhaps more freely. It’s hard to say.

“I’d have very much liked…” A sob. “An opportunity to atone for my sins.”

GM: “Atonement,” Maldonato murmurs thoughtfully. “I do not believe there is such a thing, Miss Malveaux—not in the sense most Kindred would envision it.”

Caroline: Before she can utter any more shameful words she meets his eyes once more.

“Make it quick, please. I would not spend my last moments in the grip of the Beast.”

GM: “Your final death will be painless and immediate, Miss Malveaux,” the seneschal states before he continues, “Lives ruined and lives enriched are not weights to be placed upon justice’s scales. One cannot merely add and subtract them to produce a moral equilibrium, for the consequences of our actions are absolute and irreversible. What is done cannot be undone. An injured man may might have his wounds dressed and treated, but his original pain cannot be erased.”

“Yet neither may even the smallest acts of kindness, once done, be undone. Atonement is not a debt to be discharged, but honest acknowledgment of the harm one’s actions have caused. Atonement is a conscious and deliberate effort to live one’s life—or Requiem—in a manner that benefits rather than harms the lives of others. It is to act in such a way as if one could will the maxim of one’s acts to become a universal law.”

“I am uncertain, Miss Malveaux, that you have any desire to listen to your executioner’s moral sermonizing. Nevertheless, you may yet take actions, even posthumous ones, that may touch the lives of others for the better. Your limited time to take such actions makes them no less powerful. No kindness once done may be erased.”

Caroline: “Protect my ghouls. Shelter those that offered me what joy their was found in this existence.”

She thinks.

“There is a mortal woman in a hospital.” She describes the mother and son she attacked. “If perhaps some good might befall them later by chance…”

GM: “Arrangements shall be made for Mrs. Christian and her son.”

Caroline: She continues to weep. “Bring him to justice some day. Not today. Or tomorrow. But some day hold him accountable for what he does. He’ll never stop. And what he does is wrong.”

GM: “Justice, Miss Malveaux, does not guide the hand of the Camarilla. It was founded to protect Europe’s elders from the Inquisition’s pyres, and continues to ably serve its function of maintaining and perpetuating the power of its ruling elite.”

Caroline: The blunt declaration is a slap in the face, and for a moment she goes still.

“Goodbye, Seneschal.”

The words are quite deliberate.

I’m sorry.

And she is. For everything.

GM: That stillness mirrors the elder’s own face as his gaze drifts from hers to regard the surrounding garden.

“Mr. Matheson will face consequences for his actions. Now more than ever, we can ill-afford to permit the free indulgence of his appetites. We shall take any and all measures we deem necessary in order to permanently ensure that his depredations cannot be exposed a second time.”

“But it is ever self-interest, not justice, that guides one pillar of the Camarilla to strike down another. Such inadvertent justice would be poor justice indeed to Kant. Let there be no illusions between us in these final moments, Miss Malveaux.”

“By that same token, there is but one remaining matter of import. You requested to know why René Baristheaut cursed you with his Embrace. Do you still desire that knowledge?”

Caroline: All you taste shall be ash. And it is. Does she even care now?

There is a pregnant silence.

“Yes.”

GM: The seneschal of New Orleans tells her the truth.

Caroline: She sits in dumb silence at that revelation.

Then I’m a failure and a monster. To one person more.

Something gnaws at her, deeply, at the revelation. Something darker. Regret for what she has done, yes. But the words stir something buried. Ambition. And disappointment. So many questions. So much she doesn’t understand. It opens at the close. She won’t see it.

GM: The bare-footed, gray-robed Moor rises from the bench and extends a hand to Caroline. It looks almost as if the elder vampire were asking her to join him for a midnight waltz through the garden.

“Are you prepared, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: She has questions she wants to scream at him. Demands she wants to make. She could do more! She could do so much more!

She does neither and instead rises on trembling legs.

“I don’t want to go,” she replies, even as she extends an arm.

GM: Maldonato lowers his head in seeming acknowledgement as he takes Caroline’s hand and helps her from the bench. The elder vampire’s dusky skin is as cold and lifeless as the Ventrue’s own. He traces a cross over his breast with his other hand, and murmurs something in Latin. It sounds partly like a prayer.

Caroline: She looks up.

“Don’t do to him what I did to myself.”

Her feet don’t move.

“They would have been the best thing in my life, instead of the stone around my neck that they have ever been.”

She grinds her teeth.

“I can… I can do that for him.”

GM: “He is no stranger to such pain, Miss Malveaux—nor even to inflicting it by his own hand. Yet on this occasion I may spare him that grim necessity.”

Caroline: “Short-term pain now to spare him the long-term pain later. That’s exactly what I thought,” Caroline replies.

“And maybe it did. But it replaced that potential for a deep wound with the certainty of one that will never disappear: the question of what if.”

She takes the hand, but holds fast, for this moment, grasping it firmly.

“I didn’t know he existed. I thought I was born into this by malice and capriciousness. I did not betray you… him. This… I brought it forward, as soon as I learned of it. I could have run and hidden behind Mr. Savoy. I could have traded the tape for that if I wished it. I wished to serve you with it. I came to the Sanctified, because I thought I had a place here. And if I was careless, it was only because I knew not if the door would open.”

“Or what lay behind it.”

GM: The seneschal neither releases Caroline’s hand nor leads the standing Ventrue away from the bench. The wan glow of the moonlight peaks through the garden’s daintily shrubbed fruit trees, casting leaf-shaped shadows against Maldonato’s dusky skin. There is neither tension nor pulse in the elder vampire’s motionless hand. The sensation is akin to clasping a statue, yet one made of dark hardwood rather than the pale marble that characterized John Harley Matheson.

“There are further words you would speak, Miss Malveaux, before your conscience is clear.”

They could be her last shot.


Thursday evening, 17 September 2015

GM: Night has only barely fallen over New Orleans. Caroline can still barely make out lights in the neighboring houses through her windows. It’s only as difficult as it is because of the large lawns and thick trees and hedges. Audubon Place’s residents value privacy.

Even still, the Ventrue can’t help but observe this is the “most” alive time of night, before even 8 PM. The living still mill about the city. Caroline could still walk among them, pretend to be one of them, in those precious few hours before they retire home to their beds.

Precious few those hours are. Jocelyn said she’d be by Caroline’s house at 8 PM. The two neonates will have little time for their shopping trip before stores close, many of which already have.

“It’s a lot better during winter,” Jocelyn had remarked when they’d been setting things up. “That’s not too far off.”

“Summer, though, is horrible. You wake up and a ton of places are already closed.”

It’s even less time to get in touch with her mother. Caroline hasn’t even gotten into the shower yet, and will have precious little time to enjoy it, one of the rare few mortal pleasures that dying hasn’t ruined.

Caroline: Receiving no response from her text to her mother about Turner, Caroline dials her directly.

GM: “…please leave your name, number, and a brief message, and I will return your call as soon as convenient,” her mother’s answering machine replies to Caroline.

Caroline: Caroline hisses in irritation.

“Mom, I’d like to continue our conversation from this afternoon. I’ll be out until late. Let me know when and where works for you.”

GM: After a quick shower, change of clothes, text to Autumn, and check-in on Turner, Caroline’s phone finally rings back.

Caroline: She snatches it up, her wet hair still wrapped in a towel.

GM: “Hello, Caroline?” Claire’s voice greets.

That’s still the name on the caller ID.

Caroline: “Hi, Mom.”

Caroline’s tone is somewhat somber, unable to escape the distance between them, now more than ever, and the darkness between them.

After a moment she continues, “How are you holding up?”

GM: Her mother sighs.

“As well as I can. I hope that’s also true for you.”

Caroline: “I’m sorry about this afternoon,” Caroline replies, deflecting the question.

GM: Claire’s voice doesn’t sound any lighter.

“I suppose that makes us both.”

Caroline: “Could we finish our conversation?” she asks heavily. “Maybe under better circumstances?”

GM: There’s another pause at that. It’s hard to imagine circumstances bettering for any parent who’s confirmed the deaths of two of their children the same hour.

“Is the Quarter still a bad place for you,?”

Caroline: “I suspect the Quarter will always be a bad place for me, Mom… unless something significant changes.” There’s a bit of bitterness underneath it.

GM: “How is your house, then, in an hour?”

Caroline: Claire can hear the disappointment in Caroline’s voice.

“I have company coming. Tomorrow? Early in the day?”

GM: “That would need to be very early, Caroline. What about tomorrow evening?”

Caroline: “Early evening works best for me,” Caroline replies, thinking. “Before any madness has a chance to set in.”

GM: “All right. How is 8 for me to stop by?”

Caroline: Caroline thinks. “That should be fine.”

It feels like they’re discussing a funeral, even as they dance around one.

GM: “I’ll see you then.” A pause. “I love you.”

Caroline: “I love you too, Mom… it’s going to be… you’ll get through this.”

GM: A sigh acknowledges Caroline’s words, but her mother gives no other reply as she hangs up.


Thursday evening, 17 September 2015

GM: Once Caroline and Autumn have drained the homeless vet of his blood and dropped him by a dumpster with his things and $20 in compensation (which Autumn reiterates her approval of), the ghoul chauffeurs Caroline back to her house.

The camera recording resting in the heiress’ purse, picked up with Jocelyn on their way out from the neighborhood, has been put off the entire night. There was just so much that came up. Cécilia’s stalker turning out to be a mostly harmless creep with autism. The meeting with McCullem and offer from Matheson. Jessica’s severed head. The four bodies’ worth of blood she was tasked to retrieve.

Still, the tape may hold answers. Her mother’s “friends” had to have gotten past Blackwatch somehow, and that may well have been through the front entrance, in which case their faces would have been picked up. Watching those cameras is a menial job. It’s even worse for an out-of-state transplant like Brock Patterson who hates the Big Easy’s muggy heat, as well as the fact the guardhouse in which he’s stuck lacks air conditioning. A simple and direct monetary bribe was all that it took for the ex-cop to hand the day’s surveillance tapes over.

“There anything else you need me for tonight, or should I head home?” Autumn asks as she pulls her minicooper into Caroline’s driveway.

Caroline: Caroline considers, for just a moment, handing off the tedious task of going through the tape and matching names off the entry log to faces, to the oh so willing ghoul. Autumn wouldn’t just be willing to help. She’d love to help.

It is only for a moment. There are some secrets she’s not willing to share yet. Things she doesn’t want to explain, even to the loyal ghoul. She sends Autumn on her way and heads inside for a date with some rather dull—if potentially rewarding—activities.

Going through tapes and matching names to faces—then sending those names and faces out for investigation by her many sources—is tedious, but Caroline’s done more tedious work in legal internships. At the end of the day many cases are about who is willing to put in more time, go through every document, and pick out the right pieces. And she’s been that person putting in the time before.

Some faces she’s able to write off easily—residents for the most part. There’s a possibility they are here, but she doubts they’d be interested in getting involved. Similarly, she can write off everything after a certain time period. A few others are too old, crippled, or fat to match th­e cloaked figures.

GM: Caroline is fortunately able to recall the time glimpsed off her mother’s wristwatch, which narrows the relevant time frame on the tapes to nowhere past 4:31 PM, and likely a number of minutes earlier. The Ventrue jumps to the relevant portion and watches her mother’s Mercedes roll past the guardhouse around 4 PM. However, there are no visible passengers in the car besides Claire.

Caroline: She scrolls back an hour and plays through to 4:31, trying to identify each other vehicle stopped as a visitor.

GM: Caroline’s mother picked a busy time to drive into the neighborhood. 4-5 PM on a weekday is just when people are getting off from work and returning home. While Audubon Place is not a populous neighborhood, traffic is about as high during those hours as it’s likely to be. There are a number of faces Caroline recognizes among the passing cars, including Tulane University’s president Edward McGregor, one of her neighbors down the street (Frank Alvarez, an executive at the very company that protects his neighborhood), and banal Paul Simmons, the man whom her previous investigations uncovered as the legal owner of Donovan’s house.

There are, however, far more faces which are strangers to her. Some are teenagers and younger children being chauffeured back to their homes. Others are adults of home-owning but per-retirement age who Caroline simply doesn’t know. Others still are less well-off individuals: FedEx drivers, Cadabra Fresh grocery deliverers, plumbers, domestic help, and the like. Audubon Place may isolate itself from the world behind thick walls and armed guards, but it cannot subsist without it.

Caroline manages to narrows down her list of potential vehicles to a little less than ten, mostly those whose drivers do not look as if they are residents of the posh neighborhood.

Caroline: She checks her phone. It’s late… so late, in fact, that with the turnover there’s a good chance that she can still catch someone… the right person. She puts together the remaining profiles in an email, leaving its destination blank, and types a text out to Christina. Are you awake? Have a minute?

It’s not the first time she’s reached out to the mysterious madam at odd hours over the last few years, ever since they hit it off at a dull charity ball. An odd couple, the young and in heiress and the out and experienced despicable. A match made in mutual use of one another, that has perhaps, quietly, without the acknowledgement of either, grown into something more over years.

It is the first time, though, that she’s reached out since the fiasco with Amelie.

GM: Caroline looks out the window and sees dark clouds over still-black skies. The clock reads 5 AM, and no response pings back from Christina Roberts. Perhaps she will have better luck closer to sunrise.

Caroline: While she waits for a response she does her own bit of digging into one of the names, plugging it into search engines, Linkedin, Facemash, and other networking sites to mine for information.

She doesn’t really want to entrust this to Autumn, and Turner isn’t really suited to handling even the mundane task in her current condition. Not for the first time she laments Aimee’s spiral. Embrace aside, she’d had high hopes for Aimee, and for what they could be to each other.

There aren’t enough hours in the day. There weren’t as a mortal. It’s worse now.

GM: Caroline’s efforts bear fruit, but mostly small and under-ripe pieces. Some of the names’ profiles are set to private, while others lack social media presences. Few turn up results in general search engines. Nevertheless, the hour or so of searching gives her something to pass on to more dedicated investigators—principally the names she couldn’t obtain as much information on.

Meanwhile, her computer’s clock reads 6:12 and black skies are soon due to tinge navy blue when Christina Roberts’ text pings back. Someone’s up early.

Caroline: No rest for the wicked, she fires back with agile fingers, having been updating her email as she goes. Just getting ready to turn in. Do you have a minute?

GM: Several, even.

Caroline: The Ventrue can’t repress a smirk as she hits send.

GM: Several too-precious minutes pass before Caroline’s phone rings.

Caroline: Caroline forces herself to let it ring twice before answering.

“Sleeping in now, Christina?”

GM: “My mornings are usually slow. Why are you sending me these dossiers?”

Caroline: “Happy I could help with that problem,” Caroline responds smartly.

Her smile dims. There’s no good way to broach this, but it looks even worse not to say anything.

“Have there been any new developments with Amelie?”

GM: “She’s still in a coma,” answers Christina.

Her next words are bitter.

“Unlike the Whitney girl.”

Caroline: That must sting the madam. Even with the backdoors to Amelie’s sentencing built in, it’s just another way the Devillers and Whitneys came out ahead in this.

“I’m sorry. But we both know she doesn’t want to spend time in OPP. She spends less with every day she’s in a hospital bed.”

GM: “And gets even more likely to wake up with brain damage or never wake up at all,” Christina remarks sourly.

“Let’s talk about something else.”

Caroline: Caroline is happy to.

“I was hoping you’d be willing to do me a favor with a somewhat sensitive subject.”

However unhappy Christina might be over the outcome of events with Amelie, the madam owes her.

GM: “I suppose I already owe you a favor,” says Christina, her tone matter-of-fact.

“It’s also been a while since I’ve practiced law, but I still know enough to read the full print before signing the dotted line.”

Caroline: The smirk that reminder of the former attorney’s disbarment evokes is tinged with a bit of melancholy—Caroline is smart enough to know the odds of ever passing the bar herself at this point are increasingly slim. Her tone turns more serious given the limited time she has to make her case.

“I need workups on each of them—education, assets, work history, the whole package—but it would be better if those requests didn’t come from me directly under the circumstances.”

GM: “Then you should hire a private investigator, Caroline,” Christina answers dryly. “There are several I can recommend if you don’t know any yourself.”

Caroline: “I was rather hoping I could convince you to play intermediary, actually,” Caroline replies.

GM: “I’m a poor choice for one, given attorney-client privilege won’t apply if I intermediate.”

They both know Caroline needs to go through a practicing lawyer if she wants any of the investigator’s findings to be considered legally privileged.

Caroline: “I’m less worried about legal privilege—it’s not a legal matter—and more interested in discretion and trust,” Caroline replies bluntly.

GM: “Client confidentiality still applies to them, and the ones I know aren’t blabbermouths.”

“Fewer people are better if you want whatever this is to stay secret.”

Caroline: “You don’t say?” Caroline remarks wryly.

GM: “It’s been a recent source of some annoyance for me.”

Caroline: “Something I can help you with?” Caroline asks.

GM: “That’s thoughtful of you to offer, but it’s thankfully out of my hair now.”

Caroline: “Sadly, mine is not.” She pauses. “It’s not quite family business, but it’s close enough that if I meet with a bunch of investigators or attorneys it’ll draw attention I don’t want to what I’m doing. I’ve been trying to make this work off the books. Is there no chance I can rope you in on this under the table?” Caroline asks. “I’d cover the expenses, it’s not likely to blow back, and I’d owe you one.”

GM: There’s a pause on the line’s other end. Caroline can picture the former attorney mulling her words over.

The request isn’t that onerous. And Christina does owe her.

“All right, that seems fair. I’ll reach out to a few investigators I know. I presume you’re wanting to monitor or gather more information on the people in your email.”

Caroline: “At this stage I’m trying to narrow the field down. If they can generate backgrounds and profiles that would go a long way—it could be farmed out to investigators or firms—I just need it less easily traced back to me.”

GM: “So more detailed profiles. All right, I’ll get back to you when they’ve turned up something.”

Caroline: “You’re a lifesaver, Christina.”

GM: “I’m all too sure.”

The two exchange final pleasantries and end the call.


Friday evening, 18 September 2015

GM: True to Claire’s word, at 8 PM the next night, Caroline hears her doorbell ring. The Ventrue has just finished showering and dressing for her meeting with John Harley Matheson.

Caroline: Punctuality has always been her mother’s strong suit. Caroline heads to the door as she fits neat diamond earrings on. With one hand she opens the door even as the other makes sure that her appearance is suitably presentable. The looming meeting with Matheson has her nervous.

GM: Claire isn’t dressed down, but next to Caroline’s attire, her gray drape blazer and darker tulip skirt look as if they are. Her eyes are shadowed and tired-looking.

“Caroline. Heading somewhere?”

Unlike last time, she doesn’t reach out to embrace her daughter.

Caroline: “Not for a little while yet, please, come in.”

Caroline steps aside to admit her mother into the ravaged house. She doesn’t swoop in for an embrace, but one hand does snake out to touch her mother’s, gently.

GM: Claire’s hand manages a squeeze back. It’s neither limp nor firm. Her mother’s hand feels so warm next to hers, and even unappetizing as she smells, it’s all-too easy for Caroline to picture the hot blood pumping through the veins beneath. Pumping through this kine’s whole body.

“Let’s take a drive, actually. It’s not too late for a visit to the park like you suggested last time.”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t let the contact linger overly long. She checks her phone for the time, winces, but nods. “I have an obligation over in the Garden Distinct at ten… but we have a few minutes.”

GM: Claire’s heels click against the pavement as she makes her way over to the nearby parked black-hued Mercedes CLS50. It still has that distinctive new car smell as Caroline settles in to the leather seat. She knows that her mother normally employs a driver, but the Ventrue doesn’t see him as Claire gets in on the driver’s side.

“So then. Where did we leave off?” Claire asks as the neighborhood’s million-dollar homes slowly roll past.

Caroline: It’s almost by instinct at this point that Caroline cracks the window as soon as the car comes to life, the night air serving as a distraction from the living being in the car with her that she so hatefully does not want to think of as a meal.

“We were talking about Wes.”

The words are somber.

GM: Her mother doesn’t say anything over the low thrum of the car’s movement.

Caroline: Caroline starts to reach out for her mother’s hand again in the dead silence, but pulls back.

“There… I can’t say how sorry I am, Mom. For all of this.”

GM: Claire’s eyes remain on the road.

“It is what it now is.”

Caroline: “No. It isn’t. I know you’re hurting, and I know there can’t be very many people you can talk to about it…”

GM: “He’s dead,” Claire says plainly.

Caroline: Caroline nods soberly. “If you’re angry at me… if you have to hate me for it… I understand.”

GM: Her mother is silent for another long moment at that. Her Mercedes passes the gatehouse. It’s perhaps fortunate that Blackwatch only stops cars on their way in.

“You didn’t go to him.”

Caroline: “No,” Caroline admits. “Maybe I should have. Maybe I was wrong.”

GM: There’s only another long silence at that as Audubon’s Walled perimeter recedes in the rearview mirror. Despite her earlier words, her mother’s face is far-off.

Caroline: “I don’t know that I could have made it in time… but maybe I should have tried. If there was any chance they might have released him.”

GM: Claire pulls the car to a slow stop and closes her eyes.

Caroline: Caroline wants to, but dares not reach out for her mother. She lays a hand near Claire’s. Her own gaze is downcast.

“Lots of questions… I have so many doubts about it, questions. There was something else going on that night that I don’t understand… but want to.”

“It’s poisonous.”

She looks back up, her voice still somber.

“And I need to know if it reached you too.”

GM: Her mother simply gives Caroline a blank look. Her eyes take in the words, process them, but little further reaction seems to stir.

Caroline: Caroline lets out a slow breath and nods.

“I understand.”

GM: “Caroline, do you have anything else to talk about?” Claire finally asks.

Caroline: “Anything more important than if I’ve lost you?” Caroline questions back. She lets the question hang in the air. “I suppose only, if I have, whether you want our agreement to hold.”

GM: Her mother rubs her forehead. “I’m right here, Caroline. I’m not going anywhere. We’re through talking about your brother. We’ve not even had his funeral.”

Caroline: Caroline looks away.

“Let’s talk about me, then. College students.”

GM: There’s another blank look from her mother at the out-of-context reference.

Caroline: “How much do you actually know about Kindred, Mom? That there are multiple kinds for instance? Clans?”

GM: “That’s not something it benefits either of us for me to share.”

Caroline: Caroline looks soberly at her mother.

“If they find out about you they’ll do whatever they can to kill you or capture you. Do you really think that those details are going to make a difference in their calculus?”

GM: “A substantial one, actually,” her mother replies. “If they make you talk, I don’t want them knowing how much I know.”

Caroline: “They would know enough. That you’ve been a magician for decades. That you’re part of a larger group. That you have the authority to call in other people in an instant and overrule them. That you know some of our weaknesses…” Caroline looks down. “And any of those secrets you’re clinging to, they can drag out of you. You know that, and what a risk this is.”

She sighs. “We need something else.”

GM: Caroline’s mother shakes her head. “If they make you talk, Caroline, that doesn’t automatically equate to them capturing me. But the more you know about me, the better they’ll be able to plan. So the less you know, the better.”

Caroline: The Ventrue turns her gaze back to her mother.

“I know you’ve done this a lot longer than I have… I know you’ve survived this long by being careful. And if you and I were only having this conversation as mother and daughter, as Kappa to Kappa, I’d agree with you, Mom… but things are more complicated.”

GM: “Yes. They’re inordinately more dangerous.”

Caroline: “I meet with two elders in the next two days,” Caroline replies bluntly.

GM: “Inordinately more dangerous,” her mother repeats.

Caroline: “They’re going to find out, Mom. If not today, or tomorrow, then the next day, or the next. Maybe if I had…” She shakes her head. “It doesn’t really matter.”

GM: Claire just stares resignedly.

Caroline: “It doesn’t have go that way, though,” Caroline continues. “If we get out in front of it.”

GM: “You leave New Orleans,” her mother states. “Go somewhere else. DC. There are other leeches there, but you won’t be so enmeshed in their politics.”

