Campaign of the Month: October 2017

Blood & Bourbon

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Story Four, Caroline II, Louis II

“I’d tell you I was sorry, but I tell enough lies.”
Caroline Malveaux


Saturday evening, 12 September 2015

GM: Yvonne LaFleur’s is a women’s clothing boutique that sells “blue jeans to wedding dresses”, plus hats. It’s located only several blocks away from Cooter Brown’s and Caroline’s violent bathroom liaison with her trucker boyfriend, but it’s the sort of establishment the Ventrue would have shopped at in her all-too distant mortal life. Autumn tries to have fun looking the hats over, though she looks like she’s only browsing. The prices are a bit expensive for a typical college student budget.

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Caroline follows Lou’s instructions and takes several outfits to the fourth changing room on the left. She finds a set of clothes already lying on the bench: a pair of tan shorts and light blue t-shirt that reads “this t-shirt was designed & printed by Skip N’ Whistle 8123 Oak Street” on the inside. She also finds a day planner, seemingly discarded by the same neglectful soul to leave behind the clothes.

In couched and veiled terms scattered over the pages alongside such mundane details as “dental appointment— 2 PM,” however, the planner informs Caroline (after she’s spent several minutes deciphering it) to put on the clothes, have Autumn wear the clothes she wore into the store, send the ghoul to the Maple Leaf music club on Oak Street, and then leave the store several minutes after Autumn to meet at their predetermined spot.

Caroline: If looks could kill, the disgust on Caroline’s face at her dictated attire might rival Darfor in human suffering.

All the same, she draws the ghoul into the room and sends her packing in her own clothing.

GM: Autumn seems to find the instructions a bit odd, but does as her domitor directs and changes clothes. Caroline is nearly half a head taller than her and it makes for a loose, awkward fit on the ghoul.

“Ah… so do you want me to just leave these here? I’m on a bit of a budget,” Autumn says, looking towards her old clothes.

“No, dumb question. I’ll just carry them out in a bag,” she adds after a moment.

“You, ah… don’t look that bad,” she states in response to Caroline’s murderous look.

Looking bad is one thing. Feeling bad is another. Lou didn’t leave any shoes for Caroline, so she has to trade with Autumn. The ghoul’s sneakers are several sizes smaller than what the Ventrue normally wears, and it takes several moments of frustrated cramming just to get them on. They sorely pinch her feet and even complement the rest of her casual outfit—something the Ventrue may find good, bad, or both.

Caroline: Caroline sends her ghoul away and waits, uncomfortably burning away the night. When a suitable period has passed she sets of for the rendezvous.

Louis: An old man follows. He clings to the shadows—and the shadows seem to preternaturally cling to him. His soft gumshoes fall silently on sidewalk, a veritable ghost amongst the public, a figment that slides off their collective subconscious.

Though unseen, the old man sees much. He ensures that neither woman nor himself is followed. But the night has many eyes, and the worm sleeps shallowly. As Caroline enters the Bower’s posh entrance beneath its soaring, spiraling live oaks, Lou pauses for a moment to breathe in the sticky, nocturnal air. He gazes up at the city-shrouded stars and black firmament. But they have no answers for him. Just a disquieting stare.

Doom.

The old man recognizes it easily. It’s a feeling and a taste, and it’s black, and it’s very heavy. It comes down over his head, and wraps tentacles around him, and sinks long dirty fingernails into his heart. Doom or not, he’s come too far. He sighs, slips out his softwood cross and kisses it gently.

Padre, forgive me.

With that prodigal benediction, he follows the girl. Into the Bower and whatever doom will follow in its wake.

GM: Inside, the Bower’s unfinished cement floor, huge marble-topped bar, and towering ceilings ensure a similarly cool sanctuary from the sultry Louisiana weather. A stage hosts local musical talents, including live jazz, acoustic folk, and R&B performances, a mélange that allegedly provides an "atmosphere that is always cosmopolitan but never pretentious.”

Caroline: Caroline orders a drink, something ordinary, and settles down to wait the old man out.

GM: Caroline receives one of the bar’s signature cocktails: a Jean Lafitte, which is made with anis, gin, triple sec, sugar, and powdered egg white. Some bitters and blackberries provide a finishing garnish.

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Louis: Lou slips in like an errant breeze, ignored by the rich, well-heeled clientèle. He pilfers an unused chair and slides it up to Caroline’s reserved table. He swings his gator-skinned briefcase between his feet, but he keeps his wrinkled trench on. He removes his hat, plopping it on the table. He lightly touches her hand, as delicately as a moth landing on fire. The touch, however, causes his private Masquerade to melt away, at least for Caroline.

“Evening, Ms. Malveaux,” he says as he suddenly slides into focus for her.

Caroline: Caroline snaps her head in the direction of the gumshoe’s sudden appearance, an instant of fight or flight.

Louis: “I’ll take one of the same,” he adds, “and an order of fries.”

He coughs and runs a shovel-wide hand through his dishwater hair.

GM: The server ignores Lou’s order entirely.

Louis: Lou’s ‘order’, however, isn’t to any waiter, but to Caroline.

“They can’t see me,” he explains. “Or more accurately, they sense me, but don’t perceive me right now. Wundt called it a problem of apperception.”

He dusts off his coat and winces, touching a dark stain on his shirt.

“You order the food, I’ll eat it, and the world will keep convincing itself your kind don’t run its streets.”

Caroline: After a moment though she slides her eyes between the invisible man and the waitress as he explains, then smiles at the woman and doubles the order, asking with an order of fries. When she’s departed Caroline carefully doesn’t look at him.

“Very cloak and dagger. One might think you were afraid of something.”

Louis: Lou grunts. “The only fearless men I know are dead ones. And dead ones don’t collect paychecks.”

He then finally forces himself to look at her. Her pallid, bone-china skin. The stillness of her breasts as she fails to breathe. Her blood-red lips and supple points of her dead-cold smile. Blonde as hell.

Caroline: The stillness is relative. Through reflex, habit, or intention, the young fledgling does not seem to have mastered the art of stillness so common in older Kindred.

“If all you’re interested in is a paycheck, I’m sure an invisible man could find an easier means of keeping the lights on.” She then amends, “Or at least a method.”

Louis: “Maybe I’m not into easy,” Lou grunts.

Caroline: Her eyes are empty, so empty. Tired. World-weary. Days have added years to her posture, to the fire inside her. Caroline isn’t quite defeated, but robbed is the swagger of those first meetings. Then there’s the way she sits, on the edge of her seat. Back straight. The very faint smell the ancient ghoul knows too well that hangs around her tells him all he needs know of her physical state, even before the observant investigator notes the thin wounds that cross her arms in places. They remind him of an older time, the bite of a whip on as seen on the victims of the Klan… or at least the few survivors.

Louis: The old man slips his gaze to the Bower’s breathing clientèle and then back to his own ‘client’.

“How bad you jonesing. I mean, how ba…”

He stops upon taking note of her injuries. Looking at her hurts his eyes, his heart, his soul, made him miss those details till now. His jaw mashes shut.

“Bastards.”

He doesn’t so much speak as exhale the curse through his nostrils.

Caroline: She stares back at him for a moment, but her eyes cut away. Guilt.

Louis: “They say that dead men are heavier than broken hearts. As a man accustomed to carrying both, I beg to disagree.”

Caroline: Shame.

“Poison, you said. It never stops. It always wants, and it’s only harder like this,” she grants softly.

Louis: Lou hangs his head. Truth is a terrible burden.

“I’m sorry… I tried to warn you…”

“I wish…” He looks up. “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.”

Caroline: “What can we do?” she asks softly, rhetorically. “We play the hands we are dealt.”

“I thought about it, you know.” She wraps her hands around her glass. “The easy way out.”

Louis: Lou remains quiet, save for the pained beating of his centuries-old heart.

Caroline: “Maybe that’s why I was so reckless.” She smiles sadly, grimly. “But that option is off the table. I think Father Malveaux knew, or at least suspected.”

Louis: Lou’s eyes are like they were back at the hotel-room, quiet like two pools of dark water, still enough to reflect Caroline’s anguish. But deep too. Maybe not deep enough to cover her hurt, but at least enough to wash it.

Caroline: The moment hangs in the air between them long enough for the greasy food to arrive.

“Tell me you have something on the bastard that did this to me,” she asks.

Louis: Lou’s eyes don’t leave hers as he picks up the Jean Lafitte and downs the cocktail in on go. He lets the liquor slam into his blood like a car-crash. It probably would be too much to say that he feels the darkness lift at the alcohol’s touch, like a woman’s fingertips against his lips. But the darkness shivers, and light bleeds in among the cracks.

“I do,” he says, almost with the gravity of a matrimonial vow. He’s quiet though for a while, as if letting the cocktail soak his brain before diving in, full-bore. He takes out his briefcase.

“But first, some bloody paperwork.”

He pops open the briefcase, its contents angled so to remain hidden from Caroline’s view. There’s a shuffle of paper, then a snap as Lou closes the lid and returns it beneath the table. In its place, there’s a stack of paper.

“Contract,” he says, sliding the typewriter-crafted document to the heartbreakingly beautiful, undead abomination beside him.

“We need to establish why we’re meeting. For them,” he says, jerking his neck vaguely at the mortal diners. “Cover story is you asked me to help find the guy who attacked you.”

Caroline: She breaks her gaze from him to examine the document.

“Not much of a stretch.”

Louis: “And believe it or not, I pay taxes, so I actually have to document my work. Maybe more importantly, it legally establishes you as my client—and therefore gives you client confidentiality.” He motions to the document, which has a coffee-stained corner. “Let me know what you think.”

Lou then digs into the french fries.

Caroline: She spends a minute digging through the document while he eats.

Louis: Lou tries not to moan as he devours the deliciously crispy, fresh cut fries adorned with curled, wispy shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and roasted garlic butter. Although immune to coronary heart disease, the old ghoul may still have a heart attack from the sudden pairing of high-class food and booze.

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GM: The fries are delicious, though not a full meal in of themselves. All around him, Lou can see patrons happily consuming even more of the restaurant’s high-class fare. He can smell the succulent odor of slow-roasted meat dishes. His trained investigator’s eye makes out the juices dribbling over their plates. Nor does his sharp eye fail to make out the menu’s written descriptions over the diners’ fare:

Chicken Caesar Salad
$18
Grilled Chicken, Hearts of Romaine, Focaccia Croutons,
Aged Parmigiano-Reggiano, Creamy Garlic-Cracked Pepper Dressing


Hand Cut Turkey Club Sandwich
$16
Sliced Tomato, Applewood Smoked Bacon, Lettuce, Avocado,
Butter Pickle, Basil Pesto Aioli, Bacon Cheddar Bread
Served with Market Fresh Fruit Salad


Caroline: Caroline unconsciously wrinkles her nose at the display.

Louis: Lou wipes his mouth and fingers on a cloth napkin, then points to Caroline’s untouched cocktail. “You mind, seeing as…?”

Caroline: “Better as a chaser on our meeting I think, don’t you?” she asks in return. She slides the drink away from him with one pale hand.

Louis: Lou laughs a bit. “Two tweensy cocktails aren’t going to wax my shine. Besides, a lady all alone with a glass she doesn’t drink? Smells fishy and draws all sorts of the wrong attention. But speaking of whiffs, you catch anything squirrelly with the contract?”

Caroline: The vampire he cannot also help but notice is studiously avoiding looking at the array of food.

“Best then we get to business,” she offers with a smile that doesn’t reach her haunted eyes.

“To answer your question, though, I don’t know that I’d know what to look for.”

If the smells and sights of food bother her in truth though, he cannot tell. She seems numb, deadened to it, or perhaps distracted by the subject at hand.

Louis: Lou’s old watery eyes regard Caroline for a moment before he says, “I once knew this rat-faced weasel down in the Quarter who did cook-booking and legal scut-work for the greaseballs, the old but not so good Jimmy Balbalosa. I remember a client of his once said that he didn’t count money and didn’t read the fine print because life is short and it’s easier to trust people, to which Jimmy replied, ‘Around here a set of morals won’t cause any more stir than Mother’s Day in an orphanage. Maybe that’s not good, but that’s the way it is. And it wouldn’t do any good to build a church down here, because some guy would muscle in and start cutting the wine with wood alcohol. All you can do is try to make the books balance, and the easiest way to do that is to keep one hand on your billfold and the other hand on somebody else’s’.”

“Then again, Jimmy died with a bullet to the back of his head, through his temple, and in his mouth,” Lou adds. “But I appreciate your trust—even if trust in the Big Sleazy is like hand-me-down toilet paper. But speaking of covering one’s rear…” he says, signing the legal contract with a pen of his own.

Caroline: “Is it trust?” she asks lightly.

Louis: Lou shrugs. “It all flushes.”

Caroline: “My father once explained to a would-be donor, a man in desperate need of a government contract to keep his business afloat, the nature of things. When the man asked how he knew this donation would influence him, my father said that at some point, at the end of the game, you had to play the card you have left in your hand one way or another. At that point, whether it works out or not is nothing you can control.”

“So is it trust? Faith? Or something uglier?”

Louis: Lou snorts in painful understanding. “You can’t pass the dice when you only got a buck left.”

He then waits for her to sign, so he can collect his own copy for filling purposes.

Caroline: She scrawls her name across the page without taking her eyes off the gumshoe.

“So tell me, old man, how did the dice come up on this one?”

Louis: “Between boxcars and snake-eyes, but it’s too soon to know for whom they fall.” He takes a signed copy and slips it into his briefcase. “The stakes, though, are all-too known.”

GM: It’s a simple signature, but one of the few ways she’s still alive, Caroline can’t help recall. Gabriel Hurst, legally dead in 1957 with a full funeral. Her sire, killed in action in Cuba, 1898. Philip Maldonato, dead long enough to be a historical artifact. And Jocelyn Baker, dead only a handful of years, but still long enough to tell her:

You should probably fake your death.

Caroline: Her eyes bore into him. “Yes. I think they are. It wasn’t my choice, you know, to bring them into this.”

Louis: Lou tries to ignore the dark train of thoughts and tries to switch mental tracks.

“But speaking of stakes… I’ll take the rare hanger bruschetta with hunks of bleu cheese and a tangy, sweet red onion marmalade.” He then adds only slightly more meaningfully, “Do you have access to the Quarter?”

Caroline: A flash of teeth, first at his order, then again at his question. “I think you know the damned answer to that.” Teeth, but her reaction doesn’t reach those eyes. She’s not surprised.

Louis: Lou considers whether he’s rubbing it her face. It doesn’t take him long to come up with the answer—though the question of why makes him ponder a bit longer. Was it because she has the body of a Rolls and the heart of a hungry gator?

Or was it because some nights you wake up and can’t trust yourself with a razor? And you start cutting up the world to keep from slicing your own throat. A phantom pain twinges in his missing hand.

Lou looks up. “If we’re going to start talking, I’m going to need that steak. Also, I better have another drink. There’s an ugly taste in my mouth. I think it’s saliva. I think the Stormy Weather is a fitting choice.”

Caroline: The teeth fade behind a sigh. She slides down her current drink in his direction and directs her gaze away at last, seeking to meet the eyes of a server to take the order.

GM: Seeing Caroline’s first Jean Lafitte is also finished, a dark-haired, slightly post-college age waitress arrives to take the empty glass and Caroline’s order. She does not spare Lou so much as a glance as she asks the Ventrue with a smile, “You ready to order now, ma’am?”

Caroline: The Ventrue heiress puts on her best fake smile. “Yes.”

Her eyes slip back to Lou for an instant as she speaks, mirroring Lou’s order to her. There’s a viciousness to them, a simmering cold anger. Even her speech is different. Clipped, sharp, like a knife. Imperious. It’s an exercise in power. Her power over something, even if it is so trivial as the waitress.

Louis: Lou regards the blonde as hell blue blood. Her mein triggers an old memory of something stirring in the antic’s crawlspace. Once again, he scolds himself, You’ve got the instinct for recognizing trouble, but not the god-damned sense to duck it.

GM: The waitress smiles all the more widely as she takes Caroline’s order. The Ventrue is reminded of a book on body language and power dynamics that her father recommended she read. The book said that smiling is an act of submission, of trying to look harmless. She can’t recall Wright ever smiling around her.

The waitress, meanwhile, jots down the order and quickly informs her it’ll be coming right up.

Caroline: The smile fades as the girl leaves, replaced with emptiness.

Louis: Lou’s pitiful but far from pitiless heart lurches. Looking her over, he knows she’s been used badly. Like a dictionary in a stupid family.

“Anyone ever tell you you’re blonde enough to make a bishop kick a hole in stained glass?”

Caroline: “I’m not sure how I should take that from you.”

Louis: Lou rubs the back of his neck, then holds up his meaty hand with his rough-worn fingers splayed.

“The deadbeat daddy of yours who isn’t paying child support has been frequenting five hot spots.”

Caroline: And just like that, there it is, a spark of life on a dead face.

Louis: Lou cringes as he feels like he’s about to snuff out that spark like a cigarette. “All five are in the Quarter.”

“Well, four out of the five,” he says, correcting himself. He wiggles his lonesome thumb, so close to the other fingers but alone.

Caroline: Her jaw clenches, grinding shut and teeth like a pair of pliers.

Louis: “He was at the Orpheum, where he presented himself to Seneschal Maldonato.” Lou stops. “I’m assuming you’ve met him.”

Caroline: “When.” The word is cold, low.

Louis: Lou answers as best he knows.

“But he didn’t waste much time before he went to Antoine’s and presented himself to the rival of your grandpa’s boss. Since then, he’s been burning nightlight at Jackson Square, the Dungeon, and Chakras.”

Caroline: “Grandpa’s boss?”

Louis: Lou sucks on his lips. He swallows down the rest of her Jean Lafitte.

“Yeah, so your poison-daddy, his own poison-daddy was Robert Bastien. Sheriff to the prince before Donovan took his place. And your poison-daddy used to work as a hound under him. But when your gramps took the last mid-day trolley, René bounced. Some say he was a real contender to take over his old man’s job. But I don’t know if he was passed over or turned it down himself.”

Caroline: “I see.”

She reaches for her drink for a moment before drawing her hand back. The habit betrays her uncertainty.

Louis: Lou looks down at his fingers. He sighs. He wiggles the last two.

“I don’t know what he was doing at the last two locales—but you could bet your entire inheritance at Harrah’s that it was as wholesome as the love between a rabbit and a rattlesnake.”

Caroline: “I can’t say that’s what I’d hoped to hear.”

Louis: “Poison is poison, but some are worse,” Lou says without a hint of humor.

He sucks his gums and starts looking around for ‘his’ order.

GM: The dark-haired waitress from earlier is speaking to other patrons. There are evidently a few moments yet for it to arrive.

Caroline: “You prefer belladonna, I suppose?”

Louis: Lou sighs. “It was good enough for Augustus,” he says of the famed emperor who was poisoned by a beautiful woman he trusted.

Caroline: “There are worse way to go.”

Louis: He grimaces, swallowing down his own painful agreement. “But the Setites are ugly news. They make the greaseballs look like the innocent cocktail of girl scouts and choirboys. And the lower-level clientèle of the Dungeon?” He shakes his head. “Shakespeare said ‘Hell is empty and all the devils are here’.”

Caroline: “Do you ever bring good news to people, Mr. Fontaine?”

Louis: Lou looks up.

“I once found somebody’s cat. They were allergic, but still seemed happy.”

Caroline: “It’s something, I suppose.”

Louis: “I never said I found it alive,” Lou says flatly.

Caroline: “You thought I was still talking about the cat?”

Louis: Lou shrugs.

GM: ’Caroline’s’ food arrives. The medium rare steaks have a crisp, lightly charred outside, and have been thoughtfully pre-cut into strips that show off the tender, so-juicy-it’s-wet slightly pinkish inside. The meat’s grease still lightly sizzles underneath its thickly slathered coating of sweet red onion marmalade. White chunks of bleu cheese are interspersed throughout the gleaming moist onions.

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“There you are, ma’am, you let me know if you need anything else,” the waitress offers with another smile that doesn’t match her eyes, still slightly nervous after Caroline’s prior clipped and imperious tone. She sets down the steaming food in front of Caroline, along with a glass of the orange-brown ginger beer and rum. A slice of lime garnishes the side.

As ever, it takes but a single whiff of the nauseous steaks for Caroline to know she won’t be able to choke them down. Yet the memory of the rich steak dinner she had at Antoine’s with her family to celebrate her high school graduation remains untouched and pristine.

Caroline: She leans away from the smell of the food, stomach rolling.

Louis: Lou licks his lips. He waits for the waitress to walk away, then snags the entrée and well-heeled booze.

“There’s more,” he says to Caroline. “I never promise that it’ll be worth it, but I always promise your money’s worth. Beyond where your deadbeat dad’s been hanging around, there’s also with whom he’s been doing it.”

Lou doesn’t immediately elaborate though as he soaks in the lime, rum, and ginger-beer and takes a few bites of the succulent steak.

GM: It’s rich, juicy, and oh-so tender. The onions and cheese only add an even more wonderful accent. Lou hasn’t eaten this good in a long, long time.

Caroline: “You think this is funny?” she snarls, her voice too loud for her solitary table. Is it grief or fury on her face?

GM: A few patrons frown Caroline’s way, their gazes unconsciously sliding off her dining ‘partner.’

Caroline: “I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself.” A flush of warm blood in her cheeks, under her pale skin. She’s fed recently. “Can you cut to the fucking chase, though, since you’ve already cut to the bone?”

Louis: Lou takes another bite of the steak and chews long and hard like a thought that’s best considered, but never shared.

“I don’t recall ‘whipping boy’ being in the contract, but maybe it’s in the cards. But I’m not the one responsible for all your pain. He did this to you. I’m the fool helping you find him.”

Caroline: She grits her teeth and looks away.

“Whipping boy?” she murmurs. “What do you know about whipping, Lou? Have you been scourged until your skin was hanging in ribbons?”

Louis: Lou stares at Caroline. It isn’t a hard stare, but it isn’t soft either.

“Do you need to see my scars. I could show you. But frankly, neither of us has the time.”

There’s no bravado in his voice, just a flatness that takes away the food’s pleasure.

Caroline: “No, you couldn’t. For you to do that you’d have to be exposed. Open. Vulnerable.”

Louis: Lou doesn’t immediately reply. Not with words. He swallows down the rum and ginger-beer. Fast and hard. He doesn’t like to get drunk—not this early in the night. But he might just make an exception now. It’s not every night your ass gets kicked by a blonde bombshell who’s been dead for a week.

Caroline: She nods at him. “I’d tell you I was sorry, but I tell enough lies. And are you, really?”

Louis: “Yeah. I am. I wish to god-damned I wasn’t.”

Caroline: “No, you don’t.”

Louis: He sucks his teeth, and swallows down another hangover.

Caroline: “You know too well what comes at that point, what it means. I know what you are, Mr. Fontaine. Different track, same destination. At least I’ll have company in Hell.”

Louis: Lou looks away. Looks out. “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” He laughs bitterly and brokenly at the platitude. He hammers down the last sip of rum and beer like a gun shot, burning. “Maybe our tracks head to the same destination, the same end of the line. Maybe not. Maybe some trains have brakes. My first offer stands.”

Caroline: “Put an end to it all?”

Louis: “Hell’s not a summer home.” Booze greases his breath as the usually terse man elaborates. “The world is an incomprehensible place where beams happen to fall, and are predestined to fall, and are toppled over by malevolent powers; a world ruled by chance, fate and God, the malign thug. But everyday life is just as terrifying and treacherous. The dominant economic reality is depression, which usually means a frightened little guy in a rundown apartment with a hungry wife and children, no money, no job, and desperation eating him like a cancer—and those are the lucky ones. The dominant political reality is a police force made up of a few decent cops and a horde of sociopaths licensed to torture and kill, whose outrages are casually accepted by all concerned, not least by the victims. The prevailing emotional states are loneliness and fear. Events take place in darkness, menace breathes out of every corner of the night.”

“Life’s hard and ugly enough for either of our kind making it worse. You’ve probably been preying upon the dregs of society or the naive and gullible. Because they’re easy prey. Backdoor bars, alleys, backseat of cars, or maybe the basement of your posh place. Things probably got sloppy, once or twice. Or maybe just really close to it.”

He waves a prosthetic hook at the table.

“But other people have been paying that tab. I just want to stop the hemorrhaging. One way or another, I want to help. God, I wish I didn’t. But I do. And maybe that’s my Hell.”

Caroline: Caroline seems on the verge of speaking, but whatever she was going to say drifts away. Instead her eyes harden. “Then tell me who he’s been with.”

Louis: Lou sighs and takes another bite, the joy of eating robbed and his liquor spent.

“Beyond the ones I already mentioned, there’s the gypsy that goes by Yellow Sidra. She’s got a monkey.”

He takes another bite of his food, without looking up. “But she’s small-time. At least compared to Mother Iyazebel.”

Caroline: “You say those names like they should mean something to me.”

Louis: “You want me to play trolley tour-guide to Hell, I can. But I need to see your ticket.” Lou sighs and sets down his knife and fork. “Three drops. And two stipulations. That’s the fare.”

Caroline: Caroline frowns, confusion spreading across her face. “Drops?”

Louis: Lou dips his hook into the rare steak’s leftover juices and lets three drops plink against the white platter. He looks meaningfully at Caroline. It’s a needful look.

Caroline: “And stipulations?”

Louis: He wipes off the hook on the white cloth napkin and unfolds it with equal meaning, if not need, in Caroline’s direction.

“You let me help. So less people have to suffer. As I said, there’s no way to win, but I can at least show you how to lose more slowly. Or make it so that innocent people aren’t paying your or his tab.”

Caroline: “And the second?”

Louis: Lou touches the felt brim of his hat. “You tell me why. Why you would choose to keep, not living, but being. And what you plan to do after René is hauled in to pay his child support. I’m willing to play trolley guide, but I need to know why it ever bothers to leave the station and where it ends.”

Caroline: “And what exactly does your help involve, Mr. Fontaine? What difference will it make in all of this?”

Louis: Lou sighs. “Well, beyond denying me parole, I would hope that the poison hasn’t yet dug its claws in so deep that you still care about the suffering your condition might cause, to others at least. But putting aside all that,” he adds, “there’s access to the Vieux Carré. Which you need. Also, despite what my armpits might say otherwise, I can provide more subtle aid than your Jewish girl.”

Caroline: “What makes you think she’s mine?” Caroline asks.

Louis: “She’s young, callow, and ultimately still works for the Krewe even if everyone thinks she works for you.” Lou sets an arm on the table and leans forward. “Caroline. Remember your crack about having company in Hell? Here’s a tip that’s got lagniappe written all over it. Your kind are terrible gossipers. I think some of you are addicted to it as much as blood.”

Caroline: “You think I don’t realize that she’s got ulterior motives? So do you, and I don’t know where they start or end.”

Louis: Lou doesn’t argue the point. “As I said, trust and used toilet paper. All around the situation is shitty. You need help. All those people you are otherwise going to turn into drive-by strawberry daiquiris need help. René deserves to be brought to justice for what he did to you. I can help.”

Caroline: “For the low price of my blood. And your answers.”

Louis: “Man can’t live by bread alone.” Lou tries to say it with a smile, but the expression never reaches his lips, much less eyes.

Caroline: “Where is the train going…” She pauses. “Stability. If you know about Autumn, you know about Aimee.”

Louis: Lou considers lying, bluffing to pad his cards. But he has enough. Discarding the Jack of Truth seems a poor way to foster truth in a social dance that makes Russian roulette look like kiddie marbles. He shakes his head.

“Her name doesn’t ring a bell. But stability? So you level off Hell’s seesaw. To what end?”

Caroline: “I don’t know,” she admits. “Everything I’d wanted, everything I’d dreamed of, is gone. So what now? I don’t know, but I know that if I let this drag me under I’m dragging other souls with me.”

Louis: Lou regards Caroline. “Are you speaking like revenge against the bastards who did this to you… or like the Sanctified wolves of Heaven doctrine?”

Caroline: “I’m speaking like I’ve dragged everyone I love into this mess, and if I drown in it the prince isn’t going to let me drown alone.” She meets his eyes. “Is that clear enough?”

Louis: Lou stabs into a lingering piece of now-cool steak. Its juices drip down his fork. “Abundantly.”

GM: The dark-haired waitress approaches, glancing towards the plate Caroline has seemingly pushed away. “If you’re all done with that, ma’am, can I get you a wine and dessert menu or just the check?”

Louis: Lou raises a brow as if to ask, ‘Are we done?’

GM: Lou tells Caroline to say ‘yes’ to the dessert menu, as he still has several final matters to discuss with her. It’ll look less suspicious if she’s eating dessert than just lingering by herself, after all. The old man scans the menu after their server returns with one, then finally settles on chocolate peanut butter pie with a groused, “I like a good pecan.”

Unknown to most American citizens, the gumshoe states to Caroline after their waitress leaves, blood from blood banks is a major commodity. It’s traded, shipped, and bought just like stocks and other lucrative commodities. It’s also a completely unregulated industry. Caroline has the legal and financial acumen and allies to dip her hand into that pie. Set up a blood bank or buy one out, or better yet, simply buy from the couriers that trade and ship them between hospitals. If asked why he’s bringing this up, Lou answers that beyond simply hoping Caroline cares about minimizing the suffering her state causes, it’s an absolute condition if she wants his help. Not feeding from a blood bank, necessarily, but feeding without hurting people. People like the man he found (actually, didn’t find) dead in her hotel room.

By that same token, Lou doesn’t insist on (or even want) payment in vitae right now. Not until Caroline’s started a new ‘dietary regimen’ and he knows where his fix is coming from.

Caroline: Caroline tries not to squirm over the direction of the too-perceptive PI, but has matters of her own to address. She brings up the information he’s given her. “I can’t keep this to myself, and they’re going to want to know where I got the information.”

GM: Lou doesn’t seem happy about it either, even if she did hire him on Father Malveaux’s recommendation. Still, none of the information he’s told her is actually secret. Rocco and Wright assuredly know that René used to be a hound, as does any Kindred who was undead 100 years ago.

“Pin it on your Jewish girl. It was her job to snoop. Still is.”

In fact, Lou reflects, that makes a great deal of sense. The Krewe was likely keeping (and is likely continuing to keep) tabs on Caroline and her sire. Autumn was the ghoul assigned to monitor the former. Lou scoffs if Caroline tells him that Autumn professed ignorance when asked if she knew whether the Krewe was investigating René.

“Could’ve wiped it from her mind. How long was that mask-wearing peacock alone with her before she got turned over to you?”

Lou lets the question hang between a mouthful of the crunchy, peanut-dotted pie.

“Of course, if your handler knows that, there are ways for your kind to dreg up erased memories.” The gumshoe sets his fork down as he seems to swallow more than just his dessert. “If they don’t mind cracking a few eggs.”

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “They’re not going to buy her as the source. At least, I wouldn’t. On the other hand… how much are they going to care?”

GM: The paranoid old man just grunts. If she doesn’t want to pin it on Autumn, she could tell the truth—some of it. That she’s hired outside help. He isn’t the only independent ghoul who’ll do favors for a fix.

Still, Lou doesn’t relent on his earlier point. He’s got more information on René, he adds, including a potential lead to the man himself. It’s Caroline’s, if he knows she’s going to feed responsibly. He doesn’t ask for her word.

“There’s more things I can do for you after we’re done here. And won’t do for another blood-stealing leech. Though I’m still hoping, naively or not, that concern for human lives and not just catching your deadbeat poison-daddy is enough motive to care about how you feed.”

Caroline: “I don’t want to hurt anyone,” Caroline all but growls under her breath. “But it’s not that simple. I wish it was.”

GM: Lou begs to differ. She can pay to feed from willing donors at no risk to their lives, or she can choose not to. There’ll be other times, of course, when Caroline loses control. It’s inevitable. That’s simply the Poison at work—for which Lou has already proposed his own remedy. It remains up to her, however, where she chooses to hunt on a night-to-night basis.

Caroline: “You know better than I do about my dietary restrictions.”

GM: The gumshoe shakes his head. The only specific victim of hers he knows about is Orson’s man, and not even that much about him. But he knows enough, he adds, that her clan can subsist on other blood. It’s just less pleasurable for them.

Caroline: Caroline bites her tongue and refuses to meet his eyes.

GM: “Of course, if having blood on your hands is an acceptable price for a better meal, you wouldn’t be the first of your kind to feel that way.” Lou’s tone is flat. It’s not a twist of the knife. Just a simple statement of fact. Her kind are monsters.

And she might choose to be one too.

Caroline: Faith, poison, humanity, and need war in Caroline’s soul. What he’s asking is only that she swear off the most barbaric part of her new nature, that she take efforts to prevent needless injury and death as demanded by her need for blood. If he’d asked her a week ago she’d have complied without a thought, gratefully in agreement that it was the most basic of steps she could take to mitigate the harm she caused. But it’s not so simple.

Laying aside the logistics of it, laying aside the cost, laying aside the demands of her dark Kindred ancestor, and laying aside the expectations of his dark faith, her own growingly dark faith… hunting was the only time she felt close to alive. It was the only time she was in control. She needs his help to find her sire, and she needs her sire to avoid the Final Death… but she needs to hunt to keep her sanity. Or perhaps what’s left of it. What does it say for his warning that she’s already so reluctant to turn from the darker parts of the Beast’s nature? Does it even matter if she’s already so damned?

She lapses into silence as he forces her to confront an ugly truth. She can claim she’s continuing this wretched existence to protect Aimee, to protect treacherous Autumn, to shield her family in the future… but whether or not that’s true, she’s unwilling to be a martyr in truth. She’s suffered pain and humiliation, but she’s unwilling to suffer deprivation. She’s never gone without… and she’s still not willing to.

“No,” she answers at last to his demand. Her face stings with shame as she admits it, and she wants to vomit in disgust. Silence reigns as she bows her head.

“I hate you.”

Damn him for making her admit it to herself.

“You make it sound so black and white, so simple. But what the hell do you know about it?”

GM: Lou’s watery brown, bourbon-hued eyes meet Caroline’s. The old man has looked tired for as long as the Ventrue has known him. Tired, washed-up, world-weary, embittered, jaded, and a host of other adjectives. Somehow, though, he’s always seemed to go on. As if there were nothing the world could do to hurt him worse than he’s already been hurt. Disappoint him more than he’s already been disappointed.

And yet, somehow, the old man seems to sag just a little bit more at Caroline’s declaration.

“I know enough not to be surprised.”

Lou sets down his fork. “I know it’s what all of your kind choose eventually.” He pushes aside what’s left of the pie. “First time I’ve ever asked one of you about it so point-blank, though. Maybe I was hoping that would make you really see. Maybe I was hoping it’d take you longer than it usually does.”

Caroline: Caroline’s face burns with shame, with recrimination, but she makes no move to stop him, correct him, or interrupt him.

GM: “Or maybe,” the old man finishes slowly, “I should have just known better.”

He gets up from his seat. “Thanks for dinner, Ms. Malveaux.”

Caroline: “Go then, it’s what you wanted anyway. All of the condemnation and none of the care, and a highway to Hell.”

GM: Lou just shakes his head. “No. It’s not.”

Caroline: “Bullshit!” The loud word cuts through the open air and the crowd.

She looks around as heads turn and rips a neat hundred dollar bill out from her bag to set on the table as she rises. “We can lie to ourselves, but let’s not lie to each other. You knew what I was before I did, and what you wanted out of me wasn’t some vegan diet.” She puts on a touch of majesty as whispers begin around them, as stares linger too long. Just another woman yelling into thin air, nothing to see here.

GM: Murmurs sound around Caroline. She’s not sure how Lou’s… whatever he’s doing interacts with the crowd, but not all of the stares seem to be falling on him. The gumshoe just looks at Caroline morosely.

Louis: The old private eye places his felt-fedora upon his head with all the tired weight of worn-out sandpaper. “Well,” he says, sucking his booze-lit gums, “this worked out as well as a crossword cut in half.”

He picks up his gator-case with his hook and sighs like a deflated bike tire. “Should you reconsider, you know where to find me.” He gives the beautiful, breathless, blood-sucking abomination a long glance, perhaps almost a longing one before parting with a final admonition:

“Since you paid the tab, I’ll handle the tip: Sometimes it’s a dog-eat-dog world, and the rest of the time it’s the other way around. See you around, Ms. Malveux.”

The old man tips his felt visor and starts to shuffle off, a trench-coat knight whose gutter-gray mien sloughs off the comforting fantasies of black and white.

Caroline: Her grip on his arm is surprisingly strong as he tries to leave.

“And what about the next girl?” she asks, cuttingly. “Even if I’m so lost to you, do you think this will stop? That I’m the last to be drawn into this?”

Louis: So arrested, Lou doesn’t struggle, but nor does he turn to face his ‘client’.

“Spare me the crocodile waterworks. You can’t spout concern for the ‘next girl’ when she’s still on your midnight special menu.”

Caroline: “She might be if you leave me this way,” Caroline answers.

Louis: The old man remains still, an oil-spot on the collective conscious as he answers, “Oh, I thought your earlier reply a conversational door slam, Ms. Malveaux. Definitive.”

Caroline: Caroline has to remind herself that she needs Lou.

“It was a door slammed in the face of you dictating terms to me that you well know I can’t meet.”

Louis: Lou slides his bourbon gaze across the well-heeled patrons, then to the pale-fingered hand restraining him. “Care to sit down?”

Caroline: She looks around. “I’d rather we walked.”

Louis: Lou grunts with an acquiescing shrug. “A lady gets what she wants.”

Caroline: Caroline gathers her bag and leaves a crisp $100 bill on the table as she sets off into the dark with him.

“Only with a gentleman.”


Saturday night, 12 September 2015, PM

Louis: Lou slides behind Caroline, a grimy shadow. He scans the streets, knowing that the Big Sleazy neither sleeps nor succors the careless.

GM: Lou isn’t a private eye for nothing. He feels it like an invisible pressure against the back of his neck before he even sees the source. They’re being tailed.

The man is white. Average height, average build. Brown hair, brown eyes. Clean shaven, early 30s. Nondescript. Just another face in the crowd. He looks like he’s waiting for a taxi as he fiddles on his phone.

Louis: Lou files away the man’s appearance, checking it against his time-worn mental rolodex. Meanwhile, he shuffles up to Caroline, dragging out a cigarette. “Hey,” he calls out in a nonchalant manner, “you gotta light?”

As he approaches, however, he adds in a much quieter whisper, “We’ve got a tail at seven o’clock. Don’t look, but mind your tongue.”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t look, but can’t keep a scowl off her face. “You smell like cheap booze.”

Louis: Lou’s mock hurt has a thin veneer as he replies, “Heh, I was drinking good stuff tonight!”

Caroline: “I should put you through a car wash.”

Louis: Lou sniffs himself as he considers the offer.

Caroline: Under her breath she continues, “What do you want to do?”

GM: The man holds out his hand, signaling for a taxi. Both heiress and gumshoe sense it. The jig’s up. He knows they’ve spotted him.

Caroline: Caroline turns to watch at last.

GM: The cab pulls up. The man gets in.

“Take me to-”

It’s hard to make out the precise details from this far. But the look on the man’s face is rather priceless as the taxi’s doors lock closed.

“Where to?” asks the driver. But the question isn’t to the man. It’s to Lou, over his phone.

The man starts banging on the windows, his face upset.

Louis: “Might as well look now,” Lou grunts, still holding his coffin nail. “You’ve already slipped at least five glances his way already.”

Caroline: “I suppose I’m less given to deception than you,” she replies chilly.

Louis: The old man waggles his unlit cigarette impatiently in his prosthetic hook and grumbles something about the surgeon-general being a patsy of the anti-christ. Far, far less overtly, however, is the man’s rapid dialing of the cell of the cabbie—a cabbie he just happens to know and is owed a favor or two. Half-feigning a cough that doubles him over, the old man whispers an address to the cabbie. Slipping the phone away with equal subtlety, Lou straightens back up, more or less, and gives Caroline an appraising eye.

“You up for springing two cab fares to find out about our snoop?”

GM: Lou’s contact is Jacques “Jackie” Orleans, a square-jawed, stubbly-faced heterochromic ex-con from New Jersey who wears a leather jacket that smells of cigarette smoke. Relocated as part of the Witness Protection program for ratting out a mobster cellmate, the cab driver and self-proclaimed “tour guide of the Big Easy” (so long as the meter’s running) is supposed to wear a brown contact to cover his one blue eyes, but claims it itches fierce.

The cabbie gives Lou a grunt of acknowledgment as he walks up to the car. The agitated man in the passenger seat has his phone out and is shouting about calling the police if Jackie doesn’t let him go, right now. A stony glare from the grizzled detective, however, swiftly silences his objections.

If Caroline hails a second cab, Lou rides alongside her. If she does not, the preternaturally overlookable old man finds it more expedient (and cheaper) to get in on the passenger side of Jackie’s.

The cab winds down River Road. The Mississippi bends along one side of the curved, eponymous road that earns the district its nickname of “Riverbend.” This late at night, and this far from New Orleans’ downtown hub, Ol’ Muddy’s inky black waters aren’t disturbed by an uninterrupted spillage of light so much as a semi-concentrated cluster of white flecks, seemingly almost floating torches in the darkness.

Minutes tick by, and Carrollton’s low-storied, semi-urban sprawl fades away to rows of identical suburban houses.

The neighborhood, Elmwood, is a banal suburbia that seems stuck in the white flight of the ‘50s. Incomes, too, don’t seem to have increased much since Eisenhower’s presidency in the almost exclusively Caucasian neighborhood. The houses need just a little too much repair, the shopping center’s parking lot is a little too deserted, and the skinheads stalking the vandalized playgrounds just a little too angry. The Kindred have a name for places like this, too far removed from the city’s hustle and bustle and too thinly populated to be of any interest to them. The outlands.

Jackie takes a left at the Herrick’s supercenter. Bleak expanses of gray concrete asphalt and rows of cloned warehouses eventually yield to the Huey P. Long Bridge. Lou remembers the Kingfish’s slogan to “Share Our Wealth” and cannot help but wonder what Louisiana’s former governor would think of the community connected to the bridge that bears his name.

Elmwood, at least, once had hope. Bridge City does not look as if it has ever had that luxury. Where Elmwood had a high school, Lou only spots a barbed-wire, concrete-walled juvenile corrections facility with spotlights periodically flashing across the lawn. Garbage is piled in the yards of ruined, emptied houses. Gunshots occasionally echo in the distance. An unwashed-smelling black man wearing a torn hoodie thumps against the cab’s windows, chanting “got change, man! Change!” with a feral cast to his eye that Lou’s driver quickly speeds away from.

hey eventually pull into the driveway of a secluded and scarcely less sorry house. The roof sags, the grimy windows are smashed in, and black mold rots the walls. Garbage of every stripe litters the yard. Moldering cardboard boxes, raggedy clothes, grime-streaked plastic furniture, torn-up children’s toys, and assorted trash too useless or ignoble for even scavengers like Lou to want.

Pic.jpg
All things told, the place looks forgotten. As if whatever family was living there when Katrina struck simply never came back.

Lou is no stranger to such places. Bridge City has much of the Ninth Ward’s squalor, but there is a rage, a violence to the equally Katrina-devastated neighborhood that simply isn’t present here, or at least not to the same degree. Bridge City simply feels apathetic. It’s given up on the promises of a populist governor whose bridge connects it to a city that’s forgotten its existence.

Such fine distinctions of despair are lost on Caroline, however, who has never set foot within such a disreputable neighborhood. And if their prisoner’s face is any indication, he hasn’t either. The well-dressed, well-to-do Caucasian man’s face is pale with fear. As Lou approaches the cab’s passenger side, the man babbles, “What… what do you want? Money? I’ll give you money. Please. Whatever… whatever you want. Please!”

Caroline: Caroline all but turns up her nose at the run-down location and sends another text while she waits for Lou to take the lead.

Louis: The gray-haired gumshoe shuffles up to the cab-door only saddling in, all groans, bent limbs, dead cigarettes, and a rather menacing prosthetic hook that gleams in the dim light like it’s been filed. Sharply. A moment later, the same hook reaches across the seat in a swift lurch that plucks a stray hair from the other man’s coat.

“Chester,” the old man grunts. “You look like a Chester. Anyone ever tell you that? Sure did, loads, I bet.”

“So anyway, Chester, I went into this bar the other night, and all the boys are astir and yammering, right? So I go over to them and say, ’What’s the rumpus?’ My buddy, he answers, ’Chester’s gone to sit at the right hand of God, so long as God doesn’t mind looking at bullet holes’. Who shot him?’ I asked.”

GM: The man’s mouth trembles at the mention of shooting.

Louis: Lou leans in, the stink of cold, fresh booze on his breath. “And do you know what my buddy says, Chester?”

GM: “What… do you want?!” ‘Chester’ repeats, shrinking back.

Louis: Lou’s non-hook hand taps a side-holster, not missing a beat, as he continues. “My buddy, he just looks at me and says, ‘Somebody with a gun’. Now, do you think that’s funny, Chester?”

Caroline: Caroline watches the scene coldly, still dressed in the awkward garb he picked out for her. “And you say I’m a monster.”

GM: The man’s jaw works in numb silence, but it’s only for a moment. Lou can see the fear growing in his eyes. “What… do you… want!?” he repeats hysterically. He’s as pressed as far away from Lou in his seat as he can be.

Louis: Lou glances away towards Caroline and the cabbie. “I don’t think Chester liked my buddy’s joke.” He then turns back to the man. “I didn’t think it was funny, either, Chester. Not one bit. See, all I asked was a simple question. All I wanted was a simple answer, and instead I got a wise-mouth giving me sauce.”

He gives another half-stumble poke with his prosthetic. “See what I’m saying, Chester? I just have some questions, is all. And all I want are some answers.”

GM: Jackie shrugs and lights up a cigarette. “I thought it was funny. Or his face, anyways.”

“What… what do you want to know…?” the man stammers.

Caroline: Caroline glares at Jackie with a flinch. “Get rid of that.”

Louis: Lou chimes in, “Yeah, sorry, Jackie. Dame’s got the emphysema.”

GM: The heterochromiac cabbie initially scowls as if to tell Caroline to screw off, but at Lou’s request, the look turns less pissed and more resigned. “Fine. Aren’t s’posed to do it around passengers anyways.” He snubs it out.

Caroline: The tension in her shoulders doesn’t relax until the burning tobacco is snuffed out.

Louis: Lou gives an appreciative nod, muttering something about how her money spends just fine though, before turning back to pose the first of his questions to his new buddy, ‘Chester’.

GM: ‘Chester’ spins a story about who he works for, claiming it’s not for anybody, that he was just—but Lou isn’t buying it. He threatens to get rough. ‘Chester’ breaks down again. Lou can tell that he’s trying to guess this time, guess who could possibly be after Caroline. It still seems off to the seasoned PI. Someone who knew who they worked for would likely have a cover story. This man appears to be simply guessing.

Caroline presses down on his will with her Beast. His increasingly panicked protests cease as he sleepily recites that he has no idea who he works for. He remembers being approached by a tall African-American man who told him to follow Caroline’s movements and forget ever having this conversation.

Lou’s seen this tactic used all too many times. It’s easy for someone to fake innocence when they really don’t believe they’re guilty of anything.

Caroline’s Beast pulls out further answers. ‘Chester’ was to leave a written summary of Caroline’s movements at a dead drop site in the CBD.

That’s all he ever saw of his ‘employer’, and all the man ever told him.

“How the hell you make him calm down like that, lady…” Jackie mutters from the front seat, frowning.

Louis: Watching Caroline drill into ’Chester’s’ mind, Lou gets starts to get a three-gallon headache in a two-gallon skull. At Jackie’s query, Lou slips an unlit cigarette in his mouth and shrugs. “She’s one of them psychoanalyst shrinks, Jackie, what with the hypnosis that she could make a fish remember repressed memories of flying.”

GM: “Huh. No kiddin’? Guess shrinks come in all shapes’n sizes these days…”

Louis: Lou chuckles and passes Jackie a cigarette to replace the one the cabbie snubbed out earlier. “Or maybe just the right shapes and sizes these days,” he jeers.

GM: The expression mirrors the ex-con’s own as he slips the cig back into his own carton. “Sure is a shapely shrink. Heh. You got legs that go on longer’n some of my buddies’ criminal records.”

Caroline: “I’m flattered,” she replies, not quite rolling her eyes. The Ventrue turns back to Lou. “This is a dead end for me.”

GM: “Hey, doc, don’t you need one ’em, what are they called, swingy-watches?” Jackie asks, snapping his fingers as if to summon the word for ‘pendulum’.

Louis: Lou leans forward as if to whisper into the cabbie’s ear. “Normally, sure,” he says, “but I slipped him a roofie back when I was distracting him with my little joke.”

GM: “Ahh,” Jackie nods thoughtfully. “Y’know, wasn’t ever sure why they need ‘em. Can’t do that ‘look deep into my eyes’ hocus-pocus if you’re staring at the watch, right?”

Caroline: Caroline offers no comment as to his blissful ignorance. “Lou. What are you doing with this one?” She gestures to ‘Chester.’

GM: The man stares ahead sleepily.

Louis: “Just another shell game, just another racket,” Lou says, seemingly in answer to everyone and no one in particular. He then turns to Caroline. “After you pay our good man here, Jackie and I will drop him off at the CBD, where I’ll watch the drop site for a bit and see what I can rustle up for you.”

Caroline: “Will you?” There’s a real question there.

Louis: Lou sucks on his dry coffin nail, like an undertaker deciding whether or not to seal his own box. “You know, you remind of this girl I once knew. Long time ago. She killed to get the dream she wanted, then found out it didn’t want her back.” He shrugs.

Caroline: “Must have been nice. To go through life dreaming.” She stares at him.

Louis: Lou’s next words slide from his lips like thumbtacks over flypaper. “Let’s just say I’ve got your number, and you’ve got mine.”

Caroline: “I’ll be waiting for your call in the real world.” She peels off two more slick hundred dollar bills and turns her gaze back to their captive.

“Forget he was here,” she growls, of Lou.

GM: ‘Chester’ blinks in sleepy half-comprehension.

Caroline: She slides up to him, close, past the body odor and filth, and slips the money into the inside his his coat pocket.

“Don’t keep a girl waiting too long.”

Louis: The old man runs a grizzled hand over his sore neck. He doesn’t, can’t face her.

Caroline: Tires crunch outside. “That’s my ride.”

Louis: Lou doesn’t look up as she leaves. He just stares inside to the burnt-out ruins of his heart.

You know what she’ll do to me. Beat my teeth out, then kick me in the stomach for mumbling.

GM: “Hey, doc,” Jackie calls with a wide grin of his stubble-lined jaw. “How about dinner at Lil’ Dizzy’s, you and me? I’ll take you to Angelo’s for dessert, then show you around the city. Jackie Orleans. I got the city’s name in my name, and I know her just as well. I’ll take you places you never even imagined.” His grin widens. “And I don’t only mean in New Orleans.”

Caroline: She rolls her eyes as she walks away.

“Down, boy,” she calls back.

Louis: Lou still doesn’t look up as he replies, “I’d be careful with that one. She’s a man-eater.”

It’s not entirely clear who he’s warning.

GM: Jackie rolls his mismatched eyes.

“No kiddin’. Shrinks.”

Louis: You know what she’ll do. Beat your teeth out, then kick you in the stomach for mumbling.


Saturday night, 12 September 2015, PM

GM: Jackie drives Lou and “Chester” back to the Central Business District. The man is terrified of the pair and veritably bolts out of the cab.

