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Blood & Bourbon

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Story Three, Caroline XI

“Welcome t’ bein’ a vampire.”
Alexander Wright


Wednesday night, 9 September 2015, AM

Caroline: Caroline’s sports car pulls up to the gate house at Audubon Place.

GM: Attack dogs snarl on their leashes. The masked, armed, and black-garbed Blackwatch mercenaries remain ever vigilant for intruders, even if standing watch is probably a boring job.

Caroline: Caroline searches their faces for the familiar. Johnson? Perhaps.

GM: Caroline came make out Johnson, whose first name she does not know, standing vigil alongside several other mercs. She also recognizes Amanda Turner and Stephanie Hall, two of the few women to wear the security company’s black pawprint logo.

Caroline: Caroline rolls over to a stop. “Sergeant Johnson. Do you remember me?”

GM: The mercenary looks Caroline over and grunts, “Sure.”

“You better have ID this time,” he growls.

Caroline: Caroline pours on the presence. Do the lights actually turn to point in her direction? Does the world actually shrink around her, constricting, trapping them in with her? Who can say?

“I had actually hoped we might have a talk about that night, if you had a moment away from your duties, sergeant. I know the night is dark and full of terrors, but perhaps Audubon Place can survive a moment of your inattention?”

GM: The guards’ grips slacken on their weapons as their eyes widen, like a famous movie star had just strolled up to the guard post and asked if they wanted to chill. To his credit, Johnson keeps his face mostly together, though the irritation entirely vanishes from his expression.

“Yeah. Sure. Hall. Take over.”

The female merc nods, still staring at Caroline.

Caroline: Caroline turns the car off into a holding area and climbs out, all long legs, dark fabric rustling against pale skin. It helps when you’re piling vampiric majesty atop a firm foundation. She moves off with Johnson, eyes sweeping the other mercenaries and settling for a moment on the two females.

Once they’re off and aside, she feigns a bit of nervousness behind a veneer of power. “You remember the other night, I’m sure. The condition I was in. You have no idea my gratitude that you didn’t press on the matter then.”

GM: “Wasn’t anything, ma’am,” the sergeant denies agreeably. “What were we gonna do, just leave you out there?”

Caroline: “You could have turned me away. You could have asked questions. Could have invaded my privacy. You didn’t. Discretion is valuable, sergeant.” She pauses, smiles shyly, and continues in a lighter tone, “Do you have a first name, or should I call you John Johnson?”

GM: “Thomas,” the merc answers. “It’s my middle name.”

“Mom named me Andrew Johnson, of all stupid things. Every drill sergeant on Parris Island got a kick out of calling me ‘President Johnson’ or ‘Mr. President.’”

Caroline: Caroline laughs lightly. “No doubt they felt they were clever. ‘Teachable’ moments and all that.”

GM: “I’m not a history buff, but let me tell you, I know everything there is to know about that damn president.”

Caroline: “At least something good came of it, then. As I hope something good might come of… well. The other.”

“I don’t think I need to tell you what happened that night, or at least I suspect you have your own guesses that aren’t far off. It’s not the type of thing I’m comfortable talking about.”

She waits for the nod, or the reply.

GM: The merc growls, “You want, I can pump his guts full of lead.”

He taps his automatic. “This thing’s an FN Scar. Can take down a rhino even before the tweaks I’ve had made to it.”

Caroline: She gives a sad, almost shamed look. “I may well take you up on that, Thomas, when the time comes. First, though… I… Blackwatch provides private security to individuals as well, right?”

GM: “Sure do. Best in the business.”

Caroline: “Is there someone you might recommend, specifically, if I needed someone? Wanted someone?” She looks back to him. “Someone you trust?”

“Obviously I’d have to go through official channels, but I don’t simply want a stranger…”

GM: The mercenary pulls down his half-mask. He’s a clean-shaven man, with a rectangular face, hard features, and the intense stare she’s seen on a number of veteran soldiers. His grin offsets it, though. He’s no supermodel, but he’s not a bad looker either.

“Well, ma’am, not to be modest, ‘cause I sure as fuck ain’t, but there’s no merc I’d recommend before yours truly.”

“I do a job, I do it well, and I do it quiet.”

Caroline: “I have little doubt of that, sergeant.”

Caroline studies the face. Would she have gone for that in another life? She’d always appreciated a softer man.

“You’re a professional. Marine, right?”

GM: “That’s right. Three tours in Iraq.”

“I’m also not a sergeant anymore in Blackwatch. Just the other guys’ supervisor.”

Caroline: Caroline knows better than to start with ‘thank you for your service’ crap.

“Just Thomas, then. Proud’s in the job description.” Another smile. “I’m sure there’s no one I’d rather have in a shootout, or as a shot caller. I have to find him first, though. Anyone with a police background? Someone that might be willing to help dig something up when he’s not doing force protection?”

GM: “Couple, but we’re not exactly P.I.‘s. It’s one of those guys you want. Ex-cops who sign up with us do it because they want to shoot things, not do detective work.”

Caroline: “Too unreliable.”

GM: “Drop enough money and anyone’s reliable.”

Caroline: “Point. Do you have a number for customer service?” she asks.

GM: “Check our website.”

Caroline is able to pull one up in short order on her phone.

Caroline: She tucks the phone away.

“Hopefully they’ll be in touch. Otherwise I will. I’ll hold you to ‘full of lead,’ Thomas.”

GM: Thomas grins and cocks a salute. “You bet, ma’am.”

Caroline: “Thank you, Thomas.” She lays a hand on his arm.

GM: Thomas abruptly cups a hand around the back of Caroline’s head and pulls her in for a kiss. It’s rough, forceful, and hungry.

Caroline: She lets it go on for a moment… but only a moment. She pulls back, hand out.

“I can’t. I can’t.” Her voice is pained. “Not now.”

GM: The merc rolls his eyes. “Then don’t be all touchy, lady.”

Caroline: “I’m sorry.”

She lays on her supernal presence. How can she do wrong?

The Beast lashes out. Caroline ignores it. Not here, not now.

GM: “Yeah, you and every cocktease.” Thomas’ eyes briefly swim, as if fighting against the glamour, but then he shakes his head and jabs a thumb against his chest.

“Remember. When you want the best.”

Caroline: “I’ll remember.”

She goes back to her car. Not quite shaken, but… annoyed perhaps? Men.

Her eyes sweep the assembled mercs again.

Or maybe not.


Wednesday night, 9 September 2015, AM

Caroline: Caroline pulls to a stop outside her home. Aimee no doubt sleeps inside. It seems her car will continue to serve as her office for now. Something else to remedy.

She calls the Blackwatch hour number for Force Protection. At least someone is professional.

GM: The Blackwatch service rep takes care of the initial details. There’ll be some forms for Caroline to sign, and they’ll want to do a basic background check, but her family’s name and prior relationship with the security company should mean it’s largely a formality. The service rep is only too happy to say they’ll “take care of everything” and spare Caroline from any hoop jumping.

The Ventrue would be able to breathe easier, if she still breathed at all, knowing she’ll have a bodyguard soon.

Caroline: A discussion follows. Caroline outlines needs and availability. She lays out one condition before arriving at a conclusion: women only. A male bodyguard would make her uncomfortable.

GM: That does cut down on her options, the service rep informs her, but they’ll see what they can do. Would gay men also be acceptable?

Caroline: Caroline is of course no bigot. Gay men are fine.

As long as they stop humping my leg.

GM: After giving the usual corporate pleasantries about the excellent choice Caroline’s made with Blackwatch and how pleased they are to do business with her, the service rep wishes the Ventrue a pleasant evening.

Caroline: She ends the call and quietly heads inside, slipping towards her room with unnatural grace. Much of the rest of the evening is to be spent on research.

GM: Finding information about René online proves frustratingly difficult. His name isn’t in any records or databases she can access. Or maybe Caroline is just too close to the “case.”

Just when she’s given up, however, her computer’s webcam abruptly snaps white as it takes her picture.

She didn’t choose to turn the cam on.

Caroline: Caroline blinks for a moment at first, but her face rapidly moves from surprise, to rage, to calm seething. “Enjoying the show?”

Her fingers tap across the keyboard.

GM: The laptop’s screen is unresponsive.

Caroline isn’t a computer whiz, but she’s familiar with the basics. She knows that hacking another person’s webcam, as unnerving as it might be to the victim, actually isn’t a terribly difficult feat. You don’t even have to be a programmer to pull it off. Just get the target to accept a file with the RAT, sit back and enjoy the fun. There are forums where script kiddie ‘hackers’ buy, sell, and swap access to the computers whose cams they’ve taken over. They call the victims ‘slaves.’

Caroline scours her system… but finds no RAT. She hasn’t downloaded any recent files from sketchy or fraudulent sources that she can tel.

Caroline: “You don’t want to chat?” she asks the webcam quietly.

GM: No response is forthcoming.

Caroline: “Fine. Be that way.”

She reaches down and ejects the computer’s wireless card.

GM: The computer immediately disconnects from her home’s wi-fi. Where the picture has ended up, however, she can only begin to guess.

Caroline: “But I bet you left a trail. And I know where to follow it. Even if I can’t myself.”

GM: The network-less computer stares at her silently.

Caroline: She closes down the computer in frustration.

If there’s some silver lining, it’s that the night is moving towards an end. Perhaps the dusk will bring a new lead.

She checks the collection of phones on her desk. The virgin whose number only Lou has. Her main with her mortal contacts, the third separate one she’s given to Kindred, and that provided by Wright.

GM: Jocelyn and Lou have not called yet, and Wright seems to expect her to call him, rather than the other way around. Her new main doesn’t have a voice message, but she has received an email from the Louisiana Supreme Court. The email informs her that she is fired. She supposes that’s what you get after missing days of work without notice.

It’s just as well. Job hours were during the day.

Caroline: Just as well.

She fires back an email that is suitably apologetic, while also accepting. She cites personal matters and wishes them well.

GM: She has another email from Aimee, who’s sent her a list of coursework she’s fallen behind on.

School seems almost laughably mundane next to what she’s faced over the last few nights.

Caroline: Another headache. But still not one she’s willing to give up on.

GM: Aimee adds that beyond doing the work, she should also touch base with her professors. It just isn’t the same with another person covering. Wellington seemed particularly disapproving.

Aimee finally adds that she’s not seen her all day and hopes she’s all right.

Caroline: Caroline works on the schoolwork until sunrise. Fortunately, most of it is easier by hand. Lots of reading and analysis without too much writing.

Eventually, she feels the sun rising overhead. The darkness recedes, and with it her.

Once more, she climbs into the dark, cramped crawl space that is her bed. Not exactly the accommodations she wants. Another matter to see to. Eventually. The only real difficulty is finding a place to plug in her collection of phones before she does so. Old homes aren’t built with outlets in mind.

GM: Caroline’s lodging are not comfortable, but nor are they uncomfortable. She doesn’t feel soreness. She doesn’t feel pain. It’s just a space to store her corpse when it’s being a proper corpse.

Her eyes close. Then they open. Her phones are full of messages and say it’s over eight hours later.

Caroline: Those messages get her attention.

GM: An email from Denise reports there are no assets or properties attached to the name René Baristheaut, as that man has been dead for 117 years. Caroline is ironically correct in her guess that René was a soldier, for he fought in the 1898 Spanish-American War as a Marine Corps officer and was reported killed in action. He was excommunicated from the Catholic Church before he left for war, though records from that far back are spotty and Denise’s investigators have not been able to determine why. (Nor do they seem inclined to, unless the matter is particular interest to Caroline.)

Denise’s people have determined the Baristheauts were a well-to-do Creole family that prospered during the Antebellum era. Like many of their peers, the Baristheauts’ fortunes were hit hard by the Civil War and steadily declined throughout the Gilded Age. René’s death might have even been a mercy: the family was spared the humiliating generational erosion of their wealth and status that many other Creoles suffered. The Baristheaut name died with Caroline’s sire, for he was his bloodline’s only male heir. He had sisters who married into other families, but his father never recovered from René’s loss, and died only a year later. Father and son are both interred in St. Louis Cemetery.

Caroline: Another reason to visit St. Louis. It’s calling to her.

GM: Gabriel Hurst, too, owns no assets or properties, for he died in 1957 and received a full funeral and burial. Records surrounding his life and death are a good deal more complete than René’s. He died at the relatively young age of 26 and was an entrepreneur from a working-class family who’d started his own chain of grocery stores. His business did well and his relatives lived in greater comfort when he died than when he was born. Money, though, isn’t what obituaries seem to remember him for. Hurst’s neighbors, employees, and many, many friends all speak of him in glowing terms and describe the young man as a pillar of his community. René’s death seemingly only impacted his immediate family, but Hurst’s life seems to have touched many people, and his death been mourned by equally many.

Caroline: “Young,” Caroline murmurs, and not at his age of death. Fifty years in the Blood, but that doesn’t seem so long to hold any title of note given what little she’s seen. And the trend. Faked deaths, lack of property. To a certain extent it makes sense as an ‘easy’ way out, but surely that can’t be with all Kindred what. There are easier solutions than starting over, though granted, most Kindred probably aren’t as aware of them. The thoughts roll over in her mind like marbles racing towards the end of the table, towards the drop.

GM: Donovan’s home, finally, is owned (in full, not mortgaged) by a 52-year-old man named Paul Simmons. He has two divorced wives, though no current spouse or children. He works a numbers job in the CBD for Fidelity Bank. He doesn’t appear to have any noteworthy hobbies or social networks outside of his co-workers and the bar he sometimes goes to after work. The man’s criminal record is squeaky-clean, save for a fewer traffic tickets, and one count of drunk driving during his first divorce. He was arrested for it but never charged. The man’s record is clean enough to arouse no suspicion, but just dirty enough not to look too suspicious either. He is as banal and uninteresting as his soulless McMansion home.

Caroline: Now that’s interesting. A patsy? A ghoul? Her fake Donovan? She plugs the man’s name into social networking looking for a picture.

Celia's Boo.jpeg
GM: Not the same man, or his mimic, by any stretch.

Caroline: Pitifully mundane. In fact, so mundane that it makes her question. Wonder. Another mystery perhaps to be unraveled, though not particularly meaningful tonight.

She sets those messages aside and punches Wright’s number into the burner he provided. Her early evening check-in with her favorite ghetto vampire. She’s so come to look forward to these conversations in the short time she’s known him.

GM: “What?” the hound asks without preamble.

Caroline: Caroline can picture his smug face. The chains around his neck. The very image is infuriating behind his response. She instead pictures him in a black slacks, white button-down, tie, apron. Just another servant. The image is so ludicrous that her anger fades.

“Checking in, as required,” she replies. “I wasn’t able to check on the medical examiner’s office, but I’m going to have a police contact see if there’s a lead I can dig up there. Otherwise I haven’t skipped town.” She delivers the report dispassionately.

GM: “Uh huh. What you been doin’ this past night?”

Caroline: “Putting out fires with my police contacts regarding the event two nights ago. Meeting with Sheriff Donovan’s representative. Trying to arrange assistance for when I do manage to find René. Waiting on other leads to pan out.”

Prick, she resists adding onto the end. Narrowly.

GM: “You gonna be doin’ more than sittin’ ’round on your ass tonight.”

Caroline: “Is that a question or an order?” she asks, biting her lip as it slips out.

GM: “An order, girl. The only question is how.”

Caroline: Girl. It’s like fingernails on a chalkboard. She stuffs her pride.

“I’ve reached a roadblock,” she admits. “I can dig up everything there is to know about a 117-year-dead man, but it tells me nothing about him as a Kindred.”

GM: “Uh huh. Well, girl, that what I’m gonna be passin’ on to Sheriff Donovan? ‘Whoops, I ain’t sure what to do next, I’m gonna jus’ sit back an’ diddle myself?’”

Caroline: Fingernails dig into flesh.

“I somehow doubt that’s the vernacular you’d use with him.”

GM: “An’ here’s a pointer, pro bono, in case that’s what you were thinkin’ of doin’. What’s ’tween your legs does about as much good now as a welfare check to a dope fiend.”

Caroline: “You didn’t accept welfare checks?”

GM: “Oh, girl,” Wright remarks quietly. She can picture the hound shaking his head. “Wrong thing t’ say.”

The line clicks off.

Caroline: “Fuck,” Caroline swears loudly. She needed something out of him. Several somethings, in fact. With the French Quarter barred to her by his decree, her ability to make connections to other Kindred is sharply limited. The nature of Kindred society appears to be, much like upper class society, that such connections are where all real business is done.

Stupid, she berates herself, even as she gets moving. She slings a duffel bag over her shoulder on the way out of her home. She slips out the back door and slides it into her car’s backseat as she pulls out of the driveway.

GM: Caroline’s burner phone rings.

Caroline: She digs it out of her bag, separating it from its siblings, and snaps it open.

GM: “Remain where you are,” sounds an unfamiliar man’s voice.

The line immediately clicks off.

Caroline: That’s not unnerving.

She guides the car towards the curb and checks her bag while she waits. Firearm, money, ‘hacked’ computer, charges, knife… sword dug out of her closet from her high school days. All of it likely useless.

GM: Caroline waits for several minutes. Several cars pull up to her house’s driveway, headed by a black 2015 Escalade. Wright gets out of the luxury vehicle, clad in the same black clothes, jacket, gold jewelry, and upturned baseball cap she saw him in last.

Caroline: Stereotypes.

New-rich African-American in an Escalade. Like she’s never seen that before. Even the cap and gold jewelry fit into the stereotype. He drives like, dresses like, and acts like a drug dealer.

GM: He’s accompanied by several further African-American men, dressed similarly to him, but in lighter colors. They also look like they could be drug dealers.

Caroline: Caroline narrowly resists rolling her eyes.

GM: Wright walks up to the front door and bangs once.

Caroline: Caroline climbs out of her car from the street.

“Here,” she calls.

GM: Wright doesn’t glance away from the door.

“Get over here, girl.”

Caroline: A flicker of concern races across her face even as a cold shiver runs down her spine. Heels click on the sidewalk as she strides through the array of thugs towards him.

GM: Wright holds out his hand.

“Keys.”

Caroline: She hands them over to him silently.

GM: “Anyone else in there?”

Caroline: Caroline glances at the driveway for Aimee’s car.

GM: Wright still doesn’t look away from the door.

“Where her bedroom?”

Caroline: “What the hell are you doing?” Caroline asks finally, dread and fury warring.

GM: Wright finally turns and stares at Caroline.

“Sheriff’s orders. Now. Where her bedroom?”

Caroline: She stares daggers at him. Old words come back. Resist when it matters. This is hardly a secret she can keep.

“Third floor.”

GM: Wright unlocks the house’s front door and strides in. His fellows troop in after him.

Caroline: “You don’t want to…” Caroline begins as he opens the door and barges in.

The furious growl is the only warning he has as two hundred pounds of teeth, muscle, and flabby skin rushes the intruder.

GM: The other gangsters shout in alarm. Even Wright can’t hide his surprise as the massive canine barrels into him like a sack of bricks. “MothaFUCKER-!”

Caroline: “Caesar, down!” Caroline tries to call.

GM: Caesar completely ignores Caroline as he knocks Wright flat on his back. Flesh and cloth alike tear as the dog savagely mauls the intruder. Several of the gangsters rush up to help. One closes the door. One, the youngest-looking, pulls a gun. Wright just rolls his eyes and growls from under Caesar’s bulk, “No fuckin’ guns, shithead!”

Suddenly, the vampire is standing upright. A vicious red gash mars his chest. Caesar isn’t there anymore.

Caroline: Caroline blinks.

GM: A resounding crash sounds from the far end of the hall, followed by a lighter shatterong. A vase lies in broken pieces. A portrait is knocked over. Caesar lies on his back, bleeding profusely from his muzzle as he makes a high-pitched whining noise. Red is also smeared over Wright’s fist.

Caroline: Caroline shakes with fury as the scene comes together. She pushes through the thugs towards the dog.

GM: “Cute, girl. Real fuckin’ cute,” says Wright.

Caesar snarls and weakly snaps at Caroline’s hand as another undead corpse approaches him.

Caroline: She pauses between the two, unable to comfort her dog. Caesar, who slept on her bed for years.

“I didn’t know you were going to barge in,” she replies, short of snapping, as she surveys the wreckage. “If I was trying to set you up I can think of a dozen better ways.”

GM: Wright does not answer Caroline as he stomps up the stairs, followed by two gangsters. She catches a glimpse of his torn stomach repairing itself, as if she were watching the healing process on a fast forwarded video. After a moment, his torn shirt is the only sign to mark the wound’s existence.

Caroline: She stares hatred at the remaining thugs. Burning their faces into her mind. Glances back at Caesar. Bleeding. Dying. Still fighting her.

She follows Wright, fingernails digging into her palms.

GM: One of the gangsters kicks open the door to Aimee’s room without so much as trying the handle. Light from the hallway cuts through the room’s gloom, framing the young woman’s sleeping form. Aimee jolts up, sees the three strangers superimposed against the doorway, and screams.

Caroline: Caroline stares at Wright, but doesn’t look into the room. She hides in the hall. Hides from Aimee. Hides from herself.

GM: The two men pull out guns and click the safeties off.

Caroline: “No!” Caroline howls as she hears the weapons moving. She dives at the thugs.

GM: Caroline slams shoulder-first into the left gangster and tackles against him to the floor. His head loudly cracks against the door’s wooden frame, sending his gun tumbling from his fingers. He yells and tries to throw Caroline off.

The right gangster takes aim with his weapon and lines up a shot at Aimee’s forehead. Wright lays a hand on the gun and pushes it down to point at the floor. “You ain’t seen shit,” the vampire states, his voice heavy.

Aimee’s terrified face relaxes.

Partly.

“You had a nightmare,” continues Wright. “Some big bad black men broke into your room. So you can’t sleep. You’re gonna go for a nice long drive, forget everythin’ you saw in this house, then come back an’ go to bed.” His voice grows less thick. “What happens next is ‘tween me an’ your roomie. Girlfriend. Whatever.” He pauses. “An’ if I was you, I’d find some new digs. This place is bad news. Even if your roomie’s too dumb t’ see.”

“Oh yeah.” His voice thickens again. “Change into somethin’ else.

Aimee strips and changes into a tank top and pair of jeans while the three men watch. She walks out of the room with a glazed expression, as if sleepwalking, then disappears down the stairs.

Caroline: Relief floods Caroline as they let Aimee go. She climbs off the downed man.

GM: The gangster to his feet and dusts himself off with an angry glare, but doesn’t move against her.

Wright turns to Caroline and jabs a finger against her unbeating heart.

“No more lip.”

“No more games.”

“No more bullshit.”

Caroline: She nods slowly. Soberly.

GM: Wright turns his back on Caroline and tromps down the stairs, followed by the two men.

Caroline: “Wright,” she calls, as he turns. She waits to see if he pauses or turns.

GM: The other vampire pauses. He does not look back.

Caroline: “No games. No bullshit. But… you’re the only contact I have. If I can’t investigate, and I can’t socialize, I’m dead already. Might as well kiss the sunrise. Not pity. Not sympathy. Not even like. If I’m forbidden Vieux Carré, I need a contact. Someone who can at least give me something on his Requiem. Can you tell Sheriff Donovan that? A boon, favor, whatever. I’ll pay.”

GM: “Welcome t’ bein’ a vampire,” Wright states, his voice heavy. Even tired.

“504-891-0109.”

The hound’s heavy footsteps resume down the stairs. Caroline hears glass breaking.

Caroline: Caroline repeats the number to herself, then snatches a pen off Aimee’s desk to write it down.

GM: Heavy thuds are audible from downstairs. More glass breaks.

Caroline: Caroline pockets the scrap of paper with the number and heads down to investigate.

GM: Wright’s gangsters are simultaneously trashing and looting the house. Their arms bulge with widescreen TVs, tablet computers, stereo sets, video game consoles, and bags of wine. What they can’t take, two of the youngest gangsters destroy, whooping as they smash the house’s windows and furniture with baseball bats. Wright does not carry any looted goods, but nor does he make any move to stop his people as he strides out the door. They fall in line after him, straining under the weight of their hauls, and troop into their cars.

Caroline: Caroline watches them go. Their antics seem almost childish after the threat to Aimee. This is why she has insurance, after all.

GM: The cars pull out of the driveway and disappear into the night.

Caroline: She watches them go. She only sinks down after they round the bend, back against the wall, knees pulled tight.

She stares at wrecked first floor. Shattered furniture. Broken windows. Looted fixtures. Caesar, wheezing his last breaths. She rests her forehead against her palm. Relief, anger, sadness, helplessness.

She finally looks up.

She needs to get her house in order.


Wednesday night, 9 September 2015, PM

Caroline: An hour later a patrol car is pulling out of the driveway, as is a car with big ugly blue GEICO letters across the side. It’s slightly unusual for a claims adjuster to show up at night, but not that unusual. The itemized items stolen or destroyed are drawn against the items on file. A report is filed with the police, which they take apathetically. The only thing interesting about this case is the neighborhood, and even that won’t save it from obscurity in a pile of paperwork somewhere. Most of this stuff runs by bureaucratic fiat once the claim is filed anyway.

Within 90 minutes, destruction aside, the home is quiet once more. Perhaps more quiet, given the lack of buzzing electronics. Caroline knows she has at least an hour of peace before Aimee returns. The maid service won’t come by until the morning. Good help is so hard to find. Caesar, thankfully, seems to be less harmed than Caroline initially thought. The hurt dog stares at her behind lidded eyes from the corner of the room, ten feet away. He won’t let her get any closer. It stings, but less than losing him might have. Caroline takes the small mercies where she can get them.

Trivialities seen to, Caroline sits in one of the few non-shattered chairs at a table covered in broken glass, its rich mahogany finish scarred with the imprint of a baseball bat. Not a total loss, the insurance adjuster assured her. The paper is on the table in front of her, phone in hand, as she debates hitting the send key. Wright isn’t her biggest fan. Understatement. But there had been something in his voice when he’d rattled off the number. And if he’d really wanted to fuck with her, it would have been a small matter to let his men shoot Aimee. Or worse. Tired. She can sympathize. The nature of vampiric ‘sleep’ leaves much to be desired.

She finally punches in the number and hits send.

GM: “Hello, Caroline Malveaux,” rasps a simultaneously scratchy and phlegmy voice. A hack-spitting noise sounds in the background, like a smoker rudely expelling their built-up mucus onto the ground.

Caroline: “Uh, hello,” she replies, off-balance.

Graceful, she chides herself.

GM: Caroline hears dull, phlegmy laughter on the other end of the line.

Caroline: “So not the best first impression,” she agrees with a weak chuckle.

GM: The Ventrue hears what sounds like flatulent gas being expelled from an orifice.

Caroline: “I might have started with introductions, but you seem to know me already.”

GM: “We know everything in this city, fledgling. Everything that matters, at least.”

Caroline: Clearly.

“So perhaps you’d like to start?”

GM: “You can call me…” There’s another sound of gas being expelled. “Prince Charming.”

More phlegmy guffaws. Caroline can hear something wet dripping.

Caroline: The sounds are strangely disaffecting. Maybe it’s because she no longer eats or drinks.

“Prince Charming, then. Presumably you already know why I’m calling as well?”

GM: “Caroline Malveaux, unreleased Ventrue fledgling, calling over the hound’s burner phone, on the hunt for her sire René Baristheaut after her slut lawyer friend didn’t come through.”

Caroline: “It was you, on the computer last night.”

GM: “Moi?” the voice rasps.

Caroline: “Impressive trick.”

GM: “Nothing’s free with us, fledgling. It’ll be a boon to confirm or deny that.”

Caroline: “Let’s stick to business, then. You know what I want.”

GM: “Of course, if it wasn’t us, we could maybe point you to who…”

Caroline: “Curiosity can wait until there’s less red in the ledger.”

GM: “You, you, you. Let’s talk about me.”

Caroline: “Presumably there’s a price,” Caroline agrees. “So what does Prince Charming want?”

GM: “God, that slutty laywer chick’s sex on legs. Makes me remember what it’s like to have sweaty palms and a pile of crusty yellow socks. I could never hold the ol’ bladder in when I was whacking it off.”

Caroline: Caroline crinkles her nose in disgust at last. She’s careful to keep her tone neutral. “Fond memories, then.”

GM: “I’ve changed my mind, too,” the voice hacks. “I want you to call me Daddy. And that slut lawyer, I bet she buys birth control pills by the bucketful, doesn’t she?”

Caroline: “What happened to nothing for free?” Caroline asks, a hint of amusement in her voice. “Daddy.”

GM: The voice initially sounds like it’s cackling, but that soon gives away to something that sounds like a cat hacking up a half-digested rat or other small animal.

“Oh, this is part of your mystery rewards package.”

Then, “I want a picture of your tits.”

Caroline: If looks could kill, Caroline would be on the hook for another murder.

GM: “Don’t be shy, we all whore ourselves around on a nightly basis. We’re all sluts here. I won’t judge your morals.” The rasping, hacking laughter sounds again. “Just your girls.”

Caroline: “I never cared for the mystery door number one,” Caroline replies. “Still don’t.”

GM: “Less talk, more tits on my phone screen.”

Caroline: “If I’m going to be your phone sex line, we’re going to bill by the minute.”

GM: “You’ll be paid fair and square, don’t you worry. Now what’s my name?”

Caroline: “Daddy, proof first. Evidence you know more than what you get out of three dozen witnesses to my near execution could recite.”

GM: “Oh god, we’re poppin’ a cherry,” the voice guffaws. “What clan is your daddy?”

Caroline: “Something for you to know, and me to find out presumably.”

Caroline begins to wonder if this isn’t an elaborate joke by Wright.

GM: There’s more guffaws. “This one’s a freebie, like the cumstains I’d have left on your gym shorts if we went to the same high school. I’m Nosferatu.”

Caroline: “And so you prove your diligence and aptitude, but not that our desires align.”

GM: “Let’s not pretend you hold any cards here, fledgling.”

Caroline: “I never hold any cards. But while I’m happy to hand over my chips, I’m not doing it before I know we’re playing the same game. They said you know everything. I’m not asking you to hand over the family jewels.”

GM: Another hacking rasp. “Your tits and Dolores, or Malo’s limp monkey dick and the introductory service package.” Caroline hears the screeching ooh-ooh-ooh! of what sounds like an actual chimpanzee. “Don’t worry, boy, there’s plenty other sluts.”

Caroline: “Dolores?” she asks.

GM: “Slut’s getting greedy now,” the voice admonishes with a rasp-hack-chortle. “Knowing who she is, and a few other questions… boon.”

Caroline: “No, I mean I don’t understand what you’re talking about,” Caroline replies.

What’s the harm? the practical part of her asks. A picture of her breasts for possible info seems like a small price.

But another part of her, the part that still has pride, asks where it stops, and what is left of her when it does. Cross one line with this troll and who knows what his next demand will be. Strung out on demands is not appealing.

GM: “I’m charging you extra to give you something more. If that doesn’t make any sense, you’re more likely to leave cumjuice in your sweet scented panties than you are to catch René.”

Caroline: No pictures. That was a pretty simple rule in the family. Sexting always seemed like a stupid idea anyway. Still… she looks around the wrecked home. That might be the least of her concerns.

Damn.

She digs out a burner. All the money in the world, and she’s selling her dignity and self-respect. She trudges to the downstairs bathroom, phones in hand to take the damn picture, careful to crop her face out. Her finger burns over the send button, but she finally hits it.

“On its way. Daddy.”

She saves gritting her teeth for after she’s done talking. Self-respect for not even a promise. Amazing how little it sells for.

GM: Fits of hacking, shrieking laughter sound. So do wilder, louder, ooh-ooh-oohs! from the chimp. But something sounds off about them. Something sounds…

“Yeah, that’s right, Malo! That’s right!”

The chimp screeches and howls.

“Almost, almost….”

Caroline: Caroline’s face twists in disgust as she holds the phone away from her head. Listening, but not piping the obscenity into her ear.

GM: An ear-splitting howl. Something wet hitting what sounds like paper.

“Good boy, Malo! Good boy!” the voice distantly cheers.

Louder guffaws sounds into the phone. “If your daddy could see this.”

“Your kine daddy,” the voice clarifies, “not me.”

Caroline: “I’m sure he’d be less amused than you.”

Still, the words cut. Blood flows from her already bruised pride.

GM: “And your uncle, he’s the friggin’ archbishop! This is like tabloid scandal stuff.”

Caroline: It staggers to its feet, swaying like a drunken boxer.

GM: Caroline hears something scribbling in the background. A new text pops up on her phone.

Caroline: She glances at it. Half-expecting a dick pic.

GM: It contains a picture of the picture of her breasts. Along with a dark, erect, and extremely small penis over an extremely large pair of testicles that look mammalian but far from sapien. Caroline can read another phone number scribbled in black sharpie over her breasts. That section of the picture is damp and stained.

Caroline: She scrawls down the number on the same piece as she used earlier for this one.

GM: “Tell Dolores that you paid Gerald for the VIP access package,” the Nosferatu hack-guffaws.

Caroline: Her eyes are hard set, cold, vicious. Wounded pride, a wounded animal, savage. Darkness closing in.

“The longest game of telephone of all time.”

GM: “Pretty short when Malo got down to it,” sounds another phlegmy guffaw.

Caroline: “Is there anything else?”

GM: “Nope. Pleasure doing business, fledgling.”

Caroline: The line clicks on her end. She digs out the memory card for the burner and bites it in half, chewing the plastic pieces for a moment before spitting them out. For what it’s worth.

GM: Her face is absent, and Gerald may have been correct that Kindred whore themselves out a nightly business, but it’s remarkable to reflect what she’s come to in only a few nights.

Caroline: She dials the next number in the chain dispassionately. Tired. She can sympathize with Wright.

GM: “Dolores Campbell,” sounds a prim, maybe middle-aged female voice.

Caroline: “Good evening, Dolores. I’m supposed to tell you I paid Gerald for the ‘VIP’ access package.”

GM: “I see,” the woman declares. Caroline can’t picture her face, but she can picture a set of pursed lips. “May I ask who is calling?”

Caroline: “Is it necessary?” Caroline asks.

GM: “Yes, young lady, it is,” the woman answers with a touch of reprobation.

Caroline: “Caroline.” The heiress lets the name out like a miser lets a coin leave his fingers.

GM: “You are fortunate that the lord almoner is already aware of your surname, Miss Caroline,” Dolores states primly. “He has an opening in his schedule at 4:30.”

The woman gives her an address in Uptown. It’s a well-to-do section of town just east of Caroline’s neighborhood.

Caroline: “Anything in the evening, rather than afternoon?” she asks.

GM: “The lord almoner keeps a nocturnal schedule, Miss Caroline. The 4:30 is this morning.”

Caroline: Caroline checks the front of her phone. Still hours away.

“Workable.”

GM: “He will expect you promptly then, Miss Caroline. Good night,” the woman bids her in the same prim tone.

Caroline: “Thank you.” Caroline ends the call wondering what fresh hell she has invited.

Get René.

Once that happens she can start making her own path. Until then… she’s on the hook to Wright, stuck selling off the few assets she has: self-respect and pride.

She leaves a note on the door for Aimee and some cash on the table for a hotel room tonight, until the mess can be cleaned up. Then she heads out, leaving her broken home behind in search of something more satisfying.


Wednesday night, 9 September 2015, PM

Caroline: Caroline can’t say exactly why her tastes have aligned the way they have, but she knows what is appealing to her. College students. How fortunate that she lives near a university. And she has a date tonight, though her partner doesn’t know it yet. Summer has been a bad girl. More importantly, her sister has the Ventrue’s eye. Time to pay her a visit.

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GM: Josephine Louise House, better known as JLH, is a three-story red-bricked building that serves as one of Tulane’s girls’ dorms. Built in 1887, the 128-year-old building is one of the four buildings still remaining from the college’s original campus. As Caroline makes her way down the winding, bush-lined trail to the dorm house, she can see a few lights on in the windows, but no significant sounds are audible. It’s a late weekday night and most girls are probably either bedding down or studying late. The desk service coordinator on the first floor, a college-age girl wearing a fedora and Solaris earplugs, glances up at Caroline with mild surprise and asks who she’s here to see this late.

Caroline: Late? Caroline smiles broadly and makes a joke about needlepoint being next on the agenda. Charisma bleeds out. She’s right, isn’t she? It isn’t that late…

“I was going to stop in and see Summer.”

GM: The desk coordinator laughs and doesn’t bother to ask too many questions from someone who fits a college girl’s profile, even if she looks maybe a little old and well-dressed for JLH. She gives Caroline a room number on the third floor.

Caroline: Caroline bids her adieu and heads off in that direction. It’s not her time in the hall, though it has been a while.

GM: Caroline makes her way up several flights of stairs to the dorm house’s fourth floor. Many of the old building’s rooms are unique in character and not built with standard dimensions. Movable Shaker-style wood furniture, old-fashioned casement windows, high ceilings and mounted bookshelves are all common sights. A quiet study room is sparsely appointed with several desks, chairs, and tables, though no one is out at the present hour. As Caroline makes her way to Summer’s dorm room, she can overhear voices just past the door.

“Damn it…” sighs a tired-sounding one. “You know Dad’s rules.”

“I’m not some DOLL for you to look after,” retorts a second voice. “I can go to a party by myself. Besides, you’re still sick.”

“Look…” A sneeze sounds with a loud AH-choo. “I believe you, but it’s not my call. Dad said you have to go with me or not at all.”

“Well you don’t HAVE to tell him. It can be our secret.”

“Summer… I’m not gonna lie to him.”

“Then you DON’T believe me. You’re on his side.”

“Look. I’m…” ah-CHOO! “not dealing with this right now, okay?” There’s a tired sigh. “I’m still feeling like crap, and this paper’s due in two days. Just ask Mom-”

“No. Lisa gave birth to YOU, not me. She’s not MY mom. She alw-”

NOT dealing with that right now, Summer.”

An angry pause. “Just STAY HOME tomorrow, okay? You’re really sick, and I don’t-”

“Nice try.”

“It’s not a try! I’ll stay home too, you shouldn’t be going-”

Another sneeze. “No. You wanna go so bad, Summer, we’ll go. That’s what I told Dad we were doing.”

“I don’t WANT to go!”

“Well I already cleared out my schedule and told Dad we were going, so it’s a little late to change your mind!”

Something heavy thumps against the wall, followed by half a dozen tiny clatters. “I HATE YOU!”

Caroline hears angry footsteps approaching the door.

Caroline: Caroline scans the empty hall. A burst of unnatural speed carries her to its end in no time at all, and hopefully out of sight before the door opens.

GM: The young woman who storms out doesn’t so much as glance at Caroline. She has somewhat messy dark brown hair, a button nose, and plump cheeks still holding on to some baby fat. She doesn’t look much older than 18 and a simple t-shirt and pair of sweats for pajamas.

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Caroline: Caroline’s eyebrows knit. Curious. And just the girl she was looking for. Almost served up. She quietly follows Summer.

GM: The girl storms off to the study hall, plops down on a chair, and starts fiddling on her phone with an angry expression.

Caroline: Caroline settles down not far from her. “You’re having a rough night,” she observes.

The lights seem to dim around the room, except the one beside Caroline. Her smiling is dazzling to the younger girl.

GM: Summer’s eyes widen as Caroline approaches. She quickly sets down the phone.

“Y-yeah, I’ve had better…”

Caroline: “Haven’t we all?” she asks. “Something you’d like to talk to someone about, perhaps?”

She directs her will more fully at Summer. This is as much a test of her powers as anything. How far can she push? Or how subtly?

“I’m quite a good listener.”

GM: Summer’s face twitches as Caroline’s Beast short-circuits her brain’s emotional centers. This isn’t what she wants to be feeling, not now, not so fast, but the Beast snarls at her reticence and tells it to sit down and shut up. A relieved smile spreads across her face.

“Well, it’s like this with my sister…”

She repeats the conversation Caroline overheard.

Caroline: “You have different mothers?” Caroline asks curiously. That’s something she hadn’t turned up. Adoption? Affair?

GM: “It’s kind of a long story, and it’d be pretty boring for you…”

Caroline: “You’re not boring me, dear,” Caroline replies. “I imagine it must be something you’d like to get off your chest.”

GM: Summer sighs. “My dad and Angela’s mom got divorced when she was really young, but I guess they changed their minds or never really went through with it, ’cuz they got back together. In between, my dad fooled around with his housekeeper and the condom broke. Story of my birth.”

The girl’s smile looks like she’s trying to find humor in it. Trying and failing.

“My mom didn’t want to have an abortion but she didn’t want to keep me either. She was gonna put me up for adoption, but Dad didn’t want that. So I got to go live with him, his wife, and their real daughter.”

Summer blinks for a moment, as if she didn’t want all of that to come out, before Caroline’s Beast gives another inaudible growl for her to relax.

Caroline: Amateurish is the first word that comes to mind. Petty. First rule of fooling around, don’t make a mess. Still, Caroline keeps her face clear, sympathetic. It isn’t that difficult.

“The disfavored daughter. It’s tough to live in a shadow, especially when your sister does ’everything right,” she muses. “On the other hand, I bet she doesn’t see it that way, does she?”

GM: Summer shakes her head. “No, she doesn’t! She thinks I have it out for her mom and that’s not even it, her mom’s always been nice me, I just hate how she wants to pretend like MY mom isn’t even real.”

Caroline: “It’s hard to see when you’re in the spotlight,” Caroline agrees. “Especially since every mistake just stands out all the more to her. So what’s this party you were fighting about tonight?”

GM: “Just some party. It’s in a couple days. Dad says I can’t go to any parties without Angela, just like I couldn’t get a dorm room with any other girl.”

Caroline: “You have to room with your older sister?” Caroline asks incredulously. “They thought that was a good idea?”

GM: “Dad did. Angela didn’t.”

Caroline: “She’s as frustrated as you are, then.”

GM: “No. Her life’s perfect apart from having to bunk with me.”

Caroline: “Perfect’s a strong word,” Caroline observes.

GM: “Next to MINE.”

Caroline: “Tell me about her,” Caroline continues.

GM: “What’s there to say?” Summer huffs. “She’s older than me, she gets better grades, she’s part of more stupid clubs, she’s my chaperon, she’s boss of the dorm house I live in even before being my roommate. Oh and she’s bi, so she’s persecuted and goes through all sorts of stuff that I don’t, except when she’s kissing boys.”

Caroline: Caroline smiles. “That sounds like a particularly sore spot.”

GM: Summer waves a hand exasperatedly. “It’s bad enough she’s perfect, but does she also have to act like she has it worse than me and goes through shit that I don’t?”

Caroline: “While not actually going through it,” Caroline agrees. “And I’m sure it’s easy to keep a boyfriend around, what with her all over your life.”

GM: “I haven’t had a boyfriend since high school. It’s just… not with her in the same room.”

Caroline: “Not the way you imagined your college experience playing out,” Caroline sympathetically continues. “She’ll graduate soon though, right?”

GM: “At the end of the YEAR, sure.”

