Campaign of the Month: October 2017

Blood and Bourbon

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Story Thirteen, Caroline II

“You have no idea how long it’s been since I was able to have a reasonable discussion with your sire and his confidants.”
Antoine Savoy


GM: Caroline’s mother takes her to the LaLaurie House at the agreed-upon time. Her only smiled response to the nature off her daughter’s business is that it’s “prudent to keep lines of conversation open.” Simmone accompanies her, like always. The half-asleep 10-year-old looks content merely to lie against their mother’s breast. The faceless driver, silent as ever, conveys them to their destination.

Abélia pays little heed to Ferris’ plans. They drive past the Garden District’s glorious old homes, through the CBD’s skyscrapers, past Canal Street, and down along Royal. They pass by hotels and tourist attractions, past the front doors of the Evergreen itself, and then finally the more residential portion of the Quarter where the LaLaurie House sits. No one attempts to waylay the Devillers’ black car.

Caroline: Caroline knew her mother would provide transportation without need for all the chaos and risk of Ferris’ own. Just as she’s confident in their ability to remove themselves from the Quarter when the time comes.

GM: The house on 1140 Royal Street, the same street as Antoine Savoy’s own center of power, stands out little amidst its neighbors. Second-generation Creole architecture. Plain gray gray walls. Delicate iron work along the gallery’s (balcony’s) railings. Potted green plants there, like every gallery in the Quarter seems to have. Tall for when it was built at three stories.

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The driver parks the car and silently opens the door for his mistress. She emerges, Simmone held close to her breast, smiling widely at the sight of the house. Her dark eyes are wide and hungry as they drink it in.

The house’s iron gate silently swings open, admitting the three Devillers and their servant into a deep, white portal that leads to the front door. Rain dully patters against iron as the gilded bars clang ominously shut behind them. The feeling is not unlike stepping inside an airlock—entering a source of contamination that must be quarantined from the outside world.

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But tonight it may also feels like a place of refuge for Caroline, delineating an invisible line where her mother’s power begins—and which all other powers must overcome.

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Two urns sit by the front door, along with a panel carving of Apollo in his chariot. The faceless man turns the knob. The door swings slowly open on silent hinges.

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Caroline: The Ventrue proceeds into the damned place without fear or hesitation. In many ways it’s like being enfolded in her mother’s arms, if less fully than in their other home.

She knows of the damned history of this place and cannot help but wonder if it was once her mother’s home in the past…

GM: The house’s interior is almost pitch dark. It smells mostly like it did last time. Clean and fresh, but now faintly of her mother’s perfume too. Violet, cool, and creamy. An iron-railed, winding stair (“said the spider to the fly”) ascends from the checkered marble floor to the house’s second story. Two further doors on the staircase’s left and right lead deeper into the home’s unseen recesses.

“The living room should be sufficient for your purposes, my dear,” smiles her mother, stroking the back of her head with one hand. She carries a slumbering Simmone in her other arm against her hip.

“May Fortuna bless your endeavor.”

Caroline: “I’m happier accepting your blessing in it, Mother. I don’t know know what to expect.”

GM: “What comes will come, my dear,” her mother replies serenely. “Yet whatever comes, you may face it without fear. There is little that may harm or eavesdrop upon you within this place while I yet draw breath.”

With that final benediction, she withdraws into the gloom. Caroline settles in to wait. The living room looks much as it did last time. It’s tastefully decorated with delicate rococo furniture, persian rugs, classical artwork, and a ponderously ticking grandfather clock. Some family pictures constitute new additions. Caroline is in them. She looks around middle school, high school, and college age, respectively.

The Ventrue does not wait overlong, however, before she hears the sound of the front door closing, all-too audible to her hyper-sensitive ears. Two pairs of footsteps. One is thick, heavy, and near-silent. The other is the telltale click-click-click of a woman’s high heels.

Mélissaire Larieux rounds the corner, along with the faceless driver.

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Caroline: Visit himself, eh?

Caroline is terribly amused when she hears the heels coming down the hall, long before Mélissaire comes into view. She wonders if he would have come himself, would have visited, if Caroline had invited him to the Giani Building. It amuses her to think he might be scared of her mother. That he might be right to be.

GM: The long-haired, comely-faced, and full-lipped quadroon ghoul shoots Caroline a wide smile as she bends to kiss the Ventrue’s hand.

“Miss Malveaux-Devillers, it’s been far too long,” she greets in a distinctly male-sounding voice. One rather like Antoine Savoy’s.

“My sincerest congratulations upon your new family. These past months have been very hard for you. I can only imagine how much happiness your new mother and sisters have brought into your Requiem.”

‘Her’ smiling eyes don’t once leave Caroline’s.

Caroline: “Mr. Savoy, the charmer as always.”

And the deceiver. The manipulator. The plotter and conniver. How coincidental it was that Mélissaire was so quick to answer the phone when she needed her. That Lebeaux was so readily available to support her.

Many fools call her sire a tyrant and a monster as they gather close around the Lord of the French Quarter and his honeyed words. But she knows well his plots can be just as cruel, vicious, manipulative, and deadly as any justice or decree her sire might enforce.

“You truly do know how to make a girl feel welcome and desired. I was very flattered by the invitation to meet again. I hope it has not unduly inconvenienced you.”

GM: Mélissaire releases Caroline’s hand and sits down on the couch, crossing one leg over the other and casually extending her arms over the couch’s back. Despite the male voice, the ghoul’s body language still feels distinctly feminine.

“It’s an easy enough thing to make a desirable girl feel desired, my dear. She’s already done all of the heavy lifting,” Savoy winks.

“But on the contrary! Such a meeting is all-too convenient. You have no idea how long it’s been since I was able to have a reasonable discussion with your sire and his confidants. He is, shall we say, disinclined towards dialogue.”

Caroline: Despite knowing him for the liar and flatterer that he is, it’s hard to ignore the Lord of the French Quarter’s charm. She smiles.

“I’d characterize it by your natures,” Caroline agrees. “You, raised at court amid beautiful lies and intrigue, and he on the battlefield amid ugly truths and a rather more direct answers to most problems.”

“Fire and water, really, one destroying everything in its path, the other taking whatever shape best fits.”

GM: Savoy grins.

“Poetry like that makes me think the Rose Clan lost out by not Embracing you, Miss Malveaux-Devillers.”

Caroline: “Many have missed the ship, I’m afraid. I’ll be very amused to watch them realize it,” Caroline answers with a very vicious grin.

GM: The French Quarter lord’s own remains just as wide.

“You and I both, my dear. You and I both.”

“But I think you’re more than content with the ship you’re on, too. The scepter suits you better than the rose.”

Caroline: “They both have their merits,” Caroline replies. “We don’t really change who were are. At least, I couldn’t. Not that I didn’t appreciate the extremely flattering bid the roses made. I cannot imagine very many have received that much attention, or seen that much effort. It was very compelling.”

Right up until it wasn’t.

GM: Another smile.

“It’s an easy thing to make compelling offers to compelling recipients, too, my dear. Or perhaps not so easy! That mine failed clearly indicates one or the other was insufficiently compelling, and I’m quite certain it wasn’t the recipient,” he winks.

“But I’m not one to dwell on the past, beyond what lessons I can take to prepare for the future.”

“That’s what I wanted to talk with you about tonight, Miss Malveaux-Devillers—the future. Your future.”

Caroline: A light laugh. “I’m grateful the Toreador bid came form someone self-assured enough not to hold a grudge.”

GM: Savoy smiles and makes a languidly waving motion, as if to bat aside a fly.

“It’s as I said when we last spoke, my dear. Politics go so much smoother, and so many more opportunities open up, when one doesn’t take things personally.”

“But as to the future and its opportunities. By my estimate, the future others intend for you is as a figurehead to Seneschal Maldonato, once your sire enters his sleep. And perhaps other elders.” Mélissaire strokes her chin in seeming thought. “Is this the future you hope to achieve?”

Caroline: It’s an interesting contrast, the feminine body language with the elder’s mannerisms.

“That would certainly be a very conventional hand off of power,” Caroline concedes.

“It makes some very interesting assumptions about the state of the city when he goes off to his rest, however. I think so many of you misjudge him, my sire, in believing that he might be worn down, harried into exhaustion. He will not lay down his crown or his sword so long as there is work to be done. They tempt him not with rest with each provocation, but with wrath.”

GM: “A lion can be most dangerous when he is most wounded,” Savoy concurs. “Is that the future you envision, my dear, that your sire lays low his greatest threats before he takes his rest?”

Caroline: “I think it the most likely outcome along the current path,” Caroline grants.

“Though it is not yet clear to me who those threats are.”

GM: Savoy smiles.

“I’ll offer you some advice, my dear. Those of us who survive eternity don’t make gambles—or at least fair ones. We never bet on a single horse.”

Caroline: “Wisdom,” the Ventrue agrees.

“I believed, you know, for some time that the two of you might not be at such crossed purposes as many supposed.”

GM: “Classic shell game?” he grins. “Pick a shell, any shell, the ball is up the confidence man’s sleeve the whole time?”

Caroline: She laughs. “Oh, that might be a New Orleans classic, but I imagined nothing so crass.”

“More that anyone who would place a crown upon their brow must know the first response, as certain as any rule in physics, must be the rise of an opposition.”

She tilts her head. “Better someone you could tolerate, perhaps with a dash of the enemy you know. Not everyone plays by the same civilized rules.”

“The piece many forget this night and others. There are as many who would flip the board as play to win.”

GM: “Better the devil you know, if the devil is unavoidable,” Savoy concurs.

“Your sire and I aren’t working together, as you’ve aptly deduced. The Sanctified are a house divided. But perhaps, once the prince takes his rest, and with the seneschal willing, we could again become one undivided.”

Caroline: Caroline gives an amused but skeptical look.

“Is that what you wish?” she asks in turn.

GM: The French Quarter lord smiles and shrugs. “It’s one of many futures I’ve turned over. It’s one of a smaller but not insignificant number I find acceptably conductive to my goals and interests.”

“Your sire’s torpor makes possible many futures that weren’t previously on the table, my dear. Perhaps you’ve turned over some in your head as well. It’s a favored pastime at Elysium these nights, though many Kindred are limited by small vision. Many Kindred lack the perspective and imagination to realize just how different the New Orleans of the future could look.”

Caroline: He’s not wrong, though she suspects few have considered the scope of the destruction they might cause, and the outside forces that would invite.

“Respectfully, I find playing second fiddle in that unified Sanctified to be a role that would ill suit you.”

GM: Savoy chuckles.

“Astutely observed, my dear. Yes, if I was content to play second fiddle, I could have kissed your sire’s ring long ago.”

Caroline: “I could see it happening, but I expect it would require some significant external force. A threat, to remind many of us how much more alike we are than different.”

Not unlike Republicans and Democrats there.

GM: “There were some Kindred who hoped Katrina might be that force. That the storm would change the game forever—wipe out the Baron and drive the Sanctified back together.” He chuckles again. “But that’s exactly the problem with threats of such magnitude. Too hard to control. Too many variables and unintended consequences to predict.”

He winks. “Too much trouble for any unity-minded Kindred to orchestrate, usually.”

“For my part, the nights of being content with a primogen seat and recognized regency are long past. But I’ve always prided myself on my flexible thinking. The raison d’etre for the Sanctified’s present conflict, the desire for one Kindred or the other to be prince, would be defused if Maldonato and I were to simply rule together.”

Caroline: And where exactly would that leave me? Caroline doesn’t ask.

“One can hardly blame you for setting your sights higher. You’ve enjoyed uninterrupted success of late,” she instead agrees.

“There are so many of late though that would be prince. I’m afraid many are going to end up disappointed no matter the outcome.” She puts the slightest inflection on the word.

This game is, after all, played for keeps.

GM: “I imagine my childe would be most disappointed of all,” smiles Savoy. “He’s the closest to the throne, after the Baron and I, and certainly wants it rather more than Cimitière.”

Caroline: “The great enigma to everyone,” Caroline quips, “though perhaps less so to you?”

She doesn’t believe it for a moment. She smiles.

“He did not seem terribly enthusiastic to discover my lineage. Though, oddly, he did not seem especially surprised either.”

GM: “It is so much easier to spill a secret than to keep one. My childe couldn’t have picked a better time to know this one, though, with the poor bishop’s disappearance.”

“If I were him, I would pin the blame on you for the deed.”

Caroline: “What an immensely unpleasant idea,” Caroline scowls. “Surely you wouldn’t suggest that his ambition might cloud his desire for justice, would you?”

GM: “It makes sense when you think about it. I know my people aren’t the reason he’s disappeared. The Baron is the next-most obvious culprit, but that story rings hollow too—most of the recent conflicts have been between my people and your sire’s. Killing Malveaux draws the Baron back into the fray when he has every reason to be happy with the status quo of his enemies fighting each other.”

“So that leads me to believe Malveaux’s final death served an individual rather than factional purpose. Enter Caroline Malveaux-Devillers as the bishop’s killer. He was the strongest ally of her greatest rival, and her previous bad blood with him is known among the Ventrue.”

Savoy grins. “It’s a convincing story, isn’t it? It’d definitely be my first choice as the sheriff.”

Caroline: “Perhaps to an outsider,” Caroline smiles. “But it’s well known among the city’s Ventrue that the bishop and I buried our differences some time ago, and with my imminent acknowledge by my sire, what reason would I have to risk that, tear down my sire’s allies, and rip out the newly-growing relationship with the bishop all at once?”

GM: “I would venture ample reason, for a panoply of reasons.”

Savoy winks.

“Burying the hatchet is exactly the thing I’d have done before killing him, too.”

Caroline: Caroline gives a fluttering laugh when the Toreador elder observes it’s the same thing he would have done.

“I suppose I shall take that as a compliment.”

GM: The French Quarter lord smiles. “Don’t worry, my dear. Any accusations from me will seem like obvious smears. I have no credibility in your sire’s eyes. It’s the sheriff I’d be afraid of. He’ll surely bring evidence, real or manufactured, to back up his accusations.”

“It’s very inconvenient. I don’t think he’d be inclined to support—and has every reason to sabotage—any kind of deal between myself and Maldonato, given his desire to be prince. He has every reason to want you dead even if he’s not able to pin the bishop’s death on you. That would just be my first strategy, if I were him.”

Caroline: The laughter dies away as he continues more soberly.

Real or manufactured. He’s fishing.

“I wouldn’t be so bold as to claim that I can ‘deal’ with the sheriff, but that outcome was foreseen. It’s fortunate there are such other compelling perpetrators.”

GM: “There are,” Savoy nods. “The truth of who did the deed is immaterial, next to who can tell the most compelling story, and who makes its most compelling villain. I’ve already had a few candidates in mind.”

“Perhaps we might help each other where that and the problem posed by the sheriff are concerned.”

Caroline: “Oh?”

The thought is intriguing. Dangerous, but intriguing.

“Is there another particularly compelling narrative?”

GM: “There’s always the Baron. The threat he poses grows every night.”

Savoy smiles.

“Or perhaps the sheriff himself.”

Caroline: She smiles, knowing the first answer is a shallow cover for the second.

He always has known just what to dangle in front of her.

“What an idea.” She raises an almost sultry eyebrow.

“What ever might the sheriff have to gain by the death of the bishop?”

GM: “Something practical, it would have to be,” Savoy muses, stroking Mélissaire’s chin. “Crimes of passion are out of character for him.”

“Evidence of treachery on the bishop’s behalf, and support of another would-be prince. Or the advancement of his childe’s fortunes. Someone will need to take over as bishop.”

“Or both.”

“Do any other motivations occur to you, my dear?”

Caroline: “Oh, what of the rumors the bishop was increasingly close to Ms. Malveaux-Devillers, on the eve of her recognition by her sire?”

GM: “Mmm. Can your clanmates corroborate those?”

Caroline: “Verily,” Caroline answers.

GM: Mélissaire raises an eyebrow.

Caroline: “Better to replace the bishop than to risk him flipping. Especially when he can so powerfully influence the next choice. Someone more malleable, more reliable for him, more tied to him.”

GM: “Doriocourt, then. The basic story is plausible enough. All that’s necessary is to manufacture physical proof. So much the better if Wright or Angello are the ones to locate it. Their first loyalties are to the prince.”

“Do you still have his ashes or clothes?”

Caroline: Caroline places a hand over her mouth in shock. “Surely you’re not suggesting that I actually had anything to do with his murder.”

GM: “I know someone who can fix them and plant psychic misimpressions. They’ll be a smoking gun to anyone’s inspection but the seneschal’s, and may fool even his.”

The French Quarter lord looks largely past innuendo.

“We’ll plant other corroborating evidence, of course. A frame-up should never rely on just one piece to come together. But like Louis at court, one object must be the sun around which all others rotate.”

Caroline: “How about you turn over the devices you seized from Claire’s room?” Caroline suggests.

“How’s this for a narrative: hunters turned over by eager loyal childe to be disposed of, used by conniving sheriff to rip out the heart of the archdiocese?”

“And to wit, weren’t we just hearing about how he was beginning to learn the basics of blood sorcery? I suspect he’ll display far more aptitude than night be expected in such a short time.”

She covers her mouth. “In fact, isn’t abnormal prowess much of his claim to success, from his first nights? Surely you chose very well your childe, that his blood is so potent and his prowess so advanced.”

GM: Savoy grins. “I’ve never been accused of choosing poorly with Donovan. Only too well.”

“But I’ll propose a trade, my dear. Your former mother’s devices in return for the bishop’s remains.”

Caroline: Which, even if she had them, would be saturated in her own aura. It would be a permanent piece he could hold on the board, a long-term card to be played against her at any time to extract a concession.

GM: “Mmm. Somehow my hunch is that’s a no. Can’t blame a Kindred for trying,” Savoy chuckles.

“Unfortunately, those pieces of evidence also are smoking guns, and at least one smoking gun will be required to make your sire remove the sheriff. He’s too useful and too important to remove based on hearsay or circumstantial evidence. The frame-up job will need to be flawless. Is there another smoking gun we might plant?”

Caroline: Caroline’s eyes glitter. “I think you know there is.”

“But I suspect you have something else in mind for that particular piece on the board.”

GM: “I don’t, in fact, my dear. We elders don’t have every scheme plotted in advance, you know,” Savoy winks. “Eternity favors improvization as much as foresight.”

Caroline: “Certainly. I imagine too existence could be quite boring if you’d see me coming,” Caroline baits.

“But I cannot but suspect you know exactly what sorts of indiscretions your childe has gotten up to.”

GM: Savoy offers a wide grin.

Caroline: “Laying that aside, though, how about a witness that can testify to his active direction of hunters against pillars of the prince?”

GM: “Yes, that might well do it. Especially if they haven’t had their memories tampered with. That’s the first trick I’d suspect if I was him.”

Caroline: “Framing him for something he probably did. The novelty of it,” Caroline muses.

GM: The French Quarter lord’s grin remains in place.

“Warden Lebeaux will contact you to coordinate the details.”

“Your mother’s house seems as good a place as any to do that.”

Caroline: “Better than most,” Caroline laughs happily.

She lets the silence hang for a moment.

“Who is he, really?” she finally asks, having skirted the topic.

GM: “A missed opportunity, alas, in the end. He could have been the sharpest arrow in my quiver.”

“One of the reasons I think your sire was so eager to take him in was to make me experience some measure of the embarrassment and betrayal he’d suffered himself.”

Caroline: “Oh,” Caroline muses, “I think he’ll teach all of us a different kind of lesson before he’s through.”

GM: “Someone will need to fill his shoes after he’s gone.” Savoy smiles. “The sheriff’s, not just the prince’s. I’m picturing a new Guard de Ville. Doriocourt is too loyal to her sire, and Agnello is too unstable, if his recent outburst is anything to go by—those sorts of problems tend to get worse rather than better. I’m seeing a Hound Wright, Hound Lebeaux, Hound Ferris—I’m sure his Embrace isn’t a new idea—led by a Sheriff Malveaux-Devillers. Preferring cunning investigation to crude beatdowns, but more than capable of delivering those too, when necessary. They’d be underestimated at first, for their youth, but I have a feeling they’d turn that around in very short order.”

The Toreador grins.

“A new brand of law for a new age.”

Caroline: “Truly you’re an icon of your clan with the poetic symmetry to such an idea,” Caroline admits. “I’ll remember the offer, presuming it is an open one. I’m not quite ready to cash in my own chips yet, you understand.”

GM: “More earned, my dear, than open. Were you to help realize a future with a united Sanctified, and convince the seneschal of my proposal’s merits, rich rewards would be only your due.”

“Were you to be of more limited assistance in realizing one of my preferred futures, then more limited rewards would be your due, and the job would go to someone else. Everyone in my court gets what they earn.”

Caroline: “We’ll have to see what the future holds, then,” Caroline smirks. “I don’t think I’d be half as intriguing to you if I said yes to that idea tonight.”

GM: “A word of advice there, my dear. You have a tendency to fence-sit. It closes more doors than it leaves open,” Savoy winks.

“I am always open to making deals. For tonight, I think our business is concluded.”

Caroline: “Far be it to gainsay a distinguished guest about my character,” Caroline agrees.

“But don’t mistake me. I’m happy with the side I’m on, and tonight I’m playing to win, not for third or fourth place. Settling for sheriff feels like selling just before my stock goes up.”

“This meeting is being… mindful. And polite. And respectful to someone who’s played at the high table for much longer than I’ve been alive. I’m as willing to cultivate relations and golden parachutes as any corporate-class white woman.”

“You really did come close, you know. I don’t want to sell short all you did, or that I appreciated it. Even though you forced my hand, forced me to murder Claire, and sheltered the scum that took a shot at my sister—for you and I, it’s not personal.” She smiles. “At least not in that way.”

“There could be much worse princes, depending on how all of this goes. I know rank-order balloting is the devil and all, but I’d sooner crawl in bed with you than do so with any of the other contenders or go out in a blaze of glory.”

“And no matter who wins the prize, I expect there’s… things we could do for each other.”

GM: The words make her skin crawl as they leave her mouth. They make the collar’s weight feel suddenly heavier.

Her sire would not approve.

“I am so very pleased to hear you say so, my dear,” smiles Savoy. “You’re rather more open-minded than your sire is. That’ll pay dividends. As this cooperation over the sheriff rather proves!”

“But I think I am mistaken, in fact. I’d thought sheriff to be the more appealing offer than, say, my hand in vermillion marriage.”

“Nat thought I should put that on the table.”

Caroline: “The most eligible bachelor in town. Maybe on the entire Eastern Seaboard. I’m flattered.”

“I think as is to be expected, though, that your wisdom triumphed over hers. I don’t need to tell you how I expect my sire would react to such an offer.”

“My father once told me that was the ultimate judge of a man, by another man. Whether they were worthy of their daughter.”

“Never mind what the daughter thought.”

GM: “I suspect it’s not entirely up to the daughter, if the father’s treatment of his other servants is any indication,” answers Savoy.

He smiles.

“There are ways to break such chains.”

Caroline: She sighs. “Can I call you Antoine while we’re here?”

“Lord Savoy makes me feel quite uncomfortable in one way, and Mr. Savoy in quite another.”

GM: “Only so long as I may have the pleasure of calling you Caroline,” grins the French Quarter lord.

Caroline: It’s disconcerting, in some ways, to see his grin peak out from the decidedly feminine face.

GM: Indeed, the expression looks nothing like Mélissaire’s.

Caroline: “Of course,” she answers. “Given how close we are to family in some ways already, the stuffiness feels decidedly unwelcome.”

GM: “Caroline it is,” Savoy repeats approvingly.

“I know how suspicious your mind can run, too, Caroline, if the first thing on it is favors owed in exchange,” he smiles.

He waves an absent hand.

“Asking such a thing would be superfluous. There is already inherent benefit to me in having my rival’s childe be free-willed.”

Caroline: “Does not this meeting put to rest fears as to how free my will may be?” she asks.

GM: “I should instead say it paints a very flattering picture as to the strength of that will,” Savoy declares with an approving look.

“But please, my dear. Your sire may be loath to speak with me, and he would be equally loath to admit this, but we know each other well.”

“Study another man’s decisions and consider his thought processes for as long as we have, in as great detail as we have, and you cannot help but come to know him.”

“Sometimes I feel as if I know your sire better than I know many members of my own court.”

There’s another wink. “That familial closeness of yours.”

Caroline: Her eyes glitter in the shadows of the house.

“You’re very discerning, and no doubt you know me in turn. Antoine, it was not chains of blood that brought me to bow before him the first time. I was well chosen to fill the role of dutiful childe.”

“I will not betray my sire while he rules, nor I will not bring about the end of his rule.”

“But one way or another, that shall not be for much longer. And no matter what I might be to him, I cannot be him. What then we might be to each other will be for us to decide.”

“Until that night, there are foes aplenty for each of our dreams, your ‘childe’ and his master not the least among them.”

The shadows seem to shift and her eyes glitter again.

“While the two of you have torn each other to pieces others have grown fat feasting on the flesh you’ve left behind. For everyone’s sake they could use to be leaner.”

GM: Savoy gives a hearty laugh.

“Leaner indeed! Half the city is waiting for the chance. The Baron isn’t the only such vulture hungry for such a meal, for all the wagging tongues in Elysium might say. Just the biggest one.”

Caroline: Caroline laughs along with him, but her expression has sobered by the time Savoy finishes speaking.

“They’re not waiting, and every clash between you fills their courts with dissidents, the wreckage the two of you have left behind.”

“And as unflattering as it might be, I wouldn’t mind clearing it away before we’re all up to our chests in filth.”

GM: “Perhaps you’re better informed than I, my dear,” Savoy smiles, “but recent events have seemed to increase my support more than any third parties’.”

“But let it be well that other actors predicate their power upon my actions! Let every piece of flesh they consume be prepared by my hand and eaten at a feast I have thrown. Nat can quote it better than me, but I think The Art of War has a few things to say about knowing your enemies and knowing yourself?”

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “No, no, that won’t do, Antoine.”

“There’s a much more appropriate reference for someone with our ambitions.”

GM: “And you call me the flatterer, Caroline,” he grins.

“Alas, I fear I may not be so well-read as yourself or the seneschal. What author would you quote instead?”

Caroline: A grin. “Machiavelli.”

GM: “Ah, of course. Even I don’t disagree with him. Fear is better than love, if you have to pick one. But why settle for just one?”

Caroline: “Duality. I think though you have grown accustomed to love. Or at least, others have grown accustomed to loving you.”

GM: “The dagger is incomplete without an accompanying cloak,” Savoy glibly concurs.

Caroline: “It’s usually the knife you don’t see that gets you,” Caroline agrees.

GM: “You spoke of cleaning filth, Caroline. Is this something else you would like to do for one another?”

Caroline: She runs her tongue across her fangs. “I’d argue we’re already doing it with the sheriff, but I’d be open to taking some of the other riffraff off the board, and as the saying goes, two is better than one.”

GM: He motions.

“Proceed, my dear.”

Caroline: She rests her chin on one hand, the elbow propped up on her knee. “Plenty, but let’s start with the devil we know. Something about building trust and all of that. I don’t expect this to be the last time we’ll speak like this.”

GM: “I should sincerely hope not,” smiles the French Quarter lord. “It would be a terrible loss to be deprived of the company of the city’s most upwardly mobile neonate. There is much that any elder might learn from her.”

“But very well, let’s return to the sheriff. What else would you speak of concerning him?”

Caroline: “Flatterer. How many other secret childer does he have in the city?” Caroline muses.

She smiles. “Too on the nose. A less pointed one, then. How close was he to René?”

GM: Savoy only smiles back, his expression unwavering since his last words.

“As close or as distant as we need him to be, of course. I have ample enough evidence of Mr. Baristheaut’s activities in the Quarter. How would you wish to leverage that relationship against the sheriff?”

Caroline: “My Embrace was no accident. Nor was my trip to the Dungeon. Nor were either uncalculated,” she observes.

“Someone wanted me there with purpose. A purpose who had little to do with me. Someone who knew of plans that were very carefully guarded.”

GM: “And you believe that someone was my childe. On what grounds?”

Caroline: “There are few surer ways to lure the seneschal into a conflict than to play to his morals, and few foes in the city that might defeat him.”

“Had he been destroyed beneath the Dungeon, as was planned, it would have solved a great many problems for the sheriff.”

GM: Savoy strokes Mélissaire’s fingers along ‘his’ chin. Where his half-beard would normally be.

“That scenario is more difficult to see. Maldonato can’t rule on his own, yet also constitutes a critical pillar to the Sanctified. What benefit is there to my childe in tearing down the house he seeks to be master of?”

Caroline: “Does he?” Caroline asks.

The ghoul really is quite fetching.

It’s not something she’d have noticed before the Embrace, but the subtle curve of her throat…

“Many assumptions made about Donovan. That he is the prince’s loyal servant. That he is bound to the prince. That he is one of the Sanctified. That he desires to lead the Sanctified.”

Her eyes light up. “That he’s your childe.”

“I don’t mean to doubt my elders,” she continues, “simply to propose, who else had the knowledge and means to accomplish such a thing? Someone close to the prince…”

GM: Savoy grins at her words.

“Assumptions are a lot like breathing, some say. You never really notice you’re doing it until you stop. And then it’s usually too late to do anything about it.”

“It’s an intriguing narrative, to be certain. But without hard evidence, it will do little to move your sire in this matter.”

Caroline: “What would that evidence look like?” she asks.

“Forgive me, I’m so very new at this.”

GM: Savoy chuckles.

“Many Kindred have underestimated you, my dear, to their great and even terminal detriment. That shall not be me.”

Caroline: “Charmer. But I’ve confirmed much of what you already suspected, certainly you can give me something on this topic.”

GM: “Certainly. I can say I am in possession of no hard evidence that links the sheriff to any attempt made upon the seneschal’s unlife.”

“Regrettable, as such evidence would indeed be a smoking gun.”

“Little would arouse your sire’s wrath more than an attempt to harm that which is most dear to him.”

Caroline: “Regrettable, as you say, that he hasn’t lept upon his sword,” Caroline agrees.

“We’ll have to settle for the longer game. No doubt Mr. Lebeaux will have some ideas to get us started.”

GM: “So we shall. Oh, another thing, my dear. I’m calling in one of the markers you owe me. Let’s say the one for recovering your brother Westley’s body.”

“I’d like the full story of your meeting with your sire and his discovery of his newest childe’s existence.”

Caroline: She can almost feel the collar tighten around her neck as the elder’s pretty ghoul puppet sneaks the words out.

Caroline’s blue eyes flicker in the shadows of the house. “Antoine, and here I thought you’d suggested you weren’t interested in fucking me.”

She runs her tongue across her fangs. “I would never shrink from honoring my debts, but that’s a story of another caliber entirely.”

“If you want the full story, we’d be significantly more than even.”

GM: “I always collect what is owed me, Caroline,” smiles Savoy. “As will any Kindred who’s made anything of themselves. Never expect your debts to be forgotten.”

“But that sounds eminently reasonable. Why don’t you start at the beginning and leave off at whatever point you think is worth a single boon.”

Caroline: “Without trying to be difficult, I’d feel I was more honorably balancing the scales if you gave more context on your interests. There were many matters that came up that reach that bar. I’d hate to give you something you already know.”

GM: “Your sire’s response, my dear. What actions he took upon receiving such a surprise.”

Caroline: “Not what we would have arrived at.”

The words taste like ash in her mouth.

“He was furious, disbelieving. His anger shattered the entire room.”

“As you no doubt suspected, he was previously unaware.”

GM: She feels the collar tighten around her, like the coils of the great snake sitting across from her. It crushes her, squeezes her, threatens to wring her will from her under its intractable might.

Donovan was for his own good.

Donovan is a traitor.

But this?

Betraying his private thoughts and confidences to his great enemy?

She shouldn’t have done it.

She shouldn’t have ever accepted favors from this snake.

It’s her fault.

She should have known he’d call them in, and what else is his foremost goal if not the theft of everything her sire has worked so hard to build?

GM: “Simple deduction, my dear,” smiles the French Quarter lord. “Your sire would have bound any childe sired by his vitae, and there is little that might have stopped him—the Cabildo’s wishes included. Ergo, he was unaware of you.”

Caroline: She shouldn’t have. Wouldn’t have, in a better Requiem. But they made that choice when they shut her out, threw her to the wolves.

And she did. And even her sire is bound by the promises he makes.

GM: “You’re fortunate to have survived, in any case. His direct wrath is no small thing to weather.”

Caroline: Her throat is tight, so very tight. She can’t breathe.

But then, she doesn’t need to.

“He remedied that mentioned error,” she squeezes out between tight lips.

Her fingernails dig into the soft wood of the chair.

“Does that satisfy your curiosity?”

Curiosity. As though his interest has ever been so benign.

GM: Savoy gives her a sympathetic look.

“I can’t imagine sharing this story is easy for you, my dear. The blood oath is no small thing to rebel against either.”

“I’ve offered once. I shall offer again. Should you wish to slip your chains, the situation can be remedied.”

Caroline: “I don’t,” she snaps, nerves frayed to the edge.

Awful enough that she has to resort to this—to plotting in the dark. Skulking about. For his own good or not, for the future of the entire city or not, there’s nothing about this that feels good or right.

She spent a great deal of effort, and a great deal of blood, for the privilege of serving her sire.

GM: The French Quarter lord just nods, seemingly taking the second ‘no’ in stride.

“I am afraid it does not satisfy my curiosity, my dear. I’d already deduced your sire bound you and was unaware of your existence. It’s little surprise either he was angry. So there’s equally little here that’s new.”

He strokes ‘his’ chin again.

“But it would be quite impossible for most Kindred to obtain direct access to the prince. The only individuals I can think of who might arrange that are the seneschal, the sheriff, and the Hussar. The sheriff has little cause to introduce you to your sire, and anything the Hussar already knew, he’d have already told his master. So that leaves the seneschal as the third party present.”

“Tell me, how did the conversation between them proceed?”

“I’m sure that between the two of you, he did the initial talking.”

Caroline: “It is one thing to suspect, and another to have your suspicions confirmed,” Caroline states.

“As a wise man observed, it isn’t what you don’t know that gets you, it’s the things you think you do.”

Every word is a knife between the ribs, but she presses on.

“You’re incorrect in your supposition, however. I did the initial speaking. Of my desires, ambitions, and actions. The seneschal weighed in later with his own evaluation.”

GM: Savoy inclines ‘his’ head in acknowledgment of Caroline’s correction.

“What information of significance passed among you?”

The French Quarter lord questions Caroline at some length concerning the events surrounding her introduction to her sire. Like a root canal administered by an ever-smiling dentist, there’s no getting around it—he will only relent when the painful work is done. The Toreador will only be content when he believes he has gotten his money’s worth from the owed boon.

Caroline: Caroline does not give an inch willingly. Though Savoy brings centuries of experience to bear and his own remarkable charisma, the remarkable sharpness of her mind, the political astuteness of her upbringing, the comfort of her mother’s welcoming domain, and the ever tightening coils of the collar make her no victim of the Toreador’s predations.

She is acutely aware of the value of the confirmations she has already given and gives few others freely. That her Embrace was long cultivated. That the events of Southern Decadence precipitated action. That the seneschal supports her claim. That he has vouched for her before the prince. That the prince accepted her as his childe in that first meeting by offering his blood freely.

GM: Savoy states frankly that he does not consider Caroline’s confirmations to be of value and desires previously unknown information. “None of this is new to me, Caroline,” he declares with an airy wave of Mélissaire’s hand.

“We can, of course, bring this matter before the harpies as a third party should you believe my expectations unreasonable.”

Caroline: “Seventy years,” she growls out. “The seneschal will involve himself in the affairs of the archdiocese no more than a mortal lifetime past the prince’s slumber.”

GM: “Seventy years,” Savoy says thoughtfully. “The scripturally allotted span of years for a man’s life. Also the scripturally allotted span of years, as it were, for an ancilla’s Requiem.”

Caroline: She nods. “That he has no desire to rule is no surprise, but he will be no puppet master either. Seventy years, no more. And then he will depart. These years have weighed upon him near as heavily as upon the prince.”

GM: “Yes, he never has seemed to relish his office,” the French Quarter lord agrees. “Then again, I might say the same for your sire.”

“But perhaps it’s easier to stop being chancellor than it is to stop being king, especially after one’s liege is already gone.”

Caroline: “Prince Vidal is prince for himself. Maldonato has long been seneschal for the prince,” Caroline agrees.

GM: “Oh, I think Prince Vidal is prince for God, the Camarilla, and the city, in that order.”

“Himself perhaps least of all.”

Caroline: “No doubt you would approach it similarly.”

GM: Savoy grins. “Of course. What else is a prince, if not the city’s, the Camarilla’s, and the Almighty’s humble servant?”

Caroline: “It’s how all the world’s great tyrants begin,” Caroline agrees.

GM: “Isn’t it,” the French Quarter lord smiles. “I believe this concludes our business for tonight, my dear. We can say our farewells at the door—and in the flesh.”

There’s a last wink, and then Mélissaire’s expression and body language seems to subtly shift.

“Ma’am,” says Mélissaire in her own, higher voice with a demure inclination of her head as she rises.

Caroline: By distinct effort of will, Caroline does not allow her body language to change with the French Quarter lord’s disappearance.

“You wear him well,” she compliments, rising.

GM: The ghoul gives a genuine smile.

“He’s very easy to wear, ma’am. A genuine pleasure, to have inside myself like that.”

“If it’s not too bold of me to observe, I feel like you’d be the same.”

Caroline: Caroline laughs politely. “I’ll be certain to keep that in mind when things change.”

GM: Mélissaire laughs faintly back. “Oh, I don’t expect to receive that pleasure from anyone besides him, ma’am. But I’m sure any of your ghouls would enjoy the opportunity to wear you.”

Caroline: “Here’s to hoping we get to find out.”

She leads the ghoul to the door.

GM: Caroline and Mélissaire return to the LaLaurie House’s entry hall.

Her mother is there. Dark of eye. Dark of hair. Dark of everything. Darkening all around her. Her presence fills the hall like the night sky within a building absent its roof. A content smile is spread across her milk-pale features.

Antoine Savoy is there, dressed in a wine-colored blazer, black slacks, and anaconda scale loafers. He’s smiling too, and squatting down on his haunches as he pulls a flashing silver coin ‘out’ of Simmone’s ear with an exclaimed, “Voila!”

The nightgown-wearing ten-year-old giggles down at their guest. She’s taller when he squats. “How did you do that!”

“You are a font of riches, of course, my beautiful lady. I but saw what was there, and dared present some small portion of them for your pleasure,” answers the French Quarter lord as he hands Simmone the coin. He looks for all the world like a genial uncle.

And he’s right there.

Alone, but for Mélissaire.

Alone, in this newest center of Devillers power.

Alone, in this most dreaded of places Abélia may have already bent to her will, if Caroline’s suspicion is true.

Alone. Squatting on his haunches.

Alone. Caroline’s mother right by.

She may never get a better chance.

Her sire may never get a better chance.

Caroline: “Dangerous of you to reveal that to her,” Caroline chimes in.

Don’t dwell upon it.

There’s no guarantee she could strike him down. Not even here. And even if she succeeded, what would that really accomplish?

“However true it might be. She thinks we call her a treasure simply because we like her.”

He wouldn’t have come if he did not believe he could win free.

GM: “We call her our treasure for both reasons, and a thousand others besides,” Caroline’s mother agrees contently, stroking her daughter’s hair.

“Had the fleet that sailed for Helen of Troy as many ships as this lovely lady has reasons to treasure her, Priam’s city would have fallen in one night,” Savoy concurs, making a gallant show of kissing Simmone’s hand.

The child giggles at all three of their words.

The French Quarter lord rises from his feet to kiss Abélia’s hand next.

“Abélia, always a pleasure. My compliments on what you’ve done with the place. May I dare say this home suits you as no other does—and as this home would suit no other.”

“You just want to lure me out of the Garden District for good, Antoine,” Caroline’s mother answers with an amused purr.

“I am but my Blood, my dear. It cannot do aught but compel me to fill my home with things of beauty—beauty of flesh and beauty of spirit alike.”

Her mother’s black eyes smile at the words ‘beauty of spirit.’

Caroline: And how much beauty in the rabble scrabbling around the French Quarter in their unwashed masses?

“Green is a color I so rarely see you in,” she offers instead.

GM: “Red suits us all much better,” grins Savoy.

“I see much beauty here,” he continues. “I see a mother’s love for her daughters—love enough to transform a place of misery and suffering into a nurturing home. I see a tragedy within these walls that a family’s love bore its daughters through, stronger than ever.” His gaze turns to Caroline. “I see a second tragedy, no less regrettable for its inevitability, and a wounded heart mended through love. I see a daughter’s love for a mother—and a mother who finally seeks to be worthy of a daughter’s love.”

He bends to kiss Caroline’s hand last of all.

“I wish you much happiness with your new family, Caroline.”

“I wish you all the beauty such love and happiness may entail, now and forevermore.”

Caroline: “I pray we all get to see it,” Caroline answers.

There’s so much potential for bad blood, to hold grudges.

Savoy lied to her. Manipulated her. Lied to Claire. Led directly to her death. Sheltered Gettis.

In mere months.

It’s no wonder the hatred between elders can run so deeply.

And every night has given them plenty of new reasons to hate. How many lives and Requiems has the conflict between the prince and Savoy consumed? How many more will it consume? The city is on the edge of a knife.

GM: And sooner or later, that knife must draw blood.


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Story Thirteen, Caroline I, Celia XXVII

“I can’t be around you guys anymore, Em, that’s what this comes down to, doesn’t it? I have to go. I can’t stay. I can’t… I got careless, sloppy, lost control and I just… I just keep hurting everyone.”
Celia Flores


Monday night, 21 March 2016, AM

GM: It’s a short trip back from Jade’s haven to Celia’s family’s house, once again wearing Celia’s face. She lets herself in and finds Emily massaging their mom’s leg on the living room couch.

“Oh thank goodness, you’re back!” smiles Diana. She motions for Celia to join them on the couch and hugs her daughter. “How’d things go, sweetie? Are you safe?”

Celia: Once she ditches Jade’s face, Celia feels a little more safe. Not many licks know this face, and it wasn’t seen by the hunter, either. The thought fills her with some measure of disquiet. She needs to find him. Soon.

She takes a moment at her haven to gather a handful of supplies for the evening before she makes the trip to her mom’s, but she’s all smiles as soon as she walks in to see the two of them together, and the word “sweetie” sets aside some of her mounting anxiety.

“Sort of,” she says to her mom, relaxing into the embrace. “I still have to do this task and the guy from last night tried to bully my friend and I, but I lied my ass off and had some timely assistance, so I’m okay. How’d it go here?”

GM: Celia’s mother scowls. It’s an expression that looks more at home on Payton’s face than Diana’s.

“Who tried to bully you?”

Emily doesn’t say hi yet. She looks at their mom’s face with a ‘huh’ expression.

Celia: “One of the hounds.”

GM: “Sorry?” says Emily.

Celia: “They’re like, ah, law enforcement. There’s a sheriff, and he has three hounds under him. Like deputies.”

GM: “So vampire cops are assholes just like human cops.”

“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss?”

“You know as well as me there are lots of good cops, sweetie,” says Diana. “Though you certainly get rotten apples in every barrel.”

Emily gives her an odd look.

“Emi?” asks their mom.

“It’s just the way you said that,” says Emily, shaking her head. “It felt different than normal.”

“Different how?”

“Just… more declarative. Firmer. ‘You know there are good cops.’ I feel like you’d have been more… not really begging, but more entreating, earlier?”

Celia: “She’s changed,” Celia says gently. “She’s still Mom. But she’s different now.”

GM: “Sure am, on both counts,” says Diana.

But she smiles too.

Emily smiles back. “Sorry. Just takes some getting used to.”

“So will a lot of things, I reckon,” says her mom. She rubs Celia’s back. “I’m glad you got away safe from that cop, anyway.”

“Me too,” says Emily, before looking back to Celia. “Do you still do hugs?”

“You saw us,” points out Diana.

Celia: Celia laughs, pulling Emily towards her.

“Of course I do.”

GM: Emily gives her a squeeze.

“Well hey to you too, then.”

Celia: “Hey, Emi.” Celia squeezes her back. “How’re you holding up?”

GM: “Uh. This has been a lot to take in.”

“She had the idea to write down what topics we wanted to bring up,” says Diana.

Celia: “Sorry. I never intended either of you to get involved. This is probably why no one keeps families.”

GM: Her mom shakes her head. “It’s for the best we know, I think. This is too big a thing to keep secret.”

“I agree,” says Emily.

Diana rubs her leg. “Also, sweetie, if you could get back to it…”

Celia: “I’ve got it, Mom. Emi, give your hands a break.”

GM: “Thanks,” says Emily.

“Thanks,” Diana repeats.

“So, if you’re biologically dead… what, do you not experience muscle fatigue any longer?” says Emily.

“That seems logical, but the fact you’re walking and talking without a pulse kind of says logic got thrown out the window.”

Celia: Celia laughs as she takes a seat on the floor, pulling her mother’s leg toward her to get started.

“No fatigue. No tiredness. No discomfort over standing all night or wearing uncomfortable shoes or sleeping on the floor. No sleep, actually. I don’t need to move, blink, breathe. I can sit absolutely still for hours and stare at nothing. Any changes to my body, injury or otherwise, will revert over the day during our… well, we call it sleep, but I’m pretty sure it’s just kind of like dying. It’s not restful. We don’t nap. You know?”

GM: “Wow,” says Emily.

“You’d be the envy of any ballerina,” Diana murmurs.

“Envy of a lot of people,” says the almost-MD, shaking her head as if to consider all of the implications.

“Definitely the envy of any massage therapist.”

“Do you want my spot on the couch? Or does it not make a difference if you’re already fine sleeping on the floor?”

Celia: “I’m fine down here,” Celia says with a smile. “Better angle for the leg, anyway.”

GM: Her mom smiles back at her as Celia’s hands start to work their familiar magic.

“Speakin’ of that,” says Diana.

“I told Emi about how we can get that fixed! I am so darn tired of this bum leg!”

“I don’t see any reason to wait ’til summer now that she knows.”

Celia: “Summer was to give you time away from the school, as well. So you’re not magically healed overnight. But…”

Celia trails off, looking over to Emily.

“It’s true. There are people who can fix her leg. Night doctors, we call them. They can manipulate tissue. Skin, organs, hair, everything. The issue is the one I know, the one I’m close to, doesn’t do bone work. She’s studying, but hasn’t, ah, passed her test I guess you could say. It hasn’t clicked for her. There’s a few options, though.”

“First, we wait until she does learn. I don’t know how long that’ll be. Second, we replace her bone with something else. The doctor can add or remove bone, she just can’t work on the bone itself, you know? So we could use some other material, or even someone else’s bone. Any cadaver won’t miss it. Third, we find someone other than my friend. Which is… dangerous, possibly.”

“There are two I know that are, ah, outside the city. I think the one is in Europe, and he’s not really my friend, just someone I know. The other might also be abroad, but she hasn’t gotten back to me yet.”

GM: Celia can see a million and one thoughts and questions swimming in the almost-doctor’s eyes.

“I can fake it,” says Diana. “Pop some placebos. Sit on my stool instead of standing.”

Celia: “Okay. So that leaves two or three.”

GM: “Are there any side effects to using material other than my bone?” asks Celia’s mom.

“…where do you get your hands on cadavers?” asks Emily.

Celia: “Shouldn’t be. I’ve been looking into it. Doctors do this occasionally, they’ve been studying it because of things like osteoporosis. It’s been on the rise since, ah, like mid 2000s. Bone density loss. So, you know, they’ve been working on finding ways to fix it because the numbers are kind of through the roof. They started with teeth, I think? Like… a while ago. Anyway, if you’re not open to a bone replacement, we could use something they use for grafting. Bioceramics, they call them. Or collagen, really, they use it in grafts as well and that’s easier to get ahold of.”

“Actually,” Celia says after a beat, “that might not be a bad idea, the collagen and carbon fiber. You won’t set off metal detectors or anything, and it’ll be light, and it could happen sooner rather than later…” Celia trails off, pulling her purse toward her. She opens a notebook and flips through the pages, searching for… “Ah, here,” she says, showing it to Emily. The page contains the notes of the studies she has done on collagen and carbon fiber working together as a protective sort of body armor.

She tries not to think about the bracers she had made for her sire. How the night he’d flung Diana from the roof is the same night she’d presented him with a gift.

Oh, how the collar chafes.

“I know some people,” she says to Emily.

“We do kill,” she clarifies. “We don’t have to. But we do, some of us. Most of us, honestly. I’m not some sparkling teen vampire. It’s… a lot grittier than all that. They executed four licks at mass tonight. And a handful more humans.”

GM: “Okay,” says her mom at first. “If there’s no side effects, if it can happen sooner, if there’s danger finding someone else, then why not, let’s go for it.”

Emily pours through the notes intently, then looks abruptly up at Celia’s words.

“Jesus fucking Christ!”

“Oh my lord,” Diana murmurs.

Celia: Celia looks away.

“Yeah,” she murmurs, “I was going to be one of them, but I got out. The others didn’t.”

“They didn’t even do what they were accused of, I’m pretty sure. It was all just smoke and mirrors. Prince trying to look powerful.”

GM: Emily just stares at that.

“That’s evil.”

Celia: “Yes.”

GM: Their mother nods.

Celia: “That’s why I wanted to keep you away from it.”

GM: “You said most vampires kill. That you aren’t a sparkly teen fantasy. So… have you killed?” asks Emily.

Celia: Celia meets her sister’s eye.

“Yes.”

GM: “Who?” asks Emily.

“Why?”

Celia: “Hunters. People who abducted me from the spa. They were going to hand me off to an even worse group. Had me staked and tied to a bed. So I killed them to get out. Two of them. A third, when they attacked my boyfriend’s haven. They would have killed us. I killed them first.”

GM: “Those people who abducted you were the same ones who raped you?” asks Diana.

Celia: “Yes.”

GM: “Oh my go… what the fuck!” exclaims Emily.

“You seriously got… kidnapped, raped, and almost killed?!”

Celia: Celia nods.

GM: Emily looks like she could cry.

But doesn’t want to make this about her.

“Celia, I don’t even know what to say. Are you… are you okay?

Celia: Her smile is sad.

“Most nights,” she says, “most nights I’m okay. Most nights I go about my business and mind my own things. Lately it’s been… turbulent. That’s not even…” Celia swallows. She doesn’t need to, but here and now she’s pretending to be human again, and she plays the role. She looks away, blinking back moisture.

“It’s… it’s scary, Emi. There’s no one to trust. No one to… to talk to. It’s lonely. So lonely. They do terrible things to each other and it’s just part of their social game. I’ve been raped. Used. Humiliated. Beaten. This was… coming here, you know, having you and Mom, it’s the only time I ever felt safe. Loved. And it’s… knowing I’ve brought this to you now is just… I keep thinking, what if someone finds out. What if someone finds out you know, what are they going to do. The hound tonight threatened to kill the girl I was with because he didn’t like me. When we were interrupted, when he had his claws out and I was trapped and someone stopped him? He threatened to beat that guy, too, and kill all of his ghouls as well. The harpies called ‘take off her head’ when I used some speed to get through the doors because they thought I was violating the rules. And if—if Savoy hadn’t—”

She didn’t want to make this about her, either. But when the genuine concern shows on her sister’s face she can’t help it, and all the pain comes tumbling out. She would have died. Last night. Tonight. A week from now, maybe, if she doesn’t do what she needs. Sooner, if the hunter comes back for her. She’d gotten him out, though; maybe he’ll remember that. That she could have turned him in and didn’t. That she put herself between him and danger.

As if such kindness exists in the world.

She doesn’t mean to cry. But she does, red flowing from her eyes while she turns her face away, pretending that she’s not.

“Most nights,” she says again. “Most nights I’m okay.”

“The weekends are hardest, I think. There’s lick stuff to do. Friday and Sunday it’s a mix of all the factions and everyone hates each other and pretends to be someone they’re not and they all just posture and nitpick and bully, and if you don’t stand up for yourself you’re weak and if you say the wrong thing you’ll be torn apart. Saturdays, too, but to a lesser degree. The court on Saturdays is more relaxed. It’s usually just the one faction, so even if people don’t necessarily like each other there’s still not quite the danger there is when we’re all mixed. You can let your hair down a little. And there’s a party after.”

“But it’s still all vampires all around, and it’s… you never know who’s going to try to fuck you over. Who’s hiding a knife behind their smile.”

GM: Celia hears motion behind her, after she turns away and starts to weep. Then she feels her mother’s and sister’s arms encircling her, holding her against them.

“Hey,” Emily says. “Hey, it’s…”

Diana reaches a hand to Celia’s face, to brush her daughter’s tears.

Her fingers come away red.

“Oh my god!” exclaims Emily.

Celia: Despite the tears, Celia giggles.

GM: Diana stares at her fingers. For a moment, she doesn’t seem to see Celia, Emily, or anything else.

The fingers move towards her mouth.

Then they pause, and her cheeks redden.

Celia: Celia turns to follow the look. She takes her mother’s hand gently in her own, giving her fingers a gentle squeeze.

“It’s okay, Momma. I know it’s hard.”

GM: “Okay, you’e acting like this isn’t a big deal, should I not be acting like this is a big deal? Should I not be thinking ‘subconjunctival hemorrhage’ or wondering where you hurt your eye?” asks Emily, staring at Celia’s bloody face. Her voice is a little high.

Celia: Celia keeps her eyes on her mother’s face, her own soft in understanding, even as she address Emily’s question.

“We don’t produce tears anymore. Everything is blood with us.”

GM: “Well that must make sex a fucking nightmare,” says Emily.

Celia: Celia laughs again, shaking her head.

“Sex is feeding, for us. For most of us.”

“We don’t have sex the human way.”

“I mean. I do. But I’m… different, I guess.”

“Vampire sex is… kind of like fighting. We bite each other and mutually feed, and we tussle on the floor or bed or whatever.”

GM: Diana’s face looks stern. It’s an unfamiliar look on the woman’s face. She doesn’t look as if she’s listening to the sex explanation, either. Celia can see the want still there in her mother’s eyes. To just stick the fingers into her mouth. Where is the harm? It’s blood already shed.

Diana squeezes her daughter’s hand back, then removes her bloody fingers and wipes them over Celia’s palm.

Celia: “Momma,” Celia says gently, interrupting the vampire sex talk, “do you still want to do this with me?”

“You said, earlier, you wanted to make some of your own decisions about things. Is this one of them?”

GM: “That’s one of the things I meant to talk with you about tonight,” her mother answers slowly.

“I don’t want this for Emily.”

Celia: “Any of it, or just the blood?”

GM: Emily frowns and looks between them.

Celia: “Did she explain what she is?” Celia asks Emily.

GM: “No,” says Emily.

“We didn’t get to that yet,” says their mom. “I wanted to talk with you about it in private first, and then with Emily. But I guess we might as well have it out now.”

Celia: “Sorry,” Celia murmurs.

GM: “Okay, what is she?” asks Emily, frowning. “You said you weren’t a vampire, Mom.”

Celia: “She’s what we call a ghoul. Half-blood. Renfield. Some less polite terms are servant or slave. She has vampire blood inside of her, but she’s still human. When we feed humans our blood they gain some properties of what we can do, depending on how old they are and how strong the vampire is. Mom picked up… speed, I think, I haven’t seen her use anything else, but it’s only been a week. She’s effectively immortal so long as the blood stays in her system. If she stops taking it, she’ll age to where she should be as if she’d never taken it.”

Celia glances at Emily.

“It sounds cool, right? Except the blood is addictive. Worse than heroin. One hit, you’re hooked. People become shells of who they are. A lot of them are slaves for real. They don’t have rights in our society. They’re beaten, abused, humiliated, killed, and the vampires don’t care. They’re property. That’s why the blood bond exists, though. It makes them love us more. Absolutely devoted.”

“Most of them will do almost anything for a hit.”

GM: “So… why the fuck did you give her it!?” Emily exclaims.

“I was hurt,” says Diana.

Celia: “Because I thought she was dying.”

“The night she found out about me she tried to feed me. I was hurt. Long story, I’ll tell you eventually if you want. I thought someone was coming after Mom to get to me, so I got to her first, revealed what I was, and… and told her that I needed to feed, to repair my body, but I couldn’t do it without hurting her. I was running on fumes. I’d have lost control. I asked if she’d donate, if she could just give me a little. But… you know how she is,” Celia says, unable to help the smile, “she gives all of herself to people.”

GM: “Was,” corrects Diana.

Celia: “Was,” Celia echoes.

GM: “But, yes. Like always, I gave enough of myself to kill myself.”

Celia: “So I replaced what she lost.”

“And I could have… I had the option to remove her memories of the night, but that doesn’t take away the feelings behind them, so I… I didn’t. And I wonder if maybe that was wrong, but…” Celia finally looks away, hiding the shame in her eyes. “It was selfish to keep you like this, Mom. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry this happened to you.”

GM: Emily takes all of that in very slowly.

“So, quit,” she says. “If it’s a drug. Stop taking it. Cold turkey. We’ll help you.”

“And for what it’s worth,” she continues, but looking towards Celia, “I’d rather have Mom try vampire heroin a few times than be dead, so I don’t think you made the wrong decision. At first, anyway.”

Celia: “You could, Mom. You could quit. If that’s what you want. It’s only been a week. Your body isn’t going to turn to dust or anything.”

GM: “You said it was dangerous if I quit,” says Diana. “That you’d, we’d, all get in trouble for me knowing about vampires, if I wasn’t a ghoul.”

“Uh, so where does that leave me?” asks Emily.

“That was exactly my thought,” her mom answers slowly.

“I don’t want this for you.”

Celia: “It is dangerous. It’s very dangerous. If someone finds out, you die. I die. If one of the prince’s agents finds out, there’s no doubt they’d use it as an excuse to kill us all.”

GM: “I am not addicting my daughter to heroin because I am scared someone is going to hurt her for not being an addict,” says Diana.

Celia: “I know. I don’t want it for you either, Em. I’m happy to help how I can in other ways, but the blood is… it’s not a good world to be part of.”

“I don’t want to interrupt your life.”

“And no matter my intentions, it would be.”

GM: “Yeah, I think I’ll pass on being the addict slave shell of who I was, thanks,” says Emily.

“I’d be a terrible slave anyway.”

Celia: “You would be.”

GM: “Robby likes it when I use the strap-on.”

“Just saying.”

Celia: Celia laughs at that.

“I mean, I think you’d make a good vampire, maybe.”

“And there are benefits to having a ghoul who isn’t, ah, a doormat.”

GM: Perhaps in spite of herself, their mom laughs too.

At Emily’s joke.

Celia: “But it’s not something I want for you.”

“Which leaves us in a bit of a bad spot, since you know, and knowing can get you killed.”

GM: “It’s been a week,” says Diana.

“I haven’t met any vampires besides ones you’ve introduced me to.”

“I don’t doubt you’re scared, sweetie, and maybe assuming the worst. Believe me, as a mom, I know.”

“I just wonder if it’s clouding your judgment?”

Celia: “Possibly,” Celia admits. “I’m… rather paranoid about people reading minds, mostly, but they don’t really have a reason to, and unless you draw attention to yourself or ask questions or say something… and you’re mostly doing stuff during the day, right?”

GM: “I’m home pretty much every night,” her mom nods. “I mean, in the winter months, I might be out later, but I’m hardly a bar crawlin’ party animal.”

“Well I like to go out sometimes, this feels like a conservative metaphor for drinking and partying getting you killed,” says Emily.

“Though I guess if I were a vampire that, uh, makes sense as a place to drink people’s blood.”

Celia: “Yeah. I usually go to clubs.”

GM: “Well, fuck, should I be a shut-in now?”

“If I don’t want vampires slurping down my blood?”

Celia: Celia shrugs. “Don’t go home with strange people or let them corner you in bathrooms or anything. Use the buddy system.”

GM: Suddenly Emily freezes.

Celia: “Emi?”

GM: “I. There was a day.”

Celia: “What day? When?”

GM: “I woke up. Groggy. Tired.”

“There were marks on my skin.”

Celia: Celia nods. “How long ago?”

GM: Emily looks nauseous.

“I… October?”

Celia: “Do you remember what you were doing that night?”

GM: “It… it was a week night.”

“I think just home, studying?”

Celia:Here?

GM: Emily rubs her head. “I don’t… I don’t remember.”

Celia: “I can… I can look, if you like. I can use a method on you to unlock it.”

GM: “Look?”

Celia: “Find the memory.”

“Undo the fog.”

“When we feed, it creates a sort of haze.”

“So I could find out who. Or if you were made to forget something else, too.”

“We can erase memories. It’s one of the options I was going to suggest for you, if you’re worried about being found out. I can… um, well I’m kind of paranoid I guess,” she gives a little laugh, “so I found a way to… to undo it.”

GM: “Okay, let’s, let’s do it. I want to know if someone, some vampire, was slurping down my blood.”

Diana nods gravely.

Celia: Celia nods. Then her face goes still, something similar to shame in her eyes.

“I, ah, I need to feed first, I’m riding the edge of… of losing control next time I feed if I don’t.”

GM: “How’s right now, then?” asks her mom.

Celia: “If you’re okay with that..?”

GM: “It’s like donating blood, isn’t it?” shrugs her mom. “I’m happy to help strangers that way, but I’d rather help you.”

Celia: “Thanks, Mom. I really… I’m really lucky to have you, you know? Do you want to do it here, or..?”

GM: “I’m lucky to have you too, sweetie,” her mom smiles back. “No time like the present, I guess.”

She extends her arm.

Emily watches.

Celia: Far cry from the neck she usually offers, but Celia doesn’t complain about where she feeds from. It’s just one of those things, she thinks. She rolls back the sleeve of Diana’s fluffy robe—evidently they’d gotten comfortable while they waited for her—and finds a spot to sink in. Fangs elongate in her mouth, piercing the otherwise unmarked skin.

She drinks.

As ever, it tastes like love. But it’s not the all-giving love of the past feedings. It’s hardier. Steely, somehow, a protective sort of love. Nurturing, sure, but more in the way of mother bear than Susy Homemaker.

She doesn’t take much. Enough to slake the Beast’s ever-present thirst without hurting her mother more than necessary. She’ll be able to sleep it off.

When she’s done she licks the wound closed, sealing the holes behind her.

GM: It does taste like love. Warm and caring like the chicken soup Celia’s mother used to make during her childhood. Like the hearty breakfast she made for an exhausted and sleep-deprived Celia who’d gone too long without eating, and then attentively watched her eat. The last meal of her life. (Was it the last? It’s been so long.) Love was baked into the ingredients, the kind you can’t get at any restaurant, no matter how many Michelin stars it has. There probably are objectively better-tasting vessels than Diana—but what other Kindred could sample this vessel and the experience the same taste her daughter does? They would not taste the outpouring of love, the free and uncoerced desire to give of herself to help Celia. To feed her baby.

But it tastes thicker, this time. Heartier. Less watered down. Not as salty. The saltiness came from the woman’s tears. Tears of abuse. Tears of mourning for what was lost at a sadistic dollmaker’s hands. Tears of desire to give and give and give, heedless of the cost to herself, a martyr complex rooted in self-hate and self-pity, yet all but impossible to detect amidst the genuine desire to nourish, nurture, and help.

But the tear-like saltiness is gone now. It tastes rich. It tastes hearty. It tastes strong. It tastes bright. It tastes warm.

It tastes whole.

Her Beast would love to take more than just this shallow libation.

Celia: She’d never noticed. Never noticed how incomplete the blood was, not when she could taste the love. But this? Oh, this. This goes beyond what Diana has ever tasted like. This is bliss. Everything else she has ever tasted is nothing but a shallow imitation of life, but here and now it’s… it’s vibrant. Dazzling. Mesmerizing. It dances on her tongue and she knows with certainty that eclipses even witnessing the dissolution of the doll that her mother has changed. She is complete.

Celia loses some part of herself in the sensation of the blood on her tongue, and she finds, when she pulls away, that she’s both purring and crying, and it’s a crazy combination of things that flicker across her visage when she lifts her gaze to her mother’s face.

GM: Of course Celia knows.

The blood tells all.

Her mom smiles down and hugs Celia against her chest.

“Looks like someone enjoyed that,” remarks Emily.

Celia: “It’s amazing,” Celia murmurs, tucking herself against her mother as if she can’t bear to be away from her. “You just… it tastes… it’s like love, Momma, but… but different than before, different now that you’re you again.”

“People taste differently,” she says for Emily’s benefit, “depending on a lot of things. Mood is one of them. And this… food doesn’t compare. Nothing compares.”

GM: Diana hugs her daughter against herself and strokes her hair. She looks a little drowsy, between the blood loss and the late hour, and content to while away the night just holding her fed and happy child. So many times, she’s said Celia and her siblings “will always be my babies.”

“I thought it seemed predatory, at first,” says Emily. “But… honestly, you both look really happy here.”

“Want me to take a picture?”

Celia: “You can. Let me know. I have to turn off my… glamour.”

GM: “Sure, sweetie,” murmurs Diana.

Emily retrieves her phone and snaps a couple pictures.

“Your glamour?”

Celia: “Look at the photos.”

“Now take it again.”

GM: Emil looks at them.

“You didn’t need to tell me that second part.”

“These are shit photos.”

Celia: Celia laughs.

“We don’t come out right in pictures or video.”

GM: She holds up her phone and snaps a couple more.

Celia: This time, Celia makes sure she can show up properly.

GM: “Oh, yeah, these are way better.”

Celia: “Can you delete the other ones? Bit of a giveaway as to what I am.”

GM: “Sure.”

There’s some taps from Emily’s phone.

“So, how does that work, exactly?”

“The not coming out right?”

Celia: “Thanks. To address your earlier concern, feeding can be predatory. And violent. And—oh. There are things that are just off about us. Our faces don’t come out right. Some of us don’t have reflections. Some of us can’t use technology. It’s just… the Beast, I guess.”

“But,” she says, “let’s look at your memory from that day and night, yeah? Do you want to lie down? I’m going to have to touch you.”

GM: Emily gets a grimmer look.

“All right. You’re probably getting sore on the floor anyway, Mom.”

“Mm, a bit,” Diana yawns.

Her expression sharpens, though, as conversation returns to the prior subject.

“I want to know if someone’s been feeding on you, too.”

Emily just nods and lies down on couch.

“Is this like a massage? Is it better with my clothes off?”

Celia: “It is massage, yes. I can do it through the clothes, or you can take it off if you want.”

GM: “Who the fuck gets massages with their clothes on?” asks Emily, pulling off her t-shirt. She’s wearing the same clothes she had on for the dinner with Maxen, which rather shows how much she felt like dressing up for that.

Celia: “Chair massage,” Celia says with a shrug. She takes a spot next to the couch and has Emily lie on her stomach, unhooking the back of her bra for her but not taking it off.

Then she begins.

Her hands glide down Emily’s body from the back of her neck to her tailbone, pressure soft as she warms the muscles. A lot of her clients like how warm her hands get, they say, and it’s a combination of her synthetic body heat and their own muscles literally becoming more pliable the longer she works on them. She presses with the heel of her hand and pushes it down one side of the spine, echoing the movement with her other hand, gliding from top to bottom. She’s quiet as she works, settling into the rhythm of Emily’s body, searching for the connection between them while her hands stroke and knead. She finds tension and releases it with a gentle push, working her will upon body and soul—

And just like that, the tether tugs. The body opens before her, letting her see inside, past the prison of flesh and blood to the spinning disks of colored light. She closes her eyes and dives inside, merging their energies.

Slowly, shapes take form around her. Emily’s will isn’t broken, just bent, and her natural mindscape appears as a medical office. The sharpness of her thoughts is present in the scalpels and syringes, her iron will evident in the solid structures of the space. Celia knows better than to root around unnecessarily. She opens a window, letting the soft glow of moonlight pour inside, and with it comes the fragrance of what she brings. Lilies, roses, honeysuckle—the scent fills the room, tendrils of green creeping across the steel exam table to carpet it in soft moss so that when Celia sits upon it, like a patient waiting for her doctor, she’s comforted by her own being. A vase of wildflowers springs from the counter. Posters of felines play with string on the walls.

And there, the opening door as Emily joins her, clad in a white lab coat. Still methodical, even here.

“Hello, Emi,” Celia says quietly, welcoming the girl into the room with her. “It’s very comfortable here. Do you see how well we merge?” She smiles, kicking her feet on the exam table like a child. There’s nothing to fear from her, that movement says, she’s not an invader. Just a friend, willing to play by the rules of engagement that Emily’s consciousness set for her.

“October,” she murmurs, aloud and in the mind, “symptoms were general grogginess, lethargy, and marks upon the skin. Can you show me? The marks?”

GM: Emily looks around. Looks down at her coat. The expression on her face is somewhat out of place on the woman in the doctor’s role.

“This… is something,” she says.

“But yeah, we do. This is a nice office. Flowers and cats really bring it to life.”

“Am I dreaming?”

Celia: “Similar. The connection of our body and energy allows me to slip into your mind, somewhat. You’ll remember this, but it mimics the zen-like meditative state that a lot of people reach during massage.”

GM: “I can’t believe I didn’t know about this. All of this.”

Celia: “It makes you more, ah, pliable. As your muscles relax, so does your mind. It lets me find answers to things. You’re not resisting, so it’s easier for us to communicate.”

GM: “I have so, so many questions.”

She gives a faint grimace.

“But we’re here for something specific, aren’t we.”

Celia: “Yes. The night someone fed from you. October.”

GM: “Right. The marks.”

Emily’s brow furrows.

“No, there weren’t marks. I had blisters. On my feet.”

Celia: “As if you’d been burned?”

“Or walked a long time?”

GM: “Latter. And I wear comfortable, sturdy shoes.”

“Most of the time, anyways.”

Celia: “You may have been taken somewhere and made to walk. Or, more likely, put into uncomfortable shoes for something.” Like a party. Had someone forced her to become a vessel? Not at the Evergreen, she would have surely seen her that night. Weeknight, too. “Who put the shoes on you, Emi?”

GM: Emily rubs her head.

“Geez. They were really bad blisters.”

“The shoes didn’t fit.”

“And I was on my feet all night.”

Celia: “Do you remember what you did? The sounds around you? Smells? Faces?”

GM: “I wouldn’t have done that, I wouldn’t have put them on, I wouldn’t let someone put them on me, I wouldn’t have fucked off on a weeknight when I was supposed to be studying.”

Emily rubs her head some more.

“I… I wasn’t alone.”

“There was… music?”

“People. Other people.”

“Some of them like, like me.”

“No one complained, no one said anything.”

“Why the fuck did no one say anything?”

Her hands are starting to tremble.

Celia: “It’s a form of mind control, Emi. We’re breaking through it, so you remember. If the anger helps, feel it. Let it fuel you. Let it chip away at what you remember, bit by bit. Pull back the veil.”

GM: Emily clamps a hand over her mouth.

“Oh. Oh god. He’s killing him! Celia, he’s KILLING him!”

Emily rips off Celia’s shirt. The flesh beneath is black and blue and purple, hideously beaten. She can’t begin to guess how many ribs are cracked. She doesn’t have breasts, either, but a man’s flat and hairy chest. Her mother screams in her ears, voice raw with a parent’s terror for their children, but her voice is a man’s voice, and instead of Celia’s name, she screams—

PAAAAULIEEE!!!”

Celia: She sees it play out as Emily had: the party. The ill-fitting attire. The too-tight shoes. They pinch her feet with every step that she takes, biting into her toes and heels. It’s difficult to walk, even to keep up with the boy-faced mobster that holds her hand. He gives her away to a familiar blonde. Malveaux-Devillers.

This is it. This is the party she and Reynaldo had talked about, where the hound—

The sickening thud of a cane on flesh makes her (undead?) stomach churn. The blood touches her nose and she wants to retch, but she can’t move, she’s caught, held tight by Malveaux-Devillers while she’s forced to watch—to watch—

“…killing him,” she echoes, “he’s KILLING him!”

Horror fills her. She’d drop to her knees if she were not forced to stand and watch while the son and father are beaten slowly, inexorably, to death. And the predators watch. The monsters all watch, staring—something, there’s something in their eyes, she’d seen it earlier—

It’s gone once feeding time begins. Hungry sharks circle the other girls like her, snatching them up to clamp down on, shoving their teeth inside neck and arm and leg and—bliss, isn’t it, that’s what’s on their faces, ensorcelled by the kiss—

A face in front of her. Familiar. Dark hair. So young. Haughty. Sneering. She knows—doesn’t she know? Celia knows. Celia, stuck inside, trapped inside the body, watches Isabel feed on Emily, breath catching in the soft sigh of a vessel. She drinks deeply. Celia sees resentment on her face, anger in her eyes. This isn’t her fare. This isn’t her fare but she knows Emily, knows Emily is Celia’s friend, knows Emily was meant for Caroline, and she hates them both, those bitches, that backstabbing cunt—

The office. Words. Agreements. Celia, through Emily’s eyes and ears, watches them hash it out. Familiar names. The Krewe. Mabel. Who is, doesn’t she have..?

But it loops. She’s back to the casino floor, Paul, not… no, please, double, triple, I’ll pay you back, I’ll

Everything goes black around her. Celia falls through open sky, dress fluttering and wind whipping at her hair. She lands on her back on a hard table, eyes wide, staring up at a doctor slamming her chest again, again, again, trying to make her live, trying to bring her back, pleading with God, with the monster, with whoever will listen—

Not my boy, not my boy!

Sobbing, on her knees, face red with blood—

Bones break. Splatter. Her lips split and she spits out teeth but she’s sinking anyway, choking on her own blood, drowning—

“Stop. Come back. Come back to me. You’re you. You’re Emily, I’m Celia. I’m Celia, you’re Emily. You’re safe.”

But the voice isn’t hers. The face isn’t hers. It’s the other one, the stronger one, and Celia’s a little girl again reaching for a hand to hold.

“I’ll protect you,” the voice promises, “just let me in, let me in so I can help…"

So she does. She opens herself to this other being, skin stretching as it slips inside. It centers her. Grounds her. She watches from behind its eyes as she murmurs softly to Emily, stealing the onslaught of emotion from her—

“You’re safe. Safe, darling, you’re safe. It’s a dream. A bad dream, and it can’t hurt you here. You’re with your sister, you’re with your mother, you’re lying on a couch, it’s just a dream, just a dream…"

Bit by bit the darkness recedes. Moonlight touches down upon the two girls, bringing their surroundings into focus. No longer a doctor’s office but a wooded glade, soft moss beneath their toes, flowers dancing in the wind, a brook babbling merrily as it delivers life to the plants.

Safe, the trees tell her. Safe, the wind agrees. Safe, whispers the petals that kiss her skin.

“Come back to the room now, darling, come back to us. Dig your toes into the earth. There, do you feel it? Wiggle them. That’s nature. Life. That’s what you are, you know. Life. Breathe it in.”

The girl takes a breath. Crisp, airy aromas dance through her mind, centering and calming. Lavender, she recognizes that, everyone uses it for relaxation. Its fragrant, floral scent acts as buffer against the rest of the world. Beyond it, wood and pine and sap, the moist scent of wet earth. Birdsong flutters through her ears, the sound whimsical and light. A cat meows, streaking through the grass in front of her and a little blonde-haired girl gives chase, calling for the kitty to come back.

“Do you see? You bring them all to life.”

So she does. Flowers bloom with a thought. A robin, red as Diana’s cherry pie, swoops past her head. She can all but taste the sugar upon her tongue at the thought, the memory of flaky pie crust melting in her mouth, the warmth of family around a dinner table.

“No one can hurt you here,” the voice promises. A cat rubs against her shins. The little girl holds out her hand. She looks like Lucy, but… different. No glasses. Untamed hair. Beautiful, even for a child. She smiles and shows off two dimples in her cheeks.

“Come back to the room now, darling. Take her hand and let her lead you. That is not earth beneath your feet, that is the couch. Let the weight of it support you, cradle you, like a mother’s love. Those are her arms around you. Her warmth on your skin. That is love in her eyes, in her touch, in her very way of being. Come back to her. To us. Come back to you.”

GM: Emily may have dissected cadavers, but she told Celia and Diana over dinner how that was one of the most somber and emotional experiences of her life. They call them ‘donors’ at med school. People who have chosen to bequeath their remains to science. The first-year medical students treat them with deep respect and often develop bonds with them. They are the students’ teachers and first patients. There are memorial ceremonies where the students get to talk to the donors’ families, and to still-living people who’ve decided to become future donors. Emily said she’d cried a few times, after talking to Leo’s (that was his name) wife and adult son, and thinking about how he freely gave her his body so that she could learn medicine. “I felt like this total stranger had given me such a gift,” she’d said. It’s not an uncommon sentiment among the medical students. The cadaver dissections teach compassion and respect for life as well as anatomical knowledge.

Emily may be no stranger to the dead. She knows them literally inside and out.

But death is another matter.

She watches Rocco’s ghoul beat a screaming and pleading father and son to death for a silent crowd’s sick entertainment.

Celia’s sister promptly turns and vomits.

She purges it all out. Her horror. Her disgust. Her anger. Her shock. Her violation. Her humiliation. Her moral outrage. And, yes, her terror, as she realizes what this life is, what the dangers are, sees them as so much more than mere words and warnings. Perhaps too much more. She heaves and heaves until orange-tinged spittle is all that comes out, but this sickness does not reside in the contents of her stomach alone, oh no. This sickness cannot be purged so easily. She clutches her head as if to staunch the bleeding of her psyche, to stop the precious outflow of whatever has been lost to Rocco’s many inflicted traumas, buried and left to fester beneath his commands to forget, and then ripped open again here.

But though her psyche bleeds, it does not fall her. Celia senses anger brewing within Emily, far more than fear or violation. Hot and furious and rising. A pissed-off rant to end all rants is forming on her tongue, and Jade feels Celia’s adopted sister fighting her mental influence every step of the way, fighting to hold onto that bubbling fury. But she is still so new to this existence. To the truths of the world. Jade’s influence settles upon her like a heavy snowfall, slow but inevitable, and her features settle. Calmness overtakes them. She breathes and takes in the relaxing floral scents, the trees, the lapping water, the moss beneath her feet. The Tranquility Room if it could have an indoor garden.

“Okay,” she calmly answers Jade.

She takes the child’s offered hand.

“Let’s go back.”

Celia: The child’s hand is warm. It fits snugly in Emily’s, and the cat meows up at them as it falls into step between the pair, winding its way between their legs. Underfoot but not a nuisance, it offers what comfort it can with its tiny furry body.

“You’re angry,” the child says. The other woman trails behind them, silent but watchful. “Do you want it back, the inferno inside of you?”

GM: “Yes,” Emily answers without inflection.

Celia: She only nods.

And then it’s gone, the dam holding back the river, and Emily’s anger can be unleashed to the world. Wind howls. Violent branches whip through the air, snarling their rage to a sky red with blood.

Beside her, the girl is still, weathering the storm. The cat sits between her feet but it, too, is still. Only the other woman moves, the woman with the devastatingly beautiful features, the woman whose jade eyes shine with a maelstrom of their own. She walks through the storm, untouched by its wrath, and stands beside her sister.

She only nods.

And then it’s gone, the dam holding back the river, and Emily’s anger can be unleashed to the world. Wind howls. Violent branches whip through the air, snarling their rage to a sky red with blood.

Beside her, the girl is still, weathering the storm. The cat sits between her feet but it, too, is still. Only the other woman moves, the woman with the devastatingly beautiful features, the woman whose jade eyes shine with a maelstrom of their own. She walks through the storm, untouched by its wrath, and stands beside her sister.

GM: And then they’re not standing at all, but back on the couch at Diana’s house. The stink of vomit fills Celia’s nostrils. Diana has a mostly empty bucket, washcloth, and rags, and looks like she’s wiped as much of Emily and the couch clean as she can. She’s placed a washcloth under her daughter’s head. Still, it’ll take a shower and laundry cycle to fully banish the stink and dark stains. She’s watching both of her daughters concernedly.

Emily groans and rubs her head.

“Sweetie? What happened?” her mom asks.

Celia: “Bad,” one of the girls says, whoever is currently in charge, eyes alight in anger and jaw clenched tightly. The word is no more than a hiss.

GM: “He murdered them,” says Emily. “He murdered two people in cold blood, while the room watched, while I was dressed like a whore, and while Isabel fed on me.”

“What!?” exclaims Diana.

“Isabel is a vampire, Mom. She drank my blood. It’s that simple.”

Celia: “Agnello. The hound. He had a party. He brought vessels. He wanted to feel big, so he made them all watch. The ghoul killed the son while the father watched. Beaten to death with a cane. And then the Kindred fed.”

GM: “Isabel is a vampire?” repeats Diana, looking between the two.

Celia: “No,” she says softly, and it’s Celia looking out from her eyes now. “She was a vampire.”

GM: Both women look towards her.

Celia: “Sh-she…”

Oh, God. She did this. She did this, and she’s going to make it worse.

“She’s not… she… Mom, she…”

Celia blinks it back. It’s not her trauma. It’s not her pain. It’s not her place to feel it, not when she did it.

“She didn’t make it,” Celia finishes in a whisper.

GM: “What do you mean, she didn’t make it?” demands Diana.

Celia: “She’s dead.”

GM: Her mother’s face goes absolutely still. It’s like a light has suddenly clicked off behind her eyes.

Celia: “I—I’m sorry, I’m sorry, Momma, I’m so sorry, I—”

She what? She what? What can she offer here? What can she say? Nothing. Nothing at all. She’d ripped out her own sister’s heart and now she’s watching the effects of that death rip through her mother.

Black hole. He’d said it. Here’s the proof. She’d brought her world to her family’s door and sucked them into the darkness, too.

GM: A shrill, wailing scream rises out of Diana as she clutches her head.

Celia: Celia’s face crumples. She reaches for her mother. Reaches, despite the blood on her hands. Reaches, knowing she’d done this. Reaches, because she doesn’t know how else to help, because she doesn’t know what else to do, because she’s ruined it, ruined her, ruined her family, broken them apart; she could have lied, should have lied—

“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry—” The words aren’t even audible above the scream.

GM: Diana doesn’t look at her. She doesn’t look at Emily, who’s touching her too, saying useless things. The scream tapers off into a raggedy, shuddering inhalation of breath.

And then, finally, inevitably, thick-falling tears amidst smaller shudders.

They’re a common enough sight from Celia’s mother, perhaps. Jade was annoyed enough over the frequency of that tearful blubbering to beat the ghoul for them.

But this time, Celia’s mother looks up from her hands. The tears still flow, but her gaze feels as unblinking as any vampire’s and sharp as any of their kind’s fangs as it bores into Celia’s.

How?” she demands. “What killed my daughter?”

Celia: Celia almost flinches at the sight. She stares, caught by her mother’s gaze, and her ability to spin a tale out of truth unravels around her. She blinks once, twice, again, and then she can’t stop the outpour of emotion, she can’t stop the red leaking down her cheeks, can’t stop the way her body curls in on itself in the face of a mother’s grief. She presses her hands to her face, covering her shame, hiding from her mother, hiding from Emily, hiding from the world because she did this. She murdered her own sister.

She sobs into her hands. It’s messy, a human display of rage and grief and shame and guilt and regret, and it’s all there on there face, plain as day.

“M-me,” she stutters out, “me, me, it was me, it was—it was my fault, it was—she c-came, she came for-for help and the-they j-jumped me an-and they—they took her, they took her, they—”

“I wa-I was su-suppos-supposed t-to k-keep her safe and, and, and they—they took, they took her, they took her, they took her from me—I got, it was, it was me—it was my fault, my fault—”

It comes out in fits and starts, the doctored story of Isabel’s death. How she had shown up at the spa torn to bloody shreds. How she’d been looking for her boyfriend and thought she found the person who killed him. How that person had slaughtered her entire krewe. Isabel had been physically destroyed: bloody, body slashed open, missing pieces of her face and skin. Celia didn’t have enough blood on hand to fix her. She hadn’t had enough to mend the pain. So she’d put her in the safe room and gone out to find food.

Only she’d been followed. Jumped. She’d been heating the blood for Isabel in the microwave when they grabbed her. The hunters she’d already mentioned.

GM: Celia’s mother doesn’t once look away. She stares directly into Celia’s eyes, hands rested over her knees, and listens. She listens like she looks like she has never listened in all of her life, as the lies drip from Celia’s lips like slow-flowing honey. Her mother’s tears come slower amidst the steady rise and fall of her chest. There is something dark in her eyes that reminds Celia very much of Henry.

She listens, and then she repeats, her voice heavy as the thud of a collapsed ballerina:

“What killed my daughter?”

Celia: “The scourge,” Celia finally whispers, “or her childe.”

GM:HOW!” Diana snaps, bringing her hand down on her knee with a loud smack. Her face is red and her breath is coming hard and ragged.

Celia: “They broke into the spa,” Celia says in a quiet voice. “The door was already open because of the hunters. Because I was sloppy. I was going to fix her, I was going to fix it… they tracked her. They got in. They…” Celia closes her eyes, as if pained by the memory.

Maybe she is.

“Her heart was ripped out.”

GM: The couch suddenly bursts into flame. Terror incarnate fills Celia’s Beast as the air turns hot and the fire crackles.

Celia: Celia’s reflexes rip her backwards before she even has time to think, scrambling away from the source of her terror. She’s there one moment and gone the next, disappearing around the corner to the kitchen where she and her Beast cannot see the flames lick at the couch.

GM: “Oh my god!” shouts Emily.

BREEPBREEPBREEPBREEPBREEPBREEPBREEPBREEPBREEPBREEP…! screams the smoke alarm.

Emily and Diana all but throw themselves off the couch as the fire spreads and smoke rises.

Celia: There’s a fire extinguisher in the kitchen. Emily used to tease her mom about not needing it because she’d never burn anything, but Celia was always secretly glad of its presence. She finds it and screams for Emily.

GM: Emily barrels in, grabs the fire extinguisher, and barrels back out. There’s the whoosh of released monoammonium phosphate, and then silence but for the screaming smoke alarm.

Celia: Celia is quick to find a chair and pull the batteries from it to silence it.

GM: But Celia is not alone inside the hallway.

Someone else is there.

Of course she’s there.

Lucy is standing in the hallway, barefoot and wearing her glasses and nightie, hands pressed against the corner of the wall.

Silently listening.

Silently snooping.

Like all kids do.

Like Celia did.

Like Isabel did.

Like big sister, like little sister.

Like littlest sister.

Celia: “Oh, Luce. Oh no, Luce.” Celia crouches down in front of her, panic at bay now that the fire has gone out and the alarm has stopped shrieking in her ear.

A new sort of desperate panic takes place of the Beast’s terror though, and this one is all human. How much had she heard?

She remembers snooping. The monster shaking her father’s hand. Drowning when it spotted her. Cold. So, so cold.

“Lucy,” Celia whispers, reaching out to pull the child towards her. “Lucy, oh Lucy…”

Oh Lucy, what have you done?

GM: Lucy doesn’t jump out of her skin. Celia can’t see that happening to her eight-year-old self. No. She’s pretty sure she just froze, when he saw her.

Lucy freezes too, like a deer in headlights, dumbly unresisting as Celia pulls her close.

She doesn’t say anything. Just stares at Celia with wide eyes.

Celia: “It’s okay, baby.”

It’s different.

She is different. She’s a monster, but not… not that kind of monster. She pulls Lucy into her arms and rises, holding her fast.

“It’s okay, sweetie. It’s all okay.”

GM: The six-year-old starts crying against Celia’s chest.

Celia: “Just a dream, sweetie. It’s all…”

She can’t. She can’t. She needs to, needs to say the words, convince her that nothing happened, that it’s all in her head…

we love you very much

…but how had that worked out for her?

Celia presses her back against the wall, tears leaking down her face as she slowly sinks to the floor with Lucy on her lap.

“It’s okay,” she murmurs, “it’s okay, I promise you, everything is okay.”

“I love you so much, Lucy-Goose, you know that, right? That I love you? That we all—we all love you, baby. It’s okay. I’m here. I won’t let anything happen to you. I promise.”

GM: The child just clings to Celia, head buried against her chest. Her sniffs are lighter and softer than their mother’s.

Celia: Celia cradles her close, listening to her cry. Listening to her mother’s wail. Listening to Emily vomit all the contents of her stomach onto the floor.

Like another night. A ravaged scream. The smell of blood in the hallway.

She did this.

She did it.

Her fault.

She caused all of these things because she couldn’t leave her family alone.

This is why they don’t have families. This is why… this is why they don’t stay connected with the mortals of their old lives. Why they sever ties.

Black hole, he said, and he’s right.

“I’m sorry,” she says to Lucy. “I’m so sorry, I nev—I never wanted…”

She needs to go. She needs to cut herself from their lives like the tumor that she is.

GM: Lucy just sniffles more and clings to Celia.

Two pairs of footsteps round the hallway.

“Oh, sh…” Emily starts, censoring herself in the child’s presence.

Diana kneels down and scoops the crying child into her arms.

Celia: That, maybe, hurts worse than the rest.

“Mom, I…”

She what? She wasn’t going to hurt her? Of course she wasn’t.

GM: Celia’s mother doesn’t seem to see her. Or Emily. She cradles the crying girl against her chest, strokes her hair, and starts to sing.

“Hush, little baby don’t say a word
Mama’s gonna buy you a mocking bird
And if that mocking bird don’t sing
Mama’s gonna buy you a diamond ring…”


Diana’s voice is soft and low as she sings. Her eyes are red and puffy from crying. Her features are very still. Very tired. There’s a shadow over them, like Celia is seeing her outside at night. A night of spirit so much like Henry’s. Celia cannot say when dawn will rise.

“And if that diamond ring is brass
Mama’s gonna buy you a looking glass
And if that looking glass gets broke
Mama’s gonna buy you a billy goat…”


She starts to walk down the hall towards Lucy’s bedroom.

Celia: Celia rises to her feet. Were she anything other than an undead monster, she might sway where she stands. Now, though, her body is still, heart nothing but a rock in her chest.

She did this.

It’s too much to unpack for one night. Too much for her to even begin to know how to deal with it. She needs time to think, to plan, to figure out how she’s going to fix this before everything else comes spiraling down around her.

She can’t stay in their lives. She’s nothing but danger to them. Not only because of others like her but because of she herself. What would have happened if she’d lost control during the fire? If she’d been slightly more peckish when her mom opened a vein? She’d gone digging for answers because of her stupid curiosity and now her mother is… is the walking dead, a shell of a person. Isabel. Randy. The girl at the Evergreen. The girl in the spa. All of the hunters. How many? How many has she killed? How much blood is on her hands?

How will it ever come out?

GM: The answering silence is truly resounding.

Emily opens the door. Diana carries Lucy into the dark room. The bunny nightlight glows in the corner. The glow-in-the-dark stars with their smiley faces glow from above. Diana lies down on Lucy’s bed, holding the child against her in spoon position, arms wrapped around her chest, and sings for a while.

“And if that billy goat don’t pull
Mama’s gonna buy you a cart and bull
And if that cart and bull turn over
Mama’s gonna buy you a dog called Rover
And if that dog called Rover don’t bark
Mama’s gonna buy you a horse and cart…”


Lucy’s sniffs taper off as the girl drifts into sleep.

Diana closes her eyes and just holds her.

Emily looks towards Celia.

“Think we should let her sleep?” she whispers.

Celia: “She saw too much,” Celia says quietly. “She saw too much, just… just too much.”

GM: “Which one?” murmurs Emily.

Celia: “Lucy. And Mom. And… and you.”

GM: “I think we should let them sleep,” says Emily, nodding towards the hall.

Celia: Celia steps out, retreating down the hall to the living room where she doesn’t have to look at the evidence of what she’s done.

GM: “Geez,” says Emily.

“Did Lucy overhear?”

Celia: “Yeah, Em, I’d assume so.”

GM: “Sorry, dumb question. I guess, how much?”

Celia: “Anything is too much. She can’t remember this. Any of it. She’s a kid, she shouldn’t—she shouldn’t have to deal with this.”

GM: “Yeah. She’s way too young for this,” Emily nods.

“But all right. She’s a kid. Active imagination. We can tell her… we can explain this away.”

“She’ll forget it eventually.”

Celia: “No. I need to call someone.”

GM: “How much do you remember from first grade?”

“But okay, to do what?”

Celia: “I remember my first vampire. I was eight.”

“And it fucked me up for life.”

“She’s not going to go through that.”

“Ever.”

GM: “…wait, I thought you became one in 2009?”

Celia: “Yeah. And I was groomed for it since childhood, apparently.”

