Campaign of the Month: October 2017

Blood & Bourbon

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Story Four, Caroline X, Louis IV

“And what’s that question, why I did this to you? Why anyone could possibly be so cruel as to inflict this monstrous parody of an existence upon any living, thinking, feeling being, no matter what their crimes?”
René Baristheaut


Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM

GM: Chica’s lime-green ‘84 Ford EXP Turbo Coupe pulls up by the curb to Lou’s office. Today, if the interior contents are any indication, she’s probably calling it Whoopty Whoop Yo’ Ass. There’s a body bag laid out on the floor by the back seat, along with a second, smaller, and noticeably bulging ruffle bag that Lou knows she stores many of her favorite instruments of violence within.

Chica waits for Lou to close the door, but not to buckle his seatbelt as she hits the accelerator and asks, “Whozza lick an’ where he at?”

Louis: Lou grunts as the muscle car’s acceleration slams him back into the seat. He looks at Chica, feeling the equal press of years.

“Got to pay a gas bill, Shatoya,” he answers meaningfully, then raises a finger to his lips.

GM: Chica grunts but doesn’t lift her foot. Her driving is usually okay on the days she takes her pills. Those days aren’t every day.

“Where to?”

Louis: Lou gives her an address, but it isn’t René’s, its Paola Quiñones’, who happens to Alejandra’s roommate and Lou’s friend but perhaps most importantly an ‘lineman’ at Entergy NOLA’s electric and natural gas utility provider.

The old PI then makes a sweep of the car, grunting and contorting in wince-worthy angles and sudden-swerve jostles.

GM: Lou plucks out the the tiny microphone hidden in the grills of the car’s front seat heater. Chica’s face contorts into a half-snarl, half-“not again” look of fatigued annoyance. This time, however, his former paramour keeps her mouth closed.

Louis: A less cynical or weary man might look smug. Lou, however, just frowns as the gut-wrenching worm of paranoia wriggles in his gut. He expertly places the well-concealed bug back, then speaks.

“But you didn’t come to hear about me begging for an extension on my utilities…”

GM: “God knows nobody’d give you one, th’ way you fuckin’ smell.”

Louis: Lou pauses for a moment, stung by his old paramour’s words but unable to protest. Alter all, he knows all too well how much truth hurts. Instead, he coughs, then rattles his briefcase pointedly.

“I got it, Chica. The con worked. I duped Ms. Silver Spoon that I found her sire even though I’ve turned up nothing. I rattled off an address in the French Quarter that’s undergoing renovation–and the best part is she can’t go investigate because of being forbidden by her bosses or something.”

He rattles the gator-skin compartment again, then adds, “Or well, that’s almost the best part. The best part is I scored. She gave me a drop, Chica.”

GM: For once Chica doesn’t say anything. She just stares ahead. Lou knows how she scored huge last month, something to do with the Baron’s people, and won’t have to worry about the Blood for months if she doesn’t do anything rash… which is never out of the question.

Lou still notes how pronounced her swallow is. The way her hands tighten around the steering wheel. How she shifts just so slightly in her seat.

Louis: The tells are all too familiar. The need. The emptiness. The thirst. He feels it too, after all. Keenly. More keenly in fact, as Lou’s last ‘dose’ was a while ago. A long while. Too long. There’s a reason why he didn’t bring out the vial. Didn’t and hasn’t flashed it. Multiple reasons.

Kindred aren’t the only ones who frenzy. Junkies comes in all stripes.

GM: “I’m stuffed t’ the gills, Lou,” Chica eventually replies.

She doesn’t turn to face him. Not because she wants to keep her attention on the road. This kind of avoidance is deliberate.

Louis: Lou’s own reply comes slowly, as if he has to reach deep into the bitter recesses of his gut and slowly, painfully drag it out of his mouth an into the painfully exposed air.

“I promised, Chica. I owe you.”

In this moment, there’s no pantomime for the electronic voyeur. The pain’s too real, too personal.

GM: The Green Machine’s tires screech as Chica pulls the car to an abrupt and all-too familiar stop. Lou jolts forward in his seat as the belt pulls taut against his chest. Chica doesn’t grit out the words so much as grind them out. She doesn’t turn to face Lou.

“Drink it now.”

Louis: Lou’s mouth goes dry. He mumbles something about how ‘he can’t’, but it’s barely audible or sensical over the unlocking click of the briefcase. The old man, whose face seems visibly older since he entered her car, stares at the woman, seeing at her naked heart and hunger and love, yes even love for the old pathetic man. But he can also sense the madness lingering at those emotions, the need that’s gnawing open her mind with the knowledge that the vitae is so close, so near, so available. Lou’s hand brushes against the vial. Not his real hand of course, but his prosthetic one. He doesn’t trust himself to get his skin so near to the substance again. Not now. Not when he’s promised. His hook clasps the vial. Its grip is neither sure nor steady, but it raises the vial and extends it to the bleach-haired woman with her manic, yet still so beautiful eyes of black Louisiana gold.

“I promised…” the man croaks. “…and we… keep our promises…”

He closes his bourbon-leaking eyes and half-moans, “Take it, Chica. Now. Please.”

GM: Those Louisiana-black gold eyes bulge wide and furious like cracked saucers as Lou draws out the vial in Chica’s presence. There’s a hunger there, a want, more desperate than any vampire’s. At least they can count on regular meals. The other ghoul’s pupils have actually dilated, her breath coming in ragged, faltering pants as she stares at Caroline’s bottled vitae. She’s not sweating, but only yet. If her eyes are Louisiana gold, it’s boiling and bubbling “gold” right now as they move between Lou’s hand and his face. Chica’s isn’t so visibly old as his, but right now, its lines seem to show every century that she’s lived.

Lou honestly can’t say whether she loves him or hates him in this moment.

Louis: Poison. The thought cuts through Lou’s mind like a cold, jagged scalpel. It’s poison. And he wants it. She wants it. Worse, they need it.

GM: “Fuckin’ blue blood vitae…” Chica hoarsely croaks.

Then without warning, she slams his head against the seat with one hand, yanks the vial out his hook with the other, pulls out the cork with her teeth, and spits it out.

FUCK YOU, LOU! FUCK YOU WIT’ A CROWBAR UP YA MAMA’S FIVE DOLLA HAIRY HO ASS!”

Lou desperately fights back as Chica drives the vial towards his face.

Louis: Lou grunts, the impact and struggle smearing sweat and saliva on the dashboard.

Poison.

This is what it does to them, makes them do to each other.

Poison.

It’s why they keep leaving each other–and keep coming back together.

Poison.

It’s what they want, what they hate, what they need.

Poison.

GM: Lou drives his hook-hand into her stomach, cutting her off in mid-profanity-laden ranting. His other hand shoots out, grappling with Chica’s own all-too full hand. Clenched, sweaty fingers twist and awkwardly jostle. The vial slips out and plummets to the car’s floor like a falling star.

Shared horror flashes across the faces of both combatants.

With cat-like reflexes barely eclipsed by Lou’s own, Chica doesn’t catch the vial, but yanks Lou forward by his dishwater-hair, twists him around, and awkwardly slams the back of his head onto the car’s floor with a painful crack. The vial plunks against his face, Chica’s open hand trailing behind it like a catcher’s mitt. Caroline’s blood spills over Lou’s lips.

Louis: Or, would, if the old man were only an old man. But he’s not just old–he’s got one foot already firmly set in Hell. In an irony which no doubt draws the lament of angels and rueful mirth of fiends, Lou draws upon that same damned power from which he seeks to presently escape. He wills the fetid, dregs of false blood in his aged veins to quicken and flood his muscles and marrow with inhuman speed. He snags the vial from his cheek in the camera-flash instant before Chica’s hand smashes down. The vial flies outward, tumbling, and spinning. Lou tries to clasp it, crush it, and fling it into the mouth of his swearing, screaming ex-lover and fellow blood-junkie.

He tries. But supernatural swiftness means little when crushed to the ground in all-too cramped confines. It’s too little. Too late.

GM: Chica’s reflexes are too slow to react to Lou’s faster-than-human squirming and thrashing. But they don’t need to be, in the confined space. Her hand clamps down over Lou’s mouth—and the vial with it. He tastes the telltale junkie-sweat off her palms. The plastic of the vial. And something else hasn’t tasted for a very, very long time. That he swore he’d never taste again. Chica spits to the side and snarls, her Louisiana-gold eyes mad with rage and a denied junkie’s terrible want,

Fuck yo stupid oath.

Louis: The droplet of damned blood tastes like hell and hurts like heaven. It burns his throat like a falling star. One tiny God-damned droplet crashing into his heart, a meteorite catching on fire, violent and beautiful and terrible, somehow containing all the false joys, regrets, and hopes of a hundred million dreams, something you watch fall and make an asinine wish, like a kid pleading for a bicycle as he watches the whole world about to end. It makes a hell of a crater. It makes a hell of a man.

Lou cries, wretches, moans, and pisses himself in a minute of ecstasy, shame, rage, confusion, and enlightenment that lasts for three hours. His aged body lies crumpled in the front seat of Chica’s car like well-used, but ill-regarded trash. His soul and psyche, however, drift away like spider eggs scattered by the wind, settling and forming miniature webs across centuries and the wider chasms of the heart. His blood-stained lips gurgle and mouth words like a transcendent lush intoning incoherent, forbidden scripture:

“I was thinking about that dame upstairs, and the way she had looked at me, and I wanted to see her again, close, without that damned staircase between us…”

He remembers the first time he kissed her. He never forgot, never could forget, but now, now he remembers. God, he remembers. It was at twilight under the evangeline oaks at the bayou. The sky was lavender and pink and streaked with fire along the horizon. She looked up into his face like an opening flower, and when his lips touched hers, she came against him, and he felt the heat in her sun-tanned body, and suddenly realized that he never had an idea what a kiss could be. She opened and closed her mouth slowly at first, then wider, changing the angle, her chin lifting, her lips dry and smooth, her face confident and serene, and loving. She let her hands slide down on his chest, and rested her head against his. He could hardly swallow, and the fireflies spun webs of red light amidst the black-green tangle of oak limbs overhead, and the sky from horizon to horizon was filled with the roar of cicadas.

He remembers the roar of flames, he feels their heat now, coursing through his old, broken body, his marrow smoldering. He tries to shed his clothes, writhing, on fire. God, on fire! The whole god-forsaken city is on fire! No bells, no bells, no bells, no bells, NO BELLS, NO BELLS, NO BELLS!!!!

He froths at the mouth, a red spray along his tongue, his own, and hers. He tastes her. Hot, red. So very, very red. “Et visum est aliud signum in cælo: et ecce draco magnus rufus habens capita septem et cornua decem et in capitibus suis septum diademata…”

Heaven is silent. No bells weep…

Just an old man defiled and broken.

He weeps.

He weeps for the Heavens.

He weeps for Hell.

He weeps for her.

Above all, he weeps for himself.

Slowly, painfully slowly, he unfurls like a war-torn flag, a blanch-white flag of surrender.


Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM

GM: Caroline waits and waits as the minutes of her brother’s life tick by. Wright calls her back when there’s five left.

“Donovan says you’re drivin’ to Perdido House. Black Chevrolet’s gonna be parked outside. You’ll get in.”

Caroline: A chill runs through her.

“You’re trading me.”

GM: There’s an effected snort.

“We do not fuckin’ negotiate with Tradition breakers. Sheriff’s gonna be pissed if you ain’t there in ten.”

Caroline: “I’ll be there.”

Caroline’s heeled feet are already descending the stairs from Lou’s office, the gumshoe having already since beat feet while she waited on the hound.


Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM

GM: Lou is brought careening back down to earth by a slap across his face and three words all but shouted into his ear:

BUCK UP, FUCK!”

There’s a disgusted-sounding sniff.

“Pissed y’self like a goddamn baby.”

Louis: Lou’s only half present. At this point, he’s only half-dressed.

GM: There’s another slap across the other side of his face.

“You want me t’ change you too, or what?”

Louis: Lou finally registers the blow. Reflexively he tries to block it with his former boxing and sword hand, but it’s missing. For half a century, it’s been missing. His prosthetic arm dangles flaccidly, its harnessed jostled off during their scuffle and subsequent sanguineous catechisms.

“Rosa-” he begins but stops, looking down at his absent limb and mangled mechanical replacement.

He hauls himself awkwardly up, peeling himself away from his own filth and debasement like the rind of a rotten fruit.

GM: Chica looks at Lou for a long moment. It’s been even longer since she heard that name.

“Onea those trips, huh?”

Louis: He tries again, the blood in his mouth hot and pounding like a jackhammer hangover.

“Chica…”

His eyes scan the streets, not in shame as much as slowly dawning remembrance. Coherence. Purpose.

“Help me up. I need… I just need a moment.”

His eyes cut meaningfully to the heater vent and the bug within it.

GM: Chica grunts and hefts Lou all the way up onto the driver’s seat, the previous site of their scuffle.

“I can kick yo ass, sure as hell can lift it up.”

Louis: The old man grunts, maybe even mumbles an apology to Chica. Yet, meanwhile, Lou expertly detaches the bug and hefts it carefully in his grasp. Then, the stained man half-stumbles out the car door.

“Just a moment.”

GM: Chica rolls her eyes. “Do NOT tell me you gonna hurl…”

Louis: Lou sits on the back of the lime-green muscle car, and lights up a cigarette, his eyes casually drinking in the street and its cars.

GM: The pair have left Lou’s office behind but are still in Mid-City. Car traffic is not so thick as it is in the CBD, but Lou can make out numerous vehicles on the road, their headlights flashing through night.

Louis: Fragments of tiny spiderwebs still float in his mind, tearing free of their old, ancient cellar corners.

The tragedy of life, is not that the beautiful things die young, but that they grow old and mean.

How many years ago had he heard that?

He takes a long drag to vainly calm his racehorse nerves and laughs bitterly. “Demasiado largo. Follando demasiado tiempo. Pero ella tenía razón. No en el camino que yo y ella pensamos. Pero ella tenía razón. Así que por todas las razones equivocadas…”

(“Too long. Fucking too long. But she was right. Not in the way I and she thought. But she was right. So right for all the wrong reasons…”)

Lou flicks the cigarette, watching it spin, bounce, and sputter into the gutter, just like so many of his dreams and former lives.

GM: Lou patiently waits for the next car to come along. It doesn’t take much waiting. He steps out into the center of the road, an indistinct phantom all-too difficult to notice at the best of times, and even harder in the middle of the night.

One moment, to a hapless driver, there’s nothing ahead of them but illuminated asphalt. Then there’s a man.

Headlights painfully flash in Lou’s eyes, momentarily blinding him. Absolute dark is encircled by absolute light that spills out to more dark, like an automotive-made halo. The car swerves, and Lou with it, his centuries-honed reflexes faster than any motorist’s control of their vehicle. The car pulls to a stop at the road’s side as a middle-aged African-American man wearing a blue dress shirt and yellow necktie steps out. He’s red in the face as he all but yells, “WHAT THE HELL, ASSHOLE!?”

Louis: Lou milks the ‘crash’. He rolls over the hood, letting his cursed half-dead flesh soak the little actual impact his inhuman reflexes choose not to evade. He rises from the asphalt, his shredded, half-ripped off and stained clothes and dangling hook creating an image that blurs the boundaries between pathetic, disgusting, and horrifying. Lou charges the man, spitting the blood from his bit tongue at the driver’s face and begins yelling back, rambling and ranting about nearly being killed, Chica’ car being struck, and other similarly falsely enraged accusations.

Still yelling, he throws a seemingly drunken punch only to accidentally miss, causing him to unintentionally stumble into the other man’s car, bashing his head and body against the consul and grill, his fist actually still expertly cradling the bug–which he attempts to cunningly plant.

GM: The man awkwardly jerks away and yells back in alarm at Lou’s awful visage, his flailing and seemingly ineffectual assault, or both. As the rancid PI’s bloodied head smacks against the dashboard, the man grabs Lou’s shoulders with the panicked, jerkish motions of someone who hasn’t had any formal combat training and shoves him onto the asphalt. He then all but flies back into his car, slams the door closed, and speeds off while yelling behind him, “I’LL SUE YOU FOR THIS, FUCKWAD!”

Lou’s only half-listening to the words. Now that he considers it, the man’s voice sounds a great deal like his own… that should leave whoever is listening on the device’s other end confused for a while longer.

Louis: A little while longer, the old man muses with a bitter hope and burning conviction.

Just a little while longer…

He scrapes himself up off the asphalt and falls into Chica’s car.

GM: Chica snorts at him.

Louis: “Moment’s passed. Let’s ride.”

GM: “Still got piss on yo leg. Fuckin’ baby.”

Louis: “And your hair still looks a polar bear’s ass. Crack ho.”

Lou gives her a smile. It’s bloodied and ugly, but all the more fierce.

GM: “An’ you’re the chewed-up fish I’ll shit out afta I beat yo wrinkly ass f’ the, oh, how many times is it now?”

Louis: “Not enough, Chica, not enough.”

GM: “Thas’ what your lovers say. Oh, wait. You don’t got any ‘cuz you’re a baby who pisses hisself an’ looks like polar bear shit.”

Louis: Lou laughs, and he surprises himself upon hearing the rising strength in it. Like a man coming awake after a long coma.

“Save some of that heat, Chica. I’ve got another white man’s ass for you to kick tonight.”

GM: “Yeah,” Chica says with another disdainful snort, “cuz yours is way too fuckin’ easy.”


Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM

GM: Caroline pulls outside of Perdido House. The black Chevrolet, a similar model to the Suburban provided by Blackwatch, is parked by the curb of the looming gargoyle-festooned skyscraper.

Caroline: She’s spent the breakneck drive giving instructions to Polk and firing off texts for Turner and Autumn, and slides the black leather bag she’s taken to throwing into her arranged transportation out of the back seat. She gives a last smile to the bodyguard. “Never boring at least?”

To the mercenary’s practiced eye it’s an act. A strong appearance put on to cover up weakness. Her employer is hurting, torn, conflicted.

GM: Polk just clenches her jaw and eyes the similar car. Meanwhile, its passenger door opens. A mirror-shaded man in a black suit and ear radio steps out and wordlessly holds it open for Caroline.

Caroline: She closes the door on Polk and the crisp sound of her heels snap and echo across the asphalt as she makes her way to the awaiting transportation. She extends a hand to the suited mirror of Polk.

“Check a lady’s back, will you?”

GM: “Get in,” the man orders, not taking Caroline’s hand.

Caroline: The pause gives her a moment to examine what awaits her inside the vehicle.

GM: The passenger seat is empty. There’s another suited ghoul occupying the driver’s. The pale, black-haired man sitting next to him does not wear a suit, but a sweater of the same color and dark gray slacks. A sword hangs from the back of his seat.

Caroline: Her temper flares, and her nerves, already worn thin stretch and tear even as her unbeating undead heart quickens in the presence of her regent. Only his presence spares the ghoul more than her withering gaze. She slides into the waiting seat.

GM: The car takes off as soon as Caroline and the suited ghoul get in. Donovan does not turn his head to look at her as he coolly intones,

“Inform me of everything you have learned pertaining to your sire and his activities since your previous night’s phone call to Hound Wright.”

Caroline: She hangs on each icy word like it’s the too-infrequent praise from her absent father, and takes a moment after he finishes speaking to realize it was a demand that requires a response. Then she starts speaking, remembering his response last time to deception. She speaks of the allies he’s courted, the ghouls he’s acquired, and his interest in her capture. She talks about his manipulation of the Eight-Nine-Six in the preceding nights against Caroline until they broke away from him, of the abduction of her ghoul and the plot to use her to capture Caroline. All the while she watches him, eyes shifting from the back of his headrest to the rear view mirror, waiting for some sign of his favor at the information.

GM: The black Chevrolet drives through the CBD’s clusters of skyscrapers, galleries and restaurants, passes through Canal Street’s wide thoroughfare, and continues on through the French Quarter’s low-rise posh hotels, bars, and tourist traps. The sheriff’s car stops a block away from a single-story red building unassuming but for the executioner’s axe hanging over the wooden front door.


Donovan does not turn from his seat to face Caroline throughout her exposition. He does not speak until she is finished.

“I have no further use for you. Leave.”

Caroline: Caroline, despite the lack of physical sensation, can’t help but have her skin crawl. Back in the Quarter again. Back where this nightmare began. She can almost feel the eyes staring at her from out in the street. It just feels wrong. Unwelcoming.

As does the entire situation. It’s too contrived, too easy. It screams trap.

“They’re going to expect this,” she chokes out to the sheriff, the concern for him too obvious in her voice. “It may even be what they want.”

Nonetheless, her hand moves to the door handle, and she starts to slip out.

GM: The sheriff offers no response to Caroline’s words as she exits the car. Once more, she stands naked and alone in the French Quarter’s dark streets.

In contrast to the teeming throngs that were present for Southern Decadence, however, the Vieux Carré feels next to barren of living souls on a late Tuesday night. No motion is evident past the black car’s tinted windows. Sickly green light from the nearby club spills over the Dungeon’s red, casting a ghoulish pallor over Caroline’s pale skin. Her shadow stretches long and uninterrupted across Toulouse Street’s asphalt.

She’s over ten minutes late for Westley.


Caroline: Caroline spares a glance towards “The Dungeon” and sets off away from it towards one of the Quarter’s many open bars, carrying the leather bag she brought with her in one hand. She needs to get off the street, where she feels so vulnerable.

GM: A lurid red neon sign winks out at Caroline from the dark. Saints and Sinners.


Caroline: Caroline flows towards the beacon like a star on a cloudy night.

GM: Leather and red velvet envelop Caroline like awaiting arms. Subdued lights glint from gold fixtures, a bare pittance next to the neon red that spills everywhere and bathes the already indistinct patrons in a sanguine sheen. A band blasts thumping music from the stage in tune to the audience’s writhing bodies.

Caroline: The scene near the stage is too self-indulgent and tacky, but Caroline is grateful for the crowd cover and picks up a drink at the bar before finding a table and digging out her phone.

GM: The bartender mixes up Caroline a “sinner”—Southern Comfort, Amaretto, house bourbon, peach schnapps, cranberry juice, sweet and sour.

“You don’t look like much of a saint,” the low-voiced man smirks as he slides it over.

Caroline: Caroline’s looks up from her phone, from which she’s just sent a text to Lou’s burner. Her gaze sweeps across the room seeking out other Kindred, or their thralls, before settling on the bartender. She’s not exactly dressed for this crowd, but she can make it work.

“Professional opinion?” she asks with a smirk.

GM: A new wave of red light spills over the man’s tattooed arms.

“I see enough to know.”

Caroline: The heiress crosses her legs and looks him over.

“I bet you do. And far more sinners than saints. Even if they walked in as the latter?”

GM: The bartender mixes up another drink and slides it off to a nearby patron.

“It takes a lifetime to be a saint and only one night to be a sinner.”

Caroline: “I’m sure you’d know all about that.”

GM: “You’re right. I do.”

Caroline: A smile as she nurses the drink and he makes another. Upon his return.

“So is this your typical crowd?”

GM: “Sometimes we have fuller nights than others. But the party never stops. Or the sins.”

Caroline: “I’m sure that suits you just fine.”

She looks down at her phone again. Another text goes out, this time to Polk. And another to Autumn.

GM: Polk texts back that she’s on her way.

Autumn confirms the message is received.

Caroline: Caroline casts another glance around the bar after sending off her last message as she locks the screen. Hostile. Uninviting. She feels like she’s back in that alley again with the Eight-Nine-Six. Twisting in the wind. Out of place. Unprepared.

There’s a twisting in her insides as she tries not to think on how much time has passed since Westley’s calll.

How long he’s been in the hands of monsters.

How close at hand he is.


Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM

GM: Lou’s phone buzzes.

Louis: Lou bites back, or at least saves in reserve, whatever sardonic quip he had in store and looks at the phone to read the number.

GM: Caroline’s.

Louis: He motions for Chica to burn rubber, then flips open the phone, cradling it to his ear with his asphalt-scrapped hand.

GM: There’s two cross streets in the French Quarter. Right by the Dungeon, Lou notes. And five more words:

Sheriff went fishing with me.

Louis: Lou grunts. He had expected a phone call, not a text, and it takes the anachronistic man a brief moment to reorient himself to the device. He considers ignoring it, the worm inside his gut more than disquieted by her text appearing mere seconds after ditching the bug. But something else compels his fingers as they awkwardly, one-handedly type back his reply:

You catch anything?

Caroline: Worm on the hook. Sinners & Saints.

A moment later:

I’m afraid.

Louis: Lou curses. He eyes Chica, then the phone. He recalls the perfect arc of his flicked cigarette as it spun its last swan dance. Perfect until it smashed into the oil-slick concrete and iron gutter. His thumb hovers over the phone’s keys. He hesitates another moment only to eventually find himself texting again–against his better judgment:

Tell me what you need.

Caroline: No response is immediately forthcoming.

Then, after several minutes:

I don’t know.


Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM

Caroline: That tattered conscience tears at her like a dress caught in the wind, trying to pull her along or rip free entirely, and her hand shakes. She buries it in her lap to hide the tremor.

GM: The bar’s blood-red lights continue to pulsate, bathing the writhing patrons underneath their sanguine sheen. At the seat next to Caroline’s, a girl pushes her drink away and grogs something about not feeling well. A scarlet-faced man murmurs something, places his arm around her shoulder to guide her off, then fondles her breasts. The bartender absently polishes a glass and glances at Caroline’s untouched drink.

“Yours doesn’t have anything like that.”

Caroline: Her hand snakes out to the girl before she can slip out of arm’s reach. “Why don’t you stay with me for now?”

She should let it go. It’s not only none of her business, but it’s actively the opposite of what she needs right now. She flashes what she hopes a friendly smile to the girl.

GM: The man tugs back as Caroline tries to pull away the dazed-looking girl. “Hey, I’m her boyfriend.”

Caroline: “And I’m her roommate,” Caroline replies, locking eyes with him. “Don’t worry, sweetie, I’ll make sure she gets home safe.”

GM: The man laughs cruelly and flashes Caroline a crimson-painted sneer.

“There’s plenty more.”

He lets go and vanishes into the pulsating throng of bodies.

Caroline: “But not this one,” she growls after him as she slides the girl into the seat beside her and looks her over.

GM: The girl rubs her head and grogs something inarticulate. Her age is hard to make out under the dark crimson “light.” She could be anywhere from her teens to twenties. She’s wearing a tight-fitting, mid-thigh, strapless club dress whose indigo color (it looks more like black contrasted by the club’s deep red) matches her dyed wavy hair.

The bartender smirks at Caroline. “I see enough sinners to know one. I still don’t see any saints.”

Caroline: “Even the devil has standards,” she snaps back as reaches for the girl’s bag and digs out her ID.

GM: Riley Nielsen, born 1991, it dimly reads.

“He doesn’t, I’ve found, though he enjoys fooling himself,” the bartender answers with a shrug.

Caroline: Caroline focuses on the girl. “How are you doing, honey?” she asks, looking up, then glancing at her phone.

She texts out a short answer with one hand to Lou.

GM: “Uuuhhhhh…” is the girl’s only answer. She lays her arms down over the bar, and her head over her arms.

“But you know,” the bartender continues, “there’s one thing I’ve found that drives sinners to play saints. Guilt. Guilt over some sin so awful, that’s crossed so many lines, they feel they have no choice but to make up for it and become a saint. Or at least try.”

Caroline: Caroline flinches like he’s just punched her in the face.

GM: The scarlet-faced man smirks.

“I’m not really one for the ‘wise bartender’ stereotype. But I see so many sinners.”

Caroline: “I guess you see right through me,” Caroline all but sneers back.

“Or maybe I just don’t need to wear a mask. I know what I am.”

GM: “A sinner that knows what they are doesn’t pretend to be a saint.”

Caroline: She leans over the bar, voice just loud enough to be heard over the music and crowd.

“I’m a Catholic, darling. We’re all sinners. And we’re all doing the best we can.”

She leans back. “And among those bests, I think I can draw a hard line at ‘casually watching a girl get dragged off to get raped.’”

GM: The bartender doesn’t quite smirk at Caroline’s declaration, but his eyes glint against the bar’s scarlet light.

“Her ‘boyfriend’ was right. He’ll find someone else.”

His gaze lazily drifts towards the slumped-over girl.

“And someone else is going to find her, if she keeps going out like that. What have you accomplished besides making yourself feel like a saint for a moment, o sinner?”

Caroline: She clenches her teeth.

“I hate to break it to you, but disengaging and pretending there’s nothing you can do isn’t being a ‘sinner.’”

GM: “Hopefully for your friend you’ll still be around tomorrow. And the night after. And after.”

Caroline: “Were you always this bitter?”

GM: “Will you always be this… caring, I think, is the question.”

Caroline: She looks down at her ringing phone and unfamiliar number. “Wouldn’t you like to know?”

She slides the accept bar on the phone.

“Yes?”


Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM

Louis: Meanwhile, Lou fills in Chica on his plan as they cruise across the French Quarter. The buzz of his phone interrupts his line of thought. He stares down at the text and frowns. He checks his mental rolodex on Caroline’s reported whereabouts, but it’s a poor hand: a pair of nines at best. Nothing to wager good money on, much less throw good money after bad.

But sometimes, all you can do is play the hand you’re dealt. Spotting a payphone, Lou motions for Chica to pull over. “Just a moment,” he says, then adds pointedly, “A shorter moment that doesn’t involve car-hopping or asphalt kissing.”

GM: “As if,” Chica snorts. The Green Machine still pulls over.

Louis: Lou steps out, bizarrely content at his visible disarray, and makes a collect call to Caroline’s number. As the operator begins to patch through the call, Lou scans the streets and surroundings for any suspiciously attentive cars or pedestrians.

GM: Lou can see none.

Can see none, the worm of paranoia wriggles.

Louis: Lou sucks his gums, the taste of blood and worse long replacing the rich bourbon that served as his breakfast. A few seconds later, after Caroline accepts the collect call from “A skeptical fisherman,” Lou leads with a question.

“Ms. Malveaux, any change in your situation?”

Caroline: Loud music can be heard in the background, the chatter of a crowd, the sound of glasses against a bar. The Ventrue’s voice cuts through.

“Would you believe my date just dumped me out on the street?”

Louis: Lou’s answer sounds more sad and bitter than sardonic. “He’s not your type.”

Caroline: She looks around the bar and eyes the bartender.

“Do you still have plans tonight?”

Louis: “You know what they said about plans.”

A minor pause, then, “But yes, provided my date doesn’t me up too. For all I know, he might hook up with old ones.”

“But for now,” he adds, “let’s focus on the now. I think you better do some bailing of your own.”

Caroline: “So I’m not invited to the party?”

Louis: “One thing at a time, angel.”

Lou’s next words come out fast, like an old stenographer banging out words with little thought, or at least indelible familiarity:

“I don’t know if you have a ride, but I wouldn’t advise leaving in the same one. If they’re fishing, it’s time to pull a bait and switch, or at least jump off the hook. You say you’re at the Saints and Sinners, ok, let’s work with that. The place is used by the CDC to incubate sexually transmitted diseases, which is why it’s a frequent hot spot for Detective Mouton. Given the date and time, there’s a good chance he’s there. Look around. If he’s there, you can’t miss him. Guy looks like a beanpole decided to grow limbs and get a lip job with all the world’s spare collagen.”

Caroline: “There’s a complication. I have a passenger.”

Louis: There’s only the slightest pause.

“So long as she’s a… civilian, that’s even better. If eyes are watching for you to run, they won’t be expecting a pair and police escort. But do you see him?”

Caroline: Her eyes sweep the room for his described detective.

GM: It’s hard to make out specific people through the crowd and under the scintillating red lights, but Ricky Mouton is hard to miss, resembling nothing so much as a beanpole that decided to grow limbs. His narrow head is only slightly widened by his black sideburns and ‘70s style coiffure. His puffy lips are pressed into a smile, as if life is a joke whose punchline he alone knows. Even the bar’s pulsating red lights can’t hide the almost iridescent sheen that his contagious sleaze lends to his tan skin. His clothes consist of a ballooning yellow silk leisure shirt, a long white leather coat, bell-bottom dress slacks, and brown crocodile wingtips. All things told, the man looks like he’d have a pretty hard time with the ladies, which might explain the falsely eager expression of the scantily-attired woman he’s talking to. His hand is reaching underneath their shared table to stroke an exposed thigh her tight club dress doesn’t cover.

Cash_Money.jpg
Louis: “Well?” Lou asks, readjusting his prosthetic hook.

Caroline: “Slimeball. I see him.”

Louis: “Yep, Detective Mouton makes slugs seem dry as a drunk in a twelve-week rehab. Anyways, that slimeball you see might be your ticket. You see, the boys in blue and those they bust refer to Ricky Mouton as ‘Cash Money.’ Despite what his badge might say, Ricky there worships the almighty dollar.”

Caroline: Despite. Caroline bites back a laugh.

“What’s the approach? Dangle the hook? Blunt or subtle?”

Louis: “Blunt. Give cash, promise more. Make sure you stiff-arm any attempts at sleaze. Ricky’s learned not to lose meal tickets by disrespecting big shots, so make sure he knows you’re a big shot. Say you and your friend need a discrete ride home right away. Have him put whatever ridiculous jacket he’s wearing over your head, handcuff the other one, and lead you both out the back. If he needs any more incentive, claim you can make his current Internal Affairs investigation go away. I have no clue if he actually has one right now, but a guy like him is always flirting with at least five. And that’s being generous.”

Another pause. “He gives you anymore flack with those fat lips, tell him you’re going to make a call to Sal’s wife, Gina. Then tell him, ‘If the dragon ain’t happy, nobody’s happy.’ But don’t use those last two cards unless you have to, since they’re mostly paper tigers.”

Caroline: “Is he read in?”

Louis: “He’s not drinking the juice, if that’s what you mean. Not last I checked. But you don’t need poison to make a dirty rat stink. He’s on more pads than most Ninth Ward prostitutes, so it wouldn’t surprise me if some of the local red-tabbers bribe him to run errands for them. That’s the ugly beauty of Mouton, he serves the higher bidder. So if they have him on a money leash, just bid more to make a tighter leash.”

“Your call. If you want, I can call some cleaner cops to pick you up. But that will take time. And frankly, Ms. Malveaux, I don’t know how much you have.”

Caroline: “Out the back is dangerous.”

Louis: “Front door, then,” Lou replies, nodding to an increasingly impatient Chica who sits in the idling EXP Turbo. “You want me to call someone else?”

Caroline: “No. I’ll reach you when I break clear.”

Louis: “Please do. And Ms. Malveaux, try to not to die. Again.”

Caroline: Caroline ends the call on that morbid topic.

“Trying, old man,” she grumbles to herself.


Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM

Caroline: Caroline shifts her attention to ‘Cash Money.’ She lets the Beast slip a blood-soaked appendage out of the cage, just a bit, a hook, to reel the detective in with rather than abandon her charity case at the bar. Besides, it’s not like she’s going to walk over and compete for attention with his chosen tramp.

GM: Cash Money’s beanpole-like face immediately looks up from the woman whose crotch he’s moved on to fingering. The sleazy, self-contented smirk is gone from his face. Bereft of it, there doesn’t seem to be much of anything left.

“That’s very touching you aren’t leaving her behind like you left your brother, you sickening hypocrite,” the bartender answers with a lazy smirk that all but drips venom.

He’s a lean man. Slightly taller than average for a man. Around the same height as her in tall shoes. Not exceptionally muscled. No excess body fat though. Lean and languid. Ink tattoos, their patterns indistinct in the dark, coil up his arms like incestuously knotted snakes. He’s dressed casually in a short-sleeved navy polo shirt, black belt, and dark slacks.

His face is long and high-cheekboned, just slightly darker than Caroline’s. It’s faded to a healthy tan, yet a century of undeath has simultaneously bleached it pale and left it seemingly neither alive nor dead—the struggle of Man and Beast writ across the contours of his face.

His eyes, perhaps a clear gray outside of Saints & Sinners, seem to drink in the bar’s pulsating, blood-red lights with the same thirst that has claimed God only knows how many lives—one of the bar’s present occupants among them. They glow an angry crimson, promising a damnation more real and immediate than Uncle Orson ever could. There’s a wildness dancing through those eyes in tune to the bar’s teeming throngs. It’s a mixture of cruelty, amusement, lust, madness, bitterness, and melancholy. His crooked smirk promises equal parts mirth and mockery, gallantry and monstrosity.

Rene_Black_and_white.png
“Are you still lost, little lamb?”

Caroline: The Ventrue heiress slide her gaze back to the bartender, all the while keeping her Beast focused on Cash Money. Drawing him in.

“I’m sorry, am I supposed to be surprised?”

She digs something out of her bag with one hand. She doesn’t quite meet his eyes.

“The too-insightful bartender picking a fight with his patron? A little obvious, don’t you think?”

GM: A smirk traces her sire’s red-painted lips.

“Release Cash Money.”

The redbone cop all-too eagerly returns to his impatient tramp as her Beast dies.

Caroline: “What do you want?”

GM: René strides outside the bar.

“Follow me upstairs. Take your friend with you.”

Caroline: Caroline feels her body moving at his command.

“Why are you doing this? Why do you even care, pops?” she demands. She’s waited what feels like years to throw that word in his face.

GM: The two vampires depart the throngs of teeming revelers. René proceeds towards a back door, smirks and holds it open for Caroline, as if to say ‘ladies first.’

Caroline: She unwillingly continues on, the drugged girl leaning heavily on her shoulder.

“Why are we going upstairs?” she growls. “Is this where you explain what’s going on? Why you FUCKING did this to me? Or are you just going to kill me. Again.”

GM: René closes the door behind Caroline and follows her up the building’s stairs. The blaring music and dancing crowd fades to an increasingly low din with every step the pair climb.

They reach the top, and Caroline’s sire pauses to get the door for her again. It leads past a short halfway into an almost ordinary-looking office space: desk with computer and printer, swivel chair, and couch that a motionlesss woman in business casual is slumped over.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t wait for the command. She walks in.

GM: René pulls the woman off with neither brusqueness nor gentleness and lays her on the floor. He motions to the now-unoccupied seat. “Do sit down, Caroline.”

Caroline: She grinds her teeth as she slides into the seat. “Why thank you.”

She drags the girl down beside her.

GM: The barely conscious woman groans and lolls against Caroline’s shoulder. René, meanwhile, pulls out the chair from behind the desk and sits down, facing Caroline.

“Your brother said all the usual things you’d expect from someone in his situation. I won’t bother repeating them. But there was one thing that stood out to me. He thought you ‘understood’ him where no one else in your family did, except for your mother.”

Caroline: Her face twists between fury and grief.

“Fuck you.”

GM: “That you were one of the only two who actually loved him.”

Caroline: “I’m going to… I’m going to kill you. I swear to god.”

GM: René offers a mirthless laugh. “Robert already beat you to the punch there by a hundred years. Still, I was surprised by what your brother had to say. I hadn’t been expecting you to actually stride into the Dungeon, before I kidnapped him, but the way he went on…”

Caroline: There’s anguish written across her face.

GM: “I’m not one to relish pain to the same extent that others there do. But there is a certain… beauty to such moments.”

Caroline:WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS!?” she all but screams in his face. All pretense of pride and composure is gone beneath a mask of rage, hate, and grief, a boiling pot of mixed emotions fit to be called gumbo.

GM: Amusement glitters in René’s wild, now clear-gray eyes.

“All masks, all deceptions, all the little white lies people tell themselves… they fall away like snowflakes when someone is staring death in the eye. When they know, truly know, that their time on God’s earth is about to run out. There’s no longer any point in keeping up the lies, and that’s when you see what a man is made of. What ideals he cherishes. What people he loves. Who he truly is, underneath it all. I relish those moments, Caroline.”

“It was your name Westley screamed past all the blood. Yours and your mother’s.”

Caroline: Her fingers dig into the sofa, and there’s a sound of tearing fabric as Caroline’s teeth grind together. Her eyes well with crimson and the deluge opens up, scarlet raindrops rolling down her cheeks. The creature inside her lashes out screaming, trying to break free, and she holds on only in her grief, clinging to it, cling to her own pain. Refusing to let the Beast have its way. It’s her suffering. She isn’t going to hide behind a rabid animal.

“Is he dead?” she chokes out.

GM: Her sire throws back his head and laughs.

“That’s a child’s fantasy. No, you made your choice for poor Westley. It’s not the one he would have made for you if his last words were any indication.”

“You’d know better than me, though. Was he really that selfless, or just desperate for whatever scraps of affection someone in your family tossed his way?”

Caroline: “What did you do to him?”

GM: “Enough that he was begging to die rather than live by the the end.”

Caroline: “I HATE YOU!” she snarls, blood dripping from her face. “WHY!? WHY ARE YOU DOING ALL OF THIS?!”

GM: “Why didn’t you do anything for your brother?” René poses. “Do you enjoy this life, enough for it to be worth more than his? Or are you simply afraid to die and go somewhere even worse?”

Caroline: A crack appears in her enraged mask, but only for a moment. “You wouldn’t have let him go.”

GM: “Oh, I’m sure that’s easy to believe, Caroline. Or at least something you’d like to believe. Lets you wash your wash of him, keep your conscience clean. But wouldn’t the alternative be so much worse?”

Caroline: “They’ll catch you. Eventually.” She shakes her head. “Regardless of what you do to me. They’ll catch you. And you’ll burn with me.”

GM: Her sire gives another bleak laugh. “We’re all going to burn. Maybe in two weeks, maybe in a hundred years, maybe in a thousand. But unless you don’t believe in God, there’s going to be a final reckoning for all of us. Immortality is a lie.”

Caroline: “You know I believe in God.”

GM: “Then you know it’s not a matter of if, but when.”

Caroline: “Then I’ll take cold comfort in the fact that I’ll see you in Hell.”

If Caroline were alive at this point, she might be sobbing. She might be spraying snot everywhere. Instead there’s only blood rolling down her face. Rivers of blood.

GM: “A very cold comfort, if Dante was right,” René smiles. “Betrayers to family, after all, are condemned to the second ring of the ninth circle of hell. It’s quite a chilly place.”

Caroline: “Why? Why do this? Isn’t this existence awful enough? How could you do this to someone? Why me?”

GM: “You know,” René blithely continues, “to a casual reader, how Dante assigned sins to hells appears completely arbitrary. But there’s actually a very precise order to it. The cardinal of all virtues to Dante, you see, was love.”

Caroline: “Did you just want to destroy someone? Ruin their lives and everything they ever touched? Everyone?”

GM: “The hells are ranked according to the degree by which they are removed from love. So lust occupies the uppermost circle—Limbo notwithstanding—as it’s simply ‘misguided’ love. While Cocytus occupies the lowest circle for reasons you’re far more personally acquainted with than I am. Because traitors twist love, use it to hurt those who loved them, and consequently reject it to the greatest degree.”

René smiles and traces one of the faded ink tattoos over his arms. “Semper fidelis. I’m sure you know the saying, one of your ghouls is a former Marine.”

Caroline: “Congratulations. You succeed. You ruined me,” she spits. “You fucking coward.”

She focuses on her rage. Her hate. On anything to avoid thinking about Westley’s last moments. On what he must have gone though. What he must have thought.

GM: “Also a far less grave sin, if Dante was right. But we’ve strayed from the subject, Caroline. Do you actually enjoy this life, or are you simply afraid to face what comes next?”

Caroline: “What does it matter? What do you care?”

GM: “I suppose it doesn’t, in the end. We’re both going to burn.” He smiles. “Or freeze.”

Caroline: “Do you just want some other way to torture me, René? Looking for your next dagger?”

GM: “No, I’m sure your brother’s fate wounded you more deeply than anything I can say here.”

Caroline: “You’re a monster.”

GM: “The retort to that is rather obvious, isn’t it? On the other hand, I’ve never left any of my brothers behind to die.”

Caroline: “If I thought, for a moment, that I could save him I’d have been there.”

GM: “Mmm. You could have tried to negotiate with me. You can’t ever replace a brother, true, but it’ll take my entire Requiem twice over to replace Kelford. He’d have been quite an asset to bargain with.”

Caroline: “This would be the part where I’d taunt you about him, but I’m not a fucking monster like you. He cared about you. Loved you. For a century.

GM: “No, just someone who abandoned her own flesh and blood when he needed her most. And please, if you’re mistaking the blood bond for love, it’s as close to that as we are to being human.”

Caroline: “He said he was worried about you. How you’d become so self-loathing.”

GM: “Well, perhaps if he’s lucky he’ll get to roast in one of the upper hells.”

Caroline: “You still haven’t answered my question.”

GM: “And what’s that question, why I did this to you? Why anyone could possibly be so cruel as to inflict this monstrous parody of an existence upon any living, thinking, feeling being, no matter what their crimes?”

Caroline: She says nothing, only stares at him. The tears have stopped, for now, but the blood remains, awful rivers charted down her porcelain face.

After a moment, “And why bring Westley into it. Why did you care about capturing me? What’s the point of this?”

GM: René leans back in his chair.

“Well, I’ll say this much to begin with, it wasn’t out of some misguided religious zeal. If you ask me, which you have, I think the Sanctified’s entire dogma is a load of claptrap. Not that God cursed us, or that we’re monsters, but that He’d actually trust creatures as flawed and broken as us to do His work. We simply aren’t very good tools. How many of our kind really only prey upon sinners? How many innocents have you murdered in all of two weeks?”

Caroline: Her face hardens.

“One.”

GM: “That’s leaving out poor Westley, but congratulations, you’re walking proof the Sanctified are deluding themselves.”

Caroline: “They would disagree.”

GM: “Oh yes, and they’d punish me for speaking blasphemy too, but that’s among the least of my sins.”

“That wasn’t an ‘I disagree,’ though. You haven’t bought into their little fantasy that our existence has purpose, have you?”

Caroline: “I don’t know. I’ve been too preoccupied to bury myself in dogma. I do know that my… victim,” the word does not come out easily, “wasn’t what they would describe as an innocent though.”

GM: “Did they deserve death, then? Were you a righteous wolf of God, dispensing His judgment upon a wayward sinner?”

Caroline: “I was starving and in agony, and completely out of control. Is that God acting through me?”

The words sound hollow even to her.

“It doesn’t really matter, does it? Not right now. Not to either of us. Either you’ll kill me or they will. Either I’ll kill you or they will. Either way, I’m not sure it’s a productive topic for contemplation in our final hours.”

GM: “If you ascribe to the idea that God is present in or simply acts through the Beast, how do you explain the Sanctified being perfectly willing to frenzy at the people Longinus says not to kill? Wave vitae in front of a starving Kindred and they’ll lose control, God’s will be damned.”

Caroline: “You want a firm answer? I don’t think God would let us exist without some purpose. Maybe though if you’d hung around instead of leaving me I wouldn’t have ended up with what you consider the wrong crowd.”

GM: “Oh, I could care less which of the covenants’ drivel you fill your ears with, I’m probably going to kill you in a few minutes.”

Caroline: “Then tell me why in the hell you did it in the first place!” The anger is back.

GM: René sits down on the couch across from Caroline and lifts up her chin with a slender hand. His eyes travel the length of her face.

“You’re beautiful, you know. I’m sure you do. Death becomes you.”

Caroline: “As beautiful as a corpse when a mortician is done with it.”

GM: “Yes. But those last only so long before crumbling apart. Besides. Even dead, there’s a life to you no mortician’s hand could impart.”

Caroline: “Why did you have to drag my family into it? Why couldn’t you just ruin me? Kill me? Embrace me? Whatever the hell you wanted. Why ever you wanted?”

GM: René hasn’t removed his hand from Caroline, continuing to study the contours of her face.

“Well, Westley was to get you here. Which it still did, I might add. Donovan will be just at home as you in Hell’s lowest circle. I think the temperature rather becomes him already.”

Caroline: “What are you talking about?”

But she already knows. Or at least suspects.

“Either he set me up, or you used me to set him up. Or both.”

GM: René smirks and finally withdraws his hand.

“Yes, those things do get to be a rather incestuous mess where our kind are concerned. Plots within plots crossbred with other plots. You ask me, the whole thing is worth swearing off, but I suppose it’s inevitable you’ll get pulled back in too. Such is the Jyhad.”

Caroline: “The what?”

GM: “The Jyhad. The Great Game, the Eternal Struggle, the Danse Macabre, or whatever sobriquet you want to call it by. I think ‘petty bickering’ is the most fitting, but what else are our kind supposed to do with eternity if we can’t bicker?”

René offers a sallow parody of a smile.

“Let it not be said I haven’t taught my childe anything.”

Caroline: “Are you done gloating, then? Going to leave me as you found me? In the dark.”

GM: “Mmm. Tell you what, Caroline, when you’re a moment away from being ashes, I’ll whisper it in your ear. But if things don’t turn out that way, well, I am petty enough to think it’s amusing if you never find out.”

Caroline: “So, what are we waiting for then, dad. Having trouble getting it up?”

GM: “If you’d like, I can try my hand on your friend and see.”

René smiles as he glances towards the slumped-over girl on the couch.

Caroline: Caroline’s mouth slams shut.

GM: Her sire laughs.

“Pick her up.”

Caroline: She mechanically complies.

GM: René walks behind the room’s desk, strips off his shirt, and pulls on a long-sleeved white dress shirt and casual dark outer jacket. He smiles back at Caroline.

Caroline: “Leave her the fuck alone!”

GM: “Robert always thought I was something of a clotheshorse. Said a Toreador probably would’ve Embraced me if he hadn’t. But depending on how things turn out, well, I may as well meet my end well-dressed.”

Caroline: She grinds her teeth.

GM: René picks up a cane and pulls out the handle, revealing a slender blade. He turns it over, puts it back, and hooks the cane to his belt.

“Always check your weapons.”

He then picks up a wooden stake and looks it over in turn.

Caroline: She can do little but watch.

GM: “It’s time for us to go. In…” He glances down at his watch. “Three, two, one…”

The office’s door explodes open.

An eyeblink passes. René is crouched over a body on the floor. There’s two more bodies, suited men wearing mirrored shades, missing their heads. Caroline spots them several feet away. Blood leaks from their amputated necks. More blood is spattered over the couch and desk.

René pulls away. The corpse on the ground is Donovan, with a stake in his chest. Caroline’s sire looks up. There’s several more figures past the doorway. Dark men, with darker smiles. Blades in their hands. Kindred.

René nods at them. “Well done. He’s all Savoy’s.”

“Now, my childe and I have somewhere to be.”

Caroline: “Donovan!” Caroline croaks out. “Who are they? What did you do?”

GM: One of the beshadowed men offers René a dead smile.

“May the Ghede continue to bless you.”

“Yes, I’m sure they will. Caroline, follow.”

Caroline: She robotically follows after her sire, drugged woman in hand.

GM: “And please, you know he wouldn’t be crying over you.”

Caroline: Caroline looks down as she goes. Care about her or not, Donovan was her last hope here. Her last real hope. After all, what’s a washed-up, one-handed old bum going to do?


Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM

Louis: Lou’s barely stepped off the curb when his pink bedazzled burned lights up. Lou curses, but flips open the phone. What he hears, however, causes him to curse a lot more. Silently, but no less furiously.

GM: Chica rolls her eyes. “You havin’ a fight wit’ your boyfriend over that?”

Louis: In a flurry of movements that would ordinarily seem impossible for the decrepit drunk, Lou mutes his phone, jams it against his ear, races to Chica’s car, barreling his torso through the rolled down driver’s side window, and explains the situation as he steals enough coinage to make a single call from the payphone. A preternaturally short time later, Lou’s punching in a number he hadn’t expected to call. Not tonight at least.

GM: “Who the fuck izzis?” snaps a man’s voice.

It’s the last thing he says. Lou has to check to make sure he’s not been disconnected. Wright’s kind, after all, don’t breathe.

Louis: The PI doesn’t answer, not with his own words. Not yet at least. He turns the phone, angling it and increasing its volume so that the hound can hear Caroline explain in her own all-too raw words:

“Why are we going upstairs? Is this where you explain what’s going on? Why you FUCKING did this to me? Or are you just going to kill me. Again.”

Lou lets the clandestine, if makeshift conference call continue for just long enough so he’s sure Wright understands the situation–or at least the players involved. Lou then cuts in, supplying another key piece of information: the setting. “Upper floor, Saints and Sinners.”

He listens for a response.

GM: None is forthcoming.

Louis: By the time René laughs and explains how Robert already beat Caroline “to the punch there by a hundred years” and explains kidnapping and torturing her brother in the Dungeon, Lou cuts in a second time.

“Either piss or get off the pot. The party line’s about to die.”

GM: There is still no response.

Louis: Lou no longer waits for one. He hangs up.

GM: Chica waits impatiently from the Green Machine.

Louis: She doesn’t have to wait long. Lou all but leaps into the car.

“Drive, Chica, drive like the motherfucker of all fucking bleeding periods is about to hit.”


Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM

GM: The two vampires proceed down the stairs. The music’s pounding and crowd’s roar washes back over them. René does not leave through the bar’s entrance, but takes a back door out, methodically scanning his surroundings with the same careful look Caroline has seen Turner wear.

Caroline: “You’re making a play. For who?”

GM: “Myself. I’ve debts to pay. The sheriff more than pays them back.”

“Oh, now let’s take care of how he found us.”

René reaches into Caroline’s purse and smashes her phone against the building’s outside wall. He drops the ruined device into a trash bin.

Caroline: She glowers behind a crimson-stained face.

GM: Her sire tsks. “I’m sure you can afford another. Did you even check to see if that thing was being used as a listening device?”

Caroline: “I’d rather hoped it was.”

GM: René looks up at the waiting cab. He gets in, followed by Caroline and the all-but unconscious girl she’s dragging along. The driver gapes at Caroline’s bloody face, only for René to curtly order him to drive them to a Rampart Street address. The man instantly settles down and complies. The French Quarter’s dark cityscape speeds past.

Caroline: “Who’s your actual target, René? You used me to draw out the sheriff. Used the Setites to take him down. Used Savoy… and still are. You came back here for a reason.” Caroline’s mind is working, her emotions pushed back.

GM: René methodically continues to scan the surrounding streets, his eyes not meeting Caroline’s.

“Well, I’m getting the hell out now. God knows I’m not going to be welcome after staking the sheriff.”

Caroline: She reads off a street sign as she passes, then another, quietly, trying to make sense of their destination. “So where are you going?”

GM: “Anywhere but here, really. Maybe Los Angeles. I’ve always liked the sun.”

Caroline: She snorts darkly in spite of herself.

“Do it in the city. Please.”

GM: René’s eyes are still fixed on the surrounding streets.

“What? Oh, of course, it’s a needless loose end hauling you across the country. Travel is hard enough with just one Kindred.”

“Word of advice, if you ever do. It’s about as dangerous for us now as it was for the kine a thousand years ago. Weeds out the weak and insincere, though. Only the strong and committed make it in the dark places between cities. Where no prince rules.”

Caroline: “Seems pretty unlikely right now. But I know what happens when we die again. I’d rather not have my ashes scattered all over some swamp.”

GM: “Would you like them in an urn? I can have it sent to your family.” Caroline can’t tell if he’s mocking.

Caroline: She gives another snort. “What a mystery this is going to be. The stories they’ll tell.”

The weight of it all comes crashing down on her, and she’s grateful she’s facing away, out the window, where he can’t see her tears.

“The missing Malveaux.”

GM: “The missing Malveauxes,” her sire corrects.

Caroline: She has nothing further to say to that.

GM: On the west side of the French Quarter is Rampart Street, favored by the Kindred because of its easy prey. A divided, two-lane road, the sorry section of the French Quarter is known for the prostitutes, pushers and junkies who regularly hang out there. It’s the gutter that Bourbon Street’s sleaze runs off to.

Caroline: “Never thought I’d end up in a gutter.”

GM: “You’d be surprised at the places this existence can take you.”

Caroline:Oh, the Places You’ll Go? I hated that book.”

GM: René only gives her a blank look.

Caroline: “Really? You… of course not.”

GM: The cab stops outside a run-down apartment complex marred by graffiti, peeling paint, and crusty-haired gutter punks sleeping in the streets. René orders Caroline to wipe her face and then tells the driver how he ferried some perfectly ordinary passengers from Point A to Point B. The driver nods calmly along at René’s words. He even pays the man as he gets out with Caroline and their all-but unconscious third wheel.

“It’s little touches like that, you know, to maintain the Masquerade. I don’t imagine you’ve had anyone to teach you.”

Caroline: She does the best she can, using the car window as a mirror as René deals with the driver.

“No. I didn’t. I got to pay in blood for all of my mistakes. Too often not my own.”

GM: “The Lasombra believe in survival of the fittest. Facing trials by fire. Maybe there’s something to that if you managed to eliminate my elder ghoul.”

Caroline: “That was a nasty touch, shooting at me right after Eight-Nine-Six attacked.”

GM: The two make their way up the apartment’s stairs.

“Yes, I’m sure it was. And now they’re being executed for violating the Masquerade, while you are blameless.”

Caroline: She frowns but says nothing.

GM: The pair proceed down a filthy, debris-strewn hallway lined with doors that aren’t numbered. Black mold grows on the peeling walls. The place has barely been maintained. Caroline can hear something, though, past the door of the unit René approaches. Heartbeats. Pumping that precious blood through veins.

René abruptly turns and retreats back down the hall, motioning for Caroline to follow. His hand clasps the hilt of his swordcane.

Caroline: “Things suddenly not going according to plan?” she asks.

GM: “Be quiet,” her sire hisses in a low voice. The two begin to make their way back down the stairs.

Caroline: She can do little besides comply, but a hint of a smile rolls across her face.

GM: “Attack anyone who assaults me,” René whispers. He produces a hand knife and extends it towards Caroline.

Caroline: She makes no move to take the knife.

GM: “Take it,” he impatiently orders.

Caroline: Reluctantly she does so. Or at least, with mental reluctance. Physically her actions remain on autopilot.

GM: The two vampires make their way down to the building’s equally dilapidated ground story. René approaches the front door. He pauses for a fraction of a second, clearly listening, and then pulls it open with his sword drawn.

Louis: The door slowly opens to reveal the inviting darkness of night. But a man stands in their way. He’s dressed in the gray-bland service uniform of Entergy Gas and Electric Utilities. He’s old. He hefts a gator-skinny briefcase to his chest and asks with a grim grin,

“Excuse me, sir, but do you have time to hear about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?”

He doesn’t wait for the answer, though, just flips open the briefcase to one-handedly grip a pistol-handed sawed-off shotgun which he promptly points at René.

GM: Revulsion twists René’s face at the crucifix around Lou’s neck. He doesn’t so much as pause before running the old man’s belly through with his sword in a barely visible blur.

But the motion is suddenly arrested as if by an invisible barrier. The blade swings, jerkingly, as René stumbles in place.

Caroline: The woman that pokes her head out of a door from which René backed away is is dressed in a conservative business suit. The shotgun in her hand is not conservative, nor is the rifle strapped across her chest but hanging to her side. The shotgun belches flame at the sword-armed man.

Caroline unwillingly and mutely leaps at Polk, knife flashing at the talented bodyguard. It comes up woefully short.

GM: The dragonsbreath rounds explode into René, leaving burning holes in his chest and turning his black jacket into a funeral pyre. The burning monster lets loose in an unintelligible howl and blurs up the stairs, his blade moving too fast to follow. Screams and thudding footsteps sound from inside the apartment units.

Louis: Yet, before the inhumanly fast vampire so escapes, the old man also moves with inhuman grace or at least hellish power to aim and fire his own shotgun filled with dragonsbreath. The wooden cross around his neck swings, his heart beats, and his bourbon eyes soak in the screams and burning flesh.

Caroline: The knife against snakes out with inhuman quickness despite the frown and frustration plastered across Caroline’s face. Fortunately, for all her swiftness, Polk is better trained. It finds no purchase in the former Secret Service agent.

Louis: The same former secret service agent is suddenly yanked inside the room by Chica, who herself steps back inside the blood-smeared room, a sword-cane wickedly gleaming in her other hand.

“Come get yo white ass slapped like yo motha fucka daddy did!”

GM: Lou’s shotgun roars with all the fury of a true wyrm, belching a veritable column of fire at the staircase. René is gone the moment the hot shell casings eject, but the old hunter notes with some satisfaction how his preternaturally fast (and still-burning) prey shrieks and stumbles, then re-apparates in front of Polk. None of the combatants can even follow his sword’s motions. One moment, the former Secret Service agent is fending off her own employer. The next, she’s a ravaged bleeding mess, all but ready to topple over.

René bares his fangs, letting out a strangled scream that, for once, sounds more human than bestial. The other combatants can’t make out his motions. There are crashing sounds against the floor and walls, then suddenly his jacket’s roaring flames are extinguished, though his clothes themselves remain charred tatters. His eyes bulge, nearly mad with the effort to contain his Beast.

Caroline: The ex-Secret Service agent doesn’t need to look to know she’s been hurt badly. Warm blood runs across her skin and soaks through her white shirt. She snaps off another booming, red-hot round in the narrow confines of the building, the weapon smoking in her hand.

“Incoming,” Polk growls to Chica. “Multiple vehicles.”

Louis: Lou surreptitiously drops the shotgun in the bushes as the black vans pull up. His hale hand rests lightly on his sabre beneath his jumpsuit.

Caroline: Caroline leaps past her sire into the room after her employee. The knife’s reach is all wrong for her, or maybe her heart isn’t in it as she fights against her sire’s programming. Whatever the case, her woes continue.

GM: René barely dodges Polk’s shotgun blast, and the dragonsbreath rounds only leave further scorches across his already perforated torso. Caroline’s sire looks like nothing so much as a walking burn victim. His clothes hang off his blackened, bullet-chewed chest in tatters, and enough hair is incinerated that he’s almost bald. He shows far too many teeth as he stares at Caroline and snarls,

“Dominate everyone into killing each other.”

The older Ventrue abruptly vanishes in place as if he were never there. The building’s fire escape bursts open as if by a poltergeist.

Louis: Another ghost follows after him.

The old man pushes his body beyond its limits, the vitae in his veins bleeding away like Louisiana fog at noonday. His skin tightens, his gums withdraw, his hair whitens and thins, as he burns away his mantle of false sanguineous life. No mortal man could or should ever run so fast, so far. His scream tears from his own mouth, disappearing in the stream of sliced air in front of him. Driven by a drive and desperation honed by centuries, the old man overtakes the fleeing ancilla.

Then, there’s a bright flash of old steel, a glint in the darkness like a falling star.

GM: For the others, it happens too fast to process.

For two men, time slows to a crawl.

To them, Lou’s blade seems to hang suspended in the air, in defiance of gravity, of human limitations, of all the self-important laws of physics that are woefully incapable of describing reality as it truly is. The rest of the world stares on at them, frozen in place, a snapshot of eternity that could last for ten milliseconds or ten thousand years.

René Baristheaut stares back at the old man, who in this out-of-time instant has no need for the false names that are so transient.

There’s much that’s written on his face. Pain. Fury. Fear. The cardinal three, right now. And hate. Bitterness. Loss. Despair. Madness. Disdain. Mockery. Amusement—black, bitter, and howling with laughter at his own fate, at Lou’s, at Caroline’s, mocking and laughing at it all, because if he didn’t laugh, the only alternative would be to weep—and once René started, once he saw his race for what it truly was, he might not ever stop.

Lou knows. He’s seen Caine’s children for what they are.

The blade falls.

He knows them for what they are. Monsters. No matter how they try to coat it.

The blade falls.

Not all the excuses, not all the rationalizations, not all the mockery in the world can hide it from him.

The blade falls.