Caroline: She shakes her head. “Why are they swaddling you so much?”

GM: “‘Cuz they’re unfair,” Summer states flatly.

Caroline: Caroline presses with her will and a single arched eyebrow.

GM: Summer’s face spasmodically twitches again. She isn’t friends with this strange girl. She doesn’t want to open up to her, but the Beast keeps growling that she should.

Caroline: You could tell her anything. Couldn’t you? You can trust her.

GM: “N-no,” Summer blinks, her face scrunching as she fights Caroline’s influence. “That isn’t any of your business.”

Caroline: She has to give the girl some credit. Some limited measure.

“Fair enough. I don’t mean to pry, and if I’m making you uncomfortable…”

GM: Summer blinks slowly, as if on the verge of saying, “Yeah, you really are.”

“N… no, it’s fine,” she gets out.

Caroline: “So where’s the party at?”

GM: “Frat Row, after we meet up at The Boot,” Summer answers.

Caroline knows The Boot is a casual sports bar near Tulane that attracts many younger college students. She’s been there herself a few times. Apart from the occasional date rape it’s fairly tame: the sort of place that fretting parents prefer their kids to go drinking. Young adults who want to experience what New Orleans’ famous party scene really has to offer should head elsewhere.

“There’s better ones in the Quarter,” Summer continues, “they don’t even check girls for ID in half the places, but Dad won’t even talk about letting me go to those…”

Caroline: “Well, at least it’s better than another dreary night of chaste studying?”

GM: “Yeah, it is. It could just be better, somewhere else and without Angela. Story of my life. And I don’t even wanna go anymore, she’s still sick from that bug.”

Caroline: “Influenza or something right? I think I heard about that.”

GM: “Yeah, influenza. A bunch of people got sick at this dorm party we had a little while ago.”

Caroline: “Bizarre,” Caroline observes. “You managed to dodge it though, even bunking with the Typhoid Mary sister?”

GM: “Well, I wasn’t bunking with her after that. I got to live with my dad and stepmom again for a week.” Summer’s voice is flat. “Lucky me, huh?”

Caroline: “Moving up in the world.”

Caroline is suddenly unsettled by this innocent-looking freckled girl under her sway.

“I imagine you were able to have some fun though, without her hovering,” she says, slow and calculated.

GM: “If you mean getting picked up by my dad after class and living with him again, sure,” Summer hmphs. “But yeah, she wasn’t around as much.”

Caroline: Dance around or go after?

“All the same, you must be glad you avoided the plague,” Caroline jokes. “I’d heard half the dorm got sick. And if they are all still recovering…”

GM: “Well, I think most of them are better now. Angela was kinda in the thick of it, arranging for everyone to get home, calling the medical people, and all that stuff.”

Caroline: A dark suspicion is starting to form in Caroline’s mind about this. Ridiculous, perhaps… but she’s seen some ridiculous things of late.

GM: “She had me go home to Dad as soon as the bug hit. So I guess I wasn’t really exposed to it.”

Caroline: “Any idea what caused it?” The question is casually posed.

GM: Summer shrugs. “We had a lot of boys and people from other dorms over, I guess one of them must’ve brought it.”

Caroline: “The Spanish influenza?” Caroline laughs. “Exchange students from 1918?”

GM: Summer blinks. “Sorry?”

Caroline: “Interesting characters, I’m sure.” She laughs off the semi-obscure medical reference.

GM: “Yeah, I was able to ditch Angela for a few minutes and talk to some of them. Not forever, though.”

Caroline: “Taking what… or who you can get?”

GM: “Well, more like looking than taking,” Summer hmphs. “And she was STILL able to hit on some girl even with me to ‘look after.’”

Caroline: “Talented,” Caroline whistles. “But I imagine awkward.”

GM: “That’s my sis, perfect at everything.” Summer rolls her eyes.

Caroline: “She has to have some flaws,” Caroline counters.

GM: “Well, YEAH. Try thinking she has it rough when she doesn’t.”

Caroline: “No dirty laundry at all?” Caroline is skeptical.

GM: “Well… she’s part of the Kappas,” Summer thinks. “I mean, they’re a sorority that sponsors soup kitchens and womens’ shelters, but there’s stories about them. She thinks I don’t notice, but she disappears all the time really late at night. And she looks rough the next morning. Bags under her eyes and everything. She gets snippy, or she’s just… really tired.”

Caroline: “Partying all night?” Caroline asks.

GM: Summer frowns and shakes her head. “No… she seems, well, almost spooked. No, not almost. She really does.”

Caroline: “Weird.” Caroline tries to stay casual. “How often does it happen? Some pattern?”

GM: Summer thinks. “I haven’t really kept track. Probably more often on weekends, though.”

Caroline: “You’ve never wondered what she’s up to?”

GM: “I’ve ASKED, sure. I can’t get anything out of her. She just… shuts down.”

Caroline: “What do you mean ‘shuts down’?” Odd turn of phrase…

GM: Summer throws up her hands. “I mean, she just won’t talk to me. Doesn’t say a word. It’s like talking to a brick wall.”

Caroline: “Sounds infuriating.”

GM: “She keeps trying to play Supergirl, being in all her dumb clubs, getting straight A’s, being dorm supervisor, being my chaperon, and being that doctor’s perfect girlfriend, but she can’t keep it up. Not with whatever the Kappas have her doing.” Summer’s tone is an odd melange of smugness and worry.

Caroline: An opening, perhaps? Sometimes it is hard to tell the bear traps from the bank vaults. Caroline’s tried to keep the conversation casual thus far. Nothing out of the ordinary in their little chat. Nothing to tie her to this girl.

But the cookie jar is sitting right there. It’s begging to be opened despite how the girl unsettles her so.

“I could, perhaps, find out. If you wanted.”

GM: Summer bites her lip thoughtfully. The Beast purrs in her ears. Yes. The dead woman is a friend. Such a sympathetic friend. Summer should invite her in.

“Oh, yeah? That’d be really nice of you,” she smiles.

Caroline: A wry smile. “Not that nice,” she admits. “My mother was a Kappa, and I’ve always been curious as to what all the buzz was about.”

GM: “Beats me. It’s not like I’d get to join.” A beat. “Or want to.”

Caroline: “From the sounds of it, we might have gotten the better end of the deal.”

GM: “I’ll say.”

Caroline: “Anyway, you want to know what your sister is up to—for a number of reasons. I’m curious about the Kappas. So let’s figure this out. Next time she sneaks out.” Caroline digs a note card out of her bag along with a sharpie and starts writing. “Give me a call. I’ll see if I can’t tag along and see what she’s up to. Sound good?”

GM: Summer nods and tucks the card away. “Okay.”

Caroline: This is an experiment as much as anything else. How strongly does the Beast’s influence reign over the girl? How long? How will she remember this conversation?

“In the meantime, you should probably go make up with her. It doesn’t sound like she was trying to be a bitch to you tonight. At least not so much that it’s worth letting it ruin your night.”

GM: Summer glares. “Yeah, well, she sure didn’t succeed. I’m not gonna go crawling back. I’ll just sleep out here.”

Caroline: Caroline scans the sparse furniture. “It’s your room. Whether you go back tonight or in the morning doesn’t make that much of a difference, does it?”

GM: “I’ll go back after she’s gone to class,” Summer states stubbornly.

Caroline: The vampire shrugs. “Far be it for me to tell you what to do.” No doubt she views it as some kind of moral victory, denying her sister the knowledge that she’ll sleep in a comfortable bed rather than a chair.

Caroline smiles and rises. “I’ll leave you to it, though.”

GM: Summer gives another smile. “Thanks. Night.”

Caroline: Caroline does as she said and leaves the girl to her business. They’d never be friends even without the parallels to her brother, but something about Summer is unsettling beyond that. The resistance to her will that bent the minds of hardened killers. The opaque answers to questions. The thought of having somehow had some part in her sister’s illness. She’d thought perhaps to feed on the girl. A not-so-subtle warning. The thought makes her more than uncomfortable now.

This merits investigation.


Thursday night, 10 September 2015, AM

Caroline: Instead of feeding Summer, Caroline goes on the prowl. Tulane is a big place—13,000+ students. She’s sure she can find a victim that doesn’t make her skin crawl. Someone walking home alone. Someone looking for company. Someone up to no good. Be careful, o sinners, for it is not saints that walk beside you.

GM: Caroline cruises through the sleepy campus for some twenty minutes before her phone rings.

Caroline: She answers after determining which phone it is from among the pile.

GM: It’s the burner from Wright. A woman with a clipped voice informs Caroline which areas of the parish she is permitted to feed and which ones she is barred from. Many sections of Tulane’s campus and the choicest student bars are off limits. Caroline is allowed enough lassitude in her options not to starve, but the best, easiest feeding is clearly reserved for the sheriff and those Kindred to whom he’s granted greater hunting privileges.

Caroline: Caroline listens as location after location is stricken from her options. She says nothing. What is there to say? Clearly this is not a debate or discussion. It’s worse than she’d feared it would be. Ample selection, my ass, she growls internally. Still, anything on the campus, or near it, is better than the sleazy bars she’s hunted at for the last two nights.

She flashes back to men in cheap suits pawing at her. Grinding. Whispering the things they wanted to do. Their watery blood in her mouth. Empty. Tasteless. Like an alcoholic drinking rubbing alcohol. And just as caustic to the spirit. She thanks the woman when she’s finished and ends the call, adjusting her pattern as appropriate.

GM: The woman informs Caroline that “faithful and obedient service to your regent” will bring “commensurate rewards” before hanging up.

Caroline: “Yeah, in about fifty years.”

The words are said into empty space. One advantage of flip phones is you can be fairly certain you aren’t unknowingly chatting into the line. She puts the phone away and goes about her business, determined to make the most of a night that has already kicked her to her knees twice.

Frustration, humiliation, and anger aside, it makes a certain amount of sense. Mortal laws would find it almost impossible to contain her—or any other Kindred. If there weren’t someone enforcing order, there would be anarchy. It’s an argument she made well in political science classes in favor of the many U.S. foreign military interventions. It’s a shock of ice-cold water, though, to be at the bottom of the pyramid. It’s one thing to talk about a few eggs getting broken along the way, but it’s another matter entirely to be the one getting their desires crushed under jackbooted feet.

GM: “Bottom” seems all too apt a descriptor as Caroline prowls what fringes and scraps of Carrollton she is permitted to feed. Weekday nights don’t see as many drunken coeds cutting loose as on weekends (or at least not the areas Caroline is permitted to hunt), and she eventually settles on Cooter Brown’s, a sports bar named for the eponymous Confederate soldier who was too drunk to fight the Yankees. The reviews on Google call it a “classy dive bar.”

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Caroline: It’s not the kind of environment she’d ever go to willingly in life. Cheap plastic paneling outside. Tacky brightly colored tables out front. Wood paneling covered in logos, flags, and other knickknacks. TVs blaring everywhere. The entire scene makes her want to vomit some taste all over the place.

GM: Almost a score off TVs blare football down at working-class patrons sipping on beers and chowing raw oysters and pub grub. By some small mercy, she’s able to hook up with a stubble-faced, late 20-something man attending community college in addition to his main job as a truck driver. His hands move like snap dragons, repeatedly pinching and twisting her ass on their way to the bathroom.

Caroline: And look, over four hundred beers on tap. Caroline wants to gag. People with class drink liquor. The mighty have not only fallen—that would be too much a mercy. Instead they lie bleeding to death while the peasants drool and slobber over them.

Caroline can hardly wait to sink her fangs into the savage she’s with now. There’s a whisper as she draws im close. A fierce hunger he completely mistakes. At least the bathroom isn’t filthy this time. A small mercy. For him.

GM: The stubbly-faced man grunts and pants as he roughly half-kisses, half-drags her into a dingy bathroom with only one working lightbulb. Shadows loom large against the cracked tile walls. It’s more neglected than filthy.

“I’m gonna fuck your ass ’til you shit,” he grunts, all but tearing off her panties as he reaches under the hem of her black dress.

Caroline: A little closer… her height works for her here as he only bends down slightly to expose her, and so exposes himself to her. Rough fingers in intimate places. Sharper fangs find a more delicate place, perhaps more violently than is necessary. An inversion of roles. Penetration, pain, and yes some pleasure. But it’s she who is seeking a heady climax, ignoring his desires.

She draws deeply on him. So deeply. Sweet bliss rolls across her tongue and down her throat. The domination gets her off more than any physical pleasure. t’s taking out her frustrations. It’s reveling in the sudden power she has over him. It was degrading to get here. She rolled with pigs. But who’s on top now? She swallows another mouthful of precious blood.

You’re going to fuck me?

Her eyes roll and she takes more life from him. Brute. Savage. Peasant. Kine. Full expression of her darker impulses now. Is it the poison in her unholy blood, or the poison in every person’s soul that runs wild?

As his heart slows, the Beast urges her on. It’s close now. She need only lose herself in this moment. Finish off the kine. He means nothing, it shouts. It’s the silent roars within her that draw her away, that break the contact with a sloppy lick across the evidence. Euphoria fades with a moment of sobriety.

Her victim’s heavy breathing has his body laboring against what his mind knows not. She examines him with a critical would-have-been surgeon’s eye. Weakness setting in. Blood loss. The heart beating harder to maintain blood pressure as it tries to supply enough oxygen to the brain to keep him conscious. Muscles weaken from that same chemical element’s deprivation. The body prioritizes its resources. The man’s erection, clearly outlined against his jeans, fades with the blood that gave it life. The lightheaded man’s vision is probably blurring already.

GM: The part-time trucker, part-time student’s ass hits the tile floor with a flat thump as Caroline lets go of him. He blinks a few times, blurredly staring at the bathroom’s chipped wall. His mouth weakly moves. A whimper sounds. His pupils are dilated. It would be an exaggeration to say his face is white as a sheet, but not that great an exaggeration.

He slumps over sideways, his head dully konking against the bathroom’s trash bin. Drool leaks from his mouth.

Caroline: Caroline understands what is happening mechanically. The fascinating marvel of life fighting to stay alive. But that’s all this man is to her. A construct that fills a need. A cut-out in the shape she desires. Part of it makes her feel sick, but a rational part of her fights that. Better he than Aimee, or Gabriel, or even Westley. This is the life she has, and if this is the extent to which she may choose terms, so be it. That hard practical Malveaux streak that led them to power. She’d feel more guilty if she knew him, perhaps.

Which is why she doesn’t know him.

She collects her bag and underwear. The Kindred call these beings kine, but it’s simpler than that. It’s the same reason the tale of the Good Samaritan holds such awe. Because strangers are expendable to both Kindred and kine.

She doesn’t even speak as she leaves him dazed on the floor. She idly relieves him of his wallet to give him a pretext for the apparent attack. Short its cash, it goes into the trash on the way out.

As disposable as its owner.


Thursday night, 10 September 2015, AM

GM: The Sixth District Police Station is located several blocks away from the hustle and bustle of downtown. Perdido House and its surrounding skyscrapers still looms from the corner of Caroline’s vision, grim sentinels refusing to be ignored. The surrounding apartment buildings and fire station are at most three stories tall. The streets are wide, flat concrete expanses, providing ample space for the police cruisers and fire trucks to race downtown.

Little greenery is visible despite the wide space. Armored black police vehicles squat protectively around a prison-like brick building with a double glass door. A blue poster over the adjacent wall proclaims in yellow letters, We’re Hiring—joinNOPD.org.

No homeless people or street musicians wander these well-lit streets. But their calmness seems to stem more from cowed silence real tranquility. Hardly so much as a sound escapes the nearby apartments huddled together like battered wives. Two armored, masked police officers half-shove, half-drag a handcuffed black man up the police station’s steps. He’s bleeding profusely from his nose.

“What says black lives matter?” one guffaws, voice muffled beneath his visor.

“I dunno, what?”

“A six-pack of paper towels.”

The two cops laugh as they shove the groaning, half-conscious man towards the station doors.

Caroline: Caroline holds the door for them, a cruel smile on her face. Brutality, power, inequity… but not directed at her. Schadenfreude at its ugliest.

GM: “Thanks, miss,” one of the visored cops cheerfully grunts.

Caroline: Caroline lets them go forth before venturing into the office. She’s visited before on several occasions, including once for her father to receive an endorsement. She’s texted ahead and knows where to find Jessica.

GM: The police office remains busy well into the night. Phones ring, footsteps thump, and voices yammer. Caroline hears the name “Gettis” multiple times. It sounds as if everyone is talking about him. The receptionist asks Caroline her business and tells her to sign in. She finds Officer White typing into a computer at her desk. She may or may not be filing reports, but she’s no longer filing any of Richard Gettis’.

Jessica_White.jpg
Caroline: Caroline slips into the worn and stained, but not actually dirty plastic and cheap cloth chair across from Jessica.

“That looks exciting,” she murmurs, having caught the woman deeply in her work.

GM: The cubicles are low enough that Caroline can tell who’s working where at a glance and simply walk in. Jessica’s desk has two pictures of what look like parents and a boyfriend. She looks over at the Ventrue’s approach.

“Oh, hi, Caroline! What brings you here so late?”

Caroline: “It’s the funniest thing, I found myself wandering around the police station by complete chance and thought to visit you.”

The smile gives away the obvious lie, even if her tone doesn’t.

GM: “What a coincidence,” the young officer remarks in feigned surprise. “I’d offer you some coffee, but the stuff here is crap. I’ve been so busy lately they won’t even let me leave my desk long enough to get it.”

Caroline: Caroline shrugs. “I suspect I’ll survive without it. I, uh… was actually hoping you could help me out with something.”

GM: “What’s that?”

Caroline: “I need a medical examiner’s report.”

The words are casual, as though she’s asking for a glass of water.

GM: Her face falls. “For it that lawyer who didn’t make it? Caroline, you don’t… wanna put yourself through that. There’s nothing you could have done.”

Caroline remembers. Gettis swinging the man in front of him by his necktie. A human shied left to scream and flail and die as cops riddled his guts full of lead.

Caroline: The lawyer who didn’t make it. She’d almost forgotten about him, next to Sarah and Yvonne.

After all, he was the one death she wasn’t responsible for.

“No, it’s not his. I don’t actually know whose.” Caroline outlines what Neil told her about the girl.

GM: Jessica blinks at the description of the graphic murder.

“Caroline… why in God’s name do you want to follow up on this?”

Caroline: Caroline frowns as everyone continues to ask her that question at inopportune times.

“It’s for a project I’m working on, looking at the history of graphic violence during major events in the city,” she lies.

GM: Jessica pauses. “Well, uh, I can look into this. If you aren’t next-of-kin, you need to get permission from them and submit a request to the coroner’s office. I can take care of that second half, and look into who the girl is, but without consent from the parents you won’t be able to get your hands on anything.”

Unless she bribes the coroner, probably.

Caroline: “That would help, Jess,” Caroline nods.

She glances across the papers on the younger woman’s desk.

“Working on anything interesting?”

GM: “God,” she says. “Half of being a cop is just busywork. They say to treat every report like it could end up on the desk of the Supreme Court.”

“Ever since the shooting… it feels like that could actually happen.”

Caroline: “Miranda,” Caroline observes. There’s some truth to it. “Any news on the dinosaur?”

GM: “They’re hunting him like a dog,” says Jessica, shaking her head. “It’s all people are talking about these days. It’s all brass cares about these days. Bring in Richard Gettis. It’s all over the news what he did.”

“Drouillard normally leaves the commanders and deputy superintendents to run their own shows, but… it’s his head if the department doesn’t bring in Gettis, and everyone knows it. And if his head has to roll, he’s all but said going to make sure even more heads follow it.”

Caroline: “Unsurprising. He has those girls’ blood on his hands. If their families can’t get it from him, they’ll get it from somewhere.”

GM: “There’s been a lot of talk about them filing suit against the department.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “The department will be lucky to avoid that even if they quickly apprehend Gettis.”

A pause. “They still have no idea why he did it?”

GM: Jessica shakes her head. “None for sure. Lot of people are saying he was unstable. That he’d cracked years ago. He had no wife, no kids, no friends, literally nothing in his life besides his job.”

“I think there might be something to it. A lot of police work can be very ugly, especially homicide. It shows you the worst of humanity. If that’s the only thing in your life, day in and day out… I still can’t understand why he’d shoot two teenage girls, but I guess I can understand why it might have been easier for him to get… unmoored.”

Caroline: “He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster,” Caroline quotes soberly.

“But not you,” she says with a faint smile. “Officer White, here to protect and serve. You’re on the night shift now, right?”

GM: Jessica nods. “Third shift. 10 PM to 6 AM.”

Caroline: “Fun times.” She picks up the more foreign picture of the young man, off Jess’ desk. “This is new.”

GM: The man is of average height but powerful build, with brown hair, large glasses covering his hazel eyes, and a mustache and short beard. He wears casual black clothing.

“Oh, yeah. He’s a private investigator. Forbidden love.”

Caroline: “Look at you. Give me a ring when you get something?” she asks.

GM: “Get me some donuts. I’m supposed to like those now that I’m a cop.”

Caroline: Caroline laughs. “I’ll send you a care package with some coffee as well.”

GM: Jessica proclaims it an equitable exchange and wishes Caroline well.

Caroline: Caroline leaves the young officer to her work and exits through the front again. Talking to Jessia, like Neil, was… nice. Normal-feeling. All of that still on the heels of the shooting.

At least someone’s life hasn’t been ruined lately.


Thursday night, 10 September 2015, AM

Caroline: Caroline returns once more to her ‘home.’ The shattered furnishings and looted belongings are a cruel reminder of this life’s nature.

She briefly checks to see if Aimee has returned, then settles down. She has hours until the meeting, and little else to pursue, so she continues trying to salvage her old life.

GM: Aimee has not returned yet, but has sent a text.

Haven’t seen you all day. Or night. Everything ok?

Caroline: She fires back a text to Aimee, rather than calling so late, even as she wonders where she’s gone off to.

Long night. Will tell you tomorrow. Dinner somewhere close to home?

GM: Sure. How’s Sara’s? Aimee texts back.

The moderately-priced restaurant’s eclectic offerings include everything from French to Pho. Caroline has a sneaking suspicion that Aimee wants her to feel like she has control in her life again, even over something as minor as their choice of food.

Caroline: There’ll be more questions there that she has no good answers for. It reminds her of her promise to Marco, and how she has no idea how to deal with that matter either.

I can see why many Kindred… all of them that I’ve seen…. fake their deaths.

She texts back her agreement and sets a time not long after sundown.

GM: Caroline has also received a voice message from her father’s chief of staff, Caleb Gallagher. The mean old man says Senator Malveaux (not “your father”) wants to know how she got herself fired from the LSC, and what she’s going to do to rectify the situation. There are no inquiries as to her disappearance several nights ago.

At least Orson cared.

Caroline: She doesn’t bother trying to text her father’s decrepit bogeyman, and decides that although he’s likely still awake—the old man never seems to sleep—she doesn’t really want to call him either.

Well you see, Mr. Gallagher, I went and got myself turned into an unholy monster, and the work hours didn’t work for me anymore.

GM: Caroline also receives a call on her burner from a man with a rough-sounding voice who informs her that she owes a “boon” to Alexander Wright for the provided phone number. That sounds like a favor.

Caroline: The email to her father sits half-finished. She acknowledges the call stoically, almost emotionlessly. More problems to deal with later. It seems her dance card will be quite full even if she manages to survive long enough to pay off these favors.

She wants to chuck the burner, a source of nothing but frustration, into a fish tank. She settles for setting it down again on the marred table and goes back to the email. It’s full of the sort of general apologies and vague explanations designed entirely to put off an issue, complete with ‘discuss it in person next time you’re in town’ and all of that jazz. There just aren’t enough hours in the night for her.

She knows the old man will see the email. Knows it’ll piss him off that she went around him. Can’t bring herself to care.

GM: Hours in the day. Hours in the night, now.

Caroline: The thought of hours in the day stirs a thought for her going forward. But like many things, it’ll have to wait.

She resigns herself trying to dig her way out of the remains of her schoolwork. She sends off emails to her teachers, and another to Dean Abel citing severe emotional distress (the Gettis shooting provides a ready excuse) and asking that they “work with her” among other buzzwords.

She knows she can’t pull this off forever. Law school has attendance requirements, no matter how much slack her professors cut her.

Then again, with her powers, there may be other avenues available…


Thursday night, 10 September 2015, AM

GM: Uptown is an short drive away from Audubon Place. It’s a well-to-do part of town. 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.

Neighboring Broadmoor is another story. It’s just west of Central City, one of the poorest and highest-crime areas in the city, and some of the urban blight has rubbed off. Broadmoor is unfortunate enough to be stuck between rich and poor and was badly flooded during Katrina. There have been efforts to convert the old land into city parks, all of it over the protests of lower-income residents who will be displaced to Central City. The grind and crunch of construction machines are inaudible at this hour of night.

Caroline: It’s not exactly her neighborhood, but what about the last four days has echoed her life before all of this happened? She takes cool comfort in the fact that any would-be thug or mugger will get far more than he bargains for. It’s tempered only by the knowledge of the other monsters going bump in the night out there.

GM: “Monsters” is an apt term for the individuals Caroline spots.

The four large, well-muscled men have bald heads, swastika tattoos, and hard faces that look accustomed to cruelty. She’s not sure what they’re doing in a neighborhood like this. They strategically park their cars around Caroline’s vehicle and stride towards it. Moonlight gleams off metal studs and piercings.

One of them leans against the window of Caroline’s car. Two swastikas are tattooed on each side of his neck. SS lightning bolts decorate his knuckles. He looks like he could be in the Aryan Brotherhood.

“Tell me somethin’, girl,” he drawls, “you here at Regent McGinn’s invite?”

Caroline: Caroline looks between them. Too coincidental. Too how that they were waiting and happened to stop her. Warning bells sound in her head. Setup. A chill creeps down her spine.

“I rather imagine you’d know, if that were the case.” Her perfect Aryan features stare back at them. The talking one is probably a ghoul. “Something I can help you with?” she asks, rolling down the window.

GM: The skinhead leers, showing silver-filed teeth.

“Then you ain’t got no business bein’ here.”

Caroline: Caroline stares him in the eye. “Being here, as in, stopped in the center of the road, while going about my business, by you fine gentlemen.

She abruptly notices she’s all but stopped breathing, settling perfectly still.

GM: Two more tattooed skinheads lean against Caroline’s other door. The first offers a nasty smile.

“Who’s your landlord, girl?”

Caroline: “Do you often find Kindred in the habit of playing twenty questions with you?” the young Ventrue asks.

GM: The skinheads pulls open Caroline’s car door.

Caroline: Caroline puts force behind her words. The world seems to fade away beyond her. “Are you boys sure you want to ride this train?” There’s a Beretta pointed at his nuts.

GM: The first skinhead blinks, as if clearing his head from a spell, and grabs at Caroline’s gun. She smashes the butt over his hand. He curses, withdraws it, and pulls a knife. The others draw knives too, though Caroline spots guns on all of them.

“Lil’ girl shouldn’t be playin’ with toys,” the first skinhead admonishes with a grimace, flexing his injured hand.

Caroline: “And ghouls shouldn’t be intruding where they aren’t needed,” Caroline replies coolly. “I’m not invading Regent McGinn’s domain or poaching in it, though I’d be happy to pay call to him later to explain the specifics to him.

She looks from one skinhead to the next. “Is that satisfactory, or should I shoot the next one of you to try something foolish? You’ve made your master’s point. Now let the adults talk.”

GM: The first skinhead grins, displaying his silver teeth. Then steel stabs into the car in four hungry flashes. The Ventrue twists and thrashes in her seat like an eel. Attacking through a car is awkward, and provides few opportunities for the skinheads’ knives to find purchase. They shatter windows and shred seats, but Caroline herself remains unscathed.

Caroline: Caroline is a blur as the gun roars in her hand. Inside the car, the sharp crack of the 9mm would cause permanent hearing loss to a mortal. The hollowpoint rounds it spits out have the potential to cause much more harm.

GM: The bullet takes one of the skinheads in the shoulder, and he drops his knife with an agonized howl as the same bullets that killed John Lennon expand inside his wounds. His fellows barely pause in their assault. Knives hungrily rend at the fledgling Kindred’s flesh.

Caroline: The Beast roars in its cage as the blades cut vicious lines across her flesh. Blood runs freely. And yet… it cuts her focus razor sharp. The kine are so slow beside her. So careless. It’s as simple as lining up the gun’s barrel with their center mass and depressing the trigger. They may be rabid dogs… but she’s a wolf.

GM: Caroline squeezes off three shots at the skinhead coming at the adjacent passenger door. The first shot takes him in the hip. He falls to one knee, screaming, luscious red spurting from the wound. The second shot takes him in the chest. He topples over like a bowling pin. The third shot takes him square in the jugular. With the hollow point rounds, there isn’t much left of him after that, but there is enough for one of the other skinhead to slip over his fallen companion’s spattered gray matter. Two more shots to the head and down he goes too, his head reduced to an equally unrecognizable ruin.

Caroline: It’s easier than it ever was at the range. Point and shoot. Ride the recoil. She moves faster and faster. They’re standing still. More shots ring out. The two remaining enter her sights. Their knives rise. She depresses the trigger. Not pulls. Squeezes.

GM: Cause and effect. That’s all the Beast sees. Squeeze. Boom. Gore showers the ground. The last remaining skinhead turns and flees. He pulls out a phone and yells into it. The Beast cares not what he says. Cause and effect. Squeeze. Boom.

The man’s corpse tumbles to the ground head-first, his back riddled with bullets, his tattoos ruined beyond recognition.

Caroline: Caroline breathes for the first time since the knives came out. Her clothing is in ruins. Her car is brutally wrecked. She’s surrounded by corpses… and she doesn’t feel bad about it.

Poison, Lou’s voice whispers, even as a rational part of her mind argues back that it was self-defense. But is that the Beast talking, or the girl?


Thursday night, 10 September 2015, AM

GM: “Well, well, well,” sounds a man’s lazy Southern drawl. He casually flips off the phone emitting garbled shrieks. He sets it down and lights a fat cigar. The flame does not seem to bother him as he takes a puff.

“Seems we found ourselves a new project, darlin’.”

Adelais: The harpy gently places the wine glass down, a faint smile forming on her ruby lips.

“I hope they realize what they have gotten themselves into; it makes it all the more fun watching them try to beg themselves out.”


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Story Three, Emmett IX

“Justice’s wheels turn so much faster when they’re greased with money.”
Bert Villars


Friday morning, 11 September 2015

GM: The days drag by. Villars spends the next few going over his client’s legal options.

There aren’t many.

First, Emmett can take a plea bargain. In return for pleading guilty, there will be no trial and some of the charges he’s facing will be dropped, resulting in a reduced sentence. 90% of all criminal cases are resolved this way. It saves money for the state and legal clients alike.

Villars will do his best to haggle for Em’s sentence(s) taking some form other than consecutive jail time. If Em is in jail for longer than a week, after all, he won’t be able to pay off Bud. Alternative sentences can include fines, probation, community service, or part-time (weekends only) imprisonment.

Em’s second option is to go to trial. If he wins, he could get more charges dropped. If he loses, he will receive a less forgiving sentence—which is very likely to include consecutive jail time.

Win or lose, a trial could be months away, and Em’s judge could be pissed enough (the state hates unnecessary trials) to hold him in Orleans Parish Prison without bail. He will also owe Villars thousands of dollars more in legal fees. Villars does not trust Em to repay any further debts and requires that he tender the monies up front. Whether Em obtains them through another loan from Bud, conning or begging his parents, or GoFundMe donations makes no difference the grimebag lawyer.

An additional con to going to trial is that Cash Money will be called to court—and see Em’s face again. Corrupt cops, Villars adds, hate going to court.

All things told, the mostly-blind lawyer advises his client to take a plea bargain. If Em wishes to go to trial, however, Villars is happy to let the newly-crippled grifter dig his own grave—so long as he gets paid.

Emmett: Em takes no persuading. Persuading is for people who can afford not to buy. He just nods his head. It’s the only part of him that doesn’t hurt anymore.

GM: “By the way. My further legal advice is for you to get your arms cut off,” Villars states upon hearing Em’s suggestion that he try to strike a deal with Cash Money.

“I’m quite serious. You’ve already shown so much more common sense after losing two of your limbs.” Villars leers. “Who can imagine what losing all four might do for you?”

Emmett: Em says nothing. “I just want to make this go away as fast as possible.” His hands shake, and he winces from the pain. “Please. You make the choice.”

GM: “You just leave it in my hands,” Villars states with another yellow leer.

He scratches his dog’s ears. “They have you on several gross misdemeanors, but no felonies. Your sentencing can probably take place concurrently with your arraignment. The state doesn’t want to spend any more money on this than they have to.”

The grimebag lawyer’s leer spreads like a piss stain over tile.

“Justice’s wheels turn so much faster when they’re greased with money.”

Emmett: Em says nothing. He just thinks a number, over and over and over. The number Bud whispered to him with a little girl on his lap. Ten thousand dollars. That was the number he had sold his sister’s life for. He wondered if they included little Noah and Maya in their definition of “family.” The last time he had seen them, he had given them toys he stole from his local store.

He breathes the number, hears it in the pauses of Villars’ monologue and sees it in the slits in his snake’s grin. He didn’t know what he was trading away. He didn’t know who he was on the phone with. The excuses are plenty. His idiocy has never scared him. He isn’t scared of going to the funerals. Or, at least, he’s not scared of that right now.

He’s scared that he might make the same deal if he knew what was on the other end.


Sunday morning, 13 September 2015

GM: Three days after Emmett’s arrest, he is due for his arraignment. Dr. Brown still finds him medically unfit to be transported to court, so the legal proceedings are held inside his hospital room.

Stout chairs and thick wooden desks are brought inside by hospital staff. Bert Villars and four strangers dressed in full legal regalia file into Em’s room. There’s an older, gray-mustached man in a dark suit. A younger, clean-shaven man in another dark suit with a tape recorder. A square-jawed, balding man in a tan police officer’s uniform. Last is a stern-looking, white-haired woman dressed in a judge’s voluminous black gown. She peers down her half-rimmed glasses at the crippled young man with a disapproving eye as she assumes her seat.

Payto.jpg The suited young man, who looks like he could be around Emmett’s age, hits the recorder and announces, “The Honorable Payton T. Underwood presiding. The case of Louisiana vs. Delacroix; Criminal Action 09-10017 will now be heard before this court. Counsel please identify themselves for the record.”

“Please be seated,” the judge pronounces.

All of the attendant individuals do so except for the older suited man.

“Good morning, Your Honor, for the assistant district attorney, Maxwell F. Hammond.”

“Good morning.”

The man seats himself. Villars rises and states, “Good morning, Your Honor, Bertram S. Villars representing the defendant, Mr. Delacroix.”

The judge regards the puffed-up grimebag lawyer. “Mr. Villars, do you waive the reading of the indictment in its entirety?”

“I do, Your Honor.”

The judge turns her severe stare upon the still-bedridden, gown-clad, and legless Emmett. “Mr. Delacroix, you have been charged in indictment with violations of the law for the United States, specifically assaulting a public officer, soliciting prostitution, false impersonation, drug possession, and obstruction of justice.”

Her half-rimmed gaze sweeps back to the cripple’s lawyer. “Mr. Villars, have you had an opportunity to at least preliminary review the indictment with your client such that he is ready to be arraigned?”

“Yes, Your Honor.”

“Does he have or has he received a copy of the indictment?”

“Yes, Your Honor.”

“Mr. Hammond, please state the maximum punishments.”

“Certainly, Your Honor,” the older suited man replies. “Count one, assault…”

The prosecuting attorney lists the maximum sentences for all the charges in their entirety. Non-aggravated assault can carry a penalty of up to 90 days in jail, a fine of up to two hundred dollars, and financial restitution to the victim.

Soliciting prostitution can be fined not more than five hundred dollars, imprisonment for not more than six months, or both.

False impersonation can be fined not more than one hundred dollars, or imprisonment for not more than 90 days, or both.

Drug possession can be fined not more than five thousand dollars, or imprisonment for not more than ten years, or both.

Obstruction of justice for lesser criminal proceedings (that is, involving a criminal proceeding in which a sentence of imprisonment less than a life sentence may be imposed) can be fined not more then ten thousand dollars, or imprisonment for not more than five years, or both.

“…as to Counts 1 charging you with assault in violation of RS 14:35; Counts 2 charging you with soliciting prostitution in violation of RS 14:83; Counts 3 charging you with false impersonation in violation of RS 14:1112; Counts 4 charging you with drug possession in violation of RS 40:966; and Counts 5 charging you with obstruction of justice in violation of RS 14:130.1; how do you plead, guilty or not guilty?”

The prosecuting ADA finally stares directly at Emmett.

Emmett: His voice is every bit as enduring and reliable as a tin can. “Guilty, Your Honor.”

GM: Almost everyone in the ‘courtroom’ gives the young man a condescending look. “‘Your Honor’ is the term of address used for judges, Mr. Delacroix,” the prosecutor states thinly.

The judge’s gaze sweeps to the clerk with the tape recorder. “Mr. Thaddeux, can we have a date please?”

True to Villars’ promise, justice’s money-greased wheels speedily grind on. Em isn’t required to speak for any of it. Just the guilty plea. That’s all they want to hear from him.

“Guilty.”

Guilty they find him, of the following charges: assault, drug possession, and soliciting prostitution. Villars gets the false impersonation and obstruction of justice charges dropped as part of the plea deal. Judge Underwood sentences him to the following:

For assaulting a police offer, he is fined $200 and sentenced to 90 days in jail. Emmett will also have to pay an additional restitution of $200 to Ricky Mouton.

For soliciting prostitution, he is fined $500 and sentenced to another 90 days of jail time.

For drug possession, he is fined $5,000 and sentenced to yet another 90 days in jail.

Villars has managed to wrangle one precious concession: Emmett is to serve a nonconsecutive sentence on weekends, which means he will “only” lose two or three years of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings. He is also to be assigned a probation officer, and is effectively on parole when he is not in jail. He will be subject to random searches and drug tests, paid for him by him.

Additionally, all persons who are convicted of the offense of prostitution are referred to the parish health unit for counseling concerning Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. The counseling will be provided by existing staff of the parish health unit whose duties include such counseling. Emmett will pay for that as well.

“…as part of your plea in mitigation, you have forfeited the right to appeal any and all aspects of this judgment and conviction,” the judge pronounces with a final stern look for the despondent cripple.

“We are adjourned.”

Emmett: And all the men and women in suits get to go home, and Em stays. They walk, and Em sits.

They go home to their families, and Em cries.


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Story Three, Caroline X

“I have bled. Rivers of blood. Rivers of tears. But I can’t see how to atone.”
Caroline Malveaux


Tuesday night, 8 September 2015, AM

Caroline: She has little time to think further on Lou. The investigator is still out there, and this room’s security is obviously in question. She needs to clean it up and move on. Tonight.

She heads into the hall after Lou has left and seeks out a supply closet, hoping to find one unlocked. At last, something her law background gives her some standing in. Evidence handling is something she’s familiar enough with… and by extension, mishandling and destroying. She wants to leave no trace here. Still, it’s rough going for a spoiled girl not accustomed to vacuuming her own floors, much less scrubbing.

GM: Indeed, while Caroline’s legal eye informs and guides her handiwork, much of her task consists simply of putting her hands to work. Rubber cleaning gloves she’s never had to wear feel strange against her skin. She starts by scrubbing the walls with a wet sponge, wringing it into a bucket, and dumping the red-hued water into her room’s toilet.

Much of Paxton’s blood is dry this long after his death. Caroline has to spray the walls with bleach (a smell she’s rarely inhaled) and methodically scrub the red off. She’s not sure what the hotel walls are made of, but it’s harder going than scrubbing the bathroom’s tile floor. Perhaps gratingly, she finds this is easiest to do on her literal hands and knees.

The real bitch is the carpet. Caroline scrubs and scrubs, but once that stuff is in there, it’s in there. The dull, dark stain seems immune to attempts to completely expunge it. She eventually hits upon the idea of ordering room service and spilling food and drink everywhere to cover up the old mess under a new mess.

Caroline: First, of course, she douses the bloodstains with bleach to damage any forensic evidence. To make it look good, she chokes down the room service, only to vomit it up almost immediately.

GM: Caroline regurgitates the food the moment it touches her stomach. The taste is beyond foul. Like choking down congealed bleach. The refused meals do not even have time to decompose in her stomach acids, which upon further reflection, Caroline imagines her body has likely ceased producing. She works with what she can. Ice cream with chocolate sauce in particular leaves a bitch of a stain.

Caroline: It’s another thoroughly horrible experience. Wine stains go everywhere. Chewed and vomited food comes up over walls, carpet, and furnishings. She knocks over the TV set and tears up the furniture and sundry too. She trashes the room like a spoiled movie star whose name starts with Russell and ends in Crowe. All that’s missing is a beaten employee.

Outside of the physical unpleasantness is the shame of it all. A Malveaux should do better. Still, she leaves the coup de grâce in the form of a lipstick message across the flatscreen:

Sorry for the mess :)

GM: She doubts this is the first time the staff has had to clean up such a disgraceful mess from spoiled wealthy guests, but there’s a certain ingenuity to hiding one offense behind another. There are worse penalties for murder than a lifetime ban from the Hilton.

Caroline: Not that she expects to get banned. The card isn’t in her name, after all.

GM: Besides, her brother Westley has likely done worse.

Caroline: This week, even.

GM: No, Caroline supposes after a moment. No, he likely hasn’t.

Caroline: With that sobering thought, she leaves the keys in the room and exits with her belongings. Nowhere is really safe, but one place will do for one day. She heads home.

It’s late—or early, depending on one’s perspective—and she’s sure she can find a space to hide where she won’t be bothered. Maybe the attic. She leaves a note for Aimee that she’ll be back that evening, then finds a crawlspace. It’s been another long night…


Tuesday evening, 8 September 2015

Caroline: As always, Caroline does not sleep. She does not dream. She closes her eyes, then opens them. A second, a day, a year, or a decade might have passed. The attic in which she’s found shelter is brutally hot. For a moment, there’s a feeling of being trapped in an oven. Images flash before her of flickering lighters and burning pyres. The panic passes after a moment of thrashing against the dark and she simply lays there. The lack of rest is mentally exhausting.

No wonder they’re all so cranky, she muses bitterly.

Caroline makes her way to the drop-down staircase leading into the house proper. The blast of cold air when she drops the stairs is like a wave from heaven against the heat. It’s a small matter to make it to her room without being seen by her roommate. The shower that follows is merciful. It can’t wash away sweat, but it gets grime, blood, and fatigue. It’s a simple human experience—or close to it. A fresh start. A moment to clear her head.

She’s not surprised, though, when she finds Aimee sitting on her bed as she emerges from the master bath in a towel.

GM: The shorter woman sits on the bed’s corner with her arms crossed, wearing a simple t-shirt and pair of sweats for pajamas. Her previous look of relief at being rescued from Orson’s clutches has given way to one of confusion, hurt, and just a bit of anger.