GM: “Okay, that’s clearly a long story, but Lucy first. I think anyone outside the family unit is just gonna upset her right now.”

Celia: Celia shakes her head. “I need to borrow your phone.”

GM: Emily unlocks and hands it over.

Celia: Celia dials a number. She pretends she doesn’t have it memorized, but she’s lying to herself.

It rings.

And rings.

And when the voice picks up on the other end, Celia speaks quietly into the receiver.


Monday night, 21 March 2016, AM

Caroline: Caroline looks down at her phone.

The heiress doesn’t get many calls these nights. And after midnight typically only means one thing. Which makes it all the more unusual that it’s a contact saved in her phone that’s distinctly not one of the damned.

Rosure, Emily—Tulane. Pre-Med

She doubts it’s a social call.

She accepts the call, sliding the green phone icon up after several rings and putting a false fatigue in her voice.

“Emily?”

Celia: “Hi, no it’s…it’s Celia.”

A pause.

“I’m… I’m sorry to bother you, but I… I need a favor. Please.”

Caroline: Caroline is getting awfully damn tired of doing people favors.

“Last few people I did favors for didn’t end up so well,” she observes icily.

That Celia’s sire was directly responsible for their execution, and almost certainly because of their limited association with Caroline, is more than a sore spot.

Celia: There’s an intake of breath on the other end of the line. Celia had not expected that answer… to her detriment. Stupid, isn’t it, calling Caroline when she has other friends in the Quarter. Friends she doesn’t trust anymore. Friends who she doesn’t want to know about her mother. And the one who already does, the one she’d thought about calling, the one whose ghoul owes her a favor that she could have called in… well, his sire had turned her in for infernalism and sentenced her to burn.

But Caroline knows her, doesn’t she. Knows who she is, whose childe, how she feels for him, how he’s hurt her, her family. Knows, too, how to keep a mortal family for all that it’s only been six months.

Stupid though. Really stupid.

“Okay,” she says quietly. “That’s—okay, yeah, this was probably a bad idea.”

Caroline: “Probably,” she agrees.

There’s a beat. Why does she bother?

“What’s the favor?”

Celia: Celia steps away from Emily, lowering her voice. She searches for a way to explain over the phone without sounding too desperate.

GM: Emily walks after her.

Clearly not content to be cut out of the loop.

Celia: Celia shakes her head and stops moving.

“Remember when I came over, and my mom saw you and May, but she thought it was the two of us, and it was all real awkward and we had to explain it? It’s kinda like one of those.”

Caroline: “You think it’s a misunderstanding I could help clear up with someone else for you?” Caroline muses.

What is she even doing?

“You know it’s a lot harder if you’ve let those sorts of things fester. This a recent thing?”

Celia: “Yes.”

This is a bad idea.

“Very recent. Just now, actually. I thought maybe we could clear the air before things got too out of hand.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her tongue.

It could be bait. But if it is, it’ll be on her terms.

Silence for a moment as she considers.

“I’m make you the same deal I make all my friends when these things happen. Bring over some drinks and we’ll sit down with your friend, talk it out, see if we can’t resolve it.”

Celia: Fuck. She’d been afraid of that.

“Right. Ah. Problem is, I’m with my daughter tonight, and it’s a little past her bedtime.”

Caroline: “Meaning drinks are off the table, or meaning you want a house call?” Caroline asks.

She almost laughs at the second option.

Celia: “Was hoping for a house call. But if you can’t make it tonight, I understand.”

Celia wouldn’t blame her. But she’s not sure that moving her mother and Lucy right now is the best idea. She’s not even sure that bringing her mother into this is the best idea, or if she should just let her sleep.

“Can you—one sec.” She presses her hand over the mic on the phone, looking to Emily.

“If I take Lucy, can you stay with Mom so she doesn’t freak out?”

Terrible, terrible idea. She’d just learned that she’d lost a kid, and here Celia is trying to take Lucy away in the middle of the night. She needs someone local.

GM: “Uh, where do you want to take her?” asks Emily slowly.

Celia:CBD. To a… friend. Erase the memories.”

GM: “Oookay, I guess if that’s a thing, that’s a thing,” says Emily.

“Pretty sure the only way Mom is not freaking out is if she doesn’t wake up.”

“Why not just take them both to the CBD?”

“Or get this friend to make a house call?”

Celia: “Because Mom just set the couch on fire with her brain.”

GM: “Wait, what?”

Celia: “The—hold on.” She turns back to the phone. “Ah, I don’t have a sitter. If you can’t make it it’s no big, I can probably find a local.”

GM: “Look, I’d just take them both,” says Emily. “There is no way Mom is letting Lucy go right now in the middle of the night.”

Caroline: That’s not a hard question for her.

“It’s a little late for me to go out. Plus, you know how I feel about that side of town.”

“If a local is a better fit, I won’t take it personally.”

GM: “Though I guess, fuck, if you wanna pitch the idea to her, can’t hurt.”

“All I know is Mom waking up in the middle of the night with Lucy gone is not ending well.”

Celia: “You at home? I’ll make it work and call you if I can’t.”

Caroline: “Call ahead if you decide. I’ll be around.”

Celia: “I will. Thank you.”


Monday night, 21 March 2016, AM

Celia: Celia hangs up, takes half a second to remove the recent call from Emily’s call history, and hands the phone back.

GM: “All right, so?” she asks.

Celia: “So I don’t want to wake Mom up, mostly, and the friend can’t come into the Quarter right now. I’m meeting someone later that might be able to do it, but he’s… ah, dangerous. I guess if I could get… no, I don’t want him to know, he’ll… fuck, maybe the… but his sire… and Gramps wouldn’t… fuck, fuck, fuck, I’m fucked, I’m so fucked—”

Desperately, she goes through the list of anyone and everyone that might be able to help. Lebeaux. Tantal. Mel. Savoy. Gui. Even Preston crosses her mind, but the thought is dismissed as quickly as it comes. So are the rest of them, sire included. No doubt he’d find a way to hurt her for the lesson. She lingers on the idea of Duquette for a moment. Roderick had said she’d deleted his family’s memories, and she knows who Celia is, but…

She doesn’t want to owe her, doesn’t want anyone else getting wind of this clusterfuck.

GM: “Look, do we need an outside friend for this?” asks Emily. “If you never saw your vampire again after eight, would you still believe in them?”

“If we need to wake up Mom though, let’s wake her up. She’d want to do whatever’s best for Lucy.”

Celia: “That’s the problem,” Celia says tightly. “Me. I’m the problem. You see? How many times did you see weird things and try to explain it to yourself? Now imagine if you had a dream from when you were a child that monsters are real and things continued to not add up. You’d start to wonder, right? And when you saw him again as a teenager you couldn’t quite dismiss it, even though he tried to make you, so when you ran into them again during college—boom, suddenly you’re dead and ruining other people’s lives too.”

GM: Emily raises her hands. “All right, I’ll take your word for it. You lived it. Died it.”

Celia: “I just… I can’t be around you guys anymore, Em, that’s what this comes down to, doesn’t it? I have to go. I can’t stay. I can’t… I got careless, sloppy, lost control and I just…” She puts her head in her hands, fingers pulling at the roots of her hair in frustration. “I just keep hurting everyone, and I’m not trying to make this about poor me because, fuck, I’m an asshole too, but god damn do I wish… I wish I could just… undo everything, take it all back, go back a week, two, maybe even a month, and just… not be such a fuckup.”

GM: “Wait, what?” says Emily. “Okay, couple things.”

“First, you’re why I’m here and have a mom.”

“You’re why Mom is here and not in that shithole with ODing junkies in the shared bathroom.”

“You’re also why mom is her new, old, whatever, self. She told me about that.”

“Fuck, if you hadn’t pushed her there, she’d probably be literally in bed with Maxen now.”

Celia: “No, Emi, he was right. I’m a black hole. I ruin everything I touch.”

GM: “I don’t think so.”

Celia: “Dad said so. My real dad. That there’s… God, how did he say it, poison in our blood or something.”

GM: “…when did you talk to him?”

Celia: Celia waves a hand.

“Years ago. He paid for esthi school.”

GM: “Geez, Celia, the personal revelations are tumbling out like, I don’t know, a metaphor about lots of stuff tumbling out.”

“He do that because he felt guilty over raping Mom?”

Celia: “I guess. He said he liked my story. He’s not… I mean, he’s never been a dad or anything, he was very clear on that.”

“But… yeah, there’s a lot I haven’t been able to talk about.”

GM: “Awesome, I’ll give him 9/10 on the nice rapist scale.”

Celia: Celia snorts.

“I don’t think it’s as simple as that. Nothing about how they met makes sense to me.”

GM: “Would ask to rape our mom again, if someone had to.”

“Geez, that’s a horrible joke.”

Celia: Emily isn’t listening to her. Celia doesn’t force the issue.

GM: “All right, well, maybe we should talk about your dad later. It sounds like there’s a ton of stuff to get caught up on.”

She laughs.

“It’s funny, I’d prepared a whole list of questions for us to ask you and topics to go over.”

“I don’t remember if I mentioned that.”

Celia: “You did. We got distracted.”

Celia looks down the hall to where her mother and Lucy are sleeping.

“Fuck it, what are you doing the rest of the night? Do you want to grab a drink? I have to meet someone at 3:30, but I’m… I’m not dealing with the rest of this shit tonight.”

GM: “Probably trying and failing to fall asleep and just lying awake digesting how everything I thought I knew about the world is wrong.”

“So, drink sounds good.”

Celia: “Sounds perfect. Let’s roll.”


Monday night, 21 March 2016, AM

GM: Emily pulls on shoes and a jacket and heads outside with Celia.

“Wait, can you even drink alcohol?”

“You threw up all the food.”

Celia: “No. I find a drunk and drink from them. Then I get it.”

GM: “Oh. Blood alcohol content. That makes sense.”

Celia: “Yep. I gotta be honest, I… I like that you know. Selfish as it is. You just get things.”

GM: “I bet, next to Mom. Can’t imagine how she took this.”

Celia: “Pretty well, truth be told.”

“She just kind of accepted it.”

“No screaming, no running, just… asked if she could feed me, smuggled me out of the house in Lucy’s bookbag, you know. The usual.”

GM: "Lucy’s bookbag?

Celia: “Cat.”

GM: “Ah. Makes sense.”

“…that’s kind of really cool, just saying.”

Celia: “I’ve got other forms,” Celia says with a smile. “I’d love to show you sometime. Not in public.”

GM: “Like what, bat? Wolf?”

Celia: “Bird. Tiger.”

GM: “Whoaaa.”

“Tiger is way cooler than wolf.”

Celia: “I think so too.”

GM: “Those animals are just majestic. I told you about the conversation I had with Robby. How he said if it’s him versus a tiger, even with a sword, the tiger wins, no contest.”

Celia: Celia nods. She remembers that.

“Can I… can I ask you something? If you could do it, shift forms like that, or do body stuff, would you want to?”

GM: “Wait, hold on. I’m remembering our conversation and he gets his panties in a wad when people get facts about swords wrong.”

“So he said there are guys who’ve killed tigers just with kukris. Curved knives. It’s really unsafe but it’s been done.”

“And there were Roman gladiators who fought lions, which, granted, are wussier than tigers, with just swords.”

“He said if the tiger gets the drop on him, pounces on him, then he’s probably ten kinds of dead.”

“But if he has a sword and shield, sees the tiger coming, and doesn’t give in to his instinct to run away or freeze up, then he could win most of the time. Weapons are force multipliers and can do a real number on wild animals, if you have the training to use them.”

“He said his first choice of weapon would be a spear, though, not a sword and shield.”

“And then he went on for a bit about how unappreciated spears are.”

“So, yeah. That’s my nerdy HEMA boyfriend.”

Celia: Celia cracks a smile.

“A spear, huh? Makes sense. Kind of dance around it and keep it at bay while you get some pokes in.”

GM: “Yeah, the longer reach. Robby says that’s an enormous advantage in fights. Why it’s so hard for tiny people to fight big people.”

“But, anyway, your question.”

“If I could do body stuff that revolutionizes medicine, yeah, I’d totally want to.”

“Turning into animals is also pretty cool.”

“But kind of the complimentary drink next to the actual dinner.”

“I thought Mom was gonna live with that injury for the rest of her life.”

Celia: “Even if it comes with all the drawbacks? If you’re stuck in this world?”

GM: “Are you offering to make me a vampire?”

Celia: “No. I mean, maybe. Not yet. There’s… there are things I want to show you.”

GM: “Like? I have a million questions about all this, still.”

Celia: “I have a medical degree,” Celia says abruptly. “I mean I had to do it online since I can’t go during the day, so I guess it’s ‘fake’ or ‘half-assed’ or whatever, but I have it. The notebook I showed you is only part of what I’ve been working on. There’s… so much more. So much.”

GM: “Wait, why didn’t you tell me you had a degree?”

Celia: “Because it’s… I dunno, not traditional I guess, I didn’t do all the rounds like you did, I guess I felt like it didn’t count. I used to borrow your books. I did your homework for you once. Back in college. You fell asleep and looked really out of it and it was just sitting there so I thought maybe I could help, but you didn’t get the best grade on it so I never said anything, and… thought you might think I… It’s hard to explain, I guess, why I got the degree and what I’m doing with it when I run a spa.”

GM: Emily playfully punches her shoulder.

“Maybe because you just wanted to learn, doofus.”

“And it’s a helpful thing to have.”

“I’m happy for you. Mom will be really proud. What’s it in?”

Celia: “Ah, same as yours for undergrad. Kinesiology. Then a kind of hybrid physical and occupational therapy thing.”

“It was closest to what I want to do with the emphasis on anatomy and physiology. How everything works together.”

GM: “Makes total sense. I’m proud too.”

“Every adult in the family a college grad.”

Celia: “Mm, was I the anchor?” Celia smirks at her.

GM: “We’d be the last people to tell you that. Mom got her degree pretty late. I almost didn’t get one at all.”

Celia: “Thanks, Emi. I… yeah, thank you.”

GM: “Pretty sure I’d be a family-less waitress still if I hadn’t met you, so likewise.”

“Or maybe working TMC’s records department or something.”

Celia: “Dreaming of bigger and better things?”

GM: “Living in a house with a bunch of roommates, packing lunch, and taking the bus to work.”

“And yeah, dreaming.”

Celia: “I’m glad we met.”

GM: “Me too. You’re not a black hole.”

Celia: “Well, on that note… pick a bar, any bar,” Celia says, lifting her hand to gesture at the selection in front of them, “and set an alarm for quarter after 3 so I have time to get ready for this next meeting, and then we can play a million questions.”

GM: “I was about to ask where we’re going.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever gone to a bar this un-sexy.”

“Pajamas and vomit on my breath.”

Celia: “Trying to get laid, Emi?”

GM: “I’ll be amused if somebody tries.”

“Hey, if vampire feeding is sex, and I got fed on without my consent, did I get raped again?”

“Cause I’m feeling pretty violated, remembering that.”

Emily’s voice is faux casual.

Celia: “Yes and no. You were certainly violated, and you’d be absolutely right to feel that way. Vampire sex with other vampires is feeding. And fighting. Mix of pleasure and pain, or for some it’s just pain. We don’t have sex the normal way. Well, we can, but most of us think it’s not worth the effort and most of us don’t enjoy it anyway. Vampire sex with ghouls is usually the normal human way, and sometimes there’s blood. Like when my… um, I’m gonna use some fake names, yeah? So when Lena and I fool around, since she’s a ghoul, we have normal human lesbian sex. With props, without props, and when I want to spoil her I feed from her and let her drink from me. It’s like an extra boost to the orgasm, basically.”

“Most of us don’t have sex with humans, but when we drink from humans their mind kind of clouds over and they feel good and can think it’s sex. Earlier this evening I went hunting with my friend, Annie, and we took two boys back to their place. They were fooling around with each other, I was naked, but no one penetrated me and I didn’t have an orgasm. They just thought we had a mind-blowing orgy. And I drank from Annie, but because she didn’t drink from me it’s not sex.”

“But you can also feed without it being sexual, which a lot of licks do. Sleeping victims, people with their guard down, people at clubs, et cetera. Some licks can subsist on animal blood, and some like it bagged. None of which is sex.”

“Like when Mom feeds me. Not sex.”

“I will be totally honest, though, I am an outlier when it comes to sex.”

“That being said… it’s kind of a rose-tinted view,” Celia says, looking to Emily. “We feed on people. We hurt them to keep going. We’re… parasites. Monsters. We do it without their consent. Sometimes they get hurt. Sometimes they die.”

“And I guess at best we’re habitual rapists.”

GM: “So I was violated and didn’t consent, but not technically raped,” says Emily.

“Cool. Real cool.”

Celia: “I’m sorry,” Celia says quietly. “I didn’t know about it.”

GM: “Well apparently you got raped too, so all we need is for someone to bang Mom without her consent and we can be rape triple…”

Celia: “They… did it to you in college, too. You were sick all the time. Groggy? Someone was using you. That’s part of why I was so insistent about you moving to the Quarter instead of staying on campus.”

GM: Emily shuts up when she hears Celia’s words.

She stares ahead with a frozen and vaguely nauseous look.

Celia: Maybe, she reflects, that wasn’t the right thing to say.

Celia takes her hand, giving it a squeeze.

GM: “That was all year,” Emily says numbly. “That was all fucking year.”

“How many.”

Her voice is quiet.

“How many times.”

Celia: Celia tries to think back to that time.

“Well… I didn’t move in until part way through, but…” She does some mental math.

“Probably… twice a week.”

GM: Emily grabs Celia, arresting her fall as she jolts forward, and retches.

Not much comes out.

Just some runny orange.

Celia: “Oh, Emi…” Celia rubs her back up and down, up and down like their mother does when they’re sick in slow, soothing gestures.

GM: “Ha.. ha… fuck me,” says Emily, running the back of her hand over her mouth.

Celia: “I’m sorry,” Celia murmurs. She’s been saying that word a lot tonight. Sorry.

“I shouldn’t have said anything.”

GM: “It happened, Celia.”

“It fucking happened, if you said anything or not.”

Celia: “That doesn’t mean I need to make you relive the trauma.”

“This is one of those times where… I don’t know, maybe brutal honesty isn’t the best choice.”

GM: “I did live the fucking trauma. That night I fell apart, drinking and crying and bombing my test and when you said Mom could be my mom too, did it happen then? Did I get, not-technically-raped, then, that night?”

Celia: “I don’t know,” Celia admits. “I don’t think so, not right then. The night before, maybe, because you were a mess, but I don’t think that night, no.”

“I can take it,” Celia offers in a low voice, “everything you’re feeling right now, I can take it away, if you want, if you’d rather not…”

GM: Emily just barrels on.

“And, hey, you remember back in October, how I was sluggish at work, fucking things up, and ‘Lana bitched about it, and I yelled at her, and I had that fight with you, and Mom said I was having bad PMS, and I laid into her for that, and I didn’t want to have sex with Robby for a while?”

“It. Fucking. Happened.”

Celia: “I know.” Celia rubs a hand across her face. “I know. I know, and I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I didn’t realize… I didn’t realize. I thought you’d be safer here. I should have recognized the signs that week, and…”

She didn’t. She hadn’t been there for Emily. But this isn’t about her, it’s about her friend’s trauma, her friend being violated over and over and over again, and it hadn’t had anything to do with Celia, not really. Nothing to do with Jade. Just her kind doing what they do: feeding on people and making points.

GM: “I’d have flunked out of Tulane, with how ‘sick’ I kept getting.”

“No fucking wonder I kept nodding off in class, and had no energy.”

“I thought it was ‘just’ stress and loneliness and a full load of classes and working two shitty jobs. Not all that and getting not-technically-raped and used as a blood donor twice a week.”

Celia: “You didn’t, though. You didn’t flunk out. You didn’t not finish. You went through it, you came out on the other side, and you went even harder than you did before.”

GM: “Yeah, I did, no thanks to Mr. or Ms. Twice Weekly Rapist. I’m pissed, Celia. I’m fucking pissed. But right now I wanna get hammered.”

Celia: “Okay, you know what, fuck it. Instead of a bar, let’s grab a bottle and head over to Flawless. There’s some stuff I want to show you.”

GM: “All right, sure, fuck bars.”

“Probably more vampire rapists in ’em anyways.”

Celia: “Probably.”

GM: Emily laughs.

It’s a half-bleak, half-incredulous sound.

Celia: “Come on. We’ll grab a bottle on the way and I’ve got extra clothes you can borrow there. Use one of the vichi rooms and then…”

Celia takes her hand, looking her into the eyes with a soft smile that doesn’t do anything to take away the pain, but it does promise a better future,

“…then I’ll show you some real magic.”


Monday night, 21 March 2016, AM

GM: The two pick up a bottle of tequila along the way to Flawless. “Celebrate my partial spic mongrel mutt heritage,” Emily declares with a toast, drinking straight from the bottle.

“Fuck Maxen too. Glad Mom kicked him out.”

“Happiest memory I’ve had all year.”

Celia: Celia grins at her, keeping an arm around her waist so she doesn’t topple over as she drinks and walks.

“Me too. It should have happened sooner. Watching her light him up though… god, that was incredible.”

GM: “Yeah. Gave me goosebumps,” Emily declares. She’s barely started to drink and is already leaning heavily against Celia. “‘My job has value.’ You fucking tell him, girl.”

Celia: “Should we order you a sandwich?” Celia asks as they go. Her stomach is empty. She’d thrown up everything and she’d barely had anything in it to begin with. “I think someone left something in the fridge, if you want. In the break room. Soak up that booze so you’re not flat on your ass.”

GM: “Good idea. Eating with another rapist made me lose my appetite.”

“Hey, let’s do Krystal.”

“That place is just the right level of not even giving a fuck that I’m feeling.”

Celia: “Haha. Sure thing. Not sure their lobby is open… think they’d mind if we walk through the drive-thru?”

GM: “Naaaah, they’re open. Lobby is half the experience.”

“Actually, I don’t remember if they even have a drive-thru.”

Celia: “I admit I don’t keep the schedules of food joints anymore,” Celia concedes with a grin, leading Emily toward the glowing sign.

GM: Krystal is a trashed and dirty 24/7 fast food restaurant on Bourbon Street. The two wait in line behind a homeless-looking man who’s talking to himself and another woman who looks like a prostitute. A surly employee is wiping up vomit from a table. At least half the customers look drunk or high.

Krystal.jpg
Krystal.jpg
The food is ghettotastic. Probably full of salt and preservatives, probably horrible for you, probably not even real meat, but delicious and costs practically pocket change. The bored-looking employees look at porn on their phones as they take orders. This is a place that knows what it is and does not give a fuck.

Krystal.jpg
Celia: It’s the kind of place Celia doesn’t have much experience in, if she’s being honest. She thinks Randy might have brought her here once, not on a date but just because he was jonesing for a greasy fix, and the thought makes her smile a little sadly. As they step inside Celia makes sure that she’s not projecting any obvious predatory signs, and otherwise follows Emily’s lead. She’s glad she’s not still dressed for Elysium.

GM: The cashier is rude to them and looks like she wants to be anywhere but here. The food is unclean. The service is terrible. The customers are worse. Emily lovingly extols the place’s virtues and says, “I get it, girl, I get it,” to the rude cashier and walks away with a Krystal Sackful, advertised as, “Krystals are so good you’ll want them by the Sackful. So, get a dozen of these little square treasures in a steam-filled sack and savor every last bite.”

“I LOVE this place!” Emily declares loudly at the door. Celia hears someone throwing up.

Celia: Amused, Celia offers to hold the bottle while Emily scarfs a slider.

GM: “You’re the best, Celia,” Emily says, reaching into the bag and stuffing one into her face as they exit. A homeless guy asks for money. Emily shoves the rest of the slider into her mouth and hands him several dollars.

“Go ge’ drunk!” she extols while chewing.

“Or high, wha’efer.”

Celia: She’s wary this late at night, watching the streets as much as she’s watching Emily, but to all observers they’re just a pair of drunk girls meandering down Bourbon. She fishes through her pockets and pulls out a bill for the man as well.

“And some food,” she says, still amused, “to soak it up.”

GM: “Yeah, you got it, ladies, I’ma get me a burger first,” says the homeless guy.

“That’s it!” Emily whoops.

Celia: She laughs, wishing him a good night and pulling Emily after her.

GM: “Celia, I’ve only had like two swigs and I already feel drunk,” says Emily, starting on another slider.

Celia: “You’ve barely eaten, Emi. And you threw up what you did eat. Hence the food.”

GM: “Mmf. Mmf. Yeah. These are so horrible.” She inhales the tiny burger. “They’re so great.”

Celia: “I’ll keep a trash can with us in case you blow chunks again.”

GM: “Have I gotten raped any more times I don’t know about?”

“‘Cuz I’d rather just get it over with in one night.”

“Y’know?”

Celia: “Not that I… ah, sort of. Once. You gave blood, but it was into a bag.”

GM: “Huh?”

Celia: “So. Remember how Mom’s toes got cut off? And I came to the hospital to move her? We were in the car with the police and we went to that bad side of town?”

GM: “Uhhh.”

Celia: Celia tells her the story while they walk. Emily arguing about not wanting to move Mom, Celia arguing that it’s better for her if they do, her friend taking them to see a guy he knows who would make sure that Diana’s toes worked.

“So I told him I wasn’t going to pay the 100k, and then you show up with your face wrapped in a scarf and you were like, ’I’ll do it,’ and you and I argued you some more, and you asked about a payment plan. So he told you to fill a bag with blood.”

Celia explains how she’d given him the money in the end. Emptied her bank account to do it, borrowed heavily from her friend, and they took it back to the guy to fix Diana.

GM: “Oh. Yeah,” says Emily. “Comin’ back. I felt weird. Really weird. Sick.”

“This was more coerced not-rape than direct not-rape, got it.”

She takes the bottle from Celia and takes a swig.

“Good to know. Don’t feel like throwin’ up.”

Celia: “Had your memories wiped. But, y’know, my friend left the part that we argued, since the next time I saw you we fought again about it.”

GM: “Oh.”

“That explains it.”

“Ha ha, my memories are fake. Celia, I feel like that’s gotta really fuck with someone’s head.”

Celia: “It can, yeah.”

GM: “No, no, psychologically.”

“How much you got missing.”

Celia: Celia nods. She understands.

GM: “Like. You missing anything?”

Celia: “Yes.”

GM: “But you don’t know, that’s the thing.”

“You don’t remember!”

Celia: “But you remember the gaps, if you push hard enough. If they’re sloppy.”

“Remember the missing time.”

“Remember the feelings, because they can’t change that.”

GM: “Yep, and even if you know, maybe there’s more.”

Celia: “Yes.”

“Exactly.”

GM: “Fuck,” Emily mumbles, handing Celia back the bottle so she can retrieve another slider.

“God, I love these.”

“They’re so bad.”

“Did I mention that?”

Celia: “You did,” Celia laughs.

“Are you taking off school tomorrow?”

GM: “Yeah, fuck school.”

“Mom can take off work too.”

“What’s another day.”

Celia: “Probably for the best. Gives some time to…” Celia sighs, rubbing her free hand over her face. “Not enough. Never enough time to get over the loss of a child. You saw Henry.”

GM: “Yeeeep.”

Celia: “I don’t know how to help her.”

GM: “Dunno if you can.”

Celia: “But I have to do something.”

“Don’t I?”

GM: “Well.” Emily swallows the slider, takes the bottle, and has another swig. “I guess.”

“But.”

“Sorta like. Can give the best medical care in the world.”

“Awesome doctors, awesome insurance, awesome… hospital.” She gestures vaguely.

“But better if you never check in, in the first place, you know?”

“Not getting sick. Ultimate medicine. Ultimate cure.”

“Can’t recommend enough.”

“Lotta healthcare still boils down to, ‘suck it up, princess.’”

Celia: “Yeah… I guess so.”

GM: “Poor Mom. She really wanted to reconnect.”

“I mean, fuck Isabel, for not-technically-rapin’ me, and for callin’ Maxen, but poor Mom.”

Celia: “Can’t imagine what that’s like, losing a child.”

GM: “Can’t really dump an asshole child like you can an asshole spouse, y’know?”

Celia: “Yeah.”

“Exactly.”

“She still cares.”

GM: “Feel like it wouldn’t help to say she not-technically raped me.”

“Oh. Think I did.”

“Yeah, def didn’t.”

Celia: “You said she fed from you. We didn’t call it not-technically-rape.”

“I don’t think Mom has much experience with the actual horrors of being an unwilling vessel.”

“Well… not… I guess she and I wouldn’t know.”

GM: “Yeah, you two were shaggin’.” Emily wiggles her eyebrows.

Celia: “Always had a thing for older ladies,” Celia says with a wink.

GM: “Mom looks great for her age.”

“’Specially after that boob job you gave her.”

Celia: Celia gapes.

“Did she tell you that?”

GM: “Naaaaah, I asked.”

Celia: “Is it too obvious?”

“Or do you routinely stare at her tits?”

GM: “Saw ‘em when she popped out Lucy, didn’t I?”

“Saw ’em when she nursed Luce, too. Gotta bring out the boobies for that.”

“But nah. Subtle.”

“Bet it’s more obvious when her clothes’re off.”

Celia: “She get naked for you, did she?”

GM: “Psssh. Mom gets naked for nobody. Just, was thinkin’ about all the little things, lately.”

Celia: “Ah.”

“Yeah.”

GM: “Like uh, Lucy stayin’ over at Randy’s. She mentioned that.”

“Buncha little stuff that seemed weird.”

“Wonder if I woulda figured out on my own.”

Celia: “Possibly. Probably. You’re smart. Observant. I’d have had to keep lying, making them more and more ridiculous.”

“I mean it’s hard to think I got away with the diet thing for so long.”

GM: “Figured you were purging.”

Celia: “Yeah, I considered using that as a cover story, but you and Mom woulda freaked.”

GM: “All Mom’s food kept endin’ up with the girls. And Randy.”

Celia: “Doesn’t do anything for me.”

GM: “She really had a complex over it.”

Celia: “I know. I felt bad.”

GM: “Obsessed with what she was doin’ wrong. Don’t think anyone’s ever told her she’s a bad cook before.”

Celia: “It’s just… like if I eat it, I have to purge it immediately, or I have to consciously focus on keeping it down, and that makes me actually hungry, you know?”

“And if I’m actually hungry then it’s like… hangry. But worse. So when I do get to feed there’s a chance of losing control.”

GM: “Oh. Yeah. She mentioned that.”

Celia: Celia glances away, then back at Emily. “Yeah. I don’t like that she saw me like that.”

GM: “Said Dani was really scared by it, too.”

Celia: “Oh. She told you about Dani.”

GM: “Yeah, and Stephen, and Detective Pete.”

Celia: “Detec…” Celia stops abruptly. “I never told her about him.”

GM: “Huh.”

Celia: “Who… Dani? Dani might have, or… I’ll have to ask her.”

GM: “Dani?”

Celia: “Mom.”

“I was trying to keep his name out of things with her.”

GM: “Yeah, just with Dani and Pete. The connection.”

Celia: “Oh. Uh. Pete came by to erase some memories of the ghouls for me so they didn’t know about Mom being one, and he met Dani.”

GM: “Oh. Make sense if she told Mom. They were pretty tight.”

Celia: “Yeah.”

Celia: “He’s also the friend that ponied up money for her feet.”

GM: “Huh. Nice of him.”

Celia: “He freaked out when he heard what happened with her.”

GM: “He seemed like a good dude.”

“For a cop.”

Celia: “He is. If anything ever happened to me, I’d want Mom to go to him.”

“For help or… whatever.”

GM: “Oh, thought you meant fuckin’ him.”

Emily giggles.

Celia: “Nah,” Celia says with a heavy sigh, “I’ve been trying to get him to take her out for years and he keeps turning me down.”

GM: “Huh, ’cause… vampire stuff?”

Celia: “Didn’t know how he’d explain it, didn’t think it’s safe, et cetera.”

GM: “Mmm. Drinkin’ makes me dumber.”

“My brain’s pretty much burned out after tonight.”

Celia: “Well come on, then, let’s head inside, I’ll get wasted with you, we’ll talk about dumb vampire stuff.”

GM: “Think Mom would like a cop.”

Celia: “Then I’ll tease you tomorrow when you can’t remember.”

GM: “Oh. We here?”

Emily looks up at Flawless’ front doors.

“Oh. Looks like, yeah.”

“Like I said. Think Mom would wanna date a cop.”

“Or maybe a military guy.”

“Or a firefighter.”

“Guy in uniform, y’know? Seems like her thing.”

Celia: “Wh’about the DA?”

GM: “Henry?”

“Uhhhh.”

Celia: “Yeah. Dani and I were… what, you don’t think so?”

GM: “He seems like he’s got a lotta shit.”

Celia: “Eh. Yeah.”

GM: “Guess they both lost a kid, so there’s that?”

Celia: “There’s that,” Celia agrees, using her key to let them into the building.

GM: “Well. Not really lost.”

“Thinks he did.”

“That’s really fucked up.”

“Really really fucked up.”

Celia: “It’s what we have to do. To keep the family out of it. So that people don’t use you against us.”

“I wish she hadn’t told you about Stephen.”

GM: “Eh, why not.”

“Woulda brought it up, but uh.”

“Just so much shit tonight.”

Celia: “Yeah.”

“It’s… complicated with us right now, and I’m fine with you knowing about my shit, I just didn’t want to drag anyone else into it.”

GM: “Glad for you that your boyfriend’s not dead. You and him clicked way more than Randy.”

Celia: “We did,” she agrees.

She locks the door behind them, leading Emily through the space to the break room. She excuses herself and is back a moment later with what looks like a boho bag (long since decorated to not resemble a face) and two bags of blood.

“So I’m not sure how this’ll work, but I think I’m gonna… add the alcohol, mix it all together, heat it, and drink.”

GM: “Hel’ yourshelf,” says Emily while chewing on another slider.

“Don’ like drinkin’ ’lone.”

Celia: Celia giggles at Emily and does as she said, mixing a handful of shots into the blood and giving it a good shake. She makes the appropriate “shaken, not stirred,” joke in a bad rendition of that guy who made it famous, heats it into a cup, and finally pours it into the “bag.”

“Bottoms up, I think,” she says, lifting the stolen skin to her lips to pierce the skin with her fangs.

It’s… not what she expected.

Not that she really knows what she expected.

It’s blood, certainly. But it’s not just blood, and the taste on her tongue reminds her of trying to force down her mother’s cooking. In a bad way. Ash. Char. Like whiskey that’s been kept in a barrel too long, or bourbon that’s been filtered through charcoal. Burnt blood. None of the sweet or sour tang that she’s used to when she drinks from vessels, but an entirely unique experience. Her Beast recognizes that this isn’t just blood, that there’s something else in it, and it rails at her that she’s poisoning herself.

Maybe she is.

She can’t get nauseous, not really, but the way her stolen stomach clenches certainly reminds her of what that used to be like. The bloody alcohol slides down her throat to her stomach and her body filters it like it would any other human food substance, stripping the blood to send into her body and depositing the straight booze into that pouch she’d transplanted. She feels it slosh when she moves.

Doesn’t she?

She wiggles, listening for the sound of sloshing, and thinks she might hear it. She giggles at the thought of sloshing. Giggles at the thought of this secret compartment inside of herself that her Beast has no say over because it’s not hers, not really, and even though her Beast rebels at the taste it likes the sanguine part of the fare, at least, and the more she swallows the more it purrs until it’s nothing but a sleeping kitty in her chest. She giggles again at the mental image of that, then once more when she thinks about how her body is mostly empty, and the friend that said she’d show her how to make a prison pocket (as if Celia needs to, but she thinks it’ll still be handy, won’t it? and she really needs to get together with her because she—ah, fuck, she doesn’t care, not tonight).

Celia drains the bag, licking her lips. She flips it inside out and licks the sides, making sure to get every last drop.

And then she looks to Emily, eyes slightly unfocused, and says in a decidedly slurred voice,

“I’thinkit work. Work-duh. Work-edd. Work-edd-duh. Wooooorked.”

“Em. Emi. Y’know how… enemas, right?”

“S’like an enema.”

“C’you hear it?” Celia totters over to her, wiggling back and forth.

GM: Celia feels her artificial stomach clench. She is going to have to purge it, sooner or later.

“Huh. Wow. You got drunker than me way faster,” says Emily. She’s chewing through another slider.

“Is it ‘cause it’s… absorbed into your blood, that much faster, or somethin’?”

“Like, how’s it work with vampires, if your body’s dead?”

She motions at the bag.

“Also, th’ hell’s that thing?”

“An’, yeah, I know what a ’nema is.”

“I helped give Robby one for buttsex.”

She giggles.

“Or uhhh.”

“No, maybe I didn’.”

“Cause who cares if you get shit on the strap-on, right?”

“Well. I mean. Do care.”

“Take carea your toys’n all.”

“And poop bits durin’ sex not very sexy.”

“Just a bigger deal for guys when it’s poop bits on their wiener, y’know?”

“I don’ want poop bits on my lady bits.”

“So, they don’ wan’ poop bits on their boy bits, I get it. I geeeet it.”

Celia: “Nnnnnno. No. NO,” Celia says pointing at Emily. Or where she thinks Emily is.

“S’not… snot, ha, s’not in the, um, the blood, so it’s… I skipp’d… wai—wait, I don’ have a… a…”

She points at her belly, then looks up at Emily.

“Whu’? I dun’ poop.”

GM: “Oh.”

“Yeah.”

“Lucky. Not missin’ much.”

“Though kinda a nice feelin’, after it’s all out, sometimes.”

Celia: Celia nods, but it’s hard for her to remember what that feels like.

GM: “Did you an’ Stephen ever do buttsex?”

Celia: The question makes her guffaw. It’s a completely unexpected unladylike sound, and she follows it with more laughter that makes her double over, shaking her head back and forth, back and forth.

“Nnnno. He’s a, a—” she lifts her head, looking at Emily, “he’s vaaaaannilla.”

“HE’S a buttsex.”

GM: Emily smirks at first, then guffaws too as Celia’s laughter builds. The two laugh and laugh before Emily takes another swig of tequila.

“So’s Robby.”

“Vanilla, that is.”

“Buttsex was my idea.”

Celia: Her vision swims. She thinks, perhaps, she overdid the alcohol in the blood. It shouldn’t be sitting in her stomach like this. That’s not how it usually works.

“S’fun. I like it.”

GM: “Yeahhh. ’M kinkier than him,” Emily grins, biting into another slider.

She holds up a finger.

“But. But! Not too kinky.”

Celia: “All the—” Celia shushes.

“No?”

GM: “Well. Like.”

“‘M open-minded. Into new things. Like spicin’ things up.”

“Don’ mind talkin’ ’bout sexy stuff. Kinky stuff.”

“But, was this guy I knew once.”

“Kinda friends. Friendly with. Casual… friends. Friendly. Y’know?”

Celia: Celia bobs her head up and down.

GM: Emily takes another swig of tequila.

“So, like, he’s really into kinky sex.”

“Lotta B, D, S&M stuff.”

Celia: “Beedsum,” Celia says, nodding.

GM: “An’ like it’s cooool, I dig it, I’m cool talkin’ ’bout it.”

“‘Cause I’m cool.”

“I’m cool, right?”

Celia: “Very cool.”

“Very cool,” she says again, putting a hand on her shoulder for emphasis.

GM: Emily nods sagely and takes another bite of slider.

“So, yeah, ’m cool, he knows.”

“An’ it’s fun at first, talkin’ ’bout kinky shit.”

“But. Like.”

“Some people, inch, mile, y’know?”

Celia: “Uhoh.”

GM: “Open door, never close?”

She gestures vaguely.

Celia: “Whadde do?”

GM: “Jus’. Wouldn’ stop talkin’ ’bout it, wimme.”

“Like. Alla time.”

“Sex sex sex sex sex.”

“Well. Kinky stuff.”

Celia: “Ugggh.”

GM: “Lotta it wasn’ actually sex.”

Celia: “Boys’re, they’re gross.”

GM: Emily nods.

“Think I’d become. Uh. Way he was gettin’ off.”

Celia: “Ew.”

“Wait was he cute?”

GM: “Uhhh.” Emily thinks. “Cute ’nough, I guess.”

Celia: “Did you sell ’im nuuuudes?”

GM: Emily giggles.

“Hahahaha. Noooo.”

“Like. I thought this was, platonic.”

“Well. Platonic. With maybe some flirtin’.”

“Fun flirtin’.”

“Not really serious flirtin’.”

“Y’know?”

Celia: “Uh uh, see, once y’… once y’open door, nev-uh—neverrr stops.”

GM: “An’, y’know, look, ‘m open-minded, if he got off to what we were talkin’ about, cool, is cooooool.”

“Like. Uh.”

“But moderation. Y’know?”

“Jus’ wouldn’ shut up.”

Celia: Celia nods again.

GM: “Wouldn’ lemme alone. ‘Eeeeemily, Eeeeeemily, talk ’bout kinky sex wimme!’”

“Like fuck off, ’m not your porn machine.”

Celia: “Whatchu do?”

GM: “Uhhh, basically tol’ him, knock it off, an’ he got kinda assholish.”

“Didn’ knock it off, sorta ‘pologized, but kept tryin’ to bring it up.”

“An’, like, whole thing felt kinda phony, after that. Gamin’ me, wantin’ to talk more ‘bout sex, when he thought I wouldn’ mind, y’know?”

Celia: “Didju ditch ’em?”

GM: “Yeah.”

“Ditched ’im.”

“Diiiiitched!”

Celia: “Goo’, goo’, fuck ’im.”

GM: Emily takes a long swig of tequila.

Celia: “I thin’, Emmmmmiii, I thin’ I, uh, over… over boozed the, the blood.”

“It’s swishin’.”

GM: “Swishin’?”

Celia: Celia’s face lights up.

“Wan’ see?”

GM: “Okay,” Emily grins dumbly between more slider.

Celia: “C’mon, c’mon, gotta show you the, the lab! The lab!”

GM: “There’s a lab?” Emily asks, half to herself.

Celia: Celia rises on unsteady feet, staring down at her heels as if they’re personally to blame for the state of things. She kicks them off one at a time, then meanders down the hall toward Jade’s suite.

GM: Emily gets up, carrying the tequila and sack of remaining sliders with her.

She giggles as Celia kicks off her shoes.

“You looked soooooooo weird with those in Krystal.”

Celia:You looked weird,” Celia says back.

GM: “Uh. Wai’, no.”

“Sometimes see strippers an’ streetwalkers in stripper heels, there.”

“But it’s like, that or flats.”

Celia: “M’I stripper?”

GM: “Naaaaaaah.”

“S’why you stood out.”

Celia: “Oh.”

GM: “Liiiiike, they’re either ginormous stripper heels, or flats.”

“Don’ get any in-betweens, there.”

Celia: “Maaaaaaybe I’mma classy stripper.”

GM: “Thas’ cool, tha’ sounds very cool.”

“Classy stripper.”

“I wanna be one. When I grow up.”

Celia: The boozy blood, meanwhile, has started to mix with her system. She’s not sober by any stretch of the word, but at least her BAC has (probably) gone down to a less “sloppy drunk” level.

“I’d be, no, we’d be! We’d be classy strippers.”

Celia takes Emily past the Tranquility Room and into what Lucy has referred to numerous times as the “green room” for all the plants that Celia keeps here. Not many of them are florals, but she has snake plants and peace lilies and a parlor palm and a Chinese evergreen and a rose painted calathea and a little table with succulents sticking out of various cute containers that she’s collected over the years, and a tiny jade plant sits near the sink in her room. A collection of Lucy’s artwork hangs along one wall, but the majority of the room is greenery. It’s not quite as striking as walking into Bloom Couture or standing in her grandsire’s rooftop garden, but being in this sea of plants when she has the waterfall plugged in and the fairy lights twinkle overhead and the humidifier or aroma therapy going… It’s like walking into another world.

Celia leads Emily toward the closet in her room, opening it to pull out an empty hamper where the sheets go between clients, and moves a few things out of the way. Then, finally, she reaches for the tiny, imperceptible latch, twists a key, and opens the door with a flourish.

“Ta-da!”

GM: Emily’s been in there her share of times, often to admire Lucy’s artwork. She’s never had any business in the closet, though, until now. She stares inside and goes,

“Whoooooa.”

Celia: Celia beams at her.

The room beyond does not match the rest of the spa’s motif. It’s a combination spa and medical lab, with a stone table in the center of it and a drain on either side of the floor, long hoses that can be used to wipe down the station in a gif, and a free-standing cooler off to one side. She doesn’t keep anything particularly secret or risque in that one. A stainless steel cart full of various supplies sits next to the cooler, and there’s shelving with an assortment of other necessities. The air is chillier than the rest of the spa and the light overhead leaves no shadows in the room.

“This is it.”

GM: “Whoaaa,” Emily repeats, looking around after she steps through the closet.

“This, like. Secret lab.”

She giggles.

“In Narnia.”

“’Cause. Walk through a closet.”

Celia: Celia giggles too.

GM: “Lucy loves the shit outta those books.”

Celia: “I ’member.”

GM: “’Cause the girl. Got her name, too.”

“Anyway.”

“So uh.”

“Watcha do here?”

“This where you have lesbian sex with ’Lana?” she asks, wiggling her eyebrows.

Celia: Even in her drunken fugue, Celia recalls the last time they’d talked about Narnia. Her mom’s house. Randy had been there. She’d been riding a high that time, too.

She blinks at it’s gone, the memory dancing away in the wake of the question.

“Sometimes!”

“Wait.”

Silence.

“Didju… how’dju know?”

GM: “Duuuude,” says Emily, taking another swig from the bottle.

“Er.”

“Giiiiiiiiiiirl.”

“She has the hugest thing for you.”

“Like. Huge. Real big. Reeeeaaaal huge.”

Celia: “Oooh… yes.”

GM: “An’ you said sex with Lena.”

“Lena. ’Lana.”

Celia: “Whoops.”

GM: “Like. Reeeaaal close.”

Celia: Celia crosses her arms, nose in the air. “So we fuck, it’s chill.”

“Wait dun’ tell Mom.”

GM: “Oh. Yeah. Def not.”

“’S cool wimme anyway.”

“Even if she’s kinda a bitch.”

“Don’ think she likes me much.”

Celia: “Nah she’s jus’… jelly.”

“She jelly.”

“Dun’ tell her you know ’bout this.”

GM: “We ain’ fuckin’, why she jelly?”

Celia: “’Cause a the bond.”

GM: “Ohhh, she a… renfield.”

“Was gonna ask.”

Celia: Celia nods.

GM: “Whuzza bond, ’gain?”

“Did you ’splain earlier?”

“Feel you maybe did.”

“Lotta shit to take in. An’ I’m real drunk.”

Celia: She shrugs. “I dunno. S’when you drink the blood withou’ coolin’ so it makes you like people.”

GM: “Oh. Thas’ nifty.”

Celia: “S’like in… infatu… shun.”

GM: “Yeah she’s fuckin’ obsessed wi’ you.”

Celia: “Yeah we’re gon’ bang later.”

“Dun’ tell Mom.”

GM: “Ohhhh,” Emily nods sagely.

“Cross m’ heart.”

Celia: “Dun’ tell Daaaani.”

GM: “Wuzzit to Dani.”

Celia: “Or—or Stephen.”

GM: “Oh.”

“‘Cuz she’d tell ’im.”

Celia: “Yezzir.”

GM: “Uhhh. Think you should be honest ’bout that.”

Celia: “Tha’s wha’ they said.”

GM: “Well, is’ cheatin’, if he’s not okay with it.”

Celia: “Nah, nah, gimme—gimme your phone, I’ma, I’ma call ’im.”

GM: Emily unlocks and hands it over.

Celia: Celia stares down at the phone in her hands.

“Oh my god,” she whispers with a giggle, “we shou’ prank, prank call ’im.”

GM: Emily giggles.

“Les’ doooo it.”

Celia: “Ask—ask ‘im if, if his fridge is, is runnin’.”

GM: She plops down on the ground and chews another slider.

“D’you need, fridges?”

“Ah, dun matter.”

Celia: “Only for, uh, for blood ’n stuff.”

GM: “Whuzzis number?”

Celia: “Wai’, wai’, he dun’ know ’bout you.”

GM: “S’okay.”

“Caller unknown. Bet.”

“S’what his phone gonna read.”

Celia: “Bu’ he gon’ recognize you?”

“Voice magic.”

Celia wiggles her fingers.

GM: “Years ’go.”

“We ain’ talked in f’ever.”

Celia: “Whu… whu’do you mean years you jus’ saw ’im.”

GM: “Oh.”

“Uh.”

“Guess I did.”

She nods sagely.

“Bein’ drunk don’ make me too bright.”

“Wai’, hol’ up.”

“He didn’ look like Stephen! Can’t blame me.”

Celia: “Wai’, wai’, whutchu thinka ’im?”

GM: “Uhhh.”

“Weird.”

Celia: “Weird?”

GM: “He dun’ look like Stephen.”

Celia: “No he saw a-a night doc.”

GM: “Oh.”

“Cool.”

Celia: “Yeah.”

“D’you think he’sa buttface?”

GM: “Uhhh.”

“Eh.”

“So much shit tonight, y’know?”

“Kinda doesn’ stand out.”

Celia: Celia nods, then dials his number in the phone for Emily.

GM: “Oh, we gonna-” Emily starts, then takes the phone.

It rings several times before she’s answered with a, “Hello?”

Celia: Celia plops down next to her sister and presses her ear against the other side of the phone.

GM: “Is your re-fridge-rator runnin’?” grins Emily.

Celia: Celia snorts, pressing a hand to her mouth to contain her giggles.

GM: “Who is this?” demands Roderick’s sharp voice.

“Well you be’er RUN’ AN’ CAAATCH IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIT!” Emily screams at the top of her lungs, doubling over as she howls with laughter.

Celia: She loses it when she sees Emily lose it, dissolving into a fit of giggles as she mashes the phone’s “end call” button.

GM: Emily gives great seize-like howls of laughter between breathless heaves as she smacks her palm against the floor, over and over. The tequila bottle has toppled over. Some booze spills over the floor.

“Ooohhh, man,” says Emily, clutching her stomach.

Celia: Celia is too busy laughing to care about the spilled booze or sharp voice. She doesn’t lose her breath; it’s one long series of giggles punctuated by deep belly laughs and the occasional snort.

GM: Emily looks at Celia and then just laughs some more. She snorts and giggles and laughs her ass off.

“Ooooh… man….” she repeats.

“‘Fridge-rator-runnin’!”

She giggles.

“Claaaasic.”

“I’m real funny.”

“Reaaaal funny.”

Celia: Celia bobs her head in agreement, still giggling.

GM: “Th’ way I—screamed!”

She snorts down some more giggles.

“Is it runnin’!”

Celia: “Go—go catch i’!”

GM: Emily glances around for the tequila bottle.

“Oh. Whoops,” she grins.

Celia: “Em! Party foul!”

GM: “Naaaah, still a party.”

“This a total paaaarty.”

“Fancy.”

“Party.”

Celia: “Bes’ party.”

“We need muuuuusic.”

“Pu’ it on.”

“Dance wimme.”

GM: Emily takes the bottle with both hands, fits her mouth around it, and leans back to take a very long, very exaggerated pull.

There’s not a ton left in the bottle by this point, between the spill and the earlier swigs.

“M. Okay.”

Celia: It’s not a very large bottle. Emily will be hungover as fuck tomorrow, but she’ll live.

GM: “Be uh. Crappy dancer. Kinda drunk.”

Celia: “Nah s’cool, s’cool, jus’ follow me.”

GM: Emily reaches in the sack for another slider and stuffs the whole thing into her mouth. Her cheeks bulge.

Celia: “Yoooou’re a-a chipmunk.”

GM: “Mmf. Mmmf.”

Celia: Celia blows air into her cheeks to show her.

GM: “Sh’ a’ b-gg!” Emily exclaims, pointing at her face as she chews.

Celia: It’s too funny not to laugh. Celia doubles over again.

GM: Seeing Celia laugh, Emily snorts out her own guffaw. It’s a muffled sound past the food in her mouth. She chokes a bit, makes some noises, then hacks it out into her hand.

“’Eeeeew!” she exclaims.

Celia: “Eeeewwwwww,” Celia agrees, but laughs even more at it.

GM: Emily looks at the half-eaten mush in her hand, then guffaws more.

“Shoul’ I put it back, or throw away?”

“Pu’ back, y’know, like, baby bird!”

She giggles.

“‘Cept I did. My own chewin’.”

Celia: “Eewww, Emi, no, jus’ toss it.”

GM: “Oh. Well. Is’ all like this, after we chew it.”

“An’ we swallow it.”

“Eh. Fuck.”

Emily holds it to her mouth and stuffs it back in. Some of the mushed food runs down her face.

Celia: “S’gross, food is gross.”

GM: She chews for a few moments with a somewhat nonplussed expression.

“Eh. Worse.”

“Don’ recommend, takin’ it out like that.”

“Food’s awesome. Hangover gonna hurt less.”

Celia: “Need water.” Celia nods sagely, as if she has ever dealt with one.

“Hey, hey, whu time izzit?”

GM: “Uh. I ’unno,” says Emily.

“Hey, you wanna show me stuff?”

“Or jus’ Narnia.”

Celia: “You go’ the phone.”

“You gon’ ’member if I do?”

GM: “Uhhh. Dunno.”

Emily looks at the phone.

“Is uh, roun’ 3.”

“Late.”

Celia: “Oh. Y’think you coul’be sober’n hour?”

GM: “Uhhhh.”

“Wha’for.”

Celia: “Go’a meet s’mone.”

GM: “You wanna, me, mee’ somebody?”

Celia: Celia nods. “Mee’im at, at four.” She holds up four fingers.

GM: “Celia, ‘m really drunk an’ really…”

She waves a finger.

Celia: “Oh okay. We go home?”

GM: “Uhhgghhh.”

“I don’ wanna walk.”

Celia: “C’mon, I get us a Ryde.”

GM: “Too much walkin’. Car walkin’. Wanna stay here.”

Emily: “Here?” She giggles. “No bed here!”

GM: “Mm, I don’ mind,” yawns Emily, laying side-down against the floor.

Celia: “No, no, c’mon, there’s a couch.”

GM: “Mm. Uh.”

She rests her cheek against the floor for a moment.

“Maybe I do.”

“’S hard.”

“Hard.”

“Dicks are hard.”

She giggles.

“Diiiiiiick joke!”

Celia: Celia giggles with her.

“You’re silly. C’mon, I’ll show you.”

She rises, then bends back down to lift Emily to her feet. There’s a couch in her office for situations like these.

Not that she’s used it for much besides sex.

Except that time she was working late and slept beneath it.

GM: “’M not silly. ’M very serious,” declares Emily as Celia helps her up.

Celia: “Ser’us bizniss.”

GM: “’M, ’zatafact,” agrees Emily. She bonks her head against the closet as they walk back through ‘Narnia’.

“Owww,” she groans.

“Fuckin’ wardrobe.”

“Fuckin’ lion.”

“Fuck ’im.”

Celia: “Fuck ’im,” Celia agrees, rubbing her head for her.

GM: “Jesus lion,” mutters Emily.

Celia: Still reeling herself, it’s an effort to move in a straight line to get Emily to the closet door and into the room beyond. She manages, though, and they stop off in the Vichy room so Emily can rinse the vomit, sweat, and other signs of disgust from her. Celia leads her up the stairs to her office when she’s clean, wrapped in a towel, and hands her a set of clothes.

GM: Emily looks at the table blearily, strips off her clothes, and collapses onto it. She gives a contented “aaahhhhh” as the warm water luxuriates over her.

She lets it run for a while.

“Aaaahhh…” she sighs.

She closes her eyes.

She stops moving.

After a little while, Celia can hear her snoring.

Celia: “Oh,” Celia says.

“‘kay you sleep there, I’ll move you later.”

GM: Light snores under the still-running water are her only reply.

Celia: Celia shuts the water off and finds a handful of towels for Emily, using one to cover her body and another rolled beneath her head as a pillow.

She makes sure Emily’s head is turned to one side, just in case of vomiting.

“You sleep, Emi. You sleep.”

She dims the light as she leaves the room, locking it behind her.

The time with Emily was nice, but it can’t last forever. She has monsters to get back to.


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Story Thirteen, Celia XXVI

“This whole thing. It’s just… it’s just sick. It’s like a scene out of Saudi Arabia."
Danielle Garrison


Sunday night, 20 March 2016, PM

Celia: Bourbon Heat. It fits tonight, and despite the odd hour—later than she would have been, which only ups her odds—and odd day she pulls into a decent crowd. The Sunday night specials must be doing their fair share of work to attract the breathers, and the music spilling out into the streets is nothing but a siren song to those who wish to spend their Sunday partying rather than getting ready for work in the morning. With more than half the population of the Quarter as tourists, there are plenty of kine for her to feed from that don’t feel the pull of the nine-to-five.

Celia joins the kine, cloaking herself in shadow and mystery, and looks for Dani in the crowd even as she searches for a suitable mark. Not just a vessel, no, but someone else who will serve her purpose this evening. Another mark who will be more than just blood. Luck dances through her veins; she knows, this evening at least, that she will find exactly what she’s looking for.

GM: Dani meets her there after texting her along the way. Roderick’s sister is dressed up for a night out in a silk blouse, tight pants, heels, and dangle earrings. Sexy but not trashy.

“Hi, Celia!” she exclaims, smiling widely as she hugs her brother’s girlfriend.

“It feels like forever since I’ve seen you!”

Celia: Who had she dressed up for, Celia wonders, the lick or the breathers? She has a feeling she knows and she is unsurprised. She, too, feels the pull.

“Hello, darling,” Celia murmurs into the shell of her ear, breathing in the scent of perfume, blood, excitement. Her heart goes pitter-patter in its little cage of bone and tissue, and Celia’s echoes the sentiments. Music pounds in her ears, demanding that she move her body accordingly. So she does, pulling Dani close to her so that their hips align, then using a hand at the small of her back to guide her in a series of elegant moves that end with Dani dipped, long line of her throat exposed. Flashy for a nightclub, but Celia manages to make it look effortless, to make it look as if the music had demanded such a display. Then Celia pulls Dani back in, nuzzling the neck of her lover’s little sister.

She whispers an apology for last night. Trouble, she says, and leaves it at that, content to spend a moment in the arms of someone who adores her.

GM: Dani laughs as Celia pulls her into the dance and matches her pace. Dani isn’t bad on her feet at all, but she can’t match the Toreador’s same easy grace. Music pounds in the pair’s ears as lights flash over their bodies. The smell of sweat, perfume, and tightly packed bodies is omnipresent. So many people in this club, Celia is sure, want to be young forever. To dance and drink and party their nights away over an unending eternity of earthly pleasures.

Only two of them get that wish.

Dani tries to say something as a blue light pulses over her bared throat, but it’s almost inaudible on the dance floor.

Celia: That’s okay, Celia probably doesn’t much care about it anyway. Right now she doesn’t want to talk. She’s had enough talking, enough explaining, enough being told what to do and baring her soul. Right now she wants to feel. To dance. To feed.

She twirls Dani around again, then spins the same way until her back hits Dani’s chest and her butt finds the cradle between her hips, and she shimmies for everything she’s worth when the tempo hits its peak with the thin-blood’s arms around her.

GM: Dani says something again. Celia probably cares just as little. Dani rolls with it, probably aware she can’t be heard, and just dances. She lets Celia lead. They lose themselves in the lights, the music, the undulating sway of bodies, the rhythm pulsing through the crowd. Would someone even notice if Celia fed on them here? That’s what Dani did. Celia sure noticed.

This time, though, Dani doesn’t sink her small fangs into the true-blood’s neck. This time, they are something other than (attempted) predator and prey to each other.

This time, they just dance like 20-something girls on a fun night out.

Celia: It might be important. Celia will ask her later, but no doubt she’ll forget or say it doesn’t matter. It happens. Celia has forgotten plenty of things, too. Always at the worst time.

This thought flees her mind as well, lost to the loud music and the high she rides from everything that has happened this evening. For the first time in a long time, she’s free. Her mother is safe. Lucy is safe. Emily is safe-ish. She’s decided to cut Roderick loose after this last task, and she has… a new sister. Two, if she’s not mistaken, once more spinning with Dani on the floor. She giggles, the sound lost to the strum of the bass as the music throbs overhead. It’s in her bones, in her heart, in her very soul, demanding that she move, twist, bob, weave.

It animates her like nothing else ever has. She comes alive beneath the colored lights in the midst of the throng of sweating, drinking kine. She’s the flame to the moths, a shining jewel in the center of the crowd.

She’s dazzling. Literally. The luck ignites her from the inside out, dancing across her skin and through her hair and down her legs just as she dances upon the club floor. It flutters out of her with every giggle, every stray glance, every “accidental” touch, drawing these kine further into the adoring goddess that has so humbly graced them with her presence. It lights up her brain, connecting neurons and pathways and creating a plan, the plan, to handle Randy’s disappearance.

And it starts here, right now, with Dani.

Celia casts her eye through the crowd for a likely target.

And oh, how she dazzles. A flame amidst the moths, beckoning them ever closer with stray glances and accidental touches. She uses Dani like a prop, letting her hands linger on her stomach just shy of the swell of her breasts, blowing warm air across her neck as she spins close to tease not only the girl but the boys looking as well, the boys who think, I know that face, but can’t remember where, only now that they’ve seen it they know that they want it, want her, want both of them.

The huntress has her pick of the litter; Luck’s hands guide her eyes toward a particular specimen, tall with broad shoulders and eyes that belong on a face ten years younger. A boy’s eyes. Innocent. Eager. Apprehensive even, when the huntress and her disciple traipse toward him under the guise of the crowd pushing them together. He is not so handsome that he thought to win her affection, but the doctor and esthetician inside agree that beauty, as her lover said, is only skin deep.

How fortunate for her that she can mold this one like putty.

The rest of him is right. His size, like his twin, dwarfs her. The heat of his large hands cradle her when she moves close. His chest is the perfect height for her to rest her cheek, just as she has so many times before. She sighs his name into his shirt, the two syllables lost like so many other this evening, and kisses his neck with her lips.

She doesn’t need to speak. Just promise, with eyes and smile and body, a good time if he follows.

So he does.

They always do.

GM: Luck guides Celia’s path… a bit of luck. The guy looks a bit like Randy. Tall and broad and looks as if he spends time at the gym. Tan skin. Short brown hair. Designer stubble beard. A different man with the same general description.

It’s the eyes that are the most different. Brown rather than rather than that seemingly shifting blue and green and hazel. None of the puppydog trust and devotion. The helpless, head over heels infatuation. The kind that made him spend seven years in a ‘relationship’ with a girl who never got around to physically consummating it, but were never so cruel as to take what he wanted by force, like his brother no doubt would have. The eyes of this random partying stranger are a hollow substitute for the real thing.

Then again, so was Randy.

Is a hollow substitute of a hollow substitute actually the truest one she could find?

The boy, meanwhile, laughs when Celia kisses him. He smiles and takes her arm, but unusually doesn’t reciprocate the kiss. He exclaims something that’s lost over the music’s din, then points towards the bar, where it’s marginally quieter.

“Oh my god, you’re Celia Flores!” he gushes when they get there. “I’m gay, sorry. But I love your makeup videos! I’ve been following your MeVid channel for like a year!”

Celia: Gay. Of course he is. On occasion she’d even wondered if Randy was. Strung along for years—who lets a girl do that to them?

But she smiles, pleased that he’s a fan, and takes the out he gives her. The mask laughs, cheeks reddening beneath the cool light from overhead, and her eyes dart away in an almost-nervous fashion before she looks back to him. The embarrassment is clear on her face.

“Sorry! I thought you were someone else, didn’t mean to push myself on you like that. The dark and the crowd—” she waves a hand over her shoulder to indicate the packed floor.

GM: “No, no, it’s okay!” laughs the boy. “I mean, nightclub, what do you expect, right?”

“So what are you doing here if you’re gay?” asks Dani with some amusement, having followed Celia back to the bar.

The bartender has a vaguely nonplussed look when he sees Dani sit down.

“I’m here with my boyfriend,” the boy answers. “Connor’s bi. He’s just tired of going to gay clubs all the time.”

“That’s nice of you to do for him,” smiles Dani.

“Wellll he’s gonna suck me off,” winks the boy, then turns back to Celia.

“Can I get you a drink? All my girlfriends love your videos!”

Celia: Celia laughs again, delighted at the offer. And the turn of events. Two for one, bi boyfriend? She can make that work.

She can make that work all night.

“I was just about to offer to buy you one for the mistaken identity.” She lifts a hand at the bartender. “What’re you having? And wave Connor over, I’ll get him one too. And you, Rach.” A nod to Dani.

GM: “Okay, I’ll get you one and you get me one,” smiles the boy. “I’ll have an Agent Orange Explosion. Hey! Connor!”

He waves in his boyfriend’s general direction, then when no one comes over, he places the girls’ orders, gets up, and tells them to save his seat.

“Watch the drinks here,” Dani mutters, not looking away from the bartender as he gets them ready.

Celia: Celia leans in close, murmuring to Dani that she has nothing to fear while Celia is here with her. She won’t let anything happen to her. But she, too, keeps an eye on the drinks as they’re being made after she orders—with quite a bit more subtlety than her friend.

She asks Dani in an undertone if she’ll be okay handling Connor by herself. And mentions that Stephen hates the idea of her “picking up guys at bars,” with a bit of an eye roll and “what can you do” expression.

GM: Dani smiles at Celia’s initial words.

She looks unsure how to answer the question for a moment.

“Um. I kinda don’t want to have sex. I can just feed on him?”

Celia: “Just feed,” she agrees, “and he’ll think he got lucky. You saw it with Alana.”

GM: “Okay. But you’ll stay close?”

The thin-blood sounds like she thinks mere kine could rape her.

Maybe they well could.

Celia: “I was going to take him back to the spa.” She doesn’t mention her intended murder. “I owe your brother,” she tacks on in a lower voice, “so I need to bleed him a little more than what I can safely do here.” It’s a ready excuse. True, even.

Boyfriend is a loose end, though.

“Come with. Flirt a little with the boyfriend on the way. Play with your hair. Laugh at his lame jokes.”

GM: “Okay,” nods Dani. “And we can feed on them at the spa?”

“And what do you mean you owe Stephen?”

Celia: “Mhm,” Celia says to the first question. Then, lowering her gaze for half a second, she debates the merits of turning Dani against her brother again. It’s an easy thing to do, isn’t it? Just tell the truth. She’s gotten so good at that with all of his corrections lately.

“I was injured on Friday. He told me I had to pay it back when we woke up on Saturday and I lost control.”

“Didn’t want to reward bad behavior.” A laugh. Dismissive. But how ugly that tale can get if she expands even slightly.

Not yet, though. Not just yet.

GM: “Oh. So had he loaned you blood or something?” asks Dani.

Celia: “Mm, something like that.”

GM: “Okay, I guess that’s fair.”

Celia: Perhaps. If he hadn’t been the one to wound her in the first place. But she smiles all the same.

GM: “I… didn’t mention this earlier, but I gave your mom some blood, a little while ago. She was really hungry and she’s done so much for me.”

Celia: “Usually that’s a fair trade,” Celia acknowledges. She’s given other halfbloods a hit before. Standard payment. “I don’t think yours sustains her the same. Speaking of.”

Celia turns to fix the girl with a very serious look.

“I found your sire.”

GM: “No, she thought I tasted bad and didn’t ask ag-”

Dani’s eyes widen.

“What?!”

Celia: “Not so loud, Dani.”

“He’s being delivered to me tonight.”

GM: The bartender glares in Dani’s direction as she raises her voice.

Dani doesn’t even look back at him. She has eyes only for Celia as she lowers her voice. Her breath is hitched.

“To Flawless?”

“Who is it?”

“Why did they do this to me?”

Celia: “I don’t know yet, but that’s what I’ll discover tonight. I wanted to keep you in the loop. I know you’ve had a lot of choices ripped away.”

GM: Dani’s knuckles are white as she clutches her newly-arrived drink. Her cheeks are turning red.

“I want to be there, Celia. I want to see him. I want to ask him, to his face. I want to ask him why. I want…”

“I want justice.

Celia: Celia understands the desire all too well. She nods slowly.

“I mentioned it to your brother last night. He said he’d like to meet him first, make sure it’s safe.” She looks away, then back at Dani, touching the side of her own glass as if the act gives her courage. “The guy dropping him off is trouble. I can hold him for tomorrow.”

GM: Dani still grips her glass, but doesn’t take a drink yet. She looks at Celia the whole time.

“So that’s it. Flawless, tomorrow. That’s when I can talk to him.”

Celia: She hadn’t thought Dani would be so accepting of the offer. She nods again.

“Yes.” A pause, then even lower, “don’t tell him I told you already, okay?”

GM: Dani frowns.

“Why not?”

Celia: “I don’t want him to get the wrong idea. We’re… have you seen him since the other night?” The lift of her brows implies the park.

GM: “Yes. And what do you mean by ‘wrong idea’? He obviously wants to catch the guy who did this to me as much as we do.”

Celia: “When did you see him?”

GM: “Last night. What does that matter?”

Celia: “He didn’t seem off to you?” Celia presses.

GM: “Celia’s, what’s going on, and why don’t you want me to tell him this?”

Celia: “We’re in the middle of a fight,” Celia finally says. She looks away. “It’s probably my fault. But he told me he wanted to meet the guy before you and I don’t want him to think I’m disobeying. So can you just…” she looks back to Dani, gesturing between the two of them, “keep it between us, please?”

GM: “It’s not up to him if he wants to meet the guy first,” Dani says crossly. “This is about ME. What he did to ME.”

Celia: Celia the liar winces. “I know.”

GM: “And yeah, I can tell you’re in a fight, considering he also asked me some similar stuff.”

Celia: “About me?”

GM: “He asked me not to share what we talked about until the fight between you guys is resolved.”

Celia: “Is it… is it bad?” Celia asks in a small voice.

GM: Dani squeezes her hand.

“Celia, just tell the truth and it’ll be okay.”

Celia: “About what? I did! I did and he…” Moisture gathers in the corners of her eyes. “He hates me. He hates me. God, Dani, I fucked up, I fucked it all up, I’m so fucking stupid—”

She presses a hand to her face.

GM: Dani quickly hugs her.

“You’re not stupid, and he doesn’t hate you! He just hates the things that have come between you. But he loves you. He loves you and he wants your relationship to work.”

Dani pulls back after a moment.

“Just be honest. Just tell the truth, all of it. No more drama. No more lies, no more things unsaid. Just put out everything on the table and decide together what you want to do from there. Okay? It’ll be fine.”

Celia: “Did he say that?” Celia asks in a voice reminiscent of a child asking if Santa is real.

GM: “Yes, he did,” Dani nods.

“He also said, ‘The light of truth burns without a flicker in the depths of a house that is shaken with storms of passion and fear.’

Celia: There’s little enough space for Dani to breathe after that with Celia clinging to her as she does, arms thrown around her and face buried against her neck.

GM: Dani keeps hugging her and runs her hands along Celia’s back.

“I’m going to text him that you told me about my sire. I’m also going to tell him off for wanting to talk to him first. I think less drama and more honesty is the answer here.”

Celia: “You don’t think bringing that up is more drama?”

GM: “Like I said, and like he said, I think we should all just be honest with each other.”

Celia: Maybe she’s right.

Still, Celia has the feeling she’s landed in the center of an even worse storm.

“Dani?” she asks after a quiet moment, pulling away from the girl. “What does… what does that quote mean, exactly? I mean I get the gist, but for he and I..?”

GM: Dani’s answer to that question is interrupted when the boy returns. He’s accompanied by another young man with dark skin, short hair, and a clean-shaven face. He’s the taller of the two and dressed in an unbuttoned white button-up and black jeans.

“Sorry we took so long, ladies,” smiles Connor. He plants a hand on Celia’s and Dani’s shoulders and grins between them. “We’d have hurried back if I knew how hot you were.”

“Oh, you!” laughs the boy, stroking Connor’s back.

Celia: “Smooth,” smirks Celia, instantly moving from one personae to another. She offers almost-Randy (had he introduced himself?) his drink, but holds the second out of Connor’s reach.

“Pop quiz, darling. Who’s hotter?”

GM: “Oh, you’re way hotter than me,” Connor grins as he plops down on a nearby seat with his boyfriend.

Celia: “Mm, almost a party foul, you’re supposed to say your boyfriend. But I’ll allow it.” She offers him the drink.

GM: Connor raises it in almost-toast and drinks.

“I thought you were asking which of us,” Dani remarks with some amusement.

The boy giggles and sips his drink. “It was a good save.”

Celia: “That’s the trap,” Celia says, slinging an arm around Dani’s shoulders. “Watch him sweat while he tries to decide, then hand the drink over to his poor, forgotten boyfriend who dragged himself all the way to the Quarter from… where, again?”

GM: Dani giggles next and snuggles against Celia.

“Well, smarter answer, that you’re hotter than him.”

“All the way from the Quarter,” smirks Connor. “We live here.”

He and his boyfriend look Celia and Dani up and down.

“You two together?” the boyfriend asks slyly.

Celia: Locals. That’s messy, isn’t it. Perhaps Lady Luck has other plans for her this evening.

“We’re testing the waters,” Celia says, just as slyly. “My boyfriend and I split a few weeks back, so I thought I’d see what the other side has to offer.”

GM: Lady Luck already brought her a man in Randy’s likeness.

The boyfriend giggles and sips his drink.

“She’s a bluuuushing!”

Dani is blushing.

Celia: No doubt Dani’s brother would react poorly if she were to try anything with the girl. Not that she isn’t still tempted. She nuzzles Dani’s neck, nipping at the lobe of her ear.

“She’s shy,” Celia tells the boys. “Too many eyes on her in a place like this.”

GM: “How ’bout we go someplace with less eyes?” asks Connor, not missing a beat.

Celia: Those are the magic words.

Celia smiles at the pair and rises to her feet.

GM: Everyone else takes final pulls of their drinks and gets up.

“I’m Rachel. What’s your name?” Dani asks the boyfriend.

“Ryan,” he answers as the four make their way out of the club.

Celia: “What do you do, Ryan? And you, Smooth Talker,” she adds to Connor, winding her fingers through Dani’s so the kid doesn’t get any ideas.

GM: “Usually guys, though I’m okay with girls if there’s also a guy, too,” Ryan answers breezily.

Connor smirks. “We’re in college. Xavier.”

Celia: That young? Celia glances them over again.

“Studying what?”

GM: They look old enough to be legally drinking, though bars and clubs in the Quarter are notoriously lax about checking IDs.

“Well I’m doing engineering, but Ryan’s trying to get by on Fine Arts.”

“Ouch,” says Dani.

Celia: Celia smiles.

“What’s your medium?”

GM: “Theater,” he says. “I wanted to be a movie star when I was a kid, but ha ha, good luck making it in Hollywood today. But I knew I wanted to do acting and there’s less bullshit in theater. It’s just acting without any other bullshit, you know?”

“Purer.”

Celia: “Difficult,” Celia agrees with a nod, “unless you know someone.”

Celia knows someone. The right someone, too. She gives the kid another once-over, forcing herself to look past his resemblance to Randy.

GM: He’s shorter than Randy is, and wearing tight pants she has a hard time seeing Randy in. Perhaps also makeup too, if he follows her videos. It’s hard to see Randy wearing makeup.

“Well I mean that’s everything, right?” shrugs Connor.

“Yeah, but harder in some places,” says Ryan.

“Mmm, like here?” grins Connor, feeling up his boyfriend’s crotch.

Ryan laughs and swats him.

Dani glaces towards Celia, as if asking how she wants to handle things next.

She laughs along with the pair, then asks, “You two from here?”

“Nah, Charlotte,” says Connor.

“Austin,” says Ryan.

“Austin seems like a really fun city,” remarks Dani.

“Yeah, the whole city is basically one big college campus,” says Ryan.

Celia: It’s an idle thought, whatever it is that’s crossing her mind, and she wonders if this is how most Kindred find their future puppets. At bars, walking them toward their death, musing over whether or not it’s more practical to murder them or give them a boost. It’s hard to imagine her sire or grandsire meeting people like this, though.

And really, what’s the use of a movie star pawn? What’s the benefit there? She can think of a few. More than she’d been able to list for a governor.

“Quarter can’t be too big a change, then,” Celia says with a grin, “all the parties and debauchery.”

Austin is on the way to LA, isn’t it? Maybe she’ll pop by.

“Speaking of, is your place far?”

GM: “Oh the Quarter’s better,” says Ryan.

“It’s walkable, but we can take a Ryde if you want,” says Connor.

“I’m gonna change my shoes if we’re walking,” says Dani.

It’s been seven years since shoes pained Celia.

Celia: Good thing, too. Whoever designs heels must make them uncomfortable on purpose. Celia used to wonder why until she found out it’s usually a man.

GM: Emily had a lot to say about that too. “Of course guys don’t care about comfort when they don’t have to wear them.”

Celia: Emily has a lot to say about everything.

It makes her worry about how the rest of the night is going to go, and how deeply Celia wants to involve her in this life, or if she should find someone to erase the memories.

“Extras in your purse, Rachel? Clever.”

GM: Emily learns more and more about this life with every minute Diana spends with her.

“Yeah,” she says. “I like having the option if I want it.”

“You ladies wanna head back to our place or yours?” asks Connor.

Celia: “Yours.”

GM: “Works,” says Ryan.

Dani changes her shoes, though it’s a short enough trip back to the two’s apartment. It’s clean enough (“obviously because Ryan’s gay,” Connor says when Dani remarks) for a low-budget college student’s starter place. Rents in the Quarter aren’t the cheapest, but they’ve been able to make it work between being roommates, part-time jobs, and… “but you don’t wanna hear about that shit,” says Connor, already pulling off Celia’s dress as he pulls her onto the bed.

That says it all on which of them he thinks is hotter.

Celia: Despite herself, she does want to hear about that shit. Maybe it’s because he looks like Randy. Maybe it’s because some part of her, the part that wants to take care of her family after messing them up, thinks learning more about these two will absolve her of some of the guilt she feels over everyone she’s ever murdered. Maybe she sees it as another way to punish herself for the sins she’s committed: finally viewing these juicebags as real people with their own lives rather than just her next meal.

And maybe she just wants to make sure there aren’t any loose ends when she comes back to slaughter them.

But she doesn’t push, not when he’s already willing to bare his throat for her and let her sink in. She hadn’t planned on getting naked, not really, but the more attention paid to her the less is paid to Dani, and both huntress and girl agree that protecting the cub is worth showing a bit of skin.

She makes all the right noises when Connor touches her. She’s warm, inviting, friendly. She helps him out of his clothing, puts the attention on him rather than the newborn, brings in the boyfriend so he, too, has his memories fogged by the kiss. Celia breaks their skin with her fangs and lets Dani drink from one and then the other, and Celia does the opposite so that at all times the boys are ensnared with heady bliss, lost in the sensation of the Toreador’s well-practiced touch. And if a stray hand grazes Dani’s chest in the midst of this pretend fling, if Celia’s lips linger on her mouth after licking the blood from the corner of her lips for half a second too long, if her taut, toned, naked body presses against the girl in untamed desire and she breaks Dani’s skin with her teeth and lets the sour-sweet blood dance across her tongue (like a mortal, she thinks, pleased that Dani is practicing the shadow dancing, and even though she knows the truth she lets the lie fill her mouth)—well, that’s all just part of the experience, isn’t it?

It’s not sex. The act isn’t reciprocated. She’s only protecting Dani from feeling the full effects of the horror of being in bed with two men after suffering from a sexual assault not too long ago, clouding her mind to turn anxiety and distress to bliss. She prods her Beast as she suckles on the blonde, asking it if this blood, even disguised, will sate it beyond what a mortal can provide.

Is there a use for this plague of half-bloods or are they simply a drain on society, hoarding blood that their better-bred cousins deserve?

The thought makes her wonder about other implications. Other things she knows that she buries deep. And it makes her a generous master indeed when she recalls that Dani’s kind functions better with lick blood in their system, that it gives them access to a broad array of powers; Edith’s words float through her mind, the deeper they drink the stronger they get. With the ready availability of these two hapless kine Celia has no problem at all finishing her brief experiment on Dani’s blood to offer her own, slicing herself open so that her vitae trails in red rivulets between her—

No, no, it is sex, this is sex, this is sex with her lover’s sister, and the thought is enough to pull her from the spell, to reach for the glass of water one of the boys left on his nightstand and dump the contents onto the peace lily’s pot beside it, then bite her wrist to pour into the cup for Dani so that she does not need to lick the red from Celia’s chest.

Blood flows freely this evening. Everything Celia loses to the cub she takes back from the boys, and with Dani sated on Toreador vitae the kine are spared from the serious injury of overfeeding. The four pass time in a tangled mass of limb and lip, all of them sated when the magic ends. A wet spot on the mattress and another on the floor shows just how sated the kine are. Pale from blood loss, wounds licked shut, Celia avoids the worst of the semen-splattered stains when she arranges them neatly in bed like she would any drunk, watching their chests rise and fall in deep, even breaths after they lazily murmur their contentment with the evening.

Fast asleep, tucked in by the monster inside their home. It stirs an old memory, a dark hallway—

Celia washes the remnants of the bodily fluids from her with a quick rinse in the shower, dries, and puts her dress back on while Dani waits near the door. And if a set of keys happens to fall into Celia’s purse on the way out, well, that’s just the hazard of picking up girls in bars.

You never know who’s going to rob you blind.


Sunday night, 20 March 2016, PM

“Good score,” Celia says to Dani once they’re clear of the house.

GM: “Yeah,” says Dani.

She’s quiet for a bit.

“Is there another way to do this?”

Celia: “You don’t have to go home with them. Or get naked. They won’t usually remember. But my domain includes more than the clubs. You could learn to pick locks and feed on sleepers. Develop a herd, which are just vessels that let you feed. Not that you tell them what you’re doing,” she adds.

GM: “Oh. You mean like your mom?”

“Not that I’m asking to feed on her,” the thin-blood adds. “Is that just an example of what a herd is?”

Celia: “Sort of. She’s a ghoul. We don’t always use them as part of the herd. More like, for example, my clients at the spa.”

GM: “Ah. I’d feel better about doing this consensually, if that’s what a herd involves.”

“I’d only fed a couple times when we met.”

“I just got really close to guys on the dance floor and took a drink there.”

Celia: Celia nods. “Yeah, that’s how you were found, though. Find a private corner rather than doing it out in the open. Bathroom, maybe. Herd isn’t quite consensual, it’s just not violent. Telling them what you’re doing risks people finding out about us, which will get you into trouble.”

She thinks further.

“Blood bank,” she suggests. “You could buy it bagged, just reheat it. Or, ah, there’s a scene guy who walks around in all black claiming he’s a vampire and people let him drink from them because they think it’s kinky. Pretty sure he’s mortal, but you could try something like that too.”

“I’d maybe ask Rod, though. This and the spa is my MO.”

GM: Dani cracks a smile at the guy’s description. “That sounds bad for the Masquerade.”

“That’s a good idea, though. I’ll ask Stephen.”

“I don’t think picking up guys like this is my thing.”

Celia: “Girls?”

GM: “Thanks for… keeping them busy.”

Celia: “Mm. I figured you wouldn’t want them to touch you.”

GM: “I wonder if I could also feed on animals?”

Celia: “Oh.”

“Yeah.”

“You can.”

“I don’t, but some people do.”

GM: “Oh. That makes it a lot simpler.”

“The meat industry obviously produces tons of blood.”

Celia: It hadn’t even occurred to her. She doesn’t gain much sustenance from the blood of animals.

“Mhm,” she agrees. “Or you could adopt a bunch of pets. Some outlaws hunt bigger things. Thrill of the chase and all.”

GM: Dani cracks another smile. “I’d feel bad about feeding from dogs, honestly.”

“Makes me wonder, though…”

Dani pulls out her phone from her purse, taps into it, and reads,

“Where does the blood from a slaughter house go? The quantity is vast. It is stored in huge vats until tankers come to collect it. It is taken to rendering plants with blood processing facilities, or disposed of in sewers (which lead into the nearest water body), in landfills or spread over land. Some amount is used to make human food and animal feed.”

Celia: “Find a slaughter house nearby, see if you can buy wholesale.”

“Just, y’know, file for an LLC or something with your name not attached to it and buy it through that.”

GM: Dani scrolls through her phone some more, then looks up and smiles again.

“That’s just what I was thinking. I guess you could’ve been a lawyer too.”

Celia: “Doubt it.” But Celia smiles back all the same.

GM: “Hard to explain what you’re buying a bunch of animal blood for outside a business context like that.”

Celia: “Mm. You mentioned the food. Medical stuff too, I bet. Spa products, beauty things. A lot of… well, maybe not a lot of, but some skincare products use animal parts.”

“And plants. Well. Like they try to use more plants now, like stem cells and stuff.”

“Less controversial.”

GM: “Oh, that’s perfect! Maybe I could set it up so it gets delivered to Flawless? Add an extra layer of legitimacy and all.”

Celia: Celia considers the request. Bit of a tip off to get blood delivered to the spa when she’s already under suspicion, isn’t it?

“I’d, ah, ask your brother that too. Worried huge amounts of blood coming to the spa of a known lick is going to cause problems. He’ll have a better idea if we should use another cover. But if he thinks it’s not a problem then I don’t see why not.”

There you go, Rod, go on and make the hard decisions since you’re so dead-set on controlling everything. Tell your sister no.

“Sorry about last night,” she adds. “Didn’t mean to blow you off.”

GM: “Okay, I’ll do that,” Dani nods. “And it’s fine. I was wondering if I could come with you to church tonight, also? As Hannah. I want to see what that’s like.”

Celia: “That’s… dangerous,” Celia finally settles on. She stops walking, turning to Dani with a grave expression. “I don’t want to tell you how to live your life, but I don’t think you understand the hatred most of us have for your kind. They barely even let the clanless come, let alone half-bloods. You could pass as a servant, sure, but if you catch the wrong sort of attention? There’s no trial. Just execution.”

Celia reaches for her hand, imploring her to understand.

“I wasn’t going to bring it up, but I’m… kind of in trouble with the wrong people, and that’s why I told you to stay home last night. I have a feeling they might be watching me a little more closely right now because I pissed them off, and if you’re seen with me and they take a closer look…”

She shakes her head.

“I don’t want to put you in danger.”

GM: “But I thought I was safe unless someone tasted my blood. Why would someone do that?”

“Everyone basically just ignored me at that club we went to.”

Celia: “They’re breathers.” Celia considers a moment, then, “did you share blood with another lick recently?”

GM: “You, yes.”

Celia: “Besides me. Did Rod give you any?”

GM: “Yeah, he did.”

Celia: “Hm. I don’t think he’s a shadow dancer, but I guess he could have picked it up. You weren’t cloaking, were you?” Or is Celia just that much prettier than Dani that the girl fades into the background? Rude to ask, isn’t it.

“Did he use a cup?”

GM: “No, I wasn’t.” Dani looks a little puzzled by the question. “And yes, he did.”

Celia: “What did you pick up from him? Speed?”

“I’m just curious about that,” Celia admits. “The totem twisting. Since he and I are different.”

GM: “Speed,” Dani nods. “He’s really fast.”

“Though I’m sure you know that.”

Celia: “Yeah. I was just curious if you picked up anything else. And since I gave you a few hits, if you’ve got more than the charm…” Celia trails off. “Is he still in you? The speed? Because… like, okay, I guess if he thinks it’s okay if I bring you with me, but I really, really don’t want something bad to happen to you.”

“But come on. I need to get dressed anyway. Do you have your mask? You tell him you want to go and we’ll figure it out from there.”

GM: “I think so?” Dani answers Celia’s first question. “I feel pretty light on my feet.”

“And yeah, I have my mask.”

“I don’t see why I need to ask him, though. This is something I want to do.”

Celia: “Because if he finds out I enabled you to do something reckless he’s going to kill me.”

Hard to tell if she’s kidding or not.

GM: “Okay.” Dani fishes out her phone and fires off a text. The pair have since arrived back at their cars.

Celia: Celia doesn’t like how readily Dani accepts the idea of Stephen killing her.

“Follow me, then. You can raid my closet for this.”

GM: “Oh good, I was wondering what I should wear.”

Dani gets into her car and follows after Celia’s.

Celia: She’s moving soon. That’s what she tells herself when she leads Dani to the haven on the edge of the Quarter. Too many people have seen it for her to consider it secret anymore. So she’s moving. Soon. She’ll start looking for places tomorrow.

GM: Dani parks her car when they’re there, gets out, and reads her phone.

“Stephen said it’s not without risk, but it’s up to me. Also that I should probably be more worried about renfields than licks.”

“Since they’ll be the ones I sit with and who might actually talk to me.”

“He said there should be some kind of cover story for how we met and what I do for you.”

Celia: Would he have said the same if Celia had asked?

She leads Dani inside and kicks off her shoes on her way to the closet.

“Mm. Yes, I was going to say the same. You’re new, so we can use that to cover some ignorance, but mind your manners if nothing else. Sir and ma’am. Keep your fangs hidden. No talk of Celia. Or Stephen. Or that Jade and Rod speak to each other. Or that you go to Tulane. Or work in Mid-City.”

Celia browses the racks of clothes while she rattles off other similar instruction, occasionally holding something up to Dani to see how it might look.

“You’re not secretly an artist of any sort are you?”

GM: Dani kicks off her shoes too as she enters the heaven.

“Sorry, nope.”

She looks over the racks and racks clothes appreciatively.

“Also, wow. You have an incredible closet.”

Celia: Celia smiles at her. “Thanks. Feel free to browse. Something elegant but understated. You don’t want to look like you’re trying too hard. Maybe black. I’m going to do my face.”

GM: “Okay. Something I’d wear to a breather church?”

Celia: “You get all sorts at Elysium, but that’s an okay bet. I’ll tell you if it looks wonky.”

Celia picks up a kit that no doubt contains a multitude of makeup brushes and products, but before she goes she peers at the top of the closet, ignoring Dani for a moment. More than one emotion wars for dominance of her face, and it takes a few seconds for the slow smile to finally appear.

“Cute.” Her expression flickers. “But perhaps preemptive.”

Celia excuses herself to make the transformation into Jade, the eyes of her dolls following her.

Pic.jpg
GM: One less pair of eyes, now. Their numbers feel diminished without her.

But also, perhaps, more unified. The remaining ones were all made by her.

“Oh,” Dani’s voice calls out, “I don’t know if your mom mentioned, when you were over there, but I decided to move back in with my dad.”

Celia: “Yeah, don’t mention that either,” Celia calls back while she sculpts her face into Jade’s. “No hints of Uptown. You live in the Quarter, if anyone asks.”

GM: “I figured, yeah.”

Celia: “R&D,” comes her voice after another minute. “That’s what you do for me. Not even technically lying. If anyone presses for more than that you just play mum. It’s none of their business.”

GM: It hurts.

Like it always does.

Celia: It centers her, though. The pain. Moving from one form to another.

It reminds her who she is.

GM: “Oh, that’s a good idea. Hannah’s face is a little less, uh, ‘fabulous’ than Alana.”

Celia: “We could make you more fabulous.”

“If you ever want.”

GM: “You mean Hannah’s face?”

Celia: “Mhm.”

GM: “I wonder if not being noticed is better.”

Celia: Or both. She doesn’t care.

“Usually.”

“There’s a guy named Alan you could sit with. He talks enough for three people, let him fill the silences for you. You’ll know who he is by how hard you want to punch him in the face.”

GM: “I think Stephen mentioned that guy!”

“He tried to sell him a watch.”

“Wouldn’t shut up about it.”

Celia: Celia laughs.

“That’s him.”

GM: “He was just telling me some more about ghouls.”

Celia: “His domitor is a friend of mine.”

GM: “Would it help if I name-dropped you with him?”

Celia: “If he asks, just say you’re mine.”

GM: “Okay. Also, speaking of Alana. She said to talk with you about scheduling an appointment at Flawless, because you only take one or two a night and they’re important.”

Celia: “Tell him I told you that he swindled me out of twice the price for those earrings a while back, they were just too cute not to have.”

“Ah, yeah.”

“Feeding,” she says by way of explanation. She pauses to fix her lips in the mirror.

GM: “Oh. Alana didn’t say that.”

Celia: “Wait, when did you talk to Alana?”

GM: “During the day. You know, that whole time you’re sleeping?” Danny’s voice sounds ribbing.

Celia: “I have no idea what you’re talking about. I party all day.”

GM: “Ah, of course.”

“I’m amazed you pull it off with your family.”

