Campaign of the Month: October 2017

Blood & Bourbon

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Story Six, Caroline V

“I’ll figure something out. I always do.”
Caroline Malveaux

Friday night, 18 September 2015, AM

GM: The Barbara Greenbaum House is a four- and six-story residential hall (one of the wings is raised over the others) with room for hundreds of students. Caroline’s Beast all but salivates at the thought of so many vessels lying helpless in their beds. She could drain the entire building at her leisure. She could gorge herself past all satiation.

“Okay, donating to his Patreon is a little much,” Jocelyn remarks as the two walk through the tree-lined, quad-facing courtyard. Caroline looks a few years old to be a campus-dwelling undergrad, but her equally unaging lover looks just the right age.

“I mean, autism, sure, I guess he really is too dumb to know he’s a stalker. Call it at some broken fingers you bandaged up. But he’s a seriously a…” Jocelyn trails off and then just says, “I can’t believe you’re actually giving him money. That Patreon page already got a ton of donations. God knows why.”

Caroline: “I don’t know,” Caroline replies lamely. “I felt bad, especially when the bit about his debt collector came out. I don’t want to be the reason some poor idiot autistic kid got beaten to death on campus.”

“I will say though that I don’t know how the hell he got into Tulane. I feel like he devalued my degree just breathing here.”

GM: Jocelyn hmphs. “He already got hundreds in donations though. Do you really need to make him rich? Hell, I might go back with Roxanne and take it off his hands. He shouldn’t hit payday getting arrested for stalking.”

Caroline: Caroline arches an eyebrow. “Get rich? Jocelyn, two hundred dollars doesn’t cover a single pair of shoes we bought today. It doesn’t cover half a pair. It is, however, just enough to buy him another week with that psychopath he owes money. And since he doesn’t have the use of one hand… it seemed like the least I could do.”

GM: “Yeah, but he’d already got like $1,000. It’s kinda the point we’re supposed to punish him for his sins.”

Caroline: “We did punish him,” Caroline observes. “We broke six of his fingers.”

GM: “Yeah, definitely. Absolutely. We did. I guess I’m just annoyed he didn’t get why any of it was happening.”

Caroline: “There are some people you just can’t reach.”

GM: “I’ve honestly never seen anything like it.” Jocelyn sits down on one of the wooden benches by the trees and looks up at Caroline. “You seem kinda… well, tense about it, though?”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip and seems to almost pace for a moment before taking a seat beside the Toreador. “I just… Jesus, Jocelyn, we tortured someone. Like… tortured.”

GM: Jocelyn takes her hand and says earnestly, “I’ll get us someone horrible next. Really. Like a rapist or pedophile. Who hasn’t been convicted. Someone like that deserves to get punished, don’t they?”

Caroline: Caroline squirms.

“Yes,” she admits after a moment.

GM: “I mean, you’re a lawyer, you know that guilty people get off all the time, right? But God sees past that. We’re God’s wolves. Doing His will.”

Caroline: “So we’re supposed to enjoy inflicting pain on others?” she says, rather than truly asks. “Just get off on literally torturing people? Watching them suffer? That idiot might never have the use of his hand properly again, and while he’s a creep, we just shattered his life.”

There’s a passion behind her words, but also something hollow in it. Jocelyn isn’t fooled. She remembers the look on Caroline’s face early on. She did enjoy it.

GM: “Who’s the worst person you ever knew?” Jocelyn asks. “Not a lick, an ordinary breather.”

Caroline: The question catches her off-guard. “Like, knew well?” She pauses and there’s a flash of something across her face.

“Maybe my uncle Orson. Or my brother Westley. The family covered it up, but… he literally killed at least one person. Ruined god knows how many lies in his selfishness.”

GM: Jocelyn in turn looks a bit surprised. “I thought you were sad, over what happened to him?”

Caroline: Caroline looks hurt. “I can mourn my brother while admitting he did some terrible things.” She pauses, a faraway look in her eye. “I don’t think he ever meant to hurt people, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t.”

There’s a bite of her lip, a wipe of her eye before she lets something as casually Masquerade-breaking as a tear fall. “The last thing I said to him… he was on the phone. He was scared. Terrified. He asked me why this was happening to him.”

She falls silent as she relives the too-fresh memory.

GM: Jocelyn does too. “I’m sorry. It… sounds like he deserved better, whatever he did.”

Caroline: “The last thing I told him was that it was happening because he deserved it.” Caroline’s voice is very quiet.

GM: Jocelyn looks like she’s trying to think of something reassuring to say for a few moments. “I’m sorry.”

Caroline: Caroline similarly lapses into silence. She eventually leans into Jocelyn, laying her head on the Toreador’s slim shoulder.

GM: There’s the slightest growl from her Beast at the contact, but otherwise, the September night is warm and clear. Tulane’s still and familiar campus drowses around them. The gray-stoned School of Liberal Arts where she took some of her undergrad electives stands is right next to them, though she can’t recall ever visiting the vaguely church-like building at night before. She still remembers getting into arguments with West Coast-transfer liberals in Political Science 101. Professors all said how smart she was. They didn’t all agree with her views, but they all thought she was smart. The Catholic Center at Tulane University is just a little ways off from the liberal arts college. Even Uncle Orson approved of her decision to attend a real church with Father Edwards instead. The campus’ main library isn’t much further away. It’s still open—closing hours are 3:45 AM, a godsend to procrastinating students.

She’s walked the campus’ paths for close to half a decade. Rarely after dark, though. Not once since that fateful night at Decadence. The university’s grounds are at once alien and familiar, so like much of this new ‘life’.

Caroline: Does it all look different through her dead eyes, through eyes shadowed by the Beast’s hunger, or is it just the darkness? Perhaps she’ll never know. She never had much reason to stick around in the late hours of the evening. It’s like a whole new world to explore—and isn’t it? Crawling with blood-sucking monsters, sorcery behind closed doors, and grimly-resolved vampire hunters she never even dreamed existed.

She closes her eyes and leans against Jocelyn. Something within her quickens this close to the Toreador. Not her heart, that dead thing. But something. It’s comforting, however the Beast may growl at the gentle contact.

“He did deserve it,” she whispers at last. “If we weren’t related… if he wasn’t my brother… he’s exactly the sort you’d be encouraging me to hunt.”

GM: Jocelyn places her hand on top of Caroline’s and laces her fingers through the other vampire’s. “Look, don’t think any more bad things about him. You’re not gonna have to hunt your own brother. There’s a million other sinners, and probably way worse. Who’s the worst person you’ve ever seen or met and you didn’t know well?”

Caroline: Caroline thinks for a moment. “I don’t know.” She bites her lip. “No, I do. When I worked at Hailey, McNamara, Hall, Larmann & Papale I had a hand in some criminal cases. Lots of them were kind of average people that did something wrong, but there was this one scumbag, Kyle Banchman.”

“He was almost bragging about the things he’d done. About how the police never seemed to catch on. Girls he’d raped. Children he’d molested. I think he got off on talking about it to people. He talked about how he’d raped his little sister when she was seven.”

GM: “Jesus,” Jocelyn frowns. “You guys weren’t actually defending him, were you?”

Caroline: “The firm was. It was crazy, you’d think someone like that would be living in a basement somewhere, but he was actually really successful. You might have even seen an advertisement for his practice—he was a ophthalmologist. Used to talk about how he had the most advanced tech in the state.” Another bite on her lip that Jocelyn can’t see. “He got under my skin. Kept coming onto me.”

GM:Jesus,” Jocelyn repeats. “He couldn’t even leave his lawyers alone?”

Caroline: “Oh, I was just an intern to him. Another pretty face he was probably fantasizing about. Anyway… as I was saying, he really got under my skin. I… might have accidentally turned over some evidence to the police. Off the books. The firm didn’t prove anything, but I think that a couple people suspected that someone helped set him up. Honestly, I think most of them were secretly relieved.”

GM: “So he got put away in the end, because of you?” Jocelyn asks.

Caroline: “Then-Detective Rizaffi and the ADA put him away,” Caroline answers. “He did a lot of the actual work on it. I think the guy really set Marco off because he’s got daughters himself. I just pointed him in the right direction.” A hint of smile. “There was actually a time I felt guilty about that.”

GM: Jocelyn nods. “Good for you. Putting him away, that is. Not feeling guilty.”

Caroline: “He’ll be out in a few years. Well. Maybe four or five.”

GM: “That’s not too long.”

Caroline: “Rape has never been a popular sentencing item.”

GM: “It’s not. But okay, once he’s out… how much do you wanna bet that he’s not changed? That he’s gonna try and do it again?”

Caroline: “People don’t really change,” Caroline agrees. “Our perception might.”

GM: “Okay. Now what’s the worst thing you can think of God doing to someone in the Bible who deserved it?”

Caroline: Caroline again frowns. “Sodom and Gomorrah jump to mind. Lott’s wife. The killing of the firstborn in Egypt. Old Testament is pretty brutal. I was reading last night.”

GM: Jocelyn nods. “Jesus wasn’t around to save the kine yet. But it was God’s will, so that made it right, doesn’t it?”

Caroline: She’s a monster. She’s a killer. She’s responsible for the death of her brother. She’s dead herself. She’s tortured for fun and sucks the life from the living to maintain her own twisted existence. She’s beaten her best friend until her face was a ruined mess.

“It has to be,” she agrees. “Trust in God.” It makes her feel oddly better.

GM: Jocelyn nods again. “God does bad things to people who deserve it. People like Kyle Banchman. And us, Kindred, we’re not the good guys. We drink blood. We’re monsters. But why would God create us to be monsters, just because?”

“We’re part of His plan. We’re monsters—to the people who deserve it. To the people who aren’t ever gonna change, or who won’t get punished. Or who just need that push to turn back to God. That’s what we are, the fire and brimstone that burned Sodom and Gomorrah. The plague on the Egyptians.”

“God punishes people. That’s what we are.”

Caroline: Caroline nods into the Toreador’s shoulder. The words are so seductive. The whole ideology is. What else is she going to believe, that she’s here to make money or simply accumulate power? That there’s no meaning to all of this? She can’t believe that she’s just a killer. Just a sinner. Just a monster.

GM: Jocelyn runs a hand behind Caroline’s back and along her upper arm. Her Beast tenses, but just a little.

“So yeah, that autistic kid didn’t deserve to die or anything, and we didn’t kill him. But someone like Kyle Banchman… the law’s not gonna punish him, not like he deserves. But God will.”

Caroline: Can she be God’s punishment without losing herself entirely? Can she walk the line? Only time will tell. For now Jocelyn’s words are so comforting. So easy. And the Toreador has done so much for her. She can feel the tension leaving her body, her shoulders. that dagger between her shoulder blades slipping out.

Has she ever really been in love? It’s hard to be sure. Certainly she’s been in relationships. She’s enjoyed relationships. But has she ever needed someone? She takes the Toreador’s hand in her own. They’re out in public and the night has been a wreck so far. Starting with the fire and the frenzy during the day and continuing with that awful little creep. She can’t do what she really wants. Won’t do it. She promised Jocelyn a special night, and they’ll have one in the not too distant future.

But she wants to do something. Just a touch. Just a taste. She remembers how good it feels to have Jocelyn’s teeth break her skin, the soft pull. The kiss. She pulls the Toreador’s hand up to where her head still rests on her shoulder. To those too-sharp teeth near her mouth. Just a little prick on the pad of her thumb. A little taste. Something to let her know how much she cares. How much she means. How much she trusts.

GM: Caroline’s fangs brush, then push against Jocelyn’s skin—and sink through air. She hasn’t moved from her position on the bench, or even dislodged Caroline’s head, but her arm isn’t there anymore. It’s resting against the top of the bench. A frown flickers across her face for a moment, but her voice is soft as she rubs Caroline’s shoulder and entreats, “Hey. We want to have a special night first, remember?”

Caroline: “I just want you to know what you mean to me,” Caroline replies softly.

GM: “I know,” Jocelyn answers, giving her shoulder a firmer squeeze. “We just have to be careful… we can only do this one more time, without playing it safe. So let’s make it something really special.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip. “After Sunday. We’ve got time. And there won’t be so many secrets.”

GM: Jocelyn nods emphatically. “That’s right. You can meet Skyman on Saturday.”

Caroline: “I can’t wait.”

Friday night, 18 September 2015, AM

GM: Jocelyn drops off Caroline at her house. As they walk inside, she sees Donovan’s mimic sitting on her living room couch. He stares blankly ahead at the wall, not even occupying himself with a phone to fiddle on. His expression does not change as the two vampires enter.

Caroline: Caroline’s expression shifts from confusion and even excitement to concern and disappointment when she realizes it’s the mimic and not Donovan himself. She orients herself in front of the ghoul. “Is there something I can do for you?” She’s still not certain what the ghoul’s name is. Or if he even has one.

GM: The mimic picks up a closed, basket-sized plastic box next to him and extends it to Caroline. She can smell the coppery odor wafting from within.

Caroline: Dread builds within her as she reaches to take the box.

GM: She opens the box. It contains Jessica White’s severed head. The red-crusted mouth hangs open dumbly. Vacant eyes stare up at the Ventrue.

Caroline: The box hits the ground as Caroline recoils in horror, backing against the wall away from the mimic. Her breath comes in shallow, unnecessary gasps as she struggles to find words. The head bounces out when the box hits the ground, rolling across the hardwood floor to stare up at Caroline. Her eyes move between the head and the double.

GM: The jaw hangs open further, making the tongue loll out. The mimic’s eyes do not follow the head’s path as he blandly intones, “The New Orleans Police Department is the sole domain of Prince Vidal and those Kindred whom he grants express access.”

Caroline: Caroline is speechless for a moment. No warning. Not a demand. Not even a request. Just… murder. The casual murder of a sweet, innocent girl who never wanted to hurt anyone.

GM: “Sheriff Donovan among them,” the mimic continues.

Caroline: A dozen excuses and replies die on her tongue. They don’t care. The severed head makes that all-too clear.

What good would it do anyway? No words are going to bring Jessica back.

GM: “Your corvée to Regent Donovan for this week is quadrupled. Four healthy vessels or equivalent amounts of preserved blood are due by Sunday. Further attempts to establish an influence base within His Majesty’s domain will result in commensurately severer penalties.”

There is no passion behind the mimic’s words. They’re just a string of syllables coming out of his mouth, bereft of any meaning but that which Caroline chooses to attach to them.

Caroline: She numbly hears herself say, “I understand.” But there is nothing behind the words. She barely understands what the mimic says. Her mind retreats from it all just as her body retreats against the wall.

GM: The mimic rises from the couch and leaves the house with neither haste nor sloth nor backwards glance.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t even watch him go. Her eyes linger on the severed head sitting in her living room.

GM: Jocelyn stares after him, then back at Caroline. Then at the head.

Caroline: She breaks down into sobs once the mimic is gone and sinks against the wall. It’s a pitiful sound, bereft of bodily fluid and any true need for the air she still habitually gasps for. She looks up at Jocelyn. “She was…” There’s cough, a gasp. “Just a friend.” Another gasp. “Someone I…” she bites back the gasp, “talked to.”

There’s something ugly bubbling up under grief and shock.

GM: Jocelyn gingerly sits down next to Caroline. Her mouth opens once, as she looks between Caroline and the head, then closes. There’s shock on her face, too, and horror, but not like Caroline’s. Fainter, admixed with something else… something almost docile. She finally manages, “Why did…?”

Caroline: “I asked her… to look up…. the stalker.”

GM: “She…” Jocelyn’s eyes look confused as her brow furrows. Her eyes flicker between Caroline and the head. “Caroline, I don’t… I don’t understand.”

Caroline: She looks back at the Toreador in her own confusion.

GM: “She was… she was a cop?” Jocelyn asks.

Caroline: Caroline nods.

GM: Jocelyn look back at the head. “I’m… I can take care of it. If you don’t want to, because…”

Caroline: “I just…” Caroline starts to get control of her breathing. “I don’t understand. Why… why we have to be…. so terrible.”

GM: “I don’t know,” Jocelyn answers helplessly.

Caroline:THEY COULD HAVE JUST FUCKING TOLD ME!” she all but howls. "Jocelyn… " A pair of tears run down her face. “I didn’t… I didn’t even fucking know. And she… Jessica… she never did anything wrong. She was one of the nicest people…” She grinds her teeth. “She was good. She was innocent.”

GM: Jocelyn opens and closes her mouth again. She hasn’t reached out to touch Caroline. Not in the state the agitated vampire is in. “She… sounds like someone you’d want as a friend.”

Caroline: Grief is settling into anger behind Caroline’s eyes as her breathing becomes more regular. She says nothing to Jocelyn for a moment, then, quietly states, “No. Not anymore.”

GM: “Have wanted, I mean… I’m so sorry, Caroline.”

Caroline: “I’m just… so done with this.”

GM: “What do you mean?”

Caroline: “Just… getting everyone around me killed. Good people. Just taking it. Watching it happen. Getting kicked back down over and over again just when I start to get my feet under me.”

GM: Jocelyn searches for words. “You can learn. How all the rules work, so this won’t happen again.”

Caroline: “And how many more are going to die along the way? To say nothing of coming up with four fucking people!” she hisses. “Just… casually abduct a bunch of people.”

GM: Jocelyn gives a helpless shrug. “You could buy from a hospital. Or another lick’s herd.”

Caroline: Caroline tries to think on it, to puzzle it through. Three bags left from last time… she could get at least three more fairly…

Jessica’s dead eyes break her concentration. She looks away. “I’ll figure something out. I always do.”

GM: Jocelyn finally touches her arm. “You do. Really.”

Caroline: “It was supposed to be easier. After I caught him,” she murmurs.

GM: “The Requiem’s hard for everybody, I think. But at least you don’t have your sire hanging over you anymore.”

Caroline: It’s a small comfort, given his faceless nature for most of her Requiem, but she nods. “Will you take it?” She can’t quite say ‘her head’ or ’Jessica’s head’.

GM: Jocelyn nods. “I think it’s pretty hard to bury bodies in New Orleans, but… I’ll do something nice for it.”

Caroline: “Thank you.” Caroline wipes the blood from her face. “It’s probably better if you go. I don’t imagine that I’ll be very good company the rest of the night.”

GM: Jocelyn turns her back to Caroline, kneels by the head and pulls over the box. The Ventrue can’t quite make out her motions, but when Jocelyn rises with the container, there’s nothing left of Jessica except a few stains on the floor.

“You sure you don’t wanna just… unwind in front of a movie or something, when I’m back?” she offers. “Stewing alone doesn’t really sound like a good idea…”

Caroline: “Not tonight.” There’s a distant look in her eye as she looks at the blood stains, but it fades as she looks up at Jocelyn. “I promise, we’ll have our night. It’s not that far off. It’s one of those things that’s keeping me going. But tonight… I don’t want to drag you down. And I have work to do if I’m going to come up with my corvée.”

That last word is almost spat. There’s a bitterness that wasn’t there when she spoke of Donovan before.

GM: Jocelyn bites her lip. “Well, okay. You have my number if you need me.”

Caroline: Caroline forces herself to stand and lay a calm hand on Jocelyn. “I know. And I’m not trying to push you away. It’s just been a rough night. And I don’t want you to see me like this.”

GM: “Well, I have,” Jocelyn counters. “But okay, I understand if you just need some time.” A coppery aroma wafts from the box in her hands as she turns to leave.

Caroline: Caroline starts to watch her go, but the sight wrenches at her.

“Wait,” she calls out.

GM: Jocelyn stops and turns around.

Caroline: “Why don’t you come back with an album of your work? I’d love to see some of it. It’s just about the only thing I think could take my mind off this.”

GM: The Toreador looks taken aback by Caroline’s request, but far from unpleasantly so. She doesn’t smile under the present circumstances, but the ghost of one haunts her lips. “Oh, well… sure! Give me a little while.”

Caroline: Caroline’s own ghost greets her. It has no teeth, just a faint upturn at the corner of her mouth. “You know where to find me.”

GM: Jocelyn thinks for a moment. “You could also just come over. You haven’t seen my place.”

Caroline: “Are you ok with that?” she asks. “I figured most Kindred were pretty private about it.”

GM: “Well, I’ve seen yours. Along with the whole city, it looks like. No offense.”

Caroline: “None taken. Moving out is high on the priority list. I’m getting awfully tired of people just dropping in like… well… you saw.”

GM: Jocelyn glances around the living room. “Yeah, I bet. Offer stands, anyway. We’re gonna have to meet somewhere still.”

Caroline: “Is it far away?” Caroline asks.

GM: The Toreador shakes her head. “Not too far. It’s in the CBD. Maldonato’s my regent, remember?”

Caroline: “Makes sense,” Caroline nods. “Sorry, I’m just a bit jumpy about visiting other people’s havens. The last time someone invited me over it didn’t end very well for me.” She hurriedly adds, “But I trust you.”

GM: “Well, glad to hear. It goes both ways.”

Caroline: “Do you want to throw that,” she gestures to the box in Jocelyn’s hands, “in the trunk? I’ll meet you downstairs in a minute.”

GM: “Yeah. You actually read my mind there.” Jocelyn makes off with the box.

Caroline: Caroline does a quick round of the house to check in on Turner.

GM: Unusually, Turner is not in her bedroom, but lying fast asleep near the foot of the stairs to the second floor.

Caroline: Caroline nudges the mercenary.

GM: Turner does not stir.

Caroline:Wake up,” Caroline demands. The force of the Beast is behind her words this time.

GM: The sleeping ghoul, whose eyes Caroline cannot see past their closed lids, does not respond.

Caroline: Caroline tries to awaken the mercenary a couple more times, then goes to fetch a blanket and a pillow for her. She knows she can’t manage Turner back into a bed on her own.

GM: Caroline’s persistence eventually wins through. Turner’s eyes snap open as she grabs at the handgun lying next to her on the stairs.

She pauses, but does not relax as she sees Caroline.

Caroline: “Hey!” Caroline snaps. “It’s all right.”

GM: Turner’s eyes warily scan their surroundings.

“Intruders here,” she growls.

Caroline: “Don’t I know it,” she replies calmly. “It’s ok. They’re all gone now.”

GM: “Four people in white masks,” the mercenary states, brow furrowing. She’s clearly trying to recall details while they’re fresh. “Short, pale guy who looks like he’s had a lobotomy.”

Caroline: “With gray eyes,” Caroline confirms.

GM: “Threats?”

Caroline: “No.” She chews her lip. “Not today. Are you all right?” she asks.

GM: Turner grunts. “Couldn’t keep them out.”

Caroline: “You didn’t need to,” Caroline answers. “Not today. Are you all right?” she asks again.

GM: There’s another grunt. “Fine.”

Caroline: “I know I’m not going to convince you this is all fine. But it’s worked out today. I need to go. Go get something to eat. Catch some sleep. Take care of your business. Tomorrow we’ve got a lot to do, and I’ll need you for it.”

GM: The wounded mercenary gives a grudging nod.

Caroline: “Please don’t mention either group of intruders to anyone. Including Leaf.”

GM: “Don’t need to tell me that second half.”

Caroline: Caroline half laughs. “You need a top off?”

GM: The ghoul stares at her with the same plaintive hunger as Autumn, Aimee, and any crack fiend. “Yeah.”

Caroline: Caroline isn’t exactly thrilled to provide, but she does so for the loyal and battered ghoul. At least she can make someone happy tonight, if only for a moment.

GM: Turner visibly relishes the feeding. She doesn’t beg for more, but it’s as plain as day in her eyes.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t have it in her to give. She heads outside to meet Jocelyn.

GM: Jocelyn’s white Toyota Yaris waits outside. The trunk is closed and the plastic box missing. Her lover is in the driver’s seat.

Caroline: As Caroline slides into the cloth passenger seat, she decides the activities on ‘their’ night will inclue a visit to a car lot. She has little doubt she can get a car salesman to hang around late with the promise of a sale.

GM: Jocelyn pulls the vehicle Caroline finds so distasteful out of the driveway. “So I noticed you don’t seem to have a car?” she conversationally asks.

Caroline: Caroline scowls as she remembers her beautiful sports car.

“Cartwright and Pierpont McGinn,” she growls. “I’ll replace it as soon as I have the tools in place to make it a long-term investment.”

GM: “…huh, how’d you lose your car to them?”

Caroline: “Cartwright invited me to visit him to trade for information on my sire. On the way over several of McGinn’s neo-Nazi ghouls attacked me.” She bites her lip. “They… were not happy that I killed them. Among other things, they kept my car when they finally let me go. Junked it.” There’s a distant look in her eyes.

GM: Jocelyn bites her lip. “This might be a little soon, but… you can’t keep pissing off older licks like that. They’ll just keep hurting you.”

Caroline: “I didn’t fucking mean to!” Caroline protests. “No one told me that McGinn is super protective of his domain, or that I had to clear it with him to visit Cartwright when Cartwright invited me to do so. And then his ghouls attacked me. What was I supposed to do, stand there and let them carve me up?”

GM: Jocelyn bites her lip again as Johnson waves them through the gates to Audubon Place. “Okay, I wasn’t there for any of that, so I dunno how it went down. But… well, you probably figured it out, but they don’t care if you don’t know any better.”

Caroline: “Yeah.” The head in the trunk was just the latest lesson. “He was the worst though. I’ve never been so humiliated, or been in so much pain.” She bites her lip. “I just want to avoid him. Not cause any more trouble. Figure out what the rules are before I do anything else wrong.”

GM: Jocelyn looks reluctant for a moment, but then says, “Well… if you wanna do that, maybe you shouldn’t avoid him.”

Caroline: “Did you miss the part where Kelford revealed that he was plotting with my sire to abduct me and set me up so he could further bond me?” Caroline asks. “How is anything good going to come of interacting with him, when they already set me up once?”

GM: “It’s just that, there aren’t a lot of licks in New Orleans. I mean, there’s supposed to be a ton next to other cities, but it’s still a drop in the bucket next to the breathers. Everyone knows each other. McGinn shows up at Elysiums pretty often… and he’s probably gonna be there for the trial and your release.”

Caroline: “They set me up, Jocelyn. Stripped me naked. Made his ghoul whip me like I was a dog or a slave until there wasn’t any skin left on my back. Until I couldn’t even grow any back.” There’s cold rage there, but more shame.

GM: “Look, I’m sorry, but… that happens to a lot of us. Never seeing McGinn isn’t really an option, unless you wanna be a total hermit.”

Caroline: She digs her fingernails into the palms of her hands.

GM: “And if you’re a hermit it’s just… probably a matter of time until you piss someone off anyway.”

Caroline: “I didn’t say anything about never seeing him.” Her tone is again defensive. “I just… don’t really want to interact with him. Am I supposed to just walk up and make small talk with him like nothing happened? Like he literally wasn’t plotting with my sire to make me his slave just because he could?”

GM: “Well, you don’t have to walk up and say hi him or anything. But if he talks to you, yeah, the harpies would… do what they do best, if you gave him the cold shoulder.”

Caroline: “So I get to pretend everything is peachy,” Caroline spits. “No, one better, I get to defer to him in public.”

GM: “He’s way older than you and a regent,” Jocelyn answers. Her face flickers a moment. “I’m sorry, I really am. That’s just how it is.”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t argue. Nor does she smile. None if it is even surprising anymore. Horrifying. Frustrating. But not surprising.

GM: “Hey, I didn’t write the rules. I’m just trying to explain them so more of your friends don’t get killed.”

Caroline: “I know,” she replies. “And you’re not wrong. It’s just a bitter pill to swallow.”

GM: “How many Elysiums have you been to?” Jocelyn asks.

Caroline: “Two? Maybe three? I was on my way back to the one we were at together when… well.. you remember.”

GM: “Yeah. Well anyway, I dunno how many I’ve been to, besides way more. But maybe you should be less a hermit and just… hang out with more licks. Be less a stranger.”

Caroline: “How many Elysiums did you visit in your first eleven days?” Caroline asks.

GM: “I wasn’t like you, though. Sally spent a while explaining how it all worked before she took me out. But after I was ready, we went to a bunch.”

Caroline: “And so will I,” Caroline answers. “I don’t really think it’s fair to describe me as a hermit though.”

GM: “How many licks besides me did you talk to at that last Elysium?”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip. “Two? But I was going back to talk to more.”

GM: “Okay, how about at the one before that?”

Caroline: Another thought. “Maybe five?”

GM: “Okay, that’s a little better, did you stick around for when court got held at any? Or mass?”

Caroline: “No,” she admits. “I was going back to the last to do so when Eight-Nine-Six jumped me.”

GM: “And what about those monthly meetings or whatever your clan has, have you been to one of those?”

Caroline: “I reached out, but they want to ‘vet’ me through a ghoul first,” Caroline admits. “And it wasn’t a priority with everything else going on.”

GM: “Well, elders do that all the time. I’ve never even paid corvée to Maldonato, it’s always Congo.”

Caroline: “I just had other things I was worried about. Like my sire. Eight-Nine-Six…” She bites her lip. It’s a good excuse, as far as excuses go, but it’s still an excuse.

“I’m going to be more social. I didn’t want to step on toes though when I had no idea what I was doing.”

GM: “Actually, you know what—I mean… if you feel up for it, I get if you aren’t tonight, why don’t we just drop by Elysium. Or that ghoul you’re gonna meet with? Did they say when?”

Caroline: “Before midnight at Cullem’s Cuts, off Magazine Street,” Caroline replies, looking it up in her phone.

GM: “That isn’t too far. Magazine Street’s a nice area.”

Caroline: The Ventrue squirms. “If you really want,” she answers.

GM: “Well, it’s up to you. I think it’d be good for you at some point though.”

Caroline: “If we don’t do it now I’m going to keep putting it off,” Caroline admits. “But I do want to see your haven tonight, and some of your art.”

GM: Jocelyn nods. “The night’s long. I doubt you’re gonna be with him until sun-up.”

Caroline: “Better not,” Caroline agrees.

GM: Jocelyn turns the car south, heading towards St. Charles Avenue. “Okay, now just read me the directions…”

Friday night, 18 September 2015, AM

GM: It’s a fifteen minute drive from Audubon Place to Magazine Street. The six-mile-long stretch from Riverbed to the Lower Garden District features some of the priciest antique shops, art galleries, craft shops and boutiques to be found in New Orleans. Originally named for a “magazin,” a warehouse that was built in the late 1700s to house products awaiting export, Magazine Street today features a range of historic architecture—from the large columned Greek Revival style of the mid-19th century, to the colorful Victorian cottages trimmed in gingerbread millwork. This late at night, virtually all of the restaurants, stores, and coffee shops are closed, though the occasional bar remains open.

Caroline reads her phone’s directions to Jocelyn, who drops her off at a barber shop with the iconic revolving blue, red, and white pole. White lettering on the glass window reads, “Cullem’s Cuts—Barber Shop.” Jocelyn says to call her when she’s done and drives off. The Ventrue makes her way inside, the shop bell over the door chiming as she enters. The floor inside has a checkered black and white pattern. Seats with red leather upholstery sit in a row along the mirror, flaked by an old-fashioned Coca-Cola machine.

A man is sweeping up leftover hair near one of the chairs with a broom and dustbin. Caroline can sense the vitae running through his veins, even diluted as it is from a full Kindred’s. He looks in maybe his mid-60s and has a full head of silver hair. The eyes behind his rectangular-framed glasses are round like pale green marbles. His whiskers are thick but cropped short, and carefully waxed. He wears dark slacks up to his navel (though his flat stomach doesn’t have much fat), a blue and white vertically striped shirt, gold-tipped patent leather shoes, and a black porkpie hat. A silver rosary hangs around his neck. He mouths an unlit cigar and smells of tonic. Upon hearing Caroline enter the shop, he looks up from his sweeping and smiles at the Ventrue, a motion that crinkles the crow’s feet around his mouth and eyes.

“Good evening, miss. What’s your pleasure?”

Caroline: “With any luck, your company. And eventually perhaps that of Primogen Hurst,” Caroline responds amicably.

The shop brings back memories of her father, who for a time frequented a local barber as part of a public image campaign. Back when she was young enough to tag along with him. When he had the time to bring her along. They aren’t unpleasant memories.

GM: “I hope so, ma’am, on both counts,” the barber answers. His change in address is noticeable. He motions to one of the red leather seats in the waiting area, but doesn’t sit down himself. “Don’t think we’ve seen each other around before. I’m John McCullem, one of Primogen Hurst’s.”

He doesn’t move to shake or kiss her hand.

Caroline: Caroline slides too gracefully into the seat.

“Malveaux. Caroline Malveaux.”

GM: “Ah, the clan’s newest addition,” McCullem nods as he sits down after her. He sets down his porkpie hat. “I heard about your sire, Eiren Malveaux. Congratulations.”

Caroline: A look of uncertainty passes over her face at the title, but she says nothing of it.

“And here I thought only bad news traveled quickly.”

GM: The ghoul chuckles. “All news travels through barbers, eiren.”

Caroline: “I do suppose you get a lot of high-frequency clients,” she observes, recalling how her own body never changes. “A daily touch-up. There has to be something to discuss.”

GM: “The three most important people in anyone’s life are their butcher, their lover, and their barber. If they need their barber every day, it’s no contest.”

Caroline: “I feel as though I’ve probably heard that before,” Caroline chuckles.

GM: The old man’s eyes crinkle. “You’ve caught me red-handed, eiren. I saw it on the sign outside a competitor’s shop.”

Caroline: “That’s just good business, especially if you put him out of business,” Caroline observes. “It’s funny, they taught me all the way through undergraduate school that plagiarizing was awful, wrong, and despicable. Then in law school that it was our goal.”

GM: “Really?” McCullem asks, interested. “Actually taking someone else’s work to use in papers, or d’you mean in a more general sense?”

Caroline: “It depends on what you’re writing, and for whom, but at the very least you should usually be echoing someone who’s already won a case with the same argument—lifting work they did and key phrases, if not entire pages of work.”

GM: “Pads out the page count of any papers, I bet. Never went to college myself,” he then chuckles, “back in my day that was for a lot less people, but a barber hears it all. Or is page count less important when you’re in law school?”

Caroline: “Well, as with judges, it’s all about knowing your audience. There are entire websites set up to describing what a given instructor wants to hear, how he wants to hear it, and things to avoid.”

GM: “Oh, my. I suppose there’s just about everything on the internets these nights.” The ghoul doesn’t sound as if he’s trying to use the term humorously. He laughs. “Some of my Kindred customers, you know, say they have their own internets they can use. I wonder if they have any websites like that for their elders?”

Caroline: She makes no effort to point it out: Orson does the same thing.

“I’d imagine it’s possible, though the stricter handle on information in Kindred society makes me doubt it’s free.”

GM: “Well, old man like me isn’t the one to know. There’s limits to what even a barber can pick up.”

He taps his chin thoughtfully. “You say you’re a lawyer, though, eiren? That’d make you the first in the clan since Katrina.”

Caroline: “Well, hopefully soon to be,” Caroline replies. “I need to finish out one more semester at Tulane once I get a handle on… well,” she smiles, “All of this.”

GM: “I bet it’s been a pickle to swallow without a sire to explain things,” McCullem nods. “All the more for your clan, eiren. Kaintucks certainly have it easier.”

“Then again,” he adds more quietly, “they aren’t kings.”

Caroline: Caroline’s eyebrows come together for a moment. They relax, along with some of the tension in her shoulders.

“I confess, it’s been challenging trying to steer a course. On the other hand, one thing that’s remained constant from kine to Kindred society is that few are interested in excuses or sob stories.”

GM: “Well, eiren, you know how the saying goes. More things change, more they stay the same. There’s a lot of young blue bloods who don’t find the Requiem too different from their mortal life once they’re all settled in.”

Caroline: “I can hope that is the case,” Caroline replies evenly. The title is like a mosquito bite that she refuses to scratch. “But I suspect time will tell.”

GM: “Eiren’s the first rank in your clan, eiren,” the ghoul explains. “Comes from ancient Sparta. Where it means a youth who’s a leader among the other nobles’ youths.”

Caroline: Caroline has a brief image of a whole new list of vocabulary words, but she forces it away.

“Thank you,” she replies. “I’m not… I’m still adjusting to not knowing all the angles before I step into a room.”

GM: “There’s plenty others, too.” There’ a faint chuckle. “Your clan loves its ranks and titles. Awards, too. Loves ‘em. I can go over a few, if you’re not yet familiar.”

Caroline: “I cannot imagine that it would be typical or polite to impose on you in that way.”

GM: The old man laughs. “I’m the primogen’s ghoul, aren’t I? Got to have something his clanmates can use me for besides haircuts.”

Caroline: “I’ve heard that you have plenty more on your plate than haircuts.”

GM: The ghoul nods, gumming his unlit cigar. “That trial’s on everyone’s. Out of my hands how that’ll play out, but Prince Vidal will do what’s best.”

Caroline: “I actually meant with regard to simpler matters, more proximate to us, like vetting unknown neonates.”

GM: McCullem smiles. “Not so unknown now, Eiren Malveaux.”

Caroline: “Simply unknowing.” There’s a hint of a smile, but it’s forced in front of her next statement, “I don’t actually know what being a Ventrue should mean to me, in relation to… well, you, and Primogen Hurst, and others.”

GM: The smile on the ghoul’s face subsides, becoming very serious. He gums the cigar some more as he seems to think on his next words.

“Well, Eiren Malveaux, how to sum this up… it means you are part of a very important, very exclusive, and very noble extended family. Your blood’s bluer than the Queen of England’s, the kaiser’s, and every Louis in France put together. Your clan’s leadership over the other twelve—and their responsibilities—goes as far back as Noah and Moses.”

Caroline: Caroline listens.

GM: “Prince Vidal is of your clan. Most other princes are too. Grandfather Caine charged you with overseeing the other twelve. You’re the central pillar of the Camarilla. Keepers of the Masquerade. Lords. Royals. Kings.”

The ghoul bows his head. “It shouldn’t be me who explains your full legacy, eiren. Dollars to donuts, I’ll bet you I won’t—I’m just a ghoul. Your clan built the Camarilla. Our society exists because of you.”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t really know what to say to the ghoul’s sheer pride and admiration. She lets his words wash over her. Some of the ones he uses are familiar. Others are not. Some are only familiar without true understanding, the product of brief and muddied explanations by Lou or Autumn. Still, it’s not hard to gather the broader meaning.

“The prince is a Ventrue?” she asks. Not so much surprised as intrigued. “Does that mean that the seneschal is as well?”

GM: McCullem shakes his head. “No one’s sure what clan Seneschal Maldonato is, eiren. Well, the prince knows, I’m sure, but he’s not telling. Prince Vidal is of your clan, and from one of its noblest lines.”

Caroline: Caroline frowns. “If you’re not worthy to speak to full legacy of the clan, can you speak to the state of it, and of relations within it?”

GM: “I’ll do my best, Eiren Malveaux,” McCullem nodds. “What can I clear up?”

Caroline: “You’ve spoken of history, and mentioned titles. Presumably there’s a hierarchy, and obligations that go along with that.”

GM: The ghoul nods again. “Sure is, Eiren Malveaux. Eiren’s the junior-most title, and doesn’t have too many responsibilities.”

“Above ‘em are questors. Mostly young Ventrue still who’ve been recognized for good service to the clan.”

“Over ’em, you have the aediles. Ventrue who supervise the younger ones and keep things running smoothly night-to-night.”

“The local clan’s run by the Gerousia, a council of elders chaired by a praetor. He’s usually also the prince.”

“There’s a hierarchy above that, but most clanmates won’t ever interact with it. We’re just honored to have a praetor who’s also a strategos. Which means all the Gerousia from Charleston to El Paso report to our city’s own prince.”

Caroline: It faintly reminds Caroline of the mob structures she’s studied in the past.

“Fewest responsibilities. But presumably responsibilities still.”

GM: "McCullem nods. “I remember back when my domitor and Questor Adler were eirens. Mainly showing up for the monthly meetings and keeping their noses clean.”

Caroline: A nod. “And what goes on at the meetings?” she asks.

GM: “What doesn’t?” the ghoul chuckles. “Most any business that matters to the clan, really. Could be the Gerousia arbitrating disputes, sorting out what domain’s available to who, financing other blue bloods’ projects, recognizing clanmates for achievements… they talk about anything they think is worth talking about.”

Caroline: “What do I do next?”

GM: McCullem looks slightly confused. “I’m sorry, eiren?”

Caroline: “I’m sorry, what I mean is, now that I’ve met with you, what is the next step for me, with regard to fulfilling my duties and responsibilities? Is there someone I should speak to?”

GM: “Ah, well, there’s also your agoge, and test, eiren.” McCullem gums his unlit cigar again. “But truth is, I’m not sure how your next step’ll go. I haven’t ever seen a Ventrue without a sire before.” He bows his head. “If you’ll pardon my bluntness.”

Caroline: “There’s little point in dancing around the subject,” Caroline agrees politely. “What’s agoge, and the test? Presumably education or training of some kind, given the origins of the word.”

GM: McCullem nods again. “It also takes a leaf from the Spartans. Normally, sires take a while to train their childer in the clan’s whole history, customs, and jobs in the Camarilla. That can take years, sometimes. The agoge starts when a neonate’s released by the prince.” The ghoul smiles. “The other clans are faster about it. Yours likes to make sure they’ll get things right.”

“The agoge’s over once a neonate finishes their test—setting up a domain or doing some service that makes the clan stronger. That’s when they’re finally accepted into the club for real.” McCullem chuckles. “Truth is, I shouldn’t really be calling you eiren yet, eiren. Haven’t seen a blue blood in a place like yours before, though.”

Caroline: “So, wait and see for now? Don’t call you, you’ll call me?” There’s a hint of a smile, but only a hint.

GM: McCullem chuckles again. “Well, I don’t know what the Gerousia will want in your case, but I know they like initiative. You could have a sit-down with the aedile, Father Malveaux. Relative of yours, isn’t he?” the ghoul asks conversationally, gumming his cigar. “Won’t be the aedile for too much longer, likely. There’ll be an opening on the Gerousia when the trial’s over, one way or another.”

Caroline: “Oh?” Caroline asks.

GM: “Gerousiastis Smith is facing some pretty serious charges. Breaking the Masquerade with that bomb in Slidell. Need to pull to pull a rabbit out of his hat to duck those—terrible shame. This is all coming out in public before the other clans, too. It’s not a good look.” The ghoul looks serious. “Or a good example for young blue bloods like you. Always show a united front, eiren. Keep disagreements in-house.”

Caroline: Caroline’s stomach does a barrel-roll. It seems all of her favorite people are coming up tonight.

“How many gerousiastis are there in the city?” she asks.

GM: “Gerousiastes,” McCullem corrects. “That’s the plural. Gerousiastis is when you’re talking about just one. But for now it’s His Majesty, who’s also the praetor and strategos. Then there’s Gerousiastis Matheson, Gerousiastis Smith, Gerousiastis Guilbeau, and Gerousiastis McGinn. Though I’ll bet my whiskers that’s going to change, come the trial.”

Caroline: And push McGinn further up. The thought is not a pleasant one as it skips across her mind. It’s been a fairly miserable night all around.

“I’ve kept you late already, is there anything else I should know right now?”

GM: “It’s always late hours for us, eiren,” the ghoul winks.

Caroline: “That it is. Should I leave you contact information?”

GM: McCullem inclines his silver-haired head. “If you think it best, eiren. That said, I’m a questor’s ghoul, not the aedile’s. He’s the Kindred to meet, if you want to sort out what’s what with your test and agoge. I can also set up a meeting with my domitor, Questor Hurst, if you have any business you’d like to chat over with him.”

Caroline: “It sounds as though there’s little to do until Sunday, and until I speak with the aedile, but I’ll leave my phone number so you—or he—can reach me at your convenience should something change or be decided.”

GM: He nods. “All right then, eiren. Oh, two more things. Clan Ventrue doesn’t discuss its business outside the clan. It simply isn’t done.”

Caroline: “I don’t know what business I’d have to discuss,” Caroline replies mildly.

GM: “A good bit, if I can beg your pardon, eiren. Things like who’s shaping up to be on the Gerousia after the trial. What an agoge and test are. The clan keeps to its own affairs.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip. “Ah, even those details.”

GM: “Clan Ventrue’s business is Clan Ventrue’s business,” McCullem repeats, nodding. He gums his cigar. “In fact, if I had to guess, was it another Kindred who referred you to Questor Hurst, eiren?”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “Though they weren’t certain.”

GM: McCullem nods in seeming satisfaction. “Mm-hmm. Well, eiren, your primogen mostly functions as a point of contact to the other clans. It’s the Gerousia that runs things from the inside. But that’s good they weren’t sure.”

Caroline: “And the second matter?”

GM: McCullem nods again. “Ah, that. Gerousiastis Matheson would be pleased to make the acquaintance of a promising young neonate like yourself, eiren. If you’re amenable, it’d be his privilege to receive you at his house sometime soon.”

Caroline: Caroline tries to keep her first thought from her face and deflects.

“I’d heard he lived outside the city.”

GM: “He has, eiren. For a pretty long time. He’s returned on account of the trial, and staying in town as the prince’s guest.”

Caroline: Caroline isn’t really certain where to go with it. “Is there a particular time he’d like to receive me, or is it an open invitation?”

GM: “An open one, eiren, before the trial rolls around.”

Caroline: “Is that another matter I should keep private?” Caroline asks.

GM: The ghoul gums his cigar thoughtfully. “If you’ll pardon me answering your question with a question, eiren, have you heard why he’s in town for the trial?”

Caroline: Caroline nods slowly.

GM: McCullem does too. “There’s been lots of finger-pointing, but nothing’s been proven. Prince Vidal will clear up what’s what at the trial. Gerousiastis Matheson won’t soon forget any neonates who can personally testify as to his good character.”

Caroline: “Meaning that he’d actually prefer knowledge of such visits be public.”

GM: McCullem smiles. “You’ve a sharp mind, Eiren Malveaux.”

Caroline: “If I were to visit him,” Caroline lets the words drip off slowly, “Gerousiastis Matheson would be a proper form of address?”

GM: “You’ve a sharp mind, Eiren Malveaux,” the ghoul repeats with another smile.

Caroline: “And I’m certain that Gerousiastis Matheson’s invite was to me, specifically.” Her eyes give lie to those words.

GM: “He’ll be grateful to any neonates who can further establish his good character,” McCullem nods again.

Caroline: “Do you have the address for his home in the city?”

GM: The ghoul gums his cigar. “Elders tend to like scheduled visits more than drop-bys, eiren. I can get in touch with a ghoul of his to set up a date. Or give you the number, if you’d rather.”

Caroline: “The latter, I think, would be better,” Caroline answers.

GM: McCullem provides her with a phone number.

Caroline: “I couldn’t bear to stand him up, if something were to occur, and no doubt you’ve heard how chaotic my schedule has been of late.”

GM: The silver-haired ghoul chuckles. “Everyone’s a ship afloat in a sea of chaos these nights, eiren. But that’s awfully kind of you.”

Caroline: Caroline provides the ghoul with her own number. “Might I ask two more matters of you, if you’re willing to let me impose upon your already generous hospitality?”

GM: The crow’s-feet around McCullem’s eyes crinkle. “You’ve got to lose something to be generous, eiren, and I don’t reckon I’ve lost much at all. What might those matters be?”

Caroline: “Relate to Primogen Hurst my great appreciation for the information you’ve provided, including the invitation to visit such an honored elder. Along with my gratitude for the trouble, if he’ll relate to his sister my apologies for my rudeness two nights ago.”

GM: The ghoul inclines his silvery brow. “It’d be my privilege to, eiren. If I might also offer some unsolicited advice, and begging your pardon if it’s unwelcome, I’ve found apologies tend to go over best when you make them personally.”

Caroline: “Granted,” Caroline agrees. “But I’ve also found that wounds left to fester grow poisonous. Sometimes triage is the best option until you can provide real treatment.”

GM: Another incline of the ghoul’s head. “Of course, eiren. Questor Adler’s usually around at Elysium, too.”

Caroline: “Then perhaps I shall see her there before my words reach her,” Caroline admits. “In any case, thank you for your time.”

GM: “My pleasure, Eiren Malveux.” McCullem glances away from the waiting chairs towards the barbers’ ones and laughs. “Even if I’ve forgotten to offer you the complimentary trim!”

Caroline: “Perhaps next time,” she smiles.

GM: “It rolls around sooner or later, when you have forever,” the ghoul says with another smile that crinkles his eyes. “Good night, eiren.”

Caroline: “Good night.” Caroline rises too smoothly and pulls out her phone once she clears the door.

Friday night, 18 September 2015, AM

Caroline: “It was interesting.” Caroline shifts her long legs in the tiny car. “Speaking of, you’ll never guess who I was invited to visit.”

GM: “Oh yeah, who was that?” Jocelyn asks as the vehicle continues down Magazine Street.

Caroline: “Matheson.”

GM: Jocelyn stares at that. “Oh geez, you’re kidding.”

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “Serious as a heart attack.”

GM: “Well, uh. Nothing’s been proven, but that seems kinda risky.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “Yeah… I tried to keep my options open, but declining feels kind of risky as well, given that I’ve already gotten on the bad side of a couple elder Ventrue already.”

GM: Jocelyn looks ahead. “Well, that’s true. Ignoring any elder is really bad…”

Caroline: Caroline seems to think on it. “I think I have to go.”

GM: “Well, I… I guess so. Did he say when?”

Caroline: “Tomorrow. Or Saturday. With a call ahead first.”

GM: “Well, Saturday is the meeting with Skyman. So I guess… tomorrow.”

Caroline: “Can you vet it past him? Just make sure I’m not stepping on his toes by going? There so many different political angles here I don’t even know that Caleb could unravel them.”

GM: Jocelyn nods. “Sure, I can give a call. Who’s Caleb?”

Caroline: “My dad’s chief of staff. Been around forever.” She gives a little laugh. “I thought this week, the lead-up after capturing my sire, would be more relaxed.”

GM: Her lover looks off. “It kinda never is…”

Caroline: “Never a dull moment?”

GM: “Not really. Though I guess things are pretty hectic with the trial.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “And I still need to come up with three people for the sheriff.”

GM: “I thought he said four?”

Caroline: “I can come up with enough bagged blood to cover the fourth,” Caroline answers.

GM: “What do you think you’re gonna do for the others, then?”

Caroline: “Honestly? Homeless are probably the best bet,” Caroline replies. “But I’m not totally sure. It’s… a pretty tall order to come up with that many people in that short a time.”

GM: “Could always buy blood from another lick.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “If I can’t make any progress tomorrow, but that feels like robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

GM: “Well, good luck.”

Caroline: It sickens her to think on how she’s already more focused on how she’s going to come up with three human beings to be murdered by the sheriff than she is on mourning Jessica.

“Is that the same kind of corvée that the seneschal usually wants? Blood?” She quickly adds, “Unless that’s too personal a question.”

GM: “He mixes it up, honestly. Sometimes he wants juice, sometimes information, sometimes random tasks and jobs.”

Caroline: “The kind of stuff that usually takes a night to work through?”

GM: “Yeah, usually. A night of work if it’s nothing too hard or risky.”

Caroline: “What kinds of other things keep you busy then?”

GM: “Sorry?”

Caroline: Caroline looks over. “You mentioned that it’s always sort of like this. I was just curious as to what the average week in a life is like.”

GM: “Well, just more stuff like this, I guess. Me and the Storyvilles got attacked by an inky a weekish ago.”

Caroline: “Inky?”

GM: “A hunter.”

Caroline: “Like… a mortal?”

GM: “Yeah, he tried to stake us. Well, Roxanne. Wasn’t much good, though. She mindscrewed him and then… well, we all had a drink.”

Caroline: “Just like attacked you on the street?”

GM: Jocelyn shakes her head. “No, we were indoors. But he did try to jump us. Well, Roxanne. He wasn’t anything dangerous.”

Caroline: “Wow. What did he think was going to happen?” Caroline asks.

GM: “Dunno. Guess he didn’t know what we could do. I mean, not all of us were in the room, so maybe he got cocky. Or maybe he was just dumb.”

Caroline: “How common is that kind of thing? Hunters, I mean.”

GM: “I dunno. I’ve seen… maybe a couple? My sire says to make sure any mortal who knows about us can’t ever talk about it. She says they’re dangerous, but I haven’t seen any.”

Caroline: “Fire,” Caroline offers. “Especially during the day.”

GM: “Well they need to know what you are, and to find your haven first. My sire also says hunters are what happen to licks who get stupid about the Masquerade.”

Caroline: “Or just those with fewer resources,” Caroline offers. “I can’t imagine that some of them don’t know about Perdido House, but that’s not exactly the kind of place that anyone short of an army could attack.” She bites her lip. “Makes you wonder about 9/11, though…”

GM: “Yeah, there mighta been some Kindred who had havens there…” Jocelyn says thoughtfully.

Caroline: “Can you think of a better place that blue bloods would want to make their center of operations?” Caroline asks.

GM: “I guess that’s us, victims of terrorism too.”

Caroline: “Or 9/11 was a plot to take out some high profile Kindred,” Caroline offers. “And the entire War on Terror is a giant Masquerade cover-up.”

GM: Jocelyn laughs. “Okay, that seems a little far-fetched even for us.”

Caroline: “Does it? How else would you explain away planes crashing into a major landmark?” Caroline smirks.

GM: “Vidal killed JFK too,” Jocelyn smirks back. “The New Orleans Mafia was supposed to be involved, and he could’ve mindscrewed them.”

Caroline: “That’s a good one,” Caroline agrees.

GM: “Oh and we broke the levees for Katrina too.”

Caroline: Caroline taps a finger on her lip. “That I’d actually believe.”

GM: “No way. Katrina was supposed to be horrible for us.”

Caroline: “I don’t know anything about all of that, but I have to imagine it was worst on the poorer Kindred than it was on the establishment.”

“If you wanted to purge the city of the… let’s politely say more ‘urban’ members of Kindred society, you can’t tell me that flooding the Ninth Ward and throwing it into chaos wouldn’t be good place to start.”

GM: “Well… sure, but still. It was horrible. It destroyed so much of the city, displaced pretty much everyone living there. Hunting would’ve been… I dunno about impossible, but really hard.”

Caroline: Caroline smiles grimly. “Can you think of a better way to wreck the upstart youth of the city, or those living in squalor?”

“Not like the elders, who have resources to bunker up in high ground with herds or piles of blood would be that affected.”

GM: “I dunno, I can’t see the prince doing that,” Jocelyn slowly says. “It’s not just a hit against rivals, it’s killing the whole city.”

Caroline: “Well,” Caroline says just as slowly and carefully," Like I said, I don’t know, and I wouldn’t accuse him of anything. I’m just observing that it’s the kind of thing that isn’t as crazy as some conspiracy theories. Doesn’t mean it’s true."

GM: “There was plenty crazy stuff that happened during Katrina, I guess,” Jocelyn admits. “I heard something about the Baron disappearing for a while during the storm. Everyone thought he was dead.”

Caroline: “Either way, I’m happy to have dodged that particular mess.”

GM: “Yeah, me too. I wasn’t Embraced for a while later. I don’t think there’s really that many neonates left who were Embraced in the early 2000s.”

Caroline: “Makes sense.”

Caroline’s mind shifts to how that impacts power dynamics.

GM: Jocelyn looks back to the street. Closed, unlit shops and galleries roll by. “So, I think Sunday for our big night, when all… this isn’t hanging over us, might be a better time for you to see my art.”

“We could still do something tonight though. Like go hunting.”

Caroline: Caroline’s Beast licks its lips at the thought. Salivates. It’s far from satisfied tonight.

Then something occurs to her. “Has something changed? I’d thought I wasn’t going to meet him until Sunday, after joining the Sanctified officially,” she asks.

GM: “Skyman says Saturday. That’s all I know,” Jocelyn answers.

Caroline: A nod. “Early or late?” she asks.

GM: “I’ll pick you up sometime around 11, like I said. I’m not sure how long it’s gonna take. Maybe an hour, leaving out the car trip?”

Caroline: It doesn’t give her a great deal of time, but she’ll make it work. “Hunting sounds interesting… how does that work though, given permissions required if we’re both doing it?”

GM: “Well, we could do it in Storyville, where anyone can hunt.”

Caroline: Caroline readily agrees.

GM: The CBD’s Thursday night bar scene isn’t what it is on weekends, but it’s almost exciting hunting in tandem. Like a pack of wolves circling a wary elk. There’s a sense of belonging and superiority in numbers, yet also a no less present sense of competition that spurs Caroline to new heights.

The two Kindred eventually find a late-drinking grad student who’s all-too amenable to the idea of a threesome with the young women. Caroline’s thirst is great, and Jocelyn seems put off at the casually floated idea that she should accept a lesser share of their prey. (“Hello, I have to drink too.”) In short order, the naked vampires are staring down at a motionless thirty-something man in the hotel room’s bed. His face is blanched nearly as white as the sheets.

Jocelyn blinks. “Oh… crap.” She feels for a pulse, then lets out a needless breath. “Okay, he’s still alive. What do you think we should do?” she asks, licking a few last droplets of blood from her lips.

Caroline: The sight of the blood on the Toreador’s lips is so very distracting, and only when the last of it vanishes does she register the words. She looks down at the unmoving man. “I could hook him up an IV—I have a couple pints left.”

GM: “That sounds good,” Jocelyn nods. “You can just mindscrew him into not remembering.”

Caroline: Caroline calls Autumn to pick up some of the left over blood, along with some other supplies from her house: it’s just as well, she needs a ride ‘home’ anyway, and has other directions to give the ghoul for the night.

GM: Autumn texts back she’s on her way. Some ten minutes later there’s a rap on the hotel door. Caroline lets Autumn in, who pulls a blood bag out of a backpack.

She gives the passed-out naked man a ‘business as usual’ look.

Caroline: Caroline takes the bag. Even knowing how unlikely it is to be in any way satisfying, it’s tempting, just as the passed out grad student is. Just as Autumn herself is… she snags the medical kit the ghoul brought and calls her over to ‘assist.’

GM: Autumn doesn’t know much about medicine beyond basic household remedies. Caroline uses the opportunity to instruct her: sometimes it’s useful to know how to give blood back.

Caroline: It also gives her something to focus on other than the needle entering the man’s arm, or the blood flowing into him. “Reactions are pretty rare as long as you match blood types properly, though if we were in a real medical environment we’d want to keep him under observation,” she explains.