“Where the hell were you?”

Caroline: “You don’t even want to know.” Caroline rubs a towel against her hair. “That last night of Decadence kicked over a hornet’s nest, even before the archbishop was involved. I’ve been trying to stifle the response. I’m glad you made it home all right, though. No further threats from the archbishop, I presume?”

GM: Aimee blinks for a moment. “No, thank God, there haven’t been. And yeah, I do. I really do. You just disappear, get all your family worrying, and your uncle… God, Caroline, do you even know what that… what he tried to do? All because you went missing?”

Caroline: Caroline raises her voice over Aimee’s. “What do you think happened when I went missing that night?” Her words are hard, cold. “We got separated, I lost my phone, and you must have seen how ugly the crowds got. They were worried? You were worried? You were right to be.”

The pain, sorrow, and anger are not forced in Caroline’s voice.

GM: “Well… what happened?” Aimee still hasn’t uncrossed her arms, but her face softens a bit.

Caroline: Caroline lowers her voice, sitting down on the bed next to the brown-haired girl. She heaves a sigh and looks away.

“Someone attacked me. Multiple someone’s. Dragged me into an alley…” She lets the other girl’s imagination take over.

“When I came around later I needed time to think. Needed time away from everything. I’m sorry.”

GM: Aimee looks horrified. “Caroline… oh my god…”

Caroline: Caroline’s face is a mask of grief, true to the words she’s spoken, and even those unspoken. Her voice chokes. “I didn’t… I’m sorry it turned into such a disaster for you. I didn’t mean to worry you, I just had to go.”

GM: Aimee pulls her roommate into a hug. “No, no, no… Caroline, you don’t have anything to be sorry for. Anything.”

Caroline: Caroline accepts the embrace, her voice half a sob. “I know… threatened you… won’t do it again…”

And really, it feels good to cry. To have someone forgive her. To have someone tell her it isn’t her fault with no judgment in their tone. Lou was one thing, the first voice in the night that wasn’t accompanied by a boot on the back of her head, grinding her face in the mud. But even he was… guarded. Judgmental. Foreign.

GM: Distantly, Caroline can hear Aimee murmuring words of comfort and reassurance, all the sorts of things one is supposed to say.

Far more audible than the other girl’s words, however, is the beating of her heart. That steady thump-thump-thump, pushing the blood through her veins. Rich and hot.

Aimee says something about how it wasn’t Caroline’s fault, it wasn’t anyone’s fault, except the man who did this.

She smells just right, too. Not like that kid in the leather jacket, but the jock right after him. Her grief, her sympathy, Caroline’s Beast could just drink it up, it’s all so sweet, like a caramel glaze over rich juicy meat.

Who was he? Could she tell? They could report this. It wouldn’t get ignored, not from someone like her. Caroline’s family could hire investigators, they could destroy this guy…

Thump thump. Thump thump. Thump thump.

The Beast laughs in Caroline’s head. This foolish kine, hugging her, lavishing her with sympathy. It’s like a sheep placing its neck right in the wolf’s mouth. She’s close enough to bite, she wouldn’t even notice…

Caroline: Caroline shoves her Beast down. She is not feeding on anyone she knows. Some monsters are worse than others, and that’s a line she won’t cross. Not tonight.

GM: Suddenly, Aimee gives a cry of alarm and pushes Caroline back. The Beast screams too, at the denial of its meal.

“Oh my god, you’re BLEEDING!”

Caroline: “What?” Caroline doesn’t see any wounds… despite a dozen wounds in the last nights that might have killed or maimed her only days ago, her body feels hale… until one hand finds her face, wet and damp. She knows even before she pulls her hand away. She buries her face in the cast-off towel she used to dry her hair.

GM: She smells before her hand ever touches her face. She could smell that coppery tang a million miles away.

“Stay there, I’ll call 911!” Aimee exclaims, grabbing her phone.

Caroline: “No,” Caroline calls, wiping her face. “It’s not blood.”

GM: “What?” Aimee answers, pausing as she frowns. “Caroline, that’s definitely blood. It even smells like it.”

Caroline: Inside she’s crying, but outwardly she’s struggling to end the waterworks. She can’t even share this? A moment of vulnerability?

“It’s… " Caroline blinks away tears. “Fine, Aimee…. just… don’t call 911. I’m fine.”

How the hell does she even begin to explain haemolacria?

GM: “No, it’s not fine,” Aimee repeats. “You’re bleeding. From your face. Oh god, was that also from…?”

Caroline: Caroline finishes wiping her face, the wet towel helping. She looks up. “Look, no bleeding. I’m okay. Really.” She sighs. “It’s complicated, but I’m okay.”

GM: “Okay… how complicated?” Aimee asks, slowly, as she she sees no further bleeding. “Is it new since Decadence?”

Caroline: Caroline really doesn’t want to lie to her, but this one secret that is too dangerous to let out casually.

“Sort of. It’s a family thing. Hormonal. Goes way back to my great-great-something. Worse now because of…”

She wipes her face again. It’s a barely plausible lie.

GM: “I’m sorry, Caroline. I’m not a doctor, but bleeding from your eyes is something you should really get looked at.” Aimee dials 911 into her phone. “Hi, emergency services?”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t really mean to move that quickly, but this is rapidly spinning out of control, and she doesn’t have time to deal with a concerned EMT. She snatches the phone out of Aimee’s hands in a blur too fast to even follow.

GM: Caroline effortlessly grabs the phone out of her roommate’s seemingly butter-coated hands. Are all mortals really this frail?

Aimee looks down at her hands, then looks at Caroline. The confused look on her face gets even more confused.

“Hello? Ma’am?” sounds a muted voice from the phone." Ma’am, are you still with us?"

Caroline: “Yeah. I like, stubbed my toe. I think I broke it. Do you think I should like, see a doctor? It really hurts,” Caroline replies into the phone.

Her glare towards Aimee is far more serious than her flippant respond to the operator. She mouths words that look suspiciously like ‘are you kidding me?’ to the other girl.

GM: “You stubbed your toe,” the operator responds, in an ’I’m really trying to stay professional here’ tone. After asking Caroline a few basic questions, she replies, “It sounds like you’ll be fine, ma’am. Call us back if it gets any worse.” The line clicks off.

Aimee wrestles with Caroline for the phone.

Caroline: Caroline fails to relinquish it. “What the hell, Aimee? 911? Really? Am I bleeding out on the floor?”

GM: “Not now, you’re not,” Aimee retorts. “That was a crazy amount of blood, and we don’t even know you’re bleeding! And how did you move like that?”

Caroline: “Like what?” Caroline asks.

GM: “That fast. You just… grabbed it from my hand.”

Caroline: “I’m secretly the Flash. From that campy TV show you watch,” Caroline retorts. “Now you know my secret identify.”

GM: “Well, the Flash doesn’t bleed from his eyes,” Aimee retorts back.

Caroline: Caroline shrugs after a moment and stands up. “Adrenaline, probably. It’s been…” Another sigh as she throws the phone on the bed. “…a long week. I’m just a little on edge.” She sits down again.

GM: Aimee sits next to her. “Caroline, I just want to help. You should see a doctor anyways, after…”

Caroline: “I will. Later. It’s not serious, Aimee. Trust me. I know something about it.”

It’s not a lie, really. She will see a doctor later.

“I know you were trying to help. I’m sorry I overreacted, I just—you don’t know how my family is. Orson in particular.” She looks at Aimee sideways. “Or maybe you sort of do.”

“I had to make a lot of promises. Give a great many assurances just to get him to let us walk out. Things like ‘nothing happened when we went out last night.’ The last thing I need is for him to have another reason to go sniffing around. As it stands, he still wanted to send us to a convent, and was prepared to go to… extreme lengths to see it done.”

GM: Aimee grows quieter at the mention of Caroline’s uncle. She bites her lip.

“Well… okay,” Aimee says at length. “But see a doctor sooner rather than later, okay? I mean, there might be STDs, or… god forbid, you end up pregnant.”

Now that Aimee mentions it, can she even get pregnant now?

Caroline: “I know.” Caroline is very quiet. She suspects she knows the answer to that question.

GM: “I can come with you, if you want. You know I won’t say anything…” Aimee offers.

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “I just need to work it out on my own.” She looks at Aimee. “But I will work it out. There’s just…. a lot that needs to be done.”

She lays her head on her roommate’s shoulder. “You’re the only one, Aimee. The only one that knows anything. As far as everyone else is concerned, I just made some bad decisions, ran off, drank too much. You made it home all right the other night?”

GM: Aimee nods in response and gives her shoulder a squeeze. “Yeah. My… memory’s kinda hazy, but there was a lot going on.”

Caroline: Caroline nods, hand still resting in Aimee’s shoulder. “That’s one easy of saying it.”

She sits up after a moment. “I’m going to be in and out for a few days. I need a bit more time… just away from everything. Cover for me in class?”

GM: Aimee nods in turn. “Yeah, I can talk to our professors… but, uh, you should probably call your job yourself. I don’t know how understanding they’re going to be.”

Caroline: She nods. “I’ll take care of them. Thank you, Aimee.”

She stands up. “I should get dressed. Things to do. I picked up a new phone, so you can reach me there if you need me. If I don’t answer right away, I’ll try to get back to you working the day.”

GM: “Don’t you think it’s… a little late?” Aimee frowns. “Whatever you wanna do, it’ll probably still be around in the morning.”

Caroline: That’s the problem, Caroline thinks.

“I have to meet with some people. They aren’t available during the day. I’ll be lucky if I can catch them in tonight. It’s okay. I slept most of the day… I don’t like sleeping in the dark…”

GM: “Well… I’ll be up for a few more hours doing homework and watching Webflix. Nothing that important, though. Would you feel better having me along?” After all, Caroline might be scared to meet people alone after what she’s been through.

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “Family matters. It’s better if you’re at arm’s length… for now. Having you here for me is enough tonight.” She puts on a weak smile.

GM: Aimee nods and gives Caroline a farewell hug. “Well, okay. Call me if you need anything?”

Caroline: “Of course.”

Once Aimee is gone she stands, starting to slip her mask back on. Lots of confession of late. Crying on shoulders. Honesty. Weakness. It won’t really do the rest of the night. Self-pity is easy, and also probably fatal around Kindred.

Once more dear friends, once more.

She moves to her walk-in closet, walking down racks of expensive clothing. What armor to wear tonight?


Tuesday evening, 8 September 2015

Caroline: She waits until she’s in the car—her car—to call Wright. A bag sits across the back seat. It’s loaded with implements that might be useful. She was caught unarmed and almost unaware last night. Not again.

She punches send as the sleek sports car rolls through the night.

GM: “What you got t’ report?” the hound asks without preamble.

Caroline: “My efforts to locate René continue, subject to the limitations imposed upon me. Checking in.”

GM: “‘Continue’ as in how, girl? That code for jack squat?” Wright asks.

Caroline: Caroline bites back a sharp retort about helping break a bunch of thugs out of police custody, among other things.

“I have a potential lead on someone else witness to the night’s events. I’ve also brought in a third party ghoul, as you suggested, to gain the lay of the land.”

GM: “Specifics, girl. Who’s. When’s. Where’s. Don’ make dig this out. If you fuck up we still got to bring your sire in.”

Caroline: “Mystery skullfucker would be rapist murderer, who likely picked up another victim after René ran him off. I have a lead on who that victim may have been, but need to follow up with the medical examiner. It’s a long shot, but a possibility. Best lead I have, unless the ghoul, an investigator Malveaux mentioned, finds something. To go further in any case though, I need to speak with Donovan.”

GM: Wright questions Caroline for some further length about this ‘mystery skullfucker,’ which sounds like news to him.

“…huh,” the hound finishes. “Leave no fuckin’ stone unturned, I guess. Follow up on that. It don’t work by tomorrow, try somethin’ new.”

Caroline: News to him indeed… given they asked almost no questions earlier. Caroline cannot help but notice the change from his apathy a night ago. Pressure from above? Because she rocked the boat?

GM: “Oh, and when you talk about my boss, dumbfuck? You call him Sheriff Donovan. Thas’ your nightly dumbfuck tip on how to be less of a dumbfuck. You’re welcome.”

Caroline: “Much obliged. All the same, it stands. Likely the lord of the French Quarter as well, before I dance all over his domain.”

GM: “You ain’t talkin’ shit with Savoy,” Wright declares, his tone final. “Christ, girl. Do not let the sheriff hear you floatin’ that idea either.”

Caroline: “So no investigating the crime scene then?” Caroline asks. “Perhaps Sheriff Donovan can issue a dispensation then, so I can wander through the French Quarter on my business?”

She shivers a bit as she continues to talk about the steel-eyed man.

GM: “What did I just fuckin’ say?” Wright snaps. “Christ in a motherfuckin’ sundress, girl, you toss that kind of oh but but but,” and here Wright sarcastically raises his voice to a whiny girlish pitch, “attitude ‘round the elders, you are gonna fuckin’ get it.”

Caroline: Caroline bites back a rather nasty comment involving a racial slur. Silence reigns on the line.

GM: Wright hangs up.

Caroline: She scowls and re-dials his number.

GM: “You’re welcome for not smackin’ you around for that too, dumbfuck,” Wright says without preamble. “You want me to shut my mouth, let you run yours ‘round the licks who won’t be so nice?”

Caroline: “You’re going to cut off my head if I don’t find and overcome a powerful Kindred on my own.” Caroline’s tone is flat. “And quickly. No one could be bothered to explain even hunting restrictions until I wandered into a street fight with four other Kindred. You’re suggesting disrespect in place of ignorance.”

She bites her lip. “But I do appreciate your corrections. All the same, if it’s suffering for lake of manners or death for lack of production, you understand it is an easy choice.” Silence for a moment. “Will you set up a meeting with Sheriff Donovan? Or at least tell me how to?”

GM: “Okay,” says Wright. “Since you asked so nice. No, I won’t. He’ll just say no to you explorin’ the Quarter, an’ I ain’t gonna waste his time askin’.”

Caroline: “And what about his domain?”

GM: “‘His domain’ what?”

Caroline: “I understand it’s polite to ask before you wander around it.”

GM: “Girl, what the fuck are you talkin’ about? You are not still askin’ about the Quarter.”

Caroline: “No, I’m talking about Riverbend.”

GM: “Dafuck? Girl, I am not a fuckin’ mind-reader. You are talking what about Riverbend?”

Caroline: “It’s Sheriff Donovan’s domain, right? It’s polite, then, not to wander around it without permission. Or so I’m told.”

GM: “Yeah, Riverbend his turf.”

Caroline: “I want to ask him for permission.”

Wright, infuriating as he is, is not what is causing her to flush. That blood he made her drink… she blinks it away.

GM: “What bid’ness you got in Riverbend?”

Caroline: “Mortal allies. Family. Resources. Potential witnesses.”

GM: “This is like pullin’ fuckin’ teeth. Specifics, girl. Who’s an’ when’s an’ why’s.”

Caroline: “My uncle, the archbishop. My mortal home. Doctors, medical examiners. School connections. Victims I have to follow up with, per Malveaux.”

GM: “An’ how long are you askin’ for permission for?”

Caroline: “Sorry, I was trying not to waste your time. Yesterday you seemed disinterested.”

Dangerous, that, but a potential in.

“Days? I don’t know. More if I capture René. Most of my ties are here. However long I have.”

A task becoming more difficult all the time. No French Quarter. That makes things easy.

GM: “I’ll call you back. You stay out of Riverbend ’til then.” Wright hangs up.

Caroline: “Where the fuck am I supposed to go?” she rages at the empty line, snapping phone down in the passenger seat.

The car continues to roll under her, but she turns towards downtown obediently. Presumably they won’t fault her if she literally is driving through. On reflection, who is she kidding? They’ll blame her for whatever the hell they want.

She looks back at the bag behind her seat. Then shakes her head. Not yet.


Tuesday evening, 8 September 2015

GM: Caroline goes hunting at the Victory, a higher-end cocktail bar with a red-walled, vaguely Middle Eastern or Indian-themed lounge. The Buddha’s image serenely stares down at Caroline as she nuzzles against the neck of a yuppie businessman. His blood tastes flat and sour over her tongue, but there aren’t many college students… and after quaffing enough from him and several of his friends, it’s still enough to satisfy.

“God, you’re such a sexy slut,” one of the men purrs, slipping a hand up her panties.

Caroline: She’s never felt like more of a whore than as she passes from one skeezy businessman to the next, seeking release from the Beast’s desire. A sip here, a hand on her ass. A sip there, a man reaching under her skirt. And no satisfaction for all of it. She moves from one to the next, seeking release with no satisfaction to be found.

When she finally moves on, she feels like she needs a shower again. Thin sour blood pitifully courses through her. Still, it’s something. The Beast stirs, calling her back to Aimee’s sweet-smelling skin. She ignores its whispers as best she can.


Tuesday night, 8 September 2015, PM

GM: “Donovan says you’re meetin’ with his herald,” Wright states over the phone. He gives Caroline an address in Riverbend, then hangs up.

It’s in Audubon Place. Same neighborhood she lives.

Caroline: Caroline can’t put distance between herself and the Victory quickly enough. She navigates through familiar streets to the meeting.

GM: After driving through the same walled perimeter patrolled by Blackwatch mercs and their snarling attack dogs, Caroline pulls up to an expensive-looking, three-story house with a wide driveway and impeccably maintained yard with several neat rows of trees and flowerbeds. A Porsche and BMW sit in front of the house.

Unsmiling guards see Caroline in. The house’s style of interior decor is decidedly minimalist, with almost no art or decorations to speak of save a few bland photographs of still landscapes that would get an “A” in photography class for meeting the teacher’s grading requirements, and nothing else. Not so much as a smudge of dirt or creased rug is present in the house. There are no scattered clothes or electronic devices, no dirty dishes, no sign it’s actually lived in. There are no signs of co-habitation by a spouse, kids, or even pets, despite how large it is. It feels more like a model house than a lived-in home. Indeed, for all the dwelling’s well-to-do-ness, its architecture is almost offensively generic, the same McMansion style copied in hundreds of wealthy suburbias throughout the country. The house feels as if it lacks a soul.

The guards escort her to a spartan office room with a desk, three chairs (one behind the desk, two in front) and absolutely nothing else, save the computer, phone, and papers on the desk. Donovan sits behind it, his fingers steepled.

No. It isn’t Donovan.

It looks like him at first, but 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 has squashed Donovan down with a trash compactor. He possesses completely different facial features and is obviously not the same man. The entire mimicry false, hollow, incomplete. It’s as if someone tried to build a Donovan duplicate and simply gave up halfway through.

pic.png
Most telling of all are the eyes. Where the sheriff’s gaze is alternately stormy and frigid, like an upset Arctic sea, the mimic’s is simply… empty. Like staring into a starless void. Gray eyes, which Caroline is instantly sure are only gray like Donovan’s because of contact lenses, regard the Ventrue unblinkingly. Even the windows to his soul are fake.

“Explain the nature of your request for right of passage within Regent Donovan’s domain, Miss Malveaux,” the mimic states. His voice is a flat, unwavering monotone. Caroline hears a heartbeat pumping from his chest.

Caroline: The entire effect is… eerie, and despite herself, the shorter man is unnerving to her.

She gathers herself after a second. She repeats much of what she told Wright, regarding her connections within the area, including her home, mortal allies, and connections to Tulane.

“In addition to travel, I would beg the right to make my ‘haven’ within the region. As to the other why, it seems inappropriate to reach out to others extensively given my undetermined fate and lack of knowledge, but none could impugn upon any manner of relationship with Sheriff Donovan anything but propriety. Or, perhaps spoken more simply, I have every reason to trust in Sheriff Donovan’s propriety in such a relationship.”

GM: “Your status represents a legal gray area.” Another individual might stroke their chin in thought, but the mimic simply stares directly at Caroline, his flat voice unwavering.

“Fledglings dwell with their sires. You are unreleased and incapable of swearing a full oath of fealty.”

Caroline: Caroline nods in agreement, not quite staring at him. “Propriety takes several forms.”

GM: “Regent Donovan will permit you to dwell within his parish as a serf, with all the rights and responsibilities that such entails, upon the condition that you swear an oath of fealty to him as a full tenant upon your release.”

Caroline: “May I ask, what rights and responsibilities will be owed to him as a serf, at this time, that I might better fulfill them?”

Caroline doesn’t care for the word and what it entails, but she has little doubt it is the best of poor choices available.

GM: “You will have the right to make your haven within Riverbend, and to conduct business with its kine. You will not be permitted to feed within the parish. You will owe Regent Donovan a night of corvée per week in return for these privileges.”

That same empty stare. That same flat tone.

Caroline: Caroline reflects. “Corvée is a service, then. A night assisting with a given task, which may take all the night, or only part of it.” The words are for herself as much as they are a question.

GM: “Yes,” the mimic answers emotionlessly.

Caroline: “May I ask… an oath of fealty entails what obligations? Again, that I might better understand and ensure I may make good such obligations.”

GM: “The same, save that as a tenant, you will be permitted to feed within those areas of the domain not claimed by another Kindred as their private acreage.”

Caroline: Caroline has so many more questions, but as forthcoming as the ghoul has been, she has no interest in pushing her luck here. She tries to keep herself to the essentials.

“Is such an oath releasable?”

Would it be so bad to be sworn to him? He’s reasonable enough… a part of her whispers. She tries to ignore it. Tries.

GM: “With Regent Donovan’s consent,” the mimic answers flatly.

Caroline: Caroline nods, essentially eternal service to him then.

“Is this the sheriff’s standard offer?”

GM: “For serfs.”

Caroline: Caroline reflects. The suggestion of negotiation tugs at her. “And there are ample available feeding grounds?”

GM: “To tenants.”

Caroline: “I would propose one amendment then, as a measure of good faith, and so I might be of greater use.”

GM: The mimic stares at Caroline with that same blank expression.

Caroline: “Allow me to select a location now, to be held in trust save for on nights when I am engaged in the the behalf of the sheriff.”

GM: Negotiating with the mimic is not unlike talking to a brick wall, but now that Caroline is finally in a social setting where back and forth between younger and older vampires (or least their representatives) seems permitted, she’s reminded that she’s still got it. The mimic eventually states that he will agree to one of the following concessions: permitting Caroline feeding rights within the parish while she is still a serf, or not requiring (but still allowing) her to swear an oath of fealty to Donovan upon her release.

Caroline: Love and hate, desire and restraint war in the young Kindred. Had she not come from her set ‘feeding ground’, had she not ‘enjoyed’ an early evening of making a whore of herself to get a taste of thin sour blood. Were she not suffering the insidious touch of the blood bond… she would take the wise course. The possibility of an opportunity to make her own way? The political leverage of choosing who to swear to as a vampire of equal standing…

But Caroline is suffering, her will subtly influenced. And for all talk of will, of business acumen, of political canniness, she’s a Malveaux in other ways. For all of her ‘suffering’ at the hands of her uncle, the denial of her dreams, she’s been born with a silver spoon. She’s never had to beg. She’s never had to go without. And going without is killing her. Whoring around a group of businessmen was too much. She takes the feeding privileges.

GM: “Swear fealty to Regent Donovan and his lord Prince Vidal in the names of your lineage, Longinus the Dark Prophet, and Almighty God,” the mimic states, his expression unchanging when Caroline accepts the offer. He looks for all the world as if she’s recommending what brand of insect repellent is most efficacious.

Caroline: Her mouth is dry. A moment of truth here. Binding herself. Offering service. For so long as he wished it. What alternative is there? Find another, equally cruel offer? Continue to trespass? Endure another draught of his blood? Give and take. The art of any deal. She has nothing to give except her service. It’s still a bitter pill to swallow for the heiress.

“What lineage?”

GM: “Your lineage,” the mimic answers as if that should answer her question.

Caroline: “Ventrue?” Caroline asks uncertainly.

GM: The mimic simply stares.

Caroline: “I swear fealty to Regent Donovan and his lord, Prince Vidal, in the names of my lineage, Longinus the Dark Prophet, and Almighty God.” The last bit seems to hold the most weight.

GM: “An unimaginative but technically satisfactory oath,” the mimic pronounces emotionlessly. Caroline knows enough history to know that feudal oaths are usually more elaborate, but the mimic doesn’t look as if he cares.

Or not care. There’s just nothing.

“You are now a serf within the parish of Riverbend, sworn to Regent Donovan. This audience is concluded.”

Caroline: “Thank you.” Caroline rises to depart.

GM: At the mimic’s silent direction, the guards escort Caroline out of the soulless McMansion.

Caroline: She departs the building for now. One weight off her shoulders, another around her neck. Such is the way.


Tuesday night, 8 September 2015, PM

Caroline: Caroline sets her course for the ME’s office. She has to have something to report tomorrow to that prick Wright.

GM: The young Ventrue soon encounters two troubling facts as she looks up the Coroner’s Office on Google Maps:

First, the Coroner’s Office is located in Mid-City, only several blocks from the Rock-n-Bowl where she was caught poaching, and the O’Tolley’s where she directed Wright to ambush the police van.

Second, the office is currently closed to the public. Hours are 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM, Mondays through Fridays. Neil, having no reason to believe that Caroline could not visit during the day, evidently did not consider the fact worth bringing up. It becomes rather apparent why many vampires keep ghouls.

Caroline: Of course, her legal right to even create such a servant is very much in doubt. In fact, there’s little doubt in her mind that such an action would be poorly received right now.

She settles on tabling that. Maybe her attorney can provide an investigator she can put on it. A mortal one. Caroline heads back towards Tulane, following a path she knows well. She dials her cousin Adam along the way.

GM: The phone rings several times before the elder Malveaux (by three years) picks up.

“Hello, Caroline.”

Caroline: “Adam.” Caroline’s tone is pleasant. “How are you?”

GM: “Well in the Lord’s service. And you, Caroline?”

Caroline: Leave it to her cousin. Any reluctance he feels over his prescribed course has never affected his execution of his duties.

“I… less well, in the same. I don’t suppose you are ‘free’ at all tonight?”

GM: “There are a few parishioners still around, and what is a church without a priest?”

Caroline: “A house of God. But your point is taken. Is any other night this week better?”

GM: “I could not say, Caroline. But there are parishioners here now, and I am here with them.”

Caroline: Caroline grimaces. “I’ll leave you to them then. Father.”

GM: “Caroline.” Adam’s tone is just slightly reproachful. “You are one of the flock too.”

Caroline: A sad smile he can’t see. “I’ll call you later then, or stop by when I can. Take care.”

GM: “I’ll see you soon, cousin,” the priest answers in expectation.

Caroline: Caroline kills the line with her cousin as she continues on to Tulane to investigate Ms. Angela Greer. Something productive, for herself, while she waits on another Kindred contact.

GM: Much of Tulane’s campus is closed this late at night, with the cashiers and receptionists who’d tell Caroline to try again in the morning having gone to bed themselves. The Ventrue does much her searching over Tulane’s web site, Facebook, Google, and other social media sites and search engines. She eventually puts together that Angela comes from an upper-middle class family. Her father is a lawyer named Stanley at the firm of Ware & Lebowski, where one of the Malveaux attorneys also works. Angela’s mother Lisa is an artist. Both of her parents live together in Uptown.

Caroline: Caroline continues digging. Who are Ms. Greer’s friends of note?

GM: Angela Greer, Caroline finds, maintains an active membership among the Kappas, which she already knew, in addition to the Tulane Philosophy Club, the Queer Student Alliance (founded in 1972, the oldest LGBTIQA organization in the state of Louisiana), SAPHE (Sexual Aggression Peer Hotline & Education), which operates a 24/7 confidential hotline for issues surrounding sexual assault and harassment. Angela is also the dorm supervisor at Josephine Louise House and seems to be fairly well-liked with the girls there, organizing parties and generally being pretty easygoing, especially after her handling of a recent influenza epidemic that left numerous students sneezing and insensate. Her specific friends are harder to figure out… like most everyone, she has several hundred friends listed on Facebook, and her profile is set to private.

Caroline: Caroline moves along to other more specific databases. Does Ms. Greer have a criminal record? Arrest record? Anything similarly unsightly? It pays to work in the league field… and having enough money that keeping access to background check services is trivial doesn’t hurt either.

GM: Angela appears a fairly well-to-do citizen without any criminal record. Her sister Summer, however, is another story. The younger Greer has been arrested twice for public intoxication and underage drinking.

Caroline: Kindred spirits there, Caroline reflects. Then, after a moment, she decides not. She goes back to social media, paging through events on campus, trying to find out if Ms. Greer is going out tonight, or in the immediate future.

GM: This late at night, and with a dorm of college girls to look over, Angela is likely home studying or mediating disputes over who stole whose pillow, if not fast asleep. Maybe she’ll cut loose on the weekend, but fairly few college events take place after dark during early September. A few of Angela’s clubs are meeting in the afternoons, but nothing that particularly stands out to Caroline… other than how she’s announced on JL House’s page she won’t be around this Friday night. She cites having a long overdue dinner and movie night with her parents back home.

Caroline: Caroline turns her remaining efforts towards uncovering further information on Angela’s younger sister, Summer Greer. Where is she now?

GM: The fledgling Ventrue discovers that Summer is indeed in town, and a freshman at Tulane. She lives at JL House, where she has the unenviable living situation of her older sister also being her dorm supervisor (and thus, in charge of her). If her latest Facebook posts are any indication, she is probably in JL House right now either studying, procrastinating, or doing whatever it is college girls do in their dorms on week nights. She doesn’t seem to have anything going on (during the night, at least) tomorrow either.

Caroline: She supposes it was too much to hope to find some immediate answers online. Frustrated here as ever in her unlife, Caroline navigates her car towards the Central Business District. Her cousin awaits. A degree of mercy, perhaps, for this monster she has become. A rational part of her screams that this is a poor idea, that it can’t end well. But her soul, her faith, cry out for succor. The words of of the old ghoul echo in her head.

Poison… poison… poison…

GM: The gray stone monolith arrogantly looms over the surrounding CBD. Tall, unbent, unbroken. Unconquered by crumbling mason, acid rain, and the relentless march of time, St. Patrick’s Cathedral is supremely confident in its holy purpose—but not its hegemony. St. Louis Cathedral smugly holds up the 221 years since its dedication to Patrick’s 178, showing them off like jealous children comparing baseball cards. St. Patrick’s must sullenly accept its status as only second-grandest, second-oldest, and second-best cathedral in New Orleans.

St_Pat.jpg
The cathedral’s interior is a vast and cavernous space. The faintest whisper feels as if it could echo and echo off the Gothic arches and stained-glass windows until it reaches the ears of God. Whether He would respond to Caroline’s kind is another matter.

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The three largest paintings above the altar depict, from left to right: Saint Patrick, the Transfiguration of Jesus, and Jesus Christ pulling Saint Peter from the sea.

GM: This late at night, there are few parishioner present in the church. Their eyes are closed, their heads bowed. A few light candals by the altar, while others silently pray. The cathedral is silent, in that way only a very large space still filled with people can be: almost conspicuous for its lack of sound. She can make out her cousin Adam by the altar, in hushed conversation with one of his flock. Caroline’s cousin wears a plain dark jacket and the telltale priest’s white collar. He has slim, almost gaunt features, deep gray eyes, and his Dyer mother’s ash-brown hair.

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One parishioner stands out to Caroline, though. A pale young woman, her head bowed in prayer. She has a slender build, gentle features, and soft brown hair. She wears a white tank top, navy blue skirt, and several looped silver necklaces that include a crucifix. Yet for all her unassuming appearance, Caroline’s Beast recognizes another predator on sight.

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Caroline: Warnings scream as the Beast thrashes in its mortal cage. Memories of abuse at the hands of other Kindred. Caroline fights them down. Curiosity trickles in its wake like spilled blood, the remains of her battle with it.

She’d have assumed other Kindred might avoid real churches in favor of their twisted faith.

GM: As Caroline crosses the church’s threshold, she feels immediately nauseous. She isn’t sick to her stomach. She’s sick past her stomach. Her head swims. Her muscles clench. Her dead heart feels like it’s racing, and she feels a coppery-smelling sweat breaking out over her body. She wants to vomit and purge the sickness. She can’t. Her stomach is empty. The Beast shudders and whines. It wants to leave.

Caroline: She sways for a moment and falteringly finds a seat in a back pew. This is not the grace of God. Not his mercy… is this what it is to be beyond Him? Outside of Him? She lowers her forehead to the row in front of her. She rests her head as she stares at the floor, grappling with the implications.

GM: Caroline’s very blood feels like lead in her veins. Heavy. Turgid. Disobedient. It’s slime. It’s horrible. Some part of her wants to just get it out all out. Surrender her ill-gotten gains.

And she knows, to very bottom of her soul, that she is not meant for this place. Not like the quietly praying supplicants, welcomed with open arms by her cousin Adam. Is it her imagination that the other Kindred’s posture looks so tense?

Caroline: It’s not her blood, she’s forced to admit. She’s a usurper.

The tears want to come, but Caroline fights them. She knows how that ends. It’s too much. Until now she harbored the hope, the illusion perhaps that the other Kindred were wrong, deluded. But there is no doubt in her mind now. She is not welcome. She should go.

Instead she folds down a kneeler, folds her hands, bows her head. And she begs. Quietly, whispered, she begs for God’s mercy. For His forgiveness.

“Didn’t wish this… allow me… forgive my…” Half the words might be unintelligible even if someone held their ear to her lips.

It is the prayer of a murderer, or a killer, of a woman who knows that judgement will come for her.

And isn’t she? And yet, for her prayers… there is no release. No relief from this awful pain. From the emptiness.

“Please… God…”

GM: No response comes.

No peace.

No relief.

Nothing.

Just pain.

Caroline: The tears come. Again. She keeps her head bowed, hidden behind the next pew. Blood goes drip, drip on the tiled floor. She digs out a tissue to dab at her eyes. She’ll hide what she is as best she can, should someone approach.

But she cannot hide her disappointment. Her shame.

GM: There is some small mercy in that few parishioners are present this late at night. Those few who are appear preoccupied in their own private worlds of prayer.

But it’s a small mercy.

A very small mercy.

Caroline: When at last she looks up, eyes drying, her eyes seek her cousin.

GM: The young Father Malveaux does not smile when his cousin approaches him, but instead peers closely at her face.

“Caroline. Have you been bleeding?”

The altar’s many candles assault the Ventrue’s senses like dozens of swarming, stinging bees.

Caroline: She shakes her head. She keeps her distance from the altar. As if this place wasn’t uncomfortable enough.

“No…”

This is the awkward part. He’s her cousin. She has fond memories of dancing with him. But he’s also a priest, in his official role.

“Father,” she decides on. “Not sleeping well. Trying to hide it poorly, perhaps.”

A lie already. Off to a great start.

GM: The younger father’s gaze is direct, his eyes dark and somber. “What is on your mind that makes you sleep poorly?”

Caroline: “I… do you believe it is possible to be completely outside of God’s grace?”

GM: “In the next life, perhaps, but not in this one. God has endowed us with free will. With free will comes the freedom to atone for transgressions that would separate us from Him in the hereafter. To dwell within or without it is our own choice to make.”

Caroline: She hadn’t really expected a better answer. How can he begin to understand? How can she begin to explain?

“Adam, I’ve never felt so alone.”

GM: Her cousin’s gaze remains sober. “What troubles you, Caroline?”

Caroline: “Everything.” She stares at the ground between them. “I made a mistake. Went somewhere I shouldn’t have. A minor rebellion, and it got so much worse Adam. It… I thought I knew.”

GM: “It is natural for youth to err and inadvertently stray from the fold,” Adam states, despite being only three years older than Caroline. “What is done is done. They cannot erase their actions, but they can atone for them.”

Caroline: “Have you spoken with the archbishop?”

GM: “I have.”

Caroline: “And what did he tell you?”

GM: “He informed me that you had sinned, due in part to circumstances beyond your control, and that you regretted your actions. We spoke no further, save that I was not to repeat even so much to anyone outside of the family.”

Adam’s voice is low as his eyes briefly cut to the distant parishioners, though he does not move his face from Caroline’s.

Caroline: “Beyond my control. That’s one way to put it.” She follows his glance. “Someone hurt me, that night. Or morning, or…”

“And so I hurt him back.”

“I thought… years ago, that it would be easy. To hurt someone. To fight back if I had to. But it isn’t.”

GM:‘Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.’

Caroline: “And what about turning up in the river?”

Caroline’s words are hard, cold, and hurt. Her voice is noticeably raised.

GM: Adam silently raises a finger to his lips. None of the other parishioners react, but the other Kindred looks up at the noise. Her eyes meet Caroline’s.

Caroline: Caroline looks away and back to Adam.

“I…” she starts, but words fail her.

GM: “Would you like to speak somewhere more private, Caroline?” he asks quietly.

Caroline: “Please.”

She glances at the other Kindred.

GM: Adam turns and leads his cousin away from the altar and its needling flames. The other Kindred watches silently as Caroline leaves, but does not rise from her seat. The two Malveauxes make their way through a side door and down a short hallway to familiar confession booth.

Caroline: Caroline glances at the box, almost shaking. In fury, fear, or sorrow is unclear.

GM: “God is everywhere wholly present, yet cannot be contained wholly by anything or anyone,” Adam states quietly.

“He will hear you, whether in the confessional or outside it.”

Caroline: “Did you ever hesitate, even for a minute when you were put on this path, Adam?”

GM: “To doubt is to be only human, Caroline.”

Caroline: “You didn’t, did you? You just accepted what he laid out for you.” Which ‘he’ she is referring to is unclear.

GM: “There will always be a Father Malveaux,” Adam states slowly, as if reciting a familiar litany.

“I was not sure if it would be me. But I suspected.”

Caroline: “Was it what you wanted?”

GM: “There will always be a Father Malveaux,” he repeats, but his tone somewhat softer. “Can you imagine Luke filling the role? Gabriel? Westley?”

“Matters have ways of resolving themselves.”

Caroline: Caroline frowns, introspective. “The will of God then, aligned with His will? Is that how you see it?”

GM: “A question for a question. Do you see this turn of events as the will of God?” Caroline’s cousin asks her in turn.

Caroline: She’s silent for a long moment as she thinks on the question. “I didn’t.”

GM: “I do not need your legal background to recognize the distinction between ’didn’t’ and ’don’t.’”

Caroline: “You have me thinking,” she allows. “Is that enough of an answer?”

GM: “Is my path in life what truly concerns you tonight, Caroline?” Adam asks.

Caroline: “No.”

GM: “We are removed, now, from any prying ears.”

Caroline: “You and I both know that’s not true.”

GM: Adam inclines his head. “We are as removed as we may reasonably be.”

Caroline: “This goes no further than this room? Ever? Not even to him?”

GM: “Code of Canon Law, 983 §1: ‘The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason,’” Adam quotes.

Caroline: “I murdered someone.”

The words slip from her lips with a will of their own.

GM: Adam raises both eyebrows.

“Go on.”

Caroline: “I could tell you that he attacked me, that I was defending myself, and there’s truth to it. But in the end I had a choice. I could let him die, or I could sacrifice myself. And I let him die.”

GM: “That is a very great failing, Caroline, and a very great sin.” Despite his words, however, Adam’s tone is no harsher.

Caroline: “I know.”

GM: “Do you recall the story of the scapegoat in the wilderness?”

Caroline: Caroline nods, numbly.

GM: “Perhaps a retelling may still prove beneficial.”

“Only the high-priest could enter the inner room of the Tabernacle, called the Holy of Holies, where was the ark of the covenant, and where God was supposed to live. And even the high-priest could go into this room on but one day in the year. This day was called ‘the Great Day of Atonement.’”

“The service on that day was to show the people that all are sinners, and that they must seek from God to have their sins taken away. God teaches us these things by word in his book, the Bible; but in those times there was no Bible, and very few could have read a written book; so God taught the people then by acts which they could see.”

“As a beginning of the service on the day of atonement, everybody was required to fast from sunset on the day before until three o’clock on that afternoon, the hour when the offering was placed on the altar. No person could eat anything in all that time. Even children, except nursing babies, were not allowed to have any food. They were to show a sorrow for sin, and were to appear before God as seeking for mercy.”

“Early in the morning of that day the high-priest offered on the altar before the Tabernacle what was called “a sin-offering,” for himself and his family. It was a young ox, burned upon the altar. He took some of the blood of this ox, and carried it through the Holy Place, lifted the vail, entered into the Holy of Holies, and sprinkled the blood on the golden lid to the ark of the covenant before the Lord. This was to show the priest himself as a sinner, seeking mercy and forgiveness from God. The priest must himself have his own sins forgiven, before asking forgiveness for others."

“Then the priest came again to the great altar before the Tabernacle. Here two goats were brought to him. Lots were cast upon them and on the forehead of one goat was written, ‘For the Lord,’ and on the other words that meant, ‘To be sent away.’ These two goats were looked upon as bearing the sins of the people. One was killed, and burned on the altar; and the priest, with some of the blood of the slain goat, again entered the Holy of Holies, and sprinkled the blood on the ark of the covenant, as before, thus asking God to receive the blood and the offering, and to forgive the sins of the people.”

“Then the high-priest came out of the Tabernacle again, and laid his hands on the head of the living goat, the one whose forehead was marked ‘To be sent away,’ as if to place upon him the sin of all the people. Then this goat, which was called the ‘Scapegoat,’ was led away into the wilderness, to some desolate place from which he would never find his way back to the camp; and there he was left, to wander as he chose. This was to show the sins of the people as taken away, never to come back to them.”

“When this service was over, the people were looked upon as having their sins forgiven and forgotten by the Lord. Then the regular afternoon offering was given on the altar; and after that the people could go home happy, and end their long fast with all the food that they wished to eat.”

Adam pauses, his Biblical tale concluded.

“In all this, God tried to make the people feel that sin is terrible. Sin separates from God; sin brings death; it must be taken away by blood. Today, blood sacrifice is more symbolic. But if you have truly transgressed, Caroline, Hail Marys alone will not be sufficient to absolve you. You must toil. Like the sacrificial goat, you must bleed.”

Caroline: She gives a sad, soft cry.

“I have bled. Rivers of blood. Rivers of tears. But I can’t see how to atone. Help me.”

GM: “Tears accomplish little by themselves. Does this man have a family? A life’s work?”

Caroline: “I’ll find out. I was planning on it… I just. I had to tell someone. I had to confess.”

GM: “If he has family, provide for them. See to their material and emotional needs. Comfort them in their loss. No action can erase the harm you have done, but you can offer succor to those whose lives have been touched by his loss.”

Caroline: Caroline says nothing. “And then?”

GM: “Right the course of a wayward life that would otherwise be lost. A life for a life, Caroline.”

Caroline: “And that’s supposed to be enough? To earn his forgiveness?”

GM: “You likely will never earn his family’s knowing forgiveness. There are few other lives, I imagine, they value as highly as his own.”

Caroline: Caroline’s eyes flash. “That wasn’t who I was talking about…”

GM: “Human lives are not a zero-sum game,” Adam responds. “But it will do for a start. I could advise you to turn yourself in to the police, but that will not better anyone’s lives, and will only harm our family’s.”