“There’s just so much stuff that happens during the day.”

Celia: “That’s why we don’t keep families.”

“Too risky.”

GM: “Like, how do you handle birthday parties?”

Celia: “I send Alana sometimes.”

GM: “Lucy’s especially.”

Celia: “She can pass as Celia pretty well.”

GM: “That makes sense.”

“Me moving in with my dad isn’t going to cause any problems, is it?”

Celia: “Only if you get caught by McGinn’s goons.”

GM: “Who’s McGinn?”

Celia: “Regent of Uptown. Ventrue. Think he’s in the running for prince. Mm, Invictus. He’s… old school. Racist. Nazi type. Ran into his guys the other night and they’re all, uh, neonazis.”

GM: There’s a pause.

“That’s terrible.

Celia: “Married my aunt-in-blood, or… great aunt-in-blood? Who is… well, we have a complicated relationship.”

GM: “I’m not gonna get caught, am I, after that tattoo?”

Celia: “Not unless they drink your blood or see you feed or connect Dani to Hannah. Still safer in the Quarter, though.”

GM: “Okay. I can do all those things.”

“I just feel like it’s been really bad for my dad to live alone.”

“Your mom thought so too.”

Celia: “Could always carry a letter with you. Something like requesting an audience with whatever regent of the territory you’re in.”

GM: “Okay, so as a backup option if I get caught?”

Celia: “Yeah.”

GM: “That sounds good, can you write me one?”

Celia: “Will do.”

“Agree about your dad, though.”

GM: “Thanks. And yeah. I couldn’t stay with your family forever, we didn’t think, I’d basically taken over your mom’s bedroom.”

“But she thought it would be good for me to live with someone else too.”

Celia: Celia finishes fixing her face in the mirror and starts on her makeup. This evening, it’s dramatic as Hell.

“I agree there too. Shame Mom didn’t have an extra room, that was probably ideal. I’m probably letting go of my other haven soon. The one you were at that one night? Some young licks share places. I know you mentioned that before.”

“I don’t want to tell you what to do, I just think you’re safer in the Quarter.”

“Then again,” she muses, “I was picked up right outside the Evergreen, so fuck me.”

GM: “I’d be happy to share a place with you, still.”

“Picked up?”

Celia: “Last night. It’s why I told you to stay put.”

“Your brother mentioned maybe getting a place together.” There’s a hesitancy at the end of her statement, a soft lilt that suggests a question.

GM: “You mean for you guys? Yeah, that makes sense to share a place.”

Celia: “Dani?” Celia’s voice. The transformation might be complete, but the dead girl is still controlling the vehicle. “Did he tell you what happened?”

GM: “Uh. Think it might be better if we don’t go into that right now?”

Celia: “Probably,” Celia sighs.

The sound of a buzzer reaches Dani’s ears.

Like something vibrating at high frequency.

GM: “Hey, what’s that?”

Celia: “Trimming my hair.”

GM: “Oh. Stephen said it grows back literally overnight.”

Celia: “Yep. Getting creative tonight.”

GM: Dani walks in, carrying several black dresses with her. She pauses for a second when she sees Jade’s face.

“Geez. I just can’t get over how different you look.”

Celia: Jade catches her eyes in the mirror and smiles at her, fangs flashing.

“That’s the idea, darling.” She holds herself differently with this face. Straighter spine. Lower voice. She wears arrogance like a perfume.

GM: “Yeah, you even feel different too.”

“More… menacing.”

Celia: The smile grows. She turns to face Dani fully, unfolding from the stool in front of the mirror to rise, sliding across the floor.

“Do I scare you, newborn?”

GM: “A little, yeah.” Dani’s still just standing there with the dresses in hand. “I know you’re Celia, it’s just… such a total transformation.”

Celia: Jade stalks toward her with all the grace of the jungle cat whose form she’d stolen.

“Has to be,” she says as she circles the girl like a piece of meat. “Anything less than is sloppy. And I don’t like sloppy,” she whispers in Dani’s ear. Then she’s gone from behind her, standing still in front of the mirror with head cocked to one side. She runs her tongue across the points of her fangs as if she’s itching to sink them into the half-breed.

“Show me what you’ve chosen.”

GM: Dani’s eyes follow Jade warily.

Oh, Jade’s not actually physically striking the thin-blood, like she did Celia’s mother. Jade’s not telling this half-blood that she’s a slave who’ll be punished for getting out of line. Celia’s just changed her face and affect. It’s nothing to protest over, in of itself.

That’s how so many monsters throw their victims off-balance.

Little things. Nothing big enough to make a big deal over.

Dani holds up the dresses.

“Well, as you can see.”

Celia: Celia peruses the selection as Dani lays them out.

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She shakes her head at the first three, pointing out flaws. Too imperious. Too formal. Too on-the-nose.

GM: “I guess they are a little eye-grabbing, yeah,” Dani says, acknowledging the problems.

“That’s a lot of your stuff.”

Celia: “This one, though.”

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“I like this one.”

GM: “Oh. That’s a little risque.”

Celia: “There’s a sheer top you can put under it to cover the girls.”

GM: “That works. Does it have sleeves? I think they’d ruin the look.”

Celia: “No. It’s not a real shirt. Just a cover when things dip too low.”

“Open back, so you won’t ruin that, either.”

GM: “Oh good, that’s perfect.”

Celia: Jade smiles again. It’s a sharp smile, but there’s some measure of warmth to her eyes all the same.

“Excellent.”

“Your brother told me to tell you the truth,” she says in an offhand manner, looking down at her nails while Dani no doubt deliberates where to change (as if Celia hasn’t seen a naked body before).

GM: Dani gathers up the dresses in her arms but doesn’t take off her clothes yet. Perhaps intending to do so in another room.

“What about?”

Celia: Jade waves her hand at Dani, dismissing her to change. She doesn’t bother hiding herself when she strips once more from her own dress, selecting a new pair of panties for the evening before she reaches for her gown.

“I have DID. That’s why I feel different.”

GM: Dani leaves. Celia can faintly hear the unzip of her pants.

“You mean, multiple personality disorder?”

Celia: Was it her nudity that sent the girl scampering? Jade seems amused.

“No one calls it that anymore. But yes.”

GM: “Huh, okay. That’s good you know and can be open about it.” Celia hears Dani taking off her pants.

Celia: “It doesn’t really bother me,” Jade says, sliding the black thong up her lean legs. “But it bothers him.”

GM: “Does it interfere with your daily life?”

“I know it can be comorbid with a lot of other disorders.”

Celia: “That’s a rather complicated question. Yes and no.”

GM: “How so?”

Celia: “Celia is the base, right? The first. And Jade is the lick. And there are others, but we’ll stick with those two for now. They want different things. So it’s like being pulled in a bunch of different directions, and neither one of them ends up happy, and they don’t mean to but they tend to fuck each other over.”

GM: “That sounds like a problem, then.”

“I don’t know how this would work for licks, but DID is obviously treatable with breathers.”

Celia: “He wants me to see someone.”

“To fix it.”

“He says it’s imaginary.”

“That it’s just in my head.”

“That what they do for me isn’t real.”

GM: “What they do for you?”

Celia: “And I don’t know how I feel about that, because Jade…” The girl falters at the question. “Yes. What they do for me.”

GM: “You were saying something about Jade?”

Celia: “She plays the lick game so Celia can play the human game.”

GM: “Celia’s definitely the nicer-feeling one.”

Celia: “Only because you haven’t met Leila.”

GM: “What does Leila do for you, if Jade lets you play the lick game?”

Celia: “She’s… happy. Untouched by all of this.”

GM: “I think it would be healthier if you could integrate all of those feelings and behaviors into your, what’s the term, core personality.”

“All of us are different people in different circumstances. I’m not the same person around my dad that I am with you, or with Stephen, or at work. That’s normal. But I’m still Dani around all of those people.”

Celia: Harlequin had said no one else would understand.

“Mm,” is all she says.

GM: “You don’t agree?”

Celia: “I don’t think it’s the same.”

“And I think his insistence on fixing it is going to damage me further.”

GM: “You say Celia and Jade have been fucking each other over, though. How so?”

Celia: “Celia,” the word is accompanied by such a hard roll of the eyes that Dani can hear it, “is a sap who still believes in love.”

“Jade’s a bit of a cunt. She’s not just fucking me, she’s fucking everyone else, too.”

“Celia is mad that she’ll never get her 2.5 kids and white picket fence. She has a tendency to look—”

“Preston said Jade is pathet—”

“Because you got all weepy on Savoy’s—”

“They’re both wrong,” sighs another voice.

GM: Dani pops back out. She looks like she’s found the top. She’s got on her black sandal heels that she wore out to the club.

There’s wariness on her features. But seemingly more for Celia than at Celia this time.

“Can I ask who just said that?” she asks slowly.

Celia: “Me,” the girl says, as if that explains everything. After a brief second of hesitation she points at herself.

GM: “What’s your name?” Dani asks.

Celia: “Leila.” She smiles, eyes sparkling in delight. “You’re Dani. I know you. You spilled peas once an’ Celia told you how she spilled salad and Daddy was mad. Grampa said she’s… um, he said she’s from the heavens, an’ she’s a flower, so that’s why I’m Leila. Leilani. Star flower. But don’t call me ‘Lani ’cause Joshy does an’ that’s our special thing, ’kay?” The girl sits back on the stool in front of the mirror, kicking her feet while she looks around the haven.

“Didju see the closet? It’s real big. Chase gave her lotsa shinies. Are you gonna wear a shiny? Ceels has, um, she has a—” The voice cuts off in a giggle. “—secret!” she finishes loudly.

GM: “Hi, Leila. It’s nice to meet you,” Dani ventures.

She pauses for a second, then seems to roll with it.

“I probably won’t wear a shiny. I don’t want to stand out too much.”

Celia: “Yeah ‘cause I was gonna say that you can’t wear a necklace ‘cause too much goin’ on up top, but you could do a bracelet or a pair of earrings. Do you have your ears pierced? Did it hurt?”

GM: “I might wear some small earrings. And I do. And it wasn’t too bad. Being scared was worse. I actually chickened out the first time and my mom had to drive me in twice.”

Celia: Leila nods solemnly, eyes wide.

“Mine are clip-ons,” she says in a loud whisper, then presses a finger to her lips.

Dani can see that the earrings dangling from her lobes are in no way clip-ons.

GM: Dani looks at them, then finally nods and gives a wide ‘definitely rolling with this’ smile.

“Smart,” she says.

GM: “Those are some really pretty clip-ons.”

Celia: “Thanks! Chase gave me them. He’s my best friend. Don’t tell him I said that. Don’t tell Alan, either or he’ll tell Chase and then Joshy might find out and I think he thinks he’s my best friend and he’s okay but— oh! Tell Alan, yeah, tell Alan that you need a phone. No, two phones. No, THREE! And one of them has to be pink!” Leila picks up Celia’s purse to rifle through the contents. She finds a stack of bills and pulls them out, waving them at Dani.

“She’s got a lotta money in here, that’s a lotta phones, did you know she has a gun?” Leila looks at Dani, eyes wide. “She dunno how to shoot, though, maybe it’s—oh, Steve was gonna show her, but then also he didn’t, and also I got a book from the liberry do you think he’ll read it to me? Oh! Did he tell you about the bat? It flies.” She flaps her arms to demonstrate. “And he’s got a leash. Two! Two leashes. Are you ready? We gotta go soon. Can you drive? I don’t have a license. Don’t tell Alan I said he’s a butthead when you ask for the phones because I like him even though he talks a lot and I don’t really think he’s a butthead he’s actually kinda nice even though he likes Clem have you met her she’s kind of mean and…”

On she goes.

GM: “She doesn’t?” Dani asks with a frown, but is swiftly drowned out by the childlike alter’s torrent of speech.

She regards it with something between puzzlement and amusement, then glances at her phone.

“Uh, can I talk to Celia, please?” Dani asks, looking up.

“Or Jade? ’Cuz we need to get going pretty soon.”

Celia: “No one ever wants to talk to me,” Leila mutters, crossing her arms.

A moment later they uncross, and the girl rises to her feet.

“We should head out.”

GM: “Uh. So, that was a change,” says Dani, following after Celia.

Celia: “She’s easily excitable,” Celia says by way of explanation. She does have Dani drive, stating that it would be weird for Hannah to show up by herself.

“The burners from Alan aren’t a bad idea, either.”

GM: “Oh. Almost forgot.” Dani fits on the mask and double-checks herself in the mirror.

“You think so? She seemed pretty, uh, excitable, like you say.”

“I wasn’t sure if the idea was from her or you.”

Celia: “Lost my phone last night. The one before that was broken a week ago.” Celia shrugs. “Never hurts to have extras.”

Celia asks if she can borrow Dani’s phone in the meantime, navigating to Cadabra to have a new Solaris shipped overnight to her.

She throws in a few burners while she’s at it, nixing the idea of asking Alan.

All this business with the hunters and the Guard made her realize that, though convenient, a smartphone is only going to get her into trouble.

GM: Dani hands it over.

“Oh, I’m sorry. If you’re losing them often, might just order two.”

“Regular phones, that is, on top of the burners.”

Celia: Celia laughs. “Yeah, I did last time and I’m still down to zero.”

But she adds an extra Solaris to the order.

GM: Dani follows her out to Celia’s car.

“So, does she interfere with your life? Leila, that is?”

Celia: “Not really.”

“She talks a lot.”

A little too much, but Dani hadn’t seemed to realize.

GM: “Well, I guess that’s harmless next to the fight you and Jade sounded like you were having.” She gets in on the driver’s side after Celia unlocks the vehicle.

Celia: Celia hands over the keys and gives her the address. She shrugs, eyes turning to the window.

“We don’t need to talk about it.”

GM: “No, I’m okay! If there’s a problem, I want to help you fix it.”

Celia: “Jade’s a manipulative cunt that ruins everything and Celia is a spineless doormat that thinks she’s in love.”

GM: “I think Celia’s right. You are in love.”

“Celia definitely feels nicer, too.”

Celia: “In love with someone who abuses her,” she says shortly, crossing her arms, “who thinks she’s stupid, who has said she’s stupid, so why—why? Why cling to that. It’s like being Diana.

GM: The old Diana, anyways.

Celia: All Celia needs is to merge herself with a doll, too.

GM: There’s a pause for a moment.

“Oh,” Dani says.

Celia: Yeah. Oh.

GM: “That’s not how he said it was.”

Celia: She effects a snort, unsurprised that he’d paint himself as some sort of hero.

“No. I bet not.”

“He told you I cheated. That I lied. That I’m a whore. That we’re taking a break until I fix it.”

“That I’m desperate for attention and paint myself as a victim.”

“That I’m a black hole and ruin everything I touch.”

“That about right?”

GM: Dani opens her mouth, holds it open for a bit, then finally says,

“Celia, is there any way I can help you two? Or do you just want to end things?”

“Because, whatever else, ending a relationship isn’t abusive.”

Celia: “Why, am I right? Is that what he said?”

GM: “I think I’m just going to make things worse jumping in and that maybe you should talk to each other.”

Celia: Bitter laughter fills the car.

“Yeah. That’s gone well the last few times. Ask him how dinner went tonight. Ask him what he did last night when I called him for help because I was scared because I was being followed and he said he’d always protect me. Ask him what that promise meant last night when I begged him to meet me so I wasn’t alone. Ask him,” she snarls, “if he gave me a second thought when I was abducted and tortured while I was on the phone with him.

GM: “Wait, you got tortured? What happened?!”

Celia: “Nothing,” Celia mutters, looking out the window again. “I survived. Nothing a little blood won’t fix. Why don’t you ask him about that, too.”

GM: “Well… okay, look. Things between you and Stephen feel really toxic, and it feels like you’ve had a lot of baggage for a while now.”

“I guess, do you still want to be in a relationship with him, or do you not?”

Celia: Celia doesn’t say anything.

GM: “I still want you in my life either way.”

Celia: Not for long moments.

Then, finally,

“I bought a dress, you know. Years ago. When we got back together.”

“He said he wanted to get married, and I bought a stupid dress.”

GM: “I don’t think that was stupid.”

“I bet it’s a great dress.”

Celia: “It doesn’t matter now. He only wants to marry ‘Celia’ to get close to my dad so he can wield some political power.”

“And if I wanted to be with someone who calls me stupid I could date any other lick in the city.”

“You know the Mafioso your brother hates so much treats me better than he has?”

GM: “…how well do you know that mafioso next to Stephen?”

“Because those people are monsters, Celia, just the worst of the worst.”

Celia: “Then what does it say that he’s never been unkind to me but your brother has?”

GM: “How much time have you actually spent with him? How well do you actually know him?”

“And why are you even spending time with a mobster to begin with?”

Celia: “So I could find your sire.”

GM: “Oh,” says Dani.

“I’m grateful for that, Celia.”

“I’m sorry I made you have to deal with a mobster.”

Celia: It’s not like Roderick is any better at this point.

Celia doesn’t bother saying it again.

GM: “But I’d ask again, how well do you actually know this guy.”

Celia: “Jesus Christ,” Celia mutters, “about as well as I know the asshole that took over for your brother on Thursday.”

GM: “Sorry?”

“Actually, never mind. So do you want to break up, if he calls you stupid and only cares about political power, and stay together if he doesn’t?”

Celia: “I don’t know,” she finally admits. “There’s… it’s complicated, and now that he knows everything I told him it’s more complicated, and I’m not interested in being blackmailed or pushed around for the rest of my unlife, so fuck me for telling the truth when he asked.”

GM: “I think your guys’ problems go back a lot earlier than this, Celia, and that it’s dishonesty that caused them in the first place.”

Celia: “And if he says something to the wrong person I’m the one who’s going to lose for it.”

“I didn’t lie to him because I wanted to. I lied to him because I had to, because him knowing the full story would get him killed.”

GM: “If you break up neither of you should do that. You should just leave each other alone.”

“And I don’t agree about lying because you had to. That’s what is getting him off so much. He feels like you always defend and justify the lying, and don’t see it as wrong, and that’s why he feels like he can never be sure if you’re going to keep lying, because you don’t see a problem with it.”

Celia: “Okay, Dani. I tell you that someone threw my mother off the roof to teach me a lesson. What’s your response?”

GM: “Uh.”

Celia: “I tell you that this same person broke every bone in my body to teach me another lesson. What’s your response?”

GM: “Fuck them.”

Celia: “Yeah. Fuck them. Now let’s say they’re a big scary bad guy. Then what?”

GM: “Get help.”

Celia: “Now say you’re Stephen, and you’ve got a boner for justice and morality, and you hear the girl you love is being abused and that her family is in danger. You’re fast and strong and immortal. What do you do?”

GM: “You take out the bad guy.”

Celia: “That’s the fucking problem, Dani, that’s why I fucking lied to him, because he can’t. Because he’d want to and he can’t because he’d fucking lose.”

“And it would be my fault for telling him.”

“But hey, maybe that’s shitty justification.”

GM: “So, why didn’t you tell him that? Why not just tell him what the situation was and decide what to do together?”

Celia: “Maybe not wanting him to die is a terrible fucking thing.”

“Because he’d want to know why I was dealing with the bad guy, and why I can’t walk away, and oops, if I tell him that he dies again.”

GM: “You’re lying to him and treating him like a child, though. He can make decisions about his own safety. What gives you the right to decide he can’t?”

Celia: “Losing him broke me. Even knowing he was out there, just unreachable, that was devastating. How do you think it’s going to feel if something I say to him gets him killed because he misjudged?”

GM: “It’s not about you, though.”

“It’s about him.”

“You owe it to him to be honest about that stuff.”

“Just like he’d owe it to you to be honest if he was in the same situation.”

“Stephen isn’t an idiot, either. He’s smart. Yeah, I know, we hear it a lot, but he is. If something is as suicidal as you’re making out, I think he’d be smart enough to recognize that and come at the problem from another angle.”

“I mean, doesn’t that sound so much healthier to just be honest and decide what to do together, than get caught in a bunch of lies that destroy your trust?”

Celia: “It’s a little late for that now, isn’t it.”

GM: “Yeah, the milk is spilled, but ultimately, do you think the lying was okay, or do you not?”

“Because if you do think it was okay, then I think you should break up. It’s just too big a thing not to see eye to eye on.”

Celia: “Okay.”

GM: “So, is that a yes or a no?”

“Because if you don’t think it was okay, then I think you need to apologize for it, really sincerely apologize, and be honest going forward. No more lies.”

“About anything.”

Celia: “It was an okay, as in okay I hear you, as in okay I understand what you’re saying, okay I need to think about it, okay I need to decide if I’m fine with what he did in response.”

“Not,” she adds bitterly, “that it’s even going to matter after next week.”

GM: “Sorry?”

Celia: “I have a task to complete. I’m pretty sure I only get a week. And if not, I die. Mom dies. Emily and Lucy die. The boys die. Alana dies. They’ll probably kill everyone at Flawless just to be thorough.”

She’s not sure if it’s an exaggeration. If they’ll drag her back in. If she can extend the time. If she can give them something else should she fail at her task.

“So, you know,” she continues, “just vampire things.”

GM: Dani’s mouth falls open, but before she can respond, Celia sees the pair have arrived at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. They look as if they are barely on time. The last attendees are already making their way inside.

Celia: “Oh look. We’re here. Mask up, Hannah. It’s showtime.”

GM: “Uh, gimme a bit to find a parking space, first.”

There’s no time. Rocco and Wright are both standing outside the cathedral doors. It looks like seconds until they close.

Celia: “No time.” Jade jerks the wheel into a handicapped space and throws it into park, then yanks the keys out of the ignition.

Let them ticket or tow her. She could use a mundane problem after the shitshow her Requiem has become.

She hauls Dani out of the car and throws her bodily over her shoulder, nudging the door shut with her heel before she takes off in a sprint, her clan’s preternatural speed turning her into a blur. Shadow obscures her face as she runs, natural darkness hiding her body, and any eyes peeking outside or down the block are strangely captivated by the large purple hat someone had drawn onto the side of a building, wondering what—

Well, it doesn’t matter what they wonder, by the time the thought finishes occurring Jade has cleared the doors and set Hannah down inside, pleased to deny the Guard a chance to slam them in her face.

Mask up, she reminds herself as they move forward. It’s showtime.

GM: Dani makes a surprised yelp as Jade hoists her up like a sack of potatoes.

The two hounds promptly seize the Toreador and her ‘ghoul’ and hold them fast as she blurs inside the cathedral, pinning their arms to their sides.

Celia: Were she less durable, being snatched out of her headlong flight might steal the breath from her lungs or leave her with a handful of broken bones and bruises. Captured by two of the Guard before she can even enter the building leaves her breathless for a different sort of reason, and this evening she’s glad for the mask wrapped so tightly against her skin.

“Good evening, Hound Agnello, Hound Wright.” Polite. Respectful. Deferential even, and not in the grudging way, the words accompanied by a dip of her head to both of them (even the baby-faced Gangrel that holds her arms to her sides, awkward though the motion is with him behind her).

GM: “Hey, turbo-racing inside church, that’s nice,” says Wright. He’s the one holding Hannah, who remains very still in the Brujah’s grip.

“Good evening, Miss Kalani,” says Rocco, who’s holding Jade, with a very mean-looking smile.

“Oh, you’re kidding! Kalani just broke the Masquerade!” exclaims Amaryllis, clearly relishing the chance to take a pot shot against Jade.

“Off with her head!” smiles Katherine Beaumont, no doubt equally relishing the chance to pounce on Veronica’s childe. “Right here in church, the gall! Really, what was she even thinking?”

“She wasn’t, obviously, the poor dear,” piles on Marguerite Defallier. “Really, Veronica, we’d expect yours to know better…”

The crowd ripples with predatory smiles and furious whispers.

Blood is scented in the air.

Celia: She wonders if, when she dies, it’ll be just her mortal life that flashes before her eyes, or if snippets of her Requiem will make the highlight reel as well. Her eyes sweep past the murder (as well they can given Beaumont’s bulk) to search the sea of sharks for a friendly-ish face.

GM: It’s a full house. The pews are packed with Kindred. All of Elysium’s regulars look as if they are there, and some non-regulars as well to boot.

Celia: Not that any of them will put their necks on the line for her. They’re not that sort. Even if they wanted to—why would they?—their own masks of cruelty or loyalty keep them firmly glued to their seats. She can hardly call on sire or grandsire to bail her out in front of the congregation.

Jade glances back toward the decidedly empty street in front of the church. Midnight on a Sunday, who do they really think she broke the Masquerade in front of? Especially with the streetlights out as they are.

Masks, though. There’s a thought.

Her eyes find Ryllie’s, lips pulling up at the corners in some amusement at the thought of the blood-bound trollop crying Masquerade breach.

Celia: “Darling, it’s dark outside, or didn’t you notice the streetlights are out? We might be able to see in pitch black, but the poor kine can’t. Hard to expose myself if I’m dancing through darkness isn’t it?” Her smile shows teeth. “Bit above your paygrade to cry foul on the Masquerade when there’s a regent to do it for you. Unless you’re implying you’re part of his krewe? But, ah, given your collar…” She trails off with a shrug.

Maybe she wouldn’t have noticed if Behemoth—er, Beaumont—hadn’t converged on her, but Jade’s eyes lock onto the form skulking behind the opera singer and the wheels in her head begin to turn.

Masks, indeed.

“Regardless,” Jade says, returning her attention to the pair of hounds, “I’d wanted to warn you privately, since so many already heard about those holes in your condom, but since you’ve denied me the opportunity… there’s a spy in your midst.”

Jade smiles winningly at the congregation.

“Hope no one has said anything particularly scandalous.”

GM: As soon as the words ‘Masquerade breach’ are out, they’re like blood in the water. All eyes within the cathedral hungrily rest upon the newest two entrants. For a moment, Jade wonders if she will be in the unenviable position of attempting to defend herself against the social onslaught. It is so much harder to prove innocence than guilt.

But this is why Jade Kalani and not Celia Flores wears the girl’s face. The Toreador’s confident smugness and assured demeanor, even manhandled as she is by the hounds, seems to give pause to the would-be shot-takers—pause enough for a second voice to interject.

“Hard indeed,” chuckles Antoine Savoy, rising from his seat. The elder Toreador is dressed tonight in a white leisure suit as he inclines his head towards the front of the cathedral. “I can attest as to Miss Kalani’s proficiency in occulto. I’m quite confident no kine saw her, and that Bishop Timotheus’ first tradition remains faithfully observed.”

“In the future, Miss Kalani, mindfulness of the hour would better facilitate your punctuality than Caine’s gifts,” rings an answering voice from the front of the cathedral.

Philip Maldonato stands behind the preacher’s pulpit, dressed for this evening in a double-breasted gray suit. Jade has rarely had cause to speak with the seneschal before, and according to Veronica, that state of affairs should suit her more than fine. The elder Cainite is a slender and exceedingly tall individual who stands around a head over most men. His skin is dusky and smooth, with only the merest hint of the wrinkles of age around his deep-set almond eyes. The Moor’s grave features could be carved from stone at Jade’s last words. Though his gaze initially meets Antoine Savoy’s, it finally turns to regard the younger Toreador.

Philip_Maldonato_Large.jpg
“Mindfulness and piety would both have minimized your disruption to the evening’s proceedings, young one. You stand within a house of God. Comport your tongue appropriately if you wish to remain within His house.”

Celia: Maybe, she reflects as Savoy himself literally rises to her defense, maybe he likes her more than she’d feared after… well, after everything. Particularly after last night.

Any relief that thought brings is short-lived when the seneschal himself addresses her. Jade bows her head, eyes on the floor in a suitably subdued manner at the reprimand.

“Yes, Seneschal Maldonato. I apologize for the vulgarity of my statement.”

GM: The hounds release Jade and Hannah. The ‘ghoul’ masks it well enough if she’s afraid of the hounds, but still glances after her ‘domitor’.

Savoy, meanwhile, resumes his seat among the front-most pews, which also include Coco, Opal, Chastain, Accou, and Sundown. The Baron would doubtless have a place if he attended Elysium, and Gabriel Hurst enjoys one too, albeit by dint of his position than his own merit.

Jade’s sire stands behind the seneschal, cold and dark, along with the other priests—Elgin, Doriocourt, Morrow, d’Gerasene.

As ever, no recognition alights his frigid eyes.

The rows behind Savoy and his fellows include the harpies, regents, and other high-climbing ancillae. Behind them are the Natasha Prestons, Randolph Cartwrights, and Peter Lebeauxes—the Kindred at the middle of the pack. The rows behind them hold the more indolent ancillae and the neonates who’ve achieved something of worth with their Requiems—where Jade is expected to sit. The rows behind them, last of all among Kindred, are the nobodies and the nothings with nothing to their names. The ghouls sit behind these youngest of all vampires, divided into their own pecking order their masters care nothing for.

Celia: Her sire pretending not to know her? There’s a shock.

Licks who care more about preserving their delicate sensibilities over the word “condom” than a spy because a Bourbon pointed it out? Another shock. Christ, what a world they inhabit. It’s like the elders and ancillae who get their panties in a wad over being called “Ms.”

Jade nudges Hannah toward the man in the stolen mask, himself sitting at what she assumes to be the lower end of the pile of ghouls. The place where no Kindred would even bother to look because it’s so far beneath their purview.

Which, of course, makes it perfect for a spy.

She’s pleased with Hannah’s composure in the face of adversity, anyway. So far she’s been quick on the uptake. No doubt she’ll understand the role Jade intends for her by directing her toward the spy, who has a decidedly un-punchable face and thus can’t be Alan.

It’s a subtle gesture, the one she gives Hannah. A quick brush of her hand against the ghoul’s as if quite by accident, a tap, a second, a third on the center of her palm. It’s no Morse code, but it’s a signal all the same: three seats deep, that’s who he is.

Jade herself moves past the rows of ghouls and nobodies and takes the open seat next to the most indolent ancilla of them all, her favorite art thief in the whole wide world. She winks at him as she slides onto the pew beside him, then turns her eyes forward.

It’s going to be a very interesting Elysium.


Monday night, 21 March 2016, AM

GM: Donovan delivers the evening’s sermon. The sheriff is a powerful and resonant speaker, whose dark presence seems to fill the entire cathedral. The crowd hushes as though outside under a falling snow. Though Jade’s sire speaks at length, his words are clipped and his sentences are short. It feels like there is so much more he could say, making his chill words all the more precious for their seeming scarceness.

There is perhaps no one to whom they are more precious than Jade. She catches them like falling snowflakes, yet they chill her hands and are gone forever as soon as she does.

Donovan’s sermon chiefly concerns witch-hunters and the threat they pose to the Sanctified’s holy mission. The recently ordained father’s message centers around a passage from the Rule of Golgotha:

“Each one of us is but one starving wolf, culling sheep in the dead of night; through the fellowship of lance and of chapel are we brought together to serve a higher Purpose. Remember that one wolf may be bested by a single youth, but a pack of wolves strikes fear into even the strongest of warriors.”

Communion is administered to the faithful from a bled vessel with much pomp and ritual. No expression passes the face of Jade’s sire when he lets a droplet of transubstantiated vitae fall upon her tongue.

Maldonato convenes court when mass is concluded and announces with a heavy heart that Bishop Malveaux has met final death at the hands of witch-hunters.

The bishop perished nobly in the archdiocese’s defense and destroyed a cell of witch-hunters whose perfidious designs would surely have destroyed further Kindred. The hunters’ corpses are paraded before Elysium. The exsanguinated and barely alive survivors, whose blood was used in the week’s communions, are beheaded by Donovan.

Several Kindred with grudges against Bishop Malveaux were found to worked alongside the hunters, who used and manipulated them to help bring about the bishop’s final death. Each criminal is barefoot and clad in chains and sackcloths. Donovan executes each of them by beheading: Tina Baker, Allison Eskew, Desirae Wells, and Sterling (“The Man With The Silver Smile”).

There are plenty of faces in the crowd that do not look happy. Many, also, look relieved it wasn’t their heads on the chopping block.

Camilla Doriocourt, Maldonato announces, will succeed Bishop Malveaux as bishop. Her consecration will take place next week at the hands of Cardinal Arechavaleta.

Doriocourt is also formally granted permission on Prince Vidal’s behalf to sire a new childe.

Deacon Benson, Maldonato announces, will also be ordained as a priest next week, concurrently with Bishop Doriocourt and at the new bishop’s own hands.

Elsbeth von Steinhäuser and Erwin Bornemann proudly announce that a fledgling of their clan, Kyrstin Grey, successfully discovered the location of Josua Cambridge’s illicit sire, who was apprehended by the Guard de Ville (with further help from Grey). She is likewise dressed in chains and a sackcloth as she’s paraded barefoot before Elysium. She’s a tall, thin, and green-eyed girl who looks no older than 15. Jade has never seen her before.

Josua applauds Grey with the rest of Elysium, but anger smolders in his eyes at the sight of his sire. He and Grey will both be formally released next week; a great honor for both neonates, as Prince Vidal and Cardinal Arechavaleta will both be present to lead the ceremony.

Marcel asks if he might hold “this criminal”, who is named as Julia Cammeron, aboard the Alystra pending her execution next week. Maldonato briefly considers and grants the ex-prince’s request.

Father d’Gerasene, finally, is leaving New Orleans. The Nosferatu announces he has received a vision from one of the Black Saints calling him elsewhere “upon a holy errand” to do the Dark Prophet’s work. Maldonato states the prayers of the faithful will go with him.

Celia: Jade, like the rest of the Sanctified, follows the sermon closely, says the right words at the right time, and takes communion from Father Donovan. When the formality of mass is over and court begins she makes sure to keep a discrete eye on the man with the stolen mask so that any attempt to flee is waylaid.

Her primary attention, however, remains on the court proceedings. Interesting, isn’t it, how as soon as she cries foul on the bishop’s disappearance and points toward a suspect the Guard does everything in their power to wrangle up a handful of patsies. It must be coincidence that Preston’s claim about people missing from Elysium is so neatly wrapped with a bow by the offended party.

And she should have been up there. She doesn’t forget the snarling face of the Gangrel who had ambushed her right outside perceived safety, his weight on top of her pinning her to the ground. The snide remarks of the black hound, and the way one of his goons had fondled her while she lay helpless. Or the fire that licked across her skin for daring to call Savoy “Lord.” The bite of metal in her flesh for a lie that wasn’t a lie.

Up there, executed before the rest of the city. Head stolen from her neck by her own sire’s blade. Would he have felt something for her then? Lost his frosty composure in front of the rest of the city? Or would Savoy have found a way to bail her out, and if not would he have turned her into a martyr for his cause?

She does not look away from the executions, does not shrink or cower from what might have been. What might have been is not what is. She’d freed herself. Used her own tools to get out. Assisted, yes, but not rescued.

She is no longer a damsel.

So she watches, silent and still, and any who happen to look her way might see the curl to her lip as she takes in the Hardliners’ dog and pony show. Who exactly do they think they’re fooling?

The rest of court is unsurprising in that she knows what’s coming, though Grey had implied she’d be released this week rather than next, and Benson had said the same regarding her ordainment. The cardinal is a new twist, then.

So is Josua’s sire. No doubt Grey found the bitch using the blood she’d taken from him the night Jade had walked in on them fucking, much the same as Jade herself has used such things. An interesting turn of events, and one that she wouldn’t mind getting into once she hears that the sire will be held aboard Marcel’s boat. Perhaps she’ll finally get her painting back.

Speaking of licks doing the Guard’s job for them… Jade waits for the right moment to bring the spy forward.

GM: Jade sees the “spy” get up to leave with some other ghouls mid-way through court proceedings.

Celia: She’s just picking up on all sorts of sneaks lately, isn’t she.

Jade isn’t the only lick to rise when the assorted ghouls do, who are no doubt following their domitor’s lead. She meets Hannah’s gaze as she does, giving a terse nod as her lean legs, made longer by the heels, swallow the ground. They might not serve the kine very well, but Jade has never had a problem moving quickly in stilettos. Veronica had made sure of it.

Even so, her Beast salivates at the thought of giving chase to someone fleeing before it. It’s such a rare thing that she gets to pursue, such a rare thing indeed for the predator used to “ordering in.” It sends the blood spinning through her body, propelling her across the floor toward the breather like a fox towards its hare, eagerly anticipating the rich reward of blood in its fragile, human body.

Jade approaches the spy from behind and reaches out to snag him by the collar.

GM: The nondescript-looking man has fair skin, brown hair, brown eyes, and is dressed in black slacks and a white button-up. No one runs, just walks. Jade and Hannah catch up in time to snag him by the collar before he can exit the church’s double doors. The man freezes in place, but doesn’t cause a scene. Rocco and Wright trade looks.

Rocco walks up to the trio, smiles at Jade, and whispers,

“Unhand him, Miss Kalani, if you don’t want me to kill your ghoul later.”

He gently picks up Jade’s hand to remove it from the ‘ghoul’.

Celia: Slowly, Jade uncurls her fingers. For a brief moment it just looks like the pair are holding hands. She wonders if anyone sees. What they think, if they do. What rumors will spread from this.

“I’d wondered where he’s gotten to,” she says in a whisper, her smile positively feral. “Let me know if you’re swinging by, darling, I’ll leave the window open so we can have another tussle on the floor. Bring that big piece of wood again, hm? I’ll show you how to use it.” She winks. Then she’s gone, disappearing into the night with Dani at her heels to find the hunter on her own terms.

GM: “Oh, I think you’ll see me sooner rather than later, Miss Kalani,” smiles the hound as she makes good her exit.

Hannah follows after her ‘domitor’.

Celia: She waits until the doors close behind them to sigh at Hannah, linking her arm through the ghoul’s.

“He’s such a tease, sniffing after my panties like that. Stay with your brother tonight incase he’s decided to sack up. Now, let’s find our friend. He’s got a whole five second lead.”

GM: Hannah squints ahead as she follows after Jade.

“I can’t make out much.”

Apparently her kind can’t even see in the dark.

Celia: That’s inconvenient.

GM: The Toreador, however, hears footsteps coming from behind the cathedral.

Celia: “This way,” she murmurs, pulling Dani with her.

GM: Celia not only swiftly outpaces Dani and her quarry, but she blurs ahead of him in the building’s alleyway, largely ensconced from passersby.

The masked man looks her up and down.

“Bad idea.”

Celia: “Friends nearby, right?”

GM: “Walk away and you won’t get hurt.”

Celia: Jade’s eyes take in the shadows behind him. Unlike the kine, her kind can see perfectly in the dark. How many of them are there? How many waiting just around the corner? What is he going to do to her if she doesn’t back off? Saws? Fire? Another date with four sets of handcuffs, spread open on the bed for whoever wants to use her?

Jade bites her lip, playing the girl. Wide eyes fix on his face.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to corner you. I just—I had a question.”

For just a moment there’s a flicker of uncertainty on her face. For just a moment the hunter can see the girl hiding behind the monster, the young face of someone who was stolen from her prime. He’d heard the boy inside bully her, hadn’t he? How low on the food chain must she be that she’d slunk off with barely a response? How humane must she be to back off over the threat of that boy killing her companion?

Maybe she’s just looking for a friend. It’s not like she’d called him out when she’d had the chance. Maybe she thinks he’s someone else.

GM: The masked man’s impassive facade cracks. Doubt and sympathy swims in his eyes as his features soften.

“All right, but we can’t stay here. Come on.”

Celia: Jade nods, falling into step beside him. She casts a glance over her shoulder for Hannah.

“Sorry for grabbing you back there,” she murmurs, “I, um—you caught my eye when I came in, and—” she breaks off, looking down at the ground, cheeks flushing. “Sorry, this is really stupid. Can you—one sec, please, my friend’s not used to walking in heels—”

She peers through the darkness for Hannah.

GM: The ghoul is briskly making her way up to the two, heels clicking against the ground.

A small gray bird swoops past her head.

Celia: Rocco.

Jade slides her fingers through the hunter’s, smiling at him in a decidedly friendly manner. She gives him a “work with me” sort of warning look with her eyes, squeezing his hand.

“Found you,” she says to Hannah. “You were right. He said we can ride back with him. I told him how they were gonna slam the doors in our face if we didn’t park in the street, whoops.” She giggles. Hopefully he gets it.

GM: The bird lands and transforms into Rocco.

Hannah does her best not gawk.

The man’s body immediately tenses.

The hound smiles at Jade and her new friend.

“I don’t like you, Miss Kalani. I think I am going to hurt you,” he says cheerfully.

“Why don’t you grovel a bit if you want me to reconsider?”

Celia: Jade draws up short. Her fingers stiffen in the hunter’s hand.

“Hound Agnello. You did say you’d see me soon.” She forces a smile. “You took me from right outside the Evergreen last night. Silly of me to try to run for safety now, isn’t it?”

She takes a step forward, putting herself between the two “ghouls” and Rocco.

GM: “Very silly,” Rocco agrees, still smiling.

Celia: “If I get down on my knees for you, will you leave them alone?”

GM: “Maybe.”

Celia: “Darren,” she says over her shoulder, giving the hunter a name as fake as her own, “please ensure that Hannah arrives safely to the Quarter for me. Hannah, if the good hound here detains me this evening and you don’t hear anything further…” she glances at the girl, eyes swimming with… something, “will you tell him that I’m sorry? And that I still love him.”

Jade returns her gaze to the hound. She takes another step forward, arms at her sides and slightly away from her body, palms facing him. It’s a submissive, unarmed pose.

“Your companion burned me last night. Took my arm off with a saw. I had to confess that I had lied about the leak. Just like I lied about the spy.” She makes a sound that might be a laugh. It’s bitter. Maybe even nervous. “Of course no one fell for it. I can’t win against you, can I? And I’m so very, very tired of hurting.”

She sounds tired. Beaten. Defeated, even, and all he had to do was threaten her.

“I’m sorry I lied. It was dumb. Of course no one paid it any mind.”

Jade takes another step forward. Not so close that Agnello can touch her, not yet, but enough that she can lower her voice.

“Can I remove my dress, at least? Getting blood out of it is… well, you know.”

GM: The thin-blood looks between Jade and Rocco.

She’s seen what her brother can do, when his wrath is kindled.

She sees how afraid of this vampire Jade now looks.

Her jaw sets.

“No. I’m not leaving. If you want to hurt her… you’ll have to go through me, too.”

‘Darren’ also looks between Jade and Rocco.

He looks more like he’s thinking of bolting, only the Toreador’s supernal presence still holding his heart fast.

Something odd swims on Rocco’s face.

“You know, Miss Kalani, when I was a young boy, a policeman caught me doing, I don’t remember what, something for the Mafia,” he remarks as he strolls up to Jade. “Something bad. But he thought I was poor and hungry, which I was, so he offered me a job as a janitor. Instead of arresting me. He said he’d help me become a cop too, when I was old enough. He told me how proud I could make my mother.”

He looks wistfully ahead.

“It was the kindest thing someone ever did for me.”

“It was the kindest thing I saw someone ever do.”

“So you know what I did?”

Celia: Jade thinks about arguing with Hannah. Telling her to run. To take Darren and bolt. But then Rocco moves and her eyes stay centered on him, unblinking, unwilling to look away while he stalks closer.

She thinks she knows this story.

But she shakes her head anyway, hoping that she’s wrong. Hoping that this retelling will have a different ending.

GM: The hound’s wistful gaze looks past Jade. For a moment, he doesn’t seem to see her. He doesn’t seem to see anything. He looks lost amidst the ghosts of the past, burdened by a guilt no amount of time can lift from his shoulders—and a Toreador’s manipulations can make so much heavier.

“I killed him.”

Cat-quick, Rocco whips around, seizing Jade by the throat and slamming her back-first against the cathedral’s exterior. Claws so like the Toreador’s own dig into her skin.

“And I liked him a lot more than you.”

Celia: She’d waited too long. Waited too long to hit him with the rest of the manipulation she’d planned, thinking that she wouldn’t have to, that she’d found the memory to tug at to make him feel ashamed for what he wants to do to her when he’s already won, when he’d already beaten her yesterday.

She can’t take him in a fight. She knows that. Knows Dani isn’t going to lend much help even with her borrowed speed. And who knows how long ‘Darren’ will wait before bolting.

What will the hunter do to Hannah if Jade’s charm fades from his mind, if his heart is his own once more? Tear her apart?

“Please,” she whispers, voice strangled by the hold he has on her throat. All she needs is a minute. Just a single moment to hit the hunter with goodwill for Hannah. To make him think that she’s his friend, too. To make sure that he doesn’t hurt her if Jade loses right here. She sends it toward him with her eyes locked on Rocco’s face, shrinking back from him as best she can.

“Please,” she says again, “you—you can—you can pay it forward, here, now.”

She thinks, maybe, it worked. But all she can see in front of her right now is Rocco’s snarling face, claws extended, and she knows there are rules for this sort of thing but she’s so frazzled she can’t think straight and if those two don’t get out of here right now she’s not going to be able to help them. Just go. Run. Then she’ll take her beating, let him assert his dominance, beat his chest if that’s what he really wants.

She only needs to distract him a minute so they can run.

GM: ‘Darren’ looks towards Dani. His unconcerned face, at least towards her, becomes a mask of exactly the opposite.

Rocco laughs cruelly.

“I can, Miss Kalani. I will. By punishing the enemies of our prince!”

Viciously large, knife-sized claws sprout from his other hand, then slash towards Jade’s face.

There’s a sudden crack as a second hand seizes Rocco’s and smashes it into the wall.

“I agree with what you said earlier, Hound Agnello,” says Roderick as his form blurs to a stop.

“I like that policeman a lot more than you, too.”

Rocco tugs his arm, but can’t break the Brujah’s iron grip.

He heaves a needless sigh.

“Mr. Durant, I have two hands. If you don’t let go of that one, I will use the other to beat you into torpor. Then I will kill your ghouls.”

“I’m doing you a solid, Hound Agnello,” answers Roderick.

“Has Kalani here actually done anything? You’re just going to give the Anarchs and Bourbons more ammunition to rail against the prince’s tyranny.”

“So what if they do?” says Rocco.

Celia: She’d wanted to make the joke earlier, on her way in. Something about his two braincells rubbing together and letting his master do all the heavy lifting for him. She’d refrained. Now, though, she wonders if she was more right than she knew.

Still pinned beneath the Gangrel’s claws, Jade’s voice comes out strained.

“So the temporary satisfaction you’ll get from beating me again isn’t worth the loss of face the Hardliners will take if the Anarchs stir up enough shit about you torping their golden boy.”

GM: Guilt wars in the hound’s eyes.

Guilt at failing his prince.

“I think you had better do something for me, Miss Kalani, if you want to escape a beating,” he declares. “This hasn’t been very satisfying.”

Celia: “That thing I owe,” Jade says, “I’ll give it to you and you can hold it over Doriocourt’s head.”

GM: The hound lets go of Jade’s throat.

“Give it to me,” he smiles, holding out his hand.

He looks at Roderick. The Brujah lets go of his arm.

Celia: “It’s not done yet.”

GM: “You are going to give me something, Miss Kalani, if you want me to leave you alone,” Rocco declares cheekily.

Roderick makes a sound of disgust.

“What about her lunch money?”

Celia: Jade considers the hound for a long moment. Finally she reaches into her purse, pulls out a slip of paper, and writes down a phone number. She hands it over.

GM: Rocco effects another sigh.

“Miss Kalani, you really must give me something better than that.”

“I am feeling a bit peckish, in fact.”

“Perhaps I’ll take a drink from your ghoul.”

He turns around.

Celia: “No.”

“Not from her.”

GM: As Jade follows his gaze, she sees that ‘Darren’ is gone.

Doubtless, the arrival of a third vampire would have convinced the hunter it was high time to bolt off.

Celia: Well. Fuck.

GM: Rocco stalks up to Hannah and seizes her in his arms. She jerks and flails, eyes wide, but doesn’t scream.

Celia: “She’s got Hep C, Agnello. It might not kill you, but it’ll knock you on your ass for a while.”

“You want a drink, I’ll bleed into a damn cup for you.”

GM: Rocco makes a sound of disgust and roughly shoves Hannah face-first onto the pavement. She groans beneath him.

Roderick’s face is deathly still, but Jade can see the violent impulse in his hands. The way they ball into fists. It will take little provocation to kindle the Brujah clan’s legendary wrath.

“I don’t think I want you to give me anything, Miss Kalani,” declares the hound.

“You are too pathetic to take anything from.”

“You have nothing that I want to take.”

Celia: Jade’s lips flatten. She lets him see the hurt in her eyes. Carefully manufactured hurt, as if his words have any effect on her. She looks down. It’s a submissive sort of gesture, letting him kick her around and declare that she’s got nothing worth taking without even talking back.

She does it for them. Not for her. Alone, she’d mouth the fuck off to this asshole and tell him where to shove it. But to prevent Roderick from getting into trouble for attacking a hound, to keep Dani safe? She’ll shut up and take his anger and pretend his empty words mean anything at all to her.

Last night she might have flinched at the word “pathetic.” Since then her skin has hardened. The word does not hurt her as it had when Preston said it. Rocco means nothing to her, and so he cannot hurt her. But she can pretend. She’s so very good at it. And there’s power in being beneath notice. She hides there, knowing that this isn’t the end for them.

She’ll see him again. Somewhere when there’s no rules, when there aren’t dozens of licks nearby waiting for any excuse to rip her apart. She’ll see him again and she will pay back every insult.


Monday night, 21 March 2016, AM

GM: Roderick doesn’t linger after a gray bird flies off from where Rocco once stood. The Brujah loudly proclaims Jade owes him a boon, for having “done her a solid” keeping the hound from carving her up. Footsteps are audible leaving the cathedral. Roderick joins them. Dani picks herself up.

“What a fucking asshole,” she mutters.

“What a… what a bully.

Celia: “Mm,” Jade says in response, offering the girl a hand up. She doesn’t let her eyes linger on Roderick’s departing form, instead turning from him to walk with Dani back the way they’d been heading earlier. “Yeah. It’s like that.”

“Tried to buy you time to run,” she says, giving Dani a sidelong look.

GM: “I don’t want to be someone who runs when people are in trouble.”

Celia: “I know. I just… he’d, uh, he’d rip you apart is all, and he’d be within his right to do so.”

GM: “Yeah, I kinda figured he could after Stephen threw me around like a stuffed animal.”

“But he didn’t.”

Celia: “Timely interference.”

“Thought Darren might stick around to help, three on one is better odds.”

GM: “Uh, so what exactly was going on there?”

Celia: Jade glances around, as if looking for someone listening in.

She lowers her voice.

“Spy. Pretty sure.”

GM: “Oh. Good. I swiped his wallet.”

Celia: Jade beams at Dani.

“Let’s find him, then.”

GM: Dani smiles back. “Right now, though?”

“It is a school night for me.”

Celia: Which reminds her…

“Ah, you’re right, I need to head home actually. Come on, let’s get outta here. We can dig something up during the day and look tomorrow.”

GM: “Okay, sounds good,” says Dani, setting off with her.

“And can you pencil me in for a Flawless appointment sometime?”

Celia: “Of course.”

GM: “Awesome,” she smiles. “Doesn’t need to be during normal hours if you’re seeing your, ah, herd then.”

Celia: “Figured.” Jade smiles at her. “That bully, by the way, was the one who nabbed me last night.”

“And kept me from meeting with you.”

GM: “Wow. What the fuck is his problem?”

Celia: “I implied there was a security leak with the Guard. You saw them execute those licks tonight, the ones who they say killed the bishop? Yeah. Probably had nothing to do with it. Hardliners just wanted to give the city a scapegoat.”

GM: “Yeah,” Dani says quietly.

She looks a little sick at the memory.

“That was…”

She leaves it at that.

Celia: Jade only nods. She knows what Dani means. She takes her hand, giving it a squeeze.

“That’s why I’m so protective of you. And my family. I was picked up for saying the wrong thing. They were going to kill me tonight with the others.”

GM: “Oh my god.”

“This whole thing. It’s just…”

“It’s just sick.

“It’s like a scene out of Saudi Arabia.”

“Stephen warned me it would be like this.”

Celia: “It’s hard to be in this world and remain a good person. I hope you hold onto it for a long time. And that… that he can find his way back to it.”

GM: Dani gives that last statement a look, but says,

“I’m gonna head home. This makes me want to spend some time with my dad.”

“It makes me feel good about having a dad.”

Celia: Jade doesn’t push the subject. She only reminds Dani to change before she heads out and to make sure she takes the mask off. She takes the wallet off Dani’s hands but lets her take a photo of the relevant things inside if she wants (since she doesn’t have a phone it makes more sense that she takes the physical stuff).

GM: As the two arrived together in Jade’s car, they take it back to her now (possibly compromised) haven. Dani changes there, surrenders the wallet, takes the photo, and heads home for Uptown.

She hugs Celia before she takes off.

“Love you. Spend some time with your family, too. It isn’t… I can’t imagine what it’s like, to have nothing except… that.”

Celia: Celia nods her head. “I’m on my way over there, to be honest. Mom said she’d wait up. Love you too, Dani. Travel safe, yeah?”

GM: “I will,” Dani smiles. “Tell her hi from me.”

Celia: “Of course.”


Previous, by Character: Story Thirteen, Celia XXV
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Story Thirteen, Celia XXV

“I’m so proud of you, Mom.”
Celia Flores


Sunday evening, 20 March 2016

GM: Celia hits the pillows. Then she wakes up. It’s eight hours later than it was a second ago.

She feels great.

Celia: She wakes, for one of the few times in her Requiem, feeling refreshed. The sun may have warned her that the process of transformation and breaking through her own bullshit will be difficult and painful, but waking this evening is a reminder that once she is through the pain she can find peace on the other side.

She takes that for the blessing that it is and rises, throwing back her covers to greet the evening with a whole, healthy body and smile.

GM: Her skin is hale and pristine once more.

Flawless, even.

There’s some texts on her Sunbook’s WhatsApp window.

From Mel, So glad to hear!

From Dani, Hey you wanna get together some other time? Sunday night?

From her mom, Looking forward to seeing you tonight! :)

From Emily, Looking forward to the worst dinner ever?

There’s also some Facemash pictures Celia is tagged in. They’re of her family enjoying brunch at the Ruby Slipper Cafe. Lucy is chowing down a Three Little Pigs Omelet. (That’s what Diana says it’s called—“Lucy saw the name and couldn’t resist!”) Robby at least isn’t in the pictures. He’s not the biggest church fan.

Alana’s also sent, coming by soon with dinner! love you! xoxoxoxo

There’s no response from Gui. She supposes she’s always been an early riser.

There’s nothing from Roderick either.

Maybe that’s because she’s an early riser too.

Celia: Maybe.

She’d never gotten back to him though. Had been debating what to do there. If she should just fake her own death, and if it’s worth giving up all of the privileges of Jade just to escape one person.

Maybe she could just flee the city. Take Gui with her, if she really wants. Go back to Chicago with him.

The thought isn’t as appealing as she thought it would be.

She takes a moment to send Roderick a text now. It’s a brief message: Safe. Explain tonight. Dinner?

She’d imagined it going differently tonight. Using these precious moments to herself to get ready, showing up at his door with everything she’d need for him, the blood and gift and her dress and ideas and plans and, and, and—

Why does it hurt so much?

She texts Dani back that there was an emergency and she will tell her about it soon. She’s sorry she missed their night together.

Another to Emily with an emoji of rolling eyes and a thumbs up.

And a heart to her mom.

She assumes that Alana coming by means Reggie got her message, but he didn’t text back at all. She tries not to worry about it. In the meantime, Celia does her face—flesh and makeup both—and rinses off in the shower before grabbing her clothes for the evening.

GM: There’s a knock at her door soon.

Celia: Celia finishes her look with a spritz of setting spray and moves to answer the door.

GM: It’s Alana. She’s likewise dolled up in a face full of glam, revealing club attire, and strappy high heels. She’s leaning against a 20something and cute enough black man who’s likewise dressed in club clothes.

“Hello, mistress,” she beams. “I was just telling Brayson here all about how you own me.”

The man smirks faintly and looks Celia over.

“Yeah. Kinky.”

He looks a little unsteady on his feet himself. Actually, a little pale, too. Has someone else fed on him recently? The kine can’t tell, or they make excuses, but Celia’s own kind can and don’t. This one might only be up for a shallow feeding.

There’s always “dessert” with her mom, at least.

There’s another message from the woman on her WhatsApp window, too.

Can you come by before dinner, sweetie? There’s some stuff I’d really like to talk with you about!

That’s 8 PM, just as a reminder!

It was 7:36 when she woke up.

Not much time for a fuck between the drive and getting herself ready.

But he’s right there.

They’re both right there.

Willing.

Eager.

And it’s not like she’s going to get laid at her mom’s. Or at Midnight Mass.

When even is she going to get laid tonight?

Celia: Sex can look like a whole bunch of different things, though. For a breather, it’s P in V intercourse. For a lick, it’s the simple swapping of blood. She doesn’t plan to give any to this young boy, and there’s little enough she can safely take from him.

“Brayson,” she purrs, “would you like to fuck my pet?”

She pulls the pair of them inside, giggling as she leads the way to the bed she’d just evacuated. She tells them how she wants it, with Alana on her hands and knees and Brayson filling her from behind. Once they get going she slides in behind the pair, running her hand down Brayson’s body. Cute enough, she thinks, kissing and licking his neck before she bites.

GM: “I’d like to fuck you both,” says Brayson, but he’s happy enough to start with Alana. He’s even more happy when Celia’s canines pierce his neck and the ecstasy of her kiss overcomes him. His blood is sweet with his lust, a taste Celia well knows, but there’s a strongly sour undercurrent. Actually, the sweetness just feels like a mask. She can taste the man’s emptiness. His depression. And here he still is, having sex with two partners at once, or at least thinking he is.

His blood actually doesn’t taste that unfamiliar.

Brayson pumps vigorously into the Toreador’s ghoul but blows his load soon enough. He lies groggily half-asleep in Celia’s bed. Alana tries to pull her domitor after them, crooning how much she wants to “get to the good part, now.”

The time reads 7:55. Five minute drive to be exactly on time for dinner.

“I’ll make your toes curl, mistress…” she purrs, running her hands along Celia’s arm, massaging her shoulders, and planting wantful kisses along her neck.

“We’ll do it any way you like it… I want to show you how much you mean to me… I want to make you feel good, the way you make me feel good…”

“You’re so beautiful… there’s nothing, no one, who compares… I’m so lucky to have you in my life…”

Celia: Celia wants it, too.

But she wants to enjoy it. She wants to take her time and not be rushed. She wants to use the rest of the toys she’d purchased for Alana, to give herself a cock and fuck her, to tease and lick her way down Alana’s body and spread her open in front of her so that she can taste the sweet love and devotion she has for her mistress.

She murmurs that to Alana as she kisses her neck, that she has a few new things she wants to try on her, that she has a surprise for her later and doesn’t want to spoil her appetite now with something quick and less satisfying.

GM: “Okay, Mistress…” Alana murmurs, seemingly placated. “We’ll do it tonight. Without any distractions. Without him. Just us.”

“Just us,” she repeats, planting a tender kiss on Celia’s lips.

Celia: “You don’t want me to share you with my friend? I think you’d enjoy the attention from the pair of us.” Celia gives her a final kiss. “Think about it.”

Then she’s gone, slipping out the door and on her way.


Sunday evening, 20 March 2016

GM: Celia drives to her mom’s house. There’s two unfamiliar cars in the driveway, along with the familiar pink Beetle and Emily’s car.

Celia: Two?

Why two.

Who else is here?

Is it Robby?

Maxen? (Obviously, but who is the second? Did he bring someone?)

She’ll find out in a moment. She steps inside.

GM: The door is closed, but Celia has the key. She arrives inside to find Maxen sitting next to Diana and Emily on the living room couch. Emily does not look particularly friendly. Diana looks very friendly and is smiling and holding hands with her ex.

There’s also a second man who Celia doesn’t recognize. He looks around 30. He’s white, black-haired, clean-shaven, and has high cheekbones, piercing blue eyes, and proud ‘I know best’ features. He’s dressed in a dark red button-up shirt, black slacks, and matching oxfords.

Celia: She doesn’t need to think too hard on who that is. All the same, she takes half a second to detect the predator inside of him.

GM: He is like her.

A wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Maxen is dressed similarly to the newcomer, tan slacks and a light blue button-up. Diana looks like she’s put a lot of effort into her appearance, to the esthetician’s trained eye: to a man’s, it’s an “I just threw this on” look, like Celia did for her with Henry, but Diana has a redder lipstick, some spritzes of her favorite rose perfume, and nicer jewelry. A floral dress and her favorite pink heels complete the look. It’s casual enough for dinner, but definitely on the dressier side.

Emily just has on yoga pants, a t-shirt, and socks. No makeup, either.

“Oh! Celia!” exclaims her mom, smiling widely and rising first to hug her. “I’m so glad you’re here, sweetie!”

“I sent you some texts, but I don’t know if they got through.”

“Why wouldn’t they have?” asks the other vampire, who then smiles. “But the important thing is that she’s here now.”

Maxen smiles too and rises from his seat, but seemingly waits for Celia to finish greeting her mother.

Celia: Celia smiles at her father and Emily, then hugs her mother fiercely.

“You look beautiful, Momma. I love that color on you. I didn’t get your texts, actually. I lost my phone and had to use the app on my laptop. The find my phone thing didn’t make it magically appear, unfortunately, so I didn’t get anything relatively recent. Hope you didn’t ask me to bring anything but my darling self.” She winks at Emily.

Celia pulls back from her mother to smile at the lick, eyes crinkling in delight.

“Hey, you.” In the same sort of way she’d say “hey baby,” the familiar inflection on the “you” that suggests he isn’t a stranger. Roderick, right? Who else could it possibly be?

GM: “Thank you, sweetie. You look Flawless as ever too,” her mom beams. She never gets tired of saying that. “But I’m so sorry to hear about your phone! When did it go missing?”

“We can order you a new one if you like,” says Maxen, hugging his daughter next as Diana stands aside. “Our treat, if you haven’t done that yet.”

Celia: “Earlier today,” Celia tells her mom. It’s vague enough but also true. “I’m not actually sure when or where, unfortunately. Tried calling it and nothing.” She shrugs, then allows her father to bring her into a hug.

“Hi, Dad. I didn’t yet. I was hoping it would turn up in my car on the way over, but no dice.”

She doesn’t miss the way he says “our,” though. What did she miss?

Once Maxen lets her go she gives Emily a private look, brows lifted.

GM: “It’d be ‘your treat’, technically, though I wouldn’t be surprised if Celia already ordered one,” says Emily, getting up to hug her sister next.

Celia: “Hey cutie,” Celia says to Emily, kissing her cheek.

All that’s left is the lick.

Roderick, right? It has to be. Even if he hadn’t seen Dicentra he’d obviously seen a night doctor. Dr. E., maybe; she knows they’re big in Mid-City, having seen their tag often enough.

She wonders how he’s going to make her pay for this.

Celia slips away from Emily, turning to face the lick as she takes a tiny step forward. There’s a hesitant, questioning look in her eye, as if asking for permission to approach, asking for some sign that he’s who she thinks and not some random because nobody had mentioned him yet and she doesn’t know what he’d already said to them.

Was this why her mom wanted her early? Or was it something with her dad?

She searches for the answer in his face and body. It’s not the outfit she’d picked out. What if she’s wrong?

GM: “Hey cutie,” replies Emily before breaking off the hug. She gives Celia a ‘hey are you going to shoot down his stupid offer or what’ look.

The newcomer smiles and rises to hug her.

“And hello to you too, Celia.”

Maybe he is some random.

Who knows what he’s already said?

“You two look adorable together,” beams her mom.

“Good choice,” echoes her dad,who then chuckles.

“Michael asked for my permission to date you. I told him that was up to you, but I appreciated the good manners.”

“I thought it had troubling implications when your dad used to beat you,” says Emily.

Celia: Why would she shoot down a free phone? Not that she needs the money, but… well, fuck it, right? Might as well roll with the punches. Since that’s what she suffered at his hands as a child. Abuse.

The lick’s reaction, tame as it is, doesn’t give her much confidence in this whole thing. She has to assume it’s her lover, but the lack of affection here…

It shouldn’t hurt. She tries to loosen her body when he comes in for a hug, to put her former love for him into the arms that she puts around him, the way she rests her cheek against his chest. She’d thought once that he was the perfect height for her. And he is. She fits snugly against him.

“Hi,” she breathes against him, looking up with the same question in her eyes. Something. Please. Anything, she needs anything from him.

She doesn’t yet pull away from him when Maxen speaks, but Emily’s comment makes something flicker in her eyes. Shame or guilt or something like pain, and Roderick(?) can feel her stiffen in his arms.

“Well, if he starts that up, Emmy, I’ve heard you’re good with a blade.” She turns to smile at her sister.

GM: “Hopefully that won’t be necessary,” ‘Michael’ preempts when Diana starts to look fretsy. Maxen looks suitably contrite. Michael smiles down at Celia.

“Hi again. How are things with our mutual friend?”

Celia: She doesn’t miss the implication.

The gall. In front of her family! Emily no doubt caught it.

“It’ll be a night to remember,” she says, because there isn’t another answer she can give him right now. She disengages, stepping away from him to focus on her mom.

“Will you come with me to say goodnight to Goose, Mom?”

GM: Michael lets her go without further word.

Emily’s eyes follow the pair.

“Oh, we’ve already put her to bed, sweetie, I’m sorry,” says Diana. “We could check if she’s actually fallen asleep, if you like? Sometimes she stays up reading.”

Celia: Celia nods, happy for any excuse to speak to her mother alone for a moment.

GM: “He doesn’t go,” says Emily, looking at Maxen.

Celia’s dad simply nods. “We’re not there yet.”

“And we’re not ever going to be,” says Emily.

“Emi, please,” says Diana. She lays a hand on Celia as the pair see themselves out.

Celia hears, it though, before they even round the corner.

An eavesdropping Goose is up past her bedtime.

If the sound of small feet trying to quietly sneak away is anything to go by.

Celia: Celia doesn’t rat her out, not verbally. But once she’s out of sight of the people in the living room she sneaks up on the child with all the speed of her clan and scoops her into her arms, whispering about little spies in the corridors.

GM: A nightgown-clad Lucy all but jumps out of her skin and gives a sharp inhalation of breath as she clamps her hands over her mouth. Celia’s caught her red-handed.

“Don’t tell Mommy…!” she whispers.

Celia: “Never,” Celia assures her.

GM: Diana rounds the corner a second later and sees Lucy in Celia’s arms.

She doesn’t frown.

Celia: Whoops.

GM: Her eyes widen for a moment, then she holds a finger to her lips.

Celia: Celia winks at her and carries her prize down the hall, back into her bedroom.

She waves for Diana to come along.

“Company caught your eye, Goose?”

GM: It’s a short walk for the trio Lucy’s bedroom. Or technically, the pair, with Lucy not actually walking. Diana waits to say anything until they’re inside and close the door. The walls are deep blue and decorated with Butterfly stencils. Glow-in-the-dark stars glow down from the ceiling. The bed is heaped with pillows, stuffed animals, and lots of blankets, including a sun and moon patterned quilt Diana made. More stuffed animals, dolls, and other children’s toys sit around the room, along with a desk for schoolwork. That’s expected to see more use in the future.

A bunny-themed nightlight sits in the corner.

Pic.jpg
Because monsters in the dark are real.

Someone should’ve told Celia that when she was Lucy’s age.

Then again, maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference.

Celia: She doesn’t imagine that a nightlight would have stopped him any more than the blankets over the head did.

GM: Or her.

Or the one in the living room.

Lucy just gives a timid look.

“We’re not mad, Goose, it’s okay,” says Diana. She smiles as she strokes the child’s back.

Celia: “Not at all, baby. I used to do the same thing when I was your age.”

And look how that had turned out for her.

Maybe it’s a bad comparison.

GM: It’s a terrible comparison.

“Mommy Emi was mad…” says Lucy quietly.

Celia: “Not at you, sweetie.”

“She’s not super happy with the company right now.”

Celia glances at her mom.

“I think she’s jealous that Momma was holding someone else’s hand.”

Celia lifts her brows at Diana. What had that been about?

GM: “Oh,” says Lucy. She looks like she’d been about to ask why.

Celia’s mom just gives a hapless roll of her shoulders.

Celia: “Let’s get you tucked in, little Luce, so the dinner Momma made for all those boring adults doesn’t get cold.”

GM: “Why can’t I see Grandpa?” asks Lucy.

Celia: “Grandpa is… he’s not always the nicest man, Lucy. When I was little he used to make Momma and I pretty sad. Right now we’re trying to fix that and see how things go so he doesn’t make you sad, too.”

Celia pulls back the blankets and sets Lucy down.

“But,” she continues, “if he wants to be nice forever then you will get to see him.”

GM: “That’s right!” smiles Diana, still whispering as she runs a hand along the child’s hair. “We just wanna be sure he’s gonna be nice, and never make you sad, Luce.”

Celia: “And never make Momma or I sad, either. Happy is better.” Celia tucks Lucy in, smiling warmly down at her.

“Maybe if things go well we can all go for ice cream after dinner one night.”

“Get some sleep, Lady Goose. Mommy will tell you all about this tomorrow, I bet.”

Celia leans over to kiss her cheek.

“I love you, Lucy.” She reaches for Diana’s hand.

GM: “Ice cream’s nice,” smiles Lucy. “And you will, Mommy?”

“I will, Lady Goose,” nods Diana, squeezing Celia’s hand, and then Lucy’s too. “Promise.”

“Do I need to say my prayers again?” asks Lucy.

Celia: “It doesn’t hurt,” Celia says with a small smile for Lucy. “I’m sure He enjoys hearing from you more than once a day, baby.”

GM: “Can’t hurt,” Diana echoes. She takes Lucy’s hands, guides them into position, and bows her head with her daughter’s.

Celia: Celia presses her palms together and mimics the movement.

GM: “Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep;
angels watch me through the night
and wake me with the morning light.
Amen,” they both recite.

Jade remembers reciting it with Butterfly.

“I love you, Lucy,” Diana murmurs, tucking the girl in and kissing her head.

“Sleep tight.”

“Love you too, Mommy, Mommy,” Lucy says in apparent sequence to them both.

Celia: “Love you, baby. Sleep tight.”

Celia gives a tiny wave with her fingers and leads the way out of the room. Once the door is closed behind her she turns to look at her mom.

“What did you need to talk about?” she asks in a whisper.

GM: Diana turns on the nightlight, gives Lucy her favorite stuffed unicorn, and turns off the main light. She likewise gives a little wave and closes the door.

“Oh, it’s… nothin’ important, sweetie, not now,” Celia’s mom murmurs, looking away.

“I’m glad we spotted Luce.”

Celia: “Mom. It is important, but we only have so long before they come looking.”

GM: Diana shakes her head. “No, it… it really isn’t, sweetie, I’m sorry.”

Celia: “I’m sorry. I wanted to be here early. There was an incident last night I’ll tell you about later.” Celia hugs her mom. “We’ll share later then, okay?”

“What did… Michael say to you?”

GM: Her mom hugs her back. “Okay, sweetie! That sounds wonderful. I’d love to talk to you after dinner.”

She lowers her voice. “He, ah, told me he’s Stephen.”

Celia: “Nothing else?”

GM: “We talked about some other things, but that was the biggest thing,” her mom nods.

Celia: “How long has he been here?”

GM: “He showed up maybe fifteen minutes before your father? And he was about ten minutes early.” Her mom’s smile widens. “I can’t tell you how happy I am to have him over like this, that you two get to be together again!”

Celia: It’s not the time to dim the joy on her mother’s face. She just smiles back.

GM: “That is some disguise he has on, too.”

“I asked him how he did it, he just said not to worry about it.”

Celia: No doubt.

Celia resolves not to ask if he wants to play coy. She’s not going to give him the satisfaction.

“Guess we should get back out there before Emily stabs him again.”


Sunday evening, 20 March 2016

GM: The two head back to the living room. Maxen and Michael are chatting. Emily doesn’t look as if she’s having a particularly fun time.

“Well then, y’all ready to eat?” smiles Diana.

Celia: “I know I am.” Celia touches a hand to her stomach, as if it isn’t an organ she’d ripped out of a dead girl.

“Table set, or can I make myself useful?”

GM: “Ready and eager,” smiles Maxen. “I’ve missed your cooking, Diana.”

“I’ve missed cooking for you,” Diana smiles back.

“Table’s long set. We won’t hear of you havin’ to do any work here!” declares Celia’s mom.

Emily follows behind the others as they set off towards the dining room.

“He’s missed beating her black and blue, too,” she mutters.

Celia: Celia falls into step beside Emily.

“No more,” she murmurs. “No more women from this household will be beaten or abused. Never again.”

She is decidedly not looking at “Michael.”

But maybe she says it loudly enough for someone with above average senses to hear.

GM: If he does, he gives no sign.

“Tell me again why we’re even having this dinner?” Emily mutters.

Celia: So much has happened this week that Celia barely remembers anymore.

“So you could call him on his bullshit in front of Mom.”

It’s not Maxen that she regrets inviting to dinner, though. It’s the man wearing someone else’s face.

GM: “I hope that works.”

She lowers her voice even more.

“I think this was a mistake, Celia. I don’t think we should’ve invited him further into our lives like this.”

Celia: She’s starting to feel the same. There are a million and one things she wants to talk to Emily about right now, another million things she wants to say to Michael, but the walk to the dinner table is only so long.

How can she tell Emily that she thinks she fucked up? That not only was inviting Maxen into this home a mistake, but so is the “boyfriend” who has begun to abuse and belittle her. She’d been spot on earlier with her comment and now Celia doesn’t even know how to get out of it with anything resembling grace, and maybe she should have just given Camilla a doppelganger.

Celia reaches for Emily’s hand and gives a tiny nod. It’s there on her face: the realization that she had fucked up.

She doesn’t know if Bornemann had lied to her with the information about demons. She doesn’t know what longer game Maxen might be playing, and Camilla’s words—knowing something about her family—ring in her mind. Maybe he’s still possessed. She remembers her mother’s vision, how he takes Lucy away.

Celia steps past the dining room table and into the kitchen, moving to the pantry to get a container of salt. Her mother does enough cooking that she keeps plenty of them on hand for all her baking and flavoring needs. At a dollar per canister, why not? She tucks it into the folds of her dress and murmurs something about needing to use the restroom, then takes off down the hall to pour a line of salt in front of the door to Lucy’s room. It takes seconds. She flushes the toilet on her way back down the hall to give her story some plausibility and takes a moment to rinse and dry her hands. She tucks the salt beneath the sink.

Then she’s back, taking her seat with a smile as if nothing happened.

GM: Everyone sits down around the table as Diana heads into the kitchen after Celia to retrieve the food, but then Maxen gets up and volunteers to help. So do Michael, and then Emily, seemingly purely to dilute the impact of Maxen’s help.

Lucy’s door is closed when Celia returns to pour the salt, but the room to door to her mother’s bedroom is ajar.

The ‘other’ Lucy flies on the floor, glassy eyes silently staring towards Celia.

Celia: Celia stops to stare.

“How did you get here,” she whispers, but she doesn’t have time to find out.

“Diana isn’t ready,” Celia says to the doll. She steps inside the room to pick it up, setting it on the bed against the pillows. “Soon, okay?”

The porcelain Lucy gets a kiss on the brow before Celia turns to rejoin her family.

GM: The porcelain is cold under Celia’s lips.

The doll’s unblinking gaze bores relentlessly after her as she leaves.

Celia observes that Dani’s things are gone. The bedroom looks like it’s fully Diana’s again.

Celia: There aren’t enough hours in her night. Right now it feels like one thing after another and her lifelines are getting smaller and smaller.

Is this what her mom had wanted to talk about? Had Roderick moved her? Had someone else?

She hates not knowing. She hates being without her phone, being unable to send a text to check on Dani. They’d spoken earlier, of a sort. That means she’s okay, right?

All the same, Celia sets that anxiety aside to rejoin her family.

She doesn’t even want to ask in front of the guests. That’s the worst part, isn’t it, that Roderick will blame her for losing Dani.

But she does, carrying the last of the dishes from the kitchen to the table next to her mother and asking in a quiet voice if Dani had found somewhere else to stay.

GM: Celia finds, to her chagrin, that the dinner’s other four attendees have carried everything out by the time she gets back, and are seated waiting for her.

Dinner is juicy-looking top loin steak, with a side dish of roasted vegetables: corn, mushrooms, yukon potato, asparagus, zucchini, onions, peppers, tomatoes.

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There’s also a fruit salad of mango, papaya, and kiwi with lime juice and mint.

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Maxen and Michael have larger rectangular wooden plates to accommodate a larger portion of unsliced steak, and also have carving knives for their meat. Celia’s, Emily’s, and Diana’s plates are smaller, round, and ceramic. The smaller portions of steak are already pre-cut.

Celia: It looks delicious. In another life she would have enjoyed it, she’s sure.

The differences in serving size and method makes her lift a brow. Michael will find it as bland and tasteless as she does, she’s sure. Why waste the larger portion like that?

“Looks like somebody doesn’t trust us with a blade,” Celia stage-whispers to Emily.

GM: “Oh, it’s not that, sweetie,” Diana says embarrassedly. “It’s just that I already pre-cut some of the steak and I figured you girls wouldn’t want as much as the men. And it’s just nicer presentation, I thought, when you have that much steak, to leave some of it un-cut. And to let the big strong men cut apart theirs from a bigger haunch.” She smiles at the two.

“Real manly for the guys to cut apart a motionless piece of dead cattle,” Emily says dryly. “I guess those of us with vaginas aren’t up to that task.”

“It doesn’t sound like it has anything to do with ‘manliness’,” says Michael. “Diana thought it was better presentation not to pre-slice all of the larger steak servings. And since men consume more calories on average than women, she gave us larger servings. Which makes sense considering the company. Maxen and I are larger than you and lead physically active lives.”

“Well I’m bigger than Mom and Celia, should I have gotten more steak?” says Emily.

Celia: “Yep,” Celia says, dumping a few pieces onto her plate. “There you go. Grow up big and strong like Mikey.”

“You know who would get the biggest piece? Robby.”

“Or maybe the Goose. I heard she plans to be seven feet tall. Gotta start ’em young.”

“Whole cow for Lucy, Mom.”

GM: “Personally I’m hopin’ she grows up the same size as you and me. That way we can all share clothes,” smiles Celia’s mom.

“This looks sublime, Diana,” smiles Maxen. “It smells sublime, too. Lucy and Emily are very lucky to eat this well every day.”

“Oh I’m so glad you think so, Maxen,” beams his ex-wife. “Would you like to lead us in prayer?”

Celia: Celia smiles at the thought of sharing clothes with Lucy and her mother, then looks to Maxen at the question.

GM: “How about I lead us in prayer, if my vagina doesn’t disqualify me?” says Emily.

Diana starts to say something, but Maxen merely inclines his head.

“We’re all equally small before Him. I’d be happy if you wanted to, Emily.”

“Right.” Emily clasps her hands together. “Good God, good grub, let’s eat. Amen.”

Celia: “Succinct,” Celia says dryly.

GM: “Amen,” says Diana, hands pressed as she bows her head lower.

“Amen,” repeats Maxen, doing the same.

“Amen,” says Michael with an amused look.

“It’s the thought that counts,” says Emily as she starts on one of Celia’s generously volunteered steak pieces. “And He sees all our thoughts, so.”

Celia: “Mm. The ultimate voyeur.” Celia spears a piece of steak with the tines of her fork. “Amen,” she tacks on belatedly. She lifts it to her mouth to bite, chew, swallow. It tastes as bland and awful as every other bite of food she’s ever tasted, like ash and sludge and what she imagines kissing a Nosferatu must taste like.

At least it’s over soon, sliding down her throat into her stolen stomach.

GM: Michael looks like he’s enjoying his about as much as Celia, but he smiles and compliments Celia’s mother. Emily doesn’t look like she’s particularly paying attention to the food’s taste, and Diana mostly looks like she’s watching her ex-husband. She’s seated him at the head of the table and herself at his right. Maxen enthusiastically compliments her cooking and she glows at the praise.

“I had a hunch steak would go over well,” she says mock-slyly.

Celia: Maybe it reminds Michael of the night Celia had invited a boy named Stephen to dinner to meet her father, and the way he had belittled her in front of her newly christened boyfriend. Or maybe it reminds Maxen of the time he’d made her stand in front of the stove for hours until she’d cooked the perfect steak. How he’d forced her to eat it, then make another one.

She’s quiet as her parents talk, looking down at her plate for a brief moment, then up at her… what, boyfriend? Abuser? She doesn’t even know anymore. There’s grief behind her eyes, wordless pain at the memories, at what should have been but isn’t. She wants nothing more than to take his hand and know that they’re in this together, that the boy she once loved is still inside, even if he’s hidden behind walls of anger and distrust right now.

Beneath the table, she reaches for his hand.

GM: Michael doesn’t seem to notice Celia’s action when Maxen remarks, “Michael was telling me about himself before you got here, Celia. You sound like you’ve picked a very successful man.” He smiles at his daughter.

Celia: Her fingertips brush across his knee instead. She lets the touch linger for a moment. Just in case.

“Yes,” she says with a tiny nod at Maxen, “but, I mean, there’s more to him than just that. Big heart.” She turns her eyes to Michael, offering a small smile.

GM: “Celia’s too kind,” smiles Michael.

“The heart counts for more than the success, I think,” says Maxen.

“I’d say they count equally,” says Michael. “Both are necessary to improve a family’s quality of life.”

Celia: Too kind. Too kind for saying he has a big heart.

It’s like a knife through her own, twisting, rending, tearing.

Too kind.

Because it isn’t true anymore. Because he doesn’t love her. Because he only wants to use her. Because he’s a Maxen waiting to happen, has every intention of hurting her until she breaks like Diana had, and he’s too useful to Savoy for her to do anything but take it.

Her eyes move to her plate. Mechanically, she spears another piece of steak with her fork. She bites. Chews. Swallows. It tastes like the ash she deserves, like broken promises and shattered hearts and ugly lies.

“If that’s the case, Dad, then why did you only focus on success when we were kids?”

Hollow heart, hollow voice, hollow eyes.

“Why did you think that your success made everything you did to me, to Mom, to the others okay?”

She hadn’t intended to bring it up. She’d thought maybe Emily would. That she’d play peacekeeper and avoid muddling the water so that she wouldn’t have to lie to her sire if he ever asked what happened.

But now she turns her gaze to her father, watching his face. She lets him see the agony on hers. She lets him see what the years of living with him had done, how her psyche had fractured, how her heart had hardened, how his own neighbor and master had used and abused her when she was still half a child. How she let her own boyfriend twist her words to humiliate and belittle her, how she turned into a weak woman who let a man put her on her knees because that’s what she experienced growing up.

“What if I told you that I grew up into someone who let her boyfriend or husband abuse her? What if I said Michael hits me? He’s successful, does that make it okay?”

GM: “I did a lot of wrong things when you and your siblings were kids, Celia,” her father says quietly.

He looks into her face. Into all of her pain. All of her fear. All of the hardness.

He lays his hand on her shoulder.

“I don’t think I have the moral authority to tell you what is and isn’t okay. But since you’ve asked me, I’d say no. No, it wouldn’t be okay if Michael hit you, no matter how successful he is. I’d say that would absolutely have to stop, for you to maintain any kind of relationship with him.”

“Oh, sweetie…” Diana murmurs. Her heart looks like it’s breaking for her daughter as she gets up from her seat to hug her daughter.

“It’s okay, baby, it’s okay… that’s all in the past… the future is better, the future is brighter…”

Emily watches silently.

“We all learn our behaviors from our parents,” says Michael, setting down his fork.

He gets up too, laying his own hand on Celia.

“Intergenerational transmission of trauma is the clinical term for it. I certainly hope Celia wouldn’t be okay receiving abuse like the kind her father committed against her mother.”

“But that’s a behavior learned from only one of her parents. And as bad as picking that up could seem… it could have been even worse. Celia could have become an abuser, too, like her father. Women can abuse men too, in more subtle ways. And combining that abuse with the behaviors Celia learned from her mother… she could have turned into an abuser as terrible as her father was—but one who saw herself as the victim. I can’t think of a more dangerous combination in any relationship. I think that would have driven her to a very sad and lonely life.”

He squeezes Celia’s shoulder and smiles down at her.

“I’m not going to say I thank God every night in my prayers that that didn’t happen. But I certainly have in more than one prayer. Celia could have turned into a black hole. A mindlessly destructive force screaming through space, ignorant of the pain it spawned. She could have sucked in all my light and destroyed me with her.”

His smile widens.

“But instead she’s turned into a sun. A force that brings warmth and life and beauty into everyone’s lives. We’re all here because of her. We’re all happy, because of her. And for all the darkness that’s been visited upon this family, I think it contains even more light.”

Celia: Celia lifts a hand to where he squeezes her shoulder. She looks up at him, searching his face for the truth. She finds it in the tightness around his eyes, the way his lips form the words, the very sound of his voice.

He’s lying through his teeth.

She rises, turning to face him fully, ignoring Diana and Emily and Maxen. She touches a hand to her heart, and then his, as if his words moved her. And they have. But the two of them both know there’s more to what he said than the syllables themselves. She steps forward, lifting her arms to put them around him, face pressed against his chest.

“I’m sorry,” she whispers, just for him.

Her comment hadn’t even been about him. It had only been directed at her dad, at the damage he had done to her and the rest of them. But there was no way for him to know that. No way for him to see that she was doing more than just playing victim, that she really wanted her dad to think about what he’d done to the lot of them.

“I don’t know if Michael told you how we met,” she says to the table, turning slightly and taking her boyfriend’s hand, “but I was in bad shape. Mentally and emotionally. Burned out. Destructive. I never let you guys see it, but he did. He’s been working with me through everything. Helping me see things more clearly. It’s hard to change, and it’s painful sometimes, and it’s really easy to slip back into old patterns. But he’s been so patient, and I… I just really appreciate him for it.”

She looks once more to Michael, seeking his gaze with her own.

“Thank you. For understanding. For seeing me and not just my ways of being. I don’t mean to get emotional, I’m just… just so happy that you’re in my life and that we’re moving forward together.”

GM: “I am too, Celia,” Michael smiles back, squeezing her hand. “Moving forward is what counts. We can wallow in our past mistakes, or we can correct them and move forward. I know which I’d rather do.”

“I’m so happy for you two,” sniffs Diana. Her hand finds Maxen’s again.

“I am as well,” says Celia’s father, giving her mother’s hand a squeeze. “You’ve found a good man, Celia. I’m very impressed by him. By both of you.”

Emily just watches silently.

Celia: Correct them and move forward. Maybe no one else notices the way her fingers tighten around his, or the tiny tremble that runs down her spine at the word “correct.” But he’s right next to her, touching her, and she doesn’t hide the trepidation writ across her face when she looks up at him. She blinks once to tell him that she understands, and gives a tiny nod of agreement. They’ll move forward. She’ll lure in Gui and the two will move forward, and now that he knows everything they will be a team, and she can trust that he has her best interests at heart.

Right?

That’s what she wants, isn’t it? A partner? Someone she can ask for help?

Doubt clouds her mind. He hadn’t come last night. She’d needed him and he hadn’t come.

But she smiles, turning away to take her seat again.

Dinner has barely started and all she wants to do is run.

GM: “Oh, say, were you able to pick up juice at the store?” Michael asks as he sits back down.

Celia: “I was, yes. Only I got home and dropped one of the bags, just fell right out of my hands.” Celia uses her hands to tell the story, mimicking an explosion of glass and liquid. “All over the floor, all over me.” She gestures to the front of her, making a face as her hands pass her stomach. “Ruined my dress when it splashed up.” A tiny laugh. “We really need a new mop, feels like my shoulder fell off from trying to get it all off the floor. Good as new now, but I didn’t want to be late tonight and make anyone worry, so I planned to grab some on the way home to replace it.”

He gets it. Maybe.

It’s not like he’d given her a deadline, only told her that if she wants to spend the day with him again she needs to bring it.

“There was a spider,” she says with a little lift of her shoulders and color in her cheeks, as if that explains her wild story.

GM: “Oh, too bad your beau wasn’t there to squash it,” says Diana, wriggling her eyebrows. “I hate squishin’ bugs on my own. That’s what men are for!”

“That is what men are for,” Michael echoes in amusement.

“That is too bad, Celia. I would have squashed it for you.”

Celia: “Next time,” she says, but the private look she gives him asks if that’s true.

GM: He just smiles at her and spears a potato piece.

Celia: Celia looks away. There’s nothing left inside of him.

She should have let the Guard burn her.

GM: “I did hear about the spider, though,” says Michael. “Celia sent me some very scared texts.”

“Oh no, was it a really big one?” asks Diana.

“Smaller than I probably thought,” says Michael.

“She’s here now. Doesn’t look like it got her.”

“It is good to have man for that sort of thing,” says Maxen between a bite of steak. “But I’m glad she was able to get it on her own.”

“Yeah, I guess we’re pretty used to that in this family,” says Emily.

“Having to take care of bad things on our own.”

She’s barely touched her food.

Maxen just inclines his head. “You are. All of you.”

“Is somethin’ wrong with the food, Emi?” asks their mom.

“No, nothing’s wrong with it, Mom,” says Emily. “I guess I just don’t have much appetite when there’s a wife-beating rapist child abuser in the room. I honestly cannot summon the will to eat.”

“Emi!” Diana exclaims.

GM: Maxen bows his head. “Maybe this was too soon. I don’t want to intrude on this family or be the cause for missed meals. I can leave if I’m not welcome.”

“You’re not,” says Emily. She pushes out her chair and rises from her seat. “I think that’d be for the best. Door’s this way.”

Maxen pushes out his chair and rises with her.

“No! Max, stay. Please. I’d like to have dinner with you.” Diana takes his hand again but doesn’t rise from her seat.

Celia: Celia silently watches her family argue, biting her tongue to keep from interceding. Maxen seems sincere enough about going if that’s what Emily wants, but Emily… she thought they’d agreed. One dinner. She’d even brought “backup” in case Maxen tries anything.

She uses the cover of Emily and Maxen’s motion to reach for the salt shaker, flicking her wrist to pour a small amount of it into her palm. Then she, too, rises to look between the pair.

“Dad, I’m sorry, I think she might be right. I think I rushed this before everyone was ready. I think there’s a lot of unhealed trauma coming up for everyone and stepping into this idea of ‘family’ without giving Emily, Mom, and I the proper time might be doing all of us a disservice.”

Celia bites her lip. She looks to her mom, then Michael, and finally back to her dad.

“I think it might be like using a rug to cover a hole in the floor. I’d like to meet you in the middle, if that’s okay. You and I working through some things. Dinner, maybe. With the boys, if they want, and with Michael if he wants to lend support as well. Sometime this week, maybe.”

GM: “I think that sounds more than reasonable,” says Maxen. “It’s been a while since you’ve seen David, hasn’t it? And had dinner with Logan too.”

“Michael would also be welcome to have dinner with us.”

“Thank you, Mr. Flores. That would be my pleasure,” says Michael.

Celia’s attempt to pour salt unnoticed, however, goes horribly awry.

The Toreador’s preternaturally quick grasp is too swift. The lid, clearly not securely attached, flies off. It hits Maxen’s glass of non-alcoholic wine. Drink spills over his shirt and pants as the glass shatters over the floor.

“Oh, no, Max!” exclaims Diana.

Salt is spilled all over the table, too.

Celia: Shit.

“Sorry,” she blurts, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to. Mike, can you grab some paper towels? In the kitchen?” She’s already moving to clean up the glass so that no one else risks a cut.

GM: “It’s okay, sweetie. Accidents happen,” smiles Celia’s dad. “Where’s the broom and dustpan?” he asks her mom, who’s already dabbing at the stains on his clothes with a napkin.

“In the closet. But nonsense, you’re a guest!”

He rises. “Please, Diana. You’ve already gone to so much trouble making this lovely dinner. May I?”

“Forget it, I’ll do it,” says Emily, already rising.

“Sweetie, you don’t need to be so contrary,” says Diana. Someone else might glare, but she sounds more like she’s chiding.

Michael rises and heads for the kitchen.

Celia: Celia ignores the bickering. She focuses on getting the large shards of glass off the floor, then uses a napkin to start scooping up the smaller pieces.

“Hey Emi, broom?”

GM: Maxen joins her on the ground, using his own napkin to help pick up glass pieces. “We can shine a light over the floor, when we’ve got all the pieces we can see. It’s so easy to miss little shards.”

Celia: “I’ve got it, Dad.”

GM: Emily strides back with the broom.

“Yeah. We’ve got it. Butt out.”

Maxen inclines his head and sets down the napkin with the few shards he picked up.