GM: Autumn asks, among other questions, how much o-neg blood costs next to the other blood types. “A lot more, I’m guessing?” Eventually the two’s work is done. The ghoul removes and disposes of the needle, rinses out the plastic bag, and sticks it back in the backpack. Caroline’s and Jocelyn’s victim sleeps obliviously until the Ventrue wakes him, commands him to forget, then tells him to sleep again.

Jocelyn looks the three over. “Okay, Masquerade cleaned up, I’m taking off. I’ll see you on Saturday, or maybe earlier.” She pauses. “Be careful around Matheson… okay?”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “I’ll shoot you a text when I leave.”

GM: “Before you arrive, too. Tell me how full you are… just in case he wipes your memory, after he…”

Caroline: The Ventrue lays a hand on Jocelyn’s. “I’ll be okay.”

GM: “I hope so,” Jocelyn answers, but she still looks worried. She runs her fangs over Caroline’s cheek in an almost-peck, then departs.

Caroline: Caroline leaves with Autumn, leaving the man to his sweet dreams and only ‘near’ death experience.

GM: As the two get into Autumn’s minicooper, the ghoul rattles off the things she’s looked into for Caroline.

First, she bought as much blood from the Krewe at TMC as she could. Caroline is out $6,300.

Caroline: Caroline listens to her describe her activities sine she departed with Jocelyn, and planned events for tomorrow. She interrupts, “What do you know about Matheson?”

GM: “Matheson? As much as anyone else, I guess. Exiled Ventrue elder who’s supposedly been luring out neonates and feeding on them. Was around for a Masquerade breach involving George Smith.”

Caroline: “Anything else? How long ago he was exiled? Theories as to why? Ghouls he keeps?”

GM: “Well, feeding on neonates is the obvious one. I mean, everyone now figures Vidal wanted him gone because being a headhunter would’ve made the Ventrue look bad. But so would admitting he was a headhunter.”

“I dunno how the prince is gonna spin it at the trial, but they’ll need some other story to explain his exile if he’s gonna get off. I mean, how else would they?”

Caroline: “So what were the theories? There had to be some, or people wouldn’t have ignored it until now, and neonates wouldn’t have gone to visit him.”

GM: “Honestly, I don’t think most of the masked city even knew he existed until this whole mess came up. Probably even fewer people knew he’d been exiled. I mean, I’d never heard of him until pretty recently. It’s not like he was the Krewe of Janus’ concern, living outside New Orleans.”

Caroline: Caroline nods her head back and forth. “I guess that makes sense. I’d just assumed that being an elder there’d be all kinds of juicy theories.”

GM: “Well, most licks don’t really travel much, and he didn’t live in New Orleans. Could be a million Mathesons out in rural Louisiana for all I know.”

Caroline: “René mentioned that as well. That Kindred don’t travel outside of the city very often. Is there a particular reason?”

GM: “Loup-Garoux, I guess? I haven’t been outside the city much either. Since getting on the juice, anyway. The Krewe doesn’t care what happens outside New Orleans.”

Caroline: “Like… werewolves? Those are real?”

GM: Autumn nods. “I’ve never seen one, but… I’ve heard the stories. Horror stories. That just looking at them can drive you insane, break your mind. That they’re impossible to kill, can rip apart whole coteries singlehanded. That they rule the country as absolutely as you rule the cities… and hate licks.”

Caroline: Caroline offers no comment to that. Entire coteries indeed.

GM: “I don’t mean of just fledglings.”

Caroline: A smile creeps across Caroline’s face. “Interesting. How does someone like Matheson survive out there then, one must wonder?”

GM: “Beats me. Loops aren’t even supposed to be the only things out there.”

Caroline: “One of these night we’re going to have a nice sit down about all these little details you know. Or at least some of them,” Caroline promises.

GM: “Honestly, it’s not a lot. The only thing I really do for sure is that it’s the tip of the iceberg.” Autumn’s tone is quiet.

Caroline: “That tip of the iceberg might save my life one day. Probably already has.”

GM: The ghoul shifts uncomfortably. “Sometimes ignorance is bliss.”

Caroline: “No.” The word is sharp, in contrast to her earlier reassurance and lighthearted commentary. “Ignorance is never an acceptable state. Pretending the world doesn’t exist and burying your head in the sand is how you end up like I did. Helpless. Powerless. Doomed. Tortured. Dragging everyone around you down into the dirt with you.”

GM: “Look, just… all the licks I’ve heard of who are supposed to be experts on the weird shit that goes bump in the night, not just Camarilla politics… they’re creepy, even for Kindred. Knowing that stuff… I think it changes you. I mean, you had to get Embraced to know about the Camarilla in New Orleans, right?”

Caroline: Caroline nods after a moment.

GM: “So I’m just saying, the licks and ghouls who know even more… I think they’ve gotta give up more too, for the scales to balance.”

Caroline: Caroline frowns but says nothing. She just doesn’t know enough to comment on it.

If Autumn’s right, maybe it’s better she doesn’t.

Previous, by Narrative: Story Six, Mouse VI
Next, by Narrative: Story Six, Mouse VII

Previous, by Character: Story Six, Caroline IV, Mouse V
Next, by Character: Story Six, Caroline VI

Story Six, Caroline IV, Mouse V

“I thought I was punishing some monster, and instead I feel like we’re kicking a dog down the stairs.”
Caroline Malveaux

Thursday night, 17 September 2015, PM

Caroline: The first thing Mouse notices is the cold steel around his wrists, a feeling he recognizes all too well. For a moment it feels like this must be some nightmare, but the cuffs feel all-too real on his already bruised skin, and linger even when he snaps open his eyes.

What he sees does little to dispel the surreal nature of it all. He’s not quite sure how he got here—a sure sign of a dream—and two gorgeous women are standing in front of him. The room is a tastefully appointed bedroom with hardwood floors dominated by a large bed that he’s laying on. A desk with a laptop closed on it snaps into focus in one corner, along with an open walk-in closet brimming with clothing in the other, near two doors.

“Wake up, little rat…” The blonde orders him.

GM: The shorter brunette standing close to her laughs lightly.

“I thought he was a mouse, not a rat,” she idly speculates. She looks around Mouse’s age and is wearing a knee-length cyan maxi dress.

She leans closer to his face and grins. There’s a feral quality to it that shows just a few too many of her teeth.

“Either way, rodent, we’re the cats.”

Caroline: “Vermin either way. Terrorizing good souls of the city. Women that just want to go about their daily lives.” There’s a flash of more teeth from the blonde. “You wouldn’t know anything about that, would you, Mouse?” She’s dressed in a form-fitting black dress sheer above the bust that hangs to mid-knee.

Mouse: Mouse dazedly looks around the room and fails to put words together.

“What is happening?” he finally asks, trying to make sense of things. “Where am I? What are you talking about? Who are you?”

He is almost hyperventilating. He tries to wrestle from his bindings, feebly sulking at being held against his will.

It has to be a nightmare. Surely.

Caroline: “That’s cute,” Caroline says with no warmth. “I don’t know what’s going on, why is this happening,” she mocks, then gives a cruel laugh.

GM:What is happening,” the brunette mimics in a high-pitched, whining tone.

Caroline: “Resisting an officer. Two counts of assault. Oh, and stalking, though I saw that charge was dropped. Surely our legal system functioning as intended.”

Mouse: Mouse frowns. “I don’t know what’s happening!” he reaffirms in a stronger tone.

GM: “You’ve sprung a mouse-trap, Mouse,” the brunette grins.

Mouse: “Did Bud send you? Villars? I paid them! I paid them!”

Caroline:Don’t raise your voice,” the blonde orders. Mouse finds himself left at a normal speaking tone regardless of his desires.

Mouse: He begins crying.

GM: “Wow. Usually it takes them a little longer than that.”

Caroline: “Pathetic,” Caroline agrees. “I’ll be honest, I didn’t think he looked like much, but this would be sad if I didn’t have his rap sheet.”

Mouse: “Why are you doing this?” he asks.

Caroline: “Because you’ve been a bad boy, little Mouse,” Caroline replies in a condescending voice. “You about scared little Cécilia Devillers to death.”

GM: “It looks like someone beat the shit out of him already, too,” the brunette remarks, running a cool hand over Mouse’s bruises.

Caroline: “Good,” she replies to the shorter brunette. “Gives me some faith in humanity.”

Mouse: At the mention of his rap sheet, Mouse starts mumbling about his innocence—but quiets abruptly at the physical contact.

Caroline: “You and every other thug,” Caroline snaps at his protests.

GM: The brunette giggles, even as a decidedly savage hunger alights her eyes. She moves her hand down Mouse’s face, tracing the contours of his scabbed-over chin.

Caroline: The blonde moves closer, abandoning her standing position to settle down on the bed beside Mouse. She traces a finger down his throat and around his collarbone, then back.

“It’ll be easier if you admit what you did.”

Mouse: “Please!” he gasps. He doesn’t want this. He shivers in fear at being violated. “Please don’t hurt me! I did nothing wrong!”

Caroline: “Confession is the first step in forgiveness before God,” she snaps. There’s something in her eyes though as they dart to the brunette. Uncertainty?

GM: The brunette nods. “You have to admit what you did was wrong if you’re going to atone for it.”

Mouse: “Please don’t hurt me!” he tries to yell. It comes out as a strained whisper.

GM: “Admit what you did and you’ll get hurt less, Mouse.”

Mouse: “I am sorry for playing music too loud!” he offers desperately.

Caroline: Mouse feels something prick his neck, like a sharp sting, while his attention is on the brunette.

Mouse: “Hngh!”

GM: Jocelyn gives a half-flat, half-incredulous look at his declaration. “Seriously, he’s got a rap sheet that long, and the first thing he says is ‘playing music too loud’?”

Caroline: His jerk turns him back to face the blonde, who licks her lips and runs her tongue over teeth that suddenly look far too long and sharp.

“There was a noise ordinance there, so I guess it’s a start.”

The blonde’s comment sounds distracted though. Mouse feels something running down his neck slowly.

Mouse: “What’s happening?” he sulks. “What’s, what’s that on my neck?”

GM: “Yeah. And we’re only just starting ourselves,” the brunette offers with a sinister grin. Mouse can make them out on the brunette, too. Two long, wickedly sharp teeth more accurately described as fangs.

Caroline: The blonde leans in close to Mouse. He feels what can only be her wet and too-cold tongue run across the drip. She shudders with pleasure.

Mouse: Mouse tries to scream. It gets caught in his throat and more silent tears well up.

Caroline: The blonde snorts and drives a fist into his stomach.

“Typical. A coward at the end of the day.”

GM: “Pretty sure he’s one at the start too. Even Meg doesn’t cry this fast.”

Caroline: Caroline snorts. “I wish I could say that Aimee didn’t.”

Mouse: “I am sorry!” he chokes out. “I only wanted to thank Cécilia for helping me raise money for my friend! I didn’t mean to scare her!”

GM: The fanged brunette traces a finger down Mouse’s wet cheek, collecting his tears. “Wish we could drink these too. Would be a great image for him.”

Caroline: “We could bottle them. Save them. A little keepsake.”

GM: “Good idea. God knows he’s making enough to fill a milk carton.”

Caroline: The blonde’s tongue runs over a fresh flow of what can only be blood.

“I could just make you tell me everything,” she whispers in his ear. “But that would defeat the purpose.”

A sharp fingernail pulls at the scab on his chin and peels it back, releasing another fresh flow of blood.

GM: The brunette traces a finger over the spot of blood. That finger she does lick, visibly shuddering with pleasure as her eyes close.

Caroline: “You know I was almost a doctor? I can hurt you in so many ways, little rat. I can make you feel it for so long…”

GM: “He’s so scared, Caroline. I can taste it.”

Caroline:Don’t wet the bed.” It’s an order.

GM: The brunette snickers. “Good thinking.”

Mouse: The young man stops sobbing and stares at the two women with dead eyes. The threat of torture, the strangeness of the situation: it all hurts. The world is an unfair place.

Caroline: The blonde grips his jaw and licks at the wound on his chin, then looks into his eyes.

“Just admit it, Mouse. You know what you are. You’re a stalker.”

GM: “A sinner,” the brunette echoes.

Mouse: “I am not a stalker!” Mouse seethes, defiantly.

Caroline: “And a criminal. And a want-to-be thug. Though… apparently not a very good one. Just like your brother. I could have laid him here next to you, but he’s not really my type,” the blonde whispers in Mouse’s ear.

GM: “Gangbangers are a dime a dozen. I’ve fed on enough of them to know.”

Mouse: Mouse’s eyes widen at the threat to his brother. “Fuck you! You’re not hurting him!”

GM: The brunette frowns at his denial and looks towards ‘Caroline’. She looks back at his profanity.

Caroline: Caroline laughs at his little outburst. “Oh, someone’s angry.”

GM: “I’d say he just grew a pair, but I’d still need a microscope to be sure.”

Caroline: “We could cut those off. It might curtail his urges,” Caroline muses. “Would you like that, Mouse?” She runs a hand down to his groin and grasps his manhood. “Some help with your self-control?”

“I don’t personally subscribe to that antique racist bullshit about black men not being able to control themselves around white women, but you’re not really a man, are you? You’re the vermin gnawing at the underbelly of the city.”

Mouse: “I didn’t do anything wrong!” he barks.

GM: “He keeps saying he’s not a stalker. He can’t atone if he doesn’t admit his sins,” the brunette sighs.

Caroline: “We’re not trying hard enough, clearly.” Caroline looks back at Mouse. “You are a stalker, and if I wanted to cut your brother’s throat there’s nothing you could do about it. There’s nothing you can do about it, except own up to what you did. I have nothing but time. Don’t give me a reason to go find him.”

Mouse: “I am not a stalker! I spoke to Cécilia one time! Fuck! You’re all racist assholes!”

Caroline: “And then you followed her home. And had to be removed by security, but not before resisting. While you stood in front of her door, screaming at her and singing a song you’d written just for her. Totally not a stalker.”

GM: “I had a cousin who said that’s what all black people do,” Jocelyn nods knowingly. “Yell ‘racist’ when they get caught doing anything bad.”

Caroline: Caroline turns to Jocelyn. “Not all, but this is why my uncle still calls them niggers behind closed doors,” she sighs.

GM: “I wonder if he’s insane,” Jocelyn muses. “He seriously doesn’t seem to think following a girl home is at all creepy. And then, you know, love songs.”

Caroline: “He had a song written using her name and everything. She gave a full statement. Poor girl was terrified. Actually hired a full-time bodyguard.”

GM: “Yeah, isn’t she filing a restraining order too?”

Caroline: “For all the good it’ll do. We’re threatening to cut his brother’s throat and all he cares about is that he did nothing wrong. I don’t think an imaginary line he can’t cross is going to make a difference.”

GM: Jocelyn nods. “Yeah, he’s pretty clearly insane. The fangs bit usually gets more reaction too.” She tilts her head thoughtfully.

Caroline: “He’s not a ghoul,” Caroline offers.

GM: “Guess we’ll know for sure after we have a drink. But, honestly. Who the hell would waste juice on him?”

Caroline: “Meg and Aimee would like a word with you,” Caroline snipes back.

GM: “Meg’s not an insane stalker,” Jocelyn retorts. “Also, she’d probably be upset if someone were threatening to kill me. Can’t say the same for this creep.”

Caroline: “Mouse, let me make this easier on you. We’ll see if you can be trained, like a dog,” Caroline murmurs. “Every time from now on that you give me some bullshit denial about doing nothing wrong, I’m going to break one of your bones.”

Mouse: “Fuck you!”

GM: Jocelyn cocks her head. “I think that counts, Caroline.”

Caroline: “Now, contrary to popular belief, the number of bones you have isn’t set. It changes, starting higher when you’re an newborn, and getting smaller as you get older. In your case, being such a child…” She casually seizes his pinky finger and bends it backwards until it cracks. “I’m guessing you have more than most. That said, we could run through even three hundred pretty quickly at this rate. On the other hand, every time you admit to something and own up to your sins, I’ll do something you’ll enjoy.”

GM: “Could bring over his brother and break his too, but not sure if he’d care,” Jocelyn muses.

Caroline: “We’ve got plenty of non-vital bones we can break before we have to worry about that,” Caroline replies. "Now Mouse, let me hear you say, “I’m a stalker.”

Mouse: Mouse sobs at the broken finger; he shakes his head furiously. “Why won’t you believe me?” he asks, desperately. “I didn’t do anything wrong!”

Caroline: ‘Snap’ goes his ring finger on the same hand.

Mouse: Mouse screams.

Caroline: “I think you’re right. I think he might actually be insane.”

GM: “Doesn’t seem too good at learning from mistakes,” Jocelyn remarks in agreement.

Mouse: “I am a musician! Stop! Please!”

GM: “Yeah, we know.”

Caroline: “Is that an admission?” Caroline asks Jocelyn. “I’ve already told you the condition on which this will end, Rat, just own your actions. Admit to your sins and all the pain stops. Hell, Jocelyn will make this the best night of your life.”

GM: “Eh, he already admitted playing his music too loud. Not gonna cut it. Also, dibs on his next finger.”

Caroline: “Let’s try this again. I’m a stalker,” she repeats.

GM: “Three words. Shouldn’t be too hard even with a mouse’s brain.”

Caroline: “You’ve already pled out to most of the charges. Now you’re just confessing it. Come on, I’m a stalker.

GM: “You say those words back to us,” Jocelyn helpfully clarifies in an ‘in case you’re too stupid’ tone. “You say ’I’m a stalker’, and your next finger doesn’t get broken. Really, though, my bet is that it’s gonna.”

Caroline: “Or don’t, and I can go get a hammer. We can work our way up. There are a lot of bones in the hand. I don’t actually remember them all by name, but I’m sure I can find them. After what you did I’m not going to lose sleep over turning that hand into hamburger they have to cut off. Especially if that’s what it takes to make you understand what you did was wrong.”

GM: “You’re the doctor. How many of his bones do we have to break before his hand gets amputated? Well, almost-doctor.”

Caroline: “Like this? I mean, these are pretty clean. But once I break out the hammer? Maybe if you had a world-class surgeon you could save it with enough pins and needles, though whether it would be of much use is another story. More likely they’re going to look at all the splinters and bone shards and decide the risk of infection is too great. I figure past three, maybe four inside the structure of the hand. But hey, I’m sure you can play guitar with a hook hand. I saw someone do amazing things with one just this week.”

GM: “Oh huh, I figured a broken bone was just a broken bone,” Jocelyn remarks thoughtfully. “Never really thought they could be impossible to heal like that. Bad luck for you, Rat, I probably woulda just kept snapping.”

Caroline: “I mean… maybe with the Blood.”

Mouse: “I didn’t stalk her!” Mouse protests. “I called her once and went to her place to thank her for helping me! I thought she was helping me! I was raising money for a friend after he lost his legs!” he chokes, trying his best to contain his tears. “Em told me she was his friend! I felt sorry for him and just wanted to help! I am telling the truth!”

Mouse eyes his broken fingers with a defeated look; his bruised features are marred with distress. “You only want to hear what you want to hear. You don’t want the truth.” His face crumples after a few more seconds looking at his hands, weighing up the threat. “My hands are my life. You’re killing me.” He looks back and forth from the blonde and the brunette.

“I’m a stalker. There.” His words don’t sound sincere at all. “Happy!? Does admitting something like that while you’re torturing me actually mean anything!?” he complains.

Caroline: Caroline gives a heavy sigh. “Well, this is a fucking buzzkill. I think he actually is mentally ill,” she complains to Jocelyn.

Mouse: “Good!” he says defiantly. “I’m glad my mental illness is a buzzkill for you, you fucking psycho!”

Caroline: Caroline scrutinizes Mouse for another moment, seemingly seeing him in a new light. Then anger contorts across her face. “The fucking piano player!”

Mouse: Mouse looks confused. He wasn’t expecting that outburst.

Caroline: “You lying little shit. I knew you looked familiar.”

Mouse: “What are you talking about?” As he looks, he struggles to free himself from his bindings.

Caroline: As it turns out, the 5’8" scrawny musician is unable to force the steel handcuffs.

GM: Jocelyn looks unimpressed through Mouse’s rant. She stares incredulously upon his attempt to wriggle free. “Wow. This guy’s got the survival instinct of a lemming.”

There’s another crack as his middle finger snaps.

Mouse: Mouse whimpers at yet another broken digit and shuts his eyes tightly.

Caroline: “You’ve been trolling around the edge of high society for years, haven’t you?”

GM: “Also, that confession sucked. You were found guilty in a court.”

Mouse: “I wasn’t found guilty of stalking!” he retorts.

Caroline: “Yeah, your shitbag attorney cut a pretty sweet deal for you.”

GM: Jocelyn glances at Caroline. “You know this weirdo?”

Caroline: “I’ve seen him at various social functions. Hiding in plain sight. He’s… actually a pretty talented pianist. I wonder if he’s some kind of idiot savant.”

GM: “Really? Could make him a ghoul, but…” The rest goes unsaid.

Mouse: “I am not an idiot! You’re idiots!”

GM: Jocelyn scoffs.

Mouse: “I don’t even know what you guys are talking about!”

Caroline:Shut up,” Caroline orders.

Mouse: He shuts up. He can’t even cry. Or whimper. Or make a sound. It’s frightening. His eyes widen in terror. He can only feel the thudding of his racing heart, the heat from his flushed face, and a cool, wet feeling around his neck.

Caroline: And of course the throbbing agony of his snapped fingers.

Mouse: It hurts so, so much. Everywhere.

GM: Jocelyn looks at Mouse. “When she releases you, I want you tell us how what you did to Cécilia Devillers was wrong, in your own words. I think that’s better than just having you say ’I’m a stalker.’”

Mouse: Mouse frowns at those words, although there’s some consideration taking place.

Caroline: “Let me help you out, since you’re apparently some brand of autistic,” Caroline offers. “You terrified her. You placed her in fear for her life. You created a persistent fear that she could be assaulted, you made her feel unsafe in her own home.” She frowns. “We’ll start with that. Find some way to include that.”

GM: “Also, the bit where she’s filing a restraining order, too.”

Caroline: “Nod if you understand.”

Mouse: He nods.

GM: “Doesn’t she have to see him again, at the court hearing where it’s filed? That’ll sure be fun for her.”

Mouse: Mouse looks a lot calmer now and appears to listen intently.

GM: Jocelyn pulls out her phone and snaps Mouse’s picture. “Gonna add a caption: ‘this is the face of autism.’”

Caroline:You may speak,” Caroline orders.

Mouse: Mouse sighs in relief. Whatever is happening is certainly strange. Adrenaline pumps. He’s tired of being afraid, though. He looks up at the blonde, statuesque woman before him, and then to the pretty, disparaging brunette.

“I understand I scared Cécilia and am very sorry for that,” he says, “and it was never my intention. I fucked up and thought she was happy to help me with my friend, and I thought showing up with flowers, playing a song for her—it wasn’t written for her, it was a Tom Jones song—to say thanks for helping me was the right way to go about things. I fucked up, what more can I say?”

GM: Jocelyn frowns. “I’m not gonna break your thumb for that, but I’m hearing too much ‘I meant this’ and ‘I meant that’. That’s a thing about people with autism, though, they don’t have any empathy for other people. So try again, Rat, and tell us all about how what you did hurt her. Not what you ‘meant to do.’”

Caroline: “I could really care less about your feelings,” Caroline chimes in.

Mouse: “I didn’t mention my feelings.”

Caroline: “You just don’t know when to shut up, do you?” Caroline asks, almost incredulous.

GM: A new spurt of agony shoots through Mouse as his thumb snaps.

“Autism. No social awareness,” Jocelyn says.

Mouse: He cries in pain. “You kidnapped me!”

Caroline:Oh god, shut up.

Mouse: He can’t wrap his mind around these two inhuman, human-shaped things hurting him.

GM: Jocelyn stares incredulously. “What’s the next part of autism, rigidity of thought?”

There’s yet another spike of agony as the pinky of his other hand breaks.

“Seriously. You know we’re just gonna keep breaking these if you don’t tell us how you hurt Cécilia.” She looks to Caroline. “I seriously haven’t seen anything like this before.”

Caroline: “It’s honestly making me feel uncomfortable,” Caroline offers.

Mouse: Mouse barely registers their words: he simply cries silently. He looks at his broken fingers with wet, brown eyes.

GM: Jocelyn looks back to Mouse, and then patiently explains in the tone of somewhat talking to a mentally deficient child, “Tell us why, and how, Cécilia would have felt scared and hurt by what you did. Leave out anything to do with your feelings. Caroline, can you un-gag him?”

Caroline: She sighs. “You can talk.

Mouse: Mouse looks ragged and takes a moment to muster the courage to speak.

“I… I… I am sorry. I should’ve called her first and checked if it was all right for me to come over. I shouldn’t have kept singing so loudly in front of her apartment. Is that what you want me to say?”

He looks confused. Frightened. Hurt.

Caroline: Caroline cringes.

GM: Jocelyn sighs. “That’s better, so I’m not gonna break your next finger. Still not good enough, though.”

Caroline: “It’s like watching an Adam Sandler movie.”

GM: “He has autism, Caroline, we gotta be patient with him.” She looks back to Mouse. “Tell us HOW you scared and hurt her. Don’t use the word ‘I’ anywhere, or I’ll break your next finger.”

Mouse: “She was afraid for her safety. Her well-being. She’s afraid enough she wants to put a restraining order against me.”

GM: Jocelyn looks at Caroline.

Caroline: “Do you actually understand that, or are you just parroting?”

Mouse: He nods.

GM: “Uh, it’s an ‘or’ question. Not a ‘yes or no’ question.”

“This is what autism looks like, Caroline. Totally friggin’ clueless.”

Mouse: “Sorry. I mean. I am not parroting. I understand that I scared Cécilia and that was wrong. I didn’t meant to, but that’s not important. That doesn’t stop that I still scared her.”

Caroline: “Do we have a breakthrough?”

GM: “Hmm. The part about intentions not mattering is pretty big,” Jocelyn nods. “I still don’t think he gets how creepy following her home and singing to her is. But this is way better than when we started out. I mean, I think it normally takes them lots of therapy to wise up?”

Mouse: “Can I clarify something?” he asks, fear in his voice.

GM: “Sure, though I’ll break a finger if you backslide.”

Mouse: “You’re not going to rape me, right? I’m a virgin and I want my first time to be with someone I love.”

GM: Jocelyn just stares at first. Then she bursts out laughing.

Caroline: Caroline just stares at him. “What the hell is wrong with you?”

Mouse: Mouse feels like crying.

GM: “This isn’t just autism, Caroline. I don’t know what the hell this is.”

Caroline: “I feel dirty.” And she does.

GM: “Not sure even the Malks would take him as a ghoul.”

Caroline: None of this went the way she’d expected. From the effeminate artist to the autism, to this latest question. She looks away from the pitiful college student.

Mouse: “Sorry. You were licking my neck before… and I got scared… did I misunderstand again?”

GM: “No, we’re vampires.”

Mouse: Mouse looks up, noncomprehending. “What?”

Caroline: Caroline still isn’t looking at him.

GM: Jocelyn rests a hand on her shoulder. “Caroline?”

Caroline: “I’m sorry,” she whispers to the Toreador. “I thought this would be different.”

GM: “Yeah, so did I,” Jocelyn admits. She smiles and places a hand under the taller Kindred’s chin, not lifting it so much as directing Caroline’s gaze to hers. “It’s okay, though. We can do it tomorrow, or another night. We have forever.”

Mouse: Mouse simply continues to watch in a noncomprehending stupor.

GM: “Hey,” the Toreador continues, “we can even do another shopping trip before next time too.”

Caroline: “It’s not about us… we can still make that work. It’s just about… this. I thought I was punishing some monster, and instead I feel like we’re kicking a dog down the stairs. What he did was wrong, but he’s too stupid to understand why.”

GM: “The Testament says if they don’t learn their lesson, we’re supposed to kill them. But this feels…”

Caroline: “If this is going to be what it’s like, Jocelyn…”

GM: “No, no. It’s not like this,” Jocelyn assures her. “This is the first time I’ve ever seen anything like this. Normally they understand, or they offer some BS excuse, like ‘she was asking for it.’ There are a ton of real rapists, murderers, and other bad guys out there who deserve what we do.”

Caroline: “So what do we do with him?”

GM: Jocelyn sighs. “I need to ask a priest. The Testament doesn’t say anything about… cases like this. You can wipe his memory and we can drop him back off at his dorms, I guess.”

Caroline: She looks back at Mouse’s swelling hands.

GM: “It sounded like he owed some people money. Make him think they did it.”

Caroline: “Yeah… I just… feel bad. About leaving him like this.”

GM: “We could have someone call 911?” Jocelyn considers.

Caroline: “I can bandage up his hands,” Caroline muses. She looks back at Mouse. “Tell me about whoever it was that beat you up.”

Mouse: Mouse robotically recites his encounter with Bud and Sue in its entirety.

GM: “…huh. That bit with the little girl is pretty weird,” Jocelyn remarks when he’s finished.

Caroline: “Sounds like a ghoul,” Caroline comments.

GM: “You think? I guess he could be. Or they.”

Caroline: “They also sound like some terrible people either way. Anyway, though, let’s get this over with.” She looks back to Mouse. “We’ve got better things to spend our night on.”

Her eyes meet Mouse’s, and the maimed musician knows no more.

Previous, by Narrative: Story Six, Mouse IV
Next, by Narrative: Story Six, Mouse VI

Previous, by Caroline: Story Six, Caroline III
Next, by Caroline: Story Six, Caroline V

Previous, by Mouse: Story Six, Mouse IV
Next, by Mouse: Story Six, Mouse VI

Story Six, Mouse IV

“It’s me you need ta worry ‘bout now, Rat-boy. Me an’ Sue.”

Thursday afternoon, 17 September 2015

Mouse: Mouse’s ride back to his campus dorm is a thoroughly trying, humiliating experience. His lack of shoes, wallet, and phone make him feel naked. Three days without bathing, changing clothes, or sleeping on anything but a thin jail mattress leave him feeling sticky and dirty. He longs for a hot shower, clean pajamas, and the comfort of his bed. He tries to keep a low profile as he slips towards his dorm room.

GM: Students stare at Mouse with equal parts suspicion and disgust at his bruised face and ripe odor. Still, the recently released inmate fortunately manages to avoid running into campus police. His dorm room even proves fortuitously empty too, saving him the need to explain his present state to his roommate.

Mouse: Mouse’s first order of business is to lay out a fresh pair of clothes and take a long, hot shower. He brushes his teeth. He looks at himself in the mirror. Time to re-organize his life. He needs a new wallet, a new phone, and to organize his finances so he can pay off his newfound debt.

GM: After Mouse exits the shower and brushes his teeth, he is finally in a frame of mind to observe that the dorm room’s other half is undisturbed since he was last there. Books, bedding, and toiletries are appear in the same places they were left, and the refrigerator’s contents likewise appear unchanged (if several days less fresh). Mouse’s roommate does not seem to have been home.

Mouse: Mouse looks a little concerned at the sudden realization. Saturday. He hasn’t seen Trenton since Saturday. He remembers his roommate going out for the evening. Weird. He frowns a little—it’s an all too common expression for him lately.

Trent’s absence gnaws at his insides, and he just can’t quite banish the thought to the back of his head. He looks at the time and wonders if he should catch up with Becca. She knows Trent too. Some normal human contact would also be nice after getting beaten and humiliated for the last three days.

I’ve got too much on my plate, he sighs to himself, but first things first. He boots up his laptop, rummages around the kitchen for something to eat that isn’t sickening, and looks up how to handle a stolen bank card.

GM: A few Google searches turn up that Mouse can simply call his bank, report the debit card as stolen, and visit in person to pick up a new temporary card.

Mouse: Mouse gives a sigh of relief. That gives him some sense of direction. He picks up the room’s landline and dials his bank, going through the prompts.

GM: Mouse is uncomfortably reminded how that same landline will prove a further drain on his already-depleted finances if he does not disconnect it soon. Tulane (and most colleges) have been steadily phasing landlines out of dorms since the mid-2000s. He was still able to get one installed, but it’s another monthly bill.

A pre-recorded voice thanks Mouse for calling Whitney Bank in English, then says something else that sounds Spanish (“bar-iy span-yol, mas-kin-a-way-way”). He is given a list of numbers to press for various purposes. After asking to speak to a real person, he is put on hold for nearly half an hour before before he is able to do so. The bank employee confirms that they will cancel the card and issue Mouse a new one at his local branch.

Mouse: “Thanks!” he says, his spirits notably lifted by this first step in getting his life back on track. He’ll take the victories where he can. “When will I be able to pick it up?”

GM: “It should be in an hour or two,” the female-sounding employee answers. “Your new permanent card will take a few business days.”

Mouse: “Okay. Thanks! Take care!” He hangs up the phone.

Mouse then jumps on his computer to check up any emails from his classes or instructors. He’s been gone for three days and can’t afford to fail.

GM: Mouse finds one or two group emails his professors sent out to their entire classes. Beyond that, none have attempted to contact him. Unlike in high school, instructors will not hold his hand and he will pass or fail by his own initiative. That’s easy enough to do, though, as his various courses either detail their assignments in the syllabus or have them posted online.

Mouse: He works on catching up with his coursework and any outstanding assignments due. The comfort of doing something familiar and normal gives the young man a welcome sense of well-being.

Nonetheless, Mouse’s curiosity gets the better of him between writing essays and email replies. He finds himself googling black rights groups in New Orleans or on campus, toying with the idea of joining one.

GM: The most prominent (or at least talked about) black rights group Mouse finds is the national movement and Twitter hashtag Black Lives Matter, which anyone who’s not living under a rock knows was formed in response to the killings of black youths by law enforcement officers. A related group (and hashtag) is Say Her Name, which concerns itself more with violence against black women, especially those who are LGBT.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) shares similar goals. It is considerably older, being originally founded in 1909, though is not as talked about on social media.

All three groups have a presence in New Orleans. Ones exclusive to Tulane University (and solely concerned with serving the needs of Tulane’s black students) include Men of Color (MOC), and Tulane Black Student Union (TBSU).

The Black Panthers, a quick Wikipedia search tells Mouse, were dissolved over 30 years ago. The organization is little more than history now.

Mouse: Mouse half-ponders about writing a song to do with social justice and black rights; he considers videoing himself in his current battered state to give the video more poignancy. Perhaps post it online. Add the hashtag #blacklivesmatter. Maybe write up an essay on his experience, stir the pot. Mouse figures he can work on this song and essay for a few hours, a good way to burn up some time before jumping on his bike to get his temporary debit card.

Mouse is a bit saddened that his favorite guitar was smashed, but the young musician still has a few more guitars in his closet. He also messes around with the keyboard splayed at the bottom of his bed. The music is welcome. He can’t believe he went without it for so, so long; singing on his lonesome is certainly not the same. It certainly helped. But it’s not the same. The creature comforts a musician takes for granted, y’know? Mouse smiles to himself; mostly happy to be back home as he works leisurely on a song inspired by his own terrible experience.

The video he creates is impressive in an understated, raw fashion; his sunken, bruised eyes stare into the camera lens with a soulful intensity that’s difficult to describe other than doleful and reflective. His voice carries the same. It’s gentle, poignant, and quivers with emotion. The musical accompaniment is technically simple, but in a way that allows the listener to appreciate the strength of Mouse’s vocals. It’s oddly surreal. His features are wrapped in shadow and melancholy.

The music transcends that. It’s message is forceful and doesn’t mince words. The police and courts are racist and corrupt. There is a clear divide between the wealthy and the poor, mostly made up of racial reasons in Mouse’s music video.

Fuck the police! Mouse thinks to himself, finding himself becoming more and more embittered. Mouse recounts his experience in lyrical form, singing his tale.

GM: Mouse pours out all of his hurt and outrage into his laptop’s webcam. He gives it one last beaten stare, then finally shuts it down and uploads the video to MeVid. It will likely take some hours for most of the people on his subscribers list to view it, but Mouse is confident that he’s made something powerful.

Mouse: In the meantime, Mouse makes himself something to eat to replenish that lost creative energy. He sets about getting ready to leave for the bank to get his temporary card, planning to ride his bicycle there.

GM: The bike ride from Tulane to the CBD takes Mouse half an hour. The bank’s signature gray clock marked with “Whitney Banks” chimes at his arrival.

He obtains the temporary card from a teller without incident, but swiftly finds that he will have nothing to use it on. His bank account has been completely cleaned out by the thief and has a running balance of $0.

Mouse: It’s annoying to say the least. He tries to find the nearest ATM and ascertain how and where the thief managed to drain his account dry. Perhaps he can use that as a lead and uncover the man’s identity and whereabouts, hopefully getting justice for being robbed.

GM: As Mouse leaves the teller’s desk, the teller informs Mouse that there is a $30 fee for having his card replaced. Since his balance is $0, he is also charged an overdraft fee of $25, putting him at a total balance of -$55. Does he want to pay now or later?

Mouse: Mouse retrains the impulse to pull out his own hair and simply gives a disingenuous smile, stating that he will pay later.

GM: The teller informs him there will be a running overdraft charge for every day that his balance is in the negatives. He can also have his account closed for another fee.

Mouse: Twitch.

“No. It’s quite all right. I will pay later.”

He stiffly leaves the bank and gets back on his bike. He heads back to his dorm in an annoyed huff to get in contact with friends and family. He will also need to look into buying a bargain cellphone at this rate.

GM: Mouse rides back and arrives at his dorm room without incident, though he catches a few more looks.

Mouse: Thank God! he thinks to himself. The last thing he needs is to be hit by a car on his bike or for some gangbangers to steal it. He parks himself in front of his computer, searching for a good deal to replace his stolen phone. At the same time, he calls his Uncle Clarence on the landline to see about getting some extra cash for commission work. He imagines his older brother Francis has told Uncle Clarence about his troubles.

Mom is going to kill me! he grumbles inwardly. He hopes she doesn’t know.<

GM: A knock sounds against Mouse’s door.

Mouse: The dial tone only begins to sound before the knock on the door, and Mouse’s reaction is to quickly hang up the phone. He gets up and opens the door with an audible sigh.

GM: It swings open.

The man on the other side is tall, broad-shouldered, and barrel-chested. His features hover somewhere around middle-aged, with sun-blond hair just slightly receding from his ruddy-skinned temple. He’s dressed in a gray sports coat, a pressed sky-blue shirt that matches his eyes, and large gold belt buckle that depicts a bull’s-head on the center. The smile he offers Mouse is wide, fierce, and white, save for two flashes of gold-replaced teeth.

“Afternoon, son. Yer Mercurial Fernandez.”

The smile widens.

“Am I right, or am I wrong?”

Mouse: “You’re correct,” he replies, a little startled by the presence of the man in question. “I am Mouse.” He stands at the door a little dumbly.

GM: The big man’s grin spreads some more. “Yes you are.” He steps into the dorm room and closes the door behind him. “Ma name’s Bud.”

Mouse: Mouse is slim and hardly able to stop the man from barging in.

GM: “This here is Sue,” he says, patting the head of a blonde little girl whose presence Mouse didn’t notice. She wears a white sundress and brown cowboy boots.

Sue.jpg “Sue, be a doll an’ say hello to the nice man.”

Sue smiles up at Mouse. “Hi!”

Mouse: Mouse tries to put on a softer, more welcoming facade, but his bruised and tired face makes the look difficult to pull off convincingly. “Hi Bud. Hi Sue.” He is bewildered. “I don’t mean to be rude, but I am in the middle of organizing stuff. It’s been a difficult few days.” This is directed moreso at Bud.

“What exactly is this about, anyway?” he asks, trying to straddle that fine line between politesse and figuring out what the fuck is going on.

GM: Bud clucks his tongue as he places a meaty hand over the shorter man’s shoulder and walks him away from the door. “Mouse-boy, aren’t ya gonna offer us somethin’ ta drink? It’s hot as sin out there.”

Mouse: Mouse nods numbly, disturbed by the large man entering his personal space so casually. He moves away and goes to grab a couple cups. “I only have water and kool-aid,” he says, trying to get a read on the pair. “What did you want?” he asks.

GM: “Everything,” Bud answers with another too-wide grin.

It subsides into a mere smile after a moment. “But fer now, water will do jus’ fine, thank ya kindly.”

Mouse: “What about you, Sue?”

GM: “Kool-aid’s a nigger drink,” Sue pipes up.

“Now Sue, not in front o’ the nice man,” Bud chides with a wag of his finger.

Mouse: A chill runs up Mouse’s spine.

GM: “Sorry!” Sue smiles at him.

Mouse: Mouse chooses to outright ignore the little girl at this point. He simply pours a cup of water for Bud and stiffly hands it over. “We only have plastic cups. Sorry. It’s cheaper, y’know?”

GM: “Mouse-boy. Didn’t yer mama teach you ladies first?” Bud grins, not taking the cup.

Mouse: “I think you should leave, Bud,” the young man replies. He looks up at the larger, physically imposing man with a frown on his face.

GM: Bud clucks his tongue.

Mouse: “Please.” Mouse places the cup aside and moves to open the door.

GM: Before Mouse gets the chance, Bud’s fist smashes into his gut with all the force of a sack of bricks. Gore rises in the already sick-feeling young man’s throat.

Mouse: Mouse dry retches and keels over as his knees buckle instantly. His eyes roll into the back of his head from the shock of the blow. He blacks out.

Thursday afternoon, 17 September 2015

GM: Something cold and wet sprays against Mouse’s face.

“Rise an’ shine, darlin.’”

Mouse: Mouse groggily squints his eyes and then opens them to that voice.

GM: Bud’s wide grin stares down at Mouse. His head lies against something cold and hard, and his stomach feels like it’s about to explode. The inside of his throat burns from un-expelled gore. He’s in the bathroom. Bud is holding the shower head. He switches it off. In the corner of his eye, Mouse can make out a body slumped over his bed.

“Ya know, Mouse-boy, I had pets rats once when I was a kid. Have ta admit they weren’t very good pets.”

Mouse: Mouse’s initial reaction is panic as he scrambles to his feet, attempting to get away from Bud. He flatly ignores the man’s psychotic monologue.

GM: “Couldn’t do a whole lot with ’em. Run away if ya set ’em down.” The big man casually plants a wide hand on each of Mouse’s shoulders and half-shoves, half-slams him back to the bathroom floor.

Mouse: Mouse screams, loudly.

GM: “But ya know what the part was that really got me?” Bud asks. He plucks up a bathroom towel and stuffs it into Mouse’s mouth. “That really convinced me they was shit fer pets?”

Mouse: His voice muffles, whimpering in obvious defeat.

GM: Bud holds up a finger in emphasis. “They bit. Not very hard. ‘Nough ta draw blood, though. So there’d be these lil’ flecks o’ red, scattered over the wood shavin’s.”

“That’s what you put in a rat’s cage,” Bud adds in a ‘by the way’ tone. “Wood shavin’s. Do it fer hamsters, rabbits, an’ guinea piggies too.”

“Guinea piggies!” Sue claps, kicking her cowboy-booted feet. She’s sitting on the bed next to the motionless body.

Mouse: Mouse’s eyes are wild with disbelief and fear; he can’t believe the little girl is still present.

GM: “Thas’ right, Sue, guinea piggies,” Bud grins. “Anyway, where was I,” he drawls, turning his grin back towards Mouse.

“Ah yes. Blood. Rats bite, see. Not always. ‘Specially not if it’s their own. But if they’ve a mind ta do it, they’ll bite anyone who sticks a finger in front o’ ‘em, if they feel like it. Don’ matter if it’s their owner or a stranger then. Can’t help it. It’s jus’ what God made ‘em ta do. But fer me it was a matter o’ principle. I fed ‘em, watered ’em, changed their cages, gave ’em everythin’ they could want, an’ still. E’en one out o’ a million times. They’d bite me.”

Bud leans several inches closer. Mouse can see his reflection glinting in the man’s two gold teeth.

“Rats, Mouse.”

Mouse: Mouse doesn’t know what to do except nod his head.

GM: “They don’t care none fer love. Fer hospitality. Fer their owner. They jus’ bite. We asked ya very nicely fer some water, Mouse-boy. Sue e’en said she was sorry fer usin’ that bad word too, now didn’t she?”

“I’m sorry!” Sue smiles.

Bud grins again. “That she is.”

“An’ yet, though we asked ya very nicely as yer guests, ya still bit us.” Mouse’s reflection numbly stares back at him from gold silver teeth.

“An’ that, Mouse-boy,” the big man drawls, “is the gander o’ why I’m now gonna call you Rat-boy.”

Sue claps her hands. “Rat-boy!”

Mouse: A muffled, apologetic sob is all that Mouse can manage in his current towel-gagged state. He cries out apology after apology. His eyes are watery. The young man looks at his reflection in Bud’s gold teeth and sees a pathetic, beaten kid staring straight back at him. It’s humiliating.

GM: Bud puts a hand to his ear. “Whas’ that? Ya ain’t gonna scream like a lil’ sissy if I take yer gag out?”

Mouse: Mouse shakes his head in affirmation to Bud’s request.

GM: Bud smiles and pulls the towel out of Mouse’s mouth.

Mouse: “No, sir. I am sorry.”

It’s unfair. It hurts. His pride takes a beating. Fuck this guy!

GM: “Yes you are, Rat-boy. Yes you are.”

Mouse: “I am, Bud. I am, sir,” he whimpers. “I am sorry, Sue.” He can barely look at the evil little girl sitting back and watching.

GM: “Yer sorry ya took a beatin’, not that ya been rude,” Bud drawls in a low tone. “But rats are rats, Rat-boy. It’s jus’ the way God made ’em.” He looks over his shoulder. “Sue, ya got the kidnap-kit?”

Sue nods. “Uh-huh!”

Mouse: “Why are you doing this?” he asks in a quiet, small voice. “I don’t even know what’s going on.”

GM: “You be a doll then an’ do up Rat-boy’s friend,” Bud smiles.

Sue hops off the bed, her cowboy-booted feet hitting the floor with a thump, and disappears from Mouse’s sight.

Bud’s silver-spersed smile rotates back to Mouse. “So yer a man o’ business too, Rat-boy, gettin’ right down to it?” Bud clucks his tongue. “Well, okay. I’m a businessman too.”

“Ya bit Bert Villars’ finger, Rat-boy, jus’ like ya bit mine. On top, he ain’t so sure ya can pay yer legal bills. In fact, he’s pretty sure ya can’t.” Cluck-cluck-cluck goes Bud’s tongue. “Me, though, I’m a believer in people. I think you can pay, Rat-boy, if ya jus’ put yer mind to it like yer mama told you. He’s sold yer debt ta me. Ya don’t need ta worry no more about payin’ him back. It’s me you need ta worry ’bout now, Rat-boy.”

His gold-tinged grin widens. “Me an’ Sue.”

Mouse: Mouse’s brain twitches a little; he feels a part of himself break at that sudden twist of fate.

GM: “Now, yer debt is $2,000. I’ma-gonna charge ya 10% interest a week, compounded weekly. Compound,” Bud states with emphasis, “Means it, lesse, ‘builds off the cumulative sum owed.’ Makes the math look all funny. Yer min’mal weekly payment is $200.”

“An’ that, Rat-boy,” he declares with another too-wide silver smile, “is what Sue an’ I are here fer today. $200.”

Mouse: “I don’t have $200 on me!” he protests, his features numb with fright.

GM: Bud clucks his tongue. “They ne’er do, Rat-boy, in ma line o’ work. They ne’er do.”

Mouse: “I can pay you, though!” he exclaims. “I just need to get it!”

GM: “Uh-huh, that there’s another thing they always say. It’s like rats an’ bitin’. They jus’ do it by reflex.”

Mouse: “Does everyone in your line of work go to Tulane University?” he asks. He still looks frightened. “I can pay you!”

GM: “Rat-boy, I came ta this room fer $200, an’ I don’t mean ta leave this room without $200.” The big man shrugs. “Or I could break yer hands, I guess.”

Mouse: Mouse starts crying, clearly not wanting his hands broken. “I can pay you!” he begs more and more desperately.

GM: “But can ya pay me without leavin’ this room, Rat-boy?” Bud clucks.

Mouse: “I can!” he exclaims. “I only need to make a phone call!”

GM: “Well, Rat-boy, you are free as a bird ta make a call, but I sure hope you don’t plan on invitin’ any folks over. It ain’t turned out too well fer yer bud.” Bud grins. “Yer other bud.”

Mouse: “Thank you!” he says. He tries to get up and head for the phone.

GM: Bud’s thick hand lightly presses his chest down. “Ah-ah-ah, now.” The big man reaches inside his pocket and produces a phone of his own. “What number are we callin’, Rat-boy?”

Mouse: Mouse gives Bud the phone number to his uncle’s auto-repair shop.

GM: “Ya know,” Bud clucks, “we’re goin’ about this like a ma hen lookin’ fer her eggs when it’s omelets fer breakfast, I do reckon. Sue, there any ‘lectronics, credit cards, other things yer darlin’ lil’ eyes can make out?”

Mouse hears small booted feet striding around the room. Hands clap. “Guitar!”

Mouse: “No! Please!” Mouse sobs.

GM: “Yes, that’ll do jus’ dandy, I reckon,” Bud smiles.

Mouse: “I can pay! I work for my uncle!” Mouse feebly whines.

GM: Mouse sees Sue dragging the guitar by its end up to the bathroom. She smiles up at Bud.

Mouse: “Be careful!” he says, looking at one of his beloved Ashton acoustics.

GM: “Let’s check how much this thing is worth,” Bud drawls, pulling out his phone. “Lesse, price o’ cheap guitar…”

“Ah yes,” he nods after a moment, “that should jus’ about do it.”

Mouse: No! He used that guitar in his first gig. His mother bought him that for his eighteenth birthday! Mouse can only close his eyes and let the tears fall freely.

GM: Bud picks up the guitar with one hand, then slings the motionless male figure in blue jeans over his shoulder. Mouse barely catches a glimpse of the youth’s face before Bud turns back around to face him. “Okay, Rat-boy, yer in the clear fer this week.”

Mouse: Mouse can only remain in a crouched position on the ground as he watches Bud and Sue leave his dorm room.

GM: He clucks his tongue again. “Sue ma doll, if I’m not off ma mark, we’re gonna ‘tract ourselves ’tention like a fair’s prize hog, carryin’ this boy ’round. Ya checked the kidnap kit?”

Sue nods. “Uh huh!”

“Routine #9?” the big man grins.

“#9!” Sue smiles back. She offers a thumbs-up.

“That jus’ dills ma pickle, Sue.”

Mouse: “Please!” he asks. “Don’t hurt him!” He tries his best to be brave. It’s only a small voice that comes out. He remains crouched on the floor.

GM: Bud doesn’t smile this time. He laughs. It’s a rich, thick, belly-deep sound that sends his whole stomach a-jostling. “Ya volunteerin’ ta take his place, Rat-boy?”

Mouse: “No.” He whimpers some more and hugs himself on the floor.

GM: The laughter dies. The smile returns. A scared, defeated little boy stares back from Bud’s gold teeth. “I didn’t think so.”

Bud shifts the motionless body over his shoulder. “Oh, one more thing. Go ta yer brother o’er this an’ I’ll kill ’im.”

Mouse: Mouse shivers at the genuine threat; he nods his head numbly.

GM: Sue waves at Mouse and gives him a big smile. “Bye-bye!”

Thursday afternoon, 17 September 2015

Mouse: An hour after Bud hustles him for his guitar, Mouse simply drinks a couple glasses of water and stares at his computer screen as he searches up good deals for a new phone. He’s numb and uncharacteristically quiet. He’s cleaned himself up, but he still feels dirty.

A more determined, angry frown appears on his face as the minutes tick on by and the anxiety begins to fade from his body. He won’t stand for this. He looks into applying to join The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Men of Color, and the Tulane Black Student Union.

GM: Mouse finds, to his chagrin, that joining the NAACP isn’t free. The following membership options are available:

$30.00—Annual Adult

$750.00—Silver Lifetime

$75.00—Lifetime Subscription; 10 Annual Installments of $75

Mouse: Mouse swears under his breath. It seems to him that money is the biggest issue on his plate.

He looks up his MeVid video and begins putting up a Patreon page, creating a link to the NAACP on the video’s description and adding a link to his own Patreon to help generate some funds for himself.

Concurrently, Mouse looks into the two other groups on Tulane’s campus, wanting their details and means to join them.

GM: Mouse finds that his video has already attracted thousands of views, hundreds of likes, and more comments than his browser can fully load.

i watched this video so many times

> same

> yeah me too

i hate cops

please do a part two

> lol get beat by police again

It’s sad had true this is. I get chills. He needs a part 2. They still have permission

Accept Jesus Christ before martial law and New world order

How does this not have 1 million views yet ???

> yet

Smh now look … This video is so much more prevalent now

added to favorites

This Video is more Relevint than ever now.

this song is like a drug

I’m the only who got scared? that shit scared the shit out of me

is this real?

> no

i am literally in tears


Was a Black Female raped by The C.O.P if so could someone provide a name.

this honestly makes me cry

My cousin was shot and killed be cause he was holding a Wii remote and this song’s about him and i thank you for it not because of him but for everyone. It’s really sad when people do nothing wrong or follow what people say but still get killed. #copkill

> I’m so sorry for youre los

> G-d bless him Rest in peace

> the officer didn’t have a clear visual of what was in his hand, why did he even come out with a remote anyway he could’ve just left it inside, sorry for your loss by the way it wasn’t the officers mistake not all of them are bad I want to be one when I grow up

> Officer Freddy the officer did it before too when a woman was opening her backpack and the officer shot her. her computer had stuff about how she heard voices so it kinda was the officers fault and i know that not all of them are bad but there are some bad ones and he was in the middle of hooking up the wii after watching saw2 so he asked the officer who it was and no response and so he opened the door and he got shot for A NONVOILENT WARRENT FOR HIS FATHER. HIS FATHER IS A NO GOOD SCUMBAG WHO MISSED COURT SO NONE OF IT WOULDNT HAVE HAPPEND IF ITWASNT FOR HIM


Only fools fight the police.

Good song but sad as shit and I’m only 10

Ta’Aliyah brought me here

Fuck the police man when I grow up I might just kill all cops

this is soooo deep :O :O

man , the government just laughs at us ! FUCK THE MURDEOUS POLICE! >:( justice for all ! fuck capitalism FUK EM ALL ! whos wit me ! we could change the world ! fuk what dormer says ! BUILD THE WALL ALREADY DUMB BITCH " ! we need to rebell & start a WAR !

Everybody please share this video

love it!!!

This Man is so Amazing! He needs to do a part 2! I listen to him like 10 times! I can’t get enough of him! I wish he would do more Songs and Updates! I hope I can meat this Man and just Shake His Hand! Great job and keep doing You man don’t listen to what Anybody says You keep your Head up and do what YOU THINK IS RIGHT! :D

for god sack be Americans and do something about this just like you did to the british fight back with words or actions

this Video is so true

lol nigger turns head into punching bag


follow your heart this video….. D:

faved x10000

fuk the police

This is so fucking good like fuck man all these cops just doing this bullshit and the people that say all lives matter I mean it’s true but when the black community is just getting killed and beat because they have a different skin color like really and I forgot the guys name someone tell me and forgive me for forgetting I’m gonna find out his name again after I put this but his fiancé recorded the aftermath of him getting shot in his damm car because he reached for the gun permit the fucking cop asked for and he actually told the fucking cop about it but nah since he’s black he can not be actually doing something good like really. His fucking kid was in the car and if you think anyone would really consider putting there family in danger so when people say ohh the cop was protecting himself shut the fuck up the cop was a racist kid man it just makes me angry man I really hope we can fix this shit

This video doesn’t show what happens before the cops shoot or beat this boy, he is by no means innocent and he committed some sort of crime or violation and did not comply

> fuck fucking pig

Some cops are such a d*** they need to grow up

when i see innocent people being attacked i feel really sad like this poor guy :c but i couldnt care less for thiefs or murderers they deserve to die =u=

> A thief deserves to die? Taking something that doesn’t belong to you is reason for you to lose your life? Jesus christ kid, don’t EVER, EVER become a cop. Or anyone in power, for that matter. You’re just as much of an asshole as these cops.

Nazi’s i hate this country Dormer and Underwood go to H#@$

Good job,you are doing so well!!!

Dry up funding for police. They no longer are protecting us. There are just too many bullies.

> And the military is giving cops their surplus combat gear! SMH.

> Stupid. You’ll be the first one crying when the cops don’t show up fast enough to help you. Lol.

> +Carmen Mezzo you’re a pussy for not being able to defend yourself

> your mom’s yelling for you to get out of the basement—dinner’s ready.

> ^ Classic liberal retort.

Support: HA HA NIGGER!


GM: POLICE are AT WAR WITH AMERICAN CITIZENS are guns are the only thing we have to defend ourselves with



GM: > Blue lives matter!

I do not see anything particularly strange. The police must protect themselves. Sometimes they exaggerate a bit ’, but it is understandable because it is a job that puts a strain on the person.

Support: > Some people just want someone to blame for their own mistakes.

GM: I wish dis vid had more than just 800k views. Da world needs 2 c dis.

Why is there no full videos before attacks start?

No doubts why Dormer hates Niggers


GM: i have watched this so many times and i still cried of anger to the cops and now i feel ashamed of being here

fuck the police

Support: I hate being white.

GM: I’m not black but fuck this black and white shit. We should all just end this fucked up bullshit. Why can’t we be a society. Black people are trying and so are most white people but those messed up people are the ones in charge. Then it creates a rift between are people. Not all cops are bad but the ones that are keep fucking up are whole community. Fuck Rob dormer, the whole fucking police department that keeps killing potential leaders. We could’ve had the next tupac or Shakespeare or Albert Einstein but we’ll never know will we, because people are dying left and right. For anyone who reads this, I’m no cracker or wigger or any labeled white person. I’m a human being with a voice and a brain and my brain is telling my mouth to create my voice that says we need to stick together. I find this gruesome and disgusting but our whole community, not just blacks, or whites, need to step up and stand up against this bullshit. We need each other. Acceptance is key. :)

y’all some weak ass bitch mother fucking pigs u weak ass fucking sissy’s. you ho as fucking bitches maybe I should join the police then I could shoot all u fucking pigs are beat y’all like u do us weak fucks

I love this vid A cop took my uncle life for nothing

Some cops are nice but most cops abuse their powers and it pisses me of

> Djengo Russell yeah some actually just want to do their job and protect people .. but the bad ones mess it up for everyone

Support: Oh man I could masturbate to this



GM: This stands for the right that us Black people have it makes no sense that Cop doesnt gets suspeneded for beating a innocent black man

Support: i fapped to this

GM: all the dislikers have to scratch rt

Support: play stupid games win stupid prizes

GM: Its not that police lives matter, its not that all lives matter, its that black lives dont matter. They only changed the “black” in “BLACK LIVES MATTER” to ALL or to BLUE. Pigs are only “BLUE” 40 hours a week while us black people are BLACK 24/7 365. So for people who say “all lives matter” they really dont because everyone is not getting killed by police. And for people who say “blue lives matter” they really dont because they are not the ones being killed on they daily.😡

Support: it was at this moment SJW #1 realized, he fucked up

GM: This gave me the chills

lyrics made my cry

Tried to donate a few bucks for making the song but found no way to do it! Whats up with that?