Louis: Lou shrugs. “Some guys just can’t take a joke.” He then slips Jackie a generous wad of cash–courtesy of Ms. Malveaux–exits the cab, and tips his fedora in parting. “As always, Jackie, it’s been a pleasure. See you around.”

GM: “You bet, Lou,” Jackie grins back at the detective. “Jackie Orleans. That’s my name. You need a ride around the city, you won’t do no better than the guy who got it for his name.”

Louis: The old gumshoe then turns up his trench coat, fingering the crudely cotton-stitched verve of Gran Bwa. Lou mutters a word to the old loa to shield him from ‘uninitiated’ eyes, even as he wills the half-dead blood in his veins to erase him from the public’s collective consciousness.

He cracks his neck, then sloughs down the street in shadowy pursuit of his tremulous quarry.

GM: ‘Chester’ seems to noticeably calm as goes to a convenience store and buys a pen, plastic bag, and notepad, which he sticks in his pockets. He then stops off at Domenica, a restaurant on the edge of the French Quarter that serves artisanal pizzas and other Italian dishes. Lou’s old bones can feel the heat of the ovens, and his old nose can smell warm, freshly-baked garlic bread, pizzas lathered with gooey melted cheese, and the tang of sweet tomato sauce. For once, though, his belly doesn’t rumble with hunger. He’s already eaten well tonight.

He makes his way past the checkered-cloth tables and follows his quarry into the bathroom, who has not stopped to order anything. ‘Chester’ goes into a stall. Lou hears the sound of scribbling. After a few minutes, the toilet flushes and the man walks out of the stall, not sparing Lou a backwards glance.

He stops to wash his hands, then moves to leave the bathroom.

Louis: Lou sees it coming with the purchase of the plastic bag. However, he lets the ‘drop’ happen, then goes into the stall just vacated by ‘Chester’. He then pulls out his own notepad, pen, and plastic evidence bag with water-tight seal. He uses the first two to write his own missive before sealing it the third and mailing his post through the porcelain express. Then, seeing no need to waste the opportunity, the old man slides down his slacks and noisily and noisomely voids his bowels of his recently imbibed booze, cheese fries, and steak. Several minutes later and several pounds lighter, Lou sends his second message.

Meanwhile, Lou reads the message ‘Chester’ left in the toilet’s water tank. Of course, he hadn’t used gloves to fish it out, or to leave his own replacement–and his wet, gloveless fingers conjure a bitter-sweet though of Millie.

Wonder how the bastard’s doing…

His thoughts, however, soon return to ’Chester’s’ message.

GM: Lou finds a plastic bag hidden, little to surprise, in the toilet cistern’s dirty water. Inside are several pages of written notes explaining, in detail, all of Caroline’s movements and activities that “Chester” was able to observe. Among other things, there was a car that went into Audubon Place that hasn’t come back out. Granted, there was more than one car which also did so, but the make of this car was significantly cheaper than the BMWs and Lamborghinis usually seen entering the exclusive gated community.

“Chester” also followed Autumn, as Lou had intended, though he didn’t do so for long. The ghoul’s long red hair obviously wasn’t Caroline’s.

Lou also finds a blank piece of paper along with “Chester’s” other notes. He dries (though doesn’t bother to wash) his hands of the dirty septic water and turns it over, but it’s blank on the other side too. Lou chews on that. Mentally compelled patsies only follow their controller’s literal instructions. “Chester’s” controller wanted him to leave that blank sheet. Lou re-reads and finds nothing of particular significance in the man’s other written observations. The blank paper has to be a prearranged signal of kind. Such as that something went wrong. That he was captured and made to talk.

Louis: Lou regards the blank note like it’s a sleeping cottonmouth–and clearly reads the note’s second message: These waters are dangerous. Swim at your own peril. He eventually grunts, disposes of both notes from ‘Chester’, then alters his replacement letter in key places before dropping it back in the tank.

“He’s a cagey SOB, I’ll give him that.”

In Lou’s forgery, he changes a few details. He calls Chica on his bedazzled burner for some help, but she’s still pissy at him for being a “stupid-ass drunk cracker” (or maybe she’s just skipped her meds; it’s hard to tell). After massaging his abused ear, he returns to his ‘alternative truths’ by altering the make and model of the car and the description of its driver so it implies, subtly he hopes, that Caroline was visited by Mélissaire, Savoy’s own herald.

GM: “Oh, I don’t fuckin’ know, prob’ly somethin’ flashy like a Dodge Viper or Aventador,” Chica snaps into Lou’s ear. “In red. Like what my eyes are seein’, right now. An’ like my hands are gonna be covered when I see you next, Mr. ’I’m-a-pathetic-drunk.’ Go fuck yo ass-crack with a ruler.”

Louis: “Love you too,” he mumbles as the line dies. After massaging his abused ear, he returns to his ‘alternative truths’ by altering the make and model of the car and the description of its driver so it implies, subtly he hopes, that Caroline was visited by Mélissaire, Savoy’s own herald.

Time to poison the waterhole.

He naturally leaves out any mention of himself or the body double disguise. But then, as if almost an afterthought, he scrawls in red ink a message in tight block letters on a blank page.

SHE MINDFUCKED YOUR STOOGE. CALL ME IF YOU WANT HELP. YOU’LL NEED IT.

He then jots down his burner’s number. He seals both notes back in the bag and drops it in the tank before he can change his mind. Instead, he settles for buckling his trousers and lighting up a cigarette. He stares at the gold-plated lighter and its salutations from his former partner. His ugly reflection stares back.

“What do you what?” he asks the refection only half-sardonically.

Its only reply is the mouthed mimicry of his next words as he swears underneath his breath, “Cagaste y saltaste en la caca!”

With that final vote of confidence, Lou leaves the stall, and wearily resumes another night’s vigil.


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Story Four, Caroline I, Louis I

“I guess you gave up on winning and settled for losing more slowly.”
Louis Fontaine


Friday night, 11 September 2015, AM

GM: Aimee retires to a sleep that seems sure to be anything but restful. Caroline seeks out her other ghoul. Autumn has fallen almost asleep on a couch downstairs. She’s washed off the blood and bile from several hours ago and is wearing a different shirt. One of Caroline’s, actually, and it hangs loosely on her shorter frame.

She sits up and rubs her forehead as her domitor approaches. When asked as to the state of the house’s bugs, she groggily answers, “They’re disabled. The ones I planted, anyways. Maybe the Krewe sent other people, but if they did I haven’t seen any trace.”

“Also… one other thing, about boons. A lot of Kindred actually owe major ones,” Autumn explains. “They don’t see it as ‘mortaging their futures’. That’s more like a blood boon.” The ghoul raises her hands. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m really, really grateful for what you did. Agnello would’ve killed me. ‘Thanks’ feels pretty inadequate for that, but… seriously, thanks. I can be useful. You won’t regret it.”

“Anyway, I’m just saying that owing Harlequin a debt that big isn’t as bad, or as rare, as you might think. He owes boons too.”

Caroline: “So I gathered,” Caroline replies. “Though usually Kindred don’t offer them up willingly to elders who make no secret of their distaste.”

She stiffly moves to a chair. Her body doesn’t hurt from the evening’s ordeals or her earlier scuffle with the ghoul. But she feels tired, all the same. Her hunger is still there, roaring in the back of her mind. The headaches facing her only continue to grow.

“Though,” she continues after a moment, “I suppose that should be one of the least of my concerns.” She smiles bitterly. “Worry about the payment on the house when it isn’t on fire.”

GM: “I guess so,” agrees Autumn.

“Also, about that. Turner’s heard too much. She saw Aimee shouting that I’d electrocuted her, heard her raving about ‘the Court’, and then go from totally losing it to quiet as a mouse. It’s… really suspicious. If you can’t erase her memories, you’ll need to ghoul her.”

Caroline: “Turner,” she murmurs as the conversation moves away.

“Is that the Krewe’s normal MO in these situations?”

GM: “Well, this wasn’t a direct breach. But the Krewe’s MO isn’t just to clean up problems as they happen. You nip all potential ones in the bud too. The Krewe grills that into us from day one. Ounce of prevention, pound of cure, and all that.”

“Besides, Turner can’t really do her job if she doesn’t know anything about the threats she’ll be protecting you from. What do you bet the odds are she’ll get sucked into the all-night society if she’s following you around everywhere, anyways?”

Caroline: “Not tonight,” she agrees in part. “I don’t have it in me if it goes sideways.”

How quickly she’s accepted dragging others down this path. No wonder Lou lives alone in his office—the only way to keep people safe.

That isn’t the way for her, though. Pride, that most immortal of sins, wins out over selflessness. In truth, she could probably make it work tonight if she really wanted to. Healing McGinn’s whipping and Autumn’s stun gun took a lot out of her, but she could take a tap off from Turner and feed it back. It is so much easier to justify these compromises when she has Aimee and Autumn to consider.

“Tomorrow might; after I’ve had a chance to feed.”

Turner. What’s one more on this ride down the road to hell?

GM: Autumn initially looks as if she’s going to object to putting off Turner. She doesn’t. It’s been a long night. Caroline can see the exhaustion in her eyes.

So she nods, then asks in a hesitant voice, “So… how often are you going to need me?”

Caroline: “Need you in what regard?”

GM: “Well, to do things for you. I mean, I have school, a job, my family… it’d be easier to plan my life if I knew when you’re gonna need me.” After thinking for a moment, she adds, “And what you’ll need me for, I guess. When I worked for the Krewe, I pretty much just went to school, kept an eye out for Masquerade threats at the student paper, and did the occasional stake-out or other job. So… how’s this gonna work?”

Caroline: She chews on Autumn’s last question. How much is too much? A petty, vicious, hurt part of her wants to lash out, to scream that after tonight she practically owns Autumn. But even now, even screaming, it is a small voice next to the woman’s laughter and the thought of her life. Still…

“I’m going to lean heavily on you this week—and likely more heavily than the Krewe thereafter. If something has to give, call it the job, but use your own discretion.”

GM: “All right,” says Autumn. If she’s apprehensive about giving up her job, she doesn’t say anything. Caroline doesn’t practically own her. Caroline does own her.

Caroline: “First I need you to help get Aimee—and Turner—up to speed. The more quickly you can do so, the more responsibility you can pass off to them.” She looks the ghoul down sharply. “And make no mistake, that’s going to take work. Aimee is… stubborn.” She thinks to the firearm she’s since taken apart and stored somewhere secure. Somewhere else. Aimee isn’t going to have access to the guns in the house anymore.

“It may be better to wait on pushing her until… later.”

GM: “Uh, you might want to talk to her before I do,” says Autumn. “I don’t think I’m gonna get a very friendly reception after tasering her out and everything else just a few hours ago.”

Caroline: “I also need you to do some snooping for me.” She describes the attack on her at Southern Decadence and tells Autumn to check out the coroner’s office. “See what you can find out, if anything, about past cases that match the MO.”

She pauses. “And he struck at sundown. I won’t keep you all night, but I’ll have some business to attend.”

She pauses for a moment to gauge Autumn’s reaction.

GM: She nods at the instructions to scope out the coroner’s office. “Okay, I can do that.”

Caroline: Another thought creeps unbidden into her mind, and her expression softens. “You mentioned the Krewe was financially supporting you. No doubt they will begin cutting their ties. Let me know when it happens, and of whatever you need. I know this will be a rough adjustment, but I’d like it to be as smooth as possible.”

GM: Autumn initially grimaces, then nods in seeming relief.

“They did help out,” the ghoul replies. “A lot, actually, though it probably isn’t a lot to you. I guess we could even think of it as a salary.”

She pauses. “Thanks.”

Caroline: It’s a small thing.

But it’s a lot to Autumn.

“I won’t let this destroy your life.”


Friday evening, 11 September 2015

GM: There’s one benefit to no longer needing to hide her true nature from Aimee. Caroline spends her first night in a real bed… or something closer to one. She brings up pillows, blankets, and bedding to the attic: Autumn judged her bedroom curtains insufficiently thick to block out the sun. The ghoul floats the ideas of buying some custom extra-thick ones.

Caroline sleeps like a dead woman. She wakes up. Aimee is gone, along with many of her things. The reluctant ghoul has left a voice message on Caroline’s phone that she’s moving out. She “needs space.” She’s also afraid that “other vampires” might show up at the house, and she has no intention of being around when they do.

Caroline: Everything still hurts, but nothing so much as the hunger eating at her. She dresses quickly as she contemplates where to start. Aimee’s departure is a headache—she needs to run her down at some point—but she needs something more first.

And she needs to do something else before that. She dials Wright’s number with the provided burner.

GM: He picks up. She can just picture the look on the hound’s face as he says, “This is gonna be fuckin’ rich.”

Caroline: Caroline bites back an instinctively biting response to the hound. Polite, she thinks.

“Good evening, Hound Wright.” She keeps her tone polite. “Should I presume you heard then of last night’s events?”

GM: “You bet I did,” he answers.

Caroline: She explains in as much detail as he requires, before moving onto the next order of business.

“I gather that I have been rather a headache over the last week—I hope to correct that. Is there anything you need of me presently?”

GM: Wright listens patiently to Caroline’s summary of last night’s events. It might just be her imagination that the hound seems particularly quiet at the mention of her new ghouls.

“Heard you made my bud’s job harder,” Wright finally grunts, “so I guess we gonna see.”

“You better have a better gameplan for tonight than gettin’ cold feet ‘round Gutterball Elgin. Clock’s tickin’, girl. The sheriff ain’t givin’ you forever to find your sire.”

Caroline: “I’m going to follow up on some medical records, need to speak with some individuals Father Malveaux recommended, and haven’t given up on other means,” Caroline explains. “Matters last night complicated things, but it is not my intention to take advantage of the sheriff’s stay.”

GM: “You know what intentions count for by now,” Wright answers.

Caroline: That she does.

GM: The hound hangs up.


Friday evening, 11 September 2015

Caroline: The smell of Autumn is enticing. Fresh. Young. Academic. That bestial part of her can barely resist leaping upon her. No protracted seduction, no back alley stalking, just a short and brutal assault in her own home. It would be so easy.

She resists the urge. Autumn is her responsibility, not her victim. Instead she recruits the woman into her cause, setting off with her to the meager hunting grounds her regent has allowed her. She needs a victim, needs the blood, and not only for herself. She’s a danger to others, to her ghouls, and to the Masquerade.

GM: There aren’t a lot of bars left in Riverbend that Caroline hasn’t already visited or aren’t off-limits for her to hunt at. After some searching, she settles on a place called Madigan’s Bar and hails a cab. An underpaid, weary-looking Ryde driver takes them to the drinking establishment. The lights are dim, the conversations low, the patrons quiet and sullen towards non-regulars. The place is as dead as its nonexistent online presence. Caroline and Autumn get shot down several times before attaching themselves to a loud college student who gets it into his head that he’ll be able to fuck both of them at once because he’s the best game in town. Why he’s here instead of a college bar closer to Tulane, Caroline isn’t sure. The Ventrue is by now sick of bathroom liaisons, and the three make their way to the young man’s car, his hands never far from their asses. Autumn stands watch to deter any onlookers who might notice the thrashing bodies and noisy slurping noises from inside the car.

Caroline: She makes her move quickly when she spots the boy. Autumn at her side, a waiting car outside, silky promises. It makes her feel hollow and empty. Her maw yawns wide. Ravaged flesh, ravaged lips, groping hands. It has no meaning, so it can’t hurt her. At least that’s what she tells herself. It works in part.

The ride back in another Ryde is quiet. Caroline works her phone, sending out texts to Aimee and others requesting that she join them at home. She studies Autumn, examining the woman’s reaction to the night’s events thus far. As needed, she probes with questions.

GM: Autumn seems moderately uncomfortable over the boy’s sexual attention, but glad to have helped out her domitor and to feel like part of the hunt. She also thinks the boy deserved it.

Caroline: Back at home, Caroline is fairly quick to business reopening a wound on her wrist—one Autumn used the night before in fact—for the ghoul. The almost business-like quality of the action only underscores how the house, a week ago the sanctuary of two successful young law students, has since forfeited all sense of tranquility and peace. In truth, even Caroline no longer feels safe here. She can’t fault Aimee for her flight, aggravating as it is.

She bids Autumn to drink once more, tying the woman to her more tightly.

GM: Autumn stares longingly at Caroline’s wrist, then falteringly insists, “I shouldn’t… you’re running low as it is, and I’m already good for the month…”

Caroline isn’t buying it. When the Ventrue presses the point, she relents, “Look, in the Krewe… we aren’t collared to any one lick. Harlequin’s in charge of the Krewe, sure, but other licks ponied up their own renfields and resources to found it, and they didn’t want him in total control. We drink a mix of every Krewe member’s blood, twice when we join, then once a month. The other ghouls, they’re not like us. They’re slaves. Their domitors don’t even trust them to do their jobs unless they’re fully collared.”

Autumn’s voice wavers as she pleads, eyes still cutting back and forth from Caroline’s face to her sweetly bleeding wrist, “Look, I… I know how this works. You bought me, fair and square. I’ll do whatever you say. Other licks all know I’m yours. You’re my only source for a fix. I’m not gonna run off or anything. My family’s in town, I couldn’t do that even if I wanted to. And I’m not asking you to take me on faith. The Krewe doesn’t do it, and it works for them.”

Fear is naked and plain on the ghoul’s face.

Caroline: “You’re asking a great deal.” Carolina’s tone is as cold as her undead heart—that is to say filled with fresh blood as it is right now at best lukewarm. “Especially since you are bound to the Krewe as it stands, and since unlike an anonymous ghoul working for them, you are going to be very much exposed, and privy to damaging information.”

She pauses. Principle and practicality war inside. To enslave her, make her a servant, a worshiper. To risk everything and betrayal by letting her run relatively free. It’s wrong, unequivocally wrong. But the stakes here are so very high.

“Do you have an alternative to propose?”

GM: Autumn shrugs helplessly. “My collar to the Krewe will wear off, if I don’t keep drinking from them every month. Don’t… you want someone you can just trust and be honest with? No Masquerade, no mind control?”

Caroline: Caroline’s emerald eyes are as hard as the gems. Pain, fatigue, hunger. Spiritual and psychological maiming. A confidant? Someone like Aimee… Aimee who is near adrift, who she has to enslave. Aimee who she still needs to…

GM: Autumn continues, quietly, “Wouldn’t you rather have a friend than a slave?”

Caroline: She knows what the answer is in her heart. She also knows what the answer would be if she asked Father Malveaux. And God?

GM: Caroline remembers walking into St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the sensation of wanting to wretch without even having the bodily fluids to expel. How her heart tried to hammer and couldn’t. How she was sick to her very soul. Jocelyn’s words that some Kindred even burst into flames. God, if He’s there at all, seems to have little love for her kind.

Caroline: Caroline holds up her arm as the blood continues to flow, shifting it to running up her forearm. A friend.

Her tone changes. It’s more conversational now. The Beast slips out through her smile, its will filling her voice with soothing, comfortable tones. Autumn can trust her. Confide in her.

“You aren’t still working for Harlequin, are you, Autumn?”

GM: “No, of course not!” the shiny-eyed ghoul answers, shaking her head. “He kicked me out. He’s done with me. He doesn’t care about me, not like you do.”

Caroline: “So I’m the only person you work for?” Caroline presses. “You aren’t spying on me for any other Kindred? You’re not taking blood from anyone else?”

GM: Autumn shakes her head again. “No, just you. And no, I’m not. You’re the only lick I work for.”

Caroline: She releases her mental hold over the ghoul with a meaningless breath.

Truth? Probably. It may also be that her powers are not strong enough to ferret out deception. But she wants to believe it is true.

“It’s what I would have done,” she gives as a means of answer. “Slip in someone. I wanted to be as certain as I could.”

“I influenced your mind before I asked those questions.” The pause might normally be broken by a sip of a drink, but that would end badly. “Two steps, but no further. For now.”

GM: Confusion is evident on Autumn’s face for a moment. Her breath stills as fear rather than earnestness returns to her gaze, then gives way to some measure of relief… tempered by healthy apprehension.

“Thanks,” Autumn says slowly. “You won’t regret it.”

She accepts her domitor’s arm and drinks deeply, with all the relief of a junkie scoring a hit after a bad day. When Caroline tells her that’s enough, she licks the fang puncture marks clean. Adoration shines in her eyes. It fades as the hit’s rush wears off, but the Ventrue can feel her servant’s gaze lingering.

Caroline: “I know,” Caroline replies mildly as her servant drinks from her.

One way or another.


Friday evening, 11 September 2015

GM: Autumn has more news for Caroline. The man in charge of the coroner’s office, Amos Wilkinson, had evidently suffered some kind of personal tragedy and was taking time off. Things were a mess at the office, but the overworked and impatient staff was still very clear that Autumn needed to be next of kin to obtain a coroner’s report, or no report. Lacking Caroline’s powers over minds, the ghoul simply stole a photocopy. She wasn’t spotted.

Caroline flips through field after field of mundane information on the form. Sex: Female. Race: Caucasian. DOB: June 13th, 1996. Age: 19. Hgt: 66 in. Wgt: 135 lbs. Eyes: Unknown.

Yes. Those would have been unknown.

Neil already told her the gory details. The coroner’s report simply provides more of both. More pertinently to Caroline’s investigations is the fact that the girl (a tourist and college student named Rachel Krasinski) had two parents, an Andrew Krasinski and Megan Krasinski, who are still staying in New Orleans. Autumn also found out through some further snooping that an NOPD detective has been at least nominally put on the case.

A legal bill has also arrived from Denise. Caroline’s former boss has included a separate note wishing her well and stating that she’s still open for lunch at Cafe du Monde anytime Caroline is free.

There’s some other news, too, not from Autumn. Richard Gettis is dead! Caroline reads it on her news feeds. Luke’s sent her a text about it. So has Neil. Carson has left a phone message. After an almost two-week manhunt, the ex-detective was killed in a shootout with NOPD officers attempting to bring him in. He refused to go quietly. He’d even refused to stop presenting himself as an NOPD officer—there are reports about him visiting Tulane Medical Center, where he arrested a patient named Emmett Delacroix. (After some headache for the NOPD, Emmett was re-arrested by proper authorities.) The Whitneys were outraged when that came out. Gettis in the same building as their Sarah.

Carson thinks Gettis’ death is a good thing. It’ll spare the Devillers and Whitneys from the ordeal of a public trial and media circus. There’s no possibility of Gettis ever getting released from prison. The whole thing is just done. The girls and their families can stop stressing about Richard Gettis and move on with their lives. The superintendent might even keep his job.

But that may be cold comfort for the Whitney family. Neil says the doctors decided to take Sarah out of her medically induced coma. She still hasn’t woken up.

Caroline: Caroline writes a pair of rather large checks by conventional standards—for both Aimee and Denise—and makes a note of the detective’s name and forwards it to Denise as another point of interest.

The news of Gettis’ death stirs a number of emotions. But she concurs with her uncle. Good riddance. She’s glad the girls and their families now have that measure of peace and closure—cold comfort that it may indeed be for the Whitneys. If she’d just done a better job, worked Sarah before Yvonne…

She lets the regretful thoughts die. She has problems enough to deal with.

GM: Autumn asks what Caroline is writing her friend a check for, and adds that she could probably look into this guy too if the Ventrue wants.

Caroline: “Mundane investigations.” Caroline brushes off the question. “And there are much better uses of your time. Tell me, did the Krewe to your knowledge ever investigate my sire?”

GM: “I don’t know, sorry. They didn’t tell me about it if they did. And they only told me what I needed to do my job at Tulane.”

Caroline: Caroline nods, running through her mental checklist for the night. Aimee. Marco. School. Her family. Too many uncomfortable questions have been piling up. Too many fires and not enough fire hoses.

She looks over ‘her’ ghoul, trying to judge how close she is to exhaustion.

GM: After a full day away from Caroline, Autumn looks relatively well. There are bags under her eyes, perhaps from little sleep, but she is no longer caked in her own blood and bile.

Caroline: “I had an… unfortunate… no, I mauled a woman last night.” She gives Autumn the address. “I’d like you to follow up, try to ensure it isn’t going to balloon into a problem. Once you have, go home. See your family. Get some sleep.”

The first step in repentance is admission of one’s sins, wholly and honestly. She gives out as many details as Autumn requires.

GM: Autumn asks a few follow-up questions and affirms Caroline’s belief that checking on the woman is the responsible thing to do so far as maintaining the Masquerade is concerned. The ghoul doesn’t voice any further judgment over the savage home invasion.

“So if she’s just lying in a hospital bed, is there anything else you want me to do, or leave it at that?”

Caroline: “Get her information, that of her son.” The shame of the whole affair is clear in her face. “Make sure she is going to recover.” She pauses at the look on the woman’s face. “It wasn’t supposed to happen that way.”

GM: “I guess it never does,” Autumn answers quietly.

“But at least you care. That’s something.”

Caroline: “When things settle, I’ll do what I can.” The last bit is almost wistful.


Friday evening, 11 September 2015

Caroline: Caroline finally broaches the topic of Turner with Autumn. “In your estimation, what is the best way to broach the subject?” She smiles disarmingly. “Does one typically extend an offer, or simply drag others in?”

She digs out the dossier on Turner that Blackwatch provided, to aid in the anticipated ‘job offer’ while she waits to hear back from Aimee, or for her roommate to arrive as the text requested.

GM: Turner responds in a timely manner to her employer, saying she will be at Caroline’s address in Audubon Place soon.

Aimee responds no, she’s feeling sick. She felt light-headed all throughout the day and just gave out when she was moving boxes. She’s taking it easy and eating a lot of scrambled eggs with cheese.

You wouldn’t know anything about why I’m sick, would you? There’s lots of gaps in my memory, her text ends.

Autumn, meanwhile, advises Caroline to “frame it like a job offer. Don’t just tell Turner that vampires are real and she should drink your blood, or she’ll think you’re crazy. Give her a demonstration of what the Blood can do. I bet any merc would kill for a strength boost or healing factor like that. Then show her the other stuff. Your fangs, your disciplines. Let her actually see it’s real. Then explain what it all means, and say she can be part of our world and live forever. Or she can turn you down and not remember any of this.”

The ghoul pauses. “And yeah, you’ll… be better off if you really mean that. If Turner isn’t going to say yes, she probably won’t be very reliable anyway. Bond or not. Renfields who get dragged into this life against their will turn out…” she pauses again.

“…well, like Aimee.”

Caroline: “That’s why I brought you out tonight,” Caroline replies just a quietly. “You should see, and should understand fully, personally, the price of all of this. The suffering in your every drink.”

GM: “I do understand. It’s the Krewe’s job to clean all the messes up,” Autumn answers, her voice as quiet as Caroline’s.

Caroline: “There has to be a better way than this.”

GM: Autumn gives an almost helpless shrug.

“Maybe if they manage to clone human blood someday. I hear some scientists and a famous chef recently ate cloned meat, but it cost a ton of money.”

Caroline: “Do the others just rampage about in the night every night?”

GM: The ghoul shakes her head. “They usually go for more subtlety. And all the elders have herds or tenants who pay rent in blood. I don’t think I’ve ever cleaned up for an elder. Some have ghouls who go hunting for them, too.”

Autumn pauses, then adds, “That’s not what I’m good at, though. Those guys, girls too, are usually either sex bombs or the kinds of creeps responsible for missing kids.”

Caroline: “Tell me about herds.”

GM: “Well, they’re basically ordinary people who let licks feed from them. Though not all are consensual. I hear that some licks have their hands in human trafficking. Either way, herds don’t fight back, and the licks who own them have an easier time feeding.”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t quite shiver—she’s too worldly for that, not to mention dead—but the human trafficking clearly makes her uncomfortable.

“How is that not a violation of the Masquerade?” She clarifies, “To have free-floating mortals that allow themselves to be fed upon.”

GM: “It… depends. Lots of them don’t actually know they’re being fed on by a vampire. Maybe they’re a circle of kinky clubbers. Some of them do know, but just can’t do anything about it. Like trafficking victims chained up in a basement.”

“I guess saying they let themselves be fed on isn’t accurate. They just don’t resist. I hear that a lot of them are mind controlled. I hear there’s one lick whose herd are all girls he ‘dates’, and feeds on during sex. The kiss also helps, even for licks who can’t erase memories. It’s addictive.” She adds, “Or supposed to be, anyway. I haven’t had any personal experience there.”

Caroline: Caroline frowns, then shakes her head, clearly frustrated by the answer.

“I’ve kept you long enough tonight.”

GM: “Okay. I’ll call you when I have something for…” Autumn trails off. “Well, I guess their names will be the first thing to find out.”


Friday night, 11 September 2015, PM

GM: “You wanted to see me, ma’am?”

Turner.jpg
Lean, fearless, angry. Three words to define 164 lbs of fury wrapped in the shell of a woman. Lean toned body, a face that would be beautiful without the scars, short dark hair, Blackwatch uniform exchanged for a black pantsuit. The swagger of someone confident in their ability to fight anyone, anytime, anywhere. The quick, considering eyes that take in everything and nothing.

Caroline: “Have a seat,” Caroline offers easily.

GM: The bodyguard sits expectantly.

Caroline: It’s late, but not so very much so. The curtains are closed, and the devastated room is illuminated by only overhead lights, the others having been devastated by Wright’s band of thugs.

Caroline’s chair, taken from the remains of the dining room set, is carved rosewood that itself bears scuffs and blemishes of the indiscriminate smashing of furniture. Another in similar condition has been dragged in alongside a black marble side table that proved more resistant to the raid.

GM: Turner seems little fazed by the room’s present condition. It could well be why she has her job.

Caroline: Is there a slight pause before Caroline speaks? If so, it is only slight. She’s had time to consider this course, to set aside her concerns and smoother her conscience. Right and wrong, good and evil, poison.

They float aside in favor of her new responsibilities. She’s a Catholic. Man is fallible, and unholy monsters more so. When this is done, when the conflagration around her doors burns not so bright, she will atone. For now she will set aside her own soul for those already dragged into this firestorm.

“Miss Turner, no doubt you’ve seen some of the irregularities over the last few nights.” Her tone is easy and conversational.

GM: “Blackwatch doesn’t pay me to ask questions, ma’am,” the bodyguard answers frankly. “Neither do you.”

Caroline: Caroline smiles. “Curiosity killed the cat, then?”

GM: “A paycheck did, ma’am,” Turner responds humorlessly.

Caroline: “What if I told you that it shouldn’t? What if I told you that curiosity could bring you more than you ever imagined?”

The room is dimly illuminated without all the furnishings. Caroline is dressed in a crimson top with tight black pants that make her so-pale hands and face stand out.

“I didn’t draw your name out of a hat, you know. "

GM: “Is there something sensitive you want to tell me for my job, ma’am?” Turner asks. Her tone’s frank edge has somewhat dulled, however. There’s a growing… something in her eyes.

Caroline: Caroline’s teeth flash in such a very predatory way, for just an instant, then she is moving impossibly quickly. One moment she is sitting so casually. The next standing beside the solider of fortune.

“You could say that.”

GM: Turner blinks disbelievingly.

“The hell did you do that, ma’am?”

Caroline: Caroline laughs only a little cruelly. “That was very much my own thought at first. Have you really never seen its like before?”

GM: The initial tinge of fear Turner’s voice is still present, but there’s a note of anger too. The ex-Marine does not like being the helpless one.

“Not from a little girl like you, ma’am.”

Caroline: “The world is a different place than I’d imagined, Ms. Turner. A darker and more vicious place. The monsters under our beds were real. Are real. Are sometimes closer than we realize.”

She takes another too-quick step away. “I’d like to pull back the veil for you, if you’re willing.” Another smile. “So tell me, are you curious?”

“This is an invitation, Ms. Turner. An invitation to power you may have dreamed of, to immortality of a sort, and to seeing with both eyes open. But only an invitation.”

GM: Turner’s eyes follow Caroline’s feet. The bodyguard’s jaw clenches at the sight, and Caroline’s acute senses can smell her perspiration, hear her heart pumping in her chest.

“The hell are you talking about, ‘immortality’?”

The ’ma’am’ is finally absent.

Caroline: “Why don’t you find out?” She gestures to the woman’s left shoulder, where she knows she keeps a firearm.

GM: Turner looks as if she’s going to ask whether Caroline is serious, but it’s only for a moment. The ex-Marine pulls out her silence-capped Belgian, aims the weapon at Caroline’s own shoulder, and pulls the trigger.

Caroline: Caroline clenches her teeth when the weapon goes off. Whether it can truly maim her or not, getting shot still hurts.

GM: Little blood flows from the wound, and Caroline merely winces where a mortal might stagger or collapse.

“Vest,” Turner says reflexively.

Caroline: Caroline arches an eyebrow. There is little room for such a thing under her light top. She advances on Turner.

“Why don’t you check?”

GM: Turner grabs the collar of Caroline’s blouse and tears, exposing the blunted, bullet-shaped bruise over her pale skin.

“How?” she asks heavily.

Caroline: Caroline smiles again, inches from the other woman, exposing teeth that are so very long and sharp.

“You seem intrigued, Ms. Turner. Are you interested now?”

GM: “How?!” the merc repeats, her eyes bulging at the canines.

Caroline: “You already know,” Caroline responds evenly. “You can see it, but you have to accept it.” That smile. “Have you ever seen me during the day, Ms. Turner?”

GM: Turner looks like she’s been punched. “You’re fuckin’ shitting me.”

Caroline: “Your lying eyes. Or do you need another demonstration? I confess, I’m running out of parlor tricks. After this it gets more personal.”

GM: “Why. Why me,” Turner says flatly. “Why are you telling me any of this?”

Caroline: “Because you’re good at your job. Few family connections. Experienced. Professional.”

GM: “Why tell anyone this,” the mercenary numbly half-repeats.

Caroline: “Because you might enjoy it, which is not the case for everyone. In simple terms, I’m offering to extend your employment to another degree. In short, my kind can extend a degree of grace to another. The particulars are… well, particular. But you would be more resilient, stronger or faster, and may develop other gifts as well. And you’d never age. Your life would otherwise be very similar to it is now, save that some of,” she pauses and smiles to correct herself, “most of the threats would be a magnitude greater than you have seen. My kind, their servants of a like bearing, and similar… unnatural dangers. Because I need talented people around me, and I’d rather ask than take. Because it would set you apart from the mundane.”

GM: “Show me,” Turner demands, almost angrily. “You really drink…”

Caroline: “Yes,” Caroline replies evenly. Almost too evenly. She’s rehearsed this. “I do.”

GM: “Show me.”

Caroline: Caroline breathes in a whiff of the soldier of fortune loudly.

GM: “Show me,” Turner stubbornly repeats.

Caroline: Caroline wrinkles her nose. “And if I do? You aren’t really my type.”

GM: Turner is too young and fit for a vein to throb in her temple, but one looks as if it could.

“Just. Show me.”

Caroline: Caroline sighs. “Try to relax. Some people enjoy it. At least one of us might.”

She leans in, closing the distance between them, teeth neared for the woman’s throat. The gentle kiss.

GM: The mercenary’s blood tastes flat and unsatisfying on Caroline’s tongue, like tofu leeched of all flavor. Turner stifles a gasp, her cheeks reddening. Caroline pulls back, not licking the wound. Turner dazedly recovers, her mind reeling from the sudden shift between mind-shattering revelation and ecstatic pleasure.

She runs a finger over her neck, drawing blood.

“What do you mean by… grace,” she says slowly.

Caroline: Caroline swallows and tries to keep the distaste that fills her mouth off her face.

“In simple terms, I mean you consuming my blood with some regularity.”

GM: Turner looks at the blood on her finger, then up at Caroline. “And that lets me do the things you do.”

Caroline: “Some of them. The blood touches each in its own way.”

GM: “And I’d be like you. Hunting people for their blood.”

Caroline: “No, you’d be another order of being. You’d eat normal food, walk in the sun. You’d just be… more.”

GM: Turner looks down at the blood again. “And if I’m not interested in your offer?”

Caroline: “Then we never had this conversation.”

GM: “You’d just let me walk,” the merc says flatly.

Caroline: “What use do I have for an employee that hates me? Or did you think I was going to callously try to murder you in my dining room?”

GM: “Walk, when I’ve heard all of this,” Turner repeats skeptically. “How many of you are there? How many people know? Why doesn’t the world?”

Caroline: “We’ll have never had this conversation, so far as you are concerned. As to those other questions, I’m afraid they’ll have to wait. But yes, you’ll walk.”

GM: Turner looks at her for a moment, then says, “Tell me about these ‘threats’, that I’d face. If I take you up.”

Caroline: “It varies. Others of my kind, other servants of them. Some just thugs with power, others more professional. Perhaps more exotic monsters, though I doubt it. Mortals—of every nominal flavor, from bikers, to gangs, to overly curious private groups. I won’t lie, it is dangerous work, or at least potentially so.”

GM: “And in exchange I get to be as tough as you and live forever.” Turner chews that over. There’s still wariness in her slate-gray eyes, but Caroline can see something else too. Not quite excitement. Too disconnected, somehow, for that. More like hunger.

“I want a raise too.”

Caroline: Caroline grins emptily. So disconnected. A face she had to wear. She brings a thin wrist up to her fangs and breaks the skin. She extends it to Turner, blood welling.

“Welcome to eternity.”


Friday night, 11 September 2015, PM

Caroline: Caroline falls onto a tried and true method for Coco as she contemplates Turner and Aimee. She pens a short, polite letter, drawing on any information Autumn has on Coco and her past.

GM: Autumn knows that Coco is the primogen for Clan Brujah and fought in the French Revolution. She has two childer, Micheal Kelly and Roderick Durant. Micheal is an ancilla. Roderick is a neonate not much older than Caroline. Beyond those basics, Autumn doesn’t know a great deal about Coco… what the ghoul does know about Kindred society (still a great deal more than Caroline) primarily relates to the Masquerade and other aspects of Kindred existence relevant to the Krewe of Janus’ work. Autumn knows that Mid-City sees more Masquerade violations than other areas of the city, due to the high Kindred population, the young age of most Anarchs, and the value the covenant places on personal freedom. Coco herself has had fewer interactions with the Krewe… or at least its rank and file ghouls. Most elders are very responsible about maintaining the Masquerade.

Autumn adds that Elysium is usually the best place to meet with elders. Most Kindred of venerable age, if they deign to privately meet with younger licks at all, frequently charge a boon for the privilege and make the neonate wait a few nights, whether they are actually busy or not. Coco, though, is an Anarch, and one of the city’s more accessible elders: snubbing younger licks is a bad look for her, albeit Anarchs more so than Kindred of other covenants. Autumn recommends being polite and respectful.

Caroline: Caroline blends the letter’s contents it with appropriate quotes and references to revolutionary France. It thanks the Brujah primogen for her meeting and requests, at the elder’s convenience, an opportunity to meet with her again, along with any necessary appeals for her to do so.

The letter is sent in a sealed envelope via legal courier to Blaze in search of Coco, by description. It’s probably not even the young courier’s weirdest job for today.

A similar missive is sent to Cartwright, inquiring as to the return of her property, and when she might arrange it.

GM: Cartwright does not write back to Caroline. Dolores does in his place, and informs the Ventrue that her car was sent to a junkyard, where it has likely been scrapped. Autumn points out that the car was drenched in blood and a threat to the Maquerade in it present state. Still, Caroline can still all but see Dolores’ look of smug derision.

Autumn speculates that Dolores sent the car to Shep Jennings, an older Anarch who runs a chop shop that doesn’t ask questions about blood-spattered vehicles. The Krewe of Janus has dealt with him on a few occasions. She isn’t sure if that’ll do any good to Caroline now, but that’s her take.

Caroline: Another grievance. Another petty humiliation.

GM: The courier delivers a missive back from Coco that informs Caroline she’s lucked out. The Brujah primogen is free to meet tonight at Blaze. 4 AM.


Caroline: Caroline journeys to meet her, dressing in understated, more functional clothing. She doesn’t try to mirror the primogen, but rather echoes it, a distorted resemblance.

GM: The Ventrue grinds her way through the bar’s sweaty mass of brawling, cursing, groping patrons, and finds Coco sitting at the table she occupied during their last meeting. The metal’s blare isn’t as ear-splitting this far from the bar’s counter. Smoke from the patrons’ cigarettes, lit and extinguished, congeals into a miasmic cloud that stains the ceiling a rotted-looking black. Up close, Caroline can make out that the Brujah elder is wearing a horizontally striped black and white top, black pants, and matching dark brown leather jacket and boots. She is conversing with Haley, the ghoul with curly blonde hair who Carolime briefly met in Perdido House. Coco idly motions for Caroline to pull up a seat and for the ghoul to leave.

Caroline: The tall pallid Kindred fits in the rowdy bar as well as an ice statue in the desert. Even dressed down she very obviously does not fit in with the crowd. There is a coldness to her that is at odds with the energy of this place. She could fix that, release the Beast’s inner magnetism, become a star, but it would be so needlessly garish. Instead she endures elbows, humps, spilled drinks, and more adulterous advances as she forces her way through the crowd to Coco, and to the center of calm that surrounds her.

“Primogen Duquette, my thanks for seeing me.”

The young Ventrue’s tone not quite subservient, but gone is the brash arrogance of their last meeting.

GM: “It’s Coco here,” the Brujah waves off. Still, her tone sounds friendlier than their last meeting’s.

Caroline: “Coco,” Caroline repeats. “As my letter mentioned, I wish to apologize for my behavior last time we spoke. You were very patient when I hardly deserved as much.”

GM: “The same tends to said for most Anarchs, so I suppose I’m used to dealing with it,” Coco says wryly. “The Voltaire quotes were thoughtful.”

Caroline found one that seemed particularly relevant.

Each player must accept the cards life deals him or her: but once they are in hand, he or she must decide how to play the cards to win the game.

Caroline: “All the same. Please accept my apologies for my the trouble, and my thanks for your patience,” Caroline offers. “Ignorance is no excuse for poor manners.”

GM: “Isn’t someone starting to pay attention to how things work,” Coco says with a faint smile. “Those words are usually hard for Ventrue. I accept your apology.”

Coco takes a sip of her rose cocktail, a pinkish beverage with a cherry swimming at the bottom. “I don’t like to keep meetings strictly business. What else should we talk about?”

Caroline: Caroline muses for a moment. “If it isn’t too presumptuous, perhaps we could talk about you? I’m told you fought in the French Revolution. Laying aside how well you wear two hundred years,” she smiles faintly, “it must have been a very different time. Seeing how the world has changed must give you a very nuanced perspective.”

GM: “Mmm. In some ways,” Coco declares. “Many of the ideals my contemporaries fought for have become enshrined on the lips of every citizen in the Western world, if not taken for granted. I don’t know that they’d find any shortage of new causes to fight for, though, or be content not to fight. Battlefields may change, but people don’t.”

Caroline: “So you’re the idealist that saw her ideals become reality?”

GM:A reality. One rarely gets the things one wants as a mortal, I’ve found, in quite the manner one expects.”

Caroline: Caroline pauses. “And an immortal?” A dangerous question, but an invited one. “Did you get what you wanted? Or in truth do we get neither what we want or what we expect? Perhaps only what we deserve?”

GM: The Brujah primogen pauses to swirl her drink.

“That’s a complex question with a complex answer. France enshrined the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in her constitutions, so I’ve transferred my passions to other causes. Granted, chopping off one king’s head didn’t stop France from having half a dozen later monarchs, but you’ll recall what I said about getting things as we expect them.”

“As for getting what one deserves, I don’t think that God, the universe, or whatever higher force you believe in, cares enough to dictate our earthly fates. One gets what one fights for. And just as often, what one knows better than to fight for.”

Caroline: The last bit strikes Caroline. She pauses to bite her lip. “Sometimes the price of victory, if attainable, is worse than the alternative? Discretion being the better part of valor?”

Caroline reflects on what little she knows of Anarchs. “I cannot imagine that is an easy position to hold.”

GM: “On the contrary. It means there are better ways than fighting to get what one wants. Gandhi and MLK effected profound change without deliberately spilling a drop of blood.”

“Granted, one can debate the degree to which Gandhi was responsible for change in his country.”

Caroline: “True. But they didn’t live to see it.”

GM: “I did.”

Caroline: “If you don’t mind me asking, how involved is our kind behind the scenes of history? In the revolution for instance? Or is that too personal?”

GM: Coco takes another sip of the pinkish drink.

“Involved enough. One of my childer fought in the Second World War, although nothing good came of it. We don’t orchestrate those events so much as get swept up by them. We’re parasites more than puppet-masters, in the end.”

Caroline: Caroline’s eyes follow the drink.

GM: It smells like perfectly mundane alcohol, without a trace of the tell-tale coppery scent of blood.

Caroline: She opens her mouth to ask about it, but stops short of asking.

GM: Coco sets it down and regards Caroline expectantly.

Caroline: “I didn’t think we could tolerate anything else.”

GM: “Oh, we can tolerate it. Enjoy it is another matter.”

Caroline: “Then why?”

GM: “Because I come here often enough to be a known face. The kine should see me drinking something.”

Caroline: “The dance we dance. Learning it while on the floor is interesting.” Caroline smiles a bit at it. “Would that childer be Mr. Kelly?”

GM: “That childe,” Coco corrects. “And yes.”

Caroline: “That must be quite a tale.” She pointedly does not ask for it. “I imagine that the Embrace,” Caroline is awkward with the word, “is performed for all manner of reasons and lends itself to producing all manner of Kindred. Each with something they think is worth fighting for. Principle, bloodlust, love, family, power.”

She studies Coco as she lists off motives.

GM: “Certainly,” the Brujah replies. “A sire’s motives to Embrace can be as varied as any kine’s motives to conceive. Arguably even more so, without any biological imperative that compels us to procreate.”

Caroline: “Punishment? Pettiness?”

GM: “Quite. How many kine conceive a child out of spite?”

Caroline: “More than a few,” Caroline admits.

GM: “And that’s from a species which doesn’t view their existence as a curse.”

Caroline: “Do you think that is really why René did it?”

GM: “Were we talking about your sire?” Coco asks with seeming ignorance.

Caroline: “It seemed a fitting transition. Asking an opinion, rather than soliciting information. Unless that is too much to ask?”

GM: “Besides my own, I couldn’t claim to truly know any sire’s motivation for Embracing a childe. I could speculate, based on what I know about their history and character, but without the full context of their full history and character, mine is merely another opinion.”

Caroline: Caroline shrugs. “An opinion based in two, three hundred years of context. I don’t think I could call it just such.”

GM: “Perhaps it was spite, lust, or loneliness. Perhaps it was part of a larger political game. Perhaps it was a meaningless accident and you were simply unlucky.”

Caroline: “Accident?”

GM: “They do happen.”

Caroline: “How does that work?” Caroline asks.

GM: Coco sips her drink again. “My invitation was to talk, Caroline. I’m sure you know by now that information isn’t free.”

Caroline: Caroline smiles easily. “My apologies if you think I’m trying to drag information out of you. If you would prefer another topic, I’m open to it.”

GM: The Brujah primogen idly motions for Caroline to raise another subject as it suits her.

Caroline: “I shouldn’t, you’ve been generous enough with your time, and know how to reach me if you wish it.”

GM: Coco raises her drink in a motion reminiscent of farewell.

Adieu, Caroline. The French was a homely reminder.”


Saturday evening, 12 September 2015

Louis: Several nights after Caroline’s last meeting with the rancid PI, and one night after her audience with Coco, the old man calls. His voice is gravely and terse, like bits of shale being ridden over by a half-ton van. “Hoped you wouldn’t pick up, but I guess you gave up on winning and settled for losing more slowly.”

Caroline: “Don’t we all?” Caroline sounds weary. Pained. “Some games you’ve lost before you sit down to play. All that’s left is to go out with a measure of grace.” There’s a beat of silence. “Please tell me you have some good news.”

Louis: Lou grunts. “I have some news. Whether it’s good or not is above my pay grade. Either way, it’s time for Ms. Silverspoons to do some shopping. Hampson Street, in an hour sharp, head to Yvonne LaFleur’s. Go try on an outfit or two in the fourth changing room on the left. Wear a big hat, tall heels, large purse, and sunglasses. After your little shopping excursion, we’ll meet at Babylon Cafe on Maple. I know the owner. He hand-rolls grape leaves for his kibby.”

There’s a pause, and the sound of a rough chin being scratched. “And last thing, bring the Jewish girl.”

There’s another grunt. “Hour. Sharp. Remember the clothes.” And then, as abruptly as his call began, the old man terminates the call.

Caroline: Caroline’s response is cut off. She grits her teeth in frustration. Her Beast is crawling at the edges of its cage. Hungry, hurt, and long denied. Her will is tattered by days of pain from wounds that never close. But she also needs this. She needs any information Lou has. Needs something to stave off the hounds.

Going out is dangerous, but not going out is potentially fatal.


Saturday evening, 12 September 2015

Caroline: The hunger gnawing at her, Caroline turns to a more simply carnal source of victims. She played around with swiping left and right, mostly as a joke, but it is far less so now as she trawls the app scene for a lost soul.

GM: “It’s like real life, but better,” proclaims the slogan. Caroline swipes around until she finds someone named Trenton Nowak. His profile says he’s a college student at Tulane studying political science. One of his pics also says he needs a haircut.

Pic.jpg
Trenton enthusiastically agrees to meet up at Caroline’s house after she tells him about the home theater system she has. They message back and forth. He mentions he’s a film buff too, and recommends two films that,

I like to show every girl I meet. Freaks and On Borrowed Time. They’re both pretty old, made in the ‘30s. Freaks is pure horror and about how this beautiful trapeze artist interacts with the hideously ugly freaks who are part of the same circus. Can’t say more without spoiling it, but the ending is one of the most chilling I’ve ever watched.

On Borrowed Time is good to watch after Freaks. It’s about this old man, his grandson, and how they manage to trap Death in their backyard—then deal with the fallout when no one can die anymore. It’s really heartwarming. They just don’t make movies like it today. Everything tries too hard and comes off as syrupy. Also, I hate how modern movies always use little girls as sympathy devices. Why can’t they use little boys?

Caroline: Caroline’s messages are sweet poison indeed. It’s a surreal experience, the utterly ordinary chatter against her own dark intentions. It’s almost worse than luring the poor lecherous bastards in the bars. Too personal.

GM: Anyways, I guess I’ve rambled enough about myself. You said you’re graduating this year? What are you doing after that?

Caroline: Does she reconsider? Regret? If so, the thoughts are banished by Beast and beleaguered will.

I’d planned on going into a private practice, but I’ve been reconsidering. It seems so… empty the closer I come.

GM: Don’t really feel you’d be making a difference defending guys like that Saudi prince in the Quarter?

Caroline: LOL. Not even a little bit. There are so many other things I could be doing with my time.

GM: Could always go into politics. Law’s a good background.

Caroline: Hahaha. So you could study me in school?

Another typed laugh. As artificial as she is now, but oh so important.

GM: Lol. I wish, with those pics. But I’m graduating this year. Gonna go into community organizing.

Caroline: Caroline clicks her tongue. Community organizing.

Make a difference in peoples’ lives? That can be difficult work.

GM: Hey, a president did it.

I dunno, maybe I won’t, but elected office doesn’t seem like the way to go. I doubt I’d get many people voting for me anyways in Louisiana.

Caroline: A president did indeed. Caroline clings to that distinction. That petty conflict. The little difference that makes it easier not to car.

GM: You got a favorite candidate in the primaries?

Ah, nvm, sorry. Bad topic.

Caroline: Probably, Caroline agrees.

GM: Trenton admits he’s not from Louisiana. He’s from Portland, Oregon. People are less sensitive about politics there.

Several further minutes pass before Caroline hears her date knocking on the door. She called Blackwatch to let him through.