Caroline: “In the long term?” Caroline nods. “Maybe. But I can’t leave now. That would make things… worse. Much worse. I’m not only an unreleased fledgling, I’m an ignorant unreleased Ventrue. Anywhere I go it’s going to raise questions, and I don’t expect that the prince here would simply let me go. Even if he didn’t chase me, they could send out word. I don’t know the protocol, but…”

GM: “Why on earth would he chase you, Caroline, once you’re out of his hair? How does that benefit him? You haven’t even met the prince from what you’ve said.”

Caroline: “Because the Traditions are universal,” Caroline replies back, half snaps. “And there is a greater Kindred society outside of each city. And… Ventrue aren’t what I am.”

GM: “I don’t see how you break any their Traditions by leaving the city. Or why the prince would care about a problematic fledgling disappearing one night.”

Caroline: “Because I’m an illicit Embrace. Because I’ve been a problem with the Masquerade as is, and they take that seriously. And anywhere I went I’d have to present myself to the prince.”

GM: “So present yourself to DC’s, if that’s what you think will make them be less trouble. You’ll still be away from all of the toxic politics you’ve been caught up in here.”

Caroline: “Let’s assume that everything went perfectly. That they made no effort to chase me. That the prince of DC didn’t put me to death because he found out who I was. That I got there safely… then what, Mom? It’s not just starting over. All the problems still exist there. You don’t just set yourself up on the street as a vampire and do what you want. Do you know that most of the city is sliced up and divided among the powerful factions? Do you remember that the last time I went into someone’s domain without getting their permission their ghouls tried to kill me, they dominated me, and they whipped me until I was half-dead and threatened to dump me on the street at dawn?”

There’s fear and anger in Caroline’s voice. “Kindred don’t just casually move town to town. And even if I did, this threat, this danger looming over us doesn’t go away. There’s one way out for both of us, Mom. Only one that I can see.”

GM: “It’s wishful thinking that DC would be free of complications, Caroline. But at this point, it looks as if there would be far fewer than if you remained in New Orleans. You haven’t made any enemies there. You aren’t caught up in… everything that you are. What possible reason do you have to want to stay among the vampires here?”

Caroline: “They’re not all bad,” Caroline replies almost guiltily. “To me.”

GM: “Yes, and not all Nazis were bad to Jews either,” her mother replies.

Caroline: Caroline grits her teeth at the barb.

“Laying all the problems with running aside? Laying aside that it does nothing for this problem,” she gestures between them, “I have access to things that I need here, I have connections, I have… someone that cares about me, and I have someone else, someone powerful, that has helped me. Has stuck their neck out for me. Has trusted me. I’m not going to betray them. I’m not going to flee into the unknown. I’m not going to be… the worst of them. And as messed up as things are here… I still think this is our best shot.”

GM: “Caroline, what could you possibly have here that’s worth what you yourself just admitted are inevitable odds of being found out?”

Caroline: “Those odds don’t change elsewhere,” Caroline replies firmly, but her tone shifts as she continues, becoming almost wistful.

“And… I don’t know what I have. But it’s been good to me so far. Better than anything else in this unlife. Among other things, I think it’s a chance to get out in front of things. For the good of you… and the good of me.”

GM: “Caroline. They will kill you, and me if they can, if they find out about our relationship,” her mother replies in a firm ‘stop daydreaming’ tone.

Caroline: “And that will happen anywhere,” Caroline continues firmly, in the same daydreaming tone. “We can’t run away from this. At best it would buy us time—and likely not even that. But there’s another way.” She continues, “Maybe the only way.”

GM: Her mother waits for her to continue even further.

Caroline: Caroline looks up. “Through. Right now there is only a death sentence between us. A secret of no value but great consequence. I can only imagine that it must be very much the same for you, among your fellows.”

GM: “Caroline, if you’re about propose that I strike a deal with one of these elders you’re about to meet, that’s out of the question. They don’t negotiate with humans.”

Caroline: “No, you’re right about that,” Caroline rapidly interjects. “Nor could they readily strike a deal with you, even if they wished it. Even if they were willing to.”

GM: Her mother again waits for her to get to whatever she’s getting at.

Caroline: “Give me something,” she finally arrives at. “If this is me spying for you, and us knowing of each other… it’s bad, Mom. It’s really bad. But if it goes both ways?” She hurriedly continues, “I’m not asking you to sell people out, or give me information that is going to get other people killed. And I know there are secrets you can’t share. But there are things you know…”

“Or things you could do—and I could do in return. I can sell you and I. That I’m,” she cuts off with a grimace before continuing bitterly, “using you—even if you’re using me too. Influence with hunters and mortals makes me valuable… and as a point of contact on the same, you’d have some measure of protection. And maybe we could even do some good with it. Prevent someone else from ending up like… well, this. Or get some of the most degenerate Kindred out of the city.”

GM:That’s your plan?” her mother asks sharply. “Give one of those elders some useful information, and hope they’ll think it’s better not to eliminate us?”

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “No, Mom. It wouldn’t be enough just to trade a bit of information. That would be good faith, between us in the immediate, but they could get all of that from you if they put their hands on you. We’d actually have to be what I presented us as: assets to each other. A vampire daughter that has the ear of her influential magician mother. And no, I’m not talking about rushing off to fully disclose everything. I’m talking about laying a foundation now, so when it comes out…” Caroline shrugs.

GM: “I’m not even sure what you’re proposing. Other vampires don’t want me as an asset. They want me dead, along with all other humans who know as much as I do. The more I tell you, the more people’s lives I put in danger. Some might be willing to use me as a pawn. But to them I’ll always be another Masquerade breach, to be disposed of once I’ve outlived my usefulness.”

Caroline: “You’re not wrong,” Caroline begins. “What I’m essentially proposing is that your usefulness living be greater than your use dead for the foreseeable future. Ten… fifteen… twenty years is not so long by their standards. And in that time… a lot can happen.”

GM: “I’m only useful to them, Caroline, if I’m killing their enemies or betraying my allies.”

Caroline: “That’s not true,” Caroline replies. “Maybe it was thirty years ago.”

GM: “Yes, it is. They don’t negotiate with humans on equal terms. Someone in my position is useful if she’s a ghoul, mentally enslaved, blackmailed, bribed, or simply thinks the vampires she deals with are living people. If she knows the truth, and they have no hold over her, she’s a liability.”

Caroline: Caroline looks at her mother. “Think very carefully before you answer.” She pauses for a moment. “Do I not have influence over you, Mom?”

GM: “As much as any child does over their parent,” Claire answers. She finally gives a tired sigh. “Enough, Caroline. What is it that you want from me?”

Caroline: Caroline picks up on something in her mother’s tone and shifts her tack.

“In blunt terms? I want an idea of what you know in broad terms about Kindred—and in turn I’ll fill in pieces you don’t. This ‘tell me but I can’t tell you if it means anything to me’ doesn’t work. I want you to influence the Kappas—and other groups in New Orleans you may be aware of—on my behalf. I’d like your national influence—whatever that may be—to focus attention outside of New Orleans. I want to know what parts of Tulane I need to stay away from—and broadly the temperament of those areas, and if you have a particularly militant group you know of, I’d like them pointed in the direction of Kindred opposed to those I’ve aligned with.”

She pauses. “Some of these points are open to negotiation, but in short, I want to be able to say, truthfully when questioned that our relationship is of more value than a bullet in the back of your head or someone digging around in your mind.”

“In turn, I can and will feed you the information you requested about broader Kindred politics in the city, so you can keep yours out of the way and potentially build your own influence. I’ll steer those I have any influence with—or develop any influence with—away from the Kappas and others you may designate.”

GM: “Absolutely not,” her mother answers reflexively. “There was no information I ‘requested’. There was information you agreed to supply me, in return for favors I did for you, as per our prior arrangement. It certainly doesn’t fill me with confidence that you’d misconstrue it this soon.”

“That leaves trying to deflect other vampires from the Kappas. We’ve just talked about you being a ‘sireless fledgling’, and I heard your full story last night. To be frank, Caroline, it doesn’t sound as if you have any appreciable influence among your kind.”

Caroline: Caroline looks away for a moment to clear her head.

“You’re right, Mom, I shouldn’t have tried to work in our prior arrangement.” Her tone is contrite, but shifts as she continues, “But you’re also wrong about influence. Or, at least, will be. It’s difficult to explain, but the short of it is that someone has taken an interest, Mom. Someone I get to make my case to tomorrow. Someone with influence, and power. And that flows both ways. What I bring to the table is something that is at their table. And they had influence enough to work around the sheriff and influence the prince’s herald.”

“It’s not perfect. It’s probably not even good, but it’s the best I can come up with right now. It’s the only way I can come up with to keep you and yours and me as safe as I can.” She looks over. “Unless you have a better option than ‘hope you can run, hope you can settle in elsewhere, and hope they don’t ask questions there.”

“I’m trying to do the best I can.”

GM: “Well, Caroline, your best doesn’t sound very good. If this elder you’re about to meet is so powerful, my name shouldn’t be anywhere near your lips. And we have no guarantee you’ll be able to influence this elder. We don’t even know if they’re a he or a she.”

Caroline: Caroline looks faintly insulted. “I’m not planning on wandering up and offering up the details of us, but other Kindred have often cared little about what I chose to disclose. That’ll get better after this weekend—I think—but not by enough.”

“But there isn’t going to be time for striking deals and making arrangements when it comes out mom. I won’t be able to warn you or tip you off. And the only defense we’ll have will be what we can come up with now. And it’s not just you and I. They’ll take far more from you if it’s left in their hands.” She pauses. “I can sell this. I can make it work. Unless you have a better idea?”

She grits her teeth. “I don’t want to lose you. And I don’t want you to get hurt because of me.” Then she sighs. “I understand this isn’t what you want, Mom. I understand that it’s not something you’ve ever considered… would ever consider normally…”

GM: “And it still isn’t. I’m hearing nothing except ‘mights’ and ‘maybes’ on the very dubious premise that one of these elders won’t choose to take action against me if you have anything to tell them.”

Caroline: The heiress sighs. “Then you’re not listening, Mom. I’m not going to charge over and blab about all of this, but, tomorrow especially there are good odds that I’m going to be forced to confess any secrets I have.” She looks back. “Forced.”

“It’s not something I can avoid. Which means we need an answer now. So what are we going to do mom? You could run, but they’d just turn their attention to he Kappas after they kill me. Maybe they’ll use the family to force you back. Kidnap Gabriel or Luke—or both.”

“You could kill me.”

The words are searing and raw, an examination of a truly ugly truth.

“Maybe that would stop them. More likely it would raise more questions, but it might buy you time. But I’m not going to go quietly if you choose that path. There are things in this life… things that as terrible as it is, matter to me. That I think are worth fighting for. And I can fight, Mom. I practically invited you in last time, because I didn’t want lies between us, because I wanted… I wanted something more. Something human that I could hold onto. But if your friends show up again…”

She shakes her head.

“Or we can try it my way. Because it’s the only way out that I see. It presents problems, it has dangers, and there’s no guarantee. But they can be very practical, Mom. And in practical terms a leader of a national anti-Kindred group swayed in their favor by non-obvious means—not dominated, not ghouled, not tied down and mind raped, but genuinely influenced for what may be decades? Subtly?”

“That’s what I’m proposing, Mom. In simple terms. At the end of the day, that I have influence over you—and yes, that you share some details today to prove it. I can’t promise you that my patron will buy it. I can’t promise you that they won’t still kill me and come for you.”

“But I can promise you that if we don’t do something, they will.”

GM:Here is what you can pass them, Caroline—if you are made to talk. I will be willing to target vampires who are their political enemies, in return for you acting as our sole contact and go-between. I won’t deal with anyone else. If that means they have no alternative but to spare you for any transgressions you’ve committed, that’s their problem.”

“You will know nothing about my or my allies’ knowledge, capabilities, numbers, or anything else that could be used against us. This elder can either deal with us as enemies they possess no intelligence on, or mutually aligned allies of an ally they possess no intelligence on.”

Caroline: Dread and gratefulness flow through Caroline in equal parts at her mother’s declaration, but she gives Claire a sad-looking smile that encapsulates both her deep understanding at what it must have cost her mother on every level, her gratitude for it, and her respect for the decision.

“Well… hopefully that will be enough.” She nods, her eyes downcast for a moment, then looks up again with another tight smile.

GM: Her mother’s gaze finally returns to the street as she pulls the still-running car back onto the road.

“Now per our earlier arrangement, it sounds as if you have more than a few new things to tell.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her tongue before beginning.

“There’s an elder accused of feeding off of neonates. It’s the biggest story in the city. Battle lines drawn, accusation, scuffles. Especially among the Anarchs, who are split. Big trial this weekend about it.”

GM: “Who is the elder?”

Caroline: “Matheson. Ventrue. He’s old. Been banished forever and a day as it stands. No one knew why—or at least no one that was talking—but the assumption is now that he was caught doing this before.”

GM: Her mother takes that in. “Do you think he was?”

Caroline: Caroline frowns. “Hard to say. I haven’t met him yet.”

She frowns again. “No, that’s a lie. If he’s anything like the other Ventrue I’ve met… yes. I’d believe it.”

GM: “Yet?”

Caroline: “Tonight.”

GM: Her mother frowns deeply.

Caroline: Caroline nods. “It wasn’t an invitation I could turn down, under the circumstances.”

GM: “Circumstances that will result in his feeding on you?”

Caroline: “I’ve suffered much worse,” Caroline replies, a hint of stubborn pride in her voice. “If that’s the price… so be it.”

GM: “Does he kill his victims?”

Caroline: “No, he just mind-fucks them into forgetting about the entire thing.”

GM: Her mother grips the steering wheel. “Perhaps you’ll find the perspective useful.”

Caroline: “Maybe I will,” Caroline replies without malice.

GM: “What reason has he said he’s meeting you for?”

Caroline: “He’s fishing. Given the nature of the charges, neonates willing to visit him and potentially testify during the trial as to his behavior have some value. Plus, banished as he has been, I expect on some level he does appreciate the company. The opportunity to lord over people.”

GM: “Over other vampires. Even banished, he has to have been feeding on someone.”

Caroline: Caroline looks at her mother. “I don’t expect that he considers humans very much social creatures. Or even ghouls.”

GM: “Likely not.”

Caroline: “In any case…. there aren’t very many doors open among the Ventrue given… well, other things I’ve done. And I need at least one. I don’t expect that I’ll be readily forgiven by others I’ve given offense to.”

GM: Claire’s Mercedes pulls into Audubon Park. The 350-acre green space is quite sizable, replete with a golf course, zoo, and several cafes and other attractions. Caroline may better remember it as another place she offered ‘comfort’ to another lost soul in need of it.

“Do you?” her mother asks as she turns off the car and steps out. The pair’s destination is within sight of the parked vehicle.

Caroline: “Need one, or expect forgiveness?” Caroline asks soberly. “Very different questions…” She follows her mother out of the car.

GM: It’s called the labyrinth, but the name isn’t technically accurate, for there are in fact two. The round, flat, and wall-less stone edifices are connected to one another by a brick path that begins with an entrance through a wrought iron trellis. The closer labyrinth is smaller and winds its way to a larger one surrounded by benches and southern live oaks.

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A metal plaque located by the brick path reads:

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The Labyrinth is a symbol of hope and renewal offered to the City of New Orleans following the devastation caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. As our community rebuilds, so also, our citizens must rebuild their souls.

The labyrinth is an ancient tool which provides a sacred place for meditation, centering, and healing. At the entrance is a small Labyrinth known as the Classic Seventh Circuit. This pattern dates to 2000 B.C. The large Labyrinth is a replica from the Chartres Cathedral in Chartres, France, built in 1203 A.D. It has eleven circuits leading to the center.

All people and all cultures are invited to journey along the labyrinth. There is no right or wrong way to walk a Labyrinth. There are no tricks or decisions, just follow the single path, one foot in front of the other, until you reach the center. Return along that same path.

A Labyrinth is a walking meditation. As in life, you will encounter many turns. Trust the path. May this become a place for transformation that honors hope and celebrates new beginnings.

A dedication list of names follows.

Caroline: Caroline looks down at the path in stone, then back to her mother.

GM: Claire can only squint at the plaque. Darkness has fallen over Audubon Park, as it must for Caroline to walk its labyrinth. Stars are visible in the mostly clear night sky, and the park itself has streetlamps, but no light directly illuminates the metal lettering for the mortal woman’s benefit.

“I can’t make that out. Does it say something?”

Caroline: “You haven’t been here before?” Caroline asks her mother, surprised.

GM: “I don’t live in Carrollton,” Claire answers with a slight shrug. “And… I suppose we haven’t seen each other many times since you moved to the city.”

Caroline: Caroline gives a a soft, bitter laugh.

“The Labyrinth,” she explains, “was a dedication to the city intended to serve as a symbol of hope and renewal. Walking it is supposed to help with centering and healing, and teach you to walk the path you are on, despite its many turns, embracing the changes in your life.”

Another bitter chuckle.

“In particular, hope and new beginnings.”

GM: Claire is silent for a moment.

“We’ve picked a poor time to visit. The path is hardly visible.”

Caroline: “I can lead you along it… if you’d like.”

There’s a deeper meaning to her words.

“I suspect there will never be a better time.”

GM: “Maybe there won’t.”

Her mother motions with a hand as if to say ‘lead on.’ It’s as plainly visible in the dark to Caroline as the rest of the labyrinth’s engraved path.

Caroline: Caroline sets off into the larger Labyrinth. She’s never been much for meditation, but in the welcoming dark she finds her nerves soothed in preparation for the visit to the elder forthcoming.

“College students,” she says again. “That’s my restriction.”

GM: The click of her mother’s shoes sounds against the stone after her. Claire walks directly behind her daughter, and while that keeps her in the path when it’s straight, bends and curves inevitably if inadvertently result in Caroline’s mother stepping outside of them. She does not appear to notice through the dark as she replies,

“I see.”

Caroline: “I wasn’t asking about Tulane just for them,” she clarifies as she continues along the dark path—one that stands out so clearly to the Ventrue.

“Not that I expect it to change your answer,” she continues. “I just want you to know.”

GM: “I haven’t said anything yet to your father,” Claire states. “He’s been busy, as he always has, but he wants to see you at some point while he’s in town. Besides for… the funeral. The two of us have talked with Thomas, as I’ve said, to land you that Fifth Circuit internship. Which I suppose is off the table now.”

Caroline: “It would need flexible hours,” Caroline replies bitterly.

GM: “How did things end up going for you with school?”

Caroline: Caroline curses quietly. A moment of silence follows.

“Not well.”

GM: Her mother seems to take that in stride. “We should sit down if we’ve made it to the center.”

Caroline: Caroline looks for a moment as though she might object, but instead nods and turns to face her mother, taking a seat within the maze.

GM: Her mother gives a puzzled frown. “Goodness, Caroline, I don’t mean right here. On one of the benches.”

Her frown deepens. “You haven’t ruined your dress, have you?”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t quite roll her eyes at her mother’s vagueness, but neatly brushes off the stray specks of dirt on her dress.

“Wherever you want, Mom,” she finally replies evenly. “Pretty good odds this dress won’t make it though the night as it is.”

GM: “It is ruined, you’re brushing it. You should take better care of your clothes, Caroline,” Claire repeats as she sits down on one of the wooden benches.

Caroline: Caroline sits beside her mother, brushing off the last few specks of dirt. “It’s fine, Mom,” she replies, the last word still awkward in her mouth.

They’ve never been close. Never had a secret only between them. Certainly not over her father and brothers. It’s something she’s never regretted until now, that she never really knew her mother.

“It’s a good reason to wear black.”

This close the Beast pulls at her. Invites her. She could know Claire so much more intimately if only she would let it.

She shoves it down somewhere deep, feeling sick. That’s all people will ever be to a part of her: a temptation. A savoy bag of ecstasy on two legs that it would delight in destroying.

She shoves aside the thought as she shoved down the Beasts desire: not truly out of mind, just forced back into the darker recesses. Waiting for its moment. Lurking and stalking her. Instead she turns back to their last topic.

“How long is he in town for?”

Her father. That immovable pillar of resolute will. The sun in her sky in her childhood and the star by which she navigates for most of the rest, only in these last years obscured by distance and the other oh so natural but still painful barriers between them. There was once a time she could have reached out and touched him, but that time feels so long ago. Felt so long ago even before she died.

GM: Caroline’s mother regards her silently in the dark—at once so much closer and so much further away, and perhaps all-too late.

For some, the Embrace is a curse, a wholesale ruination of their mortal lives. For others, it opens their eyes to aspects of the human condition they have previously failed to understand, yet are forever barred from acting upon in their new state. It is debatable which is the more tragic.

“Well, right now there’s still so much to iron out with… Westley,” Claire continues. “It’s hard to say. Your father’s not actually in town right now. He’s been meeting with various state and city officials throughout the parishes, giving a few speeches, and of course fundraising. He also has a town hall meeting planned and an appearance at one of the jazz clubs here. Good way to make him seem close to the constituents, I suppose, having those events outside of the usual congressional recess periods.”

Her mother sighs.

“He’s making the most of having to be down here, but he’s not happy to be gone from Washington. Even if it looks like there’s nothing we can do about that damn Iran deal.”

Caroline: She finds herself simultaneously admiring and resenting her father’s laser-like focus on his goals. The will to power, at any cost. At every cost. She flirts dangerously close to offering a comment on the callowness of his actions in response to his son’s death, but bites it back. Who is she to criticize him? She who is doing just the same, plotting her own future. She who put Westley in the ground.

All my life I wanted to be like him… and now I am.

These thoughts pass unspoken behind her green eyes, but not unconsidered.

“Next week is better. I expect this weekend to be demanding.”

GM: “What happened with school?” her mother asks.

Caroline: “I received a head in a box and lost track of it last night.” Caroline replies bitterly. Ashamedly.

GM: “I’m sorry, someone’s head?” Claire asks.

Caroline: Caroline gives a short, bitter, half-sob and half-laugh at the sheer ridiculousness and brutality of it.

“Someone I knew. A warning, and a threat.”

She looks away.

GM:Leeches,” Claire mutters, her voice thick with contempt.

“I’m sorry, Caroline,” she repeats.

Caroline: Caroline looks back, wipes her face, her eyes, grateful for the darkness.

“Me too. She deserved better.”

GM: “Most of your kind’s victims do,” Claire answers.

“In any case, we can’t afford to let another death slow us down. We need some kind of cover to explain you being dropped from your classes and unable to take the internship.”

Caroline: “Did you have something in mind?”

GM: “No, I didn’t. And there isn’t an easy explanation for those things. I suppose it’s no surprise that so many of you fake your deaths.”

Caroline: Caroline seems to consider the question for a time.

“Our standing story might suffice for a time,” she says at last.

GM: “It won’t in the long term. Eventually, they’ll expect you to recover. That all before the perpetrator your father will want to punish.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip. “Well, he got that, if not in the way he expected.”

She thinks for a moment longer.

“Social pariah?” she offers.

GM: Her mother looks at her questioningly.

Caroline: “I could do something… be something… conventionally unacceptable.”

GM: Claire frowns. “If it’s unacceptable enough, there’s not much benefit that offers over simply faking your death. And if it’s something ‘mild’ like dating another Democrat, the family will still expect you to carry on your life like usual.”

Caroline: “A fine line to find, then,” Caroline murmurs. “Though faking my death brings as many problems for the Masquerade as it fixes. Maybe more.”

GM: “I could care less about your kind’s Masquerade in this case, Caroline, save insofar as violating it has the potential to draw even more trouble on you.”

Caroline: “Then think about this. What happens if Gabriel sees his dead sister on the street? Or at a store? Or at an event?”

GM: Her mother frowns. “You don’t actually mean to stay in New Orleans in the long term, do you? That’s only going to put the family in danger. And you will have to publicly die at some point, Caroline, before it becomes obvious you aren’t getting any older.”

Caroline: “I don’t know, Mom. I can’t know yet. Eventually?” She nods her head side to side. “If it was possible, then yes, for exactly that reason. But I don’t expect it to be today, or next week, or even next year.”