> Theres a patreon u idiot

> Wasnt when he posted idiot

Now that is what I call creative.

I cried…….. D:

there should be laws punishing these cops 10 fold what a civilian would many cops abuse their power it makes me sick.

Support: I can’t believe that the police are attacking all of those nice, peaceful, non violent leftists! (Sarcasm Off)

GM: fuck the cops specially american cops they are fucking pig

> it’s time we kill all the fucking pigs

I guess a lot of people might not know this. This is how the government enforces the rules. The government owns everything you own nothing. That is why you pay taxes on everything. Public property is not your property it is government property. The police are granted the rights to use deadly force to protect government property. The few people in government run the world get use to it. Follow the rules and climb to the top. Break the rules and you might end up dead. >=]

Support: if u dislike this video go fuck ur self

GM: Where is the police brutality? I don’t see any. I wish we had these police officers in my country! These civilians is so arrogant.

> Someone’s mother didn’t give them any attention as a child I’m guessing >_< lol

Support: So sad to see people getting abused by the police because they don’t know their rights. You are a soveriegned citizen. If you get yourself incorporated under the law the police can’t touch you. Check my link at


> how i incorporate

> You click the link n get a virus

> ur gonna get raped

Support: > Yeah right, this guy is just trying to deny you your rights. This is how they scare you sheepe into being sheep

I want to have your mixed babies.

GM: > I wanna kill em :D

they really earn the hate don’t they.11


Not enough watermelon.

GM: > ten melons fo $10 LAWDY IS I IN HEAVEN?!?!?! :O

Support: This is what happens when you give a monkey a camera.

GM: That’s the reason they are trying to disarm the civilian population.That way no one can defend themselves from this kind of government allowed police brutality. As far as I can tell if any of these victims were armed they had every right to shoot these COWARDS…

> there was only one victim

> cops victimise EVERYONE!

Support: > WAY TO MISS THE POINT. This is a song about the suffering of everyone. It’s an aleogory.

Am I the only one that thinks he’s super cute?

GM: lol I still wanna be a cop. fuck off. they are a few bad apples in the police but not all are only ignorant people believe cops aremall bad. also if I were to witness the beating of a cop I would personally beat the shit out of the one beating.

Support: Typically black way. Commit a crime then cry about it. He’s probably some damn “thug nigga” bitch that got shown his place. Cry more!

GM: > hes gonna get shot n a week

> he will be a MARTYR…………..

> he didnt die

We need a sequel There’s been many more life’s that been took’n yur the voice bet it would go viral so everyone can see how it is -Nothing makes us different from these pussys

Support: Hey guys, I think I found him.

GM: > friend me

> me toooo

> Im sending cops to yor house….. >:D


> Lmao. He looks like a pussy.

GM: > your pussy

Support: > I sent you a friend request. You should call me sometime, we could go out.

GM: > Gon get RAPED

> Gon get loooved tenderly

this really just brought me to tears #blacklivesmatter

You have to remember there are still good cops out there and the news only puts the bad ones on there people in my family are cops there not bad people

> Not all cops are bad but there are a lot that are. On the news I’m not even seeing most police brutality, most of it is only shown on social media. And you could only wonder why …

this is so heart breaking my sister has asma that was heard to watch😢😢😳😟

Support: This is why black people dserver reperations.

GM: I wanna become a cop so i can slap dis nigga and get away with it. Fuckin cry baby

> hes speaking the truth tho

> You a bitch, if you was to become a cop I’d kill yo bitch ass for him pussy


GM: goose bumps all up and down my arms .. this is so relevant .

Support: I can’t ever understand your struggle as a cis white male, but I totally feel for you.

GM: we need 2 kil the military……

Support: This is white privilege.

GM: I Love This Video ITS so true and it’s still happening today And he said when we start shooting back we shooting to kill and that’s what they doing so it is what it is eye for a eye f*** how you feel

Support: But did you die?

GM: > He didnt die lol

Support: > Then why is he cry like a bitch?

GM: > after he put this video out did he get shot……?

> no

Support: > Yes.

This was my cousin and it was the last thing he ever made before the police kicked down his door and killed him. This is what it is to be black in AmeriKKKA.

GM: watched again n again gives me chills


Support: Man, that’s so fucked up. Beating up a black gay dude.

GM: > ….=(


> hes not a woman

Support: Bye Felicia.

GM: facts

Support: > Facts. He’s a fucking criminal.

GM: Not all cops are bad most people know that but what I don’t understand is how there are so many fucking corrupt cops man makes me disappointed in my country.

This shit has been happening since the 90s, people were outraged then (for about a week or 2) then they didn’t care, and nothing happened to help the situation, let’s actually make changes this time around #blacklivesmatter

Support: bro you got beat like rodney king.

GM: I love to see cops getting killed. Payback pigs.


GM: i criied watching this video . cause its a shame that this is truu . #blacklivesmatter .

Small song, massive impact, respect

no lie hes so dope :)

Support: i cant wait for the day that we rise up and kill al lthe white people for the shits they have done to us to keep black people down they are afraid of superior black men and just trying to keep us down

GM: > down n the fields! back 2 work nigger!


> those fine white bitchs though.

GM: #NojusticeNopeace

fuck the popo




Mouse: Mouse reads over the comments in disbelief. “Wow.”

He reads some more. “Wait. I’m not gay! Fuck you!”

He reads some more. “Wow.”

He looks at his Patreon page.

GM: There are no donations yet, but Mouse has only just set it up. Judging from the MeVid comments, there is a clear market for his page.

Mouse: Still, early days. Mouse smiles weakly at some semblance of good news, desperately clinging to anything good at this stage.

GM: A comment pops up on his MeVid video.

kill all niggers

Mouse: An annoyed frown forms on Mouse’s beaten face at the comment. He gives it a quick thumbs down in retaliation. “Take that!” he says with indignation as he closes the video.

Mouse then continues looking into Tulane’s black student unions, means for joining them, and what they seem to offer.

GM: Mouse is able to pull up the websites for both organizations in short order:

Mouse: Mouse flits through the websites and is disappointed to find no contact information. He is pleased, however, to find information on what each organisation stands for and that they’re open to membership with the only proviso being that he is a student and reflects their values.

He grabs the landline, dialling the number to his Uncle Clarence’s chop shop once again. His stomach lurches at the memory of Bud knocking at his door, but he quickly quashes the memory. He needs money and Uncle Clarence is the only one he knows that could have a job for him.

Reality is, Bud’s an asshole—but he’s a fucking scary asshole. Mouse doesn’t want to poke that bear. Though thoughts of petty vengeance do cross his mind.

Money first, the young man thinks to himself, ruefully.

GM: The phone rings several times before picking up. “’Lo?” greets an older man’s thick voice.

Mouse: “Uncle Clarence!” Mouse chirps, relieved to hear his voice. “It’s Mouse! How are you?”

GM: “I’m all righ’, kid, how you doin’?” Clarence asks his beaten and extorted nephew.

Mouse: “Shit. If I am being honest.” Mouse expands, “I got robbed, my bank account drained, and I need money for bills… was hoping you needed me for a job or something…?”

GM: “You got robbed? At Tulane?” Clarence asks, mostly disbelievingly, but also like he’s trying to keep a guffaw out of his voice.

Mouse: Mouse laughs. The idea of getting robbed in Tulane is funny. “No. I got robbed in Jackson Square while busking for money. Some short, weird guy picked my pocket. He drained my bank account.”

Mouse sighs, the memory leaving a sour taste in his mouth. Almost as sour as the memory of being beaten to a pulp that followed shortly after.

GM: “Aw, that’s some tough luck,” the older man grunts. “Anyway, you know we gotta work fast when there’s a job. No more’n a few hours. So don’t got nothin’ now, but tell you what. When there is a job, I’ll know who to call.”

Mouse: Mouse suddenly gets a bit nervous, but desperation calls. “Don’t tell Francis, but I was thinking that I could help out with… another job… y’know, um, if one comes up. Do you think I should talk to Dontell about maybe helping ‘get cars’?”

GM: “Dontell’s got other things on his mind these days, now that we’ve taken over the Rosebush. It don’t run itself. Mainly your brother who does the cars now.”

Mouse: “Oh.” Shows how much Mouse knows.

GM: “Hang in there,” his uncle states in farewell.

Mouse: “Okay. I will.”

GM: The line clicks.

With his promised job pending, and his Patreon page just put up, Mouse has little to do but wait.

Mouse: Mouse isn’t the type to wait idly while depending on others to save his ass—he only does the latter. He gives his big brother a phone call.

GM: Mouse rings several times, but Francis does not seem around to answer his cell. Resigned, but knowing he has a great deal on his plate, the college student returns to his coursework and the matter of his outstanding court fees. It’s dull, plodding work, and various MeVid videos about police brutality directed at black men offer enticing distractions. By the time Mouse has caught up with his assignments, the fat Dixie sun hangs low in the pink-hued sky like a swollen peach. Mouse fixes some dinner, unwinds watching a movie, and gets ready for bed. His bruised face still hurts, as does his pride.

At least he’ll get to spend tonight in his own bed.

Previous, by Narrative: Story Six, Caroline III
Next, by Narrative: Story Six, Caroline IV, Mouse V

Previous, by Character: Story Six, Mouse III
Next, by Character: Story Six, Caroline IV, Mouse V

Story Six, Caroline III

“Once you know about the things in the shadows, once you open that door… you can’t ever close it. It changes you. For the worse.”
Claire Malveaux

Thursday ?, 17 September 2015

GM: “Wake up, Caroline.”

Caroline: The Ventrue’s eyes snap open.

GM: It’s a heart attack in reverse. Her body is numb with pain, as if being pinpricked with a hundred needles. Instinct screams to flail, but her arms won’t move. Then she feels blood shooting through her arteries (her heart does not beat), her paralyzed limbs tingling and growing flush. She feels so sluggish, so awful still. Like being hungover with a splitting headache outside on a 100 degree day. The reaction doesn’t so much as pass her conscious mind. There’s a far more pressing one.


Hungry, crackling, smoking flames, everywhere. The vampire’s Beast screams in instinctive, mindless panic.

Caroline: She loses herself behind the Beast’s will, it’s surging tide of need. For days she’s beaten it back, beaten it down, but the flames are too much. It recognizes the instinctive enemy she’s only seen in the narrowest of margins. Today, having long bided its time, the Beast takes its moment.

GM: The Man doesn’t stand a chance against its atavistic counterpart. As soon as it registers the flames, the Beast is in the driver’s seat. Caroline feels her sluggish body moving, racing as fast and as far away as it can—then skidding to a stop.

Flames. In front of her.

The Beast flees.

Flames. Behind her.

The Beast twists.

Flames. To the left. To the right.

Flames. Everywhere.

The Beast screams.

Flames. Surrounded. On all sides.

It whines and paces, wildly searching for an opening like the trapped animal it is. None. Encircled. Trapped.

Caroline: It contemplates a dive through the flames, a mad flight, or perhaps her human brain does, because the animal certainly cannot bring itself to such a thing.

GM: Time passes. The flames hiss, crackle, and burn. Her flesh does not.

Caroline: It’s Hell. She’s finally arrived in Hell. Panic does not abate. A human might reason or rationalize. It might establish control if not calm. For the Beast there can be no such rationalization. It’s caught in a trap it can’t escape and can do little but spin in fear, watching the kin to its great enemy snap and crackle all around it. The smoke would be choking if she were living, and in a way the blackness that would follow would be a mercy compared to the feeling of helpless terror that she can’t escape.

GM: The fire burns. More time passes. It could be an instant. It could be a thousand years. The Beast doesn’t think in units of time. Just burning and not burning.

And for it, too much is burning.

Still more time passes.

Caroline: Part of her is certain that this can’t be real. The flames. The sheer overwhelming terror of the Beast. It’s the worst nightmare of her life.

GM: But, as with all nightmares, the sleeper must eventually awaken. It’s no kinder an awakening than her initial one. There’s a splitting pain behind her skull, like the migraine to end all migraines. Her ears ring and her vision swims—but the red haze recedes.

She’s surrounded by fire—a perfect geometric ring that encloses and entraps her. The Beast rears again in instinctive panic.

Caroline: This time she’s ready, or as ready as she can be. The chain jerks tight around the Beast’s neck as she refuses to let it seize control again.

GM: Her inner monster whines and paces, pushed back but not banished. The Man processes its surroundings. Caroline is lying on her cot in the panic room. Someone has constructed a circle of twigs and chalk-like etchings around her. The ring of fire blazes no more than inch high—still far too high for her Beast.

The steel door is pushed all the way open. There’s an uneven hole drilled into the center, and the surrounding metal is warped and twisted. Her clothes are absent from the closet, and several strategically placed fans blow the smoke out of the room.

Four figures are seated on folding chairs throughout the cramped space. Two are male, two female, if the shapes of their bodies are any indication. They’re dressed in dark suits and wear featureless white masks. One of them isn’t masked. She’s notably dressed in a black pantsuit rather the skirts she usually prefers, and flats instead of heels.

It’s her mother.

Her face is a mask of the same pain Caroline last saw twisting it.

Caroline: It’s a new type of terror that seizes the Ventrue’s heart. Surrounded. Some kind of pagan rite. Her hiding place destroyed. Her mother having caught her in daysleep. Her mouth moves, but no words come out as she looks around, and for a moment her thoughts are no more different than the Beast’s. Fight or flee? Neither is attractive. Who knows what time it is or what waits outside the small room. Who knows what they’re capable of?

At last she garbles out a word. “Okay…” She’d be trembling if she could still tremble.

GM: Claire stares at her daughter. Her jaw is set, but the hurt in her eyes no less severe. She turns to one of the masked men. “Give me some time with her.”

“I wouldn’t advise that,” he answers.

“I’m not asking for your advice,” Claire flatly replies.

The man doesn’t shrug, but his voice sounds like he is. “It’s your decision.”

Caroline: Caroline looks between them, trying to understand the dynamic at play. Four people. Three masked. There’s fear in her eyes as she looks around, some like that of a cornered animal, but also that of a misbehaving child.

GM: The man produces a silver dollar from his pocket and holds it up, catching the fire’s glint. “The circumference of that circle is as close to this one’s as I can make it.”

Caroline: Caroline looks between them. She sits up in the bed.

GM: “I still don’t advise this,” he continues. “But we won’t be far.” The three masked figures rise from their seats and file out of the panic room.

Caroline: Caroline watches them go, then turns her gaze back to her mother. Even with them gone she feels vulnerable. Unmasked. Off-balance. The fire still burns oh so close, and the Beast thrashes on its chain at its very existence.

GM: Claire does not reply to them. Or even look at them. She just stares at her daughter.

Caroline: Caroline takes an unsteady breath of smoky air. “Mom, I…”

The words die. There’s no explanation she can offer. No story. No lies. This one moment of unvarnished truth sits between them.

Finally she says in a meek voice, “I’m sure you have questions.”

GM:How,” her mother manages raggedly. “How did this happen to you, Caroline?”

Caroline: There’s no room for lies. She doesn’t want to lie anyway.

“Decadence,” she murmurs quietly. Is that a quiver in her lip, or is that just where she keeps her arrows? “I… everything I told you was true, I just left out… well.”

GM: “You’re why Paxton’s missing,” her mother says hoarsely. “Why Orson stood up for you. Why that girl looked the way she did.”

Caroline: A mask of grief and shame. “Yes… he found me the next morning. I was hiding in a closet. I… I had no idea…” The defenses are weak.

GM: Her mother holds up a preemptive hand. “Caroline.”

Caroline: “Mom, I didn’t… I didn’t want this. I didn’t choose this.”

GM: Claire leans forward in her chair. The pain in her eyes is all the more fresh, but her voice is iron. “What happened to your brother?

Caroline: “I didn’t attack him or anything, Mom. I… it’s complicated. I don’t know for sure.” The words come tumbling out. “I tried to find a way to rescue him, but they all just…” Her jaw snaps closed. “How much do you actually know about all of this?”

GM: Claire rises from her seat, walks several paces closer to the burning circle, and stoops down to look Caroline square in the eye.

“What. Has happened. To your brother.”

Caroline: “He took him. To the Dungeon. I don’t know beyond that,” she confesses.

GM:Who took him, Caroline? When? How do you know this?”

Caroline: “You don’t understand,” she all but sobs.

GM: “Caroline,” her mother repeats slowly. “Understand this.”

“He’s my fucking son.”

Caroline: “René Baristheaut,” she spits pathetically. “The bastard who made me this way. He was trying to force me into the French Quarter so he could… I don’t even know. I don’t understand any of it, Mom.”

GM: Her mother’s face, still at even eye level, stares into hers. “Start from the beginning. Take your time.” There’s the briefest of pauses. “We have a great deal of it.”

Caroline: “What time is it?” Caroline asks quietly.

GM: “Day.”

Caroline: A grimace. “There are people coming over tonight. It would be better if you weren’t here when they arrive.”

GM: Her mother gets up and resumes her seat on the folding chair, crossing her legs.

“Start from the beginning, Caroline. Of all of this.”

Caroline: Caroline’s eyes dart to the flames around her.

“Can you at least put out the fire?”

GM: “No,” her mother answers.

Caroline: Caroline folds up on the uncomfortable cot, drawing her knees up to her chin. It’s as far away from the fire as she can get.

“Decadence,” she begins. “Aimee is drugged. I’m drunk—maybe drugged as well—and dragged into an alley by attackers.” She bites her lower lip. “Someone else shows up just before they murder me. He was charming, he was terrifying. He was monstrous. I never even knew his name before I saw his teeth. I ‘woke up’ in the park. Alone.”

She tells of her first moments, terrified, hurt, and so thirsty. Of hiding in the hotel. Of Paxton finding her and dragging her into the sunlight. The frenzy, the gunshots, his blood on her tongue. His blood everywhere else too, alongside her own. Of her trip to visit her uncle at his demand. The discovery that she could influence him, and her subsequent meeting with Father Malveaux. Her imprisonment, near-execution, and brief stay of it. The illicitness of her ‘Embrace.’ Attempts to find her sire and learn more, Aimee and Gabriel’s involvement and the former’s forced ghouling. Aimee’s abduction by Eight-Nine-Six and efforts to get her back. Whips biting into her flesh. Knives tearing long furrows in it. Bullets. Machetes. Finally the phone call demanding she exchange herself, and her ill-advised attempt to draw in Kindred authorities. “By the time they dropped me off it was too late. I don’t know what deal was struck, or what happened, but he was waiting.”

She tells, in heart-wrenching detail, of René’s description of Westley’s torments. Of his cries for her and for Claire. Of her own utter helplessness.

“He’s in the prince’s hands now,” she spits. “But I don’t know what happened to Westley, and if I go back…” She clenches her teeth. Her emotions are a rollercoaster through the tale, and when she comes to its climax she’s all but a wreck, having relived the dismantling of her life and her own monstrousness for the second time in as many days.

“I’ve just been trying to stay one step ahead of it all, one skip ahead of my doom, swing ahead of the sword, one trick ahead of disaster…”

GM: Claire is not a passive listener and has many, many questions throughout Caroline’s tale. Why the sheriff did this. Why the hound did that. Where she was, when such-and-such happened.

Caroline: Caroline tries to answer as best she can, but the motives of the sheriff, the hounds, and most other players are in truth opaque to her.

GM: The Guard de Ville’s motives are only a small sample of the many questions Claire has to ask. Times. Locations. Histories. Motives. Personalities. She does her best to naturally work them into other inquiries, of which there are many, but in the end it doesn’t escape Caroline… her mother seems to know less about the All-Night Society’s workings than she does. No doubt Caroline is furnishing her with a great deal of intelligence.

But despite the extent of her questioning, that clearly isn’t the first thing on Claire’s mind. Her mother remains mostly impassive when the tale begins. That doesn’t last as it drags on. Her expression vacillates between disbelief, horror, rage, and, most tellingly… tears.

There’s nothing loud or dramatic about them. There are just several times throughout Caroline’s recitation that Claire’s pained expression finally breaks and she’s forced to dab at her eyes with a tissue.

Caroline: Caroline fights her own tears when she relates her brother’s fate, wiping them away with red-stained hands.

“I couldn’t tell you… I couldn’t bring you into all of this.”

GM: Claire doesn’t reply, save for a long stare that speaks a thousand words. She finally looks away from Caroline, pulls out her phone, and taps a message while wiping away a few more tears.

Caroline: “You need to be careful with this, Mom,” Caroline murmurs.

GM: A few moments pass. One of the masked, suited men from earlier strides into the room.

Claire rises from her seat. “I’ll be back soon, Caroline,” she says hoarsely.

Caroline: “Don’t leave here, Mom,” Caroline all but begs. “Please… it’s so hard to control it with the fire…”

GM: “You won’t be a problem. I’m not leaving the house.” Claire steps out of the panic room.

Caroline is left alone with the masked man. He sits down. He doesn’t say anything.

Caroline: Caroline similarly says nothing. She hugs her legs and does her best not to look at the flames. To ignore the smell. To ignore the creeping exhaustion kept away only by the peril. In that moment one can almost pretend that she’s simply a terrified and imprisoned girl rather than an inhuman monster. The struggle against the influence of the flames is oh so obvious, but she retains control for now.

GM: The masked figure watches Caroline closely, but otherwise does not speak. Time passes. Claire finally returns.

Caroline: The time wears on Caroline quite clearly. Her face is lined with concentration as she clings to control.

GM: It’s worn on her mother, too, if the senior Malveaux’s face is any indication. There’s no longer any anger. Any tears. She just looks numb. She stares at the masked man. He wordlessly leaves the room. Claire sits down on one of the chairs.

Caroline: Caroline can’t look down at her mother’s face. She stares at the ceiling. Anything to avoid the flames.

GM: “Westley is dead,” her mother says in a small voice.

Caroline: Caroline shakes as tears run down her strained face. “I’m sorry, Mom.” She clings to herself all the more tightly.

GM: Claire places a hand against her temple and closes her eyes.

Caroline: “I’m so sorry.”

GM: The circle’s flames continue to hungrily crackle and lick against Caroline’s frayed sanity. Her mother does not reply, but simply sits in place with her eyes closed, her hand unmoving from her forehead.

Caroline: It’s an image she can’t bear. Caroline buries her head in her knees, blocking it out.

GM: Blackness engulfs Caroline’s sight. The flame continues to hiss and smoke. The room’s fans spin. She concentrates on the noise. If she doesn’t, she can all but see her Beast furiously pacing. The Beast her mother saw. How long did the frenzy last before she regained control? How long did Claire watch the hissing, spitting thing in her daughter’s skin thrash and whine from its fiery cage?

Caroline: A matter she’s less concerned about than she is concerned over letting it happen again.

GM: More time passes. The Beast whines in her ear, alone in the dark with naught but the fans—and flames—to distract from its inescapable presence.

Caroline: She looks up.

GM: Her mother has set down her hand. She’s staring at Caroline with a hollow expression.

Caroline: “Mom,” she squeaks out between clenched teeth.

GM: Claire looks at her.

Caroline: “You need to go.” There’s a distance in Caroline’s eyes. “I can’t hold it back forever, not with the fire.” Her face is stained red with dried tears. “I don’t want to hurt you too.”

GM: “We’ve taken more precautions than fire, Caroline,” her mother says in a near-monotone. “I’m in no danger from you.”

Caroline: There’s no hiding the pain that the flames are causing her. “Please, Mom.”

GM: “The circle won’t perform its function without fire, Caroline,” her mother explains in that same unwavering voice. “It must incorporate a substance the creature finds anathema.”

Caroline: “And what is that function, Mom?”

GM: “Allowing us to talk in peace.”

Caroline: The hurt on her face is so very obvious. Tears leak again from the corners of her eyes.

GM: The empty look on her mother’s face does not change. “I will grieve for your brother. I will grieve for your brother later.”

Caroline: “I couldn’t hurt you, Mom.”

GM: Claire seems to stare more fully at her daughter. “What do you want, Caroline? Out of your existence.”

Caroline: “Out of this existence, you mean.” The hurt is still here. And bitterness.

GM: “Your existence,” her mother repeats. “It isn’t like mine.”

Caroline: I don’t know. The thought is dismissed as soon as it passes her mind. It’s an obvious lie she can’t even tell herself. She bites her lip.

“I don’t want to die,” she admits. “I don’t want to go to Hell. I want to survive. I want… to see if I can find something worthwhile in this existence. I want the power to protect the family from this ever happening again. I want to be strong. I just… I want to live.”

GM: Her mother stares at her for another moment. “It’s not living.”

Caroline: “Or… whatever this is. I’m scared, Mom. Scared of what’s waiting. I don’t know what I can find in this existence, but I know what the alternative is.”

GM: Claire silent again for a while at Caroline’s next words.

“I don’t know what happens to your kind after they die, Caroline. I don’t know anyone who really does.”

Caroline: Your kind.

“You know, Mom. We all do,” Caroline replies quietly.

GM: “No, we don’t. Not for sure.”

Caroline: “I can tell you, Mom. The way this thing inside me reacts to fire. The way it twists and screams when you light a match. We burn. It’s burned before. And it’ll burn again. It’s only a matter of time.”

GM: Her mother stares ahead again. “There are some things you haven’t told me.”

Caroline: Caroline nods pathetically, her head on her knees. She’s all but squirming now.

GM: Claire still looks more numb than anything else. “No games. We had enough last night.”

Caroline: “What do you want to know, Mom?” Caroline asked tiredly. “Do you want to hear about people I’ve hurt? Would it make it easier to do what you’re thinking about already?”

GM: “No. But I want to hear it.”

Caroline: “Paxton and Trenton,” she murmurs before looking up.

GM: The second name only gets a blank look.

Caroline: “Those are the two humans I’ve killed. Paxton… I kept trying to save him. To help him. The blood has healing properties. I don’t fully understand it, but I kept trying to get his wounds to close.” There’s sadness in her eyes. “He wouldn’t listen. Wouldn’t wait. Wouldn’t stop.”

“I came back the last time and he was nearly dead. He maimed himself trying to get away while I was gone, and he gave me a choice: let him go or let him die. I didn’t even understand what I was doing to him with the blood. What he was going through.”

GM: “I saw you twist Roger’s mind,” her mother states.

Caroline: Caroline nods. “I learned that after Gabriel’s visit. In those first couple days I was so… I had no idea what I was doing. But Aimee… she can’t keep her mouth shut. She’ll blab, and they’ll come and punish me. And they’ll kill her. So I made Roger drop her off somewhere else.”

GM: Her mother stirs at that. “Where?”

Caroline: “With… a friend. She picked her up on a street corner. I don’t know exactly where she took her. It’s something we’re supposed to discuss tonight.”

GM: “Is your friend one of you?”

Caroline: A shallow nod.

GM: “Do you have her phone number?”

Caroline: There’s something else on Caroline’s face now: suspicion. “Why?”

GM: “So I can send… Aimee to a place that can actually help her. Not a rehab clinic. And not one of you.”

Caroline: “They’ll kill her if I let that happen, Mom. And they’ll probably kill someone else close to me just to teach me a lesson as well. What I’ve told you tonight is enough for them to kill you.”

GM: “They won’t,” her mother states. “She’s going to leave New Orleans. She won’t be coming back.”

Caroline: “And they’re going to figure out eventually that I did it…” She bites her lip. “I don’t even know what you are. A witch?”

GM: Claire just looks at her daughter. “Caroline, how did she really scar her face?”

Caroline: “My ‘sire’ tried to weaponize her. Implanted a bunch of dormant commands. When I tried to remove them she tried to set me on fire.” She bites her lip. “It took control. It… I beat her through a glass table before I got control.”

GM: “I see. Does she want to stay your ghoul?”

Caroline:I don’t want her to stay my ghoul!” Caroline almost shrieks. “But I didn’t make that choice.”

GM: “Then it sounds as if you’re both of like mind. Now tell me your friend’s phone number.”

Caroline: “No.”

GM: Her mother’s once-distant eyes harden. “This isn’t a negotiation, Caroline.”

Caroline: “Let me explain to you what happens when she vanishes, Mom, because you seem a little out of your depth. One of the very many people with me under observation takes notice. They demand that I explain what happened to her. I tell them. They torture me. They probably wipe your memories of this conversation. Maybe they kill you.”

GM: Claire looks at her daughter for another moment. “You know so much about your kind, Caroline, and so little. Here’s what you would tell one of them, if you were asked to explain. You killed her. By ‘accident’ after losing control. You disposed of the body.”

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head in frustration. “You don’t get it, Mom. They don’t ask. They demand. They reach into my mind and rip out what they want.”

GM: “They’re not going to trouble themselves over a missing ghoul, but that’s besides the point. There are several ways I can discover your friend’s phone number without your cooperation. I would prefer that you told me. I don’t know what kind of future you see for Aimee as an abused and blood-addicted slave, next to a life away from New Orleans.”

Caroline: “I don’t know, but I know that I care about seeing that future much less than I care about your future. But even if I were to give you her number, you’d just be involving yourself with another one of my kind for no reason.”

GM: Claire tiredly shakes her head. “I’ve already said this isn’t a negotiation, Caroline. Are you going to tell me the phone number, or am I going to find out on my own?”

Caroline: “Don’t do this,” Caroline all but begs.

GM: Claire taps something into her phone and sits back.

Caroline: “Please, Mom.”

GM: The woman in the mask reappears after a few moments.

Claire holds up a second Solaris. “There’s probably information on this. Can you get into it?”

The woman nods. “With a little while.”

Claire hands her the device. “We have time.”

The masked figure takes the phone and leaves.

Caroline: Caroline hugs her legs all the tighter. Being a captive in her own home, interrogated by her mother, has worn her nerves to exposed and bloody ends even before the wrestling with the Beast inside her and it’s hatred of confinement and flame.

GM: Claire looks back to her daughter. “Who was Trenton?”

Caroline: She only glares.

GM: Her mother leans back in her seat. The 57-year-old woman has always looked good for her age. Now she simply looks old and weary.

Time passes.

Caroline: “Some stupid kid,” Caroline spits out at last. “Looking to get lucky on Tinder. I was… God, everything hurt. They’d whipped me until all the skin on my back was gone and left me like that.”

GM: “So he came over and you lost control.”

Caroline: “Not immediately, but once I started… I don’t even remember it. One second he was asking for a drink, the next minute his body was bone dry. It’s not usually like that. I’ve gotten better. One of my ghouls… she can tell when I’m on edge. Won’t just let me… well.” She looks away.

GM: Her mother doesn’t say anything to that. She just looks tired.

Caroline: She falls silent. “Just do it if you’re going to.”

GM: “Kill you, you mean,” Claire says hollowly.

Caroline: “It’s what you’re trying work up the will to do, isn’t it? Why you want to hear about all the terrible things I’ve done? It’s my fault, if it makes it easier. If I… Wes died because of me. Aimee’s life is wrecked. Two other people are dead. Good intentions don’t exactly mean anything.”

She hugs herself tighter. “But I am sorry. I didn’t want to hurt anyone.”

GM: “You can help Aimee’s still, Caroline,” her mother says hoarsely.

Caroline: “By letting you raid the house of one of the only Kindred that hasn’t hurt me?”

GM: “No. I’d thought to simply send a message from your phone that she should return Aimee here.” Claire takes a steadying breath. “Once it was night.”

Caroline: Caroline snorts at the comment. “Then why not just ask me to call or text? You’re as awful a liar as I am.”

GM: Caroline’s mother falls silent again.

Finally she manages, “Because I don’t… know what’s going to happen next, Caroline.”

Caroline: Caroline stares at her through red-rimmed eyes. “Can you just be honest, Mom?”

GM: “Honest? You think I’ve ever been through something even remotely like this, Caroline? That no matter how many times I went through this scene in my head, it comes even close to the reality?” Claire’s voice breaks near the end.

Caroline:I don’t know, Mom,” Caroline replies bitterly. “Apparently there’s a great many things I don’t know about you.”

GM: “Everyone keeps secrets, no matter how well we think we know them,” her mother answers tiredly.

Caroline: “You’re a witch. Your entire sorority is. Is that why you wanted me to join?”

GM: “No. I pulled strings to make sure you wouldn’t get in.” Her voice wavers again. “I never wanted any of this for you. For your brother.”

Caroline: “It proved much safer for us not to realize the monsters in our midst.”

She looks back down.

“I’m sorry. That was… petty.”

GM: Her mother’s expression hardens, then softens. But only a little.

“This isn’t something you can just know about and continue living a mundane life, Caroline. Once you know about the things in the shadows, once you open that door… you can’t ever close it. It changes you. For the worse.”

Caroline: Caroline can only stare at her mother’s declaration, a living example.

GM: “All I ever wanted was to spare our family from this. I’m going to spend the rest of my life wondering where I went wrong. What I could have done.”

Caroline: “Because you didn’t predict a psychopath choosing to turn your daughter into a monster and murder your son?” Caroline asks rhetorically.

GM: Claire gives another vacant stare.

Caroline: “Nothing you could have told me would have saved me from René once he set his sights on me, Mom. Whatever else you do, don’t blame yourself.”

GM: “I shouldn’t have had you stay in New Orleans. Had any of you. Our family has too much history here.” Her eyes close for a moment. “This an entire city has too much history.”

Caroline: “You didn’t have a choice. Orson was going to have his way, and unless I miss my mark, there’s someone pulling his strings. The whole family is owned, in Kindred terms.”

GM: “Of course someone is. You’ve met him. That monstrous albino.”

Caroline: Caroline sets her jaw in a grim line. “For good or ill.”

GM:Nothing about that fiend’s attentions on us has been good, Caroline,” her mother declares bleakly.

Caroline: “You’re wrong. He’s dangerous. Monstrous, even. Cruel and vicious… but there are worse out there. You don’t even see just how easy it is for Kindred to manipulate people, to ruin their lives. As long as he’s there… as long as he has the favor of the prince…. only a madman would touch the family. When he found out about Wesley’s abduction…” She bites her lip. “It was bad.”

GM: Her mother offers that same vacant stare.

Caroline: “Sometimes it’s better the monster you know, than the one you don’t.”

GM: “Maybe he’s one you don’t know as well as you believe, Caroline. You and Westley are dead at this René’s hands. The albino’s are far from bloodless. How do you think your grandfather died at the ‘old’ age of 65?”

Caroline: “I never said he was bloodless,” Caroline replies quietly. “Only that it could be worse.” She remembers McGinn.

GM: The masked woman returns with Caroline’s phone, hands it to Claire and leaves. Her mother spends several minutes trawling through the device. “You didn’t mention a Jocelyn.”

Caroline: Caroline’s poker face, under the circumstances, is very poor.

GM: “I presume she’s one of the ones you found less awful.”

Caroline: “Some of us are just trying to make our way,” Caroline agrees noncommittally.

GM: Her mother glances back down at the phone. “These texts have a very familiar tone.”

Caroline: Is there a hint of shame there? Caroline says nothing, but refuses to meet her mother’s eye.

GM: Caroline can make out her mother reading through more of the phone’s messages. “And you’ve missed class. Unsurprisingly.”

Caroline: There’s frustration rather than shame at that comment.

GM: Her mother finally sets down the phone. “I can’t put this off any longer.” She stares at her daughter, still trapped in the ring of crackling fire.

Caroline: Curled up on the uncomfortable cot in the tiny room, her face tear-stained, Caroline hardly looks the part of the monster she is.

GM: Save for the red color those tears are stained.

Caroline: The red stains stand out all-too clearly against her oh-so pale flesh.

GM: “What do you want us to do, Caroline?”

Caroline: “Who is us, Mom?”

GM: “You. Me. I’ve seen you for what you are. You’ve seen me for what I am.”

Caroline: “I don’t know, Mom,” Caroline answers. “Last night was the first night I wasn’t under a death sentence. The first night I was… free. Or as close to it. I don’t even know how I could pretend to put my life back together… but I’d like to find out. He may have killed me, but I don’t have to be gone. At least, not to you. And you could have someone at least that understands something of this double live you’ve hidden.”

GM: A panoply of emotions war across her mother’s face.

Caroline: “Or… I don’t know. I can destroy myself in the eyes of the family some how. Get excommunicated. Or I could die.”

GM: “You would need to do that in any event, Caroline. People would notice you weren’t aging.”

Caroline: “Eventually,” Caroline agrees.

GM: “What life do you see for yourself in only five, ten years? Afterwards?”

Caroline: “Safe,” she murmurs. “Secure. Established. Independent. I have some thoughts, Mom, but it’ll take time to get off the ground. And money.”

GM: “What would you do with that life, Caroline?” her mother asks. “How would you spend… eternity?”

Caroline: “I’d try to find some happiness. Some answers. Maybe eventually some power. Maybe one day I could even contend with the albino. I don’t really know, Mom.”

GM: “Maybe you should put some thought into that. You are talking about the rest of your life.”

The oh-so-motherly remark is almost laughably at odds with the pair’s circumstances. Almost.

Caroline: “Jocelyn has been helping me get my bearings,” Caroline admits. “I wouldn’t be… well, unliving without her help.”

GM: “What is it you think we should do, Caroline? Simply walk away from this and wait for you to figure out your own answers?”

Caroline: “You seem to know a lot more about it than I do. Why don’t you tell me,” Caroline replies.

GM: “My son is dead. So is my daughter, and she’s still talking to me. I’m as unprepared for this as you are.”

Caroline: “I need space with the family. Cover,” Caroline murmurs. “And I think that for everything else, you’re willing to help me eke out something from… this.”

GM: Her mother’s face wavers. “You’ve killed.”

Caroline: “Yes,” Caroline admits, starkly. “And I’ve hurt. And I’ve….” She shakes her head. “This thing inside me is a monster, but with help… with planning. It doesn’t have to hurt someone. You could make that a lot easier.”

GM: “That part of you doesn’t care about me. Only blood.”

Caroline: “It’s… last night, Mom. Every single time you hugged me it wanted out. Right now, at every second I sit trapped here, with the fire and the sun in the sky, it wants out. When it’s starving, it wants out. It’s not just about blood. It’s like an animal. And usually… usually… I can keep control of it.”

GM: “I watched you thrash and howl on the floor for god knows how long, Caroline. It could and would get out of your control again. Would kill again.”

Caroline: “You threw me in a ring of fire with no exit, Mom. There are ways to limit its control. Ways to keep it from having too much influence… and… when it’s getting too strong… mitigate the impact. I’m not alone anymore. I’m not on a deadline. I can do better. I will do better. All of that gets harder though if I’m running from the family.”

“And I need to be able to talk to someone. Someone outside of this madhouse—and I don’t just mean the house itself. I’ve gone entire nights without talking to anyone that wasn’t a ghoul or a Kindred. It’s…” She shakes her head. “Not healthy. It’s too easy to start to look at people as tools, or rivals, or enemies.”

GM: Claire stares down at her entrapped daughter. Another panoply of emotions wars over her face, but her eyes are distant and in the past.

“You were always closer to your father. When you were a toddler, you wanted him to tuck you in and read you stories. You preferred his favorite one, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and wouldn’t do with anything else.”

Caroline: It’s a faint memory, barely remembered, like a story she’s been told before and remembers rather than the actual event.

“Does he know anything about you and your… extracurricular activities?”

GM: “No,” her mother answers.

Caroline: “For thirty years?” Caroline asks, almost disbelieving.

GM: “I’d carried the knowledge for ten years even before then.”

Caroline: “How? How’d you get your start? Do you just wake up one morning and decide to be a witch?”

GM: “I saw things, at Cornell. College campuses are ideal feeding grounds for your kind. Students are young, stupid, and newly independent. Easy prey.”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t quite laugh. “You say that…”

GM: “It’s the same at Tulane. So many of you feed on the students. Even your elders are attracted to universities, if more for the institutions themselves than the student body.”

Caroline: Caroline says nothing. “So why not dabble in witchcraft?”

GM: “That’s an even more ignorant term than vampires, Caroline.”

Caroline: “So what would you prefer?” Caroline asks.

GM: Her mother is silent for several moments before she answers, “Magician is a broad and neutral enough name in Western circles.”

Caroline: Caroline gives her a flat look. “No offense, Mom, but magician makes you sound like you do childrens’ birthday parties.”

GM: “There is power in names. Exercise care in the ones you use,” her mother answers guardedly.

Caroline: Caroline’s expression doesn’t change, but she offers no further comment on the name. “Will you help me?” she asks, still pitifully huddled against the tiny wall of flames around her.

GM: Claire stares down at the trapped vampire. Her face doesn’t look torn any longer. Just weary. She closes her eyes for a moment and then states, “There are conditions.”

Caroline: Caroline nods slightly and waits to hear them.

GM: “Your ghoul Aimee is leaving New Orleans, and you won’t attempt to obstruct me.”

Caroline: Caroline waits to hear the rest.

GM: Her mother seems to be waiting for her reaction to that first one.

Caroline: “Can you actually help her?”

GM: “It would be hard, at this point, for anyone to help her less. But yes, I can.”

Caroline: The Ventrue grinds her teeth. She doesn’t know everything she risked to save Aimee, everything she has gone through, all the trouble she’s caused. All she sees is Aimee’s fear and pain. Because Aimee is the victim here. Not Caroline, who will never see the sun again—at least not more than once.

“Let me arrange it, though.”

GM: “If you mean removing her from Jocelyn, that’s likely a prudent idea anyway. I’ll handle things from there.”

Caroline: “And I don’t ever want to see her again.”

GM: “She won’t come back to New Orleans.”

Caroline: Caroline nods again, that sad little dip of her head into her knees.

GM: “Next, you don’t ever use your powers on our family, or its employees, without consulting me.”

Caroline: Caroline starts to object, then stops herself and instead replies, “Think through the repercussions of that request before you ask for it. All of them. Like if Gabriel decides to drive down and surprise me with a visit, catching me in some compromised position.”

GM: “That’s something you can notify me about, Caroline. I’m never without my phone.”

Caroline: “Or if someone else in the family asks Roger to spy on me. I’m sure that they’ll be sure to standby while I call you.”

GM: “Texts are also acceptable.”

Caroline: “You think that Gabriel would stop to let me explain and text you if he caught me with my teeth in someone?” Caroline asks skeptically.

GM: “That’s a very slippery slope to start on, Caroline, once you justify using your powers on friends and family.”

Caroline: “I know what you’re getting at, Mom, but that’s the kind of overly broad and controlling demand I’d expect from Orson, not you.”

GM: “By my count it’s the opposite of imposing my control. But unlike your uncle, if you have an alternative to propose, I am willing to listen.”

Caroline: “I’ll clear any uses of them through you, proactively if possible and retroactively otherwise,” Caroline replies. “To be renegotiated at any time if you think I’m abusing that flexibility.”

GM: Her mother nods after a moment. “Acceptable.”

“Next. You will, for your own safety, have nothing to do with the Kappas.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip. “They’re in with the Baron here, aren’t they?”

GM: “If they think you are attempting to interfere in their affairs, Caroline, they will kill you.”

Caroline: “How involved are Kappas in Kappa affairs after they graduate?” Caroline asks.

GM: “Why do you ask?”

Caroline: “I was looking at them for a friend.” She quickly amends, “A living friend. He was worried about his girlfriend, how she seemed exhausted, was out late nights.”

GM: Claire just shakes her head. “That’s not something you should involve yourself in. You can tell him you weren’t able to find anything conclusive.”

Caroline: “Is she a danger to him?” Caroline asks. “Or me by proxy?”

GM: “To him, no. And if they’re serious about one another, the relationship will survive. To you, yes, if you attempt to investigate her.”

Caroline: “And what about to me, given my proximity to him? Are they active vampire hunters?”

GM: “If you have no contact with them, between that and my own influence, you will be in no danger.”

Caroline: “You didn’t answer my question,” Caroline observes quietly.

GM: “What difference should it make to you what they are if you stay out of their way?”

Caroline: “Because I can’t exactly avoid Tulane,” Caroline replies. “And I’d rather not get caught in their crosshairs on accident. If that’s what they’re doing.”

GM: “I won’t confirm or deny anything about the group to a non-member,” her mother replies. “I won’t lie to you, Caroline, but there are things I can’t talk about.”

Caroline: “You should tell them to be very careful, Mom. In New Orleans. I’ve heard stories about what the prince does… has done… to hunters. And not just the hunters. The entire families. Wives. Children. Parents.”

GM: “There are numerous groups hunters active at Tulane, in any case. You should be careful too when you feed.”

Caroline: “Numerous?” Caroline replies, almost disbelievingly.

GM: “You should be careful, Caroline,” her mother repeats.

Caroline: “What else?” she asks.

GM: “You keep me informed about developments in the local Camarilla’s political situation, as well as your own activities relating to such.”

Caroline: “So that you can in turn sell to the Kappas that there’s a reason not to turn me into a pile of ashes.”

GM: “They won’t turn you into ash if you don’t pry into their affairs. But the fact remains that, as one of the… Kindred, you are closer to them than I can ever be.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip. “How deep does your knowledge go? Do you know about the trial? The Anarch split?”

GM: “I’m not prepared to disclose the extent of my knowledge, Caroline. Merely that you are in a more immediately proximate position to gather intelligence information than I am.”

Caroline: Caroline frowns. “Did they tell you to marry Dad?”

GM: Claire frowns. “What? My lord, no. I chose to marry your father.”

Caroline: Caroline frowns. “Your whole sisterhood has a weird Illuminati feel to it. Didn’t seem that out of the question.”

GM: “They certainly weren’t displeased, any more than your grandparents on my side weren’t.”

Caroline: She says nothing else on the matter. “What else.”

GM: “You inform me when you injure enough to hospitalize, or kill, anyone in the course of your feedings.”

Caroline: “You’re my parole officer.”

GM: “No. I want to know that you aren’t a monster.”

Caroline: “Yeah, Mom, that’s half the idea behind a parole officer,” Caroline murmurs.

GM:I want to know that my daughter isn’t a monster,” Claire repeats, her voice strained.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t have the heart to tell her that it’s far too late for that. She just nods.

GM: “You also won’t speak of my… awareness, or anything else that we’ve discussed here, to anyone without my express consent. Including Jocelyn.”

Caroline: “They’d kill you,” Caroline replies bluntly.

GM: “Yes, they would.”

Caroline: “I can’t promise that they won’t force me to talk,” Caroline says. “But I wouldn’t willingly tell anyone about this.”

GM: “That’s a risk we both will have to accept.” Her mother trails off, looking down at Caroline. “There may also be some terms you’d like to ask of me.”

Caroline: “Mom… I’m not interested in making demands of you.” Caroline says softly. “You didn’t do anything wrong. You’re not the monster.”

GM: “We’ve all done wrongs, Caroline,” her mother answers in an equally low voice. “We’ve all been monsters to some degree.”

Caroline: “I just want cover with the family,” Caroline replies. “Enough to keep them from digging too deeply for a while.”

GM: “That’s reasonable,” her mother replies back.

Caroline: She bites her lip. “And maybe with Tulane, if you have any influence. My plans fell through last night after you left… certain places I can’t go.”

GM: Claire frowns. “That I left?”

Caroline: “After you left. I’d… it doesn’t matter. The point is what I’d planned on doing to get the school to back off isn’t going to work, and the family isn’t exactly going to ignore it if I drop out or get expelled.”

GM: “Ah. Yes. I can try talking to your professors, but I had thought you’d only want to take a semester or two off.” Claire thinks. “You could simply take night classes, come next semester. You wouldn’t be able to take the bar exam for another six months. I don’t know if that means anything to you now.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip. “Could you sell that?”

GM: “You taking the rest of the semester off, to the family?”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “I’d think that Dad would flip his lid, and Orson even more so.”

GM: “It’s one semester. You were raped and your brother is now dead.” Claire’s voice is hollow. “They shouldn’t find that unreasonable.”

Caroline: Caroline’s brow lifts, as if to say ’wouldn’t they?’ but she says nothing else.

GM: “If you can reach another arrangement with your instructors, you’re free to. Talking to your father and Orson is the best I can do.”

Caroline: “No, I just… do you really think they won’t find it unreasonable? Orson was the same person that demanded I go to Tulane instead of any of my other choices because I fell over on him when I was 12.”

GM: “Because you danced with Adam when he said not to, actually.”

Caroline: Caroline’s expression makes clear she doesn’t seem to regard that as making him any more reasonable.

GM: Her mother gives a weary shrug. “It’s the best I can do, Caroline.”

Caroline: “No, I…” She stops and finally nods. Silence reigns. “I’m sorry, Mom. For all of this. For dying. For getting Wes killed… for…” She squeezes her knees. “I only get one shot at this. If I give them an excuse, if something goes wrong with the family, you’ll be burying your daughter.”

GM: Once more, Claire’s age looks all-too apparent on her features. She does not reply, but gets up and departs the panic room.

Caroline: Caroline closes her eyes as she’s left alone with the fire again. Her rational mind screams that it’s tiny. That it can’t hurt her, but blocking it out is the better tactic with the Beast: it’s never much listened to reason. Part of even her rational mind wants to scream at it all. At the never-ending complications. Her mother, this witch. The Kappas. Her secrets laid bare, again.

But another part of her, perhaps that little bit that still has a shred of humanity almost basks in it. Secrets laid bare. The reality of what she’s done. It was too easy for the rest of her to ignore it when it was hidden in the dark. Perhaps that’s why the Beast is so furious in its struggles: the human is much stronger out in the light.

GM: The monster inside Caroline pleads, snarls, and whines. She concentrates on the droning of the fans. On her moral victories, such as they are. With her eyes clamped shut, she doesn’t even notice the loud ffsssht-hssss sound until she’s hit by something wet and freezingly cold.

Caroline: The cold takes away a breath she doesn’t need, and she bolts upright, eyes snapping open.

GM: Her mother is holding a fire extinguisher. The ring of fire is snuffed out, leaving a circle of scorched, faintly smoking twigs and smeared chalk in its place. The fans continue to whir.

Caroline: Caroline bows her head in relief. “Thank you.” Her hands still clutch tightly to her upper arms, but for the first time since she awake, her face is not contorted by the struggle to maintain any semblance of calm and control. She very intentionally makes no move to get off the cot still.

GM: Her mother sets the extinguisher down by the door, then sits back down. She rubs her forehead and closes her eyes again. “There are other chairs, Caroline.”

Caroline: She nods, takes another moment to collect herself, then stretches out her long legs as she stands. She moves to a chair opposite her mother.

“Thank you,” she says again. “You have no idea what it was like… how difficult it is to keep control like that….”

GM: Claire slowly massages her temple again. “You’re right. I don’t.”

Caroline: She starts to speak again, but falls quiet, realizing how little her mother wants to hear it. Caroline can’t blame her: she doesn’t think she’d want to hear her child talk about their monstrous condition.

GM: Claire still doesn’t speak, or even open her eyes. Not for the first time during their conversation, her mother simply looks tired.

Caroline: A part of her wants to go embrace her, to tell her that things will be all right, but the number of levels on which that is a terrible idea defy comprehension. Instead she simply waits, giving her time and simply enjoying the absence of the Beast’s screams, and the fragile tranquility of the moment.

It may be a fake peace. But it’s a peace. Sometimes that’s enough.

GM: “I’ll see if I can get the funeral held at night,” her mother slowly says at last.

Caroline: It’s uncanny how her mother read her mind on the topic.

“If not… I’d at least like to see him. To say goodbye,” Caroline answers softly.

GM: “He’ll be interred at St. Louis. Along with the rest of the family.”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t know where to begin to make that right. Suspects that she can’t. She remains silent, wrapped in her thoughts, in the last time she saw Westley. Things he tried to tell her.

GM: “He was far from perfect. But none of them would even give him a chance to be something else,” her mother declares.

Caroline: “He knew it,” Caroline murmurs quietly. “Knew how flawed he was.”

GM: “He did.”

Caroline: “How did you get word… on what happened?” Caroline’s voice has just the slightest hint of hope. “I mean, are they completely sure it’s him?”

GM: “Yes,” is all Claire answers.

Caroline: That hope dies like someone flipped a switch, and Caroline lapses into silence. She doesn’t know what to say. How she could possibly comfort her mother—or if she even could.

GM: Her mother says nothing further. She simply sits in the chair with her eyes closed, withdrawn into her own world. Caroline feels tired too, as if she’s pulled an all-nighter, but so much deeper than that. She doesn’t even want to find a bed to crawl into. The chair is more than enough.

Caroline: After what seemed like the hours long struggle against the Beast and the emotionally wrenching conversation with her mother, Caroline can’t seem to fight that exhaustion. The blood slows to a crawl within her and she feels her eyes slipping closed. Without the threat of the fire even the Beast is sliding towards silence…

Thursday evening, 17 September 2015

GM: Caroline remembers drifting off to sleep. Only a second later, she’s no longer sleeping. The groggy transition between slumber and wakefulness is as absent as it’s been for the past two weeks. One moment she’s out, the next she’s up.

She’s still seated on the folding chair. There’s also a blanket draped over her. Needlessly. It’s not as if her body produces heat to warm it.

Her mother is gone. So are the fans and evidence of the circle inscribed over the floor. The panic room’s door is closed, though it’s poor protection now with a hole drilled through its center. Caroline can make out her racks of now-hanging clothes just past it.

Caroline: She bites her lip at the blanket, fighting the emotions it brings up. Love. Care. Affection. Concern. She takes a moment before rising. The entire thing almost feels like it was a dream, but the drilled steel door gives lie to that fantasy. She looks around for her phone.

GM: It’s been left on one of the other chairs.

Caroline: She runs a hand through smoke-smelling hair—an odor that for all the fans she can’t escape. She needs a shower. Needs to change her clothes. Needs to call Jocelyn about Aimee. Her plans for the night, which began so promisingly, have already started to unravel behind a day of fire. She finally stands and gathers up the phone, heading out of the now all-too useless and confining space. She checks messages as she fights her way through clothing and into the house proper.

GM: There’s a phone message from a Hailey, McNamara, Hall, Larmann & Papale secretary, essentially stating that they would be glad to look into matters for Caroline and have a few things they’d like to hash out over the phone, at her convenience.

There’s another message too, a paper note left on top of her phone. It simply reads, Your bodyguard saw too much. Fix her memories.

Caroline: “Of course she did.” She enters into the home proper and sets out in search of anyone else present in it.

GM: She finds Turner lying in a motionless heap on her bed.

Caroline: Caroline stops to check the mercenary for new injuries with an eerie sense of déjà vu.

GM: Turner appears no more injured than she was previously, but the Blackwatch merc is nonresponsive to Caroline’s examination. The almost-doctor’s best estimate is that she was drugged.

Caroline: ‘No more injured’ of course being relative to the still-extensive wounds the mercenary picked up from her battles over the last few days. Caroline leaves Turner to sleep off the aftereffects rather than try to overcome an unknown drugs’s effects, then texts Jocelyn. She tells her lover to come over whenever she’s ready and to bring Aimee.

News of her brother, the day’s events as a whole, and Turner’s condition has robbed her of what little good mood she night have otherwise woken with, but she refuses to mope about it after all that Jocelyn has done for her.

She texts her mother that there’s little she can do with Turner after the fact, but that she’ll ensure that the mercenary does nothing rash.

She texts Autumn to figure out what she’s doing.

GM: miss her already lol? Jocelyn asks, but replies in the affirmative. She’s looking forward to hunting that stalker in a few hours.

No response arrives from her mother.

Autumn replies, catching up on school mostly. you want me to come over?

Caroline: Not right now. Headed out soon. I’ll call you later. How’s your family? Caroline replies back to Autumn with a hint of something that might in another life have been called a smile.

She heads upstairs and turns on the water, letting the on demand heater take it’s required moment to get up to speed as she peels out of her smoke smelling clothing.

Not quite as much as you, she sends back to Jocelyn.

GM: haha nice answer

Autumn’s reply pings back after Jocelyn’s. they’re good thanks. how’s yours if that isn’t too heavy?

Caroline: Westley’s dead. Can’t handle it tonight. Going out.

Do me a favor though tonight, before the end of the night, and poke around online and see if you can’t find anything about what the official story is.

She sets the phone down and crawls under the hot water, washing away the smoky residue from her body and enjoying, for a moment, the illusion of warmth, of body heat.

GM: Bliss under the multiple shower heads is hers, at least a moment. Her skin even feels warm to the touch, at least for a moment, but it doesn’t turn red like it normally would under hot enough water, nor does the skin at the end of her fingers wrinkle. Still, the shower feels mostly the same, even if its effects don’t look the same. When Caroline gets out and wraps a towel around her chest, there’s a text back from Autumn.

Oh shit, I’m so sorry. I’ll see what I can dig up. If there’s anything else…

Caroline: Knew it was coming. Thanks Autumn. Caroline towels off and changes into something nicer for the evening before heading back down to check on Turner again.

GM: She finds the ghoul still unconscious on the bed. There’s also another text from Jocelyn, saying she’s coming over. Their evening of shopping—and hunting—awaits.

Caroline: Caroline writes out a note for Turner in bold sharpie explaining that everything is fine and that Turner should text her when she awakes. She leaves it beside the ghoul alongside a glass of water and some pain killers, closing the door behind her to block off the ghoul.

She does the same with the drilled out deadbolt on the guest bedroom closet door.

GM: It’s a little while longer before Jocelyn texts that she’s outside Audubon, and that she could use Caroline’s help carrying Aimee inside the house. Bodies are heavy.

shes not dead just unconscious, the Toreador adds.

Caroline: Caroline buzzes the Toreador in and heads out front to help her out

GM: Jocelyn’s car pulls up by Caroline’s house after a little while. Her lover greets her as she exits the vehicle. “Hey you. Ready for our big night?”