“I’m sorry. I was only trying to hel-”

“We don’t want your fucking help!”

“Emi, you’re being rude!” exclaims their mom.

“You know what’s rude, Mom? Raping someone! He fucking raped you!” Emily is getting red in the face.

Celia: Celia takes the broom and starts sweeping. She’s focused on the glass, on getting it all up, on not having any accidents this evening that she’ll need to explain. Smart, she thinks, to send Michael into the kitchen, an excuse to get away. Right? That’s smart. Just in case.

“Emily,” Celia cuts in, “he’s leaving. Okay? He’s going. I made a mess and it derailed his plan to leave but he’s going.”

GM: Michael is swiftly back with the paper towels.

“No! I’m going to at least get the stain out of his shirt!” says Diana. Her cheeks are flushing too at Emily’s description, but she doesn’t otherwise respond.

Celia: “It’s red wine, Mom,” Celia says gently. “It’s not coming out. I’ll get him a new one, okay?” Celia takes the paper towels from Michael with a nod of thanks and looks to her father, sizing him up. “16 neck, 42 chest?” she asks him.

GM: “Sweetie, it’s not my house if you want to pick up glass, but I’m going to draw the line at my children buying me clothes outside of Christmas and birthdays,” Maxen chuckles. “It’s fine, I have plenty others. And I think my presence might be causing more harm than help right now, Diana, so I’ll take off. Thank you for the lovely dinner.”

Celia: “I’m sorry,” Celia says again, rising from the floor with the wet paper towel in hand. She sets it aside. “I’ll walk you out.”

GM: Emily and Michael are busy cleaning up on the floor.

“No! You and Emi are just—you keep—” Diana exclaims flusteredly, still red in the cheeks. “I guess NO ONE is going to enjoy this dinner now! I spent a lot of time on it!”

“Put it in the oven again at low heat,” Maxen says gently. “It’ll be as good as fresh out.”

“You said you wanted to talk about Isabel! I don’t want to put that off because, because-!” Diana makes an exasperated gesture behind her.

“He doesn’t have anything to say about Isabel, Mom,” preempts Emily. “It’s been almost a decade since she was in touch.”

“Well you’re wrong about that, I know she talks to Logan!” retorts Diana, crossing her arms.

“And I know he’s worried about her!”

Celia: “He is,” Celia quietly admits. “He’s spoken to me about it.”

GM: “I want to hear this, Max!” says Diana. “Do you have news about her?”

Celia: “Why don’t I see if he’s left a shirt here you can wear, Dad, and you and Mom can talk, and Emily and I will sit in the other room until you’re done. Michael, it’s up to you if you want to stick around, I’m sorry things got out of hand.”

GM: “Are you joking? I don’t want to leave him alone in a room with her,” says Emily.

“For goodness’ sake, Emily!” Diana exclaims in exasperation.

Michael just nods, but doesn’t move to leave or speak over the quarreling family.

Celia: “The room has a giant open door,” Celia says, gesturing to the living room that is, indeed, not hidden behind a tiny door or opening. It’s one large open area. “You’ll see them the whole time. You’ll even be able to hear them. But you don’t have to interact. Okay?”

Celia takes a step away.

“I’m going to find a shirt. Mike, do you want to..?” She makes a vague gesture about coming with her.

GM: “I don’t have any shirts of Logan’s, sweetie,” says her mom. “I gave them back since you were last here. And we don’t have any clothes in your father’s size.”

“It’s all right,” says Maxen. “I’m going to drive straight home.”

“I want to hear about Isabel,” says Diana. “Please.” She kneels to help with the glass as well.

Celia: “Mom, stop, I’ve got the glass. You two sit. Eat. Emily, other room. Take your plate if you want.” Celia resumes cleaning.

GM: “I’m fine staying, thanks,” says Emily.

“Sweetie, nonsense, you don’t need to clean this all up by yourself,” says Diana.

Celia: Celia gives her mother a look.

A very frank look.

A very frank “yes I do and you know why” look.

“Sit, Mom,” she says gently, “it’s almost done anyway.”

GM: “…all right,” says Diana. “If you’re sure.”

She sits.

Emily looks at her for a moment.

Celia: She finishes cleaning. Once the glass is up there’s just the wine to get, and with paper towels soaking up most of it there’s not much else to be done. She sweeps the rest of the glass off the floor and into the dustbin, then comes back with a wet paper towel to get rid of the wine.

GM: Michael continues to help with the glass and cleanup, but otherwise doesn’t interrupt the family.

Diana looks like she feels bad about him cleaning, but doesn’t press.

“So, Isabel?” she asks her ex, leaning forward.

Maxen nods.

“Logan and I have not been able to get ahold of her for close to two weeks now. That’s not unusual, in of itself. Internet service isn’t always reliable where she is. This isn’t even the longest we haven’t heard from her.”

Emily looks confused by the ‘and I’, but doesn’t butt in.

“But…” says Diana.

“But,” grants Maxen, “she sounded in a very bad place, when she last spoke with us. Her boyfriend had want missing, as you know-”

“Yes, Evan, that very nice boy,” Diana nods.

Celia: Celia keeps her head down while they talk, working on getting the worst of the spill off the floor. She glances at Michael as he assists, pain in her eyes, and touches the back of his hand.

GM: Michael just gives her an unimpressed look.

Maxen nods again. “And she’s been in touch more regularly, since he disappeared. And she gives heads up, too, when she can’t talk for a while.”

“So you think something’s happened?” asks Diana. “I know it’s very dangerous, where she is.”

Celia: Celia withdraws the touch. She retreats inside of herself, where he can’t hurt her, and her face shutters. She moves to the kitchen to dispose of everything, though she can still hear the words of her parents.

She’s back a moment later.

GM: “So they started at our family churches,” says Maxen. “Mine and the one you, your mother, and sister all go to. Because they figured that’s where a scared and directionless teen would go, a familiar church, rather than a stranger’s.”

“They interviewed priests, staff, people who were around in 2009. They looked into partnered missionary organizations and visited their headquarters in the city.”

“Nothing.”

Diana looks no less worried.

“Maybe she went with another one, or just didn’t go…?”

“They’re still looking into some other missionary organizations,” Maxen nods, “though they don’t expect much to come of it. They think Isabel might never have worked at one.”

“But why would she lie?” frowns Diana.

“Well, like Celia said,” says Maxen.

“She wanted to escape and throw me off her trail.”

“But to keep up the lie for almost ten years…?” says Diana, frowning even deeper.

“Yes, that’s the thing they found strange. Because we shared our texts with them,” says Maxen.

“They also asked Logan and me a lot of questions.”

“And Isabel spoke at considerable length about the religious work she was doing.”

“I could hear the pride in her voice.”

“She gave a lot of details. We talked about God all the time.”

“She said doing His work was the most fulfilling thing she’d ever done. That this was her life’s work, now.”

“I speak with my share of people who are, I might put it, less than sincere in their faith. That unfortunately comes up in politics.”

“Isabel sounded to me like a true believer.”

“The PIs thought so too.”

“So… why couldn’t they find anything at church, then…?” Diana asks puzzledly.

Celia: “Mom,” Celia says gently, putting a hand on her shoulder. “Don’t assume the worst. There are a lot of churches in the city, a lot in the state. She went to Liberty, maybe she met someone up there, fell in with a different crowd.”

GM: “Isabel never went to Liberty,” says Maxen.

Celia: Celia looks to him.

GM: “Yes, Logan said she did…” starts Diana.

She looks even more worried, now.

“She didn’t,” says Maxen. “We had no contact after she left. I know her college fund was never used.”

Celia: Celia stares.

Is he not going to say?

Is he not going to own up to what he did to her, how he kept her in a cage?

GM: Is that better or worse than killing her?

“The PIs talked to the people at Liberty,” says Maxen. “They thought maybe she took out loans, got a scholarship, or otherwise paid her own way through school.”

“Colleges keep records of all students they’ve ever had, obviously.”

“Liberty had nothing for an Isabel Flores.”

“Though they did have an application she filed back in high school.”

“Now, there is one other thing.”

Celia: “What about another college? Somewhere else? Maybe she just said Liberty because you wouldn’t accept another school..?”

GM: “Isabel didn’t leave New Orleans immediately, after… after the alleged tape was circulated. I know that for a fact.”

“She was still in the city for the better part of a year.”

Celia: Celia doesn’t dare glance at Michael, at Emily, at her mother. She keeps her eyes on her father’s face.

GM: “Well, what was she doing?” asks Diana. She still has that same puzzled tone.

“She was staying at home, where I was continuing to abuse her,” says Maxen.

Celia: She hadn’t thought he’d say it.

Not like that.

Not so frankly.

She swallows, taking a step back as if reeling, watching his face as the words leave his mouth. At her side her fingers curl into fists.

GM: “Oh,” says Diana.

Emily and Michael don’t say anything.

Celia: “Tell us,” says Celia. “Tell us what you did to her.”

GM: “I don’t want to hear that,” says Diana, shaking her head.

“I think he should tell us,” says Emily. “I think he should tell us everything. What was she doing, at home, for the better part of a year, Maxen? Because Logan and the others all said she disappeared. They said she was off at-”

“Emily, stop it!” snaps Diana.

Celia: “Did they know?” Celia asks quietly. “Logan, David, Soph? Did they know she was with you?”

“Did they do nothing?”

GM: “Your brothers and sisters aren’t at fault there,” says Maxen, shaking his head. “I didn’t tell them.”

“That makes no sense,” says Emily. “She was at home, but they didn’t know? What, were you keeping her locked in her room? And isn’t that funny, coming right after that-”

STOP IT!” yells Diana, standing up from her seat. Her face is red now, but not from embarrassment.

“I have not spoken to my daughter in almost ten years! This is not the time to drag up the past! Not now! Do it later! I want to know, Maxen, and I want to know right now: where is our daughter? Has something happened to her? Are we going to see her again?” Diana’s voice is choked and breathless. Fear is naked and plain in her eyes.

“We don’t know,” Maxen answers quietly. “She’s now a missing person.”

“It’s possible something bad has happened. We don’t know. But the detectives think something might have.”

“They are still looking.”

Celia: Celia retreats further into herself. She knows what happened. Isabel is dead. Isabel is dead and it’s her fault. Isabel is dead and she could have prevented it and she didn’t, because she was petty and jealous and insecure and now she gets to watch it rip her family apart, rip her mother apart.

Her lip trembles, fingers flexing at her sides, and she blinks rapidly to clear the moisture from her eyes before it has a chance to turn into tears. She doesn’t look at anyone. Her gaze stays focused on the ground, hatred and self-loathing in her heart.

GM: Her last sight as she looks away is of her mother sitting down and burying her face against Maxen’s chest.

She sounds like she’s softly crying.

“I’m going to do everything in my power to find her, Diana,” says Maxen. He must have his arms around her. That’s what you do with the mother of your child when she’s crying. The woman’s low sniffs continue to sound. “Dead or alive. I am going to find her. I am going to bring her back to us and back to you.”

“Oh… Isabel…” Diana moans. Her voice is muffled.

Celia: Celia presses her hands to her face. She turns, blindly stepping into the kitchen while her mother’s sobs tear her apart. She doesn’t look for comfort from Michael. She doesn’t think about intruding on this family moment when she has been the cause of so much pain. She silently slips away to let the tears fall.

She’d done this.

All of it.

It’s all her fault.

And there’s no way she can fix it now.

No way to bring her back.

Bornemann had been clear. Final death is final.

GM: She hears footsteps following after her.

Then she feels strong arms encircling her.

Holding her close.

Against a man’s taller frame.

She feels a head brush against hers, and Roderick’s voice breathe in her ear:

“It’s your fault.”

“I told you, didn’t I, that you were a black hole?”

Celia: He doesn’t even know the worst of it.

The words break her all the same. Any control she thought she had slips away; he kicks her while she’s down and it’s all she can do to remain upright, to stay tucked against him, to keep from fleeing into the night so she can find something dangerous to throw herself against.

His words break her. She sobs silently. Her shoulders don’t need to shake. She doesn’t need to breathe. But she sobs all the same, tears leaking from her eyes and down her cheeks, caught by her own hands.

Blood on her fingers. Red-handed. Her fault.

She only nods.

GM: His hands drop from her sides. He pulls her away, then grips her head so he stares directly into her face.

“Madly careening through space, though black holes don’t actually move, blacker than the void. Destroying everything it comes into contact with, sucking away all life and light down an inescapable void.”

“Crying the whole time, like you’re the victim.”

“Your mother, brothers, and sisters are the victims, Celia,” Roderick says patiently.

“Not you.”

“These are crocodile tears.”

“They’re disgusting and pathetic, and they score no sympathy points, not with people who know who you are.”

“Truth always comes out.”

Celia: Every single one of his words slam into her like a physical blow.

The tears stop. Dead eyes stare at him when he captures her head in his hands.

She only nods again.

GM: “I told you this would happen. That your family wasn’t going to let this go.”

“But you were too selfish and too stupid.”

Celia: Celia yanks away.

“Get out,” she says in a low voice.

GM: His grip only tightens, holding her firmly in place.

“You’ve never cared about anything beyond yourself, not really. You literally can’t consider it. You’re the most selfish person I’ve ever known. I finally see you past all the makeup, Celia. Past the superficial prettiness that washes away like so much filth under the sink faucet.”

“When you cheated on me, you never really apologized, did you? No, you always justified it, and broke down in weeping histrionics when your lies finally came to light. It wasn’t about me. It was about you. How scared you were of losing our relationship. How justified you were to do what you did. How unfair everything all was to you. You, you, you. You didn’t care you hurt me. You were never sorry for what you did. You don’t care about your family, either. You’re the most supremely selfish and rotten-hearted creature to ever exist in my life, and you cry victim the whole time. You’re a monster in denial that it’s even a monster. That’s what makes your act so convincing.”

“But lying is what you do best, isn’t it? You lie to yourself, too. Not just everyone else.”

“How does it feel to look at the truth, Celia? How does it feel to hear what you really are? Not even your family knows the real Celia, not like I do.”

Celia: That’s what she’d wanted to do this evening.

To talk to him about him. To apologize. To start to move past it. To have a conversation that doesn’t result in anger or tears. To speak softly, kindly, to give him the gift she’s been sitting on for years, to tell him that she knows she messed up, that she’s… that she’s sorry. About everything. About not trusting, about cheating, about lying, about all the times she had hurt him. To ask how else she could make it up to him.

Like everything else in her Requiem, it had been ruined.

“Awful,” she says, voice hollow. Her tears cease. They hadn’t been for her, they’d been for her family, but she doesn’t tell him that. It doesn’t matter. “It feels awful to know what I’ve become. It feels awful to know that my truth is ugly, selfish, evil. It’s awful, Michael. I don’t want to be this person anymore.”

She wishes they had kept her. That they’d burn her tonight. But she doesn’t say this, doesn’t tell him about her death wish, doesn’t even say it’s something that had been on the table.

He won’t care.

“I’m supposed to see Gui tonight. I’ll set the new date with him when I do. I’ll make sure it has nothing to do with either one of us. I’ll find out who sired Dani when I meet him as well. I’ll have the name for you tonight. I’ll have the blood for you this evening. All of it. You don’t have to let me stay, just let me know where to drop it off. I’ll make arrangements with Duke, as you asked. And I’ll fix this situation with my family. You were right. I should have already done it. I put it off. I was selfish and… and stupid.”

She stumbles over the word but gets it out.

“I can go now. I’ll go now to meet him, and set the date. Or part of the juice now, if you want it. My mother won’t mind a missing container. Then I’ll say bye. And I’ll go. And I’ll do as you said. Everything you said.”

GM: Roderick folds his arms.

“I guess you’d better get started, Celia.”

“I’ll only believe it when I see it.”

Celia: “I’m sorry,” she says to him, even though she knows it doesn’t mean anything. She moves past him, reaching under a cabinet for a glass jar. Her mother prefers them to plastic. Less waste, she says, and Celia is glad for the twist off top. She glances into the dining room to make sure the humans are still occupied.

It’s a risk, even if they are. She steps out the back door, into the little space between Emily’s carriage house and Diana’s main house, and bites into her wrist.

She lets the blood flow.

Her Beast is not pleased. It hates the way she snivels and cowers before this lesser predator. Physically superior he may be, but he is nothing save a crying worm compared to her.

Oh no, my sire lied to me.

Oh no, my girlfriend cheated on me.

Oh no, I’m a sad pathetic sap.

It hates him. And it seethes when the girl wants to give the blood to him. It seethes as she takes from herself to give it up to this pathetic waste of Blood. Smart? Sure. But naïve. Without hiding behind his sire’s skirts he wouldn’t be long for this world.

He’s a spoiled childe playing at pretend.

Celia hisses as her fangs split her skin, hisses again when her Beast makes its displeasure known. One hit. Two. A third. Her Beast hates with every drop, seething inside of her. Claws rip into her stomach, so much worse than what Camilla had done to her last night, so much worse than the burns or the saw.

She’s choosing this. Playing victim again. Letting him control her.

And for what? What benefit has she gotten from this?

Nothing.

Absolutely nothing.

The blood flows. She fills the cup. Three hits, only part of what she owes, but the container can’t take anymore. A flick of her tongue across her wrist closes the wound. She steps back inside, grabbing a plastic bag from her mother’s pantry to wrap around the jar, and offers it to Michael.

GM: He accepts it without a word.

Celia: “I’m sorry,” she says again. “If you want to come with me to meet him tonight we might be able to create an opportunity to jump him. You already have a different face. Otherwise I will… I’ll see you later, with the rest of everything.”

GM: “Get going, Celia,” is all he says.

“You may contact me when you have substantive progress to report.”

Celia: “Yes, sir.”

Sir. It slips out of her mouth, but she doesn’t take it back. She only bows her head and turns to go, making her excuses to her family.

“One of my clients has connections overseas,” she says, and it’s even true. “If she’s not in the States, he can start looking. I’m going to see him now to tell him about it. I also have police contacts I can pull on, and a PI friend myself.”

Celia hugs her mom.

“I’ll stop by later. Let me take care of these things while everyone is still awake. Dad, I’ll walk you out.”

GM: Michael follows her out. Celia finds her parents’ chairs still pulled up next to each other. Her mom is leaning against her dad’s shoulder, who has his arms around her. Her eyes are red from crying. Dinner looks untouched.

Diana returns Celia’s hug with one arm, but sniffs and shakes her head at her daughter’s last words.

“No. He’s staying.”

“Those sound like great ideas, Celia,” says her dad. “The more people we have looking, the better.”

Celia: Celia only nods.

“Then I’ll see you both later.”

GM: “See you,” says Emily. Her voice doesn’t sound at all irate. She’s still seated where she is, arms folded, watching Maxen and Diana.

Her face doesn’t look mad anymore, either.

She doesn’t once look away from the two.

Dinner looks untouched.

“I’m so sorry you had to see all of this, Michael,” Celia’s mom says in embarrassment.

“It’s perfectly all right, Mrs. Flores,” he answers. “Celia’s already shown me a lot of herself.”

Celia: She feels better knowing that Emily is looking out for them. That she’d protected Lucy from a demon entering through the door, at least.

“I’m picking up a phone first. Call me if you need anything.”

GM: “Oh, I’m sorry, sweetie,” says her dad. “I was going to order you one online. I can have it delivered overnight. Is that fast enough?”

Celia: “Doesn’t hurt. I’ll grab a cheap thing in the meantime so you guys can reach me.” Most stores sell bullshit phones for a hundred bucks.

GM: “Sounds like a plan. What’s the address I should have it delivered to?”

“You gonna be back tonight?” asks Emily.

Celia: Celia tells him to send it to the spa. She gets most of her mail there anyway.

“Should be.”

GM: Maxen nods and says he’ll send it there.

“I dunno how many stores will still be open this hour on a Sunday,” says Emily.

Celia: It’s not even nine.

“Herrick’s. Any other big box retailer. I’ll find something. Or borrow one.”

GM: Emily pulls out her own phone.

“The nearby Herrick’s is already closed, but there’s one in Gentilly open until 10 and one in Algiers open to 11. 20 minute drive. You need the address?”

Celia: “Sure. Gentilly. Unless you just want to let me borrow your phone, Ma. I can log into my account from there.”

GM: “Oh, feel free,” says her mom. “It’s… where I’d leave it…”

“You can borrow mine if you want,” says Emily.

“Oh, it’s in my bedroom, sweetie. Whichever you’d like.”

“They’re both Solarises, so.”

Celia: “I don’t need to see Robby sending you nudes,” Celia says to Emily with a wink. She moves down the hall to Diana’s bedroom to find the phone, looking for Lucy when she gets there.

GM: “You wish,” says Emily, though her heart doesn’t sound completely in the banter. She still has half an eye on their mother and Maxen.

The doll is lying on the ground by the door. The porcelain face is utterly still. The doll’s unblinking eyes bore into Celia’s.

She finds her mother’s phone on the bedside table. There’s a pattern unlock.

Celia: “Lucy,” Celia whispers to the doll, “I put you on the bed. Why are you here?” She picks up the doll and the phone, putting the doll into her purse. Only the doll doesn’t fit. It’s too big, even for the practical bag Celia had worn tonight. The entire head sticks out.

“When I come back tonight,” she tells Lucy, “I’ll merge you, okay? I love you. I love Diana. Just bear with me for a while so she doesn’t scream when she sees you.”

Celia reaches for the doll with that gift Benson had given her, the one that can transform anything she holds into a doll and a doll into anything else. Scarf, she thinks, and the doll’s form blurs into a scarf that trails from her purse. Celia keeps her tucked inside as best she can.

Then she’s back to the living room, asking her mother for the pattern unlock so she can get into it.

GM: The doll offers no response or explanation as Celia picks it up.

Then Celia doesn’t have a doll, but a scarf, and the porcelain face is invisible to her mother.

Diana takes the phone and shows her daughter the pattern to trace.

Celia: “Appreciate it, Mom. I’ll bring it back in a bit. I love you.”

GM: “I love you too, sweetie,” her mom sniffs, hugging her again. “I’m so glad to have you here, right now. Just so glad.”

Her father and Emily echo both of those sentiments.

Michael, too.

Celia: She shouldn’t be. But Celia doesn’t say. She just smiles, kisses her mom on the cheek, and gets going.


Sunday night, 20 March 2016, PM

Celia: Celia gets into her car and starts with the practical, logging into her WhatsApp so she can reach out to a handful of people.

GM: Roderick leaves the house with her after exchanging farewells with Celia’s family. He says he’s looking forward to staying in touch with Maxen. He gets into his own car and drives off without saying goodbye.

Celia: It’s okay, she doesn’t say goodbye to Roderick either. She doesn’t even wave or offer to do his face or tell him that she’d had a handful of identities picked out for him.

She’s not even sure why she’s so caught up in the idea of fixing things with him.

She checks to see if Gui called or texted.

Did you move out of my mom’s? she sends to Dani.

Where are you? to Reggie.

GM: Gui has not.

Yeah I moved in with my dad, tonight a good time for us to catch up? answers Dani.

There’s no immediate response from Reggie.

Celia: Possibly, she replies to Dani. In trouble. Need to figure some stuff out. Will call you in a min.

GM: Ok. Let me know if I can help!

Celia: She calls Reggie.

GM: No response.

Celia: “Call me back,” she says to his voicemail. “I need you.”

She hangs up and pulls out of the driveway, then calls Gui.

GM: The Ventrue picks up after a few rings.

“Gui.”

Celia: “Hey, babe. You free? I’d love to explain what happened last night.”

GM: “Sure. Later tonight.”

Celia: “Before or after the party?”

GM: “After. 3’s a good time.”

Celia: “Perfect.” A slight pause. “Are you still going to bring your friend? I wouldn’t have blown you off if I’d had any choice in the matter, baby.”

GM: “You’ll have what I want?”

Celia: “I always have what you want.” She giggles. “But yes, absolutely.”

GM: “Mmm. Some opportunities passed me by. Time-sensitive ones. I can bring along my friend at 4, and you’ll owe me a favor, or it can be just me at 3.”

Celia: Celia, as Jade, huffs into the phone.

“You’re not the only one who lost out last night. But I’ll show you I’m good for it. Consider me in your debt, darling. I’ll see you at four.”

GM: “You got it, lush. It’ll be a party to remember.”

Click.

Celia: At least she’ll still get Dani’s sire out of it. That’s something, right?

Celia glances at the phone, dialing Reggie again.

GM: Her answer is the same.

“Yo. Leave a message.”

Beeep.

Celia: She doesn’t leave another message. She tries his brother instead. The live one.

GM: “Yes?” comes Rusty’s voice after a few rings.

Celia: “Hi, Rusty. You hear from Reggie at all? I’ve been trying to get ahold of him. I’m worried.”

GM: “Recently enough I don’t think he’s missing like Randy.”

Celia: “Has he found anything?” Celia presses.

GM: “No.”

Celia: The phone moves away from her mouth for a moment. Rusty can hear a muffled swear.

“If you see him, have him call me. There’s some shit hitting the fan and I want to make sure you two are safe while we look for your brother.”

GM: “We’re fine,” snorts Rusty. “Randy’s the one who’s probably unsafe.”

Celia: “I was picked up in the heart of the Quarter last night,” Celia all but snarls into the phone, “which means that no one is ‘safe.’”

GM: “You sound fine. So are we.”

Celia: She takes a breath.

“Rusty,” Celia says quietly, “I can’t help find Randy if I don’t know what Reggie found, or where he is. I can’t look for two people at once. I only want to make sure you’re both okay, and that whoever took Randy isn’t going to come for either one of you. Okay?”

GM: “We’re fine, we’ve found nothing, and Mom is very upset,” Rusty says irritably. “Do you have some way in mind to help or is that all?”

It occurs to Celia this is the second family she’s sent on a wild goose chase for a ‘missing’ relative.

Celia: She’s a terrible person.

Roderick is right.

“I have some people to follow up with. I’ll let you know what I find. Stay safe.”

GM: “For the fourth time, we are safe.”

There’s noise in the background. It sounds like angry voices.

“Rusty, get off the phone!” snarls one.

Celia: “I know,” Celia breathes into the phone. “I know you said that.”

She’s a mess. Her entire Requiem has become a mess. She’d laugh, but mostly she feels like crying. Her lover, lost. Her allies, lost. Her friends, lost. Even her servants, lost.

She’s alone. Trying to keep the rest of her unlife from hemorrhaging further, ruining everything that she touches in the meantime.

“Keep me updated.”

She hangs up, staring at the phone in her hands.

She’s a monster. Just like he said. She’s a monster.


Sunday night, 20 March 2016, PM

Celia: For long moments, Celia sits in her car, wondering about the future in store for her. Camilla had said dangerous nights are coming, that she might not survive. What of her sire, will he survive? Will Roderick? Savoy?

Does she care?

None of them had come for her. None of them had lifted a finger to help her. Savoy and Roderick and even her own ghoul had done nothing when she’d told them what happened. Maybe she doesn’t blame Savoy, not really, he has kept her at an arm’s distance since the night she told Donovan his plan.

But the other two? Reggie is supposed to be devoted to her. Roderick is supposed to love her. Even Rusty had been dismissive, and Alana only wanted to fuck.

A knife twists in her gut.

Love. As if such a thing exists among Kindred. Coco was right: maybe it does, but it’s rare. What are the chances that she’s the one who found it? Even if Roderick is in there somewhere, he has turned into an abuser. He has turned into another Maxen, taking out his rage on the girl he’s supposed to love, supposed to protect.

She cannot count on him. Not now. Not ever.

Her whole life she was a puppet for men, used and abused and tormented, and she let it continue on in her Requiem. Her sire. Her lover. She’d had the upper hand with her boyfriend and had gotten on her knees for him the moment he asked.

She truly is the pathetic creature that Preston thinks her.

She’s playing human. Playing victim. Not because Roderick said so, no, but because she’s giving away whatever power she had, letting others control her. She’d heard the truth of her sire from Camilla: how he had shown up and tortured, humiliated, and abused her for losing control. How he had killed whatever feelings of love she’d once had. Killed or demand she bury. She, too, walks the knife’s edge.

Celia is so tired of the cut of that blade. Playing how many sides. How many people. Lying to everyone. She can’t move forward when she’s constantly holding herself back. She’s betrayed her grandsire, the one who looks out for her. Maybe he doesn’t race to her rescue in the middle of the night, but she’s comfortable, secure, even happy in his court. Domain, his ear, the lab—how many other neonates can say they get to see him when they want, even if he makes her wait a few nights? And when her sire comes calling she sells him out. The sire that has done nothing for her. The sire that abandoned her. The sire that beats and humiliates her. The sire that put her mother, her siblings, her lover at risk. That sire. The one who tasked her with destroying everything she loves.

She is a monster.

A rabid dog choking on the edge of its chain, biting the hands that try to pet it because all it has known is suffering.

But not in the way his little brain says. Not in the way his black-and-white worldview offers. For what does he know of monsters? What does the boy born with a silver spoon in life and unlife both know anything of pain? What horrors does he think he faced that he can look at her, who loves more fiercely than any lick in this city, who put herself in danger to save her ghoul, to save her mother (how many times now?), and call her “monster.” What other things has he seen in his Requiem that show him true horror? Hers began with pain. Humiliation. Terror.

No, the monster at her core is the kind that Ocean said. A hybrid signal, a lighthouse: both shelter and warning at once. A monster is not such a terrible thing to be. Neither of this world or the other. Dead, physically. But alive. Blazing. She has let those around her gutter and temper her flame, but she is not the sort of fire to be controlled.

She is inferno, and she will burn them all.

She will give him his blood. She will give him Gui. And then the slates are clean, and she will walk away.

She is no one’s pet, and she is tired of the soft, docile, tamed mask. It no longer fits her face.

It crumbles.

The girl in the mirror needs a new name, but that will come. For now, she shifts her face to what the city of licks expects to see and drives into the night.

She has luck to collect.


Sunday night, 20 March 2016, PM

Celia: The streets take her to the boat. The boat takes her to the cabin boy. The numbers on her dash show the time of their meeting. Perfect. A bit of cloaking and she’s whoever they want her to be, strolling through the casino to knock upon his door.

GM: Everyone in the casino ignores Celia’s presence utterly. Just another face in the crowd. It’s when she attempts to enter the ‘employees only’ area of the casino, however, that she is stopped by suited security personnel who politely ask her business.

Celia: Just as politely, she explains she has a meeting with Mr. Cambridge.

GM: They ask her name.

Celia: She gives it to them.

GM: One of the men makes a phone call. The person on the other end evidently confirms that Ms. Kalani does have business at the casino. Mr. Cambridge is not currently on the Alystra, she is told, but is expected back at 11 PM (and to be gone again by midnight, no doubt for Midnight Mass). Jade is free to avail herself of the casino’s many entertainments until Mr. Cambridge returns, or to leave and return herself by 11. Mr. Brodowski is also present if she wants to meet with him. He handles more business matters than Mr. Cambridge does.

Celia: Any irritation at that revelation doesn’t cross her pretty face. He’d said now.

She asks if he perhaps left a package for her.

GM: He has not, to their knowledge, though Mr. Brodowski more commonly handles the delivery of important packages than Mr. Cambridge does. He may have one.

Celia: She assents to meeting with him.

GM: Brodowski meets Jade after several minutes in a tastefully appointed office space. The decor is minimalist, though sleekly modern rather than utterly bare like her sire’s haven. Glass, soft lights, and silver-gray and wooden hues predominate. The Ventrue is dressed in a tailored and stylish navy suit at odds with his emaciated frame, hollow cheeks, and discolored eyes. The esthetician is positive he’s wearing makeup to look as ‘good’ as he does. Still, he rises at Jade’s entrance and sits when she sits.

“Package pickup, Miss Kalani?” he smiles.

Celia: Jade takes a seat when prompted, smiling at the Ventrue across the desk from her. It wouldn’t take her long to fix that haunted, gaunt look to him.

“Package pickup, Mr. Brodowski,” she agrees. “Mr. Cambridge is to have it ready for me.” A pause, small tilt of her head, a knowing smile. “Not that sort of package, darling.”

GM: Brodowski chuckles audibly.

“The entendres there are rather too easy, Miss Kalani, so we’ll assume I made a few ‘package’ quips. But here you are.”

He gets up, opens a mini-fridge in the office’s corner, and retrieves three bags of blood that he sets down on the desk. The dark red liquid looks ordinary enough, to Jade’s inspection.

“The luckiest blood in New Orleans.”

Celia: Jade smiles at the stiff’s reference, all too real amusement dancing in her eyes. It is, as he said, low hanging fruit.

She eyes the blood, counting three, then looks back to Brodowski. The smile never fades.

“When shall I stop by for the rest?”

GM: “This is a casino, Miss Kalani. We keep a thorough accounting of all balances and transactions,” Brodowski smiles back.

“Prince Guilbeau promised you half the blood originally in Mr. Gunner’s veins. This amount, and the blood taken from Mr. Cambridge after he fed from Mr. Gunner, comes out to half.”

Celia: She can’t help but let out a tiny, tinkling laugh.

Very thorough, Mr. Brodowski. I have something for your sire. When is good for that exchange?”

GM: “Are you amenable to a Wednesday at 1 or a Thursday at 2, Miss Kalani?”

“You can also make the delivery any time prior, of course, but Prince Guilbeau understands if you’d rather exchange things at the same time.”

Celia: “Oh, it has little to do with exchanging things at the same time and more to do with something else I would offer him that requires a brief discussion. Something bigger.” The smile that stretches across her face is positively predatory. “Thursday at 2 will work splendidly. But I’ll perhaps take you up on that early delivery option.”

GM: “Thursday sounds splendid on multiple counts, in that case,” Brodowski smiles back. Less obviously predatory, but pleased-seeming all the same. “Prince Guilbeau so very hopes that the two of you will have a mutually satisfactory exchange.”

“If there’s no further business tonight, Miss Kalani, I’m sure I’ll see you at Elysium. Enjoy your evening.”

Celia: “Good evening, Mr. Brodowski.”

Jade deposits the blood into her purse and rises, inclining her head to the Ventrue before she heads for the door.

Another bit of cloaking and she’s free of the casino and on her way to the next big adventure.


Sunday night, 20 March 2016, PM

Celia: She has hours yet before she needs to be to Elysium. Hours and no meetings, no appointments, nothing but time to plan and act.

Dani and Alana both want her attention this evening. She has Duke to call. Randy’s death to disguise. Progress of her own to make on the talisman from Marcel, lest the hounds come sniffing ’round her panties once more.

Next time, she thinks, she’ll swat their eager little snouts with a rolled paper.

She starts with the blood, driving back to her haven and heating a single bag of it until it is warm enough to not only drink, but to be satisfying as well. She swallows one of the hits that Marcel set aside for her. Perhaps annoyed that Josua had told them she’d been given more from him, perhaps annoyed at herself for expecting two more pints, the feelings dissipate when liquid luck touch her tongue. It is fire in her veins, static at her fingertips, lightning in her lungs.

It is giddy, electrical energy, and the girl dances through her empty haven while her skirt sweeps out around her, shedding herself of the shy, timid, broken woman she had been like a snake ridding itself of too-tight coils or a butterfly emerging from its goo-cocoon to become a stunning, fluttering creature.

Celia Flores, inferno.

She dresses for the night. She dresses for what she is: strong, passionate, vibrant. She dresses for the fire that does not lick her skin but that lights her up from inside, for the sun that sears her face but does not immolate her, for the shadow that hid her for so long and finally relents to let her have this bright, shining moment.

She stares at herself in the mirror.

And then she undresses, shedding the skin once more to don a black dress that will fit in with the whores at Bourbon Heat, and she packs her wings away for Elysium. She hides the lucky blood, gathers what she will need for the night—including that stake of hers, extra restraints—and sets off with the clicking of her heels heralding the way.

GM: There’s an audible crash before the dressed-up Toreador leaves her haven. Her purse lies on the ground. Lucy is still inside, but it’s tipped over, and the other contents spilled. The doll’s glassy eyes bore unblinkingly into hers.

Celia: The girl stares down at the doll.

“So you do move,” she says to it. “And here I’d thought Diana had stolen you.”

GM: The porcelain lips remain motionless.

Celia: The girl’s knees bend. She brings herself lower to the floor to better observe the doll.

“Maxen is with her this evening. Did you think that a good moment to intrude?”

GM: The doll’s stare bores into the girl.

Pic.jpg
Celia: She glances at the clock on the wall. However long the process takes with Lucy, she’ll still have time for Bourbon Heat. It’s not as if she needs something specific.

“Do you want to do it now?”

GM: The doll only stares at the girl, glass eyes large and unblinking.

Celia: The girl gives a tiny nod. She reaches for the doll.

“Tonight, then, my little darling Lucy. Tonight we free you.” She holds the doll against her chest, much the same as a mother with her child. “Will I need anything else for you or her, do you know?”

GM: The doll’s blue dress and torso is soft against the girl. She’s long since learned from Elyse how that part of dolls isn’t made from porcelain, even though the head and limbs are.

Lucy does not say so.

Celia: Another nod, as if the doll has indeed spoken to her.

“The books,” she agrees, and with Lucy still tucked against her she gathers the texts that Lucy had wanted from the library. She takes the card as well, tucking it all into the overturned purse with the rest of the spilled contents. The letter she’d had Jade write to her mother is moved from her bedside table to one of the pockets on her purse. A moment in front of the mirror and she is Celia again. She casts her eye around for anything else that might help with the transition. After a second of consideration she moves into her closet to find an old piece of jewelry.

She texts Dani that she’s going to her mom’s for a bit, then probably going dancing. Or they can meet later, after church.

“Come, Lucy. Let us free you from your porcelain prison.”

GM: Dani texts back and asks if she’d like to go dancing together. (She is getting hungry.) Or to go to church together, “with Hannah.” Stephen told her about ‘his’ church.

Celia: Dancing together sounds good. Celia says she’ll meet her there. She says they’ll talk about Hannah at the club.

GM: Dani hashes out a time and replies enthusiastically she’ll meet Celia there.

It’s a short drive, meanwhile, back to her mother’s house. She opens the door and walks into the living room to find her mom snuggled up next to her dad on the couch. There’s a movie playing. Diana doesn’t really look like she’s paying attention to it. Her eyes are half-closed and she’s leaning her head against Maxen’s shoulder, feet pulled up under her knees. Emily watches (the pair) from a nearby chair with a wooden expression.

Celia: A touch has the doll disguised once more. She doesn’t want to frighten Diana any more than she needs to. Celia glances at Emily, then her parents. Gently, she touches Diana’s shoulder.

GM: “Mmm…?” her mom starts, blinking at the contact.

Celia: “Hi, Momma. I need to talk to you for a minute.”

GM: “Oh… right now, sweetie?” Diana asks sleepily.

“Right now sounds good,” agrees Emily. She gets up and rubs their mom’s shoulder. “C’mon, Mom, you need to get to bed soon anyway. School night.”

“That’s probably for the best,” says Maxen. “Things go okay, sweetie?” he asks Celia as he starts to get up.

GM: “I’d like you to stay the night,” Diana says earnestly to her ex. She takes his hand and gently tugs him back down to the couch. “I want to make you breakfast. I want to see you off to work.”

“I couldn’t imagine a lovelier start to my morning,” smiles Celia’s dad. “It’ll have to be pretty early for the commute up to the capitol. And the stop home.”

“Yes, for a replacement shirt,” Celia’s mom laughs softly, touching Maxen’s chest where the stain is.

Celia’s dad just smiles and puts his hand over Diana’s.

Celia’s mom lays her head against Maxen’s chest and closes her eyes.

Celia: “How early is early?” Celia asks idly, gently rubbing a hand up and down Diana’s back. “This kind of can’t wait, Mom, it’s important.”

She finally looks to her dad.

“My friends are aware.” It’s an easy line. Not a lie at all. “They’re going to start looking.”

GM: “Good,” says Maxen. “The more people we have looking, the better.”

The happiness on Diana’s face sinks at that reminder.

But it was a weary-looking and worry-harried happiness to begin with.

She nods slowly in concurrence.

“Okay, sweetie,” she says to Celia after a moment, looking away from her ex. “We could talk in my bedroom?”

Celia: Celia nods, excusing the pair of them.

GM: Her mom leads her into the bedroom, closes the door after them, and sits down on her bed.

“I’m so glad to have him here, Celia,” she says quietly.

“Just so glad.”

Celia: Celia sits beside her, setting her purse down on the floor.

“What about your vision? With Lucy?”

GM: “I think it was just a nightmare or something, sweetie.”

Celia: “You’re an adult, Mom. I’m not going to tell you how to live your life. It makes things difficult with the blood if you don’t stay in the Quarter, but… as long as he’s not abusing you…”

GM: “You saw him, Celia. He was so kind. So gentle.” She closes her eyes. “Oh, I have missed having a man.”

“God has answered my prayers.”

“If anyone can find Isabel…”

Celia: Celia is quiet a moment. She’d had that once, too. She doesn’t want to let the thoughts linger.

“Stephen hits me,” she finally says. “And calls me stupid, and belittles me in other ways. Everything he said tonight in front of the family was a lie.”

She reaches for her mother’s hand.

“I don’t want that for myself anymore. And I don’t want that for you. Promise me, Mom. The minute it starts. The minute he lifts a finger against you or says a harsh word. The minute you feel unsafe, no matter how silly. Promise me you won’t go back to that. That you won’t stay.”

GM: Celia’s mom blinks.

“He what!?

Celia: Celia shakes her head.

“It’s not about that right now. This is about you and Dad. I’m just telling you that I have one thing to do for him because my grandsire demands it, and then I’m walking away. I’m done. I’m done being a doormat. And if I’m done, then you’re done.”

GM: “It—oh my god, sweetie!” she exclaims, taking Celia’s hands in hands. Her heart looks like it’s breaking for her daughter. “When did this start?!”

“What happened? He was, I thought the nicest boy!”

Celia: She’s doing it again. Making herself the victim.

“Do you remember when I was nineteen and you needed the money,” she says quietly.

GM: “Yes,” her mom nods. “When the collections agency was garnishing my wages. I’m definitely not about to forget that crummy apartment.”

Her mouth hangs open. “He was hitting you then?!

Celia: “No. God, no. He was sweet. He was sweet until… until Friday, really. It just started then. I did some things I’m not proud of.” There’s no emotion to her voice. She might as well be discussing the weather.

“To make a long story short, I cheated on him. I lied to him. Multiple times. About a lot of things. And he’s had a bad week. His sister. His sire. Some other stuff. So Friday reached a boiling point, and he told me how he things would be.” She shrugs. “Then he caught me in another lie.”

“I’m fine. I heal. I’m just telling you that… that I’m not putting up with it anymore, and I’m not letting you put up with it anymore. No matter what we once had, it’s dead now.”

“I was kidnapped last night. He knew. He didn’t come. After what he said to me during dinner today, I’m not interested in trying to mend anything.”

“So if Maxen starts up with his shit again, you are not going to lie there and take it.”

GM: Diana takes all of that in slowly. There’s a very grave look on her face when she opens her mouth.

Then she blinks again.

“You were kidnappd?!”

Celia: “They were going to burn me today.” Celia shrugs. She looks away. “I made a trade to get out.”

“That’s, ah, where I lost my phone, incidentally.”

GM: “Oh my god! Who? Who was going to burn you?!” Diana exclaims, pulling Celia into her embrace. As if scared something else is going to snatch her daughter away.

Celia: Celia lets her mother hold her, but only for a moment. She repeats that she’s fine. That she got out. That she handled it.

GM: “But that’s not fine! I can’t believe, I can’t believe that… are you safe now, sweetie? That’s what matters, are you safe?” Celia’s mom reluctantly lets her pull away, but takes both of her hands.

Celia: She doesn’t know.

“I have to give them the thing I traded,” she says instead, “and they’ve got ways to make me comply. Once that’s done? Yeah. Probably.”

GM: Diana looks less than assured by that answer and squeezes Celia’s hands all the tighter.

“Can I help? Is there anything, anything I can do, Celia, to help keep you safe?”

“I’m not going to lose another daughter. I’m not. I’m not!” her mother’s voice is thick at those words.

Celia: “I think I figured it out. I’ll let you know. But this isn’t about me, Mom, this is about you. Some of us live forever, and some of us have shorter existences than we normally would. I just want to make sure that even if I’m gone you’re not going back to what you were.”

GM: “I am not losing you, Celia!” her mom repeats, still clasping Celia’s hands in hers. “You are going to outlive me and that’s that. So you let me know. Anything you can think of. I don’t care how inconvenient it is or what it costs.”

“I had my lesson with Robby today, and that went well, but he said it’d be… a month or two, before I really had it down! He said I might be able to trim that frame down to two weeks, if I was practicing every day for eight hours.”

“I could take a leave from work. If you think that’d help.”

Celia: “No.” Celia shakes her head. “I don’t want you to do that. I need some time to think, and I need to talk to…” to who? Who hasn’t she disappointed? “…my friend,” she says vaguely, “and I might, um, I might see if I can like dig a secret room or something that I can hide out in here if shit really hits the fan, somewhere I can go as Luna that a human wouldn’t be able to reach, just a safe place to sleep if needed. I might change my face and start a new identity. So I want some security in place around that, if it happens. A code phrase, so you know I’m me and I know you’re you.”

Celia squeezes her mother’s hands.

“Did you bring Lucy back with you the other night? I saw her here earlier.”

GM: “No, I didn’t do that,” Diana answers with a puzzled frown.

“But a place for you to hide out. Cat-sized. Okay, I think I can do that. You want it to be safe from the sun, and hidden,” her mom nods, “is there anything else it needs?”

“Or, sorry, did you mean human-sized, but someplace only a cat can go?”

Celia: “Yes.”

“Small human sized. I don’t get uncomfortable if I sleep in funny positions. Really. I only use a bed out of habit.”

GM: “You do?” her mom asks curiously, then remarks in a wry tone, “Well, you’re the envy of every ballerina there!”

“I also saw you turn into a bird. That might be more secure.”

“If only a bird could get in, that is.”

Celia: “Bird takes more, ah, juice sometimes. Cat is easier. But yeah, we could make that work. So far as what it needs… I mean, safety is really it. No sun. Hidden. Burner phone. Weapon, maybe. Blood never hurts. But that would need to be kept cold, and drawing power into the area is a giveaway. I just… I don’t know, Stephen told me they’re all preparing for war, and I was told the same thing last night. Or similar. I have some supplies but evidently not enough.”

Celia shakes her head.

“We’ll work out the details. In the meantime, Lucy. She was here earlier. I took her with me when I left and she knocked my purse over when it looked like I was going back out without her. Do you still want to merge?”

GM: Diana initially nods at Celia’s haven plans. Her face turns still again at the mention of Stephen. Her eyes look bewildered, but there’s a rising color to her cheeks too.

Then at Celia’s question, she blinks and looks somewhat flummoxed.

“Ah… do you think I should, sweetie?”

Celia: “You said you wanted to. That you want yourself back.”

“She’s in my purse. Why don’t you ask her what she wants?”

GM: “Well. I was… a bit tipsy,” says Diana, looking down at the bedsheets.

Celia: Celia doesn’t quite frown.

“She won’t talk to me, Mom. I brought the books she wanted from the library. And her library card. The lady spoke to her and gave her one.” Celia reaches into the purse to pull the books and card out. She shows it to her mom, pointing out the date of birth.

“And this,” she says, pulling the old pendant from the bag as well, “it’s… um, all I have from before the divorce, and you said it’s been in your family forever, so I thought maybe it would… connect you? Or… I… I don’t know. Something.”

Celia looks down at the piece of jewelry in her hands. It had been the only thing she’d saved from the time Maxen threw out all of Diana’s things. Not the trophies. Not the photos. Just this. A trinket. Luana had chastised her for being so selfish, and Celia had taken it to heart. Now, though, it means more than that. Her mother had wanted to give it back to her in the hospital but Celia refused, saying it wouldn’t be safe with Maxen.

She’d gotten it once the family was free of Maxen instead. Freedom. Hope. Courage. That’s what it means to her. She touches it now and remembers the tears in Diana’s eyes when she’d handed it over, the infant Lucy at her chest. She hadn’t needed to say anything.

GM: “Oh, you know that’s my favorite…” Celia’s mom starts when she pulls out the Pride and Prejudice copy, but trails off at the sight of the floral pendant.

She looks at it for a while, then traces a finger along the edge.

“I wanted to give that to you, you know, when you married Stephen. And then when I learned you were together again, and that he was still alive, I wish I’d held onto it. And now that you said he’s…” Diana closes her eyes for a moment, not finishing that thought, and gives Celia a wan smile.

“I guess there’s never really a good time for anything, is there?”

Celia: Celia’s smile turns sad.

“No. The stars never align like we think they will.”

“We just get to turn whatever opportunities we have into the perfect moment and trust ourselves.”

“Jade also… wrote you this,” Celia continues. “She wanted to come here last night after she escaped, but she was afraid you’d turn her away. So I wanted to give you this. To make sure you got it.”

GM: “You can always come to me, Celia!” her mom starts, but looks at the letter after Celia pulls it out.

Celia: It reads:

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GM: Celia’s mom slowly reads through the three pages, eyes scanning back and forth.

Her lip trembles and her eyes bead at the description of Jade’s “birth”. She doesn’t make it through the first page before she drops the letters to embrace Celia, rubbing her back and whispering that she had no idea, that she’s so sorry, that she wishes she’d been there, that she loves Celia, that she’s so sorry—

They’re not unfamiliar words to the two women.

Celia might feel more like she’s comforting her mom, than the other way around. Diana cries a bit. She’s so sorry this happened to Celia. So sorry. She wishes there was some way to take away her pain, to have made things turn out another way, to have protected her—

But, as the letter says when Celia hands it back, that’s where Jade came in.

Her mom sniffs and dabs her eyes as her eyes move across Jade’s flowing handwriting.

“I… I don’t know what to say, Celia,” her mom says with another sniff when she’s finished.

“I do want what’s best for you, of course I do.”

“What does she mean by… cohabitate?”

Celia: Celia offers what comfort she can. Mostly, she’s over it. It was a long time ago.

Her eyes scan the letter at the question, and for a moment she stills. Her eyes seem fixated on nothing. Then she moves, finding a pen in her purse to scratch out the word in question and replace it with another.

“Coexist.” Her voice is slightly off. “Get along. Not be detrimental to each other.”

GM: “Why doesn’t she have a mom, when Leilani does?” Diana asks.

“She said I was her mommy.”

Celia: “Born at different times.”

GM: “Sorry?” Celia’s mom asks.

Celia: Celia—Celia?—

The girl shakes her head.

“Jade and Leilani were born at different times, in different ways. They represent two different sides of me. Jade is survivor, born of suffering. Leilani is innocent, softer. She is… a concept, I think, more than a… more than a person.”

Does it make sense? The girl doesn’t know.

“I don’t know the science behind it, if that’s what it is. I don’t always understand how they work. But it does not matter right now. Only what you wish to do with Lucy. To combine her with you again, to be a full person once more, or to stay cleaved in half.”

GM: Diana opens her mouth as if to reply, but stops when the girl says it doesn’t matter.

“Ah… do you think I should, sweetie?”

Celia: “I wouldn’t have survived without Jade. Without Leilani. Without Luna. I would have lived half a life, and my Requiem would have ended prematurely. Lucy might give the fire back to you that you want. Courage, hope, freedom. Whatever that looks like to you.”

The girl reaches into her bag to find the doll. The illusion breaks. She sets the porcelain thing on her lap.

“She won’t talk to me,” she says again. “Am I afraid it will harm you? Turn you into someone you’re not? Yes. I don’t have the answers on what might happen. But I… I think that, above all, she’ll protect you.”

“And if I’m gone… if anything ever happens like it did last night, I want to know you’re safe.”

GM: Diana gives a soft intake of breath. Her eyes look over the doll, then back to the girl.

“Your father could keep me safe. He’s been good and kind, every since he came back to our lives.”

Celia: “We don’t know if that’s an act.”

“We don’t know what he wants.”

“We don’t know if he lied about the demon.”

GM: “But you’ve seen how good he is to us, sweetie. Why would it be an act?”

Celia: Because his master is the most cold-blooded, ruthless, icy-hearted lick in the city.

GM: “It’s not like he needs me for money or anything.”

Celia: “Image. Another punching bag. I don’t know. Tonight we were supposed to see. I don’t know, Mom. I don’t have the answers. But I’d rather you be safe than submit yourself to him again.”

GM: Diana’s eyes fall to her lap.

“I… I didn’t tell you this, earlier, but… part of me liked, I think, what Jade did. Or part of what she did.”

“Just… being able to submit and let someone else make all the decisions.”

She still doesn’t meet the girl’s gaze.

“I know you and Emi would think… think badly of me, for that.”

“Obviously she was hurting me, and that’s not okay.”

“And she wasn’t my husband, either.”

“I’d just… I’d just really like a husband I can… support. Let make all the big decisions. Be the head of the household.”

She finally looks up.

“What if this will ruin that?”

“What if I turn into, I don’t know, an opinionated shrew?”

Celia: “What, like Emily?” Amusement rather than judgement.

GM: “Emily’s… Emily’s not a shrew,” Diana says with a laugh. “Just… opinionated!”

Celia: “Mm. She’s strong-willed. You think Lucy would make you worse than that?”

GM: “I… maybe…?”

“I don’t know.”

“I just want someone to take care of me, Celia. I just want your father to take care of me. I feel like I’ve got him back. I want him back. So, so much.”

“And if this could ruin that, if there’s even a chance…”

Celia: “Mom,” Celia says gently, “there are things that don’t make a lot of sense to me about our family. There are nights and stories you’ve told me that don’t add up. Like everything with Ron, or why Maxen attacked you. I don’t know what Lucy will be like inside of you instead of in a doll. The only person who does know is the one who turned you into Grace. And wanting to take care of someone isn’t a bad thing. Having a spine isn’t a bad thing. You can love him and take care of him and still be strong. The two are not mutually exclusive.”

GM: “But. But your grandma didn’t love me, before I was…” Diana seems to search for words for a moment, “before she sent me there. I caused problems. I kept causing problems.”

Celia’s mom looks down again.

“Maybe she was right to.”

Celia: “Did you love yourself?”

“Because Grandma still doesn’t have a relationship with you now.”

“You can’t base your life on other people. You’ll only ever be disappointed.”

GM: “We don’t. I’m… I’m petty. I’m small.”

“I always feel like you and Emi are disappointed in me, in how… how weak I am.”

Celia: “I’m never disappointed in you. I love you. I want you to be happy. I want you to see the brightness inside of yourself that I do. How strong you are to be through everything you’ve been through but you continue to love with all of your heart.”

“That’s strength, Momma. To go through Hell and back, twice, and come out as you did? Intact? That’s amazingly strong.”

GM: “I know. You’ve told me that before. But it does always make me feel good to hear.” Her mom smiles and gives her hand a squeeze.

“It’s, it’s the one area where I feel like I can tell Emily that she was wrong, but not in a mean way, of trying to put her down.”

“Of… of actually being able to show her a better way, teach her something. Like a mom should.”

“You remember how she wanted to abort Lucy. How she thought a ‘rape baby’ would just bring more grief into our lives.”

Celia: Celia looks away for a moment.

“Maybe it did. I was a rape baby too. But Lucy has brought you joy.”

“Stephen knows what she did to you. I asked him, you know, before things got rough between us… if he thought you could still love me, if Lucy were to rejoin you. And he said that no matter what she did to you, she couldn’t change the core of your being. That ‘happy, loving wife’ doesn’t have a script written into the code about adopting a college-aged daughter and loving her like her own. That’s you. Genuinely you. That’s who you are. And if Lucy gives you a bit of a mouth or temper, well, all the better for it.”

GM: “You have brought joy into my life, sweetie! Unimaginable joy!” Celia’s mom exclaims, hugging her. “Have there been some bad moments, has there been grief, yes, but that’s life. Lucy, ah, the other Lucy, hasn’t been perfect 100% of the time either. There’s no such thing as perfect. You just have to accept that whatever grief and pain there is will be outweighed by the joy.”

Celia: “Then that’s your answer with this Lucy, isn’t it?”

GM: Her mom is quiet for a moment.

“Will… will things still be okay with us, if I get opinionated like Emi…?”

“Or worse…?”

Celia: “I hope so. Maybe some growing pains, but nothing we can’t figure out.”

GM: “I just, I just don’t want to ruin what we have, Celia. Things were rough, after you, ah, told me what you were.”

Celia: “Do you think it will get rough?”

GM: “Maybe. That’s what I’m scared of. I don’t ever want us to go back to a place where you don’t want me as your mom. I always want to be your mom.”

Celia: “Then we’ll see how it goes. And we’ll navigate as things come up. Because I do want you as my mom. Always.” Celia squeezes her hand.

GM: Celia’s mom takes a breath and squeezes her hand back.

“Okay.”

“Okay,” she repeats.

“Let’s… do it before I lose my nerve,” she says with a weak chuckle.

Celia: Celia silently offers her the doll.

GM: Diana gingerly takes Lucy into her arms. She looks at the doll, then back towards Celia.

“Is there… something I need to do…?”

Celia: She has no idea.

“Connect with her,” she says, “like you did last time. Heart to heart. There’s energy inside of all of us. Listen to her. She’ll speak to you, through you. Close your eyes if it’s supportive. Imagine yourself as you, Diana Flores, but only half of you. See your face in the mirror. It’s you, but not. Half of your reflection is gone. Feel the weight of Lucy in your arms. Feel the words she has for you. The time you spent apart. The longing. Who she was. Who you were, before you were Grace. Breathe it in. Breathe in Lucy, breathe in her courage and hope and love, breathe in her past, her happiness. Breathe out your fear. It supported you once, that fear, but not anymore. This is your missing half. A piece of you. She is you, and you have nothing to fear from yourself, only the unknown. Lucy will not hurt you. Bring her into you.”

GM: Diana closes her eyes.

Half of herself in the mirror.

That’s an odd mental image, but Celia can think back to another image of her mother in the mirror. A sweat-drenched and delirious-eyed Diana in a ballerina’s costume. Feeding tube down her throat, chains around her limbs, diaper visible below her tutu. Drawn smile plastered over her gag. Grace.

Perhaps her mom is thinking of it too. Diana gives a little shudder.

She holds the doll in her arms, like Celia says. Perhaps she also thinks back to who she was. Who was that? Maxen said she stole Grandma’s car and threatened her with a gun. She spat “Fuck you,” towards Key. That was the second time in her life that Celia heard her mother swear. She said she used to be tough. That she had to be tough, to make it in ballet.

“I started on the big stage at 15, you know. Young. You have to be tough. Everyone looks at us on the stage, sees how pretty and pink and sylph-like we are, floatin’ along en pointe, but they don’t see what goes on backstage. They don’t see the way adults will tell you, to your face, blunt as a frying pan, you are too fat. You are too slow. You are too ugly. You are too stupid. You are not good enough. In front of all the other girls, public as a stroll in the park. Who are all older than you. Some lots older than you. Who all want the choice roles, that only so many dancers are gonna get. And don’t even get me started on the physical training. Or the eating disorders.”

“To do that, at 15? You have to be TOUGH.”

Celia’s mother takes a long breath in.

Then a long breath out.

Then, after a moment, she hugs the doll against her chest.

Without fanfare or denouement, Lucy falls apart. Cracks run through the porcelain. Chunks and pieces spill over Diana’s lap. A brown slurry of sawdust, glue, cornstarch, resin, and wood flour runs over Diana’s dress. It leaves a mess on the bed. More composite runs off the covers and onto the floor. All that’s left of the doll are her clothes.

Celia’s mother blinks and stares at her lap.

Celia: Celia stares.

She hadn’t imagined it would be that easy. Last time it had been tough. Diana had hurt herself; she’d seen it in her face, in her eyes. Celia had expected something similar. A longer battle. A fight.

What had done it this time? Her earlier words about no longer being a doormat? Her determination to set her mother free? The instruction she’d given, the pieces of Lucy she’d gathered with her?

Who is this creature now?

The porcelain prison erupts, and Celia is almost afraid to find out who and what this new woman is. She keeps her hands to herself. They can clean the mess in a moment.

“…Mom?” she asks quietly.

GM: Celia’s mother doesn’t respond. Just stares at the mess and the tiny clothes on her lap.

After a moment, she gets up, sets the doll’s outfit on the bed, and wipes the mess off her dress.

Celia: “I’ll get the vacuum. New sheets. I can put these in the wash for you. Do you want to keep the dress…?”

GM: “I need my phone please, Celia.”

Celia: Celia logs out of her account and hands it over.

GM: Celia’s mother takes it, taps it several times, and holds it to her ear. Celia hears the call app ring until it goes to voicemail.

“Hi, Viv? This is Diana. I have a potentially really big case for you. Please let me know when we can meet to talk about it. Thanks!”

Celia’s mom taps again to end the call and sets the phone down on her bedside table.

She wipes her hands along her dress again, then walks out of the room, heels clicking against the floor.

Celia: Mutely, Celia trails after her.

She wonders what sort of mistake she’s just made.

If it’s a mistake.

GM: Celia’s mom walks back into the living room. Maxen looks like he’s dozed off. Emily is still watching him like a hawk. Diana gently shakes him awake.

“Do you remember what you said after you hit me with the dinner plate?”

Celia: Celia stands in the doorway leading to the hall, one arm crossed over her stomach. She doesn’t take her eyes off of her mother.

GM: Celia’s father blinks slowly as he wakes from his doze.

“I’m sorry, Diana?”

“Well, you said a lot of things,” Celia’s mom continues. “But to reply to one of them, seven years late, dance teaches children muscle coordination, teamwork, appreciation for the arts, and a whole lot of other things that have personal and societal benefits. Their brains expand and develop new neural pathways as they try new things and master new skills. It’s the same reason we teach literature to children who won’t become writers, P.E. to children who won’t become athletes, or biology to children who won’t become scientists. It’s to help them grow as people, not train them to become professionals in those fields. Maybe they will decide to, from what they learn in school, or maybe it’ll just make them better-rounded people. That’s what teaching children does, gives them choices and rounds them out as people. Most of my students won’t choose to work in the dance industry, but they’ll all benefit from knowing how to dance at weddings and parties. Also specifically to me, I try to make my classroom a happy space where kids can relax, unwind, and switch mental gears in an academically rigorous school, knowing they’ll get an easy ‘A’ and only need to think about having fun. It makes their days better and helps them succeed at other schoolwork. I have had a lot of girls come to me for help with personal problems, confide in me, or just tell me they love my class and that I’m their favorite teacher. I make a positive difference in their lives.”

Maxen looks somewhat confused, but nods. “You do make a positive difference in their lives. Your job has great v-”

“That’s not what you said seven years ago,” Celia’s mom interrupts. “You said I’d wasted my life on a completely valueless pursuit. That it was worthless. You told me that before you raped me. My job is not valueless. It has great value.”

Celia: Celia glances at Emily.

GM: Emily looks like she’s wondering if she’s dreaming.

Celia: She doesn’t interrupt.

GM: Celia’s mom walks up to the closet. “I suppose this seems a little non sequitur, but, fudge, I’ve wanted to refute that for seven years now. I got more than enough ‘dance is worthless’ talk from my mother before you.”

“Better late than never,” says Maxen. “You’re right, though. I was wrong. Your career has great value.”

Diana retrieves her ex’s coat.

He accepts the coat. “Would you like me to leave?”

“Yes,” answers Celia’s mom. “But there are several things first. The first is alimony.”

“Alimony?”

“Yes. You never paid me alimony after our separation. Just child support. Alimony would have made a big difference in my life. Celia, do you want to tell your dad what my old apartment was like?”

“I know he never saw it for himself.”

Celia: Celia speaks up for the first time.

“It was, well, awful. Crummy. She printed out photos from our Facemash profiles because she had none of her own, because nothing was saved. The carpet was threadbare. Holes in the walls. I saw a rat on my way in once. The electrical box blew a fuse a few times, so we never knew if we’d have electricity over dinner. Couldn’t run the toaster and the space heater at the same time. Shared bathroom with everyone else on the floor, where someone OD’d one night. Cracked tiles on the kitchen floor. Slum lords ran it, said they’d fix it but they never did.”

“Pretty sure the insulation went out of it years before she moved in.”

GM: “Sounds like a total shithole,” says Emily.

Celia: “There’s a reason I never took you there,” Celia says with a nod.

GM: “Yes, I was always ashamed to have you over,” Diana says to Celia. “But I was afraid of being seen if I came to Tulane, and couldn’t afford to eat out at restaurants until the collections agency stopped garnishing my wages.”

“That sounds terrible, Diana,” says Maxen, shaking his head. “I’m sorry I put you through that. Overdue alimony sounds more than fair.”

“No, it’s less than fair,” says Celia’s mom. “The next thing I want from you is a separate financial settlement to redress the physical, emotional, and financial hardship you’ve put me through over the course of my life. I had to declare bankruptcy to get out of the medical debt I accrued after you illegally dropped me from our insurance plan. It’s still impacting my credit score.”

“Celia, do you want a financial settlement from your father?”

“Emily, I’d ask if you do too, but you luckily only got to hear about the abuse secondhand.”

Celia: That’s a loaded question. Does she want anything from her father? Anything that might tie her to him? Anything that might piss off her sire when he finds out that Diana is no longer a doormat?

Your own money, the plastic man says, and Celia swallows at all of the images it brings up. She’d never told her mom. Never told her dad. Never told Emily. To bring it up now… god, what will they think of her?

Is money really going to make her happy?

“For the abuse? Pain and suffering? The college fund he revoked when I dropped from Tulane?”

Her death. Her literal death.

GM: “Yes,” says her mom. “For physical and emotional hardship. Financial hardship may be harder to argue, but Viv will have a better idea there.”

Celia: It’s not going to bring her back to life. Not going to undo the years of trauma, or the triggering way words hit her now. She shrugs.

“Sure.”

Her sire might kill her.

Oh well.

GM: Celia’s mom nods and turns back to her ex.

“You’ve given me some things already. Emily’s birth certificate. The various ballet memory mementos, though I’m honestly not sure if I still want those. I don’t consider any of those things gifts. They are down payments on a debt still owed. My lawyer will be in talks with yours to determine how much that is. I also don’t want those treatments you mentioned at Texas Medical Center.”

“What about your leg?” asks Maxen, eyebrows raised.

“I’m looking into alternatives.”

Celia’s mom continues, “In 2009, Maxen, you beat our daughter until she could not sit without pain. She broke her arm fleeing your house. You also kidnapped me, beat me, raped me, and sawed off my toes. I’m pretty sure the statute of limitations on criminally prosecuting those things has expired, which doesn’t feel right, considering I’m still on pain meds for even older injuries. I may or may not be able to win a civil suit against you, since money plays such a big role in how those play out, but I’m darn sure I can cost you the election if I approach Bill Roberts with all the sordid details of what happened.”

“If you try to skimp out on what you owe us.”

Celia: There’s that fire. There’s the woman that Celia has wanted. There’s the strength hidden behind the meekness, the mother bear who will fight tooth and nail to protect what’s hers.

Celia’s heart swells with pride.

GM: “I see,” says Maxen. “I certainly don’t want to fight you, Diana. I don’t want to cause more hurt among this family. I will need to talk to a lawyer before otherwise deciding how to proceed.”

Celia: A lawyer, or his friend in the shadows? Celia searches his face for the truth.

For the second time this evening she finds it hidden from her. But she will protect her mother this time, no matter what comes.

GM: “You do that,” says Diana. “I’d like you to do that very much, in fact. I want all of our future contact to be through lawyers.”

“Because the next thing I want is for you to permanently cease all contact with me, Lucy, and Emily. And Celia, if she also wants that. You will go through my attorney to help find Isabel. Attorneys are good for that, too.”

“I’ll honor your wishes if that’s what you want, Diana,” says Maxen as he puts on his coat. “Are you sure it’s what you want?”

“Yes and no,” Celia’s mom answers. “I’m not sure whether you’ve changed. I think if you have changed, forgiving you is the sort of thing Jesus would do. And I like to think I could do that. But I’m not sure if you have changed.”

“You don’t have to believe me, Diana. You don’t have to give me a chance, either. It’s up to you if you want to do that.”

Celia’s mom shakes her head. “No. It’s not. This is about our granddaughter, not just me. I am her legal guardian. I am responsible for her welfare. And I cannot take the chance, by inviting you back into our lives, that you will abuse her like you abused our children.”

“If you have any contact with Lucy, I will go to Bill Roberts. I will tell him everything.”

Celia: “There’s one more thing, Dad.” Celia says, taking a step forward. “This will stay between our family and the lawyers.” She meets his eye. “No outside parties.”

“Mom wants to forgive you. Prove you’ve changed. Play by her rules, and maybe there’s a happily ever after for the two of you, if that’s what you both want.”

GM: “No.” Diana crosses her arms and shakes her head. “The ending to our story is right here. Right now. I will not ever take the chance that he is going to abuse Lucy.”

“I will find another man to marry and be the father figure that she needs.”

Celia: Good for her.

It’s about goddamned time.

GM: “And I’ll raise her alone if I can’t find a man.”

“Not alone,” says Emily, wrapping an arm around Diana’s shoulder.

Celia: “Never alone.” Celia takes the other side.

GM: Maxen is quiet for a moment. His eyes silently roam his daughter’s, Emily’s, and ex-wife’s face.

The foot shorter woman folds her arms and stares up at him.

“I will respect all of your wishes,” he says. “This will stay between family and attorneys.”

Celia: Celia is not sure she believes him, but she nods all the same.

GM: Emily walks off to open the front door.

Maxen follows after her and turns when he’s at the door.

“Good night, Diana. Celia. Emily.”

Celia: “Good night, Dad.”

GM: “Goodbye, Maxen,” says Celia’s mom.


Sunday night, 20 March 2016, PM

GM: Diana closes the door after her ex-husband leaves. She waits and stares through the window until his car drives off.

Celia: Celia looks back to her mother once he is gone. For the first time since she began speaking to him there is doubt in her eyes. Is she next? She stands alone, apart from Emily, and waits for what might come.

GM: “…what the fuck just happened,” says Emily.

“Who are you and what have you done with our mom.”

Celia: Celia smiles at her sister.

“She’s Mom.”

GM: “Seriously,” Emily repeats. “I’ll, uh, dance with joy and probably cry once the initial shock wears off. But seriously, what the fuck just happened?

Celia: Celia looks back to her mother, pride in her eyes. She lifts her brows a fraction of an inch, as if asking if Diana wants to explain, or if Celia should tackle this one.

GM: Her mother nods towards her.

Celia: “All of it?” she asks.

GM: “I think there are a lot of decisions I should’ve made for myself over the years, Celia,” says her mom. “There are a lot of decisions I do intend to make for myself going forward.”

“But here I’m going to trust your judgment.”

“Okay, all of what?” says Emily.

Celia: Celia turns to look at her sister.

“We’ve trusted you with a lot of things over the years. Like my real dad. And Lucy. Life and death things. You’ve never let us down. You’ve never told anyone anything.”

She takes a breath she doesn’t need.

“This is another one of those things. Something you can’t tell. Ever. Life and death. Okay?”

GM: Emily nods.

“Absolutely. Life and death. I get it. I won’t even tell Robby if you don’t want me to.”

“How about we sit back down?” suggests Diana.

Emily nods and follows her back to the couch.

She turns to regard Celia somberly once they’re seated.

Celia: “Maybe a bottle of wine,” Celia suggests with a wry smile. She doesn’t sit, waiting until Emily and her mother have done so to begin.

“You can’t tell Robby. No one.”

GM: “No one,” repeats Emily.

“I haven’t told him about your dad or Lucy. I don’t talk about those things with anyone but you two.”

Celia: Celia nods. She smiles.

“You maybe noticed that I’m not around during the day. That I have excuses as to why not. All sorts of excuses. That I don’t eat. That I’m not at work, despite what I claim.”

She tilts her head to the side.

“Have you wondered why?”

GM: Emily’s silent for a moment.

“Yeah.”

“And there’s been other things too.”

Celia: Celia nods again.

“There’s not really an easy way to say this. So I’m just going to.”

A slight pause. She meets Emily’s eyes.

“I’m a vampire.”

GM: Emily looks at her for a moment, then laughs.

“Okay. I’m a werewolf.”

Celia: “Loup-Garoux,” Celia supplies. Then she’s gone, and on the floor where she was standing is a gray cat.

GM: Emily’s mouth falls open.

Celia: Luna meows at her, stalking forward to rub her face against Diana’s legs, back arching for the scratches she knows are coming.

GM: “Oh, who’s the best kitty,” Celia’s mom murmurs. The pets and scratches come, in ample measure. Scratches behind the ears. Pets along the back.

But Diana’s eyes don’t leave Emily’s face.

Celia: Luna half-closes her eyes in contentment, though they, too, remain fixed on Emily even as she purrs.

GM: “I’m fucking on something,” Emily says dumbly.

“This whole evening. This whole evening has been insane.”

“You don’t do drugs, Emily,” says Diana. As if reminding her.

Celia: Luna lingers for a moment before scooting away, releasing the cat form so that Celia the girl is once more present in the room.

GM: “Celia did not just turn into a c…” Emily starts, then shuts up the minute she sees the transformation repeat.

Reverse.

For a moment, all she can is stare. Her eyes are huge.

“How the fuck did you do that!?”

Celia: “We call it shifting. Mutatio, if you’re old school.”

GM: “This is a spoof. This is a trick. There’s, there’s technology, digital effects. You’re… this is a joke. I’m the joke.”

Diana shakes her head.

“She can do other things too, sweetie.”

Celia: Celia nods. She opens her mouth and shows her fangs, but she keeps her distance.

“Not all of them are as flashy as turning into a cat,” she acknowledges with a smile.

GM: Emily stares again, then walks up and feels the canines with her fingers.

Celia: Celia holds very, very still for her.

GM: Emily pulls out her phone, turns on its flashlight, and shines it in Celia’s mouth.

She peers very close.

Celia: Celia lets her take her time. She wouldn’t believe it, either.

GM: She inspects the fangs for a long while, then puts the tip of her index and long fingers in the groove of Celia’s neck along her windpipe to feel for a pulse in the carotid artery.

Celia: For the first time in a long time, Celia stops her pulse.

GM: Emily places the tips of her index and middle fingers on the inside of Celia’s wrist below the base of her thumb, then presses lightly.

Celia: There’s nothing to feel.

Without the blood circulating through her body, her skin starts to cool.

It takes on the waxy, ashen appearance of so many other walking dead.

GM: “Quash ball under the armpit. Pressure to the right spot under the arm can cut off the pulse distal to that location,” Emily says dumbly, still feeling for the pulse that isn’t there.

“There’s no quash ball, sweetie,” Diana says gently.

Her face stills a bit, though, as she watches the life all but literally leave Celia.

Celia: Celia tries not to let it get to her. She looks away, waiting for Emily to cease her examination.

GM: Diana walks over and hugs an arm around Celia.

“I’m sorry, sweetie. You’re still my daughter.”

Celia: “I know,” she says quietly, “I just don’t like being seen like this. It took a lot of work to put myself back together.”

“It’s hard to… to know what I look like when I stop pretending.”

GM: “You look like death,” says Emily.

“You looked just like this after Maxen raped Mom.”

Celia: Celia nods.

“Yeah. That’s when it happened.”

GM: “There are tests. More tests we could perform at the hospital.”

Celia: “No hospitals, Emily.”

“No tests.”

“No telling.”

“I’m dead. I died in 2009. And I’m walking around. I drink blood. I turn into animals. I am very fast.”

“Can I show you?” She nods towards Emily’s arm.

GM: “Show me… that you drink blood?” says Emily slowly.

Celia: Celia shrugs. “I was going to bite without drinking, so you could feel it, and then mend it. I wouldn’t take from you without your permission.”

GM: “Those… teeth look pretty capable of puncturing,” Emily repeats in the same slow tone.

“What do you mean, mend it?”

Celia: “You’d notice if people walked around with holes in their body. We can fix it after we feed.”

GM: “Maybe you could demonstrate on me first,” says Diana, extending Celia her arm.

Celia: Celia nods. She takes a step towards Diana, lifting her arm to her mouth. Fangs poke out from behind her lips. Gently, Celia punctures the skin. She doesn’t drink, instead pulling away to show Emily the holes, to let her feel them if such is her desire.

GM: The coppery smell of Diana’s blood is positively intoxicating. So is that tantalizing hint of taste. She has yet to sample another vessel as luscious as her mother.

Emily feels the fang marks. She looks at them very closely.

“Shit. These aren’t good. You’re going to have scarring.”

Diana shakes her head.

Celia: Slowly, letting Emily observe, Celia closes the holes with her tongue.

GM: “…how the fuck?” starts Emily.

“Can you do that to all wounds? Seal them by licking them?”

“You’d revolutionize ER medicine!”

Celia: Celia shakes her head. “Not all wounds, no.”

GM: There’s finally a look of something other than shock in Emily’s eyes.

Excitement.

Almost… hope.

“What’s the limit, then?”

Celia: “Tiny,” Celia says, “what we create to feed.”

GM: “So what if someone stabbed you with a needle?”

“Or a historic stiletto?”

“Thanks, Robby, I know they’re not just shoes.”

Their mom smiles at the quip.

Celia: “Mm, that’s different. I mend on my own. With blood.”

“It’s… it’s not a miracle cure-all, Em.”

GM: “What do you mean, with blood?”

Celia: “I mean my body repairs itself when I feed.”

“It takes blood. Juice, sometimes we call it.”

GM: “Can you demonstrate that?”

Diana looks like she knows the answer to that question.

Celia: “Ah… I could, but I’d need to feed. I’m actually supposed to meet a friend to hunt…” Celia trails off.

GM: “Another… person like you?” asks Emily.

Celia: “Similar, yes.”

GM: “Another vampire?”

Celia: “Half-vampire, technically. Thin-blooded.”

“…do you want to come?”

GM: “…see you feed?”

Celia: “Meet my friend.”

GM: “Uh.” Emily seems to go through a hundred questions, then settle on, “I thought this was supposed to be just us?”

“How many vampires are there?”

Celia: “Um. A lot.”

“Some cities have more than others. New Orleans is pretty crowded.”

GM: “How crowded is crowded?” asks Diana, curiously.

“You don’t know?” asks Emily.

She frowns in thought.

“…are you a vampire, too?”

Her mom smiles. “No, I’m not.”

“And no, I don’t know. Celia only told me about this pretty recently.”

“The shirt,” says Emily.

“Sorry?” asks Diana.

“You came home in a Flawless tee,” says Emily.

“You said you’d spilled coffee on your blouse.”

“But I was doing the laundry. I didn’t see it.”

“And why would you be drinking coffee at Flawless anyway.”

“Ah. I had a longer fib prepared, but I was going to save it for if you asked me,” says Diana.

“Well, I probably would’ve,” says Emily. “But the blouse being missing.”

“It felt funny. And it wasn’t the first odd thing.”

“What happened to the blouse, anyway?”

“I threw it out,” says Diana. “There was blood on it. Couldn’t get it out.”

“Did you really suspect something was up this whole time?”

“I wasn’t sure,” says Emily. “Didn’t seem worth confronting about, by itself.”

“I figured I’d just wait and watch.”

“The cats,” she then says, looking at Celia.

“They absolutely hate you.”

Celia: “Yeah. They detect the predator in me. Most animals will.”

GM: “Are you actually… harmful, I guess, to cats?”

Celia: “No. Not usually. I don’t eat animals.”

GM: “Well, I’m sorry,” says Emily. “They’re normally total love-balls. Both of them.”

“Can you drink from animals?” asks Diana.

“Is that the, ah, ‘vegetarian’ option for vampires?”

Celia: Celia gives a vague nod.

“Yeah. I can. It doesn’t do much for me. Not very satisfying. Some of us do it more often, but I prefer not to. It’s just… like eating O’Tolley’s instead of the steak mom made tonight.”

GM: “You ate that,” says Emily.

“But you give away tons of her food at Flawless.”

“I see the others with it.”

“Or Randy with it.”

She pauses for a moment.

“Do you kill people?”

“She doesn’t need to kill people to drink from them,” says Diana.

“We might as well be honest about it. I let her drink from me.”

“Oh,” says Emily.

“How, uh… how does it work?”

Celia: “As she said, I don’t need to kill to feed. Most people get woozy. They take a day or two to recover. I see Mom most nights for, ah, dessert. Most of us don’t taste real food anymore. It’s… well, quite gross, honestly, which is why I made up all the stories I did about various fad diets.”

GM: “…those were so annoying,” says Emily.

Diana chuckles.

Celia: Celia grins. “Yeah, for me too.”

“We throw it up, though. The food.”

“So we don’t usually bother, unless it’s to maintain a facade.”

GM: “Oh, do you need to go now?” asks her mom.

Celia: Celia shakes her head. “No, I’m okay right now.”

GM: “Wait a second,” says Emily. “You didn’t have a pulse. Are you clinically dead in every way? Do you still produce stomach acids? Do you actually digest the food?”

Celia: “Nope.”

“No stomach acid. No digestion.”

“It comes out more or less intact.”

GM: “So, the food would just be… chewed up food.”

“I’d actually like to see this. If it has to come out anyway.”

Celia: “Uh… yeah, sure, I guess. To the, er, bathroom then?”

GM: “You might as well put it in the compost, sweetie, if it’s intact.”

Diana gets up, retrieves the compost bin, and brings it back to the living room.

“Figured this might feel better when you’re sitting down.”

“Though you did say holding even uncomfortable positions wouldn’t hurt?”

“Wait, actually. I don’t want to see it get mixed with the rest of the food,” says Emily.

She gets up, goes to the kitchen, and retrieves another green compost bag.

“Do you feel like we’re putting you on the spot, sweetie?” her mom asks concernedly.

She remembers how much Paul enjoyed the sight of her vomiting.

Celia: Celia nods. “Doesn’t hurt. But, ah, here goes… well, here goes.”

She rises, leaning over the new compost bag. It’s not the same as it used to be, vomiting from her old stomach. Her real stomach. The reflexes aren’t quite there. But the muscle control is, and it takes only a second for her to find the foreign objects in her stomach—

And expel them.

Steak, potato, vegetable. Everything she’d taken a bite of at dinner comes up from where she’d stored it, rising up her throat in tiny chunks of chewed food to land with wet plops into the waiting green bag.

GM: Emily takes the bag and looks into it.

“Wow.”

She sticks her head half-inside.

“Emily!” says their mom.

“It doesn’t smell,” says Emily.

She pulls her head out.

“Like vomit, anyways.”

“It’s completely undigested.”

Celia: “Pretty lame, so far as party tricks.”

GM: “I can’t believe you stuck your head in that,” Diana mutters.

“I’ve cut up corpses, Mom. This is little league stuff.”

Celia: Celia smirks into her hand.

GM: “Might be a lame party trick, but honestly, this is one of the more convincing pieces of… evidence I’ve seen,” says Emily, dropping the bag into the larger one.

Celia: “So. Not to rush you guys. But I do actually have to meet my friend to hunt, and I have a thing later to attend. Can’t be late. Emily, are we… like we’re cool, right?”

“I mean obviously there’s a lot to talk about…”

GM: “Uh, yeah, I kind of have a million and one questions.”

Celia: Celia nods. “Yeah. There’s a lot I want to tell you.”

GM: “I can tell you some things, until she gets back,” says Diana.

“They’re probably a lot of the same questions I had.”

“Though I’m not an expert on this stuff. I’ve only known for… what, a week now?”

Celia: “About that, yes.”

GM: “Can you reschedule with your friend?” says Emily. “This is… kind of a big moment here, learning that… Jesus, I can still barely say it.”

Celia: Celia winces. She checks the time.

GM: She needs to get going in a few minutes if she wants time to hunt before church.

Celia: “I blew her off last night because of some things that happened, and she’s really important to me. She’s new to all of this, and she’s not… she’s not really able to take care of herself yet. I mean, if you want to donate to the cause, I can have her come here instead, but you won’t be on the ball tomorrow.”

GM: “Excuse me, I’m also really important to you, last I checked. You can’t just dump something like this on me and bail!” Emily declares offendedly.

“And what the fuck happened with Mom?”

Celia: Celia levels a look at her mother.

“Do you want to take that one and I’ll call her?”

GM: “Honestly, sweetie, I’m not sure what happened either,” says Diana. “Is this friend the same one I know about?”

Celia: “Yes.”

GM: “Okay. Why don’t you just tell her to meet you in an hour or two? I’m pretty sure that won’t conflict with her plans.”

Celia: “My plans. I have a meeting tonight. Court. I can’t miss it. I’ve bailed on the last few.”

GM: “Court?” Diana asks.

Celia: “Court. Mass, news, all sorts of stuff. Kind of a big night for me tonight.”

GM: “Well I think this might be the biggest night of my life to learn that vampires are apparently real!” declares Emily.

Celia: “They’ll still be real tomorrow, too. Or after mass.”

GM: “What happens if you miss court?” asks her mom.

Celia: “Physically? Nothing. Unless the hounds pick me up again for failing to deliver. I kind of don’t want to be on the end of a saw blade again in another interrogation room, which is why I’d like to be there.”

GM: “Wait, what the fuck?” says Emily.

“Okay, so you think your safety is at risk if you don’t attend,” says Diana.

Celia: “Long story,” Celia says, “but I’ll tell you about it after mass. I’ll move my later plans.”

“So I’ll have until, like, four.”

GM: “How long is mass?” asks her mom.

Celia: “Hour or two.”

GM: “Okay,” she says. “If you think your safety will be at risk, if you don’t go, then we are the ones who need to be flexible here. An hour or two to wait won’t kill us.”

Celia: Celia nods. “I’m sorry. I know you have questions. This probably could have waited until tomorrow. Why don’t you spend some time figuring out what all you want to ask, and I’ll come right back here after court, and then I don’t need to head out again until later.”

“And I’ll set aside a chunk of time tomorrow for you.”

GM: “Okay, that sounds fair,” nods Emily.

“Yes, it does,” says Diana. “There are some things I want to talk about with you, too. Emi, I can also spend until then answering what questions you have.”

“Like I said, not an expert, but I’ll fill in what I can.”

Celia: “Thank you for understanding, Mom. And you, Emi.”

GM: “This had to happen on a school night,” Emily says dryly.

“I don’t see how I’m falling asleep now.”

Celia: “Call off.”

“Or let me have a sip and you’ll nod right off.” Celia winks.

GM: “Uh. How much do you usually take?”

Celia: “Not much. A pint. Not enough to do anything but make you a little drowsy, less on the ball tomorrow. Usually recover in a day. Mom does faster. Think it’s that giving nature of hers.”

GM: “Do you want me to give you blood?” asks Emily. “Since you do with Mom?”

Celia: “No. I mean, I’m curious about what it’d be like, but I only take from Mom so often because of how quickly she recovers. If it were to actually harm her?” Celia shakes her head. “No. Maybe in an emergency. But I have a good block of domain. I don’t often go hungry.”

GM: “Domain?” asks Emily.

Celia: “Turf. Places I can feed.” She rises.

GM: “Okay, two questions. How much do you need and what happens when you don’t get it?”

“Do you starve to death like…” she seems to search for a word, “non-vampires?”

Celia: “No. I enter a state of hibernation and slowly decay until I’m fed again.”

“And I can keep the same amount of blood in my body as you. Less than half and I’m hungry. I get… feral.”

GM: “Feral?” asks Emily.

“I think Celia needs to head out right now,” says their mom. She gives a smile. “She’ll still be a vampire when she’s back, I’m pretty sure.”

Celia: Celia smiles with her mother. “Yes, I will be. I’ll answer more of your questions then. Please, Emi, I’m trusting you not to tell anyone. At all. We’re all in trouble if you do.”

GM: “I won’t,” nods Emily. “This would…. Jesus.”

“How does something like this even stay secret?”

Celia: “People who find out disappear.”

GM: “You said there’s a lot of vampires.”

“And they’re probably telling their families too.”

Celia: “No. Most of them don’t keep families.”

“I have… things I can do to appear mortal. Others don’t. They stage their own deaths.” Celia glances at the clock. “I’m going to head out. I love you both. I’ll be back in a few hours.”

GM: Her mom gets up and hugs her.

“I love you too, sweetie. More than I can ever say in words. I meant to say this before things came up with Emi, but… thank you. Thank you for pushing me to be brave. Thank you for pushing me to take a chance.”

“And thank you for being brave and taking a chance yourself.”

Celia: Celia all but envelopes her mother in a hug.

“Thank you for loving me, even like this. Thank you for trusting me. I’m so proud of you, Mom. I love you. So much.”

GM: “I love you guys too,” says Emily, standing up to hug them both. “Whatever happened, whatever this was… this was something good. I know that. Something incredible. Just, Jesus, Mom, watching you tell Maxen to fuck off like that…”

Emily breaks off for a moment. Her voice is choked, like she might be crying.

“I don’t even know what to say. So I’ll just, just say. Like Celia. I’m so proud of you. So, so proud. You were am… amazi…”

There is no ‘might’. Emily is full-on crying now.

Celia: Celia brings Emily into the hug, holding both of these amazing, incredible women close to her.

“I love you, Emi. I’m so happy you’re in my life, that we’re in yours. There’s so much… just so much good with you, and Mom, and… just… I just… I love you, Emi, I love you.”

GM: Emily makes some more choked noises that sound like agreement. She is smiling, past the tears. Celia makes out another “love you”, too.

Diana smiles, closes her eyes, and just holds her daughters close.

Celia: It isn’t how she’d expected her night to go. But now, more than ever, Celia is proud and glad to have these two women in her life.

Giving up the rest of her friends and allies and loved ones is scary. But she knows that her family will see her through.

Against that, the night doesn’t seem so dark and hopeless anymore.


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Story Thirteen, Celia XXIV

“The sentence for infernalism is final death by burning.”
Camilla Doriocourt


Sunday night, 20 March 2016, AM

GM: Jade’s car car drives a while. It seems to be going at a fairly high speed.

Eventually, it slows down. Jade hears the sounds of traffic and falling rain.

Finally, her car stops.

The trunk opens. Rocco and Alexander Wright stare down at her, their forms superimposed against the night.

The Brujah looks over her body. The wooden stake juts out from the bare skin above her half-exposed breasts.

“Slut-kebob,” says Wright.

Celia: It’s funny. Objectively. She’d laugh if she could.

GM: Rocco laughs for her. So do some nearby men who don’t smell like Kindred.

Celia: Oh.

Oh no.

There’s an audience.

What has she gotten into?

She’s going to die here because Roderick is an asshole.

She’d laugh at that, too, but she’s busy wondering if licks can become ghosts.

And how long it will take anyone to notice she’s missing.

GM: “Take her car,” Wright says to one man.

Another man produces a black hood and secures it around Jade’s face. She can’t see. She feels male hands lifting her out of the trunk. There’s the sound of it slamming shut, then footsteps. Jade feels motion as raindrops patter against her skin.

“Damn, she’s light,” says one nearby voice.

“Damn, she’s a fine piece of ass,” says another one. Grinning. “Toreador?”

“Keep it in your pants,” replies Wright. She can all but hear the Brujah’s eyes roll.

Celia: She’d just gotten that car.

Where’s her phone? Will Reggie think to track it? Will he know who she meant when she said deputy?

She can’t struggle, not staked as she is. Can’t do anything but listen. Appreciate them appreciating her.

There are worse ways to go, right?

When she fails to show up tomorrow at Elysium will the rest of the city know it was the hounds? Is this the price she pays to sell the story of discontent and infighting among the Hardliners?

GM: No answers make themselves immediately known.

Jade hears a trunk open. She’s dumped inside. The space feels bigger than her car’s. She has leg room.

She feels a pair of hands kneading her breasts and squeezing her ass.

“Goddamn, you are fine…” says one of the voices.

The contact abruptly cuts off.

“I said keep it in your fucking pants,” growls Wright. “That’s how they get you.”

Celia: They.

Sluts?

Or Toreador?

She’d like to giggle. But she can’t. The girls inside of her wonder if she can even get wet if they try to fuck her like this. Are her nipples hard? She can’t tell.

The inane thoughts keep the panic at bay.

GM: “She’s staked.”

“If you can’t keep that goddamn thing in your goddamn pants I’m gonna rip it off,” the Brujah answers in an even lower growl.

Celia: She misses the contact, though. If she has to go she’d like to do it with someone’s arms around her. She’d always imagined it would be her sire—and what is wrong with her that she’s gotten off to thoughts of him killing her?—but she’ll take any arms at this point.

Tonight hasn’t gone as she wanted. She’ll take the comfort she can get.

Her body was made to be appreciated. She can’t even blame the guy. Hadn’t changed from her meeting with Savoy. It’s all just there for the taking. Tight clothes, tight body, perfection incarnate.