She opens the door. In person, Trenton looks much like his picture, a brown-haired, brown-eyed, twenty-something with an ovular facial shape. He wears blue jeans, a shoulder bag that some might deride as a ‘man purse, and a dark t-shirt whose letters Caroline can’t make out over the deafening THUMP-THUMP-THUMP-THUMP of blood coursing through his veins.

“Wow,” he remarks, looking around, “this place is really…”

THUMP-THUMP. THUMP-THUMP. THUMP-THUMP.

Caroline clamps down on the demon trying burst out of her chest. When it rips apart her conscience’s protestations like so much trash, she desperately smothers it beneath the weight of cold practicality. She can’t just kill him. Not like this, with the front door wide open, where anyone could see.

Trenton says something. Caroline can barely hear him. THUMP-THUMP. THUMP-THUMP. THUMP-THUMP. He holds up something. It’s a DVD case.

Trenton frowns a little. “Hey, you okay?”

THUMP-THUMP. THUMP-THUMP. THUMP-THUMP.

Caroline: If she were still alive she’d be all but gasping for breath, adrenaline tearing through her. As it is, an unliving abomination, she takes a breath and smiles, shaking a bit. Right and wrong flee, and it is only by the narrowest margin of error that will triumphs over bestial desire. She smiles shyly.

“Mostly just nervous I guess, I don’t usually do this.”

GM: Trenton smiles and says something back. Caroline doesn’t hear it.

THUMP-THUMP. THUMP-THUMP.

The sound of the closing door, however, is all-too audible to her strained senses.

Caroline: The Beast quickens as her rational excuses for not leaping on him slide away. Still, she tries to cling to her control. A shy giggle. Always a safe answer.

“Why don’t you come in, I’ll show you the setup.”

GM: Trent sets his bag on the bar’s counter-top as he steps in.

“Wow, you’ve got an actual bar in here.”

THUMP-THUMP.

Caroline: She smiles, she laughs. She fights the Beast while he pours herself a drink and invites him to do the same. And she loses. Like a cracked beam she can only withstand the strain so long. His back to her, a bottle in his hand. It’s instinct now as she slides behind him, sets her lips to his throat, and so slowly and sweetly breaks the skin.

GM: An eyeblink passes. Trenton lies sprawled out over the ground. His prone body, the bar, and the hardwood floors are spattered with messy red gore, as is Caroline. Her Beast’s once-deafening screams have faded to a low growl.

The young man’s still features stare up at Caroline in terror. His neck is ripped almost completely open, exposing wet muscle and white bone. There’s a dark, wet stain on his crotch, and it doesn’t smell of blood.

Shattered bits of glass lie strewn across the floor. Spilled alcohol pools together with spattered blood.

This will not be an easy cleanup.

Caroline: Caroline stares in silence at the scene. She can’t even pretend that she didn’t know what was coming. Murder. This was murder, and even hiding behind the Beast, her pain and her exhaustion does nothing to mitigate it.

GM: The mantelpiece clock continues to tick overhead, its mechanical hands unslowed by the red spattered over its surface. One hour to clean this up and meet with Lou.

The bitter old man’s words cannot help but flash through the fledgling’s mind:

Poison.

Caroline: She wants to burn it. All if it. Ruin this place home to so many painful memories. Erase the evidence of her crime, her shame.

GM: Some of the blood to spatter over the kitchen’s black granite countertop steadily drips like a leaky faucet. Drip. Drip. Drip.

Poison, whispers a washed-up old drunk.

Caroline: She shoves that away with a fury, buries it with her guilt. Something to worry about later. A voice whispers that it’s how a fall starts, with the best intentions, when you allow your temporal concerns to outweigh the spiritual. She looks down at the body again and steadies a trembling blood-soaked hand. Will. She has to get ready. This mess will wait a few hours.

She snags the boy’s phone and removes the battery, washes her hands of the blood and collects her own phone, making calls to her ghouls. Another long night awaits.

GM: Aimee does not heed her domitor. Autumn and Turner both arrive at the scene in short order, after Caroline gets in touch with Blackwatch’s guards to let her ghouls into Audubon.

Autumn takes in the gore-drenched, foul-smelling carnage site, then abruptly turns and retches into the kitchen sink.

“I… sorry,” the ghoul says quietly, turning on the water. She looks Trent’s body over. “Who was he?”

“Was he anyone important?” Turner asks in a clipped tone.

Caroline can see a faint disdain for Autumn in the war-hardened ghoul’s eyes. But there’s something else there too, Caroline can make out… concern, but of a purely self-interested variety. How easily could this happen to her too?

Caroline: “Someone in the wrong place at the wrong time doing the wrong thing,” Caroline replies stiffly. “I knew there was a risk, and thought it better that he take it than one of you.”

GM: Autumn opens her mouth, but then seems to reconsider. As if just realizing that it reeks, she fills up a glass of water to rinse.

“Where do you want him dumped? Tub?” Turner asks.

Caroline: Caroline nods. “As a short term. His car also needs to go somewhere it’ll be stolen. In the longer term he probably needs to go in the swamp.”

She looks over the body again. It wasn’t so long ago at all that she’d be joining Autumn. As it stands, she settles for spiritual sickness.

“In the short term, we need to go. We have a meeting.” She looks to Turner. “Can you handle the basic cleanup here for now?”

She’s taken the time it took them to arrive to clean and dress. She’s also taken some of the poor boy’s precious blood to close the worst of her wounds.

GM: “Sure,” Turner answers. “Probably safe for a few if he wasn’t followed.”

“I can… take care of the car,” Autumn volunteers, as she sees the other two moving past the murder. “There’s a lick named Shep Jennings who runs a chop shop. He doesn’t ask where his cars come from.”

“The body… there’s a ghoul who works for the Krewe, Maurice Garcou. He’s a cemetery mortician, knows how to make them disappear. He takes payment in cash or boons owed to the Krewe.”

Caroline: Caroline frowns at the idea of involving the Krewe further in her life.

“How much trouble is that likely to cause though?”

GM: “Well, he’ll tell the Krewe about it. But if it’s taken care of, it’s… taken care of.” Autumn still looks a little queasy. “No one would use him if it just got them in trouble.”

Caroline: It feels as though a long moment passes in which Caroline considers the idea, weighing every pro and con to involving the Krewe.

At last she shakes her head. “We have a meeting to attend first.”

GM: “Okay. Well, I guess he’ll keep…”

Caroline: If she could puke, if she were alone, if she had no other agenda for the evening, if she had no other responsibilities, Caroline might be sick.

But none of those things are true. Instead, the sickness ravages her spirit as she turns away from the cooling corpse.

“We’re leaving.”


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Story Three, Emmett Epilogue

GM: “In CASH? What is this, 1995?!” Lena sputters.

“A few years rather later. Knowing your brother, though, I’d rather not have any paper trail linking us,” Villars replies with an oily grin that all but dribbles down his face.

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“Ah-ah, if you want my advice, I’m billing you by the hour.”

“This is highway robbery. It’s a simple phone number!”

“Yes, it is. And yes, it’s that too. You do seem fairly desperate.” Villars draws out the pause. “Of course, if you’d rather Bud come by the house when you’re away, and find Em missing… he doesn’t like surprises very much. I suppose he could always stop by somewhere else. Like your childrens’ schools, to pick them up… what grade is your youngest in? Kindergarten?”

The leer on Villars’ face looks like he could swallow a spider without pausing.

“Bud loves kids. Why, he has a little girl who-”

“No! We’ll pay. We just… need a little time to get the money together.”

Villars grins. “Don’t worry about making my deadlines, Eveline.”

“You’ve got far bigger problems.”


GM: “Hello, are you Mrs. Merinelli?”

Lena looks between the two police officers at her front door. “I am. Can I help you?”

“Yep, by coming quietly. You’re under arrest.”

Lena blinks. “I’m sorry?”


GM: “So, let me try to summarize this,” the lawyer frowns. “You’d kept silent about your brother’s criminal activities for years. Your brother murdered Miguel Rodriguez in his apartment, and several other men with the aid of accomplices, over a cocaine deal gone sour. In retaliation, Rodriguez’ friends kidnapped your brother and cut off his legs.”

“He went to the hospital, and was arraigned for a variety of misdemeanors. He paid his attorney’s fees with a loan from… the Mob, and they threatened to kill his family—that is, your family—if he didn’t repay them. After he told you this, you paid his attorney $5,000 cash so that you could contact the Mob and pay them the $11,000.”

“I don’t mean to belabor the point, but… you realize how that missing money looks, the same time as this drug deal gone sour?”

Lena spreads two hands that are cuffed to the table. “I know it sounds ridiculous.”

“Well, moving around $11,000 simply isn’t possible for you right now. And the police protecting your family over your brother’s word is unlikely too. However, there is another angle to this. It’s possible that your brother was lying to you. Asking for $16,000 could have simply been an attempt to defraud you, before he was caught for murder. This Villars could have been his partner.”

“You think I actually trust anything he said?” Lena scoffs. “I’m just not going to gamble my children’s lives that he was lying.”

“Well, if you believe him, the most they can do is get out of town. As for your plea bargain, I think I can get you down to just five years as an accessory to murder…”


GM: A boy sobs against a man’s chest. “I don’t wanna move, Dad.”

The man gives his shoulder a squeeze. “I’m sorry, kiddo. I’d like to stay too.”

A girl cries. “W… why can’t we?!”

The man is silent for a moment as he tries to piece together an explanation. “Mommy lost her medical license when she went to prison. That means she can’t be a doctor anymore when she comes home.”

The man tries to say something comforting, about how everything will turn out all right. The boy cries some more. “I—I don’t wanna go. I don’t want her… to go. I don’t…”

The man struggles to keep his face composed. His failure gives his children their first memory of seeing their father cry.

“Neither do I, sweetie… neither… do I.”


GM: “…hello, sir. We’re here on behalf o’ yer brother-in-law. Might we step in?” the smiling man asks as he does just that, closing the front door behind him. Daniel Merinelli barely has a chance to yell before his guest sharply yanks his arms behind his back in a painful lock, while a young girl in cowboy boots plasters duct tape over his mouth.

“I helped!” Sue smiles.

“Thatcha did, darlin’,” Bud grins.

“Yessir,” he drawls as he casually breaks the thinner man’s left arm, “this is mighty overdue.”

“I’m a patient man, see,” he continues over Dan’s muffled screams, "and three months ain’t that long in the grand scheme. Long ‘nough fer things with yer family and the cops ta blow over. Lot o’ time fer your brother’s interest ta rack up, too. By ma count, he owes us thirty-one thousand, three hundred and eighty-four dollars, and twenty-eight cents.”

“That there is compound interest,” Bud explains as he breaks Dan’s right arm with another sickening crunch. “It makes the math all funny.”

The tape-gagged man gives a strangled half-scream, half-moan as tears well from his eyes.

Bud exaggeratedly cocks a hand to his ear. “Whas’ that? Yer gabbin’. I can’t understand a word yer sayin’.”

Snot leaks from the crying man’s nose.

“I won’t charge ya the twenty-eight cents, though. Heck, we can even roun’ down to jus’ three-eighty dollars. I’m a man who likes ta do things nice an’ even.”

Bud clucks his tongue as he looks around the home’s living room, dragging the shattered-armed man along by the scruff of his shirt. “Y’all ain’t as rich as I thought. Losin’ yer doctor wife musta tightened some belts. Still, ‘tween yer car, ’lectronics, and credit cards, I’ll get ma ten-kay investment more than back.”

Sue smiles and pulls off Dan’s shoes. Then his socks. Bud pats her head and drawls at his equal parts bewildered and moaning victim, “Sadly fer y’all, that ain’t all I’m here fer.”

Sue plasters some more strips of duct tape over Dan’s mouth.

“Yer brother’n law owes us some other interest. I’m here fer that too.”

Dan snorts more snot over his tape gag, his eyes wide and feverish.

“Thank ya, Sue, that’ll do jus’ dandy,” Bud smiles at the girl, then smashes her passed sledgehammer over Dan’s bare feet.

MMMMM!!!!!!!”

Bud brings down the hammer over Dan’s other foot.

MMMMMMMMM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

“Ooh hoo, bullseye!” Bud whoops. Flecks of blood coat his wide smile. “Ya e’er hit the center o’ the big-toe-nail jus’ likeyat, an’ see the bits go a-flyin’ everywhere?”

Dan screams past the gag. “MMM-MMMMMMM!!!”

“Nah, don’t reckon you have. It’s like hittin’ one o’ em,” Bud snaps his fingers, “whatcha-ma-call-’em’s, at the state fair? Ah, can’t remember the name. It’ll come ta me, though.” His smile widens. “Things have a way o’ comin’ back ta me. They always do, in the end.”

Buds sucks his gums. “Shit, if ma eyes ain’t lyin’, I think some o’ yer toenail jus’ landed in that outlet!”

Dan brokenly sobs and convulses. His tape gag bulges as beads of sweat trickle down his reddened, snot-nosed face. His head shakes as choke-like noises rasp from his throat.

“Don’t go throwin’ up now,” Bud chides. “I seen more painful ways ta go, son, but you believe me, there ain’t many pansier ways than chokin’ ta death on yer own barf.”

The crippled man’s eyes roll back in his head.

Dan sets down the sledgehammer and walks up to the house’s stairs. He then turns and smiles, “Don’t go a-runnin’ now,” with a wag of his finger.

“Mmmm….!”

Sue smiles. “I helped!”

Bud comes back downstairs with two crying, squirming burdens slung under each arm. Duct tape is plastered over their mouths and hands. The broken-limbed man screams past his gag and thrashes impotently in place. Sue sets up a video camera, aims it at the kitchen, and skips off.

“They got chipmunk-cheeks like that ’cuz I stuffed socks up their traps,” Bud explains as he lays down the sobbing children on the breakfast bar, belly-first. “This part gets a lil’ noisy.”

The girl gives a muffled scream and kicks at Bud’s hands.

The big man clucks his tongue, scoops up both children under the crook of one elbow, and pulls open the freezer door. He tosses out ice cream cartons and bags of frozen fruit and vegetables, sticks the now even fiercer-struggling girl inside, then closes the door.

“Don’t worry, I’ll have ‘er out ’fore her teeth e’en chatter,” Bud remarks over her father’s renewed scream-muffles. “Yessir, she’s a-gonna get hotter’n sweatier than a sinner in church, soon ’nough.”

But flicks on the video camera one-handed. The little boy hoisted over his shoulder just cries.

“Y’all will ‘scuse Sue takin’ off. But ya know there’s people who’ll pay top dollar ta jack off ta this?” Bud casually asks as he slams Noah face-first onto the ‘set.’

Twisting the burner stove’s knob to 400 degrees only takes him a second.

The family’s screams last far longer.


GM: Em’s heard as much about prison as any moderately well-to-do white boy has. He’ll wear an orange jumpsuit. There are racially segregated gangs. He shouldn’t drop the soap.

Death row hasn’t been much of anything.

Death_Row.jpg
Twice a week, Emmett strips to his boxers and is escorted, handcuffed, to a shower where his cuffs are removed and he is permitted to luxuriate under lukewarm water for ten minutes. The rest of his existence is spent locked in a 6-by-9 concrete cage for 24 hours a day. The toilet is an arm’s length away from his bed. There are no windows or natural light.

At some unknown time, for Em has neither a clock nor other means to track the sun’s passage, breakfast carts rattle across the concrete outside. The first sounds of his morning repeat the last sounds of night—remote-controlled locks clanging open and clunking closed, electric gates whirring, heavy metal doors crashing shut, voices wailing, klaxons blaring. A prison’s maximum security wing has no soft or delicate sounds.

At that interval, a ruler-sized slot opens in Em’s featureless concrete box. A tray with powdered eggs, undercooked grits, and a plastic spork is wordlessly pushed through. Em never sees the face of whoever feeds him. It could be a man. It could be a woman. It could be Bud. Christina Roberts. Bert Villars. Maybe even Lena.

Em hauls back his tray and eats from it over the stumps that used to be his legs. Sometimes there is a cockroach for him to squash. When he is finished he returns the tray to the slot and goes back to sleep. Sleeping, he soon learns, is the best way to pass time on death row.

He can’t sleep for long enough. Later, though Em cannot tell at what time, more food is deposited through the slot in his cage. It is a thin sandwich, carton of milk, and runny mashed potatoes without gravy. Em can lose maybe another hour with a nap after lunch.

He has heard of a luxury called “the canteen.” Men in prison maintain a type of bank account where they can deposit money sent from family and friends. Once a week, such men can fill out an order sheet and spend up to $99 on cigarettes, chips, soap, soup, sandwiches, pastries, and even shoes. Their goods are delivered through the grill in their cells several days later.

Em cannot buy anything from the canteen. No one sends him money.

Dinner comes an unknown span of time after lunch. It consists of a processed pork chop, piece of liver, or half-raw chicken together with more potatoes. Potatoes come in each of his meals. Prisons, he soon learns, have a million ways to serve potatoes.

Visitors’ days are on Sundays. Em is authorized to receive a single visitor between 9 AM and 3 PM. The visitor can purchase items from vending machines and share a single hug or kiss (but not both) with him.

Em receives no visitors. Sundays are the same as any other day.

Em knows that he will eventually face execution by lethal injection, and his monotonous existence will come to an end. He does not know when. Some inmates are said to die of old age while on death row. The monumental task that is every condemned man’s burden until he is permitted to die is how to fill the hours until he can sleep again. His options are few. He can watch black and white non-cable TV, if he’s earned that as a reward for good behavior, but Em isn’t sure how he’s supposed to demonstrate good behavior. He can do his laundry by running his clothes through the toilet and hanging them up to dry. He can talk to himself, endless disembodied and mostly inane chatter. He can lie on his thin three-inch mattress and think. And think. And think.

Sleep eventually comes, and for a few hours, he has a preview of existence after he faces the needle. Then sleep recedes and he is back in his concrete cage. Another day on death row begins. It unfolds in almost exactly the same way, then it ends. More days pass. Then even more days. Maybe they grow into weeks. Maybe months. Maybe years. Em cannot say. He has no piece of chalk to mark the days with like he’s seen inmates do in movies. He can feel hair growing on the face he has no mirror to gaze upon. His constant companion, like a grim reaper hovering over his shoulder, is the knowledge that he will die. Perhaps tomorrow. Perhaps after a month. Perhaps after many years.

Eventually, he will get to sleep forever.

Emmett: For now, though, he dreams.

A king of two courts, a crown made of teeth and a smile made of gold. He does not dream of walking. He flies, over New Orleans. He points and laughs at a vomit-streaked hustler with a badge. He cries over the Quarter, and his tears look like snowflakes, and Maya and Noah laugh and swallow them whole like pills.

He hovers over prince Talal al-Faisal al-Saud’s penthouse. Did that castle ever seem so close? He sits in Bud’s lap. “Hello,” he says into a phone. “Goodbye!" Breaking bones answer, and screams hang up on him.

He flies towards the sun. He can make it out of here, he knows. Nothing can keep Emmett Delacroix down. He soars. His wings melt like ice in untouched water, and he falls—he lands in a booth in Café Soulé, across from Christina Roberts. Anastasia is his waitress. She pours him a cup of cyanide. It smells delicious.

“Maybe you should try being smarter,” Roberts says with Villars’ rasping lungs.

“Maybe,” he admits. “Maybe.” He drinks. She tuts and her spoon gouges the crust of her soup, and she slurps, slurps, and he plunges forward, burning, scalding… hell smells like onions.

Clarice is on her bed, dying, though she doesn’t remember what that is. She doesn’t even recognize him. He leans forward and whispers, “You’re going to burn for what you did, you know?” She opens her eyes and whispers, “You too.”

Emmett doesn’t know where he is. Or when. Death row is like the womb; everything is noise and waiting, and he doesn’t know what for.

Too late?

It echoes, a meaningless question. There is no more too late. There is no arrival, there is no departure. He’s just a cripple stuck in time.

What should he say? Is he sorry? Only that he failed. Does that make him a monster? If that’s all a monster is, how do most people live with themselves? What should he have done different, anyway? Lied to himself, and not everybody else? If being a good person means being a fucking idiot like Mercurial Fernandez, then what the hell is the—

“Ha.”

Mouse probably doesn’t know he got arrested. Probably broke his back, asking for money. Oh, that’s funny. He’s still hurting somebody. Maybe Mouse will even try to have a concert.

“Ha. Hahahaha. HAHAHAHA…!”

Laughing burns his throat, but he swallows the pain like a pill. Everything is so goddamn funny. There is no punchline, there is no final bow. He probably can’t pull one off anyway, without legs.

“HA!”

They’re yelling at him now, to shut his mouth. They want him to die quietly, too. But there’s no quiet for people like Emmett Delacroix. They boo. He pays them no mind. He deserves a standing ovation. Somebody should throw him a bouquet. The noise inside his head is drowned in the laughter. He claps for himself, because nobody else will. And then there’s no noise at all, except the rushing of curtains, curtains for Emmett…

Curtains.


GM: A white concrete cross sits among a field of other crosses: the true crop of the Farm, officially known as Louisiana State Penitentiary. Each cross is spaced exactly three feet away from its neighbors laterally and nine feet longitudinally. Such sameness is only possible at a place like Angola. Even the dead still wear uniforms. Simple plaques are inscribed with DOC numbers, names, and dates by which sentences could no longer continue to be served.

Angola_Cemetery..jpg
The undertaker’s spade shovels on the last of the earth.

X989132
Emmett Delacroix
02-10-16


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Story Three, Caroline XV, Rocco II

“This is a great many sins, my child.”
Father Malveaux


Friday night, 11 September 2015, AM

Caroline: Caroline makes her way back to her driver, issuing stark directions. She barely looks at the woman. Barely notices the passage of time, or distance.

GM: Whatever else may have happened, Blackwatch has come through with their bodyguard.

Amanda Turner meets Caroline right where she wants, right when she wants. The mercenary remains silent and keeps her slate gray eyes focused on the road. Caroline isn’t paying her to talk.

Caroline: She’s really done it now.

Until tonight, it was all on her. The danger. The harm. The damnation. What the hell was she thinking? That she could do this. That she could live this life. That she could shield those she cared about.

She should have given herself to the sun with the first dawn. Selfish. Foolish. Arrogant.

GM: The soaring black and gray steel monolith that is Perdido House looms before Caroline. Tall, hard, and merciless. Fearsome gargoyles jut from crenellations, baring their claws and fangs to the night sky with muted howls. Driving into the underground parking garage still gives rise to thoughts of descending into the belly of a great beast, past an iron-grilled jaw and checkpointed teeth. Perhaps even more so than it did the last time. Armed, grim-faced, and black-uniformed security guards wave the Ventrue on through to the parking garage floors.

This time, two of them escort her to the elevator and press a button to one of the higher floors. One is the large, dark-skinned ghoul with the cruel smile who hit her in front of Donovan.

Caroline: She complies, ordering Amanda to remain with the car.

GM: The stone-faced merc complies in turn, even after Perdido House’s guards issue her the same order. They don’t talk to Caroline during the elevator ride. Its doors open to the same route she walked down last time. A short walk, and Caroline finds herself in a small, plain room with a miniature lance mounted over the door. A confession booth sits in the corner of the room.

“Enter,” rasps an unseen and too-familiar voice.

Caroline: The heiress enters with the stone-faced walk of the condemned. There is no struggle, only submission. There is no hope, only darkness.

GM: Caroline settles into the confession booth’s dark, cramped space. She might be dead, but the words are the same.

Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It’s been this long since my last confession, and I accuse myself of the following sins:

Caroline: Nothing she can do will make this better or worse.

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It’s been… five nights since my last confession, and I accuse myself of the following sins: violation of the domain of a regent, murder of that regent’s ghoul and kine, and…”

In a trembling voice, “Breach of the Masquerade. I did not reveal my nature… but too much of the powers that govern it.”

GM: In a normal confession booth, Caroline would be able to make out the priest’s silhouette past the grill. Here there is only a featureless black panel.

“Go on,” the voice rasps.

Caroline: “I sought first to enter the domain of another without their permission, and when assaulted by their ghouls slew them.” There’s a near-rasp to her confessional voice, the kind you might find in someone who has been sobbing for hours.

“Subsequently, this night, I disclosed that a group of powerful individuals have been… active in my life, by means of explanation for my daytime absences.” Her posture is straight-backed, with arms limp upon her hands limp upon her thighs. Almost like a child expecting a scolding.

“I disclosed this to two mortals in seeking… succor from them: Aimee Rosler…” She pauses to take a needless breath. “And Gabriel Malveaux.”

Her voice catches as she starts to go on. Do you explain here? Seek advice? She has in the past, but no other Kindred has ever sought an explanation for a transgression from her. Punishment, not correction. That is the nature of their demands.

GM: Caroline’s confessor is silent as only a dead man behind an impenetrable barrier can be.

He patiently waits for her to complete her confession.

Caroline: “I did not feed upon my past victim, as you instructed. I was unable to dispose of the body of the man I slew as you desired. I am sorry for these… no… all but passing over the victim… and all the sins of my past life.” The words are tortured in their honesty.

GM: “That is a great many sins, my child,” rasps the albino priest’s voice.

Caroline: “In truth, Father, it is only those I know. I learn new ones each night. For those I do not yet know…. I am also sorry.”

GM: “You say you are not sorry for passing over your victim. There can be no atonement without desire to atone, my child. Your soul is your own to save or imperil.”

Caroline: “She… Father. She is still in the hospital. She has had no opportunity to re-offend. And she has… suffered already. Dis proportionally, perhaps.”

GM: “Are you anointed as a priest, my child?”

Caroline: She leans her head back and looks upwards to dry, wet eyes.

“No, Father.”

GM: The once-quiet rasp stabs through Caroline’s ears with all the swiftness and venom of a snakebite.

“Then you will cease your impudence—your pride!—in presuming to know better on matters of spirit than those who are ordained to minister yours!”

Caroline: She gives a ragged, shivering gasp. She wishes she could lie. She wishes she could tell him she did his bidding. But as twisted as he is, as twisted as his demands are, as twisted as this entire faith is… they are as close to God as she can reach.

A moment later, she replies, “Yes, Father.”

GM: “Tell me more of this Masquerade breach, my child.” The venomous voice resumes its familiar rasp.

Caroline: “What details would you know, Father? I would not have you believe I was attempting to offer excuses.”

GM: “Any and all that you believe pertinent.”

Caroline: “I confided in them knowledge of a secret group of great political power. I misled them as to its nature. I confided in them some of the physical penance given to me by the regent whose ghouls I slew. I wept in front of them. I sought to recruit them to better hide my own nature to others, but in so doing violated the Masquerade in my ignorance. I thought, briefly, to ghoul,” the word is offered uncomfortably as a verb, “them.”

“Eventually, I left them bound and gagged, and sought out another to aid me in… removing their memories of the events, as I had seen you do, and stated such intention to Hound Agnello. I did so in ignorance of my affront to God… by which I mean I committed a greater sin in.”

She doesn’t beg for his mercy for them, as she did of Agnello. There’s no use. Besides, Agnello all but declared they would die.

GM: “This is a great many sins, my child,” Father Malveaux repeats.

Caroline: “…yes, Father.”

GM: “Are there others you would name, or shall we proceed to your penance?”

Caroline: Caroline reflects. “I attempted to poach from the domain of another, my first night after leaving here. I was disrespectful to elder Kindred. I did not come to the realization of my breach of the Masquerade alone, but only through the intervention of a ghoul. Without whom I would have labored in ignorance, and compounded my error.” She bites her lower lip but doesn’t look down. “That is all I recall, Father.”

GM: Perhaps Father Malveaux leans forward, for his voice sounds closer, but it is impossible for Caroline to tell within the opaque booth.

“Tell me more of this ghoul.”

Caroline: “She watched me at the instruction of the Krewe of Janus, who disposed of the body before I did, and informed me of my… sin when I confronted her. At all times, she attempted to protect the Masquerade. At all times, she conducted herself as I should have.”

There’s no reason to drag down Autumn with her… and it’s all truth. Maybe you can help your family, as I’ve only dragged mine down. She recalls the girl’s playful laugh. Cookie dough. Such a small, human thing. Such simple contact. She’d give anything to trade places with her right now.

Or, not trade, but join her. She’d not trade places with her worst enemy. For a moment, a beautiful moment of peace, she can almost picture the auburn-haired girl, her chubby sister, their no doubt modest home. The warmth of an oven that will sit empty. The taste of chocolate, flour, and raw sugar in her mouth. A worn kitchen table, wooden chairs, battered and with chipped paint. A refrigerator with a white-board schedule and marker attached with a string. Photos of the siblings. Maybe a Chinese takeout menu beside a local pizza place’s, for Friday nights.

Perfect things that seemed so mundane a week ago. In a moment it’s gone. Just an image. A fantasy. And she’s here. The taste of her best friend’s oh-too-sweet blood in her mouth. This cold, empty, sterile room. A monster across from her. A monster within her. The perverse sacrament. The death of her best friend. The death of her oh-so-innocent brother. Betrayed by their goodness. Betrayed by her wickedness. Their spirits walk in her shadow, pulling her down, and here, in this dark room, all is shadow.

She awaits her penance. Whatever it is… it’s better than she deserves. In a bitter way, it’s a reflection of her life. Privilege she never appreciated. Power she wielded injudiciously. Rebellion without purpose. Murder for pride. For face. For the approval of her twisted family. And more murder atop it. Half a dozen corpses. Two innocent girls she botched saving, even when she was alive. All she’s ever done is get people killed.

Let’s dig a grave, she tells her shadows. Her brother, her best friend, Paxton, the ghouls, probably Sarah Whitney…. and her son, who looks so like Gabriel in her mind’s eye. One for each of us. Eleven graves is a good start.

And a good end.

A sad smile that creeps across her face like the rising of the sun. She’s ready for whatever is to come.

GM: “That is a great many sins, my child,” Father Malveaux slowly repeats, his rasping voice intruding upon Caroline’s reverie like a steady rapping against one’s bedroom door.

Perhaps his penance will finally spell an end to it all.

“Let us begin with the most grave.”

Caroline: “Yes, Father.”

GM: “Thou shall not reveal thy true nature to those not of the Blood. Doing such shall renounce thy claims of Blood.”

Caroline: And there it is in stark letters.

GM: “Such was the truth of the First Tradition that it was plain even to Caine, who turned from God’s path and surrendered to the Beast. Such is the truth of the First Tradition that it is codified within the Camarilla’s secular laws. Such is the truth of the First Tradition that Longinus the Dark Prophet exhorted his disciplines to obey it above all other commandments save submission to God. The Tradition of Blood, by the Bishop Timotheus: ‘Reveal yourself only to your Kindred.’ Such is the truth of the First Tradition that our prince enshrines it above all others, for it is not merely the law of the Camarilla, but the word of God as passed down by the Dark Prophet Longinus. To break the Silence of the Blood is not merely a civil offense. It is blasphemy. The sentence for blasphemy, my child, is the same that has long been reserved for those who flout the laws of the divine: burning at the stake. What have you to say?”

Caroline: The most horrible death that she can imagine, that the Beast inside her can imagine. She can feel it already straining against her at the very word ‘burning.’ And yet… she’s not afraid.

“Father, there is nothing I may say. I have sinned. Blasphemy is Blasphemy. God cares not your intent, or your wisdom, or your nature, and as I should not doubt your judgment, I shall not attempt to pass judgment upon such long held traditions. You must hand down the sentence you feel appropriate.”

It’s as though someone else is speaking with her mouth. It’s so easy. The end, at least, is in sight. At least in the fire she won’t be able to see the shadows.

“My only request would be, if such is my fate… that it happen with the dawn. I should like to see the sun once more, if at all possible. I have made a full confession of my sins. If I am to go on… there is no better time.”

GM: “You will not go on, my child,” Father Malveaux declares. “No blasphemy has been committed here.”

Caroline: The bottom falls out of the world, and she is seated in darkness. In the void. Thought vanishes, and she’s alone with only the tortured shadows. Numbly, at last, she murmurs, “Yes, Father.”

GM: “Blasphemy has been averted. You have reported the matter to Hound Agnello, who has taken care of it, and you have confessed your sin to me, as is right and proper.”

Caroline: Taken care of it. Such a simple way to describe the execution of the two beings she cares for… cared for… most. Not even the decency of a true euphemism.

GM: “Our prince is merciful to those who follow Longinus’ path. One who had not confessed his sin, who had not reported his crime, would have faced the flame. Your sin still warrants penance, my child. But none so grave as final death.”

Caroline: She grits her teeth. This wasn’t supposed to happen.

GM: “Your disrespect for Regent McGinn’s domain and your slaughter of his servants has already been punished, as is Regent McGinn’s right as lord of his domain. No further penance is required of you.”

Caroline: Perfectly white teeth, perfectly cared for, cleaned, bleached, almost as if in preparation for her Embrace, lock together like a vice. No…

GM: “Your disrespect for your elders has been punished by them. Further disrespect will continue to be punished. No further penance is presently necessary.”

Caroline: Her eyes close against her will, letting lose a volley of bloody tears. No.

GM: “Bar circumstances of exceptional nature such as this one, you take confession with me once a week, my child. Five nights have passed since your last confession. You were given seven nights to show the first kine you preyed upon the consequences for their sinful behavior. Two nights yet remain. If their sins have gone unpunished by the end of that time, further penance will be required of you. Until then, the matter is of no concern.”

Caroline: NO, she screams inside her head.

GM: “The interference of the Krewe of Janus was beyond your control. I assign you the same penance as I did five nights ago: show another sinful mortal the consequences for straying from Christ’s path. Inspire them to change their behavior, or deliver them their just rewards if they are beyond salvation. You have until the confession after our next confession. Nine nights.”

Caroline: She lets out a pained breath through clenched death. “Y… es. Father.”

GM: Caroline hears Father Malveaux rise from his seat. “As to your penance for your near-violation of the Masquerade. Come.”

Caroline: It takes her three attempts. She finally rises. Numb hands struggle with the door for a moment. Two trails of blood line her face.

GM: The albino priest leaves the confession booth, resembling nothing so much as an overlarge pale bat emerging from its cave. He looks Caroline’s bloody face over. “Clean yourself.”

Caroline: “Yes, Father.”

NO! The voice inside continues to stream.

She has a napkin in her bag. The result is a ruddy red complexion on her cheeks that almost makes her appear alive.

GM: He leads Caroline out of the bare room and down the cold gray hallway, into another plain, bare, prison-like room. Rocco Agnello is there with two ghouls, one of whom is the large black man who struck her, along with Aimee and Gabriel. Her two loved ones look as if they are sleepwalking. They stare at her with uncomprehending eyes.

Caroline: She misses a step at the sight of them. A small, but noticeable, gasp.

“…”

Rocco: Rocco is standing in the room with a cold, patient expression. His posture is straight and his hands are behind his back as he watch the two Kindred enter into the sterile room. He looks to Father Malveaux. “Ciao, Father.” He looks to Caroline. “Ciao, Caroline.”

Caroline: It’s a lover’s embrace, and a kick in the gut to see them. Kindred are not merciful. Her lip trembles, eyes locked upon the kine. Belatedly, mechanically, she replies, “Hound Agnello.”

Rocco: “I take it your confession went well,” he states coolly.

Caroline: Please… not this… Is there any contrition she could offer? Any staving off the writing she can already see on the wall.

She glances at Malveaux. “The…” A pause. “The confessional seal is absolute, Hound Agnello.”

Rocco: A small smirk appears on Hound Agnello’s face with that answer; the first sign of emotion.
“I am pleased.”

Caroline: Motherfucker! She wants to cut his face off. And to weep. To beg. To scream and cry.

GM: Gabriel and Aimee only continue to stare blankly forward.

Rocco: Rocco looks away from Caroline for a moment, looking for some sort of confirmation from Father Malveaux.

“I take it we’ll get straight to business,” he says, “as I believe expediency and straightforwardness is the best course in regard to matters of a civil nature. By your leave, Father.”

GM: “Hound Agnello has been affected by your sin, my child,” Father Malveaux states to Caroline. “Is it not just for a thief to look into the eyes of the man he has stolen from? For a rapist to look upon the woman he has violated?”

The Ventrue turns to regard Rocco. “One last matter, Hound Agnello.”

Father Malveaux stares into Gabriel’s eyes. “Return to Baton Rouge. Remember nothing of this night save what you have been told.”

Gabriel nods slowly, as if in a stupor, and begins to shuffle off. Father Malveaux motions to one of the ghouls, who moves to accompany Caroline’s brother.

Caroline: She watches him go with trembling hands. Gabriel… alive. Clear… the best thing she’s ever done with her unlife. The smallest of mercies… and the greatest. Her mouth murmurs silent words as he retreats. Short. Simple. Distinguishable to even an untrained eye. Words every man or woman has spoken. I. Love. You. Words he can’t see, words he can’t hear.

GM: Her little brother’s shuffling, oblivious form slowly disappears down the hall.

Caroline: She watches him go, long after he has gone. As long as silence endures. For a moment, for that moment, she can pretend everything will be all right. Her brother is going home. She can pretend her best friend is not standing before her with two other monsters, she can pretend she doesn’t know what will happen next, and she can be grateful for the little mercy of God.

GM: “Caroline Malveaux, you are of my blood twice over,” Father Malveaux pronounces. “In you runs the vitae of the Clan of Kings.”

‘We ruled in Enoch! We ruled in the Second City!
Dumuzi! Gilgamesh! Zeus! Jupiter!
We are every great man, every perfect man.
We rule, not by strength, but by right.’


Rocco: Rocco appears to ignore those lines, looking rather impassive through the proceedings at the moment. He waits.

GM: “Without a sire, you know nothing of your heritage. Nothing of your deathright. Nothing of what it is to wear a crown and to bear a crown’s weight.”

“Others have spent long enough cleaning up your mistakes. It is time you accept responsibility for your actions—and learn your place as a lord among the damned. Such cannot be done on a forever bent knee. It is time that others bent knee to you.”

Caroline: Caroline’s eyes sweep the three… and suddenly she doesn’t know. Certainty was so easy. Resignation. What is he saying? What does he intend? What hell is this?

Rocco: Rocco watches Caroline with muted interest. His emotionless eyes bore into the poor girl.

GM: Father Malveaux’s pinkish eyes settle on Aimee. “Bow before your mistress.”

Aimee slows walks forward and bows before Caroline. Not merely at the waist. She sinks to her hands and knees, prostrating herself before the Ventrue.

“Kiss her feet,” Father Malveaux orders.

Aimee grovels, kissing the tips of Caroline’s shoes. She feels the girl’s lips press against her feet.

Caroline: The scene makes her sick. This is Aimee… this is her friend. Her confidant. Her… she grits her teeth. Tries not to look down. Tries not to focus on the lips.

GM: “Rise to your knees,” Father Malveaux orders.

Aimee does so, her head remaining level with Caroline’s waist.

The older Ventrue turns to Caroline. “Order her to do as I have. Our founder’s gifts let us command the obedience that is our right.”

Caroline: She hates it. Hates herself.

Aimee…

“I don’t… "

She grits her teeth and draws on that part of herself, the ruthless will to power. The right she has to rule, as a Malveaux. The right that so rankles her to be denied in this new existence. She is not a serf, whatever she swore to the sheriff. She is Nathaniel Malveaux’s daughter. The nearest thing to royalty in this state. And she will not be denied. Iron fills her voice.

“Bow before me.”

GM: “Remember,”rasps Father Malveaux.

Aimee blinks as her eyes clear. “Caroline?! Wha-”

The words die in her throat, however, as she grovels before her friend, all but rubbing her nose into the floor. She can’t unbend her back, but she manages to crane her neck up and meet Caroline’s imperious gaze. Fear, confusion, and hurt war over her face.

Caroline: I’m so sorry, Aimee…

Words she can’t say. Teeth clench. It cuts deeper than the knife.

Maybe… maybe if I….

She already knows it’s a lie in her heart.

“Kiss. My. Feet.”

The words are hard. So hard. Harder than the tiled floor on the girl’s mortal knees.

GM: Aimee obediently lowers her head and plants a kiss on each of Caroline’s shoes. They feel wetter. Tears are starting to run down her face.

“Caroline!?!” she half-begs, half-exclaims, her voice raw with hurt and confusion.

Caroline: “Stop crying!” Caroline shouts. “Just stop!”

It’s such a selfish order. She hates it the moment it escapes her.

Rocco: A small, almost imperceptible smile appears on Rocco’s face as Caroline’s voice raises.

GM: Aimee stops crying. She blinks rapidly, confusedly. A few of the tears already leaking around her eyes trickle down her face. But no new ones join them. Her face starts to glow red with humiliation.

“C-Caroline, WHY!?”

Caroline: Her eyes break to her kin. Anything to escape Aimee’s pitiful gaze.

GM: Father Malveaux’s pinkish albino eyes meet Caroline’s. “Command her to drink from you.”

Caroline: “I…” She looks down at Aimee.

I’m so sorry… I’m so sorry. I’m…

She raises a wrist. Bites into it. Lowers it, still bleeding.

“Drink, Aimee.”

GM: Still prostate on her hands and knees, Aimee pitifully reaches for Caroline’s wrist, fingers brushing against the other girl’s forearm. Her mouth isn’t anywhere near close enough.

“Rise to your knees,” Father Malveaux orders.

Aimee shakily ambles to them. Now that her head is level with Caroline’s waist, she’s finally able to grasp her roommate’s arm and press it to her lips. Her eyes widen as the blood hits her tongue, and suddenly, it doesn’t look as if the Ventrue’s influence is compelling her to drink at all. Caroline can feel the girl’s tongue lapping against her wrist like a dog’s against its owner’s hand. She feels Aimee’s body shudder as a low moan escapes her lips.

“Cease,” Father Malveaux orders.

Aimee drops Caroline’s wrist. But she still licks her lips. Multiple times. Want burns in her eyes.

Caroline: Caroline withdraws the bleeding wrist. Holds it up. Away.

GM: Confusion and humiliation are returning to Aimee’s face. But her eyes follow its path unfailingly.

Rocco: The sound of light clapping from Hound Agnello breaks the silence. He smiles cheerfully.

“Very good, Caroline. Very, very good.” Positive reinforcement.

Caroline: The clap sounds like a laugh. Like a child… like a child training a dog.

Rocco: “I have to admit I am impressed by your strength,” Rocco continues, ceasing his claps. “It’s a difficult lesson. I admit I suggested Wright be the one to take ownership of Aimee, but clearly Father Malveaux’s suggestion, coming from a priest, was best. Well done.”

Caroline: She looks down at her poisoned friend. Her shamed friend. Her trapped friend. Is it relief? Is it horror? Is it… it’s responsibility. Settling across her shoulders like a cross for her to bear. Not just for what she’s done. But for what she will do. What she has to do, from now on. Fight. Claw. Tear. Feed. Whatever is necessary. Whatever she must. Anything now. There’s only one rule: succeed. She owes her servant nothing less.

GM: Father Malveaux turns to regard Caroline. “Your ghoul is yours to command in all things. She will be your hands and eyes, your arm and shield, and whatever else you require of her.”

“Feed her one further draught of vitae tomorrow night, and the night following that night. She will be fully yours by our next confession together. She will cease to age and learn to command the Blood’s rudimentary powers. One draught per two weeks will thereafter be sufficient to maintain her state. If she is not fed, she will lose the Blood’s powers until she is next fed.”

“Your ghoul will attempt to cajole further vitae from you. They are wantful creatures and will resort to any and all methods to satisfy their urges. Exercise a firm hand. Punish misbehavior. In time, she will learn gratitude for what she is given.”

Caroline: She looks down on Aimee. Her friend. Her slave.

She looks back to the priest. A deep stillness has settled upon her.

“Yes, Father.”

GM: Father Malveaux turns to regard Aimee, still on her knees, staring at Caroline’s wrist.

Caroline: There’s no anger. No room for it, even if she wished it.

Rocco: Rocco appraises Aimee’s reaction, then Caroline’s reaction, looking as pleased as a cat that had its fill of cream.

Caroline: Gabriel free. Aimee alive… a ghoul’s life need not be so terrible. She’s seen that. It’s so much more than she dared hope. Dared believe possible. The cross across her back rests so easily.

And Malveaux… the pale old fiend. The devil’s own. He could show her uncle how to play the game. Any of them. Flip the board. Reset the table. Change the scene. Rewrite the script.

The Tragic Tale of Caroline Malveaux.

The Rise of Caroline Malveaux.

GM: Father Malveaux turns to regard Caroline again.

“This ghoul belongs to you, my child. You are responsible for all actions she commits. If they merit punishment, it shall fall upon your shoulders.”

“Your ghoul is property under our laws. It is not a crime for other Kindred to lay hand upon her. It is your responsibility to deter them from doing so. You are her sole protection against others of our kind.”

Caroline: He’s rewritten her part. A smile curls across her face, unbidden, unwanted. It’s fleeting. But it’s there for a moment. Victim. Tragedy. Self-Pity. She took those words like shields against the worst of this life. The smile vanishes behind sobriety.

“I understand, Father.”

She could hide behind a shield. Cower beneath it as the world raged around her. It’d been so easy… to be free. A pleasant diversion. An embrace of her own helplessness.

Infantile, she concludes bitterly, already disgusted with herself. In truth, she wore them as poorly as any Malveaux would.

No… I may deserve what happened to me. The deck may be stacked… the odds may be long. The game may not be fair… but that’s no excuse not to play.

GM: The albino priest turns to Aimee. “I release you into your mistress’ care.”

The new ghoul blinks, slumping forward as if someone’s cut her puppet strings. She falls and catches herself on the palms of her hands.

Father Malveaux traces the sign of the lance. “In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Propheta Tenebris, ego te absolvo. Confession is over, my child. You may go.”

Caroline: There’s something burning in Caroline’s eyes. Not the wildfire of anger. Not the spark of hope. It’s something else. Something that hasn’t burned since she was Embraced. Since that fateful night. Determination.

“Thank you, Father.”

Is this part of God’s plan for her? Time will tell.

GM: The albino priest rasps, “‘Cower not in fear of the Sun!
Shrink not from Fire!
Though cursed we may be
We are the Lords of the Earth, and all things fall under our dominion.’


Caroline: “Thanks be to God. Amen.”

As the tension breaks, Caroline’s eyes sweep between the two Kindred. She pointedly does not look down at Aimee. “If he,” she gestures to the remaining ghoul, “would be so kind as to deliver her to my vehicle below?”

GM: Father Malveaux motions. The large black man pulls Aimee to her feet. When she’s slow, her slings her over his back like a sack of flour, and carries the floundering woman out of the room like she ways nothing.

Caroline: It’s difficult to do what comes next. But not too difficult.

“Hound Agnello, my thanks to you for your corrections in this matter. And in your judiciousness in handling it.”

Rocco: “You’re welcome, Caroline.” The Gangrel gives Caroline the most angelic, genuine smile he can muster. “I will certainly endeavor to make sure you don’t veer from the right path any longer; consider it a small token of gratitude for that business with Eight-Nine-SIx.” His sincerity is palpable.

“But before you go, I have a small request. I want you to join a krewe. And I have one in mind for you.” Rocco waits for a bit as if gauging Caroline’s reaction.

Caroline: She studies the angelic fiend’s boyish face. He looks even younger than she does. What does he want? What is the end game? His sire’s activities burn in her mind. A mole? A trace? Someone in among the younger less affiliated Kindred… she just doesn’t know enough. Can’t know enough. But whatever his end game… he’s not asking very much of her. Nothing at all, in fact, she had not sought out herself.

“Without objecting, Hound Agnello, I’d be curious as to your reasoning, and thoughts on the matter, if you would share them.” Her eyes slip to Malveaux, to see how he greeted the request by the hound.

GM: Father Malveaux offers no comment as his eyes rest upon Rocco. His gaze is respectful, if not deferential. He has spoken of spiritual matters, and now the hound shall speak of temporal ones.

Rocco: Rocco’s smile never wavers. “I merely want to help.” He continues without missing a beat, “The reality is you need some form of instruction. We both know that. But you have no sire. And while Hound Wright may be your handler, he is too busy to give you the full education a sire should. This whole mess could have been avoided if you had received proper guidance.”

He makes a gesture with his hands, indicating the situation Caroline finds herself in.

“We know the problem, now I want to put forward an answer: if you join a suitable krewe, then they may provide you with the education you need and hopefully make my friend, Hound Wright, rest a little easier during the day.”

“I want you to join the Storyville Krewe. Their members have backgrounds comparable to your own; that is to say, they come from well-to-do kine families. They are devout in their faith. I believe it would be a perfect fit. What do you think, Caroline?”

Caroline: “Can we… rest during the day?” The question seems to distract Caroline for a moment. “No, I’m sorry, that’s a distraction.”

She bites her lip. He’s not exactly asking much of her. “They are…” She looks to Father Malveaux again. “Agreeable to me. I don’t know that such could be said in return. Not even neonates wish to take on burdens.”

Rocco: Rocco smiles at that. “Burdens make us stronger. I have some sway with the Storyville Krewe. I assure you they will take you on; you are the lone neonate who brought embarrassment to Eight-Nine-Six, a rival krewe I might add. I can give you their phone numbers.”

Caroline: She smiles. “I am not so wholly helpless.”

Rocco: Rocco’s face falls a little, impatience creeping into his emotions. His smile doesn’t completely waver, though.

“I will also add that you owe me restitution for failing to tell me about Autumn; that is something I had to find out for myself. It is not looked favorably upon to hinder a hound in his duties. But we’ll forget that matter if you join the Storyville Krewe. Does that sound fair?”

Caroline: “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to sound dismissive of the request or idea as a whole.” Caroline is quick to correct. “I meant only that I’ve spoken with several of them, and have points of contact, but how one should go about actively seeking an invitation among them… does one simply approach them and ask?” She sounds skeptical.

Rocco: “Yes. Perhaps that’s what they’re hoping,” Rocco answers, apparently unperturbed by his misunderstanding. “You are not entirely pathetic, Caroline. There is certainly potential in you. I am sure they will see that, too.”

“In any case,” the hound says with a flourishing turn, “if you already have their contact details, there’s ]nothing more to discuss. If it makes you feel better, though, I do plan to get in contact with them myself and alert them of my wants.” He looks to Father Malveaux with a polite smile, nodding his head. “Good night, Father Malveaux. Thank you for your help in this matter of faith.”

GM: The Ventrue inclines his head.

Caroline: “Hound Agnello,” Caroline replies when he’s finished. “You’re too wise to suggest anything so rash as that they bring me into the fold I trust? A subtle interest may work best… and I will do as I may, on my end.” She bites her lip. “And thank you. Perhaps someday I’ll be so fortunate as to count you, as does Hound Wright, as a friend.”

Rocco: Rocco pauses slightly in his stride, glancing back for a moment. “You’re welcome, Caroline,” he says, voice raising as he moves forward once again, “but remember what I said: don’t forget to say ‘thank you’ to Hound Wright, too.”

Caroline: “Of course.” She lets him go, leaving her with the priest. “Father…”

GM: The older Ventrue turns to regard Caroline.

Caroline: “Might I ask you one question, unrelated to strictly spiritual matters?”

GM: “You have asked one already, but I will permit another.”

Rocco: Rocco stops at the doorway, looking back at Caroline and Father Malveaux. He seems to be waiting for Caroline to follow him, but nevertheless he patiently waits for her to ask any question of Father Malveaux that’s on her mind.

Caroline: She glances at Rocco and bites her tongue. “I’m sorry. Another time perhaps, Father. By your leave?”

GM: Father Malveaux looks irritated. “Out with it, childe.”

Caroline: “I would only ask, to what extent do my dealings with our kine relatives trample upon your own arrangements. I would not give offense to you once more in ignorance, as I did when we met.”