Caroline: “Oh yes. I need this.” Despite her frustration, despite everything else going on, being around Jocelyn can’t help but push back her bad mood. “I even went and got permission to go after this one stalker I’ve had my eye on at his dorm.”

GM: Jocelyn’s eyes glint. “He’s not even gonna know what hit him. C’mon, let’s take care of your ghoul.” She clicks her keyfob. Aimee is inside the trunk, gagged, unconscious, and trussed up like a chicken.

Caroline: Satisfaction and sympathy war at the sight. Aimee. This bitch that has caused her so much trouble. Aimee, her friend that she promised everything would be all right. She shoves both aside with another glance at Jocelyn, letting the bond pull at her.

“Oh, so you’re good with ropes?” Caroline asks. “I’ll have to remember that.”

GM: “Someone wants to get tied up, huh?” Jocelyn smirks as she picks up Aimee by the legs. “Meg helped too, though. She actually isn’t bad with them either.”

Caroline: “What you’re saying is that your ghoul is bulimic and suicidal and still manages to be more useful than she is?”

GM: “Honestly, pretty much. I mean, I do give Meg crap, but I wouldn’t keep her around if she was just a headache.” Jocelyn frowns. “Your ghoul, though… she freaked out at first, then I glamored her and she was okay. Mostly. But when I said she’d need to ride in the trunk on the way back to your place, since she looked so beat up, she just… freaked out. Giving her roofies and tying her up like this was the only way to keep her calm.”

“I… really don’t think she wants to be a ghoul. Have you thought about maybe trading her to Marguerite Defallier?”

Caroline: “I’m sorry she was a headache. I wish I could pretend that this was a result of her getting mind-fucked by my sire’s ghoul, or getting tortured by Eight-Nine-Six, or… well. Anything else. But really, even the first night she got the blood she tried to put a gun in her mouth because she thought her life was already over. Who’s Defallier though?”

GM: “She’s one of my clan, and a harpy. She’s also a groom for the Invictus. That means she buys, sells, and raises herds for other licks.”

Caroline: “How does that work, with the Masquerade?” Caroline asks. “I mean, I have a couple of kine that I’ve gone back to a couple times, but I’d think if you were handing people off and stuff you’d have to give them some idea that there was something weird going on…” She doesn’t quite groan as they get Aimee inside and throw her on the sofa, but she does smirk. “One more advantage to Meg, she’s lighter.”

GM: “I’ve never had to carry Meg off like this either,” Jocelyn adds as Aimee lands on the cushions with a thump. “I actually haven’t done business with Defallier, so I dunno how she does it. But it’s probably safe for the Masquerade. I mean, she is a harpy and pretty old.”

Caroline: “I’m sure she’s on the up and up,” Caroline agrees. “Just not sure I understand it all.”

GM: “Well, I don’t either, sorry. I’m pretty new to this too,” Jocelyn remarks as she sits down.

Caroline: “So you say,” Caroline answers to Jocelyn’s remark on age.

GM: “But like I said, you don’t wanna deal with Aimee anymore, you could just trade her in.”

Caroline: “I’m considering it,” she admits.

GM: “I hear Defallier’s pretty gentle too, as far as grooms ago.”

Caroline: “Tonight isn’t about her though, and we only have so much time before things start to close. You ready?”

GM: “Shop for clothes and hunt down a creep? Born ready.”

Previous, by Narrative: Story Six, Mouse III
Next, by Narrative: Story Six, Mouse IV

Previous, by Character: Story Six, Caroline II
Next, by Character: Story Six, Caroline IV, Mouse V

Story Six, Caroline II

“I know 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."
Claire Malveaux

Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, PM

GM: Caroline steps out of the Ryde and into the Anarchs’ bar. Her ears are instantly subjected to a two-pronged assault by blaring rock and shouting voices. One patron screams as another smashes his face onto the bar’s counter with a wet crunch. Leather-clad, spike-haired, and tattoo-adorned punks, bikers, skinheads, and malcontents of all stripes laugh at the violence. The bartender absently ontinuing to polish a shot glass underneath a wooden plaque bearing red-crusted Mardi Gras beads arranged into the words FUCK YOU. Caroline can feel the anger simmering in the room as surely as the murky black haze of cigarette smoke clinging to everything.

Caroline: The smell and scent of the room sinks into her clothing, but not her dead flesh, even as the mood matches her own. Anger. Frustration. Irritation. Indignation. The look in her green eyes could kill.

GM: Coco sits at a table in the back of the bar. The red-haired primogen is dressed in a black leather jacket, striped black and white shirt, jeans, and knee-length boots. Two further Kindred are making their way out of the bar as Caroline approaches.

The first is a broad-shouldered, handsome young man with sandy blond hair. He’s dressed in dark jeans, a t-shirt, and a denim jacket.

The second is a dark-skinned and dark-haired lovely young woman with long curly hair. She has on a red sundress.

The blond vampire looks Caroline over. “So whose side are you on?”

Caroline: Her eyes skip over him dangerously. “Of what?”

GM: Neither of the two look intimidated.

The female vampire fairly gapes.

“You have to be kidding.”

Caroline: “As serious as a heart attack,” she replies, seemingly nonplussed by the reaction.

GM: “Coco or Veronica,” the blond man states disaffectedly. “What rock have you been living under?”

Caroline: “Oh, that matter. Well,” there’s a practiced patience to her words, “having not actually met, it seems unfair to judge Veronica based on the merits of the company she keeps. However, owing to the fact that it is her bar, I think if you pressed me on it in this instant, I’d lean towards Coco as a matter of politeness.”

GM: The two vampires trade dubious looks among one another, then depart without further word.

Caroline: She pushes her way through the rest of the crowd towards the elder Anarch in the back of the bar.

GM: The Brujah primogen is nursing a half-empty rose cocktail. She glances at Caroline, then languidly motions towards a seat with chipped black paint.

Caroline: Caroline slides into the seat beside her.

“Good evening, Coco.” She tries her best to conceal her discomfort at addressing the elder Kindred by her given name.

GM: “Good evening, Caroline,” the Brujah replies.

There’s a flash of fangs as she raises her wrist to her mouth, then an unmistakable coppery scent. She holds her wrist out for the Ventrue.

Caroline: She eyes the wrist with a mixture of wariness and hunger, like a starving woman looking at a rattlesnake.

“What’s the occasion?”

GM: “Reparations for your attack upon Anarch territory.”

Caroline: There’s only an instant of hesitation before she accepts the Brujah’s arm, downs the poison, and removes her hands when she’s finished.

“My apologies, it was an unfortunate necessity. I have no intention of repeating. You understand I couldn’t let Bliss use the boon she held over me as they intended, given all the circumstances in play. And that I meant no disrespect to you?”

GM: Coco shrugs.

“You attacked Eight-Nine-Six’s haven in Mid-City while my ghoul was conducting peace negotiations between you. I don’t particularly care what you meant or intended next to that.”

“You’re fortunate they chose to place themselves outside of my protection by siding with Veronica. And happened to get conveniently slated for execution by the prince.”

Caroline: “Bad things happen when you ignore your elders and crawl in bed with Tradition breakers.”

GM: “I do wonder why the breach happened in Central City. If it were to happen anywhere, I’d have expected it to happen around you or the Storyvilles in a counterattack.”

Caroline: Caroline’s face says at once nothing and everything.

“I didn’t come here to lie to you or manipulate you. Or,” she shows the hint of a smile, “at least try. You were more than fair before when you had no need to be. And more than fair now, when you are similarly under no obligation. I thought you should know some of what shook out before the prince took possession of René. Since it affected some of yours.”

GM: Coco absently swirls her drink.

“I don’t like to give lectures, so I’ll keep this brief. If you cause trouble in Mid-City again, you’ll drink from me again. If you break the Masquerade, I’ll turn you over to the sheriff. If you attack Anarchs under my protection, I’ll side with them.”

“And,” the primogen remarks as she drains the tasteless concoction, "if none of them have conveniently broken any Traditions to absolve you of blame, I don’t think I’ll be the only one who’s unhappy with you.

Caroline: “Understood.”

GM: “That was a thorough Masquerade cover-up too, with the murders. Six patsies, whose stories all matched.”

Caroline: “It sounds like you almost know more about it than I do,” Caroline replies evenly.

GM: Coco catches the bartender’s eye, who actually gets up to bring her another cocktail. She thanks him and he returns to the bar.

“I know the matter is finished now. What else shall we talk about?”

Caroline: “My thanks for your attempt to mediate,” Caroline replies again, genuinely. She reaches into her bag and produces two items. The first what appears to be a near ancient framed magazine, thin and covered with glass. The second is a small audio-recording device. Printed across one corner of the magazine in fading letters is the name ‘DICKENS’ in bold type face.

“I thought when I first picked this up it was an interesting parallel to where we were, respectively. Also that it might be of use to you. Sentiment, or resale, or just wiping up a spilled drink. Now I suspect it’s more accurate than I thought, though perhaps not in the way that I did then.”

“The other may be of less or more interest. If you’re actually done with the matter, hands washed, I can throw it in a blender. It contains some pieces of René’s elder ghoul’s confession that I thought might be of interest to you in one way or another. They weren’t, I think, trying to ignore or disrespect you when they picked a fight again and dealt in bad faith that night. Someone was pulling their strings.”

“I thought, since they were yours, you deserved to know more of what happened.”

She sets both items on the table. “The best of times and the worst of times.” She shrugs.

GM: “Wisdom and foolishness, too,” Coco remarks as she glances over the two items. “Dickens could only write one city, and that was London.” The Brujah offers a faint smile. “But I know someone else who might enjoy this, and it’s a more thoughtful present than I usually get from the crowd around here.”

Caroline hears the sound of snapping pool stick, someone screaming, and a body impacting the floor with a heavy crash.

Caroline: “Perhaps we could speak some time, when you have fewer pressing matters on you, about the missing city in the tale, then. It seems unlikely that I’ll have a chance to see it again.”

GM: “Yes, travel is rather more inconvenient for our kind. Though I’d venture a guess you’ve seen it more recently than I have.”

Caroline: “Ah, but it’s hard to match the perspective of a resident.”

GM: “Perhaps we may, depending on what’s on there.”

Coco glances back towards the tape.

“A krewe that already had independent motive to dislike you would have made good pawns.”

Caroline: Caroline lets the elder muse on her own for a moment, trying not to focus on the distraction that the blood working through her is already effecting. The irrational reading into small facial twitches. That childish need for approval. Finally, she bites her lip and speaks.

“There’s another piece not on the tape that might be of interest, given your current… discomfort.”

“There was some manner of deal being cut between Regent McGinn and my sire, facilitated by his meetings with Savoy, to abduct and frame me towards the regent’s own ends. It’s thin, but hardly the type of discussion and dealing of a group presenting itself as so concerned over justice for neonates. I can have that portion delivered to you as well, though.”

GM: “You can do that, Caroline. One never knows what dealings may be of later interest.”

“That conclusion may also e something for you to keep close to heart over the coming nights.”

Caroline: “Not all snakes slither on their bellies,” Caroline agrees.

Part of her wants to stay with the engaging Brujah, and she curses knowing that not all of that part is entirely her own, but other matters pull at her.

“I’m certain you have other matters that can occupy your evening. If you need or want anything further, Ms. Haley can reach me or a ghoul.”

GM: Coco raises her cocktail in a gesture of seeming farewell.

“Everything and nothing before us, Caroline. That’s always been my favorite part of the opening.”

Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, PM

Caroline: Caroline makes several phone calls as she catches another Ryde out of Coco’s domain. It’s all fairly mundane business, largely following up with ongoing efforts, though she also makes several new inquiries. They’re mundane, save the call to her mother. Midnight rendezvous rarely are.

GM: “That’s very scenic, Caroline, but it’s also very late,” her mother replies to the invitation to meet her at Audubon Park. “Just come by the hotel. Or we can do lunch tomorrow if you don’t want to make the trip out.”

Caroline: “I need to talk to you tonight, Mom, I just…” There’s a genuine pause. “Something happened and I don’t feel safe in the Quarter. It’s why I didn’t come out when Westley called. Please, just… work with me this once.”

GM: Claire gives a weary sigh over the phone.

“Well, that would explain quite a bit. About everything that’s been happening. But all right, Caroline. Let’s meet at your house, it’s still rather late to be feeding breadcrumbs to the ducks.”

Caroline: She’s quiet for a moment.

“All right, Mom. I’ll meet you there.”

GM: “I’ll see you soon.”

Her mother ends the call with that farewell.

Caroline: Caroline hangs up. She has a few minutes in the car to think about what’s she’s going to say, and do, before she gets home.

I thought it was supposed to get easier after I caught my sire.

Instead her life continues to fall apart. More blood. More struggles. There’s always something.

GM: The Ryde pulls up by Audubon Place’s entrance. Johnson waves the driver past after seeing Caroline’s ID. The Ventrue is dropped off outside her home, and left with the unenviable task of deciding how, if at all, she is going to prepare for her mother’s imminent visit.

Caroline: She checks on Turner and Aimee first.

GM: She finds the bloody-faced, black-eyed, and barely-conscious mercenary maintaining a stubborn vigil over the house in the event that Kelford doubles back (which even she grudgingly admits is unlikely) or any other intruder attempts to break in.

Aimee lies in a motionless heap on her bed. The ghoul no longer smells so foul. Her hair has been washed and her sweat- and blood-stained clothes have been changed for clean ones. Where her appearance has improved, however, Aimee’s actual health appears to have taken a turn for the worse. Her face is still a cut-up (though by this point, also healing) mess, and she’s pale as a ghost. She does not respond when touched. The smell wafting from the bandages tied around her wrist is as impossibly distracting as it always is.

Caroline: Caroline quickly closes the door behind Aimee and returns to Turner, offering the mercenary more of the blood she received from Coco.

“Don’t burn it all,” she encourages.

GM: Turner doesn’t beg for it like Aimee does. She doesn’t tell Caroline how much she cares about her like Autumn did. But the want behind the mercenary’s swollen, bruised eyes is no less intense as she falls upon her domitor’s wrist.

Caroline: She lets her drink for a time before drawing the wrist away, taking some small pleasure in watching Turner’s wounds fade, if only so slightly.

Something twists inside her at the wretched state of both Turner and Aimee, even as a darker voice whispers that there’s nothing she could do about it.

GM: Turner watches the wrist retract. She distractedly asks in a gravelly voice if Caroline wants her to maintain watch or do something else.

Caroline: “You’ve hardly slept in the last two days. Go get some rest. I’ll see you tomorrow night.”

GM: Turner shrugs, a casual motion belied by the amount of black, blue, and chain-shaped indentations on her body, as well as the fact she’s only shrugging with only one shoulder.

“Gone through worse on duty. And Crucible. But whatever you say.”

Caroline: “Just because you can handle it, and just because you’re willing to, doesn’t mean you should have to.” Caroline lays a gentle hand on her. “Get some rest.”

GM: The ghoul gives a non-committal grunt but slowly ambles off.

Caroline: Caroline watches her go then heads downstairs to see what she can to make the living room less obviously destroyed, but finally gives up with how little time she has left and digs a bottle of red out of her wine cabinet along with two glasses before headed out front and settling down in the stairs leading up to the front door.

She takes a deep breath to ready herself for what’s to come, like she’s readying herself for battle.

The stakes are certainly almost as high.

Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, PM

GM: Time passes. Finally a black-hued Mercedes CLS50 pulls up to Caroline’s house.

GM: The figure in the driver’s seat moves, kills the ignition, and gets out of the car.

Claire Malveaux is a tall and willowy-figured woman in her mid-50s who shares Caroline’s height, sharp jawline and shoulder-length blond hair, but not the wrinkles from age that her daughter will never acquire. She’s dressed in a dark blazer, gray pencil skirt, and black slingbacks. Unlike most couples, she wears her wedding ring on a slim chain around her neck and has a second larger ring looped through it.

Claire’s heels click against pavement and more dully against wood as she makes her way up the house’s front steps. She looks at Caroline for a moment, then extends her arms as if to embrace her daughter.

“Caroline. It’s been a little while, hasn’t it?”

Caroline: Caroline embraces her mother, even as the Beast inside her thrashes and squirms. She snarls back at it. It may, on occasion, seize control, but she refuses to let the monster inside her rule every part of her life. Refuses to let it dictate terms so blatantly. The embrace is nothing but a giant middle finger to it.

“You’ve been busy, I’ve been… well, busy. It happens.” There’s a weariness to Caroline’s voice.

GM: “Yes, it does. Everyone says that, though it’s more true for us than everyone,” Claire remarks as she pulls away.

Caroline: Caroline looks tired to her mother’s eyes. It isn’t even something she has to fake, simply something she has to let show. A guard she lets down. More than tired, there’s something else, a darkness in her eyes that wasn’t there before.

“How have you been?” she asks wearily. “How’s Dad?”

GM: “I’ve been well. Your father isn’t happy to be down here, and for more reasons than just Westley. But let’s take this—and that wine, that’s very thoughtful—inside.”

Her mother’s gaze rests on Caroline’s face for a moment.

“There’s a lot we have to talk about, Caroline.”

Caroline: Caroline nods and gathers up the glasses in one hand and the bottle in the other. Inside the front room is more barren than wrecked. The furniture that’s left feels orphaned. Sofa, a few chairs, A couple of side tables.

GM: Claire’s gaze silently sweeps across the half-emptied home.

Silently and very disapprovingly.

Caroline: “Redecorating,” Caroline offers lamely.

GM: “I see,” Claire notes.

Caroline: Caroline offers a chair to her mother and settles herself on the coach. She sets down the wine and opens the bottle with practiced smoothness, pouring into glasses for each of them.

GM: Claire sits herself and takes an initial sip from the glass.

“No luck with Westley, still.”

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “Nothing on my end either.”

She bites her lower lip, concern plain. “It’s my fault, I should have gone down when he called, I just…”

GM: Her mother sighs and swishes the glass.

“I can’t fathom why he’d have invited you along, Caroline, but I suppose I can’t blame you for not choosing to find out why. Trouble and your brother are about as new to one another as clouds and rain, but disappearing like this is unusual.”

Caroline: Caroline reluctantly nods. “He was pretty adamant that he wasn’t going to fall off entirely, even if the wagon was tipping pretty hard last time I saw him. Almost like he couldn’t do so. He almost said there was something forcing him to do so.”

GM: Her mother frowns. “Go on.”

Caroline: “I guess when your trust is on the line though it changes your tune,” she continues after a moment of awkward silence. “I just got a weird feeling off of it. Like someone was holding something over him that he couldn’t talk about.”

GM: “That’s not impossible. His problems would cause even larger problems for your father if their full extent got out. Maybe the Cherrys, or I suppose that new chief of staff of theirs, are finally taking the kid gloves off.”

“Still,” her mother muses, “it’s Kelly who’s up for re-election next year, not your father. The Cherrys don’t make sense.”

Caroline: “Did he ever mention anything weird to you?” Caroline asks.

GM: “‘Weird’ how? Beyond his drinking and drug abuse?”

Caroline: Caroline nods.

GM: “We talk semi-regularly, but no, nothing beyond his usual problems.”

A thud sounds from upstairs.

Claire frowns. “Caroline, what was that?”

Caroline: Caroline frowns. “I’ll check. I’ll be right back.”

She heads off towards the stairs.

GM: Caroline’s last sight as she departs is of her mother’s frown deepening.

Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, PM

GM: Caroline heads towards the room she first suspects. Aimee has seemingly fallen out of her bed. However, the drained and cut-up ghoul is also sluggishly fumbling at the window’s latch. She’s not even standing up as she tries to.

Caroline: The Ventrue fights back a surge of irritation and anger at the sight, her compassion and pity buried deeply beneath it, as she crosses the distance to the feeble ghoul. Of course Aimee is causing more trouble. That’s all she fucking does.

GM: When Aimee sees Caroline, she screams and recoils, or at least tries to. She can barely crawl in her present state.

“Caroline? What’s going on up there?” her mother calls.

The approaching click of heels sounds against hardwood.

Caroline: Caroline’s eyes bore into the other girl’s when she looks back to see Aimee. The Beast surges forward, even as she wrestles with its fury at this persistent nuisance, this infuriating itch that Caroline won’t simply allow it to scratch out of existence.

She maintains control by the barest possible margin, throwing a leash around the Beast’s throat and jerking it tight inches from closing its fangs—and her own—over Aimee’s throat in a bloody mess.

“Be quiet. Stop moving,” she growls at the ghoul.

“Aimee had a nightmare,” she calls back to her mother. “I’m just helping her back into bed now, I’ll be back down.”

She steps into the room and toes the door closed, locking it quickly and moving towards the ghoul. She looks down, venom dripping in her low voice.

“Why do you have to be such a pain?”

GM: Aimee’s voice dies in her throat as her body goes rigid. The terror, however, remains plain on her gashed face as her mouth dumbly opens and closes.

Caroline: Caroline approaches Aimee and her horribly bandaged face, gathering her up and hauling her back into her bed. The struggle for control is written across her face.

“Stay in bed,” she orders.

GM: Aimee can do naught but dumbly acquiesce. Tears leak from her eyes, staining the bandages Caroline so carefully applied earlier.

Caroline: Caroline moves back to the door.

“Stop crying,” she orders before opening it.

GM: There’s a parallel there, she supposes, with her sire’s reference to the Inferno. Sinners in Cocytus’ fourth ring are denied even the comfort of tears.

Aimee can do naught but stare emptily ahead, her features frozen as if in the same ice that encases traitors to their lords and benefactors.

Caroline: Something tears at her with those tears, something that makes her uncomfortable, that takes her a moment to recognize. That crying pitiful thing, tortured and beaten, broken in body and will hiding in the corner of her mind.

Her conscience.

Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, PM

Caroline: Caroline steps back out into the hall.

GM: In the nick of time, as she finds her mother just stepping off the top stair.

Claire raises a disapproving eyebrow. “A nightmare?”

Caroline: “It’s… complicated. One of many things I’ve been dealing with. Aimee was drugged, and, I think, worse.”

GM: Her mother’s disapproving look does not diminish.

“You can get that girl checked into a rehab clinic if her problems are serious, but really, Caroline, you don’t need hers dragging you down. Living with her will already be poor publicity for your father if it goes public. People like the Cherrys could try to ‘out’ you for being gay.”

Caroline: “Sorry I didn’t want to live in the marble palace alone,” Caroline replies defensively. “Or throw her out while her face is still being put back together.”

GM: “What are you talking about, ‘her face’?”

Caroline: “A car accident, Mom. She went face-first through a window. God only knows how she’s dealing with it.”

GM: Caroline’s mother does not look particularly sympathetic.

“She’s on drugs, isn’t she?”

Caroline: “No, Mom. She’s disfigured and scared.” Caroline’s voice is low.

GM: Claire pinches her nose. “Caroline, let’s go sit back down.”

Caroline: “Let’s.”

She stalks down the stairs, trying and failing to hide her irritation.

GM: Her mother heads back down with her.

“Where’s Caesar, by the way? He usually can’t wait to say hello.”

Caroline: “Staying with a friend for a little while, until some of this blows over.”

GM: Her mother arches an eyebrow at that, but sits down on the living room couch. She pats the adjacent spot for Caroline to take a seat beside her.

Caroline: She slides into the seat.

GM: Claire taps her fingers together.

“Where to begin. Your father and I heard about Decadence, Caroline. That you went missing and put the family down here in a panic. We heard about events from Orson, who actually stood up for you, which we were very surprised to see.”

“He believed your… ‘friend’,” Claire says, pronouncing the word in a very dubious voice, “was the one to blame for what happened, which we agree with. Despite what you’re telling me about a ‘nightmare’ that would mean she went to bed at 8 or 9, it sounds far more likely to me that she’s on drugs.”

Caroline: “Right, because this family always needs an outside influence to make poor choices.” There’s a scowl plastered across Caroline’s face.

GM: “Don’t be sarcastic, Caroline,” her mother reproaches with a frown. “It’s a very busy time in Washington, you know, with that disastrous Iran deal your father and his colleagues have been trying to halt. He’s taken time off from that to come down here.”

Caroline: She grinds her teeth and swallows the bitterness that her mother’s words dredge up like the piss-tasting blood of this evening’s victims. How dare she get in the way of her father’s career.

Sorry our deaths were inconvenient, she doesn’t say.

GM: The increasingly severe look on Claire’s face doesn’t abate.

“Caroline, this isn’t just about you. Or even your father. The work he does has very far-reaching consequences, as you well know. Do you want a country whose leader tweets ‘death to America’ to get their hands on a nuclear weapon?”

Caroline: “What do you want?” she asks, frustration barely restrained.

GM: Claire sighs. “Thomas also told us you’d lost your job, for missing work without notice.” Her mother glances about the bare living ruin. “I presume your ‘friend’ wrecked the furniture here and is why Caesar’s missing too.”

“Now, your father plans to have a talk with you. He isn’t happy. If we move out your friend and get her checked into a rehab clinic, that will help show him you’re making an effort to turn things around.”

Caroline: “Just throw her out,” Caroline repeats, but her heart isn’t in it.

She’s tired of Aimee’s constant bullshit. Tired of the trouble she causes. Tired of the unending headache. That promise nights ago seems so distant now.

GM: “Yes, just throw her out,” her mother agrees.

“Your ’friend’s’ problems will be treated by qualified professionals. She will be treated without dragging our family down. Without dragging you down.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip.

“What else?”

GM: “The rest are things your father wants to talk with you about, including your new job. But just between the two of us, Thomas and your father were able to snag you a new internship on the Fifth Circuit Appeals Court.”

Caroline: Caroline runs her tongue over her fangs, ready to practically spit nails.

GM: “We know you thought the work would be less interesting than the Supreme Court’s,” her mother continues, “and the three of us decided that was an appropriate consequence while still not harming your future career prospects.”

Caroline: An appropriate consequence and the three of us.

Her family plotting out her life every bit as forcefully as her new Kindred masters.

GM: “So far as they—and everyone else—will know, you left the Supreme Court. You weren’t fired.”

Caroline: She mulls on it, contemplating whether or not she can make that work. It puts her in proximity to matters with some value, but the scheduling is going to be a pain.

Still, with all of her new gifts… maybe. Maybe she can carry on the charade. For a little while, at least.

Does she want to? Why does she care?

GM: “Now, as I’ve said,” Claire goes on, “your father had wanted, and still does want, to discuss that particular bit of news with you himself. I’m sharing it with you now because there’s also something else.”

Her mother’s expression stills.

“Over the phone, you said that something happened. In the French Quarter.”

Caroline: Silence hangs for a moment as Caroline seemingly waits for an actual question, though inside her guts twist like someone is turning a knife. Something happened all right. She died. She was turned into an unholy monster. She was attacked, dominated, and heard in cruel detail of her brother’s torture. Her life, her soul, her future were all ripped away, and she’ll never know why.

And she can never go back.

She can’t even begin to explain to her mother what happened, what that night means to her. She looks away, not willing to meet her mother’s eyes. Part of her wants to apologize for it.

Sorry for ruining your plans for me.

Sorry for the heartache it’s going to cause when you lose me.

Sorry I’m a burden.

Buried an inch deep under everything else, anger, hatred, and fear is something else, the opposite sides of the same coin, guilt and shame.

I’m sorry I disappointed you.

She’s hidden from it for so long. Rushed from crisis to crisis with the blade hanging over her neck by that smoldering cord. He went and turned her into this filthy unclean thing from which no good can emerge.

GM: The expected question does not come.

Claire wraps her arms around Caroline, pulling her into a second embrace. The former heiress can feel the warmth emanating from her mother’s body, hear the beating heart that no longer pumps blood through her own veins.

“I know things have been… difficult between us, Caroline. But I do love you. I want you to be accomplished and successful, and a credit to the family’s name, just like you do. I want to be proud of you.”

“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.”

“I love you, and all I want right now is to help you. Tell me how I can.”

Caroline: She clenches her teeth to swallow the sob that wants to choke out. How do you explain to your mother that nothing will ever be all right again? That there’s nothing she can do? The Beast’s screams are a distant thing under the wellspring of emotion welling up inside her.

GM: Caroline’s mother says more words. Words that are simultaneously too close to home, yet all too distant, all too unable to capture the reality of what has happened.

Mostly, though, she just holds her daughter and waits until—or to simply see if—Caroline is able to say anything back.

Caroline: The shivers at her mother’s touch, the reluctance, the tension in her body are all-too real, and all-too easy mistaken for something else, but at last Caroline finds her voice.

“I don’t know. How to fix it. How to go back and pretend to be normal.”

GM: “You don’t have to know how to make it right, Caroline. Just what needs to be made right.”

Caroline: “Time,” she finally murmurs. “Space. For a time at least.”

GM: Claire finally pulls away and regards her skeptically.

Caroline: There’s pain there, oh so real and cut deep.

“Just don’t let them drop a hammer on me right now,” she almost pleads. “Let me figure myself out. How I’m going to deal with this.”

GM: Claire’s expression finally downturns into a frown.

Caroline: “I’ll tell you. Someday. I’ll explain what happened. But I couldn’t tell you if I wanted to right now.”

GM: “Caroline, you’ve had over a week to yourself,” Claire states. “I’m concerned things will get worse if we simply leave you alone.”

Caroline: “I’m not really sure how it could get worse.”

GM: “I am,” her mother replies seriously.

Caroline: “I’m not going to do anything crazy, Mom.” Her tone is both hurt and defensive.

GM: Claire’s gaze lingers on Caroline’s face. Finally she takes her daughter’s hand in hers, then asks quietly, “Caroline, were you raped?”

Caroline: More clenched teeth. She looks away, her body tense. She says nothing.

At last, “I don’t want to talk about it.”

GM: Even with her eyes cast downwards, Caroline can feel the weight of her mother’s look. That instinctive knowledge when one is being watched. Instincts are not easily fooled—and perhaps a mother’s least of all.

“No,” Claire says slowly, “that isn’t it.”

Caroline: It’s only her cast away gaze that keeps the surprise from her mother’s keen gaze.

“You don’t know. And you don’t want to know,” she grinds out, her entire body as stiff as a board.

GM: Claire doesn’t release her daughter’s hand, but finally sighs.

“Just spit it out, Caroline. Your father is going to have this conversation with you too. It will be easier the second time.”

Caroline: “Let’s start at the beginning then, where I was drugged at Decadence then attacked on the street and dragged into an alley with a chain around my neck and choked until I was just about to black out completely while one of my attackers boasted about how he was going to literally ‘fuck my brains out’ through my eyes with his razor-tipped dick,” she all but snarls at her mother. “That was all where it began to go sideways.”

Her voice is heavy with emotion—anger, hurt, and shame—low and thick. Each word is all but thrown in Claire’s face.

FUCK!” she yells, covering her eyes with her free hand.

GM: Shock is the first emotion to overcome her mother’s face. Caroline can’t make out the ones that follow as she covers her own face. Perhaps it is well that she does, for her mother cannot see her tears. The last tears she wept for tragedy only brought forth new tragedies.

Silence reigns for several moments. The barren house remains as quiet as before.

Finally she feels Claire’s hand on her knee as her mother states quietly, “I’ll talk to your father for you, Caroline. You won’t need to repeat this story for him.”

Caroline: “I’m sure he wants to hear all about how his daughter was defiled,” she spits out bitterly.

GM: Claire does not reply. Caroline still cannot see the expression on her mother’s face.

The two sit. Silence stretches. Not the barren solitude of earlier, but one heavy with the weight of things said—and things that can never be said.

Caroline: “I’m sorry,” she finally says, lowering her arm. “For all of this.”

GM: Claire is looking directly at her. Her expression is at once far off and intimately near. Her eyes are misty as she replies in a hoarse voice, “It’s not your fault.”

Caroline: “I’m still sorry. I didn’t want to pull you and Dad away… worry the family….”

GM: “It’s that bastard’s fault, not yours,” her mother repeats, anger briefly twisting her features before her face softens.

“I suppose,” she says slowly, “that I should also be… sorry. That we live in a family where… you couldn’t be allowed, to simply deal with things at your own pace.”

Caroline: “It is what it is.”

There’s a tremendous distance between them.

“I need to start pulling it together—and I will—there’s just… I don’t want to be known for this in the family, Mom.”

GM: “Your father will know, Caroline. But yes, god knows we’ll keep this under wraps. This won’t turn into a subject of gossip. We won’t allow it to destroy your future. We will… we will keep you safe.”

For the third time that evening, Claire extends her arms. But there’s an asking look in her eyes, this time. Whether Caroline wants the contact.

Caroline: For the third time tonight—perhaps more than she’s done in the last year—Caroline accepts her mother’s embrace. It’s an attempt to return to a simpler time, maybe one that in truth never existed between them, when she was a source of comfort and safety. When nothing could hurt her as long as she was being held tight.

This time, however, there’s no comfort. The embrace is as empty as the flesh shell that once housed Caroline’s soul. It’s an illusion, and as soon as she feels her mother’s arms wrap around her, feels the twisting and snarling of the Beast inside, Caroline knows that it’ll never be a safe place again. Every interaction with her family, a family she has to lie to, deceive, and manipulate just to keep herself alive, is a sham.

She can cling to her, she can pretend it offers comfort, but she’s no more fooling herself than she’s fooling the devil inside her. It knows the truth, even if her mother doesn’t. And still, she lingers. Because this is manipulation. It’s a lie. It’s a misdirection, as so much of this night has been. This is what her life—or unlife—is, and will continue to be.

An act.

A show.

A masquerade.

GM: Not any masquerade.

The Masquerade.

Oblivious to the monster snarling in her daughter’s soul, Caroline’s mother hugs her and reassures her that it’s not her fault what happened. Her mother is the one who’s sorry. That she wasn’t there for Caroline and Westley when they needed her—that it took something as horrible as this to bring her home, and maybe she’d lost sight of what was really important. Claire asks whether Caroline has been to a sexual assault center, taken pregnancy and STD tests, or filed a police report—and hopes that Caroline has not filed a report. God knows they want this to stay out of the papers. Caroline will still have a future. Still be a success. They can move past this.

It’s then that Claire breaks down in tears. Real ones, the kind Caroline can never shed. Her mother turns away, wiping distractedly at her face as she gets out,

“I thought my work… that it would keep you and your brother safe… but it hasn’t, Caroline, it hasn’t… I’m so sorry…”

Caroline: Caroline ends up holdings her own mother instead, offering her own reassurances. She explains that it isn’t her mother’s fault, that she doesn’t have STDs, and that she was actively adverse to filing a police report—for a number of reasons.

“It’ll be okay, Mom,” she murmurs.

GM: Claire finally composes herself, dabbing at her reddened eyes with a tissue.

“Look at this, this is pathetic of me. You were the one who was raped. Now, when did it happen? Was it early enough for you to take a pregnancy test yet?”

Caroline: The heiress shakes her head. “Too early.”

GM: Her mother nods at that, clearly putting it onto a mental to-do list.

“All right. It’s been a very long day, Caroline. If you’d feel better having someone nearby, I can stay the night.”

Aimee’s absence from the statement is conspicuous.

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head again.

“I kind of prefer the quiet, and I have a lot to do tomorrow. School and stuff. So do you.”

GM: Her mom looks at Caroline for a while, then finally replies, “All right. I’m going to call Roger to come pick up your friend.”

Caroline: “No.”

The word is sharp, and cuts through the air for a moment, but after a moment Caroline softens.

“I wasn’t lying when I said she’s messed up, Mom.” She sighs. “And you’re probably not wrong about her needing help. Let me call you tomorrow night when I get her straightened out and set up somewhere.”

Her face tightens up. “It’ll let me accomplish something and won’t scare her into doing something. If you call in Mr. Ferris… it’s going to freak her out. Maybe make it worse.”

GM: “Caroline,” her mother continues more sternly, placing a hand on Caroline’s shoulder, “that girl is a bad influence. We are the company we keep. Surround yourself with failures and they’ll drag you down. Especially if you think she’s going to cause trouble, that’s all the more reason to remove her. There is no trouble she can cause here that Roger can’t handle. You can wait in my car or another part of the house if you don’t want to witness any scenes she makes when he takes away.”

“Besides, we’re hardly sending this girl to St. Helena. Just somewhere that she can get the help she needs. Far away from you.”

Caroline: Caroline seems ready to argue for a moment, but the wind falls out of her sails.

“All right, Mom. Let me talk to her before you call him, though.”

GM: “That may prudent. Just in case, though…”

She reaches inside her purse and hands Caroline a small canister of pepper spray.

Caroline: Caroline arches an eyebrow.

“Seriously, Mom? I could hold her down with one hand.”

GM: “I hope you won’t need it, Caroline. But it won’t hurt you to have it either, if it’s possible she could get violent. Who the hell even knows with drug addicts.”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t quite roll her eyes. She’s not that disrespectful—she wasn’t raised that way—but to her mother’s practiced eye it’s clear that Caroline thinks she’s being a little over the top.

“You’ll understand when I bring her down,” the Ventrue says.

She takes the pepper spray nonetheless.

GM: Her mother nods in satisfaction as Caroline accepts the mace.

“I’ll be downstairs if you need an extra hand.”

Caroline: Caroline sighs. “You want me to go get her ready now?”

GM: Her mother nods again. “I’ll call Roger and have him waiting outside.”

Caroline: Caroline nods and rises to her feet. “Where are you sending her anyway?”

GM: Her mother offers her a dry look.

“I’m thankfully unacquainted with the city’s drug rehab clinics, Caroline. Lord knows that Westley…” Claire briefly trails off at the mention of his name, then continues, “I’m just glad that one of those wasn’t necessary for him. One of the family employees will sort the details out for your friend.”

Caroline: She nods. “All right. I’ll bring her down in a few minutes.”

GM: “I’m downstairs if you need me,” Claire repeats as she pulls out a Solaris. Caroline hears her mother’s voice as she ascends the stairs.

“Hello, Roger. I’m at Caroline’s house. There’s a problem for you to come handle.”

Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, PM

Caroline: Caroline heads up, sending a text as she goes to Jocelyn and asking if she’s willing to take possession of her ghoul for a night or two until she can sort out how to get her family off her back or make her less of a masquerade liability.

She doesn’t quite dread the entire march up the stairs, the descent back into the battered ghoul’s room.

GM: Jocelyn shoots back, Ofc. You wanna come drop her off? You havent seen my haven

After another moment: Actually maybe later

Doesnt seem like a good idea having her in mine

We can drop her off at the krewes

Caroline: My mom is making me ship him off with a family security guy. Was going to make him drop her off wherever worked for you. Fair warning, she’s pretty messed up. Constant headache :(

GM: Dont worry Im used to it

Lol tho howd your mom get pulled into this?

Caroline: Family convinced she’s a bad influence. Responsible for my recent ‘problems’


GM: Lol well good for the masq at least

They gonna care what happens after shes dropped off?

Caroline: Maybe. I can cover that though more easily than her blabbing her fat mouth about vampires at some rehab clinic.

GM: Theyre sending her to rehab?



Its just funny

Detox for ghouls!

Caroline: Ha. Ha.

Caroline steps into Aimee’s room.

GM: The blanch-faced, cut-up ghoul is lying on the bed, staring at the room’s window with numb eyes that can’t even cry. She sluggishly recoils at Caroline’s presence, her features overcome with terror as her mouth works in a silent scream.

Caroline: Caroline closes the door behind herself.

“Stop that. Jesus, I’m not going to hurt you, Aimee,” she growls. “The only time I did was when you tried to set me on fire, if you don’t recall.”

GM: Aimee’s terror-struck features do not calm.

Caroline: “Of course you don’t, because you’re determined to be a selfish bitch,” she mutters. “After everything I’ve done time and again. You don’t even know how many times I’ve saved your life in the last two weeks, or at what cost.”

GM: The mutilated ghoul’s mouth soundlessly works. Her face’s glass-inflicted cuts are still swaddled in bandages, giving her a vaguely mummy-like appearance not dissimilar from Caesar’s.

Caroline:You can whisper,” Caroline decides.

GM: Aimee’s words come out as hoarse, almost deflated-sounding squeaks that would likely be far louder if her voice was fully her own. “What—what are you doing to me—let me go!”

Caroline: “I’ve been trying to get you put back together after you went and got captured by those savages,” Caroline growls. “But as it turns out, you get your wish tonight. You’re leaving.”

She leaves out ‘you ungrateful bitch’.

GM: Aimee pulls away and shrinks against the corner of the bed.

“Please—please don’t hurt me. Please don’t hurt me. Why… why are you doing this!?”

The words still come out as barely more than hoarse squeaks.

Caroline: “What do you mean?”

GM: There’s some confusion on her features, but it’s a drop in the bucket next to the fear. Aimee’s mouth dumbly moves again as her eyes twitch. There’s an oddly glassy look to them.

Caroline: “What do you mean ‘why am I doing this?’” she asks again.

GM: Aimee gives a strangled, tear-less sob and turns away from Caroline, burying her face against the bed’s pillow.

Caroline: “I need you to act normally for a little while.”

GM: The ghoul does not respond.

Caroline: “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

GM: “Just let me go!”

Aimee tries to sob. She still can’t.

Caroline: “You’d die.”

GM: “Good!” comes another cry that’s choked down to a whisper.

Another text buzzes from Jocelyn.

hey if you want I could drop Aimee off with mystery-Skyman

Caroline: “No,” Caroline growls. “I told you I wouldn’t let this ruin your life, and I meant it.”

GM: Caroline is positive the ghoul’s next words would come out as a scream, if they could.

“You already have!”

Caroline: Her face sets in a grim and angry scowl, but other emotions bubble below it. Hurt and pain written across her face to her friend as plainly as though with black marker.

“Why do you have to be such a bitch?” she asks. “I’m doing the best I can.”

The hurt is even more obvious in her voice.

GM: “Go away!” Aimee cries with another strangled whisper.

The hurt is fairly obvious on her bandaged face.

Caroline: “Well,” Caroline grinds out between clenched teeth, “this has been fun.”

She turns loose the Beast, pressing its will onto the ghoul.

GM: Aimee shrinks away at first, but Caroline’s supernal presence washes over her like a tide over beach. The Beast yanks the ghoul’s head back towards her domitor, causing Aimee to crawl across the bed to Caroline and whisper,

“Please. Please take me away from here…”

Caroline: “There’s someone on their way here to take you away, but my mother is downstairs and I need you to act normally. Can you do that for me? Just act normally and you can leave. Don’t talk about any of the supernatural stuff. You got hurt in a car accident.”

GM: Between her bandaged, cut-up face, blanched-white skin, tear-reddened eyes, and a quivering expression that hovers between fear, pain, despair, and a cocktail of other bleak emotions, Aimee looks about as far from normal as Caroline has ever seen her. Or anyone.

The ghoul nods eagerly, if not desperately at the request.

Caroline: Caroline’s expression remains grim, but she nods and sets about packing a quick bag for the ghoul—toiletries and a change of comfortable clothing.

GM: Aimee numbly sits on the edge of the bed and stares ahead.

Caroline: Caroline looks her in the eye.

“No talk of anything supernatural, do you understand?”

GM: The ghoul just gives her a confused look.

Caroline: “Don’t blab about any of this. If she asks, you got in a car accident.”

GM: “Okay…” Aimee answers dully.

Caroline: She runs a hand through her hair in silent frustration. At last she sighs and extends a hand to Aimee.

“I’ll help you downstairs.”

GM: Aimee flinches at Caroline’s touch.

Caroline: “I’m not going to hurt you, Aimee,” she tries to gently reassure the ghoul as she helps her to her feet.

GM: Aimee grows agitated at Caroline’s touch but remains in place on the bed. When she tries to rise, her knees lock and she falls back down. She stares at the Ventrue with out of focus eyes as she tries to fight against Caroline’s earlier command to sit still.

“I-I can’t…”

Caroline: Caroline grits her teeth, then brings them down on her wrist, offering it to the ghoul.


GM: Aimee falls on it like a pack of razor blades.

Caroline: That wrist is yanked away all too soon as Caroline watches a bit of color return to the ghoul’s skin.

You may stand. Don’t mention the supernatural.

GM: “Please… please, I need more…” Aimee begs with glassy eyes.

Caroline: “If you behave yourself and don’t cause a scene? If you go along quietly. If you don’t cause problems tonight where you’re going? I’ll give you more. Not until then. Now get up.”

GM: The ghoul sniffs and shakily ambles to her feet off the bed.

Caroline: Caroline licks closed the wounds on her wrist and carefully helps her former friend down the stairs.

Dragging you down.

As much as she hates to admit it, her mother feels more right than ever.

Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, PM

GM: Aimee needs the help downstairs. Badly. Caroline has to half-carry the traumatized and badly-injured woman down into the living room.

Her mother stares at the sight.

Caroline: She settles Aimee in a chair a little off from the couch where she and her mother have been talking.

GM: “My god, Caroline, what is this girl on?” Claire asks incredulously.

Caroline: Caroline’s glare could shatter glass.

GM: Aimee just stares at Claire dazedly.

Caroline: “Did you think I was lying, Mom?”

GM: “This certainly explains a great deal,” her mother declares. She regards the nonresponsive Aimee with an eye it would be generous to describe as critical.

Caroline: “I told you she was hurt,” Caroline growls defensively. “She should be in bed.”

GM: “Yes, and somewhere other than here.”

Claire glances down at her watch.

Caroline: Caroline settles down between the two, and pulls out her own phone, replying back to Jocelyn that she’ll call to talk about Skyman once she gets her mother out of the house. She wonders wonders if the Toreador has an address she can direct Aimee to be dropped off at.

GM: Jocelyn texts an address in the CBD. Claire doesn’t raise the usual objections to texting in her presence that Caroline has grown up with.

Caroline: She looks back at her mother and puts away the phone. It’s distracting keeping her presence focused on Aimee. It’s distracting having to sit in the same room and smell her. It’s even more distracting given her own very mixed feelings towards her one-time friend.

“How long?” she finally asks after an awkward silence.

GM: “Not long,” Claire answers. “He’s on his way. Caroline, what on earth happened to this girl?”

Caroline: “Accident. She went through plate glass face-first,” Caroline murmurs quietly.

GM: Her mother’s disapproving look does not abate.

It isn’t much longer, however, before a firm knock sounds against the front door. Claire rises to answer it but glances back towards Caroline, as if to make sure she’s all right with someone coming inside.

Caroline: The heiress bits her lip but nods.

GM: Her mother regards Caroline for another moment, then turns to open the door. The Malveaux family’s head of security is a tall man in the early years of middle age, with a close-cropped beard and mustache streaked with salt and pepper that gives him a vaguely wolf-like countenance. He’s dressed in a plain black suit and necktie.

“Roger,” Claire greets him.

“Mrs. Malveaux,” he nods back.

Caroline he greets with another nodded, “Ma’am.”

Ferris strides over to Aimee and hoists her up without further word. The bleary-eyed ghoul startles and gives a strangled scream that doesn’t rise above a whisper. It’s at odds with her panicked expression as she manically flails against Ferris’ chest.

Claire frowns, then sighs tiredly.

“Just get her to the clinic, Roger.”

Caroline: Roger Ferris. The man has a dashing quality to him that when she was younger (and still alive) stirred something in her. Always alert, poised, and seemingly ready for anything. The details of everything he handles for the family have always been intentionally murky for the heiress, but Caroline knows enough to know that he’s a very dangerous man.

That nothing stirs now, other than perhaps a bit of protectiveness towards Aimee, is perhaps the surest sign that she truly is dead inside.

Years ago she’d bounce her Arabic off him whenever she had the opportunity—not often given how busy the family keeps him—stopping in the hall to chat with him while he waited on a meeting with her father, or one of her uncles.

She’d never had the courage to ask him about the two missing fingers on one hand.

“Good evening, Mr. Ferris,” she murmurs as he enters and collects Aimee.

GM: “Ma’am,” the eight-fingered security head responds again, seemingly unbothered by the ghoul’s thrashings and whispered screams. He hefts her into the crook of his arm and moves to re-open the house’s front door.

Caroline: Caroline opens the door for him and follows him out into the chilly New Orleans night, the humidity making the slight dip in temperature feel far more noticeable.

GM: Ferris silently thanks Caroline with a nod and hauls the now-weakly struggling Aimee outside towards a parked black Range Rover Sentinel. Caroline can see her mother faintly frown as she follows the pair out.

Caroline: Caroline watches him load away the battered ghoul—no longer her friend, and addresses him in Arabic.

“Hal la yazal ladayk alkathir min alfuras lilmumarasati?”

(“Do you still have much opportunity to practice?”)

GM: Ferris starts buckling a seatbelt over the blanch-faced woman and glances back to answer, “Lays kathiran, Alsayidat Malfu.”

(“Not so much, Ms. Malveaux.”)

“Aiqtarahat Kayla ’an ’aqum bieamal tarjamat mustaqilin, lakina eayilatak tashghaluni bima fih alkifayatu.”

(“Kayla’s suggested I do freelance translating work, but your family keeps me busy enough.”)

Caroline: In that moment she strikes. The Beast surges forward and she feels a tiny surge of guilt at misuising him so.

“Astamira fi altahaduth biallughat Alearabiati.”

(“Continue speaking in Arabic.”)

GM: The former CIA agent regards her with a blank look.



Caroline: Vitae burns away as she digs her words deep into Ferris’ mind.

“Taslimuha ’iilaa…”

(“Deliver her to…”)

Caroline provides an address.

GM: The gray-bearded man gives her that same blank look.



Caroline: She’s never pushed her powers this far before, but now is the time.

She continues, “Tajahal kuli ma taquluh wala tatadhakar shyyan minhu. thuma aistamara fi tadhakur ’anak qumt bitaslimiha ’iilaa ’iieadat altaahil kama hu matlub…”

(“Ignore everything she says and remember none of it. Then proceed remembering only that you delivered her to rehab as required…”)

GM: Ferris gives another slow nod. The sleepy quality to the security chief’s gray eyes is a far cry from the usual, highly alert state that was one of the reasons her family hired the man.



Caroline: She lets slip her control.

“Ana asif lisamae dhalika.”

(“I’m sorry to hear that.”)

GM: Ferris’ eyes snap back into focus.

“I have more important things to do,” he shrugs in English.

Caroline: “Hopefully I shall not occupy any more of your time in the future.”

“Ana asif lihadha.”

(“I’m sorry for this.”)

GM: The security chief responds to Caroline’s apology with a bemused look. “Spending time on your family encompasses those more important things, ma’am.”

Caroline: “Yusifuniy ’an ’aqul hinaha ’anak lan taftaqir ’iilaa aleamal abdan, Sayid Firis.”

(“I am sorry to say then that you’ll never lack for work, Mr. Ferris.”)

GM: “‘Ana last asf sidti. eayilatuk tadfae li jyda. miranda tubli bla’an hsnaan fi manziliha aljadidi.”

(“I’m not sorry, ma’am. Your family pays me well. Miranda’s doing well in her new home.”)

Caroline: A weak smile.

“Take care of her. It’s… it’s not her fault.”

GM: Caroline knows the things her family has hired Ferris to do.

The vulpine-like man regards his employers’ daughter, then seemingly settles for, “I’ll get her safely and quietly to people who can.”

Caroline: Caroline can only nod and watch him enter the vehicle to drive off with Aimee.

At least her former friend is finally out of her hair.

Thursday night, 17 September 2015, AM

Caroline: Caroline looks down as he goes, then, after a long moment, back at her mother.

GM: Claire puts away her phone as she hears the car’s doors close and watches it drive off. Her gaze returns to Caroline once it’s gone.

“Let’s get you back inside.”

Caroline: Caroline lets her mother guide her gently back into the house and retakes her seat.

GM: Claire sits back down next to her. She waits a moment to see if Caroline wants to resume the discussion first.

Caroline: “What now?” she asks at last, quietly.

GM: “What are your plans, Caroline?” her mother asks after a moment. “Do you want to take some time off, from school and work?”

Caroline: Caroline turns to regard her mother curiously, and after a moment asks, “Why don’t you go ahead and ask what you really want to ask, Mom?”

GM: Her mother frowns at that. “I’m sorry, Caroline?”

Caroline: There’s a flat look in response, and she lays a hand on top of her mother’s.

“You have a question you’re not asking. Maybe you’re afraid to ask it. Maybe you’re afraid of the answer. Just ask.”

GM: Claire’s frown deepens at Caroline’s statement.

“Do you know what happened to an employee of your uncle Orson’s named Joseph Paxton?”

Caroline: “Do you know why exactly Westley had such a miraculous and ironclad turnaround in his behavior?” she counters.

GM: “Why are you asking about Westley right now, Caroline?”

Caroline: “Because he told me to ask you, about something he couldn’t talk about to me. Not wouldn’t, couldn’t.”

GM: “The Brothers of St. Joseph are the… people to ask about your brother,” her mother answers.

Caroline: “What aren’t you telling me, Mom?” Caroline asks intently.

GM: “A great deal, I suspect,” her mother answers heavily. “I didn’t try to find out from the monks what they did to your brother. There was nothing I could have done.”

Caroline: “That, I believe.”

GM: Her jaw sets. “I might have done something foolish if I did.”

Caroline: “You can’t protect us from everything, Mom.”

GM: “I helped your brother to recuperate,” her mother says wearily. “He couldn’t go to a rehab clinic, as I’ve said. Too many staff who could spill he was there to the tabloids—or worse, the press. I did everything I could to make sure he wouldn’t get into another… accident, like with that poor girl. I included the stipulation in his trust fund that he’d be cut off if he didn’t attend weekly therapy sessions. Anything to keep him sober.” She then pinches her nose as she adds, “Sober enough, at least.”

Caroline: “So, did you send him to the brothers, or was that someone else?” Caroline asks.

GM: Claire regards her as if Caroline just said she likes to set dogs on fire.

“I would never do that to your or one of your brothers, Caroline. Westley’s stay was your uncle’s doing. I’m sure you can imagine which of them.”

Caroline: “Just like Susan?”

GM: “Like and not like. Your brother only enjoyed their ‘hospitality’ for a week, thank god.”

Caroline: “That’s what Orson wanted to do to me. When I first showed up to see him after… well.”

She looks down.

“He was adamant that Aimee and I were both going to a convent,” she continues.

GM: “This isn’t like last time, Caroline,” her mother says slowly.

There’s a quaver to her lip.

“He hasn’t done anything. Orson knows nothing.”

Caroline: “You don’t have to do something wrong for something terrible to happen. Though… we’re often architects of our own fate.”

There’s guilt in Caroline’s eyes.

GM: Claire dabs at her eyes with a issue. Her voice, though, doesn’t waver as she looks her daughter in the eye and asks, “Do you know anything about what happened to Westley, Caroline?”

Caroline: “No, it just… it seemed odd that he was trying to tell me something about what had happened to him, and a few nights later he disappeared.”

GM: Caroline’s mother dabs at her eyes some more. “I don’t know why Orson would make him vanish like this. All it’s doing is sending the family off on a wild goose chase.”

Caroline: “He didn’t tell me to ask Orson. He told me to ask you.”

Caroline’s voice is very quiet.

GM: “If I had any idea where your brother was, Caroline, any at all, we wouldn’t be talking about him right now.”

Caroline: “I didn’t say you were, but if you’re keeping any secrets on this, Mom, this would be a good time to share them.”

GM: “I don’t know anything that could help us—could help him, Caroline. What answers do you think I have?”

Caroline: “Are we just going to dance around this all night, Mom?” Caroline asks tiredly. “Wouldn’t you like someone in the family to know what you’ve been dealing with without any of us realizing it?”

GM: “Orson thinks you had something to do with Paxton’s disappearance, Caroline,” her mother says heavily. “He’s worked for your uncle for over a decade. Has a family. There was no reason for him to just vanish like he has.”

Caroline: “Grown man and former FBI investigator goes missing. Must be the college student’s fault? How exactly does Orson think I made his investigator disappear?” Caroline asks.

GM: “How did you know he’d worked for the FBI, Caroline?” her mother asks.

Caroline: “The same way I know Roger speaks Arabic and worked for an agency with a three-letter abbreviation, Mom. I’m not Luke. They’re not all just ‘the help’ to me. Plus people are far more likely to help you if you know at least something about them. One of Dad’s lessons.”

“We talked once or twice. He was gruff, though. Didn’t really want to take questions. Reminded me of the Terminator.”

GM: Her mother’s frown has resumed in full force. “Orson doesn’t think it’s likely you were directly responsible for his disappearance, Caroline, but he doesn’t think it’s a coincidence that he disappeared while looking for you either. He thinks there was more to whatever happened at Decadence than you’ve let on.”

“It’s been over a week, now. We’ve been debating whether or not to bring the police into the investigation.”

Caroline: “They have a stellar record with missing persons,” Caroline replies, bitterness heavy in her voice.

“And an even more stellar one with people in their custody.”

GM: “Yes, god knows there after that fiasco with the Whitneys and Devillers. That’s part of the debate. But what happened to Paxton isn’t going away.”

Caroline: “You actually think I had something to do with it,” Caroline states.

GM: “We think the circumstances of his disappearance and yours could potentially be connected. We’re not sure how, but it’s our only lead to go on.”

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “Good luck in your goose chase. I’m surprised Orson cares, though, he never stuck me as having very much concern for individuals.”

GM: “The family is on edge, Caroline,” Claire continues with a thoughtful frown. “This is the fourth time within a month that something unfortunate has happened to us, or to someone closely associated with us. You. Your brother. Paxton. I don’t know if you heard, but Cécilia was followed home by a stalker at the same time she was entertaining Luke.”

Caroline: “I heard about Cécilia,” Caroline replies thoughtfully.

She eyes her mother.

“So. This is us.”

There’s a tiredness to her tone, an exhaustion seeped deep into her bones after their extended verbal sparring. Lies within lies within misdirection. The complete absence of any truth between them, in a single word.

GM: Caroline’s mother looks back at her. The weariness in her own tone isn’t feigned as she repeats, “Do you want to take some time off, from school and work?”

Caroline: “Work makes sense. It’ll also raise fewer eyebrows when I come back. I need to talk to my professors about school.”

GM: “Yes. Another of the family can do it, if you’d rather not.”

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “I’ll let you know if I change my mind.”

GM: Claire is silent for a moment, then touches Caroline’s hand. “You know that you can call me, Caroline, if there’s anything you need or want someone else to take care of. Anything.”

Caroline can’t say she ever knew that.

Caroline: Caroline can’t remember a time that was true. She was always closer to her father, always the daddy’s girl happy to weaponize him when her mother told her she couldn’t do something. Physical. Athletic. Unafraid. She remembers a tear- and rage-filled locker room left by her mother’s passage. Remembers a dozen fights.