GM: “Which brings us back to the cover story to use in the meanwhile. What are you thinking of?”

Caroline: “I could come out,” she offers half seriously.

GM: “You’d tell the family you were gay,” her mother repeats, half-disbelievingly.

Caroline: “I’d tell the family anything to shield them from all of this,” Caroline replies.

GM: Claire sighs.

“Well, Orson will certainly want you disowned, cut off from your trust fund, and thrown out of Matt’s house. Or at the very least put into therapy.”

Caroline: Caroline looks down. “I know.”

GM: “Your father I can see going either way on it. But if he doesn’t disown you, being gay is no excuse to fail your classes or turn down the internship.”

Caroline: “I don’t have a better answer right now.”

GM: “Well, Caroline, unless you want to tell your father that you’re a vampire, we need one,” her mother states impatiently.

Caroline: Caroline grinds her teeth.

“I’ve given you two answers, Mom, one for the short term, and one for the long. I’m sorry they aren’t perfect ones. Or perhaps even good ones, but they’re the ones I have. A short term way to explain this current disaster, and a long term way to phase me out of the family’s dealings without overly compromising anyone else in it.”

“If there was some magic wand I could wave to make all of this go away, to return everything to how it was, I’d happy wave it, but at the moment this is the hand we’ve been dealt.”

“I could give you others—but they’d only drag down Dad. Or you. Or the family. Or they’d bring more attention—and attention is bad. You might not care about their Masquerade, but they do. They’ll kill for it. And the thought that they might kill you, or someone else in the family, or some poor employee that’s just snooping a bit too much makes me sick.”

“I’ve caused enough harm. If what I have to sacrifice is my privilege in the family, my father, and my pride to keep them out of it, then I’ll do so gladly.”

GM: “Well, Caroline, you might talk about doing that, but none of your plans are at all conductive to it happening,” her mother replies with rising annoyance. “We tell the family you were raped. Fine. Your father is going to want someone to send to prison, if not death row, and eventually he’s going to expect you to get over it. Putting it off how to address that problem is not going to make it go away, though it will make it harder to solve.”

Caroline: “Not if we sell him that nothing good comes of it. Or at least, of it coming out into the open.”

GM: “He’s not a man who’s content to sit and do nothing, Caroline.”

Caroline: “You’re right, but he’s also not a man given to letting emotion get in the way of reality, and the reality is a headline of ‘Malveaux heir raped’ and ‘Malveaux rape trial begins’ does nothing positive for him or anyone in the family. In fact, it only undermines the family and his reelection chances by making him look weak.”

GM: “There are still ways he can send any purported rapist to prison. Catch them for some other unrelated crime, or simply set them up for one. Lord knows that Roger would enjoy that.”

Caroline: “It’s not as though we couldn’t find someone who deserved it,” Caroline quietly murmurs.

GM: “All right, we send some hoodlum to prison who the system hasn’t been able to convict,” her mother agrees. “That would normally require a good deal of effort to set up—more to make him look the culprit without Roger’s team seeing through it than anything else. Your kind’s powers may be useful there.”

Caroline: “I wasn’t physically raped that night, but I wasn’t lying about what else happened. It wasn’t for lack of trying.”

GM: Her mother nods. “Then tracking down that… other man is certainly something else to do down the line. But we shouldn’t drag him into this.”

Caroline: “There are plenty of others out there that could use a trip up river,” Caroline agrees quietly.

“In any case, with any luck that explanation buys us into next semester, which lets me begin to put my life back on track, and put things in place for… well, for when it all comes down, one way or another.”

GM: “You know, there was a black stalker who tried to break into Cécilia’s apartment,” Claire remarks thoughtfully. “He could be the perfect patsy to use for this. Goodness knows your brother isn’t happy about him not getting a jail sentence.”

Caroline: “No one would ever believe it,” Caroline replies, perhaps too quickly.

GM: Her mother raises an eyebrow.

Caroline: “College students,” Caroline reminds her mother darkly, almost shamefully.

“I thought targeting someone who deserves it was better than some poor jock. But that stalker is small, effeminate, and autistic. I don’t even think he realized what he was doing.”

GM: Her mother frowns again.

“How do you know that, Caroline? Luke’s passed on the details of the arrest record. He assaulted the building’s security guards, tried to beat them unconscious with just his guitar.”

Caroline: Caroline’s guilty look doesn’t fade.

GM: “And Cécilia, the poor girl’s had to hire a bodyguard just to feel safe. Your brother did too.”

Caroline: “He couldn’t beat a pinata with his eyes uncovered,” Caroline replies quietly.

GM: “To which I’ll again ask what makes you so certain. From what Luke has had to tell me, he’s a dangerous menace.” She pauses. “No. You fed on him, didn’t you.”

Caroline: She looks away.

GM: Silence stretches the night.

Finally, her mother answers, “Better him than someone who doesn’t deserve it.”

Caroline: “That was what I thought. It’s the whole principle of the Sanctified. Anyway, I can tell you there’s no way that Roger would ever believe he was capable of getting the better of me.” She pauses. “And he’s attracting a bunch of attention right now in any case. MeVid sensation. There are easier—and more deserving targets.”

GM: “Well, Caroline, you admittedly won’t find as many criminals among Tulane as you will the Ninth Ward, but there are still their fair share. I’d certainly feel better knowing you were feeding on rapists, drug dealers, and simple meathead frat boys than the hardworking sons and daughters of families like ours.”

Caroline: Caroline shuffles uncomfortably in her seat at the subject of the discussion. “It’s not always that easy… there are limits on where I’m allowed to go, where I’m allowed to… hunt.” She substitutes the word for ‘feed’ just as uncomfortably.

“But I try to avoid hurting people, Mom. And when I have… I’ve tried to make it right.”

She looks down. “It’s been hard the last two weeks. All the violence… the pain.”

She clenches her fists. “But I should be able to be more… selective in the future.”

GM: Now it is Caroline’s mother who falls silent for another uncomfortable moment. She finally brushes her hand against her daughter’s.

“I suppose that’s… everything you can do. More than others of your kind ever do.”

Her tone grows introspective. “Time marches on, and it feels like so little changes. Leeches hurt people just like they did when I was your age.”

Caroline: The comment brings up a swell of emotion in Caroline, and the Ventrue looks back at her mother.

“I don’t ever want to be like that. To mindlessly hurt people with no regard. I don’t want to ever create another… me. You’ll tell me, if you see me going that way, won’t you?”

GM: “If you really are, Caroline, it might be too late for telling you to do anything,” Claire answers somberly. “But I’ll do whatever’s necessary.”

Caroline: Caroline pushes her cold hand up against her mother’s—the most contact she’ll dare at the moment.

“I wish that there had been fewer secrets between us before.”

GM: “Some secrets are for the best,” Claire replies quietly. “Bringing the rest of the family into this world would only hurt them.”

Caroline: “I don’t just mean these secrets,” Caroline clarifies, but she goes no further. Not here. Not now.

The moment drags on in silence. At last, Caroline looks down at the slim silver watch on her wrist.

“I need to go. He’ll beat me if I’m late.”

GM: Her mother’s expression wavers.

“All right. But we need to suss out the particulars of your supposed rapist, and the sooner the better. Tomorrow night?”

Caroline: She bites her lip. “Monday. If you haven’t heard from me by then… something has gone wrong. And I’ll try to reach out tomorrow before my second meeting. But I don’t want to make promises.”

GM: “We need to do this earlier than Monday, Caroline,” her mother says in mild reproach. “Putting it off can only hurt us.”

Caroline: Caroline frowns. “I know, the timing is just…. bad. The trial is this weekend, along with my release, meetings, initiations… I’ll call you tomorrow—or as soon as I know more.”

GM: “All right,” her mother relents. “But that reminds me—no discussing anything we wouldn’t tell the rest of the family over phones. Face to face only.”

Caroline: “Agreed.”

GM: “Texts included,” Claire adds.

She finally rises from her seat on the bench. “We forgot all about the labyrinth. I can’t tell if we walked it or not.”

Caroline: Caroline rises to stand beside her.

“We walked it,” she answers quietly, letting that answer hang before continuing, “My home is not a safe meeting place for us either. Too many eyes on it. The wrong kind of eyes.”

GM: “I’d figured so, Caroline. That’s why we met here.”

Caroline: “In the immediate future you should always set meeting locations.” She pauses. “And I should know no earlier than an hour before.”

She outlines a few less friendly areas of the city to herself—mostly McGinn’s domain and the French Quarter.

“Riverbend is good. Downtown. I can even make Mid-City work—though that’s relatively dangerous ground.”

GM: “Mid-City isn’t a very wholesome part of town, Caroline,” her mother reproaches. “I don’t have much known cause to be in Riverbend apart from seeing you, so I suppose that leaves the CBD.”

Caroline: Caroline shrugs. “We can hash it out in more detail to follow. And… if I bring up Dad on the phone, you should get out of town.”

GM: “That won’t be able to happen until your brother’s funeral is taken care of, but it’s a good enough warning.”

Caroline: “I can’t promise I’ll be able to give it, but it’s the best I can do,” Caroline continues.

“Should I be worried about any of your friends that know what I am right now?”

GM: “No,” her mother answers.

Caroline: “They did not seem particularly happy,” Caroline probes.

GM: “We’re not talking about them,” Claire repeats.

Caroline: "As long as I don’t wake up with my house on fire, " Caroline agrees.

GM: “You’ve got a more immediate concern right now anyways. Let’s get you back home,” her mother states, making her way back across the brick path to the parked Mercedes.

Caroline: She arches an eyebrow at her mother but lets the topic drop as they head for the car.

GM: The two get in. Claire buckles her seatbelt and pulls the car out. The park’s darkened scenery rolls past.

Caroline: It’s a start.

GM: They arrive outside Caroline’s home after a brief drive. As the Ventrue opens the door to get out, her mother touches her hand again and states, “I love you, Caroline. Things will… I can’t say they’ll get easier, but they’ll at least settle.”

Caroline: “I love you too, Mom,” Caroline replies, letting the contact linger. “And you’ll get through this too.”


Saturday night, 19 September 2015, PM

GM: The wan glow of the moonlight peaks through the garden’s daintily shrubbed fruit trees, casting leaf-shaped shadows against Maldonato’s dusky skin. There is neither tension nor pulse in the elder vampire’s motionless hand. The sensation is akin to clasping a statue, yet one made of dark hardwood rather than the pale marble that characterized John Harley Matheson.

The seneschal releases Caroline’s hand and resumes his seat upon the bench.

“There are further words you would speak, Miss Malveaux, before your conscience is clear.”

Caroline: The Ventrue heiress’s other, free, hand clenches into a fist. There’s something burning in her eyes that wasn’t there before the seneschal’s revelation, but it burns more brightly with each moment. Not anger, though a touch of it is there, so firmly controlled against the Beast. Not fear, though it too is there, standing at the edge of the abyss as she is. No, what burns within Caroline is something else: a resolve, an ambition, and perhaps even a hope.

“No doubt, Seneschal, you must think me a fool. Clumsy, careless, and shortsighted… and perhaps I am by the standard of an elder. And yet, I am not so much as I may be thought. I foresaw for instance that this matter with my mother could not stand as it was. She has already agreed not only to aid in the maintaining of the Masquerade among my family until my ‘death’ is arranged, whenever that may be, but also to direct her hunters against enemies you direct—so long as they are not sent only to utterly senseless deaths. Willingly, without Discipline use or bonds.”

She grinds her teeth, continuing, “It is much the same with Louis Fontaine, whatever his true name may be. I presume I was set along that course intentionally, but even so it was one I walked precisely. You may have heard his message, for all those watching, this evening? Exodus 23:22? Given time I can bring him wholly back into the fold. Out of the cold. He cares… he wants to believe in me.”

Again she grinds her teeth, as though each admission, each victory waved as a banner takes something from her. “And as a backup, it’s only a matter of time until I identify my mother’s associates, until I begin to build my own map of what that network looks like. I’ve already identified several potential members, and the longer I have, the more I’ll find. I’m not so arrogant as to think that she will always remain amendable to our standing agreement, or that ignorance of her organization is healthy in the long term.”

A brief war plays out, but speaking once again wins out, and Caroline continues still, “And of the matter of the tape’s handling… while it was certainly not managed to your standard, seneshal, for which I make no excuses, it was handled with intent such that it was unlikely anyone without my cooperation could have a hope of rapidly acquiring the tapes, encrypted or locked away and forgotten by all but myself as they were. I was aware of, if not fully capable of managing, the danger, and did the best that I could, not knowing if I would even hear back before I was to meet with Mr. Matheson.”

A small trickle of blood flows from that clenched fist as she digs her nails into her hand.

“And that such is taken as a question of my loyalty… I’ve been offered opportunity and again to flee the city and state with support from outside powers. I’ve been courted by other powers. I’ve had every reason to betray the prince’s justice, the harsh hand of that justice… and even in the face of insurmountable tasks, even when alone and hurt, even when the prince’s agents delivered the heads of my mortal friends in boxes to me…” She finally looks down. “The Sanctified are all that I had…. and I have more now than I knew.”

Seeing the turn in the seneschal’s mood with the back end of her explanation of Autumn and Turner, she returns to the topic. “That is to say, Seneschal, that I judged taking no action and sitting on the tape at my home to be the more dangerous of the two options than sending it out, under specific terms. If anyone was spying upon me, or even simply observing comings and goings from Mr. Matheson’s home, the more dangerous option seemed to be sitting upon the tape in my home, which has been repeatedly assaulted, with the appearance of forting up.”

“Vice sending out my ghouls in the dawn hour, when they were least likely to be intercepted by Kindred directly, to secure them elsewhere with the appearance of business as usual. I didn’t know that help was coming. Or that it would be so timely. I do not mean that to say that I bear no responsibility for the danger, but it was ignorance, not recklessness, that guided my hand. Such might matter little in assigning punishment, but I hope that it might have some bearing in potential.” She clutches her bleeding hand to her side, wiping more vitae across her dress rather than let it stain the garden like so much already has. At least she’s wearing black.

GM: Maldonato makes a brief motion with his index and middle fingers. When Caroline’s eye returns to the garden, her blood no longer stains the garden’s white, maroon, and blue ceramic tiles, nor the brick floor near her shared bench. Her dress, too, appears clean again. Yet the wound over her heart remains unmended. She can already feel her vitae seeping and spreading outwards, re-staining the newly-pristine black fabric.

“There is much that my hand may undo, Miss Malveaux,” Maldonato reflects. “Yet no action is without cost. Men of science know this principle as Newton’s third law. Other men know this principle by the adage of ‘no power without price.’ Yet none of your blood would flow had you willed your wounds to mend—and your blood shall continue to flow and stain my garden, no matter how many times I might pay the price to undo the consequences of your inaction.”

Caroline: Caroline grimaces. “I had made enough presumptions for lifetime,” she replies, “and done enough harm. Always the lesser of evils—to suffer and bleed and stain rather than risk a life callously for my own advantage.”

GM: “Your blood shall continue to stain my garden for as long as it flows, Miss Malveaux. Will you staunch its source, or shall I continue to efface the products of its flow?”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip, but her flesh knits with staggering speed.

“I will make no further messes for you, Seneschal. Anywhere.”

A lean and hungry look settles into her, not so much in expression as in body language, and the grievous wound does not fully close, but the flow slows.

“As best I am able,” she continues.

One hand crosses her chest, applying pressure to the still-savage wound inflicted by the Hussar’s strength. Despite her pain, her hunger, and the emotional rollercoaster of a night so far there is still a bit of wonder on her face at the seneschal’s display of power.

GM: “I am afraid your best is insufficient, Miss Malveaux. By your actions, you have proven a repeated threat to the stability of the archdiocese and the praxis of Prince Vidal. Your actions cannot be allowed to persist. Your sentence of final death shall remain in effect.”

Caroline: She bites down, clenching her jaw, and closes her eyes.

She wants to cry out. She wants to scream.

Instead, she stands shaking in the night.

A long moment passes. Many thoughts pass through her mind. Regrets. What ifs. Further arguments she might make. She speaks none of them.

At last she speaks, bitterly. “If that is the order of the prince and the seneschal, then who am I to contest it?”

And how could she anyway? Here, in the seneschal’s garden. With this ancient Kindred. Surrounded by his servants. Weak. Hurt. Hungry. Alone and without allies. It would be nothing but a farce. A final disgrace.

GM: “The order is my own, Miss Malveaux. Our prince is occupied by graver concerns and has delegated the sentencing of your crimes to me.”

Caroline: “I understand,” Caroline replies simply. She sounds numb. Empty.

GM: “I will serve your execution in a year and a night.”

Caroline: The Ventrue’s eyes snap open and settle back upon him. There’s no hope in her voice, not even curiosity truly.

“And until then?”

GM: “You will bring down your mother’s network of hunters and permanently neutralize the threat which she and they pose to the Masquerade—or else convert them into servants as wholly under our prince’s influence as the New Orleans Police Department.”

“You will gather intelligence of equivalent value to Mr. Matheson’s feeding proclivities on Mr. Savoy, Regent Cimitière, or a chief follower of either.”

“You will orchestrate your mortal death in such a manner that arouses no suspicion alongside your mortal brother’s.”

“You will attend the public executions of every illegitimately sired fledgling who should meet final death due to Prince Vidal’s repeal of his prior edict, and will commit each of their names to memory. "

“If your mother should cease to cooperate against our enemies or desist in her dealings with you, you shall immediately be put to death.”

“If the recording of Mr. Matheson’s confession should be revealed during his trial, you shall immediately be put to death.”

“If I should witness or hear word of any further infractions you have committed against the Camarilla’s laws, our prince’s edicts, or Longinus’ commandments—be they as minor as poaching in an Acolyte’s territory, or as grievous as another violation of the Masquerade—you shall immediately be put to death.”

“I shall bring you before Prince Vidal in a year and a night to serve your sentence of execution. If, upon hearing of your deeds and conduct over the past year, he should wish to commute my prior judgment, I am His Majesty’s obedient servant.”

Caroline: The rest of the seneschal’s judgment falls upon Caroline, brick by brick. Perhaps were the light in her eyes not already snuffed out it would go out under the titanic weight of his demands. As it is, the only physical sign is in how she ceases to shake and goes as still as the statue speaking to her. Only when she is certain he is finished speaking does her mouth move, but for a moment nothing comes out. It’s almost too much to grasp in the moment, the emotional highs and lows of the evening.

Finally, she speaks. “Is there anything else needed of me in this moment, Seneschal?”

GM: “The matter of your ghouls yet remains. Prince Vidal has sentenced them to death for your attack upon Capitán Gautliterrez. If your sentence of final death is to be postponed, I may no longer shield them both from our prince’s judgment.”

Caroline: Another brick atop the pile. Caroline closes her eyes for a moment again, but forces herself to reopen them. “Both or either, Seneschal?”

GM: “Miss Rabinowitz has a family who will mourn her death,” the seneschal reflects. “Her efforts to preserve the Masquerade in your vicinity have been of greater value to our prince than Miss Turner’s services to you as a bodyguard. Miss Rabinowitz’s fate may be decided alongside your own after a year and a night.”

Caroline: Caroline closes her eyes again. She bows her head for a moment and brings a hand up to her face, laying it across her forehead and eyes. Grief plays across her face, but once again she sets her jaw and looks up.

“May I speak with Ms. Turner before she’s executed?”

GM: Maldonato regards her patiently before replying, “I do not find such a request unreasonable, Miss Malveaux.”

Caroline: “My thanks for that, for what it is worth.” Caroline’s response appears sincere.

GM: “You have also expressed a desire to make restitution for your prior wrongs done to Mrs. Christian and her son,” Maldonato continues. “Whether you still wish to do so is your own prerogative. As you now possess the requisite time, I shall not make amends in your stead.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “I understand.”

She waits for the next brick to fall on her head, or to be dismissed.

GM: The seneschal issues one final instruction.

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip again. The hunger is more distracting than the pain was, but the seneschal has her full attention.

“In intention, if not direct parallel, Seneschal.” She pauses before continuing with her question.

And her request.

“Very well,” Maldonato answers Caroline’s. “If you would entrust another to corral your thoughts, then I shall bar you from revealing all memories whose release I judge detrimental to our prince’s interests.”

“Yet I shall not erase your own recall of those memories. For good or ill, we are the sum of our experiences—and your experiences prior to now have proven a destabilizing influence upon the archdiocese.”

Caroline: Caroline’s expression freezes in puzzlement between gratitude.

“Please forgive me, Seneschal, does that mean that there is an extension on the earlier forbiddance on discussion points, or that my request shall be granted by another means?”

GM: “Clarity is seldom the result when others gain egress to one’s mind, Miss Malveaux. I have no wish to inoculate you against such an intrusion’s undesirability,” Maldonato answers.

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip, still not fully understanding the seneschal, but does not dig further.

“As you say, Seneschal.”

“Two last questions, if I may. Will any others know of my looming, sentence, and is there any particular way that the seneschal would have the matter Mr. Matheson dealt with? Given that I failed to appear before him as instructed.”

GM: “Capitán Gautliterrez will inform you how to proceed with such matters, Miss Malveaux. A critical moment approaches and I fear that I may no longer divide my attentions without consequence.”

The seneschal’s gaze does not seem to look at Caroline so much as through her.

“Our audience is now at an end as you shall recall it. Farewell, childe.”


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Story Six, Caroline VII, Louis I

“This thing is dynamite. It’s… way above our pay grade, honestly.”
Autumn Rabinowitz


Saturday night, 19 September 2015, AM

GM: Some ten minutes later, Caroline is upstairs in her unsecure panic room with her phone. Autumn is downstairs, not having wished to fully abandon her mistress.

Caroline: Caroline hits play.

GM: “…I suspect that any reasoned individual could draw their own reasonable opinion. Not that every individual is reasoned, or every opinion reasonable,” Caroline hears herself say.

There’s a pause. Caroline doesn’t hear her face being struck.

“Give yourself to me,” Matheson orders, his voice low and thick.

Caroline hears the muffled sound of her heels against carpeted floor.

“Gerousiastis Matheson, I advise against this,” cuts in a sharp voice. Male. English accent.

Caroline can’t hear what happens next.

“Gerousiastis,” the voice cuts in again, sharper. “You will have opportunity to feed on as many neonates as you please after the trial. The odds of your being apprehended for feeding on this fledgling are low—but they are not nonexistent. One moment of pleasure is not worth endangering a Requiem that has spanned four centuries.”

Silence.

“You are correct, advocate,” Matheson states slowly.

“Stand in the corner,” he orders.

Caroline hears more muffled footfalls against carpet.

“What is your estimation of this ill-mannered fledgling, Advocate?” Matheson inquires.

“Ignorant. A useless witness at best, an active liability at worst,” the British voice crisply assesses.

Caroline: She lets out a low growl.

GM: “She is also desperate, possesses a background in law, and looks presentable. She is precisely what we require.”

“Tell me of this… device you will use upon her, Advocate.”

“The term for it is an earpiece, Gerousiastis Matheson,” the British voice replies. “I will be able to speak to her, unheard, during the trial. I will tell her everything to say. You will look as if you retained a local neonate as your advocate. I will enjoy your and His Majesty’s gratitude. She will even get the public credit for defending your name. Everyone wins.”

Matheson never smiled in Caroline’s presence. She has a hard time imagining what it looks like. But it sounds like it’s there. Maybe.

“But for Gerousiastis Smith.”

“The Gerousia is well-served for his loss,” the British voice replies crisply. “I will inform His Majesty that the fledgling is being publicly retained as your arbiter. I will further advise you to still have Questor Adler instruct her in the rudiments of Camarilla and Ventrue protocol. She will be less likely to misstep before an audience, even if she repeats me word for word.”

“I concur, Advocate. It is so much the better if she owes me a boon.”

Silence.

“Gerousiastis?”

“You say she is precisely what we require, Advocate,” Matheson repeats slowly.

“I do, Gerousiastis.”

“Whom do you serve?” Matheson sharply demands.

“Myself,” Caroline hears her own voice answer.

“Name the last elder you engaged in conversation,” Matheson orders.