GM: “You will not attempt to draw your relatives into any activities that relate to the Kindred, nor will you employ Caine’s gifts upon them,” Father Malveaux pronounces. “I will give further consideration to this question and the nature of your future dealings with my domain.”

Caroline: She nods, frowning at the restriction. “Of course, Father. Thank you.”

GM: “You are dismissed, Miss Malveaux. Hound Agnello has further business to discuss with you.”

Rocco: Rocco smiles, seemingly happy to be mentioned.

Caroline: Caroline bows to the priest and turns to depart with the hound.


Friday night, 11 September 2015, AM

GM: Rocco takes an elevator several floors down with Caroline and leads her to a sterile gray corporate meeting room. If Lord Byron seduced the sister of Oscar Wilde, the result of their union could hardly be a less ostentatious creature than the Kindred who joins them. Caroline recognizes him from Elysium. His attire consists of a white domino mask with elaborate gold filigree, a black tricorn hat, purple velvet gloves, and brightly colored, almost jester-like clothes threaded with gold. His unblinking pale blue eyes have a glassy, porcelain-like quality, and almost appear part of his mask at a casual glance.

Harlequin21.jpg
Four masked ghouls trail after him. Each one looks as if they’ve stepped right out of a Mardi Gras parade. Or insane asylum.

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“Hound Agnello,” the masked Kindred offers in greeting with an amused twinkle to his eye.

Rocco: “Regent Harlequin,” Rocco responds with a boyish smile. “Always a pleasure.”

Caroline: Caroline trails the hound at a respectful distance and stands to his side, but not quite out of his field of view. She silently studies the group.

Rocco: Rocco looks to Caroline. “This is Caroline Malveaux, Harlequin. This is Harlequin, Caroline. He’s a harpy and the regent of the Masquerade. Best be on your best behavior.” He winks cheekily. “And of the Krewe of Janus…”

GM: The garishly attired vampire looks Caroline up and down. Something seems to dance in his eyes.

“How droll, Hound Agnello. I had been about to tell her the very same thing.”

The four masked ghouls nod their heads in exact synchrony.

Caroline: The effect is… unsettling.

“Of course, Hound Agnello.”

Caroline bites her tongue as she studies the bizarrely attired Krewe members.

GM: Harlequin abruptly turns away from Caroline, as if she’s wearing some dreadfully out of date article of fashion. “Is this where you say ‘bring in the accused,’ my dear hound?”

Rocco: Rocco nods his head, inclining it toward a doorway. “I suppose it’s my turn to say ‘how droll, I was just about to say that.’”

Caroline: Accused of what? Caroline wonders distantly.

Rocco: The hound dials a number into his phone.

“Bring her in, please,” he politely requests.

GM: A burly man enters the room at Rocco’s request. He’s dark of hair, dark of eye, and dark of expression, but still handsome enough.

Guilo.jpg
Autumn walks in front of him, head bowed and eyes downcast.

“Ah, Autumn! My scarlet leaf in the wind! I had such hopes for you, darling, really I did!” Harlequin exclaims.

Caroline: Caroline studies the captive ghoul, looking for signs of ill treatment.

GM: Caroline sees no marks or bruises on Autumn’s flesh, but the ghoul does not respond to Harlequin or raise her head.

The harpy waves one his gloved hands in simultaneously flamboyant and imperious gesture. One of the masked ghouls gets down on his knees. Harlequin sits on the man’s back, using him as a chair.

Caroline: Caroline flinches.

GM: “Do you require a seat as well, my dear hound?” Harlequin asks.

There are actual chairs.

Rocco: “I would be most appreciative, Harlequin,” Rocco replies with a smile.

GM: Another masked ghoul obediently kneels for Rocco to seat himself.

Rocco: He takes the proffered seat with a more subtle flourish.

Caroline: Caroline watches the scene more impassively.

GM: Harlequin tilts his masked head to observe Autumn’s downcast features. “Where are we to begin with this sad little leaf, dear hound? Where shall we begin to find the truth that lies buried in the pile of sodden autumn leaves?”

Caroline: “Master Harlequin… if I might speak?” Caroline’s voice is respectful, but not limp.

Rocco: Hound Agnello studies Autumn with mild interest. He is about to speak before Caroline chimes into the conversation. He frowns.

GM: “Regent Harlequin, Miss Malveaux,” the masked vampire corrects, still staring at the ghoul with his head cocked.

Caroline: “You are her dominator?” She gestures towards Autumn. “If so, I believe I owe you, on its face, an apology for my poor treatment of her this evening.”

GM: “The term is domitor, Miss Malveaux,” Harlequin corrects again. He looks as if he’s snickering behind his mask.

“I suppose her poor behavior begot poor treatment.”

Caroline: Caroline accepts the correction with a smile.

“Of course. I would have it known that most of this evening she was wrapped within my control, and even still her actions reflected highly upon the dedication with which you select your servants.”

Rocco: Rocco cuts in, “Why did you originally fail to mention Autumn?” He looks at Caroline with a scrutinizing gaze.

Caroline: Caroline looks from the harpy to the hound. “She was no liability to the Masquerade and in fact actively engaged herself to mitigate any potential breaches to it even when under my influence.” She considers the next words for a moment. “And you’ll recall, respectfully Hound Agnello, that your questioning was not particularly thorough once the heart of the matter was spoken to. It was not my intent to deceive you, and I made a full confession of her part in matters to Father Malveaux when the opportunity presented itself.”

GM: Harlequin’s expression is impossible to decipher past the mask, but Caroline has the impression that the harpy is sneering.

“His questioning was ‘not particularly thorough’, Miss Malveaux? Really?

Caroline: “Was it insufficient? Regent Harlequin?” She turns back to the masked Kindred. “He seems to have dug to heart of the matter with remarkable swiftness. Presumably he judged securing the scene more important than minutia he was more than qualified to discover on his own, though I would not actually presume to speak to his methods or motives.”

Rocco: Rocco raises his hand. “I think you misunderstand my line of questioning, Caroline,” he says, continuing. “You have already been judged, and I have no interest in judging you further. There is no point in trying to deflect the blame onto me. I am simply trying to ascertain Autumn’s role at this point. It’s admittedly odd that you failed to mention her considering her blood is all over your house. You understand, right?”

GM: Shrill, mocking laughter sounds from the harpy. Further laughter spills from the throats of the four masked ghouls, even the two that Harlequin and Rocco are sitting on.

“Ventrue always are terrible at apologizing, aren’t they? I do believe this simpering brat thinks she’s somehow saving face.”

He glances back at Caroline. “I have known you for all of two minutes, and already I find our association as tiresome as a cracked plaster mask! Really, darling? ‘It wasn’t my intention?’ Is ‘lie by omission’ a foreign phrase to you? Either you possess the personal initiative of a sea slug, or you have mistaken the dear hound and I for complete imbeciles. Your ‘apology’ is soundly refused.”

Caroline: Caroline turns her head to the harpy, as though studying some strange creature behind the glass in a zoo. She seems about to reply, but bites her tongue, and instead starts again, “Respectfully, what personal gain did I seek in failing to mention your servant, who executed her duties, to the hound? A servant easily identified by her blood, or two kine both left behind for him to take custody of that knew both her name and face?”

She continues on, more forcefully to Rocco, “I take full responsibility for the events of this night, and if my actions caused you inconvenience, then I apologize, in addition to my aforementioned submission to your request.”

“Would you have me offer a great excuse for my actions? An explanation of lies more convenient than the truth of a serious matter handled in haste?”

GM: Harlequin gives another mocking laugh as he regard Rocco. “‘Submission.’ I do believe she thinks she’s doing us a favor, my dear hound. I’m almost sad you were present to clean up this mess before my people were. The whelp had already received her first warning, you know.”

He glances back at Caroline.

“I suppose that ploy wouldn’t be a terrible one, for a buffoonish and gutter-Embraced whelp seeking to retain some modicum of pride. Set the Krewe of Janus at odds with the Guard de Ville—but that’s where the ‘buffoonish’ part comes in, isn’t it? Set the Krewe against the Guard over the misconduct of a probationary member terrified over what we would do if we discovered the extent of her disobedience.” There’s another shrill laugh. “This soggy autumn leaf stopped working for us the moment she proceeded to feed her sponsor a pack of lies over her phone.”

Caroline: Buffoonish and gutter-Embraced.

“Not at all,” Caroline replies, consciously not grinding her teeth. “In fact, set aside your preconception of manipulation, Regent Harlequin. I alleged no misconduct on her part. And I believe even called her a credit to your recruiting, given her reluctance to bend to anything more than a delay in reporting the matter, even under my influence.”

Rocco: “The problem is that Autumn lied, too,” Rocco mentions, “and that gives the impression of collusion. We have you omitting Autumn’s involvement to me and Autumn lying to her superiors. It’s all a bit too coincidental, don’t you think? If anything, the matter isn’t really about whether Autumn lied outright to her superiors or you lied by omission to me,” Rocco explains politely, “because that’s already been decided upon. I want to know the ‘why’ more than anything. As I said, this is Autumn’s judgment.”

Caroline: “Because she did nothing wrong. Not willingly.”

GM: Harlequin gives a shrill and piercing shriek of laughter at Caroline’s pronouncement. Laughter spills from the throats of his ghouls.

“You can just close your mouth at this point, darling. It’s so much uglier with noises coming out of it.”

Rocco: “I think we should hear from Autumn.” Rocco looks to Harlequin.

Caroline: Be smart, girl… Caroline thinks. Get yourself clear.

GM: The harpy makes a ‘do on’ motion at Rocco while dabbing at his eyes through their slits in the mask.

Rocco: “Why did you lie to your superiors, Autumn?” he asks the ghoul. He certainly likes to get straight to the point.

GM: Autumn does not raise her eyes from the floor. “May I explain the full story, sir, to give context?”

Rocco: “Yes.” He smiles, trying to put the girl at ease.

GM: The ghoul does not look in the least bit at ease she obediently relates the story’s entirety: how she watched Caroline at the Krewe’s behest, overheard her confession to Gabriel and Aimee, was spotted by her, enthralled by her, and told her everything—including how she needed to cover up this breach of the Masquerade. Autumn accompanied the Ventrue back to her house and attempted to stop her from revealing too much, but when Caroline began to cry bloody tears and the Masquerade unraveled, Autumn broke free of the Kindred’s control. She tasered Gabriel and Aimee unconsciousness (rather than shoot them with the gun in her hands) and got into a physical altercation with Caroline as their tempers flared. The Ventrue nearly killed her, but spared her life and fed her vitae to heal her injuries. Autumn realized that she had no alternative but to work with Caroline and panicked—not wanting to report the fact she spared rather than killed the two kine, or her many other failures up to that point—and instead bugged Caroline’s home so that she would have something useful to bring her masters. She stayed behind to watch over Gabriel and Aimee while Caroline left the house to find another Kindred who could erase her friends’ memories. She fled when Caroline informed her that the Guard de Ville was coming, but was intercepted by them before she could get away. She surrendered without a struggle. Here she now is.

Caroline: Caroline listens silently.

GM: “You are hereby expelled from the Krewe of Janus, drab, dreadful Autumn,” Harlequin declares in a bored tone.

Rocco: “I suppose this puts Autumn in the unenviable position of being an independent ghoul.”

GM: The ghoul mutely stares at her feet.

Caroline: Caroline says nothing either, waiting to see what comes of this.

Rocco: “Do you blame Caroline for your predicament?” he asks.

GM: “…a little, sir,” Autumn quietly answers. “But I know it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t lied.”

Caroline: “No, you’d be dead.”

Rocco: “Ah,” Rocco says, smiling at Caroline. “Nicely put.”

Rocco then stands up, pulling out a gun in a fluid motion. He cocks the weapon and aims the barrel at Autumn.

GM: Autumn finally looks up.

To say her face falls would be like saying a suicide looks “rather sad,” but she looks more resigned than surprised.

Caroline: It’s subtle, the slight tensing of tightly wrapped muscle on long limbs.

“She’s my responsibility then, Hound Agnello, since the Krewe has released its claim to her. Unless you object?”

GM: “As a matter of fact, darling, you’re somewhat—actually, rather more than somewhat—premature,” Harlequin declares. “I have expelled Autumn from the Krewe of Janus. I don’t feel at all inclined to say she is yours. What is this drab, soggy pile of leaves worth to you?”

Caroline: Caroline ponders for a moment. “First, I would submit that in my service she would be of value to you. Whatever her other values or lack thereof, she clearly has a more complete understanding of the Masquerade than a proven failure such as myself. If nothing else, she mitigates the possibility of any future failings.”

“Second, I would of course speak nothing further of this matter. Finally, though I hesitate to offer something you hold to be so valueless… a boon. For the service she might still provide to me.”

GM: “Refused,” Harlequin blithely declares. “Two boons, and no less.”

Caroline: She grinds her teeth, staring at the girl.

GM: Autumn stares back with silently pleading eyes.

Caroline: ‘They probably ate the whole pack.’

A laugh.

‘I couldn’t afford to attend college without them.’

‘I can afford to buy better food.’

‘She has diabetes.’

Rocco: Rocco waits for Caroline’s answer. The gun is still poised at Autumn’s head as he waits.

Caroline: Is her life worth less than Aimee’s? Is she any less responsible?

Finally, Caroline smiles.

“Two boons for Autumn? Gladly accepted. Thank you for your judiciousness.”

GM: The ghoul’s knees tremble.

Rocco: Rocco watches impassively and as he lowers the gun from Autumn’s head, un-cocking and pocketing the pistol.

GM: A faint smile crinkles the edge of Harlequin’s eyes. He rises from his ‘seat’ and pats Autumn on the head.

“You heard her, my precious little failure. I suppose another failure is an appropriate new mistress for you, isn’t she?”

Autumn manages to nod, numbly.

Caroline: “Are there any further matters, Hound Agnello?”

Rocco: “No. I believe the matter is quite finished,” he says, smiling.

“I believe Autumn has proven herself useless to you, but not quite deserving of death.”

Caroline: Is that what you see, Agnello? Caroline keeps her smile in place.

“Regent Harlequin, is there any other matter you would speak to me of?” Caroline’s tone is appropriately deferential.

GM: Harlequin turns to regard Caroline with that same masked smile.

“I suppose I’m feeling well-disposed, darling, now that you’re in my debt. So I’ll do you one better—I’m willing to forgive and forget our earlier exchange, so long as the future noises to come out of your mouth are less offensive.”

Caroline: “My faults are my own,” Caroline agrees as she folds a hand over her chest and gives a short half-bow. “Your magnanimity will proceed you. Hopefully the next time we speak it will be under more pleasant terms.”

GM: Harlequin glides towards Caroline and cups her face in his hands. The Malkavian’s fingers are soft beneath his purple velvet gloves as he traces a pattern over her cheeks.

Caroline: Caroline says nothing at the physical intrusion.

GM: “Uphold the Mask, my dear,” five voices repeat in unison. Caroline can hear the word’s capital letter.

Caroline: “Of course. To do otherwise is blasphemy.”

GM: The Malkavian withdraws his hands from Caroline’s face and turns his masked gaze to Rocco. “Don’t be a stranger, my dear hound,” he smiles.

Rocco: “Of course not, Harlequin,” Rocco says, pleased with the situation.

“But I really must go now. This matter has taken up enough of my time. Thank you for your help, Harlequin. I am sure we’ll have much to catch up on at the next soiree.”

GM: The Malkavian gives a giggle.

“I am equally sure you’ll make certain of it, darling.”

Rocco: Rocco turns to Caroline, flatly ignoring her newly requisitioned ghoul. “Good night, Caroline.”

With that, the hound leaves.

GM: Harlequin, too, departs without further word, trailed by his masked entourage.

Caroline: Only when both have departed does Caroline sag against the wall, bracing with one arm.

“Fuck me,” she murmurs.

GM: “Time for you two to go, ma’am,” grunts the handsome ghoul who followed Rocco in.

Caroline: Caroline nods, not moving for a moment. She looks to Autumn.

“Yes… I think it is.”


Friday night, 11 September 2015, AM

GM: Rocco’s ghoul escorts the women back to the underground parking garage. Autumn looks subdued and does not speak along the way.

Caroline: Caroline crawls in the back of the black SUV with Aimee, motioning for Autumn to ride up front.

GM: Autumn does so without complaint.

Aimee doesn’t. She immediately bristles at the sight of the other ghoul. “What’s SHE doing here!?”

“Yeah, nice to see you too,” Autumn mutters.

Amanda Turner, the ugly-looking Blackwatch merc who’s now Caroline’s bodyguard, wordlessly starts the car.

Caroline: Caroline leans her head back. “Not the place,” she snaps at the two ghouls.

“Home, Ms. Turner, and don’t spare the horses.”

GM: Turner takes the SUV past the checkpoint with its own dead-faced security personnel. The speed meter goes up as they clear the garage.

“Not the time!?” Aimee yells, looking equal parts hurt and bewildered. “She ELECTROCUTED me, Caroline! And you, you just-”

Caroline: Caroline rolls her head to the side and leans forward, eyes meeting Aimee’s.

“We can discuss it at home. In full.”

GM: “NO!” Aimee screams. She’s getting red in the face. “What the HELL was that, Caroline? Those people? Were they the Court? And you, back there, why the fuck did you…!”

Caroline: Caroline keeps the other girl’s eyes at ‘those people.’

“Be quiet until we’re home,” she demands, pushing her will down against Aimee’s.

It’s brutal, vicious, even cruel… but necessary.

GM: Aimee’s voice abruptly dies in her throat. Her mouth continues to soundlessly work, looking almost as if she’s choking. Her eyes stare at Caroline in simultaneous outrage and shock.

Caroline: She keeps the other woman’s gaze, her head resting against the head rest, her back not quite leaning against the seat, as long as is necessary. She memorizes every ridge and valley of Aimee’s face, burns the image of her struggling visage into her mind. Bites down the bile she can’t actually expel. Bites down the horror, the pain. There’s more than house money at stake here. Caroline can’t afford to be weak. Other lives depend on her now… not the least of which… Aimee’s own.

GM: As Caroline’s gaze bores into the ghoul’s, Aimee’s agitated expression eases into a tranquil, almost sleepy one. She leans back in her seat. Her eyes don’t seem to register the cityscape moving past the window. She just stares straight ahead into the back of the front seat.

Caroline: When they at least pull into the driveway of her home Caroline finally leans back.

“Head inside, I’ll be in in just a moment,” she instructs both ghouls.

GM: Autumn gets out the door and does as told.

Aimee starts walking in the other direction, away from the house.

Caroline: Caroline effects a sigh.

“Take the rest of the evening off, Ms. Turner. I’m sorry for the unevenness of it. I’ll see you tomorrow night.”

GM: Turner responds with a grunt of acknowledgement and pulls the car out of the driveway.

Caroline: She climbs out of the car.

“Aimee,” she calls.

GM: Aimee doesn’t so much as glance back at Caroline.

Caroline: Caroline moves after her, still speaking.

“Every answer you want is waiting inside.”

GM: Aimee doesn’t break stride. Caroline can’t quite see her face, but she hears a low sniffling.

Caroline: Her longer legs work for her here, as she closes the distance. “Aimee!” The word is wretched, half hurt, half angry.

GM: Aimee finally turns to face Caroline. Tears are brimming in her eyes. Her face is red.

“Go to HELL, Caroline!” she yells.

Caroline: Caroline grabs her by the arm, not hard, but firmly. “You can hate me all you want, Aimee.”

A lie…

“But let me explain. Please. Let me tell you what really happened to me. Let me… I can’t apologize, can’t ask your forgiveness… but let me explain. Please.”

GM: Aimee gives a shriek and wrenches her arm away from Caroline.

“I’ve had enough ‘explaining’!” she yells. “‘Explaining’ with that PSYCHO! And you, you-”

Caroline: “You can call me whatever you want. As long as you do it inside, Aimee. This isn’t a game. If you walk down this street alone they’ll put a bullet in the back of your head before you make the gatehouse. I’m sorry.”

GM: “Just leave me ALONE!” Aimee yells, striding away from Caroline.

Caroline: She doesn’t make it far before Caroline’s gaze intrudes again. There is no suggestion anymore. No request. Just a demand.

“Come with me.”

GM: Aimee’s eyes glaze over. She follows Caroline back to the house without a peep.

Caroline: Caroline greets Autumn at the door and unlocks it with the spare key from under the deck. Rocco declined to return hers. “You didn’t bug her room, right?”

GM: “Just yours and the dining room,” Autumn answers, sparing a glance for the subdued woman but no further comment. Her voice is still a little quiet. “The Krewe isn’t expecting you to keep them around, though.”

Caroline: She nods. “By dawn I want them all removed, and the rest of the house searched for any redundancies they had in place.”

She looks to the redheaded girl. “You understand what I did back there, right?”

GM: “Which ‘where’?” Autumn breathes out. There’s been a lot tonight.

Caroline: “Perdido House,” she answers as she leads them upstairs, Aimee by the hand.

GM: “Maybe you should explain for me anyways,” Autumn answers quietly.

Aimee looks for all the world as if she’s sleepwalking. Her face is completely relaxed and her eyes uncomprehending.

Caroline: “Get the tape again, I’m not… dominating her again.” Aimee has her hands, wrists, and legs bound, and is placed on the bed in her room. Caroline settles into the high-backed chair. Autumn is left to find a space on the bed or floor. “I just mortgaged my future to save your life.”

GM: As Caroline dismisses her mental hold over Aimee, the girl screams upon finding herself suddenly bound and helpless in Caroline and the psycho’s presences, and with a gap in her memory how she got there. She twists and thrashes against her bonds.

Autumn sighs as she jerks away from a kick. “This isn’t going to work.”

Caroline: Another piece of tape is applied over her mouth as needed.

GM:GET AWAY FROM ME-!” Aimee screams before the tape plasters over her mouth.

Caroline: Caroline heaves a sigh as she releases her presence into the room. That soothing, calming presence.

“Calm down, Aimee, everything is going to be okay. Breathe…”

The Beast whispers that everything is all right.

GM: It’s almost pitiful how Aimee, bound and gagged, jerkingly crawls towards Caroline like some overlarge worm trying to squirm as fast as it can. Her gaze is still full of fear, but at Autumn, not her ‘friend.’ Muffles sound past the tape gag.

Caroline: Caroline pulls the tape away, not dropping the aura.

GM: “Caroline! Get her AWAY!” Aimee yells, wild-eyed.

“I don’t think this is gonna work while I’m still here…” Autumn ventures.

Caroline: She gestures for Autumn to wait in the hall. “Take care of the bugs.”

GM: Autumn heads out the door, Aimee’s eyes never leaving her.

Caroline: “Better?” Caroline asks.

GM: “Caroline, what’s she DOING HERE!?” Aimee all but yells. “Where’s Gabriel? What happened!?” She doesn’t so much as glance at her duct tape bonds.

Caroline: “Quietly, Aimee,” Caroline replies. “Gabriel drove back to Baton Rouge. He’s fine, he’s safe. Unharmed.”

GM: Aimee breathes a sigh of relief. “But what _happened? Why is she still here?!”

Caroline: “The story begins quite a bit further back than tonight,” Caroline starts. “Back at Decadence. The night I went missing, you see…”


Friday night, 11 September 2015, AM

GM: Aimee patiently listens to Caroline’s lengthy tale. She does not once flinch, denounce, or exhibit any discomfort over Caroline’s many sins. The Ventrue sees her Beast reflected in the ghoul’s tranquil eyes.

Caroline: And Caroline tells it, after a fashion. She doesn’t go into the gory details of her assaults, but her nature, the nature of this life, and the many forces pressing upon her are told in enough detail. She finally releases her hold upon the other girl, for a moment.

GM: Aimee blinks confusedly, as if awakening from her spell. She immediately begins struggling against her duct tape bonds.

Caroline: Caroline’s eyes sweep across her as she struggles.

“And then what? You break free, overcome me, and flee into the night where you will be hunted down. I wasn’t lying when I told you that you wouldn’t make it to the end of the street. You wanted in. You wanted to know.” She all but glares at Aimee. “Now you do.”

GM: “You could at least try pretending I’m not your prisoner,” her ghoul glowers. “Maybe, I don’t know, still your friend?”

Caroline: “I tried!” Caroline snaps, hurt in her voice. “You wouldn’t listen. Kept screaming, running away.” She looks her friend in the eye. “I was trying to protect you.”

GM: “Take these off, Caroline!” Aimee shouts, straining against the bonds.

Caroline: God, she just wants to slap her. But is that the Beast talking? She fishes a pair of scissors off Aimee’s desk. She cuts away first the bonds around Aimee’s feet, pausing to see how she reacts.

GM: Aimee initially winces as she peels the tape off off, but between her already smoldering expression, she just looks even more pissed.

“What are you scared of? You can just… just what, mind control me again if I try to run, right?”

Caroline: If she only knew what was to come…

“I’m scared of doing that to you!” Caroline shouts back. “I hate doing it to you.”

GM: “Yeah, that’s why you never did it to me even once. Oh, wait.”

Caroline: “Not until tonight… Aimee, they’ll kill you. They’ll do it for something you don’t even realize is a sin. I tried to keep you clear… then I tried to get you clear.” She sighs. “And I failed. Utterly.”

GM: “You’re pretty good at doing things to peoples’ minds, right? You can just erase their memories?”

Caroline: Silence.

“No. They can, others. I don’t know. Maybe eventually I’ll learn.”

GM: “Then why are there so many gaps in mine?”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t further her answer, having already provided it.

GM: “That’s bullshit, Caroline. There are gaps after we started driving home!”

Caroline: “Control maybe, in the moment. I don’t know. There isn’t a fucking instruction booklet, or at least I didn’t get one.”

GM: “Oh, isn’t that good to know you’ve done it so many times you don’t even remember. I want you to do it again.”

Caroline: “It doesn’t fucking work that way. Not for me. Maybe an elder, but I can’t just go digging through your mind. Nor would it help you now. Even if I could make you forget everything, even forget me, it’s in you now.”

GM: “I don’t believe that,” says Aimee. “If you’re already in my head, then I want you to erase everything about this… this nightmare. I don’t want to remember any of it. I don’t want to be your… whatever this is. I don’t want anything to do with vampires. I just want to go to law school, graduate to work as a lawyer somewhere boring, and live a normal life.”

She lets out a breath. “I’m sorry for what happened to you. I know that doesn’t even begin to cover it.”

Caroline: “That’s all I wanted too, Aimee. And all I wanted for you.” Caroline takes each of her demands like a slap on the face. “And you can go to law school, graduate, and work. But once you’re in the Blood… you’re in. That’s the whole sadistic point. And even if I could let you out, even if I had the power of God… they’d dump your corpse in my bed to prove a point. I didn’t do this to you on a whim.”

GM: “I wish I could help you,” Aimee continues. “I really do. But I can’t. So if you really care about me, if you really do… you’ll find a way to make this all go away, turn it all into some bad dream, and not drag me down into this… whatever the fuck you’ve gotten sucked into.”

Caroline: “Stop. Just fucking stop. Hate me. Damn me. Blame me. It’s my fault you’re in this. I deserve it all. But stop living in a childish wonderland in which your desires are reality. Welcome to the real world, Aimee, welcome to the horror at the edge of night. I tried. I failed. You have to live with it.”

GM: “I have to? Sounds like I was getting along just fine until you decided to drag me in.”

Caroline: Caroline sweeps pens, books, and a battered Sunburst laptop off Aimee’s desk with a snarl of rage.

“Yes. You were.”

GM: Aimee looks past the point of caring about the violence. “I want out, Caroline. If you really care, you’ll find a way.”

Caroline: Caroline drives her right first down into Aimee’s table hard enough to crack bones in her hand.

GM: “I want OUT!” she screams.

Caroline: She grits her teeth through the pain, riding it like a wave away from Aimee’s voice.

GM: “What, are you gonna start hitting me next if I don’t say I’m happy to be your… your slave?

Caroline: For a moment she can’t hear her. She cradles her hand to her chest, blood leaking between torn flesh.

GM: “You couldn’t even tell me any of this without, what, turning my brain into a vegetable! Doesn’t that tell you something, Caroline? That maybe the best thing would’ve just been to leave me alone?” Aimee continues.

Caroline: “It would have been.” Caroline’s voice is soft. “I should have. But I didn’t want to let you go. I wanted… I just wanted someone to understand, in some way. I’m sorry.” The words are as empty as she is.

GM: “Understand me, Caroline. I want my life back!” Aimee’s voice finally breaks. “It might be too late for you, but it’s not for me! Please!”

Caroline: Caroline says nothing as the silence grows.

GM: It grows, then finally breaks too.

“So that’s it, then? I’m your, what, tied-up slave who slobbers over your feet? Forever?”

Caroline: “Do you really think I’d treat you like that, Aimee?” Caroline asks.

GM: A long, cold silence answers Caroline’s question.

Caroline: The silence grows and grows.

At last Caroline’s hurt, throaty voice murmurs, “You bitch.”

She falls to the ground next to Aimee.

GM: Aimee gets up and strides out of the room.

Caroline: Caroline crawls to her feet on her aching body. Everything hurts. She follows Aimee.

GM: Aimee walks into Caroline’s bedroom and picks up the discarded gun, but doesn’t turn to face her domitor.

Caroline: “It doesn’t have to be like that, Aimee. I’ll do everything I can… everything, to keep you safe from it. To keep your life as normal as possible. You’ll go to school. You’ll graduate. You can have a life. Tempered by this one… but it’s more than I’ll have. It’s all I can give you.”

GM: Aimee still doesn’t turn around. “I’ll live forever, right? Never get old, like you won’t?”

Caroline: “I’d have to ask Autumn… I think so.”

GM: Aimee loads the gun and presses it to her head.

Caroline: Caroline clenches her teeth. “Please don’t do this, Aimee… I love you. You’re the closest thing to a friend I can have.”

Again that subtle work of tightly wound muscle, coiled like a spring. Her eyes are on Aimee’s hand, on the gun. Those inhuman eyes that see so well. Even in the dark.

GM: Aimee’s hand remains steady, barrel pushed against the side of her head. Caroline can smell her perspiration. Her despair. Her fear.

Caroline: “It’s not the end, Aimee… for you.”

GM: Sweat against steel. Aimee sinks to her knees. Her head lolls forward. The gun’s barrel dully clinks against the floor. Caroline can hear soft sobs.

Caroline: Caroline slinks forward behind her. She rests her un-maimed hand on Aimee’s shoulder.

“I can’t tell you it’ll be okay. But I’ll try.” Her voice is as soft as a mother’s to a newborn.

GM: The sobs grow lower. And louder.

“I jus-just want to be normal.”

Caroline: She goes to a knee and wraps that hand across Aimee’s chest, holding her from behind as she sobs.

“Me too.”


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Story Three, Emmett XII

“I hope the fun has been worth it.”
Lena Merinelli


Sunday night, 13 September 2015, PM

GM: Less than a day after his sister has all but disowned him, two uniformed police officers stride into Em’s hospital room. They give their names as Jessica White and Marco Rizaffi. For the second time since he first checked into Tulane Medical Center, Em is placed under arrest and handcuffed to his bed. The charges are drug distribution and murder.

Emmett: “…what?” He’s more perplexed than worried.

GM: “You have the right to remain silent,” the younger female officer recites. “Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you?”

Emmett: “Uh. Yeah. Are you sure you have the right room?”


Monday morning, 14 September 2015

GM: Em knows better than to go to Bert Villars for legal representation by now, and he couldn’t afford the grimebag lawyer’s fee even if he wanted to. A weary-eyed public defender, whose full caseload only permits him seven or so hours per client, tersely lays out the facts. A dead body was found in Emmett’s apartment on Royal Street, along with 30-some grams of cocaine. Further cocaine samples from the same batch were also found in a run-down apartment complex in Mid-City, which blood spatter analysis indicates was the scene of at least several other probable murders.

The police are going to question him, the defender continues. They want to know where the other bodies are. They want names for Em’s accomplices. “Just tell them everything you know and take the plea deal,” the tired-looking man advises Em.

Emmett: “Yeah, and you aren’t going to believe me, but I can’t. You think I killed a guy from the hospital? Legless?”

GM: The defender gives Em an annoyed look and informs him the murders took place prior to that date, though the body in his apartment and matching cocaine samples were only just discovered. “The fact you lost your legs and were found guilty of drug possession around the same time as the original violence only further helps prosecution’s case.”

Emmett: “Ah. I still didn’t do it. Do you have a name on the body?”

GM: The short, unruly-haired man sighs. His face bears the pockmarks from a bad case of teen acne, and he truthfully doesn’t look much older than Em. “Miguel Rodriguez.”

Emmett: “Never heard of him. So, uh. Your life is going to get difficult. Sorry about that.”

GM: “Take the plea bargain, and you’ll face fewer years than when a jury finds you guilty anyway,” the young man sighs.

Emmett: “I seriously would, dude. I mean, I’m probably headed to prison anyway, but I actually have no idea what the fuck this even is. Nothing to give them.”

He rolls his eyes. “Look, you obviously aren’t going to believe me. But I’ve got nothing on a plea.” He does try to communicate his sincerity, if only to accelerate things.

He sighs. “What’s your name?”

GM: “Robert,” the public defender answers.

Emmett: “Robert. You’re fired. Save yourself the trouble.”

GM: The short man raises his eyebrows. “You are waiving your right to legal counsel and choosing to represent yourself?”

Emmett: “No way out, right?”

GM: “You do have a way out. Spare the state the time and expense of a needless trial, and you’ll face fewer years.”

Emmett: “Yeah, except for the fact that there’s nothing for me to give them. I guess I could just say, ’I’m guilty,’ fuckers, but have nothing to give you,’ but I don’t think that would help.”

GM: Em’s defender explains that while offering substantive information on the murders will get him a better deal, if he doesn’t want to rat out his fellows, the police ultimately can’t force him to talk. He can still get a deal better than a trial’s likely outcome if he agrees to spare the courts the needless time and expense.

Emmett: “Oh. Okay.”

Whoosh, whoosh, goes the car window.


Tuesday morning, 15 September 2015

GM: There’s another bedside arraignment. The same clerk, the same uniformed officer, the same assistant DA. Same everyone except for Bert Villars. Judge Underwood looks even less pleased to see Em than last time.

Emmett: “Oh, hi.”

GM: The iron-haired judge levels an icy stare over the rim of her glasses.

“Mr. Delacroix, you are acting in a manner which disrupts this tribunal and prejudices the administration of justice, and are in contempt of court.”

Emmett: “Oh. Sorry.”

GM: Judge Underwood’s stern face grows sterner yet when the cripple neglects to address her as “Your Honor.” After informing Emmett that he is now guilty of two counts of contempt of court, she states that while a guilty plea is binding, the court is not bound to honor the plea bargain negotiated by Em’s lawyer. She is now summarily throwing out the entire deal and proceeding to his now-unmitigated sentencing.

Emmett: Em’s eyes narrow.

GM: The following legal proceedings are all very confusing. Underwood states that, as part of Emmett’s plea bargain, he has forfeited the right to a trial by a jury of his peers. She asks him if he understands what that means, whether he knows he has waived his privilege against self-incrimination, whether anyone has forced him into making this settlement, and whether he is pleading guilty because he killed Miguel Rodriguez while engaged in the perpetration of aggravated kidnapping and the attempted exchange of a controlled dangerous substance listed under the Schedules II, section A.4., of the Uniform Controlled Dangerous Substances Law. All Em can mostly manage is an uncertain “yes” with the occasional “no,” where appropriate, to Judge Underwood’s and the prosecuting DA’s pointed queries. When he tries to deflect or sidestep, they relentlessly assault him and his counsel with a further gamut of twisting, head-pounding questions they already seem to know the answers to.

Em wonders what Villars would do here. As treacherous and underhanded as the cottonmouth-like lawyer was, he always seemed to have some way of slithering out of trouble—or at least fangs to sink into the hands of anyone who grabbed him. Em’s defender mostly just wearily takes everything the judge and prosecution dishes out. In fact, he looks as if he wants to rip off his necktie and strangle the mouthy cripple who is his client right then and there.

The ADA states that there are a host of charges Emmett is facing besides Miguel Rodriguez’ murder, all of which he duly enumerates, but murder in the first degree already carries the maximum possible sentence in Louisiana. Judge Underwood sentences the guilty-pleading young man to life imprisonment without possibility of parole. He is also to be placed on death row and will be executed by lethal injection.

“…as part of your plea in mitigation, you have forfeited the right to appeal any and all aspects of this judgment and conviction,” the white-haired woman levelly intones.

“We are adjourned.”

Emmett: Cool, Em he wants to say. He wants to smile up at the judge and do his best sear himself into her memories. I hear some guys who get the needle die with a boner, but I’ll just think of you, he wants to taunt.

He says nothing.

He told Lena he didn’t care what happened. She’s safe. That’s what matters. He’s all right with this, isn’t he?

So why is he crying? Crying, like the brat they all think he is?

GM: Em can’t make out much past his now-blurry vision. The clerk, doing something with the tape recorder. People getting up from their seats. Underwood, exchanging a few words with the ADA, both heedless of his tears. His defender, saying something to him that flies in one ear and out the other.

Look where we are now, Lena had said.

I hope the fun has been worth it.


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Story Three, Adelais II, Caroline XIV, Lavine I, Rocco I

“For some, the Embrace is a curse, a wholesale ruination of their mortal lives. For others, it opens their eyes to aspects of the human condition they have previously failed to appreciate, yet are forever barred from acting upon in their new state. It is debatable which is the more tragic.”
Philip Maldonato


Friday night, 11 September 2015, AM

GM: The Ogden Museum of Southern Art is located in the CBD next to Lee Circle, the traffic circle dedicated to the eponymous Confederate general. It’s a fifteen minute drive.

The tall and looming building almost resembles a prison, with an impassive male face staring through a partial cage of iron bars. Caroline has been there for a few high society functions with parents in the past. The Ogden’s collection, she knows, consists of work by artists from or associated with fifteen Southern states and the District of Columbia. Since its foundation by Roger H. Ogden, the museum’s collection of paintings, watercolors, drawings, prints, photographs, sculpture, wood and crafts has grown to include more than 4,000 works donated from individuals and collectors from across the US, and constitutes the largest and most comprehensive collection of Southern art in the world.

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Despite the late hour, the museum is open for some seemingly private function. Stone-faced security guards look Caroline over and wave her through without asking for identification or an entrance fee.

If Lord Byron seduced the sister of Oscar Wilde, the result of their union could hardly be a less ostentatious creature than the first Kindred Caroline sees. His attire consists of a white domino mask with elaborate gold filigree, a black tricorn hat, purple velvet gloves, and brightly colored, almost jester-like clothes threaded with gold. His unblinking pale blue eyes have a glassy, porcelain-like quality, and almost appear part of his mask at a casual glance. He laughs gaily as he flits about the museum, trailed by an entourage of masked, preening ghouls.

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Another figure draws attention like a black hole draws light. She is, quite simply, massive. She looks as if she weighs half a ton, easy, and rolling folds of flesh sag off her enormous arms as though they might splash to the floor at any moment. Her chocolate-gray skin is a sagging mass of lines and wrinkles so deep it’s a wonder she can see past them. Her already hideous face is further crisscrossed with angry purple welts and faded scars, and her jowls look large enough to swallow a cow whole. She wears a practically tent-sized black and white polka dot dress with a pearl necklace that’s almost dainty by comparison.

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A tanned-skinned bearded man in another corner is dressed in an antiquated charcoal suit and white bow appropriate for the 19th century. Caroline recognizes him after a moment from history class: he served as Louisiana’s first black governor, though he does not look very black, for 24 days during Reconstruction.

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A buxom, red-haired woman animatedly converses with a motionless creature who resembles nothing so much as a morbid, life-sized doll. Her already petite frame is perhaps a bit too thin, making her appear all the more fragile by way of comparison. Her pretty, youthful face has a porcelain-white complexion interspersed with a few freckles. Long honey-blonde-brown hair falls down her back in soft ringlets. No emotion flickers past her gray-blue eyes, nor does any smile upturn her cherry-painted lips: her face remains a mask of placid indifference.

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An emaciated, rail-thin teenage boy in a fine tailored suit appears exceptionally gaunt even for one of the Kindred, with hollow cheeks, stick-like limbs, and dark discoloration under his watery gray-blue eyes. His neck-length brown hair is thin and wispy.

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Rocco: An angelic-faced young man in a plum suit stands off to the side, admiring the artwork in quiet contemplation. His threads are reminiscent of a young gangster, but he holds himself with a dancer’s effortless grace.

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GM: They come in all shapes and sizes, tall and short, hideous and angelic, striking and mundane. Not all of the faces, however, are strangers to Caroline’s. Jocelyn Baker chats with another black-haired girl. Randolph Cartwright trades words with his brother-in-deformity. Philip Maldonato, one of the few individuals in the museum taller than Caroline, contemplates “Scarlet Ibis” by John Alexander.

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Caroline: Caroline surveys the landscape curiously, taking a moment to soak in the various groups. Her eyes settle on Maldonato after a moment. One of the few alone, and one she has reason to speak with, if only in brief.

She aligns to a spot several steps behind him and to his right, her heeled feet announcing her presence without the need for her voice to intrude on his consideration. She waits.

GM: The seneschal turns away from the artwork. He wears a hand-tailored, double-breasted navy suit with old-fashioned cufflinks, but gold rather than silver tonight.

“Miss Malveaux. How does the evening find you?”

Caroline: “Wiser I hope than each before it, seneschal,” comes her polite response. After a beat, “And you? I hope I am not interrupting you.”

GM: “Tonight finds me as well as may be expected, or even hoped for,” Maldonato replies. “If we are to be pedantic, Miss Malveaux, you are interrupting me. But the consequences of your interruption are minor, for Alexander’s work will remain when I return my full attentions to it.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “I’m told, seneschal, that in another time I would have been executed on the spot when discovered. I’m also told you played a part in the decision to amend that policy.”

She pauses for a moment, fighting to strike the proper tone.

“My thanks then are in order, whatever your reasons. And my apologies for any nuisance my subsequent actions have brought to your attention, and my earlier rudeness. For what little these things may mean to you.”

GM: Maldonato observes Caroline for a moment before answering, “You are welcome, Miss Malveaux. Among my reasons is the lack of necessity to execute orphaned childer who can become non-disruptive, if not useful, members of the Camarilla without their sire’s instruction. Our kind can rarely afford mercy, but we can, perhaps, afford not to indulge needless cruelty.”

Caroline: “If I might ask, have you had many succeed in doing so?”

GM: “They have been few in number,” the seneschal answers. “But nor have they been nonexistent.”

Caroline: “And another, in those successes, is there a common thread that might be found, that I might balance upon?”

GM: “Self-reliance has been the most frequently needled thread,” Maldonato reflects, “followed closely by politesse and personal responsibility. In a similar vein, Miss Malveaux, your earlier apology to me is well-intentioned, but I fear misplaced. Sheriff Donovan and Hound Wright have had more contact with you in recent nights than I, and they have had few good things to say about your character. Actions would speak louder to me—and to them—than words.” The elder Kindred pauses. “But an apology can, perhaps, be taken as a preface to and announcement of such action.”

Caroline: Caroline can’t quite hold his gaze. The sheer frustration of the system they’ve created in which one is playing a game in which they know none of the rules is maddening. It’s even more maddening to hear it is the system functioning as intended. Still, she doubts even the youngest at this gathering would care to listen to her grievances, much less the seneschal.

She settles on a more measured response. “Wisdom is slow in coming, seneschal, but it is my hope that mistakes paid in blood should suffice to teach me my errors. The sheriff and Hound Wright have endeavored to do so at least. Certainly, one cannot blame their instruction.”

Her tone is self-deprecating rather than accusatory. That pride with which she entered his office only a week ago is little to be seen.

GM: “Another Kindred once related a filmmaker’s words to me: ‘The flower that blooms in adversity is the slowest and most beautiful of all.’”

Caroline: “Disney.” The answer is off her lips.

GM: “Ah. I am unfamiliar with his works. Motion pictures hold little interest to me.”

Caroline: Caroline tries not to gawk a bit at the admission before finally composing herself. “His life had less bearing on your own existence than upon mine.”

GM: “It would appear my ignorance costs me little. The quote is memorable enough.”

Caroline: “Still, most of them lack the depth, the detail, of scenes like this.” She gestures to Alexander’s work.

GM: Maldonato’s eyes follow Caroline’s hand. “What do you make of it, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: She regards it for a moment. “I think it has a different meaning for me now than it did, perhaps a week ago. Before my Embrace I might have regarded it as a commentary upon the South. The beauty of idyllic southern creatures amid a sinking, rotten home. A commentary, perhaps, upon the beautiful elite. A criticism.”

GM: “There are few who survive the Embrace unchanged.”

Caroline: She nods. “Now… it so strikes me as our kind.”

GM: “The colors, certainly, evoke such associations.”

Caroline: “More than that. Their aloofness from each other, their distance. Their striking figures that are alien, yet your mind tells you belong. I believe if you showed the image to a child who had no concept of such bright birds, he would tell you it was a fanciful creation. The mind tells him it is wrong, and yet…” She shrugs. “But truly, it is the aloofness I never appreciated before they…” She trails off.

GM: Maldonato turns away from Caroline to more fully take in the painting.

“For some, the Embrace is a curse, a wholesale ruination of their mortal lives. For others, it opens their eyes to aspects of the human condition they have previously failed to appreciate, yet are forever barred from acting upon in their new state. It is debatable which is the more tragic.”

Caroline: She gratefully follows the words she had been prepared to let out. “You are a priest as well, seneschal?”

GM: “I am one of the laity, Miss Malveaux.”

Caroline: “And yet you offered to take my confession.”

GM: “I am, too, a deacon, and may fulfill a priest’s functions when a priest is not present. You would have had no other opportunity to unburden your soul.”

Caroline: “I should have taken it then. Would you take a confession from me now? You seem among the only among the Kindred I have met that might carry it.”

GM: “Such is typically the province of priests, Miss Malveaux. There are a number now at your disposal. Why do you believe that I might take your confession where your many-times cousin is unable?”

Caroline: “I don’t know that he would view it as an appropriate sin, seneschal. Nor do I think he would carry it with any weight. But your last comment… I think you would understand.”

GM: The seneschal doesn’t furrow his brow, nor otherwise change his facial expression, but Caroline has an impression like she is being scrutinized more thoroughly.

“Words once spoken, Miss Malveaux, can only be forgiven, not forgotten.”

Caroline: She is very still as she continues to look upon the painting. “I would have them not be forgotten, even if I am.” She turns to him. “That is why I would share it with you.”

“I murdered someone when I was still… kine. Knowingly, premeditated, coldly. I never confessed it. I never acknowledged it. I pretended that as I had broken no laws, I had done no wrong. I murdered, and pretended I had done no wrong. I went about my life. Another Kindred I spoke with spoke to our state as punishment by God for what we have done. Until she said that, I thought I had suffered some great wrong.”

“But now? Now I know God chose not by chance. I was not struck down by some injustice. I murdered my unborn child. I flushed them away when I was done. A child buried without a parent, without a farewell, without even acknowledgement. It seems fitting, then, that I should rise as a childe without a sire, without welcome, and without acknowledgement.”

“Whatever decision you must ultimately make as to my fate, will you carry that memory? Whatever your choice, it’s no more than I deserve. Someone should know.”

GM: The sounds of Elysium seem to dim around Caroline as she speaks, as if her confession were occurring between her and the seneschal alone. When she is finished, he begins,

“It is a matter of some debate among contemporary mortals whether the killing of unborn children should be made illegal, or whether it should be considered killing. Regardless of one’s views upon the subject, such action is regrettable—regrettable for the emotional and physical toll upon the mother, and regrettable for the circumstances that led to such action being necessary.” He pauses. “I do not claim to comprehend your pain, Miss Malveaux. But it is apparent that it weighs heavily upon your soul, such that you would confess it to another even a week after an event so personally seminal as your Embrace. Your unborn child’s death has caused you much pain and guilt, and for that I am sorry.”

“I have been dead for many years, and I have seen and remembered many things. I will remember this.”

Caroline: “You have nothing to be sorry for, seneschal. Never with me. All the same… that you would say such confirms my belief that perhaps alone in this house of wolves, you were the right one to tell.”

A bloody tear wavers at the edge of her eye, and she finally looks away. “I’m sorry.” She reaches into her bag for a tissue to wipe it away, before it stains her face.

GM: Maldonato patiently waits for Caroline to dry her eyes before resuming. “Perhaps two needless apologies, Miss Malveaux, will serve to balance the figurative scales. Your confession shall not pass to another’s ears.”

At the seneschal’s words, the background chatter and ambient noise of Elysium seems to resume.

“Your prior appraisal of my character is humbling, but I cannot claim it to be wholly or exclusively warranted. There are other Kindred with whom I would unburden my soul outside of confession’s sacrament. Perhaps you shall come to meet them and share my opinion on their characters. Perhaps you shall not. I have found over the course of my Requiem, however, that while all individuals may be unique beings, few are truly one of a kind in every facet of their personalities.”

Caroline: She smiles weakly. “Granted, seneschal. Perhaps in time I shall know them. Or perhaps not.”

GM: “Your present setting, in either event, is highly conductive to meeting new Kindred. Though the Beast may abhor rival predators, the Man retains his yearning for the company of others like him.”

Caroline: “Then I shall leave you to attend to them, seneschal. I had not… intended, to occupy you for so long. By your leave, then?”

GM: Maldonato fixes his gaze back upon Alexander’s painting, clasping his hands behind his back.

‘The only objects of practical reason are therefore those of good and evil. For by the former is meant an object necessarily desired according to a principle of reason; by the latter one necessarily shunned, also according to a principle of reason.’

“The Critique has weighed upon my mind on several recent occasions, Miss Malveaux. Perhaps it shall also weigh upon your own. By my leave.”


Friday night, 11 September 2015, AM

Lavine: Among the crowd stands a short, dark-skinned girl, with eyes as black as her messy hair. Unlike some of the more extravagant Kindred, she’s dressed in a simple denim crop top and skirt. The girl chats amicably with another petite, dusky-skinned woman of striking beauty and unclear ethnicity.

Adelais: Adelais saunters towards the two women, giving a few curt nods of recognition to those who greet her along the way. “A pleasure to see you both tonight. What brings you both so far into the city?”

Lavine: Lavine bares her fangs in a smile as she curtsies before the harpy. “Ah, Madame la Conseillère, ravie de vous voir. J’espère que tu vas bien,” she greets in French.

(“Ah, Lady Councilor, lovely to see you. I hope you are well.”)

She switches to English.

“Personal business this time, I had need to speak to several Kindred, yourself included.”

Adelais: “Splendid,” Adelais says flatly. “What may I help you with, Consul Lavine?”

Lavine: “Straight to business, Lady Councilor?” The faintest spark seems to light in the inky depth’s of the outlander’s eyes, but the smile remains the same. “It is a simple matter, I merely wished to inform you of a recent boon between myself and Monsieur Harrison.”

Adelais: “Oh?” The mention of the boon piques Adelais’ interest. Her eyebrows arches slightly. “The murder acknowledges your boon, Consul Lavine.” The harpy’s silky voice carries a hint of excitement, “Pray tell, how did you acquire it?”

Lavine: The spark kindles and smile widens, transforming into something a little more genuine.

“Monsieur Harrison came to me for aid on his next snake hunt. So I performed a cleansing and gave him a talisman to protect him. A fair exchange, no?”

Adelais: “If he accepted, then I say would say ‘yes’”, the light in the harpy’s eyes dim slightly, “I would like to hear more about the serpent hunt if you have time, Consul.”