And she remembers a time when she tried her best to make it true. To mend fences that had never existed. Remembers applying to that stupid sorority because she thought it would make her mother happy. Remembers the disappointment when she was rejected. Remembers it as just another missed opportunity between them. An unanswered “missed connection” just like on Craigslist. Two souls sailing through the night on their own ships, lost in the darkness.

Perhaps never has it been so true.

“Yeah,” she hears herself say. “I know, Mom.”

GM: The ships sail on, their signal lamps flashing through the gloom. Perhaps the silent messages are received. Perhaps the darkness is too thick.

But the Kindred aren’t the only ones to maintain masquerades.

Claire finally rises from the couch, shoulders her purse, and embraces Caroline again.

“I love you,” she repeats.

Caroline: “I love you too, Mom,” Caroline replies. As she sees her mother out she pauses at the door, calling out her mother heads outside, “Mom?”

When the older woman pauses Caroline speaks again, her voice thick with emotion, “Everything that happened, is happening, happens… it’s not your fault.”

GM: Claire pauses and looks back at her daughter as she crosses the house’s threshold into the waiting night. The rain tapered off hours ago. The once-overcast sky’s thick black clouds have parted. The moon is only a bare sliver.

It’s still enough to illuminate the pained lines etched over her face.

Claire’s voice is hoarse again as she answers,

“It’s… not yours either, Caroline. Sometimes… sometimes it’s simply out of our hands.”

Caroline: “As long as you know, whatever happens, you’ve always done your best.”

GM: Caroline’s mother stares at her for a moment longer.

“We’ll see if that was enough.”

Thursday night, 17 September 2015, AM

Caroline: Caroline fires off some emails to various contacts, careful to compartmentalize her various subjects of interest, and then sets to work herself, digging into the Tulane Law’s various administrators.

Her soon to be Krewe-mates, her professors, Emmett who she so in-artfully framed.

It’s been a while since the night was largely hers to deal with. She calls Jocelyn, mentioning that she doesn’t want to bother their mystery patron with her pathetic ghoul if it can be helped, but that she understands if the troublesome girl is too much work.

GM: Caroline’s emails disappear into the aether. She imagines it will take some time for her former boss’ firm to look into all those matters—as well as a few follow-up phone calls—but she has nothing but time now.

As her lover said, she has eternity ahead of her.

As for Jocelyn herself, the Toreador relays that Skyman won’t be bothered if they pass along Aimee, but that “whatever happens to her is gonna be really… final.”

Skyman has also recovered Kelford, she mentions.

“I asked if you could have him back later, but… answer was no. Sorry.”

Caroline: “Yeah, I understand. Can you just keep her knocked out? I… she didn’t do anything wrong, Jocelyn. Just wrong place, wrong time, never had a chance to figure out what she was doing.”

GM: Jocelyn pauses. “Yeah, that… would make a lot of sense. Keeping ghouls knocked out is a pretty hard, though. Best I can do is give her some roofies and lock her up.”

Caroline: “That’ll would be great, Jocelyn. I just need some breathing room to deal with her. I’m sorry to push it on you.”

GM: “I understand. And it’s okay. You’ve been through a lot lately.”

After Caroline ends the call with her lover, she delves into school-related matters. She finds that the dean of Tulane Law, Harrison Abel, lives in the well-to-do neighborhood of Touro.

Caroline: The curse she lets out is decidedly unladylike. Her frustrations do not remain her own as she sets off into the night.

GM: Still lacking her own car, Caroline hails a Ryde. Riverbend is slow on a late Wednesday night. The cafes, coffee houses, and casual dining establishments where one might expect to find college students are all closed. Tulane itself remains barred to her.

She eventually arrives at a Walgreens. “Open 24 hours” proclaims the sign. She strolls down an aisle of shampoos, conditioners, and hair products. A blue-shirted young man pulling graveyard shift to stock the shelves smells just right.

Caroline: The poor young man would be easy pickings for a beautiful woman even if she didn’t have unholy powers of persuasion, and it’s not long before she lures him into a deserted (and camera-free) corner of the store for some necking that she gets far more out of than he does.

GM: The stock boy looks a little on the short side, but he’s also acne-free, clean-shaven, moderately trim, and looks as if he’s put some care into his appearance. Caroline doesn’t waste any time with conversation after he asks, “Can I help you?” and simply lets the force of her presence wash over him. She’s soon pushing the half-stunned young man against a shelf of paper towels, his blood hot and sweet as it rolls over her tongue. His life isn’t the best she’s sampled, but it’s not the worst either.

He stares dazedly when Caroline finally licks his neck and pulls away.

“Uh. Wow.”

Caroline:Forget I was here,” she demands of him.

As satisfying as the boy’s blood is, she’s still restless. Frustrated. Angry. She knows it’s the Beast on some level. Her taunting of it with her mother have left it on edge, and no matter how she tries she can’t get away from it. At least she’s warm again, for a while. The thirst is gone, for a moment.

GM: Before it returns.

Caroline: The night is hers still, what remains of it.

GM: Eventually, and inevitably, it will return.

Caroline: It’s a damn sight better than yesterday.

GM: Caroline catches another cab and returns home. Autumn and Aimee are both gone. Turner is still awake, going through exercise drills at relentless intensity despite her maimed state. The news of Kelford’s capture does not put the ghoul at ease.

Caroline: Caroline provides the maimed ghoul with more vitae, taking a measure of satisfaction in watching her wounds close, her bruises heal. It’s not as satisfying as the boy’s blood.

GM: Ordering replacement furniture over Cadabra takes a little while, but not that long. Her research into Dean Abel has already been done. Her laptop’s clock isn’t so late into the AM. The night looms ahead of her, seemingly as long and empty as eternity.

Caroline: The house feels so empty, and so does Caroline. A night without the threat of oblivion hanging over her leaves her with little to do as she waits for information to trickle in. There are things she could do. She could reach out to Father Malveaux. She could dig further into her professors. She could call Jocelyn, and she does toy with that idea for so very long, before finally forcing herself to wait until tomorrow. She digs around on the Blackwatch personnel database, looking for another bodyguard to compliment Turner, but her heart isn’t in it. She keeps seeing Polk’s headless corpse and Turner’s own wounds.

She spends time picking Turner’s brain, talking to the bodyguard about her own desires and interests, but finds little common ground. The taciturn mercenary is poor company, though.

Eventually she finds herself back in her room. She pages through case studies and sets them aside before ending up on her bed with her leather-bound and much-annotated Bible. The holy book sends an uncomfortable shiver through her when she touches it, but she finds herself paging through familiar passages.

She tries to make some sense of what has become of her life. Tries to reconcile it with faith. Struggles, and tries again. She cries. Tears of relief and tears of grief.

The night stretches on towards eternity.

GM: “And if any native Israelite or foreigner living among you eats or drinks blood in any form, I will turn against that person and cut him off from the community of your people, for the life of the body is in its blood. I have given you the blood on the altar to purify you, making you right with the Lord. It is the blood, given in exchange for a life, that makes purification possible. That is why I have said to the people of Israel, ‘You must never eat or drink blood—neither you nor the foreigners living among you.’”

Caroline: She hates Father Malveaux, hates his alien ideology and twisted faith, but she has trouble denying at least one of his truths: there is very little for her here. On the other hand, she has eternity to look.

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

“Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”

And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins."

She prays. And she tries to forgive. She has eternity to find that forgiveness in her heart as well.

Maybe she’ll even find it someday for herself.

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Story Six, Caroline I

“We’ve got forever ahead of us. Eternity. And whatever else might be shitty, that’s… pretty great.”
Jocelyn Baker

Wednesday evening, 16 September 2015

GM: 7:40 PM, the clock’s hands read.

A low drizzle sounds outside Caroline’s window. Pulling back the curtains reveals overcast skies blotting out the moon and stars. The night engulfs Audubon Place’s expensive homes. It chokes their lit windows into quiescence with hungrily grasping shadows that are all-too at home in the thickly-foliaged gardens.

Caroline will never see the sun again, that much is true. But for the first time since her Embrace, the night that awaits beyond her home is truly hers.

Turner is still awake and relays Autumn’s request to be buzzed in. The other ghoul shows up with the items her domitor requested: Solaris, two Sunpads, handcuffs, and various other electronics to replace the ones stolen by Wright’s thugs. Turner adds that Kelford’s “probably pissed himself in that closet by now.” She doesn’t sound upset. She adds that he’s “probably hungry too. And thirsty.” She doesn’t sound upset at all.

There’s also a message on Caroline’s new phone. It’s from Neil:

Sarah is awake! Recovering well, if you haven’t heard. Family not yet taking visitors. We’re all hoping for the best.

There’s also a voice mail from Lyman Whitney to the same effect. The old man’s voice sounds hoarse, and like he’s been crying, but Caroline can hear his smile when he thanks her for saving his granddaughter. He says that he and Warren will have to take her out to dinner sometime. Later. Right now they’re spending all of their time with Sarah.

“We won’t forget what you did, Caroline,” Lyman says as he ends the call.

A second voice mail from Carson bears the same news. He tells her how well she did saving both girls and asks if she wants to come over for dinner sometime. He doesn’t say it, but they both know he’s not heard much from her lately.

Caroline: Caroline pauses and re-reads Neil’s message several times.

Recovering well.

She suppresses a cry of relief, but not the smile that spreads across her face. She didn’t get Sarah killed. As good as killed. The girl’s recovering. Maybe she’ll even have a normal life, time in therapy likely notwithstanding.

Caroline’s own misjudgment notwithstanding. Her smile dims at that, and vanishes altogether upon listening to Lyman’s and Carson’s voicemails. She should still have worked Sarah first. Spared the Whitneys god only knows how many sleepless nights of grief and agony. It’s Neil and TMC’s other doctors who saved the girl and stopped Caroline’s fuck-up from leaving the teenager a vegetable.

She texts back her thanks and relief at the good news to Neil. She leaves Lyman and Carson with similar voicemails—it’s only polite—but doesn’t commit to any dinner dates. She’s grateful they don’t pick up. Grateful she doesn’t have to listen to them heaping on even more undeserved praise and thanks.

She doesn’t have time tonight, anyway. Her new ‘life’ calls.

She plugs in the phone to begin syncing with her Sunbook Air upstairs and heads downstairs with Turner to check in on René’s creature. She lets the Beast out of its cage before they open the closet, directing it away from her ghoul and towards her captive.

She’s lovely. Wonderful. Everything is fine.

GM: The elder ghoul is still blindfolded and hogtied in the closet. Contrary to Turner’s prediction, he hasn’t pissed himself, though Caroline imagines that’s probably a tempting thought now. He grunts as the Ventrue’s supernal mien washes over him.

Caroline: “How are you feeling?” the Ventrue asks.

GM: The ghoul manages an almost-shrug that’s arrested by his bonds. “Been worse.”

Caroline: “I’m sure. Your domitor is in the hands of the prince. I imagine he’ll face execution before the week is out.”

GM: The ghoul says nothing.

Caroline: “I thought you should know.”

GM: No response.

Caroline: “I’m sorry. I imagine that isn’t easy to hear.”

GM: The ghoul’s face twitches several times against the preternatural force of Caroline’s presence, but he remains silent.

Caroline: “I don’t know what fate is in store for you. It’s possible, maybe even likely that the sheriff or his men will come to collect you. If not, I don’t intend on offering you up to them. Whatever fate you deserve after you tried to murder Turner, tried to shoot me in the head, and did god only knows how many other crimes, I don’t wish what they’re probably doing on anyone. Well…” She pauses. “Except him.”

GM: The ghoul still offers no response.

Turner grunts. “Doubt he believes you. Interrogators say stuff like that all the time to fuck with prisoners’ heads.”

Caroline: It’s a thought that hadn’t occurred to Caroline. “You’re probably right. It doesn’t really matter.”

She looks back to the bound ghoul. “I haven’t decided what to do with you, but you should know if it comes to that, it’ll be clean.”

GM: “Won’t beg you for a quick end, but I’ll thank you for one.” The ghoul’s teeth clench as the words spill out… some part of him is fighting against saying even that much.

Caroline: Caroline nods. “When was your last dose?” It’s a nod he can’t see, but the action is more subconscious anyway.

GM: “Doesn’t matter. Empty now.”

It’s hard to make out many of the ghoul’s features past his blindfold. But there are lines along his mouth and a gauntness to his cheeks that wasn’t there before. Even his closely-cropped hair looks grayer than it did yesterday.

Caroline: “If I give you a drop will you keep it until your fate is decided?”

GM: The man hesitates for a moment. But he’s been a ghoul far longer than he’s been a man.

“Y… yes…” he chokes out.

His voice doesn’t sound twenty years older. It sounds a hundred years older.

Caroline: She bites her wrist and lets a precious bit of vitae run down her arm into her cupped palm before pouring it into his mouth.

GM: The ghoul ravenously sucks it down. A long shudder goes through his body.

Caroline: “Don’t do anything foolish.”

GM: “Not… much I can,” he pants.

Caroline: “I’ll see to it you get some water, maybe a bedpan to relieve yourself. I do appreciate you not making a mess.”

GM: Silence answers Caroline’s statement.

Caroline: “Let me know if he passes, will you?”

GM: The ghoul’s age-lined jaw clenches.

Caroline: She frowns. “You’re welcome, by the way. It’s better than he treated me last night.”

GM: No response.

Caroline: She slams the closet door closed.

GM: “Could have Leaf Two wipe up his piss. Not like she’s good for anything else,” Turner suggests.

Caroline: “She’s out right now, I think. Autumn bled her last night.”

GM: “Can’t be useful for more than one thing at once, then,” the mercenary says in a not-surprised tone.

Caroline: “No,” Caroline agrees, “she can’t.”

GM: “Leaf One can mop up the piss.”

Caroline: “You two didn’t bond last night?”

GM: Turner shrugs. “Knew some stuff about vampires, give her that.”

Caroline: “Be careful with that word around others.”

GM: “Yeah, she yammered about that too.”

Caroline: “I get the feeling most of them regard it like a black man regards the word nigger.”

GM: “Sure then, Kindred it is. Sounds like some New Age hippie bullshit though.”

Caroline: “Makes them feel better.”

GM: “Leaf One’s hopeless with a gun. Tried to show her how to fire one and she went all California on me.”

Caroline: She chuckles. “Don’t hurt their feelings too badly. Remember they bruise like peaches if you breathe too hard.”

GM: “Thinks the military’s ‘imperialistic’ or some shit too. You said not to plug her, so I was pretty tempted to plug myself. Fucking college kids.”

Caroline: Caroline stifles a genuine laugh.

GM: “Shut up pretty fast though when I said I’d listen to her crap if she went through Parris Island.”

Caroline: “That would be… something.”

GM: “Yeah, would probably give the girls there something to tell jokes about for a while.”

Caroline: “I need to run some errands. Do some… things. Are you good here? Can you get him a pot to sit on and a glass of water? You don’t have to be nice.”

GM: Turner grunts. “I could. Blackwatch lets them shit and starve.”

Caroline: “Thanks, Amanda.” She lays a hand on the mercenary’s shoulder as she goes to check her new phone.

GM: Autumn has set up the basic features for Caroline already. The other ghoul has a very different perspective if asked about her conversation with Turner.

“Turner’s uninformed. I’ll thank her for her service any day, but she doesn’t actually know anything about US history or foreign policy. You tell her we’ve overthrown democratically elected governments and started illegal wars, she just shrugs and says she’ll listen if you’ve been through boot camp. That’s… not an argument.”

Caroline: “I’m fairly certain she does most of her arguing with her fists,” Caroline quips as she checks for messages and glances at the local news sites.

GM: Caroline’s media feed has the usual national news stories. Senate Republicans, her father among them, have attempted to stop the Iran nuclear deal by pushing through a resolution rejecting it. Senate Democrats have blocked it just as they did last week. Australia has also elected a new prime minister.

Locally, there was a shooting in New Orleans East involving police. Four people were shot and two were killed. There was another recent shooting at Central City. No police. Five people were shot and three were killed.

At Tulane University, inams attempted to give a presentation on the faith and traditions of Islam to the student body. Archbishop Orson Malveaux managed to have the event blocked.

A “Goat in the Road” fundraiser is being held at the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum, 514 Chartres St.. Food, games, theater and acrobatic performances highlight this event for the upcoming production of “Uncle Vayna: Quarter Life Crisis,” inspired by Anton Chekhov. Admission is $20 and at 7 PM, shortly before sunset.

On Friday, Downtown NOLA awards are being held at 11 AM, Astor Crowne Plaza Hotel, 739 Canal St. Downtown Development District honors projects and businesses. The state treasurer will keynote. Caroline’s family wants someone present. There is a group email to all of her local relatives asking who is available to attend.

Her brother Westley has also gone missing. There are numerous texts, emails, and missed calls from various family members, all asking if Caroline knows anything about where he is. It is apparent that the family is on edge and fearing the worst after Caroline’s own still-recent disappearance. Particularly when it’s Westley who’s gone AWOL.

The tones of the various messages grow increasingly annoyed by Caroline’s lack of timely response.

Caroline: She stares darkly at those messages before sending a text back to her mother.

Talked briefly last night. Said he was in the Quarter.

GM: Caroline’s phone rings. The caller ID is ‘Claire.’ Caroline still calls her ‘Mom’, but that’s in person.

Caroline: She curses under her breath and slides the accept key.

GM: Her mother’s voice sounds in her ear. It’s calm enough, but there’s a note of restrained urgency to it. “Caroline, what took you so long? When and where did you last see Westley?”

Caroline: Well Mom, I went and got myself killed. She bites back the response and a dozen other equally caustic ones.

“He called me at nine? Maybe ten. Said he was down in the Quarter. Wanted me to join him down there. I declined.”

GM: “Did he say what club he was at?” Claire asks. “Or anything at all else that you can remember?”

Caroline: “It’s the Quarter, Mom, the entire place is a playground to him. You know he’s not inclined to stay in one place for long.”

GM: Her mother sighs. “Damn it.”

Caroline: “What did he actually do?” she asks.

GM: “He missed one of his appointments with Dr. McMillian. Attending those is one of the conditions if he wants to keep his trust fund. I thought at first he’d been… enjoying the playground, like you say. He’s now been missing for two days. He’s not been at his apartment or any of his usual haunts. No response trying his phone.”

Caroline: “I stopped by and talked to him a few days ago, nothing seemed that out of the ordinary… I mean, he was drinking pretty heavily, but that’s normal.”

GM: Caroline’s mother gives a long-suffering sigh.

Caroline: “Are you in town?”

GM: “Yes, I arrived just this afternoon. Where were you all day, Caroline?”

Caroline: “Dropped my phone last night. Screen shattered. Wasn’t able to pick up a new one and get it set up until a few minutes ago.”

GM: “Westley doesn’t miss his appointments. I have a very bad feeling about this.”

Caroline: “Let me reach out to some friends at the hospital, with the police, and elsewhere. See if anyone’s seen anything. Where are you staying?”

GM: “The Hotel Monteleone. Why don’t I meet you at the lobby there in a few hours, after you’ve had time to get in touch with your friends. Will 10 or 11 PM be long enough?”

Caroline: Caroline winces. The trouble with family that has both taste and money.

“I’ll call you when I have something. May take me a while to run this down off the books with people,” she demurs.

GM: “Very well. I’ll be in town until whatever’s happened with your brother is sorted out.”

Caroline: “All right, Mom, I’ll talk to you later.” A momentary pause. “I love you.”

GM: “I love you too, Caroline. You do know that,” her mother answers. There’s a shorter pause on her end than there usually is.

Caroline: “I do. I’ll call.” She kills the line.

GM: When Caroline glances down, she sees that her new phone has a new text from Jocelyn.

hey things work out w/ the sewer rats?

Caroline: It’s over. He’s in the prince’s hands, Caroline texts back.

GM: Her phone starts ringing again. Jocelyn.

Caroline: No sigh this time as she slides the accept bar.

GM: “Holy shit, you torped your sire?”

Caroline: A faint smile. “Arranged it. It’s complicated, and I’d rather see you. Meet me in an hour?”

GM: “Yeah, for sure. Your haven?”

Caroline: “I actually need to run out and grab a bite.” She gives a street in Riverbend. “Call me when you’re close and I’ll come meet you?”

GM: “Sounds good. Congrats over your sire.”

Caroline: “I’ll see you soon.”

GM: “Bet on it.” Jocelyn ends the call.

Caroline: Caroline catches a ride from Autumn down to one of her typical stomping grounds. She takes the opportunity to make a couple of phone calls and asks several of her more usefully placed people if they’ve seen anything: hospital, morgue, or arrest line. It’s mostly going through the motions, but it makes her feel better.

GM: Caroline’s contacts have little to report. Jessica White doesn’t see Westley’s name in any (recent) arrest records. Dr. Crawford hasn’t treated him at the ER. Emily Rosure doesn’t find his name in any of TMC’s records. Maybe Westley will turn up later.

Caroline: She doubts it.

GM: Autumn chauffeurs her domitor through Riverbend. Tulane University and the nearby student bars remain off-limits. Now that René’s capture no longer looms over Caroline’s shoulders, her hunting selection feels remarkably limited.

Caroline: It’s better than nothing for now, but she’ll be happy to potentially expand her options. An entire college of victims right around the corner is so tempting.

GM: Caroline ends up returning to Cooter Brown’s. Four hundred beers remain on tap and seventeen TVs continue to blare football games down at the oyster-chowing working-class patrons, who are animatedly discussing the Saints’ new league record for most passing touchdowns. The Ventrue cannot find any college students, and after driving to several further dive bars, she takes what flat and tofu-like blood she can get from the four or five men she lures into Autumn’s car over the course of the evening. The coeds might be scarce tonight, but it’s all-too easy for an attractive, well-dressed young woman to find lustful men who give suggestive whistles, crude catcalls, or pantomime licking a pussy when she passes by them.

Caroline: The experience is miserable, akin to drinking the run-off swill that collects behind a busy bar, complete with filth and dishwater. Their flat blood eventually quiets Caroline’s rumbling hunger, at least to an extent. She can’t get lucky enough to find a fresh young victim every night, even if she’s found some well-deserving ones.

GM: Autumn remarks that “at least these assholes deserve it” and drives her domitor back to Audubon Place when they’re done. Jocelyn’s white Toyota Yaris is waiting at the corner of an adjacent street.

Caroline: Caroline stops at the gate to add Autumn to the access list, then lets the ghoul go for the night, promising that she’ll call if she needs something. “Go spend some time with your family.”

GM: The ghoul seems to find spending time with her family a step down from spending it with Caroline, if the look in her eyes is any indication, but she does as her domitor bids.

Caroline: Caroline makes her way over to Jocelyn’s car, sliding into the passenger seat of the squat little economy vehicle and slipping the seat back all the way to accommodate her long legs.

GM: Jocelyn stares at Caroline full stop as she gets in. “Seriously, I need to hear that again. You staked your sire?”

Caroline: “Well, technically one of my ghouls did.” There’s a hint of mischievousness in Caroline’s answer, but something else is buried underneath: bitterness.

GM: Jocelyn leans forward and places a pale hand over Caroline’s. “What’s wrong?”

Caroline: She grinds her teeth. “They used me. Threw me…” She shakes her head as she trails off.

GM: “It’s over now,” Jocelyn states, the look on her face seemingly preempting any need to elaborate. “And the Storyvilles…” She seems to think for a moment, then declares, “no one who messes with us gets away with it. You’ll get to find out everything, now that your sire’s gone…”

Caroline: “He took my brother,” she seethes. “I tried to report it as an infringement on Father Malveaux’s domain. So the sheriff dropped me in the Quarter. Right in René’s lap.”

GM: “Oh, wait… your brother? Did you…?”

A look at Caroline’s face tells the full story.

Caroline: “They tortured him. The Dungeon.”

GM: Jocelyn seemingly knows better than to hug an on-edge vampire, so she squeezes Caroline’s hand instead.

“I’m so sorry.”

Caroline: “I don’t know what happened to him. Family is in an uproar, all in town.”

GM: “Maybe Father Malveaux knows?” Jocelyn thinks. “You could go to him.”

Caroline: “He tried to kill me when I was driving René in for delivery. Some kind of religious magic. Murdered one of my ghouls when we pulled in. Just out of spite and rage.” Her hand squeezes tightly on Jocelyn’s.

GM: “Oh, geez. That’s…”

What their existence is.

Caroline: “It’s over. But it isn’t. I… they mesmerized me. I’m sorry. I kept all the details out I could, about you, but a scarred ghoul, I think Donovan called him Capitán Gautliterrez, knows I was there with Eight-Nine-Six.” There’s shame on her face.

GM: “I’ll talk to… about it, Caroline. It won’t be a problem,” Jocelyn assures her. “It’s all over now. You’re safe.”

Caroline: “I’m so angry, Jocelyn. All the time. Except when I’m around you.”

GM: The Toreador squeezes her hand again. “I know. I guess… a lot of us are.”

Caroline: “They didn’t seem angry at me over the Eight-Nine-Six reveal. At least they didn’t punish me for it. I just don’t want you to get in trouble or…. well. You know.”

GM: “It’ll all get taken care of. You’re in with us, things are gonna be a lot easier now.”

Caroline: “Just having someone I can talk to.”

GM: Another squeeze. “I’m really lucky to have you too, you know. You’re so strong.”

Caroline: “I’ve been nothing but trouble so far. But I’ll fix that.”

GM: “No matter what gets hurled at you, what happens… you just keep going. I don’t know how you do it.”

Caroline: “I’m going somewhere, Jocelyn. And you’re coming with me. I won’t be a burden forever.”

GM: “You’re not a burden,” Jocelyn repeats. “You took down Eight-Nine-Six. Kelford. Your sire. The rest of the krewe’s… they’ll think I’m kidding when I tell them this.”

Caroline: “Didn’t find Evan for you.”

GM: Jocelyn’s face falls for a moment, but then sets more firmly. “Yet.”

Caroline: “Yet,” Caroline agrees.

GM: “You must feel awful about your brother right now, but if you still wanna celebrate finally nabbing your sire…”

Caroline: “I can’t tonight. I have to make some stops, see if I can find out what they did to my brother. If he’s still alive… tomorrow though.” There’s a hint of happiness amid the morbid topic. “I have someone in mind. Apparently he thought it would be fun to stalk my future sister-in-law. And he’s just the right flavor.”

GM: “A stalker sounds good. Be pretty ironic for him to be the one who gets hunted.”

Caroline: “I thought you might appreciate it.”

There’s a little voice in the back of her mind that cries out over the insanity of the entire proposal, but that voice has grown more quiet with time and is not even a whisper now.

This is what she is. It’s what God wants. It’s what she deserves. It’s what she has left. All that she has left.

GM: “Doubt he will, but that’s the point,” Jocelyn grins.

Caroline: “I had something I wanted to run past you, as a sanity check. The family is in town tearing things apart. Staying in the Quarter…”

GM: The Toreador frowns, but waits for Caroline to go on.

Caroline: “How bad of an idea is it to try and clear a visit to calm their nerves on my end? I’ve only heard Savoy’s name mentioned… and never in a positive context.”

GM: “Savoy’s horrible,” Jocelyn declares. “He wants to be prince, and if it weren’t for him, Vidal would’ve crushed the Baron and the city would be a lot better off.”

Caroline: “I gathered. He made my own life much more difficult, that said…”

GM: “Can’t you just meet your family outside the Quarter?”

Caroline: “My father is the junior senator. He isn’t as fond of house calls. Besides, the house isn’t exactly set to receive… I mean, I probably could, with some effort.”

GM: “Oh really? I didn’t move to Louisiana that long ago, I don’t know who the senators are.”

Jocelyn looks like she could sigh as she thinks some more.

“The Quarter’s Savoy’s territory. And he isn’t like Donovan or McGinn. He pretty much always lets Kindred in who wanna do something there. But… just having anything to do with him, that’s bad.”

Caroline: “Is that a ‘call first’ and he’ll let you do whatever or a ‘he doesn’t care as long as you aren’t poaching’ kind of thing?”

GM: “The first. That’s why it’s so bad, because you’d have to go and talk with him. Or his skank herald, I guess.”

Caroline: The Ventrue heiress nods. “Bad idea. Got it.” She bites her lip. “I’ll find another way.”

GM: “If there’s an Elysium Primo nearby, you could sneak in,” Jocelyn suggests. “I mean, you don’t need Savoy’s permission to go to those, and there’s a million Elysia in the Quarter. He can’t follow licks everywhere.”

Caroline: Caroline remembers the snap of the whip in the air and searing agony that went on for days, shivering. “Something to keep in mind for the future.”

GM: “Okay, well, that aside. How’d you finally take down your sire?”

Caroline: “When Donovan dumped me in his lap, just before he dominated me, I was able to open a call to a ghoul. We’d already located his haven, so when they realized what was happening they gathered a few others and set a trap when he showed up with me. Set him on fire. Frenzied him… shotguns and swords.”

GM: “Wow. You’re kidding. You and one ghoul?”

Caroline: She shakes her head. “Three.”

GM: “Still. Wow. I don’t think I’d ever be able to take down my sire, even with some renfields for help…”

Caroline: “Hopefully you’ll never have to. He was… terrifying. Almost unstoppable.”

GM: “How old was he?”

Caroline: “Embraced near the end of the 19th century? Somewhere between 120-130?”

GM: Jocelyn lightly punches Caroline’s arm. “What was it you said? ‘I don’t want to be a burden’?”

Caroline: “I just meant I want to do something to help you. This has all been so selfish. What do you want, Jocelyn? Out of this existence, I mean?”

GM: Jocelyn looks somewhat taken aback by the question. “Well, honestly, I’m… still learning the ropes to all this. I was only Embraced a couple years ago.”

Caroline: “Still, you have to have some idea of where of which direction you want to go, even if you don’t know exactly where you’ll end up.”

GM: “Well, sure. I mean…” Jocelyn leans back in her seat, thinking. “I guess there’s a couple big things. I wanna find Evan, first. The Storyvilles haven’t been the same without him.”

Caroline: Caroline nods, reclining against the cloth seat as she listens to the Toreador.

GM: “I want us, the krewe that is, to do well. Score some wins against the Baron, and maybe Savoy. Get some better turf to hunt around. Maybe some more renfields, so life—well, unlife’s—easier.”

Caroline: Another nod. “Is Meg your only one right now?”

GM: “Yeah. I had another one, but… he got killed by the Baron’s licks. I don’t want that to happen again.”

Caroline: “How’d that happen?” she asks.

GM: “The Storyvilles and I went hunting and, well, making trouble in the Ninth Ward one time. We ran into Xola.” The Toreador’s voice is quiet when she finally speaks again. “I didn’t see all of what happened to David, but…”

Caroline: “Xola,” Caroline repeats. “I’ll remember the name.”

GM: “I didn’t really know David that well, but…” her face seems to war. “He didn’t deserve that. My sire was letting me borrow him, too, and she got angry.”

Caroline: “Not to pry, but… why not take on a couple more? If you’re looking for comfort and security, that seems like an easy place to start.”

GM: “Well, finding people to be ghouls is easy, but… finding the right ones is harder.”

Caroline: Caroline gives a light laugh. “Picky?”

GM: “I’ve had two, including David, before Meg. But they… didn’t last. It seems like all I do is get them killed.” Jocelyn’s gaze is tired.

Caroline: “I don’t think it’s you,” Caroline replies. “Admittedly,” she begins, “I’ve only been part of this world for nine days, but no one seems to care about ghouls. Not really. They abuse them, attack them, hurt them. Treat them like trash and throw them away just the same.”

GM: “Yeah. Everyone says they’re basically slaves. I mean, other licks can do whatever they want to yours, unless you stop them. And then there’s the Beast.”

“My first one, Lizzy, I… I warned her to get away, this one time I was hungry, but she wouldn’t. And I just… lost control. I made sure she’d done some bad things before I gave her my juice, but…” Jocelyn trails off. “We still talked about stuff. Caught a few movies. Even braided our hair together. I thought she could also… maybe be my friend.”

The Toreador shakes her head. “I’m sorry, though. That’s old news, and you with your brother…”

Caroline: “Doesn’t sound that old.” Caroline looks at Jocelyn. “And it doesn’t sound like you’ve had much of an opportunity to talk about it.”

GM: “My sire said that’ll happen and to not get attached.”

Caroline: “I think they’re wrong. To treat ghouls the way they do. Not the accidents, but the intentional cruelty. The intentional humiliation and casual murder.”

GM: “But she’s right,” Jocelyn says glumly. “I mean, it did happen.”

Caroline: “I don’t even mean morally or ethically. I just think it’s bad practice.”

GM: “I guess. Not much we can really do about it, beyond how we treat ours.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “I didn’t mean trying to lead a revolution of values or some such, I just mean that having servants afraid of you, believing they are expendable, or unwilling to take initiative means you aren’t getting very much out of them. And I think the way that many of them treat their ghouls sets them up to be…”

GM: “Believe me, they’ll do anything for you with the bond. And when it gets down to it… they’re junkies, too. Those things, together, can make them really clingy. Meg’s tried to sleep in my bed with me.”

Caroline: Caroline’s face squeezes in distaste as the anecdote washes away her previous thought. “That’s too much.”

GM: “Sorry,” Jocelyn offers, though she looks somewhat wry at the thought of anything being TMI for their kind. “But, yeah. They’re in love with you. I’m not saying it’s right to be cruel to them, but they’d still love you anyway.”

Caroline: Caroline tries to picture Autumn, Aimee, or Turner in bed with her.

“Are they?” she asks, almost rhetorically.

GM: “Sure. That’s what the collar does. It makes you head over heels in love.”

Caroline: Caroline presumes that’s another name for the blood bond.

“Did you never do anything your partner didn’t want when you were in love?” she asks. “Anything you thought was for their own good?”

GM: “The collar isn’t like normal love, though. That can change. The bond never does.”

Caroline: “Do you only ever love one person?” Caroline asks. “And again, always do what someone you love wants?”

GM: “Well, again, the collar really isn’t like normal love. I’ve heard of it making moms abandon their kids for their domitors.” Jocelyn shrugs. “But I’ll admit I’m not an expert on it. Longest renfield I’ve had is Meg, and only a few years with her.”

Caroline: A shrug. “You know better than me.”

GM: “Well, I guess that makes us both non-experts then.” Jocelyn glances about the car. “Hey, you wanna head back to your haven or drive somewhere? We could still be a while.”

Caroline: “Either or,” Caroline replies.

GM: “Okay, let’s head up then.” Jocelyn starts the car and drives up to Audubon Place’s gated perimeter. Johnson waves the pair through. The Toreador pulls up outside Caroline’s house, gets out, and closes the door. She remarks as she walks up the front steps, “Like I was saying though, I guess I’d like to get some ghouls who can really take care of themselves. Meg doesn’t get into trouble because, well, she’s clingy. Even for a renfield. And other things.”

Caroline: “Other things?” Caroline unlocks the door smoothly.

GM: “I think she’s sad enough already most other licks just don’t see anything else to do to her.”

Caroline: “That’s terrible.” Caroline shakes her head as she heads inside. “Turner’s here, as is Aimee, but I think Aimee might still be out.”

GM: “Still? You should feed her some juice if she’s really sick,” Jocelyn remarks as she steps into the house.

Caroline: “I have been, on and off. Yesterday was… rough.”

GM: “Could introduce her to Meg. I’m sure they’d hit off.”

Caroline: “What could go wrong?” Caroline asks ironically.

GM: Jocelyn plops down on a couch. A mortal host might offer to get drinks or snacks at this point.
“Let me count the ways, but actually, let me not. That’s enough about ghouls though. If I had a casquette girl I’d probably never even have to think about them again.”

Caroline: “A what?” Caroline asks. “Never mind, you can explain it later. You said nothing else about ghouls.”

GM: Jocelyn shrugs. “Eh, you might as well hear it from me. It’s a neat story.”

The Toreador relays how the casket girls, or filles à la casquette, are something of a local… well, not legend, but historic mementos. The girls in question were brought from France to serve as wives for early Louisiana colonists and named for the small chests, known as casquettes, in which they carried their clothes. They were conspicuous by reason of their virtue, for women were normally supplied to colonists by raking the streets of Paris for prostitutes and undesirables. The casquette girls, however, were recruited from church charitable institutions, usually orphanages and convents, and practically guaranteed to be virgins. Though it later became a matter of pride in Louisiana to show descent from them, more sinister rumors claim the casket girls were literal casket-bearers and transported vampires from Paris to the New World.

Such rumors are true—at least in part. The filles à la casquette were seen as innocuous and morally upright, and consequently were not targets for suspicion by hunters and vampiric rivals. This made the young girls ideal ghouls to safeguard their domitors during the perilous journey across the Atlantic. Over the years, the surviving filles à la casquette have come to be regarded as living symbols of New Orleans’ history and have changed hands many times. Indeed, it is considered a mark of prestige to own a casquette girl—especially for younger Kindred. This grants the long-lived ghouls a peculiar immunity to the Jyhad, for the city’s elders consider them ‘cultural artifacts’ and do not wish to see them harmed. This protectiveness is not born out of mere sentimentality, for the casquette girls have served many important Kindred and know much of the city’s history and political workings… as well as their former masters’ minds. While it would certainly be convenient for those elders to simply slay the too-knowledgeable ghouls, doing so would be cause for major scandal. Instead, the elders consider it a game to compete for possession of them. They semi-regularly challenge one another to games of chess, bridge, riddles, proxy-fought duels, and countless other contests of chance and skill whose victory prize is ownership of a casquette girl. Each of the centuries-old ghouls has consequently changed domitors dozens of times.

It is also not unheard of for enterprising younger Kindred to possess one of the filles à la casquette. They usually lose the ghouls after a few years, for the elders regularly play for them and are not bested easily. Still, probability dictates that even those puissant Cainites must eventually lose. It’s happened before and will inevitably happen again. Cunning neonates and ancillae have also challenged them to contests that played to their own strengths and the elders’ weaknesses, though such challenges are not made lightly—the loser has to forfeit something, whether they have a casquette girl already or not. But to most Kindred, young or old, that risk is worth it.

Caroline: “And I thought Kelford was old.”

GM: “I guess there’s always a bigger fish,” Jocelyn remarks when the ‘tale’ is done. “The Hussar’s supposed to be pretty old too.”

Caroline: “He felt like it. Will like iron.” She smirks. “Also ugly enough.”

GM: “Oh, you saw him?”

Caroline: “He had to be the one who interrogated me. Can’t be too many old ghouls in that kind of garb.”

GM: Jocelyn looks like she might clear her throat. “Guess not. Well, enough about ghouls already.”

Caroline: A hint of smile. “What’s your favorite color?” Caroline asks innocently.

GM: “Same one as every lick’s,” Jocelyn smirks. “Red.”

Caroline: “I’m actually partial to black. Though crimson has a certain appeal.”

GM: “Okay, in seriousness, probably a toss-up between blue and green. So cyan.”

Caroline: “Eye-catching.” Caroline is dressed in black again this evening. The form-fitting ensemble is cinched tight around her waist.

GM: Jocelyn, in comparison, is more casually dressed in a denim skirt and green tank top. “You picked a popular color for your favorite.”

Caroline: “I’m sure it’s all the rage among our kind. But it’s hard to wrong with the classics.”

GM: “Classic’s a pretty popular look for us too. That outfit would fit right in at Elysium.”

Caroline: “We should go shopping. Not tonight, but one night get up early.”

GM: “Oh, that’s perfect,” Jocelyn agrees. “It’s not like we can go out to dinner, but shopping, yeah. How about same evening we deal with your stalker?”

Caroline: “Tomorrow night? I think it would be a nice distraction.”

GM: “It’s a date.”

Caroline: “Did your sire ever tell you why she Embraced you?”

GM: Jocelyn seems to ponder that. “Mostly, I think. It took her a bit to explain, but the short version was that she thought I had the right ‘spiritual temperament’ for the Sanctified, and that together with my art.”

Caroline: Caroline arches an eyebrow. “You’re an artist? What medium?”

GM: “Well, yeah. Toreador, remember?” Jocelyn ribs.

Caroline: “The nuances of clan interests wasn’t something I received a lot of tutelage in, remember?” Caroline fires back, similarly amused.

GM: “Well, in seriousness, not all of us are ‘real’ artists. Some of us are critics, patrons, or just Embraced for being beautiful. But those torries are poseurs.”

Caroline: Caroline laughs lightly. “Clan cliques. You still haven’t told me what you do.”

GM: “I do photography and digital image manipulation. I’ve been doing the first since I was a little kid. It’s rough in New Orleans, though. The guilds here are… really conservative. If it wasn’t around in the 1800s, it’s not real art to them.”

Caroline: “What kind of manipulation?” Caroline asks. “Mostly cleaning up, or more major changes to create entirely new images?”

GM: “I got my start just taking peoples’ pictures, and I still do that, but once I started playing around on Photoshop and saw how much more stuff I could do, I didn’t look back. My parents actually thought I should go into CGI design, but I like there being a ‘tether to reality’, I guess, in my work. Taking something that’s ordinary and transforming it into something more. Something mine. I read a quote somewhere that said peoples’ most creative works actually derive from other peoples’.”

“Anyways, I make bigger adjustments to some of my pieces than others, so some of them are all new like you say. But I do minor touch-ups and adjustments to pretty much every picture I take. Which is pretty hilarious for the torries who go on about computers having no place in art, because they wouldn’t even be able to tell the difference in those pieces until you pointed it out to them.”

Caroline: “Age probably. I imagine the city’s torrie elders barely know what a photo is, much less the details of manipulation.”

GM: “Which is bullshit, honestly, art’s been changing and evolving throughout its whole history. If not every piece created by an artist. It’s stupid to set the cut-off date for ‘acceptable’ art at when you happened to take a dirt nap.”

Caroline: “People always fear what they don’t understand. Especially if it diminishes their own relevance.”

GM: “True. Guess you can add ‘catch the guilds up with the last hundred years of art’ to the list of things I want. And probably won’t get.”

Caroline: “Goals.” Caroline shrugs. “They’re what we have left. That and time. And those goals happen with time, but only if you have them, and work towards them. If you never set them…” She shrugs. “It’s why some families sit in poverty for generations and others rise to the top.”

GM: “I guess. Though I don’t really see any way to change their minds even with time, do you?”

Caroline: Caroline taps a finger to her lips in thought for a moment. “Replace them. Build your own bloc over time. Gain leverage that forces them to acknowledge you. Have your work circulated publicly under a patsy, perhaps a ghoul, for public acclaim. Alternatively, enjoy your art for what it is.”

GM: Jocelyn nods. “That last one’s definitely easiest. I’ve uploaded my stuff online to a few places, and it’s nice to read the comments. So it’s not like I’m completely starving for recognition or anything, even if I have to keep things pretty low-key.”

Caroline: “Internet’s a good medium,” Caroline agrees. “Especially if all you’re looking for is a bit of self-affirmation, and not their affirmation. I have trouble imagining any of them over twenty or thirty years old being especially capable online. Hell, my father’s chief of staff can barely work his way around a text message.”

GM: Jocelyn laughs. “Oh god no. I think barely any of them are online, and I don’t think any are on Fangbook or the special Kindred sites.”

Caroline: “Is that a real thing?”

GM: Jocelyn nods. “That’s not the ‘real’ name for it, but once it caught on it stuck like blood to hair.”

Caroline: “Not that you’d know anything about that.”

GM: Jocelyn just sticks out her tongue. “It’s where I’ve been able to upload all of my work, too… there’s some stuff that could stretch the Masquerade, so it can’t go on breather sites.”

Caroline: “Stretch in what way? I’d think art would be one medium that was transcendent.”

GM: “Well, I took pictures of Lizzy. After I… killed her.”

“I know, I know,” Jocelyn says defensively, “that sounds creepy morbid. I just… didn’t want to forget her, and pictures last forever.”

Caroline: “No, it makes sense,” Caroline replies softly. “We all deal with things in our own way. It makes a lot of sense that you’d go to art. It’s… it’s sweet, really. And it’s not like I can talk. I’m still trying to put Aimee’s face back together after… well.”

GM: “Yeah, it looked like you went apeshit on her pretty bad. If it makes you feel better, I’ve… done it before too. I never mean to, but sometimes it just… happens.”

Caroline: “She tried to set me on fire. I mean… she was dominated, but…”

GM: “Geez. Well, she’s lucky to still be alive.”

Caroline: “We’re back on the topic of ghouls,” Caroline observes sourly. “But… while we’re here, I’m trying to figure out what to do with Kelford.”

GM: “Oh. Well, uh, that’s actually been decided for us. I’m supposed to take him away.”

Caroline: “The mystery man in the sky?” Caroline asks.

GM: Jocelyn just nods. “But not for much longer, to you. This Saturday, we’re going to… meet. That’s when you’ll get to join the Storyvilles, too.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip. “Any idea what the plan is with him?”

GM: “You mean for Kelford? No idea, sorry. I could ask if you want him back.”

Caroline: Another bite of her lower lip. “Maybe. He’s the only link I have to my sire, tenuous as it is. And after he’s executed, Kelford could be…. potent. If they do want to execute Kelford though, can you ask—and I understand if you can’t—that they make it clean at least?”

GM: Jocelyn nods. “Sure, I’ll ask.”

Caroline: “In the short term though, it’s probably safer for them to have him. I don’t have the manpower to keep a watch on him until the 20th, not since… well. Yesterday.”

GM: Jocelyn nods. “He won’t be going anywhere. I have a sedative, too, to konk him out with for the trip over.”

Caroline: “Looks like you thought of everything.”

GM: “Would like to take the credit, but not my idea.”

Caroline: “Always take credit,” Caroline advises.

GM: “Good advice, though I’ll pass with… mystery-sky-man. Speaking of, I’m also supposed to pass on that you’ll join the Storyvilles this Saturday. I’ll pick you up sometime after 11.”

Caroline: “You know where to find me,” Caroline smiles. “Why Storyville, as an aside?”

GM: “You mean the name?”

Caroline: She nods. “Not exactly a stellar part of the city’s history.”

GM: “Yeah, it was the old red light district. There was also a sign that used to hang around there which said ‘Beware Pickpockets and Loose Women.’ Back then it was just Gwen and me, and well, we both thought it was fitting. Because that’s what we are, sort of, loose women who take things from people.”

Caroline: Caroline gives a short laugh. She looks away, looks back at Jocelyn, and laughs again.

GM: “Okay, it’s funny, but that funny?” Jocelyn can’t help but grin a bit at the reaction, though.

Caroline: “I’m sorry, I guess I’d expected some great theological background based in opposition to the sinful ways of Storyville, and a warning to those who would follow in their path, blah blah blah.” She laughs again. “But you just liked a street sign about loose women.”

GM: “It’s a funny sign!” Jocelyn protests, still grinning.

Caroline: “Any idea where the sign went?”

GM: “There’s a bunch of replicas of it. That’s the one me and Gwen saw. No idea what happened to the original.”

Caroline: “Shame, it’d be a great thing to hang over the clubhouse door.”

GM: Jocelyn laughs. “That’d be great. Don’t think Roxanne would be so hot though. She thought the same thing you did, so far as the name. Must be a blue blood thing. ‘Warning against sinfulness’ is the reason she gives if anyone asks.”

Caroline: “So, earlier, when you said terrorize the Ninth Ward, what exactly do you mean by that?”

GM: “Well, we go in, and we hunt on the gangs and voodoo cultists who might work for the Baron. Even if they don’t, lots of them are sinners.”

Caroline: “Sounds dangerous.”

GM: “They’re just breathers. Kine.”

Caroline: “Not the kine.” The word still feels awkward in her mouth. “That I’d be worried about.”

GM: “The Ninth Ward’s pretty far from Tremé. And it’s part of the barrens. Anyone can be there who wants.”

Caroline: Caroline gives an acknowledging “hmmm” to that.

GM: “You’ll do just fine, after how you did against Eight-Nine-Six,” Jocelyn assures her.

Caroline: “What do the others in the group like?” Caroline asks.

GM: “Like, to hunt? Or something else?”

Caroline: “Just in general. I don’t really know anything about them, beyond that Roxanne and Evan are a thing, Gwen and Wyatt are a thing, and that Gwen was a Quiverfull.”

GM: “Oh no, they’re not a thing, she just brought him into the krewe.”

Caroline: “Ah, sorry, I just assumed when you said they hit it off… I guess it’s different for us.” She smiles nervously. “Well, obviously it is, I guess.”

GM: Jocelyn reaches over to pat her hand. “Let’s see, where to start. Roxanne’s our brains, and I think her dad was a state senator or something. Her sire’s one of the anointed, and she wants to become one too. She’s an abecedarian under him.”

Caroline: There’s a blank look on Caroline’s face.

GM: “An altar girl.”

Caroline: There’s a light of recognition behind her eyes now. “I’m going to have to relearn everything I know about church and faith.”

GM: “Yeah, there’s a lot that’s the same, but a lot that’s different too. Like women being able to serve as priests, because we aren’t really women anymore.”

Caroline: The weight of that statement hits Caroline, and she goes silent.

GM: Jocelyn nods. “That’s why pretty much any priest’d say it’s okay for us to be lezzing out too.”

Caroline: “I’d wondered, but I didn’t want to think about it too much.”

GM: “Oh no, there’s nothing wrong with it.” Jocelyn pauses. “Well, more wrong. I mean, we are going to hell.”

Caroline: Hell. The word turns her stomach, or whatever the Kindred equivalent is, but Caroline shoves it away and puts on a smile.

“There’s plenty right with it. But you were talking about the others?”

GM: “Right, well, Gwen you’ve also met. Quiverfull from a pretty weird family, like I said. She’s also a painter, and like you, I don’t think she ever really had a sire.”

Caroline: “She’s a torrie as well?”

GM: “Yep. Her, me, and Evan.”

Caroline: “And what’s Wyatt?”

GM: “He’s a kook. Not a kaintuck, but the only one of us who isn’t a creole.”

Caroline: “A kook?”

GM: “Okay, now that part I do remember explaining to you earlier,” Jocelyn ribs. “But a Malkavian.”

Caroline: “Maybe I just wanted to hear the sound of your voice.”

GM: She laughs. “Nice turnaround.”

Caroline: “I’ve been known to turn a phrase.”

GM: “So far as Wyatt, anyways, he’s a reformed almost-serial killer.”

Caroline: “Almost-serial killer? As in he only killed one person, or he nearly killed a number of people?”

GM: Jocelyn smirks. “Okay, technically neither, I just like introducing him that way. But he kidnapped a girl when he was alive, wanted to go through with it, and didn’t. Until his sire showed up to Embrace him.”

Caroline: Caroline shivers. “Sounds like a charmer.”

GM: “We all get Embraced for a reason,” Jocelyn states seriously.

Caroline: “Any idea what that reason was for everyone else?”

GM: Jocelyn shakes her head. “I know Roxanne’s sire, and I know she was a proper Embrace, but not why she got turned. Gwen doesn’t talk a lot about how she got Embraced, back in Houston. I think it was pretty rough on her. And with Evan, it just… never seemed to come up. Honestly, if he weren’t Kindred, you’d think he was the sort of ‘boy next door’ every mom wants their daughter to date.”

Caroline: “Kind, gentle, always dumped in favor of the jock?”

GM: Jocelyn smirks, then seems to think a bit. “Kind and gentle aren’t the first words I’d use, actually. I mean, he’s nice, but not really a pushover ‘oh I understand if you pick the jock’ type. He’s got this sort of quiet confidence that’s really attractive to a lot of girls. But he’s not really in your face about it. I mean, he was happy to let Roxanne take the reins with the Storyvilles and be our leader.”

Caroline: “Sounds like he was pretty likable.”

GM:Is likable,” Jocelyn insists with a somewhat strained-looking expression.

Caroline: “I didn’t mean… sorry. I’m just thinking on it.”

GM: “Well, shoot. We haven’t been able to come up with anything in the weeks he’s been gone.”

Caroline: Caroline snakes her own hand out to take the Toreador’s, even as she bites her lower lip and wrestles with the thought of what Roxanne must be going through.

GM: Jocelyn manages a limp squeeze back and looks up at her. “You’re smart. There’s got to be something we’ve missed, that you could think of.”

Caroline: “I’ll look at it. Once I’m officially in. Maybe a different perspective will help.” She bites her lip. “And unlike a hu-kine, he doesn’t need to eat and drink to survive. A couple of weeks isn’t as damning as it might otherwise be.”

GM: “There’s a lot worse reasons we can go missing than breathers, though.” Jocelyn pauses. “Sorry. I’m glad you’ll be able to help. Really glad.”

Caroline: “If you want to get a head start on it, put together something tonight. A bio on him. Places he frequented, friends or enemies he had, last place he was seen. That kind of thing. There’s obviously some things you won’t be able to tell me until I join the krewe, but it’ll give me a head start that night, or the night after, when I get to look at it.”

GM: Jocelyn nods readily. “Whatever helps.”

Caroline: “On the note of that day… I was told I would be inducted into the Sanctified on the 20th. Any idea what that’ll involve? Things I need to know ahead of time?”

GM: Jocelyn sits back and lets out a needless breath. “Well, you—they, I guess—picked a hell of a day, I mean, night, to join the Sanctified. That’s when the trials are being held. For Matheson, Smith, and Hurst.”

Caroline: “He mentioned it would happen concurrently. What are they on trial for anyway? It seems like justice has been pretty… well, swift.”

GM: “Yeah, it’s really weird. I’ve never heard of there being trials before. I asked my sire, though. She says the prince still decides what happens, but he lets other Kindred testify and present evidence before he makes his decision. She said that it, her words, ‘has more in common with the judgments of Solomon and Hammurabi than modern trials by jury.’”

Caroline: “I guess that makes sense. What did they do anyway? Or are they accused of, I guess.”

GM: “Well, Matheson is the one everyone’s talking about. They say he’s a headhunter. That means he drinks the blood of other licks,” Jocelyn explains preemptively. “But not, well, consensual like it is for you and me. He hunts them the way we hunt kine. He was supposed to have been living in this spooky plantation and been luring neonates over since… well, forever ago.”

Caroline: “Then dominating them into not remembering anything about it? Or killing them?”

GM: “Yeah, he did a bunch of do-overs, if it’s true. There’s supposed to be a bunch of survivors. What happened was George Smith was recruiting a bunch of licks to go live in Matheson’s haven for him.”

“I’m not sure exactly what happened, but Smith, Matheson, and Hurst all wound up in this hick town outside New Orleans, then someone exploded a bomb and killed a bunch of people. The FBI got involved, and the prince is really pissed and gonna execute someone for it.”

“I dunno, I guess the trial’s gonna sort out what happened with Smith and Hurst. It’s Matheson that everyone’s talking about. See, he’d been exiled by the prince forever ago, it turned out, and Vidal never said why.”

Caroline: “So it looks like the prince knew what was going on.”

GM: “And Savoy came forward, right when the bomb went off, and after Smith recruited those neonates, and said that Matheson’s been feeding on them. Been feeding on everyone who came out to his plantation. One of those licks’ sires, who’s a harpy too, backed him up. I’m not really sure what to believe. I guess it makes sense why he’d get exiled, but it is Savoy talking. The prince says the trial’s going to decide if he’s guilty or not.”

Caroline: “I’m a distraction then. Or a diversion at least. Either that or they’re using the trail as a diversion. Well. I guess both makes some sense.”

GM: “How do you think there?”

Caroline: “If it’s happening concurrently then presumably either it’ll attract attention from curious parties, or certain parties will be more invested in the trial than in bothering to deal with a fledgling’s induction. More than that though, there’s also good imaging there no matter what, especially among neonates.”

GM: “Oh, that’d make sense. Like a PR stunt. It might also just be convenient. It’s on Sunday, which is when Midnight Mass gets held. That’s when things like Kindred getting ordained or joining the covenant happen.” Jocelyn pauses. “Or getting executed. I hear there’s supposed to be a few of those too…”

Caroline: “You’d know more about that than I would. The other direction you could look at it as is as a bit of sleight of hand, the same way the government likes to push things people might object to through the legislature when everyone is distracted by some breaking news.”

“Plane crash? Dad’s getting on a plane back to DC that night for some late night votes. Terrorist bombing? Late night vote. Even more mundane things like disclosing documents with Freedom of Information requests.”

GM: Jocelyn thinks. “Huh, you could be right. I mean, I don’t think anyone’s gonna raise much fuss over you joining the Sanctified, but the prince could use the trial and you joining to push other stuff through…”

Caroline: “No matter how you look at it, it’s good imaging and messaging.” Caroline shrugs. “But then I guess you’d expect a prince to be shrewd if he rules over a bunch of our kind.”

GM: “Not a job I’d want.”

Caroline: “Guess that means I still won’t get to see him though, if he’s presiding over a trial. I’ve mostly dealt with the seneschal. He seems… just. Contemplative.”

GM: “What do you mean there?”

Caroline: “About what, the prince or the seneschal?”

GM: “The seneschal. I mean, Vidal doesn’t really talk to anybody these days, so you’re not alone there. My sire says he didn’t used to be like that.”

Caroline: “Must get old. But with regard to the seneschal, they brought me to him when they first, I guess, caught me. Which sounds weird to say because I didn’t know I was doing anything wrong. He seemed different than some of the other older Kindred I’ve talked to. More reserved, but also…. not weak, but maybe gentle? At least not intentionally cruel. I got the same feel when I talked to him at an Elysium briefly.”

“I liked him. At least as much as I could, given the awkward circumstances.”

GM: “How was that, ‘cause you hadn’t caught your sire yet?”

Caroline: “Well, yeah. And the fact that I was a condemned criminal under pain of death by his order, stayed only by the opportunity to catch him. And not knowing exactly what to say or do. He was literally the fourth Kindred I met, after my sire, Father Malveaux, and the sheriff—who I didn’t actually speak to. It was the day after René Embraced me.”

GM: “Must’ve been pretty intimidating. All those Kindred way older than you.”

Caroline: “It was awful.” Caroline goes quiet and still for a moment as she relives those moments, before continuing, her voice distant.

“Not knowing what was going on. Getting locked in a cell for what seemed like days, wondering if they were going to just leave me there until I starved—I had no idea how often I had to feed. Then getting hauled out in front of a jeering crowd. Watching a bunch of other Kindred get executed in front of me, not knowing if they were going to spare me until just before the blade fell.”