“Coco,” Caroline answers.

“Name the preceding elder you engaged in conversation.”

“Maldonato.”

“Name the preceding elder you engaged in conversation.”

Silence.

Matheson interrogates the younger Ventrue as to the nature of her dealings with both elders. Perhaps to her chagrin, Caroline hears herself repeat her confession to Maldonato about her unborn child’s death.

It’s when Caroline explains her more recent dealings with Coco that Matheson sounds considerably more interested. He presses for details regarding how Eight-Nine-Six met their ends. Caroline is slow to talk. Matheson presses down upon her will. Caroline hears herself grunting and softly whining.

Finally, she screams.

Caroline: It’s hard to listen to. Her own screams. The sounds of her suffering she can’t remember. She digs her fingernails into her palms, fists tightly balled at the forgotten trauma, and squeezes her eyes shut. As clinical as she was with Autumn earlier over the topic of her domination, listening to it is another story.

GM: Caroline hears a soft thud over the tape. More low whimpers.

“Most intriguing,” Matheson remarks.

“Another elder,” the British voice remarks. “She could have been placed as a lure with which to sabotage your defense during the trial.”

“That would require intimate—and recent—knowledge of my affairs,” Matheson remarks.

Not disagreeing.

“The majority of our discussions took place in His Majesty’s presence,” the British voice crisply assesses. “Anything with the power to eavesdrop upon those is beyond our ability to plan around. If there is a leak, it came from one of four sources. Yourself. Myself. Prince Vidal. Seneschal Maldonato. No Kindred save the seneschal is realistically likely to have entered your mind, and even he would not lightly attempt to do so. A leak from either the prince or seneschal is indicative of a larger conspiracy. That leaves me.”

“That is correct, Arbiter. Let us not forget your sire’s and grandsire’s opposition to the Southron Lords. Nor the fact Prince Vidal arranged your services.”

Matheson’s voice grows lower.

“Nor that you have already betrayed your ostensible client.”

The British voice grows noticeably tighter. “I understand, Gerousiastis. I consent to give you access to my mind.”

“Thank you, Arbiter.”

Silence at first. Then grunts and whines, so much like her own.

Another scream.

“I trust… I have… satisfied… Gerousiastis,” the British voice raggedly states.

“For now,” Matheson answers in a low tone.

“You understand, of course, that several of these discoveries cannot remain in your mind, Arbiter.”

“…yes, Gerousiastis,” the British voice replies.

Matheson orders his arbiter to forget everything past his interrogation of Caroline regarding Eight-Nine-Six’s fate.

“Very well, Arbiter. I am satisfied that this fledgling is suitable to our needs,” Matheson states. “I have no present further need for your services. I am certain, however, that your other client would hold otherwise.”

“He would. I will return tomorrow, Gerousiastis, to finalize matters with the fledgling. By your leave.”

“By my leave, Arbiter. You may inform my other counsel that her services will no longer be necessary.”

Caroline can picture Matheson’s addressee bowing. There’s the soft sound of shoes against carpet.

“Come closer,” Matheson orders.

Muffled heels against carpet.

“Forget all of this conversation following your mention of Mr. Savoy.”

There’s the sharp sound of Matheson’s hand striking Caroline’s face.

Silence.

“Please accept my apologies for the offense I have offered, Gerousiastis Matheson,” Caroline hears herself say.

The recording ends.

Caroline: Caroline lets out the breath she didn’t know she’d been holding.


Saturday night, 19 September 2015, AM

Caroline: Caroline gathers up the phone to head downstairs to Autumn.

GM: She finds the ghoul has fallen asleep on the downstairs couch.

Caroline: She’s so tempting. So vulnerable. Weak. Perfect.

Caroline rests a hand on Autumn’s shoulder and gives a gentle shake. Were she living, she might kneel to get closer and avoid startling Autumn, but getting that close is a poor idea.

Another thing that René took from her.

GM: Autumn has clearly only been asleep for a few minutes, as it doesn’t take much effort to rouse her. She groggily looks up.

“Zwu… you heard?”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “Private meetings with the prince about the trial doesn’t exactly give the appearance of impartiality.”

GM: Autumn gives another half-awake nod. “Whole thing’s… a sham. He’s guilty, prince wants to keep covering it up.”

Caroline: “You look exhausted.”

GM: “Uh… I guess…”

Caroline: “It’s my fault. I’ve been asking too much of you.”

GM: That seems to wake Autumn all the way up.

“No, no, it’s fine. I can keep up.”

Caroline: “No, it isn’t fine, and I should have noticed earlier. How many hours of sleep are you getting a day?”

GM: “Well, it depends,” she answers, somewhat hemming. “Not a lot tonight, but not every night’s like this one.”

Caroline: The evasive answer does not appear to impress her domitor.

“Not enough, then,” she sighs. “Autumn, what you do for me is staggering, and I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

If the ghoul senses the ‘but’ coming, she’s not wrong.

“But, that’s exactly why you need to speak up. I’m not going to get angry because you need a bit of time to keep your life in order, or, you know, sleep.”

GM: Autumn just shakes her head. “I’m doing fine. I want to help you, anytime I can.”

Caroline: “I know, but what if you’d fallen asleep tonight? Or if you run yourself into the ground and get sick? Or if your family starts asking questions?” she probes.

GM: “I didn’t. I catch a few winks when it won’t be a problem. And I’ve never heard of any ghoul getting sick on the Blood. That stuff can put AIDS or cancer in complete remission. My family’s not a problem. I know how to maintain the Masquerade around them. Ex-Krewe, remember?”

Caroline: “We’re going to figure out a schedule that lets you actually get some rest and see to your other needs,” Caroline decides, then sighs. “But it won’t be today.”

GM: “I can cut back on things,” Autumn adds. “The job, the only reason I had it was because I wanted my own income. I didn’t want to be dependent on you for money, and I also gave 50/50 odds on you getting ashed.”

There’s guilt on her face.

“I’m sorry about that. I guess it didn’t really hurt you, but I wasn’t giving you much credit. I didn’t see how strong you could be.”

Caroline: It does hurt, a little, but Caroline understands.

“I thought I was going to get ashed,” she admits. “You were being smart. Looking after yourself. Your smarts are one of my favorite things about you, Autumn. You don’t have to apologize.”

GM: There’s the slightest of pauses before Autumn continues, “I’ll quit now, of course. I’ll draw a little more from those accounts, but it’ll be one less thing in the way of me helping you.”

Caroline: “It’s going to get better. Easier,” Caroline promises. “I should be able to get Turner back on her feet… and the Storyvilles…. well.” She gives a smile. “It’ll be better.”

GM: Autumn nods and smiles back. “Well, I should still quit anyway. I’m on the student paper at Tulane and an intern at the Picayune. Those are Donovan’s and Abraham Garcia’s domains, so that’s a no-no. Seeing as I’m yours.”

Caroline: Caroline’s eyes glaze over for a moment as she’d taken back to how the prince responded to ‘infringing’ on his domain.

“That might be best. I wouldn’t want either of them to do anything rash, thinking I was trying to infringe on it,” she says quietly.

GM: “Yeah… Garcia’s actually not that bad a lick, but it’s still a bad idea. The Krewe of Janus had a deal with him, to let me be there. I should’ve quit as soon as they kicked me out.”

Caroline: “But it’s hard to give up on something you wanted… and to be entirely dependent on someone else.”

GM: “That was part of it, but also…” Autumn looks uncomfortable. “I was trying to cut a deal with his ghouls. See if he’d take me on if you got ashed. I’m sorry. I went behind your back because I didn’t think you were going to make it.”

Caroline: “Stop apologizing,” Caroline replies. She forces a smile across her face. “There’s nothing to forgive.” The smile is forced, but more by other circumstances than the ghoul’s actions.

“We do have some work to do, though, and not a great deal of time. You probably still understand better than I do what the tape means. It’s radioactive.”

GM: Autumn nods soberly. “This thing is dynamite. It’s… way above our pay grade, honestly.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “I need to make a call. Several, really. While I do that though, I need you to book hotel rooms in a few hotels in Riverbend in my name, and after I crash for the day, I need at least three copies of the tape made, and it deleted off your phone.”

GM: Autumn nods again at the request. “Probably better I don’t ask what you’re doing with those.”

“Also, might be better if I just destroy the phone and buy a new one. It’s amazing what dedicated techs can recover.”

Caroline: “Do that, then.”

GM: “The CBD has better hotels than Riverbend too, unless you’re wanting to stay on the sheriff’s turf?”

Caroline: “The latter. I’m not actually staying there, but is an array of false trails someone might follow.”

GM: “You’re not staying here, then. Everyone and their mother knows where this place is.”

Caroline: “I don’t think I have much choice tonight, but I am going to call for some extra security attention. I don’t think very many Kindred would want to invade Donovan’s domain and get into a shootout in the street.”

GM: “You could stay at my family’s house,” Autumn offers. “It’s not the perfect hideaway, but not as many Kindred know about it as your haven here.”

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “No, I don’t want to put them in the firing line in any way. It’ll be fine here today, and I can start looking for a long-term solution. For now though I need to make this call, before it gets too much later.”

GM: “But this place isn’t safe,” Autumn presses. “Licks have just been waltzing in.”

Caroline: “Licks aren’t going to waltz in during the day,” Caroline counters. “And I’m leaving as soon as the sun goes back down.”

GM: “Well, ghouls too.”

Caroline: “Which is why the Blackwatch guys will shoot to kill. But I don’t really anticipate anyone trying anything today.”

GM: “Daytime is the Krewe’s favorite to send their removers,” Autumn says darkly.

Caroline: “Do you think the Krewe is out to get me right now?” Caroline asks seriously. “Right now the only people that could be would be Savoy or McGinn, and neither of them, I think, are so brazen as to risk the sheriff’s ire over a story forced out of me and thrown into the wind already.”

GM: “Well, the Krewe aren’t the only Kindred with ghouls on call. I don’t think they have much stake in the trial. But… they would not be happy to find out about that missing Tinder guy. Dropped off the map, and was last seen driving to your house. The Blackwatch guards all saw his face. Buzzed him in. Never buzzed him out.”

Caroline: Caroline sets her jaw grimly. “If you want to follow up on it today, I won’t stop you. Right now though, given everything else in play, my first priority is seeing to the tape. Which I’m going to do.”

“Going somewhere else, like your home, wouldn’t help me if the Krewe has already decided to ash me in any case, not today. Today I need you to make the reservations, talk to the Krewe about more blood, as we discussed, and make the copies of the tape.” She frowns. “And be here tomorrow night at nightfall.”

GM: Autumn shakes her head at Caroline’s earlier statement. “If the Krewe was coming for you, they’d go after someone you loved first. That’s strike two. But okay, I can do all of those.”

Caroline: “Otherwise, try to get some sleep. Tomorrow night is going to be…. rough.”

GM: “I can stay over. Actually, you thought any more about me moving in?”

Caroline: Caroline frowns. “I’m sorry, honestly I hadn’t. I don’t object in principle, but I’d rather you not today, unless you don’t feel safe in your home. If someone does come looking, I don’t want you to be the one that they find.”

GM: “What about you, though? Turner’s the only other person here and she looks, well, half-dead.”

Caroline: “I don’t want her either. Look… if worse comes to worst and someone attacks here, past the Blackwatch guys in the sheriff’s domain, they’re not going to kill me.”

GM: “The Blackwatch guys are just breathers, though. How many times have you seen licks get past them?”

Caroline: “I’m leaving at sundown, Autumn,” Caroline says again. “It isn’t perfect, but I’d rather focus on the known threats than the nebulous might happen, especially given the nature of those known threats tomorrow.”

GM: The ghoul bites her lip. “Well, okay. Is there anything else I can do?”

Caroline: “Shit,” Caroline murmurs to herself.

GM: “What is it?”

GM: Caroline’s phone buzzes with a text.

Caroline: She looks down at it.

GM: The sender is Jocelyn.

just rembrd, therell be refreshments with skyman. come hungry!

Another text.

but not murder on the street hungry

Caroline: She holds up a hand for Autumn, and hits send in response, dialing to the Toreador.

GM: Jocelyn picks up after the first ring.

“Hey, what’s up?”

Caroline: “I may have found myself in something of a situation,” Caroline begins. “With Matheson.”

GM: “Wait. He didn’t feed on you, did he?” Jocelyn asks, audibly frowning.

Caroline: “Well, let me ask this first.” Caroline is clearly choosing her words carefully. “Do you know where Skyman falls with regard to Matheson?”

GM: “Uh.” Jocelyn pauses. “I’m not sure I should talk about that.”

Caroline: “I understand, and normally I wouldn’t pry, but… well, let me put it this way. Would Skyman be interested in evidence that Matheson not only feeds on neonates, but plans to continue doing so, and others are aware of that fact? Because I don’t know what to do with it otherwise, since I’m supposed to meet him early tomorrow, and I expect he’ll find out that I have it at that point.”

GM: “Holy shit,” Jocelyn exclaims. Her voice turns angry. “He fed on you, is that what happened?”

Caroline: “No, someone else talked him out of it. Said he’d have plenty of other opportunities to do so.”

GM: “Whoa, whoa—okay, start at the beginning maybe? Just what the hell happened there?”

Caroline: “I went to talk to him, and apparently a couple minutes into the conversation he dominated me.” The last three words come out through gritted teeth. “And told me to ‘give myself to him.’ But a third party intervened. Told him it wasn’t worth the risk right now, and that he’d have plenty of other opportunities in the future. Ventrue. English accent. Invictus.”

GM: “Oh my god. They just… let you walk away?”

Caroline: “Instead he spent a while digging through my memories of… well, just about everything of note. Tried to get me to give up Skyman, but I don’t think that I did. At least, I didn’t hear myself say anything. Then he dominated me to forget it all…. but I was recording it all as well.”

GM: “Holy shit,” Jocelyn repeats.

Caroline: “He told me to come back tomorrow, Jocelyn… I think he’s going to dominate me again, and if he finds out about the tape…”

GM: “Oh, holy shit,” Jocelyn repeats. “But if you say no…”

Caroline: “That’s why I was asking if we could move the Skyman meeting. But, that aside… the tape, it’s explosive, Jocelyn. They talk about closed-door meetings with the prince.”

GM: The pause isn’t long so much as it’s deep. “I can’t believe this! Prince Vidal said he wasn’t a headhunter! He LIED!”

Caroline: “Maybe he doesn’t know?” Caroline counters. “Or…. maybe he has something on the prince? A boon?”

GM: “No. He wasn’t lying. You’re—” There’s another pause. “Well, it… actually on the prince, maybe… oh god. This—this is all wrong. Maybe someone’s messing with your memories. Or it’s a trick, from Savoy, to turn us against the prince. He wouldn’t lie, not about this.”

Caroline: “Listen, Jocelyn, what’s important… I need to know what to do with this. Or more precisely, what Skyman wants done with it. Released entirely it would be… bad. But just the opening, the headhunting admission, and someone else knowing. If he does have something over the prince, some boon or something, used correctly, this could clear that slate.”

GM: "No. No, he couldn’t have a boon. Not one he could use like this. Prince Vidal wouldn’t let him. This… " Jocelyn lets out a needless breath. “We’ll take this to Skyman. All of it. He’ll know what to do. He’ll make it make sense.”

Caroline: “I meet with Matheson at 9 PM.”

GM: “Oh, fuck…”

Caroline: “Yeah… I have a bad feeling that if I walk in that house, I probably won’t walk back out.”

GM: “God fucking…!”

Caroline: “Short of…” Caroline’s voice is thick and heavy. “Well, even that might not work.”

GM: “I,” Jocelyn stammers, “I can’t get ahold of Skyman. I don’t ever talk to him, except when he wants to talk to me. Just one of his ghouls.”

Caroline: “Calm down,” Caroline replies. “Look… really it boils down to this. Would Skyman want the tape?”

GM: “Uh, well, he’d…” Caroline can all but see Jocelyn’s face struggling. “…yeah, sure, any elder would want it!”

Caroline: “There’s really two options then… stand him up, or…”

GM: “I’ll… look, I’ll pass this on to Skyman’s ghoul. He can get in touch with his boss. He has to, for something this big. I mean… if he wants you first thing tomorrow… god!”

Caroline: “Failing that,” Caroline’s voice is quiet, “I either don’t show up, or… show up but not let him dominate me.”

GM: “What? You can’t stop him from doing that, he’s got puissance.”

Caroline: Caroline swallows. “Eye contact, right?”

GM: “I guess? I dunno, I can’t mindscrew people that way.”

Caroline: “It requires eye contact.”

GM: “He can make you look at him.”

Caroline: “Not if I’m blind.”

The words are soft, like a great weight laid on a feather pillow.

GM: There’s a silence.

“Jesus.”

Caroline: “Not a lot of options,” Caroline replies.

GM: “Look. I’m gonna pass this on, right now. I’ll call you back. Okay?”

Caroline: “I’ll be here.”

GM: The line clicks.

“Jesus,” Autumn repeats. She looks like she’s been attentively listening the whole time.

Caroline: Caroline lowers the phone to look at the ghoul. “Hum?”

GM: “Putting out your eyes.”

Caroline: Despite her talk, Caroline shivers as Autumn says the words, but she nods as well.

GM: “Who’s this Skyman guy?” she frowns.

Caroline: “Better if you don’t know. In fact…. I should probably remove all memory of that conversation, for what it’s worth.” Caroline makes no move to do so. She just looks tired.

GM: Autumn looks a little hurt. “I could help you find out more about… Skyman. It didn’t sound like you knew a lot about him.”

Caroline: “The Krewe has been sending a ghoul to dominate you and report on my dealings,” Caroline replies quietly.

GM: Autumn looks simultaneously surprised and not-surprised at that.

“Shit.”

Caroline: The Ventrue nods softly.

“That’s why there are certain things I’ve tried to keep away from you. Keep you in the dark on. Things they don’t need to know, which do not relate to the Masquerade. Until now it’d worked out pretty well…”

She sighs.

“And I guess it still can, it just means I have to do things I don’t want to do. Go into your mind and play with your memories. As though I don’t trust you.

GM: Autumn looks helpless as she turns that question over. Finally she ventures, “You could just… give them what they want, and they’ll stop. Do better keeping the Masquerade, that is.”

Caroline: “In the long run, maybe. But tell me, Autumn, how long do you think it would take to earn their trust, and do you think they’d ever want to stop watching?”

GM: “What? Actually, yeah, they don’t spy on every lick. That’d just take too much manpower, pull them away from too many other things. They only keep an eye on the ones they think will be problems. And honestly… you are being a problem. That Tinder guy was sloppy.”

Autumn stares for a moment.

“Oh, hell. Now you have to fix things with the witnesses.”

Caroline: There’s a flash of anger across Caroline’s face, especially when Autumn mentions Trenton, but she bites her tongue on it.

GM: “I’m just saying, you can either keep butting heads with the Krewe in a spat you can’t win… or make them happy doing something that’s in your own self-interest anyway. If the Krewe hears you’ve cleaned up a potential breach like Tinder guy, that’ll help convince them to let off.”

“And I know you said I’m free to take care of it, but honestly, this isn’t a breach I can cover up by myself. I mean, I can try to fix things with any camera recordings that show Tinder guy’s car, but I can’t mindscrew, bribe, or get blackmail material—as easily, anyway—on the guards who buzzed him in.”

Caroline: The heiress sighs.

“I don’t know what you want me to do right before sunrise. Or tomorrow with Matheson. Or the next day with the trial.”

GM: “Well maybe you should figure out how to make it work, I thought Ventrue were supposed to be take-charge types who got stuff done.”

Caroline: Caroline’s face flashes again with anger, and she pinches the bridge of her nose between her eyes.

“The suicide modality rate among transgendered individuals is 40%, and is most highly expressed among those of Trenton’s age.”

“If something comes of this before we can get in front of it with Blackwatch, the story we are spinning is that when she was turned away by me she, faced with rejection and already unstable, must have committed suicide.”

GM: Autumn thinks.

“Okay, that sounds believable. We could use some evidence for it.”

Caroline: Caroline continues, “I don’t think that Blackwatch keeps the tapes on the gate for very long, but talk to Turner, she can probably tell you more about their protocols. I am almost sure that they don’t keep a camera on the exit gate. They used to, but a couple residents complained about their mistresses getting caught on tape leaving late. Again, Turner might know for sure.”

GM: “Okay, I can ask her. If that’s true, only big concern is any friends or family who go looking for him.”

Caroline: Caroline crinkles her nose at the pronoun choice but says nothing of it.

“You’ve got her name, details. Go looking, find out about her. Depending on how far it’s gone we can fake a suicide note, and when I get a free minute we can cover down on Blackwatch at the gate with the combination of bribes and some mind-fuckery. I’d send Turner to go chat with them now, but as messed up as she is she’d just raise more questions.”

GM: “Yeah, she would. But okay, I’ll see what I can find out.”

Caroline: “What else?”

GM: “You mean, is there to do?”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “You know more about what the Krewe expects than I do.”

GM: “Oh, the Krewe. Well, so far as that… honestly, that’s it. Just showing you’re doing a good enough job keeping the Masquerade on your own they don’t need to watch you as a potential threat. Could try looking for any other licks’ breaches to clean up. Hell, they’d owe you for it too.”

Caroline: “Down the line, yes, that’s on the agenda,” Caroline replies. “I am not content to eke out an existence on the sidelines, nor do I expect that I’ll be permitted to. Now… for what you’re not going to like.”

GM: Autumn’s face falls a bit. “Can you tell me one thing, after you’re done? What’s next, now that your sire’s gone?”

Caroline: “Yes.” Caroline bites her lower lip. “But it’s complicated. This I mean.”

She seems uncomfortable and pauses for a moment.

GM: “Well, I don’t think you’re the only Kindred who’d describe things that way.”

Caroline: “No, I mean, here and now…”

She runs her tongue over her fangs behind closed lips before continuing.

“I need some from you first,” she finally admits. “Or at least it would be better. Safer.”

She looks away.

“I’m sorry… I hate to ask you…”

GM: Autumn looks distinctly uncomfortable at that question.

“Like, right now? I’ll have all day to buy from the Krewe…”

Caroline: “I’m sorry… I used so much healing from Matheson’s beating…” Caroline looks ashamed. “And I’m so close to…” She clenches her fists.

GM: The ghoul’s discomfort abruptly melts away.

“Can I have a hit when you’re full, later?”

Caroline: “Yes, though given everything going on I can’t promise exactly how much latter it’ll be. It could be this weekend, it could be next week,” Caroline answers. She turns back to meet Autumn’s gaze. “You know I’ll always take care of you, Autumn.”

She moves as though she wants to reach out to the ghoul, but stops herself.

GM: Returning apprehension wars with craving in Autumn’s eyes.

“If you’re really hungry, I should… do it away from you,” she ventures.

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “It’ll be okay… trust me, I won’t hurt you, Autumn.”

There’s a hunger in her eyes that almost matches Autumn’s own.

“Just relax.”

Hunger is winning out over shame as she extends a hand towards the ghoul.

GM: “Uh, if you’re ‘so close to’ that you need my blood… I really think it’s better if I bleed myself…” Autumn points out as she backs up several steps.

Caroline: “I know where my limits are,” Caroline growls in irritation as the ghoul retreats. “There’s no reason you have to hurt yourself.”

GM: “I’d… still feel a lot better that way, thanks,” Autumn says warily.

Caroline: There’s hurt in Caroline’s eyes but she makes no move to stop the ghoul, only lowering her hand and averting her eyes.

GM: A noticeably paler-looking Autumn looks rather more hurt when she returns with a bandaged wrist and two red-filled plastic bags.

She drops them on the couch next to her domitor.

Caroline: “I’ll make it up to you,” she promises the ghoul, but her attention is clearly on the bags. She runs her tongue over her teeth.

GM: Autumn extends a straw.