Lavine: “But of course, Lady Councilor,” she says, motioning to her neck, where a necklace bearing the Medicine Wheel sits. “Monsieur Harrison understands the importance seeking a spirit’s protection, especially when one deals with the serpents. You should consider seeking such when you have the chance.”

“For the hunt, you must talk to Monsieur Harrison. I have yet to join him on such a chase.”

Adelais: “Most of the snakes I have the pleasure of dealing with slither within the walls of Elysium and they pay no mind to jewelry,” Adelais says, looking to the necklace.

Lavine: “For a simple piece of jewelery of course, Lady Councilor. But if it is the shape of a cross, some will turn and flee, no? Symbols have power, Lady Councilor, and the ones tied to this land are quite powerful indeed.”

Adelais: Her icy blue stare drifts to other attendees as the Gangrel speaks, then snaps back suddenly, “How powerful?” she asks sharply.

Lavine: A shadow of emotion briefly passes across the Gangrel’s face. Adelais can see anger, but there’s just maybe… sadness? Before it can be determined, it vanishes back into the depths of the polite facade as she speaks.

“That would depend on the symbol and the spirit, but many can command gifts beyond the scope of us. Although I hope Lady Councilor understands spirits are not simply playthings. There is a balance we must all uphold, else we be forced to.”

Adelais: Adelais holds her hand up slightly, dismissing the notion. “I see that my custom is not welcome.” She glances idly about the museum. “If what you want is someone to pretend not to want, then you are peddling in the wrong places, Consul. Your necklace should remain just that, a necklace.”

She nods to someone across the room. “Do not tie a slab of meat around your neck and walk into a lion’s den without the expectation that your neck may regret your decision.” Adelais begins to walk away before turning around. “Consider your boon noted and good evening to you, Consul.”

Lavine: “I do not know if if that, how do you say, analogy is correct Lady Councilor. It is more a spear or shield than piece of meat. A thing one would hope the wielder would have respect for,” she shrugs. “But then, your people never had much respect for this land.”

Black eyes stay focused on blue as she primly curtsies. “And a good evening to you, Lady Councilor. If you do come to understand this, you are more than welcome to seek my services.”


Friday night, 11 September 2015, AM

Caroline: A sea of unfamiliar faces awaits ahead. Most of them look unfriendly. One falls into neither camp. It’s a logical place to start.

GM: Jocelyn Baker is somewhat more dressed up than Caroline saw her last, and wears a knee-length semiformal blue dress. Her conversational partner is a girl in her late teens with long black hair, pale skin, and hard gray eyes. She’s attired in a longer black dress with a tighter skirt.

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The two are conversing near another painting that depicts a weeping woman.

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Caroline: Caroline does not make a beeline for Jocelyn as she did with the seneschal. She passes close instead, offering her the ‘girl’ the opportunity to wave her off, if so desired. She doesn’t wish to cause trouble for the friendly Toreador.

GM: “Hi, Caroline.” The greeting sounds almost out of place amidst the the gala of predators.

Caroline: “Jocelyn.” The smile is anything but forced here, as unnatural as it may be, and she slides to a stop. “It’s good to see you. I had you on my list.”

GM: “Yeah, you too,” the Toreador answers, though her tone isn’t quite as warm as Caroline’s. “Your list?”

Caroline: “Of Kindred I owed amends to, of one form or another.”

GM: “This is Roxanne Gerlette,” Jocelyn states after a moment, motioning towards her companion. “She’s the Storyville Krewe’s leader.”

The dark-haired girl looks Caroline over. Not quite frowning, but not quite smiling. “Good evening.”

Caroline: “Good evening, Ms. Gerlette.” Caroline is guardedly friendly. Her smile is a bit wry as she’s studied. Black gown, long white coat. The slightest copper tint in the air. She wouldn’t look out of place attending the museum’s opening, or a new exhibit. She glances at Jocelyn for a moment. “Or am I missing a title again?”

GM: The Toreador shakes her head. “We don’t have any titles.”

Caroline: “One thing I’ve done properly, then.”

GM: “For now,” Roxanne states.

Caroline: “My reputation precedes me, I see.” Caroline looks a bit sad, but keeps the smile in place.

GM: Roxanne doesn’t blink, but she does look confused. “Your reputation, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: “You meant titles. Of course.” A bit of wistfulness. “I meant only my social graces have not been well represented. The realities of the child wandering through the garden.” She frowns after a moment. “Though I suppose that metaphor is not perfect.”

GM: Roxanne seems to look Caroline over again, skeptically. “I’m sorry to hear?”

Caroline: Caroline’s smile is strained. “I’m sorry, I’m lost in my thoughts and being rude again. Caroline Malveaux, unreleased fledgling.” She dips her head to the dark-haired woman. “A pleasure to meet you.”

GM: “You too. So, Jocelyn says you owe her a boon?”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “Yes, she was kind enough to provide some direction to me. More, I think, than she realized.”

GM: Jocelyn looks mildly taken aback. “How’s that?”

Caroline: “Do you know what they tell a sireless fledgling, Jocelyn?”

GM: “Probably not a lot?” the Toreador guesses.

Caroline: “Nothing. Not even where they can hunt or rest, or that they should even ask these things.”

GM: “Well, that’s supposed to be your sire’s job,” Roxanne says.

Caroline: “I’m not complaining, Ms. Gerlette,” Caroline observes. “Merely observing the grace of someone willing to provide even the the beginnings of direction. Others were… less gentle in their instruction. It makes the kindness all the more noticeable as well then.”

GM: “She did get a boon for it. But I’m sure she’s welcome.”

Jocelyn nods. “So, did you talk to your primogen or any other krewes?”

Caroline: “I had actually hoped to do so tonight. Last night was… interesting.”

GM: “How was that?”

Caroline: “Someone else was kind enough to provide come corporal instruction when I misstepped. Sadly it consumed much of the evening.”

GM: Jocelyn and Roxanne glance at another. ‘Corporal instruction’ probably isn’t lost on anyone here.

“Well, I don’t think Hurst’s here, but you might luck out and find his sister Becky Lynne,” the Toreador says.

“Yeah, preparing for the trial’s probably keeping him busy.” Roxanne.

Caroline: “Trial?” It’s the first Caroline has heard of it.

GM: “Long story,” Jocelyn says.

“He and George Smith were both around for a huge Masquerade violation. Smith’s probably going to get ashed for it.” Roxanne.

Caroline: The subject hits shockingly close to home. “Fortunate for Hurst.”

GM: “Yeah, it’ll probably be.”

“Not as much if Smith wasn’t a blue blood,” Jocelyn ventures. “The prince might cut out his tongue then.”

Caroline: “You sound almost jealous,” Caroline ventures in turn. “I can tell you it’s no bed of roses over here, though.”

GM: “Roses are my clan’s shtick anyway. We’d sue.”

Caroline: “I’ll not argue with my elder,” Caroline replies with a hint of a smile.

GM: Roxanne actually looks mildly taken aback, but pleasantly so at Caroline’s pronouncement. “Yeah, I guess we are.”

Caroline: “Wise in all things. Or at least infinitely wiser,” she continues, first solemnly, then with a hint of humor at the end. “Wisdom being a measure of experiences.”

GM: Both neonates spare a glance around the room at Caroline’s words. Jocelyn manages a smile, while Roxanne’s lips simply quirk.

“So, are you sworn to a regent, or do they not allow that?” Jocelyn.

Caroline: “Technically I’m a serf,” Caroline responds. “Squatting seemed a poor choice. And poaching, I learned, worse. If and when I’m released, I’ll be required to swear more fully as a vassal.”

GM: “Duh,” Roxanne says. “That’s stealing.”

“Doesn’t Savoy have a bunch of squatters?” Jocelyn wonders.

“Probably. He actually lets mosquitoes and abortions around the Quarter,” Roxanne answers. “That’s what happens when you don’t have a blue blood in charge.”

Caroline: “A lesson I learned the hard way,” she replies to Roxanne’s comment on stealing. “And one that did not need to be taught twice. All and all, it might have been easier if there was a PowerPoint presentation on the subject.”

GM: “There aren’t a lot of b-orphans running around outside the Quarter,” Roxanne replies. “Who’d take the time? Most are mosquitos and Meadows swats them pretty fast.”

Caroline: Caroline smiles at the mid-sentence correction. “You need not worry about offending me. I am what I am. Should I be worried about Meadows, though?”

GM: “I don’t know,” Jocelyn admits.

“Probably not, if the prince let you live,” says Roxanne, “but she attacked Gus Elgin. She’s crazy.”

Jocelyn glances around. “Careful, she might hear you…”

Caroline: “She’s here?”

GM: “She might be,” Jocelyn answers.

The other Ventrue doesn’t look around as obviously, but she feels more on guard. “She still shows up to Elysium. I don’t know if she’s at tonight’s.”

“Her childe is, though,” Jocelyn says. “Or one of them. Rocco Agnello?”

Roxanne frowns. “I thought he was a torrie.”

Caroline: Caroline arches an eyebrow at Jocelyn. Apparently clan lines are not quite as distinct as she suggested.

GM: “What?” Jocelyn says. “It’s not like everyone goes around wearing pins.”

Caroline: “That’s an idea you should put in writing. Is there a suggestion box?”

GM: Roxanne manages a laugh at that.

Caroline: “I’ll take that as a no. Alas for my plan to make a splash in Kindred society.”

GM: “Yeah, good luck at that if you weren’t Embraced by the prince or some other elder,” Jocelyn says.

Caroline: “Were they all?”

GM: Jocelyn looks confused. “Everyone what?”

Caroline: “The prince and the elders. Were they Embraced by elders and princes?”

GM: “I dunno about other princes, but even older elders, sure,” Jocelyn says. “You can’t be an elder if your blood’s too far away from Caine.”

Caroline: She thinks back to the tapestry at McGinn’s haven.

“So every generation is weaker?”

GM: “Yeah, basically,” Jocelyn nods.

Caroline: Caroline frowns. This was not the direction she had intended for the conversation to go, and the idea of a permanent pyramid of power that cannot be climbed is… troubling. She counts the names in her ‘childe of’ mantra.

GM: Caroline Malveaux, childe of René Baristheaut, childe of Robert Bastien, childe of Lothar Constantine, childe of Dominic de Valois-Burgundy, childe of Gaius Pedius Marcellus, childe of Alexander, childe of Ventrue. That’s eight names. Caine makes nine. Maldonato said he was their race’s universal progenitor. And there was another name between Caine and Ventrue on McGinn’s tapestry.

That makes… ten?

Caroline: “What’s the last generation of elders?”

How far removed am I from power?

GM: “Eighth,” Jocelyn says. “There’s thirteen.”

Caroline: “Why thirteen?”

GM: “Because anyone past that doesn’t count,” Roxanne says.

Jocelyn gives a grimace. “Yeah.”

Caroline: “Oh?” She supposes that’s consistent with less removed blood being more esteemed.

GM: Roxanne looks somewhat impatient.

“That’s rude to talk about here.”

“We’re just lucky not to be any higher,” says Jocelyn.

Caroline: “I think normally, that would be something we’d all be drinking to.”

GM: Roxanne’s fangs briefly show. “We can still drink.”

Caroline: “I somehow doubt they manage to keep all of our vintages on hand.”

GM: “Sure they do. They’re walking around just outside the museum.”

Caroline: “I’ll pass in the seneschal’s domain.”

GM: Jocelyn nods. “Maldonato’s our regent. He’s pretty fair, but even he punishes poachers.”

Caroline: “Yes… I imagine he would be.” Caroline reflects for a moment on their conversation a few moments ago. “He seems to have retained something that others lost along the way.”

GM: Roxanne purses her lips. “It’s odd, not knowing his clan.”

Caroline: “Some great secret, then?”

GM: “Basically,” Jocelyn says. “He just doesn’t talk about it. And it couldn’t be anything good if he’s hiding it.”

Caroline: Caroline frowns. “Alternative. It’s a distraction.”

GM: “From what?”

Caroline: She raises her eyebrows. “That would be the question, wouldn’t it? But that’s what I’d do in his place. Create a mystery for others to fixate on, to theorize on.”

GM: Roxanne frowns, thinking Caroline’s theory over. “That might explain some things. But it raises the question of what he’s hiding.”

Caroline: “Does it matter?” Caroline asks.

GM: Jocelyn looks surprised. “Well, sure. It’s a secret.”

Roxanne continues frowning. “He has it made, though. He’s literally in bed with the prince.”

Caroline: “I don’t know enough to say whether any clan nature would be sufficient to throw him into disgrace,” Caroline begins. “Jocelyn could tell you that… but it seems more likely to me that you wouldn’t sit on such an obvious one.”

GM: “Well, sure, he might not be from a Camarilla clan,” Jocelyn says. “That’d be pretty embarrassing, so he just doesn’t say anything about it.”

Caroline: Caroline shrugs. “I’d be more interested in what else having no clan indicates.”

GM: “He could be an Assamite. They’re assassins who have to murder other Kindred and drink their blood, because they can’t drink anything else,” Roxanne speculates.

“Or a cottonmouth. He could be Egyptian,” Jocelyn adds.

“Don’t be stupid, Jocelyn. Cottonmouths can be black too. They just don’t like to Embrace white people.”

Caroline: “Like that no one knows his background. His sire… the powers he has access to…”

GM: Roxanne frowns. “That’s true. It’s harder for enemies to plan around what they don’t know.”

“Maybe he’s just another blue blood,” Jocelyn thinks. “That’d explain why he and the prince…”

Caroline: Caroline falls silent, lets them speculate to their content.

GM: The two neonates bat about theories from him being a Toreador to a kook to a crawfish to even a mosquito. But there is little that can confirm or deny their speculation, and eventually the two Storyvilles admit as much.

Caroline: Caroline listens. “Presumably someone has simply asked him?”

GM: “I’ll pass, if an elder isn’t volunteering,” says Roxanne.

Caroline: Caroline shrugs. “I suppose the question then is… does it really matter to any of us?”
“Whatever his secret is.”

GM: The other blue blood stares at Caroline for a moment. “Of course it does. It wouldn’t be a secret if it wasn’t important.”

Caroline: “I only mean, start here, and now, where you are. Even if he has some dark secret, even if you learn it, what would change for you? Could you manipulate him? Control him? Would you wish to, and to what end?”

GM: Roxanne keeps staring. “You’re really new, aren’t you?”

Caroline: “Yes,” Caroline answers evenly. “But not in that way. What I mean is… he’s the seneschal. A regent. An elder.”

GM: “I don’t know how or even if I’d use it,” Roxanne states. “It’s just better to know than to be ignorant.”

Caroline: “I’ve brought enough hell down upon myself just speaking rudely to them, or unintentionally provoking one. And you’re talking about holding a secret over the head of one of the most powerful Kindred in the city. At best it would make you a target for others. At worst… powerful people don’t like liabilities.” She shrugs.

GM: “Well, I’m not saying I’d use it,” Roxanne repeats. “It’s just better knowing something than not knowing it.”

Caroline: “And what if you owe a boon to an elder, and they instruct you to tell them of any use you may be to them?”

GM: “It could be dangerous. But guess what, so’s being Kindred at all.”

Caroline: Caroline looks away. “You’re not wrong.”

“In any case.” She looks back. “I should continue my rounds, and leave you in peace. I don’t suppose one of you two could be persuaded to describe Miss Adler for me before I go?”

GM: “Well,” Jocelyn starts, “she’s blonde, around our age—or looks like it, I think she was Embraced around Katrina—pretty short, usually wears nice dresses…”

“She doesn’t exactly stand out next to Harlequin,” Roxanne states.

Caroline: Caroline smiles. “Short young blonde woman who’s well-dressed. Serviceable enough.”

GM: “She’s pretty nice, but good luck, I guess?”

Caroline: “I shall not decline it.” She looks at Roxanne. “A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Ms. Gerlette.”

GM: “Yours too, Miss Malveaux,” Roxanne replies.

Caroline: “Jocelyn.” Caroline politely inclines her head to the ‘elder’ Kindred and withdraws.

GM: “Caroline,” the Toreador states, mirroring the motion.

Caroline: She scans the crowd for Adler and almost moves to depart, then swings her gaze back to the two Storyvilles. “I don’t suppose we could trade numbers?”

GM: Jocelyn trades looks with Roxanne. “Well, I guess we could. What for?”

Caroline: “Good company is hard to find. And it might offer an alternative for me to pay you back… or offer something else in the future. Assuming I haven’t been too great of a bore?”

GM: Jocelyn thinks for a moment, then offers Caroline a phone number. Roxanne, after another moment, volunteers her own.

Caroline: She gives her thanks and breaks from the duo.

Trifling gifts to them. Nuggets of gold to her.


Friday night, 11 September 2015, AM

Caroline: Adler is her next focus. Try to arrange a meeting with Gabriel Hurst for the future. She doesn’t know when the next major opportunity will come out of Elysium and hopefully such a connection may at least pay off in additional contacts… or at least contact numbers.

GM: Caroline spots a Kindred who fits Jocelyn’s description after a few moments. She’s beautiful. Embraced in the flower of late adolescence, she has delicate features, soft sun-blonde hair that falls slightly past her shoulders, and deep brown eyes. She smiles easily, which together with her slight build and short height, give her a harmless appearance—the sort of girl who couldn’t intimidate a grade schooler.

becky_lynn_adler_4.jpg
She’s dressed in a knee-length sleeveless pink dress. Her jewelry is light, diamond pieces and a heart-shaped locket on a chain around her neck that complement her appearance without drawing overmuch attention to themselves. Caroline intercepts her just as she’s making her way away from Louisiana’s 24-day governor, open-toed heels clicking against the museum’s floor. Even with them on, she stands over a foot below the Ventrue.

Caroline: “Miss Adler?” she asks as she intercepts the other Kindred.

GM: “Guilty as charged, ma’am, might I ask who I have the privilege of addressin’?” the other Ventrue smiles, offering a deferential nod.

Caroline: “Caroline Malveaux.” A nod in turn. She pauses to see how the name is greeted.

GM: “Well, ain’t that the berries! I reckon that makes you related to Father Malveaux, doesn’t it?”

Caroline: “Distantly, I believe,” Caroline agrees.

GM: “Really now? I can tell he takes his job very seriously. It’s a pleasure to meet another of the family.”

It would feel natural here to shake hands, but the other Ventrue doesn’t. Caroline can’t think of any Kindred who’ve offered to shake hands.

Caroline: “It doesn’t seem that uncommon. I believe your brother is also among us?” she asks. “Or is that a more colloquial statement as to siring? Of a different sort.”

GM: “Yes indeed, we both share the same sire. I didn’t have any relation to my brother when I was breathin’, but Lord knows he treats me like I did. Brother-in-blood is the technical term for it, as opposed to a brother-in-flesh, but that’s somethin’ of a mouthful to say each time, isn’t it?”

Caroline: “I imagine that must have been a pleasant surprise for you.”

GM: Becky Lynne mods. “That it was, Miss Malveaux, family’s like chocolate—when you’re breathin’, at least—that way: you can never have too much.”

Caroline: Caroline smiles. “So I’ve often found. It’s on a matter of that, of a sort, that I sought you out, if it isn’t impolite to say as much?”

GM: “Why certainly not—if anything, I should say it’s rather flatterin’! What can I do for you?”

Caroline: “I’m told we share something of an extended family, and I have pushed beyond the bounds of decency by not reaching out.”

GM: “Why yes, so we do,” Becky Lynne smiles. “But it’s never too late to a first impression if you haven’t made one yet. Besides, Miss Malveaux, one can hardly blame you—I gather you’re new around here, would this be your first time in Elysium too?”

Caroline: “You’re very perceptive, Miss Adler,” Caroline concedes.

GM: “Have you said hello to any of your other kin? There are a few other Alexandrites in New Orleans, I think. Mr. Guilbeau and Deacon Holland, though I don’t think Deacon Holland is in the city to stay, Lord Brodowski, Lord Interpreter Guilbeau, and Regent McGinn.”

Caroline: “Lord Councilor Pierpont and I were acquainted last night,” Caroline replies. “I regret it was not under better circumstances.”

GM: “I’m sorry to hear that, Miss Malveaux,” Becky Lynne offers. “One might never get a second chance at a first impression, but one can get plenty of chances at later ones.”

Caroline: “Certainly, and time is one thing given to us, at least in theory. In any case, I’m told that the least I should do, as a matter of clan matters, is introduce myself to the clan primogen…” She smiles politely and surveys the rest of the room. “I hope it is not too rude to speak to his sister-in-blood first?”

There’s something odd about the blonde. A veneer? Perhaps. She’s almost… perky.

GM: “Certainly not, one’s got to hitch their wagon to the horse in front of them, don’t they?” Becky Lynne smiles. “We’ve got an address at the Garden District where we’re happy to receive visitors. I wonder if you might be so kind as to do me a favor as well?”

Caroline: Caroline arches an eyebrow. “I suppose that would depend upon the nature of the favor, Miss Adler.” The tone is friendly enough though.

She continues to consider the elder Kindred. There’s something she can’t quite put her finger on. Looking down on Adler, she considers inviting her to sit somewhere. It seems to relax many people during one-on-one conversations with more physically imposing individuals.

On the other hand, size matters so much less among Kindred. Look at her….

GM: “Well, first things first, Miss Malveaux. Our address is at….” Becky Lynne gives Caroline one for a home in the Garden District. It isn’t too far from Orson’s house. She also gives the Ventrue a phone number for one of her brother’s ghouls. “You can tell him that Primogen Hurst’s sister passed it on, and he’ll fit you into my brother’s schedule.”

Caroline: Caroline withdraws from Becky Lynne and glances around to see if others were observing the meeting. She disguises the motion with a sweep of her pale hair.

GM: As is the nature of parties, Elysium actually seems to be over a dozen smaller parties held among various cliques. Few Kindred seem interested in what the two neonates may have been discussing amongst themselves.

Caroline: She smiles a bit at that. After a lifetime in the spotlight, there is some pleasure in not being the center of attention.

Still, Caroline has little time to enjoy it. She’s no closer to actually accomplishing anything she set out to do. She needs to find someone who can help… and anything on René. There’s one more meeting she needs to have here, and then she needs to go.

The Nosferatu. To see what her dignity bought.

GM: Caroline’s Nosferatu contact is not difficult to track down. There might be several members of the deformed clan at tonight’s Elysium, but there’s only one who fits Abellard’s nickname of ‘Gutterball.’

Gus_Gutterball_Elgin.jpg
He has a bruised, swollen eye and rounded, hideous crushed-in head, as if a wagon ran over him. His block-like nose and pudgy jowls remind Caroline 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. He stands a full head below somewhat tall men, which together with his girth and triangular-shaped frame, make him seem built like a dwarf—short and stout. He wears a maroon leather coat over a black shirt and pants. He moves to and fro about through the crowd, his genteel smiles and formal tone almost mockingly at odds with his deformed face.

“Miss Malveaux,” he smiles pleasantly upon observing her approach. “What may I do for you this evening?”

Caroline: Oddly, compared to Cartwright… he’s not that bad. Ugly without being hideous on its face. The gore seems almost trivial.

The fact there aren’t enslaved, beaten women worshiping at his feet helps too.

“Mr. Elgin… I was told to seek you out.”

GM: Elgin nods. “And you have found me. You desire, I presume, information on your sire.”

Caroline: “If you would be so kind.”

GM: “We will accept payment in boons or other information of like value.”

Caroline: She keeps her jaw from dropping, but closes her eyes.

GM: “Ah,” Elgin states with a slight frown. “I fear you have labored under a false impression of how transactions operate with my clan, Miss Malveaux. We subject new Kindred we deal with—and many with whom we have had previous dealings—to elaborate hazing rites. Your exchange with Mr. Abellard was one such hazing, and substituted for the more common one of requiring the supplicant Kindred to visit our clan’s domain in the sewers.” Elgin pauses, then states mildly, “We do not trade politically sensitive information for photographs of the nature Mr. Abellard requested.”

Caroline: She falls silent. Centers herself. Opens her eyes.

“My thanks, then, for the explanation.”

GM: “You are welcome, Miss Malveaux.”

Caroline: She smiles at last. “At the risk of coming across as tasteless, might I ask how you normally conduct these things? How are prices arranged?”

GM: “That depends upon the nature of the information requested. Its difficulty to obtain—if we do do not already know it—the consequences for its release, and of course, its value to the Kindred who desires it. The greater these things, the greater the future obligation to us..”

“Information traded to us by other Kindred, of course, depends upon its own usefulness and difficulty in obtaining.”

Caroline: Caroline is silent. “Presumably you know the details of my circumstance. Might I ask, in advance, do you already have the information?”

GM: “May I inquire as to what specific information, Miss Malveaux?” Elgin asks.

Caroline: She bites her lip. “In order of interest, a profile on my sire including allies and boons credited. A less comprehensive profile would include any information related to his Embrace of myself that is not known, as well as his present haven.”

GM: Elgin nods. “I believe we may be able to answer many of your questions, Miss Malveaux. What are you prepared to offer us in exchange?”

Caroline: A smile. “Your elegance and courtesy are remarkable,” Caroline replies, “but let us not dance around the fact that you hold every card between us. I scarcely have a place at the table. Such is not a surprise to me, and it no longer hurts my feelings when such is shown.”

GM: “Honesty is a trait much-admired by my clan,” the Nosferatu remarks with a faint smile.

Caroline: “It must be difficult for you then, at these gatherings. Presumably it is why so many of you, I hear, avoid them.”

GM: Elgin’s smile dims somewhat. “Most members of my clan are long since inured, Miss Malveaux, to being called ugly.”

Caroline: “You misunderstand me.” A forced smile. “This is my first such gathering among the Kindred, but in many such as a kine, there was one constant. Truth was in short supply.”

GM: “I am quite certain. It is an amusing paradox that our society, despite being created by and sustained upon lies, is at once far more honest than the kine’s in many ways, is it not?” Another dim smile.

Caroline: She frowns. “Yes… and no. It is peculiar of a sort. Lies on the surface overlaying hard truths, perhaps.”

GM: “To those of delicate constitutions, it is sometimes kinder to tell soft lies than hard truths.”

Caroline: “Sometimes,” Caroline agrees. “But not now. Not between us. I need not tell you how important this information is to me, or how little else I can offer.”

GM: The Nosferatu raises a polite eyebrow. “A pity, Miss Malveaux, though I would not be so quick to discount what you might trade with us. Eyes and ears may observe from a great many places, and information’s value is independent of its conveyor’s. You have heard or witnessed nothing that would be of interest to other Kindred since your Embrace?”

Caroline: She bites her lip, pausing to ponder.

GM: The Nosferatu waits patiently.

Caroline: “Should I throw things at you until one sticks? It is difficult for me to know what you may have already heard.”

GM: The Nosferatu emits a light but throaty-sounding chuckle. “The alternative is that I iterate things my clan knows until one misses.”

Caroline: Her eyes show their own laughter at that. “Well, I certainly wouldn’t object. Perhaps we could start with my sire?”

GM: Elgin offers another dim smile. His bruised, puffed right eye almost makes it look as if he is chuckling.

Still, the noise of Elysium abruptly fades around the pair.

Caroline: Mirth fades gradually, leaving them in that silence.

“The altercation in Mid-City involving Eight-Nine-Six,” she offers first, questioning in her tone.

GM: “Common gossip at this point, I am afraid. Mid-City’s Anarchs have been quite vocal in spreading the tale.”

Caroline: She nods slightly, having expected little less. “Taking it harshly?”

GM: The Nosferatu raises an almost invisible eyebrow. “It was an impressive feat for a newly-sired fledgling, however disregardful for the Masquerade. An established krewe brought low by an unreleased neonate.”

Caroline: “I rather doubt they were impressed.”

GM: “Angered, and though they will be slow to admit it, fearful.”

Caroline: Caroline frowns. That’s a particularly dangerous combination.

“I imagine I won’t get a Christmas card from them, then.”

GM: Another ugly smile. “One may always hope.”

Caroline: “Their punishments and mine?”

GM: “Also readily spread by them.”

Caroline: “I would call it tasteless, had I not been prepared to offer the same,” Caroline observes. “The death of Lord Councilor Pierpont’s men, I assume you heard from your fellow?” She gestures to Cartwright across the room, having marked his position in her mind earlier.

GM: “You assume correctly, Miss Malveaux,” the other Nosferatu nods.

Caroline: “Did he tell you the ghouls were specifically hostile? Quite surreal that, how quickly they turned to blades. The most foolish thing I’ve ever seen.”

GM: “I am certain it was a trying series of events to experience,” Elgin replies. “The Beast lurks close in all our hearts.”

Caroline: She smiles. “I’ll grant you that witnesses are rarely reliable, regardless of their background or vantage. We all carry our pre- and post-conceptions in a matter, and in truth I have little basis for comparison. Perhaps they imagined a Kindred would sooner let them bleed them into ‘torpor’ than raise a hand against their master’s servants. I suppose it matters little, and is valued at less in any case.”

GM: “Perhaps there are other pieces of information you may yet trade, Miss Malveaux,” Elgin ventures.

Caroline: She looks down. It was worth a shot.

“No, I very much doubt it, but thank you for entertaining the idea. Perhaps in the future. Do you have a ghoul that I might reach out to for such matters?”

GM: The Nosferatu smiles. “I do.” He gives Caroline a phone number.

Caroline: The number is plugged away, with the rest she’s gathered this evening. A veritable treasure trove for her, a pauper’s fortune so casually thrown away by others.

GM: “You may use it to tell my ghoul that you have information to trade, and to arrange meetings with a member of my clan. All such transactions are handled face-to-face.”

Caroline: “Presumably also to setting meetings that trade boons in place of information?”

She smiles at the face-to-face comment. I bet. And how can she blame him, really? Cursed with hideousness, mocked and looked down upon by other Kindred. To let others relegate them further into the shadows with electronic communications would only further marginalize them.

GM: The Nosferatu offers another ugly smile. “Whatever you have to offer us in trade, Miss Malveaux.”

Caroline: “Is it too vulgar to ask the price for the information I asked of earlier, in boons?”

GM: Elgin’s expression does not look offended, a pleasant change of pace for Caroline. “Knowledge of your sire’s past and his known associates will be worth a boon. His contemporary activities, and other information of like nature, will constitute a separate such boon.”

Caroline: Caroline considers for a moment. It’s a fair deal. More than fair. It’s something to give Wright tonight, to stave him off. Buy her time on that front. It’s not as though her other efforts have panned out… yet.

“Would you be offended if I asked the night to consider such, Master Elgin?”

GM: The Nosferatu offers another respectful incline of his head.

Caroline: “Then I shall leave you to consider it… thank you for your time, and your courtesy.”

GM: “It is both my pleasure and obligation to be of service, Miss Malveaux,” Elgin states with another ugly smile.

Caroline: An ugly smile… but not so hideous as what lies beneath the refined facades of others. She’ll settle for his misshapen head over their cruel elegance. Off she goes.


Friday night, 11 September 2015, AM

Caroline: Caroline slips away from the Nosferatu, gliding through the event with preternatural grace on heeled feet. Amid some of the others here in all their absurdity, her stark black dress and white coat seems almost plain, though her height and pale features stand out a bit.

She moves between rooms, seeking… something. Someone. Perhaps she seems like a lost child to others. Certainly, for herself, she’s run out of friendly faces in the crowd.

Rocco: A cool, passive expression sits on Rocco’s face as he watches the fledgling move through the sea of Kindred. His angelic features hardly move before he decides to give chase after the taller woman. I know that face, he realizes, curiosity getting the better of him as he moves through the crowd.

He eventually intercepts the Ventrue as she passes through an archway. He looks at her features and attempts to place where he’s seen her before. Finally, he looks up at the tall woman’s face with a knowing smile.

“I think I almost saw you get executed a few nights ago,” he states plainly.

Caroline: The hall between galleries has dimmed lights, but their Kindred eyes see through the gloom well enough. All the same, she startles a bit when he speaks. Her expressive eyes sweep over the angel-faced young man.

After a beat, “You and many others, I recall. Or don’t, as the case may be. You’ll forgive me if my memories of the event have a different cast than your own.” A smile creeps out, small but present. “Can I be of some service to you, Mr….”

Rocco: The plum-suited man’s eyes regard her humorously as he takes a few steps back with preternatural grace and precision.

“You can call me Hound Agnello,” he says smoothly. “I do believe you have already met my associate Hound Wright. I know your face. But I am afraid I do not recall your name.”

Caroline: The smile vanishes with a start, almost before she’s realized it. Her tone remains pleasant, but with a steel spine of respect now. There’s something in her eyes. It looks very much like fear.

“Hound Agnello. The question remains then, how can I be of help to you?”

She turns her head and glances behind her, then back towards Agnello.

Rocco: “I hear you’re giving my friend a hard time.”

Caroline: Stillness. “Your friend?”

Rocco: Rocco chuckles. “Sorry,” he says casually, “you know him as Hound Wright, of course.”

The hound taps his chin a little, seemingly amused by the woman’s fearful disposition.

“I didn’t mean to startle you. You can understand my concern for my friend who’s been running himself ragged over one little fledgling, though. I assure you we’re speaking on friendly terms, so please feel free to relax… how has your night been, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: Caroline visibly tenses at his question.

“You understand I mean no disrespect when I say I’ve had better, Hound Agnello. And for Hound Wright… you’re correct that I’ve treated him disgracefully. Something I hope I have time to correct. He’s been… more patient than I deserved.”

Rocco: Rocco pauses, his confident smile turning into something kinder and more genuine.

“I appreciate your honesty, Miss Malveaux,” he replies easily, “and I appreciate your acknowledgement that you’ve treated Hound Wright very unfairly. You may not be aware of this, but he has shown you quite a lot of mercy on a number of occasions. I hear he let your dog live, for instance.”

“I hope you’re making something more yourself here tonight. Are you making many contacts?”

Caroline: She wavers, biting her lip for a moment too long. “Connections more than contacts. It’s slow going, Hound Agnello.”

Rocco: “Do you need help?” he asks.

Caroline: Now she truly freezes, struck speechless by the question.

“I…” She pauses. “I…” Something wars within her. “I wouldn’t wish to inconvenience you.”

There has to be a catch.

Rocco: “It’s no inconvenience.” Rocco’s smile grows a little. “You appear suitably contrite and respectful of your elders now. I am a firm believer in positive reinforcement.” There’s a faintly condescending air to that smile.

“I only ask one favor. Next time you speak to Hound Wright, say ‘thank you.’ Now,” he continues, “tell me how I can help you.”

Caroline: Caroline has questions she wants to ask. So many questions. This is wrong. It’s too easy. It’s too normal. She bites her lower lip. He’s a hound. And he seems so… friendly… Coco’s not here.

She bites harder. The night is burning down. An olive branch? A life preserver? God, how she wants to take it.

Rocco: He simply smiles, waiting for an answer.

Caroline: Silence stretches on. “I need to find someone that will modify memories on a pair of kine.”

The admission seems to deflate her, like it alone was what kept her standing. Worry and fear burn in her eyes.

And behind it, something else.

Rocco: Rocco looks taken aback for a moment; he clearly did not expect a request of that sort.

“Why do you want their memories ‘modified’?” he asks in a quieter, softer pitch.

Caroline: In for a penny. She remembers well how lying to Donovan worked out.

“It’s better than the alternatives.”

She chokes out the next words. “I thought I was being clever. I didn’t say anything about our nature, but…” Another bite of the lower lip. “It won’t happen again. I’ll cut whatever deal I need… I just need a name of someone that isn’t going to make a great example out of this.”

Rocco: The affability vanishes from Rocco’s face in an instant. His eyes become cold and unblinking.

“We’re talking about a Masquerade breach,” the hound questions coolly, “aren’t we, Caroline?”

Rocco’s posture straightens as his face turns grave. “A Masquerade breach is not merely a civil offense; it is blasphemy against the commandments of Longinus the Dark Prophet. I am afraid ‘cutting deals’ isn’t an option; however, you have done the right thing by being honest with me.”

“How long ago did the breach occur? Where are these two kine now?”

Caroline: That other thing burning behind the fear in her eyes snuffs out like a candle in the night.

“I didn’t tell them anything about us. They just…”

She cuts off abruptly, iron filling her voice now. “Tonight. They’re bound, captive. My home. Whatever you have to do to me… I understand. But it’s not their fault.”

Rocco: Rocco nods in consideration. His face softens and he looks at Caroline with a small frown.

“I admit I underestimated how utterly ignorant you are of our ways,” he says straightforwardly, “but I am going to give you some insight. The rules that govern our society, one of which you broke tonight, are sacrament.”

“I am going to give you a chance to do things properly. I want you to see a priest—one of our priests—and confess to them that you broke the Masquerade. Be sorry. Be remorseful and penitent. You fucked up and God isn’t happy. But I hope you realize how fucking merciful I am being right now.”

Rocco effects a needless sigh, then continues, “Do you have a priest you take confession with?”

Caroline: That’s why they call it gambling.

Still, his words are worse than the lash. Another cruel joke. The right thing? Not when Father Malveaux murders them to prove a point.

“I’ve taken it with Father Malveaux before.”

Rocco: “I want you to confess to him tonight about your transgression. If you do this, then I will make sure your kine are treated properly. Do you know how to get into contact with him?” he asks.

Caroline: She’s actually trembling.

“Perdido House. Hope he’s there.”

Rocco: “How did you arrive to Elysium?” he asks Caroline, pulling out his phone. He scrolls through his contacts list for one of Father Malveaux’s ghouls before dialing the number. He stares at Caroline as he waits for someone to pick up.

Caroline: “Driver.”

GM: “Greetings, hound,” sounds the high, emotionless voice of the little albino girl who serves as the priest’s herald.

Rocco isn’t sure if she even has a name. He’s never heard Father Malveaux refer to her by one.

Rocco: “Hello.” He doesn’t address her by name when she lacks one. “I was hoping to organize a confession tonight for Caroline Malveaux with Father Malveaux.”

GM: “Very well, hound,” replies the child. “I will notify the good father.”

Rocco: “Thank you. Good night.” He hangs up the phone.

Caroline: Caroline stands silent through the call.

Rocco: Rocco pauses and looks at Caroline with a frown.

“I want you to head to Perdido House. Hound Wright and I will handle your kine while you are taking confession.” He extends an open hand to Caroline. “I need your house keys.”

Caroline: “Properly.” The word seeps between them. “If you’re going to kill them, just tell me.”

Rocco: “I don’t plan to kill them.” There might be a hint of pity in Rocco’s eyes. Or maybe Caroline is just hoping to see one there. “In any case, give me your house keys, Caroline.”

Caroline: She fishes them out of her bag. Places them in the open hand.

Rocco: Rocco gives Caroline a small smile. “Thank you.” He exits the scene in strident steps.

Caroline: Caroline stands, still and silent as he leaves, until long after his footsteps have faded. She digs out her phone with shaking hands and dials Autumn’s number.

GM: “Hi, who is this?” sounds the ghoul’s voice.

Caroline: “Caroline. Autumn, you need to leave, right now. Get out of the house.”

GM: “Why? What’s happening?”

Caroline: “Hounds are coming, Autumn. Get out now.”

GM: Caroline hears a sharp intake of breath.

“I’m out.”

The line immediately disconnects.

Caroline: She tucks the phone away with shaking hands.

I’ve killed them.


Friday night, 11 September 2015, AM

Lavine: A tsking sound comes from behind her. “A few nights in, and you already have the hounds nipping at your heels, Mademoiselle Malveaux.”

Caroline: Caroline turns slowly.

Lavine: The girl appears to be around Caroline’s age, maybe younger, for what appearances matter anymore. She stands more than a few heads shorter than Caroline, with a tangle of messy dark hair and black eyes that observe the Ventrue without emotion. Dressed in a denim crop top with a book bag slung over her shoulder, she might look like a student if it weren’t for Caroline’s instinct telling her otherwise. And the fangs glinting as she speaks.

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Caroline: She looks the other woman up and down. “I’m sorry, miss?” There’s no heart in her words.

Lavine: “Lavine, mademoiselle. Just Lavine, I didn’t see it fit to accept a surname from your people.” Her accent, though Cajun in English, switches to perfect French when she speaks it.

“You are troubled, mademoiselle, and having trouble adjusting to what has happened, no?”

Caroline: “Je pense que la difficulté est mieux utilisé dans la société polie, Lavine,” she replies in neatly clipped French.

(“I think trouble is best used in polite company, Lavine.”)

“Etes-vous ici pour être un autre ange sur mon épaule chuchotant mensonges réconfortantes? J’ai trouvé le diable habille rarement la partie. Ou êtes-vous simplement spectating? Je pouvais à peine vous blâmer.”

(“Are you here to be another angel upon my shoulder whispering comforting lies? I’ve found the devil rarely dresses the part. Or are you simply spectating? I could hardly blame you.”)

Lavine: Lavine grins, or at least bares her teeth. “Les mensonges sont à peine un confort, madamoiselle. Ils sont une lance ou une béquille. Quant à un ange, d’après ce que je sais que je doute fort que je suis.”

(“Lies are hardly a comfort, madamoiselle. They are a spear or a crutch. As for an angel, from what I know I very much doubt I am that.”)

“Je l’ai fait regarder votre discussion avec le hound, madamoiselle, et j’entendu parler de votre, dirons-nous, la situation? Nous avons souvent orphelins infants apparaissent après ces fêtes, mais il est rare les esprits acceptent. Vous me intéressez, madamoiselle. Le me suis trouvé un étranger dans mon propre pays plus d’une fois. Vous connaissez la tribu Choctaw, non?”

(“I did watch your discussion with the hound, madamoiselle, and I heard of your, shall we say, situation? We often have orphaned childer appear after these festivals, but it is rare the spirits accept them. You interest me, madamoiselle. I have found myself a stranger in my own land more than once. You are familiar the Choctaw tribe, no?”)

Caroline: “Je ne pense pas qu’il y avait beaucoup de gauche en Louisiane.”

(“I didn’t think there were many left in Louisiana.”)

Lavine: The Choctaw, Caroline knows, were a tribe that had originally resided in the Louisiana area. Through agreements, warfare, disease and the convenient redrawing of maps, they were eventually relocated to their present day locations in more northern states.

Lavine shakes her head, hair shifting along as she does. “Non, madamoiselle, et ceux qui ne le fait pas se rappeler les enseignements de leurs ancêtres. Mais je suis ici bien avant ce soir. Nos anciens ont été respectés, madamoiselle, non pas pour leur puissance, mais parce qu’ils avaient les connaissances nécessaires pour nous tous. J’enseigne a été arraché de chez moi non pas une fois mais deux fois. Je sais combien il est difficile d’accepter cela.”

(“No, madamoiselle, and those that do don’t remember the teachings of their ancestors. But I was here long before tonight. Our elders were respected, madamoiselle, not for their power, but because they had the knowledge to teach us all. I was ripped from my home not once but twice. I know how difficult it is to accept this.”)

Caroline: Caroline is silent. After a moment, “Que pourrais-je faire pour vous, Lavine ?”

(“What might I do for you, Lavine?”)

Lavine: “Comme je l’ai dit, madamoiselle, vous me intéresse. Je voudrais pour vous de visiter, quand vous avez le temps. Et bien sûr, je peux déjà voir que vous avez appris à se méfier de toute personne qui fait une offre gratuitement.”

She stops and eyes Caroline as a wolf might watch a lamb.

(“As I said, madamoiselle, you interest me. I would like for you to visit, when you have the time. And of course, I can already see you’ve learned to distrust anyone who makes an offer for free.”)

Caroline: “Vous semblez être, en fait, faire une demande, plutôt que d’une offre,” Caroline corrects in pointed French.

(“You would seem to be, in fact, making a request, rather than an offer.”)

“Tout de même, il est celui que je crains que je ne peux pas répondre maintenant, et je ne pense être en mesure de le faire. La Nouvelle-Orléans est maintenant ma prison, et je crois que bientôt mon bûcher.”

(“All the same, it is one I fear I cannot now answer, nor do I expect to be in a position to do so. New Orleans is now my prison, and I believe soon my pyre.”)

Believe, not fear.

Lavine: “Ce monde est une prison pour nous tous, madamoiselle,” Lavine replies, grinning.

(“This world is a prison for us all, madamoiselle.”)

“Nous devons en faire ce que nous voulons. Pour vous, je pense, il y a plus à venir. Je suppose que vous ferez remplacer votre père devraient-ils échapper à la punition. J’ai des amis où vous et les chiens ne peuvent pas, et je pourrais apporter mon aide. La chance de chasser un esprit Kindred est aussi rare que est passionnant.”

(“We must make of it what we will. For you, I think, there is more to come. I imagine you shall replace your sire should they escape punishment. I have friends where you and the hounds may not, and I could lend my assistance. The chance to hunt a Kindred spirit is as rare as is exciting.”)

Another flash of fangs.

Caroline: “Remplacer sur le billot.”

(“Replace upon the chopping block.”)

Lavine: She nods slowly. “Quel était son nom?”

(“What was their name?”)

Caroline: Caroline is silent. Her eyes gleam dangerously in the murky light of the hall.

“Vous offrez pour me aider à trouver mon père, et le capturer, parce que vous voulez que je vous visite après. Est-ce que je vous comprends bien?”

(“You’re offering to help me find my sire, and capture him, because you want me to visit you afterwards. Do I understand you properly?”)

Lavine: Lavine’s eyes remain as deep and murky as ever.

“Ah, Mademoiselle Malveaux, vous semblez heureux de cette affaire.”

(“Ah, Mademoiselle Malveaux, you seem pleased by this deal.”)

Caroline: It’s so tempting. Another life preserver she could cling to. It’s not as though Lou has done anything for her. She’s no closer. A powerful outside ally?

And if Lavine had pitched the offer ten minutes before, Caroline might have said yes. But no hope burns behind her eyes now. No possibility. No trust. Rocco has burned it out. Snuffed out the last of her optimism, of her belief, of her soul like a cheap menthol burned down t,o the filter. All that’s left is a smoking caustic thing of no use to anyone. Especially herself.

“Good evening, Lavine.” The words are in English as Caroline turns away, making for the exit.

These cruel beings. These savages that play with their prey like a cat with a mouse. Every possibility only another avenue for barbarism. No. She won’t play their game anymore. She won’t play the fool anymore. She won’t believe anymore. If they want to torturer her, to hurt her, to destroy her, they’ll have to be more direct.

If eyes are windows to the soul, then Caroline is truly empty.

Lavine: The only emotion that leaves Lavine’s face is a worried frown. “A shame, mademoiselle. I hope you change your mind before you are lost. I do not believe you were chosen simply to die for your sire.”

The petite form watches Caroline depart before drifting back into the crowd.


Friday night, 11 September 2015, AM

Rocco: Rocco sits in his black Lincoln and starts the motor. He drives for Audubon Place. The guards there know to let him through. Thoughts of the timid, lost neonate cloud his mind.

I am not a bully, he admonishes himself.

He speeds a little as he drives on, trying to let the revving of the motor drown out his thoughts.

GM: Audubon Place is a fortress neighborhood and gated community with some of the most expensive residences in the city. It’s home to John Dyer, the richest man in the state, the president of Tulane University, several politicians, Capo Ernie Marchesi (whom Rocco is passingly acquainted with), and other business and civic leaders who don’t want to associate with “the riffraff” that is the district’s middle-class homeowners and the Tulane and Loyola student bodies… to say nothing of the elements that prey on those students after dark.

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Rocco knows tat Donovan prefers to conduct business pertaining to his office as sheriff in Perdido House, and business pertaining to his regency over Riverbend at Audubon Place. Still, the Gangrel has been to his superior’s Audubon haven on a number of prior occasions.

The neighborhood is well-fortified. Donovan has seen to that. High concrete walls tipped with barbed wire declare the neighborhood’s desire to divorce itself from the rest of the world. A grilled iron gate and adjacent guard house control vehicle access. Masked Blackwatch mercenaries (“security contractors”) patrol the perimeter with leashed attack dogs, bored and tense for action. Their growls pause as Rocco pulls up in his car, though, and tensely back away. The animals recognize a superior predator in the Gangrel.

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The masked guards check Rocco’s ID, more to make sure he’s not being impersonated by another vampire (or at least not one who forgot the hound’s mortal ID) than out of actual adherence to Audubon Place’s mortal security protocols. His face is long familiar to them. They also ask him for a password before waving the Lincoln on through.

Rocco: Rocco barely acknowledges the faceless men as he drives into the gated community. He heads to Caroline’s home, eyeing the multimillion dollar properties with a little bit of curiosity.

GM: Caroline’s home at 18 Audubon Place is a three-story, turn-of-the-century mansion that sits on a large 100×200-foot lot with a swimming pool and private backyard oasis. The house retains many of the design details created by its early 20th century architect, including custom cabinetry, high ceilings, leaded-glass windows, intricate crown moulding, original millwork, grand staircases, marbled mantled fireplaces, and gloriously sunny spaces. All Audubon Place homes feature breathtaking views of the private park, but one step onto the grand veranda and the Beaux Arts mansion immediately impresses. A soaring entry, decorative trim, and softly curved staircase welcome guests and homeowners alike. The home flows gracefully from room-to-room, with natural light streaming through (at least during the day), warming up the oak and walnut inlaid hardwood floors.

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Rocco doubts even Caroline’s family would be inclined to buy such an expensive property if she was only going to live there while she attended college. Perhaps there’s a further story.

The entryway gives way to a sprawling floor given way to entertaining, though it appears strangely bare for such an expensive property. There’s almost no art or furniture to speak of. The space is paneled in rich dark wood with a full bar against one wall, though it’s missing any drinks.

The dominating feature at the moment, however, is the massive dog staring at Rocco. The beast is nearly three feet tall and probably weighs more than most humans. Thick rolls of skin hang loosely off it throughout, including off its massive, almost sad face—all the more sad-looking for the white bandages it’s half-wrapped under, giving the dog an almost mummy-like appearance.

The animal emits a dangerous snarl and half-races, half-lumbers towards Rocco, clearly favoring one leg. Its eyes are mad with fury.

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Rocco: “Stay. Down, boy.” Rocco’s voice is a sharp, commanding hiss. His eyes are slitted with annoyance.

GM: The dog immediately plops down, its massive hindquarters making an audible thump against the wood floor. It prostrates its wrinkled head before Rocco in a gesture of submission.

(“I am sorry, great cat. You smelled like an intruder,”) the animal woofs. Its voice is low, thick, and almost muffled, as if it’s speaking through its own rolls of wrinkled flesh.

Rocco: Rocco squats down to level his eyes at the large dog. He sniffs the creature like a fellow canine and tilts his head slightly to the side.

(“You are forgiven. What is your name?”)

GM: (“I am Caesar,”) the dog answers, head still bowed.

Rocco: (“Where is your owner now?”) he asks, curious to get an insight into Caroline’s home life.

GM: (“I do not know. I do not smell her stench.”)

Rocco: (“I see.”) Rocco pauses. (“Are there any other people in this home?”)

GM: (“My owner has a beta and littermate.”)

Rocco: (“Can you take me to them?”) he asks.

GM: The dog nods his massive head and rises to his paws.

(“There was another intruder who is gone now,”) Caesar woofs as his nails click against the wood floor. (“She smelled of blood and sickly need. She stank. I am glad she is gone.”)

Rocco: (“Thank you, Caesar.”) Rocco rubs his chin and muses over this new piece of information. (“What else can you tell me about this stinky woman?”)

GM: (“She did not stink as bad as my owner, but she still stank. She smelled of blood. And fear. My owner bit her. Then she smelled of my owner’s blood, and stank worse. My owner left. She stayed. Then she smelled of fear and ran away.”)

Rocco: (“Did she leave anything behind?”) Rocco asks, hoping for a clue as to her identity.