She slips off her heels and slides her legs under her. “At that point I’d already maimed one person. Killed another. I knew I was going to hell when I died.”

“I still didn’t really know what had happened. What I was. Am,” she corrects.

GM: Jocelyn slowly takes in Caroline’s summary of events. “Wow. That must’ve been so awful, with no sire.”

Caroline: “All I could think though was that if I was going to die, I wasn’t going to do it shaking in fear or trying to run. That I was going to have some dignity. I think that’s the only thing that got me through it. That kept me from frenzing when they started executing people in front of me.”

GM: “That must’ve been scary. Especially if you didn’t know if you were Caitiff?”

Caroline: “I didn’t even know… you should have seen the first poor girl that I ran into when I woke up starving. I half-ripped her throat out. Came to covered in her blood with her unconscious. The next morning a family investigator found me when I was sleeping in a closet. We fought. He shot me in the head.” She shakes her head remembering. “I still need to find out if he had a family.”

GM: Jocelyn stares for a while longer. “What the hell made your sire do that?”

Caroline: “I wish I knew why he Embraced me. Why he just left me there. I tried to ask him, after he dominated me last night. He took me upstairs to taunt me. I kept asking him why he did it. Why he chose me. He just kept taunting me. Bringing up my brother and how he screamed my name when they tortured him. How I was a murderer and a monster.”

She stares straight ahead, deadness in her eyes. “I begged him to tell me. He just said he’d whisper it in my ear as I was dying, when he beheaded me.”

GM: Jocelyn lays her hand down on Caroline’s. She doesn’t hug her. The Beast doesn’t like that. “You didn’t do anything. It’s his fault. All of it.”

Caroline: “There had to be a reason.” There’s a desperation in Caroline’s voice. “Some plot or plan.” Her lip quivers. “I thought for a minute I saw it, caught a glimpse of it. We were getting up to leave and a bunch of Setites came to the door, delivered Donovan…. or at least what looked like Donovan, staked. But… that doesn’t make any sense. Probably a fake memory or something, because Donovan was there after they staked him and… well, you know the rest of that story.”

GM: Jocelyn gives Caroline’s hand another squeeze. “I wish I could give you answers. But your Requiem’s yours now. You can do whatever you want with it. Unlike your sire, he’s probably gonna get ashed at… well, the trial.”

Caroline: Her free hand wipes away the beginnings of tears. “It’s stupid. You’re right. It doesn’t really matter. Not like I’m the first Kindred with a deadbeat daddy. Or even one that just didn’t see fit to explain themselves.”

GM: Jocelyn stares at those red signs of grief trickling down Caroline’s face. There’s concern, sympathy, and shared pain etched on her own, but for that first second, there isn’t.

Just hunger.

Caroline: It takes Caroline a moment to compose herself, and when she looks up that hunger is gone.

“I should get to work. I could spend all night here talking to you, but if I don’t get something to my mortal family things are going to fall apart in a hurry. I don’t suppose you know of a good way to get a message to Father Malveaux short of a visit to him?”

GM: “Sorry. Visiting Perdido House is the only way I know.”

Caroline: “Ugh. Worse than my grandmother. At least I can get someone to hold up the phone on speaker for her.” She laughs a little, trying to set aside her emotions. The Ventrue’s face is no longer tear-streaked, though her eyes remain red-rimmed.

GM: The Toreador looks up at her and traces a hand along the contours of Caroline’s face that aren’t stained red. “I’ve said it before, but you’re so strong. Still thinking about your family, stuff with Father Malveaux, after all that’s happened… I don’t know that dealing with it is gonna get any easier, but stuff usually does with time. And you’ve got a lot of that now.”

Caroline: “It’s easier with you. Having someone I can talk to about it. Just getting it off my chest, you know?” She looks up at Jocelyn. “I don’t know where I’d be if I hadn’t met you, Jocelyn, but I’d be a mess, wherever it was.”

GM: “Wouldn’t have made any messes with me either,” Jocelyn counters with a smirk. “We’ve got forever ahead of us. Eternity. And whatever else might be shitty, that’s… pretty great.”

“And hey, there’s plenty that isn’t shitty. Like that shopping trip and stalker for our special night.”

Caroline: Caroline smiles, an expression at odds with the rest of her face. “Tomorrow. For now… back to work.”

GM: “Right, back to work… what’s it you’re doing besides stuff with Father Malveaux and your family?”

Caroline: “I need to meet with Primogen Duquette. She has a boon on me, and I’d rather stay on her good side for now. See if I can’t straighten out my school attendance before I fail all my classes and it creates a problem with my family. Talk to the Nossies and see if the info we got still holds any value, especially with the people that were dealing with René on the side behind everyone’s back.”

GM: Jocelyn takes that in. “Well, if you stay on Coco’s good side, she’s in the center of the whole mess with Matheson. Or at least pretty close to it.”

Caroline: “Oh? How so?”

GM: “The Anarchs are going crazy over it. Coco says they should wait until the trial to make up their minds whether Matheson’s a headhunter. But Veronica, she’s that harpy I mentioned, says Matheson’s guilty, that the prince covered up for him, and the Anarchs should all take up with Savoy.”

Caroline: “Of course, why not jump to conclusions before the trial? I bet that they’re the same people that before their Embrace watched that hag Nancy Grace.”

GM: “Veronica’s childe is one of the licks Smith recruited. But you’re right, they’re idiots for not waiting until the prince has a chance to straighten everything out.”

Caroline: “Well, I’ll let you know if she spills any juicy gossip.”

GM: “Sounds like you’ve got a busy night ahead, anyways. Let’s go take care of Kelford.”

Caroline: “Yeah… about everything else. Look… I understand that I’m not going to be able to keep all of this going forever.” She gestures broadly to the house. “I just want to get some things straightened out and have an opportunity to do things on my terms. Move some money around, lay some foundations. If I just go missing or die right now, with my brother still unaccounted for, it’ll destroy my mom. And… it’s not exactly easy to vanish in my family. I went missing for less than ten hours and they had god knows how many investigators combing the city last time.”

GM: Jocelyn looks a bit relieved. “Okay. Just… take my advice, don’t be obvious about it. Staying in touch with your mortal family is a sin. A real sin, one even we aren’t supposed to do.”

Caroline: “Because of the Masquerade?”

GM: “Yeah, the Masquerade, but it’s more than that. We’re wolves. We’re not supposed to pretend we’re sheep… we’re ignoring God if we do that, saying we’re not really damned.”

Caroline: “How does that work with Father Malveaux claiming his entire mortal family as his domain?”

GM: “Well, he probably doesn’t live with or try to pretend he’s one of them. I mean, I can’t imagine he showed up for any family picnics when you were a kid.”

Caroline: Caroline chews on that.

GM: “And if they’re his domain… you probably shouldn’t have too much to do with them anyways. Older Kindred don’t like to share.”

Caroline: “He already laid out the rules.”

GM: “Okay. Just looking out for you.”

Caroline: “On the other hand… it’s complicated. I can’t just up and vanish, and no matter what it’s going to be a headache. Even the other night, at the Elysium, I ran into one of them, much less the many, many people that know them. It’s a mess to sort out, and it’s going to make a Masquerade problem if it’s done clumsily. For now I have to play the part.”

GM: “Sounds like a big headache. I dunno if there’s anything I can do to help, but if there is… well, just lemme know.”

Caroline: “I have your number. You have mine. Actually though…” She pulls out her phone. “Let me give you Autumn’s as well, so you or Meg can reach me through her if you need to, or if my phone gets smashed again.”

GM: “Good idea. Here’s Meg’s, though it’ll probably only be an emergency if you call that.” The two swap the numbers.

Caroline: They proceed upstairs to Kelford.

GM: They find Turner lying in a bloody, beaten, and motionless heap on the floor. Handcuff-link-shaped strangle marks line her throat. A tipped-over, clearly once-full bedpan lies a short ways off from the insensate Blackwatch merc. René’s ghoul is nowhere in sight.

“Ah, shit,” Jocelyn remarks.

Caroline: Caroline’s response is less controlled. She lets the Beast’s presence run wild around her, and her eyes sweep the room for any sign of the wayward elder ghoul.

GM: The Ventrue finds no evidence of such.

Caroline: She lets out a growl of frustration and approaches her fallen ghoul.

GM: Turner does not stir at her domitor’s presence.

Caroline: She bites into her wrist and presses it to the unconscious ghoul’s mouth.

GM: Turner’s eyes snap open. Her good hand reflexively jabs towards Caroline’s sternum, only stopping as she recognizes her domitor’s face.

Caroline: There’s anger and frustration written across Caroline’s face, but it’s not directed towards the mercenary.

“He’s gone,” she growls.

GM: “Yeah,” the Blackwatch merc growls back. Anger and shame war in her eyes. “Came at me when I helped him off the shitter.”

Caroline: “I should have been here,” Caroline growls.

GM: “Still time to catch up with him,” Turner snarls. “Can’t have gone far. Not in this neighborhood.”

Caroline: “And cause a shootout in Audubon Place?”

GM: “You could mindfuck him. Then we could really fuck him.”

Caroline: Caroline glances at Jocelyn, seeing if she has anything to offer.

GM: Jocelyn gives a helpless shrug. “I can call, uh, mystery-sky-man to see if they can… send someone. But that could take some time.”

Caroline: “No.” Caroline’s scowl is unabated. “It’s my mistake, I’ll clean it up.” She glances around “What did he get from you?” she asks Turner.

GM: “My Belgian.”

Caroline: “Is that all?” Caroline shows teeth.

GM: Turner grits her own. “All I’ve made out.”

Caroline: “You want to come?” she asks Jocelyn.

GM: “Don’t think he’d like to chance another fight with you,” the Blackwatch grunts. Still pissed, but more appraisingly. “He looked pretty bad.”

Jocelyn nods. “Yeah, of course. I’ve tasted his blood, so he’ll be easier to find.”

Caroline: Those teeth again. “So have I.” She heads up to her bedroom to gather up an umbrella that is familiar—or should be—to Jocelyn. “Let’s go.”

GM: Turner wants to come. She’s clearly ashamed over failing to prevent Caroline’s prisoner from escaping, as well as pissed off and looking forward to a rematch. She grudgingly remains behind at her domitor’s behest.

Jocelyn and Caroline climb into the former’s car and cruise the neighborhood. Rows of multi-stored, million+ dollar homes slowly roll past the windows. For all Caroline’s familiarity with the neighborhood and Kelford’s likely difficulty in escaping past Blackwatch’s sentries, however, the two Kindred are eventually forced to admit that their quarry has eluded them.

“Well, we gave it a good shot, I guess. I can call mystery-sky-man now if you don’t have any other ideas,” Jocelyn finally concedes.

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “You should probably let him know. I’ll put in a call to some people at the local hospitals I know—with all the wounds he has he’s got to be hurting. And without access to more blood… I’m sorry. I fucked this up.”

GM: “It’s not your fault. He’s the one who tried to run away. And sky-man will get him back.”

Caroline: “I should have just let him suffer.”

GM: “He’s a ghoul. He was just gonna do whatever was better for his domitor.”

Caroline: Caroline grudgingly nods. “Yeah.”

GM: “I’d be glad if you let me piss if I was your prisoner. And, well, still a breather.”

Caroline: “Yeah.” The Ventrue’s tone is still grudging. “You’ve got a phone call to make. I’ve got some trips to make. Thanks for coming out.”

GM: “No problem. You’re worth it.” Jocelyn traces her canines over Caroline’s cheek in an almost-kiss.

Caroline: Caroline lets out a hiss of pleasure. She jerks away as her canines visibly extend.

GM: “Tomorrow,” Jocelyn states emphatically.

Caroline: “You have no idea.” She spends the remainder of the short ride back trying not to stare at the Toreador.

Previous, by Narrative: Story Six, Mouse I
Next, by Narrative: Story Six, Mouse II

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Story Five, Cletus VIII, Jacob VII

“I’m not fixin’ to start a war, but to prevent one—and a whole lotta somebodies are tryin’ to start arguments in an empty house.”
Cletus Lee Boggs

Saturday night, 19 September 2015, PM

Cletus: A few hours before the midnight chimes announce the soiree’s invocation, a militarized escort consisting of a M706 Commando, an amphibious armored car stocked with a half-dozen guards of stark Boggs ancestry, greets Jacob Grunewald at the obscure bayou coordinates provided by Pervis. Once Jacob is safely inside the old Cadillac Gage juggernaut, the vehicle traverses the swamp, away from prying eyes and public roads, before surfacing and conveying him to the plantation’s Big House. During the ride, the guards are strangely silent, their eyes glinting electric blue in the moonlight.

“Paw’s a’waitin’ side fer ya,” a gunner says, helping Jacob exit the old Vietnam relic before it creaks off into the night.

Jacob: Jacob has a hard time taking the escort seriously, looking around at all the guns and metal and money. Weren’t he and Cletus Embraced around the same time? Yet here he is in business casual, dress pants and white shirt, suspenders, and an old coat from the ‘40s. He holds a large casserole dish of cabbage rolls and a bouquet of flowers. Cletus has quite the financial step up on his guest and it’s rather impressive. But it just makes him hope old Southern hospitality from when they were both alive still counts for something. He climbs into the vehicle and feels rather silly across from those glinting eyes.

Cletus: Armando, the Boggs’ Afro-Nicaraguan butler, awaits his master’s first guest at the pillared entrance of the maison principale. “Master Grunewald,” he says in his high-educated Hispanic accent, “we are so very pleased at your arrival. Master Boggs is awaiting you in the Beautillion Salon. Shall I convey you hence?”

Jacob: Soon enough, there he is, standing in front of the estate and the butler. Christ.

“Yeah—I mean yes. Please.”

Following along with the servant, he scrambles internally to remember his old manners. Food for the party, check, flowers because the food technically can’t be eaten, check. Sunday best, check. Okay, ready. He just hopes he hasn’t made a fool of himself already.

Cletus: The butler bows with requisite deference and smiles, though the expression never touches his sanguine eyes. Unlike his usual attire of imported polos, pressed slacks, and Italian leather loafers, the Afro-Latin ghoul wears the full evening dress of his station, his raiment painting him in cold chiaroscuro. His white-gloved hand motions for a similarly liveried footman to emerge from the shadows and carry Jacob’s gifts.

Unlike Armando, the footman is rather obese, with a dull, vacant gaze whose drool must have been freshly wiped away. A nasty scar runs across the man-thing’s brow, as if something burrowed through the skull and performed a feral lobectomy. The thick-armed, rednecked brute obediently extends its brick-sized hands for the dish and flowers, if Jacob will part with them.

“I will see that your gifts are taken to Chef Majorie-,” the butler says with another humorless smile, “-and that Master Boggs is made aware of your magnanimity.”

Jacob: Nothing surprises Jacob anymore, but seeing the sudden entrance of the larger lobotomite gives him a bit of a start. He looks down at the footman’s impressively large hands and shifts around to hand him the dish. “The dish only, please. It’s only polite to give flowers in person,” he says, looking the lobotomite in the eye and giving him a polite nod before turning to the ghoul. “Not to be a difficult guest for you. First impressions just make a relationship, and I’m rather nervous for it.”

Giving the larger footman another curt nod to say farewell, Jacob starts down the hall once again, cradling the the flowers like he’s in church. They’re from his own garden as well, and he wants to see them to Cletus out of a bit of sentiment.

“Do you mind if I ask you about my invitation? I’ve not exactly been in the limelight of politics, I’m curious as to why I was on the guest list.”

Cletus: The flaccid hillbilly lobotomite makes no gesture of recognition, save to take the dish and shuffle down and away from Jacob’s view. Meanwhile, the butler bows again, “Of course, Master Grunewald, we are at your service and that of all our honored guests.”

So escorted inside the maison principale, Jacob is swallowed by the mansion’s antebellum charm and genteel opulence. Medallion ceilings soar, supported by towering Corinthian columns. Broad staircases, elegant archways, and massive wooden doors with hand-painted porcelain doorknobs and matching keyhole covers provide access to the manse’s labyrinth of uniquely-tailored debutante ballrooms, formal banquet halls, beutillion card-parlors, and other epicurean leisure chambers.

Above such entrances and along the ceilings are exquisitely detailed plaster-frieze moldings and modillions interspersed with paterae made from Spanish moss and clay from the Bayou Bonfouca. Handsomely curtained windows guard against the now-absent sunlight while glittering, globed cchandeliers fashioned of imported Baccarat crystal and brass engulf the luxury-replete interior with pale gold radiance.

In contrast to the locally predominant French or Early Louisiana design, the Boggs’ mansion follows the colonial English floorplan of a massive central hall running the house’ length. The main hall, which aligns with the seasonal breeze, is decorated with block-printed wallpaper imported from Venice, its delicate black and gold pattern depicting a stately, if disturbing danse macabre. Twin elliptical staircases of Honduran mahogany rise to the second and third floors, each carpeted in dark green velvet carpeting.

“Right this way, Master Grunewald,” Armando intones with a grand gesture, escorting the vampire down the left wing of the main hall. “As for the nature of your invitation, such weighty matters are far above my station, though I have been informed that you are a great guest of honor whose presence graces us—and to whom we should impart the full measure of hospitality.”

Jacob: Jacob has to stop after a bit and just take everything in. Is this the kind of place he would have been able to afford if he’d led a different Requiem? Eventually, as he searches around, he gives a mental sigh and rubs his chin. Too much. After a point one has to wonder whether or not Cletus actually lives in this house, or if he keeps it as a way to show off how much he’s worth to the world. Because if that’s the case, this mansion in the sticks screams the more modest Kindred down into the probably imported flooring. But it seems he enjoys himself making the place up, and it is a beautiful house.

“Above your station? You don’t have to talk to me like that, you know. I’m not exactly important. In fact, this is all kind of overwhelming, Mr. Boggs seems like the finer of the finer things in life. He… this house wouldn’t happen to have a study, or a library perhaps? I’m a trader and collector of rare books and tomes, and as you probably know, the clan your masters belong to are famous for their sorcery.”

That is definitely quite the thing to ask, but since the moment he was picked up, he’s had the inkling that he was brought here to do something. Someone wants him here. He isn’t a pretty doll you’d stick on a pedestal at a fancy party to show how amazing you are. Jacob is a blood mage of Prince Vidal, a devil in the corner with fire licking out of his maw, and a hermit in his haven with mountains of books about things that’d pale an elder more than he already is. But right now, he’s here feeling like a pauper and an idiot, being led to a Kindred he’s rather scared of for more than one reason.

Cletus: The butler smiles again—and once again the angle of his lips never touches his eyes. “Of course, Master Grunewald, if you will permit me, I shall lead you to the Doppio Sanguee Studiolo, or as it more commonly rendered in the common tongue, the Dunsirn Study.”

Armando then leads Jacob to the studiolo. He opens a wide, door of dead-black wood carved with panels of negro slaves flensing away their own skins, embalming their own organs, and finally casting their own bones into flames, as if to transcend the last vestiges of mortality. The heavy door groans, but yawns eagerly like a maw, admitting Jacob inside.

Jacob: Something about that smile kind of twinges the Tremere. Must be a manners thing for the ghoul not to smile with his eyes. Then again, the prince rarely smiles either, especially these nights. Most Sanctified gatherings carry the tone of their prince, if naught but to pay him respect. Jacob wonders if he’s the only one who just wants Vidal to relax these nights.

Having a fake smile on a mortal (or ghoul?) is just a touch saddening to see. But he still lets himself be swept after the servant’s pace. “Shouldn’t we see Mr. Boggs first? Going into the study without asking him first is—well, if someone entered mine without my permission I couldn’t guarantee their safety,” he suggests, but then the doors open.

Cletus: Within is a well-appointed, if antique study. The floor is entirely inlaid in intarsia of ebony and aged ivory, rendered in striking trompe-l’oeil. Resting atop this cold, complex foundation are chairs, footstools, portable desks with slanted surfaces for writing, tables bearing a book-rest with a weighted ribbon of black silk, and a pair of golden globed chandeliers that cast strange, roving shadows into the corners. Shelving runs around the room at the length of the fine plaster-frieze with its incorporation of the Giovannini seal.

On it, are curiso, specimens blurring the lines among the botanical, zoological, geological, and the supernatural. A massive grimoire, clad in black-stained manskin, rests open atop one the tables. Other tomes lay atop the shelves. Oil paintings adorn several walls, depicting the ‘ascendancy’ of Dunsirn cannibalism, their family’s immigration to the Americas, and the founding of Slidell and the Boggs’ dynasty. However, one wall is bereft of paintings, consumed by several towering, open-faced cabinets of precious wood. Within these furnishings, glass-cased fetuses float in preservatives, their deformed features further marred by repeated dissections and experimentations.

The black door shuts. A voice cuts the echo of moaning portal. “Well I’ll be a grinnin’ possum chewin’ on a tater, it’s Jacob Grunewald!” The speaker of course is Cletus Lee Boggs. He sits at one of the desks, but immediately rises to greet Jacob.

Discarding his typical fashion, Cletus is dressed for the regal status of his soon to be arriving guests and the soiree’s stately occasion. His eveningwear is glamorous yet refined, underpinned by exclusively-woven cloths, luxury textures, and sumptuous colors. His rose-pink cotton-flannel cocktail jacket is cut in the single-breasted Eastleigh style with a single button fastening and a rich Mogador ottoman facing on dramatic peak lapels. A perantique, 18-carot rose-gold timepiece rests in his black pin-striped, flat-fronted trousers are hemmed with bespoke alterations. His Angola cotton dinner shirt complements his Venetian leather derby shoes with their mirror-slick polish. His usually half-feral locks are pulled back into a classical tail and smoothed with fragrant pomade. His perpetual stubble is gone, replaced by a straight blade-shaved jaw and neck that is simultaneously smooth and strong. His manicured, scrubbed clean hands are adorned with a single bold ring: aged ivory sculpted into a camellia whose stamen is a skull bearing the rose-gold sigil of Clan Giovannini. His fanged smile and butane eyes, however, retain their obdurate, sociopathic mien.

Jacob: However that carving got there, it sets the scene, and the blood mage stomps a foot on the threshold, refusing to go another step forward as his eyes dart around. Necromancy. Both the bane of his existence, and a goal school of magic he wants to touch on, if only for the protection of someone important to him.

The moment she sees what they did, he can feel her against his back again, gripping his shoulders lightly in reflex to the horror she no doubt sees. But he mutters for her to “stay hidden” and checks around the room again. Casting mortality away, classic scenery of sacrifice-driven beliefs. Mundane. Feng shui of the room seems fine, the floor different colors and the corners shadowered. Though that sets him on edge as well, peeking in all the cardinal directions on the walls. Nothing. Paintings. The Durnsirn. Giovannini clan of Scottish cannibals. Interesting. But actually rather disappointing. This spells it out for him, and the Dunsirn are not known for their magic. But he doesn’t relax for it.

Cletus: Jacob’s inspection, however, does reveal another pair of presences in the room. One physical, one spectral. The former is Isabelica Calero-Pisanob, one of Cletus’ childer—and unlike the Dunsirns, the Aztec-descended Pisanobs were known for their magic. Old, ancient, dark magic.

However, her current attire appears more suited to entertaining than evocation. Tonight, she wears a Mediterranean fil coupe dress, a tonal-pink halterneck gown crafted of peony silk and covered in abstract metallic fil couple forals. A pair of pin-thin stilettos highlight the dress’ dipped hem. Overall, the romantic silhouettes tastefully accentuate the rotund blush of Sugarbelle’s undying pregnancy. The Pisanob’s raven hair cascades down her back like a moonless waterfall. She has shed her customary glasses and is instead adorned in luxurious jewelry that caresses but does not cut the line of decadence. She coughs, muriatic vapors drifting to the floor.

Jacob: This is where they’re meeting? He could swear he’d just gotten swept up in a detour he’s going to have to turn back away from. But that’s fine. What’s not fine is the other two things in the room with him and Cletus. Not to mention the fact Cletus has heavily outdressed him. Which is a little embarrassing given his reputation of dress. Switching the flowers into his left hand, he steps towards Mr. Boggs and offers a hand for him to shake.

“Mr. Boggs! It’s a pleasure to finally meet you. I’m afraid I underdressed a little for the occasion, you’ll have to excuse me. I’m very much the hermit, the cue of a formal event went a bit far over my head.”

Despite the greeting, the other two in the room has gotten him nervous, but he does his best to keep his back straight and keep polite. Very interesting, however, how her curse has stalled and not immediately aborted her pregnancy. Maybe that’s what the jars of embrio in various states on the shelves are looking into? Possibly. But he puts his mind back into the task at hand.

“And you’re home! I’d say it’s a bit much, but I’d be lying if it weren’t just me being a little jealous of you and your family! They wouldn’t do anything to add to it, but please. The purples are monkswood, so please be careful.”

This is all highly unusual, and he feels quite out of his element. By that he means bathrobes, but he tries his best to keep to that Texan hospitality his mother instilled in him.

“Thank you for your invitation by the way. I was quite surprised by it. I don’t believe I’ve ever come across one of your clan since the incident with Bobbi Jo. I hope she’s still well?”

Cletus: Cletus’ smile splits into a hearty guffaw as he returns the handshake with the strength of a tank.

“Why Bobbi Jo’s fine as frog hair, she is, and I’ll be sure to let ‘er know ya was askin’. But speakin’ o’ me and mine, let me introduce ya to ma other beloved childe, one far older in blood ‘n far wiser in dem ways of sorcery, ma darlin’ Sugarbelle, Isabelica Calero-Pisanob!”

He motions expansively to her. Her response is rather demure, or at least subdued, in contrast. “A pleasure,” she says, coughing again, “Mr. Grunewald.”

Cletus continues to smile, “Now let’s not be so stuffy, y’all, notwitstandin’ all dis frippery,” he says motioning to his attire and that of his childe’s. “Jus’ a party, after all.” He beckons Isabelica to approach, “C’mon now, Sugarbelle, the man done brought ya purdy flowers. So let’s be a’takin’ ‘em and curtesyin’ all nice and proper.”

She coughs and remains silent, but otherwise complies, accepting the flowers with a cautious, if not clinical, eye. Up close, Jacob can tell that some of her jewelry is made from human bone. She curtsies, a gesture not altogether easy in stilettos.

Jacob: Jacob just keeps smiling, a big smile on his face. Though he hesitates a moment as she takes the flowers, bowing deeply back to her, a motion memorized from town débutante balls from his youth.

“Maddame Calero-Pisanob,” he repeats, turning back to the man afterwards and giving him another small smile. Bone jewelry isn’t an uncommon sight in his research. Having it in the modern age brings with it a few connotations, but he turns a blind eye.

“Mr. Boggs. Excuse my rudeness, but I’m rather curious. Why invite me—as your employee said—as a guest of honor? I’m not an especially important figure, never mind a Tremere and one of Vidal’s Sanctified. My existence in general is a grate to some. Is there something you needed to discuss, or are you just trying to overpower my senses with your station? The former, I should mention, you’d already achieved before I stepped into your home. That was… quite the escort here!”

Cletus: Cletus’ smile momentarily dims, but does not altogether disappear. His blowtorch eyes gleam as he responds, his arms outstretched in a placating manner. “Jacob—might I call ya Jacob?”

Jacob: Jacob heartily nods, offering the man a smile. “Of course, Mr. Boggs. I’d be flattered if you did so.”

Cletus: “Mr. Boggs?” the Giovannini laughs, shaking his head congenially, “Now dat won’t quite do, no siree. Please, I done insist, call me Cletus, or Clete if ya prefer.”

With that formality, or perhaps informality aside, he then proceeds to answer Jacob’s inquiry. “Now as fer excusin’ ya, which ye’ve done asked me twice, I must say I simply cannot—fer the fault’s all me and mine’s. I right apologize dat ma herald didn’t properly explain da situation, and I’ll be sure to give ‘im a tongue lash or two fer makin’ ya feel right uncomfortable.”

“Tonight, we have the honor o’ hostin’ a great many guests, wit a great many o’ whom are quite great in our eyes—and y’all be one o’ dem. At midnite, the seneschal himself will be arrivin’, though not quite in da flesh if yer fixin’ ma meaning. He’ll be a’possessin’ is herald, if I reckon right, and he’ll be accompanied by a might fine entourage as well as some others. The heralds of both Anarch primogen, the hound Rocco and his herald, one o’ Primogen Coco’s childer, and a representative of Savoy’s to boot. I’ve got some of mine as well.”

“Wit all dat hullabaloo, I’m fixin’ to be a’hostin’ a right nice get-together—wit da main goal o’ it bein’ to put to bed some hatchets and gettin’ some good handshakin’ to respect da Fifth Tradition. Cause as y’all no doubt are done aware, there’s been some problems wit dat. Now den, ’ere’s where I see how y’all might could be plum in da middle o’ da puddin’ sauce.”

“Sugarbelle’s witcheries has done showed us dat the Big Mama’s herald is thick as snot involved wit a plot to poison and kill the Big Sister’s herald. It’s right magical poison too if y’all reckon, one of thaumaturgy, which is somethin’ y’all and yers right know ‘bout. Seems da curtain call will happen when Opal’s herald or anyone else triggers da cue, a gesture of shooin’ a fly away from yer face.”

“Now I reckon dat yer a purdy smart fella, so y’all can be a’seein’ how her droppin’ smack dead o’ poison is gonna, if y’all pardon ma pun, poison da water hole fer sure and lead to more unnecessary conflict and chaos. Now I don’t right reckon who’s first hexed her, or why Big Mama’s herald would give her ally’s the great dirt bath—and rightly I’m a’fixin’ to be knowin’. All dat said, I’m first a’fixin’ to be a’haltin’ dat dirt bath before all the hootin’ and a’hollerin’ go plumb chicken sheet mad.” He motions towards a table and set of chairs. “Do I ‘ave yer attention, Jacob, nay maybe e’en yer interest now?”

Jacob: Jacob listens, taking everything in as he twiddles around with his wedding band. It helps him think, and right now there are a lot of things being said he’ll need to commit to memory. Anarchs. Seneschal. Possession. Coco. Territory. Savoy. Cletus. Rocco. Maldonato. Opal. Poison. Plum. Thaumaturgy. Party. Attention. Cletus has it.

Slowly pulling his coat off, he drapes it gently over the chair before he sits down, unbottoning his cuffs and pulling them up to his elbows, revealing his tattoos and sliding his fingers into each other to lock. There are things going on here, he knows. Despite being a hermit, people come to him for advice or help sometimes. Now there’s the choice to make on how he’ll word all of this.

“Cletus, politics and I have a very strange relationship. I can play the game, I’ve lived here long enough that I see the pieces and their rules. Once upon a time I played it avidly! So that I could prove useful until I gained enough power to be useful by existing.” He makes a motion as if to say ‘and here I am.’ “If there is someone at this party who is in danger, just by inviting me here, I’ll do my best to stop the poison. But.” With his finger, Jacob starts to write things on nothing on top of the desk. “Why do you think it’s thaumaturgical? Tremere guard their secrets closely. Bobbi Jo was attacked for coming too close to the chantry’s doorstep on a motorcycle.”

Jacob keeps thinking about it, puffing out his cheeks like a pouting child and writing with his finger again. “I don’t like the secrets and games so much, Cletus, so please fill me in. If you wanted me to come and help you with a magic problem you could have just said so. You can be blunt with me.”

Leaning his head on his hand, he closes an eye and tries to think this out. Cletus has Rocco, he knows that much. But the Giovannini are so involved with so many different things that it’s hard to see where this scheme is going to take him. But he knows he can’t let the ghoul die to magic poison. It wouldn’t be right. But in exchange.

“Excuse my rudeness, Cletus. When I’m hit by mysteries I often go to the place I do when reading a good book, inside myself. I’ll help you, definitely. But I’d appreciate it if you can let me in on whatever you can as to why this is happening. After all, you’re a very powerful man. If you applied yourself, this’d be a four-way war for power, and not a three-way. I wish to avoid that, and more meaningless death. Soon enough the prince’s heart will jump back to life just so he can have a heart attack and die again from the stress!”

Cletus: As Jacob expounds both his intentions and reservations, Cletus and Isabelica take seats beside him. Once the Tremere concludes, Cletus clucks his tongue loudly. “Hearin’ yer gonna ‘elp jus’ dills ma pickle.” He smiles widely. “As fer da why somebody might could spit in our gumbo, I’ve got more than a few BBs rattlin’ round ma boxcar. Misser Shoofly is one slick dick, slippin’ into all kind o’ holes and makin’ messes.”

The Dunsirn-descended vampire continues, drumming lightly on the cypress tabletop, “Maybe Big Mama’s fixin’ to take down Big Sis, fer control o’ their covenant. Or maybe dem Anarchs be wantin’ war between da prince and ma clan to get ‘im off their backs or let ’em strike ’im and ’is when he’s right distracted. Or maybe Misser Shoofly is jus’ da middle man, and it’s yer warlocks fixin’ to be da only sorcery game in town—and they be a’seein’ us as magical rivals. Maybe it’s Savoy pullin’ strings with his own lil’ slick willy. Or the warlocks and Armand might only be stirrin’ their spoons cause o’ some right confusing swappin’ and cashin’ of boons.”

He turns and regards the floating infant cadavers for a moment. “Done hard to say. As fer me ‘n mine, we jus’ want to have a right nice party and have e’embody go home grinning like ol’ yeller wit’ a catfish. Dat, and get some understandin’ ‘bout yer blessed Fifth Tradition that’s been a’needin’ some right respectin’ like Jesus loves dem little ones.”

Cletus then fixes Jacob with his butane gaze, his smile receding as his tone is all-too serious. “Jacob, I don’t want yer prince’s crown or land—I jus’ want mine to be respected. So I’m not fixin’ to start a war, but to prevent one—and a whole lotta somebodies are tryin’ to start arguments in an empty house.”

He leans back, his smile reemerging like an ivory, fanged sun. “So I can’t answer yer why’s, though I’m mighty plannin’ on findin’ em later—as no doubt Primogen Duquette and Prince Vidal will be fixin’ to as well. And that’s right as rain wit me. Now as fer why we done thinkin’ it’s thaumaturgy involved, I’ll let ma darlin’ Sugarbelle explain all the devilish details.”

He then turns to Isabelica, who after clearing her muriatic-drowned lungs, goes on to enumerate the sortilege-provided clues—or those at least pertaining to the divined poisoning and the indications of thaumaturgy at work.

After Sugarbelle finishes her exposition and answers any related inquires, Cletus takes over again. “So, Jacob, y’all talked bout bein’ a mighty fine counselor when yer itchin’ to. So what would y’all advise. We’ve got some ideas, but I’d like to see how the horse trots on a fresh field, if y’all don’t mind.”

Jacob: Jacob misses pickles, though he hadn’t tasted modern pickles. If he ever suddenly becomes mortal again he might just have to pickle his own cucumbers to make it just right. But he turns his mind back to what they’re saying, getting back into the swing of politics fast as he can and biting down on his bottom lip taking things into account. He can’t say for Big Mama or the Anarchs, but he doesn’t really think his own clan would just use a magical poison to solve an issue. It isn’t very inventive. Then again, Kindred have their own language for things. Following the Giovannini’s eyes, he looks over the jars rather placidly. Nothing he hasn’t seen before, but this little passive-aggresiveness from Cletus is new. People must have been putting boots on his bog. Iced gray meets butane blue for a moment as he listens.

Slowly sitting back up straight, he frowns and silently rubs a nail over his chin. Even more information from Sugarbelle to take him, and despite poisons not interesting him, he eyes her almost hungrily as he soaks up the information before he turns right back to Cletus, a serious look over his features.

“Cletus, it’s possible this is my sort of magic. But whether or not that’s true, I’m confident I can cure it. Handling this however, is a lot more delicate. I can’t invocate a protection spell in the middle of a party on top of someone else’s ghoul. It’d embarrass Miss Opal and publicly anger Primogen Duquette. This would put a black mark on your hospitality as well, suggest it’s not safe in your territory. Not only that, but this may be serving as a distraction for… other things.”

Jacob effects a needless sigh and gives Cletus a knowing look. Rocco isn’t coming to the party. By all accounts he’s already here.

“The best case scenario I’d like would be to have both heralds brought to me. Miss Opal’s in restraints. Then have Primogen Duquette and Primogen Opal be summoned to explain the situation to them. So they can settle this privately. It’d be a good first impression for your estate as a location for gatherings in a less tense setting, and the Anarch Movement would be able to save face. And If I had time alone with Duquette’s ghoul I could interrogate or divine the reasons and whereabouts of whoever put her up to this.”

Jacob slowly stretches his arms forward and smooths his fingertips along the desk, a small frown forming on his face as he looks over at Isabelica. Having her and her specter so close to him makes him rather nervous. Wondering if she is aware he can feel it so clearly. Even with his wife keeping the hordes at bay, he is still a medium.

“There’s a chance this is outside interference as well, Cletus. I’ve seen too much in my Requiem to rule out anything. Thaumaturgist voodoo priests don’t sound so far fetched when you’ve seen entire other planes of existence.” Standing up out of his chair, he casts his eye for the first time on that skinbound tome. ‘Klepto verada Nicto’ is the first thing to comes to mind, but then visions of ghosts and the undead hiding beneath the bog do as well. Still, he’s rather glad for their ancestry not being so focused on their clan’s magic.

“This isn’t meant to sound like a threat, Cletus. But please don’t let this party devolve into an excuse for the factions to attack one another. This study is worth protection, and your family is especially, but I’d be forced to go to the aid of the seneschal’s party if they were attacked. Especially since they’re the ones at a disadvantage tonight.”

Cletus: “As I done said, fixin’ lil’ Miss Haley’s da whole point o’ this ’ere hootenanny,” Cletus remarks as he meaningfully swings his finger around to include the room’s occupants. “Jus’ as da main point o’ tonite’s might big hootenanny is to get da cat off the hot tin roof, not throw it in da fire.”

The Boggs’ patriarch rests back on his chair and fiddles with his formal attire like a scab he desperately wants to rip off but somehow refrains. Barely.

“So I done agreed wit ya that if we start a’hexin’ mid-spoonin’ our suppers, it’ll right cause folks to get as nervous as cats in a room full o’ rockin’ chairs. And we can’t have none of that. But clappin’ a guest, much less a high-cotton sheetin’ herald in irons is likely to do da same. Imprisonin’ two o’ ‘em and summonin’ two elders, two primogen, all willy nilly haint gonna fly, no sirree, it haint.”

He shakes his head vigorously. “No, what dis done called fer is a lite touch, like knockin’ up yer sister after gettin’ ’er mighty drunk passed out.” He flicks his nose, then smiles. “How’s this? Right after we’re all done playin’ croquet, we’ll be annoucin’ supper, but right afore, we done gonna excuse all o’ the ladies to use the powder room. That way, we’ll right separate Misser Shoofly from ‘is mark, and from the seneschal. Meanwhile, we have you right waitin’ in the powder-room wit ma Debutantes’ nurse and the gut-pumpin’ equipment and charcoal water I done got shipped from Tulane. Rocco’s herald will be there, and wit yer bein’ there, and not jus’ Isabelica, we’ll right have y’all as witnesses. Altogether, y’all can fix ‘er up right as rain wit Big Mama’s herald none the wiser. Y’all can then join us fer the supper and all dat follows. Which’ll right let y’all keep an eye on the tricky Dutch boy and his lily-white mark. Who knows, he might could try ‘gain, so best to keep ’im guessin’ why ‘is hex won’t work.”

Cletus leans forward, “So first, will that work fer y’all? And second, how quick can y’all perform yer sorcery? E’en da most persnickety ladies don’t fuss fere’er in da powder-room.”

Jacob: Jacob wasn’t considering just walking up to them and slapping the chains on. Most of what he’s used to is always hush-hush business. Grab someone from dark corners, trick them into meets, be horribly sneaky and never be caught. After all, that’s the Tremere’s one rule that they don’t have written down. Don’t get caught. But he’s thinking a while, caught off guard only by Cletus’ mention of knocking up one’s sister. He feels the pressure on his back almost laugh at the statement and reaches up to pat his shoulder. Only not quite. Despite trying his best to bottle them up.

“Having that equipment might not make a difference. Magical poison might even react poorly to normal methods of getting it out. My magic though shouldn’t take long, depending on the kind of magic poison. Despite being adept, there could always be problems,” he claims, rubbing his eyes and nodding slowly. “That all sounds acceptable. I would rather inform the Cabildo so no more harm could be caused by a possibly rogue or controlled ghoul. But it is your home we’re doing this in. Just one thing… why Rocco’s herald?”

Rocco is a big part of why this is all happening, if his sources are correct. Somewhere in the bayou he is being laid into by Cletus’ clan. Hopefully not too badly, but he’s starting to wonder how possible that is.

“If I can keep the magical poison, maybe in a vial, I can try divining its source. So I’ll need a thick bottle with a stopper. And after the deed is done, a vessel to get a drink to top back up of course. If I can’t extract it, I’ll have to try to destroy it. And that might mean I’d have to feed her when the deed is done.”

Cletus: Cletus turns to Isabelica. “We’ll see ya get yer supplies. As fer da medical equipment, we’ll hold off as y’all say, but it’ll be ready n’ waitin’ on standby.”

Turning back to his Tremere guest, he says, “As fer divinin’ ‘er blood, that sounds like a purdy plan. How much o’ the red rum would ya need to top off, do ya reckon? Fer yerself or ’er, dat is?”

After allowing Jacob to answer, Cletus also adds, “As fer Bella’s inclusion, what it’s as simple as shootin’ catfish in a barrel. She’s a girl, so we can’t right uninvite her to da powder room. Plus, she’s a might good witness that can vouch fer yer presence and yer detoxin’ ’elp.”

Jacob: Jacob nodds and starts to redo his sleeves to hide the ink up his arms. “If this is how we’re doing things, it’s best to not make it obvious we’re trying to cure her. I’ve seen too much in my life, Cletus, to rule out a poison that can see you coming for it. Tremere are nothing but not outside of the box thinkers,” he says, taking another look over at the shelves of old tomes as he talks.

“As for the blood I’d need, I won’t know until afterwards. You can’t count on magic for consistency. Would you mind putting it in bottles or jugs? I can hide them with me in the powder room for the cleansing, no vessels complicating things, and an emergency fuel source if something goes wrong. Oh, right, and I’ll require a knife. Something sharp like a construction blade. I left mine at home so as not to send the wrong message.”

Having Isabellica in the same room with him without her sire makes him a little nervous. What can she see of him? Why is this phantom over her shoulder being so protective? The morbid curiosity inside of him suggests it might relate to the baby bump. Anchors are tricky messy things.

“Sounds about right, Cletus. Madame Isabellica sounds like quite the diviner, I’d appreciate her help in tracking down where the poison may have come from. Two magical heads are better than one, as long as we don’t get our witch hats tangled with one another.”

Tearing his eyes away from that tome, he looks back at Cletus and gives him a small smile. “Now I just have to not find myself flustered by the rudeness of being present in the powder room. Flush as I am, I’m no woman. But I’ll get over it. So unless there’s anything else I need to know, Cletus? I’m ready.”

Cletus: Cletus smiles wickedly at the request. “Oh, don’t fret yer sweet tooth, Jacob, I’ll get ya yer drink straight from da tap. And a right menu to boot, something I think all y’all might jus’ love like skunks like stink.”

He slaps his knee and guffaws loudly, only settling when he notices he has ripped his pants with the inadvertently forceful blow. “Damn,” he mutters. “Looks like the holy roller done wins ’gain.” He looks up then, and takes in Jacob’s apparel as if seeing him for the first time. “But speakin’ of new threads, ma friend, how’s ‘bout we done Cinderella up yer dress into somethin’ right purdy? Wouldn’t be wantin’ fer ya to feel might outta sorts ’fore da seneschal, hmm?” He stands, crooking an arm to escort Isabelica before turning back to Jacob. “Yessir, I done insist. Jus’ follow me and mine and we’ll git y’all all done gussied up like maw-maw’s prize hog ‘waitin’ fer its blue ribbon.”

The Aztec-descended Kindred arises and takes her sire’s arm, remaining silent save a stifled cough. Her wraith-chattel follows slavishly like a cold spot in a dark river.

Jacob: Jacob just nods thankfully to him for his hospitality, a million questions burning in his head. He wants to have a closer look at the actual tomes on the shelf. Even if he does recognize a good few of them, a couple look like new prospects. But then again, he doubts he wants to get too near that manuscript unless it’s the centerpiece. Somehow he doubts it’d like anyone but its master clan touching it. He’s seen too much to rule out books that can see you coming, as well. Downside of being a dedicated sorcerer, you start realizing anything and everything can try and getcha.

But at the sound of the rip, he puts a hand over his mouth to stop himself from cracking a smile, clearing his throat and standing up with them. “Ah, yes! That’d be greatly appreciated. I didn’t really grasp the kind of invitation I was getting before I left the house. My apologies. Business casual, not much to impress such a guest list.”

As he grabs his coat and follows them, he picks up pace and walks along beside them on Sugarbelle’s side, staring at her wraith and trying to discern its features.

“Pardon me for asking, Cletus, but I’ve been thinking. You introduced the lovely Madam Isabelica, and I’m already acquainted with Bobbi Jo. How many childer do you have? I’ve only ever had one ghoul even, and I daresay it’s a bit of a marvel to me you’ve got two childer already, being the sort I am.”

Cletus: The question causes to halt mid-stride, turning on his heel to face Jacob, his smile grown wide as a swamp cat’s leap. “No garden’s right more precious than the family a man done grows, and I might could say ma garden’s been growin’ as hot as two hares bumpin’ uglies in a wool sock.”

Jacob: What Cletus ends up saying strikes a bit of note in his gut, and Jacob gives him a rather muted smile at his enthusiasm. Maybe he just thinks of their condition differently, but at the very least they both understand the importance of family.

“That’s refreshing. Under the prince, rights to Embrace are rather strict. Seeing a large Kindred brood is different, especially a colorful one. Bobbi Jo and Isabelica seem night and day on the surface.”

Cletus: Despite Cletus’ seemingly congenial reply, Isabelica’s response instantly alerts Jacob that his words just traipsed into a social mine-field. Indeed, when the Tremere asks how many childer his host has, the Pisanob necromancer startles with the same paralytic panic as if Jacob had announced that Caine himself would be joining them for supper. She nearly barrels over as a bloody, phlegmatic coughing fit robs her of whatever composure she clung to. Even her wraith seems to quail and recede back behind the sudario.

Jacob: Slowly closing his mouth, he bites onto his bottom lip and wonders just how badly he’s fucked up in bringing this up. Isn’t it something to be proud of for Cletus? Reflexively, he leans down and puts a hand on Isabelica’s back to try and sooth her coughing, like one would do for a mortal child. After all, compared to the Kindred with his hand on her, she really is just a child. He was a hundred years old already before she was even born.

“Very sorry, I didn’t know it was a bad topic to approach. I’m quite used to just knowing the answer off the top of my head.”

Cletus: Cletus’ smile hardly falters as he replies, “Da question was might fine, Jacob. I love ma kin, each an’ e’ery one o’ dem. It’s I who mus’ beg yer pardon. Ma childe’s right tuckered out from all ‘er bone-throwin’.”

Then, with remarkable aplomb, he hoists Sugarbelle into his arms, and adds to Jacob, “But fret not, ma darlin’ Sugarbelle will be right as rain for da soiree and yer powder-room hootenanny.” He then carries her off, allegedly for some rest—though he fills in the nearby butler as to his sartorial wishes for the Tremere guest.

As Cletus carries his hacking, trembling childe up the grand staircase, Armando motions to Jacob. “If you’ll follow me, señor,” the dark-skinned ghoul says with a tight face and forced smile. A pair of armed guards and footmen follow in his wake.

Previous, by Narrative: Story Five, Baptiste IV
Next, by Narrative: Story Five, Baptiste Epilogue

Previous, by Cletus: Story Five, Cletus VII, Jacob V, Lavine VII
Next, by Cletus: Story Five, Annabelle IV, Cletus IX, Jacob VIII

Previous, by Jacob: Story Five, Jacob VI
Next, by Jacob: Story Five, Annabelle IV, Cletus IX, Jacob VIII

Story Four, Caroline Epilogue

GM: A man sets down the phone on his desk. The Washington Monument’s outline looms from the window behind him.

“Get my bags packed, Caleb. Looks like I’m headed home.”

“If this trip is like the last, you’re going to a jazz club,” the dried-up old man notes.

“Yes, that’s true,” answers the younger man. “Get me tickets to a popular club or concert. Turn it into a ‘meet and greet’ where I can interact with constituents.”

The old cottonmouth doesn’t smile so much as bare his fangs.

“I’ll find someone we want a favor over.”

“Yes, do that.”

The senator gives an impatient sigh.

“I may as well get something out of this trip.”

GM: “René Baristheaut is dead, Lord Pierpont. Or as good as.”

The seated Ventrue puffs on his cigar.

“Ah, that’s a shame. Now have ya looked into those vitae-soaked cigars? You know I can’t enjoy the rum-soaked ones, darlin’.”

“Yes, Lord Pierpont, I may have somethin’ lined up. But that fledglin’…”

An effected snort. “What ’bout her?”

“The insults she offered you…!”

The Ventrue laughs. “Darlin’, yer cute as a button when yer angry. But if yer going to be ma childe, you need ta take things less personally. She’s taken ‘er licks. And if scewin’ her over helps us out, her tough luck ta be weak where I’m strong. But we got bigger fish to fry. No need to spend time wranglin’ after shrimp we already done caught.”

“And you believe me, darlin’,” McGinn grins widely as he puffs on the fat Cuban, “in this city we got ourselves one full pond…”

GM: Two figures kneel over the floor in Perdido House. All the thick rubber gloves, containers of bleach, mop buckets, and paint masks in the world won’t make their task any easier.

One of them picks up a blonde ponytail still attached to a clump of cooked flesh and drops it in a trash bag.

“I hate doing this.”

GM: “Luke, what’s wrong?” asks Cécilia from their bed.

Nathan’s next-oldest child sighs as he looks up from his phone.

“It’s my brother. Again.”

“Is he in trouble?”

Luke resists snorting.

“Westley’s always in trouble.”

“This time’s probably not any different.”

GM: A seated figure stares down at the French Quarter from a rooftop garden, lord of all he surveys.

“Well, Nat, I have to say these past few nights have been some especially interesting ones,” Savoy grins from his seat.

“We can destroy the fledgling’s reputation at your word, sir, if that is the course you wish to pursue.” She sneers faintly. “Even what little of it there may be.”

Savoy smiles and waves her off. “I don’t think so right now, Nat. Hold that thought.”

“But I do think,” he continues with another grin, staring down at the French Quarter’s palm trees as they sway beneath the wind and rain, “that it’s high time I met the Big Easy’s newest Kindred.”

“I’ll make the arrangements, sir.”

GM: Camilla Doriocourt strides down Perdido House’s gloomy halls alongside her sire.

“…dragonsbreath rounds were found at the scene of the Masquerade breach. These and the other pieces of evidence lead me to believe this ‘Louis Fontaine’ is a hunter.”

Both of them know the poor penetrative power of dragonsbreath rounds.

The sheriff of New Orleans stares ahead.

“Run the standard tracing procedures.”

“See that this hunter is found.”

GM: Bliss Jackson, Trent Ambrose, Cherry Nines, and Milagrosa Arencibia lie staked together in a concrete room.

That’s all they do.

Lie there.

Time crawls and crawls.

Bliss wants to scream how unfair it is.

She didn’t even do anything!

They attacked her! That Ventrue bitch, who was poaching, and the Storyvilles!

All of them want to scream.

All of them want to turn to one another for comfort.

They can’t.

They can’t move. They can’t speak. They can’t even look at each other, except out of the corners of their eyes.

Time crawls.

Rage slowly gives way to dread.

They have a sinking feeling they aren’t going to get out of this one.

GM: René suppresses an instinctive snarl and stares up as the pool stick is yanked from his chest.

“You’re not who I was expecting.”

A tarp is pulled away, revealing a long assortment of cruel implements whose purpose can only be pain. René’s gaze lingers across the edges of the various brands, pincers, prods, blades, and more esoteric devices.

“Well,” the Ventrue effects with a sardonic smile grotesquely at odds with the bleakness behind his gaze,

“This part I rather was.”

GM: A slender finger traces an ivory chess board’s contours. It slowly travels across the time-worn figurines. None depict humans or animals: merely finger-sized shards of bone carved into faceless circular pieces. A painter’s delicate hand has left faded red and cyan designs over their bodies. There are no blacks and whites in this game.

The finger comes to rest upon one of the smaller figures.

“I shall pray that your wisdom holds true for this game, Rūmī.”

Previous, by Narrative: Story Four, Louis VI
Next, by Narrative: Interlude Four, Louis I, Rocco I

Previous, by Character: Story Four, Caroline XI, Louis V
Next, by Character: Story Six, Caroline I

Story Four, Louis VI

“The dead are out there. Anyone who swears otherwise has never stayed up late during a summer storm and listened to their voices.”
Louis Fontaine

Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM

Louis: Central City. The clouds cry, gently, as if ashamed of their midnight tears.

Inside the broken-in, Katrina-abandoned United Bakery, Lou listens to the rain’s patter on the roof and watches it slide down the unlit window. Despite his initial and follow-up search, the old man is on edge. It’s the rats. The hurricane waters have long rotted away the old bakery’s wares, but vermin are creatures of habit. Bad habits.

The old man hears their distant scratching and nocturnal scurrying. He can’t not hear them. It feels like they’re dancing, clawing at his hackles. He rubs his bum, sucks his gum, and sighs before turning to his last remaining co-conspirator.

“Chica,” he whispers with a dry, cough-like rattle. He wants a drink. He wants a lot things. He’s used to wanting though. Tonight, though, there’s a new, red-raw kind of want tugging at his soul. Indecision. He’s used to wanting. Used to not getting what he wants. But tonight, he’s not sure what he wants.

“Chica,” he whispers again, his neck hot with the sound of distant rats. He’s already called his cab. There’s not much time. There’s never enough time–unless, when there’s too much god-damned time.

He hears her breathing beside him. The sound is familiar yet haunting, a ghost capable of summoning old memories. Memories when they once shared the same bed. When they wore the clothes of husband and wife. Younger clothes. Clothes that no longer smell right or fit. But he remembers. God, he remembers. For a moment, he wants to reach out to her, for her. But the hand that once bore his wedding ring is gone. Just like their marriage, just like his youth, just like his surety of what he wants.


He turns. Away. He closes his eyes. He shuts out the blackness, and listens to the rain. Rain, which has begun to hammer now, till it drowns out the rats. He sighs with relief, like the outside rain is pouring down his burning neck, cooling his vitae-hot veins. He listens. “Chica, I’ve always loved the rain. Welcomed it.”

“During the summer, when I was a child, no matter how hot it was, there was a shower almost every afternoon. The southern horizon would pile with storm clouds that looked like over-ripe plums, and within minutes, you’d feel the barometer plunge and see the oak trees become a deeper green and the light become the color of brass. You could smell the salt in the air and the odor that was like watermelon that had burst open on a hot sidewalk. Suddenly the wind would shift, and the oak trees would come to life, leaves swirling and Spanish moss straightening on the limbs. Just before the first raindrops fell, Lake Pontchartrain would be dimpled by bream rising to feed on the surface. No more than a minute later, the rain would pour down in buckets, and the surface of the river/lake would dance with a hazy yellow gold that looked more like mist than rain.”

The old man shifts under the weight of old memories. “For me, the rain was always a friend. I think that’s true for all children. They seem to understand its… baptismal nature. The way that it absolves, cleanses, and restores the earth.”

His hand drifts to the cross around his neck. "The most wonderful part of the rain was its cessation. No more than a half-hour, the sun would come out. The air, the air would be cool and fresh. The four o’clock’s would open, full of fragrance and color, and in the shade, children would play hopscotch with an innocence and joy that belied the pain and confusion of adulthood.”

“The rain was part of a testimony that assured us that somehow the summer was eternal–that even the coming of the darkness could be held back by the heat lightning that flickered through the heavens after sunset.” He hand slips, and he opens his eyes. All but blind in the dark, he nonetheless can clearly see into the past as he continues:

“The rain also brought me visitors that convinced me that the dead never left go of this world. After my father, died out on the salt, I’d see him inside the rain, standing knee-deep in the churning water, his hat tilted sideways on his head. When he saw the alarm on my face, he would raise in hand in salute, as if to say life, not death, was the real challenge. I saw lost gens d’armerie crossing rain-flooded streets in the monsoon season, the rain bouncing off their cocked hats and sliding down their deep blue frock coats. Their mortal wounds glowed as brightly as communion wafers, but they would call out to me, ‘Tout va bien!’ In time, others joined their ranks: the Guard de Ville, Chief Youennes’ boys, the Metropolitans, and more. I don’t remember when exactly they stopped shouting ‘All is well!’, but they did.”

“During the rain, I get calls from long dead clients, victims of unsolved cases, or lost loved ones. They call me on the phone during electric storms to check in, to assure me they haven’t forgotten, that they’re still waiting. The polite ones always apologize for the heavy static on the line–after all, it’s not even a long-distance call. It’s local.”

He turns around. “Chica, don’t ever let anyone tell you this is all there is. They’re lying. The dead are out there. Anyone who swears otherwise has never stayed up late during a summer storm and listened to their voices.”

GM: Outside the abandoned bakery, the overcast night sky rumbles as rain pounds and pours. Water slides down windows coated in grime and dust from their insides, seemingly unable to wash away the filth.

Inside, the warehouse’s neglect is all the more apparent. Planks of wood, shards of broken glass, and other debris lie haphazardly strewn about the otherwise vacant, too-large space. Graffiti covers the walls. A black, demonic-eyed cat leers at Lou with a lolling forked tongue too large to fit into its mouth. “Upper class vandals” is ironically sprayed in blocky white letters next to the creature.

It wasn’t always this way. Lou remembers when the cold and deserted building was warm with loaves upon loaves of freshly-baked bread, and filled with the chatter of bakers at work. It was a distinctive light bread they made, crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, shaped round and flat like a frisbee. The bread was for muffulettas, an Italian sandwich less iconic than po’boys, but no less tasty—or historied, being only a few decades older. Lou ate his first one before the grandfathers of the building’s former bakers were born.