Too bad Wright is such a buzzkill.

Damn licks can’t get laid anymore so they ruin it for everyone else.

Then again, will Roderick consider it cheating if she’s molested and assaulted while staked?

Probably.

Maybe she’ll thank Wright when this is all over.

GM: More footsteps sound against the rain.

There’s a weary sigh from one of the men. She feels like he’s looking at her. He must be looking at her.

There is so much to appreciate.

Finally, the trunk slams closed. Jade hears more doors opening and closing. The car takes off.

Celia: Someone had told her once that if you’re attacked and taken to a second location the odds of dying go up by a huge percentage. It might have been Pete. Or her dad, when she was young. It’s the sort of thing most young women worry about. Abductions. Rape. Et cetera.

What does it mean if they’re taking her to a third? That she’s already dead?

She doesn’t want to die.

Not like this.

She’s sorry. She’ll be good. She’ll apologize to Rocco on her knees if he needs her to. She’ll let the ghouls fuck her if they want to humiliate her. She’ll stop causing problems.

She’s just not ready to go yet.

GM: The car drives for a while. There’s more sounds of traffic and falling rain.

Celia: Can’t they just… put her on their lap for the ride? She’s staked. It won’t hurt anyone.

She shouldn’t have called Roderick. It’d been a waste of time. So much for protecting her. Reggie at least had been concerned.

What is her mom going to say? Who will take care of her? Does he care that she’d screamed into the phone? Is he tracking her?

What about him? Does he know his goons picked her up?

…is he going to let them hurt her?

She can’t ask. None of them volunteer the information, either. She’s helpless in the car’s trunk. SUV, she thinks. More room.

The knowing doesn’t help.

GM: “So, what you gonna do with her?” asks one of the voices.

“None of your goddamn business,” answers Wright.

Celia: Then why bring them along?

Are Wright and Agnello really afraid of a staked Jade Kalani?

That’s funny, too.

Maybe she’ll die laughing.

Maybe one of these guys can convince them to pass her over to his care. Turn her into a fucktoy, like the sheriff’s ghoul had so long ago threatened.

Maybe they’re taking her to him.

Would that even be a relief? He’d killed her ghoul. Thrown her mother.

And yet…

Saved her. Turned her. Made her his.

He loves her, doesn’t he? He could have let her die.

It’s a small ray of light in the darkness, but she clings to it all the same.

GM: Jade’s—and Celia’s—only answer is the rain’s steady fall.


Sunday night, 20 March 2016, AM

GM: The car drives some more. There’s more sounds of traffic. Then a heavy mechanical sound. A feeling of descent. The car comes to a stop.

The trunk opens.

Hands pick up Jade. There’s more movement underneath her.

There’s a noise like an elevator button. Mechanical doors opening.

Celia: An elevator?

Perdido House?

Please not Perdido House.

GM: There’s another pressed button. Another noise she can’t identify. Then movement underneath her.

Celia: All she can do is lie still and listen.

And let her mind run wild with possibilities.

Trash compactor. Docks. Crematorium. Giant hole in the ground that is… mechanical for some reason.

GM: The elevator comes to a stop. The doors open. There’s heavy footfalls against a hard surface, then a pause. There’s a mechanical beeping sound. Another heavy and metallic noise. More footfalls.

Those go on for a bit. Then another stop. A pause. More mechanical beeping.

Another heavy metallic sound.

More footsteps.

A hard metal surface slams against Jade’s body. She feels cold steel against her half-exposed skin.

Celia: Oh, god. Torture room. They’re going to carve her open and make her scream until her throat bleeds.

What other room has steel tables?

Kitchens. Butcher shops. Anywhere that tears people apart because it’s an easy surface to clean.

GM: Jade feels hands spreading her limbs into an ‘X’ position. There’s the sensation and dull clink of heavy cuffs securing her wrists and ankles in place.

Celia: It’s not an unfamiliar position.

GM: Not at all.

There’s more footsteps. Then a slammed metallic door.

Then only silence.

Jade is seemingly left alone.

Celia: They hadn’t even removed the stake.

As if cuffing her inside this fortress isn’t enough.

GM: Time passes. The steel is cold beneath Jade’s skin. Her surroundings are completely silent and still.

Celia: No one is coming for her.

Savoy has no power here. Her boyfriend doesn’t care. Her ghoul won’t get anywhere.

GM: Time passes.

There’s the heavy sound of an opening door. Footsteps. Lighter than the previous ones.

Celia: Feminine? Her long-lost sister?

She’d giggle, but she can’t.

How many hounds does it take to nail a whore?

GM: There’s a metallic rolling sound. Several more higher, still metallic sounds. Then a distinct crunch.

A crackle.

Jade feels heat against her face.

Growing steadily warmer.

Celia: The Beast rails against its steel prison.

The girl doesn’t try to keep it in check.

But that single piece of wood keeps it from doing anything.

GM: The warmth does not directly touch Jade’s skin, but she can feel the increasing heat. Hot. So hot. The pungent smell of smoke reaches her nostrils. Perhaps, if she were mortal, she would sweat.

The hood pulls back. Not enough to see. Gloved hands pry open her mouth, then stuff something inside. It tastes like ash. Like everything tastes. It feels light. Perhaps it would crunch.

The stake is abruptly pulled from her chest.

“Swallow,” sounds a cold female voice.

Celia: She spits.

GM: Whatever is in her mouth flies out.

The stake re-pierces her chest.

Pain suddenly stabs through her throat, cold and sharp and metallic. Flesh tears. Jade’s Beast rages against its prison, but it is impotent. The bladed edge carves open a hole in her neck. Gloves hands dispassionately feel the interior of her trachea, then stuff a foreign object inside.

There’s a click and whir. Jade feels her position rotate, her head elevating, her feet lowering. Fingers push the object down her throat. Clinically massage her neck. She feels the light, odd-textured object work its way down to her stomach.

The heat near her face intensifies. The smell of smoke grows thicker.

The stake is re-pulled from her chest.

“The sentence for infernalism is final death by burning,” rings the cold female voice.

“Supply us with names and your sentence may be commuted.”

Celia: Infernalism?

What the fuck does that even mean?

GM: Jade’s only answer is a low, malevolent crackle that leaves her Beast anxiously whining.

“You may heal your throat.”

Celia: Jade sends the required blood to the area to mend what the knife had done to her, knitting the skin and muscle and tissue back together with but a thought. Maybe it’s the heat so near her face, but the Beast rakes its claws down her insides in protest. It takes more than its fair share.

“Infernalism,” she repeats, the word unfamiliar on her tongue. There’s no rasp to her voice, not even though the blade had torn it open and something had been shoved inside. What had they put in her? A bomb? Something else that will make her explode should she get out? Another sort of chain?

All of the amusement she’d felt at Agnello and Wright needing a handful of goons to take her out falls away in the wake of this accusation. She doesn’t even know if she’s gotten it right, if it means what she thinks it means, but the root of the word is hard to ignore.

“You mean demons.” Not quite a question, but she waits a beat for confirmation.

GM: The heat continues to crackle.

“Yes,” the cool voice replies patiently.

“I mean demons.”

Celia: She’s going to die here.

She’s going to die screaming because even if people knew she was missing they wouldn’t know where to find her, and she doesn’t know that they’d care enough to try.

Even if she tells them what they want to know there’s no guarantee that they’ll let her go. May. That had been the clause in her words. May commute the sentence.

She’d gone for looking for ways to save her sire and she’s going to die in his stead. Who did she think she was trying to protect him?

“I wasn’t consorting with demons,” she says quietly to her captor, “I was only looking for information on them. There was a breather who told me that he’d been possessed and had it exorcised. I’d wanted to know if it was true. I’d wanted to know if I could protect others from the same thing. I think I might have run into one in the Quarter, but I didn’t know how to identify it. I went to the Tremere to find out more about them. Mr. Bornemann collected a handful of boons to share some information. I was going to find a priest next, but there are none in the Quarter.”

She hadn’t done anything. But she doesn’t say that. Guilty people say that.

“I wanted to find out more about the things I saw and heard. I saw a woman in the Quarter who used a spell with blood that smelled… off. Connected to the thing I thought the demon was. She hired someone to spy on me. I wanted to know what I was dealing with.”

GM: “So you have had no personal dealings with infernal powers, nor do you know the names of any individuals who have?” the cool voice asks, in that same patient tone.

The smoldering heat does not relent, though neither does it grow closer.

Celia: It’s not good enough.

Her answers aren’t good enough.

But they’re true.

“I don’t… I don’t think I’ve had any personal dealings with infernal powers. Just the breather, who I have not had contact with in seven years and who recently re-entered my Requiem with the story about the demon and exorcism, but the last I saw him was prior to my Embrace. I never spoke to the woman. I convinced the thing inside the house that might be a demon to let me go. I placed a bug in the house that was of limited value. I can collect it for you, but I did not recognize the voice, and I did not recognize her. I can show you. The memory. If you scry. Or if you permit the use of one hand I can show you another way.”

“But I’ve never… I’ve never had confirmed contact with an infernal being. Nothing that I know for sure. Just suspicions. That’s why I was looking for information about them. I didn’t know if they were or not. I didn’t know who to ask but thought the Tremere or a priest would be the best source.”

She’d only wanted to protect people. And she’s going to burn for it.

“I asked Mr. Bornemann how he collected the information on them but he did not deign to answer.”

“So I don’t know if he collected from a primary or secondary source.”

“I can give you the names of the kine, the priest he saw, the address of the house where I think one resides.”

“Mr. Bornemann said that they could test the kine to see if he’d been possessed. I hadn’t taken him up on it.”

GM: “Name these kine.”

Celia: “Father Connelly was the priest. The house is on Rampart, across from Jackson.” Jade rattles off the address. It’s fresh in her mind, all of it, because she’d been comparing notes for her boyfriend last night but never got the chance to tell him about it. He’d belittled her instead. But she remembers the story. The names are seared into her memory. “Kate Artell, Caleb Hamill, they were two in the house. Their friend, Brittney Rodriguez, and her boyfriend Bill Woke murdered another girl in a similar way. A dancer. Abigail Thompson. They’re still doing time. I checked. I was going to follow up.”

There’s a brief pause. She hadn’t yet said the name of the man possessed. They’ll want to know how she knows. Why she’s speaking to him. What he’d told her.

She takes a breath.

“Maxen Flores.”

GM: Jade’s fears prove all-too prescient.

“Explain how you encountered the entity in the Rampart Street house, why you spoke to Maxen Flores, and why Maxen Flores told you he had been possessed by a demon.”

Celia: “My spa was bugged. Security cameras showed a thin-blood breaking into the premises to plant the bug. I had the thin-blood picked up and I questioned it. It told me that it had been hired by someone to plant the bug and take it back to them on Saturday. Tonight. I questioned it further and it admitted that if it needed an earlier meeting it had been advised it could go to a certain house on Rampart. I took a team with me to do so, with one of my ghouls disguised as the thin-blood, but when she knocked the door just opened. So I… went inside.”

To protect her ghoul. To keep Alana from getting killed if it was an ambush. She cares too much about them. She’s too embedded in the lives of those who serve her. Mel had told her that once, when she was new. That eventually she’d learn to stop caring.

“The door closed. The oven turned on. I could feel the heat. A voice told me that I had until the oven pre-heated to convince it to let me go. I was able to do so. I surmised that it was stuck inside the house as it kept repeating that it was hungry. While I was there my team placed a bug. It’s been largely useless, except for the one night when I heard a woman’s voice speaking to the thing. I went to the house and that’s when I saw the earlier mentioned woman. She did not smell Kindred. I have not been back. I started looking into what it was but I don’t have any proof of anything yet.”

A slight pause. Her secrets? Or her life?

“Maxen is… he’s my dad.”

“We had dinner. He wanted to apologize for everything he did to us when we were younger. He told me that he’d found God, and that he’d seen a priest, and the priest had done an exorcism.”

“I didn’t touch him,” she adds, though it wasn’t asked. “I didn’t use any powers on him. I didn’t feed from him. I hadn’t otherwise had any sort of relationship with him since my Embrace.”

GM: The voice patiently listens.

Then the heat draws closer. Hotter. Her Beast whines. The smoke would make Jade cough and choke were she mortal. Sweat would bead from her glistening skin were she mortal.

“Maxen Flores is not the father of Jade Kalani.”

Celia: Instinct demand she pull away from the source of the heat. She does what she can with what little movement she is allowed, but it’s not enough. The heat is stifling.

She doesn’t want to go out like this. She gives up the secret.

“Celia. Celia Flores. I am Celia, and Maxen raised me. Jade was the name I took when I joined this world.”

GM: The burning heat comes no closer.

But neither does it relent.

There’s a pause. Some faint taps.

The Beast whines as the voice impassively orders,

“Cease your occulto.”

Celia: Another secret.

This, or death?

Does she want to burn to protect something that won’t matter anyway when she’s ash?

She knows the answer.

“It’s not occulto. It’s—” what’s that old word Benson used? “—mutatio.”

GM: “Revert to your mortal form. Prove you are whom you claim.”

Celia: Prove it. How can she prove it? That’s not how morphing works. It’s not an instant transition like that.

“I will need my hands. A mirror. I will need to show you the work. It’s not instant, not this.”

How else can she prove it if she’s not allowed to do the work?

“Or I can tell you things I’d only know if I were Celia. I can tell you about my childhood. About Maxen. About growing up in Audubon. I can show you memories.”

GM: “You do not require your hands. Your fingers are capable of motion. Alter the flesh along your hand.”

Celia: Right. She hadn’t known if that would be enough.

But she does as asked, unsure if this is going to help or hurt her position here. She curls her index finger and bends it until the tip touches the backside of her thumb, then presses into the skin. It gives way at her touch, dragged this way and that with the motion of her. It looks like a cresting wave when she is done with it.

GM: Jade—Celia—cannot see her interrogator’s reaction to the fleshcrafting demonstration.

“Tell me you are Celia Flores, daughter of Maxen Flores, of Sheriff Donovan’s domain.”

Celia: There’s a trap here in the wording. Some sort of truth detection, if such a thing exists. The thing in her stomach? The smoke itself? Something the hound has done to her?

“I am Celia Flores, daughter of Diana Flores, raised by Maxen Flores, of Sheriff Donovan’s domain.”

GM: The burning heat withdraws. Celia can still feel it. Her Beast still whines. But it is not so close as it was before.

“Your sire will have much to answer for, Miss Flores.”

“Tell me of your alleged intelligence leak among the Guard de Ville.”

Celia: “I repeated what my sire told me.”

GM: The heat draws closer. Hotter. Pungent black smoke wafts up Celia’s nostrils.

Celia: Her Beast whines. She had only been free of the heat for a moment and now it’s back, right in her face. She can taste the soot in the back of her throat.

“I don’t know anything else about the leak except what my sire told me. I don’t speak with the hounds. I wasn’t privy to details of the investigation. I was only told there was a suspect, but when it was brought up last night I had to make it sound believable. I implied there was a leak.”

GM: Once again, the heat draws no closer, but neither does it withdraw. A low sizzle crackles in Celia’s ears.

“Repeat everything that your sire told you.”

Celia: Behind the mask, Celia closes her eyes. But only for a moment. Just long enough to bring up the conversation she’d had at Flawless after Randy’s head had come clean off his body. It is not an effort to remember the words. She and her sire speak so infrequently that everything he has ever said to her has lodged itself inside her head.

“My sire said that Caroline Malveaux-Devillers is a leading suspect in the bishop’s disappearance. I was given the time and location of the bishop’s last appearance and asked to look into Caroline’s whereabouts, as well as that of her ghouls and the others she has employed in her service. I was told that she wouldn’t suspect me if I were to look into her the same way she would suspect the Guard de Ville.”

A brief pause. She’s going to ask why Veronica would give a fuck about the bishop, Celia knows it. She continues.

“My sire told me that Savoy and his agents are otherwise the leading suspects. I was told to look into whether or not they were involved.”

GM: The questions come one after another, like steady raps against steel.

“Why did your sire suspect Caroline Malveaux-Devillers of playing a role in Bishop Malveaux’s disappearance?”

“What time and location did your sire give you for Bishop Malveaux’s last appearance?”

“Why did your sire tell you to investigate the involvement of Mr. Savoy’s agents in Bishop Malveaux’s disappearance?”

Celia: She’s going to die here. The hound will burn her for lying, or burn her because she doesn’t believe her if she tells the truth, or burn her because she does believe it. And if not her sire will take her head or find another cruel, crippling punishment to inflict upon her. Which ghoul will he take next? Which mortal in her life? Emily? Lucy?

She can’t dwell. She can only move forward, can only hope that her tale is compelling enough for clemency.

It’s a tall order. She knows well the mercy of her kind. She starts with the easiest question first, the time and date of the bishop’s last appearance.

“March 7th. Evening. I was not given more specific details other than that. No location.”

A pause. What had she said that her sire had suspected Caroline? The visit. The threat.

“I saw Caroline Malveaux-Devillers one evening at her residence in the CBD, as Jade. She is unaware that I am also Celia. I sought to disabuse her of any notion that I am both Celia and Jade and so I recorded audio of Jade hurting Celia. Miss Malveaux-Devillers became upset and threatened Jade. She said that she had ended older, more powerful licks. That she took on many of them at once and left their corpses behind. Lord Savoy and Madam Preston implied Miss Malveaux-Devillers is ‘lethal’ when we spoke of her. As Celia, she shared that she is suspicious of my sire and implied a threat. There is bad blood between them. I shared this with my sire and was told to look into it. Miss Malveaux-Devillers would not suspect Celia. We knew each other prior to our Embrace. I lied thoroughly to her about the events surrounding Celia’s and how Celia’s Requiem has gone.”

Another pause.

“My sire did not share why I was to investigate Lord Savoy and his agents, only that I was to do so. I did not ask why. I only said I would do it.”

GM: Suddenly.

Pain.

Burning, scaling, screaming, pain.

Her belly feels as though it is on fire. Celia can smell her flesh cooking and burning and melting away like butter against the unyielding torment pressed to her belly.

She screams. She thrashes. The Beast breaks loose. She cannot stop it. She can only wait, and scream, and suffer, until the torment finally ends and the Beast releases its hold. The heat withdraws from her belly, which feels almost wet. She can still smell the cooked flesh.

The cold voice sounds again.

“Mr. Savoy is lord of nothing.”

“You will refer to Mr. Savoy by his proper address.”

Celia: It’s all too similar to the feeling of her broken body being pulled out of the microwave. Burning. Then cold water on her skin. She thrashes. She screams. Her throat would bleed if it could, but her undead body protects itself against that.

It’s only the flames that send signals of agony lancing through her.

When her Beast has disappeared she nods her head again, again, again.

“Mr. Savoy,” she repeats, desperately echoing the hound’s words. “Mr. Savoy, Mr. Savoy. It’s mister. Mister.”

She’d known better.

“I’m sorry,” she tacks on, because it can’t hurt, right?

GM: The questions resume.

“How did your sire know the time of Bishop Malveaux’s last appearance?”

“What did Miss Malveaux-Devillers suspect about your sire?”

“Why is there animosity between Miss Malveaux-Devillers and your sire?”

“What did your sire offer you to investigate Mr. Savoy and his agents?”

Celia: She’s going to slip up. She can feel it. She’s going to slip up and she’s going to die screaming and no one will know, no one will care.

All she has to do is say it. That the sheriff is her sire. That she’s been spying on Savoy this whole time. Everything will make sense to the hound then.

But it’s not her secret. She tells, she dies.

She doesn’t tell, she dies.

It’s a hopeless situation.

The echoes of pain haunt her stomach. She can’t even laugh about how at least it was already bare.

“I don’t know how my sire knew of Bishop Malveaux’s last appearance. I was not told. I did not ask.” Is that enough? Or does the hound want her guesses? She keeps her tone as polite as she can when she asks. “I can offer a hypothesis, but not concrete fact.”

What had Caroline suspected? Celia has to think back to that night on the roof.

“Miss Malveaux-Devillers suspected that my sire was pretending to be under the sway of a blood bond that is not real. She suspected that my sire is older than claimed. She suspected that my sire is not who or what appearances suggest. I do not have the full story of the animosity between the pair. From what I understand there is a question of being blamed or responsible for Miss Malveaux-Devillers’ torture and Embrace. That my sire called in a marker from Miss Malveaux-Devillers’ sire to have it done.”

Had he offered anything to her? No. He doesn’t need to.

“My sire did not offer me anything to investigate Mr. Savoy and his agents. My sire has interceded on my behalf to prevent my harm and destruction, possibly final death.” Explanation enough, isn’t it? She’d be dead without his mercy.

GM: “Offer your hypothesis.”

“Who did Miss Maleaux-Devillers believe your sire was under an ostensible blood bond to?”

“Why did Miss Maleaux-Devillers suspect your sire is older than claimed?”

“Who did Miss Maleaux-Devillers believe your sire truly is?”

“Why did Miss Maleaux-Devillers attribute her Embrace to your sire?”

“What torture did Miss Maleaux-Devillers attribute to your sire?”

“Why did your sire seek to arrange Miss Maleaux-Devillers’ Embrace?”

Celia: “My hypothesis is that my sire saw Bishop Malveaux for the last time the night of his disappearance. My other hypothesis is that my sire heard from someone else who saw Bishop Malveaux the last day of his appearance.”

“Miss Malveaux-Devillers did not say the name of the person who she believed my sire to be bound to. She only said it was ‘someone else.’”

“Miss Malveaux-Devillers said that my sire’s blood is thicker than it should be at that age.” Celia had not found it so, but she does not offer the contradiction. No doubt the hound will think it a lie.

“Miss Malveaux-Devillers did not offer an alternative to who she believes my sire is, only that my sire’s identity is a lie.”

“Miss Malveaux-Devillers said that my sire called in a marker with René Baristheaut. She advised I ask my sire about ‘the night they carried her into the Dungeon.’ I did not do so. She attributed the torture she received while within the confines The Dungeon to my sire. She then informed me that it is not a sex club, as I had thought, but a place of… of insanity. Paradise for sadists. Torture and agony. She did not specifically say what was done to her, though she gave some examples of things that might happen there. She said that she and my sire are connected.”

“My sire did not claim to have any hand in Miss Malveaux-Deviller’s Embrace.”

GM: “On what business do you believe your sire would have seen Bishop Malveaux?”

“Did you believe your sire was bound to another?”

“Have you found the thickness of your sire’s blood atypical?”

“Do you believe your sire’s identity a lie?”

“On what basis does Miss Maleaux-Devillers believe your sire arranged her Embrace?”

Celia: “I do not know what business my sire would have had with Bishop Malveaux. It could have possibly been a social call, but I find it more likely that my sire heard the date from someone else.”

“I do not have reason to believe that my sire is bound to another aside from what Miss Malveaux-Devillers said to me. I admit that I had not much considered it until then.”

“I have not found the thickness of my sire’s blood atypical.”

“Miss Malveaux-Devillers did not offer coherent explanation as to why my sire would arrange her Embrace. She said that my sire ‘choose poorly this kine,’ and seemed to believe that my sire sought her death rather than Embrace. My hypothesis is that she saw things that weren’t real during her time in The Dungeon and it has addled some of her memories, as she indicated a distortion between time and space and no longer knowing who she was.”

She hesitates on the question of her sire’s identity. She doesn’t know. She doesn’t have a good answer. She says as much.

“I don’t… I don’t know if my sire’s identity is a lie. I don’t have a reason to believe so other than what Miss Malveaux-Devillers claims. After I met with her I tasted my sire’s blood and paid more attention to what I was tasting. I did not detect anything off about it. I tasted the connection to my grandsire. My sire has never implied to be anyone else. I have not seen any proof of the ability to fleshcraft, as I have. I did not learn the skill from my sire.”

GM: “Why do you believe your sire would have paid a social call to Bishop Malveaux?”

“Why did Miss Malveaux-Devillers believe your sire sought her death?”

“To what purpose did Miss Malveaux-Devillers believe your sire invoked a boon from her own sire?”

Celia: “I’m sorry, I don’t know. My sire has never discussed a relationship with Bishop Malveaux with me.” They both know Veronica’s reputation, though. “It could have been any number of things, including confession. I do not know the bishop well enough to speak to his tendencies otherwise and I will not slander his name or person.”

“Miss Malveaux-Devillers did not share her reason for my sire seeking her death. Only that she suspected. I do not believe she had proof.”

“I’m sorry,” she says again, “I don’t know. I can hypothesize. Miss Malveaux-Devillers came from wealthy, relevant, important mortal families. She was an illegal Embrace who had to hunt down her own sire under penalty of final death. Though successful, she has struggled with her Requiem. It is possible that she has some delusions of grandeur or believes that her Embrace had a larger purpose than what her sire intended, though I do not know what that is or what he intended. I did not know him. I do not know if such a boon existed. I do not know my sire’s relationship with him.”

GM: The stake plunges back into Celia’s heart. She’s paralyzed.

“Your sire would not take confession with Bishop Malveaux.”

The heat withdraws. Completely.

A sharp metallic whining starts.

There’s a rolling sound across the floor.

The whirring metallic whine draws closer.

“You stated your sire could have paid a social call to Bishop Malveaux.”

Celia: With the stake in her heart she cannot open her mouth to speak. She cannot nod or otherwise indicate that she has heard or has an answer. She can only stare at the black hood that obscures her vision, desperately trying to find an answer on how to get out of this.

She doesn’t know what the whirring is. The relief she might have felt at the loss of heat does not come; anxiety and terror clutch her frozen heart. What is she moving towards?

Images fill her mind. Blades. Saws. Compactors. How much of her will be left? Is this any better than burning?

It can’t be the end. She’d told them what they wanted. She’d answered every question that they could.

GM: Pain shreds through Celia’s shoulder. Flesh tears and yields as steel saws through. The heady coppery smell of Cainite vitae fills her nostrils as the Beast screams in her ears. She hears droplets of blood lightly spattering.

But the pain does not stop. The metallic whirring does not stop.

It gets worse.

Metal saws through her shoulder bone, whining loudly as the hot steel edge cuts and cuts and cuts, god how many rotations per second. Once more, Celia’s howling Beast bursts its chains, but a wooden prison keeps its rage trapped and impotent. All it can do is suffer. All Celia can do is suffer. Pain saws and rips through her shoulder, until finally, there is a horrible cessation of all physical sensation through her arm. But the wound still weeps. The wound still screams. A mere mortal, Celia knows all too well, could well pass out from shock and/or blood loss upon losing a limb. Almost losing a limb can make someone pass out from shock and/or blood loss.

Celia knows that one from personal observation.

Celia: It’s gone.

Her arm is gone.

There’s nothing left, no bone, no tendon, no muscle. Just a stump. A bleeding stump.

White hot agony tears through her in tandem with the blade. She screams, but no one hears. She cries, but no tears come. She rages, but does not move.

She can only endure. She suffers in silence.

As she has the entirety of her life. The entirety of her Requiem.

The saw buzzes in her ear. She flinches away from the sound of it, but she cannot move, not even with only one shackle on her one wrist. What will that empty side of her do? Flop menacingly?

He said he’d protect her. He said he’d always protect her but she had told him she needed him, had asked him for help, and he hadn’t. He’d called her stupid instead.

They’d promised. Years ago. No matter what happened. No matter how angry they were at each other. If they were in trouble the other would come. They’d sealed it with a kiss, a declaration of love, and she’d felt closer to him in that moment than she had to anyone else, closer than the blood of their clans suggest. She can feel him. He can feel her. Does he feel it now? Her terror? Her pain? Does he care? Or does he think it’s well deserved?

It’s all she has. He’d heard her scream. She’d told him Agnello.

She prays to whatever god is listening, prays to the Father Above and the dark god she thinks her sire is and the Greek goddess she had been compared to that he’s coming.

GM: The cool voice sounds again.

“Your sire would not have paid a social call to Bishop Malveaux.”

The whirring does not shut off. It does not even grow fainter.

“Your sire would not take confession with Bishop Malveaux,” the voice repeats.

Perhaps in case she cannot recall past the pain.

“Explain these discrepancies in your account.”

The stake withdraws.

Then,

“Name every individual you know who has had interactions with the infernal.”

“Describe every interaction you have had with the infernal.”

“Describe the purpose for which you intended to summon an infernal entity or entities.”

“Describe the means by which you intended to summon an infernal entity or entities.”

“Name and describe the infernal entity or entities you intended to summon.”

Tiny metallic teeth continue to run and whir against Celia’s ear.

Hungry for the rest of her.

Celia: She tries to focus on the words. What the hound wants. Anything to make the whirring stop.

Anything to end the pain.

Malveaux. Confession.

“I don’t… I don’t know. I don’t know why my sire would… I don’t know—”

GM: At Celia’s initial answer, a horrible crawling sensation like dozens of skittering, climbing legs fills her throat, then pours from her mouth. Beetle-like clicks fill the air as the bugs crawl from her primary orifice. The taste is ashen and foul.

“Lies,” hisses her interrogator.

The terrible metallic whirring withdraws. Celia can hear it. There’s a lower rolling sound, against the floor. The whirring draws close again. To her other side. To her other arm. So very close. The saw whines and whirs and screams in Celia’s ear as it lowers over her other shoulder—

Celia: The legs in her throat is every horror movie she has ever seen. She tries to shriek around the bugs but nothing passes her lips except a gurgle, making them move faster, making them click quicker, louder, the saw whirs—

She’s going to die.

She’s going to die because she asked too many stupid questions.

She’s going to die because she’s a whore, because she broke the man she was supposed to love, because she’s a disappointment to everyone around her.

She doesn’t know anything about the infernal. The boons she’d paid had gotten her little in the way of information. And now they’ve gotten her here. Sold out to the hounds.

She focuses on one question at a time, pushing through the pain and terror. It’s slow going, trying to organize her thoughts, trying to figure out what to say. It comes down to denial. Not knowing anyone. Not intending to summon a demon.

It comes down to a lot of nothing.

She’d thought she could outwit the hound. That if she referred to her sire only as “my sire” for the entirety of the conversation she’d get out of this alive, if not intact.

Now, though, she doesn’t think that’s the case. Doriocourt had said it last night at Elysium: they’ll question her, and it wouldn’t be too big a loss to the Camarilla if she met her end.

No one is coming for her. She’s wounded. Disoriented. Chained. Captive. Defeated.

And she still hasn’t protected her sire from the threat.

He’ll kill her for it.

But maybe it will save him.

“My sire isn’t who you think,” she frantically whispers. “Madam Alsten-Pirrie isn’t my sire.”

GM: The insects stop actively crawling. But not all of them are gone from her mouth. Celia must spit the remainder out, and she does not get them all out. Tiny carapaces crunch beneath her teeth as she talks.

The whirring saw pauses.

“Who is your sire?”

Celia: It all stops. It all stops and she can breathe again, she can suck in useless air, she can stop her eyes from rolling in panic in her head, she can answer, she can say—

She can say his name.

“Sheriff Donovan.”

It falls from her lips like a plea, a prayer, an answer to a question she has asked a thousand times, her very reason for being, the only spot of light in the dark no matter how much he hurts her, no matter how many of hers he has slain, no matter how she suffers at his hands.

He’d saved her. Hunted for her. Killed for her.

Chosen her.

She has to do this. To stop herself from dying. No one else will protect him the way she can. No one else loves him the way that she does. No one else believes her that there’s a threat to his unlife. No one else will save him. Only her.

GM: Sheriff Donovan.

Two words.

There is a pause.

Then, Celia feels a sharp edge prick her wrist. Her remaining wrist.

There is another pause.

Then, the stake painfully drives back in her chest. She’s paralyzed again.

Footsteps sound.

There’s another noise in the distance.

More footsteps.

The manacle around her wrist comes off, but she cannot move. She feels hands bending her arm, so it reaches off the table. She feels her hand brushing against something. Metallic. Circular.

There’s another sharp prick against her wrist, but deeper. Longer. She feels her blood flow.

Finally, it stops. Hands lift her arm back onto the table. Re-affix the manacle.

Celia: Maybe this is worse.

Shackled again. Less blood. Staked.

Maybe she should have continued her charade.

GM: There’s chanting, in Latin. Like a liturgical prayer. Celia doesn’t know the words, but she feels the power in them as they build and repeat. She feels them call to her blood.

They cease.

There is another pause.

The stake comes out. She can move again.

Celia: She doesn’t attempt to. She’s still chained. She waits. For questions. Demands. Accusations.

She waits. Silent.

GM: “Describe the circumstances of your Embrace and your subsequent interactions with the sheriff.”

The saw continues to whir and whine.

Celia: So she does.

She tells her broodmate what she can.

She starts, perhaps unnecessarily, at the beginning.

“He came for my father when I was eight. I saw him that night. He saw me, and that’s all I remember. I saw him again when I was fourteen. Maxen had won an election. I wasn’t supposed to be home. Maxen attacked my mother. I threatened him with a gun. Sheriff Donovan appeared. He smoothed things over. I think he altered my memories, but I remember his face before I fell asleep.”

“Maxen was abusive. I made a plan to move against him when I got to college. I set him up to take a political fall, for which I was hospitalized. Maxen was arrested. I met Pietro Silvestri at a bar the next night. He fed from me at his haven, where Veronica Alsten-Pirrie had killed someone. They caught me when I tried to escape, but they were distracted by each other. I got away.”

“Maxen was released from jail. He kidnapped my mother. I wasn’t there. I called the bar where I met Mr. Silvestri because he told me that he was a thief, and I thought he could steal her back. He and Madam Alsten-Pirrie tested me, fed from me, but did not agree to steal her back. They ghouled me. Gave me the power to get her myself. She wanted to Embrace me then, but he told her no. This was their solution.”

“I went to Audubon. I took my mother to the hospital. I went back to get revenge on Maxen. I was interrupted by the sheriff. He took me into the sky. He drained my body. I thought he would drop me. That I was dead.”

“He did. But he gave me his blood first. Then he let me go. I woke up the next evening at the Evergreen. Mr. Savoy told me that he had felt my Embrace through our blood connection. He said that the sheriff had abandoned me. We tried to figure out why, what he wanted. We didn’t know if he had realized what he’d done, but even at the time, not knowing him, I thought it was deliberate. He could have killed me. He didn’t.”

“I told Mr. Savoy about Madam Alsten-Pirrie. He summoned her and she agreed to cover for my Embrace. We didn’t know what the sheriff wanted, though. We thought he was watching the apartment of someone I knew, an associate that assisted with the Maxen scandal. I went there, disguised, and waited.”

“He came for me.”

“He did not tell me why he did this to me. He only asked what Mr. Savoy had planned for Maxen. I told him the plans. He told me that I was well placed to spy on Mr. Savoy. That I should rise in his favor and earn his trust. That I shouldn’t trust him myself. That I should appear genuine, so he did not suspect. That I should tell them he thought I was Madam Alsten-Pirrie’s illicit childe, that she should pretend he has leverage on her.”

“Mr. Savoy took me in. He explained the rules. Granted me domain. I became Jade Kalani and played the part of loyal grandchilde to Mr. Savoy. The sheriff and I meet infrequently for updates. I pass him information on Mr. Savoy and anyone else he asks me to, any threat that I perceive to his being.”

“He told me to never tell. He told me to never let anyone know who I am, who my real sire is. As far as I know he has not told anyone himself. He… told me that if I risked the cover he’d created for us he would risk the lives and unlives of those I care for. I have had to lie. To learn how to be Madam Alsten-Pirrie’s childe. To temper my words and actions with those that would align with her rather than him. I have tried to be careful. I have tried to prevent anyone else from finding out. I have lied and cheated and infiltrated and done everything he has asked of me. We do not trade favors. We do not trade intel. It is one way. I do things for him.”

“No one knows,” she says again. “No one knows what I do for him. No one is supposed to know. He…” Does she need to explain the sheriff to her sister-in-blood? “We were seen together. I was punished. I fear that the next will mean my death. That I can no longer serve him.”

“I tried to get through this without spilling about him. I thought I could make it. But I feared that my death here would mean he went without his plant in the Quarter. I feared that telling you would bring his wrath down upon me, not because you know, but because I told. Because the information has not been shared. Because it jeopardizes you, his acknowledged childe. Because it jeopardizes him.”

“I have tried to avoid you,” Celia continues, “to never do anything against you directly. Last night I was caught in the role the rest expect to see. I… I did not think you would be the one to speak against Madam Preston, that I would have to go toe-to-toe with you. I apologize for my words and actions last night. I can… I will back down, next time, if there is a next time.”

GM: Camilla patiently listens through Celia’s narrative. She does not interrupt with questions or remarks.

Blinded, Celia cannot say what expression crosses her sister-in-blood’s face.

What she might be thinking.

How she feels to have a sister.

Finally, she speaks again.

“Describe the intelligence leak the sheriff described among the Guard de Ville.”

“Describe the nature of your dealings with the infernal.”

“Describe the purpose for which you intended to summon an infernal entity or entities.”

“Describe the extent of Miss Malveaux-Devillers’ knowledge of the sheriff.”

“Describe the sheriff’s alleged involvement in Miss Malveaux-Devillers’ Embrace.”

Celia: Celia swallows. She had thought they could have a more personal conversation than this.

Her blood might not be enough to save her.

“The sheriff did not describe a leak. He told me the information I gave to you earlier. He told me about the suspect and asked me to look into them. He knows that I can shift forms. He did not say there was a further leak of intel. He told me how to proceed with Miss Malveaux-Devillers and Mr. Savoy.”

“I have not had any dealings with any confirmed infernals. If Maxen Flores is correct about his possession then I had dealings with one as a mortal, but I was not aware of it. If the house on Rampart hosts an infernal then I dealt with that as well, unknowing.”

“I did not have any intention to summon an infernal. I only asked if it was possible. Mr. Bornemann said that they dwell in Hell. That our souls go there when we die. I wanted to know how the infernals come from Hell to here. If it’s possible for a Kindred soul to do the same. Mr. Bornemann told me it is a one-way trip. He implied it was a waste of time to look further.”

“Miss Malveaux-Devillers suspects that the sheriff is not loyal to the prince. She believes he is loyal to someone else, but she has not told me who. She thinks that he is older than he says. That he is not who he says. She thought that he tried to kill her, but she did not say why. She only said something about him setting her down this path. I don’t know the entirety of their interactions. The sheriff did not say, only told me to find out if she had killed the bishop, and to otherwise avoid the Garden District.”

GM: “What purpose did you seek to effect by alleging an intelligence leak among the Guard de Ville in Elysium?”

“Do you know of an intelligence leak among the Guard de Ville?”

“Why did you consult Mr. Bornemann for information about infernal entities and the translocation of Kindred souls?”

“Why did the sheriff tell you to avoid the Garden District?”

Then, a moment after the other queries:

“Who is your mortal father?”

Celia: “I did not want to lose the argument last night at Elysium. I wanted to rise in Mr. Savoy’s favor. I thought that he might trust me more if he saw me publicly working toward his goals. My relationship with Madam Preston is tense, at best, and I thought she would also appreciate the support.” There is a brief pause. “I was wrong.”

“I don’t know of any intelligence leak among the Guard de Ville. I only know what I know because the sheriff told me, because he told me to assist where the Guard could not. With Miss Malveaux-Devillers. With Mr. Savoy. With the Anarchs, who he says hate him.”

“I consulted Mr. Bornemann…” Celia pauses. It is a brief pause, and she can almost hear her broodmate’s mocking response in her ear before she speaks. “The sheriff’s unlife has been threatened by multiple sources this week. I have spoken to him about it. I thought that if I could not physically protect him, I could at least protect his soul. I thought there might be a way to bring him back from final death, if he were to meet it. I did not intend to summon an infernal. Only to find out how they get from Hell to here.”

“When the sheriff learned I had been to the Garden District he punished me by risking the life of my mortal mother. He threw her from the roof. He made me catch her. He said that I had risked the cover he set up for us. That I had been careless. We do not publicly associate. He distances himself from me so that no one knows.”

Another pause at the question. She’d wondered if Doriocourt had picked up on the thing with her dad.

“My mortal father is Ronald Landrenau. He is a pawn of Mr. Savoy. He is aware he is my father. Maxen Flores is not. My mother told me when I was fourteen.”

GM: There is another pause from her interrogator.

“Do you know any individuals who have had potential dealings with the infernal besides Maxen Flores, the woman at the Rampart Street house, the slain kine who previously occupied that house, and the kine associated with them?”

“Describe any connection you have with the aforementioned individuals. Do not describe your connection to Maxen Flores.”

“Do you suspect any individuals besides the aforementioned individuals of having dealings with the infernal?”

“What was your business in the Garden District?”

Celia: “The woman at the Rampart Street house paid a thin-blood to bug my spa. I bugged the house, but did not otherwise interact with her. I have had no dealings with Father Conelly. I have had no dealings with any of the other mentioned individuals. I had planned to contact the two in prison but have not yet had an opportunity. I am unsure if the thing in the house is a demon or some other entity. I have… notes, I can show you, what Mr. Bornemann and I discussed, what I discovered while looking into the house.”

“I don’t know of any individuals who have had dealings with the infernal beings. I thought Mr. Bornemann might have studied them himself, but he did not confirm. Miss Grey told me that Mr. Bornemann was the local expert on infernal beings, but Mr. Bornemann downplayed his knowledge during our chat.”

“My business in the Garden District was to protect my personal Masquerade. I maintain the Celia Flores identity to go where Jade cannot, to better serve the sheriff’s goals. The ability to sculpt flesh has kept the risk of discovery to a minimum. I am careful to keep the two identities separate.”

GM: “Describe all dealings and interactions you know of between the sheriff and members of your immediate and extended kine family.”

“Do not describe the sheriff’s dealings and interactions with Maxen Flores.”

“Describe all dealings and interactions you know of between current and former members of the New Orleans Police Department with yourself and members of your immediate and extended kine family.”

Celia: “As far as I am aware, the sheriff has not had many interactions with my immediate or extended kine family. I spoke of his appearance during the altercation between Maxen and Diana Flores. When he learned that I had been in the Garden District, he used my mother to punish me. He threw her from the roof of my haven. He told me to catch her. Last night he came to me in the Quarter and made my adopted sister forget that she saw him. He sent her inside.”

A brief pause.

“My sister Isabel might have seen him when he came for our father in 1997. I believe he may have altered her memories following the incident in 2009. I do not believe that he had contact with my other kine siblings. I also suspect that he had Maxen’s parents killed, as their will had changed just before their death to make him the sole inheritor, and he used the money to move to Audubon. I suspect that the sheriff has altered the memories of my kine mother multiple times. I do not believe he has had interactions with my kine father.”

“I… I don’t know of many police dealings between the NOPD and my kine family. My maternal kine grandmother is a criminal judge who has had experiences with them over the course of her career, but I only know of one specific. When I set up Maxen prior to my Embrace she gave me the number to call of a man named Gettis, or his partner. She said they would help. I called him the night Maxen was arrested. The Kindred Peter Lebeaux showed up following Maxen’s arrest to question Diana and I while we were at the hospital. He offered her a ride home following the incident and helped her collect my siblings from CPS. He assisted me when I moved her out of the hospital following her abduction by Maxen, but has otherwise not spoken to or interacted with her.”

“I am unaware of other dealings my kine family has or has had with the police dep… ah, Emmett. My cousin. Was arrested in 2009 by Peter Lebeaux. He had the proof of Maxen’s assault. I was unaware that he and I were related at the time. His memories were wiped. He thought he was arrested for drug charges.”

GM: “What memories of your mother’s do you believe the sheriff altered?”

“Name your maternal kine grandmother and describe her relationship with Richard Gettis.”

Celia: “I believe he altered the memories of what happened the night of the altercation between her and Maxen, when he tried to saw off her leg. I also believe he altered her memories following the events of my Embrace, but I have no proof. He altered her memories following the punishment he levied against me on the roof, he told her to think it was a dream and to not wake up until she was back in bed.”

“My maternal kine grandmother is Payton Underwood. I spoke to her following the shooting at the station by Richard Gettis about him, but she did not say that they were friends, only that she knew him. That he was a hard man, that the job and made him unhinged, that he had no friends or family. I am unaware of any other personal relationship between her or other NOPD officers.”

“Wait.”

“Maxen’s father is not who he claims, either. His biological father is Jim Jameson.”

“I am unaware if he has any dealings with the police department.”

GM: There is a pause.

“Describe your feelings towards the sheriff and the nature of your relationship.”

Celia: “He is…”

How can she explain? How does she put the depth of her emotions into words?

“I… I have strong feelings for him. I have strong, intimate feelings for him. I would lay down my unlife for his. I would do whatever he asked of me. I have suffered abuse and punishment at his hands and I have never turned against him. He has beaten me. Threatened people close to me. Made me kill people for him. To show strength. Loyalty. He pushes me to be better. He makes me stronger. He does not coddle me. He punishes mistakes. He corrects the wrong course of action. Until very recently he was more distant. I showed him something recently that… that I think made him value me more, but I…”

She falters.

“He will never care for me the same way as I care for him. I grew up knowing him. His ghoul used me, groomed me, broke me. He let my father abuse me. My family. I’m… I pretend there’s more there, but he’s… he’s practical. He has never said why he Embraced me. I imagine it is because I grew up in the house I did, the way I did. Advantageous byproduct, he said. I was ruthless. He came to kill me that night and I laughed in his face. I was happy to trade my life for my mother’s.”

Another pause.

“I love him,” she whispers it like a dirty secret, “I’m sorry, I love him, I know he isn’t mine, I know he will never be mine, I know that I can only pretend. I want what’s best for him. Whatever that means. Whatever role that puts me in. Whatever danger I have to face or lies I have to tell or people I have to break. He need only ask. I don’t expect anything from him. I wish. I hope. But I don’t expect. I know what I am to him. Tool. Pawn. Hidden dagger. I know. I don’t ask for more than he’s willing to give. I am his spy. I would never willingly harm his interests, never harm you, you’re the… the childe, the chosen, the acknowledged, and I’m… bastard born twice over, secret shame. I’ll never be his equal. I’ll never be your equal. I belong in shadows.”

GM: Camilla listens.

Suddenly, Celia feels the hood withdraw. She can see again. She’s shackled to a steel table. She’s in an unlit torture room, though her eyes penetrate the dark without issue. There are rows of alternately sleek- and brutal-looking steel instruments whose only function is the causation of pain.

Celia sees her own arm, too, lying at her side. It looks blistered and rotting, like it’s been dead for several days.

Camilla picks up the arm and holds it to Celia’s stump.

Celia: She had expected the stake again for her confession. Not this. Not sight. Not the hood withdrawn. Not… the arm, held against her so she can… can she mend, can she…

“I… I can’t… I lost too much blood, if I try it will… I might lose control.”

Shame in her voice. Her eyes. Weak.

GM: Camilla raises her wrist to her mouth. Celia smells it before she sees it, the coppery flow of red.

The hound holds her wrist to Celia’s mouth.

Celia: She does not question it. She drinks what her sister gives her. She opens her mouth to let it flow down her throat, to nourish her, to give back what was taken. However much Camilla gives, Celia accepts.

GM: Celia gets to drink for a very long time.

Celia: She takes it all. Every drop. Every hit of blood, so close to her sire’s. It’s almost like drinking from him. Her body mends itself while she drinks, flesh and sinew knitting back together while Camilla holds the arm to her severed stump.

She drinks, and she accepts this new family.

She drinks, and she accepts that Camilla is the sister she deserves, that they are the sheriff’s childer, that they serve him.

She drinks, wishing there was a bond, something tangible to tie them together so that she knows this one always has her back.

She drinks and the wounds on her body and soul heal.

GM: The arm looks fresh and hale again, when she’s done. There’s some dried blood over it. But the rot and decay is gone, like it was never severed from her.

Camilla finally retracts her wrist, then walks around the table. She undoes each of the shackles around Celia’s wrists and feet.

Celia: She waits patiently while Camilla goes through the motions. She does not struggle. She does not speak. Only sits up slowly once she is free, looking to her newly acknowledged sister.

GM: Camilla lifts herself onto the table and sits next to Celia. She’s dressed in the same trench Celia has so often seen her in outside of Elysium. A felt hat casts long shadows across her porcelain-pale and utterly still, expressionless face. Her features are attractive enough, even beautiful, but no one could ever love such a face. It’s nothing but stone and shadows.

Pic.jpg
Celia: She has loved such a face. Her sire’s is cut from the same marble and ice. It is not so different.

GM: The hound removes her hat and sets it down. She undoes the clasp around her hair, letting it fall down to her shoulders. She turns to look at Celia.

Then she smiles.

It’s like seeing one of those pictures of Antarctic tundra during a hot summer.

The landscape’s basic shapes and forms are consistent.

But you never realized there could be green.

“You know, Celia, I was once where you are now, many years ago,” says Camilla.

Celia: Celia is struck by the beauty of Camilla when she smiles. She doesn’t realize she’s lifting her hand to the hound’s cheek until she sees the motion. She freezes before her fingers ever touch the woman before her and drops them back to her side, listening to her speak.

“You were?” A question that’s more a breath, it slips out of her before she can stop it.

GM: Camilla’s eyes crinkle as Celia’s hand drops.

“You can touch me, if you like. I’m not made of glass.”

“But yes, I was.”

“I think that if we’d been Embraced at the same time, I’d have been jealous of you.”

“I think I would’ve wanted what you have, what you get to be, more than anything.”

Celia: Celia lifts her hand again once the permission is given, touching the smooth planes of her cheek. She is beautiful. Even if no one gets to see. Even if she hides behind the hat and coat.

“I am jealous,” she finds herself saying. “I wish he acknowledged me. I wish I did not dance upon this delicate knife’s edge, afraid of accidentally blowing my cover, his cover.”

She pauses only a moment, looking deep into the hound’s eyes.

“What do you want to be?”

GM: The woman’s pale skin is smooth and unblemished against Celia’s touch.

“I am what I want to be.”

“But I didn’t always want to be what I am.”

“There was a time, early in my Requiem, when Rocco Agnello and I were lovers. He was a lot older. I thought I was special and important.”

“Then I found out he’d been sharing blood with Veronica Alsten-Pirrie, and that I was just a diversion.”

“I confronted him. I frenzied. He beat me into torpor. He called our sire to revive me.”

The smile turns a touch sad.

“That ended up hurting worse than the beating. Than the betrayal.”

Celia: “His disappointment,” she says quietly.

GM: “He revived me with his blood. He was disappointed by my weakness, my naivete, and my loss of control. So he beat, tortured, and humiliated me. While Rocco watched.”

Celia: She hadn’t known.

No one had ever told her this story.

Celia cannot help the way that her lips flatten into a thin line. The way her heart goes out to this older Kindred who has faced their sire’s sense of “justice.”

GM: “Things never really got better.”

“No matter much I accomplished, no matter how many years went by.”

“One error. One mistake. And I was the fledgling who’d fucked up with Rocco again.”

“I’m going to be the bishop tomorrow. To replace Malveaux. It’s going to be announced at Elysium.”

“I don’t think it means anything to him.”

“It benefits him, yes, and he’s partly responsible for my being named bishop. He wants it to happen.”

“But he hasn’t congratulated me. Said he’s proud. Said anything, beyond telling me I’m going to be the bishop.”

“One error. One mistake. And I’ll be the fledgling who’d fucked up with Rocco again.”

Camilla’s voice isn’t bitter. Or even sad. Just matter-of-fact.

Celia: The circumstances are different, but the experiences are the same. Her face shows her understanding: open rather than shuttered. She has shared so much of herself these past few nights that even if she wanted to hold it back she couldn’t, not here, not now that her mask has started to splinter and crack in front of the only other Kindred in the city who completely understands, who had granted mercy because of that understanding.

“I thought it was different with you and him. I was… I was so jealous of what I thought you had with him, I thought I could get there too. But we’re tools, aren’t we?”

Her lips twist. Her eyes search her sister’s face, looking for another answer.

“That’s all, isn’t it. Ways for him to get ahead. To get what he wants, regardless of what we want.”

She wants to share. Her own hurt. Her own pain. The things he has done to her, the things he has let others do to her, the words he has used that have wounded her more deeply than any of the bones he has ever broken.

But it’s not her time.

Her fingers moves from the hound’s cheek to her hand.

“I’m proud of you,” she says instead. “I’m proud of you for being what you want to be. For wanting to be what you are. I’m proud of you for becoming bishop. I am sister rather than sire, but I am proud. I wear the mask in public, but this evening I would offer you my congratulations.”

Maybe Celia’s words means something to Camilla. Maybe they don’t.

But Camilla’s words mean something to Celia.

GM: At Celia’s touch, her broodmate smiles again.

“Thank you. That does mean something.”

Her gaze sweeps across the torture room. The smell of Celia’s spilled, now-dried vitae hangs heavy in the air.

“It’s rare that I get to take the mask off. Everyone assumes I am a copy of him. An extension of him. They look upon me and see only the sheriff, writ miniature.”

“I’d have envied your freedom, when I was your age. Your ability to be what you choose to be.”

Celia: Is it freedom? Had she donned the masks she chose? Or had they been decided for her through her upbringing? Whore. Stupid. Spoiled. Victim. She’d thought the same of Camilla. Mini-Donovan, ice queen. The older Toreador wears her mask well.

She follows the hound’s gaze through the room. How long has she been missing? How long until the sun scorches the earth?

Celia returns her eyes to Camilla.

“There are so many things I want to say to you. Want to ask you. Tell you. Confide. I…”

She falters, unused to this feeling bubbling inside of her. She’d tried to shut it down so hard recently that its reappearance tonight has disoriented her.

“I’d like to see you again. If this isn’t my end, I mean—” blurted, rushed words, because what if it is? “—if I’m released. I’d like to meet with you. I’d like to get to know you. Not as Jade. But as me. To allow us both to take off the masks. If that’s something you’re amenable to,” she adds, almost shyly.

GM: “That is something I’d be amenable to. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to remove the mask. There are things I want to tell you, Celia. About him. About myself. About yourself. About your family. About so much else. There are things I want to ask you, as well. So many things. There are so many secrets and we all have so few pieces of the puzzle. It’s so rare that we receive this many more pieces at once.”

Celia almost doesn’t notice the fading of her broodmate’s smile, like sunset passing into night.

“But circumstance may not allow us to share those things.”

Celia: She wants that. She wants all of that. Sharing. A sister. Someone else with whom she can be true, be herself, take off the mask and let her hair down like Camilla has literally just done.

But reality knocks, and Celia sets her jaw as the smile fades from Camilla’s face.

“We will navigate the circumstances, or we will create new ones. I can come to you. I can change my face. A new identity. For me. Or you. I can shift. I can pass as mortal. Whatever needs to happen. No one has to know.”

A pause.

He doesn’t need to know.”

A plea.

Keeping secrets from her sire for the first time in her Requiem. The collar chafes.

Unless Camilla means something else. Unless she will burn anyway, and this was just a momentary reprieve. Her fingers tighten around the hound’s hand. Not quite clutching, but seeking… something. Comfort. Reassurance.

“Am I to die tonight,” she asks in a whisper.

GM: “The plan was for you to die Sunday,” Camilla answers, her eyes once more sweeping the torture chamber.

“I would have interrogated you for everything you knew. You would then have been publicly executed as an accomplice in Bishop Malveaux’s murder.”

“I can report, and truthfully, that you aren’t an infernalist and the rumor about an intelligence leak had no basis in fact. But we still have no reason to release a captive Bourbon.”

“You can’t disappear from here without an explanation, either. The rest of the Guard would investigate how you escaped. He would investigate how you escaped.”

“Does anyone outside know you are here?”

Celia: Celia closes her eyes. She breathes. She wants to ask if it was his idea to execute her. Or if it was just… just convenient. If he knew. It shouldn’t hurt.

But it does.

“Durant,” she says, looking back to Camilla. “Roderick Durant. Primogen Duquette’s childe. We were lovers in our mortal life,” she explains. “My ghoul. I saw Rocco tailing me. I told him. Security at the Evergreen, maybe, but I think Hound Agnello distracted them, but if there are cameras… I can try to reach my grandsire with the… the bond.” Savoy has no power here, though.

GM: “Cameras can’t be counted on with Kindred,” says Camilla, shaking her head.

“Durant may be your best option. Trying to reach Savoy also can’t hurt.”

Celia: Celia gives a tiny nod. Cameras. That’s right. They don’t work. She’s not on her game, not now. Not with final death on the line. But Camilla hadn’t called her stupid. Hadn’t mocked her. And for that… for that she’s grateful.

How had someone so decent ended up as Donovan’s childe?

“Durant knows I was grabbed. He heard me scream. I just don’t know if he cares. It’s been rocky this week. He wouldn’t fight his way in. His sire knows who I am, but he’d have had to go to her, and she’d have to find some value in involving herself.” And why would she? Because she’s decent?

“Did Bornemann turn me in? Does my… does our sire know I’m here?”

GM: “Bornemann reported you to the Guard de Ville as a potential infernalist.”

“Donovan is away on business, but he will know soon.”

Celia: She wonders how Bornemann planned to collect his boons if Jade is dead. How much he had lied to her because he thought it wouldn’t matter.

Whether or not she owes him anything now, or if turning her in nullifies her debts. Veronica would know.

“He won’t care,” she says. It’s not a question. He’ll tell her that she’s stupid for getting caught. For asking questions. For digging into something that hadn’t concerned him.

She lets that pain rush through her. The pain of her sire not caring. Giving her up to die. Turned in for being stupid. Roderick’s last words to her. About how she’s stupid. He’s not coming. No one is coming.

It builds inside of her. The emotional pain. The spiritual pain. The lack of love, of self love, the disconnection when she tries so hard to throw a tether onto anyone else to see what lands and how she blames them for not understanding when she holds so much of herself back, the walls so high around her heart that even though she thinks she’s pouring it into other people she’s pouring from an empty cup and there’s nothing but resentment and poison because she lies so well that she’s convinced herself, the victim story she has been stuck in since she was eight years old, the blame and guilt and self-loathing that set her on this path, the martyr mindset, the need to fix everything and everyone around her rather than herself because it’s easier to focus out than focus in—

the lies—

the guilt—

the anger—

the shame—

the hatred—

the rage—

the grief—

the pain—

the story—

the bullshit—

It thrums through her, a secret superpower of self blame and self hatred and self loathing, of feeling so disconnected that she disconnected, the feeling of not feeling, the feeling of numbness and what that brings up inside of her and how many masks she has created and how hard she has fought for every bit of sanity that she clings to—

It coils and bunches inside of her like a well-used muscle because it is a well-used muscle—

She unleashes it. Reaching not for her sire, but for her grandsire. Calling on the bond between them, the pull between them, the satisfaction and pride she has brought him, not giving in to the idea that she had failed him, not letting herself believe that he is done with her, that she is just another pawn.

She reaches. She throws the life line.

She sends her desperation. The terror. The need for assistance. She digs deep, letting it fill her, letting it spiral down the line to her grandsire. Her location. Her terror and impotence and rage, her grief and fear and agony. She sends it all, the strongest she can muster, she sends it to him.

She doesn’t know if it’s enough.

She doesn’t know if he will help.

She doesn’t know if he cares.

How had she ended up here? How had she thought that anyone would ever come for her? How had she let herself become such a victim that she needs someone else to save her?

Steel resolve makes rigid her spine. She turns her eyes to her sister.

“I reached for him. I don’t know if he’s coming. I don’t know if Durant is coming. I can give you a body. If you get me out of here, I can give you a Jade to execute. I will disappear. I have other identities, ones he does not know about.”

She will lose everything she has created.

But that is better than losing her unlife, isn’t it?

GM: “Will the body be able to walk and talk?” asks Camilla.

Celia: “It could. It won’t know the right things to say, if it’s questioned. But I can… I can get you an animated body, yes.”

GM: “Tell me more. It may serve. It also may not.”

Celia: “Fleshcraft. I can find another lick. Or a thin-blood. Or a… something illegal,” she admits.

GM: “A thin-blood won’t work. They’d be executed in front of the entire city.”

Celia: “The illegal thing, then. Unless even suggesting it damns me.” Celia hesitates. The urge to swallow overwhelms her. When she continues, it’s in a whisper.

“I could turn someone.”

GM: “Hold that thought for now,” Camilla says mildly.

“When I am finished with Jade Kalani, she may be interrogated by the sheriff. A priest will offer to take her last confession. I can ensure the duplicate is subsequently kept mesmerized, as well as cursed to be incapable of speech. Punishment for too much backtalk. She won’t have to do anything at Elysium beyond face execution in front of a crowd.”

“The primary difficulties I foresee are getting the duplicate inside without notice, as well as getting you out if you can’t transform into something small.”

“You can fleshcraft. Can you take the form of a small enough animal to hide inside a coat or container?”

Celia: “Cat. Or bird, if it’s a small container. I can also gift the ability to transform to someone temporarily, if they can be commanded to do so. It’s temporary, the mark will fade after use.”

GM: “How small is the bird?”

Celia: “Nightjar. Rather small.”

GM: “A nightjar could be concealed*Celia:* in one of my pockets.”

Celia: “Cloaking, as well. No one should be able to detect me if I hide the aura.”

GM: “There are cameras outside of these cells. Authorized Kindred know to make themselves visible. If a prisoner escapes, the recordings can be reviewed for anomalies to determine when and possibly how.”

“I could bring a patsy into this room and purge the footage from the camera recordings. They are not frequently reviewed.”

“Prisoners not under active interrogation are kept staked. Escapes are rare. If there is an escape, the recordings will be reviewed, and the missing footage potentially noticed.”

Camilla seems to think further.

“No. The solution is simple. Prior footage could simply be spliced and re-used.”

Celia: “Ghoul.” Celia twists her lips. “One of the ones in the car copped a feel. Do they have access down here? Could they be blamed for missing footage? Say they snuck in here to take advantage of the staked lick?”

GM: “The footage can be taken care of without involving one of Wright’s ghouls. Whatever plan involves the fewest moving parts and individuals outside of our direct control is the least likely to go wrong.”

Celia: Celia nods.

“You’re very… patient.”

GM: “I am,” Camilla agrees.

“A Quarter rat would be the most convenient Kindred to capture and use as a substitute for Jade Kalani.”

The Toreador glances down at her wristwatch.

“Dawn is in approximately one hour.”

“The switch between you and the duplicate could be made tonight or tomorrow night, but should be made at least an hour prior to Midnight Mass.”

“How long would it take you to alter the duplicate’s body?”

Celia: For a moment she wonders what it would be like to have been Camilla’s childe rather than sister. To have someone willing to explain, to be patient, to understand.

She lets the thought to before long. She isn’t. Dwelling won’t make it so.

“Once I get it, not long. Proper burst of speed, a few minutes at most. Need blood for the work, for the speed. For the bird.” She’s already going through targets in her mind.

GM: “Then it is that or wait for Mr. Savoy and Mr. Durant to come through. I would wait no longer than two hours before Midnight Mass.”

Camilla considers further.

“There is a third alternative. You could trade us something. Something valuable or apparently valuable enough to be worth your release and which we could not conveniently claim by force.”

Celia: “You mean you wouldn’t release me to take care of it tonight. You’d do it tomorrow.” She looks around the sparse room. Her mother is waiting for her tomorrow. What will they say when they haven’t heard from her?

What will her dad do to them? What will Reggie do, losing his brother and his domitor both? And Alana? Dani? Something reckless?

“What is valuable enough? Information? Skills? Secrets?”

GM: “Two hours before Midnight Mass is the maximum time frame I would wait for Mr. Savoy and Mr. Durant before presuming they are unwilling or unable to help. Whether you wish to wait for them is your decision.”

“Assume you are the prince. What could Jade Kalani offer that you would consider worth releasing her for?”

Celia: “That someone I rely on is false. That my regime is in danger. Plan of attack. Enemies in the city. Allies under attack. Ways to weaken my enemies.”

Celia looks down at her hands.

“Will they know I told? Will I be known as a traitor? The whole city? Or just… just you? The Guard?”

GM: “That depends upon the information,” answers Camilla. “If it is worthwhile information, it will be acted upon.”

Celia: “Does anyone else know that I am here? Just you, the Guard, Donovan tomorrow?”

“Anyone you told. Prince. Seneschal. Whoever.”

GM: “That fact likely makes little difference. All of them will know by tomorrow’s mass.”

Celia: “That’s what I was afraid of,” she tells her hands.

GM: A feeble hope, given the seneschal’s presence at every Midnight Mass.

Stupid, whispers a bald man, to expect he wouldn’t know before then about Jade’s captivity.

Celia: Stupid, whispers the bald man, but Celia doesn’t let it sink in. That’s not what she’d meant.

“The rest of the city won’t know, though. That I was here. Only a few of you, those involved or the witnesses. The average lick in the city won’t?”

GM: “If Jade Kalani is executed before the city, and you were an average Kindred, would you presume she was previously held in Perdido House?”

“We have not otherwise disseminated news of your capture. That serves no purpose.”

Celia: “So if the information is enough to get out of here tonight, no one else will know it was me.”

GM: “Immediately, yes.”

Celia: Celia is silent only for a moment.

“The prince has a childe. I can tell you who it is and who knows. I can tell you what I learned from the childe that will harm his regime. I can tell you… I can… I can get in to, to where it is, the thing.”

GM: “What ‘thing’?” asks Camilla.

She evinces no reaction to the news of the prince’s childe.

Celia: “It’s… I don’t know what it is. I haven’t met it. It’s something that he’s defeated before. Twice. In France.” Celia looks at the ground, then up at Camilla. “I think it’s what Donovan serves,” she says in a quiet voice, “and if it’s not time yet then…” she trails off.

“I don’t know how you’d spin to them you let me go for it, not without betraying him. Unless I can… I don’t know, move it, or… set a trap.”

GM: “I am uncertain what you are proposing.”

Celia: That makes two of them.

“Something overly complicated that I wouldn’t be able to pull off anyway.”

GM: “What do you wish to do?”

Celia: “Survive,” she sighs, “I’m trying to figure out what’s worth letting a Bourbon go that will be valuable enough for you to sell to them while also not completely blowing my cover that doesn’t have a dozen moving parts and doesn’t rely on someone coming to ‘rescue’ me.”

GM: “And something the prince still needs you alive for.”

Celia: “That too. It’s… messy. Playing multiple sides.” Maybe it’s better if they just burn her. Who will be outraged enough to jump ship?

GM: “There is a reason more Kindred play a single side.”
-
Camilla checks her watch again.

“Our time to consider courses of action is not unlimited.”

Celia: “Sorry,” she murmurs, “I’m panicking. I want to get out tonight, there are personal and political issues I need to resolve this evening and early tomorrow evening. If I betray Savoy he’ll never let me in again and then I’m useless to Donovan, if I don’t give you something useful then there’s no reason to let me go, if I betray Donovan then I’m dead anyway.”

She stares once more at her hands.

“I don’t think Durant is coming,” she says to her fingers, and something resembling emotion tugs at her heart. She’d tried to hide it with anger, had tried to disconnect, but mostly right now she just feels… lonely. Isolated. Disconnected. She’d always kept one foot out the door with him because of the way things had ended twice before. Because she’d thought she was unworthy of someone like him.

“He was supposed to be my forever,” she says, almost to herself, “but I think he hates me now, and that’s my fault. He’s… he’s like you. Or he was. Until I broke him. I saw Rocco tailing me and I called him and he just… just told me I’m stupid.” Her laugh is watery. “So I can’t wait on him to save me.”

Breathe, she thinks, as if it ever does anything for her. As if she’s still human. As if she can actually feel and love and live like she used to as a mortal. As if this unlife is a fairy tale and she’s the main character, the princess who grows up to be a queen, the little girl that marries the prince, the ass-kicking spy that infiltrates compounds and never gets caught and has no flaws.

It’s not.

And if she messes this up she might die.

“An associate of mine has a breather blessed with luck. Five of the pints in his body belong to me for assisting with his capture. It’s possible he only gives me three considering I took two from his lover. If I complete a task for my associate there will be a ritual that allows the breather’s luck to be transferred to a talisman or vessel of my choice. I was going to use it for another purpose, to gift it to a vessel that I could then use over and over again, which I intended to use to accomplish a few major goals: investigating the potential infernal being, finding a way to protect the soul of our sire should any of the thieves in the city seek to claim it, and infiltrating a ring of hunters.”

Celia lifts her gaze to Camilla’s face.

“Are any of those worthy, or the talisman itself?”

GM: “On what basis do you believe that ‘thieves’ seek to claim our sire’s soul?”

Celia: Celia lets out a huff of air.

“I told him about it,” she says, “and he didn’t believe me. There’s a thing in the Garden District that eats souls.”

GM: “On what basis do you believe this entity poses a specific threat to our sire?”

Celia: “Her daughter is the one who thinks that Donovan was responsible for her Embrace. She thinks that he’s in service to another and is fully bonded to her sire.”

GM: The words die in Celia’s throat as she tries to speak.

Celia: Celia touches a hand to her throat.

She tries another word. Any word.

“I.”

GM: “I,” sounds her voice.

Celia: She can speak, but she doesn’t. For a moment she is silent, mind racing as she considers the possibilities.

“I can’t say,” she finally says. “I don’t know.”

GM: “Then it is immaterial to his or our concerns,” says Camilla.

Celia: Celia nods.

GM: “How swiftly can you retrieve this ‘lucky’ blood or obtain the talisman?”

Celia: “I have to finish a task for the talisman. A week, maybe. I don’t imagine it will take longer than that. The blood… I thought I could get part of it before Elysium tomorrow, but I’d need to touch base with my associate.”

GM: Camilla checks her watch again.

“Describe their nature and beneficial properties. Quickly.”

Celia: Celia does so. She keeps it brief, but she gives the examples that she witnessed in Gunner. The money, the cars, the bullets.

GM: “Are you willing to gamble our sire’s wrath and the lives of your family upon successfully completing this task?”

Celia: No.

“Yes.”

GM: “Very well. The Sanctified will require collateral to ensure you fulfill your end of the deal.”

“Samples of your blood would suffice for this purpose.”

Celia: Celia looks at the blood she’s already lost, the arm that was just reattached, the stomach where she’d had to mend her burns.

“Okay,” is all she says. Then, “I’m running on fumes. I have a supply in my haven, if it’s possible to collect your sample outside of this cell.”

GM: “No. The blood must be taken from you directly. If you renege on your obligations, the blood may be used to lay curses and cast other spells upon you from across any distance.”

Celia: “I get that. I meant that if I lose more right now I might lose complete control.”

GM: “Then supply us another form of collateral if blood is impractical.”

“Blood taken from your haven is of no use if the blood is not yours.”

Celia: “That’s not what I’m saying. I’m inviting you to come back to my haven so I can feed, take the edge off, and then give you a sample directly from myself so that if you take it from me here I don’t go apeshit.”

GM: “Is that something a loyal agent of our prince would do for a captive Bourbon?”

“Release her from Perdido House, follow her back to her haven in the French Quarter, and then expect to leave with the desired blood sample?”

Celia: She’d blame the panic and hysteria at the thought of losing her family to the Guard, but the excuse sticks in her throat, its way blocked by shame and insecurity.

“No. I don’t have other collateral.”

Celia holds out her arm.

GM: Camilla re-checks her watch.

“I have given you as much as I can spare from my own veins. I may use the remaining time before dawn to hunt, but you will likely race the sun back to your haven.”

Celia: “Sorry,” she murmurs, “I don’t see another way, unless you’d like to stake me and drop me somewhere, which I don’t imagine a loyal agent of the prince would do, unless you were to say it was somewhere inconvenient to hurt me further.”

GM: “I can already hurt you here.”

“Do you wish to risk hunger or the sun?”

Celia: Hunger or the sun. Both are deadly in their own right, either for her or someone else. Hunger might be a bigger mess to clean up, though. What are the odds she makes it out of Perdido without attacking someone? Makes it through the streets without slaughtering a pedestrian?

“The sun.”

GM: Camilla reaches into her coat and produces Celia’s phone.

“Delete everything you do not wish the prince’s agents to have access to.”

“Given the circumstances your device was obtained under, they are unlikely to have technicians attempt to recover missing data.”

Celia: “Thank you.” Celia takes the phone, wondering if it’s too much to hope that it works in this cell.

“I want you to know that if there’s ever anything I can do for you, whatever danger you’re in, whatever impossible task you face, I’m on your side. Come to me. I’ll help however I can.”

GM: “Let us first ensure you survive tonight. Do not call or respond to any of the individuals who have attempted to contact you until you leave Perdido House.”

Camilla looks at her watch again.

“How long will it take you to delete everything?”

Celia: “Not long. It’s new. Haven’t had a chance to do much with it.”

GM: “Hurry.”

The hound does her hair back up and re-dons her hat while Celia occupies herself on the device.

She sees there are new text messages from Roderick, Reggie, and Gui, though her phone says they’ve already been read.

Celia: Celia takes a half second to read them before deleting the texts from Roderick and Gui. She scrubs any trace of her mortal family (including Maxen) from her phone, clears the location data, and removes any contact with those she doesn’t want the prince’s agents to know of. Duke. Josua. Dani. Roderick. Caroline. Any of the rest of the Hardliners she has contact with. There isn’t much to delete; she’s never been so glad that Roderick destroyed her phone. She deletes a handful of apps rather than wasting the time logging out of them individually; even if they’re redownloaded they need to log in again. Finally, she logs out of her Suncloud account.

It’s enough to make it look like she uses the phone without condemning herself or any of the rest of the friends and allies she isn’t supposed to have. Handing over a completely blank phone is more suspicious than only clearing the sensitive files.

GM: Roderick and Reggie are wondering where she is and want her to text them back ASAP. Gui says they’re doing things tomorrow since she no-showed.

Celia: Yeah, that’s the text of a boy in love that’s worried about his girlfriend.

GM: Camilla takes the device back and sticks it in her coat.

“Lie back down. I’m going to stake and restrain you.”

Celia: Celia does as asked.

GM: Camilla does so, then leaves and closes the door behind her.

Celia is left alone with her thoughts.

Celia: They’re negative, spiraling things. Wondering if Roderick really didn’t care enough to look for her. If she’s making a mistake trusting Camilla. If she’ll make it out of Perdido at all, and if she does if she can beat the sun back to her haven. If Roderick’s haven is closer, and whether or not he’d punish her for showing up.

Odds are yes.

She’ll have to explain to Gui tomorrow. Hopefully he won’t be too upset.

What if she doesn’t finish the task? What if her sire shows up for her? Her mom, her daughter, her sister. She can imagine Lucy in his cold hands. Given to Paul to groom.

It’s a downward spiral from there.

GM: Would Paul be into fucking little girls?

Maybe he’s fucked dozens of them, for all she knows.

Though she read somewhere that educated male pedophiles tend to be more into little boys.

Tend.

Or maybe Donovan will just throw her off a roof.

Or maybe not, after how he saw Celia catch her mom.

Who knows what he’ll do with her family.

Time passes.

Finally, the door re-opens. Camilla enters, un-stakes Celia, and removes her restraints.

“I encountered the seneschal. There was insufficient remaining time to hunt after we finished.”

“He has approved the deal.”

She produces a glass container and knife, then slashes Celia’s wrist.

Celia: It’s more blood than she’d thought would be taken, but tonight, at least, her Beast minds its manners. It must know that it has a desperate flight ahead of it.

She nods at Camilla’s words.

“Thank you. What now? I go?”

GM: “No. You are removed. I will stake you again.”

Celia: Celia touches her hand to Camilla’s. She gives her sister a look of gratitude and acceptance, then a tiny nod.

“Thank you,” she says again.

GM: Camilla glances towards the door. With her hair up, her hat down, and her porcelain-pale face unsmiling, Donovan’s elder childe looks the part of the stone-hearted hound again. The mask is back on. Stone and shadow hide her once more.

“The nights ahead are dangerous. I do not know if I am going to survive them. There is something I would leave you with if I do not.”

“It’s better if you don’t remember what. Not until then. I require access to your mind.”

Celia: Dangerous.

There isn’t time to ask what’s coming. Something, though. Everyone has been on edge. She can feel it.

Another nod. She opens her mind to Camilla.

GM: “It is done,” says Camilla. Then she plunges the stake into Celia’s heart.

She pulls the black hood back over Celia’s face.

After a few moments, the door opens. Celia hears heavy footsteps. She feels hands picking up her body.

The steel door closes behind her. There’s more footsteps. A pause. Beeping. A heavy metallic sound. Footsteps. Heavy doors opening. Another beep. A button pressed. Movement underneath her.

There’s some indistinct sounds.

Celia is abruptly, unceremoniously, and painfully dropped to the floor. Someone pulls her hood away. Camilla stares coldly down at her alongside two men in dark suits and glasses.

Camilla wordlessly removes the stake from Jade’s chest.

The elevator stops. Doors ding open. They’re in an underground parking garage. Jade is escorted to her car.

Camilla returns her keys.

No one says anything.

Celia: Celia becomes Jade as soon as the stake comes out. She doesn’t say anything to Camilla or the men, letting her mask slip firmly into place. Unlike Camilla’s, it’s not a mask made of ice.

It’s one of fire.

She smirks at the three of them as if she hasn’t been bothered by this experience one bit, gets into her car, and takes off.


Sunday morning, 20 March 2016

GM: Jade drives.

It’s not that far from Perdido House to the Quarter.

But it’s far enough, and late enough, that Jade can see the night sky’s black slowly giving way to deep blue.

The sun will rise soon.

Celia: It’s not that far to the Quarter. And if Jade were headed any deeper into it than she is she’d be worried about catching the sun. But her haven is close enough to the border that she only has a handful of blocks to go. Less than a mile.

She’d wanted to go to Reggie’s. She would feel safer there, with someone nearby. But there’s a phone in her haven she can use to call him so he can come to her. She wants to crawl into bed with him and know that he’ll watch over her during the day, rest her head on his chest and wonder how her Requiem had become so empty and loveless that she’s looking for comfort from a ghoul rather than her own boyfriend. Early last night Roderick would have come for her, had fought the sheriff for her without knowing what was going on, had planned to kill him because of how much he cared about her.

Tonight she’d been called stupid. Gotten a text demanding a call back. She hadn’t expected him to fight his way into the middle of Perdido House, but… something.

Anything.

Celia pushes the thought from her mind. She’ll figure something out, will either fix it or just… let him go. The manipulative part of her wonders how he’d react if she doesn’t show up to Elysium tomorrow. If she gives Camilla a body to execute in front of them all. If she’d tugged him toward her and he’d found her chained and staked to the table with blackened, crackling skin and an arm on the ground. She’d had half a mind to ask Camilla to drop her at his door like that.

God damn, though, is she tired of playing victim. She can love and be compassionate and care deeply for others without being weak or a doormat.

Celia tightens her grip on the wheel as she heads home.

It’s a new day. A new her.

She’s got this.

GM: Celia drives like mad. As fast as she thinks she can get away with, when cop cars are in sight. As fast as she thinks she can get away with, when they’re not in sight. Skyscrapers roll past the window. It’s not that far to Canal Street and her ‘secret’ haven.

Overhead, the sky slowly turns from black to navy as the sun continues its inexorable rise. The sleeping city begins to stir. Even the wildest party animals who reveled all Saturday night are finally stumbling into bed. The party is over. God’s day begins. Her family will probably be up soon, if they aren’t already, getting ready for church. What is their daily routine like on Sundays? She’s never been part of it, even though her mom asked her many times (and has long since stopped asking) if she wants to join them for church.

The sun at this hour is weak. The night has not wholly yielded to the day. Has barely yielded to the day.

But the day is still strong enough to scorch Celia’s unholy flesh. It feels like the worst sunburn ever. Celia remembers a time from her childhood when the family vacationed to Miami during the summer and she didn’t wear enough sunscreen outdoors. The feeling was awful. Her skin turned completely red, dead patches came off in ugly white strips, and no amount of baths and kisses and comforts from her mom returned her skin to its normal fair hue, or eased the pain when she touched it. She doesn’t remember if her dad punished her or not. Maybe he thought that was punishment enough.

This is like that but worse.

It’s her hands that suffer worst, and her face after them. Unsightly rashes, angry red with just tinges of black, mar her perfect skin. Slender columns of wispy gray smoke waft from her hands. The smell of cooking flesh fills her nostrils. It’s fainter than at Camilla’s hands, but only for now.

For all her insistence of a fresh start, Sol’s unforgiving eye burns her no less harshly.

Perhaps there’s symbolism there.

Celia: People can’t change.

That’s something she’s heard many times in her life and unlife, that people can’t or won’t or just don’t change. Not that they don’t want to, not that they don’t try, but that who they are is rooted so deep inside themselves that even if they move through their pain or guilt or shame or whatever it is that’s holding them down they still find comfort in the habits they used to have: hiding out, playing small, not trusting, being angry, disconnecting.

Maybe that’s why she’s so adamant about “fixing” Roderick, because for all that he’s an angry jerk right now, the real him is still in there somewhere. Covered by armor and wearing shackles and letting the pain of the past hold him down, yes, but still there. The boy she used to love is still in there.

Sol’s harsh light—beautiful, in a deadly sort of way—reminds her that people can’t change. It burns. She grits her teeth but carries on, knowing that transformation isn’t a destination, it’s a process. So even though it burns, even though her skin reddens and blackens and wafts smoke into her face and she can smell the dead, sizzling skin, she knows that it’s part of the process. Change is uncomfortable. It hurts. That’s the lesson.

It’s going to hurt.

The trip to her haven is a blur, but before the sun can sink its claws into her she’s at her door, stumbling inside in a decidedly ungraceful way. She shuts the door and locks it behind her.

Celia sweeps her gaze across her empty apartment, heart sinking in bitter disappointment.

She’d thought he might be here.

Stupid, she thinks, not about herself or her own intellect but about the idea that he’d have thought to or cared enough to come here.

The siren song of daysleep calls to her, but Celia bares her teeth in a silent snarl as if to ward off a physical being. She kicks off her heels on the way to her computer and pops open the lid; it takes half a second for the screen to wake. Solid state drive, Rusty had suggested, and she’s glad for it. She opens the WhatsApp window and sends a message to Reggie with her current address.

Safe but hurt. Need you. Bring breakfast, Lana help.

A second message goes out to Gui.

Didn’t blow you off. Explain tomorrow before church. Call me.

Sun reaches for her again. Not yet, she tells it. Not yet.

Mel isn’t her ghoul, but she can give the message to Savoy that she doesn’t need saved.

Safe.

Messages sent, Celia checks the time. She imagines her mother standing at the stove cooking breakfast, flipping pancakes or scrambled eggs for Lucy, pouring a cup of coffee for Emily and pretending that Robby’s early arrival isn’t because he slept over, that his car hasn’t been outside all night.

Celia pictures them sitting at the table while she finds the blood she’d told Camilla she has, warming it in the microwave until it’s warm enough to drink. What would they say if she drank her meal in front of them. If she told them that she’d gambled their lives on a trinket. Is this their last Sunday getting ready for church? What if it takes longer? What if she can’t do it at all?

She didn’t have time to ask. She’ll need to get a message to Camilla at some point. Tail her from Elysium, maybe. And what had she hidden inside Celia’s head? What does she know about Celia’s family?

The microwave dings and Celia pulls the warm blood free. She drinks.

It’s enough to sate her for now, anyway. Hopefully her ghouls will come through with the rest.

Celia strips on her way to bed and crawls beneath the covers, finally succumbing to sleep.


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Story Thirteen, Louis IV

“What does this do, except fuck up more lives.”
Brenda Harris


Saturday morning, 12 December 2015

GM: Lou’s friend drives him back to New Orleans and pays his bus fare. Apparently, the Greyhound route to Saint Francisville is two and a half hours and $15 rather than six hours and $47 when you take the bus at New Orleans Bus Station instead of the bus closer to Kenner at Louis Armstrong Airport. The former’s route is shorter. Fewer stops.

Lou waits around at the terminal until his bus arrives. A drunk-looking man loudly complains when the driver says he can’t get on. A few menacing-looking bikers with 1%er patches also climb aboard. Lou isn’t sure what they’re doing here and why they’re not using their bikes. There’s also a sketchy-feeling girl with about twenty pieces of mismatched luggage who keeps trying to wheedle the driver into letting her bring them aboard and who keeps getting told no, her ticket does not entitle her to that many pieces of luggage. Lou doesn’t even hear her story and it smells like pure bullshit. She eventually yells, “Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you!” at the driver and storms off with her luggage.

Lou absently notes, while he waits, that Greyhound’s hours of operation are 5:30 AM to 9:30 PM. Little chance of any leeches being aboard these buses, even if the sun wasn’t already up. They might be a cheap and convenient way to travel, but at most you’d have three hours during the winter. Any layovers, delays, and cancellations could be a death sentence without a backup plan.

Once he finally gets on, he finds the intercity bus to be very comfortable next to the metro buses. The seats are cloth. There are armrests and extra leg room. There’s also wifi and power outlets. He’ll only have to get onto another bus at Baton Rouge in two hours. People continue to file in after he seats himself. He spots two moms with kids. One of the moms’ children is sniffling and looks absolutely miserable. Maybe they’re going to the same place Lou is. Another man getting on holds up an O’Tolley’s cheeseburger and loudly asks, “Hey, anybody want this?” He’s mostly ignored, apart from the passenger behind Lou who sarcastically mutters, “Um, no.”

The woman who plops down next to Lou’s seat is black, middle-aged, and obese, and dressed in jeans and battered tennis shoes. She uncorks a water bottle, takes a long glug, then turns to Lou.

“I once killed someone, you know,” she brags.

Louis: “Did they deserve it?”

The old man poses the question like the half-congealed dregs of coffee at the bottom of his silver-bullet thermos. Slow and solid.

For another man, the question might sound sarcastic.

For another, it might be sanctimonious.

For this old man, though, it’s a rarer bird. One not often gracing the Greyhound’s urban melange and motley dramatis personae.

Sincerity.

Did they deserve it?

He’s not sure if the woman will have a satisfactory answer.

If not, he won’t blame her.

After all, he doesn’t know if he has one himself.

GM: The woman nods agreeably at Lou’s question.

“My husband. He was a real piece of shit.”

She nods again and repeats, “Real piece of shit. So one night, I picked up his hunting rifle, and I blew his head off. BOOM!”

She smacks their shared armrest.

Louis: The old man’s face tracks the woman’s movement and words like a dancer two steps behind—or ahead. Perhaps the delay is due to a slurry of resurrected images, words, and smells that slither through his mind. Such thoughts have the schizophrenic aroma of spiced rum, fish tacos, bubble-gum, cheap cigarillos, pralines, spray paint, and crack cocaine, and the glint of Louisiana gold in all its black, wet, and volatile beauty.

“I was once married,” the old man says, not quite as a reply as much as an inadvertent confession. Not to woman beside him now, but to the memory of the woman who once was.

“Real piece of shit,” he adds, his lips echoing slowly the words. It’s unclear whether he’s referring to himself as husband, his spouse, their erstwhile married, or all three.

His hand absentmindedly reaches for a cigarette. But the cigarette isn’t there. Nor is the hand. At least, not among the living, it isn’t.

How much of me is? the old man bitterly muses.

Forcing himself back to the present, to the living now, he looks her in the eyes, “A lot of folks find it hard. Not the killing. But the living with it.”

If you don’t, time to turn in your badge, That was what he had told so many of his partners about taking a life while carrying the crescent shield for their ugly, beautiful, terrible, beloved city. Justified or not, dead men are heavy, sticky burdens, at least for those with a conscience.

Today, as with so many past, the old man’s conscience is bent under the weight of so many deaths. Mama Wedo’s is just the tip of that spiritually ponderous iceberg. That weight threatens to pull him down, deep into the past, to relive the dead. Their names. Faces. Lives lived, and what was. Lives unlived, and what might have been.

His hand—the corporeal one—gently touches the humble cross beneath his shirt. It grounds him. Re-focuses his attention to the present. But also the future.

He turns back to his fellow passenger.

“You two have kids?”

GM: The ancient wood is at once rough and worn, like it was all those months ago. Perhaps like it’s been for years and years.

Whether his ex-wife is similarly unchanged since their parting is an open question.

“Yep,” says the woman. “Gettin’ on this bus to visit one of ’em. Our son. Lives in Baton Rouge.”

She grins.

“I was fuckin’ with you, man. I ain’t killed nobody. Mind you, I wish I had, sometimes. The ‘real piece of shit’ part was true.”

She takes a glug of water.

“Normally that freaks people out more. Sometimes I like to add, ‘I really liked how it made me feel. Sometimes I think about doin’ it again.’ But goddamn! You didn’t even blink. You one cold customer.”

She laughs and sets down the water.

“Guess that what I get, tryin’ to scare strangers on a Greyhound, ain’t it? Never know who you gonna run into.”

Louis: Lou smiles.

“That’s me. One cold customer. Guilty as charged.”

He then extends his hand—the one of flesh and blood—and adds, “But you can call me Luis.”

“I also respond to ‘Free Shrimp Boil’.”

GM: “Latrelle,” says the woman. Her hand’s answering grip is flabby but firm.

She laughs.

“Luis’ not so much a mouthful. Why they call you that?”

Meanwhile, the Greyhound’s doors close after the last of the passengers amble on. The bus takes off underneath the pair.

Louis: He sighs with a smile, “Sadly, nobody calls me ‘Free Shrimp Boil’, but if I hear anyone say those words, I come running all the same. Or shuffling. Joints aren’t what they used to be, what with my old friend arthritis.”

GM: The woman laughs again. “Yeah, that a shit nickname. You either gonna be on the hook for a lotta shrimp or a lotta pissed off folks who ain’t got no shrimp. You don’t wanna be Free Shrimp Boil.”

“I hear you, though. I’m fat as fuck and it’s tough on my knees.”

Louis: “Well, here’s to cloth seats, armrests, and extra leg room.”

Yet, even as he smiles and reclines his head with a genuine if light laugh, the old man cannot truly rest. The old PI’s senses swim out surreptitiously as he tries to suss out potential threats. Some, like the OMC bikers, are clear. But it’s the unseen blade that drives deepest. True, his chief nemeses are unlikely to be riding in the sun-exposed bus, but their blood-bond servitors have no such reservations. Any and all could be spies. Even the mother with the crying child. It’s a bitter truth, and one that the worm of paranoia gnaws at. It doesn’t help that his line of sight is broken by row upon rows.

The old man misses the now-departed dawn. He misses his friends. He misses the park with the tranquil ibises and serene water.

The old man misses many things.

GM: He’s exposed himself.

They were already looking for him. He called Otis. Maybe the man reported him. Last known siting (or at least hearing) of Louis Fontaine. Ghouls could have visited the man’s house. Maybe the sheriff did personally, despite the approaching dawn. He can fly, the trip doesn’t take long. Maybe the Guard de Ville did some detective work. They have so many tools. Maybe they found some sign of Lou’s ride. Maybe they followed its route. Maybe their spies and slaves are here, now, looking for him.

The worm of paranoia wriggles.

He’s a literally sitting duck in his cloth seat with its armrest and extra leg room.

The Greyhound, however, slows not for worms or paranoid old men. It’s a two hour ride from the Big Easy to Baton Rouge. About an hour in, a man starts shouting about his knife. Apparently it’s been stolen. Lou is not sure why the man has a knife on the bus.

Latrelle chats with Lou along the way, seemingly no matter how much or little Lou chooses to chat back. She mentions she served a stint in LCIW, “a ways back.” She didn’t kill her husband, but she did shoot him. “Only, it was with a Saturday night special. Them guns are pieces of shit.” She got sent to prison for it. “I was actually on TV once. Reality show called Mega Cage. They made the season at LCWIW, called it St. Gabriel’s Bitchslap! with an exclamation point at the end. I didn’t make it to the finals, though. Bitch who won it fucked me up in the yard and I went down like a punk ‘gainst this little psychopath mama who’d stabbed her kids to death. I’da kicked her ass, ‘cept for how I didn’t. Guess that’s life, innit?”

The bus comes to a stop at the Greyhound Bus Station in Baton Rouge. Latrelle gets off and offers, “You have a nice life, man,” in parting. Lou waits half an hour to catch the 0006 to Saint Francisville, or at least what’s supposed to be half an hour. Lou ends up waiting for over an hour. He hears there is some sort of delay on the other bus. When the impatient passengers finally board, Lou hears there was a drug bust and everyone had been checked out before being allowed to exit the bus.

A tall and lanky man sits plops down on the seat next to Lou. He starts talking, but does not once look at Lou. He is seemingly having a dialogue with himself, using two different voices. His pitch alternates between furtive whispers and normal volume level. Sometimes he twists his hands together with a particularly loud, “Fuck!”