Caroline: Caroline has a brief and fleeting image of simply tearing into the bags, of sheer animalistic pleasure in bathing in the blood—a vision which grows darker still at the thought of the other eager blood pumping in Autumn’s veins. So close…

She slams down on that image with a steel vice in her mind and takes the straw ashamedly. The cost of this blood was too high. To Autumn. To her relationship with Autumn. To her own self-respect. She sucks it down, through the straw, eagerly, heavily, trying to take in every drop, before setting the red-stained bags aside for now.

GM: Autumn’s gaze lingers on the bags.

“There anything else?” she asks in a flat voice.

Caroline: The Kindred clenches her jaw as the words tear at her. “No, Autumn, you have your instructions for the day.” She stares at the ghoul.

GM: It would be a misnomer to say that Autumn stares back at Caroline, even if she looks back. The young woman’s gaze is still somewhat out of focus.

“All right. See you tomorrow.”

Caroline: “Autumn,” Caroline says, perhaps more sharply than she intended, as the ghoul turns to depart.

GM: Autumn turns back, some amount of trepidation creeping onto her face. “Yeah?”

Caroline: “You did really well tonight, Autumn.”

GM: Autumn looks unsure of how to respond for a moment. The praise is a figurative band-aid on an all-too literal and dripping wound. But her eyes still light up with that longing to please that’s lit up even Turner’s flinty ones. The two emotions, quiet hurt and desperate longing, fit together like an overcoat on a July heat wave.

“Thanks.”

Caroline: “No, I mean…” She sighs, then brings her wrist to her teeth. “I care about you, Autumn.” She extends that wrist.

It’s so empty, so hollow.

But it’s what she can offer.

GM: Autumn doesn’t so much as blink before falling on it.

At least one of them gets to be happy.


Saturday night, 19 September 2015, AM

GM: Autumn and her car take off. Caroline is left alone in her house with the other servant who has given so much for her.

A text eventually buzzes from Jocelyn.

Im coming over. Stay up ok?

Caroline: Be careful, comes her response as she feels a flush of anxiety at the prospect of her paramour traveling at the edge of dawn. She finds herself standing near the door looking out into the street.

GM: Caroline blinks and she’s lying on her back in the compromised panic room’s cot.

Caroline: She sees to a few matters as she waits. There’s an instant of panic as she can’t recall how she got there. She tries to stand, stumbling back into a corner to get her bearings.

GM: She rises without hindrance.

Caroline: She digs around her cot and the corners of the room for her phone, trying to determine how long it’s been.

GM: Caroline looks and looks, but there is precious little space to scrutinize. Neither the phone nor its charger are present.

Caroline: She brushes her hair out of her face with a hand and makes for the exit.

GM: Caroline finds her way out impeded by her clothes. Each one has been yanked off its hanger, turned inside out, and tossed onto the floor.

Caroline: She lets out a silent snarl at the newest invasion of her home, but she continues on.

GM: The office outside the panic room is in complete disarray. Pictures knocked off walls. Lamps tipped over, their shades ripped off. Furniture toppled onto their backs and sides, pillows and cushions slit open. Bookshelves stand empty, their books tossed onto the floor. Cabinets are yanked open with papers tossed everywhere. The room’s phone is also missing.

Caroline: Another snarl. But something else as well. A stab of pain. Her life torn apart. Her ‘home’ turn apart. Her privacy nonexistent. She continues onward searching for any sign of life or a means of reaching an outside entity.

GM: The house looks as if Hurricane Katrina tore through it. Every room, from the living room to the kitchen to the bathrooms, is in the same chaotic state as the office. There are no signs of life. Turner’s room is empty. There is, however, a note lying just by Caroline’s front door.

Do not leave your house.

Caroline: She stares at the note before gathering it up. She has a cross-cut shredder upstairs, somewhere in the pile that used to be her office. She’s hungry. Time is counting down with Matheson. She distantly worries about Autumn and Turner.

GM: She finds it lying among the other detritus, ripped open and the already-shredded paper strewn everywhere like confetti, but otherwise in functional condition once she puts it back together.

Caroline: She feeds the note into it.

GM: The machine spits out barely recognizable shreds of paper.

Caroline: It does nothing to shake her deep unease over all of this. Her sense of helplessness. How much did she tell them? What are they planning? There’s no good answer to either question for her. Cut off from the outside world. Isolated. Her home torn apart. She wonders if they found what they were looking for. Another smirk.

Probably not.

GM: A knocked-over clock steadily ticks. 8 PM.

Caroline: Caroline heads back upstairs and picks through those things that still hold some sentimental value to her. Some jewelry that has been in the family for generations. A rosary she received when she was confirmed, and her Bible, its fine leather cover hiding within worn pages. A couple picture frames, their glass shattered by careless hands: herself with Westley when they were both much younger, the whole family from the Mexico trip, herself with Aimee goofing off only a few weeks before her Embrace, herself with her father at the district fencing finals.

The small trophy she got for winning regionals is, to her dismay, broken. Knocked over or thrown down by a careless or vindictive hand and stepped on. The plastic name plate reading “Caroline Malveaux” is broken into a dozen pieces along with everything else.

She piles those things work salvaging, that she cares to keep, into a bag. Into the pile goes the broken plastic name plate, the dried glue still stuck to the back. It’s not meaningful work. Not really. But it gives her something to do other than wait. Keeps her occupied. Keeps her mind off of everything else. It’s something.

She sets the clock where she can see it.


Saturday night, 19 September 2015, AM

GM: Night hangs over New Orleans, still and heavy as a corpse-shroud.

Dark, overcast skies cast their gazes glumly east for relief, but dawn is still an hour off. The old man clings to the gloom like a familiar cloak as he approaches his destination.

Audubon Place is a fortress neighborhood and gated community with some of the most expensive residences in the city. It’s home to John Dyer (the owner of the Saints), Edward McGregor (the president of Tulane University), Maxen Flores (the state senate majority leader), Ernie Marchesi (a Mafia capo of Lou’s acquaintance), and other business and civic leaders who don’t want to associate with “the riffraff” that is the district’s middle-class homeowners and the Tulane and Loyola student bodies… to say nothing of the elements that prey on those students after dark.

Audubo.jpg
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Audubo.jpg
The gated community isn’t easy to get inside. High concrete walls tipped with barbed wire declare the neighborhood’s desire to divorce itself from the rest of the world. A grilled iron gate and adjacent guard house control vehicle access. Masked Blackwatch mercenaries (“security contractors”) patrol the perimeter with leashed attack dogs, bored and tense for action. Lou knows the type. He can picture them laughing when the snarling German shepherds snap at frightened college students who wander too close.

Blackwatch.jpg
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Walls, guards, and dogs alike are irrelevant to the parakeet that simply flies over them.

Caroline’s home at 18 Audubon Place is a three-story, turn-of-the-century mansion that sits on a large 100×200-foot lot with a swimming pool and private backyard oasis. It, like all other Audubon Place homes, feature breathtaking views of the private park, but one step onto the grand veranda and the Beaux Arts mansion would likely immediately impress.

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Lou doubts even Caroline’s family would be inclined to buy such an expensive property if she was only going to live there while she attended college. Perhaps there’s a further story. Only a single car, a midnight-black Range Rover Sentinel, is parked in the driveway.

Louis: The neotropical parakeet alights on a branch of a looming tree. It flicks its green feathered head once, then twice as it regards the environs and potential means of ingress.

GM: Caroline’s haven has multiple, wide-framed windows. Few have their shades drawn… the fledgling that resides within has clearly not made any effort to sun-proof the entire structure, in the off-chance that circumstance should force her outside the room where she sleeps.

The colorful bird’s sharp eyes make out the outlines of two tall male figures garbed in dark suits. They are conversing with a tall, blonde-haired woman who can only be Caroline.

Louis: At least for now, the parakeet maintains its vigil, camouflaged behind the arboreal veil.

GM: Caroline and the two male-shaped figures remain standing as they speak to one another for some length. Eventually, the three leave the room together.

Louis: The beshadowed parakeet flits stealthily to another, closer branch to continue its nocturnal voyeurism.

GM: The bird’s vantage is poor, or perhaps its guiding mind simply too paranoid. But a single further detail is discernible as the trio withdraws: one of the figures’ faces.

It’s a horribly burned, dark mass of scars. He is half-bald, with his remaining black hair neatly combed back from his scalp. His thick mustache and short beard are only partially successful in hiding the teeth visible through his right cheek. His eyes are dark and hooded.

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Louis: The Hussar. His presence causes the parakeet to draw back deep into the trees, silent as the sinking moon.

GM: The parakeet waits. The moon sinks. The sun rises, tinging the sky orange-yellow like glowing embers against navy blue clouds. But the parakeet knows that these embers will never blaze into true fire. Dawn’s rays will not banish these monsters.

Louis: Hidden behind oak eaves and Spanish moss, the bird waits a bit longer. Even if it cannot see events inside, it hopes to hear the dread visitors depart in their vehicle. Hope is typically the province of fools, but sometimes patience prevails.

GM: Time stretches and stretches. Dawn’s deep navy clouds give way to morning’s clear white ones. Finally the Hussar emerges from the house. His dark gaze sweeps the perimeter.

Louis: The parakeet remains still behind its concealing tree branches and hanging moss. Still, but observant.

GM: The prince’s herald remains still. His scarred lips slowly move as his hooded eyes scan the surrounding area. It is no human tongue the parakeet discerns, however, but a series of low atavistic trills, chirps, growls, and whistles, all the more alien for the lack of single species they resemble.

The Hussar’s dark gaze lingers for another moment.

Finally, the ghoul gets inside the Rover Sentinel, starts the engine, and drives away from Caroline’s haven.

Louis: The parakeet waits silently till the disfigured ghoul departs. Its head rotates in both directions as it takes in its surroundings.

GM: The house and its surrounding environs are still and quiet. Not so much as a bathrobe-wearing man emerges from any of the neighboring houses to retrieve a newspaper.

Louis: The avian creature waits another cautious minute before flitting down to a lower perch where it cranes its beaked head to surreptitiously peak inside a window, as if incidentally glancing inward while otherwise inspecting woodwork for insectile morsels.

GM: The house’s interior is a complete wreck. Pictures knocked off walls. Lamps tipped over, their shades ripped off. Furniture toppled onto their backs and sides, pillows and cushions slit open. Bookshelves stand empty, their books having been tossed onto the floor. Cabinets are yanked open with papers tossed everywhere.

Louis: Time to rein in the sorority parties, girl, the old man inside the bird sardonically muses.

After snatching up nearby rollie-pollie, the parakeet takes another sweeping glance, then flies up and away from the house’s windows. It lands two streets down on a similarly sleepy sidewalk, ducks behind another house’s flower beds, and inexplicably vanishes mid-waddle.


Saturday evening, 19 September 2015

Louis: Sunset on Audubon heralds the return of both twilight and the monk parakeet. It settles on a gable of a distant, but not too distant, house. In the dusky gloom, it scans the surroundings, paying particular attention to Caroline’s house.

GM: The home’s lights are off. No cars are parked in the driveway or surrounding streets. But for the tweets of the odd jay or bluebird, the area is utterly silent.

Louis: Silent, but far from peaceful, at least for the parakeet. The bird waits several minutes before eventually flying over to its previous morning’s perch. Once again concealing itself within the arboreal screen, it peeks down to the windows of Caroline’s house to check for movement or any other signs of habitation.

GM: The house is in the same wrecked state the parakeet observed at morning. It also spots Caroline, dressed and seated, staring at a clock with a dispirited expression.

Caroline: She languidly rises and begins moving about the room, picking up the pieces of her home—or at least some of them.

Louis: Upon spotting her–and no one else–the bird scans the surroundings one last time before stealthily flying up to the house’s chimney, and then swiftly disappears down the flue. A few seconds later, there is a tapping against the chimney’s shut damper.

Tink, tink.

Tink, tink, tink.

Tink, t-tink, tink, tink.

Caroline: Caroline drops the torn diploma she was in the middle of picking up to go investigate the noise, eventually arriving at the chimney. She pauses to bite her lip, then lays the back of her hand against the shut damper. Finding it cool to the touch, she gathers up a weapon and tentatively opens the damper.

Louis: With equal tentativeness, a soot-covered monk parakeet emerges. It shakes off most of the soot, revealing its neotropical green and white plumage, than regards Caroline and her weapon.

Caroline: She puts the sword between the bird and herself quizzically.

Louis: The bird raises one of its legs, revealing a tightly wound band of paper of the same hue as its bare leg.

Caroline: She glares at it for a moment, then sighs, shifting her sword to her other hand and keeping it between the bulk of herself and the bird. With her other hand she reaches for the paper band. She dexterously removes it from the bird and takes a step back.

GM: The band contains a message:

www.thefriendlyspider.com/create-your-free-website/login

Username: DidYouReadYourScripture

Caroline: Caroline grimaces and shakes her head, the sword’s point dipping slightly.

“I can’t. They took everything.”

Louis: The bird looks up with avian eyes and hops down and away from the hearth. There’s a hand-scrawled note next to the printed username and address:

Get me letters. Keyboard, scrabble tiles, handwritten letters, anything.

The bird chips expectantly at the woman.

Caroline: She watches the bird. “This is crazy.”

Louis: If a bird can shrug, this one does.

GM: And yet, the Ventrue cannot but recall Becky Lynne explaining the powers some Kindred wield over animals.

You never know what lil’ birds might be listenin’.

Caroline: The Ventrue shakes her head, bites her lip, but finally leaves for a moment to recover several sheets of paper and a sharpie. She sets about tearing it into more than two dozen pieces, writing letters as she goes. She talks while she works, not even knowing for sure if he can hear her.

“You’ve picked a bad time, old man. I’m just getting ready for my swan song.”

Louis: While Caroline prepares the sharpie-scribbled letters, the bird flits about the house, as if searching for something.

GM: The bird finds the house completely infested with bugs. Most individuals would not think to search an already ransacked home for surveillance devices, and the parakeet spots several tiny cameras and microphones scattered at different vantage points throughout the room. The disheveled surroundings leave so many places to hide electronic eyes and ears.

As well as ones of other varieties.

Several more mice, patiently hidden among the tossed-over furnishings and accounterments of Caroline’s life, squeak at the bird’s presence and abruptly flee every which way.

Louis: After uncovering that foreboding panoply, the bird chirps at Caroline with what might be a glare.

GM: The scurrying mice rapidly vanish like escaping tendrils of white smoke.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t quite scream at the mice, but she does climb and balance atop a broken table to get her heel-clad feet away from the scurrying creatures.

Louis: Seeing Caroline drop the slip of paper, the parakeet flits across the room and snatches it up into its beak. It then nods back to the half-drawn and torn letters. Urgently.

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip, but seeing the bulk of the creatures have withdrawn, continues her work, quickly tearing the paper into crude shapes.

Louis: As soon as Caroline finishes, the parakeet hacks up the paper into her hand. It does not hesitate as it begins to tap out letters.

L
E
A
R
N

It halts a half-second to make sure Caroline is ‘listening’. It then continues, this time tapping with preternatural speed.

D E S T R O Y N O T R A C E

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head at the bird and taps out her own message. I ’M S O R R Y T H I N K T H I S I S T H E E N D.

Louis: The bird instantly pecks at her to stop once she tries to tap out the message. It gives her an avian deadpan look as if to say, I’m not deaf. It then glares up at the slip of paper.

Caroline: She takes the paper, rolls it into a tiny ball, and shoves it towards the bird’s beak.

Louis: It shreds the slip and begins swallowing the ripped-up remains.

Caroline: “I messed up. Can’t tell you about it. But I am sorry.”

Louis: Does the bird wince as it swallows down the paper? Regardless, it looks back up to Caroline, chirps once, then begins to tap out another missive. R E N E

N O T S I R E

Caroline: Caroline frowns.

“No….”

Louis: The bird glances up at the digital surveillance and then adjusts itself to ensure the cameras have a clear view as it types out:

D O U B L E A G E N T

D O N O V A N

W I T H S I R E

It looks up at the cameras then to Caroline.

Caroline: Caroline’s frown only deepens.

“Then… who? Why? It doesn’t make any sense…”

Louis: The parakeet pecks out another missive:

T E L L H I M

E X O D U S

It grabs the sharpie and makes several crude slashes. First two, then three, followed by two and two again.

Caroline: Caroline thinks for a moment. “You’ll serve… for me?”

Louis: The parakeet’s feathers bunch up like hackles. It’s neither a denial nor confirmation. But the bird looks up at Caroline with what can only be sad regret. It slowly re-pecks an earlier message:

D E S T R O Y N O T R A C E

It then holds up a claw and points it towards itself.

Caroline: Caroline looks at the bird.

“Now?” she asks.

There’s a sadness in her eyes.

Louis: The bird dips its head once in a solemn nod.

Caroline: She nods and raises the sword.

“If I don’t see you again… thank you. For everything. For giving me a chance.”

Her free hand twitches, like she wants to reach out and touch someone.

Louis: The bird stares up at her, eyes open, unflinching.

Caroline: She frowns. There’s a flash of steel.

Louis: But her hand and footing betray her. To the centuries-old duelist, the slight shift and alteration of Caroline’s grip signal her intent to subdue rather than slay his avian shell. That same avian body remains still until the last moment, when it pushes forward in a flurry of wings, flying under the errant blade which conceals the bird’s movements, as it performs supernaturally swift aerial acrobatics, whirling between the vampire’s legs and veering in a spiral out and up into the hearth.

Caroline: Caroline curses as the bird escapes her pursuing blade with its uncanny speed. For a moment she can only stare after it in frustration—but only a moment.

She gathers up the letters and heads for the kitchen, running the sink and dropping the paper down the disposal. She’s careful where she steps after seeing the horde of mice.

GM: The monk parakeet, meanwhile, shoots out of the chimney, wings beating furiously. The night sky rises before it.

A dart whizzes at the parakeet, plunging into its flank. The tiny bird feels its muscles spasming as the electric current plays havoc with its tiny neural system.

Louis: So impaled, the bird plunges to the nearby night–darkened street, where it takes a drunken step behind a bush and disappears.

GM: A shadow passes over the moon, jetting towards the fleeing parakeet with the relentless trajectory a cruise missile.

It’s one of the biggest, ugliest birds of prey Lou has ever seen. Its molasses-brown feathers, almost pitch black against the moon’s obscured glow, are torn and ragged like the raptor was swallowed whole by the Devil, chewed up, and spat out—or perhaps tore its way out. Jagged scars crisscross its legs and beak. Two unblinking eyes burn red and hot like smoldering coals.

Wings beat. Talons flash. A shadow descends.

The tiny, preternaturally fast parakeet dives for the street like a plummeting comet. Air beats past from the larger bird’s wings as the burning-eyed raptor emits a guttural shriek as much mammalian as avian.
There’s another rush of beating wings. Then, razor-sharp and crushingly hard talons snap around the monk parakeet’s tiny body like steel cables.

A second dart whizzes through the night air, plunging into the parakeet’s breast. It throbs and pulses with electricity.

Louis: The parakeet’s lidless black eyes stare up into the raptor’s furious ones. The tiny bird might smile, if birds could.

Then it explodes.

Gore, bone shards, and bright green feathers fly in every which direction, riding the explosion’s blast wave and its cloud of billowing, blood-admixed smoke. Lou doesn’t even have a chance to hear if the raptor shrieks, much less see whether it perishes, before his own tattered psyche hurls across the Big Easy’s skies like so much shrapnel.


Saturday evening, 19 September 2015

GM: Lou comes to in the guest bedroom of Maria’s house. The old man feels horrible. His head pounds, his ears ring, his vision swims, and he feels like he’s swallowed a pack of razor blades. It’s all he can do not to throw up.

Jacques’ shade floats nearby. His empty eye socket seems to bore into Lou with the same intensity as his one remaining eye.

“Je vous ai dit que le jeune était un piège.”

(“I told you the fledgling was a trap.”)


Saturday evening, 19 September 2015

GM: The tiny artifact salvaged from the detritus of Caroline’s life ticks and ticks. The hands advance to 8:30.

Caroline: She stares at it.

Do Not Leave Your House.

Windows closing. Opportunities disappearing. She considers the likelihood that she’s just being fed to the wolves in this matter. Considers how Matheson is likely to react to standing him up. Watches the clock tick forward again.

GM: The thin second hand steadily ticks forward.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

Caroline: What else can she do but wait? Anger one elder. Anger another. The devil’s choice. She tries not to look at the clock as the minutes tick down.

GM: Tick they do. The shorter, black minute hand makes multiple full rotations, and even the shortest and thickest hours hand crawls along. 9:00.

Caroline: Her worry for her ghouls intensifies as she doesn’t see or hear from them even as the hour grows late. There’s little she can do in the moment, but it doesn’t stop her from worrying.

GM: At 9:30, a knock sounds against her door.

Caroline: She moves to open it, having settled in the living room while she waited. A peak through the side window before she does so.

GM: A pair of dark and hooded eyes stare straight back at the Ventrue.

The figure’s face is a horribly burned, dark mass of scars. He is half-bald, with his remaining black hair neatly combed back from his scalp. His thick mustache and short beard are only partially successful in hiding the teeth visible through his right cheek.

He wears a pair of crisply pressed black pants and jacket, not a business suit’s, but one reminiscent of a military’s Class A Uniform. Its gold buttons and his black leather shoes are polished so meticulously that Caroline can just make out her reflection in them, even through the house’s window.

His dark eyes carry a look that has grown unmistakable to Caroline in recent nights.

Death.

Caroline: There’s a gun in the bag on the scratched table in the living room. A sword. Several thousand dollars in cash. Enough to run, maybe. Or to fight. Against the Hussar, though…

It doesn’t make any sense. None of it makes any sense.

GM: The ancient ghoul holds Caroline’s gaze, then turns away.

A click sounds from the door.

The knob begins to turn.

Caroline: She turns the nob ahead of him and lets the door swing open slowly.

GM: The tall ghoul strides in and closes it with a single weathered hand behind him, not breaking Caroline’s gaze.

Caroline: Caroline refuses to meet his eyes, shifting her own gaze to his throat.

GM: “Be still.”

Caroline: Caroline stops moving.

GM: The ancient ghoul’s sharp Spanish staccato drives through Caroline’s ears like a blade forged from Toledo steel—but avoiding his dark and terrible gaze, it merely drives past them. The Ventrue can almost feel the air swish by overhead.

One of the ghoul’s worn, veined hands stabs forward, clamping around Caroline’s neck like a steel cable.

Caroline: Worn, veined, steel tables that she almost instinctively ties in knots as she loses all control at the contact. The monster inside of her has been pushed one too many times. Maybe she could control it in the presence of an elder, superior, predator, but it does not recognize this ghoul as such. It roars to the forefront even as her teeth elongate and she dives towards the ancient half-mortal’s throat.

GM: Caroline’s foe is strong. Monstrously, inhumanly strong. But arrogant. Maybe he expects little of her. Maybe he wants a “sporting” fight. No matter why, Caroline twists in place like a serpent, and plunges her fangs into the neck of the prince’s ghoul. It’s like gnawing solid iron. Caroline nearly gags at the taste of his blood, and the aftertaste of his master’s power. Headier than either of her ghouls’. Headier than even Jocelyn’s.

But the Hussar neither stops nor slows as Caroline slakes her thirst. The vice-like hand forces her away and shoves her to her knees with a slam hard enough to leave cracks through the hardwood floor. A stake appears in the ghoul’s hand and plunges towards the vampire’s heart.

Caroline: Or at least, he tries to do so. The Ventrue heiress is inhumanly quick even with his hands around her, and she twists like a squid around his arm, her legs wrapping around his incoming arm, leveraging her entire body to keep the the stake from finding its way home.

GM: The sharpened stake cracks against hardwood as Caroline twists aside. The Hussar’s teeth glint through the hole in his fire-charred face. His vice-like hand is still clamped around her neck. He suddenly lifts her completely off her feet, spins her around, and slams her face-first into the floor. Caroline feels her nose messily crunch even as a sudden pain stabs through her heart. She can’t move. She’s paralyzed.

Even facing away from the Hussar, she can feel the haughty contempt in his stare.

“Neonates.”

The hoary ghoul rolls her onto her back.

He meets her eyes.

He says something.

Everything goes blank.