René stares back up at Lou’s face. Perhaps he seeks some sin, some failing, some vulnerability to mock. Perhaps he expects to see a pathetic drunk. He sees iron. He sees the implacable resolve of a man whose centuries-spanning existence has been sustained not by vitae, but by purpose, and one greater than he could ever know.

The blade falls.

Fueled by Caroline’s vitae, guided by Lou’s hand, and inspired by a righteousness no son of Caine could ever lay claim to, the falling sword descends upon René Baristheaut like a long-evaded divine judgment. His judgment.

The vampire screams as Lou’s remorseless blade sheers through his spine and flays open his back. Blood pours forth. Droplets of red scatter like a child’s flung marbles—each one stolen from some human being, some victim who, no matter their crimes, did not deserve to be fed upon like cattle by this monster.

The old man’s blade delivers their justice—and more.

Time, held frozen, speeds forward like a spun clock as René Baristheaut buckles to his knees. He reaches out a hand as if to rage, to plea, to protest—but his words would fall upon deaf ears. The vampire crashes to his face. Time’s halted march resumes in full force as the grizzled old hunter stares down at his defeated quarry.

Justice has been served.



Louis: Justice.

The old man turns his gaze up to the heavens. Unlike purgatory below, the dark heavens are soft and quiet. The white moonlight is cold and clear, like the justice men dream of but don’t find–save for rare nights like these.

He lets the pale moonlight bathe his face, mingling with his tears. His knees give out, bereft of vitae and overcome by emotions. He kneels against his ancient blade. Holding the cross to his lips, he prays. It is a silent prayer said for only the angels and God to hear.

But it is a short prayer, for purgatory is far from quiet and many devils run free. Justice may be served, but the law, both of the quick and the damned, is far from sated.

Law.

Law isn’t justice. It’s an imperfect mechanism. If one presses exactly the right buttons–and are oh so lucky–justice may show up in the answer.

The old man sighs. The cross falls to his neck, the blade is tossed back into his briefcase. He keeps his forensic glove on his hand, however, for the dirty work is not yet done. It’s never done, he thinks with a weariness to his brittle bones.

He fishes out Chica’s borrowed burner and texts Polk according to their plan, Fat Lady’s singing. He then unfolds the large duffel bag he retrieved from his case and shoves the torpid vampire into the bag.

Caroline: It’s like watching the wrath of Heaven descend. Through leaden limbs and iron bound orders she sees it happen, just peripherally, out of the corner of her eye. When dodging bullets she’d once thought she was fast. That she was nearly invincible. Faster than a speeding bullet. But Lou… the old man. The washed-up hack that smells of booze and crushed dreams. One minute he’s there feet from her, and the next René is on the ground in a heap of blood and flesh.

It’s over.

Whatever happens to her. Whether or not she survives this night and any other, at least there’s a closed loop. Justice? Maybe for Westley. Justice though is too sharp a word for her to touch. It’s a blade without a handle.

Vengeance is fullness of recompense, it’s satisfaction. And she’s not satisfied. She’ll never be able to take from René what he took from her. Her life. Her brother. Maybe her soul. There can be no accounting made of what’s been done. How can you repay in full what you can’t measure? What’s the price of a smile? The cost of a sunrise? The value of salvation?

And yet there’s something that stirs within her. That beats within her dead heart other than rage, and fear, and all too raw grief. Relief. A crushing, suffocating weight off her chest. In the smoke-filled, gunpowder-blasted, roaring-hot apartment she can breathe for the first time in weeks.

Louis: That breath, however, is soon stolen after Chica slams a broken cue-stick into her heart, causing the Ventrue to collapse like a string-cut marionette. Meanwhile, the mentally enslaved Polk shoots Chica–its bullet bloodily sinking a mere inch into the ghoul’s inhumanly tough breast. In retaliation, the black woman slaps the injured bodyguard with the flat of her sugarcane sword, literally beating the mind-control out of Polk’s skull.

“Cracker biatches, please,” Chica snorts. She turns to Polk. “Stick to the plan, which means clean up yo shit. This nigga ain’t yo mothafuckin’ maid.”

Lou’s text interrupts any further retort, as both woman rush to complete their and the PI’s earlier preparations. Doors fly open, bodies are hurled down a pre-arranged shute, and the gas utility van is loaded up with the duffel-bag staked Caroline while the apartment’s original inhabitants are less unconscious but unbound and safely on a nearby patio below. And then, like a domino tipped to create a chain reaction, Chica lobs a lit lighter across the balcony and bounces into the kitchen with its long gas-pumping oven. By the time Chica and Polk pick up Lou and his own duffel-bag body, the smoke from the violent but expertly crafted flash-gas explosion has vanished into the night.

GM: And so do they–or so they hope.

Black vans have by now surrounded the apartment complex. It’s a testament to Lou’s and the women’s skills that the process happens as fast as it does, like an assembly line in motion. They can smell the smoke as they leap into the white utility van, hit the accelerator, sand take off. Thudding feet, shouts of alarm, and screams of terror sound from behind them.

Two figures in the black Chevrolet don’t startle.

The first is the vehicle’s driver: a pale, clean-shaven man, with short, neatly combed black hair. He is dressed in a long-sleeved black polo shirt and navy slacks, and apart from the saber hanging by his seat, he would look like the host for a gallery opening or wine tasting… were it not for his eyes. They are the same sea-gray color as New Orleans’ troubled skies, and seem to pierce through to the very soul of whoever meets them.

Donovan_Large.jpg
Sitting next to him is the second figure, clad in a priest’s black habit. He is a slightly short, cadaverously thin man with limbs like a scarecrows, and skin so pale one would think he poured flour over it. His short, slicked-back hair is similarly white, and his eyes are an unhealthy reddish-pink. His nose is just a little large, his features just a little off: an albino. His head is bowed and his hands clasped in prayer.

“Baristheaut is in that van,” Father Malveaux rasps as he looks up.

The sheriff of New Orleans does not reply, but merely presses his foot down on the accelerator.

Meanwhile, a black Lincoln rounds the bend. The angel-faced, boyish-looking young man smiles to himself as he reaches the same conclusion.

The prince’s fugitive will be apprehended.


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Story Four, Caroline IX, Louis III

“Ready to claim your golden ticket into Hell? You’ve already been paying the fare, after all.”
Louis Fontaine


Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM

Caroline: The first sign that something is amiss doesn’t quite register. The type of thing Lou notices out of the corner of his eye and catalogs by habit, but doesn’t immediately set off red flags. The dumpster in the alley is full. Almost overflowing in fact, with big black industrial bags. The second sign however jumps out like a jungle cat in the night—the suburban parked at the end of the street. Black tinted windows. No front plate. It’s just too conspicuously out of place in the run-down neighborhood. Too clean.

Then there’s the smell. Or, the lack of smell as he steps out onto his floor. It doesn’t smell like home. That is to say, of rotting food and human filth. Finally, there’s the coat hanging on the hook by his door. Black. Expensive. Female.

That hook wasn’t there this morning.

Louis: The old man’s mind and heart are still addled, but not so addled as to miss so many damnable clues. He man stares at the coat. He notes its exceptional length as if it’s still reaching for the legs that once graced it. He sees a single strand of hair on its otherwise immaculate sable. It’s blonde. Blonde as hell.

Lou’s face grows tight like he’s just been slapped. He’s not sure whether to grab his gun or his key. He’s not sure whether either will do him any good.

He settles for running his shovel-wide hand through his dishwater-gray hair, adjusting his hat and making a pitiful attempt at straightening his tie. The best trouble always looks good from the outside, he reminds himself as he enters, breath half-held.

Caroline: The door opens without his key—someone kindly unlocked it—to reveal a scene like that out of a nightmare.

Floors scrubbed viciously clean, down to bare wood. Excess furniture gone, probably never to be seen again. Magazines, newspapers, and accumulated filth of ages callously removed from their imperfect order. His desk arranged, his shelves filled with various long-buried knickknacks of ages past dug from their unholy graves and lined up in little neat rows. There’s even a pair of freshly laundered suits hanging on a rack. The smell is indescribable, a mix that includes the faint hint of cleaning supplies buried under fresh lavender. There’s not a hint of vomit, trash, or bodily odor. It actually smells… pleasant.

Worst of all, sitting in a neat little metal folding chair in the middle of the scene, like a spider in her web, is the likely architect of this atrocity.

Caroline_Dress.jpg Legs that go on for miles, made all the more noticeable by the four-inch heels that barely sheathe her feet, more sandal than shoe. Pale skin that never saw a ray of sunshine it liked. Tasteful understated jewelry that gets the point across: she’s richer than you. And that dress. That form-hugging dress that shows off every curve. Toned shoulders, a trim waist, graceful collarbones. The curve of her leg pressed against the fabric. The low cut that shows nothing, but tempts everything. And that tiny white gold crucifix, small and understated, nestled between her breasts on a threadlike chain. It matches her hair, pinned back and away, but even paler than her perfect skin. Green eyes rise to meet him.

“Good evening, Lou.”

She holds a phone in one hand and a clutch in the other, and rises gracefully when he enters.

Louis: Lou’s expression turns apoplectic. Not the kind stemming from indigent anger, but the stroke kind.

Caroline: “I hope you don’t mind. I brought my own chair, well, had Carla bring it earlier. I remember the state of yours last time. Though that seems to have taken a turn for the better.”

Louis: The old gumshoe stammers, “I-I… y-you… my… my… you… I-I…”

Caroline: “Oh, me? No.” She shakes her head, that perfect hair not moving. “That’s not really thing.”

Louis: His bourbon eyes focus and unfocus, blink and unblink as if to make the phantasmagoric vision vanish.

Caroline: “Did it once cleaning up after… well. I think you know.” There’s a flash of shame across her face.

Louis: The admission seems to give Lou back the faintest hint of footing.

Caroline: “It does make me appreciate the effort that it takes though to do something like this. She really doesn’t charge enough for what she does.”

Louis: “I need a drink,” Lou finally speaks, his gums and tongue suddenly all-too dry. And it’s not just his mouth. It’s in his veins, his marrow. The need.

Caroline: “By all means.” She gestures to his desk, where a pair of old glasses sit. There’s also a bottle of Jefferson’s Presidential Select 18 Year Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, USA. Sitting beside it.

What’s in one of the glasses might be more interesting however. The clear plastic vial with a blue screw on cap laying, peeking out the top, holds a liquid that is red and syrupy. Too red.

Louis: The sight of the sanguine ichor stops Lou in his tracks like a coronary. He tries not to look at it, like a Greek tragedy of a man battling the medusa and doomed to lose.

Caroline: She grins. “No living were harmed in the acquisition of that vitae. Well, unwillingly harmed. They were busy staining their souls all over me with their debauchery, but everyone walked away, and with smiles at that.”

Louis: Lou doesn’t answer at first. His tongue is too busy being hellishly hot and dry. He turns his back on the vial and the blonde devil beside it, then grabs the bottle of whiskey and takes a long, slow swig.

Caroline: “Honestly, Lou, there’s a glass for a reason. As shocked as I was that she was able to find two without chips or cracks.”

Louis: “Glasses are for sharing or sparing,” the PI says rather lamely as the hit of bourbon punches his throat. “I don’t think either are on the table tonight.”

Caroline: “Better to spare the rod than the bottle, I guess?”

Louis: The last words slip from his lips like confessions, his eyes glancing back like Lot’s wife at the vial and the fiend. Mixing up metaphors, old man, Lou chides himself. Mixing up everything.

He takes the bottle from his lips but not his hand. He knows better to ask after his things, the boxes, to totally play all his hands. He’ll go dumpster diving later if need be. It wouldn’t be his first.

Caroline: “I suppose not.” Heels click on the hardwood floor as she advances on him, an ivory-smooth limb reaching across his body for the bottle. “But spare me the drunk routine for now.”

Louis: Lou lets go of the bottle. He looks her in the eye for the first time. His voice is like rough gravel, but it’s no longer shaking. “Some masks, if worn too long, cease to become masks.”

Caroline: “Should I feel sorry for you, Lou? You make your own prison here. You carve your own fetish masks, just like those witch doctors in the Ninth Ward, and you don it just as eagerly.”

Louis: “Who says I was talking about myself,” he retorts, not quite with anger, but sadness. Regret. Bitterness. He takes off his hat, his trench and throws them over his desk.

Caroline: She rolls her eyes and snatches up the coat. Carries it, and the hat over to the same rack where the fresh suits wait. Intentionally looking away? It’s hard to say.

Louis: Lou starts to protest, but instead uses the opportunity to stash the bewitching vial in the desk drawer. There are ugly truths that neither want to show or be shown.

Caroline: When she turns back her expression is grim. “And what’s my mask. Tell me, run your story of who I am and what I’ve become like they run their cons on tourists in the Vieux Carré.”

Louis: Lou doesn’t answer. Instead, he slings his gator-skin briefcase on ‘his’ desk, and begins to take out a bunch of papers spreading them over the surface as if he can only reclaim the space by cluttering it.

“Speaking of con artists in the Vieux Carré,” Lou finally says, “I’ve found your old man.”

Caroline: The look on her face says she doesn’t want to let the last topic go, but she slowly bites her inner lip, a gesture too small for most to notice, and the tension bleeds away.

“Did you now? Is he hiding under a rock with the rest of the snakes?”

Louis: Lou sits down, his old joints weary but newborn compared to his soul. Fortunately, the booze–and now hidden vitae–help both. In the short-run at least. Lou looks up at the inhuman monster parading in beauty and asks, “Ready to claim your golden ticket into hell? You’ve already been paying the fare, after all.”

Caroline: “We both know I’ve had that ticket my pocket since I woke up. The only question is when the park opens.” There’s bitterness in her voice.

Louis: “And when it closes,” Lou adds with an equal measure.

Caroline: “I didn’t ask for this, and I don’t want it.” Her voice cuts high at the end. “But I suspect that you as well as anyone in this cesspool understand that I’m not eager to show up to Disneyland early.” Is that an edge of fear in her voice?

Louis: Lou sighs. She’s made her choice. And so have you—God damn us both for it. He shifts in ‘his’ chair, grimacing as its unfamiliar contours press against his bent spine and sore muscles.

Caroline: “You had your chance.”

Louis: Lou fingers his own cross necklace beneath his shirt, then grunts. “Well, I’d offer you a smoke, a drink, and a chair, but under the… circumstances…” He waves his hook at Caroline’s chair.

Caroline: She huffs, a too-human action, and slowly settles back into her own chair as she puts her own composure back together. “I know you meant well.”

Louis: Lou shrugs again, as if trying to dislodge the compliment–or blame.

Caroline: “You saw I was alone, and afraid, and weak, and you thought you could save me before I did something terrible. Before I became a monster.”

Louis: Lou doesn’t look at her as he replies, “I know you didn’t ask for this. And that counts for something. You’ve been used badly, like a dictionary in a stupid family.”

Caroline: “But that was never an option. There’s no saving us. We’re monsters long before that first bit of vitae touches our tongue. The only question is what kind of monster we’re going to be before we all go down to burn together.”

Louis: Lou looks up, this time his face having an expression of not just surprise but curiosity. Like a man looking at a barrel and wondering what kind of bullet is loaded therein. “And what’s that?”

Caroline: “There’s no afterlife waiting for me, Lou. There never was. There’s not a life anymore either. He snuffed that out like a candle in the dark. But… as awful as this is, it doesn’t have to be all bad. It doesn’t have to be all claws and teeth, all pain and violence, all suffering and making them to suffer in turn.”

Louis: Lou doesn’t argue, doesn’t even speak, but his brow raises slightly as if in objection or confusion. He lets the unspoken questions and disagreement hang in the air like a noose. Death is patient, after all.

Caroline: “Maybe I can carve out something. If I can get past this business. Do some good to offset all the bad. Find some joy to offset all the sadness.” There’s something there, something she’s not quite disclosing. “It’s not a life. I’m not alive. But it’s all I have left. All he left me with.”

Louis: Lou regards the contents of his briefcase like the dealt tarot hand. He can’t help but notice an actual bent major arcana card sitting on the top. The Fool.

He feels the words slip through his lips like wet sand. “Your murderer should be brought to justice. You deserve that much and a whole lot more.” He picks up a file. “What do you think they’ll do to him?”

Caroline: She looks up, crosses her legs, and leans back. “That’s the question, isn’t it? All of this. Where does it come from and where does it go? The why of it. That first night you said you didn’t think it was coincidence. I’m beginning to think you’re not just a paranoid old man. I think you’re a paranoid old man that, just like a broken clock, is right twice a day.”

Louis: Lou seemingly accepts the complimentary abuse by picking up a glass and extending it, as if asking Caroline to fill it up. “Let’s not lay the flattery on too thick, Ms. Malveaux. Otherwise, I might think you’re trying to hoodwink me.”

Caroline: “We can fence all night if you’d like, Mr. Fontaine. Dance on down to the Dueling Oak you know better than I. But perhaps another night would be better timing? How about for tonight you show me yours, and I’ll show you mine.”

Louis: Lou spares a glance at his empty glass and sighs in resignation. “As I said. I’ve found the address were he’s hiding from his sun-tan appointment. And I want to help see him brought to justice. Our original contract was for me to find him, and so after I give you this address, our business is officially resolved–unless you want otherwise.”

Caroline: “I think we’re a bit beyond contracts.”

Louis: He waves a hand. “Informally. Also, you’re going to need help to bring him down.”

Caroline: “More than you know. The address. Anything else on your end?”

Louis: It’s hard to tell whether Lou’s face knowingly smirks or winces at Caroline’s first remark. He then turns back to his file, flicking it open. “A little more.”

Caroline: She gestures with one smooth hand. “By all means then, continue.”

Louis: He relates how he followed ‘Chester’ back, found and intercepted his message, and subsequently made circuitous contact with her sire–all the while tracking down his daytime home address in a certain rough neighborhood without being detected to his knowledge.

Caroline: “Well, I suppose that does explain why you were so busy you couldn’t write.” There’s a bit of a smug smile on her face, like the cat that ate the canary.

Louis: “Enough to pay the bills,” Lou shrugs.

Caroline: She arches an eyebrow. “Some more than others? My turn I guess. I have his elder ghoul cuffed up. And my oh my, the things he said.”

Louis: Lou can’t help but nodding, clearly impressed. “Kelford’s quite a catch, Ms. Malveaux.”

Caroline: “Someone was holding back,” she murmurs.

Louis: “I’m assuming he didn’t cough up René’s bedroom, otherwise I don’t think this”, he waves at the room and her, “would be happening here and now.”

Caroline: “Sadly not, but he had some interesting things to say. Before I begin though, why do you think he did it? My dear daddy, that is?”

Louis: Lou looks down at his still empty glass. “Hell if I know.”

Caroline: “And why leave me to wake up? To make a mess and almost certainly be found?”

Louis: “Conjecture’s cheap and common, but truth is rare and has the sticker tag to match.”

Caroline: “Why drug my best friend that night, knowing, perhaps that she’d reach out to my family and spark a manhunt?”

Louis: Lou looks down again, then adds, “You want me to pour you some of the former for free, or help you get your hands on the latter?”

Caroline: “I want him held down, helpless, so I can ask him in person why he did it. I want to go back in time and undo it, to live again. I want a great many things. But I’ll settle for a running theory.”

Louis: Lou sucks his gums, considering more than a few spinning plates. “This truth might come back to bite, but this one’s lagniappe. If you want the truth, you will have to wrangle it from him yourself—before the rest of your kind get their claws in him. The prince’s people can make what you did to poor ‘Chester’ seem like a simple Sunday luncheon chat.”

“And if the truth shall set you free, your kind play its gaoler like flies on five-day fish.”

“But you wanted conjecture,” he remarks as he scratches his chin.

Caroline: “There’s only one reason that jumps immediately to mind.” Those eyes. Hard. Harder than they were a week ago.

Louis: “Only one? I’d say your mind’s not jumping high enough, Ms. Malveaux,” Lou says with a snort that’s more tired than condescending.

Caroline: “Regale me, old man.”

Louis: He runs a hand though his hair. “Here’s just a few from the small plates menu. Maybe one faction is playing the other, trying to hustle and create bad ‘blood’ between your rich, powerful family and the ancilla who claims them as prized pawns. Or maybe it’s nothing so strategic but was an act of poisoned passion. He could have seen you, been totally ignorant of your name and birthright, just seen your beauty and been swallowed up with lust and terrible loneliness. Or maybe neither you nor your family have anything to do with it all, that you were chosen more at random. After all, he’s sleeping with Setites, and it could have been some debauched initiation rite. Take your pick. There’s plenty more where they came from. But it’s like trying to read the newspaper once it’s been recycled into toilet paper.”

And at this point, the paper’s been used, he adds silently to himself.

Caroline: “Interesting theories,” Caroline replies, tight-lipped. “Let me fill in some blanks on that paper for you though, old man.”

Louis: Lou twirls his hook as if to say, ‘by all means’. “But first, how about you fill my goddamned glass?”

GM: A ringing phone sounds from Caroline’s clutch bag.

Louis: Lou doesn’t quite slam down his empty tumbler in disappointment, but he can’t quite chuckle with chagrin either. Your luck’s shit, old man.

Caroline: The Ventrue picks up.

GM: Choked, ragged breathing sounds in her ear. “Caro… line…?” It’s a man’s voice. High-pitched and scared. It was slurred only a few nights ago. First from sleep, then drink.

Her brother gulps.

“There’s… a guy… got a gun to my head… he says… you’ve got ten minutes to drive to… the Dungeon, or…” Westley laughs. There’s not a trace of humor in the sound. “He’ll… ‘throw me to the lowest circle.’”

Caroline: Caroline’s never noticed how inconvenient breathing is until she no longer has to. Until that tightness in her chest that comes with a moment of panic and anxiety is no longer suffocating.

Louis: Lou’s now-free hand drifts to his briefcase. Otherwise, he listens, watches, and waits. He may be playing this round, but these aren’t his cards.

Caroline: Still, other signs are evident of her distress. Her knuckles go even more bone white than her skin as she clenches her free hand into a fist and grips the phone too tightly. That free hand snakes out to Lou’s desk and snatches a pen—a big black sharpie—from the neatly arranged cup full of its fellows. She rips off the top and writes in big black letters for the ghoul:

Brother. Hostage. The Dungeon. 10 Minutes. Lowest circle? The last bit is circled, but she’s not silent even as she waits for Lou’s response.

“Put him on the phone, Westley.” Her voice is so steady it might be mistaken for calm, but her brother knows her too well. This isn’t her calm voice. It’s her furious one.

GM: Her brother gives another broken, half-sobbed laugh. “He says… if you don’t come… you’re just like all the rest of them… and you… deserve what he did…”

Louis: Lou reads over the note, his own facial expression as flat and joyless as dirty dishwater. He pens a written response next to Caroline’s question mark.

BDSM club. Your kind. Worst kind. He underlines the last phrase.

Caroline: “Tell Trayvon, or Brock, or Ashlyn, or Nicloas, or whatever fuckboy toy it is to get on the phone,” she snarls.

Father Malveaux? she circles. His domain.

GM: “It’s… I don’t… it’s him, Caroline…”

Caroline: She draws an arrow at his confusion to brother and writes, call in?

GM: “He… says… talk all you like, but the clock…”

Louis: Lou silently taps her written query and nods. It’s a slow deliberate nod. A heavy gesture with likely heavy consequences. He flips out his new burner and sends a text to Chica.

Party in the Quarter. I’ve got the red cups. Swing by my place, bring your dancing shoes.

To the ignorant voyeur, the missive seems harmless, even obnoxiously mundane. Yet, between the long-time allies, the text has another, far less quotidian, meaning.

GM: It’s only a moment before Lou gets a barely legible text back.

im tere. no drink ima kik yor wrnkly ass 2 nex week

Caroline: “Put him on the fucking phone, Westley!” Caroline snaps.

GM: There’s a gurgle on the other end. “He’s… not… says only through me… says… nine minutes now…”

Caroline: “Of course he does. He’s as much a coward tonight as he was that night.”

GM: Westley manically sobs over the line. “Caroline, what’s… why’s this happening…”

Caroline: Her face contorts in fury, grief, shame, and perhaps most of all frustration, and red rings her emerald eyes. Silence reigns on the line for a moment before she composes her face with great effort.

“Because we deserve it.” The words are bitter. Dark. Torn.

“I’m sorry, Westley. I’m sorry, Wes.” She swallows and shoves iron down her throat. “Tell that monster I’m coming for him.” She swipes ‘end’ on the call.

And not a moment too soon, as the ragged sound that rips its way from her throat can best be described as a scream. She buries her face in one hand and drops the phone, visibly fighting for control of herself in a way Lou can only imagine, but also recognizes so well.

Louis: Lou’s hand relaxes, but does not withdraw from his gator-case.

Caroline: “He’s going to torture him, and then he’s going to kill him.” It’s as much a question as a declaration. “And I can’t stop it. I just murdered my brother.”

Louis: Lou’s face doesn’t harden as much as it sharpens with hard-won scars. “No. That guilt isn’t at your feet.”

Caroline: “Isn’t it? I could surrender to him. Beg him to let Wes go. I could have let them take me yesterday. I could have offered to trade him his ghoul back for Westley. But I’m too fucking selfish for that.” An unnatural sob wracks her slim form, habit rather than actual anatomical need.

Louis: Lou doesn’t argue. He’s had this conversation too many times with too many people, including his own reflection. He’s never found the right answers.

Maybe because they don’t exist.

Caroline: She lets out a long breath, fighting for her composure again, and finally manages to get control of her breathing. “All right.” She looks up and blinks away what might have been tears. “I need to call Father Malveaux. And we need to figure out what we’re going to do next. Before he hurts someone else. Someone that doesn’t deserve it.”

Louis: Lou nods again. “Make the call. First.”

Caroline: “I don’t actually have a direct line to him.” She scrolls through her contacts and settles on Wright. “This should be a fun conversation.” She presses the send key even as she rises to her feet. She always feels better when she can pace on the phone with the belligerent hound.

GM: The phone rings several times. Then it answers: “What?”

Caroline: The word is so coldly impersonal, wrapped in her grief, that it burns.

“Thought you should know, he abducted someone out of the Central Business District tonight. One of Father Malveaux’s. I was hoping you might have a line so I could give him the details.”

GM: “Hold the fuck up,” Wright preempts, “one of Father Malveaux’s whats? Ghouls?”

Caroline: “One of the mortals he claims as his domain.”

GM: “An’ how you find that out when you think he hasn’t?”

Caroline: “Because he called me.”

Louis: Lou, meanwhile, begins his own preparations. It begins with reaching for the pistol grip of his sawed-off shotgun and loading rock salt shells like a metronome.

GM: “Girl, Father Malveaux’s domain or not, when your sire calls you up t’ say ‘hey, how’s it hangin’! that’s somethin’ you tell us. Les’ hear it all.”

Caroline: “Show up at the Dungeon in,” she checks her phone, “nine minutes, or René hands him over to the lowest circle.”

GM: “I ain’t showin’ up to your mama’s goddamn fuckpad,” Wright snaps. “I said hold the fuck up, girl. You ain’t the prince. ‘Splain what happened, A t’ Z.”

Caroline: “It’s my brother.” She bites her tongue so hard that it bleeds. “René made him call and deliver the ultimatum. Show up at the Dungeon or René will hand him over to the lowest circle. That’s all I got. A phone call.”

GM: Wright grunts. “Okay. Hold a mo’. I’m passin’ this on t’ the father—an’ Donovan—then I got more Q’s f’ you.”

Caroline: She forces herself to look down, try to remain calm, even as she feels the precious seconds tick away in Westley’s life. “Ok.”

GM: The old-fashioned analog clock she bought for Lou’s office ticks. Eight minutes left.

Caroline: The longest minute of her life.

GM: More time ticks by. Seven minutes left.

Louis: Lou finishes his preparations, stowing both the shotgun and various other implements into his briefcase before shutting it. The click of its locks echo in the otherwise too-still office. The old man rises.

Caroline: Caroline paces like a trapped animal, her movements too swift and graceful to be human.

GM: The numbers on her smartphone change. Six minutes left.

Caroline: How far is it, really? Can she even make it there in time? Caroline isn’t quite sure how fast she actually is when push comes to shove. Even as those thoughts bore their way into her mind, however, her rational reptile mind cuts them to ribbons. Get there and do what? Watch him get tortured?

Louis: Lou steps out from behind the desk and interrupts Caroline’s tortured thoughts. He doesn’t try to comfort her. He doesn’t have any comforts. But he does try to give her knowledge, even if the truth is often more painful than silence.

“Mother Iyazebel. She’s an ancient elder. The Dungeon’s hers.” He looks around at the place that was formerly his office. “It’s time to go, Ms. Malveaux.”

Caroline: “And do what?” she snaps back. “Barge in guns blazing?”

Louis: Lou shakes his head. “You need to go get in that shiny black SUV and be ready for that phone call. Me? I’ve got a gas bill to take care of.”

Caroline: She looks at him, stares really, then at the bag in his hand. “Am I going to see you again?”

Louis: Lou slides on his fedora and tips the brim. His watery-bourbon eyes regard her solemnly. Her tries to put on a smile for her, but the expression doesn’t fit his face. “If anything goes wrong, your trouble comes hard, and it doesn’t do any good to sing the blues, because down here, you’re just another guy in the chorus.”

He then walks to the door, suitcase in hand, bullet-shaped thermos swinging from his hook. He turns back to regard her one last time, his face caught in the shadows of trench’s collar. “For what it’s worth, doll-face, I don’t want to die. But if I have to, I’m gonna die last.”

The door shuts, and frames his figure for one fleeting moment in bleary glass, a gray shadow against black.


Previous, by Narrative: Story Four, Cletus IV, Micheal VIII, Rocco I
Next, by Narrative: Story Four, Rocco II

Previous, by Caroline: Story Four, Caroline VIII
Next, by Caroline: Story Four, Caroline X, Louis IV

Previous, by Louis: Story Four, Caroline II, Louis II
Next, by Louis: Story Four, Caroline X, Louis IV

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Story Four, Caroline VIII

“I don’t want to live forever.”
“Yeah. I wouldn’t want to either.”
Nicole Polk to Caroline Malveaux


Tuesday evening, 15 September 2015

GM: The next evening comes. Caroline awakens in red-crusted sheets, Jocelyn’s face staring across from hers.

“Morning.” She smiles. “Well, evening.”

Caroline: Caroline laughs lightly. “You’re a mess.”

GM: “Yeah, but in your bed.”

Caroline: “It’s a mess too. You ruined my sheets.”

GM: Jocelyn smirks. “Yeah, I did. Gonna ruin a bunch more too.”

Caroline: “These were 1500 thread count Egyptian cotton.”

GM: “And now they’re history just like the Pyramids.”

Caroline: Caroline snatches up a fistful of Jocelyn’s skin, scooting closer to her, their perfect skin sliding across each other. She runs her tongue between the Toreador’s breasts, lapping up the dried blood there.

“Is that so?”

GM: Jocelyn laughs at the tickling sensation and pulls Caroline closer. “They felt great though, I’ll give them that.” Her face grows more serious. “You can feed from me like that one more time, but that’s it. Before the bond…”

Caroline: Caroline looks down for a moment, not meeting the other girl’s eye. “Becomes absolute.”

GM: “Yeah…”

Caroline: “And you’ve already used up your last one…”

GM: Jocelyn might nod.

Caroline: “That little sip in the moonlight.”

GM: “We can feed together, though. On kine. If they’re a ghoul, you can even feed them back, and keep going…”

Caroline: Caroline frowns at the thought of introducing any of her ghouls to this arrangement.

GM: “We could make a new ghoul,” Jocelyn offers. “Just for feeding.”

Caroline: Jocelyn is hers. Something special, and beautiful.

GM: The Toreador continues on, all but counting blood-crusted fingers, “We pay them for it, and hey, no risk of STDs like if they were an escort, right?” She grins again. “We could go ‘shopping’, later. Look around for that special someone to make ours.”

Caroline: “They could never live up to you.” She sighs and lays her head back on the blood-soaked pillow. “I guess it’s sort of like using protection.”

GM: The Toreador looks as if she could kiss Caroline there. She instead traces a finger along the Ventrue’s lips.

“Ha. Yeah. And that exists, too, if you didn’t know. We can still drink from each other, we just have to wait for the blood to cool.”

Caroline: She arches a crusty eyebrow. “Which the Church says is a sin, I should remind you.”

GM: “Pfft. We do God’s work being sinful.”

Caroline: “So when you say let it cool, what does that mean?”

GM: "Well, if you bite someone, and wait a couple seconds to lick up their blood, it won’t collar you. "

“Doesn’t feel as good as straight from the vein, but safer.”

She effects a sigh.

“Kinda like real condoms that way.”

Caroline: Wait to drink and you won’t be bound. Useful to know.

Caroline rolls over, half onto Jocelyn, and runs her half open mouth, her fangs, down the other girl’s bare skin. Not quite breaking the skin, just tracing a path.

GM: The Toreador murmurs something suggestive and clenches the sheets, lightly gasping as Caroline’s canines trace her flesh. The Ventrue was on top last night too.

Caroline: She breaks away after a moment, not giving in.

“Later. If it’s going to be our… last time like that, I want to make it something special.”

GM: Jocelyn looks at her longingly for a moment, but nods.

“You’re right. I’d say you should take me out to dinner or something first. With us I guess it’s ‘or something’.”

Caroline: “I have something in mind. Something… near to my heart. I think you’ll enjoy.”

She thinks back to Cécilia. The fear in her eyes. A good, God-fearing woman, stalked by some degenerate. She’ll see about that.

GM: Jocelyn smiles. “Surprise?”

“Yeah. Surprise me, with them on the bed, after we’ve had a nice long evening of other fun.” Her face brightens. “I know. On the night you catch your sire!”

Caroline: “Now who’s killing the mood?” Caroline asks as she stretches like a cat, body rubbing against Jocelyn’s.

GM: “Or, well, night after. However it works…” Jocelyn trails off though as she pulls her arms around Caroline’s head, pressing it to her breasts.

Caroline: “So much to do today. I was supposed to meet with a Krewe of Janus ghoul yesterday, Primogen Duquette, call Hound Wright… and I want to know where that other ghoul came from.”

The words are slightly muffled by the other Kindred’s flesh.

GM: “Well, he’s downstairs,” Jocelyn muses, running her hands through Caroline’s hair. “And going nowhere.”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t fight it, lapping up more dried blood off the brunette, enjoying the comfort, the proximity.

GM: “What a mess,” Jocelyn murmurs. “Least we can shower off…”

Caroline: “Anything I need to know before I talk to the primogen or the Krewe of Janus about unrelated matters?”

GM: “Well, like that? If you mean last night….” The Toreador trails off. “That didn’t happen. We weren’t there. Eight-Nine-Six broke the Masquerade someplace, the prince is gonna execute them, and that’s all.”

Caroline: “So you’re the only one that’ll know about how I left them all in a dumpster where they belong?”

GM: “Us and Roxanne. No one else. Well, maybe the other Storyvilles. I dunno if they’ve been told.”

Caroline: “You’ll have to act impressed enough for everyone else,” Caroline pouts.

GM: “But no one outside the krewe,” she says seriously.

The look returns into a smile, though, at Caroline’s words. “I still can’t believe you torpored the whole krewe and their super ghoul.”

Caroline: She smiles. “And I can’t believe you managed to make it all go away.”

GM: Jocelyn’s smile initially dims a bit at that.

“It’s all gone. I just wish I could tell you more, but you’ll be able to learn. After you catch your sire.”

Caroline: “You’re not in trouble because of this, are you?”

GM: Jocelyn shakes her head. “No. Only price was that you join the Storyvilles.”

Then, more slowly, “But I could… well, I dunno about trouble. But I can’t default on this.”

Caroline: Caroline interlinks her fingers with Jocelyn’s.

“I’m not going anywhere.”

GM: She squeezes back. “I know.”

Caroline: A sigh. “I guess we should get started…”

GM: “Yes, in the shower. Don’t look so glum,” Jocelyn smirks back.

Caroline: She reverses her on-setting frown’s course and rolls out of bed.

“Well, come on then. I think you’ll enjoy this.”

Pic.jpg
GM: “Oh, nice!” Jocelyn remarks as she peeks into the bathroom. “I had an uncle who had one of these, but my family never did.”

Caroline: “Who were they?” Caroline asks as she turns the water on, giving it a moment to warm up as she digs another towel out of her linen closet.

GM: “My family? My mom was a banker, my dad was a lawyer. Still are as far as I know.”

Caroline: “Upper middle class, or yuppies?” Caroline asks, setting out a pair of black towels for the two.

GM: “Upper. Though if we were really yuppies, I’d say that anyway, wouldn’t I?”

Caroline: Caroline grins. “Trick question, all upper middle class are yuppies.”

GM: Jocelyn throws a towel at her. “Elitist. You’re such a blue blood.”

Caroline: Caroline tosses the towel onto a bench and slides into the hot water, luxuriating in the hot water across her cold skin. The drain runs red with the dried blood running off her.

GM: Jocelyn steps in after her, basking for a moment in the quadruple+ shower’s warmth. More red swirls across Caroline’s toes, mingling with the Ventrue’s own.

“Hey, that reminds me, you ever end up seeing your primogen?”

Caroline: “I talked to someone about it. They want me to meet with a ghoul first. Just haven’t had the time.”

GM: Jocelyn pauses for a moment at that, her posture going slacker. “Yeah, I… guess you don’t.”

She doesn’t need to say why.

Caroline: “Hey.”

She grabs the other Kindred by the chin and pulls her up to look at her.

“With those vagrants out of the picture I can actually focus on him.”

GM: Jocelyn stares up at the taller vampire. Water continues to spray from the showerheads. “We can.”

Caroline: We.

She’s never been so happy to not be alone.


Tuesday evening, 15 September 2015

GM: After a very long shower, the two Kindred head downstairs. Autumn is not present in the house. When texted, she repeats that Caroline told her to go home last night after the Ventrue herself returned. She gives no indication of remembering any of the events at Central City and asks if Caroline wants her to come over.

Caroline: It isn’t quite as good as warm blood from some victim following through her veins, but after the shower Caroline practically radiates heat, for a brief time mimicking the living.

She shoots Autumn another text.

Yes. Take your time. Pick up some food.

GM: Aimee has also been moved to an upstairs bedroom. The ghoul looks and smells the same (if not slightly worse) than she last did, and is still asleep. Caroline ascertains the mental compulsion after a short inspection. No normal person would sleep for an entire 24 hours.

She settles down with Jocelyn around her captive attacker.

“So. Let’s find out his story.”

Turner lies asleep in the adjacent bedroom. Her right hand and the left side of her head are wrapped in bandages, the former also in a splint. There appears to have been a limit to the generosity of Caroline’s benefactor. The ghoul is stable remains bedridden and catastrophically wounded. Still, she is stable, and has but to rest and recuperate… or sup from her domitor’s wrist.

Caroline: Caroline sets a pistol down beside her and looks to Jocelyn.

“Can you wake him up?”

GM: Jocelyn nods. “Either of us can. He’s been mindscrewed. Just say ‘wake up now’.”

Caroline: She nods, then wipes the smile from her face. “Wake up. Now.”

GM: The ghoul’s eyes snap open. They bore into Caroline’s.

“Untie me.”

The words press down upon Caroline’s will like leaden weights. But they simply aren’t the same iron that Father Malveaux and Pierpont McGinn commanded.

Caroline: Her eyes bore right back.

“Stop resisting.”

GM: The man’s expression briefly goes sluggish at the vague command.

Caroline: She drills her will into his mind, burrowing into it with seductively calm words.

“Obey all of my commands, answer all of my questions truthfully to the best of your knowledge, and make no attempt to resist me or free yourself.”

GM: The bound man regards her with a sleepily obedient look.

Caroline: She turns on the charm next. Her smile is radiant. Her presence is dazzling. She’s his friend. He can tell her things. Tell her anything.

“Now tell me, who are you? What is your name, what names are you known by, and who is your dominator?”

GM: “Kelford Grant,” he answers placidly. “Had other names. No one remembers but him. You dominated me.”

Caroline: “Dominator,” she corrects.

GM: “You dominated me,” he repeats.

Caroline: She grinds her teeth. “Why did you attack me last night? Why were you following me?”

GM: “Uh, the term’s domitor. I know it sounds kinda the same…” Jocelyn offers.

“My domitor ordered me to,” the ghoul answers.

Caroline: She cracks a smile at Jocelyn.

“Who is your domitor?”

GM: “René Baristheaut.”

Caroline: The smile vanishes, and the lines at the corner of her mouth turn hard. “What were his actual orders with regard to me?”

GM: “Bring you back to the French Quarter. Torpid but not dead.”

Caroline: “Why?” The word comes out almost strangled.

GM: “I don’t know,” the ghoul answers placidly.

Caroline: “Why did he Embrace me?” Caroline’s composure starts to crack.

GM: That same blank look.

“I don’t know.”

Caroline: “Why did he come back to New Orleans?”

GM: “He said it was time.”

Caroline: “Time for what?”

GM: “I don’t know.”

Caroline: “How long have you been his servant? When did you become a ghoul?”

GM: “Since the Second Occupation. 1909.”

Caroline: Caroline looks at Jocelyn.

GM: The Toreador frowns. “I don’t know either. Wow, though. Pretty old for a ghoul.”

Caroline: “Cuba,” she replies to the comment. “In what capacities have you served René?”

GM: “As his right hand man,” the ghoul sleepily answers. “I’ve protected him during the day when he slept. Hunted for him. Killed his enemies. Advised him. Acted as his eyes, ears, and hands outside the French Quarter, since coming here.”

Caroline: “How many other ghouls does he have in his service?”

GM: “Four.”

Caroline: “Are they here in New Orleans?”

GM: “Yes.”

Caroline interrogates her captive for some length. He reveals the following information under questioning and repeated application of the Ventrue’s mental powers:

He gives the names of René’s other four ghouls. All of them are new, and only received the Blood around a week ago. He isn’t sure of all the exact dates. All of them are former soldiers and combat-trained.

Kelford himself, beyond his combat and stealth skills, is also a proficient wilderness survivalist. He’s no Kindred, but after 100 years on the Blood he’s no stranger to matters of subterfuge either.

He does not know the location of René’s haven. His domitor has trusted him with that information before, but did not this time. He could be captured and made to talk.

When Caroline questions him as to René’s banes, Kelford’s slack face clenches and goes red like a tomato. Caroline can feel a wall around the ghoul’s thoughts… someone else has erased that knowledge from his mind.

She slams her will against that wall and finds it all-too brittle. She pours on more of the charm. Kelford’s face looks simultaneously slack and ready implode. It’s a bizarre expression that Caroline barely notices over his hissed confession that her sire is repulsed by brandished crucifixes.

Caroline presses down. Digs deeper. There’s more, she’s sure of it. Sweat pours down Kelford’s face as his eyes roll back in his head. His mouth dumbly moves, but no sound escapes. Her sire’s will is too strong for Caroline to penetrate his secrets a second time.

Undaunted, she returns to more mundane questions.

Kelford reports that René may only feed on Roman Catholics who have lapsed in their faith.

René’s relationship with Antoine Savoy, to Kelford’s knowledge, has varied over the years. As one of the Guard de Ville in the early 20th century, René was opposed to the Lord of the French Quarter by dint of factional allegiance, to say nothing of his status as sheriff Bastien’s childe. He was also a mere neonate who never seriously harmed the Toreador elder’s interests, and it has been a hundred years. Antoine Savoy has agreed to shelter René in the French Quarter, despite his violation of the Traditions, in return for a price that René did not disclose to his ghoul.

The Setites have long whispered in René’s ear with their forked tongues, Kelford reports. Ever since his Embrace. They pursued him when Kelford believes they would have since given up on other marks. It was as if they sensed something in René. Kelford has traveled far and wide with his domitor, and the serpents have proven persistent nemeses to the pair.

René did not always resist their temptations. He did just often enough. Since Caroline’s Embrace, René has willingly sought out their company at Chakras, a club that is also their hounfor, and Kelford fears for his soul. He now seeks the serpents’ counsel and keeps their company.

Many of René’s old alliances have withered in the century he has been away from New Orleans, Kelford relays. He had previously been one of Vidal’s hounds, but his recent alliance with Savoy has burned all bridges with that faction. Still, a few may yet remain:

Marcel Guilbeau is his cousin by blood, for they both share the same grandsire, Lothar Constantine. Marcel is also of the Invictus, not the Sanctified. Still, Marcel is closely allied to Vidal, who has granted shelter to Baton Rouge’s former prince since his overthrow. René has sent covert communiques through several layers of messengers to court an alliance. To Kelford’s knowledge, he has yet to receive a definitive response.

Pierpont McGinn is another clanmate and member of the Invictus who owes no fealty to the Sanctified, though his covenant is allied to them. Pierpont McGinn is also in talks with Antoine Savoy and cares little for Caroline personally, of which René is aware. René approached the regent of Uptown with an offer to kidnap Caroline in return for favors of a to be determined nature. McGinn was amenable to the idea. They are still conducting negotiations regarding those favors and what means by which they may frame Caroline to be an intruder in McGinn’s domain a second time. They normally wouldn’t even bother framing a friendless and sireless fledgling like her, but the Guard de Ville is watching her actions closely, so they figure a pretext cannot hurt. The whole of the plot is still being hashed out.

Harlequin, when last he spoke with René, found the former hound “honest” as well as charming. While the harpy and regent of the Masquerade has little desire to aid a known violator of the Traditions, he is otherwise well-disposed towards René.

René has also crossed paths with Veronica Alsten-Pirrie, an Anarch newly cozy with Antoine Savoy. She liked him. She dislikes the prince for his role in what befell her childe. René believed the two of them could have a great deal in common.

René has spent time in the Dungeon, an S&M club of sinister reputation. He also courted offers of friendship with Reynaldo Gui and Rosa Bale, fellow Ventrue who stand opposed to Vidal. René has been unwilling to leave the French Quarter, but nor does he intend to remain idle during his time there.

René has comparatively few held and owed prestation debts in New Orleans, Kelford reports. He was only in the city for twenty-odd years before he left, and many of his then-peers have either met final death or departed the city themselves. He holds and is owed various debts by Kindred outside the city, the nearest of which is from Avoyelles Desormeaux, the prince of Lafayette. He and René helped defend her against a marauding Loup-Garoux.

In New Orleans, at least, René owes a debt to the Nosferatu for purchasing information on Caroline. He owes another debt to Rosa Bale for employing her own spy network to gather information on the Ventrue. Kelford would not be surprised if his domitor owed a debt to Antoine Savoy, but he is unaware of the terms under which Caroline’s sire is receiving shelter from the French Quarter Lord.

Indeed, one of René’s foremost concerns now that he is back in New Orleans has been to accumulate further prestation capital. Tying into this were his final “allies” Eight-Nine-Six, whose already present animosity towards Caroline made them attractive pawns. René was engaged in several schemes to maneuver the krewe under his thumb:

At René’s instruction, Kelford covertly followed Eight-Nine-Six. While Cherry Nines was alone, he mesmerized her into believing that approaching him for help against Caroline would be a good idea. The ghoul played the part of a powerful servant to an anonymous ancilla who wished to conceal his hand should the scheme go south (technically true), and “consented” to lend his help in capturing Caroline in return for a boon owed. René intended to double-cross Eight-Nine-Six afterwards and take Caroline for himself, though Kelford is unaware how his domitor had planned to do that.

Regardless, Eight-Nine-Six unwittingly pledged René a collective boon in return for Kelford’s help. René did not want to attack Caroline in Audubon Place if there was a simpler alternative, so he hired a private investigator named Tavell Franklin to track down Caroline’s mortal friends and associates. After learning Aimee’s identity, René and Kelford tracked down her mother and dominated the woman into inviting her daughter over. René dominated Aimee when she arrived at the house and was surprised to discover she was Caroline’s ghoul. After interrogating Aimee for everything she knew about Caroline, René ordered Kelford to set an ambush at Aimee’s house with Eight-Nine-Six. Caroline’s sire then turned her ghoul into a weapon, just in case the ambush didn’t work out.

Caroline spotted the ambush and all the better for her: although René returned to the French Quarter, Kelford was in the house alongside Eight-Nine-Six. The Anarch krewe was sorely unhappy not to torpor Caroline themselves, but grudgingly consented when Kelford told them that a successful hostage swap would still deliver Caroline into their hands. René was genuinely perplexed that it did not… Kelford extensively interrogated Aimee about her house’s layout, and assumed that someone careless enough to disclose her haven’s location to so many Kindred (over a dozen likely know where she sleeps) would not have a panic room she kept secret from her best friend.

Regardless, Eight-Nine-Six were beyond incensed after learning what happened to their haven (and Bliss), and weren’t willing to listen to Kelford anymore after he failed to deliver results with Aimee. The krewe was uncontrollable and going after Caroline one way or another, so René made the best of the situation and decided to use them as a distraction. He loaned Tavell to help them tail Caroline and even act as chauffeur. The investigator remained in communication with Kelford, and after Eight-Nine-Six had a bead on Caroline, Kelford swiftly drove to Central City.

He had not been expecting anything so Masquerade-endangering as a car crash and gunfight in the streets, but resolved to make the best of it. If Eight-Nine-Six took down Caroline, he could collect her and René would hold a significant boon over the krewe’s heads for his two ghouls finding the Ventrue and helping clean up the Masquerade breach. If Caroline took down Eight-Nine-Six, even better: Kelford could pick her off after she was worn down from the battle, and René could claim an even larger debt for his ghoul saving their Requiems.

René will be disappointed that all the effort he invested into Eight-Nine-Six is now for naught. They were reckless, but their known enmity towards Caroline and lack of connections to him would have made them useful pawns. He has his eyes on other neonates in the French Quarter, however, and it is only a matter of time until he maneuvers more into his debt. That will be harder now without Kelford.

As to René’s sire Robert Bastien, Kelford was not there when it happened, but learned secondhand that Bastien was killed by hunters affiliated with a group called the Society of Leopold. Vidal was wroth over his sheriff’s final death and found Bastien’s killers guilty of blasphemy: lambs forgetting their place in the natural order by striking against God’s wolves. René, Donovan, Rocco Agnello, and two new members of the Guard de Ville—Pierpont McGinn and a Tremere named Jonathan North—tracked down and apprehended the surviving hunters. All were burned at the stake after watching the same fate befall their families. Children were granted cleaner deaths by beheading. René understood the necessity of such actions—there can be no mercy towards hunters, only bloody example—but Kelford remembers his domitor being sickened by the sight of six-year-olds crying for their mothers as their heads were lined up before the chopping block.

Kelford and René know everything about Caroline that Aimee knows: Kelford spent much of the day interrogating her, and duly relayed everything to his domitor. They also had a private investigator dig into Caroline’s background and associates, and paid the Nosferatu and Rosa Bale for information on her activities and movements as a Kindred.

René first ordered Kelford to start monitoring Caroline on September 7th, the night after she was Embraced. Initially, he confined himself to simply following her movements, but René has stepped up his instructions to active capture in the last few nights. He did not explain why to his ghoul.

Kelford can testify that his master is an expert swordsman and crack shot with a rifle. The two often sparred together to maintain their skills, and Kelford admits that René is his better (though not by a significant margin). The ghoul does believe that he is a better marksman than his domitor is.

René is well-spoken and well-studied in social graces, and prefers to seduce his prey as a means of hunting. He is not a scholar, but he learned his letters from private tutors, attended university, and is an educated man.

He was also, as Caroline already knows, a commissioned officer in the Marine Corps during the Spanish-American War. All in all, Caroline’s sire is able to talk, able to think, able to fight, and can comport himself in all the ways that a gentleman of good breeding for his birth’s era should be able.

Kelford relays his personal aptitude in Caine’s gifts to Caroline. The ghoul is preternaturally tough and fast, and can bend mens’ minds to his will.

Kelford also knows that his domitor is blindingly fast, and can ensnare mens’ hearts with a glance and bend their minds with a word. Childe largely takes after sire there. René possesses a lesser degree of mastery over the arts of being as strong and resilient as stone.

Kelford has rarely had occasion to fight Kindred separately from his domitor, though he is capable of doing so and has driven several neonates into torpor. His preferred MO is through an M200 Intervention’s night vision telescopic, but he can overcome them hand to hand if need be.

Having violated the Traditions, René is an enemy by default of the Hardline Sanctified, and by extension those covenants (the Invictus, Anarchs, and Tremere) allied with the prince. On a personal level, however, while René has had few opportunities to make enemies in New Orleans, he has inherited the enemies of those whom he courts as his allies.

Pierpont McGinn is a known rival of Accou Poincaré, and McGinn’s star has been on the rise in conjunction with the wane of Poincaré’s. Kelford knows that Accou is also a member of the Invictus, but is ignorant as to the reasons for their enmity.

Jocelyn adds that Accou is one of the two primogen for her clan, and is the second-eldest Toreador in the city after Pearl Chastain. He is also her eldest childe and handles many of the clan’s social and political affairs when she is too apathetic to do so.

Rosa Bale and the Setites are both rivals to a group of vampires called the Giovannini, who Caroline has not heard of before. Jocelyn explains that they are basically “the Mafia Kindred clan,” and besides being exclusively Italian, are also “necromancers and perverts.” Vidal does not look favorably upon them, and they are only (tacitly) openly accepted in the French Quarter. Savoy doesn’t seem to mind them as much. René, in any case, believed them unfriendly and instructed Kelford to avoid them.

Marcel Guilbeau is bitter enemies with Lawrence Meeks, the Nosferatu who usurped his throne as prince of Baton Rouge. Meeks desires him eliminated; the prince-in-exile is a very loose end that everyone imagines he wants to see tied closed. To this date, however, Vidal’s protection has shielded his younger clanmate from the Nosferatu’s reprisals.

Harlequin has no enemies that Kelford knows of. All Kindred acknowledge the dire importance of maintaining the Masquerade, which the Krewe of Janus is necessary for in a city as grossly overpopulated (relative to its size) as New Orleans.

Veronica Alsten-Pirrie has led a faction of Anarchs into the arms of Antoine Savoy as a result of Matheson’s alleged misdeeds, and stands opposed to Coco Duquette, who has not (yet) condemned the prince and adopted a “wait and see” approach to Matheson’s guilt. The trial is not even that many nights away, but neonate Anarchs (many of them Brujah) are not renowned for their patience. Or willingness to stomach elder tyranny and exploitation of the young. Jocelyn also knows that Veronica is a fellow Toreador and harpy. She has long been ensnared in a bitter three-way feud with her cousins-in-blood Marguerite Defallier and Katherine Beaumont.

Kelford is ignorant of any enemies Reynaldo Gui may have.

Rosa Bale and the Setites, in addition to being opposed to the Giovannini, are also foes to the followers of Baron Cimitière. Kelford knows that the Vodouisants who support the Baron compose the third major power bloc in New Orleans, together with the Bourbons and the Hardliners (the two factions of Sanctified, Jocelyn clarifies). Kelford knows they believe Savoy either insincere or unworthy of his own professed Vodoun faith, but little else.

Kelford did not track Caroline prior to her Embrace, and has no knowledge of his domitor doing so either.

Kelford also duly provides the phone number he used to stay in communication with his domitor.

René has spoken little of Caroline to Kelford. Merely that he violated the Traditions by Embracing without the prince’s consent, and that she must be “watched”, and as of several nights ago, “recovered.” René has been increasingly on edge and susceptible to his Beast’s rages in between episodes of bitterness and melancholy. His domitor’s blackest mood came after he had the Ravnos Yellow Sidra cast his fortune, which caused him to slay one of his ghouls in frenzy. Kelford knew better than to ask what it was.

Kelford (and René) are aware of the Storyville Krewe. Eight-Nine-Six reported that three of their number came to the hostage swap in Caroline’s company, despite having seemingly nothing to do with the negotiations. René had been ignorant of the neonates’ existence prior to that report, and has consequently had Kelford investigate the backgrounds of the entire krewe to determine their relationship to Caroline. Kelford is ignorant of the one that exists between Caroline and Jocelyn.

René has always been a melancholic individual, Kelford reports, for as long as the ghoul has known him. However, his domitor’s moods have grown far bleaker—and unpredictable—in the nights since Caroline’s Embrace. René appeared to take black amusement in the pair’s present circumstances. He mocked Kelford for his century of service and told him it has merely earned him a hotter spit to roast over once they both finally burn in Hell.

Kelford reports that René rarely bothers to explain his night-to-night activities when he has no need of his servant. The ghoul was evidently not needed on the night of Caroline’s Embrace and left to his own devices.

René rarely bothers sharing his feelings on other Kindred either. Kelford is his servant, not his friend. René was more inclined to do so in his younger nights, however. The ghoul does not believe that René particularly liked Donovan, for his domitor sarcastically remarked that “he has more stomach for beheading crying babes.” That was over a hundred years ago, however.

René did not share his reasons for departing New Orleans. He merely told Kelford that they were leaving, and the ghoul had little choice but to obediently follow.

René did not present himself to prince Vidal upon his return to New Orleans, but did so to seneschal Maldonato in his stead. René said he intended to stay for perhaps a week, and the seneschal granted René his leave. Jocelyn adds that it is fairly rare for a prince to refuse visiting Kindred permission to spend at least a few nights in their city, so long as they present themselves in a timely manner and don’t offend anyone when they do so.

Caroline endeavors to ask about Lou without mentioning him by name around Jocelyn. Kelford appears completely ignorant who she is talking about after she provides the private investigator’s description.

Caroline: At last, Caroline looks at her lover.

“Can you think of anything I missed?”

GM: Jocelyn thinks. “Honestly, you covered a lot. Could always put him to sleep until you think of something later?”

Caroline: “Based on your time with him, what would you expect his reaction to your capture to be, and what would you expect his next move to be in general?”

GM: “Still wants you captured. Use other ghouls. Promise more debts. Go after your mortal family and associates. It worked with your ghoul.”

Caroline: She nods to Jocelyn.

“Go to sleep,” she commands the ghoul, rising from beside him and making for the dining room.

GM: Kelford’s eyes droop.

Caroline: Caroline grinds her teeth at the sleeping figure.

All the pain that she’s gone through.

All the pain that Aimee and Turner have gone through.

She’s looking forward to some payback on the real architect.


Tuesday night, 15 September 2015, PM

Caroline: She sinks into a chair, conflict written across her face, then looks up at Jocelyn.

“I need to know who I can trust to turn him over to. He knows all about the Eight-Nine-Six brawl, and I don’t want to get you in trouble.”

GM: Jocelyn frowns. “Well… I guess you could give him to the sheriff. But I don’t think anyone would cry if you just drained him here. Oh, no, the real Eight-Nine-Six brawl, that’s right.”

The Toreador is silent for a moment. “I can take him to someone. But he’s not ever gonna come back.”

Caroline: “I need to be able to turn him over to someone with the prince. He’s the only evidence I have that I’m making progress. It might even get me an extension, and they might be able to pry more from him than I can.”

GM: Jocelyn shakes her head. “He knows about the real Eight-Nine-Six fight. If they can get more out of him than you did, they can probably get that out too. And no one gets to know how that went down but us. It didn’t happen.”

She looks conflicted. “I wish there were a way to still get you some brownie points… maybe tape a confession of his? Like, order him to recite everything your sire wouldn’t want him to tell people?”

Caroline: Caroline frowns and almost pleads, “There’s no one you would trust to bring this to?”

GM: “No, there IS… someone I can bring him to. We won’t ever see him again, but you’re not gonna get any credit or extensions. He’ll just be gone, and the sheriff won’t know.”

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “I could make that happen on my own, and he’s still… valuable right now.”

GM: “Okay, maybe just… keep him around, ask more questions when you think of them?”

Caroline: She nods. “Holding him is dangerous, though.”

GM: Jocelyn thinks. “Maybe lock him in a cage or something too?”

A text buzzes from Autumn.

outside audubon, buzz me in?

Caroline: Caroline nods, even as she pinches the bridge of her nose.

“Blindfold him at least, and figure out what the next step forward is in this mess. What I can tell Hound Wright… Autumn is going to be here in a minute or two as well.”

GM: “Yeah, I guess you’re gonna need some kind of cover story for last night.”

Caroline: “Partial truths are best lies.” She gestures back towards the living room. “He attacked me. You helped me.”

GM: Jocelyn looks around it. “Okay, in here?”

Caroline: “On the way back from the Elysium. That’s how my bodyguard got maimed as well.”

GM: “Good cover. I don’t think any Kindred are gonna ask too many questions, but just in case…”

Caroline: “Can you play with memories?”

GM: “No, just make people like me. Roxanne can do memories, though. So can Wyatt.”

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “Never mind then.”

She texts to buzz Autumn in.

GM: A few moments pass before the house’s front door opens and closes. Autumn walks in with several grocery bags.

“No charge on your account for these. Like I said, with stealth mode I can just load up bags and walk out of the store.”

Caroline: Caroline smiles at her ghoul. “Fringe benefits?”

GM: “Big benefits. Bigger savings.” Autumn smiles back. “Sounds kinda like the tagline for a commercial.”

Caroline: “It is out west. Albertson’s I think. In any case, Turner is upstairs, as is Aimee. Did you ever speak to your Krewe contact last night?”

GM: Autumn frowns. “Yeah, we both spoke to her, remember? I think you won some points with the Krewe taking care of that mystery vitae. And cooking the books so well, even if you still need to pay them for the blood.”

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head distractedly. “I’m sorry, last night was… busy. Remind me?” She lets just a touch of the Beast bleed through to mask the slip up.

GM: Autumn grows slightly wide-eyed as the vampire’s supernal presence hits her. “Well, in order…”

The ghoul reports that after Caroline and Turner were attacked and took their assailant hostage, Caroline stabilized the downed mercenary and returned home to deal with the Krewe of Janus. They sent a ghoul representative (not Maurice), who informed Caroline that Tulane Medical Center is the Krewe’s domain. By taking the nine bags of blood, Caroline stole from the Krewe, and would have endangered the Masquerade too if she hadn’t so carefully cooked the books. The representative was hostile and there to demand a boon owed as reparations for the trespass, along with an $8,100 reimbursement for the blood she stole.

Caroline was the soul of politesse and contrition. She paid the $8,100 and also returned the bag of unknown vitae she retrieved during her bank raid, stating that if TMC’s blood bank was their domain, then everything she had taken from it was theirs by right. The Krewe’s ghoul was surprised by the blood bag’s existence but grateful for the averted Masquerade breach. Whatever that blood was, it definitely wasn’t human. The Krewe was willing to waive the owed boon in return for the solid she did them there. She is also welcome to purchase further blood from them at the going rate of $900 per bag.

The ghoul even left Caroline a friendly word of advice… don’t anonymously pay the medical bills of any further patients with neck wounds and excessive blood loss. It stood out to her boss Dr. Grémillon. It can stand out to others too.

Caroline: She frowns at the lack of memory, but nods along, releasing Autumn from her sway after asking about “Trent.”

GM: “Oh, I thought Jocelyn took care of him. Must be nice knowing a friendly Kindred now.”

Jocelyn, for her part, scrolls around on her phone in the other room, not having looked up at the ghoul’s entrance.

Caroline: That persistent frown. “That’s right.”

She lets Autumn go. “I need you to look after Turner and Aimee tonight.”

GM: Autumn blinks as the spell partly ends.

“You’re right. That’s a great idea. In fact, I was thinking, maybe it’d be better if I moved in. Just so you can always have me around when something comes up.”

Caroline: “Let me think on that,” Caroline replies. “In any case, I have no idea when either last ate, and Aimee smells disgusting. Help her get cleaned up and changed after I wake her up.”

GM: Want lingers in the ghoul’s eyes, but she settles for nodding at Caroline’s answer.