GM: (“I still smell her stink.”)

Rocco: Rocco’s nostrils flare, trying to seek out the blood that Caesar keeps referencing and pinpoint its exact location.

Caroline: The second floor, where Rocco has wandered, still shows the signs of Wrights’ thugs’ rampage. Less broken furniture and more simple emptiness. The open spaces make it all the more obvious. The stairs to the third floor are a different story. Pictures line the wall of the staircase—mostly of Caroline and an attractive brown-haired girl. That staircase is also splattered with blood on the mid-turn landing in long arcs. More blood has soaked into various stairs. There’s a scorch mark on one wall that smells electrical. Several of the picture frames are cracked or askew.

Rocco: (“There was a struggle,”) Rocco observes, investigating the scene. A cool expression remains on the hound’s face as he bends down to get a closer look at the splattering of blood. He gets back up and ventures further into the house, looking for the kine.

Caroline: The third floor is less touched by the destruction. There’s a table askew where someone rushed past. The first door opens into a homely bedroom, fabrics, thick but brightly colored drapes. A laptop closed on a desk. An array of women’s clothing is scattered around the floor. The second bedroom proves more fruitful. Bound and gagged on a king-sized bed with white linens are two kine. The first is the girl form the photos on the wall.

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She’s not truly beautiful, but not unattractive, and short. One wrist is bandaged, and she’s far too pale. There’s a hint of bruising to come around her throat and a small scorch mark on her clothing, likely from a taser or stun gun. The second is a young man close to Rocco’s apparent age. A shock of brown hair, lean but athletic. Rocco recognizes him from one of the photos on the staircase wall. His clothing is also slightly scorched.

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The room is stark, but not in the destroyed way of the second floor. Rather, the furniture is simply cool and cold. Metals, stones, and glass in abundance, and a noticeable lack of any warm woods. Several pieces of tasteful art abound, but no pictures.

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Rocco: Rocco steps into the dim room, his eyes falling on the bed’s two human lumps. He stirs his blood and broadcasts an aura of majesty and importance as he enters.

“Are you two awake?” he asks. “I am a neighbor. I heard everything outside. I am here to help you guys.”

The Gangrel’s voice sounds younger as he easily falls into the act. He gets closer to the bed, letting the two kine get a view of his youthful face.

GM: The woman does not stir or respond to Rocco’s words. The young man’s eyes, however, widen as he muffles something indistinct through his gag. “Mm-mmf-hmm! G-mmf-mmm!” He strains against his bonds and almost manages to sit up." HMMFFF!!!"

Rocco: Rocco feigns alarm, quickly removing the the gag a little clumsily, pretending to be nervous and a little frightened. “Holy fuck!” he whispers. “What happened?” He stares at the woman with concern. “What’s wrong with her?”

GM: Gabriel’s chest heaves as he takes several breaths. “I don’t know, some psycho tasered me! Get us untied!” His eyes wildly dart across the room.

Rocco: Rocco purposely fumbles uselessly with the bonds to buy more time to ask questions. His hands shake. “Did you get that psycho’s name?” he asks.

GM: “Just ‘Autumn,’ get us out!” Gabriel strains.

Rocco: “Fuck!” Rocco swears. “These knots won’t budge. Maybe I should go look for some scissors or a knife.” He gives Gabriel an apologetic look. “What did she want anyway?” he asks, trying to assemble a picture of events. Caroline didn’t tell him about an ‘Autumn.’ “Where is Caroline?”

GM: “I don’t know, that psycho tasered me out and I woke up h-” Gabriel double-takes, his eyes bulging as he realizes Caroline isn’t trussed up on the bed with him. “She’s not—GET SOME SCISSORS!” he yells.

Rocco: Rocco focuses the full force of his supernal presence on Gabriel, supplementing it with outright mind control.

“Silence.”

He continues soothingly, “Calm down. Everything is perfectly fine. Nothing is wrong.” He waits for the young man to calm down. “Say your full name.”

GM: Gabriel’s eyelids droop as if he’s falling asleep. “Gabriel Houston Malveaux,” he slurs out.

Rocco: Rocco nods. The boy looks similar enough to his tall, svelte relative.

“Be silent,” he orders, then tries to stir the girl awake.

GM: Gabriel shuts up. The young woman doesn’t stir. She seems really out of it.

Rocco: Rocco pull out his phone and takes a photograph of Gabriel. He then takes a photograph of the woman. He sends the photos to Wright via text.

Do you know these two kine? he asks, adding after a second, I am at Caroline Malveaux’s house. The young man says he is Gabriel Houston Malveaux. I am unable to wake the woman. Call me.

GM: “Girl’s gonna be the one responsible for Malveaux’s attitude improvement,” Wright says without preamble when Rocco picks up.

Rocco: “I met Malveaux tonight at the Ogden Museum,” Rocco responds, “and despite making a positive impression to begin with, I have to admit I was disappointed to find out that she told these two kine about us. She did the right thing by telling me and should be confessing her crime to Father Malveaux later tonight. In any case, I am at her house now. I spoke to her dog, the one that attacked you, and apparently another kine that Malveaux failed to mention escaped. The kine’s name was Autumn. Does that name ring any bells to you?”

GM: “Nope,” says Wright. “Only other girl when I went there was th’ brunette. Malveaux sure was pissin’ herself over anythin’ happenin’ to her.”

Rocco: “Why do you think?” he asks, genuinely interested. “She seemed pretty adamant about me not killing either of them. Are they lovers, friends, living together?”

GM: “Dunno. Ain’t seen the boy, but the girl had her own bedroom. Wasn’t sharin’ one with Malveaux, so they prob’ly ain’t muff divers. Not like they can get it on anymore either way.”

Rocco: “I don’t think Malveaux appreciates that she’s not kine any longer,” Rocco muses aloud, “She hasn’t even ghouled these friends of hers.”

He looks at the girl thoughtfully.

“Fuck it,” Rocco exclaims, sounding a little annoyed. “I hate making kine disappear. Especially rich kids with rich parents. How do you think she’d like being forced to ghoul the girl, Wright?”

Wright. Never Alexander.

GM: Rocco hears a snort. Forced.

“Rocco, I wouldn’t trust Malveaux to feed that girl regular without setting them both on fire. I wouldn’t trust her to hunt without callin’ the cops on the licks she poached from. Oh, wait, she did do that! A renfield is way too much fuckin’ responsibility for that girl.”

Rocco: Rocco chuckles. “True. I will have to speak to Father Malveaux in any case. I won’t be able to make them completely forget this night without some help. Last thing, though: what’s the girl’s name? I plan to get the boy to help me carry her to my car.”

GM: “Dunno. Bet the boy does.”

Rocco: “Thanks. Arrivederci, Wright.”

Click.


Friday night, 11 September 2015, AM

Lavine: Lavine adjusts her bookbag as she skirts the groups in Elysium. Her head cranes up as she looks at the faces, searching for the regent she needs.

GM: At first, Lavine thinks she’s found him. A second glance gives lie to that notion. The figure behind the desk is Donovan’s duplicate. His aborted duplicate. He wears identical clothing to the sheriff: the same black sweater and navy slacks, the same polished leather shoes, not so much as a crease out of place. He has the same neatly combed black hair, the same clean-shaven chin, the same posture and body language… 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 completely different facial features and is obviously not the same man. The entire mimicry is 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 Lavine is instantly sure are only gray like Donovan’s because of contact lenses, regard the Gangrel unblinkingly. Even the windows to his soul are fake.

Lavine: A mixture of disgust and pity well within her as she looks upon the shoddy copy of the sheriff. Both at the man in front of her and the reminder that she herself is playing the same game.

GM: The half-hearted mimic offers Lavine a blank stare. “May I be of assistance to you, Consul Lavine.” His voice is an unwavering monotone.

Lavine: “Monsieur Herald, I hope you are well,” she says, curtsying. “I wish to visit the university on your master’s domain and would like his permission to do so.”

GM: The ghoul bows his head, returning the curtsy, but offers no response to the Gangrel’s wishes of good health.

“For what purpose, Consul Lavine.”

Lavine: “I am researching the history of the land within the city, Monsieur Herald. I believe there are many texts within the university library which will be of use to me.”

GM: “You have the regent’s permission,” the mimic declares hollowly.

Lavine: “Excellent,” she curtsies again as she takes her leave. Just as Madame Chouteau instructed so… forcefully. “Merci, Monsieur Herald. Do take care.”

GM: The mimic only offers a blank stare.

Lavine: Ignoring the empty eyes of the sheriff’s ghoul, Lavine darts her way out of Elysium and into the night.


Friday night, 11 September 2015, AM

Rocco: Rocco meets Gabriel’s eyes as he pockets his phone. He points at the unconscious girl. “What’s her name?” he asks smoothly, projecting waves of soothing calm.

GM: “Aimee Rosler,” Gabriel answers sleepily.

Rocco: Rocco pulls his phone back out and texts to Wright:

Sending this for the sake of posterity. The boy’s name is Gabriel Houston Malveaux. The girl’s name is Aimee Rosler. The escaped unknown kine, suspecting it is a ghoul at this stage, goes by the name Autumn. Thanks Wright.

He pockets the device once again.

GM: Rocco photographs and cases Caroline’s wrecked house. The hound has a great many matters weighing upon his mind, however: taking care of the Masquerade breach is more important than sussing out exactly what happened. It’s the ‘what’ that matters, not the ‘why.’ Still, the Gangrel’s efforts aren’t entirely without fruit.

Autumn’s dried blood doesn’t smell (or taste) of any single clan’s. Further questioning of Gabriel reveals that she was evidently quite preoccupied with trying to patch up the Masquerade that Caroline was unraveling.

A Masquerade-concerned ghoul not bound to any single domitor… that fits the profile for the Krewe of Janus. Their ghouls, Rocco well knows, are under second-stage bonds to every Kindred member of the coterie, rather than full bonds to a single domitor. Such helps prevent the Krewe from being used as a tool by any single Kindred, for the ghouls are equally loyal to all of its members.

Rocco: Rocco reviews his photographs and theories, then sends everything to Wright and Camilla. It pays to make sure there are no loose ends. The Krewe’s presence is a concern, however; the apparent struggle begs more questions as of now. Caroline will need to provide a more her explanation. Knowing the Krewe ghoul’s name helps, though. He’s confident that dropping the name alone will be enough to rattle the neonate.

Rocco locks up the place as he susses out the home’s garage, then drives his Lincoln inside for better privacy.

GM: Caesar asks if he is going to come back. The Gangrel’s scent is much nicer than his owner’s.

Rocco: Rocco scratches the dog behind one of his floppy ears as a gesture of thanks. (“I will be back, possibly in a different form. But remember my scent.”)

(“Keep an eye on this place. You did well by filling me in on your owner’s activities.”)

He gives Caesar one last pat. (“Good boy.”)

GM: The dog woofs and wags his tail.

Rocco: Rocco then goes to untie Gabriel and Aimee. He orders Gabriel, still under his mental control, to carry Aimee to his car’s back seat. He’s thoughtful enough to open the car’s doors before fetching the two kine. He then tells Gabriel to sit in the front passenger seat alongside him.

GM: Caroline’s brother sleepily opens, sets Aimee in the back seat, and gets in.

Rocco: Rocco closes and locks up everything, then pulls out of the garage with a last cursory look around the place.

It’s a loose end tied up for him.

He’d spare the two kine a pitying glance if his heart wasn’t long since hardened.

For them, this just might be the worst night of their lives.

All in a night’s work.


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Story Three, Caroline XIII

“You have FUCKED UP, SO BIG!”
Autumn Rabinowitz


Thursday night, 10 September 2015, PM

GM: Caroline’s return home is greeted with a hostile, baying growl from Caesar. The big dog’s ears are flat against his head and he walks with a pronounced limp. White bandages are half-wrapped over his face, giving him an almost mummy-like appearance.

Caroline: She pauses in her tracks, emotions warring on her face, before settling on resignation.

GM: The home’s smashed lights and windows have been repaired. New drapes have been put in place. Replacements for many pilfered or destroyed possessions, however, have yet to arrive, require Caroline’s input (which she’s had little time to give), or simply weren’t insured. Sofas, chairs, tables, television sets, stereos, framed pictures, and more are all missing. The house doesn’t look trashed so much as empty, as if some vital part of were simply ripped out. Bare walls and floors blankly stare at the Ventrue indirectly responsible for their present state.

Caroline: Someone, likely several someones, have been busy putting her home back together even as her life continues to fall apart. A paradox. Caroline moves around Caesar slowly, giving round as needed, trying to keep things between the two. She doesn’t even try to speak to him. To calm him. He can see the plain truth, and in a way it is refreshing.

GM: The big dog only growls as the vampire leaves. The dining room wasn’t as hard-hit as the rest of the house, though a number of smashed pictures and china cabinets are now missing, giving it that same barren appearance. Aimee is seated at the dining table, next to a young man who shares Caroline’s green eyes and tall frame, though at the age of eighteen he still looks like he hasn’t fully grown into it. He has full lips, high cheekbones, and meticulously combed dark brown hair. He wears a dark red shirt and black jeans. He smiles when he sees Caroline, but it looks forced.

“Hey, sis,” her youngest brother says. “It’s been a while.”

Gabriel_Malv.jpg
Caroline: Aimee, what have you done?

She can’t meet the boy’s eyes. She can’t let him see. She puts on a small, shy smile as her eyes skitter across the table, then the floor. It’s almost demure. She pulls her hand away from the phone she was holding ready. This is so much worse than she’d feared, but in its own way.

“Gabriel. I didn’t realize you were in town.” Her voice is soft.

GM: Gabriel tries to smile back. “I figured I owed you a visit. After…”

“We need to talk, Caroline,” Aimee says quietly.

Caroline: She nods, more to Aimee. “I’m sorry, I was held up this evening.”

GM: “Aimee tells me your house was… broken into,” Gabriel begins.

‘Tells’ is a polite way of putting it. The bare walls and rooms tell their own story.

Caroline: “It hasn’t been my best week,” Caroline grants.

GM: Caroline’s brother clears his throat, glancing towards Aimee.

The Ventrue’s roommate pauses, as if unsure how to put things, then finally states, “Caroline, ever since… Decadence, you’ve just been disappearing.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her bottom lip, still not looking up at her little brother. “It’s complicated.”

GM: Gabriel trades looks with Aimee.

“Well, complicated how?” Aimee finally asks.

Caroline: It would be so much easier to wrap them in her power, to bend them just slightly to her will. But she doesn’t. When the people closest to her become little more than pieces to be pushed around, what is left of her? It seems all too muddy a slope. She opens her mouth to speak, then closes it once more. She glances from Gabriel’s feet to Aimee’s.

“Obligations. Demands.”

GM: “Caroline…” Aimee begins quietly. “You haven’t been to class for… nearly a week. You know that law school has attendance requirements.”

Caroline: “I know. I need to talk to Dean Abel.” She bites her lip. “I just have to find time.” She winces as she moves over to take a seat opposite the two.

GM: “Caroline…” Aimee gives her a long look. “Where have you been disappearing?”

Caroline: “It’s all related,” she answers vaguely. “And it’ll make sense one day. I promise.” She pauses for a moment before going on, “But I can’t tell you. Not right now.”

GM: “Caroline,” Gabriel says quietly. “Aimee told me about the blood.” He tugs at his shirt’s collar, as if uncomfortable with the intervention-like proceedings. “I told her that our family doesn’t have a history of hematological disease.”

Caroline: She quietly snorts a small laugh. “Not technically true, but that kind of detailed history isn’t exactly a popular subject, and you have to go back a fair bit to find it. It’s rather beyond the point though.” She refuses to meet their eyes. “You’re worried.”

GM: Gabriel nods slowly.

“Ever since the shooting… Mom and Dad should’ve let you take the semester off. I’ve talked with Carson, and he says you were blaming yourself over what happened. You know it was Gettis’ fault.”

Aimee nods. “You saved those girls’ lives. You did a good thing! But ever since then, since Decadence, it’s like nothing’s been the same… the bleeding. The house getting robbed. You missing class and disappearing all day. And your car’s not even gone when you leave. That’s the really strange part.”

“We just want to help, Caroline,” her brother says softly, reaching out a hand to place on hers.

“Whatever you need,” says Aimee. “We just want to help.”

Caroline: Caroline has to make a mental effort not to jerk her hand back. Not to flinch from his touch. Her hand trembles a bit all the same. She lifts her other hand to shelter her face from the two, ignoring the pain from raw open wounds as she does so.

You should probably fake your death. The words return to her. It would be easier in so many ways. No more school, family, friends. No threatening emails from her father’s aide. No more of this. She can see why so many Kindred do. It’s so easy to live this horror story when you cut out everything related to actually living.

But then… what’s left other than the horror story? What’s the solution? Make herself like them? Not going to happen.

Tears well, but don’t flow, beneath her hand. “Thank you.” The words are soft, half utter truth and half absolute lie.

GM: “We’re here for you,” Gabriel says.

“Whatever you need,” Aimee repeats.

The two’s voices are a mix of concern and hope. As if convinced this is a problem they can actually help her fix.

Caroline: The smell of Aimee’s tantalizing blood is horribly distracting. It’s with a bit of horror that she realizes just how soon her kid brother will join the flock she feeds from.

“The short version is, Decadence wasn’t a one-off.”

GM: “Uncle Orson didn’t say much about what happened. Just that it was a one-off,” Gabriel ventures quietly.

Caroline: She looks up, peaking between the hand resting on her face, at Aimee. Not the partying, drinking, or debauchery.

GM: “Maybe it can be, Caroline,” Aimee almost pleads.

Caroline: “I’m not talking about the fun parts, Aimee.” Caroline’s voice is thin.

GM: “We aren’t either,” Aimee implores, laying her hand on Caroline’s alongside Gabriel’s. “All we want to do is help you…”

Caroline: Caroline looks away, her eyes sweeping the wreckage of the first floor. The worst of the damage is gone, but the home is no less wrecked. The security it once provided is an illusion.

“Can we go for a drive?” she asks. “Just around the neighborhood. I don’t want to sit in this.” She gestures.

GM: Aimee and Gabriel both nod, almost too eagerly. It’s apparent that the pair want to make Caroline feel at ease.

Caroline: She rises with them and makes for the driveway. She skirts around Caesar as best she can.

GM: They take Gabriel’s parked car. Her brother offers Caroline the driver’s seat.

Caroline: She slides easily into the driver’s seat. They leave the home behind and slowly cruise about the street. Audubon Place is a rectangular loop. They can keep driving forever and never go anywhere.

She’s quiet for a couple minutes.

“Many things happened that night which I won’t talk about.”

GM: “Whatever you’re comfortable with,” says Aimee.

Gabriel nods, giving Caroline time to get to the things that she can.

Caroline: “I caught the attention of some very dangerous, very powerful people that night,” she begins. “And much of what has followed has been the fallout of that.”

GM: “Who, Caroline?” Worry creases both faces.

Caroline: “One of those things,” she replies tersely, stopped at a stop sign. “It wouldn’t do you any good to know.” The car sits there for a moment while she thinks. “I’m a piece in a bigger board between some of them, I think. Not that it makes it any easier.”

GM: “Okay,” Aimee says. “We could go to the police, since they might actually care about a Malveaux, or bring in your uncles. Or both.”

Caroline: “You heard about the big drug bust this week? Crack? Officer died in the raid and the suspects were broken out on the way the lockup?”

GM: “Yes…”

Caroline: “That’s what happened when I brought in the police. And those were the police that I trusted.”

GM: “Your uncles, then,” Aimee says. “You know there’s no one in this town who…”

Gabriel cuts her off. “What about Dad, Caroline? You could move to D.C. No one’s going to try anything around a senator’s daughter. Too much publicity.”

Caroline: “They don’t have to kill me, Gabriel. There are plenty of other ways to get to me. That’s what the house was all about. Showing that they wouldn’t even slow down. If it were some petty thug, some local gang, some stalker…” She shakes her head. “But these people… they’re well-connected. Politically powerful. Wealthy. Violent… sadistic.”

GM: “If that’s what the house was about, you’re in danger, Caroline,” Aimee presses.

Ironic words.

Caroline: “They don’t want to kill me, Aimee. They’ve had… opportunities.”

GM: “Then what do they want, Caroline? What happened at Decadence?” She pauses. Winces. “I mean, beyond…”

Caroline: “They want him.”

GM: “Him, who?”

Gabriel shakes his head. “Caroline… just start at the beginning, please. This isn’t making any sense.”

Caroline: She all but glares at Aimee for dragging this out. “Someone attacked me at Decadence. A member of this group. He broke some rule among them when he did. He exposed them, or insulted them, or some such. Broke a ‘tradition.’ When they found out, they abducted me.” She glances at Aimee. “That’s why I didn’t go home with you the next night, at my uncle’s house. And they gave me a choice. Help them find him, or die as his ‘accomplice’.”

GM: Aimee and Gabriel exchange very long looks.

Caroline: Funny how the most ridiculous tales are the true ones.

GM: “Caroline, this sounds insane,” says Gabriel.

Caroline: It’s too much to tell them. This kind of information could set them digging their own graves if she can’t find René and gets executed.

Guilt nibbles at her, but her hesitancy immediately vanishes into the night. She needs to get it out. She needs to talk to someone. She needs someone to understand on some level that it’s not her fault, that she’s not just a fuckup.

“More insane than a Catholic archbishop who plans out his family’s lives from birth?” she asks Gabriel. “It’s just next step up the food chain.”

GM: “This sounds like something out of a movie.” Gabriel doesn’t quite scoff, but his skepticism is plain.

Caroline: “No, it doesn’t.” Caroline’s words are cold, bitter. She stops at another stop sign, they’re really just circling Riverbend, slips off her seatbelt. While they’re stopped, she carefully slides her coat off her shoulders. She reveals her raw, ragged, shredded skin to Aimee.

“I’m sorry I was late.”

GM: Aimee gasps and clamps a hand over her mouth. Gabriel just stares in mute horror. Finally, he takes out a phone and dials a number.

Caroline: She snatches the phone out of his hand.

GM: Her little brother’s face is reddening. “Damn it, Caroline, what do you expect us to do?!”

Caroline: Caroline tucks the phone in a a pocket and she covers up rent flesh. She doesn’t face him.

“I love you, Gabriel. I love that you always want to help everyone. You’re the best of us… but sometimes you can’t solve every problem. Who were you going to call? What were they going to do? What was going to happen when they started digging? When they asked questions I didn’t have good answers to?”

GM: Caroline’s younger brother takes several calming breaths before replying, “Dad. Uncle Matt. Uncle Orson. And I’m still going to them. I don’t care who these people are, Caroline. No one hurts our family.”

Caroline: “You’re right, Gabriel. No one does. Especially not our family. Nothing good can come of that. The family is bigger than one wayward daughter.”

GM: Gabriel just glares out the window.

Caroline: “And if I can suffer through the pain, you can suffer through the indignity. There’s still a way out through this. A path through the muck that avoids starting a war that we. Can’t. Win.”

GM: Gabriel doesn’t look away. “Just take us home.”

Caroline: She keeps driving. “Gabriel, I need you to trust me. I need you to give me time before you blow this up.”

GM: “Time for what, Caroline?”

Caroline: “To see if I can end it. On their terms. If I can make it go away.”

GM: “How?”

Caroline: “The man they want. I’m not so foolish as to believe it’ll be that simple, but it gives me a chance to moderate things. To deescalate.”

GM: Gabriel doesn’t say anything.

Caroline: “Gabriel. Orson would cut a deal anyway. Dad might argue, and maybe Matthew, but the Malveaux family hasn’t made it this far by starting wars over every daughter.” The words are cold.

GM: “Orson doesn’t whip our cousins.” So are Gabriel’s. “You remember what happened to Aunt Vera? That sicko who cut up her face?”

Caroline: “It’s not the same, Gabriel. This isn’t some random psycho. They were willing to murder police officers, break their men out of police convoys, and call in the DEA to help cover it up. And they did it all in minutes. If you run to the rest of the family, the best case is they cut a deal to hand me over. And they kill me for talking about it. If I’m very lucky, they don’t kill you two.”

“The worst case is the family goes to war… with a group they don’t know, don’t understand, and which has equal or superior resources. This isn’t a simple problem like a DUI that can be made to go away. And if they think that’s going to happen, they’ll kill me for talking about it, and God knows how many other people. Please. Trust me.” She doesn’t have to feign desperation. “I trusted you.”

GM: “Trust me with what, Caroline?” Gabriel asks, turning away from the window. “Who are these people? What the hell did you do to them? What isn’t Uncle Orson telling us about what happened at Decadence?”

Caroline: “With enough to get you killed!” Caroline snaps, hurt. “With enough to get us both killed.”

GM: “No! Just enough to make me wonder what the hell’s going on and feel like there’s not a damn thing I can do to help!” Caroline’s little brother exclaims.

Caroline: “You can listen.” Her voice is soft. “You can be here.” She tries to blink away tears. “You can tell me it’ll be okay. That I can do this. And that there’s something other than horror, pain, and darkness in the world. You can help keep the family off my back.”

GM: Gabriel sounds like he’s trying to be sarcastic, but his words come out as an almost-plea. “So that someone else can feed it through a paper shredder?”

Caroline: “If need be? Yes.”

Better me than you.

“Do you think it’ll be better for me if you’re standing beside me in front of the firing squad?”

GM: “Why not? Two targets. Less fire hitting each one. And if that fails, we’ll go down together.”

Caroline: “Because it’s not two targets, Gabriel. It’s two bullets, and if I go down in flames… I don’t want you to.”

GM: “I don’t want you to either. I guess that makes us even,” Gabriel declares resolutely.

Aimee finally speaks up. “That makes us two to one, actually.”

Caroline: “I’m trying to find a way through this. As best I can.”

GM: “Caroline, ‘trying’ isn’t good enough,” Aimee presses. “What are you doing? What are you doing that we can help with?”

Caroline: She could all but scream with frustration… and weep with shame and humility. “You’re asking me to put you in crosshairs.”

GM: “You’re asking us to watch you die.”

Caroline: “Phone.” She holds out a hand to Aimee.

GM: Aimee pauses, but digs one up and hands it over.

Caroline: She deftly removes the batteries from both phones and drops them in the cup holders.

“If you want to help, if want to know anything further, there’s two conditions. First, this doesn’t go any further. Period. You don’t bring other people in, you don’t go to the rest of the family, and you don’t go digging around blindly. Second, if I tell you to do something, not ask, but tell, you listen.”

GM: Aimee and Gabriel shake their heads. “You know that’s bad legal practice, Caroline,” Aimee tries to joke. “Know all the relevant circumstances before you agree to the terms.”

“We need to know everything that’s going on before we agree to anything,” Gabriel adds.

“We need to know everything before we agree to anything,” Gabriel adds.

Caroline: Caroline is silent for a long time. A minute, perhaps? An eternity in conversation.

“We like to think that we Malveauxes rule Louisiana, but we’re only the most public face of things, a couple tiers removed from the man on the street. And these people, we’ll call them the Court, are the sharks to our minnows.”

“Matthew and Orson have bodyguards. They have private armies. We play with millions of dollars. They play with hundreds of millions. We have ties to judges, police, and local lawmakers, but they give those people the 3 AM phone calls they jump out of bed to obey. I would not be surprised if one of them has ties to Dad, another to Matthew, and another to Orson.”

“Their connections go beyond the official. Gangs, MCs, organized crime. They’re the people pulling the strings.”

“The thing is, as far as I can tell, they don’t even really play at power on the level we do, because they’ve got it. Instead it’s about their Traditions, which govern their interactions with each other. And that’s where the game is. Showing each other up. Humiliating each other. Climbing their own power structure.”

She waits for any responses before continuing.

GM: Aimee and Gabriel are both staring disbelievingly.

Who are these people, Caroline?” asks Aimee.

Caroline: “You’ll forgive me, Aimee, they didn’t exactly sit me down with a brochure.”

GM: Gabriel’s brow furrows. “But… where does this all begin, Caroline? How did you get involved with these people?”

Caroline: She awkwardly looks away.

“One of them, one of moderate influence…” There’s sile searching for a word that will obviously stand in. “…attacked me at Decadence.”

GM: “But how did you find out about all this? And… why you? What’d you do?” Aimee.

Caroline: “I don’t know why,” Caroline snaps. “One of my contacts suggested it was part of some power play between them. As to how I found out, that would be when I was dragged out of Orson’s driveway and casually threatened with murder. Everything since has been…. picking up pieces. Putting them together.” She shakes her head.

GM: That’s when Caroline notices it. Out of the corner of her eye. The black minivan that’s been following their car this whole time.

Caroline: Caroline digs out her phone and makes a call. “Change of plans. I need you to meet me at…”

GM: Audubon Place, as a residential neighborhood for rich homeowners with spacious yards, doesn’t have many alleyways. Caroline works with what she has. The gated community is shaped like a narrow rectangle, with two roads on opposite horizontal sides. Three intersections connect the two roads at the top, bottom, and middle of the “rectangle.”

Caroline drives through the neighborhood’s middle intersection, followed by the minivan… itself now followed by a black SUV. The minivan’s driver, however, isn’t buying it. He or she continues south, driving past the intersection and away from Caroline.

Still, the game of cat and mouse is not over… there is only one access route, guarded by Blackwatch mercenaries, for vehicles to enter or leave the walled-off neighborhood .

Caroline: Caroline whips the car around to follow. Into my web, said the spider to the fly. There’s a fierce predatory gleam to her eye, a pounding in her unbeating chest that demands victory. She looks to her stunned companions. “Buckle up.”

GM: Both of them trade bewildered looks. “Caroline, what’s going on?”

Caroline: “Someone following us,” she grinds out. “Or did you think that the minivan circling the block four times with us was lost?”

GM: Gabriel and Aimee both strain to catch a glimpse out the car’s windows.

“And whoever’s driving that,” Gabriel begins, “they work for-”

Caroline: “I don’t know,” Caroline replies. “But I’d like to find out.”

GM: The minivan continues to slowly drive past the rows of multi-million-dollar homes, headed towards the guard house at the neighborhood entrance.

Caroline: She closes in behind it as they approach the guardhouse.

GM: The minivan pulls up. Two of the Blackwatch mercs approach. After a moment, the iron gate to Audubon Place swings open.

Caroline: Caroline turns to her friends as they pull up. “Whatever happens, stay in the car.”

She smiles as she climbs out of the car with just a bit too much grace. It’s funny how the lights seem to dim around her as she steps out, all except those that shine on her. “Just a minute, boys, if you don’t mind.”

Her smile is dazzling. The Beast shows through, capturing the guards’ attention. Not something she wanted to do in front of Gabriel and Aimee… but she isn’t letting the Beast bend their minds into putty, and this is for them. Isn’t it? Is she going to let these monsters take everything from her? Everyone?

“I’d like a word.”

GM: The Blackwatch mercs stare at Caroline like there’s a spotlight shining down on her. Some of their eyes widen. The merc in charge manages not to. He waves at the black-uniformed man in the guard house. “Hold her up.” Caroline recognizes his voice as Johnson’s.

“I’d like more than one, Miss Malveaux,” he grins through his mask.

Caroline: Heels clap on asphalt as she advances on the van. “In a moment.” She glances inside.

GM: A college-age woman with messy dark red hair, large eyes, and a slim build smiles back at Caroline. She’s dressed in a t-shirt, hipster glasses, and lip ring. Altogether, she looks nonthreatening.

Autumn.jpg Caroline: “You seemed to desire my attention. Is there a matter I can help you with, Ms….”

GM: “Oh, nah, I was just leaving,” the young woman answers.

Caroline: She lets the Beast out. She lets it rampage against the girl’s mind.

“Please, it would be rude not to at least introduce yourself and your master.”

GM: The woman blinks as Caroline’s presence washes over her like a wave over a beach… but there is one tall rock it washes past.

“Yeah, but… we shouldn’t talk in front of them,” she manages after a moment.

Caroline: “Of course. Perhaps you should leave me your name and number, so we can arrange something.”

GM: “Autumn Rabinowitz,” she states. She gives Caroline a phone number.

Caroline: The monster wants more. Wants her to rip this girl out of her car. To take her here. It would be so easy. That darkness in the back of her mind whispers that it could even be justified. Protecting her brother and friend. This woman knows their faces.

She bites down on her lip.

“Call first next time. I’d hate for there to be a misunderstanding.”

GM: Autumn glances to the side at Johnson. “I’ll try.”

“Listen,” she then implores, “We have to talk, soon. This can’t wait.”

Caroline: Caroline considers. “Tonight. I’ll text you details.”

GM: Autumn shakes her head. “As soon as possible. This can’t wait.” She looks as if she’s going to say more, but the mercs’ presence gives her pause.

Caroline: She glances at him. “Mr. Johnson, could you give us a bit of space? You’ll get your minutes when we’re done.”

GM: “I’d love to, ma’am, but this is the community entrance. Can’t you talk somewhere out of the way? Some other bigwig rolls in, it’s gonna be my boys he takes it out on if there’s two cars blocking his way home.”

He frowns, blinking against Caroline’s glamour as he goes on, “This is an intersection, not a goddamn living room.”

Caroline: She glances at the other woman. “Why don’t you come back with me?”

GM: Autumn nods eagerly.

Caroline: She blinks at Johnson. “My apologies, then. Another time.”

GM: “Caroline? What’s going on?” Aimee calls. Gabriel frowns too.

Caroline: Caroline smiles emptily at the other woman. “Excellent.” She moves back to the other car and climbs back in the driver’s seat.

“She’d like a word with me, in private. We’re headed home.”

She throws the car in reverse and heads back into the neighborhood, slowing only to see if ‘Autumn’ follows.

GM: The minivan obediently follows after her brother’s car.

“Who is she, Caroline?” Gabriel asks.

Caroline: Caroline lets the glamour drop with an unnecessary sigh, seeming to deflate. “Just a messenger.”

She types a text with one hand to her following SUV.

GM: “For who? One of… the Court?” Aimee ventures.

Caroline: “Seems likely.” It’s not a far drive. “Just head inside. We’ll finish this conversation in a few minutes.”

GM: Gabriel shakes his head.

Caroline: “She won’t talk if you’re there.”

GM: “She won’t talk. I guess I’ll just let one of the people who whipped my sister bloody be alone in a room with her.” The sarcastic words only come out angry as Caroline’s brother clenches his teeth.

Caroline: Caroline points over her shoulder. “Black SUV. That’s my ace. She’s not going to start anything here. If she does it’ll be the last thing she does. Trust me, Gabriel. Please.”

GM: He shakes his head again. “I want to look these people in the eye. They think they can just… walk all over our family, do they?”

Caroline:GABRIEL,” Caroline all but shouts. “Get in the house. I’m not fucking asking.” Her temper is frayed to a ragged edge.

GM:YOU SHOULD BE IN THE ER!” her little brother yells. “For God’s sake, that wound’s still red!”

“Guys, guys, calm down-” Aimee begins.

Caroline: “Don’t let your pride get me killed.”

GM: Gabriel just glares.

Caroline: “You can watch from the window.” She tries to reason.

GM: “I’m not leaving you alone with one of those people,” Gabriel declares resolutely.

Caroline: She pockets the phones. Her kid brother, trying to protect her. Her, this monstrous creature. Would he still be so protective if he knew what she was? What she’d done?

Probably. That’s who he is.

GM: “Who’s the one that hurt you, Caroline?” he abruptly asks.

Caroline: She pulls into the driveway. “Last chance. Gabriel.”

GM: Her brother just stares.

Caroline: “Aimee, don’t let him do anything brash.”

GM: “Caroline, you can’t just expect us to sit around while you go talk to one of these people,” Aimee says, trying to sound reasonable. “Why is it that you don’t want us to see them?”

Caroline: She pockets the keys. “Because right now you’re clean. You’re only at the edge of their vision. And I’m going to keep it that way.”

GM: “You’re treating us like kids, Caroline.” She still tries to reason.

Gabriel just glares.

Caroline: “I’ll be back shortly.” She climbs out of the car before the other girl can pull in beside them and races out for the passenger side door of the van.

GM: Gabriel and Aimee immediately move to bolt out of the vehicle too.

Aimee has much shorter legs than Caroline and wasn’t ever much of a runner. She’s quickly left in the metaphorical dust, yelling for her roommate to come back.

Gabriel, Caroline recalls to her chagrin, is a star athlete. His longer legs steadily thump against the pavement as he chases after his sister. “Caroline, STOP-!”

But even top of his gym classes, Gabriel can’t keep up with his sibling’s unholy alacrity. His hand manages to snag onto the key’s in Caroline’s for an instant before she awkwardly leaps onto the approaching minivan, hanging on by one foot with one hand wrapped around the side mirror.

Autumn blinks in surprise as the car’s new passenger literally jumps on.

Caroline: She gestures to keep going with her free hand, even as she tries to manage the door and climb in.

GM: Caroline hears a click as the door unlocks.

Caroline: With grace she couldn’t have managed in life, she slithers in with the still-moving vehicle.

GM: Slithering in entails climbing through the rolled-down window, as actually opening the door would likely knock Caroline off the vehicle. The car isn’t objectively cramped, but it is for someone with legs as long as Caroline’s, and she has to spend several uncomfortable moments disentangling herself.

Autumn stares bewilderedly at the whole scene. “You told them, didn’t you?”

Caroline: “If I told them, I wouldn’t be running from them.”

GM: “That’s why they were literally chasing you onto a moving car?”

Caroline: “And that foot race would have been far more one-sided.”

GM: “Oh God. We have to clean this up!” Autumn exclaims, returning her eyes to the road. “You’re going to be in so much trouble, with the Krewe, with the sheriff…”

Caroline: “Autumn.” Caroline’s voice is crisp, cold, un-winded by the exertion. It cuts through panicked words like a knife. “Pull yourself together.”

GM: Autumn rapidly shakes her head. “You don’t get it! Once this gets out, you’re DEAD, and so are they!”

Caroline: Caroline’s hand snakes across the narrow distance between them to grip the ghoul. “I hate having to repeat myself. I told them nothing.”

GM: Autumn shakes her head again. “I heard it all. ‘The Court.’ What were you thinking!?”

Caroline: “And all of your kind, and mine, and the details?”

GM: “This isn’t law school!” Autumn yells, anger edging into her voice. “They don’t care about technicalities like ‘I never said vampires’! The only question is who’s going to kill all of you first, a remover from the Krewe, or the sheriff after he hauls you in to get torched for blasphemy against Longinus. If we don’t get this cleaned up, NOW!”

“God, you BLABBERMOUTH!” she yells, slamming her palms down on the wheel. “That’s the First Tradition, you DON’T TALK about vampires to mortals! Zero, nothing, not a word!”

Caroline: “And why do you care?”

GM: Caroline knows the answer to that question as soon as it tumbles out of her lips.

“I—don’t know, I guess that…” Autumn just frowns.

The ghoul’s face briefly twitches as she fights the Ventrue’s influence.

Caroline: “Who’s your master, Autumn?”

GM: “The Krewe of Janus,” she answers. “I’m a probationary member. They’ll let me in once I’ve proven myself.”

Caroline: “And they told you to keep an eye on me. Very generous of them.”

GM: Autumn nods. “They’ve marked you as a potential repeat offender, since you’re so young and don’t have a sire. And you’ve already screwed up once.”

Caroline: “You have a contact number?”

GM: “For who, another of the Krewe?”

Caroline: “A full member.”

GM: Autumn frowns. “The last thing you want to do is talk to them. They don’t care what your explanation is. You broke the First Tradition, and they’re going to kill you—and your friends—unless we make sure they never find out.”

Autumn glances out the window. “They’re everywhere, you know. They have people in the hospitals, the press… I wouldn’t put it past them to have a real member tailing me.”

Caroline: “And how would you suggest cleaning it up?”

GM: “Get your friends’ memories erased, turn them into ghouls, or… kill them.” The ghoul gives a helpless shrug as multi-million-dollar homes roll past. “You don’t have a lot of options, but all of you are dead if this gets out. Donovan and the Krewe do not screw around with the Masquerade.”

Caroline: Draw someone else into a conspiracy, but even then there’s no guarantee that the girl won’t `go blab and cause trouble, taint her best friend and kid brother with the poison… poor options.

“How often are you supposed to check in? How long do we have?”

GM: “I check in with them after every stake-out. They’re in constant contact with each other. I think they even have a couple ghouls whose job is to do nothing but receive and relay calls from the other members.”

Caroline: She curses and falls silent for a moment. Finally, “Turn around, then. If we need to clean this up, we need to clean it up.”

GM: Autumn turns around the car.

Caroline: If she could shiver, she would.

GM: “I just hope they weren’t already tailing me.”

Caroline: “We’ll clean it up. And then you’re going to explain to me exactly the sort of limits there are on the First Tradition, since no one else can be bothered to.”

GM: Autumn scoffs. “That’s because it’s common sense. You don’t talk to mortals about vampires. No innuendos, no hints, no allusions, no half-truths, NOTHING. If you have to ask if it counts, it does.”

“Why do you think so many licks fake their deaths? It’s impossible to keep up all the lies around friends and family. Or at least damn hard.”

Caroline: Caroline sits in silence.

GM: The ghoul mutters and drives on.

Caroline: “Why is ghouling so acceptable as an alternative then? The bonds?”

GM: Autumn nods. “We’re not mortals anymore either. You’re either in the club or out of it.”

Caroline: She’s silent the rest of the way back, wrestling internally. Damn her friends, threaten them with death, or slit the throat of the girl beside her… for what little good it will do in the long run.

GM: “We’re immortal too, after all,” she adds. “Eventually we have to disappear.”

Caroline: She wishes she had Lou’s number, but she already knows what the old man would say. She screwed up and no matter what she does, others are going to suffer. A bitter pill she’s swallowed once already tonight.

GM: “So what are we going to do?” Autumn asks, eyes once again on the road.

Caroline: “We’ll see which option they prefer,” she murmurs. “It’s the best I can do.”

GM: Autumn rolls her eyes. “Oh come on, what do you think they’re going to say if you ask them to drink your blood? They’ll think you’re crazy, unless you can glamour them into doing it.”

Caroline: She smiles sadly. “I think you’re wrong, Autumn. But we’ll see. There are other options if not. Still, I’m glad you’ll be there to help.”

GM: “Like what? I mean, it’s what I said. Wipe their memories, turn them into ghouls—and you’ll probably have to make them drink—or kill them.”

Caroline: “Exactly those things.”

GM: Autumn’s phone buzzes in her pocket. “Can you see who that is for me? I don’t like to text and drive.”

Caroline: She digs out the phone for the girl.

GM: sis when u comin home? me and Stef tried to make cookies

Caroline: She reads off the message dubiously.

GM: Autumn laughs. “Oh god, they probably just made cookie dough and ate it all.”

Caroline: The sound is jarring. “I take it you haven’t faked your own death.”

GM: The ghoul pauses. “We can move around during the day. We can still eat and drink, get angry at someone without going postal… a lot of ghouls still lead mortal lives. Licks like you still need people to actually sign leases, hold properties, manage bank accounts, and stay plugged into the system.”

Caroline: “Why?” she asks, abruptly. “Why did you do it? Did you chase this life?”

GM: “I can go to college without drowning in debt,” Autumn answers. “They’ll make my career after I graduate. I’ll live forever, vitae’s better than anything else I’ve ever done… why wouldn’t I?”

She pauses, trailing off. “I’ll have to say goodbye to my family eventually, but… I’d still have to do that. And I can make life better for them with the Krewe’s help. I’m not a junkie.”

Caroline: What a monster.

GM: “I mean, we used to eat out at Big Kahuna Burger all the time. Stef has diabetes. So much for being healthier than O’Tolley’s, right? Now we can actually shop at those overpriced organic supermarkets. I couldn’t go to college without taking out a ridiculous amount of debt, either, didn’t have the money. They helped out there too.”

Caroline: “Why you?”

GM: “I’m a journalism student. They’re going to set me up on a news company to help monitor the Masquerade. I’ve already squashed more than a few weird stories on the student paper for them. I owe them too, not like if I were an established journalist.”

Caroline: They’ll kill her. The thought floats through Caroline’s mind unbidden. She only smiles. They can’t be far now.

GM: Audubon Place is only two streets long. It does not take much time to find Gabriel. He angrily stalks past rows of million-dollar houses, Aimee nowhere in sight. When Autumn’s car approaches, he dashes into the middle of the road to arrest its path.

Caroline: Caroline directs the car to a stop. “Get in.”

GM: The words have barely left Caroline’s lips before her brother is all but throwing the door open. He plants his arms on either side of Autumn’s head, pinning her against the wall and shouts, “If you did anything to hurt her, my family is going to DESTROY YOU-”

Caroline:GABRIEL.” Her words carry a sudden weight. “Get in.” It comes so much easier than the first time.

GM: “We’ll have you ROTTING in some private shithole prison where you’ll just wish-!” he continues, almost spitting over the girl.

Caroline: “She’s convinced me to tell you everything, Gabriel, now get in before I change my mind.”

GM: Gabriel’s facial muscles jerk as he struggles between his sister’s arrogant, “my way or else” tone and the adoration commanded by her unearthly presence.

Autumn simply glares through his tirade.

Caroline: “She’s not your enemy, Gabriel. She didn’t hurt me, and if she weren’t here…” Caroline shakes her head. “Just get in the car please.”

GM: It still takes a few moments for the Beast to batter down the last vestiges of her brother’s free will, convince him that everything is all right. Finally, he slurs out, “Yeah. Sure,” and climbs into the car.

Caroline: “Where’s Aimee?”

GM: “The gatehouse,” Gabriel slowly states, as if half-asleep. “She’s waiting there in her car.”

Caroline: Caroline directs her new friend in that direction.

GM: They find Aimee’s silver Prius waiting there, on a driveway out of the direct path of any incoming vehicle traffic (perhaps at Johnson’s growled insistence). Aimee does not react as poorly to Autumn as Gabriel, but is still set immediately on edge, demanding to know wh—and it’s even easier for Caroline to bend her friends’ minds like putty the second time.

Caroline: Caroline feels sick. It makes her want to curl up and die. It makes her grateful for the Invictus whipping her. The pain is more than a distraction.

It is, like it has been all night, a cross to bear.


Thursday night, 10 September 2015, PM

Caroline: Before long they’ve reassembled upstairs, away from Caesar and the ruins of the lower floor. Caroline’s bedroom, a hard, metal and glass place, is an appropriate venue. She drags over a chair and closes the door behind them all. The ghoul is seated beside her, opposite Aimee and her brother. It is half reluctantly, and half with relief, that she releases her hold on the two’s will.

“Okay.”

The words hang in the air and are followed by a ragged sigh. “So you want to know everything. You should know, before we start, there’s no going back. You’re asking to take on a burden the likes of which… you can’t even imagine.”

GM: The two mortals and half-immortal both reel for a moment as Caroline’s Beast recedes from their minds.

Autumn’s eyes flash. “This is NOT the right way to do this. We need to be prepared for if they say no after hearing everything.”

Caroline: “What would you have me do, Autumn, lock them away?”

GM: Even with Caroline’s Beast pressing against her mind, forcing her to be a friend, Autumn looks exasperated. “No. You need to make arrangements for what will happen—immediately happen—if they say no before telling them ANYTHING more. We shouldn’t even be talking about this in front of them!”

“What do you mean, arrangements?” Gabriel glares. “You’re going to do what if we ‘say no’?”

Caroline: “Autumn, you’ve made clear what the outcome of the current circumstance would be in any case. I think we’re rather past half-measures.”

GM: “NO,” the ghoul says abruptly. “These are FULL measures. You don’t tell them ANYTHING more, without being in a position to… deal with them saying no.” A vein bulges in Autumn’s temple as her natural disposition struggles to reassert itself.

“What do you mean, ‘deal’ with us? Have us killed? Is that with this is, Caroline?” Aimee angrily demands.

Caroline: Caroline stands and walks over to a safe built into the wall. Several beeps later, she pulls something heavy and metallic from it. She tosses the object to the ghoul.

GM: “I don’t know what this is,” Gabriel almost shouts, “but I don’t like any of it, Caroline! Is she from ‘the Court’? What’s she even doing here?”

Caroline: Tears drip down Caroline’s face. Tears of blood. Not a stream, but a flow.

“Gabriel… I’m sorry.” She moves over and sits beside him, on the ground. “I know you have questions. I know you’re angry. I know you’ve ridden an emotional rollercoaster all evening. I’m sorry I put you in this position. I… I can’t seem to stop screwing it all up.”

She looks back to Aimee. “But for a moment… just wait. Just be quiet. Just trust me. For once this evening, trust me. I’m trying to come clean to you. And she’s trying to help, on terms that won’t get us all killed.”

GM: Both Aimee and Gabriel startle in horror at the blood freely running from Caroline’s eyes.

“Caroline! You said that was-” Aimee.

“It’s not!” Gabriel shouts to preempt her. His face is a tortured mosaic painted with equal parts horror, rage, helplessness, and not least of all, pain for his sister. “Whatever this is! No more! No more LIES, Caroline! You want us to trust you? Trust US!”

But as the already strained and stretched Masquerade finally snaps, so too does Caroline’s hold over Autumn. The ghoul drops the firearm and lunges at Gabriel with a taser that suddenly appears in her hands. Not the kind college students buy. Heavy duty. Police issue. Caroline’s brother screams as the electric current plays havoc with his neural system. The pungent scent of burnt flesh wafts up the Ventrue’s nostrils. Gabriel collapses to the floor like a dropped sack of potatoes, fingers still twitching.

Aimee screams.

Caroline: Caroline clamps a hand over her mouth.

GM: “Lights out for her—NOW! You’ve fucked things up bad enough!” Autumn shouts, her face livid.

Caroline: Caroline looks in Aimee’s eyes. “I won’t let her hurt you, but you have to be quiet right now, Aimee.”

GM: Aimee stares at Gabriel’s comatose form with wide eyes, then abruptly turns and runs out of the room.

Autumn’s footfalls immediately thump behind hers. “Oh no, you DON’T-!”

Caroline: Caroline is past her in a heartbeat, down the stairs, and with her hand around her best friend’s throat. It’s such a natural action, so close to what the Beast wants…

“You wanted this!” she cries in Aimee’s face.

GM: Aimee struggles and starts to shout something back—before Autumn all but stabs the black and yellow taser gun into her back. Caroline’s roommate gives a raw scream (how many times has she screamed since the Ventrue became what she was?) and crumples to the ground, her head loudly banging against the stairwell.

Autumn pants and turns to face Caroline. “Oh, you have FUCKED UP!” the now-lucid ghoul yells. “You have FUCKED UP, SO BIG!”

Caroline: Caroline numbly stares at her fallen friend. At this stranger who has destroyed another pillar of her life. Who’s screaming at her in her home.

She shakes with rage. “I fucked up? Check your fucking tone.”

The Beast prowls so close to the surface, and the woman is all-too ready to unleash it on this engine of destruction. Only fear of the consequences stays her hands.

GM: “Me? ME?!” Autumn shouts. “You’re the one who’s been juggling the Masquerade like a glass vase for God knows how long, and now you’ve finally dropped it! You didn’t even hear a WORD I said! The Masquerade means YOU DON’T TELL MORTALS ABOUT VAMPIRES! Nothing! Nada! Zero! And that also means you don’t just TELL THEM EVERYTHING AND FIGURE YOU’LL TAKE CARE OF THEIR MEMORIES LATER!”

Caroline: “Stop screaming the word ‘vampire’ at the top of your lungs.”

GM: Autumn’s cheeks are flushed red. “Oh, so NOW you’re concerned about the Masquerade? After just blowing it wide open with your crying, you ricer!”