Caroline: Caroline is silent. I suppose expecting sympathy was to much to ask.

GM: “Caroline?” her cousin gently prompts.

Caroline: “I have my confession to you,” she replies.

GM: “You do. You are yet troubled.”

Caroline: “I thought it would make me feel better. I thought I’d feel… different.”

The nausea is unabated. The wrongness. The pounding in her head.

GM: “Do you feel better, Caroline, when you have started a task or when you have finished one?” Adam asks, heedless of the sick feeling making his cousin’s blood ooze through her veins like concrete slime. “When you were studying to become a doctor, did you wish to merely treat symptoms, or to find cures? Confession takes only moments, but atonement is far longer process. It is well that the former does not absolve your conscience. That tells me you are more concerned with making restitution than merely alleviating your guilt.”

That same, ineffable dread continues to cloy at Caroline’s soul like inhaled sawdust. Her Beast continues to whine and pace. Unable to escape the cathedral’s noxious miasma, it feels like it wants to crawl into a hole and die.

Caroline: Caroline nods, wrestling with her Beast, with her dread, with the nausea. She can feel chains sliding in the murky blackness wrapped around her soul.

“I have to go.”

Not here, she begs of her self-control. This was a mistake.

GM: Adam slowly traces the sign of the cross. “Dominus noster Jesus Christus te absolvat; et ego auctoritate ipsius te absolvo ab omni vinculo excommunicationis (suspensionis) et interdicti in quantum possum et tu indiges. Deinde, ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen. Peace be upon you, cousin."

Caroline: “And also with you.” The words are not fully out of Caroline’s mouth before she turns back through the hall, towards the exit. She has to get out. She has to get away.

She can flee the church.

But she cannot flee what she is.


Tuesday night, 8 September 2015, PM

GM: The cathedral proper is much the same as when Caroline first arrived. There are still a few solitary souls lighting candles by the image of Christ pulling Saint Peter from the sea. The other Kindred is still sitting in one of the back row benches, her hands clasped in prayer. Candlelight dimly glints off her silver crucifix.

Caroline: The candles burn like road flares, blinding in their light. Caroline pushes through them, making for the door. The other lick mocks her with seeming calm. Caroline pushes on. She has to get out. She has get this suffocating presence off of her. Down the aisle she goes. Yet she slows as she passes the other Kindred. Her mind is fogged by pain, but there’s a moment of realization, followed by admiration. She still continues on. She has to get out.

GM: The old church’s wooden doors creek slowly open. The humid night air is scarcely any less warm than the building’s interior. Caroline’s soul-deep nausea doesn’t feel better so much as less awful. Being so close to the church still makes her skin crawl.

Caroline: She finds a seat somewhere, shaking. It is one thing to believe, but another to know. How terrible, then, to find confirmation of your faith only in God’s hatred for what you have become.

Maybe they’re right, a small voice inside her whispers. She wants to hush it like a disobedient child, but can’t. Maybe they are.

GM: Caroline sits on the hood of her car and watches the city go by. A bum shuffles blearily along outside the closed costume shop, not even asking for change. Palm leaves sway against a stagnant breeze. A light goes on in one of the nearby apartments’ windows. What is it like to live right outside a church? Does the congregation make good neighbors?

Perhaps half an hour later, the other vampire emerges from the church. She looks like ordinary teenage or maybe college-age girl in her white tank top, blue skater skirt and sequined silver flip-flops. Almost banal for one of the undead. But then, Caroline didn’t ask to be made what she was. Perhaps she wonders how many of them do.

Caroline: Caroline, still wrapped in her self-pity, studies the other Kindred from across the street. After a moment she calls out, “I don’t know how you do it.”

GM: The other vampire pauses on her way into the adjacent parking lot, then turns to face Caroline. Her brow furrows a bit. “Do what?”

Caroline: Everything. In this life.

“Stand it for so long. You were there when I went in. I couldn’t stand it. The hatred. The loathing. I didn’t known God was capable of such…” She trails off. “How do you stand it? How do you go back?”

GM: “It’s good to be reminded,” the other vampire answers seriously. “I mean, it hurts. But it’s a good kind of hurt. I know that He’s real. And He’s never once made me burn, so I think He wants me to keep coming back.”

Caroline: “Does it get any better? Any easier?” Caroline asks softly, then frowns. “Wait, burning? Does that actually happen?”

GM: The vampire nods soberly. “Yeah. I hear some licks just blister at first, but can actually go up in flames if they stay too long.”

Caroline: Caroline looks like she’s going to be sick.

GM: “So I figure God wants me here,” the other vampire continues, “or I’d burn too. And it looks like He wants you too.”

Caroline: “Ghastly,” she replies, fighting down her nausea. “And you still keep coming back. Despite everything.” Is that admiration? “How long?”

GM: “You mean how long have I been coming, or how long do I stay?” The other vampire shrugs. “Well, I don’t really keep track of that second one. However long it takes to feel close to Him. But I’ve been coming ever since I was turned.”

Caroline: “I meant how long have you been coming,” Caroline clarifies.

GM: “Well, like I said, ever since I was Embraced. That was in 2012.”

Caroline: Caroline studies her. Her own age then, perhaps, just frozen a bit earlier.

“I’m Caroline.”

GM: “Jocelyn,” the other vampire answers a moment. “Jocelyn Baker. Childe of Sally Ward, childe of Julien Dupre, childe of Vidal Jarbeaux.”

A mortal might shake hands here, but the other vampire makes no move to. Even to Caroline, it somehow doesn’t seem appropriate anymore.

Caroline: “A pleasure to meet you, Jocelyn. Caroline Malveaux.” After a moment she adds, “Childe of René Baristheaut.”

The words are awkward on her tongue, but seem important to this ritual. What were the others? They seemed important, but she can’t remember. Too much else going on in the moment.

GM: “Same.”

Jocelyn pauses. Making conversation doesn’t seem to come as naturally either.

“So, uh, what are you doing here?” She waves her hand at the adjacent church.

Caroline: “I… should we be talking on the street?” Caroline asks.

GM: Jocelyn glances left and right. The CBD is not the French Quarter, and there are no teeming drunken crowds to mask the sounds of their conversation. Just a few solitary souls on their solitary errands through the dark streets.

“Uh, that’s right. Probably not.”

Caroline: She gestures to the car. “Small measure of privacy, if you want it.”

And for her part, Caroline wants it. Wants to believe you can be this without being a monster.

GM: Jocelyn glances at the other vampire’s car, then turns back to Caroline. Her posture is slightly tenser.

“Well… what do you want to talk about?”

Caroline: Caroline can’t blame her. She’d be suspicious too, and after only a few days. Three years? She can’t imagine how much her heart might be hardened. Still, she can’t help but be a bit hurt.

“Faith. Why I was here. How to reconcile it with…” She shrugs. “Or just to talk. It seems a rare enough thing.”

The next words hurt. “I understand if you don’t want to.”

GM: Jocelyn pauses, thinking. She looks as if she might bite her lip, but doesn’t. That feels like another thing their kind just don’t do.

“My car,” she replies after a moment.

Caroline: “Wherever you want.” Does it sound desperate? Her killer instincts honed by a political upbringing shout at her, but Caroline doesn’t care. She hops off her car nimbly, approaching the younger (or older?) girl.

In truth, it’s really no different than the rest of life. Let your guard down, get hurt. Never let your guard down, never let anyone get close. Same result.

GM: Jocelyn walks down the parking lot and clicks her beeper at a blue mid-priced vehicle. She gets in on the driver’s side and turns to face Caroline.

“Well, okay. What’d you want to talk about?”

Caroline: Caroline joins her on the passenger side. It’s bizarre in some ways sitting so close to another of her ‘kind’. Like two statues side by side.

“I wanted to give confession,” she states, answering the girl’s earlier question. “It seemed like a better idea at the time.”

GM: “You can’t tell anything to kine priests, though. That’s what we have our own for.”

Caroline: “They are… a very different experience than I’m accustomed to.”

GM: Jocelyn shrugs. “Well, they’re as different from kine as we are. I take confession all the time, just like Prince Vidal wants.”

Caroline: “It doesn’t bother you, being told to do terrible things by them?”

GM: Jocelyn gapes. “Of course not!”

Caroline: Caroline realizes this topic is a minefield too late.

GM: “Why would you even say something like that? They’re the priests. And they only tell us to do terrible things to terrible people. That’s what we are. The wolves of heaven.”

Caroline: Terrible people. A girl out drinking with her boyfriend during a festival. A former FBI agent just doing his job. Is Caroline’s experience twisted, or the other girl’s perspective skewed? Three years of this…

Poison. She curses Lou in her mind.

“I guess a wolf doesn’t have any choice either.”

GM: Jocelyn frowns. “Huh?”

Caroline: “It’s just not what I… expected.” The word is obviously a stand-in. “Before, I mean.”

GM: Jocelyn stares at Caroline expectantly.

Caroline: “Hurting people. Maybe killing them. It…”

She stops, seeking any parallel in the other vampire. Is she really so lost?

GM: “…it’s what we do,” Jocelyn finishes. “We’re wolves. We protect the good people and hurt the bad ones.”

Caroline: “Then why does God hate us?”

The question is not asked argumentatively. Instead it is raw, almost desperate for an answer. Like a whore grating against a stud, her soul rubs raw against the question, seeking release.

GM: “He’s damned us,” Jocelyn answers. “We all did something awful, something so awful we deserved to be damned forever. And even then, in His infinite mercy, He still lets us serve Him and follow His plan.”

Caroline: “What did you do that was so awful, Jocelyn?”

GM: “I think you should ask yourself that,” Jocelyn counters. “We all get Embraced for a reason.”

Caroline: Thump. Caroline rocks back in the seat.

“That’s it then. This is a punishment. For something we did.”

GM: “Good people who die don’t go to hell by accident. They don’t get Embraced by accident either.”

Caroline: Oh, whatever could a good girl like Caroline have done to deserve damnation? A cocktail of pills. Horrible cramps. Blood in the water. The flushing away of a life.

She offers no rebuttal to the other girl, no question. One sin she never confessed, never even admitted to herself. Technically… but what is a technicality to God?

GM: Jocelyn nods at her silence. “God knows, even if you don’t. But you look like you do.”

Caroline: It’s a cold dread, and the watered-down blood of businessmen, running warm in her veins, does nothing for it.

GM: “And even then, after we’ve done something so horrible, He’s merciful. He still lets us do His work.”

Caroline: I didn’t know! she wants to scream, but she did know. Any time you go looking for a loophole you know you’re wrong.

“And it’s the only way.”

GM: “You can either do what Longinus did or what Caine did.”

Caroline: Caroline frowns. The references aren’t lost on her, but clearly there’s missing context.

“You mean your duty, or turn from the face of God entirely?”

GM: Jocelyn nods again. “You can either do what God wants you to do, or what the Beast wants you to do.”

Caroline: Silence.

Finally, “Thank you, Jocelyn.”

GM: The other vampire looks mildly surprised. “You’re welcome?”

Caroline: “No one else seemed interested in explaining… anything,” she explains after a moment. “It does make more sense now. I was so wrapped in…”

She cuts off whatever her next words are with a half-wave that ends with her hand over her face.

GM: Jocelyn doesn’t look sure of what to say to that. “Well, you’re welcome. Again.”

Caroline: “Is it so strange?” she asks. “Simple courtesy between our kind?”

GM: “I guess it’s usually. More formal?” Jocelyn ventures.

Caroline: “Forgive me my ignorance then. I’m new at this. I’ll try to do better next time.”

GM: “Well, you can just ask your sire,” the other neonate suggests. “But it’s not like we’re in Vieux Carré or anything.”

Caroline: “I think he and I will be having a long conversation very soon,” Caroline agrees, even as she curses her ignorance and position of weakness.

GM: Jocelyn frowns a little. “You’re not a kaintuck, are you?”

Caroline: God damn you, René, Caroline curses.

“I’m not familiar with that term.”

GM: “A mosquito, a rabble, or an outlander.”

Caroline: A blank look.

GM: Jocelyn looks a little annoyed. “A Caitiff, a Brujah, or a Gangrel.”

Caroline: “Ah, no, I’m told not.”

She tries to file away the slurs.

GM: “You’re ‘told’?” Jocelyn looks at Caroline as if she said she’s been ‘told’ that she’s white.

Caroline: Caroline considers for a moment. Share the details, or obfuscate? Her father’s words come back. If the information is available, own it. After the gaudy execution scene her nature isn’t exactly a secret.

“It’s complicated, but it would be rather difficult for me to be having this conversation if I were. I confess that the distinction is opaque beyond its mortal distinctions. But I’m quite certain of it.”

GM: If the expression on Jocelyn’s face is any indication, it sounds like Caroline’s said she’s ‘quite certain she’s white.’

“Well, uh, that’s good you’re sure. So what are you, a redbone or a creole?”

Caroline: “Is that a literal question, or is there a subtext to which I’m missing?” the pale blonde asks.

GM: “Literal. If you’re not a kaintuck, what are you?”

Caroline: A laugh. “Not the literal I meant, but then my education in these matters has been necessarily truncated.”

Recognizing the absurdity of the statement but owning to it, she continues, “Ventrue is what they said.”

GM: Jocelyn stares at her. “So you’re a creole, and your sire didn’t even tell you what that meant?”

Caroline: “Actually, he never mentioned it at all, though it is among the least of his sins. And in fairness to him, no one else seemed particularly concerned with explaining the distinctions, beyond that a Caitiff would have received a lesser degree of mercy.”

Or a greater one, she reflects.

“As I said. It’s complicated. A burden I won’t force on you, after we’ve had such a lovely conversation.”

GM: Jocelyn studies Caroline for several moments. “You’re a b-an illegal Embrace, aren’t you?”

Caroline: After a moment she nods slowly.

“This is the part where you tell me to leave, I think.”

GM: “Guess you should say thanks to Coco and Maldonato sometime. My sire says the prince used to put all… illegals to death.”

Caroline: “It seems I should then, though they put enough still to death in front of me. I should take it then that clan means a great deal?”

GM: Jocelyn shrugs. “Should I? I’ve never met an illegal before. And yeah. If you’re a creole, you’re better than a redbone or kaintuck.”

Caroline: Caroline looks at the other girl—no, Kindred—curiously. Appraising her, perhaps.

“It seems the fashion, though you seem a cut apart from most.”

GM: Jocelyn gives another little shrug. “Well, how many licks have you met?”

Caroline: “Nine? Ten?” Caroline searches her memory. “At least insofar as introductions. An admittedly small sample size. Are you also a creole?” she asks.

GM: “Yeah. I’m a torrie,” Jocelyn answers. “I guess you must’ve been talking to elders.”

Caroline: “Torrie.” Another for Caroline to file away. “Some, though not all I think.” She thinks to Wright and the bangers. “Usually under more strained circumstances though.”

GM: “Yeah? Like how?”

Caroline: “Misunderstandings about domains. Kine.” The word still feels foreign and forced on her tongue. “Or reporting to my minder. This existence doesn’t exactly come with an instruction manual.”

GM: “Well, yeah, that’s what your sire’s supposed to do. Be.”

Caroline: “I gathered. Spilled milk.” The shrug Caroline gives is perhaps not as convincing as it might be. “I imagine it is difficult with a sire in its own ways.”

GM: “I guess? I hear some are like abusive parents, but mine wasn’t bad.”

Caroline: “Did you know? Before you were Embraced? About any of this?”

GM: Jocelyn shakes her head. “That’s kind of the point of the Masquerade, isn’t it?”

Caroline: “Makes sense,” Caroline agrees. “I just wondered if most were groomed for this.”

GM: “Maybe ghouls, but that’s also kind of what childehood’s for.”

Caroline: Is this what it should have been like? Caroline wonders. Someone to answer questions? To provide guidance? As distant as the other Damned girl is, she can’t help but feel a degree of intimacy in this moment.

Poison. The word lingers under the surface, painful, irritating, a splinter she can’t dig out. Damn you, old man.

Caroline wants to reach out, to cross the scant feet between them, to touch Jocelyn. The truth between them is a salve over the blistered wound that has been her unlife. No lies, no deception. Ten minutes in a trashy car with a Kindred she’s never met gives lie to all intimacy with all others. It makes a mockery of her moment with Aimee earlier in the night. It makes mockery of the life she is clinging to. Yet it feels like the wrong thing to do. Like physical contact would shatter this delicate web between them.

GM: Jocelyn never shook hands with her. Even to one as newly initiated to the Requiem as Caroline, touching somehow does not seem like the thing to do. Do wolves make casual physical contact with one another? Do snakes?

Caroline: “I wouldn’t know.” She bites her lower lip, an all-too human gesture.

GM: “I guess not,” Jocelyn admits.

Caroline: “Any particular advice?”

GM: “Advice on what?”

Caroline: “All of this. This life. You’ve lived it for years. Some witty quip.”

GM: Jocelyn thinks. “For a boon, I’ll give you some pointers you probably really need.”

Caroline: It seems she’s racking up quite a debt already. I wonder what my credit limit is? Still, it’s an excuse to see Jocelyn again later.

“For one service, right? Sounds fair.” Not as though her card has ever been declined before.

GM: “Yeah,” Jocelyn nods, “for some other one-time favor.”

Caroline: “Just be sure to collect it soon. No telling how long they’ll allow me.”

GM: “Well, okay. You should probably talk to your clan primogen if you haven’t already.”

Caroline: “Who is that? And how do you go about setting up that meeting?”

GM: “You’re a blue blood? That’s Gabriel Hurst.”

Caroline: “And a primogen? Sorry, the ‘who’ was both of individual and title.”

GM: Jocelyn looks confused. “Huh?”

Caroline: “You’re assuming I known what a primogen is.”

GM: “Kind of like a city councilman, to the prince being the mayor.”

Caroline: “Gabriel Hurst. This is to pay respects due to him, or?”

GM: “Well, just to touch base with the other blue bloods, I guess. Like if you were a Mexican immigrant and getting to know the other Mexicans in your city. Maybe there’s a job or something you can do for them, or just to say hi and that you want to be part of the ‘community.’ Or just to impress him and try to make friends, I dunno. I mean, it doesn’t hurt to say hi. And you’ve got something in common.”

Caroline: Caroline nods.

GM: “I’m not really sure how you’d get in touch with him, though,” Jocelyn admits. “He isn’t my primogen. Ask another blue blood? Or someone who works for the prince? Or just see if he’s around at Vieux Carré?”

Caroline: Caroline tries to avoid letting on how daunting those ideas are, how much the other Kindred takes for granted.

GM: “I mean, I’ve seen him and his sister a couple times. I hear he’s pretty young for a primogen. I’m not sure why your clan picked him. There’s probably a bunch of older blue bloods.”

Caroline: Blue bloods. How appropriate, at least.

“Is there a specific location he frequents? I thought there were multiple Vieilles Carrés.”

GM: “Yeah, there’s a bunch. I couldn’t tell you there, I’ve seen him at several.”

Caroline: Another nod. Caroline falls silent and waits for her to continue.

GM: “Beyond talking to your primogen, I guess you should join a krewe.”

Caroline: Caroline’s unholy heart beats faster at the mention, pounding like an drum. “To what end?”

GM: Of course, were she to touch her chest, Caroline would feel no heartbeat at all.

“Well, protection, duh. Having other licks look out for you and watch your back.”

Caroline: Caroline reflects on her fight with the gang of vampires. Three versus one in an alley. Her blood on a knife, her arms pinned.

“I can see how that would help.”

GM: “It’s easier to impress other Kindred when you’re part of a krewe, in some ways. Prince Vidal let mine feed in the Arts District a couple times.”

Caroline: “How exactly do you get into a krewe?”

GM: Jocelyn shrugs. “Depends on the krewe, really. Some of them have tests and, well, I guess gang initiations. Some of them just let in Kindred who they think are a good fit. So I guess by getting most of the members to want you in. Or the leader if the krewe doesn’t put it up for vote.”

Caroline: “There’s isn’t a Tinder for Kindred krewes, is there?”

GM: Jocelyn actually laughs. “Sorry. That was a joke?”

Caroline: “Half of one,” Caroline grants, smiling.

GM: “Well, the sewer rats probably know all the krewes, like they know everything. And the prince probably keeps track too.”

Caroline: An arched eyebrow. “Sewer rats?”

GM: “Yeah, Nosferatu.”

Caroline: “What’s the deal with clans? There’s a distinction between them that I’m missing. Is it simply a matter of origins?”

GM: “What do you mean?”

Caroline: “Torrie, Nosferatu, Ventrue. I haven’t actually been able to tell a different among those Kindred I’ve interacted with.”

GM: Jocelyn looks as if she’s been asked who the president is.

Caroline: Caroline backpedals. “I understand there are different clans, thirteen, each with their own cultures within them… I guess I’m asking, is there a physical difference between them?”

GM: “Well, the Nosferatu, sure. Anyone can tell a sewer rat on sight.”

Caroline: “I’ll take it then that I haven’t met one.”

GM: Jocelyn almost grimaces. “You’ll want to throw up the first time.”

Caroline: “And the rest?” Caroline adjusts, twisting to the side to look more dead on at Jocelyn. “What’s the difference between us, Jocelyn?”

GM: The other vampire throws up her hands. “What’s the difference between Mexican people and Chinese people? They’ve got the same DNA, sure, but there’s a million differences. And we don’t even have the same ‘DNA.’”

Caroline: Caroline holds up a hand. “Ok, stupid question then.”

GM: “Yeah, I’d say,” the Toreador scoffs. “I thought I was just giving you some tips, but if you want me to explain basic stuff like what clans and covenants are, that’ll be another boon.”

Caroline: “Sorry, let’s stick to one, then. Any other tips?”

GM: “Well, talk to your primogen, join a krewe…” the Toreador counts off. “Always be really respectful to the elders, like you’d treat a king or president.”

Caroline: Caroline cracks a small smile at that, reminded of her conversation with Wright.

GM: “Like, don’t ever argue, interrupt, or disagree with them. Bow and say please and thanks a lot. That kinda stuff. Same for the Kindred who work for the prince.”

Caroline: Not poor advice, Caroline reflects.

But also the advice of someone comfortable on their knees. Still, the bit about the primogen is useful enough…

GM: “Beyond that, well, try earning brownie points from the elders however you can. But not boons, they don’t like to owe those to neonates.”

Caroline: That, my friend, is no different than mortal life, she reflects. The many fools who sought to have her father in their debt, and their failures relative to the ones in his debt. Always better when the boss thinks he has a hold over you.

GM: “Oh yeah, and never say anything dumb around a harpy.”

Caroline: “How do you know who the harpies are?”

GM: “They’re Sundown, Harlequin, Veronica, Marguerite, Katherine, and Adelais. Sundown’s probably the most laid-back, but he’ll still call out licks for doing something dumb. Marguerite after him. Harlequin can be really mean, but has a sense of humor. Veronica and Katherine are mostly just mean. Adelais is….” Kindred don’t seem like they can shiver, but Jocelyn’s expression comes close. “You really don’t ever want to make any gaffes around her.”

Caroline: Caroline nods agreeably. Adelais? Sounds like someone I’d like to meet. Eventually. A whisper of competitiveness runs through her, and her opinion of Jocelyn slips another notch.

The company you keep says a great deal about you. The best keep company with the best. Ah, but you’re sweet, Jocelyn. And that does count for something.

GM: A thumping sound echoes from the car’s trunk.

Caroline: Caroline turns a bit too swiftly towards the last row of seats.

GM: Caroline sees nothing in the car’s rear. The thumps continue.

Caroline: “Should I leave you to your company then?”

GM: Jocelyn shakes her head. “Not yet if you don’t want to. He won’t get out.”

Caroline: “Friend of yours?”

GM: “Not really.”

Caroline: “Must have been singing the wrong song then,” Caroline observes, faintly unsettled.

GM: “He shot a girl, and he’s probably a Vodouisant. I’m gonna show him the consequences for straying from Christ’s path later.” Jocelyn’s fangs poke out from her mouth.

Caroline: “Bodies.”

GM: “Huh?”

Caroline: “Presumably you’re not going to let him go after you abduct him and feed on him.”

GM: “Nah, I’m gonna take him to see Roxanne.”

Caroline: “All the same, it has to happen on occasion. Is there a protocol for getting rid of them?”

GM: “Not really. Just so long as it isn’t traceable to Kindred. The Krewe of Janus has a ghoul who helps with that stuff. Maurice Galcou.” Jocelyn pauses to think. “Or is it Garou?”

Caroline: “Maurice Garou.” Caroline repeats the name to ensure she remembers it.

GM: “No, I think Garcou. Starts with a G.”

Caroline: “Close enough,” Caroline agrees.

Silence hangs in the closed space. The mid-range vehicle with its cloth rather than leather seats and limited leg room. More of a problem perhaps when your pale legs go on for miles.

“Any other pearls of wisdom?” Caroline smiles. It’s not something the Malveaux scion has had much cause to do since she was Embraced.

GM: Jocelyn thinks. “Probably a lot more, but I don’t really know how you’ve been living your Requiem. Unliving. Whatever.”

Caroline: “All four nights of it,” Caroline quips. “Trying to stitch together my mortal life as it unwinds. Before it unwinds. Trying to find my sire, though I suspect his redoubt is forbidden to me. Trying to avoid trouble, though it keeps seeking me out. Presumably it is easier for others, or becomes more mundane with time.”

GM: “You should probably fake your death,” the Toreador suggests. “Maurice whatever can take care of that too.”

Caroline: “Easier said.” She frowns. “But noted.”

GM: “Well, that’s… everything that comes to mind.”

Caroline: “Thank you, Jocelyn.” Caroline digs out a business card from her bag and extends it to the other Kindred.

GM: Jocelyn takes it and looks it over, her expression somewhat curious.

Caroline: Carolina’s name and a phone number are printed on very fine card stock.

“To make it easier to call in your boon,” she explains. “I don’t know if there is a nominal goat sacrifice usually, but we do live in a fascinating modern world.”

GM: Jocelyn doesn’t quite laugh, but she looks amused. “You sure you’re not a kook? I was actually just gonna ask how to get in touch.”

Caroline: “Kook? Just a professional.”

GM: “A Malkavian.” Jocelyn looks a little less amused having to explain the quip.

Caroline: Caroline smiles. “The good news is you won’t have to explain the joke next time. Have a pleasant evening.”

GM: “You too,” Jocelyn wishes. “See you around.”


Wednesday night, 9 September 2015, AM

Caroline: Caroline slips from the car with preternatural grace and a final smile for the other Kindred. She makes her way back around to the front of the church and her parked car. She slides smoothly into a supple leather seat, digs out one of the several phones in her bag, and calls up a number.

Technically it’s a bit late to call, but after working as her intern for a summer, Caroline is fairly certain that Denise Bowden is hard at work.

GM: More than a few rings sound before Denise finally picks up. “Hi, Caroline?” There’s a bit of a pant to her voice.

Caroline: There was a time when Caroline judged her former boss for her lustful, sinful habits. That time ended four days ago with her mortal life.

“Bad time, Denise?” Caroline sounds amused. “Catch you in the middle of something?”

GM: “No, no, I was just getting off the treadmill.” Some further half-suppressed pants sound. “Exercise before bed helps you sleep. Scientific fact.”

Caroline: “Is that so? Thanks for the tip.” Intentional word choice? Maybe. “If you have a moment, though, I was hoping you might entertain the notion of taking on a client.”

GM: “You’re welcome. Who’s the client?”

Caroline: “I am. There’s a few matters of personal interest I’d like looked into, mostly some research and general harassment, and I know how good you are at digging your teeth into something.”

GM: “Yeah, definitely,” Denise pants. Caroline hears what sounds like movement over the phone, and some indistinct mumbling. “You want to meet somewhere tomorrow afternoon to talk things over? How’s Café du Monde?”

Caroline: How about I throw myself on a sword too? Caroline thinks sarcastically, though the memory of beignets is sweet. Or at least bittersweet. It’s a paradox that the thought of food is revolting, but the memory untouched.

GM: “Their spinach beignets get a bad rep, but I really like those,” Denise continues obliviously. “I feel like I’ve earned a treat when I have the Nutella ones then.”

Caroline: “My schedule is tragically quite full. I can swing a dinner, or just email you what you need, including an engagement letter.”

GM: “Evenings are usually pretty full for me, but sure.” Caroline knows all about Denise’s full evenings. “Shoot me an email and we can follow-up over the phone or at Du Monde.”

Caroline: “Sounds good. Enjoy your workout,” Caroline replies.

GM: “You should try it yourself. Evening workouts really help you sleep.”

Caroline: Caroline rolls her eyes. “Good night, Denise.” The line clicks.

Caroline makes a note of what she needs to send. She still has a copy of Denise’s standard engagement letter, but her actual interests are quite varied. Perdido House, Donovan’s home, the name René Baristheaut and any properties that may still be deeded to it, along with Gabriel Hurst and properties or addresses on record for him.

No doubt an eccentric selection, but good attorneys in Denise’s position don’t usually ask much about the why. She pens a note about some of it being part of a research project into the legal implications of long-term inheritances just in case.

That note set aside, she calls another of the two dozen or so attorneys she has numbers for. This one is simply kept on family retainer. Franz Hartz, a German who immigrated when he was eight, is a serviceable litigator with a stutter that makes him wholly inappropriate as a trial lawyer. Still, it’s not trial service she needs, and he’s one of many that helps draft health care-related policies for those few family employees that get them. She leaves a message on his line with Lauren’s full name, her desire that her medical bills be seen too anonymously.

“Make it a religious gesture,” she decides, before killing the call.

Fake my death. Yeah, great idea. She rolls her eyes.


Wednesday night, 9 September 2015, AM

Caroline: Two matters seen to, Caroline continues the spree of calls. Her next one is Marco. He deserves something of an explanation for last night.

GM: The phone rings several times before a groggy voice sounds. Caroline can make out a baby crying in the background. “Hello?”

Caroline: “Marco.” Caroline’s voice cuts through. She does her best to put some nervousness into it.

GM: Caroline can imagine the police sergeant dully blinking. The baby continues to cry as Rizzaffi makes some ssh-comforting sounds.

“Caroline. God.”

Caroline: “Yeah…” Caroline agrees. “Sorry for vanishing last night. I was pretty freaked out. How’d it end up shaking out?”

GM: “Caroline,” he groggily asks, “how’d you get mixed up with those dealers?”

Caroline: “Dealers?” she questions with genuine confusion.

GM: “Yeah.” Rizzaffi makes some more shushing sounds. “The drug dealers.”

Caroline: “Is that what they were? One maniac thug looks much the same as another.”

GM: “Yeah,” the middle-aged cop tiredly repeats. “It was a pretty big bust. The case has been punted to the DEA.”

Caroline: “Is that good for you, or bad for you?” Caroline asks with genuine concern.

GM: A pause. “It means Jacobson didn’t die for nothing.”

Caroline: “He didn’t either way,” Caroline’s quiet reply comes.

GM: “There was a major drug operation going on in Rock-n-Bowl no one had a clue over. It explains a hell of a lot why someone busted those punks out of the police van.”

Caroline: “If you hadn’t gotten there when you did.” Again, there’s no need to force her feelings, but she trails off. “What do you mean busted them out of the police van?” Her voice jumps an octave. “You mean those maniacs are still out there?”

GM: Another pause, interspersed by the baby’s now-softer crying. “Caroline, they’re long gone by now. What happened, was that someone ambushed the van they were in and broke them out of custody. Those four were just street-level distributors. Their bosses don’t want them in New Orleans anymore. Their faces are known. That’s why they broke them out. They didn’t want them talking to police.”

Caroline: A pause. “You’re sure they’re gone, then?”

GM: “Drug dealers aren’t nice people, Caroline. Those four would be liabilities to keep around. They’re probably dead and rotting in the bayous now. Cheaper to put a bullet through their heads than set them up in another city.”

Caroline: How wrong you are… and what a fascinating cover-up. DEA… do they just lack the local resources?

“They wanted to kill me.”

GM: “You’re safe now.”

Caroline: “Unless my name ends up in a report,” Caroline murmurs. “I’ll assume it didn’t.”

GM: “I said I’d received an anonymous tip. But Caroline… how did you get mixed up with those people?”

Caroline: “Westley.” Throwing her brother under the bus has never been so easy.

GM: The cop’s voice grows harder. “Caroline, is he using? Liberals go on about druggies having a ‘disease,’ but some shitheads just belong behind bars.”

Caroline: And the good sergeant knows well his degeneracy. There’s a moment of silence on the other end of the line.

“I don’t think so. He’s kept away from crack before, but they were circling like vultures. Someone mentioned he’d been around though, so I thought I’d take a look.”

Her swallow is audible through the phone. “That was a mistake. Jacobson… did he have a family?”

GM: “Uh huh.” Caroline can picture the now-wide awake cop chewing on his lip. The baby’s crying has trailed off. “What places has he been hanging out lately, Caroline?”

Caroline: “You don’t want to go chasing him, Marco. It can’t end well.”

GM: The police sergeant’s voice is low when he finally replies to Caroline. “Worse than a dead cop?And Jacobson did have family, Caroline. A wife named Kelly. No kids, so there won’t be any babies growing up without fathers, though he and Kelly had been trying.”

Caroline: “Small graces of God,” Caroline mutters.

GM: “Be sure to pass that along to his widow.”

Caroline: “I’d like to,” Caroline replies. “If not in that way. He died for me, though, Marco, because of my mistake. If you have to be mad at someone…”

GM: “He brought her in to the office one day. She’d baked cookies for all the guys. Really nice lady.”

Rizzaffi sighs. “I’m not mad at you, Caroline, but if your brother had anything, anything to do with…”

Caroline: “I’ll find out. And he’ll regret it. Let me work it on my end, though. You don’t the attention on you. Not any more than the family wants it on them.”

GM: “I’ll worry about me, Caroline.” There’s an edge to the police sergeant’s voice. “We’ll do things your way, for now.”

Caroline: “Tell her I’m sorry.”

GM: “Tell her yourself. The funeral’s in two days.”

Caroline: “Is there a viewing?”

GM: “No. The department’s paying for it, but he only made officer.”

Caroline: “You’ll hear from me.”

GM: “You’re not going to attend?”

There is a very long, pregnant silence.

Marco’s next words are low, but they’re not soft. “Caroline, that man died for you.”

Caroline: She bites her lip. “I know.”

GM: “So?”

Caroline: “I’ll pay my respects, Marco.”

GM: “His wife’s gonna see you at 3 PM, St. Louis Cemetery #2?”

Caroline: “Trust me, Marco. I have something in mind.”

GM: More silence stretches over the line.

“You’d better,” the sergeant mutters, then hangs up.

Caroline: She sets down the phone. Physical exhaustion aside, juggling all these balls is mentally exhausting. Combined with lack of sleep… that was one thing she never thought she’d miss.

Somehow she doubts unlife is going to get any easier from here.


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Story Three, Emmett VIII

“All you can do right now is give.”
Bert Villars


Thursday, 10 September 2015

GM: After Emmett is cleaned and changed, he is interviewed by no less than three further police detectives who question him extensively about his recent conversation with Richard Gettis. They record the conversation. They talk to Villars, and growl this “isn’t the time” to be “playing your usual games.” Two of the detectives exit the room without even asking about anything related to his Em’s arrest.

“He’s gone off the fucking deep end!” one of the cops exclaims as he leaves. “Can’t believe that crack is still arresting people.”

“Makes our job easier.”

“Still fucking insane.”

“Whatever the fuck lets us bring him in.”

The remaining detective asks Em to repeat the same story he told Gettis.

It is not long afterwards that the police obtain an arrest warrant from Judge Carson Malveaux of the Orleans Parish Criminal Court. Dr. Brown does not believe it medically advisable for Emmett to be moved to Orleans Parish Prison in his current condition, so two police officers are assigned to guard his now-private room around the clock. He is to be denied all visitors except for his lawyer. He will be allowed other visitors when he is brought into conventional custody or if a judge releases him under bail. His guards are present to watch whenever a nurse feeds him, sponge-baths him, or assists his bowel movements. They laugh at him and crack lewd jokes every time.

Emmett is formally booked. Police ask him for basic personal information, including his address and birth date. Fingerprints and DNA samples are taken. He is photographed. His photographer remarks that Em’s mugshot is without doubt the “ugliest goddamn one I’ve ever taken.” He is needlessly and embarrassingly strip-searched for any contraband (somehow) on his person. Police gawk at his bruised, flaccid manhood and compare it to a variety of decomposing vegetables.

Emmett is told that he will be bought before his arraignment when he is well enough to leave the hospital, or after 72 hours have elapsed, whichever duration expires first. If the newly-crippled grifter is unable to be transported to court after 72 hours, the arraignment will occur bedside with the judge and other necessary parties traveling to Tulane Medical Center.

Bert Villars is not present for the whole process, but snaps at Emmett to shut up and not say anything to the police except for direct answers to questions he is legally required to answer, such as his birth date. He is being charged with assaulting a police officer, soliciting prostitution, drug possession, obstruction of justice, and, because DAs in Louisiana evidently have a sense of humor, false impersonation. The prosecutor’s office, Villars adds, is not bound by this initial charge decision and can later change the crimes charged once and if more evidence is obtained.

“But you have something much more pressing to worry about than what you’re being charged with right now,” the grimebag lawyer remarks when the two of them are alone. Conversations between Emmett and his attorney remain private, with the guards waiting outside.

“Namely, how you’re going to afford my fees.”

Caveat’s ears perk.

“And pay my outstanding ones.”

Emmett: Em glances up at him. “Depends on what I’m allowed to liquidate.” He shrugs. “You tell me. If that’s not feasible, I’ll…” He pauses. “Think of something.” He’s too tired to lie. Too tired to even feel scared.

GM: Villars bares another cobra hood-flaring grin. “Mmm. And what do you own in property? Cars? Other assets of comparable value?”

Emmett: Em goes over what he can remember. The feeling is surreal.

GM: “Mmm. Not good. Not good at all. Rented apartment, no car, no insurance…”

Emmett: “Well. Worse for me than for you.”

GM: Villars strolls up to the bed and leans his elbow by Em’s head. “And these medical bills…”

Emmett: “Costing me an arm and a leg. Oh, wait.”

GM: “All those days in ICU. The surgery. The amputation. Antiobiotics for all those diseases. Being waited on hand and foot by your nurses. You know how much hospitals charge just for toilet paper, mmm? They mark up everything.” The grimebag lawyer makes a tsking noise and shakes his head. “And no insurance…”

Emmett: He closes his eyes. “I get the picture. You have your phone on you?”

GM: Villars gives a phlegmy, choking laugh that makes his dog’s ears go flat. “Emmett, you aren’t allowed phones when visiting jail inmates. Your officers took mine at the door.”

Emmett: His eyes are still shut. “Okay. I’m going to give you a number.” He promised himself he would never do this. He had meant it, too. But why should he keep this one?

GM: Villars’ bared yellow teeth loom all-too close to Emmett’s face. He can smell the man’s nicotine-scented breath. “All you can do right now is give.”

Emmett: Em ignores the taunt. He speaks slowly. Makes sure Villars repeats it. “Call that. They have money. And they might care enough to pay. If I were you, I’d play up how sorry I am. How I tried to play it straight, and this is all one big misunderstanding. Appeal to their better nature. They always loved that.”

GM: “Ah. Family.” The thing that passes for a grin on Villars’ face spreads like a tarantula splaying its legs. “But, you know, Caveat gets so tense whenever he hears the words ‘might’ and ‘maybe’ in the same sentence as money.”

His grin seemingly too wide to spread any further, Villars runs a tongue over his yellowed teeth. Emmett is reminded of a jackal staring at fresh carrion. “Fortunately for us both, I have another way out.”

Villars pats his dog’s head. “Caveat. Spit.”

The dobberman starts making some whoof-like wheezing noises. Then louder coughs and hacks. Drool flecks from the canine’s open mouth.

Emmett: Em frowns. “What are you doing?”

GM: The dog makes a choking, retch-like noise. Villars sticks a latex-gloved hand under its mouth. A drool- and vomit-spattered plastic case plops into the grimebag lawyer’s palm.

Emmett: “…Jesus.”

GM: Villars sets the case on Em’s bedside table, opens it with his gloved hand, and pulls out a cellphone with his bare hand. “I’m going to put you in touch with someone who can make all of our financial problems go away.”

Emmett: Em sucks in a long, pained breath. “Why would you do that?” You bloodsucking snake?

GM: The still-wheezing dog’s ears perk. “Well, our legal financial problems,” Villars cautions with another tarantula-like grin. “You’re still fucked when it comes to these medical bills. But I’ll finally get paid, and you’ll have legal counsel to represent you.”

Emmett: “Who is this?”

GM: “Bud.”

Emmett: “Little girl on his lap guy?”

GM: The tarantula on Villars’ face twitches its eight hairy legs. “The very same. He and his… friends make a business of providing loans to high-risk borrowers such as yourself. You’ll take out one from him, pay my fees, and your legal troubles will be over.”

Emmett: “What happens when I can’t pay him back?”

GM: “You’ll be able to.” The tarantula on Villars’ face swallows a fly. “They’re very good at squeezing blood from stones.”

Emmett: Em bites his lip. “I don’t really have a choice. Do I.”

GM: “Not if you want to continue enjoying my… services. I will be suing you, as well, if you can’t pay my outstanding fees.” He shrugs. “Well, probably not suing. But you can be assured that I will still collect.”

Emmett: He snorts. “Why? I’d be in prison. Or dead, probably, knowing Mouton. You might as well buy flowers for my funeral instead of waste the legal fees.”

GM: “Oh, Emmett.” Villars turns away from his client’s bed and runs a gloveless hand over his hooked-up IV fluid bag. “I’m very good at squeezing blood from stones too.”

The grimebag lawyer abruptly seizes the transparent bag and squeezes it hard. A fresh spike of agony shoots through the vein in Emmett’s arm, turning the needle stabbing through it into a pinprick-shaped fire.

“You’ve been digging your own grave these past few days, you legless fuckwit,” Villars snarls, his face as black as the sunglasses hiding his sightless eyes. “You can dig it all the way to China for all I care, but I’m not breaking my back and shoveling dirt for free.

“You’ve made a lot of enemies lately, Emmett,” he whispers. “You don’t want me as one of them too.”

Emmett: It hurts, it hurts, it hurts. It’s also not that new, and it still hurts. He hears himself speak through fog and from the forever ago that he started down this road. “Point… made.”

GM: Villars’ fist unclenches. Fire drains back out of Em’s artery.

“Finally, he listens to his counsel’s advice.”

Villars picks the phone back up, holds it up to his face and squints closely, and eventually manages to dial a number. He presses the phone to Em’s face. Several rings sound.

“Bud,” grinds out a low bovine voice.

Emmett: “Delacroix,” mutters Em. “Client of Villars.”

GM: “Ya been fucked real hard, Delcroy,” drawls the voice. It’s slow and lazy, like molasses being poured on a hot summer day.