“Sure. She’s probably okay to take a shower by now.”

Caroline: “You should go get a head start on food. We’ll talk before I leave.”

GM: “All right. I’ll… make her some eggs, I guess. Lot of Vitamin D.”

Caroline: Caroline gives a non-committal nod and moves over to resume her chat with Jocelyn.

“I think I’m going to call him.”

GM: The Toreador looks up. “I’d say to take a breath first. But, well. Are you hoping to…” She trails off. “Well, are you hoping to?”

Caroline: “I want to know why,” Caroline spits out.

GM: Jocelyn is silent for another moment. “I hope you find out.”

Caroline: “Whether now or later, I’ll find out.” She looks up at the Toreador. “Do you have plans tonight?”

GM: “Not really any that stand up to this.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “There’s something I’d like to check on first. A long shot.”

She bids Jocelyn follow her upstairs to where Aimee continues to reek.

A long shot, but maybe their only shot.


Tuesday night, 15 September 2015, PM

GM: Jocelyn follows Caroline up. The Toreador is wearing the same clothes as last night, but Caroline doesn’t notice any smell. It occurs to the could-have-been physician that as the Kindred are physiologically dead, she has ceased to produce any natural scents or odors. She might be able to pick up ones from her environments, but bathing every night is likely unnecessary for hygienic purposes.

Aimee looks as bad as she smells. Autumn wiped down the other ghoul’s face, but it’s still crisscrossed with fading cuts, and her right eye in particular is a reddened, swollen, cut-up mess.

Jocelyn frowns. “Uh, she looks pretty bad…”

Caroline: Caroline wakes Aimee without ceremony and immediately turns the Beast’s rampaging will upon her fragile mind, disinterested in whatever banter, whining, or complaints her once-friend has to offer in front of Jocelyn.

GM: Aimee is slow to awaken, but once she registers Caroline’s presence, the adrenaline fully kicks in as she recoils and screams something the Ventrue won’t listen to. The Beast presses down on her mind. Like a rollercoaster, Aimee goes from docile to panicking to docile once more.

Caroline: If she could flush with embarrassment at Aimee’s reaction, she probably would. Instead, she grinds her teeth.

“Tell me everything you remember about that last night of Decadence, from prior to when we were separated through when you thought to call my uncle the archbishop,” she demands.

GM: Aimee stares dumbly at the question and sleepily answers, “I didn’t do that.”

Caroline: “What do you mean you didn’t do it? Explain how you ended up in his custody.”

GM: Aimee drowsily explains that she got separated from Caroline on the last night of Decadence by… she doesn’t remember. The crowds were thick and she’d had a lot to drink. She tried calling Caroline a dozen times, but no one answered. So she called her brother Gabriel, figuring that was a long shot, but he might have more luck approaching the police (or calling another Malveaux in New Orleans to do so in his place) than she would, thanks to his family’s name.

The police were probably overworked dealing with the festival anyway. Maybe her family could send private investigators. Aimee didn’t know for sure that anything was wrong, but she had a bad feeling. Caroline had been drinking a lot and Decadence wasn’t her kind of crowd.

Gabriel brought in the family, all right. Whether he went directly to Orson, or the family member he contacted chose to do so, Caroline’s uncle got involved and was not happy. He dispatched his own private security to look for Caroline rather than bother with police, and rounded up Aimee to question her.

She was interrogated by a thin man with thinner hair and cold eyes who unnerved her. Aimee cooperated at first, thinking they were on the same side in wanting to make sure Caroline was safe. The man eventually granted her audience with Orson, who was coldly furious and had decided that Aimee was to blame for Caroline’s disappearance (they still hadn’t found her) and decision to attend Southern Decadence in the first place.

Orson threatened to send Caroline to the Ursuline Convent for life, as well as to make her stay truly miserable unless Aimee agreed to take up vows of her own. She accepted in hopes of sparing Caroline, as well as gambling that her friend would be able to talk Orson down and get her out of the (non-legally binding) agreement.

Caroline: Caroline digs a bit further into when they got separated, and any other events during Decadence that were suspicious or out of the norm.

GM: Aimee had a lot to drink. She doesn’t remember much. While that explanation sounds credible enough to a layman, digging deeper, the almost-physician finds that her ghoul’s hazy descriptions are consistent with someone suffering under the effects of rohypnol (flunitrazepam), also known as roofies or the forget-me-pill.

Caroline: It’s thin. Very thin. But it’s the first clue she has about what happened that night. She digs into that “bad feeling” as deeply as she can, through the fuzzy memories, fighting mind-altering chemicals with unholy power.

GM: Caroline digs through her ghoul’s mind, but can find no evidence that the source of her “bad feeling” was anything but mundane. Caroline had disappeared in the middle of a potentially dangerous festival, wasn’t answering her phone, and Aimee feared the worst.

Caroline: She finally lets the ghoul’s fragile mind go with parting commands.

“Listen to Autumn.”

“Don’t freak out.”

GM: Aimee gives a sleepy look at the first two vague and subjective commands.

But she seems pretty out of it anyways.

Jocelyn looks between the two. “My ghoul, Meg. She makes herself throw up all the time. She has anorexia, body image issues. It’s why she tried to kill herself, and now that she’s on the Blood, I guess she does it because she wants to look thin for me. It’s so gross. I’ve tried everything to break her out of the habit, and she still sticks fingers down her throat when she thinks I don’t know.”

She pauses. “I hate to say it, but your ghoul’s even sadder than Meg is.”

Caroline: “I didn’t want her for this,” Caroline replies defensively. “Father Malveaux demanded it.”

She doesn’t quite glare at Aimee.

GM: “I guess that explains it. Oh well, maybe she’ll come around after a while.”

The ghoul only stares dully ahead.

Caroline: Caroline looks back at her mutilated face and huffs, bringing her wrist to her mouth.

“Drink.”

GM: Caroline hardly needs to back the command with her Beast. Aimee falls upon the Ventrue’s wrist like it’s the only bright spot in all her existence.

Caroline: A wrist that is withdrawn all too quickly. She’s not in the habit of rewarding bad behavior, but she wanted to clean up some of those wounds.

“Autumn will be up with some actual food in a bit.”

GM: Aimee all but cries as Caroline’s wrist withdraws. She licks her lips with slow deliberateness, then runs her fingers along them and licks her fingers.

“Okay,” she repeats numbly.

Caroline: “Don’t leave the house or cause trouble,” she orders disdainfully as she withdraws from the foul-smelling room.

GM: Aimee’s eyes glass over again.

Caroline: She can’t believe they used to be friends.


Tuesday night, 15 September 2015, PM

GM: Jocelyn rolls her own as she departs. “Ghouls, right?”

Caroline: “I guess. I don’t really know. Autumn is competent, and Turner… Turner really helped last night. Will she remember any of it?”

GM: “She’ll remember you got ambushed by your sire’s ghoul on the way home and took him down, though not after he took her down.”

Caroline: Caroline nods, both relieved and conflicted. “Okay. So… that was… interesting. Maybe just a coincidence but… that’s an awfully convenient coincidence,” she says, speaking to Aimee’s “interview.”

GM: “Her calling your family, you mean?”

Caroline: “Her getting drugged.”

GM: “Oh, she was? I thought she’d just had a lot to drink. Guess that’s not surprising at a big festival though.” Jocelyn frowns. “Or, like you say, suspicious-sounding.”

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “Rohypnol. Roofies.” She clarifies, “They made us look at the symptoms in detail during a sexual assault seminar, and again when I was pre-med. This one creepy doctor, Brown I think it was, actually suggested that we should ‘try some’ to ‘see what they felt like.’”

GM: Jocelyn looks slightly discomfited. “No kidding. Wonder if that’s all he wanted girls to see ‘how it felt.’”

Caroline: “Probably not,” Caroline agrees, then puts on a slightly forced smile. “But that’s part of the reason we exist, right?”

GM: “Sure is,” Jocelyn agrees. “That’s a good guy to feed on, sounds like.”

Caroline: “Anyway…”

She digs out a cellphone, toying with it. She bites her lower lip nervously.

“This is probably a bad idea.”

GM: “You’re safe here. He can’t do anything to you, and he already knows where you sleep.” The Toreador pauses. “Which I guess isn’t very comforting. But what’s the worst that can happen?”

Caroline: “You’re right.” A nervous smile. “All right. Ok.” She looks at the Toreador again for a moment and impulsively kisses her on the cheek. “For luck.”

GM: Jocelyn’s kisses her other cheek back. “For twice as much.”

Caroline: Pale, nimble fingers tap across a smartphone screen as Caroline plugs in the number Kelford gave her for René.

GM: The phone rings and rings. They’re the longest rings of Caroline’s life.

The sound finally ceases.

There is no answering machine’s prompt.

She remains as bereft of answers as before.

Caroline: Her nervous smile runs into a sad one.

“Well, I guess that shouldn’t be a surprise. He’s not there for me.”

She laughs lightly to cover it up, but the undercurrent if disappointment is hard to mask.

GM: “Well, I’m still sorry,” Jocelyn offers. “That ghoul did have a lot names, for Kindred who are his enemies. Or at least enemies of his friends. Maybe you could get in touch with some of them.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “I need to see some others anyway. Should be a busy night.”

GM: “Well, hopefully not as much as last night was. You gonna give your actually useful ghoul a hit for that?”

Caroline: “I am. And as much later as I can spare. Going to need her on her feet to help against her contemporaries.”


Tuesday night, 15 September 2015, PM

GM: The two Kindred make their way to Turner’s room. The Blackwatch merc lies asleep in the best where they last left her. Her right hand and the left side of her head remain swaddled with bandages.

“She looks pretty bad,” Jocelyn frowns. “You want, I can drain some blood from your sire’s ghoul and feed it to her.”

Caroline: Caroline blinks, the idea having not occurred to her.

“I’d appreciate that. He doesn’t, well, work for me. Not my type.”

GM: “Yeah, Roxanne’s also a picky eater,” Jocelyn remarks half-jokingly. “Anyways, I’ll give you two a bit.”

The Toreador heads downstairs.

Caroline: “Thanks.”

Caroline watches her go and moves to Turner’s side, settling down beside her, lightly, before she wakes up the wounded mercenary.

“Good evening.”

The words feel flat and empty, but she isn’t sure what to say to the woman that nearly died protecting her.

GM: “Fuck,” Turner half-groans, half-grunts as Caroline jostles her awake.

Caroline: “Sorry,” Caroline murmurs softly. “You’ve been asleep the whole day, and most of last night as well.”

GM: The bandage-swaddled mercenary mutters a ragged obscenity.

“Yeah. On… my ass. Like I was for that fight.”

Her face starts to turn an angry red.

“Two of us, one of him. Still wasn’t good enough for you.”

Caroline: Caroline cringes at the mercenary’s twisted memories. Much of the fight is a blur of blood and steel, but she does remember Turner, draped in two Kindred, screaming, stabbing, and refusing to let go.

“He’s a hundred and thirty years old, had been tracking me for a week, and still ended up on the ground when it was all said and done. I’d say you did fine.”

GM: “I say he beat the shit out of me and you had to finish him yourself.” The scarred Marine’s cheeks are no less red. “Fuck this pity party. I quit. Hire a better merc.” Turner swallows angrily. “I can give you names. Do that much right.”

Caroline: Caroline sits through the mercenary’s rant. “Are you finished?”

GM: “Yeah. I am.”

She obviously doesn’t mean the same ‘finished’.

Caroline: “Good, because there are four more shooters where he came from and their boss, all of whom are going to be coming after me now harder than ever, since we took down his right hand. And I need you.”

GM: Turner clenches her teeth. “Earl Hager. Killed several guys on our earlier raid. Expensive to keep on staff, but everyone from the Mob to the street gangs want him. Bradley Abel. He was a Green Beret in Desert Storm. Looking for work. Christofer Steiner. Army Ranger in Afghanistan. Got a job, but could probably hire him away. Stephanie Hall. Not a vet, but was on SWAT. Mouth got her kicked off the force, but not her record.”

Caroline: “I’m not throwing you away,” Caroline all but growls.

GM: “Take you the time from your wrist to your mouth to make them like me.”

Caroline: “If I wanted to replace you, I’d have left you on the street.” A growing anger. “I trust you. I’m still here because you did your job. If you hadn’t, I’d be getting tortured right now in ways you can’t imagine. Not wallowing in self-pity.”

GM: Turner looks as if she’s about to growl a reply when Jocelyn re-enters the room.

“Heard the tail end, is she saying she wants to quit?”

Caroline: “She thinks she’s a failure.”

GM: “Next time just do this.” Jocelyn bites her wrist and extends the bleeding appendage in front of the wounded mercenary.

Turner stares for several moments before she falls on it. She doesn’t moan like Aimee did, but she still drinks. And drinks.

Jocelyn finally pulls away. The mercenary’s slate-gray eyes dully move between the Toreador and Caroline.

Caroline: Caroline watches those eyes move, waiting on her to speak again.

GM: Turner slowly licks her lips. “More.”

Caroline: Caroline is happy to oblige.

GM: The mercenary seizes her domitor’s wrist with equal vigor.

Caroline: When she finally draws it away she looks down at the Marine.

GM: Turner stares back up, licking her mouth again.

There’s want on her face. Still some anger. And even… shame. Though not much next to the want.

Caroline: She forces a smile across her face.

“Stay here tonight. Recover. Leaf should be up in a few minutes with some food.”

GM: Turner stares ahead for another moment. The mention of food seems to at once shake her out of one stupor and send her more deeply into another one.

“…all right,” the mercenary says slowly.

Caroline: A stare. “What?”

GM: “Room service from Leaf. Whatever.”

Caroline: “I need you back on your feet as soon as possible. We have work to do. People to kill.”

GM: The mercenary stares ahead for another moment, as if to pierce some fog. She grunts, then pushes herself out of bed. Someone’s changed her into a tee and pair of sweats.

“On them,” she manages with another grunt.

Caroline: Caroline offers her the pistol she carried up from downstairs.

“Then you’re the last line here tonight. Aimee is zoned out, but I don’t trust her and we’ve got our friend from last night downstairs.”

GM: “Trust him to make my day if he tries anything.”

Caroline: “There’s more than that. If anyone other than one of us,” she gestures to Jocelyn and back to herself, “shows up to take him or assaults the house, they can’t take him alive. You’re the only one with that order. If Autumn tries to lead anyone to come take him, empty the mag into his face.”

GM: Turner slowly makes her way out of the room, hands leaning against one of the walls.

“Knew that little bitch was a fuckin’ traitor. Can plug her now, you want.”

Caroline: Caroline frowns. “No, I trust her. Enough. What I mean is… it’s possible for us,” she gestures to Jocelyn, “to get inside someone’s head. Make them do things. That’s why she’s answering the door, and why she doesn’t know about your orders. If someone tries to use her… well. They’ll be in for a surprise.”

GM: “Won’t be surprised for long.”

Caroline: “Don’t push yourself too hard otherwise. We’ll get that hand fixed when I get back.”

GM: Turner just grunts and slowly makes her way to the staircase, within earshot of the front door, then pulls up a chair and sits down. She checks over the gun in a routine fashion.

“Where’s the gorilla?”

Caroline: “We’ll bring him up. Don’t take the blindfold off, whatever you do.”

GM: Turner nods stiffly. “I’ll lock him in a closet. Whatever’s in the way of him and more trouble. Break his fingers too if you don’t need those.”

Caroline: “We’ll keep those for now. At the end of all of this, though, you’re welcome to take your revenge.”

GM: The mercenary only stares hungrily.

Caroline: “Don’t shoot Leaf. You might even pick her brain. She knows a lot that might be of interest to you about this world.”

GM: Turner grunts. “Might as well get something out of her before you have me, I guess.”

Caroline: Caroline, with help as needed, fits a blindfold over her sire’s ghoul, strips him of his gear, and manages his hog-tied form upstairs.

GM: Caroline finds the man already stripped of his gear, and also impossibly heavy to move by herself. Jocelyn tells her to have her ghouls do it, but Autumn is about as strong as a kitten and Turner can only use one hand. In the end, it takes all four ghouls and Kindred an exhaustively slow joint effort to haul Kelford, who must be kept sedated, up the stairs.

Autumn collapses panting once Kelford is up, insisting they take a break. Turner looks her over flatly.

“You don’t have a tail growing above your ass, do you?”

Autumn just gives a half-hearted glare as she gulps down a few breaths.

“Cuz that’s the only way I can think of you’d be an even bigger pussy.”

“You’re one to talk about thinking. You wait until sixteen to drop out of high school, or was that too high a number to count up to?”

Caroline: “Cut it the fuck out,” Caroline hisses at them.

“I need you.” She looks between them. “Both of you.”

GM: The two ghouls grudgingly relent at their domitor’s request.

Jocelyn doesn’t roll her eyes, but is probably thinking it.

Caroline: “You have knowledge,” she admonishes Autumn. “You have skills,” she admonishes Turner. “Teach each other something meaningful before I get back.”

She doesn’t quite slam the door as she heads out, but she’s clearly disgusted with the two.

GM: “Right,” says Jocelyn, “fun as being around you is, your renfields don’t rate nearly so high. I’m gonna get laid.” She adds, “That means hunting. You need me, I’m a text away.”

Caroline: Caroline holds tight to the Toreador’s hand.

“Thank you, Jocelyn. For everything. Especially for last night, at the theater… after. Last question. What did Eight-Nine-Six get picked up for, officially?”

GM: Jocelyn looks up at Caroline and squeezes back. “I’d say it was nothing, but it wasn’t. You’re… well. A lot more. And to spoil the mood, breaking the Masquerade. I mean, you saw what happened there. Central City might be a shit neighborhood, but it was still a giant gunfight in the streets. Cops still showed up. With the sheriff on-scene to clean it up, someone had to take the blame.”

Caroline: “I’ll make it up to you when we get through all of this,” Caroline replies to Jocelyn’s mood spoiling comment.

“Right, but what’s the story? Who’d they shoot it out with officially?”

GM: “I’m… actually not sure. Just that it wasn’t us. Our…” Jocelyn trails off again for a moment, then finally states, “Said it’d give us better plausible deniability, if we aren’t familiar with the story. I mean, why would we be? We weren’t there.” She adds, “But I also got told it’d look natural if we asked about it and looked into things. Because, you know, we weren’t exactly pals with Eight-Nine-Six to begin with.”

Caroline: “How could you be? Savages.”

GM: “Kaintucks.”

Caroline: “That tattoo.” She shakes her head. “Good riddance.”

GM: Jocelyn frowns. “Yeah. That was pretty tasteless. Screw them though, they’re history.”

Caroline: A nod. “I’ll see you later.” Caroline smiles and lets go of Jocelyn’s hand.

GM: “One last thing… you learned a lot from your sire’s ghoul. You might see if you could trade any of that info to the Nosferatu.”

Caroline: “That…” Caroline smiles, “Is a great idea. I’ll call you and let you know what I come up with.”

GM: Jocelyn smiles back and stands up to her tiptoes, not kissing Caroline so much as tracing a fang across her skin. “Call me.”

Caroline: Caroline watches her go, running her tongue across her fangs.

She’s still smiling.


Tuesday night, 15 September 2015, PM

Caroline: Caroline makes her way over to the black Suburban parked on the street.

GM: Her newest employee, already arranged several days ago, is waiting for her on the driver’s side.

Nicole Polk, ex-Secret Service, clocks in several inches below Caroline’s height and shares her blonde hair, pulled back in a ponytail. In contrast to Turner’s empty, sometimes hungry stares, her gaze is more professional and removed, though there’s a trace of tiredness or resignation behind it. She’s dressed in a simple black pantsuit, the standard uniform of bodyguards everywhere.

Nicole_Polk.jpg
Seeing Caroline approach, she gets out of the SUV to open the passenger door for her employer and nods, “Ma’am.”

Caroline: “Ms. Polk.” Caroline greets the woman. She frowns a bit at the more understated gear, but a glance into the back seat reveals a heavy black bulletproof vest with Blackwatch velcro across the front in white block letters, a large plastic case with a distinct logo stamped into the plastic.

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“I’m looking forward to working with you.”

GM: Polk nods. “Likewise, ma’am. Where are we headed?”

Caroline: Caroline slides into the passenger seat and provides an address to a residential neighborhood, watching the bodyguard plug the address into the dash mounted GPS and waiting for them to get underway before continuing, “Your profile makes a convincing case for your aptitude, Ms. Polk. Secret Service. They haven’t been amateurs when I’ve met them.”

GM: “We aren’t paid to be, ma’am. We’ve got the same physical requirements you’ll find in most law enforcement and military organizations, and we’re all college-educated too.”

The Blackwatch merc’s jaw tightens a bit at that last statement, but she keeps her eyes on the road as the Suburban pulls out of Audubon.

Caroline: “Good. You’ll need all of that.” She frowns. “I’m sure you’ve stood plenty of boring assignments. I don’t expect this to be one for you.”

GM: “I do my job right, ma’am, it’ll still be boring and uneventful for you.”

Caroline: “We could hope, but I don’t expect that either.” She bites her lip. “It’s complicated. And not ‘stalker’ ex-boyfriend complicated.”

GM: The former Service agent’s eyes briefly cut back to her employer but remain centered on the road. “You’ve hired me to handle it, I’ll handle it.”

Caroline: A hint of a smile. “Then consider this a briefing. At least four shooters retained as part of a grab team. Former military all. I’ll get you bios on them when I get them, but they’re going to shoot first and ask questions never.”

GM: Polk nods slowly at that. “The more I know the better I’ll be able to protect you, ma’am.”

Caroline: “Last night they took a shot. My last bodyguard is recovering from two bullet wounds.”

GM: The former Service agent nods again in acknowledgment. “You have any idea what they want you for?”

Caroline: “To an extent.” The frown creeps its way across her face again. “I confess, I’ve tried to explain this three times now, and every time it’s been awkward.” She pauses. “Are you a believer, Ms. Polk?”

GM: There’s the slightest twitch to Polk’s finger, but the mercenary’s voice is steady and even heavy as she replies, “I sure am, ma’am.”

Caroline: “That makes this easier, I think. Have you ever seen anything that you couldn’t explain, or that you could only explain with that faith?”

GM: “Sure. The sun rising over the sky every day, on a planet with just the right conditions to be hospitable to intelligent life. Us being here, having this conversation.”

Caroline: A creeping smile. “That’s too easy an answer. I’m talking about something your rational mind says is impossible.”

GM: Polk frowns. “I’ve had too much to drink a few times. Seen a few odd things.”

Caroline: “Only while drinking?”

GM: The merc’s frown doesn’t disappear. “Yeah. Only when drinking.”

Caroline: “And have you been drinking tonight?”

GM: “Not a drop, ma’am. I’m on assignment for you,” Polk answers seriously.

Caroline: There’s a flash of teeth.

“You will be before it’s over.”


Tuesday night, 15 September 2015, PM

GM: Caroline has Polk drop her off outside the address of the apartment she visited several nights ago. Charlotte Greenfield and Zachary Bellamy, she learns from brief conversation with the couple, are Tulane grad students in a polyamorous relationship who respectively identify as pansexual and polysexual. They hadn’t expected to see Caroline again, but next to a Tuesday night of chaste studying and bill-paying they aren’t saying no to a surprise booty call.

The pair’s blood is hot and excitable. They appear to regularly bathe, unlike one of Caroline’s other more recent meals. They even like bondage, and Lotte digs a pair of padded handcuffs to restrain her to the bed. The Beast enjoys seeing its prey bound and helpless.

It’s still as savory as a drive-thru Glee Meal next to Jocelyn.

Caroline tries to spice things up further. After the spent, sweating trio is lying motionless in bed, basking in the afterglow, she mischievously suggests calling a friend of theirs for round two.

Lotte laughs how she “can’t believe this is just happening, and on a school night!” The irresistible force of the Ventrue’s Beast makes it happen. In short order, Zack’s called over another friend of theirs, a genderfluid wo/man named Adrian who’s currently identifying as female. She has small enough breasts and short enough hair that Caroline could see her passing as male once she’s stripped and joined the couple in their bed. New sweat stains the sheets with old, and new blood fills the Ventrue’s gullet with old.

The experience still isn’t Jocelyn.

But it’s closer than the last one.

Caroline: When she takes her leave, tireless, its with a hint of a smile and a fresh flush to her skin, a warmth not her own. She makes her way back to Ms. Polk.

GM: The former Secret Service agent gets out of the car to open the door for Caroline, then asks her where to once they’re both in.

Caroline: She checks her phone for a response from Haley. She frowns as she realizes that she forgot to send a message amid the bickering ghouls. She fires off one inquiring as to Coco’s potential availability for a brief audience.

GM: The herald texts back that Coco has no openings in her schedule tonight or tomorrow tonight. She will be at Blaze the night after tomorrow at 10 PM.

Caroline: She growls in frustration and sits back in thought for a moment, contemplating and enjoying the silence of the vehicle with the consummate professional.

GM: Polk does not break that silence and continues to cruise the neighborhood. Dwelling on the periphery of Tulane’s campus, it’s largely residential, with the odd store and casual dining establishment mixed in. When Caroline wishes to, their route is hers to re-divert.

Caroline: She pulls up Wright’s number and hits send.

GM: The phone rings several times. Finally it picks up.

“You breakin’ my heart, girl. I thought you was gonna call me reg from now on.”

Caroline: “Ah, but you told me you wouldn’t be available yesterday,” she replies.

GM: “In person.”

Caroline: “My mistake then. I’m sorry. I didn’t want to bother you if you were occupied.”

GM: The hound grunts. “A’ight. Guess I wasn’t clear.”

Caroline: She bites her lip. “It won’t happen again.”

She hesitates for a moment. “Any word on Vieux Carré?”

GM: “Let’s start with why you’re callin’ me every night first.”

Caroline: She bites her lip. “His banes include a weakness to crosses. He has four ghouls still in his service, down from six last night.”

GM: “Well, ain’t someone been learnin’ a few things. Where you find that out?”

Caroline: “I caught once of his spies following me, and he made a run at me with two ghouls last night.”

GM: Wright questions Caroline more thoroughly as to the particulars of how the ghouls were caught and slain, as well as the information that Kelford revealed under interrogation. Eventually, he gives a grunt of what sounds like approval.

“Well, ain’t somebody gotten off her ass. That a lot you dug up ‘bout your old man. I’m gonna ask Donovan t’ give you a time extension.”

Caroline: She bites her lip so hard it almost breaks the skin, almost speechless.

“Thank you,” she chokes out.

GM: “We’ll see if he do, so don’t go tearin’ over me jus’ yet. So far as Vieux Carré, I guess here we can cue the waterworks, ‘cuz he said yes. He also givin’ you his writ of passage, that say you on sheriff’s business to apprehend a Tradition breaker, so Savoy an’ nobody else in the Quarter won’t throw no shit.”

Caroline: “You’re not… you’re not just toying with me.”

GM: “Yeah, I am. You’re actually gonna get fuckin’ executed tomorrow. So write up a will, I guess, an’ if it breaks the Masquerade we’ll execute you twice as painful.”

Caroline: Her breath catches audibly.

GM: “Oh, now that, that’s toyin’ with you.”

Caroline: She shakes her head, a motion he can’t see, as she lets out that breath. “Does the writ cover anyone else with me?”

GM: “Ghouls, whatever.”

Caroline: “Thank you.”

GM: Wright grunts and hangs up.

Caroline: “Do I need to pick it up, or…?” she says into the empty line.


Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM

GM: Polk, meanwhile, continues to drive.

Caroline: Caroline finally hangs up, a grin on her face. “I’m sure I sound like a crazy person. You’re thinking, what did I get myself into?”

GM: “I’m not paid to ask questions, ma’am,” the mercenary replies measuredly.

Caroline’s heard the same words from another ghoul.

Caroline: A sigh and a leisurely stretch in the roomy interior. There are some benefits to losing her car. Mind, not many. “Former Secret Service. As in quit, or more likely terminated given the culture and the high demand for former agents. No reason for you to jump in bed with Blackwatch if you had a door somewhere else.”

“Open availability. Days or nights, and weekends. Suggests limited family. But you’re also in the five star category. So you’re good. You’re very good at your job. Which means… adrenaline junkie or married to work.”

“I guess it doesn’t really matter at the end of the night, or at least wouldn’t matter to most. It matters to me though, because I can actually give you what you want… if I’m right. And it would make my conscience a lot cleaner.”

GM: Polk’s fingers tighten around the steering wheel. Her jaw tightens too, but her tone is still measured as she replies without looking away from the road, “What’s it that you want to give me, ma’am?”

Caroline: “You won’t believe me.”

GM: “Then with respect, ma’am, why bring it up?”

Caroline: “Because I don’t have to ask for you to believe. I can show you.”

GM: Polk’s jaw tightens. “Ma’am. Have you considered going to the police?”

Caroline: A smile. “Pull over.”

GM: The mercenary’s expression does not relax, but she does as instructed, pulling the Suburban up by the edge of a grocery store’s parking lot.

Caroline: She looks over, meets the mercenaries eyes. “Do me a favor.” The Beast surges out. “Draw your firearm.”

GM: The mercenary’s eyes glass over as she draws the weapon.

Caroline: “Hand it to me.”

GM: She turns it over and hands the grip to Caroline.

Caroline: Caroline releases her grip on the woman’s mind. “Still think that would be a good idea?” She turns the weapon over in her hands.

GM: Polk blinks. “When did you…”

Caroline: “The world, Ms. Polk, is much stranger than you know.”

GM: The mercenary’s eyes travel between Caroline’s full hand and her own empty one. Her voice is tight like piano wire, and her posture no less tense as she demands, “When did I give you that. Ma’am.”

Caroline: “Just now. I simply asked you for it.” She ejects the magazine and passes it to the mercenary. “One in the chamber, right?”

GM: Polk’s hand snaps around the gun like a steel trap. Her face remains mostly straight, but there’s a rising snarl to her voice as she demands, “What. Is going on.”

Caroline: The barrel is still pointed at Caroline, and she casually jams a finger against it.

GM: Even fast as she is, Caroline is too slow for the Secret Service agent. Polk yanks it away from her hands with reflexes that the Ventrue knows would be only enhanced on the Blood. “What the hell are you doing,” she growls. “I’ve signed up to be your bodyguard. Nothing else. You make everything make sense to me, now, or I walk. Ma’am.

Caroline: “It’s easier in my experience with a demonstration, but sure.” She settles back again. “The world is stranger than you know, Ms. Polk. Those things you see when you’re drinking, those memories when you must not have been thinking clearly. They’re not as crazy as you think.”

GM: “As crazy as you shooting yourself,” the merc repeats flatly.

Caroline: “As crazy as you handing someone you thought was unstable your loaded firearm and not being able to remember even doing it? There’s a mystery here, Ms. Polk, that I can shed some light on. And I do need a bodyguard, because there are people that are trying to do some things you couldn’t imagine to me, but they need to understand what they’re up against. And that would require… well. Reading you in. And once that happens, well, you’re in.”

“So this is your choice.” She snorts a little in laughter. “Take the blue pill, this was another boring night. I’ll find someone else. Take the red pill… well. We can go down the rabbit hole, and you join a world that most people will never know even exists. But there’s no going back.”

“Metaphorical pills that is, of course. I’m not trying to drug you.”

GM: The former Secret Service agent listens to Caroline’s ‘offer’ in silence, her eyes still suspicious and her posture still rigid. Eventually it relaxes, and so does Polk’s professionalism as she forthrightly states, “Ma’am, you’re crazy.”

She stares for a moment, then continues, “I don’t know half of what I’ve listened to, but I don’t want to listen to any more. I can provide recommendations if you still want to find another bodyguard.”

Caroline: Caroline meets that stare. “Well, I do understand. You’re probably making the right choice. This life isn’t for everyone.” And just as suddenly out surges the Beast again, pressing down on the unbelieving woman’s so fragile (in comparison) mind.

GM: Polk’s face and posture go slack.

Caroline: “Forget this conversation,” she commands. After a moment she frowns, “Forget my last call.”

It’s so tiring sometimes, having to deal with normal people.

She leans away. “Tell me a secret.”

GM: “Someone paid me to shoot and kill a civilian while I was with the Secret Service and I don’t know why I took the money,” Polk recites in the same tone as someone asked what brand of drain cleaner they prefer.

Caroline: Caroline flinches like she’s just been slapped, her eyes digging into Polk’s.

“Tell me more.”

GM: “I got rid of the money and didn’t fight it when they fired me. I drank a lot.”

Caroline: “Who paid you?”

GM: “Man in a suit with a funny mouth.”

Caroline: “A funny mouth?”

GM: “His mouth was really small.”

Caroline: “Who was the civilian?”

GM: “Thomas Ferrell.”

Caroline: Caroline thinks on that name for a moment. Then she presses her will against Polk’s.

“Do you regret it?”

GM: “Yes,” the mercenary answers in the same bland tone.

Caroline: “Should you suffer?”

GM: “Yes,” she repeats.

Caroline: A contemplative nod.

“What do you want?”

GM: “Find out why I did it. Find out who the man was. Stop drinking. Get a man. Join the Marshals or FBI.”

Caroline: “What do you need?”

GM: “Don’t know.”

Caroline: “That’s okay. I do.”

GM: The woman just numbly stares.

Caroline: Caroline brings her wrist to her mouth, making a pair of tiny holes in her skin.

“Drink from me,” she orders, extending her wrist.

GM: Polk robotically lifts Caroline’s wrist to her mouth and imbibes.

Caroline: Caroline watches her drink, feels the still warm vitae leave her body, and at last orders, “That’s enough.”

GM: The mercenary placidly lets go. She doesn’t wipe any of the red dribbling down her chin.

Caroline: She disarms the docile woman and looks at her, nods, then releases her power over her.

GM: Polk blinks in a now too-familiar confusion.

Caroline: Caroline simply waits for her questions.

GM: Polk frowns sharply. “Ma’am. How did we get parked here?”

She looks at the gun in her hand, and the expression only deepens.

Then she sniffs. Licks the red from her lips.

“What’s going on?”

Caroline: “You tell me,” Caroline asks.

GM: “Ma’am, when did I give you my gun?”

Caroline: “A few moments ago,” Caroline replies casually, unconcerned.

GM:Why did I give you my gun, ma’am?” Polk half-asks, half-demands.

Caroline: “Why don’t you know?” Caroline counters.

GM: The mercenary’s face is starting to show frustration. “Ma’am, I don’t know. That’s why I’m asking you.”

Caroline: “Have you been drinking?” Caroline asks, hearkening back to their conversation earlier in the evening.

GM: Polk frowns deeply. “I don’t think it’s a good idea for me to work for you, ma’am. I can provide referrals for other Blackwatch employees,” she states for the unwittingly second time.

Caroline: “Hold that thought.” Caroline instructs her, moving her free hand. The discharge of the firearm in the confined space of the car is deafening and the smell of gunpowder fills the air. A single piece of brass shoots out of the side of the weapon to the right, bouncing off the window and falling in the woman’s lap.

More importantly however, is the bullet that flies out of the muzzle of the weapon and flies into the Ventrue’s hand, which closes around it. She extends that hand towards Polk and drops the still hot round into Polk’s own hand, offering up her own hand, palm up for inspection. “If I have your attention now I’d like to dispense with the formalities and get right down to the part where I offer you an opportunity to find the answers to all your questions, starting with why you took the money.”

“Or would you prefer to run away and offer a referral?”

GM: Shouts of alarm sound from the grocery store’s parking lot. Caroline can make out several cries of, “Oh my god!” and “Was that a gun!?”

Polk only half-seems to register them, staring in disbelief at the sight.

Caroline: “Not that I’d advise that. I’d give you less than a year to live on your own, all things being equal.” She looks at the other woman and, seeing her disbelief, snaps her fingers. “Ms. Polk?”

GM: “We need to get away from here,” the bodyguard snaps, twisting the car’s keys.

Caroline: Caroline gives her an address.

GM: Polk pulls the Suburban out of the crowded parking lot. A middle-aged woman with a full shopping cart of groceries, half-crouched under it for cover, stares bewilderedly after the departing car.

Caroline: Caroline meanwhile digs out her phone and quickly makes Siri pull up the number to the grocery store, where she reports some ‘damn kids’ playing with firecrackers in their parking lot and nearly hitting her car with one.

GM: Caroline retrieves the store’s number and asks to speak with the manager. He thanks Caroline for letting him about the situation (evidently not having heard yet from the shopper outside), promises to call the police, and adds that he hopes the incident won’t deter her from shopping at Whole Foods Market.

Caroline: She hangs up and turns back to regard Polk. “So?”

GM: “How the hell do you know about the money I took?” the former Secret Service agent snaps, eyes still on the road as she drives (though doesn’t speed) away from the Whole Foods.

Caroline: “Not how did you catch a bullet?” Caroline tilts her head. “It’s amazing what people will tell you, if you know how to ask.” Another tilt of her head. “Or did you expect answers for free?”

GM: A chocolates store passes by the tinted windows. Polk grits her teeth. A vein bulges in her forehead, and her breath also sounds heavier.

“Ma’am. With respect, cut the fucking games and make…” the mercenary seems to search for words, then finally simply settles on, “this make sense. How the hell did you do both those things, and why are you showing me?”

Caroline: “It’s as I’ve said, Ms. Polk. I need someone with your skills, and come to find out, you need someone with mine. There’s a larger game at work in the world than you know. You’ve already been a pawn in it once.” She smiles bitterly. “The money was really a nice touch. I asked you earlier if you’d ever seen anything you couldn’t explain. Now you have. In effect, I’m pitching you your existing job… with some perks. Like getting to see behind the curtain, where lie people that can shrug off bullets, know things they shouldn’t, and even make you do things.”

“Take it, and you’ll get the answers you want so desperately, a future beyond security guard for hire, and… well. Other things.” A smile.

GM: Polk says nothing at first, staring ahead at the road. Riverbend’s well-to-do sprawl of homes and shops gives way to lower-class Broadmoor’s rougher streets. The mercenary’s set jaw does not relax, but her tone is merely as hard rather than heavy as piano wire when she finally states,

“All right. I agree.”

Caroline: “Excellent,” Caroline quips. Then, as she watches the woman’s body language she sighs. “Relax, Ms. Polk. I’m not out to get you or trick you. Go ahead and ask one of the questions that you must be holding in. We have a little ways yet to go.”

GM: “Why is there blood on my lips,” Polk half-states, half-asks.

Caroline: “It’s not actually blood. It’s called vitae, and among other things it should make you faster and tougher. More resilient. I needed and need you capable of fighting off people that can, for instance, catch bullets.”

GM: Polk’s jaw tightens further. “Why don’t I remember you giving me anything?”

Caroline: “I didn’t want you to. If you refused the gifts would fade in time, and you’d be little the wiser for it.”

GM: “What the hell are you talking about ‘you didn’t want me to’? Why don’t I remember losing my gun either?”

Caroline: “It’s similar, if less subtle and refined, to what led you to shoot that poor man in the head for the money,” Caroline replies, arching an eyebrow. “Some of us that get into the mind of another and make them do things. In my case it’s simple orders like ‘hand me your gun’ and ‘drink this.’ Someone more gifted however could give you a more complicated demand, such as ‘take this money to shoot this person at this time’. I find that kind of thing to be quite immoral, but others, well, don’t agree.”

GM: Polk takes some time to process that. Caroline can see a hundred more questions brimming behind the bodyguard’s eyes, but finally she settles for, “What ARE you?”

Caroline: Caroline sighs and looks down, almost shamefully. After a moment, “Damned. Monsters that go bump in the night. The stuff out of children’s stories. Or Hollywood. Stoker got most of it wrong, but he did get the blood right. I can’t really give you a good answer on that, yet, because I don’t have one. My circumstances are unusual. We’re people though, or we were at least.”

GM: “Vampires,” Polk states with a flat voice that wants to be disbelieving. It’s mostly just incredulous.

Caroline: “In common vernacular, though that word provokes a very negative reaction among most. They prefer the term Kindred.”

GM: “So you drink peoples’ blood. And you’ve turned me into one of you.” That same half-flat, half-incredulous tone.

Caroline: “Oh God no.” Caroline looks actively horrified at the thought, and for the first time seems actively off-balance in the conversation. “I… what… no.” She shakes her head. “I simply evened the scales a little bit between us. You’re still human, alive. You get to eat, drink, sleep. You have a future. You’ll just also be capable of some things you might have called impossible yesterday.”

GM: Polk seems to chew that over, particularly Caroline’s reaction. “What happened to me—with the civilian and the money? Why?”

Caroline: “One of my kind,” she almost spits out the words, “wanted him killed, but in a way that wasn’t easily tracked back to them. You made a useful patsy. Older, more experienced, more powerful Kindred can do more than simply order you around. They can actively put triggers into someone’s head, plant ideas, even rewrite memories.” She shrugs. “The money was an explanation for you, and for anyone else that found out.”

“You’ll discover that there’s one rule above all others for Kindred. They call it the Masquerade: you don’t expose yourself, or do anything that might expose Kindred, to mortals. If I had to guess, I’d say that if you’d stayed in DC you’d already be dead. One less loose end. And if you went digging into this on your own, they’d probably discover that one day you ate your gun out of guilt. Maybe left a touching suicide note.”

GM: “Why?” the former Secret Service agent asks. “So they could drink his blood? There’s got to be more… efficient ways.”

Caroline: “Because he was someone else’s pawn.” She looks over at Polk. “I feel like I should be smoking while I explain this.”

GM: “I could care less about the secondhand at this point. Ma’am.”

Caroline: Caroline chuckles darkly. " This… it’s just like the real world, Ms. Polk. It’s all about power. More so. Imagine if you had eternity to look towards, near-effortless command of mortals, and few physical desires, much less needs? It’s social influence, political power, money, and most importantly, social capital among each other. There are those among my kind that are hundreds of years old. Maybe older. I don’t really know. And most of them have little better to do than play the game against each other."

GM: “And they also kill ordinary people by drinking their blood.”

Caroline: “Sometimes. Some more than others.” She looks very much ashamed on this point. “It’s very much a matter of preference and control. As long as you aren’t drawing attention to yourself most don’t care. Some revel in their debauchery. In their power over life and death. They kill without conscience or concern. Others try to do better. It’s neater. Others still manage to subsist on donated blood, but that’s difficult if you aren’t rich, powerful, or influential. The going rate on blood out of a fridge, for a year, just enough to survive, is something more than half a million dollars if you’re lucky. If you’re not… much more.”

“There’s a middle ground.”

GM: “Are there any of you who try to do good? If you have all that power and… forever?”

Caroline: “What do you mean by, ‘do good’?”

GM: “For something, anything, constructive. Instead of ruining peoples’ lives.”

Caroline: “I don’t really know.” The haunted look lingers on Caroline’s face. “It’s complicated. Yes, and no. There’s entire groups, blocs, that try to make something good out of this. Try to target those who deserve it. Some try to protect those they care about, shield them from this world. Consider though, without going into detail, how this world must be set up. Consider if a CEO or politician never had to retire. Never had to step aside, and only grew more personally and politically powerful every night. How much power they would have relative to those coming in later. And then think on how many people would be corrupted absolutely by the kind of power I’m talking about.”

“I don’t want to hurt people, Ms. Polk. I just don’t want to die.”

GM: The frown on Polk’s thought-lined face remains in place. “So why do you need me?”

Caroline: “The person who did this to me. Who turned me into, this.” She spits out the last word. “And others of my own kind. We’re not invincible. I’m not invincible. I was also given a deadline to turn over the person that did this to me, to face justice, or they come cut off my head. Probably very publicly. Well, publicly among monsters like me. I’m sure it’ll be a social function.”

GM: “So you want my help. Against… another one of you.”

Caroline: “Eventually, if you’re willing. For now I want you do exactly what I hired you in the first place, to help protect me from his servants. Mortals, like you. They made a run at me last night. Nearly killed my last bodyguard. Very nearly did the same to me. In return, you get to see behind the curtain. You get to learn what’s going on, and maybe, in time, find out more about what happened back in DC. Oh, and you get to never grow old.”

GM: Polk’s face hardly looks relaxed throughout Caroline’s explanation, but at the mention of her halted aging, the bodyguard’s jaw sets again. “What?”

Caroline: “As long as you work for me, you won’t age another day unless you want to. Fringe benefit. One of the men that attacked me last night had been running around since the turn of the century. The last century.”

GM: “I sure do, ma’am. I don’t want to live forever,” Polk states, her frown only slightly abating at the ‘unless you want to’ clause.

Caroline: Caroline looks her over.

“Yeah. I wouldn’t want to either.”


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Story Four, Caroline VII

“You’re the best thing in my life. Better than I deserve.”
Caroline Malveaux


Monday night, 14 September 2015, PM

GM: The crowd filters out of the theater’s front doors as the Ventrue takes her leave of her brother and his girlfriend. But a few figures remain, like bits of blood Caroline couldn’t completely clean off, and which can only dry and curdle and ferment. Many are pale-faced and still as death, with lean and hungry gaits that only mimic semblances of humanity. They no longer hide what they are away from the masses of ignorant kine.

Caroline: In contrast, Caroline almost looks human. Statuesque in her beauty, but still breathing, moving, without that telltale stillness of older Kindred.

GM: Gus Elgin moves through the throngs of departing and arriving undead. He announces that it will be a few minutes before the night’s second half of entertainments begin in earnest. He bids the assembled Kindred to “enjoy themselves” in the interim by watching a troupe of glassy-eyed, seemingly oblivious kine musicians play further Mozart.

But the music draws little attention. Stares linger on Caroline.

Caroline: She’s been a goldfish in a bowl before, and adopts a slightly amused expression as she stakes out a spot a little off from the rest of the crowd.

GM: Almost the entire room is staring at Caroline. She recognizes a number of previous Kindred she has met. Coco. Halrequin. McGinn. Adelais. Cartwright. Roxanne.

They are not friendly stares.

They look even less friendly at Caroline’s air of amusement.

Gus Elgin approaches the Ventrue and requests in a reproachful tone, “Please clean yourself, Miss Malveaux, and thoroughly. The scent emanating from you is… distracting.” Two fangs distend past the Nosferatu’s chapped, puffy lips.

Snide remarks are audible among the sneering crowd.

Caroline: “Ah, my apologies, Master Elgin.” Her smirk doesn’t quite fade, but does waver, and she takes her leave from him towards one of the restrooms. She takes advantage of the sinks, now free from kine, to wash more of the vitae from her scalp. Blood runs red in the basin.

GM: Caroline does her best to scrub her hair down to the root. The bathroom’s brighter lighting helps, even despite her excellent night vision. She can only imagine what a difficult task it was for Meg had to clean the two Kindreds’ hair in the dark.

A text buzzes from Autumn.

I’m not a med student, but is there any eye or face stuff Turner could pick up for Aimee? Her face looks really bad

Caroline: Ask Turner. She’s done triage before, Caroline texts back, almost annoyed by the intrusion into her night.

GM: K will do

Caroline spends another minute or so scrubbing before a light knock sounds against the bathroom door.

Caroline: “Yes?” she calls curiously.

GM: “Is this room unoccupied, ma’am, or would it be better if I came back later?” asks a young-sounding woman’s voice.

Caroline: Caroline watches the last of the bloody water flow down the drain and looks at herself in the mirror. “Come in.”

GM: Becky Lynne Adler steps in. The shorter blonde wears a sun-colored dress cinched at the waist, tan heels, and a diamond necklace and earrings.

becky_lynn_adler_4.jpg
“Oh, hello there, Miss Malveaux. I’m rather relieved to see it’s not a harpy.”

Caroline: “Aren’t we all, Miss Adler? How has your evening been so far?”

GM: “Very well, thank you. I hope we can say the same for your own,” the other Ventrue smiles, setting down her purse in front of the mirror. “The concert was lovely… I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s any Toreador now fixin’ to ghoul some of the musicians.”

Caroline: “I rather enjoyed it,” Caroline agrees. She considers for a moment what to do with her still-wet hair and settles setting it into a braid, her fingers working with a deftness she never had in life.

GM: Becky Lynne tilts her head. “I find that balanced salt solution usually does the trick. The Lady Speaker Defallier passed that tidbit on to me… I couldn’t tell you why it works, but I’ll take whatever gets the red out.”

No expert but no slouch either at the physical sciences, Caroline knows that hemoglobin being a protein is soluble in salt solution.

Caroline: “I’ll pack a salt shaker next time,” Caroline remarks wryly, but she smiles after a moment. “Lots of experience with this?”

GM: “I think we all pick up experience there, sooner or later,” Becky Lynne smiles back depreciatingly as she opens her purse.

Caroline: She finishes the braid and turns to examine her work. “Serviceable.”

GM: The smell of blood is much fainter, but still odorous to Caroline’s sensitive nose.

“Not too much we can do about our cravin’s behind closed doors, but we can at least gussy up past open ones,” the other Ventrue nods.

Caroline: “Yes, you do so look like you need it,” Caroline replies, sarcasm dripping from her voice.

GM: Becky Lynne laughs lightly as she pulls out some eyeliner and inspects her face in the mirror.

“It’s even more effort for us, I’ve found. We aren’t supposed to look as if we still use things like makeup, but lord almighty, what woman can leave home without?”

Caroline: “Truly our woes are many, what with looking perfect to begin with.”

Or perhaps too pale. The other Ventrue’s comments set off a flight of anxieties that Caroline carefully puts to bed one by one in the mirror.

GM: “If you’ll forgive my bein’ forward enough to say so,” Caroline’s clanmate adds as she withdraws a cylinder of skin-colored Siren Cosmetics lipstick and re-touches her lips, “I can still smell the red… we have such good noses for it, that stuff’s impossible to get completely out, once it’s in, short of a long bath.”

Caroline: “Not too forward at all, though I’m at a loss for a solution in this moment.”

GM: “Well, off-hand,” Becky Lynne considers, “short of getting a bathtub brought in, I’d say there’s leaving and comin’ back. You might miss a bit of the event, but the rest should be smoother sailin’.” She smiles. “This is an ‘extra credit’ Elysium Primo anyways, what with tonight bein’ a Monday.”

Caroline: “I wasn’t the one struggling with it,” Caroline observes.

GM: Becky Lynne tucks the lipstick back into her purse, but doesn’t pull out any other cosmetics as she remarks, “Miss Malveaux, if you’ll forgive my bein’ forward again, blood in the water is blood in the water… it attracts sharks, even a mile off.”

Caroline: “Should I be afraid?” She certainly doesn’t sound concerned.

GM: “If I were standin’ in your shoes, yes, I would be afraid,” Becky Lynne answers.

Caroline: “Of another Kindred losing control of themselves?”

GM: “Oh no, I think Sheriff Donovan is here for tonight’s Elysium. Him and the seneschal. I won’t be gettin’ goosebumps over anyone’s Beasts, not within these four walls.”

Caroline: “Then what?”

GM: Becky Lynne tilts her head. “I reckon you grew up with the same cotillion lessons I did, Miss Malveaux. You know how these salons are. How things must be said, must be done, all just so.”

Caroline: “Ah, I’m setting myself up for problems down the line for a lack of propriety, then?”

GM: “Propriety. Now that is the word for it,” the other blue blood smiles.

Propriety.

Becky Lynne is a head shorter than Caroline, give or take… it feels like it would be so easy for her to slam the blonde against the wall, pull back her neck and sink canines into that smooth pale skin. To taste the same ecstasy that Jocelyn’s veins offered. Maybe even sweeter ecstasy… she’s probably closer to Caine than the Toreador, if she’s a primogen’s sister. Such vitae would not be forced on Caroline, as Donovan’s or McGinn’s was, but claimed

Caroline: Alone with a potential victim or not, richer blood than Jocelyn’s or not, there’s one thing that weighs even heavier on Caroline’s mind: Aimee’s sniveling pleas. Autumn enslaving herself, just for a fix.

That isn’t who she is. She isn’t weak.

GM: “You know how it is,” Becky Lynne continues, seemingly oblivious to Caroline’s brush with temptation. “One girl shows up with even an itty-bitty stain on her dress, and the others just go whole hog.”

Caroline: “Oh yes, I remember middle school.”

GM: Becky Lynne lightly laughs at that, gives herself a final look-over in the mirror, and picks up her purse.

“Well, I had best be goin’ now. I’m sure I’ll see you around, Miss Malveaux.”

Caroline: “Put money on it,” Caroline advises with a sickly smile that matches the Kindred’s sickly sweet demeanor.

GM: Becky Lynne opens the bathroom door and turns around to smile back at Caroline.

“That sounds rather like a bet. It’s temptin’, but I’m not a woman to make bets—just investments.” Do enjoy the rest of your evening. If you’ll be around, the closing prayer service is a lovely affair."


Monday night, 14 September 2015, PM

GM: As Caroline departs the womens’ restroom, she sees a small crowd of seated Kindred gathered in the auditorium. Their heads are bowed in prayer. Ghouls sit in back rows behind their masters. The affair does not appear so formal as a weekly Catholic mass and communion, for there is merely a model lance rather than full altar set up upon the central stage. Gus Elgin has donned the priestly vestments appropriate for an evening prayer—stole, tippet, surplice and cassock, but not the chassuble, girdle, and amice that would be worn at mass. He ministers to the crowd alongside Philip Maldonato, who wears a double-breasted gray suit similar to the one in which Caroline last saw him.

“…you shall honor the Dark Father and give thanks for the perfection of his sinfulness and the miracle of his transformation. Say to the Lord: My God, all praise is due to You for the miracle of transformation that You bestowed upon the centurion. Blessed are we who know the truth of divinity in the world because of the blood of the Christ that gave the centurion sight and life! May we ever walk in his ways and follow his example, by Your power and will. Amen.”

Caroline: Caroline actually stumbles a bit at the sight and words. Not enough to fall, but enough to trip over her feet for a moment.

She makes her way outside to Turner’s parked van.

GM: The Blackwatch merc flatly asks her domitor whether “all ghouls but me are freaks and geeks one bad day away from slitting their wrists.”

Caroline: “Not all of them, but many are,” Caroline concedes. “I take it you weren’t impressed?”

GM: “I thought they couldn’t get any sadder than Leaf One and Leaf Two, but that Meg girl sure proved me wrong.”

Caroline: “Be nice,” Caroline chastises. “Autumn is doing the best that she can.”

GM: Turner just grunts at that, asks her boss where to, and starts up the car.

Caroline: Caroline digs a first aid kit out of the gear stowed in the back of the Blackwatch Suburban, biting into her wrist as she gives directions to the mercenary. The light trickle of blood into a thermos can barely be heard over the sound the vehicles tires sliding smoothly across the Big Easy’s pavement and cobbles.

GM: However pathetic Turner might disdain her fellow ghouls, her stare is no less hungry than theirs.

Caroline: She fires off a message to Ms. Haley, explaining she had to depart but meant no offense, and would still like to speak with Coco, while she waits for Turner to arrive.

GM: The merc drives for a while. Caroline decides on another change of venue.

Tree_Of_Life.jpg
The Tree of Life, one of Audubon Park’s main attractions, is a gnarled Southern live oak that resembles nothing so much as a twisted wooden knot with foliage hanging off of it. It’s at least as old as Caroline’s sire, and possibly even some of the city’s elders. The tree abuts the Audubon Zoo’s giraffe cage and allows enterprising climbers to watch the long-necked animals over the wall.

Caroline doubts it would normally be a good hunting spot. But weddings also take place under its majestic boughs on a semi-regular basis, and she has a feeling. She finds a sad-looking twenty-something woman staring at the trunk with her arms crossed.

The first words out of her lips when Caroline strikes up a conversation are, “We were going to get married here.”

Caroline: Caroline settles down beside the woman. Maybe a bit closer than normal, to listen to her sob story.

“Tell more more.”

GM: The Ventrue draws out the full story. Her fiancée killed himself. It was with a gun to the head. She has no idea why. She thought they were going to be so happy together. He didn’t leave a note. He just abruptly chose to check out of the world. She’s hurt, confused, and questioning everything—what could have made him do a thing like that? Her love-sick pain is so raw and fresh.

Caroline provides the comfort she doesn’t know she seeks.

Caroline: Suicides need something to live for, a voice whispers all too close to her ear.

Sure they do. So do those they leave behind.

But right now Caroline needs something from the woman. Something more personal. She drinks deep as her fangs pierce skin.

GM: The taste is plain next to the hot rush that was Jocelyn’s vitae, but it’s a step up from her meal before that too. A home-grilled steak rather than an O’Tolley’s burger… or an upscale restaurant’s fillet mignon.

Caroline: Caroline takes her fill. She then takes the woman’s name, phone number, and other contact information. She stares into the woman’s eyes, tells her what to remember and what to forget, and deposits her outside of Turner’s van.

GM: She gives her name as Sasha Mcmillan. She is still pained, still confused, and still bleary-eyed when the Ventrue is finished. But there is a desperate want behind those eyes now as the almost-widow confusedly stumbles away. She wants more of whatever staunched her heart’s bleeding.

Wherever Caroline looks, she sees more addicts.


Monday night, 14 September 2015, PM

GM: Caroline and Turner drive back to the Ventrue’s home in Audubon Place. Inside, Autumn has cleaned up the broken glass and gotten rid of the table’s useless legs. The already bare house feels just a little more bare for its loss.

Aimee lies motionless on the floor. Autumn’s washed her face, brushed off the glass and applied some bandages, but she still isn’t moving. The ghoul reports that, “Not a lot’s happened, but I checked your mail. I found this…”

It’s an envelope made from high-quality navy paper and wrapped with gold ribbon. Fancy white calligraphy reads, “You are invited.”

Caroline: Caroline drops a particularly out of character bit of profanity as she unwraps the ribbon.

Aimee has waited this long. “While I read, what do you know about blood blonds between Kindred?” Caroline asks Autumn. “Like, the voluntary kind.”

GM: Caroline finds a letter in similar-quality stationary paper with an ornate gold border. It’s from an Antoine Savoy who introduces himself as a fellow Kindred and the Lord of the French Quarter. He greets Caroline warmly and says he expects great things from this latest scion of Malveaux blood—he’s heard all about her grace under fire and heroism in saving those two girls at the Eighth District shooting. He invites her an “Evergreen Plantation” with an address on Royal Street, to “discuss a matter of mutual interest.”

René Baristheaut.

“Discrete transportation,” if Caroline desires it, will be provided and pick her up from a location of her choosing. She may RSVP by 5 AM texting the address she wishes to be picked up to a provided phone number.

Caroline: Caroline quickly folds the letter and tucks it into her dress for now, damn lack of pockets, while she waits for Autumn to expand on the topic from her own perspective.

GM: “Well, it’s the same as any other collar, I guess. If you drink someone’s juice three times, you’ll fall in love with them.”

The expression on Autumn’s face is… hard to place.

Caroline: “What is the Krewe’s view on it between Kindred?”

GM: “They never talked to me about it, so I guess they don’t have one? Collars don’t really threaten the Masquerade.”

Caroline: “Good.” She looks over to Aimee’s still form. “I think you should give us the room now, for a little while, Autumn.”

GM: “Sure. Just gimme a shout if you need me.” The ghoul briefly glances at Aimee, then heads off.

Caroline: Caroline approaches her maimed ghoul, surveying the wreckage she left behind.

GM: The blood and glass are gone from Aimee’s face, but she otherwise looks little better. Her unwashed face looks worn and tired. Her hair is slightly greasy and unkempt. She’s still dressed in the same now-bloodstained sweats that she wore when Caroline “rescued” her.

She smells unpleasant. It’s been two or so days since she last showered.

Caroline: She’s repugnant. The entire scene is repugnant. It’s a slap in the face after her time with Jocelyn, or even her time with Sasha. Aimee is just… a problem. She has been since this all started, almost a lifetime ago. A problem of her own devising. Looking at her here, and now, Caroline has to admit to herself that she hates her. A part of her, deep down, hates herself for the admission, but that part has been buried deeply in only a week.

Buried under gang members, under ghouls, under poor girls that just wanted someone to hold them tight in the night. Buried under hunting men and women like animals.

And yet… for all of that…

She frowns and reaches down with one hand to gently run her fingertips over the girl’s maimed face. Over what she wrought.

It would be so much easier not to feel, not to have to feel.

GM: Caroline feels tender human flesh, so frail in comparison to her own. After this little time, Aimee’s various cuts and bruises have had little opportunity to heal, and the Ventrue’s fingers come away damp. Her Beast stirs in excitement.

Always, it wants.

Caroline: She turns her attention back to her own perfect flesh, to her wrist. For a moment she sways, suddenly uncertain.

Does she really want to do this? Does she really care? Or is she simply going through the motions?

GM: It would be so easy, her Beast purrs. To just drain her here, end the problem, and have a full belly to boot.

Caroline: She knows too much, a voice purrs.

She’s a liability.

She brought it on herself.

She’ll never be anything but a reminder of the past.

GM: The Beast only growls:

Weak.

Food.

Caroline: And ultimately, that’s what pushes her over the edge. She sinks her fangs into her own wrist, lowering it to Aimee’s lips.

I am not a slave to you, she snarls at the Beast.

GM: “I wish there was a way to fight against it and win. But there isn’t. I’ve searched. I’ve seen. All I know how is the way to lose more slowly.”

Her inner monster only licks its chops. And waits.

Aimee does not drink from Caroline’s bleeding wrist, and the Ventrue finds that she must pull open her ghoul’s mouth and let her vitae steadily drip down.

Some of the fresh cuts over her face fade a bit more, the body’s natural healing process sped by a factor of God knows how much, though Aimee still does not awaken.

Caroline: It’s a little disappointing that she doesn’t stir, but ultimately Caroline convinces herself that it’s for the best. She doesn’t really know what they’d talk about after their last conversation ended with Caroline grinding her face into a pile of broken glass.

She does her best to examine the damage from a distance. Not… too bad.

She approaches Autumn and checks her phone.

GM: There’s a new message from Haley. She informs Caroline that she’s given no offense, as they never scheduled a private meeting. Coco will still be at tonight’s Elysium for several hours if Caroline still wishes to speak with her. If that doesn’t work, the ghoul can attempt to fit Caroline into her mistress’ schedule at a later date.

Caroline: Caroline turns to Autumn. “I need to go back to Elysium. She should be stable, and might even wake up. Try to keep her down, if it comes up move her to her room upstairs. Don’t leave a phone in the room with her.” She bites her lip.

GM: “Okay. I don’t think either of those things should be too hard.”

Caroline: “Anything else you need from me?” She frowns. “No, think on it. I need to take a shower.”

GM: The shower is long, hot, and salty. By the time Caroline gets out, it’s around an hour later. Downstairs, Autumn has moved a pillow under Aimee’s head and draped a blanket over her body, though she is still lying on the floor. Autumn is fast asleep on the couch. A plate with some sandwich crumbs sits on the adjacent table.

Caroline: Caroline collects the plate and deposits it in the sink, then gathers up a blanket from upstairs to lay over Autumn, moving with unnaturally light feet. The too-human gestures send a pang of melancholy through her, a reminder of everything she’s given up. Meals she’ll never share, and rest she’ll never enjoy.

She’s tired. Just mentally fatigued. The last week of nights has raced from one into the next like a runaway train, and with no human schedule like school or work to ground her there is no break in it. It follows as one coherent—monstrously coherent—experience. There is, however, no rest for the wicked. Dressed to kill, with elegant black Louis Vuitton heels that turn her killer legs into killing machines, a form-fitting (or showcasing) black dress that is perhaps a bit risque (but only a bit) in his length, and no more lingering scent of vitae clinging to her like a miasma, she heads for the door and Turner’s still waiting vehicle.

She has appointments to keep, and a new array of problems to consider. She’s grateful for Turner’s quiet professionalism. Grateful for her dependability. And mostly thankful because with the mercenary driving she can close her eyes and pretend to sleep for the short drive.