Caroline: Caroline lunges at the other girl. She grabs her by the throat and pins her against the stairwell.

“I get it. You’re trying to make a life for yourself. You’re trying to do what you’ve been taught. But not everyone is invited into this life with someone holding their fucking hand, you spoiled child.”

GM: As Caroline’s hand clamps around her throat, Autumn gives a strangled shout and jams the taser against Caroline’s chest. Electricity jolts through the Ventrue.

Caroline: Caroline twists her left hand with lightning speed, trying to turn the taser uselessly aside into the wall.

GM: Caroline still isn’t fully used to her preternatural speed. As her hand blurs towards Autumn, the taser goes off, sending jolts of sizzling agony coursing through the Ventrue. And just like that—on top of her unconscious friends, her intended revelation going so horribly wrong, all the stresses of the evening, all the stresses of her entire new life—control slips away.

Caroline: And just like that, the fangs appear in her mouth. Control leaves her tortured body. It’s Beast vs. ghoul now.

GM: Caroline’s fangs sink into the other girl’s neck. Her blood is hot and heady, just what she’s looking for. She’s even a college student. Autumn’s screams are scarcely audible to her ears. The taser gun’s sting, however, remains all-too tactile to her flesh.

Caroline: She fights through pain, the Beast instinctively mending scorched flesh as she sinks her fangs deeper… deeper. The gun is long forgotten.

GM: Blood is spattered all over the staircase walls. Autumn weakly struggles against Caroline, tries to hit the Ventrue with the taser gun, but it discharges harmlessly into the red-smeared wall with a dull burr-ing sound. Her face is so pale.

Caroline: Caroline throws her off her, recoiling like a cat from water.

“Goddamn! You idiot!” she cries at the ghoul.

GM: Autumn tries to stand, wobbles, and almost falls down the stairs. She barely holds onto the banister with trembling fingers. The stun gun clatters as it hits the floor.

Caroline: Caroline moves to catch her, to steady her. “Why would you do that?”

GM: “I… I… oooh…” Autumn crumples into Caroline’s outstretched arms. Arms warm and flush with her stolen life.

She shakily looks up and sees her lifeblood smeared over the Ventrue’s still-protruding canines. She turns and retches to the side. Only some of her bile spills down her and Caroline’s legs, but the stink is all-too foul to Caroline’s sensitive nose.

Caroline: “No. No. No. Not again.” She bites at her wrist, holding the wound to the maimed ghoul’s mouth. “Stop bleeding… pull yourself together… come on, I’ve seen it before…”

GM: Bile has barely started dribbling down Autumn’s mouth before she clamps her jaw around Caroline’s wrist with a vigor exceeding even Paxton’s. She sucks with all the contentedness of a hungry babe at its mother’s teat. Her eyes close as a needful moan escapes her throat. Color doesn’t return to her whitened cheeks, but the hideous gashes on her throat slowly close. Caroline tries to pull away, but Autumn won’t let go of her.

Caroline: “You have to stop…. I can’t…” She jerks the torn flesh away. She slides back against the wall, though whether she’s giving the ghoul a bit of space or it to herself is unclear.

GM: Autumn pants and wipes a palm over her mouth. She sticks her fingers in and sucks off all five, even the one smeared with vomit.

Caroline: Caroline watches the scene without comment. Her face is streaked with bloody tears, a hole in her coat where the stun-gun burned through. The open wounds on her back ache.

“I’m sorry,” she forces out at last.

GM: The gashes on Autumn’s throat have shrunk to still-raw, still-red, but much smaller puncture marks. She’s almost as much a mess. Her clothes are streaked over blood and her shirt is torn. Bile is smeared over the right leg of her jeans. She winces as she touches the wounds, but her eyes don’t leave Caroline… or meet the other girl’s gaze. They remain fixed on the Ventrue’s pallid, bleeding wrist.

Caroline: She shakes her head. “I can’t. It’ll get out again.”

GM: “I guess that’s what… happens when we lose tempers,” the ghoul finally manages.

Caroline: “I’ll make it right to you… but not tonight… not now.”

GM: “I just…” she groans, “wanna lie down. But your friends… they’re gonna wake up.”

Caroline: Caroline nods, a thought resolving in her head, even as she watches the ghoul. “I need someone who can wipe their memories of tonight.” The words hurt to say, the relinquishment of the fragile, clumsy admissions. “Someone who isn’t going to freak out and try to kill me for it. I don’t suppose you have a number?”

GM: She shakes her head. “The… the Krewe won’t help… just make this all disappear.”

Caroline: “We keep this between us then,” she groans. “And we find another way.”

GM: “What? We don’t have all night…”

Caroline: “That’s all we have.” Caroline drags herself to her feet. Slowly. Painfully. “And I have an appointment.”

GM: “Wha… who…? I… I have to report back, or they’ll wonder…”

Caroline: “How long do you have?”

GM: “I was supposed to when I left Audubon… but…” Autumn closes her eyes and gives a half-wince, half-shudder. “I don’t sound right… not tip top… I need more. I know you don’t have a lot, but… you could drink from your friends.”

She hurriedly continues, “Just a little bit, and I could bleed them for you, when you’re not looking, so you’re not tempted… we both need it.”

“They’d give it, they love you…”

Caroline: Another stream of tears run down Caroline’s cheeks. Cold dread grips her undead heart. Her eyes close. Then she looks up, trying to blink away tears.

“I know.”

GM: “Where’s… a knife, a glass? I’ll heat it up over the stove, so they don’t get infected.”

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “No.” Cold pragmatism sets in, brutal realpolitik. If either of them miss their meetings… Aimee and Gabriel are dead.

“He won’t work. And if I’m going to suck the life out of my best friend… if I’m going to be a monster… the least I can do is own it.”

GM: “The girl then,” Autumn continues. “But you shouldn’t watch. You’re hungry, you’ll just get tempted… don’t you owe it not to endanger them because you want to feel better?”

Caroline: “No… I owe it to her to feel worse. I’m not letting you bleed my best friend, Autumn.”

GM: “But you’re risking her…” The ghoul almost pleads. “What happens if you snap and take more? Take it all? She’d rather be alive than have you feel bad, right? Or at least have better odds of staying alive? Sure odds, I won’t cut her deep, I’ve done it before…”

Caroline: Caroline pulls herself to her feet. The great irony is that as bad as her wounds are, this abomination barely slows down.

“I suppose that depends on how confident you are. Would you bet your life on it?”

GM: “I’ve done it before, like I said… it’s not hard, you just stop after a couple bags’ worth.”

Caroline: “Two pints. No more. And you take your time with it.” The words burn in her throat and in her ears. “The danger of blood loss is in speed more than volume.”

GM: “Two’s not enough,” Autumn pleads, “the human body can lose three, four… she’ll feel really out of it, but she’ll be okay, and not any worse than we’re feeling.”

Caroline: “God help you if you’re wrong.”

Caroline turns and trudges up the stairs.

GM: Caroline can hear the other girl’s footsteps as she makes her way down.

Caroline: She sees to Gabriel. Ropes, cuffs, a chair, a cloth gag. He’ll make no noise before she returns. And then she’s left with waiting in muted dread. She strips out of her clothing, Adelais’ gown, and digs out something from her walk-in closet. Something dark, something that showcases her ravaged flesh. Her shred back. She wipes blood off with a wet towel.

GM: It takes some minutes further before Autumn returns. The ghoul’s messy hair seems even more unkempt than when Caroline first saw it, and her skin and clothes are still spattered with blood and bile. She holds several plastic bags, like someone might stick a sandwich too. They’re filled up with a dark red fluid that Caroline doesn’t need to be a vampire to identify as human blood.

Aimee’s blood.

“Here… drink up,” Autumn says, extending the bags.

“Your friend’s fine.”

Caroline: Caroline accepts the bags wordlessly, confident Aimee is almost as far from ‘fine’ as possible. Her savage wounds, hidden until now by her coat, are on display.

GM: Autumn hands her a straw.

“So you don’t spill any.”

It seems almost funny. A straw. Such a mundane item in this bloody existence.

Caroline: And yet… she takes it. And she hates herself more that Aimee’s blood is velvety bliss.

GM: Aimee’s blood is like a mother’s home cooking. Sure, other cooks might be technically superior. But there’s just something that’s right about a home-cooked meal. Drinking up her best friend’s life, Caroline feels for a moment as if she’s truly gone home.

Caroline: She tries to rush through it. Tries not to focus on it. Tries everything…. and finds herself licking the bags, turned inside out, clean. It’s so wrong. It’s the most terrible betrayal she’s done… and it feels so right.

GM: Autumn lightly touches Caroline’s arm.

“So, can I…?”

She glances meaningfully at her wrist.

Caroline: She drops the bag in her hand and looks the other girl in the eye.

“Take it. Please.”

GM: The ghoul nods. “You should bite it. It’s less messy than if I use a knife.”

Caroline: Caroline does so as if in a daze.

GM: Autumn lifts Caroline’s bleeding wrist to her mouth and slowly sucks. Her eyes close with bliss.

Caroline: Caroline, mindful of her last attempt, draws away sooner, lest the ghoul refuse to give it up. She cradles her wrist. “Is that enough?”

GM: The wounds on Autumn’s neck are completely gone, without so much as a puncture mark remaining. Her skin is still smeared with blood, but it’s half-dried.

“Yeah,” she nods, licking her lips. Her eyes are a little glassy.

She shakes her head. “I better call the Krewe. Now what are we going to do with your friends?”

Caroline: Caroline looks away. “I need you to watch them when I go out to find someone. Can you do that?”

GM: Autumn wipes a bit of blood off her hands. It doesn’t look wholly dried.

“Sure. Who are you finding?”

Caroline: It’s an excellent question, and one that causes Caroline to pause in thought. Two names run at the forefront of her mind. McGinn, his cigar and white suit, and Donovan, the blade on his hip, with those piercing eyes. She pushes them back instantly. Not away. They can’t ever seem to get away, but back.

McGinn and his devils, if they even spoke to her, would be happy to contract for the service if she begged. Then they would slit Aimee’s and Gabriel’s throats when they were done, just to make a point. That casual cruelty.

Donovan… a pocket hand, but one she suspects she’s read well enough. He’d do whatever is most efficient. Part of her suspects that might be erase the two’s memories, just to avoid any mess. But she somehow doubts she’d survive the explanation.

Not that such would be a bad thing.

Wright, her easiest point of contact. He can do it, she suspects. But any report will go back to Donovan, even if he does anything but despise her. And that well is well-poisoned.

The pool of Kindred dwindles. Jocelyn, perhaps. It’s not clear which Kindred have which powers, however, and there’s no indication the other girl has any interest in getting involved in this matter, even if she can help. Caroline is like a protopterus swimming in mud that can be described as ‘waters’ only by the most generous of souls. Unlike them, she can’t survive months out of water.

Malveaux. Might he make an exception for another of his kin? She reflects on the cold efficiency of the man. Cast in the same mold as Donovan, she suspects. He might wipe them, to avoid the cleanup, but only that, and it would be flipping a coin. Maybe if she confessed it to him. Sought to make penance. Another part of her suspects he’d want blood even if the matter was kept between them. He has to make an example.

This entire culture is built on fear, on reputation, on pain. Architects of suffering laying bodies like beams as they climb ever higher. They’re all monsters. All of them as cold as the corpses they are. Any one of them is a gamble. A gamble for Aimee’s and Gabriel’s lives.

One name does stand out. “You should say thanks to Primogen Duquette and Seneschal Maldonato sometime. My sire says Prince Vidal used to put all… illegals to death.”

Long odds, but if she’s going to bet, maybe the best she has. There was something about the woman, something… measured. She could have beaten her, maimed her, mind-controlled her… her petty anger over Coco’s cowing display seems so trivial now. Maybe, just maybe, she can offer something to Coco. If she can’t, the woman seems the least likely to lash out simply because she can. It’s not an ember of hope. Those have been drowned in blood and screams. But it’s the beginnings of a plan.

Lou absently darts through her mind. The hint of hook hand and smell of cheep booze and even cheaper smokes. Fuck you, old man. What did he give her? Thin advice. Suggested she commit suicide. Promised something. Promised nothing. All without even a number to reach him at. The alternative to the monsters is a washed-up shell of a man. Bitterness and regret mixed together with grain alcohol. I wish I’d never met him.

Coco then… and maybe Father Malveaux if that fails, if she has to throw the dice.

“Would any name I offered have much meaning to you?” Caroline finally asks Autumn. “The evening. Give me till dawn to clean this up. Succeed or fail, you can then bring it—and me—to the Krewe if you wish, and on whatever terms you wish. I’ll owe you for it.”

GM: Autumn nods. “That’ll help later, but it’s not taking care of our three… immediate problems. Let’s just get those cleaned up now.”

Caroline: “Then make your call,” Caroline tells the ghoul. “And then I’ll be about my business.”

GM: Autumn disappears to report back to her masters, but Caroline does not trust the ghoul. Autumn tries to make sure she’s alone, closing and locking the bathroom’s door and speaking in a low voice, but she doesn’t know the house like its owner does… or the ways by which guests’ privacy might be compromised.

Not only does Caroline overhear Autumn telling someone that she saw nothing at Audubon Place but was able to bug Caroline’s house, the Ventrue picks up the location of the bugs in her bedroom and dining room.

Caroline: Satisfied, Caroline moves below to check in on Aimee.

The feeling of shame is immediate.

GM: Aimee lies trussed up and gagged on the bed, just like Caroline left to her brother. Her face is pale. Not as chalk-white as Autumn’s previously was, but pale. There’s a bandage over her wrist. The bathroom is clean to a human’s naked senses. Caroline’s far sharper ones can still detect coppery traces of her roommate’s blood.

Caroline: She spends a few moments over the girl, checking pulse and other vitals. It’s a wrenching experience, made all the more so by the the blood pounding in her veins.

GM: The almost-doctor assesses that Aimee’s life is not in immediate danger, nor does she even need a trip to the hospital. She has, however, lost more blood than a donation center would feel comfortable taking… she’d be well-advised to get a lot of rest and eat a lot of vitamin D.

Caroline: Caroline gathers her important belongings in another thousand-dollar bag and makes ready to leave.

GM: Autumn is helping herself to some food in the kitchen downstairs and stares dumbfoundedly at the Ventrue’s macabre gown. “You’re not actually wearing that thing out in public, are you?”

Caroline: She pulls a snappy long white coat off the back of a chair. “Problems?”

GM: “None except ruining your coat, I guess.”

Caroline: She smiles. “I’ve worn it out twice already. It’s due for retirement,” she says of the $700 garment.

GM: “Well… licks can smell blood a mile off. Walking around with that much painted over your back is gonna be like catnip to them. Hungrier ones might go apeshit on you.”

Caroline: The ghoul has a point. She’s painted enough of a target on herself already.

She draws on her friend’s blood and wills mutilated flesh back to pristine wholeness. A quick sponge bath gets off what’s left before she pulls on the coat.

GM: Autumn finishes making herself a sandwich.

“See you whenever you’re back. Hope you don’t mind if I raid your kitchen.”

Caroline: “Until then.” Caroline spares a glance upstairs, where Gabriel and Aimee lie unconscious and tied up like prisoners, then heads out the door to the waiting car.

Whatever happens to me after this… I just have to get them clear.


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Previous, by Character: Story Three, Adelais I, Caroline XII
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Story Three, Emmett XI

“I’m not a good person, Lena.”
Emmett Delacroix


Sunday afternoon, 13 September 2015

GM: Em calls upon his doctor and asks when he can get out. Dr. Brown tells him that while he’s out of ICU, he’s still got “a little while yet” before he’s ready to be released.

When pressed, Dr. Brown admits that it’s Em’s legal right to check out of the hospital at any time—he’s a (sufficiently) mentally competent adult and they can’t hold him against his will without a court order. Dr. Brown repeats that he does not advise Em to leave the hospital at this time. The still-injured cripple does not have a clean bill of health. If Em wants to leave, there’s going to be a liability waiver for him to sign, absolving Tulane Medical Center of responsibility for any injury that results from Em ignoring his doctor’s orders.

Furthermore, if he’s well enough to leave the hospital, he’ll also be considered well enough to meet his probation officer and spend weekends in Orleans Parish Prison. And to start paying his many, many bills.

Emmett: He can deal with the problems he already has or wait on his back while more accumulate. This might be the worst week of his life, but he’s going to face it. It might be the bravest thing he’s ever done, and that might be pathetic; but then, so is he. He asks for somebody to call his sister. He’s getting out of here.

GM: Lena is, to put it mildly, surprised by Emmett’s sudden turn-around. As a doctor herself, she is not predisposed to go against the advice of a colleague responsible for her brother’s care. Still, money is a huge issue without insurance, and Em pitches that another week (or more) of mounting bills will ruin his life worse than a pediatrician taking over his post-ICU care. Lena reluctantly acquiesces after Em signs the liability waiver, but adds that he’s going right back if his symptoms take a turn for the worse. Not only does Em’s silver tongue win him release from Tulane, but Lena volunteers to take the rest of the day off (as a doctor she still works Sundays) and take him home right away, rather than waiting until evening.

Now that he’s feeling well enough to leave, however, Lena also declares that he’s well enough to talk about bills. “I made a trip to Tulane’s financial services department, Em. They haven’t finished tabulating your bill, but it looks like you’re going to owe them at least $100,000. Possibly a lot more.”

Emmett: “That’s a lot, yeah,” Em says.

He’s oddly calm. He has long given up on clawing his way out of the medical debt. It’s the one that might hurt his sister he’s terrified of.

GM: “The bill hasn’t arrived yet, so that buys you some wiggle room. Hospitals are pretty slow about sending them. It could take months before yours actually arrives in the mail, but we shouldn’t put this off.” She pauses to gather her thoughts. “Now, you have a lot more options than you may realize, including charity programs and government assistance like SSI. You can also simply negotiate the hospital for a lower bill—most people don’t know you can do that. Hospitals only charge so much because of the games they play with insurance companies; bills are more like ‘oh I hope to get this’ Christmas wish-lists than anything else. Hospitals don’t actually expect to collect the sums of money they initially ask for.”

Lena pauses again. “But for someone who isn’t on insurance, you’re on hook for the entire amount. Even with everything we can do to bring this bill down… god only knows when, or if, you’ll be able to pay it off.”

Emmett: “A crippling debt, one might say.”

GM: His sister isn’t laughing.

Emmett: The joke has been repeated too many times to be funny. He’s just pushing air.

He sighs. “Lena. My life is over. The debt is just the very, very big cherry on the sundae that is my life being over.”

But yours isn’t going to be ruined, too.

GM: “Actually, Em, if we can get you on an insurance plan as well as public assistance, you might not have to pay any money for your stay. Now, you can’t get on my and Dan’s insurance, because you aren’t a financial dependent of ours. But under the Affordable Care Act, you are still eligible to be on our parents’ until you turn 26. In fact, if the state finds you disabled and starts paying you SSI, I think there’s a law that you can stay on their insurance indefinitely.”

Emmett: “That sounds like it involves talking to Mom and Dad.”

GM: “Yes, it would. We’ve talked. They still feel…” Lena trails off, seeming to think better.

“I’ll let them talk to you about how they feel. Regardless, I think they might still be willing to put you back on their plan. But I’m not the one who’s going to convince them.”

Emmett: He says nothing.

GM: “Emmett, you could go to prison for this,” Lena states seriously. “They can sue you for failing to pay outstanding bills. You can then be held in contempt of court for failing to make the court-ordered payments. I’ve seen it happen.”

Emmett: “Yeah. It’s bad.”

GM: “And if you can’t pay the bills back, forget about prosthetics. Those also cost thousands of dollars.”

Emmett: He hangs his head. “You already won, Lena.”

GM: His sister closes her eyes for a moment. “Thank you, Em.”

Emmett: “Nah. Don’t thank me for saving my own ass, Len.” His voice is very, very quiet. "I meant it when I said I was going to make it up to you. Somehow. "

GM: “That’s one part of why I thanked you.” Lena manages a tired smile. “There are a few other things before we leave. But hopefully less…” She trails off again. “Well, first. When I tried to visit you earlier, there were police outside your door who said you were under arrest.”

Emmett: “Past tense, now.”

GM: “Clearly. I do need to know why and what you were charged with, if anything.”

Emmett: He sighs. “Assaulting a police officer was the biggie.” Preemptively, he says, “Relax.”

GM: Lena doesn’t look very relaxed. “Emmett, if you’re going to be staying in the same house as my kids, I need to know the full story.”

Emmett: He closes his eyes. “This’ll take a while.”


Sunday afternoon, 13 September 2015

GM: Lena patiently (but far from passively) listens to Em’s explanation of the many events that led to his current point. He leaves out everything to do with Talal al-Saud, as well as the loan from the Dixie Mafia that may have bought his legal defense at the price of his niece’s and nephew’s lives.

Lena is still horrified by the story he tells her. She’s read about corruption in NOPD, of course, but she can’t believe a police officer would actually do something like that to someone—or hand them over, or—well, it’s not apparent what happened to Em, though Cash Money was clearly involved, and he’s the easiest figure Lena can find to blame. She wonders if they should try to press charges—but upon hearing of Em’s arrest and the consequences which resulted from that, she reluctantly concurs they should stay the hell away from Ricky Mouton.

Lena seems to assume that Em went with a public defender for his lawyer. He does not attempt to dissuade her. The court fines are a drop in the bucket next to the medical bills, but the state of Louisiana is going to be far more aggressive (or at least timelier) in collecting those.

Em spending his weekends in jail seriously worries her in his present condition. Orleans Parish Prison is one of the worst jails in the country, she’s read. There are horrible stories about inmate fatalities and rampant corruption and abuses among the guards. It’s no place for anyone to be, much less someone in as sorry a state as Em.

Then there’s his probation. One of the terms, if he wants to stay out of prison, is to be gainfully employed. In other words, Em must hold his first real job in all his life.

Emmett: He sighs. “I’ve always wanted to be a mobile signpost. Or maybe a tourist attraction. What qualifies as gainfully employed, in probation terms? Can you look it up?”

GM: “Basically anything there’s a W2 form for. I mean, it’s not as if most parolees are working as rocket scientists. An entry level dishwashing or fast food job would satisfy.”

Emmett: “What about being a student?”

GM: Lena considers the question. “I don’t think so, as it’s not a paying job. But that’s something I should ask my lawyer. Maybe it would count if you did a work-study program.”

Emmett: “I’ve actually… been thinking about going back to school. Before all this.” He serves the lie with a bitter laugh. “Hindsight 20/20, right?”

GM: “That still wouldn’t be a bad idea, Em,” his sister encourages. “Desk jobs that require a degree are a lot more likely to accommodate physical disabilities.”

Emmett: “Yeah… but come on. The cripple with a rap sheet? I don’t know much about student loans, but I wouldn’t qualify, right?” He does his best to make it sound like a foregone answer, but everything might ride on a “yes.”

GM: “Student loan eligibility is mainly based off personal and parental income, though past a certain age, I don’t remember what, how much your parents make doesn’t factor in. So in some ways it can be easier to qualify when you’re older. Having a physical disability might also help, I’m not fully sure there either. We can try applying for grants too—those are available to older students, and you don’t even have to pay them back.”

Emmett: “…oh.” He starts to nod. “I guess… that might be a decent bridge to build with Mom and Dad, right?”

And also to my way out of shit creek.

GM: “Going back to school? Oh, definitely, Em.” Lena pauses. “Also, when I said to pass on they said hi… that was me, well, fibbing. They… haven’t asked me to pass anything on for over four years.”

Emmett: “Oh. That’s… good? I feel less bad now.”

He considers.

“No. I don’t.”

It’s true. He feels exactly as guilty about it as he did before this nightmare started.


Sunday afternoon, 13 September 2015

GM: Touro is a well-to-do neighborhood that sits just east of the Garden District. Blocks of glorious 19th-century homes stand as symbols of the industriousness which made New Orleans one of the wealthiest cities in the nation during the Antebellum. While Touro does not play home to the same old money that its elder, western neighbor does, most Touro residents are white (a significant demographic break from the majority of the Crescent City) and a third own their homes outright. Children play on a basketball court right next to a police station whose officers vigilantly keep “undesirables” out of the upper-middle class neighborhood.

Lena_Home.jpg
The Merinelli house is a two-story affair built in the Craftsman style, surrounded by a neatly-trimmed hedge and low iron fence. The family’s breadwinners aren’t Malveauxes, but they both still make six-figure incomes, and it shows.

Lena parks her SUV in the house’s unattached garage, then lowers Em onto his wheelchair with the help of a Hispanic woman in a housekeeper’s beige uniform, who she introduces as Paula. The newly-crippled young man is wheeled into the room that Lena and Dan use as their shared office space while the former boots up a desktop computer and asks for help making an Excel spreadsheet list of all the outstanding debts he owes, the various court-mandated obligations he’s expected to keep, and when they’re due by.

She’ll type.

Emmett: Admitting he had trouble keeping track of everything at the time, he recalls the hospital’s outstanding (and unknown) bill and his court-mandated fines.

GM: “Okay, that’s good. On top of that, there’s also your probation officer’s monthly fine. Then medical bills, and your public defender…”

Lena draws up an excel spreadsheet and puts down five rows for the five separate fees, with “monthly payment”, “total owed”, and “total paid” under each one. His court fees, Em recalls, come out to $5,900, including the $200 restitution owed to Ricky Mouton. When Em expresses shock over the probation officer’s fee, Lena confirms for him that people on probation are indeed expected to pay the state for their time. They also front the cost for drug tests.

Emmett: “…christ.”

GM: Looking it up, Lena finds there’s a flat $60 monthly fee for the probation officer, and $42 per drug test.

Emmett: “You’d think they’d just go ahead and stop arresting people,” he mutters.

GM: “Arresting people can bring in a lot of revenue. Sometimes, anyway.” Lena frowns. “Okay, next big expense… how much did your public defender cost you?”

Emmett: “Ten grand, or thereabouts. The prick seemed pretty happy, considering.”

GM: Lena blinks. “The state charged you $10,000 for a public defender’s plea deal? That’s insane.”

Emmett: Em frowns. “Uh, I think so. Is that unusual? The dude seemed to think it was pretty standard.”

The frown deepens. His tone isn’t aggressive; he’s unsure. Here is a crippled man concerned about his own ability to help himself out of the grave he’s dug. Nothing more. Inside, he’s sweating.

GM: Em’s sister nods and frowns at the same time. “Someone had to have goofed up your legal bill. I should talk with my lawyer to make sure, though. What was your defender’s name?”

Emmett: He frowns slightly. “Villars, I think.”

Shit, shit shit.

GM: “Do you remember his first name?”

Emmett: “Something with a B. Bernie, Bertie, something like that.”

GM: Lena spends the next several minutes Googling Villars’ name and calling the state’s public defender office. By the time she’s finished, her frown has deepened.

“Emmett, this man is a private attorney. He couldn’t have represented you. And the ten thousand dollar fee. That’s high even for a private attorney, if all you got was a plea deal.”

The expression on Lena’s plump face abruptly goes flat.

“All right, enough of the bullshit. What aren’t you telling me this time?”

Emmett: He tries to think of an answer.

He really does.

He can’t.

All of it. Everything these past few days. It’s all too fucking much.

GM: Lena stares at her still-tongued baby brother with an increasingly severe expression as he sweats, then finally snaps, “All right. That says it all.”

She gets up, takes Em’s wheelchair by the handles, and starts pushing him out of the room.

Emmett: He lets her.

GM: “Paula! Come help me get Em back into the car.”

Lena’s housekeeper follows them outside and helps her employer separately load the legless cripple and his wheelchair into the SUV. Lena gets in, turns the ignition, and pulls out of the driveway.

Emmett: Em speaks in the car. He speaks, because Cash Money left him his tongue. He’s the king of two courts. The actor on the stage. He’s invincible.

And that Em is dead. He can’t save himself. But he can save her.

“I’m not a good person, Lena.”

He waits, giving her a second to speak.

GM: Lena’s eyes stay fixed on the road. “Expensive toys for the kids whenever you visit. A swank apartment on Royal Street. No job beyond audition-seeking. And now this ten thousand dollar legal bill. People aren’t as dumb as you think, Emmett. Those things don’t add up. I don’t know what it does add up to. But you’re right that it’s nothing good.”

Emmett: He giggles. It isn’t as unstable as it should be; the irony is genuinely amusing.

“Yeah, well. This whole week has been about me realizing exactly how stupid I am. Makes sense everybody else is a bit cleverer.”

He breathes. Air is sweet. He should learn to enjoy it.

“I’m going to tell you who I really am, sis. And then you’ll drive me to the hospital and never talk to me again. I’ll probably go to prison. Or you could just leave me by the side of the road. You won’t love me anymore. That’s fine. That’s smart. But I’ve gotta tell you this. Because I still love you.”

GM: Lena isn’t laughing. In the slightest. Her knuckles clench around as the steering wheel as she replies in a tight voice, “It’s like a shot, Emmett. Best to just get it over with.”

Emmett: “Oh, yeah.” He chuckles. “I’m a thief. Obviously. Just not as good a one as I thought. Goddamn, I’ve done some things. You remember what Clarice always told us? That there’s a special place in Hell for children who act like they’re perfect? I tried to prove her wrong.”

He’s unable to look away from the window. Not out of cowardice. But God, how fast the world whips past. There goes a tree. There goes the neighborhood he liked to take walks in. There go his legs. There goes Emmett.

GM: Touro doesn’t draw the sightseers like the Garden District does. But it still has sights worth seeing.

Touro_Synagogue.jpg
There’s that synagogue. He hears it’s pretty old.

blue-white-red-porch-tree-uptown-2016-09-12-11.53.43-1024x768.jpg
Some other house. Nice like Lena’s.

Touro_Home.jpg
That house looks even nicer.

Childrens-Hospital-New-Orleans-Exterior.jpg
There’s the hospital where his sister works.

Touro_Shakespeare_Home.jpg
Touro Shakspeare Home. Do they read Shakespeare there, perform plays? And do they mean ‘Shakspeare’? It’s missing the extra ‘e’ it should have, like Em is missing the legs he should have.

Emmett: Somehow, it’s a comfort to know that someone else is missing something too.

“I ripped people off,” he says. “Acting’s lying for a living, right? So’s swindling. And the money was good, man. Oh, boy, it was great.” He chuckles. “I let go of everything anybody told me was important. And holy shit, was it fun. You know how freeing it is not to care about anybody but yourself, Lena?”

He never thought he’d think so, but it feels nice to tell the truth.

GM: Lena’s face is oddly tranquil throughout Em’s confession. There isn’t surprise written on it. Or disappointment. It’s not acceptance either. Just a simple… tiredness. The kind that comes when someone takes a shower and goes to bed after a long, sweaty day under the hot Dixie sun. Except the shower is cold, and the bed is hard and lumpy, but they have no choice but to make do.

“No, Emmett, I don’t know what it’s like. I haven’t had that luxury ever since I became responsible for seven and a half pounds of helpless life that was completely dependent upon her caregivers. Then another seven, after her brother came along.”

“And look where we are now,” she says slowly. “I hope the fun has been worth it.”

Emmett: “Probably would have said so, once.”

Outside, the world outruns him. Granted, that’s not so hard anymore.

“Somebody’s going to come by your home in a week. Dixie Mob. Pay them eleven grand. Don’t help with my hospital bills, or getting me that state assistance. Just pay them, and forget about me.”

He’s never realized how beautiful this city is.

GM: Lena blinks.

“What?”

Emmett: “Villars. The lawyer. He’s a scumbag. He put me on the phone with the Mob, and I didn’t realize who I was borrowing from or what the stakes were when he did.”

GM: Lena stops the car dead in the middle of the road, sending the breaks squealing.

WHAT?”

Emmett: “Oh, come on. You heard me.”

He misses the pretty whoosh that life was making a few seconds ago. He sighs.

“Worst thing I’ve ever done, completely by accident. I was half-doped up at the time. Not that it makes it better, obviously.”

GM: The car remains stopped. Lena doesn’t unbuckle her seatbelt. She stares at Em flabbergastedly, then demands, “Why on EARTH is the… Mob coming to MY house?!”

Emmett: “That wasn’t me. Villars, apparently, figured you would take me in. Apparently, he also found your address. Oh, and the reason he did all this was to pay my legal fee. Would have gone to prison if I had known the real cost.” He’s got an itch on his nose that he cannot fucking scratch and somehow, that is all he can think about at the moment.

GM: Lena just stares at him, her face at a total loss.

Emmett: “Deep breaths,” he advises.

GM: Em’s still-tender cheek burns as his sister slaps it.

Emmett: He takes it silently, and then says, softly, “Feels good, right?”

GM: Lena is visibly shaking as her face flushes red. “What happens to my children, Emmett, if I don’t pay these people?”

Emmett: “You can pay them. At the very least, you can make the minimum weekly payment, which if I had to guess isn’t more than, like, a grand or two. Bud probably should have explained that to me.”

GM: Lena’s eyes bore into his. Another car honks several times from behind their stopped vehicle, but she doesn’t turn around. “I’m not asking you again. What. Happens.”

Emmett: “The guy said he’d kill my family, just before he hung up but—please stop panicking—that’s stupid business, though, they’d lose money. Could be broken bones, mutilation, what have you. Actually, probably not anything too permanent, at least not the first week. I honestly don’t know, but I can safely say that you’re going to want to pay them or take a long, long vacation.”

Damn that itch.

I’m sorry, Lena. But to say it would infuriate her, so he doesn’t.

GM: Lena slaps him again. Harder. Her next hoarse words are almost a shout.

“You handed my kids’ lives over to the MAFIA!?”

Emmett: “No, I handed my life over to an unknown caller and then found out I’d accidentally done the unthinkable. I literally had no idea what was happening until the guy on the phone said, ‘great, Em, short any payments and we’ll kill your family. Have yerself a dandy dixie day.’ Then he hung up.”

He blinks tears out of his eyes. The world becomes blurry and beautiful. God, it hurts.

GM: “I don’t believe this,” Lena states numbly. “I just don’t believe this.”

She’s slumped back in her seat. Her next words don’t sound like they’re addressed to Em.

“I don’t know who you are.”

Emmett: “I told you. An awful, parasitic excuse of a person. Who you never have to see again. And who really, really loves you. And my niece. And nephew. You don’t have to think about anything, Lena. You just have to pay the monsters who come to your door and forget I ever existed. It’ll be like a shot.”

GM: Lena stares directly at Em again and holds up a finger. Red starts to re-color her face.

“Don’t. You. Dare talk to me about love right now.”

Emmett: “Okay.”

GM: She fishes a phone out of her pocket and dials a number.

“Dan? You need to pick up the kids and take them to your mom’s. Possibly for a long time. I’ll explain later.”

Confused chatter sounds from the other end as she hangs up.

Emmett: “Oh, and don’t even think of going to the cops,” he adds. “They’re infested, Lena. You’ll end up in a ditch for the nerve.”

GM: She dials another number. “Mom?”

Emmett: “Oh. Right.”

GM: “You were right. I was wrong. About everything.”

There’s an indistinct voice.

“Yes. Don’t put him on your insurance. I’ll explain later.”

She hangs up to the sound of more confused chatter.

Emmett: “Right, so you can dump me or drop me at Tulane, but uh, yeah. Cops aren’t a good idea. Good news is, though, I’ll almost definitely get sent to the Farm anyway.”

GM: “No, Emmett, I’m not going to leave you here when a good samaritan might stop to help.” Lena looks as if she might shake her head, but she still doesn’t look all the way there. Another car honks from behind theirs. She ignores it and mutters, “God knows you’d only spit in their face.”

Lena drives back back to Tulane Medical Center. She does not speak a word for the rest of the trip. When the pair arrive outside the brick-like building, Em’s sister doesn’t literally throw him out of the car: she just dumps him on the side of the curb. She does not help him into the wheelchair she unloads from the SUV’s rear with more care than she shows her brother. The effective paraplegic is left to writhe helplessly on the asphalt while onlookers stare and gawk. A few laugh and pull out their phones to snap videos.

Lena closes the car door without a glance back, pulls out of the parking lot, and out of Em’s life.

Emmett: “Ummph.”

And good for her. Exit, stage right. He has little to feel proud over, and less to feel happy about. But the world becomes a rush of noise and people and consequences, whooshing by like a car window.

Em stares at the sky. He waits, for somebody to help if they wish or leave him if they don’t. The world isn’t a nice place. He isn’t a good person. But he could be worse, and somehow, that means a lot. He wonders what the crowd thinks. It must be odd to see a cripple looking happy.

GM: Hospital staff eventually haul Em back onto his wheelchair and cart him inside. Dr. Brown stares down at the cripple with another shadow-rimmed smile and cheerfully tells him that it’s good he changed his mind. “You should still be in bed anyways. Doctor’s orders, after all!” That’ll even net him some extra time before his jail sentence starts.

Emmett: Em says nothing. It’s about time he learned how.

GM: No one charges him with anything. Em is placed in a non-ICU, partitioned hospital room he shares with another patient. She’s an older woman who was attacked by a home invader (who also didn’t steal anything, oddly enough). Her teenage son comes by frequently with food. As Em can well attest, what passes for it in the hospital tastes terrible. The two laugh about random things to keep their spirits up, sometimes cry, reminisce of memories gone by, and plan for a future Em may no longer have.

Now it is not tears that fall like sand in an hourglass, but days of the young cripple’s life.

Steadily trickling away.


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Story Three, Adelais I, Caroline XII

“Whip ’er good, Billy.”
Pierpont McGinn


Thursday night, 10 September 2015, AM

Caroline: Caroline knows she only has a couple minutes before this spirals out of control. She climbs out of the car and moves from one of the fallen to the next, collecting phones, firearms, and keys.

GM: She finds the aforementioned articles on all of them. The skinheads were not so foolish as to turn guns upon one of the Damned.

Caroline: The guns go into her passenger seat. Phones have sim cards removed. The last number dialed by the last thug is also written down. Finally, she moves one of the cars blocking her in. The entire process takes less than three minutes. There’s a cold, mute efficiency to it. The horror may come later. For now she has work to do, lest this balloon into another catastrophe.

If it hasn’t already.

She pulls away from the scene, leaving broken bodies behind. It’s not the best job of dealing with the evidence. Broken window shards might somehow be tracked to make and model. The city CSIs are pretty good. But she can’t exactly stick around. Gunshots attract attention, and the last thing she needs at 4 AM is a run-in with the police.

The knives are also beside her as she goes. Better to leave as little behind. Who knows what a DNA search would come up with, but she’d rather avoid it if possible. She missed drops, she’s sure, but hopefully they’ll get lost amid the rivers from the cooling bodies.

GM: Caroline may have been the only one of the combatants to use a firearm, but killing human beings is noisy, messy business, and using guns to do it only makes it noisier. Lights flicker and cars speed in the distance. She wonders how long it will be before someone arrives at the scene.

Caroline: Caroline rolls down what’s left of the windows, the muggy night air not bothering her. Her hands start to shake, but she drives on.

GM: The young Ventrue arrives at a well-appointed three-story home after several minutes of further driving. A low hedge wall surrounds the house. The two guards who stop her are instantly alarmed by her bloody state.

Caroline: She digs an pea coat out of her backseat to cover up the injuries, even as she discards her sweater onto the floor of the passenger seat. “Calm down, boys,” she instructs the security as she covers up.

GM: The security guards do not calm down, demanding to know where the blood is from and why they should possibly let her in.

Caroline: “I said, calm down.” The bloodstains on her calves and shoes all but fade away. Not worth paying attention to. “Just a minor incident, and nothing to do with your principle.”

She herself is certainly not as calm as she appears. The Beast at least is screaming bloody murder over all the spilled vitae. Couldn’t she have stopped to lap up at least some of the skinheads’ spilled blood?

GM: The men all but fall over themselves to let Caroline into the house. It is tastefully furnished, with polished hardwood floors, expensive carpets, and tan furniture that perfectly matches the walls, interspersed with the occasional potted plant. The place feels like it belongs in an interior design catalog for moderately upscale homes.

Pic.jpg
Caroline: Caroline doesn’t actually say tacky, but she certainly thinks it. Class cannot be bought. It has the look of someone trying too hard.

GM: Caroline is greeted by a prudish-looking woman past her prime whose fashion sense must have died several decades ago. Her secretarial uniform looks right out of the ’50s or ’60s. Something about her smells vaguely unpleasant, like curdled milk.

Dolores_Campbell.png
Caroline: She puts on a fake smile. “Ah, you must be Dolores. It’s a pleasure to meet you in person.”

GM: The woman’s answering smile looks as pleasant on her face as an open jug of that same spoiled milk might smell.

“Mrs. Campbell, Miss Malveaux, but think nothing of it.”

Caroline: “My apologies and thanks, then. I trust I’m not too late?”

GM: “You are precisely on time, Miss Malveaux,” the woman states, beaming another rancid smile. It looks no more natural on her face than the previous one. “The lord almoner was with his wives, but never mind, he’ll make time for you now.”

Caroline: She gestures for the woman to lead on.

GM: The woman escorts Caroline into the house’s living room. The jug of spoiled milk tips over, spilling forth its chunky, stinking contents.

Three naked women sit at the feet of the chairs. Not on them, but beside them. Like pets not allowed up on furniture. Their faces are swelled purple with bruises. Their eyes stare at the floor, downcast, and do not look up at Caroline’s presence. The youngest woman looks in her early 20s, the oldest, maybe a decade older.

Caroline: Only a lifetime of political and social experience keeps the smile on Caroline’s face. It is every bit as fake as the class the rest of the home tries to project.

GM: A short, moderately plump figure in a businessman’s suit reclines on one of the chairs. His well-to-do garb, however, is completely at odds with the abomination that is his face. It is in, in a word, hideous. Beyond hideous. It resembles nothing so much as a gigantic festering scab, as if someone had torn off the first layer of skin, shoved his head in a barbecue pit, dumped the contents of a garbage can over it, then let it grill a while longer. The figure’s teeth are yellow, chipped, and jagged. Pus oozes from dozens of smaller scabs. Stringy clumps of gray hair cling to the sides of his head, as if his hairline was already receding in life.

Caroline: Jocelyn wasn’t wrong.

GM: And yet for all the hideousness of his appearance, Caroline senses that he is more like her on some fundamental level than even her own family. He, too, is Kindred. His hideous face contorts into an even uglier snarl at Caroline’s presence. As if the invisible field she’s projecting is crashing against an invisible barrier.

Caroline: The light shining on her seems to dim all at once, as though someone is working a dimmer. The coat covers up the worst, but can’t hide the rivulets of blood that run down her legs and into her designer shoes.

“My apologies, Mr. Cartwright, your security was most bothersome.”

GM: “You will address me as Lord Almoner while you are in my home, fledgling,” he snarls. “What is the meaning of this? Where is that blood from?”

Caroline: “My further apologies, Lord Almoner,” she replies smoothly. “It was not my intent to give offense. The blood is mine, unrelated to our appointment. I would not bore you with the details of the difficulties of an unaligned fledgling.”

GM: Cartwright pulls a dumphone out from his coat pocket. “Lord Councilor, Lady Councilor? I’ve found the trespasser.”

Caroline: “Is that what we’re calling it now?”

GM: He hits another button and sets the phone on the table.

“Well, well, well,” sounds a man’s lazy Southern drawl.

“You want to tell me, girl, what’s got one o’ ma security teams cluckin’ and screamin’ like headless chickens?”

Caroline: “This is Regent McGinn, then?” she asks demurely.

Adelais: “She sounds terribly feral, Lord Pierpont, what will you do with her?” sounds a woman’s voice from the phone.

GM: “I’m of a mind ta tan her hide twice as hard for her impertinence in not answering me.”

Caroline: “I only seek to address you properly, as is your right.”

This is going swimmingly. Or maybe it’s just her head spinning.

“Your men are dead. They had the misfortune of setting upon me. I apologize for the inconvenience, and I will of course seek to make amends for it.”

GM: “Girl, you’ll play by Invictus rules while yer in Invictus domain. That’ll include addressin’ me as Lord Councilor, and the good Lady Adelais as Lady Councilor, whenever yer trap opens. Understood?”

Caroline: “Of course, lord councilor.”

Caroline says nothing further. Hatred hardens in her heart for the foul thing across the room from her.

GM: “As for killin’ ma men and makin’ amends. There’s going to be no ‘try’ to that, girl. You damn well will.”

Caroline: Caroline precisely does not point out that she never used the word try. She neither ‘tried’ to kill his men, nor is she interested in ‘trying’ to make amends. Four cooling corpses give lie to his statement.

“As you say, Lord Councilor.”

GM: “Now. I like ta look a man in the eye when I’m talking to him. A woman too, for that matter. The lord almoner will covey you to ma home. There’ll be no funny business along the way, or yer Requiem will be over faster than a knife fight in a phone booth. Got it?”

Caroline: “If I may, I would not hold myself to be presentable to you at present, Lord Councilor. Might we reconvene tomorrow evening at a time and place of your choosing, that I might avoid compounding one sin with another?”

These people are stiffer than her father’s starched shirts. It’s worth a try, at least.

GM: Laughter barks from the phone.

“Girl, you mus’ think I’m dumber than a bag o’ rocks.”

Caroline: “Not at all, but I’ve clearly missed a joke, Lord Councilor.”

Adelais: “Killing a squad of kine is dirty work, Lord Pierpont. At least she is concerned with presentation.”

GM: “We’ll give her time ta wash up at the big house, Lady Adelais. I wouldn’t want her ta offend your refined sensibilities more than she already has.”

Caroline: “As you will. I only urge you recall it was at your preference, Lord Councilor. You wouldn’t have anything in black on hand?”

Adelais: There is a long, cold silence. “No, I am afraid not.”

GM: “Well, ain’t that a plum shame, but I always defer ta the Lady Adelais on matters of fashion.”

Caroline: “Alas that we shall not have a tragedy in black. We shall continue this in person then, my Lord and Lady Councilor, by your leave?”

GM: “Lord Almoner, you’ll convey her ta our address personally.”

“By your command, Lord Councilor,” Cartwright replies.

Adelais: “As always, a pleasure, Lord Almoner…”

GM: The Nosferatu smiles hideously. “As always, a mutual one, Lady Councilor.”

Caroline: Caroline says nothing further. All semblance of politeness is gone around the rancid Nosferatu. No smile, not even a frown. A porcelain mask has replaced it. Cold, emotionless. A killer’s mask.

It’s not been an unfamiliar one of late.

Adelais: “I would very much like to keep you company while you travel. Lord Pierpont will be away in preparation and I’m afraid it will be terribly boring in the interim.”

Caroline: “Lady Councilor, should I presume that was directed at me? And if so, should I take it to mean you would rather the conversation be between us, rather than open air?”

Adelais: “Yes, please do. The lord almoner will not have a problem removing us from speaker…”

Caroline: “Of course.” She strides forward to collect the phone, her heeled feet snapping against the wood floors. The hum of speaker fades. “I imagine boredom must be an eternal foe of distinguished Kindred. How might I alleviate the condition, Lady Councilor?”

Adelais: “To begin, I would like to know more about you and how you came into this… predicament.”

Caroline: And if it lets you know what is going on before the lord councilor hears anything of it, it only strengthens your position, does it not? She resists a smile at the casual guile of the elder Kindred. And I’ve boxed myself in, have I not?

“It began, as all conflicts I suspect, with a misunderstanding. I had believed the lord almoner would clear his meetings on his end.”

Adelais: “It could, I suppose. However, Lord Pierpont and I have no interest in outmaneuvering one another. We may, however, have an interest in you. Lord Pierpont is extremely protective of his domain, but he does not entirely lack ability to forgive.”

Caroline: “So set, the stage lent itself to a confrontation with the lord councilor’s security over a perceived invasion. They proved… overeager to personally enforce the lord’s will and sentence.”

Adelais: “So, you had good reason to protect yourself? It sounds as if this was self-defense?”

Caroline: “Lady Councilor, I find excuses to terribly trivial when offered to me. I would not offer them to you casually. Would you have me tell you they drew blood first?”

Adelais: “And you would be right not to. I do not commit actions that require excuse.”

Caroline: A slap in the face, that.

It’s like that, is it?

“It would be a truth to say they struck first, but the truth is written by those that sit in judgment.”

Adelais: “Yes. Lord Pierpont’s judgment, however, can be cushioned. While he is excellent at looking at the big picture, I prefer to stand close and observe details. And, in these details, I find you to not only to be audacious, but resourceful.”

Caroline: Those don’t sound like virtues to your kind, though.

“I would not gainsay your judgment, Lady Councilor.”

Don’t cross her. The word of Jocelyn.

“Only hope that in the future propriety and preparation take priority to them.”

Adelais: “However, my point is this: as a gentlemen, Lord Pierpont values grace and poise under fire. It is very possible for you to convince him to show clemency if you display yourself correctly. Your concern for your own presentation tells me this is possible. Talk your way out, and leave with no boon owed. That is all, my girl. Good luck to you.”

The call ends.

Caroline: Caroline mentally reviews her ledger of debts. Wouldn’t that be a coup. She returns the phone to the foul creature she travels with.

GM: By this point, Caroline is riding to her destination in a black SUV, escorted by two other guards. Cartwright sits next to her on the passenger side and accepts the phone with a hideous smile.

Caroline: She faces the window, mask back in place. Hopefully it’s not a far ride.

GM: They eventually arrive at a gigantic 4-story stone mansion with grounds big enough to be a public park. Even on the millionaire’s row that is St. Charles Avenue, the property dwarfs its neighbors. Elevated on an earthen terrace, the two-and-a-half-story house is built in the Richardsonian Romanesque style with warm-hued beige limestone and a red tile roof. The walls themselves are striking, with stones that are coursed but vary in size and surface treatment across the principal facade, whereas the gables, chimneys, and subsidiary walls are laid in random patterns. Across the front, the one-story porch, with a row of wide arches outlined by huge voussoirs and supported on squat columns, provides a deep, shadowy transition from the dazzling marble steps to the interior.

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Caroline knows the place. She thinks she might have even been to a function or two here when she was younger. It’s the Brown Mansion, one of the most palatial homes in the city. She recalls it was built from 1901-1904 by the cotton king of New Orleans, W.P. Brown, who was one of the richest men in the South at the time. A walled perimeter surrounds the house. Guards by the iron gate wave the vehicle on through.

Caroline: Caroline’s opinion of McGinn revises up a step. She resists sinking a barb into the monstrous being beside her.

GM: Cartwright escorts Caroline inside the mansion along with two dead-faced mortal guards. The atrium is a vast, white-painted space, with two wide flights of stairs leading to the house’s upper floors. Thick maroon carpets descend down them. An 18th century crystal chandelier glitters from the ceiling.

Caroline: Her feet squish in her heels, soaked through with her blood. If she were mortal she’d worry about blisters. As is, she’s glad the carpets are red.

Not really my blood, she reflects. She distantly wonders where her trucker boyfriend is now.

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

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

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

“Don’t sit on any of the chairs,” Cartwright orders.

Caroline: “I wouldn’t dream of soiling fine furnishings.”

GM: The Nosferatu and suited security personnel depart the room without further word, closing the doors behind them. Caroline is left seemingly alone.

Caroline: In fact, Caroline is careful to stay off the rugs. She moves around the edges of the room to the wide windows, alternately studying the family tree and admiring the manicured grounds. She stands beside the piano on the high ground as she awaits her hosts.

GM: The grounds outside are very fine. Live oaks predominate instead of the palm trees so popular in the French Quarter. Water splashes from a fountain with leaping stone dolphins.

Minutes tick by. Her hosts do not arrive.

Caroline: The unholy nature of her unlife proves a continued blessing. At least it saves her feet from soreness. Still, the hour is growing late indeed.