Emmett can hear the man’s smile. There’s nothing sweet to it.

“We’ll fuck you nice an’ gentle.”

Emmett: “Afraid I won’t be fucking anybody for a long, long time, Bud. What exactly is the offer, here?”

GM: “Sue wants to say hi.”

There’s a brief silence.

“Hi!” pipes a small-sounding girl’s voice.

Emmett: “Hi, Sue.”

GM: Another brief silence.

“Yer lawyer’s taken care o’ it all,” drawls Bud’s deeper voice.

Emmett: Em’s eyes slide towards the attorney. “Oh. That’s… good.”

GM: “We loan you the money. He gets his fees. You getcher lawyer. Then you pay us back.”

Emmett: “And we are talking about how much, exactly?”

GM: “Ten grand.”

Emmett: “I’d make a joke about crippling debt. But. You know.”

GM: Emmett can hear the grin spread on the other end of the line. It’s not like Bert Villars’, though. Slower. Fiercer. Hungrier.

“Say we done got a deal.”

Emmett: He’s already got one foot in the grave—well, both of them—but even so, he pauses. His entire life these past few days has been one losing deal after another. Is it really worth all this? Is he really going to make another decision without—

“Deal.”

GM: “Thas’ gooood,” Bud drawls. Long and slow, like a man taking a savored drag from a hand-rolled cigar. “Yer interest’s 10% a week, compounded weekly.”

“Short any payments an’ we’ll kill yer family.”

Emmett: “…um.”

GM: “Bye!” pipes Sue’s voice.

The line clicks.

Emmett: “You son of a bitch.”

GM: Villars drops the phone back into its plastic case, snaps it shut, and holds it out for Caveat. The dobberman snarfs it up like a dog biscuit. There’s even a few loud cracks from his teeth.

Emmett: “What happens to you if I can’t make the payment? You’re ripping them off just as much as I am. More.”

GM: “Nothing at all, Emmett. The debt’s yours. Not mine. Besides.” Villars bares another cobra-like grin. “I bring them a lot of repeat business.”

Emmett: “Yeah, but you purposefully referred them somebody who probably won’t make it worth their while for your short-term gain. That seems like it would piss them off.” He coughs. “Though I will, obviously. Pay.”

GM: Villars drops the soiled glove into a trash bin and pats his dog’s head. “Emmett, don’t take this the wrong way, but you’re, well, an idiot. You don’t have enough brainpower leftover to spend it pondering how the Dixies do business.” His grin widens. “But your concern for my welfare is… touching.”

Emmett: “Oh, trust me. One day I’ll think back on this and be very, very angry, and I’ll spend hours thinking of a way to fuck you under the bus. But for now, just take the money and shut up, please.”

GM: “And maybe one day you’ll grow a new pair of legs and not be crushed under a mountain of debt. But I suppose we can hope, now can’t we?” Villars’ leer twitches in place.

“Now yes, the money. That’s being taken care of. Bud’s sending it directly to me. You won’t see anything in your bank account—as it’s a no-no for you to be performing those sorts of financial transactions right now, not to mention it’s the first place your creditors are going to ransack—so make sure you remember all the sums.”

Emmett: “Oh, yes.”

GM: “This isn’t strictly legal advice, but now that you’ve paid me for my services, I am feeling generous. That medical debt’s going to crush you like a sack of bricks. If you think my fees are expensive, you should see what an extended ICU stay without insurance adds up to.”

“Most likely Tulane’s going to sell your debt to a third party collection agency. They’re nicer than the Dixies, though not by much. You do look young enough to still be covered under the Affordable Care Act, though. So if I were you, I’d start practicing how to ask Mommy and Daddy extra nice for an advance on your allowance.”

Emmett: “A cripple can make bank in this city. Any city, really. At least, a cripple with a tongue.” Em shrugs. Then he winces, because it still hurts.

GM: A familiar slimy grin spreads over the grimebag lawyer’s face. “Of course, I could make another call to Bud.”

Emmett: “Let’s not.”

GM: Villars shrugs. “Some last food for thought, Emmett. Many of those agencies collect their money by garnishing debtors’ wages. Those who don’t have a legal source of employment, however…”

Emmett: “Well. Not your problem until I pay you to fix it, is it?”

GM: Villars looks almost wounded. “Why, Emmett. As your attorney, it’s my ethical duty to look out for your interests. In this case, how failure to repay your medical debts could still get your family killed.”

Emmett: “I’m telling them to poison your dog if I go down,” he mutters, but his heart isn’t in it.

GM: “Caveat’s cheaper than he looks,” Villars grins. “In any case, you need a valid—that is, taxable—source of income for the collection agency to dock your wages from. If you don’t have one, you’ll go to jail. They don’t call them ’debtor’s prisons’ anymore, of course, and you won’t actually be jailed for failure to repay debts—but the collection agency can sue you, a judge can hit you with even more court fees, and you can be jailed for failure to pay those.”

“Bud, of course, could care less if his debtors are in prison. So if you want to make good on your off-the-books payments to him, you’ll need a source of income that exists on someone’s books.”

Emmett: “That’s… actually good to know, yeah. Thanks.”

GM: Another yellow-toothed grin. “You’re very welcome.”

Emmett: “I didn’t mean that thing about Caveat. For what it’s worth.”

GM: “Well, I did. But I’m sure he’s grateful for it.” Villars scratches the dobberman’s ears.

Emmett: “Just to be clear. When he says my family-”

GM: Villars gives the crippled young man an almost pitying look.

Emmett: “Dammit.”


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Story Three, Caroline IX, Louis VIII

“It isn’t fair. It never was, never will. Poison begets poison.”
Louis Fontaine


Tuesday night, 8 September 2015, AM

Caroline: Caroline cruises through dark streets, ignoring the Ryde driver’s attempts at conversation. It feels so empty. Much as she does right now. She taps stars on the review without a word as she heads off the block to her destination.

Lou’s office offers her no solace, however. Locked doors and no sign of habitation.

Probably blowing through the advance on drinks and smokes, she thinks bitterly.

She sets off down the street, abandoning the office. It was childish anyway. What, did she want the filthy one-armed old man to tell her it was all right? It wasn’t, it isn’t, and it won’t be.

Louis: Lou, meanwhile, has long since abandoned his office, leaving it in literal, if partial, shambles. With a wad of rolled bills burning a hole in his pocket as fierce as the empty gnawing of his gut, he’s made his way down Canal Street, head bent low, hardly soaking in the sound of the passing streetcar chimes.

His smooth-worn gumshoes had carried him mindlessly to the intersection of Canal and North Carrollton, his harrowed mind and soul in absentia. There, in the two packed blocks of North Carrollton Avenue from Canal to Bienville, a slough of restaurants compete rapidly for the hungry or gourmand epicurean. There, one can find Filipino, Chinese, Vietnamese, three different styles of pizza, pupusas, tacos and menudo, boiled crawfish, a burger stuffed with mushrooms, a lemon ice, and even sweetbread risotto. A trip to this strip can satisfy nearly any hunger—or arouse nearly any gourmand curiosity. The crayon box collection of colorful facades reveals both what New Orleanians have been eating for the last half-century and how those eaters have changed.

Lou loves the tangle of bistros, diners, and cafes, as it reminds him of his own bric-a-brac lives and the jazz-step march of years. Perhaps feeling the weight of those years, his feet had hauled him to Venezia, the oldest contiguously operating restaurant in Mid-City, an Italian pizzeria and diner. Huddled with a view of the streets, he had eased into a number of dishes guaranteed to give one coronary heart disease.

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His gut so sated, the old man had then trundled his way to appease his sweet tooth.

GM: Available pies tonight include apple and cherry, the weary-looking waitress informs Lou. There’s also some chocolate cake.

Louis: Lou waves off the waitress, leaving a rather generous tip for the more commonly miserly customer. Almost as if he’s saying goodbye to the old joint.

GM: The woman’s eyebrows shoot up to her bangs as she looks the dollar bills over. Who’d have guessed an old bum like him had more than two nickels to rub together?

Louis: By the time Caroline leaves his empty office, Lou is sitting at Angelo Brocato’s. He continues the Italian fare by ordering a lemon gelato.

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Caroline: By providence or chance, or maybe just a desire to head towards people rather than away, Caroline’s path mirrors Lou’s. There is an almost fearful cadence to her step, as if she is afraid she is being hunted. And who is to say she isn’t? She made plenty enough enemies tonight.

Louis: Lou’s long thoughts recall all the previous owners of the iconic pastel diner. First Sehrt’s Bakery, then Long’s, owned by the brothers Larry and Bill. Finally, just before the Brocato family took over, it was Lombardino’s. Angelo Brocato’s made the move to Mid-City because after World War II the French Quarter’s Italian residents, now several generations removed from Europe, had fanned out across the city. And by then, the sweet shop had been discovered by other groups in the city. The corner of Canal and Carrollton seemed like a crossroad.

Every place has its history. Its ghosts. And tonight the phantoms are thick as the custard he slowly spoons into his mouth.

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Caroline: And more than phantoms. No doubt the detective notices Caroline long before she sees him. She’s changed clothing into more muted colors. Black sweater, dark skirt. It only makes her pale face stand out all the more under dim lights in the night.

Louis: Lou scowls.

“Even the ghosts here get haunted,” he grumbles.

Caroline: She’s walking with a hint of a limp she lacked earlier, and looks haunted indeed. Her head swivels just a bit too much back and forth. Checking the street like a scarred war vet.

Louis: Damn it all to hell if I have to torch this place right here and now, Lou bitterly muses.

His face, however, is a mask as cold as marble cemetery. He makes no show of regarding the ‘wolf who thinks she’s a lost lamb.’ He just spoons another dollop of custard.

Caroline: Caroline almost wanders past him. Her attention is on the street, but the big windows and his choice of seat location is his undoing. She pauses as her eyes latch onto him, like a drowning woman spying a life preserver, and makes for the door.

Louis: As she enters, her delicate frame momentarily blocks the street lamp’s glow, slashing his face with ephemeral shadows. Like an axe being ground to a razor-sharp finish, he slides his liquor-brown gaze from his gelato to Caroline Malveaux. His gaze then motions to the other side of the candy-pink booth.

Caroline: Even dressed down she is out of places. Aristocratic cheekbones and bearing don’t belong here and mark her as an outsider as surely as a neon sign. She seizes the perceived offer, walking past the rest of the late night lost souls to sink into the booth across from him. Unconsciously or consciously, every eye in the room turns on her.

Louis: Lou’s scowl deepens, as if the corners of his lips are trying to fall off his face.

Caroline: And still, she sits there, saying nothing. Drawing the silence. Her eyes delve into the craggy lines of his face, his scowl.

At last she speaks. “Don’t be angry with me.”

Louis: Lou looks away, out into the night, the neon-splattered darkness. After a while he answers,

“Maybe my anger’s at someone else tonight, Miss Malveaux. A great many someones.”

Caroline: “I hope so.” She doesn’t sound like a monster. She just sounds like a girl. “You’ll be the only one.”

Louis: He turns back to the gelato. “Quisque suos patimur manis.”

He tries to focus on the sweet, cold melange of sugar, cream, and fruit puree. He knows it just might be his last meal, after all. He tries to not focus on the fact that there is a blood-sucking undead abomination sharing his booth. He tries not to focus on her youth: the dying spoiled fragrance of mortality that has already thinned like a painting doused in turpentine since he last met her. But it’s like she’s infected him with her own inability to enjoy the flavors of life, including the taste of Brocato’s finest.

Caroline: “Virgil was a wise man.”

Louis: Lou looks up, as if not quite aware that his previous words were spoken aloud. He sets down his spoon.

Caroline: “Wiser than he knew. Hell is appropriate for this life.”

Louis: Lou nods. “Shakespeare said that ‘Hell is empty and all the devils are here.’”

Caroline: “I’ve met them.” Her shoulders sag in relief as she sinks more fully into the booth. “Damnation is bad enough, but why do they make this life Hell as well? No relief, no peace, no mercy.”

Louis: Lou opens his mouth as if to ask or elaborate on her remark, but he pauses. He sets down a few bills, then a few bills more, and tucks the wad under the napkin dispenser. He groans as he rises and locks his briefcase between his prosthetic tines. He looks meaningfully to Caroline.

“You ready?”

Caroline: She slides gracefully—too gracefully—out of the booth with a wince.

“Depends on whether you aim to follow his steps.”

Louis: Lou doesn’t immediately reply. Instead, he tips his hat to the serving girls, then hobbles out the building. He turns back momentarily, not looking to see if Caroline is following, but to regard the pastel-painted, neon-lit parlor.

How many more skins will you shed, I wonder?

Even inside his own head, it’s not clear whether he’s asking the structure or himself. He sighs and sucks in the sultry air, the tang of a nocturnal storm that may or may not come. He looks down at Caroline.

“If you want to talk, here’s not the place.”

Caroline: Caroline shrugs. “There’s no place for us.”

Louis: Lou’s face hardens, then softens. But only a little.

“No, there isn’t.”

Caroline: “You aren’t like the rest, though. I don’t know why…”

Louis: Lou doesn’t answer. Instead, he scans the bustling street and knot of restaurants.

“But there are some places that are less yours than others. "

Caroline: “Or maybe how. How you spend more than a day without hardening, petrifying.”

Louis: “Take me to your haven.”

Caroline: “Haven?”

Louis: Lou cracks his neck, allowing the gesture to let him have a better, if only momentary, view of the nearby rooftops.

“Your dwelling place. I’m assuming it’s private and protected. If we’re going to have this talk that I know is going to hurt like a sadistic dentist trip, you’ll want both.”

Caroline: Caroline snickers. “I told you already, there’s no place for me. On the agenda. I’d hoped… but tonight went poorly.”

Louis: “Tell me about it,” Lou says dryly. His acrimony makes it hard to know whether his reply is genuine or sarcastic.

“But not here. Hail a cab, and take me to where you… sleep.” The last word is spoken like a bad-tasting morsel of food being chewed.

Caroline: She looks at him. “Are you sure?”

Louis: He shrugs. “Honestly? Not one damned bit.”

Caroline: She makes a call. They wait on the street.

Louis: He waits in silence.

Caroline: Poor choices are par for the choice.

“It wasn’t my fault.”

Louis: Lou says nothing. He just stands and waits for the cab. A silent statue on the road. Inside, however, his mind is a bloody riot of doubt and fingernail-tearing debate.

Caroline: “What happened. If anyone could spare ten minutes to tell me what I was supposed to do.” She shakes her head bitterly. A different girl than he met this morning. Less pride.


Tuesday night, 8 September 2015, AM

GM: It’s a short trip back to Hilton. The lobby is as all but empty. Caroline and Lou observe only a single receptionist pulling the graveyard shift as they enter the building. Her makeup and professional attire cannot conceal the weariness in her eyes, nor make the minimum-wage smile plastered onto her face any more sincere. She’s talking to a mustached, square-jawed man wearing a trench and fedora.

“…think long and hard, miss,” the man says quietly. “Who did he come here to see?”

“I’m sorry, sir,” the receptionist answers with the same fake smile. “It’s against hotel policy to disclose information about our guests.”

The man slides a picture across the desk.

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“Lisa and Rachel Paxton, ages nine and six. They’re wondering where their father is.”

The receptionist hesitates.

“He’s missing. And don’t think I’m expecting you to do it solely out of the goodness of your heart, either.” The man places some bills onto the table. “My boss knows how to express gratitude. Knows plenty of places that offer saner hours than here, too.”

The receptionist chews her lip. Eyes the cash.

“We know he was here,” the man says quietly. “And I don’t imagine he booked a room, did he?”

The receptionist shakes her head.

“Not a real guest, then,” the man nods, sliding over one of the bills towards her. “What did he do while he was here?”

“He asked about a… nother guest,” the receptionist hesitantly answers, pocketing the bill. “He’d traced her credit card here.”

The man leans forward, his gaze at once gentle and unwavering. “What room number?” he asks quietly.

Lou can observe just the faintest bit of urgency—no, excitement—to his voice. It’s the tone of an investigator asking the critical witness the critical question. The one that’ll bust the whole case wide open.

Louis: Sensing that tone, and recognizing its import, Lou cannot help but slow down, his neck craning to see if recognizes this fellow fedora- and trench-wearing investigator. The Big Sleazy is big, after all, but not that big.

GM: Lou searches his memory, but the man’s identity remains a mystery. The Big Easy is still big enough to have a multitude of those.

Louis: Lou studies the face, voice, and mannerisms of the other investigator. Currently, his identity may be currently a mystery to Lou, but the old man has a habit of dismantling mysteries like the Gulf’s penchant for spitting out hurricanes.

Caroline: The pause in Caroline’s steps tells Lou all he likely needs to know. She turns on the pair, putting a near sneer on her face.

“You’re wasting your time,” she calls to the two, perhaps ten feet away.

GM: “That so, miss?” The investigator inquires, his tone and expression remaining level at Caroline’s ugly look.

The receptionist suddenly finds a reason to be busy on her computer.

Louis: Lou turns, but hangs back, content for the moment to let the young socialite-turned-abomination handle the situation, or at least better reveal its nature.

Caroline: “The Hilton prides itself on the confidentiality of its guests. She’s not going to give you anything without a warrant. If she did they’d ruin her life.”

GM: The square-jawed man strokes his mustache and regards Caroline thoughtfully, as if putting together a new piece to the puzzle.

“Could be you’re right, miss. This place does have a reputation to think about.”

Caroline: Caroline shrugs indifferently, simply a bystander. “I’d hope so.”

GM: The man smiles. “No doubt they appreciate your confidence. I’m not keeping you from Rebecca here, am I?”

‘Rebecca’ is the name on the receptionist’s name tag. She’s still looking dutifully away from the heiress and the investigator.

Caroline: “Not even a little bit. Good luck with your search, though.” Caroline continues on.

GM: The man tips his hat. “Have a pleasant evening, miss.”

Caroline: Caroline leads Lou to the elevator. She punches a button for the floor below her room.

GM: The investigator goes back to talking with the receptionist as they leave, reproducing the photo of the two girls from his pocket.

Louis: Lou regards the exchange, noting the man’s accent. Native to Louisiana, but not to New Orleans. Baton Rouge or Shreveport are the most likely suspects, particularly the former given the Malveaux’s presence in the state capital. Definitely ex-cop.

He files away both thoughts, though, as he follows Caroline.

GM: The elevator dings at the 26th floor.

Louis: Inside the elevator, Lou regards Caroline, not saying anything, but watching everything.

Caroline: The encounter has clearly shaken her, at least under Lou’s gaze.

“So there’s that.”

Louis: He just nods, demonstrating a patience that has been honed over centuries.

“So there is.”

Caroline: “I didn’t…”

The words feel hollow in her mouth. The doors open and he leads him out of the elevator, making for the stairwell.

Louis: Nonetheless, he checks his analog watch, noting that even if his patience is unlimited (which it surely isn’t, particularly tonight), his time is most assuredly not. He tries to shelve away thoughts of his next ‘appointment’ and follows her. When they come to the stairwell, he almost nods in approval.

Caroline: She leads him up a floor to her room. The first thing that hits him as the door opens under her keycard is how cold it is. The second is he faintly off oder.

GM: The ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign is still present on the door handle. A paper note and silver tray lie on the floor. Lou can smell breakfast from under there. Something fruity.

Louis: Lou hugs his trench tight and tries to pick apart the odors, hoping that his suspicions will ring false.

GM: He’s eaten, and he has enough money to eat for some time, but his stomach remembers all-too well what it’s like to go hungry. And that food, just sitting there. It’s not as if Caroline is going to eat it. How many complimentary breakfasts have they thrown away on account of her nonexistent appetite?

Louis: Lou shakes his head, then raises a finger to his lips, motioning Caroline to be still and quiet.

Caroline: Caroline drags the meal inside all the same.

Louis: He then makes a meticulous sweep of the hotel suite, checking to make sure they are indeed alone, and unobserved.

Caroline: The second, obvious matter to Lou, are the bloodstains on the bedroom walls. Blood spatter is everywhere. It looks like several someones were murdered.

GM: The two-room executive suite is fairly cushy living. Caroline’s amenities include a spacious live area with a work desk, separate bedroom with a king-sized bed, wet bar with refrigerator and 37-inch LCD TV, complimentary WiFi, Executive Lounge access, Health Club by Hilton access, and a stunning view of the Mississippi River. A spread of cheeses, crackers, meats, fruits, and other evening hors d’oeuvres reclines on one of the tables. It’s getting a little stale. The staff clearly hasn’t been in for some time.

Hotel.jpg
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Blood is everywhere. Dried. There’s a crusted flowing pattern all over the floor. Lou swiftly puts together that someone crawled on their hands and knees, likely in great pain, towards the hotel door. The handle is also crusted a dull red. Further spatters in other, seemingly unconnected locations, however, would indicate that additional episodes of violence took place in the room at different times.

There’s more blood crusted over the bathroom floor tiles. Lou finds three ice cubes in the bathtub. One is as ordinary and mundane as ice cubs come. The other two are solid red. Not blood, though, he quickly identifies. Food coloring.

Caroline: Caroline follows Lou around, but stops to stare at the bathroom.

“I…”

She waits for Lou to speak.

Louis: Lou dissects the bloody scenery. It’s a red picture he’s seen time and time again. His fist clenches and un-clenches. Slowly, he forces his hand not to rise, not to take out the stake in his inner trench pocket. He does not turn immediately, too afraid that his anger, disgust, and loathing might show.

GM: The bloodstains tell the loudest story. Their age. Their coloration. Their angles and spreads. There’s a great deal the blood tells.

There was a struggle, between Caroline and a man. Larger than her. Just by the closet door, where she was doubtlessly hiding during the day. Few Kindred would have willingly come out from their shelter against the sun. The man dragged her out, forcefully. He likely didn’t know what he’d gotten himself into.

Louis: Lou silently prays that he did—at least then he would have known the risks.

“Who was he?” the old man asks between gritted teeth.

Caroline: “An investigator. Works for the Archbishop. Grabbed me, tried to drag me out into the sun… I… I’d…”

GM: Lou’s prayers are in vain, if the spent bullet casings he finds are anything to go by. Any seasoned hunter knows full well those things are useless against the Damned. Still, the man appears to have landed some well-placed shots… not all the blood is his. Some of it is darker than the human norm. More syrupy. Cainite vitae.

After Caroline mauled him nearly to death, she hauled him into the bathroom. Lou finds the medical kit. The partially used supplies.

Louis: “You tried to save him.”

Lou still has not turned to face her. It.

Caroline: “Yes. When he dragged me out I lost control. It was the morning after I was ‘Embraced’. I’d tried to talk him down, tried to get him to just leave. I didn’t want to hurt him. Didn’t mean to, even.”

GM: Lou notes there’s piss in the toilet. The man was either too delirious or uncaring to flush. He was clearly there for some time, too, if he thought to empty his bladder. The piss certainly isn’t Caroline’s.

The kick marks against the door and adjacent wall would indicate the man was locked inside, if the chair lying on its flank didn’t already. A crude barricade he may well have taken hours to break down in his wounded state.

A new trail of blood starts at the doorway. It crawls several further feet. It seeps into a great, dark, wet stain. The man passed out. He lay there for some time. Then, there’s a few scattered stains. He was revived. Not by a mortal medic. You don’t just get up and walk after you pass out bleeding like a stuck pig. Lou can think of one substance that could revive an almost dead man, though.

There’s a few stains by the door out of the suite. There’s a few more stains over the door handle. The man tried to get out. He tried to escape. But he was seized from behind. There’s another bloody trail, leading back to the bathroom. And… three ice cubes.

There, the body simply vanishes.

Louis: Lou’s eyes follow the sanguine trails.

Caroline: Caroline watches Lou’s reaction.

Louis: He shakes his head.

“Mierda.”

Caroline: “I tried to save him. I was desperate to save him. I didn’t want to be a murderer.”

Louis: Lou regards the ice cubes for a long time. He takes out his thermos and dumps out the sludge in the nearby sink. He slips on a latex glove and drops both red cubes into the now empty and rinsed thermos. He seals it, as if that simple act might contain the terrible deeds that befell here. With great force of will, he compels his muscles to relax, ironing out the tensed wrinkles of flesh in his jaw and brow. Slowly, he turns.

“It’s not your fault.”

Caroline: “It is my fault. I killed him.”

Louis: He nods. Not disagreeing in the slightest. But he motions her over to a seat, taking one of the non-stained ones himself.

Caroline: “I don’t know what the ice cubes mean, though… or what happened to the body. Do you?”

Louis: He sets down his briefcase, then thermos. He then takes off his glove, then hat, and runs his single hand through his iron-brush hair and liver-spotted scalp, now prickled with gooseflesh in the chill. He nods. And then, with a calmness born of countless interviews with traumatized victims, he speaks and matches his gaze with a softness, an openness that he keeps locked away, tightly save for these times.

“I promise to explain. But first, tell me what’s happened.”

Caroline: “Since we last spoke?” She gives a sad laugh. “I tried to find a place to top off. The… it’s easier to stay in control when I’m.” She swallows, needlessly. “Full.”

She explains her inadvertent poaching, fighting off the first two, then getting dragged out by the three that followed. The beating in the alley, the police, the rescue, and her sentencing, including drinking the sheriff’s blood and the minor boon owed.

“I don’t even know what most of that means, other than that now I’ve also got a gang of vampires that want to kill me, and another powerful vampire pissed off at me as well.”

Louis: “May I call you Caroline?”

It’s normally about this time he’d hand the victim a hot cup of tea or coffee. Considering the circumstances, though, Lou declines offering the woman any libations. Even if he has it on tap. Thumping in his veins.

Caroline: She nods. Relating the tale has been cathartic.

“I don’t want sympathy, I just… want to understand. I want to know what the hell I’m doing. I’m wandering blind.”

Louis: “Caroline, much of this-” he waves his hand at the walls and then beyond, “-was not of your choice. Other choices were yours, but they were made in gross ignorance, rather than malice, despite their heinous nature.”

“I cannot erase what has happened. What you’ve done. What’s been done to you. But I can try to help make it so that the next series of choices you make are done with eyes less blind.”

He sticks a cigarette in his mouth. He then draws a gold-plated lighter, but he does not ignite it. Not yet, at least.

Caroline: She nods.

Louis: His eyes grow distant, unfocused for a moment, as he contemplates how to begin. How he could, or should, have begun with his old partner, Pete, but didn’t.

Maybe I’ll get it right this time.

Caroline: “I can play the game, but not if I don’t know what it is. And everyone I’ve asked even the simplest questions has reacted… badly.”

Louis: Her words break his silence.

“The real question is whether you choose to play the game at all.” He thick thumb rests meaningfully on the lighter. “But first…” he then begins his lengthy, patient exposition.

Caroline: Relief spreads across Caroline’s face as Lou begins to lay bare secrets she only guessed at.

Louis: “First and foremost, you have to understand, really understand, that the substance that René made you drink, the stuff that transformed you, that fills you, sustains you, is poison. Poison. They call it vitae, but it’s poison. I’m not talking about any simple physical toxin. I’m talking on a spiritual level. And there’s no antidote. None. At. All.”

“One symptom of the poison is what they call the Beast. The thing that frenzies, the thing that begs and screams for, demands blood. It’s pure, mindless evil. Without conscience, morality, or rationality. But the Beast isn’t some separate entity, some thing that possesses you. It is you. It’s the vitae. The Poison.”

“Some of your kind, they try to manage the Beast. Tame, appease, or ignore it, pretend it isn’t there, always there. Pretend that they’re the master and the Beast is their slave, shackled tight and secure. But they’re fooling themselves. There is no cure, no mastery. And it only gets worse. With each inhumane act, each time the Beast breaks free and runs wild, the Poison spreads, grows. In time, not even human blood will appease the Beast.”

“Caroline, if there’s one thing you need to remember or understand out of everything I tell you, it’s this. The only way to get rid of the Poison, the Beast, is to kill it—which means killing yourself. To die again. To die once and for all. There’s a reason they call it the final death.”

With a flick of his thumb, the lighter’s top snaps shut.

“Don’t forget what I said. The Beast, the poison, it’s going to try to make you forget or ignore what I just said, to latch on to everything else I tell you and try so desperately to reject or forget the most important and ultimate truth shared here tonight.”

Lou flicks open the lighter again, his thumb perched on the igniter. He then expounds on many of the inner workings of the Kindred, the Camarilla, the Masquerade, and how all three of the above operate in the Big Sleazy. Notably, he gently but firmly explains how Caroline has not only been grossly, but understandably ignorant of Kindred society, but severely, if reasonably, interpreting Kindred society through a modern mortal perspective.

“You can’t try to understand the culture of an immortal monster through the lens of a contemporary mortal.”

In particular, he explains how Kindred society is a gerontocracy. There isn’t even a pretense of Kindred equality. He describes the ladder: fledglings, neonates, ancillae, elders. He tries to use her father, her mortal father, as an illustrative example.

“Look, your pop is a U.S. senator, right? Senators are like elders, and just like senators, more seniority generally means more authority and power. But you’re not an elder. Not. At. All. Fledglings are the equivalent of hobo children. Hobo kids don’t waltz onto the Senate floor and try to legislate or negotiate the law. They have no say. They do not act upon the law. The law acts upon them.”

He shakes his head. “This may sound harsh, but you’re lucky it was Coco. You walked in and tried to negotiate with a primogen about the terms of her debt—an elder, a regent in her own domain, owed a boon by an unreleased fledgling who’d trespassed in that domain. Any other primogen would have likely have destroyed, maimed, or done far worse to you. Continuing to openly defy the elders’ will only continue to bring down harsh reprisals until you fall in line. It’s like that quip: ‘Beatings will continue until morale improves.’ Except, via blood bonds and other powers, they can literally dictate your morale.”

“Along the same lines, I know you were born with a whole utensil drawer of silver spoons in your mouth. Your whole-damned generation was raised on the teat of entitlement and few are ever weaned. Being a pretty white girl, the world was your oyster, and being a Malveaux, well, I’m sure that oyster was manically coughing up pearls for you day and night.”

“But Kindred aren’t like that. Among the Kindred, you are entitled to nothing. There are no inalienable rights. You have no rights. Only the elders are entitled, if you will, and only so long as they can hold on to their crowns. The Camarilla isn’t a democracy, but a fascist monarchial dictatorship. In New Orleans, which is ruled by the Lancea et Sanctum, you can also add ‘theocracy’ to that list. The Camarilla doesn’t exist to protect the well-being of its ‘citizens’ as ours purportedly does, but exists to maintain and perpetuate the power of a small ruling elite, namely the princes and other elders. Which all-too often comes at the direct expense of younger Kindred, but them even less so than the ‘kine.’ The Camarilla and most of its ruling elders belong more to a time and culture of monarchs that ruled by divine right.”

“It isn’t fair. It never was, never will. Poison begets poison.”

He checks his watch. “Normally, it’s your sire’s job to explain how Kindred laws and customs work. But your ‘sire’ bailed, though I’m working on rectifying that. But having no sire, that means it’s nobody’s job to look after you. There’s no such thing as ‘wards of the state’ for orphaned childer in the Camarilla—you’re thrown to the wolves. You sink or swim. To them, it doesn’t matter which. Either you survive and prove yourself another useful pawn in their parade who can join their society at no time or effect to them, or you die, no skin off their teeth.”

Lou goes on to describe the Traditions, but clarifies that “the laws aren’t based on established legal frameworks. The Six Traditions are loose, subject to the arbitrary whims of princes.”

GM: Of particular note is the fact that killing other Kindred is punishable by final death.

Louis: “And those whims are only constrained by the political repercussions of acting on those whims. Which means, in short, that it’s okay for them to oppress neonates and ancillae, but oppressing other elders can get them overthrown—unless it actually weakens those same rivals.”

He briefly explains how the Big Sleazy is a piece of meat long being warred over by Vidal, Savoy, and Cimitière. “The only reason the prince hasn’t or isn’t lopping off Savoy’s and Cimitière’s heads on trumped-up charges is because they’re powerful enough to stand up to him.”

Lou reaches down and picks up his thermos, spinning the ice cubes inside so they rattle like dice. He explains the Masquerade, briefly laying out how and why it is kept by the Camarilla. More specifically, he tells her about the Krewe of Janus.

“They were here, Caroline. In this apartment. The body was a threat to their beloved Masquerade, so they disposed of it. They left these,” he says once again shaking the thermos, “as a warning that if you continue to threaten the Masquerade, they will so dispose of you.”

He snorts. “They treat it like baseball. Three strikes and you’re out. Except it’s forever. No more innings. First offense, like that other, uncolored ice cube, is allowed to slide. The cube melts, leaves a little water, but no harm, no stain left. Second offense, and they go after someone or something you love. And it may be subtle, but it isn’t pretty.”

“Third,” he says setting down the thermos, “and the ump throws you out of the game.” Lou shrugs, almost apologizing to himself for the next words out of his mouth. “Altogether, the Krewe of Janus aren’t that bad. In fact, you might even call them selfless or even fair, if it weren’t for the fact that their vitae poisons everything they are and do.” His hand rests once more upon the open lighter. “So now, after hearing all that, you have a choice, Miss Caroline.”

“What are you going to do?” His gaze, while patient and calm, are grave.

Caroline: Caroline chews on the words, on the explanations, and particularly on Lou’s tone in all of this. The seemingly hopeless picture he’s painted.

“You think I should kill myself. Now, before it gets any worse.”

Louis: Lou doesn’t confirm or deny the interpretation. “What do you think?”

Caroline: “Before I get people I care about hurt, before I turn into a greater monster than I already am.” Her hands tremble a bit. She takes a deep breath—habit. “I think you may be right. But I think there are better ways to go out than with a whimper.”

Louis: Lou is still for a while, his expression like an old death mask taking on even older vitality. Is there a hint of a smile? Perhaps. It’s hard to imagine what the perpetually scowling man’s face might look like with a genuine smile. At the very least, she’s sure his look is neither mocking nor disparaging her words.

“What kind of bang would you have in mind?”

Caroline: “I don’t know yet. But this… this is wrong. All of it. Their psycho religion, the casual disregard of life and liberty, and the monstrous slave system for all the world. And monsters like René wandering about, inflicting the worst of this on innocent people.”

GM: “I think we live in a hideous, twisted world bogged so down by the weight of our sins, that the only reason God hasn’t cleansed it with a second Great Flood is that he’s given up on the potential of intelligent life to be anything but evil,” Caroline recalls her sire blithely declaring. “If he isn’t evil himself. Maybe all creation is simply a twisted joke he’s telling for his own sick amusement.”

Louis: Lou nods, his expression somewhere hidden between acknowledgement and agreement. Softly, he takes out the ancient cross dangling from his neck. Rough fingers tracing soft wood. Both old. Both worn.

Caroline: The sight of it twists Caroline’s face with grief. “Put it away please, Mr. Fontaine.” She looks away.

Louis: Lou complies.

Caroline: She doesn’t meet his eyes until he does.

“Do you think there’s forgiveness enough for the monster I’ve become?”

Louis: Lou looks down. His sagging shoulders bowed like a defeated prizefighter’s.

Caroline: Emotions war in her. Grief, shame, hate. They play across her face. Once more, this is a far cry from the woman that hired him only hours ago. Not the Kindred, not the heiress. Just a girl.

Louis: “I don’t know,” he says heavily. Mournfully. “I wear the cross, but I can’t say I truly bear it.”

Caroline: “They made me take ‘confession’. Congratulated me on sins, demanded I give more.” She shakes her head. “His body, I was supposed to stage it somewhere.”

Louis: “The wolves of God.” Lou doesn’t look up.

Caroline: “The poor girl I attacked first, when I first woke up. They wanted me to attack her again.” She shakes her head. Lou gets the impression that if she could, she could cry. “I thought I was going to have a chance to unburden my soul. But they just put their boot on it.”

Louis: He looks out, through, the curtain-drawn window. Out, into the darkness, and the heavy weight of years and unspoken secrets, shames, and dreams.

Caroline: “And if I don’t, they’ll punish me further. If I don’t go back to her room and attack her again, they’ll find something terrible to do to me.”

Louis: “Give yourself, the Beast, enough time, and they won’t need to pressure you. They, you, won’t be able to hold yourself back. I don’t know how long ‘enough’ is though.” He looks back. “You seem strong. Penitent.”

But you’re also a Malveaux, the old man considers silently. If your sire had Embraced you and then guided you into Kindred society, accepted you, would you be so penitent, so humble?

He scowls, inwardly chiding himself. And if she didn’t appear so young, so lost, so innocent, would you feel so torn, so conflicted, so willing to dance the razor’s edge, to speak aloud so many words so close to your house of cards?

Caroline: “You’re not religious, in truth, are you? Were you ever?”

Louis: “I don’t know,” Lou whispers in reply to all four questions. He looks up. “But I believe.” He touches the cross beneath his yellowed shirt. “I have walked with saints as well as devils. I have broken bread and taken salt with our ancestors, with those who linger. But do I know what God thinks of us. If forgiveness exists for those drink the blood of Caine.”

Caroline: She nods. “Ghoul. You’re older than you look, aren’t you?”

Louis: He looks down. “Right now, I feel the weight of every year.” He then recites scripture, hearing them echoing in his mind from Antonio’s voice:

“‘And if any among you eats or drinks blood in any form, I will turn against that person and cut him off from the community of your people, for the life of the body is in its blood. I have given you the blood on the altar to purify you, making you right with the Lord. It is the blood, given in exchange for a life, that makes purification possible. So whoever consumes blood will be cut off.’”

Caroline: “That’s what you do then. You drink our blood. It makes sense. Taste of monster. Taste of damnation.”

Louis: He grimaces, sick to his soul.

Caroline: “That’s what I did to him, wasn’t it? I made him into a monster like you. God, I was such a fool. Forgive me…” The words aren’t meant for Lou. “Thank you. At least that’s one mistake I can avoid repeating.”

She looks back to the detective. “You’ve somewhere you have to be.” Her eyes glance to his wrist, as his own have frequently. “Some other case.”

Louis: “Others are suffering, and I have to try.”

Caroline: She nods. “A martyr’s path for you then, Lou? Perhaps we shall see each other on the road.”

A beat.

“Is there something I can do to help?”

Louis: He looks up. “I’d invite you, Caroline, but you’re too… white. Rich. Catholic, even.” He half-grins.

Caroline: She smiles half-heartedly. “The least of my sins.”

Louis: “What will you do?” His half-grins dies into a far more grave expression.

Caroline: She gestures around them. “One of many weighty questions. For a start, I need to clean this up.” She gestures to the room around them. “If the Krewe really does punish those who endanger the Masquerade, letting the other investigator find all these bloodstains is likely bad for business. To say nothing of the headache it would make for my family normally. I don’t want anyone close to me getting hurt because of this.”

“Then, presumably, I need to find a new place to sleep. That was a given I guess, but at least for the night. And then… we see where this path takes us. I’ve some ideas, plans, thoughts. But it’s better if you don’t know about them. You have a place, and a purpose. I’ve endangered that enough already.”

Louis: “I could tell you how to clean it up. Hang around Homicide long enough, and you’ll pick up how to cover up a murder: whether the criminals or cops are better or worse at it is a matter of debate.” He shrugs.

Caroline: “Any advice would be appreciated,” she grants.

Louis: He looks back up. “I said I could. I’m not convinced I should, though. You killed a man. He did not deserve death.”

Caroline: “Sins are sins, Lou. The important part of penitence is in trying to make amends and not repeat.” Still, his words hit her like a slap. “In this case, it’s not repeating reprisal against other innocent people for my mistake.”

Louis: “But does not that man deserve justice?” He takes off his hat and runs his hand once more through his hoary scalp.

Caroline: She smiles sadly. “I’m pretty sure he’ll get it, sooner rather than later.”

Louis: “That PI downstairs, he flashed that photo of the two girls, claimed they were the man’s daughters.”

Caroline: “They’ll be taken care of, if it is the case. Even if my uncle doesn’t take care of it.”

Louis: He pops open his wallet and draws a similar photo. Different kids, sure, but the similar nature is evident.

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“They’re stock photos, they came with a frame I bought on a MegaMart special. PIs use these to grease people all the time.” He puts the photo and his wallet away.

Caroline: “That’s awfully cynical of you.”

Louis: “Doesn’t mean that the guy’s photo was fake, though. It could have been legit. As for sins, cynicism is my least. Particularly if I use that photo to help track down rapists, murderers, and inhuman monsters.”

Caroline: She waits. “So what’s the word, then?”

Louis: “Word?” Lou looks perplexed by her colloquial expression.

Caroline: “Which weighs more for you, Lou? My judgment in this matter or my ease?”

Louis: “Depends on which judgment we’re talking about,” he answers, his tone lacking humor or notable malice. Just weariness.

Caroline: “I’ll make do, then, and spare you the conflict.” She gestures to the bloodstained room.

Louis: If she only knew the true conflict, he muses bitterly.

Caroline: On the other hand, Lou is likely well aware of the life expectancy of a sireless fledgling. It seems likely the problem will resolve itself.

Louis: “See me before dawn,” he says. “If you want help. Of either kind.”

He snaps shut the lighter and stows it in his pocket. It takes him a while to stand, his legs almost numb as a PCP-addict’s after sitting for so long. He gathers his things, careful not to leave any trace of his presence. As he puts his hat back on, he tips it towards Caroline’s direction. He pauses at the door, and takes one last, careful look at the room. At the carnage-splattered walls, and the ‘girl’ responsible for them.

“Mierda,” he breathes.

Caroline: “Mr. Fontaine,” Caroline calls, still seated. “Leave me your number. When you go.”

Louis: “We’re not there. Yet.”

And with that, the old man departs.

Caroline: “Will we ever be?” Caroline wonders once he is gone.


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Story Three, Caroline VIII

“This is OUR turf, lick!”
Bliss Jackson


Monday night, 7 September 2015, PM

GM: Caroline leaves behind the miserable offices of Louis Fontaine, hails a cab and tells the driver to take her to the nearest rave or club. He’s a heterochromiac with one blue eye and one brown eye who speaks in a thick New Jersey accent and regales her along the way with recommended tour spots in the district. Beyond the yearly Jazz Festival and Voodoo Experience, there’s the Fair Grounds horse racing track, four historic cemeteries, and good food without the French Quarter crowds.

He drops her off at Rock-n-Bowl, a combination dance club, bowling alley, and restaurant where patrons can drink, dance, or bowl while listening to live music performed by the St. John’s Banshees, an all-girl Celtic punk band of moderate talent. Caroline mimics enjoying herself and sets her eye on one of the musicians, a singer and electric banjoist whose skin is a lattice-work of twisting vines, thorns, pentagrams, and Celtic tattoos. She waits until the show is over.

Barely a moment passes after Caroline follows her prey down the alley outside before two dark figures slam her against the building’s brick wall.