Can. But of course doesn’t. There’s always more to do. She fires off a text to Jessica, asking about the Cécilia’s stalker—in particular for a bit more information on his past criminal record, criminal associates, and home of record. Nothing that she couldn’t get through public records, just things that would take a great deal longer.

Then she turns her attention back to her driver. “You seemed to have a favorable opinion of Mr. Hayes. I hope he won’t mind that I mentioned his name to someone else in the market for a bodyguard.”

GM: “Nope,” Turner answers as the well-kept neighborhood rolls past. “Don’t think he’d mind working as one. Doesn’t like his boss.”

Caroline: “Cécilia is a family friend. Little spooked by some creep that followed her home singing love songs and trying to break in.”

GM: “You want, I could break his legs,” the ghoul volunteers.

Caroline: Caroline shows her fangs. “If it comes to that, I think I’d prefer something a little more personal.”

GM: Meanwhile, a text pings back from Officer White, who Caroline recalls fortunately works the 10 PM to 6 AM death row shift. Mouse has no prior criminal record, but his brother Francis “Fizzy” Fernandez is a convicted felon who’s spent time in the Farm. He (Mouse, not Fizzy) lives on-campus at Tulane University.

Caroline: Those teeth show all the more clearly for a moment.

“Yes, I think I’d indeed like to visit him for a little chat.”

GM: “Fucking pervert with those love songs. Who the fuck actually does that outside movies.”

Caroline: “Too much Disney,” Caroline agrees.

GM: “Fuck Disney,” Turner concurs.


Tuesday night, 15 September 2015, AM

GM: The Blackwatch van clears Audubon Place’s perimeter. Turner drives back for the Orpheum.

Caroline notices it, though, out of the corner of her eye.

They’re being followed by a white minivan.

Caroline: “God fucking damn it,” she hisses as she sees it.

GM: “Change of plans?” Turner asks.

Caroline: “Just keep driving. Path through a non-main street with a stop sign.”

She carefully doesn’t turn around, but does discretely check the seat beside her for several of the many ‘toys’ that Turner’s status with Blackwatch makes easy to travel around with. They’ve picked a bad time.

GM: “Central City’s up ahead. Can go through there or a nicer part of town.”

Caroline: “Central,” Caroline replies tersely.

GM: Turner wordlessly drives. Urban growth thickens as Riverbend’s and then Uptown’s primarily well-to-do residential neighborhoods give way to slums and urban blight. Graffiti-vandalized skeletons of buildings, smashed streetlights, and needle-littered yards of parched brown grass roll past the window.

The van behind them speeds up.

Caroline: Too many possibilities. Too many threats. Her sire? Eight-Nine-Six? Savoy? The Krewe? Her uncle? Her father? Little choice but to play the waiting game for now.

GM: The van behind them is getting closer.

A lot closer.

And fast.

Caroline: “Turner!” Caroline warns, watching it in the side mirror.

GM: Headlights blare into the car’s side mirrors. For a moment Caroline can only see light.

It all happens in an instant, even to the Ventrue’s preternatural reflexes. Tires screech. Metal screams. Glass shatters. The airbag explodes. The car spins like an angel madly capering on the head of a too-small pin. There’s motion through the windows. Caroline’s surroundings flu madly past.

A second crash. The Ventrue is hurled forward, slamming her head against the dashboard. The seatbelt yanks taut against her torso.

Caroline: Fortunately, rear-ending a slow-moving car isn’t ideal for inflicting damage. The jolt is still shocking, and disorienting, for a moment.

The brunette mercenary doesn’t even hesitate for a moment. She claws through the safety features designed to get her killed and slides out the driver’s side door, lining up her weapon on the two nearer attackers and depressing the trigger, riding the weapon’s mild recoil up to ‘stitch’ them. There’s a look in her eye that Caroline has seen before. A hunger, and a satisfaction.

GM: Turner’s automatic screams hot lead and belches spent casings into the night. The two closest approaching figures, both female, don’t scream so much as roar as the bullets riddle their bodies. Incredibly, to the ex-Marine’s sight, they don’t go down. They sound pissed as hell, and they twist like dancing schizophrenics off their meds, but they don’t go down.

One moment, the female figure has only just leaped out of the car. The next, she’s right next to Turner. She’s Hispanic, with breast-length reedy black hair, a beanie hat of the same color, and nose studs that resembles nails driven through her nostrils. She wears a torn wifebeater that exposes her lower belly and a tattoo of the Virgin Mary, topless and smirking as she bares her naked breasts.

The snarling woman-creature flies at the merc, a jagged knife dancing in her hands. Turner punches her in the throat with newly-honed reflexes her comrades in arms would kill to have, and could kill even more people if they did have. The sidestepped blade drives a deep, organ-ruining gouge in the van’s side.

Caroline: Caroline can’t see much from within the car. The shattered windshield. The air bag in her face. The blood fury. But she can see that whore with the tattoo as she lunges for her mercenary. Can see her pretending she’s something. She remembers that brutal beating in the alley, hoping against hope that Marco would show up on time. And her hand closes around something next to the seat. Something very familiar in her hand.

The Beast roars with glee.

She neatly slices through the seatbelt with the same motion that draws the sword sitting beside her, and then she’s out, prowling. Hunting. Fighting. Establishing HER dominance on these thugs. This trash. And her father said fencing was a distraction.

GM: The car door flies open and Caroline is no longer there. The fencing sword spins in a deadly arc—and one of the onrushing figures is no longer there either.

The knife screeches against the surbuban again, leaving a shower of sparks and nasty long white scar in its wake. But Caroline isn’t there either. She’s in front of the other vampire, her sword rammed through through the Virgin Mary’s bared breasts. Blood spurts from the etched nipples like a mother’s milk. The other vampire howls at Caroline, knife flashing. The Ventrue pulls down and simultaneously yanks her blade free, leaving a nasty red slash down her rival’s pelvis as she tucks into a roll and comes up from behind.

Caroline: She all but roars with satisfaction.

GM: Meanwhile, gunshots explode at Turner from the other car. The ghoul isn’t fast enough to dodge speeding lead, but the Kevlar vest does its job.

The last of Caroline’s attackers, another Hispanic woman with a scarred face, messy black hair, and sharp claws protruding from where her nails should be, looks between the fighting combatants and gangs up on the already under-fire ghoul. Instead of rushing into the melee, however, she grabs a handgun out of the car and squeezes off another few rounds at the Blackwatch merc.

The hooedie-wearing black man bares a truly feral grin at Turner that displays his canines. “You mine, juicebag.”

He flies at her, not even bothering with a knife, with the same wide-armed grab that Caroline herself has seized up more than one victim with. The ex-soldier isn’t so easy a catch, however, and smashes her gun’s butt into his kidneys, sidesteps him as he gags, and slams his face against the car with another timely auto-whip to the back of his head.

Caroline: Turner grins. “Are all vampires this pathetic?”

GM: The vampire’s Beast only screams back as he bares his fangs, his eyes mad with rage.

Caroline: Turner twists and clears her barrel again against the tattooed Kindred, already riddled with bullet holes. The weapon’s barrel flashes again, bullets snapping through the air with a supersonic crack.

GM: The hail of bulletfire chews apart the Blessed Virgin’s tattoo and a great deal more. The hole-riddled thing that stands barely looks human. Ravenous jaws snap towards Turner’s neck, but the Blackwatch merc whips out her combat knife and buries it in the monster’s chest to the hilt. It thrashes weakly, spitting blood in Turner’s face, and collapses in a heap.

Caroline: Caroline, lost in the Beast’s bloodlust, snarls and hisses as her victim collapses, but it’s a point of minor dissatisfaction. There are so many others available. She whirls on the slower of the two remaining Kindred. This one is already wounded, its blood already filling the air, and she closes the distance a savage grin that bares her fangs.

GM: The female bullet-riddled vampire drops the gun and raises her claws in counter-challenge as Caroline closes distance. The Ventrue sidesteps a swipe at her face and stabs at the rival Kindred’s flank, drawing a satisfying spurt of fresh blood. The monster howls and pulls back away from the lethal blade, cautiously circling Caroline.

The ghoul in the car squeezes off another few rounds at the already beleaguered Turner. The Kevlar does its job, but she still staggers under the impact.

Caroline’s foe eyes the Blackwatch merc as she goes down to one knee, then pulls away from the Ventrue.

The male vampire, now wholly in the throes of his Beast, roars at his foe and lands a viciously powerful punch against Turner’s face. Turner’s nose bloodily crunches apart. As Turner instinctively pulls back, the vampire throws himself at her, tackling the merc to the ground and burying his face in her neck. The other lick dog-piles on. Turner shouts and thrashes as the two vampires ravenously feast. And feast.

Caroline: The struggling mercenary screams back into their face, half rage, half terror, but all violence. “FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU!” Her knife slips free into her hand, and that hand slips free. Words hurt, but not as much as 6" of serrated steel.

GM: With a last defiant gesture, Turner’s six inches slash open the clawed monster’s throat in morbid parody of the same violence being visited upon her. The vampire’s mangled, jilting screams barely sound like anything human, or even animal.

Caroline: Caroline’s beast salivates at the sight of the black Kindred completely lost in his feast. It’s too much. To easy. Too inviting for a predator. She all but pounces on him.

GM: Caroline crashes into her foe like a sack of bricks. The Beast doesn’t bother with any fancy stabbing or parrying. It doesn’t care. She just stabs and stabs the fucking shit out of him, bringing the fencing sword up and down into him like Aimee’s head into the glass.

When that doesn’t prove efficacious enough, Caroline grabs the sword by its point with her other hand, ignoring the deep bite into her flesh, holds it like a crude garrote and crudely saws the whole length of the blade across his neck. Blood spatters everywhere over the frenzied Kindred’s screams. He thrashes back, and the two red-drenched monsters roll about like lovers in the snow. The Beast sees little difference.

The Beast sees a great deal more, too.

Caroline completely missed him. He was too far away. Too cunningly hidden. But in the glint of the meticulously polished fencing sword, Caroline sees the slim reflection of a sniper rifle-carrying gunman. He surveys the scene from his post, weapon carefully primed. For whatever reason holds his fire.

Meanwhile, the gunman in the car empties more rounds into Turner’s prone but still struggling form. Blood leaks over the ground.

Caroline: Turner’s voice is hoarse as she continues to scream obscenities through broken ribs, punctured lungs, a rent throat and frothy blood bubbling up in her lips. She continues to punch, stab, and kick, Marine to the core, 160 lbs of fury wrapped in flesh.

“Fuck you! Fuc…k you!”

She’s covered in blood. Her vest is torn to pieces, and yet, though her body reacts more and more sluggishly, she doesn’t actually feel pain. Adrenaline pumps through her veins like gasoline in a turbine engine, burning red hot and pushing away all feeling. She’s just numb, and weak, and maybe… a bit cold creeping in on her extremities. Stupid weak body. Stupid fucking vampires.

Stupid cocksucking father.

GM: The black vampire snarls as Turner grabs his knee and yanks him back from Caroline, stubbornly refusing to let go. Stubbornly refusing to die, like this stupid juicebag should have, so fucking long ago. The two vampires dogpiling Turner emit simultaneous snarls of rage at the punching, kicking, thrashing 160 lbs of Marine-trained fury.

But for all the blows Turner lands home, it’s two vampires against one prone woman. She can’t throw them off. She can’t stop their feast. The two’s grievous wounds visibly fade as they ravenously suck down the mercenary’s furious, adrenaline-spiked blood.

Turner finally stops struggling.

Seeing her finally down, the gunman opens fire on Caroline. Bullets sprays in several directions, but none catch the inhumanly fast Ventrue.

Caroline: Caroline’s vision can’t go red. She can’t scream or yell in fury as her bodyguard goes down. She can’t even admire the woman’s defiance to the end. She’s already too deep into the Beast, and all the Beast sees is two wounded, simpering, pathetic cowards too afraid to confront her directly. Two foolish rivals that once again turned their back on her. Two corpses to be. There’s no art to it. There’s no elegance, though there is grace. There’s a flash of sharpened steel, movements too fast to follow, and lots of blood.

GM: No art. No elegance.

No resisting.

Caroline’s fencing sword carves through her clawed adversary’s stomach like an apple peeler spitting out skins. The spilled entrails haven’t so much as hit the ground before the whirling blade punches completely through the gurgling vampire’s already ravaged throat. Caroline twists, yanking it out. The disemboweled, now-discarded corpse falls to the ground like so much trash.

Maybe her next adversary tries to fight back somehow. Maybe he tries to run. The Beast doesn’t notice. The Beast doesn’t care. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is that a second ruined, stab-perforated corpse slumps to the red-streaked pavement.

The Beast barely exults in its victory before noticing in the corner of its eye. Motion. From the car. Caroline blurs after it.

She comes to. She’s in a minivan’s seat. Flat and stale vitae runs down her mouth. Her face is buried in a limp body’s neck.

Caroline: She should be breathless, exhausted. She’s fought before, as a mortal, and even after training bouts was left winded, everything left out on the floor. Instead she feels… no different. Not tired. Not winded. Just… wet. It takes her a moment to realize it’s the blood that covers her, from head to toe.

It all comes rushing forward, like she watched everything through a fog, or through a dirty window. She can’t quite taste their blood as it slashed across her face, or even remember how it felt, but she remembers it happening. She remembers the crash. The jarring, twisting, spinning sensation. The airbag exploding in her face. She remembers the bodies laying strewn about like a child’s toys. And she remembers Turner, screaming in fury as she was carried to the ground by two rampaging Kindred.

She kicks the limp, stale, pathetic gangbanger’s corpse away as she scrambles out of the van back towards the suburban, towards her maimed bodyguard.

GM: The man doesn’t look like much of a ganbanger when Caroline pulls away. He’s black, in maybe his 40s, with a mustache streaked with a few gray hairs. He wears a felt hat, rumpled tie and gray overcoat.

However, Caroline has little time for him. Her bodyguard lies in a bleeding motionless heap outside of the car.

Caroline: It doesn’t take a trained medical professional to recognize her torn-out throat, the hunks of flesh missing, the shallow rise and fall of her chest. The slow trickle of blood. Caroline rips open the side door for the two bottles she tucked away a little more than an hour ago.

She also digs out her phone, putting it on speaker phone and punching in a number as she kneels beside the fallen Marine.

GM: A high-powered sniper’s bullet gorily explodes the top of Caroline’s head as she stoops down.

Caroline: The bullet might travel faster than sound, but even a high-end muzzle break doesn’t completely hide the flash, and light is very fast indeed.

So is Caroline.

Perhaps more in instinct than on conscious action, that lingering Beast’s cunning, she disappears before that bullet can strike home.

GM: The bullet screams after her, all but caving in the side of the van as Caroline vanishes in literal mid-shot. The Ventrue reappears in a couch by Eight-Nine-Six’s car.

Silence reigns over the battlefield.

Caroline: Battlefield indeed. Bullet casings are scattered across both vehicles and between them. Rifles, pistols, and sub-guns discarded. Blood paints the street and walls of both the van and the SUV, and the corpses… the corpses are stacked high. Caroline looks at where the bullet impacted, the near-crater it left, and all that hot blood coursing through her veins from her latest victim runs cold.

She doesn’t want to think about what it would have done to her body.

GM: Or what someone would have done to her body after the bullet left her torpid and helpless.

Caroline: Through it all, the phone continues to ring.

GM: There’s a few rings.

Then, “Hey, Caroline?”

Caroline: “I need help.” There’s a note of panic in her voice. “But it’s dangerous.”

GM: As if to underscore Caroline’s point, there’s another sound. She has to strain herself to see from her position by the car. But Caroline more than hears Turner’s ear explode in a gory shower under the sniper’s fire.

“Was that a gunshot? What’s happening?!”

Caroline: "I’m at… " she looks at the street sign and rattles it off, grateful they stopped at a cross street. “All of Eight-Nine-Six are down, but there’s blood everywhere, two wrecked cars, and some psycho taking shots with a 50 caliber rifle at me. I can probably get him, but… I don’t know how to clean this up. They just attacked me out of nowhere at a stop sign.”

She eyes Turner, all-too aware that if she doesn’t act the gunman has no reason not to actually plug the mercenary in the face.

That wasn’t a miss. That was a threat.

“Please help.”

GM: “Okay! I’ll get over as soon as I can, and see if I can bring the others!”

Caroline: “I’m going to leave this on, but I have to go.”

She eyes Turner again and tucks the phone in her bra.

GM: “I’ll be there, just hold on!” Jocelyn’s now-muffled voice shouts.

Caroline: Caroline slides into the van through the open passenger side door, betting that in the haze of the fight pulling the keys was the last of their concerns. She lays across the floor, not sticking her head over the dash, as she checks for keys and plots out her course.

GM: Caroline finds the keys where she expects, though it’s hard to initially notice past the exploded airbag.

Another gunshot explodes outside. Caroline can’t see where—or who—it hits from her vantage point.

Caroline: She has little choice put to carry on, turning the keys and depressing the gas with her hand.

GM: It’s awkward with the airbag in her face, and even more awkward when she can’t see properly, but Caroline manages to twist the wheel and creep the car to the right. Enough to shield Turner—or her body.

Another shot rings out. Pain explodes in Caroline’s shoulder. Blood leaks from the bullethole.

Caroline: The Ventrue slides out of the clear side of the car, shimmying across the floor of the van towards her Turner, all the while dreading what she’ll find.

GM: The second shot did not explode her bodyguard’s head, but nor was it so kind as the first. Turner now has, at most, nine fingers.

Caroline: The heiress clenches her own perfectly formed fingers into a furious fist and slides down beside the bleeding out mercenary. She picks up one of the bottles of vitae from earlier, not trusting herself, and pours it down Turner’s throat. Stabilize first. Murder second.

GM: The fallen mercenary does not stir. Caroline must trust the Blood did its job.

Another hole explodes in the side of the car. Caroline twists to make out her opponent. He is faceless to her no longer. He’s firing from the window of a long and square bricked building with an adjacent sign that reads “Harney Elementary School K-8.”

Caroline: She’s done sitting and getting shot at. Gathering her sword and Turner’s pistol from her belt, she gauges that distance and fucking blurs.

GM: Caroline’s behind the the crashed minivan. A second later, she isn’t behind the crashed minivan. She’s crouched behind the school’s iron-gated entryway, by one of the first-floor windows.

Another blur. Caroline isn’t outside the school anymore. She’s inside a bare-looking classroom with upturned chairs stacked over the student desks. There’s a chalkboard, but no smartboard or other digital amenities like St. Joseph’s had.

Caroline creeps her way through dark and empty hallways. Graffiti mars some of the lockers (and walls), there are cracks and dark stains along the tile floor, and few visible amenities in the classrooms. She hears no further gunfire from outside.

She stalks up the wide, sweeping stairs and through further darkened corridors. She breaks into a classroom with a window overlooking the street. Her gaze sweeps the darkened room. Her foe is gone and has cleaned up after himself. There’s not so much as a spent shell casing left over.

Caroline departs the room. He can’t have gone too far. She flits like a ghost through darkened halls not traversed by the living, a predator on the hunt. Her prey is nowhere in sight.

More corridors. More classrooms. Gone.

Then in the distance. A single gunshot. Caroline looks around, but sees no head-sized crater, no evidence the firearm was discharged anywhere close to her.

Caroline: She moves in the direction of the shooting.

GM: She enters another classroom. Once again, shell casings are absent from the floor. The window is closed, latched, and undamaged. It’s the best place she can peg the sound from coming.

Caroline: Not there. She pulls out. Turns down the corridor.

GM: Her head splits open as the sniper’s shot rings down from the end of the hall.

Caroline: At least, the space where her head was a moment before splits open, the air shattering with the supersonic crack of the bullet’s passage.

Too slow, again.

And now too close. Oh so close. She flashes forward, in close. Closer. Oh so close.

GM: Finally, she sees him. Tall. African-American. Clean-shaven. He wears a drawn-up hoodie and blue jeans that belie his tapered physique, as well as the clockwork-like motions with which he discards the sniper rifle and charges straight at Caroline with a drawn machete, his expression calm and unafraid. The big knife slashes across her torso in three quick and fatal cuts.

Caroline: And just like that, he’s no longer fighting Caroline Malveaux, as the heiress is swallowed up for the third time tonight. He’s fighting that monster that hides behind her face. That demon that tears free. The gun clatters to the ground as she drives the sword into him like a pig sticker, movements inhumanly fast and utterly savage.

GM: Caroline’s sword slashes across her foe’s belly, but the impact feels notably dulled. Blood still wells from his stomach. The man neither grunts nor startles, but simply brings down his own machete. Caroline retorts back in kind and slashes open the man’s cheek. He accepts the blow, then draws his machete cleanly across the Ventrue’s throat. Blackness steals her sight as she crumples to the ground, the Beast’s roars finally silenced.

Caroline: Or at least, tries, as she blurs with speed again.

GM: The machete rakes across the students’ lockers, drawing a shower of sparks. Caroline ducks under at the blow and strikes up at his exposed chest, leaving a long and ugly red line. This time her foe finally grunts, starting to slow down. Another quick two slashes of the machete are sidestepped by the preternaturally fast Ventrue.

Caroline: The Beast never falters in its confidence. It never relents. Not against this pathetic thing, however sharp its claws. It doesn’t care about the deep rents in her shoulder. It doesn’t care about the bite of the machete. It doesn’t feel pain, or pity, or remorse. And it will not stop, ever, until he is dead. It uses Caroline’s body like a puppet, stepping inside the reach of the mystery man. Steel chews through bone as it drives the sword into the ghoul’s chest, then rips it out laterally, sawing through muscle, organs, and ribs.

GM: Gore sprays across the school’s halls as the lethal instrument does its grim work in even more lethal hands. The man’s chest is a leaking ruin, and he finally stumbles, sweating hard and breathing harder. His jaw sets.

He feints with the machete, then drops it and lunges forward, taking advantage of his larger frame to wrap his arms around Caroline in a crushing embrace. The frenzying Ventrue twists and instinctively goes for the throat, gleefully shredding skin and lapping up stale-tasting blood. As she does, the staggering man releases one arm from around her torso, bringing up his fist to punch her in the throat. With a quickness few mortal combatants could manage, he grabs the Ventrue by her hair and hurls her across the hallway, smashing into the lockers. He turns and runs, even managing to scoop up the sniper rifle as his form blurs with motion.

The Beat doesn’t hesitate. Not for a second. Dead muscles scream past any human limit. Any mere ghoul’s limit.

A crash. A tear. More red. Maybe a shout.

When the red haze recedes, it’s just another body on the floor. Maybe one that hurt her, that roused her Beast’s ire.

But in the end, just another body.

Caroline: A body lighter another pound of flesh from when he stopped moving. She can taste the flesh in her mouth, the thin blood, and see the missing hunk from his throat from which blood continues to pump. She spits a hunk of skin at his face and collapses against the locker. Everything hurts, and she doesn’t want to look down. To see black and purple bruises from the wreck, or the bloody gashes in her shoulder, across her stomach, the back of her thigh. She looks like a corpse. She’s covered in blood. Her blood, his blood, Eight-Nine-Six’s blood, Turner’s blood, the other ghoul’s blood.

Caroline digs out her phone from inside her bra, smearing blood across the screen with shaking hands. “Are you still there,” she rasps out.

GM: “Caroline!?” yells Jocelyn. She sounds like she’s been yelling into the phone for a while now.

Caroline: “I’m alive. Or dead. Or whatever. He won’t be for much longer. I’m in the school.”

GM: “Okay, we’re—he’s the guy you were fighting?”

Caroline: Caroline flips her phone around and takes a picture, sending it on with one hand and a busy finger. “Some kind of super ghoul.”

GM: “Jesus…”

Caroline: She also forwards it to Autumn. Who is this.

GM: Although Autumn was asleep when Caroline last saw her ghoul, a text pings back after a few moments.

Don’t know sorry. Should I come over?

Caroline: She texts an address.

Messy. Five bodies. Turner may also be dead by now

GM: Oh shit on my way

Caroline: “Everything hurts, Jocelyn.”

GM: “Where are you, in the school? I’ll be right over!”

Caroline: “Yeah. First floor. You can’t miss it.”

GM: “Okay. Just hang in. Roxanne’s also here, with a few of our ghouls, to help take care of things. What the fuck happened, Eight-Nine-Six tried to jump you?”

Caroline: “Rammed the car.” She smirks. “Took them down.” Another smirk. “But some third party started taking shots at me with a rifle.”

GM: “And that was the super ghoul? Wow though, you took down the whole krewe?”

Caroline: “They were… a joke compared to him.”

GM: “No renfield’s a match for licks.”

Caroline: “A joke compared to him,” she repeats.

GM: A pause. “Well, if you say so. We’ve loaded up Eight-Nine-Six’s bodies into the car. Jesus, what are we even gonna do with them…”

“Well, think about it later. Roxanne says there’ll be cops, even if they’re slower in a neighborhood like this…”

Caroline: “Is my driver still alive? And need to hit the blood with something. Bleach or gas. Either works.”

GM: “You mean… yeah, she had a pulse when we checked, but she was barely alive. Roxanne fed her some blood.”

Caroline: She’ll have to remember to thank the other Ventrue.

GM: “Look, there’s gonna be cops. Roxanne wants you around to help mindfuck them, and I can turn them into our friends with crowd control, but I dunno what we should even say to them. Gang violence? I mean, there’s wrecked cars, a ton of blood…”

Caroline: Caroline turns the phone around and sends the Toreador a ‘selfie’.

GM: “Oh Jesus! It’s that ghoul who did that?”

Caroline: “Yeah.” Caroline leans her head back against the metal locker, thinking.

“If you have bleach in the car hit the blood on the scene with it. Have Roxanne drive off with the bodies, and have one of your ghouls take my car. Also collect some of the spent bullet casings from Eight-Nine-Six’s ghoul in the van, then set the van on fire.”

GM: “Okay, but what about cops? I mean, who knows when they’re gonna be here, and the other people who saw…”

Caroline: “People in neighborhoods like this don’t look out their windows when shots are fired, but we can stay in the school until they show up and see if anyone comes forward. I already framed someone for the shootings yesterday with Eight-Nine-Six. If we sneak some bullet casings into evidence from that shooting with the casings here, the cops will tie them together in a bow around his neck.”

GM: “Okay, that sounds good… but there’s so much that could go wrong. We should call the sheriff. Our krewe’s in good, and we’ll all take confession, after we do our parts to help clean up.”

Caroline: “Just need to make sure that when they find that body in the car it’s charcoal, not obviously with its throat ripped out.” She sighs. “But yes, this needs to go to him. They were trespassing in his parish anyway before they jumped me.”

GM: Caroline hears footsteps down the hallway. It’s Jocelyn. Compared to her, the Toreador looks positively pristine, dressed in a simple tank top and pair of jeans. She makes her way up to Caroline and bares her neck.

“Drink from me.”

Caroline: Relief spreads across Caroline’s face as she sees Jocelyn, and her offer is so tempting that Caroline all but lunges forward for a moment, off the ground, before she forces herself to stop.

“I don’t know when I’ll be able to stop…”

GM: Jocelyn stands to her tiptoes to take Caroline’s head and presses it against her pale neck.

Caroline: It’s too tempting, that sweet comfort, and bloody tears roll down her face as she sinks her fangs into the beautiful Toreador, taking long, deep, slow pulls from the sweet font of bliss.

GM: Jocelyn shudders as Caroline’s fangs pierce her neck. Only just a bit more than Caroline herself does. That sweet Kindred nectar, richer than any mere kine’s, rolls across her tongue like red velvet. She loses herself in the bliss of the moment. It’s all she can finally do to pull away, her Beast cajoling in her ears for more.

Jocelyn stares with an open mouth for a moment, her formerly clean clothes smeared with Caroline’s blood.

Caroline: The worst of her wounds slither shut before Jocelyn’s eyes, as Caroline wipes her own, the tear tracks barely distinguishable amid all the other ichor sprayed across her.

GM: Jocelyn dazedly stares at the Ventrue, her mouth still hanging agape.

“You’re so strong,” she whispers. “So beautiful…”

Caroline: Caroline can’t resist. She pounces on her, pushing her against the blood splattered, graffitied, lockers, and pressing her lips to the other Kindred’s. When she breaks away, pulls away, after a moment, she looks into the Toreador’s eyes.

“You’re the best thing in my life. Better than I deserve.”

GM: A mortal might breathe hard. Jocelyn gasps as Caroline slams her into the kiss, but it’s only a second later that her tongue is snaking against the Ventrue’s, lapping up the blood still fresh over Caroline’s lips.

Jocelyn almost looks as if she’s going to go for more when Caroline pulls away, but she doesn’t. There’s something in her eye.

“I’m gonna fix this, Caroline. I’m gonna make this all go away.”

Her jaw sets.

All of it.

Caroline: “We will.” One hand presses on, almost clings to Jocelyn’s shoulder, but reality is already pushing back.

“Can you spare a bit, a few drops, to keep him from bleeding out?”

GM: Jocelyn digs out her phone.

She says something.


Tuesday night, 15 September 2015, AM

GM: Caroline is back in her house. She’s full. Her Beast’s hungry whines are sated. She’s clean and dressed in a black gown and pair of heels similar to her last one.

Jocelyn sits across from her in the living room. Her expression is… curious. Simultaneously thrilled and somber.

Caroline: She can only blink in confusion for a moment, joy, satisfaction, and all her concerns blending together with disorientation.

“Jocelyn.”

The word comes out with a smile, that turns into a bit of a frown.

“How did we get here?” She looks around. “The last thing I remember we were at that school…”

GM: “You’ll get to remember when you’ve joined the Storyville Krewe,” Jocelyn answers.

Her face turns serious. “But you have to now. The mess with Eight-Nine-Six is gone. Whole thing. The Guard de Ville’s cleaning it up, but they don’t know we were involved.”

Caroline: “How is that possible?”

GM: Jocelyn pauses.

“I can’t tell you. But you have to join the Storyvilles now, and you can’t talk about this to ANYONE but us.”

Caroline: “Jocelyn, you’re scaring me a little bit.” Caroline bites her lower lip. “Of course I want to join you, but…”

She looks down. Her flesh, perfect and whole. Her clothing not in tatters. All of her problems so far away.

GM: Jocelyn reaches out and touches her hand.

“I know you must be scared. But NO ONE is going to hurt you. Do anything to you. Sheriff, Janus, no one. You’re home free. This whole thing never happened.”

Caroline: “Jocelyn.”

There’s fear written across Caroline’s face. But not for herself.

“What did you do? What did this cost you?”

GM: Jocelyn offers a comforting smile back. “Nothing. I’m not kidding. You just have to join the Storyvilles now, and you were gonna do that anyway. That’s IT.”

The Toreador’s face is positively radiant.

“I know this must be confusing, even scary, but it’ll all make sense and you’ll remember everything once you’ve joined us.”

Caroline: “Is the rest of the krewe on board with that? Is everyone else, given my… provisional status?”

GM: Jocelyn nods. “They’re all on board. You’ll get to formally join once you’ve been released and joined the Sanctified. That’s after your sire, I know…” Jocelyn tries to put on a cheerful face. “But Eight-Nine-Six isn’t going to be a problem anymore. They’re taking the fall for all of this.”

Caroline: “Can you at least tell me what happened to them? Or to that ghoul?”

GM: “They’re going to get executed at the trial. Right now I guess they must be waiting staked in Perdido House. The ghoul’s…”

Jocelyn glances towards the motionless man lying face-down on the floor. His clothes are still a mess, but all of his wounds are healed. He is securely hog-tied with several pairs of handcuffs.

Caroline: “What time is it? How long has it been since…”

GM: “A couple hours.”

Caroline: Tears well in Caroline’s eyes again.

“I don’t understand… I… thank you, Jocelyn.”

GM: Jocelyn leans forward and pulls the Ventrue into an embrace. Her Beast instinctively growls at the physical contact, at the source of proximate vitae.

“You’re safe,” she whispers. “That’s all that matters. Everything’s fixed.”

Caroline: Caroline wants to believe that. This seems like a dream come true. But doubt claws at the back of her mind, and even in Jocelyn’s arms she can’t ignore it. On the other hand, she can’t change it now either. She simply nods into the Toreador, enjoying her smell. Remembering her taste, and feeling for what feels like the first time in forever, loved.

GM: Jocelyn pulls back after a moment, smiling.

“Your ghoul’s all right, too. She’d lost her ear, was gonna lose her right hand, but she’s okay. She’s upstairs sleeping.”

Caroline: “I’m going to make this up to you later. In so many ways.”

GM: The Toreador grins and eyes Caroline’s neck. “No, you’re gonna make it up right now.”

She rises and takes Caroline’s hand. “Still a few hours to dawn, and we have a real bed…”

Caroline: She stares at the Toreador’s eyes, her lovely eyes, but glances down at the ghoul.

“What about him? What’s his story?”

GM: Jocelyn hmphs as Caroline breaks the mood.

“I don’t know. But he’s not going anywhere. He’s been mindscrewed too.”

That grin returns. “So you have no excuse not to fuck my brains out.”

Caroline: Caroline smirks at Jocelyn’s mini-pout, and she rises to embrace her with startling speed.

“Whatever you want.”

GM: Jocelyn laughs, and playfully shoves Caroline off, instead grabbing her hand and pulling her upstairs towards the bedroom.

“Oh, I want a lot…”


Previous, by Narrative: Story Four, Cletus II, Micheal VI
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Story Four, Cletus II, Micheal VI

“Drink and live. Drink and know yer paw.”
Cletus Lee Boggs


Friday night, 11 September 2015, PM

Cletus: Cletus flicks the bottle with its exsanguinated heart into the bayou. He then casually leans down, and grabs a larger meat hook that dangles from massive chain connected to the boat’s chassis. He shoves the hook through the girl’s dead torso and secures it on her bones, before tossing her gory carcass into the water with a loud splash.

“Chum bait,” he explains. “Firs’ step’s done.”

Cletus then sits back down on the pilot’s seat, where he casually picks up his cigar-box slide guitar.

“Step two, we be waitin’ fer ’em.”

Micheal: Micheal can only stare as the Giovannini transforms the girl into bait, one hand gripping the side of the boat. His gaze follows her as she’s swallowed by the water. He looks back to Cletus.

“An’ when they come?”

Cletus: “Dat’s it, Micheal,” the Giovannini says approvingly, but without answering the Brujah’s query. “Ya jus be watchin’ da water, waitin’ fer ’em.”

His fingers, meanwhile, pluck a few eerie notes, their echoes filling the night’s shadows. His cottonmouth boots tap on the boat’s surface like a half-dead, if jaunty heartbeat.



Micheal: The Brujah goes back to watching the line and what lies at the end of it.

Cletus: As Cletus’ fingers finish their song, he sets down his guitar. He juts with his chin in the direction of a pile of moving algae.

“D’see ‘im? Scaly nigger be hidin’ in da muck.”

Micheal: He follows Cletus’ gaze.

“Just barely. So what now?”

Cletus: Cletus begins to shed his clothes like an engorged snake.

“Now’s da fun’s beginin’.”

Naked, he stands brazen under the bayou moon. He cracks his neck, then smiles wickedly.

“Time to go nigger-knockin’.”

Micheal: “All right then.”

He starts to pull off his own clothes. Once he’s stripped down, he carefully eases himself into the water.

“This should be good then. You got any tips fer taking ’em down?”

Cletus: Cletus flexes his muscles, vitae causing them to swell and pulse. He crouches low, eying the algae-hid gator.

“I done promised Bubba dat we’d bring ’im the Great Honky Gator fer his birthday, a mean-old albino bayou king.”

He claps a hand on Micheal’s shoulder, his own flesh quivering with nigh-feral excitement. “So til His Highness arrives, we got’s to drive off these nigger impostors, aight?”

Micheal: Micheal’s own muscles are tense, like a elastic that’s been twisted up one too many times. He nods. “Will do. Let’s fuck ’em up.”

He pushes his feet off the boat and glides towards the moving algae.

Cletus: Cletus smile gaps open into a maw that tastes the air. “Awww, hell yeah!”

He then leaps into the air, cannonballing into the black water.

GM: A massive set of scaled jaws, dripping swamp water from finger-sized fangs, abruptly snaps towards the girl’s bleeding corpse.

Micheal leaps right after the Giovannini. Evidently proving more tempting (or at least convenient) fare than the girl’s corpse, the alligator stretches its massive jaws wide and streaks towards the Brujah. He lands square in the animal’s mouth. The great jaws snap shut.

Cletus: Cletus breaks the water behind the gator, and slips a marble-hard arm around its black neck. His legs lock around the beast. He rides the grappled gator and cries, “Yeeehaw!”

GM: Clete’s bulging arms snap around the gator’s scaly neck like a steel construction claw. The animal bucks and thrashes its lengthy head, trying to throw the Giovannini off. A low hiss emanates from its gullet. Cletus can feel the thing’s throat muscles throb against his arms like a bushel of adam’s apples.

Micheal: Micheal flies up and down in the creature’s jaws as it tries to buck the Giovannini. The spasms send a sharp pain up his body, and his Beast howls in rage. He twists his shoulders and tries to shift the gator’s mouth open.

GM: The gator dives underwater, thrashing to throw off Cletus even as it attempts to rend apart the meal trapped in its jaws. It tucks in its legs and rolls rapidly, twisting and wrenching Micheal apart like a chew toy. A mere mortal would be dismembered chum.

The Beast screams in the savaged vampire’s ears.

Micheal: This time, the razor-sharp teeth dig in further, and he feels his bones snap, organs tear apart. There’s nothing he can do. The Beast takes over. It doesn’t want to die to this inferior predator. It has to escape, it has to fight, it has to KILL. He snarls, silent under the water.

Cletus: Smelling the Brujah’s leaking vitae, Cletus snarls, his barrel-chest growing tight and hot like a cast-iron stove as his muscles—and Beast—tense. He swings one arm free and attempts to crack the reptile’s skull with an inhumanely strong punch.

GM: It’s hard to hear the impact through the water, but Cletus can feel it as the gator’s skull crunches apart under his fist. He follows it up with another, then sinks his fangs into the reptile’s scaly hide. He rips and tears. Head wounds bleed like crazy, and gators have giant heads. Red clouds the water, its heady scent egging on both vampires’ Beasts. The gator jerks and thrashes like an image on a flickering TV set, its great jaws schizophrenically snapping up and down. The Giovannini would feel a bulge against his pants if he were clothed, but he isn’t wearing clothes. Cletus smashes and rips at the creature’s cranium with fist and fang, scraping and pulling, until he reveals:

Brain.jpg
He’s got him a trophy.

The top of the gator’s head is torn off like a milk jug cap. Cletus triumphantly proffers the creature’s forcibly extracted brain. It feels slimy and squishy in his hands. The beast’s carcass slowly sinks to the bayou’s bottom as water fills its lungs.

Cletus: Cletus giggles under the blood-clouded water.

Micheal: Micheal shoves himself out of the jaw, and while scrambling may only apply to land movement, that’s the best word for what he tries to do. Once he’s a few feet away, he feels the panicked Beast subside, and he slows.

He looks down at the damage. The reptilian beast has left two deep gashes in his chest. Strings of muscle and other gristle float about in the current, and a soft cloud of vitae slowly leaks from him. No doubt his back is in the same state.

Cletus: Micheal’s movements break Cletus’ self-congratulatory moment. He allows himself to sink down to the bottom, raw reptile brain still clenched in his hand. He then kicks off the bayou’s bottom, his free arm powerfully pumping, drawing him to the surface, back to the boat, and atop its bloodied deck. He shakes off the water like a coon hound. “Sooooowee!!” Cletus exclaims, his excitement and satisfaction as naked as his muscled frame.

GM: Out of the water, several eggshell-like fragments of skull still wetly cling to the brain’s surface.

Micheal: Mike presses off the bottom and zooms up. He bursts through the surface and shakes his head, sending water droplets scattering. He starts to pull himself up into the boat, then pauses. He pitches his torso forward into the boat, and a stream of water drains from his mouth.

Cletus: Cletus offers a hand to help Micheal atop the deck, then playfully swats him on his rear. “Now dat’s livin’, rightchere!”

Micheal: Micheal grins, his fangs covered in red. “Goddamn… fucker got the jump on me,” he says, his voice a wet wheezing sound.

GM: The now-brainless gator, however, isn’t the only one of its kind to scent the bloody chum. Mike and Cletus can spot them among the bayou’s reeds. Unblinking reptilian eyes. The tips of scaled, dragon-like jaws. Cletus acquits himself well against the next gator to take the bait, grabbing its jaws between his hands and tearing them open like a petulant child breaking a nutcracker. Mike seizes another giant reptile, throat-punches it, grabs it by its jaws, flips it over, and tosses it back-first into the water while Cletus leaps onto its belly and tears it open like Christmas wrapping, spilling blood, guts, and scales everywhere. In the end, the Giovannini racks up two kills, while the Brujah claims one. The remaining alligators slink away from the superior predators. This chum isn’t worth it.

All but one.

Great_Honky.jpg
He’s damn near big as a boat and white as a Klansman’s robe, with six legs instead of four. His wide, toothy jaws seem to almost leer at Cletus as he turns his saurian gaze upon the two vampire.

He propels himself through the water with deathly silence, leaving hardly a ripple to mark his passage.



Cletus: “The Great Honky…” Cletus breathes, almost reverentially.

GM: His milk-white jaws loom large, wide, and open before the two Kindred. His pink tongue is the only part of him that isn’t white.

Micheal: “Shiiiiiit,” he half-curses, half-whistles. Micheal practically planes towards the animal. His hands fly forward, stretching to grasp its scaly skin.

GM: The cunning gator waits until the last second to dive underwater as the Brujah barrels towards him. Mike’s outstretched hands go wide of the gator’s neck, though his naked form lands on the monster’s scaled back with a dull smack.

The Great Honky abruptly rolls over, tossing Mike into the drink with a splash. The great white jaws snap towards him, even ripping off a chunk of his hair—but not before the inhumanly quick Brujah seems to almost teleport behind the suddenly confused creature. A low hiss escapes its throat.

Cletus: So distracted, the beast doesn’t heed the Giovannini glide up, and sucker punch its gut, causing the mutant behemoth to momentarily rise out of the air and puke half-digested portions of its last meal.

GM: Still hacking and coughing bile, the enraged monster turns its baleful gaze upon Cletus. The great jaws open and snap down like a giant mantrap. Fangs the length of butter knives pierce the Giovannini’s shoulders, chest and legs, making a pincushion out of his undead flesh.

Cletus can feel it before it happens. The energy built up in the beast, almost like the way sprinters tense before bounding off into a race. He knows what comes next. The death roll. Six legs tuck in as the alligator explodes into a fully body twist. The pressure is incredible as the fangs sink even deeper, noisily shredding flesh and crunching bone alike. Alligators don’t actually chew. They just swallow.

And crush.

Micheal: “Shit, I got ya, hang on,” Micheal cries out as he speeds towards the pair. A fist slams into the gator’s side.

GM: The gator’s tail angrily swats as Mike’s balled fist rams into his flank, but the Great Honky appears too engrossed with his new meal to pay overly much mind to the Brujah. The monster lazily drifts through the water, Cletus’ vitae trailing in thick red clouds.

Cletus: Cletus screams, the capillaries in his eyes bursting, causing his butane irises to burn in a weeping sea of blood. His fangs flex like feral animals trying to leap from his gums. He roars and attempts to punch out, straight through the beast’s bullfrog throat-pouch. Vitae swarms into his muscles, bleeds out his eyes and mouth. For a brief moment, Micheal gains a very clear, very terrifying image of what the Giovannini would look like as a wight.

GM: The Great Honky seems to almost grin at Cletus as he bites down harder, tucking in his six legs for another death roll. The monster crushes the Giovannini between his mighty jaws. Perforates him with his fangs. But it’s like a trash compactor trying to crush a tank. The great jaws close together, rapidly at first. Then slower. Then they pause. The monster strains. Cletus strains back. With a roar as savage as any bayou beast’s, the Giovannini grasps the great jaws, straining to pull them apart the few inches he needs to escape.

His muscles bulge. The beast hisses. But Cletus will not be denied. He forces the alligator’s mouth open not several inches, but his entire extended reach, nearly seven feet. He half-flips, half-swims out, plants his feet on either side of the jaws and slams them together hard enough to make the monster’s teeth crack.

The giant alligator strains and thrashes like the catfish Clete wrangled from streams when he was a boy.

Holding the gator captive between his legs, Clete pumps his inhumanly strong arms, propelling himself towards the water’s surface like a torpedo. He grabs the boat with both hands, then impossibly launches himself out of the water, the startled alligator still caught between his legs. They look like they’re flying as they soar into the air. It’s physically impossible.

So is how he’s also carrying the entire boat.

He lets go of the alligator, then brings the boat down like a massive club. The alligator smashes through it like a baseball through a glass window. Wood chunks fly everywhere as the falling beast roars and thrashes, though even more splinters embed themselves in its scaly hide. Cletus seizes a piece of soon-to-be driftwood as the alligator hits the water with a splash. Cletus lands atop its back, wraps one arm around its throat to stay on, and proceeds to stab the Great Honky halfway to the afterlife. Up and down goes the sharp chunk of wood. Scales fly and blood sprays everywhere like a fine mist. The gator bellows and twists, straining to throw the Giovannini off its back, but it merely prolongs the inevitable. The Great Honky emits one final desperate roar of defiance, then goes limp like a spent toy. The dying animal slowly begins to sink.

Micheal: Micheal whoops. “Fuck, you got ’im!”

Cletus: Cletus does not initially respond. At least not with any semblance of sanity. Covered in gore, both his own and the gator’s, Cletus just treads for a moment in the water, his keg-sized chest heaving. His bloodburst eyes remain unfocused, as if staring into some sanguine abyss that contains horrors to cause even Cletus pause.

His fanged mouth snarls, twitches, and then slackens. Red drool, splinters, and swamp water slide from his mouth.

Then, he laughs.

It’s quiet at first. A mere chuckle. But it builds, rolling out with a manic intensity like heat lightning veining black clouds. The redneck abomination throws back his head up, squeezing his fists so hard that his nails break the skin, and still he continues to cackle.

Micheal: Micheal finds himself caught up in it. He hears his own laughter begin, wet with blood as it is. The hunt, the kill. His lips pull back. “We fucking got ’im!”

Cletus: The veneer of sanity eventually slides back over the Giovannini like a snake’s second eyelids. His crooked smile looks like it was carved with a hacksaw. Those eyes and smile affix on the Brujah’s, and his wicked mirth dances in the twin blow-torches of his eyes. “Hell yeah, now dat’s shittin’ in high cotton, ma boy!”

Recalling his promise to his kin, Clete dives down after the dying gator-king. Down in the murky depths of the Bayou Bonfacou, the Giovannini bites his own wrist, tearing open his necrotic veins, and shoves the vitae-seeping limb into the beast’s maw.

“Drink, Great Honky,” he says with bayou-flooded lungs. “Drink and live. Drink and know yer paw.”

GM: It is well that Cletus sticks his muscled arm so far down the gator’s gullet, for his blood initially flows out like mist in the water. The Great Honky remains nonresponsive, but Cletus sees only a few trickles of red spill out from its mighty jaws. The Giovannini’s tainted blood is in the beast to stay.

Cletus: So sparing the beast’s life, if damning it from death’s quiet dignity, Cletus then hauls the 20-foot, 1-ton gator up from the bottom and hefts it to the shore. He looks over the creature’s ravaged body, as well as his own.

“Sheeeeit,” he curses lightly. “I done overdid it.”

He looks back at Micheal. “Ya any good at stitchin’?”

Micheal: “I might’ve patched someone up before. Gator might be different though, let me have a look,” he says, crouching down and looking over the creature.

Cletus: Clete steps aside. “I been had some hooks and fishin’ line on ma boat…” He trails off, looking at what remains of his fanboat.

GM: Scattered chunks of driftwood float through the bayou.

Cletus: “Sheeeiiit,” Cletus repeats.

Micheal: “Yeah, that’ll do for now.” The Brujah takes the available supplies and starts stitching away, knitting together the worst of the injuries the Kindred have inflicted upon the beast.

GM: This is the first time Micheal has ever worked on an alligator, but Cletus’ vitae has already started the job. The problem areas are also fairly easy to identify: the chunks of wood embedded in its hide, which Micheal carefully extracts. After stitching up the creature’s remaining wounds, the Brujah is fairly confident the Great Honky will make it back to Slidell in one piece.

Cletus: Cletus watches Micheal’s work with open admiration and appreciation. “Damn, son, yer finer than frog-hair split four ways!”

Micheal: “You been fighting as long as I have, ya learn to put ’em together as much as pull ’em apart,” he remarks, rising and looking over his handiwork. “Not the best, but it’ll do fer now, least until we pull into shore.”

Cletus: In reply, the Giovannini congenially thump the Brujah on the back, only to wince, then stare at his own gaping wounds.

“Sonufabitch, Trixie’s gonna have a cat-hollerin’ hissy fit if I show up to the BBQ like dis.”

He closes his eyes, and lets his dead heart pump ‘fresh’ unlife into his ravaged frame. He picks a few gator teeth from his skin and goes to put them in his… and only then seems to remember he is stark naked, with both of their clothes sunk with the boat.

“Sheeeiit.”

Micheal: Micheal looks down at his own gaping wounds… and nakedness. “Got that right. We ain’t exactly fit fer much right now.”

Cletus: “Gimmie a Slidell second, and we’ll be right as rain.” He dives into the bayou water, and fishes for the waterproof ham radio he had on the boat.

GM: The task would be slow going for any mortal, but requiring neither clear sight nor oxygen for his lungs, Cletus eventually recovers the electronic device.

Cletus: Resurfacing, he shakes off the water from himself and the radio. He then sits down on the bayou’s bank, beside Micheal and the monstrous gator. Cletus turn a few knobs and kicks on the radio. A few moments later, and he’s chatting with one of his kin.

“Yeah, dat’s right, Floyd, bring the Jolly Green jus’ like we’d done talked ’bout. Also, tell Audrey-Mae to pack a pair of fresh duds.”

Micheal: “Fer both of us.”

GM: “We’ll get it done lickety-split, Paw!” comes am enthusiastic affirmative over the radio.

Cletus: “Oh, and tell Cooter to put a few more ribs on the barbie. I’m so hungry I could be eatin’ da north-end of a south-bound goat.”

GM: “We’ll git ya ‘nough long pig ta feed an army on Thanksgivin’, Paw!” Floyd replies with an audible grin.

Cletus: “Dat’s ma, boy, Floyd,” he says with naked paternal pride. He then signs off, clicking around till he finds some good music to whittle away the time before their ‘ride’ arrives.



Cletus: Resting his head against the gator’s massive rump like a leathery pillow, Clete stares up to the cold, black heavens.

“Gaudy, dat was might damned fine.”

After a bit of whatever passes as sociopathic reflection in Cletus’ brain, he turns to Micheal. “What’s yer beef wit’ Matheson?” In the relative stillness, mosquitoes settle on the gore-strewn bayou’s surface, whining with insectile glee at the copious feast.

Micheal: “Well,” he says, absently pulling marsh slime out of his hair. “One of his recent victims was an Anarch. That, and she’s a childe to someone… close to me. She’s going after him, I’m gonna stick by her. Plus the bigger problem, of why Matheson was allowed to do that in the first place. But that’s all New Orleans shit, politics thicker than this bog here.”

Cletus: Cletus nods. “Yessir, things simpler here in Slidell.”

Micheal: “Guessing yer reason is simpler then too.”

Cletus: Cletus spits out a gator tooth that got lodged in his innards. “Y’all’s Camarilla politics ’bout as useful to me as a screen door on a submarine. But dat Matheson?” Clete’s face snarls. “He done trespassed ma home, then had da gumption to lay his blue-suckin’ fangs on me. So I done shoved a fireaxe right up his shithole, head-first, till I done fisted him bloody.”

Cletus smiles, his face one of psychopathic serenity.

Micheal: “Yer shitting me. Well. Goddamn. You may have a better reason than me.”

Cletus: He then lightly fingers his throat. “But I plans to see ’im burn.”

Micheal: “Well, here’s hoping we do.” He pulls a reed out of his chest wound.

Cletus: “My ma used to always say, ‘Hope in yer left hand, shit in yer right, and see which one fills up first’.” He rolls over to face the Brujah. “So be tellin’ me, Micheal. What’s yer game?”

Micheal: Micheal raises his brow. “Game fer what exactly?”

Cletus: “Game fer makin’ sure Matheson don’t slip his date wit da BBQ. Preston’s already run me da numbers, but da four-eyed pencil pusher also told me ye haint got guts, either.” He sweeps a grand wave over the slaughter scene. “But dat’s what happens when ya start lettin’ the crazies give ya the gospel truth.” He arches a brow and smiles. “So what is da gospel truth, Misser Kelly?”

Micheal: He nods. Although somehow he can’t be sure who is more crazy at the moment.

“It’s easy fer her to say, sitting up there in her bloody tower. I been tracking down his victims, see if they know or remember anything.”

Cletus: Clete nods. “And after ruffling those feathers, what’s next?” He chuckles expectantly.

Micheal: “Get enough of ‘em to testify, it’ll be hard fer Vidal to give that sonnuvabitch a pass.”

Cletus: “And how’s y’all, I mean, how’s we gonna make dat happen?” His lips smile. “Ya see, Bubba Jesus, bless his heart, but if brains were leather, he couldn’t make a saddle fer a junebug. But, soowee, dat boy could play the grid-iron.” He knocks on his head, in emphasis.

“But ya been had to lay out da play. He been had to see it, all ‘em circles and x’s. He’d then recite ’em all da time, draw ’em out every damned time he went to the pisser, tracing all ’em crosses and lines and arrows in his yeller-tinkle. But when game-time done came? Sooooieeeee, Bubba Jesus was done ready. Haint nobody get past ’im. Nobody.”

Micheal: Micheal sits, absently bobbing his head at the Giovannini’s story.

Cletus: “They called ‘im ’Pancake Jesus’ for all the pancake tackles he did. His ma and paw started painting X’s on his helmet, one fer every concussion he gave another feller, but they done ran out o’ room.”

Cletus laughs nostalgically. He then turns back, his gaze focused and present.

“So read me da play, coach, and I promise to make ma helmet run red wit all da paint we need.”


Previous, by Narrative: Story Four, Caroline VI
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Story Four, Caroline VI

“A woman without love wilts like a flower without sun—and yet your flower would seem in full bloom.”
Cécilia Devillers


Monday evening, 14 September 2015

GM: Caroline gets picked up by Turner and cruises the streets. Last night she wanted something more wholesome than more bathroom sex with a stranger.

Caroline: She showered. She changed. She scrubbed the blood from her hands and face. She still feels dirty. Worthless. Awful. It’s fitting for what she’s about to do.

She forgot for a while that she wasn’t a monster. That there were consequences for other people. For people she loves. Or loved. She wonders, ideally, if she’s even capable of that with how she’s acted.

In a week she’s murdered. She’s mass murdered. She’s seen to the mass murder of others. She framed a conman for murder. She’s stuck the demon inside her in the minds of her friends and family and felt around inside their heads like they were her own playground. She’s drawn at least three other women into her decaying orbit.

And yet she still finds some excuse every night to get up and suck the life from other people. To keep going down this road. There’s always an excuse isn’t there? Wrapped in that self loathing she wants to feel worthless. Wants to feel ashamed. And she knows where she can find someone that will help her.

The seedy side of Riverbend isn’t really that seedy. Just enough.

GM: The mostly residential neighborhood lacks the true slums of Central City and the Ninth Ward. The closest it has are working-class families living in the shadow of the more well-off ones, toiling away in the service industry or support of Tulane’s and Loyola’s campuses.

But simple working-class drones offer little sustenance to the Ventrue. Her prey must attend institutions of higher learning. Turner cruises the neighborhood. She pulls in at a ratty-looking O’Tolley’s not far from Tulane.

The flabby Asian boy from earlier smiles widely at Caroline. “Hey, it’s you!”

Caroline would think she need hardly draw upon her powers to secure his acquiescence to a sweaty bathroom tryst. “I—are you sure?” he babbles.

The grimy restroom has “Fuck you” scrawled over the toilet seat and “your penis is only a trip, looks like an ocean” over one of the walls. The boy licks his lips as he places sweaty palms on Caroline’s shoulders, his eyes wide with disbelief.

He scrunches his eyes and then seems to freeze in place. His mouth puckers into a flabby “o”.

A low wheezing noise emits from his mouth. He runs a hand over his sweaty forehead.

Then he looks down at his feet.

“Um. Can we…”

His cheeks are flushed red.

Caroline: She peels off the tank top she wore out for this purpose—she has a bag in the SUV for the opera.

“Whatever you want.”

GM: The boy’s cheeks turn even redder. “N-no, I… I mean…”

The bulge in his crotch is sagging.

Caroline: Her hand on his neck. “Can we what?”

GM: “U-um…”

Caroline notices the wet spot on that same area of his crotch.

“D-do this… l…”

Caroline: She pulls him closer instead with the hand on the back of his neck.

“It’s okay, it happens. Just stay with me.”

Her lips close on his throat. Just a little suck to get it started.

GM: The boy’s skin is even sweatier and greasier than last time. Caroline can feel the pulse past his many chins and smell his hot blood pumping underneath, like succulent fruit past a slimy and inedible skin.

“O-oh…”

His eyes roll back, then clamp shut as Caroline’s canines pierce his neck. He awkwardly (or simply dazedly) simply stands there in the middle of the bathroom, leaving the Ventrue to cup a hand around his unwashed hair or push him against one of the grimy walls. He moans like an ox in heat. Warmth and life floods Caroline’s mouth, enough to make even her squalid surroundings momentarily fade away.

Caroline: She rides him into a wall, sucking greedily to escape the horror of it all. She can get lost in the blood for a moment, and it’s so good. It’s life rolling across her tongue.

It’s over all too quickly.

GM: The boy is left a sweaty nigh-drooling heap on the tiled floor when Caroline is done with him. He gazes up at her with out of focus eyes and pants,

“W… w… WOW!”

“Can I… have your Facemash?”

Caroline: She pulls her top back on as he lies on the floor, silent as she closes the door behind her and makes for Turner’s waiting car.

GM: “H-hey, wait!” the boy calls.


Monday evening, 14 September 2015

GM: Compared to New Orleans’ other arts centers, the Orpheum Theater’s exterior is not particularly grand. The gray-bricked building is tall and narrow, at least from the front entrance, and decorated with sculptures of neoclassical faces. A green marquee that reads “Orpheum Theater” looks as if it belongs on an old movie theater. Caroline might have attended a few of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra’s (LPO’s) concerts there as a child, but she’s been dragged to a lot of formal events.

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Hurricane Katrina, she recalls, saw the building damaged by floodwaters and closed. Ten years and a $13 million renovation later, which Caroline remembers her aunt Vera (or maybe it was her mother) being somehow involved with, and the historic theater has finally been reopened to the public. Some of her family had said something about wanting to attend. Maybe going together with her. It all seems so unimportant now.

The lobby’s terra cotta ceiling as well as the ornate plasterwork throughout the space have all been restored by hand, leaving the paint color scheme precisely as it was in 1921, or so the flyers say. Overlooking the Roosevelt Hotel two stories above is the mezzanine, a beautiful space that includes a full bar, nearby restrooms, and elevator access.

The amphitheater itself is a spacious venue, complete with an orchestra, loges, balcony, and gallery that offer newly-installed upholstered seats and comfortable accommodation for 1460 guests. The site easily transforms from an intimate concert venue to corporate meeting and convention space with perfect sight lines from each of its seats. An adjustable orchestra floor and customizable floor seating plan accommodate, as advertisements boast, “banquets, weddings, luncheons and receptions.”

The mortal owners, however, likely weren’t counting on some of their building’s uses.

Caroline sees them for what they are: the pale figures flitting among the theater patrons like wolves in sheeps’ clothing. Most of their faces are strangers to her, and she has known little save violence and cruelty at their hands. The kine chat and laugh amongst themselves, oblivious to the monsters they sit but a hand’s span away from. Compared to Caroline’s last Elysium at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, this one seems to require far more subtlety from the undead. One foolish enough mistake, and a whole orchestra house of witnesses could see the Kindred for what they are.

The show, however, goes on. Tonight’s features a famed pianist who is playing Mozart. The program advertises, World-renowned concert pianist Anne-Marie McDermott returns to New Orleans, bringing her delicate touch to Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21. The program opens on a humorous note with Moz-Art à la Haydn, Alfred Schnittke’s tongue-and-cheek homage to both composers. Following the pure melodies of Mozart’s concerto, the concert concludes with Jean Sibelius’ expansive Symphony No. 5.



Caroline: Maybe it’s the awfulness of the last week, maybe it’s her own impending final death, but in the moment Caroline is struck by the beauty of it all, and moved by it. She finds herself losing minutes watching and listening, taking it all in. There’s a melancholy to the music that touches her. Like the last taste of the fall before winter.

GM: “Ah, Miss Malveaux. I see we are becoming an Elysium regular?” greets a man’s voice.

The speaker is Gus Elgin, a stunted creature with a rounded, crushed-in head. His block-like nose and pudgy jowls remind people of a bulldog’s, and his large frame hovers in a nebulous area between fat and muscled, like a retired prizefighter who’s spent too many hours channel-surfing and guzzling beer on the couch, but still hasn’t completely let himself go. The Nosferatu stands a full head below somewhat tall men, which together with his girth, makes him seem built like a dwarf—short and stout. He wears a black tuxedo that incongruently contrasts with his deformed features. None of the kine pay him a glance as he walks openly among them.
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Caroline: The deformed Nosferatu breaks her from her trance and she turns to address him.

“One can only hope,” she offers with a smile. “It’s a beautiful venue and selection. I think I visited here some years ago. I didn’t quite appreciate it at the time.”

GM: The Nosferatu offers an ugly smile of his own in turn. “The music is striking, is it not? Though Longinus forbids us from revealing ourselves to the kine, they may yet speak to our condition through our music. And we may appreciate it together, if for different reasons. Two worlds become as one.”

Caroline: “Or even three worlds,” Caroline ventures.

GM: “An intriguing supposition, Miss Malveaux. Should I take you to mean those who serve?”

Caroline: She bites her lip. “I confess, that term is lost on me, but I can observe well enough that there is a degree of stratification among us even greater than in the modern mortal era.”

GM: “Indeed. It is a degree of stratification inherent to a far earlier age—but then, aren’t we?” Elgin smiles dimly, though Caroline is unsure whether he is speaking in true jest or merely amused by the irony. “As to the term, Miss Malveaux, it is in reference to ghouls.”

‘Let those who serve be named greatest of the Children of Seth, and most privileged.
Let them enjoy the fine cloth of the Kindred.
Let them enjoy the gentle music of the Kindred.
Let them know the sweetness of our wine.’


Caroline: She cocks her head. “What is that from?”

GM: “It is scripture, from The Rules of the Canaille. Words of wisdom attributed to our Dark Father’s own lips.”

Caroline: She nods. “Perhaps I’ll have a copy someday.”

GM: The Nosferatu emits a throaty chuckle. “Perhaps, Miss Malveaux. I consider myself fortunate to have read what fragments I have.”

Caroline: A frown. “There’s no collected volume?”

GM: “Such physical documents would endanger the Masquerade by their very nature. And our kind are loath to share.”

Caroline: “I see.” Another frown. “That explains… honestly, a great deal.”