One of the last passengers aboard literally runs to the back of the bus. He is loud in the bathroom. Not all of the noises sound like flatulence. He comes out looking pale, waxy, and a little greenish. The Greyhound takes off. Scenery rolls past. The man runs back two more times over the course of the trip. The back of the bus starts to smell pretty bad. The driver eventually announces they will be intercepted by an ambulance. Paramedics load the man aboard. It turns out he’s sick because his appendix burst. A passenger asks if they are going to transfer to a new bus so this one can be cleaned. It smells really bad. The driver asks, seemingly rhetorically, if they want their route delayed even later. The passengers are apparently going to tough it out until they get to Saint Francisvile.

Lou surveys the passengers. There are more women, he notes, on this bus than his last bus. More seniors, too. Perhaps girlfriends, wives, and parents visiting male relatives at Angola. Both of the mothers and their children from the New Orleans bus are still on this bus. So are a few other passengers. Perhaps they are headed to Angola too.

Good cover, if they’re spies.

The tall man next to Lou finishes a particularly furious-sounding whispered diatribe, then turns and stares at him.

“Hey man, can I use your phone?”

Louis: Lou lets the travel’s detritus roll past him. He’s not immune to the noisome effluvia, but his centuries of low living make him at least inured, if not innoculated. More than once, the bus-contained bedlam reminds him of Dante’s writing. At its best, particularly when talking with Latrelle, it’s Purgatorio. At its worst, it’s Limbo fast sliding into the lower circle’s slurry.

He has no delusions about which side of Archeon sits Angola.

The worm turns, as does his conscience, which rests uneasy as the bowels of the appendix-burst man. The closer Lou gets to the Farm, the worse his distress becomes. Inside his mind, if not soul, he feels the echo of Dante’s words upon trying to scale the very first ring of Purgatorio.

I fear much more the punishment below;
my soul is anxious, in suspense; already
I feel the heavy weights of the first terrace.


Those ponderous thoughts are interrupted, or perhaps punctuated, by the tall, lanky man’s request.

At said question, Lou turns. He regards the younger man slowly, as if he hasn’t already visually investigated the fellow passenger a dozen times. The man and his request remind Lou not so much of Dante’s cantos, but rather the more modern, New World collection of Uncle Remus’ tales, particularly that of Br’er Rabbit and the Tar Baby.

The old man doesn’t immediately reach for his newest burner phone—which is turned off out of old but wary habits—or any of its dime-store burner SIMs. Instead, he casually glances to see if anyone across the aisle or in front of them have a readily visible phone.

“¿Teléfono?” is his only immediate reply, arching a tired brow.

GM: The lingering smell of the man’s ruptured appendix seemingly marks his approach towards Hell’s gates.

Perhaps if it gets bad enough, he’ll faint like Dante.

“Phone, man, PHONE,” the man repeats in an agitated voice, wringing his hands. He stares at Lou like he can compel the PI to produce and surrender one through sheer force of will.

Across the aisle, Lou sees one of the moms with a miserable-looking kid talking into a phone with an unhappy expressions. In front of them, he hears a passenger with long nails tapping against a phone screen.

The man’s eyes fall out of focus.

“Just wait ’til we get to Saint Francis, bitch,” he mutters in his ‘second’ quieter voice.

Perhaps to Lou. Perhaps to himself. Perhaps to another party.

Louis: Perhaps.

And perhaps the man is referring to the arriving before St. Francis, the Catholic patron of animals, versus St. Francisville of West Feliciana Parish. It’s unlikely, but the old man has experienced stranger things.

The small thought halts Lou from further eying the tall man’s juggular and contemplating how best he could lean over and use his supernaturally strong, fast fingertips to cut off the man’s nearest carotid artery, and thereby induce cerebral ischemia and unsconsciousness within scant seconds.

Instead, the initially sardonic thought of St. Francis of Assasi dislodges an older, deeper memory in the elderly ghoul. To a time long past and all but drowned away by blood.

A Spanish Capuchin friar had caught him and his brother throwing rocks at a feral dog. Chastizing the boys, the friar had taught them of St. Francis of Assisi, regalling them with the tales of how the saint had preached to birds and tamed the man-eating wolf of Gubbio. The mendicant had then admonished the brothers to repent and follow St. Francis, teaching them the saint’s prayer.

The words to that prayer now rise again, if not from his lips, than at least from his heart:

Señor, haz de mí un instrumento de tu paz.
Que allá donde hay odio, yo ponga el amor.
Que allá donde hay ofensa, yo ponga el perdón.
Que allá donde hay discordia, yo ponga la unión.
Que allá donde hay error, yo ponga la verdad.
Que allá donde hay duda, yo ponga la Fe.
Que allá donde desesperación, yo ponga la esperanza.
Que allá donde hay tinieblas, yo ponga la luz.
Que allá donde hay tristeza, yo ponga la alegría.


Maestro, que yo no busque tanto ser consolado, cuanto consolar,
ser comprendido, cuanto comprender,
ser amado, cuanto amar.
Porque es dándose como se recibe,
es olvidándose de sí mismo como uno se encuentra a sí mismo,
es perdonando, como se es perdonado,
es muriendo como se resucita a la vida eterna.
Amén.


(_Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.)

So chastened, the old man slowly draws out his SIM-less burner from his trench and passes it to the younger man beside him.

“Teléfono. Aquí está mi teléfono. Mis disculpas, jovencito.”

Turning the phone on, he quickly unlocks it before connecting it to the Greyhound’s WiFi, gesturing once more for the fellow passenger to use.

GM: Saints befriending beasts is a recurring element in hagiographies.

The man is hardly a beast, and Lou may suppose he’s hardly a saint either, but the crude comparison is there.

The prayer is more broadly applicable than Gubbio’s wolf or a feral dog, in any case.

The man gives Lou a noncomprehending look at the Spanish, but takes the phone and fumbles with it with trembling fingers as he whispers, “Come on… come on…”

The man mashes his fingers against the screen, then holds it to his ear.

“Hey. Hey. I wanna say.”

“No.”

The man’s face twists.

“I’m sorry. Okay? I’m sorry. Fuck. I’m sorry. Okay. I ain’t got shit, from Eric. Shit from Eric. Shit from you. Just, just… fuck! Sorry.”

“Right. You tell him. Tell him, man. Tell him!”

He presses his finger against the screen again, then looks at Lou and returns the phone.

“Thanks, man.”

As Lou inspects the device, he sees no call was ever made on it.

Perhaps the friar would be pleased, all the same.

Louis: Perhaps.

Either way, the old man graciously accepts the returned phone, sliding it away.

“De nada,” he replies with with tired, empathetic eyes that have drunk in their fair share of sorrows.

“Eres bienvenido. Lo siento por Eric.”

Regarding the mentally ill man, Lou finds that the present once again conjures ghosts from his past. This time, it’s haunting images of Chica, all but OD’d on crack and Malkavian blood.

It’s little wonder why the old man drunk so much.

GM: The man just gives a blank look at the Spanish, then turns away.

“I’m gonna kick your ass, man,” he whispers to the seat in front of him. “I’m gonna fuck you up. Gonna kick your ass!”

The rest of the bus ride proceeds uneventfully. It gets off at Saint Francisville, a middle of nowhere small town with a population under 2,000. The town isn’t known for much besides some nearby plantation homes open to the public for guided tours. It’s also the final layover on the bus route up to Angola.

The small town lacks a proper bus terminal. Lou waits outside an Endron gas station for his next ride. The tall man who sat next to Lou on the Greyhound ambles off, still muttering to himself, but a number of the Greyhound’s other passengers wait alongside the old man. Both of the mothers with accompanying kids wait with him. Most of Lou’s fellow passengers are black.

The 60-something overcast weather isn’t unpleasant to wait in, but the amount of waiting is unpleasant. The bus is late. People look increasingly impatient as they check phones and watches. One little girl complains to her mom and asks why they can’t go eat somewhere. Her mom tells her they’ll miss the bus if it arrives while they’re eating. They don’t know when it’s going to arrive. The girl heaves an exaggerated sigh and complains she’s bored. Another boy tells his mom he’s bored too. “So are we all, kid,” says an older woman.

The bus is over half an hour late when it finally arrives. Lou pays and gets on. The old man supposes it’s no worse than any other bus he’s ridden, but next to the Greyhound it’s quite uncomfortable. Seats are hard rather than cloth, there’s no armrests or extra leg room, nor is there on-bus wifi. The ride is lower to the ground and has more bumps and jostles. Somehow it seems fitting for the prison-operated bus.

The little boy who said he was bored starts crying about five minutes into the ride. Lou’s not sure what about. “Wuh-huh-huh-huh-huh!” sounds over and over. His mom tries to comfort him at first. It doesn’t work. “Wuh-huh-huh-huh-huh!” keeps sounding. The mom starts repeatedly hissing, “Braden, be QUIET!” but he still keeps crying. “Wuh-huh-huh-huh-huh!” People shoot the family increasingly dirty looks at the unrelenting noise. “Wuh-huh-huh-huh-huh!” The mom finally pulls the boy over her knee and delivers several swats to his bottom. Lou catches “ashamed” and “big baby” among the angry-sounding words she hisses at him. The kid sniffs, rubs his eyes, and sullenly buries his face against the seat. But he quiets down.

“These fuckin’ people, man,” the young woman sitting next to Lou mutters to him. “Shouldn’t have kids.”

Louis: Does the old man nod in agreement—or is his lantern jaw just jostled by another suspension-rocked pothole?

“I wonder if that’s what the angels say about God when they look at the world and all its people. ’Shouldn’t have kids’.”

He reaches in for his crumpled pack of cigarettes and rattles the last coffin nail with a lingering, unspoken thought before slowly sliding it back into his pocket. He doesn’t exhale a plume of smoke, but his sigh is just as long.

After another moment, he turns back to the young woman. Normally, he’d remain silent, allowing the noissome cacophany roll on like the bus’ wheels without another word. But instead, he speaks. Maybe it’s the grace of the Gaudette candle still warming his old, canketerous heart. Or maybe he does it to better anchor himself in the present, versus slipping back into another bout of guilt- and sorrow-pained memories of past lives with their host of disquiet dead.

“Dad, husband, or brother?”

His old eyes regard her, slow and calm, offering her the chance to answer if she wishes.

GM: The woman is black. Most of the people on the bus are black. Plump and short-haired with a tired-looking face that looks too tired for a face that’s in maybe its late 20s. She’s dressed in jeans and a jacket and long-sleeved tee.

“Yeah, probably,” she snorts in answer to his first question, then looks at window.

“Boyfriend,” she tersely answers his second.

Then she looks back at Lou and says, in that moment of rare-seeming but perhaps actually not at all rare honesty, because she’s talking to a stranger she never expects to ever see again,

“I cheated on him and I haven’t told him and feeling guilty is half the reason I keep visiting, because there’s no future with him. Not anymore. No. Fucking. Future. And I guess I’m just a selfish bitch for wanting to leave, when we were gonna get married.”

Her lip quavers.

Louis: No future

Yet, to the old man, he increasingly feels like he has no present. That his past is too large and heavy, casting its own gravity well or too-long shadow that swallows the here and now.

But isn’t that the way with all the old?

“I was once married, miss,” the old man says with a voice that is tired but trudges on. “My old lady and me… well, we had some good times. Bad ones too. Mean. Ugly. She cheated on me, left me, cheated on me some more, left me some more. I don’t blame her. Not anymore at least. She wanted to live for the future, said I was stuck living in the past. Said it was like being married to a ghost. We made some good songs, yes, but I kept wanting to replay the old tunes versus making new ones.”

“Love is hard music.”

GM: “So she just ended it,” says the woman.

She looks as if that thought isn’t new.

“When did you stop thinking she was a scumbag for cheating on you?”

Louis: Lou laughs sardonically, but not without a gleam of sincere, if self-effacing, mirth. “Which time?”

His smile, though, fades as he replies, “One time, maybe the hardest time was when I thought she was happy. Happy with me, happy with us. I didn’t see that one coming. Hit me like a sock full of ball bearings, or like a .45 to the heart, that one. As you can imagine, drinking didn’t help clear my heart or head any sooner. Me burning down our house was more sobering. Especially since it had the rest of my booze.”

GM: “Huh,” says the woman.

She looks Lou up and down.

“You don’t look like a guy crazy enough to pull that kinda shit.”

“Can see why she cheated and left, if that came during a good spell. No offense.”

Louis: “No offense taken, miss. We all live in glass houses, just as we all got stones we shouldn’t throw.” He doesn’t quite sigh as he adds, “And to be fair, I was a younger man back then. Not necessarily better or worse. But younger.”

GM: “Guess nobody’s got a monopoly on crazy shit, but young guys do it more,” says the woman.

“There’s a reason you see so many girls with older guys, and not young guys with older women.”

“I dated so many guys my age who were just… immature. Maniacs. Got shit to prove. Unstable. You know?”

Louis: Lou nods knowingly. “Six ways to Sunday, miss, I know.”

He grunts as he shifts his weight to vainly ameliorate a stab of sciatica.

“What about your man in the pen? Lotta guys get sent to the Farm for stuff I swear they’d never even think of doing if they had arthritis.”

It’s a weak smile, but it’s a kind one all the same.

GM: The woman laughs.

It’s more a bitter sound than a weak one.

“He got in a fight. He had a gun. Dropped it, it went off, stay bullet killed the other guy. Lawyer said he shoulda gotten manslaughter, but ’cuz this is Louisiana, he got second degree murder.”

“Even though he wasn’t trying to kill nobody.”

Louis: Lou cannot help but file through his mental rolodex to see if he knows about the case. It’s a familiar one, hauntingly so, but not a personal one.

“Law is too often a piss-poor substitute for justice. I wish to God it wasn’t.”

GM: “Whole thing is just complete bullshit,” the woman says hollowly.

“What does this do, except fuck up more lives.”

Louis: The woman’s words, combined with her pain and the fast-approaching environs, conjure up another ghost and dark memories: Big Mon and his unjust incarceration. Not that such thoughts have ever been more than a breath’s distance from his heavy heart.

“Sadly, nothing that justifies the horrific costs to the men unjustly locked inside, nor to the loved ones they’re forced to leave behind.”

“I assume your friend’s tried to appeal?”

GM: “He’s serving life without parole,” says the woman. “Which is more bullshit. And yeah. We been appealing. So far no luck. Public defender barely got time for his case. I think they give the appeals even less time. Thought about gettin’ a private lawyer, but who the fuck knows if that’d work and we’re broke and him obviously losin’ his job has fucked up everything. He wants me to get the lawyer, says if I really love him I’ll spend the money, and that I’m selfish ‘cuz I haven’t. And he’s right, ‘cuz I’m cheating on him, and I barely visit anymore anyways, and we fight all the time and he always asks first about canteen money and sometimes I think he just sees me as a fuckin’ bank account, and then he says I don’t got no idea what it’s like in there and he could die without the money-”

The woman breaks off with a sniff to furiously wipe her eyes.

Louis: In a former age, or at least half-life, he would have a handkerchief to readily offer the young woman, whom no doubt would readily accept. Technically, the old man still has one, but the modern age is a more sanitary, albeit less trusting, time, such that few would accept such an anachronistic offer, particularly from a stranger.

But the old man offers all the same.

And he offers a little more too, though he’s no more sure of its acceptance either.

A name.

“Reffett.”

He coughs it up like a widow’s mite clunking into the alms-plate. It’s not much, but it’s what he has.

“Reffett,” he repeats. “Dustin Reffett. He’s a lawyer in New Orleans. I knew his father. Big shot criminal defense attorney, got someone released from Angola a ways back. His dad is long gone, but his son is cut from the same cloth, I’ve heard. Good lawyer. Even better when the stakes are high. Normally, his services would cost you an arm—”

He looks down sheepishly at his amputed arm, then continues, “but he does pro bono work. They all do, or have to, per law, but I think he’s likely to take the case. Like his old man, he’s got an itch for cases where futures are on the line. ‘Life without parole’ for what should be manslaughter versus second degree murder? That sounds right up his alley. Maybe mention how his old man got the cop Broussard out of Angola, and that’s what made you look him up. And bad as it sounds, if your ex-flame is being squeezed for canteen money or worse, that ups the stakes—and likely makes the case all the more tempting for Reffett.”

“Doesn’t mean he’ll take the case, or if he does that he’ll win. But whether he does or doesn’t, you still get to decide if you want to make music with your ex-fiance.”

GM: The woman listens silently to Lou. Is there hope in her eyes? It looks almost foreign on her forlorn and embittered face.

“Pro bono,” she repeats, as if to make sure she heard him right.

“Okay, well.”

“Why not, right?”

“Miss any shot you don’t take.”

“Can I say you sent me? What’s your name?”

“I’m Brenda.”

She looks at the handkerchief and waves it off with, “I’m good.”

Some gestures may stay in another era.

Louis: But not all names.

“Enrique,” the old man offers.

It’s not his real name, but neither is Louis Fontaine. And for all his compassion to this woman, the worm still squirms. Too many ears. Too many eyes. Too many lies.

“My name’s not worth much, but hopefully Dustin Reffett’s is.”

To punctuate the point, he undoes his bag—as his briefcase has been left back at Mariángel’s place—and rips off a corner from a stenopad, writing down the attorney’s name and a few notes with some hopefully relevant context.

GM: “Yeah,” says Brenda.

She takes the note and looks it over, then looks back up to Lou.

“I dunno if things are gonna work out with us. Even if he gets out. Just… so much shit between us now. Things just… things’ve happened. But I don’t want him to spend the rest of his life behind bars.”

“Tell me that makes me a not shitty person.”

Louis: This time, there’s no hesitation in his answer, nor any shadow of equivocation.

“It doesn’t.”

GM: “Even though I’m a cheater?”

Louis: The old man points at himself and then vaguely at the rest of the bus’ occupants.

“Glass houses, miss. Who am I or are any of us to throw stones?”

“But if you’re asking me if you are a bad person because you’re not sure you want to live the rest of your life hooked up with your old fiance, prison or no prison? No, that’s just being a person with a living, beating heart.”

“As for the cheating, I’m no priest. But the scriptures teach us what the Great High Priest did when confronted with a woman caught in adultery. He didn’t throw a stone, either, though he was the only one without sin. He also didn’t say cheating wasn’t a sin. Instead, he said to her, once all her accusers had left, ‘Neither do I condemn thee. Go your way, and sin no more.’”

GM: The bus’ other occupants look little happier than Brenda does.

No one who cares enough to visit someone in prison is happy the person they’re visiting is behind bars.

Well, probably. Lou helped put the people he’s visiting behind bars.

But Lebeaux said he wasn’t happy for either brother to be in prison. “Just happy they’re not pushing more drugs on the streets and ruining more lives.”

“So he just said to her… yeah, you should probably stop, but I ain’t gonna shame you or pelt you with rocks for it?” asks Brenda.

Louis: “Pretty much,” the old man says with a smile that surprises his own face.

“Not sure about the ‘probably’ part.”

GM: “Yeah, guess he’s pretty sure about that,” says Brenda. The smile she returns is a little weak, but it’s there, for the first time Lou has yet seen on her face.

It’s a smile that looks out of place on the prison-bound bus.

“A’ight. Well. Thanks, Enrique. For the lawyer and… everything else.”

Louis: The old man tips the brim of his knockoff Pelicans cap.

“Same to you, Brenda.”

Inside the old man’s mind, he hears the distant echoes of a much, much younger voice, one that belonged to a boy saying St. Francis’ prayer under the watchful tutelage of a certain Capuchin friar.

I’m trying, Fray Antonio. I’m still failing. But I’m still trying.


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Story Thirteen, Celia XXI

“She needs to die.”
Diana Flores


Saturday evening, 19 March 2016

GM: Night falls. Celia wakes up on the floor. There are no aches or pains.

The thirst burns within her.

She is ravenous. She is so empty. She must be filled.

She doesn’t recall rising to her feet, but the next moment, she’s staring down at Roderick. Asleep in the bed. His body full of blood. Brujah blood. Hot. Delicious. Thick. So much stronger than mortal piss. She remembers its taste.

The Beast’s roars drown out all rational thought as the red haze descends.

Celia: The Beast wakes on the floor. Above her, the body of her sleeping lover. Blood runs through his veins. Thick. Warm. Potent. It tasted like love once. Like safety.

She wonders how bitter the taste now.

Payback for the way he has treated her. Payback for hurting her last night and thinking that a stray “good girl” is enough of a balm to soothe her hurts.

He has so much to learn about breaking people.

The Beast is up on the bed, teeth at the boy’s throat before seconds have passed. He doesn’t deserve his blood. He is not worthy of it.

It will sustain her.

GM: An eyeblink passes.

Celia comes to with bedding against her face. Vice-like pressure around her throat. Her arms twisted and pinned down behind her. His legs against her belly.

She’s being held down over his knee.

“Pathetic, Celia,” sounds a scornful voice.

“Do I need to chain you up during the day to keep this sort of thing from happening?”

Celia: Nothing.

Not a drop.

Not a single taste of the red. She snarls, thrashing against him, bucking her body to throw him off of her, reaching out with her claws—

She’s still so hungry.

She stills as the words reach through the fog in her brain to wake the girl. The Beast retreats, leaving its mess behind for her to clean up. Ice already cracked, this sort of thing just splinters it further.

But she can’t speak with his hand crushing her windpipe. She doesn’t know why he bothers to ask her questions.

GM: His grip relaxes after he feels the tension depart her body.

Most of it, at least.

Celia: Oh? He doesn’t want to throw her around some more?

Hasn’t he heard she likes it like that?

The expected apology wheezes past her lips, rasping out of her dry throat.

GM: “You need to be corrected for this, Celia. But physical correction will make you an even greater danger to others than you currently are.”

Celia: Corrected.

For being hungry.

For being hungry because he injured her and her body needed the blood to mend because he’s too stupid to know to fix what he breaks.

The girl behind the mask pulls the string on her head, nodding it up and down like the puppet she has become.

She asks if he’ll cuff her, so she doesn’t start something again.

GM: “Tonight, we will sleep apart,” sounds the voice above her head. “You won’t come back to my haven with me. That seems a fitting correction, wouldn’t you say?”

Celia: Good.

Fuck him.

“Yes,” she hears herself say. “That is fitting.”

GM: “You’re a danger to others in your current state. This won’t do. We do not harm innocents.”

He lifts her up from his knee, sitting her by his side on the bed.

Then he holds out his wrist.

“You will be corrected again if you lose control again.”

Celia: He could be good at it, she thinks. If he learned. If he was more ruthless. He is strong enough for it. Smart enough for it.

But weak where it matters.

The girl in the body only nods again, head bobbing up and down, up and down, and falls upon the offered wrist with a flash of her fangs.

GM: All it takes is one taste.

It hits her tongue like an explosion.

Control burns away as the Beast bursts its chains yet again—and when the red haze clears, she’s bent over his knee with a hand around her throat and arms twisted behind her back yet again.

His taste lingers on her tongue.

He’s so generous to her.

So kind to her.

So mindful of her.

He’s making the best decision, in her own interests, in the public’s interests.

He knows what’s best.

He kept her. Even after last night.

Even after all she confessed to.

Celia: He knows what’s best.

He loves her. He wouldn’t correct her if he didn’t want her to be better. He wouldn’t waste his time on her if he didn’t think she had potential.

And she’s grateful for the blood. Grateful that he is able to control her rage so that she doesn’t hurt anyone else.

She stops struggling when the Beast has finished taking what it wants.

GM: “You lost control again, Celia,” he says patiently after he releases her.

“This will be corrected. Additionally, I don’t believe in rewarding bad behavior. So those hits won’t be free.”

“We will spend the next five nights apart—one for every hit I gave you, two for both losses of control. But for every hit you bring me, we will reduce your sentence by one night. Bring me five hits, and we can even spend tonight together. Does that seem fair?”

Celia: Her heart wrenches at the words.

Five nights.

Blood seeps from her eyes at the thought. She curls her body in on itself once she’s free, knees drawn up to her chest. Her hair falls into her face to hide it from his view when she nods.

“Y-yes, Roderick.”

GM: “Good,” he says.

He rises from the bed.

“I’m going to shower now. That’s a sexual activity, so we can’t do that together until we resolve our outstanding relationship issues.”

He smiles.

“But you’ve been good in accepting your corrections tonight. So how would you like to pick out my clothes for me?”

Celia: “I don’t know what you have planned tonight,” Celia says from behind the curtain of her hair, “and I don’t want to pick the wrong thing.”

GM: “Hmm. I’ll tell you what, then. You can pick out my clothes for the dinner with your father on Sunday. I don’t enjoy the thought of listening to his lies and excuses for several hours, but I think attending may be worthwhile after all.”

Celia: “I’ll let my mother know you’re coming.”

GM: “Good,” he smiles. “I’ll look forward to seeing her and the rest of your family.”

Celia: Maybe she’ll take it away from him if he steps out of line.

GM: He heads off into the shower.

Celia: Celia moves toward his closet. Maybe there’s something interesting inside.

GM: Just clothes, as far as she can see, trending towards the preppy style he prefers.

It’s a much smaller closet than her own.

Celia: Her father used to throw out her clothes when she misbehaved. Maybe she can tell Roderick so he can do the same.

GM: Average number of clothes for a guy in his.

Celia: She looks for a dresser.

GM: She finds one.

Celia: She checks that, too.

GM: More clothes, all neatly pressed and folded, each sock rolled up with its matching sibling.

Celia: She quickly loses interest in the snooping. No doubt he’ll catch her. No doubt he put everything away when he knew she was coming over.

Maybe there’s nothing interesting to find, anyway.

It doesn’t take her long to find an outfit for him suitable for Sunday’s dinner. That’s one thing she has always been good at: fashion. Looking presentable. She has it set aside for him when he comes back from the shower, hanging separately from his other clothing on the bar in the closet so he doesn’t need to search for it tomorrow. No doubt he’d make her put it away if she were to have pulled it out for him and cite that only slobs keep clothes laying out.

Dark slacks, a button down shirt, a v-neck sweater to go over it with the cuffs of his sleeves and collar exposed. A thick leather belt (no part of her thinks about him bringing it to bear on her exposed bottom, or how her flesh would jiggle with every blow, or how her pale skin would turn red) that matches the plain toe bluchers she has picked out from a distant spot in his closet. Form fitting, it will hug his shoulders and tapered waist, showing off his physique.

It’s missing something. She knows exactly what. She’ll rectify that before she meets him.

She waits on the bed for him when he’s done in the shower, still in the sheer teddy from the night before. She’d thought about changing, but then he’d ask why she doesn’t want a shower, though now she wonders if it’s presumptuous of her to assume he will let her use his.

The rules are ever changing in this game of theirs. She needs to learn them quickly.

She’s not lounging, not splayed out like some sort of pinup girl, just sitting on the edge of the bed with her hands tucked beneath her thighs. Waiting.

GM: Roderick comes back after a brief shower. He’s got a towel wrapped around himself. Perhaps ‘no looking’ also falls under ‘no sex.’ He looks over the clothes approvingly.

“Good choices, Celia. These are very appropriate for a dinner with my girlfriend’s family.”

Celia: “You’ll need a new wardrobe,” Celia says without inflection once she sees the towel. “For your new identity. It’s something people don’t think about until it gets them into trouble. I never wear the same clothing as Jade that I do as Celia. The two have distinct styles. Yours will need to as well.”

“You should also give some consideration to which clan you’d like to pose as. Generally it’s easier if you have some talents of the clan you wish to emulate. Caitiff is easiest of all, but they have zero respect and I would advise against it. You could do Brujah again if you’d like. You’re fast and can use star mode, so Toreador is on the table, but I’d advise against it if you don’t plan on pursuing any artistic endeavors, as they lack remorse and compassion to anyone they think is a poseur.”

GM: “Yes, I’d put some thought into my clan and lineage. That’s also a very good suggestion, Celia. I wouldn’t have used my favorite clothes, but a completely different personal style will help keep the identities distinct. Buying a new wardrobe hadn’t occurred to me.”

He sits down next to her.

“I think you should get a reward for that suggestion. What would you like?”

Celia: “I can teach you to shift,” she continues, “but Jade wouldn’t date a Gangrel long term. I told you about Veronica’s reaction to my krewe.”

GM: “Yes, but that’s because they had multiple Caitiff. Gangrel are about as respected as Brujah, given how far so many of us have fallen these nights. How you comport yourself and what lineage you claim matters more than your clan.”

“If you’re a Camarilla clan, anyway.”

Celia: “Jade doesn’t date long term. Not for years. She has flings, gets bored, and moves on. It’s an image I’ve projected for years. A shift overnight will look askance and draw unwanted questions and attention, insofar as much as anyone cares about what goes on in my bed. I haven’t been caught because I haven’t been sloppy.”

Except that one time.

GM: “Then my new identity won’t have a public relationship with Jade. You can give me other faces for when we want to do things in public together.”

Celia: “It’s a lot of juice to continue to change your face,” she says frankly.

“But my curiosity extended towards what you’d like me to do with others.”

GM: “We’ll split the costs and not do it every night.”

Celia: “Nights ago you said you’d cover your end.”

GM: “For Kindred-related activities. If we want to be seen in public together for dates, you can cover that. I may also cover the costs when you’ve been good.”

Celia: She bristles.

“My cover,” she says through teeth that may soon become clenched, “is just as important as yours.”

GM: “You’re starting to sound like you’re arguing with me, Celia,” Roderick says calmly. “We don’t have arguments anymore.”

Celia: “I am not arguing. I am seeking accommodation and agreement on something that will protect us both.”

GM: “I will pay the costs when you change my face to my new Kindred identity. I may pay the costs on other occasions when you are well-behaved. This discussion is over.”

Celia: Her claws itch to make themselves known.

She breathes, searching for the edges of her mask. She pulls it more tightly around herself, securing the girl inside.

“Yes, Roderick. I understand. Thank you. I was overwhelmed by the amount that I feel I owe you, but you have made me realize that this is fair.”

GM: “Good,” he says.

“Now, I said you were due a reward for the good suggestion you just made. What would you like?”

Celia: Sex.

With him. Or with someone else. She’s not particular.

She doesn’t say it, though.

He’d only turn her down.

And she can only handle so many rejections.

GM: So he waits.

“Take your time, Celia.”

Celia: “I want to go on a date,” she finally says. “I want… I want to be how it was for a night. Or I want you to put your arms around me and tell me that it’s okay because I don’t think it is right now and I’m afraid I’m going to fall apart and I need… I need you.”

GM: Roderick hugs her. She feels his strong arms around her, holding her close. One of his hands strokes her hair and she hears the smile in his voice.

“Oh, Celia.”

“You don’t need to spend rewards on that.”

“It’s going to be okay, Celia. We have a plan. We are going to make things right. Our relationship will be stronger than ever once it’s done, and we’ll move ahead politically, too. We’re going to be partners. We’re going to rise high in Savoy’s court and we will never stop loving each other. Nothing will stop us. Nothing.”

“I love you very much. I want the best for us.”

Celia: It’s enough to make her crumble. She clings to him once his arms are around her, burying her face against his chest, eyes leaking once more. She’s silent as she cries. There’s no uneven breathing, no shoulders shaking, no noisy hiccups or snot running down her face. Just the red. He can smell it, she can smell it, the coppery tang of her broken emotions streaking down her cheeks to stain his skin. She’s tiny in his arms.

“I’m sorry,” she whispers, voice cracking on the words. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

Why, she wants to ask him. Why do you love me?

But she doesn’t want to know it’s because she’s a night doctor. She doesn’t want to know it’s because he likes her family. She wants to think that it’s for her. That this one time something in her Requiem is for her, not for her connections, not for what she can do, but for her.

GM: “I know you are, Celia,” he answers, hugging her close. “It’s okay. I know you want to make things right. We will make them right. I have so many plans for us. Things won’t just be okay. Things will be better than ever. I’m looking forward to our future together. I know you are too.”

Celia: She nods her head at his words, up and down, down and up, like a bobble-head on someone’s dash. She wants it to be back to normal. She wants a future with him. She’d begged her sire to leave him alone when he’d wanted to kill him.

But that was before she realized the extent of his damage.

Before he told her she’s stupid.

Before he put her in the microwave.

But she asks, in a faltering, stuttering way, if he’ll tell her about the future he imagines. About them.

And if he doesn’t want to, if he thinks she won’t understand, she asks if he’ll sleep with her. Now. Before the rest of their night begins. Just once. To take the edge off. To help her focus.

GM: “I think you will understand the essential pieces of it,” he answers her. “But it will take time to explain, and we have more things to discuss, as well as other things to do tonight.”

“Sex is off-limits until we resolve the biggest outstanding issues in our relationship. We will have sex again once those are resolved.”

“But if you would like to spend your reward on sex right now, we can have sex right now.”

Celia: “It’s not a chore?” she asks quietly, desperately. “You want it, but not right now, not because of what happened, what I did? It’s not me, it’s what I did?”

GM: “That’s right, Celia,” he answers, rubbing her back. “I do want to share blood with you. I enjoy it very much. It hurts me as well when we can’t.”

“But I’m willing to go without so that you can learn to do better.”

“So that things get better for us later by making sacrifices now.”

Celia: She wants it. She wants him. Now. She wants him, wants his blood, wants his body. Wants to pretend that everything is okay for just a moment.

“Please,” she says to him, “please, I want you.”

GM: “Of course, Celia,” he answers, stroking her back again. “You’ve earned your reward by offering a very good suggestion. I’m happy to have sex with you now.”

Celia: He makes it sound so romantic.

Her desire fizzles.

She’s left empty. Numb.

She had a chance and she ruined it. He had a chance and he ruined it.

GM: “Hmm?” he asks, stroking her back again. “How would you like to do it? You get to pick.”

“You’ve been a good girl.”

Celia: A good girl.

Like a dog.

Her heart withers. She’ll never be his equal again. He’ll never see her as anything but a weight stone around his neck. An anchor that drags him down. Holds him back. He’ll resent her. Forever.

Like Maxen.

Like Paul.

She wants her sire. She wants his arms. His lips. His fangs.

Celia doesn’t respond, not verbally. She leans in to press a kiss against his jaw, his cheek, the corner of his mouth. His lips.

GM: His lips meet hers, hungrily, forcefully. Dog or not, the desire is there. His hands swiftly move to peel her out of the teddy and discard his towel. He pushes her back-first onto the bed, then trails his mouth down her neck, down her chest, nipping and kissing and drawing coppery pintpoints of blood. His mouth moves over her left breast as he sucks her nipple. Strong hands hungrily caress her body, feel her naked flesh against his palms.

Celia: She’d almost told him no. Almost told him that she wants something else. Another reward. Something that doesn’t make her feel like sleeping with her is a chore.

It’s never a chore. She’s Celia Flores. Jade Kalani. Men and licks alike fall to their knees to worship her like the goddess of pleasure that she is.

But the desire is there. And the way he strips her from her clothing tells her how he wants it. Her nipples stiffen beneath his touch; some part of her mind thinks the word pervert, but he hadn’t said anything last night, and he hadn’t said anything yet tonight, and she isn’t going to pretend to be someone she isn’t. Not around him. Not when she has spilled the rest of herself to him. Liquid pools between her thighs. Her back arches, lifting her body into his touch, and the soft sighs and needy gasps leave her mouth as his hands and fangs move down her body.

GM: He pleasures her nipples, alternating between long sucks from each one as his fangs leave bright pinpricks of blood over her breasts. But his hands and fangs descend ever lower. He squeezes her firm and shapely ass checks as he plants nips and kisses down her stomach, down her belly, down her groin. He alternates between her inner thighs, drawing steadily closer to her wet and eager sex. His tongue flecks out again as he lowers his head between her legs.

Celia Flores, Jade Kalani, twin masks of the goddess of pleasure, each demand her due.

Her worship.

Perhaps he thought once to deny her. To refuse her.

Foolish man. Foolish lick.

None can deny the goddess her due.

Even when they think they are in charge.

The bedroom is her temple, her body her altar, and anyone with a working dick between their legs an eager postulant, whether they know it or not.

The goddess demands her due.

She receives it.

Roderick worships her.


Saturday evening, 19 March 2016

GM: Eventually, the lovers are finished, and lie spent and bleeding and satiated upon the coppery- and sex-smelling sheets. Roderick turns to regard her with a hand resting against his head.

“Now where were we?”

Pillow talk.

Another chamber in the goddess’ temple.

Celia: She takes the advantage when she can, and the bedroom has long been her domain.

“Identities,” Celia says. “Protecting ours by keeping up appearances.”

GM: “Yes,” he says. “That should be easy enough. We’ll continue taking precautions and not be seen together.”

Celia: “Mm,” she says idly, stretching her arms above her head. Her back arches with the movement. Just like it had when he’d buried his face between her thighs, lapping at blood and sex alike.

There’s no delicate way to ask, not for most people. But sex is Celia’s forte and she has just shown him how marvelous it can be. She brings up Josua and Marcel in a roundabout way, taking care to mention her ruse as Veronica’s childe and how bringing the exiled prince over will serve them in the long term and turn a potential foe into a friend. It’s a small amount of seduction for a large long term benefit. Surely that big brain of his sees how it benefits them and Savoy both.

GM: A dark look passes over his face at her initial request.

He doesn’t like it.

Another lick touching Celia.

Being intimate with her.

He doesn’t like that at all.

But Celia asks so very nicely.

The bedroom is her temple.

“As long as I’m also there for it,” he answers.

His voice is very slow.

Celia: Celia considers the request.

It’s not a no. And he’d said the same thing about her taking kine lovers. Taking ghoul lovers. He wants to be there. To monitor. To watch, to enjoy, to experience.

How could he not? She’s shown him what it’s like to be in bed with her. How good she can make him feel. He said it hurts to not be with her, which might have been a line, but her little reminder here only served to hammer home how much he’s going to be missing out on while they fix their relationship.

It’s a step in the right direction, isn’t it?

And she does so enjoy being shared.

She gives him a shy smile, as if she hasn’t had three threesomes in a single night, and nods her head.

“I’d like you to be there, too. It doesn’t mean anything when I’m not in love with them. It might be harder with the prince, but I’ll find a way to make it work. For you. For us.” She takes advantage of his offered reward to nuzzle his neck, trailing a line of kisses from jaw to collarbone. “I love you, Roderick. I love that you’re gracious enough to work with me on everything.”

“I was scared you wouldn’t accept me if you knew. About my sire. My dad. The multiples. The sex. I was so afraid I’d lose you forever. I shouldn’t have been. I should have just told you everything from the beginning. I don’t want to hide things from you anymore, even if they’re awful things. Can you forgive me?”

GM: “I love you too, Celia. I can always forgive the truth,” Roderick answers, stroking her cheek.

“Your father deserved what you did to him.”

“So did your sister.”

Celia: Oh. She’d never really considered it like that.

GM: “She set up your mother to get raped and mutilated by your father. It’s poetic justice that she should experience the same treatment. At the same man’s hands, no less.”

“Your father is an even bigger scumbag than she is. He deserves even worse.”

Celia: “Roderick? My mom is worried that he’s going to take Lucy.” She tells him about the vision her mother had had. The falling, which came true, and then Maxen stealing Lucy. She doesn’t remember if she’d already told him, and she apologizes if it’s a repeat. She’d shared so much with him lately that it’s blurring together.

GM: “You’d mentioned,” he said.

“He has ample motive to.”

Celia: “Sorry,” she repeats. “I’m worried about it is all.”

GM: “A wife and granddaughter would be good props on the campaign trail. And he will need a first lady.”

Celia: “I’d wondered if that’s why he reached out. It seems like he took the time to set up things, with the adoption and medical options for Mom and all, but reconciling with his estranged wife and daughter will look better than not. And if not, he could find out about Lucy and say she’d been stolen from him… Make himself look like a victim, maybe? Sympathy.” She doesn’t know if that’s what he is or was planning.

But it’s something he could have thought about.

GM: “Their remarriage would offer more opportunities to see him. On the other hand, a governor’s daughter can already see him, and we haven’t established how we can use him or towards what ends.”

“There are obviously many things a governor can do, but ‘mere’ neonates like us are not able to leverage those opportunities as effectively. It’s like giving a million dollars to a man off the street versus a Wall Street banker. The latter will be able to do more with it.”

Celia: “Marcel still has dealings in Baton Rouge and the political world, I think. So does Defallier. Or… it’s possibly an opportunity for Lord Savoy..?”

Or her sire.

“But, um, you said to think about it, and we can revisit.”

GM: “I wonder if it would be more productive to simply charge other licks favors for access to him,” Roderick muses. “That already happens in real life. Special interests try to woo the sons and daughters of politicians. Invite them to sit on corporate boards, invest in their projects, buy things from their companies, and the like. So Junior will put in a good word with dear old Dad. It’s essentially how modern bribery works.”

“There aren’t really any laws to speak of regulating that sort of thing. Unlike giving politicians briefcases of cash or other direct gifts.”

“I’d expect Flawless to see an uptick in business when people know it’s owned by the governor’s daughter.”

Celia: She’d been wondering the same but had thought it was a stupid idea. So she hadn’t brought it up. But she nods along with his, because he explains it better than she can.

“There’s still the Baton Rouge licks to deal with. And the Nosferatu. They might want to muscle in on him.”

And her sire, though she’d never charge him favors for this sort of thing. Maybe he’ll have a better suggestion for her. She’s been meaning to talk to him about it.

“Yes,” she says about Flawless. “He and I had spoken about doing some social media content together, as well.”

GM: “The Nosferatu are the difficult part,” Roderick frowns. “If Jade goes around using Celia to make connections between the governor and other licks’ prize pawns, the sewer rats will eventually find out.”

“What would you do then if you were Lawrence Meeks?”

Celia: “You said they probably snooped on my spa. I’m concerned they already know everything. The archon said the same.”

GM: “Yes, they snoop everywhere. When was the last time you swept it for eavesdropping devices?”

Celia: “Um. The time with Randy when we found the bug and the thin-blood.”

GM: “There you go. People will plant bugs in places they know you regularly spend time at.”

Celia: “I thought about having Pete put some wards in or something for me, I don’t know if it would cover that large an area or if there’s anything like that to keep out licks.”

GM: “You’d have to ask him. Only real solution I know is periodic mundane sweeps.”

“Which you should do regardless of whether wards are possible or not.”

Celia: “I’ll need another security guy,” Celia says with a long sigh. “Randy usually handled it. I don’t suppose there’s a little signal jammer that will affect bugs but not phones or other devices like they have in movies. I can check with Rusty.”

GM: “There are jammers that make electronics usage impossible. Cletus Lee Boggs had that set up in his haven when I visited Slidell. Telecommunications there simply don’t work.”

Celia: “Oh. Maybe I can talk to him about it then.”

GM: “Do that. Don’t get all of your input just from Rusty.”

Celia: “But you asked what I’d do if I were Lawrence Meeks, and I’d take out the ghoul or pawn or lick interfering in my business, or tell the lick whose pawn it is about it so they can deal with it too. Send a message. Find who they are, what they care about. Destroy it. Rip it out root and stem.”

There’s a pause, then,

“I could go as Isabel.”

Easy enough to pass as Isabel, isn’t it? Just be a cunt.

GM: “But you run into the same issue if you want to arrange access for other licks’ pawns with the governor.”

“The Nosferatu eventually finds out that a lick uses Isabel to help other licks.”

“Two options I see. One, don’t involve other licks. Leverage favors and enrich ourselves through just breathers. Two, cut a deal with Meeks.”

Celia: “As Jade, or as an older lick?”

GM: “The Nosferatu are very well-informed. You might be able to fool them. You also might not.”

Celia: Celia nods.

“I’ll think about it, then, and we can revisit my father and Baton Rouge. I like the suggestion, though. Thank you.”

GM: “The third option would be to bring in Savoy and negotiate as his representatives,” Roderick muses. “He gets a cut of whatever deal we reach, but we have a stronger bargaining position.”

Celia: “He might not want to talk to me about my father.”

GM: “And why would he not want to talk about your father in this context, Celia?”

Celia: “Because I failed to take him out before and Preston told me that he isn’t inclined to waste his time on the same subject.”

GM: “You’re being stupid again, Celia.”

Celia: Any remnants of afterglow from their time together slip away. She’s left cold. Hollow. Wooden.

“I’m sorry.”

GM: “The circumstances were different. There’s profit in this for him.”

Celia: “Yes, Roderick. I understand. Thank you for explaining.”

GM: He smiles and strokes her cheek.

“That’s what I’m here for, Celia. To help you understand. To help you.”

“This is another way you could demonstrate usefulness to him.”

Celia: Celia leans into the touch, eyes closing briefly at the contact. Just a girl in love with a boy who wants to better herself and build a future together.

“I’d like to be useful to him.”

GM: “I’ve had so many good ideas, haven’t I? Becoming his new party organizer, and now this.”

Celia: “Yes, Roderick. You’ve given me a lot to think about. You’re very intelligent and I have so much to learn from you.”

GM: “Regardless of how we proceed with your father, I don’t think enacting large-scale policy changes through him is immediately feasible or in our interests,” Roderick considers. “We can just use his position to enrich ourselves and advance our personal projects. The way children of politicians and the significant others of those children already do.”

“If you wanted to turn Flawless into a larger business with three or more locations, he can facilitate that.”

Celia: “He mentioned assisting with the second location and cutting through whatever red tape I needed help with,” Celia confirms.

GM: “It’s not simply what he can directly do for you, Celia. It’s other people wanting to do you assorted favors and help you get richer in order to get closer to him.”

“This is how political bribery works in the 21st century.”

Celia: Celia doesn’t bother explaining that she’d meant it was an immediate thing he could do for her and that his real estate connections could help her build her domain into better feeding grounds. She just nods her head.

Smile and nod. Just smile and nod.

GM: “We need to establish an identity for me as Celia’s mortal boyfriend,” Roderick says. “A long-term one. Better, her husband.”

Celia: “I’ve begun mentioning a new boyfriend as Celia. I haven’t given him much identifying information yet, I didn’t know what you’d want to do there. It’s usually good to stick to something you’re familiar with in case it ever comes up in conversations, but something useful in the breather world as well. Influential. There will be some attention on her new boyfriend and husband because of her online presence, and the possible connection to the governor. It can be better to assume someone else’s identity if they’re no longer using it since that comes with connections and friends and a background built in.”

GM: “Yes, I’d still want to be a lawyer, for a variety of reasons,” Roderick answers. “Falsifying a law degree and bar association membership is a lot of trouble, though. It would be simpler just to assume another lawyer’s identity.”

Celia: “Do you have someone in mind? I can look for possible candidates. Would you prefer to be from here or elsewhere?”

“There are advantages to both.”

GM: “I need to be someone who’s passed the bar exam in Louisiana,” Roderick answers. “Lawyers generally aren’t allowed to practice law in multiple states without passing the bar in each state. Louisiana will provisionally admit some out-of-state lawyers if they have the right connections or jump through enough hoops.”

Celia: “Oh. You need to retake the bar exam if you ever move? It can’t just be transferred? You can transfer medical degrees.”

GM: “It varies. Some states have reciprocity agreements with other states, which means lawyers can essentially transfer their bar association status. California offers a shorter bar exam for lawyers who are admitted in other states and who have been in good standing as an attorney in those states for at least four years prior to their application.”

“Louisiana has no reciprocity agreements, or shorter exam like California. Out-of-state lawyers get admitted to the bar association on a largely arbitrary case-by-case basis.”

“But it’s more than some states do. Arizona simply won’t let anyone practice law who hasn’t passed the Arizona bar exam.”

Celia: “So someone in Louisiana,” Celia muses. “I have a connection at a law office. I’ll see if I can find someone for you. I suppose we’ll need to do this quickly since you’re coming tomorrow.”

“Dani might be able to help. Are we going to tell her everything?”

“About us, I mean.”

GM: “These restrictions also aren’t without valid basis. Human bodies are human bodies regardless of what state you’re in. But most law in the U.S. is state law rather than federal law. Approximately 90% of all criminal law is state law. Laws can vary significantly between states.”

“But yes. We will need to do this quickly. By Sunday.”

“Look into your connection there. I’ll look into things too. If there isn’t a suitable option, we can create a new identity and I can just take the bar again.”

Celia: Celia wonders when she’s going to possibly fit it into her schedule this evening. She nods all the same. She’ll figure it out.

GM: “Or we could reschedule the dinner. Or cancel it. We don’t actually need the rest of your family.”

Celia: “It was mostly to figure out Maxen. But I’ll see what we can find tonight and talk to my mom if I need to about it.”

“Speaking of degrees, though… I found a few at Tulane that might be interesting. But you mentioned you wanted to talk about the multiples. And my sire. And the demons.”

GM: “Tell your mom to cancel the dinner if we can’t decide on a suitable identity tonight. This dinner is basically for her anyway, since you said Emily doesn’t want to be there and Lucy won’t be there.”

“And yes. We can discuss degrees after tonight.”

“Dani doesn’t need to know anything beyond that we’re together.”

Celia: “She knows about Celia and Jade. Will she know about Roderick and your new face and your new Bourbon face?”

“I don’t want to accidentally tell her something I shouldn’t.”

GM: “Is there a reason she needs to know? Is there a benefit to her knowing?”

Celia: “No benefit besides not lying when I speak with her about things, and inviting her to the wedding, et cetera. Social ease. I can keep it to myself.”

GM: He considers. “Roderick can’t get married to Celia or Jade. The mortal identity will the one we marry under.”

“Dani can know about the mortal identity. She won’t know about the Bourbon identity.”

Celia: “Roderick? Are we going to have a Kindred and kine wedding? Or just the kine?”

GM: “Kine. There’s no Kindred I trust enough to invite. Not anymore.”

The words have some bitterness.

Celia: “I’m sorry,” Celia says quietly. Gently. “I’m sorry about… about everything with her.”

GM: “It’s opened my eyes.”

“To so much.”

Celia: Celia nods. She holds him, if he lets her, but otherwise lapses into silence.

GM: He lets her. But continues to talk.

“You suffer from dissociative identity disorder, Celia. You’re clinically insane. We need to treat this.”

Celia: Clinically insane. The words hammer home, echoing inside of her mind. Clinically. Insane.

Insane.

CraaaaAaAAAAZZzzyyy, someone giggles.

She could have stayed with the dolls. She would have had a place there. Would have been accepted there.

They keep me safe, she’d said.

They let her pass as who she needs to be. They fill in the cracks and missing pieces so that she’s whole again.

“There’s no fugue state,” Celia offers.

“How can you love me if I’m insane,” she asks him, leaning back far enough to see his face, to search for an answer in his eyes. “How can you love me like this?”

GM: “Can you love someone in a wheelchair? Someone with cancer? Someone with a missing arm?” Roderick asks, taking her hand in his. “It’s a disease of the mind rather than a disease of the body. Nothing more or less. We will overcome this, Celia. We will fix you.”

Celia: “Wha… what if they don’t want to be fixed? What if they help? What if they… they let me do things I can’t without them?”

“Harlequin… Harlequin said it’s just masking. And I’ve read that people who grew up like I did… people with abusive situations… they disassociate, and it helps them… helps them cope. And it helps them learn how to blend in. And that helps me with who I need to be in our society, so I can be Celia, or be Jade, or be Donovan’s childe, or Veronica’s childe, or Roderick’s lover.”

GM: “‘They’ are constructs of your mind, Celia,” Roderick answers patiently. “‘They’ do not exist without you. ‘They’ are you. ‘They’ have no wants or powers that you do not have yourself. Everything you ascribe to ‘them’ is already part of you. Do you want to be fixed?”

Celia: “I… I don’t know. I don’t know what it looks like without all the pieces of me. My mom… she had something cut out of her, and she’s… she’s different than she was. What if I’m different? What if I’m weak? What if I’m still stupid and no longer have anything that makes me able to adapt and fit and thrive and I become a burden? What if you don’t love me anymore?”

GM: “Your mother was tortured by a Malkavian who did God knows what to her, Celia. You were not. Nothing in you is missing. You are whole. Everything in your secondary personalities is part of who you already are. We must re-incorporate them back into your primary personality.”

Celia: “I don’t… I don’t want you to kill people. Or hurt people. You’re not that person. But I already am. You said so. That I’m corrupt. I want to be able to… to do that for you, if you need me to, to keep you pure, and what if I can’t..?”

GM: Roderick smiles, but there’s little warmth in it.

“I’m quite willing to hurt or kill a corrupt person, Celia.”

“I’m over those hunters.”

Celia: “That’s what I’m afraid of.”

GM: “They tried to kill us. They reaped what they sowed.”

Celia: “You’re a good person, Roderick.”

GM: “Of course I am.”

“But I’m not a pacifist any longer, Celia.”

“If I wake up again with a stake over my heart, I’ll happily kill whoever is pointing it there and dump their body in the Gulf.”

Celia: “It eats at you. Every time you kill. Every time you hurt. Every time you torture. It eats at your soul until things like that no longer faze you.”

GM: “There is nothing I would ask of you that I am unwilling to do myself, Celia.”

“We can hurt and kill the corrupt. We spare the innocent.”

“It’s such a simple distinction many Kindred don’t care enough to even make.”

Celia: “Maybe they did. And maybe at some point they stopped caring. I don’t want you to stop caring.”

GM: “I am guided by principles and convictions. I will not abandon those.”

Celia: Until he does.

GM: “Now. We are going to cure your insanity. We are going to fix this.”

Celia: “How?”

GM: “With an expert’s help, of course. We need to consult a mental health professional. I’m no more qualified to treat this myself than I am to perform surgery.”

Celia: “A lick?”

GM: “Potentially. Or a ghoul. I don’t think a breather is qualified to treat you. It’d be like a surgeon operating on a lick they’re assuming is human.”

“I will look into things and search for a suitable mental health professional.”

Celia: All of the different parts of her rebel at the thought. But the puppet master pulls the strings and the girl’s head bobs up and down, and she says it again, the same phrase she’s been using since she was a child:

“Yes, Roderick.”

GM: “Tell Dani and your mother about your multiple personalities. The first step to fixing a problem is acknowledging its existence. They can also lend emotional support.”

Celia: “Mom knows.”

GM: “Good. Tell her anything you’ve left out.”

Celia: Another pull. Another head nod.

GM: “You will also need to stop spending time with Malkavians. They will make your problem worse.”

Celia: “I don’t generally spend time with Malkavians anymore.”

GM: “You mentioned seeing Harlequin tonight. Don’t do that. He’s probably the most harmful of them all to talk to.”

Celia: “I was hoping he could help me fix my mom.”

GM: “How?”

Celia: “The librarian told me that he knows what happens to masks and multiples when they die.”

“And Lucy has things to say.”

“I wanted to know what she has to say.”

GM: Roderick frowns.

“How do you know ‘Lucy’ is real and not a projection?”

Celia: “She speaks to me.”

“She saved me.”

“She told me to run.”

GM: “I mean a literal projection. She could be a Malkavian-created figment.”

Celia: “My mother was sent to the dollhouse by her mother. For acting out. Stealing a car. And guns? I think guns. Mom said Lucy has been with her since birth. But Lucy said her birthday is nine months before mine. She told the librarian. We got her a library card. She likes the same books Mom likes. But the dolls aren’t supposed to drink, and Mom was drinking, and that’s why I’m here.”

GM: Roderick slowly shakes his head.

“I don’t doubt that a Malkavian did awful things to your mother. But I am very skeptical you can fix them with more help from Malkavians.”

“It’s like putting out a fire with gasoline.”

Celia: “The crystal ball said the Giovannini could help.”

GM: “You mean the fortune-teller?” Roderick frowns. “The Giovannini are… distasteful. But I suppose they’re sane, at least.”

Celia: “The fortune teller told me you’d put me in chains and rip out my tongue,” Celia says with a nod.

GM: “I wouldn’t do that, Celia, unless you did something truly awful. Like cheating on me again.”

Celia: “But also you still had sex with me. So that’s something.”

GM: “Actually, I’d probably just end our relationship.”

Celia: “She said you’re—”

Celia cuts off at the words.

“Oh.”

GM: “So that prediction seems baseless.”

Celia: “Grandsire implied he wanted to have sex with me this evening.”

GM: “No.”

Celia: “No.”

GM: “Do I need to use a shorter word?”

Celia: “No? I confirmed your no. I confirmed I heard. I confirmed I understood.”

GM: “Good.”

Celia: “Good,” Celia echos. “I’ll be good.”

“Good girls get rewards. Bad girls get corrected. Badder girls get left.”

GM: “That’s exactly right, Celia. Good girls get rewarded too. I don’t want our relationship to only consist of corrections and ultimatums.”

“I want you to be good. I want to reward you. I want to reward you all the time.”

He pulls her into his arms.

“It’s a reward for me too, to make you happy.”

He kisses her head.

“One of the best in my unlife.”

The best in my unlife.”

Celia: “Leila thinks you’re very romantic,” Celia murmurs against his skin. “She loves you like I do. I want to be the best in your unlife. I want to be rewarded. I want to make you happy.”

GM: Roderick pulls away.

“Leila isn’t real, Celia. You make me happy when you acknowledge this. You make me unhappy when you don’t.”

Celia: “Leila isn’t real,” Celia repeats.

GM: He hugs her again.

“I know you’re trying, Celia.”

“I’ll help you every step of the way.”

Celia: “We’ll do it together. You love me. I love you. We’re together. Always.”

GM: He plants a tender kiss on her lips.

“Always.”


Saturday night, 19 March 2016, PM

GM: Time doesn’t wait for the lovers. They check the clock to find they’ve spent over an hour in bed together. Roderick says they need to get going. Celia takes a quick shower (by herself). Roderick helps dress her when she’s out, tells her to become a cat again, and tells her to fit inside his briefcase this time. “I shouldn’t be seen carrying my cat everywhere.” He hails a Ryde from her phone and drops her off outside of Mid-City in cat form.

“The driver will take you where you need to go. You have several texts and voicemails. I love you. Good luck with tonight.”

Celia: Celia tells him that she loves him as well and waits until he’s out of sight to check her phone.

GM: There’s a text from Dani, asking how she is and when they can hang out again.

There’s another text from her mom, asking if she wants to stop by for dessert.

There’s a voicemail from Ron, asking her to swing by sometime to talk about her audition.

There’s a voicemail from a professional-sounding woman who says she works for a company called Delta Medical Systems and that Celia Flores has been listed as a job reference for a one Emily Rosure. Celia can give Delta a ring back anytime at her convenience.

Apparently, Delta actually follows up on its references.

Celia: Weird.

Celia handles the texts while she’s in the back of the Ryde.

Dani gets a quick response and an invitation for a sleepover this evening, if she’s free.

Her mother gets an approximate time Celia can stop by.

She sends a text to Emily about the Delta place to make sure she actually applied and that this isn’t some weird “fishing for information” sort of thing. Or a stalker.

She checks the time to see how long she has before she’s expected at the Evergreen.

GM: Dani responds back equally quickly that she’d be thrilled to.

Her mom’s answering text sounds just as happy to see her.

Emily does not immediately respond.

Celia: She’s probably busy having sex with her boyfriend.

GM: She has a moderate window of time.

Celia: Moderate enough to meet with her real dad and the Baron’s girl? She does the math on the expected conversations.

GM: If she’s quick about both.

Celia: She still doesn’t know what she’s going to do about Deja’s contact this evening. And she needs to finish setting up things for Randy’s death.

Savoy won’t care if she’s late. But she’d missed last week. And she told Pete she’d see him before the party.

She has too many friends, she decides. Way too many friends.

Celia waits until the car drops her off to call Ron and find out if she can swing by Monday or Tuesday, or if it’s more pressing than that.

She leaves a voicemail if she can’t get ahold of him directly.

GM: Ron doesn’t immediately respond either.

Maybe he’s having sex too.

Celia: Probably.

She would be, if she were him.

All those ladies all over his dick.

She leaves a voicemail, anyway, asking about Monday or Tuesday, and mentions maybe tomorrow if it’s pressing, and he can call or text to let her know but she might not be available the rest of the evening.

She’s not quite sure what to do about Randy. She doesn’t necessarily need an excuse to go after Edith; she can just tell Reggie to pick her up and he probably will. The girls will make good experiments for her to try the reverse aging process, and Reggie will have fun with Cinderella until she cuts her throat to slake her thirst. Roderick will understand why she is going to take out Edith, won’t he? What she’s done to those girls is monstrous. Who ghouls a child? And to keep the thin-blood there, letting her savage the ghouls, kill all those innocents…

She could let him help her. Grab Edith together. But who knows what he’d think of her if she told him the real reason. Say she’s giving Edith to the hunters, maybe. There’s an idea. It worked with his brother, hadn’t it?

What about Randy, though. What is she going to tell his brothers? “The sheriff killed him” is true, but it puts the blame at Jade’s feet for not preventing it. For not retaliating. For pissing him off in the first place.

They’ll want her to do something. They’ll want someone to blame. They’ll want a body.

Celia huffs a sigh. It’s a problem for another night, isn’t it. No one even knows he’s missing yet.

She can stop by her mom’s, at least. For dessert. Then go meet the Baron’s girl. Then the party.

GM: For all the dilemmas and moral (or at least practical) quandaries surrounding so many other people Celia is close to, her mother’s house is always welcoming. The cats, Lucy, and Emily are all gone. Diana greets her at the door with a tight hug. She looks genuinely happy to see Celia. The Toreador may wonder if her mother now has another reason to be thankful that Celia feeds off her: it lets the woman see her daughter every night.

“How are you tonight, sweetie?” she smiles.

Celia: It’s not like Celia was ignoring her mother prior to this arrangement. She just… didn’t make her a priority. But she returns the hug, holding her close to feel the beat of her heart against her chest, to absorb some of the warmth that Roderick no longer has.

How is she? Awful. Truly, truly awful.

“I’m okay,” she says instead. “How are you, though?”

GM: “I’m okay, too,” her mom answers with another smile as she leads Celia inside. “I didn’t feel very good after last night. So I slept in and ordered room service with Lucy and Emily. We snuggled in bed together and let someone else do the cookin’. It was a very nice morning!”

“I guess Friday night was the best night for us to do that, no work or church to be up for on a Saturday.”

Celia: She can’t help but wonder if her mother is lying, too. If she’s hiding the truth about what Lucy did to her.

“That does sound nice,” Celia says with a smile. It dims after a moment. “I got into a fight with Stephen.”

GM: That would make two Flores masking their hurts.

“Oh, no,” her mother exclaims as she sits down on the living room couch. She pulls up her feet onto the cushion and wraps an arm around Celia’s shoulder. “What happened, sweetie?”

Celia: He told me I’m stupid and put me into a microwave and turned into Daddy and now wants to control every aspect of my life.

“We had a disagreement about some of my friends. We said some harsh things.” He said some harsh things, anyway. “He’s being kind of controlling.” Kind of. Yeah. That’s the word.

GM: Her mom nods.

She knows all about controlling men, at least.

“You think you could reach a compromise, now that you’ve both had some time to cool off?”

Celia: No. He’s made it very clear he wants to control her forever.

“Maybe,” Celia says. “We’re going to spend the next few nights apart. But he wants to come to dinner tomorrow. But we’re still working on his identity and… actually I don’t know if I’m supposed to tell you that.”

Whatever, he’ll correct her for it later.

GM: “Oh, I’d be thrilled to have him over, sweetie!” her mom beams. “Maybe that’s what the two of you need. I’m just sorry he won’t be able to enjoy dinner, so…” She trails off. “Would he appreciate it if I let him, ah, drink from me, you think? And would you be okay with that?”

Celia: “We always appreciate blood,” Celia says with a smile. “I… I guess I don’t mind sharing… I’ll have a hit before I come over…”

Sharing her mother. Letting Roderick drink from her. She wouldn’t have minded once, but this new Roderick… she’s not sure if she loves that idea.

Maybe it’ll put him in a better mood. Maybe it’ll count as one of those five hits he wants. Maybe she can get a different reward, like him not being mad if she does end up on Savoy’s lap with his lips at her throat.

“You have school the next day, don’t you? I don’t know that we could both have you, but I’ll ask. He’d probably appreciate it.”

GM: “I do,” her mom nods. “But, I bounce back pretty fast, like we’ve found. I might be a little slower at work, but nothin’ I can’t handle. It’s worth it to me if I can make your beau feel welcome. Especially if he can’t enjoy dinner!”

Celia: “I’ll talk to him. Thanks, Mom.”

GM: Her mom smiles and nods. “Is it okay with you if we do that after dinner, too? My feeding you, that is. And Stephen. I just… want to be at 100%, for when your father is over.”

Celia: “Of course, Mom.”

“Do you remember what happened last night? Are you okay?”

GM: “Ah… I do, sweetie. I didn’t feel too good, after you dropped me off, but snuggles and breakfast in bed was a good cure for that.”

Her mom lets her arm fall away and looks down at her knees.

“I’m sorry I was such a… scaredy cat. I know you don’t like it when I’m cryin’. And scared.”

Celia: “Mom, stop. Feel your feelings. It’s okay. I don’t expect you to face everything head on like some sort of gladiator. That’s not who you are. I love who you are. I love you like this. I don’t need you to change for me.”

“I’m not going to… to demand you suddenly act like someone else or tell you that you aren’t good enough the way you are.”

GM: “I just… I just wish I was stronger, for you. That I’d been stronger for you. When you were growin’ up. Emily’s called me a doormat a few times, and she’s… she’s right.”

Celia: “I’m happy with how things turned out. I love who I am now. I love what I am. You’re more than strong enough. You don’t have to beat your fists on your chest and wear war paint to be strong. Loving me the way I am, accepting who you are, being there for our family now… that’s what matters, Mom. You can’t change the past. You have to stop beating yourself up about what already happened and move forward instead of backwards.”

“You’re not weak. Anyone who says so is a jackass and I’ll rip their throat out.”

GM: Her mom looks up and offers a wan smile. “I am weak, sweetie. I think we both know that. That’s what… she made me to be.”

She hugs Celia. “But it means so much, that you’re happy, that you’re okay with who I am. And you’re right, we can’t change the past. All I can do now is be the best mom I can to you and your brothers and sisters.”

She winks. “Lucy’s been hintin’ she’s going to make me another ‘mom of the year’ award, so I’ll take that as a good sign.”

Celia: Celia laughs.

“She’s got good taste, that kid. Do you want to… talk about the other one?”

GM: The mirth on her mom’s face dims somewhat. “Ah… okay, sweetie, what about?”

Celia: “You were tipsy last night. It looked like she was hurting you. I didn’t want to push her on you, and I wanted to be sure that’s what you want.”

GM: “Oh. Yes. I was tipsy. I felt… my lord, Celia, that was the strangest feeling. I’ll be happy not to do that again.”

Celia: “So you don’t want to rejoin her.”

GM: “Oh. N… no. I just don’t want to get tipsy again.”

“I don’t think it sets a good example, for Lucy or Emily.”

“Emily especially.”

Celia: “Oh.”

GM: “She’s been drinking a lot less since we adopted her, I know we’ve discussed. I don’t think she enjoys being the only person in the house who drinks, so she just doesn’t, as much. Only really does it with Robby now.”

Celia: “Mm. Yeah. You’re right. You don’t need to do it again if you don’t want to.”

GM: “Sorry, sweetie? Drink again?”

“I’m definitely not drinking again. I really didn’t like how it made me feel.”

Celia: “Right. That’s what I mean.”

GM: “I’m just not a drinker, but you know that.”

Celia: “Guess it’s a good thing I didn’t drink from you, since it would have transferred to me. That’s the only way we can get high or drunk anymore.”

GM: “Oh. All the more reason, then!” her mom exclaims with an alarmed look.

“And you don’t need to worry about getting high, sweetie, ever. You know I don’t do drugs.”

Celia: “Of course, Momma. I’m not worried about it with you. Just the club scene. That one, uh, dinner with Randy…”

GM: “Ah, yes. Emily said you were high.”

Celia: “We didn’t realize the girl was, uh, on ecstasy.”

GM: “Oh.”

“Well, that explains a good deal.”

“You’ll be careful, won’t you?” she asks, holding Celia’s hands. “You lived, thank goodness, but… just be careful, okay?”

Celia: “Of course. I will be.”

GM: “Good,” her mom smiles. She lets go of Celia’s hands but gives them a pat. “And while we’re on the subject, is there anything I could do more of, or maybe less of, so that drinking from me is… ah, what’s the word… better for you?”

Celia: Celia shakes her head.

“You taste wonderful, Mom. Like love. Like a warm hug.”

GM: “Oh, that’s just so sweet of you, Celia,” her mom says with a heartfelt look. “Good, wonderful, that’s just how I’d… this feels funny to say… I’d, ah, like to taste?”

Celia: “Dani told me I taste like makeup,” Celia says with a wry smile.

GM: Her mom laughs.

“Well! That would be appropriate, I suppose. I guess, in fact, now that you mention…”

Her eye wanders towards Celia’s wrist.

Then back up.

But she doesn’t say anything.

“Say, sweetie, you brought up… Lucy,” she remarks instead.

Celia: She doesn’t need to. Celia watches the movement of her eyes. She almost opens her mouth, but her mother beats her to it.

“Yes. Now that you’re sober I wanted to ask what you’d like to do.”

GM: Her mom looks unsure for a moment.

“Yes, ah… I want to do it, sweetie,” she finally nods.

“It felt… it felt hard, but… right.”

Celia: “Then we’ll do it.” Celia reaches for her mother’s hand. “You’ll… still love me, right? She won’t change you that much that you won’t?”

GM: “Always!” her mom exclaims immediately, throwing her arms around Celia instead.

“You are the brightest joy in my life, sweetie. You are the most important person in my life. You are my baby. Nothing is ever going to change how much I love you.”

Celia: Celia clings to the woman like the child she once was, seeking and finding comfort in her embrace. After everything that’s happened… she’s glad for this ray of brightness in her Requiem.

“I love you, Mom.”

GM: Sensing her child’s need for comfort, Celia’s mother holds her tight against her breast and slowly rocks her back and forth, stroking her hair.

“I love you too, Celia. I will always love you. I know your life is hard. I want to help you, and make you happy, and keep you safe, however I can. Anything you need, anything you want to tell me, I will be there for you.”

Celia: Celia blinks back the blood that threatens to seep from her eyes. But only for a moment. Only for a moment before someone other than Celia, someone who doesn’t mind giving up control, clambers onto her mother’s lap and lets them fall.

“He wants to get rid of us.” The voice isn’t quite Celia’s. It’s younger. Softer.

GM: “Who?” her mom asks, still hugging Celia close. “Who wants to get rid of us, sweetie?”

Celia: “Roderick,” she sniffs. “He said we’re crazy. He said insane. He said he’s going to find a doctor and that we’re not real and he got mad when she said I love him. I don’t love him anymore. He’s mean. He put Luna in a cage.”

GM: “Oh, we’re not crazy, Celia!” her mom exclaims, giving her a tighter squeeze. “We have our issues, yes, but guess what, so does everybody else. Him too. And what does he mean, we’re not…”

She pauses for a moment, then pulls away. She’s still hugging Celia, and gives a reassuring squeeze as if to say she’s not letting go, but meets her daughter’s gaze.

“Am I talking to Celia, still?”

Celia: “No,” the girl says, “I’m Leilani. Leila. Joshy calls me Lani but that’s too close to Lana and she’s not me and I only met him once besides so he doesn’t get to give me nicknames.”

“Luna is the kitty,” she adds helpfully.

GM: “Oh,” says Diana.

She’s quiet for a moment. Leilani can see the fear in her eyes before she asks, her voice small,

“Am I… still your mom?”

She remembers Jade.

Celia: “You’re my mommy.”

GM: Diana gives a sniff and throws her arms back around Leilani, hugging her extremely tight.

“Okay. Okay. Thank god. Okay.”

Celia: “You’re warm,” Leila says, snuggling closer.

GM: Her mom gives a relieved, half-sniffed laugh.

“Yes, sweetie, I am warm. Would you like me to get a blankie, so we can be warmer?”

Celia: Leila shakes her head.

“No. I hafta meet someone later and Celia’s gonna be mad if we’re late. But she won’t talk about Roderick being a meanie but you said we could tell you anything and I don’t wanna go away. And he said I can’t see the masked man anymore but I like the masked man, he sees us. All of us. And he said we could dance at the party tonight. And Roderick isn’t gonna be there anyway so how will he know?”

“And the cop said he’s a… a bad word.”

GM: “That’s a lot to think about, Leila,” says her mommy, rubbing her back.

“Well, as far as dancing, is that all it’s gonna be, just dancing? No… kissing, no more? If so, I’d say it’s okay for you to dance! That’s what people do at parties. Dancing and parties go together like PB&J.”

Her mommy pulls back enough so that Leila can see her smile.

“Dancing is a wonderful thing, sweetie. I dance with lord knows how many people every day at work. Dance is happiness. Dance is joy. Dance is how you smile with your whole body. Now your beau should get your first dance, if he were there, and your last one too, if you really want to remind him that he’s your #1. But he’s not! It’s okay to dance with other people, it’s beyond silly only to dance with your beau. It’s not kissing, it’s smiling! Smiling with your whole body, like I said. Smiling to lots of people makes them happy. Dancing with lots of people makes y’all happy.”

“So go dance at that party. I’m a dance expert, remember, and I’m sayin’ you’re officially cleared to go dance,” her mom declares with a wink.

Celia: Leila nods along while her mother talks.

“He can’t go because he doesn’t have the right face. An’ Celia didn’t offer to give him the right face,” Leila confides in a whisper, “because she doesn’t want him there tonight. An’ she’s gonna spend the night with Dani instead of him because he’s a meanie and he said it’s punishment but she was relieved but _you can’t tell him.”_

She wipes at her eyes.

“He said the masked man is gonna make me crazier and their whole clan is crazy and we’re crazy but I talked to masked man about it and he said that people just don’t understand but that their clan will be my family but I have a family and how come he doesn’t love all of us?” Leila looks at Diana with wide eyes. “Why doesn’t he get it? He keeps saying he’s smart but he’s a dummy about this.”

GM: “I won’t tell him, sweetie. I won’t tell him a thing,” Diana nods.

“Ah, who is the masked man? What makes their family… crazy?”

Celia: “They’re fishies.” Leila puckers her lips like a fish. “It’s their clan curse. They’re crazy. Except the one lady with the bun but I think her crazy is she’s mean. But then grandpa said something about being a stiff so maybe she’s not really crazy but I dunno I didn’t ask, she thinks we’re dumb and spoiled.”

“The masked man is in charge of the Masquerade. They see everything. And clean up messes. He says he knows masks. One of his librarians gave us some books, but Celia hasn’t read them to me yet. I think she was gonna ask Rod but he’s a jerkface.”

“But he said we should tell you about us but then also said he’s gonna get rid of us so I dunno it didn’t make sense. I think he doesn’t know what he’s talking about and just likes the sound of his own voice.”

“Don’t tell him I said that, though. It’s secret.”

GM: “I see,” Leila’s mommy says thoughtfully. “Well, Leila, that’s very useful for me to know. The bun lady sounds like she’s the craziest of them all, to me! You aren’t dumb and spoiled. You’re smart and nice. Very nice.”

She nods again. “Roderick sounds more than a little full of himself, if you ask me. But we’ll keep that just between us. Nobody who’s not Leila, Celia, or their mommy gets to know.” She draws an invisible zipper over her mouth in emphasis.

“Hey,” she then exclaims with a wide smile as she takes Leila’s hands, “you wanna do something fun, Leila?”

Celia: Leila nods eagerly.

GM: “How about…” her mommy starts in a low voice, like it’s a secret surprise just between them, “…we let Luna out to play? I bet being in a cage wasn’t much fun for her. There’ll be no cages here! Just lots of loves and pets and belly rubs!”

Celia: Leila considers the request.

“Are you gonna put her in the microwave?”

GM: “Oh my lord, no!” Diana laughs. “That is a very bad idea! Only thing that goes in the microwave is food.”

Celia: “I knew he was a dumdum,” Leila mutters. Then she’s gone, disappearing as if she had never existed, and a gray cat meows at Diana.

GM: “Hewwo, Luna!” Diana exclaims in her kitty voice. She doesn’t waste a second. Practiced hands start to scratch the cat along the sides of her chin and pet down her back.

“Hewwo, Luna! Hewwo hewwo!”

Celia: The cat is more than happy to let this woman scratch, rub, and pet her. She purrs, body vibrating against the gentle hands, and arches her back into the touch. It’s a nice change from the heat and the water.

GM: “Oh, yes, that is a purr! Confirmed, we have a purr goin’!” Diana exclaims, smiling widely. She showers the cat with loves. Scratches behind the ears. Scratches under the chin. Scratches alongside the neck. Pets down the back. She hits all the pleasure points. She closes her eyes and rubs her cheek along the cat’s head, but doesn’t let up for a second with the scratches.

“Who’s a good widdle kitty, huh? Who’s the best widdle kitty in the whole wide world?”

“Youuu are! Youuu are!”

Celia: Luna is more than happy to accept the loves from Diana. She meows at the question of who’s a good kitty as if to say, “I am,” and purrs again when Diana answers in the affirmative. She is a good kitty. She’s the best kitty. She rolls onto her back to present her belly, pawing at Diana’s hands.

GM: Diana is more than happy to give the best kitty lots of loves along her belly too. Her hands move up and down, alternating between pets and scratches, clearly basking in the feeling of the cat’s furry underside against her palms.

“And you’re not even scwatching me! No, you’re not! You are SUCH a good kitty, Luna! The best kitty in the whole wide world!” Diana exclaims.

She gives the cat more loves for a while, clearly enjoying herself just as much as Luna. Eventually, though, Diana’s scratching the kitty’s ears when she leans in and whispers,

“Okay, Luna. I had a very nice time, with the best kitty in the whole wide world. You think Celia wants to come back out, now?”

Celia: The cat meows a final time, rubbing her face along Diana’s cheek. Then she’s gone, and Celia has once more appeared before her mother, her expression somewhere between apprehension and appreciation.

She clears her throat unnecessarily, then lifts her shoulders in a helpless sort of shrug.

“So that’s, um… so you met Leila.”

GM: Her mom nods.

“I was wondering if ‘switching between’ Luna, so to speak, would let you come back out.”

“You know, serve as a bit of a reboot.”

She smiles. “Plus I really did love getting to pet a kitty.”

Celia: “You didn’t, ah, didn’t like Leila? She’s pretty harmless. A bit mouthy. But sweet.”

“He thinks I have DID. But I’ve looked it up before. That’s not how it works.”

GM: Her mom nods. “I thought so too. Sweet and harmless, like you say. I was just worried that it might be hard to get you back.”

“So, glad we were able to do that.”

Celia: Celia nods.

GM: “Is turning into Luna the only thing that does it?”

Celia: “No. I can… there’s some modicum of control there. It’s not like the textbook definition. They’re just… pieces of me, I think, that have grown into their own thing, but I’m not unaware while they’re out. They fill in the gaps.”

Celia looks down at her hands, then back up at her mother.

“I’m not crazy, Mom.”

GM: Her mom hugs her.

“I don’t care how many personalities you have inside you. I love you just as much.”

Celia: Celia hugs her tightly.

“Thanks, Mom. That really means a lot to me. People don’t always… we fear what we don’t know sometimes, and they’re just… they’re just me, but different.”

GM: She nods.

“So if this isn’t DID, what do you think this is?”

“I took some psych classes in college, though I’ll admit that was a while ago.”

Celia: “Oh Lord, I have no idea. Masking. Regression, with Leila. Roleplay. I don’t know. It just doesn’t fit the definition of DID. There’s no fugue state.”

“Acting, maybe.”

Ron always said she’d be good at it.

GM: “Is this what Jade was?” her mom asks.

Celia: That’s a delicate question.

“I don’t know,” Celia says with a sigh. “Jade just started as a name when I died. Now she’s… that. I started referring to her as a different person to keep my lives separate and she just… grew.”

GM: Her mom nods. “How do you think Leila came to be, then?”

Celia: “I think she’s… I think she’s been there since Dad… you know. Changed. And she’s what could have been. What should have been. She’s been around more since I met a fairy.”

GM: “…a fairy?” her mom asks, eyebrows raised.

Celia: “What, you thought vampires were the only supernaturals in the world?”

GM: “Well, ah, I suppose I did, now that you mention it.”

“Are fairies… good?”

Celia: “They’re… interesting.”

That’s one way to put it.

“I don’t think that they’re inherently good or bad. They’re people, like us, so it’s all a spectrum. There are good people and bad people. Good vampires and bad vampires. We lean bad, but I think that’s because we literally feed on humans and live forever and get jaded. Demons are bad. Ghosts are pretty much whatever they were like in life, I think, but I haven’t met all that many. Loops are…” Celia considers. “Furry.”

GM: “Loops?” her mom asks.

“But okay, that’s… that’s actually somewhat comforting to hear, sweetie. That they’re basically people. Good and bad.”

Celia: “Werewolves.”

“Loup garou. Someone thought you pronounced the P and it kind of stuck.”

GM: “Oh, that’s French. Literally, ‘werewolves.’”

“Do they feed on humans, too?”

Celia: “No. Not like we do. They don’t drink blood. I mean they’re… they don’t really like vampires.”

GM: “Ah, okay,” her mom nods. “Anyway, sweetie, we got distracted. We were talking about you.”

“You and your other, ah, selves.”

Celia: “What, you don’t want to meet my werewolf boyfriend?”

GM: “Oh? You have a werewolf boyfriend?” her mom asks, eyebrows raised again.

“I thought you had a boyfriend already, with Stephen…?”

Celia: “Each of the multiples gets their own boyfriend, Ma. It’s the twenty first century.” She grins. It fades after a moment.

“You want to talk about them, though? The others?”

GM: Diana seems to consider whether Celia is kidding, then nods.

“Are there any besides Leilani and Jade?”

“And Luna, if she counts…?”

Celia: “I… I’m not sure. I think so, but she’s not fully out yet. I just feel someone… else. I have other identities, other masks, but they’re not quite the same. I don’t know if that makes sense.”

GM: “Well, not the same, how?”

“Who are they?”

Celia: “Just different people. I use them to blend into society, go places I can’t as Celia or Jade. Some are more clear than others. I don’t really know how to explain it. Like I’m there, but I’m committed to the role. But it’s a commitment so deep that it’s not a role anymore. But I’m still… present. Just like watching over their shoulder, maybe?”

“Like I can autopilot, but still correct course if needed. Like uh… like I put in the coordinates on the map already and they just follow the path I set.”

GM: “Okay, that makes some sense,” her mom nods. “With Leilani, what does it usually take, for her to… I guess, go dormant?”

“Luna seemed to do it, I’m just wondering if that’s all.”

Celia: “She’s easily distracted. Josua just told her it was bedtime and that did the trick. Or just say you want to talk to Celia, maybe.”

“I haven’t done a lot of experimenting with her because no one really knows.”

“So I’m sorry to say I don’t have a concrete answer.”

GM: “It’s okay. I just want to be sure you stay safe, sweetie,” her mom answers. “Safe and happy. I guess, do Leilani and the other… personalities you can ‘course correct’, interfere with that? Are you okay with them?”

Celia: “They don’t cause problems for me. I like them. They keep me safe.”

GM: “Okay,” her mom nods. “They are a little funny to wrap my head around, but next to being a vampire… well, I guess it’s small potatoes. If there isn’t a problem, with the ones besides Jade, I guess there isn’t a problem.”

Celia: “You don’t think I should see a doctor?”

GM: “I might do some research into DID anyway, just to understand them better.”

Her mom pauses. “What about… Jade?”

Celia: “What about her?”

GM: “She’s evil, Celia,” her mother says quietly.

“Just… pure evil.”

Celia: “She’s not welcome here. She knows that.”

GM: “I know. But I’ve still… I’ve thought about that scene a lot, Celia.”

“I’ve had… dreams about it.”

Celia: “I’m sorry, Mom. I… I don’t know what else to say. I’m sorry.”

GM: Her mom holds her hand. “I know you are. You did… you did walk back from it, sweetie. Before it could poison, twist, our relationship, into something…. horrible.”

Celia: “It sounds like that wasn’t enough.”

GM: “You mean it, when you say you love me,” her mom answers. “Believe me, Celia. Believe me… every night, since then, when I’ve said my prayers, I’ve thanked God on my knees that he gave you the strength to… to overcome her.”

“I’ve thought a lot, about what our relationship, about what my life, would look like if you hadn’t.”

“I don’t think I’m going to drop ‘thank you for giving my daughter strength when she needed it most’ from my prayers anytime soon.”

“I know we dodged a… a hell of a bullet.”

Celia: “We did,” Celia says quietly. “I don’t know what would have happened to us, but it wouldn’t have been ‘us’ anymore.”

GM: “No, it wouldn’t. Or Lucy.”

“I thought about how… about your father, when he was cruel to me, hurt the children too. What that did to you and the others, for your mother to be living in fear.”

“And I just thought… how would that have affected Lucy. If her mom was living in fear.”

“I thought about that a lot.”

“And Emily. I think she’d have noticed something was wrong. She’s got a good… bullpoo detector.”

Celia: “She is. It would have destroyed the family.”

GM: “It would’ve poisoned us, Celia. Even if no one noticed, for a while. It would’ve poisoned Lucy. Jade would have hurt Lucy.

Her mom’s hands clench at those words.

Celia: “Do you… do you not want me to come around anymore?”

GM: Her mom looks up in alarm.

“Oh, no, sweetie! I want you to stay in this family, more than anything!

Celia: “I can’t do anything about Jade. She’s part of me. She’s not going to come out around you again. I won’t let that happen.”

GM: “But she’s still there,” says her mom.

“Doing the makeup for those… those victims… was that her, too?”

Celia: Celia nods.

GM: “I thought so.”

“She needs to die.”

Celia: Celia rises to her feet.

“Right. Well. Something to think about.”

GM: Her mom looks at her in confusion.

“Celia, don’t tell me you want her.”

Celia: “She’s part of me. Killing her kills me. There’s no cutting her out. And even if I did find a way to surgically extract her, I’m still Jade to the entire city of licks.”

GM: “Is Jade a person you want to be?”

Celia: “Jade is a person I need to be to fit in with the rest of the assholes that I associate with.”

“We’re not good people, Mom. We’re a society of raging dicks. The strong bully the weak. We take what we want. And if we can’t hold onto what’s ours, we lose it.”

GM: “Those were the most hurtful words someone ever said to me,” says her mom. “That I wasn’t your mom anymore. That I was your slave.”

“More hurtful than anything your father ever said. Because I had, because I have, nothing but love for you.” Her mom’s voice sounds like it’s starting to tear up.

Celia: “I said I was sorry.”

GM: “You don’t, you don’t need to apologize, sweetie. I forgave you. The slate’s clean.”

Celia: “You’re still talking about it. It’s clearly not clean.”

“You want to kill part of me.”

“The part that made a deal for power to save you from Dad.”

“The part that haggled with a monster to put you back together again.”

“The part that tore herself open to save you when you were thrown off the roof.”

“The part that looked a demon in the eyes and told him that his prize pawn had better leave you alone or I would slaughter him.

GM: Her mom opens her mouth, emotions swimming in her eyes, then finally closes it.

She looks at her feet.

Celia: “She killed herself for you. And she’d do it again. She fucked up. She’s sorry. I’m sorry. We both make mistakes. What she did to you was a mistake that will never happen again. But she is not going anywhere. She’s me. I’m her.”

GM: Diana looks back up at her daughter’s words. There’s some color in her cheeks, but her eyes look moist too. She sniffs and runs a hand across them, then stands up to take Celia’s hand.

“Can… can we please not fight, sweetie. I don’t want to fight you. I want this home, our home, to be a welcoming space for you.”

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry I brought it up again. I’m sorry I didn’t understand.”

Celia: She doesn’t have a home anymore. Jade broke this one, and Roderick destroyed the other.

But she hugs her mother because that’s what she’s supposed to do. And she runs a hand down her back because that’s what she’s supposed to do.

And the words break her heart. The apology. Like hers to Roderick.

It’s like looking into a fucking mirror, and Celia hates what she sees.

“Can we table this discussion, Mom? I need to… talk to someone else about this who knows more than I do.”

She wants her sire. He’s the only one she wants anymore with the way Roderick has been treating her. But she can’t talk to him about this. About any of it. They don’t have that sort of relationship.

“I’m sorry. I don’t want you to be scared of me. Of her. She’s not evil. She’s just…”

“She’s just her.”

“She was following some really bad advice. And when she’s afraid she gets angry and mean because we’re not allowed to be scared. She shows teeth.”

Celia lifts her hand to tuck a stray hair behind her mother’s ear.

“She loves you too. She’s just… terrible at communicating. If you knew what the rest of them are like you’d see the difference.”

GM: Celia’s mom hugs her close and sniffs against her shoulder, oblivious to the dark and despairing thoughts coursing through her daughter’s head. She guides Celia back onto the couch and listens intently.

“Well, I was… I was going to ask, sweetie.”

“How she could love me and then do… what she did.”

“I guess that makes… more sense.”

“She’s really not that bad?”

Celia: “She’s really not that bad. I promise. She’s done some questionable things, but she loves you. And Emily. And Lucy. She’s just… she’s like a… a kicked puppy, right, that grows into a mean dog because all it knows is the feel of a boot on its ribs, and it doesn’t know better. She thought what she was doing was right because that’s how she’s always done it. But she learned. You helped her learn.”

“Maybe she can… write you a letter. And explain.”

GM: “I just… I don’t understand, Celia,” her mom admits. “I said sorry to her. After I asked for something I shouldn’t have. I took it all back. I said I didn’t want it anymore. I thought that was enough, I thought that would fix things. But she kept saying I needed to call her master, that I wasn’t her mom, and that… that’s what she hit me for…”

Celia: “She’s confused, Mom. She didn’t have a mom. She just appeared when I was lost in the dark and took my hand and guided me out. Her first experience was an impossible test, a cruel test, and watching your rape and torture. That’s what she woke up to. That’s what she saw.”

“People don’t love Jade. They fuck her. They flirt with her. They use her.”

“She doesn’t have a family. She doesn’t have friends. Not like Celia does.”

GM: “So is that what she needs? Do I just need to show her love…?” her mom asks slowly.

Celia: “I… maybe?”

The more she thinks about it the more sense it makes. Show the stray cat enough love and it’ll eventually let you pet it.

GM: “Jesus says to turn the other cheek,” Diana nods.

“If I can forgive your father, after all, why not Jade too?”

Celia: “I don’t deserve a mother as good as you. You’re just… you’re just incredible, Mom.”

GM: Her mom smiles and squeezes Celia’s hand in hers.

“I’m sorry I hurt her, too. Maybe there was a better way.”

Celia: “Maybe. Maybe when you’re both ready you can start fresh.”

GM: “You mentioned writing a letter. I think that sounds like a good start.”

Celia: Celia nods.

“I’ll let her know.”

GM: “Okay. I think she should write it someplace… someplace not here. Lucy is here. I don’t think we are ready for that.” Her mother’s voice sounds hopeful but wary.

Celia: “I’ll have her write it elsewhere and I’ll deliver it for her.”

GM: “Okay,” her mom nods. “That sounds… safe.”

Celia: “No direct contact. Not until you ask for it. Promise.”

Celia squeezes her mother’s hand.

GM: Her mom nods. “I guess the biggest thing I’m wondering is… why. Why did she hurt me because I called her sweetie. Why did she want me to call her master so badly. Why did she say I wasn’t her mom.”

“Because I’d stopped asking about… you-know-what. I’d stopped. I’d said sorry. I thought that would be enough. So why did she… did she not let up?”

Celia: “I… I don’t know, Mom. I can have her explain it, maybe, but I think it’s… about control. Knowing she’s in control. Knowing you accept that she’s in control.”

“Bad advice from someone else, mostly, I think.”

“But hey… do you want to trade, Mom? Like you said? I can take two and give you one, and you should be fine for tomorrow..?”

GM: Her mother’s eyes shine.

“Yes… yes, sweetie! I’d love that so much!

Celia: “Come on, then, let’s grab a cup.”

GM: Celia’s mother all but leaps from her seat. She grasps her leg for a moment with a pained inhalation, but doesn’t slow. She just makes for the kitchen.

Celia: They need to get that fixed. Soon. If she can’t get ahold of her teacher then she’ll reach out to E. Or Xola. One of them should be able to help, dangerous though the latter is. Pete might go with her again now that Diana knows about everything. Maybe this summer, during her break, so it’s not an abrupt change at school…

GM: Diana throws open the cupboard and grabs the first cup she can get her hands on, a Disney princess-themed plastic one. She doesn’t even limp and favor her good leg for the walk back. She just gets back to Celia, as fast as she can without running. The only sign of pain is the way her face repeatedly twists.