The Ventrue’s first assailant is a young, blonde-haired woman wearing a leather jacket, torn black shorts and fishnet gloves and leggings. Her snarling, enraged features are plastered with heavy black makeup and blood-red lipstick that mockingly dares someone like Caroline’s uncle to call her a ‘brazen strumpet.’

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“This is OUR turf, lick!” she yells, pinning her arms on either side of the Ventrue’s head.

Caroline’s second assailant is a Hispanic woman with reed-like black hair, nail-like nose studs, and a no less incensed expression. She wears a half-buttoned man’s overshirt that exposes her lower belly and a tattoo of the Virgin Mary, topless and smirking as she bares her naked breasts. The woman waves a wicked-looking switchblade in Caroline’s face.

“Who the fuck said you could hunt here!?”

Caroline: Territory? Caroline starts to respond, starts to answer, to spin a tale out of this…

But it’s too much. Murder, undeath, near-execution, the horrors of her relative’s perverse faith, the looming threat of death over her head… the Beast has been gnawing at her like a rat on a rotted rope, and here in this alley the last thread snaps. It roars out in a flash of fangs at the tramp pinning her to the wall.

GM: The first woman, clearly only expecting token resistance if Caroline’s clothes are any indication, is taken entirely by surprise. The Ventrue feels the delicious sensation of flesh tearing under her teeth before she sends her adversary crashing to the ground, both vampires hissing and spitting.

Yet her rival’s Beast is no less savage. A shatteringly strong punch and sickening crunch sends the Ventrue reeling backwards, blood messily spurting from her nose. The ground slams up to meet her back. The rival vampire straddles Caroline’s stomach like a lover, her fangs sharp and hungry in the alleyway’s dim light as she lunges for her adversary’s throat.

Caroline: Martial training takes over and Caroline’s Beast surges with strength, smashing the woman’s incoming face into the alley’s brick floor. It splits her forehead like an overripe melon. She rolls the dazed vampire over, seizing control, mounting. It’s just like in the dojo, but this time she drops toward her opponent’s throat with her teeth rather than an elbow. This harlot threatened her?

GM: The entire scene happens too fast to process. For any human to process.

Caroline’s hands are clasped around the woman’s head, smashing it nose-first into the ground with a wet crunch.

Then Caroline’s hands are empty. The woman is no longer there. Only a breeze against Caroline’s skin marks her passing before she feels her adversary smash into her from behind, fangs sinking into her neck.

Then, just as suddenly, Caroline’s hands are spattered red. Her assailant’s skull is smashed over the ground like an antique vase toppled off its perch by a naughty child. The other vampire didn’t even have a chance to scream, so fast did it all happen. She lies still and doesn’t move.

“Hijo de puta!” swears her knife-wielding companion.

Caroline: The horror of it all strangles Caroline from within, but it is a muted horror, wrapped as she is in the fury of the Beast. Her body is not her own and the creature in control is no innocent. It knows better the language of violence than she. It speaks it as a native tongue. It turns to the knife-wielding woman.

GM: Caroline barely processes it. One second, the other woman is there, her face grimly set and her knife clutched in her hand. Another second later, and the woman is gone like a magician’s disappearing trick. The comatose form of Caroline’s felled adversary is similarly absent. No more than a messy red stain around the Ventrue’s knees marks her one-time presence.

Caroline: The Beast prowls for a moment longer inside her, staking its claim on this patch of earth, but as its foes vanish so too does its grip on Caroline. It withdraws, sated.

Horror rules Caroline now. She scampers away from the pool of blood, hands leaving blood trails on the alley’s walls and ground. If she could vomit she would. She takes cover behind a dumpster and ignores the rancid stretch. There is no escape from the savage brutality of this unlife. What a monster she is already.

GM: The sound had faded almost entirely into the background in the midst of Caroline’s life or death struggle, but the Ventrue can distantly hear the boom of music and sounds of traffic and conversation. Life goes on for the kine of New Orleans, irrespective of the Kindred’s shadow wars.

How many more such wars were fought in alleys just outside the bars and clubs she went to, ignorant of this darker world?

Caroline: It takes time, but it is that threat of time that forces Caroline to her feet. Self-pity and horror gives way to numbness, then intellectual nagging. She doesn’t have time to spend on the floor. She’s hungry. The Beast burns through her reserves like a wildfire through a hayfield. The work of hours gone in seconds.

GM: Her attacker’s blood drips off her arms in mute testament to that wildfire’s blaze. Her current state, that same bestial part of her notes with almost clinical detachment, is not conductive to attracting prey.

Caroline: The blood is a problem. No cabbie would pick her up and prowling the streets is looking for trouble. There is one option. Once more, dear friends.

She makes her way back into the crowded bar, trying to hide amidst the muted lights, the dancing freaks, the blaring sounds. She makes for the bathrooms. She tries to wash off the worst blood from her hands with a smirk at anyone who stares.

GM: Caroline lucks out. The crowds are too thick, the music too loud, and the lights too dim for people to notice the blood all over her. The girl she runs into in the bathroom gives her a long look, then seems to decide she’d rather not ask.

Caroline: Wise of her.

Then she’s off once more into the crowd. Hunting. A monster, blood-stained but not blood-soaked. A shame, really, she liked this dress. The mind already works to bury trauma behind the mundane.

On the other hand, perhaps this is not the scene….

GM: Caroline loses herself among the dancing throngs once more. The St. John’s Banshees are back for their next set after the smoke break. The Ventrue sets her sights on someone lower than one of the musicians this time.

It isn’t long before she’s rubbing shoulders with a spiky-haired and bearded man wearing a plaid green kilt and shit-kicker boots. He looks at the washed-out bloodstains on Caroline’s dress, then grabs and kneads her ass so hard she’d think he’s trying to rip it off. He whispers about all the things he’s going to do to her.

Then she spots them. A broad-shouldered, grim-faced young African-American man wearing a black hoody and DG’s. A dusky-skinned woman in a black tank top, with hair the same color, and a long nasty scar across her right cheek. The Hispanic woman from earlier, with the nude tattoo of the Virgin Mary. They fan out through the crowd, consummate urban predators working in tandem.

Three pairs of hostile eyes alight upon the young Ventrue.

Caroline: Caroline mouths, but does not verbalize, a very unladylike curse. She’d hoped the other woman would be occupied with her companion or fearful of another confrontation. Her appearance with two more Kindred, though…

She doesn’t have to be a genius to know how long those odds are. Tired, hungry, and numb again versus three attackers, much less more experienced attackers, without the element of surprise from before… worse, having seen her nemesis in action, she has little confidence that she can simply run. Fear prickles across the back of her neck as she pulls her victim close.

Caroline leads her partner towards the center of the room, digging out her replacement phone to send a text to a friend as she goes. All she can do is await the hunters’ approach and hope the cavalry arrives before they drag her into a back alley. Will they start something immediately? Try to talk? She doesn’t have a frame of reference, nor does it truly matter. They’re coming.

The text is short as calls for help go:

9. Attacked by gangbangers. Hiding in club. Need an escort out. They are here with me, waiting. 3016 S Carrollton Ave.

GM: Caroline’s phone buzzes back after a moment.

On our way. Stick to crowds + lit areas. Don’t let them corner you alone.

Caroline: While she waits, she tries to ply the same influence on her ‘victim’ as she did on her uncle. If it comes down to it, she would prefer him to distract them rather than a bystander.

GM: Yet Sergeant Rizzaffi’s advice proves difficult to put into practice. Caroline’s burly would-be victim stares at her oddly as she turns her preternatural charm upon him, then abruptly seizes the young Ventrue and holds her fast, wrapping his thick arms around her in a great bear hug.

OVER HERE! THE CUNT’S OVER HERE!” he roars above the crowd’s noise. He licks a lustful tongue along Caroline’s face and whispers,

“I’m gonna fuck your ass ’til it bleeds black…”

Caroline: Caroline screams for help in the crowd, thrashing against her attacker and generally causing a massive scene. Irish girl band. Surely someone will notice the girl being attacked. Her eyes scan the stage. Don’t get caught… first rule. The only rule she knows. See how much they want to make a scene here under prying eyes….

GM: Three rival Kindred, seeing their adversary so immobilized, immediately abandon their apparent earlier plan to slowly encircle and entrap her. Instead, they converge upon the pair like sharks cutting through water. Caroline screams and struggles.

Initially, she fears that no one will pay heed to her cries. That the noise may be too loud, the light too dim, the crowd too thick… or apathetic. Perhaps a normal girl’s cries would go unheeded.

But as Caroline shines an invisible spotlight upon herself, drawing on that same… whatever it was that turned her uncle completely around, hostile glares and calls of “hey, cut it out,” and “the fuck are you doing?” fall upon Caroline’s assailant. She feels his body stiffen against hers as the crowd’s will suddenly turns against him. The three Kindred trying to get to Caroline are now relentlessly shoving and pushing their way through a press of angry bodies.

Then Caroline feels a second, almost palpable invisible weight crash against hers, emanating from the Hispanic woman with the Virgin Mary tattoo. The girl loudly trash-talks Caroline, saying she’s a “fucking drama queen” and “pulls scenes like this every club she’s in, it’s just for attention!”

The crowd starts to throw her boos and looks of disgust. Someone spits on her. Someone else shouts they hope Caroline gets raped. No one stops the Ventrue’s assailants as they haul her outside. Some people even try to “help,” but the vampires snarl at them to get back, and no one is brave enough to contradict them. They let Caroline’s would-be victim continue to half-carry her, though.

They haul her back into the same alley where she beat that last vampire into a pulp.

“You pedazo de mierda,” the tattooed woman snarls, waving the same wicked switchblade as Caroline’s would-be victim shoves her against the brick wall. “You poach on our turf, same fucking club, twice in the same fucking night?! The balls on you.”

“So do we explode her head first,” growls the scarred woman in the tank top, “or work up to it with the rest of her?”

The black man in the hoodie simply cracks his knuckles.

Caroline: “Bad idea.”

GM: The tattooed woman rams her knife into Caroline’s belly in response. Her Beast roars in fury and tries to back free.

Her would-be victim and the other vampires all laugh.

Caroline: “So that’s it,” Caroline growls out, clamping the monster down.

GM: “Only bad idea here was yours to poach from Eight-Nine-Six, lick.”

Caroline: “I thought five was the magic number,” she grits out in pain. A grimace. “Might have been four. Did you tell them?”

GM: The black man runs a calloused hand along Caroline’s lips, tracing the edge of her mouth. “You like those, girl?” She feels a slight pressure against one of her fangs.

He grips one between his fingers. “Don’t take long for fangs to grow back. Maybe we hammer some nails into your gums. Fix ‘em in. Wonder how that’d feel to mend during sunup?”

“If she lasts ’til sunup,” says the scarred woman.

The tattooed woman squints at Caroline suspiciously. “Tell what?”

Caroline: “About how a fledgling ran you off like a dog without laying a hand on you.” She looks at the black man seriously. “I can see why she came back. Found her courage. Shame you have to carry it for two. Go ahead, though, show me how tough you are with your friends. Just make sure they know you’ll turn tail and run. Just know that even when I respect the Eight-Nine-Six, I’ll never respect you.”

GM: The tattooed woman furiously rams her knife into Caroline’s kidneys twice again. She viciously twists the blade and smiles as the Ventrue’s Beast tries once again to slip its bonds. Caroline’s would-be victim grunts as he holds her fast, but he laughs hard at the flowing blood, and she can feel a bulge in his kilt pressing against her ass.

“Maybe make this guy a renfield,” smirks the scarred woman.

The black man, though, barks a laugh as he turns his gaze towards his tattooed woman. “Shit, Mil, that wasn’t how you told it.”

’Mil’s’ eyes briefly flick away from Caroline. “Bliss’ head was in practically chunks. I wasn’t taking chances.”

A laugh from the scarred woman. “Yeah, bet she’ll be real glad if she wakes up.”

Caroline: “You had the knife then, too. Just had to go find a pair of balls, I guess.”

It hurts to talk. It hurts to stand. She has no weapon. She has no allies.

She has to drive the words in. Just keep them talking…. getting stabbed is better than getting her head caved in.

GM: The black man barks another laugh, his attention now firmly on Mil. “Yeah, I bet she gonna be real glad. She’s not here now, though.”

The scarred woman crosses her arms. “Yeah. We can take our time.”

The tattooed woman flatly regards her compatriots. “Say what you mean, Nines.”

“You an’ her,” the black man nods.

“You fuckin’ serious?”

Caroline: Caroline sways in the grip of her attackers, watching.

GM: “You bet. Like Nines say. We got time.”

Caroline: “She won’t,” Caroline sways, carved up.

GM: Mil spits on Caroline’s face. Several red droplets trickle down her nose, pattering over the ground. “The hell she says. I’ll tear off her tits and make her fuckin’ eat ’em.”

The black man grins savagely as he tugs the knife out of Mil’s fingers. “Guess we jus’ gonna see.”

Caroline: “Handicapping this one?” she asks, swaying.

GM: “Brose, let her go,” the scarred woman orders. Caroline’s burly captor finally releases her. He and the other two Kindred fan out into a wider circle around Caroline and her tattooed adversary.

Caroline: “Do me a favor,” Caroline asks of the black man, gesturing towards her bag.

GM: He stares at her.

Caroline: “If she gets the better of a half-dead fledgling, there is a black phone with one number. Call the hound so he can clean up the mess. Save you the trouble.”

GM: “Oh, that’s real considerate of you there,” sneers the scarred woman.

Caroline: “It’s called class. Have some.”

GM: Mil snarls and lunges at the Ventrue in a barely visible blur. Caroline’s nose crunches in loudly, spurting blood. The other vampire reappears a short distance away, fists balled, fangs bared.

Caroline: Wounded and exhausted from one fight already, Caroline puts up the best fight she can against the more experienced opponent.

GM: Mile scores a second hit as Caroline stumbles. This one splits her lip open. The other Kindred’s follow-up punch goes wide as the Ventrue shoots out its path with her own blur of speed.

Caroline: She goes low, trying to duck under the blow and drive through to her opponent’s stomach.
She can feel her vitae running dry as her body tries to keep up with the punishment. Blackness creeps over the edges of her vision.

GM: Caroline’s first kidney shot sends Mil stumbling backwards, struggling to maintaining her footing. The Ventrue’s follow-up feint to her right flank has the tattooed Kindred lunging to defend against it, leaving her wide open to the throat punch that sends her gagging. She crashes backwards into one of the alley’s graffiti-littered dumpsters with a loud thump.

In the distance, Caroline can hear police sirens beginning to wail.

The scarred woman curses under her breath. “Fuck. Get off your ass an’ take her out, Mil.”

Caroline: Caroline’s Beast presses against her fleshy cage. Release it and it will make short work of this upstart threatening its host.

But Caroline can’t do that. Even if she could rouse it, she cannot silence it, and she’s made a bed for herself with the police coming already. She just needs to hold out a little longer…

She aches, though, in mind, body, and spirit. Bone-deep weariness. Fighting is exhausting. Being threatened is exhausting. Sleep brings no rest.

GM: The Ventrue’s adversary snarls with wordless anger, then streaks towards Caroline in another barely perceptible blur. Two jolts of pain shoot through her gut. If she were mortal, she might gag, but she feels no nausea. Only a low, pounding rage like an awful migraine as the Beast strains against the increasingly weak bars of its cage.

Caroline: More vitae burns away as she tries to hold her tenuous grip on consciousness. Just a little longer… she can’t win, but maybe she won’t lose. Her attacks are not half-hearted, but they are guarded and clearly measured.

GM: “ON THE GROUND, NOW!”

The building’s door slams open as a squad of NOPD officers bursts through. They barely give the black and Hispanic gangbangers a chance to drop before opening fire. Mil jerks backwards as bullets riddle her chest, but to the cops’ amazement, she does not fall. One officer viciously clouts her over the head with his baton. Another cop smashes his across her hip, but the vampire spins and kicks him in the throat, sending him to the ground in a gagging heap. Her follow-up punch topples the first baton-wielding cop like a bowling pin.

“Don’t kill cops, you idiot!” snarls the scarred woman, but Mil has already lost herself to her Beast and lunges at the Crescent City’s finest in a blur of slashing knifework.

Caroline: The rapid snaps of gunfire reaches a fever pitch, all concerns of the optics of so-called ‘excessive force’ vanishing as the vampires pull knives. Caroline knows well how ineffective a bullet is against her kind, but more than a dozen can slow down anyone. The sound is deafening, the flashes of light in the dark alley blinding. The entire scene is an assault on the senses, especially the enhanced senses of a Kindred…

No doubt Black Lives Matter will have a field day with this.

GM: Caroline doubts they will be the only organization to as a policeman goes down in a gurgling heap, a switchblade buried in his lungs. Radioed cries of, “10-999! Repeat, 10-999!” swiftly arouse the other officers’ rage. The Kindred gangbangers don’t want to fight cops. Maybe they could take them, probably they could take them, but no one is dumb enough to massacre a squad of cops in public view. They try to pull away Mil, but she’s buried in furious officers and in the throes of her Beast. The male Kindred swears, and when it’s his blood that sprays across the pavement his Beast breaks free and tries to rip apart the nearest and most potent threat, heedless of the surrounding cops. Mil takes him down, and then the police happily take her down. The scarred woman tries to get away, but just her against a full squad is ugly odds. She still drops several officers singlehandedly before their numbers overwhelm her.

All told, about half a dozen broken, bleeding, and unconscious cops are lying on the ground alongside Caroline’s four attackers. They lie in seemingly unconscious heaps, wrists secured behind their backs in disposable plastic handcuffs. Caroline’s mortal would-be victim has over a dozen bullet holes in his chest. One cop kicks the body and laughs. “Don’t worry, just a fag in a skirt.”

“Whatever.”

She has to wonder how much worse the NOPD would have fared if the vampires’ Beasts hadn’t made them turn on each other.

Caroline: Caroline finds a wall to lean against as the boys in blue do their duty. She looks like shit. She feels like death. This whole expedition has turned into a clusterfuck. She looks appalled at the fallen officers, more deaths on her conscience. She wonders what she’s now supposed to do with three Kindred in police custody. She’s faded into the background amidst the fire and fury, a spark lost amid the flames.

GM: Blaring ambulances arrive. Paramedics led a towering Choctaw man someone calls Malechi strap the fallen officers onto stretchers and load them in. They’ll save as many as they can, but it sounds as if the NOPD will hold at least one funeral.

Caroline: She digs out the phone the hound gave her and punches in a short message.

Is there a protocol for Kindred in police custody?

GM: His answering text is not long in coming.

What the fuck did you just do?

Caroline: Three of them thought it was a good idea to attack the NOPD. Saw the whole thing.

GM: I bet you did. Call me somewhere they can’t hear.

Caroline: Caroline gives a little laugh that turns into a groan of pain. Let him chew on that for a minute. These animals think that they are the masters of the universe. She’s going to prove them wrong. Very wrong. She’s a Malveaux, and New Orleans is within her universe. It’s her birthright, in this life as the last.

She sends another text to her friend. Leave me out of it.

She tries to slip away. The NOPD would probably rather not have to deal with an outside witness. Anonymous tip. Ever popular. They’ll write the reports on this one. Another notice in Marco’s gun belt, perhaps another rung in his career ladder. Marco Rizzaffi, hero in line of fire.

GM: Sergeant Rizzaffi still corners Caroline anyway. He’s a large, burly man with receding brown hair and a thick mustache. He’s also bleeding. Caroline could smell it on him a mile away, though his blood smells like piss too, not like the jock’s did.

“Caroline, you all right? How the hell did you get tangled up in this?”

Caroline: “Oh, Marco, I…” she affects a sob and covers her face with her hand. Covers her nose from his blood, too. “Please, I need, I need to get away. Don’t let anyone see me. Don’t let my name get in the papers. My family will…”

She plays up the ‘traumatized survivor’ angle. She doesn’t want to deal with any more of this mess. She just wants to go home and forget it all.

Unsaid is that he should want her to do that too, if he wants to maintain the cozy relationship he has with her family.

GM: And like it does in so much else, the Malveaux name wins out.

“All right,” he says. “Let’s get you out of here. C’mon. I’ll be in touch later.” Marco shepherds her away from the scene, favoring one of his legs, with several cops shielding her from view, then turns back to deal the mass of paramedics, newly-arrived officers, injured cops, and gawking witnesses.

Caroline: She smiles as she slips away and dials the number for the hound. No doubt this is going to come down on her eventually, but for now there is satisfaction. Four Kindred on their knees before her. Not a bad night in that regard…

GM: “You gonna tell me everythin’ that jus’ went down, A t’ Z, an’ how you wound up smack dab in the middle,” Wright states with preamble.

Caroline: Caroline spins a fair tale of two Kindred attacking her. After maiming one, the other returned with two more. They dragged her out of the club in full view of dozens of people and tried to extract a measure of vengeance.

“The police don’t take kindly to white women being dragged out of clubs in full view by gangbangers,” she concludes.

GM: “You poached in their turf?” Wright scoffs, though much to Caroline’s relief he doesn’t pursue the detail of the timely text. “Yeah, fuck you, girl. Hope they beat your ass hard. Feed in Storyville next time you’re hungry.”

Caroline: “First I’d heard of either, you didn’t seem interested in answering questions earlier.” She doesn’t offer the implied, What the fuck did you think was going to happen?

“What do you want me to do about the idiots?”

GM: “Biggest idiot here is you, girl. Ask a goddman ghoul if you want somebody to explain shit. We don’t give a fuck if you know the Trads or not when you break ’em.”

Caroline: “What’s a ghoul?” she asks.

GM: “You’ll know ’em when you see ’em.”

Caroline: She thinks. “The humans who know. Who are aware of the Kindred.”

GM: “Give this girl a gold star.”

Caroline: Caroline bites down the flurry of questions that raises, confident she’ll receive no answers. She awaits any further comment. “Point me towards Storyville, at least?”

GM: “Between Poydras Street an’ Canal Street, the CBD. You do not feed anywhere else without permission. Got it?”

Caroline knows the best nightclubs are either closer to the Mississippi or in the French Quarter. The area Wright has given her isn’t exactly bad feeding, per se, but it could be a hell of a lot better too.

Caroline: “How does one get permission, short of smashing four Kindreds’ skulls like rotting pumpkins?”

GM: “Fuck you, girl. Now why don’t you tell me how your dumbfuck self’s gonna stop four licks you’re oh-so-fuckin’ proud to have landed in jail from greetin’ sunrises in their cells?”

“Since you’re such a dumbfuck, by the way, I’ll spell it in dumbfuckese. If that happen, we kill you.”

Caroline: “Clear, but it’s not physically possible to pay their bails. They won’t even come up for a pre-trial until morning at the earliest, and any magistrate that handed out bail in the case would get strung up. More likely they’ll be held at least 48 hours for an initial fact-finding before they even get charged.”

GM: “Lucky you then the De Villes will handle shit. And by ‘lucky you,’ I mean ‘luckier them.’ ‘Cause it’s still gonna be your ass in the fire for makin’ us clean up your giant clusterfuck.”

Caroline: “I’m responsible for a group of degenerates attacking the police, who they rather clearly heard coming?”

GM: “You are fuckin’ responsible, girl. Responsible for poaching and setting off this clusterfuck.”

Caroline: Caroline’s legal mind turns the wheels. “Then let’s be clear. Presumably Kindred law is built upon Roman law?”

GM: “It’s built on Caine’s law and whatever-the-fuck-the-prince-say-it-is law.”

Caroline: “And what law allows them to seek remedy without damages?”

GM: “Fuck, girl. Is arguin’ all you do?”

Caroline: Caroline allows their present subject, four Kindred beaten into submission or killed, to answer that question.

“I doubt even the prince has the leverage to break them out procedurally, but I’ve seen your resources, so let me offer an alternative in mitigation. I can feed you their route from here, all you need is the assets to stop the van. It’ll make this uglier on the whole, but if they never make it to the jail the danger is to the street thugs rather than the Masquerade.”

GM: Caroline hears some indistinct chatter in the background.

Caroline:SWAT isn’t on scene. All your men would have to do is overcome perhaps four or five beat cops. My guess is two in the escort, three in the van.”

GM: “How ‘bout it. Sheriff was also thinkin’ of stoppin’ them on their way there. Ok, girl, you feed us that route.”

Caroline: “Sure, but I wanted it noted that this clusterfuck isn’t on my head. You have me on trespass, but they actively endangered the Masquerade through their recklessness, and frankly I see no evidence that they wouldn’t do it again. I made a mistake, but it’s a misdemeanor at most. They knew exactly what they were doing when they charged the police.”

GM: Wright gives a hard laugh. “We got you on whatever the fuck we say we got you. You wanna get off lighter, you’ll help us fix your mess instead of runnin’ your mouth.”

“Don’t you worry your lil’ head ’bout Eight-Nine-Six. They also gonna get what they due.”

Caroline: “Then of course I defer to you.” She watches the scene from a ways off, out of the crowd. “Bus just pulled up.”

GM: “We on our way.”


Monday night, 7 September 2015, PM

GM: A blue and white police van and its escort speed down South Carrollton Avenue, sirens madly wailing. The ambulance with the fallen cops is not far ahead. Caroline can’t make out the unconscious features of Eight-Nine-Six’s members past the tinted windows.

Caroline: Caroline picks out a new victim among those mulling about, identifying a woman that looks just a little too young for the crowd. A little too inexperienced. She spins a story, aided by her crowing confidence in her preternatural charm. She adds just the right mixture of concern and need to her voice as she plays up how she’s a friend caught up in the mess.

GM: The woman, a black-haired, pug-nosed fellow college student at Tulane who gives her name as Brittney, quickly bonds with Caroline over their shared alma mater. She mentions she’s attending the A.B. Freeman School of Business and proves only too happy to give her new best friend a lift. She even lets the Ventrue take the wheel of her yellow minicooper. It isn’t the fastest car, but Caroline isn’t trying to outrace her quarry, just keep them in her sights.

Caroline: The overly friendly woman only irritates Caroline as she babbles on during the drive.

A hard right here.

“Of course HE doesn’t think he did anything wrong.”

Engine screaming as Caroline races to avoid a turning light.

“I mean, she is just a skank, I don’t see why he hangs around her anyway.”

The girl’s whining about her ‘sort of ex-boyfriend’ is like nails on a chalkboard as Caroline focuses and tries to feed directions at the same time.

She is just so petty.

GM: With her burner cell on speaker mode, she feeds Wright with a steady uptake on the police’s route, which actually proves quite direct. The blaring blue and white cop cars speed down South Carollton Avenue, the yellow cooper racing in their wake. Cityscape blurs by. Two Asian and fried chicken places, with grimy-faced bums desperately fishing through the trash bins for food. A Supreme Burger. A post office, closed. A Firestone Auto. A lonely thrift store with cracked glass windows cracked. A gas station. The campus of Xavier University, a black Catholic college located in the heart of Mid-City. Caroline’s minicooper drives under the Pontchartrain Underpass, cars distantly thumping overhead on the expressway. The still-wailing police vehicles take a sharp right at Tulane Avenue and speed past the yellow arches of O’Tolley’s.

Or at least, try to.

A loud roar and burst of thick smoke obscures the police vehicles’ sight. Gunshots sound as sirens, headlights, and traffic lights shatter. Brittney screams. The mortals can’t see him past the dark and the smoke, but Caroline partly can. The hooded black figure appears out of nowhere, flying towards the police van’s windshield like a fired cannonball. He crashes through the window feet-first in a hail of glass, grabs the driver’s head, and smashes it against the car’s bulkhead. The van squeals to a stop.

Cops spill out of the cruisers, coughing in the smoke, their radioed calls for backup abruptly cut off under the crack of baseball bats wielded by hazy, black-garbed figures—including the Kindred one, though he was in the police van only a second ago. He empties several rounds from a gun into the vehicle’s back door, wrenches it open, and hauls out the comatose forms of Eight-Nine-Six together with his fellows. Caroline can just make it out when he growls, “Fuckin’ idiots.”

The black figures fan out, the vampires slung over their shoulders in firemens’ carries, then disappear into the smoke. When it disperses, only the yellow arches of O’Tolley’s remain. People past the fast food restaurant’s windows are variously ducking for cover and screaming into their phones. A few are bold enough to stare past the windows.

“We headin’ back to Perdido House,” Wright’s voice sounds over Caroline’s cell. “You’re comin’ too.”

The Ventrue’s luckless co-passenger has taken refuge on car floor, head ducked well below the window, hands clamped over her ears. Her screams have trailed off to low sobs as she rocks back and forth.

Caroline: The attack is shocking when it comes, a brutal example of Kindred against kine in a serious fight. The police never had a chance. Still, Caroline is pleasantly surprised that the vampires thought to use bats instead of bullets. She’d half-expected another pile of dead cops on her conscience.

Caroline looks down at her traveling companion, at her pulsing throat, the reckless pounding of a heart driven by the surge of adrenaline. She loses sight of the war waged outside in favor of the girl. Her Beast prowls in its cage, knowing a victim when it sees one. The rise and fall of her chest, her too-dilated pupils, the sheer stink of fear.

Caroline throws the car into reverse, spinning the wheel to spin it away from the attack, then slams it back into drive to pull away. “It’s okay, we’re clear,” she comforts Brittney as she directs the tiny car towards the city center.

GM: The drive to Perdido House takes some eight minutes. The massive skyscraper looms as large and dark above the surrounding cityscape as ever. Gargoyles snarl down at visitors no less fearsomely. Driving into the underground parking garage resembles nothing so much as descending into the belly of the beast, past an iron-grilled jaw and checkpointed teeth. Armed, grim-faced, and black-uniformed security guards see Caroline past.

Brittney, who’s long since stopped talking about her ex-boyfriend, looks at her “friend” with some alarm as she parks the cooper. “What… what are we doing here? We should be calling the cops, or going back to campus, or, or…”

Caroline: Caroline frowns sympathetically. “Maybe you’re right. You should be getting home. Still… I wouldn’t talk about what we saw. Anyone crazy enough to go after the cops isn’t anyone you want to even know you exist.”

She parks the car and crawls out of the cramped driver’s seat, going around to the girl’s side. “It’ll be okay, though. Just keep your head down, right? They didn’t seem interested.” She draws the other girl out of the car. “Hand tough, all right?” She draws Brittney into a comforting hug… it’s all to easy with the girl beguiled. The faint nip. It’s becoming sickeningly routine to suck the life out of other people.

The Beast, still close to the surface, presses against her control, but she fights it. It scares her, demanding she lose herself in its embrace, and let it lose itself in the girl’s. She does neither and wraps herself in self-control. She may be a monster, but she isn’t that kind of monster.

Still, the blood flows for all too short a time before she breaks away. The girl is let go with another reassuring pat on the back. Caroline watches the tiny car swoop out of the garage, Brittney little the wiser.

GM: The girl moans under Caroline’s embrace. It’s not with the same lustful ardor as her previous victims. It’s a desperate, frightened needfulness, one of an overburdened soul seeking comfort. Caroline provides it and more. By the time she’s done, Brittney’s face is flushed red, her breath coming in throaty gasps. She seems to only half-notice the hand she’s slipped down her pants, then dazedly mumbles something about seeing Caroline later. She quickly scurries back to her car as if caught doing something she should be ashamed of, then drives off.

Caroline: If Caroline could still flush with shame, she might well. These are her interactions with people now. Sucking life out of them. Manipulating them. Hurting them. When was the last time she had a normal conversation?

Still, she pushes it aside. There is no time for self-pity. She’s Daniel in the lion’s den once more. But can she emerge unscathed again? A tall order for a damned being, to hope God will hold them blameless.

She grimly heads for the elevators. Stalling will only make matters worse.

GM: The unsmiling, short-haired man who meets her stands roughly half a head over most other men, with shoulders about as wide as the nearest door and slabs of muscle barely contained by his dark suit. His nose looks like it might have been broken a time or two and never set right. His eyes sit deep in his skull, giving him a perpetual angry look.

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He doesn’t say anything. Just swipes a card, punches a button. Gets out with her at another floor, goes into another elevator, repeats. He leads her down a corridor into a spartan office room with gray walls and steel furniture. There is no art or décor. Just the absolute essentials of a desk, phone, computer, and neatly-organized stacks of papers.

All the members of Eight-Nine-Six, sans Bliss, lie in an unceremonious heap on the floor. Their wrists, elbows, and ankles are bound in steel cuffs. Wright silently glares over the comatose gang. Donovan occupies the seat behind the desk. He’s engaged in low conversation with one of three individuals—ghouls?—who Caroline has not seen before.

The first is a young, curly-haired blonde woman who looks around Caroline’s age. She wears a simple flannel shirt and pair of jeans. Although she looks like she’s dressed up a bit for her present surroundings with some light makeup, she looks like a college student or waitress who’s just gotten off her shift.

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In comparison to the second figure, she’s a queen. He is, quite simply, revolting. An angry cloud of flies nosily buzzes around his person, occasionally landing on his thin scalp or crawling under his clothes. He doesn’t even seem to register the insects’ presences. His half-bald head is shaped like an overlarge lump. Stringy gray hair clings desperately to his middle scalp: a final ragtag band of soldiers fighting a lost war against baldness. His eyes are dark and sunken, and several round, yellowed teeth jut out from his overbiting jaw. His clean gray trench coat and heavy cologne do little to improve his overall appearance.

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The third man’s face is a horribly burned dark mass of scars. He is half-bald, with his remaining black hair neatly combed back from his scalp. His thick mustache and short beard are only partially successful in hiding the teeth visible through his right cheek. His eyes are dark and hooded. Yet where the second figure is hunched and stooped, the third presumed ghoul stands tall and proud in spite of his deformities. He wears a crisply pressed dark gray jacket with matching slacks and a black tie. It reminds Caroline of a military dress uniform. Medals gleam from his chest, and his black leather shoes are polished so meticulously that Caroline can see her reflection in them. A gold cavalry saber hangs from his hip. The young Ventrue can overhear the tail end of his conversation with Donovan as she enters the room.

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“…His Majesty leaves the sentencing of these lawbreakers to your judgment, sheriff,” the ghoul declares as he strides out. His blackened lips pull into a faint sneer as his gaze surveys the torpid, shackled forms of Eight-Nine-Six.

Donovan does not respond to the ghoul. He raises his wrist to his mouth. There’s a flash of fang, and then he trickles vitae down Mil’s throat. The vampire’s eyes snap upon.

Upon seeing Caroline, she snarls and bares her fangs, thrashing against her steel fetters in impotent rage. The large ghoul who escorted Caroline in stomps his foot over her face. There’s a grisly crunch as her nose shatters. Wright rolls his eyes. The ugly man sneers. The young woman watches without comment.

The sheriff’s stormy eyes flicker between Caroline and the newly-conscious member of Eight-Nine-Six. A single hissed word escapes his lips:

“Explain.”

Caroline: Caroline cuts off any attempt by the gangbanger to get her own story in edgewise. “I unintentionally entered their territory. Rather than tell me what I had done, they attacked me. When I forced them to flee, they returned seeking to avenge their pride in numbers and dragged me out of the club in front of dozens of witnesses.”

“Someone called the police. When they arrived to investigate reports of an affluent white woman dragged out of a club by a gang, rather than flee, they chose to attack the police. To predictable results. They placed their pride ahead of the first rule. The one even I knew. Don’t. Get. Caught. There’s no report of me at the scene—I saw to it. The murder of a police officer and subsequent necessary rescue of them, however, is going to raise plenty of eyebrows.”

GM:BULLSHIT!” snarls the other neonate, straining against her bonds.

Caroline: “You didn’t drag me out of the club? Didn’t attack the police?”

GM: “I’ll tell you what really happened, we found this cunt poaching on OUR turf. Well, we warned her, not that it was our fuckin’ job or anything, and then guess what? The bitch FRENZIES, bashes in Bliss’ head, and damn near ashes her.”

Caroline: “By ‘warned’ do you mean ‘pulled a knife two on one in another back alley?’ Next time a polite, ‘this is our turf’ might work better, and be less humiliating for you.”

GM: Mil barks a laugh. “Fuck you, bitch. Get this through your head: IT’S NOT OUR FUCKIN’ JOB TO WARN YOU! You poach on our turf, we’ll fuck you up. Not that that seems to have bothered you, ‘cuz you were STILL FUCKINTHERE even after we warned you off!” The fettered neonate turns back to Donovan.

“Guess she has a thing for cranberry juice. Well, she then tried to use another of our breathers as a donor, so we hauled her outside to teach her a lesson. Then the fuzz suddenly just HAPPENED to show up right when we were about to. They couldn’t have worked for you if they were jumping to HER tune, and we weren’t gonna take shit from no goddamn juicebags on OUR turf, and here we now are.”

Mil jabs an arm in the direction of the two remaining ghouls. “Opal and Duquette won’t stand for this shit and you know it!”

Caroline: Caroline offers no response, letting the vampire’s last words damn her.

GM: The sheriff’s features have all the expressiveness of a brick wall as his gaze cuts to the two ghouls.

“Mr. Chassagnac. Ms. Haley. These crimes occurred within your domitors’ regencies. Have they any words to offer before I render judgment?”

A fly crawls out of the old man’s nostril, joining the buzzing cloud. “Primogen Opal is appalled by the behavior of this abactor and supports harsh penalties for her infringement upon the domain of Eight-Nine-Six and her own domain by proxy. She believes the abactor’s involvement of the NOPD in a Kindred dispute is deserving of its own, separate punishment. She is uninclined to overlook Eight-Nine-Six’s disregard for the Masquerade. She is confident that Prince Vidal’s trust in your judgment will prove well-placed, sheriff.”

The younger woman nods her head at her fellow ghoul’s words. “The disregard these neonates have shown for the First and Second Traditions cannot go unanswered. Primogen Duquette supports a penalty leveled in boons over physical punishments. She believes it more beneficial to put such childer to work for the good of the parish.”

Caroline: Caroline is silent for the moment while they speak. Interrupting the sheriff is unlikely to end well, and it would not do to poison any goodwill her efforts to ‘save’ the gang have earned her.

GM: There’s another flash of fang from Donovan. He bleeds a trickle of vitae into each bound member of Eight-Nine-Six. They wake up. His stormy gaze sweeps across all four neonates as he states without context or preamble,

“For your crimes, you are sentenced to one draught of my blood, one draught of Primogen Duquette’s blood, and one draught of Primogen Opal’s blood. You are stripped of all present grants of domain in Mid-City.”

They don’t say anything. Mil looks as if she wants to shout “BULLSHIT!” again. The others, even more confused and disoriented, look even more outraged. But something in the sheriff’s eyes seems to make any objections die in their throats.

His gaze then settles upon Caroline like a heavy snowfall.

“What else do you wish to tell me, fledgling?”

Caroline: Caroline has cause to thank her vampiric nature—the sheriff’s gaze would normally be enough to make her skin crawl. The choice is fairly straightforward. This is not a man she wishes to cross.

“Only that when I reached out to an associate for a ride, before they attacked me, I never anticipated that they would be so reckless as to actually attack the police, and I apologize for the trouble that it caused to you and others.”

GM: “Oh fuckin’ boy,” says Wright.

Donovan only replies, “For the crime of poaching on what is now Primogen Duquette’s sole domain. Your sentence is a boon. Owed to her. To compensate Bliss Jackson for her loss of domain, who has committed no crime. You owe two further boons.”

There’s another flash of fang as the sheriff raises his wrist to his mouth. This is the fourth time he has cut himself within as many minutes, but no scar mars his pale flesh. He extends his wrist to Caroline.

“For the crime,” Donovan quietly hisses, his expression not changing in the slightest, “of lying to my face.”

Caroline: “Lying to your face?” Give Caroline credit, the girl does not flinch. “Do you mean failing to disclose that it was my associates they carved up, or failing to disclose that without my immediate contact of to your subordinate and actions thereafter that you might now be burning down a police precinct?”

GM: The large ghoul suddenly smashes his balled fist into Caroline’s face. She feels her nose crunch apart with a messy red spurt as the force of the blow knocks her off her feet, sending her crashing to the floor in an ungainly pile. Wright rolls his eyes. The ugly ghoul sneers. The female ghoul watches without comment. Eight-Nine-Six’s members watch with savage pleasure.

“My verdict,” the sheriff coolly enunciates, “is not subject to dispute.”

His wrist remains extended.

Caroline: Caroline struggles to keep the hate out of her eyes. This is justice? She’s familiar enough to know that the mortal system of laws is imperfect, that wealth and power and influence often mean more than righteousness… but even then, it is coached in procedure. It is predictable. Systematic. This isn’t a farce. It’s a mockery. An abomination. A bloated corpse in a judge’s wig presiding over a court of laughing jesters. This is arbitrary, abusive, egotistical. It’s nauseating. It’s being used against her.

Perhaps that is the worst part of it for her. Maybe she could excuse such a system if it worked for her. But not this. She is unaccustomed to being so without power.

Harsh lessons about this world. Harsh lessons about the other side of the table. And yet… these are pretenders at the table. Brutal, arbitrary, uncivilized, but almost pathetically so. Do they not realize how weak this makes them look? She almost voices the thought. They are worse than a petty dictator in his full-blown banana republic. The peace of the gun. Violence in every act.

Well… she’ll show them true power in time. If she can survive long enough. For now she must survive, and take the time they are giving her to flourish. She’s a Malveaux and they always win in the end. These monsters just don’t know it yet.

She eyes the sword at the sheriff’s hip. One day. Not today, but one day he’ll pay for this and all other humiliations. Of that she is quite certain. For now, she rises to her feet and accepts his wrist. Whatever horrors it holds are but pleasant dreams compared to the thoughts she has for him. Bottoms up.

GM: The blood washes down Caroline’s throat like liquid ice. Cool and strong, far headier than any mortal’s. The experience is far from horrific. It’s downright pleasant. She feels her contempt for the Kindred in front of her wavering… dealing with violent thugs like Eight-Nine-Six, there’s got to be no choice but to be tough. Force is the only language these brutes understand. He’s just doing his job. He’s handsome, too… thoughts of vengeance make Caroline’s head ache when she focuses too much on them.

Caroline: So that’s the game. Caroline wants to vomit as the thought of what just happened rolls through her. She turns her thoughts away from the sheriff with an effort of will, reciting silently a list of civil torts she had to memorize. Anything to get away from the raging contradiction in her damned soul. She wants to hurt him. Intellectually, she wants to rip out his guts for what he’s done to her, all the more for screwing with her feelings.

But the thought of harming him is aversive, too, and actively painful to consider. It reminds her of her first crush when he cheated on her. It reminds her of that twist of love and hate, affection and aversion, twisted into an implacable knot. Love and hate, that hair-thin line, with no distinction. It cuts like razor wire.

GM: Donovan’s stormy eyes bore into Caroline’s as the change takes hold.

“Do not involve in the police in your affairs again. Heed our prince’s laws and you will have little cause to hear from me.”

His stormy gaze flickers to encompass the other nenoates.

“All of you are dismissed.”

The large ghoul moves to escort the various Kindred and other two ghouls out of the room.

Caroline: “It would help if I knew them.”