GM: “I endeavor to be of service,” Elgin replies with another faint smile. “In any case, Miss Malveaux, allow me to bid you welcome to tonight’s Elysium. The first few hours will be filled with the programs listed on the flyer. Further entertainments exclusive to our kind will be held once the kine attendees have departed.”

Caroline: “Is it expected, or in good taste, for all to attend?” She bites her lip. “I apologize. That was rude. Might I ask as to that foundational bit of etiquette, and for the formal title I should use to address you?”

GM: The master of Elysium offers another faint smile. “The term of address you may refer to me by is ‘Master Elgin’, Miss Malveaux. ‘Keeper Elgin’ is also technically correct. As to your second question, attendance is voluntary. I expect some Kindred to leave when the kine’s shows conclude, others to stay, and others still to newly arrive.”

Caroline: “My thanks, Master Elgin.” She pauses. “If I might venture, if you should happen to see Primogen Duquette, would you inform her that I am prepared to speak whenever is most convenient to her?”

GM: “Primogen Duquette is enjoying a private box alongside the seneschal, Primogen Chastain, Primogen Opal, and Primogen Poincaré, I believe, should you wish to inform her of such. I am afraid I have many functions to perform this evening.”

Caroline: “Then I shall not delay you any longer in your duties, Master Elgin.”

GM: Another dim smile. “A word of parting advice, Miss Malveaux. If your information sources have yet to uncover your sire’s banes, I would press them harder.”

Caroline: “Or seek a more reliable source?” she asks with a hint of a smile.

GM: The Nosferatu emits a throaty chuckle. “There are as many as one has the resourcefulness to find.”

Caroline: Himself, doubtlessly.

“Ah, but I’ve heard of one above all others. A secret thing.” That smile blossoms. “My thanks for your offer. Few enough Kindred have been willing to extend aid against my sire.”

GM: The Nosferatu inclines his misshapen head. “May you enjoy tonight’s Elysium, Miss Malveaux. Do not hesitate to call upon me should you have any further needs.”

Caroline: She bids him goodbye and sets off on her own, her moment with the performance gone.

GM: Caroline proceeds into the venue hall proper. Tickets go from $20 to several hundred, with the cheapest purchasing a seat among the masses, and the most expensive buying a place at a private VIP box, complete with a private table at the bar and free selection of wines and desserts.

There are a few pallid faces Caroline recognizes as she scans the crowd. Harlequin’s gilded domino mask and gold-threaded costume is impossible to miss, but as with Gus Elgin, guests don’t seem to pay the slightest heed to the appearance of the Krewe of Janus’ leader. Their comeliness notwithstanding, her fellow neonates Becky Lynne and Jocelyn look almost drab in comparison. Besides those four, all the finely-dressed Kindred in attendance are strangers to Caroline… save for the red-haired, blue-eyed woman and dusky-skinned man seated at a private box overlooking the common seats.

Caroline: And yet, there is a charm to those that command less attention from the crowd. And one face in particular calls to her.

GM: She finds Jocelyn seated among the common masses. The Toreador is somewhat dressed up for the occasion in a knee-length, V-necked blue dress and pair of black heels.

Making her way past the rows of filled seats with an “excuse me” here and “pardon me” there is an awkward process for Caroline. There are so many of kine, all packed so closely together, some disgruntled as they watch the Ventrue pass through. Her Beast paws anxiously.

Jocelyn’s eyes, though, follow after Caroline. There is a just-longing quality her gaze that wasn’t present during their last meetings.

“I think you have friends waiting up by the bar,” she states to the man sitting next to her, the slightest inflection to her voice.

“You’re right. Save my seat?” The man gets up and leaves.

Caroline: Caroline is happy to do so, sliding into the seat beside the brunette.

GM: “This life has its perks,” Jocelyn remarks as the seat’s former holder heads off.

Caroline: It does, Caroline reflects as she looks at her fellow Kindred. “Few enough though they may be.”

She doesn’t mention how that particular seating availability perk has never been an issue in a box.

GM: “I swear Gwen uses that trick every time she drives now. Cops are always ticketing her. Or, well, trying to.”

Caroline: “You have to find some positives,” Caroline murmurs back.

GM: “Yeah. I might’ve been able to get a box seat when I was alive, but the Creoles don’t like company.”

Caroline: Caroline looks up briefly. “So we enjoy the crowd. That doesn’t seem like a recipe for disaster.”

GM: “Only so many private seats to go around though, I guess. And we could all get in if we just mindscrewed the ushers.”

Caroline: “That would be in bad taste,” Caroline agrees. “How are you?”

GM: There’s a slight set to Jocelyn’s jaw, but it relaxes as her gaze lingers on Caroline.

“Kinda wanting a break, honestly. Roxanne’s been really losing it over Bliss.”

Caroline: “What happened?”

GM: “Roxanne’s had us all turn her into a mental vegetable, but she doesn’t know anything about Evan. So Roxanne’s been ordering her to do a bunch of other stuff, just to see if the mind control is working. She’s gone apeshit a couple times. It’s… ugly.”

Caroline: “She wasn’t far from it when I met her the first time.”

GM: “There was a fight or something, wasn’t there?”

Caroline: “Something like that.”

Caroline shivers as she remembers Bliss’ skull caving in like a pumpkin in her hands.

“We had a misunderstanding. She got the worse end if it.”

GM: “Sounds like it. Both times around, even. She… really doesn’t seem like she knows anything.” Jocelyn seems to slump a bit.

Caroline: Caroline slumps in turn. “I’m sorry. How long has he been missing?”

That tightness in her shoulders slowly melts as she just talks, talks with someone. Something.

GM: The Toreador looks like she might sigh. She no longer has any need.

“Few weeks, give or take. It’s been… rough on the krewe.”

Caroline: “Eight-Nine-Six was your last lead?”

GM: “Yeah. And Roxanne’s always been… well, she knows what’s what, but a little bitchy. Like all blue bloods.” Jocelyn pauses at the remark. “No offense.”

Caroline: Caroline actually laughs lightly. The first time she’s made that sound in what feels like a decade.

“You’re not wrong, though.”

GM: Jocelyn actually looks somewhat taken aback by the response. Caroline isn’t sure if she’s dipping a further toe in the waters or joking when she adds, “Try adding ‘ice queen’ on top too.”

Caroline: Caroline smirks. She’s been called that herself. Usually by soon-to-be ex-boyfriends.

“How did you end up with the krewe anyway?” she asks.

GM: “Me? Well, I ran into Gwen not long after I was Embraced. We were both torries, and, well, I actually felt a little sorry for her, I guess. Her parents were Quiverfulls. You hear about that movement?”

“She was really broken up over how she couldn’t get married and have kids,” Jocelyn continues, “And her sire… I don’t know, I guess didn’t stick around for long. Or maybe got ashed. But she was new to New Orleans, and from Houston, which didn’t score her many points with the prince either. After the whole… mess after Katrina.”

“But she seemed like a natural Sanctified, and my sire said she’d be an investment. And also like I said, I felt a little sorry for her.”

Caroline: “So the two of you started the Storyvilles?”

GM: “Yeah, with my sire’s help. Evan fell in with us a few months later. So for a little while we were an all-torrie krewe.”

Caroline: “Good times?” Caroline seems to be enjoying the story hour.

GM: Jocelyn seems mildly surprised by the question at first, then contemplative.

“It was… simpler. Definitely.”

Caroline: “So where does Roxanne enter in?”

GM: “Well, Evan met Roxanne, and they hit off really well. So he brought her in. Then Gwen met Wyatt a few months later. Roxanne thought we should do things a bit more, well, blue blood-like.”

“I remember from a psych class I took, something about three being the largest ‘small’ group of people you can have. When there’s four or more, things get more… what’s the word? I just remember that at four or more, it becomes easier for people to get ignored. Four’s a crowd, not three, and you need more organization.”

“Roxanne was good at that, and Evan helped her along. He was… the sort of person who I guess never really disagrees with anyone, and who everyone’ll listen to. Roxanne had the brains, but she’s always been, well, like I said. A little bitchy.”

“So they were a good pair. I guess you could say they just handled a lot of stuff for the krewe, organized and planned a lot of things, and Gwen, Wyatt and me were happy to follow along.”

Caroline: “But without him the entire dynamic falls apart.”

GM: Jocelyn nods. “I mean, Roxanne’s the best to be leader, no question, but it was even better when she had Evan too. And it was more than that. Evan, he… he really cared about her.”

Jocelyn’s voice is quiet as her eyes drift back to the orchestra. “You don’t see a lot of that.”

Caroline: The words cut like razors though Caroline, like a cold November wind through a thin summer dress. She shivers again.

“It’s so miserable,” she murmurs.

GM: “Yeah…” Jocelyn stares ahead for a moment longer, then scrunches her face a bit. “But it’s what we deserve.”

Caroline: “Is it?” Caroline asks quietly.

GM: Jocelyn nods adamantly. “Everyone gets Embraced for a reason. Every Kindred I’ve asked—been able to ask—they’ve all done something horrible in their mortal life. God wouldn’t have us exist by accident.”

Caroline: “I know that,” Caroline acknowledges. “I just mean… you’re the first Kindred I’ve met that wasn’t interested in beating me, mind-controlling me, whipping me, or otherwise abusing me. We create our own hell for each other here.”

GM: Jocelyn looks taken aback. “Really? I mean, a lot of them are, but… you’ve really not met any others? I don’t count Roxanne or Gwen trying to do those things, at least.”

Caroline: “A couple since. But the first odd dozen?” She shakes her head. “It’s been a bad week.”

GM: “I bet. Gwen doesn’t like to talk about Houston much.”

Caroline: There is genuine hurt in her voice. "Good news is only one more. "

GM: Jocelyn looks unsure of what to say a for moment.

“I’m sorry.”

Caroline: “No.” The word is sharp and curt. “You have nothing to apologize for. It’s what we deserve. What I deserve.”

She blinks away for a moment as her voice cracks. “Besides. You’ve been the one bright spot in this.”

GM: Jocelyn doesn’t look fully certain to say to that either. “Maybe you should talk to more neonates. Elders are… well, elders. They’re the ones who do most of the beating and mind-controlling and abusing, like you say.”

There’s a pause. “But, thanks. Or, you’re welcome.”

Caroline: “What did you do, if you don’t mind me asking? In your life that is. To deserve this.”

GM: Jocelyn is quiet for a moment at that question. Her eyes draft back towards the Mozart-playing orchestra.

“I destroyed my… I destroyed a guy’s life. He killed himself because of me.”

Caroline: “I’m sorry,” Caroline murmurs.

GM: Jocelyn stares back with that same look Autumn wore. “So what’d you do?”

Caroline: “I…” for a moment Caroline pauses, not wanting to go on. That word looms, mammoth, crushing. A word she’d never have admitted before.

GM: The Toreador waits. There’s expectation behind that look too. She told Caroline.

Caroline: That words dances around like a bull in a china shop in her mind, and she finds herself worrying, for a moment, that Jocelyn will think less of her.

“I…” She runs her tongue across her fangs. “I poisoned someone.”

A truth, but not the truth, and she knowingly, obviously, dances around it in a way that might seem coy if she weren’t so obviously distressed by the subject.

“Because they were inconvenient. World have destroyed my carefully crafted life and image.”

GM: Jocelyn is quiet for a moment at the ‘confession’.

“I guess we both took after Caine, then. Not many sins worse than murder.”

Caroline: Caroline’s brow furrows. “After Caine. I didn’t even really think of that.” She gives a little laugh. “There’s more symmetry than I’d thought.”

It’s not a joyous laugh.

GM: “That’s what Father Elgin and all the other priests say we’re cursed to do, as Kindred. Repeat the sin of his murder, forever.”

Caroline: “No, I mean…” There’s a tight-lipped frown.

GM: Jocelyn looks slightly confused. “Sorry?”

Caroline: Caroline squirms in her seat beside the Toreador. “It’s….”

Does it even really matter? She’s going to be dead in a week, and as desperately as she wants Jocelyn’s approval, even it feels like such a distant and disconnected thing. It’s like looking at the world from up on a mountain, even right here, so close she can smell the blood in the other Kindred veins, she feels so far away.

GM: Jocelyn stares back at Caroline, then leans slightly closer across her seat. The music from the orchestra seems little more than a distraction.

“You wanna go somewhere else?”

Caroline: It’s a firm reminder of how dead she is that her heart doesn’t quicken and her breathing doesn’t change, even as the words burn in her ears.

“We can’t go too far. I need to talk to Primogen Duquette,” she says. But the excitement shows in her eyes.

GM: Jocelyn nods and responds with a simple, “Okay,” before getting up from her seat. Listening to another Kindred say “excuse me” to the seated kine as she tries to avoid brushing against too many peoples’ knees feels unusual. Caroline can’t picture Donovan or McGinn ever doing the same.

The Beast growls at the delay. It would be so much faster—and satisfying—to kill one of these juicebags and put the rest in their place.

Jocelyn makes her way up the rows of seats, past the auditorium’s double doors and back into the mezzanine. As she approaches the elevator, a uniformed employee speaks up, “The-”

Jocelyn just glares, heels still clicking against the floor as she demands, “Let us through.” Caroline can feel the sudden force of the Toreador’s presence washing past her like an unseen tide.

The wide-eyed man doesn’t formulate an answer. He just stands aside.

Caroline: She follows after the older Kindred, cutting through the crowd.

GM: The Toreador walks in, waits for Caroline, and pushes a button. The elevator doors open after a brief ride. They walk down a hall, past some people who might be employees, and open the doors into a dark projection room filled with bulky sound equipment and black-monitored computers. Music is still audible from the window overlooking the theater’s stage, but Jocelyn looks like she’s hardly listening. She gets the employees to clear out, then pushes Caroline against the wall and plunges her now-protruding fangs into the Ventrue’s neck.

Caroline: It’s one of the best feelings of her life. Better than hunting. She writhes up against the other Kindred, pressing all of her body against her. One hand cups the back of Jocelyn’s neck, holding her close, while the other wraps up from under the Toreador’s arm, to her shoulder. Caroline pulls on her and digs her nails into Jocelyn’s smooth skin. She whimpers.

GM: Passion rises, and blood with it. Jocelyn literally growls as Caroline’s nails tear into her flesh. She pulls her mouth away from the Ventrue’s freshly-bleeding neck, flashing a red-streaked… it’s not quite a smile. She runs a tongue over her lips, savoring the taste, then kisses Caroline full on the lips. She pulls away after their tongues meet, planting a far from playful nip in between each kiss. Taking a bit here, a bit there.

Jocelyn pushes Caroline onto the floor, tugging at her clothes.

Caroline: It’s twisted. It’s sinful. The kind of image that would set her family off like a powder keg and set the tabloids printing like the building was on fire.

She doesn’t care. Everything else fades away, and there’s only this moment, away from everything else. She takes advantage of Jocelyn’s attention on her clothing to slink a hand around her neck, pull the other Kindred’s head into the crook of her elbow, holding her tight, and sinking her own fangs into the Toreador.

GM: Bliss beyond any kine’s blood floods Caroline’s mouth, making Aimee’s taste like one of the Victory’s skeezy businessmen in comparison. It’s hot, it’s sweet, it fills her up and eases the dull ache inside her chest. For a moment, Aimee, her sire, Eight-Nine-Six, her mortal family, all her worries and concerns are swept by away by simple pleasure of the moment.

Jocelyn’s blood isn’t so rich as McGinn’s or Donovan’s. But this is blood Caroline has seized for herself. The Toreador thrashes underneath Caroline at first, arching her back, then goes weak as her body slams against the floor. She whimpers as the Ventrue reclaims what was taken from her.

Caroline: It’s only with effort that she pulls herself from Jocelyn’s neck, sucking, then licking sweetly upon it, before finally rising up from her position, straddling the Toreador, and looking deep into her eyes. She bites her lower lip in want, and need, and… nervousness?

GM: Jocelyn stares up, her mouth hanging open. Caroline’s blood is still smeared over her lips. The machines’ beeping green and blue lights flash against the Toreador’s red-streaked canines.

Caroline: It’s… beautiful. A moment of perfection. The dark she sees through. The light. The glint of blood across the other Kindred’s teeth. She nervously, almost shyly, bends to press her lips to Jocelyn’s, exploring her mouth with her tongue, tasting her own vitae, licking it lightly off the Toreador’s teeth.

GM: Blood—life—mixes, and two lives become as one. Caroline hasn’t done this before, would normally sit back and let the (marginally) older vampire take the lead. Her Beast doesn’t care. It wants. Blood, dominance—everything. Jocelyn snarls and rips at the Ventrue’s clothes, but Caroline’s Beast has already seized the advantage and won’t soon surrender it. She pins the Toreador’s wrists to the floor and ravishes her as she lies struggling. Jocelyn resists at first, meeting each bite and snarl of Caroline’s with her own, but the Ventrue barely registers them. All she sees is the pinned girl lying struggling beneath her, and with that final image, her sight goes red. Jocelyn’s moans continue to sound, but her struggles go limp. Caroline’s Beast relishes the dominance over a rival predator. To see her give in. Surrender. Submit. She could kill Jocelyn, rip out her throat and drink her vital essence, and the Toreador would moan like a bitch in heat. It’s a sensation as intoxicating as any vitae.

One of her father’s favorite quotes runs through Caroline’s mind: Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.

Caroline has the power. Jocelyn does not.

Caroline: When she finally comes to, breaks out of it, she collapses on the ground beside the Toreador. She expects to be sweaty and out of breath. Expects fatigue. Exhaustion. But instead she just feels… alive. Or at least close to it.

She looks over at the Kindred next to her.

GM: Jocelyn isn’t flushed or panting like a mortal partner might be. Her face, however, is messily smeared with Caroline’s (and own) blood, and her clothes are savagely torn. A snapped bra strap hangs halfway down her arm. One of her shoes is missing. Her hair is a frazzled mess.

Her mouth hangs open for a moment before she whispers, “Your blood… it’s so strong…”

Caroline: Caroline laughs lightly. “That’s what you have to say after all of that?”

GM: Jocelyn still doesn’t pant. She just stares, her red-smeared mouth hanging open. “I’ve… never…”

Caroline: “Done anything like this?”

GM: She shakes her head. “That was…” Jocelyn sounds almost as if she means to say something like ‘amazing’, but then she just reaches out an almost tentative hand, tracing a finger over Caroline’s still heart. Her clothes are in better condition, but not by much.

Caroline: Caroline slides over beside her, slipping Jocelyn’s head into the crook of her arm to lay across her chest, and laying her own hand in turn across the Toreador’s chest.

“Very special,” she fills in. She smiles, though the Toreador can’t see it, and laughs lightly. “Even if you did wreck my clothes.”

GM: Caroline remembers how odd it was at first, sitting next to Jocelyn in her car. Two statues sitting side by side. Now, it’s more like two tigers draped over one another after an exhaustive mating.

Jocelyn lies against Caroline’s lap in seeming contentment. A submissive position, her inner monster purrs in satisfaction.

“We look like… a couple of abuse survivors, or something, if someone walked in on us,” she smiles after a moment. “I know, Masquerade and all, but it’s… actually funny to think of some techie walking in and going ‘what the fuck!’”

Caroline: “Well, you did hurt me so good.”

She tangles her hand in Jocelyn’s hair. It takes all of her self-control not to lick the blood off the other Kindred’s face. To draw her into another embrace. To just extend this moment forever. No fatigue, no exhaustion. She could keep going all night long.

“But maybe he could loan me a shirt.”

GM: Jocelyn’s eyes follow Caroline’s hand in a manner not unlike a cat watching a dangling bit of string. She smiles again, displaying a still-distended fang.

“Yeah. We’re messes.”

Caroline: It’s damnably hard to concentrate on anything else with her so near at hand. With her own dead flesh pressed up against Caroline’s own.

“It was… or would have been… my child.”

GM: “You mean…” Jocelyn trails off after a moment. The lingering passion of the moment isn’t fully gone from her eyes.

“I don’t think you’re the only Kindred to. To’ve lost kids, or never got to have them. Most don’t talk about it, and… I don’t know that makes it any better, but… you aren’t alone there.”

Caroline: She lets the sober thought hang for a moment to cool things down.

“I know. That’s the irony I meant earlier though. That I killed my child, and now I have to try and kill my sire. There’s a nice symmetry to it at least.”

GM: “Kinda a morbid one…” Jocelyn trails off again, realizing the obvious thought. “Well. I guess so are we.”

The Toreador frowns in seeming concern as she nuzzles her head against Caroline’s still blood-smeared neck.

“But that must be… there’s no way I could kill my sire. She’s over a hundred. There’s no way that I could.”

Caroline: “Over one hundred. Former hound to his sire, the former sheriff. Former soldier before he was Embraced.”

There’s a bitter edge to her voice, but also a bit of resignation.

GM: Jocelyn pulls up a bit from Caroline’s half-embrace, frowning. “Wait, he used to be a hound? To another sheriff?”

Caroline: “The last one, before Sheriff Donovan.” Her head swims a bit at the name.

GM: “Oh. Well, I guess it makes sense there’d have been one before.” She frowns more deeply. “That’s kinda fucked up the current hounds are sending you after him…”

Caroline: Caroline shrugs. “Could have just executed me. It’s a chance. A small one.”

There’s a small smile to go with it.

“But more than I deserved.”

GM: Worry flickers in the Toreador’s eyes. “How are you gonna do it, though? It sounds… I went apeshit around my sire, once, and she just held me down like it was nothing.”

Caroline: A crack shows in her mask.

“I’m not sure. Draw him out, away from his allies. I can’t touch him as long as he is hiding behind Savoy. Explosives, maybe. Rig up a trap. Or maybe… someone mentioned he might have an applicable bane.”

GM: Jocelyn slowly takes that all in. “That would help. Maybe you could ask the Nosferatu, see if they know?”

Caroline: “They know something. I’m just… they want a boon for the information, which I don’t even know will help. It seems stupid… execution six days away, but… I hate the idea of being that far in debt, potentially for no reason.”

GM: Jocelyn seems to think mightily. “Well… I could ask my sire for you, if that’d help. She might take a while to get back, though.”

She frowns. “But, no. Look, if the Nosferatu can’t help, there’s someone else who might be able to. My clan’s primogen, Pearl Chastain. She liked my great-grandsire, and I think I made a good impression on her at the last Elysium.”

Caroline: It’s like a life line thrown out to a drowning woman, that most seductive of emotions, that false promise. Hope. It wraps around her like a constrictor, trying to cloud her judgment, to ensnare her mind. Another equally old Kindred, or a elder, and all approached by someone else. No groveling required.

It calls to her. Asks her to take it. Just send Jocelyn to go ask. What’s the worst that could happen? At least to Caroline. She’s going to get executed anyway. They can’t kill her twice.

But as she meets Jocelyn’s eyes, she knows what a lie hope is, and she knows the foolish lengths affection will drive someone else, even before you wrap them in a blood bond.

“I’d be grateful if you asked your sire if she knew anything about him, or if she remembered anything that might be helpful.” She picks around her words carefully. “But going to an elder and trying to get them involved sounds… dangerous. Risky.”

GM: Jocelyn stares up Caroline. Perhaps ignorant of the exact thoughts going through the Ventrue’s head, but not to her worry.

“Well, you could offer her a boon. She’d probably want something in return anyway, for big enough help.”

Caroline: She bites her lip. “If they’d even move quickly enough to matter.”

GM: “But you have to try something,” Jocelyn presses. “I mean, it doesn’t matter how many favors you owe if you’re dead, right?”

Caroline: The bite of the whip. The taste of that ungodly strong vitae in her mouth. Serrated knives cutting into her skin. Coco’s overwhelming presence.

She shakes her head. She doesn’t want Jocelyn to brave the threat of any of that on her behalf. Not when she’s so… influenced.

“I have a couple of meetings set, and I’m waiting to hear back from the sheriff.” She forces a smile. “I’ll figure something out. Don’t worry.”

GM: Jocelyn, though, still looks worried. “Really, though, I bet she could help. She’s like an old grandma, really big on manners. Which all you blue bloods are good at. And she likes my bloodline. I think we could get a good deal, together. But the sheriff, he’s just a hardass. Not to mention fucking scary. He’s not gonna do anything for you.”

Caroline: Caroline feels a surge of irritation when Jocelyn dismisses Donovan so casually, but she puts it aside.

“She’s an elder that doesn’t even know my name. I just don’t see going to her hat in hand going well. It’s disrespectful.”

She bites her lip again, licking the remains of Jocelyn’s too sweet blood off of it.

“If I get down to the wire, though… we’ll reconsider it. All right?”

GM: Jocelyn nods. “Okay. I just want to help you. You also said you wanted to do something with Coco?”

Caroline: Caroline props herself up on her elbows. “I need to deliver something to her, and apologize for what’s going to happen with the rest of Eight-Nine-Six.”

GM: Jocelyn rests her chin over her hands as Caroline pulls her own arm away.

“Maybe I should do that too, if she’s going to blame anyone. On behalf of the Storyvilles.”

The Toreador’s eyes have an adoring look not unlike Autumn’s.

“Less that falls on you.”

She then frowns. “Though Creoles usually don’t accept just apologies if they’re angry…”

Caroline: “I don’t think she’ll be angry, and we have a bit of an established relationship. Today just made clear they aren’t going to meet anything go, and I’d rather not surprise her with it. And if she happens to know anything about my sire…”

GM: “I guess she is old enough…” Jocelyn muses. “I just wish there was more I could do.”

She thinks for a moment, then looks up.

“Hey, you could join the Storyville Krewe. Then the others could help.”

Caroline: Caroline contemplates the idea for a moment, her eyes lingering on the barely-clad torrie, and the sweet vitae that speckles her form.

“How would everyone else feel about that?”

GM: “Another member’s another member, and you helped out with Eight-Nine-Six.” Jocelyn’s eyes linger on Caroline’s near-equally bloody and undressed form.

“Though you have to join the Sanctified when you’re released. And you have to be loyal to the prince, not Savoy.”

Caroline: Caroline’s gaze is forced away by her discomfort. “Some of the things Father Malveaux wants from me… they feel wrong.”

GM: “Like what, hunting people? If you think about it, it’s… not really that worse than what we do every night. The Sanctified just want us to do it to bad people.”

Caroline: “Hunting down past victims and torturing them. Even if they were just… convenient. Killing people for… relatively minor things. I feel like he wants me to turn into a monster.”

GM: “We are monsters,” Jocelyn repeats, licking a bit of now-drying blood from her lips. “But I’m sure they had to have done something bad if he wanted you to kill them, wouldn’t they?”

Caroline: “Like being gay?”

GM: “Well…” Jocelyn frowns. “I’m still getting used to how the priests are saying that’s a sin. It wasn’t any big deal to me when I was alive. But that is the first time I’ve heard about killing any kine for it.”

Caroline: “I killed a girl. A few nights ago.” She doesn’t meet Jocelyn’s eyes. “I was starving, and hurt, and she… she thought we were going to do something. That was it. I lost control. He was… proud of it. Satisfied when I told him.”

GM: “Oh.” Jocelyn’s quiet for a moment. “Well, I guess he figured if you had to lose control… but you’re sure he was proud? I mean, apeshitting isn’t a good thing. ‘Submit to God, not the Beast.’”

Caroline: “I don’t really know,” Caroline admits. “He’s so hard to read. I’m just…”

She runs one hand through her hair. “Is it the only way? To be monsters? To kill and terrorize people? I remember the church, how utterly empty I felt.”

GM: Jocelyn nods. “I know, it’s… hard to wrap your head around, at first. Especially around churches… some you don’t feel anything in, but the really old ones…”

“But we’re monsters who drink peoples’ blood. It’s not like we can be the good guys here. The best we can do is punish the people who are already bad, for God. I mean, it’s either that or feed on innocents, right?”

Caroline: Caroline nods solemnly, thinking on all the people she’s hurt already.

GM: “If you don’t like Father Malveaux, though, maybe you could see another priest? I mean, it’s like with the kine, some priests maybe aren’t a good fit. There’s more than just him.”

Caroline: “I don’t know how well that would go over.”

GM: Jocelyn seems to think.

“Yeah, I guess I can’t really think of a good way to broach it either.”

Caroline: “What does joining the krewe mean? Other than getting to see you more.”

GM: Jocelyn gives a sanguine smile at that. “Well, the rest of them would all help you out. No boons or haggling every time. ‘All for one, one for all,’ and all that. You’d also help them with things, and we’d do stuff together like hunting heretics in the Ninth Ward. Or even just… well, hanging out. Sometimes we just watch Game of Crowns together and chat about stuff. They’re a good bunch. And we’re in good with the prince, too. The Hussar’s let us go hunting in the Arts District a few times, for all that we do.”

Caroline: Oh, just ‘hunting heretics’, a part of her snidely remarks. But that voice is very quiet indeed. She’d belong to something. Have people she could talk to.

Loyal to Vidal? The seneschal is… just enough. And she doesn’t have any reason to want to jump ship to someone she’s never met that’s sheltering her sire.

GM: ‘Snuggles’ isn’t the right word for it. Not when they’re coated in each other’s drying blood. But Jocelyn does fit her arm around Caroline and lay her head against the Ventrue’s shoulder.

“This all must be… so hard, so much to take in, without a sire… I don’t know how you’ve done it. But I wanna help, if there’s any way I can.”

Caroline: Is it rash? Yes. Making a commitment without seeing all the options? Certainly. She’s seen enough hard sells on people to know that logically she should seek out more information. Look at other options. When emotion is driving you, you’re making poor choices. She knows she isn’t in her right mind. And yet…

It all sounds too good to be true, and that same voice is screaming that it probably is. That quiet voice. That annoying voice. Why won’t it just shut up and leave her in peace?

Her free hand caresses Jocelyn’s throat gently. “I’m not helpless. I wouldn’t be a burden.”

GM: Jocelyn’s eyes follow Caroline’s fingers. “I know. You’re strong.”

Caroline: It’s what Father Malveaux wants.

It’s what Hound Agnello wants.

It’s what Jocelyn wants.

And… it’s what she wants.

“I want to join you.”

GM: “Great!” Jocelyn smiles brightly. “I’ll bring it up with Roxanne. She’s back at the krewe haven, with Bliss. We could do it all tonight.”

Jocelyn leans in to Caroline’s face and licks her nose. It doesn’t tickle so much as stir the memory of the sensation. “Blood on your nose.” The Toreador smiles. “You’re a mess.”

Caroline: “Could we… at the same time?” Caroline runs a finger over Jocelyn’s throat.

GM: Jocelyn doesn’t answer. She just nuzzles her face into the nape of Caroline’s neck. The Ventrue can already feel two small, sharp points pressing against her skin.

She feels a second pair pressing against her own teeth. Jocelyn’s pale neck, indistinct (to mortal eyes) by the room’s darkness but occasionally lit up by the odd flashing green light from the sound equipment, beckons invitingly.

The two Kindred slide to the floor, pushing themselves onto one another. For a second time, two lives become as one.


Monday night, 14 September 2015, PM

GM: The two vampires eventually—and all-too reluctantly—break off the blissful union. Jocelyn’s face is caked with Caroline’s blood. Her blue dress hangs off one of her shoulders in almost literal tatters.

“My luck to pick that color. Should’ve gone with black. These stains won’t ever come off!”

She looks around at the vitae-smeared floor and lets out a needless breath, trying to blow away some of the bangs plastered over her face by Caroline’s blood. “This is way messier than sex.” She grins, revealing two still very much protruding fangs. “Worth it, though.”

Jocelyn mock-reluctantly extracts herself from the Ventrue, rummages around for her purse, and fishes out a phone.

“Meg? Stop by the krewe haven and bring me some clothes. Panties and shoes too.” She thinks for a moment. “Oh, and some towelettes, bleach, and a paper towel roll, there’s a mess for you to clean up.”

She looks up at Caroline. “You need any clothes too, or can you have a renfield bring some?”

Caroline: Caroline’s own black dress has seen better days, but at least she was able to find both of her shoes.

“I’ve got a couple of outfits in the car. I was going to ask you…”

She reconsiders.

“Though… Turner makes an entrance. Do you think she could stop and pick them up on her way in?”

GM: Jocelyn has both of hers, but they’re also stained with blood, and the straps on one are broken. Caroline’s might be suitable to wear after getting wiped down with a towelette.

“You mean have my ghoul bring them up? Yeah, sure.” Jocelyn gives the relevant instructions over the phone and hangs up.

“Meg’s a little weird. She tried to kill herself.”

Caroline: “How’d that happen?” Caroline asks with some interest.

GM: “We shared a dorm room together in college. I walked in on her after she’d overdosed on sleeping pills, called 911, and that was that. My sire said she’d make a good ghoul. Suicides need someone to live for.’”

Caroline: “That makes sense,” Caroline nods. “Aimee tried to kill me. Twice. Eight-Nine-Six loaded her brain up with all kinds of buried commands.”

GM: “Oh, wow. I didn’t know you could do that.”

Caroline: “I… it makes sense. It was still a shock though to see how little time it took them to turn her into a weapon.” She frowns. “I’m still not sure what I’m going to do when she wakes up.”

GM: Jocelyn frowns too. “Huh… well, maybe Roxanne could deprogram her? I don’t know much about mind control, but she does.”

Caroline: “I tried, a little bit. Even afterwards though, she’s having a hard time adjusting.”

GM: “Maybe trade her to someone else? Is she good at anything?”

Caroline: Part of her wants to fib, but a look at Jocelyn’s face washes that away.

“Not really, though she could be in a year or so if she can get her life back together.”

GM: “Well, Meg isn’t good at a whole lot either. We could swap if you really want.”

Caroline: “No, thank you though. It’s… complicated, but I’ll figure it out.”

GM: “Okay. I wonder sometimes though if she’d be better off with another domitor.”

As they wait for the ghoul to arrive, the two blood-streaked, half-naked vampires have little else to do besides listen to the concert below. It’s stately, leisurely, and peaceful, reminding Caroline of the classical music her parents liked to play on relaxing Sunday brunches, after the family got home from church.



GM: ‘Meg’ eventually steps into the darkened room. Jocelyn’s ghoul is a short, watery-eyed, and painfully thin creature who proves almost depressingly eager to please. She gladly gets down on her knees to spray bleach over the bloodied floor and scrub it dry while the two vampires pad themselves down with towelettes and change into clean clothes. Jocelyn goes with another knee-length dress in dark green, and a second pair of black heels. Getting blood out of her and Caroline’s hair proves a tedious endeavor, so she has Meg do it while she fiddles around on her phone. The task proves sufficiently arduous that even Meg has to make a trip downstairs to fill up a water bottle and use it to rinse out the two vampires’ hair. Jocelyn isn’t happy how it turns out when she stares into the mirror. Meg looks almost ready to cry at the condemnation, prompting Jocelyn to finally assure her that “it’s great, you did better than I could have.”

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Caroline: “Do you share her, in the krewe?”

GM: “No,” the Toreador answers, “she’s collared to me.”

Caroline: “Good. And your hair looks gorgeous.”

Caroline’s own has picked up a bit of a red tinge that won’t come out until she can use her more dedicated tools back at home.

GM: “Well, you know how it is at Elysium. The harpies will seize over any little thing, and we can smell blood like… well, sharks.” Jocelyn frowns in consideration. “You know, actually, I’m gonna take off. Not worth everyone smelling juice on me. Unless you want my help with Coco or anything.”

Caroline: It’s so tempting to ask her to do just that, to stay around and stay close.

Caroline reluctantly shakes her head. “Go have fun. I’ve got some business, as I said.”

GM: “Won’t be as much as I did with you,” Jocelyn counters, grinning.

Caroline: “Call me tomorrow?” she asks, grinning back.

GM: “Something better, actually,” the Toreador answers.

“I’ll show you then. We’ve stayed up here long enough it’s probably day…”


Monday night, 14 September 2015, PM

GM: Meg stays upstairs to continue fervently scrubbing away the evidence of her mistress’ liaison. The two Kindred make their way downstairs and reluctantly part ways. It’s far from dawn, but the show is over. Crowds of dressed-up patrons are filing outside the building.

“Caroline, is that you?”

The speaker is a tall, well-groomed, and handsome man around Caroline’s age. He shares her high-cheekboned features and smooth pale skin, though not their mother’s blonde hair. In another era, he would look the part of a young lord of the manor, ruler of all he surveyed by right of birth. In 2015, he’s merely poised to become CEO of the family company—if Savannah doesn’t get her way. He’s dressed tonight in a semiformal dark jacket and tie.

LukeMalveaux_Large.jpg
The woman by his side is an equally lovely, willowy-framed figure with clear blue eyes and long pale blonde hair that falls past her shoulders. She wears a knee-length and sea-green semiformal dress.

Cecilia.jpg
“It’s so good to see you, Caroline,” Cécilia beams, pulling her into a hug. “It feels like it’s been forever. My sisters talk about you all the time—we really have to get together again.”

Caroline: Caroline reflexively stiffens at the hug. She stifles her groan over seeing her brother right now, but the smile she puts on for Cécilia is all-too genuine.

‘Forever’ doesn’t begin to cover it.

“Luke. And Cécilia. What a surprise to see you two together.” She puts on a knowing smirk.

“How is Yvonne doing?” Her smile dips somewhat that question.

GM: “Perhaps more surprising to see you alone, Caroline. A woman without love wilts like a flower without sun—and yet your flower would seem in full bloom. Who is your sun, I wonder?” Cécilia replies with a knowing smirk of her own.

Luke doesn’t hide the amusement in his smile. “There’s no fooling a Frenchwoman when it comes to romance, I’ve learned.”

Caroline: “A lady would never kiss and tell, Ms. Devillers,” Caroline replies with mock stiffness. “Isn’t that what you told me… oh, eight years ago, at that ball? And I enjoyed it, but I suspect that I found, as did you, the pairing to be what brings out the true elegance.”

Her smile dims a bit. “How is Yvonne doing?”

GM: “A lady may tell nothing of her own kisses, but prying eyes and ears will tell stories of their own,” Cécilia playfully retorts.

“Yvonne’s doing better,” she then answers. “She’s not ready to resume school yet, but we’ve moved her back home. It already feels like that’s doing a lot of good.”

“Just being in a hospital puts you in the mindset that you’re sick,” Luke says.

Caroline: “It does,” Caroline agrees. “I’m glad she’s home and recovering.”

And she means it. Gettis dead. Yvonne discharged. Maybe one person whose life was almost destroyed by that night can start to move past this.

The news is almost enough to alleviate her guilt over Sarah still lying comatose in a hospital bed.

GM: “In any case, it’s too bad we missed you earlier, Caroline. It was a lovely concert,” Luke remarks.

“Didn’t you say your dad liked to play the 21st Concerto during breakfast on Sundays?” asks Cécilia.

Luke nods. “Yes, he did. But the piece before that…” He trails off wistfully. “Old paired with new, tranquility with melancholy. As Caroline says, it’s a pointed study in contrasts.”

Caroline: Caroline laughs lightly at her brother and locks eyes with Cécilia. “Well, he’s charming at least, and he won’t forget your anniversary.”

GM: “He has yet to do that,” Cécilia smiles back.

“Cécilia raised an interesting point earlier when we were talking about the concert,” says Luke. “About contrasts and duality, and how powerfully they speak to us. Or in some cases, how we try to ignore them. Like those Instagram rich kids you mentioned?”

“Yes,” says Cécilia. “Yvette recently showed me some of their pictures, which I thought were fairly tasteless—people lying in bathtubs with bottles of champagne, exclusive credit cards in their mouths, and dollar bills thrown everywhere like confetti. But they were also telling as displays signifying disdain for cost and gratification in denying others the experience of wealth rather than sharing it. Cultural prohibitions against the flaunting of wealth, however, were dominant in earlier time periods. In the fifteenth century, Dutch painters would sometimes mark a skull in the back of portraits of their affluent sitters to remind them of life’s ephemeral nature and its earthly pleasures.”

Cécilia pauses. “‘Dance and make merry, for life is fleeting.’ Duality is a fundamental aspect of the human condition. It’s why art like that concert speaks to us so powerfully.”

Caroline: “Life and death? Joy and sorrow? Eternal and yet oh so brief? Like the notes of music—preserved forever, and trotted out for hundreds of years, and yet gone the instant they leave the performer’s instrument?”

GM: “The audience can preserve those notes forever on their devices,” Luke observes.

“But listening to a recording isn’t the same experience as attending a live performance, either,” Cécilia says. “I don’t think it’s possible to preserve the past exactly as it is—maybe it’s better to live in the moment, and accept for all things, their season.”

Caroline: “Is nothing eternal, then?” Caroline asks, clearly expecting an answer and waiting with response.

GM: “That’s starting to get into science,” her brother muses. “Matter can’t be created or destroyed, but essentially exists in a state of constant flux.”

“I think whether something has really been destroyed depends on the criteria you’re using,” Cécilia says. “You won’t destroy a painting’s matter by burning it, but it won’t be a work of art you can enjoy anymore, either. Nothing stays the same forever.”

Caroline: “And what of the notes of a song?” Caroline poses. “Or the music itself?”

GM: “You can record a song and replay it later anytime. But that’s not the same experience as a live performance, is it?”

Caroline: “Would you not argue the music is eternal, and yet also so very temporary? A paradox.” Caroline smiles. “In any case, I should let you two get along.”

GM: Cécilia nods at Caroline’s initial statement as Luke smiles back. “There’s one last thing. I’m sure Blackwatch is still doing a fine job protecting Audubon Place, and Cécilia happens to be in the market for a bodyguard. Are there any you’d recommend?”

Caroline: “Oh? Something happen?”

GM: “Yes,” Cécilia frowns, “there was a black boy who called me over the phone and followed me back to my apartment.”

“Security dragged him off,” Luke adds, “he was arrested, and Cécilia’s filing for a protective order, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.”

Caroline: “That must have been terrifying,” Caroline observes, hand over her mouth. “He didn’t hurt you, did he? How did he even get your number?”

GM: Cécilia sighs. “Yes, I know it’s nothing next to what Yvonne and Sarah went through, of course. Or even the others when they got arrested. It was all over very fast, but I was still scared. He seemed… well, mentally ill from our conversation over the phone, and there’s nothing a court can convict him for that’s worse than a misdemeanor…”

Caroline: Caroline’s face sinks a bit at that reminder before she does some math.

“He probably won’t even see jail time. That’s awful. I’m so sorry this happened to you, Cécilia. Unless… did he strike you in any way?”

GM: Cécilia shakes her head. “No, he got inside the building, but not past my apartment’s front door. He said he wanted help organizing a charity event for a friend who’d lost his legs. I wasn’t going to do something like that for a stranger, of course, but I didn’t see the harm in just giving him advice…”

“As for how he found Cécilia’s number, he must have looked through the yellow pages,” Luke answers. “It was her landline he called. She’s blocked the number he called from, and if he tries again, he’ll be in violation of the protective order.”

Cécilia nods. “I’m very glad he never got inside my apartment, of course, but all they could get him on was stalking, ordinance violation, and assaulting the building’s security. The law is only truly helpful, it seems, when someone is past the point of being helped.”

Caroline: “It can be.” Caroline seems contemplative. “If you have his name, I could make a call, see what the police have him on and if there isn’t anything else that they can find. Beyond that, if you’re looking for someone from Blackwatch just for the peace of mind… Daniel Hayes.”

GM: “Really, could you? Adeline’s floated the idea of filing civil suit, but I don’t want his money… I just want to be sure he’ll leave me alone. Maman and Yvette want to ruin his life, but like you said, he might not even see jail time for this.”

“His name is Mercurial Fernandez,” Luke supplies. “And his ‘friend’, imagine this, is some grifter named Emmett Delacroix. Carson says he was recently charged with first-degree murder. Some sort of drug deal turned massacre… that was how he lost his legs.”

Caroline: Caroline’s eyes narrow. “Good lord. If he’s mixed up in all that… I’m just glad you’re safe.”

GM: “Yes, I suppose it’s… some silver lining he went after me in my apartment, where there were security guards and a locked door, instead of at work or on the streets.” Cécilia smiles. “Still, I’ll have a bodyguard to protect me there now, thanks to you.”

Caroline: “I swear, Uncle Orson is right. This city gets more degenerate every day. I’ll let you know what I find out about him.”

What the hell were you caught up in, Emmett? Caroline wonders in passing. Either way, it’s not her problem. It seems like he got what was coming to him anyway.

GM: The pair both nod.

“I’m hiring my own bodyguard too,” Luke states. “I probably would’ve had to later in life, but we might as well start now.”

Cécilia inclines her head. “Thank you, Caroline. Maybe your uncle is right about the city, but it’s easier to sleep knowing that people like your family are trying to make it a better place.”

Caroline: “Better sooner than later,” Caroline agrees with her brother. “I’ll leave you two to your evening, hopefully involving happier subjects… or activities?”

GM: “Tongues may wag, but a lady’s remains still,” Cécilia only smiles.

“You should stop by for dinner sometime,” Luke says. “Cécilia’s mother has a fantastic chef.”

“My sisters would love to see you again, Caroline,” her brother’s girlfriend adds. “You’ve done so much for our family, I can’t believe we haven’t at least had you over.” She smiles. “You can bring your sun, too.”

Caroline: Does Caroline’s smile fade just a bit? It feels like a lifetime ago that everyone was celebrating her as the heroine of the hour.

It feels like two lifetimes since she felt like she deserved it.

“You’re right, we should do that. Life’s been crazy with law school starting back up, but I’ll be in touch.”

It’s an easy enough lie.

“Au revoir, Cécilia. Ne vous amusez pas trop avec lui.”

(“Goodbye, Cecilia. Don’t have too much fun with him.”)

GM: “Paroles et langues, Caroline. Et si peu que votre propre a dit. J’ai hâte de rencontrer le soleil qui brille sur votre fleur,” Cécilia declares with a knowing smile.

(“Tells and tongues, Caroline. And so little that your own has told. I look forward to meeting the sun that shines upon your flower.”)


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Story Four, Cletus I, Micheal V

“The Sanctified talk a great deal about our race being damned and innately wicked, but if you ever want to look true wickedness in the eyes, look no further than Cletus Lee Boggs.”
Coco Duquette


Friday evening, 11 September 2015

GM: “This came in while you were gone, boss.”

Julia smacks the brown paper package over the bar’s counter. Micheal finds a pair of camo muck boots inside. High-quality ones, too, the seasoned outdoorsman can immediately tell. Shell cordovan leather, which can take a six-month tanning process and hours of shaping at the hands of an expert craftsman. Durable, naturally water-resistant, and nearly uncreasable. The inside of the boot features 2 mm of thermal foam beneath the foot bed that will keep his feet warm in extreme temperatures, plus fleece boot linings for additional warmth and comfort. Not that the dead man naturally produces any bodily warmth. He’d hazard a guess that any boots using materials of this quality are custom-made to the size and shape of his foot, too, though where and how the sender could have obtained his measurements are a separate questions. These are the sorts of boots that can cost over $1,000. Not the $50 rubber galoshes you pick up at the sporting goods store.

The boots feel heavier, too, than he might expect. When Micheal turns the left one over in his hands, he can hear the swish of moving liquid.

Micheal: Micheal frowns as he turns the boot around in his hand. He couldn’t afford something like this.

“They say who they were that sent it?”

GM: Julia frowns. “It was this biker chick. She was…”

Micheal’s many-times niece shakes her head.

“Forget it. She just said something about a ‘pardner.’”

Micheal: Micheal looks up, eyes casting over Julia.

“Scary as all hell, I’m guessing.”

GM: “We get a rough crowd here,” says Julia. “If I threw eggs at the houses of any of these OMC guys, I’d seriously be scared for my life.”

For a moment, Julia doesn’t say anything.

“She was making those guys nervous.”

“Glad she’s gone.”

Micheal: Micheal picks up the other boot and starts to leave, then pauses.

“She probably won’t be back but… if she does, let me know.”

GM: “Uh, hold up a sec, boss. I think there’s something in those.”

Micheal: “Yeah, I’m gonna look at ’em upstairs. Not really sure what someone like that would put in a boot.”

He darts up to the office and plunks the boots down on his desk. With one hand he reaches down into the footwear.

GM: Micheal finds a Luger P08 in one boot. It’s an antique pistol formerly used by the Waffen SS. He finds a 1945 bottle of Jack Daniels in the other boot. An attached note invites him to the birthday party of a one “Bubba Jesus Boggs.” An address is provided by means of DMS coordinates.

Micheal: “Wonder which one of these I’m supposed to bring,” he mutters to himself, placing the pistol on his desk and turning the Daniels over in his hand. A good year for whiskey, at least.

His eyes drift over to the pistol. Nazi weapons. Now there’s a bad sign. He picks it up next and slides the magazine out. Loaded. He checks the rest of the parts, all of which are in perfect condition.

“Damn.”

He tucks it into his pants as best he can then covers it with his shirt. It’ll have to do until he gets to his bike. Next he slips the invitation into his pocket then grabs the bottle and boots and heads downstairs.

“Julia,” he calls out, raising the bottle up to show her. “Look what was inside. I don’t drink the stuff anymore and it’s too good to waste here. Why don’t you take it?”

GM: Julia just gives the Daniels a wary look.

“Thanks, but think I’ll pass. Maybe Rickey’ll take you up.”

Micheal: A smart choice, really, he thinks, to not accept expensive gifts from scary strangers.

Then again, he’s accepted worse from stranger.

He slides the bottle onto the bar. “Well put it on the shelf for now. I’ve got to head off, but call me if anything comes up, yeah?”

GM: Micheal’s many-times niece nods, bobbing her red ponytail.

“Sure thing.”

Micheal: “See ya tomorrow, Julia.” He heads out of the bar and down the block where his bike is parked. It’s a cheap foreign model; a custom Harley is a little out of his price range. Glancing around first to makes sure there are no curious eyes, he slips the Luger and boots into his side bag. He hops on the bike, double checks the address, then slips on a helmet and speeds off.


Friday night, 11 September 2015, PM

GM: Night has settled over the swamp. Darkness cloaks the dense undergrowth. The water’s muddy surface is oily black. With it comes a clinging, creeping fog, that rises from the water like spectral steam. The fog surrounds Micheal. Its dampness caresses him with cold, clammy hands. Water laps at his booted feet. Even bare, though, the dead man probably wouldn’t feel cold. Each of his steps makes a small splash against the bayou’s chorus of ribbeting frogs, buzzing insects, and cawing birds.



GM: The swamp is so dark next to the city’s bright lights. The trees are twisted shadows with clawlike, grasping branches. Foul odors rise from the murky water, like rotted silk against skin. Past the bayou’s canopy, Micheal can make out ominous clouds rolling across the western sky like a curtain of black smoke. The moon and stars are all but blotted out. Even the vampire is hard-pressed to see clearly.

Micheal: The Brujah moves carefully through the black, eyes drifting back and forth through his surroundings. All it takes is one misstep, one missed sign, as he knows all too well.

“Should be close,” he murmurs.

Cletus: The sound of a three-string slide guitar echoes through the bayou, calling Michael like a Cajun siren.



Cletus: The source of the eerie music is a cigar box, bottleneck guitar being strummed by a man—or a monster that hides in a man’s skin. The man-monster is sitting at the pilot’s chair of a fan-boat, anchored to the DMS coordinates.

Micheal: Micheal gently splashes towards the boat, pausing to look the man over. “Boggs.”

Cletus: Savage, acetylene-blue eyes shine beneath the brim of a dented, manskin leather hat. So beshadowed, his unblinking gaze burns like a butane torch, alluring and deadly. Equally mesmerizing and feral is the fanged smile that teases his supple lips. That smile promises much. Pleasure, pain, perdition. His body has the palpable odor of libido and heat lightning.

His ruggedly handsome, sepulchral-cold face is slick with the night’s humidity, gleaming like moonshine. He carries the paradoxical mien of the bayou-born, the strange melange of redneck simple-mindedness and Southern aristocracy. Yet, lurking behind that mask is a monster, a remorseless sociopath whose evil blossomed long before his Embrace, but has since grown into the most wicked of orchids.

He wears a half-buttoned shirt, spun from Angola’s finest felon-picked cotton, its fibers indelibly soaked with their slave-labor sweat. His thrift-store overalls are stained with blood, barbecue sauce, and cannibalistic lard. His sleeveless, mire-crusted vest bears fine-tooled heraldry of his clan.

His raiment cannot conceal the hard, rangy lines of his powerful frame. Muscles taut as a fishing line hooked to a two-hundred pound catfish swim beneath his clothes. Thick shoulders, corded neck, forearms built for strangling. His cottonmouth-scaled boots click on the beer-bottles in rhythm to his music that died before the Confederacy.

Cletus.jpg
“Kelly,” Cletus responds with a wickedly wide grin.

He stops his strumming, plunging the bayou into a silence broken only by the buzzing of insects and flowing water. The relative silence also reveals the rustling of a large duffel bag. Something writhes, and seemingly moans, within.

Micheal: “Appreciate the gifts. That Luger was fine.” He starts to clamber into the boat, then pauses mid-clamber to look at the bag.

Cletus: “Dem Nazis been knowin’ how to engineer death. Not quite as good as the good ol’ USA, though. Eh?” he asks with his fanged smile.

He places a boot atop the duffel bag, ensuring that its bundle doesn’t roll off the top of the fanboat into the dark waters.

Micheal: Michael finishes climbing in and straightens himself, water dripping from his boots and forming a puddle on the hulls.

“Thankfully, not sure how well I would’ve been able to speak German.”

His eyes drift once again to the duffel bag. “Is that… what is that?”

Cletus: “Oh, dat’s jus’ another… gift.”

He sets down his cigar box guitar and gently caresses the duffel bag, which first stiffens, then begins to thrash violently. And scream. Gagged perhaps. But screaming all the same.

GM: The words of Micheal’s sire echo through his mind.

The Sanctified talk a great deal about our race being damned and innately wicked, but if you ever want to look true wickedness in the eye, look no further than Cletus Lee Boggs. There are stories about what goes on in Slidell.

Cletus: “Open ’er up.”

Micheal: He stares at the bag. He can’t… but then, he’s got a reputation to keep. He leans down and unzips.

Cletus: The oversized duffel bag parts like old snakeskin. Inside, a young woman writhes, her mouth has been gagged by a Confederate flag, her wrists and ankles bound by duct tape. Her braided hair is disheveled, one side of her scalp crusted with blood, her left eye similarly swollen and bruised, the right staring in terror, nigh blind in the darkness. She wears threadbare clothes, stained by the remains of the bag’s previous occupants.

“Why, she looks like ten miles o’ bad road,” Cletus says with mock concern.

He claps a sinewy hand on Micheal’s shoulder. “She’s a spy, ferm Matheson. Been caught ‘er sniffin’ ‘round da blas’ site.”

Micheal: He keeps staring. His hands close slowly into fists.

“Yer shittin’ me. Fuckin’ snake.”

Cletus: Cletus spits in agreement, a nasty red glob. “Yes’um, Savoy been confirmed she’s one o’ dat snake’s ghouls.”

Micheal: “Yer like Father Christmas right now,” he continues, leaning back down and zipping the woman back into her prison. At one point, he grabs the girl’s head and shoves it further in so he can close it. “I’ll make sure she gets what she deserves.”

Cletus: Cletus just shakes his head back and forth slow as the flowing bayou.

“Rightchere, ya don callin’ me Papa Chistmas, but den yer re-stuffin’ ma sack? Nah, Papa’s present is to be played wit’. We be needin’ to know what she be knowin’. And me, I done said that y’all was jus’ the right man.”

“Now dat four-eyed hussy, Preston, she been jus’ laughing when I did said dat.” He smile falters, even as his eyes burn with the same lightning heat. “She been done said that y’all didn’t get hit wit’ da yeller stick, but da whole goddamned forest! And I said dat any man who crossed da pond and fought da Reich ain’t got a yeller bone in his body.”

Micheal: “Damn straight,” he growls.

Cletus: The Giovannini’s next words are barely a whisper.

“Now ya gonna be provin’ one o’ us right and one o’ us a liar.”

GM: The woman-shaped bag writhes and thumps against the boat’s planks.

Micheal: Bloody Preston. Bloody Coco. Bloody this whole situation.

“Well, I was figuring to do it later, but all right. We can do this here and now.”

He unzips the bag and hauls the woman up by the scruff of her tattered shirt. She’s still in the bag, but her thrashing soon frees her from it.

“All right, better tell us what you fuckin’ know.”

He reaches with his free hand and rips out the gag.

Cletus: Cletus’ grin reappears, bright and cold as a cheshire moon. He sits down on the pilot seat.

GM: The ungagged prisoner hacks and chokes, taking big gulps of the humid night air.

“Wa… er,” she gags, her voice as dry as the surrounding bayou is wet. “P… lease.”

Micheal: “What’s that?” He glances to the water then to the girl. “Don’t think it’s you makin’ the demands here.”

Cletus: Cletus leans down and picks up one of the dark beer bottles. He pops off the cap with his fingernail and hands it to Michael. In the darkness, the dark liquid smells not at all of water or alcohol, but something coppery, something far sweeter to the two Kindred.

Micheal: He turns and slams her on the edge of the boat, her face just a foot from the water’s surface. “Tell ya what, you tell me what I want and you get a drink.”

He looks back over and takes the beer from Cletus. “What’s this?” He glances back to girl, not sure whether he’s hoping for her to talk or keep quiet .

Cletus: “Local brew, made by one o’ ma kids, Wynona-Lynn. ‘Tis piss poor drink, to be honest wit ya, long pig juice dat’s been ‘watered’ down wit chicken sauce.”

He shrugs, opening a bottle himself and kicking it back.

“She’s a sweet girl, Wynona, and bless ’er heart, she done tries.” He takes a swig and wipes the red from the corner of his mouth. “She done wears these pants, so tight ya can see ‘er religion, but ’er brain, sometimes I swear, it be ratlin’ round like a BB in a boxcar.”

He looks over at the woman on the boat, her head hovering inches above the gator-infested waters. “Ma apologies.” He waves a hand, indicating Micheal to proceed.

The girl, her body flush with the heat of her racing blood, tries to nod, but only manages a sob.

“P… plea.. s… sse.”

Micheal: “Fine.”

He pulls her further out of the boat and plunges her head into the water. He takes a sip from his bottle as she struggles. Still he holds her down, longer…

Maybe…

Cletus: Once her head is submerged, Clete continues his earlier conversation, not skipping a beat:

“Pretty bad, eh? But don’t y’all be worryin’ yer pretty lil’ fangs, there’ll be the good stuff at Bubba’s BBQ. Bottled or fresh from da tap, if ya prefer.” He takes another swig. “But I promised Wynona-Lynn I’d try ’er latest brew.”

Micheal: “Yeah it ain’t exactly top notch, what, pig’s blood? Used to be a brewer myself, never thought to use blood after. Not much refinement you can do for us.”

Cletus: “Long pig,” Cletus corrects Micheal mildly. “Migrant workers, I reckon. It’s the chicken juice dat makes it be tastin’ so… watery.”

With his last word spoken, he eyes the almost no longer thrashing girl’s body.

“Careful, gators ‘round here might come up and snatch ’er face right off. She can’t be spillin’ ‘er beans if she ain’t got no bean-hole.”

Micheal: He looks at the bottle again, then too the subsiding thrashing. There’s a slight pause, as his eyes drift further towards the inky depths. He quickly pulls the woman’s face up.

“You get a good drink?”

Cletus: Cletus laughs.

The woman can only gasp, desperately, terribly.

Micheal: “You’d better fuckn’ tell us what we you were doing fer yer master. Think all that splashing woke the gators.” He presses her face a little closer to the water.

He debates forcing her under again, keeping her from divulging anything. Hell, it would be a mercy at this point. He has to protect Matheson, protect Julia. But he’s here, alone with this… monster. He can’t give himself away. He has to be strong. Put on a brave face, just like he used to.

Cletus: The girl tries impotently to break Micheal’s marble-hard grip. She spits and gasps, her eyes wild and frantic. “I don’t know noting ’bout no master! Please, please, please, I just ran away from that awful place.”

Her voice raises into a shriek as her head gets pushed so near the water’s inky murk again. “No, no, no, please, I’m sorry, I don’t know, don’t know. I won’t do it again! Whatever you want! No, no, no, no, no, please! Please, please!”

Cletus chimes in, after taking another swig and spitting out a chicken feather. “Miss, ya best be telling dis man rightchere da truth. He ain’t lying ‘bout dem gators. In 1971, a plant near here done blew, spilling coal tar into these waters. Done poisoned most o’ da fish and what did eats ‘em. Only da meanest o’ da bunch survived.” He looks at the water. “I’m talkin’ mean sonufabitches.”

Micheal: Micheal takes another swig of pig.

“It true you can’t even hear or see ’em coming? Water can jus be as calm as anything then BAM!” Another slight push towards the surface. “You’re under. I’m jus’ a city boy, I wouldn’t know.”

Cletus: “Yessir, they got dis deathroll, where they be draggin’ ya down, then spinnin’ so hard yer limbs break off. I’ve been seein’ dem let go o’ der prey then, scoopin’ up da loose hands and feet, gobblin’ ‘em up, only to snatch ya ’gain, jus’ as ya was ‘bout to get dat last gasp o’ air. Down ‘gain, they be draggin’, rollin’, rippin’, and gobblin’. So I’d be best tellin’ da man what he wants to be hearin’.”

The girl’s reply is a stream of half-babble, half-scream:

“Noooo! I don’t know what, p-pleaaaase! No, no, no, no! I don’t know what you want! Pleaaaasse! Somebody, help meeeee!!!”

Micheal: “Goddamnit,” he groans, forcing the girl’s head under once again.

Cletus: Cetus drains the last of his ‘beer’ bottle.

Micheal: He waits again. It doesn’t take long this time for her to weaken and he pulls her right back up.

“Why were you poking around that blast site?”

Cletus: It takes her a moment to regain coherence, much less intelligent speech. Eventually she blathers something about not knowing it was a blast site. She claims she was just looking for something to eat, before the train took off again. She apologizes. She begs. She pleads and sobs and becomes incoherent and insensible with fear again.

Micheal: Micheal looks her over. Ghouls are loyal, sure, it’s a rare one that’s loyal to the point of being eaten by gators. And the crying, the babbling… it feels all too real. There’s a seed of doubt twisting around in his stomach.

He looks back up to Cletus. “You absolutely positive this girl is one o’ Matheson’s?”

Cletus: Cletus nods with slow certainty. “Ya jus’ haven’t done nothin’ permanent to ‘er. Nothin’ to drive home that y’all are real serious.”

He shrugs. “Or maybe da English snake did his mind thing to ‘er. Pain’s what’ll loosen ’er brain, all da same.”

He takes out a skinning knife, its cruel edge glinting hungrily in the moonlight. He passes it handle-first to Micheal.

“Rightchere is Bubba. Be treatin’ ‘im good. Bubba Jesus is named im ’em, after all, and it’d be cryin’ shame ta lose it on ’is birthday.”

Micheal: “Yeah, I’ll keep it safe, don’t worry.”

He grasps the handle, then throws the girl backwards onto the bottom of the boat, where he promptly mounts her and holds the knife in front of her face.

GM: Wet hair limply clings to the girl’s still-grimy features, soaked but not scoured by the bayou’s muck. Algae and fallen leaves stick to her skin. She shivers as swamp water trickles down her back, soaking her down to her underwear. Her eyes blink rapidly. Between the bayou’s darkness, the lack of light source, and her water-logged vision, she’s likely as blind as a bat.

“P-please, I-I don’t know, please, p-lease…”

Her mouth opens and closes several times. There are some low, almost cough-like sobs. It’s not hard to see Julia in this runaway, if he hadn’t taken her in. They look about the same age. What set of circumstances brought her and not Julia to this point?