“Here we go, sweetie, here’s a cup…”

Celia: Celia lets her mother hold onto the cup for her for a moment. She says she’s going to drink first, just to take the edge off, and leans in to bring her mother into her arms. Like a hug. Only this time her mouth opens, fangs extending so she can sink them into her vessel’s neck, piercing her flesh to bring forth the flow of blood into her waiting maw.

She drinks.

She drinks the freely offered blood, the source of love and life (or unlife) that her mother parts with so readily, the flavor of it dancing across her tongue. Like a warm hug, she’d said earlier, and it’s true. It tastes like comfort. Like affection. Like a mother’s knowing smile. Like a meal made with her in mind, and she enjoys every second of it. She basks in the divine nectar.

Celia licks the wound closed when she’s had her fill. Two hits for her. Then the points of her fangs dig into her wrist and she bleeds into the plastic princess cup, waits for it to cool long enough to avoid a bond, and finally offers it to her mother.

GM: Her mother tastes like all of those things and more.

She tastes like love.

Celia has yet to drink from another breather vessel that compares.

True to Celia’s expectation, drinking so deeply from her mother takes some of the woman’s nerves off. This is deeper than they’ve done before. Diana moans softly beneath her daughter’s kiss. Her eyelids droop and Celia can feel the slowing of her heartbeat. She looks thoroughly tuckered out by the time the Toreador pulls away, and sleepily accepts the cup without her prior animation. She drinks slowly at first, but her eyes widen with the taste. Color returns to her cheeks. She closes her eyes again, taking a long, slow draught, and Celia can see the smile spreading across her face. There’s a blush to her cheeks when she sets the cup down and looks at her daughter with shining eyes.

“Oh, sweetie, that felt… heavenly…”

She runs her finger along the cup’s inside, then licks it off.

Celia: “Slowly, Momma,” Celia says as she lifts the cup to her lips, pleased that she’s taking her time with this feeding. “Savor it. Good…” Celia rubs a hand up and down her back while she feeds, nuzzling against her once it’s gone. Like she does with Alana, she realizes, only this isn’t sexual, just intimate. The sharing of blood.

“How do you feel?” Celia asks when she’s done.

GM: Her mom wraps an arm around her and cuddles up against her.

“Oh… I feel you inside me, Celia… spreadin’ all through me… you are sweet, very sweet, and kind of like makeup…”

Celia: Celia giggles at the description.

“You’re sweet too, Mama. Like love. Just… like you’ll always love me. Comfort and security and warmth. Nothing else has ever tasted as good.”

GM: “Good,” Diana murmurs, nuzzling against her. “I’m glad I taste so good. That’s how I want to taste, for you. I want you to feel warm and safe and loved when you’re home.”

Celia: “I do, Mom. You’ve always taken good care of me. I’m glad I can share this side of myself with you.” Celia touches a hand to her cheek. “I love you, Momma.”

GM: Her mom leans against her.

“I love you too, sweetie. With all my heart. I’m so glad you can share yourself, all of yourself, with me.”

Celia: “It definitely makes everything easier,” Celia says with a wry smile.

GM: “Or, yourselves, I suppose,” her mother says with a chuckle.

Celia: “Oh. Speaking of. I want to move forward with fixing your leg. I don’t know if or when the colleague I mentioned will be back in the city, but there are others I can speak to, and I can reach out to my old teacher as well. I’d like to do it this summer, so you don’t look suddenly better overnight at school. Is that okay?”

“We can say that the physical activity with fencing has helped, maybe. Or have you ‘see a physical therapist’ or something. Emily might be hard to fool, but we’ll make it believable.”

GM: “Yes… I was goin’ to bring her up,” her mom says thoughtfully.

“She is a doctor, and she knows my ‘case’ really well, at this point.”

“She doesn’t believe all that much in alternative medicine, either. I think Dr. Crawford’s really rubbin’ off on her.”

Celia: “It’s not for everyone. Hard to believe in something you don’t witness for yourself, even if it’s been around for thousands of years.”

“I bet she doesn’t believe in vampires, either.”

GM: “I don’t think she does,” her mom says wryly. “It just seems to get under her skin a lot more, this last year of med school. What she calls ‘quackery.’ I think one of your girls at Flawless was talking about energy crystals a few months ago and, my lord, I love Emily dearly, but she would not close her mouth!”

Celia: “Mm, she’s rather opinionated.”

“She applied for a new job, though. So I don’t know how much longer she’ll even be at Flawless.”

GM: “Oh, she did?” her mom asks. “She didn’t mention that to me.”

Celia: “Delta Medical… something. Systems?”

“I dunno, they called for a reference. Left a voicemail.”

“I texted her about it but I assume she’s busy with Robby.”

GM: “She is,” Diana nods, then taps her chin. “Delta. Hmm. Have I heard of them somewhere…?”

“I think she might have mentioned them once, but I didn’t know she was applying for a job.”

“Does she need to finish med school, before she can…?”

Celia: “I’m not sure. We, uh, got into a little bit of an argument last night and I think she was kind of upset, but I doubt that’s what this is about. Usually takes longer to apply and hear from a company. But if she’s just doing clerical work or something she might not need the degree. A lot of people work in medicine without a degree, all sorts of other positions they can fill. Even some research based things.”

“Could also be an internship or assistant position.”

GM: “Oh. Are you two still mad at each other? Could I help?” her mom asks.

Celia: “I don’t think so. It was just about Stephen. Whether or not she slept with him. I… don’t know why it bothers me so much.”

GM: “Oh,” says her mom. “Well, I can understand wantin’ to feel like your beau loves only you. That is a little weird to think of him bein’ intimate with your sister.”

Celia: “Yeah. Also like… who introduces their ex to their new friend as a potential boyfriend?”

GM: “I mean, okay, I can accept you might not’ve been Stephen’s first, even if things would’ve been better that way, but that’s…. messy, I guess, to also be with Emily? I don’t quite like it.”

“Well, then again, maybe nothin’ happened. Dani said they only went on, what, one date?”

Celia: “It’s not even about being his first, he was twenty-two when we met. So I didn’t assume he was a virgin or anything. And he showed me a good time, and it was great. You know? No awkward vibes. But… just the thought of them together… everything I’ve ever said to her about him…” Celia trails off. “Two dates. But I guess I’m just being… silly. It shouldn’t matter, right? We’re both dead now.”

“I’ve been with other people, too.”

GM: “Hmph, well, I suppose that is what it is,” her mother says at all the mentions of outside-marriage sex.

“I guess there’s nothin’ much to be done for it either way, though. I mean, Stephen clearly loves you, hasn’t been in Emily’s life for years… you two can either stay mad at each other or not, you know? There’s nothin’ to do about it at this point.”

“If anythin’ even happened past two dates.”

“Maybe it’d be better just to let sleeping dogs lie.”

Celia: “That’s the plan. Pretty sure he’d tell me if I asked, but I don’t really want to know.”

GM: “That sounds like a good plan,” her mom nods. “As far as Emily, that is tricky, though. About my leg.”

“Maybe I could take a vacation or something, away from her? Or she could go on one with Robby? Just some time apart, so she doesn’t notice an immediate shift?”

Celia: “I was thinking something similar. Vacation for one of you.”

“I, uh, might be going to LA soon, maybe you could visit..?”

GM: “Oh, you’re going to LA?” her mom smiles. “Vacation there, too?”

She wiggles her eyebrows.

“Are you bringin’ your beau?”

Celia: “Ha. I mentioned it to him but he hasn’t said anything yet. I’d like to, since he runs with the kind of people that run LA, but he’s got a lot going on here.”

GM: “Hm. Well, if he doesn’t, I could go with you? I don’t want to be a third wheel between two lovebirds,” she declares with another smile, “but if things don’t work out there, we could say I saw a specialist or something in L.A.?”

Celia: “That’ll work. I’ll probably be there a while if things work out. Movie deal. Maybe. I have to follow up.”

“Plus, you’ll need to be nearby so we can trade, or you’ll end up going through withdrawal.”

GM: “Oh,” her mom says with some alarm. “I guess if it’s like a drug…”

“You could always… give me an advance, if you’re goin’ to be gone for a while? If that’s how it works?”

She shakes her head.

“Maybe you’re right, though. Maybe it’s better that I come. How long would this be for? You said you’re doin’ a movie deal, sweetie?” she smiles.

Celia: “I could leave some,” Celia says thoughtfully. “Or have someone else take care of it while I’m gone. I just know it’s… we talked about it being addictive, and I don’t want you to be tempted to take it early or because you had a bad day or something. It’s not that I don’t trust you, Mom, I just have heard that some of them can OD, and it’s not easy for me to travel. If Stephen doesn’t come, maybe he wouldn’t mind. Or Pe—er, my other friend.”

Who else does she trust with her mom? No one.

“I’m not sure how long it takes to shoot, or even if I have a part. I have to talk to the guy. And his friend. But I’ve got a leg up since I know people. There’s auditions, all sorts of things. Maybe a month, maybe two or three. I’ll probably fly out to do some auditions, come back and wait to hear from them, then go back out once I hear if I got anything.”

GM: “Oh. I don’t know I could manage two or three months, sweetie,” says her mom. “Summer break at McGehee is about two months. And I want to spend a good chunk of that with Lucy!”

She thinks.

“Or maybe we could take her, too? Med school’s break is about eight weeks, so that’s the longest Emily can take care of her, anyway. And I figure this summer is goin’ to be even busier with her residency starting.”

Celia: Celia shakes her head.

“I didn’t intend for you to be there the whole time. And of course we could take Lucy. Hell, Emily could even come if she wants.”

“For a bit. After your, uh, ‘surgery.’”

GM: “Hm, I love the thought of havin’ Emily along, but I’m just worried how much she’d suspect. Me goin’ to L.A. and back for the summer seems like it’d be easier to swallow.”

“If she isn’t there to see any of it.”

Celia: “Probably. Plus I’ll be… not me.”

GM: “Oh. You mean… Jade?” her mother asks warily.

Celia: “Not necessarily. I’ll look like her, but I’m still me. It’s just that movies generally shoot during the day, so ’Lana will be Celia.”

“I could use a different identity out there, though. No reason to be Jade if no one knows me anyway.”

GM: Her mom nods. “Yes, I’d prefer that, sweetie. I know we talked about the letter. Just… makin’ plans to be alone with her, in another city, for months, doesn’t feel safe to me.”

“Especially with… Lucy.”

Celia: “She wouldn’t hurt Lucy,” Celia says quietly, “but I’ll make sure she doesn’t stay around. No reason for Jade to go to LA, anyway. I’m going to try to divorce her from Celia to see how things go with Dad and running and everything.”

GM: “She almost did hurt Lucy, sweetie, through me,” her mom reminds her seriously. “But, okay, that sounds good. Baby steps with her. Goin’ to L.A. with you and Lucy sounds like a wonderful summer.”

Celia: Celia beams at her mom. “Perfect. I’ll start getting plans together.”

GM: “Great!” her mom smiles back. She lets Celia know the dates when school ends and resumes at McGehee. The latter is somewhat earlier for teachers.

Celia: Worst case scenario her mom comes back before her. But it should be a fun summer if things work out.

She’s looking forward to a vacation from New Orleans.


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Story Thirteen, Louis III

“The NOPD’s dirty. Yeah, and the Mississppi’s muddy.”
Vinny Cardona


Saturday morning, 12 December 2015

GM: Vinny and Lex say brief prayers of their own as the vampire burns. Vinny gives Lou a lift to the Greyhound terminal in Laplace, where the PI has another errand to undertake. The trio make a brief stop in Kenner, though, so Lex can use a bathroom. It’s while she’s gone that the younger detective turns to Lou and says,

“So, there was something I wanted your advice on.”

“About the paintings.”

“You remember those?”

Louis: The old man does. Then again, the old man remembers lots of things. Like 66,702: Kenner’s population as of the last census. 66,702 pairs of eyes and ears. Inadvertent eavesdroppers. Potential spies. And the census count just scratches the surface. Beyond the uncounted, there are also the uncountable. Birds. Bugs. Both kinds of bugs, actually. Thinking about it can drive a man to drink, or make him drive right off the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway. Hard to say which would be worse, especially as the old man’s done both.

But not thinking about it… well, that just gets you dead. And the old man’s not ready to get there yet. Almost, but not yet.

So he thinks about it, and the worm of paranoia writhes. It gnaws into his recent joy, eating away its corners and bruising what otherwise might be a simple conversation between friends. But the Big Easy doesn’t do simple, and it rarely does easy, either.

Just like when Lou went looking into Micky Zyers for Vinny, back before a blonde-haired devil walked into his office and lit his life on fire. To be fair, his life was already on fire; the dame just brought gasoline.

Regardless, the old man had looked into Zyers’ whereabouts after his explosive showdown with René and subsequent retreat into hiding. And as with so many of his investigations, the old man did not like what he found. Mickey was nowhere to be found because he had already been found—and by no less than the NOSTF.

One didn’t have to pass the NOPD’s detective exam to see why Bobby’s off-the-books gang of vampire-hunting, but vampire-controlled, vigilantes would be interested in Mickey and the nicked Masquerade-threatening paintings.

Nor did it surprise Lou when he discovered the NOSTF were ‘storing’ Mickey in the heart of their turf: the Vieux Carré.

Breaking into their cop-guarded stronghold to ‘rescue’ the grade-A sleezeball wasn’t Lou’s idea of laying low, especially not in the wake of Rampart’s blowback. He was too hot, both with the fuzz and the leeches who held the NOPD’s if not also the NOSTF’s leashes.

Explaining all of that to the Vigil-rejecting detective had proved equally problematic, and it’s unlikely to be any easier now. Still, Lou forces himself to tear his worm-gnawed attention away from every potential eavesdropper to face his friend. Once more, he wishes he had a cigarette. Once more, he pushes past his personal wishes.

“Yeah, I remember them. I dig some digging there too, but the dirt I found wasn’t good, Vinny.”

GM: “Oh, you did?” the one-time bantamweight asks, raising his eyebrows.

“Well, I’ve done some too. The dirt I’ve found has been… mushy.”

“So wanted to get a second opinion.”

“Some other cops got to Zyers before I could.”

“But he’s not at OPP.”

“Hasn’t actually been booked for anything, as far as I can tell.”

“Which seems funny, because the slimeball’s done a hundred things someone could bust him for if they wanted.”

Louis: Lou nods.

GM: “I don’t know if you already know, Lou, but there are cops who see everything that’s wrong, everything that’s dirty, about the department, and they say… no.”

“I mean, hell.”

“I’m on the take.”

“Everyone’s on the fucking take.”

Louis: Lou knows. Even now, retired and in hiding from his former colleagues, he knows. Better than most of those same cops.

GM: “There’s talk, you know, about Drouillard stepping down. After that shit show with the shooting. Running for mayor.”

“Delron replacing him.”

“And fucking Cash Money, the new district commander!”

Vinny shakes his head.

Louis: Lou can’t help but raise a brow at that, jaded and calloused as he is. That’s news to him, and it’s bad news. It doesn’t get much dirtier than Delron and Cash Money, and the latter is dirty as they can come without a lick of blood. Sure, it doesn’t take poison to make a dirty rat stink, but a promotion for either is likely to put them on Savoy or his childe’s tab. Lou doesn’t like thinking about how bad those dirty rats would smell with poison…

The old man doesn’t so shake his head so much as he shivers.

GM: “He already leap-frogged up to LT, I guess what’s skipping captain too if your uncle runs the department?”

“I hear one story, though, that he doesn’t want the job as commander.”

“Because he’d have to wear a uniform.”

Vinny shakes his head again.

“Just fucking hell, Lou.”

“And Gettis going off the deep end.”

“What the fuck is this department coming to, sometimes.”

Louis: Lou’s pretty sure the slimeball would find a way to slip that requirement, but the old man doesn’t say that out. No point in pouring salt into already sore wounds.

But he does need to say something. At least once Vinny is done explaining. Which the cop isn’t.

GM: “So, anyway.”

“The guys who are saying enough is enough. Things have gone too far.”

“They’ve asked me if I want to help out. To help cut out the cancer, too. They say I can get my hands on Zyers, if I do.”

“They were cagey when I asked about how.”

“But I know he’s not been arrested. And he’s nowhere on the streets. I’ve talked to every CI, every huckster, every grifter, crack fiend, hooker, slimeball, that I can think of, who he might have associated with. Zyers is off the streets. Has been for a while now.”

“The guys I talked to make me thing he’s been held by them somewhere.”

“But he hasn’t been arrested. This seems dirty, too.”

“But isn’t everything?”

“What the fuck is an arrest even worth these days. My dad got arrested, and you can debate whether that was right or wrong, but he had a pretty posh stay in OPP. Got deli sandwiches delivered for his meals and everything.”

“And you can debate whether that’s right or wrong, but if you think about it, it doesn’t square with someone getting arrested. Defeats the point, doesn’t it, for jail to be a hotel stay?”

“On the other hand, Dad tells me he saw several guys stab each other to death outside his cell, so you have that too. And even that is pretty light next to what a shit show that place was during Katrina.”

Vinny shakes his head again.

“I know this isn’t news to either of us.”

“The NOPD’s dirty. Yeah, and the Mississppi’s muddy.”

“But I’d be pissed if I looked out one day and it was solid mud.”

“And I want Zyers. I want to get to the bottom of these paintings. They won’t get out of my head.”

“So… what do you think, Lou?”

Louis: The old man listens to Vinny’s racing freight train of thought, no less saddened despite foreseeing its ugly terminus. But maybe he can jump on and try to steer it away from the yawning canyon. Or maybe he’ll be dragged down into the abyss.

The old man pauses as if hoping for some inspired words to fill his lips. But the only immediate sound is his growling stomach.

Mierda.

He gazes eastward, towards the slow-rising sun as it bathes the Gulf in rosy gold.

“There is no trap so deadly as the one you set for yourself.”

He sighs, wishing he could taste nicotine and gin on his exhaling lips.

Turning back to Vinny, he says, “If I’d had a son, I’d have hoped he became half the man you are.”

GM: Lou doesn’t think he’s ever seen Vinny look… humbled? It’s an odd expression on the bantamweight, and he gives a low laugh as if to mask it.

“For, what, being on the take and having a hard-on for some weird paintings?”

Louis: Lou’s smile is more gentle than rueful as he briefly places a paternalistic hand atop Vinny’s.

“I’m not calling for the canonization of St. Vincenzo.”

“But hearing you talk about the city, our city… she’s like our mother. She’s old now. More than a little bitter, broken, and tired too. But you sometimes get glimpses that remind you of when she was young and beautiful. Full of life and vitality. A freshness that isn’t innocence, but can feel like it to a kid. She’s never been innocent, no mother is, really, save the Virgin Mary perhaps.”

“But it doesn’t matter that mom’s no Madonna. That she’s taken on some weight here and there. Scars. Wrinkles. Varicose veins running down arthritis-swollen legs. Bags under her eyes from burning the candle at both ends. Sure, sometimes she comes home sloshed, and there was that time or two or twenty when she cuffed you for sassing her or for forgetting to take out the trash.”

“She’s still your mom, and you love her. Because if you don’t, who will? You don’t have an old man looking out for her. He’s never been in the picture. She’s raised you all herself, all her own, trying to do her best.”

“And sometimes, her best just blows your breath away. Like the time she baked that sky-high birthday cake after you thought she had forgotten all about you. Or when she took you to the beach, let you collect a bucket full of shells, and didn’t complain a bit when you dragged all that sand into her carpet. Or that summer night, when the music wafted through the window, and she danced. Danced like she was the star at the Dewdrop, her laughter like warm rain. Or the time she held you after your first bad breakup. She let you cry. And then later, when you’d become a man, and came home hurting and broken after one too many ugly cases, she still held you like her little boy. And because you couldn’t or wouldn’t cry, she cried for you.”

“You love her, Vinny. You’re not blind to the mud, the ugly. You see it, you see her. All of her. And you still love her, still want to save her.”

“How could I not love that?”

“How could any man not want that in their son?”

“Or brother.”

“She’s my mother too, after all.”

GM: Vinny takes in Lou’s words slowly. Silently. Lets them wash over him like the rising dawn. Cold around the edges, but filled with an undeniable light and warmth.

“…you make me want to give my mom a call, Lou.”

“That was… something.”

“I think you coulda been a writer, if you’d wanted.”

“That was really something.”

He clears his throat. “I’m not good with words, not like that. So I’ll just say that was, that was really something.”

He rubs the back of his head. “I guess you’re right, though.”

“I do love her.”

Louis: Lou’s smile is more pained, but no less gentle as he responds, “I’ve just had longer to think about how to describe the tune that’s playing in both our hearts and heads.”

GM: “She’s been shitty, a few times, but like you say.”

“Only get one mom.”

“And she’s been good more times than not.”

Louis: The old man nods.

“And while mom’s always had a soft spot for writers and artists, she doesn’t really need more of them. She’s got enough sons and daughters doing that. Some making it big, some starving.”

“No, what she needs, always has, are kids willing to take out the trash. Because there’s a lot of it. Too much of it. She needs those who do what the badge claims. What every cop swears. To protect and serve.”

“And she needs protection, Vinny. Not just from the likes of Ricky and Delron or the pukes they’re supposed to be busting. Sure, they kick her, hit her, and shake her down for a whole lot more than milk money. But her blackest bruises don’t come from them. Her worst abusers have always been the same culprits.”

Lou dimes those culprits not with words, but with actions as he reaches into his trench and produces the stake. He offers that holy water-annointed spike like a reverse donation plate, a gesture asking Vinny to take rather than give. But it’s ultimately the same. Consecration. Offering. Sacrifice.

GM: Vinny nods at Lou’s first words. The call to protect and serve. The one they both answered.

The one not so different from the Vigil.

The younger detective gives a soft intake of breath at the offered stake and all it represents.

It’s not his first time receiving such an offering.

It’s not his first time seeing Lou torch a vampire.

He seems to briefly fumble for words. He looks between Lou’s face, the stake, and back at Lou.

“But. Zyers. The paintings…?”

Louis: Lou’s face is calm, like the eye of a hurricane.

“It’s all the same Vinny. I can explain more, but it’s all the same. Same mud. Just a difference of how far downstream you stand.”

GM: Vinny blinks.

Then he seems to process.

“Zyers. Is he… is he one of those…?”

Louis: “It’s worse, Vinny.”

GM: The other detective’s face sets.

“How?”

“Those paintings, Lou.”

“I fucking want them.”

“The artist, whoever’s behind them.”

Louis: His one hand keeps offering the stake.

“I know you do, and I’ll help in whatever way I can, no matter what you choose. But Vinny, you have to decide this first. Because it’s not about what we want.”

“It’s about what she needs.”

GM: Vinny looks back at the stake.

He looks at it for a while.

He doesn’t actually sweat, but Lou can see the signs. The way his breath gets shallower. How much more he blinks. The stiff, wooden look to his face.

Perhaps he’s re-thinking Lou’s last words.

She needs protection, Vinny.

Her worst abusers have always been the same culprits.

It’s all the same. Same mud.

Vinny looks at the stake some more.

Finally, slowly.

He reaches out a hand.

Grasps it around the handle.

And takes it.

Louis: Lou smiles. It even reaches his bourbon eyes. But it’s sad all the same. Proud. Grateful.

But sad all the same.

He looks like he might embrace Vinny, but the angles of the car are all wrong. So are the angles of the world.

The old man settles for a paternalistic squeeze of Vinny’s shoulder.

“I can’t say whether you made the best choice, kid.”

“But I know you made the right one.”

His smile remains. As does his sadness.

Particularly as his now-free hand reaches into his trench’s inner breast pocket and produces an old crinkled cigarette case. He flicks it open with his thumb, revealing one last cigarette. Untouched. Well, not untouched. It’s clear it’s been touched a lot. But unspent.

But the old man bypasses that coffin nail and uses his prosthetic hook to peel back the case’s lining, revealing a small, thin metal sheet. He stares at it for a moment as if regarding a ghost. Or perhaps he’s the ghost regarding it.

That’s when his smile finally breaks into a sigh. His next words are quiet like suppressor-shot bullets:

“Gettis.”

“He’s not.”

“Not dead.

“Not Gettis.”

“Not really.”

“Not anymore than I’m Louis Fontaine.”

He passes the object to Vinny, allowing the cop to look at it in the light. Light which reveals it as a century-plus old tintype. An antique photo of two men. Two cops. Arm in arm. Sharing twin smiles so fierce they dare no cloud cross their sunny day.

The details are a bit blurred by the tintype’s alchemy and age. The uniforms are well beyond outdated. So are the mustaches. So are the men.

Still, it doesn’t take a detective to identify the two men.

GM: “They gunned him down, Lou. Jeremy May gunned him down. A good cop gunned him down and got drummed off the force for…” Vinny starts, then tails off.

It doesn’t take a detective.

Anyone could tell they are the same men.

But they look different, too.

Maybe it’s some missed doses. Missed fixes. But they do look younger. Softer lines. Fewer lines. Kinder eyes. Fewer bags under those eyes. Fuller hair.

But some of it might not be aging. Some of it might just be hard living. Hard living from another century-plus carrying the Vigil’s torch. Some hunters burn out. Most hunters do burn out, eventually. But most get singed, too, before they do. Singed from carrying the fire so close for so long. It burns and blackens them. Ages them before their time.

Ages them even when they don’t age.

But not so much that one needs to be a detective to see past that aging.

One would think the photo shows two veteran cops early or mid-way through their respective careers. It’d be a perfectly believable photo.

If it looked taken twenty rather than 120+ years ago.

Vinny looks between Lou, the photo, and then Lou again. He frowns in consternation.

Then he holds up the photo to the light. Squints at it. Turns it over. Feels it between his fingers.

“This thing… doesn’t feel fake,” he says slowly.

He looks at Lou, brow furrowed.

“How? How is this is not fake?”

Louis: The old man closes his eyes, and rests his weary head against the seat.

“Because, kid, some truths are uglier than lies.”

He sighs.

“But that still doesn’t mean we shouldn’t tell them. So I’ll explain. I said I would.”

He opens his eyes, as if reflexively spotting Alejandra’s approach from the gas stop’s restroom.

“Next stop, after we drop off Lex. She shouldn’t have to bare the burden of those truths. Not here, not now, at least.”

He takes back the tintype and gently places it back in the cigarette pack and trench pocket.

GM: Lex looks like she’s already finished relieving herself, as she’s in the gas station’s adjacent convenience store. Lou sees her just as she exits with a water bottle, a bag of chips, another pack of cigarettes, and an annoyed look.

Empleado de gilipollas,” she mutters as she gets in, closing the door with more force than strictly necessary, then looks at Vinny. “Asshole clerk.”

“You want, I could sock him out for you,” the detective half-jokes.

“No. Wasn’t all his fault. They didn’t have the brand I like.”

“No Circinus.”

Louis: That confession both comforts and alarms the barely sober Ret. Det.

He can’t help but crank his eyes back to Lex’s pack.

Half of him prays it’s not another menthol. Half of him prays it is.

GM: She holds up a plainer-looking pack with a bigger warning label showing a hideous set of yellowed teeth with blackened gums.

WARNING: CIGARETTES CAUSE MOUTH DISEASE, reads the label.

It’s menthol.

“Wouldn’t have even bought this shit, but literally smoking vampiros always makes me smoke more,” she remarks sourly.

‘More’ is saying quite a lot for the always-smoking resident doctor.

Louis: Menthol, Lou silently notes. Thank the bloody archangels.

“Hey, Alejandra,” Lou says out loud. “Not to be a gilipollas myself, but could we leave that pack sealed till out next stop? Lottie told me she doesn’t like so much smoke in her ‘hair’.”

He points his prosthetic hook at the soft-top.

Puto dolor to get out, right Lottie?”

GM: The car rumbles beneath him.

Lex doesn’t look thrilled, but accedes with an, “All right, sure.”

“Cutting back doesn’t hurt anyway,” says Vinny.

“Mm,” says Lex.

Louis: Lou doesn’t reply. He knows the score. To Lex, you hurt either way. It’s just a matter of picking your pain.

Still, the old man doesn’t begrudge the rare break from the menthol fumes, nor the even rarer moment of accord between the doctor and green-eyed car.

Miracles never cease.


Saturday morning, 12 December 2015

GM: Waffle House is a Louisiana staple. The food might not be good for you, but it sure is good, and it’s just the thing after smoking a vampire during the still-early dawn. Vinny, Lou, and Lex get a booth to themselves and order like it’s the Last Supper, if one ate supper for breakfast fast food. The trademarked All-Star Special consists of bacon slices, eggs over easy, waffle with butter and syrup, toast, and another item Lex isn’t initially sure of from the menu. Vinny tells her it’s hash browns. Lex thought it was sausage. Vinny says they can order sausage too. Lex says they should order the hash brown bowls too. True to their name, they’re hash browns, bacon bits, scrambled eggs, and cheese all stirred in a bowl. Vinny says they shouldn’t leave out waffles. The “starter” ones they got “don’t count.” They order chocolate chip waffles. Pecan waffles, for Lou. Extra syrup. Syrup for the waffles. Syrup for eggs and sausages, which they order more of separately, for the syrup. Should they order anything else, too?

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No one orders for themselves. Everyone shares. Everyone eats some of whatever they feel like eating. Lex laughs about how bad this is for them. Vinny laughs too and says between a bite of biscuit,

“We all die anyway, don’t we? Let’s enjoy this for what it is.”

“For what it is,” repeats Lex, raising her coffee in toast.

Vinny raises his too. “For what it is.”

Louis: “For what is,” the old man says in similar salute, smile, and damn it if he can’t help it, a tear.


Saturday morning, 12 December 2015

GM: One substantial breakfast later, Lou and his younger two friends are stuffed and content. Vinny insists on footing the bill. Lex insists on splitting it. They eventually do. Neither of the two asks Lou to pay. Lex suggests they go on a walk to work off some of that breakfast. Vinny seems moderately amenable to the idea. He clearly wants to finish his earlier conversation with Lou.

He’s saved, though, when Lex checks the time, swears in Spanish, and says she needs to get in to work. Vinny says he’s not on shift today and has “some business” in Kenner, which Lou supposes is technically true.

Vinny offers to give her a lift back to Tulane Medical all the same, if Lou is amenable to another car ride before he catches his Greyhound.

Louis: “You kids go ahead,” the old man responds, massaging his truthfully sore hip but milking it a bit more than strictly necessary. “Long rides, even in a ride as fine as Miss Beauregard aggravate my sciatica.”

He gives Vinny a look. “Don’t worry about me. Might take a walk, catch a Little League game over in Larayo Park, or take a nap on the golf course.”

He winks at Alejandra as if to say he’s joking. Probably.

“But I’ll be here when you get back. I owe you some old cop stories and a whole lot more after that feast.”

The old man doesn’t take no for an answer, just like he doesn’t let them leave before giving Alejandra a fierce goodbye hug that attempts to convey the words he cannot.

Choking back tears, he gives Lottie B. a hushed admonishment to be nice…“the lady docto…”For Vinny’s sake."

The old man then departs, leaving the might-be lovers with the echoes of an old 18th century song by Palomino, Canción Picaresca.

“Mas como ya es hoy tarde,
lo haré mañana.”

(“But since it is already late today, I will do it tomorrow.”)

The old man sings it badly. But he sings it true all the same.

GM: Lex laughs. “At this hour you might get away with it. Besides. Who even plays golf anymore, anyway?”

“The superintendent does,” says Vinny. “Never had any patience for myself.”

“Me neither,” Lex concurs.

Vinny rubs his very full belly. “One of us might as well exercise this off, anyway. Catch you back around, Lou.”

Alejandra returns the hug just as fiercely.

“Take this the right way, Lou. You smell better. Look better. Everything you’ve been doing these past few months… keep it up, okay?”

Lottie B’s rumbled answer feels equivalent to Lex’s earlier “mm.”

Lou has around 40 minutes to exercise his joints. He can walk a short distance to reach a a more scenic route at Lafreniere Park, where he can walk or jog along the two-mile track to watch white ibises foraging for food in the bayou. The children’s playground sits vacant at this hour in the morning, but the Christmas lights are up and shining dimly against the mid-dawn sun. The place might be something to see at night.

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Louis: Sadly, the old man has another destination tonight. Far less wholesome or idyllic, but still a place he needs to see. In the meantime, thought, he soaks up the waking rays of the December sun. He works outs his cramped joints en route to Lafreniere Park, and then winds down to watch the ibises in the bayou. The bucolic sight carries his mind back to older times. Not necessarily better, or even simpler. Just older.

GM: The sun rises steadily overhead. It’s a moderate 50-something out; the coldest Louisiana often gets, before the daytime 70 high, but fortunately there’s no rain amidst the thick morning fog. Vinny meets Lou after he’s done several laps around the park. The younger detective looks at the long-beaked avians patiently stalking the water for fish.

“Weirdly graceful, aren’t they, with those slow walks?”

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Louis: The old man doesn’t initially turn, just nods.

“Yes, I suppose you could say that about the doctor’s legs, but I don’t think she’d take kindly to the ‘weirdly’ part.”

A slow smile cracks his lips, as he ruefully glances at the Black Hand-descended cop. “Oh, you were talking about the bec croche?”

GM: “There’s nothing weird about her legs, Lou,” Vinny smiles faintly back.

Louis: “Make sure you tell her that.”

A beat.

“Just not in Lottie’s earshot.”

GM: “’There’s nothing weird about your legs,’” Vinny repeats.

“Words to make any girl blush.”

Louis: The old man’s smile cracks into a guffaw. “Well, hell if I know what pickup lines get the juices flowing with your generation. About a year ago, I had this client try to repay me by setting up a… Tumblr, no Tinder account. Said she felt bad for me. That I was too lonely. Too sad. And that was coming from a ghost. She said something about life or love giving me ‘too many swipes left’. Not sure what the hell that means. Not sure I want to know.”

He chuckles again.

“But even an out of touch geezer like me can see you two have got it. The spark, chemistry, or whatever you kids call it now.”

GM: It’s Vinny’s turn to guffaw, and hard, as Lou brings up Tinder.

“Swipe left. It means, not interested. Show another possible match.”

“Thoughtful client, though.”

“Dead or not.”

Louis: Lou shrugs. But he waits, eyeing the younger cop to make it clear he noticed how Vinny is continuing to dodge the real subject at hand.

Then again, he might be dodging or delaying his own share of awkward topics.

GM: The mirth on Vinny’s face fades.

“Maybe. I know her family wouldn’t approve. I know Lottie wouldn’t approve.”

“And both of them can be fairly violent in expressing that.”

Louis: “Hmm, not sure whose’s wrath would be worse. Mexican Cartel or jealous teenager.”

GM: Vinny snorts a laugh.

“Yeah.”

“This was a good day for her, you know.”

“Only bled over the seat after Lex left.”

Louis: Lou nods. This time a bit more slowly like it might be an important crack in a long-cold case, put he has to mentally poke at it a bit to be sure.

“That’s… that’s really good to hear.”

At those words, he finally shifts to fully face his friend.

“Speaking of which…”

And that’s when he relates the conversation he just had with the Chevelle under Otis’ lodge carport. His offers. Her fears… but also hope. His hopes for her too, and fears. Ideas. When he finishes, he adds firmly but kindly:

“I think she’s ready. To at least try. Maybe more. And that’s more than she’s ever been. You did that, Vinny.”

“With kindness. Patience. Shared laughs, shared tears.”

“She was shit deep, just like you were in OPP. And you hauled her out, just like Ida did to you. I hope you see that, kid. I hope you believe it.”

“It’s up to her what she does with this second chance, but no matter what happens, what she chooses, it doesn’t change how you saved her and gave her that choice.”

GM: Vinny takes that in slowly.

“What she’s got, Lou.”

“It’s a… a half-life.”

“Isn’t something I’d want.”

“Who wants to be stuck to a car forever.”

“Not able to pig out at Waffle House, take a walk in the park, fuck a woman, hell, even take a dump.”

“Who’d want that.”

“Didn’t think there was much to do about it.”

“But if you think your friend can help… okay.”

“Guys rib me all the time for the pink coat anyway.”

Louis: Lou laughs. “I heard pink is the new red. Or maybe that’s just on Tinder.”

But behind the laughter are compassionate eyes.

Understanding.

GM: Vinny snorts another laugh.

“Isn’t in the NOPD.”

“But they do it less than they used to.”

“Joke’s gotten old.”

Louis: “I know a thing or two about that,” quips the old man. And just like that, he knows it’s time. No more dodging or delaying.

The laughter fades, and his face becomes serious, severe even. “You ready?”

GM: Vinny gives a grim nod.

An unsurprised nod.

They were going to circle back to this, sooner or later.

And he’s never let a ‘fake’ drop.

GM’s Note: This log is currently unfinished. Throwing it up because it may be a while before Sam’s player and I wrap it up in real life.

Previous, by Narrative: Story Thirteen, Celia XX
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Story Thirteen, Celia XX

“Yes, Roderick.”
Celia Flores


Saturday night, 19 March 2016, AM

Celia: There’s a cat on the side of the road near the border of the Mid-City. It’s a pretty cat. Gray fur, bright eyes, a cute little black nose. There’s no collar on the cat’s neck, but it looks well cared for; it clearly belongs to someone, and the bag sitting half-hidden in shrubbery beside it suggests that this person is nearby.

Only there’s no one around but the cat.

The cat waits for her boy, tail flicking beneath the pale moonlight, eyes on the road. She searches for his car.

GM: The cat doesn’t wait long.

The boy’s car arrives soon. The boy gets out.

“Hello, puss,” he smiles, getting onto his haunches to scratch her ears.

Celia: The cat purrs at her boy, rubbing her face against his palm and winding herself around his ankles. She shows him the bag, then rolls onto her back to expose her belly.

While the cat might not want the petting to end, the girl inside of her knows that she has things to discuss with the boy and they can’t spend all their time here on the side of the road. She can’t hide in this form tonight and avoid conversation. So it isn’t too long before she paws at the car, leaping inside once he opens the door and moves to his lap as soon as he starts the car so they can leave. She kneads his thighs with her paws, turns in a circle, and settles down with her limbs tucked beneath her for the drive to his place.

GM: Roderick smiles and rubs the cat’s belly for a while. He lets her inside and brings the bag with him.

Then he picks up an old-fashioned cat carrier with a caged door, opens it, and gently but forcefully pushes the feline inside. He closes the cage door after her.

“You didn’t do anything wrong,” he says as he starts the ignition. “This is better for the Masquerade.”

Celia: The cat doesn’t take kindly to being shoved inside the cage. It twists, trying to get around his hand, but he’s stronger and bigger than her feline form and he closes the door on her before she can escape. She yowls in distress, scratching at the box with her claws.

GM: “Bad,” the boy says firmly as they drive. “You will be corrected if you cannot stay good as a cat, Celia.”

Celia: Her answering meow is distraught. But she’s quiet after that.

GM: “Good cat,” says Roderick, his eyes remaining on the road.

Celia: She settles eventually, curling up on the floor of the crate with her head on her paws. There’s little else she can do given the situation.

GM: The cat waits for a while. Roderick eventually parks the car in the garage, takes the bag and the cat carrier, and gets out. He takes the stairs up to his apartment.

Luna doesn’t see the man from last night.

Celia: She wonders if he’s dead. Or if he just broke a bunch of things falling down the stairs.

She sniffs for blood.

GM: Roderick doesn’t say either way.

The cat smells none.

He takes her into his new apartment. It feels similar to the old one, but less personal. It’s clean and well-maintained, and decorated with the same modern and relatively minimalist aesthetic. Grays, whites, and beiges predominate. Much of the wall space used for art seems to have gone to bookshelves instead. The baseball pennant for the New Orleans Pelicans is gone, though. So is the John F. Kennedy election poster. The three family photos of the Garrisons are gone as well. His grandmother’s mirror has already been shattered. The framed degrees from Tulane University and Tulane Law are still present, though. There’s also two new additions: one is a statue of a tall and proud-looking woman in an imperious pose, fist raised high above her head. There’s an inscription at the base in what looks like Greek, which Celia cannot read. There’s also a mosaic of Alexander the Great on his horse.

Roderick sets down the bag, then puts down the cat carrier next to it. He opens the barred metal door for the cat inside to leave.

Celia: Luna darts out of the cage, streaking past Roderick to dive beneath the couch, crawling across the carpet on her belly to fit into the snug space.

GM: She hears a frown in Roderick’s voice.

“Enough of that, Celia. You are not a cat.”

Celia: She is a cat. Her answering meow is plaintive.

GM: The couch is suddenly gone. Roderick lifts it over his head in one hand. There’s a stern look on his face as he grabs for the cat.

Celia: Oh. The cat starts to flatten herself against the ground, then catches sight of his face and thinks better of it. She doesn’t move when he reaches for her.

GM: He picks her up by the scruff of her neck, lowers the couch enough that it doesn’t make too much impact when he drops it, then stuffs the cat back inside the carrier.

The barred metal door locks closed again with another click.

Celia: She could twist. Hiss. Scratch his arm.

But she doesn’t. She hangs limply from his hand, goes quietly into the carrier, and doesn’t make a peep once she’s inside.

GM: He looks at her for several moments.

“You will remain in the carrier until you show me you are in control of yourself.”

“Shake your head if you are not a cat. Cats do not shake their heads.”

Celia: The cat meows at him. But she shakes her head.

GM: “No meows,” he says.

“Shake your head twice if you are not a cat.”

Celia: What sort of cat doesn’t meow?

The cat shakes her head. She pauses. Then shakes it again.

GM: “Good,” says Roderick.

“I am going to let you out. You will immediately turn back into a human. Nod your head if you understand.”

Celia: The cat nods her head.

GM: Roderick opens the cage door.

Celia: There was a cat once. Now there’s just a girl, sitting on the floor where the cat had been while she looks up at her boyfriend with large eyes. She’s dressed down from Elysium and her meetings, in yoga pants and an off-the-shoulder sweater that exposes her neck and collarbone on one side, hair pulled back off her face in a low tie that twists in and around itself to lend some elegance to the typical “pony” look.

She looks younger and more vulnerable than her years suggest. There’s no trace of Jade in her face despite the mask she wears. No trace of the slutty Toreador. No trace of Savoy’s lapcat or Veronica’s childe, the killer or the chameleon.

There’s no trace of her sire when she looks up at Roderick, wringing her hands in front of her.

She looks like his college girlfriend again. Casual. Uncertain. Timid.

“Y-you pu… you put me in a—a cage.”

GM: “It’s better for the Masquerade,” Roderick says simply.

Calmly.

Rationally.

She’s making such a big deal about this.

He hangs up his coat, then sits down on the couch. He’s also dressed down from Elysium, albeit slightly. Button-up navy shirt. Black slacks. Oxfords.

“You seemed fairly intent on selling me that you belonged in a cage.”

Celia: “I just—I just wanted you to p-pet me.”

She doesn’t point out how many people put their animals inside their cars without cages or boxes or leashes.

GM: “I did pet you. Multiple times. Do you not recall that, Celia?” he asks, seated above her on the couch.

Celia: “What if there was an accident? What if there was a fire? What if you got jumped?”

How could he do that to her? She doesn’t ask. Her eyes find the floor. Her shoulders lift, as if to protect herself from his anger and disappointment.

Where’s the boy who wants a cat? Where’s the boy who will cuddle and pet her all night because it’s cute and adorable?

Dead.

Dead and gone.

“R-Roderick?” She can’t shake the stammer. She breathes. The hesitance is there in her eyes when she lifts them from the ground to find his face, wide and imploring.

“I… I think I…” She trails off, eyes dropping to the ground again. She’s not going to cry. She’s not going to cry. She’s not going to cry. She’s not afraid, she tells herself. He could have hurt her earlier and he didn’t. He’s not going to hurt her. He’s not going to kill her. He loves her. He’ll help her. It’s better this way. He’s smarter. Stronger. Faster. She’s lost without him, floundering. He’ll put her back on the proper path. It’s for her. For them.

She takes another breath. They should do this first. Before anything else.

“I n-need… I need to be corrected,” she finishes in a whisper.

GM: Roderick leans down from his seat to touch Celia, who’s still sitting below him on the ground, and places a hand on her shoulder.

“For questioning my judgment over the cage, Celia, or for something else?” he asks, understandingly.

Celia: She can’t help but lean into his touch. She closes her eyes. She breathes again, but it does nothing for her.

“B…both?” The uncertainty makes it a question. Is he going to correct her about the cage? She’d stopped. She had.

GM: “Why both?” he asks, still patiently.

Celia: “I… I shouldn’t question you? It’s better. Better for the Masquerade. I should—I shouldn’t play. I’m not a cat. I’m a per… I’m a person. You told me to stop but I didn’t. I wanted to play. It was…. it was wrong. You said stop.”

GM: “Correct,” Roderick answers. “We did play, when I first arrived to pick you up. We enjoyed that. But you got too ‘into character.’ I’ve heard it’s something that Gangrel can do while shapeshifted. They can lose their rationality and higher faculties. They can truly become animals.”

“I don’t need to say that neither of us wants you to ‘actually become’ an animal.”

Celia: Celia nods her head.

“I’m sorry. I wasn’t… I wasn’t lost. I know who I am. I’m Celia. I just… I wanted… cuddling. More of it.”

She tries not to think about the prop she’d bought for them sitting at the top of her bag.

GM: “Then you need to ask for that as a person, or you need to find a way to intelligently communicate your desires while shapeshifted,” Roderick explains. “You are not actually a cat, Celia. You can enjoy ‘play’ as a cat. But that is as far as it should go.”

Celia: “You seemed happier last time when we played,” Celia says quietly. “I just… wanted you to be happier.”

GM: “Do you think it makes me happy to discipline a misbehaving cat?”

Celia: “No.”

GM: “Do you think it makes me happy to explain to my carmilla that she is not actually a cat?”

Celia: “N-no.”

“I’m sorry,” she says again. “I misjudged. I won’t do it again.”

“I’ll go in the cage when I need to. I won’t… meow.”

GM: “Good,” says Roderick.

He rubs her shoulder.

“We can play when you’re a cat. But when I make clear that playtime is over, it’s over. Understood?”

Celia: “Yes.” There’s a pause, like she’s debating saying “sir.”

“Understood.”

GM: “Good,” he repeats.

He rubs her shoulder again.

It’s good she understands.

“I don’t like yoga pants, Celia,” he then says. “Please change into something else. You can keep the top if you’d still like to.”

Celia: “Oh. I didn’t know. I’m… I’m sorry, Roderick, I didn’t know. I’ll change.”

She’s on her feet quickly, moving towards her bag to find something else. She had brought everything she’d need for the evening, for the day, for tomorrow as well. The prop she’d ordered for the pair of them is moved aside as she shifts through her bag, searching for something more suitable.

“Are… are pajamas okay?”

GM: Roderick gets out his phone and scrolls through it while she looks through her things.

“Pajamas are okay,” he answers.

“You also don’t need to be sorry for this,” he smiles. “I hadn’t told you I don’t like them. But no more yoga pants around me in the future. Okay?”

Celia: Has he always disliked them?

“Do… do you have a preference on what I wear around you? More formal?”

GM: “No, I generally like your clothing styles,” he answers. “If something else comes up that I don’t like, I’ll let you know. You won’t be corrected for it.”

Celia: “Yes, Roderick. Thank you.”

She doesn’t know if he wants her to change in front of him. She excuses herself from the room to do so, moving back in only once she has donned her nightie: a sheer teddy with a bow off to one side and matching panties.

Pic.jpg
She hesitates on the threshold of the room, as if to ask him if this is okay.

GM: Roderick smiles at her and nods.

“You look lovely, Celia.”

Celia: She’s not immune to compliments. Her cheeks turn pink. She smiles shyly, dipping her head, and puts the offending clothing back into her bag. A small pink box is displaced when she does; she reaches for it to tuck it back away.

GM: Roderick watches her do so.

“Do your employees at Flawless still wear yoga pants?”

“And tennis shoes?”

Celia: “Y… yes?”

“They’re easy to move in.”

“And they’re on their feet all day.”

GM: “You can draw up a uniform proposal and run it past me. I’m fine if they wear comfortable footwear, but I don’t like tennis shoes, either.”

Celia: She wants to argue with him. It’s her business.

But she nods instead.

“Are… are you going to be coming by the spa, Roderick? It’s usually only me at night.”

GM: “Good,” he says. “Uniforms will help your employees look more professional. That will help draw important clients to your business.”

“And I’d had the thought to do so more frequently, now that I’m going to be spending more time in the Quarter. Do you like that thought?”

Celia: “For services?”

GM: “For services, to simply spend time together, and to assess how your business can be used to advance our interests.”

Celia: “Oh.” Someone breathing down her neck. Telling her how to run things.

Making the tough decisions so she doesn’t need to.

“Yes.”

GM: “I’ll come by when your employees are no longer wearing tennis shoes and yoga pants.”

Celia: “Yes, Roderick.”

Yes, sire.

Yes, Daddy.

GM: “Good,” Roderick says. “Sit down, Celia. You’d said there was something I needed to correct you for?”

Celia: Celia takes a seat beside him. Half of her had hoped he’d forgotten. The rest of her knows he’s too smart for that.

She nods.

GM: He turns to fully face her.

“Tell me about it.”

Celia: At least he hadn’t put her on the floor, right? She tries to take that as a good sign. He loves her. He respects her. He wants to listen to her.

But he’s in charge.

“I… I did a… I p-put our rel-relationship at—at risk. I be… I be…” She cuts off. She can’t breathe. She doesn’t need to breathe but she still can’t; the air traps itself like a bubble in her throat. It burns. She blinks back the red, unable to stand his disappointment.

Not scared. She’s not scared. He’s not going to hurt her. He’s only going to correct her.

“I be-betrayed y-you. Us. I betrayed us.”

She can’t look at him. She can’t. One night in and she’d already messed up.

Stupid, he says inside her head.

She nods. She is. She’s stupid. He’s smart. He’ll make it better. He’ll fix it.

Pathetic, someone sneers.

Crafty, a lick with green eyes says.

He loves her, the blonde sighs.

“Stop it,” she whispers.

GM: She hears the frown in Roderick’s voice.

“How did you betray us, Celia?” he asks.

Calmly.

Patiently.

Rationally.

He’ll know what to do.

All she needs to do is tell him.

Celia: “I… I… I…”

She looks up. She meets his eyes. She looks away again. Swallows.

“I me—I met with… with a contact. I have… I have a lot of contacts,” she explains in a whisper.

He’s going to hurt her.

He’s going to kill her.

He’s going to leave her.

“He’s not,” she whispers. She puts her hands over her ears, as if that will make it stop. “He’s not. He’s not. Stop it! Stop. Please stop.”

GM: Celia can’t see his face. But she hears a deeper frown in her lover’s voice.

“Who are you talking to, Celia?” he asks.

Celia: Them.

Leilani. Jade. Someone Else.

Crazy, one of them giggles.

They might not understand, the masked man says.

Slowly, Celia uncovers her ears. He won’t understand. Not yet. It’s too much for right now. She needs to be corrected first.

“No… no one. Sorry. No one.” Everyone. She changes the subject as delicately as she can. “I have… I have a lot of—of contacts. Friends, some. They tell… they tell me things.”

“But that’s… that’s Jade. Pretty. Whore.”

“He touched me.”

“I let him. I let him touch me.”

GM: Roderick frowns.

Perhaps at both statements.

But he lets the first one drop for now.

“Who touched you, Celia?” he asks.

“I see,” he says after she tells him.

“I need to speak with him about this. You’re going to bring him someplace where I can do so.”

Celia: Celia bobs her head up and down.

“We talked about things,” she says. An offering, if he wants it.

GM: “Good,” says Roderick when she nods. He puts a hand down over hers.

“You can do that soon, and you can do that on your own?”

Celia: “I usually go to him,” she admits.

GM: “I see. Do you think you can’t?”

Celia: “I’ll make it work. I’ll do that. For you. For us. I’ll bring him.”

GM: “Good,” Roderick smiles, patting her hand again.

“Would you like to sit on my lap?”

Celia: She nods again.

GM: He pats it.

Celia: Celia clambers onto his lap. She shivers, as if expecting the worst, then settles against him.

GM: He wraps his arms around her and hugs her against him.

“You did good, Celia, telling me like this. You don’t need to be corrected when you tell the truth.”

“Telling the truth is good.”

“Telling the truth is virtuous.”

Celia: She can’t help the sob. The way she clings to him. The red that runs down her cheeks after she’d spent the past few hours fearing the worst. She presses herself against him, nodding her head as he talks to show she understands but crying in relief all the same.

GM: “Shhh. It’s okay, Celia. I’ve got you,” says Roderick, hugging her close.

“I’m proud of you for telling the truth.”

Celia: She apologizes anyway, stammering out a handful of _sorry_s and I didn’t mean tos.

“I w—I went for, for you,” she finally gets out. “Be-because you said you wanted to-to kill him.”

GM: “Yes, I still do,” answers Roderick. “So why did you go there?”

Celia: Celia tries to breathe. The tears slow as Roderick holds her close. She curls against him in her sheer teddy, legs drawn up almost to her chest.

“Information,” she finally says. “We talked about… about a few things. I thought if… I thought I could leverage our friendship if he were made a hound, and keep you updated.”

“And I found out… something else.”

GM: “What did you find out?” Roderick asks.

Celia: Celia leans in close to whisper in his ear.

GM: “Celia, you know less about these things than I do,” Roderick says frankly.

Celia: She looks as if he slapped her. Her face falls.

“Yes, Roderick,” she murmurs.

“I’m sorry.”

GM: He runs a hand along her cheek.

“You need to remember that,” he says softly. “When you get worked up over these things.”

“Who is the smart one?”

Celia: “I’m… I’m sorry,” she stammers again. She presses her cheek into his hand. “I’m sorry. You’re the smart one. You’ll tell me what to worry about. When to worry. I’m sorry.”

GM: He hugs her.

“It’s okay.”

“This is still new for you.”

Celia: Celia slowly nods her head.

GM: “You remembered where things stood when I reminded you. So that’s good.”

Celia: “I… I didn’t mean to overstep. I want… I wanted to tell you. To tell you ev—everything.”

GM: He rubs her back.

“I know you did. I’m glad you did. You should tell me everything. This was worth telling me.”

“You just got caught up and forgot who the smart one was.”

Celia: “Thank you. For… for reminding me.”

“For running the ship.”

“For handling it.”

“Thank you.”

GM: “You’re welcome. I will handle it. I’ll always take care of you.”

“As far as this…”

The pair discuss a few related things before Celia leads him back toward the first point she’d tried to make.

GM: “I told you to stop talking about this,” Roderick frowns.

Celia: Celia abruptly shuts her mouth.

GM: “I’ll let that slide for now, but showing me you can’t follow instructions tells me you need correction.”

Celia: “I’m… I’m sorry,” she whispers. “I’m trying. Please… please cor… correct me. If. If I need it. I don’t want to disappoint you.”

GM: “I know you don’t,” says Roderick. “Now, please clarify for me. You said Caroline threw your mother off a roof?”

Celia: “Punishment. Trespassing.”

GM: “Where was this?”

Celia: “My haven. When you came. And she was there.”

GM: “So Caroline came to the French Quarter, and threw your mother off your haven’s roof?”

Celia: She’s caught.

Trapped.

In her own lie.

Slowly, Celia shakes her head.

GM: “No?” Roderick asks. “What detail am I getting wrong, Celia?”

Celia: “I… I don’t…” Celia shakes her head.

GM: Roderick grabs Celia’s hair, makes a fist in it and yanks it back hard, splaying her throat.

“I don’t like where this conversation is going, Celia.”

Celia: Celia becomes absolutely, perfectly still.

GM: “Why don’t you tell me the full story of what happened to your mother at the roof.”

Celia: She blinks back red tears.

“Sh… she… the shuh… the… sheriff. The sheriff. Catch. Stupid. Catch her. Catch. Threw her. Threw her. He threw her. Catch. Said catch.”

GM: “Ah, the sheriff,” says Roderick, nodding thoughtfully.

“I suppose that makes more sense.”

“There was a lot about the ‘Caroline threw my mother off a roof’ story that didn’t make sense to me.”

He looks down at Celia and sneers.

“You’re so disgustingly dishonest, Celia.”

“You wouldn’t know the truth if it bent you over this couch and fucked you.”

Celia: That’s not how it’s supposed to go.

This isn’t how it goes.

She stays quiet. She’s already dug herself deep enough.

GM: Roderick abruptly dumps Celia off his lap and rises to his feet. He stares down at the prone woman on the floor with a cool expression.

“What do you have to say about what a liar you are?”

Celia: “I’m… I…” Celia blinks up at him. Then she lowers her gaze, dropping her eyes to the floor. She kneels, bending, and presses her palms against the ground with her head bowed, supplicating herself before him in a pose that is pure submission and exposes the back of her neck.

“I don’t want to lie anymore. I don’t want to lie. I don’t want to. Please. Please help me. Please make me better. Please correct me. I want to tell you. Tell you everything. I don’t want to lie.”

GM: “I am going to give you three choices now, Celia.”

“One, we can end our relationship here, and you can tell as many lies as you like.”

Celia: No.

He can’t.

Her face spasms in pain at the thought. She shakes her head frantically from side to side.

GM: “No? And yet you keep telling me lies, even though you know how much truth means to me. Is it unreasonable of me to think you value lying more than you value our relationship?”

Celia: “I don’t. I don’t. I swear. I don’t. There’s… just… there’s so much that… I’m afraid, Roderick. I’m afraid you won’t accept me. Won’t want me. Won’t love me.” She can’t hold back the tears. She tries. She knows he doesn’t like her like this so she tries. She wipes at her eyes as if that will hide it.

“I d-don’t wa-want to, to lie anymore.”

GM: “The second option,” Roderick continues impassively, without so much as a trace of sympathy in his voice, “is that you leave my haven and sleep by yourself tonight. You will write a testament for me. Of your lies. All of your lies. One of your ghouls will deliver it to me. I will call you when I have finished reading it. We will not see each other until then.”

Celia: Leave.

Leave and go where?

There’s more to say. More to tell him. More to discuss.

Celia doesn’t say anything. She waits for the final option.

GM: “The third option is that you turn into a cat, and I put you in the microwave for several minutes.”

“You may then spend the night with me.”

“You will still give me a full accounting of all of your lies.”

Celia: “Won’t… won’t that kill me?”

GM: “You are a vampire, Celia,” Roderick explains patiently.

“A microwave cannot kill you.”

“It will cause you considerable pain and injury, however.”

“If you don’t want to go through that discomfort, you can spend the night somewhere else.”

Celia: Humans explode in a microwave. She’d seen it once. In a movie.

“I… I want the… the microwave, please.”

She doesn’t want to leave him. He hates her. Thinks she’s stupid. And she still clings to him.

GM: “Okay, Celia,” says Roderick.

“Turn into a cat.”

Celia: Celia needs no further encouragement. She disappears, the cat in her place. The cat doesn’t try to cuddle the boy. She doesn’t flick her tail or wash her whiskers or purr. She’s just still. Waiting. Dreading.

GM: Roderick picks up the cat and carries her to the kitchen. It’s a clean- and modern-looking kitchen, though there’s no food out.

He sets the cat down on the countertop.

He opens the door to a black microwave.

Celia: The cat doesn’t need him to place her inside. She walks in on her own once he opens the door.

*GM:* The cat has a clear ceramic dish to sit down on. Roderick closes the door. The cat hears him pressing buttons.

Almost instantly, the cat’s vision blurs and she begins to feel dizzy. Like someone is shaking her eyeballs. The dish underneath the cat starts to spin like a perverse merry-go-round.

Almost instantly, it gets hot.

Very hot.

The cat can feel every cell in its body vibrating at grotesquely high frequency. All of the water in the cat’s body—all of the blood—starts to boil. Eyes, mouth, skin, the cat’s entire body feels like exploding as the animal is cooked alive from the inside. Around and around goes the microwave dish. The Beast screams in the cat’s ears.

Roderick’s arm moves over the microwave door, holding it firmly shut.

That’s the cat’s last sight before she sees pure red.

Celia: She’s dying.

He’s killing her.

She’s going to boil.

To burn.

The cat yowls in pain. She hisses. She claws at the sides of the microwave. She launches herself at the door, but her lover is outside holding it shut. There’s nowhere to run.

Around and around and around she goes.

The red haze descends. She escapes the pain. Escapes the heat. Escapes the stupid.

The Beast is furious. It comes out of the girl-turned-cat to find itself trapped in a box. It doesn’t like boxes. It doesn’t like heat. It doesn’t like pain.

And it doesn’t like the boy holding it in here. Keeping it here. Trapping it.

Like it’s not a deadly thing in its own right.

The Beast launches its body at the door. It scratches with its claws, howling and spitting while it cooks from the inside out. Its organs, if it had any, would fail. Its fat melts from its very bones, turning its muscles sluggish. It trips. Falters. Falls.

It’s burning.

Screaming.

Dying.

It tears at its own burning flesh, raking its claws down its body to rid itself of the fur that seeks to trap it. Muscle and skin peels away with every scrape. Anything to escape. Anything to get free.

Anything to

Stop

The

Burning.

GM: Then.

Just like that.

Beep-beep. Beep-beep.

The red haze clears. The pain ends. Absolute heat plunges into room temperature, or something that might feel like room temperature. The microwave door opens with a light chk. Smoke wafts out.

The door seems taller now. The cat is lying flat on her belly. She feels like she’s been cooked from the inside. She has been cooked from the inside. Everything burns. Everything hurts. Part of the cat just wants to curl up and die.

“I’m going to pour cold water over you,” sounds Roderick’s almost warbling voice. It’s hard to hear. He’s holding a tall glass in his hand.

“Make a sign if you don’t want me to.”

Celia: There’s no sign of anything from the cat. No sign it’s even alive anymore.

Maybe he killed it.

GM: But the cat is a vampire.

A microwave wouldn’t be enough to kill it.

Or maybe he’s testing now, to see if he has.

The boy is smart.

Ice-cold water pours all over the cat’s body.

It… hurts.

Celia: Hurts.

That’s a mild way to put it.

The cat remembers how to scream when the water touches its body.

Lukewarm.

Lukewarm for burns.

The girl was always better at medical stuff than the boy.

GM: The boy’s hands approach. The dish lifts up from the microwave.

“There we go, Celia,” sounds his voice.

The cat feels a sensation like movement. Gray approaches in its blurred vision. Then more gray, from all sides.

It must be in the sink.

“I’m going to turn on the cold water. Make a sign if you don’t want me to.”

Celia: The cat slumps in the sink. It doesn’t bother making a sound. All of the “warm water for burns” probably only applies to humans anyway.

She’s never been burned this badly before.

Maybe if it’s cold enough it’ll finish her off. He can dump the cat’s carcass in the garbage.

She won’t be able to disappoint anyone anymore.

GM: Just like that, cold water floods over the cat from all sides. Steadily rises. The drain must be plugged. Maybe the boy did that ahead of time.

The cold water hurts.

But it’s colder.

And gets colder still as the water level rises.

So she can’t get flushed down the drain.

Just float around and dirty someone else’s water.

Celia: She doesn’t need to breathe. Which means she doesn’t need to swim. So she doesn’t bother keeping her head above the water, just lets it cover her until she’s a gray blur beneath the surface.

Death might feel better than this.

GM: She feels hot. She feels cold. She feels like she’s melting. She feels like she’s freezing.

Mostly she just feels like shit.

Celia: Burning in Hell can’t be this agonizing.

GM: Time passes.

The boy doesn’t say anything.

The cat just lies there in the cold water.

Lies there, burns inside, and suffers.

But steadily, the burning subsides.

Celia: Her sire has beaten her. But he’s never tortured her. She wonders where she went wrong that the boy who loves her could fathom doing this to her.

GM: She never hurt her sire like she hurt the boy.

Can anyone even hurt her sire?

Celia: Maybe she doesn’t want to know.

Maybe one night she’ll go too far and he’ll just… snap her.

Like a twig.

Or a piece of glass.

She’ll shatter.

Isn’t she already shattered?

He broke her.

She was his and he broke her.

She was her sire’s and he broke her too.

GM: She broke him, too.

They’re perfect for each other.

Celia: No. Love doesn’t hurt this much.

She was made for someone else.

But he’ll never love her.

GM: Eventually, the water starts to drain.

Glug-glug-glug.

Celia: She watches it swirl. It pulls at her fur, pulls at her tail. She wishes she were small enough to go with it.

GM: She sees a towel descend. Feels it start to dry her off.

That hurts, too.

The cat feels motion underneath it. The boy is lifting out the microwave dish.

He carries it to the couch.

Sets it down.

“You can turn back into a person now, Celia.”

She’ll be lying flat on her belly in this position.

Celia: The towel sloughs off more of her fur and skin. The cat whines as it detaches from her body.

Change back. Become a girl again. She doesn’t want to. She wants him to shove her back in the cage. She should have stayed there. It’s where she belongs.

But she doesn’t fight the voice that tells her what to do. He’s in charge. He’s smarter. He’s helping.

The cat becomes a girl.

And the girl curls in on herself to make her body smaller. She tries not to cry. She knows he hates it.

But the fur hid the burns that stand out on her hairless skin. Red. Shiny. Wet.

Or at least it is on the spots that have skin left. Some of it came out with the fur that he rubbed off with the towel. Stupid. Don’t rub burns. She was always better at bodily care. If she were human it would blister over, burning through the epidermis and dermis into the third layer. Hypodermis. The little bit of fat that separates the dermis from the muscle. It’s white on most humans, that fat, but here… here it’s black. Burnt. Like bacon left in the pan too long.

The cells are dead.

So is the rest of her. But it usually doesn’t hurt this much.

GM: Roderick looks down at her.

There’s an odd expression on his face.

“You chose this,” he says after a moment.

“Two alternatives. One in which we’d still be together. You chose this.”

Celia: She didn’t want to leave him. Even for a night.

“I chose this,” she echoes in a rasp. Talking hurts, too. The movement of her muscles pulls at the charred, tight skin on face and throat.

GM: “Why?”

There’s that same odd look on his face.

Celia: Where does she even begin?

“Lost you. Twice. Not again.” Talking hurts. “Never again. Not even… for a night.”

GM: “You keep lying to me.”

His voice is flat.

“You keep saying you don’t want to lose me. And you keep lying to me.”

Celia: She’s not lying now.

She’s not.

“W’d’you wan’ know?”

She’d told him. She’d told him she wants to tell him everything.

It was supposed to be Thursday.

They wouldn’t be here if Thursday hadn’t gone down like it did.

They were supposed to talk.

She was going to tell him everything.

But she never got the chance.

The thought hurts as much as what happened to her body.

GM: Timing is everything.

Roderick looks at her for a while.

He doesn’t say anything.

Just looks at her.

Celia: She’d told him she’s not a mind reader.

He’ll have to use his words if he wants something.

Big brain like his, she’s sure he can think of plenty of them.

GM: “Why did you lie to me?”

Celia: “Said you… kill him. Scared. Need help.”

The burns along the side of her face pull taut when she moves her mouth. It’s just as unpleasant to look at as it probably feels. Her eyes don’t seem very focused, as if she can still only make out blurry shapes.

“Don’t belive me… ’bout her. Need help,” she says again.

GM: “So you lied because you needed help? Or I needed help?” he asks.

Celia: “Me.” She pushes her hands against the cushion beneath her, struggling to rise. Every movement is another wave of searing agony. She gives up with a pained exhale.

GM: Roderick asks a question.

Celia: Sort of.

“Scared for you. Going after him.”

Otherwise yes. She nods.

GM: “You needed my help, but because I didn’t believe you and said the discussion was over, you lied to me so that I would help you,” says Roderick.

He pauses.

“Why did you need my help?”

Celia: He’s got it wrong again. He’s ignoring the very real fear about him going after the sheriff. Why would she tell him that he threatened her family when it will only make him want to protect her and take out the problem? She doesn’t correct him. He doesn’t want to hear it.

“Faster. Stronger. Smarter.”

GM: Roderick questions her some more.

“That’s what you always do,” he says at length.

His eyes are cooling.

“You lie to me. You lied to me and would have thrown me into danger because it suited your purposes to do so.”

Celia: “No,” she protests. “Not danger. I wouldn’t. Not you. He’ll kill you.”

GM: “Yes, that’s what makes things so murky. You really did think you were protecting me. It was just a nice little bonus that your lie would result in me taking care of another problem for you, mmm?”

“You know, Celia, I was actually starting to feel bad,” he says.

“To feel guilty.”

“Like I’d crossed a line.”

Celia: It’s not like that. He’s got it wrong again.

Celia doesn’t say anything.

She doesn’t know how to fix it.

GM: “Like I’d done something terrible.”

“I was starting to feel very contrite.”

“I was starting to wonder if I’d made even more mistakes, since you told me the truth about Coco.”

He regards her coolly.

“But this? Oh, it’d be catastrophic for a breather, but a little blood and you’ll be good as new.”

“I wonder if I’d have been in the same position.”

“If you’d manipulated me into fighting your battles.”

“I wonder if I would have walked back from the battle at all.”

Celia: “It’s not like that.”

“I didn’t want you to fight.”

GM: “No? Explain how it is then, Celia. I’m pleased you’re starting to find your voice again. A little time in the microwave only hurts for a little while, doesn’t it, when we’re Kindred?”

Celia: “I don’t want… I don’t want anything bad to happen to you. Ever. I didn’t want you to fight.” The tears threaten to fall. She blinks them back. She doesn’t want him to see. “I wanted help. Planning. Not fighting.”

She still hurts. All of her nerves are still on fire. Her voice is a rasp. But she pushes through. Pushes past it. She has to make him understand.

GM: “But you lied to me, Celia,” he says in a very patient, explaining voice.

“Now why would you do a thing like that? Why would you tell me a lie? We’ve already established that protecting me from the sheriff wasn’t your sole motivation, so don’t give me that.”

Celia: “Can… can I talk about… what you told me not to talk about?”

GM: “I suppose so, Celia, if the context is necessary.”

Celia: She tells him.

Talking hurts, too.

So does the look on his face. The coolness in his eyes. That’s worse than the burns. Worse than the scratches from her own claws. Worse than being boiled from the inside.

She blinks again. She won’t cry. He doesn’t like crying. Stop crying. No tears. Don’t be a baby.

Don’t be a scared woman.

But she is.

Terrified.

Movement stretches her burned skin across her bones. She bites back a gasp. He doesn’t want to see weakness. She tries to hide it.

But that’s lying too, isn’t it?

“I should… I should have… should have asked. Asked, not lied. I don’t want to lie. I’m tired of lying. I want to tell you. Everything. All of it. Everything.”

He said she could tell him. Said she could tell him everything. But she tried and he didn’t believe her.

“I lied. It was wrong. I lied. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. You… you can… hot water with… with burns. Hurts more. Y-you can cor-correct m-me ag-again.”

GM: “You’ve already been corrected, Celia,” Roderick explains patiently.

“I’m not sure I believe you about the rest of that, though. That’s why I’ll talk with Savoy.”

“Always verify whatever a liar tells you.”

Celia: Of course he doesn’t believe her.

Celia just nods her head.

GM: “You will be corrected further if any of what you told me turns out to be a lie.”

Celia: “Y-yes, s… Roderick.”

GM: “You were right. You shouldn’t have lied. I’m running out of patience for your lies. Who knows how many more of those you can tell before I decide to dump you?”

Celia: “You… you won’t d-dump me for… for the truth?”

GM: “Never, Celia.”

“Ugly enough truths may require correction, but it will always be gentler correction than more lies.”

Celia: Her lip trembles.

“What… what if I… what if I already lied ab-about it?”

“What if it’s bad?”

GM: “Come clean, Celia,” Roderick says patiently.

“Come clean over everything.

“If I find out you’ve lied about something significant after tonight, we are finished.”

“I’m tired of your lies.”

Celia: So she does.

She tells him.

Everything.

She starts at the beginning. Back when she was still human. She tells him about the monster under the bed. She tells him about the monster shaking her dad’s hand. She tells him about the hallway. The hacksaw. The screaming. Carried to bed. Tucked in.

It’s all in your head.

I love you very, very much.

She tells him about the secret her mother told her. She tells him about college. Paul. Going to him for help for her mom. Their relationship. The things he’d done to her. She tells him how she tried to end it and he’d held her down while another man used her. How she’d thought that was the end until the night he showed up at her dad’s party. The bathroom. The bedroom. The knife.

She’d told him about Paul before. The times she had gone to see him. What she had done with the money—everything came back to her mother. But she knows more now than she did then. Remembers the details of what had been done to her. She doesn’t want to tell him. But when he pushes she does. Everything. Her mother’s continued financial distress even after the wage garnishment stopped. Celia’s continued visits to his home to collect the money for her mother. Her father’s words on New Years Eve: “Celia would be happy to receive instruction.”

Her voice is flat. She doesn’t let him see her tears. She doesn’t let him know how much it hurts to share these ugly parts of her past. She doesn’t want his sympathy. She just wants him to know. She tells him about her suspicion that he mind fucked her, but it’s only a theory. She has no proof. And it doesn’t excuse what she did.

She tells him about getting her dad arrested. Chase at the bar. Taking her home. The arguing. The guns. The fire escape. Veronica. The rape.

Star mode, she’d told him years ago, but she’d never confirmed it. It’s just a theory. Pietro had never much wanted to talk about that night, only confirmed that they’d never had sex. He’d fed from her. Gotten her off, maybe, but the details are fuzzy. She was inebriated. It’s not an excuse, just an explanation.

She tells him about calling them the next night. Knowing they weren’t human but he’d said he was a thief so she thought he could get her mom back. Veronica’s test. The bargain. Power. Her plans. Pete showing up. Explaining the rules. The video of her mother tied to the bed. Getting her out. Getting her safe. Going back to hurt him. To hurt him and to hurt Isabel. The rage.

She’s never told anyone that before. Pete knows, but only because of the tape. She’d never said what she’d done. Her awful revenge.

She tells him about the second Maxen. The monster in the window. The sky. His icy grip.

That same cold grip seizes her throat when she tries to tell him about her Embrace. She touches a hand to it, hoping he understands.

GM: Roderick listens.

Patiently.

The basic story is familiar to him.

But the details likely aren’t.

They are such ugly details.

His face gets ugly, too, to match. During the parts with Paul. With Pietro. With Veronica.

He asks for details. All of the grisly, gory, ugly details. Everything from the piss-soaked blondies to the blowjobs while she was leashed to a wall to how much better ‘Chase’ was in bed than him.

Celia can see the rage welling in his eyes. The fangs jutting from his mouth. The way his fists clench and un-clench.

But he keeps it down.

He keeps it under control.

So far.

He understands, too.

But only so far.

“No, no, no, no, Celia,” he says patiently, interrupting her story when she clamps up about her Embrace and gestures towards her throat.

“Spit it out. You don’t get to keep secrets anymore. Not from me. Not after everything you’ve done.”

There’s that same cool look to his eyes.

“You are going to spit out every last ugly little detail, every last dirty little secret in your head, and come completely clean. Or I am going to dump you, right here, and you will go through the rest of your Requiem alone.”

Celia: Celia watches his face. She doesn’t move. She doesn’t shrink back. She doesn’t let anything show on her own face; it’s marble, porcelain, another mask. The unafraid girlfriend. The trusting girlfriend. The “he won’t kill me” girlfriend.

She takes a breath. She sends the blood inside of her body where she needs it to go. She can’t focus on defying her sire while she’s busy worrying about the pain in her body. So she heals it. She lets the pain fade away.

And wishes she hadn’t when the hunger gnaws at her instead, snarling inside of her like the unthinking Beast it is. It rises to the surface. It wants to fight. To feed. To fuck, but only to show dominion. This boy has put it through so much tonight. The stake. The name calling. The demands. The cage. The microwave. Now this. Making the girl tell him everything. Making her spill the final secret. The one she has guarded more preciously than any other.

The one she’s never told another soul.

She snarls. Her fangs jut out from her mouth, eyes blazing with a mindless fury and hunger.

Rip.

Tear.

Kill.

She’s halfway out of her seat before the girl reaches for the leash. The blonde girl with the blue eyes. The one who still believes in love. She gets in the way. Not him.

The Beast snarls at her, too. It draws back its hand to strike.

Not him, she says again.

Not him, the dead girl agrees.

Not yet. Someone Else. Her presence is calming. Cooling. It soothes the ragged edges of the Beast’s frayed nerves. It turns from a slavering tiger to tiny housecat. Someone Else picks it up and puts it back in its cage, locking the door tight.

The blonde girl shows dimples when she smiles. She reaches through the bars to bleed herself for the monster in the cage, letting it slake its hunger on her instead of him.

Not him.

She loves.

And she bleeds for her love.

Celia takes the reins again. She slumps back against the couch, exhausted from her fight with the Beast. Exhausted from her hunger. Exhausted from her emotional turmoil. Wondering if he’s going to hurt her. To correct her. To leave her. Exhausted from pulling so hard at her bond all evening and now, here, her opening. She slips the collar.

There’s one lie left. The thing it all comes back to.

And it might be too much.

“He killed me,” she whispers to her knees, drawing them up to her chest. “He killed me that night. He’s my sire.”

Maybe it all clicks into place for him then. Why she’s so close to Savoy. Why she said she could “handle” him. Why she wasn’t afraid when he showed up. Why he even showed up in the first place.

That time she asked him if he thought sires were important. If the childe will become like their monstrous sire given enough time.

Her affiliation with Savoy from the beginning, long before Veronica jumped ship.

All of the lies.

Every single one of them.

They all go back to Donovan being her sire.

It’s an ugly truth. She’s the childe of the most feared lick in the city. She’s the childe of the monster that let her father torment her family, that gave him the tools to do so. She’s the childe of the lick Roderick wants to kill.

She feels better for the telling. Even though her heart breaks. Even though she’s worried that he won’t love her as she is. Won’t love her for the secret.

But she keeps going.

She tells him about falling. Waking up on Savoy’s lap. Veronica’s rage.

She tells him she wanted to keep him. She could taste his love. She almost ripped his throat out for it. But she wanted better for him.

She never thought it would lead to his death.

She’s blamed herself for so long. It’s her fault Coco could come along and take him. She hurt him. It’s her fault. She’d thought she was doing the right thing but it’s her fault.

It’s always her fault.

She tells him about seeing him at the release. About asking Coco if love is real among licks when she’d woken up on her couch.

She fills in the gaps of the years they were apart. Online school. Medical training. Her business. Her other business. Collecting intel. Her krewe. Another New Years Eve disaster.

She tells him about her projects. The prince. The other prince. The demons. The ghosts. Maxen. Her mother. The dolls. Hunters. Research. Experiments. The vision.

Her relief earlier this evening when he said that he’s in charge. Every time she tries to get it right she gets it wrong. She doesn’t want to get it wrong anymore.

Everything.

All of the ugliness. All of the lies. All of her partners. All of the secrets she has been holding onto. She tells him.

GM: He said it would feel better.

Maybe it does. Maybe it doesn’t.

But at least for him, the rest of it seems to go down easier.

Her true sire. Her projects. The prince. The other prince. The demons. The ghosts. Maxen. Her mother. The dolls. Hunters. Research. Experiments. The vision.

None of that is about them. Except for the last bit.

His face stays calm. He doesn’t seem to be wrestling with his Beast anymore. His fangs don’t jut. His hands don’t clench and un-clench.

“So that’s everything, Celia?” he patiently asks when she’s finished.

“Those are all your secrets? That’s everything about yourself you want me to know?”

Celia: Maybe it’s worse this way. Maybe she could forgive him if he reached for her in anger. Maybe she wouldn’t take it so personally. Maybe she wouldn’t tremble, then try to control her trembling, then shake her head at his final question.

“N… no.”

Everything.

He said everything.

She starts with Jade. How she came out the night of her Embrace. How she’d called her cousin, and how he’d asked for her name. Jade, she’d said. She’d said it again when Savoy told her Celia should disappear.

Jade.

Part of her. But separate.

She tells him that there’s more than one.

She tells him that sometimes she’s afraid she doesn’t know who she is anymore. That she’s changed her face so often she doesn’t think any of her body is actually hers. That she doesn’t know if she’s Donovan’s childe or Roderick’s girlfriend or Savoy’s lapcat or Veronica’s clone.

She sounds crazy. She knows that. She admits it. She tells him so before he can even reach the conclusion himself. She’s never spoken to anyone in depth about it. Except this evening. Harlequin. He’d approached her first and told her that she’s cracking.

And this is why.

GM: “I see,” Roderick says simply.

He drums a finger along the couch’s armrest.

“I will render my judgment once you’ve told me everything, Celia. The fact you have multiple personalities is a very germane piece of information. That was wise of you to bring up.”

He regards her calmly.

“Is that the last of your secrets? Anything I find out later which you don’t bring up now will go much, much worse for you.”

Celia: She’d told him everything. She can’t think of anything else. But she feels like there’s a trap he’s waiting to spring on her. Like he knows something she doesn’t. So she tells him, again, about the cowboy. Just in case he’d forgotten anything she said about him earlier. She doesn’t want to be accused of lying or hiding things.

When it’s done she’s empty. There are no more secrets left to reveal.

She asks, finally, if she needs to expand on anything.

GM: “What about the licks you’ve shared blood with, Celia?” he asks, still calmly. “Which ones, since we got back together?”

“I just want to be pretty clear over that.”

Celia: She tells him. All of them.

GM: “Well, well, well,” Roderick says patiently.

He drums his fingers against the armrest some more.

“I think I’ve heard just about all I need to render judgment.”

“But Carolla, first.”

“My dear brother. Who’s touched you. Who’s fucked you.”

“How did his hand-off to the hunters go?”

“On a scale of 1 to 10, how much do you expect he’s going to suffer?”

Celia: He’s done with her.

She can hear it.

“Ten.”

GM: “What makes you think ten?” he asks.

“What’s a one, for comparison? What’s another ten?”

Celia: “Reggie said it went well. That they told him about their training program. They sound well organized. Methodical. A… a one is…” She doesn’t know. “Broken bones. A one is broken bones. A ten is…” The microwave. Her broken heart. Losing everything she’s ever loved.

“Burning. Forever. Hell. Ceasing to exist. His soul cleaved from his body. Oblivion.”

GM: “Really?” Roderick asks. “What makes you think they’re going to inflict such agony upon him?”

Celia: “I don’t know what else they would do with him. When I studied things… I took them apart. Bit by bit. Saw what they could handle. Their pain threshold. How far they would bend before they broke. Research.”

“But… but we didn’t know if they could wake him up,” she says, “so maybe… maybe not..?”

“If he’s unconscious…”

GM: “Yes, he is unconscious,” says Roderick. “Or torpid, to be precise, which is a distinct state from simple unconsciousness, Celia.”

“‘Maybe not,’” he repeats, parroting her words.

Celia: “There’s still a lot to do to a torpid lick,” she offers, as if that helps.

“I know what I would do. If I were studying him.”

“Or another supernatural.”

GM: “You do have the technical knowledge. Just not the big picture,” says Roderick.

Celia: “No,” she agrees. “I don’t have the big picture.”

GM: “Because you’re less intelligent than me.”

Celia: “Yes.”

GM: “You are my intellectual inferior. Even if you earn a degree from Tulane, it’s unlikely that we will ever be equals in that area.”

Celia: Celia drops her eyes to the floor. She nods.

“Yes. You know more. You’re smarter. I have… I have makeup.”

GM: “You have makeup,” Roderick repeats. “It’s a literally surface-level vocation.”

Celia: “I found… I found majors,” she offers, “but it won’t… you’re still smarter.”

GM: “Yes, Celia, we just discussed that. ‘Even if you earn a degree from Tulane.’”

Celia: That’s not what she meant. But she nods anyway.

“I only meant that you told me to find something. So I did. I have a list. So you can see.”

GM: “Are we all finished now, Celia? Have you told me everything I need to know to decide the future of our relationship?”

He looks her in the eye.

“You should be very thorough. Anything you tell me now will be considered with an eye towards leniency. Telling the truth will either be rewarded or corrected less harshly. Anything I find out later will go much, much, much worse for you.”

Celia: Celia is quiet for a long moment.

Finally, she shakes her head.

“There’s more. There’s more I want to tell you. It doesn’t directly involve us, but it… informs some things, maybe. I’m still working out part of it, I’m researching… but it’s… I want to tell you. Everything. That’s part of everything.”

GM: “Very well then, Celia,” says Roderick. “We will discuss these other things later.”

“Kneel on the floor.”

Celia: Celia moves off the couch immediately. She kneels.

GM: “In front of me.”

Celia: She edges forward on her knees until she’s just in front of him.

GM: “How does it make you feel to assume this position?”

Celia: It reminds her of Paul.

“Afraid. Lesser. Anxious. Unworthy.”

GM: He nods.

“You should feel all of those things.”

“I wonder, should I make you wait to hear my decision?”

Celia: “If… if that… if that’s what you want. To leave me anxious. Unsure.”

GM: “How would it make you feel, Celia?”

“To wait.”

“To not know where things stand.”

“To not know what future you are going to have with me.”

Celia: “Nervous. Like I don’t matter. Hopeful. But resigned. Like I’m… on eggshells.”

Like she’s back at home with her dad.

“Adrift,” she tacks on.

GM: “That idea has considerable appeal,” says Roderick.

“To make you unsure about me like I’ve been so unsure about you.”

“Given what a liar you are.”

Celia: It’s fair. Fair punishment. She blinks back whatever emotion tries to creep into her face and nods her head again.

GM: “That’s the problem, with pathological liars like you.”

“There are just so many little ways you can bend and distort the truth, and you told me so many ‘truths.’”

“It’s like looking through a needle in a haystack to find all the little lies.”

“I’ll definitely be independently corroborating a great deal of this, since I can’t trust you.”

“Really, whether I dump you or stay with you, that fact won’t change.”

“I don’t trust you.”

“You haven’t proven worthy of my trust.”

Celia: “Can I?” she asks. “Is it possible? After everything?”

GM: “But,” he smiles, “I’m going to be merciful here.”

“Even if you’ve fed me still more lies, I suspect you still disclosed a large number of truths.”

“Many of which won’t take overly much effort on my part to verify.”

He reaches out and places a hand on Celia’s head.

“I’m not going to break up with you. Not here, at least. How does that make you feel?”

Celia: Worse.

It makes her feel worse.

Because she doesn’t deserve good things after everything she’s done. After all the lies she’s told him. She doesn’t deserve another chance. She doesn’t deserve to have him touch her.

Worse, too, because of the phrasing. Not here. If not here, then where? When? Is he going to do it anyway? Her stomach ties itself in knots. Red leaks from her eyes.

But she tells him what he wants to know. That she’s afraid she’s going to lose him still. That she doesn’t know what he means, not here. That she’s afraid Donovan will find out she told and kill them both for it.

GM: “Mmm-hmm, yes,” says Roderick.

He pats her head.

“There are some outstanding issues to resolve, first, before our relationship can fully resume.”

“There will no sex, kissing, blood sharing, or sleeping together until these issues are resolved.”

Celia: “Which issues?”

GM: “First, the various licks and breathers who’ve used you.”

A sneer crosses his face.

“I’m not accepting anyone’s sloppy seconds.”

“Or sloppy thirds.”

“Sloppy fourths?”

“You’ve whored yourself around so much, I’m not sure a number in the single digits is even appropriate.”

Celia: Celia sinks lower with every number he says.

GM: “We can fix that, though.”

He takes her chin and tilts it up so she meets his eyes.

“You want to fix that, don’t you?”

Celia: Celia nods her head.

“Yes, Roderick. I want to fix it.”

GM: “To make up for what a whore you’ve been?”

“You’re going to arrange a meeting for me with Reynaldo Gui.”

“Not as Roderick, though.”

“You’re going to give me a new face.”

“You can come up with whatever name, identity, and story you like.”

Celia: “To hurt him?”

GM: “You’re going to arrange a meeting between this new lick and Reynaldo Gui,” Roderick continues.

“You will wear a different face and give him a different name when you do so.”

“Neither of us can appear directly involved.”

“If you fail to secure this meeting, I will break up with you.”

“Are we understood?”

Celia: “Lord Savoy knows I can change my face.”

GM: “Then you’d better have a good cover story for why Gui is meeting you, and you’d better make sure Savoy doesn’t know.”

“You shouldn’t rely on just the fleshcrafting. That’s lazy.”

“But you are a very good liar, if nothing else, so I’m confident you can arrange it.”

Celia: “Yes, Roderick. I understand.”

“I will arrange a meeting. I will lie. I will change our faces.”

GM: He rubs Celia’s shoulder and gives her an understanding smile.

“Good.”

“If this meeting goes the way I want, you’ll stand to benefit quite a bit too.”

“I know what’s best, Celia.”

Celia: “How..?”

GM: “Do I know what’s best, Celia?”

Celia: “No. You said. We’d both benefit.”

GM: He raises his eyebrows and removes his hand.

“No? You think I don’t know what’s best?”

Celia: “No. I do. I don’t understand the benefit. I know you know what’s best. I know you do. You do.”

GM: “Good,” says Roderick, rubbing her shoulder again.

“You don’t need to worry about the details.”

Celia: “Okay,” she says quietly.

GM: “You wouldn’t understand them as well anyway.”

Celia: “What else? What other issues?”

GM: “There are several others, but you don’t need to know about those just yet.”

“I’ll take care of them.”

“It will make our relationship stronger.”

Celia: “Do I… do I need to do anything else?”

GM: “No.”

“Some other significant issues in your Requiem to address are your sire, your father, and your mental health. But we don’t need to resolve those issues before our relationship can fully resume.”

He pats the seat next to him.

“You can sit next to me now, if you’d like to.”

“Which of those issues would you like to discuss first?”

Celia: Celia doesn’t say anything. She just slowly rises to take her former seat, sitting beside him on the couch.

“My… dad.”

GM: “Your dad is scum,” Roderick says shortly.

Celia: “Yes.”

“I was… I wanted to ask…”

GM: “What did you want to ask?”

Celia: “He’s supposed to see my family on Sunday. For dinner. My mom wants to… to see him. Emily thinks it’s a trap. He said he had a demon exorcised. It’s possible. The priest died. Mr. Bornemann told me that the priest or the host can die in an exorcism. But that holy ground hurts them. But he kept going to church. But not all holy ground is created equal. I wanted to… to see if you’d come, so you can see. If he’s real. Or lying.”

GM: “It’s immaterial whether he’s lying or not,” says Roderick.

“He hasn’t earned forgiveness either way.”

“I also know from firsthand experience with you that lying runs in the Flores family, even if he isn’t your biological father. It’s entirely possible that dinner could be nothing but a pack of lies.”

Celia: “That’s why I wanted to ask if you’d come.”

GM: “I just told you it’s irrelevant whether he’s lying or not, Celia,” Roderick reproaches. “At least as far as it impacts what we should do with him.”

“I mostly just don’t like listening to liars spin their lies.”

“It makes me want to bash in some fucking skulls.”

Celia: Celia doesn’t do so much as flinch. She’s still. But not the stillness that he’s used to when he gets angry. Just the normal kind. The dead kind.

“I had… ideas. On what to do with him. If you want to hear.”

GM: “Proceed,” says Roderick.

Celia: “He’s running for governor, he said. I don’t know how many people outside of my family and the politicians he works with know yet. I’ve been planting seeds to ruin him politically if needed. Or to assist, if needed. I just pull the things I’ve been working on if we want a political pawn. He’d be in Baton Rouge. It’s not that far. Invictus controlled. I have a… cousin there. In Baton Rouge. I thought about a new identity to go with him. An older lick. One the licks there maybe couldn’t push around as easily.”

A pause. Then,

“You know more, though.”

“I was waiting to see if he was still infected or not before I made a decision on what to do with him. To see if I could make him useful.”

“And no one would suspect Celia visiting her father.”

She’s waiting, she realizes, for him to tell her that she’s stupid again. That she doesn’t know enough about politics to play that game. That they’re just going to ruin and kill him because he’s a scumbag.

GM: “Yes, you mentioned he was running,” says Roderick. “I’d been considering that question, too. What to do with him.”

“Part of me is tempted to punish him for what a vile scumbag he is. He did despicable things to the family whose welfare he was responsible for. That he should suffer for his actions is right and just.”

“Incidentally, Celia, the philosophy behind the Lancea et Sanctum seems much more attractive to me these nights. I don’t agree with them on many of the finer points of dogma. But the essential purpose of the Kindred being to punish the wicked? That’s an actual constructive purpose for our species.”

Celia: “Did you kill Elijah?” she asks abruptly.

GM: Roderick gives her an almost affronted look.

“Elijah’s actions didn’t warrant death, Celia.”

“He was a terrible human being, though. He was punished for that.”

Celia: “Oh.”

GM: “He still is being punished for that.”

Celia: “…still being..?”

GM: “We’ll see if it’s enough to set him on a better course.”