The words wait until after they have left the room, and are ground out like steel scraping against stone. Still, the real law seems to be don’t get caught. Don’t admit anything. Don’t rock the boat. Well, she can abide two of those.

GM: The disheveled ghoul smiles thinly at Caroline’s words. As he opens his mouth, another fly buzzes out, joining the thick cloud.

“Indeed, fledgling, you have proven yourself dangerously ignorant of the Camarilla’s laws and customs. I am prepared to offer information on these that will aid your survival for the price of a boon owed to my mistress.”

The old man’s voice is a nasal drone, like a fly’s buzzing.

Caroline: “Mr. Chassagnac, you’ll forgive me if, after your earlier words of your mistress’s intent for me, I am reluctant to owe her anything.”

GM: “Mmm. Taking things personally. You won’t last long.”

Caroline: “Not at all. Simply not going into debt to someone that spoke against me before I had her pets’ domain revoked. Your concern is touching though, no doubt you and she wish me only the best.”

GM: The old ghoul snorts another fly out his nose. His wrinkled features twist into a thin smile as he slinks down the hall without further word or comment.

The younger female ghoul smiles at Caroline. “I’m also prepared to extend the same offer on my mistress’ behalf. Primogen Duquette bears no ill will over these events and is, in fact, inclined to protect her investments.”

Caroline: “’Ms. Haley, I confess I know little of your mistress, save that I am now in her debt.”

GM: “You’ll be able to put a face to her in a bit,” the ghoul answers, pleasant smile not wavering. “She’d like to extend an invitation to receive you at Blaze, where she’ll able to interview you and ascertain potential uses for her boon.”

Caroline: A smile. “Another matter to which I have no knowledge.”

GM: “Blaze, you mean?”

Caroline: “No, I mean the boon.”

GM: The ghoul smiles again. “‘Fraid that questions don’t come free, fledgling. She’ll tell you how she expects the boon to be repaid, but anything more is extra. I’ll give you a primer on how boons and more all works in return for another boon, though. You seem like you could use some Camarilla 101.”

Caroline: A laugh. “I feel like I did leading up to prom, everyone seems so interested in my hand in some way. Perhaps your mistress and I might make an arrangement, but I’d not deal with an intermediary just yet. When does she want to meet?”

GM: The ghoul taps her phone and holds it to her ear. “Hi, Coco?”

“The new girl owes you a favor.”

“Yes. When can she come by?”

The ghoul looks up. “She’ll be free in two hours.”

Caroline: “Fantastic.” Caroline’s tone makes it clear such is not her actual feeling on the matter. “Let me drop everything.”

GM: “Wonderful,” the ghoul smiles. “You can figure out the address?”

Caroline: Caroline digs out her phone to find out. “Presumably.”

GM: A quick Google search turns up the address of a seedy-looking bar in Mid-City.

Caroline: “Oh, this looks lovely. At least I’m dressed for it.” Her bloodstained and holed clothing has seen better days. Raw open wound gazes out beneath two of the slits in the side of the dress.

GM: “You should get some new ones,” the ghoul nods. “Attracting attention is a no-no. Probably should mend up too.”

Caroline: “Thank you,” Caroline replies. “I’ll try to fit it into my empty calendar.”

GM: “She’ll be expecting you in two hours,” the ghoul smiles, turning to leave.

Caroline: “Thank you for your help.” Caroline offers her own smile back as she heads for the elevators, already texting a rideshare app for a pickup. Thankfully traffic shouldn’t be unmanageable at this hour.

It’s more than can be said for the rest of her unlife.


Monday night, 7 September 2015, PM

Caroline: Caroline listens to Wright’s instructions and makes for “Storyville,” the probably less lucrative hunting grounds he identified for her. The night is growing late. She both hurts and hungers.

It’s slow going.

GM: The area’s hunting isn’t the best, which is probably why it’s “free.” Caroline eventually settles for a bar and lounge called Handsome Willy’s, a small building in a sea of parking lots. People fill the space inside, all of them potential vessels to slake her thirst. The club sports front and back patios that initially seem to allow a pleasant break from the crowded interior, but they’re full of smokers seeking a breath of fresh air, and the cigarettes are just as repellent to the young vampire as they were in Lou’s office. Caroline manages to lure a young-looking boy wearing a leather jacket into a tryst, but his vitae tastes curiously flat and empty on her tongue. It’s like booze someone has mixed with a lot of water.

Caroline: She pulls away from him, almost recoiling. What fresh hell she has found. Another byproduct of the sheriff’s blood? Whatever it is, it is wholly unsatisfying. The boy goes away just as unsatisfied, and she resumes her prowl with a near desperation. Something to make the pain go away. Something she can lose herself in…

She just wants to get lost, even for a moment. She wants to forget this miserable existence. Maybe the poor executed trash got the better end of the deal. Would Marie Antoinette have wanted to live as a peasant after the revolution?

GM: Caroline circles the drinking throngs. Some inebriated patrons at the bar loudly exult how Willy’s serves “some of the most perfect drunk food.” She smells the luscious aromas of ginger beer marinated pork, beans, gooey cheese, and fresh jalapenos that leave “your lips pleasantly tingling.” But she instinctively knows she cannot partake. Now even blood seems off the menu.

Caroline: Self-pity doesn’t come easily, but it is wearing at her.

GM: Desperate to alleviate her suffering with something, anything, Caroline latches onto a thick-necked, red in the face college football player who’s been kicked out for spitting on one of the serving staff. He angrily complains to Caroline that he’d wanted to order some of the grilled tacos to go, but the staff refused, saying they sell the tacos at cost in expectation that the extra drinks people buy will make up for the loss in profits. One thing led to another.

“Dishonest fuckin’ advertising,” he angrily calls it.

Caroline: “Don’t I know it. I couldn’t even get a drink,” Caroline laments.

GM: The football player fishes out a cigarette and lighter from his pockets. “What, you lost your ID?”

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “Just not serving anything for me.” She smiles at him. “Two poor souls.” Another smile as she places her hand over the lighter, forestalling his smoke. “What relief can we find?”

GM: The man wants an ego to lean on after being refused service, that much seems plain. It isn’t long before Caroline is conjoined with him in his car (a high school graduation present, he mentions), and he’s moaning under her kiss like a bull in heat. When the end comes, he grunts and convulses, leaving a messy white stain over the car’s upholstery.

Caroline: Caroline takes and takes from him, filling herself almost to the brim. It’s a simple pleasure, her only pleasure these days. She can almost ignore his sexual release, ignore his sweaty skin in the sticky night, ignore the pain and humiliations of the day. When she breaks it is with the shame of a junkie caught in a relapse.

She leaves him in his car and vanishes into the dark, savoring the memory of the sweet release even as she flees the scene. Wounds vanish, and she feels… better. Not good, but better. She considers heading home and actually sets off in that direction, but changes her mind. She doesn’t want to take things home and has another Kindred matter on the agenda. She makes for the hospital where she dropped off the poor idiot girl from her first night.

She can also remind herself of another failure while she’s there.


Monday night, 7 September 2015, PM

Caroline: She hadn’t wanted to go back to the hospital. There’s been no good news about Sarah and she dreads running into any of the Whitneys. But she wants to see Neil. She texts him to let him know she’s coming. Her family’s objections to the “upstart Yankee” all feel like a lifetime ago.

GM: Tulane Medical Center is an interconnected series of brown-bricked, box-like buildings with a skywalk that passes just over the street. The hospital’s name is printed on its side in blocky white letters. Despite the late hour, hospitals are never not busy, just less busy, an there’s a steady stream of traffic and incoming and outgoing people.

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Outside of the ER, the hospital is weirdly bright and quiet at night. There is activity, but it’s hidden behind doors and shushed for the neighbors. A few medical staff wander the halls in search of a source of caffeine to prop up drooping eyelids, slinking down halls filled with people they plucked from their lives and installed into the healthcare assembly line.

Monitors beep. And about once a night, Caroline heard while she was in pre-med, the alarm for the medical gas line goes off. It’s loud, like a siren, and lasts about five seconds. It scatters that tiny bit of sleep they’ve started to catch in their chairs. Muffled clicks of nurse computers and quiet conversations tease their ears, coworker confessions brought out by the intimacy of a night shift.

Neil’s tired face looks happy to see his ex, though. He’s still a young man, but there are bags under his eyes. ‘Resident physician’ originally meant a physician who resided in the hospital, after all.

Neil sadly reports there is still no good news about Sarah. Doctors are keeping her in the coma to reduce swelling. Her family is not taking it well. Or rather, her grandfather is not taking it well. Warren is managing, but Lyman is going “honestly a little crazy.” He checks his watch compulsively. Whenever Neil sees him, he’s checking his watch. What time the old man doesn’t spend with his granddaughter, he spends in the chapel. He talks a lot about his dead daughter, Rebecca. Sometimes he sounds like he’s talking to her.

The Devillers, though, are doing better. Yvonne’s recovery is steadily coming along. She’s going to have surgery later to erase her scar. Her family is still camped out in her hospital room. She’s feeling up for more visitors. They’d probably love to see Caroline again.

Caroline: She shakes her head and demurs. The prospect of seeing the family again sends a current of hot shame coursing through her. Even leaving out how she failed to save Sarah, who might still wake up a vegetable when the doctors bring her out of her coma, she can’t bear to listen to the Devillers’ grateful words. An unclean and filthy thing like her doesn’t deserve them.

She’s here for someone else tonight. “…just wanted to check on her without a scene. You know how they are,” she says, quietly chatting with her ex as they go.

He knows who ‘they’ is. There was always one ‘they’ between them.

GM: Neil knows all-too well, but doesn’t comment as he leads Caroline along to the girl’s room. “She’s lucky you were there for her,” he says, offering a tired smile. “You say you weren’t cut out for med school, but you keep saving people. Third one in how many nights?”

Caroline: Lucky. Right.

Saving people. Right.

She’d rather talk about something else. Anything else. She asks Neil what he’s been up to.

GM: Neil says he just got together with another girl, a philosophy major named Angela Greer. He met her when she called campus emergency services to help out with an influenza case that broke out during a dorm party at Josephine Louise House. That was really something. A whole bunch of students all came down with the flu at once.

“We’re not really sure what caused the outbreak,” he concludes with a frown.

Caroline: “The flu like that is bizarre. The fascinating mysteries you get while I get to read opinions by dead guys.”

GM: “Pi Alpha Kappa got all over it too,” says Neil. “Angie’s a member. She brought in a bunch of them to help, and boom, they were there.”

Caroline knows them to be a “publicly known secret society” and prestigious college sorority with chapters across the country, somewhat like Skull and Bones. Her mother was a member, and Luke and Gabriel had suggested she join to help mend things between them (Westley largely didn’t give a fuck), but the sorority refused Caroline membership without explanation.

Caroline: “They’re certainly strange ducks,” Caroline agrees. That rejection, long a sore spot, seems so petty now.

GM: Neil nods, scratching his scraggly beard.

“Angie does a lot for them. She’s away at the weirdest hours sometimes.”

Caroline: Caroline stifles a laugh. “Sort of like this?”

GM: “Like this,” the resident smiles, half with tiredness and half with amusement.

Caroline: “I think it’s your taste in women.”

This feels… normal. Real. It’s not something out of a nightmare of violence and horror ike the rest of the night. The tension slips off Caroline’s face like layers of makeup under a faucet, simply washed away. There was a reason she’d gone out with Neil, even knowing her family would never approve.

GM: “Or maybe their taste in trusting boys,” he answers ruefully. “Some of my friends give me crap for it, but I really don’t think she’s up to anything.”

Caroline: Caroline shrugs. “I could find out if you wanted.”

GM: Neil pauses, running a hand through his disorderly hair in thought. “Well. Hmm. Would you feel your boyfriend was going behind your back if he tried to find out where you were now?”

Caroline: “Yes, but I’m not bound by the rules of a secret society, and if he wanted to know I could tell him. Hypothetically, of course.” It’s been a while since Caroline actually had a boyfriend.

GM: “Hypothetically as in, if he knew you were out, or the boyfriend period?” the resident doctor asks tellingly.

Caroline: “I don’t exactly have a lot of time for a social life,” Caroline responds defensively.

GM: “Believe me, I understand there. I only met Angie as a doctor.”

Caroline: “Frankly, I’m surprised you do. What, do you get together for coffee in the rooms of coma patients? Would you like some vegetables with your latte?”

GM: Neil actually looks a bit embarrassed. “Uh, something like that, actually. I’m lucky she understands and doesn’t just want to spend every Friday out clubbing.”

Caroline: “I don’t think I want to know,” Caroline decides on reflection.

GM: Neil conveniently changes the subject. “Well, anyways, that’s nice of you to offer. Maybe if you just found out what her friends are up to. Rather than her.”

Caroline: “I’ll see what I can do.” That kind of question at least seems like a simple one with her new means. Something she can do that won’t result in anyone dying…

GM: “Her full name’s Angela Greer. She’s the dorm supervisor at Josephine Louise House. The rest of the Kappas sometimes meet there too.”

Caroline: Caroline takes mental notes. “I’ll look her up.”

GM: Though he tries to look casual about it, Caroline can detect some measure of relief in Neil’s eyes as he nods and thanks his ex-girlfriend for promising to look into his current one. He leads her down several more dark hallways to her victim’s room. The girl’s name is Lauren Peterson.

Caroline: Caroline pauses at the door. “Any idea how she is?” she asks.

GM: Neil looks past the small vertical glass pane at the silently sleeping woman, though Caroline can’t quite make her out at the current angle.

“She had some neck wounds, which required stitches and will leave scars. Someone hit her there with a glass bottle, if you can believe it.”

Caroline: “I can believe it,” Caroline replies distantly. “How bad?”

GM: “She lost a lot of blood,” Neil answers. “She’ll have to stay with us for at least a few more days. She should have a clean bill of health when she’s good to go, though I can’t say I’d like to be in her shoes.”

Caroline: “Who could blame you. How crazy was that night in general? Were you on duty?”

GM: Neil nods, rubbing his forehead as if it’s tiring to remember. “I was. Decadence and the other big festivals are always… busy times.”

Caroline: “Anything particularly interesting?” Caroline asks.

GM: Neil sighs and stares down at the linoleum floor, still rubbing his temples. “You don’t want to know, Caroline.”

Caroline: “What if I do?” she asks, arching an eyebrow. “Come on, we took A&P together. Not like you’re going to squick me out.”

GM: Neil sighs again. “We had one kid, no more than fourteen years old I’d guess, who’d been force-fed glass. Lacerations all over his interior throat and stomach. He didn’t make it. Someone called his parents. I could hear them just outside, screaming.”

Caroline: Caroline makes the sign of the cross almost instinctively. “Savages. Say what you will, my uncle’s not wrong about trying to smother that ‘festival’.”

GM: Neil smiles, but there’s nothing happy about it. Just tired. “Does he want to ban Mardi Gras too? We’re even busier then.”

Caroline: “Too many saints, I think. But one less outlet for debauchery is a small win. But that’s not the worst you saw.” Caroline’s eyebrow remains raised. “There’s something eating at you. Spit it out, Neil, I’ve known you long enough.”

GM: He sighs again. “What do you want to hear, Caroline? The other victims we’ve seen, the people we haven’t been able to save? There was one girl who’d been penetrated with a razor and had her eyes gouged out. She kept screaming how she couldn’t see. There was a twelve-year-old, too, who’d been strangled with a Mardi Gras bead necklace, and left naked and bloody on the hood of her parents’ car. That happens almost every festival. Police think the ‘bead strangler’ is a serial killer.”

Caroline: “Eyes gouged out?” Caroline perks up. That’s a thin lead, but might be something.

GM: Neil looks at her in askance. “Christ, Caroline, why would you want to know more?”

Caroline: That’s a hard question to answer.

“I…” Convincing lies are hard to find. “I was out there, in it. I saw some things.” She’s holding something back. “I don’t know what I was thinking. Maybe that I needed to see it. But..” She frowns, biting her lip. “That particular bit of brutality. Or at least the threat of it… let’s say it’s familiar.”

GM: Neil frowns with concern. “Caroline, when you say…’”

Caroline: She looks away. “Do you really want to know?”

GM: That hangs for a moment.

“I asked you same thing,” Neil answers quietly.

Caroline: Caroline sighs, eyes not meeting Neil’s. “Someone attacked me. Claimed they were going to… well. Very similar to what you described happening to the girl.” She holds up a hand to stop any response. “They didn’t actually… well, obviously. Someone else saw him drag me into the alley. Interrupted. But…” She shivers. “I got the feeling that he wasn’t likely to stop. So yeah, I’m interested.”

GM: “Oh my god,” Neil murmurs. He steps closer to give Caroline a gentle hug. She can smell the blood coursing through his veins, hear the thump-thumping of his heart. He doesn’t smell as good as the football player did, but still, the Beast whispers, he could sate her thirst too.

“Caroline, that’s… that’s horrible. Did you file a police report? Or… talk to your family?”

The latter would probably make more headway.

Caroline: She breaks off the hug as early as she can without seeming rude. Bad idea.

“God no. Do you have any idea the shitstorm it would kick off? When my uncle found out I was out in the festival as it was… well. You know better than most how they can be. It would be bad, Neil. Really bad.” She shakes her head. “No one can know, just like no one can know about her.” She gestures to Lauren’s room, then finally meets his eyes.

“I’m a big girl. I can take care of myself. The number of degenerates in the city, the two events are probably unrelated. But… yeah. It caught my eye, because if it is the same person, then even if I can’t do anything about his attack on me….” She leaves it unspoken.

GM: “Still. There’s the police, or you just could…” Neil sounds like he’s about to go on, but Caroline’s firm gaze resoundingly tells him no. He reluctantly continues, “Well… it’s out of our hands now. She didn’t make it. If you really want to follow up, you should to Amos Wilkinson, at the Coroner’s Office. He oversaw the autopsy and… other details.”

Caroline: “Other details?” she asks, slightly perplexed. “And Neil, you know as well as I do, any report to the police with my name attached would be on my family’s desk before nightfall.”

GM: “Talking with police, contacting relatives, making arrangements for the body. All the things that happen when a person dies. I think it’s a worse job being a coroner than a doctor. The latter sometimes has good news.”

Caroline: “Hopefully you’ll get some one of these days.”

GM: “I do, Caroline. It’s just easier… no, not actually easier. We just usually talk about the bad.”

Caroline: “Easier to share a burden.” Caroline shivers a bit.

But who can she share her burden with? This thing that she has become. The things she has experienced. The things she has done.

GM: “Well, all the same. If you wanted to see your friend, here she is.” Neil nods towards the window.

Caroline: Friend. Victim. All the same. Caroline steps in Neil’s direction to look through the window at her.

She’s stalling. She knows why she’s here. Or at least why she should be here. That horrible albino relative of hers. His demand of her. Seek out her victims, make them suffer for their sins. There’s a certain ease, or even incentive to the request. She’s helpless. And the blood… it’s the only real pleasure left. The roar of the girl’s beating heart, the taste, the soothing of the beast inside her. It’s easy. So easy.

GM: The room is dark, but Caroline can make out its features quite clearly. The usual plain hospital bed, covers pulled up to the patient’s chin. Lauren Peterson, college student, assault victim and hospital patient, may not sleep in contentment, but at least does in respite. She’s at most 21, with black hair and dark skin left pale from blood loss. Her neck is covered with bandages, and an IV is hooked up to her arm. A few “get well” cards featuring designs of cute animals and smiley faces rest on the adjacent bedside stable.

Caroline: Caroline quietly opens the door and slips into the small room. She moves closer to the resting girl, casting nary a shadow in the darkness. Light feet move over tiled floors. The room smells clean, no, sterile. The alcoholic cleanliness only hospitals and doctors’ offices have. Like they are soaked in hand sanitizer. It’s not a comforting smell to anyone, though it’s familiar enough to Caroline. She looks down on the girl, then towards the cards arrayed around her. She picks one up to examine.

Card.jpg
GM: The card is signed, With much love,
—Aunt Viv and the dogs


Caroline: Caroline drops the card back on the table as though it’s on fire. It’s easier when she can pretend that her victims aren’t people. When they are stereotypes. Cutouts. Party girl. Jock. Deviant. Investigator… most of them don’t even have names.

But Lauren isn’t a cutout. She’s a girl, an innocent girl in the wrong place, and now in an even wronger place. She shouldn’t be here…

GM: The young woman tosses in her bed. Something indistinct escapes her lips as her face clenches.

Caroline: Caroline knows what she has to do. Knows what she is expected to do. The bandaged throat. The uneasy sleep. The cards. That stupid dog.

She backs up, recoils, and nearly trips over a chair, sending it sliding across the floor. Her vision swims. What is she doing here?

GM: Lauren turns in her sleep, pressing her face against her pillow. Oblivious to the presence of the nocturnal predator sharing her room.

Caroline: Predator without doubt, but not tonight.

Caroline makes for the door again. She can’t do this. Not now, maybe not ever.

GM: She finds Neil a short ways away, checking something on his phone. He looks up as Caroline reappears. “That was quick. Were you leaving a card?”

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “I just wanted to look in on her.” She smiles weakly. “Not that I doubted her care with you here. Does she have insurance?”

GM: “We do our best,” Neil states, returning a tired smile at the compliment. “Should I tell her you came by?”

“College requires her to, but it doesn’t cover everything and there don’t seem to be any parents in the picture. She has some aunt who’s paying the rest out of pocket.”

Caroline: Of course. I attacked an orphan girl. Because I’m a monster.

Caroline shoves the thought away. “That’s a big out of pocket. Even with the university…”

She does some math. “I’ll take care of it. An attorney will contact the hospital about it.”

GM: “And you keep saying you aren’t cut out out to be a doctor,” Neil repeats with a weary smile. “That’s really good of you, Caroline.”

She senses a ‘but’ on the edge of his tongue, though.

Caroline: “Oh spit it out.”

GM: The resident doctor seems to weigh it for a moment, then sighs.

“Your dad and the rest of the party constantly undermine efforts to expand health care access. I don’t see how you can support him in that. It’s people like Lauren there who are literally paying the price.”

‘Democrat’ was another big reason Caroline’s parents didn’t approve of Neil.

Caroline: She gives him a flat look. “You want to retread this again here?”

GM: He shakes his head. “Lauren’s in the same boat however we feel.”

Caroline: She nods. “Later then. In this moment though, I confess, I can more easily see the merits of your case.”

“And no. To your earlier question. Don’t tell her anything. The truth is always uglier than fiction. The last thing she needs is to get drawn into the Malveaux gravity well.”

GM: “I’m sure. Your uncles…” Neil seems to consider saying more, then leaves it at that.

“If you want to keep this secret, though, Lauren’s probably going to be curious who helped pay for her stay. The aunt might want to send you a cake.”

Caroline: “She can forward correspondence through the attorney then, who will protect his client’s confidentiality. Law offices love cake, it’ll make everyone’s day. So far as she’s concerned, a good samaritan took pity on her.”

GM: “Hiring your own lawyers to keep the family from finding out. I guess the Malveaux name can work both ways.”

Caroline: “You learn some tricks,” Caroline concedes. She looks back into the room, at the fitfully sleeping girl. “Thanks, Neil. I know this wasn’t necessarily on the up and up.”

GM: “It’s still a good deed. And neither’s looking into the Kappas, is it?”

Caroline: She smiles. “Wouldn’t be much fun if it was.”

Nor much of a challenge, Caroline suspects.


Monday night, 7 September 2015, PM

GM: As Caroline steps into the bar, newly changed into less conspicuous clothes, her ears are subjected to a two-pronged assault by blaring rock and shrieking voices. A patron screams as another man smashes a full bottle over his head, sending him crumpling to the ground in an alcohol-soaked heap. Leather-clad, spike-haired, and nose-pierced punks, bikers, skinheads, and malcontents of all stripes roar over the shattering glass, pierced tongues clinking against yellowed teeth. The bartender, who doesn’t look up, absently continues to polish a shot glass underneath a wooden plaque bearing red-crusted Mardi Gras beads arranged into the words “FUCK YOU.” Caroline can feel the anger simmering in the room as surely as the cigarette smoke. It clings to everything in a murky black haze.

All told, Blaze is an absolute shithole of a dive bar.

In contrast to the rest of the clientele, the woman by the corner table wears a black turtleneck, sand-colored slacks, a leather jacket, and knee-length black boots. Her fair-skinned, high-cheekboned face lacks any piercings or makeup, and her shoulder-length, bright red hair provides a striking contrast to her clear blue eyes. Her posture is relaxed, but the other patrons give her table a wide berth. Caroline hears no heartbeat from her chest. Kindred.

Coco_Duquette.jpg
Caroline: Caroline has dressed down, muted colors, and looser clothing that hides the many wounds she doesn’t spare the vitae to heal. Pain is preferable to weakness, especially tonight. She has little doubt that sooner, rather than later, Eight-Nine-Six are going to try to get ‘even.’ Another problem she doesn’t need, like this meeting.

Still, it has potential. A favor owed is an investment, as the ghoul observed earlier. Perhaps she can leverage something out of this fiasco. Too many people think that being owed a favor is the way to the boss’s heart. Smart people know that no one wants to help someone that they feel indebted to. She moves across the bar, around the crowd, like oil floating on water. The two touch without mixing. She approaches the other Kindred slowly, making sure the other woman sees her coming. And in truth… she’s curious. Why someone with power would linger in such a cesspool of waste. Caroline’s swam through such filth of late, but long to fill a need. So what’s hers…

GM: The woman’s eyes meet Caroline’s. She motions absently for the Ventrue to pull up a rickety-looking chair with chipped black paint. “So, you’re my new debtor.”

Caroline: Caroline does as instructed, taking a seat. “So I’m told, Primogen Duquette.”

The matter of her title had irked Caroline on the way over—what is the proper address? She settles on the safest option.

GM: The elder Kindred makes an idly dismissive motion. “It’s just Coco here, Miss Malveaux. You mind if I call you Caroline?”

Caroline: “It’s your domain, you may do whatever you wish with it. And presumably in it,” Caroline agrees.

GM: “I’m well aware, but that’s not what I asked.”

Caroline: Caroline bites back on a snark-filled response. It’s petty, and childish, and beneath her… and becoming disturbingly easy to do.

She smiles instead and tries to make it genuine. This is the second-longest she’s had a Kindred conversation without getting assaulted, after all.

“Of course not. Thank you for the invite.”

GM: “Well then, Caroline, why don’t we cut to the chase of things. You can get the police to come down on an Anarch krewe, which they’ll all soon be talking about. What else can you do that’s useful?”

Caroline: “A matter of perspective, I suppose, and I know little of your own.” Caroline is not trying to be elusive. “To that ‘krewe’ I suspect my other skills would involve bleeding. To you, it might involve baiting them into foolishness that secures you sole control of your domain. But I suspect there is also a happy medium somewhere else.”

“Connections to police, finance, politics, law…” She shrugs. “A lack of connections or allegiances that is potentially useful in terms of cleanliness. I expect that type of thing is actually relatively rare. And potentially more valuable than people realize.”

GM: “Every lick enters their Requiem without allegiances, although how long they stay that way is another matter,” Coco remarks. “I suppose it’s almost like the kines’ virginity that way. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

Caroline: “Indeed? I’d heard that lack of a sire was considered to be in poor taste.”

GM: “It is. That’s an unrelated observation.”

Caroline: “Would that not normally be a first allegiance?”

GM: “It’s a potential, if not likely indicator of one, but not truly so until the fledgling is released.”

Caroline: “As you say then,” Caroline concedes.

GM: “Go on, in any case. Tell me about these connections.”

Caroline: “A duty then, to disclose all my allies and talents as part of a boon?” Caroline looks… faintly amused. Perhaps joking. “My, what a boon it is. You’ll rob me of all my mystery.”

GM: “Word of advice, greenfang,” says Coco. “You’ll find jokes about boons with elders tend to go over as well as ones about dead babies in church.”

Caroline: “And yet you seek to rob me in truth of all I possess in this life, and after my actions delivered supremacy unto you. Respect is proper, and you have mine. But my ignorance not withstanding, you seek a great deal for free, when I suspect you have already been paid in gold, and still hold a bond over my head.”

She matches the elder’s gaze. “Inadvertent though it might have been. As miserly as all have been with any knowledge, I cannot imagine it is good form to lay my treasures at your feet. Nor do I imagine you could help but to trample them if I did.”

GM: Coco raises an eyebrow. “You’re fairly new to this, Caroline. You’ve gotten off to a relatively good start with me, particularly given your recent tussle. It’s up to you if you want to keep things that way. But you’re an unknown quantity in the masked city, and I will know what my boon is good for.”

Caroline: Caroline lowers her gaze for a moment, but only that. Coco may be a queen here, but the Ventrue is clearly not intimidated. “Your goodwill is desirable, and I have no interest in denying you your boon, awarded as it was.”

GM: The elder Kindred smiles and motions for Caroline to go on.

Caroline: “But you must truly think me a fool if you think that I believe a queen in her kingdom would weigh affection in any measure towards a sireless fledgling under threat of destruction, against the rewards you might reap by selling out that fledgling to at least half a dozen other Kindred that want my head on a plate and might only be kept at bay by wariness born from uncertainty.” Her tone and body language is respectful, but firm.

“That said, I an not unsympathetic to your plight. It was not so long ago that I stood in shoes more like yours than mine today, so let me strike a middle ground. Let me establish a minimum by which you can measure baseline expectations, and keep my secrets still.” She waits for an affirmation or condemnation before continuing.

GM: Coco leans forward. Suddenly she’s the center of Caroline’s entire world. Her blue eyes sparkle like sapphires. Her red hair shimmers like fire. Everything about her is magic. Caroline feels ashamed, talking this way to such a kind and generous and amazing woman. After trespassing in her territory. Words begin to well in her throat seemingly of their own accord. Distantly, she wonders if this was how her Uncle Orson felt.

Then the primogen snaps her fingers, and the feeling dissipates like steam released into the night air.

“It’s normally considered gauche to do that sort of thing,” Coco mentions, “but then, it’s normal for creditors to have some sense of what their debtors’ boons are worth. I can’t claim to be too interested in haggling over the right to use what’s mine, but I’d sooner allow you to answer me as yourself. So, let’s have it out. Cross my heart that I won’t go begging to Eight-Nine-Six for favors in exchange, if that’s what you’re so worried over.” The elder Kindred crosses her fingers together in droll emphasis.

Caroline: Caroline staggers. She just stops mid-word and stares at the elder vampire. That brutal and continuing revelation of just how powerless she is in this world. She should have expected it, of course. This isn’t the first time she’s had her will crushed by another Kindred, but it’s shocking nonetheless.

It takes her a moment to recover. All masks slip away. Vulnerability, loneliness, confusion, and loss play across her face. Even a hint of fear—not so much of Coco, but in general. Near-hopelessness. But only near.

In that instant she is laid bare before the elder, but she sweeps it under a mask once more. How odd that training for a life in the public eye, amid backstabbing and manipulation, has helped prepare her for this reality.

GM: “That’s what happens when younger licks rock the boat, Caroline,” says Coco. “You’re lucky not to have given it a shove around someone like the prince.”

Caroline: Is she really? Caroline sits, defeated for the third time tonight. Rocking the boat by banging her head against it in the darkness.

“My mortal family has strong political ties. My father is a senator, with all the associated ties. My uncles…” Caroline spells out her extensive family ties. “Personally, I have a police sergeant in my pocket, and have an in with the state Supreme Court.”

GM: Coco questions Caroline for several further minutes about her various mortal friends and contacts, then finally leans back in her chair, seemingly satisfied. “Well, well. Not a bad set of connections for a neonate. I’ll have to think this over.”

Caroline: Caroline has no response to that. After a moment she asks, “In that case am I free to go?”

GM: Coco idly motions for Caroline to rise if it suits her.

Caroline: Caroline does so and heads for the door. Love and hate roar again as she damns the sheriff for putting her in this position.


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Story Three, Emmett VII

“Not good enough.”
Richard Gettis


Monday morning, 7 September 2015

GM: The days drag by.

Em can’t even change the TV station on his own. He remains completely dependent upon a rotating shift of impersonal caregivers to hand-feed him his food, brush his teeth, sponge-bath his useless body, and wipe toilet paper along his ass. The closest he comes to interaction with them is when he picks up his first nurse’s name as Pamela Ardoin. Dr. Brown checks in every so often, cheerfully remarking that Em’s vitals are improving nicely. For whatever that may be worth.

He’s tired.

It’s a bone-deep weariness of the spirit as well as the flesh. It weighs him down as much as the absent legs that confine his helpless body. Em overhears that he was not missing both his legs when he arrived in Tulane Medical Center, but that his left one was amputated. He had already lost his left foot, much of the flesh around his calf, and all of the bone up to his ankle. What was left of the leg was infected and had to come off. Dr. Brown reminds him with a smile that he’s very lucky to be alive.

He’s on antibiotics for a lot of things, including the treatment of several STDs. His head still hurts whenever he tries to recall past the black fog where Cash Money smashed a bottle over his head. The police will interview him about those events, he’s told, now that he’s being moved outside of ICU.


Thursday morning, 10 September 2015

GM: The police detective is an older man, with closely cropped irony gray hair that might’ve once been black. He’s got a hard nose, hard jawline, and harder eyes. His skin is worn and leathery like a well-used pair of work gloves, and pulled taut against gaunt cheekbones. He’s still a big man, maybe an inch or two over Em’s height, and wears a scuffed, faded gray trench coat over a plain shirt of the same color. A police badge on a cord dangles around his neck in place of a tie. He doesn’t bother flashing it as he pulls up a chair by Emmett’s bed and grunts, “Det. Gettis. Let’s hear it.”

Gettis4.jpg
Emmett: “I don’t remember much of what happened. I’m sorry.” Emmett’s voice has the all the emotion of a tombstone.

GM: The detective’s answer has all the tenderness of one.

“Not good enough.”

It’s even worse having his back up against the wall when he has no legs to run with. Then it’s just him, the wall, and whatever’s shoved him there.

Em doesn’t like this. He’s gotten into enough trouble with NOPD. There has to be a way out.


Wednesday evening, 9 September 2015

Emmett: Em lifts his head during the daily… wiping.

“Hey.”

GM: His nurse grunts.

Emmett: “Who do I talk to to make a phone call?”

GM: His nurse grunts again. Another streak of cotton-texture fire scorches Em’s ass, though after several days of ‘care’ it stings more than it burns now.

“Me. Because you’re in no shape to make one.”

Emmett: Em eyes the woman. “So can you? Make a call? I need to talk through the phone myself.”

GM: The nurse gives him an irritated look. “Cellphones aren’t allowed in ICU. I’d have to wheel you out to use one of ours.”

Emmett: “Could you, please?” Em arches an eyebrow. “I know it’s a pain in the ass. Do you know Dr. Merinelli?”

GM: Emmett’s regards him with that same flat, bulldog-jowled stare he’s come to know her by so well for the past few days.

Emmett: “I’m her baby brother. Woman practically raised me.”

That first part is even true. Em looks at her as levelly as he can manage from his current position.

“She’d be very grateful. And she’s a generous person. Ask her friends on the board. Or on the faculty of Tulane’s med school. You hear what I’m saying?”

GM: The nurse grunts again as she wipes another toilet paper strip along Em’s ass, but her movements feel slower. Even a bit less painful.

“How generous?”

Emmett: “She once asked a waitress if there was a cap on tips.”

GM: “You’re getting moved out of ICU,” Em’s nurse declares with another grunt. “If you’re well enough to get wheeled out of here, you don’t need to stay in here.”

Emmett: “As long as I get to the phone on the way, you can stick me in a closet.”

GM: Several minutes later, Em’s sitting in a wheelchair while his nurse dials number on a landline. She holds the phone to his ear. Several rings sound before another middle-aged woman greets him with a flat, “Bert Villars, attorney at law. How can I help you?”

Emmett: “Hello, Paloma—it’s your secret admirer. I’m sorry I’m not there to see you in person.” The words echo strangely off his voice—lines delivered without passion. “Put me through to Bert, please.”

GM: “It’s you,” Paloma remarks in an equally cheerful tone. The secretary’s voice disappears.

Shortly later, Em hears a greasy “Hello, Emmett,” drip from the phone’s receiver.

His nurse sighs and lifts it off from its temporary resting place on Em’s shoulder and holds it to his mouth.

“Bud’s available to meet tomorrow evening,” Villars continues.

Emmett: “What? Oh. There’s, um. Been a development.”

GM: Emmett can all but see the mostly-blind lawyer’s yellow-toothed grin.

“Isn’t there always.”

Emmett: “How soon can you get to Tulane Medical?”

GM: Emmett can picture the yellowy grin spreading like a cobra’s flared hood.

“As fast as a paid legal bill.”

Emmett: “I need counsel. Payout might be a few days away, but I only need a few hours’ investment. I’ll pay you double for the time. I have your attention?”

A gamble. But when you’re about to hang, Em figures, asking for more rope can’t hurt.

GM: And Cash Money, true to his name, worships no higher god than Mammon, Em recalls his attorney telling him earlier.

Bert Villars is evidently a fellow disciple.

“Things sound like they’re starting to heat up,” the grimebag lawyer grins. “All right, I’ll be over soon. Don’t burn yourself too badly for me to put out the fire.”

Emmett: The call ended, Em nods to his nurse. “Appreciated.”


Thursday morning, 10 September 2015

GM: “Not good enough.” If Em’s voice has all the emotion of a tombstone, Det. Gettis’ is just as hard.

Emmett: Em tries to meet the taller man’s eyes. “Maybe not. But as you can see-” he flicks his head at the wreck he’s woken up in, “-my entire life’s not good enough at the moment. Yours can wait in line.”

GM: “…and he’s right in here,” Em hears a woman’s voice declaring. A nurse opens the door to his room, and Caveat slinks in, followed by the grimebag lawyer he’s tethered to. Villars wears a similar dark suit and striped necktie to the one Em last saw him in, and the same dark glasses. He bares his teeth 90 degrees to the right of Em’s location in what passes for a smile.

“You tell me now, whoever’s sitting in that bed, are you my client?”

Gettis’ knuckles tighten.

Emmett: “I am indeed.” Em’s smile is every bit as brittle as the casts that imprison him.

GM: Villars thanks the nurse for showing him the way with another ugly leer and then remarks, seemingly oblivious to Gettis’ presence, “So, first, there’s the matter of bills…”

Emmett: “Company, Bert.”

GM: “Is there now? I-”

Gettis cuts the lawyer off. “Last thing you remember, Delacroix.”

Emmett: “You, leaving.” He tilts his head. “Oh, wait, sorry. That’s what happens next. Maybe it’s one of those precognition things. Like on TV.”

GM: The detective rises from his seat, walks up to Em’s bed, and stares down at him.

“Wrong answer.”

Villars tilts his head. “Ah, now what’s this? Is my client under arrest, Officer?”

Gettis regards the grimebag lawyer with all the esteem he might hold for a glob of sputum on his shoe.

“He’s being detained under reasonable suspicion.”

“Ah, I see,” Villars replies thoughtfully. “Well, it’s a good thing he has his lawyer present for all the twenty minutes you can be here. Emmett, now, the good detective is trying to do his job. What is the last thing you… do remember?”

Emmett: Em nods. Swallows tremulously.

“I… I was having a drink. In Marigny.” He scrunches up his brow. “I’m sorry, it’s all hazy. Either the Vortex or the Carnival Club. Someplace with lots of music, flashing lights. I was drinking something. I don’t remember ordering, but I was definitely drinking, and I remember talking to somebody. A girl. She said her name was Courtney.”

GM: Det. Gettis walks directly in front of Emmett’s bed and plants his callused hands on either side of the railing. Bert Villars is literally eclipsed by the man’s looming presence. His gaunt, scarred face is all-too close. His gaze all-too intense. Pitiless iron-gray eyes bore into Em’s with all the hardness of railroad spikes.

Emmett: Em wants so badly to stare back. He wants to laugh in the pig’s face, and pull out another one-liner; he wants to make him fume and spit and tear his hair out. He wants to feel like himself again.

But he isn’t.

He remembers what happened to the last NOPD detective he defied. He breaks under Gettis’s gaze like ice underfoot.

“It… it wasn’t my fault.”

The world’s gone blurry.

GM: Villars frowns slightly at Em’s change in tone, but remains literally blind to the goings-on. “Now, Emmett…” he starts.

Emmett: “It was… Mouton. I had a deal with him, and I shorted him. Just a hundred bucks. I, I was drunk. I threw up on him.” There are skates more steady than the manic laugh. “He didn’t like that. Not at all.”

GM: Emmett might as well be talking to a brick wall for all the reaction that Gettis’ hard-jawed face evinces. Villars moves to intercede, telling Emmett to exercise his Fifth Amendment rights, that he doesn’t have—but the change in tactics comes too late. Gettis ignores the lawyer utterly as he stares at Emmett… and something within the crippled young man just breaks.

It all comes tumbling out. The now so-very aborted plan to defraud al-Saud of his millions. Going to Cash Money to find out what NOPD had on him. Taunting the soon-enraged corrupt cop. The one-sided brawl. The… Em regales what parts came next that his mind hasn’t scabbed over like still-purple scar tissue. The conversation with Courtney. The woman whose shoes clicked against stone. Waking up in the dumpster. All of it.

Emmett: The good news is he sounds like a madman. Too insane to be taken seriously.

The bad news is he sounds like a madman, and he takes himself seriously.

GM: Gettis produces a pair of handcuffs, snaps one cuff around Em’s broken, cast-encased wrist, and snaps the other cuff to his bed.

“You’re under arrest.”

“On what charges, Officer?” Villars scoffs.

“Good question. Lot here,” Gettis answers.

Emmett: Em frowns, his wrist limp. “Bert. Is that legal?” His tone is more deadpan curiosity than interested.

GM: Villars might roll his eyes. “I can’t stop him from making an arrest, only challenge its legality in court. And if you’re expecting the NOPD to care about legality next to everything you just blabbed, I have a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn. Now shut your mouth and don’t think about any words except ‘Fifth Amendment’ before you make things even worse.”

“Assaulting a public officer,” Gettis muses about the cause for Em’s arrest, seemingly half to himself.

Emmett: “Okay.” Em flicks the tears from his cheeks. “Bert?”

GM: Villars looks at him disgustedly. “That isn’t anywhere close to ‘Fifth’ or ‘Amendment’.”

Emmett: “I have to take a shit. Call the nurse.”

GM: Gettis pulls out a card and dryly recites, “You have the right to remain silent. 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?”

Villars looks between the two and heaves a sigh.

Emmett: “No, seriously. Call the nurse.”


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Story Three, Caroline VII, Louis VII

“I know what grows from your seed.”
Louis Fontaine


Monday night, 7 September 2015, PM

GM: Stepping out of her car, Caroline looks up and inspects the office whose address she was given. It is set in a dilapidated cluster of buildings, a melange of old brick, rusted iron, and cracked plaster. It has the look of a forgotten age that seems an all-too appropriate neighbor to the grave-marked dead.