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Story Six, Caroline VI

“What is your offense, young one?”
John Harley Matheson


Friday night, 18 September 2015, AM

GM: Autumn and Caroline don’t drive far. The CBD has more homeless people, or at least more visible homeless people, than Riverbend does. Being confined to Storyville limits the scope of their search.

Autumn reports that she researched missing persons reports, homeless shelter lists, recently released mental patients, discharged vets, and as many other sources of homeless people that occurred to her. It gives Caroline a few leads, but not a lot. Much of the information Autumn wanted simply isn’t possible to find online vs. on the streets. “The problem with bums, real bums who can disappear without anyone caring, is that a lot of them aren’t in the system,” the ghoul remarks.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t argue the point. She keeps her eyes open as they drive through the streets. Turner would be better at this, she admits, but she’s unwilling to call the maimed mercenary. She needs to recover. Needs to heal up. Needs a bit of time away from all of this.

GM: The two work with what they have. Caroline eventually finds what she’s looking for curled next to a Subway’s trash dumpster. He’s still wearing a dirty green parka jacket despite having a sleeping bag tugged up to his neck. He has a haggard, deeply-lined face, and horseshoe mustache that might’ve once been brown and is now mostly gray. A cardboard sign lying next to him reads,

Homeless War Vet
Vietnam 70-71
Please help me survive
God Bless


Caroline: Caroline mesmerizes him, dominates him, and has him follow them to the car. She tries to ignore the nagging screaming in the back of her head at how wrong this is. She told her mother she was trying not to be a monster. Now she’s plotting to hand over multiple people to Donovan to be nothing more than cattle.

Once she has her tentacles in his mind she tries not to focus on him. Tries to avoid thinking about him. Pretends he isn’t there. She cracks the window so she doesn’t have to smell him, letting the wind blow across her face.

GM: The old (or simply old-looking) man snorts in his sleep as Caroline roughly shakes him by the shoulder. She sees the fight-or-flight instinct flash across his brown eyes as he wakes up, blended with equal parts confusion. She isn’t the sort of person he normally sees.

His mouth opens, but not before hers does. His lined face sags and eyes glass over at the command to follow. He rises from the sleeping bag to follow Caroline, takes one step, and then falls flat over his face, moaning as his chest hits the asphalt. Outside of the sleeping bag, she notices he’s missing one of his feet.

Caroline: Caroline grinds her fangs as she helps him hobble.

GM: Autumn looks at the man and doesn’t say anything as she pulls down the minicooper’s front seat. Caroline helps him into the low-ceilinged car.

The expression on his wrinkled face furrows. “My crutch is back there,” he says in a thick voice, like a sleeping man trying to wake up. “So’s all my stuff.”

Caroline:You’re fine,” Caroline answers softly. “It’s taken care of.” She wanders back to examine his ‘stuff’.

GM: Beyond a chipped metal crutch that looks like it’s seen better days, Caroline finds a plastic bag containing a razor, deodorant stick, Irish Spring soap, a straw, small towel, sunglasses, toilet paper roll, notepad, blue pen, and stainless steel tag (the usual chain it goes through is missing) that reads:

COVINGTON
GRANT D
617-61-7502
B POS
PROTESTANT


The plastic bag of ‘stuff’ is stuck inside in the rim of the sleeping bag. The man clearly didn’t want to leave it somewhere visible for anyone to wander up and take as he slept.

Caroline: She gathers up the bag, looking at all these human things she has no use for, and the crutch. They’re gone from the scene in less than two minutes total. The whole thing hurts, digging into her chest like a rusty blade.

GM: The old man’s half-asleep, half-frantic expression doesn’t calm as Caroline enters the car with his ‘stuff’ and crutch. “I can’t leave my sleeping bag, lady. What am I gonna sleep on?”

Caroline:Don’t worry. We’ll take care of it all,” Caroline assures him.

GM: The old man’s expression does not calm, but his next words come out even thicker. “I can’t… leave my… sleeping bag,” he slurredly pleads.

Caroline: She reluctantly goes and quickly collects the bag for him.

GM: The sleeping bag’s exterior is slightly damp and has several faded stains. The old man’s (Grant’s, if the tag is accurate) expression calms as Caroline passes back the rolled-up bedding.

Caroline: She places it back over him.

Go to sleep,” she directs as they drive away. Halfway there.

GM: The old man slumps against the back seat, his eyes closed. Even with the deodorant stick Caroline found among his belongings, his smell is all-too ripe in the small car. Autumn rolls down the windows.

Caroline: Caroline tries not to watch him, but she can’t get away from her thoughts.

“How much blood could you get from the Krewe by Sunday? If it came to that?”

GM: “I don’t know, sorry,” Autumn answers. “I didn’t work for Dr. Gremillion and I know as much about hospitals as the next person. However much they feel won’t endanger the Masquerade. I can ask, though.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip.

“Four people’s worth,” she spits out. “By Sunday. That’s what he wants.”

GM: “That’s a lot.”

Caroline: Caroline gives a slight nod. “I suspect that the goal is not the blood.”

GM: She frowns a bit. “Why’s he asking for so much? This isn’t corvée, is it?”

Autumn’s eyes seem to be remaining deliberately off the sleeping homeless man in the back.

Caroline: Caroline nods again. “Because I had friends in the police,” she replies. “The sheriff’s double showed up this evening at my home. With a head in a box.”

GM: Autumn grimaces. “They’re… protective.”

Caroline: “My guess is the intent is either to panic or push me into a Masquerade breach, which he could bond me for or force me to request a sip instead of the amplified demands.”

GM: Autumn immediately shakes her head. “The Masquerade’s the First Tradition for a reason. They don’t play around with it.”

Caroline: “Of course not, which is why they’d have to teach me a lesson.” The bitterness and disillusionment in her voice is obvious.

GM: “No, Caroline, you… look, you don’t get it,” Autumn says. “They don’t screw around with the Masquerade. A neonate like you isn’t worth it.”

Caroline: “What the fuck else is going to happen when you put someone under that kind of deadline?” she snaps. “You’re asking for someone to make a mistake somewhere.”

GM: “You could make four people disappear in four days without risking the Masquerade. And there’s lots of ways to get blood besides killing.”

Caroline: “Four people no one would notice, and smoothly?”

GM: “Sure, if you’re subtle. I mean, there’s over a hundred licks in New Orleans already, and that’s leaving out the Quarter Rats. And like I said, you don’t have to kill people to get that much blood.”

Caroline: “Buy it from the Krewe. Boons for it with another Kindred.” Caroline ticks off on her fingers. “Drain people to a lesser extent.”

GM: Autumn nods. “The Krewe doesn’t like killing. It’s worse for the Masquerade.”

Caroline: “Did I miss anything?”

GM: “Well, buy from the Krewe, boons, don’t kill people, draw on herds… there’s also admitting you can’t do it. Taking a blood bond, or trading something else, like service or information. Probably at a markup.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip again.

GM: “You don’t need to kill this guy,” Autumn says quietly, her eyes flicking from the road. “There’s better ways. Practically, not just morally.”

Caroline: Practicality, or is that poison, wars with Autumn’s words.

“Like what?” Reluctance and desire war in her voice.

GM: “Like I said. Trade boons to someone for blood. Have me try again with the Krewe tomorrow. Drain this guy a little and let him go.”

Caroline: “Hope it all works out?”

There’s a cynicism hiding hope there. A want to believe.

GM: “No more hope than if you’re kidnapping and draining four people.”

Caroline: “Two more,” Caroline corrects.

She imagines this must be something like how as armed robber feels like the first time, only like them she’s stealing lives. If she was still alive, she knows her hands would be shaking now.

“I don’t want to hurt him,” she admits.

GM: “You don’t have to. There’s other ways.”

Caroline: For a moment all Autumn hears is the wind rushing past the car.

GM: “Where do you want me to take us?” she finally asks in a quiet voice.

Caroline: “Somewhere private. Not my house, where we can take a ‘safe’ amount,” Caroline finally murmurs, still not facing the ghoul.

Even if she were facing Autumn, it’s would be difficult to say whether relief, determination, or fear is written across the Ventrue’s face.

GM: Autumn nods as the downtown cityscape rolls past.

“Okay, just tell me where…”


Friday night, 18 September 2015, AM

Caroline: It’s not so hard to find a place out of the way, and dominated as he is the man is in no condition to resist as the ghoul hooks him, cuts into his skin, and drains as much blood as she thinks is safe. Caroline waits outside the car, in the night. It’s better for her to be away from the blood, even when it’s outside of her range. She runs his dog tag over in her hands as she very intentionally looks away from the scene.

She returns only to lick the cleaned wound closed, spitting out the small bit of his foul tasting blood. The two dump him a block away from where they found him, complete with his stuff and no memory of the event and a crumpled, dirty, $20 bill shoved in his pocket. He’ll want something when he wakes up in the morning. Whether it’s food or his alternative drug of choice is his problem.

GM: Autumn insists that Caroline wake him up first and wipe his memory of the event, as well as add receiving the $20 from a passerby. It rarely hurts to be cautious, and certainly doesn’t here, the ghoul emphasizes.

The man isn’t awake to moan as the two lay him down by another dumpster. Autumn unwraps his sleeping bag and pulls it over his legs and torso. His worn hand lying limp against the pavement is the last sight the two see as their car drives off.

Caroline: It’s only when they’re driving away that Caroline can look Autumn in the eye again.

“Thank you.”

GM: “You’re welcome. What for?” Autumn asks, seemingly surprised.

Caroline: “I was getting ready to do something terrible.”

GM: The ghoul nods after a moment. “I never really did anything like… that for the Krewe. Just cleaned up messes that were already made, or stopped stories from getting out.”

Caroline: “It’s so easy to view people—people you don’t know at least—as nothing more than a means to an end. I don’t know if it’s everything I’ve already done, or if it’s the nature of this existence, but if you hadn’t said something I would have just thrown him to the wolves. And no one deserves that.”

GM: “Well, glad I did. Homeless people have it pretty rough already.”

Caroline: “That’s what I’m getting at. In that moment, he wasn’t a person. He was just… a means. To making my life easier.”

GM: Autumn nods again. “Glad I spoke up, then. A lot of the nasty stuff Kindred do… leaving aside morals, it’s impractical. Bad for the Masquerade.”

Caroline: “Anytime you see me doing that sort of thing. Losing touch. Point it out, please.”

Caroline bites her wrist and extends it upside down to the ghoul, blood welling slowly up.

“I’ll always make it worth your while.”

GM: Autumn clears her throat, trying not to stare at Caroline’s wrist too intently while she’s driving. She only partly succeeds. “You don’t have to ask me twice.”

Caroline: “Pull over,” Caroline directs.

GM: The ghoul readily finds a spot by the curb.

Caroline: Caroline gives her what she wants.

GM: Autumn falls on her wrist with an ardor beyond mere want. It’s need. Caroline’s conscience may fade.

But a ghoul’s hunger surely will not.


Friday night, 18 September 2015, AM

GM: Caroline calls the number provided by McCullem. A dry-sounding man’s voice greets her cordially, if stiffly, and announces “the master” would be pleased to receive her at ten o’ clock to-morrow. He adds that “the master” values punctuality, and advises that she show up several minutes early to be certain she will not be late.

Caroline: Caroline thanks him for arranging the meeting and so lays her plans before retiring to daysleep.


Friday evening, 19 September 2015

Caroline: Caroline sleeps and rises. She spends the early evening hunting before texting Jocelyn that she’s on her way and arriving, via drop off by Autumn, early enough to be safe.

GM: Still lacking a car of her own, Autumn chauffeurs Caroline to a Moonbucks through what sections of Riverbend she is allowed to hunt. It’s a bitter pill to swallow how much of Tulane remains off-limits.

Friday nights are good times to hunt, however, and it doesn’t take Caroline long to strike up a conversation with a slim and glasses-wearing young man who’s antsy over the fact Tulane is considering expelling him for placing his dorm room on Airbnb to make some extra cash.

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“It’s bullshit. They actually mandate you live on campus your first year. What do they care where I live so long as my parents are paying tuition?”

Caroline: Caroline is happy to agree, distantly recalling that she had to put on an appearance of living on campus.

GM: The kid, who gives his name as Nathaniel Hite, seems at least as happy to have found someone willing to listen to him vent.

“You have any idea how much money that would’ve added up to, if I rented my dorm room for a year? I mean, yeah, maybe most people wouldn’t want to still live with their mom, but that’s a lot of student loan payments I wouldn’t have to make.”

Caroline: Caroline feels her interest fade in anything other than his blood running across her teeth and down her throat.

GM: It doesn’t take long to lure him into Autumn’s car with her powers. He moans and tastes like all the rest do.

Caroline: Not all the rest. It isn’t as often as she’d like that Caroline gets to indulge in her preferred demographic, and as boring as Nathaniel is, his blood still excites her and leaves her fulfilled in a way his pathetic conversation never could.

GM: The college student groggily ambles out of the car when Caroline is done with him, rubbing his head.

It is so rare that she feels satisfied in this life.


Friday night, 19 September 2015, PM

GM: Autumn chauffeurs her domitor to a walled estate in the Garden District. It’s nestled in a quiet part of Chestnut Street and not too far away from her Uncle Orson’s home. The house proper is smaller than most set back from the road, veiled from the sight of the outside world by means of a row of carefully cultivated greenery, the centerpiece of which is an ancient live oak tree, draped in a beard-like coat of Spanish moss. A tastefully elegant wrought-iron gate spans the driveway, connecting two brick columns on either side. A flat plaque on the face of one column welcomes visitors to the address in stylish gold ormalu. The home’s white front porch is decorated with several potted plants and a white swinging bench.

The gate swings open after Caroline identifies herself through the intercom. Armed guards watch her vehicle proceed through.

Caroline: Caroline has dressed tastefully up for the occasion, in her typical black, with a small clutch bag. Small diamond studs glitter at her ears, and a gold necklace with a diamond pendent graces her pale throat.

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GM: A seemingly forty-something man in an old-fashioned butler’s suit and white gloves cordially receives Caroline in the entry hall and demurely compliments her appearance before escorting her into the parlor room, a richly appointed affair characterized by soft reds, antique furniture, and ornately-patterned Persian rugs. An old portrait of a man Caroline doesn’t recognize hangs over the empty yet ash-strewn fireplace.

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A solitary figure sits on an adjacent upholstered chair.

He has a rectangular, clean-shaven face, a long Roman nose, and sandy blond air pulled back in a short ponytail. He looks around the same age as Nathaniel Hite, and younger than Caroline by about half a decade. That is only at a casual glance. There is an distinctly marble-like cast to his pallid features, as if Caroline were not staring at a real person but a frighteningly well-crafted statue. His clear blue eyes are cool and distant. They have the dangerous glint of a man who is rarely denied the things he wants.

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Caroline: Caroline has scarcely finished taking in the decor—polished and refined, if somewhat more traditional than she prefers—when her eyes move to the well-dressed man. There’s something distinctly otherworldly about him, and for a moment Caroline can hardly believe that something like this exists, can exist, without others instantly realizing what it is, so far from human.

GM: Indeed, in comparison to the only other true elder she has met, Philip Maldonato, the figure before Caroline is an unliving anachronism. Where the seneschal merely nodded towards tradition with his golden cufflinks, Matheson is dressed in full 19th century garb, replete to the tailcoat and ascot tie that went out of fashion before her family’s name was wealthy.

The butler raises his hand and gravely intones, “Kneel in the presence of the Honorable Sir John Harley Matheson, Alder, Earl, Secundus, Commissioner, Interpreter, Senator, Steward, Solitary of Die Nachteulen, Officer of the Most Noble Fellowship of Artemis, Knight Banneret of the Order of the Silver Wyrm, Whip emeritus, Gerousiastis, Blue Consul of the Assembly of Colors, Brother of the Order of the Crescent Moon, Member First Class of the Order of the Hawk Royale, and Knight Banneret of the Order of the White Cross.”

Caroline: That moment vanishes all too quickly when the butler speaks. Kneel. It’s a command she does not appreciate. One that speaks a great deal to the tastes of this man, but it’s one she nonetheless obeys, however it might grind against her pride. If this is the price she has to pay, it’s still a far gentler one than she’s payed in the past. She’s briefly grateful for her more flowing wardrobe choice—she’d debated on something more form-fitting, and kneeling in that would have been much more uncomfortable.

Many of his titles follow over her like so much clear water—empty of anything of worth—but a few do stand out, none more than gerousiastis. She has too many enemies on that body. She could dearly use an friendly voice.

GM: Matheson does not blink, move, shift expression, nor even breathe as he wordlessly stares down at Caroline. As if waiting for something.

Caroline: The moment drags on as she waits. It’s nervewracking, as the silence continues, but she’s relatively certain that any anger for her silence may be outweighed by irritation for speaking out of turn.

GM: Matheson studies her for over a minute before finally pronouncing, “You have my leave to speak, young one.”

Caroline: “Thank you for receiving me, Gerousiastis Matheson. 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.”

She doesn’t let her eyes rise and works to keep her voice steady through the long—and rehearsed in private—speech. Something she burned into her mind after the humiliation she suffered at McGinn’s hands.

“I am tremendously grateful for the opportunity to meet with such a distinguished elder.”

GM: “You may seat yourself, Miss Malveaux,” the elder Ventrue pronounces. A living man might indicate a chair. Matheson does not.

Caroline: “Thank you, Gerousiastis Matheson.”

Caroline rises with a grace any gymnast could only envy and finds a seat, careful to keep her eyes downcast.

GM: Matheson’s marble-like facial expressions are difficult for Caroline to read, but the younger Ventrue can make out a note of marked disapproval.

Caroline: She glances up at him, meeting his eyes for the first time.

GM: Matheson’s cool, almost transparent blue eyes stare back at hers. His expression is not friendly, but no longer appears actively disapproving.

Caroline: She holds those eyes then, it belatedly occurring to her that among Kindred matching gazes might hold different meaning than among men.

GM: “I have been informed that you are a solicitor, Miss Malveaux. How many cases have you successfully argued before a judge?” Matheon inquires.

Caroline: “I beg your pardon, Gerousiastis Matheson, such is my aspiration, not yet my profession. I’ve argued no cases.”

GM: “Then it is your intention to practice law among the kine, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: “It seemed an area in which one could carve out a beginning, Gerousiastis Matheson. If not among them, then perhaps around them. I suspect there are areas in which the law can be used and bent towards the use of the Kindred of New Orleans,” she replies. “Especially in administrative matters.”

GM: Matheson spends several minutes questioning Caroline as to her knowledge of legal procedures, recent court decisions, points of protocol as they pertain to her desired profession, and how she would argue a variety of hypothetical cases before judges and juries alike. It only takes the younger Ventrue a few moments to ascertain that her elder’s legal knowledge is as antiquated as his garb (he keeps using the term “solicitor”)—and that he doesn’t seem to care, about either the state of his knowledge or even Caroline’s own. Indeed, she estimates, Matheson seems to be evaluating her by some other criteria. Grace under pressure? Well-spokenness? Propriety?

By the conclusion of his ‘interview’, at least, he seems to find her adequate. Enough.

Caroline has a nagging feeling that her testing is far from done.

Caroline: Caroline does her best not only to field his questions, but also to do so in a way that is readily accessible to the elder. Just being in the room with him is exhausting though, as she tiptoes around what she cannot help but feel is something of a minefield with each question.

GM: “I have been informed that your sire abandoned you upon your Embrace, Miss Malveaux, and that you are regrettably—and unacceptably—ignorant of our clan’s ways and customs,” Matheson finally declares.

Caroline: “My apologies if I’ve given any further offense, Gerousiastis Matheson,” Caroline answers, feeling more uncomfortable by the moment. “I’m certain my manners are far below reasonable Ventrue expectations, for which I would make no excuses.”

GM: “I trust you are aware, Miss Malveaux, of the slanderous allegations put forth against me,” Matheson states.

Caroline: “Yes, Gerousiastis Matheson,” Caroline replies, before continuing somewhat boldly, “Rumors and allegations find fertile soil in times of prosperity. Especially in those who have have found themselves outside of that prosperity. From what little I’ve the rumors about you in particular are most at home among the least socialized Kindred—which I suspect speaks for itself as to their veracity. Those with problems of their own making are often eager to latch onto any perceived or alleged failing in others.”

GM: Matheson’s eyebrows do not raise, but something in the Ventrue elder seems as if it has sat up and taken greater interest in Caroline’s statements… though whether that is benign or sinister is not yet apparent.

“Indeed, Miss Malveaux? Whom would you name among my detractors?” Matheson inquires.

Caroline: “I confess, Gerousiastis Matheson, I have no names for you directly, but what I’ve seen among the Anarchs has been a significant level of hostility and conflict among them. Not two nights ago when I went to speak with Primogen Duquette I was accosted by several very concerned with how I feel on the issue, and I’ve heard much the same from others I’ve spoken to. I had been very much focused on beginning to right the wrongs of my own Embrace, and making right my own transgressions against others until very recently.”

GM: “Rabble bark as rabble always will,” Matheson declares upon Caroline’s mention of Anarchs.

“Are you aware of the source from whence these allegations originate, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: “I believe I heard talk that they originated with Gerousiastis Smith,” she replies mildly. “And that they surfaced in relation or proximity to allegations that he had committed a severe breach of the First Tradition.”

GM: “You are incorrect, Miss Malveaux. It is thanks to Mr. Savoy that they have spread.” Matheson’s clear blue eyes regard her with steady, unblinking intensity. “No junior clanmate would dare besmirch my dignitas with such slander.”

Caroline: “I am in your debt then, Gerousiastis Maheson, for correcting my understanding of the matter.”

GM: “Nor would any Ventrue of even the poorest breeding conceive to impugn my dignitas in such a way.” Matheson’s stare lingers upon Caroline’s eyes. “What do you make of Mr. Savoy for spreading these rumors, young one?”

Caroline: “I have not met him, Gerousiastis Matheson, and being an unreleased fledgling without a sire, I do not know that it is my place to speak ill of an elder, but I would say that what knowledge I have of him might speak for itself. For instance, he shelters many of the city’s less desirable individuals, or so I’ve been told. He sheltered my own sire when he was sought for my Embrace. It was in the French Quarter that I was so illicitly Embraced. He spreads malicious rumors about distinguished elders I’ve heard little else to speak for save hearsay.” She holds his gaze. “I suspect that any reasoned individual could draw their own reasonable opinion. Not that every individual is reasoned, or every opinion reasonable.”

GM: Caroline’s cheek explodes with pain as she is violently knocked off her chair and crumples to the floor, awkwardly tangling her dress.

Caroline: The Beast surges forward, but Caroline crumples it even as she stomps down on the near-instinctive desire to rise and meet this new threat.

GM: Caroline sees no one in the room besides Matheson, his butler having withdrawn. The elder Ventrue’s expression does not change as he stares down at her.

Caroline: She stays on her knees, even as she pushes up with one hand to pull her face off the floor. She spits through split lips, “Please accept my apologies for the offense I have offered, Gerousiastis Matheson.”

She looks up to meet his eyes. Her mouth is full of blood—her own blood, and she swallows it down like a bitter pill.

GM: “What is your offense, young one?” he inquires.

Caroline: “Not answering the direct question I was asked, Gerousiastis Matheson. Presuming to know my place better than my elder.”

GM: “That is correct, Miss Malveaux.”

Caroline: “Yes, Gerousiastis Matheson. My thanks for the lesson.”

GM: “You may seat yourself, Miss Malveaux.”

Caroline: She rises to retake her seat at his instruction.

GM: “I had thought to call upon the Hague for an arbiter to represent me before the prince’s court,” Matheson states. “They are proficient rhetors, yet by the nature of the accusations leveled against me, the word of a local neonate will carry greater weight than that of a foreign ancilla.”

Caroline: “I am certain that any number of proficient neonates would leap at the opportunity to defend such a distinguished personage from such allegations, Gerousiastis Matheson.” Caroline’s cheek burns, but she resists the urge to heal that pain, to make it go away.