“As I said, the philosophy behind the Lancea et Sanctum seems very attractive to me these nights.”

“It’s a shame there aren’t any priests among the Bourbons. Not since Katrina.”

“Ah, well. I suppose it’s easy enough for me to talk with the Hardliners.”

Celia: She almost tells him that Benson is being ordained.

But he’s the one who told her that last week, so she doesn’t.

GM: “Is this going over your head, Celia?” Roderick asks in an indulgent tone.

Celia: “No. I was… I didn’t want to question you.”

GM: “I suppose that’s why I should talk with someone more educated than you, as the whole point of philosophical discourse is to ask questions.”

Celia: Celia sinks further into herself. She draws her knees up to her chest, wrapping her arms around her legs. Suddenly the sheer teddy feels absurd. She’s exposed. Vulnerable.

“I didn’t know if you meant you wanted to bring one over or convert to the Sanctified faith yourself. You said the Hardliners are easy to talk to, so I thought it could be either, but I’ve heard some people don’t view Lord Savoy as legitimate because of his lack of priests.”

“Like it’s all a show.”

GM: “I’m not thinking about converting at this point,” says Roderick. “I’m simply interested in discussing their ideas with someone who’s well-educated in their theology. The best-educated such Kindred are priests, Celia.”

Celia: “Yes, Roderick.”

GM: “Savoy doesn’t have any priests. Not since Katrina. Hence why it’s a shame, as discoursing with someone over Sanctified theology is also useful as a ‘networking tool.’”

“And it’s less useful for me to build relationships among the Hardliners than the Bourbons.”

Celia: “It could be useful.”

“If you wanted to…”

“To play both sides. To protect your cover.”

GM: “Most Sanctified are happy to talk about their faith with someone who displays interest in it. That’s evangelism, in so many words.”

“But that’s also true enough. There is social benefit in approaching any Sanctified, Bourbon or Hardliner, about their faith.”

Celia: “It would also give you some legitimacy with a new identity, if you wanted to go that route for your time in the Quarter.”

GM: “My new identity won’t have any cause to talk with the Hardliners, Celia,” Roderick explains patiently. “I can already do that as Roderick.”

Celia: “I know. I meant. If you wanted him to be Sanctified rather than Anarch.”

GM: “You can be very stupid sometimes, Celia.”

Celia: She blinks, but nods her head, drawing her knees further against herself.

“Yes, Roderick. I’m sorry. I’ll do better.”

GM: “I hope so.”

Celia: “You were telling me what you wanted to do with my dad,” she says quietly.

GM: “The new identity is going to be a Bourbon,” Roderick explains. “Because the Bourbons live in the French Quarter. The Bourbons and the Hardliners do not make a habit of engaging in friendly conversation with one another. Picture it like the Bloods and Crypts, Celia.”

Celia: “That isn’t what I meant.”

GM: “No? Then explain for me.”

Celia: “I meant that speaking to a Hardliner priest as Roderick will offer you a foundation to build a new Bourbon identity that can be Sanctified rather than Anarch, as being an intelligent Brujah Anarch in Savoy’s court may make people look at you twice, but being a Sanctified is a further step away from where you are now. You could also claim another clan to further distinguish the identities.”

“I didn’t mean that you would fraternize with the Hardliners as a Bourbon.”

“I must have misspoken.”

GM: “You do that a lot.”

Celia: “I’m sorry.”

“I only wanted to help create a good cover for you. Your talk about the priests made me think that it would be a good cover. But then I also thought maybe you’d want to take control of the Anarchs, but I don’t… I don’t know what you want, you said you’d tell me later, but I’m trying to account for multiple angles. I didn’t mean to overstep if I did.”

GM: “You didn’t overstep,” says Roderick. “It’s good that you’re concerned for my future. We will talk about that in due time.”

Celia: “Okay. I’d like to… to help. How I can. If I can.”

GM: “I think you will be able to. And you did misspeak, earlier, but the conclusion you reached is one I also share. The new identity should be a Bourbon rather than an Anarch.”

“Actual knowledge of theology isn’t necessary for it, though. Savoy’s followers are much less devout.”

“Yourself, case in point. I doubt you’ve read the Testament.”

Celia: “Yes, Roderick. Unless… you wanted to be older, to take that spot, to give him more legitimacy..?”

GM: Roderick gives Celia a scornful look.

Celia: “It’s, um, people confess to priests. It would give you leverage.”

GM: “I am not a priest, Celia. I am unlikely to acquire a priest’s spiritual knowledge through conversation with a priest.”

“I am more intelligent than you, but that doesn’t mean I know everything. I have only a layman’s knowledge of Sanctified theology.”

“That was a very stupid suggestion.”

Celia: “Yes, Roderick. I’m sorry. It was a stupid suggestion.”

“I won’t make more suggestions, if you don’t want. I don’t want to waste your time.”

GM: “You can make further suggestions. More opinions rarely hurt and can potentially help.”

“Just make fewer stupid suggestions, okay?”

“You can also ask me if you aren’t sure whether a suggestion is stupid or not. That shows greater humility and self-awareness.”

Celia: “Before? Or after?”

GM: “You mean before or after you make the suggestion?”

Celia: “Yes.”

GM: “Concurrently. You can bring up the suggestion and ask me if it’s stupid.”

Celia: “Roderick?”

GM: “Yes?”

Celia: “If it’s stupid, will you tell me how, so I don’t repeat the mistake?”

GM: “Of course. I’ve been doing that already, haven’t I?”

Celia: “Yes, Roderick. You correct me. I only wanted to be certain I’d receive further correction when I say stupid things.”

GM: “You will, Celia. I’ll help you to be smarter, even if it takes a long time.”

Celia: “My… my dad said… stupid can be taught, it just takes longer.”

GM: “Your dad was wrong about many things, but he was right about that.”

“In any case, we’ve grown sidetracked. We were speaking about your father.”

“Part of me wants to punish him for what a vile piece of shit he is.”

“But he’s protected by your sire, so that would have repercussions.”

“And, of course, there’s the separate issue of whether and how to make use of him.”

Celia: “Roderick? I have a thought? But I don’t know if it’s stupid? But the Tremere told me they can test to see if he was possessed, but I’d owe them for it, but that could maybe tell us more if he is or isn’t, but I don’t know if you care about that versus what he’s done, but if it wasn’t him, if he was possessed… does that mean he’s still good, that we could use him? I’m not attached to him, but it’s an avenue for further information and I didn’t want to not tell you about it.”

GM: “He isn’t a good man, Celia.”

Celia: “Okay.”

GM: “His potential demonic possession is material only insofar as it makes him harder to punish or manipulate.”

Celia: “Is it something you want to know about? Demonic possession?”

GM: “I want to know about everything, Celia. But whether that knowledge is germane is a separate matter.”

Celia: Celia bobs her head up and down.

“I didn’t know how to look into the exorcism because the priest is dead.”

“But that doesn’t matter next to what you want to do with him.”

“And the sheriff being in the way.”

GM: “There are still ways to investigate the alleged exorcism, you’re just not smart enough to consider them,” says Roderick.

“Unless the political landscape significantly changes, I would give reasonable odds that your father is going to become governor,” he muses. “Roberts is a strong candidate, so I wouldn’t write him out completely, but Louisiana is a red state now and he’s fighting an uphill battle. He won’t have Fred Pavaghi’s corruption to campaign against this time.”

Celia: “I have a contact,” Celia volunteers, “that could be used to look into Roberts. If we want to find out more about him.”

“Dirt. Um, to sway things.”

GM: “We’ll consider that issue later.”

“The governor is obviously a very attractive prize pawn to any Kindred. But just consider, Celia. What would we actually do with him?”

“What uses would we employ him towards?”

Celia: “Um. There’s no… term limit. He’d be a long-term puppet. The state is more day-to-day for, um, policies. Connections. Resources. It could help with… with you wanting to take down the Mafia, maybe, and putting, um, heat on other licks through various connections and agencies. He told me it opens additional doors for him, and he might seek a national seat, but that gets messy with DC…”

GM: “These are very vague and half-formed ideas, Celia.”

“Some of them very poorly articulated.”

Celia: Celia is quiet for several moments before she finally admits she doesn’t know how best to utilize his position.

GM: “How would you even influence him? Do you suppose he’s going to take political advice from the daughter he thinks is stupid?”

“Is he going to invite you to cabinet meetings?”

Celia: “N… no.”

“I have some sway over my brothers, but they’re young. I don’t know if he’d listen to them either.”

“I have a contact.” A doll. “Her husband is a political consultant.”

GM: “I’m going to think about what I want that your father could help me accomplish,” says Roderick. “I want you to do the same. What you want that your father could help you to accomplish. The consultant could help, once you’ve figured out what you want from your father.”

Celia: “Okay. I will.”

“What about the local scene?”

GM: “What ‘local scene’, Celia?”

Celia: “The mayor.”

GM: “You have no connections to any of the candidates, so that subject seems rather moot.”

Celia: “Not a personal connection. But I know some things about them, maybe enough to sway the outcome. And the woman could easily become a client.”

GM: “Do that,” says Roderick. “It could have value even if she doesn’t win the election.”

“Get your employees in uniforms before you bring her in. It’s important to project a professional image with your business. Especially around higher-profile clients.”

Celia: “I want to open a second location.”

GM: “That could have value. Where?”

Celia: “Marigny, because of its neutral locale. I was also considering Riverbend, but my sire… I know he will say no. We don’t publicly associate.”

GM: “Of course he would say no.”

“Would this second location exist to primarily service Kindred or breather clients?”

Celia: “I thought both, like it does now, since I already have the setup and the managers ready to go. The cost of the business mainly comes from the building and renovations itself. The employees are commission based; if they are not busy they don’t get paid. That helps keep them motivated to bring people in. The actual product cost for services is marginal. It would be almost passive income.”

“The problem I foresee with that is the location itself. Marigny is not known for its spas, and another location with more upscale clientele would be ideal if I choose to pursue more meaningful breather clients. The buildings would also be very close together in a grand scheme, which means rather than drawing from a new pool of clients I would only be expanding the circle slightly. I also had plans to move Alana to a different role within my service, which would necessitate someone else to oversee the business, though I don’t necessarily need to ghoul them.”

“I also… I’ve been working on experiments. With the kine. Hybrids. I can show you some of my work, some mockups. I would like more space to focus on that. I am also concerned that there are too many people who know that Celia is Jade and can thus connect me to Dicentra, so I had also considered making it exclusively for Kindred and only operating under the Dicentra name.”

“Less overhead that way. But I’d need better security.”

GM: Roderick considers.

“Uptown is another potential location in lieu of Riverbend. The kine there are generally affluent and it’s far removed from the Quarter.”

“I’m not certain how McGinn would feel about letting a Bourbon set up shop in his domain, but he’s obviously more likely to say yes than the sheriff.”

Celia: “I believe I will be able to help make the idea more palatable for him.”

“I was also looking to add a service to Harrah’s. Not an entire spa. Just a few girls.”

GM: “Yes, you’d mentioned your plans there. Expanding into Harrah’s seems promising as well. It’s removed from your locations in Uptown and the Quarter in multiple senses of the word.”

“It could also be possible to set up the location in Uptown without McGinn’s knowledge. What benefit does that offer?”

Celia: “I wouldn’t owe him anything. It wouldn’t be connected to me at all.”

GM: “No, Celia. I asked you what benefit his knowledge of your ties to the second location offers.”

Celia: “Oh. I wouldn’t need to worry about getting caught. It would allow me possible access to his domain on other unrelated business, as I could say that I’m just there to do spa things. The Flawless name is already known so I wouldn’t be starting from scratch. I could find a way to build a more solid relationship there, either for myself or Lord Savoy, and utilize that to further our plans and goals.”

“His patrols are fairly violent,” Celia mentions as an aside.

GM: “Yes, and he gets fewer poachers as a result. His methods work.”

Celia: “Yes.” She thinks about mentioning the trip to the library. But she’d handled it. No harm done.

GM: “I think cultivating a relationship with him could have value,” considers Roderick. “He is one of the more influential Kindred in the city. Likewise with his wife.”

Celia: “I haven’t spent as much time with her as I’d have liked recently. I had to put other things ahead of the harpies. I’d like to fix that so I’m not cut off.”

“But that’s a different subject, I didn’t mean to derail us.”

GM: “Yes, we were derailed from your father.”

“Suppose, Celia, that you’re Lawrence Meeks, the prince of Baton Rouge. A new governor is elected, and a new Kindred shows up in your city who seems fairly close to the new governor. What do you do?”

Celia: “Take out the lick.”

“Protect the domain. Stay on top.”

GM: “That’s correct, Celia. You take out the threat to your domain.”

Celia: “Yes, Roderick, I understand. That’s why I thought it was beneficial that I can pass as a mortal and just be seen as his visiting daughter.”

GM: “Correct. You’re going to limit how many people know Celia is a ghoul. You’d mentioned that. Meeks is a city away, so that fact will help us, but the Nosferatu have damnably good intelligence.”

Celia: “There are a number of people who know that Celia is a lick. I haven’t played up being a ghoul as much as I could, but there are others who believe that as well.”

GM: “Who knows Celia is Kindred?”

Celia: “The full list is you, Lebeaux, Preston, Savoy, Donovan, Caroline, Coco, Veronica, Pietro, Dani, Mélissaire, Alana, Diana, Reggie, Rusty.”

“Possibly the seneschal, as we discussed prior.”

GM: “That’s too many names.”

Celia: “Five of them are ghouls. One is your sister. One has been covering for me this entire time.”

“There are only two names on the list that cause me great concern.”

GM: “How long have Reggie and Rusty known?”

Celia: “Less than a week.”

GM: “Get Savoy to wipe their memories. Ask him to do it.”

Celia: “Yes, Roderick.”

GM: “Need to know, Celia. If those two don’t need to know something, don’t tell them.”

Celia: “I believed they needed to know at the time. The threat has passed. I will have their memories removed.”

GM: “At least Randy has been tied up as a loose end, I suppose.”

Celia: There’s a flicker of something across her face. She smooths it over before it can be more than that.

The screaming starts again in her mind. The ragged, throaty gasps of a girl in the clouds. The blood curdling shrieks in a hallway full of blood. The death rattle of a lost boy with a broken smile, instants before a heavy boot crushes his skull.

“Yes,” someone says. It might be her.

“I always struggled to find a use for him. He didn’t offer much, next to his brothers.” Cold, flat words.

Warmth. Love. He gave her that, at least. Gave her that when she needed it most.

Now he’s just an excuse to take what she wants from someone else who disappointed her.

Valuable, in the end.

GM: “Alana, Rusty, and Reggie all have clear uses,” Roderick concurs. “What use is your mother?”

Celia: “Cover for daytime absences. Feeding. Cultivating relationships at McGehee, where I can groom them from an early age. Performances. Toreador acclaim through performances. Safe house if needed. Possible sway over a future husband. Possible breeding. She is learning swordplay and defense to serve as a protector and bodyguard. Contacts through her in the theater, dance, and academics world. Insignificant; no one suspects that a former ballerina would be a ghoul, therefore she is overlooked. Invisible. She has access to a large number of instructors at her current job and was able to find information for me the evening after I asked, which has been confirmed by another source.”

“Blind obedience.”

“She has also assisted with the mental health issues you and I mentioned briefly.”

Clinical, detached observations. As if it isn’t her mother she’s discussing, but a random breather on the street.

GM: “Breeding?” Roderick asks, eyebrows raised.

Celia: “Ghoul families. She is very fertile. Getting on in age, but still possibly fertile. I believe she would be accommodating were I to wish to experiment upon her body for such a purpose.”

“It is an admittedly narrow window before the opportunity passes by.”

“As I don’t believe that even with fleshcrafting I can completely reverse the clock long enough to keep her capable of pumping out children. Perhaps a more advanced form. But weaning her from the blood for nine months will cause her to jump forward in age.”

“The archon and I discussed some of this when he visited. When he returns he has asked me to assist him with a project, and if I impress him he has agreed to take me on to learn under him.”

“I had already been considering the implications of combining Tremere blood magics with what I can do, and how far I might be able to go. I am admittedly not an expert in that subject, but I have a teacher willing to pass on knowledge.”

“I think it might be the key that I’ve been missing in my current research.”

GM: “I see,” says Roderick. “There’s a number of further things here to discuss.”

“But first, tell me. What are your thoughts and intentions regarding Lucy and Emily?”

Celia: “I had no intention to interfere in the life of Lucy or Emily. Emily’s stubbornness would be a handicap to her usefulness as a ghoul, and I believe breaking her will be more trouble than it is worth. Thus far I have mostly used her for medical knowledge, though I can never push too deep. I think she also has an idealistic streak that wouldn’t allow her to fathom the idea of going as far as I’d like when it is human lives on the table.”

Emily isn’t a monster.

“In lieu of that, I had planned to use her connections in the medical world as needed. She is close with a number of other professionals. She will be more valuable once she graduates and comes into contact with people I can also use to further my goals and research. Even something like a medical examiner will open doors. Her boyfriend is also useful for his swordplay.”

GM: Roderick nods.

“And what about Lucy, Celia?”

“I really thought she might have been my daughter for a while.”

Celia: “I have not made long term plans for Lucy. She is young enough that she can go a number of different directions—”

She cuts off at his words, blinking. Her hand touches her stomach.

She’d never taken the second pill.

GM: Roderick looks at her calmly.

“I wonder if he killed it.”

“Your sire.”

“If there was something there.”

Celia: “It… it would have only been… a day, maybe…”

She blinks again. Red stains her vision. She wipes at it.

“Can I… can I hug you?”

GM: “You may not, Celia,” he answers.

“This will serve as your correction.”

“Because you just did something that required correcting.”

Celia: Another blink. She moves further from herself, floating away on the wind.

It’s lucky there are so many other girls to pick up the pieces.

“Please tell me what I did so that I do not repeat it.”

Hollow, wooden words. A girl playing a role.

GM: “I want you to figure this one out for yourself, Celia. But I’ll give you a hint.”

“I don’t want to ghoul my father. I’m still nice to Dani, despite the fact she is of limited practical value. Why is that?”

Celia: “She’s family.”

GM: “But I don’t plan to belittle her like I have you. Why is that?”

Celia: “She’s not stupid.”

“She will rebel if you do.”

GM: “Try again, Celia.”

“Dani also is more intelligent than you, though she is still less so than me.”

Celia: “I don’t know.”

GM: “Let’s try my father, then. Why don’t I want to ghoul him?”

Celia: “You would be intruding on someone else’s domain. You don’t want to expose him to this world. He can be used against you if anyone knows about the connection between you. He is too strong willed and already has his path laid out for him, which means you would need to rely on the addiction alone to keep him in line, which creates rebellious and often disloyal ghouls. You don’t need to ghoul him in order to make contact with him through various other pawns or ghouls to assist each other.”

“He believes that you are dead and your death broke him.”

GM: “Most of these facts are true, Celia. But none of them are the reason I don’t want to ghoul him.”

Celia: “I don’t know, Roderick. I don’t know your personal feelings on the matter. I was only looking at the objective information.”

GM: “Then consider my personal feelings, Celia. Towards him and towards my sister. What might those be?”

Celia: “You care about them. You left them to keep them safe.”

GM: “That’s correct, Celia. I do care about them.”

“But that isn’t all of it, either.”

“Why did I do what I did to Elijah?”

Celia: “He is a sinner. Corrupt.”

GM: “How sinful and corrupt are Dani and my father?”

Celia: “Not very.”

GM: “How sinful and corrupt are you?”

Celia: “Very.”

GM: “Why?”

Celia: “Do you mean what makes me a sinner, or do you mean how did I become this way?”

GM: “What actions have you committed that make you describe yourself as very sinful and corrupt?”

Celia: “I lied to you repeatedly over the course of our relationship. I cheated on you. I betrayed you. I lied to everyone. I hurt people. I have killed people. I am selfish and lustful.”

GM: “That’s correct, Celia.”

“That is why you deserve worse treatment at my hands than my father and sister.”

Celia: “When I am no longer corrupt and sinful, will our relationship change or adapt?”

GM: “I find it unlikely that you will stop being corrupt and sinful. But our relationship will change and adapt when I feel you have faced sufficient punishment and made sufficient restitution for the wrongs you’ve committed against me.”

“I’ve even offered you a path forward with Reynaldo Gui. Is that fair and just of me?”

Celia: “Can you clarify? You find it unlikely that I am able to be less corrupt and sinful?”

GM: “Yes.”

Celia: “If I am corrupt in areas other than our relationship, will that be sufficient for you, or do you desire a full overhaul?”

GM: “Punishment and restitution for the wrongs you’ve committed against me will be sufficient, Celia. Whether you desire to re-orient your moral compass outside of our relationship is your own decision.”

Celia: “Yes, Roderick. I have further questions on this. I will be corrected and punished for the wrongs that I have committed against you and our relationship. I would like to be worthy of you outside of those corrections, and am looking for guidance on how I can become so. You have mentioned getting a degree, though this will not make me as smart as you. Outside of my intelligence, will re-orienting my moral compass assist with my desire to become a more ideal partner for you?”

GM: “We’ll return to this point later, Celia. Some other questions first. How sinful and corrupt are Lucy, Emily, and your mother?”

Celia: “They are not, Roderick.”

GM: “Do you believe I would undertake the actions you’ve considered for Emily upon my own sister?”

“Do you believe I would undertake the actions you’ve considered for your mother upon my father?”

Celia: “No, Roderick. I had no intention to ghoul Emily or Lucy. You only asked, so I shared my thoughts with you. I would like to assist them with their goals, whatever they are, because they are my family and I care deeply for them.”

“My mother’s ghouling was an unfortunate accident, and after it was done I had an opportunity to erase her memories. It would not have ended well if we went down that road, as I could not erase the emotions. Those I spoke to suggested that it would do more harm than good to leave the gap in her memory. While I do not believe that a ghouled parent is unique to our world, I do believe is is not very common and there are few people I trust with my mother’s safety to speak to openly about it.”

“I have struggled with her since it happened and looked for ways to make the relationship work for both of us. I only wanted to thoroughly answer your question about her and inform you of all the possibilities that I considered for her.”

“You had asked after her usefulness, and in the aftermath of her ghouling I had thought she might only be an addict and vitae sink, which I did not want for either one of us.”

“There are many options I considered and dismissed. I had only wanted to give you a complete answer.”

GM: “What would you do if your mother did not wish to be used as a breeding vessel, Celia, and it appeared to be a promising research avenue?”

“What if it looked as if it would allow you to start a ghoul family?”

Celia: “I would find another.”

“There are many breathers. There is only one Diana.”

GM: “What if the other candidates you found were inferior?”

“What if I told you I wanted a ghoul family?”

Celia: “I find the idea of all other candidates being inferior to be unlikely. There are more than seven billion people on the planet. While I do not have access to all of them, or even most of them, I would take the time to find one who is her equal. However, her traits are not unique to her. She has been broken mentally by another Kindred, which suggests it is possible to do again if the obedience is what I desire, and many females are fertile.”

GM: “So you would refuse to use her, and would look for other suitable candidates, even if it required considerable effort and expense? When I wanted a ghoul family?”

Celia: “I would only want to provide you with the best possible option, Roderick, and do not know what toll another child would have on my mother, or if her advanced age would play a significant factor in the development of the fetus.”

“Much research suggests that advanced age of both female and male partners leads to undesireable developmental issues in their offspring.”

GM: “That research is correct. So that is your final answer, Celia? You would refuse to use her as a broodmare if it were more advantageous, but she did not wish to be used as one?”

Celia: “Yes, Roderick. My relationship with my mother as my mother predates my relationship with her as my ghoul. It is an admittedly gray and murky area, but I would like to cause as little interrupt to her life as possible while also ensuring she is more than a vitae sink. Her other qualities make up for her lack of breeding.”

GM: “You have answered correctly, Celia. Good job,” Roderick smiles.

Celia: “Thank you.”

GM: “Justice is paramount, Celia. I punished Elijah because he was corrupt. I punish you because you are corrupt. But our mortal families are not corrupt, and consequently do not deserve punishment.”

Celia: “I acknowledge the breakdown in turning my mother into a ghoul. I am looking for the best way forward for us both.”

GM: “Giving her combat training is useful. For her, you, and your other family members.”

“Fix her leg. She won’t be able to achieve her full potential until that’s taken care of.”

Celia: “Yes. I will.”

GM: “Toreador acclaim is also useful. Give her another face when you do. Other Kindred shouldn’t know she’s a ghoul.”

Celia: “Yes. I have a mask prepared for her.”

“She has also already been marked to hide what she is. I have been working to correct the lapse in judgement and security.”

GM: “Masks aren’t perfect. They can be damaged. They can come off. We saw that earlier. Dancing and fighting offer many opportunities for them to come off. Alter her face the same way you altered mine.”

Celia: “My apologies, I meant a mask as in a new identity.”

“I will be more clear when I speak.”

GM: “Good,” says Roderick. “Feeding on her is useful and permissible, so long as you have her free and uncoerced consent.”

Celia: “She has consented.”

There’s a soft smile that pulls at her lips.

“She enjoys being able to feed me what I need rather than the breather fare.”

GM: Roderick smiles faintly back. “That’s very sweet.”

Celia: Before, she might have reached for his hand. Now, though, she keeps it on her lap.

GM: “Don’t feed on her when you think she’s going to be dancing or fighting soon. Those are physically intensive activities where you want her at peak physical condition. Give her time to recover.”

Celia: Isn’t that common knowledge?

Celia just nods her head.

GM: Roderick tells her all the time that she’s stupid, though.

Celia: He must be right.

She’s lucky she has someone who cares enough about her to make sure she understands the basics.

GM: “Having a willing subject for your research could also be useful. Just make sure you explain all of the risks and potential side effects, if any. Gain her full consent, and be very careful too. You only get one mother.”

Celia: “Yes, Roderick. I will do so before I proceed with any research. Thank you.”

GM: “I care about your mortal family, Celia. Her and Emily and Lucy. This isn’t an ideal situation for them, but you can make the best of it. You can still have loving relationships with all of them.”

Celia: “Thank you.” Her voice has lost its wooden quality. There’s something resembling emotion in the tremulous whisper. “Thank you for understanding.”

GM: “This is justice, Celia,” he answers seriously. “People who aren’t corrupt deserve to be treated well.”

Celia: “I don’t want to be corrupt anymore,” she tells her knees.

GM: “The first step will be Reynaldo Gui.”

Celia: “The meeting.”

“Are we going to kill him?”

GM: “Yes.”

Celia: “Do you still want to infiltrate as Carolla?”

GM: “You’ve been a good girl, over the matter of your family, so answering that question directly is your reward.”

Celia: Good girl. She’s been a good girl.

GM: “And you know what will happen when Gui is dead, Celia?”

Celia: “The Mafia will be weakened.”

GM: “Yes, but in addition to that.”

Celia: “Our relationship will begin to heal.”

GM: “That too. But someone else will also need to manage parties at the Evergreen.”

Celia: “…me?”

GM: “Do you think you’d do a good job, Celia? What benefits are there for you in doing so?”

Celia: “I am adept at planning parties. I think I would do a good job. It would allow me to further network, to become closer to Savoy, to welcome new faces, to control the doors. Gui is considered inner circle by some, and is generally well regarded by the Bourbons. Further social power for me, and thus you, which can transition into something new when Savoy takes the throne, and will make me useful to him in a way that doesn’t only rely on my blood.”

GM: “Very good, Celia,” smiles Roderick. “And even more than that, Savoy’s parties are the bread and circuses he gives his followers. They’re an essential component of his image as the more ‘fun’ alternative to Vidal.”

Celia: “I’m fun.”

“Getting rid of Gui also opens his domain to someone else.” A sidelong glance at Roderick.

GM: “It does,” Roderick concurs. “So you can see how this opens many opportunities for us.”

Celia: “Roderick? Can I tell you what he told me? About Chicago?”

GM: “Go on.”

Celia: “He said that the atmosphere is different there. More Anarchs, but the city is looking forward, and he said ours is sometimes looking backwards. He said there’s more progression. I don’t know what your long term goals are, and you mentioned you’ve traveled so perhaps this is redundant, but it might be worthwhile to look into even if it isn’t with him.”

GM: “It’s always useful to listen to other perspectives. I’ve spoken with Anarchs from Chicago.”

Celia: “Have you spoken with any from the Free States?”

GM: “Yes. Coco wanted to expose me to a wide range of ideas. I suppose she was good for an education, even if she was also a two-faced liar who Embraces scum like Carolla.”

Celia: “I have an opportunity out there. But we can talk about it at another time if you’d prefer.”

GM: Roderick glances at the clock.

“The sun’s going to be up soon. We’ll continue this in the evening.”

He leads Celia to his bedroom, then lays out some blankets and pillows on the floor for her next to the bed.

“We can sleep together once the outstanding issues in our relationship are resolved. Your body is dead, so a day on the floor won’t be physically uncomfortable.”

Celia: They were her sire’s words to her. The affront against him makes a tiny kernel of red spark in her chest.

This boy. This pathetic boy thinks that he is smarter than the sheriff? Thinks that he has broken her, suborned her to his will, that he has won?

No. He only walks the forest path that others have cleared, only treads the ground already so fertile for his seeds to take root. He has not broken her. He has only bent her, and only because she has allowed it. He sees only the mask she wants him to see. Only what she allows him to see. The truth, certainly, the truth of her deeds.

But not her heart.

He cannot touch her there.

He cannot reach inside her chest as her sire has done and pluck her heartstrings one by one, forcing her body to dance to a tune that only he can hear. He does not dangle her on the end of a string, does not open the door to a cage that she joyously steps into.

He is a brute. A tyrant. Another Maxen. He uses stick when carrot would suffice, forgets the aftercare for the burning bottom. Her sire beat her and then mended her with the blood from his own veins, and even had he not slipped that collar around her throat the leash would still pull tight. He slaughters her ghoul and kisses her, cuts open the boy’s heart to share a meal. That is a master. That is love.

This one sees only what people let him see and thinks himself enlightened. He has been a sheltered pet his whole Requiem, has not dallied in the dirt with thugs and ruffians and unsavories. He thinks that his college degrees and learned tutors has woken him to the ways of the world.

A lie broke him. A single lie. A single betrayal. She has been broken and twisted and raked over the coals so many times that she has lost count. She has been abandoned, abused, deceived, and still she carries on.

Still she moves forward.

He thinks her lies corrupt? He has seen nothing.

She has shown him nothing.

Who will she become, the masked man asked, and the girl in her fairy dress said that she does not know who she wants to be.

Two faces in the mirror. Beauty. Beast. Corruption incarnate. Poisoned smiles and hidden knives.

The dreams of her sire slip away and out comes the little girl, the dutiful wife, the flower that once bloomed so brightly.

Come into my trap, little fly.

Beauty lies her head upon the pillow and snuggles beneath the provided blanket. She smiles with lips as red as the roses of her clan and eyes the color of turbulent skies.

“Goodnight, Roderick. I love you.”

Ice masks have no place in the sun. And she is not her sire. She is not ice. She is the liquid that ebbs and flows. She is the dancer in the dark. She is the chameleon and patience is her virtue.


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Story Thirteen, Celia XIX

“We lie to everyone, Celia.”
Peter Lebeaux


Saturday night, 19 March 2016, AM

GM: It’s a ten minute or so drive to 1216 Camp Street in the Lower Garden District. One of Accou’s and his sire’s public havens. It’s a Greek Revival mansion with the iron galleries so typical to the city’s architecture and a slim front profile, with several trees growing in the front of the house and another larger one from the fenced-off courtyard.

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Jade is greeted and shown inside by servants.

The home’s tall-ceilinged interior feels more spacious than its outside. It’s decorated with a variety of traditional African and and jazz-themed art pieces, as well as a few Cuban ones. An array of house plants make it feel like some of the greenery from outside has been transported within. The fireplace goes typically unused.

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Jade is shown to a seat in the living room. The house’s master appears shortly thereafter. Accou Poincaré is a moderately dark-skinned man of Creole descent who looks no older than his early 20s in spite of his thick mustache. Still, there’s a subtle, marble-like cast to his features, a slowness to his motions, and an indelible weight behind his eyes that covey a sense of great age. He’s dressed in an old-fashioned black suit with cufflinks and a bowtie. Jade has only seen him without his dark kidskin gloves for piano recitals and tonight is no exception.

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“Greetings, Miss Jade,” smiles her alleged grandsire as he assumes his seat upon a couch. “Tonight’s Elysium was a pleasant venue, was it not? I trust you enjoyed the evening.”

Celia: Jade had taken the opportunity her stop at home afforded to change from the gown and floral shoes she’d worn to Elysium to a different sort of dress. Still formal, still form-fitting, but more suited to an intimate affair between grandsire and grandchilde than the public preening of Elysium. Deep plum, it sets off the sparkle in her eyes and caramel skin, fitted through the bodice and hips with a delicate flare of chiffon and silk that begins mid-way down her thighs. A platinum and diamond necklace draws attention to her slender throat and bare shoulders, hair pulled off to one side in delicate waves that curl down her back. A small, silver-wrapped package rests beside her.

She rises as her grandsire enters the room to dip into a curtsy.

“Good evening, Alder Accou.”

Only once he sits does she resume her position on the couch she had been shown to, smoothing her dress down her body as she crosses one leg over the other.

“Grandsire.” She flashes a smile his way at the more familiar name. “I did enjoy the venue, yes, particularly the sculpture garden. I found it most illuminating. Did you have a chance to stroll through?”

GM: “I did. The venue is a novel and more intimate one than the museum proper, is it not?” A faint smile. “I suspect many attendees spent at least some of their evenings perambulating amidst the sculptures.”

Celia: “The illusion of privacy without ever truly being away from the eyes and ears of our society. I do so hope no one was silly enough to let something sensuous slip out while they thought they were alone.” The amusement on her face gives lie to the words that pass her lips. They both know that she, like her sire, thrives on ferreting out such little bits and pieces.

GM: “One can hope, but one will most likely be disappointed. Mr. Thibodeux perhaps most of all.” Accou frowns briefly in recollection of the newcomer.

Celia: “Mm,” Jade agrees with a nod of her head. “Shame, that. With the amount of licks disappearing and leaving the city, this uptick in those who wish to see us all on the other end of a stick… could have put him to use if he hadn’t put his foot so far down his throat.” She lifts her shoulders and lets them fall. “Though I wonder at how useful we’d find him if that was his grand entrance.”

GM: The elder Toreador offers a dim smile at the word ‘useful’. Everyone saw Laura and Julius talking to him, after all. Making the French Quarter lord’s pitch.

“For good or ill, there shall always be more. Kindred can no more stay away from this city than bees from a flower.”

Celia: And where they go, the others follow. Hoping to pick them off one at a time like a lamb that has wandered too far from its flock.

This lamb, at least, has teeth enough to protect its flank.

“Ours is a fragrant garden.” It’s as good as any opening to dive into her purpose for the visit.

GM: Celia’s ‘grandsire’ offers another subdued smile at those words.

“As our clan has so endeavored to make it.”

“What would you speak of with me tonight, Miss Jade?”

Celia: “A missing clan member, grandsire.”

Jade strums the pads of her fingers against the silver wrapped box beside her.

“Mr. Bourelle.”

GM: “Ah. The boy’s disappearance is most regrettable, but after so long a period, I believe his return unlikely.”

Celia: Jade nods her head.

“It’s unfortunate. We weren’t close, as you no doubt surmised. I wouldn’t be here months later if we were. Only… his whole krewe has vanished recently.”

GM: “So much the better for your lord then, Miss Jade.”

Celia: “Yes, grandsire, no doubt he feels the same. They were known to be loyal to the prince. Exorbitantly so.”

There’s a brief pause. Jade fidgets, twisting the sun ring around and around her finger. She drops her gaze, then looks up.

“That’s why I can’t talk to him or his about this,” she says in a rush, eyes pleading—they ask that he’ll keep this between them. “I was… close to a member of the krewe. No one knew. They couldn’t. We didn’t pass secrets, it wasn’t anything like that, only… she’s missing now too, and I… I’d like to find her.”

GM: “Of course,” smiles the Toreador elder. “Whom among the krewe are you concerned for?”

Celia: “His lover. The Ventrue.” There’s a sheepish, rueful edge to her smile. “I know she’s… extreme,” Jade says tactfully. “But she was looking for him. And I thought if I followed his trail I could find her, too.”

GM: “Curious,” remarks Accou. “I recall both of your presentations before the seneschal upon Katrina’s quinquennial anniversary. Little love seemed lost between you.”

Celia: “I had not expected to see her after my Embrace,” Jade admits.

GM: Her ‘grandsire’ waits for her to expound.

Celia: “We didn’t have a happy last meeting,” Jade says quietly. She waits a beat. And then she does something she doesn’t normally do:

She tells the truth.

“You see… we took opposite sides in our parents divorce.”

GM: “You share the same mortal family as Miss Gerlette? My, my. The Jyhad can take the most surprising of turns.”

“That would do much to explain your apparent rancor.”

Celia: “Neither of us thought that once we left mortality behind we would still be caught up in this separate world together.”

GM: “Ties of blood are hardest of all to shed.”

Celia: “Then I hope you see why I must find her.”

GM: “I am afraid I know little of Miss Gerlette’s whereabouts. We spoke but rarely and her disappearance postdates Mr. Bourelle’s by some months. But you believe her to have been investigating her lover’s own disappearance?”

Celia: “Yes, grandsire. I know she was. She spoke to a mutual contact about it. And I’ve come into possession of something of theirs that told me he had contact with you shortly before his disappearance and that you helped him find some measure of comfort, and I thought maybe you’d have a better lead..?”

GM: “Oh, from where did you hear as much, pray tell?”

Celia: The truth has been working for her thus far. She sticks to it.

“His ghoul.”

GM: “Ah. Half-bloods can see so much more than we suspect, can they not?”

Celia: “Sometimes we don’t pay attention to them.”

“And they pick up little tidbits.”

GM: “Do they indeed. Mr. Bourelle in fact spoke to me regarding another ghoul.”

“One of my sire’s, Cloe.”

“He wished to know how to commission a doll or origami figurine from her without causing offense to my sire, whom he feared held an unfavorable view towards him.”

Celia: Jade sits back on the chair. Her shoulders curl inwards for a brief moment.

“Oh.”

GM: “I fear there may be little insight into your mortal sister’s whereabouts, alas.”

Celia: “That seems something so silly to be as worked up over as he was implied to be,” Jade finally sighs. She presses a hand against her temple.

GM: “Half-bloods may see much, but their vision is not unbiased.”

“Especially where their domitors are concerned.”

Celia: “I don’t suppose he mentioned if this was a gift for Miss Gerlette or one of his other lovers, did he?”

GM: “Why, yes, I do believe that was the reason he wished to enlist Cloe’s services.”

Celia: “For Miss Gerlette?”

GM: Accou chuckles. “That would be poorly-advised indeed if he wished to make a gift to Lord Guilbeau. Miss Gerlette struck me as the jealous type.”

Celia: “My understanding was that Mr. Bourelle and Lord Guilbeau had ceased seeing each other some time ago?” Jade puts an upward inflection at the end of her sentence, suggesting an innocent question.

GM: “Such was my understanding as well, and doubtless why Miss Gerlette was willing to pursue a relationship with Mr. Bourelle.” The elder Toreador smiles. “But then, no one can be entirely certain what occurs within a lover’s bed if one is not also there oneself.”

Celia: “Oh, you never really know what others overhear,” Jade says with a mischievous smile of her own.

GM: “True enough,” he chuckles. “Or witness. More than one hidden Nosferatu has watched more than one of our clanmates’ liaisons, I am certain.”

Celia: “What a treat for them.”

How else would the rats get their rocks off, when no one of any sense would want to lower themselves to a tryst with the sewers?

GM: “They do so hunger for treats. I hope this meeting has been fruitful for you, Miss Jade, and that you are able to locate your mortal sister.”

Celia: “Thank you, grandsire. I only wish it had not taken a brush with final death to set me on this course.”

GM: “The realization of one’s own mortality, even as an immortal, can do much to open one’s eyes.”

Celia: How eagerly he swims past the bait. She drops another hook.

“I fear it’s a realization too many of us will soon face. There has been so much more activity from that sector of late.”

GM: “Indeed there has been. I hope you stay safe amidst such heightened activity, Miss Jade.”

Celia: “You as well, grandsire. Thank you for seeing me this evening. I brought you something to show my appreciation for your time.” She offers the wrapped parcel, but doesn’t need to stick around to watch him open it if he motions for her to go. No doubt he has other things to get to this evening.

GM: “How thoughtful of you, Miss Jade.” Accou smiles and starts to open the parcel. He does not move to dismiss her.

Celia: She can’t help but compare his reaction to that of another gift she had given recently.

Inside the box Accou finds a pair of charcoal gray gloves. Dark enough to be almost black, but in the proper lighting they seem to shine and draw the eye, with hues of cobalt, silver, and pearl. The material is soft and supple. Leather, Jade explains, but it’s been treated. Liquid proof. Not resistant, but proof. Not just water, either; they both know that she means blood. There will be no staining. Indeed, any liquid will coalesce into little globules and slide right off. Good finger flexibility, which will allow him to use his hands (such as they are, not that Jade says this) without complaint. Solid grip, even with anything particularly oily. They should protect him while he handles anything jagged or sharp, leaving the hands underneath immaculate. Thin, durable, and dexterous, they should go with almost anything he chooses to wear.

The only odd thing about them is the stitches: there are none.

GM: Does he know what she can do?

He’s never said so outright.

There’s just how one of his childer set her on the path.

The ‘referral’ he made to Jonathan North.

The fact such arts are not unheard of among their clan.

The dirty little secret their clan is on better terms with its antitribu cousins than the others.

Whether he does or not, Accou smiles as he inspects the supple and unusually stitch-less gloves. Then he removes his own kidskin gloves, exposing his hands. They’re ugly things, scarred and bent and twisted out of alignment. Jade wonders how much effort it will take him to don the new gloves, and whether it will look undignified, when the elder’s Afro-Cuban herald silently approaches and pulls them over her master’s hands.

Accou gives both of them an experimental flex.

“Superbly crafted, Miss Jade.”

Celia: Jade’s eyes do not pull away from his hands, even when he exposes them. Ugly. Scarred. Painful, no doubt.

But not beyond her capabilities. Not beyond her capabilities at all.

“Thank you, grandsire.” She watches the flex, pleased by his praise. It’s a far cry different from the last gift. She tries not to dwell on it. There’s a momentary pause, and then she finally makes the offer.

“Alder Accou, I don’t wish to overstep. I know you have managed for a long while with things the way that they are. But I wouldn’t be where I am now or know what I know without the assistance of our family. If you ever desire a change, I hope that you will call on me.”

GM: “I am content with new gloves, Miss Jade,” Celia’s ‘grandsire’ replies.

He gives his gloved hands a third flex.

“But I am confident my recommendation of your services to Archon North was wisely made. I do so look forward to seeing the results of your work upon Cloe, whenever that may occur.”

Celia: Jade dips her head in deference to her elder.

“Yes, grandsire. I, too, look forward to what he and I can do together. Thank you for thinking of me, and thank you again for your time this evening.”


Saturday night, 19 March 2016, AM

GM: Another fifteen or so minutes later, Celia is back at the Evergreen. As luck would have it, Fabian also tells her that Lebeaux is due back soon. Give him twenty or so minutes.

Celia: She’s not looking for the mobster, but if she happens to see him all the better.

GM: Luck doesn’t seem to be on her side twice tonight, but Fabian is willing to pass along any messages.

Celia: Luck might be on her side. Roderick would have her head if he knew she sought out his hated foe. Better this way, isn’t it? She asks after the shadow dancer instead.

GM: Better this way to obey him.

Fabian says he is unaware of the shadow dancer’s present location. Jade would be best-served to ask his domitor.

Celia: Stalking someone cute, no doubt.

Maybe it’s her.

She declines and waits for the detective.

GM: He arrives at the Evergreen soon enough and steps into his office with her.

“Celia.”

Celia: “Pete.” She closes the door behind the pair of them and has a seat.

GM: He sits down behind his desk.

“What’s on your mind?”

Celia: Depends on who he talks to. A few people these nights might say nothing.

She wonders what he’d say, if she asked.

Celia: Maybe she will, once this is over. Now, though, she just gives him a tight smile and mentions the meeting with his sire this evening and a general curiosity as to their clan. This evening, Roderick’s comments, and her date with Jon made her realize that she doesn’t know as much as she’d like about their history.

So she asks. In vague, general terms. About their history and about their blood sorcery.

GM: Pete tells her the basics. The Tremere are a clan of blood magicians and have been around for ages. They were integral founders of the Camarilla. The Banu Haqim and Tzimisce historically number among their greatest enemies. Tremere blood magic is based off of Hermeticism and is superior to the other clans’ and covenants’—not inherently, but by dint of the fact the Tremere are better-organized than their ‘competitors’ and unencumbered by religious dogma. Magic is a tool and nothing more to them.

Celia: Celia wants to know more about the Banu Haqim and the Tzimisce. The latter because of her own abilities; she knows that what she can do is one of their primary tools, and she’d been warned, on learning, to keep it to herself. Both to prevent people from looking at her the wrong way and to prevent the fiends from coming after her for stealing their secrets.

Or something like that. Her teacher was a little vague.

She asks, too, after the other enemy, the one they destroyed, in a long and round about way.

GM: The Tremere historically had a strong presence in the Tzimisce’s ancestral homelands, Pete answers. “Our conflicts with them were essentially over limited resources.” The Carpathians were not (and still are not) a large population center, and there was only so much blood to go around.

As to the Assamites, the Tremere cursed the whole clan to suffer grievous harm when they drink the blood of other vampires. They used to cause far more problems for the Camarilla than they do now. “Main reason you haven’t heard much about it is because my clan put a muzzle on them.”

As far as the ‘other enemy’, Pete repeats what he said earlier about them being one of the most vile and degenerate lines of Kindred out there. Clan Tremere did the world a favor wiping them out. They were guilty of unspeakable crimes.

Celia: She presses further for details about the Assamites. “I’d heard they were assassins? Why were they drinking blood?”

Was it like what the other ones did..?

GM: “Because it tastes good,” Pete answers.

“I’m sure you’ve sampled your share.”

“They are assassins. They have this whole religious dogma about it being their duty to punish corrupt Kindred, though they’re as corrupt as any other licks if you ask me. The headhunting comes into play because ‘waste not, want not.’”

“And no. They weren’t soul thieves like the others.”

“The Camarilla wouldn’t have spared them if they were.”

Celia: She has sampled her share. She flashes him a smile at the mention of it, wiggling her brows as if to ask if he’d like to swap vitae sometime.

“So the headhunting and the assassinations were different?”

GM: Pete effects a snort. “Finally got tired of trying to set me up with your mom?”

Celia: “You saying you’re not interested in her daughter?”

GM: The Tremere just gives that a dry look before answering, “They were interrelated. The Assamites were already killing other licks. So ‘why not’ drink their blood too. That felt very good. It wouldn’t surprise me if more than one assassination got carried out for flimsy reasons when the real one was to score some juice. Or scoring juice was simply a co-equal reason.”

“Kindred blood can be addictive. Too much of a ‘good’ thing.”

Celia: “Breaking my heart, Pete.” Celia touches a hand to her chest over the non-functioning muscle. The levity in her voice doesn’t quite hide whatever that look is in her eyes, but she moves them to another location to give herself a moment to turn it off.

“But the soul eaters. How did people… how did licks protect against that sort of thing?”

GM: “Don’t know. I haven’t made a study of those techniques.”

“Or of the assholes who used them.”

Celia: “And your clan fought them.”

“Did they study it?”

GM: “No, we thought studying was for losers. Who needs it.”

Celia: Celia huffs at him.

“If you’re sore about my mom I can still set you up.”

GM: “Uh huh.”

Celia: “I had someone else in mind for her but I guess you’re okay.”

GM: “Good. Find a real man who can make her happy.”

Celia: “You’d make someone happy, Pete. Even if it’s not her.”

GM: “Not any breather.”

Celia: “A lick, though.”

“Maybe that cute Toreador who is always in your office.”

GM: “I think she won’t have a bit of trouble finding other licks.”

Celia: “None that she doesn’t have to lie to.”

GM: “We lie to everyone, Celia.”

Celia: “Not in the same ways,” she says. “You know me. I don’t have to pretend to be a vapid airhead slut around you.”

GM: “You don’t have to around others, either. Sharing our real selves is the basis of all meaningful relationships.”

Celia: “Roderick told me I’m stupid.”

“But we were talking about soul thieves.”

GM: “Roderick’s an asshole. And okay. We were.”

Celia: “Your clan hunted them,” Celia prompts.

GM: “Yes, we did.”

Celia: “All of them?”

GM: “They had a lot of enemies. My clan didn’t destroy all of them, just most of them.”

“They’re not around anymore.”

“The Camarilla never did say ‘thanks’ for it.”

Celia: “How do you know they’re all gone?”

GM: “What’s it to you?”

Celia: “There’s a soul eater in the Garden District. I told you.”

“So if she exists… why not others?”

GM: “Soul eating isn’t limited to vampires, and the thing you described didn’t sound like one of us. I doubt it.”

“Stay out of the Garden District either way.”

Celia: “What else eats souls?”

GM: “It’s a concept present in a lot of mythologies. Wouldn’t surprise me if there were plenty other nasties.”

He gives Celia a sidelong look.

“What’s your interest in these things, anyway?”

Celia: “I know the best thing to do is to stay out of its way. But I don’t want to be caught unaware. And you said it kills any chance of an afterlife. And… I guess after the hunters grabbed me and I thought about how I might actually die…” She trails off.

“The whole idea of nonexistence is terrifying. That’s why we have religion. That’s why we have ideas of the afterlife. Because death, and for us final death, is a very real thing, and we’ve looked for ways to explain it. Humans can’t even imagine the idea of non-being, it’s just so different from what they’re used to, a perspective they can’t grasp, so even ancient cultures had a land of the dead.”

GM: Pete grunts.

“I’m not an expert on this stuff. Best thing you can do is stay out of the way.”

“Like fixing a broken bone, best treatment is to never break it in the first place.”

Celia: “But just in case. Accidents and whatnot. Who’re the experts?”

GM: “Soul-based magic isn’t much of anyone’s specialty.” He shrugs. “The Baron’s people or Rosa Bale probably know the most about it, as a central component of Vodoun is possession. That debatably entails displacement or at least sharing of the soul. Zombies are also said to be soulless.”

Celia: “Your clanmate was in my head, you know. The archon.”

“He was looking for something.”

GM: “Doesn’t surprise me on either count.”

Celia: “The soul thieves came up. I didn’t really know what it meant until later. I’m not looking to pry into clan business. But if they’re here…”

“I just want to know who to avoid, aside from the thing I already met.”

GM: “Did they?” remarks Pete.

He seems to scrutinize her more closely.

Celia: She lets him, though if he tries to catch her gaze she conveniently finds other things to look at. She’s aware of his penchant for memory manipulation.

GM: “I don’t see a good reason he’d bring that up around you, Celia.”

Celia: She effects a snort.

“The mind reading goes both ways if they think you’re a vapid slut,” she says frankly.

GM: “I don’t see a good reason North would meet with someone he considered a vapid slut either.”

Celia: “No, he wanted my help with a medical project. He made sure to tell me how I need to live up to my family tree.”

GM: “And that’s where soul thieves came up, mmm?”

Celia: “No. Afterward. I asked him to dance and he thought I wouldn’t notice when he slipped inside.”

GM: Pete waits.

Celia: Celia waits too.

GM: “So he slipped inside. And he just happened to look through your head for soul thieves?”

Celia: “I’m not going to pretend I know why he’s here, Pete. Maybe he thought since there are plenty of snakes here there are other things too, and who better than Savoy’s lapcat, who obviously has things whispered to her between the sheets during our oh-so-frequent trysts, because that’s definitely a thing that happens, licks sharing things I don’t need to know.”

GM: Pete shakes his head. “No, I don’t think so. That isn’t Savoy’s style. He keeps it in his pants. He doesn’t share anything no one needs to know.”

“North doesn’t know him as well as we do, I’ll grant that much.”

“But I don’t see any reason he’d be looking through your head for soul eaters in the first place.”

“I don’t see any good reason at all.”

Celia: “He mentioned something about not fucking without making sure my mind is just as appealing. It was a pretty poor cover.”

GM: Pete shakes his head again.

“I’m going to give you some advice, Celia.”

“About this soul eater thing you’re so fixated on.”

“No one cares about satisfying your curiosity, and you are going to attract the wrong kind of attention if you bring it up with other licks.”

Celia: “That’s why I’m talking to you.”

“Of course I’m not going to bring it up with other licks.”

GM: “Okay. I don’t care about satisfying your curiosity.”

“Not about this.”

“Drop it. That’s all I have left to say.”

Celia: “Sorry,” she says to his desk.

GM: Pete grunts.

“That all?”

Celia: “No. I followed up on the hunter thing. But it can wait until tomorrow, if you have a minute before or after the party.”

GM: “Sure.”

“Before.”

Celia: Celia nods.

“I’ll see you then.” She rises, moving toward the door… and stops once she gets there, turning to look at him.

“Pete. What he said… am I?”

GM: “Fucking christ, kid,” the detective mutters.

“No, you’re not, though you will be if you keep digging into things better left alone.”

Celia: Why would he say it if it isn’t true? He’s supposed to know her better than that. He’s supposed to see past the mask she puts on for everyone else.

“Okay,” is all she says to that.


Saturday night, 19 March 2016, AM

GM: Clan Tremere’s center of power in New Orleans is located just outside the borders of the Garden District. It’s an aged, two-story Victorian mansion with pillars on both floors that make it seem even taller. Its appearance is almost suggestive of a temple erected by the ancients—though what the warlocks might worship within their fortress is a question equally few care to contemplate.

The grounds are encircled by a low hedge and wrought-iron fence whose tips end in hungry spikes. Branches of live oaks and weeping willows droop about the property, caressing the windows and shrouding the statues in the garden from full view.

Tips of wings, too-long fingers, and unblinking eyes, their gazes as heavy as the stone from which they are made, stare at would-be visitors through gaps in the foliage.

It is only when the would-be visitor approaches the iron gate that they may become conscious of how the neighborhood’s ever-present cicadas have seemingly fallen silent, and that no wind blows through the trees. No other sound disturbs them.

There is only them and the waiting house.

There could be cameras. There could be remote controls. But Jade sees neither when the house’s iron gate soundlessly swings open to admit her.

Celia: Doors opening on their own is hardly new to Jade. It could be any number of things. Well-hidden cameras. Shadow dancing ghouls. Remote controls so tiny that she can’t see them.

Or magic.

It could be magic.

The thought sends a thrill through her. Pete said he’d teach her. When she’s ready, he said, and she’s going to be ready soon. Soon enough. She knows he has some skill with tech magic and wouldn’t mind learning about that, but there’s more. There has to be more than just tech and blood. How many things that are currently out of her reach will make themselves available to her if she takes a deep dive into what he’s promised? How many more secrets can she unlock about kine and Kindred alike?

Magic. Literal magic. At her fingertips.

The notebook with all of her experimental ideas calls to her. They all think that she contents herself at playing with makeup, even those who know the truth about her abilities, and ignore what she gets up to in her spare time. What she creates. What she has learned. The armor, the gloves, the gowns—those are only a small portion of it. Soon, she thinks. Soon she’ll learn more. Go further. Unveil her genius to Lord Savoy or her sire for their approval.

Soon. But not tonight. Not now. Not yet.

Jade’s eyes sweep across the half-hidden statues in the garden. Some long ago whisper from a Mardi Gras lover reminds her of the sentries the Tremere created, stone things that become animated in the face of danger. She wonders if there’s a combination of things she could learn there. Her hybrids and their stone magic.

She’s in the right place to find out.

Slow footsteps take her to the door of the chantry proper, drinking in the garden, the statues, the architecture. She lifts a hand to knock.

GM: The door opens before she can.

She’s ‘greeted’ by a stocky, wide-shouldered man of slightly below average height. He looks at least in his 40s. The dark eyes beneath his balding head are small, beady, and suspicious. His arms are thick and his hands are large and callused. He’s dressed in a plain black shirt, denim pants, and heavy work boots.

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Jade’s seen him in Elysium, though infrequently. Joe Doyle. Two armed ghouls accompany him. He doesn’t say anything. He promptly starts to give Jade a full body pat-down while one of the ghouls waves a handheld metal scanner over her. She is told to remove any metal objects and place them inside a plain box held by the second ghoul. Doyle looks through Jade’s purse and removes her phone. He places it inside the box too.

“You’ll get it back when you leave.”

Kyrstin Grey appears after a moment. She has no greetings for Jade this time, but murmurs several incantations that cover her eyes with a blood-like red film. She stares at the Toreador before murmuring,

“She’s clean, sir.”

Celia: Jade keeps still while he pats her down, though some part of her—the whore, maybe—enjoys it a little too much. She’s never been one to shy away from being fondled by strong men. She flashes him a smile as if she isn’t thinking about what she’d like him to do with those arms of his—

“Yes, Mr. Doyle,” she says when her phone is taken. Are they going to search it? Do they all do the finger-wave thing that Pete does? There’s nothing incriminating on her phone; it’s not as if she’s silly enough to leave secrets lying around on a device that is so easily broken into or misplaced.

Silently, she waits while Krystin does her thing. Only when she’s pronounced clean does Jade smile and greet her with a murmured “good evening, Miss Grey.”

GM: The experience may leave Jade dissatisfied, as Doyle’s touch is clinical rather than lingering, and he offers no smile in response to hers.

“Good evening, Miss Kalani,” Kyrstin answers.

The two Tremere spend little longer on pleasantries, however. Kyrstin soon departs and Doyle and his ghouls escort Jade into a well-finished sitting room with high bookshelves and an empty fireplace. Erwin Bornemann appears shortly later.

The older Tremere is a short, balding man of seemingly middle age who could still pass for the university professor that he was in life. His once-brown mustache and goatee are streaked through with salt and pepper. His narrow brown eyes are crinkled at their edges and framed by a large pair of glasses. He’s dressed in a subdued tweed suit, checkered necktie, white dress shirt, and brown oxfords.

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“Good evening, Miss Kalani,” he greets in a German-accented voice.

“Let us proceed to business.”

Celia: Jade keeps in mind what Pete had told her about visiting his sire—don’t pry into clan business, be polite and respectful—but curiosity gets the best of her as she is led through the halls. She doesn’t stare. But she looks. And she looks when she’s shown to the sitting room, taking in the titles on the shelves, the empty fireplace, the well-appointed furniture and decor while she waits for her host. She thanks Doyle for the company and dips into her standard greeting, the curtsy, when her host appears.

“Good evening, Mr. Bornemann. Thank you for meeting with me.”

She wastes little time after that. He does not seem like one who wishes his time wasted with pleasantries.

She dives in.

“I’ve been told by members of your clan that you are this region’s most knowledgeable expert on demons and demonology. Your childe implied you would be willing to speak with me about the subject.”

GM: Bornemann merely offers a thin smile.

“Not for free, Miss Kalani, but I vould be villing.”

Celia: “Of course, Mr. Bornemann. I’m happy to make the usual trade.”

GM: “Vhat vould you know, zen, Miss Kalani?”

Celia: “Everything,” Jade says with a small laugh.

She fires off a rapid series of questions: What are they? Where do they come from? Are they born or created? How do they get into our world, and how are they sent back from where they come from? Can you trap them in a person, place, or object? How do you know it’s a demon versus a nonspecific entity? What general powers do they have? What general weaknesses? Do they trade information for boons, like Kindred? Are they immortal? Do they deal in souls? Can someone become a demon? Can they spread or multiple while they’re here? Do they need a host or are they their own entity? How do you contact one? Do they make deals in general?

GM: Bornemann offers another thin smile at her second to last question.

“And vhy vould a neonate such as yourself vish to know how to contact a demon, Miss Kalani?”

Celia: She wants to fuck it, obviously. She’s been working her way through the list of other things and demons are next.

She doesn’t think he’d appreciate her sarcasm, so she bites her tongue and keeps it to herself.

“I don’t particularly. I was curious about the prospect, as you see a wide variety of things in media and old books. But your childe told me that misinformation is almost worse than no information, and I’ve had contact with other supernatural beings and know how to reach them if needed. Here I am simply being thorough.”

GM: “Of course,” Bornemann replies agreeably.

“Zat is a great many qvuestions, Miss Kalani,” he then remarks. The briefly two haggle ‘prices’ back and forth. Bornemann says he will provide a substantive answer on two topics of her choosing in return for a boon owed.

“Should you desire furzer knowledge, zat may be yours for additional prestation owed.”

Celia: One question isn’t a lot when she has so many that come to mind. She briefly wonders if Roderick will be annoyed should she get further into debt.

“To you, Mr. Bornemann, or to the Tremere?”

GM: “To myself, Miss Kalani.”

Celia: Jade nods at that. She chews over her options for a moment, and finally starts at the beginning. Something broad and general. Without this, she won’t even know where else to go with her questions.

“What are they?”

GM: “Malignant spirits from a realm beyond zis earth, in so many vords, zat foster acts of corruption and evil.”

Celia: “Beyond?”

GM: “Yes.”

Celia: He’d said substantive. “Beyond” isn’t substantive.

“Are they… created? Born? From Hell?”

GM: “Zey do come from Hell, yes. Vhezer it is ze biblical Hell of popular imagination is a matter of zome debate, but ze realm demons hail from is indisputably a place of pain, horror, and suffering on a scale incomprehensible to minds as limited as our own. If zis place is not ze Christian Hell, zen it is certainly terrible enough to fit ze bill.”

“Ve are all products of our environments and demons are products of an environment as terrible as zey zemselves are.”

Celia: “But how do they come into existence? Kine are born. Kindred are created. Where do they fall on that spectrum?”

GM: “No vone knows for certain. Some sources say zey are angels who fell from grace, created by God at ze dawn of time. Some sources say zey are spawned by mortal sins and atrocities. Some sources say zey are ghosts and spirits warped into zeir present forms by unfazomably many years of hatred and torment. Some sources say zey are ze souls of iniquitous mortals.”

“In ze end, however, no sources but demons zemselves can say for certain how zey came to be. It is possible even zey do not know—can ve Kindred say ve know for certain vhere ve came from? Ze qvuestion may ultimately be an academic one, for demons are notorious liars.” A thin smile. “Even more zan ve Kindred are. Nozing a demon says can ever be trusted.”

Celia: Jade listens raptly to the information he gives her. It’s less concrete than she’d like, but she supposes that something as esoteric as “where do they come from” is hardly going to have a certain answer. No one really knows where they come from. All they have are legends, myths, stories.

She mentions that she’d like to learn more, if he’ll accept another favor.

GM: They haggle back and forth a little longer. Erwin will agree to two more subjects for another boon.

“Ze larger ze qvuestion, ze more uncertain ze answer—in so many fields,” the Tremere agrees to her earlier point.

Celia: She narrows it down for her next question: powers. What they can do. What they’re known to be able to do, rather. And weaknesses, while they’re on the subject, but she concedes that it’s two separate topics when he points it out.

GM: “Zey are incorporeal entities zat dvell in a state known as twilight. Zey can be neizer seen nor heard by ordinary men. Zey may only take physical form under exceptional circumstances. Dvelling in ze material vorld is draining to zem and zey must eventually return to Hell, unless zey are able to anchor zemselves to people, objects, or locations zat may sustain zeir foul presences."

“Zis is, in so many vords, demonic possession.”

Celia: Jade nods as he talks.

“Can they be felt? If not seen and heard?”

GM: “Typically not. Zey are imperceptible to ordinary men.”

Celia: “Do they have powers like we do?”

GM: “Demons are capable of a great variety of supernatural feats zat rival anyzing ve Kindred may perform. From enspelling men’s minds to commanding ze fires of Hell to invigorating zeir hosts vith impossible strength and endurance… zeir powers are not as ours, but an endless variety remain zeirs to command.”

“Perhaps zeir greatest powers are zose of ability to sense, command, and manipulate sinful impulses.”

“Zey are liars vizout peer, and it is impossible to pierce zeir falsehoods zhrough supernatural means such as telepathy. Only mundane intuition may see zhrough a demon’s deceits, and even zat may be fooled.”

“Zey understand all ze living and dead tongues of man. Any language zat has ever existed is familiar to zem.”

Celia: “Because they’re immortal beings and had time to learn, or because they just know it intuitively?”

GM: A thin smile. “I believe I have provided you a substantive enough answer on ze powers of demons, Miss Kalani, unless zat information is vorth additional prestation to you.”

Celia: “The flip side, then. Weaknesses.”

GM: “Zey are most vulnerable to intense religious faith. Few individuals in today’s secular era possess ze requisite zealotry to repel a demon, but zose who do may inflict grievous harm upon zem.”

Celia: “In general, while they’re non-corporeal? Or by driving them from their host?”

GM: “Both, alzough if vone cannot perceive a demon it is obviously far more difficult to harm zem.”

Celia: “So… exorcism, essentially. Find someone possessed, exorcise it.”

GM: “Demons may be exorcised from victims zey possess and sent back to Hell. Anyvone can zeoretically perform an exorcism, alzhough an individual vizout ze requisite faith or occult knowledge is likely to only imperil zeir own body and soul. Even a successful exorcism can still prove fatal for ze host or ze exorcist.”

“But against freeing a soul from a demon’s grasp, death may be a small price to pay.”

“Abjurations, or varding ‘prayers’, can also repel a demon from vone’s immediate presence. Anyvone can likevise perform zese, alzough individuals vith occult training or religious faith are ze most likely to successfully repel a demon.”

“Salt and certain ozer physical substances can also harm demons, even in zeir incorporeal state, as can blessed objects, holy ground, and certain zorceries.”

Celia: “In the same vein of possession, how do they choose their hosts? Can they spread from one to another, or once they have their claws in do they stay put? Or can they multiply? Split parts of themselves off into multiple hosts?”

GM: Another thin smile.

“You have received two answers of substance already, Miss Kalani. Furzer vones shall cost furzer boons.”

Celia: “Yes, Mr. Bornemann. I’m willing to pay.”

GM: Roderick might be mad.

Celia: When isn’t he?

She tries not to think about it. How she’s going to explain three boons to Bornemann. She’ll push for what she can get from this last one.

It might mean a lesson in negotiation. Another correction.

GM: She needs so many of them.

Celia: He loves her. He said so. He does it for her.

So she’s better.

He’s not the only one who does it to her.

GM: The pair haggle back and forth for some further length. Bornemann eventually agrees to a ‘bulk discount’ and to provide further answers for this third boon.

“Vhat host is attractive to a demon greatly depends upon ze demon’s own nature. In much ze same vay as ve have preferred vessels to slake our zirst upon, so too do demons often have favored hosts to possess, alzough zey are typically not compelled to only possess certain hosts on ze basis of specific criteria.”

Celia: “But in general?” she presses.

GM: “Hosts who are physically comely and vell-connected are more useful to demons zan nobodies, for reasons zat are no doubt apparent. Ze intelligence or social aptitude of ze host is immaterial vhen ze demons controls zeir vords and actions. Strong-villed individuals, however, are harder for demons to possess and so make less attractive hosts.”

Celia: “Would a demon try to possess me?”

GM: “Zat is unlikely. Demons are uninclined to attempt to possess ozer night-folk. Kine make for easier hosts.”

Celia: “But it could possess a lick? It’s possible, if unlikely?”

GM: “It is possible, yes, and doubtless it has happened in ze past. But few demons vould be inclined to make ze attempt, in much ze same vay zat few Kindred vould be inclined to hunt Loup-Garoux for zeir vitae.”

“Zat has also happened in ze past. Eizer of us could do such a zing, and no doubt drink heartily of such beasts. Do you have any inclination to?”

Celia: Jade shakes her head.

GM: “Too much trouble for too few rewards. Just as ve do not desire significant struggle to obtain our ‘food’, so too do demons not desire significant struggle to settle in zeir ‘homes’. Ozer night-folk have ze knowledge and capabilities to fight back in vays mere kine cannot.”

Celia: “If faith and holy ground hurts them, is it also unlikely they’d possess a faithful individual?”

GM: “Yes. It is not impossible, but such souls are repellent to zem.”

More than any other factor, what individuals make ideal hosts is really a question of what sin a particular demon most identifies with—and in turn, what sins the host is most steeped in. A demon who tempts souls to greed will favor greedy hosts. The pure of heart, however, are harder for demons to inhabit. Hosts possessed of intense religious faith are especially difficult to possess. Hosts whose souls are already steeped black with sin, though, make very good homes for demons.

Celia: Jade asks if the people so possessed remember their time under the demon’s power. And if there are different kinds of demons, like there are different kinds of Kindred.

GM: “I have not made so great a study of demons as to answer zat qvuestion vith full confidence, Miss Kalani,” Bornemann answers.

“If you mean vhezher say possess analogue ‘clans’, ze answer is no.”

“Scholars divide demons into a number of orders and classifications, but for a layman’s purposes, demons are simply demons.”

Celia: “Do they make deals with humans and others, or is that just a myth? If so, what currency do they use?”

GM: “I have not made a great study of ze ins and outs of infernal bargains, Miss Kalani,” Bornemann answers. “But I have made enough to know zat all bargains vith demons carry a far higher price zan ze bargainer believes zey are receiving.”

Celia: She hopes that doesn’t count as one of her questions.

“You mentioned Hell before. Is that a physical place?”

Like the Shadowlands.

GM: “Perhaps, Miss Kalani. Perhaps not. Demons can enter our vorld from Hell, and depart our vorld for Hell, but zey are ze only beings vith zat capacity. Hell may only be physical in a meaningful sense to zem.”

Celia: “But how? How do they get here? Or go back? Do they just… plane shift?”

“Portals? Mirrors?”

GM: Another thin smile. “I should hope you do not vish to visit Hell yourself, Miss Kalani. It is by all accounts a vone-vay trip. Zat is vhy zey call it damnation.”

Celia: Jade shakes her head. “No. Of course not. I’ve no desire to visit. I’m just wondering how they get here.”

GM: “I do not believe I have made sufficient study of demons to give an informed answer.”

Celia: “And contacting one? I assume they don’t have cell service.” A half smile to soften the sarcasm. “Is that a seance sort of thing?”

GM: “Zis is ze second time you have raised ze qvuestion of how to contact demons, Miss Kalani. Is it a great interest of yours?”

Celia: “No, Mr. Bornemann. I was simply trying to puzzle out how they get from one place to another. You mentioned they weaken and need to return, and there are stories from ancient cultures about gates around the entrances of Hell to keep the dead and other malignant spirits in. I presumed they needed to be called here to get around such restrictions.”

“But how would you be able to tell that someone is possessed?”

GM: “Sensible enough,” agrees Bornemann.

He answers that it depends. When a demon uses its powers, it is usually all-too obvious to onlookers that infernal powers are at work. Demons can use their hosts to perform feats that are physically impossible for any mere human. Possessed hosts also react poorly to displays of (earnest) religious faith. Holy ground is painful to them. So is the touch of blessed items. Ttremere thaumaturgy, certain gifts of Caine, and other powers can also detect the presence of possessing demons. But there is no universal giveaway like the host’s eyes turning yellow.

Celia: Does that mean her father wasn’t possessed by a demon? He went to church every week. Then what had Donovan done to him?

She puts a pin in that to come back to later, mulling over what’s left that she wants to know. How he studied them, for one. And if he’s maybe possibly looking for someone to assist with his research, someone to learn with him. Under him. An apprentice of sorts.

She tries not to sound too desperate for information when she asks, slipping it neatly into the conversation as if it doesn’t matter to her either way.

GM: Bornemann turns her down.

He doesn’t say stupid.

But there’s a humorous look in his eyes at the suggestion she might assist his research. That she might be his apprentice.

“I am afraid ze chantry has apprentices already, Miss Kalani, and vones fully svorn to ze Pyramid at zat.”

Celia: Pete said she’s not. Surely that means something. He wouldn’t lie to her like that.

Right?

“Of course, Mr. Bornemann.”

Churlish of her to suggest that the archon found her worthy of being an apprentice, isn’t it? Maybe she’ll find a way to slip it into the conversation. That someone important wanted her. Sought her out.

“What about us, then? What happens to us when we meet final death?”

GM: “Zat is uncertain, Miss Kalani,” Bornemann answers. “I doubt, however, zat it is a happy fate.”

“Vhat does seem certain is zat final death for our kind is just that—final. Ve have already died vonce to become vhat ve are.”

Celia: Jade points out that kine think death is final too, but there are ghosts and licks and other things that give lie to such thoughts.

GM: Bornemann shrugs and says there’s substantial evidence humans are wrong about that belief, but not that vampires are wrong about their belief. There are stories about Kindred returning from final death, but they’re regarded as tall tales and urban legends even among the Damned.

Celia: “Like what? Who? Most myths have some basis in reality, warped and twisted though they are.”

GM: “None vorzy of zerious discussion or study, Miss Kalani.”

“Zhere are claims all Toreador are coitus-obsessed artists, after all. Do you believe zere is basis to zese?”

Celia: “Those are two separate topics, Mr. Bornemann. The world is very rarely absolute. Rules like ‘all’ and ‘never’ are often proven to have exceptions.”

GM: “Perhaps, Miss Kalani. I have yet to see compelling evidence of an exception to zis rule.”

Celia: “Then let me look for it for you.”

GM: That gets an even more humoring smile.

“You may spare yourself ze effort, Miss Kalani.”

Celia: “And if I’m wrong you can berate me for my wasted time and tell me I’m a silly sex-obsessed artist. And should stick to what I know.”

GM: “I find it unlikely zat your scholarship shall bear fruits vhere mine has not, Miss Kalani, but your time is yours to spend how you please.”

Unlikely.

Celia: It’s a rather political way of saying stupid.

GM: A mild enough way to put it.

Celia: “I’ll take my chances.”

GM: “Very vell. Vhat is a phone number I may contact you at, Miss Kalani?”

Celia: Jade gives him her number.

GM: Bornemann provides a number as well, in case Jade ever desires to purchase further information from him.

Celia: She has two more questions while she’s here. Firstly, does he know more about soul magic than his childe? Pete mentioned it isn’t a widely studied discipline, but it never hurts to ask.

“And about the exorcisms you mentioned. Can things that aren’t demons be exorcised? Would that drive something out of a person if it isn’t a demon? Like a ghost? Or poltergeist? Or even the state of being a ghoul?”

GM: “Soul-related magics are not my area of expertise,” answers Bornemann, though there are Tremere who make a greater study of such things. For another boon, he could arrange a meeting between Jade and a clanmate of his who could better answer her questions. They will ask boons of their own.

Celia: “How soon would I be able to arrange such a thing?”

GM: “Zat could be some time, unless you are villing to travel up to several hundred miles to meet zem at zeir chantry.”

Celia: “I might be. That would depend on the location.” She lifts her brows.

GM: There is a very thin smile at that statement.

“And allow you to cut out ze middleman, Miss Kalani? I zink not.”

Celia: “I misspoke, Mr. Bornemann. I would rather you set it up and owe you another debt than not. I have no desire to cut you out or make an enemy when there need not be one. I have plans to travel soon and am only hoping that it is on the way to either one of my locations, or near enough that I will be able to pop in for a visit rather than arrange a separate trip.”

GM: “For anozer boon, regardless, I vould be villing to part vith zat information. And to arrange a meeting.”

Celia: Four boons.

Roderick will kill her.

“For that and the answer about the exorcisms I will give you another boon.”

GM: “Very vell. Her name is Hannah Vinicumb. She is located in Atlanta.”

Celia: Not quite on the way to Chicago, then. She’ll need another excuse to go.

GM: “Ghosts and any incorporeal being capable of possessing a host can be exorcised.”

“Ghouls may not be.”

Celia: “The blood, I mean. Can that be driven from a ghoul?”

“Through exorcism.”

GM: “No.”

“Exorcism expels a possessing and intelligent foreign entity from a host. Vitae, in of itself, possesses none of zese attributes.”

“Vitae is a substance. It is not a sentient and incorporeal being. It is no more capable of being exorcised zan a drug or poison is capable of being exorcised.”

Celia: Then what had Donovan done to her father? Is he just lying? Pretending he’s good again?

“Mr. Bornemann… I came into contact with a man recently who had an exorcism. The priest who performed the act perished, but he said there was a demon inside of him. The man goes to church every week. Prior to his possession, he was a good man. It’s hard to believe that his soul was black with sin. If demons are hurt by holy ground… what could it have been?”

GM: “Demons are fully capable of possessing good men. Zey simply prefer to make zeir homes in more ‘accommodating’ abodes. Or perhaps zis man vas less good zan you had believed him to be.”

“Ze church’s ambient faith, too, may have been weak. Holy ground is not created equal.”

Celia: “That’s certainly possible. Now that it’s gone, I don’t suppose there’s a way to find out if it was a demon?”

GM: A thin smile.

“Zat information no longer pertains to exorcisms, Miss Kalani.”

Celia: Jade doesn’t quite sigh.

“No, Mr. Bornemann. You’ve been more than accommodating with my questions. I only wanted to find out what it was, but it seems as if that’s not possible any longer.”

GM: “Perhaps my clan could assist, vere ve to inspect ze former host for ourselves.”

For more boons goes unsaid.

Celia: “I will need to think on that, Mr. Bornemann. I appreciate the offer, and your time this evening. I have your number should I think of any follow ups.”

GM: Bornemann rises from his seat.

“Good evening to you zen, Miss Kalani. Clan Tremere is ever villing to be of service to zose who seek knowledge.”

Celia: Just not let them assist, even if they’ve had more contact with other supernaturals than any neonate their age and have been to other planes of existence and have a very real desire to answer the questions that others don’t even think to ask.

Her smile hides her emotions. Another mask.

Like all of them.

“Good evening, Mr. Bornemann.” She rises and sees herself out.


Saturday night, 19 March 2016, AM

Celia: This late at night even the most raucous parties on the Tulane campus are dying down. The evening has turned into early morning, and despite tomorrow being Saturday only the dregs of party life remain to be seen along Greek Row. Girls stumble home in short skirts and tall heels, tottering together or on the arm of whoever picked them up for the evening. Easy enough feeding for any lick who doesn’t mind the buzz of whatever sip they’d had that evening.

A gray cat strolls across the front yard of the various frat houses on the street, avoiding beer cans and plastic cups and puddles of urine as she can, and once she reaches the home of a certain jock she eyes the trellis, trash can, and uneven bricks built into the wall that will carry her from the ground to the second floor window. She coils, preparing to leap—

“Kitty!” A pair of hands pick up the cat before she can spring away, and the cat finds herself pressed against the face and bosom of a twenty-something, highly inebriated blonde woman with mascara streaks running down her face and lipstick smudged across her chin.

One of Duke’s, the cat thinks, and wonders at the semen to alcohol ratio in her stomach. The cat meows loudly and the door, which had been on its way to closing, opens once more as one of Duke’s many “brothers” peers out at the girl and the cat.

“Cat ain’t yours,” the boy says to the girl. He reaches out a hand. The girl recoils and a small scuffle ensues, but the boy is bigger, stronger, and the cat isn’t here for the girl. She ends up in the boy’s arms, purring contentedly as he carries her inside and shuts the door on the red-faced girl.

“He’s upstairs,” the boy says to the cat. He tosses her toward the stairs. Like most cats, this one lands on her feet, and she’s up the stairs without even a huff of indignation, tail flicking behind her as she goes.

She finds Duke in his room. Not his real haven, the cat knows, but Tulane is a convenient meeting location and had been Duke’s “demand” the first time Jade had wanted to see him. They both agreed that Jade is better at sneaking than he is, and there are enough unfamiliar faces on the campus that she’d be able to blend if ever she needed to. Not to mention that if anyone were to ever see them together them he could simply say he’d caught her and was “teaching her a lesson” before turning her in.

So far, they hadn’t been caught. Their “animosity” at Elysium is a well-crafted ruse that hides the very real friendship the pair share. It helps that Jade never mocks any of the licks that Duke looks up to (to his face) and is smaller than him besides.

It helps, too, that she’s as cute as she is. Her face has opened many doors for her.

Duke is on a bed when the cat slips inside his room, a laptop open in front of him. Jade hears “harder, Daddy,” coming from the speakers in a breathy moan, and when she launches herself onto the bed to peer over his shoulder she sees Roxanne’s face on the screen, mouth open in a low moan while a buff black man rails her from behind.

The cat steps onto his lap once he moves the laptop for her, rolling onto her back to expose her belly and rubbing her face against his stomach. She purrs, blinks at him, and then the cat is gone and Jade is on his lap instead.

“Hello, handsome.”

GM: ‘Friendship’ is one way to put it.

Duke looks at Jade, then without a word, clamps a crushing hand over her throat and pins her to the bed. His other hand grabs her wrists and pins them behind her as he flips her over, burying her against the sheets. Fangs flash in the corner of Jade’s vision as the eternal frat president leans in to slake himself upon her.

Duke_Elmhearst.jpg
“Harder, Daddy,” repeats the tiny voice from the laptop speakers.

Celia: Friends. Friends with benefits.

What’s the difference?

Jade sleeps with all of them.

She gets out a giggle before he cuts off her air, flipped and pinned, wriggling against him in a way that suggests she’s not actually looking to get free and enjoys being pinned beneath the stronger, larger Brujah.

GM: Duke is fairly to the point. He drinks from her. He smacks her. He holds her down. He tugs her hair. He establishes dominance.

Then he shoves her off the bed, yanks her up by her hair, and pushes his flaccid cock towards her mouth.

Even he isn’t crass enough to take a drink without giving it back.

Tonight, at least.

Celia: She doesn’t complain. The fire in the Brujah blood always gets her hot. She’s happy to slide her lips over his flaccid cock and drink her fill once he’s done with her.

There’s little struggle left in her once he gets her on her knees. Some part of her, the dead girl maybe, wonders if she’s going to have to tell Roderick about this. What he’d say. How he’ll correct her behavior. But most of her focuses on the here and now, and once she’s done she licks her lips, looking up at him with wide, wicked eyes. She lets him help her up once they’re done, settling herself once more on his lap.

GM: He grunts and hits ‘play’ on the laptop.

Roxanne sucks some more cock.

It makes him smile.

A little.

Celia: Jade doesn’t let his lack of eloquence put her off. She rests a head on his shoulder, watching the bitch swallow.

“Have news for you,” she says eventually.

GM: He keeps watching the bitch swallow, too.

“What?”

Celia: “Troublemaker with eyes on your domain.”

GM: He finally looks up at her. It’s an ugly look.

“Yeah, who?”

Celia: “That new bitch. Malveaux-Devillers. Causing trouble all over the place and now she wants to bring it here.”

GM: Duke effects a snort.

“That shit about her and Meadows.”

“I don’t believe it.”

Celia: “Mm. I didn’t either. Until I found out whose childe she is.”

“Until I tasted her myself.”

GM: “Some random executed asshole’s.”

Celia: Jade laughs.

“Yeah, they certainly covered it well.”

“Just like they covered how he’s feeding off little younglings like us.”

“Think it’s coincidence how she joined a krewe and they all went missing? Gave them to dear old daddy.”

GM: Duke squints at what she’s saying, like it’s a lecture from a college professor he hasn’t listened to in decades.

“What?”

Celia: Jade flicks her tongue across her lips.

“Matheson.”

GM: “The fuck?” the Brujah repeats.

Celia: “Mm,” Jade nods. “Recall how fervently she and Becks defended him at the trial?”

“But she can’t say that. City is already pissed at him, aren’t they. Invented the line about the nobody. Now people think she’s a nobody. But is it really believable that a Malveaux and a Devillers would end up that sireless nobody?”

“Think the bishop would have stood aside while anyone else invaded his domain like that?”

“Heard she’s at the top of the suspect list for his death, too. Mom isn’t quite human. No doubt she passed along some black magic to her kiddo. Used to being on top, wanted to control her family, had a little tiff with the bishop… and oops, guess who’s missing.”

GM: “Magic?” Duke frowns. “Whatever.”

“Whatever if she killed the stupid bishop.”

“The fuck does the bitch want in Riverbend?”

Celia: “Easy feeding. Hates your landlord. Picky eater and maybe something here does it for her.”

GM: “She’d be a fucking idiot to poach here.”

Celia: “Mhm. But she’s done a lot of idiotic things.”

GM: “Donovan already said. ‘Deal with her as an intruder’ if she’s ever here.”

“Used to be his serf ’til he kicked her out.”

Celia: “No wonder she hates him.”

“Bet she thinks that after taking on Meadows she can take on him, too.”

GM: “I don’t believe that shit.”

“She’d be bragging about it, if it actually happened.”

Celia: Jade arches a brow.

“You didn’t hear her at Elysium?”

GM: “No.”

Duke isn’t the biggest fan of Elysium.

Too few people to lord it over.

Celia: “Right after it happened. She was bragging about it, how Meadows showed up, killed that Anarch cunt, her ghouls held her off, yada yada. It was a desperate, pathetic sort of play. Honestly I’m surprised Meadows didn’t go back to finish her off. And I might not have believed it either.”

“Until I went to her place.”

“Saw her setup. How you’re funneled out of the elevator into a narrow opening where half a dozen or more armed security people stare you down with assault rifles.”

“Doubt Meadows took the elevator, but even when we were ‘alone on the roof’ we weren’t alone.”

GM: “The fuck?” Duke repeats.

Celia: She wonders which part he’s having a hard time with. Poor boy.

GM: “Well, whatever. Maybe my bros and I will run into her on patrol.”

There’s a very mean smile.

Celia: She certainly hopes they do.

“I’d love to watch you pound her face in,” Jade says with a sigh.

“But you’ll remember what I said, right? How she took on Meadows. I know she’s a dumb bitch but she’s got thick blood and she’s very, very fast.”

“And frankly you’re the best thing about this campus, Duke.”

She runs a hand down his chest, appreciating the play of muscles beneath his shirt.

GM: “I’m picturing handcuffs,” the fraternity president says. “One on each hand. Each leg. Not so fast then.”

“Naked.”

“So every boy in the frat can take his turn.”

Celia: “I’d cover her eyes so she doesn’t try that mind fuck trick.”

GM: “Or fucking stab them out.”

“Regrow eventually.”

The Brujah grins.

“Yeah. I like that.”

“Test the pledges. Test all the boys. See who backs out of fucking an eyeless girl.”

Celia: “Could rip out her fangs, too, if you really wanted to make her feel like the filthy cunt she is.”

“No better than a breather then.”

GM: “Hmm, yeah. She’d have a big boner. Better for the Masquerade.”

Celia: “You should take a video. Spread it around Elysium.” She sounds positively giddy.

“Or get it to me and I’ll spread it so it doesn’t look like you’re starting shit.”

“Or, fuck, find a look-a-like or grab a night doc and do it with whoever. Ruins her reputation either way.”

“Her daddy is running for president, isn’t he? Imagine the scandal.”

“Then she comes sniffing around in a rage, pick her up for real…”

Jade sighs, nuzzling Duke’s neck. “I love it when you tell me all the twisted ideas you have. You’re brilliant, Duke.”

GM: “Fuckin’ straight.” Duke gives her breasts a very hard and rather painful squeeze.

He laughs at her earlier remark.

“I’m not wasting boons on the bitch. Or using a double. I’ll just grab her and turn her over to the boys.”

“Sheriff might even enjoy the video.”

“He doesn’t like her. Staked her for Mardi Gras, actually. Brought her over to his house, then rammed a stake in her heart, just like that, not a word.”

“Stored her with the other troublemakers until it was over. Ones who’d just be pains in the ass.”

Celia: She hadn’t known that. It’s actually hilarious; she only wishes he’d finished her off then instead of waiting until she’d started to eat her way through the city.

“Wouldn’t need a boon from you, cutie, I’d do it just because I like you. But if you insist.” Her lips touch the side of his neck, then his jaw. “We could make some real trouble for her once you get her. God, your mean streak is hot.”

GM: “Fuckin’ straight,” Duke repeats.

“God, I hope I run into the bitch on patrol.”

Celia: Her too, Duke. Her too.


Saturday night, 19 March 2016, AM

GM: Celia goes home to find Alana handcuffed to the bed in spread eagle position. In the absence of direction from her mistress, she has taken off all of her clothes. At this late hour, the ghoul is asleep. Her chest rises and falls steadily with her breaths. The red puffiness around her eyes looks as if she has been crying.

Celia: Celia packs a bag while she sleeps. Only once everything is stuffed inside does she wake the ghoul, calmly but firmly telling her that things are going to change. Her punishment had been lifted early because of how well she’d been doing, and then she went and ruined it by making a scene at her mother’s house. That’s completely unacceptable behavior.

“My fault, really,” Celia says as she strokes a hand down the girl’s cheek. “I’ve been too soft with you.”

That’s going to change, she says. She’s going to have a neutral party examine their relationship and correct their shortcomings. If Alana plays by the rules, she’ll be rewarded. Sex. Sleeping together. Cuddling. Movie nights. All the good things she has come to expect. If she’s bad, she’ll be corrected.

She waits for that to sink in before she asks after the meetings she’d told the ghoul to set up, and asks about the TV show role as well.

“If I can’t trust you to behave here, how can I trust you to behave when we go to LA?”

GM: Alana begs at first, if Celia can “examine” their relationship herself. “I trust you, mistress, you know better than anyone else could-”

She is very disappointed to have her punishment reinstated. To be told no more sex. No more sleeping. No more cuddling and no more movies. She tries to keep a lid on it, and to accept the punishment gracefully. But she still cries. Still leans her face into Celia’s hand as she whispers,

“I miss you, mistress… I just w-want to spend time with you…”

She says set up later meetings with Lucia and Harlequin. They’re in a few nights from now.

She says the audition went well and that Ron is giving her a part in Vieux Carré. It’ll be a minor one for now, with the potential for a bigger role for her character if she does well.

Celia: “Do you?” Celia asks sharply. “Do you trust me? Do you think I know what’s best for you? Because your display this evening, Alana, makes me think you don’t. You know my schedule. You know I wouldn’t put you off without very, very good reason. You know that I had dinner planned, then Elysium, then meetings. You know that I’d have been here with you tonight fucking and making love and feeding you once it was all over.”

“But you didn’t trust me. You didn’t trust that I’d be here. You didn’t trust that I would take care of you. And now I don’t trust you. What do I do with a ghoul I don’t trust, Alana? What do my kind do to yours when you step out of line?”

GM: “They pun, punish them, mistress, I understand…” answers the still-crying ghoul.

Celia: Celia stares at her a moment longer. Then, with a heavy sigh, she unlocks the cuffs and pulls her onto her lap.

“How did we get here, Alana? Why are you acting out this way? I expect it from the others. I don’t expect it from you.”

GM: There’s joy on Alana’s face, like the sun emerging after a long rainy downpour, as she slides onto her domitor’s lap. She hugs her naked body against Celia and nuzzles the Toreador’s neck.

“I just missed you, mistress, I thought you were spending time with someone else… I got so jealous… I don’t mind, you have needs, I want you to have lots of sex… I just want to share it with you…”

Celia: “I know, darling, I know you want my attention. I want to give you my attention. But things are changing. There’s a war on the horizon. I’m trying to keep us all safe. Travel is dangerous, and I’m planning two trips. I’m even getting a yacht for us, Alana. We’re going to sail wherever we want to. I just need you to hold it together for me. Can you do that, pet? Can you be a good girl again so I don’t have to correct you anymore? I want you at my side. Not cowering behind me.”

GM: Alana’s eyes shine at her domitor’s words. She rubs her head against Celia’s breasts and closes her eyes.

Yes, mistress! I want to be good for you. I can be a good girl. I promise. A yacht sounds… wonderful, mistress! It can be a pleasure cruise!”

Celia: “Exactly,” Celia murmurs against her hair. “Be good so I can take you with me. I want your mouth on me. I want my mouth on you. I want us to have a whole harem of beautiful people at our beck and call, and I want them to know that you’re in charge of them. Head harem girl. Top pet.”

Celia lifts her chin, nuzzling at her neck.

“Tell me you’ll be good again, Alana. That this was a one time thing.”

GM: Alana shivers with equal parts lust and anticipation at Celia’s description.

“I’ll be a good girl, mistress,” she repeats, smiling ear to ear. “I’ll be a good pet. That’s all I want. This was a one-time thing. I promise it won’t happen again.”

Celia can see how wet the naked ghoul is already getting.

Celia: No sex, Roderick said.

But biting isn’t sex, so her fangs cut into Alana’s neck. And feeding isn’t sex, so she cuts into her own wrist to feed the ghoul.

It’s not sex.

Not technically.


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