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Looking for the entrance, she spots a paint-chipped door, riddled with fresh graffiti and faded fly-post adverts. Above it is a perantique plaque, shot with patina, depicting an unsleeping eye. Its engraved iris reads:

Private Investigations & Consultations

Caroline: It’s not a neighborhood she would normally visit, but nothing is normal anymore. She’s redefining it daily. She slings her bag over a shoulder after she steps out of the UberX, glad she didn’t bring her car down here. She slides up to the door and raps on it, the ring on her finger ringing against the wood loudly. It’s early evening still, but she has little time to waste.

GM: No one answers Caroline. Peering inside, she sees a sagging staircase, a taped-off lift, and a snoring hobo clutching a cut pay-phone receiver and bundle of smutty magazines. She swings open the black-iron gate and scales the stairs. Three flights up, she comes to a door in marginally better repair. Painted black letters on the door’s bleary glass window read:

Louis Fontaine, Private Investigator

Caroline: Here indeed she knocks, hoping this is not another bit of cruelty by another of her kind. Kindred. She has found few enough friends among them, and just as few answers. For instance, the nature of this being. A ghoul? Vitae? Too many questions. Suppositional answers only. Perhaps she will get something here. The ring against the glass is sharp and crisp.

Louis: A grunt sounds from the other side of the glass door.

Caroline: “Mr. Fontaine?” Her voice is just as crisp. Sharp, like blade cutting through the glass. She doesn’t try for the handle yet.

Louis: Another grunt, this one pitifully weary. A squealing chair and the sound of a bottle rolling off a table. A man’s voice wavers through the door.

“Come in. If you have to.”

Caroline: A thrilling start. She tries the door.

GM: The unlocked door swings open, revealing a small, cluttered flat.

It isn’t much to look at.

But it isn’t the ataxophobic sight that strikes Caroline first. It’s the smell. It doesn’t strike her nostrils so much as mercilessly savage them. The room absolutely stinks with a combination of over-ripe stale sweat, cheap cigarettes, cheaper booze, and other ineffable, stomach-churning odors… not least of which might even be stale vomit.

At the room’s rank epicenter, a one-armed old man sits behind a three-legged roll-top propped up by outdated phonebooks. The brick-faced man wears crumpled, coffee-stained clothes that look like they haven’t been washed for days. Weeks, maybe.

Louis: The old man with the lantern jaw and atavistic brow is holding a massive revolver. Large enough to make Dirty Harry blush. A Smith & Wesson Model 500. He doesn’t look up at Caroline. Not in the slightest. Instead, his bourbon-hued gaze is fixed on the barrel, as if he’s mentally measuring the barrel to see how it would fit between his teeth.

Caroline: She wants to walk away, to leave this foul room and this broken man. Abandon the cruel joke played upon her again by her ‘priest.’ But…

“Mr. Fontaine. I’m told you’re a man of specific talents.” The gun doesn’t appear to bother her.

Louis: Lou might be listening. Perhaps even to Caroline.

GM: A three-year-old print of the Times-Picayune lies sprawled on his desk beside an antique typewriter and black corded phone dangling from its receiver. Caroline glances at the walls. There, gray file cabinets loom: stoic, rectangular sentinels from a bygone era. Between those relics and the door is a flotsam maze: the detritus of a long, lonely life. Overflowing trashcans and ashtrays. Empty liquor bottles and greasy take-out boxes. Half-unpacked boxes and second- or more likely fourth-hand chairs and furniture, some of which still bears mildewed post-it notes scribbled with “Free” in black sharpie. A dozen or more shop window mannequins stand against a wall. Old ones, some without arms or hands or heads. Others impaled by knives or riddled with bullet-holes. Stranger bric-a-brac war for space: a mummified snapping turtle, mugshots taken with dusty polaroids and museum-piece daguerreotypes, and apotropes to various loa, black and red.

But perhaps the noticeable feature in the room is the vomit. It’s crusted over the floor, the edge of the desk, and the black corded telephone. Peering closer, Caroline thinks she can identify the half-pulped remains of lettuce, lunch meat, and mashed, sickly-blue berries, corroded by stomach acid and exposed to the air for god only knows how long. The stink is ungodly.

Caroline: She might vomit if she were still alive. Instead the wave hits her like the surf crashing against rocky cliffs. She is unmoved. A gamble…

“Father Malveaux gave me your name. I need help finding someone.”

The lack of reaction is not his first clue as to her nature.

Louis: The name jostles him from his thanatopic soliloquy. His eyes slide slowly, reluctantly away from the gun and to the ‘girl’ standing in his office. His watery gaze drinks her in. Slowly.

“Don’t we all,” he mumbles to no one in particular.

Caroline: Young, no doubt the first word that comes to his mind with his gaze. Tall, haughty. Pale, skin and hair. Well-dressed. Too well-dressed. Graceful. Athlete, maybe.

“No doubt why you see such a brisk business.”

Louis: Lou considers the well-heeled dame for a moment. He slides the Smith & Wesson into its shoulder holster.

Caroline: She shuffles into the room, sidestepping the filth around her. “This is a bad time?”

Louis: Rather than fishing out her story, he fishes out a cigarette. Sticking the lung-bullet between the tines of his prosthetic hook, he ignites it with a gold-plated lighter. The blue butane flames illuminating the myriad crags in his face.

GM: Some part of Caroline rears back in mindless, instinctive alarm at the tiny flame.

Caroline: She clamps the instinct down.

“A foolish question,” she concedes as she looks around. “It seems they’ve all been bad times for you of late.”

Her jaw is tight, though, as her eyes linger on the fire.

Louis: He flicks the lighter shut, and takes a long drag. “But bad times are new for you, Miss…”

Caroline: “Malveaux.”

Louis: A brow arches ever so slightly at the name. Not in surprise, perhaps, but in dawning interest.

Caroline: “You’re not wrong.”

Louis: He waves the smoldering cigarette in the vague direction of his flotsam chairs.

GM: There’s a bit of vomit crusted over the edge of one.

Caroline: “I’ll stand, thank you.” Her gaze continues to sweep the room. “As I said, I need to find someone, preferably without them knowing they’ve been found.”

Louis: Lou just nods for her to proceed.

Caroline: “Does the name René Baristheaut hold any meaning for you?”

Louis: “I’m acquainted with his… family.”

Caroline: “Are you now? How well acquainted?”

Louis: “Perhaps more than I’d like.”

Caroline: A cruel smile. “You have no idea.”

Louis: He sucks down another cloud of lung cancer before replying. “Try me.”

Caroline: “You’re not really my type. But I was his.”

Louis: Lou snorts at the implication that he could be anyone’s ‘type.’ Anymore, at least.

“I’m listening, Miss Malveaux.”

Caroline: “Do you take my meaning, Mr. Fontaine?”

Louis: “Miss Malveaux, I prefer my stories like I prefer my bourbon. Neat. So if you don’t want to give me the former, I’ll insist on you giving me some of the latter.”

Caroline: “I hear you favor a different drink in truth.”

Louis: His head throbs. And his tongue feels like sandpaper. “Maybe you heard wrong. Or maybe you didn’t hear me at all.”

Caroline: That smile again. “It wouldn’t surprise me.”

Louis: “Give it to me straight or give me some bourbon.”

Caroline: “Let’s keep this simple though. I need to find René. I’m told you may be up to the task.” She glances around. “Doubtful though it may appear. And you need something more than bourbon right now.”

Louis: The alcoholic tries to hide his disappointment. He really wanted that drink, after all. Reluctantly, he settles into sorting out the necessary facts to weigh the case. “Why? When? How much?”

Caroline: “Mhm?” Caroline cocks her head. “Why what? When what?”

Louis: He groans. Scratch that, he inwardly grumbles, I don’t want that drink—I need it.

Caroline: “Let’s start with the simple. How much do you owe?”

Louis: “The order of the questions, and their answers, isn’t random, Miss Malveaux. Why do you need me to find René—without letting him know he’s been found?”

Caroline: “His family would like to speak to him.”

Louis: “By when?”

Caroline: “Soon. As quickly as possible.” She can’t hide the slight bit of desperation in her voice from him, but nor is she trying to lay it upon him.

Louis: Lou takes a final drag from his cigarette before flicking it into a empty beer bottle. He leans back, groaning in sync with the chair.

“I’ve got other cases, Miss Malveaux. I can either get to yours once I’m done with them, or set them aside. But the latter’s costly.”

Caroline: “Which takes us to my question. Two days. Are your other clients paying up? More, can their pay save you. That’s a notice to vacate, not simply to pay.”

Louis: Lou shrugs. He honestly doesn’t know, given he never discussed payment with Amos. He kneads his forehead. How many others will pay?

Caroline: “You look troubled.”

Louis: He tries to swallow down his conscience. Slowly, words slip from his dry, bitter lips. “1,300 clams up front, $1,000 for operational costs, and double that upon finding René.”

Caroline: She arches an eyebrow. “Are you worth it?”

Louis: Lou shrugs his chronically slack shoulders, but says flatly, “Would the father have recommended me otherwise?”

Caroline: She laughs. “You think not?”

Louis: “You’re asking me to find the childe of Robert Bastien, on the drop of the dime. Find him, and don’t let him know he’s been found. And given who you are, what you are, it means either your family can’t find him or isn’t willing to help you find him.”

Caroline: A smile. “What’s your read?”

Louis: He shrugs. “Either situation leaves you in a pretty sad little boat called Desperation. Either way, you’ve reached it harbor.” He waves his hook at his rancid, ransacked office.

Caroline: “Done.” Caroline reaches into her bag and pulls out a neat bankstack. She breaks the band and counts out crisp hundred dollar bills.

GM: A few days ago she might have been wary to carry around so much cash on her person, in a neighborhood like this.

She’s learned there are worse things to be scared of.

Louis: Lou nods and sighs. He pulls out a steno-pad from his roll top, and after a cursory search, snatches a pencil from a mannequin’s heart.

“What can you tell me, Miss Malveaux, about René’s last known whereabouts and actions?”

He settles back into his chair, grunting. He looks up, his gaze almost startlingly focused. Sober, even.

“You might be tempted to hold your tongue. To hold back. And you can. This is an office, not an interrogation room. But the more you withhold, the slimmer your chances of having another date with René.”

Caroline: “Two nights ago he was about Southern Decadence wearing a mask. He rescued a girl beset by revelers only to attack her minutes later and Embrace her. He abandoned her in Louis Armstrong Park and has not been seen since, to the best of my knowledge.” She does not appear ready to continue.

Louis: Lou asks a series of follow-up questions, including René’s mask and attire, the direction he went after abandoning the ‘girl’ in Louis Armstrong Park, and others.

Caroline: She answers questions about his appearance, but can offer nothing of his actions thereafter. “He left her before she recovered.”

Louis: “If he even left her there himself, that is,” Lou says as he scribbles down a few notes. He then asks after the conversations had between René and the ‘girl’, hoping to find some lead amidst their palaver.

Caroline: To Lou’s great shock, Caroline is able to relay these conversations in great detail. It’s almost as though she were there… it seems much of their conversations centered around faith.

Louis: Lou jots down his notes, seemingly concerned with the identity of the ‘girl’. He does pause though to touch his chest for a moment, as if feeling something beneath his shirt. “What was the girl’s opinion of René’s religious views?”

Caroline: “Hostile.”

Louis: He probes her terse reply at length before asking his final queries.

Caroline: She explains his hostility in the face of faith, expressions of his own wickedness, and so forth.

Louis: He rifles through his desk and unfolds a faded city map. “Show me,” he says while pointing to the two sites.

GM: Caroline notes the distinct lack of computer in Lou’s office. If they were using Google Maps, she could show him the location down to the exact GPS coordinates.

Louis: “Normally, I’d have you show me in person, but to be frank, I think it’d be best if we’re not seen together.”

Caroline: A smile. “Bad company?”

Louis: “René’s no greenfang, Miss Malveaux. According to your kind’s laws, he committed a serious crime. At best, he did so in the heat of the moment, then bolted and has gone to ground.”

Caroline: “You don’t say.”

Louis: “But he’s still likely to try keeping tabs on you, so I don’t want him putting the two of us together. I don’t want him to see me coming.”

Caroline: “Wise…”

Louis: “At worst, he did so deliberately to incite the already hair-trigger conflict between the Baron and the prince. In which case, his interest in you might persist and be far from benevolent.”

Caroline: “And the girl?”

Louis: “Once again, distance between us, at least for now, would be prudent.”

Caroline: "No, I mean, do you think she was chosen by chance? "

Louis: He chuckles. Rather darkly, though not quite menacingly. “I’d bet my last hand at Harrah’s against it. A Malveaux Embraced by chance?” He looks at her as if she should keenly understand the implications, the byzantine web of Kindred politics.

Caroline: She doesn’t offer a correction. “What’s the conflict with the Baron and the prince?”

GM: Indeed, this is the first time Caroline has heard of any “Baron”.

Louis: Lou stares at her pale eyes with his own dark ones. Shock for the first time seeps into his face. And then, an even more rare expression paints his face: pity. He almost stumbles with his next words. “Miss Malveaux, do you know what you are?”

Caroline: Her eyes are hard at that. “Is it that obvious?”

Louis: In that moment, he reconsiders everything. The case just turned into a hand-grenade, gift wrapped in pale hair and skin. He cracks his knuckles. He opens his mouth several times as if to answer, but the words escape him. Where does he begin? And why would he try? Paranoia and pity struggle in the diseased smear that is his heart.

Caroline: “I don’t need your pity, Mr. Fontaine.”

Louis: The victor of that battle is not immediately obvious. Slowly, he regains his composure. His face slackens to match his shoulders and his voice becomes the hard edge of a cold roscoe. “Do you have a safe line I can call to reach you. A private line.”

Caroline: She passes him a card. “That number is private. Virgin, in fact.”

Louis: He nods approvingly. “I’ll be in touch, Miss Malveaux.”

Caroline: She nod and heads for the door, pausing. “Mr. Fontaine. Everyone has written me off already. You shouldn’t.”

Louis: “I haven’t.”

Caroline: “Malveauxes have long memories. I may be a liability now… but I will not be forever. Or even for long.”

Louis: Lou almost whispers, “I know what grows from your seed.”


Monday night, 7 September 2015, PM

Louis: Once Caroline departs, Lou creeps to his door and listens for the sound of her fading footsteps. He toys with following her—or more precisely making sure she wasn’t or isn’t being followed. But he holds back.

He stalks back to his chair, his hand twitching. He goes to sit down, but suddenly stops and grabs hold of his roll-top desk with terrible fury. He tosses it back, causing it to splinter and crack open like a sun-ripened corpse.

“Mierda, mierda, mierda!” he screams, then pulls his gun and fires it into his mannequins. “Me cago en la leche!”

He drops the sizzling firearm, and falls to the ground, a sobbing wreck all-too resembling his desk’s ruin.


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Story Three, Caroline VI, Emmett VI

“I’ve made mistakes in the past, man. She doesn’t feel like one.”
Emmett Delacroix


Saturday evening, 17 May 2014

GM: From one of the galleries (balconies outside the French Quarter) overlooking Orleans Avenue at night, the sight of Touchdown Jesus’ haunting silhouette keeps watch over St. Louis Cathedral and the many pedestrians hurrying off to bars, restaurants, and ghost tours. Laughter and the heavy bass of drums from nearby Bourbon Street catch on the breeze like the scent of jasmine in springtime.

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There are few better places, it is said, to experience the vitality of the French Quarter, or the mystery of its illustrious past, than on the balconies belonging to the much sought-after and luxurious Bourbon Orleans Hotel. Andrew Jackson announced his candidacy for the presidency from within its hallowed walls after winning the Battle of New Orleans against the British. Nestled in a lot adjacent to the Cathedral, the Bourbon Orleans sits between ritzy Royal Street (an antique-lover’s dream) and the notorious Bourbon Street (a night owl’s dream). Nothing could reflect the rich history of the Bourbon Orleans Hotel more appropriately than its placement in the French Quarter between heaven and hell, except for maybe the ghosts who allegedly walk the corridors of the hotel.

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Tonight, however, death has little place in the Bourbon Orleans.

The occasion is a charity ball to raise funds for the city’s Catholic-affiliated hospitals. Men in crisp black tuxedos link arms with ladies in fine evening gowns as they emerge from parked luxury vehicles, their gold-filigreed invitations clasped in hand. At 6 PM, the cocktail reception and silent auction are just beginning.

Caroline: The gold ring along the edge of Caroline’s invitation might as well be a gold cuff on her wrist. “Your mother can’t make it,” her father had said. More an order than an inference. And her date for the evening… Caroline sucks perhaps a bit too heavily from the cocktail glass as she listens to another boring anecdote from a gray-haired someone and smiles as though engaged. Such is the nature of being a Malveaux. Bored? Unhappy? It doesn’t matter. She is here to wave the family flag.

GM: Caroline’s gray-haired conversational partner, Alec Downs, is the fifty-something president of a boat-building company and the Southern Yacht Club. Her uncle Matthew holds a membership and occasionally visits its home in Lakeview. Her father Nathan lacks the time. Her uncle Orson lacks the interest. Alec mentions that his daughter Bentley is “trying out” being a talent agent and helped find some of the musicians for tonight’s event. Caroline has heard the twenty-something college graduate still lives at home with her father, a decision which likely has little to do with money.

Boredom, however, is an inconsequential issue to another one of the posh event’s would-be attendees.

Emmett: In an apartment down the street—a pretty little condo in Hell—a young man stretches his legs. He smiles in the mirror. It’s going to be a fun night for Emmett Delacroix. Any of the guests would doubtless be embarrassed to be seen wearing the off-the-rack suit he’s sporting, but he likes to think that he’ll be giving somebody a better reason to be embarrassed tonight. In any case, he surveys the entrance and surrounding crowd, confident as a pig in shit. Which, he thinks, is what most of the guests are.

Act one.

GM: The inside lobby is a lavish affair befitting one of the Crescent City’s oldest and most historied hotels. Glittering chandeliers, white marble floors, black marble pillars usher guests inside to an inviting lobby with plush furniture and thick persian rugs. A piano and some potted plants lurk in the corners. Nothing arrests the progress of guests from Orleans Street into the hotel’s lobby, though several large men in dark suits stand attentively by the entrance to the ballroom and other venue spaces. Well-heeled guests display their invitations and are promptly let in.

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Emmett: Em strides towards the venue’s entrance, eyes and smirk ahead.

GM: His progress is arrested by the two suited men standing by the door. “Invitation, sir?” asks the man on his right.

Emmett: Emmett blinks. “Invitation?” he repeats dimly. “I was told this was a public event.”

GM: “You were told wrongly, sir. It’s by invitation,” the suited man answers.

Emmett: …Dammit. He scans the man’s lapel for a badge or name tag.

GM: Neither of the suited men wear any. At a passing glance, they could resemble guests at the event themselves. Up close, their black suits to be a cut below the formal evening tuxedos worn by most of the attendees inside.

Emmett: Em tilts his head, summoning his genuine embarrassment and painting it in shades of confusion. “You’re absolutely sure? I was invited by a friend, but she never said I needed a pass…” Then he frowns in consternation. “Oh, God. She probably never thought of it.”

He meets the man’s gaze, apologetic. “Some people never think about the spoon in their mouths, you know?” He rubs the back of his neck, face contorted in contrition. “I’m sorry to cause you any problems… what’s your name, sir?”

GM: “Derek,” the man standing to the door’s right answers. He has black skin, buzz-cut hair, and a short goatee. He looks somewhere in his thirties.

Emmett: Em nods, grateful for the indulgence. “This isn’t really my crowd, Derek. But this girl?” He shakes his head like a wet dog. “You have a wife, Derek? Girlfriend?”

GM: “Used to. Two exes,” Derek answers.

The other man, standing to the door’s left, surveys the two dimly.

Emmett: “Yeah, well. I do too. Lasted about six months.” He sighs. “I’ve made mistakes in the past, man. She doesn’t feel like one.” Em meets the man’s eyes. He’s excellent at looking earnest. It takes a thoroughly deceitful person to look as sincere as he does now. He pauses to take a breath, not long enough to give the guard a segue but long enough to gauge what he sees in Derek’s eyes.

GM: “Never do ‘til they’re throwin’ your shit on the street and you’re paying alimony.” The security guard looks sympathetic enough towards Em, who also pegs him as mildly irate towards female ‘mistakes’.

Emmett: He snorts. “I don’t want to stay in your hair, Derek. You want that even less.” He spreads his arms. “I’m not the kind of guy you’re hired to keep out, right? We can save each other time.” At a high-pitched giggle from indoors, he glances over his shoulder.

“I’ll tell you what, I can even play responsible adult and tell folks to go easy on the drink. Maybe have a word with the guys at the bar. My dad has a drinking problem, I’m used to dealing with it. Hell, could at least give your guys a tap on the shoulder if somebody seems to get rowdy.”

Em’s father does, indeed, have a problem with drinking. Specifically, with Em’s drinking.

GM: Derek’s partner is a bit heavier-boned and has a thick mustache, but is otherwise clean-shaven. The man, otherwise unaddressed by Em, finally speaks up. “We’re hired to keep out anyone who doesn’t have an invitation. Like you.”

Emmett: Em holds up his hands in an appeasing gesture. He nods at the man. “Didn’t mean to cut you out of the decision, sir. I’m just trying to make this a win-win situation.” He gives his best harmless smile. “Business school grad. Can’t help it.”

GM: “It’s not a decision,” Derek’s partner says with a frown. “You don’t have an invitation, you don’t get in.”

Emmett: Em sighs and starts to walk away. Over his shoulder he glances back at Derek. “Bosses, right?”

GM: The bouncer grunts and seems to regard his partner with a rising annoyance.

Emmett: He shakes his head sadly. “Tell Cici… I mean, Cécilia, that I’m sorry. I tried my best, right?”

GM: The bouncers look between themselves. Derek’s partner looks skeptical. Derek just shrugs. “Could be she forgot a name on the list, Marv.”

Emmett: Em, still walking, calls, “No, that’s fine. You don’t want to have to bother her. I’ll just explain what happened the next time I see her. Marv, right?”

Caroline: Caroline’s attention slips away from the dull conversation about how Bentley has an eye for talent and helped provided the help tonight. It’s the most awkward brag she’s seen in a while, give the circumstances.

The disturbance at the entrance seems to hold some potential, and she ideally watches it over her conversational partner’s shoulder. She takes a small step right and smiles to get a better view.

GM: Caroline sees a young man in a comparatively inexpensive suit talking to the bouncers. One of them looks annoyed. The young man does not have the telltale gold invitation.

Caroline: Cheap suit. Haggling with the guards. No doubt some junior partner or mid-level exec too frazzled or too stupid to remember his invitation. At least it’s entertaining. That suit though.

GM: There’s three words that her brother Westley might derisively use to describe it: ‘off the rack.’ She can picture his next snorted remark. “I wouldn’t be caught dead in that.”

Caroline: It’s like watching a train wreck in slow motion. The only question is when they are going to break out the taser, here or in the alley. The desperate insistence he get in, the possibility of his boss watching, the likelihood of a scene…

GM: Caroline and Em both watch the mustached security guard referred to as ‘Marv’ roll his eyes. “You’re going to be in a world of shit if she doesn’t know you, kid.”

Emmett: “And you’ll be if she does, man. Come on, there’s going to be a line to hold up at some point.”

Caroline: Caroline smirks as she takes another sip of her drink, nodding along to the conversation around her. Definitely lawyer with the smugness.

GM: After the security guard makes his way back inside the ballroom, he clears his throat and approaches a willowy-figured young woman dressed in a floor-length teal evening gown. She has delicate, high-cheekboned features, clear blue eyes, and light blonde hair she wears loosely.

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He waits about a minute until she’s no longer occupied, then asks if she knows… actually, he might then be embarrassed to realize, he isn’t sure what Emmett’s name is. Just that there’s a young guy outside who doesn’t have an invitation. Did she leave someone off the guest list?

Emmett: Em makes eye contact with Cécilia as her face becomes visible. He does his best to let his positively winning smile and a wink say everything. He waves.

Remember? that wink says. It’s a game, all a game. Humor me.

GM: Guests have been steadily trickling into the ballroom, but the event does not yet seem in full swing. It’s enough of a window for Cécilia to catch that eye contact past the guests surrounding her—who seem just numerous enough for the French charity organizer to have little interest in talking to the minimum-wage bouncer.

“Yes, I recognize him. Let him in, I suppose some names could have gotten lost,” Cécilia replies before turning her attention back to the other guests, the unspoken motion clearly dismissing the bouncer.

Marv returns to the front entrance and glowers, “I’ve got my eye on you, kid. Go ahead and start something. It’d make my day.

Emmett: “Do you accept tips?”

GM: The security guard grinds his teeth.

Mouse: In all the kerfuffle, piano keys lower beneath well-practiced fingers. The instrument sings out in the background and creates a haunting melody at once raw, pristine, and wonderful. The keys may be black and white, but the hues of the melody hearken back to the colorful fairy tales of one’s childhood.

A dusky-skinned young musician is seated at on the piano’s bench, playing with his eyes closed. He is dressed in a simple white pressed shirt, bowtie, and black slacks.

Emmett: Em’s smile, looking painfully large, diminishes when he sees the man behind the piano. He studiously avoids making eye contact as he looks rather desperately around the room for company to integrate himself into—which is when his eyes meet Caroline’s.

Caroline: Caroline has to give him credit. Not many people would have the guts to take it straight to Cécilia. She watches him work his way through the crowd, atrocious suit and all, and her eyes smile, amusedly, as his meet hers.

Tall, pale aristocratic beauty, lithe, with a dancer’s grace wrapped in a dark gown worth more than he takes in over a quarter. Jewels glitter at her wrist, throat, and ears that put the cost of her outfit well over what he makes in a year. She holds a cocktail glass one one hand half full of a pinkish liquid garnished with a lemon and a lime wedge both.

Emmett: And jackpot, enter left. His eyes flicker over her, pausing at the jewels that encrust her. But in the end, his eyes return to the most interesting gems of the ensemble; her lovely, lovely eyes.

Caroline: She cuts her own eyes away, back to the group, just in time to laugh at a bad joke.

Emmett: Em scans the room for the bar.

GM: His gaze settles on a well-stocked cocktail bar. Appetizers are also available so that guests will not have to drink on empty stomachs.

Emmett: And behind every bar, the bartender. Who, in this case…

GM: He sees a Caucasian man in maybe his mid-20s whose hair is shaved down to an almost invisible buzzcut. He wears a button-up white shirt and black bowtie as he mixes drinks for the guests, including a particularly intriguing one that seems to involve ice cream:

Bourbon_Orleans_Drink.jpg
Caroline: As he shifts away Caroline shifts her own attention as well. The fun seems to be over.

She excuses herself from her circle and moves across the room, floating like a leaf on the wind in and out of greetings and pleasantries with other guests, most intended for her father, mother, or uncles.

GM: Numerous well-to-do figures are present, from Alec Downs (who Caroline has already had the “pleasure” of meeting) to playboys such as Robert Argabrite III and Warren Whitney III (a few guests who see them together even joke about the “Two Threes”). Cécilia Devillers also makes polite conversation with the heiress, asking if any of the silent auction’s items have caught her interest.

Emmett: Em heads to the bar. He doesn’t move on an invisible wind; he’s two steps ahead of it, trying to get a decent seat at the bar.

GM: Em doesn’t run into much competition. Most of the guests are happy to simply take their drinks and return to fraternizing one another in the small cliques that ultimately make up every social gathering. The bartender asks his order and efficiently mixes it up.

Emmett: “Much appreciated,” Em says as the man busies himself. “Does it come with your name?”

GM: “Josh,” the bartender answers as he gets out the necessary drinks and miscellaneous ingredients for whatever Em has ordered.

Emmett: “You know this crowd at all, Josh?”

GM: “Not personally, but people like this rent venue spaces and need drinks mixed all the time.”

Emmett: “No luck, then. Sorry to bother you.” He returns to the crowd, trying to catch sight of the girl.

As he does he catches an earful of the piano and blinks. Then he shrugs. Even Mouse must be good at something.

GM: Very good at something. Some of the guests are actually stopping to compliment the young musician. Bentley Downs seems to have an eye indeed.

Mouse: As some of the well-heeled guests move to compliment Mouse, the young pianist smiles in appreciation of the kind words. “Thank you,” he responds in a pleasant tone.

Emmett: When he does find Caroline, locked in whatever dismal conversation she finds herself in, he does her a favor and inserts himself; gracefully of course.

GM: Emmett’s off-the-rack suit earns him a few pointed looks from the bespoke-attired guests. In the end, however, they seem to find his presence more amusing than offensive. A few ironically ask “what tailor fitted his clothes.”

Emmett: He takes the abuse with a smile. He’s a cheaply-dressed doormat, if that’s what they want to step on; all the while he teases, and chuckles so earnestly one almost might wonder who’s really laughing at who.

GM: The blonde seems to have moved on, but Em soon finds another girl who seems bored to be here. He mocks her pretentious parents. She thinks he’s hilarious. He thinks so too. They go back to his place together. The world was his oyster.

At least then, it was good to be Emmett Delacroix.


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Story Three, Emmett V

“Glad I’m not you.”
Pamela Ardoin


Day ? Month ? Year?

GM: Beep… beep… beep…

White. Bright lights. Breathing. Every inhalation, every exhalation, a gale wind through his mouth. Hazy figures in green. Murmurs. A white-gloved hand over his face.

Beep… beep… beep…

Patient_POV.jpg


Day ? Month ? Year?

GM: Beep… beep… beep…

Sterile white linoleum walls. A blue partitioning curtain. Smells of sweat, saline, and disinfectant.

Beep… beep… beep…

Something soft behind his back. The pain. Still everywhere. No longer a roaring bonfire, but a dull, throbbing ache.

Everywhere but his legs.

Emmett: “Ha… ha.” It’s a dream. Just a dream. Just a nightmare. He’s going to wake up soon. Any minute now.

GM: As his surroundings reluctantly focus, Em finds himself already in bed. One of those half-upraised hospital beds. An IV stabs through a vein on his arm.

Emmett: No, he isn’t. Please, God. He knows he’s made some mistakes. But he doesn’t deserve this. Does he? He speaks, and does not hear what he says.

GM: Emmett knows not whether he screams and blasphemes, cries and sobs, or desperately tries to convince himself the past… however many hours didn’t happen.

Nothing changes.

Pain does not fade. Feeling does not return from whence there was none. No voice answers in return. Emmett is left alone, denied even the comfort of sharing his pain with another human being.

Emmett: Tick tock, goes the clock. Thump-thump goes his heart. Beep-beep, goes the machine. His legs do nothing at all. Tears mark the time like sand in an hourglass, and fall just as heavy.

GM: The sand trickles. The tears flow. Em does not witness them run out. Perhaps he is simply too exhausted, or perhaps fate takes pity on him. Blackness finally steals over the young man’s sight.


Day ? Month ? Year ?

GM: “Good morning. Can you hear me?”

Emmett: Grunt.

GM: “You’ve been through an ordeal.”

Emmett: That is one way of putting it.

“Water.”

GM: Emmett’s surroundings reluctantly blur into focus.

Resident_Rapist1.jpg A dark-haired man wearing a physician’s white coat and stethoscope looks down at him. He looks relatively young for his presumed profession, maybe a few years Lena’s junior. His hair is shaved to a near buzzcut, and his facial stubble is maybe an hour short of five o’ clock. Em can’t say if it’s due to the doctor’s almost-beard or just the lighting, but a shadow seems to spread across his lower face as he smiles down at the bedridden young man.

Emmett: His voice is a dry husk. “Stop smiling.”

GM: “Try not to move too much. It’s going to hurt like hell for you right now.”

Emmett: “Stop smiling.”

GM: “You’ve been through an ordeal.” The doctor’s dark eyes twinkle.

Emmett: “You’re putting me through an ordeal. Look a little sad, please.” The joke, he finds, isn’t one. “Could you just… look a little goddamn sad?”

GM: The doctor’s smile slowly widens.

“I’m sorry. I suppose I’m just happy for you. You’re very lucky to still be alive.”

He gives a light chuckle.

“In fact, most patients I know would be asking whether they were all right or how they ended up here.”

The doctor glances down at something in his palm and seems to consider Em more thoughtfully.

Emmett: “I don’t think I’m all right,” Em says tonelessly. “Where am I? And how did I get here?”

GM: “Great questions. Let’s start at the beginning. Do you remember what your name is?”

Emmett: “Yes. Do you know my name?”

GM: The doctor smiles. “We’re here to talk about you right now.”

Emmett: “I remember my name.”

GM: “Please repeat it for me,” the doctor patiently requests.

Emmett: Em laughs. “I don’t know where I am, how I got here, or half of the last… Christ knows how many days. Why don’t you tell me what kind of frying pan I’m in before I step into the fire?”

GM: The edges of the doctor’s eyes crinkle. “No fire or frying pan. You’re in a hospital, and you’re here to get better. If you want to do that, we need to know how bad off you are. If you can’t remember your name, that would indicate something is pretty wrong. Make sense?”

Emmett: Em’s shoulders sag. He’s can’t feel his legs. His fucking legs. But. He still has his tongue.

“I’m sorry, doc. I know you just want to help.” He forces every broken bone into his voice. Every drop of despair. “I… I have family, and they’re not well off. If they get called, they’ll try to help.” The tears are real enough. “I don’t want to break their backs, too, doc. I’m sorry.”

GM: “I’m sure you don’t,” the still-smiling doctor responds with a humoring tone. “Hate to rain on that parade, but I already know who you are. I’m checking to see whether you do too.”

Emmett: After considering the truth in Doctor McSunshine’s eyes, Em sighs. “Emmett Delacroix. I get to know yours?”

GM: “You can call me Dr. Brown. I’d shake, but, well.” The doctor offers a deprecating smile.

Emmett: But you’re too worried I’d bite you, fucker? Em glances at his arms.

GM: He finds both in casts and slings.

Emmett: “How’d I get here?”

GM: Another soft chuckle. “I was about to ask you, Emmett. What’s the last thing that you can remember before waking up here?”

Emmett: “I…” Em’s brow creases. “I think I drank something. In the Quarter…”

GM: “Something pretty strong, must’ve been.”

Emmett: “No, I think… I think I blacked out, after.”

GM: Dr. Brown raises his eyebrows. “That’s the last thing you remember, before waking up here?”

Emmett: “No. There’s… flashes. I was, um.” Swallow. “Naked. In the dark. I kept fading out.”

GM: The doctor glances down at something in his palm again, then back up at Emmett.

“You have any idea how you might’ve ended up that way?”

Emmett: “There’s, um. The obvious answer. Some psycho slipped something in my drink and… Christ.”

GM: The doctor asks Em a few similar follow-up questions and finally states, “Mmm-hm. Well, maybe it’s for the best you don’t remember too much, but this is out of my hands anyway. The police are going to interview you, once you’re okay enough to have visitors.” The doctor smiles again, stands up, and pats the foot of Em’s bed in seeming substitute for touching the catastrophically injured young man’s body. “So until then, take it easy. We’ll have a nurse come by later to check on you.”

Emmett: “Please.” Em locks eyes with the man. “Can’t you tell me what you know? I’m sorry for being rude. I was scared. Am scared. I just…” the frustration, humiliation, in his voice is all too genuine. “I have no idea what’s happened to me.”

GM: The doctor heaves a sigh and sits back down. “Your landlady found you in the dumpster bin outside your apartment. Gave her quite a scare.”

Emmett: “Oh my god. What about my legs? My arms? How… how bad is it?”

GM: “Your arms were broken. They should heal up fine.”

Emmett: But.

GM: “Your legs, you’ve lost everything from the knee down.”

Emmett: Em blinks.

“I, ah. I see.”

He sobs, a little.

His tongue. He still has his tongue.

“Have you… called anybody?”

GM: The doctor smiles again, though whether out of genuine sympathy is Em’s guess. “Prosthetics have come a long ways, Emmett. So far as your family, we’ve called all of your immediate relatives.”

Emmett: Fuck.

“Okay,” he says meekly. He has nothing else to say.

GM: “Turns out your sister’s actually a doctor too. Lucky you, when you’re discharged.”

Emmett: “Lucky,” he repeats.

GM: “Well, lucky in your circumstances,” Dr. Brown smiles.

Emmett: “Has she… seen?”

GM: “Oh no, we’ve not allowed you any visitors yet.”

Emmett: “Could we keep it that way, please? For… just a little bit?”

GM: The doctor laughs. “You just lie back and relax, Emmett. Enjoy some TV. You won’t need to worry about police or bills or whatever else until you’re a ways better.”

Emmett: “Not police. Just family.”

GM: “Afraid that’s not up to either of us. But like I said.” The doctor encouragingly pats the foot of Em’s bed again. “You don’t need to worry about them for now. You just focus on getting better.”

Emmett: Doc Brown’s probably tasted vinegar that was sweeter than Em’s laugh. “Oh. I’ll get right to that. How long does it take legs to grow back, usually?”

GM: The doctor grins. “Well, science hasn’t come quite that far yet. Prosthetics usually take at least a few months.”

He picks up the TV’s remote. “You got a favorite channel to watch?”

Emmett: “I don’t suppose you have Webflix.”

GM: “’Fraid not. Or cable. Just regular old TV here.”

Emmett: “Just… anything.”

GM: Dr. Brown flicks the remote, pats Em’s bed again, and reiterates how a nurse will be around later to check on him. A final shadow-rimmed smile and he’s gone. The television blares down at the invalid young man.

“…this largest tooth whale is also called a chacalot!”

Game show-themed music begins playing. Dooh-dooh dooh dooh, dooh dooh dooh. Dooh, dooh-dooh dooh dooh dooh-dooh. Dooh, dooh-dooh, doo. Dooh. Dooh. Dooh. Dun-dun.

“What is… the sperm whale!”

Cheers and applause sound from the audience.

Emmett: He misses those visions already.

Em’s eyes close; first because the host’s makeup offends him, then because he finds the world is a better place when he doesn’t have to look at it, and finally because the pillow is so, so warm…


Monday night, 7 September 2015, PM

GM: Sleep comes easily and brings neither dreams nor nightmares. Just a blank stretch of non-being, when he isn’t Emmett Delacroix, isn’t a legless cripple, isn’t anybody else.

He comes to later in the evening. If the room’s darkened lighting is an indication, it’s late evening. He is confronted by a stout-framed, middle-aged woman with short graying hair and a jowl-lined, bulldog-like face. Emmett initially suspects her to be an orderly, but she wears a nurse’s scrubs and is holding a plastic bin that smells of talcum powder.

“You can’t use toilets, so you’re going to use this. Do you need me to remove your clothes?”

Emmett: Em raises an eyebrow. He glances at the strange white things that have replaced his arms. Then back at her.

GM: The nurse’s expectant expression doesn’t change.

Emmett: He grits his teeth. If pride had gone before the fall, this would be easier. “Yes,” he forces out.

GM: The nurse sets down the bedpan and pulls back Emmett’s covers. In place of where his legs used to be below the knee are two white-bandaged stumps.

Pain stabs through Em as the nurse hoists him up beneath his armpits like a sack of potatoes, lays a plastic cover over the sheets, and sets him back down. That hurts too. She undoes his hospital gown and raises it over his hips with the impersonal detachment of someone who’s done it a thousand times before. She then lowers the bed and grunts, “Lie supine.”

Emmett: Is that a math thing?

No more pillow talk, please…

Buy me dinner first…

He would have said something like that, once. Now he stares sadly at his cock. It’s cold in here, and he hurts all over.

“I don’t know what that means,” he mutters.

GM: Emmett’s manhood resembles nothing so much as a sickly misshapen eggplant. It’s all blacks, blues, and dulled reds. Faded slashes crisscross its length. Random clumps of hair are either singed or missing.

The nurse just sighs, then takes hold of Emmett’s hips with two thick hands, which hurts, and pulls him forward so he’s lying flat on his back. She turns him on his side, which also hurts, and he feels cold plastic pressing against his buttocks. That hurts too. She rolls him on top of the bedpan and raises the bed, bringing his body into a somewhat more natural toileting position. That still hurts. She does not leave the room, but simply turns her back.

Emmett: “…oh.”

He’s past the shame. He just loathes the dirty feeling. When he’s done, he clears his throat. “I need you to…”

GM: Voiding his bowels is like shitting rocks and pissing razor wire. It hurts. A lot. The smell is coppery and exceedingly foul. The nurse wrinkles her nose. “Glad I’m not you.”

Emmett: “I’m not.”

GM: The nurse holds the bedpan flat and then rolls Em away, onto his chest. He hears something lightly tearing, then there’s more pain. By the time the nurse is done and does up his gown, his ass feels like it’s been scorched with a blowtorch.

“They found glass in your rectum,” she explains.

Emmett: His eyes feel wet, and he doesn’t trust himself to speak. He’s always hated places like this, for no particular reason. Now he has one.

GM: The nurse wordlessly carries away the foul-smelling bedpan. The stool is mostly obscured by discarded toilet paper, which is colored red as much as brown.

Em can’t say how much time passes before she returns. She sets down a tray on his bedside table, re-inspects the splints on his arms, changes the fluid bag hooked up to his IV, and checks a few other things. She then sets the tray over Em’s lap. What’s on it looks almost as nauseous as what just came out of his ass.

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The glob of potatoes is wet, gray, and runny, like a hunk of moist brain matter with runny snot for gravy. The ear of corn is discernible as corn, but the kernels are spaced conspicuously close together and are curiously uniform in their shape, like a plastic replica rather than the real thing. Em has no idea what the round-shaped gray stuff is. The brown goop smeared over it would resemble his stool if not for the sickly-sweet smell.

Emmett: “I’m not hungry.”

Unless maybe you have some poison.

GM: The nurse sets a plastic knife and fork by Em’s plate and stares at him.

Emmett: “I’m not hungry,” he repeats.

He sounds like a child. He doesn’t care.

GM: The nurse sets a glass of water on his tray. And stares.

Emmett: His head droops. “I—ok.” Here it comes. “My arms are, um. I can’t.”

Goddammitdammitdammit.

“I need you to help me.”

GM: The nurse stabs off a forkful of the snot-like potatoes and holds it in front of Em’s mouth like he’s twelve months old.

Emmett: Here comes the airplane. Right into the towers. He closes his eyes, and opens.

GM: The ‘food’ gets shoved in. It tastes as bad as it looks. Bland, runny, and as far removed from that chocolatey Café Soulé luncheon as his odds of coming first place in a marathon. The nurse watches him as he chews and swallows, then partitions off a second forkful of mashed potato.

Eventually, his plate is cleaned and his glass is emptied. The nurse takes them away and tells Em that someone will come by in the morning to help him void his bowels and hand-feed him another meal. She takes her leave just as the wing’s lights go out. Em is left alone in the dark with his thoughts.

Emmett: It could be worse, right? He’s alive. People have lost more from less to drink. He still has his tongue. People love cripples—or they pity them, which is the same as far as money goes. It could be worse. Right?

But even Em isn’t that good of a liar.


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