He remembers an ingredients list seemingly as long as his life. The “salad” alone had olives, black olives, olive oil, celery, cauliflower, carrots, sweet peppers, onions, capers, parsley, pepperoni, oregano, garlic, vinegar, herbs and spices. The salad marinated a salty meat of some kind, usually salami, ham, mortadella, or all three. Melted provolone and mozzarella topped off the confection.

The newer ones came skewered through with toothpicks to hold the sandwich’s many ingredients together. They still couldn’t stop the bread’s sesame seeds from flaking off and making light patters against the paper wrapper.

Lou could go for a muffuletta right about now.

They’re gone, old man, the mutant-tongued cat seems to leer at him. Katrina closed down the bakery, and the owners never reopened. The storm washed away everything that was clean and nothing that was dirty.

Outside, the rain pours, impotent against the grime on the interior windows.

No lights illuminate the warehouse’s cavernous interior. Bereft of the Kindred’s darkness-attuned senses, Lou and Chica must huddle by the rain-slick windows like the rats they can hear scurrying in the distance. He can just make out her silhouette, black as night, imposed against the rain-slick window.

There, in the dark, the wet, and the cold, the old man fills the abandoned bakery with memories as rich as his surroundings are barren. The rain and the gloom do not relent—but buoyed those centuries-old recollections, perhaps they do not need to.

At length, he tapers off like the rainfall itself eventually must. Chica is silent for several moments, then remarks, “Ain’t no rainbow in the darkness.”

“Thas’ what ya get afta every rainfall, Lou. A gay-as-AIDS rainbow. My pops, since I guess we’re flappin’ our gums ‘bout our daddies, said it was God’s promise t’ Noah that he wasn’t gonna drown the earth ‘gain, or some shit. Rainbows are his reminders t’ us. It’s his way of sayin’, ‘hey you fucks, I still rem’ber t’ pull the bath plug!’”

His old paramour chews on silence for another moment. “But there ain’t no rainbows in the dark, Lou. The rain jus’ keeps pourin’. F’ us, it’s no big deal. Night rolls around t’ day, the fags can go all Judy Garland over it. But the licks, who gotta bed down? F’ them, it jus’ stays dark. Sure, the rain stops, but they don’t ever see no promise that it’s always gonna. So they’re wonderin’, in the back of they heads, whether God is really gonna pull the bath plug next time or jus’ laugh an’ say, ‘ha ha, fucks, I’m leavin’ it in!’”

“I hope it rains all night, Lou. I think I’d like t’ see a rainbow.”

Louis: Lou sighs like a man exhaling what might be his last cigarette. “Me too, Chica, me too.”

Time pours like rain. Lou turns again, his gumshoe heel smearing desiccated mouse-droppings like skid-marks in the dark. There’s an awkwardness to his next words. “Chica, you know Cimitière better than most, better than me. What kind of… prince do you think he’d be?” The words seem hard on Lou’s teeth, like a mouth-punch with brass knuckles.

GM: Chica actually looks surprised at Lou’s line of inquiry. Her next words don’t have the sarcastic bite they usually do. “Well, Lou, firs’ thing to keep in mind about the Baron is, he don’ want to be prince. Never did, an’ my guess is, still don’t. What he wants is for the Lance t’ leave everyone into Vodou the fuck alone. That ‘cludes Vidal’s groupies an’ also any licks who’d smile when they fuck ‘em over like Savoy an’ the Cottonmouths.”

“That’s his perfect world. The other Kindred cedin’ all things Vodoun, plus handin’ over Tremé an’ the Seventh, Eighth, an’ Ninth Wards to the Crones. Then leavin’ ‘em completely the fuck alone, t’ run things how they want, answerin’ t’ no prince. City within a city.”

“But that ain’t ever gonna happen, not with Vidal an’ Savoy at least. An’ he knows it. So yeah, the Lance has gotta go down. Both halves of it. What happens after…” Chica shrugs. “Well, that’d leave a pretty big hole. Somethin’s gotta fill it. Gotta be someone who’s prince, even if the Baron don’ want the job.”

“He ain’t really talked too much about what happens then. Guess he thinks we should focus on makin’ that Lance-free city happen first.” Chica spits to the side. “Cottonmouth an’ necro-incestuous-Mafioso-free too, ‘course. Fuckin’ sick the things they do.”

“But anyway. There’s still been talk, what the city’s gonna look like when—not if, we don’t believe in no if—Vidal an’ Savoy are gone. Baron might be prince, if there’s no other option, but he don’ want the job. Might plug his nose and do it anyway, or might foist it off t’ some other lick. It’d be his call though, and he won’t let nobody be prince who don’t run things the way he likes.”

“How he runs Tremé, though. You get a good preview of what he’d be like as prince. Easier for mortals to meet him up close than licks, actually. That says a lot. He’s a houngan who goes by the name Toussaint. Real popular wit’ a lotta folks. Been passin’ himself off as a buncha diff’rent houngans since way the fuck back. Longer than I been around. He’s close t’ the kine, close in a way Vidal an’ Savoy sho’ as shit ain’t. Hell, I don’t even see him livin’ in any digs as sweet as a lotta dealers.”

“He actually gets shit done, too. I heard the stories ‘bout Papa Iblis. Hell, you was around for ’em. What, five times Xola’s age, an’ five times as mean? Vidal had decades to ash him an’ didn’t. Yeah, sure, he was fightin’ a pretty long slog-fest t’ set himself up as prince. Maybe he woulda ashed Iblis, once things was settled down an’ he was comfy on his throne.” Chica rolls her eyes. “Or maybe he wouldn’t, ‘cuz he don’t give a flyin’ fuck ‘bout some poor niggas who call Mary Erzulie, and gave even less back when they was slaves. All I know is, Baron was the one t’ ash that sick shit Iblis.”

“He’s the houngan. The houngan. People in all those neighborhoods, the ones he wants to make his city in a city, he’s the man they go to for… fuckin’ everythin’. Yeah, sure, your usual love potions an’ magic fix-alls. But a lot more shit too. Your kid’s gone missin’, he’s your guy. Cops killed your boyfrien’, he’s your guy. Funeral’s too much f’ you to deal with, he’s your guy. Landlord won’t fix the brown water comin’ out of your sink, he’s your guy. You need money t’ make your boyfrien’s bail, he’s your guy. You pregnant in school an’ don’t know what to do, he’s your guy. You down sick an’ can’t afford no ER visit, he’s your guy. Psycho ex won’t leave you alone, he’s your guy. You want a houngan to say the words at your weddin’, he’s your guy. Hell, neighbor’s playin’ music too damn loud, he’s still your guy. He’s a priest, doctor, judge, shrink, an’ your grandpa who knows best, all rolled into one.”

“An’ he keeps the Masquerade. Des Jumeaux, they or the Baron have ways of making’ them look like him. You can run into Toussaint at Lil’ Dizzy’s, sometimes, chowin’ on po’boys in broad daylight. Or for any of that other shit that only happens at day.”

“An’ the people in his neighborhoods, they’re loyal to him, Lou, loyal ‘cuz he looks out for ’em when no one else does. He’s been there, helpin’ poor niggas out ever since you could buy ‘em as slaves. Kids grow up on stories of the things he, or I guess his ’predecessors’, have done for their grandpas, an’ it ain’t long ‘fore they’re goin’ to him for help with this or that. It’s a goodwill that’s old as dirt an’ strong as iron. Those people will go to fuckin’ war for him if he asks it.”

“Hell, that’s the big reason Vidal an’ Savoy haven’t squashed him. Why you think they haven’t, when you can count all the licks who follow him on two hands, an’ he ain’t got the cash for a suite at the Monteleone? That’s ‘cuz he’s got friends, fuckin’ everywhere. The nigga who waits your tables. The nigga who picks up your garbage. The nigga who mows your lawn. The nigga askin’ for change on your way to work. The nigga who mops the floors there. Them and a thousand more. Ask any of ‘em, odds are, they can tell you a story’ ’bout how… well, I told you what sorta shit the Baron does. Odds are, they can tell you a story ’bout the time when he was their guy.”

Chica pauses. “I ain’t sayin’ he’s a saint, now. He’s still a lick. Still drinks the same juice they all drink. Still serves the loa, an’ that’s mostly the Gehde, an’ that’s mostly Baron Samedi, wit’ a black hand than his white one. An’ sure as shit, you piss off a houngan with as much power as he got, dyin’ will be a fuckin’ mercy. Maybe he’s cursed people who you don’ think deserve it. The loa don’t really see right an’ wrong the way most folks do. An’ neither do he. The way he does see it, he does right by his people, an’ he fucks anyone who fucks them. Fact is, you ain’t ever gonna find an elder who’s as close not just to the kine, but to the little guy as he is, an’ who gives a damn as much as he do. Unless you think you can ash every lick in the city, I say, Baron’s the best one to be in charge of ’em.”

“So yeah, Lou, that ain’t the kind of prince I think he’d make—it’s the one I know he is. Because to the poorest and most fucked-over niggas in this city, guess what, he already is ya goddamn butt-fuckin-ya-slut-motha-till-she-moans-an-drools-like-a-bitch-in-heat prince.”

Louis: Lou’s silent and still for a long time. He digests her words slowly. The rain ticks out time, a million-droplet metronome. After a while, he grunts, not in dismissal, but like a man who’s just lifted a heavy burden, or at least is bracing himself to do so.

“Chica,” he eventually says, his voice rough and loose like spilled gravel, “I realize you were right.” There’s a slight pause, even almost a chuckle. “Not all the time, but more than I thought. I’ve been sitting on the pot too long. It’s time to piss or get off the pot. It’s been time.” Another pause. “Maybe past time.”

There’s a heavy sigh and the echo of rain bouncing in the empty bakery. “But tonight… tonight forced my hand. Maybe badly. No, definitely badly. Things are going to get ugly. Uglier. Maybe the ugliest they’re ever gotten for me. For us. And that’s… that’s pretty much as ugly as it gets.”

“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.”

He 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. Which is why… I need you to leave me.”

He takes a step closer. “They’ll be coming for me, Chica. If and when they find me, you can’t be there. Instead, I need you to go to the Baron. I need you to go back to him, and give him a message. Earn back his trust so he’ll listen to it.”

There’s a reflective instinct to grab a cigarette, to dilute and crowd the naked, raw air with smoke. But he represses it. For now. “Maybe see Vendredi. Josue’s desperate to earn Cimitière’s favor. Maybe use the secret as a chip. Or maybe seek out Kendall. I don’t know if that water-hole’s all poisoned or not for you. But Cimitière trusts her.”

There’s a slight hesitation. “There’s also Curry. She’s got no love for the Lance, especially after mad-dog Meadows ‘got off the chain’ and tried to snuff her out like a decade-old cigar. But… I think the mambo’s a wild card. Better to try one of the others.” Another sigh. “But you know those tracks better than me. It’ll be up to you.”

He takes another final step and embraces her, holding her close in the darkness, and whispers into her ear. Those words are far from sweet nothings:

René’s confession of being as a double agent for Donovan. How the sheriff, Savoy, or Setites betrayed him.

He then also whispers quietly… that she’s to relay that to the Baron. Donovan is either a double agent working for Savoy or he isn’t, but the reality that he has double agents working with Savoy and the Setites should be enough to sow dissent and distrust. Let that leak to the Invictus, the Anarchs, or other groups. Foment dissent. If Donovan can be portrayed as disloyal to the prince, his position and the prince’s weakens. Even if Vidal still trusts him, he might have to act because of appearances.

It also ties into why the sheriff and his goons might be after her—and thus might help justify the Baron hiding her and standing up to them. Donovan clearly wants to hide his cross-factional dealings—or those who know about them. Lou knows enough about sorcery to know that in order to get the right answers, you sometimes need the right questions—and this can help steer the Baron to discover said truth if he wishes.

GM: Chica listens.

“Fuck me sideways wit’ a spatula. How the hell’d you find that out?”

Louis: The old man releases her slowly, like the waning grip of a dying man. His mind lingers for a moment on the fresh odor of sweat, blood, and gunpowder, and the deeper, schizophrenic aroma of spiced rum, fish tacos, bubble-gum, cheap cigarillos, pralines, spray paint, and crack cocaine. And beneath that, the indelible scent of a woman. They’ve changed so much. Lost so much. Of themselves, and of each other.

He steps back and shakes his head. Shakes his head to her, to him, to them, to so many things. “No time to explain, Chica. Just get that to him. He has the juice to confirm I’m not blowing smoke.” As if to underscore his sentiment, a taxi cab’s headlight spills down the street. He turns to go, though his eyes linger on her black pools of Louisiana gold.

GM: “You’re right, Lou. There ain’t time. Never is when you really need it.” Twin pools of Louisiana gold stare back at Lou—and then yank him in as Chica grabs his shoulder and holds him fast, as if refutation of their earlier embrace. “So you can hold the fuck up for a few moments more, ‘cuz I ain’t yo message-runnin’ biatch.”

His old paramour doesn’t chew her lip so much as gnaw. “Firs’, you’re right. I gotta go back t’ the Baron. Not jus’ ‘cuz you jus’ got me a meal ticket.” Chica slowly shakes her head, the glint of the distant headlights catching her gold eyes. “We can’t do this no more, or least I can’t. Runnin’ round fo’ juice, beggin’ fo’ drops, scurryin’ off like rats whenever the hammer come down like it’s about to… my mug ain’t as ugly as yours, Lou, but fuck me. I’m an old lady. I’m tired. An’ I—we—need the backin’ of onea the factions if we’re ever gonna be more than scurryin’ junkie-rats.”

“That tidbit of yours. It’ll get my foot back in the door. But you know the licks, Lou. You know they don’t, won’t ever trust a ghoul they can’t fix the collar on.”

Chica’s jaw sets. “You should hear it from me now, so listen up. I’m goin’ in. All the way.”

Louis: Lou’s heart sinks like it just got flushed down the toilet. His peripheral vision swims till all he can see are the taxi cab’s lights making the rain-splattered window catch golden fire. The rain, pounding in his ears. No, not rain, blood. Half-damned, half-redeemable. Half-mortal, half-monster. His. Hers. He gasps, tries to speak, but his inchoate voice is as haunted and hollow as a ghost’s.

GM: “Like you say, Lou,” Chica stares at him. “It’s time t’ shit. Or get off the pot.

Louis: Lou can’t, doesn’t look her in the eye. He doesn’t yell or struggle. He has no words. He has nothing. Nothing but pain. Loss. Regret.

GM: Chica grabs him by the collar of his shirt and sharply yanks it to force his gaze to meet hers.

Louis: He doesn’t resist. But he doesn’t look at her. Not really. His eyes are flat, empty, like something deep inside just died. Hard.

GM: “You gone stupid, Lou? Or was you just always? D’you really wanna spend eternity beggin’ for scraps? You really think we still human, all those years, all those lives? How much blood we drink, huh, that the licks jus’ happened t’ suck up first? Who’s the real vampires?”

Louis: Lou’s mouth opens like a fish slammed on the sidewalk. Opens, closes. Tries to breathe, but just dies a little, mouth opening and closing again. Are there words? Does he say, ‘I know’? Or ‘go’? Perhaps ‘no’. Lips. Eyes. Heart. They close.

GM: He feels Chica’s hands letting go of his shirt. There’s scorn in her Louisiana-gold eyes, frustration, tiredness, and even pain. “Fuck, Lou. What’s it you wanna do instead? Kill ourselves? Bein’ an indep ain’t an option no more. An’ you know it!”

Louis: The old man sinks as Chica lets go. He sinks, his insides pouring down his spine like a shotgun-blasted sieve. He doesn’t fall, though. That would imply there’s a ground to fall to, something solid underneath him. But he sinks all the same. Sinks into himself. The hurt. The pain. The truth. There’s not much distinction between anymore.

GM: “D’you fuckin’ get off t’ bein’ pathetic an’ miserable?!” Chica snarls.

Louis: Lou’s mouth opens like a razor slit, but his eyes stay shut, his gaze dead.

GM: She grabs his crotch and gives his mandhood a solid yank. “Huh!? Feels pretty limp t’ me, still!”

Louis: Lou doesn’t move. He doesn’t resist. He doesn’t even feel the pain, not the body’s when he’s spirit feels crucified. But his voice slides out like a broken vending machine that refuses to accept a coin.

“I… want… to die. As a man… I want… to see another rainbow… the angel… on the other side of the… bottle.”

GM: “Well, news flash, you ain’t been a man for a long fuckin’ time,” Chica snarls, though she does release his testicles. “But you had ‘nough pretendin’, great. I’ll take you out on a boat like you always wanted, t’ watch the sun go up.”

Louis: His voice is crushed, and each word cuts him like broken glass:

“Ve, Rosario.”

(“Go, Rosario.”)

GM: Chica stares at her old paramour. Her teeth grind as frustration, anger, hurt, and even loss war across her ageless face. Finally she growls, “Apuesto que lo estoy, Juan.”

(“You bet I am, Juan.”)

Echoing footsteps sound as Chica turns and disappears into the warehouse’s yawning depths. But before she vanishes completely, she turns back to Lou and calls, a penumbral figure hovering between shadow and darkness,

“Oh, if there’s one more thing ya want t’ blame yourself over, ‘cuz thas’ what you jack off to? Nonea this, an’ I mean nonea this, would be happenin’ now if we hadn’t gone chasin’ afta ya lil’ cracka bitch’s deadbeat daddy.”

Louis: Lou doesn’t look up or move, but the words pour out of him because there’s no more room inside. He’s too full of loss, hurt, and regret.

“Lo siento.”

(“I’m sorry.”)

He says it to her, to himself, to God, to everyone and no one.

“Lo siento mucho…”

(“I’m so sorry…)

He doesn’t expect an answer. He doesn’t expect forgiveness. He hasn’t earned it.

And he knows it.

Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM

Louis: Scrape. Scrape. Scraaaaaape.

Lou’s hook scratches away the thin plaster, vandalizing the graffiti cat’s demonic eye. Beneath the spray-paint and dust, the mortar only extends a bullet’s depth. The old man slides out the now loosened cement block that has been broken in half, revealing a cunningly concealed cache.

It hurts. For the old man, it’s like picking at a scab, one that has been left to fester. His thoughts are like the broken cement block: flat, dead, and hollow. With his decision made–or forced–his bones and sinews move on auto-pilot, asking and receiving nothing from the shattered lights upstairs. But his old body obeys. It remembers. It endures.

His knuckle-scarred hand reaches into the clandestine cubby and pulls out a dust caked box. The old bakery box all but falls apart in his grip. He spreads out the items from the decrepit muffulettas box. A paint-faded nursery block with the letters ‘A’ and ‘Z’. A pewter figurine of a dog. A tiny pearl. A pipe. A glass bottle of sparkling water. A patina-touched cross. A large piece of bone-white chalk. And maps. Lots and lots of maps. Street maps, each and every one. All of the same city. His city.

The old man sighs.

He takes the now empty muffulettas and a few other things inside, then dumbly returns the container to its niche. He hefts the cement block with a quiet grunt, grateful for the visceral strain to distract his unraveling heart. He slides the block back inside. Without its mortar, the graffiti covered cache is less clandestine, but it has served its purpose.

Almost, the old man thinks as he turns back to the spread out items. He kneels, aged joints creaking. The rain continues to pour.

Lou takes up the nursery block like a die at Harrah’s. He closes his eyes, mutters a prayer, and tosses it.
The cube rolls and rattles till settles with the A upwards. Lou takes the white chalk and continues his invocation as he draws an elaborate design on the floor of the abandoned bakery.

It begins with a long straight line down, then another across. In the quadrants, four circles are drawn equidistant from the recently completed cross. Within those circles, other crosses are drawn. The design swiftly increases in complexity. Flowing lines, curves, asterisk-esque stars, some symbols resembling a pair of palmettos, fish, or pineapples.

Lou grinds the last stub of the chalk to complete the design, the white powder utterly spent. But the veve is complete. The old man places the old patina cross in the middle of the veve, but inverted, just as St. Peter was crucified. Next, he places objects at the center of each of the four encircled crosses: the pewter dog, the pearl, the pipe, and the water.

His lips continue to murmur their prayer which tastes of cobblestones, concrete, asphalt, and the dirt beneath. And blood. Because there is always blood. He lays the panoply of street maps along the veve’s axes. Still murmuring, he picks up the pipe, which comes alight with white flame. He interrupts his invocation only long enough to take a deep drag from the pipe, his aged lungs sucking in the Voudon smoke. He then closes his eyes and pours out the loa-touched embers onto the maps. They instantly ignite, as if they were doused in all the gasoline ever used to traverse the streets they so depict.

The old mean breathes in the smoke. Heady, pregnant, impossible, but intimate. He continues to pray. He continues to suck in the vapors. He is tired. Each breath makes him as wearied as a whole week working as a beat cop. But he does not stop. Not until he is overflowing with it, not till the smoke is about to pour from his ears does he snatch up the pearl and drop it in his smoke-soaked mouth like a sacramental wafer.

Wasting no time, he uses the pewter dog figurine to pop off the bottle’s cap and then pours the sparkling water over the burnt maps, extinguishing the flames and washing away its ashes and the chalk veve. He picks up the flame-hot cross with his hook and brands his unshod feet with the inverted symbol. He does not ignore the pain, but he embraces it. Still kneeling, he finishes his ritual as he began it: by lifting the painted nursery block, eyes closed, and tosses with with a final benediction:

“Papa Legba.”

The ‘die’ rattles till it lands on the side painted with a Z. The old man does not miss how the object’s shadow looms large. And not just large, but in the shadow of a man, leaning on a cane, with features otherwise obscured by the fraying rim of a broad straw hat.

Then, as the last ember finally dies, all is darkness. And the old man is spent, his spirit and body overflowing with power and knowledge and yet equally spent and empty. He picks up the nursery block and figurine and slips them respectively into his pockets, then puts on his shoes.

A few minutes later, he all but staggers out of the bakery, glass bottle in hand. He ducks down a nearby alleyway, and scans the dark, rain-sodden streets. Once he’s convinced enough that he’s not being followed or pursued, he tosses down the glass bottle. As the glass shatters, he fixes another of the Big Sleazy’s myriad streets into his mind and steps over the debris, his cross-branded foot still red and raw as his bleeding heart.

GM: This time I’m walkin’ to New Orleans
I’m walkin’ to New Orleans
I’m gonna need two pair-a shoes
When I get through walkin’ these blues
When I get back to New Orleans

The old man takes a step.

Pain lances up his cross-burned foot.

I’ve got my suitcase in my hand

The old man takes a step.

Palm trees sway under a cool summer breeze as the red and yellow St. Charles streetcar roars past. Clang-clang. Clang-clang. How many times has he heard that sound? How little has it changed over the years?

Now ain’t that-a shame?
I’m leavin’ here today
Yes, I’m goin’ back home to stay
Yes, I’m walkin’ to New Orleans

The old man takes a step.

Powdered sugar on his lips. Powdered sugar over his shirt. The mess is worth it for Du Monde’s beignets. The coffee is black as oil and smooth as silk. No milk or cream in his joe, or fruit or chocolate in his pastries for him. He can’t remember the last time he looked at their menus. He knows what he wants.

Ya used to be my honey
‘Till you spent all my money
No use for you to cry
I’ll see you by and by
‘Cause I’m walkin’ to New Orleans

The old man takes a step.

Decatur Street, the waterfront, where he eats those beignets. Chartres Street, lined with clubs and ritzy apartments. Royal Street, galleries and restaurants. Bourbon Street, where ritz gives way to kitsch. Dauphine Street. Burgundy Street. Rampart Street. Out of the Quarter now. Basin. Crozat. Tremé. Marais. Villere. Roberson. Claiborne. Derbigny. Roman. Prieur. Johnson. Galvez. Miro. Tonti. Rocheblave. Dorgenois. Broad…

I’ve got no time for talkin’
I’ve got to keep on walkin’
New Orleans is my home
That’s the reason why I’m goin’
Yes, I’m walkin’ to New Orleans
I’m walkin’ to New Orleans

He knows the street he’s on. Knows the street, like he knows every street in this city. He’s walked its asphalt, its cobblestones, its unpaved mud and dirt, its whatever, since before the wrinkled grandfathers of today’s wrinkled grandfathers could so much as waddle their legs.

The old man takes a step.

I’m walkin’ to New Orleans
I’m walkin’ to New Orleans.

That’s all it is. Taking a step. Knowing, not where he wants to go, but where he is. Space is an illusion. Distance a lie. All places touch all places. All paths cross all paths. One need only see the crossroads. Know them, like the old man knows his city.

The old man takes a step.

I’m walkin’ to New Orleans
I’m walkin’ to New Orleans.

The power was always his. For as long as he’s known the names of the city’s streets like the back of his palm, it has always been his. Now he knows.

The old man takes a step.

I’m walkin’ to New Orleans
I’m walkin’ to New Orleans…

Lou steps out from behind one of six mausoleum-like structures embracing a monument symbolizing the eye of the storm. Landscaped walkways curve out from it like the paths of encircling hurricane winds.

The distant voice of a rambunctious youth laughs as another rule is broken, another threshold crossed.

Lou ducks behind another granite block. He stumbles out from the gap between the La Belle Esplanade, a red-painted Victorian house converted into a bed & breakfast, and its neighbor.

He knows this street, Esplanade Avenue, like he knows all of the city’s other streets. Four blocks with a bed and breakfast on each one. His trash bags should be outside the Five Continents, four blocks away.

The night is old, damp, and weary, like the old man himself. He’s not sure what hour it might be as rain steadily patters over the sidewalks. 4 AM? Late enough for humanity’s ignorant masses to be fast asleep, oblivious to the shadow wars fought just beyond their homes. Early enough for the Kindred to grow surly and resentful over the limited time they have left—yet not so limited they must flee back to the safety of their havens.

4 AM is a dark hour.

Louis: Mama Wedo’s death–curse echoes in his ears. Darkness…

Lou sighs, a sound lost in the pounding rain. Despite the pain in his freshly burnt feet, the old man presses forward. In his present attire, the old man resembles a bum hunting for booze or a dry place to sleep. Appearances aren’t always deceiving.

GM: The HH Whitney House, perhaps named for the banking family of the same name, is another old-world B&B set in a 19th-century, Italianate-style house offering an outdoor pool and hot tub. A bed past one of the rain-slick windows looks clean and soft. The cozily-illuminated rooms look warm and dry.

Few bums would not stare with longing.

Louis: Lou shuffles past the bed and breakfast, knowing that even if he used the wad of cash he confiscated from René’s haven, the Whitney House would provide no refuge for the weary, half-damned, twice-doomed man.

China’s last words haunt his mind: Nonea this, an’ I mean nonea this, would be happenin’ now if we hadn’t gone chasin’ afta ya lil’ cracka bitch’s deadbeat daddy.

The essence of detection is cyclical. Around and around, chasing each other, footfalls sounding on black pavement, and the rain pouring down forever. Our necks are under persecution: we labor, and have no rest.

Lou continues to walk, hand and hook in his jumpsuit pockets.

GM: The old man eventually reaches one of the bed and breakfast’s black dumpster bins. There’s a thick metal lock clearly meant to keep out people like him, looped through barbed wire that would cruelly cut most bums’ fingers. Lou picks it open as the cold rain patters against his and pulls out “his” trash bags.

He hadn’t wanted to double back to his old office. He’d feared the prince’s agents were already there.

He hadn’t wanted the man responsible for picking up his trash either. Paul Christianbury, former dentist, exposed child molester reduced to driving garbage trucks for a living. A call to Ottis Wiggons saw Paul receive some strongly-worded “advice” to switch routes. He wasn’t “clean enough to pick up their district’s trash.” Another call and minor bribe to his new garbage man saw his bags dropped off here, far away from his office.

Sometimes that’s all man can do in this city. Just move the trash somewhere else.

Lou pulls open one of the newly rain-slick, black polyethylene bags to make sure it’s his. Coffee-stained old shirts. Outdated phone books. A three-year-old print of the Times-Picayune. Empty liquor bottles and greasy take-out boxes. A mummified snapping turtle. Mugshots taken with dusty polaroids and museum-piece daguerreotypes. Apotropes to various loa, black and red. It’s his, all right. The collected junk of too many lifetimes.

His rain-wet hand brushes against a glass vial. He pulls it out. The liquid inside is a dark coagulated red. Swishing the vial makes a sound that’s just barely audible against the rain, but Lou doesn’t see any of its interior liquid move. Some of it is already crusting against the glass.

Any ghoul without completely dumb senses would know what it is.

To Lou, however, it is also the last of his payment from Yi Huang for investigating who’d been threatening the Nosferatu’s mortal employees. Huang was grateful, for a vampire. He hadn’t even mandated that Lou drink it all right there. The rest could be saved for a rainy day.

Dark storm clouds angrily rumble across darker skies as the now-soaked old man looks over his rain-slick prize.

It’s a rainy day indeed.

Louis: As Lou holds the container, his ulcer-eaten heart cannot help but replay Chica’s words, the memory more raw and painful than any burns upon his feet. You gone stupid, Lou? Or was you just always? D’you really wanna spend eternity beggin’ for scraps?

You really think we still human, all those years, all those lives? How much blood we drink, huh, that the licks jus’ happened t’ suck up first? Who’s the real vampires?

The old man clutches the detritus of his lives and the curse of his half-life to his face. He thought he had cried till he was dry.

He was wrong.

Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM

GM: Lou crawls out from the clump of bushes he never walked into. Rows of cloned McMansions bereft of artistic style or individuality stretch endlessly before him. The golf courses sit empty at this late hour. No ice cream trucks, dogs being walked, or tricycle-riding children are visible on the streets.

He takes a look at the sign he emerged behind.

The affluent suburban neighborhood sits comfortably snug against the south side of Lake Pontchartrain, though Lou cannot see the water from here. He has never seen a single black person during any of his visits to the area. It doesn’t even feel like he’s in New Orleans. There are identical development lots to this one in countless suburbs across the country.

He hasn’t seen any leeches either. Few of their kind care to hunt, much less make their domains in such a banal corner of the Outlands.

Louis: But the old man isn’t taking chances. Unlike Esplanade Ridge where he cared not whether he was seen by man or monster, here he moves disguised under the obfuscating glamor of the blood.

Drawing upon the half-damned power, however, hurts tonight. Hurts worse than normal. He’s Catholic, after all, and the old man knows how to nurse a bad case of guilt. His destination doesn’t help his heart, either. He looks up into the crying face of night and lets the rain wash away his tears. He only wishes it could drown his sorrows.

You missed a few, Lou says, thinking of the vampire–decimating flood as he looks up the firmament.

GM: Lakeview was one of the most severely flooded areas of the city during Katrina, Lou recalls. It was right in front of Lake Pontchartrain. Almost all of its residents had the means to flee the city before the water engulfed their houses, however. The neighborhood was rebuilt in a fraction of the time that it took the Ninth Ward.

The weary old man shuffles down the suburban sidewalk towards his destination. A black car with PALADIN SECURITY printed on the sides drives past him. The cap- and tie-wearing guards inside do not spare a glance his way.

Lou’s gumshoes sound against the rain-spattered pavement. Lakeview has no poor areas, merely ones further away from the waterfront where property values aren’t as high. His destination is a two- rather than three-story house with a modest garden and roofed porch that provides some respite from the falling rain as he wearily trudges up the steps.

Louis: The old man grunts as he shifts the massive trash bags slung over his back, the weight of a half-dozen lives distilled into several heaps of pseudo-junk. He knocks on the door in a particular pattern, twice, with his now blunt hook.

GM: The house’s lights are off. The old man receives no answer.

Louis: He would call Maria, but he purposefully destroyed his phone. He settles for knocking again until either of the house’s inhabitants let him in.

GM: Lou’s fist solidly raps against the door. He waits and knocks again.

Neither resident answers.

Louis: He considers just sliding down on the porch and fishing out a partially water-logged cigarette. He doubts he has enough non-drenched Marlboro’s to make it to dawn. Wake up, bastard, Lou bitterly thinks in regards to the house’s true owner.

He grunts again as he slides off his trash sacks and kneels, spine and knees popping. I’m on my knees now, you happy? Lou silently complains to his dead mentor.

Of course you’re not, he answers himself. He sighs, then swings open the door’s mail-slot with his hook and peeks in. He doubts Maria has bought a dog, but it pays to check first and save stitches later.

GM: The old man can just barely make out a wood-floored entry hall through the dark. No dog or other inhabitant responds to the mail slot’s opening.

Louis: He then gazes downward, checking to make sure Maria or someone has been picking up the mail.

GM: No mail is visible on the gloom-shrouded floor.

Runoff audibly drains from the house’s downpipe.

Louis: The worm of paranoia is far from satisfied. He shakes his head, water beads shaking from his neck, as he tries to shrug off the creeping fear that “his” safehouse has been compromised. He whispers into the open mailbox:

“Jacques, ouvrez-vous. C’est Jean-Louis.”

(“Jacques, open up. It’s Jean-Louis.”)

GM: His only answer is the rain’s steady falling.

Louis: Lou frowns. He considers trying to tempt or bribe the colonial bokor with news of his ‘favorite’ dysfunctional family from France, but he holds his tongue. Who knows who else might be listening.

“Damn, Jacques, je suis mouillé et fatigué.”

(“Damn it, Jacques, I’m wet and tired.”)

Mumbling similar pleasantries under his breath, he pulls out his tumbler key and pin and starts working on the front door.

GM: Lou finagles until he’s lifted the lock’s key and driver pins to the correct height, which still takes the deft PI fewer tries than he has total remaining fingers. He turns the knob. The door creeks open. The house’s interior yawns as dark as the night outside.

Louis: Stowing his lock-picks, Lou hefts his belongings into the house and closes the door as he steps inside. He cranes his old ears and other less definable senses for any sound of the house’s inhabitants–or other intruders.

GM: The downpour quiets to steady muffled plunks as Lou closes the front door. Bereft of what little light there already was from the overcast moon, the old man’s surroundings are plunged entirely into gloom.

He’s not too old, though, to miss the light padding sounds against the house’s floor.

Louis: Lou creeps after the sound. His hand hesitates but eventually pulls out a Colt Python from his shoulder holster. Much like his life, there’s no safety on his drawn firearm. He leaves his trash–bagged belongings against the now relocked front door for now.

GM: His gumshoes silently tread wood until they reach something soft. If the lights were on, he might be in a living room with out of style furnishings that haven’t been replaced in almost fifteen years.

They’re not on. It’s too easy to remember in the pitch black. The memories rise like phantoms from uneasy graves.

The swamp was just as dark. Juan was up to his knees in bog-water, sweat pouring down his brow as the buzzing mosquitoes hungrily feasted upon his dripping wounds. The wet, treacherous earth squelched beneath his feet and made him alternately sink and stumble as he tried to kill the man who’d taught him so much of what he knew.

Juan had a reason for wanting to kill him. It didn’t seem like it mattered. Not then. Not there. Not in the pitch-dark, godforsaken swamp, with the mosquitoes in his eyes, the hoots and hollers of the bayou’s wildlife in his ears, and the wild-eyed madman with that wickedly precise blade who was trying to kill him too. That’s all it was. Two men trying to kill each other. The swamp had a way of reducing such conflicts to the primeval essence of what they were.

Juan killed him, all right. He took everything the old man taught him and turned it back on him. Stabbed it through him. Rammed his own family’s ancestral blade through his gut until blood came out from his mouth too. “Sloppy footwork, Juan, sloppy,” his former teacher deliriously frothed in his last moments. Juan was gutting him like a pig and he still babbled about sloppy footwork.

Juan had tried to remember his reason for being out there, for killing the still-warm corpse lying at his feet. There were a few moments he couldn’t remember why. They terrified him more than the prospect of Jacques stabbing him to death ever did.

The swamp took away his purpose. His justice. Said it didn’t matter. Swallowed everything up in that fevered battle for survival, to kill or be killed. Swallowed it into the muck. Into the dark.

Rain distantly pounds and thunders against the roof. Here, in the pitch-black house built where Jacques Beltremieux died an ignoble and delirious death in the muck, and surrounded by the shades of his own memories, the old man could swear his rain-spattered gumshoes are not padding against carpet but squelching into the swamp’s muck.

This house is not the home of Mariángel Batifole, agoraphobic painter. It is the grave of a man whose hate burned too hot for even death to conquer. The swamp has not reclaimed it from banal suburbia. The swamp has always claimed it.

One need but turn off the lights to see.

One need but stare into the dark.

Louis: The old man holsters his gun. Not because he’s safe, but because the weapon will do nothing to protect him. Not here. Not now.

His psyche is like a battered pugilist stepping into a ring against a belted heavyweight–right after finishing a ten-round bout. He’s exhausted, spent, and he just raise his mental gloves. Cold sweat breaks out of his rain-drenched skin. His gut clenches, as if drawing away from the darkness. He sinks to his knees.

Juan had his reasons. But that doesn’t change that the fact that he’s a murderer. And what really scares him… what really changes him to shut his eyes like a scaring kid floating on a shark-encircled raft is the nagging question of whether his reasons were good enough.

Maybe the doctor had the right prescription. Or even worse, maybe Jacques has been wrong. About everything.

The old man raises his sole hand over his shut eyes and shivers. Even in sultry Louisiana, the dark night of the soul is always bone-cold.

His hand drops from his face. The distraught man reconsiders drawing his gun, but he’s unsure whether he might aim it at himself. Unsure whether that might not be so bad.

GM: Lou clamps his eyes shut, but the dark follows him. The memories follow him. Outside, the rain continues to thud and pound. Inside, something continues to steadily pad against the floor.

Or perhaps what it really does is squelch.

The noises eventually grow fainter.

The memories do not.

Louis: Lou opens his eyes. He doesn’t want to. But life has a way of moving beyond wants and needs. Then again, so does death.

GM: The darkness presses down nearly as heavily, save for a feebly glowing slit of moonlight around the drapes. Maria keeps them almost constantly drawn.

The steadily receding pad-squelch issues from ahead.

Louis: Lou swallows. His dry throat is like sandpaper. But he rises. And follows. Ultimately, he has nowhere else to go.

GM: The slit of lunar illumination recedes, then dies. The old man feels his feet climbing, like he remembers them doing before he killed Jacques. He’d clambered up the boughs of a cypress tree. Stared down at the older man, who was scrawling a crude cornmeal veve over meticulously arranged rotting logs, and plotted how to kill him.

Louis: Plotted, hesitated, dreaded, and regretted.

GM: Death is regret. It’s all the dead do.

Lou’s feet stop climbing. They’re somewhere level again.

Pad. Squelch. Pad. Squelch.

The noise stops after another minute. Silence stretches.

There’s a low creek. A thud. The pads become thumps. The sound fades, but comes… upwards.

The old man follows, climbing another cypress.

The air is thick and musty. There isn’t light again—just a less absolute dark. Lou can make out looming and indistinct shapes through the black.

There’s another creek.

A low scraping.



A click-like sound.

Faint noises.

Then, the house—the swamp—creaks like a dry spine snapping. The already thick air becomes nigh-feverish, and fetid like a swollen pustule begging for a lancet. The horripilating, emetic pressure builds–then violently bursts. From some unseen tear, an indistinct shape issues into being like a gory afterbirth–or perhaps stillbirth.

Lou doesn’t need to make it out to know what it is. A man. Long dead.

No darkness, however, is too thick to obscure the ghastly visage of Dr. Jacques Beltremieux from his sight—nor pain the shade wears nakedly like an open sore. The right side of his face is a broken jigsaw of cruel scars, the most severe of which runs over the dark void of his right eye-socket. While his left bears a rheumy-yellow orb, the cheek and jaw below it are haunted by sickly bubbling boils that burn and weep like rancid, spermaceti candles. His balding pate is framed by wispy, ash-hued locks that are occasionally caught and pulled desperately by the severed, spectral fists of unborn children. It is some small mercy that Lou cannot see any now.

Jacques_B.jpg The ghost’s never-changing mid-nineteenth century garb has the air of uncomfortable, anachronistic grandeur despoiled not just by time, but by the gaping stomach wounds that have only festered since his death a century and three-score years ago.

Lou would know. After all, he made them. In a gruesome twist of fate that convinces Lou the universe has a sense of justice—or simply macabre humor—a rapier’s basket hilt protrudes from Jacques’ belly, in the same spot where he stabbed Tante Mignon Lescaut to death. With the very same sword.

Yet, as Lou observes the spectral apparition’s outline, relying more on memory than sight, his centuries-honed instincts scream:


It’s as if he isn’t watching the shade of Jacques Beltremieux, but a skin. A facsimile, an inanimate puppet with a too-large hand stuck inside it, all the more grotesque for its lack of effort to even pretend to be the real thing. Just lying there—floating there—in the dark.


Louis: No rest for the weary, Lou groans inwardly with growing distress. Or the wicked, he adds bitterly.

The old man’s mind turns over possibilities like rough stones in a tumbler. Is he looking at Jacques’ true shade, or has another wraith taken his form? Perhaps his darkness and hate have finally, fully swallowed the soul of his dead mentor? Or is the fault in Lou’s own psyche; has another paranormal presence warped his emotions to make him see Jacques as a foe? No matter how he cuts the cards, it’s a bad hand, and the worm of paranoia starts a low keen that rattles the gumshoe’s spine.

Swallowing down the uncertainty–and the danger that lurks behind it–tastes like acid. The gravel in his voice is drier and weaker than usual as he calls out in the gloom:

“Cent lions… ou cent cheins?”

(“A hundred lions… or a hundred dogs?”)

The old man then waits, nearly holding his breath for the secret answer that would–or should–at least signify if another wraith or entity is masquerading as his old tutor.

GM: Napoleon once said, “If you build an army of 100 lions and their leader is a dog, in any fight, the lions will die like a dog. But if you build an army of 100 dogs and their leader is a lion, all dogs will fight like a lion.”

The darkness shifts. Lou cannot make out Jacques’ jigsaw-scarred face, but his old mentor’s equally hoarse and scarred-sounding voice is audible as he replies, “De toute façon, vous êtes sûr d’avoir des puces.”

(“Either way, you’re sure to get fleas.”)

The darkness smiles.

“Jean-Louis. Bienvenue.”

(“Jean-Louis. Welcome.”)

“Vos yeux rapides sont si faibles. Venez, parlons quelque part avec une meilleure lumière.”

(“Your quick eyes are so feeble. Come, let us speak somewhere with better light.”)

Louis: Lou blinks upon hearing the spectral figure correctly provide the secret answer only Jacques and he know. Unless the true Jacques betrayed their secret passwords, the worm of paranoia whispers.

Lou blinks again, refusing to go down that rabbit hole. He considers who might have supernaturally manipulated his senses… and that rabbit hole is even deeper. Darker. Jacques’ magically puissant victim, Tante Lescaut comes to mind, but so do all manner of suspects. Yet, few would know of his relationship with Jacques… he thinks.

But you don’t really know… the worm hisses.

Lou blinks again, his throat dry as his skin is soaked. “Docteur Beltremieux… où se trouve Mariángel?”

(“Dr. Beltremieux… where is Mariángel?”)

GM: The darkness laughs.

“Elle est endormie. Il est très tard.”

(“She is asleep. It is very late.”)

Louis: There is a part of the old man that just wants to sleep. But given his host’s beshadowed state, Lou doubts he’d ever wake. The irony of the slain mentor slaying his protege is not lost on him.

“Oui, très tard et très sombre,” he answers in a neutral tone.

(“Yes, very late and very dark.”)

GM: The darkness smiles back.

“Un moment opportun pour des hommes comme nous, Jean-Louis, si ce n’est pas un lieu commode. Viens. Parlons quelque part, tu peux me voir.”

(“A fitting time for men such as we, Jean-Louis—if a less than convenient place. Come. Let us speak somewhere you can see me.”)

Louis: Lou grunts. When the Devil has your dance card…

His hand slips into his pocket as he follows.

“Les choses ont changé.”

(“Things have changed.”)

And some things have not–maybe cannot, he bitterly muses.

Those thoughts, however, are arrested as Lou discerns that the earnestness of the shade’s attempt to escort him out of the room are motivated by more than poor lighting. He croons his ears and let his peripheral vision scan the area again… leading him to spot the other silhouette hunched in the room.

His hackles instantly rise, as does his previously pocketed hand with the nail and lighter. His nimble fingers rapidly flick open and light the latter. His old sinews tense like bridge-lines, ready to spring at or away from the whatever the light reveals.

GM: The tiny flame flickers into being. It doesn’t seem to illuminate the dark so much as drown in it—and it is still so dark.

The hunched-over figure faces away from Lou. They do not turn at the newly-kindled light, making their facial features impossible to discern. They wear a long, thick-looking garment made of pale green cotton. Its indistinct edges bleed off into darkness.

Louis: Lou takes a slow step forward, restraining his initial and rising distress.

“Est-ce que je suis interrompue, docteur?”

(“Am I interrupting, doctor?”)

“Vous et votre entreprise, c’est,” he adds, glancing back at his ghostly mentor–or at least his spectral form.

(“You and your company, that is.”)

GM: The shadow-drenched figure does not turn at Lou’s address. The tiny flame licks at the darkness.

The darkness smiles back.

“Pas le moindre.”

(“Not in the least.”)

Louis: The old man’s face remains flat as his brow raises.

“Soins à faire des presentations?”

(“Care to make introductions?”)

GM: “Ailleurs que ici, Jean-Louis. Ma société est une entreprise pauvre et ne vous reconnaîtra pas,” the long-dead man answers.

(“Elsewhere than here, Jean-Louis. My company is poor company and will not acknowledge you.”)

Louis: “On dirait beaucoup de dames que je connais,” Lou quips dryly.

(“Sounds like a lot of ladies I know.”)

GM: “Plus que vous le savez peut-être.”

(“More than you may know.”)

The darkness smiles.

“Plus que vous le savez peut-être.”

(“More than you may know.”)

Louis: Lou is so tired. If the figure is a corpse, as he suspects, it should keep a few more hours. Right now, all he honestly wants to do is sit down. In that semi-fugue, he lowers the lighter and the literal coffin-nail hidden behind it.

“À quoi devons-nous ajourner?”

(“To where should we adjourn?”)

GM: The flickering light bows.

The darkness swells.

“Le salon, bien sûr. Je mai être mort, Jean-Louis, mais je suis toujours votre hôte et vous mon invité.”

(“The parlor, of course. I may be dead, Jean-Louis, but I am still your host and you my guest.”)

Louis: Lou feels a tiny rivulet of water drip down his hairline and down his back. Its touch is cold.

“Encore une fois, j’apprécie votre hospitalité. J’ai des nouvelles que le bon médecin voudra peut-être entendre. Et certains, il peut ne pas le faire.”

(“Once more, I appreciate your hospitality. I have news the good doctor may want to hear. And some, he may not.”)

GM: “Les nouvelles sont comme le pronostic d’un docteur. Bon ou mauvais, il faut entendre,” the gloom-swathed shade answers.

(“News is like a doctor’s prognosis. Good or bad, it must be heard.”)

Louis: Lou makes a sweeping motion with his hook, as if to say, “Lead on.”

GM: The darkness recedes.

The cigarette lighter flickers.

Yet even the tiny flame’s dancing illuminations is enough for Lou to make out Jacques’ face. Something seems to spill over the gaunt shade’s already scarred and embittered visage, twisting it from mere suffering into a hatred so black and bitter that Lou feels almost sick staring at it.

Louis: Lou takes the look of hatred like a bullet to his gut. He probably deserves it. That doesn’t change its lethality though–nor the hard reality of what must be done. His hand and feet shift ever so slightly, readying himself should that murderous expression become more than just an expression.

GM: The darkness screams.

A chill wind blasts across Lou’s face as the air splits with the ragged cries of the damned. Barely conscious of whether the screams are his own, his mentor’s, or simply the tormented recollections of his past, the old man springs into action.

Louis: Lou’s own voice rises in pained harmony with the damned chorus. “Putain, je suis crevé!”

(“I’m so fucking tired!”)

With a preternatural grace and quickness utterly incongruent with the old man’s seemingly broken-down body, Lou flicks the aged, rust-gnawed coffin nail that was previously hidden by the lighter and catches it seamlessly with his prosthetic hook. Still moving in a prolix blur of coordinated moments, Lou steps forward, flame raised before his eyes while his other “limb” brandishes the now nakedly revealed nail.

The hook holds it fast and aims it like a raised crucifix against the spirit’s darkness.

“Rappelez-vous, Jacques!? Rappelez-vous, Mardochée? Elle n’était pas votre femme, mais elle portait toujours votre enfant avec des larmes de joie. Mais vous l’avez fait boire ce tonique. Vous avez transformé son ventre en une jeune fille en fer! Saviez-vous qu’elle l’a appelée, le bébé, votre fille à naître? Firline. Fille du Libérateur, Jacques!”

(“Remember this, Jacques!? Remember, Mardochée?! She wasn’t your wife, but she still bore your child with tears of joy. But you made her drink that tonic. You turned her womb into an iron maiden! Did you know she named her, the baby, your unborn daughter? Firline. Daughter of the Deliverer, Jacques!”)

He rushes forward, rain cold against his prickled skin and swollen joints, the nail from the fetus’ coffin held like a miniature stake. His voice grinds down to a whisper, despite the screaming around and inside him.

“Venez à moi, et je ferai ce que je devrais probablement il y a des siècles: je vais pousser ce clou vers le haut de vos yeux bêtises!”

(“Come at me, and I’ll do what I probably should have done centuries ago: shove this nail straight up your dick’s blind eye!”)

GM: The darkness shrieks.

Crashing noises sound from all sides as Lou is blasted off his feet. Even as he feels solid ground vanish out from under him, he lunges forward like a striking serpent, driving the tiny coffin nail into a translucent crotch made all the more incongruent by his knuckles passing cleanly through it.

The darkness wails.

The blue-tinged ectoplasm that leaks from Jacques’ punctured breeches is barely visible against the tiny flicker of Lou’s clutched lighter. The chill sensation is all-too palpable. Once more, the already thick air grows even more feverish and fetid, like a swollen pustule begging for a lancet. The horripilating, emetic pressure builds–then violently bursts.

The old man crashes to the floor, the cries of the damned ringing in his ears. He still cannot say to whom they belong.

Louis: Even if they don’t come from him–they still belong to him. He’s at least half-damned himself, after all, and tonight of all nights, it’s painfully apparent that not just vampires have poison inside their veins.

GM: The darkness looms. The lighter’s feeble illumination flickers. The old house groans and creeks.

Louis: Lou looks up, his bourbon eyes straining, his worm screaming that he cannot trust those eyes, his heart raped by doubt, regret, anger, and bile.

GM: The old man can neither see nor hear his old mentor’s shade—and precious little else.

Louis: “Je ne veux pas vous battre, Jacques!” he shouts, then speaks increasingly softly, weakly, like a deflating punching bag.

(“I don’t want to fight you, Jacques!”)

“Je suis fatigué. Fatigué de se battre… Fatigué de tout…”

(“I’m tired. Tired of fighting. Tired of everything.”)

GM: The weary old man’s only answer is silence.

Louis: Hearing it, he replies in kind. He rises slowly.

GM: The darkness waits. Time, measurable only by the flickering of his lighter, stretches.

Louis: The old man creeps back toward the green-clothed figure.

GM: They do not stir at Lou’s encroaching presence.

Louis: Thoughts break against Lou’s skull. He misses the rain. Honest, hard, and cold. Just like the truth. Here, he’s not sure what to believe. He presses forward.

GM: Lou presses closer with his lighter. The tiny flame illuminates a hunched-over woman on the cusp of old age, the upper crust of middle class, and the brink of a mental breakdown. Her blonde hair is short, her nails and makeup are subdued taupe and beige, and her fingers and wrists are unadorned save for several smudges of oil paint. She wears a thick, floral-patterned nightgown that buttons up to her neck, but Lou knows all-too well that her wardrobe changed little in the last few decades. Her once haute couture fashion has almost (but not quite) since become retro avant-garde. Her once youthful, tan face is marked by short, razor-blade wrinkles that Lou has seen widen into a web of old, unforgotten pain whenever her rain-colored eyes cry–an all-too common occurrence.

She does not react to the old man’s presence. She merely paints.

It is difficult for Lou to see what, in the dark. But the artist’s palette in her left hand, and the steadily moving brush in her right, are unmistakable.

Louis: “Madre mía,” Lou gasps, having utterly expected to find a dead corpse–only to see this…

GM: The brush in Maria’s hand continues to flick up and down against the easel’s canvas.

Louis: The occult gumshoe has encountered his fair share of mundane somnambulism before, but tonight he’s unnerved and unsure. “Mariángel?” he calls gently, not believing for an instant she’ll answer or stir, after failing to respond to the recent violence mere feet away.

GM: The painter’s brush mutely continues to flick.

Louis: The PI leans forward with his flickering light to inspect her artwork.

GM: The subject of Maria’s painting is a monstrous beast of horrific proportions. Six great wings with long, black feathers like grasping fingers, beat at a violently storm-tossed sky. Nine clawed and scaled hands slash through the air like descending lightning bolts. The monster’s lower body ends with innumerable writhing tentacles. Their fleshy underbellies are studded with a squid’s suckers and hungry, tooth-like spikes. The exteriors are dotted with furious, blood-shot eyeballs. The strange placement blurs one’s perception of whether the tentacles are mere appendages or biting, hydra-like heads.

Their owner’s intention, however, is all-too apparent. Dozens of smaller classical monsters, from medusae to cyclopes, are being gorily rent apart by the larger beast’s flailing tentacle-heads. Maria’s painting graphically depicts naked bone jutting from severed limbs, shrieking heads with gouged-out eyes, and fonts of spurting blood as the dismembered lesser beasts are cast into the raging, storm-tossed sea that surrounds the great central terror.

There are people. Men and women. Children, adults, and elderly. All are naked and bobbing helplessly through the sea. Some are being gorily dismembered by the smaller monsters. Others are being yanked into the air by the great terror’s tentacled heads. Their features are variously struck with awe, terror, or bizarrely incongruent calm reverie.

A gaping, fang-toothed maw yawns wide at the center of the great terror’s bodily mass. A naked young woman balances upon the thing’s tongue. She clutches to its jagged-edged teeth with white-knuckled, bleeding fingers, a painful handhold to stop from falling down its throat.

Her expression is a thousand things. Arrogant. Despairing. Wrathful. Outraged. Remorseful. Pained. Jealous. Haughty. Determined. Even… innocent. Maria has truly outdone herself in rendering the woman’s face. There are as many palettes of emotion, and seemingly contradictory ones as that, as there are colors on Maria’s palette. The woman is an almost hidden gem in the painting, so easy to overlook despite her central position within it.

She’s beautiful, too. Long platinum-blonde hair falls across her pinkish, naked breasts, whipped this way and that by the raging storm. Individual droplets of water are lovingly rendered onto each one. Dark shadows line the young woman’s face, and her emerald-green eyes blaze at Lou from the canvas almost pleadingly. Or perhaps accusingly. Even imperiously.

The longer he stares at her, the more alive her gaze feels—and the worse his gut seems to knot up. She could be a victim… or perhaps she deserves what’s happening to her.

Louis: “Madre mía…” Lou gasps, again, and nearly falls over. He’s not sure whether to bow down and worship it–or burn it right here and now. He settles for snapping shut his golden lighter and plunging his eyes in darkness. Some things a man should not see.

Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM

GM: Time passes. The old man cannot say how much. No sound disturbs his dark vigil save for the pounding rain against the roof and Maria’s softly flicking brush.

A noise eventually interrupts the dark. Something thick against floor. From Maria’s direction.

Louis: The lighter springs open. Butane and striker produce flame and light.

GM: The tiny flame illuminates a shadow-drenched Maria taking down the painting off its easel.

Louis: He watches the woman. The real one. The other, he tries so very hard to ignore.

GM: The horrid—beautiful?—painting does not remain long in Lou’s vision. Maria turns it around and
stacks it alongside a row of further, wall-facing canvases. She sets aside her palette and brushes, disassembles the easel, moves her stool backwards, and walks away. Darkness swallows the seemingly sleepwalking woman’s receding form.

Louis: Lou is torn. Does he examine the other canvases, turn them over like a hand of blackjack in a dark gamble? Or does he fold and follow the somnambulist? His conscience—or perhaps failing courage—causes him to choose the latter.

GM: Lou follows Maria down the attic’s ladder. He watches as she folds it up, shoves it up, and closes the trapdoor.

The middle-aged woman strides down pitch-black halls and opens a door. She walks inside, turns, and with vacant eyes that do not register Lou’s presence, closes the door in his face.

Louis: Like a lot of ladies I know, Lou quietly grunts and silently repeats his earlier quip to Jacques. His light once more claps shut. The old man pads back to check on his heaps of treasured trash.

GM: He finds the bulging, mildly stinking black bags seemingly undisturbed from whence he left them.

Louis: Flicking open the lighter for hopefully the last time tonight, Lou uses its feeble light to untie the trash bags and rummage through until he finds a particularly nasty-smelling cardboard box. Dented and stained, the box is sealed with biohazard tape and labeled with large black marker letters: CAT URINE SAMPLES.

Lou stashes the coffin nail in a secure, yet easily reachable spot inside his shoe, then uses his hook to open up the taped box. He fishes through its jumbled contents, including a rubber ball and ten jacks, a mummified cat-head, a spare key to Lottie B.‘s trunk, and finally an angler’s head lamp he used on night fishing trips with the former police chief.

Stowing his lighter, Lou slides the last apparatus on his head. He clicks on its red light, then loosely bundles all his possessions back up. He then heads to the house’s spare bedroom–or at least what was spare bedroom last he visited the Lakeview home.

GM: The spare bedroom lies on the house’s second story. The dull crimson light makes Lou’s still-dim surroundings appear coated in a sheen of drying blood. Thick shadows lurk at the periphery of his sight.

Louis: Lou wasn’t lying when he said he was tired. Or maybe he was, because at this point, he isn’t tired. He’s exhausted. Still, old habits, like the old man, die hard. He sweeps the room for bugs or hidden surveillance, also keen to watch for the return of his ‘host’.

GM: Another old man’s voice pierces the gloom before he has any chance to perform his sweep.

“Il est de coutume de s’annoncer aux résidents du domicile avant d’emménager et d’apporter des valises à la place des sacs poubelles.”

(“It is customary to announce oneself to a home’s residents before moving in—and to bring suitcases in place of garbage bags.”)

Louis: The head-lamp’s red light mingles with the crimson dawn as Lou swings his head to check for sight of Jacques’ shade.

“Vous et moi-même avons tous deux évité notre juste part des douanes.”