Besides, it’s so little beside the agonies she’s faced in the past. She remembers the bite of the whip, and it helps her put the sting of the slap out of her mind. She needs this. Needs his approval. Certainly enough that she can live with a slap. There is, in fact, very little she wouldn’t live through.

GM: “Few possess the requisite breeding, knowledge of protocol, rhetorical skills, and willingness to defend my name that I would permit them to do so,” Matheson declares.

Caroline: She swallows more blood. “No doubt there is a standard that must be upheld. Not only as an elder, but as a gerousiastis among the Ventrue,” Caroline agrees. There’s a bit of relief at his declaration.

GM: “Your poor upbringing has left you grossly ignorant of our society’s ways and customs.”

Caroline: “Yes, Gerousiastis Matheson,” Caroline agrees.

GM: “I shall have a tutor instruct you in the Camarilla’s laws and workings, as well as our clan’s history and customs. In return for this considerable service, I will assess your learning with an oral examination. You may then perform one of several services for me.”

“If I find you to have been a poor student who learned little of what your instructor had to teach, you will owe me a debt for the use of her time. You will testify neither upon nor against my behalf in the upcoming trial.”

“If I find you to have been an adequate student, you will testify on my behalf as a witness.”

“If I find you to have been an exceptional student, I will consider whether to select you as my arbiter against the other neonates who have volunteered their services. If I should select you, you will earn my goodwill, dignitas within our clan, and may be tapped for membership within the Hague. I find such an outcome unlikely, but I have seen many unlikely things over the course of my Requiem.”

Caroline: Were she living, Caroline’s heart might skip a beat. As it is, she simply goes still, forgetting for a moment to breathe (not that she needs to). With neither Kindred so much as breathing, the room is very quiet indeed at his declaration. She stares, and after a moment speaks,

“It would seem there is little time for me to waste then, with the trial approaching so swiftly.”

GM: “That is correct, Miss Malveaux, there is little. Your tutor will be my childe Questor Adler.”

Caroline: Oh hell, Caroline only thinks.

“As you say, Gerousiastis Matheson.”

GM: “How will you entreat with her, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: “As a superior in virtually all things, Gerousiastis Matheson. Both in position among the Ventrue, in standing among the Camarilla, and as the representative of an elder in this matter. At a time and place of her direction.”

GM: “By what specific means shall you do so?”

Caroline: “Upon direction, I would seek her out, likely reaching out through a ghoul that serves herself and Primogen Hurst, McCullem, to arrange instruction this night. Were there more time, I might seek her out more directly at an Elysium.”

GM: “And there you would speak to her of the instruction she will provide?”

Caroline: “No. Matters internal to the Ventrue should not be aired publicly. I would request to speak with her in private before bringing the matter up.”

GM: Caroline’s other cheek abruptly explodes with pain. The young Ventrue flies off her chair, painfully crashing into the fine house’s wall.

Caroline: Again the Beast rears its ugly head, and again—more narrowly—Caroline shakes it off. Her head spins and it takes her a moment to reorient herself between the struggle with the Beast and her own location, once more on the ground. Her mouth is full of blood again.

GM: Matheson imperiously stares down at her.

“Questor Hurst’s ghoul reports you have asked him to relay an apology on your behalf, pending a further apology delivered in person. That is all you would offer my childe for your rudeness? Mere words?”

Caroline: SMASH HIM. KILL HIM. RIP OUT HIS THROAT.

The urges of the Beast are so difficult to resist even under the best of circumstances, and on the ground again, battered again, is hardly ideal. Shame burns alongside her smashed face, and she takes a deep breath. She wants to lash out. Wants to resist. Wants to fight back. Instead she unclenches her fists through force of will.

“No, Gerousiastis Matheson.”

It hurts to look back up at him, and for more than one reason, in more than one way.

“But as he observed, and as I agreed, apologies are better delivered in person, than through third parties. And I did not think to trouble a distinguished elder with such a matter.”

GM: “You will pledge a boon to Questor Adler in apology for your gross rudeness and thanks for her prior courtesy and assistance. If you are unable to comport yourself towards my Blood with further disgracing your own, I have no use for you.”

Caroline: Blood runs between cracked lips. Her blood. It’s her own fault. Her fault for forgetting the first rule of dealing with elders: everything has to be awful.

She wipes that blood away with one hand before it can fall and stain the expensive carpets, pushing herself up again with the other hand. Her head’s spinning again. It doesn’t matter that she’d planned on doing so anyway. Doesn’t matter that the offense was a trivial as a petty smug smile. All that matters is she’s on her knees again, at the mercy of another elder Ventrue.

Really, it’s the utter helplessness that’s more terrible than his blows, no matter how powerful they are.
It take her a moment to compose herself fully, a moment before she looks up at him again.

“Of course, Gerousiastis Matheson. Thank you for reminding me of my manners and duties.”

GM: Matheson’s pale blue eyes linger on Caroline’s battered form for an uncomfortable moment.

“You may seat yourself,” the elder pronounces.

Caroline: She drags herself off the floor with one hand, again careful not to smear her blood across his expensive rug, and retakes her seat. She doesn’t like the predatory look in those eyes, but there’s little she can do.

GM: Matheson pulls a hanging silk cord with a gold tassel. The butler appears after a moment.

“Summon the lady speaker,” Matheson orders.

The butler bows low and departs.

Caroline: Caroline says nothing, grateful for the opportunity to compose herself as they wait.

GM: The elder Ventrue turns to regard her.

“Show me that you are capable of entertaining with conversation until she arrives, Miss Malveaux.”

Caroline: Her relief is of course short-lived and she lets out a mild smile. “Are there any topics of particular interest, Gerousiastis Matheson?”

GM: “There are none for this present occasion, Miss Malveaux.”

Caroline: Of course not. If you gave me any guidance at all you wouldn’t get to beat me more for not choosing a subject to your satisfaction.

Caroline swallows the bit of her own blood still in her mouth, taking the opportunity to run through several topics, before deciding on one that seems inoffensive.

“Current high society among the kine is in something of an uproar at the moment. The previous scandal was Robert Argabrite III allegedly striking his date to a gallery opening, but it’s been somewhat forgotten by the recent stalker that followed Cécilia Devillers home—to say nothing of her sister Yvonne’s near-murder at the Eighth District station shooting.”

“The Devillers are relatively new to the city, immigrating only in the last decade or so from France to ‘look after’ the city, but have already taken a dominate position in the dealings of the upper class, and any scandal surrounding them is enough to set off a firestorm. For instance, how did this black stalker even know her?’ It might have been interesting to watch play out, but by now it’ll be swept away.”

GM: “The emancipation of the negro has served but to worsen the fortunes of both races,” Matheson agrees.

Caroline: That comment is far from unexpected.

“The statistics agree, especially over the last sixty years.”

GM: “I have some use for able-bodied negroes on my land. Has this one been claimed by another Kindred?”

Caroline: “Not that I know of, Gerousiastis Matheson, but I do not know how useful he might be. He’s weak, small, and very dim.”

GM: “A pity. I shall trust the kine authorities, or failing them, the Sanctified, to remind this… ‘stalker’ of his place.”

Caroline: “That seems a safe place to place trust,” Caroline agrees. “In any case, the scandal he caused should blow over quickly, with the death of Westley Malveaux to distract people.”

GM: Matheson’s expression seemingly indicates for Caroline to go on.

Caroline: “He was unfortunately drawn into the chase between my sire and I, and handed over to the Dungeon in a bid to force me to surrender myself. Exactly what happened I don’t know, but his body was found yesterday, and no doubt it’ll cause some interest however it is framed for First Tradition purposes: he had a history of poor decision making, drug use, and other indiscretions that will make even a mundane passing plentiful food for the gossips.”

GM: Matheson draws out the conversation with Caroline for some length. He listens more than he speaks as his younger clanmate shares the latest news and gossip among mortal high society, occasionally veering off to matters of Kindred politics where the two subjects overlap. Matheson interjects with the occasional question, opinion or anecdote, the latter usually relating to human history or behavior at large rather than matters specific to New Orleans. To Caroline’s estimation, he is not especially impressed with her efforts, but he appears to find the discourse adequate… or at least adequate enough not to strike her for.

Caroline: His comments give her an interesting look into his mind, but Caroline is mostly focused on trying to avoid a misstep that will get her struck again.

GM: It is not long before the butler reappears and announces, “May I present the Lady Speaker Rebecca Adler, Alder Secundus.”

Becky Lynne is present alongside him. The shorter blonde wears a knee-length white dress with a yellow bow at the waist, open-toed heels, and a pearl necklace and earrings.

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She dips into a curtsy and inclines her head at Matheson’s presence.

“My sire.”

There is a higher inclination and no curtsy for Caroline.

“Miss Malveaux.”

“Questor Adler,” Matheson responds. “There are several matters at hand for which your presence is required. The first of these pertains to Miss Malveaux.”

He turns his distant gaze upon the youngest Ventrue.

Caroline: Caroline knows she must look terrible. Either side of her face smashed and bruising, split lip. Her once-spotless black clothing marred by the array of fibers picked up from her unwelcome meetings with the ground and wrinkled by those same journeys. She raises her gaze to Adler.

“Questor Adler, allow me to begin by expressing my apologies for my rudeness when we last met. Please accept a boon as a token of my sincerity.”

GM: Becky Lynne smiles back at her. “Pleased is what I am to accept it, Miss Malveaux. I wasn’t sure how we got off on the wrong foot, but it’s never too late to start walking with the right one, not really.”

“Questor Hurst relayed your apologies to me, by the way, and those were mighty thoughtful. I’ll have to do that, too, if I’m ever apologizin’ to someone and can’t see them first thing.”

Caroline: “You did nothing, Questor Adler, I was in a foul temper and mistakenly took it out on you.”

GM: Caroline notes the flicker of disapproval crossing Matheson’s impassive face.

Caroline: Caroline bites the inside of her split lip, half-expecting another ‘slap’. “That is to say, the fault was entirely mine, Questor Adler.”

GM: “Perhaps good things might come of it, Miss Malveaux, if it introduces you to my brother-in-blood on good terms,” Becky Lynne smiles, before returning her gaze to her sire.

“Please seat yourself, Questor Ader.”

A living man might motion to a chair.

“Miss Malveaux, you may heal your wounds.”

Caroline: Caroline’s lips move a fraction of an inch, but she closes her mouth, seemingly biting back her comment before responding, “My thanks, Gerousiastis Matheson.”

GM: Becky Lynne assumes one of the room’s other seats. Matheson briefly explains the full nature of the situation with Caroline and how Becky Lynne will act as her au pair for the remainder of the night. He states that he will subject Caroline to an oral examination on Saturday at 4 AM, at which point he will decide what role she will serve in his trial.

Becky Lynne nods her head in understanding. “There might not be time to give her as thorough an education as you gave me, Gerousiastis, but I’ll do my best to do yours proud.”

“The two of you may strike further arrangements following my trial, should you wish. Such is of no present concern to me,” Matheson answers. “You may use the study and library for your purposes. Go now. You have little time to spare.”

Becky Lynne rises from her seat and inclines her head again. “Gerousiastis.”

Caroline: “My thanks for the instruction, Gerousiastis Matheson.”

She sinks to her knees again as she says so.

It’s clear that’s where he prefers her.


Friday night, 19 September 2015, PM

GM: Matheson gives the pair his leave to depart. Becky Lynne raises her head and exits the parlor with Caroline, leading her down one of the house’s portrait-lined hallways.

“Well, Miss Malveaux, I reckon we’ve got no time to waste,” she declares. “I’d thought to start us off with titles and terms of address, so we’re clear what to call one another. You can also heal up those boo-boos you’re sportin’, as my sire said.”

Caroline: “Of course, Questor Adler.”

Caroline doesn’t consciously react as bruises fade and split flesh knits, but the coiled tension in her shoulders shifts. Doesn’t fade outright as a more predatory poise slinks its way in, but certainly lessens.

“Whatever course is best.”

GM: “Beyond those subjects, well, there are certainly plenty other areas to cover. Are there any ones you’re particularly fixin’ to?”

Caroline: “General etiquette, social norms, and expectations would seem the most immediately applicable, Questor Adler. But no doubt someone with more experience and accomplishment within Kindred society has a better view on what may be essential.”

Though bruises and cuts fade, even her inhuman healing can’t hide the signs of violence. The black gown covered in rug fibers, the general disarray of her outfit. The blood quietly wiped across the side of the dress.

GM: “All righty then, we’ll start off with terms of address,” Becky Lynne nods as the two arrive at the house’s study, a bookshelf-filled room with several comfortable chairs and classical statues.

Becky Lynne assumes one of the seats and crosses her legs.

“Now then, the basic way to refer to any Kindred is their title, followed by their surname. For example, Prince Vidal, Primogen Hurst, or Sheriff Donovan.”

Caroline: Caroline waits to take a seat until indicated.

GM: Becky Lynne laughs lightly. “Oh, please take a seat, Miss Malveaux. Truthfully, you don’t need my permission to sit on down, I’m hardly as old as my sire.”

Caroline: Caroline takes a seat across from the elder Ventrue.

GM: “If someone happens to have more than one title, you use whichever one is most immediately applicable. For instance, someone from Uptown might address Pearl Chastain as Primogen Chastain, but someone who’s her tenant in the Lower Garden District might call her by Regent Chastain, when dealin’ with her in her capacity as regent. ‘City-wide’ titles like primogen, by the way, take precedent over ‘localized’ ones like regent, all other things bein’ equal.”

“If you’re talking to someone who has no title—and the honest truth is, most Kindred don’t—a simple ‘mister’ or ‘madam’ followed by their surname will do just fine. So will a plain ‘sir’ or ’ma’am’—if they’re older than you, that’s just bein’ polite even in mortal society, after all.”

“‘Miss’ also deserves some special mention. Used to address female neonates, it’s just fine, so long as they still look fairly young too. For anyone older, it’s just bein’ rude and pickin’ fly droppin’s out of pepper.”

Caroline: “What if I am uncertain as to someone’s titles?” she asks.

GM: “Luck’s on your side there, since as I said, as most Kindred don’t hold formal titles in the Camarilla. There are a bushel and ten pounds more in the clans and covenants, of course, but outsiders usually aren’t expected to know those.”

“Some will actually take offense—it’s a no-no for anyone but a Ventrue to refer to me as Questor Adler, for instance, as we like to keep our business to ourselves. And lord help the poor Kindred who does that around a Tremere!”

Caroline: “I confess, that’s another distinction I’m unclear on. While I understand that there are a number of clans, the distinctions between them are somewhat unclear.”

GM: The look across Becky Lynne’s face can only be described as pity.

Caroline: Caroline clenches her jaw. It hurts more than the slap.

GM: “All right them, Miss Malveaux, if there’s any place to be honest, it’s right here. Better you say you don’t know somethin’ here than in front of the harpies at Elysium. How much would you say you understand about clans already, or would it be better if I started from the beginnin’?”

Caroline: “Very little outside of generalities, and even then of a limited nature.”

She bites her lip, and if she could flush with shame, she would.

“That the Toreador are focused on arts of various kinds, the Nosferatu deal heavily in information, that Ventrue tend towards leadership and are more… selective in feeding habits.”

GM: “Yes, that is the right of it,” Becky Lynne nods. “You could think of them as extended families, nationalities or ethnicities, cultures in their own right, and in some cases, fraternities and political parties, all rolled into one.”

Caroline: Caroline nods.

“Of others, like the Tremere, virtually nothing,” she admits.

GM: “All right then, I reckon I should start from the beginnin’, as the clans go almost as far back. Our story begins with God, as you might expect. The good lord cursed Caine with vampirism for the murder of his brother Abel.”

“Caine discovered he could make others like he was through the Embrace. He created childer, who made childer of their own. There were only three generations of Kindred, in the start—before the Great Flood.”

Caroline: “The Biblical Flood? Noah’s flood?”

GM: “The very one,” Becky Lynne nods. “But the world grew wicked and sinful, as the Bible says, and Caine and his descendants certainly played no small part in that. So God called down the Great Flood in punishment, and after the floodwaters receded, Caine vanished and the Second Generation was destroyed—some accounts say at Caine’s hands for their role in causing the Flood. The surviving Third Generation became known as Antediluvians. That literally means ‘before the flood’ in Latin.”

Becky Lynne pauses in the narrative.

“Are you familiar with what generation is, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: “Presumably one’s distance from Caine?” Caroline fills in from context.

GM: “Yes, though it’s more than that. With each step away from Caine—each generation of Kindred—we get a lil’ bit weaker, a lil’ bit closer to mortal. Lord knows what state the world would be in if we were all like Caine!”

“The Third Generation are the founders of the clans—we’ll get to that in a bit—the fourth and fifth are figures out of legend, the sixth through eighth are our still-unlivin’ elders, the ninth and tenth are ancillae, and the eleventh through thirteenth are neonates.”

“This isn’t exact, of course, just a general picture. An eleventh-generation Kindred who fought in the War Between the States and rules a large domain as regent isn’t a neonate, though he’ll likely be a mite bit embarrassed to be as far removed from Caine as he is—and it’d have been a mark against him when the prince was decidin’ who to award that regency to. Likewise, the eighth-generation childe of a prince who goes around callin’ herself an elder is getting more than a bit big for her britches if she was Embraced only last year.”

Caroline: “It’s more a function of potential, then?” Caroline asks.

GM: “Potential,” Becky Lynne nods. “That is the right of it. Your blood will thicken with age, Miss Malveaux, and your powers will increase with it. But at a certain point—your generation—it’ll stop. That’s why not many princes, at least of the bigger cities, are more than eight steps removed from Caine. The closer a Kindred is to the Dark Father, the purer their blood is, and the prouder of it they have a right to be.”

Caroline: Caroline nods, committing it to memory.

“What happens past thirteen?” she asks.

GM: “Oh, that’s… that’s not something that’s talked about in polite company, Miss Malveaux, so you know.” Becky Lynne sounds as if Caroline were asking her about the particulars of crack addiction.

“We don’t Embrace past the thirteenth. That’s simply not to be done.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip and nods.

“I’m glad that I brought it up here then, vice elsewhere. But I’m sorry, I’ve been jumping all over in topics.”

GM: The other Ventrue smiles. “I suppose one way we could think of it is paintin’ a portrait. The first few strokes might look a mess, but it’ll all come together.”

Caroline: “All the same, the original topic was clans, unless I miss my mark.”

GM: Becky Lynne nods. “Oh, one more thing about generation first.”

She leans slightly closer to Caroline and adds with an almost conspiratorial whisper, “Never ask someone her generation, Miss Malveaux. It’s like askin’ a woman her age or weight—frightfully rude.”

Caroline: Caroline cracks, but only cracks, a smile.

“Then why do Ventrue recite their lineage to each other? Isn’t it essentially the same thing?”

GM: “Lineages are usually recited between peers or juniors to their elders—for instance, I imagine you rattled off yours to my sire, but he didn’t to you.”

“The context is also different. When you recite your lineage, you’re givin’ an account of your ancestors, some of whose names might be known for great deeds, and showin’ where you fit in the line of Caine and our own extended family. There’s no shame in that! But just asking somone their generation, by itself, that’s terribly rude.”


Caroline: Caroline nods. “With Gerousiastis Matheson it’s apparent, though. How does it work between two Ventrue where it is unclear what their social position is with regard to each other? Or is that simply a matter that should almost never happen given a proper education?”

GM: “The latter, truth be told—but if by some chance you honestly aren’t sure, I find it’s better to err towards respectful. If someone’s too polite to you, after all, they can just smile and say ‘oh, there’s no need for all that.’ But lord help the neonate who’s rude to an elder by accident!”

Caroline: Caroline knows nothing about what might happen in that case.

“Does every clan have a specific trait, specialty, or matter to distinguish them from each other on a more…. physical level? As with the Ventrue… selectiveness?”

GM: Becky Lynne nods. “History and culture are arguably the biggest things that distinguish the clans, but talking pure ‘genetics’—yes, each clan has three disciplines that instinctively come to them, without the need to be taught. Every clan but ours also suffers from a curse, handed down long ago by Caine, and passed down the generations.”

“Some are physical, like the Nosferatu’s, as you say. Others are psychological, or psychophysiological. Brujah can get mad enough to kick in stained glass windows if they’re bishops, while the Malkavians are all crazy as betsy bugs.”

Caroline: “Brujah, Malkavians, Tremere, Nosferatu, Ventrue, Toreador. Who am I missing?”

GM: “Also the Gangrel,” Becky Lynne answers. “Have you met any in New Orleans yet? Hound Agnello puts a rather charmin’ face to them.”

Caroline: “Only Hound Agnello, that I know of. Though I don’t exactly go around asking other Kindred their clan.”

GM: Caroline’s clanmate nods. “That isn’t quite impolite on the level of generation, but it’s rather like asking someone if they’re Italian or German. Not offensive, but rather funny to ask.”

Caroline: “In truth, I haven’t asked other Kindred much of anything. I’ve been… somewhat reluctant to entreat with very many, given the circumstances.”

GM: Becky Lynne’s smile brightens. “That’s fortunate for us you’re here tonight, then. Once Gerousiastis Matheson finished my initial education, it was a whole new world to finally explore.”

Caroline: “I can only imagine that education must have been somewhat more stringent than this more informal question and answer.”

GM: Becky Lynne nods. “It was, admittedly. But as my as my mama liked to say, we don’t pick what ingredients are in the pantry when company arrives, just what dinner we serve up.”

Caroline: “What about Caintiff? How do they fit in?”

GM: “Do you mean Caitiff there, Miss Malveaux? At any rate, the clanlesss are… they’re not a subject for polite company either, let’s just say. You should keep your distance from them. Keepin’ company with Caitiff would reflect on you very badly among our clan.”

“All of the clans have their own history, worth, and honor, since we can all trace our bloodlines back to Grandfather Caine, but the Caitiff exist outside of that all. You might think of them as the untouchables from India’s caste system.”

“‘Caitiff’ is a real word, you know, not that it sees much use nowadays. But it means someone who’s a yeller coward. Or otherwise base and despised.”

Caroline: “Clanless. By Embrace, rather than choice, I gather.”

GM: “That’s right. Clan is somethin’ you’re simply born into, can’t change it any more than who your parents were. Or, I should well say, Embraced into.”

Caroline: “Can we talk about what makes each clan distinctive?”

GM: “Certainly. I’m most acquainted with our own, as I’m sure you can imagine, but where would you like to start?”

Caroline: “As I said, I’m most familiar with the Toreador and Nosferatu—familiar as a relative term of course. What about the others, in order, beginning with Brujah?”

GM: “Well, let me see,” Becky Lynne says, tapping her chin in thoughtful emphasis. She’s quiet for a moment, then gives a light laugh.

“I’m sorry, Miss Malveaux, I’m afraid this is awful hard, in some ways. Or at least a tricky creative exercise. It’s rather like tryin’ to explain what Chinese people or Italian people are, to someone who isn’t familiar. There’s just so much to cover!”

“Brujah are the Learned Clan, or at least they used to be. In old times, they were a clan of philosopher-kings and warrior-poets, and in fact peers to our own. These nights, well, they’re seen as punks, thugs, rabble-rousers, and ne’er-do-wells of all stripes. Quite a few are Anarchs.”

“The thing that defines them, really, that’s their passion. Brujah and causes go together like eggs and grits. They’re never happy to accept things as they are. Always, they can be better. For a lot of rabble—that’s their nickname—it means they can be fixin’ to tear down more often than build up.”

“They’re also close to the Beast. So much as look at a Brujah wrong, and why, they’ll throw a hissy fit with the tail still on it. They’ll frenzy at the drop of a pin, if they’re good and riled up.”

Caroline: “Anarchs,” Caroline comments. “I’ve heard the word, and even fought with some that claimed the title, but I don’t really have a good idea of what exactly they are, other than particularly riled up at the moment.”

GM: “Well, I’m not sure how many of them do either, truth be told. They’ll talk your ear off about everythin’ wrong with the Camarilla, and how our clan runs things, but not too many have viable alternatives of their own to float back.”

“Most of them, that is. They do in fact have two elders on the Cabildo, Primogen Opal and Primogen Duquette. Not all Brujah are Anarchs, either. Hound Wright is one of the sheriff’s deputies on the Guard de Ville.”