GM: The grandfather clock ticks and ticks.

Caroline: It’s not a particularly inspired technique, so Caroline can only conclude they have another matter demanding their attention. She waits. She counts down how long it will take her to make it back to her home.

GM: Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

Caroline: What is there to do but wait? She ponders her options hereafter. She’s never been out this late before. A test? Likely, but of what? Resolve? Propriety?

GM: The clock ticks. 5:30 AM.

The clock chimes. 6:00 AM.

When is sunrise… 6:40 AM?

Caroline: It’s patience she couldn’t have mastered in life, but as the hour grows late her impatience grows. She shouldn’t be here. The windows, once a distraction, are a curse.

GM: The clock ticks. 6:20 AM.

Finally, the double doors swing open. A young-looking woman wearing a knee-length white dress and pearls strides in. She’s strawberry blonde, blue-eyed, and slender-figured.

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Her haughty expression detracts from her beauty, though, as she airily proclaims, “Kneel in the presence of the Good Lady Adelais Seyrès, viscountess of Magazine Street, councilor of the Prima Invicta, librettist, notary, speaker, harpy, and master of the Guild of Nemesis.”

Caroline: She does as ordered. Her skin itches. Her instincts are roaring. But this late into the night, she is well committed to this course.

Adelais: Adelais walks towards Caroline in a black sleeveless blouse and matching tulip skirt.

“I hope your travel was satisfactory.”

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Caroline: “The lord almoner provided, Lady Councilor,” Caroline replies, not rising.

Adelais: “If you would be so kind as to follow our servant, she will show you to a room with many black dresses and an assortment of accessories for you to choose from.” The woman’s cold, beautiful features crack under her smile. “You will find that The First Estate is more than happy to accommodate any guest despite their reason for calling. Please, rise and make yourself presentable for Lord Pierpont if it pleases you.”

Caroline: “Thank you, Lady Councilor.” She rises. “I was told the hospitality of the First Estate was beyond reproach. My thanks for the scenic view.”

The worst of the damage to her clothing is hidden beneath the black pea coat, but the blood that stains her legs is hard to miss.

Adelais: The councilor surveys Caroline briefly, her blue eyes traveling the length of her body in a second, noting every imperfection. She glances to the ghoul and then back to Caroline.

Caroline: “By your leave, then?” She moves to withdraw.

Adelais: Adelais responds with a terse nod.

Caroline: She even curtsies on the way out.

GM: The ghoul also curtsies to the lady councilor and shows Caroline up the stairs to the aforementioned room. She does not speak a word, nor even look at the Ventrue.

Adelais: The room is a creamy white, complete with wainscotings and moldings. The furniture here, though no less opulent, looks nearly brand new and unused. Near the giant, plush bed, hang a plethora of black dresses in a variety of styles. Caroline can see that jewelry has been nearly laid out on the beds pillowy comforter that matches the heavy linens drapes that cover the rooms tall windows. To her left, a walkway leading to the room’s own bathroom, complete with porcelain and silver fixtures.

Caroline: Caroline quickly strips from her ruined clothing in the provided room. She can feel the sunrise coming. The sleep coming on. She selects something from the pile that is distinct from the viscountess, even as she takes advantage of the attached marbled bathroom and its towels to wipe off the more obvious bloodstains. Light on jewelry. Tasteful. More silver than gold. As an afterthought, she sends an image of the bloodstained clothing to her school email.

A memory floats back. A fundraiser, white bow-tie. Westley drinking as guests were led in. A slurred step, a spilled drink. It’s not so different. A lifetime of preparation for an unlife of hell.

She checks back on the ghoul, to see if she’s to be led off, even as she slips a bracelet onto a slender wrist.

GM: The haughty-looking ghoul wordlessly escorts Caroline down the stairs back to the living room, where some very thick-looking shades have been drawn. Adelais is absent, but returns after a moment with another figure.

Caroline: Caroline goes down to a knee again without prompting this time.

GM: The ghoul proclaims in an even more imperious voice,

“Kneel in the presence of the Honorable Lord Pierpont McGinn, earl and regent of Uptown, councilor of the Prima Invicta, commissioner, fellow of the Most Noble Fellowship of Artemis, gerousiastis of Clan Ventrue, gold consul of the Assembly of Colors, and knight bachelor of the Knights of the Blood.”

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Pierpont McGinn is a tall, steel-jawed Southern man with dirty blond hair and chalky blue eyes. He wears an immaculate white seersucker suit and white dress shirt contrasted by a jet black necktie. His gray leather shoes look like the thousand-dollar kind worn by politicians and business executives, and a gold men’s Rolex sits snugly around his wrist. He does not walk so much as swagger, lord of all he surveys. He plops down on one of the chairs and lazily extends a fine Southern cigar, which the woman lights. Though Caroline’s Beast nervously rears back, he does not appear bothered by the flame as he takes several smoky puffs.

“So,” the lord councilor drawls, leaning back, “yer the troublemaker who killed ma men. What’s your lineage, girl?”

Caroline: Caroline claws at her memory. It wasn’t so long ago, but she’d had such bigger concerns, and no one has repeated it. She grits her teeth from her knees.

“Begging your pardon, Lord Councilor, as told to me, I am childe of René Baristheaut, childe of Robert Bastien, childe of Lothar Constantine.”

She cuts off with a grimace.

GM: McGinn takes another expectant puff from his cigar, as if waiting for her to continue.

Caroline: One more name slips into her mind. She saw it on the tapestry.

“Childe of Dominic de Valois-Burgundy. Further I cannot recall,” she admits.

GM: McGinn trades looks with Adelais as if Caroline just confessed that her mother ruts with dogs.

“Childer these nights.”

Caroline: She offers no excuse and does not look up. If she could blush, she might be burning with shame at the judgment.

GM: “Dominic de Valois-Burgundy, childe of Gaius Pedius Marcellus, childe of Alexander, childe of Ventrue,” McGinn loftily finishes. “Now do it over. Proper this time.”

Caroline: She secrets the words away like the bricks of gold they are, laying them down alongside the others in her mind, and does as instructed.

“I am Caroline Malveaux, childe of René Baristheaut, childe of Robert Bastien, childe of Lothar Constantine, childe of Dominic de Valois-Burgundy, childe of Gaius Pedius Marcellus, childe of Alexander, childe of Ventrue.”

GM: “Now, girl,” McGinn drawls, “we’ll do how the rest o’ this was supposed to go, all nice and proper. What’s your business in ma domain?”

Caroline: “I was to meet with the lord almoner, Lord Councilor.” Her knees burn, though not with pain.

GM: “On what business?” McGinn continues with another puff. He does not ask Caroline to rise.

Caroline: “I had hoped he might possess information about my sire, that might lead me to him. Alternatively, I had hoped to leverage the meeting into others, or at least contact information, for others.”

GM: “That so, now?” McGinn sets down the cigar in a crystal ashtray and removes a cell from his jacket’s inside pocket.

“Lord Almoner. For your corvée this week, you ain’t to speak so much as a peep to Caroline Malveaux. Yer lips are zipped ’til I done tell ya otherwise.”

He flips the phone off and tucks it back into his pocket.

Caroline: Frustration rips through her, but she holds the breath in, not breathing at all. Motionless. A statue.

Integrity sold for nothing. For less than nothing. Boons owed in exchange for a kick in the teeth.

GM: “Now, as fer ma men,” McGinn continues as the woman lights him another cigar.

Caroline: A crack in the mask here could be fatal.

GM: “I’m yet undecided how ya should pay me back fer that.”

Caroline: Words unspoken dance behind Caroline’s eyes, she bites her tongue. She has, noticeably, not been asked for her opinion. She has the further sense that he is not asking her opinion in the matter.

This is a man who gives you your opinion, when he wants it.

GM: McGinn smiles at Caroline’s silence. “Why don’t ya take a gander at a few ideas, girl.”

Caroline: “It would depend on how you perceived your loses, Lord Councilor. Whether to face, property, or influence.” She bites her tongue for a moment.

“Damages appear to be answered with services, insults with injury, and indignity with excommunication, of a sort. Of the three, from my outside position, the loss on its face seems to be of property. I cannot imagine their deaths to be any more damaging to your reputation than their lives were.”

GM: “Well, bless your heart. Yer concerned for ma reputation,” McGinn declares with a wide smile.

Caroline: Continued silence greets the declaration. She has not been bidden to speak.

GM: McGinn snubs out a second cigar on the ashtray and removes his phone again.

“Billy? Git over here. Bring a tarp.”

He snaps the phone shut.

“Take off your dress. That thing belongs to the Lady Adelais. The jewels, too.”

Caroline: “If it pleases you, I must rise to do so, Lord Councilor.”

She carefully slides off the bracelet, ring, and simple stud earrings first.

GM: “You have ma permission,” McGinn grants magnanimously.

Caroline: Caroline stands, and towers over the seated man for just a moment. The black dress falls away.

GM: ‘Billy’ arrives. He’s another skinhead, built like a haystack, and so covered in tattoos and metal studs and piercings that Caroline almost thinks he’s full clothed, when he’s merely wearing a pair of cargo pants and black combat boots. He carries a plastic tarp that he unfurls at the far end of the wall.

“Git over there,” McGinn states, jabbing towards the spot with another cigar.

Caroline: She does as directed. In life, adrenaline would be pounding in her veins. In undeath, her her heart is still. There is nothing to give lie to the instincts screaming in her head. Nothing to give life.

GM: Billy produces a massive leather bullwhip, with a handle nearly as long as his bulging forearm. The many tails have an almost dull sheen. It does not look like a novelty item.

McGinn smiles, showing two fangs. “Whip ’er good, Billy.”

Caroline: She flinches, knowing the order is coming before it’s given. It’s a momentary thing, though, and her eyes close. She pictures the man’s slain brothers, gunned down and left laying in the street like rabid dogs. She pictures them in Billy’s place. She focuses on the memory of gunshots, blades, and her unmarred flesh in response. Whatever it takes to get through this.

What else can she do? Fight? Flail like a child? She’s faced worse. Faced an executioner’s sword. Faced Kindred in back alleys. If he’s hoping to get a reaction, he’s mistaken. This thug. This petty tyrant. The whip. They’re all distractions. It fades away. And yet…

“A question, Lord Councilor?”

GM: “You have ma permission to ask,” McGinn amusedly drawls.

Caroline: She gestures to the whip. “To be clear, you would have be what lies between us in this matter?”

GM: “I maht. If I care enough for the sight o’ yer tanned hide.”

Caroline: “Your intent is then to make up terms as you go? Lord Councilor. I seek only clarity. Misunderstandings are, after all, how I arrived here.”

GM: McGinn laughs. “Girl, you could start an argument in an empty house.”

He motions with his cigar. Billy grabs Caroline’s head and shoves her against the wall.

Caroline: The Ventrue doesn’t so much stumble as she does tiptoe at the assault. Her eyes watch the group of Kindred more than the bestial ghoul.

Adelais: Adelais watches the lashing apathetically with folded arms. She brings a manicured finger to her lips, tapping them gently and looking expectantly to Caroline.

GM: The bullwhip’s crack splits the air. The first stroke sends a rivulet of blood down Caroline’s pale back, igniting a sharp spark of pain.

Crack!

The spark blossoms into a fire.

Crack!

The third chucks in a log.

Crack!

The fourth tosses in another.

Crack. Crack. Crack.

The flame spreads, burns, and screams. Billy gleefully whips until Caroline’s flesh is a bloody shredded canvas. Strips of red-soaked skin peel off her back like a sickly bark. The wounds burn. They are caustic. Has Billy has rubbed salt over the whip’s tongues?

Crack. Crack. Crack.

Caroline: The Ventrue fights the pain. Fights the building fury. Fights the Beast. It is what this life has become. The links in the Beast’s chain crack, separating as it pulls at them. She can’t do this to it. She visibly trembles in fury even as she fights with all her will against it, trying to soothe its bruised ego. Not here. Not now.

Flesh regrows. More lashes lay atop it. It’s skin… it’ll grow back, she tries to convince the ravening monster inside her. A hand grips the tarp, and the crackle of plastic cloth in her clenched fist is audible between each strike of the lash. Blood runs down her back like a river. Don’t give them the satisfaction, she screams internally.

She’s running on empty here. The fight with the skinheads took too much out of her. The fight with the Beast all but breaks her will. It’s all she can do to contain it. The lashes fade out, fade from thought, from memory. There’s pain, and there’s the Beast, and the rest of it’s irrelevant. She doesn’t even notice that they’ve stopped. The Beast doesn’t understand why she can’t rip his throat out, put him in a zippered bag like the rest of his filthy kind.

But she does. For now.

Adelais: Adelais watches raptly as the leather licks at Caroline’s skin, leaving bloody slits in its wake. The Ventrue’s skin desperately tries to knit itself back together after each of the lash’s greedy licks, but it takes too much. Adelais’ head tilts slightly, watching the thrashing of leather, flesh and blood; a beautiful, entrancing dance of pain.

GM: “That’ll do, Billy, that’ll do,” McGinn smiles from his chair.

Caroline: There are no words for Caroline to say. Her clenched fist doesn’t release the tarp. She barely registers McGinn’s words. Hatred hardens around her heart. It’s the only way to recover. The only way to save face, to herself.

GM: “That,” the older Ventrue drawls, “makes up fer the insult o’ trespassin’ on ma land. The first o’ yer three offenses.”

His smile widens.

“Seein’ as yer of good stock, we’ll leave off here, with a light whoopin’. Billy won’t even bring out the lemon juice. Right generous of me, isn’t that?”

Caroline: The words echo inside her skull, but she can barely hear them over the Beast’s screams. And not only for vengeance. It’s starving, the sun is rising. Everything is wrong. It’s a campfire burning low on the beach as the surf rolls in. It can sense its own oblivion.

“Yes, Lord Councilor,” she answers dully.

GM: “Still some murders I got to cover up,” McGinn continues, puffing rings of smoke into the air. “Still a frayin’ Masquerade I got ta sew back whole.”

Caroline: Lies. Feeble justifications for yet more petty tyranny. No one will miss those men, and their deaths are so very mortal. So mundane. A group of thugs too near to the wrong side of the tracks, their tattoos blaring their bigotry. Between that and the drug bust no one will question a hint of a gang-war. No one has asked her to speak. And just as well. The fist finally unclenches.

GM: McGinn slashes his wrist with a gold-hilted bowie knife.

The female ghoul holds a goblet underneath the font of blood and passes it Caroline.

Caroline: She makes no move to take it.

GM: McGinn smiles between another puff of smoke. “Girl, you want to do this easy or hard?”

Caroline: “You want a blood bond for the effort of sweeping up some garbage no one will notice out of the street?”

GM: “Drink up,” McGinn drawls, snubbing out the cigar on the diamond ashtray. His words are heavy to Caroline’s ears, like sinking weights.

Caroline: She can’t fight the Beast and the other Kindred at the same time. A house divided against itself cannot stand, and nor can her will. She snatches up the goblet mechanically, before she’s even realized what has happened. Vitae flows down her throat, soothing the Beast and suffocating her mind beneath an insidious will. Hatred melts beneath thoughts not her own. The tiny voice inside that cries out is drowned in blood. Its cries are reduced from screams of fury and resistance to a pitiful moan.

Not again.

And just like that she can feel her affinity for this petty tyrant grow, a dull lump in the back of her mind she cannot get rid of. Like a burn on the roof of her mouth, her thoughts cannot help but rub against it involuntarily.

GM: McGinn gives a pleased smile.

“Good girl. That makes up fer yer second offense.”

He turns to his paramour.

“Well, Lady Adelais, there nary else you can think ta ask from our fine guest?”

Adelais: Adelais saunters towards the Ventrue, her eyes on the riddle of lashes upon her skin. She blinks, dispelling her entrancement and stands before Caroline.

“You may keep the dress,” she says flatly and returns to Pierpont’s side.

Caroline: Hollow words. Hollow people.

GM: McGinn blows a ring of smoke in Caroline’s face.

“Now git out o’ ma house. And git from ma land.”

Adelais: Adelais places delicate hand on the regent’s lapel. “Now, Lord Councilor, the neonate has received your punishment and, since she is no longer faces further judgment, I would very much like to invite her as a guest for the day.” Adelais turns to Pierpoint, bringing both her hands up to the man’s chest, straightening his jacket and looking into his eyes. “That is, of course, if it pleases you.”

She turns, looking beyond the Ventrue, towards the windows. “The hour is late, and, being the gracious hostess you know me to be, I could not send her out in her time of need.” Her words are those of a concerned altruist, but her tone is oddly apathetic.

GM: The Ventrue grins at Adelais’ request, tweaking his cigar. “Well, ain’t that just the berries, Lady Adelais. You know how I carry on when it’s you askin’.”

“I’m assumin’, o’course, you’ll ask our fine guest ta reciprocate this show of generosity? Racin’ the sun back to whatever hole she crawled out of was goin’ to be her punishment fer killin’ ma men.”

Adelais: A smile forms on Adelais’ full lips. “I trust she understands how those gears turn. If not…” She turns from Pierpont, looking down upon Caroline. “She will be educated—I do not mind playing au pair for the evening.”

GM: McGinn’s own smile hasn’t wavered. “Almoner too, at that. Yer gonna put Lord Randolph and Lady Marguerite out o’ their jobs.”

Caroline: Wander out in to the sun. Offer a boon. The second doesn’t really preclude the first when it comes down to it. Is the mask still in place? She can’t tell. Or doesn’t care. She sways with pain, weakness, and exhaustion.

“I would of course offer the lady councilor a boon for such renowned Invictus hospitality until nightfall.”

Adelais: The impromptu au pair smiles at the half-naked Venture. “Perfect. Then follow me.” She casually looks over Caroline’s shoulder. “And do not concern yourself with the mess, we will take care of it, too.”

GM: McGinn barks a laugh. “The lady councilor’s feelin’ mighty generous tonight.”

Adelais: Adelais turns, leans in to Pierpont’s ear, and whispers something. She continues further across the big room, “Come, Miss Caroline, we do not have much time left to plan for your busy day tomorrow.”

Caroline: Caroline distantly wonders what makes the elder Kindred think she’ll wield any power over her when she leaves the domain. Ruin her reputation? What reputation. Her social standing? She’s a doormat.

Nonetheless, she follows. Blood flows down her back, legs, and calves like a tiny river before bleeding off from her heels in a steady stream. As must be clear to the more experienced Kindred, she’s at the edge of her physical endurance, and if her reaction to the whipping is any indication, perhaps her mental endurance as well.

Still, she turns and curtsies to the lord counselor as she departs with the lady councilor.

GM: McGinn makes a dismissive motion, as if permitting her to leave.

“Yer payin’ for any furnishings ya ruin.” He tweaks his cigar. “Good daysleep, Miss Caroline.”

Adelais: Adelais pauses, turning to Caroline and looks at her expectantly with a harsh stare.

GM: Despite his words of farewell, McGinn’s expression is no less expectant.

Caroline: It would take a crowbar less effort to pry the words from her jaw.

“Thank you, Lord Councilor, for your hospitality. My apologies for bleeding all over your floor.”

Adelais: Adelais nods to Caroline, her expression loosening.

GM: McGinn taps his cigar over the ashtray. “Accepted, Miss Caroline. Now thank the Lady Adelais for her hospitality and consideration as well. ‘Tis her room she’s ponyin’ up.”

Caroline: “Of course.” Caroline turns her attention back to the harpy. “Your hospitality is most welcome and appreciated, Lady Councilor, given the circumstances.”

Hollow words. Hollow people.

But is she thinking of herself, or her tormentors this night?

Adelais: As Adelais waits for Caroline at her side, she looks to Pierpont. “I am her au pair for the rest of evening, Lord Pierpont. Of course, any further infractions committed tonight will be my responsibility,” she says, with a levity in her voice.

“You are welcome to punish me later, " she adds matter-of-factly.

GM: McGinn’s fangs protrude.

“Don’t think I won’t take ya up on that, Lady Adelais.”

Adelais: As Caroline ends her approach, Adelais turns to her. “It is my pleasure. Now…” she says, continuing her through the mansion, “…it is imperative when your betters offer a pleasantry, that you acknowledge in kind. This applies when you are also speaking with your lessers, of course.”

Caroline: Hollow, but not empty, for a monster rages inside. She’s a shell of a woman, her soul and virtue fled, and something very dark has occupied the shell in their stead. It screams of violence, of hatred, of the darkest desires of men’s hearts. And for the life of her, she cannot shut out the voice.

“Of course, Lady Councilor,” she replies numbly. “My thanks for your correction. I do not wish to continue to give offense unknowingly.”

Adelais: Adelais pauses again in the middle of her stride down one of the mansion’s opulent hallways. She turns to Caroline, under the pale light of a golden sconce, scanning the shell before her and peering into its brooding insides.

“Honestly, childe, stop your sulking. You committed an infraction. You were punished. You survived. Move on. This angst-infused self-pity is for kine. Not only is it disenchanting, it’s awfully boring.”

Caroline: “Respectfully, Lady Councilor, it has been made painfully clear that I am no childe.”

Adelais: “Certainly not in the manner in which mortals treat them, no. You will be held accountable for all your actions amongst our kind, Invictus or not. However, as Kindred, you are but a childe.”

Caroline: “A childe has a sire to hide behind,” Caroline states, with kindled embers. “I have little enough to my name m’lady, please do not take the primacy of my missteps from me. My errors are the heirs to none.”

Adelais: Adelais recoils, her eyes narrowing into serpentine slits, she spits acid, “I am not YOUR lady, Miss Caroline. I belong to one other, and he even shows me respect by keeping this address to himself.” She stares at Caroline. “Again.”

Caroline: “I beg your pardon, Lady Councilor, for my misunderstanding.”

Adelais: Adelais nods to her student, her stare still icy and critical. “And what of your moping?”

Caroline: Moping. The word cuts like every other that awaits behind that forked tongue. The devil in this woman. Her body is a tortured wreck, her spirit splintered by the battle with the Beast, and her words chained by the harsh protocol of this mausoleum. This crypt of dead feelings and flesh. Agony within every step, and without. She just wants to give up.

To die? She could invite it easily enough. But why suffer through all of this, only to surrender the last of her to them? Why give them the satisfaction of breaking her? It’s pride, that beaten thing all but whipped into the corner that keeps her going.

“Lady Councilor, you shock me with how your tastes align. It must be so difficult for you.”

Adelais: The harpy chuckles lightly, walking passed the Ventrue. “Is this the part where I ask you, ‘What do you mean it must so difficult for me?’” She continues down the hall, stopping before a white door. “Then you respond with some witticism or anecdotal bit of wisdom that puts me in my place and gives me pause to think, ‘Hm, may she _isn’t_ just some self-loathing brat with fangs…’”

She places a key inside the lock and turns it with a click. She turns to face Caroline and pauses to consider the fledgling.

“And now you are scrambling to think of another reason why you made that ‘innocuous’ comment because you, like every other childe I have had the displeasure of conversing with, desperately wants to prove to themselves that they are not as easy to read as they know they are.” She twists the knob and presses against the door.

“I have lived several lifetimes without the aid of your insight. When I meet my final death under the light of the sun, through a lover’s betrayal, or perhaps even by your hand, I will never remember this moment in time and regret that I did not allow you to speak because the fact is, and will always remain, that I simply do not care, Miss Caroline.”

The door opens with a slight whine, giving way to a plush bedroom, and Adelais gestures for the Ventrue to enter.

Caroline: Caroline says nothing as the harpy justifies her actions. She shows no indication that the elder Kindred’s words cut her any more than she allowed the bite of the whip itself to force a scream from her. Her green eyes glitter.

“I would not gainsay you, Lady Councilor. Thank you again for your hospitality.” She curtsies and enters the room at her urging.

Adelais: Adelais nods. “There will, of course, be someone to tend to you after sundown, escort you out and drive to wherever you wish.” The Toreador closes the door and continues down the hall.

Caroline: What was it she’d said?

Legendary Invictus hospitality.


Thursday evening, 10 September 2015

GM: One of Caroline’s phones rings from her blood-stained pea coat as she emerges from the shower.

Caroline: Her skin is still a raw and torn—with no vitae to speak of it took an effort of will to keep it that way—and her Beast roars its furious hunger on a sharp and strained leash. Still, she answers.

GM: “Miss me, sugar tits?” a familiar voice rasp-hacks.

Caroline: “Don’t worry, I won’t miss.”

GM: “Malo sure didn’t. Right over your pink perky nipples.”

Caroline: “Then we have one singular thing in common. Presumably you want something?”

GM: Something like a gigantic zit being popped sounds over the line.

“The Hidden Clan keeps its bargains. Your contact’s Gutterball Elgin now. At the Ogden Museum of Southern Art.”

Caroline: The venom in her voice diminishes. “What time?”

GM: A phlegmy hack. “Hour, give or take.”

Caroline: “Can you push it back?”

GM: More phlegmy hacking. “No. The Vieux Carré opening isn’t waiting on some fledgling. But he’ll be there all night, so don’t get your sweet scented panties scrunched.”

Caroline: Silence for a beat. “Thank you.”

GM: “The hidden clan keeps its bargains,” the phlegmy voice repeats.

“Also, your tits are getting a ton of likes.”

Caroline: “What?” Back with the edge of a razor.

GM: “Twenty-three,” sounds a phlegmy chortle. “Not as many users on Fangbook as Facebook though.”

Caroline: “I’m glad you managed to amuse yourself,” she grinds out.

GM: “Glad you managed to degrade yourself. Me and twenty-three others.”

Caroline: “And your monkey.” She closes the flip phone.

GM: Caroline hears the start of what sounds like “chimpanzee” as the line dies.

Caroline: She checks the other phones for an anticipated text even as she shrugs—painfully—into the dress Adelais so generously let her have. She’ll burn it in effigy later. For a moment, Caroline isn’t sure whether to regret or appreciate its backless nature. It should be an interesting night first night on the job for Ms. Turner.

GM: There’s another voicemail from Aimee, wondering where she’s been all day. It comes with a veiled suggestion that maybe she should “see someone” over what happened.

Caroline: She sends off a text saying she’ll be late for dinner, and suggesting Aimee go ahead, with them meeting for coffee after in a few hours. She’d love to get away from this part of her unlife, but she’s in no condition to meet anyone. Pain and hunger war with splintered will. No, agony and starvation. She’s ravenous. She needs to feed, and in more than one way.

GM: Caroline’s back is still raw, bloody, and burning from Billy’s whipping. The wounds haven’t so much as scabbed over. There is some small blessing in that no injuries mar her face, but the pea coat’s fabric is all-too rough as it cruelly rubs against her ravaged flesh.

Caroline: She sends a text to Wright, politely informing him that she plans on checking in later in the evening, when she has something to report. She throws on the blood-stained coat. At least it is black. It’s agony to stand and walk. It’s agony to do anything really. She slowly makes her way out. She tries not to grimace. Tries, through gritted teeth.

GM: McGinn is not present to see Caroline out, but Billy and two mortal security personnel inform Caroline that she is to leave with them. They drive her out of McGinn’s territory in a black SUV. They leave her at the border with Riverbend.

Caroline goes hunting in Black Pearl, a neighborhood south of Tulane and cozed up against the Mississippi. Through the 1960s, Caroline heard somewhere, the local African-American population referred to the area as “Niggatown.” Evidence of the old moniker can be occasionally seen today in the form of “N-Town” graffiti. The name “Black Pearl” was introduced in the 1970s, being derived from the historically majority black population and the name of “Pearl Street.”

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Caroline comes upon a blue-roofed, middle-income house with two cars parked outside the nonexistent garage. A cursory search indicates no burglar alarms. Not everyone can afford them like her.

Caroline: The community college parking sticker is like a neon sign.

GM: Caroline silently creeps through the one-story house. It is modest, but neat and well-maintained, with the usual fridge in the kitchen, TV set in the living room, and other accouterments of modern life. The kitchen’s walls by the sink are a mosaic of orange, red, and green titles. A clock with Roman numerals quietly ticks above the window.

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Smiling portraits of a frazzle-haired, middle-aged black woman and a younger man she has her arm around hang from the walls.

Pic.jpg Caroline: If the Beast weren’t driving her, when it’s not driving her, those images will be needles in her heart. For now, they are distractions.

GM: The kid’s room is a mess. Clothes lie haphazardly scattered across the floor or slung over furniture. As do textbooks, cords for various electronic devices, dirty dishes, binders, what looks like a few medication bottles…. like many teenagers, it looks as if a bomb’s gone off. The kid sleeps contentedly in the wreckage, absently turning over in his bed. Glancing towards the door, Caroline can see a sarcastically placed “hazardous materials” sign with an attached note that reads, Please clean this up, sweetie. —Mom.

But it only takes a few whiffs of the sleeping teen to know… he isn’t who she’s here for. High schooler, probably. It’s the mom.

Caroline: The Beast examines the terrain with the eye of a predator, looking for threats, not sentiment, and Caroline lets it run on auto pilot. She doesn’t want to remember this. She wants to be detached from this shameful thing. She turns away from the boy.

GM: Caroline only finds it necessary to try the next door down. Doubtful many boys want their rooms right next to their mom’s (where all their phone conversations can be overheard), but it’s a small house.

The mother’s room isn’t immaculate, with a few scattered cushions and stacks of papers, but it’s neater than the kid’s. Several further pictures hang from the walls, including a much younger one of him riding a carousel and dressed up as a jelly bean while holding a plastic pumpkin trick-or-treat container, which is perhaps the dorkiest-looking Halloween costume Caroline has ever seen. One portrait to the far right shows the woman holding a baby next to a smiling, broad-shouldered man wearing half-rimmed glasses.

The bed is only large enough for one though. The woman sleeps on her side, chest steadily rising and falling. A blindfold covers her face. An alarm with its face turned to face the wall quietly ticks. And Caroline can just smell it.

College student.

Caroline: Early to bed, early to rise. Fortunate for her. Less for them. She stalks forward to the woman. She needs what she has. Needs it so badly. And just a touch, just a small nip with her fangs. She’ll only take a bit, she tells herself. Only enough to ease the pain.

GM: Caroline sinks her fangs into the woman’s neck. She stiffens at first, but then relaxes. Color fills her cheeks as her breath quickens. A soft murmur escapes her sleeping lips.

“John…?”

Caroline: Caroline draws on the woman. Draws her deeply into the embrace, even as the monster inside takes hold, promises to send her to her John.

GM: Caroline is a careful feeder. The Beast is even more careful. She doesn’t let so much as a droplet of red go patter-pattern over the bed’s white sheets. The woman’s blood reminds Caroline of the aged wines from her father’s cellar… she’s older than the Ventrue’s usual fare. The mature taste to her blood is a pleasant change.

Caroline: She loses herself in the sensation, in the blood rolling over her tongue. It sweeps the chain out of her hands, and for a moment the Beast runs wild. When she feels the woman’s heart begin to strain however, there’s a moment of clarity. She wrestles with the monster for control, a brief, brutal, and silent struggle. At last, she draws away from the woman.

GM: The woman initially moans and sighs beneath the vampire’s kiss, her blood lazily flowing like honey.

But the Beast is not so gentle.

Caroline doesn’t even register it happening. Doesn’t, until the taste of more blood floods her mouth, warm and filling, exactly what she needs. The woman chokes, her eyes snapping open as Caroline’s fangs gnash and rip her flesh, messily spattering blood over the bed. She screams and tries to turn around, tries to throw the monster off, but Caroline’s grip is like iron.

The Ventrue fights to regain control even as the woman grabs the alarm clock and clumsily smashes it over Caroline’s head. Gears fall out like spilled guts, tinking as they hit the bedroom walls.

BRAAAANDOOOON! GET OUT!” the woman screams, pushing at the Ventrue. “GET OOOOOUUTTT!”

“Mom?” grogs a voice.

BRAAAAAN-DOOOOON! GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT!” the woman wails hysterically, thrashing and kicking at the home invader.

Caroline: Caroline tightens her arms around the older woman, like steel cables around her throat. Just stop screaming. Part of her moans even as she contracts around the woman’s carotid artery.

GM:BRAAAAAAAAN-D-” the woman chokes as Caroline applies pressure to her already torn and savaged neck. She gives several guttural hacks and half-hearted “Bran-d-!”s as blood messily flows and spurts under Caroline’s grip.

Caroline: “Shut up or I’ll kill you both,” she breathes.

GM: The woman is simply too terrified to understand Caroline’s words. She gives several further gurgly wails as she thrashes against her attacker. Blood spatters over the already ruined sheets.

MOM!” yells a male voice. Caroline hears footsteps thumping down the hall.

Caroline: This is getting too messy, but at least the Beast has done the work of one. She needs to get away, get out of here, before it gets any worse. Before she has to hurt the woman any further, or worse, her son.

She waits for the door to open. Waits for the opportunity to break free past them.

GM: It slams open. The teenage son stands in the doorway, wearing a pair of sweats, no shirt, and carrying a baseball bat in both hands. His mouth falls even as his eyes bulge, his expression trapped between horror, rage, and terror at the sight of Caroline throttling the horribly bleeding woman.

GET OFF MMYY MMOOOOOOM!” he screams, charging the Ventrue.

Caroline: The shadowy figure pounces, not at him, but past him with the grace of a world-class athlete.

GM: The baseball bat swings past Caroline, smashing into the portrait of the man holding an arm around the new mother. The frame hits the ground with a thud. The kid yells and whirls to face the home invader, but finds Caroline already gone like a half-remembered nightmare.

Caroline: She flees, but lingers in the shadows at the end of the street until she hears sirens.


Thursday night, 10 September 2015, PM

GM: “It’s-it’s my mom, she’s, she’s bleeding, some-someone broke in, she’s bleeding, she’s, she’s, she’s bleeding…” the teenager babbles into the phone, his face fighting tears as he cradles the three-fourths unconscious woman’s groaning form.


Thursday night, 10 September 2015, PM

GM: It takes a few minutes, as it always does. Minutes that could make the difference between life and death. Eventually, Caroline can hear the tell-tale wail of police sirens.

Caroline: And hopefully ambulances. Still, she can’t afford to hang around and find out for certain. Not only does she have too much to do, she has too much at stake. Her small comfort is the knowledge that a dedicated healer like Neil will be there for the woman whenever she arrives, wherever she arrives. She’ll be ok. Probably. She spares only a touch of the woman’s precious blood for her wounds, closing the worst of them, the rawest and most open. Deep tears remain, lacerations that touch bone. It’s agony to walk, bloodstained coat rubbing against the open wounds. It’s no less than she deserves.


Thursday night, 10 September 2015, PM

Caroline: She leaves the scene, but not her memories, far behind. She hates herself for it. The boy’s face, struck with horror, replays again and again. Their tiny, modest home. Poison, whispers one voice. Wolves of God, whispers another, more feminine one. Both taunt Caroline for her assault. She stuffs her hands in her pockets and walks. She can feel the two bonds to the elder Kindred in the back of her mind, like an itching scab, but it’s the voice of an old man and a young girl that follow her around. That haunt her. Two paths, and here she is tearing through the brush, ripping apart lives as she goes, a bulldozer in a jungle. The path of greatest resistance, and she feels it. Feels every briar, every switch, every bite, claw, and sting along the way. It can’t keep on this way. And she’s made no progress for it. She’s beaten her head bloody against the brick wall, left strips of flesh and pints of blood, and is making no progress for it.

And that damn sword hanging over her throat. She half wishes it would fall, would put her out of her misery. Would put others out of her misery. She trudges on, too proud to just lay down and die. The worst part about it is that the Beast feels… satisfied. So contented in its feast. Angry at the interruption, but it ran free, if only for a moment, it feasted. It terrorized. That contention tells her more than she needs to know about her actions. It’s her dark shadow gloating. Still, its withdrawal opens the door to other, less violent means. She sighs, a meaningless action, as she seeks out another victim this night. Some carouser, dirty bathroom rapist, adulterer. Wolves of God, that innocent voice. She’s not convinced. But at least her conscience will be cleaner than if she attacks some poor sleeping mother in her bed. No one deserves what she does to them, what she steals from them. But some deserve it more than others.

GM: Caroline’s next hunt, by comparison, is a balm upon her conscience but a blister upon her tongue. Forgoing the opportunity to feed from drunken coeds, her search for sinners and wrongdoers takes her to Robert’s Bar and Liquor Store, a grungy little bar that makes do with beat-up jukeboxes and ping-pong tables over live bands.

The best she can find is a silver-haired man who looks like he could be a professor half-carrying a drunk college girl back to his car. His stale, sour blood spatters over an alley’s brick wall as she savages him, and tastes even worse than the businessmen at the Victory. She could tell herself she did it for the girl’s sake, as she regards him passed out in a heap of his own vomit, but she’d be lying.

Caroline: It was all to easy to lure him into her embrace. A too wide smile. Slurred word here. Such a pretty young fiend she is. She looks down on him even as the girl slumps into a drunken haze. Her Beast isn’t satisfied. She isn’t. The audacity of going out for a night. Of being a victim. A thin excuse, but her will is worn so very ragged. An excuse is all she needs to take a taste from the girl. Not too deeply, just enough to wash the taste out of her mouth. And a bit more.

She throws the man in his car. He’ll recover, probably. Caroline can’t feel that badly for him. Ravaged flesh screams at the effort, but she’s not going to leave a mess. Just another drunk passed out in his car. The girl… well, there are no guardian angels, but this night the Beast with her blood on its tongue is close enough. Body screaming, she half-carries the girl from the alley, even as she fumbles for the girl’s phone.

GM: Caroline’s phone buzzes. Again. She’s gotten three texts from Aimee over the course of the evening. The first says Sara’s is now closed and asks where she wants to meet. The other, a half hour later, gives a coffee shop address where she’s at. The final one reads,

Coffee shop’s closing. Meet us at home?

Caroline: Will be a bit, she sends.

‘Us.’ Another headache. More lies she doesn’t want to tell at best. And who has Aimee roped in now? She’s just tired. So tired. The girl’s phone surrenders under a cursory examination. Why girls bother with the silly pattern locks is beyond her. She digs up the girl’s contacts and finds a recently texted friend with a local number.

This guy is really creeping me out at the bar. Can you give me a ride home?

While she waits for a response she digs up the “If you see something, say something!” line for New Orleans. She also calls a Ryde. Not the most glamorous transportation, but as she learns, the rest won’t be available until later in the evening.

GM: Caroline finds the phone number for another apparent friend named “Becca” and shoots off a text. The other girl responds she’ll be there in a few… as will the cops. Whether the savaged old man will be prosecuted is another matter.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t obsess overly long on that. He’s suffered his own kind of penance. She does turn his car on for him though and take a picture of his driver’s license for later. Likewise with the girl. She watches from across the street to make certain the friend arrives, and departs to meet her ride. Off to her home. To Aimee, to whatever hell awaits her. No rest for the wicked. She can’t manage self-pity here. She has been wicked.

GM: A sport sedan arrives after perhaps ten minutes with another college-age girl and presumed boyfriend. They are horrified to find the twice-victimized, nearly unconscious young woman in the state she’s in, and frantically exclaim they’ll drive her right to Tulane Medical Center. The sedan speeds off.

If Caroline really tries, she might even be able to justify tonight as a good deed.


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Story Three, Emmett X, Mouse I

“I made bad choices. Okay? I made a lot of mistakes, and some of this is my fault, and I’m an idiot. That’s what happened.”
Emmett Delacroix


Sunday noon, 13 September 2015

GM: “Oh my god… Emmett, what happened?”

Emmett’s older sister stares at him with one hand over her mouth. Eveline Merinelli is a plump woman in her late 30s with formative wrinkles around her mouth, shoulder-length sandy hair, and a face that’s round from the weight she never fully worked off from her first pregnancy. A pair of carolyn-framed glasses sit over her nose, while her makeup is minimal and her jewelry absent. She’s dressed in a pastel blouse, dark slacks, and leather clogs. All things told, she looks like she just removed her doctor’s coat after getting off from work at the Children’s Hospital New Orleans, and perhaps she did.

Lena1.jpg
Emmett: “Lena,” he says. He feels his eyes getting wet. “Hi.”

GM: Lena sits down and wraps her arms around him in a hug. The doctor tries to be gentle, but the sister can’t resist pulling him close against her chest.

Emmett: “Ribs,” he mutters. “I need my ribs, at least.” The joke takes what little energy he has left.

GM: His sister’s touch lingers for a moment, but she finally pulls away at his protests. Her face is overcome with a palette of emotions, shock and concern not least among them.

“Em, what happened?!”

Emmett: “I…”

He’s thought a lot about this moment. He’s spun webs of lies to make spiders weep, rehearsed in the empty hours of the night when sleep won’t come for him.

None of that matters, now.

“I…” He bites his tongue. “I…”

Just do it. Just lie, you lying liar fucker. Just DO IT…!

“I can’t,” he says, and bursts into tears. Somehow, this is worse. This is worse than the ass-wiping, than being raped, worse even than the moment he realized he couldn’t feel his legs.

“I made bad choices. Okay? I made a lot of mistakes, and some of this is my fault, and I’m an idiot. That’s what happened. And I can’t talk about it, right now. I can’t lie here in my shit without legs and talk about how I got here. I’m sorry, Lena. I’m just… I’m really sorry. Please don’t make me talk about it.”

He can’t see the room anymore. It’s all one big, saline bubble.

GM: Em might not be able to see, but he can still feel someone’s arm around his shoulders in another half-hug. “Em, that’s… that’s okay. You don’t need to talk about anything right now. I shouldn’t have even asked, not this soon. After…”

She gives him a squeeze. “Thanks for being honest.”

Emmett: He sobs subside, slightly. “I’m… I’m sorry. For everything.” More than you know, Lena.

GM: “It’s all right. You’ll get… get through this.” Lena takes a breath and tries to put on a comforting smile as she pulls something out of her coat. “Maya and Noah made you a card.”

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Emmett: He manages an uneven laugh. Get well soon. Get well soon…

“That’s nice,” he says. “Are they all right?”

GM: “More than. They’re in school right now. They can come visit later, if you’re feeling up for it.”

Emmett: “That sounds great.”

And more fun than going to their funeral. Oh Christ. Oh my god.

He starts crying again. “You know I love you guys, right?” he says. His throat burns.

GM: Lena dabs his face with a second tissue. She dabs hers with the first. “We… we know. We love you too, Em.”

“Listen,” she says more slowly, “another thing to think about is bills. Every day you’re here is going to cost you more money. I’d need to talk with your doctor to get a better picture of what condition you’re in, but if he thinks an early discharge would be okay, you’re welcome to stay at my family’s house.”

Emmett: “I don’t want…” to watch you die. “…to be a burden.”

GM: “Well, you wouldn’t be,” his sister states matter-of-factly. “We do have a housekeeper, lord knows we pay her enough as it is. And it’s going to take at least a month for your arms to heal.”

Emmett: A home. Warm food. His nephew and niece. Christ. He even misses Dan.

“I don’t want you to… I need care. I can’t do… things for myself anymore.”

Things like feeding myself, he doesn’t say. Things like brushing his own teeth and wiping his own ass.

GM: “I know, Em. I’ve seen my share of hospital patients. We can have Paula do some of those things, if you’d prefer.”

Emmett: He laughs a crippled laugh that never gets off the ground. “That’ll be a fun conversation.”

GM: “And you’ll miss out on, poor you,” Lena offers with a nose-crinkling smile. “Another thing I’m going to do is start a few applications on your behalf for Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income, or SSI. That probably won’t take care of all your bills, but if you get approved, it’ll help.”

Emmett: “If you’re sure… I’ll pay you back for this. Someday.”

GM: “I’m very sure. And nonsense. What family’s for, isn’t it?”

Emmett: OhGodPleaseForgiveMeLena.

“Okay, then.”


Sunday noon, 13 September 2015

GM: Em can make out the voice of one of his nurses just past the door. “…and he’s in here. Please try not to make any… noise with all that.”

Emmett: He lifts his head, squinting.

Mouse: “I can try, ma’am,” another voice replies with a lilt. It’s pure as water and smooth as black velvet whiskey.

The door handle to Em’s room turns as a svelte man enters. He looks a few years younger than Em, but still old enough to be out of high school. His chocolate-brown hair is an unruly mass of frizz and curls. His sea-green eyes look over Em’s bedridden, crippled form with a juxtaposition of sympathy and oddly unrelenting cheeriness. A tired, beat-up guitar is slung over his right shoulder as he takes a couple soft-footed steps forward. He’s carrying a large card and several balloons in his free hands. He turns back to the nurse and gives her a shy look as he thanks her for showing him the way to Em’s room.

Emmett: Oh, just what I needed. The power of positive thinking. Em manages to make his eye-roll look like a spasm. “Hey, Mouse. Been a while.”

Mouse: Mouse smiles back. “Hi Em.” He approaches Em and awkwardly proffers the card and balloons.

Emmett: Em flicks his eyes at his cast-bound arms. “Maybe tie it around my arm?” he suggests weakly.

Mouse: “I can do that,” Mouse answers nervously, still clearly surprised by Em’s condition. He puts the card on the bedside table and ties the balloons to Em’s nearest cast-bound arm with a dextrous flourish. “What happened?” he asks softly.

Emmett: “Crippling debt,” Em says simply. “I’d… rather not talk about it, if you don’t mind. How’s prison? Sorry, Tulane?” The casual shift in topic feels about as natural as the stumps where his body ends.

Mouse: Mouse gives a humorous smile. “It’s not as bad as a prison, Em.” He laughs quietly at the joke. “They make all student residents adhere to a meal plan, though. How’s the hospital food?”

Emmett: “I haven’t tried it yet. They have stuff that looks like food, though.” Em smiles, painfully. “Fizzy still… Fizzy?”

Mouse: “Yes. Fizzy is still Fizzy.” Mouse beams with pride at the mention of his older brother. He adds in a hushed tone, “I didn’t tell him I was going to see you, of course. He doesn’t really like me hanging out with you.”

Emmett: “What’s he gonna do, break my legs again?” He sighs. “I appreciate you coming, though—” He stops. “You, uh. Still living the high life? Gallery openings, whatnot?”

Mouse: Mouse’s eyes drift conspicuously downwards to Em’s lower half.

“Yeah…” is the most manages, his tone deflated. When he forces himself to meet Em’s gaze again he looks like he’s barely holding back tears. “Are… you hungry? Do you need me to get a nurse for you?”

Emmett: Em has an idea. Granted, ideas have not worked well for him recently. But how much worse can things get?

He summons every ounce of self-pity and makes it sound like sympathy. “Hey, man. You don’t need to cry over me. I’m gonna bounce back. It’s going to be—” he starts coughing, an ugly, ragged noise.

Mouse: Mouse’s eyes widen with alarm.

Emmett: He eases himself out of the fit, shaking his head. “I’ll be fine, really. It’s the money I have to worry about. They may as well break my back, ha-ha…” The joke falls flat, as the bitterness in his voice becomes apparent. He shakes his head again. “I’m sorry. You don’t want to hear about my problems.”

Mouse: Mouse shakes his head, drying his eyes with his shirt as inconspicuously as he can manage. “It’s okay, Em,” he says, trying his best to be the strong voice of support. “I don’t mind listening. It’s the least I can do.”

Emmett: “If you’re sure.” Em talks in circles, letting Mouse’s artist mind paint the picture. His family’s offered to take him in, until he can find a place he can afford. The hospital isn’t so bad. It’ll be nicer than the jail he’ll stay weekends in.

He trails off when he says he hopes to hit the ground running. Finally, he seems to hesitate. “Mouse… I can trust you, right? For old time’s sake?” The artist can’t help but remember the 19-year-old bleeding after his older brother had a ‘conversation’ with him.

Mouse: “You know you can trust me.” Mouse’s smile takes a bit to remerge, but it never leaves his face.

Emmett: “What do you know about…” Swallow. Pause. And: “…the Dixie Mob?”

Mouse: Mouse just looks confused by the name.

Emmett: Jesus Christ, Fizzy does the heavy lifting, doesn’t he?

“It doesn’t matter,” Em says quietly. “The short of it is, I owe some money to some bad, bad people. People even Francis probably doesn’t fuck with. And… and they’re going to hurt my family.” He hangs his head. The pain, at least, is real enough.

Mouse: “Why would you owe them money?” Mouse asks. “You should know better than to deal with bad people, Em.” His voice might be soft, but the words are hard, even if unintentionally.

Emmett: The tears are real, too. As is the humiliation. “Yeah, I should. I know, man. It was my damn lawyer. He said he had a way I could pay his fees, and I didn’t realize what I was getting into until it was too late.” He sighs. “I’m sorry. My problem. I shouldn’t have made it yours. Thanks, anyway.”

Mouse: “No. I’m your friend.” There’s still a strain to Mouse’s voice, but there’s sudden strength to it too. “Who’s your lawyer? What did he do? I’ll do whatever I can to help.”

Emmett: “The lawyer’s out of the picture. For better, trust me.” He closes his eyes. “12 grand. I need 12 grand. I can’t ask you to come up with that. It’s out of your hands.”

His hanging head bats one of the balloons tied to his arm out of the way. The image would be funny if it weren’t so pitiful.

Mouse: Mouse’s eyes bug out. “I wish I had that kind of money. You know if I did, Em, I would pay for everything right away.” He looks almost as helpless as his invalid ‘friend’ for a moment there.

Emmett: I think college might actually make people stupider.

“Of course not, man,” he says. “I’d have to ask your brother, if anybody. And that wouldn’t go well, right? Hates my guts.”

Mouse: Mouse pauses for a moment. Then his eyes then light up as if a switch has been pulled inside his mind. “I could go and ask Francis for help!”

Emmett: There we go.

“Are you sure he’d have the cash?” Em’s voice contains all-too-real hope.

Mouse: “I don’t think he does,” Mouse says uncertainly. “But I could ask him if he knows anybody who could possibly help.” He gives Em a hopeful and hopefully encouraging look.

Emmett: Em’s already shaking his head. “No. I won’t make my problems his. I’ve wronged him enough. If he doesn’t have the means…” He pauses. “You’ve still got some friends in high places, right?”

Mouse: Mouse blinks. “High places?”

Emmett: “You’re a musician, man. I went with you to that concert once, remember? You seemed pretty comfortable with some of the… more well-off crowd.”

Mouse: “Thanks!” Mouse beams. “I get along with pretty much anyone.”

Emmett: Oh my god, I’m fucked.

“Cécilia Devillers,” he snaps, before composing herself. “I think that was her name, anyway. We had a good time, remember? And she said her mother’s got all sorts of non-profit projects. Maybe we could get some help there?”

It takes most of his remaining presence of mind to avoid screaming.

Mouse: Dawning understanding lights up Mouse’s face. He gives Em his brightest, most hopeful smile yet. “I could definitely try! I can talk to my agent about getting in contact. She’s the one with all the connections, y’know?”

Emmett: “That would be… awesome, Mouse. You’re a good friend.” He clears his throat. “The only thing is, whatever we do, it has to be quick. Within the next four days.”

Mouse: “Why’s that?”

Emmett: Because the Mob doesn’t screw around with deadlines, you fucking airhead.

Em bites his tongue before that sentence passes his teeth. “Because that’s when they promised to hurt the people I love, Mouse.”

Mouse: Mouse’s eyes widen in shock. “You can count on me, Em!”

Emmett: Probably not, but at least you won’t cut off my leg.

“You’re the best friend I’ve ever had, Mouse,” Em says, and isn’t quite sure how much he’s lying.

Mouse: “No worries!” he grins. “You’re a really, really great friend, too!”

Emmett: “Thanks, man. That means a lot.”

Almost as much as that stupid fucking card… is that a spit stain? He must have… no, he couldn’t have tried to get his brother to sign it, could he? Idiot.


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