“I-I won’t t-tell anyone. Just-just let me go. Please. I-I have a mom, she’s w-wondering… where I…”

Over and over, that word.

“Please. Please. Please.”

Micheal: The knot twists again, pulling tight his grip on the knife. He drives out the lingering sight of Julia’s fate. In a sick, twisted way, he’s doing this for her. Still he sees what could have been. He brings his face inches from hers. The scent of bottled blood escapes from his lips.

“Then you’ll have to give us what we need,” he hisses. “You really think protectin’ Matheson is worth yer life, never seeing yer ma again? Worth this?” He presses the blade against the edge of her ear.

GM: More tears well from the girl’s eyes. “I-I don’t know who—who that is, I swear, please, p-please…”

Micheal: His jaw clenches. With one deft motion, the knife slices through her ear like it was butter. It lands with a dull splat on the metal. Blood trickles out, swirling together with the bayou’s grime.

GM: Shrieks split the night air. Raw, hoarse, and long. Micheal feels his fangs growing long in his mouth at the sight and smell of all that blood. Red, hot, and fresh. Not like the cold watered-down piss in those beer bottles. The girl thrashes and bangs her head against the boat’s planks. She’s really bleeding.

Cletus: Cletus idly picks up the ear and begins to eat it. He sucks it dry, then begins to nibble it like boudin.

“Mmm, tastes like… a liar.”

GM: It’s poor fare. The girl is malnourished. The ear is dirty with bayou muck. This is the O’Tolley’s of long pig. But the girl’s fear is real, and lends it a delectable, just-right sourness. This is Marjorie’s lovingly hand-made boss sauce poured over an O’Tolley’s Big O. Cletus’ Beast, so indulged and so well-fed, purrs for more.

It’s unlikely the girl can see what Cletus does.

But she can hear.

She can hear the words. ‘Tastes like.’

She can hear the chewing.

She jerks her head to Micheal’s side and retches, expelling watery yellow-orange vomit all over the boat.

Micheal: Micheal pulls his face away while his Beast calls to bring it closer, to taste that fresh coppery liquid dripping down the girl’s face. He can only stare as Cletus eats the ear. Any disgust he may feel manages to stay down until the girl pukes.

“Fer fuck’s sake,” he cries out, withdrawing his arm for just a moment. Once she’s done, he grabs her hair and rights her head. “You ready to talk, or should I ask my friend here which part of ya he’d like to taste next?”

Cletus: Cletus gobbles down the rest of the girl’s ear, licking his lips.

GM: The girl wails incoherently. They’re big choking cough-sobs interspersed by the odd burp of vomit. Blood and bile trickle down her sweaty face like water from a leaky faucet.

Micheal: “No? Fine,” he grunts, looking over to Cletus. “You got preference?”

Again, Julia flashes through his mind. Could she end up like this, now she knows Coco, he wonders. Tortured by Savoy’s people for information she may not even know.

Cletus: Cletus extends an open, protesting hand, like a man refusing cookies due to a diet. “I shouldn’t, Billy-Rae’d be mighty sauced if I showed up to Bubba’s party already stuffed. Plus, we be needin’ er fer the great honkie gator.”

He looks at the bloodied knife, then adds, ’’Most ’o ’er, at least."

Micheal: “All right then,” Michael growls. He releases his grip on her hair, letting her head fall down. Now he grabs her by the wrist, pulling her face first into the wretched cocktail of mud, blood, and vomit.

GM: The girl feebly struggles against her tormentor’s grip. Blood drips from the side of her head that used to have an ear. She continues that same low, sobbing whine, though the noise is briefly muffled when Micheal presses her face into her own waste. Snort-like wet coughing noises go up instead. When Micheal pulls the girl up, a yellowish mix of vomit and snot is running from her nostrils. She gasps for air.

Micheal: He presses her duct-taped hands out on the floor.

“This can end whenever you want it to.”

He’s not quite sure who he’s talking to.

He wonders how much longer either of them will last. With every injury and humiliation he can feel his Beast swell with pleasure, pulling him in. He twists her wrist, then slams the knife handle-first into the back of her hand.

GM: A gruesome crunch sounds as the girl’s hand shatters beneath the Brujah’s inhuman strength. Another round of high-pitched wails splits the air. A new unpleasant smell wafts up Micheal’s nose, accompanied by a low sss-ing sound… she’s pissing herself. The way her hand feebly twists and flops reminds him of a bird trying to fly with a broken wing.

Mike remembers another time he made someone piss himself. That little boy, whatever his name was, accompanying the nephew who bore his name to Congo Square. They’d been terrified for their lives, until the Brujah said he only intended to return them home, and wasn’t one of the monsters doing God only knows what things two little boys’ feverish imagination could dream up.

The piss still smells the same, a hundred years later.

But it’s hard to imagine another teary-eyed mother thanking him for saving her boy.

Micheal: No, this time the mother will cry for a daughter that’s never coming home. He presses his fist and twists. He feels the girl’s bone and sinew tear underneath his knuckles. Excitement surges through his body.

Cletus: Cletus’ smile widens like a slit cutting his face in two. He picks up another of Wynona-Lynne’s beers. Rather than flicking off its cap, he simply bites the neck off, spitting bloody shards into the bayou’s black waters.

GM: The girl whines and sobs. Vomitty snot dribbles down her chin as Micheal squeezes the pain from her like pulp from an orange.

Micheal: Now he grabs the index finger. An excited growl escapes his lips, and he snaps it back. Another and another, until her hand resembles a crude child’s drawing, with fingers splayed in all directions.

GM: Snap. Shriek. Snap. Shriek. It’s almost like pruning hedges, the snip followed by the branch’s fall. The girl rocks back and forth, wailing and sobbing incoherently.

Micheal: Now he holds the other hand. “Let’s see what we can do with this one.”

He barely recognizes his voice, snarling with glee. Now he grabs the knife. Slice. Her index finger lands onto the hull.

GM: It’s been a long time since Micheal did any cooking. That was his sister’s job. (What was her name? Has it really been that long?) Still, he’d watched her at work a few times. He remembers how it sounded when the knife went thunk against the tabletop, slicing through those carrots.

Thunk goes the knife again. A vaguely carrot-shaped object hits the wood again. This time, the girl doesn’t scream. She tries and just makes a pitiful animal-like whine that dies in her throat. Her eyes roll back in her head as she slumps face-first into her own blood, piss and puke. She must be unconscious. Micheal isn’t sure if it’s from pain, fear, or both. Probably both. The kine are so fragile.

It’s hard not to wonder though, as he stares down:

What would Bree think of this? Her big brother cutting off girls’ ears and fingers, shoving their faces into their own waste?

He can still remember those miserable, poverty-stricken years without their father. Then those miserable years during the Depression, when Bree lived in a ragged tent on a raft and “buried” one of her granddaughters in the Mississippi. Times were hard. She wasn’t above stealing food—how many starving people are?—but she never hurt anyone.

What would she think?

What would Julia?

Micheal: “I’m…”

He’s doing for them. He has to, now Julia is in Coco’s clutches. It’s Bree’s fault, if she hadn’t… hadn’t asked him….

That other part of him knows what he’s really doing. He stares at the girl and he slowly raises a trembling hand to his mouth.

It doesn’t feel like he has much of a choice. If he doesn’t play the part, it could be him on the floor. Or maybe he does. Maybe he hasn’t even tried. His hand slowly lowers and he looks over to Cletus.

“Dunno how much we’re gonna get outta her at this point. I can patch her up a touch, work on her later.”

Cletus: Cletus chuckles. “Ya done mighty fine, Micheal. Mighty fine.” He walks toward the trembling Kindred and dying mortal, broken beer bottle still in hand. “I’m sure that had she done had anything to be sayin’, she would’ve been done said it.”

He smiles wickedly, with a grin as fierce and cold and hungry as the gators’ who prowl the swamps.

“Like had she been an actual spy o’ dat Matheson ‘stead of jus’ ’nother hobo-stray my boys picked up from the train.”

His eyes burn under his manskin brim. “But ya see, Micheal, we had to be sure ya could be goin’ the distance. That y’all had the stomach fer it.”

Micheal: Micheal stares dumbly at the unconscious form as Cletus explains her purpose. His eyes drift along the the blood, the piss, the vomit. He can hear his namesake whisper in his ear…

Like you killed me…

His hand shoves aside the bottle as Cletus moves to drive it into her. “No, leave it,” he growls. “I’ll take care of her.”

Cletus: As the Brujah’s hand blocks the Giovannini’s, is there a momentary flicker of anger that overtakes the latter? Does his fanged smile turn into a temporary snarl, a brief flash of predatory aggression? If so, the moment is as swift as lightning.

Cletus steps back, smiling like a Southern gentleman—save for his blood-streaked face and protruding fangs. “By all means.”

Micheal: He moves in front of her, bringing her hands up, examining the bloody stumps on one. He drops them, and pulls her head to the side. His finger runs along her bloody cheek. He pulls it away and puts it into his mouth. A moment is spent sucking on it.

GM: The girl’s blood tastes almost… moldy, at first. This kine hasn’t been taking the best care of herself. She must have had a poor diet. But her vitae is hot and sour, like a Chinese stir-fry, spiked with her adrenaline and fear. Such sweet fear. The ingredients might not have been the best, but the meal’s preparation and seasoning is flawless.

Mike’s trained medical eye surmises the girl is in a poor state. She’s lost an ear and finger, after all, and will continue to lose blood until that’s staunched. Her hands will need… Mike isn’t sure how 21st century doctors would treat her mangled hand, but he knows broken hands don’t mend anywhere nearly as neat and clean as broken arms and legs. Lot more bones.

Even beyond her immediate injuries, however, the girl looks in poor health. Cletus had mentioned she was homeless and scavenging for food. A doctor’s visit likely wouldn’t have been a poor idea in any case.

Micheal: She’s probably a goner without help.

He might be able to. But he needs to get her out of here.

“I’m gonna take her with me,” he says, looking up at Cletus. “You got a kit? Don’t want her to die on the way there.”

Cletus: Cletus actually rocks back from Micheal’s words as if they are blows catching him off balance. He then rolls forward on his cottonmouth snakeskin boots and snarls:

“The hell ya is!”

“Dat girl there be ma property! Chum bait fer da great honkey gator.” He laughs mockingly. “Ya seriously be wantin’ to save the kine?! Don’t be tellin’ me ya be actually wantin’ to save er?! Don’t be tellin’ me ya gone pussy-yeller! Not after ya been did such a good job spittin’ on Savoy’s bitch!”

Micheal: Micheal rises and turns so he’s staring straight into those icy blue eyes. “Saving her fer myself,” he snarls, lips pulling back. “Way I see it, I played with her, I get to decide what I do with her.”

It’s so easy. He is, after all, just a predator staking claims on its prey.

Cletus: Cletus guffaws, as if his tension has been relieved by Micheal’s show of gumption, or at least teeth.

“Son, ya can be seein’ whatever way those Irish eyes be lettin’ ya, but yer on ma land, at my invite, and dat’s ma property.”

“Now,” he says a smile cutting cruelly across his face, “if yer wantin’ da pleasure o’ rendering ’er cold gator chum, then by all means.”

He extends his hand with a genteel gesture almost comically at odds with the grim, bloody surroundings. “Or,” he continues to drawl, “if yer still be wantin’ ta play, I promise ya’ll have plenty o’ chances at Bubba’s party.”

His voice then becomes icy. “But don’t go a’makin’ me wonder if Preston’s right after all. Don’t be makin’ me believe yer guts as weak as water.”

Micheal: “No. I want her.” He continues to stare the Giovannini down. “You want to exchange something fer her, fine. But you’d better believe I’m taking her.”

Cletus: Cletus responds to the stare with a vice-like gaze of his own. He flicks his nose casually with the pad of his thumb, then smiles. His eyes somehow seem to burn brighter, like the butane torch has been only simmering thus far and now is set full throttle. There’s a hunger, a heat that could peel paint from a plantation house or the flesh from a man’s face.

Micheal: Micheal’s own gaze flickers away in the relative heat of the monster’s. His shoulders hunch, his Beast cowers in the lair of a superior predator, and he feels himself shrink away. Maybe they’re right, he is weak, cowardly.

“Fine.” He bends down and picks up the knife, then turns toward the unconscious form.

Cletus: Cletus just keeps staring, though the heat is no longer an acetylene inferno. He says nothing. A true Southern gentlemen is gracious in victory, after all.

Micheal: His hand grips the handle like a vice. He pulls the girl’s head back, exposing her neck. He pushes the blade against the vein, still as yet hot with blood. He pauses.

GM: He can feel the pulse against his rough hands. The steady thump of her heart, which was all-but hammering its way out of her chest when she was conscious.

Micheal: He can’t take a deep breath, ready himself, all he can do is delay, then…

“No.” He drops the knife. “You already got me to torture some girl, had nothing to do with us. I’ve done enough for you.”

Cletus: Cletus frowns. Disappointed.

Also, a bit worried. He reaches down to pick up the knife. “I been told ya to be careful wit Bubba,” he scolds without any trace of mockery or levity.

He examines the skinning blade, then stows it. He looks back to Micheal.

“Ya’ll feel right as rain once we do a lil’ huntin’. Ya e’er hunt gators ’fore?”

“Firs’ rule is to be bringin’, or makin’, some chum.” He accentuates his point by suddenly punching through the young woman’s chest, shattering her ribs and sternum like drywall. Then, he plunges the broken-necked bottle, held in his other hand all this time, into the young woman’s chest, twisting it back and forth like a saw under his brutal administration. With a swift, strong flick of the wrist, he scoops up the woman’s mashed, lacerated heart and tilts the ruined bottle to his lips. He lets the still-warm heartsblood flow down his lips, chin, and shirt.

“Now dat’s the gospel truth.”


Previous, by Narrative: Story Four, Caroline V
Next, by Narrative: Story Four, Caroline VI

Previous, by Cletus: Interlude Three, Cletus I
Next, by Cletus: Story Four, Cletus II, Micheal VI

Previous, by Micheal: Story Four, Micheal IV
Next, by Micheal: Story Four, Cletus II, Micheal VI

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Story Four, Caroline V

“Jesus, how does anyone trust one another?”
“I think they mostly don’t…”

Caroline Malveaux to Autumn Rabinowitz


Sunday night, 13 September 2015, PM

GM: Caroline’s ghoul continues to helplessly plead as she turns away. There are other matters demanding her attention.

There’s an overlooked email from Franz, one of her family’s attorneys. He has arranged for Caroline to anonymously pay for Lauren’s hospital say, as requested. The girl was recently discharged. The aunt, Franz relays, was expectantly grateful, and sent a plate of cookies to the office. She was also very curious who paid for her niece’s stay, though no one told her.

Caroline: Caroline fires back a reply in thanks and makes clear it is to remain anonymous.

GM: There’s also an email from Tulane. She’s missed five days of classes. She has four more days before she’s automatically dropped from them.

Caroline: Another email dragged into the trashcan with more aggression than needed.

GM: There’s also a text from Roxanne.

We have Bliss. We’ll keep you posted on when it’s time to rescue her.

Caroline: Good luck. Let me know if I can help rescuing Evan.

She steps into another room to call Marco.

GM: The phone rings a few times before Marco picks up.

“Caroline.” The cop’s voice is flat.

Caroline: “Marco.” She doesn’t have to work to put emotion into her voice, and she hates herself for it.

“I know you can’t be very happy with me right now.”

GM: “Not as unhappy as Jacobson’s wife was.”

Caroline: “I know. I… I’m sorry doesn’t cut it.”

GM: There’s more bitterness in the police sergeant’s voice than anger. “Why are you even calling, Caroline?”

Caroline: “I told you that I’d follow up on what led to that night. I did.”

“Do you have a pen?”

GM: “Yeah.”

Caroline: “Emmett Delacroix.” She swallows audibly through the line before continuing, “He’s the contact for the street-level dealers with the more money than morals crowd.”

She remembers him from that long-ago charity event. What an ass he made of himself. And hearing the NOPD was already arresting him in the hospital… well.

It seems like the Sanctified would approve of bad things happening to this sinner.

GM: Marco patiently listens as Caroline frames Em for her brother’s cocaine, linking it to the recent disturbances in Mid-City. She can’t give away Em’s address, as Autumn and Turner still need time to drop off the body at his apartment, but she is confident the police will be able to uncover that bit of information on their own. She doesn’t want to look as if she’s investigated this too closely.

“Okay. We’ll look into this,” says Marco.

“Also, one more thing. Next time you have something to report, call 911. Not me.”

Caroline: “Marco!” Caroline again doesn’t have to work to put pain into her voice.

GM: “He died for you, Caroline! You didn’t even show up to his funeral!” the police sergeant all but yells.

Caroline: “I couldn’t!” she all but shrieks back, choking on it. She continues, more quietly, almost a whisper, “I couldn’t… I don’t face her. Couldn’t face him. What was I supposed to say? I’ve never had someone die for me.”

GM: Marco’s voice is a low grind. “You don’t say anything, if you can’t. You just show up, look sad, and let people know you give a damn!”

Caroline: “I wouldn’t have called again if I didn’t give a damn, Marco. I wouldn’t have spent nights running this down. I just… needed to do something, first, before I talked to her. Something to show that I care. Something more than just stand there, so she knows her husband didn’t die for some spoiled rich girl. Please, don’t slam the door on me.”

GM: There’s a pause. When Marco speaks again, his voice doesn’t have the same anger, but nor is there warmth. It’s just tired.

“Thanks for the tip, Caroline. We’ll make sure the bad guys get put away. But it’s gonna be better if you call 911 from now on instead.”

Caroline: There’s only silence on the other end of the line for a moment as Caroline collects herself. When she speaks she’s collected herself, resigned herself.

“I understand… and I’m sorry, Marco.”

GM: “Yeah. 1272 Paul Wayne Haggerty Road. That’s her address.”

The line clicks.

Caroline: She sighs as she sets the phone down for a moment. Another door shut. Another reminder of this life, and of all the lives she’s already destroyed. She doesn’t really regret framing Emmett—she’d flush a hundred would-be hustlers down the drain to protect Westley—it still cuts to have Marco cut her out of his life after having done so. She moves to the bathroom and turns the faucet to hot, running a hand through her hair as she waits for the water to warm up. The face that greets her in the mirror is stained with half-dried bloody tears and set in ugly lines of grief and anguish.

“Get it together,” she growls as she digs out a washcloth and wets it to wipe down her face. And she does, wiping away each trail of tears, each smudge, each line, with the hot towel.

GM: And when the blood is gone, it looks the same as it did before. The expression on it is heavier and the look in its eyes darker. But there are no physiological signs of any of the physical or emotional stress she’s experienced over the past week. It’s the same face.

She’s going to stare this face in the mirror forever.

Caroline: Forever feels so far away as she turns off the water when it begins to fog up the mirror, returning to collect her phone again and punch in a number. She’s put off her report to her babysitter for too long already.

GM: Several rings echo.

“You didn’t call me yesterday, girl,” sounds Wright’s voice. “Really hurt my feelin’s. I thought we had somethin’.”

Caroline: “I’m sorry, I had no progress to report on my sire last night.”

GM: “Oh, now that’s some good news t’ pass on.”

Caroline: “I do have information tonight, however.”

Didn’t help that I had to deal with your ‘brothas’ as well, she thinks nastily.

GM: There’s an expectant silence from the line’s other end.

Caroline: And report she does, largely repeating what she reported at her confession. Her sire has been spotted in the French Quarter, where he appears to be held up, and has been seen with Savoy and the Serpents both.

GM: “Well now, it’s jus’ like your mama said. Put your mind to it an’ there’s nothin’ you can’t do.”

Caroline: “I know it isn’t much,” she demurs.

GM: “Sho’ ain’t next to his staked an’ gift-wrapped ass.”

“You’re gonna call all me every night, even if you ain’t got nothin’ ‘cept ’I diddled myself in the shower’ to report in. We clear?”

Caroline: “Crystal.”

GM: Wright hangs up.

Caroline: She turns and flips over the table beside her, letting out a scream of rage and frustration as she does.

GM: It loudly crashes to the ground over the expensive hardwood. No one else is present in the house to hear except for a half-dead junkie.

Caroline: God, she hates being under his thumb. Hates the ridiculous restrictions. Hates her own helplessness with regard to her sire.

GM: And as the helpless and abused so often do, she can take it out on someone else.


Monday night, 14 September 2015, AM

GM: Lacking a car, Caroline hails an Ryde driver after walking down from her house to Audubon Place’s gated entrance. She’s had enough of bathroom stalls, and nearly as much of backseat car makeouts.

She tells the driver to cruise the neighborhood as she scrolls her Facebook feed for Tulane-related events. As luck would have it, there are some older (21+) students getting together for a private party off-campus.

It’s a relatively small gathering inside someone’s semi-ratty, student-budget apartment. Maybe a dozen people, all told. Caroline isn’t part of their social circle, but a few applications of her supernal presence and she’s the party’s center of attention. The affair breaks off fairly early, as it is a school night. At least for those who have or can be bothered to attend class in their junior/senior years. The party’s host and her boyfriend prove only too receptive to a three-way with the Ventrue.

Caroline: It’s exactly the release she needs after the the rest of the night. Tumbling in a comfortable bed with two oh so delicious and moderately intoxicated youths, the ability to take little drinks here and there from each and make the moment last. Always before it’s been in some public place, or with some darker end. By comparison this feels almost innocent, despite its explicitness.

They’re so young. They’re so eager. They’re so filling. She leaves them in each others’ arms, thoroughly exhausted, as she departs into the night. She has a few more stops. There’s such an emptiness to the interaction. Yes, the thrill of the blood. Yes, the satisfaction of the monster inside her chest. And certainly it was more enjoyable than most of her past liaisons in dirty bathrooms or garbage-filled cars, but she can’t help but feel that it was missing something. Or maybe everything. This is the closest she comes to interacting with people. The most pleasurable company she enjoys.

She shakes off that near brush with self-pity. Tulane Medical isn’t far, and she needs to make her rent. In these last nights she’s experienced far worse almost every night. Torture, violence, and horror. She isn’t going to let loneliness shake her.

GM: Perhaps the explanation for her loneliness is simple. That when two kine find comfort (and possibly love) in one another’s arms, all she can do is deceive and take. Kill them in small doses. She’s going to do it again, that agelessly 25-year-old face in the bathroom mirror reminds her. Again and again. Forever. Immortality isn’t free.

Caroline: Neither is a home under the sheriff’s protection, and after what she kicked over tonight, God does she need it. After everything she’s done so far to make trouble for the sheriff and his hounds, she needs to pay in full. She needs to prove she can exist in this world. She needs a good impression. Needs a measure of trust. So she turns to lies. And manipulation. And control. What else can she do?

GM: For the second time in as many nights, Caroline makes her way to TMC and bends a nurse’s mind to her will, donning a set of scrubs. Things are “crazy” in the hospital right now, her new friend shares. The police have arrested the same bedridden man twice. After that criminal Gettis illegally arrested him the first time. And the bedridden man’s doctor, Jared Brown, has recently gone missing.

Caroline: Caroline listens ideally to the chatter of the nurse as she goes about her business.

GM: Caroline makes her way into the hospital’s blood bank with the staff’s assistance and stuffs as many of the red-filled cold plastic bags into the scrubs as she can fit. It swiftly becomes apparent they have only so much room. The mentally enthralled nurse helpfully provides a backpack for Caroline to store her haul in. By the time it’s so filled that the Ventrue has to actively struggle closing the zipper, she notices something else.

The tenth bag she pulls out is hot to the touch.

Caroline: She turns it over in her hands.

GM: The contained blood violently swirls in place, like angry storm clouds. The smell of partly-melted plastic assails her nostrils.

Caroline: She pauses on her way out of the refrigerated unit to check the logs, doctoring them as needed to reflect an smaller original tally and checking to see if there’s a source for the mysterious bag of vitae.

GM: Caroline finds no listing. The bag of blood is literally off the books.

Caroline: She reflects on Autumn’s earlier words about a Krewe ghoul in TMC. It doesn’t stop her from pocketing the vitae, but she does leave a small note behind on a piece of paper borrowed from the storeroom. It reads, JG. C/O CM. C Autumn.

Not her most inventive code, but it seems likely to get the point across to the right person if they find it, and vex others.

She’s not out to rob the other ghoul of something she needs, but nor is she going to leave the vitae behind where it might be found on an inspection into the stores.

Especially given how much she’s making off with.


Monday night, 14 September 2015, AM

GM: Caroline hails another Ryde cab and gets driven back to Audubon Place. she’s dropped off by the yard of Donovan’s soulless McMansion home.

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

The guards escort Caroline to a spartan office room with a desk, three chairs (one behind the desk, two in front) and absolutely nothing else. Donovan almost sits behind the desk.

But he doesn’t. The figure looks like Donovan at first, but at second glance, he’s a duplicate. An aborted duplicate. The duplicate wears identical clothing to the sheriff: black sweater, navy slacks, polished leather shoes, all without a crease out of place. He has the same neatly combed black hair, the same clean-shaven chin, the same posture and blank expression… but that’s where it ends. The man is shorter and plumper than his master, like someone squashed Donovan down with a trash compactor. He possesses different facial features and is obviously not the same man. The entire mimicry feels false, hollow, incomplete. It’s as if someone tried to build a Donovan duplicate and simply gave up halfway through.

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Most telling of all are the eyes. Where the sheriff’s gaze is alternately stormy and frigid, like an upset Arctic sea, the mimic’s is simply empty. Like staring into a starless void. Gray eyes, which Caroline is instantly sure are only gray like Donovan’s because of contact lenses, regard the Ventrue as unblinkingly as they did during the two’s last meeting. Even the windows to his soul are fake.

“What is your business, Miss Malveaux,” the mimic states in the same hollow monotone as before.

Caroline: “I’ve come to pay my corvee to Sheriff Donovan,” she replies evenly.

GM: “I will accept it in his stead.” The mimic’s bland tone does not fluctuate.

Caroline: “Of course,” Caroline replies demurely. She slides off the bag and counts out seven pints of blood for the doppelganger on the table between them, trying not to look into his empty eyes. Hoping that she never has to look into eyes like that on the face of someone she cares about.

But fearing she will. Eternity is a long time.

GM: The mimic stares at the blood bags with all the interest that watching paint dry on a wall might elicit.

“Your corvée is accepted,” he intones.

Caroline: “You’ll convey the sheriff my continued thankfulness for this opportunity?”

GM: “Sheriff Donovan wishes me to convey that his patience for your search is not unlimited. Hound Wright has reported few developments. You have seven nights to locate your sire before you are executed.”

The mimic’s face remains the picture of disinterest. It’s not a threat that comes out of his mouth. Just a different sequence of syllables, bereft of any significance or meaning but that which Caroline attaches to them.

Caroline: The words send a chill through her, and it is only with conscious will that she doesn’t shiver at them. If her blood could run cold, it would.

Thankfully, the blood in her veins is not her own.

GM: “Do you have further business to conduct with Sheriff Donovan, Ms. Malveaux,” the mimic blandly intones at Caroline’s silence.

Caroline: “Not at this time.” She bites her lip. “Were that to change, should such be brought here for the sheriff’s convenience?”

GM: “Yes.” The same vacant look.

GM: Caroline and the mimic exchange final, one-sided “pleasantries.” He doesn’t watch her leave so much as blankly stare in the same direction she departs.

Eternity is a long-time—and one all-too close at hand.


Monday night, 14 September 2015, AM

GM: After taking leave of Donovan’s home and on the way back to hers, Caroline calls the number provided by Gus Elgin. Her call is not answered by the master of Elysium himself, but a man who identifies himself as Master Elgin’s ghoul. He thanks Caroline for her courtesy and replies she has his number if she wishes to make a later exchange of information with the Hidden Clan.

Caroline: The conversation if brief, polite, and largely one-sided. She conveys that she is grateful for the service that the master of Elysium offered, but she has chosen to pursue an alternative course. She apologizes for any inconvenience it might have caused, and bid him that their paths cross again in a favorable manner.

GM: “It is no inconvenience to him, Ms. Malveaux,” the man reiterates. His voice is high but thick, and has the slightest lisp, like a fat man who’s inhaled just a bit of helium.

“Your courtesy in notifying him, however, is appreciated. If you should wish to exchange information with the Hidden Clan at a later date, my domitor bids me to tell you that your ‘rite of hazing’ has already been performed. He hopes that you will have a pleasant evening.”

Caroline finds little out of order in her home as she returns. Aimee is still sprawled over the couch, not asleep so much as passed out. Caesar and her other ghouls are absent, the former now for good. Many of the house’s furnishings are still missing from Wright’s last visit. The domicile is as still and lifeless as Donovan’s empty-eyed ghoul.

Caroline: She puts that unpleasant thought out of her mind for the moment and lets Aimee rest for the moment, seeing to business. First she carries the drained body from the ice-filled bathtub upstairs to a more private location. It’s unpleasant, and it’s going to be unpleasant, but not so much as if it’s found.

GM: Caroline finds a human-shaped trash bag in the ice-filled bathtub upstairs. The stench is ungodly even with the bag tied shut. The premed student aware that corpses can, in fact, shit themselves after death.

Caroline: She double-bags the body.

She double checks her emails and messages to see if anything new has come in. She writes out instructions—reminders really—for Autumn when she gets back. Shep and the car. The meet with her Krewe contact regarding the body. Getting some rest and seeing to Caesar. He’s not to go to a shelter, though he can be boarded, briefly, if needed.

She also asks that Autumn round up a couple of specific items for her for the next sunset. She fires off a text to Wright, requesting to meet with him at his earliest convenience tomorrow night. She fires off another message to Roxanne, asking her to touch base tomorrow night. She fires off a text to Ms. Haley, politely inquiring as to whether Coco is to be found at Blaze the next evening.

GM: No replies from Autumn are immediately forthcoming. Perhaps the ghoul has gone to sleep. While Caroline is checking her phone, she finds a new text message from Jocelyn.

Im going to the Elysium at the Orpheum tomorrow. Theyre having another then. U want to come?

Caroline: That text, is a burning distraction in the back of her mind as she types out the others and tries to let her head clear before responding.

GM: Wright simply texts back:

Over what?

Caroline: Details of delivering my sire.

GM: Caroline’s burner phone rings.

Wright.

Caroline: She doesn’t want to deal with him right now, but screening his call after texting him is likely to end badly. She takes another moment to center herself and answers.

GM: “Ain’t around tomorrow. What is it?” he says without preamble.

Caroline: “I need a few details, most of which an assistant can provide, such as how and where he’s to be delivered when I capture him, but I also specifically need to know you’re willing to pass on another request to the sheriff for access to the French Quarter for the purpose of apprehending him. Not being able to enter where I’ve explicitly determined he’s hiding out imposes certain logistical challenges on this.”

GM: “Anywhere that gets him in our hands without flippin’ the Masquerade over a dead guy wit’ a stake in his chest. Perdido House, Donovan’s house, whatever.”

Caroline: “There will be individuals standing by at each ready to receive him?”

GM: “There always somebody at those places.”

“So far as Vieux Carré.” Wright seems to chew on Caroline’s words, but find nothing to immediately take offense to. “I’ll pass it up. Don’t hold your breath.”

Caroline: “Thank you.” She pauses before continuing on, “I don’t want to belabor this, but… he has allies. He’s had a century to accumulate influence, favors, servants, and lay plans. Which means when this happens, it’s likely to get very ugly on the back end coming out of Vieux Carré… delivering that bucket of problems into Donovan’s lap isn’t going to cause problems?”

GM: “Girl, if this gets ugly, it’s Donovan who’s goin’ to be your problem. You keep the First Law. Whether you the prince or a serf.”

Caroline: “And if they don’t feel the same way?”

GM: “Dafuck? Anyone else breaks the Masquerade, they’re gonna burn at the stake too. It is not fuckin’ optional.”

Caroline: “What I mean is, what happens if I show up at the sheriff’s home and the serpents or private security or ghouls come in guns blazing?”

GM: “They won’t if they know what’s good for ’em.”

“You get us your sire. Some idiot shoots up Audubon, they’ll get fucking burned at the stake.”

Caroline: “Okay. One last thing. To draw him in or out, certain rumors might have to get circulated as to my intentions. I don’t want that to be a surprise.”

GM: “Then un-s’prise me.”

Caroline: “I’ll make every effort to do so ahead of time, but if word comes across that sounds crazy…”

GM: “I swear this is like pullin’ fangs. Girl, what shit are you plannin’ on pullin’?”

Caroline: She grits those very fangs. “I’m planning on doing or saying whatever is necessary to draw him out, using myself as bait. Exactly that that’s going to require, I won’t know until I get started.”

GM: “Wouldn’t that have saved us a headache if you said from th’ start? Whatever then. You don’t break the Masquerade, we won’t burn you too.”

Caroline: “That’s all I had.”

GM: Wright hangs up.

Caroline: Tick, Tock. Tomorrow looks more and more like a loss she can ill afford. Seven days to pull everything together. Or seven days to write a will.

GM: Caroline finds she has received another text back from Haley during their conversation:

I’m afraid she won’t be. She’ll be attending tomorrow’s Elysium Primo if you want to catch her then.

Caroline: I’d simply like to know the earliest opportunity to deliver my gift to her.

GM: Ok. That will be at tomorrow’s Elysium.

Caroline: Thank you.

Caroline’s response goes flying away at the speed of data as she pulls up Jocelyn’s message. Apprehend her a hundred-year-old sire in a district she isn’t permitted to visit, where he’s surrounded by his allies and possible servants in a week? Why not take off a night for a party.

I’d love to.

GM: Great! It opens at nightfall.

Caroline: What’s a fashionably late arrival?

GM: So they actually hate licks who try to show up fashionably late. But it’s open for Kindred to just pop into whenever. So I guess there isn’t.

Caroline: I have a few affairs to see to in the early evening, but I’ll see you there.

GM: Watch out too. Adelais is supposed to be there

Caroline: We’ve met.

GM: Ok, I gtg, cya later

Caroline: “Bye,” she murmurs quietly to herself, watching the screen until it locks.


Monday night, 14 September 2015, AM

Caroline: In truth, Caroline has matters to see to as well. Aimee, in particular, is woken up and told in no uncertain terms she is to stay in, rest, and recover today. Under no circumstances is she to leave the house. If anything goes wrong she’s to call Autumn.

GM: Aimee groggily awakens. She’s still clad in the same dirty sweatpants Eight-Nine-Six force-marched her to the park in, and her face is still caked with crusted-over blood. She all too readily swears not to go anywhere. She begs Caroline for another sip of blood. Please. She still hurts so bad.

Caroline: “Tomorrow,” Caroline promises, loathing herself for it, so long as Aimee doesn’t get in any trouble today.

GM: Aimee swallows, still visibly distraught but at least not pushing the matter, and meekly asks for some ibuprofen.

Caroline: Caroline sets her up with a large glass of water, four ibuprofen, and a remote for the new, smaller TV, and a small array of snack foods from the increasingly barren kitchen until she feels well enough to get up.

GM: Barren proves all-too apt as Caroline goes through the refrigerator for the first time in a week. There’s enough to scrounge up a modest meal, though much of the other food is starting to spoil. Someone will need to pick up new groceries, though somehow Caroline can’t see many Kindred doing that for their ghouls.

Even tired as she is, Aimee ravenously sets into the crackers, olives, salami slices, and peanut butter-dipped celery sticks. She doesn’t look as if she’s eaten for some time.

Caroline: Caroline leaves her to it as she makes for her daytime refuge. Not as glamorous as her bed, but after raiding another haven she’s all too aware of the dangers of remaining out in the open.

The panic room is actually on the second floor, off the room she uses as an office, but which was originally a bedroom, complete with a walk-in closet she uses to store her more out of fashion or season clothing. Buried behind walls of apparel is a concealed latch that opens into a hidden room at the heart of the house. It’s not large, but in a pinch would hold perhaps half a dozen people, especially if several of those were children. With just herself and a triple-bagged corpse it isn’t bad, save the smell, which she is able to ignore when she forces herself to stop breathing.

She slides the steel bar that locks the room into place and settles into the chair she dragged inside.

A phone worth a hard line hangs on one wall, an old first aid kit beside it. There’s one outlet she plugs her phone into, and little else. It was supposed to be a last resort, and, she supposes, it is.


Monday evening, 14 September 2015

GM: Caroline settles down on the bare room’s equally bare cot and goes to sleep. She wakes up a second later. The body’s stench is worse. But it’s not the first thing to draw her attention.

Caroline: Panic rooms can come with a lot of amenities. Air circulation, plumbing, weapons caches, communications, sound proofing, phone lines, food supplies, electric generators. And surveillance.

Caroline’s panic room is fairly basic, for the most part. But she had a hunch, given all the recent goings-on, and gets up to check the feed on the motion-activated cameras she installed earlier throughout the house.

GM: Aimee gets off the couch and picks up the landline phone, though no ring sounds. She holds it to her ear, then sets it down. She disappears into the garage, where the power tools are kept, and returns with an improvised stake fashioned from scrap wood, as well as a mallet. She walks into Caroline’s bedroom, turns up the covers, checks under the bed, then the closet and bathroom. She finds no trace of the Ventrue.

Aimee walks through the rest of the house, surveying it top to bottom. Caroline eventually hits the fast forward. Only minutes before nightfall, Aimee finally stops looking, discards her tools, and goes back to sleep on the couch.

Caroline: She watches the scene numbly. Watches her closest friend work through the steps of her demise. And it hurts, a fresh slap in the face to start the evening.

Better than a stake, though.

She leaves the body and damning video behind, sliding open the hidden door and changing clothing quietly before heading downstairs. She watches Aimee’s exhaustion- and injury-fueled rest with mixed emotions, reflecting on the naivety of thinking she could shield her from this life, once she was drawn in.

GM: Aimee has gone out like a light and lies motionless on the couch. Most of the food from last night is eaten. The ibuprofen is gone too. As the Ventrue looks “her” ghoul over, her phone blips.

Caroline: She looks down to check it.

GM: Autumn has forwarded an article from the Times-Picayune reporting on several “bodiless murders” in Mid-City. A full police investigation into the massacre at Eight-Nine-Six’s apartment complex is underway. The absence of any bodies has made them impossible to conclusively identify, but numerous missing persons in the neighborhood have now taken on a far more sinister cast. Several names are posted:

Tevari Vaughn. Jason Hayes. Sean Gamble. Miguel Rodriguez. Maxwell Tucker.

There’s not much else posted on them. Just names.

Caroline: Fuck them, Caroline thinks viciously. Before she’s done she’ll look down and smile at Eight-Nine-Six.

She locks her phone and returns her gaze to Aimee. “Rise and shine, darling,” she all but snarls at the ghoul.

GM: Aimee groggily looks up. Perhaps it would take more effort to rouse her if she’d had a full day of sleep, but as Caroline is well-aware, she hasn’t.

“Caroline…?”

Caroline: “How’d you sleep?” she asks with barely contained anger.

GM: “Uhhh… I still feel tired…” Aimme ventures. Her expression grows apprehensive as she takes in the anger on Caroline’s features.

Caroline: “Of course you do. That’s what happens when you spend the entire day trying to kill me.”

It’s hard to pick out the anger from the hurt in her voice.

GM: “W-what?” Aimee blinks confusedly. “I’ve been asleep, here…”

Caroline:THE HELL YOU HAVE,” Caroline snarls.

GM: The fear is plain and naked on Aimee’s face as she awkwardly throws up her hands on the couch.

“I swear! I sw-I haven’t moved!”

Caroline: “I’m sorry you got dragged into this, Aimee… I am. I’m sorry. But…” She shakes her head. “I don’t fucking know how to fix this.”

GM: Aimee doesn’t look certain whether to be relieved or not by Caroline’s softer tone.

“I… I don’t know what you’re talking about, Caroline. I’m sorry. I… I don’t. I’m sorry.”

Caroline: “No you’re not,” Caroline snarls back. “You don’t even remember. And now I have to find some way to make it right.”

GM: Aimee blinks tears. “I’m… I’m sorry. I’ll do whatever I can do to help. Please.”

The ghoul hesitates for a moment, then licks her lips.

“Can I… can I have another drink now? You said tomorrow…”

Caroline: Caroline’s eyes nearly pop out of her skull as she turns her Beast loose. “Shut up!”

GM: The words die in Aimee’s throat. Fear flashes over her face… but the want in her eyes does not die.

Another text pings from Autumn. Outside Audubon. Got most of the stuff you wanted.

Caroline: “Don’t move,” she orders as she calls to buzz Autumn in.

GM: Aimee meekly remains in place.

Autumn comes inside hefting a large cardboard box. “There’s a couple more in the car, but I think I got most of what you wanted. There’s a couple other things.”

“I paid off Jennings with the 4k. He’s chopped the car.”

“I got contacted by the Krewe. They… weren’t happy. They said a bunch of blood went missing from TMC, they had to cook the books, and someone left a note with my name. So you, uh… poached from them. Like with Eight-Nine-Six. I told them I didn’t know anything. I don’t think they’re siccing Mr. Hush on us… yet, but Maurice is going to ‘interview’ you when he comes over.”

Caroline: “When will that be?” Caroline’s gaze remains locked on Aimee.

GM: “2 AM. So there’s a while for you to do other stuff first.”

Autumn follows her domitor’s eye, but says nothing.

Caroline: “There is so much to do.” Her gaze lingers. “Starting with this problem.”

GM: “Something happen? Er, scratch that. What happened?”

Caroline: “Someone tried to cram a crude stake in me today when I was sleeping.”

GM: “Aw, geez. Did she… want to, or did someone mindscrew her?”

Aimee’s throat works, but no sound comes out.

Caroline: Caroline outlines what happened without going into detail as to how she knows it. She lets Aimee struggle.

GM: Autumn eyes the other ghoul. “Damn. I guess you could… try to un-screw her yourself? Or take her to another lick?”

Caroline: “I didn’t even know it was possible to leave instructions like that, much less how to undo it. The question of more interest to me, though, is what was supposed to happen if she succeeded.”

GM: “I dunno. Maybe drag you into the sun, or maybe take you somewhere else. There’s a lot you can do with a staked lick.”

Caroline: “Because that is the more timely question.”

GM: “Well, what licks do you know who’d want to destroy or capture you? Eight-Nine-Six being pretty up there.”

Caroline: Caroline glowers at that question. “What I mean is, was she supposed to… forget it. The question is, how does their instruction interact with my own commands?”

GM: Autumn looks unsure. “I guess that really depends. How long the instructions last, and how strong the commands were. I can look her over with ESP, though, and see if she’s still a danger?”

“So long as she doesn’t have any juice in her system, anyway. I can’t look into a renfield’s head like I can a normal’s.”

Caroline: “Do it.”

GM: Autumn takes a few steps closer to the couch. The older ghoul’s eyes fall out of focus, and it’s just Aimee who winces.

“There’s… an iron fist, grabbing her head. A claw, stewing around her brain… it’s still stewing…”

Autumn’s brow furrows. “It’s… it’s strong, but also… weak. It’s a large fist, but… brittle, next to yours.”

The ghoul winces. “Aimee’s… pulling a blanket over you. Dragging… you into the sun. You don’t burn. Loading you… into a car…”

“Driving… I can’t see the rest…” Autumn rubs a hand over her forehead, biting her teeth. “Phone… rings just once… she gets her stake…”

Autumn lets out a low breath. “That’s everything I’ve got.”

Caroline: Caroline lets Aimee go and chews on her lower lip.

GM: Aimee fearfully looks between the two. “I-I don’t know about any of this. I swear. Please don’t…” She trails off.

Caroline: “Jesus, how does anyone trust one another?” she asks, exasperated.

GM: “I think they mostly don’t…” Autumn ventures quietly.

Caroline: “What a miserable state.” She looks back at Aimee. “I have to try and pull that out of your head.”

GM: Aimee does not look comforted. “How…?”

Caroline: Caroline looks back to Autumn. “Presumably the same way they put it in.”

GM: Autumn doesn’t say anything. It’s her domitor’s call.

Caroline: “It’ll be easier though if instead of trying to force it, you’ll work with me. Will you do that for me, Aimee? Will you let me in?”

GM: “I’m…”

Aimee looks, in a word, horrible. Unrested from a night spent searching her domitor’s haven, dark circles lining her eyes. Still covered in black and blue bruises from Eight-Nine-Six’s ill treatment. The crusted blood and grass over her face hasn’t been cleaned. Her sweat-stained sweatpants don’t smell like they’ve been washed in some time.

Her swollen eyes well. “Please don’t… don’t… I just want this to end.” She takes a shuddering breath. “I’m scared. God, I’m… I’m so scared. I don’t know if… why this…” She casts a pleading, glassy-eyed look at her domitor’s wrist. “Please let me… can I just have a drink, Caroline? I feel… better, when I drink…”

Caroline: Caroline’s disgust with her friend, her ghoul, her slave, is written across her face in big ugly letters. It is only by the narrowest of margins that her disgust eclipses outright rage.

Scared. Must be nice to entertain such a pointless emotion. To have the luxury of panic.

GM: Aimee finally seems to have the sense not to say anything else. She looks away.

Autumn uncomfortably watches, likewise holding her tongue.

Caroline: The moment draws on uncomfortably, but as with the seconds, so too does Caroline’s wrath tick away. Her expression softens as she looks at the pitiful thing before her. Someone she loved, reduced to a broken, tortured, and traumatized addict. Loathing turns to self-loathing, disgust to sympathy, and hatred settles in deeply into her heart. Not for Aimee. Not now. But for the architects of this scene.

GM: Aimee doesn’t look altogether sure what to say in response to her mistress’ change of expression. A flicker of hope shines in her eyes, but it is a feeble enough thing, easily snuffed out.

Autumn spares a glance Caroline’s way, but still makes no move to interject.

Caroline: At last, she moves towards Aimee. “One drink, and then you must work with me to undo this? Do you understand?”

GM: Aimee looks up at Caroline. It’s the best ‘deal’ she’s probably going to get.

And. A drink.

The ghoul’s eyes now fully light up. “Okay, I’ll try…”

Caroline: Caroline opens her wrist again for the ghoul.

GM: Aimee drinks with all the contentment of a babe at its mother’s tit. Her eyes close as her cheeks flush. The ghoul’s tongue tenderly runs over Caroline’s pale skin as she sucks and sucks that vein of liquid high.

Autumn tries can’t tear her gaze away. She follows every slurp, every shudder, every contented moan that escapes past Caroline’s wrist. The other ghoul licks her lips several times and eventually asks in a heavy voice,

“Caroline, can… can I have a hit too?”

Caroline: Caroline snatches her wrist away from Aimee when Autumn speaks, turning her gaze on the former Krewe ghoul.

“Do you really think that’s a good idea?”

GM: Autumn stares at Caroline’s still-red wrist longingly.

“Please.”

Caroline: It’s tempting. To seize the ghoul’s love and allegiance. To help put to bed questions of her loyalty behind her moment of weakness. Just a little blood. Just a lifetime of slavery. She wavers for a moment, seeming to consider.

GM: “I’ve been useful, haven’t it? More than she has,” Autumn presses.

Caroline: Caroline nods. “You have.”

GM: Aimee doesn’t respond to that. More of the black-ish bruises on the other ghoul’s face have reverted to a healthy pink, and the puffiness around her eyes has gone down. She still looks as if someone has roughed her up, though she mostly smells worse than she looks.

Caroline: She takes a step towards the ghoul.

GM: Autumn takes more than one and reaches out to take Caroline’s wrist, gazing up at the Ventrue as if for permission.

Caroline: Caroline lets her take her wrist, her eyes meeting Autumn’s… but as Caroline thinks back on Aimee, on the simpering, whining, pathetic junkie now caught almost forever in her thrall, she can’t bring herself to do it. It’s too perverse. She’s already enslaved one young woman tonight. This isn’t Autumn speaking.

She unleashes her Beast’s dominating will upon the young woman, even as she slides closer.

“You don’t need it,” she whispers in the other ghoul’s ear.

GM: Autumn’s eyes glass over.

Caroline: “You value your freedom.”

GM: The ghoul’s dull expression scrunches, like Caroline is trying to soften too-firm clay… Caroline can control what she says, how she acts, and even what she remembers, but she cannot change how Autumn feels.

Caroline: She brings up her wrist and closes the punctures with a lick.

“Forget you saw this.”

GM: Autumn looks at Caroline’s wrist for a long time. Her eyes are still foggy.

“The Krewe came to my house yesterday, mindfucked me into reporting everything you did, and told me to forget telling them,” she slurs out.

Caroline: Her breath catches at the admission. “How did they react?”

GM: Autumn blinks as the mental fog seems to subside. Apprehension creeps into her eyes.

“Uh… pretty neutrally, but they don’t talk to me except to demand information,” she answers slowly.

Caroline: She feign surprise or even blame her. Instead the whole thing just leaves her feeling numb.

“Have they given you any other orders?”

GM: Autumn’s face twitches.

Caroline: Caroline sighs. “Forget this conversation.”

She pats her hand on Autumn’s back even as she breaks eye contact with her, releasing her from her spell. “You’ve done great.”

GM: Autumn blinks confusedly as the spell ends.

“Uh, thanks…”

Caroline: Caroline’s gaze sweeps back to Aimee. “Are you ready?”

GM: Aimee’s own gaze lingers on the other ghoul. She nods after a moment. “Yeah.”

Caroline: Caroline disengages herself from Autumn and moves to sit beside her more troublesome ghoul.

“Just relax. This shouldn’t hurt or anything.” She offers a weak smile.

GM: Aimee doesn’t relax, but takes a breath and closes her eyes. Autumn has to remind her to open them, because “That’s how it works.” Aimee reluctantly does so and stares into Caroline’s own eyes.

Caroline: Caroline imposes her will on the ghoul, wrapping her mind in the coils of the Beast.

GM: Caroline’s Beast growls as it circles a psychic barrier. It sniffs, growls, and scratches at the entrance, but can’t yet get in. Aimee hisses painfully and clenches her teeth. She reflexively shuts her eyes, prompting Autumn to give a slight roll of her own.

Caroline: She hisses in frustration as she batters at Aimee’s mind. With that same hiss, she meets the girl’s eyes again.

GM: Caroline’s Beast rears back and smashes into the psychic wall, snarling with frustration. Claws rake and score the surface. Then catch. The Beast pulls and struggles, confused.

Trap.

Aimee’s produces a cigarette lighter from her sweatpants’ pocket, flicks it on, and tosses it at Caroline.

Caroline: It never has a chance to land before Caroline blurs into motion, conscious action supplanted by the Beast’s instincts.

She slaps the lighter from Aimee’s hand even as her other hand closes around the battered girl’s throat. If she could get in a word edge-wise, Caroline might scream at her friend. She might rage. She’d ask why, knowing the answer, and blast her for her weakness. For creating this situation. For all of it.

It’s all her fault. Down to Decadence, to that night when Caroline’s world came crashing down like a house of cards. Her fault, and yet all she does is create more problems while crying in her pathenticness.

GM: Caroline seizes Aimee’s throat, yanks her forward, and smashes the ghoul nose-first over the adjacent wood table. Aimee screams something, or just cries, and it’s all so fucking tiresome.

Her fault. All of it.

Caroline: And there is so much wrong. A death sentence, the Krewe in her business, Eight-Nine-Six’s constant childish attacks, Autumn getting interrogated like the spy she is in truth. How much time has Caroline already lost dealing with Aimee’s bullshit. She’ll give her something to cry about. She has a week to live, if she’s lucky, and she’s wasting that time with this fucking junkie.

GM: No more.

Again and again, the screaming ghoul’s head smashes into the glass. Maybe she says something coherent. Maybe she doesn’t. The cries are loudest the first few times, when the crunches of her breaking nose are noisiest too. Blood streaks are left smeared over the transparent table, like a child’s messy finger painting. The coppery scent only further inflames Caroline’s mad Beast. Again and again, the screaming ghoul’s head smashes into the glass.

The screams finally cease when Aimee’s weakly-struggling body goes limp. It’s not enough. There’s nowhere near enough blood in the ghoul’s body to make up for what a fucking pain in the ass she’s been. Spiderweb-cracks snake across the glass. The table finally shatters under the repeated stress, its metal legs toppling onto the floor with four dull clangs.

The jarring sensation of her victim falling out from under her reach only incenses the Beast further. Caroline grabs Aimee’s gore-slick hair and grinds her face-first into the shattered glass, smashing her head up and down into their jagged edges, again and again, oblivious to the tiny specks cutting at her own knees.

The red haze finally clears with Caroline’s fist balled in the bloody hair of the limp, three-fourths dead problem that used to be her best friend. The ruined thing’s face is a slashed, bloody crisscross of tears.

Autumn has backed into a corner, utterly silent at the carnage-wrought scene.

Caroline: The scream that tears from Caroline’s throat when she overpowers the Beast and finds herself spattered in blood and holding her lifeless friend is indescribable. Rage mixed with love. Grief with satisfaction. Catharsis with conflict. Terror with relief.

But mostly it’s a scream of horror as she pulls Aimee’s minced face from the bloodstained pile of glass shards and into her own lap as she falls to the ground.

GM: The shorter woman’s limp body is heavy, but still pliable like a rag doll as Caroline pulls its mutilated head into her lap. Glass nips at the Ventrue’s knees as she sinks to the floor. Aimee’s inviting, so-sweet blood is spattered everywhere. The rug. The table’s ruined remains. Caroline’s hands. Her arms. Her clothes. Her face. Hurting people is messy business. Her Beast, only just pacified with the hideous violence, is already licking its chops at the delectable sight. At the intoxicating odor. It’s like getting fingered by her boyfriend at a funeral. Utterly inappropriate, yet her body’s response cannot be denied. And if she just closes her eyes, leans back and enjoys it…

The Beast runs a tongue over its chops. It doesn’t care. It just wants.

Always, it just wants.

Autumn, all but cowering in the corner of the room, looks as if she’s trying to make herself as small and forgettable as possible.

Caroline: “Autumn.” Caroline’s words come out between near-hyperventilation. An impressive feat for someone that doesn’t need to breathe.

“You’ve… got to… call…. an ambiance. I can’t fix this.” She looks at her cowering ghoul.

GM: The ghoul’s voice is a trembling whisper. “This… the Masquerade… you can just feed her… how are we supposed to explain this?”

Caroline: “I’ll figure it out. She’s going to die!”

GM: “But… your blood, it’ll fix her better than any EMT!”

Caroline: She’s right. But she’s also oh so wrong. Caroline can feel the hunger. Feel the discontent. She can smell Aimee’s oh-so delicious blood… well, everywhere. She sets Aimee’s head down out of the glass as she pulls away.

“I can’t. I can’t.” She shakes her head. “I can’t be near her.”

GM: Autumn swallows as the tremor in her voice partly subsides.

“Please. Just… just cut your wrist, get her stable, and we can… we can’t just call 911! Even if… you mindfuck the entire ambulance, how are they going to say she got this way?”

Caroline: “And if I lose… control again?”

GM: “Bleed into a cup then, and I’ll feed her! Please! We CAN’T call 911!”

Caroline: She wants to scream. Wants to just tell Autumn to do what she says. Wants to hide from all of this. Wants to… suck the blood straight out of Aimee’s feebly beating heart.

Instead, Caroline does none of those things. She flees the scene into the kitchen, digging through barren shelves for another glass that Wright’s thugs didn’t smash.

GM: Autumn follows behind, but still maintains a wary distance from Caroline as she bites her wrist and dribbles the blood into the nearest ready container. A cereal bowl.

“I’ll… get this right to her,” the ghoul responds, grabbing the bowl in one hand and a knife in her other before dashing back out of the kitchen.

Caroline: She sags into the corner with equal parts shame and exhaustion.

GM: Autumn disappears. The kitchen clock, featuring painted songbirds perched on leafy boughs, ticks by.

Caroline: It’s hard being a monster. It’s harder when you have to face it. The stainless steel refrigerator reflects back a distorted image of Caroline’s bloodsoaked vestige.

GM: Autumn reappears after about five minutes.

“She’s okay. Well, not okay, but stable.”

Caroline: Caroline unconscious licks her lips as she nods. A mistake that puts the taste of Aimee’s blood in her mouth. Sets her wanting.

GM: “No EMTs, no ambulance, no cops. You’re safe.” Autumn’s eyes shine.

Caroline: “I… I completely lost control. I could have killed her.”

GM: “It’s okay. We… all do.” The ghoul only seems to be half-listening.

Caroline: “No… I… that could have been you.”

GM: “No… I’d never make you do that.”

Caroline: “Not intentionally. But-”

Caroline’s words cut off as abruptly as Aimee’s struggles did.

“Oh no. You didn’t…” She trails off. “You did.”

GM: Autumn rubs it. “It’s okay. I still fed her the blood, just like you wanted. There was enough.”

Caroline: Tears pool in Caroline’s eyes as she stares at Autumn. “I’m so sorry, Autumn.”

GM: “My collars to the Krewe are gone now,” the ghoul continues, almost eagerly. “I’m just yours.”

Caroline: Another life caught in the sucking void of her unlife.

“Yeah.”

There isn’t much else to say to that as bloody tears leak like an old faucet.

GM: “Don’t cry,” Autumn murmurs. “We don’t need to worry about them anymore.”

Caroline: She remembers Autumn all but begging her not to do this.

GM: The ghoul is staring at Caroline’s face. Not into her eyes, at her face.

Caroline: She half-sobs, half-laughs.

GM: Wouldn’t you rather have a friend than a slave? Autumn had implored.

The ghoul licks her lips, but doesn’t approach Caroline any closer. She’s had an all-too brutal and all-too fresh reminder of what happens when a Kindred loses control.

She frowns a bit, the adoration in her eyes dimming but not fading.

“Um, actually… we might need to worry about the Krewe after all. If they find out what went down with Eight-Nine-Six, and don’t think you covered up the Masquerade… they’re going to kill someone you love. Since you already had one strike.”

Caroline: That pulls up the sob laugh short, and Caroline’s next words are brutally cold.

“That would be an astonishingly poor judgment call from whoever made it.”

GM: Autumn looks uncomfortable and just continues, “That’s why I texted you the article… the cops are looking into the murders.”

Caroline: “They have their patsy lined up. There was nothing supernatural about the killings either.”

GM: “Planting the body and cocaine definitely helped. But we know there were four people who carried out the killings, and only one of him. And even if there’s no on-scene evidence that suggests more than one person was responsible, that guy would have to be some kinda commando badass to kill five people. And… well, his apartment didn’t really suggest that kind of character.”

Caroline: “He doesn’t have to be. The cops will fill in their own story.”

GM: “Yeah, but there could still be a manhunt for the other perpetrators. What if they catch Turner?”

Caroline: Caroline laughs cruelly. “With only one body and a bunch of minority gangbangers as victims?”

GM: “I’m not saying it’s as serious as killing white tourists, but you still killed five people in a single shooting.” Autumn raises her hands. “But it’s not up to me. I mean, maybe the Krewe’s gonna feel differently. But if they think you broke the Masquerade… well, they’ll probably sic Mr. Hush.”

The ghoul’s expression sobers. “I just don’t want to see that happen to you. Ever.”

Caroline: Caroline frowns through a crimson-stained, tear-streaked, face.

“We’ll find out tonight, I guess. You said 2 AM, right?” A shake of her head. “Is she really okay?”

GM: “Yeah. 2 AM. Well, I wouldn’t say she’s okay, but she is stable. She hasn’t woken up, though.”

“I’m not a doctor or anything, but… she looks like she could use some more blood, if she’s this out of it. She’s still got cuts and bruises everywhere.”

Caroline: Blood that Autumn drank.

Caroline could tell her off, could punish her, but she’s already done that to herself.

“And when she wakes up and tries to kill me again?”

GM: Autumn gives a helpless shrug. “I guess you could try to… deprogram her. I checked her pockets, though. There aren’t any more lighters.”

Caroline: “How do I make this right? You saw what happened when I tried the first time. Do I have to just tie her down and torture her mentally until I’m satisfied?”

GM: All Autumn can do is shrug again, eyes brimming with concern for her domitor. “I… I don’t know. I never really dealt with anything like this.”

Caroline: The moment is starting to fade. The fear, the horror. Psychologically, she knows what’s going on, even if physiologically there’s no response driving it. No elevated heart hate, no spiked chemicals in her blood stream. A part of herself tells her that she has no excuse for not maintaining her calm now. The rest of her tells her that’s a joke. That she’s a monster, that she just beat her best friend into a coma and probably left her scarred for life. That this entire unlife is insane.

“I have to go,” she murmurs, running one hand across her blood-splattered face. And there’s truth to it.

GM: Autumn looks after Caroline with that same helpless expression. “I’ll… hold down the fort, I guess. Aimee’s not going anywhere.”

Caroline: Caroline flinches at the reminder. “Call me if she gets worse. I’ll try to… I’ll try to come back with more for her.”

But she knows that’s a lie.

She might come back, but it won’t be for Aimee.


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Story Four, Caroline IV

“The nature of these sorts of feuds is for them to keep escalating.”
Jennifer Haley


Sunday evening, 13 September 2015

GM: Caroline’s sleep may be fitful, but it is mercifully brief. A second after her head hits the pillows, she’s awake. Now that she no longer needs to conceal her true nature from Aimee, Caroline gets to sleep in a real bed again.

Caroline: All it cost was her friend’s soul and freedom.

GM: Completely burying herself under blankets, together with drawing the shades, seems to do the trick against the sun.

The clock, meanwhile, reads half a day later. Caroline’s her phone is full of messages that care little for a lone ghoul’s travails. Rain patters against the windows outside.

The first is from her old associates at Hailey, McNamara, Hall, Larmann & Papale, L.L.P. The legal team evidently had other things on their plate, and much of what they have to relay to Caroline, the Ventrue was already able to reasonably guess. The neighborhood is a fairly run-down one. It’s no Ninth Ward, where violence is expected as a matter of course, but it’s no Garden District either. Police response times are around an hour.

The next message is from the Storyvilles, who have changed one detail. Roxanne is going to the meeting with Eight-Nine-Six, along with Jocelyn and another Storyville named Gwen, who Caroline doesn’t know. Another unknown Storyville named Wyatt will be participating in the safehouse raid with Turner.

Caroline: Caroline ‘humphs’ at that as she dresses for the evening. Dresses to kill.

GM: Turner, meanwhile, is bringing along two her “friends” from Blackwatch: Daniel Hayes, an ex-SEAL who she says is fairly professional, and Earl Hager, who thought abducting a woman from her home sounded “fun”. Or at least “funny”.

There’s also a text from Autumn. She says she’s outside Audubon Place and ready to go.

There’s an additional one from an unknown number on Wright’s burner. It states that for her weekly corvée, she is to bring a restrained and unconscious vessel who will not be missed, or an equivalent number of blood bags, to the house in Audubon Place where Donovan’s herald last received her.

Caroline: She passes the last bit on to Turner, indicating that if she sees any blood bags, or has an opportunity to snag any Eight-Nine-Six thugs Caroline would prefer they be recovered. The last she thinks is unlikely given the military-grade weapons and gear that the Blackwatch mercs are armed with, but you never know.

GM: Caroline can’t see the merc shrug, but she responds that she’ll bring back whatever’s left. Blood is blood, and they’d rather not leave behind a mess.

The last message for the night is from “Aimee.”

Dueling Oaks. 90 minutes.

Autumn, meanwhile, has sent another text. It’s a simple phone number, followed by:

It’s for one of Coco’s people. Dug it up during the day. Didn’t know if you had.

Caroline: Caroline texts out the venue change to the Storyvilles.

They changed venues.

GM: One arrives back from Jocelyn.

Where to?

Caroline: Dueling Oaks. Time remains 90 minutes. Plan otherwise unchanged.