Caroline: “They’re the leftist college kids of Kindred society,” Caroline offers. “As a whole, not specifically of course, I wouldn’t speak ill of their elders.”

GM: “Of course,” Becky Lynne smiles. “Although hoodlums and gang members might be a more on-point example than college students.”

Caroline: “I’m sorry, it was just the comment about having plenty of ideas about what was wrong, without any ideas as to how to fix them, that set me in that direction.”

GM: “Yes, I can see. Colleges aren’t an unpopular place for older Brujah either, now that you make me think. The ones with more intellectual sensibilities, who’ve got brains and experience to back up their passion for change can be… well, a storm to just listen to.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “What about the Tremere?”

GM: “The Tremere are wizards. Magicians, like Simon Magus. Magic runs in their blood, but not the Biblical miracles like the Sanctified perform. The Tremere’s variety of magic is… darker, you might say. I don’t know that God would approve of what they do. They have a sinister reputation.”

“They’re the smallest clan, and insular enough to make us look downright social. They supposedly all sleep together in the same haven—that’s just one of their strange ways. If you pick a fight with one of them, you pick a fight with them all.”

Caroline: Magicians. That word again.

“The Gangrel?” she prompts.

GM: “They’re the Beast Clan. The ones closest to nature. When you picture a vampire turnin’ into a bat or a wolf, that’s them. They keep to the wilderness, more than any of the other clans do. Most of them don’t enjoy gussin’ it up for Elysium, but they aren’t as hankerin’ to tear down the Camarilla as the Brujah either. For the most part, they want to go their own way.”

Caroline: “They can actually turn into animals?”

GM: “That they can. Bats, wolves, and lord only knows what others.”

Caroline: “And the Malkavians?”

GM: “Madder than a hatter, each one, but they know a frightfully great deal about the funniest things. Tryin’ to describe them all is rather hard.”

Caroline: “In what way?”

GM: “If you’ll pardon me for seemin’ oblique, Miss Malveaux, in what way do they what?”

Caroline: “I’m sorry, Questor Adler, their knowledge,” she clarifies.

GM: “Ah, well, they just seem to know things, that you wouldn’t expect them to ever know. But they don’t sell it for information, like the Nosferatu do. They’re more… I reckon you could say seers or oracles, than spies. Each and every one is crazier than a dog in a hubcap factory, as I’ve said. With some it’s plain as day, and for others it might be murky as a foggy night, but they don’t see the world like we do.”

“The clan has a habit of, well, their term for it is ‘pullin’ pranks.’ It’s less banana peels on the floor, though, and more rearrangin’ someone’s furniture while they sleep. I’m not sure why they do it, but ‘why’ is about as useful a question as a trapdoor on a canoe when it comes to the kooks.”

Caroline: Caroline stifles a laugh at the trapdoor comment. Her mirth seemingly carries over to their next topic.

“The Toreador? Artists?”

GM: Becky Lynne nods. “Artists, romantics, and pleasure-seekers of all stripes. In some ways, they’re the clan closest to how the kine see vampires… or at least, want to see them. They’re the beautiful ones, and the clan closest of us all to mortals. Except for maybe the Brujah.”

“Naysayers would tell you they’re shallow hedonists with the attention span of fruit flies, movin’ on from this artist or that vessel to whatever catches their fancy. And like all stereotypes, there’s some amount of truth to it. They’re the most accomplished clan after ours, I reckon, when it comes to politics and social graces. They tend to get caught up in the now, while we look towards the big picture.”

“Our clan might be the one with the most princes, but I’d bet my bottom dollar they’re the one with the most harpies.”

Caroline: “That leaves Nosferatu, I believe.”

GM: “I recall you sayin’ you knew a fair bit about them already, Miss Malveaux? In any case, I’m afraid we are getting just a bit off topic… Gerousiastis Matheson wants me to teach you etiquette, first and foremost, so that you can testify on his behalf when the trial rolls around.”

Caroline: “Yes. Again, my apologies. It seemed a baseline understanding would be essential to basic etiquette.”

GM: “Oh yes, it certainly is, we just don’t need to retread areas you’re already familiar with.” Becky Lynne smiles again. “So right now’s as good a moment as any for a pop quiz to see how you’re pickin’ things up. What is the proper form of address for a non-Ventrue to use with me and my sire?”

Caroline: Caroline frowns. “For Gerousiastis Matheson it would be whichever of his many other titles not associated with clan Ventrue was most important to the moment—I confess I’m uncertain as to what many are and their applicability. Perhaps earl? The same would be true, however, even from another Ventrue if they were in mixed company. For yourself, Lady Speaker, unless that too is a Ventrue title. Madam or miss, failing that, if you had no other titles.”

GM: Becky Lynne shakes her head. “All of Gerousiastis Matheson’s titles save whip emeritus are associated with either the Invictus or Clan Ventrue. Earls, barons, and so on are addressed by ‘lord’ rather than their specific title, as well. That’s true among kine, not just Kindred.”

Caroline: “Only an Invictus would use an Invictus title then, much like Ventrue with Ventrue titles?”

GM: “Yes, someone doesn’t remember me mentionin’ that,” Becky Lynne winks. “There was another bit I mentioned, too, so far as defaultin’ to ‘sir’ or ’ma’am’ if you want to sound respectful but aren’t sure what to call someone. It’s always better to default to what you know is safe than to risk makin’ a gaffe with a title you aren’t sure over.”

“So all that said, what is the proper term of address for a non-Invictus, non-Ventrue Kindred to use for me?”

Caroline: “’Ma’am’ or ‘miss’. More likely ‘miss’.”

GM: “You can only choose to call me one when you’re addressin’ me, Miss Malveaux,” Becky Lynne winks. “What do you want to go with? Unless you want to go with ‘miss ma’am’ or ’ma’am miss’, of course, but that’s crazier than a soup sandwich!”

Caroline: A faint smile. “I would go with ‘miss’.”

GM: Becky Lynne nods. “That’s right, I am still a neonate. Now, so far as titles, we can get into the tricky areas now that we’ve covered the basics. Why, to your estimation, is ‘miss’ a rude term of address to use for older female Kindred?”

Caroline: “It’s a discounting of her experience and power, often in favor of a superficial appearance from their, often much briefer, mortal life.”

GM: Becky Lynne nods approvingly. “That’s right, Miss Malveaux. It also implies their marital status is more important than their Requiem’s accomplishments, when of course the former is irrelevant now. ‘Mrs.’ is never used for that same reason. ‘Til death do you part’, after all.”

“You’d think ‘Ms.’, that is, ‘Ms.’ with a period rather than double-s would go over well, but not so much, as the elders tend to view it as a modern affection. So ‘madam’ it is, unless you’re dealin’ with someone clearly young enough—and young-lookin’ enough—to warrant a ‘miss’.”

Caroline: “Is Gerousiastis Matheson’s title in mixed company really ‘mister’?” Caroline asks, somewhat skeptically.

GM: “Gerousiastis Matheson holds no current titles in the Camarilla,” Becky Lynne nods. “That much said, here’s the tricky bit I mentioned… some clans and covenants consider it acceptable for outsiders to use their titles, even if they don’t expect it, while others view that sort of thing as a no-no.”

Caroline: “Such as our own.”

GM: “That’s right, Clan Ventrue keeps its business to itself. The Invictus and Lancea et Sanctum are more open. So someone who wanted to get on Gerousiastis Matheson’s good side would address him as Alder Secundus.”

“The Circle of the Crone and Ordo Dracul keep more to their own, as do the Tremere and of course our clan. The Toreador are just fine with other Kindred using their titles, while the other clans simply don’t have any at all.”

Caroline: “When in doubt, however, ‘mister’ and ‘madam’ are the safe bets.”

GM: “And if there’s no doubt someone doesn’t hold any titles,” Becky Lynne agrees.

Caroline: “What about the use of ‘you’? That seemed to offend Gerousiastis Matheson earlier.”

GM: “Addressin’ your elders as simply ‘you’ is rude, Miss Malveaux, even among mortal society. You don’t see too many folks calling kings and queens by just ‘you’, after all.”

Caroline: “Where is that line drawn, between elders and peers?”

GM: “Truth be told, that line isn’t always too clear. It’s a combination of age, generation, and any titles or accomplishments the Kindred in question has—that’s where knowin’ your neighbors helps. But if you’re not sure, being on the respectful side never hurts.”

Caroline: “And presumably ‘your’ is just as rude? For instance, ‘your hair’?”

GM: “Only so long as it’s not followed by their proper address. ‘Your hair, Lady Councilor’, for example.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. It’s not so very complex, in truth.

GM: “Now then, we won’t spend any time tonight on Invictus titles and styles of address, as we don’t have a whole lot—time, that is, certainly not titles to go through—and you aren’t expected to know those. You are expected to know the Lancea et Sanctum’s titles, but those are pretty easy, lucky us.”

“Fathers or mothers are simply addressed as ‘father’ or ‘mother’, followed by the surname. Likewise for deacons. If we had a bishop or archbishop, we’d refer to him or her as ‘Your Excellency’. We don’t, of course, so you’ll use that style of address about as much as a pogo stick in quicksand.”

Caroline: “Likewise as in, they are still mothers and fathers, or as in ’Deacon Surname?” Caroline clarifies.

GM: “Just ‘deacon’, followed by their surname. It’s gender-neutral. All Sanctified of priestly rank—that is, fathers and mothers and higher up—are known as the Anointed, but that’s not a specific title to address them by. Rather, it’s a name for a group.”

Caroline: “And those titles are expected to translate and be used even outside of the Sanctified?”

GM: “That’s right, Miss Malveaux. New Orleans is their house, so it’s their rules, so to speak. It’s traditional, at least in cities ruled by the First or Second Estate, to mandate the use of their titles and honorifics by Kindred of all covenants.”

Caroline: “I’m sorry, the Estates? Presumably the Sanctified and the Invictus?”

GM: “In reverse, Miss Malveaux. The First Estate is the Invictus. The Second Estate is the Sanctified. They’re technically nicknames, nothin’ official, but acceptable to use in polite company.”

Caroline: Caroline nods again. “Are there more?”

It’s a stupid question, but one better asked here than elsewhere.

GM: “It’s taken from the mortal French estate system. Somehow, though, calling the Anarchs by ‘the Third Estate’ never quite caught on,” Becky Lynne smiles. “And yes, there are plenty others. The covenants have been around for Lord only knows how long, after all. The Sanctified also go by the Church Eternal, the Church of Night, and the Judges, though that last one’s derogatory.”

Caroline: Caroline takes it all in, trying to assimilate the onslaught of knowledge.

GM: “A few more popular ones for the Invictus are the Conspiracy of Silence, the Ordo Equitum Solis—that literally means, ‘Empire of Night’, the Unconquered, and the Society.”

Caroline: “The Invictus are, essentially, the nobility, or the upper class?”

Another stupid question.

GM: Becky Lynne gives a light laugh. “I suppose that’s one way to put it, Miss Malveaux. Yes, we are the lords and ladies of the night, and in most cities we see to temporal governance of the Camarilla’s holdings. The Sanctified usually see to the spiritual welfare of a domain’s residents. New Orleans is somethin’ of an exception, since the Lancea et Sanctum is in charge here.”

Becky Lynne taps her chin. “Though I suppose calling us the upper class isn’t exactly the case. Lookin’ to mortal society again, the second estate wasn’t poor by any stretch. They simply had different responsibilities than the first estate.”

Caroline: “More formalized then. Structured?” Caroline asks, probing.

GM: “I’m sorry, Miss Malveaux, I’m not sure I understand your meaning?”

Caroline: “No, I was unclear, Questor Adler. I simply meant that the Invictus were, relative to others, more formalized and structured. I could not help but notice Gerousiastis Matheson’s many titles, for instance.”

GM: Becky Lynne gives another light laugh. “Yes, that’s one reason most neonates can thank their lucky stars we aren’t an Invictus city, or all Kindred would be expected to know and use those. At least in polite company, anyway.”

“The Lancea et Sanctum have a formal structure, as you say, and they have their share of titles too, though the fact their leaders here are lay members mean we don’t see as many as we might. But even if Prince Vidal was one of the Anointed, you’re right the Invictus has more titles and offices than all the other covenants put together.”

Becky Lynne smiles again. “What’s that quote Napoleon said? ‘Men are ruled by toys’?”

Caroline: “Now and always,” Caroline agrees.

GM: “Jokin’ around aside, though, our members all have very clear ideas of their roles in the covenant. Everyone knows their place.”

Caroline: Know your place. Caroline doesn’t think she’s ever explicitly used that phrase, but she’s certainly conveyed the meaning in the past many times.

It’s disquieting how it feels with the shoe on the other foot.

GM: “About half my sire’s titles are Ventrue ones, I should also add,” Becky Lynne continues. “You’ll be expected to learn all of those. We probably have the most out of all the clans.”

Caroline: Still, she can see how a ladder to climb, and knowing exactly how and where you stand is valuable and appealing to many.

“Of course,” Caroline agrees again, easily.

GM: “We’ll get to that in a just a bit, though. Backtrackin’ to what you said about the First and Second Estate, and how they relate to the upper class—well, that’s more a matter of clan. Kindred upper class, if you will, are our clan, the Toreador, and the Tremere if you’re feelin’ generous. The titled nobility are the Invictus, while the clergy are the Lancea et Sanctum. But just like many bishops and cardinals came from prominent noble families, Prince Vidal is also a Ventrue from a very old and distinguished bloodline.”

“And just to complicate things even more, you might say that here in New Orleans, we also live in the old Papal States—where the church were temporal as well as spiritual leaders.”

Caroline: Or post-Henry England? she thinks to herself wryly, smiling faintly.

Given the heavy Catholic borrowings, though, they probably are about as fond of the idea of the ‘Church’ of England as Uncle Orson.

It’s a lot to take in, but Caroline is fairly good at these broader concepts, and social structures as a whole. It’s just another layer of scaffolding on top of the existing at this point.

GM: “Now then, let’s finish up styles of address,” Becky Lynne remarks, pressing her palms together in emphasis.

Caroline: She has Caroline’s full attention.

GM: “Ghouls, for the most part, don’t have any. They can be referred to by their given or surnames, or even just a simple ‘you.’ Heralds of elder Kindred are referred to by a simple ‘mister’ or ‘madam’, followed by their surname. The one exception there is Prince Vidal’s herald—he’s referred to as Capitán Gaultierrez, his old rank in the Spanish Army.”

Caroline: “By that do you mean any Kindred that is your elder, or only actual elders, and does that rule apply even if the ghoul is quite young?” Caroline asks, thinking of Haley.

GM: “Good question. Yes, if the ghoul is still young, she can be a ‘miss.’ If she’s speakin’ with her domitor’s voice, and her domitor is your elder, then it’s a smart idea to err on the respectful side.”

Caroline: “Is it common to interact with the ghouls of another when they are not doing so?”

GM: “I’m afraid I don’t understand your question, Miss Malveaux? Talkin’ to other Kindred when their domitor’s not around is the whole point of heralds, after all.”

Caroline: “Yes, but what I mean is, wouldn’t that herald normally almost always be speaking with their domitor’s voice?”

GM: “That depends on their domitor, really. Some Kindred are fine with their heralds sayin’ just about anything—to a point, of course—while others don’t let their heralds make so much as a peep without their sayso.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “That makes sense.”

GM: “Now, last of all are the circumstances when it’s okay not to be so formal.”

“If an elder gives you leave to address them in a more… familiar voice, you should of course go along. Primogen Duquette for instance prefers Coco over her formal title, and Primogen Opal likes to go by Miss Opal, heaven knows why.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “Though you should still address them by their proper titles when referring to them in outside company?”

GM: Becky Lynne nods. “Outside Elysium and away from any elders, of course, neonates from other clans tend to be more informal. Usin’ only given names and the like. It’s not a crime, but Clan Ventrue strives to provide a model example at all times.”

Caroline: “Conduct yourself appropriately, in so many words?”

GM: “At all times, Miss Malveaux.” Becky Lynne offers another smile. “You never know what little birds might be listenin’.”

Caroline: It’s too true.

“What’s next, after forms of address?”

GM: “A proper Ventrue education, of course, would go on for much longer than this, both to fill your noggin with more learnin’ and to make sure what you have learned has sunk in there to stay. Of course, we don’t have ourselves that kind of time, I know I must be soundin’ like a broken record there.”

“What we can do,” Caroline’s slightly older clanmate continues with another tittering smile, “is have you take notes. That way we can be sure my whole mouthful did sink in, and let you reference it later.”

Caroline: “If you made materials available, I’d happily do so,” Caroline answers.

“And no, you, Questor Adler, don’t sound like that at all, rather, it sounds like someone mildly concerned that someone else has been, and might still be, running around undercutting a dignity and respect cultivated over thousands of years, and similarly interested in helping to set that individual up for success.”

“And I do intend on making good on your efforts, Questor Adler. Whatever mistakes I’ve made in the past, out of ignorance, I do not intend in repeating in the future.”

GM: “Why, hearin’ that makes me happy as a possum munchin’ on a sweet tater, Miss Malveaux,” Becky Lynne smiles widely, clearly pleased. “That’s very well-put of you!”

“That’s what it all really comes down to in the end, you know. Intentions. Recognizin’ the clan’s history and dignity. Any Ventrue who wants to do those proud can go far among us.”

Becky Lynne tugs a cord like the one in Matheson’s sitting room. The butler appears. She asks him to bring them some paper and pens, and thanks him after he’s done so. She then asks Caroline to write down as much as the younger Ventrue recall, a process that requires her to think very hard on Becky Lynne’s prior words. Matheson’s childe smiles that they can think of this as another examination, to see how much information Caroline has retained. Asking some repeat questions is unavoidable, but Becky Lynne childe eventually nods her satisfaction.

“All right, next of all… what do you want to cover first: offices and societies within our clan, how violence and use of disciplines is viewed by the Camarilla, or the trial’s legal procedures, such as those may be?”


Saturday night, 20 September 2015, AM

GM: It’s 5:20 AM when Caroline finally lays down her pencil. For all that Becky Lynne might say about this not even being close to a proper Ventrue fledgling’s education, Caroline’s mind feels crammed to bursting, and she has a small binder’s worth of handwritten notes.

“All right, Miss Malveaux,” Becky Lynne declares with a (needless) stretch of her arms, “sunup is in an hour, and that’s a good rule of thumb for how much time you want between your haven and you. Gerousiastis Matheson wishes me to convey that you’re welcome to stay the day, which would let us fit in another hour.”

Caroline: “I fear that doing so would be robbing Peter to pay Paul. After this evening it would be better if I had an opportunity to hunt before his interview tomorrow, and I have a few matters with my ghouls that need to be seen to. I had not anticipated matters going in this particular way tonight.” She bites her lip.

“I should also disclose, I have an appoint tomorrow night at 11 PM that I cannot reschedule or miss. Or at least that I believe can be rescheduled—I’ll look into the matter on the way back tonight.”

GM: Becky Lynne nods. “Gerousiastis Matheson will expect you by 9 PM tomorrow, though I’m afraid I can’t say for how long he’ll want to keep you. It’s goin’ to be a busy night, with the trial this very Sunday.”

Caroline: “Then I shall attend Gerousiastis Matheson as promptly as possible prior to 9 PM.”

Her head is still spinning from all the knowledge Becky Lynne has been feeding her, and she can feel her Beast’s angry stirring with all the blood she paid to knit her rent flesh.

GM: “Very good then, Miss Malveaux. I reckon I’ll see you tomorrow,” the other Ventrue smiles as she rises from her seat.

“You did very well tonight, by the way! I’m rootin’ for my sire to select you as his arbiter.”

Caroline: Somehow she doubts the elder is doing the same.


Saturday night, 20 September 2015, AM

Caroline: Caroline politely—using Becky Lynne’s new lessons—takes her leave from the mansion and its inhabitants, catching a ride with Autumn back to her ‘home’. She slides into the back-passenger seat rather than sit beside the oh so delicious smelling investigator for the ride, and rolls her window half down as well.

For a brief and fleeting moment that monster inside her was perfectly contented. No wounds, no hunger. It was brief and fleeting. Between the hunger building and the Beast’s anger over its assaults, she’s too aware of her tenuous grasp over it.

“So,” she says, once they’ve pulled away.

GM: Autumn doesn’t ask Caroline how the meeting went. She was listening to the whole thing, thanks to her mistress’ forethought.

“I feel like we’ve landed in a pit of snakes,” the ghoul answers.

She’s not smiling in the least.

Caroline: Caroline nods, an action Autumn can see in her rear view mirror.

“Did he alter my memories, that you could tell?”

GM: “Oh hell yes he did. He’s a headhunter. Everything Savoy says he is.”

Caroline: There’s a flash of anger, but not surprise.

“Fed on me?”

GM: Autumn shakes her head.

“He seemed like he was going to. But the other guy talked him out of it.”

Caroline: “The butler?”

GM: She shakes her head again.

“An elder like Matheson would probably, I don’t know, cut off his tongue for voicing an opinion. It had to have been another lick. The voices didn’t sound the same, anyway.”

Caroline: “I’ll need you to go through the recording today, trim down the parts that are most meaningful. And make a few copies.”

GM: “Listen, what’s on there—it’s big.”

Caroline: She grimaces. “I’m sorry, long night into a long day.”

GM: “The whole trial’s a sham. A setup.”

Caroline: “In what way?”

GM: Autumn grimaces, trying to keep her eyes on the road.

“I think you might wanna just listen to the recording yourself. I made a note at the part where things got… well, as they did. Jump back maybe a minute before that.”

“That was pretty smart, by the way. Keeping your phone on and having me listen over the other end.”

Caroline: “I’ve been known to have an idea on occasion.” A predatory smile.

GM: “Matheson’s as smart a bastard as any elder, but he doesn’t know anything about modern tech.”

Caroline: “It’s too bad he didn’t feed on me, though.”

GM: “Look, just… listen to what’s on my phone. You might reconsider.”

Caroline: “How long is it? The meaningful portion?”

GM: “Not that long. Maybe a couple minutes. After that it’s just hours with Becky Lynne.”

Caroline: Caroline frowns.

“When we get back to the house I’d like you to copy the recording before you play it for me. The meaningful portion.”

GM: “You think you might do something to destroy it?”

Caroline: “I think it doesn’t hurt to be careful.”

GM: “I didn’t hear Matheson give you any commands there. He did a bunch of other things to your mind, though. But you’re right, it doesn’t hurt to wait a few minutes.”

Caroline: “I’m not simply worrying about what he might have done to me,” Caroline responds tightly.

GM: “I’ll leave you alone with it,” Autumn says.

Caroline: “You’ve a lifesaver, Autumn,” Caroline murmurs.

GM: The ghoul’s eyes shine with adoration.

Caroline: She flashes a tight smile at the ghoul.

GM: “You know I’d do anything for you.”

Caroline: “I know, you already do everything.” There’s genuine affection in Caroline’s voice.

Only when the moment fades does she look down, dig out her phone, and send off a message to Jocelyn.

Meeting went fine. He wants to see me at 9PM tomorrow though.

GM: oh thats great! youll need to wrap at 11 tho

skyman is ok with you seeing matheson btw

Caroline: Is there any chance he could meet earlier, before Matheson?

GM: no way, i dont ask skyman to change plans

sorry

Caroline: Thought I’d ask. Matheson wants me to testify for him. Don’t want to step on Skyman’s toes there. Seems like it’s a big deal among movers and shakers.

GM: id volunteer to pass along, but you can tell skyman yourself tomorrow

or well maybe skymans

youll see tomorrow

Caroline: See you.

GM: you will!

xoxo

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip at the XOs, and sends only one word in response. Love. As she stares down at the screen though something eats at her, something Becky Lynne said.

…with the attention span of fruit flies, movin’ on from this artist or that vessel to whatever catches their fancy. And like all stereotypes, there’s some amount of truth to it.

It’s perhaps telling that those words haunt her the rest of the drive back more than anything else on the night.


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