(“You and I both have skirted our fair share of customs.”)

His hang-dog face hangs glumly.

“Désolé, Jacques. J’ai besoin d’aide. Ton aide.”

(“I’m sorry, Jacques. I need help. Your help.”)

GM: The doctor’s grim phantom swims into view. Bathed in the dim scarlet light, Jacques Beltremieux’s already scarred, bleeding, and one-eyed visage looks truly horrid. The newest dripping gash in the crotch of his breeches does little to improve the dead man’s countenance.

“Parlez-moi de ce besoin, Jean-Louis.”

(“Tell me of this need, Jean-Louis.”)

Louis: Lou tries to gauge the relative sanity or at least homicidality of his spectral mentor. He’s tired though, so very, very tired. Still, he eyes the injured wraith with some wariness as he asks, “Vous souvenez-vous de notre … conversation dans le grenier?”

(“Do you remember our… conversation in the attic?”)

GM: The doctor frowns. It’s an ugly look on an even uglier face.

“Je ne.”

(“I do not.”)

Louis: Lou shakes his head. Stupid, old man, the worm chides him, as he recognizes that the wraith’s wily Shadow would recall but not admit to doing so. Now, you’ve just hurt him. Again. Without needing to. Again.

Lou recalls once again the saint’s admonition to never use the truth to hurt someone, but he feels he at least owes it to his dead mentor.

“J’ai mentionné qu’il y avait des nouvelles que vous apprécierez et des nouvelles que vous n’aurez probablement pas? Vous m’avez attaqué.”

(“I mentioned there being news you’ll enjoy and news you’ll not. You attacked me.”)

“Désolé, Jacques,” he says, again.

(“I’m sorry, Jacques.”)

This night summons too many apologies. Lou’s eyes drop, first in shame, and then in growing unease as he regards the trash bags. He reflects back to how he searched through the bags in Esplanade Ridge for bugs, both insectile or electronic and found none. That you found, taunts the worm.

Lou shakes his head, then looks up at Jacques.

“Que voulez-vous entendre d’abord? Le bon, le mauvais ou le laid?”

(“Which do you want to hear first? The good, the bad, or the ugly?”)

GM: The ghost’s boil-ridden, jigsaw-scarred face stares back at Lou with a resignation only the dead—the truly dead, not the merely unliving Kindred—can possess.

“Tout ce qui est mauvais dans le monde découle de ce qui était autrefois bon. Commencez par cela, Jean-Louis.”

(“All that is bad in the world flows from what was once good. Begin with that, Jean-Louis.”)

Louis: Lou looks around the room, at the carpets, the bed, and other furniture. A hundred little areas where tiny eyes and ears might be eavesdropping. His skin nearly breaks out in a rash from the fact he hasn’t combed over the room. That skin chafes from the soggy utility jumpsuit. But Lou tries hard to ignore all those discomforts. After all, his host is dealing with a much bigger one: death.

He sighs and looks up at his spectral mentor with a fraction of a smile that always rounds down.

“Voilà les bonnes nouvelles, Jacques. Elle était belle…”

(“Here’s the good news, Jacques. She was good-looking…”)

GM: “J’étais vieux même avant ma mort, Jean-Louis. Et vous êtes un homme plus âgé maintenant que j’étais alors,” the dead man answers.

(“I was old even before I died, Jean-Louis. And you are an older man now than I was then.”)

Not tiredly. Not impatiently. Just the indifference to flesh’s pleasures that only the long dead may have.

Louis: Lou takes the comment in stride, and then resumes his tale. The telling is painful for the old man. Not only are the details still raw, but there are secrets, secrets he hasn’t shared with Caroline, or even Chica. Some of them, he’s kept back to protect them. Some, he’s kept back to protect himself.

But now, now he sheds like, and it is a sharp, hard process like scraping off barnacles from a boat’s hull. The worm hates it. It hurts. But life, he desperately hopes, has a way of moving past hate and hurt.

When his tale is told in full, he looks out the window to watch the rainy sunrise. His old bones don’t quite rest in his chair as much as they lay like reliquaries encased in flesh. The old man sighs.

“Vous avez quelque chose à boire?”

(“You got anything to drink?”)

It seems like the only logical thing to say.

GM: True sunrise fortunately remains some time off. Dawn is but a faint glow struggling under a dark horizon’s soggy weight. Lou is well aware that the Shroud will only grow thicker as Sol passes overhead, making Jacques’ own tie to the Skinlands more tenuous. Rare indeed are the wraiths who will discourse with the living under day’s full light.

The mention of “drinks” only elicits an all-too literally dead stare from the centuries-dead shade.

Louis: Since when did the Big Sleazy become a dry county? the alcoholic gumshoe grouses internally, then turns to regard his host.

“Jacques, une pensée ou un sentiment a grimpé ma colonne vertébrale ces derniers temps. Ou peut-être y a-t-il été pendant des siècles, comme une grosse tige qui me draine à sec par millilitres.”

(“Jacques, a thought or feeling has been creeping up my spine lately. Or maybe it’s been there for centuries, like a fat tick draining me dry by milliliters.”)

He continues, slipping the head lamp from his brow and slumping further into the chair, “Mais ces derniers … jours … pas de décennies, Jacques, c’est presque tout ce que je peux penser. J’ai peut-être tort. Peut-être que je me suis trompé tout ce temps, et même si je l’ai atteint au sommet de cette longue échelle, je l’ai trouvé, je ne le trouverais que sur un toit différent de celui que je voulais.”

(“But these past… days… no decades, Jacques, it’s nearly all I can think of. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’ve been wrong all this time, and even if I made it to the top of this long ladder I’ve been climbing, I’d only find it leaning against a different roof than I intended.”)

There’s despair in his voice, a dark liquor that’s taken lifetimes to distill. “Je ne dis pas qu’il ne mérite pas une longue sieste au soleil. Il fait. Sinon pour elle, alors pour tous les autres qui ont payé le salaire du péché commis sous son nom. Mais…”

(“I’m not saying he doesn’t deserve a long cat nap in the sun. He does. If not for her, then for all the others who have paid the wages of sin committed under his name. But…”)

“Mais peut-être … peut-être qu’il est la mauvaise échelle … ou le toit. Peut-être que la Savoie est l’échelle droite. L’enfer, peut-être qu’il n’y a pas de toits, pas du tout…”

(“But maybe… maybe he’s the wrong ladder… or roof. Maybe Savoy’s the right ladder. Hell, maybe there are no roofs, not at least like…”)

The old man stops short of delving into theological waters with the ghost who was already a violent atheist before his death.

“Je suis fatigué. Et honnêtement, j’ai l’impression que mon billet est sur le point d’être frappé, Jacques, alors je ferais mieux d’être prêt à attraper ce chariot. Mais si je pars, je veux laisser la station un peu plus propre pour les personnes qui attendent en ligne. Peut-être que le salaud espagnol est trop gros pour nettoyer. Peut-être que j’ai appris cela. Cela ne veut pas dire que je l’ai bien compris. Ou peut-être que je … peut-être qu’il n’est pas le bon geste à nettoyer. Peut-être le pire, celui qui fait la meilleure partie de la station pue le pire, c’est la pile de merde qui vit à Evergreen.”

(“I’m tired. And honestly, I feel like my ticket is about to be punched, Jacques, so I better be ready to catch that trolley. But if I’m leaving, I want to leave the station a little cleaner for the next people waiting in line. Maybe the Spanish bastard is too big a mess to clean. Maybe I’ve learned that. Doesn’t mean I’ve come to terms with it though. Or maybe I… maybe he’s not the right mess to clean up. Maybe the worst one, the one that is making the best part of the station stink up the worst is the pile of shit living in Evergreen.”)

He looks up, not expecting the wraith to argue the point, and adds:

“Mais je suis un vieux chien qui est trop vieux et trop fatigué pour continuer à apprendre de nouvelles astuces. Si je fais cela, je pense que je n’ai qu’une chance, un sprint, un tour ou deux avant d’appeler le combat, d’une manière ou d’une autre. J’ai besoin de votre aide, Jacques. Je dois savoir passer d’une échelle à l’autre. Un mistep, et c’est une longue chute et un arrêt soudain.”

(“But I’m an old dog who’s too old and too tired to keep learning new tricks. If I do this, I figure I’ve only got one chance, one sprint, one round or two before they call the fight, one way or another. I need your help, Jacques. I need to know how to step from one ladder to another. One misstep, and it is a long drop and a sudden stop.")

Or worse, the other way around, Lou murmurs silently, a cold fist of fear around his heart.

He looks at the approaching dawn and cannot help but see it as a looming sunset. He frowns.

“Vous êtes sûr de ne rien boire? Aucun cabinet d’alcool ou une petite bouteille de scotch ou de tequila que Mariangel a caché?”

(“You sure there’s nothing to drink? No liquor cabinet or little bottle of scotch or tequila that Mariangel has hidden away?”)

GM: Jacques regards Lou’s words with the same unearthly patience he has come to expect from any of the restless dead. But where Tante Lescaut’s void-like eyes stared at Lou with vacant almost-noncomprehension, as if she were looking beyond him rather than at him, Jacques’ shade listens with a rapt, feverish attention too undivided in its focus to be anything but inhuman. The scarred-ridden ghost’s simmering wrath is a nigh-literal force when Lou mentions the prince’s archrival. He watches his old mentor’s boil-ridden sores burst in a shower of weeping, boiling-hot ectoplasmic puss. Jacques, however, merely continues,

“Si vous étiez Vidal ou son salaudier shérif, Jean-Louis, que feriez-vous pour appréhender Louis Fontaine, en sachant tout ce que Malveaux sait?”

(“If you were Vidal or his bastard sheriff, Jean-Louis, what would you do to apprehend Louis Fontaine, knowing all that Malveaux knows?”)

Louis: Lou’s expression sours, less due to the ectoplasmic pus–shower rather than his host “dodging” his second request for a drink. He nonetheless answers without hedging:

“J’ai frappé mon bureau. Avoir des yeux et plus regarder cela. Idem avec la fille. Ils s’attendent ou au moins à me préparer à la contacter. Dominez-la pour être son pion et demandez-la de me conduire dans un piège. Encore. Mais cela repose uniquement sur ce qu’elle sait. Vidal pourrait presser les Warlocks pour faire de Peter des ruses ou des secousses. De même, j’utilise mes anciens patrons, partenaires et contacts au sein de NOPD en tant qu’information, optimiser ou pire. Utilisez la sorcellerie pour tout ce qui précède. Demandez aux chasseurs et à leurs goons de parcourir la ville pour un soupçon ou un soupçon.”

(“Hit my office. Have eyes and more watching it. Same with the girl. They will expect or at least prepare for me contacting her. Dominate her into being their pawn and have her lead me into a trap. Again. But that’s just based on what she knows. Vidal could squeeze the Warlocks into making Peter cough up secrets or help with another set-up. Similarly use my old bosses, partners, and contacts within NOPD as intel, leverage, or worse. Use sorcery for all of the above. Have the Hounds and their goons scour the city for any hint or whiff.”)

He continues, “Et puis il y a Chica. Caroline pourrait leur dire peu de Chica, sauf qu’elle était capable de la jeter et qu’elle m’aidait. Polk aurait pu leur en dire un peu plus, mais pas beaucoup d’autre chose. Quoi qu’il en soit, ils vont essayer cette poignée aussi.”

(“And then there’s Chica. Caroline could tell them little of Chica, save that she was capable enough to stake her and that she was helping me. Polk could have told them a bit more, but not much else. Regardless, they will try that handle too.”)

GM: The shade does not nod at any of Lou’s conclusions, but merely continues,

“Je suis certain que vous vous souvenez de ce que le prince a fait pour que les supposés assassins de Bastien se révèlent.”

(“I am certain you recall what the prince did to make Bastien’s supposed killers reveal themselves.”)

Louis: “Avec cette situation, les deux ont des secrets dont il vaut la peine d’être tué, et ce que l’on n’a jamais eu besoin d’une bonne raison.”

(“With this situation, both have secrets worth killing for, not that either ever needed a good reason.”)

GM: “Alors peut-être qu’un autre devrait priver le catholique de ce qu’il veut le plus.”

(“Then perhaps another should deprive the Catholic of what he most wants.”)

“Peut-être qu’un autre devrait sembler tuer Louis Fontaine avant qu’il puisse.”

(“Perhaps another should appear to kill Louis Fontaine before he can.”)

“Il a vécu une longue vie. Il est bientôt dû pour le remplacement.”

(“He has lived a long life. He is soon due for replacement.”)

Louis: Lou sucks on the grim suggestion. It’s one he’s already considered. Been considering.

“Comme je l’ai dit, l’échelle est grande, et un autre échec ne permettra pas une autre.”

(“As I said, the ladder is tall, and another misstep won’t allow another.”)

Lou grows pensive, or more pensive at least, before adding, “Il y a deux autres chemins, Jacques, je dois considérer. L’un est un ancien. L’autre est celui que je n’ai jamais osé pisser.”

(“There are two other paths, Jacques, I must consider. One is an old one. The other is one I have never dared trod.”)

GM: A severed, infant-sized fist tugs at the long-dead doctor’s ashen hair. He stares at Lou with a dead man’s infinitely patient eyes.

Louis: The old man’s face is creased by age, dawn-shadows, and darker memories as he elaborates, “Dans un sprint final, je ne pouvais pas prendre un nouveau nom, mais un ancien, et prendre son rôle ouvertement. Le Loup de la Nouvelle-Orléans.”

(“In a final sprint, I could take not a new name, but an old one, and take its role openly. The Wolf of New Orleans.”)

“Rassemblez les paquets. Une dernière chasse. Allez dans la gorge.”

(“Gather the packs. One last hunt. Go for the throat.”)

He is silent for while as he lets the implications sink in. Then he continues, “Ou…”


“Je vais sous la couverture, plus profond, et dans la direction où ils sont le moins susceptibles de soupçonner.”

(“I go under cover, deeper, and in the direction they are least likely to suspect.”)

He then elaborates the details of this “third” option. When he finishes, he closes his eyes, and it takes him so much effort to reopen them.

“Je suis fatigué, Jacques. Même si je pensais que c’était le mouvement le plus intelligent, je ne pense pas pouvoir recommencer. Encore. Je pense que c’est ma dernière main.”

The words slowly grind out of his throat like diamonds returned to dust.

(“I’m tired, Jacques. Even if I thought it the smartest move, I don’t think I can start over. Again. I think this is my last hand.”)

GM: Blood steadily, soundlessly drips from Jacques’ gaping stomach wounds. Bathed under Lou’s crimson light, it is almost impossible to tell he is bleeding at all, but for the fact his moldering waist and frock coats seem to steadily shift and ripple—like sanguine rain batting against a window’s surface. The centuries-old wraith neither moves nor changes in expression as he rasps,

“Le loup est mort depuis plus de cent ans. Que doivent croire les chasseurs s’il revient? Qu’il soit une goule—ou l’un de leurs maîtres? Gagner leur confiance en l’un d’eux est un obstacle, mais pas impossible. Caiaphas Smith l’a fait. Pourtant, il est connu comme une goule depuis plus longtemps que tout chasseur mortel encore en vie—et beaucoup doutent encore s’il cherche à défendre la Veillée ou à nourrir ses propres faim.”

(“The Wolf has been dead for over a hundred years. What are hunters to believe if he returns? That he is a ghoul—or one of their masters? Winning their trust as one of the former is an impediment, but not impossible. Caiaphas Smith has done so. Yet he has been known as a ghoul for longer than any mortal hunter still living—and many still doubt whether he seeks to uphold the Vigil or feed his own hungers.”)

“Peu de chasseurs ont l’ambition de renverser le prince ou d’autres parasites plus âgés. Nombre d’entre eux ne cherchent qu’à détruire tous les sangsues qu’ils trouvent dans la rue. Les chasseurs plus jeunes et plus impressionnables peuvent se rallier facilement à vos côtés, L’espoir d’exterminer la ligne de parasites de Pascual et encore moins celui de Vidal: rechercher ces alliés, cultiver leur confiance et orchestrer une grève qui ne soit pas une expédition-suicide à laquelle peu de chasseurs peuvent consentir, cela prendra du temps quand il est pourchassé par les agents du prince, mais un autre homme peut le faire. "

(“Few hunters have ambitions of toppling the prince or other elder parasites. Many only seek to destroy what bloodsuckers they find on the street. Younger and more impressionable hunters may rally to your side easily, but you will need tried and seasoned veterans to have any hope of exterminating Pascual’s line of parasites, much less Vidal’s. Seeking out these allies, cultivating their trust, and orchestrating a strike that is not the suicide expedition few hunters besides yourself may consent to—this will take time. Time Louis Fontaine will not have when he is being hunted by the prince’s agents—but another man may.”)

“Vous proposez également d’infiltrer l’une des factions de parasites. Aussi dégoûtant que de prétendre être l’un de leurs esclaves, l’idée n’est pas sans mérite. Ils offrent un accès à l’information, aux ressources et à la proximité des parasites qu’aucun chasseur ne peut obtenir. C’est un endroit où Vidal ne pensera pas à te chercher, mais le prince le fera toujours, et le Krewe de Janus l’aidera peut-être même. Une goule voyous est une menace potentielle pour leur mascarade bien-aimée vos capacités démontrées. Il est plus facile d’infiltrer un groupe qui, en fait, ne vous cherche pas activement. Même s’ils ne le sont pas, la propre recherche du prince ne peut être qu’une pierre de taille autour du cou.”

(“You also propose infiltrating one of the parasites’ factions. As distasteful as pretending to be one of their slaves may be, the idea is not without merit. They offer access to information, resources, and proximity to the parasites that no hunters can. They are a place Vidal will not think to look for you. Yet the prince will still do so, and the Krewe of Janus may even be aiding him in this. A rogue ghoul is a potential threat to their beloved Masquerade—especially one of your demonstrated capabilities. It is easier to infiltrate a group that is not, in fact, actively looking for you. Even if they are not, the prince’s own search can only be a millstone around your neck.”)

“Vous aurez aussi besoin d’alliés, Jean-Louis, si vous voulez éliminer l’un des parasites âgés. Pendant tout le siècle que vous avez passé seul, quels progrès avez-vous réellement accomplis?”

(“You will need allies too, Jean-Louis, if you are to bring down any of the elder parasites. In all the century you have spent alone, what progress have you truly made?”)

The shade’s scarred, boil-ridden features darken.

“Tout cela ignore la malédiction de Wedo, qui selon vous fera de vous l’un des parasites eux-mêmes. Pensez-vous qu’il va simplement disparaître? Ou attendez-vous de mettre de l’ordre dans vos affaires? le pire moment possible—et nous ne devrions pas trouver de réconfort dans le fait que ce n’est pas le cas du vôtre. mais une autre pierre autour du cou. Le chemin de la main noire pour lever la malédiction sera beaucoup plus facile. Qu’y a-t-il d’autre péché sur des consciences aussi souillées et coupables que la nôtre? parasites et commettre d’innombrables autres. Tout cela avant le danger immédiat que votre malédiction peut poser à vos plans et à vos alliés.”

(“All of this ignores Wedo’s curse, which you say will cause you to become one of the parasites themselves. Do you believe it will simply go away? Or wait for you to set your affairs in order? A mambo’s curse is apt to strike at the worst possible time—and we should find little solace in the fact that yours has not. Not yet. Furthermore, earning the forgiveness of two petty criminals for killing their mother, criminals you yourself caused the imprisonments of, is a Sisyphean task and but another millstone around your neck. The black hand’s path to lifting the curse will be far easier. What is another sin on consciences as stained and guilty as ours? Better that you escape the curse through one act of atrocity, than become one of the parasites and commit countless more. All of this before the immediate danger your curse may pose to your plans and allies.”)

“Les parasites ne seront pas exterminés dans un jour, Jean-Louis. Si cela avait été possible, cela aurait été fait depuis longtemps par d’autres. Pourtant, vous dites que vous êtes fatigué et prêt à fixer la Veillée.”

(“The parasites will not be exterminated in a day, Jean-Louis. If that were possible, it would have long since been done by others. Yet you say that you are tired and ready to lay down the Vigil.”)

Two boils abruptly burst around Jacques’ rheumy-yellow eye. Pus runs down his scarred, wrinkled skin like furious tears. His face turns black again with hate that even death could not quench as he spits,

“A quoi dois-je reposer où je ne le fais pas, meurtrier?”

(“What right do you have to rest where I do not, murderer?)

Louis: Unpacking Jacques’ words is like untangling Christmas lights made of barbed wire. It’s…. delicate. Dangerous. And despite all his care, the words cut him. Deeply.

“Ce n’est pas un droit. Mais ce pourrait être le droit.”

(“It’s not a right. But it still might be the right thing to do.")

Lou drags a shovel hand across his face like a long, rough sigh.

“Jacques… ce que vous vouliez faire… ce que vous faisiez… appeler Sousson-Pannan… ça aurait tué tant d’innocents. Innocents, Jacques. Si nous devenons aussi monstrueux que les monstres que nous chassons, nous avons perdu la Vigile.”

(“Jacques… what you were tying to do… what you were doing… calling Sousson-Pannan… it would have killed so many innocents. Innocents, Jacques. If we become just as monstrous as the monsters we hunt, then we have lost.”)

He balls his first into mouth, biting momentarily before looking up with centuries-harrowed eyes.

“J’ai essayé… J’ai plaidé… J’ai échoué…”

(“I tried… I pleaded… I failed…”)

His hand drops slowly, and his voice is like ash in his mouth.

“Mais vous avez raison… J’ai accompli si peu… trop peu… et je suis… Je suis un meurtrier. La malédiction de maman Wedo ou non, j’ai la marque de Caïn.”

(“But you’re right… I’ve accomplished so little… too little… and I’m… I am a murderer. Mama Wedo’s curse or not, I bear the mark of Caine.”)

A grimace of resignation settles on his face like wet concrete as he regards his mentor.

“Peut-être que tu as raison. Peut-être que Louis Fontaine doit mourir, même si Jean-Louis ne le mérite pas.”

(“Maybe you’re right. Maybe Louis Fontaine needs to die—even if Jean-Louis doesn’t deserve to it.”)

GM: “Vous-ASSASSINÉ-moi!” Jacques roars, his sole yellow eye flashing like a bolt of pus-colored lightning. His other socket’s empty pit bores into Lou’s vision like a furious, pitch-black spear.

(“You— MURDERED —me!")

“Moi qui t’ai sauvé de la vie en tant qu’esclave de parasites! Moi qui t’ai appris tout ce que tu savais et fait de toi l’homme que tu es! Moi qui t’ai guidé, conseillé et abrité pendant un siècle et trois ans après ma mort—entre tes mains! Et maintenant, maintenant, tu PENSE même à abandonner ta Veillée, parce que tu es _TIRED?! _ Pfah!”

(“I, who rescued you from life as one of the parasites’ slaves! I, who taught you all that you knew and made you the man you are! I, who have guided you, counseled you, and sheltered you, for a century and three-score years after my death—at your hands! And now—now, you would even THINK to abandon your Vigil, because you are TIRED?! Pfah!")

The shade doesn’t spit so much as snarl. His scarred and chapped lips pull back from broken, bloody teeth teeth as he expels a foul ectoplasmic concoction of blood, puss, and spit at Lou’s feet. The awful residue is still as milk and honey next to the bitterness in Jacques’ voice. His hate-twisted, red-bathed face continues to rave as his cancerous boils furiously pop and weep,

“Tu n’as aucune idée de ce que c’est que d’être fatigué, Jean-Louis! Toi qui marche parmi les Skinlands, qui peut sentir le soleil sur ton visage, et qui peut manger, boire et rire jusqu’à en avoir mal à l’estomac! Vous pouvez toucher le front d’un enfant sans que celui-ci ne recule devant la terreur! Vous qui n’avez jamais senti un tourbillon se fendiller de votre âme, enduré les cauchemars d’un déchirement ou les murmures incessants de votre Lonbraj! Perdu! Vous qui avez tellement moins souffert au cours de ces siècles que moi, vous-même, l’architecte de mes propres souffrances, oseriez même respirer à mon visage ce que vous méritez—REPOS?! "

(“You have no idea what it is to be tired, Jean-Louis! You, who walk among the Skinlands, can feel the sun on your face, and can eat, drink and laugh until your belly aches with pleasure! You, who can touch an infant’s brow without it recoiling in terror! You, who have never felt a maelstrom flay your soul, walked a harrowing’s waking nightmares, or endured the incessant whisperings of your Lonbraj! You, who retain the ti-bon-age I have lost! You, who have suffered so much less over these centuries than I—you, the architect of my own suffering, dare to even breathe to my face that you deserve— REST?!")

Louis: The wraith’s enraged words hit Lou like a stampede of eighteen-wheelers. His already ravished heart becomes roadkill. Bloody, flat, and burst open. He all but falls out of his chair and collapses to his old knees.

“Je suis désolé. Vous méritez beaucoup mieux. Mérite bien plus. Désolé, Jacques. J’étais… confus, perdu. Je suis désolé. Tu as raison. S’il vous plaît, pardonnez-moi. Je le ferai bien, je ne quitterai pas. Je suis désolé.”

(“I’m sorry. You deserve so much better. Deserved so much more. I’m sorry, Jacques. I was… confused, lost. I’m sorry. You’re right. Please forgive me. I’ll make it right, I won’t quit. I’m sorry.”)

GM: The hatred twisting Jacques’ scarred face subsides. It doesn’t disappear so much as drain away to a familiar level of centuries-old bitterness that no words may ever erase.

“Qu’est ce que tu vas faire?”

(“What are you going to do?”)

Louis: Lou utters an old maxim amongst the Knights of St. Balacou:

“Apprendre. Plan. Préparer. Exécuter.”

(“Learn. Plan. Prepare. Execute.”)

The old man looks up and continues to his old mentor as webs begin spinning in his mind, “J’ai besoin de me reposer, puis de toucher soigneusement certains contacts pour voir de quelle manière les coups de coups sont liés à l’affaire Rempart Rue et ses conséquences. Avec votre bénédiction et, espérons-le, une aide, j’ai besoin de planifier la mort de Louis Fontaine. Après cela, un autre mort, Et j’espère que c’est une finale de plus pour les plus doux de la Grande Faiblesse.”

(“I need to lay low, then reach out carefully to some contacts to see which way the spin blows with the Rampart Street affair and its aftermath. With your blessing and hopefully aid, I need to plan Louis Fontaine’s death. After that, another death, and hopefully one more final for the Sleaziest of the Big Sleazy.”)

Previous, by Narrative: Story Four, Cletus Epilogue
Next, by Narrative: Story Four, Caroline Epilogue

Previous, by Character: Story Four, Caroline XI, Louis V
Next, by Character: Story Five, Annabelle II, Louis I

Story Four, Caroline XI, Louis V

“René Baristheaut and the fledgling have been apprehended.”

Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM

Louis: Chica shouts at Polk as she shuts the van’s back door and helps up the blood-sapped gumshoe inside.

“Shit’s deep, biatch, drive like yo crab-panties’s on fire!”

Lou, meanwhile, provides directions in a voice more weary than weak.

“Left onto Gallier. Now. Road’s narrower and will cut down the number of vehicles that can tail us. One block later, turn left onto St. Claude’s. Keep driving till you see it–and you’ll know it when you see it.”

Chica and Lou then work in tandem, their backs to Polk, blocking her view as their begin shifting and unzipping the two duffel bags with Caroline and René inside.

“Time to CPR yo chedda-flow,” Chica calls back, perhaps even sympathetically before she adds, “But don’t think I’ma gonna forget yo crazy ass bus’ing a cap in ma milkshake maker. Mothafucker hurts like a mission.”

Lou leans over a duffel bag and whispers something low.

“What do you know?”

GM: Like all Cainite magic, there’s no flash or performance to what Lou does. No grand incantations, entreaties to the saints and loa, or sacrifices of animals and obscure reagents. He just demands answers.

The torpid vampire’s pale, half-burnt lips move, whispering secrets that only Lou’s half-damned soul can hear.

Caroline Malveaux is not my childe. Someone set me up to take the fall for her Embrace.

The torpid vampire’s lips silently twist again.

I’ve been working as a double agent for Donovan. He, Savoy, or the Setites double-crossed me.

Louis: Lou’s old eyes only widen slightly–but not in shock. Yet having his suspicions so nakedly confirmed is like drinking the last drop from your bottle and finding it bone-dry empty. There’s no surprise, but the sting still remains. Those same old eyes glance at Caroline’s form.

There’s no time to stare, not now.

There’s no time to ponder all the implications, not now.

Now, a far more primal drive trumps such wants and desires, perhaps the most primal of all:


Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM

Support: In the meantime, a drizzle begins to fall from the sky. Tiny droplets form and run down car windows. A layer of clouds grows darker ahead, obscuring light from badly lit streets. A shadow hangs over New Orleans.

The black Lincoln’s engine roars, its wheels rolling along the wet road. Window wipers swing back and forth. Behind the car’s front window a gaunt-looking man eyes the back of a van with detached interest.

Caroline: The black-suited, blood-drenched bodyguard displays all the defensive driving acumen one might expect from someone that sent half a decade chauffeuring VIPs, blazing in and out of traffic and aggressively ignoring traffic lights.

GM: Rows of dilapidated houses, vandalized cars, broken streetlights, and hollow-eyed streetwalkers madly careen past the van’s windows. Rampart Street’s bleak cityscape can do naught but tiredly stare on. From the corner of his eye, Lou can make out an approaching park. “LOUIS ARMSTRONG” is written over the entrance in dully glowing letters. Gangs of feral youths prowl between the dark trees like predators on the hunt, ignorant of the true, oh so nearby monsters they futilely seek to mimic. Bronze or iron statues depicting a marching band of musicians remain locked in eternal step as the pursuing cars wildly speed on.

The black Chevrolet cuts through the desolate streets like a hungry shark through water. The sheriff’s pale hands spin the wheel with all the adroit familiarity of that same deep-sea predator yawning its jaws wide. Frigid eyes stare implacably after the fleeing vehicle.

The red-eyed priest by his side rasps something indistinct, then clasps his hands in prayer. The black car pulls away, vanishing down a divergent street like some undersea monster into the ocean’s darkest depths.

When the car re-surfaces, it’s no longer a black Chevrolet. It’s a white cruiser with the words “POLICE” written across its side in thick blue letters, along with a crescent badge. The sheriff and his passenger wear blue shirts with black neckties. Police headlights scream red and blue into the night for Lou’s car to pull over.

Louis: Lou regards the flashing lights and sirens behind him. He doesn’t sigh or grunt. But there’s a grimace tugging at his lips like a raw, ripped open ulcer.

“Keep driving,” he says as they round the expressway ramp onto Route 10. Unlike the cramped streets of the Quarter, the interstate is wide and brightly lit.

And not just by the far-stretching line of street lamps.

Dozens of ambulances crowd the expressway. Their loud emergency sirens and flashing lights crash over the raised interstate, interspersed with megaphone-wielding EMTs shouting, “Wake up, New Orleans!” and various other slogans protesting the gentrified emergency service response times to various neighborhoods so ironically divided by class and race rather than distance.

GM: Meanwhile, on Rampart Street, a gunshot rings out. A large gray bird with a bloody hole in its wing plummets from the raining sky like an overlarge piece of hail. It crashes into the police car’s rain-specked windshield, sending the vehicle careening into a street lamp with a resounding crash. The two seated vampires jolt forward in their seatbelts. Father Malveaux’s red eyes burn like hot coals, the blasphemous priest seeming to all but choke on his hatred as he stares after the shakily—seemingly impossibly—retreating bird. Donovan’s still expression does not change in the slightest, but the sheriff’s hands rapidly spin the steering wheel to regain control. An ugly dent now mars the police cruiser’s side.

Louis Lou nudges the bleeding Polk and points. As if on cue, the ambulances part to admit the white van like a brother–especially when Chica rips down their van’s tarp to reveal a similar protest slogan and fires up one of the Ret. Det’s old undercover sirens. Thereafter, with a nod from Lou, they close ranks around them, concealing the van behind their blaring sirens, shouting EMTs, and blinding lights. It won’t last forever, Lou knows. But maybe, just maybe, it might last long enough.

Lou’s thoughts, however, are interrupted by his ex-paramour stabbing him in the butt with a vitae-filled syringe. “Take yo’ medicine, you wrinkly ass crybaby. and get us the fucking hell outta here!”

Louis: Hit by his centuries-old drug, Lou loses the next few seconds. Granted, the past few minutes have taken months off his life, but as René’s drop of vitae seeps into his skin, he shudders, blushes, and swallows down his saliva till all the world tastes red.

GM: Polk abruptly chokes and convulses. She’s burning up from the inside. Liquid fire blisters through her veins as she hacks and coughs up blood. Hellish—or heavenly—mirages swim at the corners of her vision. Dozens of writhing, beating, feathered wings. Burning eyes that glow with the promise of hell’s torments.

Caroline: The mercenary all but collapses on the wheel as only the near incendiary and instinctive burning away of Caroline’s vita keeps her conscious. She lets out a far too girlish scream for the number of weapons she’s carrying, “WHAT THE HELL!” she howls before lapsing into another series of bloody coughs. Fear slides in her eyes and her foot comes off the accelerator, the woman just shy of outright panic and her actions slowing to merely human speed.

GM: The wailing police car finally pulls onto the freeway. The sheriff’s frigid eyes bore after the fleeing van.

In Corbin’s vehicle, the radio crackles to life.

“Do not pursue.”

Further orders sound from the device.

Support: A small, wry smile appears on the skeletal man’s face as his foot eases away from the accelerator pedal. The black Lincoln backs away from its pursuit.

Louis: But when the scarlet fugue fades, Lou’s mind hones to a razor-sharp focus. Sounds of Polk’s bloody screams, the sirens. The red sirens.

Lou rises, old knees protesting with lost days they will never recover. He tears back the carpet, revealing a trap door into the floor. The next few moments are a chaotic, yet somehow preternaturally coordinated series of events that terminate with the ghoul ex-paramours sliding underneath the van’s carriage to a waiting ambulance. Yet before the pair depart, Lou takes one thing and leaves another. The former is the cue stick from Caroline’s chest.

Caroline: Caroline takes an unneeded, but instinctual, gasp when Lou rips the wooden pole from her chest, eyes wide with a combination of confusion and fear.

Louis: The latter is a potentially final word of advice from the PI to his client. It is not spoken, but seemingly carved into the cuestick which now protrudes from René. The parting message is brief. Merely a word and a number:

Lamentations 5

Caroline: Caroline hauls herself up off the floor, taking a moment to reorient herself. She was in what must have been René’s haven. Blood everywhere. Screaming, fire. The smell of gunpowder. René. He’s beside her, a savaged corpse. She remembers the falling star. That impossible speed. And… that cunt driving a pool cue through her chest when she left herself open.

A whimper of terror from the front seat brings her back to reality. The van losing speed. Polk all but panicked. They’re clear some conflagration of red lights behind them, but the bodyguard is a bloody and bloodless mess, her face as white as a sheet.

GM: Outside, the sheriff’s police cruiser screams flashes of red and blue. The Kindred-driven vehicle makes turns no mortal’s reflexes could possibly equal. It doesn’t seems to drive along the roads so much as glide right through them. Donovan’s eyes bore into Caroline’s like ice-rimmed needles as the car rapidly gains on hers.

Caroline: How the hell did he get loose?

She saw those Kindred stake him.

There’s more going on here.

Or that wasn’t actually him.

Or both.

GM: Her Kindred relative’s eyes are another matter. Malveaux’s features are contorted into a festering hatred as black as his albino skin is white. His pinkish-red eyes, never quite human-seeming even when their owner was lucid, burn like blazing coals dropped onto a sheet. The fiend-like creature audibly hisses, thrusts out a skeletal hand, and savagely twists as if he’s ripping apart Caroline’s innards. Polk screams instead as spectral slashes open across her back. The spurting blood runs onto the floor, then twists into two steaming, hate-written words:


Caroline: Caroline leaps over the back of the seats to seize the wheel as the ex-Secret Service agent gives an agonized cry and slips into blissful unconsciousness, buried in pain, terror, and blood loss. Unable to manhandle the woman out of the seat she fights to keep the vehicle from plowing off the road and waits for the already dropping speed to slow to a crawl. The Ventrue’s own sucking chest wound slowly closes.

GM: Lou, meanwhile, drops down his cunningly-hidden trap door with Chica. The road’s yellow-lined asphalt, tinged sanguine red by the blaring ambulance lights, roars past his head.

A second trap door opens on another car’s gray belly. Thickly-muscled, dusky-hued arms haul Lou up into the ambulance.

“Someone called 911,” Malechi states with an impassive expression whose smile still leaks through in his tone.

Past the towering Choctaw’s long black hair, Lou makes out the column of protesting ambulances wailing down the I-10. Their omnipresent flashing lights bathe the highway’s traffic under a sanguine sheen—including the two demons pursuing Caroline’s car, whose neckties and police uniforms do pitifully little to mask their true natures to Lou.

Malechi says something else. Maybe Chica does too. The old man stares out at the onrushing highway, the looming night beyond it, and the uncertain future he careens towards—well past any reasonable speed limit.

Louis: Against that onrushing terminus, the old man’s thoughts start turning like old keys, unlocking silent words long etched into his heart:

Recordare Domine quid acciderit nobis intuere et respice obprobrium nostrum.

(Remember, O Lord, what is come upon us: consider and behold our reproach.)

Pupilli facti sumus absque patre…

(We are become orphans without a father…)

Patres nostri peccaverunt et non sunt et nos iniquitates enrum portavimus.

(Our fathers have sinned, and are not: and we have borne their iniquities.)

In animabus nostris adferebamus panem… (

We fetched our bread at the peril of our lives…)

Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM

GM: Father Malveaux’s smoldering eyes burn impossibly brighter. The damned priest snarls out another black prayer, and pain stabs through Caroline as she feels stigmata opening across her palms, chest and feet—the same five holy wounds endured by Christ. Once more, the blood pools onto the van’s floor:


Caroline: She lets out her own scream as the awful wounds open across her body, blood running freely from half a dozen gaping holes in her pale flesh, and recoils from the driver’s seat like there’s a rattlesnake wrapped around it. The blood is nearly invisible against her black dress, but stands out oh so clearly against her pale skin, running in tiny rivers. The van hasn’t fully coasted to a stop, but she jams open the back loading door and slides out into the street as it keeps rolling, grabbing her sire by his feet as she does so, letting the moving van amd her own weight pull him out with her, broken pole cue in his chest waving like a white flag as his battered body bounces off the pavement.

GM: Father Malveaux’s coal-like eyes flare again. Caroline tugs at the van’s back door, but finds it seemingly stuck fast and unresponsive to her attempts to force it open.

Donovan’s frigid eyes once more bore into Caroline’s. The bond tugs at her—and pulls her head over heels. His voice rings out over the cop car’s megaphone.

“Pull off at the nearest exit.”

The father stares after her, smoldering red eyes still all-but ablaze with loathing.

Caroline: She returns to the wheel of the still slowing van, trying to maneuver the van despite the unconscious and bleeding out woman occupying the driver’s seat.

GM: Caroline breaks off from the column of protesting ambulances, pulling off at the nearest exit from the roaring freeway. Donovan’s car stops behind her. The sheriff gets out and walks up to her window. He’s seemingly dressed in a policeman’s blue uniform and black necktie.

It almost looks as if he’s about to write her a ticket for speeding.

Caroline: The Ventrue heiress looks awful. The sucking hole in her chest still remains where the makeshift stake was driven through it, and the fresh wounds opened by Father Malveaux’s curse all send trails of crimson across her pale flesh, up and down her arms and filling her heeled shoes.

GM: Without warning, a stake plunges into Caroline’s heart. She sees no motion. She’s just frozen again. Petrified. The car door hangs open.

The black ghoul who punched Caroline across the face in front of Eight-Nine-Six is there, too. He gives the staked vampire a very ugly leer before hefting her over his shoulder. He opens the back of the van and throws Caroline inside with all the respect he might dump a sack of potatoes. She painfully lands on her face. She can’t see anything except floor.

Caroline: She rages inside. She came so close. She did everything they asked…

GM: “‘The first tradition: Reveal yourself only to your Kindred,’” Father Malveaux rasps, that awful hate still licking at the edges of his tone like a dying fire’s embers. He murmurs several benedictions in Latin, and Caroline hears bodies being moved. The van’s door closes again, then it takes off.

The drive passes in silence and darkness. Eventually, the van stops, and Caroline hears its doors being opened again. She feels herself being carried outside, then dumped inside the back of another car. It, too, revs off.

After another dark and silent ride, the second car stops. The van’s doors open. Rough hands seize the staked Ventrue and pull her out. The cruel-looking ghoul hefts her over his shoulder. She’s in the underground parking garage of Perdido House. Father Malveaux and the sheriff are present, once more clad in their respective black clothes and priestly habits. Suited security personnel are hauling out René’s and Polk’s motionless forms.

The group proceeds to an elevator. Donovan swipes a keycard and presses a button. The doors ding open into a dark and yawning stretch of hallways.

Caroline: She can offer no defense. Can’t even move. Can’t point out he was in the process of murdering her. Can’t observe his own reckless and rash actions that created the circumstance. She can only rage silently at the sheer unfairness of it all. Of their sudden interest only when the battle was won, of how they set her up, dumped her in René’s lap, and left her to die. She hopes that Polk is okay. Hopes that Lou got away.

But mostly she rages. In spite of all their interference, in spite of everything, she was so close…

GM: “Have you scrutinized the ghoul’s mind, sheriff?” Father Malveaux rasps.

“I have,” the sheriff answers.

Father Malveaux savagely motions with a spindly hand. Caroline can feel the building heat as Polk’s skin turns lurid red. Smoke wafts from visibly writhing warts and boils. After a second, the unconscious mercenary’s head explodes in a gory shower that leaves sizzling chunks of cooked gore, bone, and brain matter sliding down the walls.

The dark-skinned ghoul holding Caroline gives a low, belly-deep snicker and taps an ear radio.

“Trash disposal.”

Father Malveaux wordlessly stalks away from the scene.

Caroline: She would scream if she could at the casual disregard for life.

GM: Donovan answers a ringing cellphone.


A moment of silence.

“Contain the situation pending my arrival,” the sheriff orders before ending the call.

“Leave her,” he orders the ghoul without looking at Caroline as he does something on his phone.

The ghoul wordlessly dumps Caroline onto the floor like a sack of potatoes.

Donovan hits a number on his phone.

“Capitán Gautliterrez.”

A pause.

“René Baristheaut and the fledgling have been apprehended. They are outside the elevator on the 35th floor. I am unavailable to process them.”

There’s another pause. The sheriff does not reply before hanging up. He wordlessly retraces his steps back to the elevator, stepping over the gore left from Polk’s exploded head. His ghoul follows after him and presses a button. Donovan presses some more buttons on his phone. The doors close.

A minute later, the doors re-open receptionist appears. She looks at Caroline’s and her sire’s bodies. She looks at Polk’s gory remains. She says nothing. She does nothing. Just stands and waits.

Time passes. Caroline waits on the ground.

Caroline: Apprehended. As though she were to blame for this. As though she were doing something wrong.

She had him! For a brief and fleeting moment, she had her sire in her grasp, ground giving way to do exactly what they’d ordered.

My domain. As though he could begin to imagine her own sense of loss over Westley. As though his own rage were somehow more valid, or valid at all in the face of her own.

Everything hurts. The bleeding at her wrists, blood running down her hands to drop, pitter-patter on the floor. The blood filling her heels, coating her feet, staining her flesh. The wind-sucking hole in her chest. All unclosed.

GM: Caroline can do little but ferment in her misery and wrath. Eventually, the elevator doors ding open. A ghoul steps out. 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 Caroline can see her reflection in them. Medals also hang from his chest.

The ghoul’s hooded eyes bore into Caroline’s. “Carry Baristheaut,”he commands in a sharp staccato. Once more, the Ventrue feels her will crushed beneath another’s. The ghoul pulls the stake out of Caroline’s chest. She robotically hefts her sire’s body over her shoulders in a fireman’s carry.

“Follow me,” the ghoul orders.

He looks at the receptionist.

“You may return to your duties.”

She wordlessly departs. The scarred ghoul walks back into the elevator with Caroline. He swipes a keycard and presses a button to a higher floor, though the wait is significantly shorter before the doors ding open. He leads Caroline down another maze of dark, bare halls. Not so much as a sound disturbs the pair, leading the fledgling Ventrue alone to her equally dark thoughts.

The ghoul finally opens a door and leads into a gray room empty of all furnishings but for a clock, table, and chairs.

“Leave your sire upon the floor,” he orders. “Tell me everything that has occurred to you since September 1st.”

“You may sit.”

Caroline: She dumps her sire’s body onto the ground with the same reverence the other ghoul showed her own. Getting off her bloody wounded feet is a relief, but there’s little else in his demand. Her secrets are laid as bare before the ghoul as her body and flesh were before McGinn. One look at the charred face convinces her, long before she spends hours relating her tale, that this is not the man to raise an objection with, and she spends most of the time that she’s robotically relating her actions with a growing sense of dread, certain of her own pending doom.

GM: The ghoul patiently listens to Caroline’s lengthy tale. By the time she is finished, the clock reads several hours later, and perhaps several more before dawn.

“You are free to return to your haven, or to spend the remainder of your night however you wish,” he states when she is finished.

“The ceremony for your release and induction into the Sanctified will be held in St. Patrick’s Cathedral at 12 o’clock, September 20th, concurrently with the trials of Gerousiastis Matheson, Gerousiastis Smith, and Questor Hurst.”

Caroline: His pronounced judgment catches her completely by surprise, and for a moment she forgets to breathe. As that moment passes emotions war in her pierced breast. Anger and relief, joy and pain, hope and heartbreak. And questions. She has so many questions. She sits still for a long moment, caught up in her feelings. At last she stands, her wounds beginning to knit, and she chokes back questions and sobs behind a demurred, “Thank you.”

It burns her pride, stings like McGinn’s whip, but she feels so numb that it hardly matters. She just needs to get away. Away from the insanity and horror of this place.

GM: The ghoul removes a phone from his pocket and dials a number.

“Escort Miss Malveaux out of Perdido House.”


“Can I make a phone call for a ride?” she asks, with some trepidation and without the accompanying ‘since you murdered my driver.’

GM: “You may make such inquiries to one of lesser station,” the ghoul declares haughtily.

Caroline: She nods her understanding. “By your leave, then?”

She motions to the door.

GM: “By our prince’s, Miss Malveaux.” His hooded eyes glint. “Maintain the Masquerade or you shall be executed alongside your sire.”

Caroline: She departs without another word.

Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM

GM: Caroline is escorted down to the 34th floor by another ghoul. She is permitted to use a phone to maintain the Masquerade. She calls Autumn.

She is not permitted to leave the floor in her present state. Autumn takes the service elevator up and wraps a blanket around her to conceal the most obvious of her injuries. The ghoul is clearly fraught over the state her domitor is in, and finally asks, “So… what happened?” on the ride down to the garage.

Bleeding from both her body and sanity, it’s hard for the now hungry-Ventrue to ignore the heady aroma wafting off her servant. The hot blood pumping under the ghoul’s veins. She can feel her fangs extending in her mouth. Autumn is just what she needs…

Caroline: The worst of those wounds are no longer evident by the time the ghoul arrives, but Caroline’s eyes are close to ravenous, and she refuses to let Autumn touch her.

She climbs into the back seat of the girl’s car, as far away as possible, and rolls down the window to try and get some fresh air, anything to ignore the tempting morsel dangling in front of her. Once they’re out of the parking lot however she all but growls, “It’s over. He’s in their hands now.”

GM: The minicooper swoops out of the parking garage’s jaw-like gate.

“Wow. You caught your sire? I… wasn’t actually sure if you were going to.”

Caroline: “Neither was I.”

The words are bitter.

GM: “Well, congratulations.”

Caroline: The thought of congratulations is so bitter across her tongue. It scrapes across her raw and thirsty throat. She feels awful, and worse the further she gets from downtown. Dirty. Worthless. Used. Like a filthy rag used to clean up some unmentionable fluid and tossed away.

She looks away, out the open window. She remembers a moment when life was so much less awful. It feels so long ago.

GM: Autumn looks into the car’s mirror. She makes out Caroline’s face, then stops talking.

Caroline: Time passes. At last Caroline speaks again, practical considerations winning out against self-pity.

“I need blood. Contact the Krewe. If I fall on someone right now… I won’t stop.”

GM: Worry colors the ghoul’s features. “They’ll know your feeding restriction, though… I could bleed Aimee for you. Into a bowl, like last time. I mean, when was the last time she helped out? Besides by bleeding out.”

Caroline: Flashes of violence. Breaking glass. Blood everywhere. A ruined face sliced apart. Blood on her own hands.

“It wouldn’t be enough. Just buy in bulk, don’t disclose.” She does some math. “Up to 11 bags shouldn’t arouse suspicion in tracking.”

GM: “Actually… I could bleed Aimee, and then bleed myself too. You could give me a hit later, to make up for it.”

Autumn tries to sound casual posing the idea. But the addict’s want is all-too plain.

Caroline: She’s too tired to even argue the point.

“Call the Krewe. We’ll see after that.”

GM: “All right. Though… they could take a little while. It’s not on-delivery service.”

Caroline: “Get a time.”

GM: “I’ll do my best.”

Caroline: She never looks away from the window. Never faces the ghoul, but at least, as an almost aftermath, “Thank you.”

GM: Autumn actually looks a little surprised by the thanks.

“You’re welcome.”

Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM

GM: The pair pull into Caroline’s house at Audubon Place. Never has it looked more bare. Caesar is gone. Furnishings and electronics wrecked by Wright’s thugs gone. The coffee table she smashed Aimee’s face into, gone. Aimee herself upstairs, mind-controlled into compliance. Autumn mentions that she got the other ghoul to shower and eat something, but she’s been crying a lot.

Turner is upstairs, still keeping vigilant watch over the storage closet Kelford has been locked inside. Caroline’s surviving bodyguard grudgingly admits, “Gonna konk out at some point. Need someone else to watch him in shifts, and Leaf isn’t qualified.”

Autumn bristles but doesn’t say anything, all-too aware of her domitor’s mood.

Caroline: Caroline relieves her of the firearm.

“I’ll watch him for now. Go get some sleep.”

Turner is the only one in the building Caroline doesn’t want to fall upon.

GM: “Not too long before dawn,” the still-injured merc grunts. “I’ll catch a few winks.”

She slowly makes her way into one of the bedrooms, and Caroline suspects will be out like a log.

Caroline then hears Autumn’s voice calling from Aimee’s bedroom. “Don’t get mad, I just… don’t wanna see the Krewe take advantage of you.”

A full red plastic bag lands in the upstairs hallway with a wet plop. The door quickly slams closed.

Caroline: She wants to be angry. She wants to lash out. She wants to make sure Aimee is okay.

But at the end of the day she wants the blood so much more. Caroline falls on the bag.

GM: Her former friend’s blood is as delicious as last time, flowing over her tongue like red velvet. But this time it’s not so much a guilty pleasure. Some part of Caroline whispers that this is earned. Recompense.

Caroline: It’s not enough to close her wounds completely, not enough to make her feel whole but it’s enough to ease that burning thirst, just for a moment. She loses herself in the blood for the long moment it takes her to guzzle it down, and in that moment all of her troubles seem far away. It’s a poor substitute for Jocelyn, but it’s better than nothing, even if it leaves her feeling empty at the end.

GM: “I can give some too, if you still need it… you can hit me back later…” Autumn calls from behind the still-closed door.

Caroline: When she’s done she distantly hears Autumn’s voice in the back of her head, even as she stares at the empty bag, resisting the urge to lick it clean. She looks back at the closet containing Kelford, then at Aimee’s door.

“Come out, Autumn.”

GM: Autumn opens the door with a more than apprehensive look.

Caroline: Caroline drops the bag and motions for the woman to come over.

“Come here.”

GM: The ghoul approaches her. Slowly.

Caroline: Caroline reaches out with her still-damaged hand and touches the ghoul’s face.

“I understand why you did it, Autumn. I’m not mad at you.”

GM: “Okay, that’s… I just wanted to help you,” Autumn answers, though doesn’t look wholly at ease with the touch. “That’s all I want.”

Caroline: There’s a quick flash of teeth, gentle rather than savage, and she feels the ghoul’s hot blood roll across her tongue. The sensation lasts only a few moments before she releases her.

GM: Autumn’s cry of alarm all-too quickly muffles into gasps of pleasure at her domitor’s Kiss. When Caroline pulls away, she’s breathing hard and her cheeks are flushed, but there’s visible fear in her eyes too.

“I’m sorry. I-I won’t do it again,” Autumn apologizes, trying to step back away.

Caroline: “But I gave you specific instructions.” She looks the ghoul in the eyes, but there is only her green eyes waiting, not the Beast. “Call the Krewe. Get the blood. When it arrives I’ll give you what you want.”

That hand runs down Autumn’s face gently teases her wrist across the girl’s mouth.

“I know you care. But I also need you to listen. Or do you think that money matters more to me than your health? Or Amanda’s?”

GM: “But it could take a while, I just didn’t want you on edge…” The ghoul responds, but her heart clearly isn’t in the words. Her eyes follow the wrist like a starving dog being dangled a bone.

Caroline: She can’t deny that it felt oh so good. That even as her wounds close across her body, as pain fade into memory she’s grateful.

“I understand. I’m not mad at you, Autumn.”

GM: “I’ll call the Krewe though, if there’s… nothing else,” Autumn ventures.

Caroline: “But I need more than you have to give right now.”

GM: “I’ll do what you say. Nothing else,” the ghoul readily echoes.

Caroline: “You did the right thing, Autumn. You just didn’t do all of it.” She pulls the ghoul in close again and kisses her hair before releasing her. “Just go finish.”

GM: Autumn doesn’t fight the kiss, but Caroline can feel the tension in her servant’s body as she plants it. Once the Ventrue lets go, Autumn repeats she’ll get on it and quickly sets off.

She returns after a few minutes on the phone.

“I need to drive there. They want me to pick it up.”

Caroline: Caroline has seated herself in Turner’s former chair. There’s an emptiness to her eyes.

“I understand. Be safe. I’ll be here when you get back.”

GM: Autumn looks into Caroline’s eyes and settles for, “All right. See you later.”

A few moments later, the car’s engine sounds from outside.

Caroline: With Autumn gone and Turner resting the house is eerily quiet. The life that once filled it is as dead as Caroline. She’s alone with her thoughts. Lou’s last message comes back to haunt her in the darkness. And his first.

When the dark thoughts grow unbearable, images of Westley’s fate, of Polk’s death, and of her own horrors, she gathers a pen and paper to write some notes for Autumn tomorrow. Her stomach twists at how she’s used, and is still using the poor girl, but beside the greater sins of her unlife, it pales.

GM: Much like Caroline’s ‘life’ after that death, the silence seems to stretch on for an eternity. Turner is asleep, Aimee bled back into a near-coma, Autumn and Caesar gone.

The faces of her victims, all the lives she’s ruined in two weeks, flash across her mind as she writes. Paxton, dead in a hotel bathtub. Trenton, savaged to death mere feet away. Polk, murdered for seemingly no reason at all after her head was mined. Lauren Peterson, the unknown mother and son, sent to the hospital. McGinn’s and Eight-Nine-Six’s ghouls, casualties in the conflicts between their masters. Aimee, turned from someone with a future into a crying, sniveling, beaten junkie. Autumn, already half-damned but with a ‘future’ among the Krewe, pulled under her thrall. Turner, witlessly forced into slavery.

Her brother. Her son.

Some lives she mourns. Some she feels nothing for.

The night is old. What is left feels as if it will be all-too long and all-too lonely.

Autumn comes back only minutes before dawn with a duffel bag full of smaller, red-filled plastic bags. Caroline is out over three thousand dollars, but she’s lucked out. All of it is from her preferred prey, if the smell is any indication.

‘Lucked out’ being relative.

Caroline: Caroline praises Autumn’s success and sucks down the blood rapaciously, chasing away nightmares. It isn’t as good as Jocelyn. It isn’t even as good as Autumn or Aimee, but it is far better than the thin slop she’s subsisted on too many times. When each of the packs is long empty she smiles at the ghoul. “Thank you, Autumn.”

She brings her wrist to her mouth where her fangs still slow, lightly showing red, and makes two pinprick holes in it, before extending the wrist to Autumn.

“You earned it.”

GM: Autumn falls upon Caroline’s wrist just like that. All her earlier trepidation melts away as she blissfully sucks the Ventrue’s vitae, and then all-too reluctantly pulls herself from that blissful font. Her eyes shine in the afterglow. She whispers how much she cares about her domitor, how she’d do anything for her. How she’s so grateful Caroline isn’t mad at her for disobeying. How all she wants to do is help her.

Caroline: Caroline tolerates only so much of that praise before handing off her shopping list to the ghoul for that day, starting with another replacement phone. She instructs Autumn to pick up several given the way she keeps going through them. One of the benefits of Sunburst is that configuring and setting them up is as simple as plugging them into her computer at home and resyncing her data.

GM: Autumn looks somewhat hurt by the brush-off, but also equally eager to please while she’s still riding the “high.” The ghoul makes off with the shopping list to follow her domitor’s instructions. Once again, the house is left as dead and silent as its unliving occupant.

Weariness weighs heavily upon Caroline’s soul, and in short order, equally heavily upon her body. It’s similar to the sluggish feeling she got staying up late as a mortal, but far more acute, as if someone had injected her veins with sand. René Baristheaut’s hold over her life may be broken, but the sun will burn her flesh just as surely.

Nor will her Beast thirst any less ravenously.

Dawn comes—and it’s still a long night ahead.

Many, many long nights.

Caroline: She does rounds, checking in on Kelford, ensuring he’s still securely bound and blind. She looks in on Turner and Aimee. She wanders the shattered home, knowing deep in her core that her remaining nights in it are likely numbered.

Signs of violence from the last ten days are everywhere. The fitfully sleeping women. The absence of Caesar. The destroyed and missing furniture and electronics. The thick shades over her bedroom, which will once again lay empty tonight. Read carefully, there’s a story of a life defiled. For Caroline, it’s something else. It’s a life all but left behind, at last. Tomorrow is a new night with new challenges.

But she can’t deny that things have changed.


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Next, by Louis: Story Four, Louis VI


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