GM: Oaks oh thats subtle

Caroline: ?

GM: Its a dueling spot

Caroline: The message is similarly sent out to Turner and others.

GM: The seneschal has some guy who won a million duels there in the 1800s as his ghoul

Caroline: That’s a lot of bodies, Caroline texts back.

GM: Well I dont think rly a million. But ok, meet u outside 10 mins early?

Caroline: Yes.

And with that short word, Caroline is committed. She just has to stop for some fast food along the way.


Sunday evening, 13 September 2015

GM: Autumn says she has some stuff to go over with Caroline, and the Ventrue doesn’t have long to wait. It’s fast food for a second night as she pulls outside the O’Tolley’s drive-thru for a college student looking for some cheap food, and just as cheap company. He idly mentions he did football in high school, but didn’t make the cut for college. He guesses he’s thinking of engineering.

Caroline: One “makeout” in the back of the former jock’s car later, his blood fills her gut and she’s topped off for the night.

She climbs back into Autumn’s modest car for the ride to the historic dueling site in sight of the New Orleans Museum of Art.

GM: Lacking her own car at present, Caroline heads back to Autumn’s blue minicooper. The ghoul sits inside on the driver’s seat, the bag of money she retrieved on Caroline’s behalf during daylight hours sitting next to her.

Caroline: She examines some of the gear she’s had stowed in the vehicle as she lets to ghoul speak.

GM: “So a couple other things. I got a text from Jennings, who says he’ll hold onto the car for one more day before he gets paid,” Autumn remarks as she pulls out of the drive-thru.

Caroline: “Tomorrow,” Caroline agrees. “If I forget, take care of it. You have access to several accounts now,” she observes, reflecting on the designation letters that got her access to withdraw the money for this exchange. “What else?”

GM: “There’s also Maurice. He’s not waiting on anything, but… that body must smell awful by now.”

Caroline: “Tonight, assuming this all goes according to plan,” she agrees.

GM: “Okay, last thing. You mind if I make a monthly withdrawal from those accounts? The Krewe’s, well, officially cut me off.”

Caroline: “Not at all. Support yourself as needed, within reason. That’s half the reason you have access.”

GM: The ghoul looks relieved. “Okay, thanks. It’s mainly to help out my family with bills. I actually get groceries for free since I’ve been ghouled.”

Caroline: Caroline pauses and arches an eyebrow at that last bit.

GM: “Stealth mode,” says Autumn. “Uh, that means I could shoplift them. The Krewe didn’t drown me with money. The savings add up.”

Caroline: One hand rests on a block of cocaine recovered from her brother as she shoves it into the bag with the cash.

“You used gloves with all of this, right?”

GM: Autumn nods at Caroline’s question. “Yeah. I’m surprised you remembered gloves.”

Caroline: “Three years of forensics classes.”

GM: “True. Most licks figure they can just muck all over stuff. You guys might not leave DNA traces, but you can still leave evidence.”

Caroline: “When you drop me off I’ll approach first. Get the makes and models of any cars they have, and plates if you can. You’ve got a telescopic lens I’m sure. If this ends peacefully as soon as we break I want you to call in those vehicles in association with the violence Turner is kicking up to 911.”

GM: “Okay, I’m glad to stay in the car. It’s… usually ghouls who get caught in the crossfire when deals like this go sour.”

Caroline: Caroline smiles thinly.

“What did you find out, if anything, about their hideout?”

GM: “Okay, so, first thing, it’s in an apartment complex. Kind of a shitty one, but an okay place to crash in a pinch. No name on the lease and can just mind-screw whoever lives there. Or just kill them and move on,” Autumn says more quietly. “But that’s bad for the Masquerade.”

Caroline: Caroline nods through the information.

“You passed all of this on to Turner?”

GM: Autumn nods. “You, uh, should tell her that saying ‘vampires’ is a faux pas. She didn’t seem to think much when I brought it up.”

Caroline: “There will come a time when it offends me, but we’re not there yet. For now, I’ll settle for her pulling this off without a hitch. Anything else I need to know before we go into this?”

GM: “A few more things, but… you really shouldn’t have her use that word. The harpies would have a field day with her.”

Caroline: “Noted. Now, for your end. If anything goes wrong, really really wrong tonight, clean out those accounts, split it with Turner, and vanish.”

GM: Autumn nods soberly. “Anyways, other things. There was… I think another ghoul, snooping on them.”

Caroline: “Probably one of the Storyvilles’.”

GM: “Could be. Anyways, the windows were all shut tight, shades drawn. That’s usually a sign of licks. I left a cam running all day, came back for it, and only one unit kept them down all that time. A couple gangbanger types went into the building. Might have been ghouls, but didn’t otherwise look out of place.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. Gangbangers, even ghouls, should have a tough time against military-grade weapons and tactics, especially with a Kindred for support.

“All right then. Let’s get to this.”

GM: “Okay.”

They drive up S Carrollton avenue towards City Park. Just as a river becomes visible, Autumn mutters, “Shit,” and turns the car around.

“That’s Bayou Saint John. Inconvenient. It’s the closest point to Dueling Oaks.”

Caroline: “What about it?”

GM: “Anyone who goes in dies, by the prince’s law. No explanation. Just that if you go in, you die.”

Caroline: Caroline’s eyes get wide. “That seems like a rather important piece of information to leave off the travel brochure.”

GM: “Yeah. There’s… I think a few licks who’ve gone in by accident.”

Caroline: “Only once,” Caroline replies darkly.

GM: “Yeah…” Autumn looks ahead.

“Well, we can still take the road in.”

She glances down at her phone. “Actually, there’s a parking lot not too far off from the Oaks. I can wait there?”

Caroline: “As long as they don’t snatch you up while you’re away.”

GM: “Not impossible. But if none of them are any good at snooping I probably won’t get caught.”

She adds, “That’s ESP, mind-reading, second sight.”

Caroline: “Just be careful.”


Sunday evening, 13 September 2015

GM: Autumn and Caroline drive past rows of suburban-looking homes and into City Park. It’s the largest park in New Orleans, replete with a miniature golf course, art museum, amusement park, playground, restaurants, and other attractions to the point that “park” actually looks rather scarce, or at least this far south.

Trees.jpg
Autumn pulls into the closest parking lot to Dueling Oaks. A children’s playground is visible across from the asphalt. This late at night, the swings, slides, seesaws, sandbox, and other playground equipment stand still and barren in the dark.

Caroline’s ghoul stares at it for a moment, the parking lot’s streetlight harshly glaring down over her face. “I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen one of you by a playground. It’s… odd.”

Caroline: Caroline starts to respond, but her words catch on something instead, and she slowly closes her mouth as she looks over at the playground equipment. Emotions play across her face, almost too quickly to pick one out among the others. Sadness? Anger? Regret? Autumn hasn’t known Caroline long enough to be sure, but it’s evident something is moved within her as she gazes across the park. A long moment passes, and still silence reigns.

GM: Autumn studies her domitor’s face as the silence stretches, but doesn’t break it. Perhaps she’s not sure what to say. Perhaps she simply thinks better to say anything.

Caroline: At long last, Caroline reaches out. One hand for her umbrella to fend off the nagging rain, another for the sports bag with the meager (by her standards at least) funds for the exchange. “If things go sideways, I’ll leave it to your discretion on how to respond.”

GM: “All right. I’ll take off if you don’t text me in an hour or if I spot anyone funny.”

Caroline: With that, Caroline exits the vehicle and begins the march across the bridge towards the meeting site.

GM: Autumn locks the doors (for what good it may do) as the Ventrue sets off. It’s a short walk down the driveway, part of which goes over a river, to Caroline’s destination. Rain steadily patters against the Ventrue’s umbrella. One’s eye naturally winds towards the expansive, well-lit lawn and further-off art museum. Dueling Oak is tucked away in a corner of the park that most people would simply walk past.

Trees.jpg
Caroline: A text to ensure her allies are in place as she waits, and then the waiting.

GM: A weeping willow, the eponymous Dueling Oak, spreads its drooping branches overhead. A lawn-level light blazes against the tree’s trunk, throwing weird shadows against its boughs. The rain steadily patters by.

Pic.jpg
Minutes pass.

Caroline is left to reflect on her present locale. No stranger to the Big Easy’s history, Caroline knows that in early Creole days more duels were fought in New Orleans than any other American city. Creole honor was a thing of intricate delicacy, to be offended by a word or glance. The Duelling Oaks were a favorite setting for these affaires d’honneur, with either blade or pistol.

Creoles were expert swordsmen and often delighted in any and every opportunity to exhibit their art. Duels were fought over real and trivial insults, and were sometimes deliberately provoked by young men anxious to display their skill. A quarrel between rival lovers, a fancied slight, a political argument, a difference of opinion regarding an opera, any one of these things was ample excuse for a duel under the oaks.

Residents of the neighborhood grew accustomed to watching the daily processions to the Oaks and to seeing them depart, often one man being carried away, perhaps to his family for burial. Of course, duels did not always terminate in a fatality; often injured dignity was appeased by the first blood drawn, and the duellists sometimes left the park arm in arm.

Many of the contests ending at the Duelling Oaks began in ballrooms. A popular lady might be asked for half a dance belonging to another gentleman. No argument would ensue on the refusal of the first gentleman to relinquish his partner, but the next morning the thwarted gallant would see that the other received a challenge to a meeting at the Oaks, the whole affair conducted with exquisite politeness. By evening one or the other of the gentlemen might have performed his last courtly bow in this world.

Little, however, would indicate that Caroline’s expected company is going to display similar politesse.

A voice finally breaks the rain’s muted patter.

“You’re here early.”

The speaker is a young, curly-haired blonde woman who looks around Caroline’s age. She wears a simple sweatshirt and pair of jeans with tastefully applied makeup. She could pass for a waitress or college student. She stands under one of the willow’s boughs, an umbrella nevertheless drawn to ward off the rain.

Pic.jpg
Caroline: “It’s the civilized thing to do.” Caroline stands out in the rain, shielded only by her own umbrella.

GM: “Well, I appreciate it. It gets lonely out here.”

Caroline: “Were you asked to mediate?”

GM: “Coco was. She’s sent me in her place.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “Thank you then. I can’t say that I’m not grateful for the presence of a calmer head, all things being equal.”

GM: The ghoul smiles. “Not just mine. She’s in the art museum on some other business, and only a call away if trouble breaks out.”

Caroline: “Will you pass on to Primogen Duquette that my own silence in the matter was not intended as disrespect?”

GM: “Certainly. You aren’t her vassal. Though you can also offer it yourself, if you’d like. She’ll be in the museum for a while.”

Caroline: Caroline smiles. “I may well do so. You’ll excuse me?”

She pulls out her phone and fires off a one-handed text to Autumn, trusting the ghoul to pass the information on.

GM: Autumn texts back her affirmative.

Caroline: She tucks the phone back away.

“An interesting site, this one. I heard tale that one of Seneschal Maldonato’s ghouls fought a great many successful duels here. Lots of history. A great deal of blood.”

GM: Coco’s herald smiles. “Ah, you have? Yes, I think his name…”

She thinks for a moment. “Don Jose Llulla, that’s it. I hadn’t heard he was a ghoul.”

“You know, I think he was actually more famous for how many losers he spared than how many duels he won. The Creoles had… odd manners about those sorts of things. They were all very polite about killing one another. But they’d do it at the drop of a hat. Not too unlike the Camarilla, in some ways.”

Caroline: “Proper. Something like Kindred,” Caroline echoes the thought at the same moment as the ghoul.

GM: Haley smiles. “Great minds.”

“Or simple ones incapable of original thought.”

Caroline: “Plenty of great ones are incapable of originality,” Caroline contends. “And indeed, it is often the simple ones that buck the trend with original thought. At least, so I can hope for myself, if I’m to have any future.”

GM: “Any future? That’s fairly bleak.”

Caroline: “Well, one must bank their future on their talents, Ms. Haley. I shall settle for originality for trend setting. After all, the trend for sireless fledglings seems rather bleak.” A smile.

GM: “Maybe for some. One ended up a hound, and he didn’t even catch his sire. Yet, anyways.”

Caroline: That catches Caroline’s attention with a raised eyebrow.

GM: “Yes, Alexander Wright?”

Caroline: “I had understood that his own experiences were more the downside of having a sire, rather than being entirely without one.”

GM: “For some it’s not much different. Coco’s told me stories about mass Embraces during the Revolution. Fledglings sired, not even told what they were, and hurled at enemies to die like spitballs.”

“That is, the French Revolution,” Haley clarifies after a moment. “She never means the American one.”

The ghoul smiles. “She still thinks France did theirs better.”

Caroline: “Lots of history there. Lots of blood,” Caroline echoes.

GM: “There, and here. Seems there’s no escaping it wherever you go.”

Haley tilts her head. “You’re nice for a lick, if you don’t mind me saying so.”

Caroline: Does the Kindred actually flush, or is it simply the warm blood flowing through her veins?

“That’s kind of you to say.”

GM: “Well, it’s no less true. I don’t feel like I’m tiptoeing around a sleeping tiger.”

Caroline: A faint smile. Caroline starts to speak but cuts herself off, that smile returning.

GM: Haley offers a slightly sad one.

“Though I guess you’re still young.”


Sunday evening, 13 September 2015

GM: Footsteps sound down the road as three figures stride into the light’s view. Caroline recognizes Jocelyn and Roxanne. The third is a pudgy college-age girl with dark hair, a sad face, and a large bust. Silver crucifix earrings dangle from her ears. All three Kindred are dressed in coats. The Kindred who Caroline doesn’t know holds an umbrella to cover the trio’s heads.

Pic.jpg Caroline: Caroline bites back her first thought over the crucifix earrings.

“Good evening,” she greets the Storyvilles. “Thank you for coming.”

GM: Roxanne looks between Caroline and Coco’s ghoul, then states, “You’re welcome.”

“This is Gwen,” Jocelyn volunteers with a nod towards the unknown Kindred. “I don’t think you’ve met.”

Caroline: “Not yet. A pleasure.” Caroline might extend a hand normally, but under the circumstances she instead offers a smile.

GM: “Hi,” the other Kindred ventures back, seeming to share Caroline’s own feelings.

None of the Storyvilles address the ghoul.

Roxanne looks at her phone. “Kaintucks being late. What else is new.”

Caroline: Caroline shrugs nonchalantly. “Transportation issues, I expect. Something about their vehicles getting towed.”

GM: Roxanne scoffs. “Wow. What idiots to lose their cars.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “Quite unfortunate, really.”

GM: “I’ve talked a bunch of cops out of tickets since getting Embraced.” Gwen.

“Well they probably don’t learn those disciplines.” Jocelyn.

Caroline: “Something about them being full of drug money, blood, and being stolen to boot.” Another shrug.

GM: “Oh, blood. That’s sure good for the Masquerade.” Roxanne.

Caroline: “Medical supplies are actually a pretty popular black market commodity even outside of Kindred.”

GM: “Hmm, too bad. Could’ve tried blackmailing them over it.”

Caroline: “Apparently it’s cheaper to get a street doctor and buy illegal stolen goods than a hospital for the average thug with a gunshot wound.”

GM: “Huh. That’s pretty sad.” Gwen.

“Well, health care costs are pretty insane.” Jocelyn.

Caroline: “So are legal bills.”

GM: “Yeah. My parents’ lawyer billed them for talking about his vacation to Jamaica.” Gwen.

“You’re not going to make a joke comparing lawyers to us.” Roxanne.

Caroline: “Bloodsuckers,” Caroline murmurs.

GM: Footsteps sound over the rain’s patter across the bridge.

Four figures approach the Dueling Oak. The first is a broad-shouldered African-American man wearing a drawn-up black hoodie, baggy pants, and basketball shoes.

The second is a Hispanic woman with breast-length reedy black hair, a beanie hat of the same color, and nose studs that resembles nails driven through her nostrils. She wears a leather jacket over a torn wifebeater that exposes her lower belly and a tattoo of the Virgin Mary, topless and smirking as she bares her naked breasts.

The third is another Hispanic woman in a green camo-patterned jacket, messy black hair, torn pants, and with a long nasty scar across her right cheek. She walks barefoot.

The fourth is Aimee. She looks horrible. Her face is blanched white as a sheet, where it isn’t swollen black and red with bruises. Unhealed puncture marks are visible all over her neck, and her glassy eyes do not change at Caroline’s presence. She wears a t-shirt and sweatpants that someone would go to bed in, soaked through with rain, and walks barefoot. Her pinkish and scabbed-over feet don’t look as accustomed to it as the second woman’s.

Eight-Nine-Six’s eyes meet the Storyvilles’. Hisses sound and canines flash as the vampires’ lips pull back in feral snarls. A few krewemates on both sides flinch and look away.

Coco’s herald sharply speaks up, “I’ll remind everyone that Primogen Duquette is a shout away—and will not look kindly upon violence somewhere this public.”

Caroline: Caroline’s free hand curls into a fist at the sight of Aimee, but she fights to keep her face carefully blank at the sight of her tortured friend.

“A very prudent reminder,” she growls out, taking her cold comfort in the hope that even now Turner is mowing down their ghouls with an automatic weapon.

GM: It’s an all-too human, and all-too justified-feeling rage that seethes behind Caroline’s mask at the sight of her friend. She doesn’t notice the Beast’s presence until it’s clawed its way up her back, crooning that this isn’t its hunger, that it would be right, that it would just, to tear out these fucking savages’ throats and drink their blood and leave them empty and suffering.

Perhaps it’s not her own self-control that finally throws the Beast off—but simple knowledge that her foes’ servants are already facing lethal retribution at the end of an assault rifle’s barrel. It’s enough to whet her inner monster’s appetite. For now.

Caroline: For now.

GM: Eight-Nine-Six and the Storyvilles, meanwhile, growl at the herald’s warning. Fangs do not retract, but neither do the vampires leap for one another’s throats.

The black man’s mouth twists in a half-sneer, half-snarl at Caroline. “Show us the money.”

Caroline: “Release my ghoul,” Caroline counters.

GM: “Fuck you,” hisses the woman with the Mary tattoo. “You’ve seen your renfield. Show us our money.”

Coco’s herald looks between the two vampires. “Perhaps, Ms. Malveaux, you would be willing to pass the money to me. And perhaps you, Mr. Ambrose, would be willing to release your krewe’s hold over the ghoul. She doesn’t look like she can run.”

The vampire’s glare turns to rest on Caroline.

Caroline: Caroline turns to face the ghoul. “That seems agreeable.”

GM: Haley takes the money bag from Caroline, looks through the piled cash, and quotes a figure.

The other Kindred grunts and smacks Aimee’s head. “Wake up, bitch.”

The ghoul falls flat on her face, a low thump sounding as her body hits the wet grass. A moan goes up from the ground.

Caroline: Nails bite into a clenched fist, while the other is wrapped in a pale bloodless death-grip on the umbrella. Words fail her for a moment at the sheer vindictive pettiness of the thugs.

At last she turns to Ms. Haley. “Thank you for your time.”

GM: The herald smiles. “You’re welcome, Ms. Malveaux. There is also the matter of my mistress’ fee for her time.”

She looks to Eight-Nine-Six, draws out a stack of bills, counts them, and pockets them.

The krewe watches with blatant misery.

She turns back to Caroline. “A bag of your ghoul’s blood would be acceptable. Though I don’t think she looks up for any donations right now.”

Caroline: Caroline arches an eyebrow at their calling of a mediator and her own obligation as a result.

“I’d be happy to make arrangements to do so, though you understand under the circumstances that is not immediately possible? I’m afraid I wasn’t informed of your involvement until your arrival.”

GM: The herald frowns. “I’m sorry, Ms. Malveaux, you didn’t agree to this?”

Caroline: “I’d have contacted you if such has been my intention. That notwithstanding, I’m happy to ensure Primogen Duquette is not shorted for her efforts. I can have it for her by the end of the night, or tomorrow if you’d prefer. And I am grateful for her time, and your own.”

GM: “She’s lying! That’s fuckin’ bullshit!” the barefoot woman snarls.

The ghoul reaches into the money bag, counts out another stack of bills, then pockets them.

“Your share has been paid, Ms. Malveaux.”

Caroline: Caroline nods with a grateful smile. “All the same, please tell Primogen Duquette that I shall have something for her, if only for not confirming with her. Given their advice as to contacting her if I was concerned for my safety, I should have expected them to involve the primogen on their end.”

GM: “I shall be certain to pass that along, Ms. Malveaux,” the ghoul answers. She then looks between the two variously smug and surly neonate krewes.

“Understand that my domitor is happy to mediate disputes involving Mid-City’s residents and encourages all such Kindred to bring their concerns before her—as the majority of you are aware, such arbitration is normally offered freely to the parish’s residents.”

“Primogen Duquette is displeased that her involvement was necessary so soon after the sheriff rendered his own judgment—and trusts that it will not be necessary a second time.”

Coco’s herald passes the money bag to Eight-Nine-Six.

The black man referred to as Ambrose bares his fangs at Caroline.

“Oh, it fuckin’ won’t.”

He then turns, elicits a strangled moan from Aimee as he steps on her fingers, and moves to file off with the other two Kindred.

There are some growled taunts and insults between the Storyvilles and the Anarch gang, but in the end, the later’s members head off with their money.

Caroline: Caroline itches to go for Aimee, but there is still business to see to. It isn’t every day vicious rivals make grievous errors.

She turns back to Coco’s herald. “I’m sure you will convey their attitude and general behavior to the primogen?”

GM: “I’m afraid that stepping on a ghoul’s fingers doesn’t warrant punishment, Ms. Malveaux,” Jennifer offers with a half-sad smile.

Caroline: “Nor would I ask you to demand as much, but I would have you convey that this was their anthill they kicked over, and by their attitude and behavior they seem unlikely to heed her warning. I would also ask you convey that until this meeting I was unaware of her discontent over the matter, and any actions taken prior to its meeting, and I would urge her to consider that moving forward.”

GM: Coco’s herald seems to mull over Caroline’s words, then nods.

“Well, from what I’ve been able to gather, I suppose they did fire the first shot with kidnapping your ghoul. I’ll pass that along to Regent Duquette, and that she can consider you at one strike rather than two.”

“They did fire that shot in response to your earlier poaching, though, so you need to leave them alone from here out. The nature of these sorts of feuds is for them to keep escalating. It’s important that neither side gives the other an excuse to do so.”

The Storyvilles, meanwhile, stare after Eight-Nine-Six’s diminishing forms. Roxanne turns back to face Coco’s herald.

“You may pass on the Storyville Krewe’s gratitude to your domitor for arbitrating.”

“I will be sure to, Ms. Gerlette.”

Roxanne looks towards Caroline. “We’re going to meet up with Wyatt. You can leave with us or by yourself.”

Jocelyn glances down at Aimee. “You need a hand moving her, either? Bodies are pretty heavy.”

Caroline: Caroline can hardly believe Eight-Nine-Six haven’t stormed back in response to waiting messages on their phones, but perhaps Turner has met with more success than Caroline anticipated.

“I’d be grateful for both.”

GM: Caroline and Jocelyn swing one of Aimee’s arms over their shoulders. Jocelyn’s right. A limp body is really heavy. It doesn’t help that Aimee is Caroline’s… type. Or covered in cuts and bruises, both new and old. No mortal would smell any blood, but to Caroline that telltale coppery whiff is as strong as skunk spray. It smells delicious. And she’s helpless in the Ventrue’s grasp. Caroline can feel her fangs protruding in her mouth. It wouldn’t hurt just to take a lick of the blood that’s dried…

Caroline: She thrashes internally against that monster lurking inside her as she tries to clinically break down Aimee’s many wounds. It’s difficult to do. Fighting against the personal horror of her tortured friend, wrestling with monstrous desires, keeping on a blank face with the Storyvilles: it leaves little room for anything else.

GM: The Storyvilles’ faces are from from blank either. Jocelyn’s fangs protrude, and her eyes furtively steal towards Aimee more than once. The other two Storyvilles, following behind with an umbrella, are noticeably staring as well.

Aimee, for her part, seems pretty out of it. The four Kindred exchange distracted farewells to Coco’s herald and make their way back to the parking lot with Autumn’s minicooper.

Autumn looks out, mutters, “Aw, geez,” and pushes open the door.

Caroline: Caroline carefully loads Aimee into the back, with help from Jocelyn, and turns back to the krewe. “Shall we go see what ill-gotten gains we have?”

GM: Autumn pulls down the front seat so Caroline and Jocelyn can awkwardly lift Aimee into the back. It’s when they shrug the helpless ghoul off her shoulders and turn her around, the rain lightly pattering against her jugular, that Jocelyn can no longer control herself. The Toreador falls upon the helpless meatsack, fangs gleaming, and pierces its neck.

Caroline: “No!” Caroline blurs with speed to intercept the plunging vampire’s fangs, literally putting herself between the Toreador’s canines and her helpless friend.

GM: Jocelyn doesn’t even see the “swap”. Caroline, though, all too keenly feels its results as Jocelyn’s canines pierce her jugular and thirstily suck.

Caroline: She arches her back in pain as her Beast roars in fury, beating at the gates of its cage.

GM: It’s an attack, it’s theft, it’s violation. But there’s something about that feels so good, so hot, fast, like she’s fucking her dream man on the living room couch in her parents’ house. It feels forbidden, like anyone could walk in, like something she’s never done, like there’s so many ways this ends badly, and that just gets her blood racing hotter.

Caroline: “Jocelyn.” Caroline’s voice… is that her voice? It’s husky and hot in a way she hasn’t felt in truth since her Embrace. “You have to…”

GM: The other two Storyvilles intervene, grabbing Jocelyn by both arms and pulling her back. The Toreador hisses and tugs, but after a moment, her struggles cease. Aimee’s head lies halfway inside the car. Jocelyn looks the woman over with a glazed expression.

“Sorry,” she slurs.

Caroline: Caroline half-falls into the empty seat, her knees weak, and for a moment breathless as those tiny fangs pull away from her. One hand wraps over the open door, the other the roof of the car.

GM: Autumn, meanwhile, has pulled out her stun gun. She looks cautiously between the four vampires. She clambers over the driver’s seat and awkwardly, hurriedly, begins pulling Aimee all the way in.

Jocelyn looks away. She looks at Caroline.

Caroline: Caroline slowly recovers, half pulling herself to her feet.

“I’m sorry too.”

And she is. Sorry that it stopped.

GM: Jocelyn slowly licks her lips. “We don’t have t…”

“We’re leaving,” Roxanne says brusquely. “We’ll stay in touch.”

Caroline: It’s difficult to keep her gaze off the lithe Toreador, but Caroline forces hers to Roxanne.

“As soon as I meet with mine,” she agrees. “If we got Bliss, she’s yours to interrogate.”

GM: “We’ll meet up with Wyatt and work things out later. Come on, Jocelyn.” The Storyvilles briskly make their way off with their comparatively sluggish compatriot, whose gaze still lingers on Caroline. Their umbrella lies discarded by the car.

Autumn lets out an audible breath as the three Kindred retreat.

“I never like getting pulled into those.”

Caroline: Caroline slides into Autumn’s passenger seat with a long-released breath.

“Please, just drive for now.”

She closes her eyes and leans her head back. And she thinks on, for a moment… happiness?

“Just drive.”


Sunday night, 13 September 2015, PM

GM: Autumn lugs Aimee into the back seat and lays a blanket over her body, head to feet. “Hard for anyone to see her when she’s lying in the back, but…”

Autumn drives. Caroline gets a call from Turner on the way back.

Caroline: At first Caroline can’t suppress irritation as the call breaks into her good mood, with portents of weal or woe, but she grudglingly answers after a few rings.

GM: There were a few gangbangers, Turner reports, oblivious to her boss’s “afterglow”. She isn’t sure if they were ghouls or not. They’re dead either way. They posed little threat to the three military-trained and Iraq-hardened vets. They were just tough enough not to go down too fast, but pathetic enough the mercs (or at least, two of them) can make fun of them afterwards.

“Hager blew one’s fucking brains out. Literally. Shot him in his dick and his head, right over this white wall. Splatters looked like postmodern shit.”

“Hayes just did his job.”

Caroline: “Your friends,” Caroline reports at her complaint.

GM: “Yeah.”

Caroline: “Good, though. I hope you killed everything that moved.”

GM: “Yeah. We did. Cleaned up as much as we could too.”

Caroline: “Recover anything of note?” That’s the six million dollar question.

GM: “Well, Hager ended up cutting one’s throat instead of shooting him. Body isn’t that ruined. We carried out all the bodies, but this fuck’s probably in good enough shape for one of you to eat. Like you said you wanted.”

“We also found some drugs and money. Let Hayes and Hager split those, so little less you’ll have to pay them. They’re doing this on their own time, by the way. Blackwatch hasn’t signed off on anything. No middleman.”

Caroline: “Anything else?”

GM: “We got the vampire who fit your description. Passed her off to that Wyatt kid.”

Caroline: Caroline bares her teeth in a vicious grin. The night just keeps getting better.

GM: “He did… something to the others. They don’t remember giving her away.”

Caroline: “Of course he did.”

GM: “He did that to a couple witnesses who stumbled by too. Killing’s really noisy, even with silencers. He took the other bodies off our hands. What was left, anyway.”

“Not sure who owned the apartment. Might’ve killed them. Or maybe they’re just gonna walk in and find blood all over the walls. Sucks to be them either way.”

“Thought vampires would be tougher. Whole thing was really easy.”

Caroline: The bottom falls out of Caroline’s good mood.

“Too easy?”

GM: “Dunno. We had surprise. Guess we didn’t actually fight any vampires either.”

“But we’re out. You want me to drop off the body at your house?”

Caroline: Caroline considers. There’s going to be blowback from this. Hard. The only question is when and where.

“No. Better to keep it as far away as possible. Just need the blood anyway, unless you found a stash of it there? "

GM: “Yeah, I guess you could say there was a big stash. And we left an even bigger one. Not in bags or anything. though.”

“Closest is the guy who got his neck opened.”

Caroline: Caroline rolls her eyes. Blood. Or a captive. Well… she’s halfway there with one of them?

GM: “This body’s gonna need to go somewhere though. Wasn’t Leaf or whatever yammering about a disposal expert?”

Caroline: “Hold one.” Caroline leans over to Autumn. “What was the proposed fee for body disposal?”

GM: “I think $20,000 for you. He varies it by what he thinks clients can pay. I’ve known him to haggle for other things besides cash too.”

Caroline: “Such as?”

GM: “Juice. Immediately-paid favors. Information. Basically whatever you can offer that he can collect soon, or collect with a guarantee.”

Caroline: “When we get back, see if he’s interested in blood.”

Twenty thousand dollars isn’t a terrific amount, but she’s spent money like it’s going out of style already today.

GM: Autumn nods and continues driving. Turner says nothing over the phone. A low moan goes up from Aimee in the backseat.

GM: “Are you gonna give her a hit? Juice’s a lot faster than a hospital stay…” Autumn ventures.

Caroline: “I was thinking about it.” Caroline’s voice is ice, and spoken out of the microphone.

“Just head back. We’ll figure it out when you get here,” she says to Turner.

GM: “On my way,” the merc repeats before hanging up.

Caroline: Caroline looks back on her covered-up friend. “I..”

Her moment of bliss is gone as reality comes crashing back down. Her responsibilities. Her needs. Her monstrosity. Her shame. She buries her hand in her face.

GM: “Well, uh, I’ve also got news on Eight-Nine-Six’s cars,” Autumn says over her domitor’s… she doesn’t seem exactly sure what.

“Good and bad. Bad is that that I couldn’t find out which cars Eight-Nine-Six were using. I don’t have the Krewe’s access to police databases anymore.”

“Good news is that I looked at all the cars parked by the building, and called 911 with plate numbers for the ones that looked sketchiest. I also wrote them down. You could probably glamor a cop into running those.”

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head as she regains her composure, folding her hands across her lap.

“No. Nothing else against them. Not until they do something stupid.”

So probably sometime soon.


Sunday night, 13 September 2015, PM

GM: Autumn pulls into the fortress neighborhood that is Audubon Place. The same high concrete walled, black-masked mercenaries, and leashed attack dogs patrol its perimeter. Thomas stops her car on the way in.

“There was a big angry dog that tried to run out of the neighborhood. Name on the tag is Caesar. He yours?”

Caroline: Caroline’s face contorts into a frown. “He’d been missing.”

GM: “Shit,” Thomas mutters. “I’m real sorry, Miss Malveaux, but we shot him.” He adds, “Vet fixed him up, though.”

Caroline: Relief, anger, and frustration play across Caroline’s face in no particular order, so much so that the pause draws on unnaturally for a moment. At last there is a break in it as she settles herself, biting her lower lip.

“I’m sure you and your men did what you thought you had to. I should have notified you.”

She sees Caesar thrown against a wall again by Wright, hears his whimper, and her Beast stirs to wakefulness. Or perhaps simply rattles at the cages, restless though it feels tonight. They shot her dog. Grab this man, break him. Make him fear you. She isn’t even sure the whispers are just from the Beast anymore. If she wasn’t so repelled by the smell of him, she’d want to sink her fangs into him.

GM: “Jones, bring out the dog if you can manage not to fuck that up,” Thomas drawls, oblivious to the struggle warring between Man and Beast (or just the Man?) in Caroline’s soul.

The subject of his address is another black-garbed merc whose half-hidden face has fewer lines than his fellows.

Picjpg
The younger merc sullenly heads inside the guardhouse and wheels out a very large kennel. Caesar is inside. One of the dog’s legs is bandaged and done up in a splint. His ears go flat as he bares his teeth at Caroline and emits a low snarl.

“Huh. Angry sumbitch,” Thomas remarks.

“We’re not dog-catchers,” Jones defensively remarks to Caroline. “He looked really mad-”

“Shut your mouth,” Thomas snaps.

The younger merc glares, but falls silent.

Caroline: Another reason to remember Thomas’ name.

“Thank you for making sure he was treated. I’m sure it would have been easier not to.”

She’s read at length about how the police tend to treat dogs.

GM: Caesar continues growling. His face is still half-covered in mummy-like bandages.

Caroline: Caroline gestures to the tiny car. “Would you mind bringing him down to the house?”

GM: “Wasn’t nothing, Ms. Malveaux. Jones, take care of it.”

The young merc approaches the cage. Caesar’s low growl rips into a full-on snarl as he awkwardly (but no less heavily) hurls himself at the bars, snapping at the approaching Jones. The merc swears and pulls back to the sound of laughter from his fellows. He finally settles on grabbing the top-most portions of the cage and awkwardly half-kicking its lower half. He eventually manages to lift it into the trunk of a pawprint logo-emblazoned Blackwatch car, with another merc’s grudging help. They slam it closed and the dog’s angry woofs fade to a low din.

“You should put him down. All he does is growl,” Jones glares.

“Was ‘shut up’ too many words for you, Jones?” Thomas snaps again.

Autumn drives her minicooper up to Caroline’s house, followed by Jones and Caesar in the company car. The two vehicles arrive at their destination after a brief drive. The tall house’s nearby trees, row of hedges, and encircling iron fence give little evidence to the break-ins, near-murders, kidnappings, mind-rapes, and robbery that have all taken place inside within the past week.

Jones get out of the car and pulls open the trunk. Caesar snaps at his hand when he tries to haul out the cage, prompting the mercenary to sigh that he can’t do this by himself. Autumn volunteers to help, climbs into the trunk and takes hold of the cage’s top-most bars together with Jones, but the ghoul isn’t very strong. The cage slips as she loses her grip and hits the pavement with a resounding crash. Caesar bellows and starts gnawing the bars. His eyes are mad with hurt and rage as his teeth dully clang against the stainless steel.

“I’m off. Still say you should put him down,” Jones remarks.

Caroline: “Did I ask for your damn opinion?” Caroline snarls at the young merc, before something in his smug smile shatters what is left of her tattered control. Bars made brittle through the night crack and shatter under the Beast’s need to put this… insect, this not even prey, in its place. She lashes out with a feral hiss, smashing him with the power of the monster unchained.

GM: “Hey,” he protests, “I-”

Jones staggers backwards as if punched by the force of the vampire’s raging Beast. His face whitens as he awkwardly tries to hunker down at the same time, and instead just bumps against the car. His eyes dart to and fro as he chokes out in a faint-sounding voice, “H-hey…”

There’s a low hiss splitting the air, but it’s not coming from Caesar. Caroline can feel her canines protruding. Long, sharp, and all-too visible. Autumn, too, is visibly slinking away, though the Beast has little mind for kine besides the object of its wrath.

Caroline: She’s faster than she looks as she closes on him and throws a jab into his face.

GM: The punch sends him staggering back, bleeding from his nose. Caroline then seizes the cowed boy’s neck and smashes his head against the open car’s trunk with a painful crack. His already punched nose is a messily spurting wreck. He makes some raggedy grk-grk sounds as he strains against her grip.

Caroline: And just like that, the Beast looks down at its victim, smiles, and saunters back inside, leaving Caroline holding its victim by the hair. She drops him messily to the ground and recoils. Her hand drops with his free-flowing blood, and for a moment she can only stare at the destruction she has wrought.

GM: Jones coughs and hacks, blood still dripping off his face. He pulls out his sidearm and levels it squarely at Caroline’s chest with shaking hands.

“What… the… FUCK!”

Caroline: The rage boils back up, swallowing remorse whole. She stares him in the eye.

“Drop it.”

GM: The gun clatters to the asphalt as Jones’ face goes slack.

Caesar’s ears have gone flat again. The dog can neither attack nor retreat from inside his cage. He just emits a low steady growl.

Caroline: She snatches up the pistol.

“Autumn.”

Her voice is so cold. Sterile and frigid like an examination table at a cut-rate clinic.

GM: “…yeah?” The ghoul ventures. She’s standing a safe distance away from the violence.

Caroline: She extends the weapon to her ghoul to pocket. She never breaks eye contact with Jones.

GM: Autumn approaches and gingerly sticks the firearm in her pants.

She then adds, “Someone could see this, outside…”

Caroline: “Forget I hit you,” Caroline commands. “Forget about your pistol. You fell over.”

GM: Sleepy acceptance registers in Jones’ eyes.

Caroline: “You hit your head.”

GM: Jones rubs his head.

Caroline: “Autumn, go get a first aid kit out of the bathroom.”

GM: “This might be better inside…” The ghoul begins, but she doesn’t wait up either as she heads towards the house. She tries the door. “Uh, I need keys.”

Caroline: Caroline hands the ghoul the keys and releases her control even as she turns on another form of more subtle influence.

“Are you ok?” she asks, putting a somewhat real bit of concern into her voice. “That was a nasty fall.”

GM: “Ohhh, fuck…” Jones groans, rubbing his face as Autumn disappears inside the house. He looks at Caroline warily for a moment, but the emotion fades as her supernal presence washes over him. He touches his bleeding nose and winces. “How’d I…”

“That fucking dog,” he growls.

He glares at Caesar. The dog just keeps snarling.

Caroline: “Can you stand?” Caroline asks.

GM: “’Course I can,” the young man half-angrily, half-defensively retorts. He grabs the edge of the open trunk to pull himself up.

Caroline: “My friend ran inside to grab a first aid kit.” Caroline pushes on him with her overwhelming presence. “You shouldn’t move too quickly.”

GM: Jones seems reluctant to, but goes wide-eyed as he’s hit a second time with the force of Caroline’s glamour. Autumn returns with the first aid kit as well as a damp washcloth. She helps the Ventrue clean Jones’ face and apply disinfectant and bandages over his nose. He sheepishly mumbles his thanks…. in fact, the 20-year-old seems quite deferential and even shy in the presence of someone he’s truly impressed with. Caroline sends him back to the guardhouse in his car.

Autumn is meticulous to wipe the blood off the car before he goes.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t interfere.

She smirks faintly as Jones leaves. Between falling on his face and losing his gun, he’s certain to be the butt of many jokes.

For once, someone else’s night has sucked worse.


Sunday night, 13 September 2015, PM

GM: Around the same time, Turner’s car pulls in. Autumn speaks up, “You might wanna knock on the next-door houses’ doors, just in case anyone saw.”

Caroline: Caroline sends Autumn inside to contact her body disposal ghoul while she and Turner carry Aimee inside. They lay her out on the couch and return to deal with Caesar.

GM: “Looks kinda like a burrito,” Turner remarks as they carry in the half-wrapped softly groaning woman.

Caroline: Caroline bites her tongue at that one.

GM: Caesar snaps at the hands of anyone who tries to touch his cage, especially Caroline. Turner grunts and simply grabs a chair from inside the house, pushing it against Caesar’s cage, and letting him blunt his teeth against the wood as she awkwardly wheels him back in.

Caroline: While Autumn deals with her Krewe contact and Turner the dog, Caroline snoops around the closest houses.

GM: It’s an odd hour to be knocking on doors, but the force of vampiric majesty makes any apparent strangeness on Caroline’s part slide away like rain under windshield wipers. Caroline’s neighbors are only too happy to chat with her. Several interviews later, the Ventrue is convinced that no one saw the commotion in her driveway…. this time, at least.

Autumn nods approvingly, if not gratefully, when Caroline gets back. “The Krewe always checks for witnesses.”

Caroline: “Good habit. What did your body disposal expert say to the proposal?”

GM: “He’s willing to negotiate for juice in place of cash. For either all of it, or as part of the payment. He can come over tomorrow night.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “I don’t like the idea of these bodies here another night. Not after tonight. Find somewhere to stash them. We’ll actually see to disposal tomorrow.”

GM: “It’s risky moving bodies around, though. I mean, it’s not like anyone is gonna ransack the house.” Autumn adds more quietly, “Well, who isn’t a lick.”

Caroline: “And what happens if Eight-Nine-Six call in the police right back? They’re savages, but monkey see, monkey do.”

GM: “I’m not saying it’s perfect. I mean, there’s always a chance. But where else do we really have to hide any bodies?”

Caroline: Caroline sits down for a moment. “All right.” She drags out a pen and paper and writes out an address, explaining what she wants the ghoul (with Turner’s help) to do. “That should help take care of one problem.”

GM: Turner grunts her acknowledgment. Autumn looks a bit confused, but accedes. "It’ll raise some eyebrows for the body to be drained of blood. Are you just gonna get that from somewhere else?

Caroline: “Well, that raises a question. How likely is it to raise eyebrows with Kindred if I knock over a hospital for a few pints?”

GM: “Not as much as a bloodless body at a crime scene, I don’t think. I’m not actually sure whether a hospital would miss that much blood, though.”

“I know the Krewe has at least one ghoul at TMC, too. They consider the hospital their domain. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone found a way to skim off the blood there, so I’d do it at another hospital.”

Caroline: Caroline frowns. “Noted. You two have your business for now.” The frown deepens. “And work out among the two of you which is going to take care of Caesar. He can’t stay here.”

GM: The two ghouls look at one another.

“I don’t want a dog,” Turner says flatly.

“I could take him. I still live with my family, so I’d wanna see if they want a dog first. If they don’t, I can probably find… someone to drop him off with.”

Turner rolls her eyes as Autumn describes her living situation.

Caroline: Caroline carefully avoids doing the same at the two of them. “Figure it out. Text me when you’ve got everything in place so I can call it in.”

GM: “Okay. What are we going to do with the body upstairs?” Autumn asks.

Caroline: “I’ll figure out a short term on it.”

GM: “All right, last thing I can think of. Do you want me to stop by a car dealership tomorrow? I noticed you don’t seem to have a ride anymore.”

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “Not now.”

One of many problems to deal with later.


Sunday night, 13 September 2015, PM

GM: Autumn doesn’t press the issue. Graver concerns loom over the Ventrue. After issuing final assorted orders to her ghouls, she sends them off, along with Caesar. Caroline is left alone in the still-bare house. Alone save for the weakly moaning blanket-draped body on the couch.

Caroline: It takes her a while to work up the courage to approach that body, even after her other ghouls depart, that tonic of shame and guilt garnished with fear of what’s going to come. Eventually however she does force herself to face it. Forces herself to stop hiding from it, as she pulls the sheet off her battered friend. Her once closest friend.

GM: Aimee looks as terrible as she did when Eight-Nine-Six brought her over to Dueling Oaks. Actually, she looks worse. Blades of wet grass are over her bruised and blackened face. The smell of the blood wafting off her tender body is simply intoxicating.

“C… Caroline…?” she croaks.

Caroline: Caroline’s knuckles go white as she fights back the sudden impulse to sink her teeth into Aimee.

“It’s me, Aimee. It’s me. You’re going to be okay.”

GM: Aimee starts crying. “‘M… ’m sorry, Carol… ine… I won’t… run… ’gain.”

Caroline: Anger rears up like a fiery serpent kicked out of a smoldering brazier, and wars in equal parts with self-loathing before both are swept away by sorrow. The Venture’s composure, so iron-banded throughout the night, falls to pieces and she finds herself weeping bloody beside Aimee.

“It’s not your fault. You couldn’t know… I’m sorry, Aimee. I’m sorry. I’m going to make this right…. I’m sorry.”

She wants to sweep up the girl into her arms, wants to hold her and tell her things will be all right.

GM: Caroline knows better by now.

Aimee can’t shake much from her position on the couch. Tears well and wash over her the dried blood coating her scabbed face.

“I’ll… I’ll do what… ever you say… I’m sorry…”

Caroline: “It’s okay, Aimee… just… drink. Just drink.”

A little nip on her wrist to get the blood going. Extension of the arm. She tries to keep the rest of her body away from the battered ghoul. Tries to focus on anything to distract her. Anything to break this moment.

GM: Aimee greedily gulps like a babe at its mother’s tit. The swelling around her eyes lessens as black and blue flesh reverts to light pink… though not all the way. Nor do the crusted blood or fang marks around her neck disappear. Aimee moans when Caroline retracts her wrist.

Caroline: Retracts her wrist… and herself, pulling away several steps. Anything to get away from the intoxicating aroma of Aimee.

GM: “More. Please… I feel so much better…” Aimee begs, her head weakly following Caroline’s wrist.

Caroline: “I can’t.”

Caroline has all but recoiled, and her blood-stained cheeks are contorted in pain as she fights with the revulsion of her Beast at her surrender of the precious blood.

GM: “Please! I feel better… so much better… I just need a bit more, for the pain… please… don’t leave me like this…” Aimee starts crying again.

“I thought you cared about me… please… just a little bit…”

But they’re not tears of pain. Not just tears of pain.

There’s want in them, too.

A junkie’s want for their fix.

Caroline: Caroline looks away while Aimee sobs pathetically.

“I’m sorry, Aimee.”

And she is sorry. But with every sob something else builds.

Anger.

Anger at how pathetic Aimee is acting.

Anger at her as a junkie.

Anger that she’s turned her friend into this.

Anger at Lou’s words.

Poison.


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Story Four, Annabelle I, Caroline III

“This family’s sick, Caroline.”
Westley Malveaux


Saturday night, 12 September 2015, PM

GM: After Caroline has paid and left the restaurant, her phone rings. It’s Autumn’s number.

Caroline: She curses in frustration. All she wants to do is lose herself in someone else’s flesh right now, to forget Lou, her own ghouls, and her earlier murder in a moment of bliss. Instead she swipes to answer the call.

“Malveaux,” she answers.

GM: “It’s Autumn.”

The ghoul asks to meet up with Caroline so they can talk. She’s currently at another restaurant in Riverbend. A short while later, Autumn picks up her domitor in her minicooper.

“The body double thing sort of worked,” she says, “Someone was tailing me to another restaurant. I didn’t get a look at who. They left after a little while, though. Probably better to assume they recognized I wasn’t you.”

Caroline: Caroline resists the urge to snarl. Of course Lou would be right one more time.

Instead she keeps her tone level.

“Head back to my place and reach out to your ghoul body disposal expert. A consult, not a contract. Find out what he would want. Get back to me with the price.”

GM: “Okay. Uh, there’s another thing before I go. Sort of got… lost in the shuffle after everything that’s happened, I guess. I looked into that woman from earlier. Her name’s Marianna Christian. The son is Brandon Christian. She’s recovering in a hospital.”

Caroline: “Which…”

Caroline pauses in mid-speech. Shame floods over her.

“I see.”

GM: “I dug up some more, but… it can wait?”

Caroline: “Yes. Find out about a price, and make sure Turner got rid of the car—and isn’t freaking out herself. I’ll see you there once I’ve taken care of a few matters.”

GM: “Okay, on it. I hope the… meeting went well.”

Caroline: Caroline exits the car without another word. She digs out her phone to hail a Ryde.

GM: Autumn gets out after her.

“Oh, hey, one more thing. I can’t get into Audubon. The Krewe isn’t pulling strings anymore. Meet you outside?”

She pauses. “Actually, no, you could just tell them to let me in. Sorry. Rough few nights.”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t look over her shoulder as she summons the cab.

“I’ll tell them to add you to the guest list.”

GM: “Thanks,” Autumn answers.

She pauses.

“Oh. Shit. That’s what you did for him.”

Caroline: The Ventrue still doesn’t turn around.

“Did for who?”

GM: “Trenton. Blackwatch all saw him drive in. And it was recorded on camera.”

Caroline: “Blackwatch isn’t going to disclose anything about their clients,” Caroline answers, somewhat irritated. “They take the private in PMC very seriously.”

She very much hope’s she’s right… but right about now no one is looking for him yet anyway, so it’s a problem that’s quite far from a priority.

GM: “Those guys work for Audubon’s homeowners association, though, not you?”

Caroline: “How do you see this becoming a problem? His photo shows up as a missing and they come out and say that one of their clients buzzed him in? Bad press all around. Worst I’ll get is a nasty letter about it.”

GM: “He went missing because of a lick. Normal people saw. The Krewe would scrub this right up.”

“But you’re the boss.”

Caroline: "We’ll run it down later if we have to. For now, take care of your job.


Saturday night, 12 September 2015, PM

Caroline: Lou’s demands regarding her feeding are still burning in her ears as she combs college bars looking for fresh victims. Distantly she considers that she’s probably brushing off Aimee on the boy’s death, but in truth she doesn’t want to think about it. Cold-blooded murder. That’s what it was. She can’t even justify it the way she can the other… half dozen? Is it really that many? The way she can the others. No self-defense. No threat to her. Just a horny kid. She presses on, looking for a warm body to distract herself with, knowing that in the moment, with the blood in her mouth, she won’t worry about Trent.

GM: Caroline hits the streets. Much of Tulane’s campus and the choicest student bars remains off-limits to her, and she must turn to another place to find the college students whose vitae she so desperately needs. She finds herself in the back seat of a tiny car littered with manga books, school papers, and fast food wrappers still coated with leftover food and candy residue. The odious smell is all the more pronounced in the confined space. The overweight, pasty-faced Asian boy’s blood has a greasy texture like processed food, and the taste is not abated by the sweat that pricks his neck at Caroline’s touch. The yellow glow of O’Tolley’s giant ‘O’ and “Over One Billion Served” dimly illuminates the pair as she feeds.

“Oh… god… KIIKIIIIIIII!” the boy moans as she finishes. He convulses and thrashes a pudgy arm, scattering dirty wrappers. A stain appears against his bulging crotch.

He looks up at Caroline and smiles widely. “I’m… gonna… put you in the manga I’m writing.”

Caroline: Licking the wounds closed is vile, but needed, and in the moment she’s still floating in the bliss of success that almost covers up the smell. It’s not fine dining, but she’s had much worse.

“You do that, sweetie.”

She leverages his floppy bulk off of her and checks to make sure he didn’t stain her shorts when he stained his pants.

GM: “Hey, what’s… your Facemash!” he calls as Caroline extricates herself from the stinky car.


Saturday night, 12 September 2015, PM

Caroline: She swings by her house via called Ryde to check on the status of Autumn and Turner. She takes the opportunity to change into something more suitable. The clothing Lou provided goes in the garbage.

GM: Turner has deposited Trent’s body in the upstairs bathtub and cleaned up the blood in the kitchen, which smells strongly of bleach.

“Oh yeah,” she adds, “turns out ‘he’ is really a she. Does that make this a hate crime?”

Caroline: “No, but I’m sure that wouldn’t stop someone from trying to make it one.”

Caroline’s reply is awkward, almost trying too hard. She’s clearly not at ease with the macabre humor.

“Are you ready?” she asks the former Marine. Might as well get this over with.

GM: Turner frowns. “For?”

Caroline: “Your cut of her.”

GM: The soldier of fortune just gives a blank look for a moment. “You mean more blood?” She shrugs. “Thought it was only once.”

Caroline: The heiress nods. “It takes multiple doses at first. After that semi-regular refreshers. And obviously, when you use it, you’re going to need it replenished.”

GM: Something hungry alights Turner’s eyes. “Fill me up.”

On other fronts, Trent’s car is still there in the driveway, and Caroline’s ghouls are waiting for her go-ahead on how to proceed. Autumn repeats Shep Jennings’ name as a lick who runs a chop shop that doesn’t ask questions.

Caroline: Once Caroline has topped off Turner for the evening she asks Autumn to reach out to Jennings—or his ghouls—regarding the car, and her contact with the Krewe regarding body disposal.

“Either way, the car needs to be gone tonight.”

GM: “Okay, I can drive it over to Mid-City,” Autumn nods. “I also got in touch with Garcou. He says consulting isn’t what he usually does, but he’s willing to negotiate. I did ask how much he’d charge to get rid of the body himself. Twenty thousand dollars.”

The ghoul pauses.

“…I think he changes his price for different customers. More for ones who can pay a lot. It’s also in cash only.”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t quite roll her eyes. “What is this, 1996?”

GM: “Well, it’s hard to beat cash for no paper trail. But he was ghouled a while ago. I think during the Spanish influenza.”

Caroline: She looks to Turner. “Could you get rid of it?”

GM: “The body?” Turner snorts. “I don’t get rid of bodies. I make them.”

Caroline: She looks back to Autumn. “I don’t suppose he accepts any other form of payment?”

GM: “Boons owed to licks in, too. Might be able to promise a favor to him, but that’ll be a sell. Kindred don’t really recognize debts owed to ghouls.”

Caroline: She frowns. “Really?”

GM: Autumn gives a helpless shrug. “Kindred can’t buy or sell each other either. Is that a surprise? So if you promise a favor to one of the Krewe, Garcou’ll basically approach them as a middleman, and they’ll pay him blood or cash.”

Caroline: The hell they can’t, but Caroline offers no further comment on that.

“Sit on it for now. In the meantime, if Jennings won’t take the car, move it.” She turns back to Turner. “Ms. Turner, you and I need to visit several people, can you bring the car around?”

GM: Autumn nods her assent.

Turner frowns. “I didn’t see another.”

Cartwright, Caroline recalls, disposed of her car by sending it to Jennings too. Or at least that’s how Autumn guessed the Nosferatu got rid of it. There aren’t any other Kindred-run chop shops that she’s aware of.

“I have one, anyways,” Turner states. “Not as fancy as yours, but it drives.”

Caroline: “A to B for now,” she agrees.


Saturday night, 12 September 2015, PM

GM: Caroline searches Aimee’s social media feeds on her phone and wracks her memory as Turner drives the black suburban. Eventually, she surmises that her reluctant ghoul is likely staying, probably also temporarily, with her parents.

Caroline hasn’t ever known Aimee to talk very much about them. Middle- or working-class background was the most she said. She seemed mildly embarrassed about the subject around Caroline. After all, she was the first of her family to go to college. Further searching for the name ‘Morgan Rosler’, Aimee’s mother, eventually pulls up an address on the border of Carrollton and Mid-City.

Caroline: “What could go wrong?” she murmurs to herself as she gives the address to Turner.

GM: Turner shrugs and drives into a lower-middle-class neighborhood that Caroline never would’ve been seen in when she was alive. No evidence of violent crime plagues the streets, but homes are small, one-story affairs that could do with coats of fresh paint, new roofs, new windows, and other improvements. Aimee’s, or rather her mother’s, home only stands out from the others because of the address. Two cars sit along the curb (there is no driveway or garage), Aimee’s Prius and a beat-up looking minivan.

Aimee_house.jpg
Caroline: She texts Aimee. Would you rather me come in?

GM: No response is forthcoming.

Caroline: She sets the phone down. “Let me out and park just down the street.”

GM: Turner frowns. “Don’t like the place. Should I come with?”

Caroline: Caroline considers for a moment, then shakes her head. “Just keep an eye on the street from now. If you don’t get a text from me within five minutes… you brought your rifle, right?”

GM: “Never leave home without.” Turner frowns again. “Crowded parking anyways. Might just cruise a while.”

Now that Caroline notices it, there are at least several more cars than there is comfortable room for on the available curb space.

Caroline: She frowns, looking over the cars for anything out of the ordinary.

GM: Most of the cars in the area are pick-up trucks and minivans. One is an Esplanade. It’s not so new or maintained-looking as Wright’s, and in fact looks almost as beat up as the minivans, but is inconsistent with the demographic profile of the neighborhood’s other cars. Another one of the trucks, too, looks in considerably worse repair than the others. One of the headlights is smashed in, and long jagged marks mar the vehicle’s right side.

Caroline: “Circle the block,” she instructs on second thought, jotting down the license plates of each vehicle as they creep by.

She fires off a text to Jessica White. Can you run a plate for me?

GM: Jessica fortunately seems to be around at the station, and shoots back a reply in short order.

Sure. Numbers?

Caroline: Caroline fires the two at her.

GM: A little while passes.

These were both reported stolen. Where are you?

Turner, meanwhile, pulls away from the house per her domitor’s instructions.

Caroline: She doesn’t reply for a moment, instead texting Wright.

Hound Wright, I’m not about to cause any of your men trouble am I?

The address follows.

“Stolen,” she provides for Turner.

GM: The hound’s reply comes after a moment.

fuck is this?

Turner just frowns.

Caroline: I’m tending to some business, wanted to make sure I didn’t cause you any trouble. Sorry to disturb you, she sends back.

GM: what did you do NOW

Caroline: Nothing yet, but stolen vehicles parked in front of my ghoul’s home.

She follows up, That’s why I asked.

GM: No further reply is forthcoming from the hound.

Another text comes in from Jessica.

Caroline, we need to recover these. Where are you?

Caroline: She texts the address to Jessica.

Be careful with this Jessica. Bring another unit.

GM: Caroline’s phone rings. The caller ID is Jessica’s.

Caroline: She sighs and picks up.

“Malveaux.”

GM: “Hi, Caroline. What’s going on here?”

Caroline: “Not sure, Jessica… they’re parked in front of Aimee’s house.”

GM: “Aimee, that’s… a friend of yours?” The police officer doesn’t wait for her to confirm, though, before continuing, “Okay, stay put. I’ll be there with some backup in a bit. Don’t go inside the house.”

Caroline: “Wasn’t planning on it. Thanks, Jessica.”

GM: “Or do anything else that might draw attention. But you’re welcome.”

The line clicks off.

Turner frowns. “So what is this?”

Caroline: “If I had to guess, gangbangers trying to get even.”

GM: “Vampire gangbangers?” Turner asks skeptically. “Thought you all were rich.”

Caroline: Caroline gives a little laugh. “Many, but not all. They’re somewhat irritated because I crushed one’s head like a pumpkin.”

GM: “Thought your pussy friend was new to this all, though. How do they know about her? Or are there any other vampires who do?”

Caroline: “Any number of places to buy that information. Or just ask.”

GM: “Guess so.”

Turner stares out the window towards the house.

Caroline: “This is… dangerous.”

GM: The mercenary shrugs.

“Said that was in the job descrip.”

Caroline: “Involving mortal authorities, I mean.”

GM: “Do they know about vampires?”

Caroline: “No.”

GM: She frowns. “So what happens if they try to arrest a bunch of them?”

Caroline: “The vampires charm them away. Or flee. Or try to fight them.”

GM: “Fighting cops is pretty dumb.”

Caroline: “Then let’s hope they learned their lesson the last time.”

GM: Minutes pass. The police response time isn’t very quick in this neighborhood, and Caroline has to wonder how much slower it would be if she hadn’t called a friend in the force. Eventually, a telltale white cruiser with “Police” written on its flank by the crescent badge pulls in.

A uniformed Jessica White gets out of the car with another deputy, a thirty-something man with a scar under his right eye, and scans the area for a few moments. She walks up to Caroline’s vehicle and raps on the window.

Caroline: Caroline rolls down the window.

“Evening, Jessica.”

GM: “Evening, Caroline. Has anything else happened that we should know since you called?”

Turner stays silent.

Caroline: “Not that we’ve seen.”

GM: “Okay. Stay put.”

Caroline: “Will do.”

GM: White and the other officer shine flashlights over the stolen cars’ plates to confirm them. The two nod to each other and say something into their radios. They then make their way past discarded trash bags and browning grass up the rickety wooden steps to the front door of Aimee’s house, or rather her mother’s. Jessica hits the doorbell.

“Who is it?” calls an older-sounding woman’s voice from the other side.

“Police. Can we have a moment please, ma’am?”

Caroline: Caroline watches from the street.

“If it goes sideways, keep your distance with the rifle.”

GM: Turner nods silently.

The wood and screen doors screech open. Caroline can’t readily see the person who Jessica and her partner are talking to, but she can make out her legs, which are covered in simple blue jeans. The woman’s head isn’t visible either. It almost looks like she’s sitting down.

“What’s this about?”

The police ask the woman, presumably Aimee’s mother, if there’s been any suspicious activity in the area lately, or if she’s had reason to fear for her safety. The woman answers no. They ask her if she was aware two stolen cars were parked outside her house. The woman indignantly replies she was not, and denies involvement, if that’s what the cops are insinuating. Jessica answers that it wasn’t, but they are trying to figure out who might have taken the vehicles, and why they’re parked here. Does she remember when they first showed up? The woman answers no, she doesn’t. Is that everything? Jessica asks a few follow-up questions and finally concludes with, “Thank you for your time, ma’am.” The door to Aimee’s house closes.

Jessica trades a few words with her partner, who heads off to the neighboring house. The young officer walks back up to Caroline’s car.

“All right, your friend’s house checks out, at least so far as we can search. We’re going to get these cars taken in and interview a few more neighbors. If you want to see your friend, we’re only a shout anyway.”

Caroline: “Thanks, Jessica.”

GM: The officer smiles. “No, thanks for finding those cars for us.”

Caroline: “Just paranoid I guess.”

GM: “Sometimes it pays.”

Jessica exchanges final goodbyes and heads off to the neighboring houses.

Turner regards her domitor expectantly.

Caroline: “I still don’t trust it. Can’t help but notice Aimee didn’t answer the door.”

GM: “Any way you could flush her out?”

Caroline: “You have any grenades?”

GM: “Yeah.”

Turner’s eyes cut towards the police’s darkened figures.

“You’re not thinking of using those here.”

Caroline: “No. I will wait for the police tow truck to show up though and see if anyone comes out to object.”

GM: “So, do you vampires burn in the sun?” Turner abruptly asks.

Caroline: She nods.

GM: “Could just have me or your second pussy friend come back during the day. Haul your first one out if she’s holed up.”

Caroline: Caroline considers. “Not a bad idea… unless they’ve got their own versions of you.”

GM: “That’s all it takes, just a drop of blood?”

Caroline: “A little more than that, but that’s the short of it.”

GM: “Could be armies of mes, then.”

Caroline: “Hard to sustain that.”

GM: A white tow truck with the same blue “police” letters eventually arrives. The battered Esplanade gets hooked up, then taken away. Nothing undue disturbs the neighborhood.

Jessica walks back up to Caroline’s car.

“Still here? The neighbors don’t know anything.”

Caroline: “Seems weird,” Caroline ventures.

GM: “Maybe the thieves were just temporarily stashing them here. Anyways, we’re going to wrap this up once the second car gets towed.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “I’m not in a rush.”

GM: “All right. You hang around.” Jessica heads off.

As she does, Caroline’s phone buzzes with a text from Aimee.

call off the cops or your ghoul dies

Caroline: Caroline hisses with anger.

Send out the ghoul or I’ll send IN the cops.

GM: Silence is the Ventrue’s only answer.

Turner surveys the message.

“So much for their ambush.”

Caroline: She stews in it, mulling the odds that Aimee is even alive.

“I should have seen this coming.”

GM: “So how do we want to play this?”

Caroline: She thinks long and hard on it, biting her lip.

At last her hand tightens into a bone-white fist and she admits, “We don’t for now. Head for the CBD, where you picked us up earlier. I need to talk to someone.”

GM: Turner frowns. “How much time you think they’re gonna give us? And how much more before the next car gets towed?”

Caroline: “Better question, why do they care so much about the cars?”

GM: Turner shrugs.

Caroline: She texts Jessica again.

Peak inside the truck.

“I don’t know, but I know going in there does nothing but put both she and I in their power.”

GM: Whats up?

Caroline: Just a hunch that you’ll find something inside.

“And calling off the cops similarly gives us less leverage.”

GM: Caroline sees Jessica walk over to the truck. The police flashlight shines over the window. It’d be hard for a mortal to see the officer’s eyebrows raise in the dark. After a moment she texts back,

There’s money in here. And won’t believe this. Blood bags.

Caroline: #FindersFee

GM: Yeah, I know you need it.

Caroline: How much?

GM: Few thousand? We’ll know for sure when it’s hauled in.

Caroline: She turns back to Aimee’s number.

Is that a lot of money for you?

GM: An attached photo arrives after a moment. It’s a knife pressed against the base of a woman’s big toe, tracing a thin red line.

Caroline: Bored. You already threatened to kill her. I’ll tell you what though. Send her out, and I’ll make you whole financially. We’ll call it a wash.

Caroline’s grateful for the medium. She’s not sure she could spout off that line so cleanly in person.

GM: Aimee’s number rings on the phone.

Caroline: She weighs answering it for a moment, then finally does.

“Malveaux.”

GM: “You meet us, tomorrow, WIT’ the cash,” sounds a man’s voice. “Then you get the renfield.”

Caroline: “Too much opportunity for misunderstanding. Your ghoul meets one of my ghouls in the morning, with her, exchange happens then, in a semi-public location.”

GM: There’s a pause.

Caroline hears muted voices.

“We meet at Blaze, when Coco’s ’round. Us. No ghouls.”

Caroline: “And you jump me on the way there or out?”

GM: A sneer on the line’s other end. “Tell her you comin’ over if you so scared.”

Caroline: “Is she in the business of involving herself in squabbles? Because that’s what this will look like, and we’re both going to end up with more shit on our face the way this is going.”

GM: “She the regent.”

Caroline: “You don’t trust me, do you?”

GM: Guffaws sound from the line’s other end.

“You gonna bring extra f’ the cars an’ blood too.”

Caroline: “Should I expect more of this?”

GM: “If you have juicebags steal more of our shit.”

Caroline: “Let’s be fair, you kidnapped my ghoul and plotted to attack me before I called them.”

GM: “An’ you fuckin’ poached in our turf. Man, can’t wait ‘til Bliss wakes up an’ calls in that marker.”

Caroline: “For which I paid a price to your regent, which brings me back to my original question. Is this what we’re going to do? You throw away time and money on a fledgling already under pain of death? Certainly you could do something better with your time.”

GM: “We text you when we ready t’ meet.”

The line clicks off.

Caroline: Caroline puts away the phone slowly, deep in thought.

GM: Turner frowns. “Mom’s got a good poker face.”

Caroline: “Hum?” Caroline asks.

GM: “When the cops were asking what was up. Didn’t blink.”

Caroline: “Strange, that.”

GM: Meanwhile, Caroline can see the truck has since been towed. Jessica White knocks on the Ventrue’s window.

“All right, weren’t able to get anything from the neighbors. We’re heading back to the station. Thanks again for reporting those cars.”

Caroline: “Anytime Jessica, thanks for coming out.”

She tells Turner to follow them out as they pull away.

CBD, as before.”


Saturday night, 12 September 2015, PM

Caroline: As she makes her way back downtown Caroline calls Autumn to clue her in to the circumstances with Aimee, and asks her to post out down the street to make sure Eight-Nine-Six doesn’t leave.

GM: Autumn sounds like she’s trying not to scoff at the news Aimee got herself kidnapped. There’s a slight pause from the ghoul at Caroline’s request, but she then affirms she’ll keep a discrete eye out and call Caroline if she sees any movement.

“Do you want to me scope the house to see if they’re still there? I’m all right at sneaking around.”

Caroline: “No. Hang back. Be careful. I don’t need two ghouls in their hands. Just let me know if anyone else arrives, or they leave.”

GM: Caroline hangs up after Autumn confirms that she will do so. The Ventrue’s destination looms into view.

The modestly-named Perdido House is one of the tallest skyscrapers in New Orleans, a soaring black and gray steel monolith that surveys the city beneath it like a grim sentinel. Fearsome gargoyles jut from crenelations, baring their claws and fangs to the night sky with muted howls.

Perdido_House.jpg
Caroline is firmly denied by black-uniformed, grim-faced security personnel when she attempts to access the underground parking garage this time. Turner finds a place to park on the curb. Caroline heads in through the revolving glass front door.

The interior lobby is a harshly lit black marble affair whose brutally straight angles and severe, minimalist decor brings to mind the fascist architecture of decades past. Bulky men wearing black suits, opaque sunglasses and ear radios stand in silent vigil, modern palace guards within their master’s castle. Coldly professional secretaries at the receptionists’ desk direct visitors to their destinations. Save for an iron statue of a man on horseback brandishing a sword (El Cid, Caroline identifies), the entrance hall to Augusto Vidal’s court is austerely decorated, yet projects an oppressively inescapable atmosphere of power and wealth.

The lobby is not so full as one might expect to find it during the day, but numerous men and women still mill about the space and engage one another in conversation, check their phones, or simply wait for some unknown person or vehicle. All of them, to Caroline’s predatory sight, are ordinary mortals.

Maybe they’re not. Maybe Lou’s poison courses through one of them. Several of them. Dozens of them. The entire lobby could secretly be under Kindred thrall. There would be no way to tell. That’d be the subtle horror of it, to someone who knows the truth, but isn’t in the club. How could you trust anyone?

Caroline: She approaches the guard she estimates as most likely to be less than human, looking for directions.

GM: The thick-necked man inquires as to where.

Caroline: “Malveaux, or somewhere I can leave him a message.”

GM: The guard looks at Caroline impassively.

“I know of no one by that name.”

Caroline: “I’m sorry, I must be in the wrong place. Could you point me in the right direction?”

GM: “Perhaps you will have better luck on the 34th floor,” the man answers in a low voice.

Caroline: Caroline smiles as she moves away to do just that.

GM: Caroline and her bodyguard endure a long elevator ride up to the 34th floor. The doors ding open, revealing an expansive reception area. The minimally decorated room is dominated by sterile grays and blacks. Letters on a wide steel plaque behind the receptionist’s granite desk coldly spell out “Paulson Investment Group”. Apart from a lone receptionist, the room is bereft of any further presences save the unblinking security cameras’.

The black-haired, thirty-something woman looks up at Caroline’s presence. “May I help you, ma’am?”

It’s only for a moment, but Caroline feels a noticeable tension and suspicion behind the woman’s gaze. It’s gone almost as quickly.

Caroline: “Yes.” Caroline smiles as she approaches the desk. “I was hoping to speak to someone about some investments my family has made with your firm.”

GM: “Do you have an appointment, ma’am?” the receptionist inquires.

Caroline: “Someone was supposed to make one… the name is Malveaux.”

Caroline watches closely how the woman reacts.

GM: Caroline observes clear recognition behind the woman’s eyes as she replies, “Let me check for you, ma’am.”

Somewhat unusually, the receptionist picks up a phone instead of looking on her computer. She inquires as to the availability of several men whose names are unfamiliar to Caroline. What sounds like several conversations pass. After a few moments, the woman puts the phone down and looks up to address the waiting Ventrue.

“The father will be available in two hours, ma’am. If you wish to wait here, the wifi password is ‘Cyrus’.”

The waiting area has a few chairs and austere tables laid out with recent magazines.

Caroline: “No, thank you,” she says in response to the invitation to remain. “I’ll be back. Thank you for your help.”


Saturday night, 12 September 2015, PM

Caroline: Her business concluded, Caroline makes for the elevator with her ghoul, and proceeds in short order to the street with her. As she climbs into the back of the black suburban Blackwatch provided along with Turner she gives directions, her face set in a grim mask. “Tulane Medical Center.”

GM: Turner’s own face remains the picture of detached acquiescence to her domitor-employer’s directives. It’s a short drive from Perdido House to Tulane Medical Center.

Skyways line several of the brown, box-like buildings, one of which spells “Tulane Medical Center” in blocky white letters. Most lights are out, and no sound disturbs the dark hallways save for the steady beep-humming of medical equipment and graveyard shift security officers making their rounds, leather shoes steadily thumping against the linoleum floors as their flashlight beams cut through the gloom.

Whether out of shame or desire to keep him out of Kindred affairs, Caroline does not enlist the help of her ex-boyfriend Neil to gain entrance. She waits to catch a nurse or med tech who’s slipped out for their smoke break, and Kindred powers make entering the hospital past visitation hours all too easy. In short order, Caroline has made several new friends, and is actually led to the locker room and cheerfully handed a spare set of scrubs.

Lauren Peterson’s room is as dark as before, but Caroline can make out its features clearly. Maybe even more clearly.

Caroline: She changed out of her clothes and even snags a lab coat as well, making a stop off in the blood bank on her way to the girl’s room.

GM: Caroline’s new friends prove all-too willing to help her find where the hospital keeps its store of O negative blood, and to abscond with a bag, even though they’re not supposed to.

They leave the Ventrue to her own devices as she enters her victim’s room. It smells of sterile disinfectant and has the usual plain hospital bed, covers pulled up to the patient’s chin. Lauren Peterson, college student, assault victim, and hospital patient, sleeps in respite if not contentment. Her dark skin is a ruddier, healthier hue than the last time Caroline visited, but not by much. Her neck is covered with bandages, and an IV is hooked up to her arm. A few “get well” cards featuring designs of cute animals and smiley faces rest on the adjacent bedside stable.

Caroline: Her superb visual acuity works in her favor as she moves quietly about the dark room, opening a few drawers to find what she’s after. Rather than run a new line, which would almost certainly wake up the girl, she moves to hang and plug the bag into the current one.

Her eyes focus on her work, not her handiwork. Is that shame in her eyes? Regret? Who can say.

GM: The former would-be doctor does not find the task overly difficult. Lauren continues to sleep.

Caroline: Certainly whatever the windows to her soul may say, her mouth is set in a grim line as she moves her attention to the girl’s vitals.

GM: The nearby machine continues to steadily beep along. Caroline estimates that although Lauren looks in no state to leave the hospital yet, she is on her way to making a successful recovery. She can probably use the bathroom on her own instead of a hospital beadpan now. It’s been… how many days since the attack that put her where she now is? Three, four? A week, at the absolute most.

It seems like another life ago.

It almost was another life ago.

Just after the end of her old one.

Caroline: More than a lifetime, it seems. Every one of those days has delivered a hammer blow to her core. Wars waged over her soul, and lost time and again, with no rest between them. She’s exhausted. But as the old adage goes: when you’re going through Hell, keep going.

GM: It’s even odder to think that Lauren has spent all those days, that more-than-lifetime, sleeping undisturbed in a hospital bed. While it all passed her by.

Caroline: When she has satisfied herself that the IV is running smoothly and the girl is not going to be irreparably harmed she takes Lauren’s wrist in her too cold hands and slowly brings it to her mouth. Just a gentle kiss… the lightest touch…

GM: Lauren stiffens in her bed as Caroline’s fangs puncture her skin. But it’s only for a moment. Then she goes limp. She doesn’t smile, but a low, throaty groan escapes her lips as she arches her back, her cheeks flushing just a bit red. The nearby medical machines beep faster.

Her distant relative’s words flash through the Ventrue’s mind.

“Have you led them to water, my child? Merely feeding from them is not an instructive experience. They must realize it was a consequence of their wanton behavior.”

Caroline: This lacks the rapine pleasure of sucking down the liquid bliss from a victim, the ability to lose herself in it. Instead it is controlled, scripted, moderated. All the same, Caroline can feel the blood soothing the monster that beats on the cage. All the more so as the long held wounds inflicted on her by the savage whipping finally close.

GM: Not simply close. Caroline lacks the mirror to check, but she knows there’s not even a scar. Her flesh is as pristine as the night she died.

Lauren whimpers and scrunches her eyes.

Caroline: When she pulls away however, she is mindful of Father Malveaux’s words, and she leans in to whisper in the girl’s ear, watching for any response.

“It’s your fault, you know.”

GM: Lauren gives another low whimper and shifts her head.

Caroline: “Sinner,” she hisses in the girl’s ear.

GM: Lauren turns away into her pillow.

Caroline: “Repent.” Another poisonous hiss.

GM: Lauren groggily blinks.

“Zwuh…”

Her head tilts. “Who’s… whozere…”

She gives groan.

“Ohhhh…”

Caroline: Caroline lets the girl’s wrist bleed for a moment longer, lets the blood run down her arm, before she licks the wounds closed and drops her arm.

“Think on your sins,” she whispers, even as she vanishes from her bedside in a blur.


Sunday night, 13 September 2015, AM

GM: Autumn calls her domitor back. She reports that “your friends” have since left. In fact, she just barely caught them leaving (in Aimee’s car) when she arrived at the house. Aimee was with them, though not resisting. In fact, she seemed to be hanging onto their every word.

“I also dropped the car off with, uh, my friend,” the ghoul adds. “There’s a bill if you want him to total it. He wants $4,000 cash, a favor, or a full thing of juice. The $4,000 is how much he’s valued the car at.”

Evidently it’s 1996 for him too.

“I got the sense he’d be open to haggling, but… it doesn’t sound like that’s a lot of money for you.”

Caroline: Full thing of juice?

A person.

Caroline indicates that the money is preferred.

“I’ll set you up with the needed documents to make withdrawals from one of my accounts this evening. In the meantime, follow them for now, but if you think they spot you break off and head back into Riverbend.”

GM: Another slight pause. “All right. I’ll see how much more I can dig up.”

Caroline: “Call me if anything happens.” She hangs up.


Sunday night, 13 September 2015, AM

GM: The elevator doors ding open as Caroline and her bodyguard step out into Paulson Investment’s lobby. The receptionist is on the phone.

“…yes, Mr. Harrison.”

A pause. “Yes, the reception is clear. Is-” The ghoul looks at the phone as it clicks, seems to repress a frown, and sets it down.

The other elevator dings. A solitary Kindred steps out. He is a square-jawed, moderately tall and ruggedly-built African-American man with thick arms and a buzzcut concealed under a hunting cap. He wears a pale green hunting vest, worn-looking khakis and dirty combat boots. A bulging trash bag is casually slung over his back. Caroline can smell the blood wafting from it.

The receptionist looks up, a distinct frown crossing her features. “Mr. Harrison-”

The Kindred grunts and tosses the bag onto the desk with a heavy wet thump.

The ghoul picks up the phone and tersely states into the receiver, “Disposal.”

After a moment, the thick doors open, and two security guards stride out. They frown but heft the trash bag, audibly grunting under its weight, and carefully haul it inside Paulson Investment Group without letting it touch the floor. The receptionist gets up to close the doors behind them.

The Kindred addressed as Harrison glances at Caroline, then strides back to the elevator.

Caroline: She watches him go curiously, quietly, as she’s watched the entire exchange.

GM: Turner’s own reaction largely mirrors her employer’s, the Blackwatch merc knowing well enough to stay silent. Meanwhile, the receptionist looks up at Caroline’s presence, asks her to wait a moment, and picks up the phone, stating into it that “Ms. Malveaux is here.”

After a brief wait, the doors open again, and the tall, dark, powerfully built ghoul who punched Caroline in front of Donovan strides out. He gives her an ugly leer as he tells the Ventrue to follow him, then leads her and her ghoul bodyguard through a dizzying maze of corridors and office spaces. This late at night, the cubicles are largely empty, though a few-tired looking souls presumably working overtime remain hunched over computers, fingers dully clinking against the keys. The ghoul escorts Caroline and Turner into another elevator, swipes a key card, and presses the button for the 35th floor. He leads her down several bare hallways to a plain and unmarked door, which he raps once.

“Caroline Malveaux for you, Father.”

“Enter,” rasps a dry voice.

The ghoul opens the door. Caroline sees her albino relative sitting behind a desk, clad in the same black priest’s habit in which she last saw him. Full bookshelves press against the otherwise largely bare walls. Where one might expect to see a crucifix mounted on the wall behind the priest, however, there is instead a simple lance.

Father Malveaux’s pinkish eyes briefly take in Turner’s presence before he rasps, “You are a night early for your weekly confession, fledgling.”

The ghoul departs without a word.

Caroline: Why is it that sitting there he makes her feel like she’s thirteen years old again, sent in to meet with her uncle Orson when her father caught her with the Argabrite boy drinking at a social function in a closet? She feels so… small, and knows if she had a pulse it would be beating in her ears right now like a steady drum. She struggles for a moment to find her voice, and she’s ashamed of it. Not just in front of him, but in front of Turner.

“Wait outside, Ms. Turner.”

GM: There’s a flicker of apprehension in the soldier of fortune’s eyes, but she gives a nod of acknowledgment and steps out of the office.

Caroline’s pallid ancestor watches her leave in that utterly still way only the dead can.

Caroline: Caroline waits until the door closes before she looks for her voice again, and tries to meet those startling eyes.

“Father, I admit I am here for… more than just confession. In another life I would have looked to priest or family for it in this circumstance. Now you are as close to either as I have…”

GM: The albino’s pinkish eyes regard his distant relation steadily. What passes behind them is hard for the young Ventrue to say.

Caroline: She pauses for a moment before she continues. “Without them I’ve been a ship caught with no compass at sea. Pushed and pulled by every current and wind, and steering no course towards safe waters.”

GM: “The kines’ priests are for the kine. Their salvation is not for us,” the father rasps.

Caroline: “I can see that now,” Caroline agrees quietly.

GM: “‘We are the mirrors of Christ. We are the agents of humanity’s damnation, just as the Christians are the agents of God’s salvation. We bring disease, and death, and despair, just as the Spirit brings healing, and life, and hope. We are the vehicles of despair. We are the tools of wrath. Although we are ourselves Damned and deprived of a living heart’s feeling, we find our joy in knowing our role, and in feeding and bringing suffering, and killing when it is ordained necessary.’ Sanguinaria 9:15.”

Caroline: The words are a brick thrown through Caroline’s glassy facade. Her mask cracks, as though in slow motion, then shatters. Her drawn breath, a gasp, is all the more noticeable for its lack of purpose for her dead lungs, and for a moment her sheer hopelessness is scrawled across her face in ugly lines cast by the room’s limited illumination.

“I don’t understand, Father,” she admits, “But I want to. I need to, again. And I’m trying to.”

GM: The pinkish-eyed priest seems to silently consider Caroline for a moment, then motions for the fledgling to be seated.

Caroline: She moves forward, again feeling like a child as she takes a seat in the priest’s office.

GM: “And the Monachus said: ’We are dead, and we do not feel the same sensations that the living feel. When the living desire food, their desires are in the heart, but our hearts are still. They do not beat. The living, who still exist in the light of God, know the experience of love, and hate, and sadness, and joy.”

“But we can only remember such things, for we do not exist in the light of God. We can only know reflections of the movements that once governed our hearts, as if in a clouded mirror. We know fear, anger and hunger; but even these sensations are not our own, but are the emotions of the demon that lives within each of us, even though we are all dead.” The priest’s voice still has a distinct timber to it, as if reciting scripture.

“But when we become Sanctified, we may find a purity and joy in our purpose. We above all were chosen for the great mission because we did not know true happiness, or love, or charity, or faith in our living days, while we yet had hope of salvation.” Father Malveaux finally pauses in his recitation.

“There are subsequent verses that expound upon our role as Christ’s mirrors. Upon the purpose of the Dark Gift. But is it the nature of this purpose that is unclear to you, my child, or why you were chosen for it?”

Caroline: Blood. Murder. Her own child. A dozen sins leading to that one, and it never confessed, not even to herself. No, she has no questions as to why she has been chosen. Her face twists in an ugly mask as she blinks away the start of tears, composing herself.

“I suppose… neither, Father. I am struggling at coming to peace with it, but I should expect no less. In truth I was never at peace with God’s will when living either, however I might have lied to myself. I sought out my first victim tonight though. Reminded her of her own ill deeds. And… I took another life. Lost myself in the hunger, in the moment.”

GM: The albino vampire’s eyes glint with an ineffable hunger. Predatory, yes, but also… zealous.

“Did this soul deserve death, my child? Of what sins was he guilty?”

Caroline: “Fornication. Living outwardly as a man, though a woman. Dishonesty.”

GM: “Grave sins, my child. Yet you are troubled. You did not freely choose to serve as God’s instrument of vengeance, but as you have said, succumbed to the Beast’s urges.”

Caroline: “Yes… and no. I knew, in my heart, what would happen when she arrived. Knew that I was delivering her into death.”

GM: “You have done no wrong in killing this woman. But what you have experienced is a common spiritual dilemma. You have been told that the Beast’s urges are sinful, even by the mandate of our kind, yet indulging them served the cause of Grace. This troubles you, for there is no similar analogue among the kine. One cannot so readily commit an act of apparent virtue through succumbing to temptation.”

“Your spirit is further troubled by the fact that your higher self, the Man, recognized the purpose of this woman’s death. You wished to enact it, but were unable to. An act that to the kine was a grave sin, and is to us holy, was made again sinful by your lapse. Even as the act’s holy aim was accomplished. Coupled with the travails of your new state, your spirit is ill at peace.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “With this matter… and others, Father.”

GM: “Go on, my child.”

Caroline: “I allowed my ghoul to be taken.”

GM: “A sin of inadequate forethought, perhaps, but no more.”

Caroline: “She has been caught in my own sins, Father, dragged down by them until now, and was only in the position because of them.”

GM: “Indeed, my child? And of what sins do you believe her guilty?”

Caroline: “Many of my own, from my mortal life, though not the gravest of them.”

GM: “You feel they are insufficient to warrant whatever fate she will suffer at the hands of other Kindred.”

Caroline: “And that I might still fulfill a purpose in turning her from that path,” Caroline agrees.

“And there is a practical matter. She knows things about me, about the family, that could be damaging. Not terribly, but enough that I would not see her in the hands of savages. Savages that have made clear their intention to plague me further.”

GM: “The defense of the innocent is not our province, but the punishment of the guilty. Christ shows the path to salvation. We show it to damnation. You are under no spiritual obligation to defend your ghoul from other Kindred. Nevertheless,” Caroline’s relative muses, “it ill-befits a scion of Clan Ventrue to have their property absconded with by others.”

Caroline: Caroline allows him to muse.

GM: The albino priest’s eyes return to Caroline. “See that your ghoul is recovered, and that those who would presume to steal from the Kingship Clan are suitably chastened.”

Caroline: “They have retreated into the domain of another,” Caroline offers carefully, slowly.

GM: “Then pay heed to the Fifth Tradition and announce your presence to its regent. Or take further actions of your own to draw them out.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lower lip. “And if they have numbers?”

GM: Father Malveaux leans slightly forward.

“Hound Agnello has advised you—has instructed you, to repay his boon—that you join a coterie of your own.”

“Then you shall also have numbers.”

Caroline: “Would you have a recommendation in that, Father?”

GM: Caroline’s pale relative doesn’t frown. Instead, his pinkish eyes instead narrow.

“It is my recommendation that you do as your creditor—who has generously agreed to exonerate your debt in return for a service that does not benefit him—has instructed.”

Caroline: “But what is their interest?” Caroline asks.

GM: “That is upon you to evince from them,” Father Malveaux rasps in reproach. “If you are asking what motive they have to assist in retrieving your ghoul, precious little. You would be well-served to cultivate ties nevertheless. Future crises will not postpone themselves on account of your present lack of allies.”

He makes a dismissive motion with a scarecrow-like limb.

“That is enough. I am your confessor, not your sire. We will either speak of spiritual matters, or speak of none further and conclude this audience.”

Caroline: Caroline is silent for a moment at his pronouncement.

“There are two more matters of entwined secular and non-secular natures I would seek your brief council on, both of them related directly to you, Father, if you would humor me the moment.”

GM: “Speak,” the albino priest bids.

Caroline: “First, most directly, as related to my sire, and his punishment for breaking the Third Tradition. Your recommended agent located him, hiding in the French Quarter.”

GM: Father Malveaux frowns. “What recommended agent?”

Caroline: “The investigator.”

GM: “I made no such recommendation to you.”

Caroline: Caroline frowns. “I shall not gainsay you, Father, but in any case, I’m told by relatively reliable sources that he’s holed up in the French Quarter, and running with several other Kindred.”

GM: “I am a priest, my child. My duties concern matters spiritual, not temporal. If you have been barred from the French Quarter, you would be advised to speak to Sheriff Donovan.”

Caroline: “Setites.”

GM: The pallid vampire’s lips pull back and reveal a bare hint of canines, the start of a low hiss that does not sound.

“Then consorting with blasphemers may be added to his list of crimes.”

Caroline: “And more temporally, presenting himself to Antoine Savoy. Though I doubt that is of much interest or surprise.”

GM: “Little, to any who would already sully the name of our clan.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “And I would ask that you lift your injunction on interactions with any of our mortal kin, for the sake of preserving the First Tradition, and only that.”

GM: The albino vampire’s eyes glint with an ineffable hunger. Predatory, yes, but also… zealous. It’s a more than slighting disconcerting combination, like a wolf slavering that it acts in God’s name. As if faith and blood are equally necessary to satisfy his hunger.

“Your memory proves false once again. I have forbidden you from drawing them into activities that relate to our kind, and from employing Caine’s gifts upon them—highly lenient terms.”

Caroline: “It is the last matter I would speak to, Father, especially should they begin to ask uncomfortable questions. I ask only that you permit such uses when in the service of preserving the Masquerade.”

GM: Caroline’s long-dead relative seems to consider the request for a moment, then rasps, “You will report all such uses of disciplines to me after they have taken place. I will inspect their minds, periodically, to ensure they have not been unduly tampered with.”

This time the albino’s full canines flash as he snarls,

“They are my domain.”

Caroline: Caroline is the soul of submission. “Of course, Father. I seek not to trample upon your rights.”

“Finally, Father, I would ask that you allow me to take confession this night, since I have already troubled you.”

GM: The older Kindred’s fangs disappear.

“The matter of your presence among the kine shall be one for you to attend in due time, as well. The Second Canon of the Sanguineous Catechism, penned by the Monachus and regarding the inalienable wisdom of the Masquerade, holds that we are of one world, and they another. To ape their ways and act as if one still lives is to repudiate our damnation and holy purpose.”

“But such matters are for the future, after your release. I shall take your confession now.”

The Kindred priest rises from his seat and strides out of the room. He does not spare a glance for for the still patiently-waiting Turner, who regards her domitor-employer with silently raised eyebrows, as if to see whether she should follow.

Caroline: Caroline gestures with a hand to wait for now.

GM: Turner remains in place outside the door to Father Malveaux’s office. The priest leads Caroline a moderate distance down several seemingly barren hallways and into an equally sparse room, empty save for a wooden confession booth and lance mounted upon the opposing wall.

Father Malveaux opens the door and steps into the priest’s side. Caroline did it when she was alive a thousand times. She’s done it twice since she died.

Third time, if she counts the omission-filled ‘confession’ with her cousin Adam. That’s debatable.

“In the name of the Father, the Dark Prophet and the Holy Spirit. Amen,” Caroline’s relative rasps.

Caroline: She steadies herself for a moment, taking another senseless deep breath, before she moves quickly into the confessional opposite the priest to begin.

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned…”

GM: Caroline takes and concludes confession. Father Malveaux questions her regarding the penance she was assigned last week. He is less than impressed by her tactic of whispering “sinner” into a sleeping girl’s ear. As Caroline lacks a sire, he reaffirms Hound Agnello’s assessment that she should join a krewe so as to learn the proper means of putting the fear of God into sinful kine. The Storyville Krewe are less than subtle in their methods, but they are eager and devout, and will provide Caroline with examples to follow.

That, he clarifies, will be Caroline’s penance for her sin in failing to fulfill her nature as a divine predator: she must find another Kindred to instruct her in such. Father Malveaux does not mandate that it be the Storyville Krewe, simply another Sanctified. Caroline will still owe Hound Agnello if she is unwilling or unable to join the Storyvilles, but that is a prestation matter outside his purview.

Father Malveaux also decides to change the penance he previously assigned her for Paxton’s murder. Rather than making an example of unrelated victims, which he no longer believes will be to Caroline’s spiritual benefit, he charges her with tracking down one of her previous victims: any sinner she fed upon in the depths of their iniquity. Caroline is to observe how that kine is now conducting their life. If they have been driven towards acts of greater piety and virtue, she is to do nothing. If they show no indication of repentance, she is to kill them.

Caroline: Caroline accepts the penance without complaint and takes her leave with Turner, once more into the night.


Sunday night, 13 September 2015, AM

Caroline: Caroline digs out her phone and re-downloads an app that conveniently saved her information in the cloud. While she pings Aimee’s phone, she gives directions to an apartment not far from their current location.

GM: Caroline’s “investment” in buying Aimee that Solaris last Christmas amply pays itself back as her own phone’s screen lights up. Aimee’s phone is coming from a neighborhood in, unsurprisingly, Mid-City.

Autumn calls Caroline back around the same time. The ghoul investigator, unfortunately, wasn’t able to find out much on Eight-Nine-Six… she followed them a few blocks until “someone from a family with good eyes” happened on the scene. Autumn took a detour to avoid her, and the by the time she got to where it looked like Eight-Nine-Six was headed, they were gone.

“I could try again when they’re less likely to be up, though,” Autumn continues. “Their place probably isn’t gonna be that hard to find.”

Caroline: Caroline gives her the address.

“Don’t stop. Don’t snoop. Just let me know if you see her car on the street as you pass through.”

GM: Autumn sounds for a moment as if she’s about to ask where Caroline got it, but settles for an “Okay.”

A few minutes pass.

“The car’s there. So’s our friends and… I’m not sure who.”

Caroline: “What do you mean ‘not sure who’?” Caroline asks.

GM: “A couple people. I haven’t seen them before. There’s money changing hands. And… the car too, it looks like. Guess they’re not so eager to hang onto any more stolen ones.”

“Sucks to be Aimee.”

Caroline: “Get out of there,” Caroline growls, giving her the address for their present location. “I’ve got something else for you.”

GM: “Okay. I’m out,” the ghoul quickly responds.

Another few minutes pass.

Autumn’s minicooper pulls up by the sidewalk Caroline is parked out. The ghoul gets out and walks up the Blackwatch suburban.

“All right, what is it?”

Caroline: “When was the last time you slept?” Caroline asks.

GM: Autumn rubs her eyes.

“Uh, last night.”

“Well, night before last, technically.”

Caroline: She nods and gestures to the back of the SUV.

“Get a few minutes here. We’ll talk when I come back out.”

Caroline nods to Turner and slips out the opposite door. She waits for the mercenary to fall in beside her before she speaks, explaining that they’re here to visit her drug addict brother, and find out if he’s off the wagon.

GM: Turner simply offers a wordless nod and gets out. Autumn actually looks as if she’s going to protest, but upon hearing it’s only for a bit she assents and climbs into the SUV, clicking her beeper to lock the other car.

Caroline: Her dug addict brother awaits.


Sunday night, 13 September 2015, AM

GM: Turner drives. One River Place is an exclusive high-rise condominium building and one of the nicest in the city. It overlooks the Mississippi River, giving residents sweeping waterfront views from the heart of the Big Easy. Suburban Algiers sits just across the river. The Greater New Orleans Bridge links the two land masses over the river’s inky black waters. The occasional car thrums along, headlights flashing through the dark.

The building’s exterior has palm trees, a garden, gated swimming pool (closed, currently) overlooking the waterfront and some docked cruise ships. The front door and parking garage into the building are closed and locked. Inside, floor plans are open and expansive, while walls of glass and spacious terraces that give the area a picturesque feel.

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Westley isn’t the only one of Caroline’s brothers to live here. Luke does too. Their parents figured it couldn’t hurt to have him nearby in case Wes got in trouble, though Caroline wonders if it might actually hurt a great deal. The highest-achieving and lowest-achieving Malveaux boys have had a strained relationship.

Caroline: Caroline walks briskly, knowing well the way. She remembers the last time she visited his apartment, after that panicked phone call at 3 AM, and for a moment can almost hear his voice ‘I don’t think she’s breathing!‘. And she certainly wasn’t.

GM: Nor is she, now. Ironic, that a figurative specter of her brother’s misdeeds should so literally revisit him.

Caroline: She buzzes the desk.

GM: A late-night receptionist answers her call and asks the usual pleasantries of what she can do to assist Caroline.

Caroline: Caroline gives her name and relation. “He asked me to drop something off. Can you buzz me in?”

GM: The woman answers in the affirmative and tells Caroline the front door is now unlocked. The Ventrue and her bodyguard make their way inside an upscale atrium space and are greeted again by a tired-looking graveyard-shift night desk girl before taking an elevator up to her brother’s residence on floor thirteen, suite #4.

Caroline encounters no other souls on the way up. Westley’s closed door stares her in the face.

Caroline: She listens first, then knocks loudly enough to be heard.

GM: No response is forthcoming.

Turner knocks again.

None.

Turner impatiently bangs the door’s frame with the same callused fists that have put more than a few Blackwatch mercs into the hospital. Just as complaints start sounding from the neighboring units, a voice grogs from Westley’s.

“Ugh… who th’ fuck issit…?”

Caroline: “Your sister,” Caroline growls.

GM: “The… fuck you here so late…”

Caroline: “Because I need to talk to you, obviously. Open the door.”

GM: “’S better be…” grogs her brother’s voice before the door unlocks.

Westley Malveaux is a twenty-something young man of average height, moderate build, and a clean-shaven, heart-shaped face with deep blue eyes that some girls have been known to describe as soulful, or at least searching. His brown rather than blond hair isn’t the only thing Caroline’s middle brother doesn’t share with her. He’s dressed in a pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt. His eyes are crusted with sleep. He blearily takes in Turner’s presence and stifles a yawn.

Wes.jpg “Th’ fuck is it, Caroline…”

Caroline: She pushes past him into the apartment.

“I need your help.”

It isn’t even difficult to put some desperation into her voice. She pinches the bridge of her nose between her eyes with one hand. “I wasn’t sure who else to talk to.”

GM: “Wha…” grogs Westley.

The apartment, meanwhile, is well-furnished with comfortable-looking furniture, indulgent pillows, a widescreen TV, glass furniture, and floor-to-ceiling living room windows that would provide a lovely view of the now-dark Mississippi, if the shades weren’t currently drawn. There’s also, Caroline notes, a mini-bar in the corner of the room, just by the kitchen area.

Westley tiredly rubs his head again and plops down on a chair.

“Help with… what? An’ who’s she?”

He makes a vague motion at Turner without looking at her.

Caroline: “The family.”

GM: Westley rubs his head again, walks up to the fridge, and gets out a Ten Tickle craft beer. He uncorks it, takes a pull, and looks a bit more aware when he looks to Caroline asks, “What’ll you have?”

Caroline: She forces a smile as she falls into one of the comfortable leather chairs.

“A do-over on the last week.”

GM: “Cheers to that.” Westley raises his bottle in toast. And seeming understanding.

Caroline: The sigh is none too feigned, even as the physiological reflex is now past.

“I got into some trouble, Wes,” she says, using the nickname that harkens to a younger, more comfortable time. “Nothing… super serious. I just wanted to have a good time, blow off some steam, but you know how Dad and Orson are about blowing everything up.”

GM: Westley plops back down on the chair across from Caroline. He sets the bottle and two glasses on an adjacent transparent glass table.

“Yeah, the… thing with Decadence. I heard.”

Caroline: “How the fuck did you already hear about that?”

GM: “Week ago, hasn’t it been?” Westley shrugs. “Gabe was frantic though, the night it happened. He must’ve called every cousin across the coast looking for you.”

Caroline: “How did he know about it that night? That’s the first I’ve heard.”

GM: “Couldn’t tell him much, though. Just that it didn’t seem… all that you,” Westley says thoughtfully. “He said he got a call from some friend of yours who said you’d disappeared.”

Caroline: Caroline sighs. “Oh fuck.”

GM: “Well, you didn’t. Or not forever, I guess.”

Caroline: “No wonder Uncle Orson was all over me.” She shakes her head. “I don’t even remember parts of that night.”

GM: “Yeah. I know how that is.” Westley takes another pull of beer. “He written you off too?”

Caroline: “I think I talked him off a ledge, at least until he talks to Dad and finds out I lost my internship.”

GM: “Huh. How’d that happen?” her brother asks. Half-frowning, half-curious.

He walks back to the fridge, gets out another Ten Tickle, and sets it down in front of Caroline.

“You really need this.”

He also retrieves a bottle of Woody Creek Kentucky bourbon from the minibar and comes back with two shot glasses. He pours one for each of them.

Caroline: Another sigh. “Lost track of it. It just…” And another. She looks down. “After the shooting. Not being able to save Sarah. I guess I needed to blow off steam. Was tired of being the little angel anyway. Lost track of things. Drinking late into the night. Seedy bars.”

She takes the offered drink off the table and nurses it in both hands.

GM: “Well, welcome to being the black sheep of the family. It sucks.”

He downs the bourbon shot.

Caroline: “Oh?” Caroline asks. “Did they threaten to cut off your trust as well?”

GM: “Psshh. As if. No, they let you keep that.”

Caroline: “So what then, for you?”

GM: “That’s it, really. I keep the apartment, the…” He gestures vaguely. “Just get written off by Dad and the uncles.”

He takes another pull of beer.

“Mom, though. She understands. How it all… how it all is. Hell. Maybe she’s why I didn’t get sent off to monks like Susan.”

He snorts.

“Or maybe not. Orson just wanted to forget about me. You’re a girl, though, guess you have to be put away.”

Caroline: She snorts. “Guess I’m fucked then?”

GM: “Pretty sure you’d never get fucked again, actually.”

Westley downs Caroline’s untouched shot of bourbon.

“This family’s sick, Caroline.”

Caroline: “And what’s your answer?” she asks bitterly.

GM: Westley motions to the craft beer in Caroline’s hands. “That’s the thing, isn’t it? We’re sick in so many ways. Orson barely even begins to cover it. Mom’s fucking other men and Dad doesn’t care. Matt chews his lip bloody asking ‘how high’ when Orson says ‘jump’, then drives away from it all in his newest shiny car. Aunt Vera’s been a mess ever since that lunatic sliced up her face, though I suppose she’s still together enough to send PIs after Matt’s secretary.”

Westley takes another pull of his own beer. “Adam’s got a shaft up his ass and would probably blow Orson if he thought that’s what God wanted. Luke’s busy blowing Saudis, which I guess sucks for Matt when he wants to hand off the company, because Savannah doesn’t have a cock or seem too interested in those anyways. But hey, they’ll probably just run the whole thing into the ground once Matt and Orson are dead.”

Her brother takes a longer pull. “I’m the bleeting black sheep, and now it looks like you too. Or maybe you’re going to be a nun like good ol’ Sue, who could be six feet under for all anyone in this family cares.”

“And what about all the freaks and geeks we attract like flies to shit? Let’s see, there’s Alphonse, who probably rips the wings off bugs in his spare time. Garrison, who was a drunk. Pot, kettle, black there. Taylor, that gutter trash who acts like he’s one of us.”

He finishes off the Ten Tickle, pours a third shot of Woody Creek he finishes off, then gets up and retrieves another beer from the fridge.

Caroline: “And what about me?” Caroline asks, as he slips to the family minions.

GM: “Already covered you,” Westley declares. His voice is starting to sound a bit slurred. “An’ you’re also fucking that law student you live with.”

“Eesh,” he mumbles. “Savannah’s fucking that spic. Dad and Mom…” he gestures vaguely. “What is with our family and fucking all these poor people?”

Caroline: Caroline lets him drink and rant. “Is that what everyone thinks?”

GM: “What, that we fuck the poor instead of giving them alms?”

Caroline: “Please, everyone fucks the poor. Don’t tell me you care.”

GM: Westley laughs. “Yeah, I guess we do it both ways. Oh no, I’m a hypocrite and a drunk, but ‘least I’m honest.” Another lifting of the bottle. Another gulp. “Bein’ on the outside does that to you. Guess you’ll know too, soon.”

Caroline: “I’m not going to a damn convent.”

GM: “Yeah, Sue said that too.”

Caroline: “Then she was weak.”

GM: “Psshhh.” Westley waves his arm. “Orson gets his way. Always does.” He gives a bitter, humorless laugh. “Everyone thinks I got off so fuckin’ light. After that girl I ran over. That’s Wes, fucks up everything, and the family puts up with him! You know, in this family, getting drunk’s the only sane thing to do.”

Caroline’s brother gives another bleak laugh and downs the Ten Tickle.

“We’re all fucked. We’re all so, so fucked.”

Caroline: “What happened then, Wes? What did they do to you?”

GM: “Don’ wanna talk abou’ that,” he slurs. “Fucked. All of us. Well, ’cept Gabriel, I guess, locked in the crypt with Grandma in Baton Rouge. Kinda feel sorry for him, when he graduates.”

“You know,” he declares, waving the glass, “I bet Grandma wishes she could just suck us all back up her cunt.”

Caroline: Caroline has no neat or clean response to that particular bit of vulgarity.

“Fucked.”

She takes another fake sip of her drink.

GM: Westley raises his own bottle in mock-toast, clinking it against the air. “Fucked.”

Caroline: “You’ve had all of this on your chest for a while, Wes.”

GM: “Well it gets oh so lonely, sister dearest. Mom’s the only one of them who gives a damn. It any wonder she spends half her time in DC, away from us all?”

Caroline: “I just assumed she had a lover up there.”

GM: “Oh, ’m sure she does,” Wes nods. “Or two. Or three.”

Caroline: “I still don’t know what I’m going to do, Wes.” Caroline’s eyes rest on her lap.

GM: “What, dye your coat white again, o blackening sheep?”

Caroline: “Not unless I’m joining the convent, but Uncle Orson was serious when he was making demands earlier, before the second half shit storm.”

GM: Westley frowns. “Why ’idn’t he just ship you off anyways?”

Caroline: “Talked him off the ledge with talk of coming around. Scared straight.”

GM: “Guess he’s getting soft in his old age, huh? Prob’ly should dump your girlfriend, though. Gonna blow a gasket when that comes out.”

Caroline: “This may come as a shock, but I like dick,” Caroline growls harshly. “Aimee is a friend.”

GM: “Yeah, so she’s living with you to help pay your share of rent?” Westley guffaws.

Caroline: “We’re all lonely in our own way, Wes. Not all of us constantly fill that hole with a bottle.”

GM: “You’ll wanna drink too, you get… like I do,” Westley declares with a sweep of his glass. “Mom, she doesn’t drink, jus’ whores around. Whazza better outlet, huh? She, she understands.”

Caroline: “And what did you get? You keep alluding to it. Clearly you do want to talk about it.”

GM: “Mom’s cunt is very welcoming,” her brother blithely declares. “I figure if it popped out four of us, there’s room for at least that many men.”

Caroline: “You seem awfully obsessed with Mom’s sex life,” Caroline all but spits.

GM: “Oh, you wanna talk about Dad’s instead?” Wes slurs. “Well, he’s getting rammed so hard by everyone in DC he doesn’t even about his wife’s.”

Caroline: “I want to talk about what the fuck I’m going to do when they try to turn me out on the street, but I’d settle for any conversation other than graphic depictions of our fucking mother.”

GM: Wes shrugs and gestures around at the still-dark apartment. “I’d offer to let you stay with me, but you’d probably rather pick the streets.”

Caroline: “Why’s that?”

GM: He guffaws. “I would.” He raises a hand as if in protest. “Las’ name you wanna hear, I guess, but… Mom. She understands.”

Caroline: "Understands what? "

GM: “Just what it’s like. Bein’ on the… ous’ide. Probably set you up with somewhere to stay still. Spends half her time in DC or Baton Rouge anyway, so don’t think Orson’s ever really gotten his claws into her. Not as deep as Dad or Matt, ’least.”

Caroline: “And what about you?” she asks.

GM: Westley snorts and looks at the Woody Creek contemplatively. “What ’bout me?”

Caroline: “Have they gotten their fangs into you?”

GM: “Pssh.” Westley waves his hand. “The family drunk? Sooner forget I existed.”

Caroline: “I remember when you were more than that.”

Caroline does not look toward the bedroom where she more than once found prostitutes and drugs of all kinds.

GM: A dark, and perhaps even shamed look passes over Westley’s face as he stares at the Ten Tickle in his hand. Then he takes a long pull.

“Well, I ‘member when I thought we were a big happy family too. Or maybe thas’ just me bein’ drunk.”

Caroline: “I think, as a child, it is easier to normalize things.” She looks a little melancholy, though in his present state it’s doubtful her brother notices. “When they come for me, will you help?”

GM: Westley pours another shot of Woody Creek and tosses it back. “What th’ hell you think I could do?”

Caroline: “Tip me off if you hear something, for one.”

GM: “I wish I hadn’t killed her, you know,” Caroline’s middle brother slurs. “Not because I feel bad about it. I’m not that good a person. Was just better, when I could pretend.”

Caroline: “Pretend what?”

GM: “Pretend. That all this…” Westley again gestures around the room, “Was… that I was just another trust fund baby who was going to grow up to be an executive or senator or fucking underwater basket-weaver, pop out a few kids with a trophy wife, dodge any scandals, get richer and fatter, then keel over dead.”

Caroline: “Versus?”

GM: Westley fills the shot glass back up with Woody Creek, and tosses it back up, then gives a half-belch, half-hiccup.

“I don’ even fuckin’ know, Caroline. Jus’ know that… all that,” he motions backwards, “mighta been… but ‘least there weren’t so many hangovers. So versus bein’ an asshole drunk fuck-up, I guess.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her tongue at his sniveling. “I’m sorry you can’t hide from your choices.”

GM: “Ha. Hahaha.” Westley takes a glug of beer. “That’s exactly it, Caroline. Crawling up a bottle though, it’s a close enough hideaway.”

Caroline: Caroline stands. “Well, this has been helpful.”

GM: “I’m too drunk to tell if you’re serious.”

Caroline: “I’m quite serious. A pointed reminder.”

GM: Westley hiccups. “You’re welcome. I guess.”

Caroline: “That no matter how much of a failure I am, I’m not a coward just waiting to die.” She slides her bottle across the table. “You need this more than me. Whatever happened to you, whatever you’re so afraid to talk about, clearly it left nothing of the Wes I knew.”

GM: Westley snorts. “Who really… knows each other, Caroline? What’s that quote? ’We’re all born alone, we all die alone’?”

Caroline: “I guess I’ll have to ask Susan what it was that scared you so much.”

GM: Westley’s knuckles tighten as he grips his bottle.

Caroline: “Or maybe Father Malveaux?”

GM: A blank look. “Adam?”

Caroline: “There are so many,” she replies opaquly.

GM: “There has always been a Father Malveaux,” her brother repeats somberly.

His voice does not sound drunk.

Caroline: “Are you still into coke?” she asks, rather abruptly.

GM: “What?” Westley glowers. “Fuck off, Caroline.”

Caroline: She laughs lightly. “It’s a legitimate question.”

GM: “What are you, my sobriety buddy?” He snorts. “Okay, you tell me about whatever dope you shot or people you fucked at Decadence that got Orson’s tightey-whities in a bunch, then I’ll go.”

Caroline: “Wes, you know I don’t have to do either of those things to end up in the cold. Just going out was more than enough in that whirlwind of depravity.”

GM: “Yeah, guess it looked even worse with that law student who lives with you.”

Caroline: “Probably,” Caroline concedes.

GM: Westley looks towards the Ten Tickle, hiccups, and finally seems to think better of it.

“Why d’you care what I’m doing, anyways.”

Caroline: “New perspective, I guess. We all left you to your fate and forgot about you. Harder to do now.”

GM: Westley lifts the beer in mock-toast. “Yeah, thas’ ol’ Wes, your reminder.”

Caroline: “No, just my brother.”

GM: Wes shrugs. “What the fuck. Yeah, I’ve blown some lines. McMilyin’s…” he slurs, “McMillian’s a quack.”

Caroline: Caroline snorts at ‘some lines.’ She knows Wes does nothing halfway.

“Keep away from it until this blows over, Wes.”

GM: “Pretty sure you’re the one who should be keeping away from…” He makes a vague gesture again, “stuff, not me.”

Caroline: “They’re going to go trawling for anyone they can catch up in their net.”

GM: Westley heaves a sigh. “Fuck. Whazzat the Buddha said, life is suffering?”

Caroline: “I think you’ll survive. Anything you want gotten rid of before I go?”

GM: Westley rolls his eyes. “I have a toilet in here, Caroline.”

Caroline: Caroline rolls her eyes. “Not you pumping I’m concerned about.”

GM: Her brother hiccups and gives her a blank look.

Caroline: She shrugs. “Just trying to look out for you. Do me a favor, Wes… if things go sideways. Really sideways.”

GM: “Dunno if I can, but guess I can try.”

Caroline: “Tell Mom that I love her. And that I’m sorry.”

GM: Westley looks sober at that. In more than one sense of the word.

Caroline: She turns to go.

GM: “Hol’ up,” her brother mumbles.

He gets up and shuffles down the hallway, rubbing his head. He returns a minute later with several powder-filled plastic bags.

“Prob’ly wouldn’ta flushed it anyway.”

Westley then sweeps a finger at Turner, who has long since withdrawn to the apartment’s doorway to give the siblings some privacy. Caroline’s brother slurs out,

“Better’n Vera’s. Give you that. Doesn’ look like she drinks.” He hics and amends, “Much as me, anyway.”

Caroline: “She’s good. And necessary. I’ll give you the story someday, or you’ll hear it.” Caroline smiles, if sadly. She passes the bags to Turner and looks back at Wes. She wraps him in a hug, and kisses him once on the side of the head.

“Thank you, Wes. Take care.”

GM: Westley seems genuinely surprised as his sister embraces him, but returns it after a second. His body is so warm, his skin prickled with sweat. He smells of drink and bitter regret… and not at all appetizing. Caroline’s Beast sniffs this meal and finds it wanting.

Nothing here.

“Don’t do too well a’ that either, but guess I can try,” Westley mumbles as the hug ends.

“See you ‘round, sis. An’ put on a sweater or somethin’, you’re really cold.”

Caroline: “I’ll do that.’”

She gives him one last look over her shoulder as she heads out, forcing a smile.


Sunday night, 13 September 2015, AM

GM: As Caroline and her bodyguard return to their car, she finds Autumn soundly konked out out in the back seat. The ghoul’s chest steadily rises and falls in her sleep, so unlike Caroline’s own.

Caroline: She slips into the front seat with Turner, letting Autumn rest, and begins in a low voice, “This next bit may be bloody.”

GM: “Finally,” is Turner’s only answer. The mercenary’s slate-gray eyes don’t shine with excitement so much as hunger. She doesn’t look too dissimilar from the Kindred.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t quite crack a smile. She explains in small detail Eight-Nine-Six, their known methods, and location. “We’re going to try and ruin their night.”

GM: “We have any backup, or just us?”

Caroline: “Million dollar question,” she replies. “How many would you want for a job like this?”

GM: Turner thinks. “’Least even numbers, and even then we might not have the edge. You said vampires can take a worse beating than we do. And dish out even more. Getting your friend out complicates stuff too. Begging for them to use her as a hostage.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “And we can’t make it too messy or loud.”

GM: “Could always try to set a distraction. Get some of them out of the building, then go in.”

Caroline: “Fire?” Caroline asks.

GM: “Huh. If that’s what really hurts you guys. Also doing it right at dawn. Don’t have too many more hours to wait. Probably gonna take some time to rustle up backup anyway.”

Caroline: Caroline frowns. “Could Blackwatch provide people for a daylight operation?”

GM: “Sure. Though like you say, if they see a bunch of vampires go crisp… I mean, could do it, but they don’t know what they’re fighting either.”

Caroline: “It would be mostly people like you.”

GM: “There any other… ghouls,” Turner says slowly, “like me you know?”

Caroline: “Kindred should be sleeping. Not sure how many, but I could probably get that number. Either way, they’d be mostly local thugs and toughs, not soldiers.”

GM: “Might be better. Still don’t really know what they’re up against. Hard explaining when the vampires go crisp. There were a bunch of professionals back in that building though, weren’t there? With the priest.”

Caroline: “Different class of people. These are the poor version of Kindred.”

GM: “Blackwatch or ghouls by day sounds better than doing this by night, either way.”

Caroline: Caroline scowls but nods. “Let me reach out to some people.”

GM: Turner grunts and sits back for Caroline to make her presumed calls.

Caroline: Names run through the Ventrue’s head. There’s Lou, but… even if she had his number, too many reasons he wouldn’t help. The threat to his anonymity. The ‘innocent girl’ to rescue being Caroline’s blood bound slave. His own reluctance to help a monster like her. No, there’s nothing in this for him.

But there might be for someone else. After all, he’s already cleaned up one of her problems. The number dials.

Annabelle: The line rings a couple times before there’s a click and a smooth, velvety feminine voice answers deferentially,

“Good evening Miss Malveaux. This is Hound Agnello’s herald speaking. How may I help you?”

Caroline: Of course it is. Caroline is growing distinctly unhappy with always being the last one in the loop.

“Good evening. I was hoping to speak to Hound Agnello. He had offered to make an introduction in my behalf, and I’m afraid the matter has become quite pressing.”

Annabelle: There is a slight pause on the other end of the line.

“I am afraid Hound Agnello is indisposed at this time,” the woman answers, “however, as the hound’s herald, I can certainly offer introductions in my domitor’s stead. Who is it that you wish to be introduced to, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: There is a pause on the other end of the line, and the other woman can almost hear the gears turning in Caroline’s head.

“Do you know when he will be available?”

Annabelle: “I am afraid I cannot say at this time, Miss Malveaux.”

Caroline: This time she can almost heart the hiss of displeasure from the Kindred on the other end of the phone.

Another pause. “May I ask your name?”

Annabelle: “My name is Annabelle, Miss Malveaux.” There is a hint of uncertainty in that answer despite the cordial tone.

Caroline: Another pause. “It is something of a sensitive matter. Would you be available to speak this evening?”

Annabelle: “No. I am afraid I have errands to run for my domitor for the remainder of this evening. I can pencil you in tomorrow night if that works for you.”

Caroline: There’s a faint crunching and cracking sound through the phone.

“I’m afraid that while that would be appreciated, there is a fair probability that I’ll be unable to attend, and I would not wish to leave you waiting.”

Annabelle: The sound is ignored.

“That’s quite all right, Miss Malveaux,” the ghoul answers politely. “Do you still want to plan a meeting at another time?”

Caroline: “I’ll have to get back to you on that. If you don’t hear from me, you can presume otherwise. Thank you for your time. Please give my respects to Hound Agnello when he is available.”

The gears are already turning in Caroline’s head. Questions on where she goes from here, what her next play is. Logically, practically, functionally, she should let Aimee go. She’s nothing but a liability. Distantly, she reflects that her father and uncles would do exactly that for anyone not in the family. Sending Turner in in the morning, or trying to stage her own rescue with the remains of the night, is throwing good money after bad, and lots of it.

But this is Aimee. Her friend. Maybe her only real friend, before all of this happened. Her friend sucked into this life by her own carelessness, and now trapped in it. Leave aside God, whatever His predilection and expectations of one such as her, she can’t just leave Aimee behind.

Aimee’s just a ghoul. A servant. A slave. Caroline’s eyes sweep across the other two ghouls in the black SUV with her, sleeping Autumn, restless Turner. Fuck. That. She may be a monster, damned, a killer on the path to Hell. But she’s not that much a monster. These are people. Good people. Her people. Her jaw sets in a grim line. If she’s going to justify killing in their name, she can damn well justify dying in it.

Course, that ain’t exactly plan A.


Sunday night, 13 September 2015, AM

Annabelle: After concluding her business on the phone with Caroline, Annabelle dials another Kindred’s number from her domitor’s rolodex.

GM: A few rings sound before a young woman’s voice replies, “Hello, Hound Agnello?”

Annabelle: “Good evening, Miss Gerlette. This is Hound Agnello’s herald speaking.”

GM: There’s a brief pause before the Kindred asks, “So what can I do for him?”

Annabelle: “My domitor wishes to invite you and the Storyville Krewe to Harrah’s, Miss Gerlette, to discuss a proposition. He will be pleased to offer his hospitality and succor for the night in return for the audience.” Annabelle’s tone is deferential enough, though a bit officious too.

GM: Roxanne seems to mull the offer over, though not for long. “All right, that sounds good. We’ll be over at ten.”

Annabelle: “Thank you for your time, Miss Gerlette.”

Click.


Sunday night, 13 September 2015, AM

GM: Caroline’s next call rings off. A pauper’s fortune, thrown away by others, she’d once considered those Kindred phone numbers.

“Hi, Caroline?” Jocelyn asks in that slightly questioning tone of someone getting called by a new number for the first time.

Caroline: “Good evening, Jocelyn,” Caroline replies affably. “I hope you’re well.”

GM: “I’m all right, thanks.” There’s a brief pause. “How’s things with you?”

The small talk is a familiar routine. The question a familiar line.

Caroline: “Not so great, but I think that can turn around with some swiftness—hence the call.” Despite the somewhat grim response, Caroline keeps her tone relatively light and confident. “I heard a rumor that the Storyville Krewe wasn’t terribly fond of the Eight-Nine-Six?”

GM: There’s a pause from the phone’s other end. Caroline can’t hear any breathing. It’s also been at least two years since Jocelyn needed to.

“Who’d you hear that from?”

Caroline: That information costs her comparatively little. “Hound Agnello. Was it incorrect?”

GM: There’s another pause. “No, it’s…” Caroline can picture the other vampire biting her lip. Jocelyn can’t entirely keep the urgency out of her voice as she asks, “If you knew about that, do you know something about Evan?”

Caroline: It isn’t that difficult to put sympathy into her voice under the circumstances.

“I’m afraid not, at least not specifically, though if the Eight-Nine-Six were responsible for his abduction, it’s possible that I may have a lead on where.”

GM: The urgency in Jocelyn’s goes up. “Really? Where?”

Then goes down just a bit. “We can swap boons for it, of course.”

Caroline: “The very same thought I had, well, of a sorts. You may have heard that they and I had something of a dust-up.”

GM: “Yeah, something about the prince having to kill a bunch of cops?”

Caroline: The bottom falls out of Caroline’s stomach at that reminder, but she pushes through it.

“Nothing so grand, but they had some hard feelings on the matter over their loss of domain, humiliation, and so forth. One thing led to another, they abducted a ghoul while trying to abduct me, and now I’m sitting on their location tonight, and their location tomorrow.”

GM: “Wait, you know where they’re sleeping? As in, their haven?”

Caroline: “Well, it’s where they retreated with their ill-gotten ghoul for the evening. Whether it’s their haven, or simply where they’re stashing their gains, I thought that might be of interest to you in either case.”

GM: Jocelyn seems to chew that over. “So what’s it you’re gonna do, nab your renfield back when they’re sleeping?”

Caroline: “Ah, no. This has gone on quite long enough. I had several thoughts in mind, depending on what level of involvement, if any, you and the rest of your Krewe might be interested in, and at what price, but fundamentally the intention is to raid that haven and recover anything of use. Up to and including, perhaps, Bliss Jackson, who last I saw was enjoying a some well earned, and extended, rest. And to do so while they’re out, presumably meeting with me. And attempting to double-cross and abduct me.”

GM: “Wait, what’s this part? They’re gonna be gone too?”

Caroline: “They set up an exchange for my ghoul tomorrow.” The other Kindred can practically hear Caroline licking her chops. “Interested yet?”

GM: A mortal might breathe faster. Jocelyn still doesn’t, but Caroline can hear the wheels turning in her head.

“…if we get involved, we’re gonna take one of them for ourselves. To… ask about Evan.”

Caroline: “No objections here, but this has to come together with a quickness to make it work tomorrow. Do you need to run it past anyone else and, alternatively and in addition, do you have a designated ghoul that could meet with one of mine to work out the details today?”

GM: “Yeah, I’ll wanna make some calls to Roxanne and the other Storyvilles. If this is gonna happen first thing tomorrow night, we could just talk over phone during the day? I mean, I doubt Eight-Nine-Six is going anywhere then.”

Caroline: Caroline chews her lip. “Preliminary, sure, but it seems like have people sit down and walk through, talk through would be necessarily on the back end.”

GM: “You mean, you still wanna talk things over in person? I guess we could meet first thing tomorrow night. Before mass.”

Caroline: “I guess it depends on what resources you want to put on the table.” Caroline concedes.

GM: Caroline spends the next few minutes planning and negotiating with Jocelyn over the phone. The latter calls Roxanne and puts them on conference.

The Storyvilles’ leader proves amenable to the plan to raid Eight-Nine-Six’s safe house and personally volunteers for the duty. In fact, she appears almost too amenable… Caroline couldn’t say why, but the vitriol in her voice when Bliss’ name comes up is all-too plain.

The senator’s daughter leverages it for everything that it’s worth. She plays hard to get, feigning that she wants to hold onto Bliss for her own purposes. Roxanne doesn’t want that at all. Eventually, the Storyvilles’ leader agrees to pledge Caroline a boon in return for the “trouble” of taking Bliss off her hands—and if Bliss wants to arrange a “rescue” from the Storyvilles by Caroline’s hands, Roxanne is glad to see Bliss deprived of her own marker.

Caroline: There’s a bit more to hash out, particularly with logistics, but Caroline and the Storyvilles find themselves largely in agreement across the board. Autumn is allowed to sleep until shortly before dawn, and back-filled, mostly by Turner, who heads off to make her own arrangements and get some sleep. It’s going to be a long night tomorrow. A message goes out to the Eight-Nine-Six shortly before dawn. They picked the place. Caroline picks the time. 90 minutes after nightfall. Tomorrow.

By the time the sun is fully risen in the sky, and Caroline is deeply in her day sleep, a dozen individuals from half a dozen walks of life are engaged on Caroline’s behalf in one way or another.

And if that sleep is fitful… well. Isn’t all of hers these days?


Sunday night, 13 September 2015, AM

GM: Around an hour after their conversation, Annabelle gets a call back from Roxanne.

“Tell your domitor the Storyvilles are sorry, but we can’t make it tomorrow night after all. We can do the night after tomorrow, or some other time that works for him.”

Annabelle: Annabelle does not sound the least bit displeased; in fact, there is a sense of relief upon Roxanne calling back to cancel their plans.

“It is quite all right, Miss Gerlette,” the herald replies in a smoothly polite cadence. “We can accommodate another time; your suggestion to rearrange the meeting to the night after tomorrow suits just as well.”

More time to lick her wounds.

GM: Roxanne’s tone sounds mildly surprised by the ghoul’s comparative relief. “Well, all right. Tell your domitor the Storyvilles will see him then.”

There’s little more to be said.

Click.


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